Friday, 31 July 2015

Wytches #5 - Image Comics

WYTCHES No. 5, March 2015
Whilst creator Scott Snyder’s narrative for this penultimate instalment of “Wytches” is something of a far cry from any work by “The Master of Suspense” himself, it still contains some wonderfully ‘Alfred Hitchcock-like’ psychological moments as the title’s main protagonist becomes increasing paranoid and literally descends into a terrifying all-consuming madness. Indeed in many ways Charlie Rooks’ utter dismay at his wife’s denial that they ever had a daughter and realisation that the majority of the community within which he now lives is somehow part of a coven-based conspiracy creates some genuinely scary moments.

Equally as disturbing is the American author's ability to transform his narrative’s local, patient and ever-so friendly policeman, Mister Petal, into a totally deranged sadistic ‘selfish creature’, who upon discovering that Sailor’s father knows of his involvement in her abduction, becomes a seriously chilling guide as to where “these things in the ground” live. Arrogant and aloof, despite having had his jaw badly busted by Rooks, the sneering cop continues to disconcertingly inform his captor that the lone parent has “nowhere to escape to” until Charlie matter-of-factly shoots the bound, though apparently immortal lawman in the gut.

What follows next however is infinitely more unnerving, and in places genuinely makes the hairs upon the nape of the neck prickle. For having covered himself with a jar’s worth of “Stink” and loaded his pistol with “rat bullets”, due to them having “extra kick”, the determined ‘hero’ climbs down into the flesh-eating cannibals’ abode and starts to explore its dark twisting underground passageways in order to 'get his little girl back.'

Sadly such a tense, atmospheric and enthralling horror story is consistently ruined by the New Yorker frequently interrupting Rooks’ nervy traversal of the Wytches’ warren, with some rather tediously lack-lustre flashbacks to when Charlie’s wife, Lucy, was first recovering from her automobile accident. These scenes between father and daughter, brightly lit and dialogue-heavy, horribly jar with the dank gloomy fast-paced action of the writer's main storyline, and seem to serve no other purpose than to (once again) demonstrate just how poor a relationship Charlie once had with Sailor.     

Mark “Jock” Simpson’s artwork for these hospital-based sequences is just as disappointing as their interruptions are welcome, especially as the Scottish sketcher’s depictions of the quarrelling duo appear rather robotic and roughly drawn. Fortunately however, the East Kilbride-born penciller’s illustrations of Rooks grimly stalking the tunnels of the ghoul-faced “chit chit” anthropophagi are worryingly wonderful and there’s a real sense of menace about the bulbous-eyed skull-like creatures whenever they appear; “That’s right… they’re smelling you aren’t they? Yes, they are.”
Story: Scott Snyder, Art: Jock, and Colors: Matt Hollingsworth

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Marvel Two-In-One #5 - Marvel Comics

MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE No. 5, September 1974
Despite Benjamin Grimm’s ‘team-up’ with the (original) Guardians of the Galaxy not actually taking place until two-thirds of the way through this Bronze Age comic’s narrative, Issue Five of “Marvel Two-In-One” is still absolutely packed full of wonderfully ‘over the top’ fist-fights and corny Seventies dialogue as The Thing, Captain America and “the woman he loves” Agent 13, face a seemingly endless supply of Steve Gerber’s wickedly unimaginatively named Zoms and “Earth’s new masters: The reptilian conquerors called the Brotherhood of Badoon”.

Indeed in many ways it is actually somewhat frustrating that Major Vance Astro, Charlie-27, Yondu and Martinex make an appearance in this story at all, as their ‘timely’ arrival upon an alien-infested world, also sadly ushers in a bizarrely abrupt climax to what was up until the superheroes’ brief attack against Lord Drang’s palace, a genuinely enjoyable read. Just why the Eagle Award-winner would try and encapsulate a citywide ‘revolution’ against the planet’s extraterrestrial masters within the space of just two pages is unclear. But having spent a considerable portion of the periodical depicting the “heroes of old Earth” clobberin’ the likes of Commander Ogg and his ray-rifle carrying lizardmen, it seems dissatisfyingly odd that the creator of “Howard the Duck” would then shoehorn in both the defeat of the metropolis’ green scaly “lordsire” and the departure of “three weary chrononauts” back “into the past” within the space of six small panels.

Mild disappointment at this book’s brevity aside however, Gerber’s writing proves to be remarkably entertaining, and even includes a somewhat inventive ‘recap’ for any new readers by having Captain America explain the events which lead up to “Seven Against The Empire!” via a memory probe’s vocal stimulator. The Missouri-born writer even manages to conjure up a remarkable rematch between “the orange-skinned one” and the “Monster of Badoon” by having Grimm triumphantly batter “ugly” senseless with the help of the “last survivor of Earth’s Jupiter colony.”

Sal Buscema’s artwork is equally as solid, and whilst the New Yorker predominantly relies upon the standard six-panelled sheet for the majority of his illustrations, that doesn’t stop him drawing some genuinely memorable moments, most notably that of Ben hurling a futuristic car into a horde of Zoms and Badoon, and the single splash of the planet’s resistance movement storming Drang’s fortified stronghold.
Writer: Steve Gerber, Artist: Sal Buscema and Inker: Mike Esposito

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #4 - Marvel Comics

Ranked fifth on the list of “Top 100 Comic Book Villains” by “Imagine Games Network” in 2009, Jack Kirby’s Galactus has proved to be one of the New York artist’s most memorable co-creations ever since the devourer of worlds made his first appearance way back in March 1966. Sadly however it is hard to believe that the one-time explorer from the planet Taa would have enjoyed such enduring popularity if the character had been as badly misrepresented during one of his early appearances as the Silver Age demi-god is by Ryan North in Issue Four of “The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl”.

Indeed in many ways it is hard to imagine a less flattering portrayal of so well-liked and powerful an inhabitant of the Marvel Universe, especially when the Canadian writer begins this magazine by having the cosmically-charged super-being supposedly text any followers of his (web)site “Hey guess what I’m coming to Earth to devour the entire plant and nobody knows because I put my ship in a stealth field.”

