Sunday, 30 September 2018

Justice League Odyssey #1 - DC Comics

Supposedly “spinning out of Justice League: No Justice” Joshua Williamson’s script for “Ghost Sector” may well have initially bamboozled and befuddled its audience as a result of it presenting plenty of Stjepan Sejic pencilled panels packed full of guilt-ridden gobbledegook concerning mysterious subliminal voices warning not to “befriend the machine and the alien”, the Omega Titans previously destroying Colu, and a bizarre assortment of super-heroes desperately trying “to break about 3,458 galactic regulations” simply because Cyborg has an irrational feeling that he needs to do so. But whilst this twenty-page periodical’s narrative undoubtedly contains plenty of head-scratching dialogue and unsettling sequences, such as Victor Stone’s apparent regret at ‘breaking the universe’ and Darkseid’s suggestion that he can give the likes of Starfire and Azrael “answers to your purpose in the universe”, the comic’s central plot is basically built upon the premise that the Justice Leaguers have been called to the maelstrom’s “Wild West” by the son of King Yuga Khan to simply “try to stop Despero from slave-trading Coluan refugees…”

Fortunately though, the American author’s over-complication of so straightforward a story-line shouldn’t stop this book’s readers from enjoying some of its cast’s sense-shattering shenanigans, with Topal’s desperately doomed attempt to reach the Guardians of Oa and let them “know why these worlds were hidden” arguably being one of this publication’s highlights, especially when the impotent Green Lantern is torn asunder by a giant clawed space dragon whilst reciting her corps’ famous oath: “In brightest day… in blackest night… no evil -- what is… No! The Guardians need to know! They have to stop them! The old gods can never -- Aaahhhhhh!” This scene genuinely pains the heart as the horned law enforcement officer’s beloved helplessly watches her die from the surface of the planet below, and initiates an aura of deadly desperation which permeates throughout the rest of the adventure.

Sadly, Williamson’s penmanship behind the sector’s subsequent Green Lantern, Jessica Cruz, doesn’t debatably produce anywhere near the sense of depth her ill-fated colleague created, with the volunteer appearing to be immaturely desperate to battle the likes of Kanjar Ro, Despero or Lobo simply to stop her from being bored. Such a deadly desire to tweak the nose of fate is always going to be answered, so it comes as absolutely no surprise whatsoever that within seconds of making such a wish, “Power Ring” spies Braniac’s ship tearing towards the Ghost Sector and unwisely attempts to intercept it despite her solid light forcefield being highly susceptible to the region’s radiation. However, whereas Kov Mal’s previously depicted dearly departed comes across as being courageously foolish, the efforts of Simon Baz’s former partner disapprovingly portrays the “only member of the Justice League permitted to serve as sentry” as an impulsively reckless disagreeable individual, overly eager to play the hero and rather too keen to arrest the very people who have literally just saved her from a gruesomely painful death in outer space…
Writer:Joshua Williamson, Artist & Cover: Stjepan Sejic, and Letters: Deron Bennett

Saturday, 29 September 2018

The Amazing Spider-Man #800 [Part One] - Marvel Comics

Whereas this eighty-page periodical was almost certainly one of the longest single publications to depict Spider-Man battling the Green Goblin’s alter-ego, it is highly debatable that Dan Slott’s penmanship for “Go Down Singing” will ever be regarded as “the biggest Peter Parker/Norman Osborn story of all time”. For although the “no holds barred” narrative admittedly delivers more than its fair share of plot-twists, shocks and bloody bare-knuckle fisticuffs, it also arguably depicts the former Oscorp owner at his most incompetent, as the human mutate paired with the Carnage Symbiote repeatedly fails to kill the likes of Aunt May and Mary Jane Watson, despite supposedly being both super-humanly strong and skilled in martial arts…

Indeed, if anything, the opening half of Issue Eight Hundred of “The Amazing Spider-Man” appears to demonstrate just how utterly inept the former billionaire industrialist is at realising his revenge, with the Red Goblin somehow managing to be thwarted at each and every turn. Admittedly, the Berkeley-born writer does somewhat contrivingly conjure up all manner of anti-heroic cameos, such as Eddie Brock’s Venom and Otto Octavius, with which to stop the murderous villain’s machinations. But it’s hard to imagine that someone as supposedly determined as Harry’s father wouldn’t have lingered just a few more seconds longer to permanently dispatch Web-head’s one-time fiery-headed wife, or his elderly white-haired doting relation, especially when the likes of Doctor Octopus and “one of Marla’s old spider-slayers” have been neutralised.

Of course, all this lazily manufactured bungling does admittedly result in some seriously dynamic smack downs which clearly helped carry this comic’s 411,480 readers ever onwards through the Eisner-Award winner’s drawn-out, treacle-like plot. In fact, Venom’s return and subsequent battle against an increasingly enraged Osborn is probably one this book’s highlights as the symbiote-powered pair tear ragged chunks out of one another, and in many ways it’s a shame that the titular character arrives at Stark Tower as early as he does; “Y’know, Eddie, you are starting to get on my last nerve! I’m on a freakin’ schedule! You’re killing me here!”

Sadly, far less successful however has to be this celebratory edition’s decision to persistently shift artists with each chapter. Despite the clarity of his colourful breakdowns, Nick Bradshaw’s pedestrian pencilling for “Crawling Through The Wreckage” rather pales in comparison to that of Humbertos Ramos, whose dynamically-packed panels for “Too Many Targets” follow straight on from those of the “Atlantic Canadian” illustrator. Whilst for all his clean-lined competency, Giuseppe Camuncoli’s portrayal of the Red Goblin almost dispatching his entire immediate family within the Alchemax Head Office disappointingly seems to lack the energy needed to show little Normie’s emotional change of heart at the thought that his grandfather has cold-bloodedly just murdered his mother.
Writer: Dan Slott, and Artists: Nick Bradshaw, Humbertos Ramos and Giuseppe Camuncoli

Friday, 28 September 2018

Doctor Strange #381 - Marvel Comics

DOCTOR STRANGE No. 381, January 2018
Whilst Donny Cates’ narrative for this opening instalment to “Loki: Sorcerer Supreme” makes it very clear straight from the start that this comic’s “new magical landscape” is going to be decidedly different from that which has gone before, its contents must still have caught many of this book’s 47,942 readers off-guard by landing them straight smack in the aftermath of Stephen Strange’s replacement as the Master of the Mystic Arts. In fact, considering this book's bamboozling beginning and that the title reverts back to its “Legacy” numbering on its cover, it is arguably hard not to imagine some within the series’ disconcerted audience scrambling around the spinner-rack looking for at least one or two missing issues for their collection.

