- The Washington Times - Friday, July 29, 2005

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 Fantastic Four comic critique

Ultimate Fantastic Four, Nos. 13 Through 18

(Marvel Comics, $2.25 each)

Marvel’s attempt to capture a teenage audience by allowing top-shelf creators to re-imagine the origins of its legendary heroes has worked especially well in bringing the company’s most famous superfamily from the Cold War to present times.

The new story continuity finds a team of government-sponsored gifted students (Reed Richards and Sue Storm) and innocent bystanders (Johnny Storm and Benjamin Grimm) acquiring strange powers (exact to the old Fantastic Four’s abilities) when a teleportation experiment goes awry.

The latest six-part adventure finds the quartet trying to penetrate the N-Zone (Negative Zone), an alternate universe with a dying sun that is inhabited by Nihil (the archvillain Annihilus to older fans), who wants to follow the team back to Earth and take over the planet.

Writer Warren Ellis and artist Adam Kubert deliver an eye-popping experience. Mr. Ellis’ plot nuances — such as Richards’ naive enthusiasm for making contact with an alien civilization and the introduction of Johnny Storm’s molting — blend with Mr. Kubert’s dynamic battle scenes on alien landscapes and his detailed character designs.

4, Nos. 13 Through 18

(Marvel Comics, $2.25 each)

Another re-imagining project, the Marvel Knights line, geared toward college-age readers, also includes the Fantastic Four and explores what would have happened if the team members had lost all of their wealth and prestige and had to rebuild their lives.

Throughout the series, the dramatic and comedic prospects have flourished, as the once-beloved FF have taken regular jobs to make money while relationships (especially between the husband-and-wife team of Reed and Sue) have been strained.

The latest issues have found the team successfully regaining hero status after defeating Psycho-Man and going back to the routine of clobbering supervillains. Recent issues have been especially rewarding, as playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa has begun to shine in discovering his new creative medium.

First, a tragic two-issue story tells of the twisted choices of the Puppet Master, Philip Masters, as he tries to go straight. Deciding to help estranged stepdaughter Alicia Masters regain her sight, he kidnaps a renowned eye surgeon and has him implant the eyes of murdered women. When the transplants fail to take hold, the famed archenemy targets the superpeepers of Sue Storm to help his cause.

Next, the intricate relationship between father and son plays out in a four-issue arc, “Divine Time.” It has the FF face the time-twisting megalomaniac Ramades (the son of Kang) with angst-ridden subplots complicating matters among three generations of Richardses: Nathaniel, Reed and Franklin. The whirlwind epic even presents the plausible return of H.E.R.B.I.E. the robot to the Fantastic fold.

The six-issue run features art from Jim Muniz, who excels at illustrating ominous villains but is still too heavy-handed in defining the appearance of the good guys.

Marvel Adventures: Fantastic 4, No. 0

(Marvel Comics, $1.99 each)

The “House of Ideas” continues to try to establish contact with any comic-book-reading children left in America by releasing yet another youngster-friendly line to appeal to parents as well as the targeted demographic.

This series offers Marvel’s best chance of success. A very basic plot by writer Marc Sumerak can be read easily to youngsters or appreciated by many family members.

The first issue introduces the classic relationships and humorous foibles of the four main characters, who have appealed to fans since 1961, while providing a battle with the mighty Doctor Doom and his Doombots.

Artist Scot Eaton balances the clever plot with classic comic-book illustrating that steers clear of a Japanese-style or heavy computer design and instead pays homage to masters such as John Byrne and George Perez.

Fantastic Four/X-Men, Nos. 1 Through 5

(Marvel Comics, $3.50 each)

This superhero team-up story, which pays tribute to the “Alien” film franchise, is riddled with nonsensical plotlines and cliches. It proves that even the most popular comic-book characters can end up in a terrible miniseries if the right talent misapplies his trade.

Writer Akira Yoshida is in serious need of an editor as he jumbles Marvel’s mutants with comicdom’s famous first family to stop the Gigeresque Brood, which wants to take over Earth.

Heroes fight one another for no apparent reason while going on a rescue mission that turns into a nightmare that ambushes the team, and readers as well.

Normally brilliant Transformers artist Pat Lee struggles to add a human element to his illustrations; his overly stylized pages look like his Dreamwave Productions characters put in Marvel costumes.

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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