Saturday, 28 November 2015

Aliens Vs. Zombies #4 - Zenescope Entertainment

ALIENS VS. ZOMBIES No. 4, November 2015
Despite some of the narrative’s set pieces, such as the protagonists finding themselves surrounded inside a cemetery or later trapped within a derelict underground tube station, being decidedly clich├ęd for a horror genre comic book based upon a modern-day zombie apocalypse, Issue Four of “Aliens Vs. Zombies” arguably still provides a somewhat faultless reading experience. For whilst there is still a little character development as Raxus and Nova begin to work out their differences as the last two survivors of their species, and the low-life delinquent Tavon once again demonstrates that he is the real monster of the story, this twenty-four page periodical never wavers from its relentlessly brutal and blood-soaked depiction of a planet being grievously ravaged by the ever-hungry walking dead.

Indeed the action to Joe Brusha’s script simply never lets up throughout the magazine to the point where any perusing bibliophile must surely feel as exhausted as dark-jacketed hero Colt does, having spent the best part of his ‘screen time’ running, jumping and battering zombies with a piece of mangled lead pipe. There truly is no time whatsoever for any of the title’s leads to grab a breath as the Pennsylvania-based publisher ensures the carnivorous horde ruthlessly chase them through a local graveyard, descend upon a deserted school bus the party momentarily hole up in and then finally, rather obstinately pursue the crew of the extra-terrestrial spacecraft through the city’s deadly streets until the book’s concluding cliff-hanger; "We don't have enough firepower to get out of this."

Fortunately however, this seemingly constant endangerment of the “alien scientists tasked with tracking the interstellar virus” and their human companions, isn’t in any way a tedious mindless romp. But is instead actually driven by the insanely selfish desires of aspiring ‘crime boss’ Tavon and his foolhardy belief that providing he has possession of the alien’s satellite dish “the planet don’t need saving” and he’ll “be on top when this is all over.”

Equally as fast-paced as this comic’s plot is the wonderfully dynamic artwork of Vincenzo Riccardi. The penciller’s panel count becomes especially prolific as both the book’s action and suspense increases, and yet the quality of his illustrations don’t drop one iota as a result. In fact it is hard to recall a better drawn magazine which is so packed full of shambling corpses being beaten, slashed and shot to pieces…
The regular cover art of "ALIENS VS. ZOMBIES" No. 4 by Jason Metcalf and Wes Hartman

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Batman #29 [The New 52] - DC Comics

BATMAN No. 29, May 2014
Whilst there is absolutely no doubt that Scott Snyder has crammed every page of this “amazing, extra-sized issue” of “Batman” with as much action-packed adventure as the comic book could take. This conclusion to “the Dark City chapter of Zero Year” arguably rates as one of the New Yorker’s most illogical and unfollowable narratives ever and certainly must have made its 116,926 readers question “DC Comics” boast that the publisher had “saved the best for last!”

For whilst it fast becomes obvious that the Riddler, supposedly safe ensconced in the late Philip Kane’s high-rise office, is a very ‘clear and present danger’ to the well-being of Gotham City, and that the hideously deformed Doctor Death is essentially little more than a pawn in masked maniac’s diabolical game, it is truly hard to fathom out exactly what the madman’s heinous plan for the metropolis actually is?

Admittedly Batman does try and provide some clarification as to Edward Nygma’s intent for the benefit of both Jim Gordon and the magazine’s audience. But the Caped Crusader’s earnest explanation concerning a stolen “remote hacking hub” which can be used to “break into anything within a hundred feet of it”, coupled with the theft of a “hyper-repeater from Lucius” and “a weather balloon” soon becomes a confusing concoction of meaningless gobbledegook; “He gets the snake high enough, amplifies the bite… He can take control of the whole city.”

Fortunately for many, exactly why the Dark Knight needs to fly the “Bat Blimp” to the Riddler’s floating sky-platform and defeat its grotesque guardian, Karl Hellfern, during a horrendous electrical storm, is probably immaterial. For at the end of the day, all any bibliophile really need know about this comic’s storyline is that the crime-fighter has to place a jamming device upon the super-villain’s electronic gadgetry otherwise “thousands could die”, and he’s willing to break a lot of his immediate adversary’s formidably regenerative bones in order to do so.

Greg Capullo would also appear to have been in top form when pencilling this particular forty-page periodical, as the Schenectady-born artist’s illustrations are wonderfully dynamic; especially the panels depicting the young Batman’s fist-fight with the increasingly malformed Doctor Death. One can genuinely hear the deranged scientist’s bones snapping, and subsequently re-growing, during their lengthy conflict.
The "Robot Chicken" variant cover art of "BATMAN" No. 29

Monday, 23 November 2015

Uber #15 - Avatar Press

UBER No. 15, June 2014
There’s certainly plenty of pulse-pounding “alternate World War Two” action to enjoy with Issue Fifteen of “Uber”. For as creator Kieron Gillen himself notes in the comic’s afterword, this edition finally reveals “what actually happened when Sieglinde tried to leave London” after “three months of dancing around” the German superhuman soldier’s fate and as a result depicts a genuinely awe-inspiring naval battle off the beach at Southend-on-Sea between the “Home Fleet” and the Kriegsmarine.

