Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Outpost Zero #1 - Image Comics

OUTPOST ZERO No. 1, July 2018
In many ways it’s hard to imagine that seven years before this title saw print, Sean Kelley McKeever’s external pitches had dried up at “Marvel Worldwide” and that despite “DC Comics” “just launching the New 52” the California-based publisher “didn’t have any openings” for him. True, the Appleton-born writer’s treatment for this “oversized debut issue” doesn’t contain any super-powered heroes and villains, or actually anyone even slightly outside the accepted Homo sapiens norm. But it does include a thoroughly engrossing script which quite beautifully depicts the inhabitants of “the smallest town in the universe”, and all their emotional insecurities as they go about their daily routines of working the land, visiting “the fights every Friday night” and “tuck[ing] their children into bed”.

Indeed, due to “Outpost Zero” being located “on a frozen world never meant to support human life” the book's narrative spends the best part of its formidable page count portraying the adults as determined drones who, for better or worse, have set aside their own personal aspirations in order to serve the larger community. However, even this seemingly endless carousel of educationalists, low-level workers, engineers and civilian administrators somehow manages to enthral any reader who can stomach a script which essentially revolves around the lifestyles and desires of a handful of young teenagers.

Arguably any such “Little House on the Prairie” in space story-line will eventually start to peter out in both pace and interest though, yet fortunately for fans of McKeever's penmanship the discovery of an all-too imminent, civilisation-level threatening electrical storm two-thirds through the publication swiftly injects the Eisner Award-winner’s treatment with plenty of actual pulse-pounding pizzazz. In fact, the potentially lethal plot twist genuinely imbues all the characters which the American author has so patiently painted a detailed background to with a startling amount of dynamic energy, and only the most superfluous of bibliophiles won’t be caught up in all the excited activity of the stranded colony’s final three and a half hours as it prepares for the inevitable assault upon its dome and life-giving apparatus. 

Somewhat as successful as McKeever’s soul-searching story-telling is Alexandre Tefenkgi’s competent, almost cartoon-like, artwork. Considering just how many individuals feature within this comic’s cast, it’s incredible to see how unique-looking the “Skybound Entertainment” artist makes each person’s facial details appear, whilst few within this book’s audience could surely suppress an involuntary shudder when the settlement’s discovery team venture outside in the cold, arctic tundra; “I feel good about this spot. We’ll find something. Solid ground, signs of life…”
Creator/Writer: Sean Kelley McKeever, and Creator/Artist: Alexandre Tefenkgi

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Judge Dredd: Under Siege #2 - IDW Publishing

JUDGE DREDD: UNDER SIEGE No. 2, June 2018
Mark Russell’s treatment for Issue Two of “Judge Dredd: Under Siege” clearly shows the Eisner Award-nominee taking up the “chance to step into the role of sci-fi social commentator” by focusing far more upon the fall of Patrick Swayze Block into an insular, self-serving community than it does Judge Beeny’s firefight with attacking mutants. Indeed, in many ways this twenty-page periodical’s narrative is all about Tiger Whitehead’s exploitation at the hands of Kidney Hut, and her young brother’s subsequent rescue before the organ harvester’s body-armoured bully boys can remove it, rather than a story about Mega-City One’s greatest lawman defending a band of his metropolis’ hapless citizens from the multi-limbed machinations of the Cursed Earth’s mutated denizens.

Fortunately however, that doesn’t mean that “the author of God Is Disappointed in You” hasn’t penned an enthrallingly entertaining tale, as his plot-thread involving the examination of “fine print” and giving a corporation your liver “when someone turns seventy” proves itself to be a disturbing, disconcertingly engrossing read which in some ways arguably harks back to the horror of Malcolm Shaw’s April 1977 “2000 A.D.” story “Frankenstein 2”. Certainly, it’s not hard to cheer Gilberto on as the (then) young man desperately engages a pair of the corporation’s mean-spirited internal collection agents with a hand pistol in order to give his purple-haired friend an opportunity to both find the infant Jerome and “destroy all the records for Swayze Block.”

For those within this mini-series’ audience more interested in the exploits of its titular character though, such advantageous abuse of the underprivileged by greedy, money-making executives, are impressively also interspersed with action-packed insights into Judge Dredd’s current battle against the building’s invading host. Hauntingly illuminated by Whitehead’s “light jacket”, these pulse-pounding panels not only show the lawman at the very top of his game, as he dispatches numerous heavily-armed mutants courtesy of the various settings available on his lawgiver, but also manage to convey the sense of unease between the judges and their lawbreaking allies, “a small local gang, under the command of an enigmatic man known as The Mayor.”

