Friday, 31 January 2020

The Immortal Hulk #19 - Marvel Comics

IMMORTAL HULK No. 19, August 2019
Absolutely chock full of some of the most harrowing death scenes and grisly demises arguably ever witnessed inside a “Marvel Worldwide” comic book, Al Ewing’s script for Issue Nineteen of “The Immortal Hulk” must have ‘blown away’ many of this ongoing series’ 88,100 fans in June 2019, and certainly shows just why the British author would “keep mentioning in interviews” the inspiration he took from John Carpenter’s 1982 science fiction horror film “The Thing” when penning this title. Indeed, such is the level of grotesque mutilation which occurs within this twenty-page periodical, chiefly the Hulk’s arm being painfully melted away by the Abomination’s digestive juices, that it is hard not to imagine the American filmmaker quietly whispering in the ear of artist Joe Bennett as each gore-soaked panel was being pencilled.

Surprisingly however, it isn’t just the buckets of intestines and internal organs being on show, which makes this publication so (pleasantly) horrific, but also the cold-hearted manner in which the likes of poor innocent Marge are straightforwardly dispatched, just as the hotel worker would appear to be safe and sound in the hands of her government’s agents. The woman’s heartless murder at the hands of General Reginald Fortean’s clean-up team is truly chilling, and resultantly makes the ruthless mercenaries’ subsequent deaths at the bird-like talons of the Harpy disconcertingly satisfying; “You -- You didn’t have to. I could have -- I don’t know, questioned them, exposed them --”

Similarly as shocking is the state of Bruce Banner’s alter-ego towards the end of this comic. Ewing rather cleverly takes all the attention away from the Hulk’s battle against the Abomination for the vast majority of this book, by predominantly focusing upon Jackie McGee’s investigation into Betty Ross’s fully-feathered transformation, and it is therefore not until the Harpy herself actually stumbles upon the green goliath’s disturbingly limbless husk that it becomes clear just how highly acidic Subject B’s projectile vomit actually is.

Impressively though, the former “2000 A.D.” writer leaves his best surprise for last, by having Ross turn upon her hapless ex-husband’s much maligned body to the utter astonishment of all who witness it. There’s almost a pathetic, child-like quality to the Hulk just before he is disembowelled, as the blind brute hears his former love’s voice and believes help is on the way, and this makes the savagery of the Harpy’s attack all the more jaw-dropping, as she literally carves him open and feasts upon his bloody flesh.

First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
The variant cover art of "IMMORTAL HULK" No. 19 by Greg Smallwood

Thursday, 30 January 2020

Black Terror #2 - Dynamite Entertainment

BLACK TERROR No. 2, November 2019
It’s a real shame that Issue Two of “Black Terror” was only the three hundred and twenty-seventh best-selling comic of November 2019, for as an examination into just “how Golden Age ideals came up against such a morally ambiguous, crazy time” such as the Seventies goes, Max Bemis’ narrative involving “a young woman… in the midst of a cult” proves a rather surprisingly compelling read. In fact, considering the blockbuster ending to this series’ previous instalment, which saw the titular character busting out of a diner so as to face a squad of heavily-armed goons, a somewhat sedentary story set in the wilderness and crammed full of super-powered “Hippies” was probably the last thing many of this book’s 3,329 bibliophiles thought they’d be perusing.

Happily though, this seemingly ‘standalone’ script soon scoops up any doubts with the intriguing premise that the rather portly Father Kind can somehow harness Bob Benton’s tremendous abilities and project them upon his long-haired companions. In addition, this magical feat, which at times seems a little similar to the final harrowing scene of Robin Hardy’s 1973 British horror film “The Wicker Man”, is witnessed through the eyes of non-believer Christina, whose douche of a (new) boyfriend only manages to convince her of their newly-acquired traits by punching the woman into a nearby solid-looking tree; “Now, are you gonna just lie there like a lump, or sweat out those emotional toxins with me?”

The “primary lyricist of the band Say Anything” also does a splendid job of making this tale’s lead antagonist quite believable, courtesy of the self-confessed crook providing his ‘family’ with a little background during his opening eulogy, and then later revealing his significantly darker side when he threatens Christina for going near the Black Terror’s cell. These scenes really imbue the rotund, white-bearded Santa Claus-like figure with plenty of hidden menace, and as a result it comes as no great shock when the true, despicable source of his siphoning power is unveiled in a side tent.