Indeed the British author’s narrative must have proved an absolute delight to its 7,456 upon its publication in July 2014, as from the very first page all attention is focussed upon the fast-fatiguing assassin of Winston Churchill and her desperate bid to reach the seaside resort’s iconic pier. Rifle-toting Tommy Atkins, the Home Guard and two cruisers, a battleship and an “amount of destroyers” are all wantonly thrown at the flagging blonde-haired powerhouse in a desperate bid to establish whether “the greater destructive potential of a ship’s canons might be able” to “affect a battleship-class enhanced human”… And for a brief moment it actually appears as if both the stout late Prime Minister and the long-dead HMH Colossus will finally be avenged.

Ingeniously however, any such wishful thinking is soon ‘put to bed’ by the former music journalist’s “big… introduction of the Blitzmensch”; a somewhat gangly feral-looking armoured German soldier whose enhanced Halo effect is twice those of an ordinary Panzermensch. These ‘bullet-headed’ warriors, positioned at the prow of a handful of gunboats, easily slice through the hulls of the ships harassing Klaudia and frustratingly allow the battered and bruised Ubermensch to safely evacuate the English estuary on board a U-boat, whilst also “causing enormous material losses to the Home Fleet.”

Equally as exciting as the “fragile” S-boats’ “successful raid” is the artwork of Daniel Gete, who finally “joins us in the main book” having illustrated “the Siegmund short story” in the title's March 2014 special annual. Described by Gillen as someone whose “clear-lined thoroughness gives Uber a completely different feel to Caanan’s energy and rage or Gabriel’s classic realist elegance”, the “Logan’s Run” penciller really does an outstanding job of depicting the sheer ferocity and power of the sea battle, and even manages to give a cheeky nod to the fictional “Dad’s Army” of Walmington-on-Sea courtesy of a cameo by Captain Mainwaring.
The variant cover art of "UBER" No. 15 by Daniel Gete

Sunday, 22 November 2015

The Walking Dead #128 - Image Comics

THE WALKING DEAD No. 128, June 2014
Up until its depiction of Ken and Marco encountering several zombies “somewhere in the woods outside the Hilltop Colony” mid-way through its narrative, this second instalment of the story-arc “A New Beginning” appears to struggle to portray anything even remotely interesting to anyone but the most die-hard of “The Walking Dead” fans, with its unglamorous emphasis upon Eugene Porter’s failing relationship with Rosita, Carl’s ever-improving wood-whittling skills and Olivia’s “amazing” ability to bake loaves of bread. In fact it is genuinely hard to imagine a more mundane series of scenes with which to greet this “horror” comic book’s 74,326 readers, especially as Robert Kirkman’s tale then ‘trumps’ them all by dedicating five whole panels of the book to the ‘Head of the Ammo Crew’ simply walking into his empty home; “You here?”

Fortunately, as aforementioned, the sheer tedium of so stultifying a script is eventually broken by the sudden (and most welcome) appearance of a horde of carnivorous cadavers and the prospect of one of them devouring a somewhat reckless horse wrangler and his ride. Packed full of suspense despite being a somewhat brief encounter, this five-page return to the sort of action which has made the Richmond-born writer’s title enjoy such international success, genuinely brings home just how dangerous a place this post-apocalypse world is. For one moment the duo are driving their steeds onwards in the hope of heading off some wild horses “before they break away”, and then with just the turn of a page, the humans are knee-deep in the living dead with Ken pinned beneath his mare looking straight into the ghoulish eyes of a zombie as it struggles to crawl towards him moaning “Grarr!”

Disappointingly however, such a well-scribed piece of drama is dishearteningly short-lived and all too-soon the “Image Comics” partner has once again slowed the pace of his story-telling down to a snail’s crawl with the wearisome worries of a full-bearded Rick Grimes and the adolescent angst of the former police deputy’s frustrated son.

Such a sluggish chain of events is arguably made even more dissatisfying an experience by Charlie Adlard’s seemingly desperate determination to ‘pad out’ his page-count for this book. Admittedly the British artist’s full-on splash of Ken inadvertently riding his horse into the ground as it careers into a forest full of zombies proves to be the highlight of this magazine, and certainly does an incredible job of capturing one’s attention. But that doesn’t excuse the penciller utilizing a similar-sized single-panel to depict Alexandria’s windmill, nor the double-spread of a despairing Negan hammering the wall of his cell…
Writer: Robert Kirkman, Penciller: Charlie Adlard, and Inker: Stefano Gaudiano

Saturday, 21 November 2015

James Bond #1 - Dynamite Entertainment

JAMES BOND No. 1, NOVEMBER 2015
Published in tandem with the theatrical release of the 2015 “Eon Productions” motion picture “Spectre”, this opening issue of “the first James Bond comic book series in twenty years” begins with all the panache, brutality and pulse-pounding action any fan of Ian Fleming’s fictional British Secret Serviceman would expect. Indeed it is arguable that all this magazine’s initial ten pages are missing, is the inclusion of the film’s iconic ‘gun barrel’ introduction sequence.

Disappointingly however once the main narrative to Warren Ellis’ “Vargr” starts properly and the action abruptly shifts from a building site in Helsinki to the stuffy offices of MI6 Headquarters at Vauxhall Cross, the storyline’s pace rather abruptly slows down and eventually actually peters out as the suave suited agent bizarrely discusses his latest assignment with Bill Tanner whilst eating inside a semi-packed staff canteen, complete with bottled water and plastic chairs… Such a modest meal and somewhat surreal location genuinely jars with the opulent lavishness the titular character is famous for and sadly brings this twenty-two page periodical to a mind-numbingly tedious and undramatic ending.

