Tuesday, 3 August 2021

BRZRKR #4 - BOOM! Studios

BRZRKR No. 4, July 2021
Surely showing this mini-series’ mass-murdering machine at his most vulnerable as the crestfallen killer single-handedly faces the combined armies of his late father’s surviving enemies, Keanu Reeves and Matt Kindt’s script for Issue Four of “BRZRKR” certainly imbues the titular character with plenty of intriguing emotions. In fact, this entire twenty-page periodical’s plot contains an enthralling abundance of its cast feeling either extreme regret, mental anguish, physical pain, self-indulgent anger, jealously-driven fear, paternal disillusionment or overwhelming grief; “So long ago. I always assumed it was time that made me forget. And distance. I’ve lived a thousand lives since then. The memory is still there. Perfectly intact. It was just waiting there.”

Foremost of these non-blood soaked hooks is the way this comic’s collaborative penmanship depicts Bezerker’s parents finally having a parting of ways over their son’s future. The inhuman warrior’s mother has always been shown to have his best interests at heart, even when they badly conflict with the power-mad machinations of the young man’s (step) father, and thus her decision to pray for a magical gift from the gods which promises to “take the curse from” her child makes perfect sense. Unfortunately however, such a present would also badly jeopardise the dictatorial plans of her husband, who fatally decides to put his own greedy ambitions as King ahead of those of his family.

Likewise, there’s a real change shown in both the lead protagonist “cursed and compelled to violence”, as well as his modern-day head shrink, Doctor Diana Ahuja. Bezerker’s despair at the pitiless death of his mother, along with his stark realisation that much of her demise lies at the feet of his father’s selfish aspirations, weighs so heavily upon the half-mortal half-deity, that he eventually decides to commit suicide in the most grisly of fashions, rather than live any longer. Whilst the U.S. Government’s psychiatric ‘tool’ realises just how mentally damaged her patient must be, and somewhat surprisingly decides to suddenly ignore her orders by being completely honest with her patient for once.

Of course, that’s not to say that there still isn’t buckets of gore aplenty for those bibliophiles who only plucked this publication off of the spinner-rack for its gratuitous depiction of half-naked wildlings being brutally broken into a bloody pulp. In fact, neatly dispersed in between all this comic’s healthy exposition as to how Bezerker discovered he couldn’t be killed, is arguably some of artist Ron Garney’s most grisly-looking demises to date, including a sequence depicting the black-haired ‘weapon’ slaughtering his opponents with the jawbone of horse as if he were the biblical hero Samson himself.

Written by: Keanu Reeves & Matt Kindt, and Illustrated by: Ron Garney

Monday, 2 August 2021

Black Widow #8 - Marvel Comics

BLACK WIDOW No. 8, August 2021
Featuring a couple of marvellous guest-appearances by Spider-Girl, along with a truly pulse-pounding conclusion concerning the titular character’s desperate attempt to liberate Yelena Belova from the clutches of Apogee’s most-recently assembled goon squad, Kelly Thompson’s script for Issue Eight of “Black Widow” ably demonstrates just why this comic book won the 2021 Eisner Award for Best New Series. Admittedly, this publication’s audience need to navigate a handful of lengthy conversations in order to reach its ‘blood and thunder’ moments. But even such scenes as the “newly-powered Lucy” talking to the dusty remains of the recently-deceased Stan in an emotional soliloquy are so well-penned by the American author that they prove intriguingly engrossing; “It made me feel better. He shouldn’t be alone. I wouldn’t want to be. If it happens to me… Don’t leave me alone, okay?”

Foremost of this twenty-page periodical’s numerous strengths though, has to be the aforementioned Anya Corazon’s ‘secret spy stuff’, and her eventual decision to reveal her alter-ego once she realises a number of her fellow cultists are about to ingest the self-same liquid which “decomposed a guy.” The young girl’s noble action to shed her disguise is extremely brave considering the scale of her hooded opposition, and definitely provides a few worrying moments when it becomes clear just how badly outmatched she is despite her own formidable super-abilities.

