Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Catwoman Annual #1 - DC Comics

CATWOMAN ANNUAL No. 1, July 2019
Any fans of Selina Kyle’s alter-ego who hoped this super-sized thirty-eight page periodical’s pulse-pounding cover was just a taster of the excitement to come within the comic’s narrative, must arguably have been bitterly disappointed by “Joelle Jones’ first Catwoman Annual” and it’s disconcerting over-reliance to tell a truly dreary murder investigation “through a variety of points of view.” Indeed, apart from an all-too brief confrontation between the titular character and the Immortal Man, absolutely nothing occurs whatsoever which even vaguely attains the adrenaline-racing illustration of the jewel thief, resplendent in her Michelle Pfeiffer cinematic costume, stretched out across the bonnet of a fast-moving police patrol car as it hurtles down the road at break neck speed with its emergency lights flashing.

Instead, this ponderous tome contains an unconvincingly contrived concoction of “conflicting stories” which would have its readers believe the female burglar would simply bring back a partially-dead drug addict to her private flat so as to help the young woman go ‘cold turkey’ and then inexplicably train Chesa’s unwelcome friends to steal for themselves simply so they can all ‘stick it to the man’? Such motivation debatably makes little sense whatsoever, especially when the likes of the truly detestable Amanda Burress are initially caught by Kyle trashing her lodgings, breaking her ornaments, wearing her jewellery and drinking her champagne; “A lot of people worked very hard to get all these things. People that always did what they were told. People that worked a job, made good investments, just so they could have these things.”

Lamentably however, this publication's plot only gets worse once the thieving fiends decide to strike out on their own and steal a valuable antique spear from a seemingly insecure mansion with “outdated security”. This building unfortunately turns out to be the home of Klarn, a caveman who has lived for fifty thousand years, and who just happens to be inconveniently sitting deep in the shadows of his living room when the hapless intruders enter. Three broken wind-pipes and a mystifyingly surreal suicide pact frame-up later, and Catwoman is suddenly being hunted for their murders by the Villa Hermosa Police Department.!?!

Sadly, Jamie S. Rich’s decision to utilise the talents of a number of different artists only seems to add to this storyline’s sheer sense of befuddlement, with Elena Casagrande’s pages in particular proving a real disappointment. In fact, only Scott Godlewski’s clean-lined sketches seem to really imbue Selina with any of the dangerously lithe grace associated with her nefarious nocturnal activities, and even this prodigious pencilling is put to the test by Jones’ decision to have Superman make a bizarrely artifical cameo at the publication’s very end…
Story: Joelle Jones, and Artists: Elena Casagrande, Hugo Petrus and Scott Godlewski

Thursday, 6 June 2019

Detective Comics Annual #2 - DC Comics

Somewhat worryingly starting out like a pale comic book adaption of the 1993 American animated superhero film “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm”, Peter J. Tomasi’s script for this second “Detective Comics Annual” will undoubtedly have caught a fair few of its audience out with its satisfyingly sudden departure from Paul Dini’s “cinematic continuation of Batman: The Animated Series” that the skull-faced killer cold-bloodedly murdering criminals in “Manchester, Paris, Zagreb and… Greece” is not in fact the late Judson Caspian’s daughter, Rachel. But rather something altogether unexpected, which takes both bibliophile and Dark Knight completely by surprise, whilst simultaneously adding yet another intriguing addition to the DC Universe’s already rich collection of global underground assassin-themed organisations; “I have made the Reapers an unstoppable international implement of vengeance.”

Mercifully though, such an enjoyable subversion of expectations doesn’t mean that the opening two-thirds of this whopping thirty-eight page periodical make for a lack-lustre reading experience either. For despite many doubtless thinking they’ve seen Bruce Wayne “assume billionaire playboy mode” and act the buffoon in the presence of an unsuspecting heiress a hundred times before, the “Blackest Night” co-writer’s narrative still provides plenty of ‘fresh’ insights into the Caped Crusader’s world courtesy of a visit to the Bat-Cave located in Pyrgos, Greece, and a charmingly melodramatic scene involving Alfred Pennyworth acting as a drunken Judas goat so as to lure the unsuspecting super-villain out into the open. Indeed, this somewhat highly-anticipated dip back into the Black Casebook of the costumed crime-fighter is simply packed with pleasing action-sequences, such as Sophia turning her philanthropist passenger green with some reckless high-speed driving across Crete or the Great Detective’s meticulous exploration of the “bookstore near the Ephorate of Antiquities.”

