Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Catwoman Annual #1 - DC Comics

CATWOMAN ANNUAL No. 1, July 2019
Any fans of Selina Kyle’s alter-ego who hoped this super-sized thirty-eight page periodical’s pulse-pounding cover was just a taster of the excitement to come within the comic’s narrative, must arguably have been bitterly disappointed by “Joelle Jones’ first Catwoman Annual” and it’s disconcerting over-reliance to tell a truly dreary murder investigation “through a variety of points of view.” Indeed, apart from an all-too brief confrontation between the titular character and the Immortal Man, absolutely nothing occurs whatsoever which even vaguely attains the adrenaline-racing illustration of the jewel thief, resplendent in her Michelle Pfeiffer cinematic costume, stretched out across the bonnet of a fast-moving police patrol car as it hurtles down the road at break neck speed with its emergency lights flashing.

Instead, this ponderous tome contains an unconvincingly contrived concoction of “conflicting stories” which would have its readers believe the female burglar would simply bring back a partially-dead drug addict to her private flat so as to help the young woman go ‘cold turkey’ and then inexplicably train Chesa’s unwelcome friends to steal for themselves simply so they can all ‘stick it to the man’? Such motivation debatably makes little sense whatsoever, especially when the likes of the truly detestable Amanda Burress are initially caught by Kyle trashing her lodgings, breaking her ornaments, wearing her jewellery and drinking her champagne; “A lot of people worked very hard to get all these things. People that always did what they were told. People that worked a job, made good investments, just so they could have these things.”

Lamentably however, this publication's plot only gets worse once the thieving fiends decide to strike out on their own and steal a valuable antique spear from a seemingly insecure mansion with “outdated security”. This building unfortunately turns out to be the home of Klarn, a caveman who has lived for fifty thousand years, and who just happens to be inconveniently sitting deep in the shadows of his living room when the hapless intruders enter. Three broken wind-pipes and a mystifyingly surreal suicide pact frame-up later, and Catwoman is suddenly being hunted for their murders by the Villa Hermosa Police Department.!?!

Sadly, Jamie S. Rich’s decision to utilise the talents of a number of different artists only seems to add to this storyline’s sheer sense of befuddlement, with Elena Casagrande’s pages in particular proving a real disappointment. In fact, only Scott Godlewski’s clean-lined sketches seem to really imbue Selina with any of the dangerously lithe grace associated with her nefarious nocturnal activities, and even this prodigious pencilling is put to the test by Jones’ decision to have Superman make a bizarrely artifical cameo at the publication’s very end…
Story: Joelle Jones, and Artists: Elena Casagrande, Hugo Petrus and Scott Godlewski

Thursday, 6 June 2019

Detective Comics Annual #2 - DC Comics

DETECTIVE COMICS ANNUAL No. 2, July 2019
Somewhat worryingly starting out like a pale comic book adaption of the 1993 American animated superhero film “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm”, Peter J. Tomasi’s script for this second “Detective Comics Annual” will undoubtedly have caught a fair few of its audience out with its satisfyingly sudden departure from Paul Dini’s “cinematic continuation of Batman: The Animated Series” that the skull-faced killer cold-bloodedly murdering criminals in “Manchester, Paris, Zagreb and… Greece” is not in fact the late Judson Caspian’s daughter, Rachel. But rather something altogether unexpected, which takes both bibliophile and Dark Knight completely by surprise, whilst simultaneously adding yet another intriguing addition to the DC Universe’s already rich collection of global underground assassin-themed organisations; “I have made the Reapers an unstoppable international implement of vengeance.”

Mercifully though, such an enjoyable subversion of expectations doesn’t mean that the opening two-thirds of this whopping thirty-eight page periodical make for a lack-lustre reading experience either. For despite many doubtless thinking they’ve seen Bruce Wayne “assume billionaire playboy mode” and act the buffoon in the presence of an unsuspecting heiress a hundred times before, the “Blackest Night” co-writer’s narrative still provides plenty of ‘fresh’ insights into the Caped Crusader’s world courtesy of a visit to the Bat-Cave located in Pyrgos, Greece, and a charmingly melodramatic scene involving Alfred Pennyworth acting as a drunken Judas goat so as to lure the unsuspecting super-villain out into the open. Indeed, this somewhat highly-anticipated dip back into the Black Casebook of the costumed crime-fighter is simply packed with pleasing action-sequences, such as Sophia turning her philanthropist passenger green with some reckless high-speed driving across Crete or the Great Detective’s meticulous exploration of the “bookstore near the Ephorate of Antiquities.”

In addition, artists Travis Moore and Max Raynor really manage to bring the sheer savagery of this latest incarnation of the Reaper to dynamic life, as well as pencil Batman at his physical best, kicking his scythe-wielding opponent straight in the chops with some satisfyingly bone-crunching sound effects. This publication’s cataclysmic conclusion is especially worthy of praise as the creative collaboration, alongside colorists Tamra Bonvillain and Nick Filardi, really help imbue the “veritable shopping list of automation” known as the Reaper Prime with all the die-hard menace one would expect from an formidably-augmented killing machine.
Story & Words: Peter J. Tomasi, and Artists: Travis Moore & Max Raynor

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Gears Of War: Hivebusters #1 - IDW Publishing

GEARS OF WAR: HIVEBUSTERS No. 1, March 2019
Packed full of more f-bombs than a Joe Pesci comedic sketch, and lacking any semblance of plot until its final third, Kurtis J. Wiebe’s opening instalment to this “five-part Gears of War comic series” must surely have disappointed both ardent fans of “the best-selling” video game franchise, as well as those readers new to the conflict between humanity and the reptilian Locust Horde. For whilst this twenty-two page periodical is undeniably packed full of pulse-pounding action as “a new fearless squad” successfully busts a Swarm hive on the remote island of Pahanu with as much excessive force as the trio can muster, little of the graphically-depicted gratuitous violence makes much sense until the team are eventually extracted from their “suicide” mission and subsequently debriefed by their wheelchair-bound commanding officer.

