Sunday, 29 May 2016

The Amazing Spider-Man [2015] #7 - Marvel Comics

Defended by Editor “Non-Negative” Nick Lowe for depicting Peter Parker with “classic Iron man trappings, Issue Seven of “The Amazing Spider-Man” contains a Dan Slott narrative which arguably focuses “less [upon] spreadsheets and power point presentations, and more [upon] action and high adventure” as Webhead goes toe-to-toe with the evilly-influenced Cloak & Dagger for almost the entirety of this comic’s second half. In fact many of this book’s 75,357 readers in February 2016 probably felt they were holding an entirely different magazine in their hands once the action centres upon “the bad guy’s drug lab” at the Putuo District’s Sunny Day Cleaning Supply Company, and the Wall-crawler calls in Chief Inspector Sun for some much-needed reinforcements.

Sadly however, in reaching such a dynamically-charged sequence as the titular character battling Bill Mantlo’s human mutates, this twenty-page periodical’s audience must first have endured a seemingly endless carousel of supposedly inter-connecting scenes which in brief allow Aunt May’s nephew to identify Mister Negative’s target, covertly attach a micro spider-tracer onto Tyrone Johnson, further upset Doctor Wu, alienate Lian Tang, observe the domestic life of Harry Osborn and re-introduce the super-powered Regent, who was last seen in this publication’s opening edition. Admittedly most of these tiresomely tedious insights, such as Mister Quinghao publically planting a tree, only last half a dozen panels or so. But others are significantly longer and as a whole make the flow of this comic’s storyline feel extremely choppy and uncoordinated.

Fortunately once Spider-Man does start “quipping in foreign countries” and desperately dodging Tandy Bowen’s darkforce energy blasts, the American author’s writing at least improves as far as this comic’s pacing is concerned. Indeed in some ways his narrow victory over Martin Li’s mind-controlled minions, courtesy of kicking a box load of Shade over Dagger, harks back to the old days when “Peter was a standard bloke with standard gear” and had to rely more upon his quick-wits than technological advancements in order to best his foes.

Disappointingly though, the same cannot be said for Dan Slott’s unconvincing dialogue, which sounds unrealistically forced throughout this book, especially during the heat of battle. It certainly seems odd that anyone would verbalise such a poorly constructed sentence as “The mindless banter. Ugh. Tyrone, tell him”, even if they had been surprised by the appearance of Peter Parker’s alter-ego and never found his repartee “funny. Honestly. None if it.” 
The variant cover art of "THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN" No. 7 by Michael Cho

Friday, 27 May 2016

Doctor Strange [2015] #5 - Marvel Comics

DOCTOR STRANGE No. 5, April 2016
It is evident from his narrative for Issue Five of “Doctor Strange” that Jason Aaron has some very strong views as to the price magic user’s must ordinarily pay for the use of their supernatural abilities within the ‘Marvel Universe’. Indeed almost the entirety of this twenty-page periodical’s opening half is dedicated to reinforcing the Sorcerer Supreme’s realisation that “every punch comes with a cost” when he is forced to use Atlantean Black Magic in order to stop the dread Dormammu “a few years ago” and subsequently suffers the grisly ‘sight’ of having his eyes bleed; “Oh. Okay. That’s new.”

However, the Alabama-born writer’s belief that this mystical tab would eventually lead to the manservant of Steve Ditko’s co-creation covertly setting up a Himalayan-based “Secret Disciples of Strange” simply to spread the mutilating side-effects of the former surgeon’s conjuring across more than “a dozen monks” must have baffled many of this comic book’s 47,933 readers, and is arguably taking the magic-users need to persistently barter away his “soul and sanity”, a “price he can’t possibly pay on his own”, a step too far. It’s certainly somewhat dispiriting to believe that without these human “batteries to be used up and tossed away” the New Avenger would have died from over-exerting his magical abilities many years ago…

Fortunately the American author does eventually follow up this rather heavy-handed “Pound Of Flesh” sub-plot with a tense, if not somewhat short, action sequence concerning a pack of Witchfinder Wolves ambushing Strange in the Temple of Watoomb. Somewhat comical in its depiction of the Doctor’s “dwindling number of [magical] tools”, and disorientating failure to cast “the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak” and “Mystic Mists of Munnopor”. The claustrophobic confrontation does at least allow the mighty magician to once again demonstrate the power of his famous “Eye of Agamotto”.

Tasked with illustrating such an arguably lack-lustre script, Chris Bachalo certainly produces plenty of well-detailed breakdowns with which to catch any disillusioned bibliophile’s eyes. In particular the Canadian artist seems to enjoy populating his panels with occasional nods to the New York-based publisher’s rich history, such as his Jack Kirby-inspired Wundagore architecture and his hidden glimpse of the red-eyed Man-Thing deep within the Florida Everglades.
The variant cover art of "DOCTOR STRANGE" No. 5 by Michael Cho

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Free Comic Book Day 2016 (Civil War II) #1 - Marvel Comics

Despite the brevity of Brian Michael Bendis’ actual narrative, this “opening salvo of Civil War II” must surely have whetted the appetites of “Marvel Worldwide” fans everywhere with its utterly outrageous action-packed plot concerning War Machine, She-Hulk and Captain Marvel literally going toe-to-toe with Thanos in a desperate bid to prevent the Titanian Eternal from acquiring the Cosmic Cube. The Free Comic Book Day ‘exclusive’ certainly lives up to its pre-publication hype of being a magazine “no fan can afford to miss out on” and it’s extremely doubtful many of its readers didn’t immediately hunger for the crossover storyline's official opening issue in order to ascertain just how badly hurt Jennifer Walters and James Rhodes actually were having been badly battered during their short-lived confrontation with “The Mad Titan”. Little wonder the New-York based publishers were so “proud to officially peel back the curtain on…” their summer 2016 blockbuster multi-title event and let people “get their very first taste of the ensuing war…”

Indeed within the space of just eleven pages the five-time Eisner Award-winner’s short story not only provides plenty of exposition as to the Inhuman behind “the escalating conflict” and their seemingly formidable precognitive ability. But additionally mixes some rarely seen emotional tenderness in with the terrifically entertaining carnage of The Avatar of Death’s attack upon Project P.E.G.A.S.U.S.; “The Cosmic Cube does not belong on Earth… It belongs to me! You will not keep me from my prize!”

