Tuesday, 26 November 2019

Conan The Barbarian #5 - Marvel Comics

There can be little doubt that Robert E. Howard’s sword and sorcery hero Conan the Cimmerian has been depicted in the past as being capable of some truly staggering feats of (almost) superhuman strength. But such formidable muscle power and savage fighting skills have arguably seldom been taken to the unbelievable extremes this comic’s 36,188 readers witnessed within Jason Aaron’s disconcertingly incredulous script for Issue Five of “Conan The Barbarian”.

Admittedly, the twenty page periodical starts off well enough with the heavily-muscled sailor desperately battling against the elements on board a cursed ship, doggedly trying to sail the persistently drifting seafaring vessel single-handedly by tying down the craft’s mast, boom and appropriate spars with half a dozen thick ropes. But this brave defiance against the odds soon disappointingly transforms into an utterly manufactured moment when the Alabama-born author tries to convince this book’s audience that Conan has been managing these Herculean manoeuvres repeatedly for an astonishing three weeks, and gone without food for three whole days.

Such an implausible feat arguably requires more than an acceptable willing suspension of disbelief, and is subsequently made all the more miraculous when Aaron adds to the adventurer’s seemingly never-ending plight by insisting he fight a multitude of mutated oxygen-breathing sharks and a hideously transformed red-eyed rat during “the worst boat trip in the history of seafaring.” However, the worst is yet to come, when a delirious Barbarian, partially-convinced that his sword is now talking back to him, is finally found by a ship absolutely packed full of blood-thirsty pirates and despite his frail physical state decides to take the fight to his foe; “With a roar and a mighty leap, he was a pirate again. The fiercest pirate on the Southern Sea.”

This reckless display of bravado is probably perfectly in line with the Cimmerian’s ‘fight or flight’ mentality, as the savage has repeatedly proven in the past when ‘trapped like a tiger’. Yet, on this occasion Conan is not momentarily overcome with a resounding blow to the head or disabling wound from a well-aimed arrow. Instead, he successfully kills a third of a well-armed and fully-prepared raiding force with nothing more than an axe and sword. Indeed, within the space of a single Mahmoud Asrar pencilled splash page, the former Corsair’s opponents have staggeringly “voted unanimously to elect him their new captain.”
The regular cover art of "CONAN THE BARBARIAN" No. 5 by Esad Ribic

Monday, 25 November 2019

Web Of Black Widow #3 - Marvel Comics

WEB OF BLACK WIDOW No. 3, January 2020
As an intriguing insight into the complicated background behind Natasha Romanoff’s history as a “KGB assassin trained in the notorious Red Room”, Jody Houser’s script for Issue Three of “Web Of Black Widow” must have pleased the vast majority of its readers with her inclusion of the Avenger’s fellow Russian hired guns Yelena Belova and Toma. In fact, this comic’s numerous flashback scenes to a time when the red-haired murderess was busy stealing “a set of keys for the Schmatlocks” is arguably far more enthralling than its central storyline, especially when it becomes clear that the deadly secret agent’s cold-hearted headmistress purposely had her be accompanied on the mission by an insufferably headstrong protégé due to the rookie showing “signs that she was unsuitable for the program.”

However, this preference for the twenty-page periodical’s subplot doesn’t mean that the titular character’s bold break-in at the Dovbrotel in Chernaya isn’t any less action-packed or enthralling than her earlier adventure. Far from it, as no less than two Black Widows team-up to stealthily subvert the high-security building in order to kick some significant butt and steal the owner’s scrambled code on a simple memory stick; “I have no interest in starting another war. Some things should stay encrypted. But knowing that the code has left their hands should be enough to --”

This tensely penned infiltration really does capture the very essence of Romanoff’s much more mature, modern-day personality, where she would rather distract and outthink her adversaries, than engage them in an inefficiently brutal slugfest. As a result though, when Natasha does finally resort to felling her opponents with some seriously bone-cracking blows, the effect of her extreme violence is all the more impactive, and adds some additional energy to the already sense-shattering sequences.

Stephen Mooney’s contribution to the sheer dynamism of this publication should not debatably be overlooked either. The Dublin-born artist’s sketching style might be a little too rough around the edges in some places, but it is hard to miss the raw energy with which the Irishman imbues both the Black Widow and Belova during this comic’s trials and tribulations, particularly when the smartly-dressed duo decide to discard their business attire disguises and begin beating up their astonished foes.
Writer: Jody Houser, Artist: Stephen Mooney, and Color Artist: Triona Farrell

Sunday, 24 November 2019

The Immortal Hulk #16 - Marvel Comics

IMMORTAL HULK No. 16, June 2019
Incredibly increasing its monthly circulation by almost forty thousand copies so as to become the fourth best-selling comic book in April 2019, Al Ewing’s storyline for Issue Sixteen of “The Immortal Hulk” must have debatably had many of its 90,305 readers scratching their heads in puzzlement as to just what the fuss surrounding this ongoing series was all about. Sure the twenty-page periodical contains a pulse-pounding bout of pugilism between its titular character and a pack of gamma-mutated zoo animals, but the heavily-fanged giant green gorilla, demonic hound and vampire bat are all soon battered to death without Bruce Banner’s murderous alter-ego even breaking into a sweat; “Wanna play Fido? Play dead.”

Instead, this comic predominantly focuses upon Rick Jones’ current fate within the Marvel Universe, and how, having recently had his corpse “exhumed by literal Men in Black with official clearance” the Hulk’s former sidekick is at the centre of some despicably dubious experiment by General Fortean at Shadow Base Site B. These intermittent sequences are arguably however, the highlight of this book, as the Whisperer’s emaciated body is slowly cocooned in a treacle-like luminous green bile and disconcertingly begins to take on the appearance of some sort of reptilian abomination.

