Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Uber: Invasion #2 - Avatar Press

UBER: INVASION No. 2, December 2016
It’s pretty clear from both the seriously solemn pacing and harrowingly grisly subject matter that the script for Issue Two of “Uber: Invasion” “really coalesced” for Kieron Gillen whilst he was walking around the Peace Museum in Hiroshima, Japan. Indeed, considering that the twenty-two page periodical’s plot focuses almost entirely upon the horrific trauma caused to the population of Boston by the invading German’s aerial halo effect, one could so easily believe that the British writer was actually penning a contemporary piece about the uranium gun-type weapon’s destruction of “the largest city in the Chūgoku region of western Honshu.” 

Similarly grim and melancholy are the survivor’s stories this comic captures as the author’s well-dressed narrator carefully picks his way through the levelled city’s desolate remains, occasionally pointing out the odd blackened corpse of interest. Horribly marred, their flesh melted to the very bone in places, these ‘eye witness’ accounts are terrifyingly haunting in their authenticity and prove especially disconcerting when the tale’s owners expire as the camera is rolling; “Something about the proximity of the halo effect disrupts brain chemistry.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is little glamour to be had with Gillen’s narrative even when the American’s super-soldiers do arrive, with Eamonn "Razor" O'Conner still clearly suffering from “the old Okinawa combat stress” and haunted by ‘what happened to his brother in Paris’. In fact, this instalment’s sole consolation is that General Groves clearly has a plan to eliminate Siegmund in the same way the Russian’s took the Battleship-class Uber’s arm at Kursk, and, perhaps more importantly, enough “superhuman bodies” with which to enact it.

Terrifically detailed and worryingly adept at pencilling the disfiguring flow of melted flesh over the human body, Daniel Gete’s breakdowns are a disconcerting treat and really do a fine job of imbuing even the most gruesomely impaired inhabitants of Boston’s remnants with pitiable life. Admittedly, many of the artist’s drawings are confined to celluloid-shaped panels in order to help generate a feeling that the reader is watching an old reel of film. But few will surely forget the star-spangled soldier Ray as he nonchalantly describes the Germans moving “across the North Bank of the Charles” as his disembowelled guts bleed out…
The regular cover art of "UBER: INVASION" No. 2 by Daniel Gete

Monday, 30 January 2017

Moon Knight [2016] #8 - Marvel Comics

MOON KNIGHT No. 8, January 2017
Publicised as a twenty-page periodical within which the titular character’s mind is finally “reaching its limit”, Jeff Lemire’s unfollowable script for Issue Eight of “Moon Knight” was probably achieving precisely the same result with its 32,562 readers. For whilst the Ontario-born author’s narrative contains plenty of punch-ups, as Jake Lockley both battles his way out of Police custody and dons the famous all-white cowled costume in order to confront the murderous Midnight Man, the plot is so haphazardly penned that it is impossible to know whether anything is actually real, or simply the “blurring and overlapping” of the super-hero’s multiple personalities.

Indeed, in many ways this third instalment of the “Incarnations” story-arc makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, with the action leaping from a murder suspect’s interrogation, to a film set, to a soup kitchen, to a roof-top hostage situation, back to a film set, and then ultimately on to the moon where “a space pilot named Marc Spector, who’s defending Humankind from werewolves” has “only minutes” before he too transforms into a lycanthrope. Hardly the sort of enthrallingly gritty writing which created the “great episodes of Doug Moench and Bill Sienkiewicz”, and doubtless a big contributor to this title’s increasingly dwindling sales…

Perhaps “Night Shifts” most frustrating feature however, is that it begins so very well with ‘Spector's repressed alter ego’ Lockley falsely accused of killing eight people in a diner, and having to explain to Detective Emmet, as well as the recurring Bobby and Billy, why the Police found Moon Knight’s crime-fighting apparel “in the trunk of the taxi cab registered under” his name. This edgy, claustrophobic scene is incredibly enthralling, and genuinely builds up a sense of tension as the fake moustache-wearing detainee helplessly protests his innocence, demands to see his lawyer Matt Murdock, and becomes increasingly agitated as the evidence begins to stack up against him; “Sane?... When my officers dragged you in you were taking about werewolves attacking the moon.”

Sadly, this taught, nerve-wracking sequence is then ruined by Lemire scripting for film producer Steven Grant to interrupt the proceedings by calling “Cut!” and Francesco Francavilla’s wonderfully garish panels to be replaced by the infinitely cleaner-looking, yet arguably less atmospheric, drawings of Wilfredo Torres. Admittedly, both Lockley and the Italian comic book artist are soon once again the centre of attention, as the prisoner makes a break for it in order to “bring the real killer to justice!” But by then any ‘spell’ which the Canadian author cast has irretrievably been broken.
Writer: Jeff Lemire, and Artists: Francesco Francavilla, Wilfredo Torres, James Stokoe & Greg Smallwood

Sunday, 29 January 2017

The Punisher #7 - Marvel Comics

THE PUNISHER No. 7, February 2017
Shifting 33,589 copies in December 2016 and featuring the first instalment of Becky Cloonan’s “Into The Wild” story-arc, Issue Seven of “The Punisher” is surely best remembered not for its titular character’s bloody bar-room brawl with “a couple of out-of-towners. Nasty looking dirtrags”, but because it sadly contains some of legendary Steve Dillon’s final pages before the Bedfordshire-born artist’s untimely death a few weeks earlier. Indeed, the Englishman’s sudden absence from the comic book world is keenly felt throughout this publication, from its unintentionally fitting cover illustration by Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire, through to the magazine's touchingly sentimental ‘memorial page’ “Publish Or Punish”, where Editor Jake Thomas undoubtedly must have brought a knowing smile to the lips of many long-time fans by re-publishing Steve’s iconically “outrageous” drawing of “the Punisher punching a polar bear” from the limited series “The Punisher: Welcome Back, Frank”.

