- The Washington Times - Friday, December 5, 2003

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

Mr. Zad’s comic critique

Detective No. 27, graphic novel (DC Comics, $19.95). I have never been disappointed after reading an Elseworlds title from DC Comics, which takes its famous superheroes out of their respective universes and places them in unusual settings, times and mythologies.

Such is the case with a fantastic hard-bound graphic novel that turns Bruce Wayne’s entire world upside down while remaining cleverly familiar enough to put a big smile on a reader’s mug. Michael Uslan, executive producer of the Batman films and an avid history buff, has penned a wonderful story that ties a young Wayne — who was orphaned in the streets of Gotham City in the 1920s — to a 75-year-old plot hatched during the end of the Civil War in hopes of seeing the South rise again.

Mr. Uslan blurs the line between real and fictional as the likes of President Lincoln, 19th-century gumshoe Allan Pinkerton, a young Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, botanist Gregor Mendel and even baseball great Babe Ruth mingle with Alfred Pennyworth, Superman, Catwoman, the Boy Commandos and Wayne, who never dons the cape or mask.

The tale traces the Knights of the Golden Circle, a real group of secessionists in the 1800s, and its attempt to set off a biological doomsday device in the 1930s by crossbreeding plants over generations. It seems a secret society of detectives also exists whose members, named only by numbers, plan to stop them no matter what its takes.

Of course, the title of the 92-page effort refers to the first appearance of Batman in comic books, issue No. 27 of Detective Comics, but in the story, it references Bruce Wayne’s destiny to become indoctrinated as the 27th investigator to the secret detective society trying to stop the Knights of the Golden Circle.

The wonderful skewering of Bat mythos with a very surprising ending to the tale will pleasantly stun fans more than a dance with the devil under the pale moonlight.

Mr. Uslan also includes a footnotes page for readers to learn how he has intertwined history with his brand of delightful fiction. He delves into such detail as confirming that one of Lincoln’s favorite reads was “Joe Miller’s Joke Book,” which the writer uses as a thread throughout his complicated plot.

Additionally, artist Peter Snejbjerg does an outstanding job of illustrating the tale, drawing real-life characters in real settings while maintaining a comic universe. His style offers a tip of the pencil to Will Eisner as well as Steve Rude and should thrill the sequential-art connoisseur.

Bottom-line rhyme: A new book and background behind Detective 27 that will have the Batman fan basking in sequential-art heaven.

To the point

A selected peek at titles that didn’t inspire a bloated evaluation:

• X2: X-Men United, by 20th Century Fox Home Video for DVD-enabled computers and home entertainment centers, rated PG-13, $19.99. The sequel to director Bryan Singer’s 2001 ode to Marvel Comics’ superhero mutant team arrives on store shelves as a two-set DVD that leaves little for the die-hard comic-book fan in the way of extras.

The fantastic film, released earlier this year, stars Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, Patrick Stewart as Professor Charles Xavier and Ian McKellan as Magneto, and it looks awesome in a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation. Spiritedly re-imagining writer Chris Claremont’s story line of William Stryker’s crusade against the mutant menace, the 143-minute effort provides nonstop action, great character interaction, stunning effects and an escape by Magneto that’s not to be missed.

The majority of bonus features concentrate on the production, and the only one that will satisfy sequential-art lovers is a featurette with Stan Lee and Mr. Claremont visiting the history of the X-Men phenomenon. Comic-book writer Chuck Austen’s segment about Nightcrawler doesn’t do enough to explore the history and intricacies of Kurt Wagner, and his revelation about the blue mutants’ private parts seems incredibly sophomoric in the context of reflecting on the scope of the Homo Superior’s angst-ridden life.

• Sgt. Rock: Between Hell and a Hard Place, graphic novel (DC Comics, $24.95). Legendary sequential-art master Joe Kubert teams up with 100 Bullets writer Brian Azzarello to revisit “tough as nails” army heroes he helped make famous in the 1960s.

The men of Easy Company — Ice Cream Soldier, Bulldozer, Wildman, Little Sure Shot — and their fearless leader, Frank Rock — are fighting the Nazis in Hurtgen Forest. It’s bad enough that they’re stuck in brutal combat, but they’re also enmeshed in a murder mystery after they capture a group of German Intelligence officers.

Mr. Kubert delivers gritty and unforgiving illustrations to complement Mr. Azzarello’s hard-boiled, without-remorse dialogue, which will leave readers in 144 pages of the worst kind of mature horror that only “Saving Private Ryan’s” Capt. John Miller could imagine. Welcome back, Sarge.

Zadzooks! wants to know you exist. Call 202/636-3016, fax 202/269-1853, e-mail jszadkowski @washingtontimes.com or write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002.


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