Today we’re looking at graphic novels and comic book collections. These books should be available from any bookseller, using the ISBN number, or you can probably find them at comic book stores and certain omnipressant online retailers (often at a discount).

Nexus Newspaper Strips Volume 1: The Coming of Gourmando
by Mike Baron and Steve Rude
Dark Horse Books
ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1506714363

I’ve been a fan of Baron and Rude’s Nexus for nearly forty years, and this new entry into the canon is an absolute treat for longtime fans. It’s also a great jumping-on point for new readers.

Originally intended to be published a series of very, very large pre-1940 Sunday Newspaper-sized comics pages for a project that got scuttled, this book collets a new 90-page story, told in one-page chapters. My only complaint is that these beautiful pages have been shrunk down to standard comic book size for this edition, and the deluxe, oversized hardcover has been indefinitely postponed.

We still get a terrific new Nexus story, along with a great re-telling of his origin and lots of bonus material. From the blurb:

Something long dormant beneath the surface of Ylum comes alive, triggering a visit from the planet-devouring Gourmando and his mysterious ally.

With powers far beyond those of even Nexus himself, this unstoppable being banishes Nexus to an unknown realm–and the only way out is to face one’s worst fears! Mike Baron and Steve Rude deliver a new Nexus adventure in this special collection that also includes the newly-remastered “Nexus: The Origin” comic and the classic Rude hand-painted Sundra story, “When She was Young.”

Nexus Newspaper Strips Volume 1: The Coming of Gourmando is the perfect gift for fans of intelligent science fiction or superhero adventures, or just for folks who love great comic book art. Steve Rude is an under-appreciated master, and he really gets to show off here.

BOWIE: Stardust, Rayguns, & Moonage Daydreams
by Mike Allred, Steve Horton, Laura Allred
Insight Comics
ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1683834489
$39.99 (frequently discounted online)

I’m a big fan of Mike Allred (Madman Comics, X-Statix, Silver Surfer), and have been since I read his first graphic novel, Dead Air, during an overnight shift in my broadcast deejay years.

BOWIE: Stardust, Rayguns, & Moonage Daydreams is his dream project, and while this was released last year, it somehow managed to escape being included in the PopCult Gift Guide.

Let me rectify that with this amazing gift for any fan of Allred’s, and any fan of Bowie. This is a great piece of comics art, and a true labor of love. We go to the publisher’s blurb:

Inspired by the legendary David Bowie, BOWIE: Stardust, Rayguns, & Moonage Daydreams is the original graphic memoir of the great Ziggy Stardust!

This graphic novel chronicles the rise of Bowie’s career from obscurity to fame; and paralleled by the rise and fall of his alter ego as well as the rise and fall of Ziggy Stardust. As the Spiders from Mars slowly implode, Bowie wrestles with his Ziggy persona. The outcome of this internal conflict will change not only David Bowie, but also, the world.

You can’t go wrong with this as a gift for any music or comics lover with taste.

DC Through the 80s: The End of Eras
(DC Through the Decades)
Edited by Paul Levitz
DC Comics
ISBN-13 : 978-1779500878

A perfect gift for any die-hard DC Comics fan on your list, DC Through the 80s: The End of Eras is a pretty wild collection of comics, accompanied by some terrific essays. This expansive and eclectic collection of stories published by DC, mainly in the first half of the 1980s, reveals a level of quality and variety that was not fully appreciated at the time.

Most of this collection pre-dates the publication of Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, which most folks point to as the turning point where DC Comics pulled far ahead of Marvel in terms of quality and innovation. The stories here prove that DC, under the direction of Jeanette Khan and Paul Levitz, was already nurturing a creative environment where seasoned veteran comics creators found creative a resurgence while collaborating with then-newcomers. long before those breakthrough comics.

With appropriate space given to the supeheroes, DC Through the 80s: The End of Eras also offers up a section devoted to “Mystery” stories (the word “horror” was still forbidden by the Comics Code Authority at this point). This section is a blast, as we are treated to artwork by some true legends of comics like Irwin Hasen, Lee Elias, Infantino, Tom Sutton, Nester Redondo, Gil Kane and Johnny Craig, illustrating stories from a mix of veteran writers and newcomers,

The next section of the book covers their war titles, and we are treated to Robert Kanigher and Joe Kubert on a Sgt. Rock story, plus Sam Glanzman drawing an adventure of The Haunted Tank.