Ruairi Coleman’s visually impressive contribution to this twenty-two page periodical cannot debatably be understated either, with the Northern Irish artist’s wonderfully clean-lined storyboards giving the action a rather jolly, bouncy feel which is both energetic and attractive to the eye. This pencilling style works especially well for Father Kind’s scenes, as well as those of the numerous hippies taking full advantage of the superhuman powers with which they have been temporarily blessed, and it’s a pity the book ends before we get to see what revenge Benton is going to bestow upon his former captor…
The regular cover art of "BLACK TERROR" No. 2 by Rahzzah

Wednesday, 29 January 2020

Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor Holiday Special #2 - Titan Comics

DOCTOR WHO: THE THIRTEENTH DOCTOR HOLIDAY SPECIAL No. 2, January 2020
Whilst Jody Houser may well have fallen “in love with New Who when it started airing in the US”, it is difficult to imagine that her narrative for Issue Two of “Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor Holiday Special” would cause such ‘an intense feeling of deep affection’ for the BBC Television Series from its dwindling 5,611 readers. Indeed, despite the American author apparently believing that “there’s always something new and exciting around the corner, and that a mad alien in a box can be such a force for good throughout the universe”, this particular thirty-six page periodical disappointingly contains so very little in the way of excitement, drama or even a modicum of action, that many within its audience may well have felt that the female writer was actually trying to turn people away from the long-running programme in their droves… 

For starters, this two hundred and eighty third best-selling comic of December 2019 resolves its previous instalment’s so-called cliff-hanger, by having the TARDIS crew simply be freed from their cell by an Elf turned Safety Officer called Baxter and his large sugar cane. This ludicrously dissatisfying resolution is far from innovative for a Christmas-based tale, and Houser is quick to gloss over any explanation as to just who the Doctor’s pointy-eared rescuer is, how he knew where they were, and why his large peppermint stick somehow smashes a hole in a laser-powered force-field with a simple “Jeff sent me.”

Equally as unenthralling is Jody’s misguided belief that a seemingly endless series of sequences set within some air-ducts, and intermittently populated with a disconcerting discourse as to whether the mysterious Jeff is Santa Claus or not, would somehow be a good idea for this publication’s already overly-protracted plot. These snoozefest sequences, doubtless patiently pencilled by Roberta Ingranata and uncomplainingly coloured by Enrica Eren Angiolini, could easily have been significantly reduced in length, if not omitted in their entirety, and presumably were only composed to lull any perusing bibliophile into a semi-delirious state before this book’s big reveal that the villain of the piece is “the cantankerous Krampus!”

To make matters worse, the final third of this Holiday Special then attempts to desperately explain that the Doctor and her “fam” have unsuccessfully attempted to defeat the “sort of anti-Santa” before when she first kidnapped some aliens to build a teleportation device, and resultantly it now looks like the being who "feeds on fear" is about to “terrify the love of Christmas out of the children of Earth.” Incredibly however, so convoluted and ludicrous a storyline still doesn’t result in any notable action occurring, apart from a fez-wearing Time Lord watching the villain escape with her minions through a dimensional doorway after the Gallifreyan rewired her foe’s energy collecting contraption; “This isn’t over, Doctor!”
The regular cover art of "DOCTOR WHO: THE THIRTEENTH DOCTOR HOLIDAY SPECIAL" No. 2 by Blair Shedd

Tuesday, 28 January 2020

Conan The Barbarian #6 - Marvel Comics

CONAN THE BARBARIAN No. 6, July 2019
Whilst it’s probably clear from this comic’s attention to Hyborian Age lore that Jason Aaron has both “wanted to write Conan for a long time” and demonstrates “so much respect and reverence for those original [Robert E. Howard] stories”, there must still have been many of this twenty-page periodical’s 32,108 readers who wondered just what the point to this particular book’s narrative actually was. True, Issue Five of “Conan The Barbarian” more than amply depicts the titular character’s ferocious instinct for survival by having the adventurer apparently cull at least one Stygian raiding party through his savage swordsmanship alone; “A man makes his own luck. And I made mine here.”

But considering that “King Yezdigerd never implements Conan’s plan for invading Stygia” and instead simply continues “the bloody Turanian Border Wars… for many years” to come, it's hard to see just what the point of this publication’s plot actually was in having the “fictional sword and sorcery hero” come to the attention of “the mightiest monarch in the world” in the first place. Indeed, this entire book’s purpose seems to be to depict the Cimmerian rising to prominence in the ruler’s army to the point where he can personally advise Yidiz’s son to “use elephants to drag your warships from the Vilayet Sea across the Red Waste”, only to then have that selfsame regent ignore the barbarian’s words..?

