- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 19, 2008

This chronic feature lets me review what has recently passed my bloodshot pupils. So pull up a chair, break out the sarcasm filter and welcome to:

Mr. Zad’s comic critique

The Magic Pickle, trade paperback, (Scholastic, $9.99) Clearly one of the stranger characters to appear on a comic book page, the Captain America of brined cucumbers is back, repackaged and freshly delivered for today’s younger sequential art reader.

Back in 2002, creator Scott Morse published with Oni Press a black-and-white four-issue series covering the exploits of a superpowered pickle. The books have been compiled and reprinted in “dill-icious” color by Scholastic and shrunk into a digest-size format.

Readers young and old will find an irresistible story that humorously mocks the superhero genre while it explores the wonders of youth and importance of croutons.

Readers quickly learn about the origins of the Weapon Kosher project and its star experiment. They also discover that the research facility ended up beneath the bedroom of the spirited, young Jo Jo Wigman.

Without giving too much away, the Pickle is brought back from a cryogenic state to take on the newly reformed Brotherhood of Evil Produce. The nefarious vegetable cabal, led by Romaine Gladiator, a megalomaniacal head of lettuce, is out to regrow the world with humanity serving them in an entirely new way.

All this leads to some silly interactions with edible plants, a food fight and a budding friendship between the Pickle and Jo Jo.

Mr. Morse’s fluid, sketchy art style, honed by years of work in the animation industry, is perfect for younger readers. Dialogue is easy to digest for the pre-tween crowd and more than occasionally interspersed with laugh-out-loud nuggets for the parent.

In addition to the fun read, two extras distinguish this trade version. First, there’s a bonus story starring the Pickle versus a mentally unstable coconut, and also a tutorial by Mr. Morse offering tips on how to draw the star of the book.

The Twelve, Nos. 0, 1 and 2, (Marvel Publishing, $2.99 each) Loving the superhero genre has been a draining experience for this reader over the past couple of decades. I survived the dramatic, angst-ridden worlds of Watchmen, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Astro City, Kingdom Come, Marvels and New Frontier, and I was not sure I could take another emotionally charged series.

So I was a little hesitant to dive into writer J. Michael Straczynski’s latest 12-part series starring a collection of fairly unknown golden age heroes reimagined for today’s mature comics fan.

My tentativeness quickly faded, however, after an opening scene in the first issue featured secret Nazi experiments, World War II action and a hero named the Phantom Reporter — all definitely my cup of tea.

As the story continues, a collection of heroes is out to stop the Third Reich, and the Twelve are captured by the bad guys and placed in suspended animation — a predicament a little more serious than the Magic Pickle’s.

Germany loses the war, and the heroes are left buried under Berlin until a construction crew unearths them. The group is returned to the United States and must adjust to losing 60 years without aging.

The U.S. government is not yet through with the crew, however. Fed up with the current crop of heroes (read Marvel’s Civil War), Uncle Sam wants to tap into the 1940s patriotic, America-the-good-guy spirit of the Twelve and have them lead a renaissance in the superhero ranks.

That plot is more than intriguing, but Mr. Straczynski now layers the work with the soap operatic realizations of the resurrected who must put their lives back together. Captain Wonder’s losses are especially excruciating.

To add more spice to the mix, all of the characters really have comic book roots in the 1940s, and the nostalgia trip for the well-versed fan is an overload of the senses.

Artist Chris Weston presents a visual feast that turns the first two issues into a mini-museum where the reader wants to just slowly savor each panel and the detail applied to everything from facial features to science-fiction contraptions to costuming.

For those looking for some background on the Twelve, I highly suggest analyzing issue 0. Not only does Mr. Weston offer a few words and designs on the reimagined heroes portrayed in the books, but readers also get three classic stories reprinted from the golden age of comics.

Adventures devoted to the Laughing Mask (from Daring Mystery Comics No. 3), Rockman (from USA Comics, No. 1) and Phantom Reporter (from Daring Mystery Comics No. 3) were such a fun historical trip to read, especially when compared to the Twelve issues.

Comics historians also will recognize some of the creators associated with the characters in the stories, including artist Basil “MAD magazine” Wolverton, Joe “Captain America” Simon and artist Maurice “American Eagle” Gutwirth.

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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