Up until this point, it’s arguably hard to ascertain specifically what is happening within this publication’s narrative and whether Mac’s gruelling gun-toting journey through the claustrophobically-tunnelled heart of a reptilian hominid Hive is actually real or simply part of this comic’s horrible, hallucinogenic opening sequence, where the red-headed warrior takes “what can only be described as a voyage to trip-out city.” Indeed, despite some significantly expletive-laden dialogue, which at least provides the fresh-faced trooper with a modicum of backstory involving his family settling down in “a decommissioned COG [Coalition of Ordered Governments] outpost built near the end of the Locust War”, the only point to this comic seems to be just how many different ways the GLAAD Media Award-winner can pen for the insectoid-influenced aliens to be killed; “No going back, boys! We’re surrounded on all sides!”

Curiously however, once the debatably monotonous combat does finally come to an end, and the swearing is at least somewhat curtailed, Issue One of “Gears Of War: Hivebusters” genuinely seems to become significantly more enjoyable, as each of the leading cast are unexpectedly given a little development time. Lahni in particular appears to prosper from this ‘spotlight’ and transforms from a foul-mouthed Vasquez clone to a surprisingly sentimental reinstated sergeant who is clearly determined to make up for her past misdemeanours and places her loyalty to her team-mates above all else.

The more sedentary nature of these latter sequences also provides Alan Quah with an opportunity to more clearly pencil the difference soldiers’ likenesses, without all the distraction of big guns, zinging bullets and bamboozling extra-terrestrial-based backgrounds. Admittedly, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the Malaysian artist’s sense-shattering panels showing the utter carnage and mutilation Hoffman’s heavily-armed people can cause, but the illustrator’s ability to imbue his figures with facially-recognisable emotion truly only comes to the fore with some of this book’s dialogue-driven close-ups.
Writer: Kurtis Wiebe, Artist: Alan Quah, and Colorist: Komikaki Studio Featuring Sean Lee

Sunday, 2 June 2019

Road Of Bones #1 - IDW Publishing

ROAD OF BONES No. 1, May 2019
Advertised by “IDW Publishing” as providing an insight into just why the Siberian Gulag of Kolyma in 1953 was “hell on Earth”, many readers of this four-part mini-series’ opening instalment may well have been stunned to learn that its enthrallingly sickening narrative is actually “new territory” for its author, Rich Douek. Indeed, so compelling is the claustrophobically dangerous atmosphere created by Roman Morozov's desperate struggle to survive unjustified beatings, meagre food rations and the unwanted attentions of the living dead, that many within the twenty-four page periodical’s audience probably felt that the upcoming graphic novelist already had a pedigree in penmanship similar to that of Stephen King, Jonathan Maberry or Robert Kirkman.

Fortunately for Issue One of “Road Of Bones” though, none of that “horror title” naivety seemingly shows when it comes to either this book’s prodigious pacing or its ability to create some genuinely nerve-tingling moments of terror, such as when a wizened prisoner no longer has the strength to even lift himself up on his shovel and subsequently has his brains brutally bashed in with the butt of a guard’s rifle. Such utter disregard for human life and the suffering of their fellow man permanents throughout the story-line to the point where it’s perfectly easy to understand just why Alex Cormack would compassionately pencil an inmate risking a life-threatening kicking simply to steal a small raw potato; “Stop. I said it’s fine. In here. But out there… You get your share and nothing more. Remember that.”

Equally as engrossing is Morozov’s devotion to a ghoulish-looking household spirit which ultimately causes the desperate detainee to gain an additional decade to his original twenty-five year sentence for having once told a joke about Joseph Stalin “at a party.” Sickeningly gaunt, and scarred by the ravages of its unnatural existence, this so-called guardian doesn’t actually properly manifest itself until the end of this petrifying publication, and despite the creature’s wise words of warning to the shivering Roman that “there is no god here” in the icy tundra “but hunger”, arguably seems to be just as much a threat to the freezing cold escapee as the walking corpse evidently is to the soft, fluffy bunny it bloodily consumes…
Written by: Rich Douek, and Art/Colors/Cover by: Alex Cormack

Sunday, 26 May 2019

Batman And The Outsiders #1 - DC Comics

BATMAN AND THE OUTSIDERS No. 1, July 2019
Having been suddenly cancelled by “DC Comics” in November 2018, with the subsidiary of “Warner Brothers” promising comic book retailers that the title would be re-solicited “later in 2019”, fans of “Batman And The Outsiders” were probably hoping that writer Bryan Hill’s “tweaking of some of the script because of DCU events” was going to make this particular twenty-four page periodical truly stand out from amongst the myriad of other Dark Knight-related publications swamping the local store’s spinner rack. Yet whilst “Lesser Gods” starts off well enough, with a super-powered villain mysteriously targeting a single parent and his daughter as they innocently drive through Los Angeles, the American author’s narrative soon arguably gets badly bogged down in the doubts and fears of its leading cast; “Neither are you, Signal. That’s why I had to save your life. We have to work together. We’re a team.”

True, the super-group’s dynamically-paced battle against the homicidal shootist Saint John provides plenty of pulse-pounding action whilst it lasts, especially when it seems clear that Duke Thomas is intent on hurling himself against the gun-toting maniac simply to show comrade-in-arms Orphan that he is neither afraid nor feels he needs Black Lightning to tackle the mass of murderous muscle blazing away at him with a rotary cannon. However, just as soon as Katana cleaves the brute’s machine-gun and “Raijin” zaps the felon into next week, this book’s plot disappointingly degenerates into little more than a series of word-heavy, dialogue-driven scenes where everyone from Bruce Wayne through to Jefferson Pierce openly discuss some of their most innermost concerns about the freshly assembled team.

