Saturday, 28 February 2015

The Amazing Spider-Man #15 - Marvel Comics

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN No. 15, April 2015
Despite partially making good on the promise that Issue Fifteen of “The Amazing Spider-Man” would wrap up all the loose ends created during the multi-issue ‘Spider-Verse’ event, “Epilogue” still proves to be a rather unsatisfactory and somewhat confusing comic book. For starters the tone of the narrative is a rather sickly sweet one, with the numerous spider-people seemingly spending panel after panel saying warm heartfelt goodbyes to one another before returning to their place within the multi-verse.

Considering the wanton death and destruction which has preceded their ‘victory’ over the Inheritors such humorously scripted departures simply come across as being ‘too good to be true’ and insincere considering the loss of life. Certainly May Parker’s return to Earth-982 and discovery that both her boyfriend and mother, Mary Jane, are still alive is utterly unbelievable. As Spider-Girl says “It’s like a miracle! Like magic.” Either that or an incredibly poor decision by writer Dan Slott to erase much of the pain and adversity which a once interesting character continually fought against. Fortunately the American author stops just short of May’s father also surviving the onslaught of Daemos. But he does create a ‘surrogate’ (grand) father for the heroine’s family in the form of Uncle Ben from Earth-3145. 

The highly anticipated rematch between Peter Parker and Otto Octavius is also as disappointing as its inclusion is unsurprising. Rather bewilderingly the Superior Spider-Man seems to think that destroying the Fabric of Reality and subsequently ‘blinking out of existence’ is a preferable fate to resuming his career as a crime-fighter on Earth-616; albeit a relatively short-lived one. How does destroying “whole worlds” make the rehabilitated former ‘mad scientist’ believe he is the better Web-head? That is the thinking of the evil-hearted super-villain Doctor Octopus not the hero he has supposedly become. Not even an arrogant one.

Perhaps more crucially however is just why, when arguably the ‘spider-army’ are facing an even greater threat than the Inheritors, as the great Web of Life is being destroyed, do they decide to reduce their few numbers even further by allowing Spider-Man 2099 and Spider-Gwen to teleport home? If every second allows Octavius time to cut another strand and terminate another entire universe, wouldn’t the super-heroes launch an immediate all-out attack upon him? Why would they squander precious time debating who can leave and who can stay… and have the comic waste a page depicting Miguel O’Hara explaining to Gwen Stacy that he knows in the end ‘the good guys win’?

Fortunately, despite the rather uninspiring events depicted within this issue’s twenty pages, artist Giuseppe Camuncoli provides some competently strong pencilling throughout, especially when drawing the confrontation between Superior Spider-Man and the Earth-616 wall-crawlers up upon the Great Web.
The variant cover art of "THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN" No. 15 by Simone Bianchi

Friday, 27 February 2015

Darth Vader #1 - Marvel Comics

DARTH VADER No. 1, April 2015
 Publishing a comic book series based upon a genuinely villainous character, someone who has completely surrendered themselves over to evil and everybody loves to hate, would ordinarily be viewed as a brave move on the part of “Marvel Worldwide”. But when that individual is the Lord of the Sith from the multi-billion film franchise “Star Wars” and the title of the periodical is “Darth Vader” then one could argue that successful sales figures are inevitable no matter what the quality of the magazine’s content.

As it happens however Kieron Gillen has written a very good opening issue with Anakin Skywalker’s alter ego demonstrating all the ruthlessness and secretive ingenuity which made him such a sinister force within the motion picture’s ‘original trilogy’. This former Jedi Knight is dangerous. Unbelievably so. Though at first it is all too easy to forget just how incredibly powerful the black-garbed Ralph McQuarrie designed solitary figure actually is. 

Indeed when Lord Vader single-handedly strides into Jabba’s Palace at the start of the storyline, and finds himself surrounded by the vile gangster’s mercenary bodyguards, things do not look good for the ruthless cyborg; certainly Max Rebo doesn’t believe so as the male Ortolan shields his eyes from the anticipated slaughter of Ben Kenobi’s former Padawan. But just a few pages of red light-sabre action later, and all the ‘scum and villainy’ have been dispatched. Whilst ‘the mighty Jabba’ is clutching his swollen throat as a result of force ‘choke’ hold. “Impressive. Most impressive.”

Unfortunately “Darth Vader” is not a virtuoso performance by the British writer however. The opening sequence of a lone individual strolling into the Hutt’s Tatooine fortress has been repeatedly replicated since its inception at the start of the movie “Return Of The Jedi”; so appears somewhat cliché. There is also some uncharacteristic dialogue between Master and Apprentice on Coruscant as Vader actually challenges the Emperor to his face by accusing him of “…trying to hide something from me?” just because Palpatine won’t reveal the identity of a mysterious visitor to the Imperial Palace. The subservient Sith Lord has never showed such troublesome doubts in his master’s decision-making before. Nor would do so on the 'big screen' until their climatic confrontation during the Battle of Endor; something which doesn’t take place for a considerable time in the future…

Arguably the highlight of this comic book however is the excellent artwork by Salvador Larroca. The Spaniard’s pencilling of Vader, along with some beautiful highlighting work on his armoured costume by colorist Edgar Delgado, is simply faultless. Whilst his attempts to recapture pivotal shots from the motion pictures, such as the memorable “The Force is strong with this one” Death Star trench run, are outstanding.
The regular cover art of "DARTH VADER" No. 1 by Adi Granov

Thursday, 26 February 2015

The Amazing Spider-Man #14 - Marvel Comics

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN No. 14, April 2015
There’s a rather enlightening opening paragraph to the ‘letters page’ of Issue Fifteen of “The Amazing Spider-Man” which arguably sums up not just all that is wrong with the contents of this comic but touches upon the main criticisms of Dan Slott’s entire multi-issue cross-title event. It begins with the words “Just like that, Spider-Verse is over” and this really does encapsulate the sense of emptiness and disappointment arguably many readers must have felt when finishing “Web Warriors”.

