Saturday, 23 January 2016

Uber #21 - Avatar Press

UBER No. 21, December 2014
Despite selling a disappointing 5,858 issues in January 2015, approximately five hundred copies less than its predecessor, creator Kieron Gillen need not have worried as to whether this comic book’s readers would find its narrative both “interesting and enjoyable.” For whilst the twenty-two page periodical surprisingly only dedicates less than half its contents upon Maria and Sieglinde’s “meet[ing] in Kiev for a strong exchange of words and/or blows”, this penultimate chapter in “The Shadow War” story-arc ‘packs plenty of additional punch’ by surrounding the “first duel between fully activated Ubermensch-class enhanced humans” with plenty of additional drama and action.

For starters the Stafford-born writer finally divulges “what’s going on with Hitler” by having Joseph Goebbels’ rather obvious Fuhrer clone obliterate the corpse of a medical experiment courtesy of a well-placed, and gratuitously illustrated, halo effect. Ever since “the apparent death” of Adolf “at the hands of Siegmund” it has always been evident to followers of this title that the Reich Minister of Propaganda had arranged for someone else to take over the leader’s identity. This scene however provides the first actual proof that the replica is an 'Uber' of some kind… and one which the German politician even considers to be a viable “suitor” for his own wife Magda!?!

Just as unforeseen is the British former music journalist’s revelation that “Mister long-suffering Tank-man bodyguard Conrad” is actually the “active” spy at Bletchley Park. Admittedly artist Daniel Gete’s overly graphic love-scene between the undercover Nazi agent and Stephanie may be a little lewd for some. But the Spaniard’s detailed panels depicting ‘heavy petting’, from a plot perspective at least, is understandably the key to the British scientist realising just who the top secret research department’s traitor is; “A Tank-Man wouldn’t sweat from sex.”

The highlight of this comic though is undoubtedly Katyusha’s pummelling of Battleship Sieglinde, and the subsequent understandable concern (and shock) etched upon the face of her colleague Siegfried when he himself observes the terrifyingly raw power of the Third Reich’s latest foe. “Capable of shaping the battlefield to her liking, [and] claiming the high ground…” Maria Andreevna’s long-awaited and highly-anticipated ‘fist-fight’ with Winston Churchill’s assassin is disconcertingly rather one-sided, despite the “blonde witch” almost catching the Soviet Forces off-guard at the start of the contest. Although the combat’s all-too early resolution, which sees Klaudia unceremoniously “propelled… into the Dnieper”, isn’t nearly as disappointing as some of Caanan White’s pencilling during the fracas.
The regular cover art of "UBER" No. 21 by Caanan White

Friday, 22 January 2016

Star Wars: Vader Down #1 - Marvel Comics

STAR WARS: VADER DOWN No. 1, January 2016
Despite being depicted as a mysteriously all-powerful villain during the original "Star Wars" motion picture trilogy, Darth Vader was never arguably imbued with any especially 'mind-blowing' abilities except the occasional force choke and manipulation of inanimate objects, such as some pieces of Cloud City machinery in "The Empire Strikes Back". Indeed, whilst on the 'Silver Screen', even the Emperor Palpatine, a long-standing Sith Master, seems to have been limited to nothing greater than a talent for discharging deadly lightning bolts from his fingertips. However, this situation seems to have somewhat dramatically changed since "Marvel Worldwide" started publishing a flotilla of comics based upon George Lucas' "galaxy far, far away" in 2015, with the "enforcer of the Galactic Empire" apparently receiving an especially impressive ‘upgrade’ to the point where during Jason Aaron’s “Skywalker Strikes” story-arc the black-armoured warrior was shown to be capable of bringing all the dreadful might of a gigantic AT-AT walker to its knees purely through his manipulation of the dark side of the force.

Somewhat disconcertingly Issue One of “Star Wars: Vader Down”, the second-best selling comic book of November 2015 having sold an astonishing 384,969 issues upon its release, undoubtedly ramps up the Sith Lord’s powers even further and in many ways actually portrays a ludicrously omnipotent Anakin Skywalker, who not only single-handedly takes “out a whole [X-Wing] squadron without so much as a scratch on his TIE [Fighter]” but also casually challenges “an entire company” of mobilised Rebel troopers. Considering the American author’s script is set shortly after the Battle of Yavin, it is hard to imagine just how so invincible a titular character could have allowed the destruction of the (first) Death Star to occur, especially when the Alabama-born writer has Darth nonchalantly destroy the airborne Y-Wing bombers of Gray Squadron courtesy of some well-flung pieces of debris; “Mother of Moons! Aaaaaggghh!”

Aaron’s narrative also suffers on account of the contrived circumstances upon which his cross-title event’s basic premise is based. Having conveniently “received word of Luke’s location” Vader surprisingly abandons “his secret ally, Doctor Aphra” and the rest of his formidable Imperial resources and rather naively decides to visit “the former Jedi temple on the planet Vrogas Vas alone…” Why would “the most dangerous man in the galaxy” and a supposedly keen strategist do such a reckless thing when he knows that his prey is part of the Rebellion, and therefore will almost certainly be accompanied by Alliance forces?

