Monday, 30 April 2018

Dolphin Squad II: A Death In The Pod [Part Two] - Deadstar Publishing

DOLPHIN SQUAD II: A DEATH IN THE POD, May 2018
Lacking much of the seriousness of this graphic novel’s opening third, due largely to Laser-Eye and Vinny only occasionally dwelling upon the demise of the Pink Protector, Danny J. Weston’s script for the ‘middle’ of his publication instead focuses far more upon the fact that the “squad are back together”, and the ramifications that follow as the duo crucially confront the “vicious varmint” behind Fabian’s tearful termination. Indeed, it is hard to imagine a more pulse-pounding read than the adventure the “creator of [these] comic book crime fighters” provides, with the “parachuting porpoises” not only encountering the nefarious fake moustache-wearing workers of Plumb Plumbers, “experts in leaks and taps”, but brain-washed pistol-packing polar bears, “a man-made, metal, miniature mountain”, the despicable Doctor Helfert, and a truly surreal advertisement for Crabby Ruth bars – “only the crabbiest, chewiest chocolate, tastes like crab sticks never tasted before…” 

Arguably the highlight of these “full colour” pages however, is the sense-shattering car chase between the super-team’s “turbot-charged” Marine Machine and the motor-bike riding semiaquatic rodent, Eva Kbeavil. This sequence is an absolute delight to peruse with Vinny even seemingly replicating Sean Connery’s ‘miraculous’ Las Vegas car tip trick from the 1971 James Bond movie “Diamonds Are Forever”, by steering his speedster onto just its right wheels in order to navigate a “narrow escape” down a pedestrian only walkway; “I gotta admit that’s some fancy driving!” Of course, with a mischievous moniker like Evil Kbeaver such a preposterous pursuit was only ever going to end with the dam-building delinquent gunning his two-wheeled getaway ride up a ramp and over a formidable-looking barbed wire fence. Yet, even this impressive felonious feat brings a smile to the face, as the broad-tailed lawbreaker subsequently crashes into the office of the Flotsam Supermax Prison’s warden, Robert Gunton, and is immediately arrested.

Somewhat less pacey, though equally as entertaining, is the Dolphin Squad’s tongue-in-cheek exploration of the devious doctor’s underground lair in the South Pole. Having almost literally battered this "72 page" publication's audience into submission with a non-stop sequence of eye-watering wise-cracks on board a chartered S.E.A.W.O.R.L.D. aeroplane, this infiltration of the clichéd German-sounding scientist’s secret base is just as remorselessly packed with puns, as well as notable nods to the spy-fi genre, such as Laser-Eye and the “world’s angriest dolphin” needing to negotiation some giant fan blades inside a ventilation duct, or Weston’s drawings of the devilish Doctor Helfert’s personal quarters looking as if they’d been crafted by production designer Sir Kenneth Adam himself.

‘First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
Writer and Artist: Danny J. Weston

Sunday, 29 April 2018

The Amazing Spider-Man [2015] #32 - Marvel Comics

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN No. 32, November 2017
Billed by “Marvel Worldwide” as a “special issue that sets off the Amazing Spider-Man event of 2018”, this twenty-page periodical reads more like one of the New York-based publisher’s “What If?” stories, than a particularly serious addition to their flagship character’s canon. In fact, it many ways Dan Slott’s narrative for “Personal Demon” seems to play out as a somewhat perverse re-imagining of Doctor Stephen Strange’s origin story by having a physically flawed Norman Osborn desperately turn to The Temple With No Name after modern-day conventional medical treatment has failed to destroy the billions of “microscopic nanites spider-man put into my system… [which] were designed to block any trace of my [Green Goblin] serum.”

Just how the “genius industrialist” finds the Buddhist sanctuary amongst a range of snow-capped mountains is never actually explained, nor is the willingness of the three aged monks, Masters Hawk, Ox and Snake, to try and help the human mutate. But whatever the rationale behind Harry’s father being able to place his hand upon the Emerald Oracle of Ikkon, it’s profound impact upon the impotent supervillain is enthrallingly extreme, and for the rest of this comic its 58,885-strong audience must have read with increasing dread as he quickly establishes himself to be an omnipotent rival of the Sorcerer Supreme himself…

Indeed, Osborn’s battle against the titular character is undoubtedly one of the most one-sided conflicts the arch-rivals have ever experienced, with the facially disfigured “proficient scientist” immobilising his wall-crawling opponent using the Chains of Krakkan, rendering him unconscious courtesy of the Flames of Faltine, and then sickeningly swallowing the super-hero whole having transformed him into a normal-sized arachnid; “You don’t know the bug like I do! He crawls back! He always does! This time the Goblin gets his just desserts!” Of course, none of these sense-shattering moments are actually real, just visions of Norman’s future should the monks have been so unwise as to have “instructed him in the ways of magic.” But even so, the thought of an all-powerful Green Goblin, even for an instant, makes for scary stuff.

Brought in as a “guest artist” following his cessation as the regular illustrator on “Moon Knight”, Greg Smallwood’s rather recognisable drawing-style doesn’t initially seem to particularly suit Dan Slott’s somewhat sedentary script, at least until the former Iron Patriot dons a painted wooden goblin mask and teleports Spider-Man to his location. However, once the spells fly, and the temple’s stone-bricked walls are ominously glowing luminous green, then the Will Eisner Award-nominee shows just why at the time of this comic’s printing he was “one of the industry's most in-demand” pencillers.

‘First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
Writer: Dan Slott, Artist: Greg Smallwood, and Colorist: Jordie Bellaire

Saturday, 28 April 2018

Moon Knight #190 - Marvel Comics

MOON KNIGHT No. 190, February 2018
Disappointingly depicting “Marc’s good relationship with his other [split] personalities” badly fracturing having only just established how the different personas successfully collaborate together in this story-arc’s previous editions, Max Bemis’ narrative for Issue One Hundred And Ninety of “Moon Knight” is arguably as choppy as the titular character’s mental stability. For although this 22,064 copy-selling comic contains some intriguing flashbacks through time in order to illustrate Amon Ra’s continuous conflict with the various Fists of Khonshu, it also debatably includes some truly disappointing interpretations of supporting cast members Marlene Alraune, Jake Lockley, and notorious nemesis Raul Bushman.

