Saturday, 29 November 2014

Arkham Manor #2 [The New 52] - DC Comics

ARKHAM MANOR No. 2, January 2015
There’s a seriously claustrophobic treat waiting in store for any reader who can somehow get past the appallingly bad Shawn Crystal cover to Issue 2 of “Arkham Manor” and actually take a ‘step inside’ the comic book. Even then writer Gerry Duggan’s tense and nervy thriller isn’t immediately obvious, as the first few pages of the plot primarily focus’ upon an inmate discussion group held by Doctor Arkham.

However once the banter-like dialogue between the mansion’s Administrator, the Scarecrow and Mister Freeze has come to an end, all attention turns to the machinations of the prisoner, Jack Straw… also known as The Batman. It is at this point that Duggan’s promise of depicting the Dark knight wearing an altogether different mask really starts to materialise and the speed of the plot to “A Home For The Criminally Insane” begins to move at an increasingly frantic pace.

There’s a killer lose amongst the killers, and a heavily disguised Bruce Wayne needs to move undetected between both his ‘fellow’ inmates and the security staff who now patrol his former home. Ever confident, Batman believes the murderer to be the missing serial-killer Zsasz. But all his well-laid plans for solving the deaths using stealth and subterfuge quickly unravel and have to be cast aside as ‘Jack Straw’ witnesses another attack and has to rush to the scene if he is to save the victim’s life. Thus follows a headlong dash through Wayne Manor’s corridors as the ‘apparent escapee’ battles both asylum guards as well as the shadowy mutilator himself.

Fortunately, having presumably shaken off their woes with their terrible sketchy cover illustration, Shawn Crystal and colorist Dave McCaig appear increasingly on form as the tension mounts. The former ‘exclusive’ “Marvel Comics” artist’s pencilling is still not the best there is, but the composition of his panels and the viewpoints of the action he provides the reader with, are simply second to none when it comes to creating a dark tense and atmospheric world full of sudden dangers and the promise of a truly horrible death. A hand-held power-drill boring into the forehead of a tightly bound prisoner being one such example.
The variant cover art of "ARKHAM MANOR" No. 2 by Chris Brunner & Rico Renzi

Friday, 28 November 2014

Devil Dinosaur #3 - Marvel Comics

DEVIL DINOSAUR No. 3, June 1978
If ever there was a title which shows just how important an artist Jack “King” Kirby was during his third tenure at “Marvel Comics Group” (1975-1978) then it arguably has to be “Devil Dinosaur”. Published in the hope that it would tap into the popularity the writer/artist enjoyed with his “Kamandi” series at “DC Comics”, this book’s opening page alone declares just how much influence the American penciller had over his creations’ periodical. For atop the typical single-panel full-page illustration for which he was famous for, are the words “Edited, Written and Drawn by Jack Kirby”. In other words, with the exception of embellishments by Mike Rover and colours by P. Goldberg, this was essentially Kirby’s very own book – a position of power which was unheard of for an artist during the preceding Silver Age of Comics.

Sadly the quality of the storyline to “Giant” does demonstrate precisely why the series chronicling the adventures of Moon-Boy and his Tyrannosaurus Rex, Devil, only lasted nine months. Admittedly the title was targeted at a young audience, hence its inclusion of the ever-popular dinosaurs, but even so the sheer simplicity of this issue’s seventeen-page plot is disappointingly dreadful.

After a rather strong build-up, where the young Dawn-man finds himself following a trail of badly beaten great lizards through the length of the Valley of Flame, the tale abruptly comes to an end with the revelation that the dinosaur-crushing giant man, known only as Sire, has caused the carnage simply in order to help him find a missing child from his tribe. Once reunited, the triceratops skull-wearing warrior soberly stomps off, youth under one arm, and declares a truce with Devil Dinosaur.

