Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Moon Knight [2016] #10 - Marvel Comics

MOON KNIGHT No. 10, March 2017
Impressively acquiring an additional four thousand readers in January 2017, quite possibly because of the “Death And Birth starts now!” eye-catching advertisement on its front cover, Issue Ten of “Moon Knight” certainly provided its 33,395-strong audience with an insightful portrayal into Marc Spector’s first meeting with his schizophrenic persona Steven Grant on the streets of Chicago, Illinois. But whilst this touchingly sentimental ‘flashback’ to the crime-fighter’s past proves both highly nostalgic, on account of its frequent references to films such “Star Wars”, “Conan The Barbarian”, “Gremlins” and “Raiders Of The Lost Ark”, as well as disconcertingly sad, when the boy’s dad finds him talking to himself rather than an actual “new friend, Steven”, its narrative doesn’t really take this title’s increasingly bizarre overall storyline much farther forward.

In fact, in many ways this attempt by Jeff Lemire’s to “redefine the history of Moon Knight” by exploring the titular character’s first symptoms of mental illness is rather ponderously paced, and arguably becomes precisely the sort of “pedantic” penmanship the Canadian cartoonist stated he expressly wanted to avoid when “Marvel Worldwide” first announced he was to be the comic’s regular writer. It’s certainly hard for this twenty-page periodical to break any new ground when the ex-mercenary simply re-visits Crawley and Annubis on the Overvoid, and Gena in her diner so he can enjoy “a cup of good hot coffee and pancakes”; even if waitress’ “flapjacks are to die for.”

Disconcertingly, this book’s only saving grace is its outstanding breakdowns by Greg Smallwood and color artist Jordie Bellaire. The creative duo really do create some incredibly captivating panels, whether they be a young Spector simply chalking space werewolves on his local street’s sidewalk, or the boy’s phenomenally detailed bedroom full of period pieces like an A-Team poster, cuddly toy Alf or MASK sideboard stickers. Indeed, what with this magazine’s amazing cliff-hanger splash page depicting Mister Knight facing an insectoid-riding Egyptian warrior, and the super-hero’s dive through the celestial waters of his childhood madness, it is very easy to see why Editor Jake Thomas ‘nearly fell out of his chair’ whenever ‘Greg turned in his sketches’.
Writer: Jeff Lemire, Artist: Greg Smallwood, and Color Artist: Jordie Bellaire

Monday, 27 February 2017

Nemesis The Warlock #2 - Eagle Comics

NEMESIS THE WARLOCK No. 2, October 1984
Predominantly dedicated to the titular character’s rescue of Purity Brown during the Feast of Zamarkand, Issue Two of “Nemesis The Warlock” provides its audience with both a tantalising glimpse of the “fire-breathing demonic” alien’s family, in the shape of his “Great Uncle Baal”, and “the subterranean city that lies, deep within the Central Abyss of the Earth” called Necropolis. Indeed, the thirty-one page anthology genuinely seems to expand the anti-hero’s universe exponentially as Pat Mills’ narrative progresses, with its inclusion of the short-story “The Origin Of The Excessus” proving particularly broadening, on account of “a simple varkherd called Olric” travelling the Fringe Worlds in search of the sword sinister and encountering all manner of exotic planets and savage beasts at the cost of a couple of his limbs.

The British editor’s exploration of the Termight Empire fairs equally as well however, with Nemesis’ infiltration of the “vast Temple of Terminus” not only providing a wickedly detailed glimpse of the Headquarters of the Terminators, complete with its swinging Pandemonium. But also a mesmerising look at the Inquisition’s Aliens’ Cells, which are packed full of all manner of extra-terrestrial prisoners and the outlandish-looking torture devices designed to make their incarceration as unpleasant an experience as possible. The sorcerer’s co-creator even manages to find the time to pen a thoroughly charming scene depicting the relationship between the Torturer General and his new inefficient apprentice; “It’ll be out of my hands, Son! I can’t keep dead wood! I’ll have to let you go!” 

Perhaps this enthrallingly coloured tome’s greatest sub-plot though, besides the introduction of the familiar Grobbendonk and his Gibberish Fringe World dialect, is the very sudden ‘fall from grace’ of the Executioner of Terminus. Known as “the Scourge of the Alien”, Brother Gogol’s discovery that his “mother was an alien” and “she killed my father” soon turns “Torquemada’s right hand man” into quite the pitiable figure, especially when the Mandrake is forced to aid “The Lord of The Flies” murder Brother Hades, the Pandemonium player, and help “every prisoner in Terminus escape!”

Kevin O'Neill's “imaginative, grotesque art” undeniably assists Mills with this saga’s storytelling, and the London-born illustrator’s attention to detail is absolutely phenomenal. In fact, it soon becomes abundantly clear, when one considers the numerous vehicles which are pencilled traversing The Abyss alone, just why the “efforts he put in to creating” his artwork “led to a low rate of productivity.”
Script: Pat Mills, Artist: Kev O'Neill, and Colors: Kev O'Neill

Sunday, 26 February 2017

The Clone Conspiracy #2 - Marvel Comics

THE CLONE CONSPIRACY No. 2, January 2017
There surely must have only been a few of this mini-series’ 58,921 readers, who found Dan Slott’s script for Issue Two of “The Clone Conspiracy” an entertaining read. For whilst the twenty-page periodical does contain the return of two Warriors of the Great Web in the shape of the Scarlet Spider and Spider-Woman (Gwen Stacy), as well as an entire Rogue’s Gallery featuring the likes of Spider-Slayer, Massacre, Mirage, Big Man, Stilt-Man, Tarantula, Mysterio, Rose and the Green Goblin, to name just a few, it does so as a result of one of the most preposterous and unbelievable plot-twists possible…They’ve all returned as “a force for good” and want simply to help Peter Parker’s alter-ego.

Considering just how truly evil and formidable some of these underworld villains have been in the past, such errant nonsense as them no longer wanting to do any “bank jobs, muggings, or even jaywalking” really is ‘hard to swallow’, even if the “reborn” clones “can’t leave or skip” the Jackal’s chemical treatments without their new bodies fatally failing. It’s certainly difficult to see a maniac like the Red Skull’s employee Jack O'Lantern, humorously suggesting that “someone needs to take their pill” when the Web-Slinger first confronts his deadliest enemies and looks set to battle them all. Did the Berkeley-born writer forget this incarnation of the pumpkin-headed professional criminal was a member of the Skeleton Crew, and later an enforcer of the gangster the Golem? 

