Thursday, 30 April 2015

Batman #14 [The New 52] - DC Comics

BATMAN No. 14, January 2013
For “DC Comics” best-selling comic of November 2012 the plot pacing to Issue Fourteen of “Batman” is arguably a little underwhelming and laborious as Scott Snyder attempts to re-enact the Dark Knight’s earliest clashes with the Clown Prince of Crime in a disappointingly dialogue-heavy yarn interspersed with the occasional inauspiciously drawn single-page splash. Certainly it is hard to fathom out how the book sold a staggering 159,729 copies during a month when fierce publishing rival “Marvel Worldwide” dominated the sales figures with a plethora of ‘fresh’ titles such as Brian Michael Bendis’ “All New X-Men”.

Admittedly the twenty-two page long “Funny Bones” starts well enough, depicting a somewhat battered and burnt Batman barely breaking out of a giant vat of sulphuric acid. But disconcertingly that is all the excitement with which is to be found within the narrative, as the American author then ponderously dwells upon the Joker's abduction of Alfred Pennyworth and a failed attempt to murder Commissioner Gordon by thinning his blood with “a derivative of Heparin.”

The heavy involvement of Dick Grayson doesn’t help matters either. Snyder appears determined to merely use the ‘heir to the Mantle of the Bat’ as some sort of petulant emotional foil for the Dark Knight, rather than show Nightwing as the Caped Crusader’s former heroic partner. As a result their bickering over just whom Alfred means the most to is ridiculously childish and really slows the comic’s sluggish sedentary storyline down even further.

The biggest disappointment however has to be the seven-page confrontation between Batman and the Joker on top of the Gotham City reservoir. The former “Swamp Thing” writer has spent some considerable time trying to build up the reader's desire for this meeting, having had the super-villain kill numerous police officers, kidnap and torture Bruce Wayne’s elderly butler and try to kill one of the Dark Knight’s best friends… not to mention the cowled crimefighter himself. Yet all Snyder has the duo do when they finally come face to face is discuss their former struggles back when they “were full of vim and vigour”. This is especially true for the homicidal psychopath, who can’t seem to stop talking because he believes he knows the secret identifies of all the Bat-allies.

True at one point, upon realising that his arch nemesis has drowned “the young and uppity” from a nearby condo, the Caped Crusader loses his temper and rushes the green-haired fiend. But he is immediately ensnared by a number of wire-trailing joker teeth and swiftly brought to his knees, so as to allow the ever-grinning maniac to continue ‘rabbiting on’ for a further few pages.

Regrettably the probable highlight of this “Death Of The Family” instalment is the six-page black humoured anecdote “Men Of Worship”, which is somehow shore-horned into the back of the comic book. Written by Snyder and regular collaborator James Tynion IV, and competently if not gruesomely illustrated by Mark “Jock” Simpson, this ‘short’ tells the tale of the Joker blackmailing the Penguin into helping him throw “a special little get-together”.
The variant cover art of "BATMAN" No. 14 by Trevor McCarthy

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Darth Vader #3 - Marvel Comics

DARTH VADER No. 3, May 2015
It is hard to imagine George Lucas’ incarnation of the Sith Lord ever being as anaemic and impotent as the version found within the pages of Issue Three of “Darth Vader”. For although writer Kieron Gillan pens a somewhat enjoyable swashbuckling (light)sabre of a tale involving thievery, skulduggery and droids, his titular character would appear to have little in common with the angry, hate-driven bedevilled presence seen in the original “Star Wars” motion picture trilogy. Instead the former computer game journalist has his Lord Vader nonchalantly leaning up against data walls with his arms folded, casually watching his latest employee waste time tinkering with the internal workings of the disappointingly named protocol droid Triple Zero; hardly the intimidating Imperial force, within whose presence most officers cower.

Perhaps understandably the former Jedi has lost some of his arrogant swagger following his failure during the Battle of Yavin and the subsequent destruction of the Death Star. He has after all been demoted in disgrace by Palpatine and must now work to the orders of Grand General Tagge; a commanding officer whose mathematical methods the Sith clearly despises. But bearing in mind the ruthless cyborg was previously working under the orders of the Grand Moff Tarkin, does such a sanction really mean that “the time has passed” when he had armies at his “beck and call”? There seems little plausibility to such an argument and thus scant justification behind the once mighty ‘right hand’ of the Emperor needing to personally skulk in seedy back street bars just to track down a rather unimpressively luckless Doctor Aphra.

All such a contrived storyline demonstrates is how ‘out of character’ Gillan has Palpatine’s apprentice behaving, and how woefully unoriginal his narrative of Vader leading a small party of two droids and a scoundrel on a secret mission looking for hidden data sounds. Fortunately the British comic book writer does occasionally depict Luke Skywalker’s father as the powerful Sith Lord most “Star Wars” fans will clamour for. His single-handed victory over Utani Xane and a squad of super battle droids on Quarantine World III is as impressive as it is murderously swift.

But most of the good points about this issue rest upon the shoulders of artist Salvador Larroca, and even then these rapidly diminish as the page count swells. Indeed it would seem that the former cartographer becomes increasingly bemused, and as a result his pencilling disappointingly inconsistent, the more the bewildering plot twists and turns. This confusion seems most noticeable during the Spanish artist’s final few pages, where he depicts a worryingly cartoon-like doe-eyed Aphra and a Darth Vader whose Durasteel helmet seems to periodically rise and fall in length at the back.
The variant cover art of "DARTH VADER" No. 3 by Salvador Larroca

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Batman #13 [The New 52] - DC Comics

BATMAN No. 13, December 2012
There is a great deal which is disturbing about Issue Thirteen of “Batman”. Not least of which is the ‘skinned’ Joker face die-cut half-mask which acts as one of the comic’s variant covers. Not all the perturbances are related to graphic depictions of blood-splattered corpses or the imminent threat of cutting off a person’s facial features either. As “DC Comics” make it clear straight from the start that “Knock Knock” is just the first of many instalments concerning the publisher’s “Death Of The Family” story-arc and actually go to the trouble of listing the numerous issues and different Bat-related titles readers will need to purchase in order to experience the “epic event”.

