- The Washington Times - Friday, July 28, 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

Fear Agent, Nos. 1 to 6

(Image Comics, $2.99 each)

“Some jobs require the use of whiskey,” says macho hero Heath Houston in a sequential-art series that harkens back to the science-fiction and horror comic of the 1950s and throws in a tough guy who would make Sergeant Rock cower.

Actor Bruce Willis would perfectly fit the role of this alien exterminator who is the last of the Fear Agents, a band of Texans who once rid the Earth of extraterrestrial invaders.

As the story quickly unfolds, the inebriated hunter for hire finds himself up a against a Class-A Intellect jelly-brain creature while in a fight for his life against ape men.

The action-packed pace only lets up to allow Heath to get back to his Flash Gordon-type ship, reconcile with its female computer and move onto the next mission against flesh-eating monsters and a threat against Earth.

Writer Rick Remender’s story manhandles readers’ imaginations with blood-and-guts fights, an introduction to Star Wars-style species and a first-person narrative that dominates the dialogue to give readers a clear understanding of Heath’s motives.

Mr. Remender delivers a multitiered, well-constructed story that is not just about the violence of an action hero but manages to squeeze in some of his humanity.

The colorful action, loaded with cliff-hanger predicaments, also provides ample opportunity for artist Tony Moore to present some beautiful designs — although I was even more impressed by the work of Jerome Opena on the later issues for his even more detailed panels.

Conan and the Songs of the Dead, No. 1

(Dark Horse Comics, $2.99)

Another tough guy, not from the future but the eighth century, continues to capture the imagination of readers as his adventures live on through incredible comic book adaptations that celebrate author Robert E. Howard’s original works.

The latest is a humorous and brutal look at the Cimmerian barbarian written by Joe R. Lansdale, who teams up with legendary artist Tim Truman to offer a mix of violent and sexually mature themes in the true spirit of the legendary warrior.

This five-part series places Conan on a treasure hunt in the desert wasteland of Stygia, where his own greed and an encounter with a gorgeous spirit could lead to his demise. Older readers will have acid flashbacks to the days of Frank Frazetta, while younger readers should stay far away from the title and stick to Groo the Wanderer for their favorite barbarian book.

Aliens/Predator: Panelto Panel

(Dark Horse Comics, $19.95)

Dark Horse Comics started the war back in 1989, and now it offers a glimpse into its overall coverage of the conflict and two of the most dangerous species in the universe.

Chris Warner (a chronicler of many of the battles) plays host to a full-color, 192-page, oversized sequential-art retrospective that encompasses almost two decades of violent comic book imagery associated with 20th Century Fox’s science-fiction horror icons.

The art staggers the emotions through reprinted covers and panels — from contributors such as Dave Dorman, John Bolton, Mark Schultz, Richard Corben, Mike Mignola, Doug Wheatley, Mark A. Nelson and Alex Maleev — that reveal some very graphic masterpieces.

Such moments as an Alien “chest burster” breaking free of a rib cage, a Predator who proudly holds the head of its prey, or a dog retrieving a ball for an Alien (OK, the last one is more cute than scary, but still horrifyingly unexpected) gives a well-rounded look at why both creatures have been embraced by fans over the years.

The mature nature of much of the imagery restricts the book to only teens and adults of sound mind and body, but it is a celebration of one of Dark Horse Comics’ most impressive adaptations.

O.C.T.: Occult Crimes Taskforce, No. 1

(Image Comics, $2.99)

Actors such as Bill Mumy, Mark Hamill and Richard Hatch have already thrown their creative hats into the development of comic books, so why not a gal famous for her role of Gail in the film adaptation of the “Frank Miller’s Sin City”?

Readers get some mumbo jumbo, co-scripted by actress Rosario Dawson, about the island of Manhattan being a portal to a hellish realm (so what else is new) loaded with magical energies and creatures that must be contained by an elite unit of ghostbusters.

The hard-boiled affair stars Miss Dawson as NYPD officer Sophia Ortiz, who gets transferred to the O.C.T. and indoctrinated into the unit, a bit like Will Smith’s character Agent J in “Men in Black” (the film, not the comic book).

Although it’s hard to ignore the beautiful, photorealistic style of artist Tony Shasteen, I much prefer the Mike Mignola-created universe of Hellboy and the BPRD (Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense) for my scary investigator fix.

I think Miss Dawson only did this four-part series as a glorified story board to pitch as a movie. That’s not a bad plan, because the unoriginal premise fits right into the Hollywood gristmill.

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, D.C. 20002.

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