Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Doctor Strange [2015] #12 - Marvel Comics

DOCTOR STRANGE No. 12, December 2016
Boldly publicised as part of the “Marvel NOW! [2016] event”, this opening instalment to Jason Aaron’s “Blood In The Aether” story-arc debatably provided its 72,990 readers with a relatively straightforward plot which pits the “severely depleted” Sorcerer Supreme against his “old adversary, Baron Mordo”. However, rather than provide the usual exchange of Mystic Arts between the ever-warring pair, after all any long-term bibliophile knows Doctor Strange has “beaten Mordo every time… [he’s] ever fought him”, the Alabama-born author instead adds a few new wrinkles to their relationship by having the titular character solely rely upon supernatural weapons during their duel rather than spells.

Indeed, the Inkpot Award-winner’s script provides plenty of ‘tongue-in-cheek’ proof that the former “preeminent surgeon” has trouble accessing any sort of enchantment whatsoever, by temporarily overcoming the supernatural being Mister Misery by chewing some mystic gum from Auckland and momentarily besting his arch-rival with the toss of a magic apple; “This is even worse than I expected…. This is just pathetic. I feel almost like I’m doing you a favour.” The “Star Wars” writer even includes a scene set within The Bar With No Doors, where Stephen discusses potentially getting himself a car entitled the Strange-Mobile with Chondu in order to help him get about town quicker...

Equally as enthralling though, is the marked difference the invasion and subsequent defeat of the Empirikul has had on Karl Amadeus Mordo. The Ancient One’s one-time apprentice is clearly just as formidable a Master of Black Magic as he has ever been, despite almost all the magic on Earth being destroyed by the Imperator’s inter-dimensional army, and yet seems more in the thrall of his master, the dread Dormammu than he’s arguably been depicted before. In fact, having watched the Lord of the Dark Dimension literally reduce a female tenant into cube-sized chunks of bloody flesh, the resentful, ordinarily arrogant Baron is so petrified that he races from the mutilation in abject horror.

Unfortunately, despite its sound penmanship, Issue Twelve of “Doctor Strange” does disconcertingly suffer as a result of Chris Bachalo’s ordinarily marvellous illustrations being inked by no less than five different people. Just why editor Nick Lowe ended up supplementing regular Tim Townsend with Richard Friend, Al Vey, Victor Olazaba and John Livesay isn’t clear, but their combined efforts definitely lead to a deterioration in the comic’s overall artistic quality, especially during an apparently poorly-pencilled scene where Mordo ‘evicts’ a family from their skyline private residence.
Writer: Jason Aaron, Artist: Chris Bachalo, and Colors: Antonio Fabela

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Iron Man #213 - Marvel Comics

IRON MAN No. 213, December 1986
“Featuring the all new Dominic Fortune”, Danny Fingeroth’s narrative for Issue Two Hundred And Thirteen of “Iron Man” arguably reads more like one of Ross Macdonald’s Golden Age detective novels than a super-hero comic book, with Jerry Fortunov prolifically pounding away at the men behind his legendary father’s death and Tony Stark’s alter-ego, for the most part at least, simply idly watching the inexperienced “costumed, fortune-seeking adventurer” discover his way to Simon Steele’s palatial residence. In fact, the young man, full of remorse for “a lifetime [of] ridiculing and ignoring” his “pop” is undoubtedly the star of this twenty-two page periodical, even after his “old geezer” miraculously turns up alive as one of Wolfgang von Lunt’s prisoners.

Far less enthralling however, is the New Yorker’s handling of Clytemnestra Erwin, one of Circuits Maximus’ most valued employees if the wealthy business magnate’s eagerness to retain her services during this storyline are sincere? Clearly intelligent, sporting no less than a doctorate in electrical engineering, the bespectacled scientist seemingly does little else but annoy all those she comes into contact with throughout this tale, especially Fortune’s distraught son when she rather patronisingly attempts to empathise with the lawyer over the loss of his dad; “We have a lot in common. I’ve been so confused trying to find meaning in my brother’s life after he was… murdered.”

Indeed, the woman’s misguided belief that Jerry wants her to stop him from tracking down his old man’s killer “otherwise he’d never have told me where he was going” arguably grates upon the nerves almost as badly as the New York City-born author’s belief that his audience would swallow the glamorous Elena von Lundt’s ruse of portraying an impossibly rejuvenated version of Duvid Fortunov’s ex-girlfriend simply because she was “the daughter of Sabbath… and of Steele’s brother!” It’s certainly hard to believe the dark-haired woman’s mother told her so much detailed information about her time with “Dom” forty-five years ago, that her offspring could then answer every one of the elderly former-spy’s most intimate questions…

Sadly this comic’s biggest disappointment though is Javier Saltares’ pencilling, which whilst competent enough to tell Fingeroth’s story and imbue his figures with plenty of dynamism, still appears rather rushed and sketchily-detailed in numerous panels, such as when Jerry is first captured by Steele’s men whilst breaking into his home or later when the amateur sleuth’s parent hides amongst his cell’s ceiling pipes. Of course, the American artist’s output on "Fortune's Child" isn’t helped either by the garish printer ink used by “Marvel Comics” during this period of the Mid-Eighties.

‘First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
Writer: Danny Fingeroth, Penciler: Javier Saltares, and Inker: Kyle Baker

Monday, 26 February 2018

Free Comic Book Day 2017 (Secret Empire) #1 - Marvel Comics

Undeniably proving a controversial sensation upon its release on Saturday 6th May 2017, this ten-page pamphlet was extraordinarily burned by some of its owners at the time of its printing for its portrayal of Captain America as “an agent of the Nazi-stand-ins Hydra”, and being astonishingly “worthy” to triumphantly hold aloft Thor's hammer Mjolnir over the bodies of the friends he'd betrayed to his fascist ideals. Certainly, it’s hard to imagine a more disconcerting plot-twist to a character who was actually “created by [Jack] Kirby and Joe Simon to do what they could not: Fight Nazis before the United States had entered the [Second World] war.”

