Sunday, 5 April 2020

Gwen Stacy #2 - Marvel Comics

GWEN STACY No. 2, May 2020
Despite the fact that this titular character’s “ultimate fate is all too well known to Spidey readers”, Christos Gage’s script for Issue Two of “Gwen Stacy” must still have had the vast majority of its readers’ hearts frenziedly throbbing in concern as to the welfare of the “Beauty Queen of Standard High.” True, the twenty-page periodical doesn’t contain the sort of action-packed, super-powered punch-ups usually found in a “Marvel Worldwide” publication featuring the likes of the Green Goblin and Crime Master, but that definitely doesn’t stop the New Yorker’s narrative from repeatedly implying that its poor protagonist is about to come to a decidedly grisly end; “Your friends’ve been causing me a lot of grief. I was thinking we should talk about grief and who deserves it.”

Foremost of these threats comes in the form of the head of Oscorp, Norman Osborn, whose presence throughout this comic seems to persistently promise an appearance by his utterly murderous alter-ego. Whether it be the “amoral industrialist” suddenly catching Harry and his friends in the human mutate’s private office tinkering with his company’s “forensic computer modelling system for the FBI”, or fully believing that Captain George Stacy’s daughter is about to unmask him as Spider-Man’s “Halloween-themed” arch-nemesis on the upper gallery of his Park Avenue residence, the physical menace of the man is truly palpable.

Equally as intimidating is the all-too real danger that Gwen faces once her hospitalised father reveals that the Lucky Lobo Gang bribery ledgers he’s recently seen contain “a lot of entries”, including “payoffs to cops”. The wounded parent’s fears for the safety of “everything I have” is emotionally penned by Gage, and the elderly law enforcement officer’s challenge to his two well-meaning subordinates that they can’t promise him that they will protect his child “when, for all we know, the guards watching her might be in someone’s pocket” is a chilling condemnation as to the corruptibility of the local police force.

Lending this book plenty of additional gravitas are Todd Nauck and colorist Rachelle Rosenberg’s layouts, which impressively provide plenty of energetic pace to a decidedly dialogue-driven plot. The American artist’s pencilling of Osborn during his aforementioned confrontations with “Miss Stacy” prove particularly impactive, with the evidently powerful man positively glowering at the blond-haired student during their first meeting, and then nervously crunching some finger-marks into his balcony’s brickwork when he believes his secret identity is about to be revealed.
The regular cover art of "GWEN STACY" No. 21 by Adam Hughes

Saturday, 4 April 2020

Rom: Dire Wraiths #2 - IDW Publishing

ROM: DIRE WRAITHS No. 2, November 2019
Absolutely crammed with some of the most gratuitous, zero-gravity based violence seen this side of the Moon, Chris Ryall’s sense-shattering script for Issue Two of “Rom: Dire Wraiths” soon builds up a death tally which would surely sate even the most blood-thirsty “IDW Publishing” reader. Indeed, for any uber-nostalgic fans of the short-lived 1986 animated series “Inhumanoids” and its scientist-rich, super-team of heroes, the Long Beach-born writer’s “One Small Step For Dire-Wraith Kind” kill-count will disconcertingly prove a truly traumatic twenty-page passage.

First of all, the narrative strongly suggests straight from the start, that absolutely nobody is safe from having their extravehicular mobility unit lethally torn asunder and vital organs wantonly exposed to the cold vacuum of space. True, there is a modicum of trust that NASA's Apollo 11 astronaut crew will survive the horrific ordeal befalling them, especially as the steadfast Adventure-One Team repeatedly hurl themselves in harm’s way so as to protect Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. But considering the shroud of national security which overshadows all of this comic’s events, it quickly becomes clear that a cover-up relating to their tragic demise would not be beyond belief; “Houston. Houston, do not turn the cameras on. Repeat, keep the Eagle dark. There is a… situation I do not want broadcast.”

In addition, Ryall appears utterly unafraid of murdering off this comic’s lead cast without any warning whatsoever, whether it be a “simple matter” of a Dire Wraith literally boring into an unsuspecting astronaut’s boot so as to liquefy their body from the inside out, or simply gnaw another unsuspecting victim’s helmeted head clean off with a viciously vengeful bite. Such unrestrained carnage does rather satisfyingly work both ways, with the Dire Wraiths themselves adding to this book’s death toll courtesy of a truly patriotic spear throw across the thin atmosphere of the lunar surface using “Old Glory”. Yet is is undoubtedly the "pathetically weak" humans who bear the brunt of this book's grisly atrocities.

