Saturday, 30 June 2018

The Amazing Spider-Man #791 - Marvel Comics

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN No. 791, January 2018
Considering just how simplistic the script to Issue Seven Hundred And Ninety One of “The Amazing Spider-Man” arguably is, it probably didn’t come as too much of a surprise to the comic’s 50,358 readers in November 2017 that “Marvel Worldwide” desperately attempted to boost the book’s sensationalism by advertising that its biggest selling point was the titular character and Mockingbird “flying in the air, K-I-S-S-I-N-G!” Yet whilst this third instalment to Dan Slott’s “Fall Of Parker” does somewhat focus upon the ‘blooming romance’ between the former C.E.O. of Parker Industries and Bobbie Morse, the duo’s relationship is hardly as overt as Alex Ross’ cover illustration suggests, nor is it arguably ever placed in jeopardy as a result of “down on his luck” Peter’s “latest conflict”.

Indeed, the vast majority of "Back To Ground" actually focuses upon the first day at the Daily Bugle for Joseph Robertson’s latest “full-time employee” and the Science Section’s subsequent “field trip” to Humanitech Robotics Incorporated in Upstate New York, rather than the two lovers’ costumed alter-egos battling container-cracking criminals on the Waterfront. This “guided tour” of Doctor Xander Zynn’s major corporation feels strangely reminiscent of some of the former photographer’s earliest adventures, when his thirst for knowledge led the then teenaged human mutate into all sorts of misadventures, and whilst the visit invariably does conclude in a mass night-time battle with an army of robotic Humanitrons, it hardly places any pressure upon the fast-developing bond between "two of the Avengers"; “Hey, Petey. Yeah. Everything’s great over here. More important, how’s your first day at the new gig going?”

Of course, the highlight to this twenty-one page periodical is undoubtedly Spider-Man and Mockingbird’s stealthy sojourn into the aforementioned “high-tech place” and their discovery that the “bad guy” has been cyber-enslaving Quicksand. Dynamically drawn by Stuart Immonen, the revelation that the sand used to ‘power’ the cute-looking automatons’ smart silicon matrixes weren’t “actually trapped parts of” the Sandman after all, but instead belonged to an adversary of Thor who was once a “member of Superia's all-female criminal organization the Femizons” makes for a pleasant surprise, and doubtless caught many in this comic’s audience as off-guard as it does Web-Head himself.

‘First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
Writer: Dan Slott, Penciler: Stuart Immnonen, and Inker: Wade von Grawbadger

Friday, 29 June 2018

Avengers [2018] #2 - Marvel Comics

AVENGERS No. 2, July 2018
Shifting 66,646 copies in May 2018, “Still Avenging After All These Years” arguably doesn’t let its audience pause for breath until its final shell-shocker of a concluding cliff-hanger which reveals that Loki, “the greatest Avenger who ever lived”, has been aiding the Final Host of Dark Celestials in their bid to “correct the grievous mistake they made one million years ago.” True, Jason Aaron’s script does contain one quiet moment where a “surprised” Jennifer Walters encounters a tower-block sized dead giant which “fell from the sky”, but the lawyer is immediately forced to transform into the She-Hulk courtesy of an attack by a host of killer robotic arachnids, and subsequently sets about ‘squishing’ the extra-terrestrial life-forms with all the savage ferocity one would expect from Bruce Banner’s cousin; “Though I suppose the Avengers rainbow just wouldn’t look the same without the usual splash of green.”

Similarly as sense-shattering is the gamma-fuelled human mutate’s one-on-one with Ghost Rider, which entertainingly sees the former member of the Fantastic Four impressively wreck Roberto Reyes’ “demon-possessed car” with her bare hands and then battle the “skeletal superhuman wreathed in ethereal flame” in close combat. Sadly, the Alabama-born author’s rationale behind this titanic tussle is a little artificially penned, due to She-Hulk supposedly being momentarily mesmerised by one of the fallen Celestials. Yet debatably such a contrivance is easily forgivable, especially when such an exhilaratingly well story-boarded punch-up concludes with the “ghost of Eli Morrow” briefly encircling his enraged opponent with his sickle-ending chains and watching her being towed away by his fiery “black classic muscle car”.

Unfortunately however, this significant spotlight upon Stan Lee’s savage co-creation also means that the Black Panther and Doctor Strange’s struggle against a (second) wave of metallic spiders deep beneath the crust of the Earth is frustratingly relegated to just a single panel inside the twenty-page periodical, with an incredibly impotent attack upon the death-dealing Dark Celestials by “Marvel’s big three Avengers” occupying the vast majority of the publication’s remaining ‘screen time’. Such a disappointing visual disparity between the super-group’s myriad of members is then unhappily made all the more infuriating by Ed McGuinness’ disconcertingly poor pencilling of Captain America, Thor and Iron Man, as the perturbingly square-headed, angular-looking trio desperately attempt to teleport their opponents into the molten centre of the Solar System using “omega-level warp grenades attuned to the coordinates of the Sun.”

‘First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
Writer: Jason Aaron, Penciller: Ed McGuinness, and Inker: Mark Morales with Jay Leisten

Thursday, 28 June 2018

The Amazing Spider-Man #790 - Marvel Comics

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN No. 790, December 2017
It would be interesting to know just how much of the script to Issue Seven Hundred And Ninety of “The Amazing Spider-Man” Christos Gage actually penned, considering that this second instalment to Dan Slott’s “Fall Of Parker” story-arc arguably portrays a rather cowardly, rashly-natured titular character who seems to have far more in common with the hot-headed Johnny Storm than the “owner and operator of a worldwide technology firm” who heroically destroyed the company so as “to keep it out of Doctor Octopus’s hands.”

