Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Star Wars #11 - Marvel Comics

STAR WARS No. 11, January 2016
Possibly far better known these days to “Star Wars” fans as the man who rescued a partially-digested Boba Fett from the Sarlacc pit in K.W. Jeter’s novelised trilogy “The Bounty Hunter Wars” than for his fleeting appearance in the 1980 motion picture “The Empire Strikes Back”, this fourth instalment of the “Showdown On The Smuggler’s Moon” story-arc provides the ‘capture or kill’ mercenary Dengar ample opportunity to show just how formidably ruthless the Corellian was during the “period of renewed hope for the Rebellion” immediately following the destruction of the (first) Death Star. Indeed almost half of the twenty-page periodical is dedicated to showing the pilot of the Punishing One somewhat simply out-brawl Chewbacca in a one-on-one rooftop confrontation, courtesy of a shock bolt, a concussion grenade, some well-timed kicks and punches, as well as a vibroblade.

Given just as much ‘screen time’ by Jason Aaron’s script as the disfigured "Payback", though arguably a far less satisfying affair, is Luke Skywalker’s gladiatorial bout with the gigantic “Kongo the Disemboweler”. Considering that the young aspiring padawan is supposedly “the last of the Jedi”, it seems rather illogical that Grakkus the Hutt, an obsessed “artefact collector” of the ‘long-dead’ order, would throw away such a valuable, prized possession simply to momentarily entertain a coliseum packed full of the planet’s ‘scum and villainy’, no matter how much money “they’re paying to watch you die.”

It’s also rather artificially inconvenient for the “veteran of many great battles all across the galaxy” to find himself facing a behemoth adorned with so much “augmented… deep-core drilling armour” that “it won’t be easy to hack” through and overcome his opponent, “not even with a lightsaber.” A situation which makes this rather action-packed brutal battle appear more like a contrived reimagining of the rebel’s (future) tussle with Jabba the Hutt’s Rancor in “Return Of The Jedi”.

Fortunately however the Alabama-born writer’s narrative does contain some notable surprises, of which the mighty Chewbacca’s defeat to the viciously enraged Dengar is but one. Luke’s noticeably swift downfall at the claws of the cybernetically-enhanced Kongo comes as no shock whatsoever, especially when the “boy” decides that ‘closing his eyes and using the force’ is the best option when faced with a rampaging killer of “giant man-eating lava eels.” But Grakkus’ Gamesmaster being revealed as Imperial Agent 5241 must have astonished many of this title’s 126,780 strong audience, as should have Han Solo’s last minute appearance to save the life of his co-pilot in the comic’s final few panels.
The regular cover art of "STAR WARS" No. 11 by Stuart Immonen

Monday, 28 December 2015

Uber #18 - Avatar Press

UBER No. 18, September 2014
Despite being something of a stand-alone story and featuring none of the comic’s regular cast of characters, Issue Eighteen of “Uber” is a tremendously atmospheric read which ungrudgingly captures all the suspense and apprehension of American’s development of the atomic bomb during the last days of World War Two. In addition it also manages to convey to its slowly declining audience of 6,684 followers just how incredibly manipulative and dangerous Germany’s latest “Enhanced Human Spy” can be, with the petite blond-haired assassin effortlessly posing as George Kistiakowsky, Morris Jeppson, William Parsons and General Groves in order to bring the Manhatten Project to its knees.

Indeed as solo outings go, Kieron Gillen’s script depicting the subterfuge of the 'chameleon-like' Nazi operative is as enthralling an experience as any war-time obsessed bibliophile could want. Especially when the agent secrets herself on board the Enola Gay and manages to replace “certain key components” of the plane's perilous cargo in order to ensure the highly classified mission’s failure; “We should never have done it on board… We wouldn’t have dropped an atomic bomb straight into enemy hands…”

Quite possibly this narrative’s greatest strength however, is just how easily the British author avoids worrying about providing the comic’s fans with any explanation as to just how the nameless woman manages to fool those around her into believing she’s someone else and how callously calculating he makes the enemy infiltrator appear. In fact the super-powered mole’s guile and cunning, particularly when used to dispose of her ‘disguises’ via an explosives accident in the woods or faked suicide whilst having a bath, arguably makes the cold-blooded killer strangely somewhat appealing. Certainly to the point where her self-sacrifice at the heart of B Reactor’s “Critical meltdown” and desire “to be someone who lived” actually makes for a rather heart-saddening scene.

Daniel Gete’s artwork for this twenty-two page periodical is also noteworthy for adding to the saboteur’s unemotional attitude towards her work. The Spaniard’s spy quite clearly bears the facial features of notable German actress “Marlene” Dietrich with her high pencilled arching eyebrows, and the quality of his drawings, especially the panels showing the bomber’s bomb bay opening up over an unsuspecting Japan, shows why Gillen so warmly praises his contribution to the story’s telling in the comic’s afterword.
The regular cover art of "UBER" No. 18 by Daniel Gete

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Secret Wars #7 - Marvel Comics

SECRET WARS No. 7, January 2016
Responsible for this mini-series’ expansion from eight to nine issues simply because the comic’s narrative was “too big”, at least according to Editor Tom Brevoort, “King Of The Dead” proves an incredibly exciting reading experience, which must have delighted its 177,019 fans and shows no sign of the strain its creative team were under due to “the whole piece… [having] to be restructured.” Indeed despite the fact that Jonathan Hickman’s script required something far more than just “taking the issue and breaking it in half” as “scenes were moved around so the two issues worked as issues themselves”, this twenty-page periodical undoubtedly delivers the “massive chaos” of a planet-wide battle which its mid-Eighties forerunner could only hint at.

Admittedly the South Carolina-born author’s storyline still predominantly concentrates upon the actions of a select few members of the Marvel Universe, such as the duplicitous Mister Sinister, the Goblin Queen, the scheming Maestro and the Black Panther. But now they’re at the head of vast armies of hapless clones, wretched creatures of the night, green-skinned Hulks, and the living dead; and all of them, along with God Emperor’s Doom’s own super-heroic Thors and Maximus’ impotent peasants, are shown tirelessly hurling themselves against one another in the name of the ruler of Battleworld.

