Tuesday, 30 June 2020

A Man Among Ye #1 - Image Comics

A MAN AMONG YE No. 1, June 2020
Promising plenty of “high adventure on the high seas in the waning days of piracy” in its pre-publication blurb, Stephanie Phillips’ script for Issue One of “A Man Among Ye” certainly must have entertained the vast majority of its audience in June 2020, with its fascinating depiction of Anne Bonny and Captain “Calico Jack” Rackham. Indeed, it’s hard not to imagine hearing Hans Zimmer and Klaus Badelt’s popular music score for the film franchise “Pirates of the Caribbean” playing in your ear as you witness the couple savagely slaughter the crew of a King’s ship at the start of the comic; “Our prize lies below decks, boys. So gut any man who stands in your way!”

Interestingly however, the creator of “The Butcher of Paris” doesn’t depict this book’s anti-heroine as a stereotypical, good-natured pirate with a heart of gold, but rather every bit the brutally cold killer her partner-in-crime clearly is. Such ferocity genuinely makes it more believable that Bonny could achieve such success at “a time when women had no rights in the newly formed British Empire”, and her willingness to blow the brains out of a mortally wounded soldier on the deck of his sinking ship after the lad has earnestly asked for quarter is genuinely chilling.

Of course, there’s much more to this twenty-two page periodical’s plot than simply having Captain Rackham’s vessel scouring the Bahamas seeking plunder, and Phillips does a good job of splicing several secondary storylines into the mix, whilst simultaneously penning plenty of ‘screen time’ for this comic’s leading cast. The American author’s insight into Governor Woodes Rogers’s personally-based motivation for wanting the waters he rules pirate-free is particularly enjoyable, as is the former privateer’s plan to incite mutiny amongst Calico Jack’s crew with the false guarantee of both a bounty and pardon for the man who brings him their skipper’s head.

Adding enormous value to the sleek look of this book’s layouts are Craig Cermak and colourist Brittany Pezzillo, who together imbue even the most sedentary scenes with an abundance of animated life. The aforementioned battle aboard a British frigate is especially well-illustrated with the hapless Redcoats and their bloody wounds literally making the ship’s well-detailed wooden boards run crimson in claret.
The regular cover art of "A MAN AMONG YE" No. 1 by Craig Cermak

Monday, 29 June 2020

Civil War #2 - Marvel Comics

CIVIL WAR No. 2, August 2006
Actually outselling its first issue following "reorders”, Mark Millar’s script for the second part to this “Marvel Comics” crossover storyline is arguably a little more sedentary in nature than its preceding edition, thanks largely to the Scottish author’s focus upon the reasoning behind just why the likes of Iron Man and Mister Fantastic position themselves in direct opposition to Captain America’s disapproving stance on the Superhuman Registration Act. In fact, many of this best-selling book’s 253,868 strong audience in June 2006 probably remember this publication more for its depiction of Spider-Man revealing “his secret identity as Peter Parker to the entire world, during a meeting at Congress” than for its notable action sequences involving a clearly out-gunned Eli Bradley, and Steve Roger’s outrageous rescue of the Young Avengers from right under the noses of a heavily-armed S.H.I.E.L.D. transportation unit.

However, just because this twenty-two page periodical doesn’t provide a plethora of pulse-pounding punch-ups doesn’t mean for a second that it isn’t a thoroughly riveting read, with Tony Stark and Reed Richards’ fanaticism as to them being wholly in the right proving one of this comic’s most mesmerising attributes. The Golden Avenger in particular is penned as being especially devious with those super-heroes closest to him, one minute earnestly promising his fellow team-mates She-Hulk and Tigra that Cap is entirely wrong in his opposition to the Government’s legislation, and then in the next confiding to Happy Hogan that he has some serious doubts as to whether he’s “doing the right thing here” when the act becomes law.

Such two-faced haughtiness really does grate upon the nerves, and ultimately seems to show the industrial tycoon as little more than a master manipulator, who even when he himself isn’t entirely convinced by his actions, is perfectly happy for the likes of an impressionable young Peter Parker to unmask himself before his entire rogues’ gallery, simply to help the egotistical Stark appear supremely confident in front of the world’s press; “See the Registration Act gives us a choice: We can continue the trend that Captain America advocates and have people with powers completely unchecked or super heroes can go legitimate and earn back a little public trust.”

Adding enormously to this comic’s success is Steve McNiven’s pencilling, which really does a first-rate job of physically showing the emotions running through this book’s considerably-sized cast. The Canadian’s ability to illustrate an increasingly doubtful Sue Richards’ body language as she sceptically listens to her husband manically wax lyrical about revolutionizing “every meta-human in America” is specifically well-drawn, with Invisible Woman’s concerns about Reed’s viewpoint being obvious in each and every panel.
Writer: Mark Millar, Penciler: Steve McNiven, and Inker: Dexter Vines

Saturday, 27 June 2020

The Amazing Spider-Man [2018] #20 - Marvel Comics

Despite containing a couple of corking confrontations featuring the likes of Black Cat and The Lizard, Issue Twenty of “The Amazing Spider-Man” probably still disappointed a fair few of its 76,903 readers due to Nick Spencer’s insistence on depicting both bouts of fisticuffs as disconcertingly one-sided affairs. In fact, having established Curt Conner’s overwhelmingly strong parental instinct to save his young boy’s life in one of this storyline’s earlier editions, the American author seemingly does a complete u-turn on the character’s ability to overcome his aggression-inhibiting spinal chip, by having the scaly anti-hero meekly succumb to the Last Son of Kraven even though the cold-hearted killer has vowed to tear young Billy “limb from limb” and “mount his head on a wall” whilst forcing the reptilian human mutate to watch.

