Sunday, 31 December 2017

All-Star Batman #6 - DC Comics

ALL-STAR BATMAN No. 6, March 2017
As a concept, the idea of Mister Freeze waking up “nearly five hundred people around the nation [currently] sleeping in ice, held in cryogenic stasis” and eradicating all other life through the release of a millennia-old deadly bacteria, is a pretty solid one. Unfortunately for this comic’s 84,296 buyers however, Scott Snyder’s decision to step away from the (tried and tested) traditional storytelling technique to one where the tale is told through the words of a narrator, is disastrously detrimental and arguably acts as a significant barrier to any enjoyment “DC Comics” presumably hoped to bring by publishing this adventure.

Admittedly, not everything is wrong with the Harvey Award-winner’s writing. For example, he wonderfully tricks the reader at the start of “Ends Of The Earth” by fooling them into believing it was a young Bruce Wayne who “had to memorize a poem for a school assignment” when it was actually Victor Fries. Yet such bookish cleverness isn’t enough to tie down any perusing bibliophile with the rest of the dialogueless drivel the New York author has on offer within this twenty-three page periodical, especially when the former cryogenics expert’s plan is supposedly thwarted by the titular lead having earlier infected himself with a virus which “hidden… in his body, his blood” would “when his skin was exposed… become airborne…”

Just as off-putting as the narration style though has to be Mark Simpson’s disconcerting and oft-times somewhat confusing artwork. There’s a lot to admire in Jock’s early frames as the Batman stoically stalks through an Alaskan blizzard, some “three hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle”. Whilst the Scots-born illustrator’s renderings of Freeze’s carbon-bonded ice zombies are as chillingly well-conceived as the biologically tough creatures are apparently immune to the effects of batarangs. But as soon as the action abates, and Nora’s husband settles down to the sedentary telling of “over fifty years worth of dreamers, all hoping to be woken up one day to a better world”, the scratchy drawing style starts to appear wooden, angular and downright unattractive.

Sadly, there’s little to like with this magazine’s secondary story, “The Cursed Wheel” either, despite Snyder’s attempt to throw his audience straight into the action by having Batman and Duke facing one of the Riddler’s explosive conundrums right from the opening splash-page. Featuring the typically colourful and characterful visuals of Francesco Francavilla, this short-lived crossword game using an apartment block and its aghast occupants makes little sense whatsoever due to its rushed pace and inaccessible over-reliance upon its fanbase having previously read up on Thomas’ journey as the Dark Knight’s latest side-kick; “You need to be patient. You’re doing great work, but you’re only half-way through the wheel."
Script: Scott Snyder, Artist: Jock, and Colors: Matt Hollingsworth

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Warhammer 40,000: Will Of Iron #2 - Titan Comics

WARHAMMER 40,000: WILL OF IRON No. 2, December 2016
Considering that Issue Two of “Warhammer 40,000: Will Of Iron” is only twenty pages long, George Mann somehow still manages to cram an incredible amount of diverging sub-plots within its narrative. Sadly however, whilst such an informative read makes Kalidius’ early subterranean sojourn into “an underground city” full of survivors a tense, excitingly atmospheric experience, it also means that by the time the storyline has leapt from the planet Exyrion to “an ancient observation platform”, and then on to the feudal world of Tintaroth, events, as well as the vast cast of characters involved, have become both overcomplicated and overwhelming to say the least. 

As a result, once the adventure finally settles upon the Chaos Space Marine spaceship fast approaching the Calaphax Cluster, it is somewhat hard to actually work out just which planet Korus is partially planning to destroy with his “Engine of Death”. In fact, without re-reading the series’ preceding instalment again, as this book’s early summarisation makes no reference at all to the machinations of the Iron Warriors Chaos Lord, its impossibly hard to recall just what secrets Rendix and Astorax are hoping to crack open once the missile has detonated upon “the Hive”. 

Equally as confusing to those without an encyclopaedic knowledge of “Warhammer 40K” lore, is Astor Sabbathiel’s “current goal… to uncover whether the Dark Angels are secretly riddled with heresy.” Apparently already convinced of the treachery of Lion El'Jonson’s legion due to the affidavit of an incarcerated “thing”, the Inquisitor unwisely visits a “weather station” potentially “designed to keep a watchful eye on Exyrion” and then barely bats an eye when one of her entourage notices that “after all this time, the air recyclers are still functioning.” The installation clearly reeks of being a trap set by “the creeping things of the warp”, so why is the Ordo Hereticus devotee so convinced that Anya’s discovery of a handful of bullet-riddled corpses found on board is “the evidence you’ve been looking for”..?

Clearly this publication's saving grace though is the outstanding artwork of Tazio Bettin, which is so mesmerising and claustrophobically coloured by Enrica Eren Angiolini, that its almost immaterial how convoluted the storyline has become. The wonderfully drawn illustrations simply carry the reader’s eye along despite the aforementioned somewhat choppy script, and one can actually feel the heavy, living weight of the giant horned hounds as they momentarily fall upon Baltus’ squad and are then eviscerated by his sergeant’s chainsword; “There are spoors here. The place must be guard --”
The regular cover art of "WARHAMMER 40,000: WILL OF IRON" No. 2 by Fabio Listrani

Friday, 29 December 2017

Hulk [2016] #6 - Marvel Comics

HULK No. 6, July 2017
As conclusions to scintillatingly scary six-parters go, Mariko Tamaki’s script for Issue Six of “Hulk” must arguably have been a major disappointment for this magazine’s 20,482 followers, with the periodical’s opening half seemingly stalling the inevitable change from Jennifer Walters into the ‘gamma green goddess’, and its latter pages overcomplicating what should have been a cataclysmic fist-fight by having the titular character not only battling a sentient building, but also trying to rescue a suddenly suicidal Maise Brewn; "I'll burn this whole place to the ground before you take me." In fact, compared to the tight, orchestrated writing of this adventure’s previous instalments, this particular twenty-page publication’s storyline appears awkwardly paced and choppily plotted. 