Debatably this comic’s biggest frustration though, is the fact that Batman is predominantly kept on the sidelines, disconcertingly directing his proteges to “find Sofia [and] bring her to Gotham” from the shadows, rather than directly leading the Outsiders himself. Indeed, the Caped Crusader doesn’t even appear in costume until the second half of the book, when he is simply depicted ruminating upon the Bat-computer’s suggested action for him to contact the Los Angeles Police Department for more information on Ramos’ disappearance.

Happily, what Hill’s script lacks in gripping drama is somewhat ‘put right’ by Dexter Soy’s marvellously energetic pencilling, which really helps imbue the plot’s more sedentary scenes with some much-needed gravitas and foreboding atmosphere. Black Lightning’s ‘friendly duel’ with Tatsu Yamashiro at her “little place in Gotham” is a good example of this, where the somewhat stilted dialogue between the pair is made all the more tense and enthralling courtesy of the Goodreads Choice Award-nominee’s incredibly thrilling artwork.
The regular cover art of "BATMAN AND THE OUTSIDERS" No. 1 by Tyler Kirkham & Arif Prianto

Monday, 13 May 2019

The Forgotten Queen #1 - Valiant Entertainment

THE FORGOTTEN QUEEN No. 1, February 2019
Originally created for “Valiant Entertainment” by Matt Kindt and Paolo Rivera in 2015 as an antagonist for the global law enforcement team known as Unity, Tini Howard’s narrative for Issue One of “The Forgotten Queen” firmly focuses upon just how the War-Monger manages to finally escape her underwater prison, whilst simultaneously exploring the villainess’ enthralling relationship with Genghis Khan and subsequent journey across the Mongol Empire following the first Great Khan’s death. In fact, over half of this twenty-page periodical’s length is dedicated to some fascinating flashbacks which significantly flesh out the immortal woman’s background, whether she be mischievously manipulating the Akkadians into a painful act of barbaric blood-lust or subtly encouraging a caveman to brain his brother with a suitably-sized boulder.

Happily however, the former winner of the “Top Cow” Talent Hunt has clearly done a lot of research before penning this publication, with her love of history imbuing the book’s narrative with a genuine sense of realism which never appears to directly interfere with the natural course of historical events. Instead, the “recently inducted Marvel exclusive writer” shows the nefarious titular character simply standing on the sideline as Temujin unites the Northeast Asian nomadic tribes together, only occasionally inspiring the primal fire within his kingdom’s army "to lift a blade" and fight like demons.

For those bibliophiles more interested in Vexana’s modern day shenanigans though, Howard also does a first rate job of depicting the Research Vessel Lohengrin’s deep-sea exploration of a submerged cave system, located somewhere in the wide, unmarked middle of the Pacific Ocean. This tense, understandably claustrophobic sequence, beautifully intertwined amongst the War-Monger’s aforementioned past experiences, provides the publication with a genuinely riveting primary plot-thread as veteran research diver Erik Zafiropolous encounters something far more deadly beneath the waves than an exceptionally aggressive sperm whale which suspiciously collides with the archeological expedition’s ship.

Similarly as successful as Tini’s script are Amilcar Pinna’s sensationally-sketched storyboards, which show an incredible attention to detail, especially when used to draw the instantly recognizable Mongolian armour, complete with its hardened leather plates and lacing. Indeed, it is clear from just the Brazilian artist’s opening panels, which add some considerable menace to a supposedly routine dive, just why his illustration work was described by Howard as having “a kinetic energy to it that I couldn’t possibly have expected. Some of his pages are so dynamic it feels like they’re moving, and yet…”
The regular cover art of "THE FORGOTTEN QUEEN" No. 1 by Kano

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Dragonsblood #1 - Zenescope Entertainment

DRAGONSBLOOD No. 1, May 2019
Enthrallingly fixed upon the Volsung Clan’s seemingly eternal task of slaying the dragon, Fafnir, Nick Bermel’s storyline for Issue One of “Dragonsblood” contains plenty of sense-shattering, swashbuckling swordplay, whilst simultaneously managing to avoid the age old trap of not making this fantasy comic’s sole protagonist either a super-human fighter or some world-weary, smart-thinking adventurer who is so experienced that their fights are practically over before they’ve even begun. Indeed, Sigurd, “the last of his clan”, is actually portrayed as the least able member of his family, being both a poorer marksman with a bow and physically weaker than his ill-fated older brother; “I hope you are being modest, or else this shall be a bore.”

Equally as engaging as the evident fallibility of his hero, is the “Grimm Tales of Terror” author’s emotionally-charged ‘flashbacks’ to the dragon-slayer’s long-dead relatives and their determination to rid the world of their “terrible foe” so that their loved ones won’t have to face the ancient, all-powerful wyrm. Initiated each time "Siggy" stumbles across either the skeletal corpse or piece of well-worn garment which once belonged to his kinfolk, these wonderfully warming interludes really help demonstrate to this comic’s audience just how much historical heart-break has been heaped upon the shoulders of the young warrior, and provide plenty of relatable rationale as to just why “the last of Sigismund’s line” so hates the legendary creature he is stalking.

These days it is hard not to compare all dragons, talking or otherwise, with that of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “most specially greedy, strong and wicked worm" Smaug, and sadly, the striking similarities between Fafnir and the destroyer of Erebor is debatably this twenty-two page periodical’s sole disappointment. Admittedly, Bermel’s beast has only one good eye and is seemingly ‘protected’ by an array of far smaller, formidably-fanged draconians, but it still rather unimaginatively has a small bare spot in its heavily-scaled underbelly which makes it susceptible to the strike of a well-timed bladed hand-weapon.

