Friday, 28 February 2020

Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor #2.2 - Titan Comics

Considering that the enticing words “Tenth Doctor Team-Up” are boldly emblazoned across the top of this twenty-two page periodical, it’s difficult to envisage that many of the comic’s readers were particularly pleased with Jody Houser’s snooze-fest of a narrative inside. Indeed, considering that the Tenth and Thirteenth personifications of the Time Lord never actually meet within this instalment of “A Little Help From My Friends”, it is probably far more likely that many bibliophiles will think themselves ‘hard done by’ by this book’s sedentary storyline, if not dishonestly mislead; “Old habits. And very smart friends. I should have known better than to try and pull one over on you.”

Of course, that isn’t to say that the current TARDIS crew don’t get to spend some time with “one of the greatest incarnations of the [time-travelling] character”, as Yasmin’s unsuccessful attempt to convince the “happy-go-lucky” Gallifreyan that she is a probationary Time Agent in 1964 London attests. But half a dozen pages dedicated to the nineteen-year old police officer struggling to outwit the duster coat-wearing ‘champion of the oppressed’ isn’t anywhere near as gratifying a scene as witnessing the post-Time War Doctor encountering his future self and together tackling the imminent threat of “a familiar foe…”

Sadly however, the writer of “other story-shaped things” seemingly believes that just such pair-ups will suffice, and as a result, the other half of this publication’s decidedly lack-lustre plot focuses upon actress Jodie Whitaker’s “confident explorer” supping tea and eating custard creams with Martha Jones in a local diner, whilst divulging to the medical student that she’ll live on after the Londoner stops “travelling through Time and Space with him…” This rather touching conversation is well penned by Houser, yet still debatably drags on for far too long considering that it is only at this dialogue-driven scene’s end, that we finally get to see the pair enter the mysteriously empty Face Fashion store.

As a result, probably this comic’s sole redeeming feature is Roberta Ingranata’s impressive pencils, which provide plenty of pleasing eye-candy to an otherwise unexciting experience. Of particular note are the Italian illustrator’s figures of the leading cast, whose mannerisms and facial expressions are uncannily close to their television counterparts. In addition, the Milan-born illustrator’s backgrounds are well worth scrutinizing for hidden clues as to just who the main villains of this piece might actually be…
The regular cover art of "DOCTOR WHO: THE THIRTEENTH DOCTOR" No. 2.2 by Hannah Templer

Thursday, 27 February 2020

Star Trek: Year Five #10 - IDW Publishing

STAR TREK: YEAR FIVE No. 10, January 2020
If Jim McCann’s aim for his narrative to Issue Ten of “Star Trek: Year Five” was to ‘overnight’ transform the popular character of Hikaru Kato Sulu into a petty-minded and utterly disagreeable shell of his former self, then the “American writer of comic books, theatre and television programs” undoubtedly achieved his goal in spades. For whilst the Nashville-born author’s script also focuses upon a clearly cataclysmic civil war between the sea-dwelling I’Qosa and the land-dwelling Lo’Kari, it is the U.S.S. Enterprise’s helmsman who arguably comes across as this twenty-one page periodical’s main villain of the piece.

To start with the Lieutenant simply won’t stop verbally abusing poor Ensign Chekov for pulling out a phaser, when Pavel was desperately trying to protect him from attack during a bar fight. The sheer venom artist Silvia Califano pencils across the Starfleet officer’s face as he illogically blames the Russian for starting “a war that will claim hundreds of thousands of Ayal’s people” is truly disconcerting, and makes Sulu appear as nothing more than an irrational bully; especially when he readily admits to realising that his shipmate only acted as he did because “you were trying to protect me.”

Disagreeably however, Hikaru is not content to simply leave this matter behind once he returns to his duties aboard the Constitution-class starship, and successfully gets Pavel reassigned to Security, simply because “I no longer feel comfortable seated on the bridge next to Ensign Chekov.” Of course, this change in personnel does provide an explanation as to Lieutenant Arex being one of the space-faring vessel's primary navigators during “Star Trek: The Animated Series”, but even so, it’s hard to see Sulu as anything other than a lovesick, selfishly spiteful individual following such behaviour.

Finally, the eventual Captain of the U.S.S. Excelsior is responsible for some seriously blatant insubordination towards Mister Spock, which is seemingly rewarded by the first officer rather than punished, or at least challenged. Having already separated Hikaru and Pavel and made it crystal clear that “Ensign Chekov’s phaser was not the catalyst” to the violence spreading across the planet I’Qos, the Vulcan later just accepts being verbally-abused by a vivid Sulu for being “a cold-hearted bastard” when the green-blooded scientist simply makes it clear that he feels Ayal’s people are equally responsible for the “mass destruction” being caused on the fish-people’s water-world.
Writer: Jim McCann, Artist: Silvia Califano, and Colorist: Sebastian Cheng

Wednesday, 26 February 2020

The Immortal Hulk #23 - Marvel Comics

IMMORTAL HULK No. 23, November 2019
Chock full of numerous super-powered heroes and villains, as well as more high grade military hardware than General Ross could probably have ever imagined possible when he first sought out the Incredible Hulk in the early Sixties, Al Ewing’s script for “The Face Of The Enemy” does a good job of setting in motion “the culmination of the war between Hulk and [Reginald] Fortean that’s been back-and-forthing for a while now”. Indeed, despite a somewhat sedentary opening flashback scene to a time before Jackie McGee “got a journalism degree at Arizona State on a scholarship award”, this twenty page-periodical’s narrative simply doesn’t let up until it’s horrifically gory cliffhanger when the latest incarnation of the Abomination confronts Bruce Banner’s alter-ego mano-a-mano.

Disappointingly however, despite all of this comic’s pulse-pounding pace, the British author’s “twisted version of the traditional Hulk Family” doesn’t debatably produce quite as many ‘stand-out’ moments as this book’s 56,734 readers probably expected. For starters, Leonard Samson, having been simply dispatched twice before in previous instalments with literally just a couple of bullets, is once again impotently ‘killed in action’ before the good, green-haired doctor can shake a fist in anger. Whilst, Betty Ross and Rick Jones are similarly side-lined by a sub-plot which sees the two grotesquely-transformed monstrosities tediously traverse Shadow Base Site B, ‘sniffing out’ gamma signatures and terrorising Charlene McGowan for incarcerating the living corpse of Delbert Frye.

