Monday, 27 March 2017

Injection #11 - Image Comics

INJECTION No. 11, March 2017
Tantalisingly its readership with a genuinely spooky opening that involves “an entire stone circle” being unearthed in Cornwell and the subsequent discovery of a skinned corpse being “chained" to it, Warren Ellis’ script for Issue Eleven of “Injection” initially bears all the hallmarks of another of the graphic novelist’s mesmerising folkloric themed adventures. Sadly however, any such notion is then almost immediately quashed by the Essex-born writer’s introduction of Brigid Roth and more unnecessary colourful metaphors than even a “Rated M/Mature” comic book has a right to have.

Indeed, if it wasn’t for the Injection team-member’s apparent predilection for profanities, it would genuinely be hard to argue that anything of any actual note occurs within this twenty-page periodical; except perhaps the computer geek’s unoriginal materialisation inside a deserted garage using a spatial relocation device which looks suspiciously similar to the TARDIS console from the BBC science fiction television programme “Doctor Who”. Certainly, this publication’s audience won't have been 'won over' by the Dubliner’s attempt to “gouge out” a coffee machine with a screwdriver simply because if wouldn’t work, or her sitting silently alone atop her home’s roof recollecting how her residence came with its own earthwork. 

Even once the Cross Culture-Contamination Unit (CCCU) operative arrives at the grisly murder’s location, little of interest take places, as an overly hostile Roth seems intent on swearing at both FPI assets Ryan Sutter and Bob Gristle within moment of meeting them, and then starts talking ‘mumbo jumbo’ to her tiny stone totem, Sheela-na-gig. In fact, it isn’t until the comic’s cliff-hanger, when a horrified Brigid reasons that the Mellion Ring Stones are actually just the lid to something which extends “way further down,” that Ellis somehow surprisingly rekindles the suspense his narrative’s prologue first promised.

Quite possibly more disappointing than this comic’s penmanship though, are Declan Shalvey’s breakdowns. Initially well-drawn and full of increasing menace, as three backpackers cross Mellion’s Tor only to discover a decaying corpse, the Eagle Award-winner’s artwork becomes increasingly inconsistent as he repeatedly attempts to imbue Roth with some sort of personality. Whilst the less said about the Irishman’s ‘flashback sequence’ depicting Brigid purchasing her home “not too far from Dublin”, and garishly coloured by Jordie Bellaire, the better…
The regular cover art of "INJECTION" No. 11 by Declan Shalvey

Sunday, 26 March 2017

All-Star Batman #4 - DC Comics

ALL-STAR BATMAN No. 4, January 2017
Whilst one of Batman’s most readily recognisable strengths has always been his “science and technology”, Scott Snyder’s script for Issue Four of “All-Star Batman” disconcertingly ramps up the Dark Knight’s arsenal of gadgetry to an arguably preposterous high, by portraying the Bat-suit as having both the ability to fire numerous projectiles from its chest plate and gloves, as well as provide its disorientated wearer with pectoral speakers and “Echolocation.” In fact, what with the cowl’s ability to suddenly extend a supposedly air-tight guard over Bruce Wayne’s lower face, and ‘blast’ the Caped Crusader’s opponents with a forward-facing sound wave, the Harvey Award-winner’s interpretation of the super-hero’s costume seems far more akin to something Tony Stark would wear within a “Marvel Worldwide” publication, rather than the “grey body suit” created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane.

Rather disconcertingly however, such a plethora of exoskeleton augmentations, even when imagined by the New York-writer himself, are still not enough apparently to save the titular character from being blinded, when it purportedly helps provide the plot with an extra twist. This utter contrivance, based on the assumption that despite being housed within an armoured, air-tight head-piece, Batman’s eyes would still be ruined by the vapours from a vial of Two-Face’s burning acid, is only ‘topped’ by the utter absurdity of the crime-fighter’s solution to his dilemma… piloting a bi-plane in order to give his sight time to recover..?

Equally as implausible as its start, is the conclusion to “My Own Worst Enemy”, with Snyder building upon the premise that the Court of Owls gave Harvey Dent “my own battalion” of assassins, by subsequently having the former Gotham City district attorney apparently able to additionally marshal a thousand-strong armed mob, courtesy of a tracker code on his mobile phone; “Come on you piece of -- therrrre we go. One bar… two bars…” Admittedly this people-packed cliff-hanger gives artist John Romita Jr. plenty of opportunity to pencil a vast array of formidable-looking miscreants and malcontents, but such a fortuitously well-timed arrival seems as realistically likely as the mob’s incredibly lucky ability to shoot the Silver Dollar casino boat into matchwood and yet still miss their targets Batman and Duke.
The regular cover art of "ALL-STAR BATMAN" No. 4 by John Romita Junior

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Rough Riders #2 - AfterShock Comics

ROUGH RIDERS No. 2, May 2016
Focusing upon Theodore Roosevelt’s recruitment of Harry Houdini, Thomas A. Edison, Edward “Monk” Eastman and Annie Oakley, Adam Glass’ narrative for Issue two of “Rough Riders” is a decidedly choppy affair, which doesn’t really seem to settle down until the semi-historical ‘super-team’ have all congregated at the South Street Seaport in New York City and proved themselves in a rather bloody fist-fight with some local ruffians; “You can start by giving us all your money, fancy pants.” Up until this point, some two thirds of the way through the twenty-page periodical, the executive producer’s writing is uninspiringly episodic, and flits from one seemingly surreal conversational piece to another, before culminating in the future president literally waltzing with Buffalo Bill’s female exhibition shooter rather than be shot be her…

Fortunately however, once the “Oni Press” graphic novelist does finally bring his titular characters together, and Teddy has smacked a spike-clubbed thug square in the nose, this comic swiftly starts to ‘pick up’. Indeed, whether it be the fast-paced antics of Houdini’s eye-watering crotch-kicks and ‘Gambit-like’ card-throwing, Miss Oakley’s teeth-shattering beating of “two sweet-talkers” intent of taking advantage of the “taken woman”, or Jack Johnson’s over-confident right-handed pugilism, there’s more than enough sense-shattering action contained with this book’s final sequence to surely have sated the publication’s 5,107 strong audience.