Sadly however this bombshell was probably just the sort of reaction the former “Marvel Comics” intern was looking for, as not only does the twenty-page periodical’s plot quickly describe the good Doctor’s defeat in a mysterious tournament at the hands of the Asgardian trickster god. But his penmanship also strongly indicates that Thor’s adopted brother is both already partially settled into the role, coming “face to thousand faces with a horde of the deadly vampa-cabra warriors from Dimension Blood”, and apparently enjoying the prestigious honour to boot; “I should just give it up. No one wants me in this role. No one will trust that I have changed, and I seem to be unfit to prove them wrong… I just want to help.”

Interestingly, Cates also seems to somewhat invalidate all the finely-detailed, heavily-explored work of his predecessor Jason Aaron, by depicting Loki dismissing “this business about magic always having some sort of cost… some sort of price” and calling such a state of affairs “silly”. Of course, this contempt for “sin-eating” could well be one of Laufeyson's ploy’s to quickly win over his fellow magic users, considering that the "pretender" himself admits to the occupants of The Bar With No Doors that he would only bring about such a change in order to advance his “own self-serving needs.” Yet such is the speed with which the notion is introduced and subsequently demonstrated, courtesy of the “exclusive enchanted watering hole for the mystic and magical lot” being instantaneously evaporated, that it arguably feels a little disrespectful to the previously established lore…

Perhaps this comic’s biggest disappointment though is Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s artwork, which despite being competently pencilled, debatably lacks the dynamism needed for such a word-heavy, dialogue-driven storyline. Indeed, the Spanish artist’s depiction of Doctor Strange – veterinarian, seems remarkably lifeless and flat-looking when compared to this publication’s “three bonus Marvel Primer Pages” portraying the one-time neurosurgeon in his earlier days as illustrated by Niko Henrichon at the end of the book.
Writer: Donny Cates, Artist: Gabriel Hernandez Walta, and Color Artist: Jordie Bellaire

Sunday, 23 September 2018

The Amazing Spider-Man #799 - Marvel Comics

Undeniably packing plenty of web-swinging bang for its buck, Dan Slott’s script for “The Ties That Bind” was arguably just the sort of action-fest its 192,609-readers were anticipating, considering its plot builds upon the premise that a badly-wounded Spider-Man has previously been overwhelmed by “the Red Goblin’s terrifying power” and resultantly needs “the help of friend and foe alike if he hopes to stop” Norman Osborn. But whilst this third instalment to the Berkeley-born author’s “Go Down Swinging” storyline pays plenty of attention to the likes of Johnny Storm, Silk, Agent Anti-Venom, Miles Morales and even Clayton Cole’s criminal alter-ego Clash, the motivation behind just why Peter Parker has assembled his own ‘Bat-Family’ may well have proved somewhat disconcertingly contrived for the odd perusing bibliophile.

True, as the former “amoral industrialist Head of Oscorp”, Harry’s father is far from the most trustworthy of people, especially now he is wholly merged with the homicidal Carnage Symbiote, so it’s perfectly understandable that the wall-crawler might be a bit dubious as to whether the super-villain will stick “to our bargain” not to harm everyone he cares about, like “the Mary Janes and Aunt Mays of the world”, “as long as you don’t show your pwetty widdle webbed head.” However, the Red Goblin has already disconcertingly lived up to their agreement by allowing the badly beaten Spider-Man to survive their opening encounter, so just why Parker suddenly believes that their deal will be broken and resultantly sends Morales to guard his elderly aunt, the Human Torch to protect Mary Jane, and Cindy Moon to look after “what used to be the Daily Bugle” is perhaps a bit perplexing..?

Equally as annoying is how the Eisner Award-winner deals with the symbiote’s well-known weakness to “fire and sound” so as to enable Osborn’s latest criminal incarnation to survive a withering attack from the combined forces of Storm and Cole. Not unsurprisingly, the assault fails, but rather than provide any sort of explanation as to why it -- it did absolutely nothing” Slott lazily just writes that Norman is now “the ultimate hybrid” with “all of the strengths” and “none of the weaknesses! Ha Ha Ha!”

Fortunately, what this twenty-page periodical is good at demonstrating is Stuart Immonen’s terrific artwork and ability to imbue his figures with precisely the sort of dynamic energy fans of the Canadian penciller have come to expect. Indeed, the illustrator’s double-splash of the Red Goblin defeating Silk and an overly cocky Miles is superbly drawn, as are his later panels depicting Flash Thompson’s ill-fated decision to save the lives of his badly-wounded friends rather than ‘take-out’ this comic’s main antagonist first; “Too easy! Like taking candy from a dead baby.”
The regular cover art of "THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN" No. 799 by Alex Ross

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Doctor Strange [2015] #26 - Marvel Comics

DOCTOR STRANGE No. 26, December 2017
Devotees of Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson’s fantasy tabletop role-playing game “Dungeons & Dragons” doubtless had plenty to enjoy with John Barber’s marvellously claustrophobic narrative for Issue Twenty-Six of “Doctor Strange”, with both the titular character and Zelma Stanton making “what may well be their last house-call” deep inside the long abandoned 76th Street subway station and subsequently facing a foe seemingly snatched straight from Tom Moldvay's module "The Lost City". Indeed, this twenty-page periodical’s opening sequence, which depicts Dwarven Mage Varkath accompanying an ill-fated expedition desperately trying to flee the underground lair of an unseen shambling horror “eons ago”, would arguably have been perfect itself as the introductory scenario for one of “Tactical Studies Rules” early Seventies’ adventure supplements.

