Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Batman #22 [The New 52] - DC Comics

BATMAN No. 22, September 2013
Writer Scott Snyder was undoubtedly correct when he described his “secret history of Bruce Wayne’s transformation into Batman” as being something new, “different” and “unexpected”. For in his desperation to try and avoid a simple retelling of Frank Miller’s 1987 stellar origin story “Batman: Year One”, the New Yorker has created the most arrogant, petty and dislikeable incarnation of the Billionaire arguably to see print.

Whether physically taking his frustrations out on his noble butler, Alfred, when his latest attempt to entrap the mysterious Red Hood goes awry or petulantly storming away from a surprise “Welcome Home Bruce” celebration organised by his Uncle Philip, the youthful budding crimefighter demonstrates none of the Dark Knight’s famous strengths and admirable qualities… But instead seems to simply be a self-centred, bullish, arrogant oaf who seemingly believes that everyone else, including Pennyworth, is wrong whilst he is irrefutably right.

As a result there is very little to the vigilante’s plight in “Secret City: Part Two” which generates any sort of sympathy in the reader, even when his uncle’s advisor, Edward Nygma, reveals to him that his father’s brother is actually supplying killers and terrorists with Wayne Technology-based weapons and a guilt-ridden Bruce phones his trusty elderly manservant saying “Please pick up. I was wrong, Alfred”.

Yet despite this apathy towards the contemptible titular character and his inadequate amateurish attempts to bring down the bad guy, Issue Twenty Two of “Batman” still somehow managed to be the second biggest-selling comic book of July 2013, shifting a whopping 132,047 copies. Though much of this success is almost certainly due to the wonderfully zany yet sinisterly serious machinations of the narrative’s central villain, the charmingly evil Red Hood. Indeed so disagreeable and obnoxious is Wayne’s behaviour within this instalment’s twenty-three pages that it is hard not to actually start rooting for the criminal mastermind, especially when he matter-of-factly kills one of his own men in order to humorously create “an opening right now” for “our little vigilante”.

Far more entertaining is Snyder’s short story “The One Time”, co-written with regular collaborator James Tynion IV. This brief tale, quite delightfully drawn by Rafael Albuquerque, shows a haughty and overconfident twenty-one year-old Bruce Wayne being taught a stern lesson in his over-reliance upon technology.
The variant cover art of "BATMAN" No. 22 by Mikel Janin

Monday, 29 June 2015

Zombies Vs. Robots #6 - IDW Publishing

ZOMBIES VS. ROBOTS No. 6, June 2015
If any casual purveyor of comic books were to simply read this magazine’s back page blurb and buy Issue Six of “Zombies Verses Robots” blind, then they would undoubtedly be mightily disappointed. For whilst “IDW Publishing” promises “rotting zombies, invaders from the Moon” and “an all-out robot brawl of explosive proportions”, in reality this anthology offers little in the way of exciting entertainment except perhaps the very sad demise of Bot-Bot.

Admittedly “Inherit The Earth” starts out well enough, with co-creator Chris Ryall hurling his “surviving astronauts” up against a seemingly unending horde of brain-hungry ghouls “on an island that used to house Amazons”. In fact until the unexplained arrival of the automaton Virus and dramatic demise of Zeb, the eleven-pager provides plenty of frantic fast-paced action and laughs a plenty; especially when the cosmonauts use the reeking head of a zombified Minotaur to impale several of the rancid undead. But sadly the writing soon takes a turn for the worse as the “lightning-bot” somehow manages to instantly electrocute all the living corpses emanating from “the Mermen’s undersea base”, before being itself impotently “absorbed and dispersed” by Winterbottom the Warbot.

Perhaps as equally uninspired by the script as the title’s declining readership, Anthony Diecidue’s artwork dramatically varies from the humorously fun and detailed, to the childlike and inept. For one moment his highly stylised cartoon-like pencilling poignantly portrays the burial of Cesar and Zeb, and in the next purportedly presents an all-action firefight using stick men and vague inanimate shapes…

Equally as disappointing is Ashley Wood’s “Tales Of ZVR”. This double splash-page short story is as confusingly drawn by the Australian illustrator as it is badly-written and depicts the ever-questing boy with the small ‘bot encountering a rather overbearing foul-mouthed young woman. The Spectrum Award-winning art director is 'clearly' a 'talented' painter. But discouragingly none of that artistic ability is especially evident with this ‘minisode’.

Arguably the most dissatisfying experience of this comic however, has to be Steve Nile’s lack-lustre concluding instalment of “The Orphan”; a ten-page ‘swansong’ which whilst well-drawn by Val Mayerik, appears to be devoid of much of the charm and emotion which made some of its previous chapters such engaging reads. Indeed the entire plot to this ‘tearful tale’ is rather confusing, as Bot-Bot once again bizarrely faces the robot he’s previously destroyed on a couple of occasions.

Strangely it isn’t entirely clear how his foe has managed to reconstruct himself, nor why the murderous machine would send a multi-wheeled spy-bot to simply observe Rosemary and not just kill her. Bot-Bot’s decision to activate his own “self-destruct” in order to save his ‘human ward’ is also an odd resolution considering the resulting explosion resembles that of a nuclear bomb and the lonely girl was nearby when it took place. But there again in Nile’s post-apocalyptic future fruit trees can mature from seed within a year, so maybe children can withstand nuclear fall-out..?
The variant cover art of "ZOMBIES VS. ROBOTS" No. 6 by Mark Torres

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Where Monsters Dwell #2 - Marvel Comics

WHERE MONSTERS DWELL No. 2, August 2015
It is very clear from the narrative of Issue Two of “Where Monsters Dwell” that “writer Garth Ennis loves dinosaurs.” For the Northern Irish-born American comic book author has somehow managed to cram into this magazine’s twenty pages some of the largest most ferocious prehistoric beasts known to Mankind and do so whilst still providing “an old-fashioned, rip-roaring adventure with a strong streak of humour running through it”.

Indeed whether the reader be a fan of the iconic Tyrannosaurus Rex, the reptilian Sarcosuchus or the predatory Megalodon, the Eisner Award-winner’s storyline ensures “they’re huge, they’re noisy, they look fantastic, they rip everything in sight to pieces, and they stretch human imagination beyond its limits”.

