Thursday, 1 April 2021

Iron Man [2020] #7 - Marvel Comics

IRON MAN No. 7, May 2021
For those readers interested in Frog-Man discussing his religious thoughts on the existence of a one, true God with the likes of the Gargoyle, Misty Knight and the Scarlet Spider, or negotiating a twenty-six panel sedentary sequence in which Michael Korvac waxes lyrical about his “one single entity”, Christopher Cantwell’s script for Issue Seven of “Iron Man” debatably delivered. However, for those bibliophiles anticipating any action whatsoever from this particular publication, “Overclock” probably left them feeling bitterly disheartened; “This collective aggregate knows only peace and calm. All acts are ones of softness and grace. Universal good is omnipresent and owned by no individual. Not even myself. The Self melts away completely. It serves only the aggregate.”

To begin with, the vast majority of this comic is padded out with Hellcat and Shell-head receiving an utterly befuddling update from this ongoing series’ lead antagonist as to just what the villain’s central goal of establishing a “Universal Harmony” means. Word-heavy and stretched to almost breaking point by a couple of Cafu’s prodigiously pencilled splash page illustrations, this dialogue-driven scene eventually concludes with the bizarre revelation that Korvac wants to turn all galactic life into nothing more than an existence of “crystals eating crystals.”

Admittedly, such an insane admission definitely shows just how completely mad the “would-be deity” has become, whilst simultaneously making it abundantly clear that the resurrected android must be stopped from carrying out his diabolical plan no matter what the cost. But arguably this book’s American author could have accomplished a similarly convincing ‘reveal’ in a quarter of the sheet space, and subsequently have enlivened this periodical’s lethargic tempo by focusing more upon War Machine’s disappointingly brief battle against a faster-than-light spacecraft.

Perhaps this comic’s biggest curve-ball though is Cantwell’s somewhat head-scratchingly surreal cliff-hanger, which sees Tony Stark somehow teleported to another world which is apparently populated by a group of exotic-looking extra-terrestrials and a futuristically-armed Canadian. Such a sudden departure from this title’s long-running narrative must have proved a little jarring to this comic’s audience, especially for those already puzzled as to just how the billionaire industrial somehow managed to ‘piggy-back’ upon Hellcat’s telepathic conversation with Korvac beforehand.

The regular cover art of "IRON MAN" #7 by Alex Ross

Wednesday, 31 March 2021

Dune: House Atreides #5 - BOOM! Studios

DUNE: HOUSE ATREIDES No. 5, March 2021
Despite predominantly focusing upon the exploits of Pardot Kynes and his desire to understand all that there is to know about the deadly Fremen, as well as young Leto Atreides’ harrowing flight through a rebellion-torn Ix, this twenty-two page periodical must still have proved something of a disconcertingly sedentary reading experience for many within its audience upon its release. For whilst this comic book adaption’s narrative does eventually portray a treacherous attempt upon the lives of both the Imperial Planetologist and the eventual ruler of Caladan, these somewhat exciting events don’t actually occur until the publication’s pedestrian plot is already two-thirds spent.

Regrettably, up until this point, all Issue Five of “Dune: House Atreides” provides its fans is a series of seemingly endless panels featuring lots of dialogue, plenty of political manoeuvring, and a fair amount of cordial greetings. Indeed, those bibliophiles more inclined towards dynamic action than conversational set-pieces might argue that much of what occurs before Uliet makes his unsuccessful assassination attempt upon Kynes, could easily have been truncated or even removed without this comic’s story-telling being even slightly impinged upon; “Will the old vulture never die? Why is it taking so long? You gave him the poison a month ago!”

Happily however, once “the revolt brewing on Ix” does take hold, then this book’s pace picks up considerably, and its debatably quite easy to imagine the horror unfolding before Leto’s eyes as his escape car flies through the city’s underground tunnels. Aghast at the carnage unfolding around him, the courageous young man’s commentary as to the destructive events taking place around him are enthralling, especially once it becomes clear that this well-planned insurrection isn’t the sole work of the Suboids, but rather Tleilaxu engineers who want to take the planet for themselves.

