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.
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.”
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.
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?”
The regular cover art of "HEY KIDS! COMICS!" No. 2 by Don Cameron

Sunday, 24 March 2019

Battlestar Galactica (Classic) #1 - Dynamite Entertainment

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (CLASSIC) No. 1, November 2018
Undeniably packed full of outer space dog-fights and the utterly harsh brutality of the pitiless Cylons, this comic’s 7,238 strong audience probably still didn’t feel John Jackson Miller’s script for Issue One of “Battlestar Galactica (Classic)” quite resonated with them as well as Glen A. Larson’s science fiction television series from the Seventies did. Indeed, despite containing plenty of Adama’s brooding negativity regarding his “ragtag fugitive" fleet's headlong flight through the Empyrean Expanse, as well as Starbuck's endearing wit, such as when the Lieutenant grumpily acknowledges the return of Sheba and Silver Spa Squadron just in the ‘nick of time’, the inclusion of the lion-headed Okaati debatably seems to consistently dispel any illusion that this story is a genuine extension of the well-loved “American Broadcasting Company” programme.

Of course, that isn’t to say that the original network’s twenty-four episode long franchise was entirely devoid of aliens, as the likes of the wonderfully insect-like Ovions and their richly-varied casino customers showed in the three-part pilot “Saga Of A Star World”. But to seemingly crowbar in such an over-used sci-fi soap trope as a feline race for a fortieth anniversary celebratory mini-series like “Counterstrike” may well have struck some fans as a clich├ęd discourtesy, especially when instead the Memphis-born writer could have perhaps explored the fate of Carillon’s multi-limbed inhabitants following its tylium-fuelled destruction, or even offered an insight into another member of the seldom seen Cylon Alliance?

Resultantly, this twenty-page periodical only seemingly provides plenty of nostalgic joy when its narrative focuses upon the likes of Lucifer’s utterly merciless decimation of the “people of Kiernu” for allowing “the Galactica and the human fleet to cross your territory”, and Baltar’s impressive appearance at the very end of this comic when he smugly familiarises the Comitat with the concept of “the enemy of my enemy…” Sadly, the rest of this story-line smacks of its American author rather indolently penning some pretty unimaginative plot-threads, particularly as the book’s entire premise is ludicrously based upon Captain Apollo escorting a massive fleet of unknown extra-terrestrial ships straight to the highly-vulnerable location of his own people, simply because the Okaati “were being followed by [three] Cylons.”
Written by: John Jackson Miller, Art by: Daniel HDR, and Letters by: Taylor Esposito

Saturday, 23 March 2019

X-Force #2 - Marvel Comics

X-FORCE No. 2, March 2019
It is very clear from the frantic nature of this twenty page periodical’s plot, that Ed Brisson’s plan to “drop the reader right in the middle of it” with his “Sins Of The Past” storyline was certainly delivering the goods to this comic’s 32,420 strong audience in January 2019, courtesy of a screenplay which is simply packed full of pulse-pounding pugilism and gun-play as the “more militaristic force to assist mutants” bravely battle “to stop a mutant genocide” in East Transia. In fact, this title’s opening quarter is so ferociously action-packed that it is arguably easy to see just why Warpath’s savage bloodlust disconcertingly carries James Proudstar to the point where Cannonball has to intervene before the Apache cold-bloodedly guts a hapless member of the Transian Armed Forces with his large hunting knife; “X-Force doesn’t do this. We can’t kill when there are other options. There, I knocked him out for ya.”

However, that doesn’t mean for a moment that the “Marvel exclusive writer” simply relies upon endless sense-shattering shenanigans with which to draw in any perusing bibliophile who just happens to have picked up this particular publication off of the spinner rack. Far from it, as Issue Two of “X-Force” additionally provides plenty of intrigue in the form of President Constantin’s secret working relationship with the heavily augmented Ahab, and the senior soldier’s misplaced belief that his son Gheorghe’s grotesque mutation was as a result of direct contact with other contagiously infected Homo Sapiens Superiors, rather than “something in our DNA [which] could have allowed for such an abomination…” This enthrallingly dangerous, yet seemingly mutually-beneficial association provides plenty of character to the facially-disfigured former commandant and provides the grim-faced pair’s rather prickly exchange with lots of enjoyable menace, especially when Roderick Campbell is angrily accused of spouting dangerous Pro-Mutant propaganda when he explains that the military man’s offspring “was always a mutant.”

Just as intriguingly penned is Shatterstar’s marvellously taut relationship with Kid Cable, which at one point actually results in the two ‘heroes’ exchanging blows with one another at a temporary mutant refugee outpost on the Romanian/Transian border. It’s abundantly clear from Ben Gaveedra’s hateful distrust of the adolescent Nathan Summers that as far as Dazzler’s son is concerned everything the young time-traveller does or says will only infuriate the Prince of Blades further and cement the Mojoworld warrior’s belief that he “will never accept” this version of Ol’ Blue Eye. Such dissent within the already hot-tempered team genuinely looks set to erupt at any moment throughout this comic’s narrative and provides the Canadian author’s story-line with a palpable edginess that is debatably hard to stop reading.