For starters, any pretence that Brewn’s apartment building merely contains a lethal non-human killer lurking within its shadowy hallways and corridors, is completely thrown aside in favour of the accommodation block visibly manifesting itself into a multi-storey homicidal creature of brick and mortar. This change of tact at least provides the Canadian writer with an opportunity to detail how the monster looks to the general “Hey! We have a right to be here!” public, yet somewhat ruins the mysterious claustrophobic atmosphere of the piece which the script has previously tried so very hard to maintain.

Likewise, just as soon as Walters is encircled by the building’s tendrils it is obvious what is going to happen next, so just why Tamaki decides to waste several frames trying to implicate that Jennifer’s transformation was fear-related appears rather nonsensical. Surely, the “lawyer” could simply be shown to have been motivated wholly by anger at her first client’s misplaced belief that the She-Hulk’s alter-ego had somehow betrayed her? Why the utter injustice at Maise’s indignant, self-righteous delusion that Walters is the monster, and by horribly mutilating innocent people she is simply protecting herself, would certainly warrant Stan Lee’s co-creation losing her control in my book, especially when the human mutate is next of the murderer's list… 

Artist Nico Leon similarly appears just as confused as to where this tale is heading, with the freelance comic book illustrator’s drawings becoming increasingly undisciplined (and rather sloppy) as the action progresses. Indeed, inconsistent artwork would appear to be this edition’s biggest downfall with the building’s living embodiment harkening back to the appearance of the Sub-Mariner’s rival, Orka, and the Hulk disconcertingly suffering with a bright green vein which quite ludicrously runs right across the bridge of her nose.
Writer: Mariko Tamaki, Artist: Nico Leon, and Color Artist: Matt Milla

Thursday, 28 December 2017

Micronauts First Strike #1 - IDW Publishing

Publicised by “IDW Publishing” as a “cosmic alliance” between the “Earth’s smallest heroes” and “Rom”, this “Hasbro comic book event” must have proved a bitter disappointment to its readership, not least of which because the Knight of the Solstar Order doesn’t even make an actual appearance in this twenty-page periodical until its very ending. Indeed, the cosmic superhero originally created for “Parker Brothers” as an action figure only appears in the magazine’s final four frames, yet still just long enough to disconcertingly transform from being the Micronauts’ much-sought after benefactor in their fight against Wraith “magic”, into an unforgiving killing machine who alarmingly misanalyses his tiny allies as his deadliest foes?

Christos Gage’s script for Issue One of “Micronauts First Strike” also suffers from containing some marked similarities to the 1989 motion picture “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”, by depicting Microtron and Biotron narrowly avoiding the scything blades of a motorised lawnmower. It even includes a somewhat shrinking scene where one of the robots attempts to communicate with a garden invertebrate and then later, depicts Acroyear wrenching loose a (giant) daisy and unromantically offering it to space glider Phenolo-Phi in order to help the “rebel” feel better after Oziron Rael’s departure to become “a time traveller.” 

Admittedly, the American screenwriter’s narrative contains some elements to enjoy, such as the Dire Wraiths’ attempt to mutate “common Earth insects” into “biological weapons designed to infect native humans by a form of energy unknown in Microspace”, and the Micronauts’ subsequently bloody battle with a small coven of extra-terrestrial sorcerers. But even these pleasurable passages of action-packed fisticuffs are ultimately underwhelming due to some truly stilted dialogue and an ultimately illogical, yet all-pervading lack of menace towards the miniscule lead characters; “No time! Save yourself! And avenge me.” In fact, rather than squash their opponents when they have them at the mercy of the Dark Arts, the Dire Wraiths somewhat inexplicably release their foes so that their “enemies will take care of themselves.”

Sadly, this publication’s biggest hindrance however, is Chris Panda’s less than impressive artwork. The French pinup illustrator’s drawing style, which sports thick black lines that run around the entirety of his figures, doesn’t really suit the technologically advanced look of the titular team and definitely provides a great disservice to the look of the Dire Wraiths, which at times appear as if they’ve been sketched by an overenthusiastic amateur adolescent.
Written by: Christos Gage, Art by: Chris Panda, and Colors by: David Garcia Cruz

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Injection #13 - Image Comics

INJECTION No. 13, June 2017
Arguably focusing far more upon the mystic nature of primeval manifestations and the sinister machinations of modern day magicians than its more recently printed publications, Warren Ellis’ script for Issue Thirteen of “Injection” must have both encouraged and delighted this comic’s increasingly dwindling audience with its simply told tale of terror concerning Brigid Roth’s patient excavation of the Cold House. Certainly, the twenty-page periodical’s plot seemed far more closely aligned to the Essex-born author’s original vision for the on-going series' content to be “high-concept science fiction fused with elements of magic and mythology”, than its story-arc’s previous instalments had been.

Foremost of these improvements has to be Professor Derwa Kernick’s creepy examination of the ancient site’s archaeological finds, and her menacing dialogue with Roth involving the early Christians in the area being sacrificed as part of a “cultural exchange” with mischievious pixies. Indeed, one doesn’t need to be the computer geek’s Stanley-knife carrying female chauffeur Emma Louise Beaufort to know that the elderly bespectacled expert is lying, and clearly knows how “the mechanism of the cell” operates; “She already cited local stories and poetry. Poetry was how oral history survived -- put into rhyme to make it easier to remember. She knows.”

