- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 20, 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:

Captain America: Reborn, Nos. 1 to 6 (Marvel Publishing, $3.99 each) For anyone not following the adventures of the Star-Spangled Avenger, Steve Rogers was shot and killed in 2007 during a messy story arc tied to the Superhuman Registration Act.

Considering that most every key character ever murdered in the comic-book universe has been resurrected, I think you know where this six-issue limited series is going.

I give writer Ed Brubaker plenty of credit. This story is not as convoluted as those surrounding other heroes who have been brought back to life.

It appears that a bullet didn’t inflict Cap’s fatal wound; it was a time-displacement laser beam concocted by the Fantastic Four’s most famous, curmudgeonly supervillain. The laser shot from a brainwashed Sharon Carter froze the hero in time. Thanks to later actions, it also caused an interruption in the ultimate plan for Cap set in motion by the Red Skull.

The result propels our hero on a nostalgic jaunt through his history in a way any fan familiar with “Lost’s” flashy time travel would appreciate.

The plot also delivers a concluding battle on the Mall in Washington between archenemies who have been around since the 1940s.

The all-too-tidy and comfortable series includes a wonderful selection of characters, including Bucky Barnes (in Captain America garb), Natasha (Black Widow) Romanoff, Norman (Green Goblin) Osborn, the Falcon, Venom, Dark Avenger Ares and even President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Artistic powerhouse Bryan Hitch delivers a gritty, consistent effort on every issue. His wraparound covers dazzle (Cap choking Hitler is classic), and re-creations of key moments of Cap’s life (encounters with Skrulls, Namor and Baron Zemo to name a few) are to be savored.

So another happy ending?

Captain America is alive and well, and, once again, a major comic-book company has created a marketing frenzy to sell books.

At least a parallel universe wasn’t involved.

Sparta: U.S.A., No. 1 (DC Comics, $2.99) Crime-comics specialist David Lapham takes football very seriously in a new series about a quiet community devoted to traditional values and the pursuit of happiness as defined by murder, stealing, incest, blackmail and how far you can throw a pigskin.

It’s a Mayberry-insulated American dream that happens to be run by a blue guy called the Maestro. He’s a tall drink of water who comes around to keep an eye on the denizens and intercede when required.

Besides passing judgment on townsfolk, he’ll pass out new child recruits to prospective parents in hopes of cultivating Sparta’s next great football stars.

One former hero, quarterback Godfrey McLaine, disappeared, supposedly killed by a yeti three years ago.

Well, he’s back and has come down from the mountain with Colin Farrell’s face and a red tint to his skin. Apparently a messiah or a revolutionary, McLaine wants Sparta to wake up and see the real world.

Adding to the tempting story, artist Johnny Timmons does not disappoint with a thickly inked Earth X-panel appeal that takes layout cues from Steve Ditko.

With about a dozen intriguing plot ideas from Mr. Lapham to latch onto just in the first issue, Sparta: U.S.A. has a demented depth worth exploring.

The Crazies: Nos. 1 to 4 (Image Comics, $2.99 each) Based on the recent film that itself is based on the 1973 George Romero film, this four-part comic-book series offers a view into the lives of some of the soon-to-be bloodthirsty lunatics running around Ogden Marsh, Iowa.

Thanks to the accidental release of a toxin into a stream, readers get to witness a pig farmer slaughtering the locals, a cattle rancher burning his family alive, a funeral home embalmer torturing a priest and a bunch of hunters relishing their new powers.

The quartet of stand-alone tales leaves little to the imagination and too often relies on gruesome imagery rather than any clever twists.

A mixture of art styles delivers the frenetic “28 Days Later”-style of horror, with Brian Reed standing out for his morose detail and Rahsan Ekedal for his video-game slaughter approach.

Perhaps a more focused writer, such as Scott Allie or Steve Niles, might have delivered a dynamic collection. However, as is, the stories barely make it as backups in “Creepy.”

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

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