Even the likes of Titania and the Absorbing Man are pencilled by Joe Bennett as being little more than mere hapless pawns in Gamma Flight’s fight against “the might of the U.S. Military”, with neither Mary MacPherran nor Carl Creel demonstrating the sort of formidable-fighting skills which saw the Masters of Evil members go toe-to-toe with She-Hulk and Thor, God of Thunder. Strangely, only the bouncing adventurer, Puck, seems capable of holding his own against a cybernetic Solar Emitter Unit, and then Eugene Judd is quickly electrocuted afterwards by a cowardly attack from behind; “Once we took Samson out, it was just a matter of time.”

Of course, Ewing has penned General Fortean as having something of “a good track record fighting the Devil Hulk”, and “would have captured what was left of him for Shadow Base” had “Betty not intervened” during the jade giant’s previous unsuccessful battle against the flesh-melting bile of Subject B. But the veteran soldier’s ‘strategic’ ability to best some of the most savagely strong characters within the Marvel Universe with a couple of specialist firearm teams must still surely have somewhat jarred the sensibilities of some of this comic’s audience.
The regular cover art of "IMMORTAL HULK" No. 23 by Alex Ross

Tuesday, 25 February 2020

Conan The Barbarian #10 - Marvel Comics

CONAN THE BARBARIAN No. 10, December 2019
Originally envisaged by Jason Aaron as ‘one big, twelve part story’, the Alabama-born author’s plot to Issue Ten of “Conan The Barbarian” must have struck many within this twenty-page periodical’s 25,867 strong audience as a serious filler strip which predominantly just rehashes the past history of the Crimson Witch, and her undying devotion to Razazel, Arch-demon of the Elder Night. Indeed, apart from this comic’s opening scene, which sees Lord Bevel Stonemarrow, the famous Witch Butcher of Brythunia, being unsuccessfully sacrificed upon the Great Red Doom’s blood-soaked altar, the American writer fails to provide his audience with any plot progress whatsoever until this book’s very end when the titular character is apparently killed by a some falling masonry; “I’ve never slain children before. But you lot are making me rethink that principle. Either way, this bloody folly ends n-- No…”

Up until this point, all this particular instalment to “The Life & Death Of Conan” offers is a lack-lustre retread of the sorceress’ murderous spawn once again stalking the Cimmerian in his past, whether that be him fighting in the Deserts of Turan, battling the Man-eaters of Zamboula, or triumphing over the Devils beyond the Black River. Aaron even somewhat controversially attempts to incorporate his own adventures in amongst Robert E. Howard’s literary legends, by having Mahmud Asrar prodigiously pencil the fair-haired twins actually witnessing some of this ongoing comic book series' previously penned tales, such as the shark-infested “ship of the dead”, the King of Aquilonia’s bizarre night-time shenanigans as a skull-masked vigilante accompanied by a ‘tame’ lion, and his first encounter in Zamora with the aforementioned adolescents' magic-using mother.

To make matters moderately worse, some of these ‘insertions’ simply make no sense whatsoever, with the youngsters following their piratical prey across the ocean proving particularly contrived, especially when the diminutive duo are shown to be busy fending off the numerous tentacles of the self-same mutated carcharodon carcharias which Conan is simultaneously slaying on board his deserted ship. Just how the barbarian never sees the singular rowing boat bobbing up and down alongside his own vessel is miraculous in the extreme, and makes as much sense as the evil siblings agreeing to kill one another with knives rather than attack the Cimmerian after he has ‘beheaded’ their emaciated parent.
Writer: Jason Aaron, Artist: Mahmud Asrar, and Colorist: Matthew Wilson

Monday, 24 February 2020

Boy Zero: Volume Two [Part Two] - Caliber Comics

Having apparently unmasked and arrested the mysterious mass-murdering, child-killer in this graphic novel’s preceding chapter, many readers of “Concrete Animals” may well have been wondering what Detective Drekker would be doing for the next twenty-six pages of “Boy Zero: Volume Two”. Yet whilst this particular instalment is somewhat more sedentary than that experienced when the policeman was busy fighting for his life against a knife-wielding homicidal maniac, Charles Chester still manages to imbue this comic’s narrative was some genuinely pulse-pounding moments, and once again rather cleverly catches the perusing bibliophile off-guard.

For starters, a “downtrodden” Nigel finally seems to stumble upon a link between the understandably troubled Christian and “that woman from the paper, the author.” This connection is superbly penned, and is so nonchalantly dropped into a lengthy, late night conversation over a hot cuppa between the overweight investigator and Susan, that it would probably have been entirely missed amidst the discussion’s word-heavy dialogue, if not for the lawman’s astonished facial expression at hearing the news…

Cue a trip to a local bookshop and an overly helpful store-worker who impractically offers to recommend “a few others here… over that one”, and Drekker’s ‘game is most definitely afoot’ once again. Indeed, the rotund detective’s excessively aggressive response to temporarily being inundated with other novels by Joan Hagen over “Monster”, is probably one of the best moments in this entire publication, as his sudden burst of angry energy probably startled not just the store clerk, but doubtless a few within this graphic novel’s audience as well; “Just shut the f*%k up! I’ll take this one!”

Adding plenty of additional atmosphere, as well as a swelling sense of unstoppable insanity, are Shiloh Penfield’s highly disturbing panels. The “guest artist… on Red Knight published by Dead West Comics and multiple independent projects” provides plenty of visual treats to the observant, with her veritable menagerie of assorted dogs, stoats and budgerigars randomly released from Mister Stevens’ Glass City pet shop proving especially amusing. Indeed, the illustrator’s attention to detail, especially when pencilling eyes, is utterly unnerving, so when this tome’s tension begins to ‘ramp up’ it is hard not to be immediately drawn to the expressionate faces of this comic’s numerous characters.
Written by: Charles Chester, and Artwork by: Shiloh Penfield

Saturday, 22 February 2020

Star Trek: Year Five: Valentine's Day Special - IDW Publishing

Having apparently “always wanted to write a proper, serious, epic romance for James Kirk”, Paul Cornell’s narrative for “Star Trek: Year Five: Valentine’s Day Special” must surely have fallen well shy of its mark with the majority of this one-shot’s audience. For whilst the twenty-page periodical undeniably provides a surprisingly pleasing overview of all the different uniforms the Federation officer has worn during his illustrious career, the man’s frequent dalliances with “fellow Starfleet Captain Laura Rhone” pale in comparison to his child-bearing relationship with Doctor Carol Marcus, ill-fated intimate involvement with Janice Lester, or even short-lived affair with social worker, Edith Keeler.