Equally as captivating is the Cold House’s reaction to Force Projection International performing “a series of small current tests across the mineral pan.” Initially innocent, and simply part of a checklist in order for the scientists to get paid, this experiment shows just how gruesomely fatal Brigid’s miscalculations can be by causing one of the nearby FPI assets to be unceremoniously torn to shreds by giant claws composed of blindingly white energy…

Gratuitously drawn by Declan Shalvey, without a single syllable being uttered, this ten-panel soundless sequence genuinely appears to be pencilled in order to replicate the stuff of nightmares, as heavily-whiskered Bob Gristle has his skin ripped from his face, his tongue gouged out of a mutilated mouth, and his entrails pulled from the man’s still pain-wracked, breathing torso. In fact, the entire scene, which ends with all the corpse’s meat being somehow dragged through the earth by the savage spriggans, appears to have been a disconcerting labour of love for the Irish comic book artist.
The regular cover art of "INJECTION" No. 13 by Declan Shalvey

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Aliens: Dead Orbit #2 - Dark Horse Comics

ALIENS: DEAD ORBIT No. 2, May 2017
Packed full of pulse-pounding corridor chases, chest-bursting chaos and blood-soaked baby xenomorphs dashing for freedom from the confines of a juddering corpse’s rib cage, James Stokoe’s narrative for Issue Two of “Dead Orbit” doesn’t admittedly bring anything particularly new to the “Aliens” franchise. But frankly, it’s doubtful that many of this twenty-two page periodical’s fans really cared, for in replicating the motion picture series’ more graphically memorable moments, and then weaving them amongst his own tale of terror on board the Spacteria 284255, the Canadian writer genuinely appears to capture all the spine-tingling horror of H.R. Giger’s merciless extra-terrestrials.

Indeed, within moments of the Weyland-Yutani way station’s newly-arrived patients starting to shudder and convulse in the Med-bay, it is likely the vast majority of this comic’s readership felt their hearts starting to beat a little faster; especially when Doc Harrow angrily remonstrates with his skipper that he is doing all he can simply to sedate and stabilise the badly mutilated “three unlicensed passengers”. This all-pervading sense of unease doesn’t abate either, just because the scene disconcertingly shifts to Wascylewski’s more sedentary investigation into the supposed freebooter salvager’s ship manifest.

Coldly curious as to why the recovered deep space vessel’s “payroll suggests” it still has five missing crewmembers, the engineer’s partial briefing to his shipmates actually succeeds in slowly heightening the storyline’s mounting tension up until the point where Captain Hassan is suddenly urgently called back to Medical, and Stokoe pencils some truly gruesome splash pages depicting infant aliens erupting from the inside of their ill-fated carriers. This sequence, notable for the carousel of panels showing the open-mouthed horror on the faces of “Wassy” and his dumb-struck colleagues, is incredibly-well illustrated, and goes a long way to recapturing all the chaotic atmosphere of Kane's dinner-time demise in the original 1979 British-American film “Alien”; “Stay back! Don’t touch them!”

Perhaps far less satisfying, is sadly the comic book artist’s conclusion to this publication, which disappointingly switches back to Wascylewski’s ‘present day’ predicament as the increasingly derelict fuel depot continues to break apart, and the protagonist finds himself momentarily breathing vacuum. Eyes bulging, gasping for a lungful of non-existent air, and unable to acquire an emergency rebreather, the sole survivor is shown one minute blacking out before the station’s computer can recalibrate the life support systems for that area, and then in the next being inexplicably dragged off into darkness by a pair of slavering drones...
Story, Art and Lettering: James Stokoe

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Star Trek: Boldly Go #9 - IDW Publishing

STAR TREK: BOLDLY GO No. 9, June 2017
If Mike Johnson and Ryan Parrott’s goal with their one-shot storyline for Issue Nine of “Star Trek: Boldly Go” was to turn the Vulcan race into a dislikeably arrogant people, who are as judgemental and condescendingly conceited as they are frustratingly logical, then this twenty-page periodical’s narrative definitely works on every level. For whilst the character of Sarek, marvellously rendered by “series-regular artist” Tony Shasteen to replicate the facial features of actor Ben Cross, comes across as a well-meaning, pleasantly-mannered member of the relocated race, the likes of Uhura’s fellow Vulcan teacher and Spock’s drill rig companion smack of inter-galactic hubris and personal unpleasantness which would rival that of the Klingon House of Duras.

Indeed, for some reason, the collaborative writing partnership seem to actually go out of their way to make the stoically cultured aliens appear disconcertingly disagreeable, and even pen one not only nastily suggesting that Nyota is not an “adequate mate” for the Ambassador’s son because she is a worthless ‘incompetent’ human with “volatile emotions”. But then venomously implying that it is simply not logical “for any Vulcan to choose a mate who is not Vulcan” because such senseless selfishness would threaten the survival of their species.

Just how the Starfleet Lieutenant stops herself from punching the poisonous educationalist, or her partner’s egotistical colleague, is doubtless a testament to Uhura’s patient Federation training. Yet surely, even that wouldn’t prevent the Communications Officer from having a sharp word to say in retaliation towards the pointy-eared extra-terrestrials; especially when they derogatively refer to her as Spock’s “human friend” and suggest she “is in need of medical attention” when she is literally stood right beside them saving their new planet… 

Sadly, all this obnoxiousness doesn’t help the publication’s scandalously poor storyline either, which seems far too nonsensically contrived to even be read worthy. Presumptuous and lackadaisical, the tale never even attempts to explain just why the “geothermal anomaly” at “the Voroth Massif near the Southern Pole” was not detected by the Vulcan’s “initial planetary scans prior to colonization”, nor how the new radioactive isotope’s ability will help make them “self-sufficient.” And let’s not even mention the ludicrously lazy conclusion when New Vulcan is apparently spared a cataclysmic fate by the ghosts of its centaur-like “native inhabitants”; “Spock’s best hypothesis is that they are psychic echoes of the last survivors.”
The regular cover art of "STAR TREK: BOLDLY GO" No. 9 by George Caltsoudas

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Injection #12 - Image Comics

INJECTION No. 12, April 2017
Bedevilled by overly-long, drawn-out sequences and enough needless dialogue to make even the head of a romantic poet like William Wordsworth spin, Warren Ellis’ narrative for Issue Twelve of “Injection” doubtless made many of this title’s 8,615 fans wish that they’d just simply stuck to reading “Image Comics” brief publication promotion blurb rather than the twenty-page periodical itself. In fact, the publisher’s one-liner “Brigid Roth uncovers the death box known as the Cold House” pretty much sums up the entire contents of the English novelist’s storyline without necessitating the need to peruse endless panels pressed full of colourful metaphors, unnecessary expletives, and poorly penned conversational pieces concerning Emma Louise Beaufort’s “brief and surprisingly fun career as a getaway driver.”

