Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Giant-Size Little Marvel: AvX #2 - Marvel Comics

Absolutely crammed full of some genuine, belly-laugh inducing quick-fire gags and comical set-pieces, Issue Two of “Giant-Size Little Marvel: AvX” doubtless had its 36,019 readers heartily chuckling to themselves with each and every turn of the page. Indeed, considering this publication’s opening groan-inducing “Dodgeball” sequence, which starts by depicting team captain Cyclops boldly declaring “Eye pick [those on my side] first” and ends with Spider-Man asking the blind super-hero Daredevil “Did you see who won?”, it is hard to recall “Marvel Worldwide” printing a more pun-filled publication this side of their Late Sixties title “Not Brand Echh”.

Somewhat fortunately however, Skottie Young doesn’t just rely upon a seemingly endless series of unrelated corny gags with which to fill this twenty-page periodical’s script, and soon introduces two new students to Marville Elementary in the shape of the dour-looking Zachary and Zoe. Not being mutants, “lost in a time not of your own”, “bitten by any insect or animal”, or interested in visiting a homicidal Arcade’s “house after school to play my own indie game Murderworld”, the twins soon become the subject of a secret clubhouse tug-of-war between “the astonishing, amazing, uncanny, super-dope X-Men” and “the mighty, ultimate, super-fresh Avengers.”

Perhaps predictably, such a titanic tussle provides the Inkwell Award-winner with plenty more opportunities with which to demonstrate his witty waggishness, and Black Widow’s needling of Scott Summers, after the X-Men’s leader has had a “Welcome” (to our not-so secret headquarters) banner made from macaroni and glue, is a good example of this. Although even the subsequent mass-battle involving a cutesy Sentinel blasting the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier doesn’t compare to the belly-laugh caused by Namor feeding a pet goldfish which is simply waiting for ‘the World to soon be covered in water once again’ so he can have his “cousin Toothy” eat the Sub-Mariner; “Heh heh.”

Featuring a somewhat more sedentary storyline than its previous edition, Skottie Young’s ultra-cartoony and brightly-coloured breakdowns still manage to instil this comic’s narrative with plenty of pace and energy. In fact, the children’s book illustrator somehow even succeeds in imbuing Professor Xavier’s “few minutes to get to know each other” classroom question & answer session with some much-needed dynamism, simply by over-exaggerating the facial features of each character concerned.
Words and Art: Skottie Young, Colors: Jean-Francois Beaulieu, and Letters: Jeff Eckleberry

Monday, 29 August 2016

The Punisher #4 - Marvel Comics

THE PUNISHER No. 4, October 2016
Undeniably reminiscent of something from out of the “Australian dystopian action multi-media franchise” “Mad Max”, at least in the comic's awesomely incessant vehicular combat, Issue Four of “The Punisher” must surely have “totally grabbed… [its audience] right away” with Steve Dillon's graphically illustrated depiction of Frank Castle brutally battling both an armoured truck full of ‘juiced-up’ homicidal killers and a determined D.E.A. sharpshooter flying on board a ‘company’ helicopter. In fact, whilst Becky Cloonan’s narrative does momentarily focus upon “the Punisher’s former commander Olaf” visiting the Exeter Mental Hospital, the twenty-page periodical only strays ‘off-piste’ fleetingly before ramping up the action even more so, courtesy of Agent Ortiz’s pilot taking a fatal headshot and her ill-fated partner, Henderson, tumbling from their now erratic ride into the very ‘lap’ of the mercenary organisation the Administration agents were investigating…

Admittedly, not all of this title’s readers were entirely happy with such a “reboot” on account of ‘all the wordless action’ purportedly showing “the Punisher for what he really is and always has been: a two-dimensional character with really nothing to build upon.” But as Editor Jake Thomas pointed out at the time of publication, “so much of his [Castle] humanity dies with his family… [and] every now and then… you [still] see the man he used to be.” Besides, it’s arguably rather difficult to provide any significant insight into the anti-hero’s personality, even by way of an inner monologue, when he’s being repeatedly shot at by numerous semi-automatic weapons and has to deal with an overdosing wannabe ‘van-jacker’ armed with “a #@$% rocket launcher!”

In addition both the Pisa- born writer, and artist Steve Dillon, do actually manage to ‘lighten’ the ultra-violent script up occasionally with some much appreciated moments of caustic humour, such as the protagonist’s sarcastic response to nine-year old Juniper’s driving advice, the mercenary becoming so evidently awe-struck by Frank’s collection of weaponry that he momentarily forgets he’s supposedly there to kill the “decorated marine”, and Ortiz’s ‘over the top’ reaction to a deputy’s assertion that, having managed to walk away from her helicopter’s crash-landing, “everything’s all right now.” Indeed, Cloonan’s ability to intermix frantic pulse-pounding action with plenty of genuine laugh-out-loud moments is undoubtedly why some Punisher fans could not have been “any happier or prouder to see a woman take on a character [so loved]… and do him such justice.”
Writer: Becky Cloonan, Artist: Steve Dillion, and Color Artist: Frank Martin

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Kong Of Skull Island #2 - BOOM! Studios

KONG OF SKULL ISLAND No. 2, August 2016
Packed full of titanic struggles between gigantic apes, prehistoric killer fish and razor-sharp clawed devil lizards, all of which are superbly pencilled by Carlos Magno, it is clear from the narrative to Issue Two of “Kong Of Skull Island” just why James Asmus, an author perhaps best “known for his work on “All-New Inhumans”, “Quantum & Woody” [and] “Gambit”, felt that this “chance to jump into and build on the original King Kong’s DNA was too incredible an opportunity to pass up!” It’s certainly clear from this book’s harrowing depiction of a great gorilla fending off an enormous Pachycormidae as it gobbles up shipwrecked survivors that the New Orleans-educated comedian thoroughly enjoyed scripting a storyline where mankind trades “one disaster for [another upon] a savage island of dinosaurs”; even if his plot does disappointingly flounder mid-way through the twenty-two page periodical as it frustratingly, and almost exclusively, focuses upon the heathen nuptials of K’Reti and Usana.

