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Don’t Ask! Just Buy It! – May 30, 2012: The Low Life Theory

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

KEY:
* “But it’s not really a superhero comic”
^ Yes, people drew things before Action #1
% Dating is difficult

* BATMAN: DEATH BY DESIGN
Book designer supreme Chip Kidd is famously a heavy-duty Batman collector, and he’s written a couple of prose novels, although I think this is the first graphic novel he’s written. It’s a very strange, fumingly mannered book, with more clumps of expository dialogue than I’ve seen anywhere in a while, but it’s fun on its own terms; it concerns the architecture of Gotham City (and the principles of architecture in general), and was apparently inspired by the demolition of the original Pennsylvania Station. Dave Taylor’s artwork, rendered in graphite over blue pencil, is mighty enjoyable too, although I’m scratching my head a little at the plucky, heroic young architect drawn to look exactly like (minor coughing fit) Chip Kidd.

* % ANGELMAN: FALLEN ANGEL
A really weird, somewhat adorable little book by the Austrian artist Nicolas Mahler that I am happy to suspect is as close as Fantagraphics is ever going to come to publishing superhero comics. It’s a minimalist reaction against, and parody of, mainstream comics’ conventions of character, storytelling, drawing, design, financial structure, interaction with their readers… it’s attractively executed for sure, and pretty funny, although I kept thinking of that “Crisis of Conformity” sketch on SNL for some reason.

* % EMPOWERED VOLUME 7
Adam Warren’s curiously non-exploitative exploitation series continues.

^ % FAIRY TALES OF OSCAR WILDE VOL. 4: THE DEVOTED FRIEND/THE NIGHTINGALE AND THE ROSE
Now that the fifth volume’s out, here’s a new edition of an earlier instance of the glorious P. Craig Russell cultivating “an attachment a la Plato for a bashful young potato or a not-too-French French bean.”

* % GLAMOURPUSS #25
Wow–it really has been four years since the first issue. (A bit more, even: glamourpuss #1 came out April 30, 2008.) I appreciate how this has become the “whatever the hell Dave Sim feels like drawing this month” comic book, as much as I miss the old days when Sim was one of the best storytellers in comics; for all the things he’s deliberately shucked away from himself in the past couple of decades, I wouldn’t have guessed that narrative and characters would be among them.

* MEGA-CITY UNDERCOVER VOL. 2
The most tempting of the many Judge Dredd-related titles out this week in the U.S. is the second collection of “Low Life,” a series about undercover cops in the “Dredd” universe, written by Rob Williams and drawn by the wonderful D’Israeli, among others. “Low Life” is one of those situations, like “Thimble Theatre” or “Fritzi Ritz,” in which a series’ supporting character turns out to be interesting enough to take over the whole thing–in this case, Dirty Frank, a magnificent, tragicomic invention who seemed at first like a two-panel throwaway and is now indisputably “Low Life”‘s star.

Also this week: 2000 AD #1779-1781, for which the big publicity blitz was around the fact that the Dark Judges return in the John Wagner/Colin MacNeil episode of “Judge Dredd” in #1781. The surprising thing about that was that they really had been gone for a long time–they’re hugely popular villains, but they hadn’t turned up since Batman/Judge Dredd: Die Laughing in 1998. (Imagine if the Joker’s appearance in Batman and Robin had been preceded by 14 years without a Joker story, and that’ll give you some idea of the dramatic impact.) The other highlight of these issues is Brendan McCarthy and Al Ewing’s psychedelic freakout “The Zaucer of Zilk.” On top of that, this week sees Judge Dredd Megazine #323, featuring an “Avengers” parody and a collection of Simon Spurrier and Boo Cook’s bonkers sci-fi take on British imperialism, “Harry Kipling (Deceased)”; Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files vol. 19, an early-’90s collection that wraps up the Garth Ennis-written era and also includes some episodes written by Mark Millar and Grant Morrison; and budget-priced, digest-size, black-and-white editions of the early Dredd storylines The Cursed Earth Saga and The Day the Law Died (sadly, the difference between the proportions of the original printed pages and the little digests means that they’re reproduced even tinier than they might otherwise be).

% MONSIEUR JEAN: SINGLES THEORY
The French cartoonists Dupuy and Berberian’s Monsieur Jean series, about a young man strolling into being not-so-young-any-more, has been arriving in English in a strange order. As I understand (and please correct me if you know better), 2006′s Get a Life collected vols. 1-3, originally published 1991-1994; Drawn and Quarterly vol. 3, in 2000, included Monsieur Jean vol. 4, from 1998; Drawn and Quarterly vol. 5, in 2003, included Monsieur Jean vol. 5, from 2001. And this new book, published by Humanoids rather than D&Q, is a translation of an unnumbered volume that appeared in French in 2000, between volumes 4 and 5, although it’s set between volumes 3 and 4. Whatever. It’s probably great.

^ MR. TWEE DEEDLE
I have the name Johnny Gruelle permanently stuck in my memory from the Raggedy Ann & Andy books I used to look at as a kid. He was a comic-strip artist, too, and Mr. Twee Deedle ran from 1911 to 1914 after he won a New York Herald competition. It’s gorgeous stuff, given the Sunday Press-style super-oversize treatment in this $75 hardcover–those who like “Little Nemo in Slumberland” and/or “Maakies” (whose Tony Millionaire wrote the introduction here” should certainly have a look at it.

* % NEW MUTANTS #43
Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Kieron Gillen and Carmine Di Giandomenico conclude “Exiled,” this title’s five-week crossover with Journey Into Mystery.

% RASL #14
This is the penultimate issue of Jeff Smith’s dimension-hopping-art-thief serial, and I’m already starting to wonder what his next comics project is going to be.

^ ROGER LANGRIDGE’S SNARKED! #8
The second arc of Langridge’s Lewis Carroll-inspired fantasia wraps up here, with (among other things) an explanation of what “frumious” means in reference to bandersnatches. Snarked! is one of the most reliably entertaining serial comics around at the moment, and a huge hit with the first-grader critic in the house.

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