Thursday, 30 April 2020

Errand Boys #2 - Image Comics

ERRAND BOYS No. 2, November 2018
Firmly focusing upon Jace Lopaz’s first interstellar errand with his younger half-brother, Tawnk, D.J. Kirkbridge’s narrative for Issue Two of “Errand Boys” must have had a fair share of its 2,957 strong audience repeatedly face-palming themselves in humorous horror at some of the monumentally poor decisions the “hard-worn scoundrel” makes, and then laughing out loud at the fun-packed consequences of those self-same catastrophic choices. In fact, the thirty-year-old human makes such a complete mess of his mission to “land on dumpy planet, snag baby bird-thing, bring it back to old Ebb, [and] collect money” that it’s incredible to believe the delivery man has managed to survive amidst the vastness of space single-handedly for as many years as he already has; “What’s this bit about Mauslio being the preferred campground for dirt pirates..?”

Fortunately however, such a complete disregard for the safety, legality and even morality of any given situation allows the American author to conjure up a plethora of truly amusing set-pieces for this comic’s audience to enjoy, whether it be simply young Tawnk being violently ill in the cockpit of his guardian’s spaceship following its sling-shot launch, an exhilarating flight for freedom from the custody of law enforcement officer Bradley, or a glorious foot-chase across a deadly planet with naught for protection but a “water-damaged cardboard box and tape.” These continuous calamities really do a great job of quickly endearing the young, blue-skinned alien to this book’s bibliophiles, and also, surprisingly, produce a similar response concerning Jace, despite the so-called responsible caretaker’s somewhat callous incompetence.

Adding to this charming concoction of high-risk jinks and pulse-pounding pursuits, are Nikos Koutsis’ excellent layouts, which are simply packed full of detail and geek-related trivia. Indeed, the Greek artist’s sense-shattering space race to evade the long arm of the inter-galactic law is worth this comic’s cover price alone, courtesy of some superb cameos by a time-travelling British Police Telephone Box, a distinctly Corellian-looking damaged light freighter, an Imperial Star Destroyer, the partially-recognisable remains of a Tie-Fighter, and a certain Constitution-class Federation starship.

Perhaps this publication’s most poignant piece though is its remarkably well titled “Look Out! It’s A Backup Story”, which really helps bring the plight of the significantly endangered Vazgogs into sharp relief. Unable to do anything more than watch her mate be brutally gunned down by an ambushing posse of pirates, this tear-jerker of a tale depicts both the sheer emotional anguish felt by the main story's lead antagonist, as well as the birth of the baby bird the Lopaz brothers have disagreeably abducted from its distraught mother.
Written by: D.J. Kirkbride, and Drawn & Colored by: Nikos Koutsis

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Savage Sword Of Conan #8 - Marvel Comics

SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN No. 8, October 2019
It’s a shame that Jim Zub’s script for Issue Eight of “Savage Sword Of Conan” saw the title’s circulation fall by approximately fifteen hundred copies in August 2019, as despite “Fortune Favours The Bold” being predominantly set around a gambling table, the comic still manages to contain plenty of tension, not to mention a ridiculously violent culmination. Indeed, with its marvellous mix of bluff, chance, mysterious deities, and cold-blooded treachery, it would arguably not be too difficult for many of this book’s 21,572 readers to imagine Conan creator Robert E. Howard penning a short tale along similar lines.

For starters, the Canadian author doesn’t fall into the trap of suddenly imbuing the titular character with all the card-shark skills of his opponent, a man who has “been stacking thirteens longer than you’ve been alive.” Instead, the barbarian seems to start winning at Serpent’s Bluff simply though the good graces of the Godsend, “a fist-sized emerald enshrined in the Demon’s Den.” Admittedly, some bibliophiles might see such a plot device as being rather contrived, but fortunately the “deranged run of luck” which leads to the Cimmerian ridding Kero the Callous of “every jewel and coin you’re carrying” soon deserts him, leaving a destitute barbarian suddenly facing “ a considerable debt with the Demon’s Den.”

Trapped and angry with himself for being played the fool, the ferociousness of the Sword and Sorcery hero’s response is as savagely bloody as it is unsurprising, with Conan determined to bring down as many of his opponents as his sharp sword will let him, before he himself is felled. This unrestrained fortitude taps into the adventurer’s panther-like personality wonderfully, especially when it depicts the eventually beaten warrior making a beeline for Kero’s head; “A debt would indeed be settled this night. But its payments would be made in blood… Any blood would do… just so long as it dripped from Conan’s blade.”

Greatly adding to the intensity of so pulse-pounding an action sequence, is Patch Zircher’s artwork, which genuinely provides the fighting Cimmerian’s facial features with a wolfish snarl. Weaving, cutting, stabbing, slashing, punching and kicking, the American penciller somehow creates such an audible cacophony of screams, shouts, yells and cries with his illustrations, that some within this comic’s audience may well have found themselves winching throughout the entirety of the barbarian’s nail-bitingly gory rampage.
Writer: Jim Zub, Artist: Patch Zircher, and Color Artist: Java Tartaglia

Tuesday, 28 April 2020

Savage Sword Of Conan #7 - Marvel Comics

SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN No. 7, September 2019
Apparently attempting to transform this comic’s titular character into “Conan the Gambler”, at least according to editor Mark Basso, Jim Zub’s narrative for Issue Seven of “The Savage Sword Of Conan” must have bemused many of its 23,020 readers with its somewhat surreal explanation as to the intricacies of the “deceptively simple card game”, Serpent’s Bluff. Indeed, considering that this comic contains an advertisement for any interested parties to actually buy a physical copy of the game “developed by the folks at Monster Fight Club”, it probably entered some uncharitable bibliophiles’ heads that this entire twenty-page periodical was little more than a sales pitch.

