Although superheroes like X-Men and Batman still hold lots of readers in thrall, there is now a whole new world of comics with more on its mind than space invaders and mutant outlaws. Available in chain bookstores, as well as in comics and science-fiction specialty shops, the best of the alternative comics are showcasing some of the quirkiest and most original storytelling talent in America today.

In James Vance’s latest serialized novel (two issues are available), the American past is again vigorously evoked. But unlike Kings in Disguise, which restricted itself to several months in a single year, Owlhoots moves fluidly back and forth in time, from the 1910s to the 1860s. Ostensibly a Western, Owlhoots is more Bret Harte than Bret Maverick. Tom McAlester, a retired federal marshal working as a night watchman in an Oklahoma oil field, sees a preposterously romanticized one-reeler about his old crony Buffalo Bill Cody and is moved to hire a dude who ”takes motion pictures” in order to set the record straight — and bear witness to the misery, deceit, and slaughter that ”opened up the west.” A little talky, a little slow, but engaging and thoughtful. The loose, sepia-toned artwork by John Garcia is reminiscent, appropriately enough, of Frederic Remington’s cowboy-and-cavalry newspaper and magazine line work.

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