Indeed, rather than simply inundate the reader with a flurry of frivolous flirtations set amidst the Enterprise commander’s star-spanning voyages, the “award-winning writer of prose, comics and television” may well have proved much more successful in his goal by simply expanding upon this book’s opening premise of the ‘love birds’ foiling the alien abduction of an Ensign whilst meeting for the first time on shore leave. Instead, the pair’s long-lasting rapport, which oddly was never important enough to warrant mentioning during seventy nine televised episodes and six movies, is apparently just built upon the U.S.S. Drake’s female skipper getting “bored with my book” and leaping straight into bed with “the only student at Starfleet Academy to defeat the Kobayashi Mary test” to ‘confer about paperwork’…

Mercifully, what this comic lacks in meaningful penmanship though, is more than made up for with eye-catching artwork, courtesy of some superbly illustrated storyboards by Christopher Jones, which really manage to imbue each scene with all the ambiance of its appropriate period in Kirk’s profession. Of particular note are the American artist’s panels depicting the Admiral’s tenure at Starfleet Headquarters and “acclaimed” costume designer Robert Fletcher’s uniforms, which arguably look far better upon this book's finely-drawn figures than they ever did when worn by the actors in the 1979 film “Star Trek: The Motion Picture”. Admittedly, Cornell almost ruins the serious tone created by this visual treat by having a miniature black hole rather (in)conveniently appear “within lunar orbit” of the Earth, but even this lackadaisical contrivance can be partially forgiven following James’ grim-faced order to his beloved’s starship to self-destruct and save the planet with an anti-matter implosion; “The order is given.”
Story by: Paul Cornell, Artist: Christopher Jones, and Colorist: Charlie Kirchoff

Friday, 21 February 2020

Death To The Army Of Darkness #1 - Dynamite Entertainment

Considering that the plot to Issue One of “Death To The Army Of Darkness” was penned by a man who apparently both “read Bruce Campbell’s memoir If Chins Could Kill”, as well as plays “exclusively with Ash in the horror game Dead by Daylight”, most of its readers were probably thoroughly encouraged by Ryan Parrott's credentials, especially when they perused the twenty two-page periodical’s opening two-thirds, and witnessed a deadite-possessed woman attacking the Chosen One whilst he’s at his local laundrette; “Let’s do find out if your heart tastes sweet.” Indeed, up until the appearance of Team Ash following Professor Tuttle’s misplaced splinter spell, this "Dynamite Entertainment" title provides a genuinely faithful interpretation of Sam Raimi’s “American supernatural horror comedy film franchise”, complete with the lead character’s “blissful arrogance”, “lack of self-awareness”, and “groovy ways.”

Foremost of these 'authentic-feeling' book-based events has to be Williams’ utter failure to woo a blonde-haired lady desperate for “any extra quarters” whilst waiting for his clothes to dry at a coin wash. The protagonist’s cheesy one-liners are wonderfully-written by the former “Might Morphin Power Rangers” writer, and many fans of “the twenty-fourth greatest movie character of all-time” (at least according to “Empire” magazine in 2008), will readily hear a certain low-budget cult movie actor’s voice delivering them in his instantly recognisable ‘over-the-top’ manner. Ash’s ability to bludgeon this former ‘apple of his eye’ and subsequently blow her brains out with a “get some” shotgun is equally as enjoyable too, and provides a believable lead into the publication’s main plot of him finally wanting rid of the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis some “six months since the events of the Army of Darkness film.”

Disappointingly however, what then follows soon degenerates into an utter farce, which despite apparently seeming like a good idea at the time to Parrott, is debatably a step too far even for an adventure about “the ultimate misfit hero” and his inconvenient world-saving responsibilities. In fact, rather than create such an outlandish situation as the sudden appearance of different facets of Ash’s psyche, including his “badass feminine side”, it would have perhaps made more sense to simply have witnessed artist Jacob Edgar prodigiously pencil the one-armed “foolish bag of blood” battling against a multitude of deadites alongside his foil-hat wearing paranoid pal Michael, and hapless, bow-tie wearing college academic, Tuttle.
The regular cover art of "DEATH TO THE ARMY OF DARKNESS" No. 1 by Ben Oliver

Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Danger Girl #1 - Image Comics

DANGER GIRL #1, March 1998
Weighing in as the fifth best-selling title of March 1998, at least according to “Diamond Comics Distributors”, this thirty-page periodical must have had its 109,619 readers squealing in utter delight as its furiously fast-paced antics, with authors Andy Hartnell and J. Scott Campbell’s irrefutably living up to their pre-publication promise that this mini-series would take “a bit of an old fashioned approach” and be “very much an action adventure book.” Indeed, even those within its impressively-sized audience who missed the previously printed preview pamphlet “Prelude To Danger!”, would quickly have been caught up in Abbey Chase’s breakneck attempt to recapture “the elusive golden skull of Koo-Koo Diego”, courtesy of the collaborative creators providing both a useful black and white summary of their story's earlier events, as well as a non-stop introductory boat chase over some troubled waters in Costa Rica; “Always the one with the temper that Abbey. Always having to destroy something. But alas, three homes, a yacht, and a chateau in the Alps later, she’s finally dead! Love makes you do crazy things.”

