Saturday, August 20, 2005

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

‘The Quitter,’graphic novel

(Vertigo, $19.99)

Sequential art’s most famous curmudgeonly creator, Harvey Pekar, offers a new book this October chronicling his early struggles in one of the most revealing and thought-provoking studies of a working stiff ever produced.

Readers learn about a youngster born into the post-World War II streets of Cleveland who eventually was gifted enough to review and appreciate the finer points of jazz but could only solve problems by either giving up or using his fists.

As readers watch his life predicaments unfold — doing laundry, dating and living up to his mother’s expectations — Mr. Pekar touches upon the insecurity, indecision and frustrations that routinely plague the human race.

Revealed in Dean Haspiel’s stark black-and-white illustrations, the 104-page tribute to the ordinary explores Mr. Pekar’s many failed roles as postman, Navy grunt, stock clerk and collegian.

The book may depress readers even as they smile in recognition, but it also may invigorate them: We are lucky to learn even more about a man who has been creating his autobiography in a comic-book format for more than 20 years.

Billy the Kid’s Old-Timey Oddities, Nos. 1 through 4

(Dark Horse Comics, $2.99 each)

Creator Eric (the Goon) Powell’s delightfully twisted imagination has placed a famed Western outlaw into a four-issue, Lovecraftian horror story about friendship that will captivate mature sequential-art fans in love with the macabre.

Readers find out that Billy the Kid has escaped death once again and has become a hired gun to a group of misfits led by a man with the flexible appendage of a spider.

When the group — which includes a tattooed woman, a miniature boy, an alligator man and a wolf boy — is not dazzling carnival audiences, it sets out on a quest for the magical Golem’s heart, a relic that once gave life to a mythical monster of Jewish origin.

As luck would have it, Dr. Victor Frankenstein, devilishly illustrated to resemble a Hammer Films version of actor Peter Cushing, has possession of the piece — and the gang almost meets its demise at the tentacles, paws and hands of some very grotesque creatures during the adventure.

Artist Kyle Hotz matches Mr. Powell’s levels of the bizarre on every page. His creepy, wild caricature style reminded me of Jack Davis during his glory days at E.C. Comics.

The Stardust Kid, No. 1

(Image Comics, $3.50)

When CrossGen Comics went bankrupt, that silenced one of the hottest fantasy comics on the market. Abadazad’s creators, veteran writer J.M. Dematteis and artist Mike Ploog, did not despair, and they have come up with another magical entry into the genre.

The tale of a young boy named Cody DiMarco befriended by a shape-shifting ancient being will immediately mesmerize a wide age range of readers through its enchanted trees, mythical lands, monsters and mischievous creatures.

Above all, Mr. Ploog’s beautiful illustrations will quickly bring together a child and parent to marvel at Mr. Dematteis’ themes of friendship and inspiration as they come to colorful life.

This five-issue series is just a bimonthly offering. That’s too bad because the comic-book industry really needs projects like these to remind readers of its eclectic potential.

Toxin, Nos. 1 and 2

(Marvel Comics, $2.99 each)

Spider-Man’s greatest symbiote enemies, Venom and Carnage, managed to produce a slimy offspring who is happily off on a crusade to capture supervillains who have escaped from Ryker’s Island in this six-part, mature-themed series.

Writer Peter Milligan spins a tale that walks the line of a classic Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde drama as one of New York’s finest, Pat Mulligan, becomes host to the monster Toxin, who covers him in ooze and turns him into a powerful and deadly deliverer of justice.

As Mulligan/Toxin hunts King Cobra and the especially vile Razor Fist, readers will find much sympathy for a character whose good must constantly keep down his new alter ego’s exuberant evil.

Darick Robertson’s art stays in the uninspired range until those nasty villains appear on the page. Then his passion for dynamic and sometimes terrifying imagery explodes into the peepers.

Zadzooks! wants to know you exist. Call 202/636-3016; fax 202/269-1853; e-mail or write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002.

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