Monday, 31 December 2018

Planet Of The Apes: Ursus #4 - BOOM! Studios

The three hundred and third best-selling title in April 2019, at least according to “Diamond Comic Distributors”, David F. Walker’s narrative for Issue Four of “Planet Of The Apes: Ursus” must surely have disenchanted many of its 3,774 fans with his peculiar plot involving the psychically powered human mutants living beneath the remains of New York City seemingly permitting a petrified Sergeant Moench to escape his captivity having first been driven half-insane with mental pain. Indeed, the “brave gorillas” exploration of the utterly destitute Big Apple appears to have been manufactured by this book’s writer solely to provide East Coast Ape City’s general with irrefutable proof that the destroyed metropolis is inhabited by ‘telepathic beasts’, who can simply immobilise a unit of Ursus’ finest soldiers from a distance just by thinking about it.

This bizarre narrative, which runs alongside a somewhat bloody flashback sequence depicting how truly powerful a fighter Kananaios’ son was in his youth following the town of Terminus falling “into the hands of the Humans”, arguably makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, especially when it’s clear from the dwellers living within St. Patrick's Cathedral, that they believe Moench will probably both inform his fellow apes about their ‘civilisation’ and resultantly return “with more of its kind.” Just why the mutants therefore permit their prisoner to flee from their control is utterly nonsensical and genuinely would appear to simply have been lazily engineered in order to provide Ursus with some semblance of rationale so as to “destroy the enemy with or without the approval of the Simian High Council.” 

Disappointingly, the military commander’s behaviour towards his fellow primates would also suggest that something is badly amiss with Walker’s penmanship of the titular character. There is undoubtedly an increasing darkness found within the young, yet-to-be General’s demeanour towards humans during his disconcerting discovery that “the unsimian evil of these beasts” has caused the destruction of several ape settlements. But such hostility towards mankind later suddenly sees Ursus angrily slap Zaius before their city’s Chancellor in a disrespectful move which many upon the High Council will see as a treasonous attack upon the good doctor, rather than a loyal soldier’s earnest determination to desperately do what he thinks best for his settlement; “Stop wasting time and endangering ape lives! Give the order. Let me do what must be done to protect Ape City.”
The regular cover art of "PLANET OF THE APES: URSUS" No. 4 by Paolo Rivera & Joe Rivera

Sunday, 30 December 2018

Micronauts [2016] #8 - IDW Publishing

MICRONAUTS No. 8, December 2016
There’s a palpable sense of fun to Cullen Bunn’s narrative for Issue Eight of “Micronauts” which clearly shows just how much of “a dream come true” this book must have been for the three-time Bram Stoker Award-nominee to pen. Indeed, this twenty-page periodical’s storyline, packed full of headlong car chases and bullet-laden helicopter assaults, validates just how sincere the American author was in his desire “to do everything in my power to make sure readers have the time of their lives reading this series!”

For starters, having previously “been rendered unconscious” and “sent off to be subjected to some ghastly experimentation”, this comic’s opening ably demonstrates just how difficult it is going to be for Oziron Rael’s team to escape their captors, even with the help of a sympathetic laboratory scientist. This sense-shattering sequence, which depicts the Heliopolis’ crew being literally thrown around a speeding vehicle whilst Acroyear and Space Glider attack their military pursuers, is tremendously well-paced and genuinely provides a few ‘laugh out loud’ moments as the pair of rebels ‘banter’ as to how many of “those giant vehicles” each took out.

Bullen’s aforementioned “love” for the Micronauts is equally as plain to see in the next stage of the heroes’ frantically-paced pursuit, with Microtron and his “ungrateful captain” taking to the skies in their toy-sized spaceship in order to take down two rotarcraft which in their astonished eyes are “larger than the Avon Federation Space Port.” Oz’s sarcastic first mate proves particularly amusing during these panels, criticising his team-mate’s lack of gratitude for all the robot's speedy, last-minute repairs despite the imminent danger they’re all in; “Biotron and I did a wonderful job of repairing her. Seems like the kind of thing one should be thanked for. Right, Captain?”

Of course, none of this enthusiasm would be quite so infectious for this publication’s 5,590 readers if it wasn’t for Max Dunbar’s dynamic artwork. In fact, a lot of this comic’s exhilarating entertainment is due to the Canadian’s ability to imbue his well-pencilled figures with a humorous look here or a straight faced rebuke there, such as when Orbital Defender slyly points out to Phenolo-Phi that the Pharoid is still vainly speaking to their would-be rescuer despite having just said that “the giants lacked intelligence because they kept talking even though we couldn’t understand”.
Written by: Cullen Bunn, Art by: Max Dunbar, and Colors by: Ander Zarate

Saturday, 29 December 2018

The Batman Who Laughs #1 - DC Comics

THE BATMAN WHO LAUGHS #1, February 2019
Announced at the San Diego Comic Convention in July 2018, this opening instalment to Scott Snyder’s six-issue mini-series undoubtedly captures the attention straight from the ‘get-go’ with its thrill-a-second opening featuring the seldom seen Bat-Raptor racing against a convoy of rowhouse-carrying flatbed trucks along one of Gotham City’s arterial freeways. In fact, this action sequence’s frantically-sketched panels, tightly packed full of heavy moving freight and the squeal of burning tyres, is arguably demonstrative of the Caped Crusader at his very best, hurling a lethal barrage of batarangs one moment, and cushioning a well-timed leap onto a fast-moving vehicle with the body of a hapless felon in the next.

Unfortunately for this comic’s readers however, this sense-shattering flurry of activity is disappointingly as good as the New York author’s narrative gets once Batman discovers the corpse of a Bruce Wayne duplicate which was secretly being smuggled out of the metropolis “to be hacked up” and Arkham Asylum is invaded by this book’s terrifying titular character. True, Jock’s marvellously pencilled massacre of numerous outmatched guards within the corridors of the criminally insane by the Grim Knight, as well as the Joker’s subsequent cold-blooded brutal murder at the hands of the Dark Multiverse’s most “insatiable villain”, undeniably provides this slightly 'over-sized' publication with a second injection of pulse-pounding positivity. Yet sadly, the “DC Comics writer extraordinaire” soon snatches away any shock caused by so traumatising a scene by quickly revealing that it was actually one of the Clown Prince of Crime’s Slapstick Men who received the deadly pick-axe to the head and not the chemically-bleached criminal himself.

