Monday, 24 April 2017

Star Trek: Boldly Go #7 - IDW Publishing

STAR TREK: BOLDLY GO No. 7, April 2017
Appearing far too similar in narrative to D.C. Fontana’s November 1967 “Star Trek” television story "Journey to Babel", Mike Johnson and Ryan Parrott’s script for this “two-part whodunit” contains little in the way of any action, except perhaps Jaylah’s wholly unwise rescue attempt of Shev at the magazine's conclusion. Indeed, considering that this twenty-page periodical features both the ever distrustful Romulans and Commander Valas’ return to Federation space, this book’s audience must have felt remarkably cheated by the comic’s endless diplomatic dialogue.

Equally as disconcerting is the writing team’s frustrating attempt to replicate Spock’s infamously strained relationship with his father, Sarek, with the wilful Cadet Shev and the Andorian Ambassador. Angered by his son’s readiness to put his “responsibilities at the academy” ahead of those of his “family and our race”, many of this franchise’s long-running fans must have struggled not to hear actor Mark Lenard’s voice speaking the Babel-bound politician’s unoriginal lines as he scolds his blue-skinned offspring for daring to forget he is an “Andorian first”, and threatening to “revoke your place at the humans’ school” if he embarrasses him “in any way” at the conference.

Fortunately, whilst not having all that much positive impact upon this particular edition, Issue Seven of “Star Trek: Boldly Go” does at least suggest the title’s subsequent edition may at least involve the U.S.S Endeavour engaging in some much-needed space combat. True, Captain Kirk’s temporary command of the Federation starship adds very little to the pacing of this particular comic’s prose on account of the character being disappointingly confined to simply scanning the Stellonian asteroid belt for the jettisoned escape pods of an “unregistered vessel”. But it soon becomes clear “there’s no way” the fleeing spacecraft will be able to outlast the NCC-1805 forever, and that a taut confrontation between the hunter and the hunted is ‘just around the corner’; “If they think a few rocks are going to stop us, I’m happy to prove them wrong.”

Despite making a good job of capturing the crew’s ‘Silver Screen’ likenesses with her ‘clean style’, Megan Levens’ somewhat cartoony breakdowns also appear as disconcertingly disagreeable as the comic’s trite writing and resultantly seem a little at odds with a supposedly tense tale of subterfuge and treachery. In fact, the Savannah College of Art and Design graduate’s illustrations would seem far more suited to a fun-loving, humorous adventure, such as one inspired by “The Trouble With Tribbles”, than this book’s dialogue-heavy political drama…
The regular cover art of "STAR TREK: BOLDLY GO" No. 7 by George Caltsoudas

Friday, 21 April 2017

The Clone Conspiracy: Omega #1 - Marvel Comics

Presumably Editor Nick Lowe never bothered to inform writers Dan Slott & Christos Gage that one can only get so much blood out of a particular stone, otherwise the former “intern at Marvel Comics” would surely never have agreed for this painful one-shot dedicated to the aftermath of “The Clone Conspiracy” mini-series to have been printed. Indeed, “Collateral Damage” genuinely doesn’t seem to actually bring anything new to the “Dead No More” story-arc, unless it was published simply to show a surprisingly affectionate bond developing between Spider-Man and his former arch-enemy, the Rhino; “I’ll check on you soon, Aleksei. See how you’re doing. That’s a promise.”

Admittedly this anthology’s seventeen-page lead adventure does contain at least one magical moment, as arguably the creative collaboration’s handling of Sytsevich, docilely slumped, knee deep in the ashes of his beloved wife one moment and then formidably enraged the next, imbues the narrative with a genuinely gut-wrenching pathos. But sadly, such emotional storytelling is soon sidelined by the Berkeley-born author’s usual obsession with Peter Parker ‘beating himself up’ over both the immoral machinations of another, and his persistent failure to protect all those he cares about, such as Jerry Salteres, Gwen Stacy, J. Jonah Jameson and Anna-Marie.

Certainly, there seems little for this book’s dedicated audience to have enjoyed when it comes to Peter David’s astoundingly contrived subsequent ‘short’ concerning Ben Reilly’s successful attempt to convince old friend Doctor Clarkson to give him some much needed money, having first set her up to be murdered by some disgruntled clients. Just why S.H.I.E.L.D. would simply release the criminally-responsible New U scientist to enjoy a drink in her regular bar after all the chaos she has caused is utterly unfathomable… Yet in “Give Us A Wink” the “espionage, law-enforcement, and counter-terrorism agency” have purportedly done just that despite Rita having “had a hell of a day.”

Equally as bizarrely penned is Slott’s solo contribution “King’s Favour”, which sees Stuart Immonen doing his level best to illustrate Spider-Man trashing a Chinese restaurant in San Francisco so as to confront the Kingpin, and make it clear that “You don’t come to me, Fisk. I come to you!” Dark and gritty, dynamically-charged and pulse-pounding, this four-pager’s breakdowns are undoubtedly the best thing about “The Clone Conspiracy: Omega”, and must undoubtedly have whetted the appetite of the wall-crawler’s readership when “Marvel Worldwide” announced the Canadian comic book penciller was to become the regular artist for “The Amazing Spider-Man” ongoing series.
Writers: Dan Slott & Christos Gage, Artist: Cory T. Smith, and Color Artist: Justin Ponsor

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Captain America: Steve Rogers #6 - Marvel Comics

Despite Nick Spencer’s clarificatory preamble for Issue Six of “Captain America: Steve Rogers” explaining that reality had “been secretly rewritten by Kobik” in order for the ‘First Avenger’ to have shockingly become an Agent of Hydra, many of this comic’s 49,111 readers were probably thinking that something equally as messed up had probably occurred to them too. For whilst this twenty-page periodical’s disinteresting narrative clearly still depicts the ‘Sentinel of Liberty’ manipulating his former team-mates such as Captain Marvel and Iron Man, in order to ensure that his world-wide subversive organisation achieves its aim for global domination, the former politician’s script genuinely seems to bear little resemblance to the publications preceding it.

