Saturday, 31 December 2016

Conan The Slayer #5 - Dark Horse Comics

CONAN THE SLAYER No. 5, November 2016
In many ways one could argue that this particular instalment of Cullen Bunn’s “Blood In His Wake” story-arc sadly unravels throughout Issue Five of “Conan The Slayer” just as badly as the traitorous Kyrlo’s plans do to replace his brother as Hetman of the Kozaki raiders. It’s certainly hard to see any logical justification as to why the murderer’s demonic mentor has been helping Taraslan’s impotent, though undoubtedly “villainous sibling” rise to the chiefdom of a settlement of horsemen... Unless of course the decaying entity simply takes pleasure from instigating such random acts of “despicable treachery”; arguably a somewhat lazy motivation for a Hyborian Age character which hardly befits a script inspired by the carefully considered literary works of Robert E. Howard - “The father of the sword and sorcery subgenre.” 

Fortunately however, what the Cape Fear-born author’s narrative lacks in rationale, it more than makes up for with horrific action, as the Cimmerian faces a fortress filled with the walking, rancid corpses of undead warriors. Indeed, just as soon as the barbarian starts scouting the water-logged ruins of Gorey Castle, the pace to this twenty-two page periodical’s plot increases exponentially and packs almost every frame with as much gut-wrenching bodily mutilation and disembowelling swordplay as presumably “Red Sonja” artist Sergio Davila’s pencil can muster.

This incredible ‘torrent’ of violence simply doesn’t stop until the comic’s very end, and resultantly it’s hard not to imagine at least some of this book’s 8,326-strong audience wincing as the Kozaks gruesomely fall “victim to these restless dead”, or disconcertingly blanche as Conan momentarily stumbles before a ‘supernaturally fast’ weapon blow, having had the debilitating wound draw “the very life out of me!” But whilst such intense and unending bloodshed could potentially prove rather wearisome, Bunn’s decision to have the blacksmith’s son realise the desperate futility of his situation, and the need for his companions to retreat making “as much noise as you can”, provides at least a little thinking behind the muscular mercenary’s determination to reach the haunted keep and rescue Mykylo’s stubborn-headed son; “We cannot win a standup fight with these things! Force your way past them! These grounds are bedevilled -- We must flee before we’re overrun!”
Script: Cullen Bunn, Artist: Sergio Davila, and Colors: Michael Atiyeh

Friday, 30 December 2016

Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor #2 - Titan Comics

DOCTOR WHO: THE ELEVENTH DOCTOR No. 2, September 2014
Selling 15,947 copies in September 2014, Al Ewing’s script for Issue Two of “Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor” must surely have bemused the vast majority of its audience with its bizarre trip to a world both the Gallifreyan and his (brand) new companion have apparently visited ten years before. Indeed, from the moment August Hart appears and chides the duo for having had him previously demoted to “Chief Security Officer of this… ridiculous little sideshow” the English comic book writer’s ‘wibbly wobbly timey wimey’ narrative becomes all a bit too silly, and even goes as far as to imply that the Timelord will ‘collect’ a second assistant at some point in the future; “Now, where’s the other one?”   

Sadly however, even before the appearance of the “classic bully with a bit of sadist thrown in”, the storyline for “The Friendly Place” is struggling to really do anything different from what the television programme has shown before. The premise of an overly friendly ‘holiday camp’ planet within which lurks a dark, “long-buried”, sinister secret has been seen previously in the 1967 serial “The Macra Terror”. Whilst a mental parasite feeding off “the desire… to make trouble”, and thereby pacifying society’s “problem elements” is far too close to the Keller Machine entity depicted in the 1971 transmitted tale “The Mind Of Evil”.

Disconcertingly, even Simon Fraser’s artwork for this “magical vacation” on an “austerity-hit pleasure planet” appears tired and lifeless. Admittedly, the Scottish artist’s initial breakdowns, illustrating the “mysterious” Doctor’s early exploration of the gaudily colourful Rokhandi World, are pleasant enough to the eyes. But his pencilling soon significantly deteriorates once the time travellers have decided to accept “a complimentary Rokhandi Floss” and enter the dimly lit monster’s lair. In fact, the longer the twenty-two page periodical plays out the more minimalist the artwork becomes, and it is almost as if Fraser spent so long carefully drawing his stunningly detailed splash pages of “the friendliest world for all” that he had scant time to finish the rest of the comic.

Criticisms as to the look and plot of this publication aside though, Ewing’s ability to replicate actor Matt Smith’s speech pattern, especially early on when the titular character is berating an “eerie, giant-headed” pig-costumed employee, genuinely brings a smile to the face, and is undoubtedly this book’s saving grace. It’s certainly very easy to hear the BAFTA Award-nominee’s voice and spoken inflection throughout the Doctor’s dialogue, with the Gallifreyan’s lecturing of Hart proving to be a highlight of an otherwise unremarkable and confusing climax…
Writer: Al Ewing, Artist: Simon Fraser, and Colorist: Gary Caldwell

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Action Man #1 - IDW Publishing

ACTION MAN No. 1, June 2016
Based upon a late Sixties “twelve-inch doll for boys to play with in various different army outfits”, this bitterly disappointing twenty-six page modern-day reinvention of “the United Kingdom’s one-man answer to G.I. Joe” into an almost omnipotent MI5 operative appears to have been a major miscalculation by “IDW Publishing” and their supposed ‘God of Continuity’, writer John Barber. Indeed, if it wasn’t for the fact that the super-talented spy depicted within Issue One of “Action Man” wasn’t persistently referred to as “A.M.”, then one could quite easily be forgiven for believing the former senior editor’s narrative is actually portraying Ian Fleming’s internationally famous fictional British secret serviceman, rather than being based upon the accessory-laden figure produced by “Palitoy”.

Disconcertingly however, this shock that the “master of all forms of fighting, communication, and disguise” is also “a tenth-level judo black belt, member of Mensa, and a three-star Michelin chef”, as opposed to a veteran military operative deployed to the toughest known warzones in the world, is as nothing compared to the astonishment caused by the freelance comic book writer’s decision to kill the titular character off at the conclusion of the prologue, and replace him with the immeasurably immature and juvenile Agent Ian Noble; “one of A.M.’s support crew”, who, whilst “capable enough”, has so many “ideas beyond his station” as to be entirely unlikeable and, perhaps more importantly, utterly unbelievable as the “muppet” who won the top prize...   

