And speaking of Darwyn Cooke, he's stayed busy, kicking off the new Superman Confidential (DC) by writing an arc for simpatico artist Tim Sale (a.k.a. that guy who does all the art for Heroes). One of its issues looks promising, if not quite yet a knockout. Not so Cooke's inaugural projects reviving Will Eisner's masked crimefighter The Spirit. Dynamically scripted by Jeph Loeb (a.k.a. that guy who helps produce Heroes), the Batman/The Spirit one-shot teams Eisner's adventurer with the Dark Knight for a Hawaiian adventure taking on their combined rogues gallery. Cooke writes and draws the new ongoing Spirit monthly, whose first issue does Eisner proud without losing the Cooke touch… Grades: Superman Confidential, B; Batman/The Spirit, The Spirit: A-…

A revival of a different sort, the Warren Ellis-penned, Salvador Larroca-drawn New Universal (Marvel) reworks Marvel's New Universe, an attempt to populate a new world with new heroes that lasted from 1986 to 1989. The talent for this single-title relaunch couldn't be better, but the issues will have to get grabbier than the debut if they want to outlast their inspiration… B-

Proving yet again that good things come in small packages, Kazimir Strzepek's thick little 5.5-inch-square book The Mourning Star (Bodega) contains a richly immersive, odd little fantasy world, in which several cultures clash after a comet cataclysmically strikes their planet. The first book's many plot threads introduce various wandering groups and individuals, who recall Joann Sfar's Dungeon books in their oddities, their simple agendas, and their mundanely detailed, complicated lives. In particular, an amnesiac warrior and a traveler on the road with his "dream eater" (a floating crescent-shaped creature that rests in his mouth when he sleeps) come across as strong, prickly, entertainingly unsympathetic characters. So far, Bodega's releases are strongly reminiscent of Top Shelf's: Artistically simple, textually dense, and exciting in their diversity and uniqueness… B+


The Comics Journal Library Volume 7: Harvey Kurtzman (Fantagraphics) is one of the best entries yet in an indispensable series. Collecting Kurtzman interviews from The Comics Journal and elsewhere—coupled with copious illustrations by the legendary cartoonist from his early gag strips, EC war comics, Mad magazine parodies, and post-Mad forays into men's magazines—this slick oversized volume makes the case for Kurtzman as one of the most versatile and vital artists of his era. At the least, it shows the need for a comprehensive Kurtzman anthology—preferably a multi-volume set… A

The myriad attempts to revive The Justice Society Of America have rarely gained much traction, because few writers have been able to figure out exactly what the JSA is: a collection of oldsters, or second-generation heroes? A mass collective, or a tight unit? In the new Justice Society Of America (DC), writer Geoff Johns and penciller Dale Eaglesham envision the group as a bunch of broken people—young and old—banded together to settle old scores. The exciting first issue introduces a murder mystery and some psychologically unstable new characters, in what could almost pass as a more conventional version of Alan Moore's Watchmen. No telling whether this series will hold up, but chapter one is certainly strong enough to merit reading on to chapter two… B+

DC's "Showcase Presents" series is often more valuable for its artwork than its stories, and rarely has that been more true than with the first volumes of Challengers Of The Unknown and The Phantom Stranger. The former contains some thrilling Jack Kirby art—a trial run for Fantastic Four—in service of fast-paced, practically incomprehensible stories starring a quartet of non-superpowered adventurers and their countless space-alien enemies. The latter features one of DC's vaguest characters—a mystical figure who helps guide people undergoing arcane crises—as drawn by some of the company's grandest stylists, like Neil Adams, Jim Aparo, and Tony DeZuniga. Budding cartoonists should study both these volumes intently. Budding comics writers should give them a miss… Both: B


Brian Ralph's adventure stories combine the hand-crafted charm of indie comics with the well-thought-out thrills of good pulp. The world didn't necessarily need another post-apocalyptic zombie tale, but Ralph's Daybreak Episode One (Bodega) is remarkably well-done, using a second-person device that puts the reader behind the eyes of a survivor, scrounging for food and making tentative allies. It's simply drawn, but nothing about it is crude… A-

An Orgy Of Playboy's Eldon Dedini (Fantagraphics) offers 200-plus pages of full-page cartoons by one of the magazine's signature artists, whose voluptuous nudes and libertine philosophy helped sell Hugh Hefner's vision of high-toned human sexuality. Dedini's jokes weren't exactly New Yorker-class—though a supine housewife telling her husband, "You've satisfied my immediate needs, now I feel the kitchen needs painting" comes close—but his lushly painted pictures, heavy on the flesh tones, were often sexier than anything else between Playboy's covers… B+

Does the title of Perhapanauts: Second Chances refer to anything in the storyline, or just to Dark Horse giving the series a second outing? The first four-issue miniseries ended on a cliffhanger, and the second four-issue miniseries (released under the "Second Chances" subtitle, shortly after the first series was collected into the trade First Blood) starts off right where its predecessor left off, with a crowd of little pink piranha-ish dudes rapidly taking over the home base of the titular super-weirdo group. The whole thing looks and feels more than a little like Mike Mignola's quirky, chunky B.P.R.D., but without the Nazi obsession, and with considerably more super-evolved sentient chupacabras… B


Runaways Vol. 2 (Marvel) is just another volume playing catch-up on Brian K. Vaughan's lively series about a group of young superheroes whose parents were murderous supervillains, but it's a terrific package. A companion volume for the gorgeous prestige volume-one collection released at the beginning of the year, it covers issues #1-12 of Runaways series two, a.k.a. volumes #4 and #5 of the little digest books, otherwise known as True Believers and Escape To New York. Confused? Just ignore the little books and invest in the two big hardback collections. The high-quality paper and beautiful coloring is well worth it, and Vaughan's Harvey Award-winning storyline is good lively superhero fun. Who knows what'll happen when Joss Whedon takes over writing the title early next year (as Vaughan moves on to co-scripting TV's Lost and, er, doing a guest stint on Whedon's Buffy: Season Eight comic) but it's a good time to be caught up on the action… A

Yukinobu Hoshino's massive comics adaptation of James Hogan's 1979 science-fiction novel The Two Faces Of Tomorrow (Dark Horse) was clearly meant for fans interested both in hard-SF and mecha-manga—it features pages upon pages simply depicting intricately detailed robot drones going about their work in a lovingly crafted space station. It's almost engineering porn. But the story is surprisingly intense and well-paced. Hogan posits a future where a dangerous incident leads engineers and politicians to worry that their growing computer networks will someday take over, to humanity's detriment; to test how bad it could get, they create a rogue AI, isolated on the space station, and start fighting it. Unsurprisingly, events soon get out of their hands. Hoshino's minutely detailed art makes the story concrete and nearly realistic, while Hogan's story is appealingly cinematic and smart. A .