Equally as psychologically harrowing an experience as the requirement to buy twenty-three different magazines is Scott Snyder’s sinister narrative, particularly when the writer seems to so easily allow the audience to get inside the head of Commissioner James Gordon and genuinely experience the man’s terror as the Joker murders the policeman’s officers in the pitch darkness of the Gotham City Police Department. Especially terrifying is the Clown Prince of Crime’s whispered warning to Jim that he sometimes lies under the lawman’s bed at night and listens to him sleep. Disconcerting psychosomatic stuff which can easily raise the neck hairs of the hardiest of bookworms.

Fortunately for those bat-bibliophiles feeling somewhat uneasy or queasy some ‘light relief’ is provided mid-way through this emotional thriller by the likes of a cocksure Robin, who seems to believe that the Joker “used to be a great adversary of my father’s, but he’s over now.” However such an arrogant underestimate of the super-villain is soon highlighted as the green-haired ghoul slaughters a police protection team supposedly safeguarding Mayor Hady by making the law enforcement officers literally belch blood over one another.

The highlight of Snyder’s storyline though has to be the comic’s conclusion which sees a furious Batman supposedly confronting the Red Hood at Ace Chemicals. Unsurprisingly the Dark Knight discerns he isn’t facing his old nemesis but a heavily disguised Harley Quinn. But not before a gigantic mechanical mallet has knocked him into a fast-sealing chemical vat, which quickly starts to fill with a familiar looking toxic liquid.

Such an unsettling sojourn into the world of the Joker’s revenge is made all the more exhilarating by the outstanding artwork of Greg Capullo, who really seems to pull out all the stops for this dark grisly tale. In particular the American penciller’s drawings of the Caped Crusader are masterfully animated, even when the crimefighter stalks the shadows, allowing just his eyes and teeth to be illuminated.

Possibly the most unnerving element of this comic though is “Tease”, a six-page ‘short’ which somehow manages to portray the Joker at his sadistic ‘Hannibal Lecter’ best (or worst) and the lovable Harley Quinn at her most vulnerable. Mark Simpson’s artwork is a chaotic mess but somehow manages to amplify the squeamish terror facing Doctor Quinzel as her love approaches her, cut-throat blade in hand, and starts to tell her how cutting off her “pretty face” is going to hurt “tremendously. More than anything has ever hurt in your life!”
The regular cover art of "BATMAN" No. 13 by Greg Capullo and FCO Plascencia

Monday, 27 April 2015

Afterlife With Archie #2 - Archie Comic Publications

AFTERLIFE WITH ARCHIE No. 2, January 2014
If the superbly atmospheric Francesco Francavilla cover depicting a zombified Jughead Jones hungrily stalking his perturbed best friend in a cemetery, doesn’t give you fair warning that “Afterlife With Archie” is not your normal ‘jolly japes in the Midwest’ title. Then the opening few pages of “Dance Of The Dead” will certainly drive the message home. For as soon as the ghoulishly-coloured caper starts the reader’s senses are assailed with adult themes such as implied incest between siblings and the horrifying sight of a love struck young lady being eaten alive by her boyfriend whilst her friends look on and laugh… and then shout in fear and fright.

Even a sudden brief interlude is no less shocking in content as two school friends discuss putting an end to their “playing ‘Brokeback Riverdale’ and telling their families of their feelings for one another when a brain-hungry Mister Jones abruptly shuffles into the diner where they’re sitting. But far worse gore is yet to come as Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa starts to ramp up the terror and significantly increase the death toll.

Smart zombies are ordinarily something to be avoided, unless you’re the maestro of the macabre himself George A. Romero, and even he has critics following the 2005 release of his motion picture “Land Of The Dead”. But bestowing “the thing that was once Jughead Jones” with a sense of hatred for Veronica is a masterstroke on the part of Aguirre-Sacasa and really helps bring the grim reality of the situation home to both party-goer and reader alike.

Perhaps somewhat disappointingly what follows next could be argued as being fairly standard zombie fare. Having been savaged by Archie’s best friend, Ethel turns into a zombie herself and accompanied by the equally undead Principal Weatherbee and Miss Grundy, starts to feast upon a school hall packed full of screaming, panicking youngsters. However much of this issue’s strength lies in the fact that the American writer is making this bloodbath happen to some extremely beloved and recognisable individuals within the "Archie Comics" world… and once they’ve become infected they aren’t coming back. At least not without spewing bile from their mouths and wanting to sink their rancid teeth into other people’s jugular veins. This comic book really is a very new and difficult take on John L. Goldwater’s characters.

All this action is illustrated by Francesco Francavilla with his usual highly stylised yet somewhat minimalistic pencilling. The Italian’s best work is undoubtedly when he is drawing the zombies feasting upon their prey. Though the utter frustration and rage bestowed upon Jughead when he’s thwarted by Archie from attacking Veronica is wonderfully dynamic, and it is very easy to imagine the thunderous pounding the walking cadaver is giving to the chained locker room door when the ravenous ghoul is later trapped inside.
The variant cover art of "AFTERLIFE WITH ARCHIE" No. 2 by Francesco Francavilla

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Batman #12 [The New 52] - DC Comics

BATMAN No. 12, October 2012
It is hard to imagine that many of the 125,249 people who purchased this comic in August 2012 were terribly impressed with Mike Marts’ decision to use not only two different writers but two separate artists as well when creating “Ghost In The Machine”; especially when the transition from one creative team to the next is so bone-jarringly obvious in quality.  Admittedly there is some logic as to why the title’s editor invited guest artist Becky Cloonan to draw the first twenty-one pages of this overly long periodical. Besides the former “Conan The Barbarian” penciller being “the first woman to draw Batman in the main series.”