Admittedly, after so thrilling a start Hartnell’s script for Issue One of “Danger Girl” perhaps somewhat understandably has to slow down for a short while, even if it is to allow its fans to catch their breaths following Natalia Kassle’s ultimately successful, last-second rescue attempt atop a thunderously powerful waterfall. But even so dialogue-driven a sequence as Deuce introducing his “eponymous group of three sexy female secret agents” is imbued with plenty of panache, courtesy of some fantastically pencilled flashback panels by Campbell, which depict the former British Secret Service Agent in his heyday, and the rest of the team’s decidedly adventurous credentials.

Moreover, it isn’t too long until this comic’s titular characters are off on a surveillance assignment in France, and Sydney Savage’s “fat guy”, the Peach, demonstrates there is a much more murderous side to the “illegal arms dealer who has ties to the Hammer Empire” than the softly spoken, balding criminal’s physical appearance would suggest. In fact, the shockingly sudden, cold-blooded killing of the “Hungarian art thief known as Rico Lugosi” probably caused a fair few of this book’s bibliophiles to momentarily drop this comic in their consternation. Albeit the subsequent frantically-paced vehicle chase involving the Australian Danger Girl and a lorry load of enemy agents would soon have had them once again thoroughly enthralled in this publication’s sense-shattering shenanigans…
Plot: Andy Hartnell & J. Scott Campbell, and Pencils: J. Scott Campbell

Tuesday, 18 February 2020

Conan The Barbarian #9 - Marvel Comics

CONAN THE BARBARIAN No. 9, November 2019
On paper the possibility of setting this ongoing series’ titular character up for a cycle of rematches against his most famous foes probably seemed like a dream come true for Jason Aaron, especially when one considers the Alabama-born author “threw my hat into the ring in a big way and threatened to fight any writer they would try to hire” just as soon “as I got wind that the [Conan] rights were coming” to “Marvel Worldwide’. But whilst many of this comic’s 26,923 readers undoubtedly enjoyed momentarily seeing the Cimmerian once again ‘lock horns’ with “the bellowing, yellow-fanged ape-beast in its scarlet robes” known as Thak, the subsequent onslaught of similarly-popular opponents quickly degenerates into a relentless slog of seemingly lazy penmanship.

Indeed, by the time the barbarian momentarily confronts a fully-fit Yag-Kosha, courtesy of yet another Leech-man inspired illusion, many within this book’s dwindling audience were probably left wondering whether the American writer was capable of providing his narrative for “The God Below” with any originality whatsoever. Certainly, it is hard to see just where the story is supposedly going when each and every one of Mahmoud Asrar’s proficiently pencilled panels appears to have been populated with any and all of Robert E. Howard’s most memorable antagonists… Or, at least in the case of the aforementioned “pacifist alien exile from the distant constellation of Yag”, a disrespectful misinterpretation of one of Conan’s most powerful allies.

Frustratingly, so intense a carousel of contrived encounters really does diminish one of this twenty-page periodical’s best kept secrets, when it is revealed in an awe-inspiring ending that the entire adventure has actually taken place within the bloated bowls of a great land worm. Admittedly, even this jaw-dropping concept would seem to have been ‘borrowed’ from another literary great, in this case Frank Herbert, but it’s hard not to be impressed by the Turkish-born artist’s sweeping splash-page of a giant, fatally wounded grub, bloodily bursting to the surface in its death throes. Coupled with the Cimmerian nonchalantly cutting his way free of the behemoth's belly with his sword, this finale really makes a lasting impact upon the memory, and resultantly it seems a pity Aaron didn’t focus upon the trials of the hero (and his hapless companions) simply being beleaguered by numerous Leech-men and the deadly, acidic digestive juices of their environment, rather than an endless parade of previously seen enemies.
Writer: Jason Aaron, Artist: Mahmud Asrar, and Colorist: Matthew Wilson

Monday, 17 February 2020

Danger Girl Preview - Image Comics

Despite this publication printed in the late Nineties consisting of just eight pages, it is still easy to see from its pulse-pounding narrative that its storytellers Andy Hartnell and J. Scott Campbell were strongly influenced by “all the things we both grew up watching on television and seeing at the movies.” Indeed, such is the frantic pace set by Abbey Chase as the “heart-stopping femme fatale” flees an alligator infested swamp whilst simultaneously pursuing Donavin Conrad across Costa Rica, that many within its audience probably would not have been at all surprised to have seen George Lucas’ “homage to the action heroes of 1930s film serials”, Indiana Jones, make a surprise guest appearance; “If you don’t get that gun outta my face, an eye won’t be your only damaged organ.”

As it is though, this frustratingly short-lived “preview [successfully] gives you a glimpse of what Abbey’s capable of” by capturing all the excitement and high octane danger of Guy Hamilton’s 1973 spy film “Live And Let Die”, courtesy of a superbly re-imagined run across the backs of some crotchety crocodilians, which not only replicates Ross Katanga's heart-stopping stunt at a crocodile farm in Jamaica’s Montego Bay, but even directly refers back to its obvious James Bond roots by having the “freelance treasure hunter” exclaim “This never happened to Roger Moore!” when her tight trousers are tantalisingly torn by the snapping bite of a hungry gator and she inadvertently shows far more ‘cheek’ than she would have liked.

The collaborative creators’ “stereotypical aristocratic villain” Conrad is equally as much fun to read about however, with the one-eyed, thinly moustached rogue seemingly far too much in love with himself to realise the inherent jeopardy he is in whenever he gets within close proximity of his “sweet school girl crush”. Dripping greasy charm and a serious superiority complex, it’s clear the well-dressed criminal always has a secret escape route to hand, even when his nearby yacht is blown to smithereens, and this delusional “charming demeanour” contrasts really well with Abbey’s far more realistic, determination to “take that skull and shove it straight up his --”

Nevertheless, undeniably this book’s most compelling feature has to be Campbell’s astonishingly attractive artwork, which must surely have captured the imagination of any perusing bibliophile who happened to catch a glimpse of this comic upon the spinner rack. “Loosely inspired” by the East Tawas-born illustrator’s wife, Chase’s buxom defiance dominates every scene she features in, whether that be her simply being held to account by a pair of Donavin’s goons, athletically leaping to safety through a flurry of bullets, or dramatically driving a jeep headlong down a tortuously winding cliff road…

First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
Story: Andy Hartnell & J. Scott Campbell, and Pencils: J. Scott Campbell

Friday, 14 February 2020

Batman/Superman [2019] #3 - DC Comics

BATMAN/SUPERMAN No. 3, December 2019
Whilst Joshua Williamson clearly put some considerable thought into his decision as to which six heroes of the DC Universe had been “infected with a serum that will turn them into the worst versions of themselves.” It is arguably hard not to feel that his script for Issue Three of “Batman/Superman” completely wastes the opportunity to explore just what might have happened had The Batman Who Laughs not killed his universe’s version of Clark Kent, and instead transformed the Man of Steel into “the greatest tool I ever had in my utility belt.”