For having established the Inheritors as possibly the deadliest threat to the wall-crawler’s existence yet witnessed within the ‘Marvel Universe’, the various family members suddenly appear all too susceptible and vulnerable to the myriad of alternative Spider-People which they have previously been murderously hunting. Indeed such is the ease with which the Great Hunters are incarcerated that it is all over in the space of a page, as they’re suddenly shown either ‘all webbed up’ or impotent with grief and defeat. It really is a case of blink and you’ll miss it.

In a way however, even this travesty of a conclusion is actually drawn-out as a far easier solution to interrupting the Great Ritual would surely have consisted of Peter Parker teleporting to Loomworld and then simply transporting the entire family to the incapacitating radioactive landscape of Earth-3145. Without their intimidating and threatening presence by the cyborg’s side the Master Weaver was not likely to utilise his time-travelling powers and retrieve his captors. Thus they’d be no need for Superior Spider-Man to slaughter him, no need for Takuya Yamashiro’s anachronistic giant robot Leopardon to allegedly save the day, nor any excuse whatsoever for Spider-Ham to appear au natural.

Interestingly the “Caught In The Web Of Spider-Verse” ‘fan’ page would also suggest the creative team knew their storyline was tight for space and necessitated an abrupt ending. For it includes a caveat to its statement that the event was finished but adding “Well, almost” and explains that the title's subsequent issue will consist of a much needed Epilogue within which the myriad of loose ends will be tied up. This simply smacks of bad planning and poor pacing on behalf of writer Dan Slott. Surely the American author must have realised the book would close with the spider-army still ensconced upon Earth-001 and contain a plethora of plot-strands yet to be resolved when he first mapped-out the storyline?

The decision to have both Olivier Coipel and Giuseppe Camuncoli pencil half an issue each is also a dubious choice for any comic’s creative team. Both artists are imaginative and competent enough, but when their artwork is so readily placed alongside one another, it is unfortunate but the Italian’s slightly inferior illustrations are always going to badly jar with those of the French cartoonists; even when the likes of Wade Von Grawbadger, Cam Smith and John Livesay are all employed to ink the drawings. As a result the final act just begins with the Spider-army storming the Inheritor’s manor and the wonderful artwork rather rudely drops a noticeable notch or three.
The variant cover art of "THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN" No. 14 by Phil Noto

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

The Walking Dead #118 - Image Comics

THE WALKING DEAD No. 118, December 2013
When creator Robert Kirman stated that “There will always be small moments with the characters, as they live and survive in this world…” just before this issue of “The Walking Dead” was published, it is doubtful many fans anticipated just such a ‘time’ for some of the secondary supporting cast was at hand. Though few would probably feel Maggie Greene’s argument with Gregory at the start of the comic is a tiny episode; not when it takes a whopping seven pages for the enraged widower to simply knock the Hilltop Colony on his backside and tell the rest of the community that she believes in Rick Grimes.
 
Indeed the heated discussion, though reasonably well-paced despite its heavy dialogue, smacks of the writer and Charlie Adlard desperately trying to 'fill out' the early part of this chapter to “All Out War”. Why else would the British artist settle for drawing one of the worst double-page illustrations arguably created for the title ever? In fact the portrait of Green actually only takes up one side of the picture, with a solitary speech bubble containing just five words, apparently requiring the entirety of the space afforded by the second sheet.
 
Fortunately the Englishman starts to once again hit his creative stride during the second half of the book as Rick and his army begin attacking the Saviors' outposts. As a result by the time the frantic action works its way to Ezekiel’s failed assault there is plenty of emotion, suspense, tension and danger to attract the attention. Especially as it quickly becomes clear the “King” is in imminent danger of either being shot or, possibly worse, bitten.
 
The dynamic drawings of the one-time zookeeper slowly being overwhelmed by the walking cadavers and suddenly panicking as realisation dawns upon him that the zombies are now his biggest threat, not Negan’s men, are terrific. It is certainly all too easy to imagine the terror of his pulse-pounding flight into the woodland, and horror as the clawing corpses start to assail him once again as he falls backwards into a small stream.
 
Sadly the mighty Shiva’s heroic demise at the hands of a horde of Undead is as swift as the tiger’s appearance is sudden. It is somewhat disappointing that so formidable a beast is overpowered so quickly. Though the handful of panels depicting the animal’s death are still impactive enough to cause the reader to be eminently sympathetic to the haunted gloomy features upon Ezekiel’s face at the end of the narrative.
Writer: Robert Kirkman, Penciller: Charlie Adlard, and Inker: Stefano Gaudiano

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

The Amazing Spider-Man #13 - Marvel Comics

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN No. 13, March 2015
As multi-issue comic book events go, Dan Slott’s “Spider-Verse” clearly has a number of factors in its favour. To begin with it not only features the most popular “Marvel Worldwide” super-hero ever but also contains many fan favourite alternative versions of the self-same wall-crawler as well. Whether they be drawn from the larger literary Spider-Man family such as Ben Reilly, Spider-Woman and Peter Porker or other entertainment mediums such as the 1967 animated cartoon Spidey or Takuya Yamashiro from Earth-51778.

There’s also a genuine sense of threat and menace to these characters, as the Inheritors repeatedly demonstrate to the reader that they are both formidable and lethal foes. Then finally there’s the sheer scale of the conflict… a long drawn-out battle which has spread not just across time and space but spans different universes as well. Indeed it is easy to see why “The Amazing Spider-Man” sold in excess of 100,000 copies per issue during this story-arc.

