Author

Douglas Wolk

This series’ MacGuffin, a magical book detailing past and future history, lets Mark Waid rope together superheroes both famous and obscure. And George Pérez, with his fluid, hyperdense style, crams 25 characters into the latest cover.

For Fans of…Infinite Crisis.

Bottom LineThe Brave and the Bold is an old-fashioned funny book: chaotic, gaudy, and cheerfully breezy. A-

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Recorded in Dublin in 2005, R.E.M.’s first live album documents their slide into arena-rock drudgery. They’ve never radically altered songs on stage, and R.E.M. Live reprises old tunes almost note for note, with extra-boomy drums and hoarse cries from Michael Stipe. Things perk up with the goofy new ”I’m Gonna DJ” and bassist Mike Mills’ earnest rendition of 1984’s ”(Don’t Go Back to) Rockville.” But whenever they shift to tracks from 2004’s leaden Around the Sun, you can practically hear the audience slink toward the concession stand.

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Adapting her 2003 documentary, Anne Marie Fleming explores the life of her great-grandfather — a famed Chinese vaudeville magician — via photos, archival documents, and comics, chattily narrated by her stick-figure self-portrait. For Fans of? Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home. Bottom Line Sam’s boundary-defying career is engrossing, although it doesn’t quite yield the grand statement about 20th-century culture Fleming hints at in The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam. B+

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The most awesome Beatles covers

Forget the soundtrack to Across the Universe, with its Beatles classics intoned karaoke-style by the movie’s cast. Here, five cooler, more inventive renditions (all available on iTunes).

Esther Phillips, ”And I Love Him” (1965) John Lennon called this heartbroken jazz-soul version of his band’s stately ballad ”one of the best” Beatles covers.

Nancy Sinatra, ”Run for Your Life” (1966) Lennon’s malicious rant gets a lot slyer with a gender flip and Nancy’s shiniest boots stomping all over it.

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The grizzled wiseacres’ second wordless disc, The Mix-Up, reaches back to hip-hop’s prehistory for a dozen lightweight psychedelic funk instrumentals?the sort of thing the Beastie Boys might have dug up on a mildewed 45 for a sample back in their Paul’s Boutique days. But they don’t quite have the rhythmic mojo of the circa-1970 obscurities they’re imitating here, and many tracks are exercises in texture (dub bass! sitar noodling!) that fail to develop into actual tunes. Who’d have guessed that a Beastie Boys record could be too subtle?

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When a train explodes in 1899 Missouri, the prime suspect flees to Chicago to track down the gangsters who framed him — and joins the PI agency chasing him in Eddie Campbell’s The Black Diamond Detective Agency.

For Fans of… The grimy atmosphere Campbell brought to Alan Moore’s From Hell script.

Does It Deliver? Despite Campbell’s loose, evocative brushstrokes, the story (from C. Gaby Mitchell’s unshot screenplay) is awkward and bumpy. B-

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In 1932, abandoned 12-year-old Freddie hops a boxcar alongside a tormented hobo who calls himself King Sammy of Spain, and discovers what made the Depression depressing: soup lines, mob violence, and a doomed shantytown.

For Fans of…Road to Perdition, The Grapes of Wrath.

Does It Deliver? Vance’s adaptation of his play is gritty and unsparing, but Burr’s woodcut-like artwork renders even its wrenching climax brittle and static.

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Paraphrasing the lyrics to ”Rocks Off” does not make you the Rolling Stones. Borrowing riffs from ”Simple Twist of Fate” does not make you Bob Dylan. Mimicking John Lennon’s voice and the way it was recorded does not make you the Beatles. Groaning ”What’s this s— goin’ down ‘bout the FCC?” is just plain dumb. At best, this vigorous young Chicago quartet, The Redwalls, is a glorified tribute act; mostly, they just recall how much smarter and fresher their idols were on De Nova.

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Warren Fischer and Casey Spooner’s ironic dance music — which they presented as performance art — made them the coolest of the cool kids when the duo debuted with #1 in 2003. Odyssey, their sophomore effort, boasts state-of-the-art club beats and collaborators who have grad-school cachet (it includes lyrics by David Byrne and the late Susan Sontag). What it doesn’t have is much in the way of songs, or sincerity: Every wistful murmur, chilly flourish of strings, and new-wavy synthesizer burble seems to have quotation marks around it.

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