Thursday, 31 March 2016

Skull The Slayer #6 - Marvel Comics

SKULL THE SLAYER No. 6, July 1976
Finally ridding himself of his predecessors’ controversial notion that “the untouched world of the prehistoric past” within which Jim Scully finds himself trapped is actually populated by robots and extra-terrestrial governed time-travelling towers, Bill Mantlo’s storyline for Issue Six of “Skull The Slayer” settles into an enjoyable romp ‘down river’ which seems far more in keeping with series creator Marv Wolfman’s original vision for the comic book. Indeed once the Black Knight automaton pinions Slitherogue to a castle wall through the belly with his great sword and the alien peevishly activates the self-destruct to his technologically advanced citadel, the plot soon leaves such foolish fancies far behind and instead begins to build a compelling storyline based upon the titular character’s jungle survival savvy from his military training in Guatemala and Vietnam.

Admittedly the Eagle Award-winner’s narrative isn’t entirely free of its own contrivances however, as the introduction of Corporal Lancer and the bullish Senator ‘Stoneface’ Turner “fifteen hundred miles” from where the antediluvian survivors’ plane crashed “somewhere off Bermuda” attests. This potentially interesting ‘modern-day’ interlude, presumably designed to introduce a subplot the title’s future cancellation would never see explored, was clearly written in order to reacquaint the magazine’s audience with how the publication started courtesy of a six-panel summary piece. But just why a United States congressman would be on board a naval vessel so significantly far from where his son’s plane disappeared in "the Devil's Triangle" makes no sense whatsoever and is disconcertingly co-incidental in the extreme.

Fortunately Mantlo soon gets things back on track by depicting the ex-soldier and his friends facing a canoe packed full of heavily-armed Inca warriors on a river teeming with carnivorous killer fish. This suspenseful sequence proves a genuinely pulse-pounding read and culminates with the super-strong Scully dynamically besting an ichthyosaur armed with little more than a hunting blade. The co-creator of Rocket Raccoon even finds time during all this action for Doctor Raymond Corey to finally settle his differences with the “great white hunter” and step away from some of the physicist’s previously distasteful prejudicial rhetoric; Welcome back, great black egghead! Believe it or not -- I was actually starting to miss you!”

Sadly “Swamp!” is though disappointingly let down by some of Sal Buscema and Steve Gan’s artwork. The duo’s imaginative depictions of the Slayer battling the large marine reptile whilst his companions ferociously tackle the waterway’s blood-thirsty natives are wonderfully dynamical and full of energy. Yet when it comes to the sedentary moments within the text, such as the close-ups of Jim warming to a grateful scientist who “tries smiling for the first time in his life”, then the pencilling appears crude and awkwardly inert.
Writer: Bill Mantlo, and Artists: Sal Buscema & Steve Gan

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Uber #26 - Avatar Press

UBER No. 26, June 2015
There is no doubt that series creator Kieron Gillen manages to build up a palpable sense of tension concerning the imminent deployment of “the experimental Battleship Churchill” during the opening few pages of Issue Twenty-Six of “Uber”. Joints aching, covered in an incredibly outlandish suit of plated armour, and destined to be simply dropped without a parachute over the warzone, it is inconceivable to think that many of this comic’s 5,536 readers weren’t utterly enthralled by the massively over-sized woman’s preparations prior to facing Sieglinde and Siegmund east of Calais, and to some extent at least, a little apprehensive as to Leah Cohen’s fate.

Sadly however what then follows is an incredibly demoralising experience which for many of this title’s long-term followers must have rivalled the despair felt with the bloody defeat of H.M.H. Colossus. For whilst the hulking female monstrosity momentarily provides “results [which] were everything Montgomery could have hoped for” and literally tears through her Nazi opposition as if they were made of tissue paper. “Montgomery’s Masterstroke” ultimately proves horrifyingly vulnerable to superior German battlefield strategy and is diabolically defeated by the combined might of supposedly no less than three battleship-class Ubermensch; “The conflict continued for the rest of the day. But in a real way, the battle was over.”

Obviously such a demoralising result during the course of Gillen’s fictional “alternate World War Two” has absolutely nothing to do with the quality of the Stafford-born author’s penmanship. Indeed the exciting narration and pulse-pounding pacing of the fight between the two super-powered armies is terrifically well-written, especially when H.M.H. Dunkirk makes a bold, if not futile, attempt to “disrupt the halo-artillery” and plunges head-first into “the face of the larger body of German enhanced humans.” But such a depressingly dismal outcome to so bravely noble an attack by the “Jew(ish) girl”, and the horrifically gratuitous demise of Howard, is so deflating as to make it genuinely hard to read any further…

Just as successful as this “showcase” edition’s impactive script is Daniel Gete’s incredibly dynamic pencilling. Whether the subject be Leah remembering “The footage. Of the camps” and focussing herself upon the job at hand, or her standing toe-to-toe with her gas-masked blonde-haired opponent slugging it out, the Spaniard’s drawings are beautifully detailed yet wonderfully clean and full of energetic life.
The regular cover art of "UBER" No. 26 by Daniel Gete

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Firestorm #1 - DC Comics

FIRESTORM No. 1, March 1978
Indisputably “a dynamic debut” and an “explosive first issue”, “Make Way For Firestorm!” is also a very good example of “DC Comics” Seventies formula for introducing new super-heroes into the publishing company’s ever-expanding Bronze Age universe. For whilst the eighteen-page periodical begins with a bang as the Nuclear Man ably demonstrates his stupefying ability “to rearrange the atomic and subatomic structure of inorganic matter” by flying straight through “ten feet of concrete” in order to surprise a group of protesters planning on blowing up “the spanking new Brooks Nuclear Power Plant!”. Its narrative soon travels back in time to “twelve hours before” in order to provide its audience with a fairly “traditional” origin story.

