Sunday, 26 March 2017

All-Star Batman #4 - DC Comics

ALL-STAR BATMAN No. 4, January 2017
Whilst one of Batman’s most readily recognisable strengths has always been his “science and technology”, Scott Snyder’s script for Issue Four of “All-Star Batman” disconcertingly ramps up the Dark Knight’s arsenal of gadgetry to an arguably preposterous high, by portraying the Bat-suit as having both the ability to fire numerous projectiles from its chest plate and gloves, as well as provide its disorientated wearer with pectoral speakers and “Echolocation.” In fact, what with the cowl’s ability to suddenly extend a supposedly air-tight guard over Bruce Wayne’s lower face, and ‘blast’ the Caped Crusader’s opponents with a forward-facing sound wave, the Harvey Award-winner’s interpretation of the super-hero’s costume seems far more akin to something Tony Stark would wear within a “Marvel Worldwide” publication, rather than the “grey body suit” created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane.

Rather disconcertingly however, such a plethora of exoskeleton augmentations, even when imagined by the New York-writer himself, are still not enough apparently to save the titular character from being blinded, when it purportedly helps provide the plot with an extra twist. This utter contrivance, based on the assumption that despite being housed within an armoured, air-tight head-piece, Batman’s eyes would still be ruined by the vapours from a vial of Two-Face’s burning acid, is only ‘topped’ by the utter absurdity of the crime-fighter’s solution to his dilemma… piloting a bi-plane in order to give his sight time to recover..?

Equally as implausible as its start, is the conclusion to “My Own Worst Enemy”, with Snyder building upon the premise that the Court of Owls gave Harvey Dent “my own battalion” of assassins, by subsequently having the former Gotham City district attorney apparently able to additionally marshal a thousand-strong armed mob, courtesy of a tracker code on his mobile phone; “Come on you piece of -- therrrre we go. One bar… two bars…” Admittedly this people-packed cliff-hanger gives artist John Romita Jr. plenty of opportunity to pencil a vast array of formidable-looking miscreants and malcontents, but such a fortuitously well-timed arrival seems as realistically likely as the mob’s incredibly lucky ability to shoot the Silver Dollar casino boat into matchwood and yet still miss their targets Batman and Duke.
The regular cover art of "ALL-STAR BATMAN" No. 4 by John Romita Junior

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Rough Riders #2 - AfterShock Comics

ROUGH RIDERS No. 2, May 2016
Focusing upon Theodore Roosevelt’s recruitment of Harry Houdini, Thomas A. Edison, Edward “Monk” Eastman and Annie Oakley, Adam Glass’ narrative for Issue two of “Rough Riders” is a decidedly choppy affair, which doesn’t really seem to settle down until the semi-historical ‘super-team’ have all congregated at the South Street Seaport in New York City and proved themselves in a rather bloody fist-fight with some local ruffians; “You can start by giving us all your money, fancy pants.” Up until this point, some two thirds of the way through the twenty-page periodical, the executive producer’s writing is uninspiringly episodic, and flits from one seemingly surreal conversational piece to another, before culminating in the future president literally waltzing with Buffalo Bill’s female exhibition shooter rather than be shot be her…

Fortunately however, once the “Oni Press” graphic novelist does finally bring his titular characters together, and Teddy has smacked a spike-clubbed thug square in the nose, this comic swiftly starts to ‘pick up’. Indeed, whether it be the fast-paced antics of Houdini’s eye-watering crotch-kicks and ‘Gambit-like’ card-throwing, Miss Oakley’s teeth-shattering beating of “two sweet-talkers” intent of taking advantage of the “taken woman”, or Jack Johnson’s over-confident right-handed pugilism, there’s more than enough sense-shattering action contained with this book’s final sequence to surely have sated the publication’s 5,107 strong audience.

There is even an opportunity for the title’s creator to clearly help the group’s innovative inventor, Edison, carve himself out a niche as the storyline’s cowardly comedic relief, and demonstrate Roosevelt’s zero tolerance for the racial bigotry of one of his recruits, by having the American statesman hurl the brutish Monk overboard after witnessing the gangster standing idly by as a bowler-hat wearing bully was about to club his negro team-mate from behind; “I had to see if everyone would fight for one another. And you all passed. Except you, Monk. You’re out. You won’t be part of the Rough Riders.”