First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
Writer: Ed Brisson, Artist: Dylan Burnett, and Colorist: Jesus Aburtov

Thursday, 21 March 2019

The Batman Who Laughs: The Grim Knight #1 - DC Comics

THE BATMAN WHO LAUGHS: THE GRIM KNIGHT #1, April 2019
Crowbarred into the middle of the publication schedule for “DC Comics” six-issue miniseries “The Batman Who Laughs”, and reading like one of the Burbank-based publisher’s “Elseworlds” imprint stories, James Tynion IV and Scott Snyder’s “origin of the most dangerous Dark Knight of them all” is a terrific tale of a well-meaning person’s best intentions going horribly wrong once a distraught young boy crosses a deadly line and cold-bloodedly guns down Joe Chill immediately after the incompetent robber has murdered the lad’s parents right in front of his tear-stained eyes; “Shut up! Shut up and die.”

Of course, to begin with a Gotham City containing a billionaire like Bruce Wayne who is willing to shoot all of the metropolis’ most vilest villains dead, sounds like a recipe for its citizens to enjoy long, peaceful, prosperous and happy lives, especially when the “Angel of Death” dispatches all of the crime bosses like Falcone and Zucco, so subsequently “never faced the kind of colourful enemies the Batman of other worlds did.” But things swiftly deteriorate as the morose Caped Crusader simply decides “to start using lethal force indiscriminately to win” even against the metropolis’ Police Department, and in doing so additionally wipes out every inhabitant of both Blackgate and Arkham Asylum using “the finest arsenal Wayne money can buy”.

Faced with a Jim Gordon who is unwilling to stand by and watch his beloved municipal fall under the sway of a “globe-trotting… chief executive officer of a tech and weapons company”, Snyder’s “second-deadliest Batman” degenerates even further, to the point where he forcibly controls his own butler, Alfred Pennyworth, courtesy of an explosive device implanted in the old man’s neck, and seemingly executes any citizen spotted misbehaving via a death-dealing Wayne Enterprises satellite. Such a formidably determined dictator truly is the stuff of nightmares, and is so prodigiously penned, that it is easy to see just why the Eagle Award-winner was apprehensive about bringing this one-shot’s titular character in for “Dark Nights Metal” due to his worry that “the other evil Batman would pale in comparison to him.”

Interestingly, Eduardo Risso’s artwork also adds an extra element to the unsettling nature of this comic’s atmosphere by providing a mixture of pencilled and contrastingly painted panels throughout its twenty-eight pages. This decision to differentiate between the cold, calculating abduction of the police commissioner in the ‘real world’, with that of the Grim Knight’s much more colourful journey towards becoming a blood-drenched despot in his own reality, really does help emphasise the deeply-troubled anti-hero’s emotional state, especially towards the book’s conclusion when it seems clear Snyder’s creation has decided to kill Gordon having just relived his own defeat at the hands of an alternative version of the morally-strong moustached lawman.
The regular cover art of "THE BATMAN WHO LAUGHS: THE GRIM KNIGHT" No. 1 by Jock

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Transformers #1 - IDW Publishing

TRANSFORMERS No. 1, March 2019
Playing out more like a slow-moving chapter from one of the late Robert Grave’s politically-charged novels set within the ancient Roman Empire, rather than a "bold new era" for a comic book based upon a line of children’s transforming mecha toys, Brian Ruckley’s sedentary script for Issue One of “Transformers” probably proved a disappointing mix of seemingly pointless environmental exploration and impolite conversation to its readers in March 2019. In fact, with the sole exception of the "newly-forged" Rubble’s all-too brief encounter with some intriguingly weird-looking ape-like Voin Scavengers, absolutely nothing of any apparent significance occurs within this twenty-page periodical until its very end when the “small Cybertronian” stumbles upon a badly damaged Brainstorm just outside a transmission station.

Up until this point, it is hard to imagine that any long-term fans of the franchise would have gleaned even the smallest semblance of entertainment from a narrative which focuses far too much upon Bumblebee, and later Windblade, allowing “the youngest Cybertronian in the universe” to simply clamber over rocks, follow a trail of luminescent liquid, and watch a starship-sized titan orbit the sky. Of course, the “incoming” writer’s storyline does admittedly also spend a little time with senator Orion Pax and Megatron at the governmental heart of their planet discussing the activist’s plans to hold a reformation rally at Tarn. But this dreary, dialogue-heavy sequence does little except (once again) vividly demonstrate the fundamental differences in opinion between the soon-to-be Optimus Prime and the warlord of the Decepticons; “What does shared time matter, if the lives it measures are different? Nobody sees the same things as anybody else. Nobody.”