Indeed momentarily Gerry Conway’s ‘time-honoured telling’ of an oppressed high school student being transformed into “a kid who can switch his atomic structure at will” following an explosion which “under different circumstances” would have killed him, actually looks set to be uncomfortably similar to a Steve Ditko wall-crawling co-creation, who as a teenager had “to deal with the normal struggles of adolescence in addition to those of a costumed crime-fighter.” Fortunately however, the Brooklyn-born writer soon introduces a somewhat fresh ingredient into the customary mix by having the titular character, athletically handsome Ronald Raymond, actually being the one bullied at school… and by the educational institute’s bespectacled “resident super-genius” Cliff Carmichael no less.

This rather intriguing spin on the usual ‘brawn verses brains’ battle provides the very cornerstone upon which Firestorm’s bizarre creation is built, and even though it additionally leads to one of the comic’s more cringingly corny sequences when the athlete foolishly attempts to answer his teacher’s questions in class before the “retarded oyster” can and promptly gets told off for rudely shouting, it still offers a plausible explanation as to why Ronnie makes such recklessly ill-conceived decisions; “I know how to prove to Doreen I’m not a dumb jock!”

Equally as absorbing is the American author’s decision to quite literally couple, both physically and mentally, this comic’s main protagonist with the “Nobel Prize winning physicist” Martin Stein. Capable of ‘reading’ and fully understanding the atomic structure of his surroundings “just by glancing” at them. Yet still immature enough to create “the duds to match” the “powers of some crazy kind of super-hero”. Conway’s Nuclear Man promises plenty of potential for absorbing future dual-personality plots and development as the pair’s consciousness’s converse with one another in order to successfully complete their mission.

Sadly Al Milgrom’s artwork for this opening instalment of “Firestorm” is something of a let-down during the more sedentary stages of the storyline. There’s no doubt that the former “West Coast Avengers” penciller can draw dynamic energy-charged action sequences. In fact this comic’s wonderfully vibrant cover art attests to that fact. But disappointingly, there does also seem to be a noticeable drop in quality by the Comic Buyers Fan Award-winner whenever the script calls for him to illustrate some of the more mundane dialogue-heavy panels, such as when Raymond spends part of his evening talking on the phone.
Created and Written By: Gerry Conway, and Co-Created By: Al Milgrom

Monday, 28 March 2016

Injection #7 - Image Comics

INJECTION No. 7, February 2016
Warren Ellis’ somewhat lifeless almost stagnant narrative for Issue Seven of “Injection” unfortunately rather confirms the opinion of “Dark Horse Comics” President and Publisher Mike Richardson that whilst the sociocultural commentator is a master “of the comics art”, the Essex-born writer’s penmanship isn’t necessarily “always good.” For whilst the opening moments of this twenty-page periodical are entertaining enough in its coverage of a ‘good old-fashioned’ police foot chase within the confines of the Local Slice eatery, the pulse-pounding action is soon regrettably replaced by copious dialogue-heavy colloquies as New York-based detectives Diaz and Branch hold their suspect for questioning and Vivek Headland telephonically converses with former Cross Culture-Contamination Unit team-mates Robin Morel and Maria Kilbride.

In fact many of this edition’s 12,459 followers in February 2016 probably felt that nothing else actually happened within this comic’s storyline until towards its very end when the multiple Eagle Award-winner seemingly takes a note out of Arthur Conan Doyle’s book and depicts the “Logician and Ethicist with an interest in security” at his deductive best investigating “the Van Der Zee man-cave.” This Holmesian sequence of pictures, quaintly panelled, genuinely proves an engaging read as the dusky-skinned Precognitive meticulously works his way around the crime scene collecting samples of “intense instances of electromagnetic energy” and “vaginal ectoplasm.”

Sadly however this “unique Ellis brand of storytelling” isn’t anywhere near enough to save what is otherwise a miserably monotonous magazine. Admittedly Headland himself provides a modicum of interest every time he makes an appearance, and even arguably is capable of raising the odd chuckle as he chides a prisoner for delivering “a carefully-sliced and superbly seasoned cooked human bicep to my home.” But such satisfying moments are lamentably fleeting and hardly worthy of the $2.99 cover price.

Worse yet though is Declan Shalvey’s predominantly lack-lustre pencilling. There’s a definite pace to the Irish artist’s first few pages, as Red the Butler smashes his way through a locked diner’s door and the accompanying Manhattan Police graphically shoot out the elbow of their quarry. But just as soon as the kitchen is sealed and the bleeding stopped, the former “Moon Knight” illustrator’s drawings disappointingly appear mechanically unexceptional and even comically amateurish at best.
The regular cover art of "INJECTION" No. 7 by Declan Shalvey

Sunday, 27 March 2016

West Coast Avengers #4 - Marvel Comics

WEST COAST AVENGERS No. 4, December 1984
Having initially started with Jim Rhodes ‘shellshocking’ his teammates by revealing that he’s replaced Tony Stark as Iron Man, Roger Stern’s script to Issue Four of “West Coast Avengers” subsequently transforms itself into an all-out action fest which not only sees the super-group rescue a truly waterlogged Wonder Man from the clutches of the formidably powerful Graviton. But also hand Franklin Hall a considerable ‘smackdown’ in the process. Indeed the Wackos' victory over “the Master of Gravity” is so compellingly conclusive that few readers must have shown surprise at the Vision’s ringing endorsement of the “…progress… made in just the first few weeks since the founding of our Western Division!”

However that doesn’t simply mean that the co-creator of the Hobgoblin has the heroes wade into the villain’s Santa Monica Retreat and just start throwing punches or firing repulsor rays. Instead the Noblesville-born writer pens a genuinely engaging plot packed full of intrigue and guile, as well as occasional bursts of raw power, that sees a fast-maturing Hawkeye using his brains as opposed to his team’s brawn in order to get the job done. In fact, up until the sudden appearance of the golden Avenger halfway through the twenty-three page periodical, it doesn’t appear as if the master archer's team have even yet arrived at the Canadian physicist’s lair. Let alone infiltrated it by disguising themselves as a barmaid, Maggia henchman and Madame Masque…

Such a well-devised cleverly-executed scheme really helps draw in the reader, and even provides a few stand-out moments such as an overconfident “amateur Iron Man” directly tapping into “the entire south-western power grid” and Tigra viciously slapping a moustached Clint Barton around the face when he momentarily gapes at the submerged ‘cadaver’ of Simon Williams in full view of Graviton; “Louis! What is the matter with you?! You’ve killed dozens of men! How dare you weaken at the sight of one corpse!” Is it any wonder that a year later in 1985, “Marvel Comics Group” launched a “second ongoing Avengers series” based upon the self-same line-up?

