Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Aliens: Dead Orbit #3 - Dark Horse Comics

ALIENS: DEAD ORBIT No. 3, June 2017
Despite forcing this book’s opening to subsequently contain a pulse-pounding jump scare and obligatory corridor chase scene, it’s debatable that many of this comic’s 12,115-strong audience actually appreciated James Stokoe’s decision to ‘push’ his story forward somewhat since the mini-series’ previous instalment concluded and thus literally skip over some of the main protagonists’ search for their space vessel’s extra-terrestrial intruders. As a matter of fact, the sheer suddenness of the Captain of Spacteria 284255 being grabbed from above and pulled up through the air vent by a Xenomorph, probably had many of this twenty-two page periodical’s bibliophiles reaching for their earlier edition of “Aliens: Dead Orbit” in the mistaken belief that they’d somehow expunged at least a couple of additional scenes from their memory.

Disconcertingly however, that simply isn't the case, and to make matters worse, the vacuum created by the Canadian writer’s mercenary culling of the Weyland-Yutani way station’s entire exploration is disagreeably filled with an irritating seventeen panel-long argument between Wassy, Torrenson and Park. Obviously the crew-mates are going to be upset at seeing their commander literally snatched from their midst and potentially torn asunder, but does this point need to be so monotonously laboured over?

Fortunately, once matters move to Harrow and his quandary “in Medical watching over the last salvager” things definitely ‘pick up’ for both this publication’s plot and pace. Indeed, in many ways it’s a pity Stokoe didn’t focus far more upon the blade-wielding heavily-mutilated patient’s predicament than that of the modern-day Wascylewski, as the one-eyed bandaged mummy’s painful realisation that her infected cryogenically frozen colleagues have supposedly been woken up, and therefore probably spread the alien menace on into her new surroundings, is far more enthralling than repeated viewings of the tightly bound engineering officer ineffectively struggling against the xenomorph’s famous secretions.

The crew’s failed attempt to bludgeon the doctor free from the medical man’s homicidal captor, the deranged woman’s ensuing plan to destroy the “company station” by piloting its escape shuttle straight back into the installation, and Wassy’s head-long race towards the flight bay in order to thwart such a proposal, all proves genuinely exhilarating stuff. Yet is then sadly ruined by James returning the reader to the present day for the comic’s cliff-hanger, and depicting his story’s lead superhumanly punching his way out of the hive webbing which up until this point has held him perfectly steadfast, as well as extraordinarily outrunning two drones in order to reach an inebriated Torrenson first; “Heh, Heh. Ha! Haha!”
Story, Art and Lettering: James Stokoe

Monday, 29 January 2018

True Believers: Kirby 100th - Groot #1 - Marvel Comics

TRUE BELIEVERS: KIRBY 100TH - GROOT No. 1, October 2017
Despite Jack Kirby having “some pretty crazy stuff up his sleeve”, Editor Jordan D. White was probably right when he wrote in this anthology’s foreword that the “titan of the comic industry” would “likely never have guessed… When he first started drawing a giant tree-monster from space bent on conquering Earth”, that the “despot” would become part of “a big-budget Hollywood film in which” the extra-terrestrial was later “reduced to a tiny sprout dancing to some choice pop songs.” Certainly there's little in the way of the character’s modern-day likeability on show as far as this seven-page publication is concerned, with the rather two-dimensional “Monarch of Planet X” simply stomping about an American village and threatening to carry its entire population off into outer space…

Moreover, Stan Lee’s “overlord of all the timber in the galaxy” is far from heroic, and undoubtedly the villain of the piece, as he selfishly consumes vast amounts of wooden furniture and fencing, and then seeks to crush any of the local population who dares defy his fiendish plan to tortuously experiment upon Mankind. Instead, the New York-born writer pens for down-trodden scientist Leslie Evans to be the actual ‘saviour of the hour’, a man who supposedly lacks the manly ruggedness his wife Alice desires, yet is still capable of outwitting Groot by breeding a strain of termites in his laboratory which ultimately kills the giant alien; “Oh, darling, forgive me! I’ve been such a fool! I’ll never complain about you again! Never!!”

Fortunately, this book’s second script, a “Journey Into Mystery” reprint entitled “Here Comes… The Hulk”, proves a far more satisfying read, even if the orange-furred Xemnu the Titan is a far cry from the gamma-green character Marvelites will later much more readily associate with the name “The Hulk”. Far from telling a simple invasion yarn, the Will Eisner Award Hall Of Famer provides a thought-provoking plot featuring a planet upon which criminals are exiled in order to stop them “menacing the universe”, a failed escape attempt in an ill-equipped space rocket, a naïve resurrection of an alien abomination and the ‘zombification’ of every person on Earth.

Admittedly, Lee has to rely upon a number of cheesy coincidences to make the all-encompassing narrative satisfyingly speed along, such as the unconscious “part monster, part machine” being found by just the right sort of “small town electrician” to repair him, and the creature from outer space’s god-like ability to mesmerize “millions of helpless labourers” using his hypnotic spell rays. But such coincidental contrivances are easily forgivable considering the grand scope of Stan’s story, the succinctness of its page count, and “King” Kirby’s wonderful illustrations of the ever-menacing Xemnu.
Writer: Stan Lee, Penciler: Jack Kirby, and Inker: Dick Ayers

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Uber: Invasion #10 - Avatar Press

UBER: INVASION No. 10, November 2017
Readily acknowledged by writer Kieron Gillen in the book’s afterword that it “breaks from the episodic model” of the series by being a “two-parter”, the narrative to Issue Ten of “Uber: Invasion” must have frustrated many of its 3,880 followers in January 2018 with its plot’s pedestrian pace and unresolved moments of heightened tension. For whilst the twenty-two page periodical promises a palpably tense game of ‘cat and mouse’ between Siegmund and the American deployment of several “conspicuous ghost units of [fake] Zephyrs”, as well as a cataclysmic confrontation concerning the Japanese Battleship, U.S.S. Bravo and U.S.S. Bluestone, the GLAAD Media Award-winner’s script fails to deliver any of it, and instead simply creates disappointment after disappointment.