Scott Snyder’s arduous, though serious and important storyline focuses upon the exploits of Harper Row, a twenty year-old woman with a talent for fixing things and who is as independently fierce as she is clever. As such she is clearly a character with which the American illustrator could identify with even down to her having “had a similar [short] haircut when I was twenty”. However Cloonan’s somewhat imprecise, rough-looking style is infuriatingly inconsistent throughout and at times disappointingly resembles the work of an aspiring adolescent as opposed to someone talented enough to draw for all of the leading comic book publishers during the past decade. Snyder may well believe “Gotham is a better place” for the Pisa-born artist’s work and that her depiction of Harper “practically jumps right off the page.” But for many it would perhaps be arguably more accurate to say that the penciller’s concerns about having “some stage fright going in to this book” were well founded.

Fortunately two thirds of the way through Issue Twelve of “Batman”, at a stage set just after the Dark Knight has rescued "Miss Row" and her brother Cullen from an unpalatable homophobic beating, the New York Times bestselling writer is replaced with his frequent collaborator James Tynion IV. Such a move heralds a much needed injection of action into the proceedings as the Caped Crusader battles a tiger whilst onboard a speeding cruiser racing down the underground sewers of Gotham City. Breathtakingly dynamic is an understatement, as the superhero fends off the large hungry cat, bloodies the villainous Tiger Shark’s mouth and knocks Harper clear of the runaway ship with a ‘wumping’ Bat-bullet almost simultaneously.

Such an energetic sequence of events is superbly brought to life by the finely detailed drawings of Andy Clarke, who dishearteningly for Cloonan, really shows how a Bat-title should be illustrated. Even the more sedentary scenes where the Dark Knight informs his ‘helper’ that she isn’t to do so again because she’s “finished” are incredibly well done, with plenty of emotion visible on the character’s faces.
The variant cover art of "BATMAN" No. 12 by Bryan Hitch

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Moon Knight #9 - Marvel Comics

MOON KNIGHT No. 9, January 2015
It is somewhat hard to overlook the sheer stupidity of Marc Spector’s behaviour in Issue Nine of “Moon Knight”. Having previously stopped his therapist's hired assassin from murdering a visiting African dignitary, and then found himself being hunted by the American authorities because she informed them as to how mentally unbalanced he is, the ex-mercenary decides to visit the ‘good’ Doctor’s remote residence. But rather than attend in his guise as the masked vigilante and seek retribution and revenge, the Fist of Khonshu instead simply attends to undergo another session of hypnosis, almost as if nothing has happened between the patient and his physician.

What then follows is a bizarre 'dreamscape' within which the insane superhero holds a well-crafted 'couch' conversation with Wahalla and tries to dissuade her from attempting another “extrajudicial killing” of General Lor. Ordinarily such a massively heavy dialogue laden comic book would arguably struggle to fully immerse its reader. But Brian Wood’s writing is extremely engaging and there’s a real na├»ve desperation to Spector’s plea for his Doctor to let him help her so “we can expose Lor together.” However having revisited the attack upon the psychiatrist's village and once again witnessed the military leader 'murder' her mother and sister, the former marine’s appeal unsurprisingly falls upon deaf ears.

Disappointed in his therapist’s refusal to change her mind, the American rabbi’s son makes it clear that she won’t be able to recruit him to her cause… and that is when Wood’s storyline takes an unexpected twist for the better as all the arrogance and confidence of Doug Moench’s co-creation is suddenly sucked out from the former Secret Avenger. For the physician has known all along that her patient would never join her cause. But desperately needing allies, the hypnotherapist has somehow managed to use their treatment session to convince Khonshu that she is a “winner” and would prove a far better ‘fist’ than “some damaged man who can’t decide whether or not to save a little girl from a murderous warlord.”

Equally as jaw dropping as this comic’s conclusion is the wonderfully vibrant artwork of Greg Smallwood and colorist Jordie Bellaire. Whether it be the cool white sharply pencilled scenes set within the doctor’s cliff top sanctuary, the dark blue and grey sweeping grandeur of the Valley of the Kings at night, or the micro-panelled action-packed fiery orange pages of war-torn Akima, the illustrations are almost worth the cost of this magazine’s cover price alone, and as well-drawn as each page’s composition is well-designed.
Writer: Brian Wood, Artist: Greg Smallwood, and Color Art: Jordie Bellaire

Friday, 24 April 2015

Arkham Manor: Endgame #1 - DC Comics

ARKHAM MANOR: ENDGAME No. 1, June 2015
Despite being a Bat-title and forming part of the multi-issue “Endgame” story-arc which highlighted the return of the Dark Knight’s most memorable nemesis The Joker, this one-shot does not actually even contain a mention of the Caped Crusader, let along actually feature the character. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that Frank Tieri’s storyline is a bad one. It isn’t. However his rather bizarre twenty-page ‘prison break’ plot is not a terribly good tale either.

Purportedly the ‘grand finale’ to the short-lived six-issue run of “Arkham Manor”, this comic has been officially described as answering the question “what do Batman’s villains do on the craziest night in Gotham City?” Disappointingly they apparently all simply ‘club together’ and follow an ex-con hospital guard in a somewhat surreal attempt to escape their incarceration within Bruce Wayne’s former home… and “make it to the stairs.”

Admittedly there may well be some semblance of logic to such a narrative. The former writer of “Grifter” manages to cram the vast majority of Batman’s Rogues Gallery into his yarn. With the likes of such notable villains as The Joker, Victor Zsasz, Bane, Mister Freeze, Clayface, Clownface, Poison Ivy and the Mad Hatter all potentially being ‘big draws’ for comic book fans. But in order to incorporate so many ‘familiar faces’ the American author has had to use them sparingly and certainly can’t afford for them to utilise their super-powers; otherwise Clayface would have simply smashed a route to freedom through the nearest brick wall.

Instead Tieri has to limit their roles to that of inconsequential ‘sidekicks’ and give the lion’s share of the story to former Blackgate inmate turned security officer Stone. Such an anaemic use of such recognisable classic criminals is rather disappointing and leads to some truly irksome scenes, such as where Bane, a man powerful enough to have actually ‘broken the Bat’, inauspiciously asks his gaoler to “get us out of here.”