Capturing all the dynamism of this “good work” is “veteran comic book illustrator” Patrick Olliffe, whose style both readily “captures the historical figures” and makes “them feel like the icons they are”, but without making them appear lazy “caricatures.” In fact, the “Untold Tales Of Spider-Man” artist’s technique of utilising hatch-lines to suggest an item’s speed or force, really helps make the punches fall with a resounding thud or bone-breaking crunch.
Creator & Writer: Adam Glass, Artist: Patrick Olliffe, and Colorist: Gabe Eltaeb

Friday, 24 March 2017

Judge Dredd: Cry Of The Werewolf #1 - IDW Publishing

Serving as tribute to Steve Dillion, who passed away in October 2016, this reprint of the entire “Cry of the Werewolf” serialisation from “2000 A.D.” progs 322-328 certainly contains “some incredible examples of Steve’s storytelling prowess” and it is easy to see why “more than ten earlier” than the artist’s work on “Preacher”, the seven-parter was thought by his brother, Glyn, to be “a definitive pinnacle” in the London-born penciller’s career. Sadly however, it also seems to be a demonstration of how difficult “IDW Publishing” struggle to reprint the British weekly’s ‘wider format’ artwork, as every breakdown is disappointingly squeezed into the top three-quarters of a page, leaving an ugly ‘blank’ margin along the bottom; something “Eagle Comics” strangely didn’t seem to require when they republished Joseph's stories thirty years earlier…

Quibbles as to this book’s layout aside though, this “Judge Dredd: Cry Of The Werewolf” one-shot is undoubtedly features one of the future lawman’s most popular tales, and is an excellent example of writers John Wagner and Alan Grant (Script robot T B Grover) at the very summit of their game. Indeed, whether it be the “full-blooded horror” of sharp-toothed monsters savagely ripping Mega-City citizens apart in a crimson frenzy, “fugitive robots” dominating the East Undercity with supposedly a rule of iron, or albino lycanthropes making things get “pretty hairy” for the grim-faced titular character, this forty-seven page periodical would seem to cater for any and all of the senior judge’s action-craving fans.

Admittedly, this collection’s narrative also contains plenty of emotional drama too, with the intimate embrace of young lovers Rene and Ramone being shocking interrupted by a pack of viciously hungry werewolves, and Floyd’s wife Darlene, appearing desperate to simply “get home and lock the door” one moment, and then remorselessly attacking her dutiful husband the next as he gets some antiseptic for her bite; “Stop that terrible racket! I’m sure they’ve got a dog in there!” But such intimate moments genuinely seem to be simply the ‘quiet before the storm’, as Dredd starts having to resort to head-butting his saliva-infecting antagonists and travels “the old city that lay beneath the streets” of his sprawling megalopolis in search of the contaminant.
The standard cover art of "JUDGE DREDD: CRY OF THE WEREWOLF" No. 1 by Steve Dillon

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Vampirella #0 - Dynamite Entertainment

VAMPIRELLA No. 0, February 2017
Sold as a twenty-five cent “introductory priced issue” by “Dynamite Entertainment” in February 2017, this seventeen-page periodical must surely have demoralised all but the most ardent of “Vampirella” devotees with its utterly bizarre sci-fi script set “over a thousand years” since Forrest J Ackerman’s co-creation was supposedly last seen “defending the world from threats both mystic and evil.” In fact, as a result of the narrative’s futuristic setting and inclusion of laser weapons, it’s hard not to contradict Paul Cornell’s pre-publication belief that this comic isn’t apparently yet another of the publisher’s reboots…

Perhaps top of this comic’s list of disappointments is the Chippenham-born novelist’s conviction that a story featuring “the daughter of Lilith” facing a dystopian world “unlike anything she might expect – or want to defend” would be of much interest to a gothic anti-heroine’s fan-base. True, just such a tale is clearly the “beginning [of] a new and very different direction” for the one-time inhabitant of the planet Drakulon, and a modicum of interest can at least be gleaned from the adventurers’ brief exploration of the vampire’s creepy catacombs and cob-webbed crypt.

