Thursday, 14 November 2019

Batman/Superman [2019] #2 - DC Comics

BATMAN/SUPERMAN No. 2, November 2019
Shifting a respectable 43,107 copies in September 2019, it seems that Joshua Williamson’s decision to ‘promote’ Shazam from being “the last character revealed” within this mini-series to have been infected by The Batman Who Laughs to the first, was actually a wise one. For despite the California-born writer being partially influenced by the recent release of the superhero's film by “New Line Cinema” rather than any substantial improvement to his storytelling, the opening battle between Bill Parker’s co-creation, Kal-El and the Dark Knight irrefutably delivers a sense-shattering start to this twenty-two page periodical.

Indeed, the California-born writer arguably pens a piece portraying the Caped Crusader at his very best, as Bruce Wayne’s alter-ego finds himself caught in the middle of a bout of fisticuffs between two of “DC Comics” heaviest hitters, and yet still seems to hold his own against the super-crazed Captain Marvel utilising all of his fighting smarts, as well as a near super-sonic ‘borrowed’ Bat-wing from an incarcerated Batman Who Laughs; “The jet was just the delivery method, punk! I’m always the weapon!”

Surprisingly, Superman is shown in a similar light too, one moment angrily remonstrating with his ‘poisoned’ former friend following the “world’s mightiest mortal” endangering a large group of innocent bystanders with a lethal shower of broken masonry, and then refusing to deliver a coup de grâce in the next, when the psychotic Shazam transforms himself back into the highly vulnerable Billy Batson just before the big boy scout’s eye laser beams discharge. Such a pulse-pounding picture of the lead two protagonist’s overcoming their failings genuinely pulls the reader in and promotes a palpable aura of menace to the proceedings, which repeatedly looks set to depict the pair being badly beaten by the hauntingly homicidal Captain Marvel.

Disappointingly however, once this all-too brief adrenalin ride comes to an unsatisfactory resolution, and this comic’s audience are rather jarringly jolted to the Fortress of Solitude in the Bermuda Triangle, the American author’s narrative debatably goes badly off the rails. Admittedly, it’s not too difficult to stomach the lengthy, dialogue-heavy discourse between a badly bruised Batman and Superman following their rather necessary regrouping, but it’s rather hard to believe that the best course of action they can think of is to release the Batman Who Laughs from his ultra-secure captivity in the hope the Dark Knight’s “evil counterpart” will lead them to their foe..?
The regular cover art of "BATMAN/SUPERMAN" No. 2 by David Marquez & Alejandro Sanchez

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Star Trek: Year Five #7 - IDW Publishing

STAR TREK: YEAR FIVE No. 7, November 2019
It is arguably clear from their screenplay for Issue Seven of “Star Trek: Year Five” that Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly both enjoy “a lifelong passion” for the science fiction television programme created by Gene Roddenberry, and “take any opportunity to rewatch The Original Series.” For despite their storyline’s sheer grandeur probably having far more in common with the franchise’s big budget silver screen adventures than its syndicated Sixties escapades, this twenty page periodical’s plot still contains plenty of nostalgic nods to the show’s yesteryears; “What are ye doin’ to my ship!? Every lick of power we had has vanished, our dilithium is inert. It’s like our momentum just got consumed whole!”

In addition, the collaborative duo also seem to place far more reverence upon the character of the U.S.S. Enterprise’s skipper than some writers have in the past, portraying him as “the kind of introspective commander Kirk could be” rather than simply lampooning the Starfleet officer “as a swaggering sexy alpha male”. This sensitivity to those under the youngest Federation Captain’s command proves particularly engaging when the Constitution-class starship falls prey to a Tholian Web whilst under the control of Lieutenant Sulu, and so to restore Hikaru’s depleted confidence James not only takes the helmsman with him on a mission to explore “a second ship of unknown origin”, but assures the demoralised former physicist that he’ll never let the Iowan down by “standing by my side, as we risk out lives for strangers who may or may not already be dead.”

This intriguing team-up of Kirk and Sulu really is the highlight of this publication, especially as the pair quickly don the eye-catching environmental suits designed by William Ware Theiss and subsequently attempt a risky space-jump across to an alien vessel. Admittedly, the suggestion that a spacecraft could be populated by a race of humanoid fish-people who willingly consume their dead as an act of “survival” is debatably a little disconcerting, yet Ayal of the I’qosa, with all his rationalisations regarding “vital nutrients”, still makes for a fascinating member of this comic’s supporting cast.