Incredibly, despite the sheer grandeur and splendour of his biblical-sized plot, Hickman also still somehow manages to provide his audience with some comprehension as to an individual character’s motivations. Baroness Madelyne Pryor’s astonishment at “the Army of “Sinister” switching sides, Apocalypse’s fury at the injustice of his having to “bow before God Doom” and T’Challa’s ominous farewell to his friend Reed Richards, are all insightful well-written moments framed within an infinitely larger context.

Equally as good a decision as to extend “Secret Wars” run, has to be Brevoort’s determination to stick with just Esad Ribic as the series’ sole illustrator and not succumb to external pressures to “bring in other artists.” Whilst the delays incurred as “the better part of a week or two” were spent “reshuffling stuff” for this publication were “not by any stretch of the imagination an ideal situation”, the Croatian’s pencilled panels are mouth-wateringly sublime and genuinely manage to convey a sense of raw power, savagery and scale to the battle scenes.
The regular cover art of "SECRET WARS" No. 7 by Alex Ross

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Uber #17 - Avatar Press

UBER No. 17, August 2014
Whether intentional or not, it’s hard at the start of Issue Seventeen of “Uber” not to hear the roar of a squadron of four-engined British heavy bombers mixed with an uplifting Ron Goodwin musical score as “Operation Daedalus’ dual missions” are launched upon the unsuspecting U-Boat bunkers at Elbe and Kilian in Germany. For Kieron Gillen’s tremendously tense opening, complete with Short Stirlings dropping a team of allied paratroopers into enemy territory during the dead of night, contains all the hallmarks of an Alistair MacLean wartime thriller such as “The Guns of Navarone” or “Where Eagles Dare”.

Indeed the first half of this comic is arguably faultless in its ‘mimicry’ of one of the Scottish novelist’s adventure books as its storyline focus’ upon a pair of cynical hard-nosed Tommies “devoted to their work”, who seemingly lead “the massed fire of the British Tank-Men” into a gruesome battle against their enhanced opponents… And somehow manage to best “unbeatable odds” by using their brains and close combat tactics as opposed to sheer brawn; “However, at the Elbe Raid the design flaw in the Heavy Panzermensch VI revealed itself. This changed everything.”

Disappointingly however, such an enthralling experience must have been marred for some of this title’s 6,934 strong audience by Gillen’s rather arbitrary inclusion of profanities and expletives throughout the magazine’s dialogue. Granted the Allies’ attacks, heavily reliant upon the advantage of surprise, are extremely stressful and edgy events. But having ‘narrated’ the build-up to the missions without resorting to such vulgarities, it somewhat jars with the sensibilities when as soon as the soldiers have landed and start talking, they do little else but swear at one another.

Equally as perplexing is the British writer’s inclusion of some incredibly word-heavy discussions between Stephanie and Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery. This nine-page sequence, somewhat split in half by Operation Daedalus, proves somewhat tough-going towards the end. Especially when the scientist starts to talk about decoding “the alien documents I stole when I was undercover” and artist Daniel Gete resorts to illustrating this solely as a series of simple panels depicting her holding a page of gobbledegook and being surrounded by large word bubbles.
The variant cover art of "UBER" No. 17 by Daniel Gete

Friday, 25 December 2015

Invincible Iron Man #1 - Marvel Comics

INVINCIBLE IRON MAN No. 1, December 2015
Containing some intriguingly good action sequences depicting Madame Masque ‘liberating’ a number of technological devices for her nefarious ends, as well as presenting a somewhat softer, less disagreeably arrogant side to Anthony Stark, it is clear why Issue One of Brian Michael Bendis’ “Invincible Ironman” proved so popular upon its publication in October 2015. Yet just how the twenty-three page periodical became the month’s best-selling comic book by shifting an astonishing 279,514 copies is rather more difficult to fathom. Especially as there’s nothing within the ‘rebooted’ magazine’s narrative which is particularly innovative or new.

Admittedly the Cleveland-born writer’s attempt to inject his script with an underlying theme of industrialist espionage as Whitney Frost effortlessly breaks “into Castle Doomstadt in broad daylight” and Stark Tower in Osaka, Japan potentially harks back to Shellhead’s glory days during the Eighties “Armour Wars” multi-part story-arc. Whilst the edition’s climatic conclusion depicting a remarkably handsome, non-armoured Victor von Doom asking the billionaire playboy for help doubtless came as something of a surprise ending to the title’s enthusiastic audience. But even this miraculous healing of the Latverian monarch’s facial scars has been seen before in the 2010-2012 miniseries “Avengers: The Children’s Crusade” by Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung.

A staggering third of this ‘Stark Innovation’ is even arguably squandered depicting nothing more than Tony having a supposedly romantic evening meal with Doctor Amara Perera and failing quite miserably when it becomes clear to his dinner date just how much of a “horndog” he is. Indeed it is only towards the end of the comic that the superhero don’s his famous red and gold metallic suit and sonic boom’s his way into a confrontation with “twenty-seven armed and harried gentlemen”.

Quite possibly this book’s biggest marketable asset therefore must be the superbly clean, yet highly detailed drawings of David Marquez. The primarily digital artist’s intricate and meticulous ‘pencilling’ of Frost’s golden mask is absolutely stunning, as is the sheer number of broken pieces of glass he depicts within a single panel when the daughter of the master criminal Count Luchino Nefaria smashes through it whilst escaping a group of ninjas.
The regular cover art of "INVINCIBLE IRON MAN" No. 1 by David Marquez & Justin Ponsor

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Uber #16 - Avatar Press

UBER No. 16, July 2014
Reading more like an historical text describing real life events during the course of the Second World War than a fictional alternate narrative published by “Avatar Press”, Issue Sixteen of “Uber” is a frighteningly realistic read which must have delighted its 7,082 buyers in August 2014. Certainly Kieron Gillen’s script successfully conveys the terrifying scale of the Nazi’s Blitzmensch V1 threat to the Allies as the enhanced humans easily achieve “a blockade of the North Atlantic” by destroying America shipping at their leisure, and just as effortlessly bombard “the Allied-held Belgian port” of Antwerp.

However the British author’s true strength seemingly lies within the consummate ease with which he is able to thread the fears and doubts of some of the war’s more notable personalities ‘in and around’ these world-changing, albeit entirely fantastical, military events. Indeed one of this publications many highlights has to be Joseph Stalin’s keen interest in ‘Katyusha’ Maria’s miraculous ability to generate “the red muck” as an alternative to Russian knowing the secret of the catalyst’s creation, and evident terror at the woman’s power of transmutation; “Molotov… She’s a long way from here, yes?”