Similarly as dissatisfying is this twenty-six page periodical’s conclusion, which almost seems to have been crowbarred in to its already near bursting covers simply to provide Snyder’s story with a suitably thrilling cliff-hanger. For despite only recently being confined to an Arkham cell, the Eagle Award-winner would have his audience believe that somehow the Joker “knew what was coming for him”, so not only managed to conveniently escape his captivity by having a duped decoy replace him, but also arrange for his patsy to undergo enough name changes so as to lead Batman to both an old Gotham Comedy Club and then eventually back to the Bat Cave where his greatest nemesis was waiting for him on the other side of its underground waterway security systems; “Now, now, Jeeves… I’m supposed to say Knock Knock first.”
Writer: Scott Snyder, Artist: Jock, and Colors: David Baron

Friday, 28 December 2018

Micronauts [2016] #7 - IDW Publishing

MICRONAUTS No. 7, November 2016
Disconcertingly set “in the aftermath of Revolution”, “one of the biggest events in IDW’s history”, Cullen Bunn’s opening three-page summary as to just how this comic’s titular characters have somehow become “trapped in a world inhabited by giants” following their recent flight from Karza’s forces in Microspace, must have proved a bewilderingly essential read for any non “IDW Faithful” who happened to ‘have been living under a rock’ in November 2016. In fact, even then, the rationale behind the GLAAD Media Award-nominee’s narrative for Issue Seven of “Micronauts” probably didn’t make a great deal of sense to some of its 5,918 bibliophiles until they perused Editor-in-Chief David Hedgecock’s “Welcome To The Hasbro Universe” exposition at the back of the book, within which he explains that “thanks to the storylines created in Revolution, some of Hasbro’s most popular franchises are now tied into one universe of epic proportions.”

Luckily however, understanding just how the tiny team have come to be trapped within a reinforced glass tank awaiting lethal experimentation at the hands of Mankind’s modern-day scientists isn’t essential to enjoying a thoroughly entertaining re-imagining of “Land Of The Giants”, as Acroyear lays down a seriously impressive smackdown upon a group of armed guards which results in at least one of the armour-clad goons losing a few teeth. This action-packed scene is tremendously well-paced, packed full of sense-shattering gun-play, and helps define just how formidably powerful the genetically engineered super-warrior still is despite his sudden diminutive size.

Indeed, the entire sequence imbues the American novelist’s storyline with some arguably much-needed energy, which then adds extra urgency to the subsequent exploits of Biotron and Microtron as they unsuccessfully attempt to outrun a pair of slavering sentry-dogs who seem intent on chomping up Acroyear as a tasty snack; “I really do wish everyone was conscious to witness this… Back! Back, you slobbering beast!” Such well-handled interplay between this comic’s non-human cast provides all three individuals with an opportunity to demonstrate their unique personality traits, with the “self-deprecating wit and biting sarcasm” of Oz’s first mate proving particularly humorous.

Max Dunbar’s beautiful illustrations also help to endow this twenty-page periodical with a palpable positive vibe, courtesy of some pulse-pounding storyboarding. The frantic nature of the heroes’ headlong flight to freedom is easily-captured by the Canadian’s pencilling throughout, and even gives the group’s meeting with a well-meaning, sympathetic biologist some noteworthy punch when Acroyear wrongly decides that “the giant who sent us to our condemnation! Now… stands in our way” and roughly brings her tumbling to the ground with a whack’ to the ankle.
Written by: Cullen Bunn, Art by: Max Dunbar, and Colors by: Ander Zarate

Thursday, 27 December 2018

Planet Of The Apes: Ursus #3 - BOOM! Studios

Supposedly featuring a gorilla general who is “feeling betrayed by Zaius [for] taking control over the investigation” into a suspected tribe of talking humans, at least according to the pre-publication publicity of publisher “Boom! Studios”, David F. Walker’s storyline for Issue Three of “Planet Of The Apes: Ursus” arguably promised its audience a great deal upon its release with both the comic’s exciting inclusion of actor Charlton Heston’s 1968 motion picture character, Taylor, as well as its enthralling depiction of Sergeant Moench’s exploration of the Forbidden Zone. But despite the agitated apes’ discovery of New York City’s shattered remains, and nervous passage to the entrance of its Queensboro Plaza subway station, the vast majority of this twenty two page periodical’s plot instead disappointingly focuses upon Ursus desperately trying to drink away his problems with “too much berry wine” and some incredibly long-winded, flashback scenes…

Indeed, it’s hard to imagine many of this book’s dwindling 3,987 readers were impressed with its American author staggeringly squandering a quarter of this magazine’s length depicting Ape City’s befuddled military commander drunkenly getting out of bed and the resentful cell guard Julius simply making his way to Doctor Zaius’ office, rather than further fleshing out Moench’s impressive ability to overcome his fear of the strange phenomenon he witnesses whilst traversing humanity’s radiation-disfigured land. Certainly, it is arguably difficult to understand just why this comic’s creative team wastes three pages portraying a decidedly grim Ursus sat talking to a vacant-eyed, lobotomised Landon only to straight afterwards cram into a single splash panel Kananaios’ son savagely defeating a party of mean-spirited men; “In his youth, Ursus secretly wished humans could talk because if they could talk, they would tremble in fear whenever they spoke his name.”

