Thursday, 30 July 2020

Batman: The Adventures Continue #3 - DC Comics

Providing an intriguing insight into the Bat-Family triad of Batman, Robin and Batgirl, as well as an excellent guest appearance by Matt Hagen’s gigantic, shape-shifting alter-ego Clayface, this opening instalment to “Mentors” certainly must have impressed its audience upon its digital release in May 2020. For whilst Issue Three of “Batman: The Adventures Continue” contains plenty of crime-fighting shenanigans familiar to those fans of “Fox Kids” 1992 animated television series, it also weaves a fascinating sub-plot involving Deathstroke throughout its proceedings.

Indeed, having vanquished the mud-like former-movie star, courtesy of a “fast-acting sedative” which’ll keep the super-villain asleep for six hours, Slade Wilson’s colourfully costumed presence is felt in every subsequent scene, including a delightfully humorous breakfast set in Wayne Manor’s kitchen, where the billionaire inadvertently brings his two excited partners-in-training down to earth with a verbal bump following the praise Deathstroke has previously heaped upon them; “Don’t put too much stock in his compliments… Men of Wilson’s ilk are visible only when they need to be.”

Equally as enthralling, alongside an all-too brief aerial battle high over Midtown between Batgirl and “the rogue daredevil Roxy Rocket”, is this comic’s ongoing theme of the Caped Crusader being spied upon by a mysterious man with a white streak running through his dark hair. Spotted by Slade, when the nefarious mercenary is busy trying to smooth-talk Batgirl into joining him in a “bigger theatre for a woman with your talents”, it enticingly seems clear that the binocular-carrying rogue is playing some patiently long game with the Dark Knight and his adolescent entourage.

Very much adding to this fine blend of nostalgic Nineties story-telling with a much larger “DC Comics” cast, are Ty Templeton’s layouts, which really manage to capture the “film noir aesthetics” allure of the broadcast show’s outsourced cartoon studios. Wilson’s look and dynamic posturing, particularly at the end of this book when he’s practising against a plethora of target dummies, genuinely looks as if he’s been taken straight off a South Korean film reel produced by “Dong Yang Animation”, and arguably fits in seamlessly with the much more well-established drawings of Bruce Wayne’s inner circle.
Writers: Alan Burnett & Paul Dini, Artist: Ty Templeton, and Colorist: Monica Kubina

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

The Last American #3 - Epic Comics

THE LAST AMERICAN No. 3, February 1991
Such is the gripping sense of suspense which Alan Grant creates with his penmanship for Issue Three of “The Last American” that it is hard not to imagine at least some of this book’s readers back in February 1991 sneaking a quick peek at the comic’s conclusion to see just who was contacting Ulysses S. Pilgrim over the radio from Virginia. In fact, as the excited titular character encounters setback after setback during his increasingly desperate dash to reach the source of the wireless transmission, the urge to race ahead and find out what awaits the lonely soldier at the end of this twenty-eight page periodical, arguably becomes almost unbearable; “Even if they turn out to be Russian cannibals armed with I.C.B.M.s, I’m still going to be glad to see them!”

Fortunately, at least for the most part, there’s still plenty of pulse-pounding panels to enjoy within “An American Dream” before the US Army Captain discovers at the highest point in the Shenandoah National Park whether he truly is the sole survivor of the planet’s past global nuclear conflict. True, this action predominantly focuses upon Michael McMahon delightfully pencilling Pilgrim’s armoured wagon traversing all manner of ‘natural’ disasters, such as an underground coal seam which had caught fire during the war, and a heaving storm whose rain water was “low-to-medium radioactive with a pH similar to dilute sulphuric acid.” But Ulysses’ reckless determination to push on regardless of the dangers surrounding his mission easily carries the narrative along at a fiendishly brisk pace.

Perhaps this comic’s only disappointment therefore is the somewhat sedentary nature of Grant’s dream sequence where the severely unstable survivor finds himself encircled by all the Presidents of the United States in Heaven. There’s undoubtedly some interesting connections being made with this colourful interlude set inside the White House, which debatably shows the “Apocalypse Commander” now mentally seeing himself as a peer to the other commanders-in-chief like Reagan and Washington, thanks to him being previously “vested with the authority of the United States Government.” However, compared to the sense of palpable urgency found elsewhere within this publication, the somewhat dry dialogue and political in-jokes soon become a frustrating side-show, and it’s all too easy to overlook Pilgrim’s intriguing relationship with Jackie Kennedy Onassis at the party…
Writers: Alan Grant & John Wagner, Artist: Michael McMahon, and Letterer: Phil Felix

Tuesday, 28 July 2020

Red Sonja: Age Of Chaos #5 - Dynamite Entertainment

RED SONJA: AGE OF CHAOS No. 5, July 2020
For those readers who enjoy an abundance of decapitations or grisly bodily dismemberments inside their comic books, Erik Burnham’s script to Issue Five of “Red Sonja: Age Of Chaos” must have entertained them enormously with its seemingly endless carousel of sword-hacking and arm-ripping shenanigans. In fact, many within this twenty-page periodical’s audience would probably struggle to recall another title the safe side of a Teen-rated publication which contains quite so many flying heads and severed limbs as the “Minnesotan writer” manages to weave throughout this mini-series’ particular instalment.