Indeed, for many bibliophiles the Stan Lee Excelsior Award-winner’s tale of the Konga dramatically slugging it out with primordial meat-eating predators, whilst the hapless humans surrounding them can only gaze in awestruck wonder and foolishly pray to their false gods, must genuinely have reminded them of just how impotently small many astonished cinema-goers surely felt when they first watched the crew of the Venture follow an abducted Ann into the monster-infested jungle of Skull Island during Merian C. Cooper’s 1933 “American pre-code disaster film”.

Sadly however, these colossal brutal bouts between the likes of the primitively loyal Tul and beach bound rampaging Carnosaurs eventually give way to an incredibly dialogue-heavy series of 'conversation pieces' which lamentably labour upon K’reti’s well-founded doubts regarding his imminent “theatrical marriage” to a woman whose "self-serving" father is likely to manipulate the tribesmen against him should he go against his wishes. “Already married” to an apparently pregnant Ewata following “a private ceremony months ago”, the most unhappy Prince therefore disappointingly spends the majority of this comic simply flitting from one unaffected person to another, telling them how the enforced “pageantry will not avert [the] catastrophe” of their island’s volcanic eruption and consequently, swiftly sucking all the energy out of what was initially a genuinely pulse-pounding read; “Ha! Ah… Youth. So we’ll have it severed. But you can keep her as your mistress. There are some perks to being king.”
Writer: James Asmus, Illustrator: Carlos Magno, and Colors: Brad Simpson

Friday, 26 August 2016

The Punisher #3 - Marvel Comics

THE PUNISHER No. 3, September 2016
Judging by the reader mail published within this comic’s letters page, Publish or Punish, Issue Three of “The Punisher” doubtless ‘knocked the socks off’ of its 46,534 strong audience in July 2016 with its graphic portrayal of murder, mutilation and mayhem. Indeed, apart from the twenty-page periodical’s opening, which portrays D.E.A. Agents Ortiz and Henderson foolishly thinking they’ve cornered the “decorated Marine” in a Vermont Motel room, Becky Cloonan’s script concerning the titular character ably handling "a country throw-down” contains little in the way of exposition except the occasional “Augh!!”, “Aaagh!” and “Hng… Hnngh…”

Fortunately Steve Dillon’s well-detailed and traditionally solid breakdowns, which at times actually depict “the Punisher like a horror movie bad guy”, are more than up to the task of telling the Pisa-born writer’s partially wordless story, and it’s clear just why some of this title’s fanbase view him as being “on “peak form here.” Patient, wary and battle-experienced, the English artist does a terrific job of building the narrative’s tension up by first illustrating Castle carefully observing his targets through a rifle scope, before the one-time “family man” remorselessly kills every single one of them.

Admittedly, a never-ending series of pictures containing brains being blown out, legs getting shot away and throats being slit, would probably prove somewhat too much even for bibliophiles delighted when “Frank doesn’t say a single word for the whole issue”. Yet cleverly Cloonan avoids just such a trap by incorporating a moment of respite from the seemingly incessant farmyard slaughter, courtesy of a brief visit to Exeter Asylum and Condor's lieutenant Face; “I’ve been expecting you. I hand-picked some good soldiers, like you requested.”

The “American comic book creator” is arguably just as good at penning cliff-hangers too. For having saved the life of little Juniper and extracted the dinosaur-obsessed girl from her (very recently departed) father’s suicide vest, many lesser wordsmiths may well have settled for the story to end on a high with the stony-faced, victorious Punisher simply driving off towards the “centre of the whole EMC operation”. Dramatically however, this publication doesn’t actually quite finish there and instead somehow manages to cram in a final three-panel sequence depicting a wide-eyed homicidal-looking Face driving a van-load of heavily armed “&$#%-ass city-boy gangsters” straight towards the anti-hero’s screeching vehicle.
Writer: Becky Cloonan, Artist: Steve Dillion, and Color Artist: Frank Martin

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Doctor Strange [2015] #10 - Marvel Comics

DOCTOR STRANGE No. 10, October 2016
Advertised as the finale to Jason Aaron’s “Last Days Of Magic” story-arc, and depicting the Sorcerer Supreme’s supposed victory over the Empirikul, Issue Ten of “Doctor Strange” must still have proved something of a frustrating experience for its readership with the Alabama-born writer’s seemingly arbitrary removal of the Imperator’s resilience to the mystic arts at the comic’s conclusion. In fact, having repeatedly demonstrated an incredible hardiness to spells, chants and incarnations throughout the rest of this far-reaching ‘event’, the “inter-dimensional army” leader’s sudden and almost fatal susceptibility to the titular character’s ever-evaporating magic is so unconvincing and illogical that it arguably appears to have occurred simply to allow the American author to end his narrative within the space allowed. Certainly the fact that Hellgore is able to withstand the trauma of taking a magical arrow in the eye one moment, and yet be blinded by “the milled powder of the Ancient One’s skull” in the next, smacks of lazy penmanship; especially when such a ‘game-changing’ revelation is simply, almost inadvertently, rationalised by the practicing magician with the words “Magic isn’t just the thing he hates. It’s his weakness.”

Equally as disappointing is this twenty-page periodical’s resolution to “the so-called Thing in the Cellar”, a being of pain and suffering which was created by Doctor Strange and secretly kept in the basement of the Sanctum Sanctorum. Initially depicted as a force capable of destroying both its “Father” and the Imperator, this multi-eyed monstrosity ultimately joins the former Defender in his fight against the Empirikul. However once the battle is ended, the creature is subsequently shown simply wandering the streets of New York City as a free entity, with absolutely no discernible explanation as to how it actually helped the former “preeminent surgeon” defeat his formidable foe, or even managed to escape from its own captivity?

