Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Batman/Superman [2019] #5 - DC Comics

BATMAN/SUPERMAN No. 5, February 2020
As “explosive first arc” finales go, it is somewhat doubtful that the majority of this comic’s declining 36,269 strong audience were particularly impressed with just how “Who Are The Secret Six?” concludes. For whilst the titular characters successfully stop “the satellite and the portal to the Dark Multiverse”, this twenty-two page periodical doesn’t in any way resolve the consequences of Hawkman, Supergirl, Shazam, Donna Troy and Blue Beetle becoming infected by the Batman Who Laugh’s poisonous toxin.

Indeed, the more cynical reader may well view Issue Five of “Batman/Superman” as little more than the culmination of a huge marketing campaign by “DC Comics” for the Burbank-based publisher’s 2019 crossover comic book event involving Lex Luthor transforming himself into a “human/Martian hybrid version of himself”; especially when this particular book even goes so far as to close with the exasperating caption “follow the Batman Who Laughs & the Infected in Year of the Villain: Hell Arisen #1”.

Sadly such shenanigans arguably take the shine off of what is otherwise a darn good story by Joshua Williamson, who uses the death of Superman and his family on Earth-22 to dramatically motivate the Man of Steel in this universe. Positively incensed by the decayed corpses of his wife and child hanging on display within the Dark Multiverse’s satellite, and enraged by Shazam’s horrifying belly-laugh at the sight of his Justice League friends’ mutilated cadavers, the California-born writer depicts a suddenly all-too deadly portrayal of Clark Kent’s alter-ego, who literally pounds both his cousin, Kara Zor-El, and Captain Marvel into the very ground.

“One of the premier shepherds of the DC universe” is similarly as skilful penning Batman too, as the Dark Knight tackles Commissioner Gordon and Blue Beetle using a mixture of wits, gadgetry, fists and Superman’s extra-terrestrial zoo animals. Tapping into Jamie Reyes’s untainted scarab to destroy the Batman Who Laughs’ nefarious tower, and subsequently felling the dark version of Gotham City’s veteran police officer with a thunderous kick in the guts, Williamson also manages to simultaneously show the Caped Crusader’s more caring side, by having him notice just how much discomfort Ted Kord’s successor must constantly be in when morphed into Khaji Da’s battle suit; “Jaime… I never knew… Ugh… That scarab was so… painful…”
Writer: Joshua Williamson, Artist: David Marquez, and Colorist: Alejandro Sanchez

Monday, 30 March 2020

The Immortal Hulk #25 - Marvel Comics

IMMORTAL HULK No. 25, December 2019
Set “billions of years in the future, in a completely different space and time”, it was perhaps somewhat easy for this comic’s 87,519 readers to see just why “Marvel Worldwide” called the forty-page periodical “ground-breaking” in solicits. But whilst this “milestone” publication’s narrative certainly delivers on Al Ewing’s desire to pen a story which is still “horrific on various levels”, and yet “filled with a kind of ethereal alien sadness”, many within its audience were also probably elated that the plot was confined to “a relatively tight” single book, rather than the British writer’s original idea that he “spend five issues in the Ninth Cosmos”…

For starters, “Breaker Of Worlds” is initially an incredibly slow-tempo tale, which diligently dwells upon the desolation of space surrounding the alien entity Par%l, since the Hulk brutally murdered the Sentience of the Universe and subsequently started destroying all life in creation. Admittedly, this perhaps understandably depressive listlessness concerning so forsaken an environment is momentarily brought to life when the extra-terrestrial encounters his former lover, Farys, on board the Observer's Berth. However, such a claustrophobic atmosphere of cheerlessness soon returns as the couple’s strained relationship quickly sours even further, following the “skilled breeder of Tiding-flies” creating something her former partner vehemently opposes; “The egg feels grotesque. Heavy with corruption, Obscene in power… You… You have made an abomination.”

Disconcertingly, not even the much-anticipated arrival of the “Breaker-Apart” at O%los injects much more pace into the proceedings, even though the galaxy-sized green giant’s presence disagreeably results in the death of nine billion souls. The Eisner Award-nominee seems to spend an absolute eternity clarifying that this particular incarnation of the Hulk intends to destroy everything everywhere, when the colossal creature’s destructive path was pretty much well established right at this comic’s start.

Adding to this book’s sedentary story-telling and palpable sense of lethargy are German Garcia’s debatably lack-lustre layouts. Whether you agree or not with Ewing that the freelancer’s “work is absolutely gorgeous” and produces an “intensely, magnetically beautiful” look to this comic which makes Par%l’s world “really feel alien”, the Spanish artist’s significantly padded-out, double splash-page illustrations predominantly seem to have been pencilled just to help fill out this gargantuan doubled-sized issue, rather than simply help illustrate 'a comic the likes of which have never been read before.'
Writer: Al Ewing, Artist: German Garcia, Penciler: Joe Bennett, and Inker: Ruy Jose

Sunday, 29 March 2020

Danger Girl #5 - Image Comics

DANGER GIRL #5, July 1999
The third best-selling comic book in September 1998, at least according to “Diamond Comic Distributors”, Andy Hartnell and J. Scott Campbell’s rollercoaster of a ride for Issue Five of “Danger Girl” probably had its 117,668 readers crying out loud in anguish at some of the sense-shattering shenanigans the collaborative creative crammed into the twenty-two page periodical. For whether it be Deuce desperately battling against a sinisterly costumed Hammer frogman boarding party on board the Danger Yacht, Doctor Kharnov von Kripplor's bizarre biological experiments upon Sydney Savage and Johnny Barracuda, or the submerged Sea Turtle exploring an old Nazi submarine wreck for an ancient sword, every situation seems about to result in one of this book’s leading cast members coming to a grim end.

