Saturday, March 29, 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

Justice League of America: Lightning Saga, hardcover (DC Comics, $24.99)

An assembly of some of DC Comics’ brightest creative stars brings together a trio of superteams to resurrect one of comics’ speedier stalwarts.

Writers Brad Meltzer and Geoff Johns, along with artists Ed Benes, Shane Davis, Fernando Pasarin and Dale Eaglesham deliver roughly 30 heroes to the pages over a five-issue event.

This hardcover chiefly compiles the crossover event seen in Justice League of America, Nos. 8 through 10 and Justice Society of America, Nos. 5 and 6 that chronicles a time-traveling mission by some members of the Legion of Superheroes.

I defy anyone without a scorecard and advice from a string theory physicist to try to keep straight all of the universes and versions of characters presented here.

Although events have major implications in the current DC universe, the reason for my Cheshire cat grin is just enjoying the celebrities mixing it up in the issues. For example, a knock-down, drag-out between Batman and the Karate Kid, or Red Tornado almost delivering a lethal blow to Red Arrow during a training mission, or Wild Fire taking part in raptor races in Gorilla City.

I got a bit giddy seeing a battle outside the old Secret Society of Super Villains swamp base (fondly from my Super Friends days), and an appearance by Triplicate Girl cemented my nostalgia trip.

The art is consistently great throughout, and I really appreciated the lineup of head shots and titles in the beginning of some issues, a great throwback to my obsession with the Justice League back in the 1970s.

After digesting the saga, readers have another three issues from Mr. Meltzer’s run on Justice League of America to enjoy.

We get issue No. 11 and “Walls,” a vividly illustrated work by Gene Ha highlighting a desperate struggle for survival by Red Arrow and Vixen trapped under a collapsed building.

Also, issue No. 12 offers “Monitor Duty,” a tale about a day in the life of some of the heroes who take shifts in the JLA headquarters.

Justice League of America No. 0 rounds out the book and offers another cavalcade of artists beautifully drawing the beginning of Mr. Meltzer’s historical take on arguably one of the best-known superhero teams in the world.

Ultimate Power, Nos. 1 to 9, (Marvel Publishing, $2.99 each) A nine-part superteam crossover series started in 2006 finally concluded earlier this year with a resounding thud, louder than any punch from the Incredible Hulk.

Its recent release in a hardcover format now gives readers the chance to dissect what went wrong.

On the chalkboard, the idea is a home run. Combine the writing might of Brian Michael Bendis, Jeph Loeb and J. Michael Straczynski and give artist Greg Land plenty of splash pages on which to deliver his photo-realistic style. Now, take the best of the heroes from the edgier reimagination of Marvel Comics, its Ultimate universe, and create a tale of war, woe and science gone wrong.

Unfortunately, the saga offered all the subtlety of a World Wrestling Entertainment event. Almost every issue lacked focus and was loaded with preposterous plotlines and bloated by an assortment of heavily cliched characters.

The story gets off to a great start as the Fantastic Four’s Reed Richards is accused of crimes against humanity by the Supreme Squadron, a team of heroes from a parallel universe, and they want him to stand trial in their world.

It appears the nerdy FF member has been shooting probes into other dimensions. One of the probes unleashed a destructive alien life form in the Squadron’s universe, killing 10 million or so unsuspecting citizens.

Of course, Nick Fury and his Ultimates’ team (Captain America, Wasp and Iron Man, to name a few) are not going to sit still while one of the smartest commodities in their universe is taken prisoner, so they follow into the interdimensional rift.

What follows for seven issues is an almost continuous knock-down, drag-out that features the X-Men, Avengers, Spider-Man, Victor Von Doom and even an eventual rematch between the Thing and the Hulk.

Regrettably, the pointed story of Mr. Richards and the ramifications of unleashing science upon nature is never really explored, but rather doped down through a government conspiracy theme between heroes slugging one another.

Fans of legendary comic book battles will still find plenty to like, and this type of story is great stuff for Greg Land’s incredible imagery, which just pops to life off the pages.

I just was hoping, with all of the heavy hitters involved, that Ultimate Power would have made an ultimate impact on the superhero genre.

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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