A Month of Wednesdays | Some DC, some manga and 'All Star'

All Star (NBM): The latest graphic novel from Joe and Azat's Jesse Lonergan, All Star gets a lot of mileage out of its setting in both space and time. The space is an extremely small small town of Elizabeth, Vermont, a place with little to do and little chance of escape for the young, caged tiger types who are coming of age there. The time is 1998, and Lonergan returns again and again to the sports, politics and pop culture of the time for knowing gags, commentary on the events of the story or even just color.

Our protagonist is Carl Carter, the cocky, hot-shot all-star of the title, a fantastic baseball player whose skill could take him far from town once he graduates, and has made him one of his school and town's most popular residents, much to the chagrin of his long-suffering brother (who is also his teammate).

One night, after drinking way too much at a party, he and his best friend make a stupid decision, one that gets his friend expelled from school and sent on a completely different path than Carl, who suspects his baseball skills and the importance of the sport to his school got him off light.

He begins soul-searching from there, and realizes too late how screwed-up his world is, and actually has been for a while,  but it's too late to do anything about. A tragedy — in the sense that it ends sadly rather than happily — All Star captures small-town adolescence perfectly (perhaps all too perfectly, depending on a reader's mood and propensity for elegiac nostalgia), and is actually a great deal of fun, despite the down ending and the heavy melodrama.

Lonegran is a sensational character designer and cartoonist, and while all of the lines in all of the panels are dynamic and expressive, this is never more apparent than when he's drawing the sports action, in which balls fly like meteors, and hit the ground, a glove or a bat with explosions.

Hinterkind, Vol. 1: The Waking World (DC Comics): I previously discussed the first issue of Ian Edginton and Francesco Trifogli's post-apocalyptic fantasy series, and while I liked that debut well enough, I think it reads better still in the context of a collection, where the title's main hook is made a lot more clear, and is thus sharper and more likely to snag a reader.

Sometime in the not-too-distant future, after a mysterious disease has wiped out much of mankind and nature has begun to reclaim even the world's biggest cities, the various races of fairies and other fantasy creatures — your goblins, your satyrs, your whatever the plural of the word "cyclops" might be — have come out of hiding, determined to retake the world that human beings have pushed them out of for so long. These various tribes are known collectively as The Hinterkind.

Our point-of-view character is a young human girl handy with a bow and arrow (archery being all the rage these days) who has set out with her best friend from what used to be Manhattan. They quickly encounter two different groups of human-hunting Hinterkind and rather bizarre human survivors who haven't done much to give the American military industrial complex a good name, while we periodically check in with the queen and princess of The Sidhe, the ruling race among The Hinterkind.

In terms of content, it reads a little like a Y: The Last Man riff with visuals more akin to Saga (one of the characters looks like he could be the uncle of Saga's Marko, for example). To Edginton's credit, the drama is tense and compelling enough to make for a fairly thrilling read, regardless of the high concept.

Trifogli's art is accomplished, perfectly selling a world in which these various races all seem to belong together, and colorist Cris Peter does this neat effect where everything seems like it's been colored in with markers. The first issue intrigued me, but the first volume hooked me.

Justice League, Vol. 4: The Grid (DC): Say what you will about Geoff Johns' Justice League, but it sure isn't written for the trade. This collection is a complete mess, and not merely because there are 10 artists involved in producing the six issues that compose this volume.

There are two more or less standalone issues: The first, "The Grid," is a fairly typical "new recruit" story, in which the super-team invites a bunch of potential members to its headquarters, with only a few making the cut (10 heroes visit the satellite, with Firestorm, Element Woman and "The Atom" remaining).

That issue, all drawn quite effectively by Jesus Saiz, is followed by one drawn by Ivan Reis and three inkers that's devoted to moving various subplots forward. Then there's another typical super-team story, in which the new recruits prove their mettle by going up against an enemy that should be way beyond their abilities to deal with (here, Despero); that issue requires five artists.