However, there is much more to the Canadian writer’s tale of political intrigue set within the deadly streets of Shadizar the Wicked, than a simple marketing ploy, as the gory demise of some black-hearted knaves-turned-assassins attests to within this book’s opening scene; “Twist yer gaze an’ move on, or you’ll get one in the gut right next!” Blood-soaked, as it is shockingly violent, the young Cimmerian’s liberation of Maraudus Mahtir could arguably have been ‘lifted’ straight from the pages of a Robert E. Howard novel, especially when its clear the barbarian is at least partially motivated by the gold he is promised for saving the bearded merchant’s life, rather than just a basic desire to rescue any hapless fool he might drunkenly stumble upon.

Zub’s detailed description of the hearty yet potentially lethal Demon’s Den, resplendent with its ‘spicy incense wafting through the air’ and ‘glittering dancers writhing to strange music’, is also arguably well worth this publication’s cover price. It is very easy to imagine the still somewhat unsophisticated adventurer’s awe at seeing so decadent a gambling hall as that which his “brother” brings him to, when Conan momentarily witnesses both its pleasurable and terrifying entertainments within the space of just a few well-drawn panels.

Providing this comic with plenty of visual stimulus are Patch Zircher’s storyboards, which help imbue the somewhat sedentary nature of Mahtir’s card game against Kero the Callous with all the tension so serious a confrontation could warrant. The American artist’s pencilling proves particularly prodigious when it comes to illustrating Jim’s description of the various “special cards that add complications” to the high-stakes game of chance, and the subtle touch of the story’s mysterious killer who leaves the sword and sorcery hero “trapped and confused” upon Maraudus’ shockingly sudden death.
Writer: Jim Zub, Artist: Patch Zircher, and Color Artist: Java Tartaglia

Monday, 27 April 2020

Astonishing Tales #4 - Marvel Comics

ASTONISHING TALES No. 4, February 1971
Purportedly pitting the Jungle Lord against the Savage Land’s Sun God, at least according to its sensationally-sketched John Buscema cover illustration, Gerry Conway’s script for Issue Four of “Astonishing Tales” probably caught a fair few of the comic’s loyal readers somewhat off-guard in February 1971 due to the sheer complexity of its plot. Indeed, having initially appeared to be a simple ten-page tale depicting Ka-Zar and his friends attempting to thwart Zaladane “from slaughtering a group of peaceful villagers”, the Brooklyn-born writer’s storyline suddenly involves the capturing of a bedazzling unicorn, an attack by “one ponderous Tyrannosaurus Rex”, and the sudden rise to godhood of Garokk, the Petrified Man.

Undeniably adding to this fantastical feast for the eyes is Barry Smith’s exquisite artwork, which quite beautifully depicts both the soaring savagery of the High Priestess and the fearsome fireballs her pterodactyl-flying warriors bring down with devastating effect upon the City of the Vala-Kuri. The British illustrator’s menagerie of Savage Land wildlife is especially well-drawn, with the prehistoric King of Lizards and dazzling horned horse both appearing suitably formidable in their own unique ways; “Hold Zabu -- Ka-Zar claims this prize! The fabled unicorn is the swiftest of beasts ---“

Infinitely more hilarious, at least until is disconcertingly dark final splash page featuring plenty of Fourth Reich swastikas, is Larry Lieber’s tale concerning Doctor Doom quite preposterously deciding to take a holiday at “the world famous Riviera” whilst his peasants briskly rebuild his castle, following its destruction during Prince Rudolfo’s failed rebellion. Busy battling society’s elite at the roulette wheel, or effortlessly thwarting an attempt to steal his famous armour by a pair of hopeless burglars, this ludicrous scenario is surprisingly counteracted by the far more menacing appearance of the Red Skull in Latveria, and his bizarre entourage of “international would-be world conquerors… during World War Two.”

Proficiently pencilled by Wally Wood, the Exiles are the highlight of “The Invaders”, with the likes of Baldini, Hauptman, Krushki and Cadavus, Monarch of the Murder Chair, all being given their very own panels within which to exhibit their variety of super-powered attacks. Doom too is given plenty of sheet space with which to shine by “one of Mad's founding cartoonists”, repeatedly demonstrating his advanced technology’s superiority over the international resort’s unimaginative visitors by means of an electrical zap, a devastating punch, and the creation of a casino-wrecking swirling vortex.
Writer: Gerard Conway, Artist: Barry Smith, and Inking: Sam Grainger

Saturday, 25 April 2020

Savage Sword Of Conan #6 - Marvel Comics

SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN No. 6, August 2019
As “all-new self-contained” stories go, Meredith Finch’s narrative for Issue Six of “Savage Sword Of Conan” probably entertained most of its 24,046 strong audience in June 2019. For whilst the twenty page periodical lives up to its front cover’s “parental advisory” in depicting the titular character as an unstoppable killing machine who is capable of mutilating a never-ending carousel of supposed close combat champions, it’s rather straightforward script still provides an enthralling adventure, which even includes a moment of mirth towards its end; “I look forward to seeing the product of our union. Our children will be magnificent! Wait! What are you..? No! You can’t just leave.”

To begin with, the Cimmerian is initially found drinking in a public house somewhere along the Kezankian Pass, and despite it being somewhat implausible that the experienced traveller would so willingly accept a flagon of ale from a total stranger, this unwise move soon results in the wretched wanderer becoming an unconscious prisoner aboard a sea vessel sailing along the Ilbars River. This turn of events is arguably not the most innovative of plot points to befall the sword and sorcery hero, but it does rather succinctly then set up the partially comatose warrior’s involvement as fighting fodder for a great championship.

Indeed, having been repeatedly sedated during his journey to the cells of the General of Akif, the “past writer of Wonder Woman for DC Comics” pleasantly shows Conan using his brain over brawn, by faking his stupor so as to “prevent another dose of the strength-sapping drug.” This strategy sees the Cimmerian desperately trying to free his head of cobwebs and his limbs of lethargy at the same time as fighting in a most lethal-looking arena, and in many ways it is a shame that “the fires of adrenalin burn the last vestiges of the drug from the warrior’s veins” as quickly as he does, for nothing then even comes close to injuring Robert E. Howard’s creation for the rest of the comic.