Just as impressively handled is the introduction of “the paranoid Yanks… higher-level activation” subject Vernon, an African-American soldier who Gillen apparently ‘considered’ killing off almost as soon as the former computer game journalist presented him if the comic’s ‘Afterword’ is to be believed. Fortunately the Stafford-born writer would appear to have resisted such a temptation, even if “it would certainly fit the banal horrible nature of the war that Uber’s aesthetic leans on” and instead has the son of one of the Harlem Hellfighters survive a halo-effect augmented Kriegsmarine attack upon his ship. In fact the emergence of the water-logged trooper from out of the sea at the conclusion of the magazine makes for a fittingly optimsitic conclusion to the book. One which is most welcome considering how bleak and depressing so much of the news on the numerous allied fronts seems to be…

Undoubtedly adding to this periodical's success, is Daniel Gete’s artwork, which is extremely polished throughout the comic book. The Spaniard’s pencilling is especially sharp when depicting the sinking of several heavy transporters by a German submarine armed with just five Blitzmensch, and only overshadowed by his excellently-drawn double-splash of several British Tank-Men bloodily encountering their significantly heavier Third Reich counterparts.
The regular cover art of "UBER" No. 16 by Daniel Gete

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Journey To Star Wars: The Force Awakens - Shattered Empire #3 - Marvel Comics

Utterly relentless in its breath-taking depiction of the Rebellion’s “ongoing combat operations against the shattered Empire”, this mini-series’ third instalment arguably provided its 105,496 buyers with an almost faultless “Star Wars” reading experience; even if Greg Rucka’s narrative does possibly rely a little heavily upon the nostalgia of “The Phantom Menace” in places. Indeed the opening third of this twenty-page periodical simply doesn’t let up for a moment, as General Han Solo leads a successful raid against an Imperial Security Bureau Black Site on “The Wretch of Tayron” and the San Francisco-born writer (once again) has this title’s audience guessing as to whether or not Sergeant Kes Dameron is going to survive his latest shoot-out with a seemingly endless swarm of Stormtroopers.  

Admittedly it seems inconceivable that the American author would have one of his main protagonists disposed of quite so ignominiously as to be killed by a lucky shot from a scout trooper’s hold-out blaster pistol. But until the timely and savage intervention of a rather enraged wookie, there’s a palpable tension within the sequence’s panels as the rebel’s position becomes increasingly exposed and vulnerable. Certainly ‘Strike Four’ seems to attract an awful lot of enemy laser fire for a two-person team; albeit they do single-handedly take down an AT-ST walker and “opened a door for us, [on the secret ISB base] southeast side.”

Just as unclear throughout “Shattered Empire” is the fate of the Pathfinders’ wife, Lieutenant Shara Bey. Having been “assigned a light duty, acting as pilot and escort for Princess Leia Organa”, Po Dameron’s mother soon finds herself confronting an Imperial-class Star Destroyer and its “complement of seventy-two TIE fighters” in nothing more than a twenty-year old Naboo spaceship. The resultant battle as she tries “shooting shiny things until there aren’t any more” is wonderfully tense, especially when her damaged craft loses its starboard hydraulics and falls into the gun sights of two enemy vessels…

All of this action is incredibly well-illustrated by Marco Checchetto and Angel Unzueta. The sheer pandemonium of Solo’s strike upon the Imperial base is fantastically frantic with explosions erupting all around the “Marvel Worldwide” artist’s characters, and is only bettered by the colourful ‘laser show’ of Bey’s space battle alongside Leia and Queen Soruna.
The variant cover art of "JOURNEY TO STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS - SHATTERED EMPIRE" No. 3 by Mike Deodato, Jr.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Batman #31 [The New 52] - DC Comics

BATMAN No. 31, July 2014
Incredibly the best-selling “DC Comics” publication of May 2014, it is hard to understand just how Issue Thirty One of “Batman” managed to peddle an incredible 107,499 copies when all both Scott Snyder and its titular character seem intent on doing throughout its narrative is simply ‘buy time’ until the comic’s next set-piece can be made ready. Indeed one could easily argue that any casual bibliophile could quite merrily skip the opening half of this twenty-two page periodical, and not only save themselves the tedium of negotiating panel after laborious panel of heavily-laden word balloons. But omit yet another head-scratchingly contrived set of circumstances which rather bizarrely result in the Dark Knight being trapped at the bottom of an underground car park surrounded by ravenous man-eating lions.

Fortunately however, once the New Yorker’s narrative does focus upon the masked vigilante’s battle with his carnivorous opponents, this comic actually transforms into a seriously tense and enthralling experience. For whilst the three-time Stan Lee Award-winner still insists on annoyingly slowing down the pace of his plot with plenty of infuriating flashbacks to when Bruce Wayne was at college studying. His depiction of the ‘present-day’ costumed crimefighter matching his wits and ingenuity against the savagery of two ferocious big cats proves both plausible and positively pulse-pounding. In fact the action is so good, as Batman drains a disused vehicle for its gasoline in order to create an impromptu flamethrower and then later batters a Panthera Leo with a self-made Bat-shield that one may even forgive penciller Greg Capullo for cramming the majority of these stunning sequences into just a handful of panels; “I’ve got one last question for you, Edward… Is that all you’ve got? Is it?!”

Disappointingly the former “Quasar” artist certainly seems to find plotting his colleague’s script somewhat difficult, especially at the book’s beginning, when a good deal of the story revolves around the Riddler once again challenging the city’s “Gothamites” to “save this place from its own encroaching entropic end” by besting him with an unsolvable conundrum. Presumably tired of drawing Edward Nygma’s never-changing sedentary face from a variety of different angles, the Schenectady-born illustrator even attempts to break up the monotony of his layouts by depicting the Dark Knight briefly popping into a local rundown warehouse store for a change of gloves.
The "BATMAN '66" variant cover art of "BATMAN" No. 31 by Mike & Laura Allred

Friday, 18 December 2015

Star Wars #10 - Marvel Comics

STAR WARS No. 10, December 2015
There’s an incredible amount of action crammed into Issue Ten of “Star Wars” as Jason Aaron’s narrative concerning a “galaxy far, far away” not only tries to depict the exhilaratingly tense flight of Sana Solo’s Volt Cobra from some pursuing Imperial patrol ships. But also attempts to give both Luke Skywalker’s rather brutal light-sabre tutorage by Grakkus the Hutt’s Gamemaster and Chewbacca’s exploits on “the notorious Smuggler’s Moon of Nar Shaddaa” plenty of ‘screen time’ as well.