Fortunately, the build-up to this dissatisfying diatribe contains plenty of action-packed sequences and opportunities for the Inkpot Award-winner to exhibit the mercenary’s near miraculous ability to outthink his enemies, with Great Commander Bahram’s foolish decision to close ranks atop a dune “covered with Stygian oils” being one such highlight. This flurry of outrageous ambushes really does provide “The Sole Survivor” with plenty of pulse-pounding pace, and in some ways actually makes it a shame that the Alabama-born author didn’t spend a few more instalments expanding upon Conan’s time amongst the men of the sprawling desert kingdom.

Similarly as successful in imparting the violence of the Sunrise Empire across to this comic’s audience is Mahmoud Asrar’s artwork, which quite wonderfully captures the “rising in barbaric splendour on the south-western shore” whilst simultaneously providing any perusing gore-fan with buckets of blood for good measure. The Turkish-born illustrator seems to particularly shine when pencilling battle scenes, and resultantly one can almost hear the horses snorting in terror when their panicked riders keep wheeling the animals into deadly danger.

First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
Writer: Jason Aaron, Artist: Mahmud Asrar, and Colorist: Matthew Wilson

Monday, 27 January 2020

The Immortal Hulk #18 - Marvel Comics

IMMORTAL HULK No. 18, July 2019
Despite cramming most of this comic’s action into its final third, and arguably relying upon a mass of character (re)introductions with which to populate the rest of this twenty-page periodical, it is still reasonably clear just why Al Ewing believed at the time of its publication that “Hulk fans have… been really supportive of this run, even though we’re putting their hero through some incredible contortions and convolutions.” For whilst the former “Future Shocks” writer’s script to Issue Eighteen of “The Immortal Hulk” seems to spend a significant amount of time depicting Mister Bancroft’s sedentary taxi journey back to the Friedrich Inn and Doctor Leonard Samson’s dialogue-heavy debate with Gamma Flight, these conversational pieces still provide plenty of fascinating insights into the turbulent world of Bruce Banner and his monstrous alter ego; “Look at the damage he’s done over the years -- billions of dollars. Trillions. And yet civilians never die in these rampages.”

In addition, the intermittent glimpses of General Fortean’s face-fingered Subject B slowly stalking its oblivious prey, and horribly murdering any hapless bystander who stands in the scaly-skinned abomination’s way, generates an increasingly tense atmosphere which may well have tempted the odd Hulk-Head to sneak an early peek at this comic’s cataclysmic conclusion. Luckily, for those within this books’ 75,983 strong audience who ‘stayed the course’ though, the ensuing confrontation between the Green Goliath and his visually-disturbing, sharp-clawed opponent is worth the wait, due in large to the revelation that a semi-conscious Rick Jones is somehow partially buried deep within the ghastly creature’s horribly-malformed maw…

Significantly ramping up this horror show an extra notch or three, has to be Joe Bennett’s pencilling, which seems to successfully heap muscle upon muscle over the Hulk’s broad shoulders whether he be appearing as little more than a reflection in the mirror, or as a ‘last minute saviour’ to protect Marge from the same grisly demise which has befallen her co-worker Anna. The Brazilian artist really seems to have a fine grasp for creating highly memorable new foes for this ongoing series too, with Ewing demonstrating just how much faith he had in his creative collaborator’s design skills by placing Emil Blonsky’s ‘heir presumptive’ into the plot simply because the illustrator “said he’d quite like to draw the Abomination.”

First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
The regular cover art of "IMMORTAL HULK" No. 18 by Alex Ross

Friday, 24 January 2020

Red Sonja: Age Of Chaos #1 - Dynamite Entertainment

RED SONJA: AGE OF CHAOS No. 1, January 2020
It’s abundantly clear from the sheer dynamic nature of this twenty-page periodical’s plot that Erik Burnham was “incredibly excited to get a return trip to the Hyborian Age to spend a little more time with Red Sonja”. For whilst Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor Smith’s co-creation doesn’t actually enjoy too much limelight in Issue One of “Red Sonja: Age Of Chaos”, the “Minnesotan writer” still manages to demonstrate just what “an incredibly fun character [she is] to write” for by having the sword-and-sorcery heroine brutally behead a handful of opponents.

Happily however, the scarcity of the female warrior’s presence is easily forgiven, courtesy of this comic’s audience being swiftly subjected to some of the New Jersey-based publisher’s most demonic personalities, including Evil Ernie, Jade, Sakkara, Catherine Bell and Chasity, in what can only be described as a marvellously manic parade of undead flesh, vampiric blood-drinking and winged transformations. Admittedly, this remorseless assault upon the senses could well have become utterly overpowering for those bibliophiles naïve to the “Dynamite Entertainment” universe. But mercifully each super-powered individual is accompanied by a brief synopsis as to their brutal background, and such is the simplicity of the American author’s tale, that all any onlooker really needs to know is that the combatants all seemingly hate one another.