Mercifully, none of these dire consequences seem to have simply been penned just for a momentary effect, yet rather provide this publication’s plot with plenty of heart-stopping pathos as it despairingly plummets towards the top secret covert female force’s disastrous demise. Indeed, having been butted behind the ear by one of Major Maxim’s shock troops and left for dead upon his exploding sea vessel, the leader of the Danger Girl team’s untimely 'death' is poignantly portrayed as being just the first in a series of calamities to befall Abbey Chase’s ever decreasing world; “You all can finish this one without me. I can’t bear to lose any more of my friends on account of my inexperience.”

Quite possibly this comic’s most disconcerting sequence though has to be the terrifying treatment Agent Falcon experiences at the hands of Doctor von Kripplor. Hammer’s mad scientist is absolutely dripping in malevolence, and his promise to “very inappropriately” touch a chair-bound Savage “about ze chest and backside” after causing the recent captured Carter’s head to literally explode, is chillingly delivered.

However, perhaps this book’s most ‘stand-out’ moment has to be Agent Zero and Chase’s battle against a pair of Hammer Hydronauts some leagues beneath the North Atlantic Sea. Capturing all the claustrophobic action and excitement of the underwater scenes seen in “Eon Productions” 1981 James Bond spy film “For Your Eyes Only”, this grim fight for survival is both tremendously well drawn by Campbell, as well as marvellously inked and coloured by Alex Garner and Justin Ponsor. In fact, the battle becomes so tense, once some enraged giant eels decide to join the confrontation, that many bibliophiles probably found themselves holding their breath in anticipation of the cliff-hanger conclusion to come.
Story: Andy Hartnell & J. Scott Campbell, Script: Andy Hartnell, and Drawings: J. Scott Campbell

Saturday, 28 March 2020

Rom: Dire Wraiths #1 - IDW Publishing

ROM: DIRE WRAITHS No. 1, October 2019
First announced during the July 2019 San Diego Comic-Con, and penned by a man who had wanted the character of Rom to “return to comics long before I was ever in position to inquire about” writing a comic about him, this three-part mini-series’ opening instalment certainly must have intrigued its 4,599 strong audience with a storyline featuring NASA's Apollo 11 astronaut crew facing a murderously menacing party of Dire Wraiths during their momentous Moon landing. But whilst Chris Ryall undoubtedly provides this nineteen page periodical with an authentic air of late Sixties life within the confines of a lunar module, his inclusion of the technologically advanced Adventure-One Team, complete with state of the art spacecraft, disappointingly soon disperses any notion that this book is going to focus upon Neil Armstrong’s three-man team desperately fending off the hostile aliens with whatever limited resources they have to hand.

Indeed, rather than portray the complexities encountered by the Eagle's crew during their historic mission, and the sheer terror a reader might imagine them facing when they suddenly realise that there isn’t “just the three of us in all the universe”, the current President of “IDW Publishing” instead spends a large portion of this publication sedentarily sketching in the backgrounds to its increasingly bloated cast, such as Arsenal, Badger, Hank, Mixmaster, Scalpel, Doctor Sandra Shore, and even NASA’s “first female engineer at Kennedy”, Joann Morgan. This massive influx of characters arguably would blow the mind of any bibliophile unfamiliar with the “Hasbro” animated series “Inhumanoids”, and certainly doesn’t help matters when the Long Beach-born author attempts to imbue all four of this tale’s lethal Dire Wraiths with similar individuality; “Spare me from such stupid soldiers. I remember a time when study of the sciences meant something to Wraith culture.”

Luckily however, Issue One of “Rom: Dire Wraiths” is blessed with the layouts of Luca Pizzari, whose prodigious pencilling is highly reminiscent of that seen within the pages of the science fiction comic “2000 A.D.” during the late Seventies. In fact, even though much of their ‘screen time’ is spent arguing over whether Russian Colonel Anatoli Kiev is allowed to take a formidable-looking heavy weapon with her or not, the Italian artist’s engaging style automatically emboldens each member of Earth Corps with an air of military might, especially to those familiar with the exploits of “The V.C.s” (Vacuum Cleaners) as drawn by Cam Kennedy.
The regular cover art of "ROM: DIRE WRAITHS" No. 1 by Luca Pizzari

Friday, 27 March 2020

Gwen Stacy #1 - Marvel Comics

GWEN STACY No. 1, April 2020
The fourth best-selling title of February 2020, at least according to “Diamond Comic Distributors, this “first of Gwen Stacy’s amazing adventures” definitely must have taken its 68,348 strong audience back to a far simpler, early Marvel Universe, where Stan Lee’s imaginative world tended to firmly focus upon the nefarious plans of those super-villains situated within the boundaries of New York City. Indeed, Christos Gage’s script, enthusiastically crammed full of everything from High School political election campaigns through to the deadly machinations of Norman Osborn’s glider-riding alter-ego, quickly manages to conjure up all the exuberant excitement and nostalgic naivety to danger experienced in the exploits of Edward Stratemeyer’s Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew.

For starters, the Beauty Queen of Standard High isn’t simply penned by the American author as being “just a nice person” around whom interesting events occur, but rather a physically feisty principal protagonist, whose “nose for trouble and a no-quit attitude” is clearly “a recipe for disaster.” Coupled with the sinisterly secretive shenanigans her father is investigating as part of the police’s inquiry into the Lucky Lobo Gang’s leadership battle, as well as the subsequent suggestion that the incorruptible Captain was responsible for gunning down an informant in cold blood, and the ill-fated “science brain” is soon ensconced in as much murder, violence and evil doings as any bibliophile could arguably ever want from a single publication.

However, the G.A.N.G. Award-winner doesn’t stop there, as he also ‘fills this forty-seven year-old void’ with a plethora of Steve Dikto’s greatest co-creations, such as the Green Goblin, the Crime Master, Fancy Dan, Montana and the Ox. These classic Silver Age of Comics characters aren’t simply window-dressing either, as Gage cleverly interweaves the Enforcers throughout his highly intriguing narrative to the point where Raymond Bloch in particular appears to be about to bring young Stacy to an unglamorous end next to a hospital’s vending machine; ““Precious girl. Bright future up yonder. Be nice to keep it that way. I get it. Big decision. Take some time. Think about how you wanna handle it.”