Providing this book with some eye-watering death scenes are Luke Ross’ layouts, which capture all the savage ferocity and barbarity once might expect for a publication predominantly set within the confines of a gladiatorial tournament. In fact, it’s somewhat debatable that Conan has ever been shown as being quite so vicious, as he mercilessly stabs his fellow contestants through the eye, literally cuts them in half and decapitates them in his strenuous efforts to once again meet the treacherous Thorgeir.
Writer: Meredith Finch, Artist: Luke Ross, and Color Artist: Nolan Woodward

Friday, 24 April 2020

Marvel Team-Up #20 - Marvel Comics

MARVEL TEAM-UP No. 20, April 1974
Rammed with all the “monsters -- mayhem -- and mile-high murder” it’s cover illustration proudly promised, there couldn’t have been many Marvelites in April 1974 who were disappointed with Len Wein’s narrative for Issue Twenty of “Marvel Team-Up”. In fact, considering that this nineteen-page periodical’s plot contains a cataclysmic conclusion to Vincent Stegron’s spurious claim of ownership towards Manhattan Island “in the name of the Holy Dinossssaur Empire”, the lightning fast athleticism of the Black Panther, and an exhilaratingly dangerous appearance by a decidedly reckless Mary Jane Watson, it is incredible that the American author managed to cram into his script as much pulse-pounding excitement as he did.

For starters, Spider-Man’s punch-laden battle with the Dinosaur Man above New York City sets this publication’s prompt-paced tone perfectly, as Peter Parker’s alter-ego smacks his mutated foe about the head with a series of well-placed wallops. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this early confrontation ultimately doesn’t end well for Web-head, but the fact the costumed crimefighter is ultimately defeated by Stegron because the villain can “rend your puny webbing assunder -- and ussse my tail -- to strike” provides an important plot point, as it results in this tale’s lead protagonists having to brew a batch of unstable stronger webbing before they can face the geneticist in a final showdown.

In addition, rather than take the easy route of simply depicting a lengthy sequence involving the “accursssed Jack-in-the-Box” T’Challa and Spidey fighting a horde of dinosaurs, the Shazam Award-winner instead elects to weave a secondary yarn throughout the action, involving Mary Jane Watson desperately searching for Parker after discovering the Daily Bugle photographer “hasn’t been at his apartment since yesterday”. This pursuit of her friend quite logically takes the “redhead” to the over-sized lizards’ stampede threatening Broadway and places the heroine directly in the path of a toppling brontosaurus; “No--! She’s standing right where that blasted dinosaur is gonna land --”

Sal Buscema’s pencils are also fully able to imbue this comic with all the exhilarating dynamism Wein’s script requires, especially when it comes to Stegron’s truly vicious swipes with his spiked tail. Whether it be the Black Panther’s superhuman suppleness as he acrobatically swings beneath a Quin-Jet in order to catch a falling Spider-Man, numerous dinosaurs rampaging through Central Park or Watson’s anguished horror when she realises her headstrong wilfulness has placed her in deadly danger, the Brooklyn-born artist brings each and every sequence to sense-shattering life.
Writer: Len Wein, Artist: Sal Buscema, and Inkers: Frank Giacoia & Mike Esposito

Thursday, 23 April 2020

The Immortal Hulk #32 - Marvel Comics

IMMORTAL HULK No. 32, May 2020
Firmly fixated upon the frighteningly formidable mind-control powers of Xemnu, rather than debatably progressing this ongoing series’ overall narrative, Al Ewing was probably right to publically verbalise his gratefulness to “those… who are picking up the book and reading things they don’t agree with.” For whilst “Hulk Is Hulk” contains some minor plot points, such as Charlene McGowan’s apparent ability to reject the intergalactic criminal’s false memories, courtesy of the doctor having “spent a lot of time working out what was me and what wasn’t”, the vast majority of this twenty-page periodical simply consists of a carousel of non-stop dialogues and discourses which arguably do little more than reaffirm the white-furred alien’s success at “posing as a television character.”

Perhaps therefore this comic’s one redeeming feature is its all-too brief ‘look-in’ upon the dastardly doings of Roxxon Energy Corp’s CEO, Dario Agger, whose willingness to sacrifice his loyal killer Travers, so as to sate the appetite of his extra-terrestrial business partner, is as chillingly quick a decision as the hired gun’s death appears excruciatingly painful. Indeed, the relationship between the Minotaur and the “would-be world conqueror” is arguably perfectly penned, with Xemnu’s carnivorous need to consume human flesh there and then being all too readily accepted by the mentally unstable Greek mutate as simply some sort of business transaction; “Sorry Travers…I’ve only got access to the one Hulk. Supply and demand. Old friend. Supply and demand.”

Equally as insane, though debatably far less successfully delivered, is the British writer’s depiction of Bruce Banner and his internal struggle to contain the scientist’s ever-angry Devil Hulk persona. It is quite clear that the nuclear physicist is unwell when he seemingly threatens Rick Jones for simply calling him by his middle name and not Robert, having been found by Captain Mar-Vell’s old side-kick damaging a glass window in one of Shadow Base Site G’s bathrooms. Yet the Eisner Award-nominee later returns to the self-same scene supposedly just to reinforce the message that “Banner smash.”

Joe Bennett is also a little off his stride with some of this comic’s pencilling. True, the Brazilian artist does a grand job of drawing the wide-eyed, almost slack-jawed, gamma expert initially, and his illustration of Xemnu’s cybernetic stomach slicers is disturbingly detailed. But many of his faces, most notably those of Doc Samson and, towards the end of the book, Banner himself, are disconcertingly inconsistent, with several appearing to have been hurriedly sketched simply to help pad out the word-heavy panels.
The regular cover art of "IMMORTAL HULK" No. 32 by Alex Ross

Wednesday, 22 April 2020

Astonishing Tales #3 - Marvel Comics

ASTONISHING TALES No. 3, December 1970
Featuring the fascinating five-hundred year-old origin story of the Petrified Man, as well as the highly convoluted conclusion to an attack upon Doctor Doom’s Latverian throne, there probably wasn’t much time for this bi-monthly’s audience to catch their breath when first reading the comic in February 1971. For whilst Gerry Conway’s “excursion flight into the timeless world” of the Savage Land is certainly more sedentary in its pace than that of Larry Lieber’s cataclysmic destruction of Castle Doom and revelation as to “the secret of the Faceless One”, neither of this book’s two ten-page stories really provide much in the way of an action-stopping pause.