Likewise, Thompson presents a fascinating insight into her incarnation of Natasha Romanoff, and the black-clad assassin’s warm relationship with the White Widow. This comic’s opening rather nicely shows just how close the two women have become emotionally since the red-haired Avenger ‘lost’ her baby son, Stevie, and this greatly adds to the Russian’s somewhat ‘tongue-in-cheek’ attitude later on when she realises Belova has unwittingly walked straight into the very heart of Apogee’s criminal underworld, and is going to “be spitting mad when I rescue her…”

Of course, any critique of this second instalment to the “I Am The Black Widow” storyline would be wholly unfair if the prodigious pencilling of Elena Casagrande and Rafael De Latorre weren’t also praised. There’s arguably quite a hint of Todd Mcfarlane’s insanely complicated webbing to this book’s sketches of Spider-Girl when she desperately flees the confines of The Tenderloin. Whilst the incredibly-dynamic double-splash illustration highlighting the former-Red Room operative easily beating the best villains Apogee has to offer is a serious feast for the eyes for any action-orientated reader.
The regular cover art of "BLACK WIDOW" #8 by Adam Hughes

Friday, 30 July 2021

Moon Knight [2021] #1 - Marvel Comics

MOON KNIGHT No. 1, September 2021
Long-time fans of Marc Spector's alter-ego may well have been somewhat nervous as to the quality of Jed MacKay’s narrative for “The Mission”, considering that the writer's earliest “exposure to Moon Knight… was from the 1990 Marvel trading cards”, up until he read Warren Ellis’s “classic” 2014 series. But whilst this thirty-page periodical’s plot could be unfairly critiqued for its surprisingly episodic format as the titular character efficiently deals with three separate cases consecutively rather than a single investigation, there can be little doubt that the publication’s author definitely pens an intriguing portrait of the “renegade priest of an unworthy god.”

Foremost of these fascinating hooks has to be the creation of Mister Knight’s marvellous Midnight Mission, within which the local people may petition the street-level costumed crime-fighter “for protection from the weird and horrible.” This premise genuinely seems to promise some terrific storylines, especially if this comic’s opening tale concerning viciously-fanged blood-drinkers unsuccessfully attempting to establish some sort of “vampiric self-actualisation pyramid scheme cult” on the super-hero’s streets is anything to go by; “They kidnapped us! We’re from this neighbourhood! We’re not killers! We didn’t ask for this! I was a Vegan before, for God’s sake!”

Equally as enthralling are the supporting cast members Doctor Sterman and Reese, who persistently ‘pop up’ throughout this comic’s multiple storylines. MacKay uses the female psychiatrist to great effect as a ‘prop’ to bring the reader right up to speed with Moon Knight’s origin, the ex-mercenary’s apparent immortality, the fall of his divine benefactor and Khonshu’s subsequent imprisonment by the Aesir in Asgard. Yet it is probably the decidedly prickly vampire-victim Reese who proves the more interesting, on account of her no-nonsense attitude towards her masked saviour and biological compulsion “to keep the same [night-time based] schedule you do”.

Rounding off this book’s brilliance is Alessandro Cappuccio, whose ability to pencil “the defender of those who travel at night” seriously laying a hearty smackdown upon a cadre of Vermin clones within an apartment building is debatably worth the cover price alone. Tom Brevoort admitted prior to publication that he had originally “been looking for a more established artist” than the Italian illustrator, however, such is the quality of this periodical’s layouts that the Editor must now be pleased he “took a chance and rolled the dice on him.”

The regular cover art of "MOON KNIGHT #1 by Steve McNiven & Frank D'Armata

Thursday, 29 July 2021

Alien #5 - Marvel Comics

ALIEN No. 5, September 2021
Considering that in its simplest form this comic’s narrative could uncharitably be boiled down to depicting Gabriel Cruz basically racing down a corridor so as to reach Vice Director Harada’s escape pod, Phillip Kennedy Johnson’s penmanship for issue Five of “Alien” still delivers an almighty wallop of a pulse-pounding publication. True, artist Salvador Larroca is certainly required to pencil plenty of panels portraying “Weyland-Yutani’s loyal security officer” manfully carrying his unconscious son towards salvation as he dynamically races through cramped conduits, tightly-fitting doorways and Xenomorph-infested passageways. But that doesn’t stop the “Eisner-nominated writer” from adding plenty of nail-biting tension to such scenes by cramming them full of character-building exposition.