Admittedly, not everything within Barber’s re-imagining is entirely without merit. The ‘new’ Action Man’s incompetent attempt to thwart a group of terrorists planning to detonate a dirty bomb outside Shepreth Wildlife Park certainly proves pulse-pounding enough, as the youngster guns down a train-full of hijackers and derails the locomotive straight into the middle of a “tiger enrichment programme.” But such scintillating sequences are few and far between within a narrative seemingly far more interested in undermining the abilities of its disagreeable and somewhat foul-mouthed lead protagonist.

Paolo Villanelli’s decidedly Manga-influenced breakdowns don’t help the accessibility of this publication either. Though rather better than Chris Evenhuis’ soulless sketchings for the comic’s six-page prologue, the penciller’s inability to draw Noble consistently, especially during the more sedentary scenes, quickly irks, as does his propensity for incorporating numerous ‘speed lines’ whenever anything, even Ian's 'eagle eyes', move fast.
The regular cover art of "ACTION MAN" No. 1 by Chris Evenhuis

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Jackboot & Ironheel #2 - IDW Publishing

JACKBOOT & IRONHEEL No. 2, September 2016
Featuring a slavering green-eyed killer hound, some terrifying multi-tentacled creature at the bottom of a lake, and the putrefying living corpse of Muggenthaler, Issue Two” of “Jackboot & Ironheel” genuinely seems to live up to its creator’s aspiration as being a fantasy title packed full of “unearthly horrors”. However, in order to reach such scintillating supernatural shenanigans this twenty-two page periodical’s audience must first sadly, endure an incredibly ponderous start which follows both the “sinister” ‘SS’ officer Kommandant Von-Kleist as he bemoans the “decommissioning” of “this damned prison” and Gunter's illogical determination to allow Eddie Neale to try and play football with Sister Evangeline inside the prisoner of war’s cramped cell.

This tedious opening third really must have tested the patience of any causal bibliophile who picked the ‘creator-driven comic’ up from the magazine spinner rack, and arguably contains some truly disinteresting and unconvincing dialogue as the captive West Ham striker somehow persuades his German guard that instead of fighting one another their two countries should actually “sort out their differences on the football field… Just eleven men playing against eleven… fair and square!” It’s certainly hard to believe this thirty second conversation would not only convince Gunter that the Englishman isn’t his enemy, but subsequently influence the church’s Mother Superior to help the “number nine” escape over her chapel’s roof after she had previously warned her nuns not to get “too involved with the prisoners.”

Luckily, once doomed sentries Muller and Wilhelm decide the ‘best time’ to go looking for their superior officer’s hound in the nearby woodland is at night, the freelance illustrator’s script transforms itself into a thoroughly enjoyable, if not slightly clichéd, read. Indeed, the dog’s savaging of his would-be-rescuer’s intestines is just the start of a ghastly gore-fest which sees the tail-gunner swimming for his life away from buoyant zombies and a crewman aboard a Nazi gunboat being dragged down into the cold murky depths by a multi-limbed monstrosity; “I have you, Joachim, fear not! You’re safe… with meee!”

Perhaps the most disconcerting element of this comic though, is Millgate’s highly stylized, yet amateurish-looking, breakdowns. Often wooden and featuring the most rudimentary of details, the World War Two buff’s overly angular figures consistently ‘break’ any sort of spell which his narrative was trying to weave, and it truly appears to be a shame that none of the “amazing artists” lined up “to do all of the variant covers” ultimately materialised so as to reduce the burden of Max “writing, pencilling, inking and colouring the whole thing myself.”
The variant 'subscription' cover art of "JACKBOOT & IRONHEEL" No. 2 by Max Millgate

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Predator Vs. Judge Dredd Vs. Aliens #3 - Dark Horse Comics

PREDATOR VS. JUDGE DREDD VS. ALIENS No. 3, December 2016
Having spent so much time and patience in the previous two instalments contrivingly conspiring to ensure that all three of this mini-series’ titular characters are thrown together for “the biggest brawl in the history of the universe”, it is doubtful many of readers enjoyed John Layman’s resoundingly swift, and arguably unbelievable, resolutions within Issue Three of “Predator Vs Judge Dredd Vs Aliens”. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine more of a ‘cop-out’ than the Eisner Award-winner’s belief that the Justice Department would actually befriend “the universe’s deadliest killers” rather than ‘sentence them to death’; especially when Chris Mooneyham so graphically illustrates one of the extra-terrestrial hunter’s spearing Judge Gilligan whilst the injured man is being carried to safety by Mega-City One’s toughest lawman; “You just made a big mistake scum.”

Disconcertingly however, that is precisely what the American author would have his “IDW and 2000 A.D.” co-publication's audience believe, and later even goes so far as to portray Joe begrudgingly praising the Yautja for murdering his colleague by declaring that he won’t be “charging him for what he did to Judge Gilligan.” Maybe the sentient, humanoid alien was “right” and the lawman “was already doomed as soon as the implanted xenomorph started to grow within him.” But Dredd doesn’t usually wait around to see whether or not someone who has killed a judge is justified or not? And this attitude certainly fails to explain why, despite one of them having been levelled by a blow from Fargo’s clone, the three predators decide to team-up with Judge Anderson when they are only facing two of their endoparasitoid extra-terrestrial prey.  