Similarly as unsuccessful as the Scottish novelist’s plodding plot is debatably editors David Mariotte and Tom Waltz’s dubious decision to utilise two contrastingly different artists with which to illustrate this “epic” book. Angel Hernandez’s ‘toon-shaded’ sketches appear entirely appropriate for a publication perhaps aimed at adolescents or “someone who’s never read a Transformers comic in their life”. Yet his somewhat simple-looking pencilling pales into comparison with Cachet Whitman’s work, when the American freelancer takes over to populate the panels featuring Pax, and almost inadvertently provides the reader with something actually interesting to peruse, such as all the complicated machinery etched onto the torso of the towering sentient robot and his companion, Ironhide.
Written by: Brian Ruckley, and Art by: Angel Hernandez and Cachet Whitman

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Self/Made #2 - Image Comics

SELF/MADE #2, January 2019
Selling 5,436 copies in January 2019, and continuing Rebecca’s exploration of the “relationship between a creation and their creator”, Mat Groom’s screenplay for Issue Two of “Self/Made” is arguably demonstrative of the Australian author being a ‘self-taught’ writer who “over a long period of time” has “been reading up on story structure and dynamics” rather than someone academically schooled in “the specifics of scripting”. For whilst the “open-to-the-public storytelling” class teacher’s narrative undeniably provides a couple of moderately tense moments within this twenty-two page periodical, such as when Amala Citali fleetingly faces off against a formidably ferocious dragon, or a computer-generated non-playable character called Marcellus is given the choice to kill or be killed atop a breath-taking cityscape, nothing particularly pulse-pounding actually takes place until the comic’s very end when both of its lead characters are simply dropped into the co-operative game Plaga so as “to kill a ghost king.”

Indeed, the primary focus of “Overtime” debatably doesn’t even seem to be Rebecca’s investigation into just why an NPC “is opening the throat of a user like she’s gutting a damned trout in a game that’s supposed to be in front of consumers in six weeks.” But rather a laboriously long-winded insight into both how incredibly unpopular the pony-tailed female computer programmer clearly is with the rest of her work colleagues, and the lengths an enormously smug Bryce will go to in order to get his boss, Stuart Busuttil, to “scrub” the supposed next step in artificial intelligence; “Enough! The way I see it, you’re both losing your goddamned minds over what very well could be a freak accident.”

Fortunately however, all of these rather tiring time-consuming discussions, arguments, counter-consultations and dialogue-heavy deliberations are at least well-pencilled by Eduardo Ferigato, who genuinely manages to imbue the “extraordinarily unproductive” Rebecca with all the weariness a reader may well expect to see from an employee who seems to be carrying the weight of the world upon her shoulders. In fact, the Brazilian illustrator’s ability to depict a person’s innermost emotions or fears with just a few well-placed lines upon their face is extraordinary, and it is abundantly clear just why Groom believes the artist (alongside colorist Marcelo Costa) has done “an incredible job of making every new world we visit gorgeous, striking and unique. Given how quickly we move through some of these worlds, I’ve been blown away by how alive and thought-through and specific they all are…”
Writer: Mat Groom, Artist: Eduardo Ferigato, and Colors: Marcelo Costa

Monday, 18 March 2019

Star Wars: The Last Jedi #3 - Marvel Comics

STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI No. 3, August 2018
Whether the majority of this motion picture adaption’s 19,337 readers were actually fans of Rian Johnson’s 2017 American epic space opera “The Last Jedi” or not, one thing they could probably all agree upon was how outwardly divisive the flick’s Canto Bight storyline was with the highest-grossing film of 2017’s audience, especially when Rose and Finn’s mission ultimately proves unsuccessful and arguably therefore “made that entire section of the movie redundant.” Fortunately for this twenty-page periodical’s narrative however, Gary Whitta seemingly steers clear of such hullabaloo by reducing the “secret mission from Poe Dameron to the casino planet” down to little more than half a dozen sides, and instead focuses far more upon Luke Skywalker’s frustrating refusal “to train the young hero Rey in the ways of the Force” and the Jakku scavenger’s strange ever-growing connection with his nephew, Kylo Ren.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that Phil Noto’s fantastically framed cover illustration featuring the former Stormtrooper, Tico and their nefarious double-dealing master code-breaker, isn’t necessarily misleading as to just what this mini-series’ third instalment is actually about, as there can be little doubt that most of this comic’s action stems from the English-born American screenwriter’s coverage of the Resistance members' exploration and subsequent flight from the desert planet’s coastal city. But in book-form at least, the fathiers conveniently-distracting stampede through the gambling destination’s grounds and surrounding streets is only given as much ‘screen time’ as Rey’s lightsaber practice; “Impetuous. Foolish. Her impatience is telling her that she’s ready. All too familiar. Any moment… now. I think it’s time for lesson two.”