Sadly, this apparent obsession by the Eagle Award-winner with anything that doesn’t seemingly progress the book’s plot, yet painstakingly pads out the tale, runs rampant throughout this comic, and resultantly numerous pages are seemingly squandered depicting Professor Derwa Kernick’s identification of “an old Cornish spirit”, Roth’s tedious banter with her new driver en route “to the local police station”, and a disconcertingly bizarre telephone conversation featuring Maria Kilbride and the “supposedly sorcerous” penis of Rasputin. Indeed, Just why Brigid even needed to ‘recruit’ a criminally-inclined female chauffeur, or later contact the Cross Culture-Contamination Unit founder “now it’s got interesting” is far from apparent, and thereby makes the Essex-born writer’s inclusion of the former Lowlands University professor talking whilst looking at the Mad Monk’s pickled sexual organ all the more gratuitous and gravely grotesque; “I will hunt you down and skin you and believe me I have done that before --”  

Unfortunately, all these pointless detours and meaningless side-missions, badly detract from the magazine’s cliff-hanger conclusion, and ruin what otherwise would have been a seriously sinister story involving the Force Projection International not only discovering the skeletal remains of numerous people who had presumably been buried alive by “wee spriggan fellas”, but a chillingly menacing stone monument, known as the “Cold House”, which reeks of “the space between here” and “all the folk of the Other World.” As it is however, this particular instalment of Ellis and penciler Declan Shalvey’s supposed “techno-thriller” appears to lurch from inconsequential instance to aimless act, disastrously diluting any of the “horror” its creative team originally promised when the series was first advertised.
Writer: Warren Ellis, Artist: Declan Shalvey, and Color: Jordie Bellaire

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Captain America: Steve Rogers #12 - Marvel Comics

Shifting 32,567 copies in February 2017, at least according to “Diamond Comic Distributors”, it’s hard to imagine that many followers of Issue Twelve of “Captain America: Steve Rogers” weren’t enthralled by its cacophony of conflict and marvellously realised “Universal Newsreel” footage of Captain America “leading the charge against the [Third] Reich and their allies in the evil organization known as Hydra!” True, the vast majority of Nick Spencer’s writing is frustratingly as erratically penned as the inconsistent artwork of Javier Pina & Andres Guinaldo is poorly pencilled. But that still doesn’t stop the comic’s patriotic pulse from pounding when the titular character, fighting “alongside his best pal, Bucky”, confronts Nazi automatons and gas-masked goose-stepping troopers or, some seventy years later, “the creation of the Mad Thinker”.

In fact, the S.H.I.E.L.D. director’s ‘fist-fight’ with the Awesome Android inside the Museum of American History, is arguably worth this book’s cover price alone, as it genuinely seems to return to a far simply time when the Sentinel of Liberty just stood toe-to-toe with his opponent and outfought them using his fighting savvy and pugilistic smarts. Certainly the sequence, somewhat annoyingly dotted about throughout the twenty-one page periodical, contains all the elements needed for a sense-shattering ‘punch-up’; and one which Rogers only wins when he stops trying to trade like-for-like blows with the “artificial lifeform” and instead targets a natural weak-point of the robot's humanoid-shaped “almost indestructible body”; “Never fear, dear viewer -- We’ll always come out ahead in the end now that we have Captain America on our side!”

Far less impressive, and frankly followable, is Spencer’s sub-plot concerning the Taskmaster and Black Ant trying to sell Maria Hill the footage of the First Avenger whispering “Hail Hydra” to a captive Doctor Erik Selvig in Bagalia. Just why the former S.H.I.E.L.D. leader is conveniently skulking about the shadows of “the nation of super-criminals” is contrivingly explained by her “trying to find something -- anything -- that can get me back in the action.” Yet that doesn’t explain her willingness to agree Anthony Masters’ proposal to get “first refusal on every arms deal that comes across your desk” once the ex-Director has been reinstated, nor Elisa Sinclair’s revelation at being Madame Hydra?
Writer: Nick Spencer, Artists: Javier Pina & Andres Guinaldo, and Colorist: Rachelle Rosenberg

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Uber: Invasion #6 - Avatar Press

UBER: INVASION No. 6, May 2017
Bringing an end to “what will be the first trade of Uber Invasion” this particular twenty-two periodical initially focuses upon the reactivation of one of “the first wave of Japanese enhanced soldiers”, Hideki, and his three month sabbatical upon a desert island in order to become the Battleship Yamato. Honourable, dedicated and loyal to his Empire, the Okinawa veteran’s sense of duty, and occasional questioning of his handler’s ‘animal experiments’ in Manchukuo, admittedly makes for something of a sedentary narrative, despite Daniel Gete’s opening splash illustration depicting the warrior holding the bloodied corpse of an American uber by the throat. But also appears a necessary ‘evil’ by Kieron Gillen, in order to explain just how one of General Ushijima’s many miyoko has suddenly become so powerful that he can “devastate San Diego’s harbour and its defences the moment he was able to see them.”

Disappointingly, this rare glimpse of Hideki’s tremendous power, which fleetingly includes his “complete annihilation of the city on foot”, is then followed by a seemingly cumbersome conversational piece between Miss Stephanie and Eamonn O’Connor, concerning the grisly fate of the American’s older brother. Set against the backdrop of Freddie Rivers “relatively humane euthanasia” of Dixie in a darkly foreboding wooden barn, this disconcerting, dialogue-heavy scene appears to simply repeat Razor’s ever-present doubts as to H.M.H. Colossus’ fate in Paris, as well as his own role in the fight against “the German battleships”, and strangely suggests that the title’s creator has swapped the two brother’s first names around; with both the super-powered adolescent and British scientist referring to the deceased “first Allied enhanced human” as “Eamonn” rather than Patrick?

