In 1930, gag cartoonist and Borscht Belt shtickster Milt Gross drew the book-length comic story He Done Her Wrong and dubbed it "The Great American Novel (With No Words)." It's been out of print for almost 20 years, but Fantagraphics has restored it to bookshelves. And while the words "great" and "novel" don't really apply to Gross' loose, jokey story about a fur trapper's romantic travails, He Done Her Wrong is undeniably "American," with a tone that ranges from pure slapstick to poignant sentiment… (B+)

Comics legend Joe Kubert returns to one of his signature characters with the miniseries Sgt. Rock: The Prophecy (DC), and its first issue reaffirms his skills as an artist and storyteller. The story starts with Rock and the colorful boys of Easy Company leading a bloody charge through Lithuania, but by the end of the first installment, a typically rollicking Kubert World War II saga gains an unexpected mystical dimension. Can't wait to see where this is headed… (A-)

Somewhere between Sgt. Rock and Vertigo's Lucifer lies the trade collection of Light Brigade (DC), a self-contained miniseries that features a fractious little unit of American GIs sidestepping the more parochial battles of World War II and getting drawn into a conflict between heaven and its rejected offshoots. Peter Tomasi's story takes two common comics-grist conflicts (Americans vs. Nazis; angels vs. the fallen) and gives both a fresh twist, and Peter Snejbjerg's luminous art makes the extreme, graphic contrast between weak, shreddable human flesh and heavenly bodies feel viscerally real… (A-)

For another take on Biblical conflict, Steve Ross' graphic novel Marked (Seabury) retells Mark's gospel in a semi-contemporary idiom: newspaper headlines details Herod's feud with John the Baptist, Jesus gets all up in the Pharisees' grill. The energetic style and imaginative (though chaotic) plotline reflect Ross' aim to present a more complex theological alternative to The Passion Of The Christ. But his strongman Jesus is a far cry from the gospel's secretive mystery man, and Marked strays almost as far from scripture as those Archie comics about the four spiritual laws… (B-)

The grimacing-superhero cover couldn't be more generic, but the hefty trade collection The American (Dark Horse) is anything but a standard superhero story. Smallville writer/co-producer Mark Verheiden starts bleak and gets bleaker with his vision of an America enthralled by a Captain America-style superhero, and a reporter who uncovers the conspiracy behind the mask. The American trade collects several miniseries and material from Dark Horse Presents, covering several complete plotlines and interstitials, and along the way the titular hero develops from a plot point into a strong and tragic character, while the series' ostensible lead, an obnoxious, alcoholic journalist who breaks The American's story, gradually falls from grace. Verheiden's smarmy sense of satire sometimes feels like it would fit better in American Flagg than into this otherwise-grim book, but his look at public apathy and government manipulation of truth couldn't be timelier… (A)

The established Vertigo titles cycle through hot new writers so often that it's hard to get too excited about the changes, but the new scribe on the venerable Hellblazer (Vertigo) deserves her hype. Scottish mystery author Denise Mina starts the story arc "Empathy Is The Enemy"—beginning in issue #216—with "bloke magician" Constantine helping out a man whose abuse of a mild magic spell has led to a series of disasters, all of which he's experienced vicariously. Constantine takes on both the case and the curse, setting the stage for another epic journey into the blackness of his own past… (A-)

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It takes a fairly geeky mind to properly appreciate all the gags in Rich Burlew's thrice-weekly webcomic "The Order Of The Stick," which follows a band of Dungeons & Dragons-style warriors on a series of quests, complete with occasional references to die rolls, skill points, and the fourth wall. But while the jokes are occasionally insular and the art is simple, the increasingly intricate and cleverly scripted adventures should appeal to a much wider audience. The first Order Of The Stick trade collection, Dungeon Crawlin' Fools, encompasses the webcomic's massive initial story arc, but the latest release, On The Origin Of PCs (Giant In The Playground) is all-new material. With its black-and-white art and character-introducing storyline, it's really a fans-only release, but there's never been a better time to become a fan. The strip can be found at giantitp.com, under "comics"… (B)