Admittedly humour such as Galactus eventually sparing the Earth in favour of consuming a planet “covered in nuts and trees and more nuts” or appearing as little more than a purple-costumed giant squirrel in Tippy-Toe’s eyes, may not have been too out of place within the pages of “Marvel Comics” satiric comic book series “Not Brand Echh”. But this Modern Age twenty-page periodical, whilst supposedly a waggishly witty and somewhat zany read, is not a Sixties parody of its Publisher’s superheroes.

Dishearteningly the “occasional songwriter” also depicts Doreen Green in a similarly disenchanting manner by making the human mutant behave every bit as loutishly as Erica Henderson draws her. In fact the “New Avengers” affiliate is initially shown as being little more than an ineffective bruiser, as she pathetically attempts to defeat ‘The Hunger That Does Not Cease’ by punching one of his feet; “We’re here to kick butts and eat nuts… and you can’t eat nuts in space.”

Sadly it is therefore only towards the end of North’s rather lack-lustre narrative, having spent the better part of the story depicting the antagonists disconcertingly discussing “linguistics”, that the light-hearted quick-thinking Squirrel Girl as envisaged by Will Murray, finally makes an ‘appearance’… And then her disappointingly facetious plan is simply to offer Ashta an alternative “celestial body suffused with” nuts, having located the planet using “a giant Galactus-sized ancient janky retro keyboard?!”
Writer: Ryan North, Artist: Erica Henderson, and Color Artist: Rico Renzi

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Moon Knight #14 - Marvel Comics

MOON KNIGHT No. 14, June 2015
In some ways it is rather hard to understand why this particular instalment of “Moon Knight” saw the title’s popularity plummet to one hundred and thirty-fifth in the April 2015 "Diamond Comic Distributors" Comic Book Sales Figures chart. For despite being just the second story scripted for the series by Bram Stoker Award-nominee Cullen Bunn, “Old Gods’ Favors” contains all of the narrative elements which made the masked vigilante’s earlier adventures (as penned by Warren Ellis) so well-liked.

In fact deed in many ways it’s hard not to imagine this twenty-page tale of man-eating dogs attacking New York’s wealthiest citizenry as having come from the mind of the Essex-born sociocultural commentator. Especially as Bunn begins the magazine with grizzled Detective Flint (once again) examining the mutilated remains of a murder victim alongside the three-piece suited Mister Knight and grumbling about just how “kind of weird” his investigative consultant is.

The alumni of Missouri State University also provides this magazine’s readers with one of the super-hero’s sternest tests yet, as a semi-padded Fist of Khonshu battles a pack of wild frenzied hounds within the confinement of a plush well-to-do restaurant. The subsequent battle is both brutal and bloody, and rarely has Marc Spector been shown to be so close to defeat. Indeed if the savagely mauled Moon God’s agent wasn’t armed with some sort of canine repellent gas, the mercenary would almost certainly have been torn to shreds.

Bunn’s lack-lustre conclusion to such a wonderfully intriguing thrill-ride does however prove to be a bitter disappointment and occurs so abruptly that it arguably suggests “The Damned” co-creator simply ran out of ideas towards the end of the comic. Certainly the American author’s decision to have nothing more than a jealous oafish lout mastermind so vicious a scheme comes as a dissatisfying shock. Particularly when the base-ball capped thug reveals he wanted to knock the wealthy “off their high horses” simply because he’s resentful as to “what makes rich scum so special”.

Equally as disheartening as the writing’s sudden decline, has to be this periodical’s deteriorating artwork. Ron Ackins’ drawings, whilst somewhat stylistically different to his predecessors’ pencilling, is competent enough and definitely helps tell a very feral savage story. Unfortunately though the self-taught illustrator apparently became “the victim of deadlines” and required the assistance of Steve Sanders to ensure that this book’s last few pages were completed on time. Sadly the final result is jarringly poor, despite presumably the efforts of inker Tom Palmer and colorist Dan Brown to create some sense of unification to the two artist’s incompatible styles.
Writer: Cullen Bunn, Artist: Ron Ackins, and Ink: Tom Palmer

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Secret Wars #2 - Marvel Comics

SECRET WARS No. 2, July 2015
Containing an astounding forty-one pages of enthralling, masterfully written adventure, it is abundantly clear why “Issue Two” of “Secret Wars” managed to sell a staggering 210,807 copies in May 2015. Written and designed by Jonathan Hickman, this comic is a virtuoso of all things “Marvel Worldwide” in its depiction of a 'Battleworld' ruled by the disturbingly surreal Court of Victor Von Doom and policed by an army of hammer-wielding Thors against threats such as a zombie-infested Deadlands, “the seasonal migration of the drone army that is the Annihilation Wave” and the “self-replicating, super-evolving automatons” of “the damned Ultron A.I.”

Indeed the Marvel Universe has rarely seemed more compellingly attractive yet disconcertingly unfamiliar. For whilst the South Carolina-born author has packed this ‘alternative universe’ narrative with as many of Stan Lee, Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby’s highly-memorable characters as he could. Every single one of them is in some way different to the super-heroes and villains all comic book collectors will remember. Especially the former leader of the fictional nation of Latveria, who in this title reigns supreme as the all-white “God Doom”, sitting “in judgement on his throne Yggdrasil -- The World Tree” and served by the “Sheriff of Agamatto” Doctor Stephen Strange.

However rather than alienate this series’ audience, all these potentially disconcerting differences, such as Galactus simply being a somewhat emaciated-looking “world-eating sentinel” who “stands guard over Castle Doom”, actually unite together to create a genuinely gripping tale packed full of both scheming ‘medieval-based’ political intrigue and occasional flashes of invigorating violence. In fact arguably the highlight of this magazine has to be Baron Jamie Braddock’s banishment to “the Shield”; a “two hundred and fifty feet tall and sixteen thousand miles long” wall “built to keep out the nightmares that live” beyond. Resplendent in his red, white and blue costume and armed with a seriously large laser-sword, the ill-fated ‘Captain Britain’ bravely battles “the zombie horde”, disembowelling a smart-mouthed ‘undead’ Venom and partially decapitating a decaying Rhino with a single slash of his hand-weapon.

