Saturday, 30 April 2016

Marvel Two-In-One #31 - Marvel Comics

MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE No. 31, September 1977
It is genuinely hard to reconcile the fact that Issue Thirty One of “Marvel Two-In-One” was penned by the same man who would later go on to spearhead “DC Comics” Eighties revival of “The New Teen Titans” with George Perez. For whilst Marv Wolfman’s seventeen-page long narrative occasionally proves an entertaining experience, such as when the Thing battles a couple of impressively drawn HYDRA-Foils in the Thames and makes them “go boom”, the vast majority of it contains so many ludicrous plot devices that it is little wonder the former “Marvel Comics Group” Editor-in-Chief purportedly described this ‘Spider-Woman’ story-arc as “poor” and “hideous” in “a late 1978 interview”.

To begin with “My Sweetheart.. My Killer!” features an almost schizophrenic Benjamin Grimm, whose cover illustration depicting him with five toes on one foot and four on the other is genuinely the least of the human mutate’s problems, as he desperately searches the depths of the River Thames for “the Spider-broad… ‘cause only she knows where [the abducted] Alicia is.” Grief-stricken, distraught at the prospect of “my gal” being dead, and threatening to “re-arrange yer face… [as] my Alicia’s too important ta me ta not take off the kid gloves” Bashful Benjy then incomprehensibly lets his foe go simply because the hypnotised HYDRA agent explains “the explosion must have cleared my mind”, yet made her memories as to where she took Masters “vague in my mind.”; “Awright, Lady, gimme yer hand… an’ let’s go sit down fer awhile. Mebbe, if ya rest up a bit, you’ll start rememberin’.” 

Such a total change of heart for the series’ main protagonist is as convincing as HYDRA selecting a blind sculptress to be the first of the terrorist organisation’s “invincible warriors”, especially when the Inkpot Award-winner describes the Thing as being “mad, perhaps madder than he has ever been before in his life.” Little wonder Ron Wilson subsequently pencils the rock-skinned powerhouse rather disconcertingly gnawing some metal tubing apart with his bare teeth…

Equally as poorly conceived is Wolfman’s revelation that the middle-aged heavily-moustached criminal Chauncy is in reality a Dutch “specially trained” Nazi agent who during the war buried a treasure worth “untold millions” somewhere in the House of Commons. Admittedly it’s not too hard to believe that a German spy may well return to the location of his wealth after the political institution had been rebuilt, and subsequently become confused as to precisely where he concealed his fortune. But just why would Heinrich Buerer create a map by carefully etching “the exact location of the treasure on” five pieces of “valuable merchandise” so he would decades later have to locate all of the “separated” artefacts first? 
Writer/Editor: Marv Wolfman, Pencils: Ron Wilson, and Inks: Irv Watanabe

Friday, 29 April 2016

The October Faction #4 - IDW Publishing

THE OCTOBER FACTION No. 4, January 2015
Whilst this particular twenty-page periodical still contains plenty of “werewolves, robots and dead men, Oh my!” it does so by having its narrative focus far more upon dialogue-driven exposition than action. In fact, besides having Frederick forcefully “wham” Merle Cope’s head with a shovel when Vivian spots the fiend isn’t quite dead and Robot Face punching out Lucas’ passenger car door when he hears his “Dad worked with the man who stole you and hurt you”, very little of note actually takes place within this “ongoing comic for some time.”

Fortunately for its 6,044 strong audience however, Steve Niles’ storyline still manages to retain its enthrallingly macabre atmosphere through the use of plenty of black humour, such as the Allan children’s wide-eyed horror at the realisation that they must secretly bury a corpse in the middle of the night, and another pistol-pulverising flashback to the elderly Monster Hunter’s yesteryear when he killed Dante’s maniacal father. “The master of comic book horror” even manages to throw in a disconcertingly grisly cliff-hanger by having Cope claw his way to the surface and walk amongst the woodland (with his rotund sister) as one of the living dead; “Well, come the hell on. I ain’t got all stinkin’ night!”

Issue Four of “The October Faction” is additionally noteworthy for co-creator Damien Worm’s colourful breakdowns. Described as having “the surreal style of Ben Templesmith” the Spanish painter’s decision to shade the bloody scenes set within Frederick’s home with a wonderfully warm palette of deeply rich reds, really helps emphasise the fact that a brutal murder has taken place there, as well as the fact that Vivian and Geoff’s hearts are clearly pounding having witnessed the head of their household callously, and without warning, shoot a visitor dead right in front of their adolescent eyes.

The artist is similarly as effective when depicting Lucas’ seemingly genuine attempt to befriend Robot Face after the pair’s previous altercation. Indeed, despite the older man desperately trying to show the mechanically-disfigured “kid” some kindness by feeding him cheeseburgers after he discovers the teenager hasn’t “eaten in years”, the coldl blue hues chosen for the scene set within the lycanthrope’s automobile really helps exaggerate the aura of isolation surrounding Dante. Little wonder Niles enjoys working with Worm when he “can just let the pictures tell the story.”
The variant cover art of "THE OCTOBER FACTION" No. 4 by Damien Worm

Thursday, 28 April 2016

The Amazing Spider-Man [2015] #5 - Marvel Comics

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN No. 5, February 2016
As Dan Slott has previously said himself “it used to be in the old days that if Peter was having an adventure, he would [simply] web his camera to a wall, take pictures of his fights, and then sell them." In Issue Five of “The Amazing Spider-Man” however, the Diamond Gem Award-winner somewhat disconcertingly has his incarnation of Uncle Ben’s nephew using a Quinjet to deduce that Zodiac’s hacking of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s defences is “just a decoy in order to gain access to your satellite scans”, imperiously co-ordinate a plan of attack which brings every Parker Industries surveillance asset "into play", and incredulously tell the likes of Nick Fury, Mockingbird, the Prowler, the Human Torch and Phil Coulson what to do when the international terrorist group strikes; “Huh. Whaddaya know. Peter Parker in charge. Amazing.”