Similarly as shocking though, is the former “2000 A.D.” writer’s ability to once again throw his audience a startling curve ball at the very end of this publication with the brusque reappearance of the Bushwacker and even more abrupt demise of Doc Samson, courtesy of a single shot to the head. Doubtless many a “Hulk-Head” gasped at the sheer suddenness of Leonard’s cold-blooded murder, yet immediately then shuddered further as Agent Carl Burbank transforms his right hand into a small firearm and blasts the aghast Banner through the stomach an instant later.

All of these twists and turns are marvellously visualised by penciler Joe Bennett, whose tooth-breaking illustrations of the Green Goliath smashing a hairy primate straight in the chops genuinely brings tears to the eyes. Whether it be the aforementioned Jones’ lifeless body being dripped in sticky irradiated goo, Jackie McGee’s haunted memory of her sightless dead father, or a sneak peek at Betty Ross-Banner as the feather-covered Harpy spying upon a Californian detective investigating her sudden disappearance, all of the Brazilian illustrator’s numerous panels are absolutely packed full of animated life and emotion.

‘First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
The regular cover art of "IMMORTAL HULK" No. 16 by Alex Ross

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Absolute Carnage: Lethal Protectors #3 - Marvel Comics

As pulse-pounding, ultra-violent last minute rescues go, it’s fair to say that Frank Tieri’s screenplay for Issue Three of “Absolute Carnage: Lethal Protectors” probably hit the mark for most of this comic’s 31,627 strong audience in October 2019. In fact, this twenty-page periodical’s plot is almost too relentless in its action, as the likes of Deathlok, Morbius and Iron Fist embark upon so serious an over-the-top murdering spree of viciously-fanged doppelgängers that even Sylvester Stallone’s media franchise Rambo would blush at the overall kill count; “Now hand me one of those guns, will ya?”

Interestingly however, despite the formidable firepower at their disposal, the “MarvelFest NYC 2009” event celebrity guest still manages to make this book’s protagonists appear surprisingly vulnerable, and at one stage even looks set to have at least one of the superheroes fatally fall before the relentless innumerable minions of Carnage. Such a sense of palpable mortality is debatably somewhat rare for titular characters in the Modern Age of Comics, so Danny Rand’s decision to summon the “quasi-mystical force” he commands in a last minute bid to save the friends he’s purposely brought back together is arguably all the more impactive as a result.

Similarly as successful, albeit perhaps a little bit too clichéd, is Misty Knight’s tense confrontation with Man-Wolf and her desperately emotional plea for the former astronaut to break his homicidal ties with Cletus Kasady. Backed into a corner, defenceless and yet still superbly defiant, Mercedes never appears to give up, even though the one-armed private detective is never more than a hair’s breadth from having her face bitten off by John Jameson’s symbiote-infected alter-ego.

Unfortunately though, once Tieri’s sense-shattering shenanigans do subside, courtesy of Cloak simply whisking the entire team out of harm’s way with a swish of his all-consuming cape, this comic’s conclusion does come as something of a disappointment; especially once it becomes clear that this entire mini-series was actually about Knight’s somewhat drawn-out rescue and Man-Wolf’s ultimate redemption rather than following the exploits of Iron Fist’s super-squad full-time. Debriefed by a “secret, shadowy organisation”, a disconcertingly inconsistent Flaviano pencils an irate Rand deciding to return to defeat Carnage once and for all just as the publication comes to a close with the frustrating words “To be continued in Absolute Carnage #5!”

‘First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
The regular cover art of "ABSOLUTE CARNAGE: LETHAL PROTECTORS" No. 3 by Iban Coello & Jason Keith

Thursday, 14 November 2019

Batman/Superman [2019] #2 - DC Comics

BATMAN/SUPERMAN No. 2, November 2019
Shifting a respectable 43,107 copies in September 2019, it seems that Joshua Williamson’s decision to ‘promote’ Shazam from being “the last character revealed” within this mini-series to have been infected by The Batman Who Laughs to the first, was actually a wise one. For despite the California-born writer being partially influenced by the recent release of the superhero's film by “New Line Cinema” rather than any substantial improvement to his storytelling, the opening battle between Bill Parker’s co-creation, Kal-El and the Dark Knight irrefutably delivers a sense-shattering start to this twenty-two page periodical.

Indeed, the California-born writer arguably pens a piece portraying the Caped Crusader at his very best, as Bruce Wayne’s alter-ego finds himself caught in the middle of a bout of fisticuffs between two of “DC Comics” heaviest hitters, and yet still seems to hold his own against the super-crazed Captain Marvel utilising all of his fighting smarts, as well as a near super-sonic ‘borrowed’ Bat-wing from an incarcerated Batman Who Laughs; “The jet was just the delivery method, punk! I’m always the weapon!”

Surprisingly, Superman is shown in a similar light too, one moment angrily remonstrating with his ‘poisoned’ former friend following the “world’s mightiest mortal” endangering a large group of innocent bystanders with a lethal shower of broken masonry, and then refusing to deliver a coup de grâce in the next, when the psychotic Shazam transforms himself back into the highly vulnerable Billy Batson just before the big boy scout’s eye laser beams discharge. Such a pulse-pounding picture of the lead two protagonist’s overcoming their failings genuinely pulls the reader in and promotes a palpable aura of menace to the proceedings, which repeatedly looks set to depict the pair being badly beaten by the hauntingly homicidal Captain Marvel.