True, this particular edition is very much a “Civil War II” tie-in, which relies heavily upon events as depicted by writer Brian Michael Bendis in the crossover’s own limited mini-series, and resultantly finds the super-soldier deeply troubled by the “new inhuman who can see the future” because he can “expose Steve’s secret [that he works for the Red Skull] at any moment.” But that shouldn’t mean that the book’s author can automatically assume its audience knows precisely what is taking place elsewhere within the ‘Marvel Universe’, and therefore comprehend why the titular character is pencilled by Javier Pina one moment fighting some unseen enemy alongside Star Lord in The Triskelion, and then in the next panel drawn paternally speaking to a partially-masked Miles Morales, and suggesting that the distraught Spider-Man “go home.”

Fortunately, Spencer does at least repeatedly return to the super-hero’s altered past when as a boy Elisa Sinclair abducted him from his murdered mother’s side and subsequently had the infant indoctrinated by Doctor Sebastian Fenhoff. Gaunt-faced, deeply unhappy, and yet admirably strong-willed, as well as imbued with “considerable academic ability… in areas of problem solving and strategy”, the ‘undersized asthmatic’s attempts to survive an encounter with murderous sharp-toothed hounds, a momentarily tense confrontation with the formidable Kraken, and being kept locked in a dingy-looking cell, all prove welcome returns to this title’s familiar, long-term story-arc of Steve somehow graduating from “a school that trained Hydra soldiers" in the Late Twenties.
Writer: Nick Spencer, Penciler: Javier Pina, and Color Artist: Rachelle Rosenberg

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Star Wars: The Force Awakens #6 - Marvel Comics

Having literally romped through Han Solo’s infiltration of the First Order’s headquarters in its previous instalment, those 33,455 followers still purchasing this motion picture adaption, must surely have been wondering just how Chuck Wendig was going to populate a twenty-two page periodical when so little of J.J. Abrahams’ ‘silver screen’ story remained to be told. Perhaps predictably the answer was simple, the Pennsylvania-born writer would just draw out Kylo Ren and Rey’s lightsaber battle for as long as Luke Ross’ artistic talent allowed, and pad out the rest of the publication with plenty of wordless X-Wing battle sequences as Black Leader ‘gives the target everything he’s got’…   

Unsurprisingly, such an unimaginative approach to the narrative for Issue Six of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” badly slows down what should have unquestionably been the most exciting element of this mini-series' cataclysmic conclusion, and so rather than racing headlong through the trenches of Starkiller Base in an S-foiled Starfighter, or following Finn’s pulse-pounding confrontation with the dead smuggler’s treacherous son, much of this comic’s pace is instead bogged down with numerous poor-pencilled panels depicting the likes of Chewbacca repeatedly firing his bowcaster at Snoke’s protégé or holding, and then triggering, the detonation activator to a plethora of explosive devices dotted about the First Order’s facility; “It isn’t working! What do we do?”

To make matters worse though, despite this edition’s evident desperate need for additional material, the “Star Wars” novelist still fails to provide any extra insight into the events taking place, and arguably (once again) squanders the perfect opportunity to include at least one of the cinematic release's ‘deleted scenes’, such as Finn and the Jakku scavenger’s desperate flight from Solo’s death scene on board a stormtrooper skimmer. Indeed, there’s even the odd feeling that every now and then Wendig still feels he’s somehow running out of room, and subsequently his script seemingly omits important facts like Poe Dameron spotting an opportunity to fly straight inside the enemy oscillator in order to destroy it, General Hux realising “the fuel cells have ruptured” before facing his Supreme Leader, and Rey tapping into the Light Side of the Force in order to steel herself during her duel with Ren.
Writer: Chuck Wendig, Artist: Luke Ross, and Colorist: Frank Martin

Monday, 17 April 2017

Conan The Slayer #7 - Dark Horse Comics

CONAN THE SLAYER No. 7, March 2017
Considering that at the start of this twenty-two page periodical Cullen Bunn reaffirms that as a result of “their former [dead] leader’s intervention” during an attack by Turanian assassins, the titular character has become the horse-riding Kozaks new hetman, the GLAAD Media Award-winner’s swashbuckling sea-based script for Issue Seven of “Conan The Slayer” arguably makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Indeed, in many ways this particular tale, initially situated within the cursed ruins of an ancient island and then later entirely focused upon two sea-faring vessels sailing across the Vilayet Sea, would seem far more in keeping with the Cimmerian’s time alongside “his demon Queen of the Black Coast” than during his tenure championing Taraslan’s tent-dwelling, desert raiders.

Admittedly, this opening instalment of “The Devil In Iron” story-arc does seemingly appear to fit in quite well as a forerunner to the 1934 Robert E. Howard penned adventure of the same name, by depicting the well-muscled barbarian once again turning his hand to the grim “business of killing Turanians” and looting their ships. But even if this publication’s audience are appreciative of the tale acting as a sort of prelude to “one of the [franchise’s] original stories”, it is hard to imagine many were particularly enthralled by its somewhat simplistically contrived plot of having the former pirate battling a silverback gorilla, who just happened to have “lived as a caged novelty” below decks.

In fact, in many ways the “Superstar” writer’s narrative is painfully unremarkable, and brings absolutely nothing new to the leather-booted adventurer’s party, except perhaps Conan’s melancholic acceptance that the formidably-sized royal pet should simply be allowed to escape its captivity by drowning, just because he feels “the beast has suffered enough.” Certainly, the Cimmerian has been seen many times before battling the savagely dangerous inhabitants of the natural world and triumphantly leading boarding actions against a well-armed foe; “You seem to know your way around a ship. Have you sailed before..?”

