- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 16, 2008

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

Mr. Zad’s comic critique

The Amazing Spider-Man No. 544 and 545, Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man No. 24 and Sensational Spider-Man No. 41 (Marvel Entertainment, $3.99 each).

In the wake of Marvel’s epic crossover series, Civil War, an event that saw Peter Parker unmask himself to the world, the publisher found itself ready to mess up the life of its most bankable superhero once again.

A story arc titled One More Day covered four issues of the monthly Spidey titles and effectively rewrote the story of Peter Parker, devoid of one of his greatest triumphs.

For uninformed readers, I will try gingerly not to reveal the outcome of writer J. Michael Straczynski’s plot, which concludes his six-year run on the Amazing Spider-Man series.

Suffice to report, any devoted fans who thought the Clone Saga was dreadful will seek the counsel of an attorney for the enormous rip-off in which they are asked to participate.

As the tale begins, an event orchestrated by the Kingpin finds forever spunky but fragile Aunt May taking a bullet for Peter, leaving her dying in a hospital room. Spider-Man is led on an impossible journey to save her life and affect his forever — or until readers demand a retraction.

Not even the Master of the Mystic Arts, Dr. Strange, can pull off the medical miracle. It will take a vaudevillian-style Faustian escape act starring Peter; his wife, Mary Jane; and a B-level demon villain named Mephisto to succeed.

It also took the final decision of editor in chief Joe Quesada to dare orchestrate a level of blasphemy that makes the Death of Superman and J.R. Ewing combined look plausible. At least he took some personal responsibility by drawing all of the books. I have to admit that the man’s artwork is awesome, and it is great to see he still has the chops.

Unfortunately, the story Mr. Straczynski obviously has been pigeonholed into writing is just painfully aggravating and shows a complete lack of respect for Spider-Man’s faithful core readership.

It’s a terrible send-off for the writer, a waste of a fine effort by Mr. Quesada and signals a change in the continuity of Spider-Man that horribly applies the worst to the adage “everything old is new again.”

• Dracula, graphic novel (Sterling Publishing, $6.95).

I have no problem with adapting classic literature to a sequential-art format for youngsters, but the target audience is muddled in this effort by writer Michael Mucci and artist Ben Caldwell.

Despite its positioning for the children’s market, the 128-page pocket-size book, much to my amazement, is a too-faithful retelling of Bram Stoker’s classic. That means fairly strong scenes implying Dracula offering his brides a baby, a vampiric Lucy feeding on children and the occasional off-page impaling.

Unfortunately, the art style lends itself to the youngest of tweens, who get a Disneyized version of a serious horror story. Specifically, the character models are more familiar to the Kim Impossible crowd than to those who might embrace the work of Blade co-creator Gene Colan.

A more serious tone to the art could have telegraphed its intentions better and defined the target demographic. I am not sure the story is appropriate for younger readers, but the art is not intense enough for an older audience.

• The Mice Templar, Nos. 1 through 3 (Image Comics, $2.99 to $3.99).

Creators Michael Avon Oeming and Bryan J.L. Glass deliver a swords-and-sorcery epic about a mouse and his role in restoring a supposedly fabled mystical military order.

This anthropomorphic story taps into mythological archetypes and Celtic folklore and stars a cast of rats, cats, owls, bats, fish and, of course, mice.

The books first relay the events that led to the fall of the once-powerful Mice Templar. Years later, the order’s legends fuel the dreams of the young mice of Cricket’s Glen, particularly one named Karic. After a rat attack on his town enslaves his people, Karic must find guidance from an exiled Templar knight to become a hero and save his race.

Readers enjoy a story filled with strong character development and pivotal action scenes as they quickly feel a part of the world.

Mr. Avon Oeming’s harsh, angular art style has its moments throughout but can be overshadowed by a sometimes-difficult-to-follow, information-packed plot and the similarities of his character models.

Still, the premise and often-emotional prose is still potent and caters to fans of “Lord of the Rings,” “Star Wars” and “Watership Down.” Unfortunately, veteran readers will find it hard not to draw comparisons to the already established Mouse Guard series created and beautifully drawn by David Peterson.

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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