Monday, 23 May 2022

Harley Quinn #13 - DC Comics

HARLEY QUINN No. 13, May 2022
Described by “DC Comics” in this book’s pre-publication synopsis as “a brand new arc… brand new characters… and some all-too-familiar faces from my past who maybe aren’t so happy to see me”, Stephanie Phillips’ grimly violent script for Issue Thirteen of “Harley Quinn” certainly seems to contain plenty of ‘hooks’ with which to ensnare any unsuspecting bibliophile. Sure, the twenty-two page periodical’s plot contains a modicum of zany goofiness when its titular character decides to ‘steal’ a surplus food lorry whilst wearing a pair of roller-skates. But the colourfully-costumed anti-hero’s ‘Robin Hood’ skit still can’t stop the rest of “The Verdict” from being a thoroughly enjoyable insight into Gotham City’s distinctly dark criminal underworld.

Indeed, straight from its start, when a familiarly-garbed homicidal maniac guns her way into Frankie Peterson’s birthday celebration so as to gouge out his eyeball with an ice cream scoop, it is arguably evident that this narrative is going to be a much more serious affair than the American author has previously penned for the ongoing series; “Man, I remember my first mob hit crime scene where you couldn’t tell the guts from the Marinara.”

Furthermore, this adventure also introduces two intriguing cast additions in the shape of inexperienced police officer Jaylin Shaw and the much more streetwise detective called Isaac. Together, these partners in ‘law and order’ do an excellent job in putting across the sheer grisly chaos of the aforementioned mass murder scene, as well as depicting the investigation’s procedural techniques which lead to their erroneous belief that Harleen Quinzel is responsible for wholeheartedly slaughtering a number of the metropolis' “bad people”.

Undeniably assisting Phillips in so macabre a fiction is Riley Rossmo’s artwork, which despite its somewhat ‘cartoony’ look, does a great job in showing the sheer carnage caused by Quinn’s lookalike both during her bullet-spraying mass-assassination, as well as its aftermath, where the Hungry Heart Bar & Grill is so full of blood and body parts that it causes Shaw to be sick outside. In fact, the illustrator’s technique of inserting a flurry of smaller panels inside a much larger picture does a good job in implying just how fast events are moving, even when the subject matter is something somewhat mundane, like a nauseous Jaylin rushing away from the sight of her first mutilation since transferring from Seattle.

The regular cover art of "HARLEY QUINN" #13 by Riley Rossmo

Saturday, 21 May 2022

DC Vs. Vampires #5 - DC Comics

DC VS. VAMPIRES No. 5, April 2022
Deftly delving between a fantastic, action-packed punch-up deep within the Batcave and a similarly as sense-shattering fistfight featuring the Suicide Squad inside the Joker’s deserted hideout, the furious pace to Issue Five of “DC Vs. Vampires” arguably doesn’t stop until the comic’s nail-biting cliff-hanger. Yet whilst some writers may make the mistake of simply using non-stop violence to pad out a potentially weak script, James Tynion IV and Matthew Rosenberg’s narrative for this twenty-two-page periodical requires no such nonsense, with the battles positively brimming with enthralling character development and thrilling plot devices; “Batman. We know what happened. It’s an infection in the blood. You’re sick. You have to know that. Deep down, somewhere. But we can cure it.”

Foremost of these ‘hooks’ must be the excellent teamwork displayed by Bruce Wayne’s alter-ego and Oliver Queen, who bravely manage to beat down the rest of the Justice League of America by the skin of their (non-fanged) teeth. However, despite the pair clearly being stretched to their uppermost limits in tackling the likes of Superman and a vampiric Wonder Woman, this book’s authors still manage to include plenty of one-line wisecracks, as well as plenty of examples of the super-heroes using their brains, not brawn, to overcome their formidable foes.

Likewise, the same can arguably be said for Amanda Waller’s criminally inclined black ops team, who initially, foolishly believe themselves capable of taking down the Clown Prince of Crime in his own headquarters. Intriguingly, Hayley Quinn’s “puddin’” doesn’t actually make an appearance though, with the writers instead having the Black Spider being killed by one of his fellow team-mates, following the revelation that the ‘super-team’ has also been infiltrated by ghoulish, blood-drinkers.