Admittedly, this twenty-page periodical starts off well enough with Peter sincerely completing his “apology tour” of both staff and consumers. But just as soon as Harry Osborn makes mention of him having to attend the sale of the Fantastic Four’s old headquarters, this comic’s creative couple would have its 52,833 readers believe the former Daily Bugle reporter would actually “bail” on his friend simply so his battered ego can be inflated with fans queuing up for selfies, elderly citizens offering to cook him some “real Italian food”, praise from New York City’s motorists and the adoration of teenagers as he plays ‘hippity-hoppity’ with them; “Strawberry shortcake, cream on top! Tell me the name of your sweetheart! Is it A, B, C--” 

This fainthearted “poo-head Parker” genuinely grates upon the nerves and seems badly at odds with the decidedly determined web-slinger this comic has previously depicted desperately trying to make amends for his past mistakes. However, to make matters worse, "Breaking Point" then also depicts a surprisingly fiery Web-head uncaringly risking the sale of the Baxter Building by refusing to apologise to the Human Torch for selling the place "to some... some condo-flipping finance bro", even though he had promised “to hold onto it… until that day the Fantastic Four are finally back!” Indeed, this book’s version of the web-slinger actually seems eager for “Matchstick” to “bring it”, just so the pair of supposed friends can once again monotonously wreak havoc with their tediously familiar exchange of webbing, flame-balls and insults…

As a result, besides Stuart Immonen’s marvellous pencilling which consistently imbues even the most sedentary of scenes with dynamic life and energy, this publication appears to have had little to offer its audience in October 2017 apart from some intriguing insights into the criminal motivation behind Clash. Enraged by Parker Industries taking the credit for his discoveries and subsequently planning “to sell off the things I invented”, Clayton Cole’s villainous robber cuts a semi-sympathetic figure when compared to other members of Spider-Man’s more nefarious Rogues Gallery, and it’s rather pleasing to see the crooked 'anti-hero' successfully make off with his ‘stolen’ technological gadgets after watching him momentarily aid his nemesis in the deactivation of “a self-recharging power source” capable of taking “out the whole block!”

‘First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
Plot: Dan Slott, Script: Christos Gage, Penciler: Stuart Immnonen, and Inker: Wade von Grawbadger

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Avengers [2018] #1 - Marvel Comics

AVENGERS No. 1, July 2018
Printed as part of “Marvel Comics” “revamping [of] its entire publishing line in 2018”, this Jason Aaron reboot sold an impressive 131,450 copies upon its release and certainly seemed to deliver on the Alabama-born writer’s double promise of it featuring “the biggest characters” and going “to the coolest, most exotic locations around the Marvel Universe.” Indeed, it’s arguably hard to think of a broader scope to a story than the one contained within Issue One of “Avengers” as the “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” bravely battle both a downpour of “giant dead bodies falling from the sky… all over the globe” and a robotic arachnid army “miles below the surface” where “the pressure here would crush me into a puddle of goo and then the air would set that goo on fire.”

Alongside “Marvel’s big three Avengers”, the thirty-two page periodical even features “the popular stars of last year’s massive Marvel Legacy one-shot: the Avengers of 1,000,000 B.C.”, utilising the “group of powerful beings assembled at the dawn of man” as a sense-shattering springboard into its modern-day tale of the Final Host of Dark Celestials arriving to destroy the Earth. Such a massive cast admittedly means that few characters obtain much in the way of ‘screen time’, but even so the interplay between Doctor Strange and T’Challa deep beneath the Earth’s crust, as well as Roberto Reyes’ almost antagonistic relationship with “his demon-possessed car” genuinely must have made this book’s readers wanting to see more.

Unfortunately however, perhaps as a result of being so ‘super-sized’ this “fresh start” does sag in its story-telling from time to time, most notably when it focuses upon Tony Stark’s grating doubts as to the validity of reassembling the Avengers alongside “Hydra Cap” and “The Unworthy Thor”. It’s clear that having returned from “suddenly being clinically dead”, the genius engineer has his doubts about hurling his body back into the fray so soon, yet surely the American author didn’t need to spend quite so many panels, intermixed throughout this comic, laboriously depicting the business magnate’s negative view-point; “In the beginning it just happened. It wasn’t us. It was actually more Loki than us. And who says it has to be the three of us anymore at the--”

Rather agreeably though, Ed McGuinness’ clean-lined pencilling imbues even these boring bar room scenes with some semblance of energic urgency, through his clever use of Thor Odinson as an increasingly enraged advocate of the team embracing its ideals. In addition, the American artist also provides plenty of jaw-dropping visuals for the rest of this tome’s ensemble, such as the somewhat surreal, face-hugger egg-sack infested catacombs uncovered by the Black Panther, or the significantly sized “2,000 feet long” Celestials crashing amidst the world’s most populated civilisations.

‘First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
Writer: Jason Aaron, Penciller: Ed McGuinness, and Inker: Mark Morales

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

The Brave And The Bold: Batman And Wonder Woman #5 - DC Comics

THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD: BATMAN AND WONDER WOMAN No. 5, August 2018
There is a decidedly dour feel to the quality of Issue Five of “The Brave And The Bold: Batman And Wonder Woman” which probably made many in this mini-series’ audience wonder whether the combined responsibilities of being both the title’s writer and artist was beginning to prove a little too burdensome for Liam Sharp after so many months work. In fact, with the exception of the Derby-born drawer’s impressive-looking cover illustration, as frustratingly misleading as to the book’s interior contents as it is dynamically staged, this entire twenty-two page periodical lacks any feeling of animated life or vitality until its final splash depicts the pointy-eared King McCool leading his desperate forces into “one last, great battle” whilst riding upon a giant boar.

Up until this point sadly, the “co-founder/CCO of Madefire Inc” seemingly offers little in the way of entertainment except bucket loads of dialogue and a plot twist which arguably makes something of a mockery of this comic’s previous four instalments by revealing that King Elatha actually faked his own demise so as to escape to the Dark Knight’s Gotham City. This surprising change of events, which the Caped Crusader only suddenly solves having finally gotten round to interrogating the sole murder suspect, Donal of the De Danann, admittedly comes as a total shock, but not as much as the book’s subsequent scene which depicts the pony-tailed monarch abusing “the fullness of body [which] is sacred to the rulers of the Sidhe” by willingly chopping his own forearm off on a wooden table; “Forgive me, Mother Danu! I do this for us all!”

Such a moment of grisly mutilation, only just pencilled ‘off camera’, at least contains a purpose to progress the story by allowing the now-maimed ruler of Tir Na Nog to don the Silver Arm of Nuada and use the “powerful Sidhe artefact” to “open the old causeways… out in the world…” Yet just why it took “the World's Greatest Detective” so many days before deciding to speak to this heinous crime’s sole witness and discover so “grave [a] missing detail” is rather baffling, unless of course it was simply a disappointingly lazy contrivance for this tale’s author to provide Elatha with time enough to lop off the aforementioned limb..?