But “Spider-Men: No More” is disappointingly a good example of where the American writer has got his priorities mixed up, of where he has allowed the opportunity to sell more editions of other titles blind him to which plot threads are central to the main storyline, and where scenes laden with heavy over-bearing dialogue have been favoured instead of pages depicting action and major occurrences within the “Spider-Verse”. What this means is that rather than tell the exciting story of the destruction of Jennix’s cloning facility on Earth-802 or Spider-Woman’s espionage mission on Earth-001, this major Marvel event’s ‘supposedly’ leading comic book title instead attempts to ‘captivate’ its audience through having them read endless discourses as Uncle Ben from Earth-3145 drones on about how he turned his back upon ‘great responsibility’, and cowered within a nuclear-proof atomic bunker.

Possibly even more irritating however is Slott’s treatment of Silk’s character as she becomes increasingly annoying, accident-prone and dim-witted. Having already broken one teleportation bracelet, Cindy Moon decides her best course of action is to travel to the Great Hunters’ home, the one place the ‘Bride’ should never go, and once there immediately use her replacement bangle to deflect a sword blow. Not only is this utterly stupid but also an extremely lazy way for Slott to manufacture a reason as to why the three vital ‘spider-totems’ all assemble together on Loomworld.

Even when some action does occur, the man behind “Arkham Asylum: Living Hell” somehow conjures up an incredibly unlikely victory for the Scarlet Spider, as Kaine easily disposes of the ‘unbeatable’ Inheritor Solus before meeting his own demise whilst in his ‘Other’ form. Quite how someone who previously has simply sucked the life-essence from Cosmic Spider-Man can so swiftly be killed having been speared by a few spikes is baffling, and completely contrary to the super-strong villain Slott has previously offered readers. 

Unfortunately so many sedentary scenes also bodes somewhat ill for Giuseppe Camuncoli to show off his artistic talents. Whilst the Italian’s pencilling is competent enough, and well-coloured by Justin Ponsor, the vast majority of panels are concerned solely with various characters talking. As such there is disappointingly scant opportunity for the cartoonist to demonstrate his quite considerable action-orientated drawing skills; and when these are briefly called upon his illustrations appear unhappily ‘out of sorts’.
The variant cover art of "THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN" No. 13 by Gabriele Dell'Otto

Monday, 23 February 2015

The Thing #8 - Marvel Comics

THE THING No. 8, August 2006
Any reader oblivious to this sadly being the final issue of “The Thing” 2006 series, will arguably find the storyline of “Last Hand” a jumbled mess of erratic sub-plots. All of which supposedly pull together to form an ending (of sorts) for the solo adventures of Benjamin Grimm. However those equally in the know that the comic had been ‘canned’ would also struggle to make sense of Dan Slott’s writing as the founding member of the Fantastic Four finally reignites his love affair with Alicia Masters… and plays a lot of cards.

Indeed it is hard to fathom out precisely where this story is heading for the vast majority of its twenty-two pages. For despite the main narrative revolving around a super-hero poker tournament, the comic is absolutely packed with flash-back sequences, whether they be silly scenes such as Squirrel-Girl defeating the Bi-Beast by surrounding him with stinking garbage, or far more serious religiously significant set-pieces such as Grimm undergoing his Bar Mitzvah thirteen years after first being exposed to the cosmic rays which transformed him into the Thing.

The most bemusingly bizarre interjection however has to be the human mutate’s encounter with the Impossible Man. Suffering with the hiccups the Poppupian causes so much damage to the sacred temples of Shemballa, that the Himalayan monks contact Arlo North and ask him to rebuild the sanctuaries. Unbelievably despite the famous architect having spent the past seven issues demonstrating his long-term commitment to Alicia, he immediately leaves their shared apartment in order to oversee the temples’ reparations.

Obviously such a departure brings the blind sculptor and super-hero back together again. But such a convenient occurrence is simply appallingly lazy scripting on Slott’s behalf and makes no sense whatsoever. Why does Arlo’s relationship have to abruptly end because of the reconstruction? Couldn’t his long-term girlfriend travel with him, even just for a short visit? Surely Alicia would be willing to, having already invested so much emotion in the man?

The poker game plot also seems somewhat wafer thin as the comic’s central plot. It arguably only being present to provide the American author with the opportunity to have the Thing be dealt a “Fantastic Four of a kind!” Whatever the reason the card championship’s conclusion and sudden departure of the horde of super-heroes from Ben’s flat so he can canoodle with Alicia is a terribly dissatisfying and disappointing end to both the book and the series… and would appear to have been awfully rushed; almost as if Slott had simply run out of ideas and just wanted the story finished.

Possibly as confused as many a reader surely was by all these storyline ‘comings and goings’, artist Kieron Dwyer provides something of a mixed bag with his pencils. A suitably steady hand one moment, drawing a wonderfully atmospheric Bar Mitzvah 'double-splash' illustration. The American's artwork then borders on the horribly cartoony, as he sketches a ludicrously silly looking Impossible Man during the green-skinned alien's supposedly hilarious 'hiccupping happenings.'
Story: Dan Slott, Artist: Kieron Dwyer, and Colors: Laura Villari

Sunday, 22 February 2015

The Amazing Spider-Man #12 - Marvel Comics

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN No. 12, March 2015
There’s a disconcerting vibe of something akin to desperation with Issue Twelve of “The Amazing Spider-Man”. Almost as if writer Dan Slott, despairingly short of ideas as to where to take the cross-title story-arc next, decides that the best thing to do is to simply have the comic’s twenty pages crammed full of some of the most ludicrous and farcical multi-verse wall-crawlers a former writer for “Mighty Mouse” could muster.

Whether such a fraught move originated because the “Spider-Verse” event had by now ‘snowballed’ out of control across other “Marvel Worldwide” magazines, or that the presumably punishing twice monthly publishing schedule had started to catch up with the American author’s writing is decidedly unclear. Whatever the reason apart from Web-head being sent some scrolls from the Inheritor’s household by an undercover Spider-Woman, and teleporting his Spider-army to the post-apocalypse Earth-3145 for one of the most over-used cliff-hanger’s in Peter Parker’s history (i.e. Uncle Ben is alive), very little plot is actually progressed in “Anywhere But Here”.