Fortunately Jim Cheung’s stunningly detailed artwork is precisely the sort of quality pencilling needed to depict this “snapshot of the conflict that will split the Marvel Universe in two!” The British illustrator does a superb job of making Captain Marvel’s deep-felt affection for War Machine abundantly evident in her facial expressions. Whilst his drawing ability equally excels in representing the ferocious power Thanos can wield with a single-punch and the impact such a devastating blow can cause a mortal man; albeit it one who wears a Variable Threat Response Battle Suit.    

Issue One of “Free Comic Book Day Civil War II” is also noteworthy for containing “a special secondary story from All-New, All-Different Avengers writer Mark Waid and legendary artist Alan Davis.” Debuting the “sting” of Nadia’s Wasp, this brief introductory tale makes it tantalisingly unclear as to whether the “mysterious new character” is actually “friend or foe” by portraying the teenager successfully invading the internal workings of the Vision.
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis, Penciler: Jim Cheung, and Inker: John Dell

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Daredevil [2016] #4 - Marvel Comics

DAREDEVIL No. 4, April 2016
It’s easy to imagine that a number of the 43,741 collectors who bought Issue Four of “Daredevil” felt somewhat misled by the twenty-page periodical's action-packed cover illustration. For although Charles Soule’s narrative does indeed partially concern Bill Everett’s co-creation foiling “the whole bomb maker’s Pantry” in the Red Hook neighbourhood of Brooklyn. The costumed crime-fighter doesn’t actually do so in the company of the “veteran super hero” Captain America, and seemingly prefers instead to undertake the distinctly solo mission with the silver-haired Sentinel of Liberty simply providing communications support from his supposed vantage point outside in the street; “He might not be doing the fighting himself, but the problems get solved.”

Equally as frustrating, though perhaps less ambiguous, is the Brooklyn-born writer’s secondary suggestion that Matt Murdock’s alter-ego has actually turned to the elderly Steve Rogers for some much needed guidance in dealing with the blind lawyer's current foe, Tenfingers. The entire sequence depicting Hornhead’s fraught mission to defuse the detonator before it takes “down the whole damn building” is painfully punctuated with the athletic acrobat’s hopes that the World War Two veteran can help dispel his personal doubts as to how best to defeat the Chinese crime-lord. Yet at the end of the magazine when the former Avenger asks him why “you called me in the first place”, the supposed Man Without Fear simply mumbles “Just… reassurance, maybe.”

Admittedly, Samuel Chung’s revelation to his eight-fingered mother that he is the Church of the Sheltering Hands’ mysterious “enemy” she so earnestly wishes to personally eliminate, does in some way further progress the title’s over-arching story concerning the disfigured magician’s plans to build “a power base in Chinatown.” But even their subsequent enthralling exchange of blows is short-lived as a result of The Hand’s abrupt return, and infuriatingly only hints at the potential exploration of an infinitely more complicated relationship between illegal immigrant and his misguided parent in a future publication.

Ron Garney and Goran Sudzuka’s pencilling for this comic book is also rather disappointing in many respects. The creative collaborators' breakdowns showing Daredevil’s billy club zinging around the residential apartment block, brutally battering the bombers’ heads and legs are well enough dynamically drawn. However the same cannot be said for some of their illustrations of Steve Rogers, the actual bombers or Blindspot’s mother.
The variant cover art of "DAREDEVIL" No. 4 by Michael Cho

Monday, 23 May 2016

Amazing X-Men #9 - Marvel Comics

AMAZING X-MEN No. 9, September 2014
Whilst it’s somewhat clear from a creative perspective as to just why collaborators Craig Kyle and Chris Yost penned the script for Issue Nine of “Amazing X-Men” to flit along its “World War Wendigo” timeline, it’s doubtful many of this title’s 40,562 strong audience appreciated it in July 2014. For although the narrative provides the comic with an introductory hook courtesy of its portrayal of the X-Men’s Blackbird unexpectedly crashing into a Canadian residential area "Forty Two hours after [the] initial outbreak”. The fact the book then takes its audience rapidly back in time to “one hour earlier…”, then “Fifty minutes ago”, “Forty minutes ago…”, “Four minutes ago”, “Three minutes ago”, and then “Two minutes ago…” within the space of a handful of pages arguably makes what follows both incomprehensible and unenjoyable.

Indeed despite depicting Wolverine bloodily raking the bodies of numerous Wendigos with his Adamantium claws, as well as the highly anticipated arrival of Alpha Flight’s Talisman and Puck, it seems highly unlikely that much entertainment was actually garnered by this magazine during its first reading as a result of its audience frequently having to turn back to previous panels in order to work out the storyline’s actual sequence of events. It’s certainly hard to appreciate the X-Men battling to save the life of a luckless Canadian pilot from the fangs of a horde of white-furred monsters or the unexpected cameo by Avengers Thor and Captain America, whilst having to repeatedly reread what has previously occurred before…

Fortunately once Kyle and Yost’s writing does finally start to portray ‘present proceedings’ and the Mutant super-team actually begin brutally battling the cannibalistic creatures en masse, the pace of this twenty-page periodical really takes off and contains some genuinely impressive punch-ups as the likes of Iceman, Storm and Firestar bring all their powers to bear upon the ferocious Wendigos. The “fan-favourite” authors even manage to end the comic on a cracking cliff-hanger as Elizabeth Twoyoungmen is potentially mortally wounded just as she is about to successfully cast “a powerful counterspell to the curse” which would suppress the infestation; “It’s happening… I can contain it, I feel it working, the spell is -- Hkk!”

