Monday, 29 February 2016

Future Imperfect #5 - Marvel Comics

FUTURE IMPERFECT No. 5, November 2015
It is relatively easy to see why according to “Diamond Comic Distributors” this fifth and final issue of Peter David’s “Secret Wars” tie-in didn’t manage to make the Top Fifty selling titles of September 2015, and actually saw itself being significantly outsold by the likes of “Invader Zim” by independent publisher “Oni Press”. For whilst this twenty-page periodical’s narrative does (eventually) focus upon a titanic confrontation between the “version of the Hulk from a distant future who has become corrupted by power” and Battleworld’s God Emperor, its eventual conclusion doubtless had the vast majority of the book’s 32,926 strong audience feeling the American author’s plot had disappointingly badly cheated them.

Indeed it is hard to fathom just precisely what the Huxtur Award-winner must have been thinking when he decided to pen an elderly chair-bound Rick Jones as “the ‘Ancient One’ guarding the Destroyer” and have the Maestro easily defeat Victor von Doom courtesy of the additional energy George Perez’s co-creation attained by donning the enchanted armour. Presumably the Maryland-born writer later felt likewise, as having had Dystopia’s Baron obliterate his opponent with “a rather powerful disintegration beam” in order to become “the new ruler of the world” and “god”, the magazine’s final few panels dwell upon the fact the entire battle had actually been nothing more than an illusion and that a suddenly human-sized Bruce Banner will now simply stand before the Asgardian super-weapon “until he dies.”

Admittedly David’s ‘punch-up’ between two of the Marvel Universe’s greatest villains genuinely provides some memorable moments as the two megalomaniacs exchange a series of breathtakingly punishing blows. But whilst this brawl is as impressively paced as cheering on Doctor Doom is disconcerting, there is a palpable sense of betrayal when the comic reveals the events to all be nothing more than a grand deception; “He wished to defeat Doom. It gave him that wish.”

Mercifully however, Greg Land’s awesome artwork does make good on his cover illustration’s promise that the Maestro’s highly anticipated conflict with his “true overlord” will be sensationally drawn. In fact it is hard to find fault with any of the “Uncanny X-Men” penciller’s drawings within this comic book, especially once battle commences and both combatants set upon one another with all the fury which they can muster.
Writer: Peter David, Artist: Greg Land, and Inker Jay Leisten 

Sunday, 28 February 2016

All-New Wolverine #3 - Marvel Comics

ALL-NEW WOLVERINE No. 3, February 2016
Despite the best thing about this comic book’s artwork being French designer Bengal’s cover illustration of X-23 flying towards two armoured Humvees packed full of gun-toting security staff, Issue Three of “All-New Wolverine” still doubtless pleased it’s disappointingly declining 50,990 strong readership as a result of its non-stop pulse-pounding script by Tom Taylor. In fact this twenty-page periodical’s narrative doesn’t come to any sort of a pause in its action-packed proceedings until near its very end, when the titular character, having bested both “the mercenary known as Taskmaster” as well as a heavily armed Alchemax Genetics taskforce lead by Captain Mooney, escorts her “not sisters” to the home of Doctor Strange.

However simply because the Australian author’s storyline is overpoweringly pacey and contains a plethora of panels crammed full of “armour-piercing bullets” and enormous explosions doesn’t necessarily mean that the Stan Lee Excelsior Award-winning writer’s script makes for an entirely entertaining read. This is certainly the case when it comes to the Aussies’ handling of the supervillain Tony Masters, for although “Contingency T” initially proves as formidable a fighting force as his reputation suggests by outfighting Laura, the occasional criminal training instructor is shoddily treated once defeated by ‘pitifully’ pointing out that Kinney “don’t kill anymore” and then by having both his kneecaps shot by Zelda whilst he’s lying helplessly unconscious on the ground; “There. Now, if the Taskmaster comes after us, he’ll have to crawl.”

Taylor’s usage of Alchemax Genetics’ Head of Security is no less irreverent, as the Captain once again finds himself semi-conscious on the ground at Wolverine’s feet, left “in the wreckage of a car crash, alone and bleeding.” Yet so treacherous a desperado as Mooney arguably deserves no less a fate and his self-righteous rant at Logan’s departing clone that he’ll seek revenge upon the mutant, her X-Men friends and Angel once he’s recovered from his latest set-back really does make one wonder just how much longer the woman “created to be a weapon” can stop herself from killing him.  