Indeed if anything this twenty-page periodical’s plot is actually a little too busy and perhaps with hindsight its American author may well have better served the comic’s 134,613 strong audience by concentrating his script upon just the adventures of the Wookie and aspiring Jedi. Rather than water down their battles with criminally-minded robots, unruly space bar clientele and electrostaff wielding MagnaGuards on account of a shortage of space. Certainly one of this book’s few disappointments, alongside the inclusion of a one-eyed Gungan towards the end of the story, is the fact that much of Chewie’s fist-fight with some of George Lucas’ more recognisable cantina customers occurs off-page and as a result the Harvey Award-winner simply hints at the co-pilot’s formidable prowess by only showing him dangling the bartender off the top of a high-rise building once their savage disagreement has concluded.

Admittedly Leia and Han’s short(ish) scene squabbling with one another as to just who is the better shot, whilst the scoundrel’s supposed wife desperately outmanoeuvres the multitude of lasers emitted by a squadron of TIE-fighters and their accompanying Star Destroyer, does provide this third instalment of “Showdown On The Smuggler’s Moon” with as enthralling a fast-paced opening as any science fiction fan could want. Yet so too, arguably, would have the Millennium Falcon’s arrival on the “revolting” Nar Shaddaa, and See-Threepio’s “rather… unseemly” altercation with a party of his “fellow droids”; “Cut his head off so we don’t have to listen to him yammer the whole way.”

Perhaps this publication’s strongest selling point however, has to be the Alabama-born writer’s inclusion of the Corellian bounty hunter, Dengar, at the comic’s climatic conclusion. Charismatically illustrated by Stuart Immonen, whose pencilling is simply outstanding throughout the entirety of the comic, the “scruffy-looking and battered” killer seems just as “crude and slovenly” as the character appeared when first played by Morris Bush in the 1980 motion picture “The Empire Strikes Back”.
The regular cover art of "STAR WARS" No. 10 by Stuart Immonen

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Future Imperfect #3 - Marvel Comics

FUTURE IMPERFECT No. 3, September 2015
Despite this twenty-page periodical containing both some palpable tension as Ruby Summers leads a “band of rebels” into Baron Maestro’s stronghold on a desperate rescue mission, as well as plenty of action when the heroes’ subsequent stealthy shenanigans go somewhat awry, Issue Three of “Future Imperfect” arguably proves to be a rather unremarkable reading experience. Indeed for some indescribable reason Peter David’s narrative somehow feels as if the Maryland-born writer was simply going through the motions and essentially ‘padded out’ the comic until its ‘climatic’ conclusion when the Thing’s allies joins forces with the despot of Dystopia in order “to defeat [the God Emperor] Doom and take his place.”; “Do I look like I’m joking?”

Quite possibly much of this sense of dissatisfaction stems from the fact that the vast majority of the Wizard Fan Award-winner’s storyline focus’ upon the exploits of Janis Jones, Layla Miller, and Skooter; three rather forgettable ‘C-list’ characters who seem to spend a disagreeable amount of time arguing with one another as to whether their assault on “Baron Maestro’s Keep” is a good idea or not. Only the resistance fighter Ruby manages to hold any lasting interest and that is probably due to the quartz-skinned adventurer’s earnestness in finding Major Thaddeus Ross. Something which many of this book’s 38,269 followers presumably echoed, hoping that the appearance of “the leader of the anti-Maestro revolt” might actually inject this “Secret Wars” tie-in title with some much needed pizzazz.

Just as disappointing is the lack of ‘screen time’ enjoyed by this comic’s principal villain, Robert Bruce Banner. A formidable force to be reckoned with and undoubtedly this magazine’s biggest draw, the enthralling presence of the Castle of Green’s “lord and master” is much missed during this particular publication. Though admittedly David’s decision to have the bearded maniac replaced by the baron’s impotent Gravity Police makes perfect sense from a plot perspective. For Summers and her friends understandably required an opponent which their powers could best if the American author’s tale was going to proceed much further…

Equally as lack-lustre as the writing is Greg Land’s competent yet unremarkable pencilling. “Best known for his work on books such as Uncanny X-Men, Birds Of Prey and Fantastic Four”, the artist’s rather bold style gives his panels a rather cartoony-feel which can prove somewhat distracting during the book’s more action-packed sequences. Indeed it isn’t until the Thing’s companions stumble upon the Maestro and Thaddeus’ “repast” that the illustrator seemingly finally starts to provide his figures with a little more detail, especially around their faces.
The variant cover art of "FUTURE IMPERFECT" No. 3 by Mike Deodato

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Batman #30 [The New 52] - DC Comics

BATMAN No. 30, June 2014
Despite shifting an astonishing 108,998 copies in April 2014, and as a result being that month’s best-selling “DC Comics” title, this opening instalment of Scott Snyder’s “Savage City” story-arc arguably makes little sense whatsoever, and certainly depicts both an emerging Batman and fledgling Riddler in a rather disappointing manner. For whereas this series’ previous edition had the Caped Crusader desperately fighting Edward Nygma for control of Gotham City’s power grid, this issue leaps forward in time a good six months or so, and would have its readers believe that during this period Bruce Wayne has done little but lay unconscious on a mattress in a small boy’s bedroom. Whilst the criminal mastermind, now ruler of all he surveys, has somehow “created barriers to any entry” to the rapidly decaying metropolis, including a “barrage of weather balloons… filled with deadly chemicals” and kept its starving population trapped within the city limits by ‘flooding the tunnels.’

Such a rather implausible situation sadly makes this twenty-seven page long narrative feel more like an “Elseworlds” alternative universe comic book which has been based upon ‘A World Without Humans’ than the costumed crime-fighter’s usual deductive fare, and it is therefore hard to properly comprehend much of what takes place within the story. Indeed as the billionaire industrialist queries himself “How did he [Nygma] do all this?” and despite the fiend’s deterrents, why is the outside world allowing it to happen?