Possibly also contributing to the initial confusion of this books’s opening half is Carlos Barberi unexpectedly taking over this story-arc’s pencilling duties, despite his predecessor illustrating the title's main cover. The former Mexican Independent Comics artist arguably provides something of a “seamless transition from Ed McGuinness’ work in the last issue” in the majority of his breakdowns. But seemingly struggles when it comes to depicting the likes of Colossus and Captain America.
The 'Guardians Of The Galaxy' variant cover art of "AMAZING X-MEN" No. 9 by Mike Perkins and Andy Troy

Sunday, 22 May 2016

The Punisher #1 - Marvel Comics

THE PUNISHER No. 1, July 2016
Penned by “the very first female writer to tackle the murderous mind-set of Frank Castle”, Issue One of “The Punisher” proves to be something of a ‘play-by-the-numbers’ publication which, despite its dynamically-worded “Marvel Worldwide” sales pitch, disappointingly depicts the former “decorated Marine… upstanding citizen, and a family man” somewhat effortlessly gunning down a run-of-the-mill illegal drugs operation. In fact the “force of cold, calculated retribution” fails to confront any opposition even slightly formidable within this magazine, except perhaps an underweight junkie, who having overdosed on the narcotic he was supposedly guarding, momentarily transforms himself from a ‘shrimp into a soldier’. However even this wide-eyed, impervious underling is eventually bested by Becky Cloonan’s incarnation of Castle, once the skull-wearing vigilante has shot the youth in the chest, gouged out both of his eyes, and finally electrocuted the hoodlum by spearing him through the torso into a high voltage electrical panel; “I don’t need eyes, I’ll smell out this piece of &*@# and bite his neck out!”

Arguably far more successful is the Pisa-born writer’s introduction of a veritable “slew of [new] characters, (both good and bad, helpful and harmful)”. Indeed within the space of just three pages, the “contemporaneity comic book luminary” has populated the Punisher’s blood-splattered world with DEA operatives Ortiz and Henderson, twin gang-members Lloyd and Luther Luckett, Condor’s right-hand man Face, and one of Frank’s former commanding officers Olaf.

Admittedly the smart-mouthed brothers unsurprisingly don’t survive longer than mid-way through the periodical. But the two law enforcement agents appear suitably frustrated by Castle’s gunplay threatening to derail their “carefully constructed case against Condor” under “a pile of dead bodies” to be worthy of future appearances as supporting cast characters. As does the drug baron’s brown-skinned lieutenant, who disconcertingly seems to be cut from the same cloth as “DC Comics” gruesome villain Dollmaker, what with his predilection for tearing off the faces of those enforcers who disappoint him and nailing them to a wall as trophies.

Sadly “Quintessential Punisher artist” Steve Dillon’s breakdowns probably aren’t all that this comic’s readers thought they should be seeing either. For despite the Englishman having previously supported “Garth Ennis’ scripts [for The Punisher] with his personality-filled pencils”, a number of his panels for this comic book appear disconcertingly one-dimensional and flat. Whilst his Frank Castle, wordlessly sporting a close-cropped crew-cut, also takes some getting used to.
The 'Action Figure' variant cover art of "THE PUNISHER" No. 1 by John Tyler Christopher

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Harrow County #2 - Dark Horse Comics

HARROW COUNTY No. 2, June 2015
Grotesque in both its deeply dark themes as well as Tyler Crook’s graphic illustrations of mutilated corpses, Issue Two of “Harrow County” is undeniably not a comic book for the faint-hearted, and definitely lives up to Jeff Lemire’s front cover promise of the narrative being “disturbing and genuinely brilliant at its core.” In fact its doubtful many of this title’s 9,295 collectors in June 2015 didn’t feel somewhat uneasy as soon as they opened the twenty-two page periodical and spied the storyline’s opening panel disconcertingly depicting a bloodied Emmy tearing through a claustrophobic wood with the still murmuring skin of a young boy tucked tightly between her arms; “Be still I said. Or I’ll wrap you around a stone and chuck you in the creek.”

Chillingly however, the eighteen year-old girl’s fearful flight from the forest and subsequent realisation that all her thorn vine scratches have miraculously healed is only the beginning of this magazine’s journey into the truly macabre, as Cullen Bunn pens an especially disconcerting plot which involves the youth’s own father agreeing with the rest of the local townsfolk to kill his daughter on account of her “showing signs” of witchcraft. Such an unnatural discussion and decision, eerily relayed to Emmy by the ghastly yellow-eyed corpse of the skin she keeps stored in a bedroom drawer, genuinely proves a horrifyingly unsettling development. Especially when the parent, seemingly believing that his unforgivable betrayal is for the best, earnestly chides his child for running for her life on account of his having to now ‘hunt her down’ only making matters “worse.”

Somewhat interestingly though, once the teenager has flown from her father’s farm and ‘escaped’ into a nearby coppice, there is a noticeable shift in the Cape Fear-born novelist’s pacing for this “backwoods horror”. One which allows the reader to dwell upon the enormity of the frightened girl’s parental perfidy, whilst simultaneously demonstrating that just because she can cope with talking bodiless spirits and fleshless abominations, doesn’t mean the "child" can’t still become frightened of a familiar place “in the dark.”  

Conjuring up images of “ghosts and goblins haunting secluded places” and “plenty of encounters with ghostly forest denizens” within the mind’s eye, Tyler Crook’s artwork for this second instalment of Bunn’s “Countless Haints” story-arc is simply breath-taking, right down to the American cartoonist utilising twigs, rocks and a cooperative snake in order to create the title ‘Harrow County’ for the comic’s inaugural double-splash.
Script: Cullen Bunn, Art and Lettering: Tyler Crook, and Pinup Art: Joelle Jones

Friday, 20 May 2016

Daredevil [2016] #3 - Marvel Comics

DAREDEVIL No. 3, March 2016
There can surely be little doubt that Charles Soule's combination of fast-paced frantic-fighting action, along with plenty of plot development for the titular character, didn’t fail to entertain the majority of this twenty-page periodical's 45,885 strong audience when it was first published in January 2016. Indeed the narrative for Issue Three of "Daredevil" contains the massive draw of depicting "the career crime-fighter" battling his old adversaries The Hand, as well as uncomfortably siding with the deadly enforcers of the "crime lord turned cult leader" Tenfingers, in a genuinely thrilling attempt to avoid a bloodbath; "This is the very definition of not my fight… On the other hand, the Hand's here to kill. There's no doubt about it. That's what they do."

Sadly however, it is hard to shake the impression that the Brooklyn-born writer has somehow frustratingly underused "the evil Order of Ninjas" potential with this storyline, especially as he has them "doing their disappearing act" mid-way through their fight with the Church Of The Sheltering Hands congregation for no apparent reason whatsoever? It certainly seems illogical that having introduced the "supernaturally enhanced ninjutsu murder cult" with such dramatic aplomb at the climax of this comic's previous edition, and then gone to such lengths as to have the Man Without Fear implore the Chinatown-based "thief" to "get your people out of here" because "it's their only hope", that the New Yorker subsequently has the mysterious martial artists abruptly depart the mêlée when, at least according to the punch-up panels' illustrations, they're seemingly well-ahead?