Sadly, Sharp’s sketching also appears similarly as lack lustre as this particular tome’s pedestrian penmanship, with many of the publication’s panels lacking his usual fine attention to detail. Indeed, Cernunnos, Batman, the King and especially Balor Evil-Eye, all appear to have been hurriedly pencilled from time to time, with only the occasional glimmer showing through as to Liam’s true talent, such as when the “dread army of Sea Fomorians” stride out from their centuries long captivity.

‘First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
Writer/Artist: Kevin Sharp, and Colors: Romulo Fajardo Jr.

Monday, 25 June 2018

The Immortal Men #3 - DC Comics

THE IMMORTAL MEN No. 3, August 2018
Many of this publication’s audience probably strongly related to Caden Park’s predicament when he awakes at the start of this comic from what the teenager clearly hoped had been a fevered nightmare in which he’d seen his murdered parents transformed into multi-fanged bestial killers. For whilst James Tynion IV’s script undeniably contains plenty of exposition concerning its plethora of cast members, most notably a condensed origin of Ghost Fist and an intriguing indication as to the complex relationship between former friends Reload and the Hunt, it also disconcertingly contains very little in the way of action, plot progression or escape…

Indeed, arguably all this twenty-page periodical provided its readers in June 2018 was a seemingly endless series of dialogue-heavy diatribes, which whilst occasionally interesting, such as Roderick Clay’s miraculous transportation into the near future, increasingly gets ‘bogged down’ with weighty word balloon after cram-packed text box. Frustratingly, to make matters worse for the optics though, a large portion of these conversations don’t even use the same font or colour scheme, and doubtless caused any perusing bibliophile to painfully squint at the ghastly red on black background speeches of The Batman Who Laughs or the Infinite Woman’s merging mix of orange upon orange...

Even Patrick Kowalski’s incarceration within the Siege holding cell suffers as a result of Carlos M. Mangual’s diabolical lettering, and scimitar-wielding gaoler’s purple-pigmented stylised font. True, it’s easy to understand the basic message behind the scene considering that their ‘flashback’ to soldiering in Vietnam shoulder-to-shoulder appears so very similar to the history behind “Marvel Worldwide” characters Wolverine and Sabretooth. But even so, it still takes something of a patient eye to slowly wade through all of its lengthy discourse; “If we don’t stoke the fire of the Eternal War now, they won’t be able to fight when it counts. Saving the World is no longer a future endeavour. It must happen now.”

Unfortunately, little solace can debatably be taken from the pencilling on show within Issue Three of “The Immortal Men”, despite Ryan Benjamin clearly trying to adopt every storyboarding trick in the book to try and liven up its sedentary-paced narrative. Irregular-size panels, single splashes, letter-box sequences and double-page layouts are all utilised by the American artist in an effort to imbue this title’s figures with some dynamism, yet nothing can seemingly save Tynion IV’s lack-lustre “Bloodless” penmanship.

‘First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
Storytellers: Ryan Benjamin & James Tynion IV, and Inker: Richard Friend

Sunday, 24 June 2018

Aquaman/Jabberjaw Special #1 - DC Comics

AQUAMAN/JABBERJAW SPECIAL No. 1, July 2018
Relying upon a number of in-jokes based upon Steven Spielberg’s 1975 American thriller film “Jaws”, the start to Dan Abnett’s script for this “legitimately considered part of the Aquaman canon” crossover must have had many of its 21,088 readers smirking away to themselves quite merrily. For whilst the frequency of the comic cast’s “What. The. F--” exclamations appears disconcertingly out of place within the narrative of a “brand new Hanna-Barbera” publication, the thirty-page periodical’s astounding similar beginning to that of “one of the greatest films ever made” proves a superbly written homage to “the prototypical summer blockbuster”, especially when a handful of panels later Officer Erika Watson’s lunch-time conversation regarding “recent shark attacks” is interrupted by a diner employee ‘innocently’ screeching “the new specials” on the restaurant’s black board in chalk…  

Sadly however, once these similarities fade, and the action moves away from Amnesty Bay to Los Aquales, “one of the biggest cities in Aqualand”, the British-born author’s innovation seemingly dries up, resulting in a disappointingly unimaginative adventure involving the Neptunes pop band discovering a clichéd criminal who is determined to ensure “people will never trust the sea enough to start living in it!” This plodding plot, which amongst other ingredients contains a giant mechanical sea-bed based shark, may well have proved entirely suitable for an episode of the Seventies “Saturday morning animated series”, but when written “for the stoic and serious tone of Abnett’s Aquaman”, which palatably ‘kicks in’ once the titular characters arrive at “the future undersea utopia”, provides little in the way of either enthralling engagement or entertainment. Certainly, it’s hard to take any script seriously when its central villain ends up in an “I am too” argument with Arthur Curry over whether he can use the moniker Ocean Master...

“A Bigger Beat” is though happily blessed with some excellent pencilling by Paul Pelletier, who brings a distinctly realistic look to Joe Ruby’s “air-breathing, anthropomorphic great white shark”. Quite literally towering over the “Human-Atlantean Hybrid”, the well-animated Jabberjaw is undoubtedly the star attraction of this comic, and is only momentarily bested when the American artist sketches a frenzied shoal of “ultra-aggressive”, red-eyed sharks, which come dangerously close to chomping Aquaman in half with their formidably sharp-toothed maws; “Can you believe it? They mistook me for a killer shark! Hyuk-yuk-yuk! I’m not. By the way.”

Such praise though cannot unfortunately be heaped upon Scott Kolins’ illustration work for this comic’s secondary tale, “Captain Caveman!”, a stupefying surreal eight-pager which depicts the wizard Shazam winning a bet over the Spectre that heroism is not “a relatively recent trait” by transporting “an offshoot of Neanderthal” to the modern world and granting the hairy primate the gift of speech “so you can begin to understand this world.” Roughly drawn with its somewhat awkwardly angular figures, Jeff Parker’s incarnation of "Cavey" is regrettably a far cry from television writer Ken Spears' lovable “prehistoric caveman… thawed from a block of ice”, even if he does have him besting monsters, Manhunters, Nazis and even winning a baking tournament..?