Just as arguably frustrating to this title's 4,314 followers, must have been Gillen’s decision to conclude Issue Six of “Uber: Invasion” with General George S. Patton spending four entire pages contemplating whether his army is going to cross “the goddam Alps” and risk being ‘isolated and destroyed’. If the former music journalist’s previous scene didn’t smack of superfluous prevarication then this supposed ‘insight’ into the military thought-processes of “Old Blood and Guts” certainly is, and provides an incredibly dissatisfying conclusion to a comic book which primarily appeared destined to continue the series’ graphically gruesome depiction of an alternative World War Two.
The regular cover art of "UBER: INVASION" No. 6 by Daniel Gete

Friday, 16 June 2017

Captain America: Steve Rogers #11 - Marvel Comics

In many ways, Nick Spencer would arguably have been far better off simply sticking to a script detailing the demise of Doctor Abraham Erskine in his ‘controversial’ Cosmic Cube altered reality, than trying to additionally squeeze both the funeral of Jack Flag and a nauseatingly long speech by the supposed Sentinel of Liberty into Issue Eleven of “Captain America: Steve Rogers”. Indeed, the Will Eisner Comic Industry Award-nominee’s technique of darting back and forth along the titular character’s time-stream not only erodes any sense of sombreness to Harrison’s reasonably well-attended burial proceedings. But actually detracts from the utter sense of betrayal and shock supposedly intended by this comic’s depiction of the naïve Super-Soldier scientist being cold-bloodedly gunned down in his own quarters whilst preparing his fresh-faced assassin some “rindergulasch”; “I made far too much, I am afraid.”

As it stands however, this twenty-two page periodical’s biggest problem is Cap’s terrifyingly trite monologue/discourse, which somehow manages to ‘run’ a staggering thirty panels in length, before culminating in Helmut Zemo bear-hugging his childhood Hydra friend, and promising to aid him in his mission to wrest control of the fictional terrorist organization from Johann Schmidt. Horrifically word-heavy and self-righteously monotonous, this discourse sadly permeates the entire book, and in doing so must surely have bored many of this title’s dwindling 36,610 followers. Certainly, the frustrating story-telling technique hardly helps create an atmosphere to “electrify” its readers as “Marvel Worldwide” optimistically advertised at the time of this comic’s publication.

Sadly, not even Spencer’s handling of Abraham’s murder is without its faults though, as it’s based upon the absurd assumption that as far back as 1940 Hydra owned “something Fenhoff invented” which allowed them to steal the minds of the dead; a preposterous-looking device pencilled by Jesus Saiz, which Rogers is clearly oblivious to. This unbelievably convenient piece of equipment at least vindicates why Zemo killed the Jewish scientist before he had a chance to test out his Super-Soldier serum. Yet it doesn’t explain why Steve attempted to poison the German chemist’s coffee a few days earlier (when such a contrived contraption wasn’t to hand), nor the Allies motivation to ‘broker a deal’ with the untrustworthy Arnim Zola to continue Erskine’s work before the scientist had even been killed?
The variant cover art of "CAPTAIN AMERICA: STEVE ROGERS" No. 11 by Joe Jusko

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Captain America: Steve Rogers #10 - Marvel Comics

Frustratingly flitting between events in pre-war New York City and those of the ‘present day’, much of Nick Spencer’s script for Issue Ten of “Captain America: Steve Rogers” must have driven its 40,051 strong readership to despair with its choppy carousel of short-lived set-pieces. For whilst this twenty-page periodical does include an admittedly painfully prolonged chase scene which depicts the dethroned Maria Hill fleeing incarceration on board the S.H.I.E.L.D. Hellcarrier Iliad, its entire opening half actually consists of little more than six-panel sequences that leap about from an adolescent titular character serving hot drinks to Doctor Abraham Erskine and General Phillips in a diner, to numerous political deliberations involving Internal Civil Tribunals, Senate Majority leaders and Hydra.

Fortunately however, once Annie’s bright red purse is snatched “from behind the bar” and the thief cornered down an alleyway by a well-meaning young Rogers, the American author finally starts penning something worthy of the ‘emotional investment and audience involvement’ the former “Progressive Charter Party” politician has aspired to create since first revealing the “most trusted and revered figure in the Marvel Universe” as a “Hydra loyalist”. In fact, it’s disconcertingly hard not to feel a genuine sense of pride for the badly battered Steve, as he unfalteringly hands his friend her stolen purse back and ‘wins’ the respect of both Erskine and Phillips as a result; even if fans of the title know that this bloodied teenager is ‘the ultimate betrayer’ and was actually planning on poisoning the “German Jewish scientist” just moments earlier.

Equally as diabolically enthralling is Spencer’s portrayal of the Sentinel of Liberty as he visits comatose victim Jack Flag with every intention of killing the helpless hospital patient via a syringe full of poison. Solemnly paced, and all the more visually impactive on account of Rachelle Rosenberg’s red-hued palette, it’s easy to imagine this publication’s audience collectively holding their breath as the First Avenger, on the verge of committing a most murderous act, gravely acknowledges that the badly injured “minor patriotic hero” “deserved better than this.”

