Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Micronauts [2016] #3 - IDW Publishing

MICRONAUTS No. 3, June 2016
Considering that this particular comic book title depicting “the Micronauts’ far out world” was advertised by “IDW Publishing” as “a fresh series that captures the property’s magical nostalgia and meshes it with modern twenty-first century storytelling”, the vast majority of its 9,715 fans in June 2016 surely must have anticipated a fair amount of exposition within its opening narrative. However, having previously penned two action-packed monthlies which genuinely immersed its audience “into the doomed microscopic realms of the Micronauts”, Cullen Bunn’s storyline for this particular twenty-page long periodical disconcertingly contains an incredible amount of discussion and dialogue.

Indeed, whether it be during his incarceration at the hands of Baron Daigon, the mistreatment of his robotic comrades by their captors, or the space pirate’s lengthy confinement within a prison cell which skirts the Entropy Storm, all central character Oziron Rael does is relentlessly talk about how he's descended from a race of long-forgotten time travellers who “crafted vessels to help them cross space and time” and his special relationship with the Ministry of Science's white-armoured leader. Such dedication to ‘scene setting’ is arguably a laudable attempt by the “dream come true” writer to firmly establish Pharoid’s prominence within the plot, yet going so far as to have Oz continue to just chat with the Force Commander right up until the comic’s cliff-hanger hardly seems like the sort of thing that will “make sure readers have the time of their lives reading this series!”

Fortunately at least this magazine’s despotic ruler of the Microverse, Baron Karza, provides a fleeting moment of pulse-pounding entertainment by foiling an assassination attempt. Sudden as it is savage, the brief sequence ably demonstrates just how viciously dangerous an existence the former Chief Scientist and Overseer of the Body Banks leads, with Shazrella’s husband not only needing to strafe the cybernetically-enhanced assassin with his ruby red chest lasers, but incapacitate the would-be executioner with his remote-controlled detachable hands; “I say burn.”

This comic’s heavy reliance upon seemingly endless panels populated with speech balloons would also appear to have been somewhat detrimental to Max Dunbar’s breakdowns. Flat and distinctly tired-looking, the Canadian’s lifeless pencils fail to do anything other than simply show just which figure is talking with whom; a lack-lustre art-style that proves all the more frustrating when used to depict Rael’s supposedly cataclysmic confrontation with a partially unarmoured and seemingly elderly Baron Daigon.
The regular cover art of "MICRONAUTS" No. 3 by J.H. Williams III

Monday, 22 August 2016

Doctor Strange [2015] #9 - Marvel Comics

DOCTOR STRANGE No. 8, August 2016
Curiously containing a somewhat redundant plot thread which lasts for almost half the comic book and focuses upon Wong’s attempt to bolster the number of magic-users housed within the Himalayas by cajoling refugees, this fourth chapter to Jason Aaron’s “The Last Days Of Magic” story-arc probably still pleased most of its 46,306 readers by featuring a violent clash between some of the Earth’s surviving mages and the Empirikil’s eyebots, a rip-roaring ‘Indiana Jones-inspired’ set-piece located “elsewhere in Tibet”, and a frighteningly tense confrontation between the Imperator and “an evil, unspeakable horror lurking in the cellar”. Indeed, in many ways it would seem a genuine pity that the Alabama-born author didn’t decide to simply omit the insinuation that Doctor Strange’s butler would willingly sacrifice the lives of his “brothers and sisters” inside the Temple of the Secret Defenders and alternatively expand upon the more action-packed exploits of the Master of the Mystic Arts and his friends; especially when one of those under-represented ‘secondary strands’ concerns the Sorcerer Supreme fleeing a temple packed full of man-eating monkeys who were desperate to defend the skull of the Ancient One.

Sadly however, this is disappointingly not the case, and instead of enjoying plenty of fast-paced, pulse-pounding dramatics with barbed wire coated baseball bats and strafing bi-planes, the Harvey Award-winner’s twenty-page script is interspersed with a succession of sequences depicting librarian Zelma Stanton desperately trying to expound the virtues of her employer to any migrants that will listen and Strange’s sidekick waxing lyrical as to how people must be willing to endure “pain like you’ve never imagined” if they want to “protect the man who fights in our name.” Such dialogue-heavy ditties could potentially have been bearable if they’d actually been some point to them. But just as soon as the former “preeminent surgeon” discovers the sinisterly secret sacrifices which have been keeping him alive, he disbands the monks and renders his deceitful domestic worker unconscious with a ‘sleep spell’.

