Saturday, 24 September 2016

Micronauts [2016] #4 - IDW Publishing

MICRONAUTS No. 4, July 2016
Selling a somewhat disappointing 9,060 copies in July 2016, Cullen Bunn’s narrative for Issue Four of “Micronauts” predominantly consists of a rather bemusing, though most assuredly entertaining, flashback to the “dark days”  when Baron Karza “stood at the Emperor’s side… as the Minister of Defence” and protected “him from enemies abroad and at home…” including “those he refused to acknowledge.” As a result much of the plot focuses upon the exploits of “the self-proclaimed Red Falcon”, the Microspace monarch’s arrogant and self-righteous son, who not only once “shouted commands" to the chief scientist’s own Acroyears during a mission to liberate the Pharoid Temples, but also shamelessly woos his black-armoured rival’s eventual wife amidst the palace’s less than private corridors.

Somewhat surprisingly however, none of these provocations actually seem motivation enough for the “genius in biological engineering” to kill Lear Sethis by themselves, and it isn’t until “the Prince of all the Micronauts” begins to spend his “every waking moment sequestered with the Time Travellers", basking “in the futures they revealed to him", that Karza feels obliged to act and have his foe’s drinking goblet poisoned. Indeed, even when this murderous act takes place the Baron is still depicted as a man morally torn between his ‘devotion’ to his ruler’s family and his ‘honest’ belief that for “the greater good of his Emperor” he must defend him against all dangers, even if “his son becomes one of those threats.”

Such dutiful obligation and apparent agonization on the part of this comic book series’ most famous villain, a genuine “despotic ruler of the Microverse” who has never hitherto shown restraint in “committing one unspeakably inhuman act after another”, was doubtless somewhat hard to digest by an audience all-too familiar with the previously printed Machiavellian machinations of the Force Commander. Yet seemingly demonstrates precisely the ‘meshing’ of the “Mego” toy-line “property’s magical nostalgia… with modern Twenty-First Century storytelling” “IDW Publishing” promised prior to the title’s release.

Setting aside any concerns as to this new depth to the character of Baron Karza, this twenty-page periodical additionally proves an enjoyable experience on account of its lavish-looking Max Dunbar breakdowns. Appearing somewhat reminiscent of cells taken from an animated cartoon, the Canadian artist’s pencilling, combined with the colouring of David Garcia-Cruz, provides the franchise’s main antagonist with a genuinely dark foreboding presence, whilst simultaneously imbuing Red Falcon with lots of garish colour as befits the egotistical blue-skinned super-warrior.
The regular cover art of "MICRONAUTS" No. 4 by J.H. Williams III

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Jackboot & Ironheel #1 - IDW Publishing

JACKBOOT & IRONHEEL No. 1, June 2016
The third in a series of “creator-driven comics” launched by “IDW Publishing” as part of their “five-week Creator Visions event” in August 2016, Issue One of “Jackboot & Ironheel” must undoubtedly have bewildered any perusing bibliophile who just happened to pick the magazine up with its harrowing tale of a West Ham football player winding up “in the midst of World War Two” just as a Nazi zombie goes on a grisly killing rampage within the confines of the P.O.W. camp Lungotz Luftzig. In fact, even those readers inwardly prepared for such gratuitous violence, on account of being familiar with writer Max Millgate’s “2000 A.D.” co-creation “Sinister Dexter”, probably found the hairs on the back of their necks stirring as a decaying German guard menacingly approaches his former colleagues’ sentry post and quite literally claws one of their heads in half; “Get away from me! You’re not Muggenthaler! He’s… dead. Ernst? Mein Gott! Noooo!”

The regular Judge Dredd contributor’s narrative certainly proves a disturbingly sinister experience, and impressively gets straight down to the business at hand, courtesy of Eddie “Ironheel” Neal swiftly recounting how he seemingly scored for the Hammers at Upton Park one day and then survived his Lancester Bomber HB-33’s crash-landing in occupied Europe the next. As a result one is barely into the twenty-two page periodical before the no-nonsense English tail-gunner is being brutalised by goose-stepping patrolmen, facing summary execution at the hands of Herr Kommandant Von-Kleist and encountering the cognisant cadaver of a drunken soldier long thought dead…

Somewhat regrettably however, Millgate’s interior breakdowns are rather woefully detrimental to both his storytelling and the comic’s spine-tingling ambience, inexplicably fluctuating between a style somewhat reminiscent of Mike Mignola’s "Hellboy" and exasperatingly that of an adolescent amateur. Indeed in many ways it is hard to believe that the artist responsible for this title’s exquisitely detailed cover illustration featuring Ironheel stoically staring into the face of an undead Nazi zombie is actually the same person drawing the inertly wooden, two-dimensional figures inside the book.