Fortunately despite such shortcomings the Essex-born author still manages to include a few references within this increasingly dreary dialogue-laden tome so as to delight many “a giant Bond fanatic”. The scene between James and ‘Q’, where the armourer bemoans the spy’s use of a “gun for ladies” and tries to convince him to replace the “prostitute’s shooting instrument” for “a proper gun”, is very reminiscent of an early scene in “Dr. No” where 'M' orders the hero to hand over his underpowered Beretta and is assigned a Walther PPK. Whilst the villain of the piece, Mister Masters, “continues to exhibit chronic chemical anhedonia” and thus is incapable of experiencing “pleasure in any way” similar to how Victor ‘Renard’ Zokas proved immune to pain in “The World Is Not Enough”.

Ultimately though this comic’s greatest weakness is Jason Masters rather unconvincing and inconsistent pencilling. The occasional “DC Comics” variant cover artist certainly pulls few punches during this book’s beginning as he dynamically depicts the tattooed killer of 008 being savagely beaten (and surprisingly mutilated) by a cold-blooded Bond. But as with the plot, once James returns home the illustrator’s panels become decidedly lack-lustre and something of a disappointment. Even if his version of Major Boothroyd does look uncannily like the popular ‘big screen’ incarnation of the Quartermaster as played by actor John Cleese.
The variant cover art of "JAMES BOND" No. 1 by Joe Jusko

Friday, 20 November 2015

Planet Hulk #3 - Marvel Comics

PLANET HULK No. 3, September 2015
“The Storm” arguably demonstrates both the strengths and weaknesses of writer Sam Humphries, with a narrative that is not only absolutely packed full of bone-jarringly good action sequences. But also an abundance of nonsensical dialogue as Doc Green populates numerous word balloons during a heavy multi-panel theological discussion concerning “the restrictions of morality and judgement found in Man [which] are absent in Hulk.”

Indeed having started the twenty-page periodical depicting Steve Rogers desperately struggling beneath the waters of Gamma Lake whilst “The Devil” bites chunks out of a formidable-looking, part-octopus, “touch of shark” Sea Hulk, the subsequent scene depicting the green-skinned scientist goading the “gladiator” because “Gamma burns away all that is false and impure, and reveals what is already within us” proves something of a dissatisfyingly surreal moment. Certainly it is evident as to why Captain America “can make no sense of Green’s rubbish” and describes his Greenland guide’s “prattle” as “maddening.”

Fortunately however, this absurdly lengthy one-way conversation is thankfully sandwiched, if not squashed, in between some incredibly tense and dynamically charged altercations, including a high octane flashback sequence showing “super-soldiers Rogers & Barnes” battling one of the four Horsemen of Apocalypse, Holocaust “before the fall. Death and destruction.” In fact Humphries’ narrative genuinely manages to manufacture an impressive, almost instant, recovery from its “Hulk is the reality we deny ourselves” gobbledygook courtesy of an ultra-suspenseful cliff-hanger depicting the Sentinel of Liberty getting trapped by a party of “Tribal Hulks” within a dark restrictive ravine and being viciously riddled with half a dozen throwing spears; “I am Captain America of the super-soldier program! Face me! In the name of--”

The high point to Issue three of “Planet Hulk” nonetheless must be Marc Laming’s impressive illustrations, most notably his savage portrayal of Devil Dinosaur as he claws, gouges and rips the barnacle-covered flesh of his sea-faring foe. The Hartfield-based artist has gone on record to describe how “much fun” he had playing “with some classic monster movie ideas” whilst creating the Sea Hulk… And such ‘boyish’ enthusiasm, coupled with “a large dose of Ray Harryhausen all thrown into the Hulked-out blender” and some genuinely delightful touches by “Star Wars: Legacy” colorist Jordan Boyd, really shows throughout the book.
The variant cover art of "PLANET HULK" No. 3 by Alex Maleev

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Future Imperfect #2 - Marvel Comics

FUTURE IMPERFECT No. 2, September 2015
Despite the end result usually favouring the green-skinned gamma giant, fans of both the Incredible Hulk and The Thing have continually clamoured for the pair to ‘slug it out’ with one another ever since their classic 1963 punch-up within the pages of Issue Twelve of “Fantastic Four”. This particular “Secret Wars” confrontation however comes with something of a twist as writer Peter David not only reimagines Bruce Banner’s alter-ego as the murderously-maniacal Maestro for the ten-page bout of pugilism. But also alters the persona of the orange rock-covered human mutate from that of Ben Grimm into Major Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross; an Air Force orbital pilot who was transformed by cosmic rays during a test flight.

Such a disconcerting “Marvel Worldwide” modification doubtless may well have upset the ‘purist’ element of this title’s 47,944 strong audience. Yet it also rather cleverly creates a considerable amount of uncertainty in the narrative’s proceedings, especially when the Thing catches the tyrant off-guard with a formidable left swing and drop kicks the malevolent ruler into a nearby multi-rise building. Sadly however the Wizard Fan award-winner’s storyline does not permit such ambiguity for too long and the “Lord Baron Maestro” soon seemingly effortlessly batters “the leader of the anti-Maestro revolt” into unconsciousness; “Get a cart. Strap him in and bring him back to the castle.”

Equally as enthralling a read as this comic’s "monster smash" is the American author’s wonderfully scripted flashback sequence depicting Glen Talbot and Major Ross’ tragically flawed attempt to beat “the Russkies to space… before the Air Force”. David’s five-panel long conversation between the two tense pilots is delightfully prickly, with the senior officer even reminding his subordinate that they “aren’t on a first name basis” and really helps reinforce the hard-nosed determination to do his duty which Thaddeus’ character is famous for.

