Sunday, 25 June 2017

Star Trek: Boldly Go #9 - IDW Publishing

STAR TREK: BOLDLY GO No. 9, July 2017
If Mike Johnson and Ryan Parrott’s goal with their one-shot storyline for Issue Nine of “Star Trek: Boldly Go” was to turn the Vulcan race into a dislikeably arrogant people, who are as judgemental and condescendingly conceited as they are frustratingly logical, then this twenty-page periodical’s narrative definitely works on every level. For whilst the character of Sarek, marvellously rendered by “series-regular artist” Tony Shasteen to replicate the facial features of actor Ben Cross, comes across as a well-meaning, pleasantly-mannered member of the relocated race, the likes of Uhura’s fellow Vulcan teacher and Spock’s drill rig companion smack of inter-galactic hubris and personal unpleasantness which would rival that of the Klingon House of Duras.

Indeed, for some reason, the collaborative writing partnership seem to actually go out of their way to make the stoic cultured aliens appear disconcertingly disagreeable, and even pen one not only nastily suggesting that Nyota is not an “adequate mate” for the Ambassador’s son because she is a worthless ‘incompetent’ human with “volatile emotions”. But then venomously implying that it is simply not logical “for any Vulcan to choose a mate who is not Vulcan”, as such senseless selfishness would threaten the survival of their species.

Just how the Starfleet Lieutenant stops herself from punching the poisonous educationalist, or her partner’s egotistical colleague, is doubtless a testament to Uhura’s patient Federation training. Yet surely, even that wouldn’t prevent the Communications Officer from having a sharp word to say in retaliation towards the pointy-eared extra-terrestrials; especially when they derogatively refer to her as Spock’s “human friend” and suggest she “is in need of medical attention” when she is literally stood right beside them saving their new planet… 

Sadly, all this obnoxiousness doesn’t help the publication’s scandalously poor storyline either, which seems far too nonsensically contrived to even be read worthy. Presumptuous and lackadaisical, the tale never even attempts to explain just why the “geothermal anomaly” at “the Voroth Massif near the Southern Pole” was not detected by the Vulcan’s “initial planetary scans prior to colonization”, nor how the new radioactive isotope’s ability will help make them “self-sufficient.” And let’s not even mention the ludicrously lazy conclusion when New Vulcan is apparently spared a cataclysmic fate by the ghosts of its centaur-like “native inhabitants”; “Spock’s best hypothesis is that they are psychic echoes of the last survivors.”
The regular cover art of "STAR TREK: BOLDLY GO" No. 9 by George Caltsoudas

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Injection #12 - Image Comics

INJECTION No. 12, April 2017
Bedevilled by overly-long, drawn-out sequences and enough needless dialogue to make even the head of a romantic poet like William Wordsworth spin, Warren Ellis’ narrative for Issue Twelve of “Injection” doubtless made many of this title’s 8,615 fans wish that they’d just simply stuck to reading “Image Comics” brief publication promotion blurb rather than the twenty-page periodical itself. In fact, the publisher’s one-liner “Brigid Roth uncovers the death box known as the Cold House” pretty much sums up the entire contents of the English novelist’s storyline without necessitating the need to peruse endless panels pressed full of colourful metaphors, unnecessary expletives, and poorly penned conversational pieces concerning Emma Louise Beaufort’s “brief and surprisingly fun career as a getaway driver.”

Sadly, this apparent obsession by the Eagle Award-winner with anything that doesn’t seemingly progress the book’s plot, yet painstakingly pads out the tale, runs rampant throughout this comic, and resultantly numerous pages are seemingly squandered depicting Professor Derwa Kernick’s identification of “an old Cornish spirit”, Roth’s tedious banter with her new driver en route “to the local police station”, and a disconcertingly bizarre telephone conversation featuring Maria Kilbride and the “supposedly sorcerous” penis of Rasputin. Indeed, Just why Brigid even needed to ‘recruit’ a criminally-inclined female chauffeur, or later contact the Cross Culture-Contamination Unit founder “now it’s got interesting” is far from apparent, and thereby makes the Essex-born writer’s inclusion of the former Lowlands University professor talking whilst looking at the Mad Monk’s pickled sexual organ all the more gratuitous and gravely grotesque; “I will hunt you down and skin you and believe me I have done that before --”  

Unfortunately, all these pointless detours and meaningless side-missions, badly detract from the magazine’s cliff-hanger conclusion, and ruin what otherwise would have been a seriously sinister story involving the Force Projection International not only discovering the skeletal remains of numerous people who had presumably been buried alive by “wee spriggan fellas”, but a chillingly menacing stone monument, known as the “Cold House”, which reeks of “the space between here” and “all the folk of the Other World.” As it is however, this particular instalment of Ellis and penciler Declan Shalvey’s supposed “techno-thriller” appears to lurch from inconsequential instance to aimless act, disastrously diluting any of the “horror” its creative team originally promised when the series was first advertised.
Writer: Warren Ellis, Artist: Declan Shalvey, and Color: Jordie Bellaire

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Captain America: Steve Rogers #12 - Marvel Comics

CAPTAIN AMERICA: STEVE ROGERS No. 12, April 2017
Shifting 32,567 copies in February 2017, at least according to “Diamond Comic Distributors”, it’s hard to imagine that many followers of Issue Twelve of “Captain America: Steve Rogers” weren’t enthralled by its cacophony of conflict and marvellously realised “Universal Newsreel” footage of Captain America “leading the charge against the [Third] Reich and their allies in the evil organization known as Hydra!” True, the vast majority of Nick Spencer’s writing is frustratingly as erratically penned as the inconsistent artwork of Javier Pina & Andres Guinaldo is poorly pencilled. But that still doesn’t stop the comic’s patriotic pulse from pounding when the titular character, fighting “alongside his best pal, Bucky”, confronts Nazi automatons and gas-masked goose-stepping troopers or seventy years later, “the creation of the Mad Thinker”.