Arguably this “Free Comic Book Day (FCBD)” publication’s greatest criticism however, is in its creative quality rather than its concept, with Nick Spencer’s bland summarisation of Hydra’s government takeover and war in Washington D.C. only being surpassed by Andrea Sorrentino’s indistinct scratchy-looking artwork. Indeed, despite some truly monumental moments within the narrative, such as Steve Rogers finally facing his aghast former team-mates as the terrorist organization's Supreme Leader, and some clever checker-tiled storyboarding, it isn’t ever made clear just how the likes of Baron Zemo, Viper, Arnim Zola and the Kraken specifically defeat the combined mass of “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes”.

Admittedly, the American author’s story-line refers to Hydra having the Avengers “right where they wanted us to be” and had “found ways to turn our most powerful against us, again and again”. It also emphasises the crime-fighters conceited arrogance that they “thought we were so strong, so unbeatable.” But never does this comic actually explain precisely how Wanda was manipulated to the point where her hex powers went haywire, nor how the likes of Iron Man and Spider-Man could be bested by Armadillo and the Taskmaster…  

Infinitely more fun and pleasing to the eye, is Chip Zdarsky and Paulo Siqueira’s Spider-Man tale “…Time Flies”. Featuring an all-too brief fist-fight between Web-head and the original Vulture, Adrian Toomes, which goes to some quite extraordinary lengths in order to ‘showboat’ the criminal’s much-improved “Falcon suit”, this somewhat ‘tongue-in-cheek’ tale also introduces the “new” Trapster and seemingly sets up some S.H.I.E.L.D.-related shenanigans to be further explored in the opening issue of “Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man”.

‘First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
Writer: Nick Spencer, Artist: Andrea Sorrentino, and Letterer: VC's Travis Lanham

Sunday, 25 February 2018

The Amazing Spider-Man [2015] #29 - Marvel Comics

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN No. 29, August 2017
Promising a scintillating confrontation between the titular character and “our favourite eight-tentacled Spider-Foe” as part of editor Nick Lowe’s “Secret Empire tie-in arc”, Issue Twenty Nine of “Amazing Spider-Man” certainly suggests that “the Marvel Universe is [indeed] in deep doo-doo at the hands of a Cosmic Cube-changed Steve Rogers” with its entirely successful infiltration of Parker Industries London-based Headquarters by a score of undercover Hydra operatives. But such a fantastic feat and show of manpower probably wasn’t enough to completely satisfy the expectations of this comic’s 59,464 strong-audience in June 2017, considering that Web-head apparently readily defeats “Doc Ock” by just hurling some hot drinks in his face; “Here’s a new one -- Want regular or decaf?”

Of course, so simple a distraction was hardly going to stop Otto Gunther Octavius for anything more than a few seconds, especially with him inhabiting a “far superior” cloned body. But it did seemingly put Peter Parker’s alter-ego in a winning position where he would have applied a very satisfying coup-de-grace upon the “brilliant engineer” if not for Tony Stark’s urgent message for “any and all Avengers that are left” to assist thwarting an “all-out assault on Washington.”

Sadly Dan Slott and Christos Gage’s script for “Rightful Ruler” arguably ‘goes right off the rails’ at this point by subsequently depicting Spider-Man just running away from his ‘bested’ foe in order to pilot “a supersonic Pogo Plane” and attempt to help his “poor friends”. Obviously, time is clearly of the essence in such a situation, and one can almost hear the urgency in Iron Man’s voice during his plea for the wall-crawler’s immediate services. Yet surely the masked crime-fighter would first incapacitate his mechanically-armed arch-nemesis rather than allow him to roam free, especially when the maniac has “the Borough of Manhattan… engulfed by a bubble of Ebon energy” and is threatening to destroy his corporation?

Potentially pedantic quibbles as to this twenty-page periodical’s “shaky ground” storyline aside though, this opening instalment of “Secret Empire” is undoubtedly worth it’s cover price alone due to Stuart Immonen’s excellent pencilling, with the Canadian illustrator’s storyboarding of Spidey’s fist-fight against the Superior Octopus proving as exhilarating as it is disappointingly swift. Indeed, the former “Legion Of Super-Heroes” artist imbues his figures with so much life and emotion, that even Peter’s televised interview concerning the Chief Executive Officer’s “action to stop terrorists and the spread of a deadly virus” provides a mesmerising treat for the eyes.
Writers: Dan Slott & Christos Gage, Penciler: Stuart Immnonen, and Inker: Wade von Grawbadger

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Captain America: Steve Rogers #16 - Marvel Comics

Considering that this thirty-page periodical is undoubtedly the premier precursor to “Marvel Comics” 2017 limited series event “Secret Empire”, “in which Captain America has been transformed into a sleeper agent loyal to Hydra and has been covertly setting the stage to establish Hydra as the main world-power”, the vast majority of its 37,366-strong audience must surely have felt ‘betrayed’ by its contents' creative shoddiness. It’s certainly hard to imagine a worse gestalt of a comic than Nick Spencer's collection of choppy, poorly thought-out sub-plots, which amongst its more startling elements includes the ludicrous return of Steve Roger’s murdered mother after twenty years, and its ‘mishmash’ of arguably lower tier artistic talents such as Kevin Libranda, Yildiray Cinar and Jon Malin…

Foremost of the problems to Issue Sixteen of “Captain America: Steve Rogers” is that this title has primarily focused upon the Sentinel of Liberty’s distasteful transformation by Kobik since its first sensationally contentious issue, and yet suddenly, without any warning whatsoever, the two-time Cincinnati City Council candidate astoundingly has the Cosmic Cube “shattered” ‘off-screen’ and this publication’s readers must scratch around for scraps as to what happened from Baron Zemo’s contemplative musings on the matter; Forgive my impatience, Fixer… Perhaps it is because I watched your miscalculations send the fragments we’d worked so hard to retrieve miles away, lost to us across the Arctic!”