In fact, considering that this ongoing series’ previous instalment concluded on the cliffhanger of Kal-El purposely poisoning “himself with Joker toxin to go undercover”, many of this comic’s 55,334 readers were probably astounded that the Kryptonian’s façade is brought to an abrupt halt by the Caped Crusader within this publication’s first few pages. True, this short-lived ruse has apparently already been rumbled by Batman’s evil counterpart due to the alternative version somewhat unbelievably being able to smell the hard-light holograms used to ‘fool’ the super-villain into believing he had escaped his cell, but even so, it would still have been interesting to have witnessed Jerry Siegel’s co-creation battle his urge to “give in to your true self” for a bit longer.

Just as disappointing, is the fast-paced resolution the California-born writer brings to Jim Gordon’s disconcerting infection, which, having been used to set-up this entire long-running narrative’s premise, is quickly ended courtesy of Superman’s intervention. Questions such as how many good cops have died because of the Batman, as well as how many people Gordon has had to bury “because of the Hell you’ve created in Gotham”, clearly ‘wound’ Bruce Wayne’s alter-ego, and artist David Marquez does a fabulous job of depicting the inner turmoil on the Caped Crusader’s face.

Yet rather than provide the far more compelling experience of a strongly conflicted Dark Knight tortuously battling both his inner demons, as well as a mercilessly mocking veteran police commissioner who blames him for causing the fictional metropolis to fall ever “deeper into ruin”, Williamson instead has a conveniently ‘almost toxin free’ Man of Steel simply fly straight in to save the day and swiftly end the compulsive confrontation; “So much for the World’s Greatest Detective!”
The regular cover art of "BATMAN/SUPERMAN" No. 3 by David Marquez & Alejandro Sanchez

Thursday, 13 February 2020

Conan The Barbarian #8 - Marvel Comics

CONAN THE BARBARIAN No. 8, September 2019
Weighing in as the fifty-sixth best-selling comic of July 2019, following an increase in circulation of over fifteen hundred copies, it is debatably difficult to see just why this particular instalment of the ongoing series proved quite so popular. True, Jason Aaron’s script for Issue Eight of “Conan The Barbarian” revolves around the adventurer returning to “the hills of his homeland in Cimmeria” having “travelled, survived and thrived… through the Hyborian Age.” But it soon degenerates into an incredibly contrived tale involving Thoth-Amon, and the Master of the Black Ring’s utterly bizarre scheme to have his revenge upon the titular character by somehow infecting Gwawl the local dog keeper “with some new wild mutts.”

Of course, the idea that the evil wizard would be hell bent upon taking his revenge against his arch-nemesis (and the sword and sorcery hero’s barbaric people) is nothing new within the long-running “Marvel Worldwide” books. Nor is the Stygian sorcerer’s ability to strike out against his foes from his serpent-filled Tower using all manner of evil machinations and slithering spells. However, just why the “snake worshipper” would go to all the convoluted trouble to time his attack upon Conan’s village just before the wanderer returns smacks of a compulsive obsession to kill “one lone fool of a barbarian” far above anything which is ever depicted in the literary works of Robert E. Howard.

Similarly as unbelievable is the Alabama-born author’s implausible solution that the Cimmerian just happened to have with him a number of “gifts, from the kingdoms beyond”, which enable the “lumbering” fighter to harmlessly incapacitate his former friends. Just how the black-haired warrior managed to keep “one bag of… edible jewels” from the Sugar Masters of distant Ophir safe and sound through all his voyages is incalculable, as is the apparent suggestion that he also carried “one crystal rose of Lemuria” in his knapsack as well; a gift so delicate that it immediately breaks into a myriad of shards when its inadvertently dropped upon the snow…  

Mercifully however, “Homecoming” is somewhat salvaged by the gritty storyboards of Gerardo Zaffino, whose heavily pencilled, square-formed figures, genuinely imbue this publication’s preposterous plot with some much needed gravitas and grit. Indeed, whether it be the utterly disturbing look in the maniacal, red-eyed would-be murderers, or writhing snakes infesting Gwawl’s horrifically decaying head, the freelancer ramps up this comic’s intensity in a way Aaron’s penmanship could never hope to attain.
Writer: Jason Aaron, Artists: Gerardo Zaffino with Garry Brown, and Colorist: Matthew Wilson

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

The Immortal Hulk #22 - Marvel Comics

IMMORTAL HULK No. 22, October 2019
Crammed to the rafters with more characters and conversation than its 62,053 readers could probably believe possible within a Hulk comic book, it is easy to see why at the time Al Ewing stated he was “very busy” when interviewed by the American website “Newsarama”. Yet whilst the British writer seemed to think that that was “a good problem to have”, so heavy a workload seems to have caused his script to “Who’s There” to become little more than a debatably dreary twenty-page periodical, with nothing in the way of action occurring except Rick Jones’ dramatic transformation back to the land of the living…

For starters, the majority of this publication seems to focus far too much upon the dialogue driven antics of Bruce Banner, whether it be the mild-mannered nuclear physicist mentally breaking down when Betty Ross refuses to transform back into her human guise for him, or in his much more confident Joe Fixit persona. These wordy-heavy, plodding scenes provide very little progress to the plot, and arguably just act as an unnecessary reminder to the perusing Hulk-Heads that Thunderbolt’s daughter clearly still has issues with her ex-husband, and “Sunshine Joe” seems to have developed an appreciation of Jacqueline McGee’s work as a reporter; “And holy c%*p, lady. You sure know how to p&*s off the puny humans.”