Perhaps the biggest anti-climax however has to be this magazine’s final reveal that the white-faced green-haired lunatic responsible for shutting down the prison’s electrical power and releasing ‘Joker gas’ throughout the facility is not actually the Clown Prince of Crime but a mentally deranged Jeremiah Arkham. Whilst a somewhat interesting conclusion, the sudden spiral into insanity for the institution’s warden would perhaps have been something more worthy of a multi-issue story-arc than a humble one-shot.

Putting aside the inadequacies of this comic's writing, especially as the escapees headlong dash through Wayne Manor is actually quite entertaining at times, this periodical ultimately disappoints because it features the artwork of no less than four different illustrators. Just why Flexi Ruiz fails to illustrate the comic’s middle five pages is something of a mystery. But no more so than Editor Mark Doyle’s decision to utilise the drawing skills of Roberto Viacava and Walden Wong for just two of the missing sheets, and then Christian Duce for another three. To be brutally honest none of the artists are likely to ‘set the comic book world on fire’, but Duce’s manically smiling Joker and heavily lined faces do stand out as the better panels from the bunch; especially when they’re printed directly alongside the rather wanting pencils of Ruiz. In addition Nick Filardi’s consistent work as colorist also goes a long way to ensure that each transition is essentially unnoticeable.
Writer: Frank Tieri, and Artists: Felix Ruiz, Roberto Viacava with Walden Wong, and Christian Duce

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Nameless #3 - Image Comics

NAMELESS No. 3, April 2015
Considering that for almost the entirety of “Into The Burrows” the crew of the White Valiant remain seated within their spacecraft, writer Grant Morrison does a superb job of realising his goal in creating an edgy, sinister atmosphere which will undoubtedly give some bibliophiles ‘the heebie-jeebies’. For with every turn of the page the Scottish playwright ramps the tension up by simply having the astronauts describe what they are witnessing through the lenses of Larry, Moe and Curly; three exploratory drones navigating a gigantic alien structure built upon a six mile wide C-type asteroid.

Initially thought to contain “the treasures of a lost civilization”, the small portable cameras eventually provide the crew’s occult specialist with enough clues to make him realise the incredible danger both he and his colleagues are in. For the immense assembly is nothing more than a prison, and inadvertently the space explorers have descended down to “the violent offenders wing.”

Only once does Morrison jar the reader out of this nightmarish immersive reverie and then it is to quickly depict the gory blood-letting events simultaneously transpiring on Serenity Base as the psychotic Andrea Blackstone merrily butchers her former colleagues with a kitchen knife. This horror mini-series truly does depict “all the dark stuff that Western culture’s kind of obsessed with.” 

Disappointingly Issue Three of “Nameless” does though end on something of low note with a hallucinating titular character apparently ending up in the place of fear, Xibalba, following the sudden destruction of his stellar vessel. Precisely what has happened, apart from the craft smashing into a smaller asteroid and depositing its hapless crew out into the vast cold enormity of deep space, is not at all clear. But the final (splash) page depicting a naked limbless adventurer, presumably being tortured, would appear to be another attempt by the Los Angeles-based writer to incorporate a “quite weird stream-of-consciousness, Lovecraftian kind of thing” into the storyline.

Chris Burnham’s pencils are extremely impressive during this instalment, especially his stunning panels depicting the drones’ passage through the somewhat featureless extra-terrestrial prison. In addition the Connecticuter somehow manages to provide all of the astronauts with some incredibly expressive faces. Something which really helps to sell the sense of wonderment the team are experiencing as their handheld tablets are visually fed footage of the alien superstructure by the tiny flying robots.
Words: Grant Morrison, Art: Chris Burnham, and Colors: Nathan Fairbairn

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Arkham Manor #6 [The New 52] - DC Comics

ARKHAM MANOR No. 6, May 2015
It is hard to imagine a more dramatic decline in the quality of a comic’s content and sales figures than “Arkham Manor” by “DC Comics”. The ongoing Bat-family title debuted to great critical response and seemed to have a respectable steady circulation figure of approximately 28,000 copies per month. But in December 2014, just as its third instalment hit the shelves and despite the book’s dark tone obtaining rave reviews, its publisher surprisingly announced that the title was soon going to be cancelled.

Whether the series was so abruptly terminated because writer Gerry Duggan suddenly signed an exclusive contract with arch-rivals “Marvel Worldwide”, or that the magazine was always likely to just ‘enjoy’ a short run due to its plot tightly tying into the current “Batman Eternal” storyline, is a moot argument. For sadly within the space of three issues the periodical was selling ten thousand less magazines per month, and the claustrophobic edgy adventure concerning a deeply undercover Dark Knight stalking the corridors of his former home had been replaced with an increasingly uninspiring tale of Bruce Wayne once again donning the Mantle of the Bat and simply fighting homicidal villains in exactly the same manner as the superhero does in all of his other comic books.

Unfortunately “The Sacrifice” is the most disappointing instalment of the series and dishearteningly brings the curtain down upon a title which frankly appears a pale shadow of its former self. Indeed it would be interesting to discover whether Duggan and artist Shawn Crystal produced this issue already knowing the book’s fate. As very little happens within its twenty pages except a seemingly endless series of poorly written demoralisingly drawn superfluous scenes depicting the mental hospital’s inmates declaring their loathing for Batman.

The billionaire doesn’t even attempt to win his house back, despite his butler Alfred making it clear to him that he has uncovered the grounds for a legal challenge concerning its seizure by Gotham City’s mayor. Instead readers are treated to watching Mister Freeze merrily enjoying a barbeque on the frozen front lawn of Wayne Manor, Pennyworth munching upon a plate of chocolate chip cookies and Jeremiah Arkham hosting another therapy session with the likes of the Scarecrow’s alter-ego Doctor Crane.