‘First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
The regular cover art of "AQUAMAN/JABBERJAW SPECIAL" No. 1 by Paul Pelletier & Gabe Eltaeb

Thursday, 21 June 2018

The Curse Of Brimstone #2 - DC Comics

THE CURSE OF BRIMSTONE No. 2, July 2018
Justin Jordan and Philip Tan’s storytelling for Issue Two of “The Curse Of Brimstone” must surely have provided a modicum of entertainment for many of this comic’s 20,244 strong audience in May 2018, what with its narrative’s emotional interplay between Joe Chamberlain and his strong-willed, determined sister, as well as the book’s subsequent brutal battle between the titular character and the Hound. But whilst the Pennsylvania-born writer’s script undoubtedly contains plenty of plot progression and pulse-pounding action, especially towards the end of the book as Annie fearlessly drives at the Salesman’s frosty servant in a car, the sense of personal realism which arguably made its previous instalment such compelling entertainment, is somewhat unaccountably lacking within this particular twenty-page periodical.

For starters, despite spending a considerable amount of ‘sheet-space’ patiently exploring the young man’s fiery curse, alongside his sibling’s almost simultaneous discovery of her brother’s fiery condition, the couple’s combined reaction to his apparent destruction of “the whole town” is to rather illogically seek out the “persuasive operative” working for the mysterious Home Office, despite the fact they know their “Dad’s out plowing so that emergency crews can get around. True, the pair quickly agree that “the devil” who transformed the jobless Joseph “tricked you into a bad deal with promises and persuasion”, yet as their father is out in such a dangerous environment, wouldn’t his children's first thoughts actually be to ensure his safety..?

Instead, courtesy of the ‘partially destroyed’ small settlement’s internet contrivingly still operating, Jo and Annie assume an unconvincing ‘Scooby Gang’ mentality by investigating a “thread… about a town in Oklahoma where something like what you saw in your dream happened”, and resultantly soon find themselves unashamedly rummaging through the “only room rented out” at the York Hills Inn looking for clues. Unbelievably, to make matters even more coincidental though, this publication’s audience are then asked to believe the Salesman would leave his ledger containing all his “transactions” behind; “He destroyed them all. Every town was emptied out. One was drowned, another fell to… cannibalism. I think that’s what he wants… To make every place a nightmare version of themselves.”

Fortunately, despite Jordan’s script feeling somewhat reminiscent of a Seventies Hannah-“Barbera Productions” animated television series, Tan’s instantly recognisable artwork imbues this comic’s cast with plenty of animated life, even when the dialogue-heavy, somewhat sedentary scene in question simply depicts a naked Chamberlain being roused from a nightmare by his concerned, similarly red-headed relation, or Annie answering her mobile phone to discover her father “has told” this title’s lead antagonist “so much about you.” Indeed, the Manilan’s scintillating sketching of Brimstone’s battle with the Hound is debatably this book’s highlight moment, with the astonishingly swift, cold-hearted “demonic agent” appearing disconcertingly deadly even though she is facing a hero capable of manipulating Hellfire itself.

‘First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
Storytellers: Philip Tan & Justin Jordan, and Colorist: Rain Beredo

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Star Trek: The Next Generation: Through The Mirror #5 - IDW Publishing

STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION: THROUGH THE MIRROR No. 5, May 2018
Whilst the rationale behind “IDW Publishing” having the “Tipton brothers” join “forces with several artists” in order to help share the pencilling burden for “a weekly event miniseries that pits the Mirror crew against the crew from the prime universe” makes some sense, editor Sarah Gaydos’ choice to utilise the drawing skills of Debora Carita for Issue Five of “Star Trek: The Next Generation: Through The Mirror” arguably must have caused some of the comic’s readers to frown at the book’s decidedly different interior work when compared to the clean cartoon(ish) lines of the Brazilian’s predecessor’s Josh Hood or Chris Johnson.

Admittedly, the professional illustrator’s slightly disconcerting technique to heavily sketch her characters’ facial features does provide the war-like invaders of the Martorelles Array with a palpable sense of savagery which her forerunners' storyboarding occasionally had lacked, especially her heavily scarred one-eyed William Riker or dastardly despicable version of the evil Jean-Luc Picard. But such a scratchy style sadly doesn’t appear to suit that of the U.S.S. Enterprise’s “fully armed Away Team”, and resultantly actor Patrick Stewart’s Starfleet captain seemingly lurches from having a decidedly disorganised amount of unruly hair surrounding his ordinarily bald head to apparently obtaining an unsightly squint whenever he issues an order; “Commander Data, Ensign Crusher, continue your efforts to find ways to detect them and prevent them from crossing over in the future.”

Of course, such creative quibbles were probably quickly cast aside by this sixteen-page periodical’s audience once its action-packed phaser-fight started, and despite any strong doubts concerning the artificial nature of coincidences which caused the two bridge crews to fortuitously meet face-to-face within a deserted space station, few franchise fans would surely have criticised the sense-shattering shoot-out which follows Mirror Picard’s order to “engage!” Indeed, the carousel of zinging laser beams and resultant pulse-pounding punch-up between the two super-strong androids is debatably the highlight of the entire title’s run, even if David Tipton’s belief his writing portrays the captain’s “alternate-universe counterpart” as “a surprisingly nuanced character… [who’s] skilled at dealing with people in ways you might not expect” doesn’t appear borne out by this publication’s viciously vengeful, unashamedly barbaric doppelganger…

Sadly however, despite such an injection of entertaining interaction between the comic’s considerable cast, the collaborative couple’s script for their secondary tale “Ripe For Plunder” ends on something of a debatable disappointment, having spent so long bringing the Mirror Soong-type automaton and Emperor Spock together. Suddenly all-too menacing and determined for the elderly half-Vulcan to “give me what I want”, the ‘camera’ unbelievably pans away from the chillingly-cold Borg-enhanced killer just as the one-time ruler’s pugnacious bodyguard attempt to swarm him and frustratingly only refocuses upon a now blood-spattered Data once he leaves the monarch’s secret abode, clutching a handful of multi-coloured data slates…

‘First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
The regular cover art of "STAR TREK: TNG: THROUGH THE MIRROR" No. 5 by J.K. Woodward

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Doctor Strange [2015] #16 - Marvel Comics

DOCTOR STRANGE No. 16, March 2017
Whilst this fifth and final instalment to Jason Aaron’s “Blood In The Aether” is far from the “jaw-dropping conclusion” which “Marvel Worldwide” boasted prior to its publication in January 2017, it’s 41,426 readers probably still enjoyed Issue Sixteen of “Doctor Strange” due to its first meeting flashback between the Ancient One’s prodigy and “the dread Dormammu” on Mount Everest, as well as Stephen’s impressive, albeit considerably contrived, ability to harness “all the magic that’s been slowly flowering since the Empirikul wiped the Earth clean” in order to defeat the Master of the Mindless Ones.

