Tuesday, 7 July 2020

Civil War #3 - Marvel Comics

CIVIL WAR No. 3, October 2006
Perhaps due to Mark Millar possibly prevaricating a little too much as to just which side of the Superhuman Registration Act each (and every) leading character within the Marvel Universe was on, some of this twenty two page periodical’s 290,672 readers probably felt this book’s narrative was a little bit too sedentary for a crossover storyline focusing upon “the conflict between freedom and security.” However, such lethargy is arguably easily forgotten once Captain America’s team teleport to Geffen-Meyer Chemicals and discover that the emergency distress calls emanating from the petrochemical plant are actually a well thought-out ruse by Iron Man and his iniquitous cronies; “Get the hell out of here, boys! It’s a trap!”

Indeed, the confrontation at the abandoned division of Stark Industries between the two wildly diverging ideologies is debatably one of the mini-series’ highlights, with Steve Rogers’ side deciding to momentarily stand and fight for what they truly believe in, despite facing both overwhelming odds, as well as the sudden loss of both Cloak and Wiccan to some tranquiliser darts. Furthermore, the scene also quite shockingly shows just how deceitful the Golden Avenger has become in siding with the authorities, by additionally depicting Shellhead co-operating with known Masters Of Evil members Radioactive Man and Atlas, presumably because there aren’t enough powerful super-heroes to follow his orders..?

Of course, the best part to the Coatbridge-born writer’s plot is Captain America’s flurry of fisticuffs with his former friend, and the sheer savagery of the conflict once Tony has rerouted his armour’s primary power systems so as to put the billionaire industrialist back on his feet. Initially, it seems that the Sentinel of Liberty is ‘content’ simply to floor his opponent for taking “down two of my boys” with a couple of shield blows to the chops. But something clearly snaps within Stark’s mind at such an effrontery, and his subsequent ‘attack from the rear’ is so villainously vicious that Hercules clearly fears for Rogers’ life.

Packing this comic’s action-packed sequences with plenty of pulse-pounding vitality is Steve McNiven, whose pencilling of the aforementioned battle between Tony and Cap shows just how much physical damage a swing from Iron Man can cause, even when its connecting with the jawline of a human whose super-strength has been significantly enhanced by the super-soldier serum. In fact, even this book’s less exciting scenes, such as Miss Frost’s interview at Professor Xavier’s Mansion in Westchester, or Goliath’s disappointment at being given the false persona Rockwell Dodsworth, prove riveting reads on account of the Canadian artist’s awesome illustrations.
Writer: Mark Millar, Penciler: Steve McNiven, and Inker: Dexter Vines

Monday, 6 July 2020

Star Trek: Year Five #11 - IDW Publishing

STAR TREK: YEAR FIVE No. 11, February 2020
It’s hard to imagine anyone being able to take the popular character of Gary Seven from the 1968 transmitted episode “Assignment: Earth" and turn him into an utterly dislikeable, cold-blooded killer within the space of a single twenty-page periodical. But incredibly, Jackson Lanzig and Collin Kelly do an admirable job of achieving just that with their narrative for Issue Eleven of “Star Trek: Year Five”.

Admittedly, actor Robert Lansing’s slightly emotionless, thoughtfully detached portrayal of Supervisor 194 could easily be misinterpreted as someone who, when working for the greater galactic good, simply doesn’t care about the everyday lives their actions are impacting upon. But such a viewpoint arguably doesn’t withstand the scrutiny of even a single screening of director Marc Daniels’ potential pilot piece, nor the numerous spin-off novels and comic books featuring Roberta Lincoln's mysterious partner-in-crime, including the much-lauded “Star Trek: Assignment: Earth” mini-series by John Byrne.

Infuriatingly however, none of this fifty-year ‘development’ appears to have influenced either Lanzig or Kelly, with the comic’s collaborative team instead presenting to the reader an incarnation of the Assigner’s Class One Supervisor who quite mercilessly unleashes a deadly Andorian Nerve Agent into a highly populated U.S.S. Enterprise’s Engine Room and then angrily blames the Constitution-class starship’s security team for subsequently forcing him to shoot them when they try to apprehend him; “I didn’t want to do this. This is your fault… At least it will be painless.” To make matters worse though, the collaborative duo even have Seven crossly denounce the version of himself so familiar to this franchise’s television audience, by having him indignantly rebuke Ensign Pavel Chekov for challenging the remarkable change in his behaviour, with the explanation that “The last time I saw you I was new. Now? That’s hardly the case.”