But, alongside its disconcerting space-age setting and disagreeable premise that humans now contain “a new sort of blood”, this entire book genuinely feels more akin to the series’ previously printed “Altered States” one-shot, rather than anything nourishingly new. Indeed, it is surely not the greatest of signs for the quality of a book’s writing when the magazine’s most exciting feature is arguably an announcement for a “deal with Lionsgate to bring [the neo-noir action thriller film character] John Wick to comics” rather than the magazine's actual content? 

Just as displeasing as the “Doctor Who” author’s rather lack-lustre and arguably pedantically-paced plot, are Jimmy Broxton’s somewhat scratchy-looking breakdowns. A frequent collaborator of Cornell, the “UK based graphic artist” undoubtedly stems from a similar vein to Vampirella’s original “black-and-white magazine” illustrators with a technique truly reminiscent of Jim Holdaway’s “Modesty Blaise”. However, when applied to such subject matters as advanced clothing, not dissimilar to that found throughout Judge Dredd’s post-apocalyptic Mega-City One, and coloured using a garishly pink palette, the penciller’s “classy, European style” appears far more akin to that found within the panels of an amateur fanzine as opposed to something promoted by “a [genuine] force in the American comic book industry.”
The variant cover art of "VAMPIRELLA" No. 0 by J. Scott Campbell

The Clone Conspiracy #5 - Marvel Comics

Painfully bringing “the Spider-Event of the Year” to a most unsatisfactory conclusion, Issue Five of “The Clone Conspiracy” must surely have disappointed more than its fair share of followers due to a sickly sweet ending which sees Anna-Marie far too easily work out “the inverse frequency” required to save the world from the “lethal Carrion virus”, and unbelievably reveals that all the original New U patients, such as Hobie Brown and Jerry Salteres, have actually been safely stored alive deep underground in cryogenic freezers the entire time.

Admittedly, this ‘feel good’ finale does mean that the Prowler, Spider-Gwen and Kaine Parker ‘live to fight another day’, as do some of the wall-crawler’s more notably-deceased adversaries like the Rhino. But such poignant positives still don’t erase the feeling that Dan Slott’s narrative could easily have attained a similar result far earlier on in the mini-series if the Berkeley-born writer had simply ‘cut-out’ the story-arc’s superfluous sub-plot of having Ben Reilly trying to ‘recruit’ the CEO of Parker Industries to his cause, and “cloning nearly everyone who has died in Spider-Man’s life, from friends and loved ones like Gwen Stacy, Captain Stacy, and Jean DeWolff…”

Happily however, the Diamond Gem Award-winner’s script does contain a few quality moments, which whilst not ensuring that “this is the issue-Spider-fans around the world will be talking about for years to come”, does at least provide a modicum of entertainment. Indeed, the American author’s handling of Aleksei Sytsevich as he cradles his dying wife Oksana in his powerful arms, or Jonah’s pitiable plea to his crime-fighting nemesis not to tell Peter that “he was right” when he realises that his cloned beloved was simply a pawn in the Jackal’s plans, are arguably worth this comic’s cover price alone; “I beg you. Don’t tell him.”

In addition Jim Cheung’s pencils are simply outstanding throughout, and genuinely bring some quite extraordinary dynamism to this twenty-page periodical’s frequent fight-scenes. Certainly, as a result of the British artist's illustrations, it’s hard not to wince as the titular character is dramatically drawn smacking his ‘not-brother’ in the head for being “just another lunatic in a mask”, or give Doctor Octopus, still disturbingly enamoured with Marconi, a noble nod of assent as he dutifully battles the Jackal until both of them have ‘melted’ into “dust and empty suits.”
The variant cover art of "THE CLONE CONSPIRACY" No. 5 by Mark Bagley & Scott Hanna

Monday, 20 March 2017

Kong Of Skull Island #6 - BOOM! Studios

KONG OF SKULL ISLAND No. 6, December 2016
Originally solicited as the final instalment to a six issue mini-series, this twenty-two page periodical must have delighted its 4,395 readers with a plot that not only brings James Asmus’ vision of mankind’s early inhabitation of Skull Island to a rather satisfying conclusion, but also intimates that “the first great battle for the isle’s “dark heart” is just the beginning of a much larger, far more complicated tale. Indeed, if the wizened storyteller’s proclamation at the publication’s conclusion is to be believed, “there will [certainly] be another chaos” to befall the Tagu-Atu people, and one which will most assuredly involve the newly crowned Queen Ewata, her baby daughter K’Vanni, and their ‘disgraced’ Kong, Valla…

For this particular comic however, the playwright’s narrative initially predominantly focuses upon the defeat of a twin-headed Tyrannosaurus Rex and the formidable Kong, Tuno. Such a sense-shattering gargantuan struggle between man and beast is extremely well-orchestrated by the Stan Lee Excelsior Award-winner, and proves an especially enthralling experience on account of the tribesmen’s additional struggle to comprehend whether what they fight is actually a hellish creation of “madness and horror”, or simply a “rarity” of natural creation, which has previously been encountered by their own breeders. 

