- The Washington Times - Friday, September 24, 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

The Jungle, graphic novel (NBM Publishing, $15.95).

Peter Kuper’s sequential-art adaptation of legendary author Upton Sinclair’s depressing look at the Chicago stockyards at the beginning of the 20th century gets an enlarged and welcomed reissue from its 1980s Classic Illustrated origins.

NBM gives readers a 7½-by-11½-inch chance to admire the stenciled illustrations of Mr. Kuper, who perfectly captures the tale of immigrant Jurgis Rudkus and his dreams of successfully living in America, which are shattered by the inhumanity of the meatpacking industry.

Mr. Kuper’s surreal approach and somber color choices meld with the prose to present a powerful statement that should be imbibed by all students of literature.

• What’s it worth? Because Mr. Sinclair’s work was a indictment of capitalism, I cannot put a price on the partly socialist propaganda comic. However, because Mr. Kuper needs to eat and pay rent, I would recommend full payment for this masterpiece.

Batman in the Eighties, trade paperback (DC Comics, $19.95).

This 192-page book manages only an average job of representing those turbulent times, a decade in which the Dark Knight had to deal with the death of Jason (Robin) Todd, the crippling of Barbara (Batgirl) Gordon, killing the Joker and fighting Jack the Ripper.

Ten tales culled from the titles Batman, Detective Comics, DC Sampler, and New Titans do feature classic confrontations with such menaces as Man Bat in Shadow Play (Batman No. 348), a familiar fowl criminal in Pieces of Penguin (Batman No. 384), ol’ pasty face in Dreadful Birthday, Dear Joker … ! (Batman No. 321) and Scarecrow in Fear for Sale (Detective Comics No. 571).

However, only Transition (from New Titans No. 50) manages to directly bring forth some of the anguish suffered by the Caped Crusader during the time as Dick Grayson confronts him on the demise of Robin at the hands of the Joker.

The book does feature a great Bat-history of the era through a trio of cover-enhanced articles, and the illustrated pages showcase the talents of such creative legends as Len Wein, Dick Giordano, Walt Simonson, Marv Wolfman, Alfredo Alcala, Gene Colan and George Perez.

• What’s it worth? The book will capture the wallets of only nostalgia buffs, while others will drop the big coin on must-read 1980s compilations such as Batman: Year One ($9.95), Batman: The Dark Knight Returns ($14.95) and Batman: A Death in the Family ($12.95).

Fantastic Art: The Best of Luis Royo, coffee-table hardback (NBM Publishing, $45).

NBM spares no expense in celebrating the work of one of Spain’s most famed fantasy artists. Mr. Royo helped put together this compendium featuring 240 glossy pages of mixed media masterpieces presented in a clothbound hard cover.

Since his professional beginnings in the 1970s, his art has most often highlighted the female at her barest and is recommended for mature readers only. Pages mix female warriors with mythical creatures, delve into the beauty behind the beast, reveal a bleak future punctuated by sculpted goddesses and showcase the sword as the weapon of choice for Mr. Royo’s heroes.

• What’s it worth? Fans of Mr. Royo will find the work priceless, while art connoisseurs will consider the passion of his realism a pop-art pleasure to pay for.

Loki, Nos. 1 and 2 (Marvel Comics, $3.50 each).

Norse trickster god and prince of lies Loki Laufeyiarson finally gets his revenge on adopted father Odin and half-brother Thor by taking control of their precious kingdom of Asgard, but now wonders, “What is a villain without a hero?”

This miniseries about one of Marvel Comics’ and viking mythology’s best-known characters does a spectacular job of bringing to light his bureaucratic plight by dispensing with Wagnerian bravado and bringing Loki down to almost a human level as he struggles with what he has done, who he must pay back, and what consequences his crime may bring upon himself and the lands he now controls.

• What’s it worth? Artist Esad Ribic creates a painted masterpiece. His drawings of such stalwarts as Thor, Lady Sif, Balder, Hela and Loki will conspicuously consume the currency of frothing fans.

Zadzooks! wants to know you exist. Call 202/636-3016; fax 202/269-1853; e-mail [email protected] or write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002.

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