Chris Bachalo’s artwork also arguably suffers on account of Aaron’s choppy storytelling, with only the Canadian artist’s breakdowns illustrating the sorcerer’s fraught flight through an overgrown Tibetan jungle with his old master’s head underarm and Count Kaoz “shooting ghost bullets at eyeballs from space” containing any real sense of “alakazam”. It is certainly doubtful that his seemingly endless panels depicting weary snowbound travellers conversing in the Himalayas were viewed as being “more fun than Saturday night in Siberia!”
Writer: Jason Aaron, Artist: Chris Bachalo, and Colors: Java Tartaglia & Chris Bachalo

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Dark Knight III: The Master Race #3 - DC Comics

The top-selling book in March 2016, at least according to “Diamond Comic Distributors”, Issue Three of “Dark Knight III: The Master Race” must have proved a genuinely frightening reading experience for the vast majority of its 146,044 owners with an opening that sees an elderly, and evidently impotent, Bruce Wayne witnessing the atomic destruction of several major international cities as a result of Quar of Krypton’s much-maligned influence. Indeed it’s hard to imagine a more horrifying world than one in which super-strong flying ‘Gods’ can arbitrarily pluck hapless humans from the world’s surface, nonchalantly break their spines in front of a television cameraman, and then offhandedly allow the corpse to tumble back down through the clouds towards the ground far below; “People of Earth… It’s over. All of it. This is the end of your depression. Your shackles are gone. Fall to your knees…”

However, the harrowing sight of Moscow being flattened beneath a mushroom-shaped explosion is just the start of Frank Miller’s remarkably unpleasant vision of living (and dying) within his ‘Dark Knight Universe’, as the multiple Kirby-Award winner’s plot quickly establishes that the “broken” Batman is only going to be able to save the day by traipsing to Superman’s Fortress of Solitude in order to cajole the Man of Steel from out of his icy slumber. Dispiritingly though, even the Boy Scout’s colourful revitalisation and promise of righting wrongs is swiftly scotched and replaced with more maddening desolation, courtesy of Kal-El’s horrific realisation as to what “my people” have done during his absence, and his daughter’s subsequent defection to the side of the murderous Kandorians.

All of this desperation and despair is superbly rendered by Andy Kubert, “a veteran in the industry, but a newcomer to the Dark Knight saga”. In fact the America penciller’s exposure to the “old-timers” whilst studying “at my dad’s [Joe Kubert] school” has clearly enabled him to mimic the Maryland-born author’s easily recognisable old drawing-style to perfection, and his single splash depicting Superman effortlessly escaping his frozen throne simply by standing up is demonstrative of an illustrator operating at his professional best.

Equally as bleak and disheartening as this publication’s lead narrative, is its mini-comic concerning Hal Jordan’s initial meeting with three of Quar’s ‘daughters’ as they deface the Sphinx in Egypt. Initially bemused by the beauties sexually-charged request for him to change them and “make us surrender… to you”, Brian Azzarello’s script shocking turns very dark as John Romita Junior draws the Green Lantern suddenly having his ring-hand severed by one of the young ladies laser eye-beams.
Story: Frank Miller & Brian Azzarello, Pencils: Andy Kubert, and Inks: Klaus Janson

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Moon Knight [2016] #5 - Marvel Comics

MOON KNIGHT No. 5, October 2016
Despite adopting a somewhat innovative story-telling technique by having a variety of artists independently illustrate each different personality of the schizophrenic titular character’s shattered psyche as he “run(s) for his life through half-remembered histories”, this concluding instalment of “Welcome To New Egypt” must still have come as something of a bitter disappointment to many of its “Moonies” with its disconcertingly indeterminate finale. Indeed, having seemingly thrown himself to a bloody death from atop a giant pyramid rather than ‘hand-over’ his body to “a weak, dying” Khonshu, and subsequently woken as “mister producer man” Steven Grant, complete with loving actress Marlene, Jeff Lemire’s plot would frustratingly seem to suggest that the Canadian’s entire multi-issue run depicting Marc Spector’s flight from Ammut and her dog-headed sanatorium servants has all simply been a dream; “You should get dressed. We have an early call time, remember… We’re shooting the pyramid scene today.”    

Such a surprise ending certainly supports the occasional cartoonist’s pre-publication promise that “many things (within the comic) will be open to interpretation as the series begins”, and additionally helps develop the ongoing mental mysticism surrounding the mercenary who once “died in Egypt under a statue of the Moon God”. But implying that the Crescent Crusader, Jake Lockley and the Knight of the Moon, as well as the titular character’s other psychologically unstable identities, are mere bedtime delusions disheartening erodes the strong sense of edgy purpose which the Ontario-born author had, up until this edition, so successfully imbued his main protagonist with. It also disappointingly doesn’t contribute towards “making definite statements about Marc’s mental state” as Lemire had assured his audience his work would.