Just as preposterous is Layman’s bizarre plot-twist that depicts Cassandra somehow managing to take over the mind of Judge McCrary, in order for her to manipulate the alien DNA-fused lawman into both attacking a Predator-Xenomorph XX121 hybrid and releasing a seemingly securely incarcerated Dredd. This psychic power is admittedly not completely out of the realms of plausibility considering the Psi Judge’s documented abilities are chiefly telepathy and precognition. Yet it, along with her sudden aptitude to mentally communicate with the Yautja, still seems a little too convenient considering at the time Anderson was in the hands of the mad genetic scientist Dr. Reinstöt…
Script: John Layman, Artist: Chris Mooneyham, and Colors: Michael Atiyeh

Monday, 26 December 2016

Star Trek: Boldly Go #2 - IDW Publishing

STAR TREK: BOLDLY GO No. 2, November 2016
The potential for permanently disillusioning this “blockbuster” series’ dedicated 9,012 readers must have played merry upon the mind of Mike Johnson when he penned the script for Issue Two of “Star Trek: Boldly Go”. For although the “IDW Publishing” author’s narrative is not the only piece of published fiction to feature James Kirk and Mister Spock encountering the collective species known as the Borg, this twenty-page periodical is the first time that the U.S.S. Enterprise’s “brash” captain from the Kelvin Timeline does so.

Indeed, much of this comic’s captivating charm stems from the somewhat unusual situation that the vast majority of the book’s audience almost certainly knew far more about the Federation’s ‘newest’ adversary than the Starfleet officers themselves, and it definitely wouldn’t have come as a shock to many bibliophiles that the “entire saucer section” of the significantly underpowered U.S.S. Concord is literally ‘carved up’ by the cybernetic organism’s craft just as soon as the Freedom-class starship encounters it; “They called themselves the Borg. They locked us in a tractor beam immediately.”

Fortunately however, despite a sense of familiarity with a storyline that harks back to that of the 1990 “Star Trek: The Next Generation” two-part television serial “The Best Of Both Worlds”, Johnson still manages to include the odd agreeable surprise within this Trekkie tome by having Kirk’s latest command, the U.S.S. Endeavour, face a Borg sphere rather than one of the “recurring antagonists” cubes. This long-range tactical scout ship is no-where near as formidable a threat as the Collective’s much larger primary vessel, and makes for a far more ‘believable match’ when James Tiberius interferes with the aliens’ assimilation of the outpost Armstrong courtesy of a “full torpedo spread on my mark”.

Equally as enjoyable is Clark Terrell’s materialisation on board the Endeavour’s bridge after the Concord’s captain has apparently had his “biological distinctiveness” added to the extra-terrestrial hive mind. This alternative version of the character from the 1982 America science fiction film “Star Trek: The Wrath Of Khan” is wonderfully rendered by artist Tony Shasteen and embodies all of the cybernetic species’ arrogant apathy towards the outpost survivor’s would-be rescuers.  In fact, the graphic illustrator’s pencilling throughout the comic, with the notable exception of the sedentary scenes set on New Vulcan, genuinely imbue the plot’s proceedings with a scintillating sense of speed and palatable tension.
The variant cover art of "STAR TREK: BOLDLY GO" No. 2 by Marc Laming

Sunday, 25 December 2016

Uber: Invasion #1 - Avatar Press

UBER: INVASION No. 1, November 2016
Reading like some sort of degenerate history book, Issue One of “Uber: Invasion” is undoubtedly “one of the most horrible things” which Kieron Gillen has written. In fact, considering that this twenty-two page periodical depicts both the treacherous destruction of Bethlehem Hingham Shipyard and the cowardly obliteration of Boston, as well as battleship Siegfried’s harrowing mutilation of President Truman in his official residence, it is hard to imagine a more upsetting title with which “Avatar Press” could try and sell to its fellow Americans. It’s certainly clear why the publishing house successfully sought $51,083 funding via “Kickstarter” in order to bring such a contentious series “to life.”

Fortunately, such “grim and gritty work” by the Third Reich’s ‘alternative Second World War’ invasion force is seemingly kept to something of a minimum within this Teutonic tome courtesy of the Stafford-born writer’s script heavily focusing upon Britain’s unsurprising capitulation to Germany following the defeat of H.M.H. Churchill in Calais and the Soviet’s apparent disinterest in taking the fight to the Fatherland. Indeed, setting aside this comic’s propensity for profanity-laden violence, much of it actually reads like a frightful re-imagining of a legitimate, factually-accurate chronicle, and even goes so far as to enthrallingly incorporate the hand-written scribblings of General Sankt’s last journal and plenty of sombre, black and white film footage…

Perhaps this magazine’s most enthralling asset however, is Gillen’s ability to persistently erode the American Government’s confident comprehension of the war’s current situation, by regularly undermining statesman Franklin Stimson’s assumptions as to both his country’s perceived parity with the German’s enhanced human programme, and his security department’s intelligence as to the whereabouts of the “unstoppable monsters” Siegfried, Sieglinde and Siegmund; “At this moment, [the] Allies were unaware of the German ruse.” Such a deluge of disinformation could admittedly make for a truly depressing and ominous experience, but somehow the Kerrang! Award-winner’s narrative about the United States “struggling to make up lost ground in the Enhanced Soldier development” race, coupled with Daniel Gete’s pencilling of the President’s gory demise and the reformation of the White House into a giant metal swastika, genuinely proves a terrifyingly captivating read.
The regular cover art of "UBER: INVASION" No. 1 by Daniel Gete

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Star Wars: The Force Awakens #1 - Marvel Comics

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS No. 1, August 2016
Surprisingly published some six months after the $780 million profit-earning theatrical release of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”, this opening issue of the “Marvel Worldwide” movie adaption mini-series really does suggest Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso was in a desperate hurry to get the comic out and into the hands of its 79,626 strong audience. For whilst the thick thirty-page long periodical starts with Kylo Ren’s cold-blooded destruction of the Tuanul Village on the planet of Jakku, it portrays this event some way into the film’s actual beginning and almost irreverently ‘skips’ over both “old ally” Lor San Tekka’s role in giving Poe Dameron “a map to the last Jedi, Luke Skywalker”, and the resistance pilot’s subsequent battle with a small number of stormtroopers.

This ‘summarisation’ of events might be forgivable if it were simply utilised in order to draw the reader straight into the sinister First Order’s conflict. But unfortunately, Chuck Wendig’s narrative actually uses the action-abbreviating technique throughout the entirety of the book, and resultantly omits several arguably key events in the creation of both Rey and Finn’s character development...

