Saturday, 20 January 2018

Conan The Slayer #11 - Dark Horse Comics

CONAN THE SLAYER No. 11, July 2017
There’s undoubtedly plenty for fans of Robert E. Howard’s creation to enjoy within the covers of Issue Eleven of “Conan The Slayer”, for whilst Cullen Bunn’s adaption of “The Devil In Iron” contains the usual mix of ferocious swordplay and murderous bloodlust, the script also provides the Cimmerian with an opportunity to demonstrate his shrewd, sound-thinking too. In fact, both the lives of “the new Kozaki hetman” and “the beautiful Nemedian princess Octavia” entirely rest upon the so-called barbarian using his intelligence to discover the location of a secret door and rationalising that “a knife that fell from the heavens” is probably the only weapon capable of hurting Khosatral Khel.

Similarly engrossing, is the change that this title has brought upon the “Turanian lord of Khawarizm”, Jehungir Agha. Seemingly all-powerful and arrogantly confident in his ‘sovereignty’ at the beginning of this title’s run, this particular twenty-two page periodical now depicts the coastal town lord as an utterly terrified fleeing fellow, whose sole goal is to escape “the doom that overtaken his warriors” and the “iron giant [that] had sallied suddenly from the gate battering and crushing his best fighters into bits of shredded flesh and splintered bone.”

So wide-eyed and open-mouthed a coward really is unrecognisable from the “villainous Turan governor” the North Carolina-born writer has previously depicted, and yet quite wonderfully, the American author then has him suddenly switch back to the boastful Agha of old when he surprisingly spies Conan and Octavia, and allows his hatred of the pair to overshadow his terror of Xapur’s demi-god, Khel. Indeed, not only does Jehungir immediately forget his flight from the “ancient fortress city”, but unwisely lets loose an arrow at the leader of the Vilayet kozaks before charging him with his unsheathed sword; "One of us, wastrel, will not leave this place alive!”

Of course, Conan’s demonstration of his often-hidden deductive powers and Agha’s sudden reassertion of his wits, are merely forerunners to this comic’s cataclysmic conclusion as “the Hell-spawned giant was upon them once again.” Disappointingly however, the highly anticipated rematch presented between the Cimmerian and Khosatral is inauspiciously swift as Sergio Davila pencils the Kozak hetman effortlessly dispatching his foe within a matter of moments, thanks to the “great dagger of the Yuetshi” which he now wields. With hindsight, Bunn seems to have perhaps missed an opportunity here to at least extend (if not arguably improve) an element of a story which “some Howard scholars claim… is the weakest of the early Conan tales.”
Script: Cullen Bunn, Artist: Sergio Davila, and Colors: Michael Atiyeh

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Doctor Strange [2015] Annual #1 - Marvel Comics

DOCTOR STRANGE ANNUAL No. 1, November 2016
Whilst hardly the worst-selling comic of September 2016, this “Doctor Strange” annual must still have come as something of a major disappointment to its 44,778-strong audience, on account of Kathryn Immonen’s inability to decide just what sort of comic the twenty-page periodical was going to be. For although a good proportion of the plot seems to be a fairly unambitious tongue-in-cheek tale of the Master of the Mystic Arts having repairs completed upon 177A Bleecker Street, “or what’s left of it”, the narrative also ventures into his emotionally turbulent relationship with Clea and the potential dissolving of their mystical union.

Such sensitive stuff really seems to jar with the prevailing jokey tone of “To Get Her, Forever”, as the Sorcerer Supreme’s frustrating anger, which previously had been quite amusing when directed towards Wong and an unanswered doorbell, quickly makes for rather uncomfortable reading when turned upon Strange’s former “disciple and lover.” Indeed, the titular character’s increasing aggression towards Umar’s daughter actually escalates from him banging about plates and kettles to finally holding a kitchen knife up to the silver-haired woman’s face; “I am trying to make us some tea.”