Sadly this comic’s greatest let-down however must be David Lopez and David Navarrot’s disconcertingly anaemic artwork. The creative team are to be applauded for “magically… finish(ing) the pages on time”, and whilst costumed the duo’s pencilling of the Taskmaster is perfectly acceptable. But just how Editors Mark Paniccia, Darren Shan and Daniel Ketchum are able to approve some of the pairs’ panels containing Wolverine’s poorly-pencilled clones or an ultimately unmasked Anthony Masters is difficult to comprehend.
Writer: Tom Taylor, Art: David Lopez & David Navarrot and Color Art: Nathan Fairbairn

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Journey To Star Wars: The Force Awakens - Shattered Empire #4 - Marvel Comics

As the concluding instalment of “a tent pole story in the journey to [the] Star Wars: the Force Awakens publishing program” this somewhat ‘silly’ tale of Luke Skywalker secreting himself into the Imperial base on Vetine in order to ‘rescue’ “a couple of twigs” proves a rather disappointing finale. For although the twenty-page periodical certainly ramps up the ‘thrill factor’ once the young Jedi’s scheme has been rumbled by the military installation’s commandant and Ben Kenobi’s protégé is literally surrounded by scores of Stormtroopers, it is hard not to question just why the Rebel commander’s co-pilot Lieutenant Shara Bey has volunteered for so dangerously ludicrous a mission when her alternative is a blissful life with her husband on a peaceful planet?

Quibbles as to the unconvincing motivation of Greg Rucka’s titular character aside however, the Eisner Award-winner’s narrative also regrettably appears to be based upon the presumption that despite knowing that Bey’s impersonation of Alecia Beck is false (as “Commander Beck is missing her left eye”), the research facilities’ Imperial forces still incredulously escort their intruders into the inner lab to a place where the rebels can do most damage? Considering that the Galactic Empire has “increased our security measures since the events at Endor” and that there are “only two people in the galaxy who could freely access this room…” why would any officer actually encourage such a blatant senseless breach of protocol?

Admittedly doubtless many of this title’s 105,284 readers forgave such lazy plot development just as soon as Artoo-Deetoo provided his black-suited master with his legendary weapon and the resultant light-sabre show ensued. But such seemingly bizarre decision-making and rationale as to how Po Dameron’s mother, Skywalker and his droid happen to have found their way to the location of “all that remain[s] of the tree that grew at the heart of the Jedi Temple on Coruscant” leaves something of a bad taste in the mouth; especially as the Californian’s writing for this four-issue mini-series has been so strong up until this point.

Fortunately Marco Checchetto’s drawing ability is more than up to the challenge such an implausible plot provides. Indeed the Italian’s pencilling of the sheer carnage Luke, now seemingly in full mastery of his Jedi powers, causes is breath-taking in places, as the Force-sensitive repeatedly fends off an apparently endless army of Imperial Stormtroopers and E-11 blaster rifle bolts.
The variant cover art of "JOURNEY TO STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS - SHATTERED EMPIRE" No. 4 by Sara Pichelli

Friday, 26 February 2016

Future Imperfect #4 - Marvel Comics

FUTURE IMPERFECT No. 4, October 2015
Although Peter David’s rather simplistic storyline of the Maestro “wandering around… Norseheim” in order to discover the secret location of the Destroyer may not be award-winning material, and doubtless contributed to this particular edition of the “Secret Wars” tie-in title regrettably selling some three thousand less copies than its predecessor, Issue Four of “Future Imperfect” does contain enough bone-crunching punches to sate even the most blood thirsty of its 35,661 readers. In fact from the moment the blind Hoder directs the green-skinned Baron’s party into “the residence of Ulik” little else actually takes place within the narrative but fighting as the alternate future Hulk, Ruby Summers, Dystopia’s incarnation of the Thing and Layla Miller become embroiled in a true toe-to-toe slugfest with the troll who has “the strength of a Thor” and his numerous savage-looking minions.

Happily however, this non-stop action is interspersed with the Maryland-born writer’s inclusion of some rather humorous sarcastic interplay between the Maestro and his ‘friend’ Major Thaddeus Ross, and then later by Bruce Banner’s malevolent alter-ego and an increasingly battered Asgardian powerhouse. Such entertainingly pithy dialogue really is one of this twenty-page periodical’s highlights, and even additionally demonstrates just how dangerously unpleasant, disliked and determined the orange mutate’s long-time foe really is; “…If Ulik has you on the brink of death, I’m just gonna stand there and applaud.”