There is even an opportunity for the title’s creator to clearly help the group’s innovative inventor, Edison, carve himself out a niche as the storyline’s cowardly comedic relief, and demonstrate Roosevelt’s zero tolerance for the racial bigotry of one of his recruits, by having the American statesman hurl the brutish Monk overboard after witnessing the gangster standing idly by as a bowler-hat wearing bully was about to club his negro team-mate from behind; “I had to see if everyone would fight for one another. And you all passed. Except you, Monk. You’re out. You won’t be part of the Rough Riders.”

Capturing all the dynamism of this “good work” is “veteran comic book illustrator” Patrick Olliffe, whose style both readily “captures the historical figures” and makes “them feel like the icons they are”, but without making them appear lazy “caricatures.” In fact, the “Untold Tales Of Spider-Man” artist’s technique of utilising hatch-lines to suggest an item’s speed or force, really helps make the punches fall with a resounding thud or bone-breaking crunch.
Creator & Writer: Adam Glass, Artist: Patrick Olliffe, and Colorist: Gabe Eltaeb

Friday, 24 March 2017

Judge Dredd: Cry Of The Werewolf #1 - IDW Publishing

Serving as tribute to Steve Dillion, who passed away in October 2016, this reprint of the entire “Cry of the Werewolf” serialisation from “2000 A.D.” progs 322-328 certainly contains “some incredible examples of Steve’s storytelling prowess” and it is easy to see why “more than ten years earlier” than the artist’s work on “Preacher”, the seven-parter was thought by his brother, Glyn, to be “a definitive pinnacle” in the London-born penciller’s career. Sadly however, it also seems to be a demonstration of how difficult “IDW Publishing” struggle to reprint the British weekly’s ‘wider format’ artwork, as every breakdown is disappointingly squeezed into the top three-quarters of a page, leaving an ugly ‘blank’ margin along the bottom; something “Eagle Comics” strangely didn’t seem to require when they republished Joseph's stories thirty years earlier…

Quibbles as to this book’s layout aside though, this “Judge Dredd: Cry Of The Werewolf” one-shot is undoubtedly features one of the future lawman’s most popular tales, and is an excellent example of writers John Wagner and Alan Grant (Script robot T B Grover) at the very summit of their game. Indeed, whether it be the “full-blooded horror” of sharp-toothed monsters savagely ripping Mega-City citizens apart in a crimson frenzy, “fugitive robots” dominating the East Undercity with supposedly a rule of iron, or albino lycanthropes making things get “pretty hairy” for the grim-faced titular character, this forty-seven page periodical would seem to cater for any and all of the senior judge’s action-craving fans.

Admittedly, this collection’s narrative also contains plenty of emotional drama too, with the intimate embrace of young lovers Rene and Ramone being shocking interrupted by a pack of viciously hungry werewolves, and Floyd’s wife Darlene, appearing desperate to simply “get home and lock the door” one moment, and then remorselessly attacking her dutiful husband the next as he gets some antiseptic for her bite; “Stop that terrible racket! I’m sure they’ve got a dog in there!” But such intimate moments genuinely seem to be simply the ‘quiet before the storm’, as Dredd starts having to resort to head-butting his saliva-infecting antagonists and travels “the old city that lay beneath the streets” of his sprawling megalopolis in search of the contaminant.
The standard cover art of "JUDGE DREDD: CRY OF THE WEREWOLF" No. 1 by Steve Dillon

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Vampirella #0 - Dynamite Entertainment

VAMPIRELLA No. 0, February 2017
Sold as a twenty-five cent “introductory priced issue” by “Dynamite Entertainment” in February 2017, this seventeen-page periodical must surely have demoralised all but the most ardent of “Vampirella” devotees with its utterly bizarre sci-fi script set “over a thousand years” since Forrest J Ackerman’s co-creation was supposedly last seen “defending the world from threats both mystic and evil.” In fact, as a result of the narrative’s futuristic setting and inclusion of laser weapons, it’s hard not to contradict Paul Cornell’s pre-publication belief that this comic isn’t apparently yet another of the publisher’s reboots…

Perhaps top of this comic’s list of disappointments is the Chippenham-born novelist’s conviction that a story featuring “the daughter of Lilith” facing a dystopian world “unlike anything she might expect – or want to defend” would be of much interest to the gothic anti-heroine’s fan-base. True, just such a tale is clearly the “beginning [of] a new and very different direction” for the one-time inhabitant of the planet Drakulon, and a modicum of interest can at least be gleaned from the adventurers’ brief exploration of the vampire’s creepy catacombs and cob-webbed crypt.

But, alongside its disconcerting space-age setting and disagreeable premise that humans now contain “a new sort of blood”, this entire book genuinely feels more akin to the series’ previously printed “Altered States” one-shot, rather than anything nourishingly new. Indeed, it is surely not the greatest of signs for the quality of a book’s writing when the magazine’s most exciting feature is arguably an announcement for a “deal with Lionsgate to bring [the neo-noir action thriller film character] John Wick to comics” rather than the magazine's actual content? 

Just as displeasing as the “Doctor Who” author’s rather lack-lustre and arguably pedantically-paced plot, are Jimmy Broxton’s somewhat scratchy-looking breakdowns. A frequent collaborator of Cornell, the “UK based graphic artist” undoubtedly stems from a similar vein to Vampirella’s original “black-and-white magazine” illustrators with a technique truly reminiscent of Jim Holdaway’s “Modesty Blaise”. However, when applied to such subject matters as advanced clothing, not dissimilar to that found throughout Judge Dredd’s post-apocalyptic Mega-City One, and coloured using a garishly pink palette, the penciller’s “classy, European style” appears far more akin to that found within the panels of an amateur fanzine as opposed to something promoted by “a [genuine] force in the American comic book industry.”
The variant cover art of "VAMPIRELLA" No. 0 by J. Scott Campbell

The Clone Conspiracy #5 - Marvel Comics

Painfully bringing “the Spider-Event of the Year” to a most unsatisfactory conclusion, Issue Five of “The Clone Conspiracy” must surely have disappointed more than its fair share of followers due to a sickly sweet ending which sees Anna-Marie far too easily work out “the inverse frequency” required to save the world from the “lethal Carrion virus”, and unbelievably reveals that all the original New U patients, such as Hobie Brown and Jerry Salteres, have actually been safely stored alive deep underground in cryogenic freezers the entire time.