In fact, these ‘chase sequences’ really provide an intriguing window into Cruz’s emotionally complicated headspace, by detailing how the father of two suddenly realises that his eldest lad, Lucas, had been right as a kid to be terrified of the dark and the monsters which could inhabit it - A fearful state of mind which didn’t actually occur to the grizzled ex-marine himself until he was already a fully-grown man ordered upon a calamitous Corporation venture; “Every night in my dreams, I’m back in the nest… Strung up between the hollowed-out corpses of my teammates staring my own death in the face.”

Furthermore, the veteran soldier’s reminiscing as to his traumatising past also finally gives this publication’s audience the opportunity to discover just how Gabriel actually survived being impregnated by a Facehugger “twenty years earlier.” Johnson’s decision to use the doomed mission’s Bishop android as the trooper’s single-handed saviour makes perfect sense, and simultaneously nicely links the comprehensive flashback to the book’s current-day setting where another version of the automaton is busy trying to help Danny’s ungrateful girlfriend Iris on board Epsilon Station.

Ultimately though, a hefty chunk of this twenty-page periodical’s success sits squarely upon the shoulders of the aforementioned Larroca, and the Spaniard’s impressive ability to imbue this comic’s cast with all the hallmarks of the physical exertions they are undertaking so as to outlive their deadly opponents. This proficiency to pencil the desperate determination on Cruz’s face to triumph against overwhelming adversity as he rushes headlong down dark, dingy corridors with a pack of lethal aliens clawing at his heels really adds to the believability of the character’s conflicting motivations, and arguably forces the reader to wholeheartedly hope the evidently loving parent can somehow save his dying offspring.

The regular cover art of "ALIEN" #5 by InHyuk Lee

Wednesday, 28 July 2021

Star Trek #2 - Marvel Comics

STAR TREK No. 2, May 1980
Predominantly focusing upon the increasing tension being felt aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise’s recently refurbished bridge, Marv Wolfman’s “edits” for Issue Two of “Star Trek” arguably made this middle instalment to his ‘motion picture adaption’ an extremely agreeable reading experience. In fact, this eighteen-page periodical debatably proves just how exciting Harold Livingston’s movie screenplay may well have been, had its more dynamic sequences not been persistently plagued by lengthy, special effect-obsessed intermissions fixated upon the sheer size (and extra-terrestrial splendour) of V'ger's interior design; “Adjust parallel course, Navigator. Bring us in to one hundred kilometres distance.” 

Much of this success is due to some nicely-paced layouts energetically-pencilled by Dave Cockrum, coupled with plenty of punchy dialogue. The intruding space vessel’s attack upon the Constitution-class Starship is a good example of this creative collaboration, where the lethal threat of the twelfth powered craft’s second "whiplash bolt" and the resultant apprehensive atmosphere of Admiral James Kirk’s crew, is swiftly ramped up through a series of small(ish) panels depicting the various cast’s response to the mysterious cloud’s initial assault.

This ‘action over exposition’ stance is similarly as successful when it comes to the alien’s probe attempting to assimilate Starfleet strength and the records of Earth’s defences by taking control of the Enterprise’s ship computer. The “sophisticated plasma energy source” is well-visualised by the co-creator of “the new X-Men characters Nightcrawler, Storm, and Colossus”, and quickly demonstrates its deadliness through a flurry of well-sketched pictures depicting it completely evaporating both a hapless security guard and “the lithe Deltan” Lieutenant Ilia.

Perhaps this publication’s biggest draw though, can be found in the few instances where the New Yorker’s script somewhat diverts from the dialogue actually depicted on the Silver Screen. It is wildly known these days that “several scenes shot for Star Trek: The Motion Picture never made it into the theatrical release of the film.” However, they do seem to have made it into this comic, with a somewhat strange scene showing Doctor McCoy berating the uncharacteristically angry Commander Spock for the Vulcan people’s inability to create art, music and poetry accompanying the aforementioned vaporisation of poor Security Officer Phillips.

Scripts/Edits: Marv Wolfman, Pencils: Dave Cockrum, and Inks: Klaus Janson

Tuesday, 27 July 2021

Batman/Superman [2019] #15 - DC Comics

BATMAN/SUPERMAN No. 15, February 2021
As self-contained, single edition long stories go, Joshua Williamson’s “Snow Fight” probably pleased many within the ongoing series’ audience with its thumpingly good tension and interesting take on Alfred Bester’s co-creation Solomon Grundy. But whilst the twenty-two periodical’s plot certainly does a solid job of squaring off this comic’s titular characters against the Secret Society of Super-Villains, it arguably does so due to its California-born writer having to force a few illogical leaps of faith.