Mercifully, Chris Mooneyham’s dynamic drawings of Moench leading his “group of frightened female orangutans” through the fiery illusions of the Forbidden Zone does at least imbue this poorly paced comic with a modicum of entertainment. Yet as much as it is enjoyable watching the artist’s well-pencilled gorilla soldiers carefully pick their way through the Big Apple’s deserted streets, especially when it’s clear their progress is being monitored by the destroyed city’s mutated inhabitants, it is difficult not to wish that Ursus was “ten years younger” and leading the expedition himself.
Written by: David F. Walker, Illustrated by: Chris Mooneyham, and Colored by: Jason Wordie

Wednesday, 26 December 2018

Doctor Strange #385 - Marvel Comics

DOCTOR STRANGE No. 385, April 2018
Considering that Donny Cates’ “Loki: Sorcerer Supreme” storyline significantly relies upon the presence of the Sentry in order for Stephen Strange to be able to match mystic arts with the God of Mischief, it probably came as little surprise to some of this comic’s 26,774 readers that the all-powerful evil imprisoned within the Sanctum Sanctorum is actually Robert Reynolds’ “dark opposite”, the Void. But whilst the presence of “the black and destructive counterforce” undeniably makes for a somewhat sense-shattering conclusion to the American author’s long-winded narrative, the simplistic ease with which Loki, the former “preeminent surgeon” and “arguably the most powerful of all heroes” defeats it smacks of this title’s writer mismanaging the plot’s pacing quite significantly.

For starters, having unleased a force supposedly “capable of destroying the Earth, if not the entire universe”, it disconcertingly takes this publication’s three heroes less time to batter the Void back inside its sealed room than it does Thor’s step-brother to later explain to Strange just why he duped the magic user into believing that the Vishanti had robbed him of his title. Indeed, the titular character appears to be in far more danger of being killed by a murderously enraged “Golden Guardian of the Good” than he does from the evil psyche of the Sentry, and probably would have been if not for Loki’s protective spells sparing the man from the bone-breaking fury of the angry New Avenger; “You told me we had to protect the world! I didn’t know we’d have to protect it from you. I trusted you, Stephen.”

Of course, all this pulse-pounding pugilism and carousel of theatrical spell-casting is soon disconcertingly diminished by Laufeyson’s revelation that “there… never was a tournament” for Doctor Strange to lose, and that he had apparently simply weaved the illusion so as to make the Master of the Mystic Arts better prepared for the War of the Realms, “Hell on Earth”, the gathering of the Infinity Stones and the Final Host.” This grand-sounding motivation momentarily appears disconcertingly credible, considering the Agent of Asgard has just “used the Exile of Singhsoon to consolidate Midgard’s magic into myself so I could jump-start the Dragon Lines." Yet such an explanation is soon disappointingly dispelled and clouded in doubt by a dubious Sorcerer Supreme and Loki’s abrupt departure...
Writer: Donny Cates, Artist: Gabriel Hernandez Walta, and Color Artist: Jordie Bellaire

Tuesday, 25 December 2018

Planet Of The Apes: Ursus #2 - BOOM! Studios

PLANET OF THE APES: URSUS No. 2, February 2018
Considering that this limited series so closely courts the events of Franklin J. Schaffner’s 1968 American science fiction film, David F. Walker’s narrative for Issue Two of “Planet Of The Apes: Ursus” must surely have made its 4,453 readers in February 2018 feel that he had missed a major opportunity with which to significantly expand upon Robert Gunner’s ‘Silver Screen’ alter-ego John Landon. For whilst this twenty-two page periodical based upon “the franchise’s most notorious villain” undoubtedly provides a savagely brutal explanation as to why the troubled astronaut’s frontal lobes were removed from his brain by the chimpanzee Doctor Galen, it disappointingly does so within mere moments of the terrified talking human being discovered by Zaius and the orangutan’s former friend; “You call this an interrogation? You’ve fractured its skull.”

Admittedly, the timing to this publication’s plot is somewhat tight, as “the most powerful gorilla in Ape City” has to arrange for Sergeant Moench to assemble and deploy a loyal hunting party to the Forbidden Zone before the Chief Defender of the Faith rather cynically covers up Taylor’s writing in the dirt just outside the voiceless captive’s external exercise pen. Yet even so, it seems a shame that the six-foot-four, 200-pound ‘Liberty 1’ explorer wasn’t given something more ‘meaty’ to do than simply whimper in his cage that “the oxygen levels in my hypersleep chamber are off balance” and plead to “see my wife -- my family” before being beaten half to death by an enraged Ursus.

Mercifully however, the “award-winning journalist” does seem to find the time to depict the titular character’s first meeting with his beloved wife, Qama, when she was a servant of Zaius’ mentor, Doctor Cephina. This tender flashback scene, set against the backdrop of a violent human attack upon an easily overrun Ape City, not only provides the military commander with an opportunity to demonstrate his courageous bravery when he was a young primate, but also continues to reveal just why he “has always hated and feared mankind.”

Easily this comic’s greatest asset though, are Chris Mooneyham’s excellent illustrations. The Joe Kubert School of Cartooning and Graphic Art graduate really does imbue “the primary antagonist of Beneath the Planet of the Apes” with a formidable presence and it is genuinely a major anti-climax when a disillusioned Ursus is pencilled riding away from his hand-picked “most trusted gorillas” rather than sketched leading them into the Forbidden Zone in search of “a new breed of human [who] has migrated to our land…”
The regular cover art of "PLANET OF THE APES: URSUS" No. 2 by Paolo Rivera & Joe Rivera

Monday, 24 December 2018

Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor #2 - Titan Comics

Firmly focusing upon the creative team’s uncanny ability to mimic the mannerisms of television actress Jodie Whittaker, Issue Two of “Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor” probably proved a somewhat plodding experience for those readers expecting Jody Houser’s narrative to make any significant headway in its explanation as to just how Leon Perkins and “the foremost expert on temporal physics”, Irene Schulz, came to be ‘owned’ by a greedy, gold-grabbing extra-terrestrial demon. In fact, the publication somewhat begrudgingly only allocates a mere four pages to this particular (central) storyline, seemingly preferring to depict instead just how vehemently opposed to weapons the titular “charismatic and confident” character is, even when such an adversity to her companions arming themselves clearly puts the entire TARDIS crew in mortal danger; “No. No guns. Not while you’re with me.”