Sadly Mike Deodata’s artwork is equally as ‘spotty’ as this giant-size comic’s storyline. There is no doubting that the Brazilian’s pencilling for Darth’s epic space battle against “three squadrons of Rebel starfighters” is dynamically detailed; especially the sequence's double-splash pages and additional panels depicting the various X-Wing pilots’ reactions to the utter carnage the Sith Lord’s enhanced TIE-fighter is causing. But as soon as the situation momentarily quietens, and the book’s focus turns to Skywalker’s friends on board the Rebel Fleet, then the former Nineties “Wonder Woman” artist seems to really struggle to draw his figures with any consistency.
The 'Retailer' variant cover art of "STAR WARS: VADER DOWN" No. 1

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Daredevil [2016] #1 - Marvel Comics

DAREDEVIL No. 1, February 2016
Having somehow placed “Matt Murdock mysteriously back in New York City, his secret identity once again intact and practicing law” Issue One of “Marvel’s All-New, All-Different” “Daredevil” undoubtedly proved a rather unsettling read to some of its 84,500 strong audience in December 2015. Indeed without any explanation whatsoever, except that Charles Soule’s infinitely more seriously-toned narrative is set “eight months after the events of Secret Wars”, this twenty-page periodical depicts a superhero utterly unrecognisable from the titular character who had made “a home for himself in the Golden Gate City” under the creative team of Mark Waid and Chris Samnee.

Such a dramatic change in direction for the ‘Man Without Fear’ doesn’t take too long to accept however, as the title’s new writer immediately throws the masked vigilante into a no holds barred fist-fight with a gang of ‘tooled-up’ criminal heavies, and simultaneously introduces the fact that ‘his’ version of Hornhead is accompanied by a new partner; the “illegal Chinese immigrant” Sam Chung, also known as Blindspot. This ability to merge pulse-pounding action with the Milwaukee-born author’s rather edgy alterations to Murdock’s mythos is undoubtedly one of Soule’s greatest strengths and even allows him to be forgiven for ‘reverting’ Foggy Nelson back into a rather tiresome, somewhat self-centred bore, who refuses to help Matt ‘ever again’ “just because you let me remember” who Daredevil really is…

Arguably though any storyline which crams so much drama into its first half, including a wonderfully tense underwater scene where the superhero uses a wrecked car littering “the bottom of the East River” to help his radar sense pinpoint a drowning criminal, was always going to struggle not to run out of steam... And sadly the “New York Times best-selling comic book” writer’s script falls into just such a trap, with a decidedly wordy final third which dwells far too long upon the blind lawyer’s new role as an assistant district attorney; “You might know me as Matt Murdock, Defence attorney, here to help. That guy’s gone. I’ve changed sides.”

Possibly just as difficult to become accustomed to as Soule’s changes to Daredevil’s circumstances is Ron Garney’s “very dark” highly-stylized artwork. Strangely reminiscent of some of Frank Miller’s drawings of Hornhead, the motion picture costume illustrator undoubtedly provides this magazine with a very unique-looking “Film Noir” style to its panels. But whilst this artistic panache definitely manages to imbue his fights scenes with raw dynamism, it does prove somewhat disappointingly bland when portraying the more sedentary aspects of the narrative, such as Murdock’s lengthy ‘office-bound’ conversation with Ellen King.
The 'Action Figure' variant cover art of "DAREDEVIL" No. 1 by John Tyler Christopher

Monday, 18 January 2016

Batman/Superman #1 [The New 52] - DC Comics

BATMAN/SUPERMAN No. 1, August 2013
Whilst admittedly bringing about the “return of a book featuring both [“DC Comics” biggest] characters is a no-brainer”, Issue One of “Batman/Superman” provides something of an interesting spin on events, by having Greg Pak’s narrative focus upon the pair’s “very first meeting and relationship” rather than simply a ‘run of the mill’ adventure which indolently relies upon “the star power” of the two superheroes. As a result, this twenty-five page periodical’s plot “takes place around the time” of Grant Morrison’s first edition of “The New 52” “Action Comics” and provides its 143,457 readers with both a “very young… cocky” Man of Steel who “sticks up for the underdog” and “a very early” Dark Knight who sees Clark Kent’s alter ego as “the most dangerous guy I’ve met in my life.”

Understandably such differing viewpoints almost immediately causes some ‘hostility’ between the two comic book legends, with an undercover Bruce in particular finding the meddlesome reporter’s “crusader” attitude one which will cause more harm than good; “Thanks to you, that bully’ll probably come back tomorrow and beat him up twice as hard.” However it isn’t until a possessed Catwoman appears in Metropolis, having apparently murdered three Wayne Enterprises employees that the Caped Crusader and Kal-El actually start to trade blows, and artist Jae Lee draws a genuinely exhilarating punch-up sequence between the ‘dynamic duo.’

Disappointingly though, this incredibly tense, highly stylised ‘fist-fight’ is brought to an all too abrupt end by the Dallas-born writer’s script suddenly having Superman mysteriously transported to Smallville in order to confront a ‘modern-day’ Batman who, quite understandably, knows Clark’s weakness and deploys a kryptonite “automatic defensive system” in order to ‘poison’ him. Such a sudden shift in plot is utterly mystifying, and made all the more jarring by Ben Oliver replacing Lee on pencils until the end of the comic.