In fact, the S.H.I.E.L.D. director’s ‘fist-fight’ with the Awesome Android inside the Museum of American History, is arguably worth this book’s cover price alone, as it genuinely seems to return to a far simply time when the Sentinel of Liberty just stood toe-to-toe with his opponent and outfought them using his fighting savvy and pugilistic smarts. Certainly the sequence, somewhat annoyingly dotted about throughout the twenty-one page periodical, contains all the elements needed for a sense-shattering ‘punch-up’; and one which Rogers only wins when he stops trying to trade like-for-like blows with the “artificial lifeform” and instead targets a natural weak-point of the robot's humanoid-shaped “almost indestructible body”; “Never fear, dear viewer -- We’ll always come out ahead in the end now that we have Captain America on our side!”

Far less impressive, and frankly followable, is Spencer’s sub-plot concerning the Taskmaster and Black Ant trying to sell Maria Hill the footage of the First Avenger whispering “Hail Hydra” to a captive Doctor Erik Selvig in Bagalia. Just why the former S.H.I.E.L.D. leader is conveniently skulking about the shadows of “the nation of super-criminals” is contrivingly explained by her “trying to find something -- anything -- that can get me back in the action.” Yet that doesn’t explain her willingness to agree Anthony Masters’ proposal to get “first refusal on every arms deal that comes across your desk” once the ex-Director has been reinstated, nor Elisa Sinclair’s revelation at being Madame Hydra?
Writer: Nick Spencer, Artists: Javier Pina & Andres Guinaldo, and Colorist: Rachelle Rosenberg

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Uber: Invasion #6 - Avatar Press

UBER: INVASION No. 6, May 2017
Bringing an end to “what will be the first trade of Uber Invasion” this particular twenty-two periodical initially focuses upon the reactivation of one of “the first wave of Japanese enhanced soldiers”, Hideki, and his three month sabbatical upon a desert island in order to become the Battleship Yamato. Honourable, dedicated and loyal to his Empire, the Okinawa veteran’s sense of duty, and occasional questioning of his handler’s ‘animal experiments’ in Manchukuo, admittedly makes for something of a sedentary narrative, despite Daniel Gete’s opening splash illustration depicting the warrior holding the bloodied corpse of an American uber by the throat. But also appears a necessary ‘evil’ by Kieron Gillen, in order to explain just how one of General Ushijima’s many miyoko has suddenly become so powerful that he can “devastate San Diego’s harbour and its defences the moment he was able to see them.”

Disappointingly, this rare glimpse of Hideki’s tremendous power, which fleetingly includes his “complete annihilation of the city on foot”, is then followed by a seemingly cumbersome conversational piece between Miss Stephanie and Eamonn O’Connor, concerning the grisly fate of the American’s older brother. Set against the backdrop of Freddie Rivers “relatively humane euthanasia” of Dixie in a darkly foreboding wooden barn, this disconcerting, dialogue-heavy scene appears to simply repeat Razor’s ever-present doubts as to H.M.H. Colossus’ fate in Paris, as well as his own role in the fight against “the German battleships”, and strangely suggests that the title’s creator has swapped the two brother’s first names around; with both the super-powered adolescent and British scientist referring to the deceased “first Allied enhanced human” as “Eamonn” rather than Patrick?

Just as arguably frustrating to this title's 4,314 followers, must have been Gillen’s decision to conclude Issue Six of “Uber: Invasion” with General George S. Patton spending four entire pages contemplating whether his army is going to cross “the goddam Alps” and risk being ‘isolated and destroyed’. If the former music journalist’s previous scene didn’t smack of superfluous prevarication then this supposed ‘insight’ into the military thought-processes of “Old Blood and Guts” certainly is, and provides an incredibly dissatisfying conclusion to a comic book which primarily appeared destined to continue the series’ graphically gruesome depiction of an alternative World War Two.
The regular cover art of "UBER: INVASION" No. 6 by Daniel Gete

Friday, 16 June 2017

Captain America: Steve Rogers #11 - Marvel Comics

CAPTAIN AMERICA: STEVE ROGERS No. 11, April 2017
In many ways, Nick Spencer would arguably have been far better off simply sticking to a script detailing the demise of Doctor Abraham Erskine in his ‘controversial’ Cosmic Cube altered reality, than trying to additionally squeeze both the funeral of Jack Flag and a nauseatingly long speech by the supposed Sentinel of Liberty into Issue Eleven of “Captain America: Steve Rogers”. Indeed, the Will Eisner Comic Industry Award-nominee’s technique of darting back and forth along the titular character’s time-stream not only erodes any sense of sombreness to Harrison’s reasonably well-attended burial proceedings. But actually detracts from the utter sense of betrayal and shock supposedly intended by this comic’s depiction of the naïve Super-Soldier scientist being cold-bloodedly gunned down in his own quarters whilst preparing his fresh-faced assassin some “rindergulasch”; “I made far too much, I am afraid.”

As it stands however, this twenty-two page periodical’s biggest problem is Cap’s terrifyingly trite monologue/discourse, which somehow manages to ‘run’ a staggering thirty panels in length, before culminating in Helmut Zemo bear-hugging his childhood Hydra friend, and promising to aid him in his mission to wrest control of the fictional terrorist organization from Johann Schmidt. Horrifically word-heavy and self-righteously monotonous, this discourse sadly permeates the entire book, and in doing so must surely have bored many of this title’s dwindling 36,610 followers. Certainly, the frustrating story-telling technique hardly helps create an atmosphere to “electrify” its readers as “Marvel Worldwide” optimistically advertised at the time of this comic’s publication.