Happily however, such graphic violence isn’t simply gratuitous nonsense either, and actually helps progress a truly pulse-pounding plot which predominantly focuses upon the titular character’s headlong dash across the Great Desert of the East towards a long-hidden temple in order to “resurrect an infamous Necromancer.” True, Chasity’s shocking beheading doesn’t surprisingly keep the “half-breed” vampire out of the action for too long, but the gruesome demise of Red Sonja’s travelling companion certainly spurs the Hyrkanian warrior on to some truly breathtakingly brave moments whilst fighting “a newly powered Purgatori”.

In addition, the death of Brian Pulido’s mohawked co-creation, alongside that of Jade, provides the hilarious Evil Ernie with two ready-made puppets with which to claim Kulan Gath’s highly-sought after talisman. Indeed, the green-glowing drones’ attack upon Purgatori and Sonja produces some of this comic’s most memorable actions sequences, including a genuine laugh-out-loud moment when the “She-devil with a Sword” unflinchingly dispatches her resurrected friend with a merciless sword-swipe much to Chasity’s chagrin; “Just make it fast, huh? And then put that amulet on my corpse… Geez, didn’t take much convincing…”

Imbuing this book’s impressive “Chaos! library of characters” with plenty of animated life, even those which are noticeably Undead, is artist Jonathan Lau, whose pencilling goes a great way to depicting the sheer speed of the events which Burnham has penned. One moment Red is furiously fighting off a frenzied horde of blood-drinking thralls, and then in the next a revitalised Jade is making more martial art moves against Lucifer’s bride-to-be than the human eye can possibly follow before the four thousand year-old vampire-sorceress has her limbs vividly torn out from their sockets.
The regular cover art of "RED SONJA: AGE OF CHAOS" No. 5 by Alan Quah

Monday, 27 July 2020

Future Schlock: Branded #1 - Millsverse Comics

Published digitally as a free story for subscribers to the “Spacewarp” newsletter, and masterfully evocating all the atmosphere of “Tharg’s Future Shocks” from the British weekly “2000 A.D.”, Pat Mills’ marvellous script for this six-page periodical undoubtedly must have seemed like manna from heaven for any reader fortunate enough to receive the download. Indeed, just as soon as the alien narrator Schlock politely introduces himself to the audience with the promise of a short tale about Earth 3563, where “their planet is in big trouble”, those bibliophiles who remember the godfather of British comics’ early days creating IPC Magazines’ renowned sci-fi anthology title will immediately be transported back to the late Seventies when a certain alien from the planet Quaxxann was the comic’s extra-terrestrial editor.

Homages aside however, “Future Schlock: Branded” easily stands upon its own merits as a distinctly disturbing vision of the future, where the modern-day obsession of companies to utilise every opportunity possible to market their wares has been taken to the nth degree so that even a pioneering space exploration mission has been funded simply so the manned expedition can be exploited as a huge advertising campaign; ““Mars… Jupiter… Saturn… I’m just watching the worlds go by… Drinking Kalma Kola… Without a care in the Solar System. Wanna stay cool. Too? Drink Kalma Kola.”

This all-too believable concept really makes for an enthralling tale, as the seemingly endless necessity for the spaceship’s sole astronaut Steve to act in front of the computer-controlled camera ‘six times a day’, soon begins to wear a little thin upon the “serious” scientist’s nerves. Mills does a very good job of quickly putting across the frustrated cosmonaut’s inherent desire to genuinely contribute to the enterprise rather than just make television adverts, and like all good authors actually manages to fool the audience into thinking the spaceman has convinced Stella of his need to physically participate in some ship repairs before pulling the rug from beneath the audience’s feet at the shocking conclusion to this yarn.