Besides its prodigious penmanship, “Zenescope’s newest series” also contains some impressive pencilling by Jason Muhr, whose clean-lined look to the breakdowns makes it abundantly clear just why this book’s writer “bugged Dave (our head editor) to reach out to Jason to see if he would work on it” just as soon as “Dragonsblood” was approved. Sigurd’s all-too brief battle with the dinosaur-like guardians of Fafnir’s inner sanctum proves especially pulse-pounding, as does the breath-taking impact of the wyrm’s bloody blows upon its would-be killer during their cataclysmic confrontation.
The regular cover art of "DRAGONSBLOOD" No. 1 by Martin Coccolo & Ivan Nunes

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Star Trek: Year Five #1 - IDW Publishing

STAR TREK: YEAR FIVE No. 1, April 2019
It’s doubtful that many fans of Gene Roddenberry’s original vision found themselves half as excited to own this sedentarily scripted twenty-page periodical as “a long time collector of pop culture from New York state” apparently was, when they purchased the comic’s “gorgeous” Greg Hildebrandt cover art piece for $13,750 at auction in April 2019. For whilst the illustration which graces “the debut issue of Star Trek: Year Five” provides an inspirational representation of Captain James T. Kirk, his iconic starship, legendary crew and a plethora of planets to be explored, Jackson Lanzing & Collin Kelly’s narrative contains very little in the way of energising action, and instead focuses heavily upon a diabolically depressed skipper of the U.S.S. Enterprise, who having received word of his promotion to the rank of Admiral by Starfleet Command, sullenly mopes about his vessel’s observation deck no longer wanting to return home.

Admittedly, that doesn’t mean that this supposedly “hard-hitting… look at Captain Kirk on his last year in command” lacks any semblance of the frantic, well-choreographed fight-scenes the Sixties television show is famous for, as the publication’s conclusion contains a sadly short-lived contest between the senior bridge crew and an incredibly agitated Tholian. But before any remaining reader could encounter so enjoyable a ‘flurry of fisticuffs’ they would first have had to endure such soul-sapping sequences as Mister Spock waxing lyrical about Starfleet Engineering Corps spending two years constructing an Einstein-Rosen Ouroboros with which to protect the cosmos from the stellar explosion of the Lloyd Zeta Hypergiant, or a disagreeably inappropriate turbo-lift chat between the Science Officer and the Chief of Engineering in which the Vulcan cold-heartedly informs Mister Scott that he’s become fat, and that the popular ‘miracle-worker’ will doubtless increasingly battle obesity for his remaining days; “Whew! Are those doors gettin’ faster or am I just puttin’ on pounds?”

Just as arguably disengaging is Lanzing’s attempt to immediately hook his audience with the suggestion that “Kirk’s actions in the series will have huge ripple effects” by beginning this book with a shocking ‘flash-forwards’ to a time when the battered constitution-class captain is about to be shot in the back of the head by an unknown executioner purportedly for his criminal actions. Disappointingly, such a startling situation is never resolved within this actual edition, and arguably must have caused its impatient readers to hurry along the story-line so that they can start following its plot into the unknown, rather than already know that no matter what the Starfleet Officer does, he is always going to end up alone on his partially-destroyed ship’s bridge facing a phaser…
Writers: Jackson Lanzing & Collin Kelly, and Artist: Stephen Thompson

Monday, 6 May 2019

Ghost Tree #1 - IDW Publishing

GHOST TREE No. 1, April 2019
Having been informed even before its April 2019 on-sale date that this "first chapter in an ethereal four-issue journey through the dark forests of Japan” had “sold out at the distributor level”, fans of Bobby Curnow’s penmanship were probably quite rightly anticipating an emotionally enchanting reading experience with this twenty-two page periodical. Yet whilst the comic’s creative team were apparently “thrilled that we’re doing a second print” of Issue One of “Ghost Tree”, it is hard to imagine many in this book’s audience were satisfied by a narrative that disconcertingly lives up to its unambitious author’s rather lack-lustre aspiration to just provide “a quiet character-based drama” which lacks any life whatsoever, and simply relies upon a monotonous carousel of sedentary, dialogue-driven conversational pieces.

Indeed, despite showing some considerable potential in its early scenes, when an elderly Ojii-Chan takes his six-year old grandchild into the nearby, seemingly haunted woods, and gets him to promise the elderly bespectacled man that he’ll return to the exact same spot ten years after the geriatric has died, the “IDW Publishing” Group Editor subsequently fails to build upon the supernatural intrigue generated, and instead resorts to telling a woefully listless tale of a young man desperately attempting to recapture his imaginative childhood whilst fleeing a failed marriage in America. To make matters worse though, the unhappily bland Brandt doesn’t even bat an eye when he does meet the living corpse of his long-dead relative, and astonishingly just nonchalantly accepts the numerous ancestral spectres who later surround him so as to hear the phantoms’ tales; “If you will not leave, well… now you listen to the ghosts. If you are inclined to hear their stories.”

Adding to this book’s all-pervading lethargy is Simon Gane’s artwork, which whilst competent enough in a cartoony-sort of way, predominantly fails to imbue any of this script's cast with some much-needed energy or dynamism, with perhaps the notable exception of the infant Brandt as he playfully evades the machinations of the Mind Melders. Curnow has already gone on record as saying he didn’t want “something with big marketing hooks or flashy cover plans”, but his desire to “see some cool and creepy ghosts” is never fully realised within the storyboards of an illustrator whose style seems far more suited to humorous sketches for Burning Sky Brewery’s “newly opened shop” than a mysteriously fearful exploration of “the conflict between past and present…”

First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
Written by: Bobby Curnow, Art by: Simon Gane, and Consultant: Takuma Okada

Sunday, 5 May 2019

Punk Mambo #1 - Valiant Entertainment

PUNK MAMBO No. 1, April 2019
As an opening foray into the mystifying world of Haitian Voodoo, Cullen Bunn’s script for Issue One of “Punk Mambo” arguably proved itself to be an excellent start to the British magic-user’s first-ever solo series in April 2019, by hurling its audience straight in at the deep end with a bout of pulse-pounding pugilism against a redneck tribe of lycanthrope-like cannibals. Indeed, such is the breathless, panting pace of its plot that many readers of this twenty-page periodical doubtless found themselves halfway through the publication before they even knew it.

