- The Washington Times - Friday, February 20, 2004

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

Mr. Zad’s comic critique

Thor: Vikings, Nos. 1 through 5 (Marvel Comics, $3.50 each). The eloquent god of thunder meets his match when the undisputed spewer of violent prose, writer Garth Ennis, places him against an outrageous barbarian and his crew of mindless marauders.

Mr. Ennis’ tale begins in 1003 as readers learn about a group of Norsemen, led by Lord Harald Jaekelsson, who obliterated a town that was tattling on their exploits to the king. The village wise man is murdered after casting a curse upon the brutes that foolishly turns them immortal before they set sail in search of the New World.

The vikings eventually run ashore to modern-day New York City, ready to have some fun.

Normally, the motley crew might go unnoticed on the streets of the Big Apple, but this bloodthirsty lot wants to conquer — and they accomplish the goal by decapitating, vivisecting and puncturing everything in sight.

First of all, Marvel zombies, this ain’t your granddaddy’s Thor. He’s as handsome as ever, but his first encounter goes so badly he almost loses his hands, which were broken off at the wrists in the process, and gets dumped “Sopranos”-style into the water.

However, as luck would have it, a sarcastically arrogant Dr. Strange stops by to help even the odds. By pulling a trio of descendants from the murdered wise man’s blood lineage, he concocts a potion with their blood to make the enemy vikings mortal when struck by the weapons of this odd team.

By plucking from history the female warrior Big Sigrid, who just wants to get into a brawl; the crusading Teutonic knight Sir Magnus; and German World War II pilot Erik Lonnroth to fight alongside Odin’s favorite son, Mr. Ennis turns a great idea for a Thor story into a brilliant and humorous read transcending the gratuitous slaughter splattering many of the pages.

Artist Glenn Fabry delights with painted covers of all five issues in the series and disgusts with his way-too-graphic depictions of Harald’s exploits. His portrait of the leader sitting upon a throne of freshly acquired human remains and airborne soldiers sighting a wall of staked heads will make those with weak stomachs look for a barf bag.

He also attaches familiar likenesses to some of the characters, such as the vision of Dr. Strange looking frighteningly like Christopher Walken’s suave alter ego, the Continental, on “Saturday Night Live,” and an appearance by a young Kirk Douglas getting slugged by Sigrid.

Bottom-line rhyme: Garth Ennis delivers his characteristically brutal tale surrounding the life of Thor through a miniseries loaded with adventure and plenty of gore.

To the point

A selected peek at titles that didn’t inspire a bloated evaluation:

Lovecraft, graphic novel (DC Comics, $24.95). Howard Philips Lovecraft’s enormous impact on the entertainment horror genre gets honored via a DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint title expanding on the man’s unique perspectives of fear, within a 144-page “what if” scenario that delves into the possibility that his grotesque visions were real.

Comic-book legend Keith Giffen adapts screenwriter Hans Rodionoff’s story of biographical fiction and, with the illustrative help of acclaimed Argentine painter Enrique Breccia, delivers a haunting hardcover. Hellish moments surrounding the Necronomicon, Cthulu monstrosities and the town of Arkham are balanced against Lovecraft’s meeting of Harry Houdini, his career — and life with true love Sonia Davis.

The book reveals enough nightmarish illustrations and mature subject matter to be placed far away from younger audiences. However, it will intrigue the mass of Lovecraft fans in need of a re-imagined fix surrounding their frighteningly favorite author.

Ultimate Fantastic Four, No. 1 (Marvel Comics, $2.25). Two of my favorite scribes, Ultimate Spider-Man writer Brian Michael Bendis and Ultimates writer Mark Millar — along with Origins artist Adam Kubert — join forces to bring the story of a 35-year-old superhero team up to date for today’s hipper audience by blending the angst-ridden days of youth with science-fiction scenarios.

Through the inaugural issue, fans meet the high school version of Reed Richards (aka Mr. Fantastic). They’ll learn why he become the world’s premier technology geek in spite of cowering to bullies and an overbearing father who wishes he would display his prowess with a football rather than a circuit board. Luckily, Richards meets school jock Ben Grimm to protect him and finds a new outlet for his scientific creativity as he becomes part of a gifted-student program and works with the daddy of his future wife, Sue Storm, exploring interdimensional travel.

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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