I have several large stacks of comics on my desk right now, including a bunch of current superhero releases from Marvel and DC. Some of these are not recent releases, but most are, and indicate where my head is in terms of comics these days.
Love and Rockets: New Stories #3 (Fantagraphics, 104 pages, black and white, $14.99) contains one of the best comics stories I've read in a very long time: Jamie Hernandez's "Browntown." It fills in the history of Maggie's family with a story that is realistic, honest and true in every way that matters. Throw in a tale of "current day" Maggie, and some fantastic sex weirdness from Gilbert, and this easily is the best $15 you can spend in a comics shop.
Zot!: The Complete Black and White Collection (Harper, 576 pages, black and white, $24.95) is really interesting to read for the first time so many years after having absorbed Scott McCloud's most famous work, Understanding Comics. That's because he obviously is experimenting with some of the ideas for comics storytelling he eventually put into Understanding Comics, and it's interesting to see those ideas put into practice with a real story. What I didn't expect from this book was how gentle and sweet it is, and how well McCloud's art style fits with the story. It's also a big, thick and satisfying read — complete with commentary by McCloud on each story. Another excellent read for a great price.
John Byrne's Next Men #(3)1 and (3)2 (IDW, 28 pages each, color, $3.99 each) were a pleasant surprise. I have been a fan of Byrne's work for many years and I thought his original run on Next Men was easily the best, most original thing he had ever done. I love a lot of the work he's done for DC and Marvel superheroes, but Next Men really stood out to me as the kind of comic top creators should be free to do. Having just re-read the entire original Dark Horse run prior to digging into the new issues only reinforced this in my mind, and I really think that the series would have been a huge smash and run for years had Image Comics and the speculator phenomenon not come along at the same time. But I have to admit disappointment in Byrne's recent work — especially such DC projects as the unreadable Lab Rats and underwhelming takes on Doom Patrol and The Demon. I haven't read his previous IDW stuff. But the first two issues of the revived Next Men really popped — the story picked up seamlessly and with plenty of surprises, and the art recalls Byrne's style from the time he did the original series and is more inviting and stylish than anything I've seen from him in years. I'm glad Byrne finally came back to this series and hope it's successful enough to encourage him to try more creator-owned material in this vein.
The Official Marvel Index to The Uncanny X-Men (Marvel, color, $19.99). I have always liked these indexes because it's a lot of fun to just flip through info on so many series in one convenient place. This is a complete revamp from the previous X-Men indices (published in 1987-89 and 1994), and while I like that things like variant covers and some behind-the-scenes creative notes are included, I do have a few complaints: Please, Marvel, number the pages — especially if you're going to say in the text things like "This issue has a 2nd printing variant cover, which can be seen on p. 165." Because I can't find p. 165 with no page numbers short of flipping through the book until I spot what I'm looking for. Second, I know space is tight, but using abbreviations for every title is a bit annoying even as I like that you added a year to each issue cited in this way. And lastly, if you're going to index the X-Men, it would be useful to treat the X-Men in the index the same way Marvel publishes the comics: As a line of comics. It's especially annoying when you have so many crossovers between The Uncanny X-Men and X-Men, and the index only includes the Uncanny side. I would hope a second volume is on the way to fill in those gaps. Still, I'm glad to have this and pleased is goes all the way up through 2009's Utopia crossover.
Back to singles: The New York Five #1 (DC/Vertigo, 32 pages, black and white, $2.99) surprised me by being a lot better than I remember The New York Four being. This sequel from writer Brian Wood and artist Ryan Kelly — about a group of young women finding their way through their freshman year at college in New York City — feels more appropriate to a college age than the younger first book. The full-size comic book format also lets Kelly's artwork really shine — it looks fantastic in all its detailed, gritty, urban black and white glory.
I picked up 27 #1 (Image Comics, 24 pages, color, $3.99) as part of an effort on my part to find something — anything — new to get excited about. And it's a good start. Scripted by Charles Soule with art by Renzo Podesta, this is a tale of a rock guitar god whose hand injury has put his career on the rocks. Until an unusual solution is offered that has its drawbacks. Printed in a slightly oversize "Golden Age" format, the art looks like it was actually drawn (instead of the heavily Photoshopped