To make matters worse, “Secret Empire: Opening Salvo” also suddenly depicts Doctor Erik Selvig as a disobedient servant, whose heart-strings have apparently been pulled on by the “adorable little rug rat” Kobik, and resultantly sends his fragmentised “little girl… far from here” whilst he commits suicide within his laboratory. Just why the Danish scientist has become so infatuated with the square-shaped matrix’s human form is admittedly somewhat understandable, considering that he is “one of the leading experts in Cosmic Cubes” and had “became its caretaker.” But such a deeply emotional tie to the ‘child’ has never debatably been alluded to within Spencer’s narrative before, and definitely not with such strength as to suggest the former S.H.I.E.L.D. consultant would be willing to die rather than destroy her sentience.

Sadly, none of these irregularities are helped by this comic’s constant carousel of illustrators, especially Jon Malin’s Thunderbolt-themed contributions, in which he coarsely pencils the demise of Bucky Barnes whilst strapped to a “perfect replica” of the missile which killed Zemo’s father during the Second World War. Fortunately, there is a modicum of entertainment to be gleaned from Kevin Libranda’s impressive, subtly-coloured treatment of Steve Rogers’ return to London in 1945. However these sequences never last longer than three pages and completely disappear from view half-way through the book.
Writer: Nick Spencer, and Artists: Kevin Libranda, Yildiray Cinar & Jon Malin

Friday, 23 February 2018

Iron Man #208 - Marvel Comics

IRON MAN No. 208, July 1986
Arguably providing more of a sharp critique as to the illogical bureaucracy of the American State Department than an actual super-hero story, Denny O’Neil’s script for “Firefang!” still delivers plenty of punch with its enthralling mix of West German/South American political intrigue, Tony Stark’s guilt-laden quest for vindication and Advanced Idea Mechanics’ nuclear potential to cause “the death of a nation!” Indeed, despite this twenty-two page periodical’s storyline being a somewhat self-contained episode, the Missouri-born writer’s narrative engagingly extends well beyond the confines of a single publication, and hints at potential future adventures to come involving both the “organized group of international science-terrorists” and their occupation of the South American nation, Boca Caliente, as well as the establishment of the titular character’s own space station…

Undoubtedly the highlight of Issue Two Hundred And Eight of “Iron Man” though, is the Shazam Award-winner’s inclusion of Shell-head’s Silver Centurion Armour. This “new armour” is really put through its paces with its owner utilising both the suit’s Radar Reflector and Chameleon Mode in order to negate “announcing my visit” to the Caribbean. However, rather than simply have the former 'golden avenger' perfectly blend in with his surroundings, as many less inventive authors’ would have done, O’Neil rather impressively actually takes the time to have its wearer explain that the hero’s “outline will [still] be visible, but you’d have to be looking for it to see it!”

Equally as enjoyable is this comic’s rather realistic exploration of Iron Man’s ‘latest’ abilities when facing the threat of three separate explosive devices which are attempting to reduce “a couple of cities… [into] smoking craters” and artist Mark Bright’s extraordinarily clean-lined pencilling of the entire pulse-pounding sequence. Debatably it would have been so easy to simply pen the “genius-level intellect” easily outpacing the missiles and conveniently ‘zapping’ them into harmless metallic pieces using his famous Repulsor Rays. Yet instead, Denny impressively has Stark carefully consider his options due to him not being “familiar with their guidance mechanisms”, and resultantly just “nudge” one of the nuclear weapons “out of its flight path and head it down into the sea”, where “with any luck the impact with the ocean floor won’t set off its warhead.”
Writer: Denny O'Neil, Penciler: Mark Bright, and Inker: Akin & Garvey

Thursday, 22 February 2018

All-Star Batman #9 - DC Comics

ALL-STAR BATMAN No. 9, June 2017
Scott Snyder’s “Finale” to his “Ends Of The Earth” story-arc must surely have come as a bitterly disappointing blow to the 67,632 followers who made this title the twelfth best-selling comic book in April 2017. Indeed, with the notable exception of an appearance by “one of Batman's most enduring enemies”, Ra's al Ghul, there’s arguably very little within the New Yorker’s twenty-two page script which either entertains or even actually makes any sense whatsoever.

For starters, having hitherto (mis)treated his audience to some tantalisingly brief encounters with some of the Dark Knight’s more notorious nemeses - Mister Freeze, Poison Ivy and the Mad Hatter, this particular plot disconcertingly leaps forward in time to a point where the Caped Crusader is already being hotly pursued by a handful of helicopters as he races towards Washington Monument, and is riding a motorbike which has previously had its G.P.S. and weapon systems ‘blown out’. Admittedly, such a story-telling technique hurls the reader straight into the action without giving them time to even breathe, but rather lazily also allows the American author to omit any explanations as to just why “in nineteen minutes, the Blackhawks put a bullet in Duke’s head if we can’t get to that tower.” There's not even a hint as to how the “Demon’s Head” ever managed to commission “tech developed for the Blackhawks… to get Freeze into that [Alaskan] facility” or how the son of Sensei later “laced the incendiary bombs with Ivy’s research” so as to make his deadly spores extra virulent..?

Instead, the Stan Lee Award-winner simply appears to hope that as such a complicated chain of events purportedly makes perfect sense to Batman, his writing’s patrons will just meekly accept them as fact and get on trying to digest the rest of his incomprehensible penmanship. It’s certainly hard to understand how else the reader would ever be expected to guess that the caped figure initially seen being blown off their motorised 'bat-ride', is actually Selina Kyle using digitally-enhanced camouflage “technology to mask her[self]” whilst Bruce Wayne makes his way unseen to the criminal mastermind’s location; “All to draw my men away, eh? You’ve always been an illusionist.”

Disagreeably, this comic’s artwork only seems to add to the senselessness of Snyder’s script, with Mark Simpson’s scratchily drawn figures providing yet another hurdle to the adventure’s accessibility. In fact, if Ra’s Al Ghul didn’t publically announce himself towards the beginning of this comic, it would potentially never be clear just who the brains behind the Dark Knight’s predicament was, and that’s despite Jock pencilling the League of Assassins’ leader facially full on before the tale is even a quarter of the way through its telling…
The regular cover art of "ALL-STAR BATMAN" No. 9 by Mark "Jock" Simpson

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Star Trek: Boldly Go #12 - IDW Publishing

STAR TREK: BOLDLY GO No. 12, September 2017
Despite resolving Mike Johnson’s reimagining of the story behind Garth of Izar, it’s doubtful many of this twenty-page periodical’s 6,856 readers actually found much of interest within the comic’s mind-numbing narrative. For whilst Issue Twelve of “Star Trek: Boldly Go” provides a satisfyingly succinct conclusion to the former Starfleet captain’s spacefaring career by having him incarcerated within the Federation Asylum on Elba II under the care of Doctor Donald Cory, the book contains little else in the way of action or even enthralling exposition as to just how the “decorated, highly regarded officer” came to be rescued from his transporter accident by the Antosians, and subsequently acquired his miraculous shape-shifting powers.