Admittedly, the Time Lord’s dislike of weapons is nothing new, as the Seventh Doctor’s continual criticism of Ace for repeatedly carrying Nitro-9 explosives around attests. But such disapproval arguably hasn’t ever before manifested itself so strongly that the rather aggressive Gallifreyan won’t even allow her much-needed allies to carry them. It's certainly hard to imagine just how this current incarnation of the “brave and selfless” explorer would have coped if they'd been paired up with the Sevateem tribe savage Leela and the primitive’s lethal collection of poisonous Janis thorns…

Possibly just as perturbing though is the time traveller’s sudden ability to conveniently bring the TARDIS to her exact location whenever she wishes courtesy of a signal from the sonic screwdriver. The multifunctional device’s overuse has been increasingly criticised ever since the BBC programme’s revival in 2005 and disconcertingly would now appear to be the only way for the Thirteenth Doctor to discover a “way out” when her headlong flight through “an alien war prison” suddenly runs out of corridors to escape down.

Fortunately however, what this twenty-two page periodical lacks in plot progression it more than makes up for courtesy of Rachael Stott’s excellent storyboarding. “The artist for several Titan Doctor Who comic stories” really seems to know precisely how to pencil the facial expressions of the Time Lord, Ryan Sinclair, Yasmin Khan and Graham O’Brien, to the extent where it’s dead easy to imagine the relevant actors actually performing each panel. Indeed, this book's interior artwork is so impressive that it's a shame the regular illustrator later had to rely upon the drawing skills of Giorgia Sposito and Valeria Favoccia in order for the comic’s final seven pages to be sketched…
Writer: Jody Houser, and Artists: Rachael Stott, Giorgia Sposito & Valeria Favoccia

Sunday, 23 December 2018

Doctor Strange #384 - Marvel Comics

DOCTOR STRANGE No. 384, March 2018
As cataclysmic confrontations go, it is probably likely that Stephen Strange’s all-out attack upon the God of Mischief in Issue Three Hundred And Eighty Four of “Doctor Strange” didn’t quite excite the comic’s 25,652 strong audience in January 2018 as much as its writer Donny Cates would have hoped. Indeed, as battles between two of the Marvel Universe’s greatest magic users go, this penultimate instalment to the American author’s “Loki: Sorcerer Supreme” storyline arguably lacks much in way of either pulse-pounding mystic pugilism or sense-shattering spells; “I have shown remarkable patience with you. But I have a limit. And you are dancing rather precariously on its edge right now.”

Of course, that doesn’t mean that this twenty-page periodical isn’t entirely devoid of entertainment, with the veterinarian’s nonchalant transmutation of the entire Dimension Blood, “ancestral nesting realm of the cancerous Vampa Cambra Warriors”, into a rolling green landscape filled full of cute bouncing bunnies debatably being worth this publication’s cover price alone. But even such other notable moments like the titular character bringing the Lord of all Liars’ floating Sanctum Sanctorum crashing down to the ground with nothing more than a hand gesture, or unexpectedly dropping the deity from a great height, seemingly lack the phenomenal dynamism many of this book’s readers probably expected from such a titanic tussle and instead apparently play out like something out of a bog-standard ‘fight-by-numbers’ script.

Perhaps this battle’s biggest disappointment though, is that it is brought to an abrupt halt two-thirds through the magazine by Zelma Stanton’s miraculous ability to rob both combatants of their ability to “cast any magical spells” for “the next three minutes” simply by angrily uttering the words “Vrak Par Hensargin!” Just how a former librarian from the Bronx is able to reduce both the Master of the Mystic Arts and Thor’s half-brother to so vulnerable a state that neither “can so much as wish on a lucky penny” smacks of Cates desperately scrambling around for a reason as to how Loki could unsuspectingly force the “unbelievable hack” to release the Void when the “second-rate sorcerer” is being powered by the Sentry and Yggdrasil.

Fortunately, despite its potentially poor penmanship, Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s storyboards do at least prove predominantly pleasing to the eye, especially when the Spanish artist depicts Stephen Strange’s wonderfully-humorous facial horror at having been robbed of his magical spells whilst still in close proximity to the fuming Asgardian god. In addition, the Hugo Award-nominee provides a nice nod to this comic’s co-creator, Steve Ditko, by pencilling “DITKO” on the arm of the construct seen “on the panel that features Strange and Loki exiting the Dark Dimension.”
The regular cover art of "DOCTOR STRANGE" No. 384 by Mike Del Mundo

Friday, 21 December 2018

The Immortal Hulk #10 - Marvel Comics

IMMORTAL HULK No. 10, February 2019
It’s hard to imagine that many readers actually understood what was happening throughout Al Ewing’s plot for Issue Ten of “The Immortal Hulk”. For whilst the British comic writer’s narrative undoubtedly contains plenty of pulse-pounding pugilism between an atrociously emaciated titular character and a grotesquely mutilated creature which was once Carl “Crusher” Creel, any rationale as to just why the close proximity of two such disgusting-looking combatants should lead to the opening of “the Green Door” and sudden creation of Hell on Earth is severely lacking.

In fact in many ways, the storyline to “Thaumiel” genuinely seems to have been comprised of anything mindlessly violent or gratuitous which the former “2000 A.D.” author could think of so as to help ‘pad out’ this particular twenty-page periodical. Certainly, it must have been difficult for this book’s audience to rationalise just how the Absorbing Man was still breathing after the “One Below All” literally tears him asunder from within, or just why Shadow Base’s secret operative Bushwhacker is ordered to prophetically pause before firing at Bruce Banner’s seemingly invulnerable alter-ego until “the moment”?