Admittedly, this ‘feel good’ finale does mean that the Prowler, Spider-Gwen and Kaine Parker ‘live to fight another day’, as do some of the wall-crawler’s more notably-deceased adversaries like the Rhino. But such poignant positives still don’t erase the feeling that Dan Slott’s narrative could easily have attained a similar result far earlier on in the mini-series if the Berkeley-born writer had simply ‘cut-out’ the story-arc’s superfluous sub-plot of having Ben Reilly trying to ‘recruit’ the CEO of Parker Industries to his cause, and “cloning nearly everyone who has died in Spider-Man’s life, from friends and loved ones like Gwen Stacy, Captain Stacy, and Jean DeWolff…”

Happily however, the Diamond Gem Award-winner’s script does contain a few quality moments, which whilst not ensuring that “this is the issue-Spider-fans around the world will be talking about for years to come”, does at least provide a modicum of entertainment. Indeed, the American author’s handling of Aleksei Sytsevich as he cradles his dying wife Oksana in his powerful arms, or Jonah’s pitiable plea to his crime-fighting nemesis not to tell Peter that “he was right” when he realises that his cloned beloved was simply a pawn in the Jackal’s plans, are arguably worth this comic’s cover price alone; “I beg you. Don’t tell him.”

In addition Jim Cheung’s pencils are simply outstanding throughout, and genuinely bring some quite extraordinary dynamism to this twenty-page periodical’s frequent fight-scenes. Certainly, as a result of the British artist's illustrations, it’s hard not to wince as the titular character is dramatically drawn smacking his ‘not-brother’ in the head for being “just another lunatic in a mask”, or give Doctor Octopus, still disturbingly enamoured with Marconi, a noble nod of assent as he dutifully battles the Jackal until both of them have ‘melted’ into “dust and empty suits.”
The variant cover art of "THE CLONE CONSPIRACY" No. 5 by Mark Bagley & Scott Hanna

Monday, 20 March 2017

Kong Of Skull Island #6 - BOOM! Studios

KONG OF SKULL ISLAND No. 6, December 2016
Originally solicited as the final instalment to a six issue mini-series, this twenty-two page periodical must have delighted its 4,395 readers with a plot that not only brings James Asmus’ vision of mankind’s early inhabitation of Skull Island to a rather satisfying conclusion, but also intimates that “the first great battle for the isle’s “dark heart” is just the beginning of a much larger, far more complicated tale. Indeed, if the wizened storyteller’s proclamation at the publication’s conclusion is to be believed, “there will [certainly] be another chaos” to befall the Tagu-Atu people, and one which will most assuredly involve the newly crowned Queen Ewata, her baby daughter K’Vanni, and their ‘disgraced’ Kong, Valla…

For this particular comic however, the playwright’s narrative initially predominantly focuses upon the defeat of a twin-headed Tyrannosaurus Rex and the formidable Kong, Tuno. Such a sense-shattering gargantuan struggle between man and beast is extremely well-orchestrated by the Stan Lee Excelsior Award-winner, and proves an especially enthralling experience on account of the tribesmen’s additional struggle to comprehend whether what they fight is actually a hellish creation of “madness and horror”, or simply a “rarity” of natural creation, which has previously been encountered by their own breeders. 

Equally as enjoyable is Queen Usana’s ferociously savage scrap with some “hyper intelligent” Velociraptors, and the long overdue comeuppance of her despicable, bloodthirsty father, Vdrell. In fact, the demise of both the overly-ambitious monarch and her elderly parent are probably the most satisfying elements to Issue Six of “Kong Of Skull Island”, and it arguably must have been hard for this book’s audience not to wryly smile when the selfish sovereign deserts her bodyguard to a flesh-ripping fate, only to run straight into the jaws of another prehistoric carnivore; “What did he call that wretched smelling --?! N’Aaaaaaaahg --” 

All of this brutalisation, treachery and gory mutilation is tremendously well-drawn by Carlos Magno, whose incredibly well-detailed breakdowns definitely better suit the narrative’s depleted cast of characters. Certainly it is hard not to feel Tuno’s teeth sink into the exposed neck of his ‘demonic’ foe when Ewata shouts the command for him to “eat!!”, or similarly recognise in the cawing Deathrunners’ eyes, the cold-hearted calculations taking place which swiftly reason that the pregnant female warrior who verbally directs the Kong's strategy, is their greatest threat.
Writer: James Asmus, Illustrator: Carlos Magno, and Colors: Brad Simpson

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Man-Thing [2017] #1 - Marvel Comics

MAN-THING No. 1, May 2017
Whilst it arguably makes plenty of sense on paper for “a Marvel Comics editor” to approach an author whose “books have sold over 400 million copies” and ask him “would he like to” pen a comic title, Issue One of “Man-Thing” is probably a good example as to just how wrong such an ‘innovative’ approach can prove. For whilst this sixteen-page publication does contain a rather enjoyable ‘flashback’ to the abomination’s origin when scientist Ted Sallis self-injected his “deadly serum” into his arm whilst fleeing some armed thugs through the Florida Everglades, the rest of R.L. Stine’s narrative is a far cry from the “playful… self-referential Steve Gerber mode” he was apparently trying to emulate.

Indeed, in many ways it’s hard to imagine this book’s plot proving massively “influential on such writers as Neil Gaiman” when it so badly mistreats the “cult classic” titular character. It’s certainly difficult to take anyone’s script even semi-seriously when it starts by having the “large, slow-moving, empathic, humanoid swamp monster” fighting the giant Silver Centipede and its “poisonous mandibles”, before going on to portray a vicious, cold-blooded criminal spouting such nonsense as “Hey! Can we talk about this? I didn’t bring my swimsuit!” when Stan Lee’s co-creation is about to brutally kill him by hurling his pick-up truck into the marshland…

Just as disconcerting is the Ohio-born novelist’s apparent irreverence to his source material's lengthy heritage. Admittedly, the idea of developing a storyline within which “the typically silent Man-Thing” never utters a word is probably something of a challenge. But that shouldn’t mean that the beast’s normally lacking human intellect and desire “not to communicate with human society” anymore should simply be reversed in order to portray the superhumanly strong monster as a recently fired ‘jobbing’ actor who “spent everything I had to come to Burbank from the swamp” and subsequently “can’t even get a drink” in a bar because they “have a dress code.”