To begin with, Stephanie’s ruse to “deploy something that looks like a Zephyr unit” in front of the German’s advance initially sounds like a tremendous idea to keep the enemy temporarily at bay in order to allow the Allies time to start “cooking up the next batch” of their alternate panzermensch build, and provide plenty of ‘cloak and dagger’ shenanigans as the Third Reich probe their opponent’s “technological edge”. Instead however, the Stafford-born author simply has the Nazis utterly ignore the well-coordinated ploy and continue their offensive upon American soil regardless of the lethal threat posed by the diamond-bladed speedsters…

Even more disenchanting though, has to be the debacle at the Manzanar Internment Camp. No less than seven dialogue-driven pages are (mis)spent dealing with the issue as to whether or not Hideki is seeking sanctuary within the war relocation centre, and at the sequence’s conclusion, the only things the readers know for sure is that Vernon Rivers and his younger brother, Freddy, lack the murderously mercenary attitude of their Prussian counter-parts, and that Battleship Yamato is at least “seventy miles west” of where American military intelligence believed he was…

Such a sedentary scene-infested publication really does rely upon its artist to help carry its audience through the story-telling, and for the most part, Daniel Gete’s drawings do more than a reasonable job. Indeed, Sigfried’s post-mortem, as well as Stephanie’s disconcerting discovery of the “Fat Man” atomic bomb, are exquisitely pencilled, and really bring both the Germans and the Allied scientist’s concerns as to the course of the war to the fore. Unhappily, the same cannot be said for the illustrator's work depicting the Axis decision to “frustrate” their enemy despite the apparent presence of Zephyrs, nor U.S.S. Bluestone’s refusal to liquidate an entire settlement on the off chance its sheltering the Japanese Battleship, with both sequences lacking life and (for once) consistency. 
Writer: Kieron Gillen, Artwork: Daniel Gete, and Colors: Juan Rodriguez

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Avengers [2016] #3.1 - Marvel Comics

AVENGERS No. 3.1, March 2017
Selling a disappointing 29,833 copies in January 2017, a drop of almost eight thousand readers according to “Diamond Comic Distributors”, Issue Three Point One of “Avengers” must have caused quite a bit of consternation amongst its dwindling audience because of Mark Waid’s assertion that the super-group’s Silver Age line-up only managed to win over an unsupportive Manhattan public, by relying solely upon “Cressida’s dark secret” to “enhance the team’s powers.” Indeed, the book’s presumptuous plot, supposedly “never revealed… until now”, is arguably so disrespectful to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s original vision of the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes that it’s hard to take any of the Eisner Award-winner’s preposterous twenty-page narrative seriously post Captain America’s early victory over both the Thinker and his Awesome Android; “Their power levels have increased by a factor of at least 10.7 -- Thanks to an x-factor I’d not accounted for!”

Admittedly, such a disconcerting enhancement to the foursome’s special abilities does provide British artist Barry Kitson the chance to pencil Quicksilver bedazzling Daredevil with a demonstration of the mutant’s “near-invisible super-speed” and Hawkeye astonishing the amazing Spider-Man by firing “nine arrows in four seconds.” Yet such sequences are seemingly far better suited to the stage of a Vaudeville act than a supposedly sincere re-imagining of the Avengers Mid-Sixties metamorphosis, and it’s certainly doubtful that any of this publication’s followers thought the sequences were the “impeccable paragon of perfection” which reader Jimmy Morton felt the title’s original publication contained way back in June 1965.

Equally as unnerving is the Alabama-born author’s handling of Cap’s Kooky Quartet and their latest addition, Avenger X. Cressida clearly has an incredible super-power which if used wisely can be of enormous benefit to the titular characters and their fight against "the foes no single superhero can withstand." However, rather than treat such a game-changing ability with the reservation and respect it deserves, or at the very least question how the Southeast Asian came to wield such a formidable force, Waid would instead have this comic’s bibliophiles believe that the likes of Steve Rogers would simply accept them as a mysterious blessing and just go about his daily business as if nothing out of the ordinary was taking place?
Writer: Mark Waid, Penciler: Barry Kitson, and Inker: Mark Farmer

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Howard The Duck: The Movie #2 - Marvel Comics

HOWARD THE DUCK: THE MOVIE No. 2, January 1987
If Danny Fingeroth’s script for Issue Two of “Howard the Duck: The Movie” is anything to go by then it’s abundantly clear why the 1986 American superhero comedy film was “widely panned by critics” at the time of its release, and “made about fifteen million dollars domestically compared to its thirty million dollar budget.” There just doesn’t appear to be any rhyme, rationale or reason as to why “Of Ducks And Men!” lurches from set-piece to irreconcilable set-piece, nor any underlying golden thread which gels together even the simplest of scenes. It certainly must have been difficult for this three-issue limited series’ audience to relate to the feathered fowl when he is unreasonably growling at “a world dominated by hairless apes” one moment, and then inexplicably working as a “water expert” at Hot Tub Fever the next..?

This unfathomable plot only starts to make some semblance of sense, once the “new breed of hero” has had his night-time titillations with Beverly Swiztler interrupted by Doctor Walter Jenning, the man “in charge of the whole spectroscopic laser program.” The scientist’s explanation that Howard has accidentally been brought to the Earth as a result of an experiment’s deviation, and can therefore send the alien home to Duckworld by ‘reversing the process’, at least gives the book an apparent aim and end goal. Yet it sadly soon steers off-course once again by depicting the anthropomorphic "funny animal" being strip-searched by Aerodyne Laboratories’ security guards and then literally placed upon the menu at Joe Roma’s Cajun Sushi diner..?

