- The Washington Times - Friday, March 25, 2005

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

Powerless, Nos. 1 through 6

Marvel Comics, $2.99 each

A Marvel comic-book universe without superheroes translates into a place still cluttered with dangerous bad guys and unstable characters

except they cannot cause as much damage. Such is the case in a six-part series written by Matt Cherniss and Peter Johnson.

—The books center on psychiatrist William Watts, who is awakened from a coma and wishes he could return to the state. Yacqe, the fellow, who looks like G. Gordon Liddy, deals with some strange clients while dealing with strangeness of his own — in the form of disturbing dreams featuring spandex-clad beings and mutated creatures battling throughout New York City.

Take the case of patient Peter Parker, who has an atrophied arm because of a nasty radioactive spider bite. The self-esteem-challenged kid has decided to confront industrialist Norman Osborne, who is trying to steal from Parker’s employer, Stark Industries, leading to an ugly kidnapping situation starring girlfriend Gwen Stacy.

Mr. Watts also has an encounter with attorney Matt Murdock, who needs him to testify for framed murder suspect Frank Castle, and he struggles to soothe his potential assassin, a covert agent named Logan, who wields false metal claws.

The clever premise allows the writers basically to take famed Marvel characters and strip them down to their neurotic base and toss them into a more realistic adventure while reminding readers that each day, humans can be heroes or villains depending on their decisions.

The series is brought to detailed life by artist Michael Gaydos, who has dipped into a palette of autumnal hues.

Words to buy by: Watching Bruce Banner throw a tantrum (without turning into the Hulk), enjoying a tongue-in-cheek scene featuring real writer Brian Michael Bendis getting thrown out of a shrink’s office and seeing the Kingpin get his just deserts will make for quite an enjoyable change of pace for the mature, hard-core Marvel zombie.

Ministry of Space,

trade paperback

Image Comics, $12.95

Warren Ellis concocts a world where Britain dominates the space race, leading to its becoming a technological powerhouse, as he clearly displays why he is one of the best comic-book writers in the business.

This trade compiles his famed three-issue ode to man’s conquering the stars, and it comes filled with faux historical depth intertwined with the story of John Dashwood, a man determined to start the Ministry of Space program, no matter the cost.

Mr. Ellis places readers on a roller-coaster ride of triumphs and failures as they visit the V-2 project in Germany, admire the Churchill Space Station, take a walk on the moon and land on the surface of the Red Planet.

Artist Chris Weston and colorist Laura Weston brilliantly propel the work as they convincingly bring to life detailed spaceships, 1950s costuming and the men behind the futuristic projects.

Words to buy by: Anyone with a ove of science fiction would be a fool not to read this unbelievable work.

The Incredible Hulk,No. 77 and 78

Marvel Comics, $2.99 each

Former Hulk scribe Peter David returns to chronicle his favorite green goliath’s adventures and wastes no time in presenting a surreal psychological adventure filled with mystery, action and odes to Marvel’s past.

As he tantalizingly brings back an authentic, Jack-Kirby-style green-and-gray hulk to confuse readers, we learn about the biological origins of the monster’s ability to breathe under water, about Bruce Banner’s challenging high school years and why hanging out on Monster Island is not such a good idea.

Artist Lee Weeks excels at punctuating Mr. David’s vision, balancing enough splash-page fury with highly pained facial detail to keep readers interested.

I have no idea where this story is going, but I am glad, once again, to be part of the ride.

Words to buy by: Peter David continues to give very good reasons why humans should keep reading comic books.

Hardy Boys: The Ocean of Osyria, No. 1

Papercutz, $7.95

Anybody who fondly remembers the pair of evergreen teenage sleuths should not be reading this 96-page, pocket-sized, sequential-art novel.

Brothers Frank and Joe have been resurrected as high-tech crime solvers for the tween crowd. The idea will appeal to younger readers thanks to the Japanese art style of Lea Hernandez and stories of veteran comic-book writer Scott Lobdell.

The first adventure has the pair of investigators trying to recover a stolen Middle Eastern art museum artifact to get their best pal, Chet Morton, out of hot water.

Words to buy by:

Manga (Japanese-style) comic books are flying off book store shelves right now, and the boys from the New England town of Bayport have a great chance, once again, to make friends with America’s youth.

Superman: Strength, No. 1

DC Comics, $5.95

In a superhero comic book, strength does not always have to refer to physical prowess but also can describe the maturation of a character and his ability to stay true to his beliefs.

This prescription underlies the latest ode to the origins of Superman, which mixes enough action to keep the casual reader happy while allowing writer Scott McCloud to blend in a story of the Man of Steel’s early years.

For the action quotient, readers get a band of wisecracking idiots led by one clever dude who outmaneuvers Superman not with power, but by testing his beliefs. For origins, we get Pa Kent talking about Clark and his early powers to the perky wife of Superman, Lois Lane.

Words to buy by:@ Think a return to the comic-book Superman Adventures, which brilliantly extended the 1990s cartoon series and offers bright and bold art from Aluir Amancio and Terry Austin to highlight a hero trying to save the day.

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

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