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

KEY

One Ellis-door closes, another opens
£ Penguins
% Swords, S.W.O.R.D., guillotines--they're really just stand-ins for papercuts
¥ Remember: everything that ever happened to Batman is canon, and that includes "Crime and Punishment"
* If comics will teach you anything, they will teach you patience
Firearms on the cover: your seal of quality entertainment

¥ * MASTERPIECE COMICS

R. Sikoryak's insanely clever, hilarious mashups of classic literature and classic comics have been appearing in various anthologies over the last couple of decades; this collects most of them. My favorite is probably "Good Ol' Gregor Brown," which imagines Kafka's "Metamorphosis" as a series of "Peanuts" dailies. Have a look at a preview here.
% * ASTONISHING X-MEN #31

Phil Jimenez joins Warren Ellis for the continuation of the kinda-sorta-in-continuity, comes-out-when-they-feel-like-it series. Jimenez's previous stint with the X-Men (during the Grant Morrison rotating-artists period) was pretty impressive; if your store has a copy of the preview freebie Marvel published a couple of weeks ago, pick that up, too--there's a very interesting interview with him. Preview here.

£ ¥ € BATMAN AND ROBIN #5

Speaking of Morrison, he's still playing his favorite Batman game with this series--postulating a whole bunch of alternate versions of Batman--except now he's running through alternate versions of Batman and Robin, in this case the Red Hood and Scarlet. Philip Tan draws.

£ BLOOM COUNTY: THE COMPLETE LIBRARY 1980-1982

As popular as "Bloom County" was in the '80s, a lot of Berke Breathed's early strips have never been reprinted. He spends a lot of this first volume (given the usual solid IDW treatment) struggling with his Garry Trudeau fixation and developing his own, considerably more absurd voice.

% * THE CARTOON HISTORY OF THE MODERN WORLD, VOL. 2: FROM THE BASTILLE TO BAGHDAD

Larry Gonick is a relatively little-known treasure -- well, little-known within the comics world, anyway. He's been doing his "Cartoon History of the Universe" series -- a very, very well-researched history of everything for which there's documented history -- for something close to 30 years. This wraps up that particular series; I think I've seen them in student bookstores much more often than in comic book stores, but they're worth curling up with. Preview here.


€ CRIMINAL: THE SINNERS #1

Tracy Lawless is back! Back! Back! More cruel noir from the impeccable Ed Brubaker/Sean Phillips team.

* € EC ARCHIVES: FRONTLINE COMBAT

This volume seems to have been initially scheduled for release more than a year ago, and doesn't seem to have come out until now--please correct me if I'm wrong. It's a reprint of the first six issues (1951-1952) of one of Harvey Kurtzman's blisteringly antiwar war comics. The artists include Jack Davis, Wally Wood, Bill Elder and John Severin, but Kurtzman saved the best story for himself: "Big 'If,'" from #5, a seven-pager that probably bred an entire generation of conscientious objectors. (Psst: the whole story appears about halfway down this page.)

€ GRANDVILLE

Bryan Talbot's projects are always fascinating even when they misfire, and he hits the target dead-on more often than not ("The Tale of One Bad Rat," "Alice in Sunderland," etc.) This one is the first in a series of graphic novels; it seems to be anthropomorphic alternate-history steampunk, starring a badger policeman. There's a trailer for it here. It looks totally nuts.

¶ * PLANETARY #27

Warren Ellis and John Cassaday finally get around to wrapping up their survey of twentieth-century pop-cultural mythology. It is a blogger-law requirement at this point to note that that the previous issue came out almost three years ago -- in late October, 2006. The first issue's cover date was April, 1999. Had the series stuck to the monthly schedule with which it began (and to which it stuck until #4), this issue would have appeared just as reports of increased shark attacks were starting to circulate.

* STRANGE TALES #2

Marvel's indie-creators-do-Stan's-characters-for-giggles miniseries continues, with the continuation of Peter Bagge's "Incorrigible Hulk" story, as well as a nice-looking Black Widow story by Matt Kindt (who's made something of a specialty of espionage stories), more Michael Kupperman, a rare R. Kikuo Johnson sighting, Jonathan Hickman (hey, he used to be an indie guy!), and more. Preview of Tony Millionaire's Iron Man story here.

% * THE WARLORD #7

I may be overlooking something here, but I believe the last time Mike Grell actually drew an issue of "The Warlord" was #52 of the original series, back in 1981. So this is some kind of event, although it's not clear what kind. Possibly a metal event.