- The Washington Times - Friday, December 29, 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

Batman/The Spirit, one-shot

(DC Comics, $4.99)

Bob Kane and Will Eisner’s legendary crime fighters team up to stop a who’s who of bad guys from wreaking havoc at a police gathering in Hawaii in a nostalgic and action-packed adventure.

Writer Jeph Loeb delivers a masterpiece as his prose explores the visit of commissioners Gordon and Dolan to the annual law enforcement convention of the Policemen’s Benevolent Association — where they and their colleagues unknowingly walk into a trap set by a massive team-up of Batman and the Spirit’s best-known villains.

Criminals from Gotham City such as Killer Croc, the Penguin, Catwoman and Poison Ivy meet Central City stalwarts, who include the mysterious Octopus, the Cossack and P’Gell, all of them on the sunny islands to carry out their evil plans.

Do not fear, the Joker and his gal pal, Harley Quinn, eventually manage to take part in the nefarious activities.

While the pair of gatherings (police and bad guys) take place, the heroes find a happy medium in their crime-fighting techniques to save the day.

It’s not just a good tale for Batman and Spirit fans; Mr. Loeb also delivers a wonderfully accessible story for all readers that is filled with a colorful cast, surprises, humor and entertaining banter between the villains and heroes.

Artist Darwyn Cooke does a masterful job of illustrating a wide range of characters, paying tribute to both of the original creators’ designs as well as playing to the cartoony-style strengths he developed when he worked on “Batman: The Animated Series.”

The Marvel Encyclopedia, coffee-table book

(DK Publishing, $40)

This colorful, almost 10-by-12-inch resource jam-packs more than 1,000 biographies of Marvel’s sequential-art elite into 352 pages covering everyone from the Abomination (a legendary Hulk villain) to the half-human, half-Atlantean Namorita to Zzzax, the living electromagnetic field.

Written by a team that includes Tom DeFalco, former editor in chief of Marvel; Peter Sanderson, Marvel’s first official archivist; and Tom Brevoort, famed editor of Avengers, Fantastic Four, Captain America and Iron Man, the hard-bound encyclopedia also concisely traces the initiatives of the comic-book publisher over the past four decades.

Although I loved the wonderful art on every page, and that includes a wraparound cover illustration, nowhere could I find credits for any of the artists whose work is presented.

I understand that with this number of characters it would be hard to place a credit line next to each piece, but even a list at the end of the book, by the index, would have offered a bit of an honor roll of the incredible talent Marvel has used over the years.

‘Hellshock: The Definitive Edition,’ trade paperback

(Image Comics, $19.99)

Ten years in the making, this compilation offers a remastered, recolored and finally finished version of artist Jae Lee’s second Hellshock miniseries, which drowns readers in the stark world of the mentally ill and those who take care of them.

The story looks at the difficult life of a psychiatrist completing her internship at a miserable mental health facility in New York City who finds uncomfortable solace with a patient named Daniel.

It is a dark entrance to the horror of institutionalized care, where the pure of heart are chewed up alive and reality is checked at the gates.

The work allows Mr. Lee to create some very empathic characters and asks readers to question a society that cannot take care of its homeless while it questions insanity, religion, cultural norms and the definitions of mental illness.

My advice is to skip the final 22 pages of the book because they offer a bizarre black-and-white alternate beginning to a story that works as is.

Yes, Hellshock: Volume II exists, without a happy ending, but at least it has a final act to impact the reader through unforgettable imagery and prose.

The Amazing Spider-Girl, Nos. 1 and 2

(Marvel Comics, $2.99 each)

Although the Spider-Girl comic ended at issue No. 100 in August, fans refused to let go, and she is back already to take up the mantle of her father’s fight in a brand-new series.

Stuck in an alternate universe of Marvel Comics, May “Mayday” Parker, the daughter of Peter and Mary Jane Parker, has her mother’s looks and her father’s superpowers.

With the latest story, she has promised to give up her costumed antics and focus on life as a popular teenager who even dates Eugene Thompson (the son of Mr. Parker’s high school nemesis) and runs for president of the student council.

In a twist that is too bad for her but a fantastic plus for readers, the Hobgoblin shows up to ruin her attempts at a normal life.

I miss the work of artist Pat Olliffe, who handled the penciling duties in much of the first series, but I will more than deal with the creative team of artist Ron Frenz and the legendary Sal Buscema.

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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