True, this delay does provide Carl Burbank with a later opportunity to fool the Green Goliath into believing that Walter Langkowski’s Gamma Flight have seemingly shot him through the eye with a cyanide hollow-point bullet. But General Reginald Fortean’s fortuitous belief that they’ll be a better opening for his cybernetically enhanced marksman to injure the Hulk than the one where “Codename Red Dog” is arguably already besting the super-strong human mutate is debatably a little too conveniently clunky; especially as it entirely rests upon the premise that Sasquatch, Puck and Jacqueline McGee first need to properly assemble at Alpha Flight Space Station and then subsequently deploy to Los Diablos in New Mexico.

Fortunately, despite this magazine apparently requiring the talents of three different inkers, Joe Bennett’s pencilling somehow manages to shoulder much of this publication’s substandard storytelling burden, by carrying any and all “Hulk-heads” along with his tremendously dynamic action-packed panels. Whether it be the savage monster’s gut-wrenching, eye-wincing wreckage of Creel’s horrifically disfigured walking remains, or the gamma-green giant’s confrontation with a laser-gun wielding Eugene Judd, the Brazilian’s panels are as captivating as their contents are predominantly physically gruesome.

First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
The regular cover art of "IMMORTAL HULK" No. 10 by Alex Ross

Thursday, 20 December 2018

Doctor Strange #383 - Marvel Comics

DOCTOR STRANGE No. 383, April 2018
Having literally upended Marvel’s entire magical universe just two short editions earlier with Loki Laufeyson’s shock replacement of this comic’s titular character as the Sorcerer Supreme, Donny Cates’ opening to Issue Three Hundred And Eighty Three of “Doctor Strange” probably had its 23,021 readers on the edge of their seats due to his narrative finally promising to explain just how the God of Mischief managed to defeat the former “preeminent surgeon” during “The Tournament”. However, rather than provide any sort of sense-shattering contest between the two mystics, the former sequential artist at the Savannah College of Art and Design instead disappointingly shows a victorious Stephen being stripped of his appointment simply upon the whim of the Vishanti because they suddenly feel “that a mortal can no longer fulfil the role…”

Indeed, this third instalment to the author’s “Loki: Sorcerer Supreme” storyline somewhat ludicrously presents Thor’s mischievous step-brother as being an uninvited spectator of the event, who, having first bewilderingly unplugged himself from his personal stereo, actually also challenges the “trio of supernatural, god-like entities” regarding their nonsensical decision. Understandably, a furious Master of the Mystic Arts, made all the angrier when the triumvirate imply that the troubled Jotunn will face some considerable dangers in the days ahead, voices his outrage at being so disrespectfully cast aside after all he has done to protect the realm, and with hindsight it is perhaps arguably easy to see just why this comic’s circulation was declining at its time of publication, if the book’s loyal fan-base felt Cates’ penmanship was disparaging them in a similar fashion…

Alas, little of what follows this massive anti-climax, including the substitution of “Flashback Artist” Niko Henrichon with Gabriel Hernandez Walta, makes for a compelling read until near the twenty-page periodical’s end when Doctor Strange challenges the mighty Asgardian leader Cul Borson, brother of Odin, so as to gain “access to an almost unlimited well” of magic, and brings the all-mighty Sentry with him “in case things went sideways.” The subsequent clash of arms as Robert Reynolds literally flings himself into the midst of a heavily-armoured horde of warriors is impressively palpable, and beautifully contrasts with a truly touching scene moments later when the humble sorcerer somewhat tearfully tenders Yggdrasil the corpse of his friend, Bats, so as to win the World Tree’s favour; “I can offer you a very, very good boy… Please… I don’t have anything else…”
Writer: Donny Cates, and Artists: Gabriel Hernandez Walta & Niko Henrichon

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Batman [2016] Annual #3 - DC Comics

BATMAN ANNUAL No. 3, February 2019
Touted by “DC Comics” as “an epic tale that promises to be one of the most Alfred stories ever told”, Tom Taylor’s narrative for this third Batman Annual certainly places “Bruce Wayne's loyal and tireless butler” at the very centre of the action, as the billionaire industrial’s aide-de-camp not only tirelessly continues to provide his friend with “whatever you need”, but also suffers “a mild concussion, some bruising, a nasty cut to his shoulder, [and] probably a fracture or two in his hand” when he is called upon to protect a severely injured Dark Knight from a couple of Gotham City’s low-life ne'er-do-wells; “All he’s done for this city. All he’s sacrificed. Gentlemen I suggest you change careers. Or your next deserved thrashing will come from a man who is far more punishing and far more proficient at it than I am.”

Mercifully however, such is the quality of the Number One New York Times bestselling comic book author’s penmanship for this publication that even the more sedentary scenes of Pennyworth simply lying in bed anxiously awaiting Master Bruce’s next radio transmission, methodically populating the vigilante’s back-up utility belt or slavishly checking the air pressure on the Batmobile’s tyres are almost as captivating as the ex-Special Operations Executive’s bout of pugilism, especially as these laborious chore-filled sequences increasingly build-up a sentimental picture of the genuine love and caring which the Caped Crusader’s “moral anchor” repeatedly demonstrates he has for his crime-fighting ward. Indeed, this entire over-sized thirty-seven page periodical is clearly dedicated to depicting the fact that the “Batman’s most trusted ally and confidant” has set aside any semblance of a normal life just so he can better serve a masked man whose sin-riddled metropolis “demands so much of him.”

