Ready to curl up with a good graphic novel? Here are some options:
“Basketful of Heads”: DC Comics has launched a horror line called Hill House Comics, starring writer Joe Hill, beginning with “Basketful of Heads” ($24.99). You might wonder why this Hill fella rates his own line of comics, but you can stop wondering when I whisper that he’s the son of Stephen King, which he does not advertise.
Nor should he, as he can clearly stand on his own. “Basketful of Heads” is not only scary, it’s a thrill ride full of memorable characters and plot twists that even this veteran didn’t see coming.
Or to quote Hill himself from the back of the book, “I wanted our first title to be insane, WTF, relentless reading; to script something that would blast along like an 18-wheeler going downhill with no brakes.”
Mainly, it’s a heart-in-mouth gantlet for the lead character, an ordinary teenage girl named June Branch who finds herself in extraordinary circumstances. Like: a whole lot of people trying to kill her, for reasons she doesn’t understand. It’s her story, and Hill never lets us forget that she isn’t a spy or a stone killer or a superhero or anything else that would help her cope.
Manga Yokai stories: Yokai is a Japanese catchall term for supernatural critters and monsters in the island nation’s folklore. If you didn’t know that, don’t feel bad: I didn’t know it either until I read the book.
Not that I am entirely unfamiliar with cool Japanese mythology. Dark Horse’s Hellboy stories find inspiration all over the globe, including nukekubi, Japanese creatures that look like humans, but whose heads detach at night and fly around looking for victims to consume. The nukekubi were truly chilling. To read about them in their original context is even more exciting.
And that pretty much describes my experience reading “Manga Yokai Stories.” The various myths and folk tales, depicted in semi-realistic manga style, are fascinating both as glimpses into Japanese culture and as an exploration of universal human fears.
“Atlas at War!”: Back in the 1950s, the publisher that would someday be Marvel Comics was known as Atlas Comics and it produced a lot of war comics. In 1953 Atlas released as many as 14 war titles a month! It was that gold mine that ’50s comics expert Michael J. Vassallo dug into for “Atlas at War!,” a collection of war stories from that publisher, lifted from various titles, from “War Stories” No. 7 in 1951 to “Battle” No. 70 in 1960.
I should note that while all these stories are pretty good, none are great. So why read this book? Because of the art. You have Jack Kirby, co-creator of Captain America, Black Panther, Fantastic Four and X-Men. Bill Everett, creator of the Sub-Mariner. Jerry Robinson, co-creator of the Joker and Catwoman. This book is a visual treat, whether you’re a comics fan or not. So ignore the words where they’re dumb, and the racial caricatures where they’re painful, and the obvious patriotic rah-rah. Just look at the pictures. They are, as the expression goes, worth the price of admission.