The second half of the book is devoted to "Trinity War," the nine-part crossover story that ran through all three Justice League books ... but only the three chapters that ran in Justice League actually appear in this volume, so every third chapter of the story, basically. It won't make much sense read straight through, and I'm not sure how someone who follows Justice League in trade is meant to deal with this. You would either have to buy collections of Justice League Dark and Justice League of America, which contain their portions of the event in addition to the issues preceding them, or buy Justice League: Trinity War in addition to JL Vol. 4, even though you would already have paid for one-third of the contents of Trinity War when you bought JL Vol. 4. (Or I could just tell you here the only really important part of the "Trinity War" story: Pandora's Box is a Mother Box leading to Earth-3, and it releases The Crime Syndicate. The story picks up in Forever Evil.)

The title story, at least, is pretty good, featuring the best and most clear and readable art in the book, and it is the sole story here that works perfectly well on its own terms, without constantly referencing the past, pre-reboot continuity with overly cute elbows to the ribs and winks that the rest of the book offers.

Nijigahara Holograph (Fantagraphics Books): A new, standalone graphic novel from Inio Asano (Solanin), this mannered but extremely creepy psychological horror can be a bit obtuse, but it's also effective — and affecting.

Bizarre, apocalyptic imagery stands side by side with keenly observed, finely rendered scenes of the modern, mundane world as mysteries pile atop mysteries, and new and surprising connections are constantly revealed between the many characters.

In one timeline, a bullied young girl is "sacrificed" to a monster that playground rumor holds lives in a nearby tunnel, while in another the adults the children involved have become continue to be affected by the actions they committed back then. The two timelines intersect and interact in unexpected ways, with portentous dialogue and unsettling imagery bridging them both.

If David Lynch were a Japanese manga artist rather than an American film director, this is the sort of story one imagines he would tell in his hypothetical medium.

UQ Holder! Vol. 1 (Kodansha Comics): This new series is mainly notable for its author, Ken Akamatsu, the creator of the rather charming domestic harem comedy Love Hina and the sprawling Negima.

What might not be apparent until you actually start reading is that it's something of a sequel to the 30-plus volume Negima. Set in the future, its protagonist is Tota Konoe, the grandson of Negima's boy-wizard protagonist Negi Springfield.

He lost his parents in a car crash, and is being raised out in the countryside by his beautiful teacher Yukihime, who has several secrets, including her ability to use magic and ... something else. She has made a deal with Tota and his friends: If they can ever overcome her in a fight, she will allow them to journey to the big city and follow their dreams.

When her past catches up with her, however, Tota is transformed forever, separated from his friends and taken with Yukihime to the city, where he finds a society of people a lot like his new, transformed self. It's a rather complicated set-up, certainly compared to that of Love Hina and Negima, and is likely of greater interest to Negima fans than newcomers.

Even still, Akamatsu and his team's art is as gorgeous and dynamic as ever, and even if I didn't feel a strong connection to this character or his story by the end of the first volume, I sure enjoyed looking at every page.

Wonder Woman, Vol. 4: War (DC): After some three straight volumes of Olympian intrigue, in which Wonder Woman and her large supporting cast deal with Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang's new versions of the Greek gods, all of whom have some interest in either killing or protecting the last demi-god Zeus sired before he died, this collection finally shows the series broadening its horizons a bit.

The New 52 version of Jack Kirby's Orion has been around for a few issues before those collected in this volume (issues 19-23), but here he takes Wonder Woman and a few or her allies back to New Genesis with him, where we get our first look at the new New Genesis, as well as the new Highfather. (Oddly, DC has been doling the Fourth World reboots out in small doses in several titles across the line, including Justice League, Earth 2 and Worlds' Finest.)

They journey there between bouts with The First Born, Zeus' first child, who, like Apollo/Sun, wants to kill the last born and take over Olympus. In the climax, Ares/War is killed in the process of taking down The First Born, which means the mantle of god of war must be passed on to someone else. Spoiler: The comic book series is named after her.

Thanks to Chiang's sharp designs and smooth, clean artwork, Wonder Woman remains one of the better-looking of DC's New 52 books — even when the artist isn't drawing it, as he often isn't. His frequent fill-in artists Goran Sudzuka, Tony Akins and Dan Green all contribute heavily to this collection and, as usual, they do an unusually fine job of keeping the loo , tone and overall style of the book well within the bounds Chiang established early on.

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