Admittedly the “Preacher” collaborator’s “black” comedy occasionally strays close to the ‘mature’ mark with the odd swearword or uncomfortable adult reference, such as when the Phantom Eagle offers to keep “the fetching Clemmie Franklin-Cox” warm overnight and insensitively suggests that “if it comes to it you can always have a… whatchamacallit… abortion”. But in the main Ennis’ script, which includes the “flying Ace” inadvertently leading a ‘lizard king’ straight into the centre of a hapless pygmy village, is a wonderfully witty non-stop thrill ride with plenty of gory tongue-in-cheek moments; “Nightmare, some kind of awful nightmare - Oh God, just let me wake up --!"

Equally as engaging as the flawed character of Karl Kaufmann is the World War One fighter pilot’s acidic passenger, Clemmie. The young woman’s pithy banter with her cowardly would-be-bedfellow provides several laugh out loud moments within the book, especially as the combat aviator becomes increasingly stressed and terrorised by “giant lizards and pushy broads” and won’t “stop bleating for five minutes…”

However undoubtedly the main draw for this comic is the outstanding artwork of one of Ennis’ “all-time favourite collaborators” Russ Braun, a man whose pencilling “makes it all look effortless and easy, when of course it isn’t at all.” “There’s an old-school quality” to the New Yorker’s illustrations which not only brings the dinosaurs to dynamic bone-crunching life but also imbues the “general jerk” with plenty of waggish touches which only add to the airman’s hilarious panicky antics.
Writer: Garth Ennis, Artist: Russ Braun and Color Artist: Dono Sanchez Almara

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Star Wars #5 - Marvel Comics

STAR WARS No. 5, July 2015
Followers of the cult bounty hunter Boba Fett should be rather pleased with Issue Five of “Star Wars” as Jason Aaron’s script spends a considerable amount of time focusing on the murderous Mandalorian’s machinations. In fact the dangerous ‘unaltered clone of Jango’ features so prominently throughout the comic’s twenty pages it is hard to understand why “Marvel Worldwide” didn’t insist upon advertising his pronounced presence as part of the book’s main cover illustration; or perhaps selling an astonishing 146,850 copies was enough for the New York City-based publisher in May 2015…

Regardless the ruthless killer is most definitely at his most brutal within this magazine as he coldly searches Tatooine for any clue as to the identity of the Rebel pilot who destroyed the Death Star. Indeed those foolish enough to oppose Fett’s mission for the Dark Lord of the Sith swiftly discover he’s yet to adopt a “no disintegrations” policy… Though not before the notorious exterminator has tortured the information he wants from their battered and broken bodies.

Far less effective is the Alabama-born writer’s (mis)use of Han Solo and Leia Organa. It is quite clear that the couple’s scenes, both on board the Rebel Fleet and then later in a stolen Imperial shuttlecraft, are little more than desperate attempts by the American author to try and recapture some of the wonderful tension and chemistry shown between the pair during the film “The Empire Strikes Back”. However without Harrison Ford’s roguish delivery and Carrie Fisher’s frosty stares neither character successfully comes across to the reader as being particularly likeable. Especially the Corellian smuggler, who oafishly throws their stolen ride into a suspicious-looking descent just as its escorting TIE-fighters have cleared its flight path.

Equally as poorly thought out seems to be Luke Skywalker’s return to his planet of birth, Tatooine. Having decided to visit Obi-Wan Kenobi’s homestead, the Rebel pilot bizarrely lands his X-wing fighter in the desert a considerable distance from “Ben’s house.” So far away in fact that it is almost night by the time the young Jedi trainee arrives at his destination and engages in a disappointing rematch with a horde of pillaging Sand-People. This is arguably lazy writing on the part of Aaron and a plot point solely and sloppily engineered simply to have Boba Fett and his prey encounter one another in the comic’s final full-page splash; “Artoo? What happened? I can’t see!”
The regular cover art of "STAR WARS" No. 5 by John Cassaday and Laura Martin

Friday, 26 June 2015

Batman #21 [The New 52] - DC Comics

BATMAN No. 21, August 2013
Considering that writer Scott Snyder aspired to make this “yearlong comic book crossover event” “bold, fun, fast and bright” it does not bode well when the most exciting thing about its opening instalment is the boringly bland and blank beveled cover illustration. Yet disappointingly this is arguably all that “Secret City: Part One” has to offer its 142,088 readers as the American author desperately tries to create a “big, huge, city-shaking, action, sci-fi sometimes adventure!” But instead produces a messy disjointed narrative which proves to be overly complicated by first disconcertingly starting presumably near the story’s conclusion and then leaps to different periods in Bruce Wayne’s past.

Indeed for its first few pages, which depict a street urchin first spear-fishing in a water-logged underground train station and then being rescued by a short-sleeved crossbow carrying Dark Knight, Issue Twenty One of “Batman” genuinely creates the impression that this is someway an “Elseworlds” tale rather than the beginning of the creative team’s questionable decision to make the Caped Crusader’s origin story “totally their own”.

Admittedly the heavily disguised crimefighter’s four-page ‘run-in’ with the Red Hood provides a little amusement as the billionaire’s well-meaning butler is told to “kindly… shut up” during a risky getaway sequence. But even this is spoilt by the New Yorker having the hero defiantly give the mysterious criminal mastermind an offensive hand gesture in the final panel. To make matters worse this escapade somewhat confusingly occurs “five months earlier” than the previous “six years ago…” and is then followed, without any warning, by a scene depicting a pre-teen Bruce being handed a “visual mapper” by his father Thomas Wayne?

This ‘choppy’ sedentary dialogue-reliant storytelling unfortunately persists throughout the magazine’s narrative with scenes regularly ‘flitting’, with no apparent warning whatsoever, between a time when the ‘fledgling’ Batman’s Uncle Philip, Head of Wayne Enterprises, is seemingly conspiring with a certain Edward Nygma in order to ‘kill his nephew’ and a much earlier, more innocent period in the vigilante’s life, when he was just a boy.