Admittedly, the “captured English bombardier” looks reasonably lifelike and animated during the tale’s opening panels, especially those depicting the Messerschmitt night-fighter downing the large R.A.F. plane over a frozen lake. But just as soon as the titular character takes a “rifle butt to the back of the head” the penciller’s discipline appears to significantly diminish to the point where some of the later scenes genuinely seem to have been sketched for a neighbourhood fanzine, rather than as part of professionally published four-issue mini-series.
The variant 'subscription' cover art of "JACKBOOT & IRONHEEL" No. 1 by Max Millgate

Monday, 19 September 2016

Doom Patrol [2016] #1 - Young Animal (DC Comics)

DOOM PATROL No. 1, November 2016
Whilst “DC Comics” awarding Gerard Way his very own imprint was arguably “one of the comics industry’s most surprising announcements” of 2016, it is probably safe to assume, if the quality of his narrative for Issue One of “Doom Patrol” is anything to go by, that the formation of “Young Animal” far from represents “an exciting new phase for the publisher.” Indeed the American musician’s oddball storyline, which illogically follows ambulance driver Casey Brinke witnessing both the apparent destruction of a befuddled Robotman and the fatal cake-related combustion of her roommate, is so incomprehensively bad, that doubtless many of its readers quickly tired of not only his perplexingly choppy writing, but also sadly, the Sixties superhero team upon which this comic is purportedly based.

For starters little of this twenty-four page periodical’s plot actually makes any kind of sense whatsoever, despite initially starting with the briefest of flashbacks to the race car accident which destroyed Cliff Steele’s body. Such a promising four-panel breakdown is frustratingly immediately replaced by the New Jersey-born songwriter’s storyline focusing upon “new figures” Brinke and her tiresomely tedious co-worker “the Mighty Samson”. Just what these paramedics have in common with Niles Caulder’s team of misfits is extremely hard to fathom until Lucius’ father inexplicably throws away his half-eaten burrito and it becomes apparent that Robotman was leading a rebellion on a world situated within the wheat flour tortilla’s filling!?!

Bizarrely, this potential macrobiotic uprising, which is eerily witnessed throughout by a common housefly, appears to culminate with Steele’s alter ego blowing the planet up with nuclear missiles, and resultantly having his mechanical body hurled ‘back’ into the Emergency Medical Team’s modern-day world just in time for it to be demolished by a bin lorry; “C’mon- - Just help me gather up the parts…” To make matters worse however, this laughable storytelling is then compounded by Way introducing Terry None to the title’s audience by having her ‘inadvertently’ blow up Casey’s “highly irritating” cotenant during an overly enthusiastic birthday celebration and then simply moving in when she realises there’s now a bed free…

Sadly Nick Derington’s artwork for “Brick By Brick” isn’t especially attractive either. For although the artist’s “clean lines and cartoony visions of people” are tolerable, especially when he adopts a far more heavily pencilled technique for illustrating Robotman’s revolution on the ‘refried beans’ world, they significantly pale when compared to the work of Brian Bolland and the "definitive Judge Dredd artist's" variant cover.
The regular cover art of "DOOM PATROL" No. 1 by Nick Derington & James Harvey

Saturday, 17 September 2016

World Of Tanks #1 - Dark Horse Comics

WORLD OF TANKS No. 1, August 2016
Publicised as “the first ever comic book based on the Wargaming Battle Universe”, Issue One of “World Of Tanks” certainly lives up to its promise of bringing “all the thrills, tension and armoured conflict” followers of the massively multiplayer online (computer) game would “demand” by quickly pitting the inexperienced “Cromwells and Sherman Fireflies of B Squadron” up against Hauptman Karl Kraft’s seemingly impregnable Panthers of Panzerabteilung 130. Indeed no sooner has Garth Ennis introduced the title’s two main antagonists than Carlos Ezquerra’s breakdowns are littered with explosions, mangled metal and cursing tank men.

Fortunately however, the Holywood-born writer’s narrative for “Roll Out” doesn’t simply consist of meaningless battle sequences designed to help sell “in-game Premium Tank bundles based on the iconic ‘hero’ tanks of the comic book…” But instead marries his “hard-hitting”, somewhat swear-laden storytelling, with plenty of character development too. It’s certainly made abundantly clear that “the man in charge” of the “world’s greatest panzer” is far from your stereotypical Third Reich goon, even if he does wear the notorious Totenkopf symbol on his cap; “The other four (panzers) aren’t in much better shape. They all need complete overhauls. And… Freddy, haven’t we left enough people behind at this point?”