Indeed, the New York-born author’s version of the savage Burundan mercenary who “once ruled an entire African nation” where “men literally bowed before me” is almost unrecognisable from the sadistic, cold-blooded killer who slaughtered “archaeologist Peter Alraune [simply] to find an Egyptian pharaoh's tomb”, and is instead replaced by an overweight drug-dealing thug who freely admits before a packed warehouse of his criminal peers that “Marc Spector… scares the c%$p out of me.” Hardly the sort of long-term maniacal antagonist Doug Moench probably had in mind as his co-creation’s arch-enemy when he originally penned Bushman leaving the defeated “rabbi's wayward son” to “die in the sub-zero temperatures of the desert night” back in November 1980.

Just as bewildering is this comic’s bizarre plot twist that over the past five years, Moon Knight’s female confidante has been having a relationship with his cab driving persona, and resultantly has an infant daughter. Such a scenario sadly smacks of sensationalism, as if the “primary lyricist of the band Say Anything” was desperate to make a quick, indelible mark upon the history of “the masked crime-fighter” and simply didn’t care that historically Marlene had actually become so “increasingly distressed” by the super-hero’s “schizophrenia” that she eventually “moved out of his Long Island mansion.”

Quite possibly just as bemused by Bemis’ erratic scribblings as doubtless the majority of this book’s audience were, Jacen Burrows’ pencilling lacks any semblance of animated life for much of this twenty-page periodical. True, the Savannah College of Art and Design graduate imbues plenty of sense-shattering action into any panels which depict the Fist of Khonshu fending off “a random attack by disabled gentlemen.” But this “dark” sequence is perhaps understandably short-lived, and leaves the American artist to subsequently rather woodenly sketch a seemingly endless series of dialogue-heavy discussions.

‘First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
Writer and Arti: Max Bemis, Artist: Jacen Burrows, and Inker: Guillermo Ortego

Friday, 27 April 2018

Dolphin Squad II: A Death In The Pod [Part One] - Deadstar Publishing

DOLPHIN SQUAD II: A DEATH IN THE POD, May 2018
Proudly proclaimed by “Deadstar Publishing” as a “follow-up to our best-selling Dolphin Squad: Heroes Of The Sea graphic novel”, this “all action” adventure provides plenty of simple guffaws and giggles up until Danny J. Weston’s narrative suddenly takes a surprising dive into thoughtful despair, and pens a genuinely sad scene involving the quite horrific demise of the Albino Avenger, Fabian. In fact, up until the aquatic mammal’s morbid murder, which as an aside potentially provides a notable nod to the origin of Doctor Manhattan in an Intrinsic Field Subtractor, this “full colour” publication’s plot appears to be as uncomplicated a comical yarn, as its delightful dialogue is pun-filled; “Hope you get my point, Ping Prong! Timberrr! Ha! Ping Prong, get it? Cuz forks have prongs!”

Ordinarily, such straightforward story-telling may well quickly turn into something of a chore for a reader, but on this occasion the dorsal finned crime-fighters’ creator uses the simplicity of a radioactive mutated beaver terrorising his mereswine troupe with an enraged “giant giant panda” to almost perpetually bombard his audience with wonderful witticisms and corny gags, such as a waffle-laden Vinny potentially delaying his pod’s pursuit of Evil Kbeaver because Laser-Eye won’t ordinarily allow him to eat food inside the Dolphin Mobile. These crackpot funnies really do help maintain a pleasingly fast pace to proceedings, and makes the Pink Protector’s death all the more shocking when it occurs from out of the blue.

Intriguingly, the scenes which immediately then follow the Dolphin Squad member’s terminal departure, particularly Fabian’s Central Megapolis Memorial, perhaps understandably appear to somewhat tone down the slap-stick shenanigans, and replace them with a far more tragic tone as the super-group’s leader shuts down the team, ostracises a distraught Vinny, and heartbreakingly starts spiralling downwards into a bottle or five (of lemonade). Of course Weston still imbues his work with plenty of tongue-in-cheek absurdity, as seen by Laser-Eye’s visit to the S.E.A.W.O.R.L.D.’s underground prison in order to talk to the likes of Spag-Yeti, Bearbarian and Whaleverine. But even this lengthy sequence has a stark seriousness and palpable meanness to it which wasn’t apparent in this book’s earlier, more light-hearted episodes, back before there was a death in the pod…

Adding to this graphic novel’s sense of hilarity is Danny’s rather unique-looking artwork, which appears somewhat reminiscent of the Nineties “Cartoon Network” animated cartoons “Dexter's Laboratory” and “Johnny Bravo”. Dynamically drawn, and astoundingly able to imbue even a motorbike riding beaver with an aura of utter evil, the British-born illustrator’s story-boards bring both boundless energy to his script, as well as a genuine sense of loss and utter helplessness to the titular characters when circumstances take a decidedly dire turn for the worse.

‘First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
Writer and Artist: Danny J. Weston

Thursday, 26 April 2018

V-Wars #5 - IDW Publishing

V-WARS No. 5, August 2014
Despite containing a phenomenally explosive beginning which sees the likes of Miss Peabody’s Country Day School, the Veterans Administration Hospital and even Mount Rushmore literally blown to smithereens, Jonathan Maberry’s script for Issue Five of “V-Wars” is arguably a rather anaemic affair which focuses far too much upon Professor Swann’s anxious audience with the Crimson Queen rather than the nationwide retaliation sought against “every extremist blood cell [who] phoned in to take credit” for the horrendous bombings. Indeed, with the exception of a truly shocking scene depicting a haunted-looking Luther baring his neck so as to seemingly sate his baby daughter’s insane blood lust, very little actually appears to occur within this twenty-page periodical except talk, flashbacks, arguments and more talk…

Fortunately however, that doesn’t necessarily mean that “The Court Of The Crimson Queen” was unable to hold the attention of its audience, as the Presidential advisor’s increasingly confrontational dialogue with the metal-masked monarch provides a conspicuously captivating reading experience which simply unwaveringly holds the attention as successfully as the vampire queen’s reach is boastfully long; “We have more. That’s what I’m trying to tell you, Luther. We have more. Many more. We are everywhere. We have eyes everywhere.” It does though require any perusing bibliophile to wade through a seemingly unending array of lime-coloured text boxes, which only stop towards the comic’s end when Martyn shocking unleashes a rabid, satanically-eyed Jenny upon her truly mortified father and Swann is subsequently handed an evidential dossier on one of the genuine bombers.