So authoritarian and “cutting-edge” a wall-crawling crime-fighter must undoubtedly have caught many of this twenty-page periodical’s 79,122 strong audience somewhat off-guard. But fortunately by the time the Berkeley-born writer (and collaborator Christos Gage) has Scorpio initiate an all-out attack upon the British Museum halfway through “Set In Stone” and the former Daily Bugle photographer has activated his state-of-the-art suit, Spidey is once again the smart-mouthed wise-cracking superhero which has become the “flagship character” of “Marvel Worldwide” and the publisher’s “mascot.”

Indeed apart from the Human mutate’s annoyingly crass offer to “pay for any damages… and a new wing” when the institution’s curators plead for their exhibits not to be broken during the melee, Slott’s storyline momentarily resembles something similar to a Roy Thomas “Marvel Team-Up” tale from the Bronze Age of Comics… At least until Steve Ditko’s co-creation suddenly achieves a “nice win” by safely ‘zapping’ all six of the Zodiac Sect leaders with his antitoxin in a single splash panel which defies belief…

Equally as unsatisfactory as the writing team’s characterisation of Spider-Man, is some of this title’s artwork by regular contributor Giuseppe Camuncoli. The vast majority of the Italian’s breakdowns are first-rate, especially the action sequences set within Sir Robert Smirke's famous institution for Antiquities. But every now and then, most notably during Parker’s dismissal of Sajani and sketching of “the new head of the London Facility” Anna Maria, his pencilling appears a little rushed and angularly wooden.
Writer: Dan Slott & Christos Gage, and Penciler: Giuseppe Camuncoli

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Howling Commandos Of S.H.I.E.L.D. #4 - Marvel Comics

As “the lowest selling Marvel All-New All-Different book of December [2015]” it’s hard not to let hindsight read too much into the somewhat choppy script for Issue Four of “Howling Commandos of S.H.I.E.L.D.”, as Frank J. Barbiere’s narrative rather abruptly not only brings ‘sparring partners’ “Dum Dum” Duggan and Warwolf together as friends. But also has Director Maria Hill supplant Paul Kraye as leader of her agency’s Threat Analysis for Known Extranormalities after the doctor “went crazy” and started “torturing our new recruit” Nadeen Hassan.; “Dammit, I knew I should’ve fired that weasel!”

Such an incredible turnaround of events, especially ones which up until this edition the American author appeared to be very slowly building up to, invariably leads to the supposition that the former English teacher both knew that “Marvel Worldwide” was already going to cancel the short-lived series before he finished writing this comic’s storyline and realised he was going to have to resolve all of his subplots concerning S.T.A.K.E.’s secret projects within the space of just a couple of twenty-page periodicals.

If this was the case then such a convoluted combination of ideas genuinely appears to have taken its toll upon the quality of Barbiere’s penmanship and his contrived handling of characters such as Orrgo, who has apparently been surreptitiously “transferred out of base” and Captain Martin Reyna; whose willingness to readily side with “Dum Dum” against his tech division superior occurs far too quickly considering his previous hostility towards the Life-Model Decoy, and the additional fact that in doing so the mechanically-armed agent declines a promotion to team “commander”. Certainly Nadeen’s inexplicably abrupt transformation into a fully-fledged bandage-wearing ghost-manipulator, complete with mummified face, seems terrifically artificial considering the prisoner’s entire makeover occurs within the space of a single panel?

Brent Schoonover’s illustrations for this ‘gestalt of ideas’ are also somewhat inconsistent in places. “Hailing from the epicentre of culture known as South Beloit” the artist can undoubtedly draw an impressively mean-looking Duggan, who despite occasionally appearing a little too much like one of James Cameron’s Terminators when battle-damaged, visually dominates every panel within which he appears. Disappointingly however the same cannot be said for Kraye, Hassan and the numerous poorly-depicted armoured S.H.I.E.L.D. agents who populate the rest of this comic's breakdowns.
Writer: Frank J. Barbiere, Art: Brent Schoonover, and Color Art: Nick Filardi

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Dark Knight III: The Master Race #2 - DC Comics

Containing one of the most touchingly haunting Bruce Wayne death scenes imaginable, as well as an incredibly dramatic return of the Batmobile, Issue Two of “Dark Knight III: The Master Race” must surely have delighted its 158,188 strong audience, including the lucky 125 “dedicated” Frank Miller fans “(all chosen via lottery) who lined up in the rain outside [Midtown Comics] waiting to meet their heroes and get their Dark Knight III copies signed” in December 2015. Certainly its heavy focus upon Carrie Kelley’s brutal incarceration at the hands of Commissioner Yindel, its insinuation that the titular character died following the injuries he suffered “three years ago” fighting “a toad of a man”, and its shocking emergence of a fully-sized murderous Kryptonian cult from within the miniaturised city of Kandor, can only have reaffirmed the status of the mini-series’ Maryland-born architect as “a lightning rod for controversy”.

Fortunately, not only is this twenty-eight page periodical’s narrative somewhat contentious, it is also extremely well-written by Brian Azzarello, with the Eisner Award-winner’s handling of young Robin’s touching, final bedside goodbye to her “boss”, genuinely proving to be an emotional read. Indeed, the scene would truly have been a fitting end for the Caped Crusader as, semi-delirious, he slips away “taking solace from” the fact his parents died together, if this book’s ending had not made it emphatically clear that the restrained ‘Jane Doe’ had been dishonest in her recollection as to his demise.

Equally as impactive, yet a far more exhilarating experience, is the American author’s action-packed depiction of Kelley’s rescue from a prison transport by the heavily-armoured, formidable-looking ‘Bat-Tank’. This high-octane sequence is somewhat disappointingly short in length. But certainly makes up for its brevity by having Batman’s gigantic tracked vehicle arbitrarily crunch numerous police cars, fire all manner of (non-lethal) ordnance at its pursuers and breathtakingly propel itself across Gotham City’s largest movable bascule bridge.

