Wednesday, 30 October 2019

The Batman Who Laughs #7 - DC Comics

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

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

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

Friday, 25 October 2019

The Batman Who Laughs #6 - DC Comics

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

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

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

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

Monday, 21 October 2019

Absolute Carnage: Lethal Protectors #1 - Marvel Comics

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 19 October 2019

The Marked #1 - Image Comics

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

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

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

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

Friday, 18 October 2019

The Batman Who Laughs #5 - DC Comics

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Savage Sword Of Conan #5 - Marvel Comics

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

The Immortal Hulk #15 - Marvel Comics

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 14 October 2019

The Batman Who Laughs #4 - DC Comics

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

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

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

Saturday, 12 October 2019

Savage Sword Of Conan #4 - Marvel Comics

Shifting 27,252 copies in April 2019, at least according to “Diamond Comic Distributors”, Gerry Duggan’s narrative for Issue Four of “Savage Sword Of Conan” certainly must have pleased those Robert E. Howard fans who had been waiting to see the comic’s bronze-skinned barbarian unleash his full fearsome ferocity upon the Undead since reading this ongoing series’ previous instalment. Indeed, a good third of this twenty-page periodical is seemingly dedicated to simply depicting the Cimmerian cleaving his way past all manner of semi-armoured cadavers with nothing more than a pair of fighting axes; “No man had journeyed this far through the labyrinth, for no one but Conan had seen the map.”

Disappointingly however, this briskly-paced journey amidst the secret catacombs beneath the city of Kheshatta is eventually cut short by the party’s discovery that one of their number has been poisoned by Koga Thun, and from this point on the New York City-born writer’s script swiftly descends into a much slower affair as Suty begs his heavily-muscled friend “to send me from whence you came” with a fatal sword thrust to the chest. Of course, such an anguished, painful end to the life of one of Conan’s companions arguably conjures up some emotion in this comic’s audience. But the sheer speed of the scaly infection’s transformation upon the one-time slave’s body, coupled with an annoying series of cut-scenes depicting the sick man’s mental battle to resist the sorcerer’s sweet sounding promise of immortality if he will “let me slide into your skin”, frustratingly furnishes the final death scene with a debatably dissatisfying taste of rush and haste.

This atmosphere of ‘hurriedness’ to get to the publication’s concluding cliff-hanger is perhaps also prevalent in the scratchily-drawn storyboards of Ron Garney. At the start of this comic, the former artist on “The Amazing Spider-Man” pays his figures some tremendous attention to detail, apparently picking out every rib, tooth and vertebra possible on each of the numerous helmet-wearing ghouls he depicts the titular character contesting against. Yet by the time Suty has revealed to his horrified comrades that he now bears the red, snake-eyed pupils of Set the vast majority of the illustrator’s drawings contain little to no actual background, and many of his pencilled panels lamentably comprise of nothing more than a close-up of the competing adversaries’ determined faces.
Writer: Gerry Duggan, Artist: Ron Garney, and Colorist: Richard Isanove

Friday, 11 October 2019

New Mutants: War Children #1 - Marvel Comics

NEW MUTANTS: WAR CHILDREN No. 11, November 2019
Asked by “Marvel Comics” to reunite with Bill Sienkiewicz “to do a thirty-page New Mutants story”, Chris Claremont’s script for this Eightieth anniversary celebration probably pleased the majority of die-hard fans who fondly remember the school of youngsters’ early days when both comic book legends were in the middle of their original run on the title. Indeed, between the British-born American novelist’s nostalgia-inducing penmanship concerning Warlock’s substantial angst at fulfilling his destiny “to become the Magus” and Bill’s “brilliantly unique” visual representation of this publication’s beloved characters, this one-shot could easily be argued as simply being the series' next issue – “It just took us thirty years to get here.”