Similarly as sedentary are the passages set deep beneath Groom Lake at Shadow Base Site D, where Doctor McGowan perhaps finally realises just how utterly insane General Fortean actually is, having witnessed the soldier 'willingly' bond with the Abomination. Bleeding green ooze from the nose and ignorant as to “what the gamma is doing to your internal organs, or -- or your mind --”, Reginald’s self-deluding belief that he is “in control here” seems a million miles away from the actual truth.

Admittedly, the grotesque-looking, green-skinned gestalt looks incredibly intimidating, and penciler Joe Bennett does a first-rate job of permeating the brutish monstrosity with some marvellous menace. But it’s hard to maintain such a perturbing presence panel after seemingly endless panel when all Subject B actually does is literally stand with his arms folded across his scaly chest and wax lyrical to Doc Samson and Omega Flight about how far his “new wave of psychic surveillance technicians can reach…”
Writer: Al Ewing, Penciler: Joe Bennett, and Colorist: Paul Mounts

Tuesday, 11 February 2020

Death-Defying 'Devil #3 - Dynamite Entertainment

DEATH-DEFYING 'DEVIL No. 3, October 2019
Despite Gail Simone’s utterly bizarre belief that fans of this comic’s titular character from the Forties would enjoy an ‘anything can happen with the next twenty-two pages” nonsensical narrative, the Oregon-born writer’s storyline for Issue Three of “The Death-Defying Devil” actually contains a pretty compelling adventure which disconcertingly deals with the issues faced by an elderly super-hero who can no longer even walk without the aid of a Zimmer frame, let alone dispatch his foes with his infamous razor edged boomerangs. Indeed, if the American author had simply ditched the idea that all the elder abuse depicted within this book was actually caused by the machinations of a daemonic entity determined to steal the souls of an apartment block’s tenants, and instead solely focus upon the caregivers preying upon their vulnerable patients just to bolster their own self-importance, then this book would arguably have been all the more impactive.

As it stands however, an aged Bart Hill’s desperate battle to evade the brutal clutches of Freddy and Derek is somewhat lessened by the World War Two veteran’s persistent trips to an inter-dimensional place and discomfiting conversations with a little girl wearing a toy unicorn horn on her head; “But you really don’t belong in this time… You defied the calendar. You defied life and death.” True, the young child provides the white-haired, somewhat frail Daredevil with the solution to all his problems within the Winslow Convalescent Home, by restoring the man’s youth and re-arming him with a pair of “two-pound stainless steel ball bearing Frisbees.” But seeing as how the geriatric had already managed to batter both his attackers with a vicious blow to the face using his walking frame, as well as a jaw-dropping punch to the nether regions, it would have been far more interesting to see Jack Binder’s co-creation succeed via his own merits rather than relying upon a supernatural solution.

Perhaps this comic’s biggest positive takeaway is therefore the artwork of Walter Geovani, who manages to somehow etch the horror of his helplessness upon Hill’s face the moment he wakes up to discover he’s become an enfeebled shadow of his former crime-fighting self. The Brazilian artist does an incredible job of pencilling the physical menace Derek exudes whenever he threatens the patients, and any perusing bibliophile can surely hear the crack of bones when Bart quickly decides enough is enough and begins mercilessly brutalising his shocked would-be assailants.
The regular cover art of "DEATH-DEFYING 'DEVIL" No. 3 by Inhyuk Lee

Monday, 10 February 2020

Conan The Barbarian #7 - Marvel Comics

CONAN THE BARBARIAN No. 7, August 2019
Somewhat surprisingly depicting the titular character as a distraught, long-bearded rogue who is deep in mourning for his dead beloved Belit, Jason Aaron’s grim narrative for Issue Seven of “Conan The Barbarian” surely had a fair few of its 34,366 readers scratching their heads in bemusement. For although the depressed Cimmerian spends the vast majority of “Barbarian Love” surrounded by a bevy of magnificent pirate maidens who are all as deadly with a blade as they are exotic, the “fictional sword and sorcery hero” demonstrates a somewhat uncharacteristic disregard for carousing and revelling with the “dearies” until after this comic’s blood-thirsty conclusion.

Happily however, the Alabama-born author’s somewhat unrecognisable, ever-brooding warrior doesn’t detract too much from an otherwise intriguing tale concerning the heavily-bearded fighter ‘enjoying’ his revenge upon the fat trader Pheidus by throwing the overconfident fool into a river populated by crocodiles. Indeed, once the slightly pedestrian plot finally sees Conan facing his prey face-to-face, having had his female companions work “a lot of magic” upon his sour-smelling appearance, this twenty-page periodical’s script proves thoroughly entertaining, and it is actually a pity that the Hyborian Age hero’s partnership with the Barachan Isles beauties comes to an all-too abrupt end once the merchant is murdered; “After everything we’ve been through together. To just leave us here like this.”

Just as disappointing as this tale’s brusque conclusion is the American writer’s frustrating laziness when it comes to the Cimmerian’s 'super-human' abilities, and the man’s miraculous aptitude to cheat death no matter what the odds. The warrior’s brief battle against a pack of large wolves early on within this comic seems reasonable enough, considering he is armed with both sword and long-knife, as well as able to whittle the large canines down to a manageable handful with just a single thrust of his blades.

But later on Conan is made completely helpless with ropes, before being thrown into some crocodile-infested waters head-first. The odds genuinely seem stacked against his survival even after one of the women throws a sword into the lake after him, and yet within seconds, Aaron would have his audience believe the mighty adventurer had somehow reached the hand-weapon despite his legs and arms being tightly bound, cut himself free of his formidable bonds, and then butchered at least three of the hungry, large semi-aquatic reptiles without needing any air whatsoever..?
The regular cover art of "CONAN THE BARBARIAN" No. 7 by Esad Ribic

Friday, 7 February 2020

The Immortal Hulk #21 - Marvel Comics

IMMORTAL HULK No. 21, September 2019
Whilst many onlookers may well be able to persuasively argue that this particular issue of “The Immortal Hulk” probably saw its readership drop by a staggering thirty thousand readers in July 2019 due to the title’s fortnightly release schedule, it is also easy to see why many of this twenty-page periodical’s potential customers were probably put off by Guest Artist Ryan Bodenheim’s stagnant storyboards. True, the professional illustrator’s clean-lined pencilling does an admirable job of depicting General Fortean’s covert mission on board the Alpha Flight Space Station. But the American’s panels are so devoid of life and two dimensional, that even when the United States Air Force officer brutally slays Doc Samson and Walter Langkowski, their cold-blooded killings still lack much in the way of any emotion or dynamism.