Adding enormously to this frenzy of death and demolition are Dev Pramanik’s layouts, which do an extraordinarily good job of depicting the combination of revulsion and excitement in Atreides’ face as he squashes it up against his automobile’s window to better see the barbaric frenzy unfolding before him. The Indian artist genuinely seems to capture the sheer chaotic rapidity of the revolution and its unhinged violence with his pencilling, as well as generate the ‘zip’ of the Ix car as it flies through a maze of sprawling channels in its desperation to convey its passengers to some semblance of safety.

The regular cover art of "DUNE: HOUSE ATREIDES" #5 by Evan Eagle

Tuesday, 30 March 2021

Iron Man [2020] #6 - Marvel Comics

IRON MAN No. 6, April 2021
Proudly proclaimed by “Marvel Worldwide” as the beginning to Book Two of Korvac, “Dreams Of Deicide” certainly must have pleased some within the comic’s audience, with its sense-shattering start as a mentally scarred Hellcat desperately tries to wheel a fatally-injured Tony Stark off to hospital in a shopping trolley. Indeed, Patsy Walker’s panicky attempt to save the life of her recent lover is probably the highlight of this twenty-page periodical, thanks to the former Defender’s determination to flag down a yellow cab in the pouring rain and Shell-head’s palpable pain whenever his unlikely four-wheeled conveyance clunks off the pavement onto the road.

Disappointingly however, this sense of urgency to get the billionaire industrial medical care soon evaporates once Christopher Cantwell pens Iron Man deciding to simply ‘sit tight’ inside his metal suit and just have Halcyon fuse “my armour’s cervical column rings together” so as to “stabilise the spinal injury and prevent me from suffocating.” This rather disconcerting course of treatment seems incredibly foolhardy, even for someone as egotistical as Stark, and arguably erodes any sense of genuine peril to the titular character when it not only results in the Golden Avenger being able to walk around without any impairment, but immediately afterwards beat the living hell out of an unwise Guardsman with a single punch; “What? I gave him a break. You know you’re not going to stop me. So you’re either with me… Or not.”

Sadly, Issue Six of “Iron Man” also portrays an irate Tony at his sanctimonious worse, with the American author unconvincingly trying to depict the one-time Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. as some greatly wronged victim who, having politely apologised for all his past mistakes, is still being unjustly treated by life. Such a holier-than-thou attitude just doesn’t work, as it’s debatably difficult for any bibliophile to sympathise with this particular incarnation of Shell-head when he cold-heartedly tells the Scarlet Spider that a badly-wounded Gargoyle is now “a waste of my time” after the super-hero lost one of his wings whilst saving the rest of the team’s lives.

Happily though, what this comic lacks in persuasive plot-points it somewhat makes up for with sumptuously-sketched layouts. Cafu’s pencilling is particularly noteworthy during Hellcat’s aforementioned trolley-dash with many readers doubtless feeling the pouring rain actually striking Walker’s colourful costume, as she bundles an uncooperative Iron Man into a taxi.

The regular cover art of "IRON MAN" #6 by Alex Ross

Sunday, 28 March 2021

The Mean Arena Volume One: All To Slay For - Rebellion [Part Three]

Quite possibly the most memorable match from this early Eighties “Rollerball-meets Roy Of The Rovers” comic strip series, Tom Tully’s thoroughly absorbing depiction of the events surrounding the Slater Slayers’ challenge game against the Southampton Sharks justifiably forms the back bone of this “digital-only” release from “Rebellion”, and arguably doesn’t let up until smart-mouthed commentator Kevin O’Connor provides a player profile piece on J.T. Venner during half-time. Up until this point, whether the spotlight be on either the housing estate-sized pitch or just Matt Tallon’s revenge-fuelled machinations, the British author is almost relentless in his depiction as to just how brutal and deadly a sport Street Football can be.

For starters it seems even the wealthy world of Kosi-Flex owner Rollo Hartie can be highly dangerous, as the hover-chair bound magnate agrees a lucrative sponsorship deal with the Slayer just seconds after one of his hirelings has had his head turned to gory pulp testing out the tycoon’s experimental ram-suit. This "grotesque product of Twenty-First Century medical science" imbues everything disdainful about the sport as he contemptuously arranges for another minion to replace poor aforementioned Wilson without batting an eyelid. But the corpulent cyborg also demonstrates just how low Tallon will evidently go so as to ensure he can have his payback against the people who apparently caused his younger brother to die.