Fortunately, besides German Peralta’s excellent-looking renderings of Ted Sallis’ alter-ego, this comic has one saving grace in the shape of its secondary story “Put A Ring On It”. Somewhat ‘roughly hewn’ by artist Daniel Johnson, this ‘terror tale’ contains precisely the sinister suspense Stine’s earlier adventure “A Different Direction” sorely lacks, and ends on a particularly chilling vibe as a murderous pianist encounters the Enchanter Ruby.
Writer: R.L. Stine, Artist: German Peralta, and Color Artist: Rachelle Rosenberg

The Amazing Spider-Man [2015] #23 - Marvel Comics

Supposedly depicting events which “take place after the revelations of The Clone Conspiracy #4!”, and containing little more than a conversational piece between Peter Parker and the latest clone of his “first love”, this tediously dire publication must surely have bored even the most steadfast of Dan Slott’s supporters in January 2017. It’s certainly hard to imagine any of the comic’s 73,773 readers obtaining any lasting entertainment from a pedantically-paced plot whose foremost highlights consist of the titular character removing his mask to reveal a tear-streaked, stumble-covered face, and Gwen Stacy becoming increasingly cross at the audacity of her former-boyfriend for informing her she’s “not Gwen.”; “How dare you! Who the hell are you to say that? I know what I feel. What I remember. And I remember every part of my life!”

Admittedly, Issue Twenty Three of “The Amazing Spider-Man” was probably viewed by its American author as something of a success, on account of the twenty-page periodical somehow finding itself as that month’s ninth best-selling title. But such a sudden rise in sales could arguably be justified by the book’s misleading Alex Ross cover illustration which implies the Jackal’s clone is about to reveal the costumed crime-fighter’s secret identity against his wishes, rather than as a result of the Berkeley-born author’s attempt to ‘pad out’ an entire comic with a dialogue-heavy argument set within the living room of Captain Stacy’s house.

Equally as disconcerting as the Eisner Award-winner’s insistence on putting words before action, is his frustrating premise to simply repeat many of the self-same events depicted within the “The Clone Conspiracy” mini-series, such as the Lizard harmlessly playing soccer with his young son and wife on a grassy lawn, Ben Reilly providing Peter with a tour of his ‘super-villain paradise’, and Parker finally convincing his cloned captor that he’ll never willing play a part in the Machiavellian manipulator’s great deception. These ‘duplications’, disappointingly two-dimensionally drawn by Giuseppe Camuncoli, make it painfully clear that rather than being a ‘stand-alone’ tale set within the “Dead No More” story-arc, this particular edition is nothing more than a rehash of Slott’s concurrently published Spidey-event and strongly suggests that Dan, despite frequent collaborator Christos Gage’s support, had run out of ideas to progress this particular adventure any further…
Writers: Dan Slott & Christos Gage, Artist: Giuseppe Camuncoli, and Inker: Cam Smith

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Uber: Invasion #4 - Avatar Press

UBER: INVASION No. 4, February 2017
Set “one week before the invasion of the United States of America”, and described by its author as “basically an overview of what had been going on in Great Britain” since its surrender to the Third Reich, Issue Four of “Uber: Invasion” is undeniably packed full of just the sort of espionage-orientated action the series’ long-standing audience would have come to expect from a story featuring Stephanie and Alan Turing. In fact, Kieron Gillen’s tale of the ‘heroine’ suddenly discovering a new battleship candidate in the shape of a tiny girl, and their subsequent somewhat bloody flight out of the country and across the Atlantic, really drives home that it’s been “over a year” since the Kerrang! Award-winner last gave the title’s de facto lead “things to say. Or things to do.”

Fortunately however, the Stafford-born writer’s narrative additionally allows newcomers to the comic book to appreciate “exactly who Stephanie is by the end of the episode” with its depiction of the female intelligence operative shockingly putting a gun against young Tamara’s head when she fears the Nazis will discover them, and cold-bloodedly arranging for H.M.H. Churchill to gorily squish the skulls of a couple of hapless German sentries checking their getaway truck with her massive bare hands; “Close your eyes, honey.” Of course, there’s always the Allied scientist’s ruthless destruction of an entire enemy submarine “two days after the Battle of Naugatuck”, courtesy of ‘the officer forgetting her second case’ after disembarkation, to help truly reinforce the character’s single-minded determination to “save the bloody colonials” and win the war…

Just as successful as Gillen’s wonderfully tense and enthralling penmanship, is Daniel Gete’s artwork for this twenty-two page periodical. Whether the illustrator is drawing the heavily overcrowded ‘testing’ scenes set within The White Lamb public house or a German Uber viciously tearing apart a young fleeing family with his halo effect, the penciller’s attention to minute detail, such as the pieces of broken furniture littering the floor after “a brewing experiment that’s gone messily amiss”, is captivating. Indeed, the artist alone single-handedly conveys all the traumatic terror of Stephanie and her juvenile ward, as they quietly cower within the mud of a deep furrow whilst a murderous Nazi super-soldier scours the area for them.
The regular cover art of "UBER: INVASION" No. 4 by Daniel Gete

Friday, 17 March 2017

Star Wars: The Force Awakens #4 - Marvel Comics

Despite portraying some of the more memorable scenes found within the 2015 American “epic space opera film directed, co-produced, and co-written by J. J. Abrams”, Chuck Wendig’s script for Issue Four of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” must have come as a crushing disappointment to the adaption’s 38,079 readers. Indeed, it is probably extremely unlikely that anyone within the comic’s audience who had not already ‘enjoyed’ multiple viewings of the silver screen version, would even understand what the American author's storyline was actually about, as Kylo Ren’s “destruction of a new generation of Jedi, trained by Jedi Master Luke Skywalker” is trampled into the tiniest of top corner, stamp-sized panels imaginable, and General Hux’s “last day of the Republic” doomsday weapon initially appears to destroy a nearby forest rather than Hosnian Prime, the “current capital of the New Republic (and home to the Senate).”