Happily however, such momentum doesn’t mean that any part of this publication is 'padded out' with superfluous fight scenes, as Gerry Conway’s enthralling script to “Back To The Savage Land” strongly attests. Firmly focused upon the tragic creation of a shipwrecked mariner into “a living avatar of the stone god Garokk”, as well as sensationally summarising the desperate desire of Queen Priestess Zaladane to have her Sun-People conquer the prehistoric preserve, this tale’s sole disappointment is that it has no sheet space with which penciller Barry Smith can depict the annihilation of Tongah’s village by pterodactyl-riding attackers.

Regrettably, Lieber’s plot conveying the final stages of Prince Rudolfo’s revolution in Latverian similarly suffers from a lack of panels, as Doom finally manages to bring an end to the threat of the Doomsman by simply impelling “my mental energy into his cerebral apparatus” through “a process of mind fusion”. Considering all the utter mayhem and wanton ruin Victor’s mechanical creation has already caused in this story’s past, it seems somewhat strange that the “would-be conqueror” didn’t put just such an end to the heavily-bandaged robot a lot sooner; “The Doomsman is beyond all reason -- all entreat! There is but one to stop him!”

So minor a quibble though really is nit-picking, especially when measured alongside the sheer breadth of Larry’s extraordinary narrative. Exploding human replicas, alien life forms piloting human-shaped lifeless vehicles, “molecules that expand upon contact with air”, a bombardment by anti-particles and even the teleportation to another dimension, are all crowbarred into this pulse-pounding adventure, and give Wally Wood plenty of sense-shattering opportunities with which to demonstrate his remarkable drawing skills.
Writer: Gerry Conway, Artist: Barry Smith, and Inking: Sam Grainger

Tuesday, 21 April 2020

The Immortal Hulk #31 - Marvel Comics

IMMORTAL HULK No. 31, April 2020
Brilliantly bookending Issue Thirty One of “The Immortal Hulk” with a fascinating insight into the distinctly dark origins of Charlene McGowan, Al Ewing probably still managed to dishearten a fair few of this comic's 49,545 readers on account of him having to significantly cut down his coverage of the titular character’s highly-anticipated confrontation with the extra-terrestrial Xemnu as a result. Indeed, considering the build-up to Bruce Banner’s alter-ego matching brawn with the cybernetic alien, this publication’s eight-page long ‘fight footage' is frustratingly brief, especially when their frightful fracas is cut-short without a clear victor by the “science woman” translocating the green Goliath back to U.S. Hulk Operations within the blink of an eye.

Admittedly, this momentary displeasure bodes well for a rematch in a future edition of the ongoing series, and quite wonderfully plays into Dario Agger’s fiendish plans to portray “Xemnu from the Magic Planet” as a victim to the American media. But it is arguably such a pity that the pugilism couldn’t have continued for at least a sheet or two more so as to cover the arrival of Crusher Creel and his eagerness to test out his ability to absorb the engines of Gamma Flight's high-tech flying ship; “Ha. Know what I like best about these powers of mine? I got ‘em off a Trickster God. So it ain’t like there’s rules, exactly.”

Mercifully, the aforementioned flashback to Doctor McGowan’s time working for the Kingpin at a Mutant Growth Hormone (MGH) laboratory is thoroughly enthralling, and doubtless helped a lot of Hulk-Heads better understand the scientist’s desperate desire to once again work ‘legitimately’ when offered the opportunity by General Reginald Fortean. In addition, despite the fact she is clearly medically abusing “our source for mutant DNA”, Glowboy, the woman still manages to imbue her criminal actions with an aura of kindness, worrying that the young mutant “always looked tired.”

Regrettably however, Charlene’s scenes do somewhat disappoint when it comes to their artwork, with Javier Rodriguez’s pencils proving a bit too simplistic-looking when compared to the much more animated illustrations of Joe Bennett. It is abundantly clear from the pulse-pounding panels depicting Daredevil bursting through the drug centre’s sunroof that Ewing’s “old partner in crime from Royals” can produce some sense-shattering sequences. Yet somehow, the Spaniard’s sketches of McGowan debatably lack the dynamism Bennett provides the researcher with later on when she is talking down an enraged Hulk.
The regular cover art of "IMMORTAL HULK" No. 31 by Alex Ross

Sunday, 19 April 2020

Danger Girl #7 - Image Comics

DANGER GIRL #7, February 2001
Weighing in with a hefty forty-nine pages, not including its utterly awesome wrap-a-round cover illustration, J. Scott Campbell and Andy Hartnell’s story for Issue Seven of “Danger Girl” was arguably well worth the wait when the publication finally hit the spinner racks in October 2000. Indeed, pausing only long enough for Johnny Barracuda and Sydney Savage to enjoy a significantly long smooch, this comic’s pulse-pounding panels are relentless in their depiction of mayhem and violence, as Abbey Chase leads her friends on a final face-off against the monstrous machinations of the Hammer organisation; “Ahem. Um, just here to save your lives, but if I’m interrupting…”

Happily however, interspersed amongst all the gun-play, high-kicks, cracking whips and mystical mumbo jumbo, are plenty of enthralling plot points too, most noticeably that of Agent Zero and his ‘ninja-twin’, Assassin X. The pair’s sense-shattering display of martial arts and swordsmanship is as riveting as their razor-sharp weapons are lethal, yet despite the deadly duo’s remorseless close combat, their barbed verbal exchanges persistently reveal more detail about the two disciples of the Dragon, and their widely different paths in life.