Fortuitously, one thing this comic doesn’t suffer with is poor pencilling, courtesy of Stephen Thompson’s awesome interior artwork, and Charlie Kirchoff’s colours. Despite the shift in seriousness of Seven’s demeanour, it is still enjoyably easy to imagine all the subtle mannerisms of Lansing’s on-screen interpretation taking place within the mind's eye, and even a debatably dreary, word-heavy command review of Mister Spock’s debacle on the water-world of I’Qosa, ably demonstrates Captain Kirk as a man animated by his admiration for his Vulcan friend.
The regular cover art of "STAR TREK: YEAR FIVE" No. 11 by Stephen Thompson & Charlie Kirchoff

Saturday, 4 July 2020

Marshal Law #5 - Epic Comics

MARSHAL LAW No. 5, December 1988
Predominantly providing its audience with a comprehensive pen-picture as to both the life of Danny Mallon and the early development of Doctor Medel’s “super children” programme, Pat Mills’ script for Issue Five of “Marshal Law” must have provided its audience in December 1988 with plenty of reasons as to why the son of Virago became such a twisted serial killer. Indeed, the British author writes such a disturbing tale packed full of physical abuse, emotional blackmail and sexual innuendo that it is quite amazing the Sleepman and his clearly deranged mother didn’t attempt to brutally kill Public Spirit the moment the boy’s formidable super-abilities first manifested themselves; “For the first time, I felt an exciting power whoosh through me. I think I’m old enough to understand now, Mom.”

Enjoyably however, this twenty-eight page periodical doesn’t just rest upon its laurels waxing lyrical about its supporting cast’s depraved past, and before too long returns its focus back upon the present day by depicting the long-awaited confrontation between Buck Caine and the woman he tried to drown over two decades earlier. This heated altercation really helps show just how cold-bloodedly corrupt the Colonel has become, with the white-haired ‘symbol of justice’ immediately resorting to bribery in order to buy his way out of his current predicament, and then hard-hearted murder when that “million dollars” option is readily rejected by Missus Mallon.

By far this comic’s most exciting conflict though has to be the titular character’s battle with the Sleepman, after the homicidal mass murderer has already traded a few blows with his famous father on a deserted beach. Arguably this entire mini-series has been building up to just such a moment, so Mills’ all-too brief conclusion of having Joe Gilmore’s alter-ego simply riddle his opponent with bullets from a distance, probably caught the vast majority of this comic’s bibliophiles completely off-guard.

Adding plenty of ‘bop’ to these super-hero brutalisations is Kevin O’Neill, who somehow manages to imbue even a debatably low-key scrap at Caine’s wedding involving Marshal Law, Assassin Bug, Koma, Maskara, The Spook and The Survivalist, with plenty of eye-wincing punches. The three-time Harvey Award-winner does a particularly stellar job of portraying Virago’s downward descent into madness via her eyes, and provides the woman with a truly savage demise at the hands (or rather fists) of her former lover.
Writer/Creator: Pat Mills, Artist/Creator: Kevin O'Neill, and Letterer: Phil Felix

Friday, 3 July 2020

The Immortal Hulk #34 - Marvel Comics

IMMORTAL HULK No. 34, June 2020
Described by “Marvel Worldwide” as a journey through the life of Samuel Sterns “from his rebirth to his final experiment”, Al Ewing’s narrative for Issue Thirty Four of “Immortal Hulk” certainly must have given those within its audience unfamiliar with the convoluted history of The Leader something of a better understanding as to the would-be world conqueror’s background. But such a detailed exposition as to the character’s origin story and subsequent multiple defeats at the hands of Bruce Banner’s alter-ego arguably isn’t enough narrative to completely fill a twenty-page periodical, especially when the majority of the megalomaniac’s historical interactions could simply have been condensed within the confines of a double-splash page illustration.