Such a sedentary script doesn’t really give Crystal much opportunity to flourish with his quirky style of pencilling. But from the issue’s somewhat ‘wanting’ cover illustration, through to the comic’s final page of a heavily shadowed Batman conducting surveillance from within the blackness of the Batcave, there is little to no dynamism on show within the artwork and a good deal of the pages genuinely suggest that the Atlantan artist was disappointingly simply going through the motions with his drawings.
Writer: Gerry Duggan, Artist: Shawn Crystal, and Colors: Dave McCaig

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Princess Leia #1 - Marvel Comics

PRINCESS LEIA No. 1, May 2015
Declared the best-selling comic of March 2015 by Diamond Comic Distributors due to it shifting 253,655 copies, this “Star Wars” based mini-series spear-headed an incredible month for “Marvel Worldwide” which saw the publisher own nine of the ten most popular titles for that period. Yet apart from a rather nice variant cover depicting a typically chibi-style cute Organa by Skottie Young, it is actually rather hard to establish why Issue One of “Princess Leia” was so incredibly successful.

Spot-lighting the angst and woes of a bereaved adopted daughter straight after the Battle of Yavin, Mark Waid’s script disappointingly does little but pointlessly push the surviving head of the Royal House of Alderaan around the fast evacuating rebel moon base. Indeed the character’s meanderings appear so directionless that the majority of scenes would seem to have been solely orchestrated to allow the writer to parade a plethora of cameos before the reader. Han Solo, Chewbacca, a smitten Luke Skywalker and his two droids, all make fleeting appearances following their celebratory awards ceremony in the Great Temple of Massassi. But such obvious ‘guest-stars’ are soon passed by in favour of the Princess interacting with General Dodonna, Corellian pilot Wedge Antilles and even Admiral Ackbar. 

Regrettably even the personality of the Eisner Award-winner’s own character, Evaan Verlaine, is rather lifeless and bland despite the woman clearly despising her recently rescued sovereign. Indeed the American author misses a real opportunity with the Amazon-like pilot from Alderaan to bring some much-needed energy to his dialogue-heavy narrative. For instead of injecting some real fire and friction between Evaan and ‘her highness’ Waid instead has the rebel pilot conceal her contempt through platitudes of lifelong service to the Organa family and polite etiquette…

Even when Verlaine’s temper does eventually get the better of her, and she informs Leia that the Princess' plan to defy the Rebel Council by single-handedly rescuing any Alderaanian survivors “reeks of impulse” and “will put valuable ships and pilots in harm’s way”. It is done in a very matter-of-fact manner, and immediately stamped upon by the titular character with the quietly spoken words “That’s quite enough for now”.

Fortunately this comic book’s saving grace is undoubtedly its extremely stylish artwork created by the husband and wife team of Terry and Rachel Dodson. Slightly cartoony but wonderfully detailed, the pencilling is particularly impressive as a result of the American artist steering away from any attempt to replicate the exact facial features of the actors involved in the “Star Wars” motion picture trilogy. Instead he has simply tried to present each characters' vague physical likeness, and paid far more attention to their identifiable and unique clothing.
The regular cover art of "PRINCESS LEIA" No. 1 by Terry Dodson

Monday, 20 April 2015

Arkham Manor #5 [The New 52] - DC Comics

ARKHAM MANOR No. 5, April 2015
Having previously brought his furtive scouring of Arkham Manor’s claustrophobic cavity wall corridors to an end, Batman is just all battling brawn in this penultimate instalment of Gerry Duggan’s sinister storyline. But whilst duking it out with the mysterious Spider, the Dark Knight demonstrates a vicious physically punishing side to his nature which is rarely seen. For having peppered his silent opponent with bat-a-rangs, stabbed him with a bat-blade and even burned him facially upon one of the old house’s radiators, the Caped Crusader still strikes his now defeated opponent hard enough to knock him through an upper storey exterior wall.

Admittedly the cowled vigilante is angry, and towards the end of the eleven-page sequence starts to purposely pull his punches so his adversary will “eat solids again… someday.” But Bruce Wayne is also out “to make an example” of this murderer for desecrating his house and chillingly does just that.

Unfortunately such a pulse-pounding pacy series of panels inevitably runs out of steam once the contest concludes, and Batman spends the rest of the book simply swapping dialogue with Jeremiah Arkham whilst the homicidal day labourer is officially incarcerated and confined within a cell. Especially disappointing however is the writer’s absurd inclusion of a smiling child-like Mister Freeze, who gleefully starts throwing snowballs at the Batmobile for fun. Hardly the behaviour of a villainous cryogenic expert who is both haunted and tormented by the fate of his terminally-sick wife.

Equally as disheartening is the artwork of Shawn Crystal, who depressingly fails to live up to Duggan’s praise of “really turning in the finest work of his career.” The Dark Knight’s clash with the bloodthirsty builder is extremely well drawn, with the sinewy hero really ‘socking it’ to the claw hammer-wielding psychopath. But as soon as the action comes to end with an awkward-looking double-splash of Batman gliding to the ground from atop Wayne Manor, the American penciller’s illustrations seems to lose any semblance of dynamism or energy and rather uninspiringly simply ‘do a job’.

Indeed it isn’t until the hero once again finds himself surrounded by sinister shadows and becomes cloaked in the darkness of Seth Wickham’s home, that the artist once again ‘picks up his game’ and delivers a wonderful page-sized cliff-hanger depicting the detective entering a potential murder scene.
Writer: Gerry Duggan, Artist: Shawn Crystal, and Colors: Dave McCaig

Sunday, 19 April 2015

'68 Jungle Jim #4 - Image Comics

'68 JUNGLE JIM No. 4, July 2013
During a speech in 1938 British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain stated that “In war, whichever side may call itself the victor, there are no winners, but all are losers.” Such a quotation could just as easily have been written with Issue Four of “‘68 Jungle Jim” in mind, for the comic book's creator, Mark Kidwell, has produced a devilishly depressing conclusion to this nauseatingly macabre mini-series. Right from the opening page, as a distraught Trang prepares to shoot his ‘beloved’ frothy-mouthed red-eyed zombified Miss Manon in the back of the head, it is clear that the magazine’s storyline is going to both travel down some seriously morbid roads before it ends and mentally damage any characters who actually survive its telling.