True, this twenty-page periodical does fill the intervening pages with a bizarre battle sequence between the two ‘all-powerful’ mystic energy manipulators which sees the former “preeminent surgeon” resorting to the ludicrous futility of stabbing the tower block-tall Eater of Souls “in the finger with an enchanted dagger.” Yet even so “pathetic” a drawn-out altercation as this still provides plenty of suspense, as Wong unwisely pleads for Mister Misery to save his increasingly battered master, Baron Mordo discovers he’s simply been used as “bait” by the Great Enigma, and the Orb forewarns Zelma Stanton of the dangers to come should the “Mistress of the Mystic Arts” continue to aid the titular character in his adventures; “I’m always watching the naughty ones. But if I were you, I might think twice about helping.” 

Ultimately however, all these scintillating shenanigans boil down to the Sorcerer Supreme recollecting how he exorcised “Dormie” the first time round without the need of supernatural weapons, and resultantly he taps into “all the magic of the city” in order to command “the Lord of the Realm of Darkness” to “begone!” This satisfying supposition, which ends with both Dormammu facing Shuma-Gorath’s wrath for betraying the many-angled one to the Empirikul, and Karl getting towed away into the sky courtesy of a magic rope attached to a ghost plane, certainly rather aptly culminates the comic’s account. But just why Doctor Strange hasn’t similarly utilised “all the magic we’ve got left” before during so deadly a story-arc as the one the Alabama-born author has penned, arguably grates upon its narrative’s logic… 

Perturbingly, “The Dread” is equally as inconsistent in its artwork as in its perverse plot-points. The consistent chopping and changing between series regular Chris Bachalo and Cory Smith throughout the magazine infuriatingly suggests that some of the sequences depicted were perhaps an afterthought in the Inkpot Award-winner’s mind. Whilst editor Nick Lowe’s use of no less than five inkers and three colorists disappointingly doesn’t help provide this tome with any sort of harmonious appearance either.

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

Sunday, 17 June 2018

The Brave And The Bold: Batman And Wonder Woman #4 - DC Comics

THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD: BATMAN AND WONDER WOMAN No. 4, July 2018
It is hard to imagine any reader of this twenty-two page periodical who didn’t desire a laboriously lengthy crash course in Irish mythology and the Battle of Moytura gleaning much in the way of entertainment from Issue Four of “The Brave And The Bold: Batman And Wonder Woman”. Indeed, as comic book adventures go, especially those teaming up two of “DC Comics” Trinity, Liam Sharp’s soberingly straightforward script arguably just consists of a publication-length conversion between the titular characters and Lady Ethne, which both proves to be a poor usage of two ordinarily dynamically-charged super-heroes, and also fails to actually progress the plot of an increasingly tired-looking mini-series.

Admittedly, the Derby-born writer’s narrative does eventually include a smidgeon of action, when the grieving queen discovers the caped crusaders have ‘desecrated’ her ancestor’s tomb and one of her sour-looking giant Fomorian guards lets loose an arrow at Wonder Woman; “For Tir Na Nog, and for freedom!” Yet such a brief, mere modicum of motion, comes far too late in the fable-telling to debatably energise the rest of this book’s lifeless litany, especially when it only lasts a couple of panels and quickly results in naught more than Batman showing the furious monarch that “it appears that somebody has stolen the Silver Arm of Nuada…”

Unfortunately however, in order to reach even this somewhat underwhelming cliff-hanger, this magazine’s audience must first have endured splash page after double-splash page of exposition from the formidably-tall Ethne, as she waxes lyrical on the historical heritage of her dead husband. This drawn-out, almost text-book commentary covering the invasion of Balor of the Evil Eye, as well as the legendary world’s decision “to cast a lasting spell of forgetfulness over all of Tir Nag Nog”, genuinely takes a considerable patience to peruse properly, and resultantly requires repeated readings before it’s scriptural-like story is finally understood.

Disappointingly, such a semi-religious recitation possibly wouldn’t have been so unbearable if Sharp hadn’t decided to pencil the trials and tribulations it exposes as single panel pieces. These pictures are undoubtedly pleasing to the eye, but lack any pulse-pounding life whatsoever, and in hindsight would perhaps have proved more ‘inspirational’ if they had been drawn as multiple fast-paced sequences, illustrating the actual battles and tragedy within a carousel of smaller sketches..?

‘First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
Writer/Artist: Kevin Sharp, and Colors: Romulo Fajardo Jr.

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Dark Knight III: The Master Race #9 - DC Comics

DARK KNIGHT III: THE MASTER RACE No. 9, July 2017
Despite this twenty-seven page periodical being “initially advertised” as the culmination of Frank Miller’s nine-issue long “DC Comics” storyline, as well as “the conclusion to the Dark Knight series” itself, it is clear from this publication’s tantalising conclusion, which depicts both a rejuvenated Batman and symbolically less colourfully-attired Batwoman taking to Gotham City’s roof-tops in order to continue their ever-vigilant fight against crime, that the Maryland-born screenwriter undoubtedly still had a number of “plans that have been running through my mind” as to the future of the Caped Crusader’s “noir-style” adventures on Earth-31. In fact, the Inkpot Award-winner actually announced “in November 2015… [that] he planned to produce a fourth mini-series to conclude the story” after ‘thoroughly applauding’ what his collaborator, Brian Azzarello, had accomplished with this title.