Admirably imbuing all these events with plenty of pulse-pounding vivacity is Todd Nauck’s pencilling and Rachelle Rosenberg’s colours. Gwen has debatably never looked better on the printed page, and there’s a distinctly edgy feel to the dimly lit sequence concerning Captain Stacy’s clandestine meeting with Nick the Greek at Pappas Imports, which makes the nocturnal appointment all the more palpably apprehensive for both attendees and audience alike.
The regular cover art of "GWEN STACY" No. 1 by Adam Hughes

Thursday, 26 March 2020

Conan The Barbarian #13 - Marvel Comics

CONAN THE BARBARIAN No. 13, April 2020
Reading like a comic book adaption of Ian Livingstone’s 1984 single-player adventure game-book “Deathtrap Dungeon”, Jim Zub’s narrative for Issue Thirteen of “Conan The Barbarian” must have been an utter delight for any fantasy tabletop role-playing fans, what with its feats of forte, ferocious fist-fights and utterly ruinous snares. Indeed, such is the tension the “two-time Harvey Award nominee” manages to generate deep inside the underground passages and pathways of the Crucible of Strength, that the twenty-page periodical’s shocking conclusion will undoubtedly have come far too quickly for most of the book’s readers.

Admittedly, much of this publication’s sense-shattering shenanigans aren’t immediately evident, as the Canadian writer begins “The People’s Champion” with a fairly bog-standard scene depicting the Cimmerian loudly ‘drinking and womanising’ on the streets of Garchall, in Uttara Kuru; “I need you to order me some wenches and wine.” Yet pretty quickly the black-haired adventurer becomes embroiled in a pulse-pounding “foolish game of brawn and bravado” with a pair of local ruffians, which rather unexpectedly leads him to the very edge of a monstrous pit “built to honour our god, the Challi-Mai.”

Once entombed inside this “maze of traps and horrors” things get really interesting, with Zub impressively introducing the audience to his plot’s substantial supporting cast with just a few lines from his pen, and a string of quick-fire panels proficiently pencilled by Brazilian artist Roge Antonio. This “strange group of conscripts, captives, murderers, and maniacs” immediately imbues this comic with an air of palpable apprehension, as both Conan and bibliophile alike know not who to trust, despite none of the other “honoured competitors” having “a single weapon between them.”

Similarly as successful in creating an atmosphere dripping in tautness and trepidation, are Jim’s first few traps, which not only show that absolutely nothing within the cruel complex can be believed, but also demonstrates the titular character’s intelligent savvy for survival. In addition, these displays of mental acuity over brutish desire allow the author behind “fan-favourites like The Champions, Avengers: No Road Home, and the Mystery in Madripoor mini-series featuring Wolverine” to deliver an astonishingly dramatic ending, which arguably will catch many a reader completely off-guard.
Writer: Jim Zub, Artist: Roge Antonio, and Colorist: Israel Silva

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Batman [1940] #311 - DC Comics

BATMAN [1940] No. 311, May 1979
Containing a somewhat substantial cast of super-heroes, villains, criminals and supporting characters, as well as a plethora of state-of-the-art gadgets and vehicles, readers of “Doctor Phosphorus Is Back” were probably astonished in May 1979 that “guest writer” Steve Englehart only required a single, seventeen-page periodical with which to tell his thrill-a-minute story. Indeed, considering that the Inkpot Award-winner’s narrative depicts a fiery tale of industrial revenge, senatorial shenanigans in America’s political capital, the general public’s anxiety surrounding nuclear power and councillor-turned-crook Rupert Thorne’s recuperation in a Mental Hospital, many fan of the Dark Knight would probably believe this comprehensive comic’s pulse-pounding pace to be near miraculous.

Happily however, the American author uses every trick in the book to make his enthralling story both thoroughly informative and followable, whilst at the same time keep the Caped Crusader’s convoluted chase after the utterly unstable Doctor Alex Sartorius well and truly alive. Foremost of these guiles is the use of flashbacks with which to bring any na├»ve bibliophile bang up to speed with the crime-fighter’s past exploits in “Detective Comics”. Perfectly penned within the space of a handful of panels, this summary not only establishes Doctor Phosphorus’ ghastly origin and immoral motivations, but also his seemingly past fatal defeat at the hands of Bruce Wayne’s alter-ego.

Similarly as succinct are Englehart’s ‘snapshots’ of Barbara Gordon’s dual life in Washington D.C. Featuring a fantastic cameo by Killer Moth amongst the metropolis’ famous white-columned buildings, the former art assistant to Neal Adams is able to quickly demonstrate just how formidable a foe Batgirl has become since leaving Gotham City. Coupled with the congresswoman’s unwavering commitment to do what is best for the people she represents, even in the face of the central committee’s desire to replace her with “someone who’ll do the job we selected them to do”, Steve soon establishes that Commissioner Gordon’s daughter has much more to give this publication’s narrative than simply being this book’s “special guest-star”.

Irving Novick’s pencils, along with Frank McLaughlin’s inking, also greatly helps this comic produce plenty of ‘bang for its buck’, courtesy of some sensational action sequences near its end. Batman has arguably never looked better in the Batmobile than when the vehicle is careering towards a heavily-throttled aeroplane, alongside the Batgirl-cycle, nor a cowled Barbara more resourceful as she uses brains over brawn to best her hideously disfigured, radioactive opponent single-handedly.
Guest Writer: Steve Englehart, and Artists: Irv Novick & Frank McLaughlin

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Danger Girl #4 - Image Comics

DANGER GIRL #4, December 1998
Shifting an impressive 95,035 copies in July 1998, this ninth best-selling comic of the month must surely have exhausted its audience with its ferocious pace, seeing as Andy Hartnell’s script somehow manages to cram almost its entire pulse-pounding plot within the claustrophobic confines of Eddy Owen’s quaint-looking English home. Indeed, whether it be the Teutonic nightmare Major Maxim leading a destructive “search under his own discretion” for an ancient artefact, Abbey Chase exchanging pistol fire with a number of automatic weapon-toting Hammer operatives, or Sydney Savage bullwhipping her opponents into submission, all of this comic’s sense-shattering shenanigans are essentially confined to the fantasy card game inventor’s living room; “Can we try to treat Eddy’s pad with a little respect?”