Sadly, such befuddling summarisations of the $2.068 billion grossing-film are seemingly ‘par for the course’ for this twenty-page periodical’s narrative, with the First Order’s sudden appearance on the planet Takodana and subsequent attack upon Maz Kanata’s cantina, proving all the more surprising without any explanation as to just why the “military faction ruled by Supreme Leader Snoke” believes destroying the establishment will help them capture the droid BB-8. The assault certainly looks a little ‘out of sorts’ with the preceding explosive death of Chancellor Lanever Villecham, as both scenes involve Han Solo’s son, and therefore somewhat suggest Darth Vader’s petulant protégé has ‘transported’ himself from the Resurgent-class Battlecruiser, the Finalizer, onto the Mid Rim planet within the space of a few heartbeats…

Similarly, there is absolutely no build-up whatsoever to “traitor” Finn’s light-sabre battle with a fellow stormtrooper, nor his contrived capture along with the crew of the Millennium Falcon; “Don’t move! TK-338, we have targets in custody.” In fact, whether it be Po Dameron’s welcome arrival at the head of the Resistance’s most able x-wing squadron, Rey’s chilling abduction to Starkiller Base, or General Leia Organa’s emotional encounter with the elderly Corellian smuggler at the publication’s conclusion, Wendig frustratingly provides little rationalisation as to why any of the events are transpiring as they are.

Ultimately however, this comic’s biggest disappointment is the poor pencilling of Luke Ross. Better “known for his work on books such as Gen13, Spider-Man, Green Lantern, Indiana Jones and Captain America”, the Sao Paulo-born artist disconcertingly seems to consistently struggle with this book's subject matter, whether it be the maniacal look upon Hux’s face as he enthusiastically yells “Fiiiiire!”, Han Solo's almost comical facial expressions during an otherwise scintillating shoot-out, or the woefully blob-headed First Order stormtroopers depicted throughout the book’s more action-orientated passages.
Writer: Chuck Wendig, Artist: Luke Ross, and Colorist: Frank Martin

Saturday, 11 March 2017

All-Star Batman #3 - DC Comics

ALL-STAR BATMAN No. 3, December 2016
Featuring a genuinely vicious battle between the titular character and KGBeast, this thirty-page periodical must have genuinely assaulted the senses of its 106,905 strong audience, at least for its opening third. For whilst Anatoli Knyazev’s scintillatingly savage attack upon Bruce Wayne’s alter-ego rather enthusiastically seems to produce more blood than even the two large-sized combatants could realistically carry inside them, Scott Snyder’s script does sadly start to fizzle out just as soon as Duke arrives to rescue the Caped Crusader and transport him to a secret medical centre hidden beneath a walnut farm.

Indeed, in many ways “My Own Worst Enemy” is ‘a game of two halves’, with the Dark Knight’s initial fisticuffs against the trained Russian assassin utterly eclipsing the rather dialogue-heavy later introduction of genius inventor Harold Allnut, and Batman’s bizarre recollection as to how, as a rebellious child, Alfred Pennyworth sent him to an upstate home for “struggling children” in Innsmouth, where he would first meet Harvey Dent… Certainly, the magazine never seems able to match its opening pulse-pounding pace once Knyazev has unceremoniously dispatched the entire Royal Flush Gang (“aka: Mess”) with a micro-bomb, and shakily stomped back to his pick-up truck.

Sadly, John Romita Junior’s breakdowns for this comic somewhat similarly become ‘flawed’ once the Beast’s mercenarily murderous machinations have been brought to an ignoble end, with the Inkpot Award-winner’s pencilling of a badly bruised Bruce and hot-headed Duke lacking many of the artist’s characteristic techniques, such as numerous hatchings and rather rectangular physiques. In fact, it isn’t until Batman and his “good ally” are travelling “up the pipeline” in the ‘Bat-Hovercraft’ that the New Yorker’s illustrations once again seem to carry a life of their own.

Regrettably, there is also little enjoyment to be found within this book’s secondary story “The Cursed Wheel” either, despite the tale following Duke Thomas’ investigation into the serial killer Victor Zsasz. Woefully drawn by Declan Shalvey, whose panels predominantly resemble those found inside an amateur fanzine rather than a genuine “DC Comics” publication, this short’s script is disconcertingly based upon the premise that the supervillain who “carves a tally mark somewhere on himself for every victim” would obligingly allow “baby bird” to live despite having catastrophically caught him unawares at the end of the adventure’s previous instalment...
The variant cover art of "ALL-STAR BATMAN" No. 3 by Declan Shalvey

Friday, 10 March 2017

Nemesis The Warlock #3 - Eagle Comics

NEMESIS THE WARLOCK No. 3, November 1984
Featuring some truly formidable-looking extra-terrestrials and a swashbuckling sword fight which would have tested even the silver screen fencing skills of Douglas Fairbanks or Errol Flynn, Issue Three of “Nemesis The Warlock” brings the “revolutionary” freedom fighter’s fiendish infiltration of the Feast of Zamarkland to a corking conclusion with the rescue of numerous aliens through a dimensional portal, and the apparent final demise of Termight’s phantom Grandmaster. In fact, apart from the narrative’s final few panels, which rather hurriedly ‘skip over’ a “badly wounded” Nemesis’ recovery, and the occupation of “the Forbidden Level” as a resistance base, this particular thirty-two page anthology book is arguably definitive; “Ya fooped out! No bar trogging and trugging. Hip for a snip!” 

Admittedly, Pat Mills’ desire for Torquemada to “always [be] the arch villain” does mean that the titular character occasionally takes a bit of a back seat as “the Godfather of British Comics” focuses much of his creative energies upon having Nostradamus’ grandson phase from corpse to corpse in an attempt to become his fire-breathing foe’s “grim reaper!” But these oft-times gruesome body-swaps genuinely help demonstrate that there is simply no sacrilege imaginable which the determined dictator won’t stoop to in order to defeat the Blitzspear’s owner.