However, it is undoubtedly Matt Horak’s passable pencils, which fill “the bulk of this issue”, that most markedly reinforces the fact that Dillon’s artwork will be “a hell of an act to follow.” True, the “designer headquartered at EarthQuaker Devices” manages to create a fair imitation of his predecessor’s instantly recognisable clean-looking artwork, especially when the “decorated marine” traverses some local woodland and Face brutally murders an entire bus load of passengers just North of Exeter Asylum. Yet for all his mimicry, it’s still evidently clear from the strangely flat-shaped noses and less disciplined sketching, that the visual exploits of Frank Castle are now in the hands of a less-able craftsperson.

In fact, as dynamic and savage as this twenty-page periodical’s ‘big fight scene’ is, with its bottlings, pool-cues, immolations and performance-enhancing drugs, it is hard not to wonder just how much better the breakdowns would have been had they been drawn by the “warm, funny, shy, welcoming guy” as opposed to someone who Thomas initially “reached out to” in order to simply “help out on a few pages.” Certainly, if the final “wonderful piece of art” Steve gave his Editor, a splash-page introducing the “nasty old piece of work” known as the Old Crone, is anything to go by, it would have been fittingly frantic and gloriously gory…
Writer: Becky Cloonan, and Artists: Steve Dillon & Matt Horak

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Captain America: Steve Rogers #4 - Marvel Comics

Advertised by “Marvel Worldwide” as a “Civil War II Tie-In” within which “Steve attempts to broker a truce between Iron Man and Captain Marvel”, and featuring a similarly-themed cover illustration by Aaron Kuder and Tamra Bonvillain, Nick Spencer’s script for Issue Four of “Captain America: Steve Rogers” must have had its 49,559-strong audience scratching their collective heads in utter bemusement. For whilst the former politician’s narrative briefly touches upon the publisher’s “crossover storyline” by way of Cappy informing Doctor Erik Selvig that Thanos is currently searching for the Cosmic Cube, the thirty-page periodical contains no mention of Tony Stark’s alter ego, or his super-powered feud with Carol Danvers.

Instead, the American author pens a choppy mess of superficially disparate scenes involving S.H.IE.L.D. Director Hill and Everett Ross, a Senate Intelligence Committee Hearing, Jack Flag’s sick bed inside a S.H.I.E.L.D. medical bay, Scarecrow and sheriff Taskmasker’s examination of Captain America’s crashed ship in Bagalia, the Thunderbolts thwarting “a whole alien army” headed for Earth, Wendell mentoring a floundering new Quasar and an infant Steve Rogers witnessing the cold-blooded murder of his mother by HYDRA agents. None of which actually help move this title’s overarching story-line noticeably forward on account of them all lasting little more than a handful of panels…

One such ‘flashback’ sequence that does make a lasting impression however, is Spencer’s graphic depiction of the titular character’s ‘securement’ of Selvig’s laboratory. Constructed by the Red Ghost and protected by his Apes, the supposed Sentinel of Liberty bloodily bludgeons its primate occupants to death with the pointed edge of his shield, and then causes a fleeing Ivan Kragoff to have one of his arms and legs severed at the joint; “Hhh-- Hh-- My leg-- My arm-- What have you done?” Disconcertingly though, Cappy isn’t finished with the Soviet scientist, and having casually dragged his mutilated body across to a control panel in order for the machinery to scan the villain’s one good hand, cold-bloodily dispatches the kneeling man in the self-same gory manner as he did his “children.”  

Equally as inconsistent as the haphazard storytelling, is this over-sized comic’s artwork. Dually drawn by Javier Pina and Miguel Sepulveda, presumably due to the book’s high page count, some scenes are remarkably well illustrated, such as those which take place in the Lower East Side of Manhattan in 1926, and the Red Ghost’s laboratory. Whilst others, like S.H.I.E.L.D.’s preliminary meeting with Hill or Taskmaster’s exploration in Bagalia, are far less successfully pencilled.
Writer: Nick Spencer, and Penciler: Javier Pina & Miguel Sepulveda

Friday, 27 January 2017

Hook Jaw #2 - Titan Comics

HOOK JAW No. 2, February 2017
Whilst Simon Spurrier’s pre-publication belief that his script for “Hook Jaw 2017 should nod at its primogenitor with great affection and respect, but needn’t – in fact shouldn’t even try to – slavishly recreate or reboot” it's predecessor was a laudable attitude to have, it does arguably mean that anyone pining to once again experience “the violent British environmentalist shark horror comic of the 1970s” doubtless didn’t find much to enjoy within Issue Two of “Hook Jaw”. It's certainly hard to reconcile this twenty-two page periodical’s narrative, which predominantly focuses upon “a rag-tag group of marine scientists” being verbally interrogated by Valerie Dow of the CIA, with the “pulse-poundingly gory” weekly British comic strip that was published by “IPC Magazines”.

Indeed, despite the book opening with a nonchalant fisherman being literally ‘speared’ by the titular character and surreptitiously dragged into the ocean as a tasty treat, the ordinarily prominent formidably-sized Carcharodon carcharias isn’t actually even properly seen until the book’s cliff-hanger conclusion, and then the brute is simply depicted spitting out the disintegrating corpse of a hapless dolphin; “Oh no. S-swim faster wondrous ocean-child! Swim faster! £$%&…” Such fleeting glimpses of the monster’s savagery are hardly the sort of repellent, excessively grisly action that the “man-eating great white shark” is famous for, and surely unworthy of the “suggested for mature readers” warning on the comic’s cover illustration..?    

