Friday, 30 October 2020

Iron Man [2020] #2 - Marvel Comics

IRON MAN No. 2, December 2020
Whilst it’s quite possibly hard to argue with Marvel Worldwide’s pre-publication promise that Christopher Cantwell’s narrative for this ongoing series takes “Tony Stark back to basics, putting aside his high-tech toys and high-profile image so he can get his hands dirty as a super hero again”, the American author’s script for Issue Two of “Iron Man” probably struck some fans as being something of a choppy mess penned simply to include plenty of contrived, unrelated action sequences as opposed to presenting anything resembling a logical plot.

For openers, the twenty-page periodical starts with Shell-head inexplicably confronting the Absorbing Man in a simple wrestling ring for a pirate pay-per-view broadcast. Admittedly, this bout of pugilism is pulse-poundingly paced, as Carl Creel rather impressively batters his beleaguered opponent into semi-submission until the billionaire industrialist realises that the match referee is none other than the villainous Arcade. But just how Iron Man actually came to be in such a bizarre situation is never actually explained, nor whether it has anything to do with the “bolt of energy from a hidden source” which is referred to in the preamble for “Gods And Complexes”.

Instead, this book’s readers are forced to simply accept that having defeated Unicorn with the help of Hellcat in this title’s previous instalment, Tony was subsequently easily overcome by Chris Claremont’s co-creation and somehow spirited away to the criminal’s secret sports hall. This lack of background to the comic’s storytelling sadly then happens a second time when Cardiac pops up towards the end of the publication having somehow kidnapped several Stark Pharmaceutical scientists and confined them in a seemingly impenetrable bubble on the city’s shoreline.

As Iron Man himself states as he rapidly approaches the scene, the “setup seems very super villain.” Yet despite this debatably ludicrous-looking mission, the method used by Elias Wirtham to capture his hapless victims and house them inside such a peculiar prison is frustratingly forgotten in favour of action, even when it appears that the “accomplished physician” has miraculously constructed a device which is apparently capable of withstanding even the strongest of repulsor blasts; “They have to die, Stark. A message has to be sent. Our healthcare system is a crime --”

The regular cover art of "IRON MAN" #2 by Alex Ross

Wednesday, 28 October 2020

Black Widow #2 - Marvel Comics

BLACK WIDOW No. 2, December 2020
Whether intentional or not, Kelly Thompson’s narrative for Issue Two of “Black Widow” can certainly be described as a comic of two halves, with the book’s opening depicting a somewhat humorous pairing of Hawkeye and the Winter Soldier trying to determine whether the titular character is in any real danger or not, and its second part demonstrating that even when only armed with a necklace, Natasha Romanoff is still perfectly capable of battering a band of knife-wielding thugs singlehandedly; “Best night ever, Logan.”

Happily for this publication’s fans though, this contrast in storytelling doesn’t impact upon the seriousness of the plot, with Clint and Bucky’s painful deliberations as to whether they should interfere in their friend’s fake, yet blissfully happy, new existence, admirably demonstrating the genuine care which they have for their fellow super-hero. Indeed, despite all his bluster and childish banter with Barnes, Barton’s surprisingly tense attempt to infiltrate his former team-mate’s supposed retirement by posing as a shallow, security freelancer provides the archer will some endearingly emotional moments, such as when Natasha’s 'son' suddenly interrupts their meeting.

Of course, for those readers more inclined to enjoy Romanoff’s adventures when the former Soviet spy is cracking skulls, the American author also provides a seriously well-paced action sequence concerning five goons in a dark alleyway. This pulse-pounding bout of pugilism is especially enjoyable as Elena Casagrande’s layouts manage to depict the Avenger ridding herself of any cumbersome civilian baubles before ploughing through her ill-meaning opponents, and as result shows just how quick thinking the Black Widow is when faced with an imminent threat.