Something of a minor disappointment however is this publication’s Wonder Woman mini-comic, which whilst amply demonstrating the friction between William Moulton Marston’s Amazonian co-creation and her half-Kryptonian daughter, does so by populating the entire miniscule magazine with a somewhat tiresome ‘mock’ fight scene; something that perhaps a simple panel depicting a defiant obstinate-faced Lara would surely have sufficed in doing..?
Story: Frank Miller & Brian Azzarello, Pencils: Andy Kubert, and Inks: Klaus Janson

Monday, 25 April 2016

Amazing X-Men #7 - Marvel Comics

AMAZING X-MEN No. 7, July 2014
Penned by former “Journey Into Mystery” author Kathryn Immonen, and based upon the ensemble from the 1981 American animated television series “Spider-Man And His Amazing Friends”, this “special one-shot story” must surely have made the vast majority of this title’s slowly dwindling 42,512 strong audience wish Senior Editor Nick Lowe had never conceived of the idea of reuniting Firestar, Iceman and Peter Parker’s alter-ego. For whilst the Canadian writer’s enthusiasm for the “really great trio” is slightly infectious, her desire to have the narrative encapsulate the “hijinks” of the “Marvel Productions” cartoon show makes “No Goats, No Glory” a truly painful reading experience, and one which had at least one fan “thinking about dropping the series” due to it being “a mess.”

Foremost of this twenty-page periodical’s biggest disappointments has to be its over reliance upon ‘slapstick’ humour to unsuccessfully mask the shameful paucity of its plot. Whether it be Bobby Drake having to buy ice from a store on account of nobody wanting to put cubes taken from his upper body in their drinks, an alien baby crying acid, burping flames and filling his “space diaper” with explosive excrement, or aliens abducting a goat because they thought the match day mascot was “an important Earthling”, none of the jokes really work, and instead just exacerbate an increasing sense of frustration with the non-existent storyline. Indeed at times it’s incomprehensible to believe that Spider-Man wouldn’t simply web the interfering two X-Men up and then just swing off to exchange the infant for the goat ‘less than an hour before kick-off!’

Equally as cringeworthy as Immonen’s ham-fisted attempts at comedy however has to her inclusion of Logan towards the conclusion of this farce. Just why Firestorm doesn’t order the super-group’s food supplies “online” is never explained, especially when they’d apparently be entitled to “a discount ‘cause you work at some kinda school”. Nor is just how the extra-terrestrial child suddenly appears buried amongst the goods in her trolley… But the fact that Wolverine is apparently the only person able to lend them a car is nonsensical, as is Weapon X being ‘blown up’ by more alien poo which has somehow miraculously found its way into the boot of his vehicle?   

So poor a script is particularly disheartening when it is accompanied by the outstanding breakdowns of Paco Medina. In fact Angelica Jones, Iceman and Spider-Man have rarely looked better, with the “artist from Mexico City” proving especially good at dynamically pencilling the heroes whilst ‘in flight' with lots of fantastically complicated web-lines and impressive-looking ice-slides.
Writer: Kathryn Immonen, Penciler: Paco Medina and Inker: Juan Vlasco

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Age Of Reptiles: Ancient Egyptians #3 - Dark Horse Comics

Graphically brutal and undoubtedly not for the squeamish, Ricardo Delgado immediately imbues “this exciting new [third] instalment of the multiple Eisner Award-winning series” with an aura of grisliness by depicting the harrowing mutilation of a Carcharodontosaurus foolish enough to blunder into a herd of Paralititan with the corpse of the sauropods’ long-dead infant still lifelessly dangling from the carnivore’s maw. Surrounded, and arguably ambushed, the solitary dinosaur quickly finds itself easy pickings for the agitated gigantic herbivores, and despite its name meaning ‘shark toothed lizard’ is quickly upended and then grimly crushed by an avalanche of phenomenally heavy Titanosaurian hooves.

Such outright savagery is easy to comprehend, and even sympathise with, considering the ‘grief-stricken’ parents’ feelings for the arrogant killer of their younglings. But hauntingly the “kid from the East San Fernando Valley” has an even more gruesomely gory fate in mind for the defenceless theropod, as its quivering, partially disintegrated large frame is methodically picked to pieces by the smaller predators of this deadly realm whilst it’s still actually alive…

Interestingly, having established such a violent tone to this twenty-four page periodical’s narrative, and later reaffirmed the harshness of his Prehistoric world by having a pack of Rugops Primus molest a nursling Carcharodontosaurus, Delgado does somehow also manage to incorporate a little ‘loving’ tenderness into the comic’s storyline courtesy of a disconcertingly affectionate male Spinosaurus placing some carrion beside his mate's muzzle. This scene is so delicately delivered that there momentarily seems to be some genuine feeling developing between the two huge flesh-eaters; a mutual appreciation which is reiterated at the end of the book when the Spine Lizard fends off a voracious pack of Primordial crocodiles attacking his docile partner’s nest.

Notably the Los Angeles-born artist doesn’t just lavish the entirety of his considerable drawing talents upon just depictions of dinosaurs violently tearing one another apart either. For Issue Three of “Age Of Reptiles: Ancient Egyptians” is absolutely packed full of some incredibly detailed panels which not only portray everyday life within the Cretaceous period, such as fish swimming through murky, heavily-weeded waters and lightning strikes bringing down both flora and fauna simultaneously. But also focusses upon tiny confrontations between Crustaceans and Pteranodons, as well as the comic’s cast running in between the illustrator’s actual breakdowns.
Story, Art and Dinosaur Color Concepts: Ricardo Delgado, and Colors: Ryan Hill

Saturday, 23 April 2016

The October Faction #3 - IDW Publishing

THE OCTOBER FACTION No. 3, December 2014
Despite the fact Steve Niles’ narrative for “Issue Three of “The October Faction” initially starts off slowly by focusing upon Geoff taking his first hesitant steps towards developing a friendship with Phil the Jock, this twenty-page periodical’s storyline soon starts to produce plenty of sinister shenanigans and spine-chilling skirmishes. Indeed even a scene as sentimentally sedentary as Frederick’s bedside vigil for his badly battered wife somehow manages to become something of a grisly gore-fest as the elderly monster-hunter’s ‘rose-tinted’ recollection of their “great first date” gruesomely features a few gratuitously graphic panels of the couple brazenly blowing the brains out of some flesh-eating zombies. “Brakka! Brakka! Brakka!”

