- The Washington Times - Friday, April 21, 2006

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.

Spider-Man: The Other, trade paperback

(Marvel Comics, $29.99)

A 12-part story arc spanning Amazing Spider-Man Nos. 525 through 528, Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man Nos. 1 through 4 and Marvel Knights: Spider-Man Nos. 19 through 22 will be compiled into a hardcover book in May. It allows readers to explore the way a cabal of famed creators messed up the history of one of the best sequential-art superheroes ever born.

With a mission statement of “evolve or die,” the bloated tale certainly delivers as promised. Peter Parker’s (aka Spider-Man) nightmares and loss of powers lead to a deadly confrontation with the vampiric Morlun and ultimately a transformation into an amalgam of arachnid and human.

The story’s most intense moments come as artist Mike Deodato Jr. illustrates the words of J. Michael Straczynski and Peter David. The action becomes dramatically potent as Mary Jane Watson Parker and Aunt May suffer, mourn and rejoice at Parker’s on-and-off demise.

Unfortunately, all of the writers’ prose, especially that of Reginald Hudlin, gets undercut in four of the issues by Pat Lee’s exaggerated Japanese-influenced art, which should remain stuck in a Transformers comic book.

By the end of the epic, which easily could have been told in half the issues, Spider-Man is tied into some mystical insect clan with powers such as the ability to shoot a bone spike out of his wrist (What will Wolverine think?) and attach things to his sticky back while also getting a shiny new costume created by Tony Stark.

So much for the science nerd simply bit by a radioactive spider. Oh well, as long as no cloning is involved, I am sure most loyal readers will manage to stomach the evolution — as long as they get another Spider-Man movie to remember the character’s good old days.

‘The Art of Ray Harryhausen,’ coffee-table hardback

(Billboard Books, $50)

A companion to the 2004 book “Ray Harryhausen: An Animated Life,” this title examines the artistic and illustrative power of one of cinema’s masters of special effects and the stop-motion animation process.

Through 240 pages of 211 color and 75 black-and-white photographs and illustrations in a 9½-by-11½-inch book, fans get a history of the Harryhausen style. Concept art in multiple mediums mixes with finished pieces and streams of words from Mr. Harryhausen, who talks about his influences, techniques and life.

He touches on all of his work, including Jason and the Argonauts, Clash of the Titans, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and One Million Years B.C.

An enthusiastic foreword by director Peter Jackson, a loyal fan of King Kong and Mr. Harryhausen, cements the tribute to a man who helped skeletons, dinosaurs and centaurs come to life on the silver screen.

Marvel Zombies, Nos. 1 to 3

(Marvel Comics, $2.99 each)

This five-issue miniseries offers a continuation of an Ultimate Fantastic Four story arc that features an alternate Earth inhabited by a collection of familiar, and flesh-devouring, characters.

A man known for his work with the undead, writer Robert (the Walking Dead) Kirkman, delivers a deliciously gross serving of violence and unimaginable horror as he melds a cast of physically decaying superheroes and a story filled with moments of macabre humor and loads of action.

As a comfortable fit between a “Tales From the Crypt” TV episode and the film franchise “Return of the Living Dead,” the story highlights such stars as Spider-Man, Wolverine and Iron Man as they bicker and hunt for nonzombified beings to eat while roaming around New York City. Even the powerful Silver Surfer cannot stop the frenzy: He becomes a quick snack for the Hulk when he heralds the arrival of the planet-eater Galactus.

Gore gags will either shock or delight the reader: Colonel America (he got a promotion) walks around with the top of his head sliced off by his own shield. The Wasp gets her noggin bitten off by her true love after she finds his hidden food source. Bruce Banner is forced to deal with a bony meal from his alter ego (the Hulk) that has not been digested.

Ryan Phillips’ slightly realistic, blood-and-entrail-soaked artwork complements Mr. Kirkman’s twisted vision and absolutely should not be appreciated until 30 minutes after a meal.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Nos. 1 through 3

(Dark Horse Comics, $2.99 each)

I have blathered ad nauseam that Dark Horse’s Star Wars comic books are much better than nearly all of the movies. That said, I have to report that the publisher has broken its streak and has let loose with a series that does not meet my expectations.

I had such hopes for this six-issue story arc, which takes place 3,964 years before the Battle of Yavin and involves the clumsy padawan Zayne Carrick and his attempts to capture a con artist in the city of Taris and attain Jedi knighthood. After witnessing the demise of his brethren by their masters, he is accused of the crime and is on the run with a new Snivvian friend.

Unfortunately, John Jackson Miller’s script has yet to pan out. Readers who remove the “Star Wars” coating applied to the plot, including lots of light sabers, Force powers and quirky creatures, are stuck with a generic, B-grade action film.

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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