Admittedly the former “Judge Dredd” artist still provides this book with plenty of competent panels. Indeed the British illustrator’s depiction of an enraged, albeit somewhat weakened, Big Blue Boy Scout brutally clobbering an off-guard Dark Knight is extremely well sketched. But Oliver’s style is so markedly different to that of Jae that all the wonderfully engaging, depressingly grim atmosphere created by this magazine’s opening eighteen pages is irrevocably undone by the simple turning of a page…
The regular cover art of "BATMAN/SUPERMAN" No. 1 by Jae Lee with June Chung

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Captain Britain And The Mighty Defenders #1 - Marvel Comics

Based upon the premise that “years ago” it was actually Doctor Ho Yinsen who donned Iron Man’s first suit of armour rather than the playboy industrialist Tony Stark, this theatrically titled “Secret Wars” tie-in comic unconvincingly bands together some of the lesser known heroes of the “Marvel Universe” into “a very small [super] team” and then, simply upon the whim of the “omnipotent ruler of Battleworld”, forcibly pits them against the formidable military power of their principality’s neighbour, “the fascist futuropolis of Mondo City”. Somewhat perturbingly however, any of this book’s 27,618 readers in July 2015 who thought so ludicrously contrived a narrative couldn’t become any more bizarre were in for a serious shock when towards the comic’s end Al Ewing introduces the blatant Judge Dredd and Cassandra Anderson wannabes Boss [Luke] Cage and Boss [Emma] Frost; “Wake up, Creep. We’ve got you down for resisting arrest, illegal border crossing, and extremist ideology.”

In fact the “shop thy neighbour” lawmen are so similar in look and dialogue to John Wagner’s “2000 A.D.” co-creation that any potential buyer simply flicking through the back pages of this publication must doubtless have quickly double-checked the cover to make sure they hadn’t inadvertently picked up an issue about the Mega-City One street judge. Certainly it is clear, what with their over-sized shoulder-pads, bullet-shaped helmets and reference to perps, just why “Marvel Worldwide” Editor Tom Brevoort chose a British comics writer with a proven track record of writing "Future Shocks" to pen so blatantly unoriginal a script.

Admittedly this cheesy concoction does still somehow manage to provide some modicum of entertainment, especially when it quite cleverly connects to former major story-arcs such as the Spider-Verse by having Hobie Brown replace his world’s dead spider-man as Spider Hero, or a dying Brian Braddock handing the mantle of Captain Britain over to Doctor Faiza Hussain during the Age of Ultron. But sadly Ewing’s reimagining of She-Hulk as “the Thor for this domain”, a green giantess who walks around with the decidedly tiny “Gavel of Thor” strapped to her hip, is infinitely less successful an idea... 

Fortunately all of this magazine’s disconcerting nonsense is wonderfully illustrated by “Excalibur” artist Alan Davis. Indeed for many, “Theirs Is A Land With A Wall Around It…” may well be worth the price simply for its dramatically dynamic cover depicting the “London-based Muslim medical doctor” stoically leading the Defenders against an unknown foe. Whilst for others the Englishman’s pacey panelling provides Mondo City’s invasion of Yinsen’s barony, and otherwise dialogue-heavy storyline, with some much needed spectacle and tension.
The variant cover art of "CAPTAIN BRITAIN AND THE MIGHTY DEFENDERS" No. 1 by Frazer Irving

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Uber #20 - Avatar Press

UBER No. 20, November 2014
Despite in many ways avoiding the gratuitously graphic grisliness of “dynamic artist” Caanan White’s usual warfare-based bodily mutilations, Issue Twenty of “Uber” must still have proved a rather unsettling experience for its 6,303 readers with its brief insight into the world of “the German propaganda cinema” machine and “dwelling on Josef Mengele”. Indeed, in his Afterword even creator Kieron Gillen admits a certain ‘trepidation’ in having such “a genuine monster of a human” as the Schutzstaffel officer being placed so prominently within his comic’s storyline and as a result ensures that even the Nazis who work alongside the physician are shown to be concerned as to the man’s questionable morals; “Sankt thought him a crank and a sadist. I do not think him a wise choice to run whatever you’re doing here…”

Any doubts or quibbles as to the anti-Semitic’s inclusion within this narrative however are swiftly set aside when it is revealed just what medicine is being practiced within the wards of Flakturme III in Berlin, where those enhanced humans unfortunate enough to require the services of a surgeon must withstand being ‘remade’ without anaesthetic and courtesy of an unpractised distortion field. As the Reich Minister Goebbels himself states who else but one who suffers “a complete lack of moral squeamishness” could be placed in charge of such a “delicate” project?

Just as impactive, though far less bloodily illustrated, is the Red Army’s “first deployment of Maria Andreevna’s Halo Effect in combat.” Gillen manages to wonderfully capture the Kremlin’s mixture of zeal and nervousness surrounding the Soviet sniper’s “total annihilation of the second Ubermensch army group” by allowing the audience to briefly ‘overhear’ a discussion between Zhukov and Stalin as to why the Russian General would send their “battleship-class ubermensch” south when “the northern [German] thrust is at Smolensk” and thus “barely 200 miles from Moscow.” Only then, when it is clear that Katyusha is fighting the Great Patriotic War on her terms, not her superiors, does the action finally turn to her formidably abrupt vaporisation of “upwards of 100 panzermensch deployed… primarily around the stronghold of Kursk.”