Delightfully, all of these pulse-pounding panels are gloriously pencilled by Luca and Andrea Pizzari, with colorist Jim Boswell providing some extra punch, thanks to some vibrantly vivid palette choices. In fact, even towards this publication’s end, when a lone Dire Wraith inexplicably decides to deliver a heavily-wordy piece of exposition to the surviving astronauts rather than just hew them asunder with his barbed tentacles, the creative team’s artwork quite compellingly carries the audience along, thanks to a tremendously well-drawn splash page featuring the Spaceknight, Rom.
Writer: Chris Ryall, Artists: Luca Pizzari & Andrea Pizzari, and Colorist: Jim Boswell

Friday, 3 April 2020

Batman: The Adventures Continue #1 - DC Comics

BATMAN: THE ADVENTURES CONTINUE No. 1, April 2020

Inspired by the "Batman: The Animated Series” which first aired on “Fox Kids” in 1992, this “digital-first mini-series comic book” must have had fans of the American superhero television show hearing ‎Danny Elfman’s opening theme music thundering in their ears just as soon as they saw Dave Johnson’s highly evocative cover illustration on their electronic devices. Indeed, considering that this twenty-page periodical is penned by two of the original show’s “visionary team”, Paul Dini and Alan Burnett, as well as stunningly sketched by “Batman and Robin Adventures” artist Ty Templeton, it is clear straight from this publication’s opening panel of the Dark Knight swinging across a dimly lit skyline, that what follows is going to a deeply respectful continuation of “the beloved and Emmy Award-winning” programme.

Gratifyingly however, “Hardware” is not simply just a nostalgic-laced, partial re-tread of an old episode, but rather delightfully pits Bruce Wayne (and his cowled alter-ego) against a super-villainous mastermind infinitely more connected to the evil machinations taking place within Metropolis than Gotham City, Lex Luthor. This slight shake-up to the Caped Crusader’s usual opponent arguably makes the producers’ narrative much more interesting, especially when it’s confirmed that Superman is off-planet somewhere having “had a big battle on the far side of the Moon.”

Equally as enjoyable though are the frequent nods back to this world’s past, such as an all-too brief fist-fight with a drug-fuelled Bane which still manages to show just how well-prepared Batman is before confronting a prominent member of his Rogues Gallery, and a giant stonking robot smashing its way across town. The creative pair even manage to literally squeeze an agitated Harvey Bullock into one of the scenes, with the corpulent detective finding himself pinned inside a badly damaged patrol car, courtesy of a seriously large mechanical foot; “Oh yeah. Couldn’t be better. What the @#&#!”

Templeton too is on top form with this comic’s layouts, breathtakingly capturing all the fast-paced foot chases and sense-shattering shenanigans of the animated series with his marvellous pencilling and “mechanized menace”. In fact, as with the cartoon’s theme tune, it’s really easy to hear all crashes, smashes and squeals coming from the vehicles, partially destroyed buildings and terrified innocent bystanders, thanks to the energetic life the Eisner Award-winning artist imbues all his action sequences with.
Writers: Alan Burnett & Paul Dini, Pencils & Inks: Ty Templeton, and Colors: Monica Kubina

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Conan The Barbarian #14 - Marvel Comics

CONAN THE BARBARIAN No. 14, May 2020
There can arguably be little doubt amongst those readers who perused Issue Fourteen of “Conan The Barbarian”, that Jim Zub certainly took full-advantage of his “chance to build all new ongoing stories of one of the most famous characters in sword & sorcery literature” when he penned “The Great Crucible”. For whilst the author’s meteoric rise to become the series’ main writer only took a single year, following stints on both “The Savage Sword of Conan” and “Conan: Serpent War”, the Joe Shuster Canadian Comic Award-winner’s handling of Robert E. Howard’s Hyborian Age hero demonstrates a comprehensive understanding of all the Cimmerian’s traits which have made him so incredibly popular since his adventures were first published in “Weird Tales” magazine way back in 1932.

For starters, this particular incarnation of the “black-haired barbarian”, prodigiously pencilled by Roge Antonia, isn’t some super-human killing machine who is capable of hacking apart any opponent, no matter how numerous, large or multi-legged they are. The hero is still clearly capable of astonishing feats of endurance and swordplay, yet when it comes to facing down a giant spider so copious its girth completely blocks an entire underground passageway, the warrior needs all the help he can muster from his colleagues so as to overcome a creature which could “slay a squad of well-trained soldiers before giving up its own life.”