Equally as galling is the Eisner Award-winner’s mistreatment of the Wall-crawler’s arch-nemesis Otto Octavius, who is one moment clearly handing out to Spider-Man the beating of his crime-fighting career and then in the next simply skulking back to “the lab” where he’s meant to be working, at the mere snap of the Jackal’s fingers; “Don’t forget we’re all one big, happy family here.” Such evident subservience to another is utterly alien to someone as ‘superior’ as Doctor Octopus, and smacks of Slott simply wanting to start the publication with a thrilling fight-scene underneath New U Headquarters, rather than actually pen an opening which tied in to the rest of his disconcerting narrative. As the stocky multiple-limbed homicidal genius states himself “I am not your lackey”…
The variant cover art of "THE CLONE CONSPIRACY" No. 2 by Mark Bagley

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Hulk [2016] #3 - Marvel Comics

HULK No. 3, April 2017
Despite its narrative predominantly concentrating upon Miss Walters and her working life within the offices of Ryu, Barber, Zucker and Scott, Issue Three of “Hulk” rather cleverly additionally shifts a good deal of attention onto Jen’s “first client, Maise Brewn” who “is fighting eviction and trauma of her own.” Indeed, in many ways the most enthralling parts of Mariko Tamaki’s script for “Deconstructed” are when the “reclusive woman” is either shown hiding inside her dark flat ‘sobbing’ to the former yoga instructor’s unseen guardian, or being quizzed by two police detectives who are investigating her landlord’s recent, gruesome murder. The Ontario-born writer additionally manages to intermittently pique the reader’s interest by having the titular character’s alter-ego scour a selection of magazines detailing the fall of the podcaster “on wellness in the modern world” from normalcy, courtesy of her business partner paying a few men to try and kill her “because he wanted to sell the business.”

This slow, potentially ponderous exploration of the young girl’s mysteriously sinister existence is well-timed by the Canadian graphic novelist, as it arrives just as the comic’s storyline concerning the lawyer’s unwavering unhappiness, and constant battle to refrain from ‘turning green’, was arguably just starting to become a little tiring for the title’s audience. In fact, if it wasn’t for the softly spoken Brewn and her silent, formidably deadly flat-mate, it’s hard to think how much longer the twenty-page publication could continue to simply bemoan the day-to-day plight of Bruce Banner’s cousin without becoming a genuinely tedious bore. It would definitely take more than a brief cameo by Hellcat, especially if the pair's somewhat overlong conversation simply focuses upon “one of the world’s canniest lawyers” just wanting her “best friend” to ‘give her space.’

Somewhat disappointingly, Nico Leon’s breakdowns for this periodical are just as inconsistent as some of this comic’s written content, with the Argentinian artist’s drawings of the seemingly ever-weary Walters proving just as draining upon the eyes as the woman’s emotional fatigue. Fortunately however, the freelancer’s ability to capture all the atmosphere of a ‘by the book’ police investigation is incredible, and the two detectives' journey through “the creepiest building you’ve ever been in” proves so entertaining that its genuinely heart-breaking when they both meet a presumably grisly demise at the end of the book; “What the -- Aaaaaahhhhh!”
Writer: Mariko Tamaki, Artist: Nico Leon, and Color Artist: Matt Milla

Friday, 24 February 2017

Hook Jaw #3 - Titan Comics

HOOK JAW No. 3, March 2017
As re-imaginings go, Si Spurrier’s atrocious script for Issue Three of “Hook Jaw” must have horrified its ashen audience in much the same vein as the original “Action Comics” moral-corrupting creation terrified its young readership’s parents. For whilst this twenty-two page periodical does contain a passing resemblance to its Seventies forefather, by depicting a team of US special operatives being savaged whilst investigating a wrecked container ship deep underwater, the rest of its narrative is woefully dissimilar to Pat Mills’ vision of a single-minded predatory great white shark, and disconcertingly, seems far more interested in the blatant sexual harassment of scientist Mag.

Indeed, for vast swathes of the former BBC art director’s storyline, the dialogue is worryingly focused solely upon the dislikeable Captain Klay’s maddening attempts to have some “basic action” with the “Hot latte”, and even goes so far as to require him to be beaten off by the “feisty” woman with a jawbone when his supposed amorous intentions get the better of him on a deserted beach; “I figure you’re definitely the Bond girl in this here drama… Can we get back to you succumbing to my seduction, and --” Such a disagreeable sub-plot is hardly the sort of subject one would expect from a comic book supposedly based upon “the near-legendary Hook Jaw”, even if its cover does carry the tiniest of “suggested for mature readers” warnings…

Fortunately, when the British author does finally centre his writing upon the titular character, the excitement and fear of the divers is perfectly palpable the moment the oversized shark suddenly appears to knock away the heroine’s “damn torch” and plunge the already unnerved team into total darkness. In fact, it’s easy to imagine the terrified screams of Perry as Mag ignites a magnesium flare and the already partially-mutilated frogman realises his arm and foot are trapped “in its mouth…”   

Infinitely less successful than this publication’s momentary ‘flash of frightening fun’ are Conor Boyle’s increasingly erratic breakdowns. The London-located illustrator can clearly draw a fantastically menacing Carcharodon Carcharias when he has to, but the rest of his pencilling, especially that of the repeatedly misshapen Mag, Jasper and Klay, arguably leaves an awful lot to be desired.
The variant cover art of "Hook Jaw" No. 3 by Tom Mandrake

Thursday, 23 February 2017

The Amazing Spider-Man [2015] #20 - Marvel Comics

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN No. 20, December 2016
Brazenly advertised on its Alex Ross cover as being “a Clone Conspiracy tie-in”, and then, upon opening, immediately warning its 67,530 strong audience that they must “proceed at your own risk” if “you haven’t read” the opening instalment of the “Spider-Man event of 2016”, it is hard not to view Issue Twenty of “The Amazing Spider-Man” as little more than a frustratingly cynical ‘cash-cow’ comic. In fact, it’s actually awkward to reconcile this twenty-page periodical’s narrative, which focuses purely upon the cloning of Doctor Octopus and subsequently only just scraped into the top thirty best-selling titles of October 2016, with one belonging to the New York City-based publisher’s “popular and commercially successful” “flagship character”.