Such an epic storyline is made all the more impressive by the stunning illustration work of Esad Ribic and color artist Ive Svorcina. The Croatian comic book penciller’s drawings are breathtakingly detailed throughout and whilst the vast majority of the personalities involved within Hickman’s stellar script are definitely distinctive from their more orthodox ‘Marvel Universe’ counterparts, none of the Zagreb-born sketcher’s reimagined figures are unrecognisable.
The regular cover art of "SECRET WARS" No. 2 by Alex Ross

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Fantastic Four #157 - Marvel Comics

FANTASTIC FOUR No. 157, April 1975
Considering it contains the super-powered quartet’s most formidable foe, Doctor Doom, a cataclysmic fist-fight with the Latverian Monarch’s “new, improved and deadly Doomsman”, and prominently features Jack Kirby’s ever popular Silver Surfer, this particular issue of “Fantastic Four” could arguably be, as its cover proudly proclaims, “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine!”… If only it didn’t also include one of Editor Roy Thomas’ clunkiest and poorly written scripts.

Admittedly this dramatic conclusion to yet another of the “dysfunctional, yet loving” family’s frequent battles with Victor Von Doom starts excitingly enough. For having fed “a giant android of my own creation” with Norrin Radd’s Power Cosmic, and provided the readers with a wonderfully corny yet sinister soliloquy, the armoured sorcerer pits his “impressive” automaton against all four members of Stan Lee’s first superhero team in an action-packed slugfest.

Unfortunately however, almost as soon as the punch-up begins, Thomas brings it to an abrupt conclusion by having ‘the Silver Surfer enter the fray’ in order to ensure that “the scales may be tipped”, and leaves an enraged Doctor Doom, single-handedly facing his greatest enemies; “It’s clobberin’ time!” Sadly such a mouth-watering one-verses-five contest never materialises though as the story’s love interest for Galactus’ former herald, Helena, implores them to stop fighting before the “rebuilt” Latverian castle is destroyed along with all the “priceless… archives and artifacts from all over the kingdom”.

Considering how manically murderous the fighting had been just moments before, such a flimsy excuse for a truce seems highly unlikely. Yet staggeringly, Reed Richards uses it to justify a ceasefire and suggests to his arch-nemesis that he “Let us go in peace, and we’ll call it a stalemate -- til we meet you again in some neutral court.” To make matters worse, the ‘Third Greatest Comic Book Villain of All Time’, as voted by “Imagine Games Network”, meekly agrees to such a dissatisfactory conclusion with a petulant “Yes -- All right”, and lets his adversaries simply walk out of his stronghold.

Disappointingly, such an apathetic resolution to so promising a confrontation isn’t the end of this narrative however, as the Jackson-born writer ‘bolts on’ a truly bizarre three-page sequence depicting Mephisto, “truly the wisest of all”, informing one of his “humble minions” that he was actually behind Doctor Doom’s battle with the Fantastic Four. This additional scene makes little sense whatsoever, as the “Lord of Evil” reveals how he inexplicably hates the Silver Surfer “more than any” other being, and in order to punish the sky-rider banished “his beloved long-lost Shalla-Bal” not to her native planet Zenn-La but to Latveria, “where I gave her a new layer of memory over the old” and ‘created’ Helena. Overly complicated, convoluted, and nonsensical, it is clear why Thomas required the additional help of Len Wein as his “unindicted co-conspirator”, in order to fashion together such an uninspiring storyline.
Writer/Editor: Roy Thomas, Artist/Illustrator: Rich Buckler, and Inker/Embellisher: Joe Sinnott

Friday, 24 July 2015

Moon Knight #13 - Marvel Comics

MOON KNIGHT No. 13, May 2015
The 22,871 purchasers of this comic must have been somewhat alarmed at the changes brought in by Editor Nick Lowe. For having replaced the title’s reasonably successful creative team of Brian Wood and Greg Smallwood with Cullen Bunn and penciller Ron Ackins, the senior editor of the “X-Men” books at “Marvel Worldwide” also employed three separate inkers to work on “Footprints” and unfortunately the consistency of this periodical’s artwork undoubtedly suffers as a result. 

Admittedly however, there are arguably a number of other reasons as to why this magazine saw “Moon Knight” fall out of Diamond Comic Distributor’s top one hundred best-selling titles in March 2015. Bunn’s somewhat nonsensical narrative being just one as the American author describes a disturbingly unsympathetic Marc  Spector rescuing a number of hapless ghosts who have been ‘waylaid’ by a group of ‘spook kidnappers’; “You put a price tag on something… brand it the right way… and people will buy it.”

The basic premise for such a single-issue long plot isn’t itself dislikeable. But the former “Deadpool Kills Deadpool” writer’s adventure concludes before resolving several questionable aspects to his storyline. For example what is causing “the trail” of bloody footprints which helps lead the cloaked superhero to the Apex Wholesale Meats Building where the phantoms’ abductions are taking place? How is a laptop, a syringe-enhanced glove and something reminiscent of a ‘Poke Ball’ capable of making “the dead dance like puppets”, and why does “residential mortal energy” draw “ghosts like flies” to the slaughterhouse? None of this ‘ectoplasm-based gobbledygook’ is ever even slightly rationalised or explained by Bunn, and seems to have been indolently ‘invented’ just so The Fist of Khonshu could battle amidst the meat factory’s hanging carcasses.

Ron Ackins’ artwork is also a rather inconsistent mess for much of this comic’s twenty-pages. Initially competent enough, as the three-piece suited vigilante confronts his home’s spiritual trespassers, the self-taught illustrator’s drawings become increasingly two-dimensional and irreconcilable to the eye the more action-packed the plot becomes. Encouragingly the Philadelphia-born graphic designer can sketch an extremely impressive-looking Moon Knight. Yet oddly seems unable to replicate the crimefighter’s dynamic energy and poise with the rest of his figures. Indeed towards the end of the comic, the Afro-American artist struggles to depict even the simplest of fight scenes, with his characters having either misshapen or elongated limbs, large bulging eyes, and disproportional awkward-looking hands.
Writer: Cullen Bunn, Artist: Ron Ackins, and Color Art: Dan Brown

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Zombies Vs. Robots #7 - IDW Publishing

ZOMBIES VS. ROBOTS No. 7, July 2015
Co-creator Chris Ryall has clearly imbued Issue Seven of “Zombies Verses Robots” with a very different vibe as to what has previously been printed before. For instead of consisting of a rather mixed ‘hit but mainly miss’ anthology of short unrelated stories, the Chief Creative Officer has instead dedicated almost the entirety of this book’s twenty-two pages to “The Man On The Moon”; an “incredible science fiction” story which may well “astound you!”