Ably assisting Pat in this publication’s storytelling is the prodigious artwork of Cliff Cumber, whose detailed pencilling looks very good in just black and white. In fact, a lot of this comic’s emotion, such as Steve’s frenzied rant about eating one too many genetically modified apples and subsequent horror at the computer’s solution to him becoming “the ultimate product placement”, stems from the Englishman’s ability to imbue the increasingly disgruntled rocketeer with some wonderfully dynamic facial expressions.
Story: Pat Mills, Art: Cliff Cumber, and Lettering: Ken Reynolds

Saturday, 25 July 2020

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - Too Long A Sacrifice #1 - IDW Publishing

The second “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” comic released by “IDW Publishing”, this mini-series’ opening instalment may well disappoint those of the science fiction franchise’s fans who were expecting something of a fight-fest set during the Federation’s heavily destructive Dominion War. For whilst co-writer David Tipton has previously highlighted the fact that this twenty-page periodical is “set during the most difficult hours” of the major interstellar conflict, the entirety of this book’s storyline is actually based within the claustrophobic confines of the old Cardassian space station's promenade rather than some substantially-sized Alpha Quadrant battleground.

Fortunately however, the “legendary Star Trek scribes” have used this fairly limited locale to their advantage by penning an intriguing tale packed full of misdirection, intrigue, treachery and heroics. Indeed, such is the quality of Scott and David's story-telling that “Too Long A Sacrifice” quickly sucks its audience into its well-worded narrative, as if the publication itself were playing out before the readers’ eyes on the small screen; “A thousand pardons, my good Doctor Bashir. You know I’d never intentionally miss one of our lunches.”

Pleasingly, this comic’s plot also provides plenty of opportunity for almost all the television series’ leading cast to have at least one familiar moment, even the unscrupulous Garek, who once again manages to completely befuddle the station’s Chief Medical Officer by saving his life when the diner they’re eating in is suddenly blown sky high during a shocking terrorist attack. Chief O’Brien, Dax, Captain Sisko Quark and Worf all manage to help push Constable Odo’s politically sensitive investigation along, with perhaps this book’s highlight being the shape-changer and Klingon physically besting a pair of riled Nausicaans in the Constable’s office.

As a result this magazine’s only drawback is therefore some of Greg Scott’s illustrations, which whilst proficient in their portrayal of the action, appear disappointingly rough around the edges in several places. The comic’s aforementioned destructive opening sequence set inside Lavin’s Eatery is pencilled well enough, but by the time events have moved deeper into Odo’s inquiry as to the cowardly attack's potential suspects, the “noir artist” seems to be populating his panels with the vaguest of shapes, and relying far too heavily upon his audience’s familiarity with the characters to fill in the blanks…
Writers: Scott Tipton & David Tipton, Artist: Greg Scott, and Colorist by: Felipe Sobreiro

Thursday, 23 July 2020

The Last American #2 - Epic Comics

THE LAST AMERICAN No. 2, January 1991
Providing its readers with a fascinating insight into the rapid mental decline of this mini-series’ titular character, John Wagner’s storyline for Issue Two of “The Last American” most probably disturbed many within this book’s audience in January 1991, with its disconcertingly dark depiction of life (or rather lack of life) following an atomic-fuelled World War Three. Indeed, considering that the vast majority of this twenty-eight page periodical simply depicts Ulysses S. Pilgrim endlessly trudging through the post-Armageddon wastes of the Big Apple on his seemingly pointless mission to locate any “operation station” receiving his wagon’s weak radio signals, the fact “Apocalypse: The Musical” still actually manages to provide plenty of thrills is undoubtedly a testament to the excellent penmanship of Judge Dredd’s co-creator.

Fortunately however, despite the somewhat sedentary nature of the US Army Captain’s depressing assignment, the “American-born British comics writer” still manages to ensnare the reader’s unequivocal attention, courtesy of the long-dead remnants of the metropolis’ inhabitants rising up as phantoms in order to perform a truly macabre vaudeville act amidst their city’s ruins. Of course, whether the ghoul-faced baseball players are real or not is a matter for debate. Yet their very presence, and the suggestion that Pilgrim might be imagining them singing, adds a few laughs to a rather unsettling plot which otherwise would simply depict Ulysses sat inside his robot-assisted tank looking out at an endless supply of skeletons.

Besides, the disgraced soldier’s descent into a suicidal funk is made all the more impactive by him hysterically laughing at the opening line of a song, and then essentially handing over the rest of any given scene to a cacophony of dancing, green-skinned ghouls who seem intent on gleefully bashing out a major musical number at the top of their voices. These various unhinged variety show performances, dynamically pencilled by Michael McMahon and packed full of humorous lyrics, are incredibly catchy, and brilliantly then go on to make the silence encountered by the titular character when he decides to spend the night alone in a Jersey-based cemetery all the more tragically haunting; “Are you there, God? Come on out! I got a bone to pick with you! A Bone -- Hah! That’s a good one! I got a million bones to pick with you, Pal! All the bones in the world!”
Writers: Alan Grant & John Wagner, Artist: Michael McMahon, and Letterer: Phil Felix