Admittedly there’s still plenty of action to be had within the walls of Snyder’s horribly contrived dilapidated settlement once the United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group’s “five men in space suits” parachute into Gotham and attempt to negotiate with the Riddler. The maniac’s game of dominoes with tower blocks is both dramatic and causes some genuine tension whilst it lasts. But even this scene seems rather false and artificial, and far larger in scale than anything Bill Finger’s co-creation would ordinarily be capable of doing with such wild abandonment.

Regular penciller Greg Capullo’s usually impressive artwork also appears rather off-key with Issue Thirty of “Batman”, as the New Yorker rather blatantly pads out sections of the plot with some rather poorly drawn single and double-splashes. In fact it isn’t until after the aforementioned DEVGRU “fifty million dollars” bargain attempt that the former “Spawn” artist finally appears to ‘get into his stride’ and produce some breathtakingly detailed panels of the Dark Knight as he thwarts Nygma’s plan to crush Jim Gordon beneath tonnes of falling masonry by bridging the gap between two high-rise buildings using a disused water tower.
The "MAD" variant cover art of "BATMAN" No. 30 by Bob Staake

Friday, 4 December 2015

Planet Hulk #4 - Marvel Comics

PLANET HULK No. 4, October 2015
Despite some very dramatic action sequences, most notably that of Devil Dinosaur tearing through the ramshackle settlement of the Tribal Hulks and scattering its super-strong barbaric inhabitants in every conceivable direction, it is hard not to imagine that many of this comic’s 44,608 readers probably felt “The Kingdom” was something of a ‘filler’ issue. Admittedly Sam Humphries’ script does see the “gladiator Steve Rogers” finally penetrate the Mud Kingdom and come face-to-face with Greenland’s ruler, the Red King. But with six of this periodical’s twenty-pages essentially comprising of single-panel splashes and much of the magazine’s dialogue limited to “Puny Human” and simply “Smash”, it genuinely doesn’t appear that there was enough content to the Maryland-born writer’s storyline to quite go around for this publication.

Sadly such a disappointing situation also leads to the American author once again ‘padding out’ some of this mini-series’ scenes with more of his “we are all hulk, Captain. The Gamma scrubs the mirror clean of pretension” theological nonsense. Irritating as these “There is no grace here. No absolution” diatribes by Doc Green were in the previous edition, they are especially unwelcome in this particular instalment as they bizarrely occur mid-way through the green-skinned adventurer’s brutally bloody rescue of Captain America. A somewhat surprising interruption considering that the pair are being pursued by all manner of heavily-tattooed spear-waving Hulks; “Who are you? Get back in line” In the name of the Red King--!”

Fortunately towards the end of this comic Humphries’ penmanship does make something of a return to form, enabling Issue Four of “Planet Hulk” to conclude with a satisfying cliff-hanger as Jack Kirby's Tyrannosaurus Rex overcomes a formidable array of oafish-looking opponents and an exhausted Rogers, full of desperate bravado for his ‘brother’ Bucky’, comes face-to-face with the foe of “God Doom” in the despot’s Orthanc-like tower.

This grisly audience is admittedly somewhat ‘drawn out’ on account of the blond-haired battler’s rather pretentious repeated threats to kill his enthroned prey unless he is told where his “warbound” friend is being kept prisoner. But such poorly worded dialogue is soon forgotten when the one-eye heavily-muscled monarch reveals one of his trophies to be that of Barnes’ severed bionic arm…
The regular cover art of "PLANET HULK" No. 4 by Michael Del Mundo

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Aliens Vs. Zombies #4 - Zenescope Entertainment

ALIENS VS. ZOMBIES No. 4, November 2015
Despite some of the narrative’s set pieces, such as the protagonists finding themselves surrounded inside a cemetery or later trapped within a derelict underground tube station, being decidedly clich├ęd for a horror genre comic book based upon a modern-day zombie apocalypse, Issue Four of “Aliens Vs. Zombies” arguably still provides a somewhat faultless reading experience. For whilst there is still a little character development as Raxus and Nova begin to work out their differences as the last two survivors of their species, and the low-life delinquent Tavon once again demonstrates that he is the real monster of the story, this twenty-four page periodical never wavers from its relentlessly brutal and blood-soaked depiction of a planet being grievously ravaged by the ever-hungry walking dead.

Indeed the action to Joe Brusha’s script simply never lets up throughout the magazine to the point where any perusing bibliophile must surely feel as exhausted as dark-jacketed hero Colt does, having spent the best part of his ‘screen time’ running, jumping and battering zombies with a piece of mangled lead pipe. There truly is no time whatsoever for any of the title’s leads to grab a breath as the Pennsylvania-based publisher ensures the carnivorous horde ruthlessly chase them through a local graveyard, descend upon a deserted school bus the party momentarily hole up in and then finally, rather obstinately pursue the crew of the extra-terrestrial spacecraft through the city’s deadly streets until the book’s concluding cliff-hanger; "We don't have enough firepower to get out of this."

Fortunately however, this seemingly constant endangerment of the “alien scientists tasked with tracking the interstellar virus” and their human companions, isn’t in any way a tedious mindless romp. But is instead actually driven by the insanely selfish desires of aspiring ‘crime boss’ Tavon and his foolhardy belief that providing he has possession of the alien’s satellite dish “the planet don’t need saving” and he’ll “be on top when this is all over.”

Equally as fast-paced as this comic’s plot is the wonderfully dynamic artwork of Vincenzo Riccardi. The penciller’s panel count becomes especially prolific as both the book’s action and suspense increases, and yet the quality of his illustrations don’t drop one iota as a result. In fact it is hard to recall a better drawn magazine which is so packed full of shambling corpses being beaten, slashed and shot to pieces…
The regular cover art of "ALIENS VS. ZOMBIES" No. 4 by Jason Metcalf and Wes Hartman

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Batman #29 [The New 52] - DC Comics

BATMAN No. 29, May 2014
Whilst there is absolutely no doubt that Scott Snyder has crammed every page of this “amazing, extra-sized issue” of “Batman” with as much action-packed adventure as the comic book could take. This conclusion to “the Dark City chapter of Zero Year” arguably rates as one of the New Yorker’s most illogical and unfollowable narratives ever and certainly must have made its 116,926 readers question “DC Comics” boast that the publisher had “saved the best for last!”