Disappointingly however, once this all-too brief adrenalin ride comes to an unsatisfactory resolution, and this comic’s audience are rather jarringly jolted to the Fortress of Solitude in the Bermuda Triangle, the American author’s narrative debatably goes badly off the rails. Admittedly, it’s not too difficult to stomach the lengthy, dialogue-heavy discourse between a badly bruised Batman and Superman following their rather necessary regrouping, but it’s rather hard to believe that the best course of action they can think of is to release the Batman Who Laughs from his ultra-secure captivity in the hope the Dark Knight’s “evil counterpart” will lead them to their foe..?
The regular cover art of "BATMAN/SUPERMAN" No. 2 by David Marquez & Alejandro Sanchez

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Star Trek: Year Five #7 - IDW Publishing

STAR TREK: YEAR FIVE No. 7, November 2019
It is arguably clear from their screenplay for Issue Seven of “Star Trek: Year Five” that Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly both enjoy “a lifelong passion” for the science fiction television programme created by Gene Roddenberry, and “take any opportunity to rewatch The Original Series.” For despite their storyline’s sheer grandeur probably having far more in common with the franchise’s big budget silver screen adventures than its syndicated Sixties escapades, this twenty page periodical’s plot still contains plenty of nostalgic nods to the show’s yesteryears; “What are ye doin’ to my ship!? Every lick of power we had has vanished, our dilithium is inert. It’s like our momentum just got consumed whole!”

In addition, the collaborative duo also seem to place far more reverence upon the character of the U.S.S. Enterprise’s skipper than some writers have in the past, portraying him as “the kind of introspective commander Kirk could be” rather than simply lampooning the Starfleet officer “as a swaggering sexy alpha male”. This sensitivity to those under the youngest Federation Captain’s command proves particularly engaging when the Constitution-class starship falls prey to a Tholian Web whilst under the control of Lieutenant Sulu, and so to restore Hikaru’s depleted confidence James not only takes the helmsman with him on a mission to explore “a second ship of unknown origin”, but assures the demoralised former physicist that he’ll never let the Iowan down by “standing by my side, as we risk out lives for strangers who may or may not already be dead.”

This intriguing team-up of Kirk and Sulu really is the highlight of this publication, especially as the pair quickly don the eye-catching environmental suits designed by William Ware Theiss and subsequently attempt a risky space-jump across to an alien vessel. Admittedly, the suggestion that a spacecraft could be populated by a race of humanoid fish-people who willingly consume their dead as an act of “survival” is debatably a little disconcerting, yet Ayal of the I’qosa, with all his rationalisations regarding “vital nutrients”, still makes for a fascinating member of this comic’s supporting cast.

Ultimately however, this book relies upon the excellent storyboards of Stephen Thompson for its moderately-sized success, with the Bayside-born illustrator’s double-splash of Tholia, the capital of the Tholian Assembly, at the start of this book really setting an impressive example of the immense proportions the “non-humanoid hermaphroditic species” can achieve if blessed with a long existence. Coupled with an excellent life-like depiction of actor William Shatner as Kirk, as well as a fantastic Andy Warhol-inspired piece of ‘pop art’ involving Spock mind-melding with Bright Eyes, this magazine is genuinely a feast for the eyes.
Writers: Jackson Lanzing & Collin Kelly, and Artist: Stephen Thompson

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Absolute Carnage: Lethal Protectors #2 - Marvel Comics

Despite selling almost nine thousand copies less than its previous instalment, Frank Tieri’s narrative for Issue Two of “Absolute Carnage: Lethal Protectors” must still have pleased the majority of its 34,372 readers in September 2019, courtesy of its much-appreciated spotlight upon Misty Knight and inclusion of Iron Fist, Deathlok, Firestar, Morbius, Cloak and Dagger. Indeed, considering that this mini-series is supposedly about Cletus Kasady’s resurrection “by a cult dedicated to the worship of Knull” and subsequent bonding “to the deific primordial Grendel”, this particular twenty-page periodical is infinitely more focused upon the storyline’s heroes banding together so as to face a common threat than the notorious serial killer’s hunt for “everyone who ever bonded to a symbiote.”

Fortunately however, the Brooklyn-born writer’s ability to pen plenty of engaging dialogue, even when its somewhat limited to the likes of Mercedes mentally talking to herself as she covertly shuffles her way through a doppelgänger-infested sewer system, more than makes up for an arguable lack of action, and debatably produces plenty of tension amongst this comic’s cast once Henry Hayes arrives, having “had to shoot somebody on the way over.” Of course, all these discussions and heated disagreements doesn’t mean that this book is completely devoid of action either, as Danny Rand alone demonstrates just how powerful a punch he can throw when he intercepts a transformed Ravencroft inmate from devouring a bunch of hapless children innocent playing in the street.

But the American author certainly seems to use the publication’s plot to carefully position his pieces for an upcoming calamitous confrontation, rather than simply pack it full of artist Flaviano pencilling numerous panels containing pulse-pounding pugilism. In fact, Tieri even seems to find the time to craft “Lord Carnage” providing his Venomanics with a splash-page summary of past events as to John Jameson’s many failures concerning Knight’s incarceration; “Yeah, you captured her when she was sent in to investigate Doverton. But then…”

Perhaps therefore this comic’s only real disappointment is the lamentably abrupt end Frank brings to Misty’s edgy exploration of the deadly catacombs beneath the Ravencroft Institute. The one-armed special agent’s ability to survive her perilous environment, made all the more impressive when she bests a pair of blood-drenched doppelgängers with nothing more than a severed limb, nobly demonstrates the former private investigator’s remarkable grit and tenacity. So it comes as something of a pity these engrossingly impressive trials are cut all-too short by a frenzied Man-Wolf.

‘First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
The regular cover art of "ABSOLUTE CARNAGE: LETHAL PROTECTORS" No. 2 by Iban Coello & Jason Keith

Monday, 11 November 2019

Web Of Black Widow #2 - Marvel Comics

WEB OF BLACK WIDOW No. 2, December 2019
Featuring an opening scene which is somewhat reminiscent to that of Angelina Jolie’s 2003 action-adventure film “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – The Cradle of Life”, there’s a lot of mounting tension to enjoy with this comic’s depiction of Natasha Romanoff stealing on board a gigantic cruise liner whilst it glides through international waters. Indeed, many fans of the Russian assassin possibly may even have felt that Jody Houser’s portrayal of the deadly spy infiltrating the luxurious Collins Financial Bindbucks launch party provided this twenty-page periodical with the perfect beginning, especially as the titular character seemingly uses almost every trick in the secret agent’s book to pass through the seafaring vessel’s overt security. 

