- The Washington Times - Friday, February 18, 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

‘Mighty Man No. 1’

Trade paperback (Image Comics, $7.95)

Image Comics

publisher Erik Larsen compiles the 10-part serial that ran in the back of his famous Savage Dragon comic-book series to give fans 80 pages of gender-bending superhero action.

The story of the world’s mightiest man, Bobby Berman, who passes on his powers to unsuspecting nurse Ann Stevens shortly before his death, leaves a woman transformed into the macho male superhero Mighty Man.

However, Berman’s bully grandson Billy wants his inheritance (the Mighty Man mantle), and that leads to ugliness for Ann.

The serial covers not only some of her adventures, including a showdown with Billy and his acquiring of superpowers, but also the origins of Mighty Man and a bit about the elder Berman’s life as he fought in World War II while covering the war as a 15-year-old reportercq; both fought and reportedmage to Mr. Larsen’s penciling style to deliver distinct illustrations in a watered-down version of Jack Kirby at his best.

Words to buy by: Mr. Larsen’s comfortable mix of mockery and appreciation of the superhero genre makes for required reading.

‘DC: The New Frontier’

Trade paperback (DC Comics, $19.95)

Comic-book creator Darwyn Cooke, who made his mark in the industry with Catwoman: Selina’s Big Score, delivers a six-part dramatic and character-driven ode to the folks behind the masks. It chronicles the end of the golden age of superheroes in the 1950s and the beginnings of the silver age.

This trade paperback presents the first three issues of the series. It introduces a slew of characters pivotal to the history of DC Comics and explores some of their less-covered antics during the years between the end of World War II and the advent of the space race.

Leaders of the Challengers of the Unknown, the Suicide Squad and the Justice Society of America and members of the later Justice League of America mix with one another while becoming part of the history of American politics, culture and science.

Through a never-ending series of multipage vignettes, Mr. Cooke reveals the likes of a young Hal “Green Lantern” Jordan meeting pilot Chuck Yeager, Wonder Woman empowering women with deadly force in Indochina, Batman first encountering the shape-shifting Martian Manhunter and a boxing match featuring the unstoppable Ted “Wildcat” Grant.

Words to buy by: Mr. Cooke’s expertise with facial expressions while merging pulp history with real history is not to be missed.

‘Justice League: Another Nail’

Trade paperback (DC Comics, $12.95)

I found writer-artist Alan Davis’ Elseworlds book “Justice League: The Nail” a riveting read. It opened on a world without the Man of Steel and showed us what happened in his absence.

Mr. Davis’ three-part follow-up (completely compiled in this trade) explores how Kal-El fully realizes his powers, why a group of heroes doubt their abilities and how a destructive amoeba plays a critical role in sapping power from the Guardians of the Universe.

The author excels at the juxtaposition of tragedy and redemption as Batman and Green Arrow suffer greatly. His juggling of a massive number of surprise appearances by such legends as the Doom Patrol, Jonah Hex, Eclipso and the Metal Men is worthy of comic-book artist George Perez, famed for cluttering his pages with characters.

Words to buy by: A powerful illustrative effort that only those unfamiliar with the words “rift,” “entity” and “paradox” should attempt to read.

Lions, Tigers and Bears

Image Comics, $2.95

A child’s reliance on the comfort of his stuffed animals becomes a sequential-art epic of escapism for writer Mike Bullock and his Runemaster Studios colleagues.

This new monthly series explores the displaced world of Joey, a little boy from a broken home who learns to confront fear and the great big world around him.

After he has to move for his mom’s new job, his grandmother gives him a quartet of plush toys that, when strategically placed around his bed, will protect him from any closet-hiding creatures of the night.

Of course, Mr. Bullock brings Joey’s pals to life, and readers get a great story of mighty beasts battling for their master in a universe filled with scary monsters.

It’s a great idea, perfectly executed and drawn by Jack Lawrence in an exquisite, Nickelodeon-like animated style that leaps off the pages.

Words to buy by: It captivated my 5-year-old in less than 20 seconds.

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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