Of course, Conan is the only combatant herculean enough to hold back the deadly arachnid by its fearsome fangs with his sword, and simultaneously withstand the dark-hearted horror’s repeated rakings of this bloody back with its barbed legs. But in so positioning himself in order to “create an opening”, the Cimmerian also ably exhibits his strategic savvy by barking out commands to the hapless “unprotected and poorly armed” fighters around him; “That’s right, spider -- stay focused on me! Naru-Li. I’ll stay its jaws… Prepare to stab the beast’s head on my signal…”

Likewise, Hub additionally captures the murder mystery element of such notable prose stories like Howard’s "The God in the Bowl" with his sense-shattering suggestion that at least one of the surviving contestants is a well-armed assassin. This atmosphere of distrust and betrayal throughout the twenty-page periodical is positively palpable, especially when the Shaman of the Afterlife, Yohnic, inexplicably has his throat slit from ear to ear whilst sleeping under the watch of the “People’s Champion.”
Writer: Jim Zub, Artist: Roge Antonio, and Colorist: Israel Silva

Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Batman/Superman [2019] #5 - DC Comics

BATMAN/SUPERMAN No. 5, February 2020
As “explosive first arc” finales go, it is somewhat doubtful that the majority of this comic’s declining 36,269 strong audience were particularly impressed with just how “Who Are The Secret Six?” concludes. For whilst the titular characters successfully stop “the satellite and the portal to the Dark Multiverse”, this twenty-two page periodical doesn’t in any way resolve the consequences of Hawkman, Supergirl, Shazam, Donna Troy and Blue Beetle becoming infected by the Batman Who Laugh’s poisonous toxin.

Indeed, the more cynical reader may well view Issue Five of “Batman/Superman” as little more than the culmination of a huge marketing campaign by “DC Comics” for the Burbank-based publisher’s 2019 crossover comic book event involving Lex Luthor transforming himself into a “human/Martian hybrid version of himself”; especially when this particular book even goes so far as to close with the exasperating caption “follow the Batman Who Laughs & the Infected in Year of the Villain: Hell Arisen #1”.

Sadly such shenanigans arguably take the shine off of what is otherwise a darn good story by Joshua Williamson, who uses the death of Superman and his family on Earth-22 to dramatically motivate the Man of Steel in this universe. Positively incensed by the decayed corpses of his wife and child hanging on display within the Dark Multiverse’s satellite, and enraged by Shazam’s horrifying belly-laugh at the sight of his Justice League friends’ mutilated cadavers, the California-born writer depicts a suddenly all-too deadly portrayal of Clark Kent’s alter-ego, who literally pounds both his cousin, Kara Zor-El, and Captain Marvel into the very ground.

“One of the premier shepherds of the DC universe” is similarly as skilful penning Batman too, as the Dark Knight tackles Commissioner Gordon and Blue Beetle using a mixture of wits, gadgetry, fists and Superman’s extra-terrestrial zoo animals. Tapping into Jamie Reyes’s untainted scarab to destroy the Batman Who Laughs’ nefarious tower, and subsequently felling the dark version of Gotham City’s veteran police officer with a thunderous kick in the guts, Williamson also manages to simultaneously show the Caped Crusader’s more caring side, by having him notice just how much discomfort Ted Kord’s successor must constantly be in when morphed into Khaji Da’s battle suit; “Jaime… I never knew… Ugh… That scarab was so… painful…”
Writer: Joshua Williamson, Artist: David Marquez, and Colorist: Alejandro Sanchez

Monday, 30 March 2020

The Immortal Hulk #25 - Marvel Comics

IMMORTAL HULK No. 25, December 2019
Set “billions of years in the future, in a completely different space and time”, it was perhaps somewhat easy for this comic’s 87,519 readers to see just why “Marvel Worldwide” called the forty-page periodical “ground-breaking” in solicits. But whilst this “milestone” publication’s narrative certainly delivers on Al Ewing’s desire to pen a story which is still “horrific on various levels”, and yet “filled with a kind of ethereal alien sadness”, many within its audience were also probably elated that the plot was confined to “a relatively tight” single book, rather than the British writer’s original idea that he “spend five issues in the Ninth Cosmos”…