Ultimately however, this book relies upon the excellent storyboards of Stephen Thompson for its moderately-sized success, with the Bayside-born illustrator’s double-splash of Tholia, the capital of the Tholian Assembly, at the start of this book really setting an impressive example of the immense proportions the “non-humanoid hermaphroditic species” can achieve if blessed with a long existence. Coupled with an excellent life-like depiction of actor William Shatner as Kirk, as well as a fantastic Andy Warhol-inspired piece of ‘pop art’ involving Spock mind-melding with Bright Eyes, this magazine is genuinely a feast for the eyes.
Writers: Jackson Lanzing & Collin Kelly, and Artist: Stephen Thompson

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Absolute Carnage: Lethal Protectors #2 - Marvel Comics

ABSOLUTE CARNAGE: LETHAL PROTECTORS No. 2, November 2019
Despite selling almost nine thousand copies less than its previous instalment, Frank Tieri’s narrative for Issue Two of “Absolute Carnage: Lethal Protectors” must still have pleased the majority of its 34,372 readers in September 2019, courtesy of its much-appreciated spotlight upon Misty Knight and inclusion of Iron Fist, Deathlok, Firestar, Morbius, Cloak and Dagger. Indeed, considering that this mini-series is supposedly about Cletus Kasady’s resurrection “by a cult dedicated to the worship of Knull” and subsequent bonding “to the deific primordial Grendel”, this particular twenty-page periodical is infinitely more focused upon the storyline’s heroes banding together so as to face a common threat than the notorious serial killer’s hunt for “everyone who ever bonded to a symbiote.”

Fortunately however, the Brooklyn-born writer’s ability to pen plenty of engaging dialogue, even when its somewhat limited to the likes of Mercedes mentally talking to herself as she covertly shuffles her way through a doppelgänger-infested sewer system, more than makes up for an arguable lack of action, and debatably produces plenty of tension amongst this comic’s cast once Henry Hayes arrives, having “had to shoot somebody on the way over.” Of course, all these discussions and heated disagreements doesn’t mean that this book is completely devoid of action either, as Danny Rand alone demonstrates just how powerful a punch he can throw when he intercepts a transformed Ravencroft inmate from devouring a bunch of hapless children innocent playing in the street.

But the American author certainly seems to use the publication’s plot to carefully position his pieces for an upcoming calamitous confrontation, rather than simply pack it full of artist Flaviano pencilling numerous panels containing pulse-pounding pugilism. In fact, Tieri even seems to find the time to craft “Lord Carnage” providing his Venomanics with a splash-page summary of past events as to John Jameson’s many failures concerning Knight’s incarceration; “Yeah, you captured her when she was sent in to investigate Doverton. But then…”

Perhaps therefore this comic’s only real disappointment is the lamentably abrupt end Frank brings to Misty’s edgy exploration of the deadly catacombs beneath the Ravencroft Institute. The one-armed special agent’s ability to survive her perilous environment, made all the more impressive when she bests a pair of blood-drenched doppelgängers with nothing more than a severed limb, nobly demonstrates the former private investigator’s remarkable grit and tenacity. So it comes as something of a pity these engrossingly impressive trials are cut all-too short by a frenzied Man-Wolf.

‘First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
The regular cover art of "ABSOLUTE CARNAGE: LETHAL PROTECTORS" No. 2 by Iban Coello & Jason Keith

Monday, 11 November 2019

Web Of Black Widow #2 - Marvel Comics

WEB OF BLACK WIDOW No. 2, December 2019
Featuring an opening scene which is somewhat reminiscent to that of Angelina Jolie’s 2003 action-adventure film “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – The Cradle of Life”, there’s a lot of mounting tension to enjoy with this comic’s depiction of Natasha Romanoff stealing on board a gigantic cruise liner whilst it glides through international waters. Indeed, many fans of the Russian assassin possibly may even have felt that Jody Houser’s portrayal of the deadly spy infiltrating the luxurious Collins Financial Bindbucks launch party provided this twenty-page periodical with the perfect beginning, especially as the titular character seemingly uses almost every trick in the secret agent’s book to pass through the seafaring vessel’s overt security. 

Lamentably though, all of this well-penned spy-fi atmosphere is quickly ruined by the abrupt appearance of Bucky Barnes, who astonishingly materialises in the bedroom of the Black Widow’s target having apparently been pre-warned by his “masters” that she “might be stopping by.” This debatably contrived confrontation between the two former lovers does admittedly swiftly provide this publication with some debatably needed high-octane action, courtesy of Stephen Mooney pencilling the pair swapping all manner of punches and kicks with one another.

