Tuesday, 26 September 2023

C.H.E.S.S. #3 - Second Sight Publishing

C.H.E.S.S. No. 3, September 2021
Previously described as ‘G.I Joe meets the Agents of Shield’ it is doubtful that either Don Levine or Joss Whedon’s action-packed franchises ever truly matched the utterly enthralling high-octane shenanigans seen within Issue Three of “C.H.E.S.S.” Indeed, whether the comic’s readers are mesmerised by all the dirty dealings which take place before Yumi and their hit squad strike, or simply ensorcelled by Alex De-Gruchy’s subsequent pulse-pounding punch-up once it becomes clear to Blowtorch’s team-mates that their presence in Philosopher’s Walk is known to their enemies, few within this twenty-two page periodical’s audience will have been able to put the book down until it was completely finished.

Foremost of this hooks has to be the publication’s opening and the writer’s well-paced build-up featuring poor Footpath’s deadly interrogation at the hands of her captors. Marking out the seemingly hapless Rowan Kelly Moore’s demise as a real possibility if their supposedly covert military mission fails, it is not difficult to imagine many a bibliophile actually holding their breath as each of the titular team’s roster quietly confirm their assault positions as a large, cuddly Panda bear carrying a harmless-looking yellow balloon nonchalantly dances its way towards one of the operatives.

Delightfully though, Alfred Paige’s creations aren’t simply concerned with a mass, heavily muscled melee either, due to a couple of subplots prodigiously playing out during the scintillating smackdown. Debatably the most bewitching of these surrounds an assassination attempt upon the man behind C.H.E.S.S. in Avery’s Arlington-based home - which involves a partially snake-faced killer who takes many a sock to the jaw (and stab to the chest) before finally being laid low. However, the notion of masked hoodlums blasting their way into Takashi Nakadai’s headquarters and snatching one of the weapons manufacturer’s armed guards is not to be sniffed at either; especially when the outrageously brave move occurs during Footpath’s attempted escape.

Fiendishly depicting all this slaughter and mayhem with gleeful relish is William Allan Reyes, whose excellent pencils do a great job of highlighting both the painful apprehension on Moore’s sweat-drenched face as she endures Scarlette’s telepathy and some electric shock treatment, as well the determination upon Pinpoint to defeat his opponent and help support his fellow team-mates; “Well, here you go! My head’s not the kinda place you wanna go poking around in, lady.”

The regular cover art of "C.H.E.S.S." #3 by William Allen Reyes

Monday, 25 September 2023

Titans #3 - DC Comics

TITANS No. 3, November 2023
Initially depicting a twenty-page plot which strongly suggests that Nightwing’s concerns about Brother Eternity are unfounded and solely based upon the crime-fighter’s prejudicial paranoia, Tom Taylor’s utterly beguiling storyline for Issue Three of “Titans” surely must have lulled a fair few of its readers into a false-sense of security. But whilst Dick Grayson’s dubious infiltration of the Church of Blood certainly seems ill-advised when the trespassing vigilante first penetrates the grand building’s security system. Batman’s former sidekick certainly seems to have been proved right by the comic’s shocking conclusion; “You played your part well in today’s ruse. But I require something more of you. You’re going to visit your friends.”

Intriguingly however, the “New York Times bestselling author” employs a couple of ‘bait-and-switch’ moments involving the cult’s “new telegenic, media-savvy leader” before the super-villain’s true colours and mind-controlling machinations are finally revealed. These ‘ups and downs’ as to whether the book’s central antagonist is truly a victim of those within his shadowy sect who murderously were “a little unsatisfied with the new direction and new management” are convincingly penned, and genuinely make it appear that that the Australian author’s co-creation is trying to make amends for the fanatical organisation’s past offences.

Also well worthy of a ‘shout-out’ is the Melbourne-born playwright’s handling of Beast Boy, who receives plenty of opportunities to demonstrate his insane animal transformation skills during the Titans’ battle against the Church of Blood. Furthermore, Taylor provides Garfield Logan with a palpably moving moment, when he quite literally begs his old-time team-mate Tempest into re-joining the team, only to disappointingly find his plea falling upon deaf ears and be distressingly led away from the emotionally charged confrontation by a softly spoken Raven. 