Fortunately however, that doesn’t mean that the Eisner Award-nominee’s narrative is simply composed of one long fight scene, as the titular character’s encounter with Mama Grunch and her fearsomely-fanged babies contains so much more than an endless carousel of gratuitously-sketched panels populated with all manner of bodily eviscerations, mutilations and disintegrations. Yet it is hard not to enjoy the black-humoured banter as Victoria Greaves-Trott and her large, pink-hued spectral blob, literally tear apart a pack of savagely feral killers who have foolishly abducted some of the priestess’s New Orleans-based acquaintances with the intention of eating them… and perhaps utilising a few of their boiled bones as innovative pieces of costume jewellery.

Interestingly, despite Mambo’s ‘hard-as-nails’ bravado and evident super-natural ability to summon a lethally-sharp Reaper-blade out of thin air, the Cape Fear-born writer still manages to ‘wrong-foot’ his audience during this entrails-extracting kerfuffle by suddenly ridding the Mohawk-sporting protagonist of her super-strong 'Loa of doors and barriers and relentless beatings' just at the very finale of the fisticuffs. Ultimately, this shocking disappearance doesn’t detrimentally impact upon Punk’s spell-casting skills or the gore-spattered result of her battle with Grunch Road’s less desirable residents, but it does enthrallingly then lead into this comic’s more richly-penned second half, which quite wonderfully takes any perusing bibliophile by the hand so as to start exploring the heart of voodoo country.

Perhaps slightly less successful than Bunn’s storyline is Adam Gorham’s artwork, which whilst initially packed with all the detailed dynamic energy one might expect from a freelancer, who at the time of publication was confident enough to ask $500 for an original India ink on a 11" x 17' bristol, still debatably appears a little too rushed and undisciplined in places; especially towards this book’s end when the Canadian pencils Mambo stalking the disconcertingly bare-looking streets of a supposedly densely-populated marketplace.
Writer: Cullen Bunn, Artist: Adam Gorham, and Colors: Jose Villarrubia

Saturday, 27 April 2019

Leave On The Light #1 - Antarctic Press Comics

LEAVE ON THE LIGHT No. 1, April 2019
Brought vividly to life via “Kickstarter” in January 2019 courtesy of 130 backers pledging $2,974, this twenty-page ‘fright-fest’ most assuredly delivers on creator Bradley Golden’s intention to provide its audience with a truly disturbing narrative as “an undead serial killer” graphically begins claiming the lives of a small township’s children “using the city's Electrical system.” True, Issue One of “Leave On The Light” starts straightforwardly enough with little infant Kassey Maxey crossly disagreeing with her mother that she still needs to go to her new daycare in the morning, but just as soon as the bedroom light is switched off and the heavy rain outside starts pattering against the girl’s windows, it’s clear something enthrallingly gruesome is about to take place.

Impressively however, what then follows is far from a simple ‘slasher flick’ as collaborative writers George Aguilar and the aforementioned Golden rapidly start to establish that their ghoulish-faced knife-wielding antagonist isn’t just yet another in a long line of unoriginal homicidal maniacs who have recently escaped from some psychiatrist’s padded cell. Indeed, even before Detective Marshall arrives at the grisly murder scene and watches the crime scene investigators photographing Claire’s severed head, there is a strong suggestion that something innovatively supernatural is taking place within this publication.  

Determined to reveal the identity of a supposed copycat killer, the pair’s penmanship successfully provides an excellent hook by permitting the reader to soon realise that the haunted policeman is wrong in his assumption that a dead man can’t return to continue his crimes. This disclosure genuinely imbues this book’s harrowing closing scene with even more menace, as it rapidly becomes clear that the deranged nightmarish figure stalking Gary’s partner when she stops off at a late night roadside garage isn’t a mere figment of her imagination and that Sarah is probably about to come to a gratuitously violent end; “Strange, I been feeling this chill on the back of my neck the whole ride here.”

Adding to this comic’s palpable fear factor are Alex Sarabia’s breakdowns, which go an incredible way to help show the sheer sadistic delight Thomas Butcher Lassey takes in both shadowing and subsequently butchering his prey. The decision to only employ colour when the creative team utilise sound effects additionally proves a ‘master stroke’ in generating a seriously disturbing ‘film noir’ atmosphere to the story-telling’s grim premise.

First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
Script: Bradley Jordan & George Aguilar, and Pencils: Alex Sarabia

Thursday, 25 April 2019

Xena: Warrior Princess #1 - Dynamite Entertainment

XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS No. 1, April 2019
Set during "a time of ancient gods, warlords and kings”, as well as unsurprisingly based upon the American fantasy television programme which first aired in 1995, Vita Ayala’s somewhat sedentary script for Issue One of “Xena: Warrior Princess” arguably was only ever going to appeal to die-hard fans of the old Renaissance Pictures series rather than educate a new audience as to the exploits of the formidably-skilled female fighter. Indeed, anyone unfamiliar with the extensive background of this comic’s titular character were probably left somewhat bemused by its basic premise that Robert Tapert's co-creation is apparently a beaten people’s appropriate alternative to the heroic son of Zeus and Alcmene, Hercules; “I heard Hercules was nearby. Have you seen him? The children of my village are in danger! X-Xena? Then my prayers are answered.”

Of course, that’s not to say that the “Wonder Woman” writer doesn’t at least try to impress upon any perusing bibliophile that this book’s main protagonist is a legitimate Greek legend in her own right, by having both Xena and Gabrielle involved in a pretty frantically-paced skirmish during this publication’s opening pages. But besting a couple of emaciated desperadoes who sought to rob a hapless young family travelling along a lesser-used forest pathway is hardly on par with something like the Twelve Labours of Heracles, even when the action sequence it generates does depict the warrior princess skilfully utilising her famous razor-edged throwing weapon.

Disappointingly however, what then follows is a debatably disjointed narrative which halfheartedly follows both adventurers in their separate investigations of the village of Sideros. Gabrielle’s interview of the town’s children undeniably proves by far the more interesting of these sequences, yet the comic’s irritating insistence in overlapping speech from Xena’s attendance at a village meeting over these scenes of adolescent super-human strength soon proves a disconcertingly distracting technique for telling two sides of the same tale simultaneously.