The most obvious of these absences is the screenwriter's disconcerting omission of FN-2003’s bloody death during the Tuanul villager’s massacre. An emotionally defining moment during the motion picture, the entire ‘episode’ isn’t even referred to by way of a flashback and instead, almost casually just ‘crops up’ in a text box which explains why FN-2187 has some sort of dirty hand-print caked over one side of his helmet. There’s certainly no explanation given as to the fact that his friend’s death has shaken the assault trooper’s faith in the First Order’s mission, or that this is the reason behind why he later goes on to thwart their plans to destroy General Leia Organa’s “brave” Resistance.

Equally as unsatisfactorily ‘rushed’ as the writing, would appear to be the inconsistent artwork of Luke Ross. Undoubtedly able to pencil Tie-fighters, Star Destroyers and the Millennium Falcon, the former “Jonah Hex” illustrator only sporadically manages to capture a passing likeness of actors Oscar Isaac or John Boyega, and definitely struggles to acquire any of Daisy Ridley’s melancholic wistfulness at Rey being orphaned outside Niima Outpost to a dangerously harsh life of scavenging.
The variant cover art of "STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS" No. 1 by Phil Noto

Friday, 23 December 2016

Daredevil [2016] #7 - Marvel Comics

DAREDEVIL No. 7, July 2016
It is highly unlikely that many of the 43,704 strong audience for Issue Seven of “Daredevil” found Charles Soule’s narrative an especially satisfying conclusion to “Elektric Connection”. Indeed, it is hard to imagine that many of this twenty-page periodical's readers could actually make sense of the Brooklyn-born writer’s plot concerning Matt Murdock’s “past paramour” being tricked into believing she had a daughter and that the costumed crime-fighter was responsible for the child being taken away; especially when this ‘mind control’ actually makes the deadly assassin believe that video footage documenting Iona’s abduction exists on an empty cell phone..?

Just why the Milwaukee-born writer believes such inexplicable, illogical nonsense would make for a good read is far from obvious, and disappointingly, seems to have been crow-barred together simply to provide an extremely contrived motivation for Elektra to savagely attack the comic’s titular character. It’s certainly hard to ‘buy into’ a narrative which depicts Natchios not only immediately locating the culprits behind her delusion within “the most populous city in the United States”, but also having her mind conveniently “unlocked” so as to realise everything which she believed “was all a lie” when one of the villains uses the expression “the tangled web we weave.”

This woefully ludicrous and opportunely organised resolution is arguably then made all the worse by Soule portraying Frank Miller’s creation as being positively delighted that she didn’t have a child and actually informs Daredevil that it's “a happy ending.” In fact, the Kingpin’s former employee even goes so far as to start crying in relief, despite her never thinking she could feel such pain; “They did that to me… Gave me a child… And made me think I’d lost her.”

Perhaps far from enthused by such an artificial adventure, Matteo Buffagni’s artwork lacks any semblance of life or energy, despite a fair portion of the publication detailing the lead protagonist’s confrontations with both the ‘Man without Fear’ and subsequently, one of the men who gave her the blank phone in the first place. This absence of any atmosphere in the breakdowns is perhaps best seen early on when a particularly wooden-looking Elektra repeatedly threatens to stab a transfixed Hornhead with one of her trademark bladed Sais over the course of a number of frames; all of which lack any sense of the overly-emotional assassin’s inner turmoil and restrained need for violence.
The variant cover art of "DAREDEVIL" No. 7 by Khoi Pham

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Star Trek: Boldly Go #1 - IDW Publishing

STAR TREK: BOLDLY GO No. 1, October 2016
The first in a “new ongoing comic series” by “IDW Publishing” which chronicles the adventures of Captain Kirk following the 2016 “Star Trek: Beyond” motion picture and the publisher’s previous sixty-issue long title “penned primarily” under Mike Johnson’s watch, this premiere edition of “Star Trek: Boldly Go” must still have left something of a disheartening taste in the mouths of its 14,690 readers with its plodding plot cataloguing the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise’s re-assignments to “new ships and new roles.” It’s certainly doubtful many readers would have become thrilled by a narrative which focusses upon Spock’s father preparing “a special Plomeek Soup of his own recipe” for Nyota, and Bones’ gruff welcome aboard the U.S.S Endeavour by (Medical) Chief Groffus; a Tellarite “with decades more experience” than Doctor McCoy.

Fortunately however, the former “Transformers: Prime” tie-in author does finally inject some tension into his storyline by having the Iowa-born officer’s latest command pick up the “fragments of what appear to be a distress call from the U.S.S. Concord near the Delta Quadrant Border.” This interruption of the Captain’s “leisure time” with Pavel and Leonard, not only raises a concern as to the welfare of the apparently endangered starship’s new Commander, Hikaru Sulu, but also provides an opportunity to explore the somewhat taught relationship between James Tiberius and his potentially untrustworthy, yet clearly highly capable, Romulan First Officer, Valas.

In addition, the rescue mission also sets up the twenty-page periodical for a genuinely pulse-pounding cliff-hanger, as both Uhura and the “second-in-command of the Concord” repeat the ‘famous’ Trekkie phrase “resistance is futile…” and editor Sarah Gaydos arguably makes good on her promise that “Mike and Tony [Shasteen] are poised to take the series in such an exciting direction” including “some interesting friends and foes from the past.”

Without doubt this “all-new” title’s greatest asset though, is Shasteen’s crisp, albeit slightly cartoony, illustration work, which genuinely captures the likenesses of all of Kirk’s “iconic crew” from the franchise’s 2009 cinematic reboot. Indeed, the Art Institute of Atlanta graduate appears to have a particular penchant for pencilling actors Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto. Whilst his ability to draw Federation starships really helps bring home the destruction of the Concord after the vessel has its saucer section just ‘taken away’ by the hostile “angry machine” it unexpectedly encounters.
The regular cover art of "STAR TREK: BOLDLY GO" No. 1 by George Caltsoudas

Monday, 19 December 2016

James Bond #11 - Dynamite Entertainment

JAMES BOND No. 11, October 2016
Having previously ‘told’ the story of “Eidolon” in a straightforwardly linear manner, Warren Ellis tries something a little different for Issue Eleven of “James Bond” by revisiting M’s previously depicted arrival at “designated Safehouse India Uniform Lima” via a series of flashback sequences, and resultantly shifts the vast majority of this twenty-two page periodical’s focus firmly away from the lead protagonist. Indeed, for those very few bibliophiles ignorant of Ian Fleming’s creation, and purely cognisant of Eve Sharma’s ability to thwart both Beckett’s crack-shot henchmen and the facially-disfigured SPECTRE stay-behind operative himself, this particular publication would seem to be more about promoting the female MI5 “prime field team” leader as Britain’s foremost secret agent, rather than the titular character.