Equally as substandard, though infinitely more action-packed, is Snyder’s secondary tale co-written with James Tynion IV and unimpressively drawn by Rafael Albuquerque “Where The Hell Did He Learn To Drive?!” A supposedly humorous tale concerning a youthful Bruce Wayne apparently learning “all the tricks” of being a getaway driver from an unpleasantly arrogant villain who has “killed twenty-three police officers in thirteen countries over the last three years…”
Writer: Scott Snyder, Artist: Greg Capullo and Inker: Danny Miki

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Uber #7 - Avatar Press

UBER No. 7, October 2013
As an instalment which “brings our current time in the Pacific theatre to a close” it is perfectly understandable for creator Kieron Gillen to want Issue Seven of “Uber” to be a thrilling, actioned-packed affair, absolutely crammed with wartime engagements, firefights and the famous ‘suicidal’ frontal infantry attacks which the Japanese Army seemed to so frequently employ during the last years of the Second World War. But alongside this carousel of combat the former computer games journalist disappointingly also incorporates enough unnecessary profanities and vulgar speeches into his narrative to have the 1954 regulators of the Comics Code Authority turning in their graves for many moons to come.

The greater part of this disagreeable dialogue is due to the presence of Eammon O’Connor’s foul-mouthed buddy “charmer” Chuck, an offensively obnoxious soldier who seems to unpleasantly verbally relate the everyday happenings of the war to various biological bowel movements. Indeed this character’s contribution to the comic is so distasteful that it arguably comes as something of a relief when, upon the turn of page, he’s cut off mid-sentence by a halo disruption field partially removing his head; “Heh. Yeah. Guys-- Just try to screa--”

Fortunately the vast majority of this book’s twenty two pages actually concentrate upon the exploits of a trio of somewhat softly-spoken Japanese supermen, rather than wallow in the swearing and grisly innuendo of the American trenches… And as a result the reader is able to gain some insight into the motivations of these Miyoko warriors and their absolute dedication to the ‘will of their Emperor’, as well as explore the final fatal effects of a “fatigued” Uber.

Gillen's script also provides artist Caanan White with plenty of opportunities to draw some truly grisly and bloody wartime casualties. In fact the African-American illustrator arguably depicts his most gory bodily mutilations yet published, as the three surviving super-powered saboteurs on Okinawa quite literally tear apart a squad of hapless United States Marines who happen to be foolish enough to try and trap the ‘panzermensch’ in a cave. Arms, legs, decapitated heads, torsos and unrecognisable chunks of human flesh are all tossed unceremoniously into the air as the Japanese Miyoko counter-attack their foes and the fast-falling American soldiers “scrabble around” for cover.
The variant cover art of "UBER" No. 7 by Caanan White

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Batman #20 [The New 52] - DC Comics

BATMAN No. 20, July 2013
Whilst undoubtedly an action-packed high-octane read, this second instalment of “Nowhere Man” arguably demonstrates Scott Snyder’s writing at its most uninventive and lackadaisical. For despite ‘introducing’ a truly formidable-looking cipher-enabled Clayface, and featuring the shape-shifter’s subsequent seriously thrilling fist-fight with the Dark Knight, the New Yorker resorts to some truly cheap tacky gimmicks in order to bring this adventure to a woefully dissatisfying conclusion.

High on this list of disappointments is the way in which Bruce Wayne is so simply overpowered by Basil Karlo despite Gotham City's most eligible bachelor confronting his foe within Wayne Enterprises Red Laboratory; a “little armoury” crammed full of numerous Bat-utilities and weapons. Considering the sheer breadth of familiar armaments at his disposal, it is incomprehensible that the industrialist wouldn't put up some semblance of a contest or at the very least utilise a hidden escape hatch. But instead the Billionaire essentially just stands impotently before his nemesis, who, after a few panels of heavy rhetoric, swallows the wealthy playboy whole.

Dishearteningly however that is nothing compared to the incredible lengths luck then seems to play in the philanthropist’s astounding escape. For starters Snyder would have the reader believe that the business magnate survived being consumed by Clayface by astonishingly holding his breath for over seven minutes because “breathing’s overrated”; something which whilst feasible is somewhat unbelievable even for so dedicated a crimefighter as the Caped Crusader. The American author then follows up this implausible 'superhuman' feat by having Bruce and Lucius Fox escape the writer's homage to the Death Star compactor scene from the 1977 motion picture “Star Wars” by fortuitously discovering a fully-operational concept Batsuit amongst the surrounding detritus. A staggeringly implausible find which permits the duo to easily burst through one of the crushing machine’s extremely solid-looking walls.

Such utter absurdity is unfortunately actually surpassed though towards the end of the comic when an armoured Batman confronts Karlo, and having attacked the clay-like super-villain with hydrogen fluoride, coolant and an electrical charge, ridiculously traps the criminal within “a panic chamber” whilst wearing a ‘fibre DNA mask’ of his alter ego, Bruce Wayne... Thus all-too simply negating the shape-changing criminal's argument to Commissioner Gordon that the cowled vigilante and celebrity socialite are one and the same.

Mercifully, despite being a rather simplistic tale, this comic’s eight-page secondary narrative “Ghost Lights” is a far more enjoyable read. James Tynion IV really captures the sometimes edgy comradery between the World's Greatest Detective and the Man of Steel, and despite its brevity produces a storyline which entertainingly explores Superman’s vulnerability to magic. Artist Alex Maleev also produces some wonderfully dark visuals for this story, providing Batman in particular with some nicely drawn silhouettes.
The variant cover art of "BATMAN" No. 20 by Alex Maleev

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Wytches #2 - Image Comics

WYTCHES No. 2, November 2014
For those readers who enjoy their comics taking them to ‘creepy, bone-chilling places’ then it is well worth persevering through the opening third of this somewhat disappointing instalment of Scott Snyder’s “fresh, contemporary, and much scarier” reimagining of “the mythology of witches”. For once the New Yorker’s narrative starts to focus upon Lucy Rook’s bygone motor vehicle accident and depicts her daughter Sailor bleeding out during a school swimming lesson, Issue Two of “Wytches” becomes a deeply disturbing, unnerving experience.