Quibbles as to the unremarkable nature of its penmanship aside however, this comic does boast some terrific illustrations by Admira Wijaya. Lank-haired, sinewy and scar-crossed, the Indonesian artist’s excellent pencilling of the lead antagonist genuinely imbues him with all the deadly ‘pantherish’ grace Howard’s numerous descriptive texts speak of, and one can truly feel the raw power of their contest when the man later matches his might against that of an enraged primate.
Script: Cullen Bunn, Artist: Admira Wijaya, and Colors: Michael Atiyeh

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Star Trek: Boldly Go #6 - IDW Publishing

STAR TREK: BOLDLY GO No. 6, March 2017
Despite its script hardly featuring the "powerful new threat to the Federation” advertised by “IDW Publishing”, the contents to Issue Six of “Star Trek: Boldly Go” certainly does suggest that the addition of Ryan Parrott as the book’s co-writer will cause the title to turn in something of a different, possibly more episodic, direction. In fact, the self-contained, somewhat “surprising story” about “two of the U.S.S. Endeavour’s crewmembers” is undoubtedly far more reminiscent of the franchise’s Sixties television series than the comic book series’ preceding editions under the solitary pen of Mike Johnson; whose lengthy “encounter with the deadly Borg” conveyed a distinctly ‘summer blockbuster’ feel to its storytelling.  

For starters, although the twenty-page periodical does initially dwell upon the aftermath of Captain Terrell’s slow recovery from having been assimilated by the cybernetic organisms, as well as Mister Sulu’s acceptance to become James Kirk’s First Officer, its narrative predominantly focuses upon the Federation’s discovery of the “long theorized. Never seen” White Hole and excited scientific probing of the “monumental discovery!” Admittedly, this spatial phenomenon and its “very unusual readings” does eventually endanger the Concord and its interim Captain. But the comic’s real “bang for their buck” is actually an Andorian lieutenant’s crippling of the starship and subsequent rescue from the Brig by Communications Officer Murica.

Sadly, just why two of Kirk’s current bridge crew would commit so calamitous “an act of sabotage” as to doom the entire vessel, and additionally ‘end their Starfleet Careers’, is disappointingly soon revealed to be simply another in a long line of well-meaning extra-terrestrials which exist “apart from your three-dimensional reality” and wish merely to “better observe your species”. Yet, so unoriginal an explanation, alongside Hila’s last minute self-sacrifice in order to collapse the white hole, is precisely why this comic book proves so evocative of Gene Roddenberry’s ‘space western’ vision for the original “Desilu Productions” programme. Indeed, the tale even arguably concludes on a humanitarian highpoint as Chris Pine’s celluloid character dwells upon the realisation that “in all of the time I’ve been out here investigating the unknown… We might be investigated too, by species more advanced than ourselves”, and positively determines that “far from being an unsettling thought” “the urge to learn, the urge to understand, crosses all boundaries and unites us all.”
Writers: Mike Johnson & Ryan Parrot, Artist: Chris Mooneyham, and Colors: J.D. Mettler

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Star Wars: The Force Awakens #5 - Marvel Comics

Covering an incredible amount of story from Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams and Michael Arndt’s screenplay, this tumultuously superficial film adaption must have mortified many of the comic’s 39,329 readers in October 2016, with its brief account of Finn’s reunion with Poe at “the Resistance Base on D’Qar” and all-too sudden demise of Han Solo at the hands of his troubled son, Benjamin. True, Chuck Wendig’s narrative for Issue Five of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” does manage to exude plenty of pace and action, as Rey makes her escape “from the evil clutches of the First Order” and Black Leader is subsequently given “full authorisation to attack” Starkiller Base. But all these 'key' sequences are over so quickly that anyone within the book’s audience who were unable to previously watch the motion picture would surely have been scratching their heads as to just what was taking place…

Indeed, arguably crucial components of the franchise’s celluloid plot are seemingly just glossed over in order for the Goodreads Choice Award-winner to ensure that his script concludes with Kylon Ren’s treacherous killing of the Millennium Falcon’s captain and resultantly, the twenty-page periodical never explains just how Dameron helped his former stormtrooper friend end up briefing General Organa on Armitage Hux’s “hyper-lightspeed weapon built within the planet itself’, nor how precisely the Jakku scavenger convinces her guard to “remove these restraints. And leave the cell. With the door open… And you will drop your weapon!”

Just as clumsily handled is actor John Boyega’s sporadically humorous portrayal of FN-2187. Somewhat amusing on the silver screen, the character’s over earnest desire to demonstrate that “I’m in charge now, Plasma” is utterly lost in translation on the printed page due to Wendig disappointingly not penning for the elderly Solo to paternally advise the ‘kid’ to “bring it down.” Likewise, the duos’ “surprisingly honed comic timing” during Finn’s 'intense' attempt to later locate Rey deep inside the First Order’s base is similarly poorly realised, and disappointingly doesn’t convey any of the impressive interplay found within the 'aborted rescue scene' whilst watching “the direct sequel to 1983's Return of the Jedi.”

Perhaps providing the final nail in this comic’s coffin though, is the flat, oft-times wooden and inconsistent artwork of Luke Ross. Clearly able to occasionally delight, such as expanding upon Captain Plasma’s unceremonious journey down a garbage chute by actually pencilling the Commander's fall into the trash compactor, the Brazilian artist frustratingly struggles to imbue any semblance of life into the likes of the story’s silver-haired smuggler or his long-time love interest, Leia…
Writer: Chuck Wendig, Artist: Luke Ross, and Colorist: Frank Martin

Friday, 14 April 2017

Vampirella #1 - Dynamite Entertainment

VAMPIRELLA No. 1, March 2017
Described by Paul Cornell as the “first issue proper” of “Vampirella”, this twenty-two page periodical must have utterly bemused any reader foolish enough to have thought they could miss the title’s previously published “teaser” edition. For whilst the comic’s script definitely contains the sassy, smart-mouthed she-vampire clearly demonstrating her dislike of incivility, impoliteness and a serious thirst for the blood of the unjust, it perturbingly starts with the titular character clawing her way up from some “caves under paradise” and immediately confronting a literal army of heavily armoured flying angels which supposedly “stink of hell.”

Admittedly, this bewilderingly futuristic introduction to the series is somewhat clarified by way of a brief summary of events at the top of the book’s opening credits. But so small an explanatory text box really is rather easily overlooked, and resultantly causes the Chippenham-born novelist’s narrative to instantly become utterly unfathomable and the iconic blood-drinker almost unrecognisable; especially when she subsequently adopts a short-haired look with “dull clothes” in order to not “blend in.”  