As one might expect however, this story does contain some rather impressive drawings by one of the inaugural inductees of the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame. These include a wonderfully ‘busy’ two-pager depicting Sire causing a stampede of Pterosaurs and Dimetrodons, and a series of panels illustrating a one-sided battle between the giant man and a Stegosaurus. Best of all though has to be the fight through the jungle between Devil Dinosaur and Sire, as Kirby goes through most of his composition repertoire, even showing the great lizard kicking off his assailant with a heavy “Bam!”
Edited, Written and Drawn: Jack Kirby and Colored: P. Goldberg

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Deathstroke #1 [The New 52] - DC Comics

DEATHSTROKE No.1, December 2014
The character of Deathstroke has always proved to be something of an enigma. Originally created in 1980 by Marv Wolfman and George Perez as a villain for the Teen Titans, Slade Joseph Wilson has evolved into one of the most popular anti-heroes in the “DC Comics” universe; actually attaining the 2009 title of Imagine Games Network’s 32nd greatest comic book character of all time. However even his publisher has struggled to work out any lasting direction for ‘the Terminator’, having rewritten his origin not once but twice in recent years as part of their ‘The New 52’ line-up.

This latest attempt to create a sustainable “Deathstroke” solo series comes just a year after the cancellation of the mercenary’s last title, and already looks set to be ‘ringing in the change’ for the assassin once again. As opening issues go, the first few pages of writer/artist Tony S. Daniel’s “Gods of War” storyline is pretty good, and certainly sees the former metahuman super-soldier at his contract killing best, dispatching a number of targets simultaneously whilst sparing one “lucky b*stard” who is “…not on my list.” However once the ‘hit’ on the self-regenerating criminal Possum goes awry the plot starts to take something of a bizarre twist for the worse.

To begin with Slade’s healing factor suddenly appears to have taken on Wolverine-like proportions, as the anti-hero survives being sliced and diced repeatedly by Possum with his own katanas; which presumably can penetrate Slade’s full Nth metal suit? A few bandages later and ‘the Terminator’ not only survives repeated bombings and being flamed alive but having half his brain blown away as well. Clearly the long established limitations of Slade not being able to heal significant physical trauma such as his missing eye would get in the way of Daniel’s writing.

Ultimately however the conclusion to this story reveals just how fatal the assassin’s injuries actually are… and that this title could well take Deathstroke in an entirely different direction from what has ever gone before. For no longer is Slade shown as a white-haired, bearded one-eyed mercenary, but through the ‘magic’ of the mysterious old man I-Ching, he has been transformed into a much younger, brown-haired blue-eyed specimen of manhood.
Variant covers to "DEATHSTROKE" Issue 1 by Andrea Sorrentino and Kevil O’Neill

Saturday, 22 November 2014

All-New Captain America #1 - Marvel Comics

In many ways this ‘All-New, Spy-Fi, highflying adventure’ comic book must have been something of a conundrum for many of its 120,500 purchasers in November 2014. On the one hand it brought a completely new spin on the New York-based publisher’s second most popular superhero (at least according to “Imagine Games Network”), and on the other this particular title wouldn’t actually be focussing upon the exploits of ‘The First Avenger’ Steve Rogers. But instead feature storylines involving mainstream comics’ first African-American superhero and Cappy’s “longtime friend and colleague” Samuel Wilson; upon whom the elderly Sentinel of Liberty had “passed [on] the mantle of Captain America” following the removal of his super-soldier serum by Iron Nail…

Such a debatably contentious amalgamation of the Seventies era partners is immediately evident with Stuart Immonen’s dreadful-looking design for the twenty-two page periodical’s cover. This “All-New Captain America” is a horribly colourful concoction of both The Falcon’s red wings and eye-shades, coupled with the vividly bright red, white and blue of Flag-head’s patriotic costume. Indeed the new uniform simply smacks of the sort of garish raiment that A.I.M.’s Super Adaptoid would prominently display, if the artificial construct had copied the physical abilities of both heroes simultaneously.

Unfortunately writer Rick Remender’s narrative would equally appear to be just as much of a clash of ‘both worlds’ as the new titular character’s attire. Based upon the reasonably straightforward plot of the star-spangled super-hero penetrating a hidden, albeit heavily-armed, Hydra base. The pulse-pounding action is potentially ruined by Wilson repeatedly referring to his use of Captain America’s shield, and querying just “How did I ever get by without one of these?” Such repeated doubts as to Sam’s previous crime-fighting record become increasingly annoying, especially when one considers that the prominent minister’s son hadn’t carried such a defensive device before and been successful since 1969 when he was co-created by Stan Lee and Gene Colan.