Indeed, the Ipswich-born editor’s carousel of different vessels for the evil “waning” spirit to inhabit is probably what makes this storyline such an enthralling read, especially when it’s set against a backdrop of collapsing architecture, splintering statues, and Terminators being mutilated by all sorts of heavily-armed and viciously-toothed aliens. Certainly, this book's contents makes it crystal clear just why readers regularly voted Torquemada as their favourite villain, and “Eagle Comics” decided to ‘spotlight’ the former leader of The Tube Police even further by including his 1984 “2000 A.D.” Annual appearance “A Day In The Death Of Torquemada” within this tome.  

Equally as successful as the comic’s plot, are Kevin O’Neill’s incredibly-detailed breakdowns. These drawings genuinely capture the sheer grandeur of Termight’s structural design, the frenzied brutality of N’Kognito, Kremlin and Ragnar, as well as the bloodthirstiness of Torquemada as he rejoices “at my own destruction”, and it should therefore come as little wonder that in a 2015 interview with “Big Glasgow” Pat Mills stated that the English Illustrator was his favourite artist.
Script: Pat Mills, Artist: Kev O'Neill, and Colors: Kev O'Neill

Thursday, 9 March 2017

The Clone Conspiracy #4 - Marvel Comics

It’s probably a safe bet that the clear majority of this twenty-two-page periodical’s 54,947-strong audience found the second half of its narrative far more to their liking, than the first. For whilst Dan Slott’s opening sequence does somewhat heavily feature both Curt Connors and Doctor Octopus, as well as Otto Octavius’ much-anticipated ‘first meeting’ with his love Anna-Marie, it isn’t until the Jackal clicks his fingers and (finally) orders his murderous gang of duplicate criminals to kill Spider-Man that Issue Four of “The Clone Conspiracy” really takes off.

Indeed, up until the point where Peter Parker’s alter-ego forces his clone “brother” to realise that ‘their’ Uncle Ben would never approve of his “honey trap”, the Berkeley-born writer’s script is somewhat lack-lustre at best and only really piques the interest whenever Marconi is shown working alongside her mechanically-limbed “repugnant” ex-boyfriend. Certainly, it’s hard to take a storyline seriously when it depicts the Lizard cheerfully playing soccer with his long dead infant son and wife amidst an idyllic village scene packed full of happy-go-lucky super-villains like the Green Goblin, the Rhino and the Hobgoblin; “Sspider-Man, pleassse. Leave me alone with my family.”

Fortunately however, once Spidey does become “very disappointed in” Ben Reilly, and starts fighting “the bad guys” alongside the Prowler, the pace to this publication picks up quite significantly. In fact, what with Anna-Marie’s revelation that she knows “how to stop the cellular decay” of Miles Warren’s clones, followed closely by Spider-Gwen’s literally shocking fisticuffs with Electro it’s almost as if a completely different author was penning the book’s plot…

Jim Cheung’s breakdowns also appear to become reinvigorated once the wall-crawler finally decides to oppose the original Scarlet Spider, and genuinely produces some superb pieces of artwork, such as when Doctor Octopus decides that not even the Jackal may “make such an offer to the woman I love” and attacks him, or Otto pipes the amplified harmonic which will destroy all Reilly’s duplicates into the madman’s base and eradicate “everyone in Haven!” It’s just a pity the same can’t be said for some of the British comic book artist’s earlier panels, where perhaps ‘newcomer’ Cory Smith doesn’t ink the penciller anywhere near as well as co-worker and mini-series regular, John Dell?
The variant cover art of "THE CLONE CONSPIRACY" No. 4 by Mark Bagley

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Captain America: Steve Rogers #5 - Marvel Comics

Purportedly “guest-starring the Invincible Iron Man”, as well as depicting Steve Rogers taking “steps to end the war” as “tragedy strikes”, it’s painfully clear just why Issue Five of “Captain America: Steve Rogers” was only the forty-seventh best-selling title of September 2016, at least according to “Diamond Comic Distributors”. Indeed, it’s not difficult to understand, as Nick Spencer’s illogically piecemeal plot flits from Sokovia to New Attilan and then Alpine in Utah, just how this “Civil War II tie-in” only sold 50,536 copies; even when its titular character was IGN's second-placed "Top 25 Best Marvel superhero" in 2014.

Admittedly, the former politician’s script begins well enough, with a fascinating flashback to infant Steven’s abduction from the side of his dead mother by HYDRA, and subsequent induction into the care of Daniel Whitehall, and his associate Doctor Sebastian Fenhoff. But once this traumatic opening is concluded, the somewhat carefully timed pacing of the American author’s twenty-page periodical goes completely awry and degenerates into a seemingly haphazard summary of events from the “Marvel Worldwide” comic book crossover storyline its supposedly tied-in to.

In fact, in many ways the publication’s bizarre series of disconnected scenes, which shows Captain America planning to kill his fellow Avengers one moment and then inexplicably depicts the World War Two veteran lying dead at the feet of Spider-Man in the next, appears more geared towards encouraging this publication’s audience to purchase the aforementioned mini-series for the fuller story, than actually progressing anything new with the Sentinel of Liberty himself. There arguably can be no other explanation as to why Spencer’s writing frustratingly covers the death of Bruce Banner, Hawkeye’s trial, She-Hulk’s rage, and the feud between Tony Stark and Captain Marvel, rather than Cappy himself. 