Indeed, apart from the briefest of battles when the U.S.S. Endeavour momentarily fires upon Captain Jiang’s vessel, hardly anything occurs within the former “Superman/Batman” author’s script whatsoever. True the writer does additionally depict a watered-down ‘rip-off’ of Lee Erwin’s ending to the January 1969 “Star Trek” television story "Whom Gods Destroy" by having Sulu stun Kirk’s duplicate instead of an absent Mister Spock. But such a second-rate solution to Garth’s masquerade is no-where enough to forgive such pointless scenes as Doctor Groffus grumpily demanding his skipper sit their “regular physical examination as scheduled” or a perplexed Leonard McCoy correcting his commander as to who his current chess opponent is; “Of course I’ve been playing with Ellix. It must have just slipped my mind…”

Similarly perplexing is Johnson’s bizarre logic behind the criminally insane captain’s revenge upon the U.S.S. Heisenberg and Eurydice’s plan to ultimately defeat him. Both of these sequences rely heavily upon Kirk’s Aegis class cruiser supposedly having the ability to control the entire vessel from his Ready Room, and the female salvage expert’s spaceship being able to somehow transport her ‘boyfriend’ aboard the Endeavour despite it being engaged in combat and therefore having its shields raised..?

With such insipid and uninspiring penmanship it is perhaps somewhat surprising just how good Megan Leven’s cartoon-like illustrations are for this substandard comic book. Fortunately however, the “child of the Picard generation” clearly has “Star Trek” ‘etched into her DNA’ and considering that this magazine’s plot contains plenty of Kirk ‘screen time’ it’s lucky the artist has “just reached that stage with Chris Pine” where “I can more or less draw” him from memory.
Writer: Mike Johnson, Art: Megan Levens, and Colors: Marissa Louise

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Howard The Duck #1 - Marvel Comics

HOWARD THE DUCK No. 1, January 1976
Undoubtedly one of the most controversial comic book titles of the Mid-Seventies, this “fabulous First Issue of Marvel’s most sensational new super-star” supposedly caused quite a stir upon its publication in September 1975, not least because Ed Shukin “didn’t have much faith in the new series” and therefore only ordered a print run of 275,000 copies; “Marvel’s minimum at the time for a standard-size colour newsprint comic.” As a result Howard’s sword and sorcery stand “side-by-side with the Amazing Spider-Man”, swiftly sold out, causing the circulation director to acknowledge he had “underestimated that duck” and the 25¢ cover priced nineteen-page periodical to be ‘marked-up’ 5,000 percent amongst back-issue dealers to a staggering $12.50 by 1977.

Fortunately however, “Howard the Barbarian” is a superb example of Steve Gerber’s zany writing at its very best, and features a plot packed full of action, satire, as well as fantasy adventure, with the three-foot tall anthropomorphic duck even breaking the fourth wall by turning to the reader in one panel, cigar in bill, and saying “I realize this is strange, folks… But what the heck?” Little wonder perhaps that “comic-book collectible dealers reportedly snapped up every copy they could find through newsstand vendors and distributors” in order “to hoard the books and then sell them at vastly inflated prices.”

Admittedly the audience’s introduction to the cynical fowl is a rather depressing one, with the title’s opening panel, a stunning splash illustration by co-plotter Frank Brunner, depicting Howard disconcertingly contemplating suicide on the bank of the Cuyahoga River. Yet this gloomy start is arguably typical of the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Famer's writing, and events soon ‘pick up’ as the “funny animal” explores a “nutty tower”, discovers a scantily-clad Beverly Switzler and battles a ferociously-fanged hound with a “ceremonial axe” he can’t even lift. Indeed, the Missouri-born author’s script becomes increasingly amusing as it unfolds and ultimately concludes with a genuinely tongue-in-cheek solution by portraying the duck outwitting sorcerers, warriors, living stone statues and giant flying lizards not by sword and might, but with a simple flick of his stogie…

This comic also enjoys some excellent artwork by Frank Brunner, who is responsible for both its drawing and colouring, as well as Steve Leialoha’s great inking. There’s a real Robert E. Howard sword-and-sorcery pulp fiction feel to the artwork, especially with Switzler’s Hyborian maiden costume and Howard’s resplendent horned barbarian helmet. Certainly it should come as no surprise that these days the American illustrator is perhaps better known for having illustrated many of the covers for the 1974-1995 black and white magazine series “The Savage Sword of Conan”.
Writer: Steve Gerber, Illustrations: Frank Brunner and Inker: Steve Leialoha

Monday, 19 February 2018

Warhammer 40,000: Will Of Iron #5 - Titan Comics

WARHAMMER 40,000: WILL OF IRON No. 5, April 2017
Returning “with a brand-new story arc” this particular edition of “the mighty ongoing series” must surely have befuddled and bewildered the vast majority of its readers, even those whose hobby-time is utterly immersed within the “Warhammer 40K” tabletop miniature wargame’s “dystopian science fantasy universe.” For whilst this comic’s foreword provides some semblance of an explanation as to what actually happened at the conclusion of the title’s previous story-arc, George Mann’s script for “Revelations” delivers little more than a seemingly random sequence of events which occur with minimal rhyme or reason.