Indeed, the vast majority of this magazine consists of the Godlike being Purgatori attempting to beat the life out of her opponents so as to secure Mistress Hel‘s “ultimate benefit”; an amulet containing the soul of the ancient sorcerer, Kulan Gath. So minimalistic a plot could easily have produced a rather tedious borefest, yet Burnham manages to avoid this ‘trap’ by introducing the reader to a fresh competitor every time the remorselessly savage action starts to get a little stale; “You will not stand in my way, half-breed… And neither will this deluded slave!”

Jonathan Lau also has much to answer for concerning the breath-taking ferocity of this book’s unrelenting entertainment. The Philippines-born illustrator appears to be well on his way to succeeding in his mission “to bring big action back into comics” with his packed panels consistently depicting well-pencilled bloody knife thrusts, sword blows, hand-chops and mighty magic. Little wonder therefore, that his creative collaborator would warn this title’s potential buyers that “Lau’s art is gonna blow the doors off (please, have all the doors reinforced before opening the book).”
The regular cover art of "RED SONJA: AGE OF CHAOS" No. 1 by Lucio Parrillo

Thursday, 23 January 2020

Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor Holiday Special #1 - Titan Comics

DOCTOR WHO: THE THIRTEENTH DOCTOR HOLIDAY SPECIAL No. 1, December 2019
Firmly founded upon her storyline for the “Doctor Who: Thirteenth Doctor” Free Comic Book Day 2019 one-shot, Jody Houser’s narrative for this particular thirty six-page periodical probably induced the vast majority of its 6,150-strong audience into something resembling a steadfast stupor by its end, thanks in large to the Yuletide inspired plot containing absolutely no action whatsoever. In fact, considering that this adventure solely revolves around the TARDIS crew talking to numerous characters about their mixed up memories involving a previous adventure at an extra-terrestrial funfair, it’s rather difficult to imagine even the staunchest fans of the “first female incarnation of the Doctor” managing to read this Holiday Special’s super-sized sedentary script within a single sitting…

To make matters worse, the “writer of comics and other story-shaped things” fails dismally to provide this publication with any notable main antagonist either, but instead simply insinuates that the somewhat strapping Santa Claus clone, Mister Henderson, might be behind the time travelling quartet’s jumbled past. This distinctly well-built, grey-bearded charlatan certainly looks the part with his grim demeanour and small army of gun-toting, rosy-cheeked toy soldiers. However, instead of waxing lyrical as to his ‘plans to conquer the universe’ as any perusing bibliophile might expect, the mysterious man instead basically has his accusers swiftly locked up in a laser beam-barred cell without him barely uttering a word.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that this tale’s opening instalment is entirely bereft of interest, as the puzzle behind just why Houser’s personification of Father Christmas has erased the memories of the Time Lord and her “fam” genuinely conjures up a modicum of interest. Yet, despite the “charismatic and confident explorer” eventually facing a group of angry-faced, well-armed elven guardsmen, the Eisner Award-nominee’s sense of urgency doesn’t pick up the pace at all and instead just depicts Ryan, Yasmin and Graham nonchalantly walking into captivity with little more than a feeble slight towards their diminutive captors; “Anyone ever tell your boss he looks just like Santa?”

Frustratingly, Roberta Ingranata’s storyboards don’t seemingly help this comic’s endemic lethargy out much either, as notwithstanding her adequately depicting the lead cast’s television personas, the Italian artist’s drawings distinctly lack any dynamism whatsoever. Indeed, it could be argued that the former “Disney” colourist is the main reason why this tedious tale is so long, as she seems to pad out even the most sedentary of scenes, such as a nine-page sequence in which a green gremlin merely informs the Doctor they’ve met.
The regular cover art of "DOCTOR WHO: THE THIRTEENTH DOCTOR HOLIDAY SPECIAL" No. 1 by Blair Shedd

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Star Trek: Year Five #9 - IDW Publishing

STAR TREK: YEAR FIVE No. 9, December 2019
Considering that Issue Nine of “Star Trek: Year Five” was ‘penned’ by no less than three different writers, it’s narrative involving Hikaru Sulu’s physical relationship with the fish-faced extra-terrestrial Ayal and the lovers subsequent involvement in the civil war on I’Qos, probably surprised many of this comic’s readers with its well-paced flow. In fact, apart from this twenty-page periodical’s opening scene, which depicts a naked Helmsman enjoying a lengthy, intimate embrace inside his flora-infested quarters, it would be all too easy to imagine so emotional tale of (potentially doomed) love, diplomacy and political betrayal actually being ‘filmed’ as one the American science-fiction television series’ genuine escapades in the Sixties.