Equally as disorientating is the professional author’s increasingly aggravating insistence on having Vampirella’s additional thoughts annotated along the bottom of each page, and some astoundingly contrived leaps of logic. Why, for example, having completely surrounded Forrest J. Ackerman’s super-heroine, do the countless numbers of sci-fi sword-wielding knights simply allow her to lose them by flying off into the sky and seeking shelter amidst the ruins of Mount Rushmore? The winged warriors are clearly capable of following the female blood-drinker, and have much to avenge on account of the former “horror-story hostess” literally ripping the limbs of off some of their comrades-in-arms…

Jimmy Broxton’s scratchy illustrations are sadly just as off-putting as this comic’s storyline, with the “UK based graphic artist” seemingly trying to emulate the look of Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 dystopian crime film “A Clockwork Orange”. Such an instantly distinguishable look, complete with a plethora of phallic clothing accessories, would arguably have caused many of this magazine’s older audience to become somewhat nostalgically sympathetic to what the penciller (and colorist) was striving to achieve. Yet not even a plethora of diverse “droogs” is, disappointingly, enough to help save what otherwise appears to be a very amateurish series of breakdowns.
The regular cover art of "VAMPIRELLA" No. 1 by Philip Tan & Elmer Santos

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Uber: Invasion #5 - Avatar Press

UBER: INVASION No. 5, March 2017
Focusing predominantly upon “the experimentation, production and R&D” of the Uber catalyst, rather than any specific battles between American and German super-soldiers, Kieron Gillen’s script for this twenty-two page periodical is no less impactive or grisly-looking than the series’ previous instalments. Indeed, as a result of Stephanie’s usage “of an unknown-sourced set of instructions for assembling enhanced beings” upon a couple of hapless volunteers and Joe Davies’ extreme reaction to his ‘activation’, Issue Five of “Uber: Invasion” contains some exceedingly disturbing sequences, such as the aforementioned soldier's bones literally snapping up out of his body, despite the scientist’s “increased precautions” to safeguard her ‘patient’.

This theme of ‘trial and error’, as well as the cost in human lives to succeed, permeates throughout the former music journalist’s narrative, and despite being understandably somewhat sedentary in nature, is made particularly evident when an arrogant General Groves realises that in order to develop “a tank-man army ready quick enough to win the second Battle of Kursk” Stalin quite ruthlessly “just threw half a million lives” away in the identification process. A sobering sum when one considers the American officer got “twitchy about the invasion of Japan” because of the amount of casualties such a task might cause and resultantly offers just three “catalyst-susceptible soldiers” to become the Allies “new superweapons”.

Perhaps somewhat fortunately though, the GLAAD Media Award-winner’s storyline does still occasionally step away from its increasingly depressing review of America’s war effort, and momentarily touch upon the title’s far wider plot threads. In fact, the horrifically bloody neutralisation of the Third Reich’s southern invasion force “in a skirmish west of Philadelphia” potentially demonstrates just how tenuous a hold the Axis Powers actually have in the United States, with Hitler’s hopes seemingly being solely reliant upon the abilities of his two battleship-class soldiers; at least until Barker’s cliff-hanger exclamation that a Japanese Uber has attacked San Diego…

Regular artist Daniel Gete undoubtedly adds to this comic’s overall gruesomeness by definitively depicting the brutal impact the ruby-red catalyst can have upon the human body. Yet, strangely appears ‘off-form’ when pencilling some of the wordier panels, such as when “a regular southern gentleman” spouts his prejudicial nonsense at the title’s leading “enhanced Negro soldiers”, or James Matthews is rather poorly illustrated simply eating with “the entire second wave of candidates.”
The regular cover art of "UBER: INVASION" No. 5 by Daniel Gete

Monday, 10 April 2017

The Amazing Spider-Man [2015] #24 - Marvel Comics

Dan Slott was probably right as far as most of this twenty-page periodical’s readers were concerned when he wrote that “people are not walking out of this one happy.” For whilst “The Clone Conspiracy” tie-in does rather nicely explain precisely why Spider-Man found only the dusty remains of Doctor Octopus and Ben Reilly at the end of that aforementioned Spider-Event mini-series, the plot to “Night Of The Jackals” only does so by first introducing a contrivingly convenient proto-clone body for Otto Octavius to inhabit as “the true Peter Parker’s Superior”, and then subsequently allowing the original Scarlet Spider to ward off the fatal effects of his Carrion Virus by simply consuming vast quantities of “New U” pills; “Remember, kids, don’t do drugs. Drugs are bad. Except when they keep you from turning into a carrion zombie.”  

Equally as poorly thought out is the Berkeley-born writer’s motivation for Miles Warren to confront his callous employer at the dog-mask wearing maniac’s safehouse. Admittedly, the Professor’s desire to have his revenge upon “a failed experiment” who made him believe he was actually a defective clone himself was undoubtedly a strong one. Yet that doesn’t explain why, having once again donned his instantly recognisable ‘goblinesque green’ costume, the genius geneticist demands Riley fight him inside the burning remnants of “a recreation of Peter's childhood home,” nor why he is surprised that, having arrived and found his stash of medication destroyed, the American author's latest incarnation of the Jackal simply turns his back upon his predecessor and matter-of-factly ensures the biochemist’s destruction by helping the building collapse upon the talented gymnast’s head.

Quite possibly just as tired as the plot to Issue Twenty Four of “The Amazing Spider-Man”, are Giuseppe Camuncoli’s illustrations. The Italian comic book sketcher undoubtedly pencils the grisly demise of Warren’s hapless melting clones with all the panache and dynamism that made him “best known for his work on the Marvel Comics title… The Superior Spider-Man”. However, the same cannot be said for the rest of the former “Swamp Thing” fill-in artist’s breakdowns, with Ben Reilly in particular appearing increasingly poorly drawn as the adventure progresses, as are the numerous indistinctly-detailed firemen found within the publication's final scene.
Writers: Dan Slott & Christos Gage, Artist: Giuseppe Camuncoli, and Inker: Cam Smith

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Hook Jaw #4 - Titan Comics

HOOK JAW No. 4, April 2017
Featuring a script far more in keeping with the titular character’s Seventies “Action Comics” exploits than its disappointing 21st Century re-imagining, Si Spurrier’s script for Issue Four of “Hook Jaw” genuinely seems to play out like something from a Peter Benchley novel, with its deeply disturbing death of an eco-activist at the comic’s start and subsequent sharp-toothed surfacings. Indeed, apart from the Englishman’s disconcerting insistence on having the giant shark supposedly rationalise and consider which person to eat when faced with a choice, rather than simply be a predatory killing machine, this twenty-two page periodical proves an increasingly enthralling read.