Disappointingly however, once the narrative moves beyond the extra-terrestrial Technarch fleeing Professor Xavier’s mansion for fear of harming his friends, and the rest of the fledgling super-team follow him to “the ridgeline at the west end of the estate”, this periodical debatably starts to lose much of its ‘old school’ charm on account of some unconvincing plot-twists and plenty of perturbing pencilling. For starters, just how does Hela, the Goddess of Death, become “infected by Warlock’s virus” when Danielle Moonstar is simply “summoned to thy destiny” as “one of my Valkyrie -- chooser of the slain” via her wrist-communicator, and why does the Mistress of the Darkness later tolerate the adolescent mutant’s defiant petulance considering the soul-stealer’s formidable Asgardian power; “But none of us will die today. You have a problem with that?”

Equally as dubious is Claremont’s basic premise that the partial destruction of the X-Men’s home, the temporary transformation of Cannonball, Lockheed, Moonstar and Magma into villainous techno-killing machines, as well as Illyana’s full-blown demonic possession, is all simply due to “Gear-face” having a sudden moment of insecurity. Just why Warlock ‘loses his head’ so dramatically at the story’s start isn’t ever satisfactorily explained, nor how the shape-shifting alien is able to put right all the chaotic damage his mental instability has caused just by morphing with his team-mates.

Unfortunately, such pernickety contrivances are soon forgotten though, courtesy of some significantly impenetrable artwork by Sienkiewicz. The Pennsylvania-born penciller was undoubtedly a revolution in the Bronze Age of comics during the Eighties. But his overly-busy panels and decidedly indecipherable action-packed sequences for Issue One of “New Mutants” War Children” makes it really hard at times to see just who is doing what to whom, especially towards the end of the magazine when the numerous heroes and heroines start falling like dominoes to the ‘dark side’ following their infection by Warlock’s techno-organic virus.
Writer: Chris Claremont, Artist: Bill Sienkiewicz, and Color Artist: Chris Sotomayor

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

Star Trek: Year Five #6 - IDW Publishing

STAR TREK: YEAR FIVE No. 6, September 2019
Firmly focusing upon Nyota Uhura’s character throughout much of this twenty-page periodical’s plot, Jody Houser’s script for Issue Six of “Star Trek: Year Five” certainly gives the communications officer something infinitely meatier to do than the Lieutenant simply open hailing frequencies. But whilst watching the specialist “in linguistics, cryptography, and philology” arguably save the U.S.S. Enterprise’s crew from constantly being “at each other’s throats" by giving Kirk, Spock and McCoy an intriguing lesson in mind reading is entertaining enough. It also probably struck the vast majority of this comic’s disconcerted readers that the Constitution Class starship’s predicament involving the mysterious Truth Artefact had therefore been resolved with half the publication yet to read…

Debatably in order to pad out these remaining pages, the “critically-acclaimed” writer therefore manufacturers a freak confrontation between this book’s bridge crew and a small Kingon warship which presumably was meant to represent a mid-Twenty Second Century Bird-of-Prey; “We’re being hailed by a Klingon ship, Sir. We have no idea what kind of weapons… We’re going to die before we ever get back to Earth, aren’t we?” This ‘chance in a million’ encounter as Kirk warps back to Hesperides I badly jars with the rest of the story-telling, and in itself makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, considering that the evidently war-like Captain U’Jahl simply allows the “snivelling weaklings” to go about their business in peace despite clearly believing he has every right to rid “the presence of Federation scum” from the sector.