Fortunately however, that doesn’t mean for a second that J. Scott Campbell’s story contains any unnecessary padding, as every single one of this twenty-two page periodical’s numerous panels help to either progress the narrative or inform those bibliophiles new to the mini-series as to what has taken place beforehand. Admittedly, Chase’s ruminations concerning her co-players and the relic hunter’s previous exploits might seem a little duplicitous considering that they follow straight on from this book’s black and white summary of past events, but intermingled within her flashbacks are some nicely penned insights as to just how insecure Abbey feels about fitting in with the rest of the “Danger Girl” team.

Moreover, just as soon as “Fox Force Five” cross the threshold of Owen’s partially-demolished abode in the dead of night, this comic’s creative collaboration dial up the action ten-fold with a seemingly relentless carousel of trigger-happy “dummkopfs” and lethal-looking secret agents. Foremost of these forces for evil has to be the “robotic monstrosity” Major Maxim, whose utterly relentless nature marks him out as the main villain of the piece. Superbly pencilled by Campbell, the goose-stepping automaton dominates every scene he’s in, soaking up every seemingly harmless bullet his opponents can riddle his black leather-clad torso with.

Similarly as successful is just how quickly a potentially promising situation goes horribly awry for the titular characters, intriguingly marking this comic out as one which isn’t simply concerned with depicting the good guys kicking butt all the time. One moment Chase appears certain to once again win the day by escaping the surrounding carnage with “Eddy’s little secret” clasped in her hands, and then in the next, Sydney Savage and Johnny Barracuda are clearly knocked out for the count, and Deuce’s line-up appears to suffer its first fatal casualty…
Story: Andy Hartnell & J. Scott Campbell, Script: Andy Hartnell, and Drawings: J. Scott Campbell

Monday, 23 March 2020

Red Sonja: Age Of Chaos #3 - Dynamite Entertainment

RED SONJA: AGE OF CHAOS No. 3, March 2020
Repositioning this comic’s numerous cast within the Hyborian Age like some sort of Chess Grandmaster, Erik Burnham’s script for Issue Three of “Red Sonja: Age Of Chaos” will surely have pleased both fans of the “Chaos! Comics” Characters and the She-Devil with a sword alike. Indeed, considering that the Bemidji-born writer somehow manages to provide some of Brian Pulido and Steven Hughes’ best-loved co-creations with plenty of intriguing ‘screen time’ inside a single twenty-page periodical, this particular publication proves just how well a ‘monster mash-up’ can be penned when its writer enjoys “an extensive back and forth” with the book’s editor over story ideas.

Foremost of these enthralling ‘hooks’ is that by bringing Evil Ernie, Jade and Purgatori back to Robert E. Howard’s well-developed fictional setting, none of the super-powered beings are actually as powerful as they would be in the modern age. This levelling of the playing field clearly helps Red Sonja hold her ground against the likes of the half-vampire Chasity, and even Lady Demon up to a point, but also provides the rest of this mini-series’ ensemble with some much needed vulnerability, especially when all they are faced with is a handful of sword-wielding Hyperboreans; “Perhaps this is too much to ask of you. After all, look at how much effort it took for you to slay these few who attacked.”

In addition, Burnham adds something of an extra twist to this comic’s narrative, by actually suggesting that some of its combatants might not necessarily want to return to the present day, having “taken a shine to the savage world as an easy place to indulge their dangerous natures.” Such an innovative, motivational sub-plot seems to prove particularly appealing to a certain four-thousand year-old blood-drinking sorceress, whose opportunity to lead the ancient empire of Khitai and mould “her people over the centuries [to] make them strong” rather than simply rule a Shanghai crime family, is as captivating as Mistress Hel’s subsequent manipulation of Jade is undoubtedly perilous.

Adding some extra pizzazz to this publication’s pulse-pounding proceedings are Jonathan Lau’s illustrations, which truly help depict the utter barbarity of some of this book’s participants. Whether it be Evil Ernie delightfully spying a dragon’s corpse amidst the grisly cadavers of so many dead Vikings, or Purgatori’s gratuitous, limb-scattering skirmish with a group of rough-looking Northmen, the American artist is clearly at the top of his pencilling game throughout this comic.
Writer: Erik Burnham, Artist: Jonathan Lau, and Colorist: Andrew Dalhouse

Saturday, 21 March 2020

Camp VA07 #1 - ComicHaus

CAMP VA07 No. 1, February 2020
Advertised on “Kickstarter” as “the new post-apocalyptic thriller from the writer of the award winning City of Lost Souls”, this twenty-four page periodical’s plot contains some rather intriguing premises with which to hook its audience, such as just who Mankind might turn to if “all animal life has been wiped out by a disease”, and what lengths the ‘powers that be’ may go to so as to feed the world’s increasingly hungry population. These queries aren’t admittedly answered within James McCulloch’s narrative for Issue One of “Camp VA07”, but the Scottish writer does offer some tantalisingly morsels as to just how the global pandemic known as “The Red” was addressed by an agricultural industry crumbling “under the weight of demand for food.”

For starters, having propelled the reader approximately one hundred years into the future, it would seem that the Earth is now ruthlessly ruled by extra-terrestrials, who are quite literally out for the human race’s blood. Initially, this intriguing turn of events would seem to be based upon a mutually beneficial alliance between the two species, where people receive food in return for voluntarily giving the aliens their blood.