In fact, by the time “newcomer” Olympia Sweetman begins proficiently pencilling this twenty-page periodical’s conclusion little is still clear as to what has specifically occurred within the small settlement until Lydia fortunately disregards Discord’s blood oath, and spells out the elders' deal with the disagreeably jealous goddess in plain words. This revelation finally imbues Ayala’s storyline with some much needed rationalisation, and leads to a desperate flurry of activity as the residents despicably attack the two strangers who have bravely sworn to safeguard their children. Nonetheless, by this time Sideros’ adult population have proved themselves so unlikeable that most readers will probably be wishing that Xena would simply leave the villagers to their well-deserved fate, so that the fighter's next issue will give her an entirely fresh start…
The regular cover art of "XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS" No. 1 by David Mack

Friday, 19 April 2019

Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor #5 - Titan Comics

DOCTOR WHO: THE THIRTEENTH DOCTOR No. 5, April 2019
It is difficult to believe that many within this twenty-two page periodical’s audience were particularly pleased with Jody Houser returning “for the second arc of the Doctor Who ongoing series” if her script for Issue Five of “Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor” was anything to go by. For whilst the “Eisner Award nominee” undeniably captures all the mannerisms and feel of Jodie Whittaker’s incarnation, as well as that of “her new companions”, absolutely nothing of any interest or significance actually takes place within this comic’s narrative until its very end, when (once again) the Time Lord is faced is with an extra-terrestrial race interfering with the people of Earth’s past.

Up until this point this publication’s readers are subjected to nothing but a collection of somewhat bizarre conversations, including a disappointingly sedentary opening quarter which solely focuses upon the fact that the Gallifreyan has never listened to the podcast “Hidden Human History”, and is therefore oblivious as to why her three friends know that the TARDIS has taken them back to the Guelders Wars, when there were “lots of small unit tactics” and “seventeen provinces came about too.” Unfortunately however, this book’s storyline only gets worse as it subsequently squanders an additional seven pages on the cast chatting to the terrified local Magda as to why she is trying to flee from her home village, before subjecting any bibliophile foolish enough to have stuck with this television tie-in title to a bizarre lecture from the Doctor as to just why “running is the bravest thing you can do.”

Quite possibly this comic’s biggest let-down though is Houser’s overuse of the sonic screwdriver as a wholly lackadaisical means to push her painfully plodding plot along so it can at least end on something of a high note. Having finally managed to imbue this book with some semblance of mystery by revealing that the townsfolk are actually living in fear of demons rather than a series of conflicts in the Low Countries, the “author who wrote the 2017 comic adaptation of the film Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” simply pens for the titular character to wave her “magical badness detector” in the air so as to determine precisely where the suitably grotesque-looking Stilean Flesh Eaters are hiding; “Following the path of conflict, right? Fresh bodies means fresh meat. Fresh blood. I know you need food. But I also know you. Not content to be carrion feeders if you can get something warmer.”
The regular cover art of "DOCTOR WHO: THE THIRTEENTH DOCTOR" No. 5 by Rebekah Isaacs & Dan Jackson

Monday, 8 April 2019

Hellchild: Blood Money #1 - Zenescope Entertainment

HELLCHILD: BLOOD MONEY No. 1, April 2019
Advertised by “Zenescope Entertainment” as “John Wick meets Jessica Jones”, Ralph Tedesco’s narrative for Issue One of “Hellchild: Blood Money” probably better resembles something Eli Roth or Quentin Tarantino would direct rather than an American web television series based upon a “Marvel Comics” super-heroine. For whilst Angelica Blackstone undoubtedly has special powers, courtesy of being the half-vampire daughter of the Greek god Hades, this twenty-two page periodical’s plot primarily focuses upon the insanely violent tension between Marcus Paulson’s wealthy conglomerate and the somewhat more seedier prostitution racket of “this Tor guy”, rather than the titular character’s supernatural abilities.

Indeed, there isn’t a hint of a magical manifestation within this tome until Hellchild finally intervenes to rescue Jake and Vera from a hit squad at this grisly publication’s cliffhanging conclusion, and faces off against the half-dozen gunman with her signature double-bladed sword; “I have another idea…” Instead, much of the Philadelphia-born writer’s penmanship portrays just how far this comic’s criminal fraternity will go to ensure their cast iron grip upon Los Angeles remains undeniably intact. Whether that be by cold-bloodedly shooting a sex worker straight through the head when she demands an ambulance be called to save the life of her overdosing friend, or the reader being forced to watch am agonised chair-bound captive have his pinkies then head severed with a pair of razor-sharp grass-cutters…

Fortunately however, despite the gratuitous nature of its surprisingly sadistic script, which genuinely must have made any perusing bibliophile momentarily look away in abject horror, this opening instalment to Tedesco’s four-part mini-series is utterly enthralling, and contains at least one surprise which will doubtless serve as a curve-ball for many within its audience. In fact, having firmly set the scene as to who Harry the enforcer is to concentrate upon protecting, Tor’s decision to go looking elsewhere for their gory revenge first is as unsettlingly graphic as the assassin’s heavily fanged clown mask is deeply disturbing.

Quite possibly the only thing therefore which lets this blood-spattered book down is its look, which is largely due to the somewhat wooden(ish) pencilling of Butch Mapa’s figures. The “professional illustrator” from the Philippines can undoubtedly draw, as seen in this publication’s frighteningly tense torture scene which vividly shows the true horror of their predicament in the faces of its victims. But the same cannot debatably be said for the artist’s panels featuring the likes of Angelica or the muscle-brain Stan, which arguably appear rather flat and two dimensional.
Writer: Ralph Tedesco, Artwork: Butch Mapa, and Colors: Dijjo

Thursday, 4 April 2019

Dial H For Hero #1 - DC Comics

DIAL H FOR HERO No. 1, May 2019
Dissatisfied readers of Sam Humphries' screenplay for Issue One of “Dial H For Hero” were probably quick to realise that the “fan favourite” writer wasn’t actually the driving force behind this all-new limited series’ pitch to “DC Comics”, but instead was apparently just told to pen the title by Brian Michael Bendis as part of the five-time Eisner Award-winner’s “Wonder Comics” imprint. In fact, at its time of publication the “co-host of DC Daily on the DC Universe streaming platform” admitted to having had “very little exposure” to the mid-sixties comic book which is based upon “a magical dial that enables an ordinary person to become a superhero for a short time”, and subsequently had to go back to read some of the Silver Age title's previous runs.