Fortunately however, those bibliophiles within this comic’s 24,001-strong audience who didn’t have a comprehensive understanding of “the best-known and best-selling role-playing game” shouldn’t have felt that they had been put at any particular disadvantage due to the freelance writer utilising the Sorcerer Supreme’s mentoring of his apprentice as an appropriate vehicle to explain to the reader just what is taking place; “Which points to possession, or some sort of soul corruption. The Thaumaturge Trivium were legends… in certain circles, mostly in Tibet.” In addition, despite its strong dungeon-based ‘dice-rolling’ flavour, beautifully conveyed by Niko Henrichon’s pencilling, the “long-time editor of Marvel’s Ultimate line” slowly morphs his narrative into a seemingly much more straightforward story of ‘Cat and Mouse’ between a truly sinister, all-pervading evil and a disconcertingly weaponless Master of the Mystic Arts.

Intriguingly though, at some indiscernible point this terrific tale also shies away from being a fright-fest involving murderous ghoulish ghosts stalking a modern-day world not of their making and instead provides a fascinating focus upon Strange’s past misdoings, which ultimately culminates with the former preeminent surgeon’s dark soul actually overpowering the ancient entity’s malevolence due to it being “a long time since anyone accused” him of being “pure of heart.” This contamination of an “evil thing poking at my soul”, alongside Stephen’s admission that he has occasionally bent “right towards wrong” really does raise some interesting questions as to the magic-user’s past, and the implication that the good Doctor and his librarian will at some point brave further into the dustily decrepit world buried beneath New York City in order to hunt “for [more] remnants of power” bodes well for even more murky revelations to come…
Writer: John Barber, Artist: Niko Henrichon, and Letters: VC's Cory Petit

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Judge Dredd: Under Siege #4 - IDW Publishing

Despite bringing the titular character’s pulse-pounding gun-fight deep inside Patrick Swayze Block to its high body-count of a conclusion, it’s probably likely that a fair few of this mini-series’ readers weren’t entirely satisfied with Mark Russell’s disconcertingly all-too sickly sweet ending for Issue Four of “Judge Dredd: Under Siege”. For whilst the twenty-page periodical’s script seemingly resolves every plot twist the comic has conjured up during its short-lived run, including a shockingly straightforward fate for the courageously defiant Mayor, the fact that Mega-City One’s toughest lawman is actually knocked unconscious moments before its finale is rather disappointingly disorientating.

Admittedly, Old Stoney Face’s perplexing absence does provide this book’s well-defined supporting cast with plenty of ‘screen time’ with which to shine, as Judge Beeny makes a remarkable recovery from having previously been shot from behind so as to take down Tallyrand’s remaining mutants, and Tiger Whitehead utilises her knowledge of a lawgiver in order to kill the two former Kidney Hut collection agents who were threatening to make good on their promise to harvest her internal organs without an anaesthetic; “Any last words before we collect?” However, it’s hard to accept that without these interventions, the man who both crossed the Cursed Earth and later helped bring down East Meg One during the Apocalypse War would’ve been lethally laid low by a pair of bearded bully boys equipped with nothing more than a humble hand-held taser gun…

Similarly as head-scratching is the Eisner Award-nominee’s belief that having spent the best part of this narrative hurling a seemingly endless army of heavily-armed mutants against the local residents in a murderous attempt to control the multi-storey building, this story’s main one-eyed protagonist would simply decide to suddenly amble down some stairs to its entranceway and just walk outside alone carrying his ‘dirty bomb’. Considering just how much time and manpower Tallyrand has already invested in his homicidal plan, it might make some sense for him to launch his flagging forces into a final head-long dash into the metropolis and detonate the explosive device that way. But not debatably to have Max Dunbar pencil him calmly walking through the savage ‘kill or be killed’ chaos surrounding him onto a quiet street and then be utterly torn apart by the formidable spray of a lawmaster’s automatic weaponry.
The regular cover art of "JUDGE DREDD: UNDER SIEGE" No. 4 by Max Dunbar

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Hal Jordan And The Green Lantern Corps #50 - DC Comics

Sensationally described by “DC Comics” as “This. Is. It!” in its pre-publication promotion, this extra-sized anniversary celebration undoubtedly brought the title "Hal Jordan And The Green Lantern Corps" to a rather satisfying conclusion in August 2018 due to its detailed depiction of the Darkstars’ devastating defeat at the hands of Kilowog's emerald-coloured crusaders. Indeed, the Guardian’s “intergalactic military/police force” have arguably never looked more impressive considering they manage to overcome a mercilessly murderous opponent which outnumbers them ‘ten to one’ “without killing” any of them; “Kill that Darkstar -- and we’ll point our justice at you!”

However, despite this title’s theatrical termination, which culminates with both the depressing low of Tomar-Tu’s suicide in Space Sector 0001, and youthful high of Somar-Le excitedly being “the newest Green Lantern” on Mogo, Robert Venditti’s narrative for “Last Charge: Finale” does still debatably fail to provide the truly sense-shattering confrontation between Hal Jordan and General Zod which Rafa Sandoval’s regular cover illustration promises and the mean-spirited Kryptonian’s angry arrival at the Darkstars’ Central Command portends.

John Stewart’s ‘alliance of convenience’ with a mass-murderer viewed by many bibliophiles as one of Superman’s “greatest and personal enemies alongside Lex Luthor” was always understandably a dangerous one, especially following the retconned architect’s “dramatic order” that lethal force was not to be used during the battle to save 'his' sentient planet’s populace. So the unstable megalomaniac’s hotly anticipated decision to simply seek vengeance upon the person he holds responsible for failing “to save my home” from destruction should have come as no real surprise to followers of this series. But rather than portray an already bruised Jordan slugging it out with Ursa’s co-conspirator, the Hollywood-raised writer instead pens Tomar-Tu simply disconcertingly dying by his own hand and Zod departing as disappointed as perhaps some within this comic’s 29,579 strong audience were at such an unexploited opportunity.

