- The Washington Times - Friday, June 25, 2004

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

Mr. Zad’s comic critique

Doctor Octopus: Negative Exposure Nos. 1 through 5 (Marvel Comics, $2.99 each). The onslaught of Doc Ock vs. Spider-Man miniseries began six months ago in anticipation of the tentacled villain’s starring in the live-action film “Spider-Man 2,” arriving Wednesday in movie theaters. However, with a pick of artists and writers to fill the pulp pages, Marvel has yet to come close to creating the tragic character study brought to life by actor Alfred Molina in the new movie.

Take the case of the five-issue miniseries written by Brian K Vaughan, known for the very popular Y: Last Man. He manages to create an interesting premise about how obsession blurs the fine line between artistic genius and homicidal lunacy but turns the title into more of a routine superhero slugfest than a psychological profile of talented men.

Jeffrey Haight, staff photographer for the Daily Bugle, acts as the fuel between hero and mortal enemy. He starts out as a deep character who has become so frustrated with his free-lance rival, Peter Parker, taking the front page for Spider-Man photos that he’s willing to unleash a madman upon the world just to get a chance at winning a Pulitzer Prize.

Mr. Vaughan’s characterization collapses about the same time Haight’s relationship with a female police offer does, revealing him to be a one-dimensional idiot rather than a tortured artist looking for redemption for his passion.

The writer does work hard to define Doc Ock as an intelligent and calculating coldblooded killer rather than a doddering, fat fool of a thief forced to absorb one-liners from a costumed punk.

Unfortunately, scenes reminiscent of “Silence of the Lambs,” his fondness for Leonardo da Vinci and his ability to painstakingly research his victim do not go far enough, leaving readers wondering whether Doc Ock’s ability to sucker a jealous dope into reuniting him with those deadly tentacles — so he can wreak havoc — deservedly places him in the ranks of “master criminals.”

Mr. Vaughan also wastes precious space by concocting Spider-Man battles between the Vulture and Mysterio when I would have preferred more time analyzing the good doctor and establishing a method for his current madness.

Artist Staz Johnson loses focus more times than Haight’s camera while trying to illustrate a bevy of juicy characters. The first issue remains the best for a consistently enjoyable look, but too many interpretations of Doc Ock and a lack of commitment to one style plague the sometimes sloppy, often unimaginative pages.

I was also unable to get a handle on which Spider-Man universe was being chronicled. He’s in college, hanging out with Mary Jane and, apparently, still knows Gwen Stacy — but Doc Ock’s tentacles are no longer fused to his spine. Also, his costume is from the Marvel Knights era, but he has a history with the web-slinger. That puts the time frame between the 1960s and 1990s.

Negative Exposure is certainly an unfortunate name for the miniseries, because it delivers just that for a villain of such historic stature.

To the point

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

Identity Crisis, No. 1 (DC Comics, $3.95).# Brad Meltzer, author of the New York Times best sellers “The Tenth Justice,” “Dead Even” and “The First Counsel,” delves into the complicated world of superheroes and delivers a seven-part murder mystery combining the fragility of masked heroes’ existence with the secrets of DC Comics’ most popular characters.

In the 48-page opening issue, the murder of Ralph (Elongated Man) Dibney’s wife allows artist Rag Morales to brilliantly cram an incredible amount of angst-ridden Justice League, Justice Society and Teen Titan heroes into pages that complement Mr. Meltzer’s gut-wrenching prose about a man losing the love of his life and looking for revenge.

Priced to move

On July 3, comic-book store owners celebrate the sequential-art medium and the release of “Spider-Man 2” by offering anyone wandering into their shops at least one free comic book. This third annual event is intended to spark interest in younger readers about the hip variety of reading material in their local specialty shops.

Almost all the major publishers are on board for the daylong event. A few examples of some of the cool, child-friendly comics available include Dark Horse Comics’ Star Wars — Clone Wars Adventures No. 1, DC Comics’ Teen Titans Go! No. 1, Gemstone Publishing’s Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse, Marvel Comics’ Marvel Age: Spider-Man No 1, Archie Comics’ Archie: I Was a Teenage Comic Book Character and Dreamwave Productions’ DuelMasters No. 1.

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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