Greg Land’s pencilling is also rather pleasing to the eye, even if his design of the Maestro’s emerald-armoured rifle-carrying “cavalry” aren’t terribly impressive-looking and seem far more suited to an appearance in one of L. Frank Baum’s “Wizard Of Oz” novels than a supposedly serious comic book story of human suffering and oppression.
The variant cover art of "FUTURE IMPERFECT" No. 2 by Rafa Garres

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Chewbacca #1 - Marvel Comics

CHEWBACCA No. 1, December 2015
Despite the proven pedigree of this mini-series’ creative team, Issue One of “Chewbacca” is sadly a very potent example of just how badly things can go when a title is presumably published simply to ‘cash-in’ on the popularity of a motion picture’s imminent theatrical release. For whilst Gerry Duggan’s narrative does somewhat focus upon the exploits of the two-hundred year-old wookie, and thus provides a little insight into what the “warrior son of the planet Kashyyyk” got up to after ‘destroying the Death Star’ “with some help from his trusty sidekick Han.” It does so by rather lazily ‘parachuting’ the Millennium Falcon’s co-pilot into one of the most contrived and unfollowable storylines devised this side of “the Battle of Yavin”.

Indeed the New Yorker would appear to have completely ignored the necessity of providing “Chewie” with any sound rationale as to why the titular character would be stranded on the planet Andelm-4, and instead unconvincingly explains that Solo’s companion left his friends to embark “on a very important and personal secret mission” and that his “loaner spacecraft” was a “hunk of junk.” Although considering that the hairy protagonist’s dialogue is limited to the odd “Grrr”, “Hrraa” and “Hrrraarrrarghhr”, such an indolent storytelling technique is probably understandable.

Just as indecipherable as Chewbacca’s grunts and roars however, is Duggan’s bizarre plot involving the adolescent Zarro, local “crook” Jaum, a mine full of Andelm Beetles and a secret deal with the Empire for “high quality Dedlanite in high quantities.” Just how the crime boss “changed the deal” so the “skate-punk tomboy” can’t pay him isn’t entirely clear, nor how Arrax is expected to clear his family’s debt by ‘harvesting’ the valuable “chemicals in the larva.” All that is certain is that the wookie’s dilemma of being shipwrecked on the planet due to his inability to afford a “flight stabilizer in such good condition” is worryingly far too similar to the scenario used within the 1999 film “The Phantom Menace”.

Perhaps this twenty-one page periodical’s biggest disappointment though is Phil Noto’s quite unexceptional artwork. Revered for his work on “Marvel Worldwide” variant cover illustrations, the former “Disney” animator’s drawings of Chewbacca are very-well realised, even if they do make the hairy smuggler appear a little too soft and cuddly. But for some reason the American artist’s unique-looking style doesn’t appear quite so pleasing to the eye when it involves Arrax, Zarro and Jaum, and that’s despite some of the panels utilising some impressive blur/fade effects to generate the illusion of distance and speed.
The regular cover art of "CHEWBACCA" No. 1 by Phil Noto

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Planet Hulk #2 - Marvel Comics

PLANET HULK No. 2, August 2015
Set within the Battleworld barony of Greenland, Sam Humphries’ script for Issue Two of “Planet Hulk” seems to be far more concerned with subjecting its 47,944 strong audience to overly long speeches about survival and friendship, than exploring the deadly flora and fauna of this patchwork kingdom, and as a result proves to be something of a dissatisfying experience. In fact, apart from a frivolous four-page long flashback depicting Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes’ already evidentl close relationship, nothing of much consequence occurs to the Sentinel of Liberty, Doc Green or Devil Dinosaur for two-thirds of the comic… Except perhaps it’s made clear that the axe-wielding warrior and his green-skinned guide “to the Mud kingdom” won’t be getting along with one another all that well; “Tell your beast to back off. Or you’ll be Hulk gruel before Sundown.”

Fortunately however once the ‘travelling companions’ do begin their quest to assassinate the Red King and enter an “infernal jungle”, the Maryland-born writer finally starts to inject this decidedly lack-lustre narrative with some much needed action by having “Lord Rex” tangle with both the killer-plant “Doomicus Hulkicus Carnvoirae", and some gigantic Bull Hulks within short succession. Admittedly such absurdly named creatures do momentarily break any spell with which Humphries’ work held the reader. But their inclusion, and Captain America’s eventual ‘escape’ from the stampeding behemoths courtesy of a fast-flowing waterfall, genuinely brings this particular periodical to a pulse-pounding conclusion.

Sadly just as inconsistent as the plot to “The Path” is Marc Laming’s contribution to this publication. The “Kings Watch” artist’s pencilling is actually extremely engaging, with his interpretation of Devil Dinosaur looking every bit the lean mean killing machine many fans of Jack Kirby’s creation imagined the Tyrannosaurus Rex to be. Indeed the freelancer’s reimaging of the Incredible Hulk as the “soldier of fortune” Doc Green is also extremely well rendered, and there’s certainly plenty of dynamic energy packed into this comic’s proceedings once the fighting finally begins.