Impressively, such saccharin-sweet sentimentality could so easily have proved a sickeningly unstomachable read, particularly when it ends with the revelation that a battered Bruce, stoically recovering from a near fatal punctured abdomen, has tasked “Cassandra and Duke to patrol the city in my stead” so as to allow Alfred to have Father’s Day off. Yet on this occasion, both the Australian’s writing, as well as artist Otto Schmidt’s first rate pencilling, is so emotionally-charged and sincere, that the entire comic masterfully manages to come across as nothing more than an unpretentious, truly heartfelt tribute to the bottomless adoration Bill Finger’s co-creations clearly feel for one another.
Writer: Tom Taylor, Artist: Otto Schmidt, and Letters: A Larger World's Troy Peteri

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Planet Of The Apes: Ursus #1 - BOOM! Studios

PLANET OF THE APES: URSUS No. 1, January 2018
Excitedly announced by both “BOOM! Studios” and “Twentieth Century Consumer Products” in October 2017, David F. Walker’s somewhat sedentary and dialogue-heavy script for Issue One of “Planet Of The Apes: Ursus” probably still provided plenty of entertainment to its 5,788 readers upon the mini-series initial release courtesy of the “award-winning journalist” closely mirroring the opening twenty minutes of Franklin J. Schaffner’s 1968 American science fiction film. Indeed, the publication’s first four pages so closely follow the motion picture’s plot and dialogue that many within the book’s audience perhaps momentarily feared that they had mistakenly picked up an official comic adaption of the Charlton Heston flick, rather than a title which promised to “follow the rise through the ranks of the ape who has hated (and feared) mankind the most, including what first brought him to the Forbidden Zone.”

Of course, once astronauts Taylor, Landon and Dodge have either been captured, injured or killed, this twenty-two page periodical firmly focuses its attention upon gorilla General Ursus, and immediately starts showing a side to the titular character never before touched upon on the ‘Silver Screen’. Sentimental towards two photographs of his apparently dead wife Qama, and angrily agitated that his “morning will be spent among politicians… The enemy of every true soldier”, these scenes show Walker’s genuine desire to explore ‘what actually makes the villain tick’ rather than simply present the army’s veteran leader as a stereotypical warmonger solely interested “in his own dreams of conquest, glory and power.”

Indeed, Ursus’ subsequent discovery of Dodge’s corpse initiates a truly troubling flashback scene set within an ape coliseum called Terminus “many years ago”, where humans are trained to slaughter one another in brutal unarmed combat simply for the amusement of their Simian onlookers. Gorily graphic as its subject matter is disturbingly distasteful, this memory shows an adolescent Ursus hauntingly looking into the eyes of a grim-faced imprisoned black slave, who perhaps understandably, has nothing but hatred for Kananaios’ shocked son; “I have seen humans like this before. These dark-skinned beasts, they are the most vicious -- The most cunning.”   

Admittedly, so much ponderously slow background development to the General could so easily have turned this comic’s storyline into a dreadfully dire experience which contains little action despite its aforementioned reimaging of “The Hunt.” But whilst this particular instalment certainly does contain plenty of pedestrian-paced talk, particularly when Ursus confronts Zaius in the orangutan’s office, it is fortunately all wonderfully illustrated by Chris Mooneyham, whose pencilling imbues a good deal of emotion to his figure’s furry faces which definitely isn’t generated by this book’s penmanship.
Written by: David F. Walker, Illustrated by: Chris Mooneyham, and Colored by: Jason Wordie

Monday, 17 December 2018

Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor #1 - Titan Comics

Published by “Titan Comics” at a time when some within the British National media were busy accusing the BBC science fiction series of suffering a significant ratings drop due to its viewers ‘branding the show as being too PC’, Jody Houser’s script for Issue One of “Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor” probably proved a far less contentious experience with its focus upon a pair of time-travelling thieves and some notable interactions between the Gallifreyan’s “three brand new companions” rather than any obvious promotion of SJW socially progressive views. Indeed, a fair amount of this twenty-two page periodical is seemingly spent just trying to reassure its readership that the “comic book author who wrote the 2017 comic adaptation of the film Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” can most assuredly capture both the televised mannerisms and vocabulary of Ryan Sinclair, Yasmin Khan and Graham O’Brien.

Of course, tucked inside this “new beginning” are the makings of an intriguing adventure involving a pair of hapless humanoid scientists who seem to be unwillingly stealing antiques from the Earth’s past in order to appease the desires of a rather regal-looking, blue-skinned extra-terrestrial. But for the most part, much of this publication could perhaps be rather unkindly criticised for simply showing how close the Doctor’s “most thrilling incarnation yet” is to her ‘small screen’ counterpart as played by actress Jodie Whittaker. In fact, the titular character’s dialogue is seemingly so spot on, that it would be very interesting to know just how much help the franchise’s producer and lead writer, Chris Chibnall, actually provided to the Eisner Award-nominee’s narrative; “Now if I’m right, and I’m pretty sure I usually am… We should be able to track the signature of the disruption.” 

Disappointingly however, as with so many stories penned during the ‘Nu Who’ era, this story’s telling does debatably suffer with an over-abundance of the “charismatic and confident” explorer’s sonic screwdriver. Whether the device is being used to scientifically assess an “almost certainly” dangerous time tunnel, provide the TARDIS with a unique energy signature in order to allow the sentient Police Box to “build an algorithm to calculate exactly where the [aforementioned] disruption will [next] appear”, or help the Thirteenth Doctor “stabilize the disruption as long as I can”, the protagonist’s repeated use of the audible probe makes one worryingly wonder just how the Time Lord has ever survived without it.
The regular cover art of "DOCTOR WHO: THE THIRTEENTH DOCTOR" No. 1 by Babs Tarr

Sunday, 16 December 2018

Stroper #4 - Stroper Store

STROPER No. 4, August 2018
Significantly expanding his Galactic Union’s universal canvas to one whose size is arguably comparable to that of another galaxy “far, far away”, Edward Porter’s narrative to Issue Four of “Stroper” must have delighted its “Kickstarter” based backers with both its grand vista of planetary visitations, and the forty-six page periodical’s plethora of new characters and extra-terrestrial creatures. Yet whilst contemporary fans of George Lucas’ “American epic space opera franchise” seemingly have found the most recent ‘Silver Screen’ instalments to their beloved science-fiction saga unnecessarily complicated and chock-full of dead-ended plot threads, Pak Booker’s unravelling lifestyle as an illegal hunter probably provided the majority of this digital comic’s readers with a genuinely entertaining experience, and even the occasional skipped heartbeat when the action momentarily looks set to deprive “the space drifter” of his family or friends.