Set upon the very cusp of the undead apocalypse in America, during “the early days of the Zombie/Robot War”, the Californian writer’s engaging and somewhat sentimental tale concentrates on the survival of a father and daughter housed within a “deserted and converted” missile silo sealed deep beneath “rural Kansas”. Alone, except for the company of a couple of Warbots, tiny Ava’s “Daddy” quickly succumbs to paranoia and madness, and orders his automatons to murder “the next-door neighbours”, inadvertently causing his underground shelter to be “breached by zombies”.

Unfortunately, having mesmerisingly brought the story to the point where the little girl is fatally bitten, Ryall’s creativeness arguably takes a turn towards the absurd as the distraught parent not only injects himself with “Ava’s zombie blood” but has the limb immediately clamped within a bionic device in order to “prevent the virus from spreading past your arm.” Worse the man also illogically allows his robot doctor to enclose half his head within a metallic mask which bears a striking resemblance to a medieval torture decide; “It will hurt a great deal… But not as much as this mask will.”  

Paul Davidson’s illustration work is detailed and dynamic, and really helps convey the passage of time by slowly portraying a progressively dishevelled adult and increasingly tall Ava whilst the story develops. Disappointingly though, the comic’s editor jarringly interrupts the flow of the “Judge Dredd” penciller’s panels by including three double-splashes drawn by very different, and arguably less impressive, artists.

James McDonald’s Chibi-looking montage of the weaponry of zombies and robots is attractive enough, and highly suitable considering it’s meant to represent the thoughts of a child as her father talks about what is happening on the planet’s surface. Valentin Ramon’s battle scene showing that “the zombies truly had spread to every continent on Earth, in mass numbers” is also competent enough, if not exceptionally gruesome and gory. But James Kochalka’s atrocious sketch of a warbot punching ghouls besides a river bank whilst highly stylised, is reminiscent of Matt Groenig’s early work on the 1989 American animated sitcom “The Simpsons” and really breaks the atmosphere of what had been, up until its appearance, a thoroughly compelling journey through the opening months of the planet-wide catastrophe.

Just as disheartening is the seemingly pointless inclusion of “Tales Of ZVR” by Ashley Wood at the very back of this comic book. The Australian illustrator’s ‘two-page short’, unenthusiastically coloured in a variety of muted greys, pales in comparison with Davidson’s colourful artwork, especially as it proves impossibly hard to distinguish what is actually taking place within a couple of the Spectrum Award-winner’s pictures. In addition absolutely nothing of any consequence occurs within “A Howl Of Wind!” except for the decision being made by the young boy’s female companion for them to visit “Wilma, the zombie-stomper!”
The regular cover art of "ZOMBIES VS. ROBOTS" No. 7 by Mark Torres

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Where Monsters Dwell #3 - Marvel Comics

WHERE MONSTERS DWELL No. 3, September 2015
There’s a very interesting, if not disturbing, change to the tone of this third instalment of “Where Monsters Dwell”, and the comic’s cover warning proclaiming “Parental Advisory! Not For Kids!” rather succinctly spells out just how much this mini-series’ once humorously fun action-packed narrative now differs. Indeed apart from Russ Braun’s consistent and wonderful lavishly-drawn artwork, along with the occasional Karl Kaufman frustrated chauvinistic quip, it genuinely is hard to believe that Garth Ennis’ mature-orientated script is apparently a continuation of what has previously gone on before within this “dangerous region of Battleworld...”

For starters the rather jolly dinosaur-chasing capers of the title’s previous two issues have been entirely replaced with a rather tediously lack-lustre depiction of idyllic life hidden within an Amazonian jungle-based fortification. In fact it isn’t until the book’s second half, when the “flying ace” inadvertently stumbles upon the imprisoned and wizened Chief Petty Officer Harkins and the equally elderly Bill the Cabin Boy, that the story’s main protagonist suddenly finds himself in jeopardy… And that is simply because he loses his temper and demands “Single combat. Me against the best you’ve got! To the death!”

However such sedentary plot pacing is actually the least of this magazine’s problems, as for whatever reason, Ennis veers away from the family-friendly entertainment his ‘time-travelling’ tale has previously provided and instead embarks upon a twenty-page depiction of scantily-clad bikini-wearing homosexuality and eye-watering male genital abuse; “Swollen. Turned me on an’ orf like a tap, they did… pumpin’ away… treated me like a blinkin’ object…”

Admittedly the Northern Irish-born American writer handles such subjects through the use of some rather tongue-in-cheek moments and the ample use of innuendo as opposed to anything more blatantly explicit. But even so, as the Phantom Eagle is stripped naked and frogmarched to the chopping block, where a heavily-muscled long-haired executioner prepares her sharp axe in order to remove him of his ‘manhood’, it's abundantly clear that the Eisner Award-winner’s ‘Land That Time Forgot’ influenced dino-fest has suddenly become far more akin to one of its publishing company’s extremely controversial “Max Comics” imprint titles rather than something conjured up from the limitless imagination of author Edgar Rice Burroughs.
Writer: Garth Ennis, Artist: Russ Braun and Color Artist: Dono Sanchez Almara

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Injection #3 - Image Comics

INJECTION No. 3, July 2015
Considering that the “Image Comics” advertising strapline for this third instalment of “Injection” concludes with the wording “Civilization is dying and only five people know”, many readers would arguably expect a good deal of action to take place within the book’s twenty-pages in order to thwart such a global predicament. Disappointingly though, besides an utterly bizarre double-splash sequence where the narrative’s ‘not cunning man’ somehow banishes a gigantic Treeman, nothing of any note actually happens at all…

Such a dissatisfying experience is undoubtedly due to the fact that Warren Ellis literally fills the entirety of the magazine’s opening half with Professor Kilbride's slightly fraught "pixies" telephone conversation with her former colleague Robin Morel. In fact this periodical contains little else but dialogue-heavy scenes, as the English author scripts Brigid Roth cursing as Simeon Winters attempts “to arrange an in-person consultation” with her, Maria ‘chit-chats’ with “the new Dispatch”, a colourfully-dressed Indian woman who needs “to pass an interim report on to Control”, and the title’s “esotericist” argues with his group’s resident secret agent during a somewhat lengthy ‘bygone scene’ back when the “weird think tank” was still in operation.