Perhaps somewhat contentiously though, arguably the most exciting of these potential future plots is actually the penning pair’s exploration of the Man of Steel rather than Bruce Wayne’s alter-ego. Naturally, the narrative behind Book Nine of “Dark Knight III: The Master Race” understandably depicts the titular character leading the fight against the remaining Kandorian cultists, and rather ably outwitting them with the aid of thousands of screeching bats; “To hell with they. I mean, they say money is the root of all evil, right? And that an old dog can’t learn new tricks. But nothing about a new dog using old tricks.”

However, whilst this innovative sequence not only disposes of nearly all the Leader of the Master Race’s forces, but also shows just how well “the world's greatest detective” understands what people will do “in unexpected extreme situations” and his ability to use such “friendly fire” to his advantage, it is soon quickly surpassed by a genuine ‘Superman’ moment as Jor-El’s son shockingly reveals just how much “he’s been holding back” in his past battles by shattering the collarbone of the truly obnoxious Baal, and doubtless causing 103,319 exhilarated readers to suddenly hear the familiar opening notes to John Williams’ iconic 1978 motion picture theme tune in their heads. Such one-upmanship by the “Big Blue Boy Scout” arguably leads to Jerry Siegel’s co-creation overshadowing Batman during this magazine’s most memorable moment, and suggests a pattern which debatably could well intensify further should Miller make good on his promise for a fourth instalment...

Sadly, the same cannot be said for Frank’s “Dark Knight Universe Presents: Action Comics” script, with the micro-magazine not quite managing to replicate the enthralling mix of characters which this book’s main story succeeds in achieving, and resultantly simply appears to little more than a rather lifeless list concerning the exploits of Batman, Batwoman, Aquaman, Green Lantern, The Flash, Wonder Woman, The Atom, Lara and Superman. Admittedly, the American author desperately tries to imbue this ‘short’ with some emotional gravitas, courtesy of its dramatic narration, yet even Diana’s tantalising confrontation with a multi-headed hydra or Hal Jordan’s all-too brief intervention with an erupting volcano, can’t help liven up Clark Kent’s laboriously-long conversation with his disagreeably dislikable daughter.

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

Friday, 15 June 2018

Star Trek: The Next Generation: Through The Mirror #4 - IDW Publishing

STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION: THROUGH THE MIRROR No. 4, May 2018
It is hard to imagine many of this weekly mini-series’ readers being particularly impressed with the plot developments found inside the J.K. Woodward painted cover for Issue Four of “Star Trek: The Next Generation: Through The Mirror”. True, David and Scott Tipton’s narrative does deliver the U.S.S. Enterprise and its bridge crew to precisely the co-ordinates Mirror Lieutenant Barclay wanted, whilst Inquisitor Troi additionally manages to suppress all warnings on an antimatter radiation leak simulation designed to cause the Galaxy-class starship’s occupants to obligingly abandon their vessel at the Martorelles Array.

Yet what initially appears to be about to produce a promising phaser-filled confrontation between Captain Picard and his doppelganger’s command, either in outer space or within the confines of their crafts’ capacious corridors, disappointingly soon manifests into a bizarrely unbloody, dialogue-driven plan for this title’s main adversaries to teleport an “empty warship” over to their home dimension and “save us the problem of dispensing with over a thousand hostages.” Hardly the sort of sense-shattering shenanigans promised by “IDW Publishing” when they advertised that this particular comic’s story would see “the fate of a galaxy hanging in the balance!”

Instead all the collaborative creative team can offer is the utterly illogical premise that the I.S.S. Enterprise’s senior officers would all willingly transport themselves over to the incredibly vulnerable “high-powered deep space listening post” simply to provide their bald, goatee-bearded leader an opportunity to laboriously thank them in person for going “against our very nature” and remaining “loyal to me”. Such a contrived state-of-affairs is then made all the less convincing by the ‘brother authors’ suggestion that the savage invaders would subsequently dally about even longer simply so their captain can subsequently see their prize’s response to the “false emergency” which they've manufactured; “Speaking of which: Commander Data! When will the evacuation begin? I’m rather keen to see it for myself.”

Similarly as unspontaneous is the pair’s penmanship for “Ripe For Plunder”, which having spent the best part of three instalments tracking Emperor Spock to his “sort of austere retirement” depicts the Mirror Soong-type android simply sitting down at a small lantern-lit table talking to the elderly half-Vulcan. Indeed, the coldly calculating second officer even goes as far as to reassure his wizened prize that he has not come to kill him. Such a politely-spoken, non-threatening stance seems highly unlikely considering Data has supposedly taken “considerable effort... to find you here”, just killed a number of pointy-eared scientist’s bodyguards and actually requires the denounced ruler’s help “to use the transporter as a means to travel across to this alternate universe”..?

‘First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
Writers: David Tipton & Scott Tipton, and Artist: Carlos Nieto

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Plastic Man #1 - DC Comics

PLASTIC MAN No. 1, August 2018
Although Gail Simone’s desire to return “the first funny super hero” back to his roots within the Golden Age of Comic Books is both a laudable aim and something presumably many long-time fans of “Quality Comics” old “signature character” would want to see, it is hard to reconcile Jack Cole’s Early Forties creation with this “Teen Plus” rated publication’s creepy petty thug “who runs a strip club.” In fact, the Oregon-born writer’s insistence that Patrick “Eel” O’Brian persistently utters the term “Wang” throughout this adventure, and then later immodestly flexes his naked body in front of an embarrassed “mystery lady” whilst in his bedroom, disconcertingly provides this twenty-page periodical with just the sort of all-pervading sexual undertone that caused the Comics Magazine Association of America to form the Comics Code Authority (CCA) in 1954; “Is wang good or bad? Does it still mean penis?”