Sadly, such moments of high tension and compelling apprehension are badly let down by this comic’s artistic quartet of Jesus Saiz, Ted Brandt & Ro Stein, and Kevin Libranda. Substandard at best, at least when its Albacete-born illustrator isn’t pencilling the book’s flamboyantly visualised ‘flashbacks’, the poorly rendered figures and crudely-sketched facial features disappointingly drag down the quality of this magazine’s storytelling and even negatively impact upon Roger’s heinously gripping attempt to cold-bloodedly kill his occasional partner, Harrison.
Writer: Nick Spencer, and Artists: Jesus Saiz, Ted Brandt & Ro Stein, and Kevin Libranda

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Conan The Slayer #9 - Dark Horse Comics

CONAN THE SLAYER No. 9, May 2017
Wisely sticking predominantly to Robert E. Howard’s Thirties script, the success of this “Dark Horse Comics” adaption of “The Devil In Iron” arguably rests far more upon the shoulders of its artist than Cullen Bunn’s pen. In fact, the book’s weakest moment, when Conan stumbles across one of Khosatral Khel’s “shaven-headed priests” emerging from a secret tunnel and spouts a mercifully short-lived nonsensical soliloquy, appears to be the only time the Cape Fear-born author ill-advisedly steps markedly away from the adventure’s original text; “Is my fortune good or bad? Bad. Always bad. Except when it is not. Heh. And then it is worse.”

Fortunately, such a heavy reliance upon the pencilling ability of Sergio Davila is not, for the most part at least, misplaced, with the Spaniard’s rendering of the “deserted Dagor” reborn into a green-stoned city, proving to be a particular feast for the eyes. Similarly impressive, is the Cataluna-born illustrator’s rendering of Khel himself. Phenomenally physiqued, being more than a muscular match for the Cimmerian, the red-hued giant appropriately dominates every panel in which he appears and actually seems more formidably alive within Issue Nine of “Conan The Slayer” than he actually does on Howard’s printed page.

Indeed, considering that this particular instalment not only covers “the transmutation of the being men called Khosatral Khel” from out of the Abyss and his subsequent creation of the City of Dagon, but its bloody fall at the hands of its slaves, the Yuetshi as well, it is disappointing that the ancient demon isn’t given more ‘screen time’. Certainly the subjugation and subsequent revolt by the “fierce and brutish people [who] appeared on the shores of the sea” would have been a more interesting area for Bunn to explore, rather than his ham-fisted aforementioned attempt to depict Conan supposedly philosophising over his poor luck.

Sadly however, Davila does seem to struggle to consistently pencil the barbarian’s savage facial features, and resultantly, more than once portrays the incredulous adventurer as some sort of doe-eyed caricature that would not look out of place within the pages of a manga magazine. These momentary lapses are thankfully only occasional, yet disappointingly permeate the entire publication and only seem to disappear as the artist reaches the periodical’s epic conclusion when the Cimmerian hurls his sword point at Khel’s exposed chest and disbelievingly watches his blade shatter upon contact with Khosatral’s impenetrable flesh.
Script: Cullen Bunn, Artist: Sergio Davila, and Colors: Michael Atiyeh

Monday, 12 June 2017

Nemesis The Warlock #4 - Eagle Comics

NEMESIS THE WARLOCK No. 4, December 1984
Arguably devoting far more time upon the titular character’s arch-rival, the supposedly slain Tomás de Torquemada, than the series’ lead protagonist, Issue Four of “Nemesis The Warlock” must still have delighted it’s ‘schoolboy’ fanbase due to Pat Mills’ spine-tingling premise of having all the galaxy’s human prisoners being guarded on a planet ruled by giant, talking spiders. Indeed, it’s hard to think of a more terrifying fate for the misguided Terminators of Terra, than living out the rest of their lives under the baleful eight-eyes of intelligent arachnids; “It is a judgement on us for not heeding the words of Torquemada!”

Frustratingly however, such a diabolical fate for Mankind’s murderously, blood-thirsty warriors is simply hinted at to begin with, on account of "the godfather of British comics" deciding to start this tome by ‘filling in’ the background as to just “what made Torquemada the way he was”. Admittedly, this short-story depicting a young Tomas being treacherously sold into alien servitude only to escape by biting the tongue of a Manticore, certainly gives the ‘damaged’ adolescent plenty of grounds for hating both extra-terrestrials and the humans who collaborate with them. But for such a momentous tale it is disappointingly brief, and in no way lives up to the expectations set by Jesus Redondo’s sense-shattering splash illustration depicting Brother Baruda fending off a huge black ‘eight legs’, which so promisingly precedes it.

Somewhat contrarily, the Ipswich-born author’s subsequent attempt to resurrect “the most cruel human of all time” within the space of five pages seems incredibly ponderously-paced; especially when six panels alone are dedicated to Sister Alvit playing a game of charades with the other Battle-Maidens due to her being “forbidden to speak”. Surely it would have been far better to have truncated such a sequence, and either provided the narrative with some additional sense-shattering ‘footage’ of the savage battles taking place on “Zonar - planet of the Fachans”, “Remora - planet of the Tritons”, or Garuda - planet of the Rukhans, "who fly into action on their hippogriffs…”?

Regardless, Mills’ script for this thirty-two page anthology really ‘pulls out all the stops’ once Baruda “and four of the toughest Terminators” inject “themselves with a diluted dose” of spider venom and climb the prison’s poisonous web wall. In fact, the party’s pulse-pounding race through the jungle is superbly penned (and pencilled by Redonda), with its “thousands of wild spiders” slowly culling the escapee’s meagre number in all manner of gruesome and agonisingly unpleasant ways…
Script: Pat Mills, Art: Jesus Redondo, and Color: Ian Stead

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Star Trek: Boldly Go #8 - IDW Publishing

STAR TREK: BOLDLY GO No. 8, May 2017
Despite featuring the sort of ‘run of the mill’ plot that wouldn’t have looked out of place within the pages of a “World Distributors Limited” Seventies ‘Star Trek Annual’, Issue Eight of “Star Trek: Boldly Go” must still have pleased the majority of its readership with Mike Johnson and Ryan Parrott’s mixture of asteroid-based gunplay and Jefferies tube tribulations. In fact, the creative duo’s opening ‘salvo’, featuring James Kirk phaser-fighting his way onto the bridge of an assassin’s space shuttle is undoubtedly the highlight of this twenty-page periodical’s script.