Foremost of its problems is that anyone who had previously read Dan Slott’s accompanying mini-series would already know the outcome of Otto’s mental battle with Peter Parker, thereby making Octavius’ ridiculous efforts to retrieve his long dead and emaciated corpse in "Spider-Man's Superior" a rather redundant storyline before even a single panel’s dialogue bubble was perused. It certainly strikes as disappointing that rather than bring any conclusion to the current machinations of “Tubby McPsycho”, as he increasingly constricts his wall-crawling foe with his famous mechanical limbs, the American author (along with Christos Gage) instead once again regurgitates Doc Ock’s demise as the “truly superior Spider-Man” before unsurprisingly restoring the super-villain to his “prime.”

Sadly, even this series’ current lead antagonist, the Jackal, suffers from an acute lack of menace, on account of the Berkeley-born writer seemingly depriving the dog-headed scientist of his usual sinister power to manipulate events in his favour. Indeed, the “mysterious” red-suited Machiavellian man appears perfectly happy to ‘simply let things slide’ by paying the considerable cost for Otto’s cadaver, even though he previously never wanted to, and placidly allowing an octobot to penetrate his cloning technology simply to establish “what our little uninvited guest wants”; The biologist even comically stands by and watches Doctor Octopus ‘kill the heck out of’ whatever “you were fighting against” whilst cheerfully eating a box of popcorn…

Equally as disheartening is Giuseppe Camuncoli’s unusually inconsistent breakdowns. Whether or not the Italian comic book penciller’s artwork was detrimentally affected by Cam Smith assisting him on inking his illustrations is unclear. But a number of panels, especially those concerning Doctor Octopus and Anna making “use of that workman’s phone to access the web”, are disquietingly distracting, and not helped by colourist Jason Keith’s garishly red palette either.
The variant cover art of "THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN" No. 20 by Simone Bianchi

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Star Trek: Boldly Go #5 - IDW Publishing

STAR TREK: BOLDLY GO No. 5, February 2017
It is extremely hard to believe that many, if any, of this ongoing series’ readers would've been “teary-eyed” by the end of this tediously tiring twenty-page periodical. For whilst Editors Sarah Gaydos and Chris Cerasi are entirely correct in their statement that Issue Five of “Star Trek: Boldly Go” “focuses on Jaylah, the breakout star” of “last year’s Star Trek Beyond” motion picture. Mike Johnson’s irritatingly plotted narrative is hardly “an extremely beautiful and poignant tale” with it persistent skipping back down the Altamid survivor’s timestream to when the accomplished warrior was actually born.

Indeed, this horribly choppy writing technique can be rather disorientating at times, as the character discovers the hulk of the U.S.S. Franklin one moment, witnesses her father’s murder at the hands of Manas in the next, and then is suddenly depicted as an adolescent who tricks her older sister whilst playing by modifying “a holodisk to project multiple images at once!” Such penmanship may well be unorthodox and innovative, but it hardly helps create “a story full of the same humour, passion, spark, and depth that our heroine displays on-screen.”

Sadly there isn’t all that much action to enjoy within Johnson’s script either, as the sequence depicting Jaylah’s escape from captivity “years prior to her encounter with the U.S.S. Enterprise crew”, starts with the scavenger having already somehow made her way beyond the settlement’s perimeter with her pater. Considering that the couple literally have to dig themselves out of the ground, before they kill one of the  guards, suggests their flight from Krall’s holding cells was not an easy one, and resultantly it’s a real pity this comic didn’t concentrate far more upon those exertions rather than flitting about the Starfleet cadet’s childhood.    

Equally as ponderous are Tony Shasteen’s breakdowns, which disconcertingly seem to deteriorate as the book progresses and the events illustrated become increasingly sedentary in nature, such as the birth of Keelah’s sister or her mother’s sudden death. Admittedly, this arguably harsh impression of what is still a competent piece of pencilling, could simply be generated by the artist’s attempt to understandably rejuvenise the supporting cast as his sketches travel back further into the “fierce little” one’s past. Yet it's still hard to shake off the impression, especially when the panels' backgrounds become noticeably barer, that the Art Institute of Atlanta graduate hasn't tired of the underwhelming storyline.
The regular cover art of "STAR TREK: BOLDLY GO" No. 5 by George Caltsoudas

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

The Punisher #9 - Marvel Comics

THE PUNISHER No. 9, April 2017
For a twenty-page periodical which is almost entirely devoid of its titular character, Issue Nine of “The Punisher” must have absolutely delighted its audience with new regular artist Matt Horak’s horrifically bloody depiction of Drugs Enforcement Agent Ortiz’s fight with the EMC-crazed Face. It's certainly hard to find fault with a Becky Cloonan narrative that somehow balances the disconcerting disgust of a one-handed homicidal maniac drooling over the prospect of eating a woman’s tongue first before sucking out her eyeballs, with Frank Castle’s tender burial of the “kindly old lady” Ethel in the Backwoods.

Quite possibility the main reason behind this comic’s “literally explosive” success however, is the Pisa-born writer’s penchant for providing it with an incredibly pulse-pounding pace, that starts with an ambulance ride from hell, momentarily fixates upon the desire of an insane drug-taker to cook a human alive, and then concludes with a shock ending which sees Olaf’s fire sale protocol being engaged; “I told her. One %$#@ thing I ask, don’t mess with the %$#@ basement door.” Such a dynamically diverse narrative really is hard to decry, and it’s easy to see why Editor Jake Thomas’ “mouth fell open” when “Becky sent in the script” and he saw she was “swinging for the fences on bringing the craziest $#%@ to this story she possibly can.”

