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


ƒ Makes use of the underutilized image-plus-captions technique
^ Do not confuse with either Batton Lash or Bat for Lashes
@ Cosmic!
Δ Jack Kirby is everywhere
† Norsemen FTW
• My, there certainly are a lot of reprints and repackagings this week, aren't there?
¥ Plot draws heavily on the idea of the alternate self whose life took a symmetrically opposed path
The Alan Moore catalogue: the gift that keeps on regifting

ƒ Δ WEDNESDAY COMICS #1--The first issue of DC's 12-issue weekly miniseries with (folded-over) pages four times the size of a regular comic book page, and 15 single-page serials, all of which look like they're going to be freaking gorgeous. There are some big names attached to this--Neil Gaiman, Paul Pope, Kyle Baker, Joe Kubert, Eduardo Risso--but one name that deserves a bit more credit is Mark Chiarello, DC's art director and the mastermind behind this project (as well as Batman: Black and White, The New Frontier and Solo, some of the nicest-looking mainstream comics of the past decade).¥ • ALL STAR SUPERMAN #1 SPECIAL EDITION--Did you miss the first go-round of this wonderful Morrison/Quitely series? Did you then miss the collected edition? Did you subsequently miss the Free Comic Book Day version of its first issue? Well, now you get to pick it up for a dollar. Pay very close attention to the dialogue the first time Lex Luthor appears on panel, and an intriguing plot thread may open up.

¥ ASTERIOS POLYP -- David Mazzucchelli ("Batman: Year One," "Daredevil: Born Again," "Rubber Blanket") reportedly worked on this book for ten years, and it's impressive enough that I suspect it'll be showing up on a lot of year-end best-of-'09 lists. It's a formalist knockout of a graphic novel: a story about an arrogant architect, a shy sculptor, aesthetic philosophies and the fate of humanity, by way of The Odyssey and the story of Orpheus. Beautifully designed, too.

• EVERYBODY IS STUPID EXCEPT FOR ME AND OTHER ASTUTE OBSERVATIONS -- For about eight years, Peter Bagge (of "Hate" fame) has been doing the reported pieces and short opinion comics for the libertarian magazine "Reason" that are collected here. It's fun to see narrative political cartooning this graceful, angry and low on self-righteousness, and Bagge's a committed free-thinker: nobody, including himself and other libertarians, is safe from his acid-dripping pen.

@ GREEN LANTERN #43 -- I'm still not entirely convinced about the "Blackest Night" mega-event, but with this issue Doug Mahnke takes over artwork on the Lantern mothership, and I have to admit those preview pages look pretty tasty. And he did manage to pull off a spectacular save on the last couple of issues of Final Crisis, on what I understand was a horrific deadline.

¥ @ Δ • MARVEL MASTERWORKS WARLOCK VOL. 2 -- Ignore the "Vol. 2": these are the Warlock stories that people care about, specifically the unbelievably well-executed serial that Jim Starlin wrote and drew in the mid-'70s, in which the tormented Byronic hero Adam Warlock confronts his future self, an evil god called the Magus. It jumped around a lot in its original incarnation: a few issues of "Strange Tales," a brief run in the revived "Warlock" series, and a conclusion in "Avengers" and "Marvel Two-In-One" annuals. Weirdly enough, this is the first time it's been collected in a single volume. You can probably find these stories in the nicely presented Warlock Special Edition miniseries that came out in the '80s and were reprinted in the '90s--or even most of the original comics--for considerably less than this hardcover will set you back. But this is the urtext for every "cosmic adventure" story Starlin has done since then.

• PIXU: THE MARK OF EVIL -- Becky Cloonan, Vasilis Lolos, Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon have collaborated on a bunch of projects, and this hardcover pulls together a two-part haunted-house story in which the haunting entity is a menacing black scribble. I reviewed it here. Moon and Bá, incidentally, also turn up this week drawing the new BPRD miniseries, "1947."

ƒ • † PRINCE VALIANT VOL. 1 1937-1938 -- The first two years of Hal Foster's exquisite newspaper comic strip about a Nordic prince in the fifth century. You like "Northlanders"? You like Sir Thomas Malory? You like captions like "At last they reach the mysterious fen country and are halted by the great marshes"? You like beautifully detailed Golden Age artwork? Have a look at a preview.

^ • SHOWCASE PRESENTS BAT LASH -- DC's started experimenting with slimmer, cheaper Showcase collections of series that never made it to the 500-page mark, like this Sergio Aragones/Nick Cardy-created series about a gunfightin' aesthete in the Old West--just seven issues of "Bat Lash" itself, an issue of the original "Showcase" series, and a few backups from various other Western comics.

¥ • SUPERMAN: WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE MAN OF TOMORROW DELUXE EDITION -- As a companion to the Neil Gaiman "Batman" hardcover that's due out next week, here's the fourth printed version of the Alan Moore/Curt Swan two-parter that closed out Superman's Silver Age incarnation and is probably the only dramatically satisfying "last [superhero X] story." For this edition, it's paired with a not-great Superman/Swamp Thing team-up and "For the Man Who Has Everything," a Moore/Gibbons collaboration that predates "Watchmen" by a few months and is one of the most perfectly pitched Superman stories ever published. All of them are also collected in the (cheaper) paperback "DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore," although that volume leaves off the brilliant opening caption to "Man of Tomorrow."

Δ • † THOR: TALES OF ASGARD BY LEE & KIRBY #3 -- Reprints of the backup stories from eight issues of "Journey Into Mystery": Stan Lee and Jack Kirby riffing on the Norse mythology for which they clearly had a deep affection. The modernized coloring is a little bit jarring, but it's nice to se
e this stuff on its own, without the more straightforward superhero material that originally ran alongside it.

• TOM STRONG #1 SPECIAL EDITION -- Another post-"Watchmen" Alan Moore-written reprint cheapie: initially presented as the flagship title of the America's Best Comics line, "Tom Strong" ended up being the one Moore handed off to other writers after a while. This first issue's definitely worth a buck if you haven't read it, though--it's Moore and Chris Sprouse's approximation of the direction superhero comics might have gone if they'd been based on kids' pulp fiction (it's not an accident that the hero's name is a cousin of "Tom Swift"), and it's got a nifty aesthetic of its own.