Helping to separate these two simultaneous storylines with an incredible amount of dynamism and energy are the distinctly different-looking layouts of mini-series regular artist Otto Schmidt, and title newcomer Simone Di Meo (who prodigiously pencils those sequences involving the Suicide Squad). Neither illustrator skimps on the sheer savagery of the fighting taking place, nor lets the script’s intense speed ever falter, even when there’s a momentary pause in the mayhem for Cyborg to rationalise Batman’s seemingly erratic behaviour, or Batgirl to make a dramatic entrance just as Savant is about to fatally bite Quinn.

The regular cover art of "DC VS. VAMPIRES" #5 by Otto Schmidt

Friday, 20 May 2022

Batman: The Adventures Continue Season Two #7 - DC Comics

BATMAN: THE ADVENTURES CONTINUE SEASON TWO No. 7, February 2022
Disappointingly derailing Emerson Mayfield’s grand scheme to become Gotham City’s mayor again within the space of just this comic’s final few pages, Alan Burnett and Paul Dini’s concluding narrative for Issue Seven of “Batman: The Adventures Continue Season Two” probably came as something of an anti-climax to its readers in December 2021. Indeed, for those within this publication’s audience who were unaware that the mini-series was fast approaching its end, the pacing of this book’s central political-based plot probably caused them to anticipate at least another instalment or two to subsequently hit the spinner racks.

Sadly however, the Dark Knight, Robin and Nightwing suddenly seem able to resolve the unscrupulous former councilman’s Machiavellian plan with breath-taking ease, debatably spoiling a strong build-up which had seen the Caped Crusader unnervingly wrong-footed at almost every turn. Admittedly, the discover of the Mad Hatter supplying the mind-controlling technology needed for Mayfield to tighten his grip over the swaying opinion of the metropolis’ vast population inevitably gives the World’s Greatest Detective some leads to finally investigate. But ultimately, the notion that everything would simply come down to an uninspiring punch-up inside Arkham Asylum with some of Batman’s most notable rogues is arguably a little too ‘low-brow’ for such a well-crafted, thought-provoking three-parter.

To make matters worse though, this cataclysmic confrontation with the likes of the Riddler, Scarecrow, Two-Face and the Joker, as well as a plethora of unnamed minions, lasts for less than a dozen small-sized panels. In fact, the adolescent Boy Wonder himself is supposedly so formidable a close-combat competitor that he can almost effortlessly ‘take out’ both Edward Nygma and Harvey Dent within seconds of one another; “Once again Jervis, you’ve built a fantasy from a house of cards. Intricately designed but doomed to collapse.”

Equally as discouraging as this finale’s fisticuffs is probably Rick Burchett’s artwork, which whilst proficient enough to help tell most of the story, does at times leave a few question marks as to what is actually occurring within certain set-pieces. This problem is most noticeable towards the end of the book when the criminals start dropping like ninepins, and certain ‘super-powers’ are being employed, such as March Harriet’s bunny ears which are shockingly able to electrocute her assailants.

The regular cover of "BATMAN: THE ADVENTURES CONTINUE SEASON TWO" #7 by Jorge Fornes

Thursday, 19 May 2022

Iron Man [2020] #19 - Marvel Comics

IRON MAN No. 19, June 2022
Billed by “Marvel Worldwide” as “the stunning conclusion of the Books of Korvac”, this twenty-page periodical’s plot must surely have disappointed many a fan of the Golden Avenger considering that it contains nothing more than the titular character simply talking to both his so-called arch-nemesis and Patsy Walker. Sure, an unarmoured and distinctly unwell Tony Stark does initially take something of a beating from his “human cyborg turned deity” opponent, but a few panels depicting an enraged Michael smacking a highly vulnerable, semi-conscious billionaire around is arguably hardly the sense-shattering finale this ongoing series’ readers were anticipating for the end to a nineteen-issue narrative.

Frustratingly however, that is precisely what Christopher Cantwell gives his audience in “The Last Midnight”, as the two former cosmically enhanced super-beings strangely decide to simply go ‘mano-a-mano’ as mortal beings in New York City’s Central Park. This surreal situation debatably denies any semblance of logic considering just how much hatred ‘Adam IV’ clearly has for the wealthy industrialist, especially when Korvac begins the encounter at the peak of his abilities, and on the verge of bringing the Universe the lethal “harmony” he has been planning since this title’s very first instalment was published approximately eighteen months earlier; “You will be destroyed by my hand. And then my hand will destroy every other single thing in this godforsaken universe.”