Sadly, not even Spencer’s handling of Abraham’s murder is without its faults though, as it’s based upon the absurd assumption that as far back as 1940 Hydra owned “something Fenhoff invented” which allowed them to steal the minds of the dead; a preposterous-looking device pencilled by Jesus Saiz, which Rogers is clearly oblivious to. This unbelievably convenient piece of equipment at least vindicates why Zemo killed the Jewish scientist before he had a chance to test out his Super-Soldier serum. Yet it doesn’t explain why Steve attempted to poison the German chemist’s coffee a few days earlier (when such a contrived contraption wasn’t to hand), nor the Allies motivation to ‘broker a deal’ with the untrustworthy Arnim Zola to continue Erskine’s work before the scientist had even been killed?
The variant cover art of "CAPTAIN AMERICA: STEVE ROGERS" No. 11 by Joe Jusko

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Captain America: Steve Rogers #10 - Marvel Comics

CAPTAIN AMERICA: STEVE ROGERS No. 10, March 2017
Frustratingly flitting between events in pre-war New York City and those of the ‘present day’, much of Nick Spencer’s script for Issue Ten of “Captain America: Steve Rogers” must have driven its 40,051 strong readership to despair with its choppy carousel of short-lived set-pieces. For whilst this twenty-page periodical does include an admittedly painfully prolonged chase scene which depicts the dethroned Maria Hill fleeing incarceration on board the S.H.I.E.L.D. Hellcarrier Iliad, its entire opening half actually consists of little more than six-panel sequences that leap about from an adolescent titular character serving hot drinks to Doctor Abraham Erskine and General Phillips in a diner, to numerous political deliberations involving Internal Civil Tribunals, Senate Majority leaders and Hydra.

Fortunately however, once Annie’s bright red purse is snatched “from behind the bar” and the thief cornered down an alleyway by a well-meaning young Rogers, the American author finally starts penning something worthy of the ‘emotional investment and audience involvement’ the former “Progressive Charter Party” politician has aspired to create since first revealing the “most trusted and revered figure in the Marvel Universe” as a “Hydra loyalist”. In fact, it’s disconcertingly hard not to feel a genuine sense of pride for the badly battered Steve, as he unfalteringly hands his friend her stolen purse back and ‘wins’ the respect of both Erskine and Phillips as a result; even if fans of the title know that this bloodied teenager is ‘the ultimate betrayer’ and was actually planning on poisoning the “German Jewish scientist” just moments earlier.

Equally as diabolically enthralling is Spencer’s portrayal of the Sentinel of Liberty as he visits comatose victim Jack Flag with every intention of killing the helpless hospital patient via a syringe full of poison. Solemnly paced, and all the more visually impactive on account of Rachelle Rosenberg’s red-hued palette, it’s easy to imagine this publication’s audience collectively holding their breath as the First Avenger, on the verge of committing a most murderous act, gravely acknowledges that the badly injured “minor patriotic hero” “deserved better than this.”

Sadly, such moments of high tension and compelling apprehension are badly let down by this comic’s artistic quartet of Jesus Saiz, Ted Brandt & Ro Stein, and Kevin Libranda. Substandard at best, at least when its Albacete-born illustrator isn’t pencilling the book’s flamboyantly visualised ‘flashbacks’, the poorly rendered figures and crudely-sketched facial features disappointingly drag down the quality of this magazine’s storytelling and even negatively impact upon Roger’s heinously gripping attempt to cold-bloodedly kill his occasional partner, Harrison.
Writer: Nick Spencer, and Artists: Jesus Saiz, Ted Brandt & Ro Stein, and Kevin Libranda

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Conan The Slayer #9 - Dark Horse Comics

CONAN THE SLAYER No. 9, May 2017
Wisely sticking predominantly to Robert E. Howard’s Thirties script, the success of this “Dark Horse Comics” adaption of “The Devil In Iron” arguably rests far more upon the shoulders of its artist than Cullen Bunn’s pen. In fact, the book’s weakest moment, when Conan stumbles across one of Khosatral Khel’s “shaven-headed priests” emerging from a secret tunnel and spouts a mercifully short-lived nonsensical soliloquy, appears to be the only time the Cape Fear-born author ill-advisedly steps markedly away from the adventure’s original text; “Is my fortune good or bad? Bad. Always bad. Except when it is not. Heh. And then it is worse.”

Fortunately, such a heavy reliance upon the pencilling ability of Sergio Davila is not, for the most part at least, misplaced, with the Spaniard’s rendering of the “deserted Dagor” reborn into a green-stoned city, proving to be a particular feast for the eyes. Similarly impressive, is the Cataluna-born illustrator’s rendering of Khel himself. Phenomenally physiqued, being more than a muscular match for the Cimmerian, the red-hued giant appropriately dominates every panel in which he appears and actually seems more formidably alive within Issue Nine of “Conan The Slayer” than he actually does on Howard’s printed page.

Indeed, considering that this particular instalment not only covers “the transmutation of the being men called Khosatral Khel” from out of the Abyss and his subsequent creation of the City of Dagon, but its bloody fall at the hands of its slaves, the Yuetshi as well, it is disappointing that the ancient demon isn’t given more ‘screen time’. Certainly the subjugation and subsequent revolt by the “fierce and brutish people [who] appeared on the shores of the sea” would have been a more interesting area for Bunn to explore, rather than his ham-fisted aforementioned attempt to depict Conan supposedly philosophising over his poor luck.

Sadly however, Davila does seem to struggle to consistently pencil the barbarian’s savage facial features, and resultantly, more than once portrays the incredulous adventurer as some sort of doe-eyed caricature that would not look out of place within the pages of a manga magazine. These momentary lapses are thankfully only occasional, yet disappointingly permeate the entire publication and only seem to disappear as the artist reaches the periodical’s epic conclusion when the Cimmerian hurls his sword point at Khel’s exposed chest and disbelievingly watches his blade shatter upon contact with Khosatral’s impenetrable flesh.
Script: Cullen Bunn, Artist: Sergio Davila, and Colors: Michael Atiyeh

Monday, 12 June 2017

Nemesis The Warlock #4 - Eagle Comics

NEMESIS THE WARLOCK No. 4, December 1984
Arguably devoting far more time upon the titular character’s arch-rival, the supposedly slain Tomás de Torquemada, than the series’ lead protagonist, Issue Four of “Nemesis The Warlock” must still have delighted it’s ‘schoolboy’ fanbase due to Pat Mills’ spine-tingling premise of having all the galaxy’s human prisoners being guarded on a planet ruled by giant talking spiders. Indeed, it’s hard to think of a more terrifying fate for the misguided Terminators of Terra, than living out the rest of their lives under the baleful eight-eyes of intelligent arachnids; “It is a judgement on us for not heeding the words of Torquemada!”