Yet none of these forceful fisticuffs can possibly make up for the American author literally crowbarring the Winter Soldier into her narrative on the happenstance that “Collins got wind you [Romanoff] were coming” and so “relocated the computer setup.” In fact, by the time Natasha’s fight has seen the deadlocked duo crash through the cabin’s double-doors and spill out into the corridor right in front of two gun-toting guards, it is seemingly clear that any pretence of this story being an edgy thriller has disappointingly dissipated; “Please make your way to the lifeboats in a calm and orderly fashion.”

Similarly as perplexing, albeit in a good way, is the sudden inclusion of an unknown killer who appears capable of impersonating the Black Widow and committing cold-blooded murder whilst wearing so convincing a ‘digitally-created disguise’. This antagonist clearly knows much about the “web of deceit” encircling Stan Lee’s co-creation, having fleetingly featured at the very end of this mini-series’ first instalment, and resultantly provides a tantalising hook for any perusing bibliophile to pick up Houser’s next issue of “Web Of Black Widow”.
The regular cover art of "WEB OF BLACK WIDOW" No. 2 by Junggeun Yoon

Sunday, 10 November 2019

The Black Ghost #1 - New Wave Comics

THE BLACK GHOST No. 1, September 2019
Published as “part of the Comixology Originals line of exclusive digital content”, as well as enthusiastically described by Mark Waid, the “best-selling author of Kingdom Come, Daredevil, Archie and more”, as being “seriously compelling, with a lead you can’t help but root for”, this opening instalment to Monica Gallagher and Alex Segura’s “Hard Revolution” storyline certainly contains a fair few elements with which to entice its audience back for a second reading. Indeed, the twenty-two page periodical’s mix of dogged newspaper journalism, naively-brave vigilantism and a mysteriously masked, well-dressed gentlemen righting the wrongs of a criminal organisation, will probably alone have drawn in a substantial audience eager to relive the Golden Age of Comics, or return to the more innocent days of Peter Parker at the Daily Bugle and Clark Kent at the Daily Planet.

Moreover, this five-part mini-series’ writing partnership even manages to somewhat replicate the palpable sense of personal injustice once generated by the heroes of yesterday, by quickly cramming in a condensed back story as to Lara’s “mad crusade to unmask the Ghost” being motivated by the murder of her beloved brother, after he took a stand against the corruption of Creighton city. Reminiscent of both an adolescent Bruce Wayne clutching the corpses of his slain parents and then Matt Murdock developing an ability to out-punch a knife-wielding thug, Dominguez’s ‘road to condoning summary justice’ resultantly is as entertaining as her fortuitous cyber-connection, LONE, is disconcertingly well-informed.

Sadly however, any such sense of nostalgia is quickly dispelled courtesy of this comic’s creative team deciding to populate some of its early character’s speech bubbles with all manner of colourful metaphors and expletives. Admittedly, this jarring jaunt with profanities does seem to dwindle as the book’s narrative progresses and moves away from our heroine’s brush with some low level enforcers in a seedy alleyway, but it still raises its unnecessary head from time to time, most noticeably when the “burnt out cops reporter” is confronted by her agitated editor over an imminent article deadline; “Mags… I’m onto something real here, I promise you. Big things are happening, okay?”

George Kambadais’ layouts for Issue One of “The Black Ghost” also possibly prove something of a disappointment, despite the former freelance colourist’s ability to populate the publication with plenty of prodigiously pencilled panels, such as Lara’s aforementioned flashback sequence. There should be little doubt that the Greek artist’s attractively clean line-work makes reading this comic’s script a joy, yet there is a distinctly wooden, two-dimensional flatness to his figures, especially the cape-wearing titular lead when he finally flies into action, which genuinely detracts from any sense of pulse-pounding pugilism.
Written by: Monica Gallagher & Alex Segura, and Art by: George Kambadais

Saturday, 9 November 2019

C.H.E.S.S. Aliens Passage #1 - Apogee Comics

C.H.E.S.S. ALIENS PASSAGE No. 1, January 2020
As “action-packed” one-shots go, it is hard to argue that Alfred Paige's narrative for “C.H.E.S.S. Aliens Passage” doesn’t deliver on its promise to take its readership on a high-octane journey packed-full of zinging bullets, roaring hot spurts of flame and sense-shattering explosions. Indeed, the creator of the Command Headquarters of Espionage and Strategic Strikes pens such a ferociously paced piece that doubtless few within this comic’s enthralled audience even managed to pause for breath before the twenty-four page periodical cataclysmically concluded. 

