- The Washington Times - Friday, September 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

Civil War: Front Line, Nos. 1 through 5

Marvel Publishing, $2.99 each

Marvel’s massive crossover event for this year tempts readers with a story imbued with the politics of fear, the price of liberty and the treatment of a country’s minorities.

The publisher’s Civil War epic encompasses more than 100 issues from all of its major titles and explores the ramifications of the (fictitious, of course) Superhuman Registration Act, a law passed by Congress after a superhero battle in a New England city that supposedly resulted in the death of hundreds of men, women and children.

The legislation demands that costumed heroes declare their identity to the government, receive training to become official law enforcement officers and, at all times, carry ID cards.

The lines between compliant heroes, led by Iron Man, and renegade heroes, led by Captain America, have been drawn, and the American government leads in the manipulation of its most prized and powerful citizens.

Just one of the ancillary series, Front Line does a beautiful job of supplementing the main, seven-issue Civil War as it fleshes out the saga’s implications for the Marvel Universe. Thanks to writer Paul Jenkins, readers get the perspectives of an embedded reporter, veteran newsman, imprisoned superheroes and a covert mutant.

The 10-issue miniseries features a solid 32 pages of story in each book, without ads, and is broken up into multiple-page story serials.

The tales include:

• Embedded: Ben Urich and Sally Floyd, reporters from rival papers, cover the sides of the registered and unregistered heroes, respectively.

• The Accused: The lone survivor of the battle in the city, Robbie Baldwin, aka Speedball, is the scapegoat for the massacre and is sent to a holding camp along with other combatants.

• Sleeper Cell: A mysterious mutant prepares his own aquatic agenda.

• The Program: The Green Goblin has had enough of the Daily Bugle’s coverage of his life and is out to stop it, but who is behind his release from prison?

Additionally, a multipage vignette concluding each book juxtaposes real history against the themes of the story line, highlighting such events as Caesar’s march on Rome, the Vietnam War and the Japanese-American internment camps of World War II.

A group of artists — Ramon Bachs, Steve Lieber, Lee Weeks and Sean Chen, to name a few — contribute to Mr. Jenkins’ vision, and each brings a solid illustrative style worthy of the potent prose.

‘Pride of Baghdad,’ trade paperback

DC Comics, $19.95

Inspired by an actual event in 2003, this 132-page graphic-novel parable enables writer Brian K. Vaughan to interject his thoughts on liberation and the horror associated with war through a group of animals caught in war’s cross hairs.

A group of escaped lions from the Baghdad Zoo roam the streets during the American bombing of Iraq, and readers learn the aspirations of these former captives and the tragic adventure they face.

Mr. Vaughan leaves open much interpretation to his story, as it can be a political allegory as well as simply a brutal look at survival, or a metaphor for the meaning of freedom.

Talking animals wrapped within social commentary gives the book an “Animal Farm” feel, though not as intense, and the final fate of the pride will linger with readers for many days.

Beautifully drawn art by Niko Henrichon keeps up with Mr. Vaughan’s level of brutality, and together, the creators present another example of the intelligent maturity of the sequential-art medium.

‘Pathfinder: An American Saga,’ graphic novel

Dark Horse Comics, $19.95

Artist Christopher Shy’s intense adaptation of a movie (to hit theaters next year) that originally came to life through his storyboards, explores a conflict between American Indians and some brutal vikings who bring death to the Indians’ lands.

Set roughly 500 years before Columbus, the 149-page book centers on the legend of a young boy adopted by Indians after he alone survives the shipwreck of a Nordic raider party on the eastern shores.

Writer Laeta Kalogridis’ story demands an uncomfortable level of stupidity from both of the warring factions as he takes readers on a journey to turn the child, named Ghost, into a mature, troubled hero.

Mr. Kalogridis offers just a hint of text through the pages to propel the tale but never obstructs the powerful imagery of Mr. Shy.

The artist’s dreamy and occasionally nightmarish seduction of a reader’s eyes combines a photo-realistic, illustrative technique mired in earthy tones that wash over pages to present images of violence and beauty from the savage lands.

Dwight T. Albatross’ The Goon Noir, No. 1

Dark Horse Comics, $2.99

Creator Eric Powell’s id offers a three-issue black-and-white anthology series loaded with mostly other folk’s interpretations of his legendary zombie-hating brute.

A quartet of stories in the first issue is guaranteed to offend most anyone not familiar with this character’s violent mythology.

Especially brutal is the Yogi Bear satire found in the pages of Goony Bear comics by Bill Morrison, and comedian Patton Oswalt’s story about the Goon’s sidekick, Franky, gruesomely illustrated by the legendary Mike (Monster of Frankenstein) Ploog.

Zadzooks! wants to know you exist. Call 202/636-3016, fax 202/269-1853, e-mail jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com, visit Zadzooks at the blog section of The Washington Times’ Web site (www.washingtontimes.com/blogs/) or write to Joseph Szadkowski at The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002.

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