Somewhat more subdued, but ultimately far more deadly than Ortiz’s tumble amidst the trees with a blood-soaked Face, is the American author’s attempt to give some additional depth to the decorated marine’s former commanding officer by way of exploring his domestic home life. It hardly comes as any surprise that the Condor operative’s wife has “started divorce proceedings and will “be moving back in with my mom this weekend”, considering that the mercenary has “been gone for almost a month on business” and threatens to “beat me black and blue if I ever event try to open the [basement] door.” But even so, the callously nonchalant nature in which he reacts when he realises his wife and baby child have been blown to smithereens by the boxes of C4 explosive he packed his “man cave” with, takes his cold-heartedness to another level…
Writer: Becky Cloonan, Artist: Matt Horak, and Color Artist: Frank Martin

Monday, 20 February 2017

The Clone Conspiracy #1 - Marvel Comics

THE CLONE CONSPIRACY No. 1, January 2017
Described by Editor Nick Lowe as “the craziest Spider-Man story I’ve ever worked on”, Issue One of “The Clone Conspiracy” arguably plays to one of Dan Slott’s supposed strengths by heralding the return of a number of “classic characters from Spidey-Lore” such as the Rhino, Otto Octavius, Gwen Stacy and her father, Captain George Stacy. Indeed, even this publication’s ten-page secondary story, “The Night I Died”, must have delighted its 90,285-strong audience with the Eisner Award-winner’s re-imagining of Gwendolyn’s murder at the hands of the Green Goblin “a lifetime ago” and subsequent revival by the Jackal “in a lab. In San Francisco, of all places.”

Fortunately however, this opening instalment of the “Spider-Man event of 2016” is not just about having some of the franchise’s most popular dead make ‘shock returns’, and instead actually starts with Peter Parker doing a bit of ‘low-level’ snooping, just as he once did when he worked for the Daily Bugle. Admittedly, “the CEO of his own technology company” is accompanied by his trustworthy aide Anna Maria Marconi whilst questioning Jerry Salteres’ wife, and inevitably he dons his famous red and blue costume in order to conduct some “industrial espionage” at the New U’s Headquarters. But the entire tone of the super-hero’s investigation is highly reminiscent of the basic legwork he once employed before “his (and Spider-Man’s) friendly neighbourhood” got a lot bigger, and resultantly imbues the narrative with a nostalgic atmosphere somewhat akin to that of the character’s John Romita days; “This is just me cutting through all the red tape and saving everybody tons of time.”

Jim Cheung’s incredibly detailed artwork also clearly contributed towards making this comic the eleventh best-selling title of October 2016, with the British penciller’s dynamic drawings of Aleksei Sytsevich, the new Electro and Web-head’s riotous battle down amidst the Jackal’s “very mad-scientist-y” laboratory proving particularly pulse-pounding and thrilling. In fact, the co-creator of the “Young Avengers” provides such consistently outstanding breakdowns, whether they be Jay Jonah’s grim-faced burial, Emma Salteres ‘interrogation’ or Parker’s alter-ego kicking the Rhino in the chops, that for this aspect alone the mini-series is “one Spidey fans will be talking about for years!”
The variant cover art of "THE CLONE CONSPIRACY" No. 1 by Mark Bagley

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Nemesis The Warlock #1 - Eagle Comics

NEMESIS THE WARLOCK No. 1, September 1984
The second of “Eagle Comics” thirty-two page Baxter titles, Issue One of “Nemesis The Warlock” not only colourfully delivers the extra-terrestrial freedom fighter’s prologue adventure entitled “The Terror Tune”, but also follows the rise of the “fire-breathing demonic alien” as he momentarily defeats the then Chief of the Tube Police, Torquemada, in the two-parter, “Killer Watt”. These bizarre tales, based upon Pat Mills’ premise that Mighty Terra’s teleport system utilises telephone lines and phenomenally drawn by Kevin O’Neill, really helps bring the leader of “the underground resistance organisation sworn to destroy the tyranny of Termight” to life, and additionally provides plenty of opportunity for the “primary antagonist of the series” to show just how evil he is.

Indeed, in many ways the Ipswich-born writer’s early Eighties storylines seem to provide the “haughty tyrant” with far more ‘screen time’ than the “fiend from Hell”, and seemingly delights in depicting the “fascist human supremacist” consigning a young mother and her doting infant to being eaten alive by a Concord-like living machine, as well as later ordering “thousands of innocent travellers” to be fatally electrocuted on “a mere technicality!” It’s certainly clear, why "the godfather of British comics" went on to develop a regular series of adventures featuring “The Grand Master Of The Terminators”, after his initial plans for some “one-offs inspired by popular music called Comic Rock” never got going. 

Ultimately however, this publication’s content does steer away from the exploits of Torquemada, and provides both ample reason as to why alien life throughout the galaxy trembles at the very thought of the forces of Termight, courtesy of Brother Behell’s murderous inquisition on the planet Thrum, as well as far more focus upon Nemesis and his organic spaceship, the Blitzspear. In fact, by the time this first in “a seven-issue Necro-series” concludes, and the cloven hooved creature has caused a butcher to chop his own hand off, had a robotsmith strangled by “the most dangerous snakes on this planet", and ensured an elderly widow has been smothered by flies, it is abundantly clear just why the horn-headed sorcerer would go on to be “one of England’s most popular and certainly weirdest science-fiction” comic book characters.
Script: Pat Mills, Artist: Kev O'Neill, and Colors: Kev O'Neill

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Uber: Invasion #3 - Avatar Press

UBER: INVASION No. 3, January 2017
Predominantly concentrating upon the Battle of Naugatruck on the 19th November 1945, as well as the conflict’s central combatant, “one of the book’s true sadists” Siegfried, Issue Three of “Uber: Invasion” could surely never be criticised for not containing enough blood-soaked human mutilation to sate even the most gore-hungry of its audience. However, perhaps because Kieron Gillen’s script does focus upon the American’s attempt to duplicate the Soviet’s success at Kursk, it is hard not to shake the disconcerting belief that one has read much of this narrative before, especially when unsurprisingly the Third Reich's “greatest battleship warrior” is soon wrestled to the ground through sheer weight of numbers.

Sadly, this frustrating experience isn’t wholly appeased either, when the Germans create “a complication” the United States tank-men hadn’t anticipated by introducing Siegmund into the melee just as the ‘idiot boy’ is about to succumb to his opponents; “Thank the Fuhrer.” In fact, considering that the invaders are led by General Guderian, a man “noted for his success as a leader of Panzer units in Poland and France”, it would actually have proved more of a revelation if Hitler’s favourite had been injured by the somewhat ‘gung-ho’ assault.