Perhaps this book’s biggest surprise though, is just how “the remnants of the Nazi Empire” and their Hammer Fuhrer get their decidedly well-deserved comeuppance. Armed with the Sword of Sovereignty, the Helmet of Second Sight, and the Shield of Immunity, it genuinely looks as if the goose-stepping villains and their geriatric leader will become masters of the world at long last. But this comic’s collaborative creators then quite wonderfully turn the tables on the bad guys by having them all, including little Timmy Nelson of Youth Group 214, get roasted alive by the demonic “leader of the Atlantian Army in the days before Atlantis was destroyed”, who secretly resides within the “evil frickin armour.”

Such a cataclysmic conclusion really shows off Campbell’s imagination, with the Michigan-born artist pencilling some truly gobsmackingly good scenes, such as Major Maxim gunning down a horde of undead ghouls with a vehicle’s heavy machinegun, and then having his arm sliced clean off, courtesy of the Atlantean deity’s green-glowing sword. Chase and Natalia Kassle’s battle is also extremely well drawn, with the combatants featuring in some superbly detailed splash pages, as well as a super-exciting helicopter attack against Aticleas, which sees the ethereal entity once again drowned beneath a wall of ocean waves.
Story: J. Scott Campbell & Andy Hartnell, Script: Andy Hartnell, and Drawings: J. Scott Campbell

Saturday, 18 April 2020

The Immortal Hulk #30 - Marvel Comics

IMMORTAL HULK No. 30, March 2020
Chock-full of more Kaiju than even the most ardent Japanese giant monster film fan could arguably ever imagine, Al Ewing’s script for Issue Thirty of “The Immortal Hulk” must have seemed like ‘manna from heaven’ for the majority of its 45,233 readers. For although the twenty page-periodical initially begins with a somewhat disconcerting discourse between Gamma Flight’s remaining members, as Puck, Titania and the Absorbing Man play cards over the refrigerated corpse of dead team-mate Walter Langkowski, it’s plot quickly shifts gear to cover “four giant monsters on the rampage -- including the one… destroying the Route 60 Interchange.”

What follows is just phenomenal action-packed penmanship, with the British writer cutting loose upon Phoenix with a quartet of fearsomely fanged behemoths, and drilling straight down to the enthralling terror the common person must feel when faced with such overwhelming destructive power. Indeed, despite this comic containing some awesome-looking, pulse-pounding pugilism from some of the Marvel Universe’s heaviest hitters such as Doc Samson and Mary MacPherran, it is arguably poor elderly Murray’s terrifying headlong flight down the darkening stairwells of the Arizona Herald building which is perhaps this publication’s most horrifying highlight.

Of course, there are some seriously spectacular moments to behold elsewhere within this book, not least of which is Titania choking a giant, lava-spewing amphibian with the crushed remains of an aeroplane, or Leonard striking another huge bullfrog-like entity so hard with his fists that “that sound -- like a clap of thunder -- that was its skull cracking --” But these sense-shattering sequences don’t quite convey the utter panic of the city’s pedestrians, as they desperately flee for safety, some with babes in their arms, whilst being ruthlessly eaten alive by large leech-like organisms; “I -- I can’t describe what I’m seeing --”

Packing each and every panel with dynamic pencilling is Joe Bennett, whose attention to detail makes the utterly insane obliteration of the metropolis even more engrossing as its demolition unfolds. Many artists would debatably be happy with simply depicting such memorable titans of annihilation such as Roxxon Bio-Asset #PXK004: “Bradbury”, but the Brazilian takes his work even further by dutifully picking out every individual ceiling lighting unit inside the numerous floors of each fast-falling multi-storey office building…
The regular cover art of "IMMORTAL HULK" No. 30 by Alex Ross

Friday, 17 April 2020

Batman/Superman [2019] #7 - DC Comics

BATMAN/SUPERMAN No. 7, April 2020
"The first chapter of a two-part epic featuring the work of artist Nick Derington”, Joshua Williamson’s script for Issue Seven of “Batman/Superman” must have pleased those within its 31,519 strong audience who were not fans of Brian Michael Bendis’ almost arbitrary destruction of Kandor within the covers of “The Man Of Steel” limited series. For whilst the Californian writer doesn’t go so far as to simply ignore, reverse or retcon the mass “murdering [of] the entire Kryptonian city", he does seemingly set General Zod on a course which might actually see the villain do some good for a change; “Our people deserved better than to meet an unceremonious slaughter by that mongrel Rogol Zaar.”

In fact, much of the ‘draw’ with the American author’s narrative surprisingly comes from this story’s rather enthralling role reversal of not only Robert Bernstein’s super-powered co-creation, but also that of Batman’s arch-nemesis, Ra's al Ghul, as well. Desperately determined to see his once proud race returned from beyond the grave, Dru-Zod’s motivations for invading “the Lost Temple of Quetzalcoatl” to reach the life-restoring properties of a Lazarus pit seem perfectly laudable. However, equally as admirable in their actions is the League of Assassins’ founder, who readily realises that the General’s grief may well be blinding the Kryptonian to the fact that “we don’t know what the Lazarus pits will do to the Kandorians.”

Stuck in between this marvellous mess of morals are the titular characters, who despite an action-packed start at the gravesite of Clay Ramsay, are predominantly haplessly held on the side-line as little more than interested witnesses to the Teutonic chess game playing out before their eyes. True, Batman manages to once again show his physical prowess against the Demon’s Head when the eco-terrorist foolishly surmises he’ll only be facing Superman at Stryker’s Island. Yet once this bout of fisticuffs is brought to a disappointingly quick end, the ‘dynamic duo’ become little more than observers who accompany Ghul on his quest to ensure the sanctity of “the lifeblood of my legacy.”