Of course such discontent is probably particularly picky when the enormity of the Green Lantern’s stunning victory is holistically considered. Dynamically drawn by Rafa Sandoval utilising all manner of defensive hard-light constructs, the numerous Corps’ characters imbue every panel within which they appear with the determined willpower of those indomitably desperate to ‘stick to the rules’ even when their forces are dwindling and their tactics are being questioned internally by the likes of Guy Gardner and Arkillo due to “the Darkstars… playing a different game.”
Writer: Robert Venditti, Penciller: Rafa Sandoval, and Inker: Jordi Tarragona

Monday, 17 September 2018

Like Father, Like Daughter #3 - Short Fuse Media Group

An infinitely more emotional affair than your average super-hero comic book, Kathryn Calamia’s storyline for Issue Three of “Like Father, Like Daughter” impressively concerns itself with the depressing anxiety a young student can experience when being physically bullied at school, rather than depicting its titular characters’ thwarting yet another diabolically mad villain’s scheme which threatens mankind. For whilst the twenty-page periodical features the most ‘screen time’ Invulnerable and his daughter have so far shared together within this series, it’s highlight is undoubtedly Casey’s ‘heroic intervention’ between her disagreeable boyfriend Jesse and the appallingly battered young Ethan.

Indeed, if any person within this publication’s audience had any doubt as to the feelings of worthless isolation, loneliness, fear and incredible anger being tormented by someone else can cause an individual, then the American author’s superbly-penned scene depicting a tear-stained “poor kid” pulling a pistol on his peers and threatening to shoot himself in the head out of sheer desperation, should certainly put them straight; “Every day you push me. Beat me up for no reason. I tell myself I can handle it, but I can’t anymore. I just want it to stop!” This sequence is tremendously moving, and not only showcases the unacceptable impact upon your health school bullying can have, but also provides Comic Uno’s creation with an opportunity to courageously shine without relying upon the powers she has unintentionally inherited from her dad.

Admittedly, any subsequent scenes following on from such a poignant roller-coaster of a ride are debatably going to feel a little flat, even when they involve “Case” coming “face to face with her father… for the first time in ten years!” Yet the “YouTube personality” still manages to maintain plenty of intrigue as the super-powered pair discover the “second-generation” student’s visions are unique to her, and that Invulnerable has no idea as to how he came to obtain his extraordinary abilities. In fact, Kat’s narrative goes even further to stress that someone out there has been actively ensuring that no digital trace of the costumed crime-fighter’s past exists…  

Setting aside this comic’s persuasive penmanship momentarily, this book must also have proved something of a fun-fest for any science fiction fans out there who spotted the plethora of pencilled nods to “Doctor Who”, “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” in its panels. Undeniably a dialogue-driven edition, Artist Wayne A. Brown still provides plenty of dynamic visuals to entertain its audience during these conversational pieces courtesy of some wonderfully drawn facial expressions, but he also manages to include a plethora of starships, X-Wings and time-travelling machines into his backgrounds from time to time too.
Written & Created by: Kathryn Calamia, Pencils & Inks by: Wayne A. Brown, and Colors by: David Aravena

Sunday, 16 September 2018

The Unexpected #4 - DC Comics

THE UNEXPECTED No. 4, November 2018
There’s arguably a hint of desperation behind both the promotion and penmanship of Issue Four of “The Unexpected”, considering that “DC Comics” declared Steve Orlando’s narrative for the twenty-page periodical involves “a race to save Gotham City from exposure to the toxic Nth metal” and it crams in no less than three of the Burbank-based publisher’s current ‘bigger named characters’ within its utterly befuddling plot. For whilst “Answers In The Sky” alludes to the Caped Crusader’s metropolis being where the membrane between our reality and the Dark Dimension is at its thinnest, the New Yorker’s treatment hardly depicts Neon the Unknown dashing anywhere in particular so as to save the “fictional American city”, nor is it ever justified why Helena Bertinelli's alter-ego knows so much about "the poisonous Nth metal." 

Indeed, the greatest danger to Batman’s home town would seemingly be the incredibly dislikeable Firebrand and her increasingly grating sense of self-righteousness; “I am [here to fight] whether I want to or not! Don’t you get it? I don’t have the luxury of that choice, because of how you people handle things!” Just how Colin Nomi contrivingly teleported himself and his fiery friend within the proximity of the Huntress is never convincingly explained, yet it soon becomes evident that it’s the very presence of Janet Fals and her disagreeable desire to battle all and sundry which is putting every Gothamite in danger, courtesy of the loose cannon’s “aggression triggering the Nth Metal isotope.”

Such constant rage genuinely becomes tediously overbearing real fast, as the former paramedic launches into Bertinelli and then later the Signal without any rational reason except perhaps to inject a bewildering script with unfounded action sequences. Admittedly, the crossbow-armed Bird of Prey does strike first and Firebrand needs to “start a fight once every twenty four hours” in order to maintain her super-human abilities. But that doesn't explain why no sooner have the pair’s differences concerning Fals bringing “a dirty bomb into a city of millions” been physically resolved than Janet, supposedly sizzled “back to my senses”, then shockingly socks an unarmed Huntress in the mouth simply for voicing her (entirely correct) opinion that the Conflict Engine-driven ‘heroine’ is “out of control.”

To make matters even more unbearable though, once a surprisingly mature and calm Duke Thomas arrives on the scene, Neon’s travelling companion goes into ‘hostile overdrive’, patronising the “kid” one moment as if the always-angry recent addition to the DC Universe is actually the one trained by Batman, and then in the next threatening to beat the costumed crime-fighter to a pulp even when he makes it clear “I’m not here to fight” by helpfully whisking the travellers off underwater to the Bat Cove.
Storytellers: Yvel Guichet, Cary Nord & Scott Hanna, and Steve Orlando

Saturday, 15 September 2018

Grimm Tales Of Terror 2018 Halloween Special - Zenescope Entertainment

Delivering upon its promise to provide both “shocking twists on classic literature” as well as “brand new takes on modern urban legends” this thirty-six page anthology undoubtedly provided its readers in September 2018 with precisely the sort of spine-chilling shenanigans George A. Romeo so successfully encapsulated with his early Eighties American dark comedy horror movie “Creepshow”. In fact, it’s a sure thing that if the “Godfather of the Dead” was still directing the gruesome franchise, then this comic’s terrifying trilogy of blood-soaked tales and interlinking sub-plot involving Keres, the goddess of death, hosting a “Costume Party”, would surely have been just the sort of pulse-pounding parables the Bronx-born filmmaker would have wanted for his silver screen fright-fest.

