- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 21, 2010

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

“Ghostopolis,” graphic novel (Graphix/Scholastics, $24.99)  Nothing is sadder than the death of a child, yet the veteran creator of Earthworm Jim, Doug TenNapel, manages to devise an upbeat, empowering adventure targeting the younger comic book fan surrounding that very topic.

Readers learn that before young Garth Hale dies from an incurable disease, he is prematurely sent to the afterlife because of the incompetence of Supernatural Immigration Task Force investigator Frank Gallows.

It will take the help of Gallows’ gal pal Claire Voyant, the Bone King and a Tuskegee Airman named Joe for Garth to escape from Vaugner, the ruler of Ghostopolis, and return to the real world to legitimately face his fate.

The dense worlds of the dead found within Ghostopolis come to life through a macabre array of support characters ranging from an elderly werewolf and insectoids riding ATVs to mummified squirrels and gaseous goblins.

The dynamic Mr. TenNapel provides a layered art style as he writes an action-packed and emotional story. He drops readers into a cartoon universe that occasionally plucks inspiration from Mike Mignola and Paul Pope while not being afraid to inject silhouetted panels to consistently reinforce the narrative.

The hardcover selection certainly will capture the interest of the male tween in the family and will find Dad liberally stealing the book to appreciate the 180 colorful pages of sequential art. And, don’t worry parents; there is a happy ending.

“Age of Reptiles: The Journey,” Nos. 1 to 4 (Dark Horse Comics, $3.50 each)  Artist Ricardo Delgado returns with a pure sequential-art look at North America’s Cretaceous period and the lives of its prehistoric creatures.

Readers follow the migration of a large group of herbivores and witness the perils of Darwinism in action.

‘Tis not a pretty site as a pesky Tyrannosaurus rex, massive alligators, packs of raptors and gigantic sharklike beasts feast upon a huge selection of docile creatures along the journey, all brought to violent and bloody life.

Although I can appreciate the master’s finely tuned art style and some vicious action scenes, the books get really depressing as the bodies pile up. I think I’ll stick to watching episodes of “The Land Before Time.”

Doctor Solar: Man of the Atom,” No. 1 (Dark Horse Comics, $3.50)  Industry veteran and former comic book publisher Jim Shooter is back. This time he’s helping craft a character collection he revived in the mid-1980s from 1960s Gold Key Comics that led to the meteoric and temporary success at Valiant Comics.

First up for Mr. Shooter’s writing talents, Doctor Solar returns to confound comic book readers with his intricate explanations of atomic theory while dazzling them with his Dr. Manhattan level of powers.

The first issue wastes no time in exploring our hero’s battle with an anomaly he created that involves a dunderheaded enemy named Leviathon, unknowingly unleashed by an author’s vivid imagination.

Unfortunately, Mr. Shooter’s script is slightly devoid of imagination, and I’m hoping the next issue offers more clever action and less exposition.

Also, I’m not in love with Dennis Calero’s art vision. A bit too awash in computer coloring that destroys and distorts body and facial detail, it kills the action while inconsistencies in some of his spindly illustrations of the hero make for a less than enjoyable read.

Helping to reinforce the debacle of this issue is the included Doctor Solar origin story, reprinted from the 1962 Gold Key comic. It features a coherent narrative and some classic art from Bob Fujitana.

Zadzooks wants to know you exist. Call 202/636-3016; e-mail jszadkowskiwashingtontimes.com or write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002.

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