Bob Hall’s breakdowns are also nicely rendered throughout the majority of “Finale”. Finished by Brett Breeding and Peter Berardi, the American artist manages to pencil some incredibly expressive close-ups of the main cast, most notably Hawkeye, as well as draw some awesomely dynamic set-pieces like Wonder Man literally tearing down Hall’s lavish retreat just before “Phase Three” of the West Coast Avengers' plan takes effect.
Writer: Roger Stern, Breakdowns: Bob Hall, and Finishers: Brett Breeding & Peter Berardi

Saturday, 26 March 2016

The Walking Dead #134 - Image Comics

THE WALKING DEAD No. 134, November 2014
There can be little doubt that Robert Kirkman’s character of Paul Monroe is undoubtedly both “a very good hand to hand combatant” and “capable of extreme feats of human ability.” How else could the Alexandria recruiter simultaneously manage to overcome the large “attacking swarm of talking [armed] dead” he confronts at the beginning of this comic, rescue a “severely injured” Darius and take the last surviving Whisperer prisoner singlehandedly? It’s certainly arguable as to whether many of this book’s 68,093 readers felt that the title’s lead character Rick Grimes would have managed to overcome such insurmountable odds, even if the former Kentucky Police officer had been in his prime…

Fortunately such a willing suspension of disbelief is easily achieved on account of “The Walking Dead” creator’s excellent penmanship. Clearly outnumbered, and somewhat shaken by the realisation that his supposedly undead foes can not only talk but even “have names”, Jesus’ grim determination not to go “down without taking most of you with me” and excellent use of his surroundings, such as sending a horse stampeding through a cluster of hungry roamers, increasingly makes the prospect of the long-haired herder ‘coming out on top’ all the more likely. Indeed by the time Paul has dispatched those zombies attempting to devour a still-struggling Darius, and become surrounded by the last of the disguised survivors, his enemy’s observation that the man must be “getting tired” and “can’t fight forever” actually sounds more like an optimistic hope than a confident statement.

Incredibly such utterly engrossing action and adventure doesn’t end however with Monroe, bloodied sword in hand, triumphantly standing tall over the pleading remains of his final opponent. For although events back at the Hilltop Colony at first seem infinitely more sedentary and dialogue-driven, the American author suddenly turns the seemingly idyllic prospects of Carl Grimes' world upside down by having the disfigured son of Rick savagely bashed over the head with a brick by two local bullies. This cowardly attack upon a defenceless adolescent who has already overcome so much post-apocalyptic strife is genuinely shocking. But is then unbelievably surpassed by the boy seemingly bludgeoning his arrogant attackers to death with a shovel; “No! Don’t! I’m sorry! No! No! No! No!”

Presumably inspired by such a scintillatingly tense and terrifically-charged script, Charlie Adlard’s pencilling for “From Whispers To Screams” is breathtakingly good. The Whisperers, ‘Leatherfaced’ and almost nonchalantly holding kitchen knives in their rotting hands, look absolutely terrifying as they stalk towards a solitary Monroe. Whilst Paul’s subsequent battle and then later Carl’s almost ‘homicidal slaying’ of his assailants proves a mouth-watering masterclass by the Englishman in how to imbue illustrations with a genuine sense of power and ferocious movement.
Writer: Robert Kirkman, Penciller: Charlie Adlard, and Inker: Stefano Gaudiano

Friday, 25 March 2016

Marvel Two-In-One #1 - Marvel Comics

MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE No. 1, January 1974
It seems quite evident that Steve Gerber clearly had little concern as to just how contrived he needed to make the narrative for this first issue of “Marvel Two-In-One” in order to pair Benjamin Grimm and the Man-Thing up together. Why else would the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Famer have penned the Thing enduring “a day-an’-a half ride ta the Everglades” on a bus simply because “that swamp-rat” purportedly committed “plagiarism” by having a magazine ‘rip off his name” and steal his “moniker”? Indeed the founding member of the Fantastic Four’s oversensitivity to the Florida swamp creature “trying ta hog my glory” is ludicrous in the extreme and certainly doesn’t do justice to a Jack Kirby co-creation as famous for his selfless ‘heart of gold’ attitude as he is his orange rocky hide.

Equally as bizarre however has to be the Missouri-born writer’s creation of a second Molecule Man, who having vowed revenge upon Reed Richards' super-team for causing his father’s ignoble death on “a nameless world in a cosmos other than our own”, purposely exposes himself to “a shower of atomic particles” in order to be transformed into “the Monarch of the Universe!” Worryingly under-dressed in just an ornate thong, and armed with a metal wand capable of reversing an accelerated aging process that would actually see the villain “reduced to ashes” within seconds, Owen Reece’s bald-headed ‘successor’ proves a remarkably underwhelming foe for “the ever-lovin’ blue-eyed” Grimm and Ted Sallis’ alter-ego; especially when the manipulator of molecules is depicted impotently tapping his supposedly malfunctioning wand simply because “it won’t teleport me past the edge of this swamp.”