Perhaps this book’s only disappointment is therefore some of Max Dunbar’s pencilling, which whilst top notch and sense-shattering when used to convey all the dynamism of the publication’s pitched battles in the near darkness of a church and shopping mall, strangely lack that ‘something extra’ when depicting family life within Tiger’s household and the sterile environment of the Kidney Hut offices.

‘First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
The regular cover art of "JUDGE DREDD: UNDER SIEGE" No. 2 by Max Dunbar

Monday, 16 July 2018

The Immortal Hulk #1 - Marvel Comics

IMMORTAL HULK No. 1, August 2018
Supposedly spinning out of the sixteen-issue long “Avengers: No Surrender” story-line, at least according to its author Al Ewing, this first instalment of a “new ongoing series… which launches this June as part of Marvel Comics Fresh Start initiative” certainly seems to have lived up to its pre-publication promise that none of the title's 84,153-strong audience needed “to have read No Surrender – or any other comic ever published by Marvel or anyone else – to enjoy Immortal Hulk.” For whilst an understanding of the lengthy association between Bruce Banner and the World’s Mightiest Mortal makes it easier to understand just how come Thomas Edward Hill’s attacker “was big… built like an engine of Hell… and… was green”, “every Hulk fan, old and new”, will still make sense of the British comic book writer’s script for “Or Is He Both”. In fact, in many ways an ignorance of the Green Goliath’s previous adventures probably helped better sell this oversized thirty-page periodical as a “new, horror-themed comic”, rather than just another straightforward chapter in the titular character’s ever ongoing ‘super-heroic’ chronology.

Interestingly however, this magazine’s readers still had to wait quite a considerable time before Joe Bennett's fantastically pencilled Hulk actually made an appearance, due to the creator of “the comedic blog The Diary of Ralph Dibney” initially just focusing upon “the psyche and fragile form” of Banner as he witnesses the cold-blooded murder of an innocent young girl in a bungled petrol station robbery and is ruthlessly shot through the forehead before he can 'transform’; “You… You just… You --” BDAM. This truly horrific crime, made all the worse by Hill’s callous ability to simply shoot the hapless cashier as the crying man pleads for his life, is wonderfully penned by Ewing and proves such an emotional journey that the vast majority of bibliophiles were probably cheering when “the Strongest One There Is” later bursts in upon the Dogs Of Hell’s dilapidated headquarters so as to wreck his revenge upon the weak-willed man who killed him.

Somewhat bizarrely though, Bruce’s “savage, nocturnal alter-ego” undoubtedly appears to have undergone something of a personality change for this book, with his renovation into "an instrument of justice and vengeance” appearing more in keeping with that of Gary Friedrich’s Ghost Rider than the human mutate’s usual “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” shenanigans. Indeed, Tommy's slaying of three innocent people and the loathsome man’s irritating claim that he didn’t want to do it, would surely have tried many a crime-fighter’s patience beyond its moral limits, and yet the green-skinned, oft-times murderous “monster who can’t die” surprisingly still leaves the blonde-haired robber “clinging to life”, apparently unwilling to completely snuff out his existence.

‘First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
Writer: Al Ewing, Penciler: Joe Bennett, and Inker: Ruy Jose

Sunday, 15 July 2018

Geek-Girl #2 - Markosia Enterprises

GEEK-GIRL No. 2, July 2018
It’s rare for a magazine to generate such a strong, mounting sense of injustice in its audience as Sam Johnson’s script for Issue Two of “Geek-Girl” arguably does in its terrible treatment of the “comic book geek with a basement stuffed with super-hero funny books”, Summer James. For whilst by her own admission, the fashion student has simply been carrying “on Geek-Girl’s work until you got better -- Just until you got back into it --”, the poor young woman’s unforgivably antagonistic reception by Ruby Kaye and her best friend’s mean-spirited parents is infuriatingly hostile, especially considering that the super-heroic stand-in only visited Little Miss Popular's residence because her supposed buddy invited her to; “Yeah, it’d be great to see you.”