For whilst it fast becomes obvious that the Riddler, supposedly safe ensconced in the late Philip Kane’s high-rise office, is a very ‘clear and present danger’ to the well-being of Gotham City, and that the hideously deformed Doctor Death is essentially little more than a pawn in masked maniac’s diabolical game, it is truly hard to fathom out exactly what the madman’s heinous plan for the metropolis actually is?

Admittedly Batman does try and provide some clarification as to Edward Nygma’s intent for the benefit of both Jim Gordon and the magazine’s audience. But the Caped Crusader’s earnest explanation concerning a stolen “remote hacking hub” which can be used to “break into anything within a hundred feet of it”, coupled with the theft of a “hyper-repeater from Lucius” and “a weather balloon” soon becomes a confusing concoction of meaningless gobbledegook; “He gets the snake high enough, amplifies the bite… He can take control of the whole city.”

Fortunately for many, exactly why the Dark Knight needs to fly the “Bat Blimp” to the Riddler’s floating sky-platform and defeat its grotesque guardian, Karl Hellfern, during a horrendous electrical storm, is probably immaterial. For at the end of the day, all any bibliophile really need know about this comic’s storyline is that the crime-fighter has to place a jamming device upon the super-villain’s electronic gadgetry otherwise “thousands could die”, and he’s willing to break a lot of his immediate adversary’s formidably regenerative bones in order to do so.

Greg Capullo would also appear to have been in top form when pencilling this particular forty-page periodical, as the Schenectady-born artist’s illustrations are wonderfully dynamic; especially the panels depicting the young Batman’s fist-fight with the increasingly malformed Doctor Death. One can genuinely hear the deranged scientist’s bones snapping, and subsequently re-growing, during their lengthy conflict.
The "Robot Chicken" variant cover art of "BATMAN" No. 29

Monday, 23 November 2015

Uber #15 - Avatar Press

UBER No. 15, June 2014
There’s certainly plenty of pulse-pounding “alternate World War Two” action to enjoy with Issue Fifteen of “Uber”. For as creator Kieron Gillen himself notes in the comic’s afterword, this edition finally reveals “what actually happened when Sieglinde tried to leave London” after “three months of dancing around” the German superhuman soldier’s fate and as a result depicts a genuinely awe-inspiring naval battle off the beach at Southend-on-Sea between the “Home Fleet” and the Kriegsmarine.

Indeed the British author’s narrative must have proved an absolute delight to its 7,456 upon its publication in July 2014, as from the very first page all attention is focussed upon the fast-fatiguing assassin of Winston Churchill and her desperate bid to reach the seaside resort’s iconic pier. Rifle-toting Tommy Atkins, the Home Guard and two cruisers, a battleship and an “amount of destroyers” are all wantonly thrown at the flagging blonde-haired powerhouse in a desperate bid to establish whether “the greater destructive potential of a ship’s canons might be able” to “affect a battleship-class enhanced human”… And for a brief moment it actually appears as if both the stout late Prime Minister and the long-dead HMH Colossus will finally be avenged.

Ingeniously however, any such wishful thinking is soon ‘put to bed’ by the former music journalist’s “big… introduction of the Blitzmensch”; a somewhat gangly feral-looking armoured German soldier whose enhanced Halo effect is twice those of an ordinary Panzermensch. These ‘bullet-headed’ warriors, positioned at the prow of a handful of gunboats, easily slice through the hulls of the ships harassing Klaudia and frustratingly allow the battered and bruised Ubermensch to safely evacuate the English estuary on board a U-boat, whilst also “causing enormous material losses to the Home Fleet.”

Equally as exciting as the “fragile” S-boats’ “successful raid” is the artwork of Daniel Gete, who finally “joins us in the main book” having illustrated “the Siegmund short story” in the title's March 2014 special annual. Described by Gillen as someone whose “clear-lined thoroughness gives Uber a completely different feel to Caanan’s energy and rage or Gabriel’s classic realist elegance”, the “Logan’s Run” penciller really does an outstanding job of depicting the sheer ferocity and power of the sea battle, and even manages to give a cheeky nod to the fictional “Dad’s Army” of Walmington-on-Sea courtesy of a cameo by Captain Mainwaring.
The variant cover art of "UBER" No. 15 by Daniel Gete

Sunday, 22 November 2015

The Walking Dead #128 - Image Comics

THE WALKING DEAD No. 128, June 2014
Up until its depiction of Ken and Marco encountering several zombies “somewhere in the woods outside the Hilltop Colony” mid-way through its narrative, this second instalment of the story-arc “A New Beginning” appears to struggle to portray anything even remotely interesting to anyone but the most die-hard of “The Walking Dead” fans, with its unglamorous emphasis upon Eugene Porter’s failing relationship with Rosita, Carl’s ever-improving wood-whittling skills and Olivia’s “amazing” ability to bake loaves of bread. In fact it is genuinely hard to imagine a more mundane series of scenes with which to greet this “horror” comic book’s 74,326 readers, especially as Robert Kirkman’s tale then ‘trumps’ them all by dedicating five whole panels of the book to the ‘Head of the Ammo Crew’ simply walking into his empty home; “You here?”

Fortunately, as aforementioned, the sheer tedium of so stultifying a script is eventually broken by the sudden (and most welcome) appearance of a horde of carnivorous cadavers and the prospect of one of them devouring a somewhat reckless horse wrangler and his ride. Packed full of suspense despite being a somewhat brief encounter, this five-page return to the sort of action which has made the Richmond-born writer’s title enjoy such international success, genuinely brings home just how dangerous a place this post-apocalypse world is. For one moment the duo are driving their steeds onwards in the hope of heading off some wild horses “before they break away”, and then with just the turn of a page, the humans are knee-deep in the living dead with Ken pinned beneath his mare looking straight into the ghoulish eyes of a zombie as it struggles to crawl towards him moaning “Grarr!”

Disappointingly however, such a well-scribed piece of drama is dishearteningly short-lived and all too-soon the “Image Comics” partner has once again slowed the pace of his story-telling down to a snail’s crawl with the wearisome worries of a full-bearded Rick Grimes and the adolescent angst of the former police deputy’s frustrated son.