Wednesday, 22 July 2020

What If? Civil War #1 - Marvel Comics

WHAT IF? CIVIL WAR No. 1, February 2008
Utilising a brief tale by Ed Brubaker entitled "The Stranger" as “a framing device around which the other two stories revolve”, Issue One of “What If? Civil War” probably helped the vast amount of its 58,909 readers in December 2007 appreciate just how wrong Tony Stark was to persecute his fellow heroes for not voluntarily submitting to the Superhuman Registration Act, as well as just how highly (and wrongly) Steve Rogers thought of his long-time friend before their differences arose. Indeed, Christos Gage’s plot for “What If Iron Man Lost The Civil War” lays the entire blame of the “Marvel Comics Event In Seven Parts” squarely upon Iron Man’s armoured shoulders for blatantly lying to the Sentinel of Liberty regarding his “plans for my twenty-first century overhaul.”

Admittedly, this particular eighteen-page epic undoubtedly lacks a lot of the emotional response Mark Millar’s mini-series generated, courtesy of a sugary-sweet plot which sees Cap team-up with an “honest” Shellhead so as to overcome a homicidal Thor cybernetic clone. But what it does provide is perhaps the only sensible solution to the super-powered pairs’ dilemma of just one government or person ultimately being responsible for both the training and secret identities of every costumed crime-fighter in the United States; “It’s not enough to be against something. You have to be for something better.”

Slightly more action-packed is “What If Captain America Led All The Heroes Against Registration?” by Kevin Grevioux, which manages to recreate much of the anger and resentment generated by the original 2006 crossover storyline. With Stark already dead following an Extremis injection, this marvellous reimagining unashamedly pits Steve Rogers and most of the Marvel Universe directly against the Senate and S.H.I.E.L.D. in a battle which somewhat resembles that seen in the “X-Men” comic book narrative "Days of Future Past".

Crammed full of pulse-pounding punch-ups against the impassive Sentinels, and the death of the spectacular Spider-Man, this dynamically pencilled fight-fest sets up Henry Gyrich and Maria Hill as two of the most despicably treacherous characters to inhabit a publication, with the deputy director’s cold-blooded murder of Jim Rhodes and subsequent framing of a dead Captain America proving particularly unforgivable. Indeed, such is the utter loathing engendered by Gyrich in his journey to become President and the despicable Hill’s ambition to be carried along on his coat-tails, that in many ways it is a shame this well-penned conspiracy from an alternative universe wasn’t awarded a limited series or ongoing title of its own.
Written by: Ed Brubaker, Kevin Grevioux & Christos Gage, and Art by: Marko Djurdjevic, Gustavo and Harvey Tolibao

Tuesday, 21 July 2020

Red Knight #2 - Manos Publishing

RED KNIGHT No. 2, September 2019
Having seemingly established in this title’s opening instalment that “Norfolk belongs to Brick” - an incredibly-strong super-villain with the ability to grow to goliath proportions, Justin Cristelli’s script for Issue Two of “Red Knight” must have subverted the expectations of many of this comic’s readers with his sudden and oft-times shocking plot twists. Indeed, no sooner has this publication’s unsuspecting audience settled down to watch the gigantic drug-dealer wreak havoc upon a hapless family trapped inside a badly battered automobile, then the seemingly unstoppable seller of illegal “super powered enhancements” has been shot dead straight through the eye by a solitary police officer armed with nothing more than her strong nerves and a steady aim; “The bulletproof ones are normally vulnerable through the eyes. Remember your training.”

Equally as unforeseen is the revelation that along with Python and Pop Girl, Brick had actually stolen the “Bam” he was hoping to supply the streets with from an infinitely more cold-hearted killer known as Mister Sinclair. Evidently the head of a sophisticated syndicate, this well-dressed crime-lord clearly won’t tolerate failure or disobedience of any kind, and even goes so far as to physically manhandle one of his own managers when they neglect to clean out his business’s overflowing mouse trap in preparation for a Department of Health inspection.

Easily this twenty-five page periodical’s highlight however, has to be Over Kill and Surge's savagely violent attack upon Brick’s recuperating side-kicks at the Norfolk General Hospital. Initially, it genuinely seems that the aforementioned Mister Sinclair has arranged for Python and Pop Girl “to join Doctor Blood Banks’ crew”, especially when one of the big boss’s bullies takes a hold of the poor policeman stood guard outside the ward and gleefully wrings the officer’s neck right in front of a jubilant ‘full-body stretcher’.

