- The Washington Times - Friday, January 26, 2007

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

Spider-Man: Reign, No. 1

(Marvel Comics, $3.99)

Kaare Andrews takes Peter Parker 35 years into a miserable future and gives him a world no longer in need of superheroes through a four-issue miniseries that starkly reveals the pain of an aging man no longer able to hide behind the mask.

Mr. Andrews offers an emotionally crippled Parker, alone and broke, who cannot even maintain a job with a local florist. His beloved Big Apple has been super-crime-free for 10 years, and the mayor will do whatever it takes, including using sadistic security squads, to stamp out all illegal activity. It will take the return of a bitter J. Jonah Jameson to snap the former Spider-Man out of his funk and return him to a heroic role.

Through an obvious homage to Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Mr. Andrews offers exaggerated, almost hideous, imagery of famed characters ravaged by time; explores the smothering themes of a fascist regime; and mocks the media through subservient talking heads ready to spread the government’s propaganda.

One issue is not enough to determine the potential brilliance of the effort, but Mr. Andrews is off to a strong start and worth a comics fan’s attention.

“Batman: Year 100”

(Trade paperback, DC Comics, $19.99)

Graphic novelist Paul Pope delivered a dark and dirty Caped Crusader in last year’s four-issue miniseries that could give Frank Miller nightmares.

Compiled into a trade paperback, the story of a Batman in the year 2039, 100 years after his first sighting in Gotham City, comes action-packed and drawn with a grittiness that will require eye drops for its readers.

Accused of the murder of a law enforcement officer, the anarchist-activist-terrorist (it’s always all about one’s perspective, isn’t it?) must prove his innocence and uncover a conspiracy in the police state against which he rebels.

Thrown into the mix of this technologically advanced but always grimy future is a familiar cast of characters, including the grandson of commissioner Jim Gordon, Robin, and a mother-daughter team who assist Batman when in trouble.

Missing is the supervillain, but the U.S. and Gotham governments more than make up for the absence as their “Big Brother” tactics and assortment of surveillance and deadly law enforcement squads make them worthy adversaries.

Readers will be enthralled by the effort as they work through pages of sweat, blood and bullets — but they will be a bit disappointed at its weak conclusion.

However, throughout the story, they will love Mr. Pope’s award-winning art style, which takes a skewed perspective on the human form and exposes a punked-out ugliness and beauty in every character.

His design of Batman is especially memorable, as it offers just a hint of the Bob Kane look updated with a more functional urban-fighter costume that includes combat boots, a leather mask and a streamlined utility belt.

Also included in the book is Mr. Pope’s first story about the Dark Knight, originally presented in the Batman Chronicles, No. 11. It places the hero, now of Jewish origin, in Nazi Germany.

Additionally, a few essays and sketches from the artist shed light on the origins of his Darkest Knight.

Star Wars: Legacy, Nos. 1 to 7

(Dark Horse Comics, $2.99 each)

The Skywalker clan lives on in an excellent monthly comic-book series devoted to a galaxy far, far away and set 130 years after the famed battle of Yavin.

A lot has happened since the Rebel Alliance destroyed the second Death Star, and writer John Ostrander quickly gets readers up to speed through an opening salvo of action.

Basically, the galaxy is once again in turmoil as the Sith Lord Darth Krayt has executed a devastating attack on the Jedi Academy in Ossus. The Sith leader also has forcibly taken control of the Imperial Empire from Roan Fel, who must hide on the heavily fortified, Imperial-controlled planet of Bastion.

During the Ossus massacre, a young Cade Skywalker watched his father, Kol, die and nearly lost his life in the attack. Afterward, he vowed to give up the life of a Jedi.

Readers jump seven years to find Skywalker has become a part-time bounty hunter and space pirate and, with his pals Deliah Blue and Jariah Syn, is on a mission on the planet Lok. They not only find their bounty but a princess in distress who makes Skywalker once again embrace his true heritage.

Space battles, light-saber duels, storm-trooper firefights, strange creatures and exotic locations abound in the issues, along with a fantastic selection of Sith adversaries. The female Twi’lek, Darth Talon, is a standout as she proudly displays ritual combat tattoos similar to those on a fellow named Darth Maul and an equal ferocity in fights.

Artist Jan Duursema, once again, shows why she is the best Star Wars illustrator in the galaxy as her complex pencil work, complemented perfectly by Dan Parsons’ inks, jumps out on every page.

Before jumping aboard the series, I also suggest a look at issue No. 0 (yes, No. Zero, at 25 cents), to find a great encyclopedic introduction to the characters and major plot points of the series.

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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