Frustratingly however, such a diabolical fate for Mankind’s murderously blood-thirsty warriors is simply hinted at to begin with, on account of "the godfather of British comics" deciding to start this tome by ‘filling in’ the background as to just “what made Torquemada the way he was”. Admittedly, this short-story depicting a young Tomas being treacherously sold into alien servitude only to escape by biting the tongue of a Manticore so “the monster couldn’t close its jaws on him” certainly gives the ‘damaged’ adolescent plenty of grounds for hating extra-terrestrials, as well as the humans who collaborate with them. But for such a momentous tale its disappointingly short, and in no way lives up to the expectations set by Jesus Redondo’s sense-shattering splash illustration depicting Brother Baruda fending off a huge black ‘eight legs’ which so promisingly precedes it.

Somewhat contrarily, the Ipswich-born author’s subsequent attempt to resurrect “the most cruel human of all time” within the space of five pages seems incredibly ponderously-paced; especially when six panels alone are dedicated to Sister Alvit playing a game of charades with the other Battle-Maidens due to her being “forbidden to speak”. Surely it would have been far better to have shortened such a sequence, and either provided some additional ‘footage’ of the battle on “Zonar, planet of the Fachans”, “Remora, planet of the Tritons”, or Garuda, planet of the Rukhans, who fly into action on their hippogriffs…”?

Regardless, Mills’ script for this thirty-two page anthology really ‘pulls out all the stops’ once Baruda “and four of the toughest Terminators” inject “themselves with a diluted dose” of spider venom and climb the prison’s poisonous web wall. In fact, the party’s pulse-pounding race through the jungle is superbly penned (and pencilled by Redonda), with its “thousands of wild spiders” slowly culling the escapee’s meagre number in all manner of gruesome and agonisingly unpleasant ways…
Script: Pat Mills, Art: Jesus Redondo, and Color: Ian Stead

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Star Trek: Boldly Go #8 - IDW Publishing

STAR TREK: BOLDLY GO No. 8, May 2017
Despite featuring the sort of ‘run of the mill’ plot that wouldn’t have looked out of place within the pages of a “World Distributors Limited” Seventies ‘Star Trek Annual’, Issue Eight of “Star Trek: Boldly Go” must still have pleased the majority of its readership with Mike Johnson and Ryan Parrott’s mixture of asteroid-based gunplay and Jefferies tube tribulations. In fact, the creative duo’s opening ‘salvo’, featuring James Kirk phaser-fighting his way onto the bridge of an assassin’s space shuttle is undoubtedly the highlight of this twenty-page periodical’s script.

Sadly however, this initially pulse-pounding, and subsequently engaging tale of “diplomatic disaster” is rather frustratingly ruined by the two-parter’s narrative resting upon a Starfleet cadet’s ability to mind meld with the dead body of the Romulan Ambassador. Admittedly, the Vulcan race’s ability to read the thoughts of comatose people is actually documented within the American television franchise itself. But never before has this ‘transference technique’ been shown to conjure up the thoughts and feelings of the dead before, and resultantly rather smacks of the collaborative writing team reaching out for a rather contrived plot device in order to help them lazily resolve their storytelling.

Just as bizarre is Shev’s amazingly quick, and utterly inexplicable relationship reversal with the Andorian Ambassador. In this adventure’s previous instalment it was made abundantly clear that the cadet’s father was far from happy with both his son’s “decision to attend Starfleet Academy” and the blue-skinned boy’s failure to seemingly put his family/race first. However, now his offspring has been found innocent of assassinating Joltair, the stern faced politician unaccountably states he no longer believes Shev to be a “fool” and for some unfathomable reason even begrudgingly acknowledges that perhaps there is some merit to the youngster’s chosen career; “I cannot say that I am in complete agreement… But you will always have a home on Andoria.”

Described by Group Editor Sarah Gaydos as a “guest artist” who “wraps things up with her dynamic style in a tale guaranteed to keep you guessing”, Megan Leven’s illustrations for this particular publication are certainly “cartoony”. Yet whilst such a label could well be (mis)construed as being highly ‘dismissive of the penciler’s drawing skill’, on this occasion it simply means that the action, whether it be Kirk acrobatically leaping from asteroid to asteroid on account of his "hours spent watching the women's Zero-G volleyball team at the Academy, or Spock's monotone discussions with the Romulans, is cleanly drawn and competently rendered.
The regular cover art of "STAR TREK: BOLDLY GO" No. 8 by George Caltsoudas

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Captain America: Steve Rogers #9 - Marvel Comics

CAPTAIN AMERICA: STEVE ROGERS No. 9, March 2017
Advertised as featuring the titular character “searching desperately for Kobik” and subsequently reaching “out to a hero that can help — Avril Kincaid, the all-new Quasar!”, it’s not really clear whether this twenty-two page periodical’s publisher, “Marvel Worldwide”, were as confused and discombobulated by Nick Spencer’s script as the comic’s 42,637 strong audience must have been. Indeed, considering that Issue Nine of “Captain America: Steve Rogers” is also supposedly meant to contain “a threat from beyond the stars [which] pushes an already-weakened S.H.I.E.L.D. to the brink” it's generally hard to reconcile the story promised with the disjointed, and utterly unrelated shenanigans printed inside.

For starters, the aforementioned Kincaid doesn’t appear within this comic from start to finish, and rather than focusing on the living embodiment of the Cosmic Cube, Steve Rogers is decidedly busy battling the Cult of the Darkhold alongside Union Jack on the Scottish Highlands. There also appears to be little which can threaten Nicky Fury’s old espionage, special law-enforcement, and counter-terrorism agency if Maria Hill’s boast of a “planetary defense shield” which provides the planet with “a truly impenetrable force field”, can be believed…

Admittedly, such an outrageous difference in content as to what was marketed doesn’t necessarily mean that this bizarre compilation of events from 1940, now, “days earlier”, now, 1940, now, then, now, then, now and 1940, isn't an entertaining read. Au contraire, as Captain America’s bloodthirsty battle with an imprisoned Arthurian demon genuinely provides plenty of pulse-pounding thrills and spills. But much of this book’s enjoyment is ruined by its failure to live up to those initial expectations, and arguably made all the worse by the horribly choppy narrative Spencer insists on penning for the comic; “But you never cared about the book, did you?”