Perhaps even more irritating however, is this latest incarnation’s inability to utilise the shield as well as his predecessor. On a couple of occasions the former ‘Hero For Hire’ demonstrates a complete inability to throw the shield accurately and would even have lost the trademark piece of equipment in a river of lava if it wasn’t for his accompanying “brother”, Redwing, flying to its rescue. As a result every time Remender’s Sentinel of Liberty uses the device there is a genuine sense of it ‘being forced’ into the action, and that cannot be a good sign of things to come for a superhero whose name is synonymous with just such a ‘weapon’.
The variant cover art of "ALL-NEW CAPTAIN AMERICA" No. 1 by Paul Pope

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

All-New Invaders #2 - Marvel Comics

ALL NEW INVADERS No. 2, April 2014
There’s something vaguely unsatisfying about Issue 2 of “All New Invaders”; a sense that none of the expectations generated by this title’s exciting opening edition are actually met. Indeed in many ways there’s a real ‘step backwards’ feel to the book, as a lot of its content actually concentrates on events which took place before those of the previous issue.

This aura of disappointment frankly starts with the comic’s cover by Mukesh Singh, which is a disconcertingly awkward looking illustration of the bombastic Tanalth standing in triumph over the broken bodies of Captain America, the Winter Soldier and the original Human Torch; the latter of which seems to have obtained arms the length of which would rival an orang-utan. Any artwork depicting a book’s titular super-heroes being both so brutally bowed and beaten is going to be a depressing sight. But it is the composition of Singh’s artwork, such as the bright red boot of ‘Cappy’ oddly jutting out from beneath the dark green cape of the Kree High-Elite, which jars the eye.

In fact there’s a good deal of this comic book’s artwork which appears somewhat off key and as such actually caused me to believe that the title’s main artist had changed between issues. Certainly the opening few pages capturing the action of a night-time fire-fight between James Barnes and the Kree in the streets of Vienna are below the usual standard of Steve Pugh. Bizarrely the British artist’s illustration work during the Invaders battle against the Pursuer in Blaketon, Illinois isn’t all that much of an improvement either, with the eight-page action-sequence containing poorly detailed figures, oddly exaggerated limbs and an increasingly podgy Tanalth.

Perhaps most displeasing though is the outcome to the comic’s climatic confrontation between the former World War Two freedom fighters and the arrogant, overbearing and overconfident leader of the Kree Purser Corps. Writer James Robinson has Captain America describe Tanalth as being “…on a par with Ronan from the look of [her] powers and invulnerability” so defeating the Kree High-Elite was always going to be a tough challenge for a trio armed with just a shield, a bionic arm and the ability to produce some seemingly non-effective flames. But to have a battle which has technically spanned two issues, suddenly just end with Tanalth simply flying off for no other reason than she can is extremely disappointing; especially as moments before the aloof Kree warrior was threatening the heroes with a slow painful death after they finally caused her some momentary discomfort.
The variant cover art of "ALL-NEW INVADERS" No. 2 by Salvador Larocca

Thursday, 13 November 2014

The Thing #5 - Marvel Comics

THE THING No. 5, May 2008
As build ups towards a climatic confrontation go, “Give Til It Hurts…” is probably one of slowest comic book storylines ever as absolutely nothing happens of any notoriety until the issue’s very last page. Up until this cliff hanger ending with the Sandman Dan Slott’s dreary plot focuses on Benjamin Grimm’s debt to Yancy Street Pawn Shop owner Mister Sheckerberg and his own personal angst over the death of his older brother, Danny Grimm.

Admittedly there is a very worthwhile message behind this particular issue of “The Thing”; that money cannot be used to simply right all of a person’s past wrongs and that pride, alongside a person’s word and physical commitment to correct their mistakes, is far more important than prosperity and can’t simply be bought outright.