Lamentably though, all of this well-penned spy-fi atmosphere is quickly ruined by the abrupt appearance of Bucky Barnes, who astonishingly materialises in the bedroom of the Black Widow’s target having apparently been pre-warned by his “masters” that she “might be stopping by.” This debatably contrived confrontation between the two former lovers does admittedly swiftly provide this publication with some debatably needed high-octane action, courtesy of Stephen Mooney pencilling the pair swapping all manner of punches and kicks with one another.

Yet none of these forceful fisticuffs can possibly make up for the American author literally crowbarring the Winter Soldier into her narrative on the happenstance that “Collins got wind you [Romanoff] were coming” and so “relocated the computer setup.” In fact, by the time Natasha’s fight has seen the deadlocked duo crash through the cabin’s double-doors and spill out into the corridor right in front of two gun-toting guards, it is seemingly clear that any pretence of this story being an edgy thriller has disappointingly dissipated; “Please make your way to the lifeboats in a calm and orderly fashion.”

Similarly as perplexing, albeit in a good way, is the sudden inclusion of an unknown killer who appears capable of impersonating the Black Widow and committing cold-blooded murder whilst wearing so convincing a ‘digitally-created disguise’. This antagonist clearly knows much about the “web of deceit” encircling Stan Lee’s co-creation, having fleetingly featured at the very end of this mini-series’ first instalment, and resultantly provides a tantalising hook for any perusing bibliophile to pick up Houser’s next issue of “Web Of Black Widow”.
The regular cover art of "WEB OF BLACK WIDOW" No. 2 by Junggeun Yoon

Sunday, 10 November 2019

The Black Ghost #1 - New Wave Comics

THE BLACK GHOST No. 1, September 2019
Published as “part of the Comixology Originals line of exclusive digital content”, as well as enthusiastically described by Mark Waid, the “best-selling author of Kingdom Come, Daredevil, Archie and more”, as being “seriously compelling, with a lead you can’t help but root for”, this opening instalment to Monica Gallagher and Alex Segura’s “Hard Revolution” storyline certainly contains a fair few elements with which to entice its audience back for a second reading. Indeed, the twenty-two page periodical’s mix of dogged newspaper journalism, naively-brave vigilantism and a mysteriously masked, well-dressed gentlemen righting the wrongs of a criminal organisation, will probably alone have drawn in a substantial audience eager to relive the Golden Age of Comics, or return to the more innocent days of Peter Parker at the Daily Bugle and Clark Kent at the Daily Planet.

Moreover, this five-part mini-series’ writing partnership even manages to somewhat replicate the palpable sense of personal injustice once generated by the heroes of yesterday, by quickly cramming in a condensed back story as to Lara’s “mad crusade to unmask the Ghost” being motivated by the murder of her beloved brother, after he took a stand against the corruption of Creighton city. Reminiscent of both an adolescent Bruce Wayne clutching the corpses of his slain parents and then Matt Murdock developing an ability to out-punch a knife-wielding thug, Dominguez’s ‘road to condoning summary justice’ resultantly is as entertaining as her fortuitous cyber-connection, LONE, is disconcertingly well-informed.

Sadly however, any such sense of nostalgia is quickly dispelled courtesy of this comic’s creative team deciding to populate some of its early character’s speech bubbles with all manner of colourful metaphors and expletives. Admittedly, this jarring jaunt with profanities does seem to dwindle as the book’s narrative progresses and moves away from our heroine’s brush with some low level enforcers in a seedy alleyway, but it still raises its unnecessary head from time to time, most noticeably when the “burnt out cops reporter” is confronted by her agitated editor over an imminent article deadline; “Mags… I’m onto something real here, I promise you. Big things are happening, okay?”

George Kambadais’ layouts for Issue One of “The Black Ghost” also possibly prove something of a disappointment, despite the former freelance colourist’s ability to populate the publication with plenty of prodigiously pencilled panels, such as Lara’s aforementioned flashback sequence. There should be little doubt that the Greek artist’s attractively clean line-work makes reading this comic’s script a joy, yet there is a distinctly wooden, two-dimensional flatness to his figures, especially the cape-wearing titular lead when he finally flies into action, which genuinely detracts from any sense of pulse-pounding pugilism.
Written by: Monica Gallagher & Alex Segura, and Art by: George Kambadais

Saturday, 9 November 2019

C.H.E.S.S. Aliens Passage #1 - Apogee Comics

C.H.E.S.S. ALIENS PASSAGE No. 1, January 2020
As “action-packed” one-shots go, it is hard to argue that Alfred Paige's narrative for “C.H.E.S.S. Aliens Passage” doesn’t deliver on its promise to take its readership on a high-octane journey packed-full of zinging bullets, roaring hot spurts of flame and sense-shattering explosions. Indeed, the creator of the Command Headquarters of Espionage and Strategic Strikes pens such a ferociously paced piece that doubtless few within this comic’s enthralled audience even managed to pause for breath before the twenty-four page periodical cataclysmically concluded. 

Fortunately however, despite its almost insane commitment to sense-shattering shenanigans, this publication doesn’t simply roll out a seemingly endless series of meaningless fight sequences, but actually spends quite come considerable time building up the relationship between “two of the C.H.E.S.S. Team favourite characters.” These strained interactions, as one can hardly imagine the likes of James Washington and Richard Kincaid truly getting along with one another, adds a palpable sense of tension to the proceedings, which genuinely encourages the book’s bibliophiles to repeatedly question what its sole two protagonists are actually going to do so as to thwart the surprisingly sudden alien invasion of Nevada in America.