Just as disagreeable are Javier Pina and Andres Guinaldo’s illustrations. The duo’s mismatched pencilling styles consistently ‘jolt’ the reader out of the action each and every time the pair replace one another, and proves especially annoying towards the conclusion of Hill’s trial, when the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. is suddenly drawn as looking like some dislikeable, arrogant, self-righteous, sneering braggart, rather than an operative who is fighting for her career (and probably liberty) and doing the best job she believes she can in the current circumstances.
The variant cover art of "CAPTAIN AMERICA: STEVE ROGERS" No. 9 by Jack Kirby

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Captain America: Steve Rogers #8 - Marvel Comics

CAPTAIN AMERICA: STEVE ROGERS No. 8, February 2017
Disappointingly dropping to the sixty-third best-selling title of December 2016, at least according to “Diamond Comic Distributors”, Issue Eight of “Captain America: Steve Rogers” must have come as a major disappointment to many of its presumably bewildered 38,610 fans. For whilst Nick Spencer’s script does at least provide some semblance of action-packed entertainment, in the guise of “the fourth Chitauri wave to hit us this month”, it’s narrative arguably would have made little sense whatsoever to those readers who hadn’t perused the twenty-two page periodical’s “opening crawl”.

Indeed, Avril Kincaid’s supposed importance to the titular character’s diabolical plans to spread Hydra’s ideals “throughout the world” had never really been hinted at before within this series, and yet the American author suddenly would have this title’s audience believe the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent is actually “central” to Cap’s covert plot for planetwide domination? Obviously someone “who was given the cosmic-powered Quasar gauntlets” is without doubt “one of the most powerful players on the board”, but why couldn’t the ‘Marvel exclusive’ writer overtly weave such a thread into the comic’s actual storyline rather than lazily include such a significant sub-plot into the text of the book’s foreword?

Equally as perplexing is just why Captain America is suddenly found on board the orbiting Alpha Flight Station supposedly waiting to have a meeting with Director Hill and Captain Marvel, when the tale’s previous instalment ended with the First Avenger literally revealing to Doctor Selvig he secretly held Baron Zemo captive within the Danish scientist’s laboratory? How does Rogers fighting an extremely tenacious extra-terrestrial invasion force in outer space logically follow such a sensational cliff-hanger? So remarkable a change in situation seems remarkably staged, and appears to have been penned simply to allow the contrived, rather talkative storyline a chance to include some ‘super-heroic’ fisticuffs, and subsequently provide Kincaid with a terrific opportunity to demonstrate just how omnipotent she is; “Yeah, but -- Whoa. She’s incredible. That kind of power --”

Eventually, all these unanswered questions and bizarre explanations even seem to get too much for S.H.I.E.L.D.’s former Cosmic Cube consultant himself, who towards the end of the comic exasperatingly exclaims “I don’t understand” when the Sentinel of Liberty fails to convince him that he was “off fighting monsters in space” simply to evaluate the Chitauri’s performance as a potential winnower “of an overpopulated world”. In fact, Erik’s open-mouthed incredulity at Steve’s claim that the alien insectoids’ attempted invasion of Earth is down to him and his possession of an alien queen, can only have been rivalled by the astonishment of this book’s audience at just such a statement…
The variant cover art of "CAPTAIN AMERICA: STEVE ROGERS" No. 8 by Mike Deodata

Monday, 29 May 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation: Mirror Broken #0 - IDW Publishing

STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION: MIRROR BROKEN No. 0, May 2017
Fans of the “talented Human Starfleet systems diagnostic engineer” Lieutenant Reginald Barclay, must have initially been extremely pleased with David and Scott Tipton’s script for Issue Zero of “Star Trek: The Next Generation: Mirror Broken”. Indeed, the comic book writing team’s handling of the evidently nervous and unconfident ‘Federation’ officer is arguably perfect to the point where one can readily imagine actor Dwight Schultz bumbling about the starship, stammering out his lines.

Sadly however, this particular twelve-page publication is actually set within the “Star Trek” franchise’s deadly alternative Mirror Universe, at a time when “Captain Jean-Luc Picard will stop at nothing to get his hands on the Terran Empire’s newest starship, the Enterprise”, and that means that ‘murder is the only means to power’ aboard the I.S.S. Stargazer. Such a lethal ‘kill or be killed’ environment seems a strange backdrop to focus upon so “extremely introverted” a character as Reg, and resultantly, Lieutenant Barclay “makes some surprising decisions” in order to survive, including the disconcertingly cold-blooded slaying of one of his senior officers; “I see you took my advice. Good. The woman’s ambition needed to be curbed.”

Admittedly, this “Free Comic Book Day” edition’s “familiar face” is “stronger than the Barclay we saw on the television series”, and the Tipton brothers’ dark re-imaginings of Picard, Tasha Yar, Counselor Troi and Mister Data, certainly provide plenty of ‘what if’ speculation as to the events which ‘corrupted’ them. But it's still hard to reconcile the “relatively low-ranking” Reg depicted within this magazine to that of the mild-mannered junior grade engineer which made so many “TNG” appearances; especially when this title’s authors unconvincingly argue that both incarnations share the same “gifts” and inherent liabilities, it’s just the “looking glass” incarnation has apparently “learned” to be an assassin…

Fortunately, J.K.Woodward’s photo-realistic artwork for this mini-series’ introductory tale is favourably eye-catching, if not a little wooden in places where the “Fallen Angel” illustrator has probably focussed far too closely upon replicating the appropriate actors’ facial features than concentrating upon the natural gait of his figures’ dynamic movement. In fact, it is probably because of the American painter’s enviable ability to capture the likenesses of all the television series’ leading cast members that this book’s audience can so successfully hear their respective voices throughout the comic's dialogue.
Writers: David Tipton & Scott Tipton, and Art & Colors: J.K. Woodward

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Conan The Slayer #8 - Dark Horse Comics

CONAN THE SLAYER No. 8, April 2017
Regarded by some Robert E. Howard scholars as “the weakest of the early Conan tales” due to its “plot loopholes and borrowed elements”, “The Devil In Iron” still earned its author $115 when it was first published in “Weird Tales” in August 1934. Sadly however, it is doubtful the adventure’s narrative would have generated quite so much financial reward if it had followed the lines of Cullen Bunn’s adaption for Issue Eight of “Conan The Slayer”. For whilst the North Carolina-born writer’s script initially follows Khosatral Khel’s awakening on the remote island of Xapur by “a greedy fisherman”, it soon disappointingly degenerates into depicting a non-canon brawl between Conan and Gilzan during “a parley with the Kozaks in regard to a prisoner exchange.”