Fortunately such exasperating omissions within Aaron’s script do not seem to have detrimentally affected the vast majority of Chris Bachalo’s breakdowns. True, some of the Canadian comic book illustrator’s panels, such as those depicting librarian Zelma Stanton and Wong dripping in black ooze whilst ‘praying’ for the Sorcerer Supreme’s wellbeing, are as awkward-looking as their subject matter is disturbing. But few of this publication’s audience could arguably have balked at the mainstream artist’s wonderfully complicated renderings of the Thing in the Cellar as it confronts Doctor Strange and inkily envelops him within its oleaginous manifestation.
The 'Death of X' variant cover art of "DOCTOR STRANGE" No. 10 by Andrea Broccardo

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

The Brave And The Bold #148 - DC Comics

THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD No. 148, March 1979
As a “DC Comics” Christmas tie-in publication, Bob Haney’s narrative for Issue One Hundred and Forty Eight of “The Brave And The Bold” was arguably always going to contain a certain amount of festive joviality and silliness. In fact, considering that Batman is partnered with the quirky, comical character of Plastic Man, many of this seventeen-page periodical’s buyers probably felt an “offbeat” tongue-in-cheek tale was effectively guaranteed.

Sadly however “The Night The Mob Stole Xmas!” actually seems to take this notion of “surreal slapstick humour” a little too far, and not only milks Jack Cole’s creation for all the funnies the malleable superhero can muster, but does so within an atrociously contrived storyline that is as implausibly manufactured as it is unamusing. It’s certainly hard to imagine that despite all his wealth and power the Crime Lord Big Jake still found it necessary to steal “Gotham’s Great Xmas Display” and transport it to his residence “at Conch Key -- A palm-studded coral island off the Florida Coast”, rather than simply build an alternative to “the famous Lacy’s Department Store” yuletide exhibition; unless of course he purposely wanted to attract the attention of that particular metropolis’ Dark Knight and ruin his well-prepared plans for murdering “all the creeps who tried to muscle in on our butt-smuggling” operation.   

Equally as illogical is the Philadelphia-born writer’s handling of the Caped Crusader himself. Clearly aware of Commissioner Gordon’s deep concern regarding a spate of hijackings and murders related to illegal cigarettes, Batman nonsensically decides to initially ignore the Policeman’s request for him to ‘crack the smuggling ring’ and instead needle him by explaining he has to “do my Xmas shopping”. To make matters worse, Haney also has Bruce Wayne’s alter ego later impotently surrender to two armed gangsters, and subsequently be stretched out across a gigantic evergreen conifer “as a tree decoration”, despite the fact that Plastic Man is right beside him and could presumably readily dispatch the goons with a couple of elongated fists?

Fortunately what this comic lacks in credibility, it more than makes up for with its wonderfully dynamic-looking artwork, courtesy of Joe Staton and Jim Aparo. Imbued with a genuine feeling of energetic athleticism, whether it be him landing flat-footed on top of a van roof, karate-chopping a goon with throat strike, or swinging into his open-topped Batmobile, the creative team’s rendering of the Caped Crusader, as well as Plastic Man, is top notch throughout.
Writer: Bob Haney, and Artists: Joe Staton & Jim Aparo

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Micronauts [2016] #3 - IDW Publishing

MICRONAUTS No. 3, June 2016
Considering that this particular comic book title depicting “the Micronauts’ far out world” was advertised by “IDW Publishing” as “a fresh series that captures the property’s magical nostalgia and meshes it with modern twenty-first century storytelling”, the vast majority of its 9,715 fans in June 2016 surely must have anticipated a fair amount of exposition within its opening narrative. However, having previously penned two action-packed monthlies which genuinely immersed its audience “into the doomed microscopic realms of the Micronauts”, Cullen Bunn’s storyline for this particular twenty-page long periodical disconcertingly contains an incredible amount of discussion and dialogue.

Indeed, whether it be during his incarceration at the hands of Baron Daigon, the mistreatment of his robotic comrades by their captors, or the space pirate’s lengthy confinement within a prison cell which skirts the Entropy Storm, all central character Oziron Rael does is relentlessly talk about how he's descended from a race of long-forgotten time travellers who “crafted vessels to help them cross space and time” and his special relationship with the Ministry of Science's white-armoured leader. Such dedication to ‘scene setting’ is arguably a laudable attempt by the “dream come true” writer to firmly establish Pharoid’s prominence within the plot, yet going so far as to have Oz continue to just chat with the Force Commander right up until the comic’s cliff-hanger hardly seems like the sort of thing that will “make sure readers have the time of their lives reading this series!”

Fortunately at least this magazine’s despotic ruler of the Microverse, Baron Karza, provides a fleeting moment of pulse-pounding entertainment by foiling an assassination attempt. Sudden as it is savage, the brief sequence ably demonstrates just how viciously dangerous an existence the former Chief Scientist and Overseer of the Body Banks leads, with Shazrella’s husband not only needing to strafe the cybernetically-enhanced assassin with his ruby red chest lasers, but incapacitate the would-be executioner with his remote-controlled detachable hands; “I say burn.”

This comic’s heavy reliance upon seemingly endless panels populated with speech balloons would also appear to have been somewhat detrimental to Max Dunbar’s breakdowns. Flat and distinctly tired-looking, the Canadian’s lifeless pencils fail to do anything other than simply show just which figure is talking with whom; a lack-lustre art-style that proves all the more frustrating when used to depict Rael’s supposedly cataclysmic confrontation with a partially unarmoured and seemingly elderly Baron Daigon.
The regular cover art of "MICRONAUTS" No. 3 by J.H. Williams III

Monday, 22 August 2016

Doctor Strange [2015] #9 - Marvel Comics

DOCTOR STRANGE No. 9, August 2016
Curiously containing a somewhat redundant plot thread which lasts for almost half the comic book and focuses upon Wong’s attempt to bolster the number of magic-users housed within the Himalayas by cajoling refugees, this fourth chapter to Jason Aaron’s “The Last Days Of Magic” story-arc probably still pleased most of its 46,306 readers by featuring a violent clash between some of the Earth’s surviving mages and the Empirikil’s eyebots, a rip-roaring ‘Indiana Jones-inspired’ set-piece located “elsewhere in Tibet”, and a frighteningly tense confrontation between the Imperator and “an evil, unspeakable horror lurking in the cellar”. Indeed, in many ways it would seem a genuine pity that the Alabama-born author didn’t decide to simply omit the insinuation that Doctor Strange’s butler would willingly sacrifice the lives of his “brothers and sisters” inside the Temple of the Secret Defenders and alternatively expand upon the more action-packed exploits of the Master of the Mystic Arts and his friends; especially when one of those under-represented ‘secondary strands’ concerns the Sorcerer Supreme fleeing a temple packed full of man-eating monkeys who were desperate to defend the skull of the Ancient One.