Admittedly in this title’s pre-publication press release the Eagle Award-winning writer forewarned his many fans that this comic would initially simply establish “the world and its problems” and focus upon the development of the storyline’s main protagonists. Yet in doing so it is also arguably clear that this comic’s creators are not producing a well-paced narrative which is readily followable as a regular monthly magazine series. But instead as “five planned volumes” of trade paperbacks.

Fortunately this periodical is at least pleasing to the eye with Declan Shalvey producing some quite wonderfully illustrated moments. In particular the artist’s transformation of Morel’s cheap hotel room into a dank, misty woodland, complete with shadowy observers, startled crows and abundant trees, is incredibly well rendered. The former “Thunderbolts” penciller even goes so far as to slowly represent tiny leaves working their way up Robin’s room phone cable as the duration of his call with Kilbride increases. An especially impressive demonstration of the artist's ‘attention to detail’ which seems to genuinely show just how “delighted” the Irish inker is “to be continuing the creative relationship I’ve established with Warren [Ellis] and Jordie [Bellaire]”.

Unfortunately not everything is as well drawn however, with Shalvey’s infinitely less-detailed flashbacks depicting the “five crazy people” who “poisoned the Twenty-First Century” considerably jarring with the majority of this issue’s artwork. Such a disappointing contrast is especially noticeable when these lack-lustre, blandly-hued panels are intermixed with the much more detailed ‘modern-day’ events all upon the self-same page.
The variant cover art of "INJECTION" No. 3 by Declan Shalvey

Monday, 20 July 2015

Wytches #4 - Image Comics

WYTCHES No. 4, February 2015
It’s not entirely clear what creator Scott Snyder was trying to do with this title’s main protagonist in Issue Four of “Wytches”. But if the New Yorker’s intention was to alienate the “fun lovable guy” from the majority of the book’s 41,827 buyers, then he arguably does a very good job. For not only does the American author’s narrative depict Charlie Rook demonstrating a deplorable “darkness under the surface” by drunkenly endangering the life of his teenage daughter. But it also shows this supposedly “great character” becoming so manically deranged that he actually prevaricates with his caring selfless chair-bound wife whilst holding a “sticker.”

Admittedly such deeply damaged personalities appear to be rather popular within modern-day literature, especially those who somehow manage to not only overcome their own individual demons but great adversity as well. However it is genuinely hard to either support or empathise with a father who swears, curses and threatens his child until she starts gingerly climbing to the top of a perilously derelict Ferris wheel. Indeed, the inebriated parent is so obsessed that Sailor will be brave “today” that at one point he even hurls a bottle at the petrified girl’s feet whilst she’s ascending the Rickett’s Arcade ride.

Fortunately, upon realising that his ‘family are under attack’, the head of the Rook household does appear to exhibit one saving grace and that is his compelling determination to ensure that this time “I’m not letting it happen.” Such resolve to find the wizened woman who previously assaulted him and force her “to tell us where our daughter is” makes for enthralling drama, even if Charlie’s earlier unforgivable ill-treatment of his offspring does suggest that perhaps he’s not just acting out of selfless love but also guilt for his past misdemeanours.

Sadly, equally as flawed as this comic book’s lead character, is some of the artwork created by Mark “Jock” Simpson and Matt Hollingsworth. The creative team’s pages depicting Sailor’s terrifying experiences within a hollowed-out tree are absolutely superb, as are the pair’s panels showing the young girl’s father exploring a dilapidated house on the Here Coast. But disappointingly, the Scottish sketcher’s pencilling of the sedentary scenes between husband and wife are rather shoddily drawn. Whilst the Californian colorist’s overly-heavy application of ‘paint splatter’ across every page proves so dense in places that it actually completely hides part of the illustration underneath.
The variant cover art of "WYTCHES" No. 4 by Babs Tarr

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Master Of Kung Fu #3 - Marvel Comics

MASTER OF KUNG FU No. 3, September 2015
Writer Haden Blackman clearly had a lot of fun scripting this third instalment of Shang Chi’s adventures upon “Battleworld”, as within the space of its opening few pages the ex-creative director of “LucasArts” fulfils a genuine ‘love of intermixing’ by integrating “a wide range of reimagined characters” into his “Secret Wars” tie-in book… and what an incredible assortment of “Marvel’s martial artists” he has selected too, with some being “not… immediately obvious or expected.”

Indeed it is clear that the GLAAD Media Award-winner has scoured the roster of “Marvel Worldwide” characters in order to populate the kingdom of K’un Lun’s “Ritual of the Thirteen Chambers”. For not only do obvious choices such as “wise T’Challa of the Panther Clan”, “Master of the Iron Fist, Rand-K’ai” and Karnak “from the House of Terrigen Mists” appear as competitors. But so too do the likes of the “mysterious Drew, weaver of the Spider Cult”, the “noble Creed, leader of the Tooth and Claw” and “Shattered Spector, mercurial Master of the Faces of the Moon”. In fact even the “savage Lord Namor” resurfaces “from the Halls of Atlantis after years of self-imposed seclusion” in order to fight for the opportunity to be Emperor for the next thirteen years.

Equally as impressive is that despite their daunting number artist Dalibor Talajic somehow manages to redesign every one of these major “Marvel” personalities into someone who both ‘feels familiar’ but is also “wholly new”. Something ‘which is exactly what Blackman had apparently hoped for when writing the mini-series’ storyline. However due to time constraints, many of these figures are regrettably reduced to little more than fleetingly brief cameos in two double-splash illustrations which occur at the very end of the comic.