Quite astonishingly though, having somehow been convinced by Stark to give up the incomprehensibly formidable power he’s worked so desperately hard to attain simply because he’s supposedly scared of losing without always having an unfair advantage, Korvac is next shown to physically carry a dying Tony to a local hospital in order to save his detested foe’s life. This demonstration of compassion seemingly comes completely out of the blue, and then takes an even more bizarre twist when Michael calmly climbs up a ladder to a tower block’s rooftop and suicidally steps off…

Perhaps therefore this publication’s sole highlight lies within the layouts of Carlos Alberto Fernandez Urbano, which do as good a job as can probably be expected of such a sedentary scenario. Indeed, the Madrid-born artist’s pencilling carries much of this book’s storytelling upon his shoulders, courtesy of several scenes containing little to no dialogue or lettering whatsoever.

The regular cover art of "IRON MAN" #19 by Alex Ross

Wednesday, 18 May 2022

DC Vs. Vampires #4 - DC Comics

DC VS. VAMPIRES No. 4, March 2022
Arguably focusing predominantly upon Batman’s tussle with Green Arrow in the Batcave, and the duo’s subsequent realisation that neither is actually a blood-sucking predator, James Tynion IV and Matthew Rosenberg’s storyline for Issue Four of “DC Vs. Vampires” still manages to incorporate plenty of insights into just how the rest of the Justice League are coping in their separate battles against the Undead. Indeed, the sheer scope of this twenty-two page periodical’s plot is breath-taking, as the pair’s penmanship takes the reader from the dark depths of Gotham City’s terrified criminal underworld to the distinctly deadly domain of London’s seedy nightclubs.

Happily however, all these somewhat short-lived spotlights really do pack a formidable punch, with John Constantine’s surprisingly cosy tête-à-tête alongside a fully-fanged Zatanna Zatara and Doctor Fate probably proving the most enthralling of the bunch. The member of the Trenchcoat Brigade really is depicted at the very height of his magical powers, nonchalantly overpowering the female Homo magi with a mere gesture of his fingers before the seductress can get her teeth into him, and then later getting angry with his cosmically-created team-mate when the incapacitated vampire is disintegrated before his shocked eyes.

These fascinating insights into the sense of comradery between the different super-heroes is similarly as well-written when Red Hood and Batgirl suddenly encounter the vampiric Gorilla Grodd. This sense-shattering action sequence makes for an especially impressive read as Cassandra Cain doesn’t actually utter a single syllable until after the fight’s end, when she dramatically holds up a defaced playing card featuring the deck’s Joker; “But you and I might be the only two people to ever see a gorilla jump out a skyscraper window, or turn into a bat.”

Of course, this comic’s biggest highlight is Bruce Wayne and Oliver Queen’s understandable unease at taking on the rest of this title’s “all-star ensemble cast” now they’ve discovered that Green Lantern is the Justice League’s traitor. Artist Otto Schmidt does a first-rate job of pencilling the dramatic pulse-pounding panels leading up to this moment, and then tops it all by depicting the big powerhouses Superman and Wonder Woman also entering the fray against the Dark Knight by brazenly invading his secret headquarters.

The regular cover art of "DC VS. VAMPIRES" #4 by Otto Schmidt

Tuesday, 17 May 2022

ZVRC: Zombies Vs. Robots Classic #2 - Image Comics

ZVRC: ZOMBIES VS. ROBOTS CLASSIC No. 2, April 2022
For those readers encountering this particular “re-presentation of the oft-forgotten Zombies Vs. Robots series by Chris Ryall and Ashley Wood” for the first time, the creative duo’s adventure “Inherit The Earth!” will certainly provide them with a bit of a head-scratching storyline. In fact, this publication’s forty-one page long plot arguably leaps all over the place with robots sacrificing themselves so another automaton can start-up a television broadcasting company, the Undead’s infection supposedly being able to contaminate androids, and a doomsday droid deciding the only way to save the planet is to nuke its surface asunder with a plethora of atomic devices.