Sadly the same cannot surprisingly be said for the inexperienced Second Lieutenant Simon Linnet, “commanding Number Four troop”, whose disconcertingly cheery disposition and “itching (desire) for a crack at Jerry”, along with that of his incongruently chipper fellow British tank commanders, seems to stem from the worst sort of ‘pip pip’ clich├ęs imaginable. Such trite dialogue definitely brings Wargaming’s Director of Marketing Erik Whiteford’s assurance that their “first priority was ensuring that we told an authentic and historically based tale of combat” under close scrutiny…

Any frustrating concerns by this twenty-two page periodical’s audience as to its script’s hackneyed accuracy though, should have easily been cast aside when one considers the book’s outstanding artwork. Rightfully described by “Dark Horse Comics” as a “legendary illustrator”, Carlos Ezquerra’s pencilling for this comic is as “gritty and… realistic” as any bibliophile would want their “pulse-pounding tank combat” to be, with the Spaniard’s incredible depictions of “seventeen pounders”, “Jabos” and Panthers, all being seemingly imbued with plenty of dynamic energy, movement and danger.
Script: Garth Ennis, Artist: Carlos Ezquerra, and Colors: Michael Atiyeh

Friday, 16 September 2016

All-New Captain America #6 - Marvel Comics

ALL-NEW CAPTAIN AMERICA No. 6, June 2015
Considering just how utterly bizarre the script for Issue Six of “All-New Captain America” is on account of its narrative involving a vampire’s plan to “detonate himself at high altitude” in order to spread his infected blood “throughout the atmosphere”, it seems likely that at least some of this comic’s 38,199 strong-audience probably found themselves thinking something along similar lines to the title’s “What The Duck?” variant cover. It’s certainly hard to believe that too many found Rick Remender’s frantic fist-fight between Sam Wilson and Baron Blood an entirely enthralling experience, especially when the pair’s fanciful battle in outer space is continually interrupted by an equally implausible earth-bound confrontation between the supposedly dead Nomad and his apparent murderer Helmut Zemo.

Indeed, doubtless many of this twenty-one page periodical’s readership were probably still reeling from the American author's utterly ludicrous revelation in this series’ previous instalment that “Steve’s adopted son from Dimension Z” survived having his throat slashed and being “hung upside-down… to bleed out” simply because “my body fixes itself as long as I have a supply of… [Arnim Zola’s bio-gel] within the armour.” As the titular character himself remarks early on during his battle with a monster “full of Lucas’s [blighted] blood”, “You can’t make this $%*& up.”

Setting aside one’s quibbles as to just how Captain America can hold his breath long enough to survive whilst flying unprotected in the vacuum of space however, the former-Falcon’s punch-up with his fearsomely fanged opponent does at least provide another insight into just how differently Remender’s incarnation of the Sentinel of Liberty thinks when compared to Steve Rogers. Faced with a ‘suicidal’ Nazi opponent desperate to die in order to later “rule a nation of cold-bloods”, Wilson is significantly hampered by his concerns that if he gets too close to the vampire, his own reproductive biology could be contaminated and sterilized. Sacrificing one’s ability to have children probably wouldn’t have even given Sam’s predecessor a momentary pause. Yet for the “first African-American superhero in mainstream comic books”, and a wannabe family man, this dilemma rather intriguingly actually has the author’s main protagonist holding back despite the fate of the entire world being at stake.

Perhaps this publication’s greatest disappointment though is its neat, and overly happy ending. Having miraculously brought Nomad back from the dead, the writer additionally allows both Redwing to survive Baron Blood ‘draining it dry’ by becoming a vampire bird (!?!), and Sam Wilson to implausibly walk away from a thunderous crash-landing back to Earth. The minister’s son is even given the hope of future fatherhood when Misty Knight reveals she “took the antidote off of Viper” and, courtesy of an injection, cures his rewritten DNA; “If having a family is important I think I can help.”
The regular cover art of "ALL-NEW CAPTAIN AMERICA" No. 6 by Stuart Immonen

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Predator Vs. Judge Dredd Vs. Aliens #2 - Dark Horse Comics

PREDATOR VS. JUDGE DREDD VS. ALIENS No. 2, August 2016
Considering that “Judge Dredd and his squad of Mega-City One’s finest” spend half this comic securely strapped to some laboratory experimentation cubicles, John Layman’s script for Issue Two of the preposterously named “Predator Vs Judge Dredd Vs Aliens” certainly contains plenty of suspense and gun-blazing action. For whilst Doctor Niels Reinstot undeniably spends a fair proportion of his ‘screen time’ waxing lyrical as to how his “earliest experiments with my DNA-infuser formula” were “crude, and dangerously unstable”, the former “Wildstorm” Editor’s narrative keeps things ‘more than lively’ by repeatedly flashing back to a time when Old Stoney Face supposedly blew the mad scientist’s head apart for “the charges of kidnapping, child endangerment, and unauthorised genetic manipulation”.