Equally as enjoyable is Queen Usana’s ferociously savage scrap with some “hyper intelligent” Velociraptors, and the long overdue comeuppance of her despicable, bloodthirsty father, Vdrell. In fact, the demise of both the overly-ambitious monarch and her elderly parent are probably the most satisfying elements to Issue Six of “Kong Of Skull Island”, and it arguably must have been hard for this book’s audience not to wryly smile when the selfish sovereign deserts her bodyguard to a flesh-ripping fate, only to run straight into the jaws of another prehistoric carnivore; “What did he call that wretched smelling --?! N’Aaaaaaaahg --” 

All of this brutalisation, treachery and gory mutilation is tremendously well-drawn by Carlos Magno, whose incredibly well-detailed breakdowns definitely better suit the narrative’s depleted cast of characters. Certainly it is hard not to feel Tuno’s teeth sink into the exposed neck of his ‘demonic’ foe when Ewata shouts the command for him to “eat!!”, or similarly recognise in the cawing Deathrunners’ eyes, the cold-hearted calculations taking place which swiftly reason that the pregnant female warrior who verbally directs the Kong's strategy, is their greatest threat.
Writer: James Asmus, Illustrator: Carlos Magno, and Colors: Brad Simpson

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Man-Thing [2017] #1 - Marvel Comics

MAN-THING No. 1, May 2017
Whilst it arguably makes plenty of sense on paper for “a Marvel Comics editor” to approach an author whose “books have sold over 400 million copies” and ask him “would he like to” pen a comic title, Issue One of “Man-Thing” is probably a good example as to just how wrong such an ‘innovative’ approach can prove. For whilst this sixteen-page publication does contain a rather enjoyable ‘flashback’ to the abomination’s origin when scientist Ted Sallis self-injected his “deadly serum” into his arm whilst fleeing some armed thugs through the Florida Everglades, the rest of R.L. Stine’s narrative is a far cry from the “playful… self-referential Steve Gerber mode” he was apparently trying to emulate.

Indeed, in many ways it’s hard to imagine this book’s plot proving massively “influential on such writers as Neil Gaiman” when it so badly mistreats the “cult classic” titular character. It’s certainly difficult to take anyone’s script even semi-seriously when it starts by having the “large, slow-moving, empathic, humanoid swamp monster” fighting the giant Silver Centipede and its “poisonous mandibles”, before going on to portray a vicious, cold-blooded criminal spouting such nonsense as “Hey! Can we talk about this? I didn’t bring my swimsuit!” when Stan Lee’s co-creation is about to brutally kill him by hurling his pick-up truck into the marshland…

Just as disconcerting is the Ohio-born novelist’s apparent irreverence to his source material's lengthy heritage. Admittedly, the idea of developing a storyline within which “the typically silent Man-Thing” never utters a word is probably something of a challenge. But that shouldn’t mean that the beast’s normally lacking human intellect and desire “not to communicate with human society” anymore should simply be reversed in order to portray the superhumanly strong monster as a recently fired ‘jobbing’ actor who “spent everything I had to come to Burbank from the swamp” and subsequently “can’t even get a drink” in a bar because they “have a dress code.”

Fortunately, besides German Peralta’s excellent-looking renderings of Ted Sallis’ alter-ego, this comic has one saving grace in the shape of its secondary story “Put A Ring On It”. Somewhat ‘roughly hewn’ by artist Daniel Johnson, this ‘terror tale’ contains precisely the sinister suspense Stine’s earlier adventure “A Different Direction” sorely lacks, and ends on a particularly chilling vibe as a murderous pianist encounters the Enchanter Ruby.
Writer: R.L. Stine, Artist: German Peralta, and Color Artist: Rachelle Rosenberg