Lamentably though, what this publication is missing is any real sense of emotional energy or animation, courtesy of some sub-standard interiors by artist Michael Walsh, whose tiny, multiple panelled pencilling at best simply provides an adequate depiction of the various characters' movements, whilst presumably providing letterer Travis Lanham with ample room within which to squeeze some incredibly word-heavy dialogue bubbles. In fact, whenever a dramatic drawing is desperately required, such as the Jedi Master’s franchise-changing confrontation with Ren inside the youth’s sleeping quarters, the OCAD University graduate’s sketches disappointingly bear more resemblance to a student’s sadly unrecognisable school book scribblings than a professional’s portrayal of an instantly recognisable actor.
Writer: Gary Whitta, Artist: Michael Walsh, and Colorist: Mike Spicer

Saturday, 16 March 2019

Star Trek: The Q Conflict #1 - IDW Publishing

STAR TREK: THE Q CONFLICT No. 1, January 2019
On paper the idea of a dispute between a handful of the universe’s godlike beings resulting in a head-to-head competition concerning “all of Starfleet’s best captains” probably seemed like a good one to “IDW Publishing” editor Chase Marotz when Scott and David Tipton’s synopsis for Issue One of “Star Trek: The Q Conflict” was first submitted. In fact, the notion of pitting the wits of James T. Kirk, Jean-Luc Picard, Kathryn Janeaway and Benjamin Siskin against one another with “the fate of the Earth and beyond” at stake arguably must have sounded like a lifelong dream to any comic collecting Trekkies able to get their hands on a copy of the “soon-to-be-classic six-part miniseries”.

However, this opening convergence of the Federation’s finest officers so as to “hold the galaxy together against insurmountable odds” arguably must have disappointed the majority of its 9,047 readers due to a lack-lustre plot which lamentably contains absolutely no action whatsoever, and whose sole highlight is the respective bridge crews politely greeting one another on the surface of a somewhat featureless alien planet; “Well, I don’t recognise the uniforms, but I certainly know Starfleet badges when I see them.”

Admittedly, long-time franchise fans would doubtless have gleaned some additional excitement from the all-too brief appearances of the “extremely advanced” Metrons, the playful Squire of Gothos and non-corporeal Organians towards the end of this book. But whilst the concept of the antagonistically arrogant "General Trelane, Retired" battling the Q Continuum for a ‘shot at supremacy’ makes perfect sense, it debatably seems entirely uncharacteristic for such notable peace-makers like the Beta Quadrant’s Organian Council of Elders to strive for such dominance in an egotistical encounter which has already seen “three to five Gorn colony worlds… lost, with casualties in the thousands.”

Mercifully, whilst the “Star Trek: The Next Generation: Mirror Broken” scribes’ storyline for this twenty-page periodical is unsatisfactorily sedentary, David Messina’s artwork is packed full of vibrant life and plenty of instantly recognisable nods to both the television series and motion pictures. Indeed, the excellent likenesses of all the numerous actors the Italian has crammed into this publication, along with all the different uniforms, equipment and technology, clearly shows just why the comic’s collaborative writing team believe he “did a first-rate job here.”
Written by: Scott Tipton & David Tipton, and Pencils by: David Messina

Friday, 15 March 2019

X-Force #1 - Marvel Comics

X-FORCE No. 1, February 2019
Proudly proclaimed as bringing “the mutant squad together again” for “an all-new, high-octane… adventure”, Ed Brisson’s screenplay for Issue One of “X-Force” must have pleased the vast majority of this comic’s 57,369 strong audience in December 2018 with its mix of break-neck pacing, politically-motivated military machinations and over-the-top gun-play. Indeed, it’s arguably hard to find fault with the Ontario-born writer’s intriguing storyline which simultaneously depicts both the original team of Domino, Shatterstar, Boom Boom, Cannonball and Warpath hunting down “the murderer of their former leader”, and Cable’s “time-travelling younger version” infiltrating a Transian Science and Research Department for the living remains of Deathlok.

But whilst this opening instalment of “a new ongoing series that reunites the squad… for vengeance” seemingly lives up to its Canadian author’s promise that “the team are willing to do things that no one else in the Marvel Universe will”, such as when James Proudstar badly beats up a hapless anti-mutant terrorist despite the man having already surrendered, Dylan Burnett’s penciling debatably is far less impressive, particularly when drawing the likes of Thunderbird’s brother who rather than being portrayed as a proud apache super-hero disconcertingly comes across as a brooding, maladjusted long-haired hulk, whose misshapen form skulks within the shadows; “You said no killing unless necessary. I just hurt him.”

Fortunately however, the “Murder Book” self-publisher’s penmanship still manages to successfully carry this book’s pulse-pounding plot along, and even injects some genuine laugh-out-loud moments into his script courtesy of Nathan Summer‘s poorly thought out mission to retrieve a homicidally deranged Deathlok. The partially disassembled cybernetic soldier’s insane outbursts at his adolescent would-be rescuer are thoroughly entertaining, and in many ways it’s a shame that by the end of this twenty-two page periodical the alternate future assassin has once again attained full control over his “psychopathic human host.”

Somewhat oddly, this publication also contains a separate short story focusing upon Boom Boom entitled “The Big Sleep In” which explains precisely why Tabitha Smith wasn’t present when the rest of X-Force were battling anti-mutant terrorists during a night-time raid upon a warehouse in Queens, New York. Sketched by Juanan Ramirez and penned by Brisson, this tale contains all the explosions any perusing bibliophile would expect from a story revolving around “Doctor Madame McSplode”, but nonetheless rather jars with the look and feel of the comic’s previous narrative.
The regular cover art of "X-FORCE" No. 1 by Pepe Larraz and David Curiel

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Self/Made #1 - Image Comics

SELF/MADE #1, December 2018
“Introducing a new creative team everyone will be talking about” this twenty-four page periodical by “Image Comics” must have seemed like ‘manna from heaven’ for those within its 11,135 strong audience who had ever played “Dungeons & Dragons”, and wanted to read a book which replicated an authentic fantasy tabletop game feel. Indeed, up until the point where the disagreeably arrogant Brycemere stupidly invites his travelling party’s death before the crossbow bolts of the Skrellians, Mat Groom’s script for Issue One of “Self/Made” genuinely seems to play out like one of Gary Gygax’s Early Seventies scenarios, complete with blood-soaked backstory, an unlikely alignment of multi-skilled heroes, a black-hearted sorcerer and a suitably formidable quest upon which rests the fate of “this great kingdom” and “the many races of Arcadia”.