Such a somewhat disconcertingly lop-sided narrative is actually made all the worse by the Essex-born author’s seemingly intentional portrayal of an incredibly impotent 007. For despite his role in a ferocious fire-fight fought within the cramped confines of a lavish lounge, as well as the agent spending the better half of the magazine chasing after the ‘Heathrow Hitter’ Hawkwood in a pulse-pounding car chase through the English countryside, the secret serviceman’s sole success comes courtesy of his close-range shooting of Sir Stephen Mackmain in the back, and even then the spy's marksmanship is so surprisingly poor that the blue-suited traitor requires a subsequent ‘head-tap’ before he’s truly ‘out of the picture’…

So poor a showing by Bond behind both the wheel of a Bentley and a hand-held firing piece must genuinely have dismayed many of this comic’s 11,340 readers, and frustratingly seems to take place simply to ensure that the adventure continues into a sixth, arguably unnecessary, instalment. There certainly doesn’t appear to be any other justification as to why Ellis depicts James being unusually presumptuous in writing off a nemesis who has tried to kill him repeatedly and has access to “a volumetric vacuum bomb”; “Hawkwood’s in the wind. But he’s the last member of the Eidolon cell. What can he do on his own?”

Disappointingly, Jason Masters artwork for this somewhat underwhelming script is just as inconsistent as its writing. True, the South African’s pencilling for the majority of the shoot-outs is pretty dynamically drawn, just as his breakdowns of the car chase appear to genuinely emanate a sense of racing, break-neck speed. But his two-dimensional illustrations of Miss Sharma overpowering Hawkwood’s heavily-armed goons, followed by an awkward-looking Bond running for a car are amateurish in appearance at best.
Writer: Warren Ellis, Artist: Jason Masters, and Colors: Guy Major

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Conan The Slayer #4 - Dark Horse Comics

CONAN THE SLAYER No. 4, October 2016
Whilst undoubtedly this comic’s 8,657 quite rightly expected Issue Four of “Conan The Slayer” to feature a plot within which the titular Cimmerian was the central focus, Cullen Bunn’s narrative for “Blood In His Wake” does so in a somewhat illogical manner. For having previously shown Kyrylo selling out his brother to the Turanians, as well as murdering his father in order to attain the title of Kozaki hetman, the Bram Stoker Award-nominee disconcertingly pens for the overly-ambitious traitor to attain his thoroughly deserved come-uppance via a certain black-haired barbarian, rather than his rival sibling, Taraslan.

Admittedly, the “inexperienced” horseman is still carrying a somewhat debilitating arrow wound courtesy of his younger counterpart conspiring “with the Turanians to assassinate” him, and additionally, is evidently exhausted from his flight on foot from “a pack of hideous troll brothers and their amorous sea-witch mother”. But surely it would still make much more sense for the true heir to Mykylo’s chieftainship to boldly “stride into the funeral of a great man while brandishing a weapon” and face the monster who had “slain his own flesh and blood out of arrogance and jealously", rather than the mercenary outlander; especially when Taraslan is still aided by “the battle-proficient Oksana”..?

Equally as implausibly lazy as the North Carolina-born writer’s ‘excuse’ to have Conan stride into the midst of the Kozaks and mutilate a handful of them, is the American author’s highly questionable plot-twist concerning the captive conspirator’s unfathomable release by the Eater of the Dead and subsequent escape in the pincer-like arms of several flying demons. Just why a deity who has haunted the wastes “for boundless centuries” has decided to aid a failed usurper of a small horse-faring tribe is never explained, nor why he determines the smartest way to extract Kyrylo from his imprisonment is to conjure a flock of noisy, winged creatures and thereby risk his ignoble pawn's safety at the hands of an enraged Cimmerian..?

Enthusiastically pencilling all these dubious ‘goings-on’, Sergio Davila’s breakdowns are as refreshingly raw as his figures are well-muscled and dynamically drawn. Indeed, it is hard to pick out which is the commissioned artist’s best work within this twenty-two page periodical; the phenomenally gory head-removing sweeps of Conan’s infamous broadsword or the characters’ wonderfully dramatic facial features.
Script: Cullen Bunn, Artist: Sergio Davila, and Colors: Michael Atiyeh

Friday, 16 December 2016

Daredevil [2016] #6 - Marvel Comics

DAREDEVIL No. 6, June 2016
As ‘magazine-long’ fight-fests go, there is little that is technically wrong with Charles Soule’s script for Issue Six of “Daredevil”. True, the actual motivation behind such a vicious battle across the rooftops of New York City isn’t made clear until the comic’s final splash panel, and ‘new’ incoming penciller Matteo Buffagni’s imitation of his predecessor’s distinctive art-style arguably leaves quite a bit to be desired. But this twenty-page periodical does feature a fast-moving contest between two of the publisher’s most enduring ‘street level’ combatants, and even manages to momentarily depict the titular character’s protégé, Blindspot, squaring off against Frank Miller’s “Deadly Assassin”.

Sadly however, all these shenanigans surprisingly seem to lack any real semblance of life or energy, and instead simply seem to suggest that this twenty-page periodical’s creative team were just ‘going through the motions’ in order to deliver a monthly title. Indeed, the vast majority of “Practice To Deceive” feels as if it is merely a ‘filler-in’ edition, penned purely for the book’s cliff-hanger ending in which Elektra accuses her former lover of ‘abducting’ her child; “It was all I had. The one bit of light in all this hell. And you will tell me, Daredevil, if I have to cut away every lie your body holds. What have you done with my daughter?”