Undoubtedly less graphic than some of Alan Robinson’s pulse-poundingly pencilled panels, but equally as surprising is the suspense author’s major revelation at the conclusion of this publication’s narrative. For vast portions of this book it erroneously appears plausible that Yuki Nitobe is the Crimson Queen, and like Field Team V-8’s Corporal Taurus Harper, she is actually an undercover vampiric agent who has been working for the Bloods all along. This flawed thinking seems especially convincing once the “foremost expert on the myths and legends of vampires” is reminded of his failure to stop the “deranged killer” Fayne from “doing more harm” and is drawn comforting the female journalist in a flashback. Yet when the magazine’s final scene is ‘shot’ the reporter is unexpectedly shown to be one of the ruler’s closest confidents rather than being the enigmatic sovereign herself…

‘First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
The regular cover art of "V-WARS" No. 5 by Ryan Brown

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Doctor Who: The Fourth Doctor #3 - Titan Comics

DOCTOR WHO: THE FOURTH DOCTOR No. 3, July 2016
Whilst Gordon Rennie and Emma Beeby’s collaborative script for Issue Three of “Doctor Who: The Fourth Doctor” undoubtedly contains plenty of action, suspense and engaging elucidation, the writing team’s early decision to previously reveal that Lady Emily Carstairs already owns a centuries old stone statue of Sarah Jane Smith within her mansion’s gallery, rather makes a mockery of any tension supposedly generated by this comic’s central plot thread. Indeed, predominantly focusing upon Professor Odysseus James and the female reporter’s exploration of the gorgon’s creepy caverns, this twenty-two page periodical’s 7,412-strong audience were undoubtedly simply asking themselves when the Time Lord’s assistant was going to be petrified as opposed to anxiously pondering whether she was going to endure such a hideous fate…

Of course, the same cannot be said for the ardent feminist’s blustery companion, who initially seems to believe that the pair have inadvertently fallen through “some damned clever hinged opening or hidden lock mechanism” rather than been erroneously transported through time and space straight to the Medusa’s fearsome lair. His destiny appears to be very much in the laps of the gods as he excitedly discovers a Corinthian helmet “almost straight from the Bronzesmith’s forge” and a classic Xiphos shortsword; “What the British Museum wouldn’t give for this beauty!”

In fact, the “expert” in chrononautology’s infectious enthusiasm for the duo’s forebodingly dark and twisted journey throughout the venomous monster’s multi-tunnelled underground labyrinth is arguably one of the highlights of this publication, and it certainly must have made many a reader sigh in relief when the increasingly endearing character miraculously evades the glare of the gorgon and somehow manages to flee her serpentine presence. Admittedly, this desertion of Sarah Jane does leave the journalist’s calcified ‘corpse’ at the tender mercies of a triumphant, hideously-formed, multi-limbed mythological beast, but the time-traveller’s fossilisation was more as a result of her audacious curiosity, rather than the apprehensive scientist’s unheroic nature.

Equally as able to hold the attention as this comic’s competently compelling narrative is Brian Williamson’s artwork. The British illustrator genuinely depicts a truly harrowing journey for this comic’s protagonists through the statue-infested catacombs of Medusa, and seemingly provides every one of the creature’s grotesque trophies with a haunting look of terror upon their stricken faces. In addition, the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design graduate manages to imbue the rather dialogue-heavy exposition scenes between the Fourth Doctor and Athena James with some much needed animation; something which is particularly appreciated once the Gallifreyan has outwitted the Scryclops and begins experimenting upon the Lamp of Chronos.

‘First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
Writers: Gordon Rennie & Emma Beeby, and Art: Brian Williamson

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Moon Knight #189 - Marvel Comics

MOON KNIGHT No. 189, January 2018
Shifting just 23,147 copies in November 2017, less than half of what its preceding instalment sold, Issue One Hundred And Eighty Nine of “Moon Knight” nonetheless arguably contains a script which demonstrates just why writer Max Bemis, “the lead singer of the band Say Anything” had “already made an impact at Marvel with X-Men: Worst X-Man Ever and Foolkiller” prior to penning the adventures of the Fist of Khonshu. Indeed, with the exception of a somewhat sedentary section dedicated to illuminating Steven Grant’s persona as a “wealthy… stylish investor and entrepreneur” this twenty-page periodical enthrallingly demonstrates just how physically violent “a fictional superhero” Marc Spector’s alter-ego can be when the occasion demands it; “You. Before I knock you out, tell me… Do you need to be called anyting?”

Foremost of these insights into the ex-mercenary’s brutally psychotic world has to be the titular character’s bloody confrontation with the primary composer’s ‘villain-of-the-piece’, The Truth. Towering over the “rabbi's wayward son”, his heavily muscled body adorned with cyan-coloured tattoos and hieroglyphs, this “giant pest” takes a real beating at the hands of the silver shrouded crime-fighter, and yet still manages to momentarily overpower his opponent long enough for his “Truth Touch” to make the mentally unstable protagonist “experience the pervert side of humanity.”

