- The Washington Times - Friday, June 27, 2003

This chronic feature lets me review what has recently passed my bloodshot pupils. So pull up a chair, break out the sarcasm filter and welcome to:

Mr. Zad’s comic critique

The Incredible Hulk, Nos. 34 to 49 (Marvel Comics, $2.25 each). Now that I’ve exhausted just about everything related to the Incredible Hulk, how about concluding this month’s Zadzooks columns with a review of the first 16 issues of the comic-book series from its latest writer, Bruce Jones?

Mr. Jones, best known for his horror work in the magazine-size sequential-art anthologies Creepy and Eerie, brings to the title a fine development of scary characters and conspiracy-rich subplots that will make readers forget they are perusing a superhero book.

The issues, conveniently packaged in three separate trade paperbacks, “Return of the Monster” ($12.99), “Boiling Point” ($8.99) and “Transfer of Power” ($12.99), feature three artist contributions that consistently spend more time highlighting the weight problems of Bruce Banner and less time displaying his pea-green-colored powerhouse.

As the story arc begins, readers learn that the Hulk has been accused of killing a child during a Chicago temper tantrum and that his mild-mannered alter ego is on the run. This leads to the malnutritioned scientist hitting the road in “Fugitive” style, and it reminded me a lot of the 1970s “The Incredible Hulk” television show starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno — except incredibly more violent.

Bruce’s journey takes him from Illinois to Kansas to Colorado as he has run-ins with unusual bounty hunters and a hostage negotiator who has lost her nerve, a reunion with Doc Samson and an introduction to the gamma-steroid-fueled bad guy named Special Agent Pratt — who wants the blood and body of the Hulk for diabolical research no matter whom he kills or destroys along the way.

Relying on contact via e-mail by the mysterious Mr. Blue and mass media outlets, the tortured Banner ducks death and even manages to develop an X-File relationship with one Sandra Verdugo, who harbors many a secret and doesn’t know how to die.

He eventually gets himself out of the murder rap in a showdown with the Hulkified Pratt and finds himself at the end of a bullet for all of his trouble.

Overall, Mr. Jones’ plot remains compelling throughout, but the artwork is a mixed bag through the three trade paperbacks.

“Return of the Hulk” provides six issues of the illustrative style of John Romita Jr., whose work, especially in facial detail, always seems unfinished to me, and that I could do without.

The trio of issues contained in “Boiling Point” present the much more palatable stylings of Lee Weeks, while the six issues of “Transfer of Power” create an artistic tour-de-force brought together by Stuart Immonen that matches the writer’s intensity with a moody and nightmarish style.

Bottom-line rhyme: Bruce Banner gets a new writer to chronicle his “it ain’t easy to be green” woes, and Bruce Jones doesn’t disappoint through some very chilling prose.

To the point

A selected peek at titles that didn’t inspire a bloated evaluation Hulk: The Incredible Guide, monograph (DK Publishing, $24.99). Tom DeFalco, former editor in chief of Marvel Comics, works with the company known for its illustrative pop-culture reference guides in putting together an awesome study of the Hulk featuring 500 sequential-art images and the definitive resource for fans. The 10.5-by-2-inch hardback traces the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of the comic-book world through chapters delving into his origins, relationships, multiple forms and ultimate final destiny — offering individual pages on his many enemies and friends while using illustrations from just about every comic-book artist involved in his many series.

From Jack Kirby’s interpretation of the Hulk to John Byrne’s She-Hulk to a double-truck splash page showing Bryan Hitch’s gray monstrosity, the Guide outshines in color and diversity. Mr. DeFalco even does an excellent job bringing the misunderstood hero up to date by introducing story lines that are less than a year old by writer Bruce Jones to chronicle his adventures. This retrospective does little to shed light on the Hulk as a mass-media superstar but will amaze with its coverage of the beast’s comic-book mythology.

“Mac Raboy’s Flash Gordon, Vol. 1,” trade paperback (Dark Horse Comics, $19.99). The artist known for making Captain Marvel Jr. a sequential-art star in the 1940s morphed from comic books to comic strips in 1948 and continued the tradition of bringing Alex Raymond’s space adventurer, Flash Gordon, to newspapers until his death in 1967. Dark Horse offers a 255-page, black-and-white tribute to Mr. Raboy’s version of the famous science-fiction universe through a 12-by-9-inch book using glossy pages to highlight the spectacular line art of an artist known for his ability to bring the human form to two-dimensional life.

Featuring every weekly strip that ran from 1948 to 1953, the book reacquaints readers with Flash, his love interest, Dale Arden, and technology adviser Dr. Zarkov, but this first volume does not bring archenemy Ming the Merciless into the mix. Expect three more volumes of Mr. Raboy’s strips to handle that pleasurable chore.

Zadzooks! wants to know you exist. Call 202/636-3016, fax 202/269-1853, e-mail jszadkowski @washingtontimes.com or write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002.

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