This twenty-two page periodical’s saving grace however, is that its Stafford-born writer doesn’t dwell upon the Yanks’ disappointing “single battle engagement” for the comic’s entirety, but instead still manages to additionally skip around “the large canvas” of “Uber” in order to better tell his tale. These welcome ‘snapshots’ of Speer and Hitler conversing in Germany, along with Agent Stephanie and Alan Turing arriving in Boston really help elevate Gillen’s narrative above being just another “alternate World War II book”. Whilst Guderian’s concerns as to Siegfried’s notable lack of “grand battle honours”, foolish absence of fear and misbegotten belief that he’s a “better man” than the one-armed Siegmund, provides plenty of enthralling depth to the title’s supporting cast.

All of these scintillating shenanigans, whether they be Americans being literally torn apart by the halo effect blast of Panzermensch or the Third Reich’s supposed finest nonchalantly crushing the head of an injured tank-man with his bare-hands, are tremendously well illustrated by Daniel Gete. Indeed, it’s easy to see just why Gillen has subsequently agreed for the title to “take slightly longer coming out” in order to ensure that the penciller doesn’t “have to have the third arc off” and can provide “artistic consistency across all of Volume Two”.
The regular cover art of "UBER: INVASION" No. 3 by Daniel Gete

Friday, 17 February 2017

World Of Tanks #5 - Dark Horse Comics

WORLD OF TANKS No. 5, February 2017
Although “ComicWow!”, the media marketing entity dedicated to the comic and gaming industry, were probably correct in their declaration that “Garth Ennis is a legend and an institution among comic writers”, it is extremely doubtful that the Northern Irish-born American’s narrative for Issue Five of “World Of Tanks” played any part in just such a statement. In fact, considering that this twenty-two page periodical’s script gets the title’s leading characters so horribly wrong, such as portraying British Lieutenant Simon Linnet as a cold-blooded killer seemingly capable of murdering unarmed German prisoners simply because they wear skulls on their lapels, it’s hard to reconcile that the Eisner Award-winner had anything to do with the book’s writing at all. It’s certainly tough to recognise Snakebite’s normally calm and compassionate commander as the gun-toting madman who seems determined to mow down “defenceless” soldiers simply because he’s suddenly “had a bellyful of these Nazi savages” and decided to “see how you like it --”

Disappointingly, so disconcerting an alteration in temperament is not just restricted to C Squadron’s new “2 I/C” either, as “Herr Hauptman” and his Panther tank crew also undergo a surprising change in their attitude to the Fuhrer's war, seemingly just because it illogically leads to the title’ two competing antagonists confronting one another at La Belle Bocage. This incredibly unbelievable contrivance really does spoil the publication's realistic ambience, and makes the Wehrmacht officer's decision to conduct repairs on his smoking armoured vehicle in the very village which the British “artillery destroyed on Thursday” an extremely implausible one; especially when he could have tried to follow a “clockwork bootboy” Unterscharfuhrer back to Berlin earlier in the comic. 

Perhaps this “explosive” final edition’s biggest disappointment however, is P.J. Holden’s incredibly inconsistent breakdowns. Admittedly, the “Judge Dredd” artist can pencil an impressive looking tank, and captures Linton’s narrow-eyed, murderous expression when staring down the barrel of a Sten gun perfectly. But his appalling renderings of Karl Kraft’s battered and bruised face, as well as those of all this comic’s supporting cast, really leave a lot to be desired, and can’t help but raise a concern as to just how rushed the penciller was in order to meet this mini-series’ deadline.
Script: Garth Ennis, Artist: P.J. Holden, and Colors: Michael Atiyeh

Thursday, 16 February 2017

The Amazing Spider-Man [2015] #19 - Marvel Comics

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN No. 19, December 2016
Described by Editor Nick Lowe as “a pretty heavy issue”, this fourth instalment of Dan Slott’s “Before Dead No More” story-arc arguably focuses far more upon Peter Parker’s hapless failings as a ‘family’ man than many of the title’s 73,215 readers probably would have liked. Indeed, except for the web-slinger becoming momentarily involved in a "publicly shamed" petty cash robbery and then later, an incredibly contrived construction works accident, the majority of this twenty-two-page periodical rather arduously dwells upon the hospital bed of terminally ill Jay Jameson and his declination to utilise the experimental medical treatment offered by “new pharmaceutical company called New U” in favour of "the conventional procedure"; “I agree with Peter. And it’s my decision, so that’s final. Now if the Doctors are finished…”

Such a sedentary plot would however, still have proved something of an enthrallingly tense experience, as Aunt May’s husband battles for his life whilst her nephew and son-in-law passionately argue over the oldster's future care, if it weren’t for the fact that the super-hero’s objections to Doctor Clarkson's proposed remedy aren't so utterly unconvincing. True, Spider-Man’s famous “spider-sense goes to eleven” whenever he goes near the surgeon's most recent patient, Mister Salteres. But that doesn’t really explain why he becomes so vehemently opposed to the “miracle cure” that he actually lies to both Jonah and the television host’s dying father by telling them that he’s had “Parker Industries’ top minds look into this” and “they have… concerns.” As J.J.Jameson himself bluntly points out, it’s rather doubtful the noticeably whiskered Chief Executive Officer would make the same decision if it was his father or Uncle Ben’s life that was in jeopardy.

Sadly, so dialogue-laden a publication also means that a great many of Giuseppe Camuncoli’s panels predominantly feature numerous headshots rather than his wonderfully dynamic action-fests of Spidey swinging through high-rises or ‘punching out’ criminal masterminds. In fact, one of the most disappointing elements to Issue Nineteen of “The Amazing Spider-Man” is the the Italian comic book penciller’s inability to depict its cast’s increasingly-strained emotional states without resorting to some disconcertingly rectangular-looking facial features.
The variant cover art of "THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN" No. 19 by Aaron Kuder

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Firestorm #5 - DC Comics

FIRESTORM No. 5, October/November 1978
Unknowingly headed for sudden cancellation along with “more than two dozen [other] ongoing and planned series by the American comics publisher DC Comics in 1978”, Issue Five of “Firestorm”, packed full of unanswered plot-threads, is most assuredly not the ‘swansong’ edition co-creators Gerry Conway and Allen Milgrom would have wanted. True, the twenty-five page periodical does make good use of its publisher’s then-recent change in its marketing campaign, by populating its additional content with depictions of Ronnie Raymond battling either the Hyena or Multiplex. But these extra “super-thrills” actually prove a little monotonous after a while, especially when the reasoning behind the hero’s elongated fisticuffs are as unsatisfactory as him simply not appreciating his “atomic restructuring powers are useless” when fighting at close quarters with the Scavenger of Crime, or that Professor Martin Stein has just had one alcoholic beverage too many; “Hey! Something’s weird! I feel woozy -- off-balance!”