How anyone, especially director Willard Huyck and producer Gloria Katz, who co-wrote the screenplay Fingeroth adapts, thought any of this would make for an entertaining narrative is incomprehensible, especially when such codswallop was supposedly penned to generate a thrill-a-minute adventure full of tension and endangerment. True, Kyle Baker’s incredibly charismatic rendering of the titular character is remarkably well-drawn and dominates the vast majority of frames within which he appears, such as the action-packed bar-room brawl where he terrorises Ginger and Ritchie with an ice cube pick. But even a pleasantly pencilled “duck from outer space” isn’t enough to save the horrifically illogical and choppy storyline of this motion picture adaption.
Script: Danny Fingeroth, Art: Kyle Barker, and Colors: Glynis Oliver

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Avengers [2016] #2.1 - Marvel Comics

AVENGERS No. 2.1, February 2017
On paper there’s probably a good dozen or so reasons as to why “Marvel Worldwide” believed that a mini-series focusing upon Captain America’s untold task of “turning the members of this ragtag team into Avengers” would prove to be a good seller. For starters “Cap's Kooky Quartet” would appear to hold a special nostalgic place within the hearts of those who can remember the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes during the mid-Sixties, whilst those too young to have lived through the Silver Age of Comics arguably might enjoy an opportunity to experience ‘first-hand’ the super-group (once again) going “through their first major membership change”.

Unfortunately for this particular issue of “Avengers” 37,746-strong audience though, Mark Waid’s script predominantly emphasizes the foursome’s lack of team-work and perturbing personality issues, rather than their desire to prove themselves as suitable replacements for Thor, Iron Man and the rest of the Old Order. In fact, two of this twenty-page periodical’s most aggravating elements is its constant obsession to dwell upon the heroes evident dislike for one another, and a disconcerting desire to belittle almost everything which they do; “Will you people shut up about Thor?”

Worse, predominantly because of this pervading thread of ill-placed humour, there’s never any real sense of “the mighty pretenders” being in danger, even when the Alabama-born author has Hawkeye, Quicksilver, the Scarlet Witch and Captain America face the all-power Stranger. This “composite being who possessed the combined strength and intellect of the billions of humanoid beings who once lived on the planet Gigantus” is a far cry from the “Atlantean refugee” this book provides as an early adversary, and is so terrifying that even Professor Xavier refuses to have his X-Men overtly antagonise him for fear of repercussions. Yet, despite “the enormity of the danger he poses” Steve Rogers boastfully baits the cosmic being and rather cowardly has Clint Barton fire an explosive arrow into his back?

What “Death Is A Stranger” does do well however, is provide Barry Kitson with ample opportunity to show off both his admirable pencilling and engaging story-boarding. The British comics artist does a superb job of imbuing the Avengers battle against a deep-sea monster with plenty of pacey panache, such as Pietro’s mesmerizing speed-blur, and proves similarly successful in capturing the likenesses of the original X-Men, Angel, Cyclops, Beast, Marvel Girl and Ice Man.
Writer: Mark Waid, Penciler: Barry Kitson, and Inker: Mark Farmer

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Captain America: Steve Rogers #15 - Marvel Comics

It’s hard to imagine that very many of this comic’s 34,863 readers were particularly happy or impressed with the opening preamble to Issue Fifteen of “Captain America: Steve Rogers”, as alongside Nick Spencer’s highly contentious narrative sticking to its premise that the titular character is both an Avenger and “Agent of Hydra”, this particular publication also includes a disconcerting demand for its audience to purchase an entirely different comic book first, courtesy of a “Warning!” that any perusing bibliophile must only gaze upon this edition after reading "Uncanny Avengers #22”; a magazine which in April 2017 was fortunately “on sale now!”

Such blatant and aggressive marketing, which infuriatingly appears without any prior notice whatsoever, really proves a sore point to the enjoyment of this magazine, and despite the two-time progressive Charter Party candidate’s use of three pages within which he tries to explain Captain America’s manipulation of “a team of Avengers, X-Men and Inhumans who could be lead to believe that they themselves had the idea to bring” the Red Skull down, it’s hard to forgive Editor Tom Brevoort for allowing such fundamental events involving this title’s lead to take place within the cover of another comic.

Plot-wise, this magazine is also rather disappointingly dull and straightforward, in that it focuses almost entirely upon Shield-slinger’s final congregation with Hydra’s so-called Supreme Leader, Johann Schmidt. Ordinarily, such a cataclysmic confrontation would certainly be the stuff of legend, such as “Captain America #300” when Cap fought the Red Skull “to the death”, but on this occasion Der Rote Schädel has been so badly weakened by having his (or rather Charles Xavier’s) brain removed, that Roger’s brutal murder of the incapacitated invalid appears simply overly sadistic and potentially distasteful; “Y-You idiot -- You think you can replace me?!”

Just as poor a decision is allowing Javier Pina and Andres Guinaldo to both contribute artwork for this book. The Zaragoza-born penciller’s illustrations, depicting both a flashback fight between the Sentinel of Liberty and his Nazi foe, as well as the aforementioned final fatal tussle, is undoubtedly well-drawn and adds greatly to Spencer’s storytelling. Sadly, however, the same cannot be said for the work of the former “DC Comics” backup artist, whose scratchily-detailed depiction of Commander Carter’s argument with the World Security Council gravely jars with the professionally-smooth look of his counterpart’s pages.
The regular cover art of "CAPTAIN AMERICA: STEVE ROGERS" No. 15 by Gabriele Dell'Otto

Monday, 22 January 2018

Injection #15 - Image Comics

INJECTION No. 15, November 2017
Bringing the comic book series’ third expletive-saturated, gratuitously violent story arc to a sudden conclusion, the contents of Issue Fifteen of “Injection” is arguably best described as a carnal house of chilling, bloody slaughter, which sees a good dozen Cornish inhabitants first torn to ragged shreds of flesh and organs, and then reduced to little more than a few skeletal remains, simply because they were out walking, drinking in their local pub, or at home in bed, at the wrong time in the wrong place. Indeed, these supernatural attacks upon the innocent come so very thick and fast, that the opening quarter of this twenty-page publication doesn’t contain a single word or sound effect, and simply relies upon artist Declan Shalvey to pencil gory mutilation after graphic disembowelment…

Fortunately, this savage assault upon the senses does finally cease once Emma Louise Beaufort drives her boss up to Mellion Moor and Warren Ellis actually provides his leading ladies with a few pages of dialogue. True, the Eagle Award-winner disappointingly permeates the pair’s explanatory interplay with a plethora of colourful metaphors, but such a colourful conversion is perhaps understandable given that their vehicle is being repeatedly slashed by giant luminescent phantom claws, and instead of manoeuvring away from the source of such lethal evil power, the duo are purposely heading straight towards it; “Put me right next to that digger thing. I’m going to have to jump from the car. You stay inside.”