What this title does lack however is any proper pacing to the narrative. For whilst the British illustrator’s artwork is first-rate, a quarter of the book actually consists of little more than splash-pages. Something which arguably smacks of Laming dishearteningly mismanaging the flow of the story…
The variant cover art of "PLANET HULK" No. 2 by Yildiray Cinar

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Skull The Slayer #4 - Marvel Comics

SKULL THE SLAYER No. 4, March 1976
Having firmly established the premise behind this time-travelling mid-Seventies title by authoring the narrative of its opening three issues, Editor Marv Wolfman somewhat disconcertingly hands over the writing reigns for “Time Out Of Mind” to Steve Englehart and was doubtless then mortified to see not only the sudden rather arbitrary and contrived demise of James Patrick Scully’s entire supporting cast. But additionally the twisting of the titular character’s already rather prickly personality into that of a completely cold-hearted self-centred survivor. A man who seemingly would rather run and sacrifice Ann Reynolds to a grisly death at the hands of their Ancient Egyptian pursuers than fight at Raymond Corey’s side in order to try and rescue her; “The game today is kill or be killed. Nothing else!”

Indeed having spent some considerable time siding with the Vietnam veteran during his numerous altercations with the contentiously prejudicial doctor, this particular seventeen-page periodical swiftly spins the reader’s allegiance on its head and worryingly shows the superhero to be nothing more than a ‘combat trained killer’ who “doesn’t feel a thing!” Certainly it is hard to forgive the scorpion belt-wearing adventurer for turning his back upon the injured blonde-haired secretary, whether “there’s nothing we can do for her” or not. Whilst the bitter remorse Skull the Slayer later feels as he watches his companions fall beneath the blades of master Slitherogue’s robots does little to erase his earlier contemptuous belief that the scientist didn’t remain behind to “die protecting her… like a man!” But rather because Corey watched “too much television.”

Equally as galling is Englehart’s abrupt introduction of Merlin and the Black Knight into what had, up until this edition, been a thoroughly enthralling tale of Prehistoric civilizations and monsters. This “robotic nightmare of King Arthur’s Time” badly jars with the series’ former direction and also rather belittles the tragic grisly deaths which occurred just a few panels earlier. In fact it is hard to imagine a more perplexing, less engaging turn of events, than the “modern day man” being miraculously confronted with the two fairly standard stereotypical medieval depictions. Truly the “far-reaching House of Ideas” were right to label this magazine’s contents as being concerned with “a world of time gone mad” on its front cover.

Arguably Sal Buscema and Mike Esposito’s artwork for such a “Peril Of The Pyramids” is just as inconsistent as the American author’s script. For whilst Scully’s battle with the Ancient Egyptian warriors imprisoning Doctor Corey is full of “Bam!” and “Tok!”, as is the hero’s subsequent fist-fight with Merlin’s armoured guardian, the Brooklyn-born illustrator’s handling of anything more sedentary in pace, such as the numerous close-ups of the Slayer’s face, is far less successful.
Author: Steve Englehart, and Artists: Sal Buscema & Mike Esposito

Monday, 9 November 2015

Uber #14 - Avatar Press

UBER No. 14, May 2014
Containing both an arguably much-anticipated confrontation between the catalyst-enhanced German powerhouses Siegmund and Siegfried, as well as the first appearance of the grotesquely misshapen creature known as Battleship Zero, Issue Fourteen of “Uber” undoubtedly provides its readers with plenty of pulse-pounding action and suspense. But whilst such scenes depict the sort of graphic violence, bodily mutilation and colourful language the series’ fans have come to expect from “Avatar Press”, Kieron Gillen’s script rather annoyingly actually fails to bring any sort of resolution to these proceedings. Indeed the twenty-two page periodical undoubtedly raises more questions than it answers by having the Fuhrer, depicted as being quite clearly dead at the start of the comic, seemingly alive and well by the end of the book as he abruptly appears and starts rejoicing at the celebratory “news from the North Sea” of “a historic victory!”

Such a trifling irritation however shouldn’t have stopped the vast majority of this magazine’s 7,493 buyers from enjoying what is otherwise a triumph in creepy, suspenseful and horrifyingly good storytelling. For even before General Sankt begins to wind his way down a series of underground tunnels with the intention of trying to “activate another Battleship”, it is clear that something unnatural, inhuman and “[un]dissolved” lurks within the dark shadows; a creature so hideously malformed that its movement has caused huge troughs to be gouged out of the cavern’s rocky surface.

Presented with far less build-up, though just as dramatically tense, is the British writer’s clash of the Teutonic titans Werner and Markus. Stood toe-to-toe, their halo-effects crackling and the enraged Siegfried bristling at the thought that his fellow ‘super-soldier’ had purposely lied to him about Hitler’s death, it really is hard to see precisely which way the battle between the two juggernauts is going to go. Sadly though, despite the one-armed Siegmund managing to catch his opponent off-guard with a deft punch, the matter is disappointingly and abruptly brought to an end by Herr Goebbels before either man can do the other any real harm.

All of this excitement is wonderfully illustrated by Gabriel Andrade, whose terrifyingly warped rendering of Battleship Zero is as grisly and abhorrent as the monster’s disfigurement is alarming. In fact it’s hard to find any fault with the Brazilian’s pencilling, except perhaps the artist’s concluding splash-page which somehow seems to portray the triumphant Third Reich Fuhrer as a diminutive, almost child-like figure.
The variant cover art of "UBER" No. 14 by Gabriel Andrade

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Journey To Star Wars: The Force Awakens - Shattered Empire #2 - Marvel Comics

JOURNEY TO STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS - SHATTERED EMPIRE No. 2, December 2015
Whilst undoubtedly an enjoyable and entertaining experience, Issue Two of “Journey To Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Shattered Empire” sadly seems to fall victim to the trap so many ‘official’ motion picture tie-in-titles experience by having its characters insufferably revisit the same familiar locations featured within the movies. Admittedly such an obvious ‘hook’ as Princess Leia leading a “diplomatic mission” to Naboo doubtless helped this magazine become the Eighth best-selling comic book of October 2015. But with the entirety of George Lucas’ “galaxy far, far away” to explore, it is arguable that some readers, especially those disillusioned by the ‘Clone Wars’ film trilogy, would have preferred the storyline to have occurred upon a planet which hasn’t already been so overly-exposed within the many Star Wars storytelling mediums.