Sadly, so uninspiring an appearance genuinely robs “A Secret Order” of some rather well-penned moments, such as the Absorbing Man shockingly being reduced to a blob of Fentanyl mid-way through a conversation with Titania, and resultantly one can only imagine the disappointment Al Ewing felt when he first saw what drawings Paul Mounts had to work with whilst colouring this comic book. Indeed, it is debatably hard to imagine a more coldly sterile portrayal of a space-based murder spree, especially when this publication’s conclusion ends with one of the youngest Major General’s “to ever hold the rank” being horrifically absorbed into the Abomination’s corpse after he foolishly decides to touch its blubbery flesh.

To make matters worse though, the British writer’s insistence on peppering his narrative with flashbacks to Fortean’s younger days, doesn’t debatably help this comic’s publication’s pedantic pace either, with an eleven year-old Reginald experiencing a supposedly super-inspiring church sermon to respect “our brave fighting forces” being the most tedious of the lot. In addition, a few of these jarring intrusions upon the senior soldier’s orbital rampage make it difficult to determine just why an old war horse like Thunderbolt Ross counted so heavily upon the man, when he clearly froze upon fighting the Hulk for the first time; “I am unable to process what I am seeing. I -- I Just -- How can we keep -- fighting this -- this thing --”

Thaddeus is predominantly projected in the comics as someone with a compulsive obsession over defeating Bruce Banner’s alter ego, to the point where he is willingly transformed “into the Red Hulk in order to better combat his nemesis.” Yet, in these frustrating interludes with his protégé, he’s depicted as someone who rather than admonishing the Major for his failure on the front line, tells Fortean “never [to] apologise for being human” and even astonishingly admits to “Reggie” that he too has felt “the impossibility of this… situation” and suffers “my moments of… of doubt.”

First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
Writer: Al Ewing, Guest Artist: Ryan Bodenheim, and Color Artist: Paul Mounts

Thursday, 6 February 2020

The Immortal Hulk #20 - Marvel Comics

IMMORTAL HULK No. 20, September 2019
Shifting an impressive 83,059 copies in July 2019, at least according to “Diamond Comic Distributors”, this ninth best-selling title of the month seemingly replaced Al Ewing’s long-running narrative to explore “the Hulk as representative of… [the Devil’s] darker side, the shadow side of ourselves” with a mouth-watering, action-packed fun-fest which sees Bruce Banner’s alter-ego brutalising a pair of General Fortean’s awesome-looking War Wagons. In fact, such is the sheer carnage on show, that it’s debatably difficult not to feel the British writer had momentarily taken his incarnation of the jade Goliath back to the Bronze Age of comics, when the green-skinned behemoth was predominantly just an unthinking, wrecking machine; “Wagon One -- Wagon Two -- Report status, please -- What -- What just happened --?”

Sadly however, such a pulse-pounding endeavour disappointingly doesn’t start until halfway through the twenty-page periodical, as the book’s opening scene rather tediously depicts the “emotionally reserved physicist” once again talking to his abusive father in the Below-Place. This wordy-heavy, dialogue-driven confrontation is disconcertingly slow, to the point where even a tearful, fleeting appearance of Banner’s mother can’t help energise a thoroughly tedious debate as to whether gamma radiation is “a measurable scientific phenomenon” or “from another angle -- from above, or below -- it’s a magic spell.”

For those readers willing to endure such a dreary discourse though, the subsequent sight of a “hard reset” Hulk knocking the new Abomination into tomorrow is well worth the wait, and delightfully is just a taste of things to come following Fortean’s calculatingly cold decision to “cauterise” the situation once his heavily-armed flying machines “have your monsters in sight, plus the loose end.” Whether it be the Harpy’s unbelievably vicious mid-air scrap with Subject B, where Betty Ross persistently claws away at her hideous rival’s flesh-melting digestive system, or the titular character’s decision to pummel War Wagon Two into its compatriot with a sound barrier-breaking punch, Joe Bennett’s pencilling is absolutely top notch, and packs every single pulse-pounding panel with enthralling, energetic life.

Admittedly, these sense-shattering shenanigans sadly come to a resolution all-too soon, with the Hulk tearing open the badly-beaten Abomination in order to reveal a significantly shrivelled Rick Jones curled up inside the creature’s corpse, and General Fortean ordering his forces to “pull back” following the arrival of Walter Langkowski’s Omega Flight. But even so, this fight sequence is so ferociously fast-paced that it is undoubtedly worth this comic’s cover price alone.

First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
Writer: Al Ewing, Penciler: Joe Bennett, and Colorist: Paul Mounts

Wednesday, 5 February 2020

Black Terror #4 - Dynamite Entertainment

BLACK TERROR No. 4, January 2020
Firmly fixated upon the horrors of the Second Indochina War and the savage barbarity of American Sergeant Gary Greeley, Max Bemis’ script for Issue Four of “Black Terror” arguably provided something of a unique take on the conflict’s brutal repercussions for any surviving Vietnam era veteran. Indeed, the twenty-three page periodical’s plot arguably even manages to generate some considerable sympathy for the villainous Bad Groove, by gratuitously depicting just what wartime experiences made the star-shaped glasses-wearing druggie into the one-handed, sabre-carrying hoodlum Bob Benton dramatically beats up; “I won’t be attending prison again, sir.”

For starters, it’s clear that the Armed Forces never gave “Dumps” much of a fighting chance whilst he was in training, thanks solely to the prejudices of Greeley, and his insane delight in repeatedly abusing the soldier verbally. Thick-jawed and heavily-boned, the Sergeant is portrayed as a stereotypical bully in every respect, yet it isn’t until after Groove has been badly maimed in a frightening Viet Cong ambush that a chortling Gary sinks to his darkest depths by simply leaving the badly maimed “outcast” to the enemy so they can “make him hurt” all the more.