To make matters worse, these action-packed confrontations, dynamically sketched by the book’s Detroit-born penciller, are persistently interrupted by all-manner of seemingly haphazard interludes which just so happen to involve almost the entirety of the comic’s supporting cast. Whether it be Bradley High’s principal just ‘happening’ to look outside his office window and recognising “Spit Shine, son of New York’s most notorious mob overlord”, or Danton Black coincidentally emerging from his coma at the downtown Medical Centre just as “the ever-popular school smart-mouth” Cliff Carmichael deduces that Firestorm’s secret identity is somebody at his college, Conway’s narrative is almost awash with contrivingly staged flukes and disconcerting happenstances.

Sadly, the script to “Again: Multiplex” is also plagued with some incredibly bizarre, head-scratchingly odd character motivation. Just why Firestorm doesn’t simply keep his distance from Hyena and “zap” the villain with a nuclear blast whilst well out of reach is never explained, despite the youth’s realisation that just “one small caress” from their vibro-claws” and he’ll “be dog food!” Whilst Spit’s unbelievably reckless decision to bring the “refugee from a Wolfman movie” back to his parents’ criminal headquarters in a midtown office building so he’d “have something to show my mom and dad”, was clearly engineered just so the Hyena could subsequently leap through the address’ large glass window and become “a dwindling shape soon lost in the city’s sprawling shadows.”
Writer/Creator: Gerry Conway, and Penciller/Co-creator: Allen Milgrom

Monday, 13 February 2017

Divinity III: Shadowman & The Battle For New Stalingrad #1 - Valiant Entertainment

DIVINITY III: SHADOWMAN & THE BATTLE FOR NEW STALINGRAD No. 1, February 2017
Undeniably “an essential standalone tale from the Stalinverse”, within which “the Communist-occupied streets of New York City” desperately try and rid themselves of their Soviet oppressors, Issue One of “Divinity III: Shadowman & The Battle For New Stalingrad” must have immediately captured the attention of its American audience with its opening obliteration of Liberty Island, courtesy of a barrage of Red Army rockets. However, if this “huge symbolic gesture” didn’t attain the desired effect then Scott Bryan Wilson’s subsequent narrative depicting the Roman goddess being replaced with an even larger copper statue of the Russian dictator Joseph Stalin most assuredly would have done.

Admittedly, for those patriots unable to stomach such an affront to the ‘virtuous’ American values of Libertas, the majority of this twenty-two page periodical does frantically try to readdress the balance by having Jack Boniface hastily lead a revolt against his swaggeringly confident “commie” overlords. But the heroic uprising is entirely anticipated by the annexed authorities, and thus, despite outnumbering their hated foes, the opening third of this comic is ultimately dedicated to the Soviet enforcement officers gunning down large numbers of unarmed rioters, stabbing them through the head with combat knives, gouging out their eyes with black leather gloves, and even attacking them with chainsaws…

Such utter wanton violence is apparently entirely justified by the pen of the publisher’s “rising star” as the mass hapless slaughter convinces the titular character to “resurrect the sacred power of his people”, “raise an army of the dead to meet the Russians where they stand”, and bravely battle the dictatorship’s premier super-powered comrades, X-O Manowar and Komandar Bloodshot; two of Valiant Entertainment’s most recognisable properties who have had a severe facelift following the installation of Joseph McCarthy as a “puppet President of the United States” in 1951. 

Robert Gill’s contribution to this “Stalinverse” one-shot is arguably just as unsettling as Wilson’s scintillating script supposedly corroborating that communism is “the great equalizer, brother!”. For whilst the artist’s breakdowns of the New Yorkers’ bloodily remonstrating with their tormentors generally consist of graphic mutilations of the most eye-watering kind, his depiction of Shadowman trading punches with the sneering X-O Manowar are bone-crunchingly good, and really add to the sheer brutality of the close-combat conflict.
Writer: Scott Bryan Wilson, Artist: Robert Gill, and Color Artist: Andrew Dalhouse

Sunday, 12 February 2017

The Amazing Spider-Man [2015] #18 - Marvel Comics

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN No. 18, November 2016
Taking “a step back to explore what the former Doctor Octopus has been up to lately and how he laid the groundwork for his resurrection during the Spider-Verse crossover”, Issue Eighteen of “The Amazing Spider-Man” surely must have come as a massive disappointment to its 71,159 readers in September 2016. For whilst Dan Slott’s script undoubtedly addresses just how Otto Octavius’ consciousness came to exist inside “the memory banks of his old robot butler, the Living Brain”, the twenty-page periodical hardly brings the sub-plot to a story which has been skulking in the background for almost two years to anything approaching a satisfactory conclusion. 

Indeed, in many ways “Full Otto” barely resolves any of questions the super-villain’s continued existence inside Anna Maria Marconi’s “trusty robotic assistant” has raised, and frustratingly appears to only generate more, such as why, having “spent months studying” Aiden Blain and his “mannerisms” the homicidal, yet undoubtedly ingenious, scientist never once foresaw that his transference technology had only been designed “around the patterns of two specific minds!” Perhaps being housed inside an automaton’s brain in some way atrophied the one-time “brilliant… nuclear physicist, atomic research consultant, inventor” and lecturer’s intellect? It certainly seems, as far as the Berkeley-born writer was concerned, to have made “IGN's 28th Greatest Comic Book Villain of All Time” become far more obsessed with rekindling his relationship with Peter’s “chemistry and physics tutor” than his usual goal of destroying Spider-Man…