For starters, just how did Baltus miraculously outlast the destruction on Exyrion when “he ignited an ancient weapon” which scoured “the surface with powerful energy” and presumably annihilated the majority of Dark Angels, Iron Warriors and Titans of Tintaroth battling there? Admittedly, the comic does subtly intimate that the armament only ‘cleansed’ the planet’s exterior, so potentially the space marine could have survived the device’s activation underground, even though he was stood right beside it at the time. But that doesn’t then explain how he endured his squad’s vulnerable position being overrun by hulking great chaos space marines like Beoth, nor rationalise how the “sole survivor” is later depicted seemingly uninjured and falling “back on his training” to seek “solace in ritual”..?

Disappointingly, the “superstar” writer’s preoccupation with exploring Inquisitor Sabbathiel’s grotesque daemonhost-fuelled dreams doesn’t lend itself to a comprehendible flow for this twenty-two page periodical either, as Astor’s irrational vision of a “foul cult” forming on Quintus appears far too coincidental a sub-plot when one considers that her ‘antagonist’ Master Serphaus has already independently elected to visit the self-same world. Such lazy penmanship on behalf of the Darlington-born author would arguably be a bit more palatable if it wasn’t for the fact that the Dark Angels commander appears to almost whimsically “lead the mission to Quintus myself” for no discernible reason other than to ensure Interrogator-Chaplain Altheous is deployed elsewhere.

Fortunately, Tazio Bettin’s incredible pencilling for Issue Five of “Warhammer 40K: Will Of Iron” still means that this “Titan Comics” publication is well worth reading, with the freelance illustrator’s sketching of a horrific ‘eye-ball vomiting’ nightmare scene arguably being worth the cover price alone. Indeed, the Italian’s final half-page panel, depicting a party of acrobatic Harlequins racing through some woodland provides precisely the sort of colourful, eye-catching cliff-hanger that any Craftworld Eldar fan would surely go mad for.
The regular cover art of "WARHAMMER 40,000: WILL OF IRON" No. 5 by Connor Magill

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Star Trek: Boldly Go #11 - IDW Publishing

STAR TREK: BOLDLY GO No. 11, August 2017
Strongly influenced by the background to the January 1969 “Star Trek” television story "Whom Gods Destroy", this first instalment of a two-parter closely follows the decorated career of starship captain Garth of Izar from his utilisation of the Cochrane Deceleration Manoeuvre at the Battle of Axanar, through to his ‘terminal’ transporter accident on the planet Antos IV. Indeed, in many ways the opening quarter to Mike Johnson’s script for Issue Eleven of “Star Trek: Boldly Go”, with perhaps the notable exception of a scene involving cadet Kirk asking to accompany the highly regarded officer aboard the U.S.S. Heisenberg “for the semester”, actually plays out as something of a visualised prelude to the classic original series episode.

Unfortunately for this book’s 6,963 readers though, once the author’s storyline stops following the exploits of “the Hero of Axanar” and veers off into unprecedented territory, the comic’s previously compelling narrative quickly unwinds into a mess of lazy coincidences, lack-lustre writing, and an intimate knowledge of this “IDW Publishing” title’s predecessor “Star Trek: Ongoing”. It certainly appears a little odd that even if “you can find out anything you want to know for the right price”, the adolescent Thalia is not only able to deduce which Federation Starfleet vessel James Kirk is currently commanding, but also learn of its precise location; “I’ll worry about leaks of classified Starfleet data later.” 

Equally as disconcerting is Johnson’s use of the Antosian custom “to [only] meet with a single representative before inviting more strangers down to their planet.” This rigid protocol inadvertently contributes to Garth’s untimely demise “three years ago”, yet is conveniently overridden by the anxious Endeavour’s captain in order to allow him and Eurydice’s daughter to transport straight down to the planet. To make the plot’s inconsistencies worse, the duo are even met on the landing podium by second chair Xegh-Ky of the Antosian Mercantile Authority, whereas the former fleet captain was apparently alone when he died, despite him actually following the alien culture’s convention to the letter.  

Unhappily, Megan Leven’s pencilling probably doesn’t help this rather poorly-penned pedantic piece either, as the advertising story-boarder’s cartoon-like style sometimes struggles to promote any sense of seriousness to the proceedings, even when it’s depicting Garth being literally stripped asunder within a teleportation beam as his bio-signature is lost. The illustrator’s clean-lined technical style is however rather more suited to the portrayal of young cheeky-faced, bright-eyed children, which considering young Thalia’s pivotal role within this comic’s second act, is presumably why she’s the edition’s artist.
Writer: Mike Johnson, Art: Megan Levens, and Colors: Marissa Louise

Saturday, 17 February 2018

The Incredible Hulk Versus Quasimodo #1 - Marvel Comics

“This special issue of Hulk comic” is based upon the script for the 1982 animated television series episode "When Monsters Meet" and therefore, due to it taking place on Earth-8107 in the reality of the Eighties cartoons as opposed to the ‘Marvel multiverse’, is unsurprisingly considered to be a non-canon narrative. Fortunately however, rather than finding such a predicament as working on a National Broadcasting Company (NBC) adaption some sort of stifling burden to his creativity, Bill Mantlo instead produces a wonderfully enthralling all-action twenty-two page “one shot collector’s item” which replaces its necessity to abide by mainstream continuity with an incredible array of outlandish foes, surreal set-pieces and magnificent motivations.

Indeed, the sheer amount of coincidences put in place to make the book’s cataclysmic confrontation occur alone is miraculously mind-blowing, with the Brooklyn-born writer manufacturing the arrival of “famous scientist” Bruce Banner in Paris in order to attend “an evening meeting at the Academy of Science”, Betty Ross secretly consulting the French Minister of Finance, Professor Jaques Royale concocting an untested, dangerous cure for the Hulk, and “the horrible Hunchback” deciding to steal “the gold of France” from its ever-moving Metro car, all at precisely the same time...

Of course, little of the Bill Finger Award-winner’s exposition to these occurrences makes any sense whatsoever, especially "Thunderbolt" Ross’s decision to choose his daughter “to be his secret agent” and entrust her with the key to France’s national bullion, or Quasimodo’s long-time association with the giant bat, Salvatore. But such quibbles are arguably easily set aside just as soon as the “great, great, great grandson of the original Hunchback of Notre Dame” abducts Betty, and Banner’s gamma-green alter-ego materialises to swap blows with the bell-ringing “monster”; “I thought we were evenly-matched, Hulk -- But you are mightier! Given time your fearsome fists might cause me harm!” 