Frustratingly, such a dialogue-laden script does not arguably lend itself to the vibrant drawing style of Canaan White. The African-American lead artist is at his best “moving the position around” and “using radical panel shapes and breaking” in order to help tell the story. Unfortunately this book’s rather sedentary tale provides little opportunity for such fast-paced plotting and as a result, despite the penciller’s earnestness to “make sure I pump out high quality art”, causes many of his figures to appear rather roughly-hewn and awkward-looking.
The regular cover art of "UBER" No. 20 by Caanan White

Friday, 15 January 2016

'68 Jungle Jim: Guts 'N Glory One-Shot - Image Comics

“Once again helmed by the… creator of chaos, Mark Kidwell” this blood-soaked return to Vietnam and the exploits of Private Brian Curliss lives up to all its author’s pre-publication hype by depicting some horrifically gratuitous “gore and over-the-top action” right from the ‘get-go’ as a desperately bound, teary-eyed female US Peace Corps volunteer has her throat slashed wide open despite her pitiful pleas for mercy. Disconcertingly however, any ‘faint-hearted’ bibliophiles hoping that such a “hard to look at” sequence would be as repugnant as this twenty-four-page periodical could get would very quickly have any such allusion dispelled courtesy of the bamboo armoured titular character abruptly stepping out of the jungle’s undergrowth and directly decapitating “the sadistic guerrillas” responsible for the girl’s death with a double-sweep of his long knives…

Indeed barely a scene goes by within this one-shot’s narrative where “the master horror writer” doesn’t have some grotesque blood-curdling atrocity occur. For whether it be a party of “always hungry” “pus-bags” having their decaying limbs severed by the gas-mask wearing soldier’s razor-sharp blades, or a hapless member of the Kampuchea communist party being literally torn apart by a well-thrown hand-grenade as he’s cooking soup, exploding eyeballs, bodiless heads and pinkish-hued brain matter seemingly forever dominant the proceedings; “Jimmy’s got a snack for ya!”

Kidwell also manages to make good on his ‘marketing’ promise of “upping the ante with zombie kills” by having the book’s central “familiar friend” face “the biggest… ugliest thing I’ve ever seen” in the shape of a (un)dead G.I. Already battered and bruised from almost being a ravenous cadaver’s “pork-chop”, the fatigued Curliss has little choice but to dive for cover as his formidable blue-hued opposition rakes the surrounding foliage with light machinegun fire. But it isn’t long before the two combatants get up ‘close and personal’ and both ears and other decaying body parts start to once again spatter the panels with gore.

Much of this comic’s repulsiveness though is actually down to the “pen and inks” of Jeff Zornow, whose drawings of dismemberment and human mutilation are genuinely disturbing at times. In fact the “Godzilla: Rulers Of Earth” artist seems to take particular pleasure in depicting Brian’s foes being dispatched in as macabre a way as possible, and it therefore comes as something of a shock to the reader when mid-way through this grim book the horror genre enthusiast utilises four entire pages depicting “Jim” simply conversing with the blonde-haired Glory and eating chow.
The regular cover art of "'68 JUNGLE JIM: GUTS 'N GLORY ONE-SHOT" by Nat Jones and Jay Fotos

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Batman #33 [The New 52] - DC Comics

BATMAN No. 33, September 2014
Whilst ending the creative team’s year-long retelling of “the origin of the caped crusader” just as the title’s publisher “meant to commemorate the character’s seventy-fifth anniversary” was undeniably “good timing” on the part of Scott Snyder and “DC Comics”, it is doubtful that all of this comic’s 117,996-strong readership either enjoyed or even understood its narrative. Indeed the American author’s finale, which not only supposedly “sets up who Batman is in the New 52 continuity” but also explains “the origin of the Batcave’s giant penny and the Batarang”, arguably contains some of the most outlandishly nonsensical writing since the Dark Knight donned a pair of inter-galactic boxing gloves and solved “The Mystery Of The Outer Space Olympics” in a 1958 issue of “Detective Comics”; “It is a pity you cannot remain, friends. For your prowess has convinced us all that you could win the Space Olympics!”

To begin with this final instalment of the “Savage City” story-arc’s plot is based upon the illogical premise that the Riddler, despite believing along with the rest of Gotham City that Batman is no more, has still gone to the extreme lengths of constructing a “war of the mind” laser-beam death-trap within his secret hideout which, if bested by his arch-nemesis in fourteen minutes, will undo all of the super-villain’s long-laid plans. The creation of such a device, and it’s reliance upon Nygma having to type in the answers when spoken, simply makes no sense whatsoever except to contrivingly provide this book’s titular character an opportunity to outwit Edward without “feats of physical ferocity,… gizmos or gadgets.”

Equally as preposterous is the domino-mask wearing criminal’s actual downfall, as the Riddler is ultimately defeated by Lucius Fox strapping a giant penny on top of a transit van in order to improvise a new “conductor to… [his] blocker”, rather than being outsmarted by Bruce Wayne’s alter-ego. In fact Snyder incredibly has an even more ludicrous and ignominious role for ‘his’ Batman to play, for in order to save Gotham City from going “true black” the cowled vigilante must place an enormous electrode over his heart and pass an almost certainly lethal thousand volt charge through his body to reboot it!?!

Ultimately this comic frustratingly depicts the New Yorker’s “version of Batman” and consolidates the writer’s “reimagining [of] his purpose… [and] his formative years.” “Love it or hate it” this “Zero Year” incarnation sadly seems a million miles away from the brave, steady and honourable cultural icon of Bob Kane and Bill Finger’s co-creation. Certainly their (original) Caped Crusader would never have been “seconds away” from undergoing electro-therapy in order “to be rebooted” and shocked “until I wasn’t myself anymore” simply because they were having “more than a hard time.”
The regular cover art of "BATMAN" No. 33 by Greg Capullo and Danny Miki

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

The Walking Dead #129 - Image Comics

THE WALKING DEAD No. 129, July 2014
Doubtless for many of this title’s fans the character of former police deputy Rick Grimes and “The Walking Dead” comic book itself are synonymous with one another. The narrative to this particular twenty-two page periodical must therefore have delighted the vast majority of its 72,908 readers in July 2014 as it is in many ways dedicated to the thoughts and actions of the series’ main protagonist. In fact, with the exception of a few pages at the very end of the magazine focusing upon Ken and Marco, and then equally as briefly Magna and her people, this book concentrates exclusively upon the leader of the Alexandria Safe-Zone and his interactions with Negan, Carl and the horseback rider Benjamin.