This ferocious fist-fight encompasses an entire third of the publication, and besides showing that Moon Knight isn’t afraid of getting ‘down and dirty’ when he has to, on this occasion first lacerating the giant killer’s forearm with a crescent-shaped blade before lethally hurling an additional pair straight through his foe’s eyes and into his brain, it also provides an enthralling understanding as to just how Bemis ‘sees’ Spector’s multiple personality disorder working within the comic book medium, with each separate persona cooperatively communicating with one another in order ‘to get the job done.’

Such individuality is further exaggerated by the excellent pencilling of Jacen Burrows, who does a great job of differentiating between the former United States Marine’s contrasting personality states whilst he is battling for his life beneath a cowl. Understandably, whenever Marc is ‘in charge’, then the West Coast Avenger is drawn fully ensconced inside his all-encompassing familiar-looking costume, but just as soon as Jake Lockley takes over, then the suddenly brutish hero removes his hood, rolls up his face mask to reveal a truly terrifying sadistic smile and confidently swaggers into the fray…

‘First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
Writer: Max Bemis, Artist: Jacen Burrows, and Colorist: Mat Lopes

Monday, 23 April 2018

Red Sonja #5 - Dynamite Entertainment

RED SONJA No. 5, May 2017
Considering that writer Amy Chu had previously gone on record as saying that she loved “Red Sonja because she’s badass, pure warrior… [so] she just slays”, it is probably a safe bet that even the staunchest of this “Dynamite Entertainment” series' 11,692-strong followers in May 2017 weren’t particularly impressed with a narrative disquietingly devoid of any pulse-pounding action whatsoever and seemingly far more concerned with introducing an ever-expanding supporting cast simply “to pay homage to the different neighbourhoods of the city”, such as the grizzled Mister Azimov and instantly forgettable Churchill the pet bulldog. In fact, most of this publication's perusers were probably rather unhappy with the creative quality of this title's twenty-page periodical overall, especially when the comic’s cover proudly claimed that the interior artwork was supposedly single-handedly sketched by Carlos Gomez, when in reality half of it was disconcertingly drawn by the far less able Marcio Fiorito.

Much of this antipathy undoubtedly stems from the book’s dreadful opening, which rather worryingly was actually penned by the Boston-born author to act as a “recap” so as to ensure that new readers wouldn’t apparently find the book “a total turnoff” if they “picked this up and have no idea where this is going.” Such a considerate attitude towards a magazine’s audience is indisputably laudable, yet badly ‘backfires’ on this occasion due to the script simply insinuating that Mister Gault is somehow responsible for the “large creature… moving up Fifth Avenue” rather than providing any actual exposition as to just how either the towering “demon beast of Khauran” or “mysterious woman with a sword” have miraculously appeared in modern day New York City. Instead, any bibliophile is just expected to immediately grasp the incredibly contrived plot that one of the Big Apple’s finest is in reality a Hyborian Age magician who is trying to utilise Coney Island’s Wonder Wheel to create a portal “back to where we came from.”

In addition, the unexpected (and disappointingly unwelcome) artwork by Fiorito must have caused many readers a real shock to their system, with his rather wooden, two-dimensional drawing style unnervingly ignoring any pace to the proceedings which the story-line might have demanded. Chu made her gratitude towards the Brazilian professional “for pitching in on this issue” public at the time of its printing, as Gomez had clearly found being the regular artist on this title “physically taxing”. But such is the jarring contrast between the two contributors, something which is especially transparent when Carlos returns to his pencilling duties mid-way through the magazine, that one can’t help wonder whether it would have been better for Issue Five of “Red Sonja” to have simply ‘missed a month’ in order for its writer to tighten up her lack-lustre, overly-coincidental plot and allow the Spanish illustrator a moment to recharge his evidently waning batteries..?

‘First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
Writer: Amy Chu, Illustrators: Marcio Fiorito & Carlos Gomez, and Colors: Mohan

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Doctor Strange [2015] #14 - Marvel Comics

DOCTOR STRANGE No. 14, January 2017
Despite containing an abundance of the zaniness this title’s 39,390 strong audience would almost certainly have anticipated from a twenty page-periodical featuring “the primary protector of Earth against magical and mystical threats”, Jason Aaron’s script for Issue Fourteen of “Doctor Strange” probably still perturbed plenty of its readers with its central plot revoltingly revolving around people repeatedly vomiting up a portion of “bacon-wrapped bacon” which “comes from swine that was possessed by demons for 400 days.” In fact, it’s hard to imagine a more grotesque narrative for a “kid-friendly” “Marvel Worldwide” publication than the one the Alabama-born author presents within the covers of “A Gut Full Of Hell”, and certainly at its time of printing must have caused some of its followers to yearn back for the more serious sorcery of his earlier story-arc “The Last Days Of Magic”.

Of course, that isn’t to say that this third instalment to “Blood In The Aether” doesn’t contain any peril or threat to the former “preeminent” surgeon’s life. Far from it, as Satana’s “half-digested slab of hell bacon” not only causes Stephen to literally sweat blood, but, once it has “worked its way through... [his] delicate, mortal digestive system”, will actually kill him and give his soul to the devil’s daughter. However, any tension or scintillating suspense which such a harrowing plot would ordinarily create is worryingly dispelled by all the frustrating, tongue-in-cheek shenanigans which disappointingly accompany it; “Okay, but... I’m definitely writing your diner a strongly worded Yelp review.”

Foremost of these disconcerting distractions is the Harvey Award recipient’s treatment of Master Pandemonium. A major foe of the West Coast Avengers in the Mid-Eighties and able to “summon demons” after unwisely making a pact with Mephisto, this “master of the demon Riglevio” and holder of the Amulet of Azmodeus is rather ungraciously utilised as little more than a comic-relief cook whose arms persistently verbally abuse him. Indeed, one of this book’s most bemusing disappointments is how disrespectfully Martin Preston’s formidable alter-ego is ultimately defeated, courtesy of Doctor Strange simply being ludicrously sick all over him...