For starters, just why Superman can’t simply convey the suddenly radioactive zombie to Slaughter Swamp on his own is never convincingly expounded upon, especially when the accepted alternative to the Man of Steel flying him in his arms is supposedly Batman placing the highly explosive prisoner in the Bat-Wing and piloting his bound passenger through a terrifyingly turbulent snowstorm. The notion that Kal-El’s super-speed may well detonate a volatile Grundy makes sense, however surely a simple alternative would therefore be for Colonel Marie Jonas to just ask the Kryptonian to fly a little less fast, and perhaps even go as so far as to encase Solomon in some sort of protective containment vessel first..?

Likewise, the pair’s mission to transport the white-skinned living corpse has seemingly only just been conceived, and yet Poison Ivy already knows that the plan has somehow miraculously reached the ears of The Secret Society of Super-Villains. Such an incredible breach of security is implausibly explained away by Pamela Isley as being due to information leaving “Arkham so quickly that you’d think it was an inmate”. Yet that doesn’t explain how word got back to a seemingly incarcerated “Doctor Green” that the criminal group plan to use the zombie as a weapon of mass destruction, or why Deadline’s attack squad know precisely where to intercept the Dark Knight during a blinding blizzard..?

Disappointingly, even Andrei Bressan’s artwork isn’t without its flaws either, despite the Brazilian illustrator certainly proving his worth when it comes to Superman, or even Solomon for that matter, laying a serious smackdown upon their ever-arrogant opponents; “The Society didn’t give me all the details, Lady Vic. But if we get Grundy, we get paid! Take ‘em down!” Sadly, Williamson’s script seemingly ends with the highly proficient penciller still needing to populate a fair few more panels, and the resultant snowball fight disconcertingly depicts a decidedly impressionable Bruce Wayne taking on a facially very similar-looking Kal-El.

Writer: Joshua Williamson, Artist: Andrei Bressan, and Colorist: Alejandro Sanchez

Monday, 26 July 2021

A Man Among Ye #5 - Image Comics

A MAN AMONG YE No. 5, July 2021
Initially depicting some sedentary-paced scenes involving Anne Bonny and “her crew of lady buccaneers” enjoying the rudimentary diversions of a supposed safe haven, Stephanie Phillips’ script for this opening instalment to her “second volume of A Man Among Ye” is probably best described as one containing two somewhat separate halves. For whilst Jane Castor’s brief attendance at a marvellously-envisaged puppet show certainly contains a modicum or two of tongue-in-cheek violence, it isn’t until the poorly disguised noblewoman encounters some knife-wielding ruffians down a darkish alleyway midway through this twenty-page periodical that things start to get truly interesting.

Indeed, up until Iris reaches for her trademark hand-axe to confront a sinister-looking, one-eyed vagabond, the most excitement this comic’s audience can arguably hope for is either Mary Read’s haughtiness over the Pirate Queen’s protracted sleeping habits or a marvellously-envisaged marionette of Woodes Rogers treacherously slaying a poor-thinking pirate as part of a well-received theatre show; “Anne brings us to this sh*t port and then disappears with booze and whore while I tend the boat and clean her messes. Someone here has to at least try to do something about this situation.”

Enjoyably though, once the criminals are identified by a local, law-abiding sword-smith, the pace of this publication really heats up, with Phillips penning one of this series’ finest moments as Bonny mercilessly engages two British soldiers in an intense flurry of cold steel. Initially, it is debatably easy for some bibliophiles to forget that the titular character is a vicious killer, and can therefore only be seen as an anti-hero at best. However, the American author makes it shockingly clear just where the female felon stands during this skirmish by having the woman lethally stab one redcoat when he’s distracted by being on fire, and unpityingly hacking apart a hapless second trooper after the kneeling figure pleads for mercy.

Ably aiding and abetting all these illegal acts is “Grimm Tales of Terror” artist Josh George, whose ability to imbue all the figures drawn within this comic with plenty of dynamic life really helps sell the lethal intensity of its action-sequences. In addition, this magazine also contains a glimpse of the gifted illustrator’s storytelling process once the actual narrative has concluded, and resultantly offers a rare insight into the world of sketched layouts which is worth the cover price alone.

The regular cover art of "A MAN AMONG YE" #5 by Josh George