This tortuous affair clearly sets up the heavily-moustached Groove upon his life as a highly colourful criminal, and resultantly it is with genuine compassion that, having experienced his foe’s past courtesy of a drug-fuelled flashback, Black Terror tenderly touches the back of the man’s head after the crook has slit his own throat in a last, desperate attempt to evade incarceration. Delightfully, “Dumps” demise doesn’t however bring this publication to so demoralising an end, but instead leads Benton on a quest to confront a now wheelchair-bound Greely in the non-commissioned ranked soldier’s Tampa-based retirement bungalow.

The unexpected consequences of this meeting, especially following Bob’s green-coloured vomit somehow ‘infecting’ the slovenly oldster with Groove’s traumatising memories, provides artist Ruairi Coleman with an opportunity to pencil easily one of the most gruesomely shocking demises this book’s bibliophiles could probably imagine. The Northern Irishman's sketch of a quietly whistling invalid calmly 'wheeling' himself up to the swamp’s edge so as to await the ghastly fate he has apparently decided upon to “make it up to you, Dumps…” is packed full of pathos, and splendidly contrasts with the Florida alligator viciously disembowelling Gary in a disconcerting display of intestines soon afterwards.
The regular cover art of "BLACK TERROR" No. 4 by Rahzzah

Tuesday, 4 February 2020

Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor #2.1 - Titan Comics

Following on from the supposed “success of the first season” and apparently “created by the stellar sci-fi team of Eisner-nominated writer Jody Houser and Shades of Magic artist Roberta Ingranata", this opening instalment to “Titan Comics” second series of “Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor” probably had many fans of ‘Nu-Who’ frothing at the mouths in anticipation, when it was first announced at the New York Comic-Con that it would depict the Tenth and Thirteenth Doctor joining “forces against the Weeping Angels in a new comic series!” Yet whilst this twenty-two page periodical’s plot certainly contains plenty of ‘screen time’ for actor David Tennant’s incarnation of the Time Lord, absolutely nothing of any particular interest occurs within the America author’s script due to the TARDIS crew simply following him around Sixties London at “a safe distance.”

Disappointingly, the same can also be said for this publication’s secondary story involving Martha Jones working “as a shop-girl” at the Face Fashion clothes store. Admittedly, the sequences involving the twenty-three year-old medical student and “the first woman to play” the series’ titular character reaffirms the Gallifreyan’s blatant rudeness, when she completely blanks Martha’s ginger-haired co-worker Janice after the poor woman has offered to help her. But apart from the Thirteenth Doctor’s poor manners, nothing happens until this comic’s conclusion when Jones returns to an eerily-deserted shop having forgotten her jacket.

In the meantime all this book’s presumably frustrated audience have to enjoy are a few flashbacks to “not so long ago” when “the Tenth Doctor and companion Martha were attacked by the menacing Weeping Angels” and stranded in the past as per the June 2007 television adventure “Blink”. Unfortunately, this over reliance upon the nostalgia of a highly popular broadcast episode wears thin really quickly, especially when Houser takes an opportunity to have a dig at her male predecessor because the time traveller “was really thick back then…”

Luckily, one thing “A Little Help From My Friends” doesn’t suffer with is poor pencilling, with Roberta Ingranata desperately trying to pull out all the stops to make this dreary, dialogue-driven sequel contain at least a modicum of pace. The Italian artist does a great job of capturing the look and feel of England’s capital city in 1969, and also manages to imbue the Tenth Doctor with the infectious, highly energised “happy-go-lucky guise” his somewhat zany persona is so well-remembered for.
The regular cover art of "DOCTOR WHO: THE THIRTEENTH DOCTOR" No. 2.1 by Paulina Ganucheau

Monday, 3 February 2020

Black Terror #3 - Dynamite Entertainment

BLACK TERROR No. 3, December 2019
Readers expecting Max Bemis to continue adding to the mythology of this series' “semi-tortured brutal vigilante” were probably a bit surprised with his narrative for Issue Three of “Black Terror”, considering it almost exclusively focuses upon the titular character’s “trusted sidekick Tim” rather than Bob Benton's alter-ego. But having gotten over that initial surprise, and the somewhat ludicrous premise that owing to a magical urn, the boy was “born with the memories of a life” he hadn’t actually lived yet, many bibliophiles probably gleaned a fair amount of enjoyment from the gratuitous violence on show within its twenty-one pages.

Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a more grisly-looking series of set-pieces than those pencilled by Ruairi Coleman in this book, thanks to the Northern Irishman’s ability to depict a group of non-powered kids being horribly mutilated by the Young Deadlies, and a pride of flesh-hungry lions later being let loose upon the villain’s secret hideout in an “exotic, creepy locale!” Such scenes really do ‘spell out’ the sheer sadism of the “original” sidekick’s ultra-violent surroundings, where the former “Nazi scum” basher now seemingly spends his time betting on illegal dice games in dingy alleyways or supplying informants with a “big bag of marijuana” in exchange for them “supplying us with information.”

Sadly however, what the “primary lyricist of the band Say Anything” also depicts with his writing is how unlikeable Tim Roland can be, especially once he lives beyond the point where “Pandora’s Urn should have shown up… and rebooted everything.” Now aged thirty-five, “but still looks like a Nineties-era Culkin”, the younger half of the “Terror Twins” genuinely seems to enjoy the decadent savagery of the world around him, and could arguably even be held indirectly responsible for Moonboy having his throat slit and Ms. Mystery being disembowelled by the likes of Princess Murder, Hollow Tip, Spell Slinger, Sapling and the weird-smelling Kid Tricklin’.

Mercifully, Bemis has been “blessed” to have the aforementioned Coleman illustrate this periodical, and as a result the vast majority of its macabre contents are a treat for the eyes of the non-squeamish. In fact, in many ways it is a pity that the comic’s narrative doesn’t feature more flashbacks to Tim’s origin and subsequent battles with the Third Reich, as its clear the artist has a real penchant for panels populated with jaw-breaking punches; “I love it! Powers! Again! Finally!”
The regular cover art of "BLACK TERROR" No. 3 by Rahzzah