Such a sluggish chain of events is arguably made even more dissatisfying an experience by Charlie Adlard’s seemingly desperate determination to ‘pad out’ his page-count for this book. Admittedly the British artist’s full-on splash of Ken inadvertently riding his horse into the ground as it careers into a forest full of zombies proves to be the highlight of this magazine, and certainly does an incredible job of capturing one’s attention. But that doesn’t excuse the penciller utilizing a similar-sized single-panel to depict Alexandria’s windmill, nor the double-spread of a despairing Negan hammering the wall of his cell…
Writer: Robert Kirkman, Penciller: Charlie Adlard, and Inker: Stefano Gaudiano

Saturday, 21 November 2015

James Bond #1 - Dynamite Entertainment

Published in tandem with the theatrical release of the 2015 “Eon Productions” motion picture “Spectre”, this opening issue of “the first James Bond comic book series in twenty years” begins with all the panache, brutality and pulse-pounding action any fan of Ian Fleming’s fictional British Secret Serviceman would expect. Indeed it is arguable that all this magazine’s initial ten pages are missing, is the inclusion of the film’s iconic ‘gun barrel’ introduction sequence.

Disappointingly however once the main narrative to Warren Ellis’ “Vargr” starts properly and the action abruptly shifts from a building site in Helsinki to the stuffy offices of MI6 Headquarters at Vauxhall Cross, the storyline’s pace rather abruptly slows down and eventually actually peters out as the suave suited agent bizarrely discusses his latest assignment with Bill Tanner whilst eating inside a semi-packed staff canteen, complete with bottled water and plastic chairs… Such a modest meal and somewhat surreal location genuinely jars with the opulent lavishness the titular character is famous for and sadly brings this twenty-two page periodical to a mind-numbingly tedious and undramatic ending.

Fortunately despite such shortcomings the Essex-born author still manages to include a few references within this increasingly dreary dialogue-laden tome so as to delight many “a giant Bond fanatic”. The scene between James and ‘Q’, where the armourer bemoans the spy’s use of a “gun for ladies” and tries to convince him to replace the “prostitute’s shooting instrument” for “a proper gun”, is very reminiscent of an early scene in “Dr. No” where 'M' orders the hero to hand over his underpowered Beretta and is assigned a Walther PPK. Whilst the villain of the piece, Mister Masters, “continues to exhibit chronic chemical anhedonia” and thus is incapable of experiencing “pleasure in any way” similar to how Victor ‘Renard’ Zokas proved immune to pain in “The World Is Not Enough”.

Ultimately though this comic’s greatest weakness is Jason Masters rather unconvincing and inconsistent pencilling. The occasional “DC Comics” variant cover artist certainly pulls few punches during this book’s beginning as he dynamically depicts the tattooed killer of 008 being savagely beaten (and surprisingly mutilated) by a cold-blooded Bond. But as with the plot, once James returns home the illustrator’s panels become decidedly lack-lustre and something of a disappointment. Even if his version of Major Boothroyd does look uncannily like the popular ‘big screen’ incarnation of the Quartermaster as played by actor John Cleese.
The variant cover art of "JAMES BOND" No. 1 by Joe Jusko

Friday, 20 November 2015

Planet Hulk #3 - Marvel Comics

PLANET HULK No. 3, September 2015
“The Storm” arguably demonstrates both the strengths and weaknesses of writer Sam Humphries, with a narrative that is not only absolutely packed full of bone-jarringly good action sequences. But also an abundance of nonsensical dialogue as Doc Green populates numerous word balloons during a heavy multi-panel theological discussion concerning “the restrictions of morality and judgement found in Man [which] are absent in Hulk.”

Indeed having started the twenty-page periodical depicting Steve Rogers desperately struggling beneath the waters of Gamma Lake whilst “The Devil” bites chunks out of a formidable-looking, part-octopus, “touch of shark” Sea Hulk, the subsequent scene depicting the green-skinned scientist goading the “gladiator” because “Gamma burns away all that is false and impure, and reveals what is already within us” proves something of a dissatisfyingly surreal moment. Certainly it is evident as to why Captain America “can make no sense of Green’s rubbish” and describes his Greenland guide’s “prattle” as “maddening.”

Fortunately however, this absurdly lengthy one-way conversation is thankfully sandwiched, if not squashed, in between some incredibly tense and dynamically charged altercations, including a high octane flashback sequence showing “super-soldiers Rogers & Barnes” battling one of the four Horsemen of Apocalypse, Holocaust “before the fall. Death and destruction.” In fact Humphries’ narrative genuinely manages to manufacture an impressive, almost instant, recovery from its “Hulk is the reality we deny ourselves” gobbledygook courtesy of an ultra-suspenseful cliff-hanger depicting the Sentinel of Liberty getting trapped by a party of “Tribal Hulks” within a dark restrictive ravine and being viciously riddled with half a dozen throwing spears; “I am Captain America of the super-soldier program! Face me! In the name of--”

The high point to Issue three of “Planet Hulk” nonetheless must be Marc Laming’s impressive illustrations, most notably his savage portrayal of Devil Dinosaur as he claws, gouges and rips the barnacle-covered flesh of his sea-faring foe. The Hartfield-based artist has gone on record to describe how “much fun” he had playing “with some classic monster movie ideas” whilst creating the Sea Hulk… And such ‘boyish’ enthusiasm, coupled with “a large dose of Ray Harryhausen all thrown into the Hulked-out blender” and some genuinely delightful touches by “Star Wars: Legacy” colorist Jordan Boyd, really shows throughout the book.
The variant cover art of "PLANET HULK" No. 3 by Alex Maleev

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Future Imperfect #2 - Marvel Comics

FUTURE IMPERFECT No. 2, September 2015
Despite the end result usually favouring the green-skinned gamma giant, fans of both the Incredible Hulk and The Thing have continually clamoured for the pair to ‘slug it out’ with one another ever since their classic 1963 punch-up within the pages of Issue Twelve of “Fantastic Four”. This particular “Secret Wars” confrontation however comes with something of a twist as writer Peter David not only reimagines Bruce Banner’s alter-ego as the murderously-maniacal Maestro for the ten-page bout of pugilism. But also alters the persona of the orange rock-covered human mutate from that of Ben Grimm into Major Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross; an Air Force orbital pilot who was transformed by cosmic rays during a test flight.