Gerber’s script for “Vengeance Of The Molecule Man!” does however still contain some noteworthy moments, such as its early nod to the lead character’s previous ‘team-ups’ alongside the Hulk and Iron Man in the final two issues of “Marvel Feature”, as well as a rare opportunity to see “the chemist who had been the Man-Thing” in action. In fact even “Flash-face” is eventually imbued with some chillingly cold-blooded gravitas as he quite horribly transforms a hapless resident of Citrusville into a duplicate of Mister Fantastic and promptly then stretches the screaming individual until his elastic body grotesquely snaps…

Arguably just as inconsistent as the storyline is Gil Kane’s disappointing artwork. It’s evident that the Shazam Award-winner was clearly capable of pencilling an impressively thick-set powerful-looking “orange-skinned buffoon”. But the American artist’s drawings of Molecule Man, Grimm and Sallis are actually all disconcertingly similar in appearance and, with the exception of the Yancy Streeter, seem astoundingly sinewy.
Writer: Steve Gerber, Penciller: Gil Kane, and Inker: Joe Sinnott

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Uber #25 - Avatar Press

UBER No. 25, May 2015
Focusing solely upon the Pacific Theatre and Japan’s last deployment of Miyoko to Okinawa in 1945, Issue Twenty Five of “Uber” is an oft-times troubling, depressingly fatalistic read which portrays the Emperor’s tank-men as honourable heroes and the American forces, who up until this point in the war have actually found themselves at a seriously bloody disadvantage to their superior opposition, as little more than furtive murderers who quite shockingly kill sleeping enemy soldiers where they lay in their dug-outs.

Such a bias viewpoint of the island’s fictional final battle doubtless unsettled at least a few of this title’s anaemic 5,506 followers, especially when Kieron Gillen’s narration of events throughout the comic makes the Allied atrocities upon “the beleaguered defenders” sound so frighteningly factual. However this sudden shift in the enhanced-human power struggle between the United States and Imperial Japanese Army, along with the grisly impact it has upon the 'soldiers of the Rising Sun' as they quite futilely die in a final desperate suicidal charge, also makes this entire twenty-two page periodical an incredibly atmospheric and enthralling experience.

True the British author’s portrayal of the Yanks’ tank-men as somewhat stereotypically handsome poster boys who even display war propaganda images more readily associated with Air Force bomber nose art upon their stylish leather jackets, somewhat disrupts the illusion of reality. But the former computer games journalist’s depiction of the East Asian malnourished warriors, weary and battle worn yet still nobly loyal to their Empire until the bitter end, more than makes up for this ‘nod’ to the Silver Age of Superhero Comics… And indeed who is to say that the American authorities wouldn’t have dressed their formidably powerful troopers in such garish attire if they had actually existed during the Second World War?

Possibly in keeping with this book’s dark disheartening tone is the artwork of Daniel Gete. The Spaniard’s heavily shadowed sequences involving corporal Hideki definitely lack the regular penciller’s customary clean-cut drawings. Yet rather than being off-putting, such a change in style, whether intentional or not, undoubtedly adds a layer of grittiness to his work which seems entirely fitting when these panels spotlight the dispirited Japanese tunnel dwellers.
The regular cover art of "UBER" No. 25 by Daniel Gete

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

West Coast Avengers #3 - Marvel Comics

WEST COAST AVENGERS No. 3, November 1984
Fans of Wonder Man were probably in two minds about Roger Stern’s handling of the Ionic-energy empowered superhero in this penultimate issue of the “West Coast Avengers” Limited Series. For whilst Simon Williams is shown ruggedly clearing the Santa Monica Freeway of unseasonal snow at the start of the comic, and later provides an enjoyable plotted history of his origin, Don Heck’s co-creation is for the most-part depicted as little more than a sullen, brooding super-hero who is rather worryingly solely preoccupied with his public image and the perceived battering it has taken following “that Blank… getting away… a couple of weeks ago.”

Admittedly such a flawed personality trait as hubris does make “the son of rich industrialist Sandford Williams” a far more compelling character, especially when he quite touchingly confides in fellow ‘Wacko’ Tigra that he doesn’t feel much of an Avenger having let the force field generator-powered felon escape his custody. But any reader’s sympathy to his confidence-lacking plight is then soon dispelled by the Noblesville-born writer dressing him up with the most absurd-looking curly blond wig and shades imaginable, just so the ‘experienced stuntman’ isn’t recognisable when escorting the Shroud on a visit to “what was once the home of one “Lucky Man” Galeno…”

Fortunately the narrative to “Taking Care of Business!” also spends a considerable time focussing upon former gravity researcher Franklin Hall and his return from being “exiled to the interdimensional void” by Thor. Able to manipulate “the subatomic particles that carry the force of gravitational attraction”, Graviton proves as formidable a foe for Wonder Man, Maximillian Coleridge and Greer Nelson in this comic’s later stages as he is mentally deranged. Indeed the supervillain’s spiteful toying of Clyde, the man whose charging field actually helped rescue the Canadian physicist from his “state of suspended animation” shows a decidedly nasty streak to a criminal clearly capable of taking on “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes”; “There is no room in my organisation for whiners, Blank!”

Equally as engrossing as Graviton’s determination to “organize California’s criminal element!” is Bob Hall’s wonderful artwork for a twenty-three page periodical that is rather dialogue-heavy in parts. In fact the University of Nebraska-Lincoln attendee’s drawings of the Shorud repeatedly stepping from out of his Darkforce is arguably worth the cost of this comic’s cover price alone, even if the ‘Master of Darkness’ is accompanied by a ludicrous-looking Williams.
Writer: Roger Stern, Penciler: Bob Hall, and Inker: Brett Breeding

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Age Of Ultron Vs. Marvel Zombies #4 - Marvel Comics

When at the start of this comic James Robinson writes about “the end of the world… terrors” which await those foolish enough to oppose “the iron will of... [Battleworld’s] god and master, Victor Von Doom” he probably never considered one of them, besides the Deadland’s living dead and Ultron’s automaton utopia Perfection, to actually be his script for Issue Four of “Age Of Ultron Vs. Marvel Zombies”. In fact the Manchester-born author probably felt he had done a thoroughly competent job of cramming this twenty-page periodical full of ‘brain-eating’ battle as the technologically enhanced zombie-cyborgs of Magneto finally break through Salvation’s Ionic Energy Shield and start hungrily eating its inhabitants.