Unfortunately the American comic book writer’s script delivers this lesson in morality in such a heavy-handed 'schmaltzy' manner that it soon loses any conviction whatsoever. Instead all the reader gets to experience is what a complete loser, despite having “…a bazillion dollars in the bank”, Ben Grimm apparently is. Indeed literally everything he tries to attempt within this comic book, no matter how pure of heart his motivation is to do the right thing, the former test-pilot pathetically fails at. Whether that be giving the local pawn broker a hundred grand to pay back a long standing debt, offering money to pay for a woman’s hospital operation or simply sitting on a bench waiting for a bus. It all goes depressingly wrong for the founding member of the Fantastic Four.

Fortunately the excellent pencil work of artist Andrea Divito provides some light in this woefully disheartening yarn. His characterisation of The Thing proving a notable high point to the issue as the illustrator manages to convey all kinds of expressions to the ‘brick-like’ monster’s face. Such as annoyance at Mister Sheckerberg’s refusal to accept a cheque, surprise at being made to “clean the stoop” or fright when he inadvertently speaks to ex-lover Alicia Masters over the phone.

Sadly though even Divito’s great artwork is somewhat mired in darkness throughout the book, courtesy of colorist Laura Villari and her dismally gloomy choice of shadowy dark browns, deep blues and pitch black backgrounds.
Writer: Dan Slott, Penciler: Andrea Divito and Inker: Laura Villari

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

G.I. Zombie #2 [The New 52] - DC Comics

G.I. ZOMBIE No. 2, October 2014
Anyone buying Issue 2 of “G.I.Zombie” based solely upon the imagery of the comic book’s Darwyn Cooke cover illustration is going to be rather disappointed by its contents. For despite there being plenty of action within its twenty pages, there is nothing which bears even a passing resemblance to front page’s depiction of an Undead paratrooper landing amidst a hail of enemy fire and being shot to pieces as a result. Slightly bizarrely though, the variant cover by Howard Porter, is taken straight from the storyline’s climax, and actually easily upstages the uninspiring sketchings of the book’s artist and colorist Scott Hampton. 

Fortunately for this title however, the main selling point would not seem to be the American’s rather dire and lack-lustre painted artwork. It is the plot by co-writers and co-creators Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, as well as the seemingly popular ‘zombie armed with an AK-47’ sales pitch. Certainly the title hero, Sergeant Jared Kabe, gets an awful lot of ‘screen time’ within this comic as he goes from being a stealthy killer and torturer of terrorist sentries at the start through to a literal one-man army gunning down numerous foes in a firefight at the end.

As a result there’s plenty of opportunities for the reader to gauge just what super-powers the walking corpse actually possesses. Clearly Kabe is good with a blade or “pig sticker” as he casually dispatches one gunman with a nonchalant back-handed throw of a knife. He’s also not unskilled with firearms, swapping from silenced handgun to assault rifle without pause… except perhaps to bite out the throat of the odd startled terrorist. Interestingly there is however no sense that G.I. Zombie is impervious to harm. Indeed the ‘good soldier’ has to literally throw himself into a freezer unit to survive a flurry of grenades and later simply manages to remark “That’s no good” in anticipation of being blown up by a grenade launcher.

This vulnerability to excessive physical damage makes Kabe’s vain attempt to prematurely detonate a chemical missile whilst he’s ‘riding it’ a genuine act of bravery and all the more impactive and impressive as a result. So whilst Hampton’s poorly drawn scratchy pencils appear frighteningly amateurish, the actual writing and characterisation within this comic book makes it a reasonably worthwhile read.
The variant cover art of "G.I. ZOMBIE" No. 2 by Howard Porter

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor #1 - Titan Comics

Capturing the excitement, look, flavour and feel of a popular television series and placing it within a comic book format can be no easy task, especially when the subject matter is one that is as internationally well-known and loved as the British Broadcasting Company’s science fiction programme “Doctor Who”. However, “2000 A.D.” co-writers Al Ewing and Rob Williams would seem to have succeeded in doing just that with this initial instalment of a “stunning new era” for the Eleventh Doctor, and perhaps even more impressively, have additionally managed to specifically depict the awkwardly odd physical and vocal eccentricities of actor Matt Smith.