Sadly however, this somewhat ‘back and forth’ storytelling technique does make for a rather choppy read on occasion, especially when, without any particular evident reason or warning, the plot intermittently leaps from Joe’s past, to the Predators' present, and then back to another point in the timeline when Mega-City One’s toughest lawman was chasing “the emoticon-faced cult leader known as Archbishop Emoji across the Cursed Earth and into the Alabama Morass.” Such interludes certainly become disappointingly distracting by the time Reinstot has injected Judge McCrary with a “formula incorporating the DNA taken from this strange alien skull” and placed a parasitoid larva over the face of a second horrified Judge.

Fortunately what the American comic book writer seems especially good at is creating an incredible sense of fear and dread, even when the plot itself is somewhat plodding, undoubtedly dialogue-heavy and sedentary in nature. The bound, helpless law enforcement officers’ stark anguish as the multi-eyed murderer approaches them armed with either a glowing-green syringe or wriggling face-hugger is absolutely palpable, as is Dredd’s increasing anger and frustration as he witnesses his wretched colleagues fall to Niels’ sadistic experimentations; “Drokk it, creep, when I get out of here --”

Equally as engaging as Layman’s penmanship is Chris Mooneyham’s penciling. The “traditional” artist’s breakdowns genuinely convey a sense of foreboding doom as the Predators quickly piece together Emoji’s frantic flight from his well-armed pursuers and the robot’s subsequent fire-fight. However, such dynamic panels are as nothing when compared to the American illustrator’s seriously disconcerting facial expressions as the psychotic doctor’s Mega-City test subjects realise their imminent grisly fates; an especially impressive feat considering that none of the male Judges have removed their helmets.
Script: John Layman, Artist: Chris Mooneyham, and Colors: Michael Atiyeh

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Dark Knight III: The Master Race #4 - DC Comics

DARK KNIGHT III: THE MASTER RACE No. 4, June 2016
For those of the 143,055 readers who bought this book and weren’t actually fans of Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster’s Kryptonian creation, Issue Four of “Dark Knight III: The Master Race” must arguably have proved somewhat satisfying with its depiction of the daughter of Kent beating her father up “tirelessly”, “ceaselessly” and “mercilessly.” Certainly the ultimately bloody and seemingly fatal sequence is savagely reminiscent of Kal-El’s gory demise at the hands of Doomsday in the 1992 comic book storyline “The Death Of Superman”.

Yet whilst Editor Mike Carlin’s enormously successful plot showed the Justice Leaguer valiantly dying in order to save Metropolis from “The Ultimate”, Brian Azzarello’s portrayal of the Big Blue Boy Scout’s downfall appears infinitely less meaningful as the “shame of Jor-El” impotently allows himself be beaten to a pulp by his angst-ridden daughter, and subsequently leaves the entire world vulnerable to the homicidal machinations of Quar. Such a chillingly paternal sacrifice at the hands of one’s child may well have been a noble, even heroic, gesture on behalf of Clark Kent’s alter ego, but it hardly succeeds in ousting possibly the greatest threat to the planet so far seen in storyteller Frank Miller’s acquiescently bleak ‘alternative’ universe.

Indeed, all Superman’s end really causes is a very real threat to the titular character’s life as the triumphant Leader of the Master Race of Kandorian cultists turns his attention “to more pressing matters” and gives the people of Gotham City just thirty-six hours to hand over “your Batman” or “one of my children will cleanse this Earth of you.” A situation which is made doubly dire by Wonder Woman’s determination to stand by the disagreeable decision made by her love, humanity “collectively”, and her own daughter for the Amazonian Queen not to interfere in the affairs of the modern-day world...

Somewhat more encouraging and hearteningly less dour, is Miller’s writing for this twenty-three page periodical’s mini-comic “Dark Knight Universe Presents: Batgirl”. Featuring Bruce Wayne’s “accomplice” Carrie Kelly, this short but garishly coloured tale follows the lime-green and pink attired heroine battling her way to then end of Gotham City Pier through a horde of enraged citizens. Enthusiastically drawn by the Maryland-born penciller, this narrative once again provides the title’s audience with plenty of physical evidence as to just why the Caped Crusader has selected the young female Robin as his successor, and additionally features a nice cameo by a sea-beast riding Aquaman too.
Story: Frank Miller & Brian Azzarello, Pencils: Andy Kubert, and Inks: Klaus Janson