The “Other Worlds” section includes a story from Mike Grell’s Warlord, plus a couple of short sci-fi tales and a two-part Jonah Hex epic. This again demonstrates the variety of different comics that DC published in the 80s.

After that, we get a section of the book titled “Endings and Beginnings,” and it includes a seemingly random assortment of really great comic book stories. Rounding out that section of the book, and making things even more delightfully random, we are presented with some of the glorious artwork of Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, from DC’s consumer products style guide. .

These are all great stories, but the real attraction is the text bonus that immediately follows them. DC has finally officially published Alan Moore’s 1987 20-plus page proposal for a company-wide DC Comics crossover story that was to be called “Twilight of the Superheroes.”For many fans, the publication of Twilight of the Superheroes is worth the price of the book. I have to wonder if its inclusion here influenced some of Levitz’s story choices.

An added bonus in this collection, and something that has been sorely lacking in many recent DC Comics collections, are new essays recounting these remarkable times from participants Elliot S! Maggin, J.M. DeMatteis, Andy Kubert, Jack C. Harris, and Paul Kupperberg.

Captain America’s Bicentennial Battles
by Jack Kirby
ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1302930714

Say you have a Marvel Comics fan on your holiday shopping list…or maybe somebody who just loves Jack Kirby or Captain America…this is the perfect gift for them.

Marvel has reprinted Jack Kirby’s 1976 all-original Treasury Edition, Captain America’s Bicentennial Battles, in its original tabloid, treasury edition, size and it is a joy to behold.

This new edition is a hardcover, printed on pristine white paper that shows off the art in a whole new light, and there’s also the bonus inclusion of a few of the uncolored original art pages and Marvel’s 1976 calendar.

Captain America was not only always politically-oriented, most of that time he’s been a champion for hardcore progressive and liberal causes. The cover of his first comic book shows him punching Hitler…and that was a year before we entered World War 2.

This particular comic was created to tie-in with America’s Bicentennial, which was a marketing bonanza, and since Jack Kirby had recently returned to Marvel and was writing and drawing the regular Captain America comic (some 36 years after co-creating him), Kirby was assigned the task of telling a story about how Captain America relates to The American Dream.

With elements of A Christmas Carol, This Is Your Life, and A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court, we see Captain America transported through time for episodic adventures that demonstrate American ideals. He is reunited with his long-dead sidekick, Bucky, during World War 2. We seen him in pre-Revolutionary War Philadelphia, where his appearance inspires the design of the first American Flag.

We also see Captain America in the middle of the Indian Wars of the old West, flying an airplane during World War I, inspiring John Brown to become an abolitionist, witnessing the first atomic bomb blast and even inspiring a young newsboy in Mahattan’s Lower East Side to become a comic book writer and artist. That would be a young Jacob Kurtzberg (Jack Kirby) by the way.

If you haven’t read this story before, it’s well worth experiencing. The story is great fun, and the appeal is timeless.

Slow Death Zero: The Comix Anthology of Ecological Horror
edited by Jon B. Cooke and Ron Turner
Last Gasp
ISBN-13 : 978-0867198836

Slow Death was one of the most notable of the underground comix published back the 1970s. The first issue was commissioned to be released on the very first Earth Day in 1970, and the title ran for ten more, roughly annual, issues, with one revival issue in 1992.

With a mission to mix ecological and political themes with cautionary horror and science fiction tales in the style of EC Comics and the best of underground comix creators, the book left quite an impression.

It was a real treat to see this new one-shot revival of Slow Death (designed to come out on the 50th anniversary of the first issue, but delayed a year by a certain pandemic, among other reasons) and I’m happy to say that this new anthology is as wildly entertaining and informative as the original series.

Edited by Jon Cooke (the editor of Comic Book Creator, and before that, Comic Book Artist) with Ron Turner, the original editor and publisher of the underground comix version of Slow Death, Slow Death Zero is a beautifully-produced, slick, thick collection of new stories created by a mix of original contributors and newcomers (with two pages by Robert Crumb being a reprint). There’s over 120 pages of new comics here, a mix of full-color and black-and-white, along with a great article by Cooke that tells the full story of Slow Death and the title’s publisher, Last Gasp.

Slow Death Zero is a nostalgic treat for fans of the original series, but also works as collection of ecological horror stories for folks who were born too late to be long-time fans. These are scary, thought-provoking, often hilarious comix stories with a definite agenda.

Slow Death Zero would be a great gift for fans of classic underground comix, connoisseurs of good comics and people who don’t mind (or badly need) a good dose of harsh reality mixed in with their horror comics.