Such a pervading sense of the macabre within this title’s writing has already seen the New Jersey-born novelist being hailed as “the King of Horror in our comic book world” by the likes of “Kick-Ass” co-creator Mark Millar, and the American author seemingly lives up to such a prestigious accolade once Miss Vivian rather foolishly decides to “walk home” alone during an eerily forlorn night and is consequently stalked by the sinister-looking Robot Face. It’s certainly hard to believe that the hearts of many of this publication’s 6,445 strong audience didn’t start beating faster when the Frankenstein-like automaton confronted the isolated Gothic adolescent and menacingly mouths “Your father… Killed my father.”

Fortunately Niles seems just as adept at penning action as he is creating an aura of foreboding mystery, and the subsequent fist-fight between the red-eyed, hoody-wearing Dante and the Lycanthrope Lucas is as engrossing as the brawl’s numerous punches look powerfully painful… Although even this wonderfully ‘over-the-top’ contest between two supernatural ‘heavyweights’ surprisingly pales in comparison to the utter shock experienced when Frederick encounters Merle Cope in the Allan Household living room and casually shoots him dead for having beaten up Deloris.

Ultimately however the success of this “perfect book to start the Fall” arguably rests upon the shoulders of Damien Worm and his “healthy serving of muddy hues, expressive inking and horrifying ghouls.” The hauntingly blue visuals created by the digital artist during Vivian’s ill-advised night-time jaunt through the local park induce a genuine atmosphere of claustrophobia. Whilst his decision to use grey tones for Frederick’s fearsome flashback immediately draws the eye to the illustrations’ crimson balloons, zombie clown nose and scarlet splattered brains.
Writer: Steve Niles, Illustrator: Damien Worm, and Letterer: Shawn Lee

Friday, 22 April 2016

Howling Commandos Of S.H.I.E.L.D. #3 - Marvel Comics

HOWLING COMMANDOS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. No. 3, February 2016
Argued to be “by far the best book being published right now” by at least one of its 18,002 strong audience in December 2015, Issue Three of “Howling Commandos Of S.H.I.E.L.D." certainly contains the sort of storyline that illustrates just how much of a “blast” Frank J. Barbiere was having whilst “telling the story of our motley band of monsters.” Indeed right from the ‘get-go’, as an exasperated “Dum Dum” Duggan hurls a zombified Jasper Sitwell out a low-flying aeroplane in an effort to try and reawaken the former agent’s consciousness, it’s clear that “job number one” for the New Jersey-born writer was to pen a narrative which would “make our readers smile.”; “Sigh. C’mon soldier. You’ve gotta be in that bag of bones somewhere… Just don’t forget to pull your ‘chute!”

Admittedly, not everything within this twenty-page periodical appears to have been scripted by the Rutgers University graduate purely to induce a (cheap) laugh. Nadeen Hassan’s angry angst at suddenly manifesting both “ghost powers” and “super-strength”, coupled with her subsequent incarceration by the “special division for Supernatural Threat Analysis for Known Extranormalities” on account of being “some kind of a monster”, proves to be serious emotional stuff. Whilst Navid’s heartless manipulation of his sister as a ‘weapon’ to be used in the service of the Sphinx is as clinically callous and it is effective in momentarily distracting Doctor Kraye, Teen Abomination, Orrgo and Vampire By Night from the deadly plight of their fellow Howling Commandos at the Museum of Egyptian Culture in San Francisco.

Overall however, the former English teacher has definitely produced a quite delightfully humorous “monster team book” and it is hard to imagine that many “Howlers” didn’t at least grin as Duggan’s “creepy pet zombie” Sitwell, much to Warwolf’s evident exasperation, crash-lands on top of a tree from free fall, or smirk when the “overgrown pile of dinosaur skin" called Orrgo ineffectively flails his gigantic arms at some Egyptian apparitions breaching the S.T.A.K.E. bunker whilst informing them that “Orrgo does not believe in ghosts! They defy all logic!”

Somewhat disappointing though, considering the promise shown by this comic book’s enticing cover illustration of a battered, clearly robotic “Dum Dum” leading his “rag-tag group of monsters” in the defence of a Museum of Antiquities, is Brent Schoonover’s drawing. The Minnesota-based artist’s breakdowns for this amalgamation of “horror, comedy and adventure” aren’t terribly consistent at all, with his pencilling for the Hassan twins proving especially erratic and crudely drawn.
Writer: Frank J. Barbiere, Art: Brent Schoonover, and Color Art: Nick Filardi

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Firestorm #3 - DC Comics

FIRESTORM No. 3, June 1978
Featuring the origin of the Nuclear Man’s long-running adversary Killer Frost, Issue Three of “Firestorm” somewhat disconcertingly begins by depicting its titular character aggressively harassing “worm” Clifford Carmichael simply because of all the problems the bespectacled “smart mouth” has caused the atomic-powered teenager’s alter-ego at High School. Such unheroic behaviour, exacerbated by Ronnie Raymond’s selfish disregard for Professor Stein’s urgent appointment at Long Island Military Airbase, initially makes it hard to like Gerry Conway’s co-creation, or appreciate the supposed “sense of fun” with which the Brooklyn-born writer was apparently trying to inject into this title after “his years [of frustration] writing Spider-Man” for “Marvel Comics Group”.

Mercifully though, once the “Nobel Prize winning physicist” arrives at project Mohole One in the Artic after a “ten hour trip”, this seventeen-page periodical’s narrative finally starts to settle down and seriously tell the somewhat tragic tale of Doctor Crystal Frost; one of Stein’s former students from Hudson University who has fallen in love with her professor after mistakenly misinterpreting his motives as him “secretly” adoring her. Admittedly the woman’s ‘psychotic’ passion for her Engineering Physics lecturer does appear to be somewhat unconvincingly contrived, especially considering the age difference between the two scientists, as well as the fact that “the Ice Maiden” has supposedly harboured her intense feelings for such a prolonged period of time. But even these manufactured motivations are as nothing compared to her transformation into the villainous cold manipulator, courtesy of the scholar inadvertently trapping herself inside a 'Thermofrost Unit' for two hours simply because no-one thought to build an emergency release for its self-locking door...