Fortunately however, this analogy doesn’t simply end with Amala Citali’s fatal felling at the feet of an Egyptian-looking Pharaoh, as just like any other good role-playing adventure, “The Final Contradiction” provides its central cast with the opportunity to repeatedly replay its narrative and explore an alternative course of action to the one which led to their band’s untimely demise; “…Very well, as you appear so well versed in the ways of these savages, we shall follow your lead in this singular instance.” This enjoyable plot twist arguably completely captures the spirit of Dave Arneson’s dice-rolling miniature wargame to the point where some readers could probably imagine a group of players reconvening their band over subsequent nights so as to overcome their previous attempt’s terminal tribulations.

Of course, owing to the storyline’s ‘real world’ being set some time in the near future, the Australian author’s lead gamer is actually simply reloading a computer programme from the last checkpoint rather than using the traditional pen and paper method of dungeon crawling. But this technological revelation towards the end of the comic doesn’t debatably dilute its engagingly palpable nostalgic aura in the least, and actually makes for a far more understandably apt conclusion when Citali repeatedly kills the haughty prince for failing to explain why Teronak couldn’t “use the power to bring my people back” to life following the townsfolks' decimation at the magic-user’s hands.

Similarly as successful as this publication’s story-telling is Eduardo Ferigato’s proficient pencilling, which dynamically captures both the sweeping grandeur of the great kingdom’s multi-raced medieval world, as well as the selfish superciliousness of Brycemere. In fact, despite the vast majority of this book’s interiors not containing any sound effects, one can still hear the clang of swords, or ‘thunk’ of a well-aimed arrow due to the dynamic nature of the Brazilian illustrator’s drawings.
Writer: Mat Groom, Artist: Eduardo Ferigato, and Colors: Marcelo Costa

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Star Wars: Age Of Republic - Jango Fett #1 - Marvel Comics

STAR WARS: AGE OF REPUBLIC - JANGO FETT No. 1, March 2019
Having previously “written Poe Dameron, Thrawn, Rogue One, and more from Star Wars” it may well have been hard for some within this one-shot’s 41,371 strong audience to believe that Jody Houser’s “experience with Star Wars fans has been incredibly positive, actually”, if the Emerson College graduate’s narrative for “Training” is typical of her penmanship “in a galaxy far, far away.” Indeed, despite this twenty-page periodical supposedly being about “the best mercenary in the galaxy during the final years of the Republic”, its focus disconcertingly soon shifts away from the bounty hunter and instead lamentably places the spotlight upon Jango’s cloned offspring Boba instead; “This is my son… He’ll be helping us on this job. Part of his training.”

Fortunately however, the presence of a small child in the midst of an abduction mission on Ord Mantell doesn’t mean that the third-generation geek’s narrative is in any way absent of pulse-pounding action, as the book sets ‘its stall out straight from the start’ with a rather entertainingly brief flashback scene depicting its titular character at the height of his career jet-packing in to assassinate some wealthy target despite the man’s two formidable-looking bulky bodyguards. This cold-blooded ‘hit’, tremendously well-drawn by artist Luke Ross, firmly establishes the Mandalorian’s well-established reputation, and not only helps underline just why Fett’s new crew of underachieving ‘D-List’ killers are so nervous around him, but also perhaps explains why the likes of Tiver and Rinn underestimate young Boba later on when they fatally try to double-cross the lad’s ruthless father by placing a pair of curved blades to the youngster’s throat.

In fact if anything, Houser’s script significantly ramps up the violence once everyone’s attention is firmly fixed upon Darth Vader’s future hireling, as he efficiently dispatches the first of his would-be captors with a hidden firearm, and then almost enthusiastically uses his other opponent for live target practice before blowing the Gand’s brains out with a well-aimed shot. Having previously presented the team’s successful mission in a rather light-hearted, humorous manner, so sudden a shift towards a much darker tone may well have caught many a bibliophile by surprise, especially when it subsequently appears that Jango’s son is going to blast the unarmed Rodian, Neelda, simply for not trying to stop his comrades’ coup attempt…
The regular cover art of "STAR WARS: AGE OF REPUBLIC - JANGO FETT" No. 1 by Paolo Rivera

Monday, 11 March 2019

The Six Million Dollar Man #1 - Dynamite Entertainment

THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN No. 1, March 2019
Based upon the Seventies American science fiction and action television series, there is definitely an entertaining story desperately trying to be told within Christopher Hastings’ script for Issue One of “The Six Million Dollar Man”. But whilst the “author of The Adventures of Doctor McNinja” was clearly having “a lot of fun writing this book”, his penmanship’s over-reliance to persistently populate every panel with a whimsical gag or school ground quip disconcertingly destroys any semblance of seriousness to a plot which intriguingly focuses upon the cybernetically-upgraded astronaut travelling to Japan to stop a madman from firing a nuclear-armed rocket at the United States of America.