Combined with Felicia Hardy’s inability to best a lone Hunter-Bot who is initially lightly armed with just a knife and pistol, such a disappointing decline in the fighting prowess in two of this comic’s leading cast members arguably comes across as unsophisticated story-telling, and smacks of simply being contrived in order to help set-up the twenty-page periodical’s so-called shock revelation that the virtual link between a portly Great Hunt participate and his automaton cannot be severed until both the robot and its wealthy user have been destroyed/killed; “What the heck is wrong with this thing? Arcade! Arcade, come on --”

Admittedly, that doesn’t mean for a moment that the two-time Charter Party political candidate’s narrative for this comic lacks any entertainment value, as its action-packed shenanigans most assuredly do. But every time Spencer sets up a potentially mouth-watering skirmish the end result just seems to show the ‘good guys’ as being perturbingly ineffective, and in the Black Cat’s case, the only reason the former Crime Boss is alive is because the man who shot her suddenly gains a conscience just long enough to be reminded that he has a boy about the same age as The Lizard’s sobbing son.

Perhaps this publication’s biggest strength therefore lies in the layouts of Humberto Ramos, which in particular do an awesome job of putting across the increasing frustration felt by the Last Son of Kraven with his father’s plan. The clone is clearly absolutely beside himself with rage by the time he encounters Curt Conner’s alter ego and this book’s audience can almost physically feel the man’s relief when he initially gets to beat down upon his ineffective opponent.
Writer: Nick Spencer, Penciler: Humberto Ramos, and Inker: Victor Olazaba

Friday, 26 June 2020

Batman/Superman [2019] #9 - DC Comics

BATMAN/SUPERMAN No. 9, July 2020
Sensationally filled with a seemingly endless array of sense-shattering set-pieces, Joshua Williamson’s narrative for Issue Nine of “Batman/Superman” really must have entertained its audience when it finally struck the spinner-racks in June 2020. For whilst the twenty-two page periodical does contain a momentary pause in its action-packed adventure, courtesy of a brief “nice night” between Superman and his wife atop a French balcony, the vast majority of this comic provides some superbly tense depictions of the Dark Knight fighting Atomic Skull and two inquisitive Gotham City Police Officers allowing their curiosity to get the better of them on the shore of the conurbation’s harbour.

In fact, this comic’s opening half is arguably flawless, as Bruce Wayne’s alter-ego roars into action inside the Batmobile, and uncovers a truly disconcerting conspiracy involving Albert Michaels’ desperate attempt to turn over a new leaf with the Metropolis P.D., and a number of heavily-armed underground operatives wearing outdated police uniforms who are supposedly trying to bring the ‘former S.T.A.R. Labs scientist turned super-villain’ back into custody; “You shouldn’t have run. I thought we shared a common bond… And after everything I did for you your escape makes me so angry. Now be a good boy and come with us…”

Similarly as successful is this comic’s shocking cliff-hanger featuring “one of Superman’s oldest foes”, which does a good job of portraying the sheer terror felt by one of Commissioner Gordon’s finest, following his realisation that the body he found on Gotham Harbour’s beach wasn’t “washed up from the ocean”, but rather came from a man-made cave being used by the Ultra-Humanite in order to build an Atomic Army. Witnessing the savagely abrupt demise of his partner at the hands of Jerry Siegel’s giant, white-furred gorilla, readers can clearly hear the terror in the helpless officer’s voice as he’s dragged like a baby deeper into the Injustice Leaguer’s evil-looking lair.

Providing this pulse-pounding publication with plenty of visual stimulus is Clayton Henry’s stunning artwork and Alejandro Sanchez’s amazing colours. The Atomic Skull has arguably never looked better than when he’s projecting a ghoulish purple-pink glow upon his ill-fated pursuers as they encircle him with their firearms raised, nor the Ultra-Humanite, when the monster’s formidable physical presence is suddenly caught in the blue glare of a policeman’s handheld torch as the villain ambushes him from out of the darkness.
The regular cover art of "BATMAN/SUPERMAN" No. 9 by Clayton Henry & Alejandro Sanchez

Thursday, 25 June 2020

Like Father, Like Daughter #5 - Short Fuse Media Group

Arguably concentrating much more upon the disconcertingly dark origin story of Invulnerable than the super-hero’s blossoming relationship with his formerly estranged offspring, Kathryn Calamia’s script for Issue Five of “Like Father, Like Daughter” certainly provides plenty of hooks with which to ensnare this twenty-two page periodical’s audience. Indeed, perhaps this comic’s sole regret is that “Comic Uno” pens such an enthralling narrative, packed full of secret Soviet Union shenanigans, sleeper agents and duplicitous traitors that this publication’s shocking finale arrives all too soon; “Please. Don’t do this. Not now.”

Before this book’s ending however, there really is plenty to enjoy, most notably the shady dealings of a rather colourful-looking Russian undercover operative and the revelation that some of this comic’s supporting cast, such as the mysterious Agent 24, don’t have the two titular characters’ best interests at heart. In particular, the implication that Casey’s father might somehow be lured over to the socialist republic’s side is intriguingly chilling, especially when it becomes clear the Motherland might stoop to any lengths in order for their “perfect soldier” to help “the KGB… gain power again”, including using the super-strong powerhouse’s family against him.

Intermixed amongst all these cloak and dagger machinations, as well as a nice insight into just how quickly Casey’s feelings are growing for her isolated parent, is a well-paced action sequence where Invulnerable’s hidden residence is compromised by a gang of gas-mask wearing mercenaries. Already wounded from this title’s previous instalment, the costumed crime-fighter is forced to face the crack team of Soviet Special Forces wearing nothing more than his trunks, and yet still does a marvellous job of literally smacking the sickle-symbol wearing intruders about his Spartan abode with a flurry of kicks, throws and punches.

Adding an enormous amount of energy to this comic’s proceedings are Wayne A. Brown’s layouts, which impressively imbue each and every figure within this book with plenty of animated life. The aforementioned dapper Soviet spy sauntering down a park’s pathway towards his elderly contact whilst wearing a bright white suit is a great example of this dynamism. As is the way the penciller somehow manages to give all the conspiratorial Cold War operatives something akin to a disturbing, fanatical gleam in their eyes.

