Wednesday, 7 December 2022

The Batman And Scooby-Doo Mysteries #1 - DC Comics

THE BATMAN AND SCOOBY-DOO MYSTERIES No. 1, December 2022
Throwing its audience straight at the deep end by already having had the Caped Crusaders and a certain gang of “meddling kids” meet-up off screen, Sholly Fisch’s script for Issue One of “The Batman And Scooby-Doo Mysteries” sets a ferocious, action-packed pace which arguably doesn’t let up until the twenty-page-periodical’s end. Indeed, with the notable exception of a few panels depicting Shaggy and his Great Dane enjoying the lavish hospitality of Bruce Wayne’s private plane, the American author is utterly merciless in his endeavour to keep both the lead protagonists and their fans incredibly busy; “I take it back! I take it back! I don’t want all of our cases to be like this!”

Foremost of these debatably exhausting endeavours is the “Looney Tunes” writer’s determination to have this comic’s considerably sized cast travel all over the world and visit numerous locations. Such penmanship undoubtedly provides any perusing bibliophile with plenty of snippets of information as to the mythical mummery found in both Argentina and England. But by the time the Dark Knight and Robin arrive in the city of Batman, Turkey, it’s quite probable that the heads of this publication’s younger readers will be uncontrollably spinning. 

In addition, “A Few Good Batmen” isn’t slow to start expanding upon the members of The Batmen of All Nations, with the likes of El Gaucho, Musketeer, Impala, Knight, Legionary, Ranger, Squire and Wingman all becoming involved in the fray by the final few panels. Sadly, so many colourfully costumed crime-fighters soon get lost in the frenzied hubbub of Ra's al Ghul’s deadly ninja attack, and resultantly several characters aren’t given any spotlight to explain either their motivations for taking up the Mantle of the Bat, or how they fortuitously just happen to arrive outside the supervillain’s headquarters at precisely the right moment.

Of course, for those who enjoy being carried along upon such adrenalin-charged adventures and appreciate first-rate ‘cartoon-style’ pencilling, these are minor quibbles which can easily be pushed aside so as to enjoy Dario Brizuela’s layouts. The illustrator is especially good at capturing the laugh-out-loud facial expressions of Shaggy and Scooby, whenever the cowardly pair are spooked or scared. Furthermore, the line work suggesting just how well the Demon’s Head can wield a curved blade during a swordfight is excellent.

Written by: Sholly Fisch, Drawn by: Dario Brizuela, and Coloured by: Franco Riesco

Tuesday, 6 December 2022

Batman: Urban Legends #20 [Part Two] - DC Comics

BATMAN: URBAN LEGENDS No. 20, December 2022
Essentially comprising of a story-long argument between Bruce Wayne and Talia al Ghul, Nadia Shammas’ distinctly feisty “My Son” certainly maintains this anthology book’s atmosphere of adrenalin-fuelled action. But whilst there’s nothing wrong with witnessing an unmasked Dark Knight patiently fend off his angry former lover with a series of feints and parries, the entire tale, strangely set at the bottom of the stairs leading up to an unconscious Damian’s sickbed in Wayne Manor, is debatably fairly frustratingly contrived.

True, the female master assassin is the daughter of the super villainous Demon's Head, so perhaps it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to this publication’s readers that she can enter the billionaire’s home by simply tunnelling straight through a brick wall with some sort of acidic smoke device. However, some bibliophiles may find the ease with which proficient penciller Jahnoy Lindsay illustrates her rather dramatically penetrating the mansion a bit disconcerting considering its state-of-art security measures. In addition, the entire fracas is apparently due to Nightwing failing to check his explosive equipment before conducting a routine evening patrol – something which seems rather incredulous considering the fastidiousness of Dick Grayson’s long-time mentor and the former Teen Titan’s usual attention to such details.

Arguably much more intriguing is “The Murder Club” by Joey Esposito, which rather neatly dangles the audience along with its suggestion of a mysterious cult murdering Gotham City’s super-rich in a terrifyingly gruesome way; “Gradual rotting of the flesh, then sudden violent psychosis until the body gives out.” Indeed, Batman’s investigation into the fifth such killing “in as many months” has all the hallmarks of being a classic crime thriller involving the World’s Greatest Detective, especially as this four-parter’s opening instalment features the Caped Crusader confronting his arch-nemesis the Penguin. Unnervingly however, the author then completely wrong-foots everybody by revealing the shock identities of a couple who initially appear destined to be the contagion’s next victims, with a genuine, jaw-dropping cliff-hanger.