For starters, the threat of the huge Carcharodon carcharias clamping its jaws around some hapless victim at any moment is prevalent throughout this publication’s narrative, and resultantly the bizarre, thoroughly tedious machinations of CIA operative Dow, thankfully take a noticeable back seat for large portions of the book. True, the equally as annoying “disguised Navy SEAL Clint” and obtuse scientist Jasper still prove wearisomely displeasing. But at least the overweight “racist” dolphin-lover finally comes to a bloody end, when he’s purposely knocked overboard in to the Somalian waters by his former “kitchen boy” and immediately consumed by the “legendary great white” shark; “Where is it where is it £$%& God No No No.”

Just as suspenseful is the Eagle Award-nominee’s writing for the scene where Laurie’s colleague Mag is hung out over the side of a pirate vessel in anticipation that the foul-mouthed marine biologist will be torn in half. Just why a sliver of Uncle Ayub’s dismembered frozen finger can somehow draw the giant shark to attack is never properly explored, it just “£$%&in’ works!” and provides “rising star Conor Boyle” with a splash page opportunity straight out of the pencilling portfolio of original series artist Ramon Sola… 

Sadly, despite this definite nod “at its primogenitor”, Spurrier’s plot still seemingly struggles to decide whether it’s actually a monster story at heart, or some sort of secret government thriller where the Americans have been building “a machine to fix the world.” This indecision becomes especially befuddling towards the book’s conclusion when the loathsome Dow suddenly intimates she’s actually an Earth-saving environmentalist, and explains that the stolen technology the Somalian pirates have lost is in fact a “climate change, global weirding” device that “can damn sure stitch” the atmospheric wound causing the world’s temperature to warm-up..?
The regular cover art of "HOOK JAW" No. 4 by Conor Boyle

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Judge Dredd: Deviations #1 - IDW Publishing

Penned very much in the same vein as “DC Comics” “Elseworlds” series, or “What If?” by “Marvel Worldwide”, this twenty-four page periodical essentially contains “a Judge Dredd story where the always amazing John McCrea asks what Mega City One would be like if its toughest lawman had never recovered from that time he was briefly a werewolf” as depicted in the classic “2000 A.D.” multi-part tale “Cry Of The Werewolf”. In fact, to begin with, “Judge Dredd: Deviations” actually replicates the events of the 1983 narrative by initially duplicating Old Stoney Face’s confrontation with the Undercity’s White Wolf and having the senior lawman defeat his supernatural foe by skewering the albino beast with a piece of metal railing.

It is at this point however, that “Howl Of The Wolf” makes something of a disconcerting detour from its source material. For despite former Judge Prager returning a furry-infected Joseph back to the huge city-state, the comic’s audience quickly discover that medical researcher Cassidy has unfortunately been “killed by one of the beasts” and his curative research has inconveniently been destroyed in a “a drokkin’ mess” of a fire.

Such a supposedly dramatic divergence appears actually somewhat unspectacularly contrived considering that these new developments aren’t even illustrated by the Freelance writer/artist, and therefore rather ungraciously lead to the titular character being strangely sentenced to life imprisonment straightaway by the very the Judges he’d so recently fought alongside during the lycanthrope outbreak; "Okay, keep him locked down… Start looking for a cure again.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Dredd doesn’t remain within captivity for long though, thanks to Karl Heinz-Pilchards-In-Tomato-Sauce Clayderman’s performance of “the greatest musical symphony of all time” and inadvertent devastation of the nearby Isolation Cube block with an earthquake. But so opportune a release, the lawman’s ‘unique’ ability to fully marshal his werewolf instincts and subsequent sanction to return to the Cursed Earth as a ‘free agent’, seems arguably far too convenient a storyline for so usually brutal a futuristic comic book series; especially when Chief Judge McGruder knows he’s literally just ripped the Weatherman to pieces in order to silence the citizen’s ability to control the city’s “freak weather conditions”.

To make matters arguably worse, McCrea’s storyline seems to become even more 'surreal' once Prager is reunited with Joe during a fire-fight against a homicidal Robot Army and demands his savage one-time captive purposely bite him so as to similarly infect his immune system. It’s certainly hard to imagine any Judge willingly taking such a drastic risk to become a ‘lawcanthrope of the Undercity’, even if they had “lost a bit of blood” and were ‘out of ammunition.
The regular cover art of "JUDGE DREDD: DEVIATIONS" No. 1 by John McCrea

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Hulk [2016] #4 - Marvel Comics

HULK No. 4, May 2017
In many ways Mariko Tamaki’s script for Issue Four of “Hulk” doesn’t really get going until after Jennifer Walters leaves an indignant Miss Soef standing in Ryu, Barber, Zucker & Scott's reception area and subsequently steps from out of a yellow cab just “one block from Maise Brewn’s apartment.” True, the Canadian author does beforehand somewhat graphically elaborate upon the worst day in the life of the lawyer’s mutant client as the terrified “human with latent Inhuman lineage” is left within a pool of her own blood by a gang of white-masked assailants, and likewise, touches upon the disappearance of two police detectives who had been investigating the murder of Mister Tick. But essentially both of these sequences are simple ‘window dressing’, designed merely to set the scene for the She-Hulk’s alter-ego to finally pay her timidly insecure customer a visit, and discover just how formidable a tenant the former yoga instructor can really be; “You see it coming. You feel it coming. Not because you can stop it, but because it’s there waiting for you no matter what you do.” 