Equally as unfathomable is the Eisner Award-winner’s handling of Octavius’ egotism and all-consuming jealousy. Deeply hidden within the wiring of the Living Brain, the maniac learns that his beloved Maria actually “read up on him” after he ‘died’ and now believes him to be “a kook. A monster”, a man who “tried to blow up the whole world once” and whom she “could never love… Ever.” Yet instead of feeling betrayed, angry or deceived and going on one of his famous temper-fuelled mass-killing sprees, the obsessive genius merely trundles away to hatch “a new plan” in which to once again place his mind within the body of his most hated opponent, the web-slinger; “I know what her heart truly wants. The way things were. My mind in that body. Then that is what she shall have!”
The variant cover art of "THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN" No. 18 by Dale Keown

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Moon Knight [2016] #9 - Marvel Comics

MOON KNIGHT No. 9, February 2017
Undeniably containing a narrative which “give[s] Marc [Spector] real depth as he struggles with his sanity”, as well as a fair bit of pugilistic action, it's sadly still not hard to see why Issue Nine of “Moon Knight” saw its distribution figure drop by over three thousand copies compared to the title’s sales in the previous month. In fact, despite the comic containing a “Moonie Missives” letters page which raves about the series’ “amazing run”, “singularly brilliant… direction” and “ingenious” writing, it’s arguably doubtful many of the book’s 29,205 readers found this finale to Jeff Lemire’s “Incarnations” story-arc little more than a badly overblown farce which didn’t actually resolve any plot-threads which had preceded it. 

Admittedly, the “All-New Hawkeye” author’s script does provide a little entertainment when it briefly summarises the fall of the Avengers and X-Men to “some insane mutation of rabies”, and depicts the titular character swapping blows with himself in a desperate effort to “acknowledge” his mental instability, accept it “and then move on.” But such a fleeting flash of interest or some momentary fisticuffs are hardly enough to bring such a long-winded ‘four-parter’ to a satisfying conclusion, nor, judging by the plethora of splash panels on display, simply populate a twenty-page periodical.

Disconcertingly, even the ‘return’ of regular artist Greg Smallwood to a more prominent role within the publication’s line-up is hardly a cause for celebration, as the graphic storyteller’s “classic comic book style with some modern flourishes” is restricted to simply depicting conversations the ex-mercenary is having with himself, and, once again, infuriatingly intermixed between the greatly differing breakdowns of Wilfredo Torres, Francesco Francavilla and James Stokoe. Indeed, in many ways this carousel of creativeness only adds to the sense that this book was simply cobbled together in order to fill out its page count, and it isn't until the “sketch” of “Space Pilot” Marc Spector and costumed crime-fighter Jake Lockley both vanish away into nothingness, along with the schizophrenic personas’ ‘guest-starring’ pencillers, that the title’s distractingly incongruous illustrations finally start to settle down; “Then I’m alone. All alone. And it’s so -- It’s so quiet.”
Writer: Jeff Lemire, and Artists: Greg Smallwood, Wilfredo Torres, Francesco Francavilla & James Stokoe

Friday, 10 February 2017

Hulk [2016] #2 - Marvel Comics

HULK No. 2, March 2017
Focusing almost exclusively upon Jennifer Walters’ battle for justice in the courts “as an effective lawyer”, Issue Two of “Hulk” makes it incredibly clear that the titular character’s alter-ego is “not doing so good” trying to “just go about her day." For whilst the twenty-page periodical doesn’t actually feature an appearance by the “savage” human mutate, it does make it abundantly clear that lurking beneath the thin veneer of normalcy, Stan Lee’s co-creation is waiting to erupt, and no manner of 'tasty pastry' is going to keep the former member of the Fantastic Four at bay for long.

Indeed, Mariko Tamaki’s second instalment of “Deconstructed” seems to contain little else but ‘set-pieces’ which continually test Jen’s patience and temper, even when the “very capable person” is trying to mind her own business sipping a hot drink whilst sat in a snow-covered playground or desperately trying to calm herself as she watches a programme concerning “scrumptious strawberry shortcake” on her mobile phone; “Breathe. Please. You can do this. Make this stop. I can’t. Please.” It’s certainly abundantly clear that the female graphic novelists’ narrative is all about the attorney not transforming into the emerald-skinned Avenger when “the persistent-but-well-meaning woman who’s trying to write about” her startles the green-eyed Walters as she is “dealing with the loss of her cousin” Bruce Banner. 

Such emotionally exhausting, and arguably inactive shenanigans, unless one counts children having a snowball fight in Central Park, could easily have made Mariko’s sedentary storyline a somewhat monotonous, almost wearisome reading experience. But fortunately, this progressively bleak look into She-Hulk’s “regular human world” is punctuated with Jen’s increasingly unpleasant meeting with Mister Tick and newest client Maise Brewn’s unnerving conversation with the terrified recluse’s sinister, heavily-shadowed protective flatmate…

Sadly, this comic’s artwork by Nico Leon and Dalibor Talajic definitely doesn’t live up to the high standard set by Tamaki’s writing. In fact, besides the manga-like features the book's illustrators bestow upon the faces of the playground’s adolescent occupants, and the secluded Inhuman’s wonderfully vulnerable demeanour whilst sat trapped within her home as a thuggish landlord loudly pounds upon her front door, this comic’s breakdown’s are arguably competently-drawn at best.
The variant cover art of "HULK" No. 2 by Elizabeth Torque

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

The Amazing Spider-Man [2015] #17 - Marvel Comics

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN No. 17, October 2016
Featuring the creation of an all-new Electro in the guise of ‘super-villain collector’ Francine Frye, and focusing far more upon the exploits of “criminal-turned-superhero” the Prowler, Issue Seventeen of “The Amazing Spider-Man” is arguably a genuine ‘tour-de-force’ which surely elated the majority of its 71,159 readers in August 2016. Indeed, Dan Slott’s decision to sensationally kill off both Max Dillon and Hobie Brown within the twenty-one page periodical alone must have caused more than a few of the title’s long-term followers to excitedly exclaim in surprise; “Franchine” What did I specifically say? ‘Catch not kill!’”