Sadly however, this is disappointingly not the case, and instead of enjoying plenty of fast-paced, pulse-pounding dramatics with barbed wire coated baseball bats and strafing bi-planes, the Harvey Award-winner’s twenty-page script is interspersed with a succession of sequences depicting librarian Zelma Stanton desperately trying to expound the virtues of her employer to any migrants that will listen and Strange’s sidekick waxing lyrical as to how people must be willing to endure “pain like you’ve never imagined” if they want to “protect the man who fights in our name.” Such dialogue-heavy ditties could potentially have been bearable if they’d actually been some point to them. But just as soon as the former “preeminent surgeon” discovers the sinisterly secret sacrifices which have been keeping him alive, he disbands the monks and renders his deceitful domestic worker unconscious with a ‘sleep spell’.

Chris Bachalo’s artwork also arguably suffers on account of Aaron’s choppy storytelling, with only the Canadian artist’s breakdowns illustrating the sorcerer’s fraught flight through an overgrown Tibetan jungle with his old master’s head underarm and Count Kaoz “shooting ghost bullets at eyeballs from space” containing any real sense of “alakazam”. It is certainly doubtful that his seemingly endless panels depicting weary snowbound travellers conversing in the Himalayas were viewed as being “more fun than Saturday night in Siberia!”
Writer: Jason Aaron, Artist: Chris Bachalo, and Colors: Java Tartaglia & Chris Bachalo

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Dark Knight III: The Master Race #3 - DC Comics

The top-selling book in March 2016, at least according to “Diamond Comic Distributors”, Issue Three of “Dark Knight III: The Master Race” must have proved a genuinely frightening reading experience for the vast majority of its 146,044 owners with an opening that sees an elderly, and evidently impotent, Bruce Wayne witnessing the atomic destruction of several major international cities as a result of Quar of Krypton’s much-maligned influence. Indeed it’s hard to imagine a more horrifying world than one in which super-strong flying ‘Gods’ can arbitrarily pluck hapless humans from the world’s surface, nonchalantly break their spines in front of a television cameraman, and then offhandedly allow the corpse to tumble back down through the clouds towards the ground far below; “People of Earth… It’s over. All of it. This is the end of your depression. Your shackles are gone. Fall to your knees…”

However, the harrowing sight of Moscow being flattened beneath a mushroom-shaped explosion is just the start of Frank Miller’s remarkably unpleasant vision of living (and dying) within his ‘Dark Knight Universe’, as the multiple Kirby-Award winner’s plot quickly establishes that the “broken” Batman is only going to be able to save the day by traipsing to Superman’s Fortress of Solitude in order to cajole the Man of Steel from out of his icy slumber. Dispiritingly though, even the Boy Scout’s colourful revitalisation and promise of righting wrongs is swiftly scotched and replaced with more maddening desolation, courtesy of Kal-El’s horrific realisation as to what “my people” have done during his absence, and his daughter’s subsequent defection to the side of the murderous Kandorians.

All of this desperation and despair is superbly rendered by Andy Kubert, “a veteran in the industry, but a newcomer to the Dark Knight saga”. In fact the America penciller’s exposure to the “old-timers” whilst studying “at my dad’s [Joe Kubert] school” has clearly enabled him to mimic the Maryland-born author’s easily recognisable old drawing-style to perfection, and his single splash depicting Superman effortlessly escaping his frozen throne simply by standing up is demonstrative of an illustrator operating at his professional best.

Equally as bleak and disheartening as this publication’s lead narrative, is its mini-comic concerning Hal Jordan’s initial meeting with three of Quar’s ‘daughters’ as they deface the Sphinx in Egypt. Initially bemused by the beauties sexually-charged request for him to change them and “make us surrender… to you”, Brian Azzarello’s script shocking turns very dark as John Romita Junior draws the Green Lantern suddenly having his ring-hand severed by one of the young ladies laser eye-beams.
Story: Frank Miller & Brian Azzarello, Pencils: Andy Kubert, and Inks: Klaus Janson

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Moon Knight [2016] #5 - Marvel Comics

MOON KNIGHT No. 5, October 2016
Despite adopting a somewhat innovative story-telling technique by having a variety of artists independently illustrate each different personality of the schizophrenic titular character’s shattered psyche as he “run(s) for his life through half-remembered histories”, this concluding instalment of “Welcome To New Egypt” must still have come as something of a bitter disappointment to many of its “Moonies” with its disconcertingly indeterminate finale. Indeed, having seemingly thrown himself to a bloody death from atop a giant pyramid rather than ‘hand-over’ his body to “a weak, dying” Khonshu, and subsequently woken as “mister producer man” Steven Grant, complete with loving actress Marlene, Jeff Lemire’s plot would frustratingly seem to suggest that the Canadian’s entire multi-issue run depicting Marc Spector’s flight from Ammut and her dog-headed sanatorium servants has all simply been a dream; “You should get dressed. We have an early call time, remember… We’re shooting the pyramid scene today.”    

Such a surprise ending certainly supports the occasional cartoonist’s pre-publication promise that “many things (within the comic) will be open to interpretation as the series begins”, and additionally helps develop the ongoing mental mysticism surrounding the mercenary who once “died in Egypt under a statue of the Moon God”. But implying that the Crescent Crusader, Jake Lockley and the Knight of the Moon, as well as the titular character’s other psychologically unstable identities, are mere bedtime delusions disheartening erodes the strong sense of edgy purpose which the Ontario-born author had, up until this edition, so successfully imbued his main protagonist with. It also disappointingly doesn’t contribute towards “making definite statements about Marc’s mental state” as Lemire had assured his audience his work would.