Indeed, huge swathes of this comic’s numerous journal entries debatably provide little more detail than that which used to be found inside one of Stan Lee’s famous editorial text boxes from the Late Sixties, and resultantly just smack of the British writer desperately scrambling around for something to pen about the former janitor so as to pad out this book’s incredibly limited plot. Admittedly, the initial depiction of Sterns haplessly going about his daily routine “at the plant” hauling garbage “down to the incinerator” imbues the high-school drop-out with some quite considerable sympathy when the man is accidentally exposed to gamma isotopes and irretrievably loses the relationship he so valued with his beloved super-smart brother.

However, this appreciation as to The Leader’s intriguing sense of pain and utter loneliness ends just as soon as Ewing has the villain focus his research upon the Hulk and disappointingly turns this publication into little more than a plotted history of Steve Ditko’s co-creation, with a few extra elements from Al’s own run on this current title, most notably the Green Door, being thrown into the mix for good measure; “I was taking notes. Doctor Banner -- May I call you Brian? I’m a huge fan. Apologies for not stepping in -- But I needed the data. And you were very close. I think all you need for the next attempt is proper leadership. Take my hand.”

Competently providing “The Apotheosis Of Samuel Sterns” with enough pictures to complete the comic is “guest penciller” Butch Guice. The Chattanooga-born artist’s style is a little rough-looking in some sequences, most notably towards the book’s end, where perhaps it could be uncharitably criticised as being rather rushed. Yet some of the splash pages, presumably designed to help this comic’s writer create just enough publishable material for an ongoing monthly, is excellent, most notably poor Sterns “million-to-one freak accident.”
The regular cover art of "IMMORTAL HULK" No. 34 by Alex Ross

Thursday, 2 July 2020

Marshal Law #4 - Epic Comics

MARSHAL LAW No. 4, August 1988
Surprisingly divulging the true Machiavellian manipulator behind the Sleepman’s serial killings in a sensational last panel revelation, Pat Mills’ narrative for “Conduct Unbecoming” initially starts with a somewhat sedentary, albeit entirely enthralling, insight into just what makes the Public Spirit actually tick, before subjecting his audience to some wonderfully violent carnage as the California B*stards attempt to take over the Gangrene Gang’s territory through sheer force of arms. Gratuitous in its depiction of heroes having their arms pulled off, as well as limbs mutilated by blades, this lengthy, sense-shattering scene brings the true brutality of life in San Futuro to the forefront of the reader’s mind, and seemingly provides a very valid explanation as to just why Missus Mallon doesn’t like heroes when the ensuing fight badly damages her store; “I’d like to take a carving knife to them all!”

However, this marvellously mesmerising action-sequence ultimately proves to be a well thought out red herring on the part of "the godfather of British comics", and simply misleads the audience as to the true motivation behind the near-future metropolis’ mass murders as efficiently as the titular character is subsequently fooled by a wheelchair-bound Danny into believing that Buck Caine’s addiction to anabolic steroids is all the justification he needs to arrest the Colonel at his wedding. Indeed, it is only by the time “the government-sanctioned super hero hunter" witnesses Hydroman, Aquanaut and H2O Lad’s depilatory party that is finally dawns on both him and this twenty-eight page periodical’s patrons, that Public Spirit might not actually be the cold-hearted killer.

Cramming Issue Four of “Marshal Law” with plenty of unforgettable imagery is artist Kevin O’Neill, whose incredible illustrations really go a long way to selling Mills’ ruse that Joe Gilmore’s investigation into the apparent death of Caine’s first fiancĂ©e, Virago, is being systematically thwarted by a government-led conspiracy to ensure that Spirit remains the general public’s golden child of the hour. The aforementioned epic struggle by the Gangrene Gang to retain their turf against an invading horde of cybernetically enhanced villains is arguably this book’s highlight, although the Bram Stoker Award-winner’s mesmerising array of colourfully-caped wedding guests is superbly pencilled, especially the extraordinary cluster of male heroes tightly packed within the confines of the Men’s Bathroom.
Writer/Creator: Pat Mills, Artist/Creator: Kevin O'Neill, and Letterer: Phil Felix

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

Red Sonja: Age Of Chaos #4 - Dynamite Entertainment

RED SONJA: AGE OF CHAOS No. 4, April 2020
Packing his narrative’s twenty pages with plenty of pulse-pounding pugilism, Erik Burnham’s storyline for Issue Four of “Red Sonja: Age Of Chaos” must surely have catered for all the varied tastes of this mini-series’ audience, whether they be fans of the titular character, Chastity Marks, Evil Ernie, or Purgatori. For despite this particular instalment of the Minnesota-born writer’s epic collaboration between Roy Thomas’ co-creation and some of the more supernatural inhabitants of the “Chaos! Comics” universe arguably starting off a little slowly as the She-devil with a sword surveys the streets of Kor, the sheer slug-fest which quickly follows her meandering does a first-rate job of incorporating all of this publication’s leading cast in its senseless slaughter.

