- The Washington Times - Friday, January 30, 2004

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

Atomics: Spaced Out & Grounded, trade paperback (Oni Press, $12.95). Whenever I grow weary of reading about legendary superheroes constantly being re-imagined and loaded with angst-ridden dilemmas, I can always find a hue-loaded harbor of calming zaniness in the world of Mike Allred.

If not making money by delivering his unique art style to the pages of the X-Statix for Marvel Comics, Mr. Allred can be counted on occasionally to continue the adventures of a unique group of heroes from Snap City, the Atomics, that includes his most famous sequential-art friend, Frank Einstein — aka Madman.

Last year, Oni Press gave him some assistance by offering the talents of an eclectic group of creators to further embellish the Atomics’ lives by delivering four single-issue stories around specific team members’ exploits.

A recent trade paperback has compiled the quartet into a 112-page trade paperback that pays testament to Mr. Allred’s ability to write a solid framework for other artists to develop upon the hippest of sequential-art and popular-culture universes.

The four tales begin with Martin (Ricky Ricotta’s Mighty Robot) Ontiveros taking a look at Crash Metro’s violent universe. He and his team, the Star Squadron, battle an invading robot horde on their own planet, much like Starship Troopers with a Buck Rogers retro feel and including a bit too many graphic scenes for my taste — i.e. men getting smashed by robots.

My favorite story incorporates the work of J. (Mutant Texas: Tales of Sheriff Ida Red) Bone and relays the woeful romantic tale of the pliable Mr. Gum that incorporates amnesia, corporate chicanery, a father-son reunion and a Floo-Bee into the hijinks.

Next, Spaceman’s adventure of trying to get two warring alien races living on the same planet back together worked, thanks to a page layout incorporating the character work of Mr. Allred with painted backgrounds by Lawrence Marvit.

Finally, the ultrahip IT Girl needs help locating one of her band mates, who happens to be her boyfriend, and Chynna (Blue Monday) Clugston-Major draws upon the 1960s psychedelic movie gods for her inspiration.

The common thread through the four excellent pieces of potent pop, beside the Atomics team, is the hypnotic color schemes by Mr. Allred’s wife, Laura, and son Han, which burst from the page and never stop grabbing the comic-book lover’s peepers.

Bottom-line rhyme: Mike Allred, his friends and kin deliver a colorful cavalcade of fun to the comic-book fan.

To the point

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

Hellboy: Weird Tales, Volume 1, trade paperback (Dark Horse Comics, $17.95). Mike Mignola’s award-winning character gets a tribute from a host of creators who have put together an excellent variety of stories highlighting his exploits. These Weird Tales have been a bimonthly treat for this fan of the paranormal investigator, and this 128-page softcover book compiles the first four issues of the series. Readers get a steady diet of demon dogs, possessed children, ghostly circuses and very large bats from such esteemed sequential-art types as Eric Powell, John Cassaday, Alex Maleev and Joe Casey. They deliver a scary and humor-filled take on the next potential Hollywood star (talk to me in April after the Hellboy movie premieres) and with an awesome art gallery tossed into the back of the book, Volume 1 is a perfectly horrifying pulp package.

Outsiders: Looking for Trouble, trade paperback (DC Comics, $12.95). Just when I thought a superhero team concept couldn’t be refreshed, writer Judd Winick delivers a new series invigorating the remnants of the Teen Titans and Young Justice to deliver an enjoyable brand of heroic exploits. Arsenal, Green Arrow’s old sidekick, calls upon Nightwing; the meta-human bouncer, Grace; Black Lightning’s daughter, Thunder; the female cyborg Indigo; the shape-shifting Metamorpho; and Green Lantern permutation Jade, to get together and pre-empt the plans of villains before they cause mayhem.

The 192-page softcover book collects issues Nos. 1 through 6 from the monthly series. It also throws in the story from the book Teen Titans/Outsiders Secret Files No. 1 to present a compelling read of clashing personalities trying to heal from the loss of friends as they continue to make an impact on their planet. I loved Mr. Winick’s plot on the Outsiders protecting President Lex Luthor. Even when I began to get bored with the second story arc featuring a battle with Brother Blood, the writer threw a curve ball to bring the legendary Metamorpho into the spotlight and reach an absorbing conclusion.

Art came in a mixed bag, but when Tom Raney and Scott Hanna are in control of the illustrations, life can’t get any sweeter. The pair made the confrontation between Lex Luthor and the Joker literally jump off the page.

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 D.C. 20002.

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