Having established such a demoralising tone to his work, the America writer then throws the reader into some graphically stomach-churning action as Private Brian Curliss confronts a squad of Viet Cong who are additionally fending off a large scale attack from the Walking Dead. Such a three-way struggle invariably leads to a bloodbath of a narrative as soldiers fall to the ground having had their heads or limbs chopped off by ‘Jungle Jim’ or their brains and eyes gouged out of their still squealing heads by the hungry cadavers. Indeed Kidwell appears at his innovative best in devising a plethora of different harrowing ways with which the guerrillas are slaughtered; be it machete, explosive, throwing knife or decaying fingers, page after page, panel after panel.

Even when the pulse-pounding battle is over, and the marine has finally sent smart-zombie Sergeant Jim Asher to a lasting restful peace, there is no room for celebration. For having succeeded in his personal mission and temporarily cast the mantle of ‘Jungle Jim’ to one side, the ‘killing-machine’ realises he can’t escape his bloody fate as a ‘splatterer of brain matter’ and must fatally dispatch the heroic but now undead female missionary of Salut Glen, whilst she’s hanging inside the chicken house. Despondent and war-weary, the tale depressingly ends with Curliss trudging back into the jungle’s undergrowth knowing that he’ll now never “forget some of the horror” and that he is no longer Brian, but the latest incarnation of (Jungle) Jim.

Presumably inspired by the depictions of bodily mutilation Kidwell’s script required, Jeff Zornow’s pen and ink work is irritatingly inconsistent, with his sketchings showing the more sedentary scenes of the story appearing hurriedly rough and ready. However, whenever the subject matter moves to the more grisly or horrific spectacles, such as Sergeant Asher’s attempt to ambush his former friend with a group of clutching cadavers, the artist produces some fearfully gruesome yet finely detailed illustrations.
The regular cover art of "'68 JUNGLE JIM" No. 4 by Jeff Zornow and Jay Fotos

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Batman #11 [The New 52] - DC Comics

BATMAN No. 11, September 2012
As the conclusion to one of “DC Comics” most “critically acclaimed titles” of “The New 52” and certainly one of the best-selling comic books of 2012, Issue Eleven of “Batman” is unfortunately something of a disappointment, despite its main story being extended to twenty-four pages in length in order fully facilitate this climax to ‘The Court of Owls’. Admittedly things start off well enough with artist Greg Capullo’s making good on his assurance that the Dark Knight would be involved in a ‘vicious, bombastic, violent, bone-crunching, gore-filled, blood and guts confrontation with his alleged brother’ Thomas Wayne Junior.

But whilst this highly anticipated fist-fight finally sees The Bat brawl the “lunatic in a bird suit”, it quickly degenerates into a rather uninspiring one-sided confrontation where no matter how hard or how fast the Caped Crusader strikes his opponent, the blow has absolutely no effect upon them whatsoever. As a result for the vast majority of sixteen pages, the reader must endure witnessing the cowled super-hero getting (yet another) beating of his lifetime as the last remaining Talon punches him through walls, flings him against skyscrapers and ultimately tries to have a battered Bruce Wayne mulched by a mid-flight airliner. Such a ‘whooping’ makes it hard to believe that the Dark Knight is anywhere near as formidable a foe as his iconic standing in the collective conscious of comic book fans would have you believe.

Yet Scott Snyder ensures that the billionaire is ultimately victorious by having the villain determine that the best way to ensure Batman’s demise is to blow both of them up at the top of a partially constructed high rise tower. Farfetched stuff… and whilst Thomas Wayne won’t “stay dead” on account of the super-regenerate compound within his blood, it seems a rather absurdly extreme method of dispatching his already unconscious brother. The only purpose such a contrived and preposterous finale serves is to allow the Caped Crusader the opportunity to simultaneously thumb his adversary in both eyes at the last minute and escape the fast-collapsing building.

Depressingly, the seven-page conclusion to “The Fall Of The House Of Wayne”, Snyder’s ‘back-up story’ co-written with James Tynion IV, provides an equally dissatisfying experience. Albeit the tale’s somewhat predictable resolution is a far less fanciful affair than its forerunner. Thrown by a Talon into the raging inferno which was once his residence, Jarvis Pennyworth dies alone and afraid. Whilst the letter he wrote his son Alfred, warning him to stay away from Wayne Manor and Master Bruce, burns along with him.

Possibly himself disheartened by such a bland, lack-lustre ending, illustrator Rafael Albuquerque unfortunately produces some quite appalling pencil work for this adventure, with his sketches of both Jarvis and an adult Bruce Wayne proving especially undisciplined and amateur-like.
The variant cover art of "BATMAN" No. 11 by Andy Clarke

Friday, 17 April 2015

Daredevil #6 - Marvel Comics

DAREDEVIL No. 6, November 2014
Set in the aftermath of Uatu the Watcher’s murder and the subsequent revelation of a host of super-hero related secrets by the villainous Orb, this “Original Sin” cross-title event tie-in shows just how personal one of the dead extra-terrestrial’s disclosures was for Daredevil by detrimentally undermining the blind lawyer’s memory of his late father “the greatest man [he has] ever known.” For having always used his mental picture of pugilist Jack Murdock as his source of inspiration, Matt suddenly ‘remembers’ his idol physically abusing his mother and causes a guilt-ridden crime-fighter to angrily resent the flawed man he formerly worshipped. 

Obsessively compelled to seek the truth behind so vivid a recollection, writer Mark Waid thus depicts a far more vulnerable, somewhat edgier and reckless ‘Man without Fear’ than the one he ordinarily pens. This unsettled and questioning Murdock is determined to discover the real ‘Battlin Jack’ and upon finding his pathway “inexplicably stonewalled” by conspiring politicians and military tribunals, becomes imbued with both the sense of desperate injustice and the investigative mind-set which made Bill Everett’s co-creation such a compellingly virtuous character in the Seventies.