Sadly however, this initially pulse-pounding, and subsequently engaging tale of “diplomatic disaster” is rather frustratingly ruined by the two-parter’s narrative resting upon a Starfleet cadet’s ability to mind meld with the dead body of the Romulan Ambassador. Admittedly, the Vulcan race’s ability to read the thoughts of comatose people is actually documented within the American television franchise itself. But never before has this ‘transference technique’ been shown to conjure up the thoughts and feelings of the dead before, and resultantly rather smacks of the collaborative writing team reaching out for a rather contrived plot device in order to help them lazily resolve their storytelling.

Just as bizarre is Shev’s amazingly quick, and utterly inexplicable relationship reversal with the Andorian Ambassador. In this adventure’s previous instalment it was made abundantly clear that the cadet’s father was far from happy with both his son’s “decision to attend Starfleet Academy” and the blue-skinned boy’s failure to seemingly put his family/race first. However, now his offspring has been found innocent of assassinating Joltair, the stern faced politician unaccountably states he no longer believes Shev to be a “fool” and for some unfathomable reason even begrudgingly acknowledges that perhaps there is some merit to the youngster’s chosen career; “I cannot say that I am in complete agreement… But you will always have a home on Andoria.”

Described by Group Editor Sarah Gaydos as a “guest artist” who “wraps things up with her dynamic style in a tale guaranteed to keep you guessing”, Megan Leven’s illustrations for this particular publication are certainly “cartoony”. Yet whilst such a label could well be (mis)construed as being highly ‘dismissive of the penciler’s drawing skill’, on this occasion it simply means that the action, whether it be Kirk acrobatically leaping from asteroid to asteroid on account of his "hours spent watching the women's Zero-G volleyball team at the Academy, or Spock's monotone discussions with the Romulans, is cleanly drawn and competently rendered.
The regular cover art of "STAR TREK: BOLDLY GO" No. 8 by George Caltsoudas

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Captain America: Steve Rogers #9 - Marvel Comics

Advertised as featuring the titular character “searching desperately for Kobik” and subsequently reaching “out to a hero that can help — Avril Kincaid, the all-new Quasar!”, it’s not really clear whether this twenty-two page periodical’s publisher, “Marvel Worldwide”, were as confused and discombobulated by Nick Spencer’s script as the comic’s 42,637 strong audience must have been. Indeed, considering that Issue Nine of “Captain America: Steve Rogers” is also supposedly meant to contain “a threat from beyond the stars [which] pushes an already-weakened S.H.I.E.L.D. to the brink” it's generally hard to reconcile the story promised with the disjointed, and utterly unrelated shenanigans printed inside.

For starters, the aforementioned Kincaid doesn’t appear within this comic from start to finish, and rather than focusing on the living embodiment of the Cosmic Cube, Steve Rogers is decidedly busy battling the Cult of the Darkhold alongside Union Jack on the Scottish Highlands. There also appears to be little which can threaten Nicky Fury’s old espionage, special law-enforcement, and counter-terrorism agency if Maria Hill’s boast of a “planetary defense shield” which provides the planet with “a truly impenetrable force field”, can be believed…

Admittedly, such an outrageous difference in content as to what was marketed doesn’t necessarily mean that this bizarre compilation of events from 1940, now, “days earlier”, now, 1940, now, then, now, then, now and 1940, isn't an entertaining read. Au contraire, as Captain America’s bloodthirsty battle with an imprisoned Arthurian demon genuinely provides plenty of pulse-pounding thrills and spills. But much of this book’s enjoyment is ruined by its failure to live up to those initial expectations, and arguably made all the worse by the horribly choppy narrative Spencer insists on penning for the comic; “But you never cared about the book, did you?”

Just as disagreeable are Javier Pina and Andres Guinaldo’s illustrations. The duo’s mismatched pencilling styles consistently ‘jolt’ the reader out of the action each and every time the pair replace one another, and proves especially annoying towards the conclusion of Hill’s trial, when the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. is suddenly drawn as looking like some dislikeable, arrogant, self-righteous, sneering braggart, rather than an operative who is fighting for her career (and probably liberty) and doing the best job she believes she can in the current circumstances.
The variant cover art of "CAPTAIN AMERICA: STEVE ROGERS" No. 9 by Jack Kirby

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Captain America: Steve Rogers #8 - Marvel Comics

Disappointingly dropping to the sixty-third best-selling title of December 2016, at least according to “Diamond Comic Distributors”, Issue Eight of “Captain America: Steve Rogers” must have come as a major disappointment to many of its presumably bewildered 38,610 fans. For whilst Nick Spencer’s script does at least provide some semblance of action-packed entertainment, in the guise of “the fourth Chitauri wave to hit us this month”, it’s narrative arguably would have made little sense whatsoever to those readers who hadn’t perused the twenty-two page periodical’s “opening crawl”.

Indeed, Avril Kincaid’s supposed importance to the titular character’s diabolical plans to spread Hydra’s ideals “throughout the world” had never really been hinted at before within this series, and yet the American author suddenly would have this title’s audience believe the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent is actually “central” to Cap’s covert plot for planetwide domination? Obviously someone “who was given the cosmic-powered Quasar gauntlets” is without doubt “one of the most powerful players on the board”, but why couldn’t the ‘Marvel exclusive’ writer overtly weave such a thread into the comic’s actual storyline rather than lazily include such a significant sub-plot into the text of the book’s foreword?