Killer Frost’s creation does however seem to help stimulate Conway’s storyline and what follows is arguably one of the Edgar Allan Poe Award-nominee’s better scripts concerning a ‘comic book conflict’ during his ten-year tenure exclusively writing for “DC Comics”. Indeed Firestorm’s battle with Martin’s “scorned lover” depicts a genuinely classic Bronze Age confrontation as the dual identity super-hero soon realises he won’t beat his icy adversary just by ‘zapping her’ with his “heat blasts”, and must instead outwit the chilly murderess into once again becoming imprisoned within the project’s super-large freezer; “This leads us to one conclusion, Ronald! Killer Frost needs warmth -- She thrives on it, lives for it! Without it -- she should be helpless!”

“Kiss Not The Lips Of Killer Frost” additionally proves to be a rather enticing read as a result of Al Milgrom’s efficiently detailed pencilling, and dynamically charged action shots. It is also nice to see the Michigan-born artist giving both Professor Stein and his “dormant persona” plenty of ‘screen time’ within his breakdowns as opposed to them predominantly focussing upon the Nuclear Man’s younger, more athletic persona.
Creator/Writer: Gerry Conway, and Co-Creater/Artist: Al Milgrom

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

James Bond #3 - Dynamite Entertainment

JAMES BOND No. 3, January 2016
It is hard to understand just why such a phenomenally action-packed comic book as Issue Three of “James Bond” saw its distribution fall by approximately four thousand copies in January 2016. For whilst the initial marketing advertisement for this edition by “Dynamite Entertainment” doesn’t sound like one of the spy’s most most-thrilling adventures, on account of its declaration that “Bond is on his way to [simply] break up a small, agile drug-trafficking operation in Berlin.” The twenty-two page periodical, with its a significant body count, grisly blood-splattering head-shots and gratuitously rendered cold-blooded killings, soon depicts a British Secret Serviceman considerably “bigger, scarier and much more lethal” than arguably anything shown on the modern-day silver screen.

Indeed the vast majority of “Vargr” does little to actually advance the ongoing saga’s “debut chapter” concerning a London-based flesh-eating biological contamination at all, and instead solely concentrates on just how deadly and utterly ruthless “industry legend” Warren Ellis’ incarnation of the titular character is by having him single-handedly take on a heavily-armed gang of “people [who] saw other people’s heads off for fun.” Admittedly the intelligence officer, realising he’s walked into a trap and is badly outgunned, does initially attempt to make a hasty retreat through the rear door of the warehouse he’s unwisely entered. But when that is blocked by two bulky members of Al-Zein, Bond simply riddles the closest of his targets with a hail of bullets and then almost nonchalantly head-taps the other.

Unsurprisingly such a startlingly loud announcement as to his presence within their hideout soon has James being chased through the factory floor by more of the Lebanese-German crime clan… And for the next third of the magazine it is genuinely doubtful whether many readers even managed to take a breath as the well-groomed Englishman dives amongst stacked shelving units and ducks automatic weapons fire.

Undoubtedly this comic’s biggest attraction though is Jason Master’s wonderful ability to imbue the Royal Naval Reserve Commander with plenty of grim-faced dynamism throughout so frantically-paced a sequence. The South African artist’s pencilling for the more mundane scenes is still somewhat suspect and wooden. Yet as soon as the secret agent realises he’s been “sent to the wrong party by Felix’ friend” the former Ad Agency Art Designer’s sketching takes on a vibrant life of its own, such as his imaginative, clinically illustrated ‘x-ray’ of Bond’s bullet tearing through the throat of one of the drug-runners.
The variant cover art of "JAMES BOND" No. 3 by Gabriel Hardman

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Skull The Slayer #7 - Marvel Comics

SKULL THE SLAYER No. 7, September 1976
Featuring a ferociously fearsome Stegosaurus, numerous bloodthirsty native savages, the power-mad machinations of a Jaguar-skin wearing Inca King and even a pair of viciously hungry prehistoric Pteranodons, there is little to suggest that Issue Seven of “Skull The Slayer” is a Bronze Age publication on the very cusp of being cancelled; even if the seventeen-page periodical does contain the somewhat ominous announcement inside Stan’s Soapbox that the comic book’s creator and champion “Marvel-ous Marv Wolfman” is “swapping our editor’s chair for a full-time writing schedule here at the bullpen.”

Admittedly Bill Mantlo does interrupt his captivating “Bury My heart In The City Gold” storyline mid-way through the action with twenty-five seemingly superfluous, tiresome panels depicting Freddy Lancer’s selfish scheme to ‘settle a score’ with the titular character, whilst rescuing Senator “Stoneface” turner’s son in the process. But the dreary dialogue-heavy scene set “two or so million millennia later than then” is soon over, as the Brooklyn-born author continues to ‘change the direction’ of this magazine from that of his “out of touch” predecessor, Steve “one-and-only shot at scripting Skull” Englehart, and “get Scully back up against those lizards of his.”

Indeed the Eagle Award-winner’s “unique sci-fi fantasy” narrative proves a far cry from being just “another line of inferior material” as some readers feared and even provides the super-hero’s supporting cast, Raymond Corey, Ann Reynolds and young Jeff, the opportunity to fend for themselves within a sub-plot featuring a heavily-netted fauna-filled pit, flying reptiles and a long-dead soldier’s grenade belt. Buoyed by such an incredibly compelling script, is it little wonder that the creative team (over)confidently declared that the magazine “may even reach issue two hundred” in its letters page “Skullduggery”?

This edition makes it equally as clear that Sal Buscema “was as thrilled at a return to the original concept of Skull as” Mantlo was. For whether the New Yorker’s breakdowns, coupled with Sonny Trinidad’s embellishments, are simply depicting an irate senator, fuming monarch of a lost civilisation or decidedly determined doctor’s secretary, every single one of the New Yorker's numerous panels are crammed full of dynamic energy;  “I sure hope I’m doing this right because it’s a good bet I’m not going to get a second chance!”
Writer: Bill Mantlo, and Artists: Sal Buscema & S. Trinidad

Monday, 18 April 2016

Daredevil [2016] #2 - Marvel Comics

DAREDEVIL No. 2, February 2016
Whilst Charles Soule’s version of the titular character in Issue Two of “Daredevil” is undoubtedly one which this comic’s 49,758 strong audience could ‘really sink their teeth into’, the Brooklyn-born writer’s narrative disappointingly doesn’t actually allow Matt Murdock’s alter ego to take the centre stage until halfway through the book, and instead starts by having the blind lawyer pontificating about it being his legal team’s “job to stop” the criminal Tenfingers in a tediously long, dialogue-heavy sequence; “People can believe what they want, and they can do what they want with their money. This is America after all.”