Foremost of this story’s successes has to be the subterfuge Mister Spock employs so as to stealthily infiltrate a hostile Lo’kari marketplace in order to protect the undercover I’Qosa speaker. Enveloped in the brackish shrouds of their water-logged hosts, and swift to employ the gracious greetings of the local inhabitants as a disguised Vulcan leads his small party into a popular drinking bar, it is hard not to recall the Bridge Crew’s desperate attempt to penetrate the people of planet Beta III during Boris Sobelman’s aired adventure “The Return Of The Archons” 

Just as in that 1967 transmitted story however, the subsequent eruption of violence which occurs once the off-worlders are discovered throws the well-meant peace-making plans of Starfleet’s finest into complete chaos, and the only real disappointment from the ensuing fracas comes when Ensign Patel Chekov is pencilled by Silvia Califano as a sobbing wreck following Sulu’s hypocritical tirade that it was the naïve Russian’s fault that the Lo’kari Chancellor gets shot with a Federation phaser; “The Lo’Kari were waiting for this, something just like this, and you gave it to them on a platter!”

Indeed, apart from the noticeable lack of ‘screen time’ for Doctor McCoy and a recuperating James T. Kirk, this publication’s only true frustration comes with the creative team’s characterisation of Mister Sulu. Once described by Spock as being “at heart a swashbuckler out of the Eighteenth century", it is hard to recognise the puppy-eyed, love-struck third officer of the U.S.S. Enterprise in this comic, especially when Hikaru conveniently forgets he was actually the one who blew their cover by theatrically spitting out his drink in the tavern before spitefully blaming his shipmate Chekov.
Story by: Jim McCann, and Script by: Jackson Lanzing & Collin Kelly

Tuesday, 21 January 2020

Web Of Black Widow #5 - Marvel Comics

WEB OF BLACK WIDOW No. 5, March 2020
As conclusions go, Jody Houser’s revelation in Issue Five of “Web of Black Widow” that Natasha Romanoff knew right from the start of this mini-series that she was being watched by a woman who was somehow connected to her “missing memories”, must surely have been viewed by many of this comic’s readers as a horribly contrived anti-climax. Indeed, the very notion that the ex-KGB assassin had choreographed her confrontation with Iron Man, ferocious fist-fight with the Winter Soldier, and brutal battle against Hawkeye, all in order to simply elicit an account from her doppelgänger as to how “a special virus… made out of Epsilon Red’s own DNA” was blocking her implanted memories, makes a complete mockery of what had been a thoroughly enjoyable and suspenseful ‘spy-fi’ tale.

True, the rationalisation behind Clint Barton’s wholly unlikeable behaviour in the publication’s previous instalment when he appeared utterly convinced as to the “rumours of Widow’s villainy”, makes much more sense, especially his “actually shooting her with an arrow”. Yet such a horribly convoluted narrative undoubtedly diminishes the much-lauded clandestine abilities of the titular character, by having the Russian secret agent simply play the role of a Judas goat, rather than covertly investigate her mysterious enemy’s possible connection to her past using her tactical expertise in espionage and obtaining confidential information. In fact, this veteran hand-to-hand combatant (and mistress “of various other weapons”) is depicted as even needing the intervention of Captain America in order to defeat the Headmistress in a one-on-one rooftop confrontation; “But sometimes an old man likes to feel useful.”

Perhaps this book’s only saving grace is therefore Stephen Mooney’s dynamically-drawn fight sequences, which at least provide this twenty-page periodical’s audience with an occasional thrill. Considering that the Black Widow has an arrow shaft in her side and been shot in the leg, it is somewhat difficult to imagine her being quite so athletic in her impressive backflips and somersaults as the Irish artist would have any perusing bibliophiles believe. But that unrealism doesn’t notably detract from the sheer savagery of his pencilling once Romanoff and Anya finally come to trade vicious blows, and the blood starts to freely flow…
The regular cover art of "WEB OF BLACK WIDOW" No. 5 by Junggeun Yoon

Monday, 20 January 2020

Star Trek: Year Five #8 - IDW Publishing

STAR TREK: YEAR FIVE No. 8, November 2019
Despite plainly containing far more action-packed space adventure than “Desilu Productions” could ever have hoped to finance for a single episode of the Sixties television series, Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly’s script for Issue Eight of “Star Trek: Year Five” probably still disappointed the majority of this twenty-page periodical's audience, with a significantly sedentary ‘third act’ that depicts the fish-faced extra-terrestrial Ayal wooing an astonished Hikaru Sulu, and surprisingly reveals this series' ongoing Tholian threat to have been organised by no less than Gary Seven of “Assignment: Earth” fame; “There, there, Isis…We have a universe to save.” Indeed, the abrupt halt to this publication’s pacing is almost palpable, once young Bright Eyes makes its ‘choice between its human friends or going home’, and bravely rescues Captain James T. Kirk following the starship officer’s miraculous exposure “to the vacuum of space for approximately five minutes.”