Indeed, whether it be the ghoulish-looking zombie Annie boasting that she “gotttt…you…”, the blood-shot eyed comatose victim Dylan momentarily waking to whisper "I can smell it on you", or the emaciated giant skull-faced witches who emerge from behind the trees in the local woodland, the America writer provides plenty of incentive for anyone perusing this periodical to be very “afraid to go to bed at night”. Even the man of the house, Charlie, isn’t safe from the scary shenanigans as some aged bald invalid, having left a trail of extracted human teeth on his lawn, savagely assaults him with one of her prosthetic limbs.  

Unfortunately however, before anything is encountered which “will really scare you to death”, buyers of this book will first have to endure a bitterly disappointing resolution to the previous publication’s extremely tense and sinister cliff-hanger. For having ended with Sailor seemingly being attacked by the undead corpse of a former school bully, this instalment bizarrely begins with the girl’s father frustratingly fixing a chair lift with “Uncle Reggie”? In fact such is the feeling of disconnect between this edition’s beginning and the conclusion of the preceding comic that doubtless many of its 58,345 buyers in November 2014 had to double-check to ensure they hadn’t inadvertently missed an issue.

Equally as dishearteningly lack-lustre, at least at the start of this book, is the artwork of Mark Simpson. Without the threat of something “bestial and primal” leaping up out of the page, Jock’s illustrations are disappointingly awkward-looking, even with Matt Hollingsworth’s wonderful spatterings of colour. But once the Scottish penciller starts drawing the grotesquely-shaped witches which exist “deep in the woods and prey on human flesh” then his panels take on a chillingly twisted unnatural life of their own.
The variant cover art of "WYTCHES" No. 2 by Declan Shalvey

Monday, 22 June 2015

Where Monsters Dwell #1 - Marvel Comics

WHERE MONSTERS DWELL No. 1, July 2015
Whilst it is far from clear how this “story about a World War One fighter pilot battling dinosaurs ties into” the “Marvel Worldwide” multi-title mega-event “Secret Wars”. This first edition of “Where Monsters Dwell” proves to be a fun, enjoyable read, crammed full of intense action-sequences, some genuinely entertaining madcap moments and plenty of prehistoric behemoths.

Most of this enjoyment comes at the expense of Karl Kaufman, a “famous flying ace” who writer Garth Ennis has made every bit the scheming somewhat disagreeable rogue as he is a skilled aviator. Indeed the hapless Phantom Eagle seems to personify the Eisner Award-winner’s aspiration to pen “something a little bit lighter” with his humorous yet oft-times deplorable behaviour throughout the comic’s twenty-pages. Whether it be the American-born stunt pilot’s insincere promise to a pregnant native princess that he’ll do the honourable thing before racing to his bi-plane’s cockpit, or ‘stinging’ a “naïve English socialite” into paying his aircraft’s latest repair bill, the stubble-faced swindler’s unscrupulous behaviour arguably can’t help but generate a smile upon the reader’s lips.

Equally as engaging is the Northern Irish author’s Clementine Franklin-Cox, a “ditsy little half-wit” who is clearly “not quite all she seems” and evidently just as knowledgeable as “Kaufmann-Tuan” when it comes to uncouth songs, flying manoeuvers and “the ins and outs of an air-cooled Lewis gun”. Missy’s putdowns and insults, despite containing the occasional profanity, are extremely endearing as she switches between personas; one moment lightly enquiring whether the surrounding hurricane “might delay our arrival a tad?” and the next sarcastically belittling her would-be rescuer for failing to recognise a Pteranodon Longiceps because ‘an education is clearly not his forte.’

However it is undoubtedly the dinosaurs which steal the show due to some incredible illustrations by Russell Braun. The New York-based penciller’s stunning series of pages depicting Kaufmann’s vintage bi-plane being battered by a flock of flying reptiles builds wonderfully upon the anticipation generated by Frank Cho and Jason Keith’s terrifically dynamic cover artwork. In fact the sequence’s two double-splash montages really show off the former “Walt Disney” animator’s flair for incorporating both the dramatic and comical into his drawings with Clementine bashing Karl about the head as the lizards from the Late Cretaceous murderously encircle their aircraft.
Writer: Garth Ennis, Artist: Russ Braun and Color Artist: Dono Sanchez Almara

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Secret Wars #1 - Marvel Comics

SECRET WARS No. 1, July 2015
Despite its arguably inappropriate title, for there little that is secretive about two planets smashing into one another, Issue One of “Secret Wars” is undoubtedly a triumphant combination of suspenseful action-packed storytelling and wonderfully highly detailed characterful artwork by Croatian artist Esad Ribic. For whether the reader is a devotee of either the Marvel Universe (1961-2015) or the Ultimate Universe (2000-2015) there is plenty for them to cheer and mourn, as Jonathan Hickman literally has the two ‘realities’ tear one another apart.

Admittedly those who have followed the longer living and comic book world defining exploits of Stan Lee’s co-creations, will undoubtedly have more to be happy about having perused this magazine’s thirty-four page extravaganza. To begin with this actuality seemingly has the better day when both worlds’ super-heroes confront one another, despite ‘the other Earth’s secondary attack’ using the best technology its “specially bred engineers” could muster. But amazingly it also manages to somehow have a few of its inhabitants somehow survive the fracturing of both existences; albeit a grim-faced bearded Mister Fantastic doesn’t succeed in saving anywhere near as many people as he hoped… including his own beloved wife and family.

There is though still plenty to enjoy if any bibliophile is more familiar with the Earth-1610 imprint, as both the Triskelion, Headquarter’s of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the City, home of the Cabal and the Children of Tomorrow, feature prominently in the South Carolina-born writer’s narrative. Indeed General Fury and the “thousand-year-old megalomaniacal boy genius who wiped out most of Europe on a whim” Reed Richards provide much of the book’s early exposition as to what is actually taking place. Something which is crucial if you haven’t been following any of the events depicted in the “Time Runs Out” storyline from the “Avengers” and “New Avengers” comic books.