Sadly however it is extremely doubtful whether any of this concluding instalment’s 31,220 readers garnered too much enjoyment out of a storyline woefully bogged down by the sort of technical gobbledegook that sees the Human Torch, Wonderman and the Vision merge themselves together into “a greater mind… that needs to be conducive to Ionic Energy” so as to ‘absorb the consciousness of both Ultron and the zombies'. Indeed Hank Pym’s straight-faced and supposedly tense explanation that Simon Williams’ “pixie dust” is at the heart of the problem, as well as the solution, is not only astoundingly surreal but heartbreakingly cringeworthy for a mini-series which initially sounded so very full of promise.

Equally as poorly handled is Robinson’s penmanship surrounding the fall of Salvation to “Ultrons-zombie-whatever –they-are’s”. Magneto’s excitement “about all the people I’m going to eat” disappointingly never fully manifests itself within the narrative despite the “combined meat ‘n’ metal… monstrosities” eventually breaking through the settlement's protective barrier and consuming any living flesh which they can get their grisly clawing hands on. For every time it seemingly appears that the plot is finally about to focus upon the carnage being caused by the living dead, such as a zombified Abomination chomping into a Hydra operative, the action is frustratingly replaced by close-ups of Ultron’s creator feverishly tinkering in his lab.

True Steve Pugh desperately tries to inject the proceedings with plenty of (un)life with his dynamic depictions of gruesome terror as the robotic ghouls munch their way through the human community’s population. But even these wonderfully animated double-splash offerings by the British artist are interspersed with tedious flashback sequences drawn by Paul Rivoche and John Rauch, or worse pitiful panels portraying the likes of Jim Hammond and the Vision sentimentally saying goodbye to their loved ones before they sacrifice themselves.
Writer: James Robinson, Artist: Steve Pugh, and Colors: Jim Charalampidis

Monday, 21 March 2016

Tomb Of Dracula #1 - Marvel Comics

TOMB OF DRACULA No. 1, April 1972
Whilst a pleasing enough read, with plenty of suspense and some fleeting glimpses of the Count’s formidable powers as he easily withstands Clifton Graves’ panicky bullets at point-blank range, it is hard to believe that this twenty-five page periodical formed the foundation upon which a seventy-issue long series was built. Certainly so cornily contrived a narrative as one based upon the bizarre notion that a financially deficient relative of Dracula would visit the long-abandoned vampire’s castle in the hopes of turning it into a tourist attraction makes it understandable as to why, in more recent years, “credited… sole writer” Gerry Conway has supposedly distanced himself from the publication, with both Roy Thomas and title Editor-in-Chief Stan Lee having subsequently been given dual responsibility for the plot.

Indeed even the composition of the comic’s supporting cast appears to have been manufactured simply to provide a disappointingly implausible explanation as to the reason behind someone arbitrarily removing the stake from the corpse of “a man whose name is whispered by… wary hill-people” and thus inadvertently bring the famous fictitious blood-drinker back to (un)life. Why else would Frank Drake willingly visit Transylvania with both his girlfriend Jeanie and her murderous ex-lover if it wasn’t to allow this publication’s writer to indolently have the vampire-hunter’s former friend snatch-up the sharpened piece of wood with the intention of using it to “remove a certain obstacle to a young lady’s affections”?

Sadly the handling of the titular character himself also seems to somewhat suffer on account of poor story-telling. Admittedly the Comics Code Authority’s decade-long “virtual ban on vampires” had potentially made writing for so malevolent a creature of the night somewhat arduous. But having clearly established Dracula’s immunity to firearms, fearsome faculty for mesmerism and ability to readily transform into a bat (and vice versa), why is the Lord of Vampires unable to “remain” in the presence of a human holding a “silver compact” and later suffer the blessed indignity of having his relative bounce the tiny round mirror off his head?; “Idiot! Did you really think that compact would destroy me? You’ve sealed your end, my friend --”

Fortunately Issue One of “Tomb Of Dracula” does contain some wonderfully atmospheric artwork by Gene Colan, such as the voluptuous local barmaid, duplicitous Graves and sultry-looking fanged Jeanie. However it is the Eagle Award-winner’s drawing of the Count himself, crammed full of brooding menace and nobility which genuinely makes this comic’s pencilling a genuine treat for the eyes.
Writer: Gerry Conway, Artist: Gene Colan, and Letterer: Jon Costa

Sunday, 20 March 2016

The Omega Men #3 - DC Comics

THE OMEGA MEN No. 3, October 2015
Whilst as action-packed as any of this comic’s 13,246 readers could surely have wanted, Issue Three of “The Omega Men” also contains a conclusion which is as shockingly surprising as it is nonsensical balderdash, and turns what arguably was a genuinely thrilling narrative into a seemingly silly storyline supposedly conceived simply to fool Kyle Rayner (and the audience) into believing that Princess Kalista has been abducted by the so-called “band of terrorists” against her will.

Admittedly seeing Tom King’s “new favourite character to write” for besting the likes of Tigorr and Scrapps in one-on-one combat makes for compelling entertainment, especially when the “former CIA counter terrorism [agent] turned novelist” has previously shown just how despicably evil the “daughter of Alpha” actually is by having “the heir to the throne” bloodily butcher a batch of natives as part of her morning sword fencing routine. But to then reveal that the entirety of this twenty-page periodical has actually been dedicated to nothing more than a ruse, and one that sees both the Karnan feline and his plucky team-mate near to death, makes for a disappointingly dissatisfying experience overall.

Equally as perplexing as “Princess Kalista’s introduction – and the cliffhanger about her relationship to the Omega Men” is the question it raises as to just “who the good guys are” in this “DC Comics” title? For surely Primus’ love for the woman can’t be so overwhelmingly blinding as to allow the Euphorix nobleman to bed such a callous killer of her subjects, and certainly not to the point where he openly declares his wife (at least during the publisher’s “Earth-One era”) “the esteemed leader of the Omega Men?”