These montages, whilst dynamically drawn by the Croatian penciller, provide nothing but a tantalising glimpse of these semi-familiar faces, with supposedly formidable opponents such as the Black Panther unceremoniously being laid low by the Master of King Fu within mere moments. Only a bearded Sub-Mariner is awarded any genuine ‘screen time’ during this early phase in the martial arts tournament and rather dishearteningly, even Namor’s frantic under-water fist-fight is cut inauspiciously short by Shang-Chi somehow transforming his hands into steel blades (similar to those of the villainous Razor Fist) and rather bloodily puncturing the Atlantean’s lungs with them.
Writer: Haden Blackman, Penciler: Dalibor Talajic, and Inker: Goran Sudzuka

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Will Eisner's The Spirit #1 - Dynamite Entertainment

Celebrating “the Seventy Fifth anniversary of Will Eisner’s iconic and ground-breaking character” this opening instalment of “an all-new ongoing series featuring The Spirit” by “Dynamite Entertainment” will doubtless disappoint many of the masked crimefighter’s “long-time fans”, despite the publisher’s advertised assurances to the contrary. In fact it is hard to imagine this first in a twelve-issue story-arc will entice “a whole new generation of fans” either. For having established that the Central City vigilante has been missing, presumed dead, for almost two years via a wonderfully genuine sounding Forties newspaper article, Matt Wagner’s twenty-two page narrative frustratingly focus’ on a world where the famous hero is no more.

Admittedly the Pennsylvanian-born oft-times penciller does include a rather nicely scripted ‘flashback’ of the blue business-suited hero’s origin. But just as soon as the ‘dead’ Denny Colt Junior reveals his “state of suspended animation” to senior lawman Eustace Dolan and utters the ‘immortal’ words “they can’t strike back against a ghost, a phantom… a spirit” then the narrative disappointingly returns to the ‘present’ day and spends a deplorably long time simply depicting the retiring Police Commissioner conversing with his strong-headed daughter, Ellen.

Fortunately such a pace-lacking plot is eventually bolstered by the American author’s (re)introduction of Ebony White; the titular character’s “unofficial” African-American sidekick. Now consigned to a meagre existence as the partner of small-time private investigator Sammy Strunk, the youthful taxi driver at least manages to inject some much needed humour and action into the storyline by becoming involved in a back-street brawl with two 'shifty-looking' “shysters”. But regrettably even this fist-fight is almost immediately resolved thanks to the presence of Aloysius’ enormous cousin Francis and a well-pitched baseball thrown by the one-time racial stereotype’s fedora-wearing associate.

Arguably even worse than Wagner’s uninspiring writing however, has to be Dan Schkade’s unpardonable pencilling. Whilst it is clear that the Austin-born artist has clearly attempted to try and emulate the “vital and prestigious legacy of one of comicdom’s most talented and influential creators”, the final result is an inauspiciously poor imitation of Will Eisner’s “singular vision”. Indeed it is hard to believe that senior editor Joe Rybandt was particularly impressed with the American’s amateurish efforts in any way shape or form. Especially when “The Goon” creator Eric Powell does such a wonderful job of capturing The Spirit’s brutal naked aggression with his gritty main cover illustration.
The variant cover art of "WILL EISNER'S THE SPIRIT" No. 1 by Alex Ross

Friday, 17 July 2015

The Walking Dead #126 - Image Comics

THE WALKING DEAD No. 126, April 2014
Having ‘sucker-knifed’ the psychopathic tyrant Negan at the conclusion of the previous edition, many of the 67,853 buyers who purchased Issue One Hundred and Twenty Six of “The Walking Dead” in April 2014 may well have figured that the one-time Police Deputy’s ‘six-month’ long battle with the murderous Saviours was already over. Indeed creator Robert Kirkman appears to initially reinforce such a sentiment within the opening few panels of this comic by depicting Sanctuary’s astonished despot submissively sinking to his knees before a victorious Rick Grimes; "It's done! The war is over! Surrender and allow us to take him, and we will not attack." 

Fortunately however, any reader thinking that this would mean an easy ride for the Hilltop settlement’s survivors and little more than a dialogue-heavy character-driven final instalment to “All Out War”, were in for a pleasant surprise at just the turn of a page. For having dropped his wicked-looking baseball bat Lucille, the former cars salesman turned “maniac” somehow manages to dig deep and promptly starts giving the one-handed “de facto” encampment leader a considerable beating.

Such a one-on-one, man-to-man confrontation between the title’s two main adversaries has been something fans of this series have been spoiling for since the two characters first met… And the subsequent brutal fist-fight, which results with at least one broken limb, does not disappoint. Especially as the Kentucky-born writer intersperses its blow by blow account with the chaotic close combat of Michonne and Paul “Jesus” Monroe battling Negan’s remaining men.

Sadly such a cataclysmic finale is over all-too soon, leaving two thirds of the book to once again be populated with little more than Grimes delivering another of his sanctimoniously nauseating sermons on how “we can remake the world we remember… and we can make it better.” Admittedly there is a slightly unsettling scene towards the mega-event’s very end, as Carl, believing his father to be wrong in sparing his hated foe’s life, decides to shoot the helpless bedridden butcher. But even this proves an anti-climax as Rick ‘instantly’ talks his young son down from committing such a cold-blooded murder, and thus ‘smacks’ of simply being yet another of Kirkman’s ‘fillers’ for so horribly overextended a narrative.

Arguably penciller Charlie Adlard also demonstrates he was as equally tired of this storyline by this stage as some of the mega-event's followers were, by producing some quite inconsistent artwork for large parts of the magazine. The Shrewsbury-born illustrator’s depiction of Negan and Grimes pounding away at one another amidst the carnage of a pitched battle is wonderfully drawn and readily captures the frenzied nature of the vicious hand-to-hand fighting. But as soon as the action stops and thus all attention is then turned to the bedroom of a recuperating Rick, the Englishman starts ‘padding out’ his panels with little more than the same reoccurring and regurgitated poses.
Writer: Robert Kirkman, Penciller: Charlie Adlard, and Inker: Stefano Gaudiano

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Uber #9 - Avatar Press

UBER No. 9, January 2014
As a magazine partially dedicated to the fictitious Second Battle of Kursk, this edition of Kieron Gillen’s Anglo-American comic book series is arguably a rather apathetic read which, except perhaps for the unsurprising reveal that Katyusha Maria is a Russian superhuman and its extremely gory depiction of the partial mutilation of the “First Battleship Class Uber”, appears to contain little by way of meaningful plot development.

