THE BOOK OF GENESIS ILLUSTRATED, by R. Crumb. W.W. Norton and Co., 224 pp., $24.95.
On the list of people likely to faithfully adapt the Bible into comic-book form, R. Crumb's name is somewhere near the bottom. So, like all of Crumb's best work, "The Book of Genesis Illustrated" is shocking - not merely for its wonderfully lurid depictions of everything from Noah and the flood to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah - but for its fanatical loyalty to the original text.
Crumb reproduces every single word of Genesis, restraining from editorial comment except in the pictures, which betray Crumb's inimitably weird tastes. Isaac and Rebekah are depicted naked (and discreetly covered) in each other's loving arms, but when Lot's daughters get their old man drunk and have their way with him, it's in the same titillating style that Crumb pioneered in the days when he was selling oversexed self-published comics out of a baby carriage in San Francisco.
It would be hard to call it blasphemy - the whole thing's right there in Genesis 19 - but the emphasis is . . . well, let's just say "worldly" and leave it at that.
People in Crumb comics have always basically been animals, eager to have sex or to kill something but at a loss over spiritual matters, and that's true of his biblical figures, too.
What's valuable about the book, for the religious, is the light it sheds on the most basic needs of figures who too often seem abstract and far away - needs they share with us.
MASTERPIECE COMICS, by R. Sikoryak. Drawn and Quarterly, 65 pp., $19.95.
'Masterpiece Comics," Robert Sikoryak's hilarious collection of literary riffs, avoids the swashbuckling adventure genre (traditional in novel-to-cartoon adaptations) and focuses on philosophical stuff like Albert Camus' "The Stranger," realized as "Action Camus" and featuring a cape-wearing muscleman with an appropriately blank space on his chest where a big "S" should be.
A man who looks uncannily like Jon Arbuckle of "Garfield" ends up making a deal with his satanic cat, a la Goethe's "Faust"; Kafka's insectoid Gregor Samsa has to deal with being called a blockhead on top of his metamorphosis; and don't even ask about Dante's "Inferno."
Besides their awesome funniness, what makes these cartoons impressive is Sikoryak's ability to mimic everyone from fantasist Winsor McCay ("Little Nemo in Slumberland") to animator Mike Judge ("Beavis and Butthead"). "Peanuts" creator Charles Schulz had Parkinson's disease for much of his professional life, but Sikoryak is skilled enough even to re-create the wavery quality of his linework in homage. "Masterpiece" is exactly the right word.
LOGICOMIX: An Epic Search for Truth, by Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos H. Papadimitriou; art by Alecos Papadatos and Annie DiDonna. Bloomsbury, 344 pp., $22.95.
Talk about your tough sales pitches. A four-author narrative biography of Bertrand Russell with a dash of Wittgensteinian philosophy and a preoccupation with the history of mathematics sounds roughly as interesting as toast, and as dry. But writers Doxiadis and Papadimitriou, artist Papadatos and colorist DiDonna (yes, they're Greek) don't just keep the focus on the human drama of Russell's eventful life, they couch his logical arguments in the most urgent possible terms: the rise of fascism in the 1930s. The book doesn't always succeed - Russell's climactic speech about individual morality is a pretty weak response to Nazism - but when it does, it accomplishes a great deal, explaining the mathematician's brilliant concepts without oversimplifying them. Along with Sacco and Crumb, these artists are exploring the next great frontier in cartooning: nonfiction.
GRANDVILLE, by Bryan Talbot. Dark Horse, 108 pp., $17.95.
And now for something completely different: gun-toting British badgers and conspiratorial French rhinoceri, for instance. Bryan Talbot is one of the most impressive cartoonists still working in good old-fashioned sci-fi adventure comics, and his latest effort is just as weird and rewarding as his star-making "The Adventures of Luther Arkwright." The first in a projected series of five books, "Grandville" chronicles the Sherlockian adventures of said badger, Scotland Yard's Detective Inspector LeBrock. If you can imagine the characters from "The Wind in the Willows" taking part in the events of "The Bourne Identity," you'll have a good idea of how out there and fun "Grandville" is at its best. Talbot incorporates anything that catches his eye, from a dog in the Tintin comic books to the ravings of 9/11 Truthers, and pours it all into his incredibly kinetic visuals. If parts of the book are a little too off-the-wall, the promise of a series from Talbot is enough to make up for the flaws.