Perhaps this comic’s greatest asset though, alongside Stan Lee’s whimsical narration, is Sal Buscema’s wonderful pencilling, particularly those panels pitched within Quasimodo’s secret lair where the deformed villain merrily swings upon ropes and tries to crush his “green-skinned” opponent with a “very ancient and very heavy” chandelier. In fact, the New Yorker’s flair for imbuing all of his figures with dynamic life is so evident in this publication that it’s clear just why the illustrator “enjoyed a ten-year run as artist of The Incredible Hulk.”
Writer: Bill Mantlo, and Artists: Sal Buscema & Steve Mitchell

Friday, 16 February 2018

Howard The Duck: The Movie #3 - Marvel Comics

HOWARD THE DUCK: THE MOVIE No. 3, February 1987
Bringing the “Marvel Comics” official adaption of Willard Huyck’s “Howard The Duck” motion picture to an end, Danny Fingeroth’s script certainly delivered its readers an action-packed conclusion with law enforcement gun-battles, devastating explosions, grotesque-looking alien invaders, harrowing plane flights and even a deafening rock concert. Unfortunately though, none of these plot points make much sense whatsoever, apart from predominantly providing the titular character with an opportunity to deliver a number of 'wisequacks' and bravely battle a supposedly all-powerful Dark Overlord; “Now I’ve got to really shake my tail feathers…”

In fact, the sheer amount of coincidences found within this twenty-two page periodical’s narrative must have disappointed its audience as much as Gloria Katz was when her ‘big screen’ production was nominated for seven Razzie Awards. For starters, just what are the chances that the police officers who arrested Phil Blumburtt “at the plant” would also stop to assist the clearage operation at Joe Roman’s Cajun Sushi CafĂ©, and resultantly leave the janitor hand-cuffed in the back of their car? Likewise, having escaped incarceration courtesy of his feathered friend, any perusing bibliophiles are then expected to believe the laboratory assistant lucks upon a ‘fully-fuelled’ micro-plane which just happens to have been stored overnight in the open within ‘spitting distance’ of the restaurant the pair are fleeing from?

Perhaps this publication’s biggest happenstance however is that, having somehow ‘slipped through’ Aerodyne’s presumably comprehensive security cordon, Howard and Beverly Switzler’s bespectacled acquaintance not only manage to locate a Neutron Disintegrator… developed for the army until the cost overruns became really embarrassing”, but a mechanised trolley with which to transport and fire it from. Of course, such destructive technology is ordinarily useless without a suitably-trained operator, so it’s rather jammy that the hero duck can both ‘shoot straight’ and also fit so precisely inside the vehicle’s cockpit that his webbed-feet can activate the peddles whilst the weapon's lethal-looking barrel harmlessly rests just above his head…

Quite possibly the only strength to Issue Three of “Howard The Duck: The Movie” therefore is Kyle Baker’s marvellous rendering of Steve Gerber’s co-creation, which despite the shocking storyline still manages to maintain an appeal throughout his misadventures. Disappointingly though, the same cannot be said for the rest of the American animator’s pencilling, which whilst conceivably competent, appears overly messy and discouragingly ill-defined upon the printed page.
Writer: Danny Fingeroth, Artist: Kyle Barker, and Colorist: Glynis Oliver

Thursday, 15 February 2018

The Amazing Spider-Man [2015] #28 - Marvel Comics

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN No. 28, August 2017
Boldly advertised as a climatic confrontation between Peter Parker’s alter-ego and his arch-nemesis Norman Osborn in a “No gadgets. No powers. No holds barred!” fist-fight, Issue Twenty Eight of “Amazing Spider-Man” must have proved something of a bitter disappointment to the majority of its 50,925 readers in June 2017. For starters, at the comic’s conclusion the former “amoral industrialist Head of Oscorp” is physically far from defeated by “the crime-fighting super hero” and simply runs off into the Symkarian snow upon seeing that S.H.I.E.L.D. has arrived to thwart his warmongering, and secondly, despite being outclassed by a woman who has “been trained to be the best swordsman in Europe”, a bloodied Silver Sable supposedly defeats the Countess Karkov by simply causing a slight cut to her face, and subsequently breaking her will to fight..? 

Such major ‘let-downs’ to the culmination of “The Osborn Identity” really ‘smack’ of Dan Slott running out of ideas as to how to satisfactorily conclude his four-parter, and arguably suggest that the Berkeley-born writer disconcertingly tired of “chronicling Spidey’s globe-trotting battle against the former Green Goblin…” Indeed, rather than provide an “epic showdown between the two” as the American author promised fans in a pre-publication interview with “Comic Book Resources”, this twenty-page periodical instead just lazily strips Web-head of his powers through a combination of toxic gases, and then depicts him getting battered by his facially-disfigured foe across numerous panels before Harry’s father (once again) escapes. 

Admittedly, the limits to which Norman has gone to in order to “inhibit” all of the wall-crawler’s different powers is rather impressive, as is his trap to rid Spider-man of “that pathetic spider-armour of yours” using an electro-magnetic pulse. But as Parker himself later states, all Osborn had to do when his spider-senses were down was poison him with another gas and kill him. It makes little sense that one of the cleverest men in the world went to so much trouble simply to “put us on equal footing” and start rolling around with their deadliest enemy in the snow..?