Opening this comic compendium is Terry Kavanagh’s historically-based mix of Irish classroom jinks and gory murder most foul. Somewhat cleverly focusing upon the unruly behaviour of a naughty schoolgirl, Geraldine, this Nineteenth Century-based script has the potential to wrong-foot some within its audience as to the identity of Loughlea’s child-killer, and alongside its very clear message that Jack-o’-lanterns definitely do ward off evil spirits, it even manages to intriguingly plug a future edition of the publisher’s title “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not?”

However, the highlight of this book is undoubtedly Erica Heflin’s scary straw-fest entitled “Scarecrow” which follows three greedy modern-day adolescents in their unwise quest for Confederate gold and an alibi. Its artwork suitably scratched by Marcelo Basile, this ‘short’ proves a real shocker as the trio inadvertently kill a hapless “nutso whack job” whilst metal-detecting deep inside a sky-tall cornfield and then discover the dead old woman’s depilated home is inhabited by supposedly inanimate mannequins; “They’re going to come in here and see that this lady was totally off her rocker.”

Finally, before Keres unsympathetically feeds her gullible guests to a room full of sharp-toothed grotesques, knife-wielding zombies and stuffed scarecrows, Ben Meares pens a marvellously macabre yarn involving an elderly, house-bound cripple and the local children’s love of candy. Well-drawn by Eman Casallos, this final fable really should catch its readers off-guard as its plot follows all one’s expectations up until its hair-raising conclusion, which gratuitously reveals both the real cause of the young trick-or-treaters’ vividly-green vomit, as well as just why “Ol’ man Miller” has a semi-portable drip feeding some sort of luminescent fluid directly into his frail, emaciated body.
The variant cover art of "GRIMM TALES OF TERROR 2018 HALLOWEEN SPECIAL by Ceci de la Cruz

Thursday, 13 September 2018

The Immortal Hulk #5 - Marvel Comics

IMMORTAL HULK No. 5, November 2018
“Guest-starring Alpha Flight’s Sasquatch”, as well as featuring a few touching paragraphs detailing the recently deceased Steve Ditko’s contribution as “one of the original architects of the Hulk” in its “Gamma-Grams” Letters Page, this twenty-page periodical undoubtedly delivered upon its pre-publication promise of depicting its titular character being involved “in a brutal, bloody battle with the monster who made him.” Yet whilst on the surface this graphic violence is seemingly supplied by the Green Goliath’s simply stunning heavyweight bout against Walter Langowski’s orange-furred alter ego, in reality Al Ewing’s script tries to tell a rather befuddling story concerning the return of Doctor Brian Banner “in through the Green Door.”

Indeed, for those readers unaware of Bruce’s long-dead father’s fate Issue Five of “The Immortal Hulk” may well have proved a bit too mystifying with its revelation that “dad” now somehow has “the ability to possess gamma mutates” and resultantly has been inhabiting the Canadian superhero for some considerable time ever since the ‘Jock’ “stayed as Sasquatch too long”. On its own this perturbing possession may well have produced an innovatively surprising plot-twist, yet instead it rather begs the question as to how the supervillain’s spirit subsequently “got into Hotshot’s girlfriend too” if the murderous former nuclear physicist was already residing within the subconsciousness of someone aboard Alpha Flight Space Station..?

To make matters arguably more confusing though, the British writer then muddies the water even more so by having the Hulk suggest that someone else is actually behind Brian’s mind control of Langowski’s physical form; a mysterious unknown entity who can both clearly bring back the dead as well as open the repeatedly mentioned “Green Door.” Fortunately however, any passing bibliophile merely perusing “In Every Mirror” whilst stood beside the spinner rack should easily forget its debatably bamboozling narrative in favour of the comic’s utterly awesome ‘thrill-a-second’ action sequences.

Joe Bennett is clearly at the very top of his game as he pencils a truly fearsomely savage Sasquatch not only going toe-to-toe with the Hulk, but momentarily actually overpowering his old adversary with claw rakes to the chest. In fact, it’s rare to see a punch from Bruce’s gamma-induced form ever held in check, let alone see the monster’s eyes be gouged out from their sockets in a truly terrifying piece of pencilling; “Take a good look, my special boy. You’ll see a darker shadow than yours.”
Writer: Al Ewing, Penciler: Joe Bennett, and Inker: Ruy Jose

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Doctor Strange [2015] #25 - Marvel Comics

DOCTOR STRANGE No. 25, November 2017
Having read Issue Twenty Five of “Doctor Strange” it’s likely that a portion of this “extra-sized” thirty-page periodical’s 29,526 strong fan-base earnestly started scrutinising their collections so as to locate the edition within which this book’s main antagonist, the mysteriously named “Haunted Girl”, made her first appearance. Yet whilst John Barber’s flashback storyline to a time when the Sorcerer Supreme is still accompanied by both Cleo and Wong certainly reads like something Stan Lee himself would pen, especially when its titular character starts waxing lyrical about the Vipers of Valtorr and the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth, this “incredibly special anniversary issue” isn’t perturbingly a sequel at all.

Instead, the “best-selling X-Force relaunch” editor’s narrative is actually wholly original, and as a result seemingly takes full advantage of the additional space this plump publication provides by weaving a genuinely nostalgic trip down memory lane to a time when the Master of the Mystic arts could enter meditative trances and perhaps somewhat disdainfully wear the Eye of Agamotto; “Whatever you are, and whatever you have done to my friends… Gaze into my amulet -- as it gazes into you!” Disappointingly though, arguably intermixed with these glimpses of a far haughtier ‘heyday’ Defender, is a much less enjoyable modern-day storyline which unhappily simply shows just how desperately dire a magic user Stephen has become since he “was nearly destroyed by anti-magic zealots from another dimension."