Indeed, just as soon as Colonel Steve Austin disembarks from a helicopter in order to start his first ever mission, the “decorated hero” begins telling secret agent Niko Abe all about being “a cyborg super-spy” like an overly- thrilled school boy, and simply doesn’t stop grinning like the proverbial Cheshire Cat until he’s excitedly explained that he is “stronger, faster and all around better than any Seal Team you could ask for.” The gushing former cosmonaut even subsequently provides his increasingly infuriated driver a typical body-builder pose during their ride towards Ansa Island, and jokes about his cover story for visiting the Nuclear Launch Facility should he be caught; “Very sorry to trespass, Mister Amari. I’m a huge fan. Could you sign my Ansa watch?”

Happily however, for those readers willing to put up with Hasting’s immature depiction of the titular character, the writer’s narrative for this twenty-page periodical still has plenty to offer during its second half, especially once the K.G.B. suddenly show up in order to provide the Japanese criminal mastermind with a nuclear payload. Ignoring Austin’s ridiculous desire for his partner to loudly translate his cover story whilst he’s besting a dozen well-armed soldiers on a gantry, the pulse-pounding fisticuff action flows thick and fast, with Steve showing very clearly just what his considerable price-tag brings to the party. In fact, the Colonel’s confrontation with a demonic mask-wearing samurai is undoubtedly the highlight of the comic.

David Hahn’s pencilling is also worthy of praise, and his dynamically-drawn interiors make it plain to see just why this book’s author does “little dances in my chair” whenever the Ignatz Award-nominee submits his work. Clean-lined and easily able to imbue the main protagonist throwing some jaw-breaking punches, there is arguably little fault to be found with the artist’s storyboards, and his cliff-hanger splash page showing an impaired Austin facing a group of sword-wielding devils is debatably one of the few reasons anyone would want to pick up this series’ second instalment…
The regular cover art of "THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN" No. 1 by Michael Walsh

Sunday, 10 March 2019

Battlestar Galactica (Classic) #0 - Dynamite Entertainment

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (CLASSIC) No. 0, October 2018
“Set soon after the events of the first season” of Glen A. Larson’s 1978 American science fiction television programme, it must have been abundantly clear to this “Dynamite Entertainment” title’s audience that writer John Jackson Miller was somewhat inspired by “one of the series best-loved episodes in which another surviving Battlestar was discovered” when he was busy penning the narrative behind this “miniseries timed for Battlestar Galactica's 40th anniversary year!” Yet whilst the former “Comics Retailer” editor’s script for this 35¢ priced sixteen-page periodical is undoubtedly imbued with plenty of pulse-pounding Colonial Viper action as Apollo, Starbuck and Boomer lead a hostile alien assault squadron away from the human convoy, it’s premise of the ragtag fugitive fleet encountering a handful of distinctive extra-terrestrial species all within the space of a few “centons” is as arguably disconcerting as Commander Adama’s decision to “cross the narrow neck separating the two parts” of the Kiernu Empire without the permission of the territory’s fuming chancellor; “Do not insult me with your oath, Adama. This day I have seen what the word of a human is worth!”

To debatably make matters worse however, the franchise’s primary antagonists, the Cylons, are seemingly relegated to an all too brief camo where three of the robotic race’s raiders are quickly dispatched whilst ‘pursuing’ an Okaati transport in the middle of nowhere. Just why a trio of the “military androids with silver armour” happen to be patrolling a nebula dominated by the Comitat’s formidable-looking taskforce dishearteningly may well have smacked of overly-contrived “felgercarb” to many readers, especially as the Bucketheads’ heavy fighters “don’t seem to be firing at whoever it is they’re following”...

Quite possibly the biggest draw to Issue Zero of “Battlestar Galactica (Classic)” therefore, is the publication’s artwork. Whether it be Sean Chen and Cris Peter’s “cover harkening back to the original Marvel Battlestar Galactica series”, or Daniel HDR’s interiors, the comic certainly seems to provide plenty of nostalgia to “those kids in the audience every night” who watched the show in the Late Seventies. Indeed, despite the fact that the Porto Alegre-born illustrator’s lion-like sketches of Parrin and Grust unnervingly seem better suited to an episode of “Star Trek: The Animated Series” than NBCUniversal Television Distribution’s show, it is easy to imagine actor Lorne Greene’s instantly recognisable booming out across the Brazilian’s star field-based storyboards.
Written by: John Jackson Miller, Art by: Daniel HDR, and Letters by: Taylor Esposito