Rather quickly however, it soon becomes apparent that this partnership is far from a reciprocal relationship where both sides have an equal say in its day-to-day implementation, and is rather something much more akin to the complete sovereignty H.G. Wells’ Martian invaders probably had in mind in his 1897 science fiction serialisation “The War of the Worlds”. Indeed, one of this comic’s most attractive features is how McCulloch exposes the world’s “saviours” as actually being its all-powerful administrators, and how one family in particular are swiftly shown that Homo sapiens are as cattle to their technologically advanced masters; “The Overseer will explain if he wishes to do so. Please stand back from the barrier.”

Proficiently pencilled by Jonathan Scott, this dystopian thriller's focus upon the darkly destitute home-life of Silas, Rebecca and Jacob, as well as all their dashed future hopes, is a genuinely engaging way with which to tell so disconcertingly dark a story. And will doubtless intrigue many a perusing bibliophile as to just what went so catastrophically wrong in the past to produce such an acceptable way of life, where people willingly allow themselves to be brutally culled like unthinking bovines once they’re unable to produce children.
Writer: James McCulloch, Art: Jonathan Scott, and Letters: Robin Jones

Friday, 20 March 2020

Conan The Barbarian #12 - Marvel Comics

CONAN THE BARBARIAN No. 12, March 2020
Finally resolving his twelve-part story-line to “Marvel’s flagship Conan title”, Jason Aaron’s script for “The Power In The Blood” is arguably far closer a tale to Robert E. Howard’s source material than perhaps some of this year-long saga’s other instalments. In fact, if the Alabama-born author’s slowly declining 23,679 strong audience could set aside any concerns surrounding the fact that the titular character had to be brought back from the dead by Crom so as to participate in this twenty-page periodical’s plot, there is debatably plenty of pulse-pounding pugilism to enjoy within this particular publication.

For starters, the King of Aquilonia’s sheer grit and unconquerable determination to remain the 'last man standing' in this heroic final confrontation is quickly made abundantly clear when he literally bludgeons the Crimson Witch’s massively-mutilated daughter around the head with a formidably-sized rock following his miraculous resurrection. The Cimmerian has never been one to shy away from a fight, even when his chances of success are seemingly slim, and this ‘lust for life’ shines through as he hews a path straight past the acolytes of Razazel until he comes face-to-face with the blood-hungry deity himself; “You’re the Lord of Blood, eh? Let’s see how you like it when it’s your own being spilled!”

Similarly as impressive is how Aaron captures Conan’s intelligent quick-thinking, and shows the adventurer as being far from the simple “black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand” barbarian he is sometimes frustratingly portrayed as being. Not only is the bearded monarch quick to ascertain his inhuman opponents’ weakness, and resultantly conjure up a solution to his dire situation, but he also momentarily demonstrates his all-too human side as well, in a brief display of pity as to what the sorceress’ twins have done to themselves so as to be “remade in the image of Razazel!”

Adding plenty of energy to this comic’s sense-shattering shenanigans are Mahmud Asrar’s illustrations, which truly manage to depict the sheer savagery at hand in the barbarian’s desperate battle for both his own life, and the salvation of his kingdom, if not world. The breath-taking power of the Black Dragons’ fetid foes is tremendously well-pencilled, with the pair of heavily-boned, grotesque abominations repeatedly breaking the bones of the well-armoured soldiers as if they were just a hapless child’s plaything.
Writer: Jason Aaron, Artist: Mahmud Asrar, and Colorist: Matthew Wilson

Thursday, 19 March 2020

Astonishing Tales #1 - Marvel Comics

ASTONISHING TALES No. 1, August 1970
Conceived as a ‘split title’ depicting the solo exploits of Ka-Zar and Doctor Doom in their own separate ten-page stories, this inaugural issue of “Astonishing Tales” not only provided its readers with “Two of Marvel’s mightiest together in one mind-shattering mag”, but also two markedly contrasting stories. Indeed, Roy Thomas’ ancillary adventure, “Unto You Is Born… The Doomsman!” is so much more noticeably complex when compared to Stan Lee’s singularly straightforward lead tale, that this particular publication is arguably an excellent example as to just why Lieber felt he could trust his eventual successor as “Marvel Comics” editor “enough that he virtually never again read anything I wrote.”

Happily however, despite these differences this comic’s opening yarn, “The Power Of Ka-Zar!”, is a great first feature for Kevin Plunder, following the son of an English nobleman simply being side-lined as a supporting character in “The X-Men” and “Daredevil”. Clearly the master of all he surveys in the “vast unchartered jungle, bordered by the ever-drifting glaciers of far-off Antarctica”, the Lord of the Jungle’s tenacity to free his ‘friendly’ sabre-tooth tiger drives the action forward at an admirable rate, and resultantly, this book’s audience don’t have too long to wait until the "Son of the Tiger" cataclysmically confronts Zabu’s abductor in a no holds barred wrestling match.

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly though, the star of this story is undeniably Kraven the Hunter, who despite seeming to be rather overly-reliant upon his tranquilizer spray to defeat his foes, dominates each and every panel Jack Kirby pencils him in. In fact, even when Sergei Kravinoff’s face shows fearful incredulity as the “jungle savage” breaks his much-lauded grip, it is difficult not to still admire the dangerous nature of one of Spider-Man’s “most formidable enemies”.

Containing a far more convoluted narrative is Thomas’ “dramatic debut of a startling new series”, which depicts Victor Von Doom both developing “the ultimate weapon -- a super-powerful living being -- fed and activated by Cosmic Rays” and fending off an attempt by “the rightful ruler of Latveria” to depose him of his crown. Illustrated by Wally Wood, “a veteran of Nineteen Fifties EC Comics stories”, this entertaining mash-up of horror, romance and political intrigue soon bears an uncanny resemblance to one of Alex Raymond’s “Flash Gordon” escapades, courtesy of Prince Rudolfo’s rebels successfully attacking Doom castle whilst wearing jet-packs; “See how they gape, wide-eyed, at our flying belts!”
Writer: Stan Lee, Artist: Jack Kirby, and Inking: Sam Grainger

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

Mississippi Zombie [Part Two] - Caliber Comics

MISSISSIPPI ZOMBIE, February 2020
Much more your typical campfire fright-fest feature than the two terrifying tales which preceded it, Marcus H. Roberts’ “Zombie Attack On Horn Island” is this anthology’s sole historical contribution, and resultantly provides an enjoyable romp back to yesteryear when American settlers had little to hand with which to fend off the flesh-chomping cadavers threatening them, except muzzle-loading firearms and a trusty wood-axe. Firmly focused upon the flight of the Johnstone family from an island packed full of the walking dead, this twelve-page chronicle is well-paced with plenty of pulse-pounding moments as Adam desperately attempts to keep the zeds at bay as his panic-stricken wife, daughter and friend try to run to the safety of a nearby vessel.