Indeed, Barber’s depiction of the modern-day occult consultant seems to have been written more for laughs than any serious attempt to demonstrate the cloaked adventurer’s worrying impotence, with Strange one moment being barely able to stop himself from using his Axe of Angarruumus upon a somewhat humorously cursed member of the public, and then in the next drolly battering his apprentice Zelma Stanton in the jaw with a stop sign. Such jovial antics may well have worked if this entire comic’s script was similarly scribed, but when mixed with a far more seriously toned sub-plot involving the sorcerer’s horror-filled journey to a creepy citadel which “was not here, even moments ago”, it debatably just jars the senses.

Equally as irritating is editor Nick Lowe’s decision to employ a staggering nine different people to help illustrate this book. Split into two highly distinctive camps, Kevin Nowlan’s work on the ‘Past Sequence Art’ does an excellent job of capturing both the look and feel of Steve Ditko’s co-creation, as well as the late great American artist’s straightforward styled era. Whilst Juan Frigeri’s pencilling of the good Doctor’s current zombie-laden exploits is perhaps a bit more of an acquired taste..?
Writer: John Barber, and Present Sequence Art: Juan Frigeri & Java Tartaglia

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

James Bond: Origin #1 - Dynamite Entertainment

JAMES BOND: ORIGIN No. 1, September 2018
Publicized by “Dynamite Entertainment” as “the definitive account of James Bond’s exploits during World War Two”, this twenty-seven page periodical certainly packed plenty of pulse-pounding punch in September 2018 with its wonderfully tense depiction of the Clydebank Blitz, “the most devastating German attack on Scotland during the War”, and intriguing spy shenanigans set within a strictly-run Scottish school for boys. Indeed, considering that writer Jeff Parker himself admitted that any such comic would prove “a weighty challenge”, this narrative’s enjoyably enthralling pace and clever depiction of its titular character being simply “tenacious and a lightning-quick study”, as opposed to a contrived junior version of the famous “double-O agent”, should readily have dispelled any fears long-term fans of the franchise had that the “Oregon-based writer” couldn’t “nail the promising hero in his youth.”

Arguably this comic’s biggest success therefore, as opposed to the marvellous “gravitas of war in 1941 Europe” which its terrifying opening portrays, is its depiction of the seventeen-year-old’s exacting education and engrossing relationships with Bond’s disciplinarian teachers, friends and bullish enemies. These all-too brief ‘days of innocence’ do admittedly read somewhat like one of Enid Blyton’s naively-penned “Famous Five” novels with Professor Keller suddenly being visited by a mysterious man who is revealed to be “working for… [the] Nazis in Denmark” on some rocket plans, and a suspicious young James deciding to try to overhear the two men’s conspiratorial conversation. But such similarities to the “strong moral framework” of Blyton’s popular children’s stories is debatably precisely the sort of straightforward sense of right from wrong which a future secret serviceman should have; “I tried to follow the men who attacked the professor -- I lost them!”

Ultimately however, it is probably this comic’s incredibly dramatic and emotional representation of a German night-time bombing run over a highly-populated residential area, which rather cleverly bookends the cast’s innocent(ish) school days, that potentially attracted the most praise, as the incredibly well-penned extended sequence leaps from one sense-shattering scene to another as Commander Weldon desperately tries to lead his wards to safety amidst a plethora of deadly exploding shells, and Bond demonstrates his willingness to put his personal welfare second when others are in dire need of assistance. Energetically pencilled and coloured by Bob Q, these panels are a real treat for the eyes, and doubtless helped many bibliophiles both almost feel the intense heat of the fires surrounding Ian Fleming's "icon", as well as hear the deafening roar of the enemy aeroplanes as they drone overhead devilishly delivering more death and destruction with every passing second.
Script: Jeff Parker, Art & Colour: Bob Q, and Letters: Simon Bowland

Monday, 10 September 2018

The Amazing Spider-Man #798 - Marvel Comics

In many ways it’s arguably hard to credit this particular twenty-page periodical either being the second best-selling comic of April 2018 or shifting a staggering 233,235 copies during a single month. True, this continuation of “Dan Slott’s final Spider-Man story” features the first appearance of Norman Osborn as the Red Goblin, a highly-anticipated debut which had made previous editions of the title theatrically fly off the spinner racks in unprecedented numbers. But until this book’s conclusion, when Peter Parker's defeated alter-ego disconcertingly ‘waves the white flag’ so as to save his mangled hide, there isn’t really anything within the Eisner Award-winner’s script which hasn’t been seen numerous times before.

Indeed, for many of this ongoing series’ long-term fans “The Rope-A-Dope” must have struck them as a seriously straightforward ‘pen-by-numbers’ Spidey storyline, which initially depicts the Green Goblin unsurprisingly smashing into the offices of the Daily Bugle demanding that Web-head reveal himself, then threatening the staff with one of his gimmicky explosive devices when the wall-crawler doesn’t appear as quickly as he’d like, before finally engaging his hated nemesis in a bout of over-glorified fisticuffs as the clock ticks down. Incredibly, the Berkeley-born writer even manages to somehow squeeze in a another reference to Gwen Stacy’s dramatic death by having the crazily costumed super-villain threaten to ‘sell’ Betty Brant “a bridge in Brooklyn” and enthusiastically enquire whether she’d like to see it in person.

Such pulse-pounding proceedings do admittedly conjure up plenty of tension and sensationalism, especially when they are so very well illustrated by the likes of penciller Stuart Immonen and inker Wade von Grawbadger, yet debatably still disappoint with the contrived circumstances apparently employed in order to populate this twenty-page periodical. In fact, with the exception of hired help Emma, shockingly gunning down Harry and the rest of the Allen family with tranquilizer darts so as to take charge of Lyman’s young children, there’s debatably no surprises to be had at all within the American author’s script until Norman makes a spine-chilling recovery from his seemingly fatal wounds; “What the hell’s going on? All of his blood, it’s -- The Carnage Symbiote!”