Adding an interesting extra dimension to the story-telling process are Derington’s layouts, which certainly provide plenty of pulse-pounding pace to the twenty-two page periodical. Whether it be the double-splash of a shattered Kandor falling beneath the ugly visage of Zaar, the Dark Knight trading blows with a synthetic-sabre wielding cult leader, or Zod hurling about the battered remnants of the League of Lazarus, the artist gives any perusing bibliophile plenty of dynamic detail to keep them hooked.
Writer: Joshua Williamson, Artist: Nick Derington, and Colorist: Dave McCaig

Thursday, 16 April 2020

Batman: The Adventures Continue #2 - DC Comics

BATMAN: THE ADVENTURES CONTINUE No. 2, April 2020
Hurling its audience straight into the aftermath of Lex Luthor catching the Dark Knight rummaging through the super-villain’s secret scientific laboratory in Gotham City, Alan Burnett and Paul Dini’s script to Chapter Two of “Batman: The Adventures Continue” must have delighted the vast majority of its readers with its fast-paced fisticuffs and surprise conclusion. In fact, the revelation as to what became of Superman following his battle on the far side of the moon with Brainiac genuinely must have caused a few bibliophiles to drop their jaws in amazement.

To begin with however, Bruce Wayne’s alter-ego must first escape the hydraulically-enhanced clutches of Metropolis’ “expert engineer”, and considering that the Caped Crusader only “has about ten seconds of consciousness left” before the evil mastermind crushes his neck with his exo-suit, things look as bleak as they ever have for the crimefighter’s survival. Enjoyably though, the narrative for “Hardware” shows Batman as the consummate quick-thinker, rather just a hero who resolves his problems with punches, and whilst his utilisation of Brainiac’s severed head is arguably a little contrived, the resultant effect of witnessing Luthor being blasted halfway across an airport is very gratifying.

Just as satisfying is the writing pair’s decision to have Alfred Pennyworth unknowingly spot the flaw in Lex’s invulnerable giant robot, as opposed to the world’s greatest detective figuring it all out on his lonesome. The butler’s observation that the automaton “even has room for a co-pilot” immediately unlocks the key in Wayne’s mind as to the mighty machine’s fatal weakness. But again, the bibliophile is kept completely in the shade, if not deliberately wrong-footed, by Batman’s somewhat surreal Obi-Wan Kenobi impersonation of “That’s no cockpit. That’s a battery.”

Making this delicious collaborative confection even sweeter is Ty Templeton’s artwork, which perfectly replicates both the look and feel of the "Batman: The Animated Series”. The Caped Crusader’s subsequent sky-battle against a seemingly fearful Luthor whilst wearing his heavily armoured Bat-Bot suit is as pulse-pounding as the damage it causes to Lex’s aeroplane is severe, and doubtless took many perusing this “digital first” comic book back to their time watching “Fox Kids” in 1992; “On my way my friend. Faster than a speeding bullet.”
Writers: Alan Burnett & Paul Dini, Pencils & Inks: Ty Templeton, and Colors: Monica Kubina

Wednesday, 15 April 2020

Marvel Team-Up #19 - Marvel Comics

MARVEL TEAM-UP No. 19, March 1974
For those Marvelites lucky enough to witness Len Wein’s “villain-event of the year” in March 1974, it was probably abundantly clear straight from this publication’s opening, that the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Famer wasn’t going to worry too much about his action-packed adventure’s preamble. Indeed, just as soon as Issue Nineteen of “Marvel Team-Up” starts, its audience is immediately launched into an adrenaline-driven jump off of a S.H.I.E.L.D. transport plane flying over “the seemingly endless expanse of ice that is Antarctica” and then a subsequent web-slinging battle with “a denizen of the Triassic Age.”

Of course, such pulse-pounding exploits are momentarily interrupted by a brief collection of flashback panels depicting Doctor Curt Connors' desperately urgent request for Spider-Man “to go to the Savage Land -- And find Vincent Stegron!” But this somewhat ominous interlude is arguably as concise as the one-armed scientist’s engineered explanation behind just how his laboratory assistant happened to acquire a dinosaur extract capable of rewriting the man’s DNA, will be familiar to fans of the Lizard’s origin story; “We were conducting experiments in cell-regeneration… experiments similar in nature to those I’d attempted many years ago --”

Disappointingly though, despite the highly enjoyable appearance of both Ka-Zar and Zabu, such contrivances continue to plague an otherwise sense-shattering script, following the lead protagonists falling foul of a Swamp-Men raiding party. Outnumbered, netted and unexpectedly easily clubbed from behind, the Lord of the Hidden Jungle, the “last of the raging sabretooths” and Peter Parker’s alter-ego, are taken to face the judgement of a mutated Stegron in the savages’ village. However, having ridiculously freed themselves from their bonds, courtesy of a sharp spear-tip coming a little too close to Kevin Plunder’s ropes, the trio somehow manage to defeat an entire settlement full of warriors, having been bested by less than a dozen just a few moments before…

To make matters worse, Wein then reveals that the Dinosaur Man has somehow learnt the location from “they” of a technologically advanced ark which just happens to be capable of flying him and a herd of giant lizards back to the civilised world. Prodigiously pencilled by legend Gil Kane, Spider-Man’s brief battle with Stegron as the huge vessel lifts off from the Savage Land is probably only rivalled by the Latvian’s double-splash of a Tyrannosaurus Rex leading a charge against the Swamp-Men’s thatched huts. Yet it’s hard to shake the ‘happy happenstance’ of Vincent discovering the whereabouts of such a preposterously useful aircraft within the sheer wilderness of the hidden prehistoric reserve.
Writer: Len Wein, Artist: Gil Kane, and Inker: Frank Giacoia

Tuesday, 14 April 2020

The Immortal Hulk #29 - Marvel Comics

IMMORTAL HULK No. 29, March 2020
In answering such questions as to just how active the Devil Hulk can be during the day now the persona seemingly somewhat trusts it host Bruce Banner, Al Ewing’s pacing for much of this twenty-page periodical was probably a bit too sedentary for the majority of this book’s 46,484 readers. Indeed, coupled with a lengthy dialogue-driven sequence involving Jackie McGee and her worried editor Murray at the Arizona Herald, this comic’s entire opening half is arguably something of a sedentary snooze-fest, which slowly plods it way through the notion that the nuclear physicist’s alter-ego is starting to think “about other people and their feelings”, as well as the female reporter’s acceptance that the green Goliath created “the stress [which] probably killed my father.”