Equally as poorly treated and trivialised is the sister of Damion Hellstrom, Satana. “Groomed by... [her] father to be evil” and able to gain “strength by touching weapons that killed people”, it’s hard to take the succubus seriously when Aaron portrays her as little more than the seductively sultry owner of a devil-infested diner; even if it is supposedly her “all-new, all-different Hell.” Admittedly, “the daughter of Marduk Kurious” is as viciously spiteful and violent as any perusing bibliophile familiar with her fictional biography might expect. Yet, even her willingness to savagely stab the Sorcerer Supreme in the hand with a fork and malevolently threaten to feed him his “own eyeballs” for dessert disappointingly lacks any truly meaningful aura of genuine jeopardy.

‘First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
Writer: Jason Aaron, Artist: Chris Bachalo, and Letters: VC's Cory Petit

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Isola #1 - Image Comics

ISOLA No. 1, April 2018
Supposedly “intended to see publication in the spring of 2017”, Karl Kerschl’s “dream comic” concerning Captain Rook and her quest to see Queen Olwyn rightfully returned to her throne, is a simply beautifully told tale which quickly captivates the mind of its reader and enthrallingly promises to take them on a magical journey filled full of outlandish beasts, savage-hearted hunters, and hazardous jungle-based dangers. Indeed, even those bibliophiles who are completely oblivious to the twenty-six page periodical’s backstory, and resultantly are unaware of the Royal Guard captain’s vital mission or that her accompanying cyan-striped tiger is actually Maar’s monarch, will struggle not to be drawn into so engaging a yarn of love, dutiful obedience and jeopardy.

Admittedly, the premise behind Brenden Fletcher’s narrative for Issue One of “Isola” does sound somewhat similar to that of Sam Wanamaker’s 1977 fantasy film “Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger”, in that it is based upon a ruler’s sibling enacting “a treacherous plot to transform” them into an animal and the sovereign’s friend thus undertaking “a perilous journey halfway across the globe to… [a] fabled island” where they hope to return them “to human form.” But whereas actor Patrick Wayne had the kingdom of Charak’s wealth and support to aid him in his quest, the soldier in this comic has no-one to rely upon, not even seemingly their regal ward; “What are you waiting for, Godsdamnit?! Get over there and tear that muck’s head off before he tells his clan we’re --”

In fact, the Queen of Maar’s apparent lethargy towards her wickedly-wrought predicament is perhaps the book’s only weakness, with the great cat appearing nonsensically nonchalant about her dire situation and seemingly enjoying her opportunities to disregard the advice of her increasingly agitated guardian. Certainly one can understand Captain Rook’s frustrations when despite all her warnings and protestations the apex predator permits the eccentric stranger Pring to kiss her snout and then almost immediately afterwards fails to act when her lone, outnumbered protector battles three scavenging hunters.

Arguably the highlight of this publication however, is Kerschl’s gorgeous pencilling and incredibly animated storyboarding, which actually permits much of Fletcher’s tale to be told visually, as opposed to utilising word-heavy dialogue balloons. Enriched by the “lush colour work” of Msassyk, the sheer range of “exotic animals, sprawling forests, [and] mythic creatures” all “under one roof” really plays to the Canadian artist’s strengths and helps immerse even the most casual booklover into the leading cast’s tense, dilemma-filled travels.
The regular cover art of "ISOLA" No. 1 by Karl Kerschl and Msassyk

Friday, 20 April 2018

Star Trek: Discovery: Succession #1 - IDW Publishing

STAR TREK: DISCOVERY: SUCCESSION No. 1, April 2018
Proudly advertised by “IDW Publishing” as “an all-new miniseries tying directly into the hit CBS All Access show” and set “after the events of Star Trek: Discovery Season One”, at a time when “the U.S.S. Discovery and its crew have returned to their original timeline”, this twenty-page periodical’s narrative is certainly aimed at comic book collectors who follow the most recently broadcast television series, as opposed to being a storyline which would actually draw in new fans to Gene Roddenberry’s science fiction franchise. Indeed, any perusing bibliophile encountering Kirsten Beyer and Mike Johnson’s collaborative script would arguably be immediately thrown by its utter dependency upon its audience owning a comprehensive knowledge of the Emperor Philippa Georgiou Augustus Iaponius Centarius, her adopted daughter Captain Michael Burnham and her treacherous offspring’s “loyal consort” Gabriel Lorca.

To make matters worse, Issue One of “Star Trek: Discovery: Succession” doesn’t even provide its readership with any noticeable backstory to its cast whatsoever, simply throwing them straight in at the deep end with the destruction of the Imperial Flagship Charon and the subsequent assumption of ‘divine rule’ in the capital city, San Francisco, by Lord Alexander; “As my cousin’s only living relative, I hereby assume responsibility as leader of the Terran Empire. The Emperor is dead. Long live the Emperor.” Such political machinations and royal court conundrums, like Lord Henshu’s sudden, cold-blooded murder at the hands of the ever-ambitious Captain Detmer, are perhaps only to be expected given the brutally savage galaxy within which they occur, but surely it wouldn’t have hurt editor Sarah Gaydos to include the occasional text box within the odd panel explaining just who these various people are?

Fortunately however, such quibbles as to what motivates these characters don’t necessarily provide an impenetrable barrier to enjoying this publication, or prevent someone from becoming increasingly enthralled in the diverse intrigues of a “Mirror Universe” where absolutely no-one can be trusted, including “my most loyal aide, Commander Cornwell.” Competently pencilled by artist Angel Hernandez, the sheer number of callous betrayals depicted within this tome is both absolutely breath-taking and remarkably riveting, whether it be the “old and addled” Emperor apparently falling at the hand of her progeny’s sabotage, Alexander’s belief that he needs to “drown every non-human planet in a toxin keyed to the unique genetic makeup of each native species”, or Captain Airiam’s masterful power-play to exterminate the entire Shenzhou’s bridge crew by instantaneously depriving them of oxygen.
Writers: Kirsten Beyer & Mike Johnson, and Art: Angel Hernandez

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Dark Knight III: The Master Race #6 - DC Comics

DARK KNIGHT III: THE MASTER RACE No. 6, December 2016
Dousing the vast majority of their cast in the ghostly green-hued droplets of synthetic Kryptonite, Frank Miller and Brian Azzarello’s narrative for Book Six of “Dark Knight III: The Master Race” must surely have been as gritty and enthrallingly compelling as any of its impressive 133,642-strong readership could have wished for with its bloody depiction of pugilistic violence and barbaric savagery. In fact, this twenty-page periodical’s sadistic shocks simply don’t stop and range from the gratuitously graphic demise of a baseball bat-carrying vigilante by Baal through to the Kryptonian terrorist’s own gruesome facial mutilation courtesy of Robin and her primitive hand-held catapult.