Indeed, just as soon as the ‘meek and mousy cousin of Bruce Banner’ enters the supposed “only safe place left in this terrible world” and encounters a pair of the dwelling’s less than ‘unfriendly’ inhabitants, this twenty-page periodical’s audience must surely have become irresistibly enthralled by the book’s palpable aura of creepiness. Certainly they can’t not have felt the hairs rise up upon the back of their necks when Maise narrows her eyes at Jen when she is told that her landlord sold her home to some redevelopers several months ago and “there’s not much we can do to stop them”, and resultantly drops her cup of tea whilst telling Walters she is “a bad lawyer!”

Such a wonderful increase in this comic’s tension is equally as well enhanced by Nico Leon’s breakdowns. Arguably somewhat ‘flat’ in places at first, such as the scene in which Bradley’s ‘threatens’ to bring his boss tea and bagels in order to ensure “everyone’s world… got better”, the Córdoba-born artist genuinely ramps up the publication’s ‘fright factor’ by both imbuing Brewn’s fellow tenants with the same all black pupils as she now exhibits, and then drawing the Manhattan resident’s own eyes with a frighteningly haunting red glow…
Writer: Mariko Tamaki, Artist: Nico Leon, and Color Artist: Matt Milla

Monday, 27 March 2017

Injection #11 - Image Comics

INJECTION No. 11, March 2017
Tantalisingly its readership with a genuinely spooky opening that involves “an entire stone circle” being unearthed in Cornwell and the subsequent discovery of a skinned corpse being “chained" to it, Warren Ellis’ script for Issue Eleven of “Injection” initially bears all the hallmarks of another of the graphic novelist’s mesmerising folkloric themed adventures. Sadly however, any such notion is then almost immediately quashed by the Essex-born writer’s introduction of Brigid Roth and more unnecessary colourful metaphors than even a “Rated M/Mature” comic book has a right to have.

Indeed, if it wasn’t for the Injection team-member’s apparent predilection for profanities, it would genuinely be hard to argue that anything of any actual note occurs within this twenty-page periodical; except perhaps the computer geek’s unoriginal materialisation inside a deserted garage using a spatial relocation device which looks suspiciously similar to the TARDIS console from the BBC science fiction television programme “Doctor Who”. Certainly, this publication’s audience won't have been 'won over' by the Dubliner’s attempt to “gouge out” a coffee machine with a screwdriver simply because if wouldn’t work, or her sitting silently alone atop her home’s roof recollecting how her residence came with its own earthwork. 

Even once the Cross Culture-Contamination Unit (CCCU) operative arrives at the grisly murder’s location, little of interest take places, as an overly hostile Roth seems intent on swearing at both FPI assets Ryan Sutter and Bob Gristle within moment of meeting them, and then starts talking ‘mumbo jumbo’ to her tiny stone totem, Sheela-na-gig. In fact, it isn’t until the comic’s cliff-hanger, when a horrified Brigid reasons that the Mellion Ring Stones are actually just the lid to something which extends “way further down,” that Ellis somehow surprisingly rekindles the suspense his narrative’s prologue first promised.

Quite possibly more disappointing than this comic’s penmanship though, are Declan Shalvey’s breakdowns. Initially well-drawn and full of increasing menace, as three backpackers cross Mellion’s Tor only to discover a decaying corpse, the Eagle Award-winner’s artwork becomes increasingly inconsistent as he repeatedly attempts to imbue Roth with some sort of personality. Whilst the less said about the Irishman’s ‘flashback sequence’ depicting Brigid purchasing her home “not too far from Dublin”, and garishly coloured by Jordie Bellaire, the better…
The regular cover art of "INJECTION" No. 11 by Declan Shalvey

Sunday, 26 March 2017

All-Star Batman #4 - DC Comics

ALL-STAR BATMAN No. 4, January 2017
Whilst one of Batman’s most readily recognisable strengths has always been his “science and technology”, Scott Snyder’s script for Issue Four of “All-Star Batman” disconcertingly ramps up the Dark Knight’s arsenal of gadgetry to an arguably preposterous high, by portraying the Bat-suit as having both the ability to fire numerous projectiles from its chest plate and gloves, as well as provide its disorientated wearer with pectoral speakers and “Echolocation.” In fact, what with the cowl’s ability to suddenly extend a supposedly air-tight guard over Bruce Wayne’s lower face, and ‘blast’ the Caped Crusader’s opponents with a forward-facing sound wave, the Harvey Award-winner’s interpretation of the super-hero’s costume seems far more akin to something Tony Stark would wear within a “Marvel Worldwide” publication, rather than the “grey body suit” created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane.

Rather disconcertingly however, such a plethora of exoskeleton augmentations, even when imagined by the New York-writer himself, are still not enough apparently to save the titular character from being blinded, when it purportedly helps provide the plot with an extra twist. This utter contrivance, based on the assumption that despite being housed within an armoured, air-tight head-piece, Batman’s eyes would still be ruined by the vapours from a vial of Two-Face’s burning acid, is only ‘topped’ by the utter absurdity of the crime-fighter’s solution to his dilemma… piloting a bi-plane in order to give his sight time to recover..?

Equally as implausible as its start, is the conclusion to “My Own Worst Enemy”, with Snyder building upon the premise that the Court of Owls gave Harvey Dent “my own battalion” of assassins, by subsequently having the former Gotham City district attorney apparently able to additionally marshal a thousand-strong armed mob, courtesy of a tracker code on his mobile phone; “Come on you piece of -- therrrre we go. One bar… two bars…” Admittedly this people-packed cliff-hanger gives artist John Romita Jr. plenty of opportunity to pencil a vast array of formidable-looking miscreants and malcontents, but such a fortuitously well-timed arrival seems as realistically likely as the mob’s incredibly lucky ability to shoot the Silver Dollar casino boat into matchwood and yet still miss their targets Batman and Duke.
The regular cover art of "ALL-STAR BATMAN" No. 4 by John Romita Junior

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Rough Riders #2 - AfterShock Comics

