- The Washington Times - Friday, June 18, 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.

Jonah Hex: No Way Back, graphic novel (DC Comics, $19.99)  The toughest, ugliest hombre of the comic book West soon gets his own live-action movie, starring Josh Brolin as the vigilante gunslinger.

Those in dire need of a Hex fix before the film’s release Friday will appreciate a beaten-up hardcover containing a stand-alone story that looks at the antihero’s angst-ridden life.

Why does a guy get so ornery and reckless that he kills without remorse at the drop of a hat and is compelled to go on nonstop booze and prostitute binges in nearly every town? He’s got mommy issues, of course.

And so goes this brutally violent story of a beaten-down child who is abandoned by his mother and then given a glimmer of hope that a reunion with her could be in the cards. Well, it’s not the type of reunion I would want to be part of, and things get infinitely more complicated for the hero as he discovers a lost sibling and picks up a new friend.

Justin Palmer and Jimmy Palmiotti’s tale of woe offers our Western star no quarter, laying out a miserable life for Hex leading up to a confrontation with his archenemy, the Mexican bandito El Papagayo. Only the tiniest bits of compassion from this bounty-hunting brute give readers a hint of his humanity.

Tony DeZuniga’s art style looks like he’s drawing on sandpaper as he portrays a worn-down Old West filled with villains and a Jonah Hex who is a mix of Clint Eastwood cool and Kirk Douglas ferocity.

Spawn Origins Collection, Deluxe Edition: Volume One, hardcover (Image Comics, $100)  The early sequential-art adventures of one of the characters that spearheaded the success of the fledgling Image Comics back in 1992, and helped build the Todd McFarlane empire, arrives in a hardcover, slipcased release bound to thrill old and new fans.

Owners get the first 25 issues of Spawn  including the issue written by Dave Sim and not in print since 1994  mostly written and drawn by his creator, Mr. McFarlane, and featuring the twisted, violent world of Al Simmons.

This dead man turned into a demon and was to lead the army of Melebolgia against humanity. Instead, he rejected his master to reconnect with his wife and become a superhuman vigilante unleashed on the streets of New York.

The list of great characters, including the Clown/Violator, Overt-Kill, Angela, detectives Sam and Twitch and Cogliostro, along with story contributions from legendary writers such as Alan Moore, Frank Miller and Grant Morrison, make it a must-read for sequential-art historians.

The oversized 8-by-12-inch edition has occasional inconsistent and soft art reproduction among its 650-plus pages, but is printed on heavy, glossy paper stock; the volume weighs enough to be a lethal weapon.

Additionally, the color-explosive book contains black-and-white covers from all of the issues, an art gallery and words from Mr. McFarlane and Mr. Sim.

It is a treasure chest for any fan enamored of the Spawn universe.

Devil, Nos. 1 to 4, (Dark Horse Comics, $3.50 each)  Before the whine starts about having to read another comic book about a vampire plague threatening humanity, let me offer what makes Devil a bit out of the ordinary.

First, manga writer/artist Torajiro Kishi teams up with a Japanese animation company, Madhouse Studios, to put the comic together. That’s why the art looks so cool, but sparse  each panel is dominated by characters, not the normal American, sequential-art detail. It’s like reading a storyboard.

Next, the story often revels in brutality, but introduces a higher-level concept worth pondering: The human race no longer lives under “survival of the fittest” rules. Because it has been the dominant predator for so long, it needs only find ways to pass time rather than avoid being eaten.

Mr. Kishi’s story kind of explores what the introduction of infectious and murderous vampires (called Devils) does to change all that. I say “kind of” because there’s not much room in a four-issue limited series to explore this extension of Darwinism.

Rather, it’s just too much fun to watch officer Takimoto and his new female partner, Migiwa, of the Devil Investigation Section of the Tokyo police, hunt down bloodsuckers.

The introduction of a gorgeous, super advanced Devil clone named Mariko complicates things; she is in desperate need of a limited series of her own.

If Devil does not get more pulp space, it sounds like a perfect anime opportunity for Madhouse Studios.

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