- The Washington Times - Friday, December 24, 2004

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

Plastic Man: On the Lam, trade paperback (DC Comics, $14.95).

Kyle Baker unleashes his brand of organized chaos upon sequential-art lovers through a monthly book touting Jack Cole’s famed hero with the pliability of Jim Carrey and frenetic energy of a Tex Avery animated short.

Mr. Baker’s crazy mix of cartooning has been compiled into a 144-page treat featuring the first six issues of the new and acclaimed Plastic Man series. Within these pages, readers are privy to the origin of the elastic fellow, his relationship to criminal Eel O’Brian and paunchy-though-dunderheaded sidekick Woozy Winks.

I usually am not attracted to this kind of scattered, looney-toons art style in my comics, but Mr. Baker stretches the laughs, pathos and art to such outrageous proportions that the visual smorgasbord completely absorbed me.

• What’s it worth? I would bounce a check to get this one. The book even comes with a plastic cover to fulfill DC Comics’ clever publishing quotient for the year. If the company puts out the Silly Putty edition, somebody give me a call.

The Return of Shadowhawk, No. 1 (Image Comics, $2.99).

A character with more baggage than Eva Gabor on a seven-day cruise makes a comeback to comics in a monthly series from the man who gave him life and death.

Artist and writer Jim Valentino stepped down as Image Comics head honcho, so he has more time to create these days. So why not redevelop a character known for one of its incarnations being infected with AIDS and spearheading a revolution in comic-book publishing in the early 1990s?

The story reacquaints readers with the ancient Egyptian Shadowhawk legend, in which a helmet passed on through the ages is transformed into a powerful costume to shield a young hero in the fight against evil. In this case, a boy named Eddie Collins must learn to work with all of the Shadowhawks before him to control his new abilities born from their shiny silver headgear.

Mr. Valentino’s story instinct remains strong. However, his art style may have cut it a decade ago, but the chops are nowhere near slick enough to compete with today’s stable of photo-realistic illustrating stars.

• What’s it worth? Anyone with a box full of original, embossed, silver-foil-stamped Shadowhawk No. 1 issues from 1992 will gladly trade one of them to catch up on their favorite character. Unfortunately, casual readers will quickly grab the latest issue of Amazing Spider-Man or Identity Crisis.

Alien vs. Predator: Thrill of the Hunt, graphic novel (Dark Horse Comics, $6.95).

The movie meeting of two sci-fi horror icons this summer never quite lived up to its box-office potential, and a sequential-art follow-up to the film also fails the hype.

Writer Mike Kennedy’s story of a future human species dragged back into the Dark Ages by a total shutdown of its technology presents an intriguing premise. Unfortunately, Mr. Kennedy is forced to clog up the possibilities with an uninspired tale featuring a group of money-grubbing explorers looking for lucrative real estate on another planet, only to discover deadly extraterrestrials.

Mr. Kennedy almost scores when he simply provides a human perspective to the reason for a hunt and its obsession with certain species, while illustrated panels feature Predator and Alien in action. However, that quickly dissolves into a stale cat-and-mouse, “humans-battle-hostile-creatures” scenario during most of the 96 pages.

Roger Robinson’s illustrations do little to help, as they are murkily colored and inked over while residing within a smaller-than-usual (51/4-by-7½-inch) comic-book format.

• What’s it worth? Dark Horse Comics, the publisher responsible for Predator’s introduction to the Alien species, provides a much more worthy selection of miniseries for the fans of the famed monsters. Try the Aliens vs. Predator trade paperback, collecting the famed four-issue series on which the premise of the movie is based ($19.95).

Uncanny X-Men, Nos. 444 to 450 (Marvel Comics, $2.99 each).

Writer Chris Claremont comes back to the title that made him a king among comic-book fans in the 1970s, but he will need a bit more creative inspiration to reacquire his throne in the new millennium.

As Mr. Claremont juggles his familiar bevy of subplots in an attempt to dazzle fans and confuse new readers, we learn that the Xavier Institute for Higher Learning has become a home for any wayward punk displaying mutant powers and that the core members of the X-Men (Storm, Bishop, Sage, Marvel Girl, Nightcrawler, Cannonball and Wolverine) are badge-carrying members of the X-Treme Sanctions Executive organization, which roots out mutant threats around the globe.

The addition of legendary artist and X-Men friend Alan Davis does not hurt the book, as his familiar style makes for an enjoyable read.

• What’s it worth? #Readers should first spend the bucks on writer Joss Whedon’s fresher and more impactful title, Astonishing X-Men and, only if the budget allows, jump aboard the dated but potentially exciting Claremont Xpress.

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

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