Equally as perplexing though, is Tenfingers' stance once the fighting has finished and "the Hand has fled". The "villain" proudly boasts that "everyone is safe, just as I foresaw" and claims that "I knew there was no danger. I protected my people. As I promised them I would." Yet during the conflict Soule clearly pens for several members of the aspiring crime boss' church to be brutally butchered by their opponents via a steel blade through the throat or a raking gash across the chest? Admittedly the Chinaman somehow has the ability to "influence the actions of people and make them do things they'd never ordinarily do." But that still doesn’t explain why the magic-user's men don't realise he's so evidently manipulating them, especially after Daredevil points out that "he's lying to you" whilst stood amongst the corpses.

Fortunately for a script which is so overly-reliant upon the artwork to do its storytelling, Ron Garney's breakdowns are convincingly up to the task in hand. Somewhat reminiscent of John Romita Junior's pencilling in places, the American certainly imbues the lengthy combat sequence with plenty of claustrophobic physicality. Whilst his innovative viewpoints of the more sedentary scenes, such as Matt Murdock's grilling in the office of the Manhattan District Attorney makes even the comic's dialogue-heavy moments engagingly entertaining.
The variant cover art of "DAREDEVIL" No. 3 by Paolo Rivera

Thursday, 19 May 2016

The October Faction #6 - IDW Publishing

Whilst most decidedly not the “macabre-action” issue advertised by “IDW Publishing”, at least not once Deloris Allan has disarmed an axe-wielding Robot Face, kicked him out of an upper storey window and finally beaten him unconscious using a nearby tree. Issue Six of “The October Faction” does at least finally provide some explanation as to the mystery surrounding the comic book series’ unusual title, as well as addressing just why Fred and his wife are “both blonds” and their children dark-haired. However the fact it takes creator Steve Niles almost half the length of this twenty-page periodical to provide such answers must surely have frustrated many of this magazine’s readers, especially when such exposition occurs during an infuriatingly dreary dining room discussion.

Unfortunately, this instalment’s laborious, arguably undisciplined, plot development is not particularly surprising considering the horror novelist’s “very strange” admission that whilst penning his scripts he finds “some of the stuff” he has the characters doing ‘surprising even him’. Indeed the new Jersey-born writer has confessed to having no “detailed outlines… [as to] how things turn out” and firmly believes that “part of the fun of this is [his] only having a loose idea of where I’m going to be going.”

So disconcerting an omission regarding the narrative’s attention to detail presumably therefore explains why Dante, having only just tried to kill the retired monster hunter, his wife and Geoff with an enormous double-edged medieval weapon is inexplicably untied, illogically handed a glass of wine and then nonsensically welcomed into “The October Family” during an emotional teary-eyed toast; “That’s the plan? The whole plan? He tried to kill me!”

Damien Worm’s unique artwork also seems to suffer during this lamentably incongruous ‘domestic reunion’. Poignantly passionate when depicting the sinisterly tense confrontation between Robot Face and Frederick, and then dynamically charged whilst illustrating Deloris’ subsequent impressive smack down of the homicidal teenager. The Spaniard’s breakdowns throughout the entirety of the Allan’s red-hued evening meal appear shockingly poor and arguably even lazy, as the same panels focusing upon the cast’s fraught facial expressions are re-used repeatedly; perhaps occasionally with the odd panel showing some discernible movement of the eye.
Writer: Steve Niles, Illustrator: Damien Worm, and Color Assistant: Alyzia Zherno

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Howling Commandos Of S.H.I.E.L.D. #5 - Marvel Comics

There can be little doubt that Frank J. Barbiere tried to bundle Issue Five of “Howling Commandos Of S.H.I.E.L.D.” with as much action-packed gunplay, fist-fights and magical mumbo jumbo as this twenty-page periodical could take. For whilst the Rutgers University graduate’s narrative still provides plenty of exposition regarding just who The Adversary is that has been causing the “elite black ops unit of monstrous agents” so many recent problems, as well as moments of character development such as Nadeen self-doubting her own suitability to become part of “Dum Dum” Duggan’s strike force. It does so against the dynamic backdrop of S.T.A.K.E.’s covert team defending the world against one of its “weird[est] and bizarre threats” as Anath-Na Mut storms New York City’s Grandview Museum with an assault-rifle carrying zombie army desperately searching for the Mask of Amenhotep.

Such a weird storyline must surely have bewildered this comic’s 12,281 regulars, let alone any curiously perusing bibliophiles, especially when the book begins with an overcoat-wearing Hit-Monkey nonchalantly approaching some of the Sphinx’s undead minions before blowing them away with its twin submachine guns. But so incredulous an ambush is actually just the start of an extraordinarily entertaining publication-long pitched battle. Which, whilst undoubtedly taking a “fun approach” to depicting Vampire by Night head-staking heavily-armed cadavers, Warwolf tearing away at glowing Egyptian spectral warriors, and Man-Thing tangling with a multi-tentacled Hellspawn, still manages to create an increasingly tense atmosphere as both Navid and his cosmic-powered master are revealed to be little more than pawns in a greater being’s powerplay.

Barbiere’s penmanship also manages to create some genuinely engaging moments amongst all the ‘lively’ chaos of the combat, and in doing so clearly highlights how far removed he wanted this “military book” to be from a “very cold and tactical” read. Indeed, few of this magazine’s audience could have stifled a belly laugh when the ‘high and mighty’ Sphinx is brought low by the Commando’s resident Japanese Macacque, or later not felt Duggan’s validation as Jasper Sitwell finally groans “I…mmm…Commanndoooo!” when the S.H.IE.L.D.-suited zombie starts blazing away at The Adversary’s non-corporeal form.