Fortunately however, this comic’s opening ‘laser-beam light show’ could arguably be seen as being worth its cover price alone, courtesy of the collaborative writing duo providing the U.S.S. Enterprise’s skipper with both a truly heroic moment as he blasts through a torrent of Tholian laser fire in a desperate effort to reach the safety of the Constitution-class starship, as well as a suitable ‘demise’ at his own hands once Kirk believes his ship’s only chance of survival is blow up the  mineral-based aliens’ tractor field with him still trapped inside it. Of course, thanks solely to the super-human exertions of Doctor McCoy’s ‘patient’ breaching its containment and successfully spiriting the dying captain across the stars, the first and only student at Starfleet Academy to defeat the Kobayashi Maru test manages to live to fight another day. But that still doesn’t stop the narrative from momentarily causing a fleeting doubt that William Shatner’s character might not make it after all…

Artist Stephen Thompson also manages to imbue this pulse-pounding passage with plenty of dynamism and break-neck speed. The Irishman does an incredible job pencilling Costume Designer William Ware Theiss’ somewhat clunky environmental units, and provides the silver lamé space-suits with a practical fluidity the actual fabric helmet with screen mesh visor props never had. Whilst his simple technique of sketching a few droplets of sweat upon Mister Spock’s brow, speaks volumes concerning the emotional effects the Vulcan is experiencing in the Command chair following his mind-meld “with a panicking adolescent volcano…”
Writers: Jackson Lanzing & Collin Kelly, and Artist: Stephen Thompson

Sunday, 19 January 2020

Web Of Black Widow #4 - Marvel Comics

WEB OF BLACK WIDOW No. 4, February 2020
It’s not hard to envisage that some within this twenty page periodical’s audience were secretly wishing for someone to shoot Clint Barton well before this comic reached its cliff-hanger ending. For whilst the former chairman of Earth's Mightiest Heroes has arguably always been portrayed as being a somewhat imprudent and frustratingly headstrong individual, it’s difficult to imagine him ever disbelieving his ‘old flame’ Natasha Romanoff to the point where he’d actually straight-up shoot her with an arrow; “You know you’re supposed to stop when someone fire’s a warning shot, right?”

Sadly however, that is precisely what Jody Houser’s cocksure version of the “golden archer” does in Issue Four of “Web Of Black Widow”, having surreptitiously snuck up upon the ex-KGB assassin so as to blindside her on a deserted rooftop. Of course, those readers well-versed in Barton’s separation from his ex-wife, "Bobbi" Morse, following her role in the death of Lincoln Slade’s Phantom Rider, will know of his supposed ‘unswerving’ belief that heroes don’t ever kill in cold blood. Yet even so, it’s still disconcerting to watch the misinformed Avenger resort to such a catastrophic choice without at least a final warning or an attempt to fire a second disabling net arrow.

In addition, Romanoff makes it pretty clear to Hawkeye that she is being set-up by a woman who “was wearing my face”, and that her duplicate “has taken my list of targets and is pushing my mission further than I ever planned to.” Despite this ‘plausible’ explanation of events though, the non-super powered “dude with a bow” infuriatingly still decides he’s entirely in the right and therefore gets to tell the femme fatale precisely how she can (and can’t) behave, even after Stephen Mooney’s dynamic artwork makes it abundantly clear that Natasha could have eradicated him rather than simply knock him cold in their all-too brief fist-fight.  

Resultantly, Clint arguably comes across as an utterly arrogant and unlikeable individual, who despite having all the facts at his disposal, makes a disastrously dire decision which not only causes him to be shot in the stomach by the Black Widow’s murderous doppelganger, but momentarily also seems to place the ‘hapless’ Alla Zolotov in mortal danger. That’s hardly the sort of popular behaviour which made Barton be ranked by “Imagine Games Network” at number forty-four in their Top 100 Comic Book Heroes list…
Writer: Jody Houser, Artist: Stephen Mooney, and Color Artist: Triona Farrell

Saturday, 18 January 2020

The Immortal Hulk #17 - Marvel Comics

IMMORTAL HULK No. 17, July 2019
Trapped deep inside Shadow Base Site A with a potentially fatal gunshot wound to the stomach, and hunted by a homicidal mutant “outfitted with a cybernetic arm by the C.I.A.”, it probably must have crossed the minds of some “Hulk-Heads” that Al Ewing may well have penned himself into something of a corner concerning the fate of puny Bruce Banner. But whilst the sickly thin nuclear physicist does eventually transform into the "Immortal Hulk" at this comic’s somewhat grisly conclusion, the British writer surprisingly shows in the meantime that there is far more to his incarceration of the mild-mannered boffin than his green goliath alter-ego; especially when the mind outmanoeuvring Agent Carl Burbank actually belongs to “Joe Fixit.”