Robert Kirkman’s storyline also appears to return back to its roots by containing a healthy dose of zombies which, up until the publication’s wonderfully climatic cliff-hanger ending at least, genuinely appear to be the main menace of the story. Certainly the Richmond-born writer has the brain-eating cadavers not only posing a very real danger to the lives of some of this edition’s supporting cast, but depicts a small party of 'roamers' seriously threatening “one of the last remaining Atlanta survivors” and his boy.

It seems to have been quite some considerable time since the American author placed Carl's father in such genuine ‘infectious’ danger, and as a result the crippled man’s undisciplined defence of himself, coupled with the concerned cries of his adolescent son, actually makes Grimes’ hand-to-hand combat a rather surprisingly suspenseful sequence. This potential edginess to events is especially noticeable when the bearded axe-fighter realises he’s bitten off more than he can chew by tackling the group of walkers single-handedly; “Sorry to scare you like that. I thought I could handle them… It’s been a while… for me. That was close.”

Penciller Charlie Adlard really seems to do his best work when depicting this post-apocalyptic world’s carnivorous ever-shambling Undead, and it shows in both the quality line art and pulse-pounding pacing of Rick’s skirmish. The British artist also manages to convey the aging hero’s stiffness whilst getting down from his cart in order to kill the encroaching zombies, and relative inelegance as essentially a one-armed combatant.
Writer: Robert Kirkman, Penciller: Charlie Adlard, and Inker: Stefano Gaudiano

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Batman #32 [The New 52] - DC Comics

BATMAN No. 32, August 2014
Described by its American author as an issue which “sets up the final confrontation between Batman and the Riddler”, this penultimate instalment of the year-long “Zero Year” story-arc makes little logical sense and actually manages to undermine the lucidity of the crossover event’s preceding narrative. For having spent the past few editions desperately trying to determine the secret hideout of Gotham City’s deadly dictator Edward Nygma, “The World’s Greatest Detective” discovers all Jim Gordon and Lucius Fox's secretive efforts have been for naught and that his far brainer opponent has consistently been outthinking him. Indeed by the end of “Ark”, when several military jet-planes intent on levelling the metropolis are just forty minutes away, it becomes evident that the young vigilante has no other choice but to accept he has once again “failed against the Riddler” and hastily speculate upon his adversary’s location; “One guess. We have time for one guess.”

To make matters worse, Scott Snyder even scripts a distinctly disagreeable soliloquy for the Dark Knight which effectively has Bruce Wayne accepting that he won’t ever beat the Riddler and despondently deciding that his alter-ego isn’t actually about “winning. But failing…” Little wonder the New Yorker laughingly calls this “the craziest Batman story I think I’ll ever write.”

Equally as perplexing though is the revelation that “the Riddler’s big game” entails the super-villain delivering a “rip code” which will “signal the jets at Fort Robbins to scramble” and “strike” out at Gotham City. These air-to-land missiles will then detonate a number of explosives positioned underground throughout the municipal and “sink the whole city.” Such a convoluted plan genuinely makes little sense, as it would surely be infinitely easier for Nygma to simply trigger his numerous bombs remotely? Why does he need to go to the truly extraordinary lengths of isolating the conurbation’s inhabitants for months on end with a fleet of toxic air balloons, and then trick the authorities into ‘setting off’ his explosives via “an airstrike?”

Appearing perhaps just as confused by the contrived plot as doubtless many of this comic’s 130,077 readers were, is penciller Greg Capullo, with the Schenectady-born artist’s illustrations for this book being competent, yet also disconcertingly ‘cutesy’ at the same time. Certainly the figure of Edward Nygma seems to especially suffer with an adolescent youthful look that greatly belies the criminal’s true age. Whilst the former “X-Force” sketcher’s design for the Riddler’s automaton guards appears to have been heavily borrowed from film director Jonathan Mostow’s vision of Skylab's automatons…
The "Bombshell" variant cover art of "BATMAN" No. 32

Monday, 11 January 2016

Civil War #1 - Marvel Comics

CIVIL WAR No. 1, September 2015
Based upon the premise that “the events of the 2006-2007 Civil War series never ended” this rather perplexing ‘alternate-universe’ portrayal of a “Marvel Universe” firmly divided between supporters of Captain America and Iron Man makes for a tense if not entirely enthralling read, and somewhat justifies its 'shifting' of 170,546 copies in order to become the third best-selling comic book of July 2015. Indeed, for all its absurdities, such as the United States of America being “shattered… down the middle” into the territories of Steve Rogers’ The Blue and Tony Stark’s The Iron, Charles Soule’s narrative swiftly acquires a tense edginess to it as the plot moves towards the two former Avengers meeting one another to ‘talk’ after years of hostility and “bloody conflict”.

Admittedly the Brooklyn-born writer’s attempt to make neither side the ‘baddie’ of this book isn’t particularly successful, nor does such a concept willingly lend itself to the New Yorker plotting a credible chronicle of events which caused a need for the heroes' ‘historic gathering’ in the first place. It’s certainly hard to believe that “Iron Man rigged the entire [Project 42] prison with a self-destruct” and then activated it so as to destroy “Cap and the rest”. Especially when during the fighting a battered Commander Hill informs Stark that T’Challa had actually “hacked into the prison’s security systems” and “activated the self-destruct… on Captain America’s orders.” Why would the Sentinel of Liberty, billionaire inventor or Black Panther willingly consign “fifteen million other people” to so ghastly a fate..?