Admittedly, comedy has undoubtedly moved on somewhat since those more ‘naïve’ days sixty odd years ago, and Issue One of “Plastic Man” certainly succeeds in its American author’s aim to portray “the original humour hero jock” as being “a little bit bawdy, a little bit messed up.” But there’s debatably little fun to be had reading about Sammy “Suitcase” Mizzola threatening to physically assault his gun moll, Janet, when the lady complains he was supposed to be taking her dancing rather bludgeoning a man half-to-death with a baseball bat down some side-street alleyway, or the one-time star of a kids Saturday morning cartoon show talking about leaving “some rubbers at your Mom’s house. On the nightstand” because a gangster’s sister is in town…

Dishearteningly, the True Believers Comic Award-winner’s “pretty thin” narrative doesn’t make an awful lot of sense either, on account of the con artist supposedly not being able to remember who killed a security guard at the heist which accidentally bestowed upon him his superhuman elasticity. Just why, having been left for dead by his criminal ‘friends’ when they threw him out of their speeding getaway car, the malleable thief is subsequently brutalised by them for surviving the ordeal is never explained, nor is Plastic Man’s belief that he shot the hapless sentry when the book’s panel depicting O’Brian’s memory of the scene clearly shows the bald-headed Benny Turlin murdering the man..?

Mercifully however, this magazine is blessed with some gratifyingly witty artwork by Adriana Melo, who genuinely imbues the titular character with all the weirdly wonderful 'disguises' and sizes one has come to expect from a shape-shifting super-hero. Whether it be a giant bouncing ball, zany Wonder Woman lookalike, H.G. Wells’ tripod machine or gas-guzzling convertible, it is easy to see why Simone has previously stated that the Brazilian penciller “draws the most gorgeous people.”
The regular cover art of "PLASTIC MAN" No. 1 by Aaron Lopresti

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Man Of Steel #2 - DC Comics

MAN OF STEEL No. 2, August 2018
Unsubtly suggesting during its cataclysmic prologue that Krypton’s destruction was the genocidal work of an enraged Rogol Zaar rather than an unassuming intergalactic tragedy, Brian Michael Bendis’ script for the rest of Issue Two of “Man Of Steel” sadly struggles to maintain any semblance of direction once Appa Ali Apsa has finished chiding Lord Gandelo for falsely accusing the Green Lantern Guardian of wilfully permitting Jor-El’s homeworld to be disintegrated. Indeed, considering that this twenty-four page periodical required the pencilling power of three different artists, including Evan "Doc" Shaner and Jay Fabok, it was arguably going to be difficult for any of this weekly title's readers to become immersed within an adventure whose choppy sub-plots proves to be as inconsistently crowbarred together as its contrastingly-styled illustration work grates upon the senses.

Admittedly, the five-time Eisner Award-winner’s inclusion of the Toyman as the comic’s ‘central’ villain makes for a straightforwardly fun bout of fisticuffs between the titular character and the portly genius’ Transformer-tall giant robot; especially when the criminal’s all-too easy incarceration by "the Metropolis Marvel" leads to a brief cameo appearance by Hal Jordan. Yet such an absurdly amusing sequence, which includes the defiant bespectacled eccentric being surrounded by a power ring’s “sound-proof bubble” hard-light construct so as to stop Superman from having to listen to the rogue’s relentlessly unjust tirade against him, badly jars when following straight on from this book’s highly theatrical opening, or subsequently leads into an equally intense sense-shattering sequence depicting Clark Kent’s frightened family suddenly facing a fearsome-looking mechanical menace; “Dad, what is that? Dad, what is that? Dad? Dad, what is that?”

Similarly as stupefying is this publication’s bizarre inclusion of a cantina scene seemingly lifted straight from a discarded Seventies screenplay drafted by George Lucas for a certain “American epic space opera media franchise.” Fizzing with all manner of extra-terrestrial heavy-drinkers and bizarre-looking beverages, as well as the utterly mystifying presence of a Rubik’s cube, the celebratory exchange between a barmaid and Zaar is supposedly meant to portray the “alien who claimed to have been responsible for destroying Krypton” dramatically discovering that one of his hated foes, “zuppermen”, fortuitously escaped his murderous plan “as a baby.” Instead however, partially due to Steve Rude’s cartoonesque storyboards and Alex Sinclair’s gaudy colour choices, this pivotal plot point disappointingly somewhat smacks of simply being a silly, tongue-in-cheek inclusion, which rather than heighten any tension caused by the appearance of this mini-series’ main adversary, utterly dilutes the comic’s already ever-evaporating atmosphere.
Script: Brian Michael Bendis, Pencils: Doc Shaner, Steve Rude & Jay Fabok

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Dark Knight III: The Master Race #8 - DC Comics

DARK KNIGHT III: THE MASTER RACE No. 8, May 2017
Considering that this was the second biggest-selling comic book of March 2017, having shifted an impressive 107,892 units, it’s hard not to still imagine many of this publication’s audience momentarily double-checking to see whether they’d inadvertently picked up a copy of the author’s “historically inspired 1998 comic book limited series” “300” rather than the penultimate instalment to Frank Miller’s fourth Batman-related magnum opus. Indeed, such are the blood soaking similarities between the Maryland-born writer’s “fictional retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae” and “the Kryptonians… war against the Amazons”, that some readers could arguably have almost heard actor David Wenham’s voice relating Wonder Woman’s merciless defeat of Kandor’s citizens in a manner indistinguishable from how he did so "before the historic Battle of Plataea” in Zack Snyder’s 2006 American epic war film.

For starters the Palme d'Or nominee’s narrative certainly doesn’t shy away from the utter savagery of the conflict’s barbarity, with Diana’s evident glee at the extra-terrestrial invaders’ intention to ‘kill every one’ of her people clearly signalling the Amazonian Queen’s relief that she need not hold back the formidable ferocity of her force’s ruthlessness. There genuinely will be absolutely no quarter given, nor arguably asked for, as sharpened swords and laser-beam eyes uncaringly carve a bloody wake through ravaged torsos, headless necks and dismembered limbs.

Interestingly, this pulse-pounding passage, awesomely pencilled by Andy Kubert, also provides an intriguing insight into the age-old “DC Comics” question as to who would win in a straight-up fight between Superman and Themyscira’s ruler. Clearly Quar’s arrogant, overly-confident forces believe their proximity to the “Earth’s yellow sun” and all the incredible powers which it provides them with, makes them invulnerable to the seemingly backward weapons (and tactics) of a sword and shield-carrying adversary. But one can soon see the utter disbelief and rising terror in the Kryptonian’s eyes when they realise that they are actually badly outmatched by the “immortal” female warriors’ worship of the sun as a god, and the inexplicable “magic” that belief provides; “We are Amazons. We will die before we surrender! We will avenge every drop of blood you spill! We will never bow our heads to alien tyranny! I promise you… We will rule this day.”