Disappointingly however, the energetic script does seemingly take its toll upon the breakdowns of Bren Schoonover. The Midwestern-based freelancer does an incredible job of bringing dynamic life to the majority of his panels. Yet somewhat mystifyingly seems to struggle quite abysmally when pencilling either of the Hassan twins, as well as Nina Price in her occasional humanoid form.
Writer: Frank J. Barbiere, Art: Brent Schoonover, and Color Art: Nick Filardi

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Doctor Strange [2015] #4 - Marvel Comics

DOCTOR STRANGE No. 4, March 2016
Disconcertingly entitled “The Art Of Puking Without Puking” Jason Aaron’s narrative for Issue Four of “Doctor Strange” is arguably both disappointingly choppy and distinctly sedentary in nature as the Alabama-born writer bravely attempts to explain to the title’s 52,388 strong audience just “how magic works in the Marvel Universe”, as well as show his “All-New All-Different” direction for the Sorcerer Supreme when compared to “the classic stories of Steve Ditko and Steve Englehart.”

Sadly however, such focus upon the cost for “every spell, every incantation, [and] every tampering with the mystical forces of nature” doesn’t seemingly prove conductive to a smooth-flowing storyline, and instead has Stephen leaping about time and space as he recalls punching the Ancient One as hard as he could “years ago”, briefing a magic-user filled Bar With No Doors as to the fact that “since yesterday… I’ve buried seventeen Sorcerers Supreme”, and then momentarily flitting back to “this morning” in order to “cast a spell of summoning… that hasn’t been cast for five thousand years” before he resumes his monotonous meeting.

Admittedly this detailed exposition as to how the Master of the Mystic Arts ensures that “the scales are kept balanced” does provide the Harvey Award-winner with plenty of opportunities to highlight the more humorous side to the magician’s life. Few readers surely wouldn’t have laughed at the New Avenger’s discomfort when he starts regurgitating “glowing” food he doesn’t even remember eating after “casting spells all week”, or share Zelma’s apprehensive look as Wong’s employer scarfs down a bowl of postulating purple tentacles, frogs, snails and all manner of other squidgy horrors that “tastes like leprosy.”; “You don’t want to watch this, Zelma. You can never unsee the sight of me eating.”

But such drollness is by no means enough to carry the plot for almost the entirety of this publication, and even when the Sorcerer Supreme does inadvertently blunder into “a machine that disrupts magic” whilst visiting “the Temple of Watoomb. Deep beneath the Indian Ocean”, Chris Bachalo’s overly busy breakdowns makes the resultant swordplay between man and Matrix-like mechanism rather hard to follow. It’s certainly not clear from the Canadian’s pencils that the fight has somehow carried Doctor Strange across a seabed containing “all manner of mystical booby traps” into the very shrine itself; at least not until the final splash-panel cliff-hanger when the supposedly victorious former surgeon is depicted surrounded by a pack of Witchfinder wolves.
The 'Deadpool' variant cover art of "DOCTOR STRANGE" No. 4 by Khoi Pham & Rachelle Rosenberg

Monday, 16 May 2016

Tomb Of Dracula #14 - Marvel Comics

TOMB OF DRACULA No. 14, November 1973
Having killed off the titular character in this comic title’s previous instalment, courtesy of “a knife thrown with hellish rage by the vampire-slayer known as Blade”, Marv Wolfman understandably spends the vast majority of this nineteen-page periodical engineering a narrative with which to bring the blood-drinking demon back from the dead. Disagreeably however, whilst many of this monthly’s readers would surely have anticipated just such a storyline, especially when the publication’s cover proudly proclaims that “The Vampire has risen from the grave”, few surely would have expected the Brooklyn-born writer to accomplish the feat in such an incredibly outlandish and contrived manner.

Somewhat contentiously though, it probably isn’t the fact that the multiple award-winning author has a Man of God resurrect the Prince of Vampires that proves so brusquely unbelievable. For by his own admission the “dejected Father Joshiah Dawn” is clearly someone tormented by both inner demons and "Satan’s hand...” Nor is it the illogical coincidence of the revivalist just happening to see the Count’s abandoned coffin miraculously glowing just outside his dwindling congregation’s tent. The biggest problem with the storyline to “Dracula Is Dead!” is that the Christian spiritualist “take[s] the knife” out of the Transylvanian nobleman’s petrified corpse knowing full well that in doing so he’ll be bringing back a “dude [that’s] been damned more times ‘n Judas.”

Admittedly once he has arisen Dawn’s “brothers and sisters” momentarily hold the “Lord of Evil” at bay via “the searing power of the Cross of God”. But to suggest even so many crucifixes would somehow kill “Satan’s Demon” is infuriatingly naïve, particularly when the press then try to wrestle Bram Stoker’s creation to the floor in order to somehow end his unholy existence. Considering that the self-appointed people’s saviour dangerously boasts that “the Lord gave me knowledge of you and your kind and he spoke unto me of your weakness”, it seems rather ludicrous that anyone would try and physically molest a creature who can simply transform himself into mist and evade such an impotent attack…

Fortunately despite such a glaringly manufactured plot Gene Colan’s artwork for this nineteen-page periodical is terrific. Indeed, whether it be illustrating “the villagers: their minds possessed by Dracula months before” obediently “smashing at the old oaken door” in their unreasoning desire to retrieve their master's corpse and “remove the knife from his chest”, or the Count’s sneering final confrontation with a defeated Josiah Dawn as lightning illuminates the night’s sky, the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Famer’s detailed pencilling, ably inked by Tom Palmer, proves consistently dynamic-looking.
Story: Marv Wolfman, Pencils: Gene Colan, and Inks: Tom Palmer

Sunday, 15 May 2016

James Bond #4 - Dynamite Entertainment

JAMES BOND No. 4, February 2016
Frustratingly published a week later than “Dynamite Entertainment” originally announced, and sporting a rather unappealing Dom Reardon cover illustration that disappointingly provides few hints as to the stupendous slug-fest occurring within the comic’s interior. Issue Four of “James Bond” must have come as something of a scintillating surprise to the 16,838 collectors who bought the magazine in February 2016 and found themselves enthrallingly embroiled in a ten-page long punch-up with the murderous Mister Masters that ably demonstrates just how earnest writer Warren Ellis was in trying to replicate “the original, brutal, damaged Bond of the books” within his “Vargr” narrative.

In fact in many ways the Essex-born author uses this particular publication to depict Ian Fleming’s iconic creation at his most savagely vulnerable by having the secret serviceman “alone in Berlin, with nothing but the clothes on his back and the gun in his hand” repeatedly injecting his insensible foe with a massive overdose of heavily contaminated Oxytocin. It’s certainly hard to visual Sir Roger Moore’s more “light-hearted” incarnation of the Royal Naval Reserve Commander ruthlessly dispatching his vanquished ever-pleading opponent in such a grisly blood-splattered manner; “Oh god. Please don’t. I don’t know what’s happening. Please. I’m begging you. Please don’t do this.”