Equally as unsuccessful, is the Canadian writer’s attempt to bring some demonic menace to the piece, courtesy of Xycorax the Contractor..? This grouter’s manifestation is supposedly entirely due to Stephen’s failure to read the fine print when he hired the builder and signed a binding contract consigning the house and his servant “straight to Zanax”. Luckily for all though, Clea just so happens to have created “an incredibly powerful object” with which the monster can be vanquished, and disconcertingly this enchanted document co-incidentally arrives through the letterbox at precisely the right moment…

Sadly, Leonardo Romero’s drawing does little to improve this publication’s entertainment either, with the comic book artist’s slightly cartoony style appearing to be strikingly similar to that of Chris Samnee, but without the simplistic charm. In fact, there are times, such as the sorceress’s flashback battle with the interdimensional Empirikul or Wong’s bedroom brawl with Xycorax, where his pencilling is so painfully poor as to be reminiscent of an amateur adolescent’s sketch book.
Writer: Kathryn Immonen, Artist: Leonardo Romero, and Color: Jordie Bellaire

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Moon Knight [2016] #12 - Marvel Comics

MOON KNIGHT No. 12, May 2017
Having made a complete mockery of this title’s previous scenario “Incarnations”, by once again depicting Marc Spector’s schizophrenic personas as self-functioning separate entities, as opposed to “alternate identities” which the crime-fighter desperately needed to eradicate in order to regain some semblance of sanity, Jeff Lemire’s script for Issue Twelve of “Moon Knight” may well have maddened the majority of this comic’s 25,152 readers. It’s certainly just the sort of thing which could well have contributed to this series’ ever-dwindling audience dropping by a further fifteen hundred copies in March 2017.

Fortunately however, the Canadian cartoonist’s writing for this twenty-page periodical’s sub-plot, an enthrallingly tense retelling of the titular character’s first meeting with the Bushman, is actually well worth this comic’s cover price alone, and genuinely helps flesh out the cavalier attitude of the former mercenary as he abducts a heroin dealer from the streets of Saudi Arabia “some years ago.” In fact, this ‘secondary’ tale is infinitely more entertaining with its ‘modern-day’ gunplay and helicopter heroics than the Juno Award-winner’s main, fantasy based narrative filled with jackal-headed gods, Egyptian-riding giant insects and stellar spacecraft. 

Whether this success stems from a grittier, realistic tone to proceedings or simply the inclusion of Jean-Paul “Frenchie” DuChamp once again piloting a rotorcraft, isn’t clear. But it definitely comes as a great relief when Spector’s other guises eventually inform him in the principal storyline that “you go the rest of the way alone. Marc. We can’t come with you”, and leaves Mister Knight, as well as the elderly Crawley, alone to their mysterious adventure deeper into the dangerous Overvoid. 

Happily, despite the confusing nature of Lemire’s prose and the ‘physical’ manifestations of the crime-fighter’s dissociative identity disorder, long-time “Moonie” fans could still take solace in the fact that Editor Jake Thomas permits Greg Smallwood to pencil the entirety of this publication, without him yet again turning to other illustrators to draw the opposing facets of the U.S. Marine’s different faces. This wise decision at least provides some consistency to proceedings, and also allows the Kansas-born artist an opportunity to demonstrate just how well he can storyboard a dramatic fist-fight when Spector storms the Wolf’s lair with little more than a pistol and a strong right boot; “<The Wolf. I want the Wolf!>”
Writer: Jeff Lemire, Artist: Greg Smallwood, and Color Artist: Jordie Bellaire

Monday, 15 January 2018

The Amazing Spider-Man [2015] #26 - Marvel Comics

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN No. 26, June 2017
There can surely be little doubt that, if nothing else, Dan Slott’s script for Issue Twenty Six of “Amazing Spider-Man” is frantically fast-paced, as well as packed with an incredible amount of gun-play and explosions. Indeed, with the exception of an utterly bizarre shareholders conference call disconcertingly crowbarred smack into the middle of Web-head’s confrontation with Norman Osborn, “Fight Or Flight” just doesn’t let up on the action until the comic’s final few pages when Nick Fury dramatically decides that Peter Parker, who “has provided S.H.I.E.L.D. with our current crop of weapons and technology”, is now “no different than A.I.M. or Hydra” simply because the American contractor has decided “to invade the sovereign nation of Symkaria.”   

Whether or not this twenty-page periodical’s 62,515-strong audience actually felt the Berkeley-born writer’s narrative made sense though, is arguably an entirely different matter. To begin with, if this book’s basic premise was for Harry’s father to use the wall-crawler and Silver Sable as advertising guinea pigs for his Kingslayer Mark 1 mechanoid, then the arrogant arms dealer clearly made an uncharacteristically unwise decision. For whilst Stuart Immonen’s marvellously dynamic pencils suggest the killing machine is both toweringly-tall and phenomenally well-armed, the large robot is still rather easily dispatched by the super-heroic pair due to their re-enactment of the final scene in Steven Spielberg’s 1975 thriller film “Jaws”; “Smile, you son of a --”

