- The Washington Times - Friday, December 30, 2005

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

Image Holiday Special 2005

(Image Comics, one shot, $9.99)

The comic publisher’s first annual book devoted to winter festivities showcases its best and brightest talents in a 101-page anthology of sequential art vignettes that deliver more cynicism than holiday cheer.

Despite a very friendly cover by Frank Cho that has his favorite girl Brandy riding on a sled down a snowy hill, things get ugly quickly as Erik Larsen’s curmudgeonly Mr. Glum turns to murder to find a girl a pony for Christmas, and Mark Smith and Dan Hipp’s Amazing Joy Buzzards watch Kris Kringle take a beating at the hands of Black Peter and then exact his revenge.

Melancholy is also served too often for my taste during Eric Stephenson’s nine-panel tale, “The Scene From a Bar on Christmas Eve,” which pops up throughout the book as the creator looks at normal moments of average folk trying to survive the holidays.

Some of the stories are uplifting and complemented by gorgeous art, such as Brian Haberlin’s wordless, black-and-white take on Spawn getting assistance from a little boy on Christmas Eve while fighting with Angela, or Robert Kirkman’s exploring a father’s fears when celebrating the holidays amidst a world overrun by Zombies.

Unfortunately, too many sophomoric situations ruin those few warm fuzzies, further witnessed by Joe Casey having Godland’s villain, Basil Cronus, getting Santa high and Mr. Glum stopping by, again, to give the Savage Dragon his personalized version of a lemon-ice cone.

Catwoman: When in Rome

(DC Comics, trade paperback, $19.99)

The dynamic duo of the sequential art world, writer Jeph Loeb and artist Tim Sale, put Gotham’s female cat burglar in the spotlight last year with a six-part mystery as her alter ego, Selina Kyle, delved into her Sicilian roots and possible connection to the Falcone crime family.

A hardcover now collects the adventure that finds Selina and temporary assistant Edward Nigma (aka the Riddler) traveling to the heart of Italy for a true taste of the Mafia while she tries to forget her obsession with a certain Caped Crusader.

Mr. Loeb’s subplots — such as Selina’s encounters with a slick hit man, her vivid dream sequences, her battles with another female feline and acrobatic covert operations — give Mr. Sale plenty of situations to draw Catwoman, in and out of clothes, and present her as the sexiest villainess in comic books.

The artist turns her into a modeling fashion plate by placing Miss Kyle in the skimpiest of outfits possible — be it sunbathing aboard a yacht in a revealing swimsuit, wrapped in designer lingerie, riding a Vespa scooter in capri pants or adorned in her traditional, skin-tight purple costume.

Despite the visual distractions, readers will delight in a story that also features appearances by Cheetah, the Scarecrow, Joker, Two-Face, and the love of Catwoman’s life, the Dark Knight.

Fin Fang 4, Where Monsters Dwell, Monsters on the Prowl and Devil Dinosaur

(Marvel Comics, one shots, $3.99 each)

The publishing home of Spider-Man, Captain America and the X-Men also once maintained a stable of frightening creatures unleashed through some 1960s and 1970s horror and sci-fi titles drawn by legends of the industry.

This year, Marvel put together a stellar cast of creators to pay tribute to such monsters as Googam, Son of Goom, Droom, Grogg, Goom, Rombuu, Gorgilla and Fin Fang Foom with some one-shot adventures that packaged the new stories with reprints from classic comic books.

Creators like Peter David, Keith Giffen, Mike Allred, Steve Niles and Duncan Fegredo lent their expertise in delivering a pure pop-art flashback to the reader. Each issue dazzled through bold and bright colors, crisp inking, humorous dialogue and a classic comic art style to captivate fans of Silver and Bronze Age stories found in such titles as Strange Tales, Creatures on the Loose and Where Monsters Dwell.

Take the case of the book Devil Dinosaur, written by Tom Sniegoski and drawn by the Goon’s favorite artist, Eric Powell. A story centering on junior Celestials (Devron the Experimenter and Gamiel the Manipulator) interfering in Earth’s evolution will produce not only plenty of chuckles but gasps from hard-core fans as a 1970s version of the Hulk takes on Jack Kirby’s red Tyrannosaur.

Readers also get in the issue a color reconstructed reprint of Journey into Mystery, No. 62 (originally produced in 1960 by Mr. Kirby and Dick Ayers) showing the first appearance of a monster named the Hulk.

Each book also features a cover from Mr. Powell, who I know loves drawing monsters more than eating. The final illustration topping all of the issues really shines.

For those unable to find the individual books, a 216-page hardcover of the series will be available in early February ($20.99).

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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