Fortunately once the fight is over, and Bond faces the evil mastermind behind putting “a disease inside a drug”, Slaven Kurjak, this twenty-two page periodical doesn’t become any less engrossing an experience, courtesy of some wonderfully written and professionally polite dialogue. Indeed, there’s a real sense of enforced calm to the conversation between the two adversaries as James’ lab coat-wearing enemy merrily chats away to him about how originally the researcher had been “looking for a cancer cure worth selling”, whilst the British spy matter-of-factly tries shooting at him through bullet-proof glass.

Arguably this comic book’s greatest testament however, is the utter exasperation its abrupt ending undoubtedly brought its readers. Sealed tight within a laboratory about to undergo the “extreme cleaning process” of “three hundred degrees Celsius [and] nitrogen dioxide jets”, Bond momentarily appears to be about to break free when his efforts using a homemade oxy-fuel cutter come to naught. Realising his labours have failed, a cursing intelligence officer turns to face his demise and without warning confronts eight-pages of advertisements before the magazine’s back cover infuriatingly confirms the cliff-hanger ending…
Writer: Warren Ellis, Artist: Jason Masters, and Colors: Guy Major

Saturday, 14 May 2016

The Amazing Spider-Man [2015] #6 - Marvel Comics

Featuring Bill Mantlo’s human mutates Cloak and Dagger in what many of this title’s 76,517 readers must surely have subsequently seen as a tactless marketing ploy following an announcement by “Marvel Entertainment” in April 2016 “that the duo would appear in their own television show”, this opening instalment to “The Dark Kingdom” story-arc starts excitingly enough courtesy of Dan Slott penning a dramatic jailbreak on board the floating Department of Justice Prison Transport, Stronghold One; “Quiet. You can scream for me later. First things first.”

Unfortunately however, any enjoyment gleaned from the uncharacteristically brutal attack upon Mister Negative’s goggle-mask wearing penal guards by the “two beloved Marvel heroes”, and the super-powered runaways’ intriguingly different ‘reversed’ abilities, is soon sadly diminished by an uninspiring ‘peek’ at Peter Parker’s rather flirtatious relationship with employee Lian Tang and his global industry’s business dealings with Shanghai’s Mister Quinghao. Indeed, not even the Berkeley-born writer’s introduction of Shade-influenced construction worker Bingwen and his rampaging wrecking ball can help re-energise a somewhat apathetic narrative that seemingly enjoys showboating Spider-Man’s numerous technological gadgets far more than actually telling an engaging tale as to how the wall-crawler is helping “save the world”.

Admittedly the Diamond Gem Award-winner does come close to salvaging this publication’s substandard storyline by having it conclude with Webhead’s three-piece suited alter-ego being ambushed in his “swankiest office” by Cloak and Dagger, as well as their Boss, Martin Li. Yet even this wonderfully theatrical cliff-hanger can’t help dispel the memory of the former Daily Bugle photographer patronizingly preaching to a dejected Doctor Wu that the best medical research man in China must drop everything “whenever… Spider-Man has one of his little adventures” and help him simply because “it’s all for the best.”

Perhaps the biggest disappointment to “Turnabout” though is Matteo Buffagni’s rather lack-lustre and bland pencilling. The Italian artist’s panels depicting Negative Man’s escape from Stronghold One are undoubtedly dynamically drawn, especially Tandy Bowen’s initial entrance having been teleported above the vessel by her long-time partner Tyrone Johnson. But as soon as the excitement dwindles and Parker begins eating “pork and spinach dumplings”, the “Daredevil” illustrator’s pictures seemingly lose all semblance of vitally and life, even when they’ve showing Spider-Man utilising his web-shooters’ cartridge seven… “Quick-drying web-cement.”
Writer: Dan Slott, Artist: Matteo Buffagni, and Colorist: Marte Gracia

Thursday, 12 May 2016

The Walking Dead #150 - Image Comics

THE WALKING DEAD No. 150, January 2016
There should be little doubt in any collector’s mind that Editor Sean Mackiewicz’s confident boast within this magazine’s “Letter Hacks” that “The Walking Dead is a pretty special comic” is not an arrogant-sounding falsehood. For not only has this post-apocalyptic title, “created in Backwoods, Kentucky”, clearly become a lucrative franchise spawning action figures, board games and at least one highly successful television serial. It has also been consistently recording some significantly impressive sales figures “for the past twelve years” as well.

However those 156,166 readers who bought this “celebration of the tremendously talented creators who’ve worked on this comic", especially those "fans who’ve been here since Day One”, must surely have been fairly disappointed with a Robert Kirkman plot that, besides a somewhat short-lived cowardly assault upon the title’s central protagonist, contains little else but dialogue, additional dialogue and finally a thirty-two panel sequence composed entirely of even more dialogue… Indeed Rick Grime’s ‘sermon’ apologising to the settlers of Alexandria that he has “allowed us to become weak”, and promise to “band [them] together so we can kill the Whisperers” takes up the entire final third of the (over-sized) thirty-page long periodical and seems a strange narrative with which to “shock, frighten and thrill” the book’s audience as the creative team presumably intended.

Admittedly Morton Rose’s diabolically treacherous attack upon the former police deputy from Cynthiana is tremendously well-penned by the Richmond-born writer, and genuinely proves pulse-pounding as Tammy’s husband momentarily appears to have the upper hand over the disabled community leader. Fortunately the ambushed colonist is able to fight back in a typically grisly manner for the storyline’s post-apocalyptic setting by literally tearing the would-be killer’s throat out with his bare teeth. But Rick’s subsequent, though perfectly understandable, collapse into unconsciousness also ends any semblance of excitement to be gleaned from so frustratingly word heavy a comic; “This needs to happen! They’ll come and take more of us if we don’t fight back! What about your wife?! My son?! I’m not going to let Rick risk their lives, too!”

