- The Washington Times - Friday, May 28, 2004

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

Fused! Think Like a Machine, Nos. 1 to 4 (Dark Horse Comics, $2.99 each). Sequential art horror writer Steve Niles brings his emotionally charged science fiction tale to the home of Star Wars comic books in a four-part miniseries that extends his four-part Image Comics effort from 2002.

Through a story that could easily be ripped out of a 1950s B-movie, the life of young robotics engineer Mark Haggerty is forever changed when he’s permanently fused with an experimental Cy-Bot exo-suit.

Now, dealing with military forces who consider him a secret weapon, egomaniacal scientists who consider him just an intriguing experiment and a gorgeous wife trying to find the man in the metal monster, Haggerty has become a tortured soul who each day must question what it means to be human.

The first four issues pick up as Haggerty and his wife are confined to a military base where researchers try to find out how to remove his suit and also test its powers. The tense situation tears his marriage apart as his spouse Nikki must decide if dealing with “for better or worse” also entails watching her hubby literally puke his innards out as the exo-suit begins to take control.

Mr. Niles does an excellent job of creating a believable relationship between man and woman amid the absurd horror, and of creating stress-relieving subplots that introduce the violent villain with no conscience named Cro-Mag — a prehistoric man with a brain spliced from a scientist with penchant for bloody destruction.

Ultimately, Haggerty must decide if stopping a killer, who has taken out a member of a superhero team called the Implementers (who originally tried to destroy him), takes precedence over trying to find a cure for his transformation, which could mean the end of his humanity and marriage.

Artist Josh Medors brings the emotional story to light by drawing larger-than-life characters and splash pages that the creator of the Goon, Eric Powell, would appreciate. The twisted tale gives mature audiences yet another take on the reluctant superhero story that beautifully melds art and words.

To the point

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

• Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, hardcover (DC Comics, $19.95). The Man of Steel and Dark Knight strengthen their friendship by rallying against President Lex Luthor, who uses a potential calamity to place a bounty on the head of his heroic arch-enemy. Compiling the first six issues of the new DC Comics team-up monthly series, the book enables writer Jeph Loeb to get into the heads of two legends and artists Ed McGuinness and Dexter Vines to combine talents. The result is a gorgeous tale that features a gigantic Kryptonite meteor hurling toward Earth, appearances by Captain Marvel, Hawkman, Power Girl, and Black Lightning — as well as Solomon Grundy, Captain Freeze and Mongul. It even includes a two-page story revealing the first meeting between a young Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne. Call this action-packed, nostalgic jaunt (which is beautifully encased in a logo encrusted hard cover) a real treat for any lover of the superhero genre of comics.

• The Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde, hardcover (NBM Publishing, $15.95). Sequential art master P. Craig Russell adapts into an 8.5-inch by 11-inch comic book format another group of stories from one of England’s most celebrated writers with a pair of pieces peppered with poetic prose. First, The Devoted Friend offers a more relaxed and whimsical style of Mr. Russell’s art as he relays an ironic tale about the dangers of taking advantage of a friendship told by a finch to a water rat. Next, in The Nightingale and the Rose, Mr. Russell returns to his fantastic illustrating style in a depressing ode to misguided love, and how self sacrifice sometimes means very little to those in need. Overall, this fourth collection maintains the high standards of its predecessors — although it doesn’t contain the most inspirational of tales for the younger demographic.

• Wolverine/Captain America, Nos. 1 to 4 (Marvel Comics, $2.99 each). Writer R.A. Jones pits the rogue SHIELD agents of the Contingency against the Odd Couple of superheroes in a run of the sequential art mill’s four-part miniseries. The unstoppable mutant Logan finally meets his match when secret technology renders him almost extinct as he tries to acquire a stolen computer chip harnessing the power of the advanced alien race, Shi’ar. His primary nemesis, the leather-clad, evil telepath Rapture — who also wears an exo-suit that gives her some electrifying powers — takes him down with magnetic bullets. Captain America and Warbird come to his rescue, as the story unfolds, to explore, among other things, a SHIELD classified project — and why well-endowed females look so good in skintight costumes. Artist Tom Derenick’s illustrations appear entirely computer generated. They take some getting used to and also do a disservice to his true penciling talents.

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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