Such a disorientating diversion from the original text, does admittedly provide some semblance of action, as the Cimmerian brutally bludgeons Jehungir Agha’s heavily-muscled retainer into unconsciousness with his bare fists. But ultimately, Octavia’s feigned play at being a “trollop with this barbarian”, and her subsequent successful attempt to have the titular character become the Nemedian’s “instrument of revenge against her torturer” merely proves to be little more than a rather tiringly inferior delay in the storytelling process; “This not a war… But a disagreement between a man and a coward who torments women for sport.”

This displeasing interruption also seems somewhat self-defeating later in the twenty-two page periodical, when the GLAAD media Award-winner supplements Octavia’s speechless escape from her master’s castle and harrowing headlong flight towards the deadly island, by populating each panel with Howard’s original narration. This suspenseful scene is followed by Conan’s own arrival at Xaphur, yet because Bunn has already explained the Adventurer’s presence as a result of his ‘parley punch-up’, the reader is disconcertingly subjected to two simple pages of dialogue-free, unatmospheric tedium. 

Interestingly, the inconsistent quality of Sergio Davila’s artwork for this magazine would also seem to suggest he himself felt some modicum of displeasure at Cullen’s somewhat forced additional scenes. Why else would the “Dark Horse Comics” illustrator one moment dynamically pencil a hapless fisherman, who had climbed the cliffs of Xaphur, being dramatically crushed to death by a huge bronzed giant, and then in the next offer a dearth of poorly sketched lack-lustre panels concerning Conan’s fisticuffs? Indeed, it could be argued that the Spaniard’s drawing only noticeably picks back up to its high standard once the comic book returns to Howard’s published manuscript.
Script: Cullen Bunn, Artist: Sergio Davila, and Colors: Michael Atiyeh

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Aliens: Dead Orbit #1 - Dark Horse Comics

ALIENS: DEAD ORBIT No. 1, April 2017
Described by “Dark Horse Comics” as the first in a “thrilling and claustrophobic” four-issue mini-series, this opening instalment of “Aliens: Dead Orbit” definitely makes it clear that writer, artist and even letterer James Stokoe, “re-watched the first two films and wrote down a bunch of notes” when he “was starting on the plot idea.” In fact, apart from the comic’s narrative taking place on the Weyland-Yutani way station Spacteria 284255, this twenty-two page periodical's plot initially seems to resemble the opening moments of James Cameron's 1986 American science-fiction action horror film "Aliens", by having a group of astronauts discover an "unmarked vessel" “this far out in wilderness space” and attempt to revive its passengers from their cryosystem; "Goes well with the "salvager" theory."

Unfortunately, despite so ‘iconic’ an opening gambit clearly providing an obvious nod to the franchise’s formidably long history, and seemingly containing as much detail within every panel as its illustrator could pencil, such an over-familiarity with the plot also disappointingly makes for a somewhat lacklustre and unoriginal introduction to Captain Hassan and his crew. Certainly, their fractious relationship with one another, especially Wascylewski and the foul-mouthed communications officer Rock, comes as no great surprise, and simply seems to mirror the disharmony amongst bickering Weyland-Yutani employees which has been so common place within the silver screen series…

Equally as disconcerting as his reliance upon the ‘blockbuster’ motion pictures for inspiration and story ideas, is Stokoe’s somewhat frustrating technique of interrupting the Spacteria staff’s frighteningly catastrophic attempt to wake up their ‘guests’, by occasionally leaping forward in time to a point when the fuel depot’s engineer appears to be the group’s sole survivor and is in urgent need of a mysterious carry case which he’s inadvertently left at the feet of a xenomorph. Just what’s inside this box is not explained, nor is the rationale as to why Wascylewski decided to bring it with him on his spacewalk. But it’s clear from the sequences that no-one else is going to outlive this encounter with the aliens, and such certainty that all the other characters are going to die dishearteningly dispels any suspense or tension as to the rest of the cast’s fate.
The variant cover art of "ALIENS: DEAD ORBIT" No. 1 by Geof Darrow

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Ben Reilly: Scarlet Spider #1 - Marvel Comics

BEN REILLY: SCARLET SPIDER No. 1, June 2017
Despite being touted by Associate Editor and self-confessed “Ben Reilly maniac” Devin Lewis as the most “deserving character in the Spider-Family” for “a shot at reinvention”, Peter David’s opening narrative for this “all-new ongoing series” must surely have come as something of a major disappointment to the original Scarlet Spider’s fans due to the veteran spider-scribe’s inability to determine whether Peter Parker’s clone is actually going to be a good or bad guy. Indeed, at one point, having played the hero and rescued a distraught woman from a mugger in a Las Vegas alleyway, the costumed crime-fighter then disconcertingly threatens the victim, Mandy, if she doesn’t make good on her promise to find a job and pay him “a hundred bucks” in order to “call it square.” A scene which hardly promotes the “darn charming” personality “mighty Marveldom” apparently promised the titular character would portray in the comic’s pre-publication publicity.

Worse, the Maryland-born novelist’s incarnation of Professor Miles Warren’s creation has clearly been driven so utterly mad by the “dozens of torturous experiments” imposed upon him by the Jackal that he now regularly suffers with hallucinations of his former selves; “Dude, you need a plan. I’m imaginary. So I can do whatever I want.” This seemingly never ending self-banter and monotonous dialogue really starts to quickly grate upon the nerves, especially when the comic finally starts to ‘up its game’ courtesy of a heavily armed casino robbery, and the facially scarred duplicate immediately dispels any illusion of suspense or jeopardy by entering into a short, supposedly humorous, conversation with himselves..?