Equally as enjoyable and arguably a great contributor as to why this opening instalment of the mini-series proved so popular a purchase that it sold a staggering 527,678 copies in May 2015, is that despite the colossal scale of his script, Hickman still somehow manages to find the time to incorporate numerous genuinely memorable micro-sized moments within its sweeping grandeur. Some such as the sudden tragic demise of Rocket Raccoon or Invisible Woman are poignant panels which draw a heavy pause in the chaotic proceedings. Whilst others, such as a confident sounding Spider-Man telling the New York locals that “I’ve got this… Uh. Maybe” or the Punisher asking a packed out bar full of the city’s most notorious super-villains “what am I gonna do with all these bullets” are humorous laugh out loud moments.
The regular cover art of "SECRET WARS" No. 1 by Alex Ross

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Star Wars #4 - Marvel Comics

STAR WARS No. 4, June 2015
Whilst there is undoubtedly an awful lot going on within the twenty pages of the best-selling comic of April 2015, the vast majority of it regrettably concerns simple plot and character development as opposed to any pulse-pounding ‘laser-pinging’ action. In fact besides a clumsy attempt by Jason Aaron to imitate the infamous ‘Han shoots first’ cantina scene from the film “A New Hope”, the only real tension to be gleaned from Issue Four of “Star Wars” is the edgy threat-laden verbal sparring between Darth Vader and Jabba the Hutt.

This confrontation between two of the saga’s most villainous giants is tremendously well-written, and whether they be negotiating over supply shipments from the Outer Rim in the gangster’s palace or taunting one another whilst chasing down wild banthas on board the criminal’s pleasure barge, their every word seemingly drips with poisonous menace.

In addition, despite this rather surprising lack of action for such a ‘swashbuckling’ science fiction title, this magazine still proves to be something of an enjoyable read as the Alabama-born author slowly starts pushing his playing pieces around George Lucas’ galaxy, far far away… and simultaneously tries to align his narrative with those of the other “Star Wars” books concurrently being published by “Marvel Worldwide”.

Disappointingly though this fourth instalment of “Skywalker Strikes” arguably doesn’t provide much justice for the script’s main protagonists, with a bandaged Han Solo and his co-pilot Chewbacca effectively side-lined for the entire periodical on account of repairing the Millennium Falcon. Luke, despite some significant ‘screen time’ ineffectively battling training remotes, doesn’t fare much better either. As Aaron suddenly turns the aspiring Jedi into a youth full of concern, fear and anxiety; something which is dishearteningly far removed from the carefree adventure-seeking farm boy seen on the ‘big screen’.

Interestingly there is a discernible stylistic change in some of John Cassaday’s illustrations when compared to the artist's previous pencilling on the series. Such a prominent variation in the Eisner Award-winner’s work is especially noticeable in his depiction of Leia Organa, which appears to demonstrate a complete departure from his former philosophy of trying to portray the princess as a ‘perfect’ likeness of the actress Carrie Fisher.
The regular cover art of "STAR WARS" No. 4 by John Cassaday and Laura Martin

Friday, 19 June 2015

Marvel Two-In-One #36 - Marvel Comics

MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE No. 36, February 1978
Disappointingly a rather water-logged Benjamin Grimm sums up the quality of this seventeen-page nonsensical narrative by Editor Marv Wolfman in the book’s opening panel by exclaiming “Wotta revoltin’ development this is!” For “A Stretch In Time” not only concludes the Thing’s two-part prehistoric adventure with “Skull the Slayer and his band of time-lost travellers” but also appears to show the two-time Jack Kirby Award-winner’s writing at its most unimaginative.

Indeed the Brooklyn-born writer appears to be so uninspired by his own storyline that having extensively depicted the super-heroes outrunning an especially carnivorous Tyrannosaurus Rex in order to try and reach “the plane that brought us here” in the previous issue, he abruptly has them both find “the charred ruins of the Lockheed Hercules lying in a jungle plain” and unbelievably return "to Ben Grimm’s experimental jet” with "the batteries and parts they need” within the space of a single text box. Considering the group were last seen wearily dragging themselves ashore having fallen down “a blamed waterfall” following an encounter with some ludicrously fanged sauropods, it is inconceivable that the rest of their exploration of this antediluvian world was "uneventful". At the very least they must surely have encountered more of the primordial fauna…

Instead, less than halfway through the comic, Wolfman miraculously has “the anxious five” fly their hastily repaired “super-sonic jet… up into the scarlet skies” and immediately travel back through the Bermuda Triangle to modern-day Miami. Such woeful lazy insipid writing by the co-creator of Blade is both incomprehensible and unforgivable. Doubly so when it means that the Shazam Award-winner then has to populate the rest of the magazine with a tired, poorly thought out battle sequence between the Jaguar Priest and a semi-powerless Reed Richards; as Jeff shouts “I don’t believe it…”

Fortunately such a bland apathetic adventure is at least given some life due to the remarkable pencilling of Ernie Chan. The Filipino-American artist’s illustrations, especially his dynamic portrayal of Mister Fantastic and the “lumpy orange gorilla” battling a flock of giant-sized pterosaurs above Cape Canaveral, are as wonderfully vigorous and vibrant as his blending of flying lizard with space-flight technology is historically inaccurate.
Writer/Editor: Marv Wolfman, Artist: Ernie Chan and Colorist: Michele Wolfman

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Moon Knight #12 - Marvel Comics

MOON KNIGHT No. 12, April 2015
As the concluding instalment to a scintillating story-arc which arguably started in some ways with this title’s debut edition and the first appearance of Governor Adrian Warsame’s daughter, Issue Twelve of “Moon Knight” is a lamentably actionless, dialogue-heavy disappointment which seems to increasingly focus more upon the ‘frustrations’ of the superhero’s psychologist and her inept bittersweet courtship of Khonsu than it does the titular character’s return to the favourable side of his moon god. Indeed once the Egyptian deity has somehow spared a battered and bruised Marc Spector from plummeting to his death at “terminal velocity”, this comic’s narrative almost exclusively concerns itself with the doctor’s twisted torture of General Lom and the ultimate failure of Elisa’s plan to convince the former African despot to tell her where he moved the “hundreds of millions in looted gold and treasure” which “her father amassed”.