Equally as mercilessly mercenary is Matt’s behaviour in Southampton as he repeatedly goads his opponent’s squad-leader Jaws Jensen into mistake-after-mistake. Whether it be at a staged press conference where the star Striker slaps an abusive banner on his target’s forehead right in front of an audience packed-out with the press, or later when his scoring talent drives the Sharks’ player to sacrifice one of this own team-mates between the deadly steel teeth of the Slayers’ gaping-mouth goal, Tully’s penmanship makes it abundantly clear that the former Louis Leopard is willing to wade in blood as deep as those unfortunates he is targeting; “You’re not interested in crowds! All you care about is nailing the people who helped put your kid brother Paul in his grave..!”

John Richardson’s layouts also help enormously with this storyline’s excellent pacing, whether he’s illustrating a truly fascinating flashback sequence as to the history of Street Football, or pencilling the impressive new Slayer uniforms. Indeed, one of the match’s opening highlights is the way the artist sketches the physical ease with which “The Shadow” silkily evades the opposition’s best efforts to unsuccessfully bring him down, and having “left three Sharks for dead” subsequently puts Mike Slater’s club into a well-deserved lead.

Script Robot: Tom Tully, Art Robot: John Richardson, and Lettering Robot: Pete Knight

Saturday, 27 March 2021

Lady Freedom #1 - Second Sight Publishing

LADY FREEDOM No. 1, March 2021
Wasting absolutely no time in throwing its readers straight into an action-packed furore inside a secret American military base, Arthur Bellfield’s script for Issue One of “Lady Freedom” undoubtedly provides Sergeant Natalie Cloudrider with a truly sense-shattering “Second Sight Publishing” debut. Indeed, even when this comic’s plot momentarily pauses to provide its audience with a bit of backstory to the Machiavellian motivations of its central antagonist, “the villainous Black Valkyrie”, the dialogue is so ‘straight to the point’ that mere moments later the action has already whisked their attention back to the criminal’s evil plans for those hapless tourists unlucky enough to have sought inspiration from Liberty Island; “Find out which one of them is wearing that ridiculous perfume and kill them first.”

Enjoyably however, this comic doesn’t simply deliver an endless series of frantic fisticuffs between the titular character and her very evident arch-nemesis. But also raises several intriguing questions as to just what the mysterious Freedom Fighter Program is all about, and why, after hundreds of men and women volunteered, just the native American and Camille Abhorghast survived to see active duty..?

These disconcerting conundrums are just the ‘tip of the iceberg’ too, as in between bouts of panicky punch-ups, bone-breaking batterings and telekinetic trickery, it is additionally revealed that the Government doesn’t yet trust the other super-powered “freelancers” who populate this publication’s world, or seemingly believe that “the only other successful experiment in our little hero maker programme” is genuinely ready for combat. In addition, this book intriguingly never actually explains just why Black Valkyrie is so bitterly opposed to the values of the United States of America, and merely hints at the darkly deep history between the silver-haired strongwoman and Lady Freedom, rather than somewhat lackadaisically ‘spelling it out’.

Ultimately though, the considerable success of this twenty-three page periodical rests upon the shoulders of creator Larry Spike Jarrell’s layouts, and his prodigious ability to imbue some serious smackdowns with plenty of “Thud” and “Ker-plank”. In fact, one of this comic’s highlights is arguably the artist’s ability to depict its quite sizeable cast performing plenty of athletic acrobatics, laying down some eye-winching beatings and surviving the odd eardrum-bursting explosion.

Creator/Pencils: Larry Spike Jarrell, Writer: Arthur Bellfield, and Inks: Bill Marimon

Thursday, 25 March 2021

Batman: The Adventures Continue #14 - DC Comics

Finally bringing “the Red Hood's plan against the Bat-Family” to a somewhat contrived conclusion, Issue Fourteen of “Batman: The Adventures Continue” certainly provided its audience with plenty of action once its collaborative writing partnership finally manoeuvred their numerous playing pieces into position. Indeed, the ‘explosive’ re-appearance of the Joker’s supposedly deceased super-strong henchman, Straightman, and the Boy Wonder’s escape from an apparently unavoidable water-based death trap, both lead to some truly sense-shattering shenanigans as Jason Todd’s plan for revenge goes completely ‘belly up’ at the last minute.

