- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 25, 2007

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

Fallen Son: The Death of Captain America

(Marvel Publishing, five-issue limited series, $2.99 each)

The assassination of a comic-book legend continues to ripple through the Marvel universe with help from a quintet of books that explore the five stages of grief, brought to light by some of Captain America’s comrades.

In separate issues, Wolverine wrestles with denial, the Avengers display anger, Hawkeye and Iron Man bargain, Spider-Man handles depression, and Iron Man then must cope with acceptance.

What could have been just another cheesy marketing ploy to capitalize on the already cheesy marketing ploy of killing a superhero instead has major emotional weight behind it because of the series’ writer, Jeph Loeb.

I find it hard to review these issues knowing Mr. Loeb’s son Sam died of cancer in 2005; surely he must have tapped into that tragedy to deliver this heavy opus.

I can only report that he offers a dignified and emotional story for the reader who easily can empathize with the characters’ pain as well as, to some degree, the writer’s own.

With the words probably already too close to home for most readers who have lost a loved one, each issue’s impact also relies on the artist tasked with handling Mr. Loeb’s story.

Some of Marvel’s best — Leinil Yu, Ed McGuinness, John Romita Jr., David Finch and John Cassaday — all bring their “A” game to the table and support the writer with a visual intensity, but some stand out more than others.

Mr. Cassaday delivers Cap’s funeral in Chapter 5, but easily the most difficult to read is Chapter 4. The issue finds a depressed Spider-Man reflecting on the legend and his own fallen family at their gravestones while an archenemy also grieves for his mother at the same cemetery.

The unfortunate coincidence finds each on the attack and Spidey in a deadly struggle, unable to concentrate on the battle.

Artist David Finch creates a powerful set of visuals that give Mr. Loeb’s prose an impact I did not think possible in a superhero comic book.

One moment from this issue hits closest to home: when Wolverine tells a distraught Spider-Man, “A death isn’t like losing a job or getting divorced. You don’t get over it. You have to integrate it into your life and learn to live with it … but … life does not get better.”

As the venerable Stan Lee often wrote, ” ‘Nuff said.”

Note to Marvel editorial staff: I will remember this series and how it chose to make a comic-book character’s death so personal and such a permanent passing. When you goofballs concoct some crazy way to bring Captain America back from the grave, be very careful how you handle this editorial/marketing decision. Your audience may not forgive you for it.

Silver Surfer: Requiem

(Marvel Publishing, Nos. 1 and 2, $3.99 each)

As if it weren’t bad enough for comic-book superhero fans to lose Captain America, writer J. Michael Straczynski tinkers with the idea of the death of Marvel’s famed former herald to Galactus in a four-part Marvel Knight series.

Norrin Radd, aka Silver Surfer, is a nearly unstoppable force in the galaxy, but when the molecular mechanism that covers his body and protects him from most any cosmic condition or enemy attack begins to break down, it signals the end of a great hero.

His worst fears are realized with a visit to Earth’s resident brainiac, Reed Richards, and he find himself on a path to reflect with friends and return to the remains of his home world, Zenn-La, to complete the circle of life.

The first issue covers his farewells to the Fantastic Four; the second finds him struggling with Spider-Man over what he could offer Earth as his final gift.

Obviously not so intense as Fallen Son, Mr. Straczynski’s story still shines brilliantly, thanks to the nostalgic segments of the Surfer’s career, mixed with the writer’s obvious devotion to the character and his unwavering belief in life, even when faced with his own mortality.

The painted styling of Esad Ribic beautifully holds the prose together, and his pages take me back to some of the excitement I first felt for Alex Ross’ work on Marvels.

Zadzooks! is on the Web. Read an extended version of his column, which includes a review of X-Men: Endangered Species (video1.washingtontimes.com/zadzooks). 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, DC 20002.

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