Admittedly the former British music journalist’s graphically bloody disablement of Werner Frei may well have come as something of a shock to the title’s meagre 8,448 followers, and undoubtedly demonstrates that even the “relatively low-intensity halo” of a Red Army Penal Battalion can cause significant harm to one of the Fuhrer’s most formidable living weapons. But such a vicious entrapment of Battlegroup Siegmund by the first Soviet enhanced V2 humans appears a desperately rushed and deplorably short-lived affair; one which regrettably pales in comparison to the seven-week long genuine engagement of 1943 that Gillen was presumably trying to emulate.

Indeed if not for artist Caanan White’s somewhat shameful portrayal of the conflict within a run of three successive double-splash illustrations and two subsequent full panel pages, the enormity of such an extraordinary ‘military’ event could easily have been confined to nothing more than a single five-framed sheet of paper. Although considering the rather lack-lustre quality of the African-American’s pencilling of the super-powered encounter that may not have been all that bad an idea. Especially as the sketcher’s rather grotesque pictures of Russian ‘Panzermensch’ being dismembered by the German Uber’s “enormous circular shuriken of un-doing” is even commented upon by Gillen within the English writer’s internet-based “workblog” and highlighted as something “Caanan wanted basically to do” having only “talked a little about how this attack would work” with the author.

Instead much of the comic's narrative appears to be unnecessarily bogged down simply depicting the dull day-to-day drilling of Stalin’s “one hundred and one” ‘Tank-Men’. This brutal training regime, despite being far less bloody than the events portrayed on the Eastern Front battlefield, proves a particularly tough time for the long-suffering “tank-lady hero of the Great Patriotic War”, Maria. Who for the vast majority of the book appears unable to manifest even the simplest of Uber-related superpowers, despite having been exposed “to raw catalyst as a shortcut.”

Sadly, despite this woman’s pitiful plight at the hands of her unsympathetic comrades, Gillen’s insistence in making the former sharpshooter an exceptionally foul-mouthed individual throughout makes even these ‘character driven’ scenes a tediously tiring read. Something which simply adds to this book’s overall aura of being little more than a weakly written ‘filler’ issue, whose script was badly bereft of sufficient plot developments for a twenty-two page periodical.
The variant cover art of "UBER" No. 9 by Caanan White

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Batman #23.1 [The New 52] - DC Comics

BATMAN No. 23.1, November 2013
Sporting a “supervillains of the DCU” commemorative cover this particular edition of “The New 52” “Batman” is an honest to goodness thrill-a-minute read, whose script is as engagingly enthralling and dynamic as the comic’s Jason Fabok 3-D Motion Cover. For whilst this book is disappointingly devoid of the actual Dark Knight himself, Andy Kubert’s narrative instead provides the reader with a disturbingly endearing tale of the Caped Crusader’s greatest nemesis trying to start a family of his very own.

Disconcertingly however, any of this magazine’s 107,680 buyers foolish enough to think that “Time To Monkey Shine” would therefore be little more than a whimsical tale of the Clown Prince of Crime’s domestic bliss were in for something of a surprise, as the American author not only shows a chillingly caring side to the Joker that is rarely seen. But also offers plenty of harrowing flashbacks to a time when the white-skinned psychopath was naught but an abused infant, desperate to escape the bleach and scrubbing brush of his deranged Aunt Eunice; “I’m surprised I still have all my fingers and toes.”

Indeed Jerry Robinson’s co-creation is stunningly sentimental towards the start of this story, momentarily even appearing “a wee bit shaken”, or at the very least distracted, by the sight of a zoo-keeper being rather gratuitously eaten alive by a giant snake. Unsurprisingly though the supervillain quickly regains his maniacal momentum and having suddenly acquired the urge to become a parent, decides to embark upon the fraught journey into fatherhood as only the homicidal mastermind can… by abducting a baby gorilla whom he laughing names Jackanapes.

What follows is nothing short of a hilarious, though increasingly ghoulish, montage as the Joker ensures his “young pup” experiences “the childhood I wish I had” by teaching him how to bully children at school, rob girl scouts of their sweets and spend ‘quality time together’ watching graphically violent horror movies. Rather impressively the tone of the orphaned gorilla’s upbringing becomes increasingly dark the older the primate gets and this gradual shift from zany antics to callous cold-blooded murder, such as pulling a hapless man’s arms off or trapping people within a burning building, must have caught many an unsuspecting bibliophile off-guard.

Just as interesting is the Quill Award-winner’s transformation of Jackanapes from a naughty, possibly playful, young ape to a seemingly regretful adult primate who clearly no longer wishes to be his father’s colourfully costumed killer. Teary-eyed the animal knowingly chooses a grim-death as a result of a fall from a high-flying aeroplane rather than remain at the Joker’s side and in doing so creates a genuinely sad ending to an otherwise wonderfully humorous comic.

Equally as impressive as The Kubert School graduate’s script is the sensationally detailed artwork by Andy Clarke. Mesmerizingly energetic and vibrantly coloured by digital professional Blond, the British penciller’s illustrations of both the Clown Prince of Crime and his ‘ward’ are incredibly well drawn and really help bring out the character’s differing emotions as they increasingly ‘dish out pain and suffering'.
Writer: Andy Kubert, Art: Andy Clarke, and Colors: Blond

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Powers #3 - Icon Comics (Marvel Comics)

POWERS No. 3, May 2015
When the co-creator of “the original comic book series” somewhat detrimentally refers to it as “Powers TV’s lesser known sister”, it is arguably clear which of the two mediums is of paramount importance in their minds… And is presumably the reason why Brian Michael Bendis’ profanity-laden soulless narrative to Issue Three of “Powers” is so lamentable. Certainly it is hard to fathom out why else a five-time Eisner Award-winning writer would produce such staid almost child-like dialogue, overly-long stagnating scenes and arguably illogical plot points.

In fact it is hard to find anything within this periodical’s twenty-five pages worthy of praise. Except perhaps the Cleveland-born author’s handling of ‘good girl turned bad’ Rainbow'. Whose panic attack at the prospect of incarceration leads her to seriously ‘fly off the handle’ and amply demonstrate why Deena Pilgrim is such a ‘cult figure’ within creator-owned comics. However even this colourful four-page scene depicting the homicide detective eventually bringing down her prisoner with a bullet, appears overly-long and disappointingly contains some of the worst language imaginable.