What is a little hard to digest though is that the key to closing the Cold House and the Other World’s access to our plane of existence, is for Brigid Roth to simply knock over one of the ancient monument’s standing stones with an excavator. This act of all-too necessary ‘archaeological vandalism’ seemingly stops the Spriggan Town overspill into Mellion instantly and subsequently causes the rest of the stone site to come crashing down around the ears of the FPI (Force Projection International) team. So simplistic a solution really is bewildering, and begs the question as to just why the incredibly clever “computer geek” didn’t decide to remove one (or all) of the menhirs when she initially realised how deadly the circle was and bring this harrowing adventure to a close a few comics earlier?
Writer: Warren Ellis, Artist: Declan Shalvey, and Color: Jordie Bellaire

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Warhammer 40,000: Will Of Iron #4 - Titan Comics

WARHAMMER 40,000: WILL OF IRON No. 4, February 2017
There is arguably a good deal of enjoyment to be found within Issue Four of “Warhammer 40,000: Will Of Iron”, as George Mann’s script brings this mini-series to a cataclysmic conclusion by hurling endless waves of Iron Warriors against the increasingly outnumbered Dark Angels, and Lion El'Jonson’s legion resultantly relying upon “nought but decrepit antiques” from Tintaroth as back-up. Indeed, at one point the battle seems to be flowing so much in the favour of the Chaos Space Marines that their gore-spattered Lord even jokes with Rendix that his loyal lieutenant is so successfully swatting his foes “like so many flies drawn to the bounty of a rotting corpse” that he needs to slow down and “save some for the rest of us” to massacre.

However, any publication which relies solely upon its foreword in order to significantly progress its plot lacks more than a little credibility, and unfortunately for this twenty-four-page finale, the Darlington-born author does just that by first stating in it that the Titans of Tintaroth have already clashed “with a speartip of Iron Warriors on the surface of Exyrion”, and then adding that Baltus’ squad has suffered such heavy casualties that it has “only four Marines left to hold off the Iron Warriors pursuing them into the caverns”. Worse, at no point in this story-arc's previous instalments has it ever been made clear that Korus’ troops knew the precise location of “the ancient, buried weapon”, nor that they were pushing “ever-closer” towards it’s subterranean lair.

These disconcerting ‘event leaps’ genuinely grate and subsequently cause the sudden appearance of heavily-armoured Iron Warriors at Baltus’ precise position to feel particularly manufactured and lazily orchestrated, rather than being simply an unhappy coincidence within the narrative. Unhappily though, it is at this point that the Locus Award-nominee’s previously competent writing appears to completely de-rail, with Baron Kastor suddenly notifying Altheous that “a [mysterious] fellow brother of the Dark Angels” has inconveniently informed his fellow noblemen that the Interrogator-Chaplin is “a renegade spinning a web of deceit”, and thus put an end to any reinforcements, and Baltus unbelievably detonating the mysterious weapon he's tried so hard to protect, even though it means “the Dark Gods [can] gorge themselves on a million unworthy souls.”

Presumably flabbergasted by this absurd outcome Tazio Bettin’s artwork also deplorably deteriorates as the comic continues, with his stunningly dynamic drawings of Sergeant Kalidius bravely fending off Beoth’s bestial attack, ultimately being replaced with some distinctly indifferent doodles of a blasted landscape, and the partially disintegrated remains of a Space Marine clawing his way to the planet’s featureless surface…
The regular cover art of "WARHAMMER 40,000: WILL OF IRON" No. 4 by Nick Percival

Uber: Invasion #9 - Avatar Press

UBER: INVASION No. 9, October 2017
Firmly focusing upon the Allies’ struggles in Italy, and Leah Cohen’s beautifully storyboarded redemption at “the Brenner Pass Engagement”, Issue Nine of “Uber: Invasion” deals with both the unethical sacrifices war often asks of people, especially the young and innocent, as well as the sheer bloody mindedness which can help drive warriors to exhilarating victories against near overwhelming odds. Certainly it’s hard not to yell "Yah-boo sucks to you, Fritsie" towards the end of this twenty-two page periodical, when H.M.H. Churchill literally tears the German cruisers Gunther and Gutrune to bloody pieces before Sieglinde can assist the Nazi forces.

Indeed, this moment of “relatively little importance in the history of enhanced human warfare” genuinely must have caught this comic’s 3,955-strong readership by surprise in November 2017, as the cataclysmic confrontation appears without any warning right in the middle of the magazine, and within the space of just a few frames turns what had been an absorbing, albeit dialogue-heavy, tent-based debrief as to “what went wrong at Calais”, into a gore-spattered, mutilating massacre of the highest order. Fortunately, this bizarrely novel notion to have the “otherwise useless asset” “delivered perfectly” into the fray by the “5-1 destroyer” Arlington, isn’t introduced simply to help increase the publication’s plodding pace, but actually also helps to create one of the entire comic book series’ most memorable moments by depicting the triumphant “British Jew” hurling her female foe’s shredded remains in the direction of her belief’s persecutors, and defiantly gesturing using the ‘V-sign’; “H.M.H. Churchill proved more resilient than anyone could have expected.”