Sadly however, this bewildering re-imaging of the deadly “boneless tube with teeth” is made all the worse as a result of the British novelist not only having Maggie Reyes dwell on the fact that Hook Jaw is supposedly a ‘mythic Nessie’ which “they made comics about… in the Seventies". But that the “eating machine” to whom “we're nothing more than meat to be ripped apart and eaten” is actually a wrong-thinking cognitive female shark, as opposed to a straightforward male “force of nature”, that knows it shouldn’t consume the “wrong flesh” of humans yet purposely ignores his natural prey in order to consume the “dry flesh hot and furious and foul but ohhh…”

Disconcertingly, Conor Boyle’s breakdowns do little to soften Spurrier’s perplexing plot, and potentially only add to the confusion with his persistently ambiguous panels. In fact, on several occasions, such as when the aforementioned fisherman is impossibly impaled upon the gaff hook protruding from the shark’s jaw, or Captain Klay Clay miraculously lassos a dolphin from high upon his ship’s deck, it’s remarkably unclear as to just how events have physically occurred.
The regular cover art of "HOOK JAW" No. 2 by Conor Boyle

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Hook Jaw #1 - Titan Comics

HOOK JAW No. 1, January 2017
Based upon the giant shark who first appeared inside the “controversial weekly British anthology comic” “Action” and apparently “had no problem tearing women and child apart… in graphic detail”, Simon Spurrier’s script for Issue One of “Hook Jaw” probably came as something of a disappointment to its 4,249 readers, with its particularly bizarre tale of a scientific research vessel being raided by Somali pirates and subsequently rescued by a team of United States Navy S.E.A.L.S. In fact, it is arguably rather hard to see many similarities at all between this twenty-two page periodical and the ‘environmentally edgy' “Jaws” cash-in which eventually lead to the titular character’s magazine being ‘pulped’ by the “International Publishing Corporation” in October 1976.

True, the British novelist’s narrative does consistently present the menace of a female Great White shark suddenly attacking one of the ship’s crewmembers, courtesy of “the world-famous virgin brides” Agatha, Carmel and Big Bertha. But such a sense of pervading peril, occasionally heightened by a dorsal fin or two breaking the water’s surface, is hardly the sort of vivid mutilation anticipated by a franchise infamous for its stories being literally “drenched in blood and gore”.

Mercifully though, Hook Jaw is not entirely absent from this mini-series’ opening instalment, and when Captain Klay’s United States Special Operations team does encounter the formidably-sized Carcharodon carcharias, the sense of horror is still incredibly palpable even though the gaff-hooked monster tears his prey to pieces ‘off-screen’. Indeed, in many ways the fate of the two scuba-divers is made all the more unpleasant as a result of their piteous pleas resonating across their underwater equipment’s audio feed; “Ohhh no more please no more please no more pluh-hee-heeese. Nnnno Mommy pleeheeeeease go away get away not like this I don’t wanna daa aaa aaa…”

Sadly, Conor Boyle’s breakdowns for the majority of this comic are not a patch on the original series’ artwork by Seventies sketching ‘superstar’, and Hook Jaw’s co-creator, Ramon Sola, with the illustrator’s somewhat quirky, stiff-looking figures proving a particular disappointment. Having said that however, the freelancer’s incredible ability to draw anatomically correct sharks and imbue their gliding forms full of spine-tingling danger, makes it abundantly clear just why “Titan Comics” hired him to contribute to this publication.
The regular cover art of "HOOK JAW" No. 1 by Conor Boyle & Luis Gurrero

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor [2016] #1 - Titan Comics

The first in an “ongoing” series which brings “Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor back into the world of comics”, Issue One of “Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor” must surely have come as something of a surreal disappointment to many of its 10,576 readers in April 2016, including even those who had mourned the end of the television series in 2005 and felt their incarnation of the Time Lord "was never coming back". Admittedly, Cavan Scott’s narrative starts out excitingly enough by depicting the “tight-knit TARDIS crew” racing for their lives before the heavily-fanged maw of a giant extra-terrestrial centipede. But events then soon degenerate into utter farce as the time travellers arrive near to the Delamar solar-needle on Gharusa Prime, discover that the population’s favourite television programme is “Doctor Who”, and realise its star is none other than the short-haired Gallifreyan himself; “Can I get a selfie? That would be so cool? I’m your biggest fan.”

Disconcertingly however, the realisation that the Time Lord’s adventures have been turned into a series of “minisodes” on a datapad, including “the untransmitted pilot”, is just the beginning of “Doctormania”, with Captain Jack soon being revealed as the President of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society” and the Doctor realising he "faces his toughest challenge yet”  by having to sing at a concert for his fan-club. To make matters worse though, the freelance author then decides to inject his unfunny script with a highly illogical invasion of Chumblies, and the appearance of a second Ninth Doctor, complete with multiple-gunned Whomobile. Little wonder an exasperated titular character shouts “This is ridiculous… None of this makes sense” as his ‘identical twin’ merrily blazes away at the ‘Dalek-esque’ robots with his “futuristic-looking vehicle” and drops a payload of EMP mines upon them.

Just as bemusing as Scott’s script is Adriana Melo’s inconsistent and oft-times scratchy pencilling. The majority of the sketch card artist’s panels for this twenty-page periodical undoubtedly capture both the vibrant pace of the BBC science fiction television programme and its readily recognisable actors. Yet every now and then, particularly at the book’s conclusion when the Doctor’s impersonator is revealed to be a Slitheen, her illustrations become incredibly undisciplined and rough, almost as if the Brazilian was in a desperate rush to finish the job…
The regular cover art of "DOCTOR WHO: THE NINTH DOCTOR" No. 1 by Shea Standefer

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

World Of Tanks #4 - Dark Horse Comics

WORLD OF TANKS No. 4, January 2017
Pushing ever deeper into post D-Day Normandy, “Dark Horse Comics” were arguably perfectly entitled to advertise this twenty-two page periodical as the “exciting penultimate” instalment of their five-issue mini-series “inspired by the massively popular (over 110 million players!) Online game World of Tanks.” True, Garth Ennis’ narrative occasionally labours as a result of some dialogue-heavy discussions amongst the opposing forces’ commanding officers. But the majority of the Northern Irish born American’s writing genuinely seems to capture all the claustrophobic horror of a battle amidst the fatally confining French Bocage, with its harrowing depiction of heavily armoured vehicles either discharging their devastating weapons or themselves exploding into a fiery grave for their unfortunate crew.

Indeed, this tale of a British “charge into a village that’s under attack” by the Third Reich doesn’t even get past its second panel before one the company’s firefly tanks, the first of many as the Allies foolishly trundle alongside a wheat field packed full of camouflaged Panzerfaust teams, is mercilessly “brewed”. It certainly must have been hard for this book’s readers to pause for breath whilst “Linnet and his men” aboard Snakebite outpace and outfight a couple of Stug assault guns, as well as “a mob of Jerry infantry.”