ROUGH RIDERS No. 2, May 2016
Focusing upon Theodore Roosevelt’s recruitment of Harry Houdini, Thomas A. Edison, Edward “Monk” Eastman and Annie Oakley, Adam Glass’ narrative for Issue two of “Rough Riders” is a decidedly choppy affair, which doesn’t really seem to settle down until the semi-historical ‘super-team’ have all congregated at the South Street Seaport in New York City and proved themselves in a rather bloody fist-fight with some local ruffians; “You can start by giving us all your money, fancy pants.” Up until this point, some two thirds of the way through the twenty-page periodical, the executive producer’s writing is uninspiringly episodic, and flits from one seemingly surreal conversational piece to another, before culminating in the future president literally waltzing with Buffalo Bill’s female exhibition shooter rather than be shot be her…

Fortunately however, once the “Oni Press” graphic novelist does finally bring his titular characters together, and Teddy has smacked a spike-clubbed thug square in the nose, this comic swiftly starts to ‘pick up’. Indeed, whether it be the fast-paced antics of Houdini’s eye-watering crotch-kicks and ‘Gambit-like’ card-throwing, Miss Oakley’s teeth-shattering beating of “two sweet-talkers” intent of taking advantage of the “taken woman”, or Jack Johnson’s over-confident right-handed pugilism, there’s more than enough sense-shattering action contained with this book’s final sequence to surely have sated the publication’s 5,107 strong audience.

There is even an opportunity for the title’s creator to clearly help the group’s innovative inventor, Edison, carve himself out a niche as the storyline’s cowardly comedic relief, and demonstrate Roosevelt’s zero tolerance for the racial bigotry of one of his recruits, by having the American statesman hurl the brutish Monk overboard after witnessing the gangster standing idly by as a bowler-hat wearing bully was about to club his negro team-mate from behind; “I had to see if everyone would fight for one another. And you all passed. Except you, Monk. You’re out. You won’t be part of the Rough Riders.”

Capturing all the dynamism of this “good work” is “veteran comic book illustrator” Patrick Olliffe, whose style both readily “captures the historical figures” and makes “them feel like the icons they are”, but without making them appear lazy “caricatures.” In fact, the “Untold Tales Of Spider-Man” artist’s technique of utilising hatch-lines to suggest an item’s speed or force, really helps make the punches fall with a resounding thud or bone-breaking crunch.
Creator & Writer: Adam Glass, Artist: Patrick Olliffe, and Colorist: Gabe Eltaeb

Friday, 24 March 2017

Judge Dredd: Cry Of The Werewolf #1 - IDW Publishing

Serving as tribute to Steve Dillion, who passed away in October 2016, this reprint of the entire “Cry of the Werewolf” serialisation from “2000 A.D.” progs 322-328 certainly contains “some incredible examples of Steve’s storytelling prowess” and it is easy to see why “more than ten earlier” than the artist’s work on “Preacher”, the seven-parter was thought by his brother, Glyn, to be “a definitive pinnacle” in the London-born penciller’s career. Sadly however, it also seems to be a demonstration of how difficult “IDW Publishing” struggle to reprint the British weekly’s ‘wider format’ artwork, as every breakdown is disappointingly squeezed into the top three-quarters of a page, leaving an ugly ‘blank’ margin along the bottom; something “Eagle Comics” strangely didn’t seem to require when they republished Joseph's stories thirty years earlier…

Quibbles as to this book’s layout aside though, this “Judge Dredd: Cry Of The Werewolf” one-shot is undoubtedly features one of the future lawman’s most popular tales, and is an excellent example of writers John Wagner and Alan Grant (Script robot T B Grover) at the very summit of their game. Indeed, whether it be the “full-blooded horror” of sharp-toothed monsters savagely ripping Mega-City citizens apart in a crimson frenzy, “fugitive robots” dominating the East Undercity with supposedly a rule of iron, or albino lycanthropes making things get “pretty hairy” for the grim-faced titular character, this forty-seven page periodical would seem to cater for any and all of the senior judge’s action-craving fans.

Admittedly, this collection’s narrative also contains plenty of emotional drama too, with the intimate embrace of young lovers Rene and Ramone being shocking interrupted by a pack of viciously hungry werewolves, and Floyd’s wife Darlene, appearing desperate to simply “get home and lock the door” one moment, and then remorselessly attacking her dutiful husband the next as he gets some antiseptic for her bite; “Stop that terrible racket! I’m sure they’ve got a dog in there!” But such intimate moments genuinely seem to be simply the ‘quiet before the storm’, as Dredd starts having to resort to head-butting his saliva-infecting antagonists and travels “the old city that lay beneath the streets” of his sprawling megalopolis in search of the contaminant.
The standard cover art of "JUDGE DREDD: CRY OF THE WEREWOLF" No. 1 by Steve Dillon

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Vampirella #0 - Dynamite Entertainment

VAMPIRELLA No. 0, February 2017
Sold as a twenty-five cent “introductory priced issue” by “Dynamite Entertainment” in February 2017, this seventeen-page periodical must surely have demoralised all but the most ardent of “Vampirella” devotees with its utterly bizarre sci-fi script set “over a thousand years” since Forrest J Ackerman’s co-creation was supposedly last seen “defending the world from threats both mystic and evil.” In fact, as a result of the narrative’s futuristic setting and inclusion of laser weapons, it’s hard not to contradict Paul Cornell’s pre-publication belief that this comic isn’t apparently yet another of the publisher’s reboots…

Perhaps top of this comic’s list of disappointments is the Chippenham-born novelist’s conviction that a story featuring “the daughter of Lilith” facing a dystopian world “unlike anything she might expect – or want to defend” would be of much interest to a gothic anti-heroine’s fan-base. True, just such a tale is clearly the “beginning [of] a new and very different direction” for the one-time inhabitant of the planet Drakulon, and a modicum of interest can at least be gleaned from the adventurers’ brief exploration of the vampire’s creepy catacombs and cob-webbed crypt.