Far less successful is the Wizard Fan Award-winner’s attempt to craft the constant worrisome doubts of ‘companion’ Skooter into anything more than an increasingly annoying bore. The Rebel’s brutal death at the hands of one of Ulik’s “flarking creep[s]” later in the story actually appears to be a bibliophile’s blessing as opposed to the viciously abrupt murder of a beloved member of this title’s supporting cast and it’s arguably doubtful that few wouldn’t have actually cheered Ruby if she had ‘blown his head off’ earlier in the book when the Dystopian’s incessant whining, and suggestion that perhaps they no longer follow the orders of Ross, causes her to finally lose patience with his infuriating mutterings.

David’s script does though seemingly play to all of artist Greg Land’s strengths, with the penciller’s wonderfully dynamic energy-charged panels depicting the Maestro and Ulik literally punching one another for all their worth proving to be tremendously well-drawn. Indeed despite the lack of actual plot progression taking place during the lengthy sequence, the super-strong troll’s inevitable defeat at the Baron’s hands genuinely comes to fruition all too soon…
Writer: Peter David, Artist: Greg Land, and Inker Jay Leisten 

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Batman #35 [The New 52] - DC Comics

BATMAN No. 35, December 2014
On the face of things it is not hard to see how Issue Thirty Five of “Batman” sold a staggering 118,860 copies in October 2014. Greg Capullo’s regular cover illustration alone promises that Scott Snyder’s interior “Endgame” narrative will involve the Dark Knight confronting perhaps his greatest and most exciting threat ever in the shape of the vigilante's fellow Justice League of America members… And any casual flick through the comic would certainly confirm such a mouth-watering slugfest actually takes place as Bruce Wayne “enact(s) plan ‘Fenrir’” and dons an incredibly impressive-looking armoured suit which has been specifically “designed for war. With the most powerful heroes on the planet.”

Indeed the opening half of this thirty-page periodical is dominated by the Caped Crusader outmanoeuvring Wonder Woman, the Flash and Aquaman by utilising a genuinely innovative array of devices such as powdered magnesium carbonate foam, frictionless coatings and the “bind of veils”; the latter being a relic “woven by Hephaestus in a moment of doubt” and “said to be made from wool from the sheep Odysseus’ men used to trick the Cyclops.” Unfortunately however the New Yorker’s storyline does come to something of an abrupt halt upon the arrival of Superman and the revelation that the Man of Steel, as well as the other Leaguers, are under the control of the Joker.

Admittedly Batman’s perilous predicament in the presence of a homicidal Big Blue is a fitting enough cliff-hanger for any comic book. But the American author’s tale ends so unexpectedly, and literally only midway through the magazine, as to arguably jar any reader immediately out of their reverie. Something which is made all the worse by the blatant difference in style (and to an extent quality) of the two vastly contrasting illustrators, with Capullo’s mesmerizingly detailed pencilling preceding the more cartoony, though equally as enjoyable, sketching of Kelley Jones in “The Pale Man”.

Quibbles as to the contents' layout aside, what is perhaps most perturbing about this magazine however, at least from Snyder’s perspective, has to be just how well written James Tynion IV’s script actually is. Based upon the premise of five escaped Arkham patients visiting one of their institution’s doctors at home in order to tell her a handful of fables about the Joker, the GLAAD Media Awards nominee’s story easily surpasses this title’s main story with its spine-tingling suspense and claustrophobic atmosphere.
The "Monsters Of The Month" variant cover art of "BATMAN" No. 35 by Brian Stelfreeze

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

The Walking Dead #130 - Image Comics

THE WALKING DEAD No. 130, August 2014
Featuring a wonderfully tense and nerve-wracking beginning, as an imprisoned Negan unsuccessfully attempts to convince Magna and her group that he is being tortured by Rick, and then a fantastically chilling scene depicting Marco and Ken hiding from a horde of zombies in a somewhat waterlogged ditch, “There Were Whispers And I Was Afraid” bears all the hallmarks of a genuine return to form for writer Robert Kirkman. Certainly the majority of this comic’s 71,885 readers in August 2014 must have momentarily stopped breathing when it fleetingly looked as if the former leader of the Saviours was about to be released upon the unsuspecting inhabitants of Alexandria. Whilst a similar number must also have been temporarily numbed by the suggestion that the Undead could actually communicate with one another; “Where they go?” “Don’t Know. Keep Moving.” “Okay.”