Admittedly the tense, claustrophobic and brutal interrogation sequence of an incapacitated chairbound military tyrant is especially well-written by Brian Wood and not only satisfactorily explains many of Doctor Warsame’s murderous machinations, but additionally provides quite the surprise in revealing her to be the daughter of a previous dictator “installed in 1968 by the Danish colonial warlords.” An origin which is a far cry from the “spin” of her being a “child brutalized in the bush”.

However as finales go, simply having the psychopathic physician revert back to “a poor little Horn of Africa girl again” and be defeated by a single well-thrown half-moon throwing dart is rather underwhelming. Especially when you consider how successfully manipulative the Akiman has been in the past and just what she has cost Moon Knight in order for him to defeat her.

Infinitely more successful is the quite wonderful artwork of Greg Smallwood, who despite the sedentary nature of the script, somehow manages to put a lot of energy and emotion into the characters he depicts. The freelance illustrator’s drawings of Spector being rescued from the icy waters of Norway by a fisherman is especially impressive, and just incredibly well-coloured by Jordie Bellaire.

Yet it is the American artist’s facial intensity of Warsame, as she descends into a savage temper and madness at Lom’s stubborn refusal to submit, where the Kansas-based penciller really impresses. Initially quite open-faced, Smallwood increasingly portrays Elisa with a furrowed brow, narrowing eyes and grinding teeth until he reaches the point where the woman is obviously seething with rage as she repeatedly clubs the helpless General about the head with her pistol.
Writer: Brian Wood, Artist: Greg Smallwood, and Color Art: Jordie Bellaire

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Uber #6 - Avatar Press

UBER No. 6, September 2013
“Uber” creator Kieron Gillen has acknowledged that the overarching narrative to this comic book series is “ridiculously complicated with an enormous cast”. In fact one of the experiences he has strived to provide its readers is a feeling as to “the confusion of war.” But such a potentially 'uninviting and off-putting' storyline saw this title witness a steady fall in its circulation figures during 2013, to the point where with just 10,747 copies being sold in October of that year it was actually being bested by the likes of “Sonic The Hedgehog” and “Peter Panzerfaust”.

With this issue however the British writer ‘pretty much starts again’ and at the time of its publication proclaimed “if you’re looking to jump aboard, this would be a good place to do so”. As a result however, any reader anticipating being immersed in the fallout from the Battle of Paris and horrifically gory demise of H.M.H. Colossus was presumably bitterly disappointed. For despite Caanan White’s bloody regular cover illustartion depicting the hastily attired British Tankmen duking it out with their rival Panzermenschs, this edition is actually the first of a two-part story-arc concentrating on the Battle of Okinawa in the Pacific theatre.

Fortunately Gillen does an incredible job of quickly reacclimatizing any long-time bibliophiles of this book to the sudden change of scenery. Whilst simultaneously assimilating any new perusers of this periodical with a vivid, profanity-charged crash course as to the ‘final days’ of the Japanese Empire’s war against the United States of America.

Having so immersed his readership in well-researched historical fact the former music journalist then sets about “disrupting” that knowledge with the introduction of three of the Emperor’s “enhanced humans” just “one mile west of US Navy radio picket station two.” These Miyoko warriors are equally as powerful and deadly as their European counter-parts and, rather disturbingly for the Allies, seem to have been “manufactured” first.

Despite this comic, in the main, being a far more factually accurate endeavour than some of the previous issues, artist Caanan White still manages to include the odd grisly panel depicting the disruption halo’s mutilating effect upon human anatomy. For the most part though the African-American penciller is constrained to wonderfully drawing weapons of war such as Kamikaze fighter planes, the ‘nearly 70,000 ton battleship’ Yamoto and ‘bushwhacked’ American marines.
The variant cover art of "UBER" No. 6 by Caanan White

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

The Walking Dead #124 - Image Comics

THE WALKING DEAD No. 124, March 2014
Creator Robert Kirkman arguably increased the anticipation for this tenth instalment of “The Walking Dead” mega-event  “All Out War”, when he announced shortly before its publication that fans would “learn [Rick Grimes’] final fate” inside the issue. But any bibliophiles expecting to see “Image Comics” main protagonist meet his ultimate end within this book’s twenty-two pages were doubtless bitterly disappointed, as the wounded ex-lawman’s destiny is left decidedly open to interpretation by the time Hilltop’s Doctor Carson declares that 'anyone who was injured by one of the Saviours' weapons… "will die.”

However that isn’t to say that this magazine doesn’t fully live up to the American writer’s promise that “there are going to be a good number of deaths." Because there most certainly are and many of them come as a result of Negan’s men using the pitch black night to get in ‘close and dirty’ with their infected blades. Fortunately such an undignified end to the titular character is narrowly averted by the one-time Kentucky police deputy’s forethought and cunning. For no sooner are the surviving settlers about to be overrun by their murderous counterparts than the colonists' spring their well-timed trap and from their central residence's windows gun down as many of the psychopathic leader’s followers as their dwindling bullets will allow.

Having provided such a pulse-poundingly good first half, it is somewhat disappointing, though entirely understandable, that the comic publishers' executive producer slows things down quite significantly for the rest of the read. Indeed, such a change in pace is probably crucial in order for readers to ponder the dire drawn-out fate of those unlucky enough to have been cut by Negan’s ‘biologically poisoned melee weapons’.

Interestingly such a ‘pause in proceedings’ also provides Kirkman with the opportunity to introduce some ‘zombie action’ into the narrative, something which has arguably been badly underused throughout this multi-issue story-arc. Indeed, what with the undead’s prominent presence at the start of the issue, when an edgy Carson panics at their close proximity to the van he’s driving, and then the roamers later penetrating the Hilltop’s shattered defences, more attention is given to the flesh-eating walking cadavers in this periodical than has been experienced in a good while.

