Savage Critic and "Reading Comics" author Douglas Wolk runs down the hottest comics and graphic novels coming out this week.

KEY

* Earth

% Air

^ Fire

¢ Water

Spirit

% THE ART OF P. CRAIG RUSSELL

A $50 hardcover from IDW, surveying the career of a superb, underappreciated cartoonist who's probably best known these days for his collaborations with Neil Gaiman but has been doing gorgeous work (often adaptations from theater, opera or prose) since the mid-'70s. I hadn't realized that he's given each of his comics an opus number, but that totally makes sense.

BASIL WOLVERTON'S CULTURE CORNER

A Basil Wolverton volume from Fantagraphics that I don't think anybody was demanding but that I'm happy to have seen anyway--silly how-to pieces from '40s and '50s issues of "Whiz Comics," accompanied by his initial pencil roughs. Goofiness, history and process! There's a preview up.

* BLACKEST NIGHT DIRECTOR'S CUT

Six bucks gets you eighty pages of background material, commentary, undrawn scenes, etc. Fun for process junkies like me, in other words.

¢ CAPTAIN AMERICA: WHO WON'T WIELD THE SHIELD #1

Less a Captain America parody than a parody of the state of Marvel-in-general right now--along the lines of "Not Brand Ecch," if anybody remembers that. The selling point as far as I'm concerned is a story written by Matt Fraction and drawn by Brendan McCarthy, whose psychedelic-freakout technique (preview it here) brings out a side of Fraction that hasn't been seen much since "Casanova." Speaking of which: excellent news that that's on its way back!

* CRISIS ON MULTIPLE EARTHS VOL. 5

The reprints of the original Earth-One/Earth-Two team-ups near their conclusion with "Justice League of America" #159-160, 171-172 and 183-185, the last of which is the full story (involving the New Gods) that was abridged in the first George Pérez/Justice League hardcover a few months ago (Dick Dillin died after drawing the first part of it).

% DV8: GODS & MONSTERS #1

I wouldn't have imagined Brian Wood would be doing work-for-hire superheroes at this point, but here he is, teamed with Rebekah Isaacs on an eight-issue revival of WildStorm's fifth-string '90s hero-team book. Everybody's nostalgic for something, evidently; I'm very curious to see how this reads.

^ FIRESTAR #1

I have no idea why Sean McKeever seems to write so much better for Marvel than for DC, but it's consistently the case. This one-shot, drawn by Emma Rios, stars the character who's probably best remembered for appearing in the old "Spider-Man And His Amazing Friends" TV show. Preview.

* HERCULES: FALL OF AN AVENGER #2

Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente's "Hercules" monthly, drawn by Ariel Olivetti this time, may change its name more times than any buddy book since "Moon Girl and the Prince," but it's a reliable low-key good time--last issue's Northstar bit made my day. Next month, it assumes its next incarnation, as the "Prince of Power" miniseries, starring Amadeus Cho. Preview.

* JOE THE BARBARIAN #4

I do wonder what this Grant Morrison/Sean Murphy project would've looked like if it were three issues long rather than ten--less world-building, maybe. Three issues seems to be Morrison's most natural arc-length: "The Black Glove," "We3," the two "Seaguy" projects so far, the "Batman & Robin" arcs to date, etc.

^ RASL VOL. 2: THE FIRE OF ST. GEORGE

Jeff Smith's current project yanks the steering wheel, hard, and swerves off into Tesla-centric demi-history. It's not clear where he's going with this, but it looks to be somewhere interesting.

THE SPIRIT #1

Yet another attempt at reviving Will Eisner's signature character, the problem with which is that the Spirit himself is pretty much a blank slate. What made his stories compelling was Eisner, so if you're not doing a direct Eisner homage, all you've got is a guy in a mask and suit. Still, I'll be picking this one up, mostly because the backup (black-and-white) story is by Dennis O'Neil and the great Bill Sienkiewicz, whose contributions to the interiors of comics have been mostly limited to inking for way too long.

^ ULTIMATE COMICS SPIDER-MAN #9

It's really nice to see David Lafuente back on this series. He's much more of a stylist than Mark Bagley or even Stuart Immonen, but character work is his strong point, and Brian Michael Bendis has been shifting Ultimate Spidey's focus back toward the high school soap opera that's the most fun thing about it. As far as this issue goes, Bendis seems determined to write Spider-Woman one way or another. Preview.