Frustratingly however, no sooner have the roamers passed their prey by and the ‘talking dead’ shambled out of earshot, than this title (once again) disappointingly focuses all of its attention upon the day-to-day mundane struggles of life in a post-apocalyptic world. A move on behalf of the series’ creator which undoubtedly prevents any excitement to be had from the book’s remaining two-thirds.

Admittedly the American author’s cliff-hanger ending, which involves a semi-conscious Marco ranting about hiding inside “a barn on a hill” surrounded by “so many” zombies who “were speaking” is particularly well-written. But in order to reach this potentially cataclysmic conclusion any perusing bibliophile must first wade through a tediously tiresome account of Carl and his father making their way to the Hilltop colony by cart, and then an even more wearisome five-page sequence simply showing Maggie and Grimes walking up to Miss Greene’s house in order for Rick to see Glenn’s child Hershel Junior.

Luckily artist Charlie Adlard is able to imbue Issue One Hundred and Thirty of “The Walking Dead” with some additional moments of interest, courtesy of some ‘stand-out’ panels. The British penciller’s drawings of a long-haired, grizzled Negan, wide-eyed and supposedly terrified “even [at] the sound of his name…” genuinely shows just how good the Shrewsbury-born illustrator can be when sketching facial expressions, and this skill fortunately holds him in good stead throughout Kirkman’s lack-lustre and dialogue-heavy script.
Writer: Robert Kirkman, Penciller: Charlie Adlard, and Inker: Stefano Gaudiano

Monday, 22 February 2016

All-New Wolverine #2 - Marvel Comics

ALL-NEW WOLVERINE No. 2, January 2016
Having arguably started the titular character’s “shift from X-23 to Wolverine to her place in the larger Marvel Universe” with this series’ “oversized opening” edition, writer Tom Taylor continues to create a storyline within Issue Two of “All-New Wolverine” which is both “very personally about Laura”, and also begins to address many of this book’s unanswered questions. Indeed within the space of this magazine’s first dozen panels it becomes evident that the young man” Logan’s clone “saved… from an assassination attempt” in Paris was the son of Robert Chandler, the director of Alchemax Chemicals”, and that the masked sniper… [who] could not feel pain” and had Kinney’s face was actually one of four errant experimental duplicates responsible for destroying “an Alchemax genetics laboratory” along with “every single one of our scientists” who worked there.

Armed with the knowledge that these ‘terrorists’ were created using her DNA, the mutant heroine unsurprisingly vows to find her ‘siblings’ and “stop them from killing innocents.” A rather stern-faced given statement which possibly promises this publication’s 55,634 followers an enthralling global ‘hunt’ for Wolverine’s duplicates, coupled with the added spice of interference from the research company’s untrustworthy Head of Security; “Tell Captain Mooney I don’t like being followed. Now -- run away.”

Frustratingly however, the New York Times bestselling author’s subsequent narrative proves something of a bitter disappointment and provides a rushed, almost lazy solution to Laura’s emotionally-charged predicament. For no sooner has Kinney fended off the unwanted attentions of two black-suited Alchemax goons in an alleyway, than she is approached by the adolescent Gabby in her mentor’s old apartment and thus able to track down the rest of her targets “deep underground” through “the sewers of New York.”

Just as infuriating as this plot’s wasted potential is David Lopez’s artwork. Wolverine looks every bit the all-action super-hero when she is slashing through Mooney’s gun-toting security soldiers and preventing Bellona from cold-bloodedly murdering the facsimile’s unconscious jailer. But whenever the comic’s tempo slows down to a more sedentary pace, and the Spaniard’s figures have little to do but stand and talk to one another, then the illustrations regrettably appear to be far less convincing and well-drawn.
Writer: Tom Taylor, Art: David Lopez & David Navarrot and Color Art: Nathan Fairbairn

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Secret Wars #9 - Marvel Comics

SECRET WARS No. 9, March 2016
Supposedly delayed in order to accommodate a “story [which] got bigger, the revelations more shocking, [and] the scale of the action grander than any of us anticipated” this final edition of the “Secret Wars” event was arguably still not the “Marvel Worldwide” magnum opus which Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso undoubtedly hoped his creative team of Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic had achieved. In fact the thirty-four page periodical didn’t even manage to become the best-selling comic of January 2016, on account of selling seven thousand less copies than Issue One Hundred and Fifty of “The Walking Dead” by “Image Comics”.