Crammed with examples of heroic sacrifice, misplaced elation, and just plain old bad luck, this headlong dash for survival is well-drawn by Dan Gorman, whose ‘old school’ styled pencils will surely take the more mature comic reader back to the days of the early Seventies and “Weird Mystery Tales” by “DC Comics”. Indeed, the artist’s ability to imbue his characters with plenty of dynamism as they’re chopping heads, spilling putrid guts and blowing out brains, somewhat imitates all the charm of such Bronze Age greats like Luis Dominguez or Abe Ocampo.

Further fixed in the post-apocalyptic world, complete with zombie panthers, pirate galleys and pet crocodiles, Peter and John Breau’s “It’s All About Commerce” definitely has a story to tell about old college friendships, and the sense of trust those relationships develop during a time when everything seems to want to eat your flesh. Initially concentrating upon having good cardio, similar to Columbus’s rule #1 in the 2009 comedy film “Zombieland”, this ultimately successful ‘last stand’ has some nicely penned moments where experience and a pre-conceived plan of attack certainly help increase one’s chances of survival; “Raina… Play 14.”

Harrison Wood’s artwork also adds a nice claustrophobic element to the storytelling, with many of his panels being populated by all manner of undead nightmares, such as bulldogs, fearsomely-tusked wild boars, and even a slithering King Cobra. These cluttered scenes make it seem almost impossible for anyone to even raise a barbed-wired bat in anger, let alone bludgeon a reeking ghoul to bloody bits, yet it also makes the trio’s final moments together all the more tense, as zombie after zombie appear from the woodland surrounding them.

Finally this graphic novel finishes with Joe Wight’s futuristic “Planet Z”, which rather enticingly teases that Judgement Day isn’t simply going to be confined to a single world of the ever-expanding human empire. Prodigiously pencilled by Rod Espinosa, this frantically-fast account of a factory facility suddenly being overrun by a gazillion ghouls contains some eye-wateringly gruesome deaths, especially once the plant’s security are deployed, and genuinely leaves the reader wanting to see more of Mister Adams’ exploits, if not his singing...
Writers: Marcus H. Roberts, Peter & John Breau, and Joe Wight

Batman/Superman [2019] #4 - DC Comics

BATMAN/SUPERMAN No. 4, January 2020
Persistently rocking back and forth as to whether or not this comic’s titular characters have any hope of thwarting the Batman Who Laughs and his evil, toxin-infected, super-powered slaves, Joshua Williamson’s script for “Who Are The Secret Six?” may well have caused some of its 45,796 readers to feel a little green about the gills. However, for those bibliophiles able to weather such a sense-shattering storm, it’s hard to imagine them ever encountering another twenty-two page periodical crammed with half as many as twists and turns as the “New York Times Best Selling Author” somehow manages to crowbar into this publication’s action-packed narrative.

For starters, just as it looks likel the ‘dynamic duo’ might be about to outmanoeuvre the Blue Beetle’s stunning subjugation of the Fortress of Solitude in the Bermuda Triangle, the pair are shockingly hamstrung by the unforeseen arrival of a heavily-poisoned Donna Troy and Hawkman. This surprising revelation not only must have caught many a bibliophile off-guard, but also leads to some great dialogue where the likes of Jim Gordon, the original Wonder Girl and Carter Hall rebuke “Blue Boy” and the Dark Knight for a plethora of perceived injustices, such as the American archaeologist emphatically stating just “how sick Carter is of hearing about how you plan for everything, Batman”.

Similarly as stunning is the pulse-pounding entrance of Supergirl, and the almost nonchalant side-punch she subsequently smacks Troy into tomorrow with. The idea of Superman, Kara Zor-El and Bruce Wayne’s alter-ego knuckling down to a no-holds barred bout of fisticuffs against a party of poisoned heroes who have been turned “into the Dark Multiverse versions of themselves” is mouth-watering, until it quickly transpires that intercepting a toxin-laced bat-a-rang hurled by the Blue Beetle probably wasn’t the greatest idea of the Kryptonian’s cousin; “Is someone going to explain to me why all our friends have a metal fetish now?”

Nobly injecting all these non-stop shenanigans with plenty of pace are David Marquez’s scintillating storyboards. Moodily coloured by Alejandro Sanchez, the American artist really manages to imbue this comic’s punch-ups with some palpable impacts. In fact, it’s arguably hard to watch either Troy smacking the seven bells out of Superman or Kara cracking Hawkman squarely on his chiselled jaw, without involuntarily winching at the formidable force such blows would surely create.
Writer: Joshua Williamson, Artist: David Maequez, and Colorist: Alejandro Sanchez

Monday, 16 March 2020

Mississippi Zombie [Part One] - Caliber Comics

MISSISSIPPI ZOMBIE, February 2020
Playing out like a re-run of George A. Romero’s 1982 American horror comedy anthology film “Creepshow”, complete with its own ghoulish narrator, creator Bradley Golden’s “tale of horror based in the rural state of Mississippi” must have delighted any gore fans out there with its mix of grisly mutilations, genuinely touching emotional moments, and last minute acts of desperate bravery. Indeed, despite the brevity of some of this graphic novel’s yarns of brain-munching mayhem, every story will arguably leave an indelible impression upon the mind of its readers, whether it be caused by a hapless soldier suddenly realising he won’t ever be playing video games with his son again, or a heavily bearded local drunk shockingly coming face-to-face with the zombie apocalypse he thought his government were just lying about…

Initiating this plethora of “horror and dismemberment” is Golden’s very own “Mississippi Crossing”, which briefly depicts a trio of tales arguably set during the early days of the Undead uprising. Enthusiastically pencilled by Phil Williams, there’s a disconcertingly gripping terror to be seen in the faces of the figures ‘stumbling’ upon the gore-fest exploding around them, with Private John Hilliard’s brave final stand against a gigantic zombie horde “coming from south of here near Yazoo” proving especially poignant.