Less likeable, yet equally as intriguing as Cohen’s new-found usage, is Kieron Gillen’s spotlight upon General George S. Patton and the old soldier’s views as to the “Krauts” war-time position now Sieglinde is known to be in Italy, and thirteen year-old H.M.H. Britannia has started her painful activation process. "Old Blood and Guts" comes across precisely as one imagines that the real commander of the Third Army might have behaved, exuding arrogant confidence before his “slack-jawed” soldiers, an aggressive bullishness with his guests, and an admiration for raw strength and courage - even when it’s used against him in order to angrily send him rocketing skywards through the roof of his very own tent.

Daniel Gete’s artwork also greatly contributes towards making this comic an enjoyable experience. Leah’s formidable four ton mass, consistently cloaked in an all-consuming black robe, never ceases to impress whenever the penciller places her within one of his illustrations, whilst "Bandito" is similarly memorable, despite lacking the British heavy battleship’s bulk. However, where the man’s incredible drawing ability really comes to the fore is in his handling of Gunther and Gutrune’s disembowelling defeat. One can actually hear the tearing of the German cruisers' limbs as they’re torn from their grisly torsos, and their agonising shrieks as H.M.H. Churchill’s fingers bloodily bore into their bodies.
Writer: Kieron Gillen, Artwork: Daniel Gete, and Colors: Juan Rodriguez

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Conan The Slayer #11 - Dark Horse Comics

CONAN THE SLAYER No. 11, July 2017
There’s undoubtedly plenty for fans of Robert E. Howard’s creation to enjoy within the covers of Issue Eleven of “Conan The Slayer”, for whilst Cullen Bunn’s adaption of “The Devil In Iron” contains the usual mix of ferocious swordplay and murderous bloodlust, the script also provides the Cimmerian with an opportunity to demonstrate his shrewd, sound-thinking too. In fact, both the lives of “the new Kozaki hetman” and “the beautiful Nemedian princess Octavia” entirely rest upon the so-called barbarian using his intelligence to discover the location of a secret door and rationalising that “a knife that fell from the heavens” is probably the only weapon capable of hurting Khosatral Khel.

Similarly engrossing, is the change that this title has brought upon the “Turanian lord of Khawarizm”, Jehungir Agha. Seemingly all-powerful and arrogantly confident in his ‘sovereignty’ at the beginning of this title’s run, this particular twenty-two page periodical now depicts the coastal town lord as an utterly terrified fleeing fellow, whose sole goal is to escape “the doom that overtaken his warriors” and the “iron giant [that] had sallied suddenly from the gate battering and crushing his best fighters into bits of shredded flesh and splintered bone.”

So wide-eyed and open-mouthed a coward really is unrecognisable from the “villainous Turan governor” the North Carolina-born writer has previously depicted, and yet quite wonderfully, the American author then has him suddenly switch back to the boastful Agha of old when he surprisingly spies Conan and Octavia, and allows his hatred of the pair to overshadow his terror of Xapur’s demi-god, Khel. Indeed, not only does Jehungir immediately forget his flight from the “ancient fortress city”, but unwisely lets loose an arrow at the leader of the Vilayet kozaks before charging him with his unsheathed sword; "One of us, wastrel, will not leave this place alive!”

Of course, Conan’s demonstration of his often-hidden deductive powers and Agha’s sudden reassertion of his wits, are merely forerunners to this comic’s cataclysmic conclusion as “the Hell-spawned giant was upon them once again.” Disappointingly however, the highly anticipated rematch presented between the Cimmerian and Khosatral is inauspiciously swift as Sergio Davila pencils the Kozak hetman effortlessly dispatching his foe within a matter of moments, thanks to the “great dagger of the Yuetshi” which he now wields. With hindsight, Bunn seems to have perhaps missed an opportunity here to at least extend (if not arguably improve) an element of a story which “some Howard scholars claim… is the weakest of the early Conan tales.”
Script: Cullen Bunn, Artist: Sergio Davila, and Colors: Michael Atiyeh

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Doctor Strange [2015] Annual #1 - Marvel Comics

DOCTOR STRANGE ANNUAL No. 1, November 2016
Whilst hardly the worst-selling comic of September 2016, this “Doctor Strange” annual must still have come as something of a major disappointment to its 44,778-strong audience, on account of Kathryn Immonen’s inability to decide just what sort of comic the twenty-page periodical was going to be. For although a good proportion of the plot seems to be a fairly unambitious tongue-in-cheek tale of the Master of the Mystic Arts having repairs completed upon 177A Bleecker Street, “or what’s left of it”, the narrative also ventures into his emotionally turbulent relationship with Clea and the potential dissolving of their mystical union.

Such sensitive stuff really seems to jar with the prevailing jokey tone of “To Get Her, Forever”, as the Sorcerer Supreme’s frustrating anger, which previously had been quite amusing when directed towards Wong and an unanswered doorbell, quickly makes for rather uncomfortable reading when turned upon Strange’s former “disciple and lover.” Indeed, the titular character’s increasing aggression towards Umar’s daughter actually escalates from him banging about plates and kettles to finally holding a kitchen knife up to the silver-haired woman’s face; “I am trying to make us some tea.”

Equally as unsuccessful, is the Canadian writer’s attempt to bring some demonic menace to the piece, courtesy of Xycorax the Contractor..? This grouter’s manifestation is supposedly entirely due to Stephen’s failure to read the fine print when he hired the builder and signed a binding contract consigning the house and his servant “straight to Zanax”. Luckily for all though, Clea just so happens to have created “an incredibly powerful object” with which the monster can be vanquished, and disconcertingly this enchanted document co-incidentally arrives through the letterbox at precisely the right moment…

Sadly, Leonardo Romero’s drawing does little to improve this publication’s entertainment either, with the comic book artist’s slightly cartoony style appearing to be strikingly similar to that of Chris Samnee, but without the simplistic charm. In fact, there are times, such as the sorceress’s flashback battle with the interdimensional Empirikul or Wong’s bedroom brawl with Xycorax, where his pencilling is so painfully poor as to be reminiscent of an amateur adolescent’s sketch book.
Writer: Kathryn Immonen, Artist: Leonardo Romero, and Color: Jordie Bellaire

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Moon Knight [2016] #12 - Marvel Comics

MOON KNIGHT No. 12, May 2017
Having made a complete mockery of this title’s previous scenario “Incarnations”, by once again depicting Marc Spector’s schizophrenic personas as self-functioning separate entities, as opposed to “alternate identities” which the crime-fighter desperately needed to eradicate in order to regain some semblance of sanity, Jeff Lemire’s script for Issue Twelve of “Moon Knight” may well have maddened the majority of this comic’s 25,152 readers. It’s certainly just the sort of thing which could well have contributed to this series’ ever-dwindling audience dropping by a further fifteen hundred copies in March 2017.