Equally as incongruous as this impotent clash between the Klingon Empire and Starfleet are some of Silvia Califano’s questionable design choices. The Italian artist’s decision to pencil U’Jahl commanding such an odd-looking vessel, as opposed to the infinitely more recognisable D-7 battle cruiser, must have perplexed many a perusing bibliophile who had momentarily lost themselves in the nostalgia of this publication’s narrative; especially when the spacecraft rather troubling appears somewhat Romulan in its aesthetic. However, that miscalculation is significantly less impactive than the illustrator’s depiction of the Bird-of-Prey’s crew as Klingons who have not succumbed to their races augment virus, and resultantly show no sign of the smooth foreheads which made their frequent appearances during the science fiction Television franchise’s original Sixties series so endearingly unique.
Writer: Jody Houser, Artist: Silvia Califano, and Colorist: Thomas Deer

Monday, 7 October 2019

Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor #12 - Titan Comics

Dramatically described by “Blogtor Who” as “an epic and brilliantly executed conclusion to this Doctor’s first year of comic adventures”, Jody Houser’s tedious conclusion to her “Old Friends” storyline probably made most of this twenty-two page periodical’s audience wonder just what incarnation of the book the website actually reviewed in September 2019. Indeed, considering that the opening quarter of this “Titan Comics” publication simply focuses upon the Time Lord and the Corsair serenely sitting upon a pair of chairs inside a cell talking, it is debatably difficult to believe that any perusing bibliophile actually made it through to the end of the American author’s narrative in a single reading session, let alone felt her pedestrian penmanship worthy of such praise..?

Bizarrely, it is not even as if the Gallifreyan duo needed to remain inside their purely functional prison populating numerous dialogue-heavy word balloons for the entirety of the scene anyway, as the titular character eventually reveals that she could have escaped from the jail whenever she wanted to, courtesy of her (infuriatingly ever-reliable) sonic screwdriver. This utter waste of time genuinely seems to have been written so as to help stretch-out an already desperately dying scenario, and as a result, almost terminally sets back the pace of this comic’s disappointing plot; “Suppose you’ll have to give me some pointers, then. Perhaps someday I’ll be just as good and/or bad at it as you.”

Amusingly, this instalment’s most dynamic moment comes just after the aforementioned and excruciatingly long overdue escape, when the Hoarder’s guardian robots become “upset we’re out of the cage.” The Doctor’s friend once again demonstrates just how much more interesting and exciting she is than the supposedly “charismatic”, nine-hundred plus year-old explorer by leaping onto one of the heavily-armed machines and using its weaponry to gun down the vast majority of its gem-encrusted peers. This pulse-pounding procession of destruction is wonderfully pencilled by (returning) artist Rachael Stott and can quickly be seen as an example of everything wrong with Houser’s version of the central protagonist, when she boringly has the comic's blonde-haired lead herself dispatch some more of the golden automatons with just an annoying wave of her “multi-functional fictional tool” a few moments later.

Rounding off this disagreeably dreary anecdote, is Jody’s sickly sweet finale which both depicts the Time Lord’s friends being easily rescued from Raddplina and the Hoarder’s leisurely incarceration by the ever-convenient Time Agency. So straightforward a climax debatably brings little excitement with it, as “the show's first female Doctor since its debut in 1963” makes everything appear so mind-numbingly easy and unexceptional.
The regular cover art of "DOCTOR WHO: THE THIRTEENTH DOCTOR" No. 12 by Veronica Fish

Sunday, 6 October 2019

Savage Sword Of Conan #3 - Marvel Comics

In some ways it is interesting that before “Marvel Worldwide” resurrected this “classic title showcasing the exploits of Robert E. Howard's burly nomadic warrior”, the “Syfy Wire” website referred to it as just being a “five-issue mini-series”. For despite containing plenty of pulse-pounding pugilism, as Kheshatta’s literal fork-tongued city guards are brained and a snake-loving necromancer is battered, Gerry Duggan’s screenplay for Issue Three of “Savage Sword Of Conan” moves at so frightening a pace that it arguably appears to be desperately trying to make up for the sedentary nature of its previous two instalments; “Conan lifted his enemy’s blade. It was forged with cruel edges. Fashioned to prolong suffering. That is not how Conan wielded a weapon.” 