Indeed, this twenty-page periodical is absolutely packed full of well-written examples of brains outmatching brawn, with the highly dislikeable Bushwhacker persistently being bested by the likes of “radioactive ants in yer eyes”, smashed aquariums, and some impressive close combat fighting techniques; “Guess those ain’t plastic. You havin’ fun yet?” Fortunately, none of these antics are particularly unbelievable either, as the former “2000 A.D.” author makes it abundantly clear to this book’s 87,444 readers that despite his quick wits, Banner’s physical exertions are taking a hefty toll upon his increasingly injured physical form.

Similarly as successful as this publication’s ‘cat and mouse’ narrative, is Ewing’s portrayal of Burbank as a truly deranged member of General Reginald Fortean’s U.S. Hulk Operations team. The one-time catholic priest is initially clearly having the time of his life chasing down the skinny scientist “who sent me to Hell”, and simply drips barbaric sadism as he callously allows a ‘bleeding out’ Bruce to run for his life just so the assassin can “have my fun” before trying to chop his prey’s head off with a hand-chainsaw…

Joe Bennett is equally up to the task of making the seventh best-selling comic in May 2019 highly memorable too, courtesy of some fantastic pencilling. There’s a genuine manic dynamism to the artist’s depiction of an emaciated Joe Fixit desperately fighting for his life in an ill-fittingly feeble body against a hardened super-powered combat veteran. Plus the illustrator even manages to give a nod to “Incredible Hulk” predecessor Dale Keown, by placing the Canadian’s surname on the pencil Banner uses to hack into the installation’s computer system.

First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
The regular cover art of "IMMORTAL HULK" No. 17 by Alex Ross

Friday, 17 January 2020

Leave On The Light #2 - Antarctic Press Comics

LEAVE ON THE LIGHT No. 2, August 2019
Delving “deeper into the history of the Butcher”, Bradley Golden and George Aguilar’s story for Issue Two of “Leave On The Light” must have gone some way to convince this comic’s audience that this title was a far cry from the usual knife-wielding slasher romp most horror-based writers churn out in the modern age. Indeed, straight from its rather gory opening, which depicts Thomas Lassey’s sickening execution “for the murders of five men, nine women and six children”, the twenty-two page periodical makes it clear that the book’s main antagonist most definitely isn’t going to stop slaughtering people in cold blood simply because some electrical current has coursed through his body to the point where his eyeballs explode…

Such a memorable ‘death scene’ really does stick in the reader’s mind, and makes the maniac’s subsequent haunting of Detective Sarah McKinney all the more tense as he noisily scratches a note to her in an adjoining cubicle’s door when the police officer briefly visits a garage restroom. At any minute it seems likely the undead apparition will strike her down as he did the Maxey family, and this tension is truly palpable even after a clearly disconcerted McKinney pulls her firearm out on a hapless old woman and teddy bear carrying grand-daughter; “Oh. We’d better leave, Mindy.”

Gary Marshall’s investigation into the killer’s final days on death row are no less troubling either, as Doctor Lupin discovers his supposedly deceased patient was secretly receiving satanic “popular best-sellers” shortly before his demise. This revelation genuinely chills the soul, and makes Sarah’s ensuing enquiry into “French fired” Lassey’s only living relative even more terrifying as she blunders into the man’s dark and seedy apartment building.

Also greatly adding to this publication’s perturbing ambiance are the breakdowns of Stan Yak, whose ability to pencil the sheer insanity behind Thomas’ mad eyes alone is arguably enough to convince any passing bibliophile that his illustration work is worthy of perusal. Coupled with some excellently thought out perspectives, such as McKinney looking in through the spyhole of a front door, or Lupin glancing up to see Lassey’s reflection in his bathroom mirror, the Russian artist does a great job of bringing Golden and Aguilar's collaborative narrative to spine-tingling life.
Script: Bradley Golden & George Aguilar, and Pencils: Stan Yak