Fortunately however, the Canadian cartoonist’s writing for this twenty-page periodical’s sub-plot, an enthrallingly tense retelling of the titular character’s first meeting with the Bushman, is actually well worth this comic’s cover price alone, and genuinely helps flesh out the cavalier attitude of the former mercenary as he abducts a heroin dealer from the streets of Saudi Arabia “some years ago.” In fact, this ‘secondary’ tale is infinitely more entertaining with its ‘modern-day’ gunplay and helicopter heroics than the Juno Award-winner’s main, fantasy based narrative filled with jackal-headed gods, Egyptian-riding giant insects and stellar spacecraft. 

Whether this success stems from a grittier, realistic tone to proceedings or simply the inclusion of Jean-Paul “Frenchie” DuChamp once again piloting a rotorcraft, isn’t clear. But it definitely comes as a great relief when Spector’s other guises eventually inform him in the principal storyline that “you go the rest of the way alone. Marc. We can’t come with you”, and leaves Mister Knight, as well as the elderly Crawley, alone to their mysterious adventure deeper into the dangerous Overvoid. 

Happily, despite the confusing nature of Lemire’s prose and the ‘physical’ manifestations of the crime-fighter’s dissociative identity disorder, long-time “Moonie” fans could still take solace in the fact that Editor Jake Thomas permits Greg Smallwood to pencil the entirety of this publication, without him yet again turning to other illustrators to draw the opposing facets of the U.S. Marine’s different faces. This wise decision at least provides some consistency to proceedings, and also allows the Kansas-born artist an opportunity to demonstrate just how well he can storyboard a dramatic fist-fight when Spector storms the Wolf’s lair with little more than a pistol and a strong right boot; “<The Wolf. I want the Wolf!>”
Writer: Jeff Lemire, Artist: Greg Smallwood, and Color Artist: Jordie Bellaire

Monday, 15 January 2018

The Amazing Spider-Man [2015] #26 - Marvel Comics

There can surely be little doubt that, if nothing else, Dan Slott’s script for Issue Twenty Six of “Amazing Spider-Man” is frantically fast-paced, as well as packed with an incredible amount of gun-play and explosions. Indeed, with the exception of an utterly bizarre shareholders conference call disconcertingly crowbarred smack into the middle of Web-head’s confrontation with Norman Osborn, “Fight Or Flight” just doesn’t let up on the action until the comic’s final few pages when Nick Fury dramatically decides that Peter Parker, who “has provided S.H.I.E.L.D. with our current crop of weapons and technology”, is now “no different than A.I.M. or Hydra” simply because the American contractor has decided “to invade the sovereign nation of Symkaria.”   

Whether or not this twenty-page periodical’s 62,515-strong audience actually felt the Berkeley-born writer’s narrative made sense though, is arguably an entirely different matter. To begin with, if this book’s basic premise was for Harry’s father to use the wall-crawler and Silver Sable as advertising guinea pigs for his Kingslayer Mark 1 mechanoid, then the arrogant arms dealer clearly made an uncharacteristically unwise decision. For whilst Stuart Immonen’s marvellously dynamic pencils suggest the killing machine is both toweringly-tall and phenomenally well-armed, the large robot is still rather easily dispatched by the super-heroic pair due to their re-enactment of the final scene in Steven Spielberg’s 1975 thriller film “Jaws”; “Smile, you son of a --”

Similarly nonsensical is the titular character’s decision to “ship millions of dollars of equipment to topple a lawful regime” simply because it’ll supposedly “help spider-man stop a bad guy.” This reckless resolution is entirely based upon the word of a woman who up until a few minutes earlier, Parker had thought dead, and may, at least according to Mockingbird, be one of the Jackal’s clones. Indeed, the “single-minded” Sablinova’s apparent survival from Doctor Octopus's sea fortress (see the 2012 story-arc “Ends of the Earth”) is infuriatingly swept aside by Slott with the single line “it doesn’t matter.” Considering how guilty Peter felt at the time of the mercenary’s “demise”, such a reaction seems wholly unacceptable.

What is clear from this second instalment of “The Osborn Identity” is just why the publication’s American author told in an interview that "Stuart [Immonen] is fantastic at everything". The Canadian penciller provides Norman Osborn with a real maniacal glint to his eye, and there’s a serious sense of scintillating speed to his scenes involving the Green Goblin’s glide-cycles which is highly reminiscent of the speeder bike chase on Endor in the 1983 science fiction flick “Return of The Jedi”.
Writer: Dan Slott, Pencils: Stuart Immnonen, and Inks: Wade von Grawbadger

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Captain America: Steve Rogers #14 - Marvel Comics

A highly illogical plot, as well as an over-reliance upon his 31,592-strong readership perusing this title’s pre-story summary of events in order to simply keep up with the narrative, are just two of the problems with Nick Spencer’s script for Issue Fourteen of “Captain America: Steve Rogers”, and that’s before anyone has arguably even turned more than a page or two. Indeed, it’s wholly apparent from the very start of this comic just why the book’s popularity tumbled by eight thousand copies with its 1944 flashback of the First Avenger irrationally attacking a squad of Hydra guards in order for him to try and cold-bloodedly murder his mentor Elisa Sinclair.

