Saturday, 27 April 2019

Leave On The Light #1 - Antarctic Press Comics

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 25 April 2019

Xena: Warrior Princess #1 - Dynamite Entertainment

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

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

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

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

Friday, 19 April 2019

Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor #5 - Titan Comics

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

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

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

Monday, 8 April 2019

Hellchild: Blood Money #1 - Zenescope Entertainment

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 4 April 2019

Dial H For Hero #1 - DC Comics

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

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

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