Instead Slott pads out the page-count with a seemingly endless parade of rather silly, arguably childish and extremely unlikely spider-variants. Spider-Knight, complete with “Zounds!” as Solus punches through his chest, black & white Japanese Spider-boy(?), the Lone Spider-Ranger, and even Spider-Buggy all make cringe-worthy appearances at a time when the tension is supposedly high following the death of Cosmic Spider-Man and the Inheritor’s abduction of the Scion. “Oh put-put-please…” as the talking Spidey-Mobile says. 

Possibly the worst incarnation however has to be Takuya Yamashiro and his giant robot Leopardon from the 1978 live-action Tokyo Channel 12 television series. Admittedly the Defender of Justice’s vehicle is meant to be the “mightiest instant killing giant robot in the history of Tokusatsu programming”. But precisely how Slott thought this “Toei Company” character is meant to compete against a being who has literally just killed the Spidey who can conjure up and control the Enigma Force is baffling. Unsurprisingly the Head of the Inheritors simply pulls one of its arm off before pulverising it.

Unfortunately there isn’t even the comfort of looking at regular “Spider-Verse” artist Olivier Coipel’s excellent pencilling with this issue. As despite producing a moodily atmospheric, though rather misleading cover illustration of the full Loomworld family posing in front of numerous wall-mounted spider-heads, the Frenchman is not responsible for the interior artwork… Giuseppe Camuncoli is; someone who disappointingly seems incapable of delivering a consistently competent drawing style throughout the comic book.
The variant cover art of "THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN" No. 12 by Gabriele Dell'Otto

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Ant-Man #1 - Marvel Comics

ANT-MAN No. 1, March 2015
Without the imminent release of a major motion picture by “Big Talk Productions” with which to tie this into, it is hard to imagine such a relatively minor character such as Scott Lang being awarded his very own ongoing solo title by “Marvel Worldwide”. Admittedly Ant-Man is one of the founding members of the Avengers, and apparently a favourite of co-creator Stan Lee following his first appearance in Issue 35 of “Tales To Astonish”.

But that was the original incarnation Hank Pym, and was way back in the very early Sixties when all the comic book capers of a modest-sized ‘Marvel Universe’ could easily be monitored, managed and stored upon pieces of paper housed within a single office filing cabinet. These days the publisher seemingly has an unlimited number of colourful costumed characters capable of possessing their own comic book, with new super-heroes appearing all the time. So why chose to award one to a reformed thief and electronics expert?

Well if the writing of Nick Spencer is to be believed it is that very lack of success which will captivate the long-term reader as despite all of his very best efforts Lang continues to fail in his goal of providing stable support for his semi-estranged daughter Cassie. Indeed even when victory appears within the grasp of the one-time burglar, and he manages to become the new head of Security Solutions at Stark Industries, triumph is snatched away from him at the last moment as his ex-wife Peggy Rae packs up her belongings and permanently moves to Miami.

Spencer is also rather clever by including the tumultuous backstory of Lang into the actual plot of the issue by covering the ‘retconned’ character’s imprisonment, death and resurrection via a job interview. Although somewhat artificial and clunky, this results in the ‘Ant-Man uninitiated’ swiftly being brought up to speed on major Marvel events such as “Avengers Disassembled” and “Avengers: The Children’s Crusade” and their impact upon Scott Lang.

Disappointingly however, it also means that there is little action within the book’s thirty-pages as discussion after discussion takes place. Either between Ant-Man and Tony Stark, Lang and his rivals for Stark industries top job or between the disheartened super-hero and Peggy. This also means that the rather angular inanimate style of Ramon Rosanas’ artwork looks all the more sedentary and uninspiring. Though the Catalonian illustrator manages to competently imbue the small-scale shrunken world of the ant with some suitably proportionate detail and vitality.
The regular cover art of "ANT-MAN" No. 1 by Mark Brooks

Friday, 20 February 2015

The Amazing Spider-Man #11 - Marvel Comics

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN No. 11, February 2015
Whilst there is no doubting the sense of gratification generated at the very start of this comic as Peter Parker defeats Doc Ock and reinforces his leadership over the ‘ Spider-Army’, “Higher Ground” ultimately proves to be an incredibly frustrating and dissatisfying read. This is predominantly due to Dan Slott’s ever expanding storyline unexpectedly veering sharply away from concentrating upon the exploits of this comic’s titular ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ and instead following Miles Morales from Earth-1610 and Peter Parker of Earth-TRN123 as the youngsters endeavour to recruit the 1967 animated television series Web-head to their cause.

However after just a couple of bizarre semi-hallucinogenic pages set within the Earth-67 universe, the reader is abruptly informed by Editor Nick Lowe that they’ll need to purchase Issue Two of “Spider-Verse Team-Up” if they wish to “follow this adventure” any further. This blatant salesmanship by the writer and publishing manager is both infuriating and unforgivably crass, and is categorically poor storytelling.

Worse having wasted valuable time and sheet-space with this ‘wild goose chase’ the story-arc’s creative team then make a complete mockery of any previous promises that no important plot threads would be missed if a reader did not wish to pick up any of the “Spider-Verse” tie-in issues. For rather than provide some sort of recap as to what the Earth-616 super-hero was up to within the pages of Issue One of “Spider-Woman”, Dan Slott simply picks up the action back on Earth-13 and sets about narrating the grisly downfall of that universe’s Cosmic Spider-Man at the hands of Solus.