Fortunately, “One-On-One” is undoubtedly saved by the superb fast-paced story-boarding of Stuart Immonen, whose dynamic sketching of both the main event, as well as Sable’s fencing lesson with “the Symkarian Monarch”, is an absolute delight to behold. There’s a real arrogance to the posture and duelling stance of Countess Karkov which speaks a thousand words, and clearly reinforces editor Nick Lowe’s belief that the Canadian artist’s characters “feel real and they feel like there's a life behind those eyes that he draws, and that's so cool to see.”
Writer: Dan Slott, Penciler: Stuart Immnonen, and Inker: Wade von Grawbadger

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Star Trek: Countdown #2 - IDW Publishing

STAR TREK: COUNTDOWN No. 2, February 2009
It would be interesting to know just how much thought Roberto Orci put into this mini-series’ storyline, considering that the “Mexican-American film and television screenwriter” apparently scribed this “official prequel” simply to appease the ever-badgering Anthony Pascale, editor of "". For whilst this particular twenty-two page long instalment contains a modicum of excitement in its inclusion of a single-panel starship battle and equally swift karate chop on board the Narada, it’s tremendously wordy narrative genuinely seems to go out of its way to re-jig the cataclysmic conclusion of the 2002 film “Star Trek: Nemesis” and hardly seems to encompass the sort of fiery pace one would expect for a plot which is based upon a planet-destroying cosmic threat…

Indeed, the comic’s declaration that the Soong-type android B-4 is the current Captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise alone was probably enough to cause consternation amongst the majority of this title’s 11,357 readers, and not even the later assertion that somehow Data’s neural nets were successfully imprinted upon his predecessor’s “existing programming” can entirely overshadow the sense that the Lieutenant Commander’s noble sacrifice during the destruction of the Scimitar has been horribly disrespected. Little wonder therefore that the filmmaker would later go on and state that he was in no position to declare whether the "Countdown" comic series was canonical or not.

However, this edition’s biggest problem is that its basic premise makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. If Romulus is about to be destroyed by an “impending supernova”, why would Nero, Spock or Data waste precious time plodding across the galaxy in order to speak directly to the Vulcan Science Council? Why don’t they simply contact the agency of the Vulcan High Command via a communication channel? Surely, even if their plan to thwart the exploding Hobus Star necessitated a trip to drill for Decalithium, they could still discuss the Federation Ambassador’s plan with his home planet, and have plenty of time remaining with which to help evacuate the Star Empire’s populace? 

Disappointingly, David Messina’s lack-lustre pencilling only sadly adds to this magazine’s aura of oppressive lethargy. Whether the Italian is sketching Nero furtively searching the Enterprise’s data banks for knowledge about James Tiberius Kirk, the Imperial Science Council realising that the “senile [half] Vulcan was right”, or Ambassador Jean Luc Picard discussing the possibility of converting Decalithium into Red Matter, all the figures appear disconcertingly wooden, emotionless and two-dimensional.
Story: Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman, and Writers: Mike Johnson & Tim Jones

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Uber: Invasion #11 - Avatar Press

UBER: INVASION No. 11, January 2018
It’s hard to think of a more depressing narrative which disconcertingly deals with a stunning victory over a one-time seemingly insurmountable evil, than that penned by Kieron Gillen for Issue Eleven of “Uber: Invasion”. Indeed, Stephanie’s “good news” message to Battleship Colossus that the German’s invasion force of America has surrendered to the Allies is probably the last thing young Eamonn O'Connor wants to hear, considering the horrific physical mutilation this comic book’s demoralising conclusion has cost him.

Equally as dispiriting though is the fate bestowed upon the Afro-American super-soldiers Vernon and Freddie by the United States Military, who, perhaps because of their evident prejudicial unease concerning the duo’s racial background, coupled with the pair’s previously recorded unwillingness to blindly follow orders, have ensured that the brothers have squandered most of their active service deployed on the West Coast, sat within an army hangar hoping “that Yamato would engage Portland itself, and walk into the trap.”

This ‘waste’ of U.S.S. Bravo and U.S.S. Bluestone at a time when civilian war-time casualties are increasingly insurmountable as a result of Nazi halo attacks would be perturbing enough on its own. Yet the Kerrang! Award-winner really drives the U.S. Cruisers mishandling home by proclaiming that the Japanese Uber they were supposedly ‘targeting’ actually departed for Asia in a submarine sometime before both “the final German encounter near Oak Ridge” and their friend’s life-changing injuries. To make matters even worse, the British writer even takes the time to reinforce the Generals’ concerns regarding the two men’s professional discipline by having Daniel Gete pencil them arrogantly challenging an M.P. when he catches the couple gambling within their barracks; “Yeah, we shouldn’t. Yet here we are.”

Of course all these quibbles are just a side-show compared to the main event between U.S.S. Colossus and his Third Reich rival, Siegmund. In fact, in many ways this entire publication's run has been geared towards the two fully-activated battleships cataclysmically confronting one another ever since Gillen first scripted the youngster surviving Miyoko Yoshiuki’s attack upon Okinawa, during the title’s first series. Disappointingly however, the pair appear to have been destined never to properly fight, with Razor receiving his gratuitous injuries as a result of specifically saving his defecting opponent’s life, rather than having them inflicted upon him during the heat of battle.
The regular cover art of "UBER: INVASION" No. 11 by Daniel Gete

Monday, 12 February 2018

Star Trek: Boldly Go #10 - IDW Publishing

STAR TREK: BOLDLY GO No. 10, July 2017
Group editor Sarah Gaydos was being extraordinarily optimistic in this comic’s “Open Channels” afterword when she suggested Issue Ten of “Star Trek: Boldy Go” featured a “soon-to-be classic story”. In fact, despite Mike Johnson’s twenty-page long script supposedly focusing heavily upon the return of Scotty “to the Yorktown base to check in on construction of the new Enterprise”, it instead disappointingly spends the vast majority of its time following “the comic debut of a beloved alien first seen in the film Star Trek Beyond” known as Kevin the Teenaxi…

Admittedly, the diminutively-sized aggressively paranoid alien provided Simon Pegg’s movie script with precisely the “sort of light-hearted episode” which the English screenwriter apparently wanted as an opening sequence, and the tiny creature’s inadvertent beaming aboard the USS Enterprise, followed by his subsequent attendance at Kirk’s birthday celebration, provided the flick with a modicum of digitally-rendered humour; "still no pants". But such a miniscule character was arguably always going to struggle single-handedly to entertain this title’s 7,804 readers, especially when the central plot revolves around the blue-shirted extra-terrestrial treacherously stealing a starship’s “central control stalk” in order to demonstrate his loyalty to Steve, the “Grand Audarch of the Teenaxi People.”