Complaints as to the confusing shift in direction for this twelve-issue long “first arc” aside, there is no doubt that the book is beautiful to look at thanks to some incredible illustrations by Barnaby Bagenda. King is perfectly correct when he’s previously stated that the Indonesian is “not a classic sort of DC artist” and that his pencilling is “not what you would expect.” However that is not necessarily a bad thing at all when the inker brings such breath-taking “style” and plenty of dynamic, flowing soundless swishes to all the swordplay on display throughout this magazine.
The variant cover art of "OMEGA MEN" No. 3 by Toby Cypress

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Invincible Iron Man #2 - Marvel Comics

INVINCIBLE IRON MAN No. 2, December 2015
In many ways Brian Michael Bendis’ incarnation of Victor Von Doom for Issue Two of “Invincible Iron Man” arguably makes the comic read more like an edition of the “Marvel Worldwide” publication “What If?” than “a new ongoing series… spinning out of this summer’s universes-shattering events”, so utterly unrecognisable is the former ruler of Latveria. Indeed doubtless many of this book’s 66,664 readers were just as dubious as to the smartly-dressed handsome-faced character’s credentials as Tony Stark is within the narrative and certainly those who missed the final instalment of the publisher’s “SecretWars” mini-series must have been wondering why the arch-nemesis of the Fantastic Four foolishly approaches “the Golden Avenger” whilst “not wearing your armour?”

Shellhead’s reaction to this disconcertingly bizarre set of circumstances is also rather unsettling considering the former director of S.H.I.E.L.D. is supposedly a superhero. Although the billionaire playboy’s abrupt almost panicky lethal pulsar ray discharge at a seemingly unprotected target is perhaps not all that incongruous with a personality rather infamous for ‘acting first and thinking later.’ Whatever the rationale behind the genius inventor’s savage assault upon Doom the attack at least provides the Cleveland-born writer with the opportunity to demonstrate just how formidable “a world-class sorcerer” Image Games Network’s Third Comic Book Villain of All Time is, as well as give an excuse for Iron Man to don his Hulk Buster armour; “Are you finished? I assumed you would lash out at me. I had that defence spell prepared!”

Bendis’ storyline also contains ample ‘screen time’ for Giulietta Nefaria and really does an admirable job of showing just how cold-bloodedly damaged the golden mask-wearing psychopath is. In fact, having brutally gunned down an intelligence source (and the young lady’s male escort) simply because she believes “the Wand of Watoomb in Doom’s castle was a fake”, Stark’s former love interest actually proves to be a more interesting foil for the business magnate than the Latverian ruler; especially when she later hysterically demands Tony return her mask to her and then tries to kill him once she’s certain he’s not wearing his armour.

All of this action, as well as some quite lengthy conversational pieces, are superbly illustrated by David Marquez, a London-born American artist whose incredible attention to detail, such as the white glare points in Madame Masque's eyes when she realises someone has removed the bullets from her firearm whilst she’s been taking a shower, still allows for him to produce some very clean-looking panels for this twenty-page periodical.
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis, Artist: David Marquez, and Color Artist: Justin Ponsor

Friday, 18 March 2016

Batman #37 [The New 52] - DC Comics

BATMAN No. 37, February 2015
Despite having been described by “Comic Book Resources”, a “website dedicated to the coverage of comic book-related news and discussion”, as a magazine which “plays the game of blockbuster storytelling without fear”, the narrative to Issue Thirty Seven of “Batman” probably proved something of a confusing conundrum to its impressive 113,255 strong audience in December 2014. Certainly the “bestseller for DC Comics”, at least according to “Diamond Comic Distributors”, must have had the vast majority of its owners reaching for their copy of the previous “Endgame” instalment in order to determine whether they had inadvertently missed an edition somewhere.

For whilst Scott Snyder’s thirty-page thriller eventually returns to the tense, scarily sinister machinations of a hauntingly insane Clown Prince of Crime and his seemingly successful abduction of Commissioner Jim Gordon, the New Yorker’s storyline confusingly starts by depicting Bruce Wayne dramatically ‘waking’ in the Batcave having been dosed with “some kind of twilight anaesthetic” a considerable period after the story-arc’s previous publication ended on a nail-biting cliff-hanger. Such an incomprehensible ‘leap forward’ frustratingly fails to resolve just how the Dark Knight escaped his arch-nemesis' deadly firing piece and also annoyingly avoids the even more problematic predicament of the American author believably explaining the criminal psychopath’s apparent return from beyond the grave…

Admittedly the passage of time does allow the Eagle Award-winner to quickly place the Caped Crusader back in the thick of the action, as the vigilante attempts to brave the crazed lunatics crowding the corridors of Gotham Presbyterian hospital “to find the source of the [Joker's] infection”. But this predicament genuinely feels like a lazily contrived set of circumstances, designed to entertain rather than make any actual logical sense, and as a result proves something of a dissatisfying experience; especially when the Billionaire's alter-ego discovers a clearly manufactured theatrical death-trap within one of the wards.

An even worse reading experience however, is sadly this comic’s back-up feature “The First Laugh”, written by James Tynion IV and quite deplorably depicted by John McCrea. Focusing upon the “big ole goof” Morton, an escapee from Arkham Manor, this terrible tale tells of how the massive murderer started a killing spree in order to simply teach his fellow Gothamites that “laughing is like a disease” and portrays the Joker as some sort of malformed supernatural white-faced spectre who has supposedly survived being burnt “to ash all those years ago” rather than a mortal mastermind.
The variant cover art of "BATMAN" No. 37 by Andy Kubert and Brad Anderson

Thursday, 17 March 2016

The Walking Dead #133 - Image Comics

THE WALKING DEAD No. 133, October 2014
Apparently placed “in rotation a lot quicker” by “Image Comics” on account of its preceding edition being “so crazy”, Issue One Hundred and Thirty Three of “The Walking Dead” doubtless proved something of busy read to its 69,561 strong audience in October 2014. For whilst the majority of its narrative rather appreciatively focus’s upon a group of survivors who wear “walker flesh to move undetected through herds”, the twenty-two page periodical also provides parcels of plot development for Carl, Andrea, Magna, Eugene and Rosita. Indeed Robert Kirkman even manages to somehow provide Rick Grimes with a genuinely sentimental last loving look at his fast-growing son, before leaving him at the Hilltop Colony and heading off alone back to Alexandria.