Fortunately any such disillusionment with Greg Rucka’s script doesn’t manifest itself until a good two-thirds of the way through the comic. By which time the San Francisco-born writer has already enticed any semi-reluctant bibliophiles into ‘sticking with the title’ as a result of his marvellously enthralling demonstration as to how the Emperor manages to uphold his “legacy of darkness” over the “scattered Imperial forces” despite “Rebel propaganda” suggesting Palpatine is actually dead. Captain Duvat’s encounter with one such sinisterly-garbed ‘faceless’ Messenger, complete with mandatory blood verification, is chillingly written, and, along with Lerr’s sadistic grin as he orders his Star Destroyer to “scour” Naboo, gives a rare glimpse as to the unnerving fanaticism some of the Sith Master’s minions maintain for their evil-hearted ruler.

Equally as engrossing, and far more action-packed, is the three-time Eisner Award-Winner’s depiction of the Rebellion’s battle inside Cawa City on Sterdic IV, as Tie-fighters buzz across the futuristic metropolis’ skyline and a formidable AT-AT walker thunders down its main throughway. Indeed, this sequence, set “seventeen days after the Battle of Endor”, genuinely seems to capture a real sense of claustrophobic low-level combat with it fast-paced panels portraying Green Group’s A-Wings taking on the Imperial Navy in a series of dog-fights amidst the overcrowded settlement’s cramped streets.

Somewhat disconcerting however has to be the inconsistent quality of this comic’s pencilling. Something which can’t have come as a surprise to “Marvel Worldwide” considering that they employed Angel Unzueta and Emilio Laiso as “extra hands to round out this issue.” Lead illustrator Marco Checchetto’s drawings are quite simply breathtakingly good, with his double-splash of stormtroopers blasting away on Sterdic IV beneath the legs of the aforementioned AT-AT being the highlight of the book. Sadly though the Italian’s enviable artwork inevitably means his colleagues’ pictures appear unfairly poor by comparison, especially those depicting a rather ruddy-nosed Leia Organa.
The variant cover art of "JOURNEY TO STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS - SHATTERED EMPIRE" No. 2 by Julian Totino Tedesco

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Marvel Zombies #4 - Marvel Comics

MARVEL ZOMBIES No. 4, December 2015
Described by “Marvel Worldwide” as containing an Elsa Bloodstone who is both “out of bullets and out of hope”, it’s hard, having read this concluding instalment to the “Secret Wars” mini-series, not to also feel that the Monster Hunter is additionally out of narrative as well. For whilst Issue Four of “Marvel Zombies” does ultimately determine the fate of the Shield (wall) Commander and “the child she swore to protect to salvation”, it only does so after a laboriously long conversation between the storyline’s primary protagonist and this Battleworld’s “different version” of her father.

Indeed for almost half the length of this twenty-page periodical the “Dupe effect” dad does little but batter and bicker with his “quick-witted” daughter as the “zombified version of Ulysses explains just how he has “pried” the Bloodstones from the corpses of “every duplicate of my line.” Admittedly parts of this 'monologue' are surprisingly dramatic, such as when Elsa matter-of-factly beheads her baleful parent for suggesting they form a “team-up” against a fast-approaching “full horde deployment” of “Rotters”, or her skeletal adversary bites off her hand when the soldier attempts to snatch back “the childhood you stole from me.”

But in the main Simon Spurrier’s flashback scenes depicting the various members of the “House of Bloodstone” wandering to their deaths having simply followed “this… funny feeling”, or worse, the “coiffured” killer taking his overly inquisitive wife Elise “down in the cellar” to “see what your daughter’s been learning” are sadly seemingly included to do little more than pad the comic out; “Monsters fiends oh no God he let it lay eggs in my brain… they ate my mind ohhhh help me help us help usss.”

Even Kev Walker’s usually bold strongly-defined artwork appears to occasionally suffer throughout this book, as several of the British illustrator’s panels contain some worryingly inconsistent, almost rushed sketches of the comic’s central character and the undead, increasingly hungry Mystique. The former “2000 A.D.” penciller’s pacing is equally as capricious at times as well, especially towards the end of the story when suddenly almost every sheet contains just two or three pictures for seemingly no obvious reason other than they need to be quickly filled with something…
Writer: Simon Spurrier, Artist: Kev Walker, and Color Artists: Guru-eFX

Friday, 6 November 2015

West Coast Avengers #2 - Marvel Comics

WEST COAST AVENGERS No. 2, October 1984
Featuring the debut of Roger Stern and Bob Hall’s creation The Blank, Issue Two of “West Coast Avengers” disappointingly pits the ‘fledgling’ super-group’s rather formidable roster up against one of the New York publisher’s most uninspiring and frankly third-rate villains ever. Indeed, if the “unemployed drifter” hadn’t conveniently encountered a Stark International Research scientist whilst waiting for a bus and subsequently stolen the inventor’s force field generator, then the Wackos really would spend the entire length of this comic book battling nothing more than an ordinary, powerless, criminally-minded “disgruntled” nobody.