"Like Father, Like Daughter" #1-6 is currently available on "Kickstarter".
Written & Created by: Kathryn Calamia, Pencils & Inks by: Wayne A. Brown, and Colors by: David Aravena

Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor #2.4 - Titan Comics

Despite packing this publication with plenty of thrills in the shape of the Weeping Angels, Nestene consciousness, and of course a triumphant team-up with the Tenth Doctor, there’s something of a disconcertingly familiar air to Jody Houser’s script for “A Little Help From My Friends” which arguably must have made the twenty-two page periodical’s plot a little too simplistic for some of this book’s readers in May 2020. Sure, the “writer of comics and other story-shaped things” certainly tries to raise the ante by suggesting that the TARDIS could be invaded by Steven Moffat's "quantum-locked humanoids" at any moment, and then later by depicting Sixties London being momentarily overrun by Autons. Yet such is the comfortable confidence of the two incarnations of the same Time Lord that it’s genuinely hard to find much menace in either the murderous plastic mannequins as they run amok through a packed shopping street or even the formidable-looking visage of the Nestene’s bulbous leader; “I thought you said this was the way to the loo! Us? We’re just tourists. I didn’t even want to be here myself.”

In addition, practically everything within this comic would appear to be ‘played for laughs’ with almost everyone within its quite considerable cast taking the opportunity to verbalise at least one wisecrack whenever the situation looks set to go from bad to worse. These almost endless gags do have their moments, especially when David Tenant’s persona repeatedly bounces ideas off of his future self with an energetic “Oh, but that’s brilliant.” However, after a short while such persistent levity completely erodes any suggestion that the time travellers are in any sort of trouble, to the point where even the Doctor’s frustrating habit of leaving her companions’ in the dark as to her ultimate plan doesn’t generate any sense of mystery whatsoever, just a lethargic feeling of ‘what will be will be’… 

Luckily, all this ‘adventuring by numbers’ is well-pencilled by Roberta Ingranata, who quite wonderfully captures a good likeness of the televised characters in the vast majority of this book’s panels. Stunningly coloured by Enrica Eren Angiolini, the TARDIS console room has debatably never looked better than it does in this magazine, with the Italian’s choice of oranges and yellows superbly contrasting with the light blues and whites she later utilises to represent deep space.
Writer: Jody Houser, Artist: Roberta Ingranata, and Colorist: Enrica Eren Angiolini

Tuesday, 23 June 2020

Civil War #1 - Marvel Comics

CIVIL WAR No. 1, July 2006
Shipping an impressive 260,700 copies in its first month, and thereby apparently just “missing the Twenty-First Century record held by July 2005’s All-Star Batman And Robin Issue One by a mere four hundred copies”, this opening instalment to Mark Millar’s “Marvel Comics Event in seven parts” must have thoroughly entertained the vast majority of its imposing audience with its emotive introduction of a Superhuman Registration Act in the United States. Indeed, it is arguably difficult to imagine a more polarising narrative than the one which the Lanarkshire-born writer brings to “Civil War”, as the likes of Tony Stark, Speedball and S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Acting Head demonstrate just the sort of egotistical arrogance and overconfidence in their warped viewpoint of the world that makes a reader want to wring the very life out of their literary characters.

For starters Maria Hill’s portrayal in this thirty-three page periodical is as utterly mesmerising as it is despicable. Brilliantly pencilled by artist Steve McNiven wearing just the sort of supercilious sneer upon her face that one would expect from a long-time underling suddenly promoted to the top of her department, the trained agent makes it abundantly clear straight from the start of her awesomely tense confrontation with Captain America that she simply views him as a tool for her to use (and abuse) as she sees fit.

The fact that the Commander knew Steve Rogers’ strong moral compass would vehemently oppose the government’s viewpoint makes Nick Fury’s successor even more dislikeable, as the woman is clearly looking for any excuse to start persecuting non-compliant super-heroes, and blatantly provokes the First Avenger into a fight by threatening to tranquilise him on the spot if he doesn’t comply with her demands; “Weapons down or I will not be responsible for what comes next -- This is insane! Completely insane! Damn you to Hell for this, Hill…”

Similarly as sensitive is Millar’s handling of Robert Baldwin’s alter-ego, who quickly gets ‘under the skin’ with his utter conceit and desire to grab record-breaking viewing figures for the televised second season of the “New Warriors”. Admittedly, the more generous-hearted bibliophiles who hold a soft spot for Steve Ditko’s co-creation might put down some of this haughtiness to the rookie hero’s inexperience. But it’s hard to pity a crime-fighter who is more worried about the skin complexion of a co-star than he is for the welfare of innocent bystanders when the costumed vigilante is about to tackle a villain who “almost took down the Hulk.”
Writer: Mark Millar, Penciler: Steve McNiven, and Inker: Dexter Vines

Monday, 22 June 2020

Adventureman #1 - Image Comics

ADVENTUREMAN No. 1, June 2020
Described by “Image Comics” as “a cataclysmic adventure decades in the making”, Matt Fraction’s script for Issue One of “Adventureman” will certainly take some considerable time to fully digest, courtesy of his whopping, fifty-six page periodical overflowing with literally dozens of colourful and complicated characters. In fact, some readers might even find the titular character’s supposed demise “at the vile hand of his ultra-nemesis Baron Bizarre on the eve of the Macabrapocalypse” something of a blessing, considering that the resultant roof-top explosion half-way through the book seemingly eradicates the need to remember the overwhelming number of super-heroes and their nefarious counter-parts.

Disappointingly though, this mid-point cataclysmic ‘cliff-hanger’ simply seems to be regarded as a reset switch in the mind of the “New York Times bestselling” writer, as he quickly fills the publication’s freshly cleaned cast’s slate with the weekly O’Connell family Shabbat dinner. Admittedly, the Eisner Award-winner’s convenient pen-pictures of the meal’s many attendees at least enables the comic’s audience to put fleeting faces to names, but once again there are simply far too many people being pushed before the eyes for anyone to arguably make a lasting impression.