Perhaps however, a good many of this publication’s considerable accomplishments are also down to the pencilling of Nicola Scott, who somehow manages to imbue many a figure with an almost life-like countenance – even when metamorphosing into a multi-tentacled green-hued octopus. The illustrator is equally as capable of making this comic’s cast come across to the reader as being utterly sincere in whatever they are saying, courtesy of some incredible eyes and heartfelt facial expressions.

The regular cover art of "TITANS" #3 by Nicola Scott & Annette Kwok

Friday, 22 September 2023

Dune: House Harkonnen #6 - BOOM! Studios

Whilst there should be little doubt that “award-winning novelists Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson” expand upon “the rich mythology of Frank Herbert’s Dune” with their storyline for this twenty-two-page periodical. The comic book adaption’s frequent time jumps from planet to planet, and then back again, must surely have baffled all but the most committed fans of the best-selling, distant future interstellar franchise; “A year and a half since I was thrown into this slave pit.”

Foremost of these continuum conundrums is arguably that surrounding the events taking place inside Castle Caladan. The publication’s narrative has potentially already been moved on by eighteen months following its opening scenes set upon Arrakis. However, Jessica states she has only been assigned to Leto Atreides for six weeks since she was first introduced to the great house, and resultantly is “still learning the household, the people, the relationships.” However, Kailea then later accuses the Red Duke of having an affair with Baron Vladimir Harkonnen’s daughter at some point during the past couple of years, so it’s debatably difficult to say when this important argument actually occurs in relation to the Bene Gesserit’s aforementioned earlier sequence and the surrounding events depicted upon other worlds. 

Of course, considering just how many characters within this comic’s considerably sized cast repeatedly mention events moving on ‘a year and a half’, the writers could well have simply pushed everything within this book forward for that span simultaneously. But if so then it has been clumsily implemented, as at Lankiveil the audience are shown Rabban mercilessly destroying the settlement’s reconstruction some four months after its inhabitants first started its repairs, before being hurled the obligatory eighteen months into the future, and are then pushed a further eight weeks forwards to see Lord Abulurd’s wife announce her surprising pregnancy.

Perhaps therefore the sole success of this mini-series’ sixth instalment lies within the layouts of Fran Galan, whose consistently prodigious pencilling at least manages to gel everything together into a harmonious looking feast for the eyes. The freelance illustrator is particularly good at depicting each figure’s emotions on their faces, with Leto’s angry and utterly exhausted looks at the ever-antagonistic mother of his child telling the audience everything it needs to know about his feelings for the infuriating woman.

The regular cover art of "DUNE: HOUSE HARKONNEN" #6 by Raymond Swanland

Thursday, 21 September 2023

Unstoppable Doom Patrol #4 - DC Comics

Announced during the “Dawn Of DC” panel at Wondercon 2023 that this six-issue mini-series was being “bumped up” to include a seventh instalment, it is arguably easy to see why Dennis Culver would decide to use the opportunity to try telling the supplementary tale in a slightly different manner than normal. However, it is difficult to imagine all that many bibliophiles were particularly happy with the author’s decision to pen an entire twenty-two-page plot from the perspective of a psychiatrist session or five. Indeed, the dialogue-heavy discussions debatably do so little to progress the limited series’ overarching narrative, that “Breakthrough Breakdowns” disappointingly smacks of simply being a ‘filler’ edition of the “Unstoppable Doom Patrol”, rather than a rare chance to further explore the meta-human community’s increasing unease as to what Kay Challis’ heroic band of “freaks and misfits” are up to. 

Arguably aiding this sensation of the publication lacking direction is the fact that the author just seems to have rehashed the origin stories of the strange team’s roster, including a brief synopsis of their resident therapist, Doctor Syncho – a being who “channels five Fifth Dimensional entities into one super consciousness to delve deep into the psyches” of her team-mates. These consultations are probably fascinating for those within the audience who are unfamiliar with the considerable cast of characters on show. Yet for fans more acquainted with Arnold Drake’s co-creations from the Sixties, the only psychoanalysis sessions possibly of any interest are those involving reluctant member Degenerate and Kareli’s “brand new” furry alter-ego Beast Girl; “We usually don’t get much farther than this before you storm out.