Presumably however, such a forgettable foe was actually devised in order to allow the American author to spend a considerable portion of this twenty-three page periodical concentrating upon the doubts and fears of this “expansion of the main Avengers team”. Something the Noblesville-born novelist does to a disconcerting depth as practically every single one of the super-heroes featured within the narrative inwardly demonstrates some considerable team angst; “I’m not anywhere near being in his league… Why did I let Hawkeye talk me into joining his new Avengers team?”

Foremost of these doubting Thomas’ is arguably Wonder Man, the son of a rich industrialist who is clearly not half as confident with his “personal performance” as his self-assured Simon ‘stunt man’ Williams alter ego would suggest. In fact having demonstrated his inability to “handle one gimmicky bank robber by myself” the angry “ionic” powerhouse becomes worryingly obsessed with “nabbing” the Blank by himself just to prove ‘what good he is to the Avengers’.

Equally as image-driven, and quite possibly power-mad as well, is Jim Rhodes’ Iron Man. Concerned that Hawkeye’s gruelling daily workout showed him up and that he may be trading “on another man’s rep” since replacing Tony Stark “inside this metal suit”, the armoured “amateur” admits to revelling in the power bestowed upon him because it “felt good… read good!”

Fortunately this magazine does feature some incredibly lively action-packed artwork by Bob Hall. Admittedly the one-time “Charlton Comics” inker isn’t as consistent with his illustrations as some readers may have hoped for, particularly when sketching the Blank’s origin flashback. But the former “Marvel Comics” editor’s drawings of Iron Man, Tigra, Mockingbird and Hawkeye during the Wackos ‘mock’ battle against “Shellhead” prove to be an incredibly dynamically-charged way to start an otherwise rather run-of-the-mill story.
Writer: Roger Stern, Penciler: Bob Hall, and Inker: Brett Breeding

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Vampirella/Army Of Darkness #4 - Dynamite Entertainment

VAMPIRELLA/ARMY OF DARKNESS No. 4, OCTOBER 2015
Dishearteningly, if writer Mark Rahner genuinely didn’t want the character of Ashley J. Williams to appear “too cartoony” within this “Dynamite Entertainment” mini-series, then his script to Issue Four of “Vampirella/Army Of Darkness” is way off target. For whilst the comic’s basic premise is seemingly serious enough, with the two titular anti-heroes needing “to stop a bunch of dumbass monk brethren from [inadvertently] unleashing” a battalion of Deadites upon the Medieval world, the veteran journalist’s handling of the zombie-killer throughout the story can at best be described as a tragic ‘tongue in cheek’ parody of the smart-mouthed protagonist appealingly portrayed upon the silver screen by actor Bruce Campbell.

Indeed, despite utilising such readily identifiable visual clues such as his metal gauntlet, chainsaw and “Boomstick”, the Seattle-based podcaster’s Ash is almost unrecognisable as the “exorcist of the Evil Dead [movie] franchise”, and it is no surprise that Vampirella has little more than contempt for the idiotic womaniser. In fact it would arguably make more sense if the “uptight vampire chick” decided that Lord Arthur’s battle against the Kandarian Demons would actually go better without the “Chosen One” messing everything up; “Protecting that idiot would be a full-time job.”

Sadly however, Rahner’s version of the “twenty-first century vampire supermodel” is not all that much more agreeable either and appears to have little in common with the comic book super-heroine first created by Forrest J Ackerman and Trina Robbins in 1969. Certainly it’s hard to associate the former “horror-story hostess” to the Pulitzer Prize-winner’s giant-sized winged demoness, who feverishly bites the heads off of her Deadite prey before consuming them… And just why, having been brought into this “mini-adventure” directly as a result of Ash’s buffoonery and mispronunciation of the Necronomicon’s “Klaato verata nicto” does Vampirella ultimately decide that her companion isn’t actually “so bad..”?

Fortunately Jett Morales’ pencilling for this particular twenty-page periodical is a marginal improvement on the “emerging” new artist’s previous, rather disappointing work for the title. Indeed some of his panels depicting the “Boomstick” making merry with the heads of several possessed monks are extremely well-drawn, as is the Philippino’s excellent single-splash drawing of Ash and Vampirella taking the battle to the Deadite Angels in the sky.
The regular cover art of "VAMPIRELLA/ARMY OF DARKNESS" No. 4 by Tim Seeley 

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Batman #28 [The New 52] - DC Comics

BATMAN No. 28, April 2014
It’s arguably unlikely in February 2014 that many of this magazine’s 114,089 buyers were especially impressed with “Gotham Eternal”. For whilst it has long been a strategy of comic publishers to advertise upcoming titles within their products, either via a crossover-story or printing some sample sheets towards the back of a book, Issue Twenty Eight of “Batman” decidedly goes a step too far by dedicating its entirety to a tale which proves little more than a teaser for “DC Comics” “year-long weekly limited series” “Batman Eternal”.

Indeed this twenty-two page periodical’s narrative, which focus’ upon Bluebird’s infiltration of a nefarious secret society run by Selina Kyle, has absolutely nothing in common with that of its forerunner, apart from fact that the Dark Knight features in the somewhat substandard story. It doesn’t even contain the tiniest of references to the fact that the tale has jarringly interrupted Scott Snyder’s mega-event “Zero Year: Dark City” and the American author’s redefining of the Caped Crusader’s origin.  

As a result the reader is literally thrown into the New Yorker’s ‘teasing’ script completely blind and as such much of what then follows make little to no sense whatsoever. Especially as the near future plot is seemingly based upon numerous Gothamites apparently being “infected” with something which an imprisoned Stephanie Brown holds “the key” to stopping..?