Admittedly this supposedly motivational, lengthy diatribe is interspersed by panels depicting the villainous visionary’s henchmen breaking into the Detention Level of the New York State Supreme Court and literally chopping off prosecution witness Billy Li’s digits. But even this rather grisly warning to any disciples considering defecting from the “crimelord turned cult leader” frustratingly occurs off-screen and thus provides little incentive for any casual peruser not to return this twenty-page periodical back upon the newsagent’s ‘spinner rack’.

Fortunately once the Man Without Fear does ‘show up’ and, having had a “bad day at work”,  begin brutally testing the combat abilities of his “great” protégé Samuel Chung with a seemingly razor-sharp oriental throwing spear, the pace to Soule’s script significantly quickens. Indeed within mere moments the grouchy Hornhead suddenly becomes convinced that instead of relying upon his judicial skills as a lawyer, he should be taking the fight to Tenfingers directly and somewhat impulsively follows an angry Blindspot to the very heart of his enemy’s church simply because there’s no point in “being Daredevil if you can’t leap before you look”.

Equally as unconvincing as Murdock’s rash motivation to face his foe in the criminal’s own lair, is arguably artists Ron Garney and Matt Milla’s decidedly unique look for this comic book. There’s little doubt that such a ‘complete change in direction’ as to the way this title was previously pencilled by Chris Samnee, has radically matured the title’s feel, and seemingly brought the costumed crimefighter “back to the gritty, noir-ish tone that defined it for decades”. Yet the Jiu Jitsu instructor’s breakdowns, coupled with the colorist’s predominantly bland choice of greys and browns, are depressingly bland-looking when used to portray the more sedentary aspects of the storyline, and even something of an acquired taste when it comes to depicting its action.
The regular cover art of "DAREDEVIL" No. 2 by Ron Garney & Matt Milla

Sunday, 17 April 2016

The October Faction #2 - IDW Publishing

THE OCTOBER FACTION No. 2, November 2014
It seems highly unlikely that Eric Powell, creator of "The Goon", had this particular edition in mind when he boldly stated that “if you’re looking for mystery and atmosphere of a dark nature, [then] The October Faction is the comic to add to your reading list!” For whilst Steve Niles’ twenty-page long narrative concerning “the Allans of Gristlewood, USA” starts well enough with a Seventies flashback of Frederick and Lucas (the Lycanthrope) confronting a genuinely scary-looking axe-wielding maniac. The Horror novelist’s writing soon becomes rather bogged down amidst some of the more mundane elements of modern-day family life, such as the “retired monster-hunter” having to endure a tediously long-winded argument with his two adolescent children over supper; “You can at least hear him out, Dad. Some parents would be touched their kids want to follow in their footsteps.”

Admittedly this rather tiresome dialogue-heavy sequence is initiated as a result of the white-haired Patriarch being rather dramatically half-throttled to death by an apparition Geoff has kept trapped in an upstairs wardrobe. Yet even this sinisterly surreal scene is seemingly played for laughs as opposed to creating any aura of fear with its “ectoplasmic residue.” Indeed, Frederick’s urgent pleas to “get it off me!” as the ghost wrestles him to the ground, followed by a heavily sarcastic “don’t wait for her to take it! Shove it in her face” when his daughter impotently stands by holding a hand-mirror, are incredibly amusing… And a far cry from the “downright creepy” experience many of this title’s 7,174 readers were probably expecting.

Eventually, towards the end the comic, Niles does rather laboriously try to bring back this publication's promised pervading sense of mystery. But disappointingly, would should presumably have been a nervy, frightening revelation that the estranged Mrs Allan has been inexplicably attacked and hospitalised, instead simply becomes an overly long bed scene where Deloris’ “stressed” husband once again starts momentarily bickering with his offspring about his past, whilst simultaneously threatening the local Sheriff Chambers.

Damien Worm’s ordinarily “gorgeous” artwork also infuriatingly takes a seemingly sudden turn for the worse during Issue Two of “The October Faction”. Initially “lavishly crafted” and full of “dark… seductive tones”, the Spanish painter’s uniquely angular line work appears half-finished and almost amateurish in style by the time Frederick takes his brood “down for dinner.” In fact, by the end of the comic a good deal of the breakdowns depicting its lead character are so poorly rendered that they’re arguably unrecognisable as belonging to the “Monster & Madman” mini-series illustrator.
The variant cover art of "THE OCTOBER FACTION" No. 2 by Damien Worm

Saturday, 16 April 2016

The Amazing Spider-Man [2015] #4 - Marvel Comics

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN No. 4, February 2016
Whilst it is very clear within the narrative for “High Priority” that “Peter Parker has [undeniably] stepped up” and taken his “gumption… to new heights” on account of Dan Slott suddenly transforming the former Daily Bugle photographer into “a globe-spanning entrepreneur”. Similar, rather disconcerting, changes could also be said to have come into being for the Berkeley-born writer’s “All-New All-Different” incarnation of Aunt May as well.

Indeed the frail, elderly “adoptive mother” originally conceived by Stan Lee and subsequently published in August 1962, has been almost unrecognisably replaced in this comic book by a ‘fighting fit’ Nadua charity worker, who seems perfectly at home coordinating the installation of “water pumps and purification systems”, as well as ensuring a deprived African village has the “power to run schools and hospitals.” So much for a supporting cast member whose nephew once feared would actually die of shock “if she ever learned about his dual identity as Spider-Man.” This humanitarian version of the ‘infirm’ pensioner is actually quite capable of outrunning a pumpkin-bombing glider-riding mercenary when the occasion calls for it: “We’re here to help! Oh, My! I Swear!”