Just as engaging is the Eisner Award-winner’s handling of the battle on foot, as the British Tommies ‘debus’ in order to “winkle” the Germans “out for the Tankies”, and end up literally toe-to-toe with their enemy, matching their carbine rifle against Panzergrenadier knife and stalk hand grenade. Ennis even manages to ‘crowbar in’ a cataclysmic sequence as to the murderous effect upon a Panzer formation by an aerial bombardment; “C-c-c-come back, Ivan. All is forgiven--!” 

All of this volatile violence is competently illustrated by P.J. Holden, with his panels portraying the Allied Sherman tanks finally making a break through a fiery hedge and subsequently trampling the nearby hapless German soldiers, proving particularly well pencilled. Disappointingly however, that doesn’t mean the “Belfast-based comic artist who has drawn for ‘2000 A.D.’” isn’t without his faults, as his awkwardly angular and occasionally doe-eyed facial features, make it almost impossibly hard to tell the difference between the various black beret-wearing Allied officers.
Script: Garth Ennis, Artist: P.J. Holden, and Colors: Michael Atiyeh

Monday, 23 January 2017

Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor #1 - Titan Comics

With its incredibly well-written introduction to ‘new companion’ Gabriella Gonzalez and the young woman’s “dead-end job in her family’s New York Laundromat”, it's arguably a pity that Nick Abadzis’s narrative for Issue One of “Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor” wasn't around to follow the BBC science fiction programme’s episode “Journey’s End” as a televised adventure in July 2008. Indeed, the consistent clash between the rebellious Gabby’s dream of “bigger, better and brighter things” and the somewhat subservient ethics of her immigrant parents, genuinely creates a character who surely would have been a joy to watch on the ‘small screen’; “I’ve an invested interest in making that place work too, y’know. It’s as much of an investment for me as it is for any other member of this family.”

Sadly, such a painstakingly well documented background to the Timelord’s assistant, resplendent with repeated family arguments amongst numerous opposing relatives, doesn’t however make for the most entertaining of reads; even if this twenty-two page periodical was advertised by “Titan Comics” as only being the first of a “five-issue arc with the Tenth Doctor, as played by David Tennant!”. In fact, by the time Gonzalez has had a second fight with her sister’s fiancée over her needing to show Hector more respect, the persistent bickering and whining must have already proved too much for many of this book’s 39,707 readers. Little wonder perhaps then that the sales figures for the title’s follow-up edition dramatically fell to just 10,410 copies?

Equally as disappointing as the plot’s lack-lustre pacing, is the Eisner Award-winner’s handling of the titular character, and the fact that, apart from a brief scene where he supposedly cures a six month old baby from a hideous case of festering boils and “expanding periphery”, the Gallifreyan barely makes his presence known throughout the entire magazine. True, the “alien who walks like a man” does sporadically crop up within a panel every now and then to spout some ‘timey wimey’ nonsense. But in general, the series’ lead protagonist is no-where to be found until the comic’s cliff-hanger conclusion when he appears to rescue Gabby from some shape-shifting underground tube train demon.

Quite possibly the biggest failing of “Revolutions Of Terror” though, is the book’s uninspiring breakdowns by Elena Casagrande. Supposedly a “fan favourite” artist for her work on “Angel” and “Star Trek”, the Italian seemingly crams each and every page with as many pictures as her pencil can muster, and resultantly makes each scene a real headache for the eye to navigate.
The regular cover art of "DOCTOR WHO: THE TENTH DOCTOR" No. 1 by Alice X. Zhang

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Avengers [2016] #1.1 - Marvel Comics

AVENGERS No. 1.1, January 2017
Featuring an infinitely more dynamic re-imagining of the classic Silver Age storyline “The Old Order Changeth!”, this opening instalment of “a new five-part story running alongside the highly anticipated Avengers ongoing series” must have garnered a few quizzical looks from its 41,258-strong audience. For whilst Mark Waid’s narrative somewhat follows the events established way back in May 1965 by having the “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” defeat the Masters of Evil in Midtown Manhattan, it subsequently ‘skips’ over Hawkeye’s abduction of the butler Jarvis by forty-eight hours and instead conjures up an all-too quick confrontation with The Frightful Four.

Admittedly, the appearance of the Fantastic Four’s arch-nemeses, fresh from annihilating “Doctor Richards’ team in the middle of the Pacific”, is wonderfully nostalgic as the “evil counterparts” understandably consist of their original roster: The Wizard, The Sandman, Paste-Pot Pete and Madame Medusa. But even Bentley Wittman imperiously commanding his team-mates “To the Grav-Sphere! You have three minutes!” can’t completely overshadow the appallingly contrived reasoning behind their unprecedented surprise attack upon the “dollar store Avengers”. It’s certainly hard to agree that, having just ‘secretly’ killed Mister Fantastic, The Human Torch, The Thing and Invisible Girl, the villains’ next logical step would be to murder the Avengers’ new line-up in front of numerous media cameras “for publicity”..?

Just as disconcerting is the Eisner Award-winner’s dubious motivation as to just why the likes of reformed criminal Hawkeye actually want to be an Avenger. Stan Lee’s “dazzling script” portrayed the “carny life” archer as someone determined to make amends for the death of his beloved Black Widow at the hands of the Communists. Yet Waid would rather have his readers believe that Clint Barton actually did it simply because Steve Rogers pointed out to him that he would have a butler if he resides within the mansion; “Jarvis, I feel like lobster tonight.”

Perhaps this comic’s strongest selling point is therefore the incredibly vibrant breakdowns of Barry Kitson. Whilst the British penciler is arguably no Jack “King” Kirby, his lively depictions of Iron Man blasting his way through the Masters of Evil, and Flint Marko later pulverising Captain America with his trademark sledgehammer fists is undoubtedly alone worth the cover price of this twenty-page periodical.
Writer: Mark Waid, Penciler: Barry Kitson, and Inker: Mark Farmer

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Hulk [2016] #1 - Marvel Comics

HULK No. 1, February 2017
For a comic which sold an impressive 89,810 copies in December 2016, and, at least according to “Diamond Comic Distributors”, resultantly became the ninth best-selling title of the month, Issue One of “Hulk” contains very little in the way of action. Indeed, Jennifer Walter’s “sensational alter ego” doesn’t even make an appearance within the twenty-page “Marvel Worldwide” periodical, unless one counts the “razor-sharp” attorney’s momentary break-down within an elevator when she buckles the lift’s control panel, or her subsequent collapse whilst listening to a baking video; “Said she couldn’t cook but believed the art of cooking could soothe the savage beast?”