In fact, this scene really allows the Italian artist to demonstrate why Stan Lee’s co-creation is regarded as the best pupil to have graduated from the covert "Red Room" espionage facility, courtesy of some small, carefully detailed panels which show Natasha using her bracelet as a mirror to better see her attackers, and scooping up a fallen knife from the ground in order to pin one of her molester’s hands to a wall. The breath-taking ferocity of this battle really is extremely well drawn, and again, helps this part of Thompson’s storyline decidedly differ from the much slower, less hurried tempo of the comic’s earlier elements.

The regular cover art of "BLACK WIDOW" #1 by Adam Hughes

Tuesday, 27 October 2020

Star Wars: Bounty Hunters #4 - Marvel Comics

STAR WARS: BOUNTY HUNTERS No. 4, October 2020
Whilst Ethan Sacks’ script for Issue Four of “Star Wars: Bounty Hunters” certainly must have struck many within its audience as being packed full of some seriously ferocious fighting as the comic’s various murderous mercenaries desperately try to claim Nakano Lash’s lucrative head. It is still arguably difficult to understand just what all the fuss was about concerning this publication’s supposed “graphic violence against women” when it first hit the spinner racks in August 2020, and why websites such as “Starwarsnewsnet.com” appealed to fans to “speak up about this because it’s time for this disturbing trend to end.”  

For starters, most of the bloodshed found within this twenty-page periodical is actually perpetrated by the series’ female cast as opposed to its male contingent, with T’onga demonstrating an especially vicious streak by fitting her cybernetic partner Beilert Valance with a restraining bolt and immediately then activating the device to painfully make him aware that she’ll use it on her ‘friend’ without a moment’s hesitation. Similarly as savage are Lash and Cadeliah, who between them literally hack apart Ooris Bynar for threatening to harm the Nautolan’s young protégé. This early scene is remarkably graphic as the Thisspiasian male is stabbed in the head, has one of his hands chopped off and is partially strangled with his own tail, before having his neck snapped with a resounding ‘crack’.

However, with perhaps the possible exception of Valance’s unprovoked assault, it is hard to see what else the likes of Lash could possibly otherwise do in the circumstances and every unforgiving blow is debatably justified. Indeed, even T’onga’s appalling behaviour towards Beilert makes some sense within the context of the story being told, as the human has “just walked away from a peaceful, happy life on a homestead with the woman” she loves, in order to kill the person who betrayed her brother, T'ongor, and clearly doesn’t intend for anything or anyone to stop her; “Just making my point. Get in my way and there won’t be enough parts left to put you back together. Oh, and Valance? It’s good to be working with you again.”

Setting aside any gender-driven kill-count issues, “Hunter’s Mutiny” is also noteworthy for containing some wonderfully dynamic artwork by Paolo Villanelli. The Italian artist’s pencilling of the former Imperial cadet battling against a Nexu puppy whilst T’onga guns down a small handful of inexperienced local hired goons is fantastically paced, as are his layouts concerning the flurry of activity which leads to Bynar’s aforementioned grisly demise.

The regular cover art of "STAR WARS: BOUNTY HUNTERS" #4 by Lee Bermejo

Monday, 26 October 2020

Black Widow #1 - Marvel Comics

BLACK WIDOW No. 1, June 2020
Whilst there are undoubtedly some intriguing notions behind Kelly Thompson’s script for Issue One of “Black Widow”, the premise that Natasha Romanoff doesn’t actually know who she is must have struck many of this title’s followers as an odd choice of narrative for the first instalment of the Avenger’s new ongoing series. Indeed, this publication’s distinct lack of action, at least once its introductory sequence has concluded, debatably doesn’t provide much in the way of entertainment at all, unless the odd perusing bibliophile has a penchant for super-heroes rescuing cardboard coffee trays from being blown off skyscraper-tall building sites.

Admittedly, the idea of Arcade brainwashing the titular character into believing she is an architect living “in the heart of San Francisco” provides the “best-selling” writer’s somewhat sedentary plot with a modicum of interest, especially when it is revealed that the Black Widow has been brainwashed for at least the past forty-seven days. Yet the super-villain’s evident annoyance at not being allowed to kill the Russian clone isn’t probably half as frustrating as reading about Romanoff tediously buying a Chinese takeaway, purchasing a motorcycle and trying to save the day from litter.