Bradley’s penmanship, alongside co-writer Alex Barranco, is equally as heart-breaking in “Grave Times”, which follows the desperate efforts of Theodore Brown to keep his marriage alive despite the fact his wife has become ill with an untreatable sickness. Everyone in this comic’s audience will undoubtedly know what is in store for poor Angela, but what is surprising, and resultantly enthralling, is the change her zombification has upon her devoted husband. Clearly, a very morally-upright and adoring partner, Theodore’s decline into a grave-robber is wonderfully written within the space of just seven-pages, to the point where despite his misguided criminal acts, any bibliophiles will surely feel he deserved better than the grisly fate which ultimately befalls him.

Adding to the grim nature of this particular story are Antonio Acevedo’s layouts, whose heavily pencilled shadowing makes Brown’s world even darker to the perusing eye. Packed full of delicate details, such as the tangible rot on Juan Perez’s coffin lid, this narrative is made all the more haunting by the look in Angela’s eyes as she sees her aghast husband pitifully watching her feast upon a corpse and becomes enraged (or extra-hungry) at the sight; “And just like that, the zombie outbreak in Madison starts.”
Writers: Bradley Golden & Alex Barranco, and Artists: Phil Williams & Antonio Acevedo

Friday, 13 March 2020

Ghostbusters: Year One #2 - IDW Publishing

GHOSTBUSTERS: YEAR ONE No. 2, February 2020
Matching up to Erik Burnham’s intention of including “as much as possible from the original movie”, the former video store manager’s script for Issue Two of “Ghostbusters: Year One” not only must have delighted this supernatural comedy franchise’s fans by revisiting the Boys in Gray’s opening foray in ghost-busting at the New York Public Library. But rather splendidly then depicts a suitably tongue-in-cheek rematch between the proton pack wearing quartet and “the bibliothecary known as Eleanor Twitty” in which brains, as well as a battered copy of Ptolomy’s Cosmographical, undoubtedly wins the day over brawn.

In fact, the vast majority of this twenty-page periodical focuses upon poor Alice Sherman’s frightening confrontation with a “full torso apparition”, and Roger Delacourt’s desperate attempt to get the team back to his library in order to “finish what we started.” Crammed full of “symmetrical book stacking, just like the Philadelphia mass turbulence of 1947”, and a simply stunning splash page by artist Dan Schoening, which rather marvellously captures the sheer spectacular of the elderly spook transforming herself into her utterly hideous, fearsomely fanged other self, this thoroughly enjoyable return to both pastures new and nostalgically familiar must surely have provided most readers with a thoroughly entertaining trip down memory lane.

Similarly as successful, is the American author’s ability to provide plenty of characterful cameos into this comic, with the (re)appearance of Jenny Adams and Bob Douglas proving particularly amusing, as the students somewhat spikily reminisce over Doctor Venkman’s poorly thought out experiment to ascertain psychic gifts; “That maniac electrocuted me. You know? I’ve had weird dreams ever since!” Rather impressively, the “Minnesota writer” even manages to provide some ‘screen time’ to Ray’s much ridiculed “honest-to-goodness”, undersea, unexplained, mass sponge migration.

However, cleverly intermixed with all these nods to its source material, is Burnham’s take on just how Stanz and Spengler were introduced to one another, courtesy of the smart-mouthed Venkman. These particular verbal exchanges could easily have been viewed by some as something of a sedentary sacrilege, yet due to Erik’s ‘spot on’ dialogue, such as Peter’s sassily going to “grab a slice with the Ladies Fencing Team”, as well as Schoening pencilling Egon with a “Doctor Who” length multi-coloured scarf, they arguably fit in with the surrounding canon reasonably neatly.
Written by: Erik Burnham, Art by: Dan Schoening, and Colors by: Luis Antonio Delgado

Thursday, 12 March 2020

Danger Girl #3 - Image Comics

DANGER GIRL #3, August 1998
Considering that this twenty-two page periodical simply doesn’t stop producing pulse-pounding moments of exhilarating action right up until its jaw-droppingly sinister, cliff-hanger of an ending, it is easy to see just why Issue Three of “Danger Girl” saw its sales increase by a whopping forty thousand copies in June 1998. Sure, a small portion of the comic’s 120,588 readers might have found this sense-shattering pace a little too relentless as Abbey Chase and Johnny Barracuda desperately attempt to flee the Peach’s fascist forces with an antique shield, but for the vast majority of their fans J. Scott Campbell and Andy Hartnell’s plot is a tour-de-force as to how to pen adventure comics perfectly.

For starters it soon becomes crystal clear just how fast-thinking this book’s leading ‘sexy female secret agent’ can be, when she utilises both her formidable feminine wiles and impressive improvisation skills to steal an ancient artefact from right under the nose of “the Manimal” whilst ‘enjoying’ an intimate bath with the arms dealer. Surrounded by gun-toting, gas-mask wearing goons, Chase defies all the odds with a well-aimed shot at a chandelier, and subsequently shows she also makes a mean snow sledge driver to boot by outpacing a number of trigger-happy, Hammer Empire operatives; “I race back with the shield, decipher the hieroglyphics, I’m a hero.”