Exaggerating this fractural fiction is the creative team’s decision to utilise “incredible” guest artists Wilfredo Torres, Francesco Francavilla and James Stokoe on the book alongside title regular Greg Smallwood. Such contrastingly-styled incorporations, which range from the comical to the vividly colourful, undoubtedly instils the twenty-page periodical with an altogether different dynamism to its preceding publications. Yet the decision to craft such a visually-choppy magazine must, with hindsight, be as unsettling a decision for Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso, as that of allowing his writer to apparently malign the forty-year relationship between Spector and Khonshu and portray the Egyptian deity sadistically betraying his ‘loyal’ agent…
Writer: Jeff Lemire, and Artists: Greg Smallwood, Wilfredo Torres, Francesco Francavilla & James Stokoe

Friday, 19 August 2016

Doctor Strange [2015] #8 - Marvel Comics

DOCTOR STRANGE No. 8, July 2016
The twenty-sixth best selling book of May 2016, at least according to “Diamond Comic Distributors”, Issue Eight of “Doctor Strange” unquestionably must have initially excited the majority of its 49,427 strong audience with its depiction of the “archaeologist of the Impossible” scaling some crocodile-infested catacombs in order to “find every scrap of magic in the world”. Certainly the magazine's anxious, claustrophobically taut opening sequence, complete with gigantic spider-webs, bleached skulls, venomous snakes, and a pack of pursuing Witchfinder wolves, helps make the Sorcerer Supreme’s vain search for “a few crumbs of magic” an enjoyably tense read. 

Disappointingly though, all of this pulse-pounding action soon sadly evaporates once the former “preeminent surgeon” has safely returned to his comrades-in-magic, and the magnitude of their hopeless situation finally dawns upon Wanda Maximoff, Elizabeth Twoyoungmen and Médico Místico. Indeed, the moment the Scarlet Witch suggests that “this could always be the end. The end of us. The end of magic”, Jason Aaron’s narrative takes a depressingly dark turn for the worse dialogue-wise and arguably appears to simply run out of things for the title’s main protagonists to do… Apart from perhaps look aghast whenever someone mentions the ‘horrible thing kept with the cellar of 177A Bleecker Street, Greenwich Village, New York; “Just when you think things can’t get any worse… You remember there’s a monster in your cellar made entirely of pain and suffering.”

Admittedly the Alabama-born writer’s script for this final third of the twenty-page periodical isn’t entirely without its merits, with Wong’s humorous rescue of Zelma Stanton from a couple of globe-headed Empirikul eyebots using a fridge and two bowls of his master’s slimy-green soup, providing a modicum of amusement. But even this endearing scene is short-lived and soon forgotten when events strongly suggest that the Marvel Universe’s magical realms are disappointingly going to be ‘saved’ by the Sanctum Sanctorum’s secret ‘basement creature’ as opposed to the comic’s titular character himself.

Somewhat disconcertingly, Chris Bachalo’s artwork for this third instalment of “The Last Days Of Magic”, would also seem to suffer the same symptoms as Aaron’s increasingly tired plot. Chock full of numerous frantically drawn, terrifically-detailed panels, the Canadian penciller’s opening breakdowns are wonderfully dynamic and literally must have swept up any perusing bibliophile with its carousel of venomous vipers, magic-eating Een’Gawori slugs and Hellfire shotguns. However, as soon as the focus turns upon the Empirikul ‘disinfecting’ Doctor Strange’s abode, then the Eisner Award-winner noticeably decreases the number of pictures per page, and subsequently slows proceedings down to little more than a crawl…
The 'Age Of Apocalypse' variant cover art of "DOCTOR STRANGE" No. 8 by Pasqual Ferry

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Captain America: Steve Rogers #3 - Marvel Comics

Disconcertingly focussing upon a mission debrief between a kneeling, bare-chested titular character and his holographic master, the Red Skull, it is genuinely hard not to see the narrative for Issue Three of “Captain America: Steve Rogers” as yet another attempt by “Marvel Worldwide” to ‘quickly backtrack’ on their “initial choice” that the Sentinel of Liberty has always been a Hydra agent. Indeed, considering Nick Spencer’s pre-publication interview with “Entertainment Weekly” in which he “unequivocally” stated that “this is not a clone, not an imposter, not mind control, not someone else acting through Steve. This really is Steve Rogers, Captain America himself”, the plot to this twenty-two periodical not only reinforces that the super-soldier was actually brainwashed “because he had false memories implanted by Kobrik, the sentient Cosmic Cube who became a girl.” But depicts the ‘sleeper agent’ actually fighting against his mental programming by disobeying the order to murder Doctor Erik Selvig, and seemingly having genuine feelings for S.H.I.E.L.D. Commander Sharon Carter; “You. Don’t. Ever. Touch. Her. Again!”   