Such second-guessing lies at the heart of this comic’s success, and doesn’t just end when Pinpoint’s standard mission goes horribly awry with the revelation that his target quite possibly isn’t human. In fact, the gun-toting maniac’s obsessive desire to successfully complete his assassination of a "scumbag", despite it being substantially belittled in the face of the far more serious threat to the future of the planet, means Blowtorch can seemingly never confidently believe his bald-headed subordinate is going to do precisely as ordered; “Tell ya what, Blow’ -- I’ll flip ya for it. You wanna call it? Loser plays tour guide.”

Adding to this scintillating story’s raw energy is Edson Alves' artwork, which does a great job of portraying the sheer pleasure Washington takes in gunning down row after row of hapless Roswell Greys in his rage-fuelled determination to finally kill his potentially immortal target. Likewise, the illustrator also does an excellent job in depicting the remote landscape surrounding the secret operatives during their difficult 'military operation'. Whether it be a badly-boarded old wooden mine building or a dilapidated brick house, the sheer isolation of the heroes’ situation is perfectly captured by this book’s pencilling.
Writer: Alfred Paige, Edits & Letters: Bernie Lee, and Artwork: Edson Alves

Sunday, 3 November 2019

Web Of Black Widow #1 - Marvel Comics

WEB OF BLACK WIDOW No. 1, November 2019
Enthusiastically described by “Marvel Worldwide” as “the spy tale of the century”, Jody Houser’s script for Issue One of “Web Of Black Widow” is arguably a long way from achieving such a lofty accolade. Yet the comic’s 38,627 readers probably still enjoyed the palpable sense of tension which the “bestselling” writer crafts throughout her twenty-page narrative, courtesy of some nicely paced flashbacks to a time when the ex-KGB assassin was both first setting up her ‘attack’ upon Walter Sobol’s grand speech at the Light nightclub, and ‘merrily’ murdering targets as part of “the notorious Red Room.”

Indeed, considering that the titular character is one of the New York-based publisher’s “longest-running female heroes” it makes perfect sense to have Natasha Romanoff’s murkily rich past, and indeterminable present, intermingle intermittently throughout this tale, especially when this five-part mini-series' entire premise is seemingly about “the clone with implanted memories” actively seeking revenge upon those from her distinctly troubled past; “And like the deadliest of spiders, easily escaping notice. Until it is far too late… This little one has yet to fail us.”

Disappointingly however, every time this publication’s plot does submerge its audience in its enthralling Cold War shenanigans, Tony Stark pops up to jar them awake to the reality that the adventure is set within a universe of super-powered heroes, rather than just a deadly dark world of moles and all-too human secret agents. Admittedly, the industrialist’s presence alone isn’t all that disconcerting, and actually generates a genuine moment of nostalgia as he tenderly recalls his first dance with the Russian killer. But once the moustached playboy dons his famous red and gold armoured suit, the Avenger debatably destroys any semblance of this being a “gritty, noir-drenched take on our favourite conflicted superspy”.

Quite possibly this comic’s biggest let-down though, are Stephen Mooney’s storyboards which seem to travel from one extreme to another in their quality as the periodical progresses. At first somewhat lavish-looking in style, especially when he pencils Natasha at her sultry best dancing across the social event’s well-lit floor or subsequently smacking the seven bells out of some seriously out-gunned security guards, the Dublin artist’s later drawings disconcertingly seem almost amateurish and irregularly-formed, making Iron Man appear particularly peculiar to the eye.
The regular cover art of "WEB OF BLACK WIDOW" No. 1 by Junggeun Yoon

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

The Batman Who Laughs #7 - DC Comics

THE BATMAN WHO LAUGHS #7, September 2019
Featuring an utterly bizarre final confrontation between the Caped Crusader, his Earth-22 counterpart, a shotgun-wielding Alfred Pennyworth and an adolescent Bruce Wayne from yet another realm of the multiverse, Scott Snyder’s narrative for Issue Seven of “The Batman Who Laughs” arguably makes something of a mockery of the American author’s claim that this (extra) publication was “the best way to… give ourselves more room to really land it right.” For whilst the twenty-five page periodical certainly lives up to its promise of delivering the titular character a resounding defeat at the hands of his “brother”, as well as a gratuitously bloody demise to the Grim Knight, the New Yorker’s pedestrian-paced plot doesn’t debatably involve any events so overly complicated that they couldn’t easily have been contained within this mini-series’ originally conceived over-sized sixth instalment.

Indeed, this particular publication debatably runs out of steam before it is even halfway through, as the World’s Greatest Detective repeatedly smashes his spikily-dressed nemesis about the head with several stone grave markers the serum-infected vigilant just happens to find lying around, and James Gordon supposedly rescues his father from becoming the first of Gotham City’s inhabitants to embrace their “darkest selves.” However, rather than stop the story there the Eisner Award-winner instead insists on making this book’s long-suffering 88,012 readers frustratingly wade through some seriously padded out scenes, packed full of some of Snyder’s most gobbledegook-laden, dialogue-heavy panels imaginable; “That demon, what he says is that there is no meaning in your actions, therefore the only meaningful act is to win. He is the fear that we’re both right, Joker and I.”