Saturday, 9 March 2019

Star Wars: Age Of Republic - Obi-Wan Kenobi #1 - Marvel Comics

STAR WARS: AGE OF REPUBLIC - OBI-WAN KENOBI No. 1, March 2019
Disappointed Star Wars fans eager for an Obi-Wan Kenobi spin-off movie featuring Ewan McGregor were probably still very relieved in January 2019 that “The Walt Disney Company” hadn’t yet committed to any ‘Silver Screen’ motion picture if Jody Houser’s narrative for this twenty-page periodical was indicative of the storyline the entertainment conglomerate might have been contemplating. For whilst the “author who wrote the 2017 comic adaption of the film Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” certainly provides the book with a somewhat scintillating conclusion as Ben battles a formidable array of space pirates on the planet Dallenor with his lightsaber, the Jedi Knight’s confrontation with Hudso Shaku is frustratingly fleeting and follows something of a tedious tale about the titular character’s doubts as to whether he is suited to train an adolescent Anakin Skywalker in the ways of the Force; “Perhaps the Master is meant to be as much a student as the Padawan.”

Of course Ben’s misgivings as to his ability to make good upon his “promise to his dying master to train” Shmi’s son in the ways of the Force has arguably always been an underlying theme of George Lucas’ as to just why the prophesied Chosen One would eventually transform into the Sith Lord Darth Vader. Yet the Rod Parker Fellowship-winner’s story seems to take such great delight in portraying Qui-Gon Jinn’s former student as a distrustfully impotent teacher that Kenobi even has to be ‘told’ by Yoda to take his young apprentice with him on their first “quest” together, and debatably few of this publication’s 36,392 readers were subsequently surprised when the diminutive Skywalker, rather than the boy's bearded companion, ultimately bests the leader of the Krypder Riders by hurling a small scattering of stones at the back of his bird-shaped head. 

On the plus side to Issue One of “Star Wars: Age Of Republic – Obi-Wan Kenobi” however, artists Cory Smith and Wilton Santos do seemingly try to keep the future Clone Wars General constantly within the book’s spotlight, courtesy of some well-pencilled panels which quite delightfully capture the Scottish actor’s facial likeness. In fact, alongside Walden Wong’s inking and Java Tartaglia’s colouring, this “third one-shot in the comic book anthology series” is a rather visually enticing affair, even if the beak-faced inhabitants of Dallenor disconcertingly look far too cartoonish to be taken seriously as the antagonists of “Mission”.
Writer: Jody Houser, Pencilers: Cory Smith & Wilton Santos, and Inker: Walden Wong

Thursday, 7 March 2019

Savage Sword Of Conan #2 - Marvel Comics

SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN No. 2, April 2019
Despite having supposedly gone “back and read some of the classics from Robert E. Howard”, Gerry Duggan’s narrative for Issue Two of “Savage Sword Of Conan” debatably must have depressed many of the comic’s audience with his ponderously plodding plot depicting the Cimmerian’s arrival at the city of Kheshatta. Admittedly, the barbarian’s journey to this former “jewel of Stygia” provides a modicum of action when he brains a pair of Koga Thun’s demonic-looking cultists with a severed flaming limb for daring to suggest that they’d eaten the god Crom after he’d “sobbed like a child”. Yet these few fleeting panels, buried deep within the twenty-page periodical, hardly reflect the sort of sense-shattering shenanigans which the Hyborian Age adventurer’s creator imbued his novellas with, and certainly doesn’t inject “an opportunity for a laugh” into the storyline as its New York City-born writer apparently believed.

Indeed, arguably all “Go Ask Crom” provides its readers with is a sedentary, lack-lustre tale involving Conan uncharacteristically scouring a Scroll and Tome vault for “a book of historical maps of Ancient Kheshatta”, being ambushed by a crossbow-wielding Keeper of the Library, and then laboriously discussing with his companion Suty the fact that “the city’s landmarks are being pulled down, making a map much harder to decipher.” Such dialogue-heavy, mediocre meanderings are hardly the sort of content which “the first great fantasy editor” Farnsworth Wright would have agreed to have printed in “Weird Tales” during the Thirties, and probably lessened the blow to the book’s fans when “Comic Book Resources” announced in February 2019 that Duggan (along with artist Ron Garney) would be leaving the title in just a few months' time.

Just as disconcerting as this publication’s poor pace though is debatably the increasingly annoying relationship between the Sword and Sorcery hero and his fellow escapee, Suty, which bears a disconcerting resemblance to the on-screen buffoonery between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tracey Walter’s Malak in the 1984 film “Conan The Destroyer”. The Cimmerian has always been known for his chivalry, albeit towards “damsels in distress”, and clearly owes his life to “his newfound companion” following “a pirate attack that destroyed both ships.” But the cowardly ex-slave’s ill-fortune persistently marks him out as a significant hindrance to the success of the barbarian’s mission rather than an asset, and probably made many a bibliophile wonder just why the black-maned experienced explorer would be happy to undertake so dangerous a mission with such a debatably dangerous disadvantage in tow; “Suty, You clod! I told you to wait outside.”
Writer: Gerry Duggan, Artist: Ron Garney, and Colorist: Richard Isanove

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Savage Sword Of Conan #1 - Marvel Comics

SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN No. 1, April 2019
“Heralding the return of another classic Conan title” in February 2019, it was probably easy for many of this comic’s audience to see just why “Marvel Worldwide” would tell them to “ready your battle axe” in preparation for Gerry Duggan’s sprawling five-part narrative “The Cult Of Koga Thun”. For whilst the New York-based publisher’s pre-print publicity would have them believe that the Cimmerian “isn’t a prisoner for long” aboard the slave ship Ouroboros, the brawling Barbarian doesn’t actually manage to successfully flee from his captors until near this bloated thirty-page periodical’s end, and then its readers need to steadfastly endure an incredibly long-winded multiple splash-page sequence which depicts the exhausted escapee opening a heavy box which “did not contain coin or jewels…”

Of course, that isn’t to say that Issue One of “Savage Sword Of Conan” contains a sedentary-paced storyline which is devoid of action. Far from it in fact, as the titular character does make a brutal break for freedom just as soon as he gains consciousness from having been cast adrift on the ocean five days after a “calamitous sea battle”, and brains any pirate foolish enough to get in his way. Yet this explosive injection of pulse-pounding fisticuffs, which begins with “the Marvel warrior” hurling a metal plate of gruel at the head of the hold’s guard, frustratingly doesn’t occur until a third of the way into the book, by which point many a perusing bibliophile pondering its plot inside their favourite store may well have already returned the magazine to its place on the spinner rack.

Fortuitously however, having roused from his fevered dream about skeleton pirates and scantily-clad company, Duggan’s incarnation of Conan is debatably every bit the swashbuckler Robert E. Howard penned him to be, and despite the occasional disconcerting demonstration of super-human strength, such as when the adventurer simply smashes open the hold’s heavy metal covering with his bare fists, there’s plenty of swordplay for Hyborian Age fans to enjoy. Indeed, the American author even manages to provide this tale with some sorcerous shenanigans when the great wooden ship’s captain is revealed to be a demonic snake man; "What other dark horrors does this ship hold?!”

Equally as impressive as the pacing behind Conan’s fiery breakout are Ron Garney’s interiors, which certainly show the excitement which the artist felt “because he was a character I had always wanted to take a crack at, and here was that opportunity…” As aforementioned the former “Daredevil” drawer’s work slightly suffers at the conclusion of this comic where he is ‘forced’ to pencil perhaps a few too many splash-pages to help pad out the storyline. But there can be no doubting the “klang” of steel or the Cimmerian’s dynamic vitality when the bare-chested hero is sketched battling for his life against a boat full of cut-throats.
Writer: Gerry Duggan, Artist: Ron Garney, and Colorist: Richard Isanove

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

The Batman Who Laughs #3 - DC Comics

THE BATMAN WHO LAUGHS #3, April 2019
Whilst Scott Snyder may well have intended “The Batman Who Laughs” “to be a stand-alone series where you can read it from start to finish without feeling like you need everything else”, the New Yorker’s script for “The Laughing House” most likely had any readers unfamiliar with James Worthington Gordon Junior scouring about looking for an explanation as to just why Bruce Wayne’s alter-ego would turn to the young man as his only hope to defeat the "Jokerized version of Batman who originated from the Dark Multiverse.” Indeed, despite the Commissioner alluding to all the security measures his bespectacled son must take so as to ensure the serial-killer maintains control of his psychopathic tendencies, it is difficult to believe that the Dark Knight’s only chance to succeed in this disappointing narrative is to force the remorseful youth’s personality back to when it was a murdering genius; “Look! At thirteen years old you were a legend! You had books, journals filled with routes, genius combinations!”

Equally as befuddling is “DC Comics” publicised belief that this twenty-four periodical starts to “fit together” all the pieces of its titular character’s plan, and the Burbank-based publisher’s promise that Oswald Cobblepot will play a prominent part in the sociopath’s schemes. True, the Penguin does provide one of the highlights of this comic when he goes “head-to-head with the darkest version of his mortal enemy” and watches his magnificent Iceberg Lounge get significantly torched in the process.

But all these pulse-pounding panels debatably depict is how lethal “the Bat Gimp” can be in close combat, as he surprisingly leaves the semi-conscious crime boss still alive following the cold-blooded murder of another alternative version of Bruce Wayne who apparently “actually ends up competing" with the Penguin to bring him down. Just how these senseless shenanigans progress The Batman Who Laughs’ scheme is unclear, unless the villain’s suggestion that the hapless Gotham City mobster “look into a guy who worked for you named Malone” is a galvanising clue of some kind..?

Quite possibly this book’s biggest problem though, is Mark "Jock" Simpson’s artwork which certainly makes its opening sequence involving James Gordon and his offspring appear as lifelessly flat as the cardboard boxes surrounding them in the store room. Disappointingly wooden-looking and consistently too dark, perhaps due to an overly-enthusiastic David Baron as colorist, even Batman’s highly-anticipated confrontation against the Grim Knight seemingly lacks the vitality a perusing bibliophile might expect from such two such well-matched adversaries…
The regular cover art of "THE BATMAN WHO LAUGHS" No. 3 by Jock