- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 8, 2008

This chronic feature lets me review what recently has passed my bloodshot pupils. So pull up a chair, break out the sarcasm filter and welcome to Mr. Zad’s comic critique.

Criminal Macabre: Cell Block 666, No. 1 (Dark Horse Comics, $2.99). Dark Horses’ second-most-popular paranormal investigator (not the red demon with the shaved-off horns) is back to star in a new four-part miniseries. Readers can expect plenty of hard-boiled, ghoulish noir in detective Cal McDonald’s tough-as-nails, occult-filled universe.

What’s the story? As the L.A.P.D.’s finest hunt McDonald for a murder he did not commit, the famed gumshoe finds himself taking odd jobs (such as cleaning out a den of bloodsuckers), living in the sewers, hanging with his undead pals and looking for the nearest bar. Yup, just a typical day for the tough guy.

Writing strength: Who better to bring the current adventure to life than Steve Niles, the man responsible for creating McDonald 18 years ago? The undisputed maestro of macabre keeps his anti-hero comfortably entrenched in dark humor and his favorite pastimes: drinking, smoking and slaughtering supernatural beings.

Artist’s style: Nick Stakal earned his artistic horror chops drawing Silent Hill sequential art for IDW Publishing. With a jagged style suffocated with muted colors, he can capture the most violent and frightening moments of Mr. Niles’ vivid imagination. Mr. Stakal easily could become one of Mike Mignola’s minions chronicling the Hellboy universe.

Pop-art moments. A splash page showing Cal and his ghoul squad busting up a vampire lair is slick, as is his bar encounter with a redhead sporting a big smile and sharp teeth.

Also, although I appreciate Timothy Bradstreet’s lifelike cover, which captures actor Thomas Jane as McDonald (a plea for Hollywood studios to pay attention, methinks) I would prefer to see Mr. Stakal’s vision for the lead graphic.

Read it or leave it? Anyone able to digest “Sin City” as easily as “30 Days of Night” will relish McDonald’s current adventure.

The Flash: The Wild Wests (DC Comics, $24.99). Speedster Wally West is highlighted in this hardcover book collecting issue Nos. 231 to 237 of the monthly Flash sequential-art series. The 160-page full-color book also includes the backup story “The Fast Life.”

What’s the story?Wally West returns to Keystone City after a year’s absence caused by an Infinite Crisis. With his wife, Linda, and his children, Iris and Jai, he arrives just in time to try to stop an alien invasion. However, life is a bit more complicated as the youngsters’ powers are mutating through accelerated growth, and there is no cure in sight. Also, dad has them actively involved in fighting the bad guys while he’s out looking for a job.

Writing strength: One of the greatest and most knowledgeable comic-book scribes, Mark Waid, takes another shot at the character he brought back to prominence in the 1990s.

Mr. Waid has a potent topic to play with. Specifically, if parents knew their children might be dying prematurely, would they allow them to live life to its fullest, even if that meant putting them in dangerous situations?

The heavy story line is never really explored to its potential. I found Mr. Waid trying too hard to duplicate the vibe of “The Incredibles” while using the subplot of West’s rapidly aging children just as a gimmick.

Artist’s style: Too many illustrators confuse my fragile mind. Just as I got used to Daniel Acuna’s realistic styles for Issues 231 and 232, I had to digest Freddie Williams II’s way-too-clunky, cartoony style for 233 to 236 and then Koi Turnbull’s edgier illustrations in 237.

The included backup story from “The Fast Life” issues, by illustrator Doug Braithwaite, outshines all of the artists with its beautifully designed pages.

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