Exaggerating this fractural fiction is the creative team’s decision to utilise “incredible” guest artists Wilfredo Torres, Francesco Francavilla and James Stokoe on the book alongside title regular Greg Smallwood. Such contrastingly-styled incorporations, which range from the comical to the vividly colourful, undoubtedly instils the twenty-page periodical with an altogether different dynamism to its preceding publications. Yet the decision to craft such a visually-choppy magazine must, with hindsight, be as unsettling a decision for Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso, as that of allowing his writer to apparently malign the forty-year relationship between Spector and Khonshu and portray the Egyptian deity sadistically betraying his ‘loyal’ agent…
Writer: Jeff Lemire, and Artists: Greg Smallwood, Wilfredo Torres, Francesco Francavilla & James Stokoe

Friday, 19 August 2016

Doctor Strange [2015] #8 - Marvel Comics

DOCTOR STRANGE No. 8, July 2016
The twenty-sixth best selling book of May 2016, at least according to “Diamond Comic Distributors”, Issue Eight of “Doctor Strange” unquestionably must have initially excited the majority of its 49,427 strong audience with its depiction of the “archaeologist of the Impossible” scaling some crocodile-infested catacombs in order to “find every scrap of magic in the world”. Certainly the magazine's anxious, claustrophobically taut opening sequence, complete with gigantic spider-webs, bleached skulls, venomous snakes, and a pack of pursuing Witchfinder wolves, helps make the Sorcerer Supreme’s vain search for “a few crumbs of magic” an enjoyably tense read. 

Disappointingly though, all of this pulse-pounding action soon sadly evaporates once the former “preeminent surgeon” has safely returned to his comrades-in-magic, and the magnitude of their hopeless situation finally dawns upon Wanda Maximoff, Elizabeth Twoyoungmen and Médico Místico. Indeed, the moment the Scarlet Witch suggests that “this could always be the end. The end of us. The end of magic”, Jason Aaron’s narrative takes a depressingly dark turn for the worse dialogue-wise and arguably appears to simply run out of things for the title’s main protagonists to do… Apart from perhaps look aghast whenever someone mentions the ‘horrible thing kept with the cellar of 177A Bleecker Street, Greenwich Village, New York; “Just when you think things can’t get any worse… You remember there’s a monster in your cellar made entirely of pain and suffering.”

Admittedly the Alabama-born writer’s script for this final third of the twenty-page periodical isn’t entirely without its merits, with Wong’s humorous rescue of Zelma Stanton from a couple of globe-headed Empirikul eyebots using a fridge and two bowls of his master’s slimy-green soup, providing a modicum of amusement. But even this endearing scene is short-lived and soon forgotten when events strongly suggest that the Marvel Universe’s magical realms are disappointingly going to be ‘saved’ by the Sanctum Sanctorum’s secret ‘basement creature’ as opposed to the comic’s titular character himself.

Somewhat disconcertingly, Chris Bachalo’s artwork for this third instalment of “The Last Days Of Magic”, would also seem to suffer the same symptoms as Aaron’s increasingly tired plot. Chock full of numerous frantically drawn, terrifically-detailed panels, the Canadian penciller’s opening breakdowns are wonderfully dynamic and literally must have swept up any perusing bibliophile with its carousel of venomous vipers, magic-eating Een’Gawori slugs and Hellfire shotguns. However, as soon as the focus turns upon the Empirikul ‘disinfecting’ Doctor Strange’s abode, then the Eisner Award-winner noticeably decreases the number of pictures per page, and subsequently slows proceedings down to little more than a crawl…
The 'Age Of Apocalypse' variant cover art of "DOCTOR STRANGE" No. 8 by Pasqual Ferry

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Captain America: Steve Rogers #3 - Marvel Comics

Disconcertingly focussing upon a mission debrief between a kneeling, bare-chested titular character and his holographic master, the Red Skull, it is genuinely hard not to see the narrative for Issue Three of “Captain America: Steve Rogers” as yet another attempt by “Marvel Worldwide” to ‘quickly backtrack’ on their “initial choice” that the Sentinel of Liberty has always been a Hydra agent. Indeed, considering Nick Spencer’s pre-publication interview with “Entertainment Weekly” in which he “unequivocally” stated that “this is not a clone, not an imposter, not mind control, not someone else acting through Steve. This really is Steve Rogers, Captain America himself”, the plot to this twenty-two periodical not only reinforces that the super-soldier was actually brainwashed “because he had false memories implanted by Kobrik, the sentient Cosmic Cube who became a girl.” But depicts the ‘sleeper agent’ actually fighting against his mental programming by disobeying the order to murder Doctor Erik Selvig, and seemingly having genuine feelings for S.H.I.E.L.D. Commander Sharon Carter; “You. Don’t. Ever. Touch. Her. Again!”   

Perhaps unsurprisingly, such ‘misdirection’ from the comic’s writer arguably proves somewhat detrimental to the smooth flow of its narrative, and whilst Nicky Fury’s old International Espionage Agency landing a ship in “a city primarily populated by super villains” certainly creates plenty of suspense and action, courtesy of both Crossfire and “Sheriff” Taskmasker taking umbrage at their sovereign island nation being “invaded by S.H.I.E.L.D.”, any such drama is completely overshadowed by the America author’s inconsistent and erratic portrayal of Rogers. In fact it’s genuinely hard to fathom out just what the World War Two veteran is going to do from one panel to next, especially when he appears murderously determined to kill Jack Harrison, angrily incensed by Tony Masters stabbing Carter through her hand with his sword, and genuinely troubled by failing to “save the [Hydra] pawn in the train bombing” all within the same storyline.