Perhaps inevitably Soule’s writing does ultimately lean towards favouring one side of the dispute with his depiction of life within The Iron appearing far more militaristic, unforgiving and aggressive than Shield-slinger’s more compassionate Western America, where “most lived in peace and happiness.” In fact the “shock and awe” approach of Stark’s “asserted order” agents when they discover “a kid” flying for the first time, coupled with the playboy’s antagonistic demands for a portion of The Blue’s land because “The Iron’s population is growing...” and Miriam Sharpe's assassin actually having been aiming at Steve Rogers, makes it very hard to sympathise with Shellhead's side.

Sadly Leinil Francis Yu’s artwork for so serious a mini-series’ script is something of a major disappointment. The Filipino comic book artist, “who began working for the American market through Wildstorm Productions”, clearly has a very distinctive style which can imbue his figures with impressive life and vitality. But whilst such an ability arguably works on the full-page illustration of Captain America, Spider-Man, Storm and Daredevil battling Iron Man, Doc Samson and others, the technique's evident sketchiness regrettably makes the pencilling appear rushed and hurried when used to depict the story’s more sedentary panels. An arguable flaw which is particularly pronounced and noticeable when the characters are drawn against a blank one-dimensional background.
The regular cover art of "CIVIL WAR" No. 1 by Lenil Francis Yu & Sunny Gho

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Dark Knight III: The Master Race #1 - DC Comics

Topping the “Diamond Comics Distributors” November 2015 Comic Book Sales Figures Chart having sold a truly staggering 440,234 copies, this first instalment of Frank Miller and Brian Azzarello’s eight-issue “DC Comics” limited series certainly lives up to the Maryland-born writer’s promise of the narrative having “more deliberate focus on women than [in] previous volumes”. In fact, the twenty-eight page periodical almost exclusively focus’ upon the super-heroines of the Kirby Award-winner’s “Dark Knight Universe” such as Wonder Woman, Carrie Kelley (Robin) and Superman’s daughter Lara.

But just because Azzarello’s script, apparently written “with Miller’s blessing and guidance”, is devoid of Bruce Wayne doesn’t necessarily mean that its titular character is absent as well. Indeed it is the apparent brutal return of the Caped Crusader at the very start of the story, pounding a couple of flatfoots into submission when they’re about to shoot an unarmed fleeing ‘fugitive’ in the back, which sets proceedings in motion and ultimately results in a ferociously bloody confrontation between Batman and Gotham City’s Police Department at the comic’s conclusion; “Had enough? Using that right to remain silent…”

Equally as perplexing as the Dark Knight’s rather ‘gung ho’ attitude to his home’s law enforcement officers, albeit this motivational change is arguably answered by the crimefighter’s eventual unmasking, is this comic’s slightly disappointing dedication to events which occur outside the vigilante’s metropolis. For just under half of the storyline to “Book One” actually spotlights Wonder Woman’s Amazonian rule as Queen Diana and Supergirl’s visit to her father’s Fortress of Solitude rather than the main protagonist’s mysterious three year-long absence.  

Fortunately such potential distractions concerning the other members of “DC Comics” Trinity are totally justifiable when they are so well-drawn by Andy Kubert. The New Jersey-raised penciller’s style strongly mimic’s that of Miller’s own artwork during this series’ original 1986 four-issue run and proves especially energetic during Diana’s jungle battle with a four-legged Minotaur and Batman’s fisticuffs with Commissioner Yindel’s men.

This edition also features the additional bonus of a twelve-page “mini-comic focusing on a different character from the Dark Knight continuity”. Co-written and actually drawn by Miller himself, “The Atom” provides any bibliophiles willing to scrutinize the diminutive publication with a tiny amount of background as to what has occurred to Doctor Raymond Palmer since his wife divorced him and also manages to progress the storyline started by Lara’s angst-ridden trip to her icily immobile father’s abode.
Story: Frank Miller & Brian Azzarello, Pencils: Andy Kubert, and Inks: Klaus Janson

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Secret Wars #8 - Marvel Comics

SECRET WARS No. 8, February 2016
Advertised as “the final battle against God Doom” Issue Eight of “Secret Wars” was somewhat criticised at the time of its delayed publication in December 2015 due to “the main line of Marvel titles” having “passed it by”; thereby making the “Who lives? Who dies?” major comic book event suddenly seem rather superfluous. Such a viewpoint however genuinely denigrates designer Jonathan Hickman’s sweeping storyline and belittles a magazine absolutely jam-packed full of the most destructive and cataclysmic action seen since the “the final collision of Earth-616 and Earth-1610”, as a gigantic Ben Grimm goes toe-to-toe with the equally formidable Galactus and Victor Von Doom confronts the once all-powerful Thanos…

Indeed just because the New York-based publishing company had already apparently “shifted its focus to its ‘All-New, All-Different’ titles” when this twenty-two page periodical saw print doesn’t detract from the surprises found within the storyline of “Under Siege”. Certainly few of this edition’s 169,667 readers could have anticipated The Thing’s noble defeat at the hands of an adolescent Franklin, nor just how large an enraged Groot could become given the right 'soil conditions'… And who could have predicted so final a fate for Jim Starlin’s creation, a titan who once courted Death herself and wore the Infinity Gauntlet?