Swedish cartoonist Martin Kellerman has been drawing the comic strip Rocky off and on since 1998, detailing the lives of his oversexed, pop-culture-obsessed European generation. Fantagraphics' translated collection Rocky Vol. 1: The Big Payback keeps the relatable cultural references intact and changes the Swede-centric ones—a choice that may distract some readers, who'll wonder what's what—but for the most part, it isn't too hard to understand who these people are. Those who enjoy hanging out with the kind of vulgar, self-centered, smugly opinionated characters who show up in Kevin Smith films should have a blast with Rocky. Those who don't, consider yourselves warned… (B-)

Fables: Homelands(DC) is a lousy place to start Bill Willingham's still-riveting ongoing series about the folkloric creatures and characters who fled their magical homelands for the real world after the rise of a monstrous figure called the Adversary. But for faithful readers, the issues contained in this trade are an immensely gratifying reveal, as the story moves back to the Homelands and the Adversary finally takes center stage. The story's been building to this peak for a long time, and Willingham doesn't disappoint; the Homelands arc is ambitious, creative, and colorful like nothing that's come before… (A+)

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Unlike his brother Gilbert, Jaime Hernandez hasn't used his Love & Rockets characters Maggie and Hopey in too many long-form narratives, so it's notable when he stays with a plot long enough to produce something that qualifies as a graphic novel. Hernandez's new book Ghost Of Hoppers (Fantagraphics) follows Maggie as she plays at a love affair with an obnoxious-but-voluptuous woman, all while dealing with changes in her old neighborhood and the possibility of a more permanent relationship with the ever-flighty Hopey. Previous knowledge of the characters deepens the story, but Ghost Of Hoppers can easily be read and enjoyed as a standalone story about the pleasures and terrors of stasis… (A-)

The first installment of DC's new four-issue miniseries Elfquest: The Discovery is pretty fluffy, with a lot more elfish exposition and general lolling-about than actual character development or conflict. But hey, the series features original creators Richard and Wendy Pini instead of the ringers who have run their franchise's quality down over the past decade, the art is accomplished, and the long-defunct Wavedancers storyline is finally being revived and, presumably, brought back into canon… (B)

Spider-woman has long been a third-string Marvel character, to put it kindly. That began to change when Brian Michael Bendis took an interest in her, first bringing her into the extended cast of Alias, then recruiting her for The New Avengers. Co-written by Bendis and Brian Reed, Spider-woman: Originmarks her modern-day coming-out. (Hint: Her origin story involves spiders.) So far, it's been a good read made even better by the gorgeous, emotive cartooning of the Luna brothers (Ultra, Girls)… (B)

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Are Western comics making a comeback? A new series starring venerable, scar-faced DC bounty hunter Jonah Hex began appearing side-by-side with Brain Azzarello's Loveless (reviewed last round-up). The Azzarello title got the lion's share of attention, but that's no reason to overlook Jonah Hex. Written by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti, with appropriately dirt-caked art by Luke Ross, the series so far has been a model of tight, done-in-one-issue plotting and suggestive characterization. Is Hex's blood-soaked path leading him toward redemption, or straight to hell? The answer seems to change with each issue… (A-)

When smart writers write dumb comics: The highly anticipated Nextwave(Marvel) comes from writer Warren Ellis and artist Stuart Immonen, and assembles a bunch of new characters and Marvel also-rans (like Machine Man and the female Captain Marvel) into a superhero group in the service of a super-secret organization named H.A.T.E. Or is that a corporation called Beyond? It's hard to tell from this first issue, which lays down the first threads of what promises to be an ongoing conspiracy. But the emphasis is mostly on butt-dumb superhero action, done with tongue at least partly in cheek. A year from now, this will either be the most entertaining series out there, or a punchline. Ellis and artist Max Fiumara also just launched a new ongoing zombie-themed series with an unfortunate name: Blackgas (Avatar). The first issue is tense, rich in detail, and filled with believable dialogue—in other words, closer to what readers expect from Ellis. Whether he can breathe new life into the zombie genre is another question. For now, we're giving both a wait-and-see. (B)