This scene is tremendously well-penned by the title’s creator, and turns what was initially expected to be a joyful reunion between “the cool kids” into a somewhat uncomfortable doorstep greeting, and then later full-on verbal tirade by Janice, who immediately starts irrationally accusing the bespectacled-rookie of irresponsibly putting her daughter in a coma and almost getting her killed. This outrageous welcome to someone who has simply been trying to do their best, and placing their life on the line as a consequence, genuinely gets the blood boiling, and any liking for the original super-tech glass-wearing protagonist debatably evaporates when she subsequently further deflates Summer’s bubble by taking back Trevor Goldstein’s invention from her, even though Ruby apparently has absolutely no intention of ever wearing them again…

Happily however, this understandably depressing, dialogue-heavy sequence is interestingly interspersed by a much more humorous series of scenes focusing upon the utterly inept Terry and his unwise decision to join the League of Larcenists. Anyone foolish enough to believe a man with literally half a boar’s brain is going to produce a “rock-solid” plan for robbing Maine of half its considerable wealth is asking for trouble, so it surely wouldn’t have come as a surprise to this twenty-one page periodical’s audience that the criminal’s relationship with Pig Head and Mongo quickly degenerates in something of a farce, particularly when one of the crew reveals “he was telling me his wife made him have a vasectomy the other week” and the na├»ve crook’s resultantly awarded the codename “Numb Nuts”.

Quite possibly this publication’s biggest draw though is Summer’s confrontation with the mechanically-menacing Chromex. Fantastically pencilled on this comic’s variant edition cover by Carlos Granda, the heavily armour-suited villain would potentially appear a match for James even if the caped crime-fighter still actually had her powers, let alone now when she isn’t “wearing the glasses”, so his devastating destruction of Josh’s car as the student desperately attempts to save the head-miked damsel in distress sincerely shows what the robotic lawbreaker is probably planning to do to his fallen prey at the conclusion of this book.

‘First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
The regular cover art of "GEEK-GIRL" No. 2 by Carlos Granda 

Saturday, 14 July 2018

Stroper #2 - Stroper Store

STROPER No. 2, June 2018
It’s clear from Eddie Porter’s script to Issue Two of “Stroper” just why the digital comic’s Kickstarter managed to raise an impressive $2,186 in funds by the end of February 2018, with its broadening of the title’s leading cast and additional insights into Pak Booker’s incarceration “in the Bo’ak 5 prison mines”. Indeed, the thoroughly entertaining interplay between the mullet-haired hunter and his robotic assistant Tango, is arguably worth any cover price alone, especially when the surprisingly terrified bot begins to produce a high-pitched scream as it desperately tries to help its master lug his latest prey’s burdensome corpse aboard their spaceship before the pair are consumed by zillions of hungry Krill; “You know my courage drive is under cranked. It’s a sensitive subject for me.”  

Similarly amusing is the automaton’s all-pervading aura of doom, which persistently appears to tweak the nose of the fate for all its worth. Understandably defensive when it is initially blamed for not correctly calculating that the stalker would actually encounter a female Rook on the Moon of Centi-7, the android rather humorously constantly goads the gods with its prediction that “things could be worse…” and subsequently seems to set up a sequence of events which disquietingly sees Booker’s dead extra-terrestrial prize ‘give birth’ to a cute, six-eyed living hatchling just before his vessel C16-227 is intercepted by “the boys in blue”.

Far less witty however, and understandably so, is the visual effects artist’s disconcerting dalliance upon Pak’s daily deadly routine “chain ganged to the Galaxies finest scum bags.” Strapped into a hammer suit whilst drilling for “the galaxies most precious resource” this arduous, soul-sapping punishment actually seems entirely appropriate for someone who killed “endangered aliens for money.” But when the prisoner stood working right beside our titular character is seemingly vaporised by a ruby-red release of rays from inside the ‘coal face’ upon which they’re working, it quickly becomes apparent that Pak’s sentence is probably a short-lived terminal one, where he literally takes his life in his hands every second of the working day…

Of course, what really helps bring across the monotonous nature of the captive stroper’s existence is Porter’s excellent computer-generated artwork. The scenes showing this title’s protagonist simply being one of many minuscule-sized miners as he traverses a leviathan-long, winding ravine “down into the belly of hell” alongside his innumerable fellow inmates, really captures the analogy of him simply being seen by the Galactic Union as nothing more valuable than a replaceable worker ant. Whilst Booker’s increasingly troubled facial features, in light of his latest hunt’s aftermath, shows the man's agitated unease as circumstances pour woe after woe upon his shoulders, and really adds to the growing tension inside his spacecraft’s cockpit.