Of course, such sense-shattering shenanigans provide this twenty-page periodical with the perfect opening, courtesy of the titular character bludgeoning the facially-disfigured acolytes of Koga Thun with a massive stone column, his formidable fists, a vicious-looking blade and finally, an entire ruined tower. Yet sadly, the instant this excellently story-boarded sequence has drawn to an end, the New Yorker’s narrative rather contrivingly makes several disconcerting leaps so as to ensure that by the publication’s end his three heroes have both found where “the ancient Valusians hid their treasure”, and established it will be a tense race-against-time against “The Cult Of Koga Thun”.

Such disjointed story-telling really does do “The Siege Of Kheshatta” something of a disservice, especially when it is done in such a bizarre manner as having the Cimmerian and his friends simply encircled by an impenetrable fog, within which the tale’s main antagonist is able to not only securely bind the barbarian, but then read his mind “like an open book” in order to find “what Conan tried to hide away in the deepest recesses of his mind -- The Map!” Perturbingly, just how the lizard-skinned Thun knew of his prey’s precise whereabouts is never explained, nor why the bloody-handed villain waited until after the adventurers’ battle with his minions before striking, and this manufactured omnipotence debatably dwells like a minor irritation at the back of the reader’s consciousness for the rest of the comic.

Significantly more successful than this 27,329 copy selling magazine’s pacing is the stunningly animated life with which “veteran penciller Ron Garney” imbues its action. The Bachelor of Science (in illustration and graphic design) adds an extra element of ferociousness to the Hyborian Age hero, which has perhaps seldom been seen before, whilst his depiction of Koga’s glowing-eyed triad as an enormous serpent and the undead-laden catacombs beneath the streets of Kheshatta are superbly rendered.
Writer: Gerry Duggan, Artist: Ron Garney, and Colorist: Richard Isanove

Saturday, 5 October 2019

Transformers: Galaxies #1 - IDW Publishing

TRANSFORMERS: GALAXIES No. 1, September 2019
Spinning-off from the ongoing “Transformers” series by “IDW Publishing”, and apparently focusing upon some of the toy line franchise’s lesser known “secondary characters”, Tyler Bleszinski’s script for this twenty-page periodical probably does live up to the “Vox Media” co-founder’s belief that his penmanship has made “the hardcore Transformers fanbase happy”. Yet whilst such an “incredibly flattering” response from the die-hard readers is understandably “truly fulfilling” for the author, this comic’s persistently inaccessible attention to detail concerning “the fan-favourite Constructicons” must have put off any perusing bibliophile who simply happened to pick a copy of this publication up off the spinner rack so as to ‘dip their toe’ into the building of an Energon processing plant on Mayalx. 

For starters, the frequent time-jumps between life on Cybertron after the War against the Threefold Spark and the ever-grumpy Hook’s increasingly irritating modern-day moans on Planetoid #051075 incessantly jar the reader from enjoying any sort of flow to Bleszinski’s storytelling. Such repeated relocations arguably prove particularly perplexing when the jolts occur every few panels or so, perturbingly transporting the audience from the historic ruins of Iacon, the Central Architectural and Design Headquarters, “Mayalx. Now”, and “Then” within the space of a few seconds.

Equally as confusing are all the different robots thrown into the mix straight from this book’s opening. Having literally just been introduced to the likes of Scrapper, Scavenger, Hook and Mixmaster as they approach the completion of the final standing structure on Mayalax before “we can blow this wasteoid”, Tyler instantly adds the decidedly haughty Wheeljack and Termagax to the pot, before completely bamboozling the uninitiated with even more "mecha toys" in the shape of Bonecrusher and Long Haul; “If I melt a little of that with a hint of refined Energon, I wonder if I can’t create an even stronger alloy that’ll… Oh, yes. Hello.”