Mark “Jock” Simpson’s layouts also appear to succumb to this all-pervading, palpable desire to just stuff the misguided magazine with as many meaningless meanderings as possible, with his pencilling of the Batman Who Laughs proving especially undisciplined and rushed. Admittedly, the British cartoonist does imbue the occasional sketch with a noticeable nice touch, such as when Batman uses Martha Wayne’s headstone to batter his ghoulish-looking opponent to the ground. But once the action is over, and this comic is devoid of any need to continue, the artist simply begins producing a seemingly endless production line of debatably poorly-drawn pictures consisting of a badly-bandaged Bruce, and an all-forgiving Commissioner Gordon.
The regular cover art of "THE BATMAN WHO LAUGHS" No. 7 by Jock

Friday, 25 October 2019

The Batman Who Laughs #6 - DC Comics

Having endured Scott Snyder’s plodding plot for Issue Six of “The Batman Who Laughs”, it is hard not to imagine most of this comic’s 98,535 readers wondering just how the New Yorker managed to somehow convince “DC Comics” to expand this limited series “to seven issues in length.” Indeed, considering the laboriously drawn out nature of the titular character’s meeting with Bruce Wayne’s alter-ego throughout this badly bloated twenty-four-page periodical, it’s difficult to even see just why the Eisner Award winner himself felt he wouldn’t “be able to squeeze in everything we needed to in an oversized” final edition.

For starters, the entire opening quarter of this book could have been completely omitted without arguably hampering its storytelling whatsoever. Of course, there is an element of interest generated by an insight into an alternative Gotham where the city’s services have been privatised by its resident billionaire to the point where the elderly, wheelchair bound “B.A.T. Man” owns its police force, education and sanitation departments. But, considering that the heavily-moustached “man who buys all things” is all too easily saved from the assassin’s bullet by the Dark Knight teleporting him away from his public award ceremony, the entire sequence seems to have been penned just to fill in the time it takes for Jim Gordon and his son to access the Bat Cave’s Armoury; “That… Is a lot of batarang guns.”

Equally as unenthralling is the aforementioned confrontation between the Caped Crusader and his “evil counterpart” outside Wayne Manor, which persistently intrudes upon the much more pulse-pounding battle between the metropolis’ batsuit-wearing Commissioner and the Grim Knight. Presumably pencilled by Mark “Jock” Simpson to depict some sort of hallucinogenic aspect to the long awaited bout of fisticuffs, the artist’s lightning-lashed layouts seem to take an eternity to illustrate even the simplest of blows, and decidedly smack of the British cartoonist desperately trying to pad out this publication’s panels with as many overblown drawings of Batman prevaricating as he can muster.

Infinitely more engaging, is Gordon’s desperate attempt to incapacitate “the deadliest man alive” and the emotional conflict these sense-shattering shenanigans create when it becomes clear that the policeman’s adult son, James, is probably going to have to embrace his psychopathic urges in order to help win the day. Packed full of pathos for the struggling mass-murderer’s father, the pacing of the ex-Marine’s battle against “a version of Bruce where Joe Chill dropped his gun and Bruce used the gun on him”, is debatably perfect, as it increasingly generates a palpable mounting tension between both the two combatants, as well as Barbara's onlooking older brother.
The regular cover art of "THE BATMAN WHO LAUGHS" No. 6 by Jock

Monday, 21 October 2019

Absolute Carnage: Lethal Protectors #1 - Marvel Comics

Considering that this comic clearly warned its audience that “the events of this story take place after Absolute Carnage #1 & #2”, Frank Tieri’s script for Issue One of “Absolute Carnage: Lethal Protectors” was probably something of a conundrum for those within its 43,029 strong readership who were blissfully unaware of Cletus Kasady’s “grand return to New York in a blistering triple-sized story”. For whilst the twenty-page periodical at least contains something akin to a summary of past events within its opening blurb, as well as a very evident immediate threat to Misty Knight’s life courtesy of a flashback to an old copy of “Web Of Venom: Cult Of Carnage”, the actual explanation as to just how Mercedes has become a one-armed prisoner of the Apostle of Knull at the Ravencroft Institute For The Criminally Insane is decidedly lacking.

In fact, the Brooklyn-born author’s opening appears to be so heavily-reliant upon the comic’s “Venomaniacs” comprehensively knowing precisely what has preceded his nauseatingly blood-drenched narrative, that it debatably makes a complete mockery of “Marvel Worldwide” even selling this particular publication as some sort of stand-alone mini-series; “Gee. Let me take a wild guess. Creepy cultists. Pentagram drawn in blood. And me as the human sacrifice. You’re bringing back something from the dead.”

Mercifully however, once John Jameson comes to collect his “plus-one” and the private investigator begrudgingly removes her bionic arm as a “token of my fidelity”, the rationale behind why Misty is stood before the “amorphous extra-terrestrial parasite” is quickly overshadowed by a significant amount of gratuitous violence and the surprise appearance of the Demogoblin. Packed full of blood, spinal cord and limb-ripping brutality, this pulse-pounding sequence genuinely grabs the audience by the throat, and in many ways it is disappointing that Knight’s ability to escape Cletus’ clubhouse is over so quickly.

Similarly as inconsistent as this comic’s penmanship is its storyboarding by Flaviano Armentaro, which disconcertingly lurches from the somewhat sedentary religious nature of Carnage’s congregation within the bowels of Ravencroft to Mercedes’ sense-shattering shenanigans in a jarringly clumsy manner. Indeed, the Italian artist’s pencilling at the somewhat static start of this book appears to contrast greatly with the far less restrained sketches at its conclusion, where his drawing arguably bears an uncanny resemblance to that of John Romita Junior…
The regular cover art of "ABSOLUTE CARNAGE: LETHAL PROTECTORS" No. 1 by Bengal

Saturday, 19 October 2019

The Marked #1 - Image Comics

THE MARKED No. 1, October 2019
Described by co-creator Brian Haberlin as “my chance to do magical, dark and sexy”, this whopping forty-page periodical certainly delivers on some of of the Hawaii-born writer/artist’s aspirations with its plausible mix of both the modern day world and that of the monster-infested Occult. In fact, up until the diminutive Saskia enters the mysterious Art School and meets the dangerously naive Liza and matriarchal Mavin, Issue One of “The Marked” reads like some sort of straightforward yet savvy, street-life publication arguably aimed at the adolescent market; “Me, I don’t get it. It’s a woman wearing super strong hairspray. What’s to see?”