This debatable lack of enthusiasm for his subject matter, or at least naivety as to the book’s roots, arguably shows in Humphries’ narrative for “The Hero Within”, which tells a rather unimaginatively lack-lustre tale of a young boy desperately wanting to escape his hum-drum existence from an American backwater town, and subsequently being turned into the utterly bizarre Monster Truck when he inadvertently crashes his bike right beside a fatally deep ravine; “Was there a time when you wanted to fly away but couldn’t? Did you ever push things too far? Because I’m thinking maybe I definitely did.” Understandably, this astonishing transformation into the “eternal champion of trucking” impressively injects this twenty-one page periodical’s plot with some desperately needed action, yet ultimately makes absolutely no sense whatsoever as it simply results in Miguel’s head-scratchingly over-the-top alter-ego criminally trashing the contents of an auto dealership’s lot and understandably then being enthusiastically chased by the local law enforcement.

Alongside his willingness to travel with Summer in his Uncle Brant’s stolen business truck, this sort of behaviour is hardly the way super-heroes conduct themselves, especially the likes of Superman against whom the adolescent is always comparing himself with, having been rescued by the Man of Steel “when I was ten years old.” In addition, when the boy dialled ‘H’ he was plummeting to his death from a great height, so why does the Operator from the Heroverse grant him the “strength to restore the cosmic balance between engine and cargo”, and cause artist Joseph A. Quinones Jr. to pencil something out of a Jack “King” Kirby nightmare, rather than provide the telephone device’s possessor with something more appropriate to his deadly predicament..?
The regular cover art of "DIAL H FOR HERO" No. 1 by Joe Quinones

Thursday, 28 March 2019

Conan The Barbarian #4 - Marvel Comics

CONAN THE BARBARIAN No. 4, May 2019
Set “mere months after claiming the throne” of Aquilonia by strangling Namedides and “placing the bloody crown upon his own barbarian head”, long-time fans of Robert E. Howard’s black-haired Hyborian Age hero probably felt Jason Aaron’s incarnation of the Cimmerian in Issue Four of “Conan The Barbarian” was disconcertingly different to the one created by “the father of the sword and sorcery subgenre.” For whilst the powerful monarch undoubtedly demonstrates all of his usual formidable ferocity with a bladed hand-weapon during this twenty-page periodical’s plot, the fact that the Alabama-born author’s entire narrative rests upon the perturbing premise that the mighty warrior is stricken throughout his story with some sort of sickeningly vile allergy to peace seems disconcertingly incongruous to the well-travelled adventurer’s character.

Indeed, the American writer pens Conan being so “sick as a Stygian dog” as a result of his sovereignty, that the poorly warrior actually starts being sick mid-way through an alleyway assault, and would have been beheaded if not for the all-too conveniently contrived arrival of the beleaguered man’s pet wild lion; “I owe you for that one, boy. It’s a good thing you’re as stubborn as me when it comes to staying put in cages.” Admittedly, the Cimmerian’s apparent need for swordplay in order to restore his usual vigour undoubtedly provides this publication’s audience with plenty of opportunities to witness the barbarian cleaving many a limb and head from the bodies of his opponents. But just how “the King’s maladies”, which unsurprisingly suddenly begin to manifest themselves as physical wounds, are bested by weeks and weeks’ worth of strength-sapping night-time skirmishes is never satisfactorily explained, nor why the heavily bearded monarch ever seems to suffer from such ignoble ill-humours again during the entirety of his reign?

Equally as troubling as this comic’s perplexing ‘team-up’ with “a gift from the King of Kush, caught in the great jungles of the south”, is Gerardo Zaffino’s unbearably busy pencilling, which seemingly fills each and every panel with all manner of overly-complicated tonal hatchings. This artistic technique isn’t arguably too intrusive for the sequences set within the better lit halls of Conan’s castle, yet debatably become somewhat indecipherable as soon as the Argentine freelancer applies them to the partially-masked ruler’s night-time bloody escapades, such as when the vomiting vigilante first fights alongside his unbelievably ‘tame’ feline friend.

First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
The regular cover art of "CONAN THE BARBARIAN" No. 4 by Esad Ribic

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Self/Made #4 - Image Comics

SELF/MADE #4, March 2019
Partially playing out like a disconcerting rehash of the street-level foot chase sequence from Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 American science fiction action movie “Total Recall”, Mathew Groom’s narrative for Issue Four of “Self/Made” regrettably rips the comic’s lead protagonist straight out from Amala Citali’s intriguing computer game based universe and rather brutally instead plonks the conscious artificial intelligence smack bang in the middle of her creator’s ‘real world’ buried deep inside the electronic workings of “a top-of-the-line personal assistant bot.” This wrenching from the beautifully rich and well-thought out fantasy land of Arcadia to something more akin to the “Back To The Future” film franchise is so savage that it really must have disgruntled those readers who were previously enjoying this title’s prodigiously penned “Dungeons & Dragons” subplot, especially when the “superstar talent writer” merely replaces all the Gary Gygax-influenced gaming with so questionably tired and overly-used a trope as a cognitive robot woodenly exploring “George Street down in the Rocks” for the first time in their existence.

