Sunday, 26 May 2019

Batman And The Outsiders #1 - DC Comics

Having been suddenly cancelled by “DC Comics” in November 2018, with the subsidiary of “Warner Brothers” promising comic book retailers that the title would be re-solicited “later in 2019”, fans of “Batman And The Outsiders” were probably hoping that writer Bryan Hill’s “tweaking of some of the script because of DCU events” was going to make this particular twenty-four page periodical truly stand out from amongst the myriad of other Dark Knight-related publications swamping the local store’s spinner rack. Yet whilst “Lesser Gods” starts off well enough, with a super-powered villain mysteriously targeting a single parent and his daughter as they innocently drive through Los Angeles, the American author’s narrative soon arguably gets badly bogged down in the doubts and fears of its leading cast; “Neither are you, Signal. That’s why I had to save your life. We have to work together. We’re a team.”

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

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

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

Monday, 13 May 2019

The Forgotten Queen #1 - Valiant Entertainment

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Dragonsblood #1 - Zenescope Entertainment

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Star Trek: Year Five #1 - IDW Publishing

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

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

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

Monday, 6 May 2019

Ghost Tree #1 - IDW Publishing

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

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

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

Sunday, 5 May 2019

Punk Mambo #1 - Valiant Entertainment

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

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

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

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