- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 29, 2010

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

Viking: Long Cold Fire, Volume 1 (hardcover, Image Comics, $24.99) Follow the violent lives of brothers Finnfixed and Egil in a sequential-art adventure billed as a “crime book for the ninth century.”

These Nordic “Sopranos” lead mature readers into a world of horrific murder, barbarism, kidnapping, pillaging and occasional constipation orchestrated by the Cross Bronx writer Ivan Brandon.

Mr. Brandon pulls no punches in this pseudohistoric underworld of brutality where family ties are strong enough to smother, kings act like godfathers and bearded enforcers constantly backstab and front stab for a share of power.

Compiling the first five issues of the monthly comic-book series, the large hardcover (12.8 by 9.3 inches) provides an edgy portfolio for the schizophrenic art style of Nic Klein.

And that’s schizophrenic in a very good way. This guy dazzles with colorful panels mixing art media at will to highlight a knife in the head, the brutal death of a sibling, the bloody rampage of a raider, the surprise of a captor’s first kiss or even the subtle choking of a deer.

Furthermore, the book offers an extra 30 pages of covers and character studies from Mr. Klein along with guest-artist pinups that all resolve the main action in a potent visual wonderland.

By the way, perusing this master illustrator’s work is a pure joy in this generously sized format. It should act as a reminder of how stupid it is to make comic-book fans try to enjoy sequential art in those eye-straining micro formats tied to smart phones or hand-held entertainment systems.

Iron Man vs. Whiplash, Nos. 1 to 4 (Marvel Publishing, $3.99 each) In this four-issue limited series, our Armored Avenger shares the spotlight with the major antagonist from “Iron Man 2,” due in theaters next week.

Within a way-too-pricey-per-issue format, writers Brandon Braga and Mark Guggenheim get readers involved in a mystery surrounding the destruction of a Russian town and the murder of 3,000 of its inhabitants by someone wearing Iron Man armor.

One death in the attack leads Ivan Vanko, the son of one of the townsfolk, on a mission of revenge. Vanko even has assembled his own suit of armor featuring electrical whips.

Tony Stark, of course, must clear his name. He’ll not only have to escape from Crimson Dynamo, Red Guardian and, eventually, prison (where he was jailed for his supposed war crimes) but also infiltrate his own company while handling Ivan and a batch of less-than-accommodating clones.

Artist Philippefixed Briones highlights the action and has a much better handle on a drawing Iron Men than humans. Enough said.

* * *

With the release of “Iron Man 2,” here are a few more comic books from Marvel to catch a fan’s attention.

Marvel Adventures Super Heroes: Iron Man, No. 1 ($3.99) Although this all-ages book does not star Tony Stark’s alter ego (don’t let the cover fool you; let’s call it movie-marketing hype) Paul Tobin’s story about the reformation of the Avengers will not disappoint younger readers.

In the action, a team of the “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” battles the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants (specifically, Magneto, Toad and the Blob) while a secondary Avengers team seeks world approval for its actions.

Artist Ronan Cliquet’s effective work during the heavy-duty fight scenes will keep readers who might wander within some of the more talky scenes more than interested.

A backup story in the Savage Land stars Ka-Zar’s saber-toothed tiger and some baby dinosaurs. Yeah, it’s as cute as it sounds.

Iron Man Legacy, No. 1 ($3.99) A second monthly Iron Man series launches to potentially capture new fans of the movie, but it will need a much more original story to entertain die-hard comics readers.

It’s as if Tony Stark can’t keep track of his armor again as an earlier version is used for a slaughter in the civil-war-torn country of Transia.

Once again, our playboy billionaire takes things into his own hands and tries to clear his name and stop a war.

Writer Fred Van Lente can introduce as many cool weapons and familiar characters as he wants (including Jim Rhodes, Nick Fury, Jessica Drew and Pepper Potts) but I have read this Iron Man adventure already, ad nauseam.

It does not help that a tediously overused supervillain apparently is behind Stark landing in his current troubles.

Artist Steve Kurth’s style does offer some highlights, occasionally producing the feel of Bryan Hitch’s Ultimates, but he can’t get a handle on illustrating Tony Stark, and his Pepper Potts is no Gwyneth Paltrow.

A secondary story beautifully reprints Tales of Suspense No. 39, the issue that introduced Iron Man and his origins to the world. For those keeping score, that’s Stan Lee and Larry Lieber in the writers’ seats and the legendary Don Heck and Jack Kirby (nice cover) with the pencils.

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

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