Also adding some palpable edge to this twenty-one-page plot is Vasco Georgiev, whose ability to capture all the grotesque physicality of Oswald Chesterfield Cobblepot alone makes this adventure well worth perusing. Coupled with Alex Guimaraes' colours, the Swiss provides some incredibly atmospheric layouts to this fable, not least of which is its appropriately dark, heavily shadowed opening inside the Gotham City Medical Examiner's Office.

Writers: Nadia Shammas and Joey Esposito, and Artists: Jahnoy Lindsay and Vasco Georgiev

Monday, 5 December 2022

DC Horror Presents: Sgt. Rock Vs. The Army Of The Dead #3 - DC Comics

DC HORROR PRESENTS: SGT. ROCK VS. THE ARMY OF THE DEAD No. 3, January 2023
Whilst “DC Comics’” pre-publication synopsis for Issue Three of “DC Horror Presents: Sergeant Rock Verses The Army Of The Dead” enthusiastically speaks about Easy Company having “some fun defending themselves against Hitler’s undead goons”, such joy probably pales when compared to how much entertainment this comic’s audience will have actually reading Bruce Campbell’s narrative. Sure, the twenty-two-page periodical starts off a little slowly, courtesy of the grizzled squad being thoroughly briefed back at Allied Command Centre about their latest offensive behind enemy lines. But once the likes of Four Eyes and Long Round have been equipped with the latest weaponry, the veteran soldier company are quickly thrown straight into the deep end; “With these new toys, we were itchin’ to get back into the sandbox.”

Furthermore, the brief pause in zombie-killing action allows the American author to establish the parameters of a mission which is far more interesting than a simple full-on assault against the Fuhrer’s walking dead. The Allies’ need to “flush” out an unharmed Doctor Theodor Morell so the evil physician can potentially lead Rock to Hitler himself makes the assignment doubly difficult and adds an extra edge to the pulse-pounding proceedings when events start to take a turn for the worse – such as Team Dozer inadvertently blocking their entry into the Nazi’s unholy serum factory with a bazooka blast to its brick-built giant chimney.

Equally as enthralling is the fact that even with such advanced armaments as a heavy counterassault rifle, Easy Company are far from the unstoppable killing machine lesser comic book writers might be tempted to pen them as. Indeed, despite their flamethrower, ability to breach cement walls and be deadly “accurate from a thousand yards”, this mini-series’ protagonists are repeatedly shown having to desperately hurl themselves behind cover as their disconcertingly gleeful, almost bestial foes, continue to soak up physical damage which would ordinarily lay low a mortal opponent. 

Adding an insane number of detached retinas and entrails to “Belly Of The Beast” is Eduardo Risso, whose pencils don’t shy away from the notion of depicting a goose-steeping undead German having his entire face or all-too visible bowels shredded by a shotgun shell or two at close quarters. In addition, colorist Kristian Rossi does a first-rate job providing plenty of atmospheric lighting for all the gratuitously graphic set-pieces, whether it be inside the heavily shadowed Fuhrer’s bunker, the purple-saturated darkness of night, or the beautifully bright glow of a flamethrower.

The regular cover art to "DC HORROR PRESENTS: SGT. ROCK VS. THE ARMY OF THE DEAD" #3 by Gary Frank

Saturday, 3 December 2022

Batman: Urban Legends #20 [Part One] - DC Comics

BATMAN: URBAN LEGENDS No. 20, December 2022
Hooking its readers straight from the start with a thrilling trip “to the world of Batman, monster hunter”, this particular anthology comic book must surely have pleased any fans of “DC Comics” alternative reality-based publication imprint “Elseworlds”. In fact, considering Jim Zub’s storyline for “Castle Arkham” arguably contains the perfect mix of medieval horror, dedicated detective work and pulse-pounding pugilism, it’s doubtful any perusing bibliophile would have been able to put Issue Twenty of “Batman: Urban Legends” back down until they’d at least witnessed Bruce Wayne and Julia Pennyworth successfully thwart Kirkland Langstrom’s misguided attempt to rule Gotham as a terrifying demonic bat-creature.