‘First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
Writer & Illustrator: Eddie Porter

Friday, 13 July 2018

The Curse Of Brimstone #3 - DC Comics

THE CURSE OF BRIMSTONE No. 3, August 2018
Selling just 15,949 units in June 2018, a disappointing drop of over four thousand copies on its previous instalment, Justin Jordan’s treatment for Issue Three of “The Curse Of Brimstone” arguably provided its audience with both a reasonably neat conclusion to the new title’s opening story-arc, and a moment of true tragedy which will doubtless haunt its titular character for the foreseeable future. Indeed, “Inferno: Finale” unquestionably packs plenty of punch within its twenty pages, as Joseph Chamberlain’s fiery alter-ego literally goes toe-to-toe with the ever-boastful Hound and Annie demonstrates a strength of will perhaps rarely seen before in a secondary cast member when she clobbers the Salesman straight into his next incarnation; “You kill me here, I am a dozen other places. It won’t matter--”

Luckily however, the co-creator of “The Strange Talent Of Luther Strode” doesn’t just use this comic to pen a straightforward fist-fight, and adds plenty of gravitas to its pulse-pounding proceedings by continually having the bizarrely-masked “persuasive operative working for… the Home Office” persistently offer the red-headed siblings deal after tempting deal. These emotional enticements, which initially start with the Faustian manipulator simply threatening to fatally slice the throat of Darren if the old man’s son doesn’t finish turning his local town into “human ash statues”, soon degenerate into bargains involving letting the demonic agent go, as well as him offering Brimstone’s sister the possibility of her not needing “to study for your nursing degree anymore”, and all add to the proceeding’s palpable tension through the possibility that at some point someone might actually yield to what’s being offered…

Coupled with the flurry of blows being exchanged between Joseph and his female super-powered adversary, plus the frail welfare of the human mutate’s evidently vulnerable father whose mortality constantly seems to lurch from one danger to another, such poignant story-telling genuinely produces a real roller-coaster of a ride, with every other turn of the page debatably causing the reader’s heart to race in anticipation of what artist Philip Tan may (or may not) pencil next. In fact at one point, just before the cold-blooded killer is momentarily surprised by Annie’s dad bodily bowling her to the ground, it actually looks as if Brimstone will be dispatched with an icy stake through the heart and his sister offered a similar deal to replace him in exchange for not bludgeoning the Salesman to death with a baseball bat.

‘First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
Storytellers: Philip Tan & Justin Jordan, and Colorist: Rain Beredo

Thursday, 12 July 2018

The Unexpected #2 - DC Comics

THE UNEXPECTED No. 2, September 2018
It’s difficult to believe that any reader was able to comprehensively follow Steve Orlando’s narrative for Issue Two of “The Unexpected” without them first owning either a working knowledge of this twenty-page periodical’s previous installment or a basic grasp of “the events of Dark Nights: Metal”. For whilst “Grenade Tour” undeniably supplies plenty of pulse-pounding panels packed full of urgent tension and only the sort of pace a frantic flight for survival can generate, its far from straightforward script contains little to no exposition as to what is actually happening, nor why the likes of Neon the Unknown and Firebrand are having to flee in the first place.

Admittedly, the Syracuse-born writer’s narrative does contain an early double splash summarisation of Colin Nomi’s origin story, and later it becomes relatively clear that the Bad Samaritan’s mysterious metal, which can apparently “detonate a second time” at any moment, is actually the “heavy isotope of iron” known as Nth metal. But none of this information arguably helps with a plot which sees the blind material manipulator teleport repeatedly from dimension to dimension in order to outrace Lord Onimarr Synn’s ferociously-fanged owl-minions and their female Twi'lek-lookalike “Lady Lamp”; “Manhawks! Hold the fool’s protector --! This shoat cannot keep the Nth metal isotope from me!”

Indeed, if anything this desperate dash from Red Hook, Brooklyn, to Penn City, then Vanity, Ivy Town, National City, Slaughter Swamp, and finally Blackhawk Island only muddles the various plot threads up even more, especially when Janet Fals’ accompanying dialogue concerning “whatever the hell the World Forge is”, is overshadowed by her sorcerous companion’s gobbledygook regarding his “other senses… [being] tuned to more planes of existence than most people’s”, Quench’s metal disrupting “our universe’s fundamental forces”, and another explosion which potentially “could puncture the membrane of reality like a water balloon.”

Happily, this magazine is blessed with some rather dynamically-drawn artwork by Cary Nord, whose storyboarding for Firebrand’s battle with Synn’s General Phade is undoubtedly the highlight of the publication. Clean-lined and well-animated, “the award-winning artist of comic books and graphic novels such as Daredevil, X-Men, and Conan The Barbarian” provides both plenty of gravitas to Nomi’s emotional loss at the death of his friends, Ascendant and the Viking Judge, as well as insurmountable rage in Fals’ furious assaults.
Storytellers: Cary Nord & Steve Orlando, and Inks: Wade von Grawbadger