Admittedly Bendis’ storyline is not devoid of action. In fact once the reader has endured a tediously long conversational piece between Pilgrim and her Chief, as he drags the cop ‘back to the Police station specifically to rip her one’, there isn’t a moment’s pause to be had. But all each ‘set-piece’ seems to do is provide the Wizard Award-winner with even more opportunities for having his characters prolifically swear or curse, whilst giving artist Michael Avon Oeming the chance to once again demonstrate his all-too inconsistent and amateurish-looking ‘animation-style’ line art.

Indeed the American penciller’s illustrations are decidedly substandard throughout this comic and badly undermine what little interest his collaborator’s script generates to the point where it even has a negative impact upon the long-awaited much-anticipated return of Christian Walker as the 'superhero' Diamond. Such a notable decline in the artwork is especially evident when it can be so readily compared to some of Oeming’s earlier work on the title courtesy of a back-page advertisement to buy the 2010 comic book series digitally. It’s therefore little wonder that the sales for so lack-lustre a magazine saw this issue’s circulation figure drop to just 10,485 copies in May 2015.
The variant cover art of "POWERS" No. 3 by David Mack

Monday, 13 July 2015

Age Of Reptiles: Ancient Egyptians #1 - Dark Horse Comics

“Basically a western that stars a samurai… who happens to be a forty-foot long predatory dinosaur” this publication by “Dark Horse Comics” is innovative not only for featuring the heavily stylised storyboard artwork of creator Ricardo Delgado. But for the fact that it doesn’t contain either a single word or sound effect throughout its twenty-four page journey across Cretaceous Africa.

Fortunately what it does encompass are some truly exquisitely detailed drawings of the flora and fauna of a “bustling, thriving and treacherous world” of giant reptiles and an action-packed captivating excursion alongside a “tough, lone Spinosaurus Aegyptiacus”. Indeed the sheer amount of things happening within the tiniest of the Costa Rican artist’s panels is unbelievable, and can actually prove so overwhelming that new elements to the textless story can be found even after the third or fourth reading.

Admittedly bibliophiles wanting a bit more to their narratives than just a succession of pictures may well be able to argue that at its most basic level this magazine is simply about a huge ‘spined lizard’ spending a day of its life eating fish and fending off threats. However there is so very much more to Delgado’s storytelling, even down to the “Disney” production designer’s ability to imbue the creatures he illustrates with characters all of their own… even down to a pair of claw-snapping crustaceans trying to catch a small insect whilst precariously balancing upon a branch floating down the river.

Indeed considering the sheer number of different dinosaurs, fish and birds which the writer incorporates into Issue One of “Age Of Reptiles: Ancient Egyptians”, the attention to behavioural detail is incredible. Not only does the scarred main protagonist act with a persuasively believable animal intellect, picking his prey carefully amidst waters teeming with fat-bodied giant groupers and panic-stricken snapping-turtles. But so too do the creatures which the sharp-toothed behemoth encounters. Whether they be a pair of velociraptors inadvertently running into the Spinosaurus whilst tussling between themselves over a leg shank, or a reckless meat-eating carnosaur wildly fleeing a herd of sauropods it had unwisely attacked earlier.

Dishearteningly not everything works as well as Delgado presumably hoped however. The California-based penciller’s ‘thunder lizards’ appear far too reminiscent of something from the live action computer animated adventure film “Dinosaur” by “Walt Disney Pictures” to be taken seriously. Especially when the group’s leader appears a little too ‘human-like’ with its ‘double-take’ at the semi-aquatic "anti-hero" swimming past it.
Story, Art and Dinosaur Color Concepts: Ricardo Delgado, and Colors: Ryan Hill

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Star Wars #6 - Marvel Comics

STAR WARS No. 6, August 2015
One of the biggest disappointments of the 1983 motion picture “Return Of The Jedi” is arguably the lamentably brief battle upon one of Jabba the Hutt’s desert skiffs between notorious bounty hunter Boba Fett and the Galactic Empire’s greatest threat, Luke Skywalker. Some thirty years later and writer Jason Aaron has attempted to partially correct George Lucas’ fifty second oversight by dedicating the vast majority of his final instalment of the “Skywalker Strikes” story-arc to just such a colossal contest.

Admittedly in many ways depicting an early encounter between the young inexperienced rebel pilot and the ruthless son of Jango was always going to fall short of the excitement their cinematic clash should have generated. After all the former moisture farmer has yet to become “a true Jedi” and as the murderous mercenary himself states during their comic book confrontation Luke is so overmatched that he ‘shouldn’t be able to fight him’.

Surprisingly though the Alabama-born author does a very good job of infusing this ten-page long battle scene with plenty of excitement, urgency and action. Indeed the frantic pace of the two combatants as they exchange blows within the claustrophobic confines of Obi Wan Kenobi’s home on Tatooine is genuinely worthy of being official canon. Especially as it provides an increasingly frustrated Fett with some great moments as his supposedly easy prey continuously outwits and outfights him despite being temporarily blinded by a flash grenade before the contest even started.

Far less successful are the scenes involving Han Solo’s awkward attempt to seduce Leia Organa on an “oasis” planet hidden “underneath an atmosphere… of the most violent electrical storms.” The stilted dialogue is as clumsy as the Corellian smuggler’s unromantic advances towards the Princess, and the fact this sequence intermittently interrupts Skywalker’s ferocious battle with Boba makes the entire scene all the more intrusively unwelcome. To make matters worse however Aaron also decides to use this disagreeable interlude in order to introduce the scoundrel’s wife, Sana Solo into the ‘Star Wars Universe.

Sadly Issue Six of “Star Wars” is also the last edition to be drawn by Eisner Award-winner John Cassaday. The American artist’s departure is particularly disheartening as his illustration work throughout this book is simply stunning, especially when it comes to his pencilling of the Mandalorian-armoured bounty hunter’s tense dual with the light-sabre wielding Luke.
The regular cover art of "STAR WARS" No. 6 by John Cassaday and Laura Martin