Admittedly the action which follows is fast-paced and fatally energetic as familiar spider-totems such as Spider-Monkey and Captain Spider are savagely slain within the first few panels. But does the American writer really think it is in any way appropriate that a reader must purchase another character’s comic in order to ascertain what the lead super-hero for this book is doing during such a crucial conjuncture of the series’ ongoing storyline? And just to add insult to injury, Slott even manages, despite the velocity and frantic speed of the battle, to still gallingly squeeze in a page of events based upon Earth-802 and for a third time have Nick Lowe inform the reader that they need to purchase yet another “Marvel Worldwide” publication in order to further follow the sub-plot. The sheer arrogance of such a marketing ploy beggars belief.

Arguably the comic’s only true saving grace is therefore the exceptional artwork of Olivier Coipel. But even the French penciller’s finely detailed drawings are rather ruined by his two-page attempt to replicate the plain-looking cells of the long-bankrupt American animators of Grantry-Lawrence Animation. Admittedly the brightly coloured but uninteresting panels look strikingly similar to those of the 1967 cartoon show. But they unfortunately just horribly jar with the intense, high-quality visuals found within the rest of the book.
Writer: Dan Slott, Penciler: Olivier Coipel, and Colors: Justin Ponsor

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Star Wars #2 - Marvel Comics

STAR WARS No. 2, April 2015
Having seen the first issue of “Star Wars” sell a staggering 985,976 copies, at least according to Diamond Comic Distributors, the anticipation for the follow-up edition by “Marvel Worldwide” was always going to be high… And in many ways “Skywalker Strikes” lives up to these hopes and expectations by packing its twenty pages with a series of action-packed sequences which would not look out of place upon ‘the big screen’ itself. 

Indeed Jason Aaron’s storyline, from opening light-sabre confrontation between Sith Lord and farm boy through to the rather dubious scene of an All Terrain Armoured Transport (AT-AT) first ‘stomping’ then later ‘blasting’ Darth Vader, is all danger and excitement. But whilst a lot of these ‘set-pieces’ probably looked good on paper, and clearly sate many a dedicated fan’s desire to address some of the film trilogies most asked ‘What If’ questions, the American writer’s inclusion of such elements also detracts from the impact of events which occur much later in the ‘Star Wars’ motion picture canon.

Luke Skywalker’s dual with his father above Bespin was a sensational conclusion to “The Empire Strikes Back”, and something which director Irvin Kershner spent most of the film building up to. The apprentice Jedi had trained long and hard in preparation for the contest and though it was obvious that the rebel was outmatched, there was still some glimmer of hope, for a while at least, that he might succeed and avenge Ben Kenobi’s death. Ultimately however he was soundly beaten by the dark side of the Force, so why spend so much of this comic’s opening depicting an earlier meeting of the two combatants? Not only is the end result of such a meeting not in any question. But it arguably diminishes the impact of that fateful meeting on Cloud City; having simply become ‘round two’ as it were.

A similar criticism can be levelled at Aaron’s inclusion of the AT-AT and 74-Z speeder bikes. Both of which had tremendously memorable appearances in their respective movies. So except to appease readers who wanted to see Han Solo driving one of the huge walkers or Skywalker knocking down stormtroopers like so many bowling pins, why cram all these iconic Star Wars vehicles into a single comic all at once? Alongside such scenes as See-Threepio being shot and dismantled, and Vader having his helmet removed, it really does seem to be a case of the author trying to jam-pack everybody's favourite trilogy moments into this ongoing title’s first few issues. Such behaviour begs the question therefore, just what surprises or ‘wow’ moments will Aaron have left to maintain interest in hopefully a long-running series?

Concerns about plot pacing aside, artist John Cassaday clearly shows why he was the 2006 Eisner Award winner for best penciller/inker. His drawings are consistently competent throughout the book, doubtless helped by the storyline forcing him to concentrate much more of depicting Luke Skywalker than the other rebel leaders. The American illustrator captures a good likeness of actor Mark Hamill and also draws an impressive looking Lord of the Sith. But his portrayals of Han Solo and Leia Organa are much less satisfying, especially when Cassaday unsuccessfully attempts to really ‘nail’ the appearance of the respective actor or actress.

Fortunately, bearing in mind the gargantuan vehicle plays a prominent role in the comic’s proceedings, the penciller’s technical drawing of the AT-AT walker is also rather impressive. Though it is still hard to appreciate the grandeur and scale of the spectacle when Darth Vader stops the mechanical behemoth in mid-stride with just the power of the Force.
The variant cover art of "STAR WARS" No. 2 by Leinil Francis Yu

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

The Amazing Spider-Man #10 - Marvel Comics

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN No. 10, January 2015
Apparently selling approximately 35,000 less copies than the title’s preceding issue, this edition of “The Amazing Spider-Man” offers its readers a head-spinning combination of both pulse-pounding action and frankly more alternative Web-heads than anyone, besides writer Dan Slott, could possibly have envisaged. This seriously is twenty pages packed full of ‘open mouth’ moments, as many of Peter Parker’s most committed oaths are broken by his multi-verse brethren and a plethora of pertinent plot points are unceremoniously whisked off to be concluded within other ‘Spider-Verse’ comic books.

Arguably the most shocking feature of the magazine however, bearing in mind a forewarning of the sudden return of Doc Ock’s Superior Spiderman is emblazoned across the issue’s front cover, is that so many of the wall-crawlers featured in “Superior Force” kill… and actually seem willing to do so with alarming regularity. Assassin Spider-Man of Earth-8351, Spider-Punk of Earth-138 and “the self-ascribed Superior Spider-Man of Earth-616” all quite savagely dispatch Verna’s ‘hounds’ within the final panels of the first page alone. Whilst more than a fair share of lethal force is later used upon Daemos; something which results in a predictably fatal ending for the Inheritor. At least until a cloned copy returns for a rematch alongside family members Brix and Bora.