“Beyond” does however succeed in containing an incredibly impressive beginning, and one which must have initially thrilled the vast majority of the book’s 149,028 readers, with its depiction of Victor Von Doom finally fighting the Infinity Gauntlet wearing T’Challa “on the earth. In the sky. And the heavens above.” Sadly such a cataclysmic confrontation, and one which sees both combatants collide at the helm of giant robots as well as in spirit forms, is over as quickly as Namor the Sub-Mariner is disposed of ignominiously, and what initially promised to be an all-out battle-fest of a publication is rather disappointingly (and abruptly) replaced by Reed Richards and his alternative self ‘waxing lyrical’ with one another whilst the royal consort Susan Storm finally sees her beloved for the cold, calculating killer this mini-series’ audience has always known him to be…

Admittedly the subsequent wrestling match between Mister Fantastic and an impoverished God Emperor Doom provides plenty of entertainment, especially as it seems like an eternity since the founding member of the Fantastic Four has used his elasticity in so aggressive an attack. But even this brutal sequence is brought to a somewhat hasty conclusion, as Victor foolishly verbally acknowledges his belief that his pliable adversary could “have solved it all” and “done so… much… better…” than himself as Ruler of Battleworld; an admission which causes the omnipotent Owen Reese to suddenly strip the Latverian of his great power and somewhat capriciously bestow it upon Richards instead.

Surprisingly Ribic’s pencilling for this over-sized finale is also rather substandard in places. A frustrating facet considering Alonso attributed much of this magazine’s postponement upon the artist requiring “extra time and space”. The Croatian illustrator’s panels are certainly well-drawn at the start of the comic. But seemingly soon start to lose their ‘wow’ factor as the South Carolina-born writer’s script requires Esad to depict events “eight months later” and presumably forced the graphic designer to utilise bare all-white backgrounds and the occasional splash page just to ‘pad out’ proceedings.
The regular cover art of "SECRET WARS" No. 9 by Alex Ross

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Skull The Slayer #5 - Marvel Comics

SKULL THE SLAYER No. 5, May 1976
Despite in many ways being something of a bizarre reboot of the ‘fatal’ events which befell this comic’s supporting cast in its preceding edition, Bill Mantlo’s storyline for Issue Five of “Skull The Slayer” is arguably as entertaining as it is action-packed. For whilst the Brooklyn-born writer ludicrously brings all three of the titular character’s companions back to life at the whim of the sinister Slitherogue, his surrounding narrative depicting a dynamically-charged demonic fist-fight, and castle-top melee between knight-bearing winged-horses and Morgan Le Fay’s fork-tongued scaly-skinned minions proves as enjoyably engrossing an experience as any “Marvel Comics” book reader of the Seventies could surely have wanted.

Indeed this seventeen-page periodical’s only real weakness is that both ‘set pieces’ concerning “the great Jim Scully” battling alongside the Black Knight, Merlin and King Arthur are disappointingly cut somewhat short on account of the combatants all seemingly being “what thou hast termed a robot” as opposed to being the genuine article. A situation which results in the vast majority of these “chrome-an’-bolts automaton[s]” suffering a swift end on account of a piercing lance, sharp sword or even an ignoble burn out…

Only time-travellers Jeff Turner, Ann Reynolds and physicist Raymond Corey seemingly appear to be “flesh and blood” rather than “nuts and bolts”, and even these personalities struggle to generate any lasting apprehension as to their fate on account of having ‘died’ previously and then subsequently been re-formed from their “transmuted” energies; “How else do you explain three people you saw get killed, now living again…”

Disappointingly Mantlo’s explanation as to why the murderous “kid… girl, and… egghead” return to the side of the “mad dog killer” at the conclusion of this book is also frustratingly unimaginative. One minute Ann is furiously directing her friends not to “try [and] take him alone” but to assail the Slayer with swords and a bludgeon, and the next, simply because the ex-soldier picks up the injured doctor, the “team” have nonsensically elected Skull their leader and joined him in an effort to “get out of this tower”?

