- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 1, 2009

X-Men: Magneto Testament, Nos. 1 through 5 (Marvel Publishing, $3.99 each) - An ambitious and required story sheds light on the X-Men ubervillain’s early years. Tapping into Chris Claremont’s origin efforts, which reveal Max Eisenhardt (aka Erik Magnus Lehnsherr) to be a survivor of a Nazi concentration camp, writer Grek (Hulk) Pak extends the legend.

He adds plenty of real history to the Master of Magnetism’s ghastly life, showing the rise of the Third Reich and its genocide of the Jews through scenes mixing brutality in the Warsaw ghetto, the murder of his parents and role as a Sonderkommando.

After reading, fans will have no trouble understanding why Magneto has such a violent distaste for humans.

What easily could have been a splashy tabloid take on a somber subject stays focused thanks to Carmine Di Giandomenico’s slightly restrained and stark art style. It remains a deafening reminder of man’s inhumanity to man. “We must never forget” rings throughout.

In addition, a creative powerhouse including Neal Adams and Joe Kubert offers a six-page illustrated version of artist Dina Babbitt’s crusade to reacquire the work she created as a concentration-camp prisoner. This woman has returned from hell, and her story needs to be read.

By the way, the hardcover of “X-Men: Magneto Testament” is on shelves ($24.99) and is well worth the investment.

Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? Deluxe Edition, trade paperback (DC Comics, $24.99) - Mention the name Neil Gaiman to a serious comic-book reader and watch his eyes water with delight. Mention Batman in the same breath and break out the restraints.

Thus, we get a pretty hardcover edition compiling four of Mr. Gaiman’s Bat stories, including his most recent and least interesting, “Whatever happened to … .” This ethereal two-parter from Batman No. 685 and Detective Comics No. 852 defines the death of Batman, sort of.

It certainly leaves much to the imagination, but the famed writer never caught mine. Various characters take responsibility for Batman’s demise, with vignettes on Catwoman and Alfred the butler leading the pack. Only Andy Kubert’s artistry shines as he offers multiple designs of the Caped Crusader and great villain illustrations and even revisits the giant dinosaur in the Batcave.

The other stories are much better, led by a profile of Poison Ivy and a look behind the scenes of the Batman-Joker conflict, brought to life in a chaotic black-and-white style by Simon Bisley.

Douglas Fredericks and the House of They, hardcover storybook (Image Comics, $17.99) - Joe Kelly, one of the creators of Ben 10, has delivered a storybook gift for younger readers, loaded with an important message.

Douglas Fredericks is an ambitious child looking to get his parents a unique anniversary gift. “They,” a cabal of troublemaking bearcats, are in the way. Loaded down with cliches such as “You can’t have your cake and eat it too” and “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” young Douglas still manages to deliver the goods and proves that never giving up is the key to finding one’s dreams.

Lots of text for the child on the verge of tweendom to digest is mixed with full-page art by Ben Roman, defined by his bug-eyed character style.

House of They is a beautiful hardbound fantasy story - with a cloth bookmark, no less - that teaches a child to enjoy words, appreciate a book and solve life’s problems.

Aliens, No. 1 (Dark Horse Comics, $3.50) - I have needed a fix from this sci-fi horror icon for some time, and Dark Horse may deliver with a new series - if the writer can get to the action.

Writer John Arcudi gives a taste of the creatures in the issue’s first few pages but then spends the rest of the book mired down with planetary prospectors and archaeologists fighting to stake a claim to a dead underground city that harbors something with an acidic blood type.

More extraterrestrial nightmares are needed here to give artist Zach Howard something to sink his sharpened pencil into. Let’s hope the next issue handles the problem.

Apes & Babes: The Art of Frank Cho, Book One, hardcover coffee-table book (Image Comics, $29.99) - This art book celebrates the gorgeous style of Frank Cho, Maryland University alum, award-winning cartoonist of Liberty Meadows and comic-book illustrator.

He offers no words, instead providing 144 pages of oversized passion often defined by comparisons between his penciled, inked and final work. Besides drawing the sexiest female midriff in the business, he handles the ferocity of the Hulk, the Brood and a duck with a Napoleonic complex as easily as the delicate beauty of Spider-Woman, the Scarlet Witch and Shanna: The She Devil.

The art is unnecessarily broken into the topics Comics and Covers, Jungle, Liberty Meadows and Mars as gawking - not reading - is the reason to indulge here. Being a visual study of the artist’s work, it includes some nudity. Mr. Cho often revels in the female form, and readers should keep that in mind.

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