Adding just as much to this edition’s success as its writing, is Charlie Adlard’s workmanlike pencils. Much of this comic’s well-defined pacing is down to the British artist’s multi-panelled pages and large double-splash illustrations. Which despite predominantly depicting events occurring in near total darkness, and being published in the grey tones of Cliff Rathburn, still provide more than enough detail for the reader to readily follow what is taking place within them.
Writer: Robert Kirkman, Penciller: Charlie Adlard, and Inker: Stefano Gaudiano
 

Monday, 15 June 2015

Injection #2 - Image Comics

INJECTION No. 2, June 2015
So grand is the scope of this “ongoing series” by “Image Comics” that it is arguably abundantly clear that twenty pages is simply not enough room for writer Warren Ellis to house even a single instalment of his narrative. Not and have it make a satisfying and understandable read at any rate. For Issue Two of “Injection” contains so many characters and highbrow concepts that it is plainly impossible for the English author to do any of them much justice when they are all so tightly crammed within so restricting a publication.

As a result much of this issue simply and disappointingly provides the reader with little more than a fleeting glimpse of most of the title’s supporting cast. Indeed the vast majority of the five (former) members of the Cross-Cultural Contamination Unit appear for but a handful of panels at best, as the Eagle Award-winner desperately tries to simultaneously progress each character’s very personal journey back to the side of Professor Maria Kilbride.

Fortunately however Ellis does provide Simeon Winters, a slick-looking well-dressed British Foreign Office serviceman who “kills foreign people”, with abundant ‘screen time’ and as a result ‘injects’ this mysterious yet lack-lustre storyline with some much needed action, suspense and excitement. In fact the spy’s somewhat botched assassination mission within the “Ambassade De Gran Bretagne” building is both humorously written by the Essex-born Englishman and scintillatingly well-drawn by Declan Shalvey.

Admittedly a lot of the action is strikingly similar to the creative duo’s work on the “Marvel Worldwide” 2014 superhero comic book “Moon Knight”, even down to the bald bearded three-piece suited killer’s murderous use of a handy telescopic baton. But when the drama is this utterly insane and breathlessly violent, with Winters being mercilessly hurled into furniture and ceilings by a “huge” bodyguard before becoming involved in a vicious knife-fight, such a petty qualm can easily be forgiven. Perhaps even doubly so when the introduction of the ‘gun-carrying strategist’ clearly seems to have galvanised the Irishman’s pencilling, provided colorist Jordie Bellaire with the opportunity to rather impressively use different palettes to 'highlight' bygone-based scenes and finally allowed the reader to immerse themselves in Ellis’ re-energised writing.
The 'Haunted' variant cover art of "INJECTION" No. 2 by Declan Shalvey

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Tomb Of Dracula #15 - Marvel Comics

TOMB OF DRACULA No. 15, December 1973
Though arguably best known for his ‘lengthy run’ as the writer on this title, it is highly unlikely that the script to Issue Fifteen of “Tomb Of Dracula” will ever be seen as one of Marv Wolfman’s greatest contributions to the Bronze Age of Comics. For rather than containing an immersive engaging narrative, the nineteen page horror magazine is disappointingly little more than a disconnected collection of unimaginative short stories involving the Lord of Vampires and therefore proves to be a very messy substandard read.

Much of this displeasure comes from the expectations created by Gill Kane’s wonderfully impactive cover illustration of a rifle-carrying bearded hunter first shooting down a somewhat surprised vampire bat in mid-flight, and then standing over the Count’s ‘dead’ body in astonishment. Such an exciting well-drawn composition creates all sorts of questions in any purchaser’s mind as to why a mortal would so foolishly commit such an act upon the supervillain and equally promises some blood-curdling reprisals once the gunman’s prey has recovered from his wound. After all “How long will a vampire stay dead?”

Unfortunately the entire matter is very brusquely and bewilderingly resolved within the space of just three short pages as Wolfman reveals that Dracula actually allowed himself to be ‘shot at’ in order to “see what sort of man would dare raise a weapon to me”. Such a sudden resolution to so potentially thrilling an adventure is then followed by three similarly brief tales; all of which are supposedly taken from the Transylvanian’s very own “personal ledger.”

Admittedly there is some logic to the two-time Eagle Award-winner’s creation of such a bizarre anthology book, as clearly none of the unrelated ideas included within “Fear Is The Name Of The Game!” would themselves be substantial enough to ‘fill an entire issue’ on their own. But such a potpourri of plots, including a murdered wife seeking a fitting revenge upon her homicidal husband, an immortal Roman luring Dracula to a lake of blood and an elderly Scotsman ‘killing’ the Count in his own castle, smacks of the scripter still “floundering on the series”.

Possibly just as uninspired by this comic’s storyline was penciler Gene Colan, as the American artist’s drawings becomes increasingly unimpressive and erratic the further into the book one looks. Indeed so inconsistent is the Bronx-born illustrator’s sketchings, one moment superbly depicting the hapless hunter Vinnie being chased by rats and then impotently showing a wronged woman savaging her ‘killer’ in the next, that it could be argued it is plainly obvious which parts of Wolfman’s writing Colan enthusiastically felt worked and which he clearly felt did not.
Scripter: Marv Wolfman, Penciler: Gene Colan, and Inker: Tom Palmer

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Darth Vader #6 - Marvel Comics

DARTH VADER No. 6, August 2015
There’s an unsettling aura of creative disconnection which permeates Issue Six of “Darth Vader”, and dishearteningly it doesn’t just confine itself to Kieron Gillen’s ‘blasphemous belief’ that the Galactic Emperor would surround himself with a “team of technically enhanced warriors.” For the pacing of this twenty-page conclusion to the British writer’s six-part story-arc is quite noticeably drawn out for the magazine’s latter half. Almost as if artist Salvador Larroca suddenly ran out of script to illustrate despite still having a number of empty sheets yet to fill.

This situation is entirely plausible considering the utter ludicrousness of this periodical’s opening scene, which sees the Dark Lord of the Sith ‘fending off’ the pathetic individual attacks of technology specialist Cylo’s “lightsaber-wielding cyborgs.” Despite the fighting, which is annoyingly narrated by the humanoid doctor like some poorly thought out second-hand car salesperson’s pitch, the Valencia-born cartographer really struggles to imbue the action with any sense of danger or excitement and instead confines each confrontation to a handful of suffocatingly tight panels.

Such a ‘cramped’ artistic technique even extends to when Palpatine demands “a real demonstration” and all the combatants must fight “to the death”. For the Spaniard boils all the supposedly frenzied drama of the ‘ensuing melee’ down to a single seven-framed page which simply focuses upon Vader’s lack-lustre contest.