Less disturbing but possibly more perturbing than such a lack of murderous inhibitions however is Slott’s creation of an abundantly high head count of Spider-Men (and women… and animals?) with which to combat the Great Hunters of Earth-001. In one panel alone there are more than twenty-two predominantly red and blue-garbed costumed crime-fighters, and that doesn’t take into consideration the others residing within the Safe Zone on Earth-13. This assembly is quite simply overwhelming, and whilst eminently recognisable favourites such as Spider-Ham, Spider-Man 2099, Silk, Spider-Woman and Superior Spider-Man momentarily remain the key supporting cast for the dialogue, the sheer number of other secondary characters starts to make the ownership of some speech bubbles somewhat confusing; as even Spider-Monkey of Earth-8101 has a voice – as Peter Porker states “You’re kiddin’ right?"

Regardless of any difficulties a reader may have concerning the over-sized comic book troupe, the highlight for this issue must be penciller Olivier Coipel’s astoundingly good artwork. Whilst admittedly somewhat indistinct when depicting motionless inanimate figures, the Frenchman’s ability to draw dynamically charged panels full of energy, action and frankly violence, are faultless. Especially when so wonderfully inked by Wade Von Grawbadger and coloured by Justin Ponsor.

As aforementioned it is sometimes quite difficult to ascertain which Spidey is which amidst all the frantic action, especially once Brix and Bora join the fray. But even so the sense of flying bodies, deadly daggers, lashing whips and bone-breaking punches is palpable. 

Disappointingly though, all too soon the action dissipates as the various multi-verse Web-heads teleport out to their numerous ‘event tie-in’ titles leaving the reader facing a rather troubling cliff-hanger that the Superior Spider-Man is “in charge!”
Writer: Dan Slott, Penciler: Olivier Coipel, and Inker: Wade Von Grawbadger 

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

The Walking Dead #117 - Image Comics

THE WALKING DEAD No. 117, November 2013
There is little doubt that “The Walking Dead” is an “Image Comics” title aimed towards the more mature comic book reader. During its long run it has dealt with a number of adult themes and atrocities, probably the least of which is walking cadavers trying to eat people’s brains… or any other part of them that the Undead can sink their decaying teeth into. But even so, this third instalment of the “All Out War” story-arc makes for some extremely disturbing reading material.

In fact the sheer crudeness of the sexual profanities contained within its dialogue and the attempted rape scene which occupies the issue’s final five pages, whilst arguably realistic given the circumstances, is also repulsively repellent. The vast majority of this distastefulness is down to the storyline’s main antagonist Negan, who dominates the proceedings, even when the comic’s plot has moved away from the Saviour’s base and is focussing on Rick Grimes motivating his own people.

Indeed Robert Kirkman seems incapable of writing any scene featuring the ‘sociopathic king’ without the character profusely swearing and wantonly utilising sexual imagery in order to provoke a reaction from those around him. None of this is subtly delivered and arguably necessary either. But it is shocking, and definitely provides something of a barometer as to both how bad things are and how stressed the Sanctuary’s leader is; Negan’s twelve-word expletive-exclusive outburst when he realises he has just twenty-fours to clear the zombie horde trapping him or he’ll die, being one of the highlights of the comic.

Unfortunately what this book has in vulgarities it lacks in action, as the title’s co-creator seems to use the Saviour’s incarceration of Holly as an opportunity to squander page after page with suspenseful yet sedentary dialogue-driven scenes. Indeed it is quite clear from both the plodding pacing, and the numerous Charlie Adlard large-panel illustrations, that this twenty-two page publication was having to be created fast; bi-weekly fast. It is certainly hard to believe Kirkman’s boast at the time that he had “…a rough outline for the next two hundred issues...”

Even so the book’s British artist still manages to draw a few moments of manically busy mayhem as Negan, armed with his barbed-wired baseball bat ‘Lucille’, confidently leads a group of his men out of their industrial base only to almost become swallowed up by a vast horde of the Undead.
Writer: Robert Kirkman, Artist: Charlie Adlard, and Inker: Stefano Gaudiano

Monday, 16 February 2015

The Amazing Spider-Man #9 - Marvel Comics

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN No. 9, January 2015
Topping the November 2014 comic book sales figures, as reported by Diamond Comic Distributors, with 135,280 copies “The Gathering” really sees the “Marvel Worldwide” “Spider-Verse” storyline publishing bandwagon begin with gusto. Promising a plot which features every version of Spider-Man “that has appeared in any media”, this thirty-four page extravaganza contains some genuinely sinister and disturbing moments. Not least of which is the inclusion of the cartoon pig Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham of Earth-25. 

Indeed within the first few pages a vampiric looking Morlun has snapped the neck of the resident Lunar New York Web-head. Whilst the super-villain’s bigger brother Daemos swiftly dispatches another multi-verse Spidey, this time a non-Hulk Bruce Banner variant, by breaking his spine. Grim and somewhat gory stuff which quickly establishes just how high the stakes are with this series. Just who the Inheritors are is something of a mystery, but Morlun’s family are clearly extremely powerful, vicious, bloodthirsty and most definitely playing for keeps.

Fortunately Dan Slott’s script is not entirely morbid ‘doom and gloom’ as the action is interspersed by the appearances of several more versions of the web-slinger as they gather at Central Park on Earth-13 under the protection of Cosmic Spider-Man. The sheer number of wall-crawlers however is slightly confusing and obviously not helped by the vast majority of them wearing similar blue and red webbed costumes. It is clear however that long-time fans of the Spidey comics will swiftly recognise old favourites such as Spider-Ham, The Scarlet Spider, Spider-Man 2099 and Ben Reilly. Whilst all readers will doubtless enjoy the introduction of new characters such Spider-Woman Gwen Stacy and Old Man Spider of Earth-4.

Artist Oliver Coipel provides some cracking visuals for this story, especially in his illustrations of the scenes involving the Inheritors. Only occasionally does the Frenchman produce a poor drawing and the few panels are simply where he attempts to depict physical comedy, such as Spider-Man doing a double-headed take when told of “the coming battle” with Solus and his family.

