In my favorite panel of R. Sikoryak's "Masterpiece Comics" (Drawn & Quarterly: 66 pp., $19.95), Superman -- recast as Meursault, the protagonist of Albert Camus' 1942 novel "The Stranger" -- attacks a priest in his jail cell while crying out: "Don't waste your lousy prayers! You're just as condemned as me!" It takes a perverse kind of genius to re-imagine the Man of Steel as existentialist antihero, but that's the power of Sikoryak's work. A protégé of Art Spiegelman's (with whom he worked for many years on the "commix" magazine RAW), he is an uncanny visual mimic, able to draw in a wide range of styles and to reinvent classic comics imagery.
That's the appeal of "Masterpiece Comics," which juxtaposes classic literature and classic comics with results that are striking and surreal.
In one extended sequence, Raskolnikov is portrayed as Batman -- a parody of both Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment" and DC's "Detective Comics" that manages to do justice to them both. In "Blonde Eve," Blondie and Dagwood are cast out of the Garden of Eden directly into suburbia; "Good ol' Gregor Brown" frames Franz Kafka's "The Metamorphosis" as a series of Peanuts strips. Never once does Sikoryak slip off the tightrope that he's walking between absurdity and grace. Best of all is "Inferno Joe," in which Dante's "Inferno" plays out over 10 three-frame Bazooka Joe comics, complete with facsimile fortunes and ads.
-- David L. Ulin