Disappointingly however, even this long-awaited altercation is frustratingly a far cry from the “no quarter” fright-fest “Marvel Worldwide” promised in their pre-publication publicity. Advertised as containing Osborn’s “ultimate revenge” upon Spider-Man, the pair’s fleeting fight following the arms dealer fully donning his new persona, quickly resolves itself into an all-too brief game of ‘hide and seek’ which unbelievably sees the truly-lethal, blood-thirsty symbiote offer his deadliest opponent his life if Peter will simply “give it up” and “stop being Spider-Man”..!?!
Writer: Dan Slott, Penciler: Stuart Immonen, and Inker: Wade von Grawbadger

Sunday, 9 September 2018

Hal Jordan And The Green Lantern Corps #49 - DC Comics

Despite commendably being the sixty-seventh best-selling comic in July 2018, at least according to “Diamond Comic Distributors”, some within this publication’s 27,998-strong audience may well have felt a little nervous at a twenty-page periodical devoted entirely to a colossal confrontation between the Guardians’ intergalactic police force and their mortal enemies, the Darkstars. But whilst Robert Venditti’s narrative for “Disrupted” does rely somewhat upon the splash illustration skills of pencillers Rafa Sandoval and Sergio Davila to help pad the storyline out, there’s still arguably plenty of plot progression within it to have kept the majority of the title’s readers thoroughly entertained.

Foremost of these thrills has to be the titular character’s opening fracas with the utterly despicable Tomar-Tu, whose infuriating hubris and self-righteousness is finally brought back ‘down to Earth’ with a satisfying bump when he realises that his exo-mantle’s cowardly teleportation ability has been nullified; “Tell me if you see this one coming! Whammm”. The sheer look of terror within the beak-headed traitor’s eye is marvellous to behold, and shows very plainly just why the son of the “legendary hero Tomar-Re” is himself unfit to be a Green Lantern any more.

Similarly as successful is the Florida-born writer’s demonstration as to just how formidably powerful Hector Hammond actually is by depicting the telepath easily overpowering seven mentally linked Controllers within the space of a single heartbeat. “DC Comics” firmly focussed their pre-print promotion upon John Broome’s co-creation by highlighting how desperate the Green Lantern Corps must be to “ally itself with the monstrous” and “evil” physically disfigured mind manipulator, so Jordan’s all-too apparent unease at just how readily Hammond cut the strings to the Darkstars’ “puppet masters” makes for one of this comic’s stand-out moments.

Admittedly, the wealth of large panels presented within this second instalment to “Last Charge” does still mean that initially those bibliophiles simply perusing the action might finish Issue Forty Nine of “Hal Jordan And The Green Lantern Corps” in record time. But almost all of these over-sized illustrations contain plenty to capture the attention and hold the eye, such as the sheer number of Kilowog’s followers drawn during John Stewart’s formation of a blockade to “keep the Darkstars inside the disruption zone” surrounding Mogo, or Guy Gardner’s gratifyingly graphic attempt to ensure he isn’t “upstaged” by his colleague’s efforts to non-lethally subdue their enemies by leading a spearhead consisting of Guy Gardner, Arkillo, General Zod, and Orion straight into the ranks of their numerous adversaries.
The regular cover art of "HAL JORDAN AND THE GREEN LANTERN CORPS" No. 49 by Tyler Kirkham & Arif Prianto

Saturday, 8 September 2018

The Vampires Of Lower Bennett Street #2 - Markosia Enterprises

Despite perhaps somewhat precipitously moving away from its previous edition’s wonderfully atmospheric Seventeenth-Century shenanigans to a “futuristic and terrifying world [where] there are many questions to be asked”, Mike Lynch’s script for Issue Two of “The Vampires Of Lower Bennett Street” still must have provided its readership in July 2018 with plenty to enjoy with its hard-hitting physical violence and penchant for automatic weapons fire. Indeed, the sheer tempo of its plot, as Lazarus’ party easily overpowers Agent Grey’s ill-equipped small military force and finally escapes their centuries-long captivity arguably imbues this book with far more passion and pace than its forerunner.

Fortunately however, this series of frantic fire-fights involving the blood-drinkers “finally freed from their underground tomb” haven’t seemingly been penned simply for the sake of action, and add a lot of interest to this “new nightmare” as the long-time slumberers both discover and then explore their invulnerability to their enemies’ ineffective armaments; “Huhh? See! Their muskets have no effect upon us, strange as they are!” Such unexpected imperviousness really does bring out the viciousness of the vampires, with Martha in particular appearing to disconcertingly enjoy the fact that the firearms won’t harm her, but will quite easily blow the head clean off one of the soldiers she has just captured.

In addition, the West Irishman’s narrative also introduces the incredibly intriguing bat-headed sub-leader of this dark and twisted “totalitarian future”, whose vampiric abilities appear to have been enhanced with nano technology. Splendidly attired in the long black leather raiment of your typical fascist dictator, even down to his swastika-like motiffed red armband, this cold-hearted killer dominates every panel within which he appears, whether that be him matter-of-factly slaying one of his own men with a poison-laden syringe and subsequently ordering for the dead trooper’s head to be removed and body burnt, or simply informing Grey that he will soon undergo “the procedure” now his application to join the new breed of vampire’s order has been fruitful. 

Similarly as successful as Lynch’s narrative is Joe Campbell’s pencilling which packs plenty of panels with just the sort of intense pulse-pounding proceedings an audience would expect from a plot focusing upon “Lazarus and his vampire allies” battling against gas-mask wearing goons, hovering satellites, and state-of-the-art fighter planes. In fact the artist’s ability to represent the breath-taking speed with which some of this comic’s cast can move is one of this publication’s highlights, as his dynamically-etched blur-lines shockingly show just how outclassed the Demon Mother’s forces are when engaging this book’s titular characters in close combat.

