Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Catwoman Annual #1 - DC Comics

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

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

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fiends decide to strike out on their own and steal a valuable antique spear from a seemingly insecure mansion with “outdated security”.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

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

Thursday, 6 June 2019

Detective Comics Annual #2 - DC Comics

Somewhat worryingly starting out like a pale comic book adaption of the 1993 American animated superhero film “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm”, Peter J. Tomasi’s script for this second “Detective Comics Annual” will undoubtedly have caught a fair few of its audience out with its satisfyingly sudden departure from Paul Dini’s “cinematic continuation of Batman: The Animated Series” that the skull-faced killer cold-bloodedly murdering criminals in “Manchester, Paris, Zagreb and… Greece” is not in fact the late Judson Caspian’s daughter, Rachel. But rather something altogether unexpected, which takes both bibliophile and Dark Knight completely by surprise, whilst simultaneously adding yet another intriguing addition to the DC Universe’s already rich collection of global underground assassin-themed organisations; “I have made the Reapers an unstoppable international implement of vengeance.”

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

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

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Gears Of War: Hivebusters #1 - IDW Publishing

Packed full of more f-bombs than a Joe Pesci comedic sketch, and lacking any semblance of plot until its final third, Kurtis J. Wiebe’s opening instalment to this “five-part Gears of War comic series” must surely have disappointed both ardent fans of “the best-selling” video game franchise, as well as those readers new to the conflict between humanity and the reptilian Locust Horde. For whilst this twenty-two page periodical is undeniably packed full of pulse-pounding action as “a new fearless squad” successfully busts a Swarm hive on the remote island of Pahanu with as much excessive force as the trio can muster, little of the graphically-depicted gratuitous violence makes much sense until the team are eventually extracted from their “suicide” mission and subsequently debriefed by their wheelchair-bound commanding officer.

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

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

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

Sunday, 2 June 2019

Road Of Bones #1 - IDW Publishing

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

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

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