In complete contrast, the collaborative team’s “charismatic” spy, Barracuda, rather delightfully seems to get by through sheer blind luck at times, with the secret agent’s elongated ego compelling him to be far more concerned with his boyish good looks and delivering witty one-liners, than the inherent danger he is clearly surrounded by. Such evident differences in character really helps make this pair a truly humorous partnership to watch, and creates some genuinely laugh-out-loud moments amidst all the storyline’s frantic fighting.

Equally as enjoyable, as well as yet another reason as to why this publication was the fourth best-selling title of the month, are Campbell’s luscious storyboards. Whether it be Abbey doing her best impression of Captain America riding down a snow-laden piste on a shield, or Johnny impressively blazing away at his numerous heavily-armed pursuers with a blowback-operated submachine gun, the Michigan-born artist imbues each and every panel of the publication with plenty of pencilled passion.
Plot: Andy Hartnell & J. Scott Campbell, and Pencils: J. Scott Campbell

Wednesday, 11 March 2020

The Immortal Hulk #24 - Marvel Comics

IMMORTAL HULK No. 24, December 2019
Opening with the ultra-nostalgic origins of Bruce Banner’s alter-ego, the Fantastic Four and the cosmic entity known as Galactus, Al Ewing’s screenplay for Issue Twenty Four of “The Immortal Hulk” probably had many of this comic’s 53,944 readers settling down to what they thought would be another enjoyable re-tread of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s classic tale from the Sixties. However, no sooner has Rick Jones been saved from the “experimental detonation of a gamma bomb” by a bespectacled scientist than the British writer flings his storyline forward to modern day events, so as to subject his audience to some of the goriest imagery arguably yet seen within the covers of a “Rated T+” publication; “…Was that necessary?”

Indeed, witnessing the green goliath simply pulling away the rapidly dissolving flesh from his horribly mutilated face probably left any hapless Hulk-Heads perusing this twenty-page periodical for the first time utterly dumbstruck. Astoundingly however, so over-the-top a demonstration of the human mutate’s indomitable will to survive is simply the beginning, as the grotesque, one-eyed titular character then proceeds to hurl his foetid epidermis at a nearby soldier and watch as it literally burns into their brain with a disconcerting sizzling sound effect.

Liquefying army grunts definitely seems to be the flavour of the day for the former “U.S. Avengers” author, with at least two more of General Fortean’s followers outrageously being reduced to unrecognisable puddles of blood and bone before “The Steel Throne” concludes. In fact, it seems pretty clear that penciler Joe Bennett is having the time of his life drawing all this spine-chilling bodily mutilation, especially when it only comes to an end following the apparently ‘dead’ Hulk still somehow managing to retain his fighting spirit long enough to fatally push one of his thumbs straight through the Abomination’s right eye in a truly grisly display of gratuitous violence.

Sadly though, after such a pulse-pounding display of pugilism, Ewing’s penmanship does debatably turn a little too intergalactic for so ‘grounded’ a member of the Marvel Universe as the Hulk. Followers of the invulnerable “World-Breaker” could probably see “Bruce Banner of Earth” being the last survivor of the Universe, and resultantly being “baptised in the energies of creation” in much the same way as Galan of Taa was before becoming Galactus. But to then scribe him tearing the Sentience of the Cosmos in half and eating him seems rather far-fetched even for so super-strong an anti-hero…
Writer: Al Ewing, Penciler: Joe Bennett, and Colorist: Paul Mounts

Tuesday, 10 March 2020

Black Terror #5 - Dynamite Entertainment

BLACK TERROR No. 5, February 2020
There can surely be little doubt that Max Bemis’ penmanship for Issue Five of “Black Terror” will unquestionably catch a few fans of Richard E. Hughes’ co-creation completely off-guard, whether they were anticipating a somewhat hostile reaction to the pharmicist's long-overdue visit to his beloved “slip up”, Myrna, or Robby’s evident anger at a seventy-four year-old Bob Benton finally coming to see him having ignored his ‘cloned’ son for most of the heavily bearded, drug-taking deadbeat’s life; “When you despise everything around you, near-invulnerability ain’t no blessing. Thanks, Pops.” In addition, this twenty-two page periodical packs a conclusion which is not only shockingly sad in the extreme, but will irrefutably cause those who witness it to yearn for the far less emotionally complicated days of the Golden Age of Comics…

To begin with however, the New Yorker’s narrative commences with a fairly bog-standard scene depicting “the cosmonaut unaged” returning “to find the love of his life withering away” as a white-haired spinster living in a somewhat unremarkable abode. Romantically stage-managed, with artist Ruairi Coleman imbuing the titular character with all the innocent-faced, sweet-smiling charm of a bespectacled Clark Kent, this tenderly-pencilled introduction provides the tale with so totally disarming an opening, that it isn’t until the female science fiction novelist suddenly offloads upon her former lover with decades of pent-up angst that it becomes clear the American author is actually going to take his audience on quite the poignant passage.

Benton’s interaction with his petulant offspring is similarly infused with impassioned speeches concerning the unfairness of life and a modicum of physical conflict. Yet whereas Bob’s poor relationship with Myrna is clearly based upon the sense of betrayal the woman feels at being abandoned by the Black Terror’s alter-ego upon giving birth, the costumed vigilante’s connection to his son is swiftly revealed to be one of almost equals, where both men are constantly struggling with anxiety and depression on account of the losses they have suffered. This bond eventually leads to this comic’s fateful finale, as a world-weary war-veteran implores his super-powered spawn to take over his infamous crime-fighting mantle.

Such word-heavy, dialogue driven sequences doesn’t mean that this publication is entirely devoid of pulse-pounding pace though, as Bemis still somehow manages to crowbar in a fantastically ultra-violent flashback sequence into the mix. In fact, Doctor Disgusting’s bizarre experimentation upon his nemesis’ reproductive system, and the Nazi scientist’s subsequent horribly drawn-out demise in a laboratory fire, would undeniably have been the highlight of this tale if not for this book’s final page…
The regular cover art of "BLACK TERROR" No. 5 by Rahzzah