Quite possibly the highlight of the issue however is actually the epilogue story “The Feast”, which affords a very grisly look at both the dining habits and family dynamics of the Inheritors. Not only does Dan Slott’s script allow some fascinating insight as to what motivates the various homicidal family members. But it also shows their bloodlust for feasting upon the bodies of their prey; notably a vampire Spider totem and a Man-Spider. 

Unfortunately Giuseppe Camuncoli’s artwork is not quite up to scratch with some of the tale's early panels containing a number of rather wooden awkward-looking figures. But the Italian cartoonist’s double-page illustration of the Great Web of Life and Destiny is colourfully impressive and a fantastic nod to so many classic versions of Spider-Man; such as Spider-Hulk, Spider-Pool and the 1967 animated series Spidey.
The regular cover art of "THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN" No. 9 by Oliver Coipel

Sunday, 15 February 2015

S.H.I.E.L.D. #1 - Marvel Comics

S.H.I.E.L.D. No. 1, February 2015
With the words “Inspired By The Hit TV Series!” boldly emblazoned upon its rather lack-lustre and slightly impotent Julian Totino Tedesco front cover, it is easy to see why this first issue of “S.H.I.E.L.D.” could be criticised for being a crass ‘cash-in’ comic. However despite the considerable budget of the American Broadcasting Company, the “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” television programme was always going to struggle to replicate the sheer cacophony of super-powered characters living within the ‘Marvel Universe’.

Indeed, originally Joss Whedon’s vision for the show was for it to simply focus upon the exploits of the law enforcement agency’s ordinary agents, its “peripheral people… the people on the edges of the grand adventures” as opposed to just side-lining them as mere support for popular heroes such as the Black Widow and mighty Thor. The executive producer’s vision has softened with later televised stories featuring the extraordinary likes of Absorbing Man and Asgardian Lorelei. But it is still clearly substantially easier for an artist to draw the Thing and incredible Hulk ‘duking it out’ on paper than have a special effects and costume design team labouring for months in order to bring them to life using computer generated imagery.

However writer Mark Waid would actually appear to have significantly over compensated for this ease of incorporating such ‘heavy hitters’ into the ‘comic book’ world of Supreme Commander Phil Coulson and his fellow S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, as “Perfect Bullets” contains more super-heroes than the leader of a rebel terrorist group can shake a stolen cosmically charged sword at. In fact throughout the issue the Eisner Award-winning American comic book writer boastfully lists the plethora of fan-favourites he’s managed to ‘crowbar’ into its thirty pages.

Fortunately the inclusion of such luminaries as Iron Man, Hulk, Hyperion, Hercules, Captain America and Nova are in many ways superficial distractions with the main storyline focusing upon the “guy with a plan” leading Leo Fitz and xenobiologist Jemma Simmons up against Abu Mussan and rescuing Heimdall, the sentry of Bifrost.

Disappointingly though, all is still not as it seems as Waid appears unable to stop himself from using super-powered heroes in order to save the day. Tasked with straightforward containment, the S.H.I.E.L.D. operatives simply stand by as first the Black Knight and Valkyrie dispatch Mussan and then the Vision defeats the Shard of the Aftertime. Worse, the freelancer appears to have bestowed Coulson with both analytical reasoning and memory powers similar to that of the original Beetle’s chest-plate mounted tactical mini-computer.

Perhaps this story’s best asset though is that all the action is rather well illustrated by penciller Carlos Pacheco, and inked by Mariano Taibo with Jason Paz. Indeed some of the single-page larger drawings, such as the epic scale battle with an army of fire demons and especially the “heavy hitters” tackling the great serpents, are fabulously dynamic.
The variant cover art of "S.H.I.E.L.D." No. 1 by Skottie Young

Saturday, 14 February 2015

The Amazing Spider-Man #8 - Marvel Comics

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN No. 8, December 2014
This particular edition of “The Amazing Spider-Man” truly is a collection of two entirely different stories. Something which is clearly emphasised by the Giuseppe Camuncoli cover unevenly split between the rather dramatic illustration of a bruised and battered Spider-Girl (from the Spider-Verse) and a significantly smaller, rather uninspiring bottom corner picture of the title’s lead character alongside Ms. Marvel.

To begin with “Ms. Adventures In Babysitting” is in many ways reminiscent of the Web-head stories from Roy Thomas’ time on the early Seventies series “Marvel Team-Up”. Such imitation is clearly intentional albeit Spidey is now a far more mature and experienced crime-fighter and as a result swiftly adopts the role of a mentor for Kamala Khan. Despite the action and danger as the super-heroes flee an over-powered monstrous Minn-Erva there’s something of a ‘good fun’ feel to the proceedings, and Christos Gage’s script provides a genuinely enjoyable read.

Indeed, if anything the story is brought to a rather abrupt and dissatisfying conclusion by Spider-Man bluffing the genetically improved Doctor Minerva into believing he’s reporting her unauthorised transgression on the Earth to Kree Space via Avengers Tower. Quite why the alien militaristic empire being informed of such a misdemeanour petrifies the blue-skinned bio-geneticist so completely that she immediately flees into the sky empty handed is not explained. But one can only assume the Supreme Intelligence’s chastisement for her actions will be severe.

Unfortunately Camuncoli’s artwork is inconsistent at best with the Italian cartoonist’s lack-lustre drawings of the dialogue-heavy scenes within The Fact Channel Studios and St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital significantly contrasting with his splendid depictions of Web-head and Ms. Marvel combating Minn-Erva and her green-clad gang of henchmen.

In complete contrast there’s nothing even remotely humorous about Dan Slott’s “My Brother’s Keeper”, nor much wrong with the superb illustrations of Humberto Ramos throughout the tale's six engrossing pages. Focusing upon the exploits of Spider-Girl from Earth-982 this ‘Spider-Verse’ tale starts grim, rapidly becomes even darker and then all too suddenly concludes with a morbid certainty that things are only going to get even worse for any surviving multi-universe ‘spider-totems’.