In addition, the entire sequence depicting Claire’s dysfunctional siblings is rather longwinded and does nothing to actually progress the American author’s plot, except to perhaps suggest that she has a penchant for switching off her hearing aid whenever the conversation around her is tediously tiring. Happily however, this sedentarily-paced and monotonous insight into the deaf woman’s ‘domestic bliss’ is eventually brought to a much-needed end when the book-seller finally retreats back to her dead mother’s old store and encounters the strangest of new customers.

Sumptuously pencilled and coloured by the husband and wife team of Terry and Rachel Dodson, this book would debatably ‘land’ a lot better if it omitted its bloated middle belly, and instead focused upon both the marvellously manic world of Adventureman, the Gentleman and Akaal, as well as Tommy’s infectious desperation to know what happened after his favourite bedtime read comes to a disconcertingly abrupt end; “-- But everything is very much not okay in the end of that story and so that must mean that it’s not the end because it’s not okay and so I wondering --”
Script: Matt Fraction, Pencils & Colors: Terry Dodson, and Inks: Rachel Dodson

Sunday, 21 June 2020

The Spark #1 - Fair Spark Books

THE SPARK No. 1, October 2019
As science fiction-based anthology comics go, it is clear just why this ongoing magazine “for all ages” was successfully funded in September 2019 on “Kickstarter”. For whilst the title is arguably intended for an adolescent audience, what with the trusty robot butler Springworth providing the periodical’s readers with an especially warm welcome, there is still plenty of entertainment to be had by adults from this book’s three main adventures.

Perhaps the best of the bunch is “Shadows” by Aaron Rackley, which depicts an ill-prepared rescue ship answering a distress beacon on an unchartered planet. Dan Harris’ artwork is understandably rather cartoony in its appearance, but that doesn’t stop this story capturing some of the tension elicited by James Cameron’s 1986 action film “Aliens” as the explorers are individually picked off by an unseen extra-terrestrial menace. Whilst the six-pager's excellent cliff-hanger of a conclusion definitely makes a reader want more; “Wilko to Command, come in! Everyone’s gone! You’ve got to help me! Repeat… Everyone is -- Oh no…”

Next up is Rob Barnes’ “Gallant And Amos”, featuring the unlikely duo of a human warrior and an anthropological talking dragon. It’s abundantly clear from an in-story text box plugging a previously published volume of their antics that this ‘odd couple’ already have a healthy history of dungeoneering together behind them, and resultantly this provides the pair with plenty of opportunities for witty banter. Combined with a frantically-paced plot set upon a holographic space station, and any bibliophile should have a bit of a blast following the partners’ brief battles with puzzles, escape pods, laser swords and killer robots.

Finally, “The Spark” thrusts any onlookers straight into the “John Baton Chronicles”, just as the titular action man’s crew are battling for their lives against a horde of heavily-fanged dinosaur-men. Aaron Rackley provides absolutely no explanation as to why this fire-fight in the corridors of a rapidly deteriorating UUA-20101A Battle Ship is taking place, nor how any of the combatants happened to be on the same space vessel. However, such exposition doesn’t debatably matter as the sheer gusty gun-play pencilled by Mike Dabrowski soon whisks the audience up in its conflict and doesn’t stop until the skirmish comes to a disconcerting end…

"The Spark" #5 to #8 can currently be supported on "Kickstarter" here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/fairsparkbooks/the-spark-the-all-ages-sci-fi-comic-magazine/faqs
Writers: Aaron Rackley & Rob Barnes, and Artists: Dan Harris & Mike Dabrowski

Saturday, 20 June 2020

Marshal Law #3 - Epic Comics

MARSHAL LAW No. 3, April 1988
Focusing upon the first tussle between this mini-series’ titular character and The Sleepman, Pat Mills’ storyline for Issue Three of “Marshal Law” goes some way to show just how formidably powerful these two budding arch-enemies are in the dystopian future city. For whilst Joe Gilmore’s alter-ego never truly looks to be in trouble whilst battling the villainous “Scapegoat, Slugfest and company”, the cave cop arguably appears somewhat out-matched once his brutal brush with the facially-disfigured serial-killer gets all close and personal.

Indeed, despite “the government-sanctioned super-hero hunter” definitely taking his caped opponent down a peg of two, courtesy of a brick wall, a dustbin lid, and few socks to the face, it is disconcertingly the homicidal mass-murderer who eventually comes out on top after his deadly-looking mechanical claws constrict about Law’s throat and temporarily asphyxiate the law enforcement officer; “Meantime, Marshal… I’m going to let you live… So you can carry on your work… Ridding the world of filth like me.”

Just as enjoyable as Gilmore’s desperate attempt to apprehend the monster responsible for the brutal butchering of his lover Lynn Evans, is Mill’s quite wonderful team-up between the grieving former super-soldier and Public Spirit against Gangrene and his loathsome horde of green-hued desperados. Almost flinching at the mere touch of the population’s favourite hero upon his back as the pair stand shoulder-to-shoulder for a post-punch up publicity opportunity, even the most nonchalant of perusing bibliophiles can clearly tell just how irritated “the ultimate lawman” is with having to battle alongside the man he suspects of being San Futuro’s greatest threat.

Packing all these fights with plenty of bone-crushing impacts and brain-sizzling special effects is co-creator Kevin O’Neill, who genuinely seems to enjoy penciling panel after panel of insanely gratuitous violence as this comic’s combatants slug it out with one another toe-to-toe. Law’s epic clash with The Sleepman is irrefutably this book’s biggest draw, especially once the hooded slaughterer produces some sort of phosphorous hand-weapon with which to frazzle Marshal alive with. But even this publication’s more sedentary moments, such as when Gilmore goes shopping, contain plenty of ‘Easter Eggs’ and ‘in-jokes’ with which to delight those willing to scrutinize the illustrations whilst relishing a second or third reading.
Writer/Creator: Pat Mills, Artist/Creator: Kevin O'Neill, and Letterer: Phil Felix

Friday, 19 June 2020

Avengers [2018] #11 - Marvel Comics

AVENGERS No. 11, February 2019
Considering that the high-point of Jason Aaron’s narrative for Issue Eleven of “Avengers” is arguably Thor snogging in the Savage Lands with the She-Hulk, it is probably a safe bet that many of this book’s 52,820 readers could well understand just why the title saw a disconcerting drop in sales of almost twenty five thousand copies in December 2018. Indeed, despite this twenty-page periodical featuring some of the most flamboyant international superheroes in the Marvel Universe, such as Captain Britain, Michael Twoyoungmen, Arabian Knight and Shiro Yoshida’s fiery alter-ego Sunfire, the Alabama-born writer’s plot doesn’t get any more exciting than having Ursa Major teleported back to Siberia for forgetting his table manners, and a deluded Phil Coulson apparently gunning down a mysterious victim in cold-blood simply because the bound figure refuses to denounce Captain Rogers as a traitor..?