Much of this mesmerising spell is indisputably due to the Canadian author penning an incredibly believable and intriguing feudal world of swashbuckling swordplay and mean-spirited politics. However, enormous credit must also be given to Max Dunbar’s simply sumptuous layouts, with the illustrator pencilling some seriously disconcerting ghouls who increase their grinning numbers through a bloody sacrificial ritual, as well as an awesome-looking finale set high above the dark metropolis’ rooftops; “In the city square, the people celebrate good harvest and good fortune… Until their revelry crumbles into unspeakable fear.”

Equally as enjoyable, though significantly shorter than this periodical’s opening yarn, is Chris Burnham’s “epic Alfred saga” which quite marvellously manages to spotlight the loyal butler’s ability to outthink his opponents even when they are both numerous and dangerously fanatical about their diabolical cause. Absolutely vibrant in its Lovecraftian imagery, courtesy of the narrative’s fixation upon the Assyrian fish deity, Dagon, this ten-pager’s plot probably wrong-footed a fair few in its audience by rather cleverly having the decapitated god’s scales actually turn out to be much more than just ancient rigid skin plates.

Furthermore, the Connecticut-born artist also provides “Out Of The Frying Pan” with plenty of compelling visualisations, not least of which is the imaginative underwater museum display dedicated to Dagon’s long-dead corpse. Coupled with the American’s dynamic drawings of two competing cult factions, including amphibian-headed rubber masks plus obligatory red robes, and most readers will easily get caught up in the frantic post-ritual fight once the first angry punch is thrown.

Writers: Jim Zub and Chris Burnham, and Artists: Max Dunbar and Chris Burnham

Thursday, 1 December 2022

DC Horror Presents: Sgt. Rock Vs. The Army Of The Dead #2 - DC Comics

DC HORROR PRESENTS: SGT. ROCK VS. THE ARMY OF THE DEAD No. 2, December 2022
Featuring an undead fascist host which is not only almost unkillable, but also retains enough memory of their former life to drink, drive, converse and fire automatic weapons, Bruce Campbell’s narrative for Issue Two of “DC Horror Presents: Sgt. Rock Vs. The Army Of The Dead” unquestionably produces a genuine sense of deadly danger surrounding Easy Company as they reconnoitre behind enemy lines. Indeed, at one point it actually appears a sure-fire certainty that Dozer is about to be throttled to death by a grinning cadaver, when the unsuspecting soldier is surprised by a pair of Third Reich zombies being carried inside a canvas-covered German truck.

Enjoyably, such sincerely felt jeopardy isn’t palpable just for this one set-piece either, as the Michigan-born writer later places the veteran squad inside a derelict building which is suddenly swarmed full of almost bestial, gun-toting zeds. Moreover, ‘the Sword of Damocles’ is even shown dangling above the head of Doctor Theodor Morell’s second-in-command, when the villainous physician makes it abundantly clear to his sub-ordinate that the factory the terrified officer controls will increase its output of walking dead immediately; “Need I remind you that your employment -- and your very life -- depend upon it?”

Marvellously matching these pulse-pounding proceedings are Campbell’s frequent injections of dark humour, such as the putrefying, goose-stepping goons who decide to get drunk in Das Hafenzimmer and subsequently start gleefully shooting one another to bits in an attempt to see who can take the most bullets. This ‘tongue in cheek’ approach entertainingly extends even to Easy Company, as Sergeant Rock and his men make numerous quips throughout the twenty-two-page periodical.

Similarly as successful as this book’s prodigious penmanship are its sense-shattering layouts, with Eduardo Risso pencilling some incredibly animated corpses and seemingly spraying every panel possible with a hail of deadly lead. Indeed, some of the German zombies depicted within this comic convey such evident personalities of their own, especially whenever they’re about to strangle or shoot someone, that many readers might arguably find it hard to imagine even Joe Kubert’s co-creation being able to outfight the Fuhrer’s formidably strong machines of undying flesh and bone.

The regular cover art to "DC HORROR PRESENTS: SGT. ROCK VS. THE ARMY OF THE DEAD" #2 by Gary Frank

Wednesday, 30 November 2022

Creepshow #2 - Image Comics

CREEPSHOW No. 2, October 2022
Arguably relying upon their readers’ imagination to conjure up the nightmarish horror which so suddenly causes young Daphne to stop playing under her back garden’s impressively large old oak, David and Maria Lapham’s ultimately rather violent “tale of a tree whose roots grew so deep they reached Hell” doesn’t really make an awful lot of sense. Sure, it’s clear that the child’s “favourite place” has somehow been transformed into a malignant force for evil, and disconcertingly has the ability to detrimentally influence those people unlucky enough to fall under its mesmeric spell. But just how the tree is able to make the girl cold-bloodedly murder both her parents and the visiting Kumars before disappearing down a hole in its trunk is anybody’s guess. As is the plant’s disconcerting ability to talk and suddenly infest its owner’s house with all manner of chattering insects.