Fortunately however, just as soon as Kismet starts working her seventeenth generation inscription magic upon the slender back of this book’s doe-eyed heroine, the comic’s narrative very quickly picks up pace as its audience is introduced to the devilishly intriguing history of the Marked, and their centuries-old battle against all manner of slavering, sharply-fanged foes. These flashbacks to Feudal Japan, the swashbuckling High Seas and Hitler’s enthralling gamble “on a victory for the demons he has summoned” during World War Two, genuinely provides a deeply rich backstory to the “righteous few who carry the Talent”, and makes it crystal clear just why little Saskia would so quickly fall for the ‘Harry Potter’ like lifestyle on offer to her.

Undoubtedly assisting in this enticement is Haberlin’s less traditional art style, which really helps bring this “all-new ongoing fantasy series” to vivid, colourful life. Whether the Wizard Fan Award-nominee is busy illustrating the painstakingly detailed magical glyphs of his “cool young influencers”, or filling the nightlife with the sort of sense-shattering bright lights and pumping disco music one would expect for such a vibrantly young community, it is clear just why co-author David Hine stated that “one of the highlights for me is the way Brian has used his digital skills…”

Perhaps somewhat disappointingly though, what this collaborative concoction does lack is an actual antagonist for the group of uber-inked metahumans to face in their title’s opening instalment. Admittedly, Liza’s abrupt removal from the ‘educational institute’ following her aggressive defiance to accept responsibility for the creation of “a dangerous new form of hybrid sorcery”, does lead to an all-too brief physical confrontation with the vastly superior Mavin. But this childish attack against her “teacher” debatably lacks much menace, especially when compared to the grandiose threat previously depicted by the Third Reich and its ghoulish allies.
Story: David Hine & Brian Haberlin, Art: Brian Haberlin, and Colors: Geirrod Van Dyke

Friday, 18 October 2019

The Batman Who Laughs #5 - DC Comics

Described by the “SyFy Wire” website as “Scott Snyder's Batman opus”, this twenty-six page periodical probably surprised many of its 108,677 readers in May 2019, due to its disconcerting desire to depict the Dark Knight as a decidedly deranged costumed vigilante who seemingly has no issue beheading a freshly-deceased corpse, just so he can scare the wits out of a posse of trigger-happy police officers; “I will come… for you and everyone you love and I will make what happened to this Bruce Wayne here look like a damned mercy.” Unnervingly however, such barbaric savagery on behalf of the Caped Crusader doesn’t end there either with the New Yorker’s narrative supposedly showing the super-hero subsequently succumbing to his inadvertent infection of Joker serum and battering an already badly-bruised Jim Gordon before the Commissioner can stop him turning Gotham City over to his evil counterpart.

Mercifully, such perplexing plot developments are though interlaced with a couple of genuinely pulse-pounding sequences including an intriguing consultation between this comic’s titular character and the nefarious Court of Owls. Wonderfully atmospheric, as the secret society judge the macabre super-villain from the supposed safety of their ornate auditorium, this hearing genuinely plays out like a black comedy as a wheelchair bound “youngling” coldly sentences the leather-clad hybrid to death, and then all too quickly discovers that her suggestion that the Talons “take your head… to make it a lamp” is a little presumptuous.

This surprising show of prodigious penmanship by Snyder proves particularly poignant once this book’s audience realise that the adolescent socialite’s desire to have “a night light for my room” is the least of the girl’s worries as the Batman Who Laughs murders everyone around them, courtesy of some well-placed bombs, and then deftly kicks the sick child into the fatal waters of Gotham River. So surreal a mass-murder is incredibly impactive, and contrasts nicely to the much more dynamically-paced simultaneously-timed flight of Gordon from three of the Grim Knight’s flesh-chomping ‘hounds’ through the metropolis’ underground waterways.

Outwardly destined to die at the hands of his sons from an alternate universe, this breath-taking swim for survival is as frantic as it is horrifying, and owes a great debt to Mark “Jock” Simpson’s scratchy pencils, which imbues its fleeing figures with an inhuman quality all of their own. In addition, the British cartoonist, “best known for his work in 2000 AD”, arguably adds an extra element of ferocity to the blood-crazed Robins simply by providing the trio with such razor-sharp teeth…
The regular cover art of "THE BATMAN WHO LAUGHS" No. 5 by Jock

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Savage Sword Of Conan #5 - Marvel Comics

Considering that Gerry Duggan’s screenplay for Issue Five of “Savage Sword Of Conan” contains little in the way of excitement or even the titular character’s famous swashbuckling swordplay, it is easy to understand just why this twenty-page periodical was selling some six thousand copies less than its sibling ongoing series “Conan The Barbarian” in May 2019. In fact, seeing as the New Yorker’s conclusion to his pedestrian-paced “Cult Of Koga Thun” long-running storyline is simply to have this comic’s Cimmerian protagonist set a long forgotten ship aflame before riding out alone from the City of Kheshatta on horseback, it’s arguably quite a feat that the “Marvel Worldwide” publication actually sold 25,935 copies. Let alone attained a following strong enough to see it comfortably sit within the month’s Top 100 best-selling publications in eightieth position.

To begin with, the emotionally-charged close combat between the Hyborian Age hero and the scaly, zombified corpse of his companion Suty, is over before the clash has even really started, and despite it apparently providing Koga Thun with an opportunity to pass his vile venom into the heavily-muscled adventurer’s veins, this ‘poisoning’ doesn’t debatably do any lasting damage to the savage’s awe-inspiring strength. Instead, “Conan’s horrifying fate” simply seems to have been used to help pad out a good dozen panels of Duggan’s humdrum plot which depressingly could easily have been covered in a much more pulse-pounding manner, considering the pirate slave had previously saved the bronze-skinned fortune hunter’s life.

