- The Washington Times - Friday, August 25, 2006

This recurring 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

Justice League of America, Nos. 0 and 1

(DC Comics, $2.99 and $3.99, respectively)

Best-selling thriller author and architect of DC Comics’ popular miniseries Identity Crisis, Brad Meltzer, begins the construction of a new era for the Justice League of America. Issue No. 0 begins the fun and takes fans down memory lane with the trio of stars that have led the team for the past 46 years.

The book quickly establishes the intense friendship developed by Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman through a series of vignettes drawn by legends in the sequential art industry.

Names such as George Perez, Dick Giordano, Dan Jurgens, Howard Porter and Jim Lee each leave their style upon a few of the 24 pages that chronicle significant incidents that have shaped the league through the years.

From an initial meeting in the Batcave by the three to the wedding of Donna Troy to the apparent death of Superman to the Seven Soldiers struggle, Mr. Meltzer covers a ton of real estate but delivers helpful context and a seamless entry point for his era of the JLA.

While Issue 0 drips in nostalgia, the official first issue of the new series establishes the current nonexistent state of the team as the three heroes decide to reassemble a superhero force in the simplest way they can — by a vote on each prospective member.

As Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman decide who to ask to join, the mighty android Red Tornado, one of my favorite heroes, is introduced as the major player to Mr. Meltzer’s story arc. Red Tornado, blown apart in the Infinite Crisis, has been put back together by Doc (Metal Men) Magnus, and in opening scenes, his true love Kathy Sutton waits by his body for his spirit to return.

Ed Benes has been tasked to illustrate the new series, and his style is just not slick enough to handle the enormity of this project. I have been too saturated with the Jim Lee school of design and hard-core Wildstorm (an offshoot of DC Comics) superhero comics to completely love what he offers to the Justice League.

Overall, I am not sure how many times readers can deal with the shenanigans of comic-book publishers who feel they need to reinvent a series to boost sales. However, fans should give this new Justice League a chance, if only based on how Mr. Meltzer handled his Identity Crisis.

Absolute Kingdom Come

(DC Comics, oversized hardcover, $75)

To honor the 10th anniversary of a fantastic sequential-art event, DC has put together a potent package that really showcases the original series’ designs and story details.

Back in 1996, a four-issue epic celebrated DC Comics’ place in popular culture history when writer Mark Waid helped create a tale about a potentially apocalyptic superhuman war. The rich backdrop gave legendary artist Alex Ross a chance to paint an incredible amount of characters from the publisher’s lineup of villains and heroes.

The new, 340-page edition is a slipcased dream come true. At 25 percent larger than the average comic book, this edition showcases each page from the story as an artistic masterpiece while clearly highlighting why Mr. Ross is one of the industry’s best.

The price is easily justified by the extra content, almost 50 pages worth, composed of interviews with the creative team, genealogy of the characters, loads of sketches, annotations and notes, most of the artwork created for the ancillary license of the series (trading cards, action figures, magazine covers, posters, etc.) and the new wraparound cover art by Mr. Ross.

The Incredible Hulk, Nos. 92 to 95

(Marvel Comics, $2.99 each)

Earth’s premiere weapon of mass destruction for the past 44 years gets his chance to reap destruction on another world in an extended story arc aptly titled “Planet Hulk.”

Writer Greg Pak (X-Men: Phoenix — Endsong) offers a tale that places the misunderstood hero on Sakaar after a space shuttle trip, initiated by his supposed superhero pals and SHIELD, that had his craft sucked into a wormhole and deposited on the savage planet.

The story makes film director Ridley Scott’s “Gladiator” look like a Three Stooges short as the Hulk is forced to band with a group of misfits to brutally fight some nearly unstoppable foes before bloodthirsty audiences.

His team, comprised of a member of the X-Men-hating Brood and a fellow I have not seen since the Thor’s Journey in Mystery days, the rock-skinned Korg, was a welcomed walk down memory lane for this comics fan.

Fantastic cover art from Jose Ladronn overshadows the work of the series regular penciler Carlo Pagulayan, and that is really too bad. Mr. Pagulayan delivers a ferocious interpretation of the Hulk, but my eyes were already too mesmerized by Mr. Ladronn’s work to fully adjust to his efforts.

Expect the Planet Hulk story line to continue into 2007 and potentially become one of the most important of the Green Goliath’s career.

Fans will also want to grab the one-shot, Giant Size Hulk: Planet Hulk No. 1 ($4.99) that offers a pair of new stories. Unfortunately, neither of these is as powerful as the reprint of the classic Peter David and Dale Keown tale, Hulk: The End, which also is included.

Moon Knight, Nos. 1 and 2

(Marvel Comics, $2.99 each)

Gorgeous yet brutal artwork by David Finch highlights the downfall of Marc Spector and his white-costumed mercenary in a new six-part miniseries.

Writer Charlie Huston’s mature, violent story turns Mr. Spector into a wheelchair- bound, pill-popping junkie in the first couple of issues. However, I bet the former avatar for the Egyptian god of vengeance still desires to be the famed comic-book hero, and readers will want to stick around for the fireworks.

Zadzooks! wants to know you exist. Call 202/636-3016, fax 202/269-1853, e-mail jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com, visit Zadzooks at the blog section of The Washington Times’ Web site (www.washingtontimes.com/blogs/) or write to Joseph Szadkowski at The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002

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