Instead, this comic seemingly offers some nonsensical insights into Robbie Reyes’ homework memorising “Steve’s super villain recognition quizzes”, and the God of Thunder enjoying “turkey legs, mead and dinosaurs” whilst dating an utterly bored Jennifer Walters in Ka-Zar’s kingdom. Admittedly, there is some fun to be had from watching the Ghost Rider desperately plead his case to Captain Marvel that he shouldn’t need to study having “single-handedly defeated the Final Host”, and Jen’s suddenly realisation as to how deep Odinson apparently cares for her when he finally opens up as to his true feelings for the former member of the Fantastic Four. But, alongside the Black Panther’s ‘star-studded’ International Super-Summit, such interludes disappointingly provide the backbone of this book’s contents.

Frustratingly, this publication’s interior artwork doesn’t do much to help remove the impression that the entire comic was only printed as a ‘filler edition’ either. It’s clear, just from the first appearance of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s former Supreme Commander and Thor’s riotous obsession with warring battle dragons, that both Ed McGuiness and Cory Smith are prodigious pencillers. However, there are only so many splash pages a bibliophile can surely peruse featuring either Coulson or King T'Challa, before it becomes abundantly obvious that Aaron’s script was distinctly lacking in content; “I apologise for the disturbance. But we should not allow this unfortunate business to derail our summit. We have much to discuss. Iron Men. Clean up this mess.”
Writer: Jason Aaron, Artists: Ed McGuiness & Cory Smith, and Color Artist: Erick Arciniega

Thursday, 18 June 2020

The Unexpected #8 - DC Comics

THE UNEXPECTED No. 8, March 2019
Announced as far back as October 2018 that the title was being cancelled, Steve Orlando’s script for Issue Eight of “The Unexpected” at least provided its remaining 6,857 readers with the satisfaction of successfully wrapping up Neon the Unknown’s battle against Mandrakk on the planet Nil - the “capstone of the Multiverse.” However, just how exactly the matter manipulator is able to achieve this victory, considering the Dark Monitor had just previously torn Colin Nomi’s throat out, is another matter entirely, and one which will doubtless have many of this comic’s owners scratching their heads in bemusement for years to come.

For starters, the GLAAD Media Award-nominee’s narrative would have its ever-dwindling audience believe that in extinguishing their physical lives the Vampire God somehow instantly transported both the Bad Samaritan and Neon’s souls to the World Forge in order to be annihilated. This intriguing plot-twist is certainly as surprising as its action-packed ride in boiling hot lava is eye-catching, but it arguably makes little actual sense, especially when all Nomi needs to do to avoid both himself and Alden Quench being “vaporised at the core” is to simply ‘will’ the pair of them back to the Monitor World; “I can get you out of here, get us out of here… It was never about winning! Never about beating you…” 

Equally as contrived a solution is Orlando’s suggestion that The Unexpected and Hawkman never needed to destroy Dax Novu with a “kill-shot”, just completely rewrite the villain’s personality in order for him to become a ‘good guy’. This lack-lustre answer is seemingly produced from completely out of the blue, just as Mandrakk appears on the verge of brutalising his opponents into oblivion, and debatably must have struck many of this book’s bibliophiles as a serious anti-climax to such a sense-shattering showdown.

Mercifully, much of this bizarre “Multiverse on life support” storyline, which as an aside bears absolutely no resemblance whatsoever to “DC Comics” marketing synopsis, is dynamically-drawn by Ronan Cliquet and coloured by Jeromy Cox. The creative pair’s work on the aforementioned volcanic-themed scene set on the World Forge looks excellent, and more than makes up for the occasional decline in the Brazilian artist’s (potentially rushed) pencilling later in the book, when perhaps this comic’s end was in finally sight.
Storytellers: Ronan Cliquet & Steve Orlando, and Colors: Jeromy Cox

Wednesday, 17 June 2020

Marshal Law #2 - Epic Comics

MARSHAL LAW No. 2, February 1988
Providing plenty more reasons as to just why Joe Gilmore’s alter-ego should want to apprehend the mysterious serial-killer, The Sleepman, plus an extremely tense confrontation between the titular character and Public Spirit, Pat Mill’s narrative for Issue Two of “Marshal Law” was surely well worth the four-month long wait when it was finally released in February 1988. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine a twenty-eight page periodical cramming in more history, exposition, violence and action, as "the godfather of British comics" does with “Evilution”.

To begin with, the comic contains a tantalisingly brief explanation of the secret policeman’s earlier days as a Screaming Eagle in The Zone, and subsequent time as the super-heroic Vet once “we got home”. Coupled with a rather intimidate interlude predominantly focused upon his physical relationship with his ‘live-in neighbour’ Lynn Evans, these insights rather succinctly show just what makes the “cave-cop” tick, as well as providing a powerfully-projected snapshot as to how the everyday citizen of San Futuro potentially views it’s so-called costumed protectors.

Of course, spending some time fleshing out a book’s leading cast is arguably all well and good, if it is intermixed with plenty of pulse-pounding action, and Mill’s penmanship certainly doesn’t disappoint in that department either. The toxic chemistry between Law and Spirit is truly palpable, so it’s great to see Marshal getting the opportunity to physically unleash some of his pent-up frustration upon Father Hood and his masked cronies afterwards; “Was there a cover-up? Was it all hushed-up? Did it Frag your head? Does that explain the nightmares you had out there in the cold of space and what you did when you got back? No one is above the Law!”