But things quickly then turn sour for the low-level powered thieves when artist JC Grande graphically pencils Over Kill swiftly snapping Python’s spine too, and Surge literally fries Pop Girl alive despite first taking off the woman’s power locks and giving her “a fighting chance!” In fact, Doctor Banks’ deadly duo are significantly more frightening than Brick’s raw strength ever made him, with one of the barbaric-looking murderers even gleefully ripping out his opponent’s heart as some sort of grotesque trophy and chillingly suggesting they do the same to Red Knight once they encounter him.
Writer: Justin Cristelli, Artist: JC Grande, and Colorist: Forrester Randlet

Monday, 20 July 2020

Civil War #7 - Marvel Comics

CIVIL WAR No. 7, January 2007
Having read Mark Millar’s narrative for Issue Seven of “Civil War” it is arguably easy to see just why this comic book mini-series “polarized critics but… was a commercial success.” For whilst some within this publication’s 265,886-strong audience were undoubtedly rooting for Tony Stark’s mishmash of government sanctioned superheroes and supposedly reformed members of the Masters of Evil, those applauding Captain America’s defiance of the Superhuman Registration Act were probably left utterly disillusioned as to just what the Sentinel of Liberty was trying to achieve with his defiance.

True, Steve Rogers’ apparent obsession to knock the seven bells out of his armoured former friend for imprisoning so many of their team-mates inside the Negative Zone does cause the First Avenger to inadvertently wage an incredibly destructive war upon the very civilian population which he thought he was protecting. Yet, it’s difficult to imagine being bundled to the ground by a handful of emergency service operatives would shake the World War Two veteran so badly that he’d instantly remove his famous winged cowl and allow the authorities to place him in handcuffs; “Oh my god. They’re right. We’re not fighting for the people anymore, Falcon… Look at us. We’re just fighting.”

Similarly as disconcerting is this twenty-eight page periodical’s aftermath, which somehow tries to sweep all the damage and death caused by the Pro-Registration faction’s determination to incarcerate anyone who disagreed with their viewpoint, right under the rug simply because the likes of Mister Fantastic “cried for a full ninety-three minutes” upon seeing his estranged wife using her invisible powers to help with the clean-up. Reed Richards was so convinced that he was 'fighting the good fight' that he became partially responsible for the cold-blooded murder of Bill Foster. However, rather than be held accountable for such dishonourable actions, his experiments “on the whole” are apparently deemed “an enormous success” and Sue incredibly returns to her husband's side within the space of just a fortnight.

Tony Stark too seems to suffer no ill-consequences for his disappointingly dark actions, and is actually rewarded by the President of the United States with the directorship of S.H.I.E.L.D. Such pay-offs for unforgivably allying themselves with the likes of Radioactive Man, Venom and a seriously-deranged Thor clone really are quite baffling, and although the so-called “radicalised” likes of Spider-Man, Doctor Strange and Power Man form an Underground Movement to continue their opposition, Millar’s extreme lack of consequences for so many of this event’s main players probably left something of a bad taste in many bibliophiles’ mouths.
Writer: Mark Millar, Penciler: Steve McNiven, and Inker: Dexter Vines

Friday, 17 July 2020

Star Trek: Year Five #12 - IDW Publishing

STAR TREK: YEAR FIVE No. 12, March 2020
Disconcertingly described by “IDW Publishing” as “a perfect jumping-on point before the second year of the series begins”, Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly’s writing for Issue Twelve of “Star Trek: Year Five” must surely have made little sense to even this ongoing series’ most ardent fans with its publication-long punch-up between Gary Seven and James Tiberius Kirk. True, the former friends’ bout of fisticuffs certainly provides plenty of entertainment as the two combatants exchange all manner of blows and eye-winching injuries upon one another, but neither character is arguably even slightly recognisable as their televised counterparts on the small screen.

Supervisor 194 is especially devoid of any of the charisma which made him such a popular protagonist in the 1968 broadcast story “Assignment: Earth", and instead disappointingly appears to have simply been modelled upon the emotionless cyborg assassin which features so prominently within James Cameron’s “The Terminator” franchise. Indeed, Mister Seven appears so utterly indestructible that he even shrugs off being savagely stabbed right through the left eye by Kirk simply because “I was bred and trained for a singular purpose” so rather fortunately no longer feels any pain.

Debatably somewhat less at variance with the science fiction franchise’s source material, is the showrunners’ depiction of the U.S.S. Enterprise’s captain, at least during this twenty-page periodical’s opening when the Starfleet Officer desperately tries to reason with his assailant that there has to be an alternative solution to the madman’s mission to destroy the Constitution-class vessel. However, once it becomes clear that this incarnation of Gary Seven is a far cry from that so wonderfully portrayed by actor Robert Lansing, Kirk also undergoes a major personality change and meekly submits to the Class One Supervisor’s demands of piloting his beloved Federation starship straight into the very planet upon which the captain has already stranded his entire crew: “If someone’s going to destroy this Enterprise and all her hands. It should be her captain!”