Such lack-lustre, unimaginative penmanship really does haunt the WGA Award-nominee’s narrative as Conan seemingly just goes through the motions of discovering that the long-sought treasure is “nothing but worthless parchment”, his last surviving party member is not all she seems, and that the “filthy wizard” stalking him throughout this ponderous tale has apparently known what was going to happen all the time through a remarkably contrived feat of omnipotence; “I paid a dear price to cast the spell that would deliver the map to me. I watched it all unfold through the captain’s eyes. I saw you steal my box, Conan.”

Even illustrator Ron Garney questionably appears to have tired of this particular five-part pencilling assignment, crudely sketching the book’s laudable lead as someone who can bemusingly be bested by a short-handled, snake-shaped stick one moment and then depicting the black-haired conqueror riding a terrified steed in an utterly over-blown splash page the next. Indeed, considering that Gerry’s script peters out with Thun’s beheading two-thirds of the way through the comic, the main purpose of this “artist on every Marvel character that ever walked” would appear to have been to take as long as he could to draw Conan escaping Kheshatta.
Writer: Gerry Duggan, Artist: Ron Garney, and Colorist: Richard Isanove

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

The Immortal Hulk #15 - Marvel Comics

IMMORTAL HULK No. 15, May 2019
Printed at a time when the publication had just been nominated for an Eisner award as Best Continuing Series, and featuring the welcome return of Leonard Samson to the Green Goliath’s supporting cast, it isn’t hard to see just why writer Al Ewing was so enthusiastic about his penmanship for Issue Fifteen of “Immortal Hulk” when he was later interviewed about the comic’s contents by the “Syfy” website in July 2019. Indeed, not only does this twenty-page periodical contain a fascinating flashback sequence focusing upon both Skivorski Junior’s heroic death and subsequent surprising resurrection, but it also includes a pulse-pounding bout of unrestrained pugilism between the jade-haired psychiatrist and a badly brain-damaged titular character; “All right, Bruce… Let’s reason this out, shall we?”

However, for those amongst its 53,120 readers who were hoping that the presence of Doc Samson might help progress the long-running book’s arguably pedestrian plot by a few steps, the British author’s narrative for “The Holy Or The Broken” was probably something of a disappointment considering it never properly even resolves the fate of Betty Ross at the hands of “the plastic man”. Instead, it rather disconcertingly simply depicts an incredibly talkative Hulk waxing lyrical alongside the former Northwestern University teacher, about being a pseudo-surrogate father to his puny alter-ego, and wanting to end the world so that some of the Humans currently destroying the planet might actually then live…

This somewhat word-heavy, one-sided conversation disappointingly occupies a significant portion of the comic, yet fortunately doesn’t entirely manage to overshadow the marvellously melodramatic bout of fisticuffs which precedes it. In fact, many within this book’s substantially increasing audience would probably argue that the titanic tussle between a facially-disfigured Hulk and pony-tailed challenger was worth the cost of this $3.99 magazine alone, especially as it momentarily appears that Leonard’s foolhardy reasoning with the utterly insane monster might actually succeed where a bullet through the skull has previously failed.

Regardless, Joe Bennett’s dynamic interior artwork certainly must have hooked any perusing bibliophile with his incredible renditions of the two incredibly well-muscled combatants attempting to batter one another into next week. The Brazilian’s ability to imbue each and every punch with a tooth-cracking resounding thud is particularly impressive, as is the penciller’s marvellous attention to detail as he slowly depicts the Hulk’s substantial head injury slowly closing up as the fight evolves.

‘First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
The regular cover art of "IMMORTAL HULK" No. 15 by Alex Ross

Monday, 14 October 2019

The Batman Who Laughs #4 - DC Comics

Despite being the third best-selling comic of April 2019, at least according to “Diamond Comic Distributors”, this twenty-four page periodical probably didn’t go down all that well with its 103,645 strong audience, considering Scott Snyder starts the book off with Batman and his lifelong father-figure, Alfred Pennyworth, going toe-to-toe with one another deep inside the Bat Cave. In fact, as this publication’s highlight is possibly watching a partially undressed Jim Gordon pitifully cry somewhat hysterically as his fingers are bitten by a trio of fiendishly-fanged Robins, it is hard to correlate or recognise anything within the New Yorker’s frustratingly choppy narrative which could be associated with the Dark Knight’s ever-enduring success over the past eight decades; “No! Stay away! Please Sob Stop! Someone help me!”

Admittedly, Bruce Wayne’s agitated alter-ego is clearly in something of a deranged state, courtesy of wearing a heavily-spiked visor forged “from the dark metal we stripped from Gotham”, whilst Gotham City’s Police Commissioner has just heard how an alternative version of himself died horribly by having a booby-trapped notebook with spring-loaded acid melt away his face. But even so it is hard to imagine either the Caped Crusader or the heavily-moustached former United States Marine behaving in such a cowardly fashion, especially when Mark “Jock” Simpson pencils Batman’s opponent so very clearly acting out of love for his misguided ‘son’.

Sadly, this impropriety with two of Bob Kane and Bill Fingers most recognisable creations doesn’t stop there either, as the Stan Lee Award winner even pens a bizarre “three hours prior” flashback sequence beneath Gotham at the Last Laugh Resource Compound, in which the masked vigilante is suddenly confronted by a badly injured Joker who utterly bizarrely just wants “to talk”, so as to wish his arch-nemesis good luck in the crime-fighter's upcoming battle against the Grim Knight and the Batman Who Laughs. The duo’s subsequent conversation as to whether the pair will be at war with one another forever, and whether there is a way to end their rivalry, has debatably been done before in Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s 1988 one-shot masterpiece “The Killing Joke”, so such an attempted re-tread of so iconic moment genuinely feels disingenuous of Snyder and Jock to their now legendary predecessors.
The regular cover art of "THE BATMAN WHO LAUGHS" No. 4 by Jock