Admittedly, Amala’s subsequent impressively dynamic fisticuffs with a squad of heavily-armed law enforcement officers, spectacularly sketched by artist Eduardo Ferigato, undeniably provides this twenty-two page periodical with plenty of pulse-pounding pizazz. Yet such a scintillating scene, packed full of bone-crunching punches, kicks and shattered helmet visors, still debatably doesn’t dispel the feeling that what was once a fairly innovative storyline has suddenly degenerated into a bog standard run-of-the-mill Isaac Asimov adventure complete with flying cars, “roasted slum rats” and a mysteriously cloaked android interloper who is clearly not “with the game company!”

Quite possibly this publication’s biggest problem however, is just how utterly unlikeable the Australian author makes Rebecca in his comic. The socially awkward inventor clearly has a history of struggling to meaningfully interact with her fellow workers, and the general population at large. But in “The Ta-Da Moment” this absolute disregard for the feelings of her creation turns the lonely woman into a truly brusque, unpleasant character, who seems hell bent on blaming Citali for all her own woes when it is clearly the technician’s selfish determination to succeed with her “unprecedented and historic procedure” which is the cause; “I’m not going to bail you out any more. Do you understand? I can’t give any more up for you, I won’t! If you walk away now, that’s it. I’m cutting my losses. We’re done.”

First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
Writer: Mathew Groom, Artist: Eduardo Ferigato, and Colors: Marcelo Costa

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Boy Zero: Volume Two [Part One] - Caliber Comics

BOY ZERO: VOLUME TWO, May 2016
There’s a genuine palpable sense of fear running through Charles Chester’s narrative for “The Maw” as “two young boys, 11 and 12 in age, were about to succeed” where “an entire Police Force was failing” and unmask the identity of the serial killer stalking the outskirts of Glass City. In fact, the adolescents’ utter naivety that a single battery-powered torch will suffice in protecting them from a creature that has already butchered so many of their hapless friends arguably must have made many of this graphic novel’s readers hold their breath in abject terror alongside Edmund as the petrified lad unnervingly waits for the homicidal murderer under his friend’s bed; “i’M. Going tO. lUre yOur fRieNd. EdMUnd oUt. oF His beD. and gUt hiM. in HiS liViNg rOOm. TTHEn I’M. going to. BASH. his SiSterS heAd. in.”

Of course, after all the grisly casualties and Detective Drekker’s laboriously incompetent enquiries, the “award-winning filmmaker” doesn’t simply pen a straightforward revelation as to just who so recently strangled “little Durga” to “death and buried [her] in less than half an hour’s time… [in] broad day light.” Instead he rather cleverly tries to reassure the more gullible within this publication’s audience that the overconfident Nigel has actually already got his man in custody, and that Christian is as wrong about knowing what is really going on as he debatably is about believing that “Superman would not have any powers” if “the sky was completely blocked out because of a nuclear winter”.

The police investigator’s utter assuredness that because Mister Adams’ cigarette lighter “was found next to the body of Dill” he is clearly guilty of the young bespectacled lad’s brutal slaying is arguably understandable enough, even if “a child was killed while you have me locked up.” However, the prisoner’s extreme reaction to seeing the portable igniter, as well as his realisation as to who he lent it too, must have taken many a bibliophile by surprise, as the moustached inmate literally sees red in his efforts to escape his shackles and tear to pieces the person he believes brutally disembowelled his own kids.

Equally as well delivered is Shiloh Penfield’s story-boards, which not only add an extra emotional element to Mister Adams’ torment, but undoubtedly ramp up the terror in the panels depicting the boys’ battle against the true evil stalking their neighbourhood. Dekker’s all-too brief attempt to thwart the murderer by gunning him down in the bedroom is especially well-pencilled, to the point where the agony on the officer’s face as he’s stabbed in the belly is involuntarily etched upon the memory well after this chapter in the story has been read.

First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
Written by: Charles Chester, and Artwork by: Shiloh Penfield

Monday, 25 March 2019

Hey Kids! Comics! #2 - Image Comics

HEY KIDS! COMICS! No. 2, September 2018
Shifting 5,481 copies in September 2018, and resultantly becoming the two hundred and fifty-fourth best-selling book of the month according to “Diamond Comics Distributors”, Howard Chaykin’s narrative for Issue Two of “Hey Kids! Comics!” must have thoroughly entertained any bibliophiles with either a long memory or deep interest in the early years of the super-hero led story-telling medium. In fact, considering that the twenty-four page periodical’s New Jersey born writer openly admitted at the time of its publication that "much of it really happened” and “the names have [simply] been changed to protect the innocent and guilty alike”, this "behind-the-scenes” account of Silver Age shenanigans arguably reads more like a historical adaption of true events rather than a piece of imagined fan fiction for a creative era long gone.  

For starters, the American author’s marvellous sequence depicting Senator Eustis Cleghorne and the “renowned cartoonist” Pete Sawyer haranguing horror comics in Washington DC during the mid-fifties is clearly little more than a repackaged recapping of the 1954 Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency hearings. “Foisted on innocent American boys and girls by publishers making illicit fortunes off this filth” and crammed full of “graphic depictions of unspeakable acts”, readers familiar with the formation of the Comics Magazine Association of America will instantly recognise the self-same prevalent public concern regarding the grisly contents of comics actually leading to the creation of the Comics Code Authority in the real world, and clearly a similar stringent set of self-regulations is imposed upon the artists of Chaykin’s narrative.

Likewise, this book contains a rather disconcerting scene at the Big Apple Gotham Con during the start of the twenty first century, where an aged Ray Clarke venomously attacks the work of upcoming popular penciller Tom Hollenbeck for “swiping my stuff since he got into the business” and demands “half your royalties.” The utter frustration in the elderly artist’s face as he publically speaks about spending “fifty years bouncing between hiding what we did and desperation for the world to know” only to see the younger generation carving a successful career out of ‘copying’ his work is genuinely heart-wrenching, and it is all-too easy to then see the late legend Stan Lee in the shape of Verve Comics editor-in-chief Bob Rose acting as peacemaker by stepping in between the two irate men and asking them to “bury the hatchet and keep smilin’ for the folks?”

First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
The regular cover art of "HEY KIDS! COMICS!" No. 2 by Don Cameron