Adding to this almost unrecognisable concoction of amateurish ‘fan fiction’ are no less than three separate artists, whose somewhat roughly-hewn illustrations and irregularly-angled figures regrettably deprive many of this comic’s more tensely penned action-sequences with any semblance of tension whatsoever. Stephen Thompson’s single page, directly lifted from this title’s first instalment, is excellently drawn, yet sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb when it appears mid-way through the comic and is surrounded by Kieran McKeown and Silvia Califano’s less prodigious pencilling.
Writers: Jackson Lanzing & Collin Kelly, and Artists: Kieran McKeown, Silvia Califano & Stephen Thompson

Thursday, 16 July 2020

Death-Defying 'Devil #5 - Dynamite Entertainment

DEATH-DEFYING 'DEVIL No. 5, December 2019
Initially appearing, for all intents and purposes, as an issue-long punch-up between this comic’s titular character and Lucifer himself, Gail Simone’s script for this final instalment to her “Death-Defying Devil” mini-series probably caught a fair few of the book’s readers off-guard with its subtle shift in focus away from the fisticuffs. In fact, the American author’s script for this twenty-two page periodical rather cleverly brings some clarity to much of this title’s lengthy story-line, as it becomes increasingly clear that Bart Hill’s battle “to protect the residents of the Winslow House from the evil that wants their home” was never really about the physical fighting, but more about him building up an unassailable bond of trust with the buildings numerous tenants.

Of course, that doesn’t mean for a second that the costumed crime-fighter doesn’t spend a fair proportion of this publication trading blows with the personification of evil, or rather reeling from a veritable torrent of flesh-rending claw-swipes, hoof-stomps and bone-cracking grapples. However, arguably the real action actually takes place on the haunted dwelling’s main porch, as Satan’s son tries to shatter the strong sense of loyalty the vulnerable inhabitants have developed for the masked vigilante by offering them their heart’s deepest desire in return for just three words - “I rebuke him.”

Such emotional turmoil really is at the heart of this wonderfully penned piece, with each member of Simone’s supporting cast seeming to have an awful lot to gain by making a deal with the devil, and it genuinely appears that at any moment one of the residents will finally give in to the ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity. Indeed, just as a badly bloodied Bart haplessly lies at the feet of his apparently victorious, horned opponent and all appears lost, it is the solidarity of Staff Sergeant Crouse, Roberto, Yolanda, Mister Tubbins, and Miss Thomas which ultimately wins through to send an impotent Mister Bedlam and his weakened father straight back to Hell.

Providing this comic with plenty of dynamically-drawn action-packed panels, as well as prodigiously portraying the internal struggles upon the pained faces of this comic’s “good people”, is Walter Geovani. The Brazilian visual artist really does help imbue “Devilson” with all the haughty arrogance and overconfidence a bibliophile would expect from Satan’s offspring, and the wicked creature’s eventual disbelief at being outplayed at his own deceitful game is undoubtedly the highlight of this book.
The regular cover art of "DEATH-DEFYING 'DEVIL" No. 5 by Inhyuk Lee

Wednesday, 15 July 2020

Civil War #6 - Marvel Comics

CIVIL WAR No. 6, December 2006
The best-selling title of January 2007, at least according to “Diamond Comic Distributors”, Issue Six of “Civil War” must have fairly surprised some of its 259,251 readers with its depiction of both lead antagonists dipping into the dark well of the criminally “insane” in order to achieve their goals. True, Captain America quickly realises his mistake in recruiting the Punisher to his cause once Frank Castle cold-bloodily guns down the Plunderer and Goldbug following the villainous pairs’ attempt to join the rebels. But before this moment of murderous clarity, Steve Rogers seemed fairly content to allow the vigilante to access the Baxter Building’s incredibly complex security system for him and retrieve “the plans on the Negative Zone prison”.

Mercifully though, the Sentinel of Liberty’s lack of judgement doesn’t prove too detrimental to his anti-registration side’s plans to attempt a rescue of their super-friends incarcerated by the American authorities, and even provides Mark Millar with an opportunity to demonstrate just how much in awe Castle apparently is of the living legend when the vicious vigilante refuses to defend himself against Rogers during their distinctly one-sided fist-fight; “Get him out of here! And throw his guns in the incinerator! I must have been out of my mind to give that animal a shot on this team!”