Interestingly however, it is not the story-line’s central Stroper who perhaps provides this giant-sized, lavish-looking publication with its best pulse-pounding moment, but rather one of the mysteriously sinister Dim Tong’s other operatives known as Karl Wex. The visor-wearing, “violent” killer’s battle against three fish-faced Pri-Bots on the Red Moon of Banktar is potentially the highlight of Porter’s “ten-issue indie comic series” so far, with its wonderful depiction of the grim-faced ‘Black-marketeer’ initially botching his attempt to assassinate “these abominations” due to their “L.D.R. detection” and subsequently having to get in close and finish the slavers off in personal combat. Superbly drawn by this book’s creator, the oft-times blurry speed of this fight is tremendously well illustrated, especially when one of the primitive brained humanoids is literally scythed in two by a well-placed laser grenade or another later caught up in an all-encompassing explosion of webbing; “I should thank you. If you hadn’t have fallen out of your crashing ship and shattered your false body. I would never have been able to track you.”

Similarly as successful though is the visual effects artist’s introduction of this post golden age of space exploration's other ‘new’ inhabitants, such as the truly menacing, softly-spoken Mister Tong, and a somewhat disagreeably lead salvage team who inadvertently stumble upon the imprisoned Tribals Wex left to die after he slew the pot-bellied people’s Pri-Bot captors. In addition, Edward’s script also provides some much-needed motivation behind just why Pak does such a dirty job in the first-place, by momentarily giving his audience an all-too brief sentimental glimpse of the wife and two young kids the mullet-haired citizen of the Galactic Union is trying to protect.

First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
Writer & Illustrator: Eddie Porter

Saturday, 15 December 2018

Judge Dredd: Toxic #2 - IDW Publishing

JUDGE DREDD: TOXIC No. 2, November 2018
It’s arguably quite clear, considering the feel and pacing of his script for Issue Two of “Judge Dredd: Toxic”, that writer Paul Jenkins “bought the very first issue” of “2000 A.D.” and subsequently “tore most of my skin off by applying biotronic stickers” from the science fiction anthology comic’s second edition, for whilst the lifetime fan’s storyline focuses upon an all-too real modern-day dilemma involving “the benefits of immigration and the chaos caused by anti-immigrant sentiment”, there is a definite palpable Seventies feel as to how this book’s pulse-pounding proceedings pan out. Indeed, with the exception of a wordy-heavy conversational piece between the titular character and an enraged Citizen Smed, as well as a somewhat sedentary interrogation of “Ol’ Harkie”, the Wizard Fan Award-winner almost relentlessly throws his audience into the thick of the action without seemingly worrying about whether it has any rhyme or reason.

Admittedly, such frantic plot pacing really does make for a roller-coaster of a read when a violent protest at the Spillover, “Mega-City One’s highly toxic sewer system”, suddenly somehow threatens to dissolve large portions of the futuristic metropolis in ultra-carborane acid. But the chemical ‘chain-reaction’ behind this underground-based mass disaster is debatably never properly explained within the narrative, especially as to just how the emergency will cause the conurbation’s population to start permanently breathing toxic air. Luckily however, it does undeniably make for an engrossing experience courtesy of artist Marco Castiello pencilling some terrific, volcanic-looking geysers of flesh-melting gloop erupting throughout the twenty-page periodical and the recruitment of “some of the old Alpha and Delta series janitorial droids to assist in the Spillover while the situation comes under control.”

Judge Joseph Dredd too seems to much more closely resemble the "tough cop" originally envisaged by co-creator Pat Mills than the more ‘heroic’ lawman disconcertingly depicted in contemporary comics. Whether the veteran Street Judge is busy cold-heartedly executing an already “good as dead” perpetrator “observed in the commission of multiple crimes”, chastising his colleague Scammon for recklessly “saving my life” by risking his own and taking a bullet in the arm for his trouble, or firing his lawgiver so as to intimidate citizens who “are violating multiple ordinances, including unruly assembly”, this particular incarnation of “Old Stoney Face” really is as mean as the situation is dire; “A Judge’s duty doesn’t diminish based on circumstance, Anderson. You know that.”
The regular cover art of "JUDGE DREDD: TOXIC" No. 2 by Mark Buckingham & Chris Blythe

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

The Immortal Hulk #9 - Marvel Comics

IMMORTAL HULK No. 9, January 2019
Despite Carl “Crusher” Creel acknowledging himself that he has “literally… never won a fight” with the Hulk, and always been “pulverized” by Bruce Banner’s alter-ego, the prospect of “The Sinners” storyline once again pitching the Absorbing Man against the Green Goliath must have had the vast majority of this comic’s Hulk-heads foaming at the mouth in anticipation for a re-match; especially when Alex Ross’s awesome-looking cover illustration depicting the two combatants engaged in a brutal fist-fight was released early as part of the book’s pre-publication advertising.

But whilst Al Ewing’s script for Issue Nine of “The Immortal Hulk” certainly delivers upon its promise to include the “greatest [of] enemies” going ‘toe-to-toe’ with one another towards the end of the twenty-page periodical, the lead up to their conflict, as well as its grotesque culmination, probably struck some readers as being somewhat choppy and frankly, rather bizarre. Indeed, at times it is debatably difficult to understand in just which direction the British author is actually taking his “Green Door” narrative with this tome's mix of a “Videodrome” like secret agent with a gun-transforming hand, a “cute little” gamma-powered hamster called Derek, and a creature which closely resembles the murderous extra-terrestrial in John Carpenter’s 1982 horror film “The Thing”..?

Of course, once “Codename Red Dog” and this publication’s titular character do finally meet in person, courtesy of General Reginald Fortean’s cold-blooded calculations, there are a plethora of pulse-pounding panels for the “2000 A.D.” writer’s audience to enjoy, particularly as Creel has rather unwisely agreed to be injected with the Bannerman Gene-Enhancement package beforehand. Disappointingly however, even Carl’s “Hulk Plug-In”, which rather unnervingly provides the super-villain with an incredible ‘emaciating edge’ over his hated anger-fuelled opponent, doesn’t allow this gripping bout of muscle-bound pugilism to last all that long, and their ‘classic’ confrontation is sadly brought to an apparently all-too fast end within the space of just a few heartbeats.