But, alongside its disconcerting space-age setting and disagreeable premise that humans now contain “a new sort of blood”, this entire book genuinely feels more akin to the series’ previously printed “Altered States” one-shot, rather than anything nourishingly new. Indeed, it is surely not the greatest of signs for the quality of a book’s writing when the magazine’s most exciting feature is arguably an announcement for a “deal with Lionsgate to bring [the neo-noir action thriller film character] John Wick to comics” rather than the magazine's actual content? 

Just as displeasing as the “Doctor Who” author’s rather lack-lustre and arguably pedantically-paced plot, are Jimmy Broxton’s somewhat scratchy-looking breakdowns. A frequent collaborator of Cornell, the “UK based graphic artist” undoubtedly stems from a similar vein to Vampirella’s original “black-and-white magazine” illustrators with a technique truly reminiscent of Jim Holdaway’s “Modesty Blaise”. However, when applied to such subject matters as advanced clothing, not dissimilar to that found throughout Judge Dredd’s post-apocalyptic Mega-City One, and coloured using a garishly pink palette, the penciller’s “classy, European style” appears far more akin to that found within the panels of an amateur fanzine as opposed to something promoted by “a [genuine] force in the American comic book industry.”
The variant cover art of "VAMPIRELLA" No. 0 by J. Scott Campbell

The Clone Conspiracy #5 - Marvel Comics

Painfully bringing “the Spider-Event of the Year” to a most unsatisfactory conclusion, Issue Five of “The Clone Conspiracy” must surely have disappointed more than its fair share of followers due to a sickly sweet ending which sees Anna-Marie far too easily work out “the inverse frequency” required to save the world from the “lethal Carrion virus”, and unbelievably reveals that all the original New U patients, such as Hobie Brown and Jerry Salteres, have actually been safely stored alive deep underground in cryogenic freezers the entire time.

Admittedly, this ‘feel good’ finale does mean that the Prowler, Spider-Gwen and Kaine Parker ‘live to fight another day’, as do some of the wall-crawler’s more notably-deceased adversaries like the Rhino. But such poignant positives still don’t erase the feeling that Dan Slott’s narrative could easily have attained a similar result far earlier on in the mini-series if the Berkeley-born writer had simply ‘cut-out’ the story-arc’s superfluous sub-plot of having Ben Reilly trying to ‘recruit’ the CEO of Parker Industries to his cause, and “cloning nearly everyone who has died in Spider-Man’s life, from friends and loved ones like Gwen Stacy, Captain Stacy, and Jean DeWolff…”

Happily however, the Diamond Gem Award-winner’s script does contain a few quality moments, which whilst not ensuring that “this is the issue-Spider-fans around the world will be talking about for years to come”, does at least provide a modicum of entertainment. Indeed, the American author’s handling of Aleksei Sytsevich as he cradles his dying wife Oksana in his powerful arms, or Jonah’s pitiable plea to his crime-fighting nemesis not to tell Peter that “he was right” when he realises that his cloned beloved was simply a pawn in the Jackal’s plans, are arguably worth this comic’s cover price alone; “I beg you. Don’t tell him.”

In addition Jim Cheung’s pencils are simply outstanding throughout, and genuinely bring some quite extraordinary dynamism to this twenty-page periodical’s frequent fight-scenes. Certainly, as a result of the British artist's illustrations, it’s hard not to wince as the titular character is dramatically drawn smacking his ‘not-brother’ in the head for being “just another lunatic in a mask”, or give Doctor Octopus, still disturbingly enamoured with Marconi, a noble nod of assent as he dutifully battles the Jackal until both of them have ‘melted’ into “dust and empty suits.”
The variant cover art of "THE CLONE CONSPIRACY" No. 5 by Mark Bagley & Scott Hanna

Monday, 20 March 2017

Kong Of Skull Island #6 - BOOM! Studios

KONG OF SKULL ISLAND No. 6, December 2016
Originally solicited as the final instalment to a six issue mini-series, this twenty-two page periodical must have delighted its 4,395 readers with a plot that not only brings James Asmus’ vision of mankind’s early inhabitation of Skull Island to a rather satisfying conclusion, but also intimates that “the first great battle for the isle’s “dark heart” is just the beginning of a much larger, far more complicated tale. Indeed, if the wizened storyteller’s proclamation at the publication’s conclusion is to be believed, “there will [certainly] be another chaos” to befall the Tagu-Atu people, and one which will most assuredly involve the newly crowned Queen Ewata, her baby daughter K’Vanni, and their ‘disgraced’ Kong, Valla…

For this particular comic however, the playwright’s narrative initially predominantly focuses upon the defeat of a twin-headed Tyrannosaurus Rex and the formidable Kong, Tuno. Such a sense-shattering gargantuan struggle between man and beast is extremely well-orchestrated by the Stan Lee Excelsior Award-winner, and proves an especially enthralling experience on account of the tribesmen’s additional struggle to comprehend whether what they fight is actually a hellish creation of “madness and horror”, or simply a “rarity” of natural creation, which has previously been encountered by their own breeders. 

Equally as enjoyable is Queen Usana’s ferociously savage scrap with some “hyper intelligent” Velociraptors, and the long overdue comeuppance of her despicable, bloodthirsty father, Vdrell. In fact, the demise of both the overly-ambitious monarch and her elderly parent are probably the most satisfying elements to Issue Six of “Kong Of Skull Island”, and it arguably must have been hard for this book’s audience not to wryly smile when the selfish sovereign deserts her bodyguard to a flesh-ripping fate, only to run straight into the jaws of another prehistoric carnivore; “What did he call that wretched smelling --?! N’Aaaaaaaahg --” 

All of this brutalisation, treachery and gory mutilation is tremendously well-drawn by Carlos Magno, whose incredibly well-detailed breakdowns definitely better suit the narrative’s depleted cast of characters. Certainly it is hard not to feel Tuno’s teeth sink into the exposed neck of his ‘demonic’ foe when Ewata shouts the command for him to “eat!!”, or similarly recognise in the cawing Deathrunners’ eyes, the cold-hearted calculations taking place which swiftly reason that the pregnant female warrior who verbally directs the Kong's strategy, is their greatest threat.
Writer: James Asmus, Illustrator: Carlos Magno, and Colors: Brad Simpson