‘First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
Writer: Mike Lynch, and Artist: Joe Campbell

Thursday, 6 September 2018

Doctor Strange [2015] #24 - Marvel Comics

DOCTOR STRANGE No. 24, October 2017
As cataclysmic confrontations between Karl Amadeus Mordo and this comic’s titular character go, Dennis Hopeless’ script for Issue Twenty Four of “Doctor Strange” must have pleased the vast majority of its 28,992 strong audience, with its excellent blend of heart-pumping shenanigans, multi-faceted strategies and dark incantations. Indeed, as conclusions to multi-part storylines go, the Missouri-born’s decision to depict the Sorcerer Supreme utilising his wits as opposed to simply relying upon exotic magical items, not only allows the rest of this book’s supporting cast to share in the ‘limelight’ as they collectively attempt to penetrate the Baron’s formidable protective bubble, but for once shows the Master Of The Mystic Arts relying upon his intimate knowledge of Hydra's “trumped-up pawn” so as to use his arrogant vanity against him; “No one was going to defeat you from the ground. Not while you held the Sanctum. I had to compel you to gather up your mindless beasts and ill-gotten spells -- and leave my house.”

Such a pleasantly surprising plot-twist also results in a far more physically dynamic battle than perhaps this publication’s bibliophiles were ordinarily used to, most notably Spider-Woman’s fantastic flying display behind the cockpit of the Phantom Eagle. Terrifically pencilled and coloured by Niko Henrichon, this “exhilarating… gun run in a zombie airplane with no roof” makes for a thrilling read, with Jessica Drew narrowly evading the tentacles of Mordo’s “great beasties of the Darkforce” and engaging in “a rousing round of hide-and-go death serpent”.

Likewise Benjamin Urich’s phantasmagorical swordplay against a “gangrenous horde” whilst inhabited by a spiritual Light Knight packs the Kansas State University alumnus' narrative full of scything sensationalism as the “investigative journalist for the New York newspaper The Daily Bugle” chops down an “abominable army of rot” with both his “luminous blade light” and bluster. It’s rare to see the chain-smoker portrayed as such an obvious action hero, and Hopeless’ dialogue strongly suggests just how much the reporter is enjoying himself by penning Ben confidently wading into a zombie host alongside a similarly super-powered Wilson Fisk.

Of course, this comic’s arguable highlight however, has to be the Baron’s utter astonishment at having been bested once again by a magician whose modern-day abilities are far inferior to his own. Dethroned by Strange’s astral projection “rope-a-dope” ruse, and faced with the combined physical might of such notable costumed crime-fighters as Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Cloak and Spider-Woman, the beaten Transylvanian nobleman is so enraged with frustration that he rather humorously stands indignantly transfixed before his foes spouting his unrealistic defiance until Matt Murdock mercifully socks him in the jaw.
Writer: Dennis Hopeless, Artist & Colorist: Niko Henrichon, and Letters: VC's Cory Petit

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Nightwing Annual #1 - DC Comics

NIGHTWING ANNUAL No. 1, October 2018
Rather replicating the disturbing scene from the Wachowski Brothers’ 1999 science fiction action film “The Matrix” where Neo has a bug-shaped robotic probe violently ‘drawn’ out through his navel by team-mate Trinity, Benjamin Percy’s opening scene for this “Nightwing” annual certainly must have pulled in the comic’s audience with this significantly tense hook. However, just as soon as Barbara Gordon has painfully extracted the phantasm controller wrapped around the titular character’s heart, then the Oregon-born writer’s narrative suddenly performs a disconcerting deep-dive into both the terrifying techno-babble world of the ‘darknet’ and the costumed crimefighter’s recent battle against “the shadowy, high-tech organisation known as the Dark Web.”

Indeed, for any of this publication’s readers unfamiliar with Dick Grayson’s exhausting battle against “the smart city overhaul of Bludhaven” in his ongoing contemporary book, or those perusing bibliophiles simply attempting to use the thirty-seven page periodical as a ‘jumping on’ point, the subsequent dialogue between the former flying circus acrobat, Batgirl and Vicki Vale concerning memory malware, bleeding-edge tech, neuro-images, electro-physiological data, firewalls and encryption must have become unpalatably overwhelming, and arguably lost any audience interest which the comic’s frantically-paced beginning created; “I’m going to send off a focused electromagnetic pulse that’ll stun it into submission. Then I’ll use what is essentially a hyper magnetic vacuum to suck it out of your body.”

For those within this magazine’s audience who have an understanding of the story-line’s past events though, or are simply willing to ‘go with the flow’, “Deadline” undeniably delivers plenty of pulse-pounding predicaments for the original Robin to overcome, whilst simultaneously exploring the possibility of Bruce Wayne’s legal ward developing an intriguingly intimate relationship with Gotham Four News’ leading reporter. This mix of Otto Schmidt’s dynamically drawn dilemmas and lip-stick smudging flirtations undeniably provides plenty of entertaining moments to make this comic’s $4.99 cover price somewhat stomachable, with Nightwing’s roof-top rodeo with one of the Dark Web’s automaton agents or confrontation with Vire, “the psychic embodiment of malware who can unearth your darkest secrets”, being just two.

However, there is debatably little excuse for editor Katie Kubert permitting this lengthy tome to finish on the inconclusive cliffhanger Percy pens concerning a shocked Grayson discovering that his seemingly outmanoeuvred opponent actually holds Vicki Vale captive, and thus facing the heart-wrenching choice of actually aiding the Wyrm in an unspecified task or knowing Batman’s one-time romantic interest “will be… deleted.” On paper such a ruse may well have seemed like a perfectly plausible tactic to lure casual comic book collectors back to the Teen Titan’s title so as to sate their curiosity concerning ‘what happens next?” But for many, this ploy arguably will have backfired and simply caused anger, frustration and resentment at being expected to purchase additional editions just to discern what “the greatest motorcycle race in the cosmos” is all about..?
Writer: Benjamin Percy, Art & Cover: Otto Schmidt, and Letterer: Dave Sharpe