- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 21, 2008

Mr. Zad’s comic critique

Thor, Nos. 1 through 9 (Marvel Publishing, $2.99 each) - I have not loved the Marvel mythos of this hero since I was 6 years old and my dad bought me a Kenner projector with a Thor cartoon and supplemented it with a comic book featuring Thor versus the Circus of Crime.

Well, writer J. Michael Straczynski has recaptured the wonder for me with his new monthly series, and I am savoring every panel of his nostalgic re-imagining of the hero.

What’s the story? Oklahoma. All the big guy must do is find the humans who are magically linked to his deified posse, release his brethren, and life will be pretty much back to normal in Thor land.

Writing strength: Mr. Straczynski effectively mixes humor and pathos as a lonely Thor tries to rediscover his roots and humanity. He also drops the “thees” and “thous” lexicon in exchange for a more informal and easily understandable vernacular.

The hero’s quest to revive fellow Asgardians - and the Asgardians’ interactions with humans - is priceless, and bringing back Loki (actually part of the shape-shifter’s real mythology) as a woman is genius. Oh yeah, Thor’s encounter with Iron Man comes in as one for the record books.

Artist’s style: Marvel hasn’t made it easy for this mere mortal to embrace artist Olivier Coipel’s Thor. It took a few issues to warm up to his muted style, and I would have given up if not for Mr. Straczynski’s great script.

The Coipel conundrum struck a new level of Wagnerian pain when Daredevil cover artist Marko Djurdjevic came aboard to paint issues Nos. 7 and 8. His art style was not only a perfect fit for Thor, but also took the prose to new levels of eye-popping splendor.

Alas, in issue No. 9, we are back with Mr. Coipel, but it appears he is ratcheting up his style a bit. For example, a scene with Balder battling the Frost Giants was pretty impressive.

Pop-art moments: Unfortunately, they’re all from Mr. Djurdjevic. Every panel in Valhalla featuring Odin and Thor duking it out against the fiery demon Surtur is spectacular. Also, his cover art to issue No. 8 should hang in a gallery.

Read it or leave it? Thor is back and packs a powerful creative punch for comic-book readers to appreciate. Overall, this adventure almost makes up for Mr. Straczynski’s brutal deconstruction of Peter Parker’s life.

By the way, the first six issues have been compiled into a trade paperback, “Thor by J. Michael Straczynski, Volume 1” ($19.99).

Paolo Parente’s Dust (Paolo Parente. This book compiles the only issues of the series and overloads with extra visuals highlighting the characters and technology of the Dust universe.

What’s the story? In an alternate universe (isn’t it always) and in the midst of World War II, the Nazis uncover extraterrestrial technology that threatens to turn the tide of the conflict. Special forces from the Allies and Soviets, led by the curvy Koshka, combine might to stop the Axis.

Writing strength: Music-video director Christopher “Mink” Morrison assembles the story, which concentrates on a mission to stop a missile from launching at Sci-Fi Channel as movie-of-the-week fodder.

Artist’s style: Forget the story; this is a showcase for the visual imagination of Mr. Parente. In fact, forget reading and just gawk at some of the really cool masterpieces. Also, look in the second half of the book for some highly detailed models of the mech soldiers of Dust.

Pop-art moments: I’ve got to go with a talking ape challenging a chain-saw-wielding Nazi zombie soldier. It’s a Mike Mignola moment for sure.

Read it or leave it? It may take until the next world war before we see another issue of this series. It’s a mindless read for mature audiences familiar with its equivalent board game. Dust definitely could use less cheesecake and more intelligent sci-fi. The effort reeks of licensed-merchandise opportunities and does little for the sequential-art medium. However, how about that Koshka? Hubba, hubba.

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