Admittedly, the machinations of Roxxon Energy Corp’s mutated CEO could equally be accused of being similarly word-heavy. But unlike the other two aforementioned sub-plots, the scenes involving Dario Agger are absolutely packed full of pulse-pounding menace, as the Minotaur almost literally squeezes the life out of his faithful advisor Randolph, when the man foolishly delays informing his formidably-sized boss that the titular character can now walk the earth whilst it is “still daytime.” As a matter of fact, it is a pity that “Eat Or Be Eaten” doesn’t provide the Greek super-villain even more ‘screen time’ than he gets, as the increasingly insane industrialist plans an attack from the Roxxon Plaza in New York, whilst drinking a glass of wine and mulling on the fact he’s unable to travel with his gargantuan nightmares or “to savour the terror” they will undoubtedly cause amidst the general population.

Luckily though, for those Hulk-Heads willing to ‘stay the course’, Ewing’s penmanship soon picks up speed once the “suitably fearsome” Roxxon Bio-Assets Harryhausen, O'Brien, Lovecraft and Bradbury are translocated to “local landmarks” in Phoenix. Joe Bennett also provides plenty of pulse-pounding pencilling during these later panels, with some truly gobsmackingly good double-splash pages. Whether it be the depiction of monstrosities the size of skyscrapers laying waste to any hapless building within reach of a tentacle, or the Hulk’s misfortune to immediately be swallowed whole by one of the gigantic behemoths before he’s swung a single punch, the Brazilian artist arguably produces some of the finest layouts of his career; “I want to consume his essence. Once we’ve eaten the Hulk… That’s when the real fun begins.”
The regular cover art of "IMMORTAL HULK" No. 29 by Alex Ross

Monday, 13 April 2020

Danger Girl #6 - Image Comics

DANGER GIRL #6, December 1999
Teeming with enough dastardly, jack-booted fascists to rival even those numbers seen in Steven Spielberg’s 1981 American action-adventure movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, J. Scott Campbell and Andy Hartnell’s narrative for Issue Six of “Danger Girl” must surely have enthralled its 102,341 readers in October 1999 with its fascinating flashback to the creation of the despicable criminal organisation Hammer. True, the rise of the High Fuhrer’s dastardly army from the burnt “remnants of the Nazi Empire” is understandably both a little unsettling and word-heavy, but that doesn’t stop the extensive summary of a lone German officer’s decades long search for “the majestic continent of Atlantis” and its ancient artefacts from being any less engrossing.

Indeed, despite the now pitiable “evil… in a can” consisting of little more than a geriatric head atop an eagle-emblemed, torpedo-shaped breathing apparatus, the sheer sense-shattering ceremony surrounding the man’s attainment of his three “powerful heirlooms” is impressively pencilled by Campbell, especially when the tiny figure is seemingly surrounded by literally hundreds of his fanatically-loyal troops; “It might be tricky, Syd. I’ve counted at least a dozen of these goons. Give or take a few thousand.”

Luckily, bringing some much needed light to the dankly dark party is the news that Deuce managed to survive being “ambushed by a Hammer Hydronaut Team”, despite the former British spy losing the Danger Yacht, “my ponytail”, and the Atlantean shield. His near deadly-betrayal by former team-mate Natalia Kassle, along with an urgent need to rescue Sydney Savage and Johnny Barracuda from the clutches of Kharnov von Kripplor, seems to be just the incentive Abbey Chase needs in order to quell her fears about letting her friends down, and resultantly she puts on a seriously determined ‘game face’ for the relic hunter's nervy infiltration of Hammer Island from the sea.

Impressively for just a twenty-two page periodical, the creative collaborators also even manage to provide some additional mystery to the background of Agent Zero within his comic, by depicting the “ninja and... acquaintance of Deuce” facing off against the equally as enigmatic Assassin X. Both apparently taught by the same Sensei, as well as sworn to study their dead mentor’s teachings, it is clear that the two ‘old friends’ went down completely different paths after the Hammer operative killed their master and “disposed of such futile visions.”
Story: Andy Hartnell & J. Scott Campbell, Script: Andy Hartnell, and Drawings: J. Scott Campbell

Saturday, 11 April 2020

The Immortal Hulk #28 - Marvel Comics

IMMORTAL HULK No. 28, February 2020
Reading somewhat disconcertingly like ‘a game of two halves’, there was still undoubtedly plenty of entertainment for this comic’s 49,851 Hulk-Heads to take away from Al Ewing’s “The New World” in December 2019. Yet whilst the murderous boardroom antics of Dario Agger provide the reader with a fascinating insight into the thinking of a man who having been “transformed into the Minotaur of legend”, has subsequently become the CEO of “the wealthiest and most powerful multi-corporation in the world”, this comic’s secondary plot concerning the mental instability of an unnamed security guard working at a small Roxxon Energy Corp facility in Wyoming, is arguably far less satisfying.

True, the old-fashioned sentry’s desire to live in the apparently perfect world of yesteryear, where “you brushed your teeth and listened to your parents”, momentarily generates a somewhat sentimental liking for the heavily-moustached, blue-shirted relic. However, any thoughts of sympathy are soon washed away when the disenchanted man instantly recognises one of the youths protesting outside his employer’s building as his teenage daughter, and then deliberates as to just how he could get away with cold-bloodedly gunning down the young girl; “I know her…. She’s wearing his face. She might as well be a stranger… And… If I didn’t know it was her… I could feel threatened.” 