Fortunately however, despite its almost insane commitment to sense-shattering shenanigans, this publication doesn’t simply roll out a seemingly endless series of meaningless fight sequences, but actually spends quite come considerable time building up the relationship between “two of the C.H.E.S.S. Team favourite characters.” These strained interactions, as one can hardly imagine the likes of James Washington and Richard Kincaid truly getting along with one another, adds a palpable sense of tension to the proceedings, which genuinely encourages the book’s bibliophiles to repeatedly question what its sole two protagonists are actually going to do so as to thwart the surprisingly sudden alien invasion of Nevada in America.

Such second-guessing lies at the heart of this comic’s success, and doesn’t just end when Pinpoint’s standard mission goes horribly awry with the revelation that his target quite possibly isn’t human. In fact, the gun-toting maniac’s obsessive desire to successfully complete his assassination of a "scumbag", despite it being substantially belittled in the face of the far more serious threat to the future of the planet, means Blowtorch can seemingly never confidently believe his bald-headed subordinate is going to do precisely as ordered; “Tell ya what, Blow’ -- I’ll flip ya for it. You wanna call it? Loser plays tour guide.”

Adding to this scintillating story’s raw energy is Edson Alves' artwork, which does a great job of portraying the sheer pleasure Washington takes in gunning down row after row of hapless Roswell Greys in his rage-fuelled determination to finally kill his potentially immortal target. Likewise, the illustrator also does an excellent job in depicting the remote landscape surrounding the secret operatives during their difficult 'military operation'. Whether it be a badly-boarded old wooden mine building or a dilapidated brick house, the sheer isolation of the heroes’ situation is perfectly captured by this book’s pencilling.

‘First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
Writer: Alfred Paige, Edits & Letters: Bernie Lee, and Artwork: Edson Alves

Sunday, 3 November 2019

Web Of Black Widow #1 - Marvel Comics

WEB OF BLACK WIDOW No. 1, November 2019
Enthusiastically described by “Marvel Worldwide” as “the spy tale of the century”, Jody Houser’s script for Issue One of “Web Of Black Widow” is arguably a long way from achieving such a lofty accolade. Yet the comic’s 38,627 readers probably still enjoyed the palpable sense of tension which the “bestselling” writer crafts throughout her twenty-page narrative, courtesy of some nicely paced flashbacks to a time when the ex-KGB assassin was both first setting up her ‘attack’ upon Walter Sobol’s grand speech at the Light nightclub, and ‘merrily’ murdering targets as part of “the notorious Red Room.”

Indeed, considering that the titular character is one of the New York-based publisher’s “longest-running female heroes” it makes perfect sense to have Natasha Romanoff’s murkily rich past, and indeterminable present, intermingle intermittently throughout this tale, especially when this five-part mini-series' entire premise is seemingly about “the clone with implanted memories” actively seeking revenge upon those from her distinctly troubled past; “And like the deadliest of spiders, easily escaping notice. Until it is far too late… This little one has yet to fail us.”

Disappointingly however, every time this publication’s plot does submerge its audience in its enthralling Cold War shenanigans, Tony Stark pops up to jar them awake to the reality that the adventure is set within a universe of super-powered heroes, rather than just a deadly dark world of moles and all-too human secret agents. Admittedly, the industrialist’s presence alone isn’t all that disconcerting, and actually generates a genuine moment of nostalgia as he tenderly recalls his first dance with the Russian killer. But once the moustached playboy dons his famous red and gold armoured suit, the Avenger debatably destroys any semblance of this being a “gritty, noir-drenched take on our favourite conflicted superspy”.

Quite possibly this comic’s biggest let-down though, are Stephen Mooney’s storyboards which seem to travel from one extreme to another in their quality as the periodical progresses. At first somewhat lavish-looking in style, especially when he pencils Natasha at her sultry best dancing across the social event’s well-lit floor or subsequently smacking the seven bells out of some seriously out-gunned security guards, the Dublin artist’s later drawings disconcertingly seem almost amateurish and irregularly-formed, making Iron Man appear particularly peculiar to the eye.
The regular cover art of "WEB OF BLACK WIDOW" No. 1 by Junggeun Yoon