This entire sequence seemingly makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, as it’s based upon the premise that despite identifying, recruiting and protecting the fascist organization’s greatest super-soldier asset, the high-ranking official would allow her protégé’s best friend to sit in an allied prison cell and his father, a man Rogers “greatly admired”, be killed by Bucky Barnes. This bizarre scenario becomes even more unbelievable when an angry Winghead discovers that his so-called traitor is actually an all-powerful sorceress who can suddenly transform herself into a truly formidable-looking multi-tentacled siren who instantly overpowers the ‘hero’; I drank the blood of my enemies firstborn with the ancient kings and felt the stars fall…” 

Equally as bizarre, is the Living Legend’s belief that Agent Kincaid can bring down the Earth’s planetary defence shield using Quasar’s Quantum bands, when a multitude of the Marvel Universe’s “big guns” can’t do it with a concerted team effort. Admittedly, the S.H.I.E.L.D. operative’s power stems from “the offspring of Eternity and Infinity and the Celestial Axis”, but when the likes of Thor, Photon, Hyperion and Star Brand united can barely dent the protective force-field, just what chance does a lone rookie hero have..? The director’s back-up plan to have Rick Jones sabotage the shield’s cybersecurity seems far more likely to work surely..? 

Sadly, the artwork of Jesus Saiz is also bitterly dissatisfying throughout much of this twenty-one page periodical. The Spanish penciller’s flashback scenes, despite the majority of them being somewhat sedentary in nature, are well-handled enough, especially when Sinclair manifests her multi-suckered appendages and ensorcels the titular character. Yet, every time the storyline returns to the present, and focuses upon either Madame Hydra’s recruitment drive or Captain Marvel’s machinations there’s a noticeable decline in the illustrator’s drawings, and some of his storyboards, such as Colonel Danvers team testing out the planet’s shield, don’t quite seem to gel.
Writer: Nick Spencer, Artists: Jesus Saiz, and Color Artist: Rachelle Rosenberg

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Star Wars #15 - Marvel Comics

STAR WARS No. 15, March 2016
Focusing purely upon the exploits of “old Ben Kenobi”, as recorded in the elderly Jedi Knight’s journals, Jason Aaron’s script for Issue Fifteen of “Star Wars” arguably must have supplied this comic’s 107,858-strong audience with more a sense of nostalgic fun than actual tension upon its release in January 2016. For although the twenty-page periodical does depict Obi-Wan single-handedly battling an entire Sand People raiding party without his light-sabre, the extensive night-time fight is definitely executed to put a smile on the reader’s face rather than project a genuine sense of peril or endangerment; “Hngh. Why couldn’t we have hidden the boy… on a nice quiet world of natural hot springs? Oh, my back.” 

In fact, the vast majority of this tale is seemingly about giving little nods to the early lore behind George Lucas’ vision, such as a young Luke flying the very T-16 skyhopper he would be shown ‘toying with’ in the motion picture “Star Wars: A New Hope”, or Lars Owen ruthlessly scouring a line of astromech droids, and asking “Do you have anything that speaks Bocce?” There’s even a moment where it dawns upon Qui-Gon Jinn’s former Padawan learner that he might want “to devise an easier way to frighten” off the Tusken Raiders, just as the Clone Wars general is passing the skeletal remains of a Krayt Dragon. 

Fortunately however, the Inkpot Award-winner’s storyline isn’t simply about laughs, and towards the end of the book, things do take a decidedly darker turn for the worst for Kenobi. The Jedi Knight’s confrontation with an enraged Owen, who is positively spitting feathers over Ben’s efforts to provide young Skywalker with the parts needed in order to repair his crashed speeder, is quite emotional, and certainly helps better understand the moisture farmer’s desire to expel Obi-Wan from Luke’s life at the start of the movie trilogy. Whilst Jabba the Hutt’s hiring of an enraged Black Krrsantan to find the man who ambushed his water tax collectors during the Great Drought doesn’t bode well for the exiled Jedi either…

Any minor quibbles regarding this magazine’s pacing and plot though, should be immediately shelved as a result of Mike Mayhew’s stupendous pencilling. The American comic book artist’s illustrations not only manage to capture the likenesses of actors such as Ewan McGregor and Joel Edgerton, but also somehow imbues the "best bush pilot my age on Tatooine" with Mark Hamill’s feisty facial features as well.
The regular cover art of "STAR WARS" No. 15 by Mike Mayhew

Friday, 12 January 2018

All-Star Batman #7 - DC Comics

ALL-STAR BATMAN No. 7, April 2017
In many ways it is hard to comprehend that Issue Seven of “All-Star Batman” was the seventh best-selling comic book in February 2017 by shifting an incredible 77,096 copies, as Scott Snyder’s plot for this particular instalment of “Ends Of The Earth” is painfully thin in places. True, the twenty-two page periodical does contain a rather enjoyable team-up between the titular character and Poison Ivy, by pitting the ‘odd couple’ up against a kill squad of quantum stealth suit-wearing armed assassins. But this momentary madness doesn’t last anywhere near long enough, and is rather disappointingly brought to an all-too swift end by the Dark Knight easily punching all their assailants’ lights out; “Pamela… Stay behind me!” 

To be honest though, this publication’s problems start before the first panel has even finished, by depicting the Caped Crusader grimly strolling across the heated landscape of Death Valley on the Nevada Border. Such a predicament seems a million miles away from this series’ previous edition, which ended on a chillingly cold cliff-hanger in Alaska, and gives no clue whatsoever as to how Bruce Wayne’s alter-ego escaped the freezing ‘cryogenic-coffin’ he had been sharing with Mister Freeze, or the self-inflicted microbial virus his body carried, or the imminent airborne missile strike for that matter either.?

Instead, Snyder’s writing presents a desperate Batman tracking the eco-terrorist down to her annual ‘research hideaway’ in the hope that, despite his habitual lying to her as to whether an infected fourteen-year old girl is alive or dead, she will be able to provide an antidote to “an ancient bacteria” which “Freeze let loose.” Such a blatant disregard as to what has immediately occurred before is so antagonistically jarring, that it arguably creates a real barrier between the bibliophile and the ensuing storyline straight from the outset, and must surely have also had many readers reaching back in their comic book collection to check whether they had erroneously missed an issue or something. 

