Studying the cave paintings at Lascaux, one might very well detect the incipient concepts and traditions that millennia later would result in a Picasso. Just so do the primitive funnybooks rescued from obscurity by Greg Sadowski in Supermen! The First Wave of Comic Book Heroes 1936-1941 contain within their awesomely naïve and rudimentarily brilliant pages all the seeds of the postmodern graphic novel. These inchoate rumblings would eventually birth works like the celebrated Watchmen. But to impose a teleological template upon these comics would be a shortsighted as viewing Neolithic drawings only as precursors to modernity. Compounded equally from pulp fiction, movies, newspaper strips, and sheer desperate commercial-deadline-brainstorm lunacy, these early superhero tales created their own fresh synthetic mythology and compositional tools on the fly. Whether the artist was a Dargeresque figure like Basil Wolverton, or a consummate pro like Jack Kirby, the reader gets the sense that the next panel might unveil an artistic breakthrough -- or fall flat on its face. Most of these vignettes are stoked with violence: Suborned by bad guys, the Comet kills a dozen or so policemen, while Skyman drops a gunman out a window to his death. And these were the heroes! Sex was less textually explicit, though the artwork more than made up for that, with scores of beautiful women in skimpy or skintight outfits, breasts thrust out either in welcome or defiance. These comics may have masqueraded as juvenile power fantasies. But just as the avenging monster, the Face, was in reality suave radio personality Tony Trent, so too, beneath their outré surfaces, were these four-color tales a coded commentary on the turbulent, scary, yet strangely hopeful Depression-era world at large.

April 18: "[W]ould it be too bold to imagine that all warm-blooded animals have arisen from one living filament…?"

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.