Sadly, even the artwork of Livio Ramondelli only seemingly augments this comic’s confusing storyboards, with the American illustrator’s frequent close-ups of the different automatons making it incredibly difficult to discern one Transformer from another. Admittedly, both Wheeljack and Termagax are still pretty recognisable from their triangular eye-lenses and somewhat Samurai-like aesthetic, but the same cannot be said for the plethora of Constructicons who all seem to have similarly-sized square heads with glowing shade-shaped visors...
The regular cover art of "TRANSFORMERS: GALAXIES" No. 1 by Livio Ramondelli

Friday, 4 October 2019

Black Terror #1 - Dynamite Entertainment

BLACK TERROR No. 1, October 2019
Described by “Dynamite Entertainment” in its August 2019 comic book solicitations as “a ride through the life of a superhero and all the weirdness along the way”, Max Bemis’ plot for Issue One of “Black Terror” definitely takes its readers on a disconcertingly downward journey into the nightmarish world of a costumed vigilante suffering the severe effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. Indeed, for the vast majority of this publication it seems likely that at any moment the “all sweaty” Bob Benton is going to cast aside “his boring life of being a pharmacist” and suddenly re-enact one of the grisly World War Two horrors he faced upon some hapless customer innocently attending his Chicago chemist store; “Uh, Bob? Bob. It’s okay, Sir. He’s had a long shift.”

Fortunately however, the New Yorker’s narrative isn’t simply limited to a carousel of uncontrollable thoughts concerning the Golden Age protagonist’s past battles against goose-stepping goons, swashbuckling femme fatales and swastika-wearing megalomaniacs, courtesy of the titular character’s chance encounter with a seemingly innocuous shoplifter. Benton’s gruesome discovery as to the softly-spoken man’s true criminal calling genuinely provides this twenty-page periodical with a drop-dropping moment, and imbues the rest of the comic with some much-needed pizzazz.

In fact, no sooner has Bob once again donned the skull and crossbones costume of his super-powered alter-ego, than the entire book’s somewhat pedestrian premise is turned upon its head, following the revelation that the anxious apothecary has actually been busy all this time being babysat by the grand-daughter of his arch-nemesis Black Satan. This shocking revelation hardly transforms Bemis’ script into the “Alan Moore take on the Project Superpowers universe” which the American author rather conceitedly suggested it does to the “Bleeding Cool” website, but it should definitely reignite the interest of any within the comic’s audience who were finding themselves wilting under his penmanship’s depressive, dialogue-driven storytelling.

By far the more consistent contributor to this magazine’s success is artist Matt Gaudio, whose prodigious pencilling does a splendid job of depicting the subtle differences between the stubble-faced, spectacle-wearing Benton and the savagely brutal war veteran originally created by Richard E. Hughes and Don Gabrielson way back in 1941. Noticeably well-muscled whether he is wearing a white laboratory coat or a jet black cape, the Kubert School graduate still manages to provide Benton with two vastly contrasting personalities dependent upon whether the hero is dejectedly going about his boring day-to-day routines or manically slapping a villain about the head at least a couple of time too often.
The regular cover art of "BLACK TERROR" No. 1 by Francesco Francavilla

Thursday, 3 October 2019

Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor #11 - Titan Comics

On paper, Jody Houser’s script for Issue Eleven of “Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor” should have proved a sense-shattering sojourn through the dizzyingly heights of Raddplina’s sky city. After all, the twenty-two page periodical’s plot predominantly focuses upon the titular character and her friends circumnavigating their way through a number of lethal traps so as to open the metropolis’ most heavily-guarded bank vault; “Crime isn’t actually cool. Even when it’s for a good cause.”