Likewise, David Lapham’s artwork is probably a little too clean to successfully conjure up the increasingly dark atmosphere this ten-page tale needs to generate. The American cartoonist can clearly proficiently pencil a story, yet with the exception of the gnarly titular antagonist, everything else is rather stiff-looking – even when Daphne is busy chopping her neighbours into “tiny bits” with an axe so she can use their “mush” as fertilizer.

Perhaps slightly more successful is Steve Foxe’s “Creator’s Rites”, which dips its toe into the thorny waters of elder abuse by so-called professionals and whether intentionally or not, will doubtless cause some within its audience to draw parallels between the plight of supposedly penniless Sal Medina and the late, great Stan Lee. Indeed, Erica Henderson’s depiction of Infra Red’s geriatric creator even physically resembles the Jack Kirby Hall of Famer with his white hair, glasses and cardigan-covered open-necked shirt; “F*ck the movies! I don’t get one shining cent from those pieces of sh*t!”

Sadly however, Bill’s uninspiring attempt to steal his patient’s generous court settlement whilst wearing a cartoon mask isn’t scary in any shape or form, as nothing supernatural even remotely occurs. Instead, this narrative provides an intriguing insight into the addled mind of an imaginative pensioner, whose comic book creations simply help stir his aging frame into one last moment of tangible activity so as to save the day… Or at least deliver upon the man’s untrustworthy home aide a rather grisly just dessert.

Writers: David Lapham & Maria Lapham, and Steve Foxe, and Artists: David Lapham and Erica Henderson

Tuesday, 29 November 2022

Crypt Of Shadows #1 [Part Two] - Marvel Comics

CRYPT OF SHADOWS No. 1, December 2022
Padding out the middle of this predominantly pedestrian-paced publication is the implausible “Skin Crawl” by Chris Cooper, which sees Doctor Michael Morbius being plagued by a race of “immaterial parasitic beings that feed on fear” which only he can see and hear – at least until an occult investigator enters the fray that is. Apparently able to induce the vampiric physician into an even more murderous blood rage than normal, the unimaginatively named Troids momentarily look set to cause Roy Thomas’ co-creation to launch himself on a chilling, dynamically driven murder-fest. But disappointingly, are then pencilled by Ibrahim Moustafa as being all-too easily defeated by Louise Hastings’ young grandson and an infuriatingly simple spell of revocation.

Far more engaging, and perhaps a storyline which should have been enlarged so as to populate the entire comic book, Chris Condon’s “Down Came The Rain” shows plenty of promise in its initial presentation of Spider-Man and the Human Torch’s unsuccessful infiltration of Siodmak Pharmaceuticals. Boasting a couple of jump scares and a pulse-pounding foot-chase, as well as an amusing appearance by the badass Elsa Bloodstone, it’s highly like many readers will have wished Fran Galan was tasked with pencilling much more than just seven pages – especially when a fast-recovering Peter Parker hints at an insanely-tense fistfight that happened off screen just before this printed escapade begins.

Rounding off Issue One of “Crypt Of Shadows” is the disconcertingly downbeat “Endless Slaughter In The Infinite Swamp” by writer/artist Adam Warren. Essentially a tale-long, no-holds barred gorefest between Laura Kinney and Man-Thing, this ultimately wearisome battle appears to have been contrived simply so the freelancer can repeatedly sketch Wolverine gratuitously slicing through Ted Sallis’ alter-ego without a care in the world for millions of years; “And that, you see, is how the ultimate predator became a vegetarian for the rest of her biologically immortal life.”

Perhaps therefore this comic’s biggest highlight surprisingly lies in Al Ewing’s well-penned linking narration starring the Master of the Mystic Arts’ dead brother, Victor Strange, and a bevy of grotesque undead creatures. Well-drawn by Ramon Bachs, these splash-pages provide an intriguing introduction to each of the anthology’s yarns, and just like Condon’s contribution, probably make the audience wish editor in chief C.B. Cebulski had given this element much more ‘screen time’ rather than include some of the other more sedentary storylines.

Writers: Chris Cooper, Chris Condon & Adam Warren, and Artists: Ibrahim Moustafa & Fran Galan