Admittedly, the title’s architects were never going to win any prizes for “After Life”, as it’s rather preposterous narrative somewhat haphazardly deals with both a “grieving young woman”, and a supposedly “terrifying cosmic threat”, as well as what the Timelord “gets up to when Amy and Rory aren’t around” following “the second Big Bang.” But as ‘companion introductory stories’ go Issue One of “Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor” should have amply entertained the vast majority of its 41,068-strong readership in July 2014, with its obligatory ‘bigger on the inside than the out’ interior TARDIS scene and a story depicting a depressed, self-doubting ‘new assistant’ who finally digs deep within herself and finds the strength, courage and resolve to find “a solution” which is “not just -- blowing things up!”; there’s even some nice panels featuring the modern-day inept U.N.I.T. who seem disconcertingly keen to disintegrate all and sundry.

All of these moments, whether they be dispiritingly sorrowful, or laugh out loud, are zanily illustrated by Simon Fraser and magnificently coloured by Gary Caldwell. In fact, a lot of the success of this ‘one-shot’ story has to do with just how well the characters are pencilled and the differing palettes used with which to appropriately colour them.

Devastated by the death of her mother, the misery and anguish of Alice Obiefune's loss is perturbingly magnified by the comic’s opening being predominantly populated by grey-scale pictures. Indeed, the only semblance of colour seen during the adventure’s early stages is the fleeting glimpse of a certain blue English Police box. This demoralising bleakness however, is then thrown into full vibrant life with the very sudden arrival of a “Rainbow Dog” and the Doctor sprinting after it; “Excuse me! Coming through!”
The regular cover art of "DOCTOR WHO: THE ELEVENTH DOCTOR" No. 1 by Alice X. Zhang

Monday, 3 November 2014

Amazing X-Men #4 - Marvel Comics

AMAZING X-MEN No. 4, April 2014
There is something slightly uninspiring about Issue Four of “Amazing X-Men”. A palatable sense that the book’s creative team may well have simply ‘gone through the motions’ when creating a comic that despite shifting 48,161 copies in February 2014, still sold more than three thousand less magazines than its predecessor. This palpable, disconcertingly apathetic aura arguably starts with the twenty-page periodical’s rather bland, monochrome cover illustration which, despite competently depicting an icily frozen Wolverine crouched low in the snow with the svelte figure of Northstar stood shivering some distance in the background, contains so much ‘empty-space’ that it appears both decidedly unfinished and rather rushed.

This sense of haste does not unfortunately dissipate with the publication’s interior artwork either, as Ed McGuiness’ ordinarily most pleasing pencilling worryingly appears slightly ‘out of kilter’ courtesy of some bizarrely amateurish-looking depictions of a heavily-fatigued Jean-Paul Beaubier or an abnormally well-endowed Firestar heating up hell via the mutant’s “ambient electromagnetic energy”. The American’s layouts also seem to contain an unusually high number of large-sized panels and splash pages. Something which invariably suggests there isn’t really all that much going on within the comic’s script to keep the former “Superman/Batman” sketcher fully occupied. Why else would the Beast’s battle with Kurt Wagner take an astonishing five pages just for Storm to remove a demon-possessed sword from Hank McCoy’s back, or it then require an equally lengthy sequence for the fuzzy elf to locate Angelica Jones and Bobby Drake, and subsequently teleport them to safety?

Ultimately Jason Aaron’s substandard storyline would appear to be based solely upon depicting the various X-Men finding one another in the Underworld and forming a rather jovial crew for Captain Nightcrawler, so Dave Cockrum’s swashbuckling co-creation can ready his ship and set sail to do battle with his demonic father’s fleet in the story-arc’s concluding instalment; “I dare say… I was born for this. Raise the flag, X-Men. And let’s go be amazing.” Such an indolent placement of his playing pieces means there’s little, if any, real substance to the contents of the Alabama-born writer’s narrative and all this fourth chapter in “The Quest For Nightcrawler” is noteworthy for is its collection of drawings portraying one of “the most recognisable and successful intellectual properties of Marvel Comics” reacquainting themselves with their former fallen member.
Writer: Jason Aaron, Penciler: Ed McGuiness and Inker: Dexter Vines