Fortunately any of this title’s 82,066 readers perturbed by so noticeable an alteration to May Reilly Parker Jameson’s physical capabilities shouldn’t have dwelt on such a discrepancy for too long though, thanks to this twenty-one page periodical’s incredible action sequences. Admittedly having Spidey (Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.) ‘gunning down’ a host of Green Goblin wannabes with his state-of-the-art web-jet smacks more like something you’d see within an issue of “Moon Knight” than one based upon the exploits of your friendly neighbourhood Web-Slinger. But the Diamond Gem Award-winner soon has the costumed crime-fighter back on foot athletically dodging explosions and automatic weapons fire (despite there being “no buildings to swing from and no cover”) once the super-hero's hi-tech ride is brought crashing down to earth.

Equally as pulse-pounding as Slott’s plot is Giuseppe Camuncoli’s excellent artwork. The Italian’s incredible attention to detail during the terrorist attack upon Okiro’s remote settlement, as well S.H.I.E.L.D.’s “co-ordinated strike on enemy bases around the globe”, imbues his panels with some delightful dynamism. Whilst the former "Superior Spider-Man" penciller's well-animated facial expressions for Nick Fury when he learns of the Wall-crawler's  sudden departure and that the Zodiac’s Chilean Base is “just sets and props” genuinely seems to breathe life into the frustrated one-eyed Public Director. 
Writer: Dan Slott, Penciler: Giuseppe Camuncoli, and Inker: Cam Smith

Friday, 15 April 2016

Amazing X-Men #6 - Marvel Comics

AMAZING X-MEN No. 6, June 2014
Whilst this comic book series’ sixth and final contribution by Jason Aaron undeniably contains plenty of action, such as a motorbike chase and an armoured van-jacking, as well as more guest appearances than any of this publication’s 45,095 strong audience could ever have wished for. Its basic plot does unfortunately rather boil down to an uninspiringly simple tale of Kurt Wagner’s mother, Raven, attempting to kill Azazel before her former lover can be successfully transported to Rykers Island penitentiary by S.H.I.E.L.D. Transport Zeta.

So straightforward a storyline was clearly was never going to sustain a twenty-page periodical, nor arguably hold the attention of any casually perusing bibliophile. But the Alabama-born author’s decision to ‘pad’ the narrative out with an X-Man “get together” at Harry’s Hideaway public house was arguably not the solution this comic's creative team was hoping for. Indeed the overly cheerful ‘Welcome Home Nightcrawler’ drinking celebration, which even features a brief cameo by Captain Britain and Meggan, essentially doesn’t come to an end until this publication is almost half-finished. Hardly the most auspicious of starts for an edition dramatically advertised by “Marvel Worldwide” as one which may well see the fuzzy blue elf “returning to the afterlife very soon”; even if partway through the festivities Scott Summers and his Extinction Team do arrive and gate-crash the party.

Fortunately once a momentarily-disguised Mystique learns of Azazel’s secret destination and starts waving a firearm in her son’s face, Aaron’s writing undoubtedly picks up pace, and this “Family Feud” soon has Wagner riding atop his father’s bullet-proof conveyance battling red bamfs whilst simultaneously trying to teleport the vehicle’s hapless S.H.I.E.L.D. operatives to safety. This wonderfully dynamic sequence even allows the Shelby County High School graduate to demonstrate just how devilishly evil the Neyaphem’s leader is by having the red-skinned demonic humanoid mutant allow his “children” to murder a trapped guard before the man could ‘mercifully’ take his own life…

Perhaps the biggest disappointment to “All In The Family” however has to be Cameron Stewart’s artwork. Admittedly there is nothing actually unpleasant about the Joe Shuster Award-winner’s illustrations themselves. In fact the sense of speed the Canadian imbues his action sequences with is quite simply breath-taking, especially his drawings of Mystique powering her motorbike over an upturned van, her dual pistols firing for all they’re worth. What is frustrating though, is the fact that “Marvel Worldwide” never forewarned its readership of the change from regular artist Ed McGuinness in its marketing, and even has the popular “Superman/Batman” sketcher continue to draw this comic’s cover. As a result it comes as something of a surprise to encounter Stewart’s somewhat ‘rougher’ pencilling style within the book’s interior pages, and therefore takes a little while to appreciatively acclimatise to his work.
Writer: Jason Aaron, Penciler: Cameron Stewart and Colors: Rachelle Rosenberg

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Harrow County #1 - Dark Horse Comics

HARROW COUNTY No. 1, June 2015
If the revoltingly gory cover illustration of this “Dark Horse Comics” publication’s second printing was not enough to convince its 11,759 strong audience in May 2015 that the Cullen Bunn narrative before them was “a series that crawls under your skin and stays there” then the novelist’s opening scene depicting a witch who “had been shot, stabbed, beaten… and finally hanged by the neck” would surely have done so. For whilst this “horror/fairy tale set in 1930’s South Carolina” occasionally touches upon the innocent upbringing of seventeen year-old Emmy on a farm, its tone is frankly “as tender as it is twisted” and rather disturbingly predominantly focuses upon all manner of grisliness and subjects taboo like “blasphemous congress with heinous things out in the woods”, the feeding of babies to “vile companions” and children “participating in strange sermons and baptisms.”

Certainly the Cape Fear-born writer’s determination to imbue his storyline with a sinisterly chilling atmosphere of “ghosts and ghouls lurking in lonely, forgotten, and unwelcoming places” means it is hard to imagine another twenty-six page periodical containing much more biblical blasphemy than Issue One of “Harrow County”. An especially impressive feat considering the American author’s script achieves all this within the space of just a dozen panels; “But even as her flesh burned away from the bone… Hester Beck trembled and hissed.”

Equally as unnerving as his boldly blatant descriptions of unholy suffering and mutilation, is Bunn’s ample ability to additionally permeate the most mundane of Emmy’s daily happenings, such as the birth of two calves in the barn, with a disconcertingly dark and sinister undertone. Indeed even the simple visit of “old man Riah” and his daughter Bernice, something the blonde-haired teenager “always welcomed” is unhappily ‘tainted’ by the suggestion that the girl’s (prejudicial) father doesn’t like them on account of the wagon traders’ brown skin.