Such a poorly thought-out, substandard ‘Deadpool duplicate’ is not helped either by the breakdowns of Mark Bagley, whose inconsistent and lack-lustre pencils genuinely seem to imbue the vast majority of this periodical’s twenty-pages with a palpable sense of disinterest and haste. In fact, it is difficult to imagine anyone calling the American comic book artist “a legend in comics” if his inability within this book to draw a consistent Cassandra Mercury or Ben Reilly is an example of his best “big, bombastic super hero action.” It’s certainly hard to reconcile the man “on pencilling duties for this puppy” with someone who, at least according to the comic’s editorial, “can stage and draw an action scene” like few others “in the biz.”
Writer: Peter David, Penciler: Mark Bagley, and Inker: John Dell

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Captain America: Steve Rogers #7 - Marvel Comics

CAPTAIN AMERICA: STEVE ROGERS No. 7, January 2017
Predominantly concentrating upon the Red Skull’s Machiavellian machinations with General Novoty and the military dictator’s Sokovian Government, Issue Seven of “Captain America: Steve Rogers” must have delighted many of its 48,505 strong audience. Indeed, with the exception of some flashbacks to Steve’s enrolment “in a school that trained Hydra soldiers”, this particular twenty-four page periodical seemingly shows the title making something of a welcome return to its less controversial days when Jack Kirby’s Sentinel of Liberty hadn’t had his reality “secretly rewritten by Kobik”, and subsequently been transformed into a Hydra agent.

Foremost of these ‘improvements’ is Nick Spencer’s ability to tell an increasingly suspenseful political tale concerning Johann Shmidt’s manipulation of world events in order to stage a coup within a small Eastern European despotism. Evidently tapping into his own background as a former “candidate of the progressive Charter Party”, the American author’s manipulation of the United Nations and S.H.I.E.L.D. by Hydra’s facially disfigured leader is both fiendishly innovative and disconcertingly believable, as well as reminiscent of the super-villain’s former life as a scheming crime boss.

Likewise, the comic’s subplot of Captain America teaming-up with Natasha Romanov to help Director Hill’s forces rescue General Alois Denz from his prison cell, also brings back memories of a far simpler time when Cap and the Black Widow fought side-by-side to make “a safer world.” In fact, in some ways it’s a shame the penitentiary break isn’t expanded upon by artist Jesus Saiz to incorporate even more interplay between the two former Avengers; “Well, that was fun. You sure you don’t want to stick around? I know a great little breakfast place just past the mass graves.”

Unfortunately, all too soon Spencer returns to his contentious ongoing narrative of Rogers wanting to assassinate the Red Skull in order to bring about a change of leadership within Hyrda, and in doing so conjures up yet another disagreeable alteration to the super-soldier’s history by depicting Helmut Zemo as being one of Steve’s childhood friends. Such a cliff-hanger is admittedly both shocking and unexpected. But it’s hard to imagine many of the titular character’s long-term fans readily stomaching such an unsettling change of direction for the World War Two veteran. Little wonder perhaps, that this comic’s sales would drop by 10,000 copies a month later…
The regular cover art of "CAPTAIN AMERICA: STEVE ROGERS" No. 7 by Stephanie Hans

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Hulk [2016] #5 - Marvel Comics

HULK No. 5, June 2017
It’s entirely possible that illustrator Nico Leon wasn’t particularly enamoured with Mariko Tamaki’s lack-lustre script for Issue Five of “Hulk”. For whilst the twenty-page periodical’s narrative does touch upon Jennifer Walters' frightening flight from Maise Brewn and her “dark solution”. It doesn’t actually do so until halfway through the publication, and only then actually progresses the plot by having the increasingly battered and bruised lawyer race from inside her client’s flat up onto the roof of the apartment building.

Indeed, it could be argued that this title’s followers could quite easily have omitted to purchase this particular instalment of “Deconstructed” and still not have missed out on any storytelling value whatsoever. It’s certainly hard to imagine many readers would’ve been sorry to have squandered the opportunity to once again revisit the titular character’s “Post-War” hospital room, and witness its patient both struggling to come to terms with the death of her cousin, Bruce Banner, and begrudgingly acknowledge an awkward offer of friendship from a subdued Captain Marvel.

As a result, the vast majority of work ‘selling’ this comic disappointingly rests upon the shoulders of its freelance artist, who, despite a brave attempt to depict Jen’s mounting anger at the bleak naivety of her persecutors, can only draw so many pictures of the same skyline confrontation before the scene’s pacing completely goes flat. In fact, in many ways, the Argentine penciller may well have found more success in focusing upon the Police Department’s seemingly unwise attempt to force their way into Brewn’s building using a heavily armoured house entry team than labouring over the former jade giantesses inactivity; “Push these people back another two blocks! And get access to that building now.”

Sadly however, Leon instead decides to slowly tease out what little suspense lies within Tamaki’s writing, by sluggishly depicting Walters’ encirclement by a plethora of strange-looking tenants and they’re sharp-toothed grotesquely-shaped protectors, using nothing else than two-panel breakdowns with the occasional splash page thrown in… A decidedly underwhelming technique for imbuing the action with any semblance of excitement, and one which must surely have tested the author’s confidently-publicised belief that “Nico pulls out the most interesting details and uses them to tell a story.”
Writer: Mariko Tamaki, Artist: Nico Leon, and Color Artist: Matt Milla

Monday, 1 May 2017

All-Star Batman #5 - DC Comics

ALL-STAR BATMAN No. 5, February 2017
Sadly, it is easy to see just why this title’s readership continued to fall during the “My Own Worst Enemy” story-arc. True, Issue Five of “All-Star Batman” still managed to sell a formidable 87,422 copies in December 2016, and brings the Dark Knight’s 498 mile-long road trip with Two-Face to something of a conclusion. But Scott Snyder’s narrative remarkably achieves all this without making much sense whatsoever, and arguably raises infinitely more questions as to the elongated storyline’s plot than a finale ever should.

For starters, it is never satisfactorily explained just why the titular character determined he had to literally transport Harvey Dent with him to their old boarding school? Why couldn’t the Caped Crusader simply take the ‘Batwing’ alone to the hiding place of the gangster’s mysterious cure, and bring the concoction which “works on the Meoa, on Oxytocin… on the chemistry that makes us compassionate or selfish” back with him? Apart from it providing the comic’s Stan Lee Award-winner with a contrived premise for his five-parter, as well as giving the American author an opportunity to suggest an unruly infant Bruce Wayne once roomed with the former District Attorney in a residence for troubled youngsters, the decision makes little logical sense.

