- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 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 Halloween comic critique

‘ZombieWorld: Winter’s Dregs and Other Stories’

(Trade paperback, Dark Horse Comics, $24.95)

For all the groovy ghoulies who dig da animated cadavers, Dark Horse has dug deep into its archive to release a compilation trade paperback highlighting the complicated combination of the living coexisting with the undead.

Offering some of the ZombieWorld miniseries and single issues from the late 1990s, the 240-page full-color book gives mature readers a violent splatterfest of gross creatures wreaking havoc around the world.

First, Winter’s Dregs reveals a 48-hour snapshot of the Big Apple, plagued by rats and rampant stupidity. When the mayor calls in exterminators to eliminate the creatures holed up in the subways, he also brings the dead and their unquenchable appetite for warm flesh to life. Writer Bob Fingerman wastes too much time making readers care for characters who end up as food while also cluttering the gritty and graphic artwork of Tommy Lee Edwards with wordy dialogue bubbles.

Next, former Deadman artist Kelley Jones explores the relationship of a man and woman when the woman is a living, though decomposing, corpse in Eat Your Heart Out. It is the sickest story of the bunch, and the artwork will cause some readers to retch.

Writer Gordon Rennie then laments the meaning of extended family in Home for the Holidays, in which the Mathieson clan’s annual Christmas reunion includes some hungry ancestors who have been awakened by toxic green mist. Gary Erskine’s art is especially gross as his ghouls munch on and are blasted away by their relatives.

Finally, Tree of Death harkens back to the first ZombieWorld miniseries, Champion of the Worms (not included in this book), and brings back a 42,000-year-old sorcerer and his massive demonic minions to battle the zombie-slicing warrior Killcrop. I would have loved J. Deadstock’s stylish and far-too-detailed artwork if not for the fact that it induces nightmares by presenting a wide range of decapitations, vivisections and seeping, Lovecraftian monstrosities.

‘Houdini: The Man From Beyond’

(Graphic novel, Image Comics, $16.95)

Legendary escape artist, magician and debunker of the paranormal Harry Houdini would have strangled writers Jeff Phillips and Brian Haberlin for daring to show him escaping from the afterlife, a trick he never accomplished, even if it was just part of a graphic novel.

Through a story set in the 1920s, mixing some fact with plenty of fiction, a reincarnated Houdini works with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to prevent the murder of his wife, Bess, and battle a priest of the black arts who wishes to conquer the secrets of death.

Once I got over the manga-sized format (5 by 7 inches), which does injustice to the fine detail of the duo-chromatic, blue-washed artwork concocted by Mr. Haberlin and Gilbert Monsanto, I actually enjoyed the twisted story.

‘Freak Show’

(Graphic novella, Image Comics, $14.95)

If I were going to produce a horror comic book, I definitely would enlist the talents of artist Bernie Wrightson and writer Bruce Jones. The pair have separately made their mark in frightening sequential art over the past 30 years through work on such classics as Swamp Thing, Frankenstein, Vampirella and Creepy.

The duo got together earlier this year and gave fans a fright with this hardbound book, which delivers four tales presented in a classic EC Comics’ “Tales From the Crypt” format with Wrightson’s black-and-white illustrative power looking ripped from a ‘70s Warren magazine.

The main piece, Freak Show, explores man’s extreme prejudice when it comes to accepting deformities. Even Valker, the suspect saint who brings freaks into his fold to present in towns as a classic sideshow act, eventually reveals his intentions with the performers, which leads to deadly and very unexpected consequences.

The band of freaks, varying from the boy Robin, with clawed appendages, to the amphibian-looking Deja, is brought to tragic light by Mr. Wrightson’s ability to present scary-looking creatures loaded with pathos.

The book is then filled out with three short pieces — with at least one reproduced from the magazine Web of Horror — that all feature Wrightson work, but I am not sure if any are written by Mr. Jones. The best of the trio compresses the myth of the vampire Count Orlok, of Nosferatu fame, down to a two-page scare.

‘Sea of Red: Volume 1: No Grave but the Sea’

(Trade paperback, Image Comics, $8.95)

When I initially thumbed through the first issue of this epic vampire pirate tale earlier this year, I immediately dismissed it as another dumb comic book about fanged fiends. That was a big mistake, as writer Rick Remender manages to mix the tale of a lost love, the consequences of greed and a few clever narrative twists into a fun, though often graphically violent, read.

In this compilation of the first four issues, readers quickly learn the predicament of a 16th-century Spanish sailor who runs into some bloodsucking pirates led by Captain Lesser Blackthroat. He finds himself at the bottom of the ocean, now one of the undead and chained to a sunken vessel.

His eternal life becomes a curse rather than good fortune when a production scout crew of B-movie filmmakers rescues him. Now existing in the 21st century, he must walk a careful line between devouring his new masters and leading them on a voyage to the Bermuda Triangle to avenge his fate.

Murky illustrations from Salgood Sam are awash in a burgundy sepia tone that gives the illusion of reading pages soaked in blood. Mr. Sam also pulls no punches in the ferocity of vampires or other scaly creatures, as appendages, organs and flesh are liberally sliced, diced and presented to the horrified reader.

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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