In addition, artists Travis Moore and Max Raynor really manage to bring the sheer savagery of this latest incarnation of the Reaper to dynamic life, as well as pencil Batman at his physical best, kicking his scythe-wielding opponent straight in the chops with some satisfyingly bone-crunching sound effects. This publication’s cataclysmic conclusion is especially worthy of praise as the creative collaboration, alongside colorists Tamra Bonvillain and Nick Filardi, really help imbue the “veritable shopping list of automation” known as the Reaper Prime with all the die-hard menace one would expect from an formidably-augmented killing machine.
Story & Words: Peter J. Tomasi, and Artists: Travis Moore & Max Raynor

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Gears Of War: Hivebusters #1 - IDW Publishing

Packed full of more f-bombs than a Joe Pesci comedic sketch, and lacking any semblance of plot until its final third, Kurtis J. Wiebe’s opening instalment to this “five-part Gears of War comic series” must surely have disappointed both ardent fans of “the best-selling” video game franchise, as well as those readers new to the conflict between humanity and the reptilian Locust Horde. For whilst this twenty-two page periodical is undeniably packed full of pulse-pounding action as “a new fearless squad” successfully busts a Swarm hive on the remote island of Pahanu with as much excessive force as the trio can muster, little of the graphically-depicted gratuitous violence makes much sense until the team are eventually extracted from their “suicide” mission and subsequently debriefed by their wheelchair-bound commanding officer.

Up until this point, it’s arguably hard to ascertain specifically what is happening within this publication’s narrative and whether Mac’s gruelling gun-toting journey through the claustrophobically-tunnelled heart of a reptilian hominid Hive is actually real or simply part of this comic’s horrible, hallucinogenic opening sequence, where the red-headed warrior takes “what can only be described as a voyage to trip-out city.” Indeed, despite some significantly expletive-laden dialogue, which at least provides the fresh-faced trooper with a modicum of backstory involving his family settling down in “a decommissioned COG [Coalition of Ordered Governments] outpost built near the end of the Locust War”, the only point to this comic seems to be just how many different ways the GLAAD Media Award-winner can pen for the insectoid-influenced aliens to be killed; “No going back, boys! We’re surrounded on all sides!”

Curiously however, once the debatably monotonous combat does finally come to an end, and the swearing is at least somewhat curtailed, Issue One of “Gears Of War: Hivebusters” genuinely seems to become significantly more enjoyable, as each of the leading cast are unexpectedly given a little development time. Lahni in particular appears to prosper from this ‘spotlight’ and transforms from a foul-mouthed Vasquez clone to a surprisingly sentimental reinstated sergeant who is clearly determined to make up for her past misdemeanours and places her loyalty to her team-mates above all else.

The more sedentary nature of these latter sequences also provides Alan Quah with an opportunity to more clearly pencil the difference soldiers’ likenesses, without all the distraction of big guns, zinging bullets and bamboozling extra-terrestrial-based backgrounds. Admittedly, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the Malaysian artist’s sense-shattering panels showing the utter carnage and mutilation Hoffman’s heavily-armed people can cause, but the illustrator’s ability to imbue his figures with facially-recognisable emotion truly only comes to the fore with some of this book’s dialogue-driven close-ups.
Writer: Kurtis Wiebe, Artist: Alan Quah, and Colorist: Komikaki Studio Featuring Sean Lee

Sunday, 2 June 2019

Road Of Bones #1 - IDW Publishing

ROAD OF BONES No. 1, May 2019
Advertised by “IDW Publishing” as providing an insight into just why the Siberian Gulag of Kolyma in 1953 was “hell on Earth”, many readers of this four-part mini-series’ opening instalment may well have been stunned to learn that its enthrallingly sickening narrative is actually “new territory” for its author, Rich Douek. Indeed, so compelling is the claustrophobically dangerous atmosphere created by Roman Morozov's desperate struggle to survive unjustified beatings, meagre food rations and the unwanted attentions of the living dead, that many within the twenty-four page periodical’s audience probably felt that the upcoming graphic novelist already had a pedigree in penmanship similar to that of Stephen King, Jonathan Maberry or Robert Kirkman.