Such characterful, even emotional scenes are not however what makes “Impending Doom” such a thrilling experience. It’s those featuring the murderous “disguised zombies”, and the title’s creator does a good job of entwining their fleeting appearances amongst some of the storyline's more mundane moments, such as Earl helping one of his apprentice’s make their “very first spear”, in order to maintain a genuinely palpable sense of apprehension in the book’s reader.

In fact Paul Monroe’s search for the absent guard Nathaniel, something which this comic’s cover illustration of the Undead stalking the horse riders suggests is probably ill-fated from the start, quickly becomes an engrossing exploration of the Northern Border for the missing “patrolman out in the wind”, and it quite quickly becomes hard not to race through those parts of this publication which don’t develop this particularly unsettling sequence; especially when it becomes clear that “Jesus” is being followed by another herd of the whispering cadavers and his party are about to be swarmed by “living” roamers…

Considering the sheer amount of exposition, dialogue and action contained within Kirkman’s incredibly busy script, and as a result the sheer number of individual panels Charlie Adlard needed to draw, this magazine’s artwork is decidedly polished looking. It’s rare for the Shrewsbury-born penciller not to include at least a single splash page within an issue. But for once the British illustrator swaps ‘arguable padding’ for seemingly endless flurries of tightly focussed panes packed full of wonderfully-telling facial expressions and frenzied stabbings.
Writer: Robert Kirkman, Penciller: Charlie Adlard, and Inker: Stefano Gaudiano

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Age Of Ultron Vs. Marvel Zombies #3 - Marvel Comics

It would be interesting to know whether Editor “Magnanimous Mark” Paniccia had any hand in the fact that Issue Three of “Age Of Ultron Vs. Marvel Zombies” starts rather unpromisingly with the desperately scrawled sentence “It’s worse than we thought”. For despite all of James Robinson’s assurances that “the battle lines will force everyone into two camps -- zombies verses robots” and that “they’re definitely at war” this bitterly disappointing publication's narrative not only depicts a unified Ultron-Zombie host threatening Jim Hammond, the Vision and Wonderman. But one which actually consists of “the worst of both” forces following the adamantium-alloyed automaton’s experiments to combine “the inorganic and the dead”.

To make matters even worse for this twenty-page periodical’s dramatically declining 36,388 readers however, the former “Superman” writer doesn’t even provide this ‘possible intriguing merger’ with much ‘screen time’ and instead decides to regale any bibliophiles foolish enough to have bought this “Secret Wars” tie-in title with uninspiring insights into Hank Pym’s desperate attempts to understand how “the Pym of this domain done built hisself a compoota rowbot man”, Simon William’s love for a female Iron Cross incarnation, Agatha Harkness’ adoration of the green and gold-garbed “creation of order” and a thirteen-panel discussion between Ryoko and “the original Human Torch” as to their understandable concerns surrounding her “synthetic” pregnancy.

Unfortunately, all of this disinteresting exposition is actually the highlight of Robinson’s storyline when compared to the British writer’s inclusion of a lengthy flashback to “the Town o’ Timely” from whence this mini-series’ gun-slinging Wasp originated from. Just why Starman’s co-creator felt it necessary to subject his audience to six shockingly dire pages deliberating over a dancing girl’s rise to infamy as one of the “people with a stupid plan ta overthrow ol’ man Roxxon ‘n’ his whole darn outfit” defies logic and clearly suggests that the author’s much lauded “really cool twist” for a mini-series probably wasn’t all that great in the first place.

Likewise, Steve Pugh’s strength clearly lies in illustrating “reanimated hordes [who] crave live flesh”, as opposed to depicting people enjoying a 'sedentary' existence, as the former “Strontium Dog” sketcher provides some terrifically disturbing pictures of a zombified Magneto, Super Skrull and Sabretooth throughout this comic. Sadly, such ‘eye candy’ is though shamefully scarce as the majority of this magazine’s script instead concerns itself with events transpiring within the Deadlands sanctuary of Salvation; sequences which clearly failed to inspire its artist to deliver nothing but the most mediocre of visualisations.
The variant cover art of "AGE OF ULTRON VS. MARVEL ZOMBIES" No. 3 by Francesco Francavilla

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

The Amazing Spider-Man [2015] #2 - Marvel Comics

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN No. 2, December 2015
Whilst there is undoubtedly little in common between Dan Slott’s “head of Parker Industries” and the shy bespectacled student created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko over fifty years ago, Issue Two of “the All-New, All Different” “Amazing Spider-Man” does at least still contain a good deal of the wise-cracking humour which made the super-hero so markedly different and popular in his early days. In fact the Berkeley-born writer’s narrative for “Water Proof” doubtless reminded many of its 111,322 readers of the slapstick double act Webhead used to enjoy within the covers of the “Marvel Comics Group” Seventies series “Marvel Team-Up”, by having the man with his “name on… forty-seven buildings” join forces with the Prowler and infiltrate a Zodiac secret base “miles below” the middle of the ocean.

Such similarities don’t just end with Peter and Hobie Brown’s alter-egos exchanging multiple witticisms either, as despite the American author’s controversial “giant, evil master plan” ensuring the former news photographer has finally “capitalized on all of that limitless potential and taken his life -- and his heroic crusade as Spider-Man -- to heretofore unknown levels”, the “state-of-the-art” technology that this storyline employs in order to allow the wall-crawler to succeed, such as a sophisticated Spider-submersible, is arguably nothing that Roy Thomas wouldn’t have invented S.H.I.E.L.D. lending the super-hero during the Bronze Age of Comics. Indeed the Diamond Gem Award-winner actually has the titular protagonist working in unison with the “espionage, law-enforcement and counter-terrorism agency” during the adventure so “every Zodiac Base around the world” can finally be identified.

