- The Washington Times - Friday, October 27, 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

‘Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall’

(Graphic novel, DC Comics, $19.99)

Writer Bill Willingham’s devilish twists on classic fairy tales get extended from his monthly Vertigo series to a short-story anthology loaded with beautiful illustrations and legendary characters.

Stalwarts such as Old King Cole, the three blind mice and Prince Charming get their complex lives exposed in 140 pages of sheer joy for the mature sequential-art fan.

Readers first learn — through a text-driven story that ties together the sequential-art vignettes (Wait a minute: I have to read?) — that Snow White has traveled to Arabian Fable Town to meet with the sultan and enlist his help in defeating her people’s enemy, the Adversary.

Unfortunately, the sultan thinks she is a new bride, and according to a decree he issued because of problems with a previous wife, he will have her executed after 24 hours of marital bliss. It takes 1,001 stories to put off her death sentence and make him forget the pain of his former love.

Just a few of the fantastic tales explored by Snow White reveal the true fate of the Seven Dwarfs, the complex life of Hansel and Gretel’s scary adversary and how the Big Bad Wolf got so big and bad.

It’s the kind of book I was afraid even to pick up because I knew that once I got even the briefest look at the spectacular art from Charles Vess, Jill Thompson, Mark Wheatley and Brian Bolland, I would never be able to put it down.

Nextwave: Agents of Hate, Nos. 1 through 7

(Marvel Comics, $2.99 each)

Leave it to writer Warren Ellis and artist Stuart Immonen to mock, under Marvel’s editorial nose, the publisher’s serious superhero teams and deliver one of the most enjoyable comic-book series of the year.

It’s the Ultimates and SHIELD who feel the creative team’s wrath as they throw together a band of B-, C- and D-level heroes to fight an absurd selection of monsters as an elite team that throws punches first and asks questions later.

Nextwave once was a member of H.A.T.E. (Highest Anti-Terrorism Effort, a subsidiary of the Beyond Corp.) but became a renegade group after its leader, Monica Rambeau (formerly Captain Marvel and Photon), learned that the covert organization actually was a terrorist cell.

The team has H.A.T.E.’s marketing plan and travels to obscure cities to foil the designs of its former employer, who wishes to unleash unusual weapons of mass destruction upon an unsuspecting populace.

Two-issue story arcs make sure even those with the tiniest attention spans can appreciate the tales, told with loads of action and slightly sophomoric humor.

I loved the return of Aaron Stack (Machine Man) and Tabitha Smith (X-Force’s Meltdown) as part of the team, and Mr. Ellis’ twisted homage to Nick Fury, brought to light by H.A.T.E. leader Dirk Anger.

Nextwave is a glorious and brainless bit of pop art and is a welcome respite from the heavy-handed nonsense that surrounds Marvel’s Civil War and DC Comics’ 52 epics.

‘The Life of Pope John Paul II’

Graphic novel (Papercutz, $16.95)

My favorite Polish pontiff stars in a hardcover sequential-art book that offers a detailed look at his amazing life.

Karol Wojtyla was once an aspiring actor who fought against the Nazis and a communist regime on his home turf, until God called, and he eventually became the head of the Catholic Church.

Ninety-six pages cover all of the major biographical points between his birth in 1920 and his death in 2005 through educational, textbooklike panels, Pope John Paul II’s own words and illustrations by Werner Maresta.

Writer Alessandro Mainardi packs so much information into such a short book that some of the emotional moments are lost to space limitations. Additionally, too many religious overtones may confuse readers not of the faith. I understand that the book is about a pope, but it also is about a great man’s quest for peace.

‘Smallville: The Visual Guide’

(Coffee-table book, DK Publishing, $15.99)

Avid followers of the CW Network’s weekly program, which chronicles the younger years of Superman, will not need this book.

However, those just discovering the televised transformation of Clark into a superhero will love this encyclopedic 96-page reference.

Writer Craig Byrne (a fanatical “Smallville” devotee who even runs the Smallville fan site, www.kryptonsite.com) covers most of the major players and events of the past five seasons of the show and gives readers loads of background and factual nuggets accompanied by plenty of color photographs.

In addition, the book offers such treats as a foldout map of Smallville, a schematic of Lex Luthor’s panic room and an explanation of the types of Kyptonite and, most important, how they affect Clark.

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