It certainly seems hard to justify why else the Milwaukee-born writer would dedicate three whole pages of his narrative to a depressingly grey-toned scene, set inside the New York Supreme Criminal Court, solely to depict Orestez Natchios’ sister meeting Matt Murdock, or a similarly-sized chunk of the comic in which the tale’s 48,745-strong readership must painfully watch the uncomfortable couple subsequently dinning out together… 

Buffagni’s lack-lustre renderings must also partially shoulder this publication’s palpable listlessness. The Parma-born illustrator’s breakdowns appear awkwardly animated at best, with the vast majority of his figures looking wooden, slightly angular and one-dimensional. Such artistic lethargy may well survive unnoticed within the more sedentary scenes of a bored courtroom, but that unfalteringly flat, self-same technique performs quite miserably when used to supposedly show Elektra and Daredevil duking it out in the rain amidst the night skyline of Hell’s Kitchen.
The variant cover art of "DAREDEVIL" No. 6 by Bob Mcleod

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Daredevil [2016] #5 - Marvel Comics

DAREDEVIL No. 5, May 2016
Packed full of fist-fights, swordplay, extravagant firearms and supernatural mumbo jumbo involving stolen mystical powers, there can be little doubt that Issue Five of “Daredevil” tries to squeeze as much action-packed mayhem from out of Charles Soule’s script as it can. In fact, whether it be the Man Without Fear’s protégé, Samuel Chung, protecting innocent congregation members from Tenfinger’s cut-throat assassins, or “the full-time crime-fighter” battling “a half-dead beast infused with evil energies through the mystic arts of the Hand”, this twenty-page periodical rarely pauses to allow its 44,868-strong audience to catch their breath.

Fortunately, such energic storytelling doesn’t come at the cost of character development either, as the Brooklyn-born writer’s narrative manages to both finally portray the plot’s “mysterious crimelord turned cult leader” as the cowardly villain this comic’s readership has always known him to be, and temporarily resolve the turbulent relationship between Blindspot and his eight-fingered ninja parent; “Your mother is dead, Samuel. Don’t ever try to save me again.” There’s even a momentary break in the pulse-pounding proceedings to highlight Matt Murdock’s difficulties in juggling his super-heroics alongside a life working for the New York County District Attorney’s office.

Arguably this publication’s greatest boon however, is the Stan Lee Excelsior Award-winner’s ‘monster of the moment’ known as “a Fist.” Not only is this formidable-looking “corpse-engine” memorably created by the Hand sacrificing “a hundred of their own to the Beast”, but it is also an opponent Daredevil has “never fought” before, and as such provides Bill Everett’s co-creation with a seemingly rare opportunity to demonstrate just how he first ‘feels out’ his opponent for weaknesses before he (fatally) strikes.

Quite possibly inspired by this comic’s cacophony of combat, Ron Garney’s highly-stylised artwork is exceptionally dynamic throughout, and really provides each and every blow landed with the gravitas they deserve. It’s certainly hard not to hear the grisly sound of a long blade carving flesh as the Hand’s heavily-armed behemoth chops his way through Tenfinger’s overwhelmed and outmatched hoodlums, or inadvertently move as if to dive for cover as the fallen Chinatown messiah indiscriminately sprays an especially well-drawn panel with semi-automatic pistol fire.
The variant cover art of "DAREDEVIL" No. 5 by Sara Pichelli

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

World Of Tanks #2 - Dark Horse Comics

WORLD OF TANKS No. 2, November 2016
Selling a somewhat demoralising 6,115 copies in November 2016, a figure slightly reduced by “Diamond Comic Distributors” due to its shipment’s returnability, Issue Two of “World of Tanks” arguably must have come as something of an overly-wordy disappointment to fans of the massively multiplayer online (computer) game upon which the series is based. Certainly, Garth Ennis’ script for “Roll Out” lacks any sort of actual action throughout the majority of this twenty-two page periodical; an especially strange situation considering the Northern Irish-born America’s reputation for extreme violence, and the fact the title’s premise is built upon the armoured conflict in Normandy during the Second World War.

Admittedly, the Holywood-born author’s narrative starts off energetically enough, as Simon Linnet’s isolated crew come face-to-face with a German Flak position, and battered British tankers Nobby and Whitey give their lives fighting off a squadron of Panthers. But as soon as ‘Boilermaker’ is destroyed by half a dozen well-aimed shells and Hauptman Kraft finds the time for a swift smoke of a cigarette, all sense of excitement is lost, and instead replaced with a series of dreary conversational pieces concerning British tank engineering, the calling in of “a stonk” after “one of our shufti-kites spotted the fireworks", Karl’s unpopular assignment to support a Waffen S.S. unit, and Corporal Budd’s realisation that ‘Snakebite’ is a training tank…

Such long-winded, supposedly character-driven scenes clearly have an important place in helping to move the Eisner Award-winner’s plot along, particularly when they help clarify precisely why a supposedly experienced tank driver like Trevor inexplicably loses control of a vehicle during a fire-fight and “drives them right off the battlefield!” Yet such sedentary interruptions surely should be interspersed in between the action, and not used to seemingly pad out the rest of the publication just so it can end on something of a dilemma…

Fortuitously, despite being populated by some disconcertingly large and cumbersome-sized speech bubbles, all these dialogue-rich breakdowns are still somehow mesmerizingly pencilled by “legendary illustrator” Carlos Ezquerra. Emotionally-charged and visually wearing their hearts on their sleeves, the Spanish artist’s figures all somehow take on a personality of their own, and help make even the souless Third Reich puppet Munchen's stilted discourse at being the ‘new’ senior battalion commander something of a compelling read.
Script: Garth Ennis, Artist: Carlos Ezquerra, and Colors: Michael Atiyeh

Monday, 12 December 2016

Moon Knight [2016] #7 - Marvel Comics

MOON KNIGHT No. 7, December 2016
It is extremely doubtful that many of this comic’s 33,866 readers were expecting Issue Seven of “Moon Knight” to contain a narrative featuring (Captain) Marc Spector’s futuristic exploits battling a ravenous horde of Space Wolves, rather than the ‘grounded’ crime-fighting exploits of the Fist of Khonshu as originally envisaged by his co-creators Doug Moench and Don Perlin. In fact, considering Greg Smallwood’s infuriatingly misleading cover illustration of Jack Russell's’ hairy alter ego, the vast majority of this book’s audience were in all likelihood anticipating some sort of homage to the former West Coast Avenger’s first ever appearance within the pages of “Werewolf By Night”.