Perhaps this publication’s biggest moment however, besides another notable victim falling foul of The Sleepman’s mechanical claws at the end of a deeply dark, distressing chase, is this comic’s marvellous “mass break-out from Psycho-Silo Seven” by Hitler Hernandez, leader of the Pistoleros. Superbly sketched by Kevin O’Neill, Pat demonstrates an ability to create a veritable army of fresh-looking super-villains which rivals that of Jack “King” Kirby’s fertile imagination, and brings this comic to an end with a jaw-droppingly good cliff-hanger as a distraught Gilmore begins brutally battling the likes of Scapegoat, Slug Fest, Rimfire, Grimgram, Blue Murder, “and other unspeakable creatures who should not have been brought into existence.”
Writer/Creator: Pat Mills, Artist/Creator: Kevin O'Neill, and Letterer: Phil Felix

Tuesday, 16 June 2020

The Boys: Dear Becky #1 - Dynamite Entertainment

THE BOYS: DEAR BECKY No. 1, April 2020
What with Amazon Prime's Television adaptation of “The Boys” having recently been greenlit for a second season, admirers of Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s “world where superheroes exist” probably weren’t all that surprised when the duo announced in January 2020 that they were going to produce a comic which would “focus on Becky Butcher, the wife of Billy Butcher, whose death sets off the events of the series’ original ninety-issue run.” But having “never intended to do more with The Boys” for so long, its arguably clear from the Holywood-born writer’s narrative for Issue One of “The Boys: Dear Becky” that the collaborative partnership were somewhat short on ideas when it came to bringing this “fresh material to the new readers as well as a treat for the original fans.”

To begin with absolutely nothing at all happens within this twenty-two page periodical until half-way through when a somewhat inebriated Hughie Campbell finally staggers home during the night and opens a mystery parcel sat waiting for him upon the kitchen table. Up until this point, all the multiple Eisner Award-winner pens is expletive after expletive, as his limited cast desperately try and verbalise every colourful metaphor known to humankind during an incredibly protracted, dialogue-heavy drinking session; “Ye’re no’ in any rush, then. Last one? What’ll we drink to?”

Disappointingly however, even this sudden change of pace is hardly for the better, as Ennis’ penmanship more than lives up to this comic’s “mature” rating, by depicting a hapless ten-year old boy having his tongue gratuitously cut out by the leader of the Boys with a razor blade in a restroom. So shocking a scene, absolutely thick with oily slicks of blood and the child’s anguished screams, is genuinely harrowing to read, yet appears to pale in its impact upon "Wee Hughie" when compared to the character’s paralysing realisation that the supposedly long-dead Butcher is directly addressing him through the pages of Becky’s diary.

As a result perhaps this book’s only saving grace is the excellent artwork of Russ Braun, whose marvellously clean-lined pencilling makes even the laborious discourses in McCluchs public house, and then later on the beach, bearable. In fact, it is clear from the former “Walt Disney” animator’s lay-outs just why Nick Barucci, “Dynamite Entertainment” CEO and publisher, publicly declared his delight that the illustrator would “return to draw the series too.”
Written by: Garth Ennis, Illustrated by: Russ Braun, and Coloured by: Tony Avina

Monday, 15 June 2020

The Amazing Spider-Man [2018] #19 - Marvel Comics

Considering that Nick Spencer’s narrative for Issue Nineteen of “The Amazing Spider-Man” focuses upon a plethora of the titular character’s most notorious arch-villains, most notably that of the Vulture and the Rhino, this comic’s 74,018 strong audience must have been disappointingly surprised at the plot’s pedestrian pace. For whilst Peter Parker’s black-suited alter-ego invariably ends up scuffling with Aleksei Sytsevich, as well as battling against a pack of Hunter-bots, these confrontations are so tantalisingly brief and unsatisfyingly short-lived, that they arguably needn’t have been included at all.

Indeed, in many ways this third instalment of the American author’s “Hunted” story-arc seems to have been purely penned simply to push along the multi-edition event’s numerous secondary threads, and resultantly rather haphazardly dips into the Black Cat’s incarceration with Billy Connors, the Last Son of Kraven’s unhappiness at his father’s grand scheme, Adrian Toomes’ laughably dishonest attempt to seize control of the Savage Six, the Rhino’s palpable anger at being previously ‘betrayed’ by Spider-Man when Web-head rescued Aunt May rather than save the super-strong Sytsevich from the clutches of the Taskmaster, and Tony Master’s ‘off-screen’ capture of the Lizard.

Of course, all these insights into this storyline’s impressively large supporting cast are both noteworthy and fairly diverting, especially Felicia Hardy’s use of her bad luck probability power to have her cell’s hapless guard molested by a savagely-fanged wild cat. But such a choppy goulash of so many dialogue-heavy scenes and sedentary sequences debatably makes this twenty-page periodical a somewhat tediously tiring, rambling read; “Let them see the Kravinoff Family name restored through bloodshed. Show them what we are capable of. Show them what you are capable of.”

Providing some glimmer of light however, are Gerardo Sandoval’s layouts, which successfully imbue even the most monotonous of monologues with a modicum of dynamism and emotion. The Vulcan’s earnest power play beneath one of Central Park’s fifty bridges is a good example of this, as the Mexican illustrator provides Toomes with all the physical animation the former electrical engineer needs for his argument to appear compelling when contrasted to Spidey’s unconvincingly delivered counterclaim that the professional criminal is unfit to lead simply because he’s an untrustworthy fraud.
The regular cover art of "THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN" No. 19 by Humberto Rams & Edgar Delgado

Saturday, 13 June 2020

The Amazing Spider-Man [2018] #19.HU - Marvel Comics

Having previously established Curt Connors’ alter-ego as one of the main targets of Kraven the Hunter’s insane plan to gather up “all the animal-themed villains for the grandest hunt of all”, this twenty-page periodical’s plot spotlighting the Lizard launching a desperate rescue mission to retrieve his absent son must have had the vast majority of its 51,836 readers in April 2019 wondering just what all the fuss was actually about. Indeed, considering that “Imagine Games Network” once ranked the scaly college professor as the sixty-second greatest comic villain of all time, it’s disappointing to see just how impotent Nick Spencer’s incarnation of the “anthropomorphic reptile with scales” is portrayed.