Ordinarily calm and confident, outwardly at least, the ‘sightless swashbuckler’ visibly smarts at the breach of Sister Maggie’s civil rights and his mother's imminent extradition to Wakanda for simply being a “spray-painting vandal.” There’s a genuine deep-rooted sense of helplessness about Daredevil which the Eisner Award-winning writer wisely utilises to galvanise the sleep-deprived hero into illegally entering the Manhattan Wakandan Embassy and rashly threatening the Ambassador. The resulting two-page altercation is as brief as it is brutal and results in a badly fatigued Murdock, disorientated and weakened further by “ultrasound at 120 decibels” receiving a savage beating.

Such a refreshing take on the New Avenger is unfortunately only let-down by the somewhat uninspiring artwork of Javier Rodriguez. Whilst clearly able to produce some quite wonderful double-splashes, such as the Orb’s unveiling of Uatu’s eyeball or Daredevil’s sifting through the numerous conversations echoing throughout the Wakandan Embassy, the Spanish artist seems to really struggle with his pencilling’s consistency when his illustrations are confined within the boundaries of some of the comic’s smaller panels.
Storytellers: Mark Waid & Javier Rodriguez, and Inker: Alvaro Lopez

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Batman #10 [The New 52] - DC Comics

BATMAN No. 10, August 2012
“Assault On The Court” resolves a lot of questions concerning the direction “DC Comics” and writer Scott Snyder have been taking “The New 52” Caped Crusader since his title’s reboot in 2011. And whilst the vast majority of these answers make perfect sense with hindsight, such as why artist Greg Capullo received so much fan criticism for drawing “Lincoln [March] looking a little bit like Bruce [Wayne]”, the book’s overarching revelation is a rather unsettling one which breaks the accepted mythos of the infant Batman’s formative years.

Admittedly the concept of the Dark Knight having a brother is far from a new twist as Thomas Wayne Junior actually first appeared within the pages of “World’s Finest” back in June 1974. Nor for that matter is the idea that the billionaire’s sibling is disconcertingly a deranged mass murderer. But for many followers of canon the character sits far more comfortably as the alter ego of the parallel earth-based super-villain Owlman, and is someone best forgotten within the continuity of Prime Earth.

Issue Ten of “Batman” turns this stance completely upon its head and not only reintroduces the concept of Thomas and Martha Wayne having had another child. But that the boy’s premature birth resulted in him ultimately becoming both one of the Court of Owls and arguably, their greatest immortal Talon; equipped with a tough modern suit “to rival the Batman.”

It also provides Capullo with another opportunity to illustrate the Caped Crusader donning his ‘World’s Greatest Detective’ persona and treating the comic’s 130,265 strong readership with panel after panel of well-detailed atmospheric drawings, as a grizzled vigilante first returns to Harbour House to discover the mass murder of twenty two members of the Court of Owls, and then follows his brother to the derelict disused corridors of the Willowwood Home for Children.

Having ended with such a “Wayne to Wayne. Brother to brother… Owl to Bat” cliff-hanger all attention is then turned towards the middle instalment of Snyder’s collaboration with James Tynion IV, “The Fall Of The House Of Wayne”. A somewhat curtailed seven-page short story, which makes all the more sense now the American writer has revealed the presence of a second claimant to the Wayne legacy. Unfortunately in telling this tense tale the narrative disappointingly leaps from present to past and then back again with infuriating regularity and is alarmingly cut short by a third gruesomely graphic five-pager entitled “American Vampire: Lord Of Nightmares”. A tale which has nothing to do with Batman but irritatingly everything to do with the publisher trying to advertise Snyder’s latest five-issue limited series.
The variant cover art of "BATMAN" No. 10 by Rafael Albuquerque

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

The Walking Dead #122 - Image Comics

THE WALKING DEAD No. 122, February 2014
Whilst Issue Two Hundred and Twenty Two of “The Walking Dead” more than lives up to franchise creator Robert Kirkman’s advance warning  that ‘at times the plot would slow down’ during the marathon multi-issue event “All Out War”, the sense of anticipation throughout this storyline’s eighth instalment is actually pleasingly palpable in places. And whilst little, if any action, actually takes place within its twenty-two pages, the periodical’s plot development does promise plenty of profanity-laden violence in the near future.

To begin with the “Image Comics” partner shows just how much the ever-loathsome Negan’s once unquestioning rule over The Sanctuary has quietly eroded behind the foul-mouthed tyrant’s back, as his lieutenants Dwight and Carson agree to ‘fight’ for “a chance to be [their] own man again.” The Saviour’s sadistic leader also features in a disturbingly grotesque scene where he demonstrates to his men that they will wield “space-aged zombie bacteria weapons” when they next confront Rick Grimes’ forces, by rubbing his barb-wired baseball bat Lucille up against the slavering face of a walking cadaver.

But most of the tense atmosphere, and thus enjoyment from this magazine, is actually generated by the constant vigil of the guards sat atop the barricade protecting the Hilltop colony. For with every turn of the page it seems likely that the reflective peace of the survivors is going to be suddenly shattered by either an attack of the Undead or Negan. 

Unfortunately whilst such narrative growth is both essential and engaging, there are still far too many quiet moments of dialogue-heavy contemplation within this comic book to make it an especially worthwhile read. Particularly as Kirkman seems perfectly content to ‘fill up’ the vast majority of the magazine with a seemingly endless parade of page-long snapshots within which ‘couples’ simply talk to one another. Indeed it could be argued that the 64,810 readers of this particular issue could quite easily have given it a miss, and be no worse the wiser.

