- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 3, 2011

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

Captain Wonder 3D, one-shot (Image Comics, $4.99) — I still appreciate Marvel and DC’s greatest stars, but I certainly would love to follow the fresh exploits of a new superhero.

Unfortunately, I’m not yet sold on Captain Wonder.

It’s not because of Brian Haberlin’s storytelling ability. He introduces readers to a Man of Steel archetype, only to reveal that the hero has been missing in action for two months under mysterious circumstances, setting up a wonderful payoff in the first issue.

Young readers especially will warm up to Captain Wonder’s greatest fan, 10-year-old Billy Gordon, who plays an instrumental role in finding the hero.

Mr. Haberlin’s plot balances some great action scenes with the introduction of characters such as Black Raven and Fixer, really priming readers for a surprise finish.

Here, however, is my beef.

I understand multimedia companies are now consumed with the revenue potential of re-exploring 3-D.

Allow me to offer this bit of wisdom as a sequential art lover for the past four decades.

Three-D comics stink. Not only do you have to wear those annoying cardboard glasses, but you also have to read in perfect lighting conditions with the pages precisely parallel to the peepers.

The result is still an often-muddled mess.

Even worse, it destroys the ability to appreciate Philip Tan’s classic 1990s-style artwork. Take a look at his black-and-white pencils in the back of the book (take those glasses off, you idiot) and savor the detail.

Sequential art at its finest merges prose with the beauty of illustration, with no gimmicks required.

Captain Wonder has all the elements. Although this book is just a one shot, I hope the story continues, sans 3-D. Kids these days could use a fun superhero to follow.

Sir Edward Grey: Witchfinder, Lost and Gone Forever, No. 1, (Dark Horse Comics, $2.99)  — Appealing not only to fans of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, Mike Mignola’s latest five-part miniseries will hook Western comic book lovers in the mood for some occult trouble.

Last seen in the alleys of Victorian London (reference In the Service of Angels), Sir Edward Grey is back and visiting the American frontier to stop by a town in Reidlynne, Utah, and find a member of the Hellopic Brotherhood of Ra.

A deadly encounter with an unruly sheriff finds the investigator rescued by a local and trying to understand the tragic incidents surrounding a decimated church.

It’s too early to tell where Mr. Mignola is going with the action, but the setup screams that more supernatural shenanigans are out there on the prairie.

I highly recommend that any older sequential art admirer — even those not thrilled with the genre  at least check out legendary artist John Severin’s masterpiece in the making.

The octogenarian and EC Comics veteran beautifully brings every panel to creepy life, and it’s some of the best work of his career.

Fables, No. 102 (DC Comics, $2.99) — One of many regrets I have is never fully following Bill Willingham’s non-superhero universe. For more than 100 issues, it has cleverly focused on twisting popular folklore and fairy tale mythology in the sequential art format.

This latest issue kicks off a five-part story and throws readers a bit of a curve with Princess Ozma forming a superhero strike team on Haven to finally defeat Mister Dark.

The superpowered cliches overwhelm, down to Pinnochio preparing as a familiar X-Men character. He explains that as “the driving force behind the team” he feels leaders usually are “professor or doctor types and always in a wheelchair for some reason.” Get it?

Overall, Mr. Willingham has fun with the premise while not forgetting to weave multiple subplots throughout the issue, including drama between Beauty and the Beast, Mistral and the North Wind’s latest Zephyr discovery, and a visit with Nurse Spratt at the City of Darkland.

My favorite moments in the issue arrive courtesy of artist Mark Buckingham. Channeling the pencils of Jack Kirby into some of his panels, readers can view the gigantic Grinder, now pulled right out of a Fourth World issue, and a costumed Ozma reminiscent of the “King’s” work on Inhumans.

Hellboy: The Sleeping and the Dead, Nos. 1 and 2, (Dark Horse Comics, $3.50 each) — A shortlist of my favorite indulgent things to do includes eating a Bobo’s cheesedog (downed with an Old Style beer, my friend), cranking up REO Speedwagon (the early stuff) and reading the exploits of my favorite paranormal investigator.

In this latest tale written by Hellboy pappy Mike Mignola, readers will find comfort in knowing the big red lug still loves to charge blindly, horn stubbles strong, into dangerous missions, always with a witty comment, packing one heck of a punch.

Take the case in this two-issue story that finds the hero chasing a lady vampire across Suffolk, England, in the mid-1960s. Of course, all is not what it seems, as the brute gets trapped in the basement of a haunted house along with a hungry supernatural entity.

What should be a simple stake-and-destroy mission becomes much more troublesome as Hellboy also discovers why vampires have been so scarce in Europe for the past century.

Artist Scott Hampton’s work really propels the creepy fun. Although his Hellboy has a rudimentary look, with strong lines defining his fists and frame, the style works as it is juxtaposed against the wonderful detail of other characters and backgrounds. I especially enjoyed his interpretations of an elder vampire that resembled Christopher Lee during his Hammer Dracula years.

* Zadzooks! wants to know you exist. Send e-mail to jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com.