Similarly nonsensical is the titular character’s decision to “ship millions of dollars of equipment to topple a lawful regime” simply because it’ll supposedly “help spider-man stop a bad guy.” This reckless resolution is entirely based upon the word of a woman who up until a few minutes earlier, Parker had thought dead, and may, at least according to Mockingbird, be one of the Jackal’s clones. Indeed, the “single-minded” Sablinova’s apparent survival from Doctor Octopus's sea fortress (see the 2012 story-arc “Ends of the Earth”) is infuriatingly swept aside by Slott with the single line “it doesn’t matter.” Considering how guilty Peter felt at the time of the mercenary’s “demise”, such a reaction seems wholly unacceptable.

What is clear from this second instalment of “The Osborn Identity” is just why the publication’s American author told ComicBook.com in an interview that "Stuart [Immonen] is fantastic at everything". The Canadian penciller provides Norman Osborn with a real maniacal glint to his eye, and there’s a serious sense of scintillating speed to his scenes involving the Green Goblin’s glide-cycles which is highly reminiscent of the speeder bike chase on Endor in the 1983 science fiction flick “Return of The Jedi”.
Writer: Dan Slott, Pencils: Stuart Immnonen, and Inks: Wade von Grawbadger

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Captain America: Steve Rogers #14 - Marvel Comics

CAPTAIN AMERICA: STEVE ROGERS No. 14, May 2017
A highly illogical plot, as well as an over-reliance upon his 31,592-strong readership perusing this title’s pre-story summary of events in order to simply keep up with the narrative, are just two of the problems with Nick Spencer’s script for Issue Fourteen of “Captain America: Steve Rogers”, and that’s before anyone has arguably even turned more than a page or two. Indeed, it’s wholly apparent from the very start of this comic just why the book’s popularity tumbled by eight thousand copies with its 1944 flashback of the First Avenger irrationally attacking a squad of Hydra guards in order for him to try and cold-bloodedly murder his mentor Elisa Sinclair.

This entire sequence seemingly makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, as it’s based upon the premise that despite identifying, recruiting and protecting the fascist organization’s greatest super-soldier asset, the high-ranking official would allow her protégé’s best friend to sit in an allied prison cell and his father, a man Rogers “greatly admired”, be killed by Bucky Barnes. This bizarre scenario becomes even more unbelievable when an angry Winghead discovers that his so-called traitor is actually an all-powerful sorceress who can suddenly transform herself into a truly formidable-looking multi-tentacled siren who instantly overpowers the ‘hero’; I drank the blood of my enemies firstborn with the ancient kings and felt the stars fall…” 

Equally as bizarre, is the Living Legend’s belief that Agent Kincaid can bring down the Earth’s planetary defence shield using Quasar’s Quantum bands, when a multitude of the Marvel Universe’s “big guns” can’t do it with a concerted team effort. Admittedly, the S.H.I.E.L.D. operative’s power stems from “the offspring of Eternity and Infinity and the Celestial Axis”, but when the likes of Thor, Photon, Hyperion and Star Brand united can barely dent the protective force-field, just what chance does a lone rookie hero have..? The director’s back-up plan to have Rick Jones sabotage the shield’s cybersecurity seems far more likely to work surely..? 

Sadly, the artwork of Jesus Saiz is also bitterly dissatisfying throughout much of this twenty-one page periodical. The Spanish penciller’s flashback scenes, despite the majority of them being somewhat sedentary in nature, are well-handled enough, especially when Sinclair manifests her multi-suckered appendages and ensorcels the titular character. Yet, every time the storyline returns to the present, and focuses upon either Madame Hydra’s recruitment drive or Captain Marvel’s machinations there’s a noticeable decline in the illustrator’s drawings, and some of his storyboards, such as Colonel Danvers team testing out the planet’s shield, don’t quite seem to gel.
Writer: Nick Spencer, Artists: Jesus Saiz, and Color Artist: Rachelle Rosenberg

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Star Wars #15 - Marvel Comics

STAR WARS No. 15, March 2016
Focusing purely upon the exploits of “old Ben Kenobi”, as recorded in the elderly Jedi Knight’s journals, Jason Aaron’s script for Issue Fifteen of “Star Wars” arguably must have supplied this comic’s 107,858-strong audience with more a sense of nostalgic fun than actual tension upon its release in January 2016. For although the twenty-page periodical does depict Obi-Wan single-handedly battling an entire Sand People raiding party without his light-sabre, the extensive night-time fight is definitely executed to put a smile on the reader’s face rather than project a genuine sense of peril or endangerment; “Hngh. Why couldn’t we have hidden the boy… on a nice quiet world of natural hot springs? Oh, my back.” 

