- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 27, 2009

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 book critique

* Geronimo Stilton: The Secret of the Sphinx, graphic novel (Papercutz, $9.95) - The time-traveling mouse that has thrilled young chapter-book readers is making his U.S. sequential art debut in some brand-new adventures.

Editor of the Rodent’s Gazette, the famed newspaper of Mouse Island, Geronimo Stilton also spends his time crushing the plans of the Pirate Cats, who are always looking to rewrite history.

With assistance from his cousin Trap, nephews Benjamin and Pandor, TV journalist Patty Spring and Professor Volt’s Speedrat time machine, Geronimo’s latest journey finds him in hot pursuit of the nefarious felines. The cats have traveled to 2484 B.C. in an attempt to change the Sphinx’s face.

With a seemly limitless supply of catchphrases, the team finds itself in Egypt hanging with the hip fourth-dynasty pharaoh, Chephren.

Papercutz offers a quality Geronimo product here with a sturdy, 56-page hardcover filled with humor, a lively anthropomorphic cast and colorful illustrations by Italian artist Gianluigi Fungo.

Most importantly, the books liberally mix history in with the action. Scattered parchment panels share facts about early Egyptian civilization, touching on topics including hieroglyphics and the Nile.

The tight layout of art and abundance of text might turn off the tween comic fan used to the more airy arrangement of splash-panelized superhero pop art. However, Geronimo fans will eat this up quicker than a wheel of cheddar. Also, the inquisitive child familiar with the Disney Comics style will find a satisfying story and new rodent friends to love.

* Charlatan Ball: Book One, trade paperback (Image Comics, $24.99) - Ben 10 co-creator Joe Casey has teamed up with animated character designer Andy Suriano to tell the story of an unusual warrior who has fallen down the wrong rabbit hole.

If Jack Kirby had worked while under the influence of LSD, I believe he might have come up with something like the adventures of Chuck Amok. This lowbrow stage magician finds himself an interdimensional pawn in combative worlds where magic is real and his furry rabbit pal has become his monstrous bodyguard.

It’s all the fault of sorcerer Demon Empty, who’s trying to gain an advantage in the Tournament and keep his castle out of foreclosure. Of course, Mr. Casey keeps the action rolling with a frenetic cast of characters.

After absorbing Mr. Suriano’s hue-soaked chaos, my eyes feel as if they have been dipped in a vat of Easter egg dyes. The creators also have no problem breaking down the fourth wall as they occasionally pop up in the pop art to question exactly what they are doing.

This trade compiles the first six issues of a series that requires a punch-drunk approach to reading comics.

* X-Force/Cable: Messiah War, one shot; X-Force, nos. 14 to 16; Cable, Nos. 13 to 15 (Marvel Publishing, $2.99 to $3.99) - The soap-operatic X-Men saga continues in the second crossover series of the Messiah Complex epic, showcasing the struggle of the Home Superior population decimated by a Scarlet Witch and civil war.

Protecting the mutant child Hope Summers will pit the X-Force team and Cable against Bishop and Stryfe (the clone of Cable), with the stakes being the survival of their species.

The heavy, battle-bloated plot from Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost and Duane Swierczynski takes fans a thousand years or so into the future of their beloved X-Men and finds them still wisecracking and beating the genetics out of one another.

Characters such as Wolverine, X-23, Domino and Warpath are terrors to watch; they attack brutally and without remorse. Stalwarts such as the morbidly hilarious Deadpool (complete with an eye-sweating death scene), Archangel (in Four Horsemen Death gear, no less) and the always-too-dramatic Apocalypse will thrill fans.

A trio of brilliant artists - Ariel Olivetti, Clayton Crain and Mike Choi - bring a skewed, photo-realistic approach to pages loaded with bloody splash and unforgettable facial expressions.

The art is so fantastic I not only lost track of the story, but also chuckled at the days when Rob Liefeld held the fate of X-Force in his illustrating hands.

* Blackest Night, Nos. 0 to 2 (DC Comics, $3.99) - DC Comics’ answer to the popularity of Marvel Zombies is a megacrossover event led by an eight-issue series starring some rancid heroes.

Remnants of the Justice League and the Green Lantern Corps battle against a group of dead superbeings brought back to life sporting Black Lantern rings.

It’s not really the same as the zombies in Marvel, definitely lacking a sense of humor, but writer Geoff Johns keeps the drama stoked with help from ghoulish illustrator Ivan Reis.

So what took the publisher so long to catch on to the undead concept after it has been picking off its stable of stars over the last few years? Who cares? With rotted forms of Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, Deadman and Elongated Man in action, I am so there, dude.

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

• Joseph Szadkowski can be reached at jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com.

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