Perhaps this comic’s biggest frustration though is the persistent intermittent page swapping which takes place between regular artist Joe Bennett and the disconcertingly different Martin Simmons. True, there’s little not to like about Benedito José Nascimento’s dynamic pencilling even during this book’s more sedentary scenes, yet the same probably can’t be said for this tome’s guest illustrator, whose drawing, inks and colours appear somewhat lifelessly wooden and flat when laid out alongside the much more energetic work of his Brazilian counter-part.

First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
The regular cover art of "IMMORTAL HULK" No. 9 by Alex Ross

Monday, 10 December 2018

Avengers [2018] #7 - Marvel Comics

AVENGERS No. 7, November 2018
“Featuring Ghost Rider 1,000,000 BC” in a stand-alone origin story set “before the dawn of civilization”, Jason Aaron’s storyline for Issue Seven of “Avengers” probably pleased the vast majority of this comic’s 65,815 strong audience in September 2018 with its intriguing hypothetical insight into the life “of cave folk struggling to survive on the edge of the Big White” and its subsequent depiction of a seemingly unstoppable blood-crazed Wendigo, who in just one night “killed and ate them all.” In fact, it’s arguable that many within this comic’s increasing audience probably wished that “Fire And Bone” was the start of an ongoing series focusing upon the Spirit of Vengeance and “a period of Marvel history that’s never been explored” before, rather than a simple ‘filler’ following the conclusion of the Alabama-born author’s “first explosive arc featuring Earth’s Mightiest Heroes”.

Perhaps foremost of this twenty-page periodical’s biggest draws is the way in which its Inkpot Award-winning writer pens the primitive life of the Neanderthal, at a time when neither names nor speech were even known, and Ghost’s fellow cave-dwellers simply “communicated with grunts and fists.” “Smarter than everyone I knew” the fledgling super-hero’s determination to track down the human-shaped monster who slaughtered his entire clan proves a somewhat mesmerising experience, especially when tired, alone and dying of exposure the young man encounters a giant talking snake called Mephisto and haplessly agrees to the snow-coloured reptile’s generous offer to “make it sso you’re never cold again.”

Of course, in making such a deal the semi-conscious adolescent curses himself to a fiery future, but at least finds himself in a position some five years later where he is sufficiently strong enough to challenge the savage might of the bestial stranger who once slaughtered everyone he knew. Indeed, the Rider’s ensuing battle with Wendigo, complete with Sara Pichelli’s perfectly pencilled woolly mammoths, really does bring this comic to a sense-shattering conclusion as the white-furred ‘feeder upon manflesh’ demonstrates just why his scourge would later prove so difficult for Alpha Flight to overcome in the Modern Age of ‘capes and cowls’, whilst Mephisto’s flame-headed agent has an opportunity to demonstrate his prehistoric powers by drawing the grim skeletal remnants of his opponent’s former feasts into a hellfire-fuelled chain; “The bones say you’ve eaten your fill. Now it’s their turn to feed.”
Writer: Jason Aaron, Artist: Sara Pichelli, and Color Artist: Justin Ponsor

Sunday, 9 December 2018

Boy Zero: Volume One [Part Three] - Caliber Comics

BOY ZERO: VOLUME ONE, January 2016
Predominantly maintaining its focus upon “Edmund’s cross to bear” some ‘twelve days, ten hours and two minutes before zero’, this third chapter to Charles Chester’s “Boy Zero” graphic novel must have made its audience almost taste the metallic tang of rust in their parched mouths, as the children living just outside Glass City show newcomer Christian their secret hideout buried deep inside a dilapidated factory and claustrophobically encircle themselves in a wall of decaying, half-eaten corrugated iron sheeting, red oxide covered machinery and chain-linked fencing. But any readers anticipating that this publication would subsequently provide a light-hearted insight into the craftiness of children “when looking for adventure” were undeniably in for a startling shock once the adolescent party’s game of hop-scotch is interrupted by the sudden arrival of a wizened old “homeless individual” armed with a seemingly blood-stained knife and a brain full of madness; “I think you lied to me! I need to speak to him! Noooo! No No! Where are you going?! No! Come back! I’ll tell you where the lion lives!”

Indeed, the utter terror on the faces of the youngsters as the dishevelled tramp heads towards their main hiding place is absolutely palpable, as is the adrenalin rush caused by the award winning filmmaker’s penmanship in his depiction of the kids rapidly bolting from out of their refuge and ‘pegging it’ past the gore-splattered vagrant towards the safety of a nearby cemetery. Of course, many perusing bibliophiles’ hearts probably stopped dead when the prone hobo manages to take hold of Christian’s ankle as the lad leaps over the fallen intruder’s form, yet fortunately for those holding their breath in anticipation of the 'cutting to come', the old man does not have the strength to drag the wide-eyed boy down to the ground, nor maintain his grip when he takes a well-placed kick to the head…

Perhaps somewhat disappointingly the rest of this particular twenty-six page instalment never arguably manages to ever replicate so pulse-pounding a predicament, even later on when an actress is assaulted at knife-point by a street-level criminal down a dark alleyway. However, that doesn’t mean that the dialogue-driven sequences which follow don’t still easily hold both the attention and imagination either, as Chester’s somewhat disrespectful (young) Detective Drekker unconvincingly assures the local petrified parents that “there is no reason [for them] to worry” despite the recent spine-chilling mutilation of Mister Adams’ two sons, and Christian’s truly nerve-wracking account to Edmund of the Boogeyman coming out at night to tell his next victim that “he is going to hang a child from a tree and gut him from neck to belly…”
Written by: Charles Chester, and Artwork by: Shiloh Penfield