Charlie Adlard’s co-responsibility for ensuring that this sixth and final part of “No Turning Back” manages to attain its necessary sheet-count would also appear to have taken its toll upon the quality of the British artist’s pencilling, and also guaranteed that his breakdowns include a handful of his ‘infamous’ oft-times underwhelming splash-pages. In fact, apart from the Kerrang! Award-winner’s frighteningly dynamic night-time fight scene, as well as a few entirely blacked-out panels, the vast majority of his drawings simply consist of character head-shots unconvincingly conversing with one another.
The regular cover art of "THE WALKING DEAD" No. 150 by Charlie Adlard & Dave Stewart

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

The Walking Dead #136 - Image Comics

THE WALKING DEAD No. 136, January 2015
There’s an awful lot of dialogue to read in Robert Kirkman’s narrative for Issue One Hundred and Thirty Six of “The Walking Dead”. A disappointingly dire situation which is due entirely to the title’s creator cramming the comic full of scenes where the post-apocalyptic survivors simply talk to one another as they go about either their mundane daily business, consider stretching out a hand to a person in need, or hatch nefarious plots to commit vengeful murder.

Admittedly a couple of these conversations, such as Gregory suggesting that killing Maggie Green would be the easiest solution to Morton Rose’s problems, as well as the pair of Whisperers quietly awaiting their leader whilst watching the colony, are developmental and laced with nervy tension as to a potentially bloody violent future. But in the main the “Image Comics” partner’s painstakingly slow plot progression doubtless made this twenty-two page periodical a decidedly demanding experience for its 66,097 readers.

Indeed even when Carl Grimes is released from his arguably unjust imprisonment midway through the magazine, and then subsequently menaced by one of his assailant’s parents, little of any consequence actually takes place apart from the father mentally determining that the settlement’s former overseer of operations is “right” and that both the Hilltop’s current 'boss' and “the boy” have to die before things only get worse. Disappointingly there is no actual physical confrontation between the pair, and instead Rick’s son tediously spends the rest of the storyline sat outside the settlement's cells talking to a tearful Lydia, before sentimentally handing her his father’s police Stetson to use as a comforter…

Somewhat fortuitously however such a lack-lustre script does not appear to have been too detrimental to Charlie Adlard’s breakdowns for this book. In fact the Englishman seems to have taken the opportunity to truly demonstrate just how impressively he can draw emotion upon his figure’s faces. Whether it be the dumbfounded horror of the Rose family staring aghast at Gregory when he first suggests murdering Sophie’s mother, or the genuine fear and anguish seen within the streaming eyes of the community’s incarcerated Whisperer later in the book, the Shrewsbury-born penciller’s attention to his characters’ facial expressions genuinely paints a thousand words which Kirkman’s dialogue never touches upon.
Writer: Robert Kirkman, Penciller: Charlie Adlard, and Inker: Stefano Gaudiano

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Injection #9 - Image Comics

INJECTION No. 9, April 2016
Whilst Vivek Headland may well start off Issue Nine of “Injection” by proclaiming that “Something’s off”, the “Anglo-Indian consulting detective, living in New York” most assuredly wasn’t commenting upon this comic’s narrative. For even though Warren Ellis’ storyline concerning an Artificial Intelligence fooling “a rich man” into believing that he “had a ghost stolen from him” runs out of steam towards its end, and thus has to rely upon an overly sentimental drinking session between friends to pad out this publication. His writing initially doubtless provided its 11,433 readers with thrills aplenty as Red takes out an assassin armed with a compact automatic rifle, Simeon brutally convinces a second Rubedo soldier to yield by shoving “a Taurus Curve, already loaded, for concealed carry…” squarely in his face and Brigid interacts with the Injection as it finally starts to make its presence felt.

Such a flurry of activity genuinely proves an engrossing experience, especially as the Essex-born author is able to populate the oft-times graphically violent scenes with some incredibly humorous one-liners; most notably Headland’s profanity-filled response to his showboating bodyguard’s removal of a hired-killer with just a single bullet after agreeing to “give you a bonus… And an extra night off” if he could dispatch their would-be murderer “in two shots.”  
Sadly not all of the Englishman’s penmanship is quite so entertaining though, once the plot progresses to the cyber-punk’s interrogation of “a laptop poisoned by the Injection”. The concept that a sentient computer programme is “learning about people by examining aspects of us and assembling them like code” makes sense. But just why it confusingly desires to learn about “crime and money and sex”, and requires Van Der Zee in order to attain this knowledge is arguably an entirely different matter.

Declan Shalvey’s pencilling for this twenty-page periodical proves just as much a dilemma as understanding some of Ellis’ nonsensical contentions. There is no doubt that the Eagle Award-winner can draw some terrific, if not a little gratuitous, action panels, as Red’s brief gun-fight with the Bullpup-armed Rubedo stooge attests. However, whenever the Irish artist has to illustrate the more sedentary aspects of the script, such as Headland raising a toast to his “old friends” or Brigid making a sandwich, the drawings are disappointingly angular and his figures disconcertingly two-dimensional.
The regular cover art of "INJECTION" No. 9 by Declan Shalvey

Monday, 9 May 2016

Skull The Slayer #8 - Marvel Comics

SKULL THE SLAYER No. 8, November 1976
Despite its editorial column “Skullduggery” clearly suggesting that this bi-monthly’s Seventies audience were enthusiastically supportive of Bill Mantlo’s “great idea… [of] bringing back Skull and his crew to the original lost-in-time concept”, and “Marvel Comics Group” receiving “more than five-fold” the number of letters it was getting six months earlier, Issue Eight of “Skull The Slayer” is not only a rather overly-wordy book full of exposition explaining the origin of the Incan ‘god’ Viracocha. But it is also the final edition in the series, and as such disappointingly ends with an exasperatingly abrupt cliff-hanger: “Take them to the dungeons, children! Bind them well! For soon the false Son of the Sun will find himself bound to an altar -- as sacrifice to the Children of the Night!”

In fact “Riders On The Sky!” contains quite a few frustrating disappointments, not least of which is a somewhat incongruous cover illustration of a long-haired Samson-like Scully battling Pteranodon-flying archers which purportedly consists of an “initial sketch” by Marie Severin, followed by the perceptible pencils of Jack Kirby (and Frank Giacoia). This foreboding suggestion that the seventeen-page periodical’s creative team are slightly ‘off-key’ sadly persists within Bill Mantlo’s dialogue-heavy narrative, to the point where even the righteously resentful Raymond Corey is depicted supposedly enjoying his elevation “to the status of Gods” by surrounding himself with semi-clad native women simply because “it has advantages even this stiff-spined physicist can appreciate.”  

