- The Washington Times - Friday, March 23, 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

Elephantmen, Nos. 0 to 7

(Image Comics, $2.99 each)

Writer Richard Starkings’ dystopian adventures of an anthropomorphic hippopotamus, Hip Flask, are expanded to include tales of his other mutated brethren in a new monthly series.

Through a handy “origins” issue, numbered 0, readers learn of the events that transpired in 2216, when a megalomaniacal scientist named Dr. Kazushi Nikken bred and mutated a hybrid of humans and Africa’s mightiest animals, turning them into trained killing machines.

The United Nations eventually stepped in and put a stop to the madness of Nikken’s MAPPO Corp. and rehabilitated the creatures to live in society.

Now, in a 2259 version of Los Angeles, hybrids such as the dangerous crocodile morph Elijah Delaney; successful businessman and part rhino Obadiah Horn; and two government information agents, the elephant Ebony Hide and the hippest hippo, Hip Flask, are free to walk the planet but are monitored carefully by usually unaccepting mankind.

Mr. Starkings never bores us as he layers plotlines with tolerance lessons, covert operations and visual presentations to keep readers always intrigued. One month it could be a “flipbook” (when one story stops, the reader must flip over the book to read the second story), another month a tale punctuated with prose from the Book of Job, and, most masterfully, in issue No. 7, an illustrated children’s story.

The tale, told to a young female by Hip Flask, explores the woeful life of Captain Stoneheart and his encounter with a Truth Fairy. It features the gorgeous work of illustrator Chris Bachalo.

If readers can get lost in the Elephantmen’s world — and I highly recommend that they do — they also will be rewarded richly with a compilation of art styles in almost every issue .

Spearheaded by the work of Justin “Moritat” Norman, in the main story, contributors such as Brian (Killing Joke) Bolland, Tom (Godland) Scioli, Henry (Judge Dredd) Flint and Jose (Cable) Ladronn also have enhanced the book and covers.

What I consider more amazing about the issues are Mr. Starkings’ inclusion of his obvious passion for the history of his medium.

He allows room to introduce guest artists with a full-color biography page. He also introduces readers to some of his favorite British illustrators from the past, such as Michael Noble, Frank Bellamy and Don Lawrence, in segments loaded with examples of their work.

‘You Can Draw Star Wars’

(DK Publishing, book, $19.99)

The adventures of the Skywalker clan are offered in a 96-page spiral-bound instructional monograph to hone the skills of a future generation of artists. The book uses stencils, fold-out pages, trace overlays and loads of color illustrations and photographs from the mythology of Star Wars to deliver its hands-on lessons.

Just as a Jedi must practice his craft, so must the padawan illustrator as he is exposed to the equipment, basic techniques and tricks used to bring a pencil drawing to a finished piece of comic-book art.

Artists such as P. Craig Russell, Jan Duursema and Dave Dorman add masterpieces for comparison, while artists Tom Hodges and Matt Busch provide the book’s visual guides.

A helpful index allows artists to quickly find references to such terms as symmetry, facial expressions and Wookiee.

Doctor Strange: The Oath, Nos. 1 to 5

(Marvel Comics, $2.99 each)

A five-issue miniseries stars the Sorcerer Supreme and takes his deified stature in the Marvel universe down a few notches when he actually appears mortal and mindful of his Hippocratic oath.

When Strange’s trusted assistant, Wong, reveals he is dying of a brain tumor, the good doctor goes to another dimension to find an elixir to cure his comrade. What Strange returns with is a solution that not only can cure Wong but can rid the human race of disease.

Before one can utter “sanctum sanctorum,” the doctor is shot and the cure stolen by a clever thug who uses the gun Hitler used to kill himself. This development introduces the doctor to the legendary Night Nurse, a mysterious female doctor who helps injured superheroes. She joins him with Wong on a quest to find the potion and the sinister forces ultimately behind its disappearance.

This intriguing premise is played out perfectly by writer Brian K. Vaughan, who squeezes in some flashbacks to the early, arrogant years of surgeon Stephen Strange and expands the legendary character’s origin.

Artist Marcos Martin does his best Steve Ditko imitation and offers a nostalgic feel of this grand adventure.

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

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