For starters, “Breaker Of Worlds” is initially an incredibly slow-tempo tale, which diligently dwells upon the desolation of space surrounding the alien entity Par%l, since the Hulk brutally murdered the Sentience of the Universe and subsequently started destroying all life in creation. Admittedly, this perhaps understandably depressive listlessness concerning so forsaken an environment is momentarily brought to life when the extra-terrestrial encounters his former lover, Farys, on board the Observer's Berth. However, such a claustrophobic atmosphere of cheerlessness soon returns as the couple’s strained relationship quickly sours even further, following the “skilled breeder of Tiding-flies” creating something her former partner vehemently opposes; “The egg feels grotesque. Heavy with corruption, Obscene in power… You… You have made an abomination.”

Disconcertingly, not even the much-anticipated arrival of the “Breaker-Apart” at O%los injects much more pace into the proceedings, even though the galaxy-sized green giant’s presence disagreeably results in the death of nine billion souls. The Eisner Award-nominee seems to spend an absolute eternity clarifying that this particular incarnation of the Hulk intends to destroy everything everywhere, when the colossal creature’s destructive path was pretty much well established right at this comic’s start.

Adding to this book’s sedentary story-telling and palpable sense of lethargy are German Garcia’s debatably lack-lustre layouts. Whether you agree or not with Ewing that the freelancer’s “work is absolutely gorgeous” and produces an “intensely, magnetically beautiful” look to this comic which makes Par%l’s world “really feel alien”, the Spanish artist’s significantly padded-out, double splash-page illustrations predominantly seem to have been pencilled just to help fill out this gargantuan doubled-sized issue, rather than simply help illustrate 'a comic the likes of which have never been read before.'
Writer: Al Ewing, Artist: German Garcia, Penciler: Joe Bennett, and Inker: Ruy Jose

Sunday, 29 March 2020

Danger Girl #5 - Image Comics

DANGER GIRL #5, July 1999
The third best-selling comic book in September 1998, at least according to “Diamond Comic Distributors”, Andy Hartnell and J. Scott Campbell’s rollercoaster of a ride for Issue Five of “Danger Girl” probably had its 117,668 readers crying out loud in anguish at some of the sense-shattering shenanigans the collaborative creative crammed into the twenty-two page periodical. For whether it be Deuce desperately battling against a sinisterly costumed Hammer frogman boarding party on board the Danger Yacht, Doctor Kharnov von Kripplor's bizarre biological experiments upon Sydney Savage and Johnny Barracuda, or the submerged Sea Turtle exploring an old Nazi submarine wreck for an ancient sword, every situation seems about to result in one of this book’s leading cast members coming to a grim end.

Mercifully, none of these dire consequences seem to have simply been penned just for a momentary effect, yet rather provide this publication’s plot with plenty of heart-stopping pathos as it despairingly plummets towards the top secret covert female force’s disastrous demise. Indeed, having been butted behind the ear by one of Major Maxim’s shock troops and left for dead upon his exploding sea vessel, the leader of the Danger Girl team’s untimely 'death' is poignantly portrayed as being just the first in a series of calamities to befall Abbey Chase’s ever decreasing world; “You all can finish this one without me. I can’t bear to lose any more of my friends on account of my inexperience.”

Quite possibly this comic’s most disconcerting sequence though has to be the terrifying treatment Agent Falcon experiences at the hands of Doctor von Kripplor. Hammer’s mad scientist is absolutely dripping in malevolence, and his promise to “very inappropriately” touch a chair-bound Savage “about ze chest and backside” after causing the recent captured Carter’s head to literally explode, is chillingly delivered.

However, perhaps this book’s most ‘stand-out’ moment has to be Agent Zero and Chase’s battle against a pair of Hammer Hydronauts some leagues beneath the North Atlantic Sea. Capturing all the claustrophobic action and excitement of the underwater scenes seen in “Eon Productions” 1981 James Bond spy film “For Your Eyes Only”, this grim fight for survival is both tremendously well drawn by Campbell, as well as marvellously inked and coloured by Alex Garner and Justin Ponsor. In fact, the battle becomes so tense, once some enraged giant eels decide to join the confrontation, that many bibliophiles probably found themselves holding their breath in anticipation of the cliff-hanger conclusion to come.
Story: Andy Hartnell & J. Scott Campbell, Script: Andy Hartnell, and Drawings: J. Scott Campbell