Although comic strips in the United States have traditionally been limited to mindless comedy, Howard Cruse treats the AIDS crisis more intelligently in "Wendel on the Rebound," a collection of his strips about "the gays next door." Wendel copes with fear, anger, grief and guilt when he learns that his first lover, Sawyer, has the disease. Cruse depicts the effects of AIDS with an honesty missing from Hoffman's limp tale: Sawyer's fundamentalist parents banish him from their home. Cruse balances this depressing realism with an unassuming humor reminiscent of the old "Archie" comics. (Wendel's redoubtable mother, a former civil rights activist, takes Sawyer in and tells off his parents.) Although the occasional sexual references might earn the book a "PG" rating, "Wendel" has an innocent appeal that transcends the boundaries of sexual preference.