Fortunately such melodramatic shock tactics aren’t the only positive points to be found within the Eisner Award-winner’s script for “Spark Of Life”, as the Berkeley-born writer literally itemises all the super-abilities Peter Parker’s spider-man stand-in owns, whether they be the corporation proprietor’s own “top notch” webware device or Brown’s personal inventions. Certainly watching the African American stealthily commit an act of industrial espionage, courtesy of wrist-magnets, suction cups, and a suit which can lower the owner’s temperature to something more brisk “all the way down to my nethers”, helps give the character’s subsequent, and almost senseless, murder, much more emotional gravitas; especially when the author momentarily allows his audience into the hero’s mind and reveals that Hobie seemingly dislikes donning the mask in order to have “something closer to a normal life.”

Slott’s supporting cast are also all well-served by this comic’s script, with Dillon and the Lizard particularly benefiting from plenty of screen time, and both proving to be little more than pitiable pawns of “a guy in a dog mask”. In fact, the duo’s earnest desperation to wield some of their past power and glory makes for compelling viewing as they submit themselves to the machinations of the Jackal, and either wind up dead having had all their genetic power sucked out of them, or, huddled in their wife’s arms following an alarmingly painful exposure to sub-zero temperatures.

Just as impressive as the storyline, is R.B. Silva’s pencilling. Packed full of detail, dynamic life and the occasional bout of quirky humour, the Brazilian’s breakdowns are impressive throughout this second instalment of “Before Dead No More”, with the artist managing to imbue the Prowler with plenty of personality before (and after) his alarming demise.
Writer: Dan Slott, Pencils: R.B. Silva, and Inks: Adriano Di Benedetto

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Star Wars: The Force Awakens #3 - Marvel Comics

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS No. 3, October 2016
Continuing “the search for Luke Skywalker”, Issue Three of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” certainly starts off well enough with a sense-shattering chase through the maze-like corridors of The Eravana that sees Rey and Finn matching wits with a fearsome Rathtar, and Chewbacca exchanging laser bolts with the Guavian Death Gang. But whilst this scintillating set-piece soon leads to the Millennium Falcon going into light speed whilst still “inside the hangar”, and the First Order being informed “that Han Solo has the droid”, what then follows must surely have disappointed this comic book adaption’s 41,575 readers.

Admittedly, Chuck Wendig's script diligently conveys the exploits as seen in J.J. Abrams’ motion picture, yet rather than simply pad out proceedings with splash pages featuring Maz Kanata welcoming the heroes to her castle, it might have been more interesting for the Pennsylvania-born writer to pen some of the cinematic release's ‘deleted scenes’, such as Unkar Plutt having his arm ripped off by an angry wookie for threatening Rey, or simply better flesh out the action aboard the Corellian’s Baleen-class heavy freighter by giving Tasu Leech and the “notorious criminal organization” Kanjiklub a bit more ‘screen time’. 

Instead, all the American blogger delivers is a lack-lustre, and arguably choppy, narrative which leaps from Supreme Leader Snoke, to the Millennium Falcon, to Takodana, to The Finalizer, and then back to Kanata’s castle for a two-page treatment of Rey walking down some dimly-lit stairs and finding Luke’s long-lost lightsaber in a chest… A terrifically tense scene in the movie when supported by atmospheric sound effects, clanks and noises, but hardly the sort of minimalist action one can similarly enjoy when purely printed on paper.

Somewhat more successful than Wendig’s inauspiciously faithful summary of the film’s events, are Marc Laming’s breakdowns. Decidedly more detailed than this mini-series’ regular illustrator, the British designer’s drawings of Chewbacca and a silver-haired Han Solo are wonderfully realised, with the elderly smuggler’s craggy facial expressions proving to be a particularly well-rendered representation of actor Harrison Ford’s features. In fact, apart from the stand-in artist’s ‘amateurish’ panels involving Snoke and Hux within Starkiller Base, it genuinely seems a pity that the former “Fleetway Publications” penciller isn’t a permanent replacement for Luke Ross.
Writer: Chuck Wendig, Artist: Marc Laming, and Colorist: Frank Martin

Monday, 6 February 2017

The Amazing Spider-Man [2015] #16 - Marvel Comics

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN No. 16, October 2016
Despite this twenty-page periodical heavily featuring the machinations of Electro, the Lizard and the Jackal as it helped an astonishing 185,342 readers take their “first steps on the road to our big Spider-Event of 2016”, Dan Slott’s script for “Whatever The Cost” interestingly focuses far more upon the consequences of emotional decision-making involving extreme medical procedures than it does having Spidey battling any particular super-villain. Certainly Peter Parker’s involvement with the dubious Doctor Clarkson’s work at New U Technologies doesn’t even hit the radar of his alter-ego’s arch-enemies until Jerry Salteres’ “lungs are fired” in a chemical accident and the technology corporation employee needs “a miracle”; “This wasn’t part of the plan. Do it. Let’s give Mister Parker a taste of how the magic works.”

Fortunately that doesn’t mean that Issue Sixteen of “The Amazing Spider-Man” is simply filled with an endless parade of dialogue-heavy scenes, as the Berkeley-born writer’s narrative interjects his tantalisingly tense moral debates with as much action as an explosion at the Parker Industries plant in Edmond, Oklahoma can muster. Light-hearted and simultaneously nail-biting, these dynamically-charged rescue sequences really put plenty of the Spider-Cycle on show whilst Web-Head desperately tries to alleviate the mood with his usual wisecracks and copious amounts of web-foam.

Just as entertaining is the Eisner Award-winner's nod to Steve Ditko’s famous ‘heavy-lifting’ panel from this title’s February 1966 edition, as circumstances force the super-hero to shift a large metal pylon off of one of his employees. This demonstration of strength, as Peter wills his muscles to work beyond their normal limits, is fuelled by the C.E.O.’s heartfelt belief that the man is “my responsibility!” An incredibly emotional response which only then later fuels the lead protagonist’s rash decision to fly Doctor Clarkson’s “whole team whatever the cost” and pay for his worker’s experimental care.

Penciller Giuseppe Camuncoli also appears to be in great form drawing this comic book, with his renderings of Spidey’s “highly modified high-tech motorcycle” proving an absolute delight to the eyes. Indeed, despite this publication’s rather word-laden needs, the Italian illustrator’s artwork manages to still contain plenty of movement and life in its figures, and does a particularly good job of augmenting its characters’ sentiments on their faces.
The variant cover art of "THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN" No. 16 by Chris Samnee & Matt Wilson