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