As a result, this comic’s highlight most likely lies in its excellent, pulse-pounding opening, which wonderfully demonstrates all of Natasha’s skills as a former Red Room operative as she bashes her way through a corridor packed full of thugs so as to steal a hidden hard-drive. To make matters even more enjoyable though, the spy is stealthily shadowed by the likes of both Hawkeye and Captain America, who really help imbue her “last minute cloak and dagger” mission with an added sense of urgent importance and nostalgia.

Unfortunately, as with this comic’s pedestrian pacing, Elena Casagrande’s layouts also suffer once the secret agent’s lifestyle becomes much more sedentary. The Italian artist pencils a truly awe-inspiring double-splash depicting a bare-footed Black Widow besting a gang of pistol-carrying goons, but once Thompson moves things forward “three months”, there is little room for dynamism apart from when Romanoff races home across the Golden Gate bridge on her new motorbike; “Afraid I’ve wrecked our dinner… All that cool weather and high speed… Dim Sum will be dead cold.”

The regular cover art of "BLACK WIDOW" #1 by Adam Hughes

Thursday, 22 October 2020

Batman/Superman [2019] #12 - DC Comics

BATMAN/SUPERMAN No. 12, November 2020
Whilst readers less tolerant of editor Paul Kaminski’s frustrating use of this comic to blatantly promote at least six other “DC Comics” titles might argue Joshua Williamson’s narrative for “Planet Brainiac” is little more than a rather choppily patched together advertisement. Those more forgiving fans of the American author who enjoy a healthy combination of pulse-pounding pugilism and Machiavellian mystery were probably thrilled by the exciting pace found inside Issue Twelve of “Batman/Superman”.

Indeed, not only does this twenty-two page periodical depict a fantastic free-for-all between the titular characters and the very best of the Batcave’s technologically-advanced mechanical guardians, such as the Batmobile, Batwing and the latest incarnation of the Justice Buster. But it also produces a thoroughly enjoyable exploration into circumstances surrounding the Dark Knight’s possible demise by the somewhat unlikely pairing of Steel and Batwoman – a team-up which proves as intriguing as the destruction of the Caped Crusader’s secret lair appears utterly overwhelming; “The trick is going to be hacking the bat-computer. Might not matter with the amount of damage --”

Likewise, the California-born writer manages to effectively pull off one of the ‘oldest tricks in the book’ with this comic’s cliff-hanger conclusion, by making its bibliophiles believe one thing when Bruce Wayne’s alter ego has all along been saying quite the opposite. Just how a seriously battered and bandaged Batman manages to escape Brainiac’s clutches on “the dark side of the Moon” in order to make his misinterpreted video message is never made clear, yet it still leads into a mouth-watering finale which surely caused many comic book collectors to impatiently await the appearance of this storyline’s subsequent instalment on their local store’s spinner rack.

Similarly as successful as this publication’s prose is its interior layouts by Max Raynor and colourist Alejandro Sanchez, who together provide this comic’s quite considerably-sized cast with plenty of animated life. John Henry Irons and Katherine Kane’s costumed counterparts, as well as giant super-villain Chemo, are especially well-drawn, with the creative team really managing to show the super-heroes’ increasing concern as they realise just how much trouble an off-world Dark Knight might actually be in.

Writer: Joshua Williamson, Artist: Clayton Henry, and Colorist: Alejandro Sanchez

Tuesday, 20 October 2020

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - Too Long A Sacrifice #3 - IDW Publishing

STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE - TOO LONG A SACRIFICE No. 3, September 2020
As comic-long conversational pieces go, Scott and David Tipton’s narrative for Issue Three of “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Too Long A Sacrifice” isn’t quite as plodding as it initially appears, thanks largely to the cold-blooded murder of a pair of unfortunate Ferengi “outside Docking Port Five.” However, up until this latest in a long line of despicable deaths on board the Federation facility, this twenty-page periodical arguably consists of nothing more than a disconcertingly word-heavy dialogue between Odo and Detective Retlaw, as the two men seemingly try to outdo one another in a bid to demonstrate their superior investigative ability.

