Outer-space adventures, the mysteries of the oceans, 20-something angst, World War II intrigue, an audacious heist, misfits of science, an anthology of gay and lesbian comics and, oh yes, superheroes. Even the finickiest of readers will find something to enjoy in this selection of graphic novels.
‘THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS VOL. 1’ (Image Comics, $14.99), written by Jonathan Hickman and illustrated by Nick Pitarra, imagines that the scientists working on the atomic bomb were up to more — like traveling to other dimensions, meeting aliens and encountering doppelgängers. These titans of science (Feynman, Einstein and Oppenheimer) take the craziness in stride. It is also worth checking out Mr. Hickman’s work for Marvel Entertainment: ‘S.H.I.E.L.D.’ and ‘FANTASTIC FOUR.’
Brian K. Vaughan returns to comics with ‘SAGA VOL. 1’ (Image Comics, $9.99), illustrated by Fiona Staples, a Romeo and Juliet story about star-crossed parents from alien races at war. This is a rich world, with relatable characters and incredible visuals. “Saga” can sit proudly alongside Mr. Vaughan’s previous series, including ‘Y: THE LAST MAN’ and ‘RUNAWAYS.’
Two of the best series to emerge from DC Comics’ decision to reintroduce its heroes feature characters that embrace what came before and move forward. In ‘AQUAMAN: THE TRENCH’ ($22.99), the writer Geoff Johns is providing the building blocks to make the undersea hero an A-lister, and the artwork by Ivan Reis is magnificent. Over in ‘BATGIRL: THE DARKEST REFLECTION’ ($22.99), Gail Simone has returned Barbara Gordon to the cowl, after a miraculous end to her paralysis at the hands of the Joker — though the post-traumatic stress lingers.
Darwyn Cooke’s adaptations of Richard Stark’s ‘PARKER’ novels are the gifts that keep giving. In ‘THE SCORE’ (IDW, $24.99) the antihero pulls off his greatest heist yet as he and a team of less-than-above-board men knock over a small town. Mr. Cooke’s characters look as if they stepped out of “Mad Men,” while the rogues’ chemistry has an “Ocean’s Eleven” vibe. The previous entries, ‘THE HUNTER’ and ‘THE OUTFIT,’ belong in everyone’s library.
I’ve come to anticipate any new work by the cartoonist Jeff Lemire with excitement. ‘THE UNDERWATER WELDER’ (Top Shelf, $19.95) is about a deep-sea welder coming to terms with fatherhood. The characters are completely relatable and so visually expressive that the words are almost redundant. Similarly engrossing is Mr. Lemire’s ‘SWEET TOOTH’ series, now on Volume 5, from the DC Comics imprint Vertigo, about a post-apocalyptic world populated by human-animal hybrids.
Comic book fans are used to buying the same material in different formats: typically single issues, followed by softcover collections, then a deluxe hardcover with bonus features. ‘SCOTT PILGRIM,’ which was originally published in pocket size and in black and white, is now available in larger color editions (Oni Press, $24.99) with behind-the-scenes material. I found the six volumes and the film version beguiling. The new version is an excuse to reread it and find out more about the cartoonist Bryan Lee O’Malley’s creative process. I’m certain eventually to buy an oversized hardcover edition that collects all six volumes in one.
‘MESSAGE TO ADOLF’ (Vertical Comics, $26.95) is by Osamu Tezuka, the godfather of manga. It is a sprawling tale of three men who share a first name: Adolf Kamil, a Jewish boy; Adolf Kaufmann, the boy of German-Japanese lineage who befriends him; and Adolf Hitler. There is childhood friendship, political intrigue and the ugliness of war. There are also opposing forces at work: those who want to expose Hitler’s Jewish ancestry and others who will do anything to suppress it. The first volume is available; the second volume is to be published in December.
In honor of the 50th anniversary of the prose novel comes the graphic novel version of ‘A WRINKLE IN TIME’ by Madeleine L’Engle (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $19.99). I was unfamiliar with the source material, which chronicles the interplanetary adventure of three children who confront the ultimate evil, so I had no preconceived ideas of what any of the characters or settings should look like. The adaptation, by Hope Larson, is a compelling introduction to this world.
‘SAILOR TWAIN’ (First Second, $24.99), set in 1887, chronicles a steamboat’s journey and the story of a mermaid who is hoping to break a curse. The charcoal drawings of the cartoonist Mark Siegel are appropriately moody, and the sequence that depicts an angry sea king is particularly powerful. The best part is that the reader is never quite certain where the tale will end.
There is a who’s who of creators and characters in ‘AVENGERS VS. X-MEN’ (Marvel Entertainment, $75), which teams up many of Marvel’s writers and artists and flagship heroes — Captain America and the Avengers and Cyclops and the X-Men. It’s a battle royal with nothing less than the fate of the universe at stake. These tent-pole stories always promise lasting change, but that doesn’t always pan out over the long run. Still, a superhero slugfest is always enjoyable and the shuffling of team rosters that results has led to some intriguing combinations.
Minority representation in comic books is a topic close to my heart, so I was very happy to discover ‘NO STRAIGHT LINES: FOUR DECADES OF QUEER COMICS’ (Fantagraphics, $35). This sampling of comic books and comic strips featuring gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender themes and characters has strong language and sexual situations, but a lot of laughs too. It is a wonderful toe dip into the genre.