Sadly Spencer’s solution to the trials and tribulations of this book’s supporting cast is just as ludicrous as his portrayal of Captain America’s mercurial behaviour. Surrounded and trapped within a country “ruled by criminals and populated by the Masters Of Evil”, and clearly outnumbered a hundred to one, things do not look good for Sharon, Free Spirit and Rick Jones, even when the Sentinel of Liberty arrives at the last minute in order to dissuade Taskmaster from skewering his beloved. Yet “the most hated man in America today” would have his audience believe that by simply threatening to “empty every last (casino) account” on the Bagalia Strip, “all (the) bad guys” would just stop “finally getting back at that mean old Captain America --”? As the S.H.I.E.L.D. Commander herself states “that is the stupidest plan I have ever heard.”  
The variant cover art of "CAPTAIN AMERICA: STEVE ROGERS" No. 3 by Joe Madureira

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

All-Star Batman #1 - DC Comics

ALL-STAR BATMAN No. 1, October 2016
Supposedly inspired by a road trip across the Southwest with his nine-year-old, this “first arc” of “All-Star Batman” by Scott Snyder is arguably far closer to being an unmitigated confusing mess of “in continuity” causality than “a no-holds-barred journey” which takes Batman and Two-Face on a “high-octane, high-stakes” adventure across the state. Indeed, the vast majority of its audience must have been shaking their heads in utter bemusement as the twenty-four page periodical’s wonderfully dramatic opening sequence suddenly lurches back in time to “twenty two minutes ago”, then “two hours ago”, then “two weeks ago”, and then “twenty minutes ago” etc etc… It certainly soon becomes difficult to chronologically work out just which version of the Caped Crusader the action is following, and why he’s planning on travelling nearly five hundred miles north with Harvey Dent in the Batwing.

Fortunately the New York-born writer does at least live up to his post-publication promise of incorporating plenty of “villains I’ve never used” before into the “thrill-a-minute” action, with both Firefly and Killer Moth making an impressive entrance, courtesy of manhandling the Dark Knight straight through the interior of a prefabricated fast food restaurant. Unhappily, the same cannot be said for Black Spider, a multiple mechanically-armed hired gun who perhaps somewhat contrivingly confronts a chainsaw-wielding Batman in the middle of a wheat field; “But know that I’ve got some upgrades since we last met, Batman. Every tarsus on these legs is semi-automatic. Bottom line: You’re outgunned seven to one.”

Perhaps this book’s greatest enticement however, is the excellent artwork of one “of the best in the business”, John Romita Junior. Moodily sketched with plenty of well-defined shadows, and similar in style to his pencilling on the “gritty street-level stories of… Spider-Man and Daredevil”, even the American illustrator’s more sedentary sequences, such as Batman and a golden-armoured Duke Thomas talking to Commissioner Gordon after an acid rain storm, forces the eye to linger on the intricate detail of every panel… Whilst the tense, restrained yet dynamically nervous motion the Inkpot Award-winner imbues his figures with when the armed customers of Auggie Mac’s Diner encircle Batman in an effort to stop him capturing Two-Face, makes the shock of the titular character being suddenly shot in the back all the more impactive.

Flawed as the script to “My Own Worst Enemy” is though, Snyder’s penmanship for this comic’s secondary tale, which vaguely starts recounting Duke Thomas’ introduction to “a condensed version of all” Batman’s training, is arguably even worse, with Declan Shalvey’s woefully wooden one-dimensional drawings looking especially poor as a result of directly following on from “JRJR”. In fact Editor Mark Doyle may well have thought with hindsight that the $4.99 publication was probably a superior quality product without including “The Cursed Wheel”, and that the book’s Irish artist would have been put to better use simply pencilling additional variant covers…
The regular cover art of "ALL-STAR BATMAN" No. 1 by John Romita Junior

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

The Punisher #2 - Marvel Comics

THE PUNISHER No. 2, August 2016
Frank Castle fans hoping for “a different take on the vigilante”, or even just some additional character development were doubtless rather disappointed by Becky Cloonan’s seemingly straightforward story for Issue Two of “The Punisher”. For whilst the one-time “upstanding citizen” is depicted deftly dispatching a good half dozen drug dealers with his impressive array of automatic firearms, the “Tokyopop” published writer’s twenty-page long narrative doesn’t actually entail anything different to what has been penned before by a number of her creative predecessors.

Indeed, with the exception of a vicious, no-nonsense fist-fight between the decorated marine and ‘spaced-out’ Face, as well as a deeply disturbing cliff-hanger that ends with a naive little girl wearing an explosive suicide vest, this “not for kids” tale of ‘the cold, calculated, self-appointed doer of justice on the road’ is depressingly unimaginative, and undoubtedly seems a wasted opportunity for a title which should have been capitalizing on actor Jon Bernthal’s “absolutely badass portrayal” as the ‘no qualms killer’ in the American 2016 web television series “Daredevil”.

Disillusionment with the overfamiliar and standard storyline aside however, the first female artist to draw the main “Batman” title for “DC Comics” has still scripted a 47,524 copy-selling comic book which proves an enthralling, if not a little bloodily disturbing, read. In fact Castle’s confrontation with Condor’s mentally unbalanced leading lieutenant is pulse-poundingly paced, with bullets “whump(ing)” into hapless corpses, lips splitting wide open and heads savagely clashing together. It’s certainly not all-too clear that the Vietnam-war veteran is winning the altercation until Face speeds away from his momentarily dazed opponent in an open-backed van; “See you soon, Frank!”

Steve Dillion’s solidly-drawn, reliable pencilling throughout this “blood-drenched deathscape” additionally adds to this magazine’s attractiveness, and actually becomes increasing integral to the series’ storytelling methodology as the Punisher dominates each and every panel without actually saying a blessed word of dialogue. Colour Artist Frank Martin’s work is also worth highlighting, even if it’s just for providing Face with some disconcertingly red eyes whilst under the psychotic influence of the strength enhancing drug EMC, and subtly suggesting, through shading, a rising swelling above Castle’s left eye after he had been head-butted in that spot.
Writer: Becky Cloonan, Artist: Steve Dillion, and Color Artist: Frank Martin

Monday, 15 August 2016

Moon Knight [2016] #4 - Marvel Comics

MOON KNIGHT No. 4, September 2016
Inauspiciously sat within the confines of a toilet cubicle inside Gena Lander’s brightly-lit diner, the Moon God Khonshu could just have easily been scolding writer Jeff Lemire, as opposed to this comic’s titular character, when he berates him for wasting “precious time eating pancakes” and directly enquires “what do you think you are doing in here?” For whilst this fourth instalment in the “Welcome To New Egypt” story-arc starts off well enough with a vicious fist-fight between Mister Knight and the crocodile-headed Sobek, it’s likely the vast majority of this book’s 40,012 strong audience weren’t terribly impressed with the narrative’s subsequent seemingly endless portrayal of Marc Spector either aimlessly wandering through the dune-filled streets of “a New York City covered in sand and pyramids”, or supping upon starch-based batter and “warm coffee”.