Luckily however, Mariko Tamaki’s omission of penning a dynamic, pulse-pounding plot focusing upon ‘Shulkie’ and her super-heroic exploits doesn’t mean for a moment that the Toronto-born graphic novelist succumbed to the “amount of pressure that goes with writing” so beloved a character as She-Hulk. But instead, simply scribed an incredibly engrossing story which digs deep into the consciousness of Bruce Banner’s cousin, and brutally reveals all of the non-green woman’s everyday fears to the reader. It’s certainly hard to recall such a “meek and mousy” incarnation of Stan Lee’s co-creation since she was first infused with gamma radioactive blood way back inside the first edition of Eighties “Savage She-Hulk”.

Equally as fascinating as Jennifer and her anger management issues, is the Joe Schuster Award-winner’s depiction of the mysterious Miss Brewn. Terrifyingly timid, and imbued with “restorative powers… so nothing hurts me”, the pasty-skinned punter immediately attracts incredible sympathy with her desperate desire to avoid being evicted from her flat by an unseen landlord. Indeed, the petite woman’s need for Walters to promise her that she won’t “lose my home” is wonderfully childlike and is only surpassed by the unease caused by this comic’s cliff-hanger when it is revealed the 'mutant' shares her abode with a dark, potentially malignant presence…

Unfortunately, far less successful than Tamaki’s script for "Deconstructed" are Nico Leon's breakdowns. The Argentinian artist can undoubtedly pencil even the most sedentary of panels when he seemingly wants to, as his detailed drawings portraying the dispirited lawyer’s life within her condo attests. Yet every now and then, the freelancer’s work appears to be either rushed or badly overblown; most notably a double-splash featuring the reception area of Ryu, Barber, Zucker and Scott, which contains several sketchily-drawn ‘super-powered’ clients.
The variant cover art of "HULK" No. 1 by Skottie Young

Friday, 20 January 2017

The Punisher #6 - Marvel Comics

THE PUNISHER No. 6, December 2016
As ‘flashback’ one-shots go, Becky Cloonan’s narrative for Issue Six of “The Punisher” must surely have made most of its 35,344-strong audience reasonably happy, with its rare, gun-toting tale of Frank Castle as a ‘young’ marine in the desert conducting “one last mission.” True, the Pisa-born writer’s somewhat sensitive, almost naïvely optimistic, portrayal of the decorated soldier takes a little getting used to, especially when Castiglione warns his colleagues that they are only to “take out” the several armed guards between them and their target if it is “necessary”. But such virtuous thoughtfulness on the part of the titular character arguably must have made a refreshing change for some readers, considering all the gratuitous carnage and mutilation which the violent vigilante had caused in this series’ preceding instalments.

Additionally, this twenty-page periodical’s script would seem to be far more about justifying Olaf’s decision to become a member of Condor and exploring just why the “group of mercenaries” appealed to Castle’s commanding officer, than actually developing the adolescent background to an “upstanding citizen” whose family were “taken from him when they were accidentally killed in a brutal mob hit.” For whilst it is Frank who performs the “sanctioned kill”, courtesy of a bullet “right between the eyes”, it is his superior who somewhat ‘cold-bloodedly’ guns down a distraught grieving mother and subsequently requires a pair of Private Military Contractors to “pop off” a few incendiary devices to cover up his disagreeable conduct; “At Condor, we look out for our own and we’re always looking for a few good men.”

Acting rather like a librarian utilising a couple of book ends, Cloonan also manages to add a little more depth to Agent Ortiz, by opening this publication’s story-line with the distraught Rocky Hill-based agent forcefully ranting at her boss for wanting her badge when she just needs “one more week” to get “the whole Condor operation”, and then closing it with the D.E.A. operative mourning her dead partner Henderson within the ruins of Exeter Asylum. Such potent scenes really add a terrific amount of gravitas to the lamenting enforcement officer, with Steve Dillon’s wonderful pencilling providing the female protagonist with plenty of instantly recognisable heart-felt emotion.
Writer: Becky Cloonan, Artist: Steve Dillion, and Color Artist: Frank Martin with Lee Duhig

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Firestorm #4 - DC Comics

FIRESTORM No. 4, August/September 1978
Considering the action-packed Al Milgrom cover depicting both this comic’s titular character and the Manhattan Island Police force bravely battling the Hyena, Gerry Conway’s script for Issue Four of “Firestorm” probably came as something of a disappointment to the audience of “DC’s newest creation”. Indeed, with the exception of Ronnie Raymond’s fused form quickly besting a gang of viciously armed Artic seal hunters, and then later momentarily incarcerating some warehouse robbers, this seventeen-page periodical actually predominantly focuses upon the rather depressingly dreary ‘home life’ of the unpopular Bradley High School pupil and Professor Martin Stein’s determined efforts to discover what happens to him when his memory black-outs occur.

Admittedly, the “vicious ‘crime-fighter’ who attacks criminals and lawmen alike” does make something of a memorably dynamic first appearance by savaging both the villainous Shine Family and the officers who subsequently attend the doomed Travel Agents’ heist. But this fiercely sadistic episode only lasts a handful of pages, and is swiftly replaced by a disconcertingly bizarre father-son argument which leaves a tearful teenager sobbing uncontrollably in bed; “Every time I turn around, I’ve done something to disappoint you. I just wish, once, we could be happy… Just once… I’d like to make you smile…”

Sadly, even Firestorm’s aforementioned encounters arguably must have failed to do little more than place a bemused smile upon the lips of this title’s “Hoo-boy” readers. For whilst Conway’s co-creation undeniably faces controversial gun-wielding fur stalkers and loot-laden raiders, “The Nuclear Man” overcomes his opposition by either converting their firearms into plastic fish, thus placing the men at the mercy of the ribbon-slashing bull seals, or by imprisoning them in an absurd giant wax pumpkin, complete with readily detachable lid. Little wonder Raymond is chastised by the Nobel Prize winning physicist for such inappropriate usages of his “atomic restructuring powers.”   