Sadly however, this twenty-page periodical contains absolutely no such reverence to the ex-mercenary’s mid-Seventies debut whatsoever and instead, somewhat surreally, contains a truly bizarre science fiction-based adventure which seems far closer to something found within a George Lucas “Star Wars” motion picture than the psychologically thrilling series previously promised by “author extraordinaire” Jeff Lemire. Certainly, the Canadian cartoonist’s incredulous storyline concerning the titular character fighting the lycanthrope General Lupinar on the moon’s surface seems a million miles away from the wonderfully atmospheric penmanship of the comic’s previous tale “Welcome To New Egypt”; even if it does provide ample evidence of the writer “using Marc’s illness against him to question his very identity.”

Admittedly, the large-scale space battle between “Humanity’s last hope” and their “Wolfkind” foe provides plenty of intense action, as well as gives Spector’s sidekick Jean-Paul “Frenchie” DuChamp a copious amount of ‘screen-time’. But that doesn’t excuse the preposterousness of a plot which depicts the schizophrenic pilot of “Moon Knight One” falling before the claws and fangs of an animalistic extra-terrestrial…  

Equally as choppy as the Joe Schuster Award-winner’s script for “Incarnations” is this publication’s interior breakdowns. Drawn by James Stokoe and the immeasurably talented Francesco Francavilla, the two artists’ differing styles are so remarkably opposed to one another that any bibliophile able to somehow immerse themselves in Lemire’s patchy proceedings will immediately be jarred out of any such reverie. Indeed, Stokoe’s detailed, yet exceedingly amateurish-looking panels with googly eyed-figures and fanzine pencilling, makes it extremely hard to take any of this comic’s content seriously.
Writer: Jeff Lemire, and Artists: Francesco Francavilla & James Stokoe

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

The Amazing Spider-Man [2015] #15 - Marvel Comics

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN No. 15, September 2016
There can be little doubt that the main reason Issue Fifteen of “The Amazing Spider-Man” saw a circulation rise of over twenty-two thousand copies during July 2016 was due to both Alex Ross’s wonderful cover illustration of fan-favourite Mary Jane Watson as “The New Iron Spider” and the picture’s insinuation that Tony Stark’s latest employee donning the armour was actually “a sign of things to come”. But whilst Dan Slott’s narrative for “Suit Yourself” does deliver upon its promise to depict Stan Lee’s co-creation as Spider-Woman, it is done in such an incredulous manner that it turns what could have been a genuinely tense, thrilling transformation, into little more than a frivolous, gimmicky trick; and one which defies any semblance of logic whatsoever.

Indeed, having repeatedly demonstrated the daunting, apparently unbeatable, might of Regent during his “Power Play” story-arc, the Berkeley-born writer’s decision to have Augustus Roman’s energy-siphoning alter ego bested by someone who “wore an early version of the Iron Man armour once” really must have tested his audience’s patience; especially when her opponent has previously conquered such formidable super-heroes as Thor, Captain America, Hyperion, Iron Man and Daredevil. It certainly seems safe to assume that many readers probably sided with an aghast Jarvis when he exclaims “Madam, with respect, it seems Regent has defeated all the Avengers. This strikes me as suicidal!”

Equally as frustrating as the script’s questionable lucidity however, is the Eisner Award-winner’s decision to relegate this comic’s titular character to simply infiltrating Regent’s state-of-the-art prison, whilst M.J. and Iron Man tackle the main ‘villain of the piece’ in an incredibly well-drawn fast-paced fist-fight. Surely it would have made far more sense to have had the amateur adventuress rescuing Harry Osborn and Miles Morales from the Cellar rather than the book’s main antagonist, who subsequently doesn’t even get to wallop the brains behind Roman’s brawn, Doctor Stillwell; “Guess they don’t like it as much when they get sucker punched.”

Fortunately, what this twenty-page periodical is good at doing is providing a treat for the eyes, courtesy of some terrific artwork by Giuseppe Camuncoli. Capable of pencilling ‘Spider-Woman’ sending Augustus reeling with a surprise sock to the jaw one moment, and then able to heavily populate a panel with less dynamic, yet still engaging, sedentary figures the next, the Italian illustrator arguably imbues even the comic’s less interesting scenes with plenty of life.
The regular cover art of "THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN" No. 15 by Alex Ross

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Conan The Slayer #3 - Dark Horse Comics

CONAN THE SLAYER No. 3, September 2016
Predominantly focusing upon the Cimmerian’s captivity within the lair of “a monstrous Sea Troll”, such is Cullen Bunn’s marvellously atmospheric writing for Issue Three of “Conan The Slayer” that it is hard to imagine the vast majority of this twenty-two page periodical’s 8,879 followers actually not smelling “something rotten that had been cast up by the sea” whilst reading the comic book. Indeed, one can almost taste the stinking salty aura of the reeking clam-festooned she-hag who holds the barbarian prisoner before “the croaking, guttural voice” of “Mother” has even been heard, or her ‘terrible countenance’ seen; “What manner of nightmare hellspawn are you?”

Disappointingly however, this pungently disconcerting confrontation, made all the more unnerving by the warty woman’s desire to “breed” with her heavily-muscled prize repeatedly until he lives “long enough to see the sons you sire born”, is frustratingly ruined by the North Carolina-born novelist’s decision to abruptly switch the narrative’s attention away from the squirming warrior’s predicament and instead momentarily centre upon the fate of Conan’s comrades tied up outside. This temporary respite from the skin-crawling machinations of the protagonist’s ‘less than pleasing’ captor is admittedly just as tensely scripted as its predecessor set within ‘ a sea vessel which hasn’t been seaworthy in many years’, especially when three hungry Sea Trolls tell the bound humans they’re next as the monsters hungrily tear great chunks out of a dead horse’s carcass. But the timing of such a gruesome sequence leaves a lot to be desired and perhaps unkindly could be criticised as lazy penmanship on behalf of the GLAAD Media Award-nominee’s part as it allows him to subsequently avoid explaining just how Conan slipped his heavy shackles and “spurned” the “Hagmother’s advances.”