The American author also manages to somehow incorporate a few genuinely ‘laugh out loud’ moments during what is otherwise an extremely tense, sometimes heart-rending, large-scale conflict. The Maestro’s short-lived triumph having “brought the entire Green North to" Doom's lands, Star-Lord’s ill-advised promise of flying Reed Richards safely into the heart of the fight and the Hulk munching on the arm of a Mister Sinister clone is only surpassed in humour by Terrax the Tamer’s brief spell as “a Herald of Galactus!”; “Hey, Dummy. I hope you like getting your butt kicked.”

Slightly disappointing, but predominantly because the majority of his panels focus upon individuals as opposed to the fracas which “is raging as far as the eye can see”, is Esad Ribic’s pencilling. The Croatian’s illustrations of Ben Grimm’s destruction of the Maestro’s Hellcarrier and subsequent slugfest with Franklin/Galactus are extremely well-drawn and genuinely suggest the sheer size of the behemoths involved. Far less satisfactory though is the comic book artist’s pages depicting the God Emperor Doom’s altercation with Thanos, and the army of Annihilus. Somewhat dialogue-heavy in parts, the two super-villains’ conversation is predominantly squeezed within the confines of a single second-rate sheet. Whilst the unimpressive arrival of the Black Panther and Namor through a trans-dimensional doorway is perhaps disproportionately allocated an entire splash page…
The regular cover art of "SECRET WARS" No. 8 by Alex Ross

Friday, 8 January 2016

All-New Wolverine #1 - Marvel Comics

ALL-NEW WOLVERINE No. 1, January 2016
Whilst replacing so iconic a comic book character as the “tragically… fallen” mutant super-hero Logan was never going to be the easiest job in the world for the “New York Times bestselling” author, Tom Taylor’s script for Issue One of “All-New Wolverine” arguably raises far more questions than it answers; especially for those who are unfamiliar with the history of X-23 and her creation “to be a weapon.” Indeed despite the narrative starting in the best possible way, with an ‘undercover’ Laura Kinney desperately trying to save a Parisian VIP from an assassin’s bullet and taking a few slugs herself in the process, the fast-paced chase to the top of the Eiffel Tower never pauses long enough to identify just who the ‘diplomat’ is, why someone is trying to murder him, and just who has asked the yellow and blue spandex-wearing heroine to undertake “her first solo mission as Wolverine”?

Confusingly things only seem to get even more befuddling when Logan’s protégé falls from France’s cultural symbol and is ‘swooped up’ by her evident partner Warren Worthington. The Melbourne-born writer has already gone on record to say that he wants the female clone to experience “more support and friendship” during her adventures. But trying to develop the “budding romance” the titular character ‘enjoyed’ with Angel in “All-New X-Men” so early on within this story, as the duo are busily pursing an aerial drone, is awkwardly handled at best and bizarrely results in the preposterous situation of the flying X-Man patting the supposed killing machine on the head when she destroys the “exploding predator drone.”; “A little awkward. I didn't say stop.”

Equally as questionable is the “powerful monkey wrench” Taylor purposely throws “in the works” at the end of the comic. Clearly an awful lot of exposition has taken place ‘off-screen’ or in other titles, as Kinney reveals the masked assassin to be her cloned twin. Unlike the uninitiated bibliophile however neither Angel nor Wolverine are surprised by this revelation, with Laura actually stating it’s her intention to save the rest of her duplicates. Such assumed foreknowledge is hardly desirable within the opening edition of a brand new book series surely?

Arguably this magazine’s biggest disappointment though is the inconsistent artwork of David Lopez (and David Navarrot). The majority of the Spaniard’s drawings of a fully-costumed Wolverine are superb, especially his “I want them to see the Wolverine coming” splash page, and it’s clear just why the publication’s writer thought “he was the right guy to bring Laura to life” when he first saw the artist’s “early character sketches”. Yet the illustrator’s inability to draw credible-looking faces constantly grates and at times makes the likes of Angel, Logan and Kinney appear as if they’ve been sketched by an amateur…
The regular cover art of "ALL-NEW WOLVERINE" No. 1 by Bengal

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Uber #19 - Avatar Press

UBER No. 19, October 2014
Whilst “Avatar Press” may well have thought that publicising Issue Nineteen of “Uber” as being a magazine which “has captivated the comics community with the horror and drama unfolding in the enhanced human warfare of World War Two”, it is probably questionable that all of this particular twenty-two page periodical’s 6,436 followers felt the same way. The edition does after all only contain four dialogue-heavy scenes, within which the characters do nothing else but talk and pontificate to one another. Indeed even the book’s British author ‘apologises’ for its plot being “a little quieter than normal” in his afterword.

However despite this disappointing lack of any actual wartime action, Kieron Gillen’s narrative does clearly still explore the unabated “misery” with which the Anglo-American comic book series has become synonymous. In fact the hideously deformed Leah Cohen talking about the joints in her horribly enlarged limbs constantly “screaming” even when not moving, makes for especially uncomfortable reading, and the “physical-focused Battleship” hasn’t even started trying to tear apart the grisly remains of the long-deceased Patrick O’Conner when she makes such an eye-wateringly painful remark.

Equally as disconcerting is the blatant prejudice found within the United States Army Enhanced Human Centre, where despite both Vernon and Freddie Rivers being “battleship candidates”, and thus being capable of withstanding “twenty four activations”, they are only to be made Heavy Cruisers because the American “Higher Command” have concerns that “it would be impolitic to give a negro soldier, who we have no means of overpowering, the ability to flatten Carolina…” A deeply disturbing scene which the former computer games journalist handles magnificently and which also provides this “start of a new arc, working under the title the Shadow War” with some real perplexing distasteful bite.