For starters, the Lizard can no longer apparently show “aggression toward[s] another living thing” due to voluntarily having an inhibitor chip surgically installed in his spine which paralyses him whenever he starts to lose control. This ‘nerfing’ of the human mutate’s claws and fangs really begs the question as to just what Connors thought he could achieve when his goal was to physically break through Arcade’s “big, unbreakable force field” and personally defeat an entire army of gun-toting henchmen so as to save young Billy; “Yeah, one little problem with that plan, champ.”

True, Curt does seek the ‘assistance’ of the S.H.I.E.L.D. trained Taskmaster to aid him in his mission, as well as help the distraught father defeat the cannibalistic sewer-based creature, Vermin. But this alliance’s foundation is based purely upon the good doctor previously poisoning the mercenary in a beer tent at the Queen’s Night Market so as to force his aid, and resultantly seems to be destined to failure the moment an opportunity arises for Tony Masters to double-cross him. Which the assassin unsurprisingly does at the book’s end.

Regrettably, not even the pencils of Chris Bachalo arguably seem able to salvage much from Nick Spencer’s ‘run-of-the-mill’ narrative, except his marvellously imaginative re-design of the bi-pedal Lizard. Bulbous headed, with a truly massive maw that wouldn’t appear out of place on a Carcharodon carcharias, the lab-coat wearing parent dominates each and every panel within which he appears, especially when his love for his son overcomes his enforced abhorrence for violence. Whereas the likes of the Taskmaster, Vermin’s victims and especially Arcade, disconcertingly appear to simply be ‘aged-up’ child actors taken straight from Alan Parker’s 1976 musical film “Bugsy Malone”.
Writer: Nick Spencer, Penciler: Chris Bachalo, and Color Artist: Erick Arciniega

Friday, 12 June 2020

The Unexpected #7 - DC Comics

THE UNEXPECTED No. 7, February 2019
As book-length pitched-battles go, Steve Orlando’s narrative for Issue Seven of “The Unexpected” must surely have delighted the vast majority of its disconcertingly dwindling 7,547 readers in December 2018 with its fantastic mix of highly-anticipated fist-fights and duplicitous backstabbing. True, the comic’s twenty-page bout of non-stop pugilism doesn’t debatably take this series’ overall “Call Of The Unknown” storyline all that much further forward, but what with Mandrakk the Dark Monitor smacking the titular characters all over the place, and the Bad Samaritan making a triumphant return so as to sock Colin Nomi squarely in his jaw, such a lack of plot progress is easily forgivable.

Indeed, this book’s only debatable disappointment is that Alden Quench’s rematch against “Creation’s Guardian” is frustratingly cut all-too short by Dax Novu effortlessly thrusting his gnarled hand straight through the chest of Neon the Unknown, and then turning his not inconsiderable supernatural abilities upon the “mysterious man empowered by the Fires of Destruction” who was supposedly his loyal servant; “I’ve already freed myself from the Dark Multiverse. I stand at the threshold of creation, and you, Quench, are too late to mater… You’re nothing but trash.”

Hawkman and Firebrand are also given plenty to do in this frantically-paced free-for-all, repeatedly hurling themselves against Mandrakk for all their worth, and demonstrating precisely why it took all the strength of Superman to knock Grant Morrison’s co-creation into the Overvoid. Carter Hall seems to suffer particularly badly during these bouts against “the vampire god”, with the archaeologist’s famous wings being partially torn asunder during one especially nasty attempt to distract the fanged killer of a Tempus Fuginaut.

Adding lots of dynamic action, palpable tension and buckets of blood to the proceedings are Ronan Cliquet’s well-pencilled panels. Initially it is arguably hard to see just how Mandrakk is going to be able to withstand the combined might of The Unexpected and their friendly flying Justice Leaguer, especially when he so quickly turns upon such a powerful ally as Quench as well. Yet such is the sheer power with which the Brazilian artist imbues the Dark Monitor within the space of a few scenes, that it soon becomes crystal clear to any perusing bibliophile just whose ‘team’ actually outmatches whose.
Storytellers: Ronan Cliquet & Steve Orlando, and Colors: Jeromy Cox

Thursday, 11 June 2020

Dark Agnes #2 - Marvel Comics

DARK AGNES No. 2, May 2020
Despite only being the one hundredth best-selling title of March 2020, following a fall in sales of approximately six and a half thousand copies, Becky Cloonan’s script for Issue Two of “Dark Agnes” must have still pleased the comic’s remaining 16,942 loyal readers. For whilst the book’s narrative spends a considerable amount of time focusing upon its titular character feasting and carousing with Etienne Villiers at the Chateau de Fontainebleau, it still provides a positively enthralling storyline packed full of deception, intrigue and murderous manoeuvres.

Indeed, in many ways, the American author’s twenty-page plot pans out like the opening to a thrill-a-minute detective novel, with Robert E. Howard’s creation very much playing the role of both investigator and ultimately stooge. Surrounded by treachery and just the sort of disconcertingly anonymous disguises one would expect to fill a huge residence hosting a masquerade, its desperately difficult to determine just who the swashbuckling heroine can trust, especially when earlier in the tale, the Pisa-born writer overtly lets slip that the distinctly deadly Sister Marie knows far more about the shady shenanigans taking place than her holy habit should allow.