Such a disconcerting “Marvel Worldwide” modification doubtless may well have upset the ‘purist’ element of this title’s 47,944 strong audience. Yet it also rather cleverly creates a considerable amount of uncertainty in the narrative’s proceedings, especially when the Thing catches the tyrant off-guard with a formidable left swing and drop kicks the malevolent ruler into a nearby multi-rise building. Sadly however the Wizard Fan award-winner’s storyline does not permit such ambiguity for too long and the “Lord Baron Maestro” soon seemingly effortlessly batters “the leader of the anti-Maestro revolt” into unconsciousness; “Get a cart. Strap him in and bring him back to the castle.”

Equally as enthralling a read as this comic’s "monster smash" is the American author’s wonderfully scripted flashback sequence depicting Glen Talbot and Major Ross’ tragically flawed attempt to beat “the Russkies to space… before the Air Force”. David’s five-panel long conversation between the two tense pilots is delightfully prickly, with the senior officer even reminding his subordinate that they “aren’t on a first name basis” and really helps reinforce the hard-nosed determination to do his duty which Thaddeus’ character is famous for.

Greg Land’s pencilling is also rather pleasing to the eye, even if his design of the Maestro’s emerald-armoured rifle-carrying “cavalry” aren’t terribly impressive-looking and seem far more suited to an appearance in one of L. Frank Baum’s “Wizard Of Oz” novels than a supposedly serious comic book story of human suffering and oppression.
The variant cover art of "FUTURE IMPERFECT" No. 2 by Rafa Garres

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Chewbacca #1 - Marvel Comics

CHEWBACCA No. 1, December 2015
Despite the proven pedigree of this mini-series’ creative team, Issue One of “Chewbacca” is sadly a very potent example of just how badly things can go when a title is presumably published simply to ‘cash-in’ on the popularity of a motion picture’s imminent theatrical release. For whilst Gerry Duggan’s narrative does somewhat focus upon the exploits of the two-hundred year-old wookie, and thus provides a little insight into what the “warrior son of the planet Kashyyyk” got up to after ‘destroying the Death Star’ “with some help from his trusty sidekick Han.” It does so by rather lazily ‘parachuting’ the Millennium Falcon’s co-pilot into one of the most contrived and unfollowable storylines devised this side of “the Battle of Yavin”.

Indeed the New Yorker would appear to have completely ignored the necessity of providing “Chewie” with any sound rationale as to why the titular character would be stranded on the planet Andelm-4, and instead unconvincingly explains that Solo’s companion left his friends to embark “on a very important and personal secret mission” and that his “loaner spacecraft” was a “hunk of junk.” Although considering that the hairy protagonist’s dialogue is limited to the odd “Grrr”, “Hrraa” and “Hrrraarrrarghhr”, such an indolent storytelling technique is probably understandable.

Just as indecipherable as Chewbacca’s grunts and roars however, is Duggan’s bizarre plot involving the adolescent Zarro, local “crook” Jaum, a mine full of Andelm Beetles and a secret deal with the Empire for “high quality Dedlanite in high quantities.” Just how the crime boss “changed the deal” so the “skate-punk tomboy” can’t pay him isn’t entirely clear, nor how Arrax is expected to clear his family’s debt by ‘harvesting’ the valuable “chemicals in the larva.” All that is certain is that the wookie’s dilemma of being shipwrecked on the planet due to his inability to afford a “flight stabilizer in such good condition” is worryingly far too similar to the scenario used within the 1999 film “The Phantom Menace”.

Perhaps this twenty-one page periodical’s biggest disappointment though is Phil Noto’s quite unexceptional artwork. Revered for his work on “Marvel Worldwide” variant cover illustrations, the former “Disney” animator’s drawings of Chewbacca are very-well realised, even if they do make the hairy smuggler appear a little too soft and cuddly. But for some reason the American artist’s unique-looking style doesn’t appear quite so pleasing to the eye when it involves Arrax, Zarro and Jaum, and that’s despite some of the panels utilising some impressive blur/fade effects to generate the illusion of distance and speed.
The regular cover art of "CHEWBACCA" No. 1 by Phil Noto

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Planet Hulk #2 - Marvel Comics

PLANET HULK No. 2, August 2015
Set within the Battleworld barony of Greenland, Sam Humphries’ script for Issue Two of “Planet Hulk” seems to be far more concerned with subjecting its 47,944 strong audience to overly long speeches about survival and friendship, than exploring the deadly flora and fauna of this patchwork kingdom, and as a result proves to be something of a dissatisfying experience. In fact, apart from a frivolous four-page long flashback depicting Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes’ already evidentl close relationship, nothing of much consequence occurs to the Sentinel of Liberty, Doc Green or Devil Dinosaur for two-thirds of the comic… Except perhaps it’s made clear that the axe-wielding warrior and his green-skinned guide “to the Mud kingdom” won’t be getting along with one another all that well; “Tell your beast to back off. Or you’ll be Hulk gruel before Sundown.”

Fortunately however once the ‘travelling companions’ do begin their quest to assassinate the Red King and enter an “infernal jungle”, the Maryland-born writer finally starts to inject this decidedly lack-lustre narrative with some much needed action by having “Lord Rex” tangle with both the killer-plant “Doomicus Hulkicus Carnvoirae", and some gigantic Bull Hulks within short succession. Admittedly such absurdly named creatures do momentarily break any spell with which Humphries’ work held the reader. But their inclusion, and Captain America’s eventual ‘escape’ from the stampeding behemoths courtesy of a fast-flowing waterfall, genuinely brings this particular periodical to a pulse-pounding conclusion.

Sadly just as inconsistent as the plot to “The Path” is Marc Laming’s contribution to this publication. The “Kings Watch” artist’s pencilling is actually extremely engaging, with his interpretation of Devil Dinosaur looking every bit the lean mean killing machine many fans of Jack Kirby’s creation imagined the Tyrannosaurus Rex to be. Indeed the freelancer’s reimaging of the Incredible Hulk as the “soldier of fortune” Doc Green is also extremely well rendered, and there’s certainly plenty of dynamic energy packed into this comic’s proceedings once the fighting finally begins.

What this title does lack however is any proper pacing to the narrative. For whilst the British illustrator’s artwork is first-rate, a quarter of the book actually consists of little more than splash-pages. Something which arguably smacks of Laming dishearteningly mismanaging the flow of the story…
The variant cover art of "PLANET HULK" No. 2 by Yildiray Cinar