Saturday, January 26, 2008

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

World War Hulk, Nos. 1 to 5 (Marvel Entertainment, $3.99 each).

Marvel’s Green Goliath gets major payback in a limited series that finds him returning to Earth to exact revenge on the meddling heroes who destroyed his life.

Before the war begins, and for those unaware of the Hulk’s previous plight, a group of concerned heroes under the name of the Illuminati (Dr. Strange, Mister Fantastic, Iron Man and Black Bolt) were finally fed up with the unpredictable, gamma-fueled legend of mass destruction. They shot him into space and, supposedly, onto a planet were he could exist peacefully.

Well, a missed trajectory placed him on the warring planet of Sakaar, a place he subsequently conquered and took control of. However, the spaceship that placed him there eventually exploded and wiped out much of his new world including his wife-queen.

Anyone aware of the Hulk’s smashing temper over the last 40 years could pretty much appreciate what now happened in this five-part series, World War Hulk, as well as its reverberations in many other monthly series.

Writer Greg Pak delivers a spirited story as he teams up the misunderstood monster with his gladiator pals the Warbound, an eclectic team of rogues he met on Sakaar.

The group shows up to pummel Black Bolt on the moon and then on Earth immediately causes mayhem, even brutally beating and quickly taking captive Iron Man and the Fantastic Four.

Mr. Pak mixes nostalgic moments such as the return of General Thunderbolt Ross (who humorously tries to take the Hulk out single-handedly at one point) and Rick Jones with crushing slugfests in every issue.

One of the better parts of the plot shows Hulk’s brand of justice, and it mimics his plight on Sakaar. He requires all who wronged him fight in a gladiator-style contest in a newly renovated Madison Square Garden. The new design features lots of iron walls and a torn-off roof.

It will ultimately take the might of a man with the power of1 million exploding suns named the Sentry as well as a powerful trick up Tony Stark’s tattered sleeve to stop the insanity.

John Romita Jr.’s rough, chiseled style of art has never been my favorite, and he manages to get by thanks to a load of action scenes that require more large strokes and angry faces than the finesse of illustrative detail.

Unfortunately, adding intense covers by maestro David Finch does not help sell Mr. Romita’s rough offerings.

The Completely MAD Don Martin, hard cover (Running Press, $150).

Zortch, kazash, and wiz-ga-wiz: That pretty much describes my eye-boinging giddiness as I revel in this massive chronicle of mirth drawn by artist Don Martin between 1956 and 1988 in MAD magazine.

This two-volume, boxed set — heavy enough that when dropped on a small pet produces a loud “pffft-frack” — presents every sketch, cartoon, drawing, illustration and card art the mighty Mr. Martin ever produced for William Gaines.

Mr. Martin’s exaggerated style of depicting bodies with elongated mugs punctuated with chins only Jay Leno could appreciate, along with delivering a visual symphony of onomatopoeia on nearly every cartoon strip, made him one of the publication’s strangest and most endearing artists.

His work is beautifully reproduced on milled paper and sized to look plucked from the magazine. Essays by some of his co-workers as well as famed admirers including Gary Larson and Jim Davis are sandwiched between the bursts of lunacy to keep reader sanity in balance.

Some of the highlights of the collection are the large color portraits of pop-culture icons that have been Martin-ized, such as Mona Lisa, Sherlock Holmes, Tom Sawyer, Robin Hood, Tarzan and Hamlet. His double-page spread of the Beatles is, perhaps, one of his most brutally irreverent.

I also loved his slapstick quality applied to his “One Fine Day …” and “Done Martin Looks At” strips and the fun he had skewering the likes of Spider-Man, Popeye, Superman, Conan, King Kong and even the Hulk

Although the price of the set may make one’s wallet “fladat,” no self-respecting lover of the cartoon arts should be without this MAD-sterpiece.

Classics Illustrated Deluxe: The Wind in the Willows, graphic novel (Papercutz, $13.95).

I think every generation of comics readers should experience the fun of seeing legendary literary works in a sequential-art format. Luckily, Papercutz has picked up the 60-year-old Classics Illustrated brand and is rereleasing some excellent adaptations.

Author Kenneth Grahame’s anthropomorphized animal saga is up first, and the publisher has repackaged French artist Michel Plessix’s four-book series, originally released by NBM Publishing.

Readers get a beautiful, 130-page adaptation highlighting the adventures of a mole, rat, badger and a toad. They also learn a bit about the Classics Illustrated creator, Albert Lewis Kanter, and get a two-page preview of the next book in the series, Charles Dicken’s “Great Expectations,” drawn by Rick Geary.

My only beef with the Willows presentation is the original books were a spacious and detailed 9 inches by 12 inches. Papercutz has shrunk the art pages to a 6-inch-by-5-inch format, doing a major disservice to Mr. Plessix’s classic style.

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

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