This genuinely is scarily good stuff from the American comic book writer, touchingly so as a middle-aged Peter Parker and loyal faithful wife Mary Jane sacrifice themselves for the sake of the couple's children. Their presumably gruesome deaths at the hands of Daemos, son of Solus, is made all the more impactive because it immediately follows on from the ‘happy ending’ of the magazine’s earlier tale.
The variant cover art of "AMAZING SPIDER-MAN" No. 8 by Ryan Ottley

Friday, 13 February 2015

Guardians 3000 #3 - Marvel Comics

GUARDIANS 3000 No. 3, February 2015
It is quite easy to see why any fan of Star-Lord of Spartax would be downright disappointed with this particular edition of “Guardians 3000”. For not only does the issue sport a stunningly colourful and dynamic Alex Ross cover featuring the definitive version of the interplanetary policeman swooping into action with his element gun firing. But internally it boldly declares that the month’s story title is “Lord Of Stars”. Yet in reality, the character of King Peter only actually makes an appearance, albeit a highly dramatic one, within the last few of pages of the comic book.
However, any lasting sense of disillusionment over this ‘no-show’ will almost certainly be ‘swamped’ by broad bewilderment, as writer Dan Abnett begins feeding the reader with his somewhat implausible and incomprehensible explanation as to why the Peace Summit at the Hideaway Parliament was previously attacked and why the mysterious A-Sentience want the Guardians Of The Galaxy dead.
 
To be succinct the tech constructs, also known as the (Anthony) Stark, and heavily influenced by the outward appearance of the playboy inventor’s Iron Man armour, are afraid of the death of reality. The synthetic constructs are therefore hunting Geena Drake because they perceive the Human to be “part of the problem and part of the solution” due to her awareness of the progressive erosion of time. To make matters even more baffling a Stark Body Unit befriends Yondu Udonta, Charlie-27 and Drake, when it is informed that the Guardians have fought alongside the robot’s Progenitor a thousand years earlier.
 
Bearing in mind the destructive chaos and murderous slaughter the mind-controlled Badoon have wrought upon the galaxy in order to try and achieve the A-Sentience’s goal of destroying the space-faring superhero team, this seems an incredibly weak justification for the killer robot to suddenly just ‘swap sides’. It also does not explain, bearing in mind the machine forms part of the Stark ‘collective mind’ so therefore it now knows of the Guardians history with Iron Man, why the rest of the techno-organic species are still determined for the heroes to “Submit to A-Sentience”? As Drake would say Abnett is “freaking me the flark out.”

Unfortunately Gerardo Sandoval would appear equally as bemused and bewildered by the plot’s proceedings as his artwork is both inconsistent and at times dishearteningly poor. Admittedly the Mexican graphics designer provides a very strong cohesive visual image for the Stark Body Unit and the rest of the A-Sentience. But a number of his panels featuring Charlie-27 and Geena in particular, suffer from such pitiful pencilling that each character is endowed with some quite grotesque facial expressions.
The variant cover art of "GUARDIANS 3000" No. 3 by Gerardo Sandoval

Thursday, 12 February 2015

The Amazing Spider-Man #7 - Marvel Comics

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN No. 7, December 2014
Colourfully rendered by the team of Giuseppe Camuncoli, Cam Smith and Antonio Fabela, the cover illustration to this issue of “The Amazing Spider-Man” would appear demonstrative of the two minds writer Dan Slott was presumably in when plotting the book’s central storyline. For whereas previously the American author contained the simmerings of the ‘Spider-Verse’ within the main body of the comic, in this particular edition he has quite clearly chosen to separate one from the other; as highlighted not only by the “Edge Of Spider-Verse” sub-headline on the book’s front page but because “Ms. Marvel Team-Up” is actually scripted by Slott’s frequent collaborator Christos Gage.

Just why the former “Ren & Stimpy” author found splitting the book’s contents necessary however is unclear. For although the additional plot of Billy Braddock in “Web Of Fear” is far removed from Spidey’s battle with a Kree impersonating Captain Marvel, it is only eight pages long. So could quite easily have been absorbed and interspersed between the predominant plot’s action of the hospital abduction, appearance of Kamala Khan as Ms. Marvel and nightmarish transformation of Minn-Erva.

In fact the need for such a convoluted secondary adventure, set within the matriarchal Otherworld of the Captain Britain Corp is not really readily apparently. Admittedly alternative universes are always popular, and it is interesting from time to time to visit such realms and experience so totally different an incarnation of the Steve Ditko’s super-hero. But this particular publication is about Peter Parker’s version of Web-head, so should surely focus upon his exploits rather than the misgivings of Spider-UK from Earth-833?

Rather than create such a fantastical device as the Watchtower scrying room why instead did Slott not simply bestow such visions upon ‘our’ universe’s wall-crawler? Possibly as vivid precognitive visions resulting from his physical contact with Silk, or even simply his very own Spider-sense? Even a series of (day) dream sequences requiring the insightful interpretations of the Sorcerer Supreme Doctor Strange could have provided the reader with the pertinent plot points that ‘the hunt was on’ but still have kept all the reader’s attention upon 'our' Spidey. The two narratives could even have retained the services of their respective different colorists, possibly adding to the surreal quality of the ‘Spider-Verse’ segments.

As it is however Slott relies upon the questionable talent of Antonia Fabela for “Ms. Marvel Team-Up” and Edgar Delgado for the shorter secondary story. Albeit the dreadful quality of the artwork on the book’s first few pages, depicting Silk and Anna Maria Marconi, is so poor that it is hard to credit a third individual was not involved in their creation, or to acknowledge that penciller Giuseppe Camuncou actually did draw the entire comic.
The variant cover art of "AMAZING SPIDER-MAN" No. 7 by Gary Choo