It’s… I guess if there’s a theme, it’s folklore this week. Folklore and obscure reprints. Also there are only two primary creators in this entry, despite their being four books.

FREE COUNTRY: A TALE OF THE CHILDREN’S CRUSADE So I really like Neil Gaiman. I’ve reviewed his last several books for Newsday and I just generally think he’s a terrific writer of narrative and while some of his recent stuff has been less tight than his truly entertaining novels, I’ve always had a soft spot for his ridiculous boondoggle of a crossover story written for Vertigo at a time when nobody good was writing five or six of the best books at the imprint. As planned about 20 years ago, the annuals of Swamp Thing, Animal Man, Doom Patrol, Black Orchid and The Books of Magic were all supposed to tie into each other. As executed, they did no such thing and this very carefully plotted proposal ended up with a really fun intro, a reasonably cool payoff and a middle that just didn’t make any damn sense at all. So the current Vertigo editors got Toby Litt, the guy who wrote Dead Boy Detectives (tertiary Sandman characters who got their own book when you could just print SANDMAN on something and sell it for too much money) to write a middle section that actually contained the planned plot points, and to flesh out the finale so it’s not rushed, and it’s a fun little graphic novel, especially the first section, which is still the best, and has truly terrific Chris Bachalo art. And seriously the less said about the tie-in annuals the better. It was the post-Alan Moore Swamp Thing, the post-Grant Morrison Animal Man and Doom Patrol, and the post-Gaiman Books of Magic and Black Orchid (well, the BoM ongoing hadn’t really started yet, but still: not great). This, however, is really fun.

MIRACLEMAN I am capable of – indeed, prone to – yammering on at punishing length on the topic of Miracleman, the best of Alan Moore’s juvenalia and the only strip to survive Warrior Magazine with its dignity intact (I don’t honestly like the story of V for Vendetta very much, though I love the art). Its second life as a collection of Gaiman’s short stories is maybe the only elegant passing of the torch in comics; can you think of another writer who created a wonderful, satisfying run on a superhero title and then handed the reins to somebody just as good? Maybe Morrison handing off to Mark Waid on JLA or Warren Ellis turning The Authority over to Mark Millar, but those are the only two I can think of. Anyway, Marvel is finally reprinting Miracleman frustratingly slowly, but they’ve graduated to the good stuff, and Gaiman’s stories are just as clever as I remember them being and Mark Buckingham’s art is gorgeous. The third issue of the Gaiman run comes out next month; it’s my single favorite comic book. The last issue was fun, the weakest of the bunch in my humble opinion; Gaiman, early in his career, wrote a worrying number of stories about shallow young men who are extremely cynical about sex and get cured of said cynicism through a transcendent (and weird) sexual experience – that’s Miracleman #2. But it is interesting and Buckingham does good work.

ALIENS: SALVATION A forgotten gem from the licensing bonanza of the mid-1990′s written by Dave Gibbons and drawn – for real – by Mike Mignola. Dark Horse put it back in print; I believe it was a serial in the company’s UK-only Aliens Magazine that they issued in the US as a one-shot in 1993. It’s kind of Clive Barker-y, which makes sense, since the grandaddy of horror-movie comics merchandising is the surprisingly high-wattage Hellraiser anthology series that came out around the same time. Man, that one’s great – stories by Mignola, Dave McKean, Mark Hempel, Marc Chiarello, etc. Anyway, Salvation is a fairly standard 2000AD-style space story about a missionary saved by his insane captain from evil monsters, written by Gibbons with incredible Kirby-does-some-bad-acid art by Mignola. Its aspirations toward deeper meaning are kind of embarrassing but Mignola rules.

HELLBOY: THE HOUNDS OF PLUTO This is the best Hellboy story I’ve read in years. It’s a perfect blend of folklore and monster-bashing and it suggests some interesting stuff in the future for the series. I have to say, of all the comics artists still working, Mignola is really doing almost exactly the same thing he started out doing, except he’s much more assured, has deeper research and takes longer to put the books out, and it is fucking awesome and no one is doing anything like it. I reread the whole series, Seed of Destruction through Hellboy in Hell, a few months ago and it is nearly perfect – it manages to be pulpy and have some real emotional heft to it at the same time and nobody uses black the way he uses black. He’s completely unafraid to fill up half a page with india ink in the service of one powerful panel and man, is it effective. I can’t think of a page I wouldn’t mount on my wall.

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