The understandable decision to replace “series co-creator Chris Burnham” with artist David Lafuente due to time scheduling constraints also somewhat jars upon the senses, courtesy of the Spanish-born illustrator’s cutesy, almost cartoonish pencilling style. Admittedly, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this book’s interior layouts or Brian Reber’s predominantly bright colour choices. But having become acclimatised to the more detailed drawing technique of this title’s Connecticut-born regular contributor, the ‘different look’ debatably just reinforces the feeling that this comic was somewhat ‘done on the fly’. 

Fortunately, the periodical does appear to at least finish on something of an intriguing conclusion, with the Chief’s subdued Crazy Jane personality evidently being deeply unhappy with the mysterious machinations of her dissociative disordered host. This revelation greatly contrasts to Jerry’s satisfactory assessment of Doom Patrol’s overall mentality, and tantalisingly doesn’t bode well for the team leader’s current battle for control of the Shelter’s operations with rival Doctor Niles Evelyn Caulder.

The regular cover of "UNSTOPPABLE DOOM PATROL" #4 by Chris Burnham & Brian Reber

Tuesday, 19 September 2023

Conan The Barbarian #1 - Titan Comics

CONAN THE BARBARIAN No. 1, August 2023
Announced in April 2023 that “Titan Comics” were partnering with “Heroic Signatures” to bring the fictional sword and sorcery hero “back in a new tale of bravery and heroism”, many bibliophiles perusing Jim Zub’s narrative for Issue One of “Conan The Barbarian” will probably have felt the legendary Robert E. Howard himself was whispering what to write in the Canadian author’s ear. For whilst “Scourge Of The Dead” is not an adaption of any story previously published within the pages of a pulp magazine. The adventure’s atmosphere brilliantly captures all the character, chaos, and sword-slashing carnage of the Cimmerian’s printed chronicles in “Weird Tales”.

For starters, the sweeping scale of this book’s narrative begins typically small, with the experienced combatant simply swapping savage punches with a bullish craven, who ignorantly feels ‘right is might’ when it comes to ordering his men to die needlessly on the battlefield. This violent introductory scene firmly establishes Conan as being cut from the same imaginative cloth as his Texas-born creator would have wanted him, as well as quickly settled the nerves of any long-time fantasy fans that the franchise is in safe hands with the British publisher. In addition, the warrior’s legendary sense of honour is proudly proclaimed when he refuses to kill his “former mercenary captain”, despite the unconscious foe having just tried to gut him with a dagger in what had initially been a ‘fair’ fist fight.

As per Howard’s classic short stories though, the ante is soon ramped up in the guise of a mysterious Pictish scout who “rides in to warn the Cimmerians of an imminent threat on the march”. The shadowy background to this lone woman is nicely penned, and arguably leaves this comic’s audience immediately wanting to know more about her, even when a seemingly unstoppable wave of undead zombies suddenly hurl themselves at the inhabitants of Hauler’s Roam in a bloodthirsty, night-time frenzy; “Too late now. Heft a blade, you cowards!” 

Just as sensational as this twenty-two-page periodical’s plot are Rob De La Torre’s incredible layouts, which appear impressively inspired by the two hundred plus publications of “Conan The Barbarian” pencilled by the late, great John Buscema, when the Hyborian Age adventurer’s licence was owned by “Marvel Comics”. The artist appears particularly adept at imbuing the wanderer with all the physical presence a reader would expect from the future King of Aquilonia, and certainly appears able to depict the odd lopped off head or limb whenever necessary.

The regular cover art of "CONAN THE BARBARIAN" #25 by Dan Panosian

Star Trek: Annual 2023 - IDW Publishing

STAR TREK: ANNUAL 2023, May 2023
For those casual fans of Gene Roddenberry's universe who are unfamiliar with “IDW’s brand-new, flagship Star Trek ongoing series that goes where no comic has gone before”, Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly’s narrative for this thirty-two-page annual was probably a bemusing gestalt of all the science fiction franchise’s past incarnations, what with the likes of James Kirk, Jean-Luc Picard, Benjamin Sisko, Tom Paris, Mister Data and numerous other notable characters all being prodigiously pencilled by Rachael Stott throughout this book. True, “the critically acclaimed” duo do at least attempt to explain just how Montgomery Scott happens to be the Chief Engineer of the U.S.S. Theseus following the Emissary of the Prophets’ return from a Bajoran Wormhole. But the script unrelentingly throws so many other “Starfleet legends” at its audience that only the most diehard of Trekkies won't become confused as to just who is real and who is a holographic replica.

