- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 24, 2009

This chronic feature lets me review what recently has passed my bloodshot eyes. So pull up a chair, break out the sarcasm filter and welcome to Mr. Zad’s comic critique.

Star Wars Adventures: Princess Leia and the Royal Ransom (graphic novel, Dark Horse Comics, $7.95) - Set one year before the events of “The Empire Strikes Back,” this digest-size (5.25 by 7.5 inches) graphic novella exposes all ages to the frenetic relationship between Han Solo and Princess Leia Organa.

The future married couple are just beginning their fiery courtship while battling mercenaries and bounty hunters as they deliver vital information about the Empire’s top-secret trans-Atlantic supply line to the Rebellion.

Roaming planets and aboard the Millennium Falcon with trusted Chewbacca by their side, the pair argue their way across the galaxy and manage to save another princess from the Cantina Bar rejects.

Writer Jeremy Barlow, mired by the complex Force of LucasFilm Ltd., does not take any chances or offer any surprises here as he relies on the simple story of foreshadowing Han’s terrible luck and the famous couple’s future struggles.

He offers plenty of nuggets devoted to the “Star Wars” canon that will keep the faithful intrigued, including talk of ugnaughts, Han’s chronic cockiness, a greedy winged Geonoshian and the introduction of blue-skinned bounty hunter Dusk.

Artist Carlo Soriano’s 80 pages of illustrations mix a professional-looking animated and commercial art style within a muted color palette to bring the adventure to life.

Although Mr. Soriano has a solid grasp of creature and vehicle design, his Princess Leia and Han Solo are much too inconsistent for my tastes, never really capturing Carrie Fisher’s or Harrison Ford’s likenesses or establishing a consistent facial identity for the characters.

The Absurd Adventures of Archibald Aardvark, Volume One: Bullets, Booze and Beelzebub (trade paperback, Image Comics, $14.99) - Grant Bond’s amusing and bizarre take on a fading cartoon star caught up in a murder conspiracy reeks of Quentin Tarantino directing “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” using a script by Frank Miller.

In this tale of psychotic woe, Neptune Radio Studios’ actor Archibald Aardvark has hit hard times - he loves the booze and broads since being accused of murdering his brother.

Recently released from a criminal asylum, the Heckle-and-Jeckle reject is in a fight for his life against an unknown enemy, a red dragon and a certain Lord of Darkness who are looking to make a deal.

If the death of Santa Claus, the downfall of an Easter Bunny with an egg-producing digestive problem and a suicidal aardvark hanging out in an opium den sound funny, this collection is for you.

More specifically, this narrative, stuck in 1930s Hollywood tough-guy decadence and featuring a selection of violent, foul-mouthed anthropomorphic creatures should appeal to mature readers fascinated by “The Goon” and Itchy and Scratchy.

Mr. Grant’s monochromatic illustrations, peppered with a shock of red for highlights, really stand out, delivering an edgy, retro feel tightly following the Fleischer Studios playbook.

The trade collects the one-shots Archibald Saves Christmas, Archibald Saves Easter and Archibald Chases the Dragon and adds about a half-dozen additional short sequential-art stories from other creators enamored with the aardvark’s mythos.

Knights of the Lunch Table: The Dragon Players (graphic novel, Graphix/Scholastic, $9.99) - Welcome to the age of Camelot - Camelot Middle School, that is, a place where Artie King and his sixth-grade pals Wayne and Percy learn life lessons while avoiding bullies Joe Roman and the Horde.

Sequential-art creator Frank Cammuso’s second book of the series again humorously employs a bare-bones twist on the Arthurian legend to introduce it to younger readers. Instead of a sword in the stone, they get a difficult-to-open locker with magical riddles written on it, a science teacher named Mr. Merlyn, a friend named Gwen … you get the idea.

This time out, Artie needs to help Wayne come up with $300 after his out-of-control bowling ball breaks the windshield on Principal Dagger’s car. It just so happens that the annual Dragon Duel: Robot Tournament offers $300 to the winner.

It will take Artie’s ingenuity, Gwen’s creative might and possibly a weird guy named Edward Vortigern to win the challenge while avoiding a wedgie from the Horde.

The 127-page novel gives the tween reader a colorful adventure, balancing the humorous life of a sixth-grader within an exaggerated, “Kids Next Door” style of cartooning.

As far as the King Arthur references, unless parents jump in and clearly point out Mr. Cammuso’s ploy, a kid won’t get it but still will get an easy-to-read, fast-moving story culminating with a cool robot fight.

Sounds pretty great to me either way. The author even works in a message of always feeding your good side - and never with Dragon Hot Wings. A lesson a young reader should never forget.

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

• Joseph Szadkowski can be reached at jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com.

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