Regrettably though, not all of the Maryland-born writer’s sense-shattering surprises are as fortuitous as Carrie Kelley’s aim with “a ballistic device” and Kryptonite pebble. True, for large portions of the text the weakened Kandorian cultists literally get their clock’s cleaned by the formerly downtrodden people of Gotham City and Commissioner Gordon’s immovable riot police. But before long a handful of foolishly brave Batboys are burned alive by an enraged son of Quar, whilst even the formidable tank-like Batmobile is disconcertingly demolished within the space of a few panels; “My, my. How totally human… Bringing a car, to a god fight.”

Foremost of these unhappy happenstances however, occurs during this publication’s particularly harrowing cliff-hanger ending, when its titular character is apparently mortally wounded by the cowardly “Leader of the Master Race” using his heat vision. An unbelievably emotive moment already, due to Andy Kubert’s superb pencilling of the heavily-armoured crime-fighter lifelessly falling into Clark Kent’s anguished arms, this heart-wrenching instant is made all the more bitter by the American artist subtly sketching in a cruel grin upon the lips of Quar as he cowardly flees the scene of his alien people’s unforeseen defeat.

Equally as engaging to any perusing bibliophile is this book’s mini-comic “Dark Knight Universe Presents: World’s Finest”. Initially focusing upon Batman’s livid green and purple costumed “Chosen One” and her outmatched confrontation with Superman’s all-powerful offspring Lara, this ‘short’, marvellously drawn by Frank Miller, swiftly transforms itself into a pulse-pounding punch-up between Wonder Woman and her errant daughter; “I’ve never experienced an earthquake, but no way it could measure up to this.”

‘First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
Story: Frank Miller & Brian Azzarello, Pencils: Andy Kubert, and Inks: Klaus Janson

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

The Amazing Spider-Man [2015] #31 - Marvel Comics

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN No. 31, October 2017
Whilst Dan Slott’s script for “End Of An Empire” must have undoubtedly pleased the vast majority of its 54,102 strong audience with its comic book long confrontation between Spider-Man and the Superior Octopus, this twenty-page periodical’s narrative must also disconcertingly have felt like some sort of callous rebooting of everything the Berkeley-born writer has ever penned for the titular character. Indeed, with the notable exception of depicting Otto Octavius as “a mere lackey” to Steven Rogers’ glorious Hydra, this third instalment to the series’ “Secret Empire” tie-in story-arc does arguably little else but eradicate any and all traces of the international company Parker Industries; a ‘golden thread’ which has arguably been both weaved and developed throughout Peter Parker’s life since “The Superior Spider-Man” was first published in January 2013.

Foremost of these purges has to be the Chief Executive Officer’s decision to destroy “all the great work we’ve done here” and literally tear down everything to do with his global business, including the Uncle Ben Foundation. This momentous edict debatably comes completely out of the blue, simply as a result of “Doc Ock” infiltrating the corporation’s computer systems, and shockingly results in the firm’s staff literally smashing away at their desks with fire-axes, hammers and fire extinguishers. In fact, the American author would even have his audience believe that Phillip Chang would willingly destroy “all my research… [when] I was so close… [to] a perfect green energy source” just because it had the “potential [to be a] weapon in the wrong hands.”

Just as remarkable is Peter’s decision to return to his original cloth-based costume, rather than continue to use his miraculous technologically-advanced web-slinging suit. Admittedly, his most recent spider-armour is shredded to pieces by Otto using an improved version of Harry Osborn’s electro-magnetic pulse, yet surely the supposed “proficient scientist and inventor” would have accounted for this inherent weakness in his apparel with a subsequent significant upgrade or even an alternative version utilising a different unsusceptible technology?

Regardless of these perceived plot-holes however, Issue Thirty-One of “Amazing Spider-Man” is undoubtedly a joy to behold due to Stuart Immonen’s sense-shattering illustrations. The Canadian penciller must have had a blast sketching all the spider-riders scuttling across the glass-windowed side of Parker Industries’ Shanghai headquarters, whilst this comic book’s readers surely felt every single one of the blows Octavius receives during his fisticuffs with Spider-man; “You spiteful man! You won’t let me have anything!”

‘First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
The regular cover art of "THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN" No. 31 by Alex Ross

Monday, 16 April 2018

Vampblade: Season Three #1 - Action Lab Comics

VAMPBLADE: SEASON THREE No. 1, March 2018
Lest there be any doubt in any perusing bibliophile’s mind that this title is for seriously “mature readers only”, Jason Martin’s script for Issue One of “Vampblade” opens up with his titular character firing off a quartet of ‘f-bombs’ before “Down The Vamp Hole” has even started, and disconcertingly doesn’t have Katie Carva stop spouting expletives until the “other-dimensional vampire” slayer has switched into a Queen Amidala costume and saved her alternate younger self from being murdered by the twenty-two year-old’s possessed cuddly toy collection. Such colourful metaphor-based shenanigans disconcertingly seem to be the core feature of the American author’s unnerving, over sexualised narrative, and arguably only adds to the continuous assault upon the senses with which this book’s graphic contents assails its readership.