Such a conversational piece may well have proved a pleasant enough sub-plot if penned in moderation, but sadly a good two-thirds of this publication follows the Changeling and “the past-his-prime” Starfleet official as they sip tea, criticise one another’s work ethics and generally try to score cheap points during their meanderings throughout Terok Nor. Indeed, even when this publication does suddenly reveal that Ensign Schroeder has been “greasing the wheels for the Nausicaans”, all the ‘odd couple’ do is talk some more about how the junior officer is inconveniently blocking Retlaw from reading his mind; “He’s… blocking me somehow. I have nothing. I don’t know how he’s doing it, but he’s keeping me out.”

Perhaps this book’s biggest disappointment though, is the so-called “shocking discovery” its publisher’s promised being that Vedek Teler is somehow connected to the series of murders. This surprise was arguably telegraphed straight from the mini-series’ opening instalment, and the only bombshell it drops is just how contrivingly poor a shot the mysterious killer suddenly becomes when the culprit unsuccessfully tries to assassinate Odo and the Betazoid in a deserted corridor, just before the pair pay the Bajoran religious leader a visit.

Luckily adding a little bit of animated life to the proceedings is Greg Scott’s pencilling, which genuinely seems to come to the fore when illustrating the craggy-faced, white-haired Retlaw. As expected, the artist does a competent job of depicting the science fiction franchise’s televised characters, yet somehow adds even more to the aged investigator’s personality, as he scowls and scolds his way through the space station’s considerable supporting cast.

Writers: Scott Tipton & David Tipton, Artist: Greg Scott, and Colorist by: Felipe Sobreiro

Monday, 12 October 2020

Geek-Girl #6 - Markosia Enterprises

GEEK-GIRL No. 6, September 2020
Featuring a sizeable cast of characters, including a humorous cameo by Guano Guy and Mister Marvellous Man, Sam Johnson’s narrative for Issue Six of “Geek-Girl” probably pleased the majority of this comic’s fans when it ‘hit the shelves’ in September 2020. Sure, the titular lead doesn’t actually have much to do within this particular twenty-page periodical, apart from arrange “a fabulous, fancy-dress night – themed on Seinfeld’s alternative Xmas, Festivus” for her girlfriends. But that doesn’t stop the book’s plot from still posing some intriguing questions as to the motivation behind some of the series’ other personalities.

Indeed, arguably this publication’s best moment is the scene depicting “Johnny Carlyle’s right-hand man Digger Mensch” meeting up with the likes of villain Papa Potato inside a seedy bar area. There’s some seriously good tension generated by Digger’s conflict with his supposed pals, following their objections that he has helped restore the town’s previously destroyed police station with his construction super-powers, and the builder’s palpable fear of Black Mass literally leaps out of the panel when the criminal questions Mensch’s loyalties by warning him that Carlyle is fast becoming a problem for the rest of the group.

Likewise, the air of mystery surrounding a lone Satanist communicating with the dead in an upper apartment’s rune-covered mirror is equally as enthralling, especially when the man’s desperate pleas for help from beyond the grave actually seem to prove successful, and he conjures up the ghost of Kristina; “Haven’t seen… But someone could see him, maybe. Lady of Voodoo… Cabra Cini. Yesss. Find on the Dark Web.” The identity of this fair-haired cultist is intriguingly kept hidden from the reader, as is the reason as to why he’s trying to locate someone who has “taken all our cash and cleaned out his apartment.”

Carlos Granda should also be acknowledged as a key contributor to the competence of this comic, with his prodigious pencilling. Johnson has penned plenty of word-heavy, dialogue driven sequences in “Change Of Plan”, yet the artist still manages to make these conversations pleasing to the eye by imbuing all their participants with both animated life and, in the case of Summer James, plenty of vibrant personality too.

The regular cover art of "GEEK-GIRL" No. 6 by Jason Hehir & Chunlin Zao