Just as erratic as parts of the script to “Magic, Myth And Madness!” is the artwork by Sal Buscema and Sonny Trinidad. The duo’s drawings of the Black Knight and the super-strong hero battling “the evil creatures of Slitherogue” are wonderfully animated and full of crunching blows. Yet whenever the narrative's pace slows or a panel wholly focus’ upon the visage of Marv Wolfman’s co-creation, the sketching becomes noticeably poorer and significantly less disciplined.
Author: Bill Mantlo, and Artists: Sal Buscema & Celso L. "Sonny" Trinidad

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Age Of Ultron Vs. Marvel Zombies #1 - Marvel Comics

Whilst on paper the idea to produce a “Secret Wars” mini-series based upon an amalgamation of two of the most successful “Marvel Worldwide” franchises published during the Modern Age of Comics may well have seemed like a good idea, James Robinson’s script for Issue One of “Age Of Ultron Verses Marvel Zombies” inevitably runs out of steam once the adamantium robots and undead initially come together. Indeed, considering just how easily the mechanical monsters plough through the putrid walking zombified remains of the Vulture, Bullseye, Stilt-Man, Sabretooth and Mole Man, it is momentarily hard to imagine just where the British writer’s narrative can go next?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the disappointing answer is backwards. For having demonstrated just how easily Ultron’s brethren can dispatch the super-villainous living cadavers, this twenty-one page periodical’s plot suddenly transforms itself into a storyline which would not look out of place within a “What If ?“ magazine by having Hank Pym’s creation “muse how things might have differed” if, having gained cognizance as Ultron-1, “he hadn’t immediately killed his ‘father’...”

Admittedly the subsequent series of flashback sequences drawn by Ron Garnett and Matt Milla, and predominantly consisting of double splashes, doubtless proved diverting distractions to this comic’s 78,646 readers in June 2015. The battle sequences explaining how a combined army of Ultron-5 and Ultron-6 versions” of the mad robot sent “the other heroes of Earth… screaming to their graves” are well worth the magazine's cover price alone, especially as this 'turn of events' is additionally influenced by the idea that “a young Dane Whitman” never “infiltrated Ultron-5’s Masters Of Evil to warn” the Avengers and “turn the tide of his first attack…”

Ultimately though “A Stranger Came To Town” is meant to be about events taking place on Battleworld, yet sadly when Robinson’s script finally does return to the ‘present day’, and Steve Pugh takes back ownership of the artwork, it is clear that this comic book’s implied promise of ghouls verses automatons has disappointingly been replaced with a rather uninspiring story about a ‘Wild West’ version of Pym being banished to “the robot domain” for creating a “clockwork mechanical man”; “Got no mind why I went ta the trouble, neither… ‘cause where I’m goin’, they aint got much use fer snake oil.”
The regular cover art of "AGE OF ULTRON VS. MARVEL ZOMBIES" No. 1 by Carlos Pacheco

Monday, 15 February 2016

Nameless #6 - Image Comics

NAMELESS No. 6, December 2015
Containing a seemingly superfluous opening scene depicting the “Zed” television show interviewing Paul Darius’ flying drone, a tediously tiresome tarot reading sequence involving the titular character and a hooded misshapen Sofia, whose face has been partially infested by a squidgy multi-dimensional extra-terrestrial, and a rather fortuitous ending which depicts Jin Zhao somehow surviving the Serenity Base massacre in order to single-handedly deflect the asteroid Xibalba into the moon using the spacecraft White Valiant Two, this concluding issue of “Nameless” must doubtless have proved to be utterly unfollowable nonsense to the vast majority of its 15,894 readers in December 2015. Indeed Grant Morrison’s unfathomable writing creates so difficult a nonlinear narrative to follow that at times it seems as if the Scottish playwright must actually have wanted his audience to struggle and strain with the book’s countercultural concepts; certainly this is arguably not a magazine one can comprehend in just a single sitting… if ever.

The biggest flaw of this twenty-four page periodical is undoubtedly the Glasgow-born writer’s inability to make it in any way clear just which events are real and which are taking place within the occultist’s evidently badly broken mind. To begin with it seems as if the adventurer has never actually left the abode of the mysterious female fortune teller first seen in this mini-series’ first instalment. But having rather long-windedly informed any perusing bibliophile as to the “fifteen thousand years of savage and deranged conflict” between the Titans and Outsiders, the action quite brusquely then returns to the present-day space mission with the troubled astronaut discovering that he is still in the grip of his ‘infected’ colleagues.

