- The Washington Times - Friday, November 7, 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

Comic Book Library (Topics Entertainment, $19.99). It used to be that anyone trying to investigate the origins of some favorite older superheroes by reading the original sequential-art stories either needed to have enough cash to buy pricey reprints or enough gold bullion to buy the issues.

Life has gotten much cheaper for the hard-core comic-book fan — well, at least for the Marvel zombie — thanks to the release of a CD-ROM compiling 100 issues of 1960s and 1970s classics and giving the reader unlimited access to some amazing writing, art and tales.

A single silver platter contains all pages (sans ads) of:

• Amazing Fantasy No. 15 and Amazing Spider-Man Nos. 1 through 9

• The original sixth issue of Incredible Hulk from the 1962 series plus the first four issues of Tales to Astonish, featuring the Green Goliath.

• Giant Sized X-Men No. 1 and X-Men Nos. 94 through 102, chronicling the first 10 adventures of the new X-Men.

• Issue Nos. 1 through 9 of the Fantastic Four, Daredevil, Avengers and Silver Surfer.

• Tales to Astonish Nos. 70 through 79, highlighting the world of the Silver Age Sub-Mariner.

• Tales of Suspense Nos. 39 through 48, featuring the first 10 Iron Man stories, and Nos. 59 through 68, with Captain America.

• Character biographies of all the participants, culled from the current Marvel Encyclopedia.

Each page of each issue can be enlarged or shrunk, and there’s a black-and-white option. Each looks amazing on a 17-inch or larger computer screen.

That translates into viewing the artwork of legends such as Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and John Buscema, along with reading the prose of such comic-book superstars as Stan Lee and Chris Claremont while enjoying the first appearance of Spider-Man in print, Daredevil in his yellow costume and the introduction of Jean Grey’s alter ego, the Phoenix.

This all sounds great, but two glaring problems may take the fun out of the viewing experience for both older and younger demographics.

Older types will need to understand the words “plug-in installation,” or they will forever spew profanities at their computers. Simply put, I tried to quickly view the disc on four computers (all within the recommended specs listed on the package) and at no time did the software simply load. I had to find and figure out how to successfully install an Internet browser plug-in called DjVu before any viewing could take place.

The younger, multimedia-savvy generation will have a problem thanks to the disc’s stunningly boring presentation. If the developers had spent five minutes examining the slick online look of comic books executed by either Marvel Comics (www.marvel.com) or CrossGen Entertainment (www.comicsontheweb.com), they clearly would have seen a much better — and probably easier for the end user — way of presenting the works.

Bottom line rhyme: An old comic book collection resurfaces in digital form, full of Marvel highlights but sure to draw a confused computer user’s scorn.

To the point

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

1602, Nos. 1 and 2 (Marvel Comics, $3.50 each). Welcome, merry comic-book readers, to the 17th century and a new story that looks great but does little to enhance writer Neil Gaiman’s stellar reputation. This eight-part Elseworlds- type series tries to answer the burning question, “What if Marvel superheroes existed 400 years ago?”

Mr. Gaiman immediately overwhelms with history and characters as the Queen of England begins to fear the end of the world and looks upon master of medicines Dr. Stephen Strange and her intelligencer, Sir Nicholas Fury, to seek answers. Then readers are introduced quickly to Sir Nicholas’ assistant, Peter Parquagh, spider lover; a traveling blind minstrel named the Devil who happens to know a gal named Natasha (she loves to knit spider webs); and Carlos Javier’s band of mutated humans called the Witchbreed.

OK, we get the idea. I’m intrigued by the concept but not quite entranced after the first two issues. Still, as long as Andy Kubert keeps up the brooding art style honed during his Origin days, I’ll stick around for the main event with Count Otto Von Doom.

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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