Disappointingly however, much of the tension before this cataclysmic closing is lost due to the narrative’s over-reliance upon Batman being in any way tempted to kill the Clown Prince of Crime in cold blood with a crowbar. As long-time producers of “Batman: The Animated Series” franchise both Alan Burnett and Paul Dini should know far better than to suggest Bruce Wayne’s alter-ego is even slightly inclined to commit such a horrific act against his personal code, despite being threatened with the demise of his latest Robin, and resultantly there is arguably never a doubt in the reader’s mind that the Red Hood’s diabolical plan is ever going to successfully reach fruition; “Wake up, little Red! You’re out of threats. You snuff that Robin, he’ll just get another… Then Batman will haul your red-hooded rump to the cops.”

What this digital first publication does provide though, is an excellent portrayal of the Joker at his maniacal best. Full of witticisms and homicidal banter, it really is easy to hear actor Mark Hamill’s voice uttering the criminal mastermind’s dialogue, especially when the green-haired villain’s muscle spectacularly emerges from the sewer so as to overpower Todd and provide Bill Finger’s co-creation with a fleeting opportunity to “pin that punk down” for a final, lethal time.

Likewise Ty Templeton’s pencils, ably coloured by Monica Kubina, also imbue the Dark Knight’s arch-nemesis with plenty of the purple-suit wearing character’s infamous swagger. The Joker’s facial expressions are perhaps this periodical’s greatest highlight, with the Canadian artist’s ability to switch the murderer’s mood from gleeful amusement to deadly darkness within the space of a single panel or two, wonderfully capturing the mischievous killer’s psychopathic instability.

Writers: Alan Burnett & Paul Dini, Artist: Ty Templeton, and Colorist: Monica Kubina

Saturday, 20 March 2021

The Mean Arena Volume One: All To Slay For - Rebellion [Part Two]

Firmly focused upon Matt Tallon’s account “of the last, terrifying game he played for St. Louis Leopards against Florida Fiends”, Tom Tully’s second storyline inside “The Mean Arena Volume One: All To Slay For” certainly provides its readers with a thoroughly compelling comprehension as to the flawed character of the legendary American Street Football Star. Indeed, considering just how arrogantly reckless the Slayer comes across from this publication’s printed pages, it probably isn’t all that surprising that some within this tale’s opposing team decide to set aside any notion of winning the actual ball-game in order to murder the “King of the Road” with a masonry-drill looted from a local builders’ yard.

Fortunately for this graphic novels’ sports fans however, this plot to rid Archie Sugrue of his main rival is enthrallingly intermixed with plenty of thrilling football action too, with the “noted British comic writer” even going so far as to pointing out all the regulation differences between the English game and those from across the Pond; “That was another reason why I’d decided to quit Street Football – The Fliers. The latest rule change allowed two of them per squad…” These insights into just how the deadly game is played “American-style” really add an authentic air to some of the narrative’s more science-fiction based elements, and arguably consistently ensnare the audience into believing that they’re listening to a commentator broadcasting a play-by-play account of the Superleague title contest.

Perhaps this tale’s biggest draw though is the Arch-fiend’s ultimately unwise decision to play the Death-Card at the start of the match in an effort to win a million dollars by scoring. The fact Sugrue could be shot dead by the Leopards’ rifle-armed Longstop packs every appearance made by Archie with some extra tension, especially when the “Grexnix” manages to extract himself from the teeth of a shopping mall’s pedi-ramp and appears on the verge of outwitting Tallon with a stunning goal. Artist John Richardson’s ability to imbue this zarjaz sequence’s panels with plenty of pace will genuinely cause bibliophiles everywhere to momentarily hold their breath as a head-strong Matt ignores the sage advice of his manager and attempts to stop the badly crippled striker on his own at the very last second.

Script Robot: Tom Tully, Art Robot: John Richardson, and Lettering Robot: Pete Knight