In addition, what could possibly have possessed a young Alfred Pennyworth to approach someone to kill the Joker and fund the murder using monies “we’d allocated for the [Bat]cave.” Such a betrayal of everything the morally-high "surrogate father figure" stands for is simply unfathomable, and yet to make matters worse, Snyder then adds insult to injury by having the butler confess over the phone that he actually sabotaged the Batplane in order to convince his master to turn back from his current adventure; “I am a hypocrite. But know that at every stage, I was trying to save you.” 

Quite possibly this thirty-one page periodical’s only saving grace, apart from some outstandingly dynamic artwork by John Romita Junior, is the continuously threatening presence of supervillain KGBeast. Homicidal and insane, the heavily armed killer dominates every scene within which he appears, whether it be gunning down ‘innocents’ from the deck of a steamboat or skewering Batman through the shoulder with a metal spike, and frustratingly seems to be the only member of this comic’s cast who captures both the imagination and interest...
The regular cover art of "ALL-STAR BATMAN" No. 5 by John Romita Junior

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Warhammer 40,000: Will Of Iron #1 - Titan Comics

WARHAMMER 40,000: WILL OF IRON No. 1, November 2016
“Based in the universe of the ever-popular miniatures game, novels, and videogames, this new ongoing series” was probably not the “perfect [entry-point] for both the hardcore Warhammer 40,000 fan and the complete newcomer” that “Games Workshop” and “Titan Comics” arguably hoped for. In fact, it’s hard to imagine anyone not intimately familiar with both the sinister enigmas of Lion El'Jonson’s Space Marine Chapter and the relentless distrust of the Imperial Inquisition, understanding just why Astor Sabbathiel, having witnessed Cypher the Fallen Angel fighting alongside Bloodletters, has become so obsessed with dragging “the secrets of these Dark Angels into the light.”

True, George Mann’s intriguing narrative does provide something of a straightforward setting for these ‘opposing forces’ to meet up against, by conveniently having the “warp storm of eons” abate just long enough to cause Azrael’s warriors and their great rivals, the Iron Warriors, to race towards the Calaphrax Cluster in order ‘protect’ the deeds of their forefathers. But it’s hard to imagine any casual peruser comprehending either the sheer scope or significance of the Horus Heresy, nor interrogator-chaplain Altheous’ earnestness in protecting his brethren’s history from Perturabo’s traitor legion.

Quibbles as to the depth of knowledge arguably needed to fully appreciate this twenty-page periodical’s script aside however, Issue One of “Warhammer 40,000: Will Of Iron” provides plenty of sense-shattering action once Seraphus orders the first wave of Adeptus Astartes to be launched upon the planet Exyrion; “It was here that the warriors of the Dark Angles fought the remnants of the traitorous Iron Warriors in one of the most gruelling battles of the legion’s history.” Indeed, as soon as Baltus and the rest of his Blade Strike Force land and start to “suffer not the warpspawn to live!” this publication literally jumps to life and continues to enthrallingly entertain up until its climatic cliff-hanger…

Just as engaging as Mann’s wicked writing, are Tazio Bettin’s top notch breakdowns. Clean-lined, and vibrantly coloured by Enrica Eren Angiolini, the Italian freelance illustrator imbues both the red-rimmed, manically-eyed Inquisitor, as well as the misshapen monstrosities which stalk the ruinous world, with plenty of inherent deadliness and vigour; even when the later are being rather unceremoniously ripped apart and disembowelled by boltguns and chainswords.
The regular cover art of "WARHAMMER 40,000: WILL OF IRON" No. 1 by Tazio Bettin

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Hook Jaw #5 - Titan Comics

HOOK JAW No. 5, May 2017
Much of this comic’s audience must surely have agreed with lead protagonist Maggie Reyes when the character rants at her Somalian kidnappers that “you’re pathetic!” and “You’re just awful.” However, rather than directing their bile towards Abdukadir and his murderously brutal brigand crew, it’s probably far more likely that this “Titan Comics” title’s readership were targeting their disgust at Si Spurrier’s woefully written narrative and it's appalling propensity to blatantly steal scenes from movies such as "Tremors", "Aliens" and "Jurassic Park III"; "The dummy phone... It's Jasper! It's the bug in the phone! B-But he was... I-It's... It's ins--"  

Indeed, apart from the enormous Carcharodon carcharias finally putting an end to all but the female oceanologist and thus ending the entire cast’s infuriating self-righteous whining, there genuinely seems to be little within the script for Issue Five of “Hook Jaw” that either appears original or makes any sense whatsoever. Certainly, the Englishman’s bizarre reimaging of the gigantic shark as a ‘rational-thinking’ monster of the deep, who actually halts an attack when a diver threatens to harpoon one of “her damn buddies”, is hard to mentally process. For as Mags herself remarks “That’s… that’s stupid.”

Similarly, it is genuinely difficult to fathom out just why, having killed his captors and stealthily escaped his imprisonment, Navy SEAL Klay alarmingly announces his plans to “slaughter every last one of the pirate sonsabitches” to their very faces when armed with a simple blood-stained fishing knife, or later, Ayub allows himself to die of starvation whilst holding on to the gantry of an abandoned oil rig? Admittedly, the elderly bandit was never going to try and swim for it once Hook Jaw bit out the bottom of his boat and started circling his location. But surely it would have made far more sense for the man to limp his way to a far better “dry spot” within so large a complex… and perhaps search for a source of water or food? 

Fortunately, what this twenty-two page finale does contain is plenty of grisly drawings of the “legendary” fish harassing all those foolish enough to enter the water. In fact, this publication’s one saving grace is Conor Boyle’s graphic depiction of “Flipper” circling his numerous prey as they attempt to reclaim a lost container crate from the ocean’s floor and subsequently encouraging her babies to tear Klay, Abdukadir and CIA operative Dow into eyeball-sized pieces before swimming off “into the cold.”
Writer: Si Spurrier, Art: Conor Boyle, and Colors: Giulia Brusco