Just as inconsistent as the Brooklyn-born writer’s narrative, is Allen Milgrom and Jack Abel’s combined breakdowns. Ronnie’s cataclysmic confrontations are sketched well enough, with the comic’s Prince Charles Island-based opening and its panicking pups proving especially well-pencilled. Yet the same cannot be said for the were-hyena’s bloodthirsty attack upon “Spit” Shine and Manhattan’s finest, whose scratchy-looking panels lack much of the enthrallingly energic detail depicted elsewhere within the book’s interior illustrations.
Writer/Creator: Gerry Conway, and Artists: Allen Milgrom & Jack Abel

Monday, 16 January 2017

James Bond #12 - Dynamite Entertainment

JAMES BOND No. 12, December 2016
It is hard to imagine that many of this comic’s 10,710 readers agreed with publisher “IDW Entertainment” when they boasted that Issue Twelve of “James Bond” brought the ‘second 007 story’ in their comic book series to an “explosive conclusion”. For whilst the twenty-two page periodical does culminate in the gruesome demise of Beckett Hawkwood, the “terrifying” SPECTRE operative is neither spectacularly dispatched by the titular character or actually even 'killed' for any rational reason except perhaps to bring a tediously overlong narrative to a most welcome end.

Indeed, in many ways Warren Ellis’ script for this final instalment of "Eidolon" appears to be a desperate attempt by the graphic novelist to simply pad matters out until the magazine’s end, and seems a far cry from his writing on the title’s preceding “Vargr” story-arc; a six-parter which was actually praised as being “the best contemporary take on 007” by American television producer Brian K. Vaughan. Certainly, there arguably can’t be any other plausible excuse as to why the best-selling author wastes two pages depicting Miss Birdwhistle chit-chatting through the streets of London, and a further seven showing the British Intelligence Service’s deficiencies as a couple of agents fatally fail to intercept the tale’s facially disfigured lead antagonist from manhandling Cadence as she flees for the relative safety of Portcullis House…

Unfortunately, even this comic’s final, highly-anticipated showdown between Hawkwood and Bond proves something of a major disappointment, with the Secret Serviceman once again being portrayed as a woefully inadequate sparring partner for an enemy of the British government. In fact, the multiple Eagle Award-winner’s impotent spy is completely outfought by an “unstoppable” Beckett and only survives because his opponent contrivingly decides to slit his own throat rather than be arrested by the imminently arriving Police and Security Service. Hardly the most inspiring of James’ victories and one which adds weight to John McCubbin’s criticism on “SnapPow.Com” that Ellis’ incarnation of the Royal Naval Reserve Commander ‘lacks flair.’

Workmanlike at best, Jason Masters’ breakdowns for this book appear as equally ‘drawn-out’ as the narrative, and it was doubtless hard for the audience to attain any sense of excitement or panic until a third of the way through the magazine when Miss Birdwhistle is positively running for her life, armed with nothing more than pen. Admittedly, the South African pencils a pulse-pounding finale, with a multitude of kicks and punches all seemingly carrying a hefty weight. But even this ‘fist-fight’ is disconcertingly soon resolved, and only goes to demonstrate how increasingly adept the artist has had to become at illustrating Bond becoming badly bloodied and bruised.
Writer: Warren Ellis, Artist: Jason Masters, and Colors: Guy Major

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Warhammer 40,000: Will Of Iron #0 - Titan Comics

WARHAMMER 40,000: WILL OF IRON No. 0, October 2016
“Aimed at fans and newcomers alike” with its “wealth of compelling characters, species, and searingly-memorable imagery” this twelve-page periodical was packaged alongside the October 2016 edition of “White Dwarf” as a free gift, and advertised as the first in a series of “brand-new comics based in the world of Warhammer 40,000” to be published by “Titan Comics”. Sadly however, it is extremely doubtful that anyone unfamiliar with the “dark-gothic dystopian... universe” created in 1987 would have had much of a clue as to what George Mann’s supposedly “accessible science-fiction action" was actually about, apart from perhaps Astor Sabbathiel’s palpable doubts regarding the chaotic cleansing of the planet Exyrion by Baltus and his fellow Dark Angel Space Marines.

Indeed, as introductory tales go, the most useful aspect of this “exclusive” Prologue is disconcertingly the comic’s opening foreword within which the “Black Library” writer goes into some detail as to the background, past experiences and motivations of the title’s main protagonists. Such a detailed preamble genuinely proves essential reading prior to perusing this mini-series and certainly provides the female inquisitor’s troubled musings some additional gravitas; especially when the text establishes that the Emperor’s “relentless” agent “often engages in questionable methods to get to the truth.”

For those readers already immersed in the lore of the “iconic, power-armor-encased Space Marines” and their unending battle “against unspeakable forces of xenos” though, Issue Zero of “Warhammer 40,000: Will Of Iron” was undoubtedly a thoroughly entertaining look at the Imperium’s campaign within the “re-opened” Calaphrax Cluster and a terrifically dynamic introduction to Interrogator-Chaplain Altheous and his all-smiting power-fist. In fact, Mann’s story-line is so unrelenting in its intensity that the brevity of this tome must surely have had ‘40K fan-boy’ bibliophiles everywhere clamouring for more; “Those with righteousness in their hearts found salvation in the glory of the Emperor’s light.”

Tazio Bettin’s artwork for this comic is equally as pulse-pounding as the Lion’s Blade Strike Force landing amidst “the frothing, Daemonic intensity of Chaos.” Superbly detailed and sense-shattering the breakdowns genuinely portray all the mayhem wrought by the “seventh edition of the tabletop game”. Whilst the Italian’s incredibly revealing “Anatomy Of A Cover” article provides plenty of appeal for those interested in the penciler’s attempt to get “the strongest and most iconic visual” for the first issue’s composite cover.
Writer: George Mann, Artist: Tazio Bettin, and Colorist: Enrica Eren Angiolini

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Star Trek: Boldly Go #4 - IDW Publishing

STAR TREK: BOLDLY GO No. 4, January 2017
Whilst Chris Cerasi, “new(ish) editor here at IDW” and “life long Trek fan”, was quite right in his belief that Issue Four of “Star Trek: Boldly Go” brings both Spock and the planet Romulus’ fate “at the mechanized hands of the Borg… to a dramatic conclusion”, it does so in such a disagreeably lackadaisical manner, as to make the villainous Collective appear a rather superficial and impotent adversary. Certainly, it must have irked this franchise's fans that once again, when outclassed and outgunned, the Captain of a Federation starship simply transports “every photon torpedo we have” into the interior of their opponent’s superior vessel in order to ‘save the day’; a plot device which Marc Guggenheim used to great effect in “Star Trek: Captain’s Log: Harriman”.