Perhaps unsurprisingly, such ‘misdirection’ from the comic’s writer arguably proves somewhat detrimental to the smooth flow of its narrative, and whilst Nicky Fury’s old International Espionage Agency landing a ship in “a city primarily populated by super villains” certainly creates plenty of suspense and action, courtesy of both Crossfire and “Sheriff” Taskmasker taking umbrage at their sovereign island nation being “invaded by S.H.I.E.L.D.”, any such drama is completely overshadowed by the America author’s inconsistent and erratic portrayal of Rogers. In fact it’s genuinely hard to fathom out just what the World War Two veteran is going to do from one panel to next, especially when he appears murderously determined to kill Jack Harrison, angrily incensed by Tony Masters stabbing Carter through her hand with his sword, and genuinely troubled by failing to “save the [Hydra] pawn in the train bombing” all within the same storyline.

Sadly Spencer’s solution to the trials and tribulations of this book’s supporting cast is just as ludicrous as his portrayal of Captain America’s mercurial behaviour. Surrounded and trapped within a country “ruled by criminals and populated by the Masters Of Evil”, and clearly outnumbered a hundred to one, things do not look good for Sharon, Free Spirit and Rick Jones, even when the Sentinel of Liberty arrives at the last minute in order to dissuade Taskmaster from skewering his beloved. Yet “the most hated man in America today” would have his audience believe that by simply threatening to “empty every last (casino) account” on the Bagalia Strip, “all (the) bad guys” would just stop “finally getting back at that mean old Captain America --”? As the S.H.I.E.L.D. Commander herself states “that is the stupidest plan I have ever heard.”  
The variant cover art of "CAPTAIN AMERICA: STEVE ROGERS" No. 3 by Joe Madureira

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

All-Star Batman #1 - DC Comics

ALL-STAR BATMAN No. 1, October 2016
Supposedly inspired by a road trip across the Southwest with his nine-year-old, this “first arc” of “All-Star Batman” by Scott Snyder is arguably far closer to being an unmitigated confusing mess of “in continuity” causality than “a no-holds-barred journey” which takes Batman and Two-Face on a “high-octane, high-stakes” adventure across the state. Indeed, the vast majority of its audience must have been shaking their heads in utter bemusement as the twenty-four page periodical’s wonderfully dramatic opening sequence suddenly lurches back in time to “twenty two minutes ago”, then “two hours ago”, then “two weeks ago”, and then “twenty minutes ago” etc etc… It certainly soon becomes difficult to chronologically work out just which version of the Caped Crusader the action is following, and why he’s planning on travelling nearly five hundred miles north with Harvey Dent in the Batwing.

Fortunately the New York-born writer does at least live up to his post-publication promise of incorporating plenty of “villains I’ve never used” before into the “thrill-a-minute” action, with both Firefly and Killer Moth making an impressive entrance, courtesy of manhandling the Dark Knight straight through the interior of a prefabricated fast food restaurant. Unhappily, the same cannot be said for Black Spider, a multiple mechanically-armed hired gun who perhaps somewhat contrivingly confronts a chainsaw-wielding Batman in the middle of a wheat field; “But know that I’ve got some upgrades since we last met, Batman. Every tarsus on these legs is semi-automatic. Bottom line: You’re outgunned seven to one.”

Perhaps this book’s greatest enticement however, is the excellent artwork of one “of the best in the business”, John Romita Junior. Moodily sketched with plenty of well-defined shadows, and similar in style to his pencilling on the “gritty street-level stories of… Spider-Man and Daredevil”, even the American illustrator’s more sedentary sequences, such as Batman and a golden-armoured Duke Thomas talking to Commissioner Gordon after an acid rain storm, forces the eye to linger on the intricate detail of every panel… Whilst the tense, restrained yet dynamically nervous motion the Inkpot Award-winner imbues his figures with when the armed customers of Auggie Mac’s Diner encircle Batman in an effort to stop him capturing Two-Face, makes the shock of the titular character being suddenly shot in the back all the more impactive.

Flawed as the script to “My Own Worst Enemy” is though, Snyder’s penmanship for this comic’s secondary tale, which vaguely starts recounting Duke Thomas’ introduction to “a condensed version of all” Batman’s training, is arguably even worse, with Declan Shalvey’s woefully wooden one-dimensional drawings looking especially poor as a result of directly following on from “JRJR”. In fact Editor Mark Doyle may well have thought with hindsight that the $4.99 publication was probably a superior quality product without including “The Cursed Wheel”, and that the book’s Irish artist would have been put to better use simply pencilling additional variant covers…
The regular cover art of "ALL-STAR BATMAN" No. 1 by John Romita Junior