- The Washington Times - Friday, June 23, 2006

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 Superman comic critique

Superman vs. Lex Luthor,’ trade paperback

(DC Comics, $19.99)

The Man of Steel’s battles with his most formidable foe are compiled in a new trade paperback that traces the roots of the megaconflict over the past 60 years.

Yes, believe it or not, the two legends have been at it for more than half a century, and after reading the 12 stories, it appears the reason Superman has not crushed his archenemy into pulp lies in deep-seated guilt and pity for his archnemesis.

Lex Luthor’s first appearance in comics (from 1940, as a redheaded, mildly dangerous scientist who wears a robe) leads off the book in a reprint from Action Comics No. 23 and features the work of Superman co-creators Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel.

The characters’ temporary friendship is explored though a story from Adventure Comics No. 271 in which teenagers Lex Luthor and Clark Kent save one another from various problems until a hair-destroying breath by Superboy hurts Lex’s vanity and turns buddies into mortal enemies.

Of all the ways to introduce an epic conflict, who would expect baldness?

Other stories in the book confirm that if one takes away Luthor’s brilliant research potential, one is left with a sad sack of a character who manages to sabotage himself constantly and has to deal with plenty of tragedy.

Take the included tale Luthor Unleashed, from Action Comics No. 544, in which another Superman battle leads to a gadget malfunction that not only destroys the planet Lexor, named after him, but kills Lex’s wife and child.

Or the revelation in the Superman: Lex 2000 book that both Lex’s parents (who died in a car accident) and foster parents were abusive — a clear indication of what fuels the criminal mastermind to his ridiculous levels of hatred.

Through every story, one constant remains of a character who has gone from a misunderstood madman to a petty criminal to a twisted industrialist and ultimately the corrupt president of the United States: Lex’s intense desire to hurt Superman and taint everything for which he stands.

Lines such as, “I’ll do everything in my power to destroy you, Superboy,” or “Remember, Superman, you’re a dead man” or “Superman, prepare to die,” just pop from the story pages.

The stories selected by DC Comics represent a fantastic snapshot of the history of sequential art as such legends as Curt Swan, Bill Finger, Jeph Loeb, Tony Harris, John Byrne and Dick Giordano apply their craft.

Superman/Doomsday: The Collected Edition,’ trade paperback

(DC Comics, $19.99)

Within a whopping 413 colorful pages, readers learn about the origins of the extraterrestrial monster that once killed Superman and how it has managed to stay in the sequential-art spotlight through subsequent battles with the Man of Steel.

This fantastic, economically priced release is a giant trade paperback containing nine issues. It offers the three-issue series Superman: The Doomsday Wars; the three-issue series Superman/Doomsday: Hunter Prey; and the single issues Doomsday Annual No. 1, the Adventures of Superman No. 594 (subtitled Doomsday Protocol) and Superman No. 175 (subtitled Doomsday Rex).

A revolution in the emotional depth of the superhero took place in the 1990s, and these stories, all from the latter part of the time period, help expose Superman as a being with numerous humanlike frailties and an intense concern for his mortality and place in the universe.

This is brought to light no more intensely than in the Doomsday Wars, which have him try to save Lana Lang’s child from Brainiac, who also has taken over the body of Doomsday. The soap-opera prose is loaded with angst from Dan Jurgens’ script, which tears at the heartstrings while it delivers plenty of action.

Welcomed prefaces to each story by veteran writer Roger Stern, along with an introduction to the book by Mr. Jurgens, the co-creator of Doomsday, will inform readers about subplots, unfamiliar characters and the historical context of the sequential art presented.

‘Superman/Shazam!: First Thunder,’ trade paperback

(DC Comics, $12.99)

A great four-issue series that chronicles the first encounter between the Man of Steel and Earth’s Mightiest Mortal at the dawn of a new age of superheroes gets compiled into a trade paperback that will be remembered best for the wonderful style of artist Joshua Middleton.

Not that writer Judd Winick’s simple story is not fun. It intertwines magic, robots, monsters and comic-book legends within a classic superhero tale of very good versus very evil. Not only does Lex Luthor help Dr. Sivana try to kill Billy Batson, the alter ego of Shazam, but a demon is on the loose. Luckily, Superman is around to help as he works with his new costumed pal to extinguish all of the menaces.

Superman Returns: Prequel, Nos. 1 and 2

(DC Comics, $3.99 each)

Bryan Singer, director of the new “Superman Returns” movie, and its screenwriters Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris provide the plots to a four-issue series that helps introduce the new film to sequential-art readers.

The first issue simply rehashes much of the 1978 cinematic effort with the details of the destruction of Krypton, and the second issue introduces the current predicament of Ma Kent, who continues to deal with the loss of her husband and adopted son.

I am much more excited about the final two issues, which concentrate on Lex Luthor and Lois Lane and what they have been up to while the Man of Steel has been AWOL.

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

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