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Artists on parade in 3 anthologies

- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 15, 2010

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.

Wonder Woman, No. 600 (DC Comics, $4.99)  A cavalcade of famed creators helps celebrate a new milestone for a heroine created by William Moulton Marston in 1941.

Despite the star power, it's amazing how little impact the five-story collection will have on the average reader.

The issue starts off great with a preface from the live-action Wonder Woman, actress Lynda Carter, who reflects on her time as the character and says she believes Wonder Woman is the "goddess in all of us."

After the glowing intro, we are bogged down with run-of-the-mill slugfests finding Wonder Woman fighting alongside a cast of other female DC heroes to stop male-controlling cybersirens in Valedictorian, teaming up with Power Girl and Batgirl to stop a "manga monster" in Fuzzy Logic and with Superman to battle a really bland archenemy named Aegeus in Firepower.

I could have used a more personal and clever look at the woman behind the star-spangled bustier, devoid of co-stars and a bit more revealing of her heritage and humanity.

I got a bit of that at the end of Fuzzy Logic, with writer-artist Amanda Conner's take on an age-old problem between pet and master negotiated by Wonder Woman.

The final tale sets the stage for writer J. Michael Straczynski's run on the title, which finds our heroine not only in a new Jim Lee-designed costume (a bit too NFL cheerleader for my tastes) but in an unsettling encounter with the Oracle.

What stands out in the extended issue is the selection of pinup art wedged between stories from the likes of Adam Hughes, Nicola Scott, Ivan Reis, Phil Jimenez and Greg Horn.

No matter my opinion of the sequential art, these artists bring to life one of the prettiest and toughest heroines in the history of comics.

Superman, No. 700 (DC Comics, $4.99)  A shortlist of famed creators helps celebrate a new milestone for a superhero created by Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel in 1938. Sounds like deja vu, eh?

Unlike my reaction to the Wonder Woman tribute, I felt a much higher level of impact from the group assembled to deliver three stories in this anniversary issue for the Man of Steel.

First, we get back to the basics, which reunite Superman with his favorite gal after his stint on the World of New Krypton.

Writer James Robinson concludes his duties honorably along with artist Bernard Chang as they allow the hero to quickly re-establish a bond with Lois and remind readers about some of Superman's best human attributes.

Next, a walk down memory lane, courtesy of Dan Jurgens, finds the hero helping his good friend's ward, Dick Grayson, navigate the problems of taking down gun smugglers when the Bat is not available.

It's a bit odd to see Superman coming to the aid of Robin, but Mr. Jurgens offers the right mix of humor, action and a nostalgic style of comic art to make this lighthearted tale a perfect palate cleanser for the impending angst of the next story.

Finally, writer J. Michael Straczynski, who apparently did not have enough work to do in revitalizing Wonder Woman, begins his reconstruction of the Superman title.

His 10-page prologue sets up the return of Superman to his earthly duties and finds the hero questioning the meaning of who he is and what he can do to help.

It apparently will take a walk around the planet to re-establish his connection with humanity.

Wolverine, No. 900 (Marvel Publishing, $4.99)  Before you pull out the party hats, those clever wiseguys at Marvel decided it might be worth a laugh to further mock the current numbering system in comics (seemingly based on any number of sales-crisis criteria) by giving our old feral friend a tribute.

It's obviously not Wolverine's 900th issue (heck, Uncanny X-Men is only in the 500s) but why should DC have all the fun?

Readers get eight stories (six new and two reprints in more than 100 pages) that clearly establish Wolverine as an impulsive, ferocious barfly prone to machismo-laden vices but with a heart of gold when it comes to helping women and children in danger.

The guy also is indestructible  as if you didn't know already  as witnessed by his surviving and quickly healing after a shotgun blast to the head (twice), being impaled with spikes and Ninja swords and being consumed by fire.

Story standouts include an opening shot by writer C.B. Cebulski with fantastic David Finch art that makes me remember fondly the days of Marc Silvestri's Wolverine, and a textless finale from writer Karl Bollers and artist Stephen Segovia that finds the newly created Weapon X on a rampage in the forest but still willing to help a family in peril.

I also enjoyed writer Marc Bernardin's take on the Canadian maniac hanging out one night a year with another mutant, who suppresses Wolverine's powers so he can get drunk and appreciate pain.

The artwork throughout is great, sans the bump in the road from illustrator Jason Craig in Desperate Measures  he has no chance of pulling off Tom Grummett's X-Men Forever vibe.

This anthology is ripe for the newly indoctrinated Wolverine fan but might need a bit more variety of red meat to entice the already hard-core base.

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