Thursday, 16 January 2020

Doctor Who: Free Comic Book Day Issue 2019 - Titan Comics

DOCTOR WHO: FREE COMIC BOOK DAY ISSUE, May 2019
Described by “Titan Comics” as the “perfect introduction to the hit new series from Eisner-nominated comics writer Jody Houser”, this ‘free’ sixteen page periodical must have quickly provided any perusing Whovians with a crystal clear clarification that the American author was going to maintain the somewhat controversial tone set by executive producer Chris Chibnall during the BBC Television programme’s divisive eleventh season. For whilst the short(ish) script contains a semi-intriguing plot based upon the premise that the penalty for losing at a fairground stall is to be indefinitely short-range teleported into a prize pool, it also includes a few examples of Jodie Whittaker’s contentiously arrogant incarnation acting all holier-than-thou, despite the fact she lies her way into the amusement park in the first place…

This disconcertingly duplicitous attitude of moral superiority by the titular character arguably starts to grate upon the nerves right from the publication’s very opening, when the Time Lord decides to simply use her psychic paper so as to award the TARDIS crew an “ultimate supreme class multi-guest package” rather than legitimately pay for their tickets. Such flagrant dishonesty seems an entirely unethical abuse of the ‘blank, white card that has special properties’ and debatably sends entirely the wrong message for a book supposedly penned for readers of “all-ages”.

To make matters worse, it is as a direct result of the Doctor’s deceitfulness that Graham O’Brien is suddenly placed in danger, due to trying his luck at a Bevivian game of chance whilst the others run about the funfair like demented adolescent loons. Admittedly, “the game is most definitely rigged”, but if the time traveller had bought her “fam” tickets legitimately, then they would all have been aware of what rules they were agreeing to as multi-guests upon entry; “I violated no laws here! They chose to play! No kidnapping!”

Unsurprisingly, the Gallifreyian herself cheats in order to win both her companion’s freedom and “whoever else may have been roped in by your shiny ball.” However, having aggressively threatened the alien carnival worker to “find a new line of work”, the dislikeable Doctor still has time to sanctimoniously lecture him (as well as the audience), and actually goes as far as to unconvincingly justify her fraudulent entry and deceitfulness simply because “this is what we do.”
The variant cover art of "DOCTOR WHO: FREE COMIC BOOK DAY ISSUE" 2019 by Jessica Martin

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Geek-Girl #5 - Markosia Enterprises

GEEK-GIRL No. 5, October 2019
Successfully funded by 175 backers in 2019 as part of a much larger “Kickstarter” project to get this comic book series’ earlier editions available as a trade paperback, this “extra-sized jump on issue” must most assuredly have opened the eyes of its readers to the significantly larger world “Geek-Girl” creator Sam Johnson was planning to populate following his decision to make the title an ongoing publication rather than just a limited run. For whilst this ‘Markosia monthly’ still provides plenty of focus upon Ruby Kaye and her ‘best friend forever’ Summer James, the twenty-five page periodical also literally introduces a planeload of brand new super-powered characters for its fans to wrap their brains around.

Foremost of these intriguingly different ‘capes’ has to be the Whupper, whose introduction, courtesy of a long haul airline flight sat alongside one of the most irritatingly talkative passengers imaginable, cleverly causes this book’s audience to immediately sympathise with the incredibly patient stubble-faced man. Such pathos is then quickly turned into likeability when the unassuming gent does all in his power to save the life of the overly-chatty lady sat beside him following their aircraft’s sudden mid-air destruction; “Holy c%$p on a stick!!! Put this on!”

Somewhat less heroic looking, though equally as interesting, are the disconcertingly named Minger, Digger Mensch and two of the doomed plane’s other occupants, Guano Guy and Mister Marvellous Man. Apart from helping to re-build Acorn Ridge Main Street Police Station, embarrass Ruby with her dorky secret headquarters introduction video, and seemingly selflessly flee the burning airliner whilst someone else saves the day “for free”, this quartet of gaudily-costumed oddities aren’t admittedly given enough of this publication’s finite sheet space to properly develop or sparkle, yet still manage to make a positive contribution to the comic's creation of the "newly-formed Kaye Foundation".

Equally as strong an asset is the excellent illustration work of Carlos Granda, whose dynamic pencilling really helps imbue Johnson’s slightly dialogue-driven script with plenty of visual pace and dynamism, even when simply sketching some of the scenes aboard the aforementioned doomed aeroplane. In fact, this book’s opening sequence, featuring a chanting Satanist being brutally gunned down at his flat’s front door, generates an almost palpable air of mysterious menace to the book's proceedings, which the artist then maintains throughout the rest of the magazine.
Writer: Sam Johnson, Artist: Carlos Granda, and Colorist: Chunlin Zhao