Sadly, just as disconcerting as this comic’s penmanship, is its inconsistent pencilling. Javier Pina illustrates Elisa’s unsettling grooming of young Rogers well enough, especially when his panels are so wonderfully coloured in blue-greys and reds by Rachelle Rosenberg. Yet the Spanish artist seems to genuinely struggle when it comes to simply drawing people’s faces, as can plainly be seen in a panel of Steve watching Jennifer Walters and Jane Foster's Thor arm-wrestling. 
Writer: Nick Spencer, Penciler: Javier Pina, and Color Artist: Rachelle Rosenberg

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Moon Knight [2016] #11 - Marvel Comics

MOON KNIGHT No. 11, April 2017
If Jeff Lemire's choppy, ‘flashback-obsessed’ plot to Issue Eleven of “Moon Knight” is anything to go by then it's kind of hard to believe Editor Jake Thomas' boast at the end of the twenty-page periodical that this title was "getting a lot of love” in the New York City-based publisher’s ‘Best of 2016’ lists. In fact, considering just how arguably bad the Canadian cartoonist's illogical ramblings for this second instalment of the “Death And Birth” story-arc are, it’s difficult to understand just why even a single reader would consider the ‘Fist of Khonshu’ as being their “favourite ongoing series.” 

For starters, there simply appears to be absolutely no rhyme nor reason as to just why the Ontario-born writer wantonly flits from Marc Spector attending his father’s funeral, to him standing naked in an Iraqi minefield, and then finishing up fist-fighting in Africa. True, the “Marvel Worldwide” strap-line for this particular edition is that the titular character’s “survival depends on answers in his past!” But at no point do any of the ‘retconned’ “events that brought him to this moment” actually do anything more than simply suggest that Doug Moench’s co-creation was guided by Khonshu from his earliest days; “Yes, my son. Come… come to me. You are the one who would do anything to be cured. You are the one who will give his soul to me.”

Indeed, considering that the comic’s main narrative focuses upon Mister Knight battling giant insects, fending off ancient Egyptian warriors and rescuing the dog-headed goddess Anput in the Overvoid, Lemire’s decision to persistently interrupt these enthralling exploits with senseless recollections, really proves frustrating. It certainly can’t have helped anyone “like this new take” on “Marvel’s Batman” when such intrusions persistently occur just as the costumed crime-fighter is in the thick of things and jousting upon huge locusts up in the night’s sky… 

Fortunately, Greg Smallwood somehow manages to make even the most sedentary scenes within this comic look mouth-wateringly good. So whether it be a decidedly mild-looking Spector saying goodbye to Doctor Emmet as he departs the Putnam Psychiatric Hospital in Illinois, or a rather tiringly tedious conversation within the confines of a U.S. Marine Corps tent, each and every panel, at least momentarily, demands attention.
Writer: Jeff Lemire, Artist: Greg Smallwood, and Color Artist: Jordie Bellaire

Monday, 6 March 2017

The Amazing Spider-Man [2015] #22 - Marvel Comics

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN No. 22, February 2017
Selling an arguably disappointing 63,359 copies, considering it was a close tie-in to its Berkeley-born writer’s 2016 “Spider-Man event of the year” mini-series, “The Clone Conspiracy”, this twenty-page periodical’s audience probably weren’t anywhere near as “excited to get my copies… each and every month” as Associate Editor Devin Lewis. For whilst this publication certainly provides plenty of detail as to just how Ben Reilly is once again alive and well within the ‘Marvel Universe’ following his disintegration at the hands of the “original Green Goblin” twenty years earlier, Dan Slott’s explanation is so pedantically-paced that many readers surely felt that they too were being repeatedly experimented upon by Miles Warren with every passing panel; “I knew they that soon there’d be nothing left. Just a nonstop existence of pain and suffering.”  

Indeed, for those bibliophiles who either inadvertently overlooked purchasing Issue Twenty Two of “The Amazing Spider-Man”, or rather perceptively deduced that the best thing about the comic was its haunting Alex Ross cover illustration and gave the magazine a miss, they can be reassured that absolutely nothing of any real importance occurs within “Seeing Red”, apart from perhaps the book’s final act which depicts Parker being contrivingly enticed to work with “Peter’s own clone” in order to receive “the ultimate gift… bringing back Uncle Ben!” Certainly any followers of the “Dead No More” story-arc could readily 'skip' this particular instalment and thereby save themselves the trauma of endlessly reading about the Jackal cold-bloodily murdering his captive clone “twenty-seven times” using such nauseating methods as electrocution, drowning, freezing, toxic gas, acid, and immolation… 

Perhaps aghast at such a strung out script, Giuseppe Camuncoli seemingly provides some remarkably unexceptional breakdowns for this particular publication, with the Italian’s drawings of Reilly being firmly held within Warren’s secret laboratory appearing particularly angular, sedentary and unremarkable. In fact, despite being “best known for his work on the Marvel Comics title… The Superior Spider-Man”, this magazine’s most memorable moment must be the penciller’s attempt to imitate Steve Ditko’s incredibly youthful incarceration of the web-spinner “growing up in Forest Hills, with Aunt May and Uncle Ben” and then later fighting Mysterio during “those early days as Spider-Man”, rather than his own attempt to deliver something new to the artistic aesthetics of the titular character.
Writers: Dan Slott & Christos Gage, Artist: Giuseppe Camuncoli, and Inker: Cam Smith

Sunday, 5 March 2017

The Clone Conspiracy #3 - Marvel Comics

THE CLONE CONSPIRACY No. 3, February 2017
It’s hard to imagine that many “True Believers” agreed with Associate Editor Devin Lewis that Dan Slott’s script for Issue Three of “The Clone Conspiracy” is “one of the biggest payoffs” for the American author’s “blood, sweat, and tears” over the course of the last few years. In fact, considering that this arguably deplorable twenty-page periodical heralds the return of Peter Parker’s “blue-hoodie-wearin’” “brother from another blood cell”, Ben Reilly, and ultimately threatens to “bring back Uncle Ben”, it is probably far more likely that this book’s 56,117 strong audience became increasingly despondent as the Berkeley-born writer’s plot progressed. It’s certainly hard not to blanche at Lewis’ final sign-off at the bottom of the publication’s ‘Letters Page’ when he pens “trust me when I say – things will get crazier.”

Quite possibly top of this title’s many flaws, besides a distinct irreverence towards many of Spider-Man’s most popular deceased cast, is its mishandling of two of the wall-crawler’s most recognisable supporting characters. “In 2009, the Lizard was named IGN's 62nd Greatest Comic Villain of All Time” and yet in this mini-series the usually violent monster is portrayed as a weak-willed simpering ‘pet’ who poses such little threat to his arch-nemesis and Spider-Gwen, that neither super-heroes' spider-sense even tingles when Curt Connors’ alter-ego traps them within a dark, gloomy pipe. That hardly seems the sort of reaction one would expect towards a savage, sharp-toothed criminal well-known for envisioning “a world where all humans had been transformed into (or replaced by) super-reptiles like himself.”

