- The Washington Times - Friday, January 7, 2011

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.

Superman vs. Muhammad Ali: Facsimile Edition, oversized hardcover graphic novel (DC Comics, $39.99)  The cost of admission was $2.50 back in 1978 to see “The Champ” challenge the “Man of Steel” to an intergalactic boxing match.

The price to own this reprint of a DC Comics‘ Treasury Edition today has increased dramatically, but it’s worth it.

In a 72-page story, originally blown up to tabloid-size format, readers were introduced to a hostile species named the Scrubb that challenged Earth to put forth its greatest champion to battle its own brute or risk being obliterated.

Of course Superman was ready, but Ali was the only true champion of the human species at the time. It was decided the pair would duke it out on the planet Bodace and the winner would face Scrubb’s best.

Yeah, that’s a stretch, and the equally impressive creative team of artist Neal Adams (supported by Dick Giordano and Terry Austin) and writer Denny O’Neil eagerly take the plot to the most outrageous level.

Not only does a vintage Ali teach Superman how to box, but he also proceeds to pummel him into a bruised bag of pulp during the fight. It seems their match took place on a planet with a red sun, diminishing Kal-El’s powers.

Now Ali has to fight a massive Scrubb champion while Superman recovers in time to save Earth.

Take it from a guy who owns the original edition: It’s wonderful to reread the story in its large size (13 inches tall by 10 inches wide) with heavier glossy white paper and recolored to make Mr. Adams’ work pop from the page.

I fondly appreciated Howard Cosell standing by in disbelief while Jimmy Olson announced the fight and scanning an unforgettable wraparound cover that offers a who’s who of 1970s celebrities in the crowd from all parts of pop culture, including Tony Orlando, Joe Namath, Gil Kane and Frank Sinatra.

Star Wars Blood Ties: A Tale of Jango and Boba Fett, Nos. 1 to 4 (Dark Horse Comics, $3.50) The mythology of the most famed Mandalorian bounty hunters in a galaxy, far, far away is expanded with this enjoyable four-part miniseries.

Let me toss out the caveat that I’ve never quite warmed up to the Fett phenomenon, other than appreciating the cool costumes. Jango’s weak resume includes being a genetic stamp for the Clone army and getting his head lopped off by Mace Windu.

His clone son, Boba, fared little better. The supposedly unstoppable assassin may have had a hand in encasing Han Solo in carbonite, but he also managed to comically become a main dish for the Sarlacc in “Return of the Jedi.”

This series, however, sheds some light on the pair’s ferocity, not their bumbling, as writer Tom Taylor takes readers into the violent lives of both Fetts.

Specifically, there’s a story exploring Boba’s hardened relationship with his father that’s tied to a mission to kill a clone (culled from Jango’s DNA) that dares to ignore orders and start a family.

After a successful termination, it’s a flash-forward 20 years to Boba Fett hunting the clone’s offspring, Connor Freeman, for the crime boss Tayand.

The story does a great job of offering plenty of fodder for the Fett legend, referencing a battle with the League of Bounty Hunters while mixing in the emotional baggage Boba carries from his seemingly merciless dad, who might actually have a bit of a heart.

By the way, my requirements to appreciate a Star Wars-themed comic are pretty specific. I can deal with an average story, but if it features characters I am familiar with, then the artwork had better look like the characters.

Digital painter Chris Scalf delivers the goods beautifully. His Fetts realistically mirror the actors who played them (Temura Morrison as Jango and Daniel Logan as Boba), and legends such as Count Dooku and Bossk look amazing through his style. The guy also knows how to render one heck of a Rancor.

The Looney Tunes Treasury, coffee-table book, (Running Press, $45)  Fans of Warner Bros. Animation Studios’ cavalcade of superstars can celebrate their legacy with this 122-page book (roughly 11 inches tall by 10 inches wide) loaded with artwork, toy images, lobby cards, sketches and humorous memories.

Andrew Farago, curator of San Francisco’s Cartoon Art Museum, does not just cleverly compile a colorful retrospective of 19 cartoon legends, such as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Foghorn Leghorn discussing their own careers, but he also includes pages that feature reproductions of pop-culture memorabilia tied to the crew.

For example, under the entry for Pepe Le Pew, readers can remove the skunk-themed valentines to send to loved ones. Or how about paging through an official Acme catalog after learning about Wile E. Coyote? Or, read Dell’s Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies Comics‘ original stories starring Porky Pig and Sylvester and Tweety.

Those familiar with previous Running Press releases, particularly “The DC Vault” and “The Marvel Vault,” will not be as impressed with this less substantial salute to the Looney Tunes.

Still, this novel presentation of a cartoon franchise that has been around since the 1930s should still thrill animation connoisseurs.

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