Charlie Adlard’s artwork is also a somewhat inconsistent ride, especially at the start when his opening illustration of a strutting Negan appears disproportionately tall and thin. Indeed the British artist would appear at his most effective when the panels focus in upon his character’s faces. The hatred and venom glowering off from a captive Eugene’s aspect being an especially impressive example of such strong pencilling. Disappointingly though Adlard’s single and double-splashes are dishearteningly lack-lustre with the exception of a two-pager depicting Negan lining up a troupe of manacled zombies.

The gray tone work of Cliff Rathburn is also worthy of a mention, especially as the colorist seemingly creates some nice three-dimensional effects by fading some of the panels’ background artwork.
Writer: Robert Kirkman, Penciller: Charlie Adlard, and Inker: Stefano Gaudiano

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Batman #9 [The New 52] - DC Comics

BATMAN No. 9, July 2012
It is pretty easy to see why “Night Of The Owls” garnered the comic book “Batman” an increased readership of over four thousand in May 1992. For the twenty page tale opens with a fantastic pulse-pounding battle between a heavily fortified Bruce Wayne and a horde of knife wielding masked assassins. Flesh frazzling Tasers, ice-encasing bat-shaped shards and even a remote controlled life-sized dinosaur are all utilised by the Caped Crusader in an effort to clear the Batcave of the homicidal intruders.

Indeed the Dark Knight has rarely appeared so reliant upon his personal technology to keep him safe, with the billionaire’s ‘new’ meta-aramid fibre armoured Batsuit proving a stark contrast to the dressing gown which he wore in his previous confrontation with the Court of Owls’ killers. And whilst that earlier encounter was a fleet-footed headlong dash through the corridors and over the rooftops of stately Wayne Manor. This tense nervy fracas deep underground is nothing less than an all-out slugfest, as a tank-like Batman, weighed down by hydraulics and cut-throats, literally goes toe-to-toe with the numerous Talon.

Somewhat dishearteningly however, Scott Snyder’s writing suddenly seems to de-rail towards the end of this gripping conflict, just as Wayne has finally been dragged down to the floor through sheer of weight of numbers. For the American author fancifully has the hero being saved from his assailants at the last minute, by a swarm of ‘vengeful’ bats who have conveniently flown up from a deeper part of the caves.

To make matters worse, the Caped Crusader is then depicted roaring out of the Batcave in the Batmobile, on so desperate a mission to save Jeremiah Arkham that the vehicle sends a luckless Talon flying over its stream-lined bonnet in the process… However before the Dark Knight's customised car can reach its destination the scene is brought to an abrupt halt mid-way through by “DC Comics” editor Mike Marts, who informs the reader that they must “see Detective Comics #9” for that particular adventure. Talk about instantly dispelling any sense of atmosphere and tension the previous fourteen-pages had created.

Something of a silver lining though has to be that shortly after such a blatant ‘advertisement’ for another ‘Bat Family’ title, this comic’s back-up tale begins. As “The Fall Of The House Of Wayne” is everything the final third of “Night Of The Owls” should have been. Tense, thrilling and containing a genuine air of threat and menace to its lead character, Snyder and James Tynion IV’s narrative depicting Jarvis Pennyworth, Alfred’s father, fleeing Wayne Manor whilst being pursued by a Talon “years ago…” makes gripping reading.

Whilst Rafael Albuquerque’s artwork, though arguably less disciplined than Greg Capullo’s well-detailed drawings, appears rather fitting for a ten-page instalment illustrating the hastily scratched happenings contained within the aged butler’s (final) letter to his son.
The variant cover art of "BATMAN" No. 9 by Dale Keown

Monday, 13 April 2015

Moon Knight #8 - Marvel Comics

MOON KNIGHT No. 8, December 2014
It is said that imitation is one of the greatest forms of flattery, and this title’s new(ish) creative team of Brian Wood and Greg Smallwood have certainly made an attempt with Issue Eight of “Moon Knight” to mimic the innovative approach to storytelling employed by their predecessors. But whereas the work of former writer Warren Ellis came across as a series of fresh nervy adventures, full of invention as well as enthralling atmosphere and dynamic action, “Live” reads as a somewhat cold and lack-lustre collection of twenty pages whose scenes appear as choppy and confusing as the multiple personalities which plague the titular character.

Much of this disconnection is invariably due to the manner in which the Vermont-born author has decided to tell this particular tale of a suicide bomber holding an office full of workers hostage. Which, whilst certainly ‘out of the box’ as the action is followed via the video recordings of phone cameras, robot scarab streaming feeds, security footage and television coverage, also unfortunately provides the proceedings with a sense of remoteness and distance that is arguably unappealing. Such a technique also requires any dialogue to be placed outside each panel as opposed to simply being contained within a speech bubble, and thus warrants the re-reading of certain pages just to ensure events are fully understood. This is especially necessary when having secretly entered the office, Moon Knight starts to schizophrenically swap between the identities of Grant and Lockley, and it isn’t terribly clear at first just who is doing the talking…

The plot is also somewhat sketchy and annoyingly illogical at times. It is never made clear just what the significance of the serial numbers is which the bomber gets one of his captives to read out at the start of the comic. Nor does it make any sense why the masked vigilante would ask Detective Flint to phone his Doctor “before all of this escalates out of all restraint and reason.” What horrific wound does the hero inflict upon the terrorist in order to give the disgruntled employee “something to remember me by” and why? Whatever injury he sadistically caused it was certainly bloody and stupidly seemed to play straight into the hands of the media (and his untrustworthy physician) by giving them reason enough to label “the man in white” as “the terrorist we need to be looking for.”

Sadly Greg Smallwood’s illustrations are as inconsistent as the storyline, with the Kansas-based artist’s pencils, tightly squeezed into several sequences of small rectangular panels, lacking any great clarity or detail. Indeed, the American’s design of Lockley’s Moon Knight costume, a black body stocking with a sculpted white face mask and chest plate gives the character the disappointing air of being some sort of awkward looking automaton. Not the swift-moving competent martial artist which presumably Wood had in mind when he scripted the scene.
The variant cover art of "MOON KNIGHT" No. 8 by Declan Shalvey