However, the same realisation, and subsequent rejection of ‘dealing with the devil’ cannot be found with the increasingly flawed shenanigans of Tony Stark, who actually appears proud to be leading a group of shadily-sanctioned operatives such as the Taskmaster, Radioactive Man, Bullseye, Elektra and Venom into battle against many of humanity’s most morally-righteous freedom fighters. Indeed, this twenty-two page periodical’s double-splash conclusion provides an abundantly clear difference between the two opposing theologies, with Captain America’s so-called unlawful resistance comprising of some of Stan Lee’s mightiest heroes, whilst Iron Man’s ‘holier than thou’ agents strongly resemble the despicable Masters Of Evil…

Somewhat disconcertingly, this particular instalment to the “Marvel Comics event in seven parts” also arguably shows some signs of the impact its print deadline was having upon Steve McNiven’s artwork. Everything looks great up until the point, towards the end of the book, when the Golden Avenger unleashes his ambush upon the rebels’ prison break, and then, presumably due to the sheer amount of figures suddenly ‘on screen’ the Canadian artist’s pencilling momentarily deteriorates before picking back up again for the magazine’s final few pages.
Writer: Mark Millar, Penciler: Steve McNiven, and Inker: Dexter Vines

Tuesday, 14 July 2020

Ghostbusters: Year One #4 - IDW Publishing

Documenting “the final interview for the Ghostbusters biography” Erik Burnham’s script for Issue Four of “Ghostbusters: Year One” most definitely produces a comic of two halves, with the book’s opening clarifying the damage suffered by the paranormal investigators' headquarters following Walter Peck’s demand for them to turn off the building’s power, and its latter pages focusing upon Egon Spengler’s solitary tussle with Slimer, after the ghoulish green ghost’s escape from its faulty containment facility; “It proved beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it wouldn’t be safe to go on solo calls. Just dumb luck allowed the matter to be resolved without any real consequences.”

Fortunately for this book’s readers however, both aspects of this twenty-page periodical have their own merits and move along the Minnesotan-born writer’s narrative at a fairly brisk pace. Admittedly, Rebecca Morales’ character seems a little too determined to get a detrimental angle for her story by verbally attacking "the brain of the Ghostbusters" for his “design flaw”. But, besides the independent reporter arguably losing a considerable amount of her charm as a result, the section is still interesting as it details the huge work needed if the old disused firehouse is ever to be safe to venture into again following so many spirits escaping their incarceration simultaneously.

Debatably far more entertaining though is Spengler’s tête-à-tête with the busted apparition Slimer, and Egon’s explanation as to how he managed to defeat the pesky poltergeist single-handedly after Ray Stanz had apparently abandoned him whilst “trying to get some bait for the ghost.” Angry, malicious and clearly able to hurt his grey-garbed pursuer, this version of the mischievous manifestation far closer resembles that of the creature depicted in Ivan Reitman’s 1984 supernatural comedy film, and resultantly ramps up the plausibility that the bespectacled doctor might not survive their encounter completely intact.

Ably assisting Burnham in his attempt to replicate all the nostalgic goings-on of the big screen franchise is Dan Schoening and colorist Luis Delgado, whose energetic artwork looks like something taken straight off of the reel of a well-produced animated cartoon. Spengler’s attempt to ‘trap’ a food-frenzied Slimer is particularly well-pencilled, as the phantom is shown pleasantly filling its fat face full of pizza in one panel before being shockingly caught within the confines of a proton pack’s stream in the next.
Written by: Erik Burnham, Art by: Dan Schoening, and Colors by: Luis Antonio Delgado

Monday, 13 July 2020

The Last American #1 - Epic Comics

THE LAST AMERICAN No. 1, December 1990
Focusing upon the first uneasy steps of Ulysses S. Pilgrim following his restoration from suspended animation, John Wagner’s script for Issue One of “The Last American” must have provided its audience with a nerve-wrecking experience, as the soldier starts exploring what remains of the United States some “twenty years after a global nuclear conflict.” True, the disgraced Army Captain doesn’t actually encounter anything living in the surrounding countryside, except “evidence of at least a basic food chain” in the form of several mutated ants. But that doesn’t stop the titular character, as well as this comic’s readers, from still seeing threatening shadows behind every ruined building or bundle of bleached-white skeletons.

Indeed, despite this twenty-eight page periodical completely lacking any antagonists for Pilgrim to overcome, the plot to “Goodnight, Ploughkeepsie” moves along at an enjoyably brisk pace, with Ulysses only stopping to don some clothes and swill down a cup of hot coffee before embarking upon his mission to ascertain whether anyone survived the atomic holocaust; “Able and Baker have checked over the wagon. Fully loaded and operation. .45 Colt Automatic? Precision weighted thigh knife? M393 Regulator Submachine gun? Frag Grenades? Like the Boy Scouts used to say, Captain -- Be prepared.”