Equally as perplexing is just why Captain America is suddenly found on board the orbiting Alpha Flight Station supposedly waiting to have a meeting with Director Hill and Captain Marvel, when the tale’s previous instalment ended with the First Avenger literally revealing to Doctor Selvig he secretly held Baron Zemo captive within the Danish scientist’s laboratory? How does Rogers fighting an extremely tenacious extra-terrestrial invasion force in outer space logically follow such a sensational cliff-hanger? So remarkable a change in situation seems remarkably staged, and appears to have been penned simply to allow the contrived, rather talkative storyline a chance to include some ‘super-heroic’ fisticuffs, and subsequently provide Kincaid with a terrific opportunity to demonstrate just how omnipotent she is; “Yeah, but -- Whoa. She’s incredible. That kind of power --”

Eventually, all these unanswered questions and bizarre explanations even seem to get too much for S.H.I.E.L.D.’s former Cosmic Cube consultant himself, who towards the end of the comic exasperatingly exclaims “I don’t understand” when the Sentinel of Liberty fails to convince him that he was “off fighting monsters in space” simply to evaluate the Chitauri’s performance as a potential winnower “of an overpopulated world”. In fact, Erik’s open-mouthed incredulity at Steve’s claim that the alien insectoids’ attempted invasion of Earth is down to him and his possession of an alien queen, can only have been rivalled by the astonishment of this book’s audience at just such a statement…
The variant cover art of "CAPTAIN AMERICA: STEVE ROGERS" No. 8 by Mike Deodata

Monday, 29 May 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation: Mirror Broken #0 - IDW Publishing

Fans of the “talented Human Starfleet systems diagnostic engineer” Lieutenant Reginald Barclay, must have initially been extremely pleased with David and Scott Tipton’s script for Issue Zero of “Star Trek: The Next Generation: Mirror Broken”. Indeed, the comic book writing team’s handling of the evidently nervous and unconfident ‘Federation’ officer is arguably perfect to the point where one can readily imagine actor Dwight Schultz bumbling about the starship, stammering out his lines.

Sadly however, this particular twelve-page publication is actually set within the “Star Trek” franchise’s deadly alternative Mirror Universe, at a time when “Captain Jean-Luc Picard will stop at nothing to get his hands on the Terran Empire’s newest starship, the Enterprise”, and that means that ‘murder is the only means to power’ aboard the I.S.S. Stargazer. Such a lethal ‘kill or be killed’ environment seems a strange backdrop to focus upon so “extremely introverted” a character as Reg, and resultantly, Lieutenant Barclay “makes some surprising decisions” in order to survive, including the disconcertingly cold-blooded slaying of one of his senior officers; “I see you took my advice. Good. The woman’s ambition needed to be curbed.”

Admittedly, this “Free Comic Book Day” edition’s “familiar face” is “stronger than the Barclay we saw on the television series”, and the Tipton brothers’ dark re-imaginings of Picard, Tasha Yar, Counselor Troi and Mister Data, certainly provide plenty of ‘what if’ speculation as to the events which ‘corrupted’ them. But it's still hard to reconcile the “relatively low-ranking” Reg depicted within this magazine to that of the mild-mannered junior grade engineer which made so many “TNG” appearances; especially when this title’s authors unconvincingly argue that both incarnations share the same “gifts” and inherent liabilities, it’s just the “looking glass” incarnation has apparently “learned” to be an assassin…

Fortunately, J.K.Woodward’s photo-realistic artwork for this mini-series’ introductory tale is favourably eye-catching, if not a little wooden in places where the “Fallen Angel” illustrator has probably focussed far too closely upon replicating the appropriate actors’ facial features than concentrating upon the natural gait of his figures’ dynamic movement. In fact, it is probably because of the American painter’s enviable ability to capture the likenesses of all the television series’ leading cast members that this book’s audience can so successfully hear their respective voices throughout the comic's dialogue.
Writers: David Tipton & Scott Tipton, and Art & Colors: J.K. Woodward

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Conan The Slayer #8 - Dark Horse Comics

CONAN THE SLAYER No. 8, April 2017
Regarded by some Robert E. Howard scholars as “the weakest of the early Conan tales” due to its “plot loopholes and borrowed elements”, “The Devil In Iron” still earned its author $115 when it was first published in “Weird Tales” in August 1934. Sadly however, it is doubtful the adventure’s narrative would have generated quite so much financial reward if it had followed the lines of Cullen Bunn’s adaption for Issue Eight of “Conan The Slayer”. For whilst the North Carolina-born writer’s script initially follows Khosatral Khel’s awakening on the remote island of Xapur by “a greedy fisherman”, it soon disappointingly degenerates into depicting a non-canon brawl between Conan and Gilzan during “a parley with the Kozaks in regard to a prisoner exchange.”

Such a disorientating diversion from the original text, does admittedly provide some semblance of action, as the Cimmerian brutally bludgeons Jehungir Agha’s heavily-muscled retainer into unconsciousness with his bare fists. But ultimately, Octavia’s feigned play at being a “trollop with this barbarian”, and her subsequent successful attempt to have the titular character become the Nemedian’s “instrument of revenge against her torturer” merely proves to be little more than a rather tiringly inferior delay in the storytelling process; “This not a war… But a disagreement between a man and a coward who torments women for sport.”

This displeasing interruption also seems somewhat self-defeating later in the twenty-two page periodical, when the GLAAD media Award-winner supplements Octavia’s speechless escape from her master’s castle and harrowing headlong flight towards the deadly island, by populating each panel with Howard’s original narration. This suspenseful scene is followed by Conan’s own arrival at Xaphur, yet because Bunn has already explained the Adventurer’s presence as a result of his ‘parley punch-up’, the reader is disconcertingly subjected to two simple pages of dialogue-free, unatmospheric tedium. 

Interestingly, the inconsistent quality of Sergio Davila’s artwork for this magazine would also seem to suggest he himself felt some modicum of displeasure at Cullen’s somewhat forced additional scenes. Why else would the “Dark Horse Comics” illustrator one moment dynamically pencil a hapless fisherman, who had climbed the cliffs of Xaphur, being dramatically crushed to death by a huge bronzed giant, and then in the next offer a dearth of poorly sketched lack-lustre panels concerning Conan’s fisticuffs? Indeed, it could be argued that the Spaniard’s drawing only noticeably picks back up to its high standard once the comic book returns to Howard’s published manuscript.
Script: Cullen Bunn, Artist: Sergio Davila, and Colors: Michael Atiyeh