Our take on the latest in Marvel's ongoing series. Plus, the high-tech thriller ''Contraband'' and the art-world satire ''The Museum Vaults''

Comics Reviews: ”Wolverine,” ”Ghost Rider”

Jason Aaron and Ron Garney
(Monthly; issue No. 62 is on sale now)
Jason Aaron and Roland Boschi
(Monthly; issue No. 20 is on sale now)
Breakout DC Comics writer Jason Aaron (currently writing the gripping Scalped) is now dipping his quill into enemy waters, penning this pair of Marvel titles. In Wolverine, the gruff, self-healing mutant is dispatched by the X-Men to hunt down shape-shifter Mystique, a former ally who betrayed the group. Meanwhile, Ghost Rider recruits a small-town boy — who’s had a chilling encounter with a dark angel! — into taking a joy(less?) ride with him on his hellfire-powered hog, while wildly pursuing Zadkiel, that not-so-heavenly creature that’s turning him into a fiery tool of revenge. FOR FANS OF… Timeworn vendettas; old Clint Eastwood movies. DOES IT DELIVER? Aaron’s gift for no-BS storytelling can get bogged down by the ongoing mythos looming over these series. Both books are essentially issue-long battle cries simply teasing events to come and arrive steeped in tough-guy, teeth-clenched attitude, with promises of escalating bloodshed. This works to some extent in the Western-vibed, flashback-woven Wolverine. Its gritty, promising narrative takes place in the dusty pueblos of 1920s Mexico (where he first meets Mystique), then in the ominously barren desert of present-day Afghanistan (where he hopes to ensnare her). Alas, the same cannot be said of Ghost Rider: An overwrought exercise in pomp and pyrotechnics, it packs a plot about as anorexic as the skull-headed antihero who traverses its void of a landscape. Wolverine: B+; Ghost Rider: C — Nisha Gopalan

Thomas J. Behe and Phil Elliott
(Paperback; on sale now)
Remember when thrillers were all about gun-toting private dicks, comely jazz singers, and telecommunications devices with cords? Contraband author Behe may not. Set in a near-future Europe, this noirish graphic novel follows the adventures of Toby, an Internet cafe worker being blackmailed by two soldiers-turned-cell phone video-content providers. They’ve tasked him with tracking down another ex-vet, the beautiful-but-dangerous Charlotte. Why? Because she’s the bodyguard to yet another former colleague, who’s campaigning to stop the pair’s abuse of mobile phones. That noise, by the way, is the sound of Sam Spade turning in his grave to ask, ”What the hell are you talking about?” FOR FANS OF… David Cronenberg’s Videodrome. DOES IT DELIVER? Behe’s critique of the public’s willingness to watch all manner of depravity is a righteous, if not an original, one. But the ludicrous plotting and overly verbose dialogue found in Contraband does not offer a compelling alternative to viewing the awesome footage of something being eaten by a crocodile that someone just sent me. C+ — Clark Collis

Marc-Antoine Mathieu
(Paperback; on sale now)
Vaults follows Nicholas De Crecy’s well-received Glacial Period, two in a series of four graphic novels sponsored by (and set at) France’s famed Louvre. Here, an appraiser is summoned to help evaluate masterpieces found in the now-decaying, but no-less-behemoth edifice. He arrives there, only to discover the abundant treasures housed in infinitely descending levels of basement space — an endless undertaking, indeed. FOR FANS OF… Inside jokes about art history; ”The Mona Lisa”; Glacial Period. DOES IT DELIVER? This museum satire would be lost without captivating visuals, and the French-born Mathieu does not disappoint. Clean, stately images of the building’s structure intermingle with idiosyncratic depictions of the workers who seemingly dwell there, lending this black-and-white-and-very-gray book an ominous grandeur. The story, too, thinks big: musing on the ridiculousness of ever-changing renovation aesthetics, the itch to create copies of great works, and even those elaborate frames that can upstage a painting itself. Vaults is winking in its cleverness, but needlessly pretentious to those not ensconced in this lofty subculture. As such, even a graphic novel as compact as this can prove a lumbering read — exhaustive like the museum at its heart, in which appraisers frequently, literally expire mid-investigation. B- — Nisha Gopalan