This comic also heralds “the return of the magnificent Caanan White” as the title’s main artist. Regrettably, due to the aforementioned nature of Gillen’s sedentary script, the penciller “who gave the first twelve issues of 'Uber' so much of their energy” has little actual action to depict. But that that still doesn’t stop him doing “a wonderful job” of illustrating Leah’s horrifying “flesh gone mad” physique.
The variant cover art of "UBER" No. 19 by Caanan White

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Star Wars #12 - Marvel Comics

STAR WARS No. 12, January 2016
Doubtless on paper Jason Aaron's idea to arm Leia, Han and Chewbacca with light-sabers and then depict the party battling stormtroopers, alongside Luke Skywalker in an alien gladiatorial arena, probably seemed like a great idea to Editor Jordan D. White; especially when the hairy Millennium Falcon's co-pilot is equipped with two of the Jedi weapons. But such an awkwardly contrived resolution to so entertaining a five-issue story-arc actually proves to be something of a “preposterous” ending as none of the combatants understandably wield their laser-swords with any great aplomb, and actually seem to spend the best part of their time in the coliseum "just trying not to cut my own face off."

Indeed this entire situation fashioned by the Alabama-born writer is arguably so illogical and forcedly false as to appear ludicrous. Why, for example, has the Emperor and Darth Vader knowingly allowed Grakkus the Hutt to “stockpile a collection of Jedi artefacts this big” in the first place? Surely not just because “he helped us rid the galaxy of more scattered traces of the Jedi”? And how come the vile gangster’s “Grakkus Five” localized electromagnetic pulse only effects the TIE pilots’ blasters and not the giant gastropod’s mechanical legs or his ‘decaying’ collection of ancient hand-held weapons? The simple answer would appear to be because it indolently allows the America author to pit this title’s protagonists against a horde of disarmed Imperials for a climatic confrontation.

Fortunately Issue Twelve of “Star Wars” is so stunningly action-packed however, that it is very easy to forgive so ‘shoe-horned’ a situation and it is very clear why this comic sold 123,133 copies in November 2015. In fact Aaron’s narrative throughout this twenty-page periodical just doesn’t let up, starting with Chewbacca hurling the bounty hunter Dengar off of the top of a high-rise tower block and ending with the Dark Lord of the Sith himself questioning Sergeant “Gamemaster” Kreel as to what he has learnt “of this boy” Skywalker.

All of this pulse-pounding drama is stunningly illustrated by Stuart Immonen and inker Wade Von Grawbadger, with the Canadian’s pencilling of the series’ main cast proving particularly impressive. The book’s pacing is equally as inspiring, with plenty of overlapping panels depicting Grakkus bludgeoning TIE pilots, Artoo-Deetoo recovering light-sabers amidst a panicking auditorium crowd and stormtrooper laser bolts ‘zinging’ everywhere, really adding to the rapid flow of events.
The regular cover art of "STAR WARS" No. 12 by Stuart Immonen

Friday, 1 January 2016

Aliens Vs. Zombies #5 - Zenescope Entertainment

ALIENS VS. ZOMBIES No. 5, December 2015
Having already seen to it that this comic’s cast are “surrounded by dozens of zombies” whilst being trapped deep underground amidst the debris of a derelict tube station, Joe Brusha still manages to make his protagonists’ predicament increasingly perilous throughout this concluding instalment of the “Zenescope Entertainment” mini-series. In fact the publishing company’s co-creator makes it decidedly difficult for the reader to ascertain with any confidence whatsoever, which of the heroes is actually going “to survive the zombie apocalypse” until the book’s very last page; “There’s no way through this rubble. We’re going to have to shoot our way out of this.”

This pervading sense of doubt throughout the narrative begins almost straight away as Nova and Raxus’ ‘prickly’ future trying to rebuild their species after it was “wiped out” by “the interstellar virus” is emphatically resolved by the alien captain’s would-be consort rather explosively sacrificing himself after he is bitten on the ankle. Such a dramatic ending to so central a character really raises a question mark as to the fate of all the other survivors, especially when the formidably huge, and seemingly unstoppable Balgar suddenly and rather unexpectedly ‘turns’ and tears one of Tak’s arms off. Indeed the enormous extra-terrestrial’s zombification really can come as a complete surprise if artist Vincenzo Riccardi’s tiny panel depicting the dome-headed behemoth’s scratched calf is missed.

“Seven miles to the Northeast” and Melissa’s destiny seems equally as uncertain as she and her colleagues rather contrivingly take refuge within a large crypt. With Tavon’s freshly dead henchmen on the outside and a party of shambling corpses attacking them on the inside, it really does appear that it is all over for Colt’s love interest. Especially when the burial chamber’s entrance is finally breached and Cromm is seemingly overwhelmed by sheer weight of numbers.

Sadly, having endured and enjoyed such a roller coaster of a final ride, Brusha’s “two weeks later” epilogue provides a rather rushed and dissatisfying conclusion to so exciting a five-issue serial. Raxus Prime’s memorial, “even though he is not really buried here”, seems fitting enough, as does the slightly unconvincing nature of Balgar’s “indestructible” genetic makeup. But then in the space of a handful of panels the “spacecraft full of alien scientists” are ‘up and away’, leaving behind a rather wistful-looking Colt who supposedly intends to “help rebuild the planet.”
The regular cover art of "ALIENS VS. ZOMBIES" No. 5 by Jason Metcalf and Victor Bartlett