Fortunately for Issue One of “Road Of Bones” though, none of that “horror title” naivety seemingly shows when it comes to either this book’s prodigious pacing or its ability to create some genuinely nerve-tingling moments of terror, such as when a wizened prisoner no longer has the strength to even lift himself up on his shovel and subsequently has his brains brutally bashed in with the butt of a guard’s rifle. Such utter disregard for human life and the suffering of their fellow man permanents throughout the story-line to the point where it’s perfectly easy to understand just why Alex Cormack would compassionately pencil an inmate risking a life-threatening kicking simply to steal a small raw potato; “Stop. I said it’s fine. In here. But out there… You get your share and nothing more. Remember that.”

Equally as engrossing is Morozov’s devotion to a ghoulish-looking household spirit which ultimately causes the desperate detainee to gain an additional decade to his original twenty-five year sentence for having once told a joke about Joseph Stalin “at a party.” Sickeningly gaunt, and scarred by the ravages of its unnatural existence, this so-called guardian doesn’t actually properly manifest itself until the end of this petrifying publication, and despite the creature’s wise words of warning to the shivering Roman that “there is no god here” in the icy tundra “but hunger”, arguably seems to be just as much a threat to the freezing cold escapee as the walking corpse evidently is to the soft, fluffy bunny it bloodily consumes…
Written by: Rich Douek, and Art/Colors/Cover by: Alex Cormack

Sunday, 26 May 2019

Batman And The Outsiders #1 - DC Comics

Having been suddenly cancelled by “DC Comics” in November 2018, with the subsidiary of “Warner Brothers” promising comic book retailers that the title would be re-solicited “later in 2019”, fans of “Batman And The Outsiders” were probably hoping that writer Bryan Hill’s “tweaking of some of the script because of DCU events” was going to make this particular twenty-four page periodical truly stand out from amongst the myriad of other Dark Knight-related publications swamping the local store’s spinner rack. Yet whilst “Lesser Gods” starts off well enough, with a super-powered villain mysteriously targeting a single parent and his daughter as they innocently drive through Los Angeles, the American author’s narrative soon arguably gets badly bogged down in the doubts and fears of its leading cast; “Neither are you, Signal. That’s why I had to save your life. We have to work together. We’re a team.”

True, the super-group’s dynamically-paced battle against the homicidal shootist Saint John provides plenty of pulse-pounding action whilst it lasts, especially when it seems clear that Duke Thomas is intent on hurling himself against the gun-toting maniac simply to show comrade-in-arms Orphan that he is neither afraid nor feels he needs Black Lightning to tackle the mass of murderous muscle blazing away at him with a rotary cannon. However, just as soon as Katana cleaves the brute’s machine-gun and “Raijin” zaps the felon into next week, this book’s plot disappointingly degenerates into little more than a series of word-heavy, dialogue-driven scenes where everyone from Bruce Wayne through to Jefferson Pierce openly discuss some of their most innermost concerns about the freshly assembled team.

Debatably this comic’s biggest frustration though, is the fact that Batman is predominantly kept on the sidelines, disconcertingly directing his proteges to “find Sofia [and] bring her to Gotham” from the shadows, rather than directly leading the Outsiders himself. Indeed, the Caped Crusader doesn’t even appear in costume until the second half of the book, when he is simply depicted ruminating upon the Bat-computer’s suggested action for him to contact the Los Angeles Police Department for more information on Ramos’ disappearance.

Happily, what Hill’s script lacks in gripping drama is somewhat ‘put right’ by Dexter Soy’s marvellously energetic pencilling, which really helps imbue the plot’s more sedentary scenes with some much-needed gravitas and foreboding atmosphere. Black Lightning’s ‘friendly duel’ with Tatsu Yamashiro at her “little place in Gotham” is a good example of this, where the somewhat stilted dialogue between the pair is made all the more tense and enthralling courtesy of the Goodreads Choice Award-nominee’s incredibly thrilling artwork.
The regular cover art of "BATMAN AND THE OUTSIDERS" No. 1 by Tyler Kirkham & Arif Prianto

Monday, 13 May 2019

The Forgotten Queen #1 - Valiant Entertainment

THE FORGOTTEN QUEEN No. 1, February 2019
Originally created for “Valiant Entertainment” by Matt Kindt and Paolo Rivera in 2015 as an antagonist for the global law enforcement team known as Unity, Tini Howard’s narrative for Issue One of “The Forgotten Queen” firmly focuses upon just how the War-Monger manages to finally escape her underwater prison, whilst simultaneously exploring the villainess’ enthralling relationship with Genghis Khan and subsequent journey across the Mongol Empire following the first Great Khan’s death. In fact, over half of this twenty-page periodical’s length is dedicated to some fascinating flashbacks which significantly flesh out the immortal woman’s background, whether she be mischievously manipulating the Akkadians into a painful act of barbaric blood-lust or subtly encouraging a caveman to brain his brother with a suitably-sized boulder.