Fortunately, not all of the Brooklyn-born writer’s storyline dwells upon the trained soldier’s verbalised misgivings concerning his facially-disfigured host’s all-powerful dominion over the City of Gold. For once the disgraced Jaguar Priest Villac Umu has escaped his incarceration and spearheaded a coup against Captain Cochran’s “godhood” this comic finally makes a welcome return to what it seemingly does best by having Skull, his power belt glowing, battling Pterodactyl-riding Samurai in a terrifically action-packed sequence alongside his three companions.

Somewhat regrettably, Sal Buscema’s artwork for this Archie Goodwin edited publication, is equally as inconsistent as Mantlo’s characterisation of its supporting cast. The comic’s opening splash panel depicting the “five-year Prisoner of War in ‘Nam” stood atop a temple watching “the Inca warriors dance in the court yard of the Temple of the Sun” is incredibly dynamic, as is the Inkwell Award-winner’s drawing of the “great obsess cur” Oomatay beating his prisoner. Yet by the time Viracocha has presumably been dispatched by an arrow in his very own Throne Room and Ann Reynolds is wrestling with the heavily-armoured warriors of medieval Japan, the New Yorker’s pencilling has become distinctly angular and somewhat stiff in appearance.
Writer: Bill Mantlo, and Artists: Sal Buscema & Sonny Trinidad

Sunday, 8 May 2016

The Omega Men #5 - DC Comics

THE OMEGA MEN No. 5, December 2015
Misleadingly advertised by “DC Comics” as containing “their most atrocious act to date”, Issue Five of “The Omega Men” doesn’t actually depict “the wretched” titular characters besieging “the holy planet of Changralyn” and taking “hostage its ruler, the wise and benevolent Space Pope Pontifix”. Instead it simply shows the “deadly outlaws” strongest member pummelling away at a sacred rock with his bare hands until, bloody and supposedly close to death, the “apostate” frees “the Key of Alpha” from its blessed resting place; “I am… I am dying. I am being only a Broot... I am being condemned… I am knowing truth. I am knowing Omega.”

Such a somewhat lack-lustre narrative is made all the worse by Tom King’s insistence on populating every single panel with as much dialogue as “the ex-CIA agent” can possibly muster. Something which must have proved especially wearisome to the 10,532 buyers of this twenty-page periodical as its ponderous plot progresses and the supporting cast’s convoluted sacrosanct-sounding conversations increasingly focus upon Broot’s “desire to escape sin”. Indeed by the time the grey-skinned behemoth finally smashes the heavily-chiselled, sanctified stone formation hard enough to release the tiny blue “key to salvation” and it becomes clear that the planet’s ‘Holy Father’ has “arranged” for the so-called terrorists “to be destroyed”, few readers could probably stomach even another small speech bubble solely stating “May it please Omega.”

Admittedly once the intergalactic Pontiff’s trap is sprung and the “people see that the Omega Men are humble before the Gods”, the American author’s storyline does momentarily liven up. Yet even the few scenes of the Citadel soldiers storming the Temple of Omega en masse and encircling Primus, Tigorr and Scrapps is frustratingly interspersed with pictures of “the high Pontifex of Changralyn” worrying his ‘fallen son’ Charis-Nar with even more perplexing ministerial mumbo jumbo.

Fortunately the one saving grace for this “beloved comic in the brand new DC launch line-up” is Barnaby Bagenda’s terrific breakdowns. The Jakarta Institute of Art freelancer is clearly aware that “sometimes you can’t put too much information in one small panel, otherwise it would looked cramped.” But that doesn’t stop him still creating, in collaboration with Romulo Fajardo Junior’s discerning colours, some exquisite-looking, highly-detailed drawings throughout this papal publication.
Writer: Tom King, Artist: Barnaby Bagenda, and Colorist: Romulo Fajardo Junior

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Doctor Strange [2015] #3 - Marvel Comics

DOCTOR STRANGE No. 3, February 2016
Initially penned as a seemingly fun, light-hearted romp which goes quite a way to illustrate just how “super thrilled” Jason Aaron was to be writing the series, Issue Three of “Doctor Strange” increasingly turns more serious with each passing scene until it almost inevitably ends with the titular character travelling to Fandazar Foo and discovering that the world and its entire magical population are dead. Indeed, not even the Magister Miracle from the Eighteenth Dimension, Zelatrix Lavey of the Lower Aether or the Lords of Wyrd from Beyond the Purple Veil, “sorcerers supreme” all, have managed to survive whatever mysterious disaster has befallen the "nexus point between dimensions.”  

Such an incredible transition from the farce of an entirely naked Master of the Mystic Arts running through Central Park to a sad-faced Stephen mourning beside the remains of his former supernatural friends as they dangle speared to a group of trees, is tremendously well-written by the Alabama-born author, and few of this book’s 57,135 fans would have perceived the subtle darkening in tone as the twenty-page periodical progressed until it’s depressingly bleak conclusion; “What in all the Cosmos has the power to execute the most powerful sorcerers known to man?” Certainly none would have anticipated such a chilling climax to “Eaters Of Magic” when they first encounter the former “preeminent surgeon” enthusiastically slicing his way through hungry Een’Gawori slugs with the Axe of Angarruumus before both his physical body and Wong have been consumed by the “creatures that aren’t native to this dimension.”

Indeed, apart from “an increasing number of incidents involving rare mystical creatures crossing dimensional borders and an enigmatic interference with his magical abilities”, there’s little suggestion that such a calamitous event has befallen Fandazar Foo until Doctor Strange and his valet (once again) open the door to supposedly “a world overflowing with magic” and instead find it desolately lifeless and looking remarkably similar in appearance to when C.S. Lewis’ Jadis, the White Witch, “froze Narnia in the Hundred Years Winter”.

Just as masterful as Aaron’s script are Chris Bachalo’s wonderful colourful pencils, which stunningly support and dramatically emphasise this storyline’s de-evolution into a somewhat morosely macabre tale. Bright and bouncy despite the primary protector of Earth’s “full front nudity”, the Canadian illustrator’s vibrantly warm palette turns increasingly cold as the comic’s plot thickens until its bold blues and pulsating purples are unreservedly replaced with inert whites and gloomy greys.
The variant cover art of "DOCTOR STRANGE" No. 3 by Tim Sale