This twenty-page periodical additionally doesn’t lack in action either with both “Spider-Man and some guy” taking out a handful of Pisces-masked minions, along with “Fish-face”, courtesy of some well-aimed web-shots, punches and raking claw attacks. Interestingly however the pitched battle does raise a curious conundrum for a Wall-crawler who suddenly appears to have “put too much faith in Parker’s tech”. Boasting that he no longer needs to dodge his enemies’ gunshots on account of “his amazing spider-armour! Pew! Pew! Pew!”, the acrobatic protagonist worryingly seems to allow himself to be hit by gunfire simply to show off his ‘new costume’; something which ultimately allows Aquarius to stop him in his tracks and send the webware files “to every Zodiac Base around the globe.” Of course as Nick Fury states later “Parker’s fumble” does provide S.H.I.E.L.D. with the opportunity to “finally take the fight to them.” So it’s unclear just how much of Peter’s showboating was na├»ve bravado and/or cunning antics…

Giuseppe Camuncoli’s terrific artwork also makes this pulse-pounding publication a definite treat for the eyes, thanks in large to some wonderfully crisp yet intricately detailed renderings of Spidey and the Prowler. The Italian illustrator’s marvellously atmospheric drawings of (marine) life beneath the waves also help enormously to convey a sense of claustrophobia to Slott’s proceedings. Something which is especially noticeable once Aquarius floods the underwater base and water begins swiftly filling the secret location’s corridors.
The regular cover art of "THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN" No. 2 by Alex Ross

Monday, 14 March 2016

Injection #6 - Image Comics

INJECTION No. 6, January 2016
“The next chapter in the series”, Issue Six of “Injection” exclusively focuses upon Vivek Headland, one of the “five actual geniuses… [who] created an alien artificial intelligence in order to make the 21st Century better and stranger” and undoubtedly unsettled it’s 13,153 strong audience in January 2016 with its disconcerting depiction of “a case involving money, ghosts, sex and the correct kitchen preparation of human meat.” Indeed despite positively believing that “any reader could come in at” this particular edition “and come away with an ‘issue one’-like reading experience”, Warren Ellis seems to have been equally as determined to make this twenty-page periodical’s narrative as disquieting as possible by starting it with the Anglo-Indian consulting detective undergoing an eccentric morning routine of having his tea in an antechamber walled with nothing but television screens displaying world news.

Having established that the New York-based private investigator is idiosyncratic in his daily habits, as well as utterly “bored”, the graphic novelist then provides an equally alarming insight into the background of the rich man’s butler, Red. This rather hard-nosed ex-mercenary, who rather rudely gesticulates at his well-spoken employer behind closed doors just because he’d threatened to blow the servant up if he got the contents of a sandwich wrong, was supposedly rescued from a former affiliation intent upon murdering him “just for staying alive this long after the failure of your client’s business” and strangely seems to feature quite prominently on account of being the ‘gag man’ of the script.

Household staff expositions aside the majority of this comic book’s storyline is actually taken up with Headland’s initial interview of his latest client, wealthy investor John Van Der Zee, and then an unnerving investigation into how someone from a local eatery managed to send Vivek “a sliced human bicep” which formerly belonged to the son of the “giant of corporate finance.” This sudden and ghoulish plot-twist is made all the more disagreeably unpalatable by the protagonist’s nonchalant admission to his cook that he immediately recognised the taste of the ham in his sandwich on account of already “know[ing] what human meat tastes like.”; “A full education is crucial to a complete life, Chef.”

Quite delightfully Declan Shalvey’s artwork for this cannibalistic chronicle proves just as captivating as Ellis’ writing, for the Irish illustrator not only depicts the recipient of “the criminal food order” as an authoritative Sherlock Holmes lookalike. But populates some of his well-rendered, oft-times detailed panels, with surreal touches such as having Headland walking through a plan of the investigator’s own home in order to help orientate the reader or depicting all the world's tiny details which Vivek notices via a series of small-framed negative images.
The regular cover art of "INJECTION" No. 6 by Declan Shalvey

Sunday, 13 March 2016

The Walking Dead #132 - Image Comics

THE WALKING DEAD No. 132, October 2014
Initially it is easy to believe that the vast majority of this comic’s 326,334 readers entirely agreed with young Carl when Rick’s son declares, within the first dozen or so panels of “Happiness”, that “this is boring.” For not only does the cover to Issue One Hundred and Thirty Two of “The Walking Dead” consist of a rather uninspiring, lack-lustre portrait of Maggie Greene holding her child Hershel. But Robert Kirkman’s mind-numbing narrative simply spends the opening quarter of the book concentrating upon Grimes and the leader of the Hilltop Colony admiringly just “watching the sunset”…

However for those comic collectors who stuck with the Kentucky-born writer’s storyline, and incidentally helped make this edition by far the best-selling title of October 2014, the twenty-two page periodical’s script suddenly becomes a whole lot more exciting as Dante and the small search party out looking for an abandoned Ken, decide to fight their way out of a barn surrounded by shockingly judicious zombies. Such an explosive pulse-pounding change in pace, as unexpected as it is grisly, genuinely grabs the attention and those 250,000 subscribers to “the online pop culture sales club Loot Crate” who received a copy of this magazine as part of their subscription must certainly have given a sigh of relief that their monthly delivery contained at least one entertaining item...

Indeed the lengthy all-action fight sequence, as the three guards “get in formation”, “stop complaining and start hacking” at their shuffling opposition, becomes increasingly tense as the roamers’ intelligence disconcertingly increases as their numbers dwindle and the putrefying ghouls suddenly start talking to one another. This terrifyingly disturbing plot twist is then made all the more enthralling by Kirkman additionally bestowing upon the walkers the ability to attack Dante’s group with knives and hack them to death; “We can kill.”

After the disappointment of his front page illustration, and frankly an early double splash pointlessly portraying Rick and Maggie looking out across the sedentary settlement they fought to keep alive, penciller Charlie Adlard really brings his best game to the rest of this publication. In fact the British artist’s dynamically-charged drawings of Greene’s ‘right-hand man’ sword-fighting with a fully lucid and reasoning living corpse makes for incredible viewing, and really conveys the sense of adrenalin-lead fright the ‘human’ combatant must have had during his unnerving ordeal.
Writer: Robert Kirkman, Penciller: Charlie Adlard, and Inker: Stefano Gaudiano