Or at least that is what seems to be occurring until Morrison flips the action back again and the publication’s shocked, slightly panicky hero murmurs “there is no space mission, is there? Where are we really?” Several further setting switches later, including a return to Serenity Base and its homicidal occupants, as well as a genuinely disturbing portrayal of Nameless literally tearing off Darius’ face in front of the entrepreneur’s daughter, and it is impossible to understand what has and hasn’t really happened; especially as the author’s ending suggests that the moon has been partially destroyed by the gigantic space prison crashing in to it. Yet simultaneously the book’s protagonist has been shot dead by “Milady” on Earth!?!

Far less indecipherable, though easily as nauseating as the storyline in places, is Chris Burnham’s wonderfully detailed pencils. The American artist’s panels which illustrate numerous acts of bodily mutilation and sexual depravity are as worrisome as they are finely drawn. Yet it is the “Batman Incorporated” sketcher’s incredibly vivid rendering of the Titan’s capturing “their one and only prisoner of war” which is perhaps the only reason why this comic is worth buying.
Words: Grant Morrison, Art: Chris Burnham, and Colors: Nathan Fairbairn

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Batman #34 [The New 52] - DC Comics

BATMAN No. 34, October 2014
Perhaps somewhat confusingly jumping “back to the future” with a narrative co-written by “Arkham Manor” author Gerry Duggan, Issue Thirty Four of “Batman” actually takes place after the conclusion of the “DC Comics” weekly series “Batman Eternal” and literally transport’s its 112,186 strong readership to the very “end of Eternal’s continuity” having spent the previous twelve months supposedly regaling them with Scott Snyder’s “yearlong storyline that delved into the Dark Knight’s early days in Gotham City…” As a result it isn’t until a good third of the way through this comic that its audience probably becomes satisfactorily orientated as to just where within the Caped Crusader’s convoluted continuity they are, and even then that is almost solely due to a double-splash of Bruce Wayne’s alter-ego patrolling the metropolis’ nightline within which the hero cogitates upon “the rank and file police” having “turned against” him and “Jim Gordon [being] sentenced to Blackgate for murder.”

Despite this initial, and somewhat lasting confusion however, there is a very good reason as to why this book was the best-selling title of August 2014. For “The Meek” happens to contain an enjoyably straightforward script which genuinely sees the cowled crimefighter make a welcome return to his "World’s Greatest Detective” roots whilst investigating a series of worryingly grisly murders. Indeed the similarities between the American author’s version of Batman with that of Arthur Conan Doyles’ Sherlock Holmes are very striking, and even go so far as having a determined Dark Knight deputising a dog when he believes the hound can assist him in tracking down his quarry’s scent through the grimy alleyways of Gotham’s seedier district.

Somewhat disappointingly though Duggan does rather jarringly remind his audience that this story is set in a technologically-advanced (future) world by having the Caped Crusader utilise a digital mask in order to fool the pathological killer into believing he is Doctor Thompkins. Admittedly the physician is a young under-sized female. But even so it would arguably been more fitting considering the realistic tone of the rest of the plot to have had the vigilante simply don one of his infamous theatrical disguises rather than perhaps lazily rely upon a holographic device.

The atmospherically sketchy, dirty-looking pencilling of ‘guest’ artist Matteo Scalera is also well worth taking note of, and really helps add a level of gritty practicality to the comic’s proceedings. In fact it’s a shame this adventure doesn’t go on for longer as the Parma-born illustrator’s grizzled, taut-jawed and simply caped Batman makes for a refreshing change from Greg Capullo’s more ‘state-of-the-art’ crime-fighter, and his panels are simply packed full of visual oddities such depicting the murderer garrotting one of his victims through a goldfish bowl with a dead cat in it.
The "Selfie" variant cover art of "BATMAN" No. 34 by Ryan Sook

Friday, 12 February 2016

Uber #22 - Avatar Press

UBER No. 22, January 2015
Ending “The Shadow War” with something of a disappointingly quiet whimper when compared to some of the title’s previous cataclysmic chapter conclusions, Issue Twenty Two of “Uber” admittedly starts off well enough by depicting the German spy Conrad unceremoniously destroying the interior of Bletchley Park in his bid to assassinate and silence Stephanie. In fact in some ways this five-page sequence exhibits all the infamous hallmarks of an “Avatar Press” publication what with its bold-faced nudity and rather unsettling depiction of human mutilation. Such a suspenseful start however, disconcertingly drawn by Daniel Gete in contrast to the series' supposed regular artist Canaan White, is sadly soon settled courtesy of the revelation that the “pioneering British computer scientist” Alan Turing hasn’t in fact spent the past few installments “in bed” suffering with a cold. But has actually been developing his own superpowers having secretively “tested positive”; an exposé which swiftly costs the Geltmensch his eyes and ability to generate the halo effect.

