- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 22, 2009

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

* Kick Drum Comix, No. 2 (Image Comics, $5.99) - Creator Jim Mahfood delivers a two-issue, oversized (7 1/2 inches by 11 inches) sequential-art anthology tethered by his edgy view of life and appreciation of music.

What’s the story? The book features two tales that could not be on more opposite sides of the spectrum. The first, an epic set in 1986, stars skateboard punks Brian and Rod, who look for love by entering a battle-of-the-bands competition. The second tells the story of a scantily clad female galactic bounty hunter named Echo Chambers who has a price on her own head.

Writing strength: Mature readers who can dig through the piles of profanity in Mr. Mahfood’s skater story will find a depth not only touching on family relationships, but also peer pressure, young love and the reckless abandon of youth. It’s also pretty humorous in a “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” kind of way. Did I just date myself? Ouch.

The sci-fi story about a “slightly hungover space goddess” has been done before, but it shines through scattered action, a bit of wit and the heroine’s acerbic attitude.

Artist’s style: Probably known best for illustrating Kevin Smith’s Clerks comic-book series, Mr. Mahfood just slightly expands his scratchy, sketchy style here. However, the use of large, glossy paper stock and a pop-art palette from colorists S. Steven Struble and Justin Stewart enables his illustrations to really explode off the pages.

Pop-art moments: A full-page illustration of Brian and Rod skating (somebody get these two clowns helmets), Echo in the middle of a shower doing her very best Bettie Page poses.

Read it or leave it? It’s 48 pages of culture shock for this old man, but beautifully illustrated and in need of a monthly release schedule. By the way, I felt a similar vibe on original work from Paul Pope and Mike Allred. Mr. Mahfood’s artistic voice is strong and loud and should continue to shine.

* The Scream, trade paperback (Dark Horse Comics, $13.95) - Dark Horse President Mike Richardson had an idea in 2007 to create a comic starring a hero more fun than grim and inspired by the Stan Lee and Steve Ditko line of storytelling. This book collects the four issues that never deliver the goods.

What’s the story? Recently released from a treatment facility, Danny Duncan finds himself in a dead-end postal job with a hostile father verging on Alzheimer’s and little to anticipate. Unbelievably, life takes a turn for the worse when his emotions and daydreams unintentionally manipulate those around him and trigger the manifestation of a monster. Only with help from a feisty female reporter can his life change.

Writing strength: The immortal novelist and maestro of comics Peter David (Incredible Hulk, SpyBoy, X-Factor, Young Justice and Aquaman) attempts to bring Mr. Richardson’s idea to life. Unfortunately, it’s a lost cause. Not enough foreshadowing found me caring little about Duncan’s powers or dilemma, and too many ingredients culled from genres not limited to superhero, horror, mystery, fantasy and government conspiracy just confused the premise. Most painful, the book’s one-panel payoff was completely washed over.

Artist’s style: Veteran illustrator Bart Sears’ overexaggerated, muscular drawing style worked well back in his Acclaim Comics days, but with a story concentrating more on humans than superheroes, he’s tough to digest. Seeing Duncan’s father is especially brutal; he is more a creature than someone for whom we should feel a bit of sympathy.

Pop-art moments: Despite my complaints, Mr. Sears can really draw a monster. His rendering of the Scream character - a nasty, bright-red amalgam of John Carpenter’s tentacled Thing and anything from H.P. Lovecraft - is a standout.

Read it or leave it? Mr. David’s stories usually shine no matter who draws them. However, methinks either the miniseries was supposed to be a monthly title that never came to fruition or Mr. Richardson had way too much involvement here to let the maestro orchestrate a winner. The Scream is difficult to recommend with the loads of choices on graphic-novel shelves.

* Visit Zadzooks at the blog section of The Washington Times’ Community pages (www.washingtontimes.com/communities/zadzooks).

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