Perhaps this twenty-page periodical’s biggest disappointment however, is not how easily James T. Kirk bests a Borg sphere, which up until that point had been holding off every spacecraft in the Romulan Star Empire single-handedly. But Mike Johnson’s bizarre assertion that because Mister Spock is half-Human and half-Vulcan, his neural pathways allow him to resist the Hive mind’s microscopic nanoprobes and simply rip out of his body all their cybernetic parts; “Assimilation… unsuccessful.” Considering that the Collective have assimilated both Humans and Vulcans before, it seems rather contrived that a simple “emotional stimulus” from a “combined Vulcan and Human DNA” hybrid would prove “more of an obstacle”, and definitely doesn’t account for how Chief Medical officer Groffus can seemingly readily restore all of the U.S.S. Concord’s heavily ‘Borgified’ former crew...

Almost as infuriatingly annoying is Captain Kirk’s uncharacteristic acceptance to leave his First Officer behind on Romulus in order for Valas ‘to inherit the crimes of her ‘traitorous’ parents’. The Starfleet officer has just saved the Star Empire from assimilation, and rescued “the Romulans captured by the Borg”. Why then would he acquiesce to “a citizen of the Federation” and “one member of my crew” being held in perpetual custody simply because her parents fled the xenophobic interstellar state years before? True, there was probably little that James could do whilst stood within the heart of the Romulan senate house, but surely “the first and only student at Starfleet Academy to defeat the Kobayashi Maru test” wouldn’t just warp back to Federation space without having tried some sort of rescue attempt first?
The regular cover art of "STAR TREK: BOLDLY GO" No. 4 by George Caltsoudas

Friday, 13 January 2017

Doctor Strange [2015] #11 - Marvel Comics

DOCTOR STRANGE No. 11, November 2016
As ‘aftermaths’ go Issue Eleven of “Doctor Strange” must surely have come as something of a major disappointment to its 53,718 readers with its bizarre “100% pure mutant growth hormone” flashback sub-plot and the Sorcerer Supreme’s brutal battle with a giant winged parasite; “There was a time a thing like this would’ve been afraid of me, I swear, there really was.” Admittedly, Jason Aaron’s script for this twenty-page periodical quite admirably depicts the destruction of the world’s washed-out mystic arts following the “Last Days Of Magic”, and additionally brings about the return of arguably the former pre-eminent surgeon’s greatest competitor, Baron Mordo, in a terrific cliff-hanger reveal. But surely the Alabama-born author didn’t need to have the titular character waste away vast chunks of this comic either sipping a Mai Tai cocktail within the derelict remnants of Chondu’s magical bar, or mentally revisiting his time in Tibet when he studied the magic arts under the Ancient One alongside the Transylvanian nobleman?

Indeed, the majority of this book seems to be taken up with Stephen’s former obsession to repair his shattered hands, and the incredible lengths he was willing to take in order for them to be healed; a story any bibliophiles even remotely familiar with this franchise will already know. It certainly won’t come as any surprise to this publication’s audience that the gifted magician once turned down his rival’s offer to use a healing elixir on his wounds if Strange would just simply “forget the world of sorcery even exists” and go “back to your cities. Back to the only life you’ve ever known.”

Equally as perplexing is Editor Nick Lowe’s decision to utilise two quite differently-styled artists on the book’s breakdowns. Cover illustrator Kevin Nowlan does an extremely competent job of depicting a heavily bandaged, troubled soul purchasing drugs in a dingy back-alley on the oft-chance they’ll allow him “to wipe my butt without screaming in pain.” Whilst Leonardo Romero is similarly adept at pencilling the good doctor swinging “a baseball bat wrapped in enchanted barbed wire”. Yet the constant shifting from one penciller to the other consistently breaks any ‘spell of immersion’ which Aaron was presumably trying to weave with the comic’s writing…
The variant cover art of "DOCTOR STRANGE" No. 11 by Adam Hughes

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor #1 - Titan Comics

It could easily be argued that any comic book which is published with more variant covers than it actually has pages, is probably trying to make up for its deficiencies. Yet whilst Issue One of “Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor” doesn’t actually contain any of the “shocks, surprises, and galaxy-shaking revelations” promised with “seasoned TARDIS pilot Robbie Morrison” at the helm, it’s twenty-two page narrative does manage to imitate the BBC Television series rather well.

In fact, the Dunbartonshire-born writer seems to have penned a somewhat complicated tale about the “richest human in the twenty-fifth century" terraforming “a former ice-giant” which genuinely feels like something taken straight from the science fiction programme. Certainly, the Scotman’s script follows the usual time-travelling formula of grisly death, TARDIS landing, crew are captured, Doctor wins over captors by saving lives, and then discovers the ‘big menace’ threatening the existence of the entire planet: “It’s fused with the terra-sphere, creating a single entity. This is what’s in evolutionary control of Isen VI… Run!” 