Similarly disserved by Slott’s script is "Parker 3.0", or rather the ‘new’ Scarlet Spider. Supposedly possessing “a slight amplification of the powers he ‘inherited’ from Peter”, this clone was actually thought worthy enough by the Eisner Award-winner to carry an entire issue of “The Amazing Spider-Man” single-handedly as part of the title's tie-in to this “Dead No More” story-event. Disconcertingly in this comic however, Kaine is simply depicted as “no contest” fodder for the Rhino to easily overcome with a single charge, and so having previously been seen as a major contributor to this narrative’s far-reaching consequences, courtesy of several treks across a ‘zombie-infested’ Multiverse, he is suddenly reduced to a body nonchalantly slumped over Aleksei Sytsevich’s broad shoulders; “We get what the master wants, and we get out.”
The 'XCI' variant cover art of "THE CLONE CONSPIRACY" No. 3

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Kong Of Skull Island #5 - BOOM! Studios

KONG OF SKULL ISLAND No. 5, November 2016
There’s quite a noticeable change to the feel and pace of James Asmus’ narrative for Issue Five of “Kong Of Skull Island”. One which starts with Ewata and her people’s untrustworthy monarchy heading out on a rather foolhardy expedition to track their new home’s most formidable “monster back to its lair”, and ends with the party, reeking of “the scents associated with these larger devils”, facing a double-headed creature of titanic proportions in a trap which seems destined to end in all their bloody deaths.

Fortunately however, such a seemingly ‘stand-alone plot’ does little to belittle the grandiose vision of the playwright’s much broader storyline about an entire relocated people surviving upon a truly hostile island, and instead actually brings into sharper focus both the murderous politics and gorily violent religion of the race’s two competing tribes. Indeed, despite the twenty-two page periodical’s plot predominantly focusing upon the exploits of a handful of characters, as opposed to its usually sweeping, and oft-times confusing, cast, this tale of giant apes battling ferocious dinosaurs contains just as much brutal butchery as the title’s preceding instalments… if not actually more so, and never lets its audience forget that Bolti and his brothers are fighting for the survival of all the Tagu and Atu left behind in their defended shelters.

In addition it is rather hard to imagine anyone turning away in boredom from a script which contains the Kong Valla, bludgeoning to death a giant Tyrannosaurus with the huge skull of a Triceratops, Ewata knifing a scuttling spider the size of a sheep just before it pounces upon her treacherous queen Usana, or later the native warriors savagely spearing an errant Velociraptor, who unwisely decides to attack the war-party single-handedly. For whilst this publication’s plot is admittedly, intermittently punctuated by some exceptionally over-crowded speech bubbles and lengthy dialogue, such as Gret risking “his Shaman’s ire to stand with a Tagu”, these word-laden discussions are soon forgotten once the isle's bloodthirsty inhabitants start to tear at one another once again...

Carlos Magno’s breakdowns for this comic are equally as pleasing to eye with the artist’s renderings of all manner of large-toothed fauna and leafy flora proving phenomenally well-detailed. Indeed, if not for the Brazilian penciller's disconcerting ability to make it occasionally unclear as to which figure is which within certain panels, his extraordinarily dynamic depictions of heavily-muscled great gorillas battering prehistoric monsters would be very hard to beat.
Writer: James Asmus, Illustrator: Carlos Magno, and Colors: Brad Simpson

Friday, 3 March 2017

The Amazing Spider-Man [2015] #21 - Marvel Comics

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN No. 21, January 2017
Considering that this book’s principle protagonist “is usually ranked as one of the greatest comic book characters of all time alongside DC Comics characters such as Batman and Superman”, it may have been hard for some to believe that Issue Twenty-One of “The Amazing Spider-Man” was only the twenty-third best-selling title in November 2016. For whilst Dan Slott’s script for “Live Another Day” arguably contains more than its fair share of lengthy flashback sequences and the occasional unfollowable piece of ‘timey wimey’ explanation, “The Clone Conspiracy” tie-in does feature “an alternate San Francisco” which has become overrun with decaying ‘New U Technologies’ zombies, an autopsy scene that is “pretty gnarly stuff”, and the prominent return of Karn, the “protector and prisoner of the Web of Life and Destiny”.

Unfortunately for this twenty-page publication’s 63,052 readers however, what the Berkeley-born writer’s narrative doesn’t surprisingly contain, is neither hide nor hair of its titular character. In fact, even the wall-crawler’s alter-ego, Peter Parker, only makes the briefest of appearances, and that’s just so the different universe’s version can be ‘degenerated’ by a mindless hordes of Carrions when his world’s generators are breached; “It’s too late for them. But maybe their work can still save other worlds. Come on, let’s get out of here.”

As a result, the Eisner Award-Winner’s narrative instead exclusively follows the exploits of the Jackal’s first clone of “the crime-fighting super-hero”, Kaine, and “the second greatest alternate version of Spider-Man”, Spider-Gwen. This remarkable coupling does admittedly prove to be a somewhat interesting team-up once the pair identify that the epicentre of the master geneticist’s plague “always starts in a city with a major Parker Industries” research center, and battle “the most advanced Carrion-state” the Scarlet Spider has ever seen. But even the dynamic action just such a punch-up portrays was surely never going to be enough to satisfy an audience presumably purchasing a comic in order to enjoy an adventure featuring Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s “flawed superhero with everyday problems".

Judging by his inconsistent pencilling, such a dialogue-heavy story-line certainly seems to have caused Giuseppe Camuncoli a few problems, particularly when the artist is drawing the “near-irreparably mutated” Scarlet Spider. Indeed, despite seemingly being perfectly capable of imbuing Gwendolyne Maxine Stacy with plenty of dynamic life, the Italian visibly struggles to do the same for Kaine’s costumed alternative personality.
The variant cover art of "THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN" No. 21 by Paolo Rivera