In fact, the vast majority of this tale is seemingly about giving little nods to the early lore behind George Lucas’ vision, such as a young Luke flying the very T-16 skyhopper he would be shown ‘toying with’ in the motion picture “Star Wars: A New Hope”, or Lars Owen ruthlessly scouring a line of astromech droids, and asking “Do you have anything that speaks Bocce?” There’s even a moment where it dawns upon Qui-Gon Jinn’s former Padawan learner that he might want “to devise an easier way to frighten” off the Tusken Raiders, just as the Clone Wars general is passing the skeletal remains of a Krayt Dragon. 

Fortunately however, the Inkpot Award-winner’s storyline isn’t simply about laughs, and towards the end of the book, things do take a decidedly darker turn for the worst for Kenobi. The Jedi Knight’s confrontation with an enraged Owen, who is positively spitting feathers over Ben’s efforts to provide young Skywalker with the parts needed in order to repair his crashed speeder, is quite emotional, and certainly helps better understand the moisture farmer’s desire to expel Obi-Wan from Luke’s life at the start of the movie trilogy. Whilst Jabba the Hutt’s hiring of an enraged Black Krrsantan to find the man who ambushed his water tax collectors during the Great Drought doesn’t bode well for the exiled Jedi either…

Any minor quibbles regarding this magazine’s pacing and plot though, should be immediately shelved as a result of Mike Mayhew’s stupendous pencilling. The American comic book artist’s illustrations not only manage to capture the likenesses of actors such as Ewan McGregor and Joel Edgerton, but also somehow imbues the "best bush pilot my age on Tatooine" with Mark Hamill’s feisty facial features as well.
The regular cover art of "STAR WARS" No. 15 by Mike Mayhew

Friday, 12 January 2018

All-Star Batman #7 - DC Comics

ALL-STAR BATMAN No. 7, April 2017
In many ways it is hard to comprehend that Issue Seven of “All-Star Batman” was the seventh best-selling comic book in February 2017 by shifting an incredible 77,096 copies, as Scott Snyder’s plot for this particular instalment of “Ends Of The Earth” is painfully thin in places. True, the twenty-two page periodical does contain a rather enjoyable team-up between the titular character and Poison Ivy, by pitting the ‘odd couple’ up against a kill squad of quantum stealth suit-wearing armed assassins. But this momentary madness doesn’t last anywhere near long enough, and is rather disappointingly brought to an all-too swift end by the Dark Knight easily punching all their assailants’ lights out; “Pamela… Stay behind me!” 

To be honest though, this publication’s problems start before the first panel has even finished, by depicting the Caped Crusader grimly strolling across the heated landscape of Death Valley on the Nevada Border. Such a predicament seems a million miles away from this series’ previous edition, which ended on a chillingly cold cliff-hanger in Alaska, and gives no clue whatsoever as to how Bruce Wayne’s alter-ego escaped the freezing ‘cryogenic-coffin’ he had been sharing with Mister Freeze, or the self-inflicted microbial virus his body carried, or the imminent airborne missile strike for that matter either.?

Instead, Snyder’s writing presents a desperate Batman tracking the eco-terrorist down to her annual ‘research hideaway’ in the hope that, despite his habitual lying to her as to whether an infected fourteen-year old girl is alive or dead, she will be able to provide an antidote to “an ancient bacteria” which “Freeze let loose.” Such a blatant disregard as to what has immediately occurred before is so antagonistically jarring, that it arguably creates a real barrier between the bibliophile and the ensuing storyline straight from the outset, and must surely have also had many readers reaching back in their comic book collection to check whether they had erroneously missed an issue or something. 

Equally as off-putting is Tula Lotay’s “pencils, inks and colors”, which whilst perfectly competent enough to visualise the New Yorker’s narrative, disappointingly fails to bring any of the cast vividly to life. Indeed, the English illustrator’s dubious decision to provide the Dark Knight with a green neon bat-suit, Poison Ivy with tree-funk eye make-up and luminescent vegetation vines, as well as combat troopers with vision-blurring invisibility kits, soon become just the beginning of this magazine’s artistic woes.
The regular cover art of "ALL-STAR BATMAN" No. 7 by Tula Lotay