Admittedly, that doesn’t necessarily mean though that there’s no fun to be had with “Action Lab Comics” ‘rebooted’ risqué story of a mystically-bladed cosplayer fending off “the Glarkian space vampire invasion all over again…” If the more morality-laden readers amongst this tome’s audience can momentarily set aside their Victorian values then the periodical’s opening panels alone do a rather stellar job of both providing the uninitiated with a rather tongue-in-cheek introduction to this warped incarnation of downtown Detroit, as well as providing a few laughs along the way; “The translucent space dicks decided to change up their game and go full on scorched Earth!”

Likewise, Martin isn’t stingy about imbuing his eighteen-page long script with plenty of over-the-top violence either, as the “comic shop owner” literally severs hands, impales chests and guts criminals with her evidently lethal namesake weaponry, whilst all the time wearing next to nothing. Why, even Vampblade’s previously deceased father gets in on the graphically-pencilled action, courtesy of a behind the counter hand-gun and a somewhat callous head-shot which partially blows away the brains of a temporarily distracted, bald-headed robber.

Possibly this book’s biggest attraction however, is in its dynamically-charged, colourful and cartoony illustrations. Featuring the work of “new artist” Marcelo Costa, a Brazilian with a clear talent for turning even the most harmless looking stuffed animals into terrifyingly frenzied killing machines, few observers can surely question the forceful speed with which either version of Carva can wield her razor-sharp throwing swords, or just how blood-flow stoppingly tight the girls’ minimal “getup” is.

‘First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
The regular cover art of "VAMPBLADE: SEASON THREE" No. 1 by Marcelo Costa

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Rom: Tales Of The Solstar Order #1 - IDW Publishing

ROM: TALES OF THE SOLSTAR ORDER No. 1, March 2018
Advertised by “IDW Publishing” as a “special re-presentation of Rom comic co-creator Sal Buscema’s storied return to the character… along with bonus art, an interview… and other cool extras”, this one-shot rather beautifully collects the “series of back-up strips” initially printed in Issue Eleven of “Rom” into a single “special” edition. As a result, regular readers of the Spaceknight’s ongoing monthly title probably won’t take much more from Christos Gage & Chris Ryall collaborative writing, except perhaps all the additional material, such as pencilled panels, crammed into the back of the book. But for those bibliophiles unfamiliar with the San Diego-based company’s currently licensed series, this eighteen-page long narrative contains an entertaining look at the Wraithslayer’s “third wheel”, Fy-Laa, and their genuinely sorrowful “last mission together”.

Indeed, for many of this comic’s 2,288 readers, the one-time Velovian living on Elonia is arguably the star of this tale, ill-advisedly trying to live up to his best friend’s expectations one minute by unwisely ‘bulking-up’ his crystalline armour so as to look “more menacing”, and then nobly sacrificing himself at the adventure’s end when he realises he has been ‘fatally’ contaminated by “the strange planet of Verdulun-5” and its Dire Wraith desire for universal domination. Admittedly, the “assimilated” member of the Solstar Order does spend the vast majority of “Battle Scars” trying to kill the titular character, or at least damage Rom’s protective panoply so as to allow the planet-wide collective through his defences. Yet even amidst such despicable treachery, Fy-Laa is still, in his addled mind at any rate, simply trying to bring “a peace that, together, with our ability to fly unaided through space we will carry to every living being in existence”, rather than maliciously betraying his old chum from the Elonia University of Arts and Sciences.

Of course, this marvellous magazine’s greatest asset is its rich-looking illustrations, which prove a joy to behold, especially to those long enough in the tooth to remember Sal Buscema’s original “ten-year run as artist of The Incredible Hulk” and “Marvel Comics” 1979 Galadorian incarnation of the Spaceknight. Impressively pencilled by Guy Dorian Senior, this narrative’s leading cast really impress in every single panel within which they appear, whilst the New York-born inker’s finishing is magnificently ‘highlighted’ throughout the book’s printing process to the point where one can debatably see every single embellishment the eighty-two year-old has made over the original artwork.
Plot & Script: Christos Gage & Chris Ryall, Pencils: Guy Dorian Senior, and Inks: Sal Buscema

Saturday, 14 April 2018

The Immortal Men #1 - DC Comics

THE IMMORTAL MEN No. 1, June 2018
Originally planned for a December 2017 release as “part of the New Age of DC Heroes line”, this twenty-page periodical would seem to have suffered a series of delays before the Burbank-based publishing company’s “Direct Channel” retail newsletter finally confirmed it had been re-solicited for April instead. Whatever the reason for its delay, with one rumour being that co-creator Jim Lee subsequently signed “on to illustrate a Brian Michael Bendis’ story for… Action Comics #1000”, it certainly doesn’t seem to have affected the quality of either the writing or artwork. In fact, for some of this book’s younger bibliophiles they’ll doubtless be the enjoyably exhilarating feeling of following in a specially-gifted super-team’s footsteps for the first time and the excitement which comes with the recruitment to their roster of someone who will supposedly “save the world”; a somewhat familiar sentiment to those who experienced Chris Claremont’s opening instalment of “New Mutants” way back in 1983…

Fortunately, such obvious comparisons to “Marvel Comics” mutants and Professor Charles Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters is arguably a strength to James Tynion IV’s script for Issue One of “The Immortal Men”, as it allows the New Yorker to consistently wrong-foot those within this comic’s older audience who unwisely believe that they’ve seen “The End Of Forever” all before. Foremost of these compelling contradictions is the fact that the Campus, “the Fifth house of the Immortals” and “one mile beneath Philadelphia”, has been utterly destroyed, along with hundreds of the refuge’s occupants. In addition, the remaining team members, whilst clearly a formidably-strong band of super-powered heroes, are alarmingly already on the run for their very lives from a foe whose seemingly easy ability to kill their kind make her appear awfully omnipotent.

