- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 5, 2008

Mr. Zad´s comic critique

Shark-Man, Nos. 1 and 2 (Image Comics, $3.50 each)-Image Comics breathes new life into one of the sporadic creations from independent publisher Thrill House Comics with a reprinting of one of its only titles about a classic superhero.

What’s the story: Billionaire Bruce Wayne type Alan Gaskill controls New Venice but dons a wet suit and a scary piece of headgear anytime an evildoer threatens his fair Utopian city.

Unfortunately, the multitasker is framed for corruption by the governor and apparently is killed by a gaseous guy named the Shadow-King. Now it’s up to his flighty son Tommy (accused of his murder) to take up the mantle of Shark-Man.

Writing strength: Screenwriter-producer Ronald (“Total Recall”) Shusett, Michael Town and David Elliott all had a hand in the creation of this classic hero story, which harkens back to the early days of the Shadow and Batman, except in water. Artist Steve Pugh is credited with the script for the two issues, but his incredible visuals overshadow the words.

Artist’s style: Mr. Pugh has delivered a gorgeous product. Beautiful colors mix with a photo-realistic style, giving me Alex Ross chills. I savored numerous parts of the book just as I would a cheesy double dog from any corner eatery in Chicago.

Pop-art moments:The first two issues are loaded with them. I loved the nightmare-inducing image of the Jokeresque Gynplaine as he is about to take a very wide bite out of a victim. Mr. Pugh’s twisted creation of one of mob boss Capone’s bodyguards is an amalgam of a baby and ventriloquist dummy.

Read it or leave it? I loved the books, but because future issues may come out as frequently as a film starring Jaleel White, I’m hesitant to recommend it. However, because Mr. Pugh’s craftsmanship appears to be one of the scheduling problems, I am more than ready to forgive him as long as I get more Shark-Man.

Final Crisis, No. 1 (DC Comics, $3.50 each)-It’s the multiuniverse, multititle crossover event of the year - and I’ve only heard that multiple times in my comic-book-reading lifetime. This seven-issue series spearheads the epic that tries to tie up the incredible 52-issue weekly run of Countdown to Final Crisis and tries to explain how Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney and Christian Bale all can be Batman (maybe not).

What’s the story: I don’t have enough room even to begin to explain this multitentacled opus, but here are a few questions I thought to myself and occasionally blurted out while I was reading:

Is that really Kamandi, Jack Kirby’s Last Boy on Earth? Is that really Orion, Jack Kirby’s New God protector, lying in an alley dying? Is that Jack Kirby’s creation Dan “Terrible” Turpin investigating missing children? Is DC Comics trying to make amends to the Kirby estate for redrawing Mr. Kirby’s interpretation of Superman?

Also, why do the three Green Lantern Guardians look like Crosby, Stills and Nash? Aren’t the members of the Secret Society of Super Villains tired of each other, and why are they aligning with some guy Libra who looks pretty good in purple? Wow, that Alpha Lantern Boodikka sure is a cutie. (Wait, that was a statement - sorry.)

Writing strength: If anyone has a chance of making this story work, it’s the man at the Final Crisis helm, Grant Morrison. In the first issue, he juggles more plotlines than Bob Bramson did hoops on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” and he kept me interested through 60 percent of them.

Artist’s style: The dynamic cover artist for all 52 issues of Countdown, veteran J.G. Jones, does not disappoint. He eloquently illustrates an enormous number of characters crammed into panels based on Mr. Morrison’s pop art, pulled from the massive history of DC Comics. His work is highlighted by a great sense for exaggerated facial expression.

Pop-art moments: One of the core Justice League members taking a hit by Libra is pretty intense, as is the splash page showing Metron talking to the First Boy on Earth. I also liked the portrayal of the villain, the Human Flame, who looks like one of the Mario Bros.

Read it or leave it? Don’t jump on board now, you fool, or you’ll end up spending hundreds of dollars trying to keep up with the crossover issues as well as find back issues and trade paperbacks to understand this silly soap opera. Wait; that’s exactly what DC wants. Clever, but maybe it’s a bit too clever?

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