Stand Up Comics is a regular column by Adan Jimenez. These titles need no introduction: just read the column, then read some good comics!
Battling Boy by Paul Pope (First Second)
The city-planet of Arcopolis is beset by many villains and monsters, from the enormous, car-eating Humbaba to the child-stealing Sadisto and his Ghoul Gang. Luckily, Haggard West is always there to protect the population--until he's killed in action. Enter Battling Boy, the son of a Thor-like god, who has been sent to protect one of the many worlds in existence. Problem is, Battling Boy doesn't really know what he's doing and isn't all that powerful, but everyone in Arcopolis thinks he is, including the mayor, the chief of police and Haggard West's daughter, Aurora (who's thinking about following in her dad's footsteps).
Paul Pope is probably best known for his creator-owned work, particularly THB, Heavy Liquid and 100%, as well as his amazing take on the Batman in Batman: Year 100. He brings his trademark frenetic and incredibly detailed art style to Battling Boy. This is especially apparent in Arcopolis itself, the god-city from which Battling Boy hails, and Haggard West's home, which is filled with all manner of science hero doohickey.
The story, on the other hand, isn't as striking, since this graphic novel is clearly the beginning of something bigger, and not an entire story in and of itself. It offers a lot of introduction and world-building but no payoff. We'll have to wait for the next volumes to see what becomes of Battling Boy, Aurora West and Arcopolis.
Handselling Opportunities: People who like to read coming-of-age stories that involve beating up extremely large monsters, and people who don't mind waiting what could be a very long time for the continuation of a good story.
Thanos: Redemption by Jim Starlin, Keith Giffen, Ron Lim and Al Milgrom (Marvel)
If you're still wondering who that purple guy with the weird chin was from the mid-credits scene of the Avengers movie, then these two stories have your answer! This collection isn't the definitive Thanos story, but that's why it's so good. Thanos is portrayed as a somewhat repentant figure in the two stories, instead of his usual wants-to-kill-the-universe-to-appease-Mistress-Death self.
In the first story, written and drawn by Jim Starlin, Thanos is paired up with Adam Warlock to aid the Rigellians, an alien race Thanos wants to help because he once destroyed their home world (so he's got a bit to make up for). Readers get succinct and extremely well-done introductions to both Thanos and Warlock, so new readers won't feel lost. Starlin has long been synonymous with the cosmic corner of the Marvel Universe, having written and drawn cosmic comics such as Silver Surfer, Warlock and Infinity Gauntlet. And he created Thanos--in the pages of Captain Marvel--so the character couldn't be in better hands.
I enjoyed the second story more, written and drawn by Keith Giffen, as it contains many other cosmic concept and characters that Thanos interacts with and plays off of, including Peter Quill the Star-Lord (one of the main characters from the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy movie). New readers, however, may not enjoy it as much because the extremely helpful introductions are missing. But if they're feeling lost, Marvel has provided encyclopedic entries on all the major characters at the back of the book (except Star-Lord).
Handselling Opportunities: People who enjoy wide-ranging space opera, and people who want to go into the Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers 3 movies with a little extra knowledge.
Encyclopedia of Early Earth: A Novel by Isabel Greenberg (Little, Brown)
My wife and I went to London on holiday in November 2011 and visited every bookstore we could, including Foyles Bookshop, where we saw many short comics on display as a part of some kind of contest. We read them all and enjoyed most of them, but the one that really stuck with us was Love in a Very Cold Climate. It was a four-page story about a man from the North Pole and a woman from the South Pole who fall in love at first sight but are never be able to touch each other (because of odd magnetic properties). I said to my wife, "If this ever becomes available for sale, we have to buy it." It was so beautiful, poignant, heartbreaking and life-affirming all at the same time, I knew it was something I would want to revisit as often as I could.
Flash forward two-and-a-half years, and I hear about a new graphic novel. I don't know what it's about, but the title intrigues me and the art looks vaguely familiar, though I've never heard of the author before. I cracked it open and what do I see but the first two pages of that short comic we saw in London! Isabel Greenberg won that contest (the 2011 Observer/Jonathan Cape/Comica graphic short story prize) and then turned the short comic into a full-fledged graphic novel.
Greenberg fills the rest of the volume with wonderful stories about how the northern man found the southern woman, as well as about the mysterious circumstances surrounding his birth and childhood, how he became the storyteller of his village, the creation of the world and various myths and legends of other lands he visits. Most of these stories are adapted from biblical stories, but some come from other sources, and still others are entirely made up. They are all wonderfully real and magical, otherworldly yet familiar.
Handselling Opportunities: Anybody who has ever told or heard (or both) a story before.