Equally as off-putting is Tula Lotay’s “pencils, inks and colors”, which whilst perfectly competent enough to visualise the New Yorker’s narrative, disappointingly fails to bring any of the cast vividly to life. Indeed, the English illustrator’s dubious decision to provide the Dark Knight with a green neon bat-suit, Poison Ivy with tree-funk eye make-up and luminescent vegetation vines, as well as combat troopers with vision-blurring invisibility kits, soon become just the beginning of this magazine’s artistic woes.
The regular cover art of "ALL-STAR BATMAN" No. 7 by Tula Lotay

Thursday, 11 January 2018

The Amazing Spider-Man [2015] #25 - Marvel Comics

Publicised by “Marvel Worldwide” as a “huge blowout issue”, and shifting an impressive 113,934 copies in March 2017, this “massively oversized” magazine “with a cover price to match" hits the ground running by pitching Spider-man, Mockingbird, Tarantula and Devil Spider head-first straight into the underground lair of the Las Colinas Rojas villain, El Facoquero, and simply doesn’t stop their action-packed rampage through the arms supplier’s subterranean base until it’s been utterly destroyed. But whilst such scintillating shenanigans and ferocious fisticuffs could easily have allowed Dan Slott to allow the title’s incoming artist, Stuart Immnonen, to carry the workload, “Bug Hunt” instead sees the Berkeley-born writer pack the punch-out full of dramatic dialogue and engaging exposition.

For starters, there’s a real divide between the titular character and Delvadia’s best operatives, despite the different super-heroes supposedly working together for the greater good. Indeed, the sheer arrogance Jacinda Rodriguez displays by requesting that she “take command of the mission” just as soon as they enter the Warthog’s headquarters, shows a real disrespect for the titular character’s breath-taking experience, and is arguably only surpassed by the woman later insolently screaming that Web-head is an “idiot” simply because “that impressive spider-sense of his” didn’t “warn us of any danger!”

Likewise, the Eisner Award-winner’s decision to stop this forty-page narrative’s Spider-man from being funny or cracking any witty jokes, genuinely adds some extra gravitas to proceedings, and provides Peter Parker’s hatred of Norman Osborn a real steely edge; “There’s nothing to laugh about down here.” This serious tone, amplified by a frustrated web-slinger’s destruction of a S.H.I.E.L.D. interrogation table later in the story, permeates throughout “the most expensive comic book ever to top the monthly sales charts” and arguably allows its readers to feel the crime-fighter’s earnest, obsessional desire to finally capture his arch-enemy, the Green Goblin, and bring him to justice.

One final highlight of Issue Twenty Five of “Amazing Spider-Man” is “The Superior Octopus”. This secondary Slott short, pretty poorly pencilled by Giuseppe Camuuncoli, depicts Otto Gunther Octavius re-capturing his West Coast Base from Hydra using the proto-clone body he perfected, then subsequently stole, from the Jackal. Unashamedly a promotional piece, the tale simply tells how Arnim Zola and “the vast resources at Hydra’s disposal” have helped shape an “unparalleled” new Doctor Octopus, during the Wall-crawler’s aforementioned adventure, but as such, sets things up for a mouth-watering future re-match between Stan Lee’s co-creation and the CEO of Parker Industries.
Writer: Dan Slott, Pencils: Stuart Immnonen, and Inks: Wade von Grawbadger

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Howard The Duck: The Movie #1 - Marvel Comics

HOWARD THE DUCK: THE MOVIE No. 1, December 1986
Brazenly advertised in 1986 as “the official comic book adaption of the blockbuster new movie from Lucasfilm” by “Marvel Comics Group”, this first instalment of “a three-issue limited series” arguably proves something of a slow start for a storyline which supposedly contains “more adventure than [is] humanly possible”. To begin with, very little actually happens apart from the titular character momentarily demonstrating that he is “a Master of Quack Fu” upon two backstreet molesters, and later getting uppity with an exhibition’s janitor when the bespectacled cleaner theorises that the feathered fowl comes from a planet where “the progenitor of the dominant species was not a monkey, but a duck!” 

True, the twenty-two page periodical does begin well enough by inexplicably sucking Howard, as well as his sofa chair, out of his apartment block and off into outer space. Plus there’s even a few crazy panels where the billed extra-terrestrial leaps through a couple of advertisement boards, dustbins and nightclub bouncers. But none of these comedic occurrences actually take Danny Fingeroth’s script much further forward, and are soon replaced by a tedious, dialogue-heavy succession of sequences which include Beverly Swiztler literally talking the demoralised duck to sleep in her apartment block, and then later dragging the bewildered bird in a bag to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History; “Trust me, Howard. Ronette in my band used to date the guy we’re going to see. He’s a palaeontologist -- You know, studies dead animals.”

Perhaps most mystifying though is the New Yorker’s conclusion to this book, which suddenly has the duck turning his frustrations upon a fountain full of tourists, and snarling at them all to leave him alone. Obviously, the narrative needed a cliff-hanger of some kind in order to convince the comic’s audience to purchase the next edition (as the rest of this book’s contents arguably wouldn’t have). Yet this explosive enragement towards the Cherry Bomb band singer and some innocently hapless bystanders is as surprisingly sudden as it is abnormally violent.

Fortunately, this title’s one saving grace has to be Kyle Baker’s depiction of Howard, which wisely steers a course far from the look of the motion picture’s animatronic suit, and instead far closer resembles Val Mayerik’s original interpretation of Steve Gerber’s creation. Cute, emotional, lovable and hilarious, it is in many ways a pity “Universal Studios” didn’t decide to release “a surreal satirical animated film” instead of the live-action multi-million dollar box office bomb which they did, and employ the American cartoonist as the movie’s main artist.
Script: Danny Fingeroth, Art: Kyle Barker, and Colors: Glynis Oliver