December is the time of year when gift-giving is on our minds as we hunt for the perfect presents for friends and family. If you are seeking gifts for the comic book lovers in your life, the Gemstone staff would like to offer some interesting suggestions of trades and graphic novels that they might enjoy.

Star Wars: The Original Marvel Years Vol. 2
Marvel; $39.99

Marvel’s original run of Star Wars comics that began publication in the late 1970s has been collected in a few formats, including The Original Marvel Years trade paperbacks. The second volume contains Star Wars #24-38, plus Star Wars Weekly #94-99 and #104-115, featuring stories that were unpublished in the US but did appear in the UK reprint series. Collectively, readers get a lot of content for the $39.99 cover price.

Nearly all of the stories in the original series were written by Archie Goodwin, and he does a stellar job. By this point, the Star Wars comics were well beyond what happened in the film and several issues ahead of the events in Empire Strikes Back. Goodwin filled the issues with great storytelling that both fit into the established narrative and created one-off events that wouldn’t contradict down the road.

Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo, and their allies are in the thick of trying to overthrow the Empire, but that looming presence isn’t the only threat they face. The droid-hating cyborg bounty hunter Beilert Valance has a single-minded focus on taking out Luke, and his storyline includes an awesome battle with Darth Vader. Both the Rebels and Vader also tangle with the House of Tagge, a wealthy family with aspirations for more power and control in the galaxy. Han and Chewbacca are doggedly pursued by Jabba, who appears much different in comic book form than he would in the film series.

The art, which included Carmine Infantino, Mike Vosburg, and Michael Golden on pencils, is packed with detail and energy. The panel variety keeps things fresh, and some are drawn with cinematic drama to drive home the heroism or power of the characters shown. The colors are also gorgeous, popping whether in the dark reaches of space or the sun bleached sands of Tatooine.

Windmaker Vol. 1
Dark Horse & YouNeek Studios; $19.99

Atala, a fictional West African nation has entered a period of unrest when the popular president becomes a dictator to maintain his power. As citizens start protesting in public and fighting in the shadows, the country finds itself on the brink of a civil war. It is then that the spirit of the ancient hero known as the Windmaker emerges in Bo, the president’s head of security.

Bo is an honorable soldier who doesn’t see the president’s misdeeds because he is inside the protective bubble of power, prestige, and comfort. Two of his closest friends, however, have witnessed the corruption from the outside and recognize how detrimental it is to their country. While these friends find themselves on opposite sides of a tense situation, groups who are building resistance are willing to go to violent lengths to depose their president.

Windmaker is part of creator and writer Roye Okupe’s YouNeek YouNiverse that includes titles like Malika Warrior Queen, E.X.O., and Iyanu Child of Wonder. Similar to its predecessors, The Windmaker has complex characters, a storyline with depth, emphasis on African culture and history, and beautiful artwork that brings the story to life with intricate detail.

Red Zone
AWA; $9.99

Randall Crane was living an unassuming life as a professor of Russian and Slavic studies. It just so happens that he used to be the United States’ best spy/wet works operative in Russia. He was pulled back into the life for a secret mission, but his support team was quickly taken out, leaving him isolated and on the run.

In 2022-2023, Cullen Bunn wrote two dark series that I really enjoyed: Basilisk at BOOM! and Book of Shadows at Valiant. His characters are tough, and his stories are both direct and complex, which is something he repeats in Red Zone. A lot is going on starting with the first issue. The book has threats on multiple sides, and it leaves the reader knowing that things are going to get messier, but Crane is poised to handle it with cleverness and precision action.

Mike Deodato Jr. and colorist Lee Loughridge nailed the art. The characters are well defined and there are many creative angles used to depict the drama and action, then the heavy usage of shadows and limited color palate give it a real cloak and dagger feel.

Bettie Page: Alien Agenda
Dynamite; $19.99

Bettie Page is a woman of many talents who is regularly recruited as a covert agent to solve strange, exciting mysteries. In Alien Agenda, Bettie has been tasked with finding what could be a stockpile of alien weaponry. She is joined on this mission by archeologist Professor Sofia Villanueva and code breaker Young-Ja Kim to find the location and determine what’s inside.

Professional cosplayer, model, and writer Ani-Mia is handling the writing duties on this title, and she told an intriguing story. Bettie Page as a secret agent is such a fun concept, which Ani-Mia uses to craft an alien conspiracy story into a glamorous tale of spy intrigue.

Most of this series by Ani-Mia has been about puzzling over clues in exotic locations with beautiful art by Celor and colors by Farah Nurmaliza. It’s been an adventure like a summer blockbuster with some subtle undertones about our responses to perceived threats and the unknown.

Nailbiter Vol. 1
Image; $9.99

Buckaroo, Oregon has a really weird, noteworthy record: it is where at least 16 of the worst serial killers in the world were born. When an FBI profiler who is obsessed with investigating the town goes missing, NSA Agent Finch is assigned to find him and the perpetrator responsible for his disappearance. He starts working with the local sheriff and soon learns that one disappearance isn’t the only strange, violent thing going on in this town. That’s about the time that the two law enforcement professionals seek aid from Edward Charles Warren, a notorious serial killer with the habit of biting the fingernails off of his victims.

Nailbiter by Joshua Williamson and Mike Henderson is crime fiction meets horror. Being the birthplace of so many killers has tainted the town of Buckaroo with some becoming nihilistic, some hostile, and others looking to make money off the town’s misery. Finch has the grizzled veteran down pat, Sheriff Crane is the frustrated local trying to keep the town from burning itself down, and Edward toys with the cops and teases Crane with whom he has a past connection.

Williamson does a terrific job of setting up the story and digging into the muck in this first volume. You get a mystery, psychological turmoil, and flawed characters. Big secrets are revealed and plenty of questions are left unanswered to make this a great first volume that will hook any horror or crime fiction reader to come back for more.

-Amanda Sheriff

Amanda Sheriff is the Editor – Digital of Gemstone Publishing, writer/editor of the weekly e-newsletter, Scoop, and co-author of The Overstreet Price Guide to Star Wars Collectibles.