Happily however, whilst the logic behind many of these threads debatably don’t withstand too much scrutiny, they do help depict a horrifying post-apocalyptic world utterly devoid of both common sense and sound-decision making. Such stupefying chaos really does help ‘sell’ the dysfunctional nature of the robots’ desperate last hope to save our civilization from its flesh-eating threat, and also provides some genuinely intriguing notions as to just how mankind could endure so cataclysmic a conundrum through the multiple cloning of a single, surviving baby girl, with any semblance of sanity remaining; “The human child’s brain patterns can be used to preserve its consciousness in a robot form, and stabilize our circxxxuits at the same time.”

Perhaps this book’s most beguiling concept though sits with its notion that a single “drop of infected zombie blood” inadvertently falling upon a Guardbot’s sole, eye-like sensor, would be enough to instantly turn any machines connected to its artificial group consciousness into brain-chomping bezerkers. This idea is truly terrifying, especially when the disease-ridden mechanisms quickly become the only line of defence between the helpless infant and a fast-moving wall of Walking Dead - all of whom want to feast upon the final living morsel our world can apparently offer.

Undeniably providing the shambolic robots’ great plan with an even stronger sense of desperation are Ashley Wood’s incredible-looking layouts. The oft-times scratchy, rather undisciplined nature of the Australian concept designer’s artwork genuinely imbues this comic’s storytelling with an all-pervading sense of unapologetic bedlam, and also helps sell the sheer desolation on show across the entire Earth once the nukes fatally begin to fall in an almost homicidal effort to protect any remaining people from the innumerable zombie horde.

The regular cover art to "ZVRC: ZOMBIES VS. ROBOTS CLASSIC" #2 by Ashley Wood

Monday, 2 May 2022

Shadowman #8 - Valiant Entertainment

SHADOWMAN No. 8, April 2022
Whilst some bibliophiles may well be scratching their heads as to just how the exorcism of something so incredibly large as the Deadside actually worked, or just why the successful spiritual practice resultantly causes Persephone to physically manifest herself on Earth, the vast majority of this comic’s readers should still enjoy an absolute roller-coaster of a thrill-ride with Cullen Bunn’s narrative to Issue Eight of “Shadowman”. Indeed, as cataclysmic comic-sized conclusion’s go the American author’s plot for this twenty-page periodical is pretty much faultless, courtesy of the title’s considerably-sized leading cast all having a crucial role to play in the battle against a dimension packed full of soul-hungry, grotesquely-shaped ghouls.

Furthermore, the Cape Fear-born writer doesn’t simply resort to relying upon this series’ anti-heroes unconvincingly summoning up the power to topple a seemingly undefeatable foe from within, but takes the opportunity to demonstrate the competing politics which are at play amongst the Valiant Universe’s nefarious deities instead. This decision by the ‘powers that be’ not to resist having their supernatural sovereignties temporarily siphoned away into the likes of Punk Mambo and the Abettors, definitely helps establish the unified, fictional world which the New York City-based publishers are trying to create across their various book titles, as well as provides the storyline with a ‘believable’ explanation as to how Jack Boniface’s alter-ego can suddenly wield such god-like abilities.

Equally as engaging is the notion that despite all this non-corporeal clout, Shadowman’s victory over the Deadside is far from assured. In fact, this comic’s already palpably tense atmosphere is distinctly raised a notch or two higher once some of the more formidable blights return to their home world so as to confront Victoria Greaves-Trott and the British magic-user’s friends for a final time; “Oi! Darque! Over here! Like the bauble? I believe you were trapped inside for a bit, yeah? Well, mummy’s cross with you. And I’m sending you back to your room!”  

Also providing plenty of additional flourishes to this book’s storytelling is Pedro Andreo, who does an incredible job of cramming a planet-wide invasion of horrible, nightmare-inducing monstrosities within the confines of a single publication. The Spanish illustrator’s redesign of the Abettors once they have become invested with the powers of the Gods is a particular highlight, as is the artist’s pencilling of Mambo’s aforementioned battle with “the world's most powerful necromancer” and his hordes of multi-toothed minions.

The regular cover art of "SHADOWMAN" #8 by John Davis-Hunt