Such ‘hooks’ really help immerse the reader into the narrative, and one can’t help but feel their pulse pound as Jim Lee dynamically pencils Ghost Fist leading the Immortal Man’s shell-shocked survivors headlong down “a much different sort of secret cavern” in a desperate escape bid, whilst the Infinite Woman, the Hunt and their multiple-fanged, dire wraith-like monsters track them down. Certainly, when coupled with Caden Park’s emergence as a meta-human, this all-pervading sense of persecution and flight makes it hard to put the publication down until it ends with a wickedly delightful cliff-hanger on board a claustrophobic underground train carriage; “I think you know the answer. I think you’ve always known we’re the Immortal Men. Now get up and fight.”
Storytellers: Jim Lee, Ryan Benjamin & James Tynion IV, and Letterer: Carlos M. Mangual

Friday, 13 April 2018

Moon Knight #188 - Marvel Comics

MOON KNIGHT No. 188, January 2018
Billed by “Marvel Worldwide” as “a new day is dawning” with “the introduction of Moon Knight’s greatest nemesis”, this twenty-five page periodical may well have initially disconcerted many of its 50,971 buyers in November 2017. For whilst Max Bemis’ opening instalment to his “Crazy Runs In The Family” story-arc initially appears to follow the titular character’s previous series by focusing upon Doctor Emmett at the Ravencroft Asylum, the New York City-born writer’s narrative soon leads it audience off down a different, yet somewhat familiar track, following another “lunatic [who] joins the army… freaks out and ends up spiritually reborn in a near-death experience.”

Indeed, despite Patient 86’s lank, long hair and somewhat dishevelled beard, it’s all too easy to momentarily believe the disconcertingly obsessed psychiatrist isn’t actually once again re-interviewing Marc Spector, rather than a simply new patient whose hands have been heavily burnt during the multiple military murders he’s previously committed. Fortunately however, such similarities to the cowled crime-fighter’s mental instability actually makes the popular singer’s slightly surreal scenario all the more enthralling, especially when the well-meaning therapist introduces the disgraced soldier “to Egyptian mythology, specifically the god Amon Ra” and her enquiries at the United States Department of Veterans Affairs reveal that “the nameless one” was actually “tied up [and] naked” when he killed the army bullies tormenting him; “How could he possibly have started that fire? No matches. No lighter.”

Coupled with the softly spoken patient’s swelling semblance of sanity, these fleeting glimpses into the Old Kingdom’s pantheon rather cleverly suggest that perhaps it is the counsellor who is struggling to keep her fixations in check, and definitely must have wrong-footed this book’s bibliophiles when the “indie rock” composer finally reveals Patient 86’s true identity in his script’s final act. Delightfully, this truly horrific conclusion, wonderfully sketched by Jacen Burrows, and featuring a heavily-restrained, blood-drenched “Amon Ra” who has bitten off Nurse Hayworth’s nose, is made all the more jarringly shocking by the fact that up until this point, besides a briefly pencilled Doctor Emmett nightmare sequence, this comic had contained a rather pleasantly paced plot.   

Interestingly, Issue One Hundred And Eighty Eight of “Moon Knight” also contains an incredibly atmospheric three-page short, written by Robbie Thompson, which seems to confirm a plausible assumption behind this “bizarre” publication that Marc Spector has in fact “managed to make peace” with his multiple personality disorder, as well as Khonshu’s voice, so that “together, we are… Moon Knight”. This brief exposé strongly suggests that previous writer Jeff Lemire’s fourteen-edition long story-arc potentially never happened, especially as artist German Peralta pencils the Moon deity protectively supporting the “mercenary, scoundrel, lunatic” rather than his servant destroying him…

‘First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
Writer: Max Bemis, Artist: Jacen Burrows, and Colorist: Mat Lopes

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Goosebumps: Download And Die! #1 - IDW Publishing

GOOSEBUMPS: DOWNLOAD AND DIE! No. 1, February 2018
Proudly promoted by “IDW Publishing” as “the second three-issue arc in R.L Stine’s Goosebumps comic series”, this opening instalment to “Download And Die!” wastes little time in bringing the narrative’s leading cast together and providing the three schoolgirls with plenty of characterisation and adolescent angst. In fact initially, Jen Vaughn’s plot for this twenty-page periodical appears to realistically replicate all the peer-pressures found within a typical learning institution’s wall-locker filled corridor, and if anything actually wrong-foots the reader by arguably implying that newcomer Flips1101101, a ‘celebrity’ from the Travellers Of The Frost leaderboard, is possibly going to be the ‘one to watch’ within the Oklahoma-born writer’s storyline.

Enjoyably however, this book’s creator doesn’t simply follow the all-too obvious pathway followed by the likes of Kevin Williamson’s 1998 American science fiction teen horror film   “The Faculty”, and instead soon makes it clear that the focus of her story will be Merhdad’s sister, Mitra, rather than the so-called ‘friend-stealing’ Amanda Sneeds. This focus really helps bring Kyra’s somewhat jealous pal to the forefront of the story, and her increasing frustration at the fact that her best mate goes to the mall, “then a movie” and even runs into Weather, a girl Mitra clearly has a crush upon, all without her, provides plenty of rationalisation as to why she later foolishly utilises a mysterious state-of-the-art telephone which someone has suspiciously sent her without asking; “You’re not still angry about me going to the movies with Flips, are you?”

Of course, as far as the smartphone is concerned, all the warnings are there to be seen by the reader, and few in this comic’s audience probably needed Steelbreaker to voice her well-founded cautionary advice for her buddy to tell her parents about the unsolicited gift. Even so, Mitra’s unwise decision to post her school’s unfriendly “dumb computer hogs…” onto social media using some of the Deadroom application’s vomiting stickers still proves a somewhat engaging spate of storytelling, despite the fact that the boys becoming stomach-churningly ill a short time later comes as no surprise whatsoever.

Quite possibly this book’s greatest asset though is Michelle Wong’s clean-lined and somewhat cartoony-looking artwork. Competently drawn, and easy upon the eyes with more than a hint of Manga, especially when used to pencil the “three musketeers” playing their ‘dungeons and dragons’ computer game, it’s clear from this magazine’s storyboarding just how much the Hong Kong artist does indeed “love drawing cute characters… and monsters”.
The regular cover art of "GOOSEBUMPS: DOWNLOAD AND DIE!" No. 1 by Michelle Wong