Ultimately however this comic book makes such a lasting impression upon the mind as a result of the “simply stunning artwork” by Tyler Crook. Whether it be the dead witch’s curses babbling forth from a burning skull-like face as the flesh literally bubbles and melts away, or the breathing sack of skin groaning at Emmy through “torn lips” from deep within the wood’s thorn bush, “the regular artist on B.P.R.D.” packs his water coloured pictures with a discomfiting abundance of lifelike detail and they are 'as beautiful as they are bloody.'
The regular cover art of "HARROW COUNTY" No. 1 by Tyler Crook

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Injection #8 - Image Comics

INJECTION No. 8, March 2016
It is really hard to imagine that many, if any, of this twenty-page periodical’s 11,855 readers obtained any notable satisfaction from perusing Issue Eight of “Injection”. For whilst Warren Ellis’ storyline does occasionally provide some fleeting moments of deductive ingenuity as the Cross-Cultural Contamination Unit continues its investigation into the bizarre abduction of John Van Der Zee’s ethereal girlfriend. It does so almost begrudgingly and seemingly prefers instead to tediously toy with the concept of a ‘TARDIS-owning’ Brigid Roth potentially being Doctor Who, an unshaven bleary-eyed Robin Morel having drinks with his dead relatives, and, most distasteful of all, Vivek Headland recollecting his various sexual encounters with all manner of partners across over seventeen semi-graphically drawn panels; “So, if anyone asks? You drugged me.”

Just why the Essex-born writer felt his audience would enjoy such a bizarre gestalt of unrelated ideas, particularly those concerning the Logician’s more dubious “human interaction” experiments, instead of continuing with what was once an enthralling enquiry into a missing ghost and the serving of a human-ham sandwich, is not terribly clear? But it seems probable that the British novelist at some point realised that a narrative focusing solely upon the Private Eye’s interrogation of a confused criminal chef “with strong occult tendencies” and subsequent briefing of a New York Police Department officer, wasn’t going to produce material sufficient enough to fill either the magazine, or the graphic novel based upon this story-arc which, somewhat mercenary-like, “Image Comics” actually announced before this comic book series had ever been published.

Sadly however even Ellis’ logic behind just why the nefarious international organisation Rubedo are threatening Headland’s latest client makes little actual sense. Vivek’s hypothesis that the villains “have mistaken an artificial intelligence for an alchemical substance and/or presence that represents ultimate power and enlightenment” genuinely taxes the mind… And it certainly comes as no surprise that Manhattan detective Lucy Branch balks at the ludicrous idea of Van Der Zee somehow making a deal with the Philosopher’s Stone in order for its “virtual facet” to bring “his dead lover back for him.”

Such a mind-numbing plot clearly did little to motivate artist Declan Shalvey either, as the Irishman’s breakdowns for this comic are arguably far from impressive. Admittedly there will be plenty of fans out there who will praise the Eagle Award-winner’s significant use of a child-like bubble-map as innovative story-telling. But that still doesn’t account for the wooden, lifeless figures, such as those pencilled throughout Robin’s drunken stupor sequence, which populate the rest of this book.
The regular cover art of "INJECTION" No. 8 by Declan Shalvey

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Howling Commandos Of S.H.I.E.L.D. #2 - Marvel Comics

HOWLING COMMANDOS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. No. 2, January 2016
Enjoyably similar to an episode of Chris Carter’s Nineties science fiction horror drama television series “The X-Files”, Issue Two of “The Howling Commandos Of S.H.I.E.L.D.” predominantly concentrates upon the exploits of just Commander Duggan, Manphibian and Vampire By Night as they search for a missing commuter train deep within “the tunnels beneath New York City”, rather than the espionage agency’s entire team designed to deal with the “stranger aspects of homeland protection”. Such a focused story-telling technique doubtless frustrated those 20,498 readers anticipating an appearance in "Ghost Train" by Man-Thing, Hit-Monkey or Teen Abomination, but does understandably allow Frank J. Barbiere a bit more space within the storyline with which to develop the lesser known character of Nina Price, as well as the super-strong widowed extra-terrestrial accompanying her.

Indeed a good deal of this twenty-page periodical’s engaging charm stems from its narrative containing some fascinating exposition surrounding Manphibian’s secondary role within the squad as a hi-tech weapons designer, and the female Lycanthrope’s ability to project her mind into others “touched by the supernatural” following “another darkness” transforming the operative into a vampire. These insights, sprinkled throughout the American’s author’s sinister subway infestation by “the spirits of the Ancient Ones!” genuinely helps maintain interest, and even allows for the occasional ‘belly laugh’, such as when the grizzled “Dum Dum” is startled by a surviving train passenger having just fended off an Egyptian apparition attack: “Perhaps after you’re done being scared witless, we can free them?”

Barbiere’s script is equally as strong in advancing matters within the mysterious Area 13, most notably the monstrous agents’ “enigmatic leader” Paul Kraye and his questionable motivation for monitoring the “horrors” in his charge. Just why the ‘good’ Doctor has a bed-ridden comatose Dracula secretly locked up deep within the bowels of S.T.A.K.E. HQ is just one of several intrigues the “writer from Brooklyn” tantalisingly teases his audience with, and, along with Duggan’s “hush-hush” ‘extraction’ of Nadeen Hassan in order to “assess any extranormal threats” the young girl may possess, proves an extraordinarily persuasive hook for any casual bibliophile to keep the title on their Pull List.

Suitably colourful and dynamic, though suspiciously weak when illustrating the more sedentary conversationally-lead panels, Brent Schoonover’s pencilling for this comic book is enticingly eye-catching. Admittedly some of the South Beloit-born artist’s panels depicting Kraye and Captain Reyna talking are somewhat underwhelming, as is his work surrounding Nina’s mental confrontation with Nadeen. But there is no doubt that “the stylin’, profilin’, limousine riding, jet flying, kiss-stealing, wheelin’ n’ dealin’, Midwestern based” freelancer’s drawings of the Ancient Egyptian ghosts battling a gun-toting “Dum Dum” and Manphibian are worth the cover price of this magazine alone.
Writer: Frank J. Barbiere, Art: Brent Schoonover, and Color Art: Nick Filardi