Indeed, as “bottle stories” go, Johnson’s narrative concentrates far too much upon its jokes, such as the Teenaxi Delegation foolishly believing that without its Captain’s chair a Constitution-class vessel is unpowered, and nowhere near enough on the tale’s straightforward logic. For example, why does Commodore Paris and Scotty immediately forgive Kevin and later actually still offer him a place at Starfleet Academy, when this entire comic has been about the alien abusing their trust in order to infiltrate the Yorktown’s security and criminally steal from the Federation? 

Sadly, Tony Shasteen’s artwork for this inadequate adventure also proves somewhat substandard. The Art Institute of Atlanta graduate can clearly pencil some excellent-looking likenesses of actors Christopher Pine, Simon Pegg and Zoe Saldana, as well as the complexities of a partially-progressed starship. But as this book predominantly features Teenaxi, the illustrator is in the main ‘forced’ to simply sketch a seemingly endless carousel of similarly-shaped aliens, and their rather inedible meal-time “delicacies.”
The regular cover art of "STAR TREK: BOLDLY GO" No. 10 by George Caltsoudas

Sunday, 11 February 2018

The Amazing Spider-Man [1963] #166 - Marvel Comics

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN No. 166, March 1977
Billed as a Christmas “Holiday Holocaust”, and depicting Spidey “caught in the middle” of a battle between the Lizard and Stegron, Len Wein’s narrative for “War Of The Reptile Men” must have royally pleased the vast majority of this title’s audience back when it was first published in the Mid-Seventies. Certainly, considering the comic encompasses the creation of “the brand-new Spider-Slayer", Harry Osborn’s engagement to Liz Allen, New York’s finest fighting off living dinosaurs, as well Doctor Connors’ desperate efforts to save his son, the eighteen-page periodical crowbars an awful lot inside its colourfully composed John Romita (Senior) cover.

Fortunately though, so vastly widespread a storyline is still easily accessible courtesy of “a reasonable summation of last issue’s doings” by the book’s editor and plenty of ‘cheery’ exposition from “the ghost of Christmas past” as he web-swings his way through this celebratory tale bringing comfort to a distraught Martha Connors, politely stands up Mary Jane Watson, and takes down Curtis’ cold-blooded alter-ego with a mouthful of “lizardism” cure. Indeed, the wall-crawler even has time to tackle a heavily-fanged Tyrannosaurus Rex before it and the other “Kings of the Earth” are reduced back to their skeletal state as a result of Billy’s father managing to “reverse the effects of Stegron’s retro-generator…”

Perhaps the Shazam Award-winner’s most successful plot-point however, is the fact that for once, the harshness of the festive weather is crucial to the adventure’s somewhat cheerless conclusion. For whilst the majority of similarly-themed seasonal tales ordinarily appear to just thoughtlessly bolt the cultural celebration on as an afterthought, the wintry snow becomes so heavy and turns “ssso cold” towards the end of Wein’s script that it actually causes the reptilian Dinosaur Man to completely lose his superhuman strength, and eventually simply slide to his death deep beneath a frozen lake when his footing finally fails him; “If only I had ssstayed hidden… until the ssspring… I could have been… massster… of… the… world…” 

Delightfully, all of this action is vibrantly brought to animated life by the pencil of Ross Andru, who provides both the Lizard and Stegron with plenty of pathos despite the combatants’ numerous scales and murderous intentions. In fact, in some ways the duo’s confrontation down “in an abandoned storage vault beneath Central Park” is the highlight of the comic, with Andruskevitch’s sketching the pair kicking, tail-whipping and throttling one another half to death, whilst simultaneously providing the book’s readers with plenty of appealing rhetoric.
Writer/Editor: Len Wein, Illustrator: Ross Andru, and Inker: Mike Eposito

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Star Trek: Countdown #1 - IDW Publishing

STAR TREK: COUNTDOWN No. 1, January 2009
Publicised as “the official prequel to the upcoming [2009 “Star Trek”] motion picture”, this opening instalment to a four-issue mini-series rather slowly, almost painfully, lays the foundation for “The Next Generation” characters to “pass the baton” back to the ‘original crew’ of the starship Enterprise by ponderously focusing upon Romulan mining captain Nero’s first encounter with the Federation Ambassador Spock. Indeed, if J. J. Abrams had incorporated any of this twenty-two page periodical’s plodding plot into his silver screen production it’s arguable as to whether the reboot would have grossed anywhere near the $385.7 million sales it achieved worldwide…

For starters Mike Johnson and Tim Jones’ tale does little but leap from lengthy conversational piece to dialogue-heavy discussion, as it depicts the Star Empire’s tolerance of immigrants, its senate’s prolonged diplomatic debates and the blessed home life of a man who would go on to ultimately destroy the Kelvin timeline planet of Vulcan; “Your point of order is noted in the record. These proceedings are now closed.” The writing partnership even goes so far as to regrettably squander a dozen or so panels simply describing how the Narada’s commander is so infatuated with his pregnant wife, that he swiftly falls to his knees in emotional shock when Spock simply invites him to “open your mind”…

Admittedly, Nero’s irrational, pain stricken motivation within the Star Trek film franchise’s eleventh movie, is central to Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman’s blockbuster screenplay, and, it’s clear from this comic’s storyline that its authors had been “allowed to read parts of the script and watch parts of the film to understand” the central villain better. But no-where does the ‘flick’ suggest that the late 24th century captain was actually a traitor to Romulus, and sided with the elderly Starfleet officer against his own government. Nor did it imply that the miner actually took his vessel into combat against three Reman battleships whilst drilling for “the rare isotope Decalithium” in the Kimben System..?

Disconcertingly, David Messina’s simplistic-looking artwork for Issue One of “Star Trek: Countdown” probably didn’t assist this book’s 14,585 readers navigating its mind-numbing narrative in January 2009 either, as despite the Italian’s evident potential to pencil a building or spacefaring vessel, his figures are horribly one-dimensional. In fact, even when the erstwhile graphic designer attempts to replicate ‘cinematic shots’, such as a close-up of a resolute Reman soldier or sympathetically-faced Spock, there’s little in the way of physical depth on show in the individuals’ sketching.
Story: Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman, and Writers: Mike Johnson & Tim Jones