Admittedly, the early revelation that a concerned local cop is in reality an ancient Egyptian deity who was waiting for the “Son of Khonshu” so as to “eat you and then expel you at the feet of King Seth”, makes for a pulse-pounding punch-up; especially when it results in Jean-Paul DuChamp bleeding to death on account of having his throat partially ripped out by the ‘Splashing One’. But the former mercenary’s savage revenge upon Frenchie’s reptilian murderer, dynamically pencilled by Greg Smallwood, is over within a heartbeat of panels, and leaves the twenty-page periodical’s pace disappointingly wanting until the “Marvel Worldwide” publication’s very conclusion when the “retrograde sanitarium” escapee is surprisingly struck by a crescent moon throwing blade hurled by his alter ego, Moon Knight..?

Equally as disheartening is the Doug Wright Award-winner’s sudden and senseless removal of Gena from his script. The tough no-nonsense Brooklyn informant has fought right alongside the Fist of Khonshu since this “deep-dive into… Marc Spector(s)… fractured psyche” started, and yet Lemire frustratingly has her abruptly decide to stay behind in her prefabricated fast food establishment, meekly accepting that because “the sand (is) rising out there” the establishment will probably become her tomb; “Well then, so be it. Better here than out there.” Such a fatalistic acceptance of her demise makes absolutely no sense to so strong a personality, and it is hard to reconcile this Lander with the woman who previously smacked Mister Knight over the head with a large stick when she erroneously thought he was a pursuing hound-headed hospital orderly.
Writer: Jeff Lemire, Artist: Greg Smallwood, and Color Artist: Jordie Bellaire

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Micronauts [2016] #2 - IDW Publishing

MICRONAUTS No. 2, May 2016
With the exception of a momentary pause while Oziron Rael leads his team on “a parts run” to “a settlement forty-five minutes to the west”, Issue Two of “Micronauts” is a non-stop action-packed thrill-a-minute ride, whose inclusion of such notable Seventies ‘toys’ as Biotron, Microtron, Acroyear, Space Glider and Force Commander must have delighted both the vast majority of its 12,803 readers, and any “Mego” aficionados who happened upon the twenty-page periodical inside a specialty store’s spinner rack. In fact, in many ways Cullen Bunn’s narrative depicting a detonating orbital space station, biological agent testing, and a planet-wide invasion by both genetically engineered super-warriors and later the Ministry of Science’s soldiers is arguably nearly faultless space opera. It certainly must have disappointed “IDW Publishing” that so well-written a title sold less than half as many copies as it did the month before…

For those bibliophiles who stuck with the North Carolina-born author’s “dream come true” however, the storyline not only offers plenty of explosions, robots, laser blasts and high-flying shenanigans, but also undoubtedly crams an awful lot of characterisation into the book’s panels as well. Such ‘spotlights’ upon Phenolo-Phi, the comedic Microtron and Biotron genuinely give their personalities an opportunity to shine through during the script’s numerous moments of crisis, with Oz’s diminutive first mate attempting to single-handedly delay a second generation “Acroyear swarm… in raze formation” proving particularly humorous; “Seek shelter, Captain! I’ll hold these brutes back for as long as I’m able! Put me down! Put me down – gently – you bully!”

Equally as successful as the portrayal of the more established Micronauts though, is the GLAAD Media Award-winner’s handling of “Larissa, a skilled mercenary with some rad force field technology at her disposal.” Initially forced upon Pharoid and his “band of misfits” by her treacherous employer Hezlee Ferro, Orbital Defender quickly establishes herself as a valuable ‘new’ member of the crew by first helping the roguish space pirate save “a lot of lives” from a lethal biological agent and then later, the “flanks” of the Heliopolis’ captain himself during their tussle with Baron Karza’s invasion force.

Max Dunbar’s dynamically-charged artwork, vibrantly coloured by David Garcia-Cruz is also exceptionally well-done. Only occasionally disappointing in the pencilling of his figures’ faces, the Canadian’s breakdowns are predominantly masterful, with Microtron, Biotron, Acroyear and Force Commander Baron Daigon being especially well-rendered.
The regular cover art of "MICRONAUTS" No. 2 by J.H. Williams III

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Micronauts [2016] #1 - IDW Publishing

MICRONAUTS No. 1, April 2016
Penned by self-confessed Micronauts toy lover Cullen Bunn and apparently destined to be a book which “will feature lots of space-faring action” in its depiction of “an epic… civil war and cosmic weirdness, magic and super-science”, this opening instalment of ‘Editornaut’ John Barber’s “journey through Microspace” would clearly appear to have been a labour of love for its creative team considering the narrative’s prominent inclusion of Baron Karza, Acroyear, Biotron and Microtron. Yet whilst the GLAAD Media Award-winner’s script undoubtedly caters for “old school Micronauts fans”, courtesy of its wide-ranging representation of both “ruthless side(s) of a civil war ravaging the universe”, it seems disappointingly debatable whether many of this twenty-four page periodical’s 25,673 readers actually had much of an idea as to what the “small band of renegades” were genuinely up to.

Admittedly, the North Carolina-born writer’s basic plot simply revolves around an attempt by Oziron Rael to “slip past the blockade (of Baron Karza) and liberate the meds” for “systems that need that medicine – badly.” But such a straightforward mission is severely over-complicated by a couple of dialogue-rich interludes concerning the approach of a mysterious “entropic wave" towards the planet Saqqura, and the political manoeuvrings of Homeworld’s former chief scientist and his calculating wife Shazraella on board a Ministry of Defense Outpost skirting the entropy cloud perimeter.

