- The Washington Times - Friday, September 23, 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

‘North Country’

(Graphic novel, NBM Publishing, $13.95)

The autobiography of Seattle artist Shane White arrives in a 96-page color work that’s filled with more angst and conflict that any man should have to bear.

I can really appreciate my bland, normal life after viewing the pain Mr. White had to endure while growing up in a mill town in northern New York. An alcoholic father, domestic violence, poverty, lack of love, disappointment, emotional starvation, suicide, accidental death and an overwhelming hopelessness add up to a heavy portrayal of a childhood wrought with potential disaster.

Yet Mr. White manages to see the bright side of what some may consider a miserable existence as he takes readers on a journey of familial forgiveness amid chaos that would make even the strongest person abandon his kin.

In nine square panels per page, he mixes his artistic mediums to set the mood for his childhood trials and adult epiphanies — red chalk with heavy inking to denote scenes of violence, for instance, or puffy watercolors for a calmer scene. The work is masterful — and with a little more irony and humor thrown into the mix, Mr. Shane might have challenged Harvey Pekar’s “The Quitter” for most meaningful memoir of the year.

‘Superman: For Tomorrow,’ Volumes 1 and 2

(Trade paperback, DC Comics, $24.99 each)

Artist Jim Lee’s second project, heralding his penciling return to the comic industry, had him team up with noir writer extraordinaire Brian Azzarello to explore how a super man refuses to deal with superfailure.

A pair of hard-bound books comprise YES Superman issues Nos. 204 through 215 and deliver a story revealing the Man of Steel to be a complex, tortured and suffering soul who feels his mission to save humanity justifies taking the most extreme measures.

The mystery of millions of humans disappearing, including his wife, Lois Lane, leads Superman to question his purpose in the universe while embarking on an adventure to battle a foe of his clan while also delivering soap-operatic diatribes and mixing it up in old-fashioned donnybrooks.

What Mr. Lee brings to each page is a familiar art style that helped define the 1980s comic book. His ferocity in drawing villains matches his eye for adding cheesecake poses and superheroic, muscle-flexing splash pages. Despite making Superman first appear to look like Baron Karza from the Micronauts universe, the man who help found Image Comics still offers an eye-popping ride.

However, I’m not sure dropping $50 for the pair of books would be a prudent expenditure. The story never attains the explosive power of Batman’s Hush story (Jim Lee’s initial return to penciling duties) and I am betting DC Comics will provide a more affordable softcover trade paperback of the epic in the near future.

‘Serenity,’ Nos. 1 Through 3

(Dark Horse Comics, $2.99 each)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon’s television show “Firefly” quickly was extinguished and became a cult hit rather than a stalwart of the Fox network. The premise has led to a feature film, “Serenity,” debuting at the end of September and, thanks to die-hard fan demand, a three-issue comic-book prequel, conceived by Mr. Whedon.

The sci-fi Western about mercenaries, outlaws and fugitives learning to live, love and survive as they zoom around the galaxy in the vessel named Serenity continues as the brainiacs fight their way off a hostile planet only to run into more, well, hostility.

Fans of “Firefly,” known as Browncoats, will find the illustrations of Will Conrad more than adequate and will want every alternate cover issue from such legends as Tim Bradstreet and Joe Quesada.

‘Secrets of the Swamp Thing’

(Trade paperback, DC Comics, $9.99)

I am all for expanding the marketplace by releasing books to capture the eyes of the teenager enamored by pocket-size comic books following in the tradition of the immensely popular Japanese manga sequential-art format.

However, that does not mean I have to like it.

Basically, I want my comic art big — OK? I want to lay it out in my back yard, climb a tree and still be able to appreciate it. I want to savor it. I want to be overwhelmed by it. That will never happen trying to read a 5-by-7-inch book offering the first, fantastic 10 issues of the Swamp Thing, written by Len Wein and drawn by one of the kings of horror art, Bernie Wrightson.

Having to use a magnifying glass to relive Mr. Wrightson’s detailed brilliance is just not my idea of a satisfying art experience.

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

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