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

KEY
* Color fun
ß Explosion/implosion
‡ The stealthy shadow of Sturdy Steve
% Villain-as-protagonist
≈ Li'l folks

% HIGH SOFT LISP
The most riveting, chilling graphic novel I've read so far this year. Gilbert Hernandez's stories about self-destructive psychiatrist/B-movie actress Fritz Martinez were initially serialized in a bunch of different series, alongside the material that ended up in last year's Luba (in which she also appears), so I got into the habit of thinking of her as a supporting character and nothing else. This volume collects all the Fritz material (it actually overlaps very slightly with Luba), and when you read it in one place it coheres into a great, shockingly dark piece of work.
‡ AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #627
The first of a Roger Stern/Lee Weeks three-parter involving the Juggernaut. But the reason I'm pointing it out is that Marvel has done something obvious and smart that I wish the Big Two would do more: since this is a sequel to a Stern-written two-parter that came out 28 years ago (in "Amazing Spider-Man" #229 and 230), they've posted the original story as a freebie on their Web site.

* % BLACKEST NIGHT #8
Who will wield the white ring? What will happen to all the undead characters? How will Geoff Johns satisfactorily wrap up this megacrossover while launching the one that starts in a couple of weeks? In other zombie news: "The Walking Dead" #1 is reprinted this week in a $1 edition.

* ß ‡ THE CREEPER BY STEVE DITKO
The Creeper was one of Ditko's weirder creations, which is saying something: a fantastically eye-gouging piece of design (yellow skin, green hair and briefs, and a red thing that's somewhere between a cape and a boa) who usually appeared surrounded by peals of insane laughter (his own). As I understand, this collection of Ditko's work on the character from the '60s and '70s was scheduled for a while as a black-and-white "Showcase Presents" paperback, then rescheduled as this mostly-in-color hardcover. It'll also include a 25-page, Ditko-drawn story--guest-starring the Odd Man, the ne plus ultra of weird-ass Ditko costume design--which was originally intended to appear in "Showcase" #106. (It has previously officially seen the light of day only in the second issue of Cancelled Comic Cavalcade, produced in an edition of 35 copies in 1978 to assert DC's copyright.)

‡ DETECTIVE COMICS #863
The third and final part of Greg Rucka and Jock's "Cutter," Batwoman's final appearance here for a few months--I'd understood that the Rucka/J.H. Williams III serial would be moving over to a Batwoman title, but the new DC solicitations suggest that there'll be some kind of Batwoman story or other in "Detective again" as of #867.

ß % INCORRUPTIBLE #4
I'm really getting to like this Mark Waid/Jean Diaz series--it's formally very similar to Millar & McNiven's "Nemesis," come to think of it, but it's smart and sharp rather than huge and blunt.

ß IT WAS THE WAR OF THE TRENCHES
Pieces of Jacques Tardi's ferocious graphic novel about the horrors of war in general and World War I in particular have appeared in various anthologies, but this hardcover edition is the first time the whole thing has been published in English.

≈ MY LIFE WITH CHARLIE BROWN
A book from the University Press of Mississippi: a collection of essays, letters and articles by Charles M. Schulz about his work, the closest thing to a memoir we're going to get.

* ‡ ≈ PENNY CENTURY
The first seven volumes of the little "Love & Rockets Library" paperback series collectively accounted for all the stories in the first fifty issues of Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez's magnificent series. This one moves into Jaime's comics-format projects that followed the initial run of "Love & Rockets: the material previously collected as Whoa Nellie!," "Locas in Love" and "Dicks and Deedees." It's all great--I'm not sure Jaime could draw a bad comic if he tried--although "Whoa Nellie!," a little story about the women's wrestling circuit, is more the kind of thing he likes to draw than the kind of thing his audience tends to expect of him.

% PRELUDE TO DEADPOOL CORPS #5
I can't imagine that there are many people who feel like reading a Deadpool comic as often as there's a new one available--he's rivaling Wolverine for over-exposure these days--but there are certainly some interesting people working on them. This one (the final issue of a weekly lead-up to what seems like a fourth monthly Deadpool title...) is drawn by Kyle Baker, whose work is always worth a look. There's a preview up, which makes it look like Baker's constructing most of this issue with 3D modeling software.

ß % RASL #7
Jeff Smith's interdimensional-art-thief thriller took a welcome sharp left turn into Nikola Tesla/parallel-universe conspiracy theory territory last issue. Note that the second oversize volume of the collected RASL, "The Fire of St. George," comes out in three weeks.