Such mystifying machinations aside however, once Bunn has the Heliopolis deftly deposit Pharoid, Acroyear, Space Glider and Orbital Defender deep inside the Valtricos Research Station using warp tech, the storyline’s action finally heats up by portraying the team’s genetically engineered super-warrior savagely hacking his way through a corridor crammed full of well-armed war-bots with his energy sword; “Here they come. Take cover if you can find it. I’ll hold them off.” Indeed, the subsequent firefight between Oz, Larissa and Phenolo-Phi and the medical facility’s dome-headed sentries is as pulse-pounding as its laser beams are colourful.

Perhaps somewhat contentiously however, David Baldeon’s artwork for this ‘wild adventure’ is arguably a little too sharp for a comic book, with its disconcerting panels depicting the “roguish space pirate” blasting his way to relative safety unnervingly appearing to have been directly ‘lifted’ from an animation celluloid. It’s certainly clear why "barely taller than his Biotron toy" Bunn has “been a fan of David’s work for some time” and “tried to wrangle him into working with me on more than one occasion in the past.”
The regular cover art of "MICRONAUTS" No. 1 by J.H. Williams III

Friday, 12 August 2016

James Bond #8 - Dynamite Entertainment

JAMES BOND No. 8, July 2016
Whilst hardly the quiet before the storm, on account of Warren Ellis’ script containing both a powerful punch-up within the confines of a lift and a startlingly sudden mortar attack just outside Heathrow Airport's entrance, Issue Eight of “James Bond” arguably must have proved a far more tranquil read for its audience than some of the title’s previous fast-moving publications. In fact, for the vast majority of this twenty-two page periodical the British spy is somewhat simplistically shown just smooth-talking his way from one conversation to another, as he innocuously pushes the plot along at a somewhat pedestrian pace right up until the book’s inevitable cliff-hanger, when an armed agent from the “compromised intelligence service” decides to pay M an unexpected visit at his office.

Fortunately, this void left behind by the Eagle Award-winner’s decision to scale down his narrative’s pulse-pounding action is rather delightfully filled with the sort of enthralling interdepartmental intrigue involving MI6 that captivated cinema goers watching the 2015 motion picture “Spectre”, as well as a similar nod to the titular character’s earlier silver screen appearances. Certainly franchise aficionados must have enjoyed the interplay between the secret serviceman and his latest female ward, Miss Birdwhistle, when the Royal Naval Reserve Commander discovers his seemingly naïve, vulnerable-looking charge is actually a secret sadomasochistic Mistress who suddenly manhandles him in a manner reminiscent to that of Grace Jones’ May Day from the fourteenth spy film “A View To A Kill”; “Can I just stop to say Ouch?”

This book’s greatest draw however, is undoubtedly the silent multi-panelled sequence set within Los Angeles International Airport where Bond single-handedly dispatches two CIA agents tasked to murder him and his Diplomatic Section ‘lady friend’. Blisteringly brutal as James breaks noses, stamps heads and twists necks, the entire episode is as savagely violent as it is swiftly resolved, with Jason Masters’ bone-crunching illustrations of heads being mercilessly slammed into walls or feet repeatedly battering skulls genuinely making the reader feel every single vicious blow.

Admittedly not all of the South African’s drawings are quite as dynamic, with his lack-lustre pencilling for the sedentary scene depicting M’s voicing of his concerns over “the discovery of the dark money” and unhappiness that “Eidolon is another word for… spectre” proving particularly prosaic. But such aberrations are readily forgivable when one considers the effort storyboarding the breakdowns depicting Ian Fleming’s creation escaping “two men… using CB carbines with UGL grenade launchers” must have taken.
Writer: Warren Ellis, Artist: Jason Masters, and Colors: Guy Major

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Howling Commandos Of S.H.I.E.L.D. #6 - Marvel Comics

As swansong editions go, especially those based upon the exploits of a (field) team of super-heroes, Frank J. Barbiere’s narrative for Issue Six of “Howling Commandos Of S.H.I.E.L.D.” is frustratingly far more focussed upon the exploits of missing member Orrgo than the other nine “ragtag group of monsters”. Indeed, the script for the twenty-page action-packed periodical is so obsessed with the thirty foot tall extra-terrestrial “space god” that its terribly abrupt finish unexpectedly arrives just as team leader Dum Dum Duggan is contemplating his squad ‘mouth-wateringly’ having to confront both the entirety of Pleasant Hill’s villainous escapees, as well all “the prisoners of S.T.A.K.E.” Doctor Kraye has recently released…

So infuriating a conclusion doubtless vexed many of this title’s 12,700 readers, particularly when its publishers had ‘forewarned’ both the public and presumably the book’s creative team of the series’ (stealth) cancellation as early as January 2016, by failing to include “the lowest selling Marvel All-New All-Different book of December” in its solicitation listings, and thus given its American author plenty of time to reconcile his story-arc’s numerous plot threads. Sadly however, such prudence simply isn’t evident in the former English teacher’s writing, with the choppy script sporadically leaping between Orrogo’s innermost desire to be accepted, and his team-mates’ impotent attack upon the young sentient Cosmic Cube, Kubik; “Orrgo has been many things… Been to many places… But what you did, it was not real. My real family… The Howling Commandos… Has come to me.”

Admittedly the contents of “Standoff” form an integral part of the “Marvel Comics” multi-title comic book event “Avenger: Standoff!”, and therefore by its very nature needs to leave plenty of sequences open to exploitation by other series, such as “Captain America: Sam Wilson”. But even so, one would have thought that Barbiere could have created a more satisfying conclusion to his magazine than a patronizing pretence in the letters page, “Going Commando”, thanking his “humble readers, for joining us on this adventure.”

Perhaps equally as disillusioned with the abolition of this “four-coloured battlefield”, Brent Schoonover’s inconsistent pencilling is arguably a far cry from the “talented” artwork his co-collaborator intimates he submits before each deadline. In fact, apart from a seemingly Jack Kirby-inspired double-splash depicting Orrogo first coming to Earth and being beaten up by a gigantic circus gorilla, as well as the Grey Gargoyle being bested by Teen Abomination, the Freelancer’s disappointing breakdowns appear lifelessly static and inanimately wooden at best…
Writer: Frank J. Barbiere, Art: Brent Schoonover, and Color Art: Nick Filardi