- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 15, 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

Batman and Son’

(DC Comics, hardcover, $24.99)

Popular comics scribe Grant Morrison teamed up with artist Andy Kubert this year to give the Dark Knight a new focus since his return to Gotham with a son from his liaison with criminal mastermind Talia al Ghul.

This hardcover trade paperback compiles issues of Batman Nos. 655 to 658 and 663 to 666 to reunite hero and offspring while reminding readers of the Bat’s complicated life.

Mr. Morrison takes readers on a scattered whirlwind of plot points, disguised as a coherent story, that finds the Joker taking a bullet to the face, Bruce Wayne acting as James Bond, Kirk Langstrom returning (with thugs turned into Ninja Man-bats) and Batman having a nearly back-breaking encounter with a Bane wannabe.

Also, the book introduces the Bat’s new best pal, a 14-year-old, cliche-ridden tyke named Damian, who is a violent reminder of his dad’s past and hangs around only long enough to make his life miserable.

Let’s remember that this is a comic book. Yet right in the middle of this epic, readers are forced to switch to a short story. That means text, lots of text. Sure, it’s embellished with artist John Van Fleet’s digital modeling style, but that only serves to scramble the focus further.

Mr. Morrison returns to his favorite home for the criminally insane, Arkham Asylum, to check in with a very disturbed Joker and see how plastic surgery can adjust one’s attitude, not for the better.

The writer’s prose-heavy structure must be digested calmly, reread and again digested for the reader to find a payoff to the tale of revenge and horror. As a passing note, those who are creeped out by clown images will need to have the story read to them.

To offer a bit of closure to the Damian arc, Batman No. 666 concludes the trade book and places Bat-boy in the role of Caped Crusader 15 years in the future, revealing how little changes in the life of a vigilante. Mr. Morrison’s sweeping story structure might lend itself better to another round with an X-Men series.

Thankfully, Mr. Kubert’s art greatly overshadows the writing throughout as he attacks pages with vibrant color and a blend of styles that initially resurrect Neal Adams’ glory days and Jim Aparo’s Ten Nights of the Beast but eventually settle into his own familiar, award-winning brilliance.

‘Zombies vs. Robots’

(IDW Publishing, hardcover, $19.99)

Although I have almost completely lost interest in the undead comics genre, as series now read like manuals for coroners, I found lots to like in this oversized ode (13½ by 8.9 inches) to a two-issue miniseries about the coolest pairing of pop-culture heavyweights since Mr. T fought Rocky.

Readers get more science fiction than horror, thanks to Chris Ryall’s plot about overachieving scientists who bring back a plague from the future and doom the human race.

It’s lucky that benevolent robots — unfortunately as flawed as the humans — are around because mankind has turned itself into a race of ghouls and the mechanical men manage to protect a final chance for humanity — and whup a few of the undead in the process.

The story really comes to life through the scattered, scraggly and jagged — but distinct — art style of Ashley Wood, who has an eye for drawing classic robots. He even throws in some painted pages to dazzle the art fan.

Mr. Wood’s mixed-media designs never get too gruesome even in his bloodiest panels, but they more than remind readers how much fun dealing with the undead could be.

Ray Harryhausen Presents Wrath of the Titans

(BlueWater Comics, Nos. 1 and 2, $3.50 each)

When I think about Ray Harryhausen, the special-effects genius behind such films as “Jason and the Argonauts,” “The Golden Voyage of Sinbad” and “The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms,” I am reminded of his innovative stop-motion animation skills, fine art craftsmanship and wildly imaginative monster-making abilities.

Mr. Harryhausen’s name is plastered on this monthly series, so the creative team responsible for it is pressed to come up to his standards — and that appears to be an insurmountable task.

So far, this monthly sequential-art sequel to the popular Harryhausen-fueled 1981 film “Clash of the Titans” has its moments but does not live up to the legend who sanctioned it.

The ambitious effort, from independent publisher Blue Water Comics, places Perseus back in a peaceful Argos with his wife, Andromeda, about to have a baby and grandpa Zeus literally beaming with pride.

Lest life get too easy for the hero, he ends up in battle with the Hydra and Cyclops while the sorceress Circe kidnaps his offspring.

The Darren G. Davis and Scott Davis story delivers the goods, and the two manage to keep the spirit of the film alive (nice to see the mechanical owl Bubo back in action) while introducing more Greek mythology.

However, I never warmed up to the style of art team Nadir Balan and Joey Campos.

I would expect no one short of a herculean art master aboard for the series, especially with a $3.50 price tag. I could think of just a short list of a dozen or so artists — including Alex Ross, John Cassaday, Frank Quietly and Frank Frazetta — who would be able to extend Mr. Harryhausen’s vision.

Additionally, the back of each issue offers a couple of Mr. Harryhausen’s greatest sketches. Although most might consider them a bonus, I found them a constant reminder of the type of style that really would make Perseus and the gang explode from the pages.

Zadzooks! wants to know you exist. 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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