- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 21, 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

“Fantastic Four: The End,” hardcover trade paperback (Marvel, $19.99)

Marvel’s reimagined universe of stories saw the possible demise of some of its greatest characters, such as the Punisher, Wolverine, X-Men and Hulk. It was extended to its famed comics family in a six-issue miniseries written and penciled by famed Excalibur co-creator Alan Davis.

This hardbound trade paperback collects the six-issue series and quickly establishes an estranged superhero family because of the death of Reed and Sue Richards‘ children Valeria and Franklin at the hands of Doctor Doom.

In this world, Ben has married his beloved Alicia Masters and has children, Johnny Storm is part of the Avengers, Sue has found an obsession in Kree archaeology and an emotionally shattered Reed is still a fanatic about keeping Earth at peace and safe from any galactic threats.

Of course, a threat does pop up, and it will require the family to reunite, not only to help save the planet, but to discover that when together, even the impossible can happen.

The older fan of the FF gets a very character-driven piece with a cavalcade of friends and enemies, including Moleman, Annilius, the Inhumans, Uatu the Watcher, the Sub Mariner, Super Skrull and She Hulk, and a special appearance by Galactus.

For the newer reader of the Four’s mythos, it is a stand-alone joy that offers Mr. Davis‘ characteristic and more traditional 1980s art style mixed with a universal story of loss and hope that underlines the importance of teamwork and friendship.

“Batman: Black and White, Vol. 3,” hardcover trade paperback (DC Comics, $24.99)

My Batman is the vigilante who lives in the shadows and is forced to fight crime in an effort to stop the pain caused by the death of his parents.

It is this Dark Knight who was part of a set of stories in an anthology miniseries hidden in back of the Gotham Knight’s monthly series that gave a wide range of creators the chance to explore the character’s intense personality not set in the continuity of the Batman universe.

The third, and final, compilation offers 33 more short sequential-art stories and, although the overall collection is a mixed-quality bag, smaller in size and not as solid as the first two volumes, it is still a great anthology for the Bat fan.

As with the other volumes, a who’s who of writers and artists contributes, so that readers get brilliant vignettes from teams such as Joe Kelly and Aron Weisenfeld, Don McGregor and Dick Giordano and Mike W. Barr and Alan Davis.

Some of the standouts include Judd Winick and Whilce Portacio’s study of Batman’s cerebral and physical duels with the Riddler, and Mark Schultz and Claudio Castellini’s look at the relationship between the Caped Crusader and the Man of Style.

Not so outstanding is Mike Carlin’s tale about Batgirl and Poison Ivy, drawn by Archie artist Dan DeCarlo. It really sucked the serious drama out of the book.

A nice extra to the title, even though it smacks too much of marketing, is a visual gallery of DC Direct statues based on the “Black and White” series and in the style of some of the heavy-duty artists — such as Paul Pope, Jim Lee and Tim Sale — who contributed to the books over the years.

Tales From the Crypt, No. 1 (Papercutz, $3.95)

A welcome revival of the classic horror EC Comics format from the 1950s arrives in bimonthly, two-story doses, but its inaugural issue falls a bit flat for its targeted audience.

The beauty of publisher William Gaines’ horror anthology comic in the 1950s was that it pushed the limits of censorship and always had a pretty slick surprise ending to give the readers a chuckle or something to digest.

‘Tis not the case with the latest venture, spearheaded by former Marvel editor Jim Salicrup in a first issue written for the 10-year-and-older crowd.

Unfortunately, Mr. Salicrup’s idea of a 10-year-old must be drawn from the 1970s, as the material is way too tame for the horror fan or today’s youth, thrilled with television’s “Supernatural” or media from R.L. Stein’s “Goosebumps.”

Children are a bit more sophisticated today, and the telescoped endings, along with timid illustrations of the stories, just do not cut it.

Take the tale “Body of Work.” Neighbors find out that an artist lives next door and that his abundant masterpieces are worth millions. He goes out of town and the nosy, greedy neighbors get more than they bargained for.

The art of a Mr. Exes (no first name) is just not scary enough to accommodate the potent punch later in the ending.

In the second story, “For Serious Collectors Only,” a man who lives with his mom loves action figures, and when he cannot buy the latest Japanese import he steals the cash to make his dreams come true. But dreams have a funny way of turning into nightmares.

It was too easy to see where the story was going, and although it had potential, much like a television episode of “Night Gallery,” the ironic ending was just silly.

The best part of the 48-page issue are the introductions by the Crypt Keeper, drawn with appropriate creepiness by Rick Parker.

Zadzooks! is on the Web. Read an extended version of his column that includes a review of Jack Kirby’s Silver Star on http://video1.washingtontimes.com/zadzooks. Call 202/636-3016; fax 202/269-1853; e-mail jszadkowsk i@washingtontimes .com; or write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002.