Whether the graphic novel is more closely related to the novel or the comic is largely determined by the side of the family tree to which the reader pledges allegiance. But there's no doubt that art and prose make happy bedfellows, and in fact, their progeny is fast breaking through from the underground to the mainstream.
"The American Way"
John Ridley, Georges Jeanty and Karl Story
"The American Way," set in the 1960s, features superheroes quite different from the two-dimensional characters from that era's funny books. These "heroes" aren't motivated by a pursuit of truth and justice -- it's bigotry and lies that get their capes flapping. The book confronts the social problems of American society in a frank and realistic fashion. Well, as real as you get with a black militant wearing a jet pack fighting a flying white separatist. Writer John Ridley succeeds in his attempt to use superpeople to symbolize those among us who hold positions of power and responsibility, our elected officials. Like these superheroes, our leaders are often more than what they seem and spend a lot of time fighting each other.
"The Plain Janes"
Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg
(DC Comics/Minx, $9.99)
Jane cuts her hair off and dyes it black before she's forced to move to the suburbs with her parents after the bombing of their hometown, Metro City. Jane then befriends a group of outcasts who form a club dedicated to subversive acts of art (P.L.A.I.N., People Loving Art in the Neighborhoods). All the while, Jane directs her inner monologue to a hospitalized stranger in Metro City whose art notebook has served as her muse. Will Jane's cute friend Damon serve as an advocate of P.L.A.I.N. or just be another double dose of teen angst?
"Percy Gloom" is named for its protagonist, a neurotic little man hoping to get a job as a cautionary writer (the folks who tell us our Cracker Jack prizes are safety hazards). Within the first few pages, Percy's world emerges as quirky and bizarre but also charming. Malkasian disrupts the status quo as the plot wears on and the reader encounters funnel-headed cult members, human-eared mouse-men and, of course, a talking goat. Maybe this world would be enjoyable if only it weren't so damn surprising. Sarah Mogin
(AdHouse Books, $12.95)
After finishing "The Aviary," I'm convinced that there must have been a story line in there somewhere, but I'm hard-pressed to say where. Progressing more in the way of a choppy, incoherent dream sequence, a surreal set of ideas takes precedence over any hope for a plot. Pornography, amputation, mutilation and the loss of virility are the overriding themes played out by bitter women, talking animals, a paraplegic alcoholic comedian, a ghost, a robot named Buttons and what is possibly the hero, an enigmatic "quiet bird-man." V.H.
"The Professor's Daughter"FDF
Joann Sfar and Emmanuel Guibert
(First Second, $16.95)
For years, films like "The Mummy" have taught us to fear anything that's 30,000 years old and Egyptian, so it's refreshing to find a pair of authors telling the other side of the story. "The Professor's Daughter" follows Imhotep IV, a cigar-smoking mummy in love with the daughter of his discoverer. Beautifully drawn, the story is deliciously whimsical and at times hilarious, if you can get can past the frequent non sequiturs and the abrupt ending. S.M.