Fortunately, once Robert E. Howard’s creation does re-appear Bunn’s incredibly wordy, yet thoroughly enthralling narrative, certainly picks up pace, and within moments of the unarmed Cimmerian crash-landing onto the beach’s surf, Sergio Davila is dynamically drawing roaring charges, monstrous weapon swings and plenty of severed limbs. In fact, whilst depicting the Barbarian and his friends gorily dispatching the She-Troll’s three formidable-looking sons, the Spanish artist seems to somehow increase the amount of blood on show per panel just as Cullen diminishes their dialogue.
Script: Cullen Bunn, Artist: Sergio Davila, and Colors: Michael Atiyeh

Monday, 31 October 2016

Moon Knight [2016] #6 - Marvel Comics

MOON KNIGHT No. 6, November 2016
It is unmistakably clear from Jeff Lemire’s narrative for Issue Six of “Moon Knight” that the “confident” Canadian cartoonist was indubitably trying to pen a script which whilst full of mystery, erred “on the side of intrigue, rather than alienation.” However, although the Joe Schuster Award-winner’s storyline for “Incarnations” does decidedly draw upon “Doug Moench and Bill Sienkiewicz’s original run”, as well as “Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey’s recent spin on things”, it is doubtful either of the aforementioned creative teams would have been so “popular” if they’d produced so utterly unfollowable a confusing mess as this twenty-page periodical.

Indeed, for many of this comic’s 41,884 followers, the suggestion that “the mummies, Anubis” and everything that has occurred within the title’s preceding five editions has only actually taken place in Marc Spector’s unhinged mind must have proved tremendously frustratingly, especially when the result, as succinctly verbalised by Crawley, is that the titular character is unnervingly “right back where you started” at the beginning of the series.

Admittedly, Lemire does try and suggest that his audience’s time over the past five months hasn’t been entirely wasted by utilising both places and persons made familiar by the former “harrowing quest designed to wear away the last of Marc’s mind”; a technique which allows the Ontario-born writer to even incorporate Mercy Mental Hospital’s sour-humoured goons Bobby and Billy as waiters. But such nods to the five-part long “Welcome To New Egypt” simply makes matters even more befuddling as both Steve Grant and reader alike struggle to work out what is real and more importantly what on Earth is happening. Has the god Khonshu really betrayed his loyal servant? Is the ‘fist’ of the Moon God still trapped within the walls of a mental institution despite previously being portrayed as having “escaped through the subways”? Or are such images merely the schizophrenic delusions of a Manhattan-based movie producer, a taxi-driver called Jake Lockley, and the pilot of a futuristic space-fighter entitled Moon Knight One?

Sadly adding to the incomprehensible insanity of such “Moon Knight madness” is the bravely bizarre decision to utilise Wilfredo Torres, Francesco Francavilla and James Stokoe as the book’s illustrators. This innovative approach to the visualisation of Jeff’s tale certainly provides each of the titular character’s personas with their own unique individual look and style. Yet such inconsistent and contrasting artwork repeatedly breaks up the flow of the story, and eventually reaches the point where it becomes disastrously detrimental to the publication’s enjoyment.
The variant cover art of "MOON KNIGHT" No. 6 by Christian Ward

Sunday, 30 October 2016

The Amazing Spider-Man [2015] #14 - Marvel Comics

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN No. 14, August 2016
Despite featuring some seriously impressive fist-fights between Regent and a plethora of ‘A-List’ superheroes, such as Captain America, Nova, the Vision and Thor, it’s hard not to feel that Dan Slott’s script for Issue Fourteen of “The Amazing Spider-Man” is an absurdly rushed affair, which deprived many of the book’s 65,646 strong audience with an opportunity to showcase just how truly powerful Augustus Roman’s “seemingly-heroic alter ego” can be. Indeed, in many ways the driving force behind the events explored within this twenty-page periodical could easily have been expanded upon for several more publications, if not as a “Marvel Worldwide” multi-title crossover comic book event, such are the lengths to which the “tech mogul from New York” slowly contains all the “superhuman threats” he encounters and incarcerates them deep inside "The Cellar”.

Unfortunately however, rather than slowly unravelling the supposedly well-meaning machinations of Empire Unlimited’s CEO, the Berkeley-born writer’s narrative for “Avengers Assembled” flies through Regent’s battles so quickly that by the magazine’s end, the defeats of titular characters like Daredevil, or notable X-Men such as Iceman and Quicksilver, aren’t even given any actual ‘screen time’ at all and are simply mentioned as already being held captive inside the “maximum security prison for super criminals.” Such frustrating pacing really does increasingly grate upon the senses, especially when the Diamond Gem Award-winner insists on additionally cramming in scenes depicting Tony Stark visiting the parents of Miles Morales, Aunt May disconcertingly coughing up blood at Jay Jameson’s Penthouse, and Harry Osborn’s overly long meeting with Roman to discuss a business proposition.

As a result, the long-anticipated confrontation between Spider-Man and his power-mimicking opponent woefully lasts just three disappointing pages in length, and even then Web-head has to partially share the ‘limelight’ with the (not so) invincible Iron Man. Little wonder that at the comic’s conclusion a victorious Regent boastfully declares that “I am power incarnate! I am the only saviour Humanity needs!” After all, in the space of just a single book he has apparently bested the strongest superheroes the Marvel Universe has to offer…

Happily, not everything to do with Slott’s third instalment of his “Power Play” storyline is quite so rushed as the writing, with Giuseppe Camuncoli’s pencils proving to be both delightfully clean-looking and dynamically-drawn. In fact, the Italian artist’s renderings of Nova, Thor, Ms. Marvel and Spider-Man, along with his ability to increasingly add menace to the figure of an aggressive Augustus, are worth the cover price alone, even if his sketches of a bare-headed Iron Man leave a lot to be desired.
Writers: Dan Slott & Christos Gage, Artist: Giuseppe Camuncoli, and Inker: Cam Smith