Happily however, the former winner of the “Top Cow” Talent Hunt has clearly done a lot of research before penning this publication, with her love of history imbuing the book’s narrative with a genuine sense of realism which never appears to directly interfere with the natural course of historical events. Instead, the “recently inducted Marvel exclusive writer” shows the nefarious titular character simply standing on the sideline as Temujin unites the Northeast Asian nomadic tribes together, only occasionally inspiring the primal fire within his kingdom’s army "to lift a blade" and fight like demons.

For those bibliophiles more interested in Vexana’s modern day shenanigans though, Howard also does a first rate job of depicting the Research Vessel Lohengrin’s deep-sea exploration of a submerged cave system, located somewhere in the wide, unmarked middle of the Pacific Ocean. This tense, understandably claustrophobic sequence, beautifully intertwined amongst the War-Monger’s aforementioned past experiences, provides the publication with a genuinely riveting primary plot-thread as veteran research diver Erik Zafiropolous encounters something far more deadly beneath the waves than an exceptionally aggressive sperm whale which suspiciously collides with the archeological expedition’s ship.

Similarly as successful as Tini’s script are Amilcar Pinna’s sensationally-sketched storyboards, which show an incredible attention to detail, especially when used to draw the instantly recognizable Mongolian armour, complete with its hardened leather plates and lacing. Indeed, it is clear from just the Brazilian artist’s opening panels, which add some considerable menace to a supposedly routine dive, just why his illustration work was described by Howard as having “a kinetic energy to it that I couldn’t possibly have expected. Some of his pages are so dynamic it feels like they’re moving, and yet…”
The regular cover art of "THE FORGOTTEN QUEEN" No. 1 by Kano

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Dragonsblood #1 - Zenescope Entertainment

DRAGONSBLOOD No. 1, May 2019
Enthrallingly fixed upon the Volsung Clan’s seemingly eternal task of slaying the dragon, Fafnir, Nick Bermel’s storyline for Issue One of “Dragonsblood” contains plenty of sense-shattering, swashbuckling swordplay, whilst simultaneously managing to avoid the age old trap of not making this fantasy comic’s sole protagonist either a super-human fighter or some world-weary, smart-thinking adventurer who is so experienced that their fights are practically over before they’ve even begun. Indeed, Sigurd, “the last of his clan”, is actually portrayed as the least able member of his family, being both a poorer marksman with a bow and physically weaker than his ill-fated older brother; “I hope you are being modest, or else this shall be a bore.”

Equally as engaging as the evident fallibility of his hero, is the “Grimm Tales of Terror” author’s emotionally-charged ‘flashbacks’ to the dragon-slayer’s long-dead relatives and their determination to rid the world of their “terrible foe” so that their loved ones won’t have to face the ancient, all-powerful wyrm. Initiated each time "Siggy" stumbles across either the skeletal corpse or piece of well-worn garment which once belonged to his kinfolk, these wonderfully warming interludes really help demonstrate to this comic’s audience just how much historical heart-break has been heaped upon the shoulders of the young warrior, and provide plenty of relatable rationale as to just why “the last of Sigismund’s line” so hates the legendary creature he is stalking.

These days it is hard not to compare all dragons, talking or otherwise, with that of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “most specially greedy, strong and wicked worm" Smaug, and sadly, the striking similarities between Fafnir and the destroyer of Erebor is debatably this twenty-two page periodical’s sole disappointment. Admittedly, Bermel’s beast has only one good eye and is seemingly ‘protected’ by an array of far smaller, formidably-fanged draconians, but it still rather unimaginatively has a small bare spot in its heavily-scaled underbelly which makes it susceptible to the strike of a well-timed bladed hand-weapon.

Besides its prodigious penmanship, “Zenescope’s newest series” also contains some impressive pencilling by Jason Muhr, whose clean-lined look to the breakdowns makes it abundantly clear just why this book’s writer “bugged Dave (our head editor) to reach out to Jason to see if he would work on it” just as soon as “Dragonsblood” was approved. Sigurd’s all-too brief battle with the dinosaur-like guardians of Fafnir’s inner sanctum proves especially pulse-pounding, as does the breath-taking impact of the wyrm’s bloody blows upon its would-be killer during their cataclysmic confrontation.
The regular cover art of "DRAGONSBLOOD" No. 1 by Martin Coccolo & Ivan Nunes