Equally as well done is Morrison’s handling of Peter Calpaldi’s prickly incarnation of the Time Lord. “Freshly regenerated and with a new head full of unanswered questions” the Gallifreyan could easily have been portrayed as a rather bland, uninspiring leading protagonist, or perhaps worst, have been erroneously imbued with the personality of one of his predecessors. Fortunately though, the co-creator of “Nikolai Dante” has clearly done his research on the show’s BAFTA Television Award-winning lead, and resultantly the abrasively benevolent Doctor both sounds and behaves precisely as this book’s 33,891 readers who probably expect. However sadly, the same cannot be said for companion Clara Oswald, who, apart from one moment of “impossible girl” magic where she demands her stolen ski hat back from a jungle full of ‘Skunkeys’, disconcertingly appears as lack lustre as the other “uncool teachers [at Coal Hill School] that they make fun of and give silly names.”     
Perhaps equally as disappointing as Jenna Coleman’s characterisation, are Dave Taylor’s somewhat dubiously cartoony-looking breakdowns. Clearly able to provide the Twelfth Doctor with his famous arched eyebrows and some exquisitely detailed “exotic flora and fauna”, the Liverpudlian’s pencils for the majority of this book are lamentably inconsistent, irregularly angular and at times, demoralizingly amateurish.
The variant cover art of "DOCTOR WHO: THE TWELFTH DOCTOR" No. 1 by Mariano Laclaustra

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Star Trek: Boldly Go #3 - IDW Publishing

STAR TREK: BOLDLY GO No. 3, December 2016
Any fans quibbling as to just how Mike Johnson could logically incorporate both James T. Kirk and the Borg within the same comic book adventure, doubtless had their questions well and truly answered by Issue Three of “Star Trek: Boldly Go”. In fact, much of this twenty-page periodical’s narrative, such as the deliberations of Spock and Uhura on board the U.S.S. Endeavour, specifically focuses upon ‘set pieces’ which explain just why the Collective have “arrived” in the Kelvin Timeline “over a century ahead” of when they did so within the American science fiction television show “Star Trek: The Next Generation”.

Admittedly, the “IDW Publishing” writer’s notion that the cybernetic organisms would spend thirty years travelling from the Delta Quadrant simply because the Borg “detected its own technology light-years away” with the arrival of the six-mile long Narada from the Twenty-Fourth Century, arguably appears a tad contrivingly convenient, especially when it’s later revealed that Nero’s doomed mining vessel “essentially” spoke “the same language” as the long-range tactical scout sphere due to it ‘incorporating the Hive Mind’s machinery.’ But the author has mentioned the Tal Shiar’s experimental retrofitting of the Romulan ship with “salvaged and reverse-engineered Borg technology” before in his previously published “Star Trek: Countdown” mini-series, and it does provide the assimilation-driven extra-terrestrials with something like a sound rationale as to why they start obliterating the Star Empire’s Fleet “ten light-years from the edge of the Neutral Zone”; “You failed to provide that which we seek. Your failure results in your destruction. Resistance is futile.” 

Equally as well embedded within this comic’s script is plenty of sense-stimulating Starfleet action. Whether it be an apocalyptic attack upon the Romulan planet Quirina VI, Kirk’s fisticuffs with a handful of Borg once he realises they’ve adapted to his landing party’s hand-phasers, or the Collective’s subsequent injection of microscopic machines called nanoprobes into Mister Spock, Johnson’s storyline intermixes enthralling explanations and dynamic ding-dongs with the same skill as Montgomery Scott uses at the controls of the U.S.S. Enterprise’s matter to anti-matter chamber.

Of course, much of the enjoyment gleaned by this book’s readers would have additionally arisen from Tony Shasteen’s excellently rendered breakdowns. The graphic designer, for the most part at least, can not only draw a good likeness of the cast’s ‘Silver Screen’ counterparts, whether they be involved in a sedentary sequence or not, but also demonstrates an incredible ability to pencil some seriously impressive space-battle single-splashes too.
The variant cover art of "STAR TREK: BOLDLY GO" No. 3 by Marc Laming

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

G.I. Joe #1 - IDW Publishing

G.I. JOE No. 1, December 2016
Considering it was printed “in the wake of IDW’s Revolution crossover event”, it is perhaps not unsurprising that “IDW Publishing” desperately tried to peddle “The Crown Jewel Of The Hasbro Universe” as something ‘explosively innovative’ upon its release in December 2016. After all, hadn't the San Diego-based publisher literally ramped up the “Real American Heroes” mission into a global one by creating a comic book universe which comprises “of not only the Transformers and G.I. Joe properties, but also all-new properties Micronauts, Rom, and Action Man, as well as the launch of a long-awaited M.A.S.K.: Mobile Armored Strike Kommand series?”

Sadly however, Issue One of “G.I. Joe” falls disconcertingly short of any such grand aspirations, with Aubrey Sitterson’s choppily childlike narrative concerning multi-limbed ninjas running through the streets of Tokyo, and Roadblock requiring the assistance of transformer Skywarp to rescue his out-matched strike team, giving the periodical a decidedly amateurish quality. Indeed, when the arguable highlight of a script, written by someone who has apparently worked “for almost every major American comic book publisher”, is a canteen scene depicting naval expert Shipwreck serving his colleagues “a spirulina-enriched plankton patty” for dinner, then it seems somewhat dubious that “one of the most iconic intellectual properties in American history” is actually in ‘safe hands’, and certainly clear that very few of its readers would have had their “mind busted wide open by all the awesomeness of the preceding twenty pages.”

Admittedly this franchise’s loyal followers will have been pleased by a plot which includes almost the entirety of the G.I. Joe International Peacekeeping Initiative’s roster in it, with notables such as Scarlett, Rock’N Roll, Quick Kick, Doc, Snake Eyes, Lady Jaye, Gung-Ho and even Grand Slam, all being given something to do. But the vast majority of these ‘appearances’ are minimal at best, as proceedings emphatically follow the organisation’s “new leader”, its troubled machine gunner and its latest field commander; “You’re making me regret promoting Roadblock… Or just regret making you captain of the Nemesis.”

Just as disagreeable is “the amazing Giannis Milonogiannis artwork”, which genuinely appears like the amateurish interior work ordinarily only seen within the covers of an adolescent home-made fanzine. Undisciplined and scratchy, the Greek penciller’s substandard breakdowns are so far from him “firing on all cylinders” that its incredible Editor Carlos Guzman allowed this “brave new world” to be printed in its current form… Let alone allow a somewhat egotistical-sounding Sitterson to nonsensically spout at the end of this comic that, partially owing to his own “stunning writing”, “G.I. Joe is the best book on the stands today.”
Writer: Aubrey Sitterson, Artist: Giannis Milonogiannis, and Colorist: Lovern Kindzierski