Furthermore, Cloonan still manages to imbue this publication with moments of pulse-pounding pace, most notably when two clerks-turned-assassins unwisely attempt to waylay Helen de la Mere’s stagecoach armed only with a crossbow, blade and evidently not nearly enough men. Fearless as she is resolute, this action-packed sequence should have any perusing bibliophile cheering in delight, as Agnes de la Fère finally dispatches one of the villainous rogues from the Pewter Pot with a surprisingly risky sword-thrust through the chest from atop an out-of-control horse-drawn carriage; “The bounty was too sweet to pass up. And you tore a hole in my favourite doublet -- Zut --!”

Bringing some extra bounce to this comic’s well-animated ambush, as well as plenty of menace to the fancy dress ball, are Luca Pizzari and Andrea Broccardo’s competently-crafted, consistent-looking layouts. Atmospherically coloured by Jay David Ramos, it is hard to actually spot the difference in the two artist’s contributions to this book, presumably due to the Italian “Star Wars” illustrator simply providing the finishes to Pizzari’s mid-comic breakdowns.
The regular cover art of "DARK AGNES" No. 1 by Stephanie Hans

Wednesday, 10 June 2020

Marshal Law #1 - Epic Comics

MARSHAL LAW No. 1, October 1987
Introducing the comic book world to a “spoof of the 2000 A.D. strip Judge Dredd”, Pat Mill’s script to Issue One of “Marshal Law” must have proved something of a disconcertingly dark experience to its readers in October 1987, what with the comic’s all-pervading predilection for gratuitous violence and sexual references. However, whilst this twenty-eight page periodical undeniably contains its fair share of bodily mutilation, eye-winching physical injuries and assorted discharging firearms, much of this publication’s perceived ‘vulgarities’ are actually more implied than actually depicted ‘on the big screen’.

Indeed, a good deal of the unhealthy background to this book’s “near-future metropolis built from the ruins of San Francisco” is to be found in the British writer’s tantalising text-boxes, which provide just enough information about “midnight assaults ending in murder” being common place in San Futuro to help make any perusing bibliophile think they see a killer in each and every shadow. This palpable sense of threat adds an enormous amount of atmosphere to the point where you can actually hear the trembling fear in the Sleepman’s latest victim’s voice as she desperately tries to flee through the deserted streets surrounding her; “If I could run faster. If I wasn’t in when the phone rang… If I hadn’t agreed to the job. If I wasn’t wearing this stupid costume…”

Similarly as terrifying is Mill’s depiction of life in the conurbation if you’re a super-hero, with the truly discombobulating Gangreen, complete with a necklace of severed ears, patrolling his fiefdom like some deranged futuristic maniac from a John Carpenter science fiction film. Resplendent in his all-green costume, and accompanied by a motley crew of well-armed “ex-SHOCC Troopers from the Zone”, the former-super-soldier seems destined to hang poor Sorry -- The Nearly Man for a crime he didn’t commit, until the titular character arrives just in the nick of time to rescue the partially-throttled innocent.

Adding enormously to this comic’s story-telling are Kevin O’Neill’s instantly recognisable layouts, which seem to contain a near endless supply of nods and winks to “the superheroes of the Golden Age and Silver Age” in his panels. Featuring a truly staggering front cover illustration of Marshal Law himself, there’s plenty of dynamic drawing to enjoy within this book, especially once the post combat syndrome-suffering Gangrene erroneously decides to make an attempt to infiltrate the cave-cop’s secret police precinct inside the Bart Bay Area Rapid Transport Station “under what used to be Hallidie Plaza.”
Writer/Creator: Pat Mills, Artist/Creator: Kevin O'Neill, and Letterer: Phil Felix

Tuesday, 9 June 2020

The Unexpected #6 - DC Comics

THE UNEXPECTED No. 6, January 2019
Arguably providing an intriguing insight as to just what fuels Onimar Synn’s demonic body, rather than "DC Comics" publicised “showdown at Castle Frankenstein with the souls of Berlin on the line”, Steve Orlando’s storyline for Issue Six of “The Unexpected” probably pleased the majority of its rapidly diminishing 8,462 strong audience in November 2018. In fact, the opening half of this twenty-page periodical makes for a pretty enthralling experience as Colin Nomi seemingly defies all the odds by allowing himself to be swallowed whole by the ancient Thanagarian devil in order to successfully rescue Firebrand’s soul from an eternity incarcerated inside an Nth Metal prison.

Admittedly, the idea of Neon the Unknown somehow surviving the self-same journey “within the Bones of Onimar Synn” which has cost the lives of so many other entities across the centuries is a little difficult to believe, especially when its soon becomes clear that the realm into which the “infamous Burnside artist” finds himself can only be accessed “through the void in Synn’s hand.” But the sincerity in the blind atheist’s involuntary action to follow Janet Fals straight ‘down the rabbit hole’ provides this comic with a nice, touching moment as to just how important the former paramedic’s friendship has become to the matter manipulator; “Say you’ll fight your way back out with me. I acted on instinct following you…”

Unfortunately however, once Nomi and Firebrand literally tear themselves free from inside Onimar’s horrifically mutilated torso, the same praise can’t debatably be bestowed upon the rest of this book’s plot, with the heroes’ sudden arrival on “the Homeworld of Frankenstein’s teachers” seemingly ending on a ‘to be continued’ cliff-hanger with a little over a third of the publication left to peruse. This splash page shocker depicting “the most important tombstone in the DC Multiverse” is definitely impactive, yet somewhat smacks of this comic’s pacing being badly at odds with its page count, particularly when the self-same scene is oddly recapped just a dozen panels later as if the first illustration was originally intended to end the magazine..?

Disappointingly adding to this book’s aura of inconsistency are Ronan Cliquet’s layouts. Initially doing an excellent job of injecting the sense-shattering shenanigans of Colin’s captivating quest inside Synn’s body with plenty of dynamic drama and tension, the Brazilan artist’s prodigious pencilling takes a noticeable downward decline in quality for a short while after the aforementioned grave marker, almost as if he was suddenly required to add the Bad Samaritan’s resurrection at the last minute as a filler…
Storytellers: Ronan Cliquet & Steve Orlando, and Colors: Jeromy Cox