Similarly as perplexing is the publication’s plot, which arguably takes an inordinately long time to explain that the experimental starship’s holodeck technology has become self-aware. This notion is definitely an intriguing one that borrows heavily from Naren Shankar’s televised episode “The Quality of Life” featuring some sentient utility robots. However, in order to pad out this over-sized one-shot, the creative team seemingly attempt to have the audience somewhat wearisomely visit almost every iconic vessel ever seen on the small or big screen – whether that be the warp five capable NX-01 Enterprise, the Napoleonic era H.M.S. Enterprise, or Doctor Cochrane’s Phoenix - before penning this revelation.

Quite possibly this comic’s biggest disappointment though debatably lies with its depiction of “Starfleet's youngest starship captain”, who towards of end of the story is probably the closest it has to an antagonist. Repeatedly insisting that things be destroyed, annihilated, and even threatening to kill Sisko at one point with a phaser, this computer-generated duplicate is obviously a far cry from the genuine Jim Kirk. Yet considering that all the other artificial programs made manifest seemingly behave as per their true-life counterparts it seems odd the writers would choose this particular personality as the adversary. Unless its more than coincidence that this book was produced at a time when “StarTrek.com” would feel it necessary to post an article defending actor William Shatner's role from an increasingly popular bandwagon of ill-founded criticism and derision.

Writers: Collin Kelly & Jackson Lanzing, and Artist: Rachael Stott

Monday, 18 September 2023

Sgt. Flag #1 - G-Man Comics

SGT. FLAG No. 1, April 2022
Impressively funded in just eleven minutes as part of the publisher’s 2022 “Rise of the G-Men” Kickstarter, this comic certainly places its audience up to their necks in adrenalin-fuelled violence and some utterly insane firefights. Indeed, as opening issues go, this first instalment of “Sgt. Flag” definitely must have left a lasting impression upon any bibliophile lucky enough to purchase a copy, with Rik Offenberger’s two stories showing just how versatile, and down-right deadly, the smart-mouthed FBI operative can be when it comes to gunning down either a gang of gun-toting gangsters or a deadly super-villain.

First up is arguably the more intriguing (origin) tale “Semper Fi!”, which does a great job in depicting the pulse-pounding pandemonium surrounding Rob McFarlane’s reassignment to President Trump’s recently reactivated Caped Agent Program from an undisclosed modern-day battlefield. Energetically sketched by Gilbert Monsanto, this twenty-page plot hooks the reader straight from the start, and simply doesn’t let them go until The Agent’s latest recruit smashes his way out of an exploding building with the battered banker he was sent to rescue; “Oof! You here to help me or hurt me?!”

Somewhat more leisurely paced, at least at the beginning, is “Two Of A Kind!”, which is co-authored by Gregg Whitmore. This much shorter adventure, confined to the interior of the Beaumont Building, has a distinct “Die Hard” feel to it as the titular character and Wildcard blast through a veritable army of armed hoodlums to reach the skyrise building’s ground floor. Such relentless gunplay, even when prodigiously pencilled by Bobby Ragland, could potentially become a little tiresome after a while. But the outnumbered pair’s ‘back and forth’ banter manages to keep everything entertaining.

Perhaps therefore this publication’s sole quibble lies in the portrayal of McFarlane himself, who seemingly swears at everyone and everything throughout his action-packed exploits. True, no actual expletives are on show. But coupled with the marine’s evident overbearing arrogance and chauvinism, this almost relentless assault upon the sensibilities for the entire duration of the comic could potentially cause some readers to dislike Offenberger's colourfully-costumed creation – especially when so much of the chaos being caused is seemingly due to Sgt. Flag’s poor judgement in the first place.

The regular cover art of "SGT. FLAG" #1 by Gilbert Monsanto