Similarly as scintillating, albeit the twelve-page mini-periodical focuses upon an infinitely less grand confrontation, is Miller’s plot for “Dark Knight Universe Presents: Detective Comics”. Focusing upon Commissioner Ellen Yindel’s skirmish with the shaven-headed, bare-breasted psychopath Bruno and her Joker Boys, this ‘short’ provides plenty of tension as the police officer is about to be sliced into sausage meat on an electrically-powered table-saw, and only survives due to the timely arrival of Gotham’s now-colourfully costumed Caped Crusaders.

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

Monday, 11 June 2018

Star Trek: The Next Generation: Through The Mirror #3 - IDW Publishing

STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION: THROUGH THE MIRROR No. 3, May 2018
Focusing almost entirely upon the Mirror Universe’s viciously vile incarnation of Lieutenant Reginald Endicott Barclay III, Issue Three of “Star Trek: The Next Generation: Through The Mirror” ably demonstrates just how decidedly different “the voyages of the I.S.S Enterprise” must have been to those depicted in the American science-fiction television series from 1987 to 1994. For whilst David and Scott Tipton’s narrative still features the somewhat familiar looking characters of Captain Jean-Luc Picard, William Riker and Deanna Troi, the almost palpable aura of utter evil which encompasses each individual like some sort of sinful satanic shroud, genuinely permeates even the most non-violent of scenes, such as when the Galaxy-class Federation starship’s bearded first officer encounters his imzadi’s doppelganger and wonders why the pouting dark-haired beauty is suddenly wearing her old miniskirt uniform. 

Perhaps this sixteen-page periodical’s biggest draw however, is just how surprisingly violent some of its sequences are with the highly arrogant systems diagnostic engineer thinking nothing of bringing his foes low with a double-handed blow to the base of the neck, or savagely stabbing his superior officer in the belly whilst wearing a deeply disturbing maniacal grin upon his face. Long-time fans of the franchise may well remember Captain Kirk’s persistent over-reliance upon physical confrontations as a solution to his predicaments, yet even the “only student at Starfleet Academy to defeat the Kobayashi Maru test” was never shown to be as bloodthirsty or savage as "Broccoli" is here; “My name is Barclay, and I will not be disrespected. Are we clear? Good.” 

Equally as entertaining is Josh Hood’s clever inclusion of numerous Starfleet uniform designs from the past. It’s clear from Inquisitor Troi’s holo-deck simulation that the female Betazoid’s military intelligence is a few years out of date, due to the Terran Empire erroneously believing that the Federation are still wearing the attire created by “veteran costumer William Ware Theiss” for the program’s pilot episode “Encounter At Farpoint Station”. This blunder not only adds some additional tension to the storyline once the evil duplicates teleport on board the U.S.S. Enterprise, but also provides a pleasant feeling of nostalgia to proceedings. 

Interestingly, this publication’s short, “Ripe For Plunder”, is also a frighteningly ferocious fight-fest; albeit one in which the victor is never in any noticeable doubt. Ambushed within a dark, underground cave system by a pack of bestial, Klingon-looking aliens, Data’s all-too apparent super-strength and advantageous Borg technology disappointingly allows the android to overcome his foes with remarkable ease. Indeed, the automaton’s success in defeating his attackers is sadly, as unsurprising as is his subsequent discovery of Emperor Spock hiding in the catacomb’s furthest room…

‘First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
Writers: David Tipton & Scott Tipton, and Artist: Josh Hood

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Judge Dredd: Under Siege #1 - IDW Publishing

JUDGE DREDD: UNDER SIEGE No. 1, May 2018
Purportedly a “relaunch” by “IDW Publishing” of their “Judge Dredd” series, this opening instalment to Mark Russell’s four-part storyline “Under Siege” initially appears to be little more than a simple re-imagining of Alex Garland’s screenplay for the 2012 science fiction action film “Dredd”. But whilst this twenty-two page narrative is certainly set within the familiar, claustrophobic confines of a locked down housing block, and soon pairs the titular character up with a female street judge, the similarities between the two story-telling mediums stops there, as “the critically acclaimed writer of DC’s The Flintstones” pens a sense-shattering script involving multi-limbed mutants, an invasion from the Cursed Earth, and more ghastly green raw sewerage than any person could ever possibly want to smell…

To be fair however, even those elements within the Audie Award-nominee’s treatment which do bear a remarkable resemblance to the forty-one million dollar-making motion picture still provide plenty of punch, with doubtless some of this title’s readers possibly wishing Old Stoney Face’s initial intense fire-fight inside Patrick Swayze Block with a gang of genetically-mutated, heavily-armed criminals was actually how director Pete Travis had started his theatrical release; “I came up here to do a classroom visit. The next thing I know, I’m ambushed by mutants.”

Of course, there’s also a fair amount of exposition crammed within this publication’s pulse-pounding panels, as one of the habitation building’s residents brusquely describes the strato-scraper’s demoralizingly bleak history to his strong-chinned rescuer once he has been freed of his bonds. Yet rather than slow things down, the American author’s fascination for “the urban planning aspect of Mega-City One” and his infectious desire “to explore [it] in this series” allows the comic’s story-telling to actually increase its breath-taking pace by using the mutants’ ability to traverse through the city wall’s sewerage system in increasingly large numbers to ‘ramp up’ the pressure upon Judge Dredd’s dynamic decision-making.

Fortunately, all of these scintillating shenanigans are dynamically-drawn by Max Dunbar, whose ability to unobtrusively pencil Joseph with the occasional humorous moment, such as when the veteran lawman ‘brains’ a triple-knife wielding mutie in the back of the head with a child’s play brick, really helps bring the comic book’s cast to life. Indeed, the Canadian artist’s penchant for sketching the senior judge flying through the air, whether to avoid a fatal blow or to unleash a torrent of “standard execution – rapid fire”, is terrifically well done and one of this magazine’s undoubted highlights.
The variant cover art of "JUDGE DREDD: UNDER SIEGE" No. 1 by Alan Quah