Sadly however, the noticeable lack of suspense to all the Time Lord’s sonic screwdriver-induced shenanigans, as well as some truly lack-lustre penmanship by the “bestselling” writer, turns this comic into a sedentary, narrative-by-numbers affair, which ultimately fails to explain just how the “fizzing” adventurer manages to open “a door… meant to be opened by multiple members of a multi-armed people” with little more than a few glances at her multifunctional tool and a second-rate impression of the Gallifreyan’s “gang” playing the Milton Bradley Company’s party game Twister. Indeed, even when the time traveller does make a mistake, and apparently fails to turn one of the entranceway’s numerous “booby-trapped” levers in conjunction with the rest of its switches, absolutely nothing happens whatsoever…

Disconcertingly though, this sluggish story-telling doesn’t stop once the TARDIS crew have achieved the Corsair’s aim either, as the troupe soon discover that they have been duped into stealing one of the last Star Whales in the universe. Such a formidably-sized predicament initially appears intriguingly innovative, considering the vast difference in girth between the Doctor’s distant time machine and the colossal spacefaring marine mammal, yet within the space of just a few panels, Houser contrivingly has the “confident explorer” sonically summon her Type 40 capsule to her location and simply create a stellar stasis net for the enormous creature’s straightforward transport.

Nonetheless, perhaps this publication’s biggest let-down is Jody’s actual handling of the “first female incarnation of The Doctor”, who genuinely appears to be little more than an easily-manipulated passenger throughout this tale. Despite apparently having a number of concerns as to the legitimacy of the Corsair’s ‘theft’, the woman still encourages Ryan, Yasmin and Graham to participate in her piratical friend’s moment of grand larceny, and then astoundingly deserts them when the authorities capture the humans literally in the act.!?!
The regular cover art of "DOCTOR WHO: THE THIRTEENTH DOCTOR" No. 11 by Hannah Templer

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Star Trek: Year Five #5 - IDW Publishing

STAR TREK: YEAR FIVE No. 5, August 2019
Having apparently already “worked on more comics than can possibly be listed” by the “FanSided” website in June 2019 , fans of Jody Houser’s penmanship may well have more readily forgiven the “critically-acclaimed” writer for running out of original ideas when it came her turn to narrate the continuing voyages of the Starship Enterprise for this “IDW Publishing title. However, considering that the storyline to Issue Five of “Star Trek: Year Five” is actually only the ‘third’ adventure of the ongoing series, its readers surely weren’t asking too much of the “creator of the webcomic Cupcake POW!” to come up with something more innovative than a rehash of John Black’s 1966 televised adventure “The Naked Time”.

True, the American author’s all-too brief archaeological exploration of the planet Hesperides provides both a rather enjoyable excavation of the long-dead extra-terrestrial species civilisation, and raises some intriguing questions as to why “these people weren’t immune to the violence and warfare that plague so many worlds.” But the utter delight in seeing Captain James T. Kirk once again donning the self-same spacesuit made famous by “The Tholian Web” soon arguably gives way to a feeling of frustrating familiarity once the Truth Artefact has been beamed aboard the Constitution-class vessel and “a strange affliction infects the crew of the Enterprise, destroying their inhibitions.”

Debatably far more intriguing than Jody’s Psi 2000 plot re-run is her development of Lieutenant Uhura’s relationship with Bright Eyes, which provides the Bridge Officer with plenty of well-deserved attention. Nyota’s evident patience and humanity with the uncommunicative infant Tholian refugee, whilst undeniably sedentary to watch, at least produces a rather novel sequence, and despite the inevitability of the crystalline child suddenly learning how to speak English, it still comes as something of a shock when the alien stammers “Sorry. I destroy. Stay here. No alone.”

Of course much of this scene’s success is entirely due to Silvia Califano’s attractive artwork and ability to pencil one of the cutest cuddly teddy bears in comics. In addition the Italian illustrator debatably manages to mimic much of the feel of the science fiction franchise’s animated episodes, courtesy of her ability to replicate Doctor McCoy’s instantly recognisable exaggerated hand gestures, Scotty’s wide-eyed astonishment at having “to break up a fight myself, just a bit ago”, and even Mister Chekov’s side-sneer following an admonishment.

‘First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
Writer: Jody Houser, Artist: Silvia Califano, and Colorist: Thomas Deer