Indeed, from the moment Red Sonja and her “punk rock fan turned vampire” companion startle the sorcerer Barent within his somewhat secluded “place of business” and unleash the ghost of the long-dead seer Xoret upon the tiny viewing room’s occupants, this book’s delightfully fast-paced action-sequences simply won’t let its readers off of the hook until its excellently-penned cliff-hanger when the couple are depicted being hotly pursued by a horde of the ravenous undead across the narrowest of ravine crossings; “I can hold off a mob of vampires long enough for you to dump some blood on the thing. Wait? -- How much blood?”

Easily this comic’s highest highlight however, is Evil Ernie’s utterly fantastic dust-up with Purgatori “hundreds of miles to the west”. This truly is a no-holds barred brutalisation as the ghoulish psychotic killer tries his absolute best to go toe-to-toe with Sakkara, and eventually discovers that even being armed with an enormous zombie dragon is not going to give him the edge needed to overcome Lucifer’s one-time winged consort. Crammed with some genuinely funny banter, as well as plenty of back-chat from Smiley the Psychotic Button, Fairchild’s fight delivers some savage edge-of-the-seat moments, and provides the “Dynamite Entertainment” resident artist, Jonathan Lau, with the opportunity to pencil some stunningly dynamic panels, most notably that of Purgatori being swallowed whole by Ernie’s flying beast and then her tearing the putrefying creature asunder from the inside out in an attempt to be free of its unholy stomach.
The regular cover art of "RED SONJA: AGE OF CHAOS" No. 4 by Lucio Parillo

Tuesday, 30 June 2020

A Man Among Ye #1 - Image Comics

A MAN AMONG YE No. 1, June 2020
Promising plenty of “high adventure on the high seas in the waning days of piracy” in its pre-publication blurb, Stephanie Phillips’ script for Issue One of “A Man Among Ye” certainly must have entertained the vast majority of its audience in June 2020, with its fascinating depiction of Anne Bonny and Captain “Calico Jack” Rackham. Indeed, it’s hard not to imagine hearing Hans Zimmer and Klaus Badelt’s popular music score for the film franchise “Pirates of the Caribbean” playing in your ear as you witness the couple savagely slaughter the crew of a King’s ship at the start of the comic; “Our prize lies below decks, boys. So gut any man who stands in your way!”

Interestingly however, the creator of “The Butcher of Paris” doesn’t depict this book’s anti-heroine as a stereotypical, good-natured pirate with a heart of gold, but rather every bit the brutally cold killer her partner-in-crime clearly is. Such ferocity genuinely makes it more believable that Bonny could achieve such success at “a time when women had no rights in the newly formed British Empire”, and her willingness to blow the brains out of a mortally wounded soldier on the deck of his sinking ship after the lad has earnestly asked for quarter is genuinely chilling.

Of course, there’s much more to this twenty-two page periodical’s plot than simply having Captain Rackham’s vessel scouring the Bahamas seeking plunder, and Phillips does a good job of splicing several secondary storylines into the mix, whilst simultaneously penning plenty of ‘screen time’ for this comic’s leading cast. The American author’s insight into Governor Woodes Rogers’s personally-based motivation for wanting the waters he rules pirate-free is particularly enjoyable, as is the former privateer’s plan to incite mutiny amongst Calico Jack’s crew with the false guarantee of both a bounty and pardon for the man who brings him their skipper’s head.

Adding enormous value to the sleek look of this book’s layouts are Craig Cermak and colourist Brittany Pezzillo, who together imbue even the most sedentary scenes with an abundance of animated life. The aforementioned battle aboard a British frigate is especially well-illustrated with the hapless Redcoats and their bloody wounds literally making the ship’s well-detailed wooden boards run crimson in claret.
The regular cover art of "A MAN AMONG YE" No. 1 by Craig Cermak