Far more palatable and fascinating is the British writer’s handling of the increasingly irritated Minotaur, and his desperate attempt to thwart his conglomeration’s financial death-spiral as his main competitor, Bain Digital, witnesses its new video application breaking “half a billion downloads --”. Angered by the disrespectfulness of one of his advisors, and motivated by an urgent need to make some sort of “monetary gain” from the Hulk’s popularity with the “Teen Brigade”, the super-strong villain enthrallingly appears on the verge of murdering his staff without a moment’s notice throughout the entire twenty-page periodical.

Sadly, this comic's consistency is also significantly diluted by Ewing’s deliberate intention to "not make this issue easy… at all” on his “extraordinary” guest artists. Tom Reilly’s panels of the ill-fated Roxxon employee faced with the Hulk just before he was about to perturbingly shoot his own child are drawn well enough, but his Chris Samnee-like drawing style increasingly jars with the much-finer linework of Matias Bergara, especially once the Montevideo-born illustrator pencils the Minotaur visiting Monster Isle in an effort to find a solution to his problems…
The regular cover art of "IMMORTAL HULK" No. 28 by Alex Ross

Friday, 10 April 2020

Batman/Superman [2019] #6 - DC Comics

BATMAN/SUPERMAN No. 6, March 2020
Publicised by “DC Comics” as dealing with the “aftermath of the infected”, Joshua Williamson’s script for Issue Six of “Batman/Superman” probably wowed its audience at first, what with its awesome opening depicting Wonder Woman battling a host of stone statues deep underground, and the comic’s titular characters having to nervously explain to Diana of Themyscira that they thought they could beat the Batman Who Laughs without asking for help. However, once the trio have disappointingly defeated the plethora of mythological beast-based animated constructs in rapid succession, “Infection Aftermath” arguably transforms into a much slower paced, dialogue-drive affair, which regrettably depicts the Amazon adventuress bowing out of the book’s plot all-too soon; “I will find Donna. But I fear it will be much more difficult to find trust in each other again.”

Similarly as undesirable as the daughter of Hippolyta’s early departure from the action is the California-born writer’s requirement to peruse numerous other publications alongside his own story-line, so as to fully understand precisely what is occurring within this twenty-two page periodical. These ‘editor notes’ crop up fairly regularly, and at times debatably give this comic the disconcerting aura of having simply been penned just to advertise some of the publisher’s other limited series, such as "Year Of The Villain: Hell Arisen”.

Indeed, between the aforementioned four-issue long special event focusing upon the battle between The Batman Who Laughs and the Apex Lex, as well as signposts for the tale ‘continuing’ in "Supergirl”, “The Infected: Death Bringer”, “Superman” and “Action Comics”, Paul Kaminski seemingly encourages this publication’s 34,967 readers to staggeringly purchase at least another eight comics. Admittedly, none of this additional literature is absolutely crucial to either understanding or even enjoying the main scenario depicted within this magazine, but story-points such as Superman having openly revealed himself as Clark Kent midway through the book somewhat jars the senses when Williamson suddenly refers to it.

Thankfully, any concerns over the somewhat sedentary-natured narrative can occasionally be forgiven, courtesy of David Marquez pencilling some truly pulse-pounding panels. Wonder Woman’s fury-fuelled fisticuffs beneath the Island of Aeaea are gloriously realised by the American artist as she smashes manticores, gorgons and scorpion-tailed beastmen at her leisure. Whilst the Dark Knight and Man of Steel have rarely looked better than when they’re drawn punching the daylights out of the Scarecrow and Metallo respectively.
Writer: Joshua Williamson, Artist: David Marquez, and Colorist: Alejandro Sanchez

Thursday, 9 April 2020

The Immortal Hulk #27 - Marvel Comics

IMMORTAL HULK No. 27, January 2020
Initially splitting his narrative up into three simultaneous segments, Al Ewing’s script for Issue Twenty Seven of “The Immortal Hulk” must have so beguiled his audience with the sinister shenanigans of Roxxon’s super-powered CEO, the alarming worries of Doctor Charlene McGowan concerning the dangers of translocation, and Agent Palicki’s personal issues with an overly-aggressive commander, that the ongoing series saw a remarkable rise of almost five thousand readers in November 2019. In fact, considering what an earth-shattering fight-fest the British author soon transforms this twenty-page periodical into, many Hulk-Heads may well consider “This Is The Day” to be quite simply a perfectly-paced publication featuring Bruce Banner’s alter-ego.

First off is the profound sense of apprehension even the most unsympathetic bibliophile must feel for Roxxon Energy Corporation’s “recent hire”, Higgins, who despite being faced with the Minotaur as his boss, bravely challenges Mister Agger on his “extreme response” to the not “quite so dire” current projections of the fuel conglomerate. Shivering in terror, physically frail and clearly curtailed by the enormous physical presence of the grotesque-looking villain, the old man mumbles his way through a fascinating confrontation which inevitably only leads to one fatal conclusion; “My apologies gentlemen. I found myself in need of a stress ball.”

Likewise, there’s a lot of enthralling entertainment to be had from Ewing’s compelling depiction of life as a super-powered “Roxxon asset” stationed at the West Data Centre in Oregon. Originally confident that having been “bathed in dragon blood” each B.E.S.E.R.K.E.R. “is a match for the Hulk”, it is fascinating to watch as the quartet of misshapen security guards are absolutely pulverised by the titular character, and resultantly soon realise that the order to “defend those servers with our lives” is going to be an infinitely harder mission to fulfil than they were ever led to believe.

Joe Bennett is also on top form throughout this comic, making the book’s dedication to the memory of the Brazilian artist’s son Erik, “who left the world all too soon”, arguably even more poignantly appropriate. Whether it be the fear etched on poor Higgin’s face, the clumsiness of Agger as he tries to sophisticatedly sip tea with his misshapen mouth, or the sheer ferocity in the blows wrought upon his foes by the green-skinned human mutate, each and every panel of this book is packed full of excellent pencilling.
The regular cover art of "IMMORTAL HULK" No. 27 by Alex Ross