As a result Larroca then finds himself with an intimidating ten pages with which to depict Anakin Skywalker’s discovery from a completely incompetent bounty hunter Boba Fett that he has a son… cue plenty of disappointingly drawn flashback scenes from the 2005 motion picture “Revenge Of The Sith”.   

It also seems rather nonsensical that any of Gillen’s fanciful, yet in many ways unimaginative, creations would ever be capable of replacing the former Jedi Knight as the Emperor’s right hand, especially when the likes of the Trandoshan trainee simply attacks with his bare claws. The bipedal reptilian may have undergone “cyberanimate modification” in order to no longer feel something “as petty as pain”. But that is scant protection when a lightsaber slices you in half. Something which makes Vader’s apparent defeat at the ‘hands’ of the creature even less acceptable.

However the biggest flaw with the British author’s storyline has to be the way in which he depicts the relationship between Palpatine and his Sith apprentice, as Gillen seems to have completely forgotten that by the time of the Death Star’s destruction these two characters would have existed alongside one another for over twenty years. Instead the Emperor’s rapport with Vader would seem to more closely resemble that of him still addressing an adolescent Anakin, even incredulously rebuking his protégé for ‘disappointing him on Mustafar’.
Writer: Kieron Gillen, Artist: Salvador Larroca, and Colorist: Edgar Delgado

Friday, 12 June 2015

Master Of Kung Fu #2 - Marvel Comics

MASTER OF KUNG FU No. 2, August 2015
In many ways “Master’s Son” could be viewed as being worringly similar in narrative to a typical episode of the 1972 American martial arts television series “Kung Fu”, as the comic’s entire storyline seems to focus upon the titular character’s desire to elude a confrontation with his people’s oppressive authorities. However whereas the ABC drama’s hero tried to avoid conflict and violence as a result of his spiritual training and genuine desire for a peaceful life, Haden Blackman’s incarnation of Shang-Chi shuns oppression and adversity because he’s a drunken coward. In fact all “the disgraced son of Emperor Zheng Zu” wants to do is “drink away his pain in anonymity.”

Such a disagreeable, dishonourable depiction of Jim Starlin’s co-creation is difficult to like, especially when so clearly able a fighter simply stands by and allows one of his teenage rescuers to be bloodily gutted by the maniacal Laughing Skull. Indeed there really isn’t much to admire about the unshaven, unkempt alcoholic at all, as he first soundly bests all of the Outcasts who saved him from his father’s thugs, whilst mocking each one for being “slow and sloppy”, and then destroys any hope which they had for a ‘better brighter (Battle)world’ by graphically telling them how he would torture, main and finally execute them all if he were to do the Emperor’s bidding.

As a result when the expert in “nine of Zheng Zu’s legendary ten techniques” does finally admit his fears, decides he must compete for the throne in the thirteen chambers and therefore begrudgingly asks his ‘surviving students’ to “take me as your Master”, it is hard to feel anything more than revulsion for this prospective saviour of K’un Lun.

Unfortunately the vast majority of the Writer’s Guild of America Award-winner’s supporting cast are equally as unlikable, with supposed “honourable protector of K’un Lun”, the Iron Fist Rand K’ai proving to be as much of a despicable ruffian as the rest of his Emperor’s minions. Even the one-eyed Outcast leader Callisto shows her true colours by betraying the location of her teammates’ secret hideaway to Zheng Zu’s entourage in order to obtain “acceptance into the ten rings.”  

Fortunately Dalibor Talajic does occasionally bring some enjoyment to the proceedings with his well-animated fight sequences and his interesting re-imaginings of classic “Marvel Worldwide” villains, such as a vagabond Bullseye and severely chastised Razor Fist. However the quality of the Croatian artist’s illustrations lack consistency and at times appear a little too stiff-looking and anatomically awkward.
Writer: Haden Blackman, Penciler: Dalibor Talajic, and Inker: Goran Sudzuka

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Midnighter #1 - DC Comics

MIDNIGHTER No. 1, August 2015
Whilst Warren Ellis’ co-creation has often been criticised for being little more than an ultra-violent clone of Batman, especially when drawn alongside the character’s ‘superman-surrogate’ husband Apollo. This solo outing, written by Steve Orlando and “rated teen plus”, depicts the super-hero in a vein which is far more akin to that which was envisaged when the “incredible bad-ass” was first conceived. That is “The Shadow by way of John Woo.”

However having the black-clad vigilante going back “to his roots” isn’t necessarily a good thing, especially when the “Undertow” author decides that the entire storyline for Issue One of “Midnighter” is simply going to be about “lots of punching” as the former Stormwatch member “learns how to be a normal person.” In fact a terrific amount of this magazine’s twenty(ish) pages concern themselves with Lucas Trent simply dining, committing “ritual suicide by cholesterol”, playing pool, dating in Moscow, or rather graphically conducting “a rigorous physical examination” of his new boyfriend, Jason.

Admittedly Orlando makes good on his promise of the “masked ass-kicker” being as brutal as ever by having the artificially enhanced human seriously take down a heavily armed group of killers who foolishly interrupt his evening meal in a restaurant. But frankly the appallingly confusing and overly complicated art of Aco ruins any enjoyment to be had from the scene. Something which is especially disheartening as Midnighter delivers some of his infamously sadistic yet wonderfully witty one-liners during the free-for-all; “I’ll burst your eyeballs and punch my fist into your liver.”

Sadly the "Batman: Future's End" artist is unfortunately responsible for a good deal of this comic’s inaccessibility and in some ways it is actually a relief to see his horrendously busy panels and pages being momentarily overshadowed by an incredibly intruding advertisement for a Twix chocolate bar mid-way through the magazine!?! Those readers willing to pour some significant time pondering Aco’s illustrations will doubtless marvel at the blunt force trauma depicted within the penciller’s minute x-ray montages. But for any casual peruser of this periodical most of the pictures, especially those containing any form of dynamic action, disappointingly appear as something of a mess to be deciphered rather than enjoyed.
Writer: Steve Orlando, Penciller: Aco, and Inkist: Aco with Hugo Petrus