Having imbued his narrative with so dynamically charged an opening pace, Kieron Gillen’s decision to then populate the rest of this poorly-selling periodical with little more than a carousel of fleeting glimpses as to how the war effort is affecting the Third Reich and Soviet Union proves a decidedly uninspiring one. Certainly many of this comic’s 5,915 readers must surely have felt somewhat cheated by Russian Battleship Maria Andreevna’s disheartening decree that she would not cross the Bug River but instead simply feed “those who come to me” in Kiev and “make the red muck for… [General Zhukov] to make more brave soldiers of the Soviet Union”. And what about the Stafford-born writer’s bizarre plot twist of having Goebbels' face ‘sculpted’ into that of the Fuhrer by Anita Scheele simply so the Reich Minister of Propaganda can replace Sank’s third activated superspy as a ‘resuscitated’ Adolf Hitler? Is it any wonder after such a tiring and somewhat tediously lack-lustre read that the British author actually thanks his precariously-low readership for “staying with us” at the end of the comic?

What doesn’t come as much of a surprise, considering the inconsistent quality of Caanan White’s drawing throughout this book and Gete's brief aforementioned stint at the 'easel', is Gillen’s ‘Afterword’ statement that this book will be the African-American artist’s “last issue” on account of the penciller “moving onto Avatar pastures new.” The former computer game journalist is the first to acknowledge that the illustrator’s “done incredible things with Uber.” But sadly much of the “frenetic power” displayed by the Fort Wayne resident during “that entire first year” is lamentably lacking throughout the pages of this particular pamphlet.
The regular cover art of "UBER" No. 22 by Caanan White

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Star Wars Annual #1 - Marvel Comics

STAR WARS ANNUAL No. 1, February 2016
Perhaps somewhat surprisingly focusing upon unknown Rebel operative Eneb Ray and his infiltration of Coruscant as opposed to any of the infinitely more recognisable and more marketable “Star Wars” characters, this “Marvel Worldwide” Annual still managed to sell an impressive 89,635 copies in order to become the tenth best-selling comic book of December 2015; an accolade Kieron Gillen’s ‘Spy-fi’ narrative arguably well deserves. For whilst the Stafford-born writer’s undercover agent initially proves rather pompously disagreeable, due to his disguise as Imperial tax-collector Tharius Demo and selfish regret that although “the Rebellion has heroes” he doesn’t “get to be one of them”, the “prying” mole soon gets to demonstrate his far more laudable qualities to this title’s significant audience when Princess Leia orders him to penetrate the Arrth-Eno prison complex and smuggle “Senator Nadea Tural and the anti-Imperial senators” incarcerated there off-planet before they’re executed.

So “very difficult” a mission, understandably conducted by Organa’s secret agent in absolute silence, could potentially have lead to something of a rather tedious excursion considering that letterer Joe Caramagna exacerbates the experience by failing to populate its dozen or so panels with any sound effects whatsoever. Fortunately such external secretive noiselessness is not however replicated by Ray’s inner turmoil and questioning as to just “how many rebel spies are… actually on Coruscant”; a worry which provides the British author with plenty of opportunity to genuinely flesh out this thirty-page periodical’s central protagonist via numerous thought bubbles.

Those fans tiring of such a rather reticent read though are eventually rewarded with more blaster beams and “political assassination” attempts than even an enraged Wookie could handle once the leader of the Galactic Empire makes an appearance. Indeed the entire tone of the book abruptly changes to one of all-out action as the seemingly sullen Eneb transforms himself into a dynamic gun-slinging risk-taker upon hearing that “the Emperor’s just walked into our crosshairs” by “having a final conversation with the [captured] senators in an hour’s time.”

Equally as responsible for so successful a publication as Gillen’s constantly surprising storyline, has to be Angel Unzueta’s extremely clean-looking pencilling. The Spaniard not only somehow manages to imbue the Rebel agent with an air of arrogance befitting someone posing as an all-powerful Imperial bureaucrat. But later effortlessly adds a grim determination and then desperate desire to Ray’s visage as it becomes abundantly clear to the “hero” that “I’m not even the same species of monster” as Palpatine.
Writer: Kieron Gillen, Artist: Angel Unzueta, and Colorist: Paul Mounts