Admittedly parts of the Eagle Award-winner’s collaboration with James Tynion IV are moderately entertaining. Harper Row’s appearance as a ‘fully-fledged’ “feisty” sidekick, complete with over-sized “bad-boy” shock rifle and blue Mohawk hairstyle, is an especially welcome new addition to the Batman Family, as is the pair’s reimagining of a sleek and sophisticated Catwoman. But not even an exciting firefight housed within a casino full of armed goons is enough to distract from the increasing number of questions this disjointed printed oddity raises up until it’s frustrating “the story begins in Batman Eternal #1 on sale this April!” final panel…

Perhaps even more unforgivable however, has to be this comic’s inferior illustrations by Dustin Nguyen. The Vietnamese penciller can clearly imbue his characters with a tremendous amount of energy and movement. Yet such dynamism is sadly ruined by the conceptual artist’s bizarrely misshapen heads, inconsistent physicalities and wooden-looking poses.
The variant cover art of "BATMAN" No. 28 by Howard Chaykin

Monday, 2 November 2015

Aliens Vs. Zombies #3 - Zenescope Entertainment

ALIENS VS. ZOMBIES No. 3, September 2015
Chock full of the Undead, as any good zombie comic book should be, this third instalment of the five-issue mini-series by “Zenescope Entertainment” not only manages to keep its meagre readership happy on account of numerous cadavers stalking the streets looking for flesh to feast upon. But also rather successfully manages to take a leaf out of Robert Kirkman’s magnum opus “The Walking Dead” by having some of the narrative’s humans truly be the real monsters of the magazine.

For although Joe Brusha clearly portrays the carnivorous corpses as this title’s main ever-present threat, especially to the likes of alien navigator Tammy who is trapped and surrounded inside the remains of her crashed spacecraft. It is actually the conniving criminal Tavon, a man willing to do anything for the extra-terrestrial’s “priceless” gear, who perhaps somewhat unsurprisingly turns ‘traitor’ and becomes the Pennsylvania-based publisher’s main villain of the piece. In fact the characterisation of the shotgun-carrying bully is so splendidly written that it’s genuinely hard not to dislike the selfish greedy gang leader even before he betrays the ‘frog-faced’ Cromm and threatens to kill young Destiny, unless Balgar and Tak surrender to him.

Impressively this periodical also manages to find the time within its twenty-three pages to both ‘flesh-out’ a bit more detail behind Captain Nova’s determination to eradicate the universe of the “interstellar [zombie] virus” and provide any “Aliens Vs. Zombies” fans with some pulse-pounding ‘Evel Knievel’ antics as Melissa and Colt ride through a horde of brain-hungry living corpses on motorbikes en route to Center City’s cemetery; “Hey Colt… Follow my lead. And try to keep up.”

All of this action and drama is wonderfully drawn by Vincenzo Riccardi, with the comic artist’s Undead, whether they be white-eyed humans, multiple-armed, squid-headed Martians or fork-tongued lizardmen, proving to be the highlight of the book. Admittedly some of the penciller’s panels are a little disappointingly inconsistent whenever they feature the rather doe-eyed adolescent Destiny. However these minor aberrations are easily forgiveable once the action starts back up and the story’s combatants either bloodily pummel their ghoulish foes to death with baseball bats or gorily eviscerate them with stunningly sharp swords.
The variant cover art of "ALIENS VS. ZOMBIES" No. 3 by Giuseppe Cafaro and Brett Smith

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Where Monsters Dwell #5 - Marvel Comics

WHERE MONSTERS DWELL No. 5, December 2015
Almost entirely devoted to an incredibly dull dialogue between the Phantom Eagle and Clemmie Franklin-Cox, this concluding instalment of “Where Monsters Dwell” proves to be a poignant reminder that “having a pint with [“Marvel Worldwide”] editor Nick Lowe” may not have been the best motivation for Garth Ennis to pen a mini-series. For whilst the Northern Irish-born American’s “Secret Wars” five-issue mini-series has undoubtedly had its highpoints with its giant dinosaurs, underwater leviathans, “diminutive cannibals” and Amazonian goddesses. This particular twenty-page periodical doesn’t contain any of them, and instead could arguably have avoided being printed at all, if its previous edition had simply been lengthened by a couple of pages at most.

Indeed all the Eagle Award-winner has happen within this comic book is for Karl Kaufmann to swiftly “repair his plane” using “an engine and propeller [stolen] from the beautiful warrior women” of Battleworld and fly away. Something which is essentially inferred within the final few panels of this title’s preceding publication and hardly seems to warrant having an entire magazine dedicated to its telling.

Admittedly Ennis does use this opportunity to exceedingly expand the backstory of Clementine by having the widow of Lord Bertie Cox explain how her husband “fell off a boat and drowned” during “a cruise in the South Seas” and her subsequent detention on suspicion of the rich man’s murder by “the captain and crew”. But whilst some of this character development is mildly interesting, the vast majority of the callous would-be killer’s lengthy discourse is nauseating nonsense and even wincingly vulgar at times, such as when the “well-heeled” woman describes her wedding night and ‘doing the necessary’.

Ultimately however this comic’s narrative disappoints because the “English socialite” is portrayed as being so callous and dislikeable that it is genuinely hard for the reader to actually care what impelled her to be as equally disagreeable a “piece of work” as Kaufmann. As a result by the time the flying ace’s passenger has decided not to shoot the “general jerk” dead with her pistol, and instead allows him to depart into the sky unmolested, its doubtful many readers will be even remotely interested in what is taking place...
Writer: Garth Ennis, Artist: Russ Braun and Color Artist: Dono Sanchez Almara