Fortunately however, any disappointment at this comic not containing an action-packed apocalyptic fight-sequence or two is quickly dispelled, courtesy of the four-time UK Comic Art Award-winner penning an incredibly enthralling exploration of High Falls and its surrounding corpse-laden area. The dialogue between the lone soldier and his three robotic companions, especially the Television junkie droid Charlie, is truly excellent, and such is the emotional attachment generated by the automatons that the book definitely exudes a sense of foreboding danger in the air when Baker is left behind to repair a road wheel on the wagon.

Bringing this fascinating futuristic journey to animated life are the layouts of Michael McMahon, which do a fantastic job of depicting the utter wanton destruction of the world Pilgrim wakes up into. The British penciller’s ability to illustrate the eerie stillness of the US Army officer’s environment is especially impressive, with one of the publication’s highlights being the sudden shock Ulysses experiences when he’s caught off-guard by Charlie playing with a talking child’s doll.
Writers: Alan Grant & John Wagner, Artist: Michael McMahon, and Letterer: Phil Felix

Saturday, 11 July 2020

Avengers [2018] #12 - Marvel Comics

AVENGERS No. 12, March 2019
Whilst “Marvel Worldwide” wanted this title’s audience to believe that “it’s hard to run the Avengers without a support staff”, it was probably a whole lot harder for many of this comic’s 52,427 readers to process the plethora of comic book super-heroes Jason Aaron desperately tried to crowbar into his narrative. In fact, at its most basic level the American author’s storyline for “The Agents Of Wakanda” is arguably little more than a twenty-page procession of some of the New York-based publisher’s lowest-tiered crime-fighters and anti-heroes; “As for the others… How are there not better available candidates than this? Was there recently a super hero massacre of which I was not made aware of?”

Admittedly, having recently become the leader of “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes”, King T'Challa’s desire to create a network of “intelligence gatherers” makes considerable sense if “the most powerful super-team in recent memory” are actually going to become an international resource for truth and justice, as opposed to it simply being a ‘puppet’ for S.H.I.E.L.D. or the United States Government. But so bizarre are some of the Inkpot Award-winner’s choices that the roster debatably smacks of the writer simply throwing out a plethora of seldom-seen characters, such as American Eagle, Broo and Doctor Nemesis, in the hope that the odd “agent” will somehow resonate with this book’s bibliophiles.

Aaron also seems to have taken a fair few disagreeable liberties with the personality of Ka-Zar, questionably turning the once proud Lord of the Savage Land” into an unrecognisable foil for Okoye, leader of the Dora Milaje and Director of the Agents of Wakanda. Kevin Plunder's history dates back as far as the mid-Sixties and resultantly has provided him with a proven track record working alongside some of the greatest super-heroes known. Yet, in this story, the eldest son of a British nobleman has to first pass an audition so as to be deemed worthy to join a ground crew which has already recruited Gorilla-Man as the Chief of Security for Avengers Mountain apparently without any trial being warranted..?

Luckily, this publication’s puzzling plot does ‘enjoy’ the visual stimulus of Ed McGuinness and Cory Smith’s pencilling, which in the majority of cases makes the word-heavy discussions between Black Panther and the likes of Odin, at least pleasantly palatable. However, the artwork does suffer from some noticeable inconsistencies, courtesy of editor Tom Brevoort apparently employing three different inkers in order to ensure the book made its deadline at the Printers.
Writer: Jason Aaron, Artists: Ed McGuiness & Cory Smith, and Color Artist: Erick Arciniega

Friday, 10 July 2020

Civil War #5 - Marvel Comics

CIVIL WAR No. 5, November 2006
Apparently delayed by two months “to accommodate artist Steve McNiven”, Mark Millar’s plot to Issue Five of “Civil War” arguably focused far more upon Tony Stark’s fast evaporating relationship with Peter Parker than it did with the larger implications of “Marvel Comics' event in seven parts”, and in doing so demonstrated to this mini-series’ 272,584 strong audience just how desperate the billionaire industrialist had become to win the fight. In fact, the Scottish author’s similarly unscrupulous portrayal of S.H.I.E.L.D. Commander Maria Hill makes it difficult to imagine that their literary counter-parts and comic book fans alike would ever like/trust the two so-called heroic characters ever again; “Guess that’s thirty-one pieces of silver you’ve got now, huh? Sleep well, Judas.”

Similarly as disturbing as the egotistical pair’s utter arrogance in believing that they are completely justified to pursue any avenue, no matter what the cost, in order to secure victory over Captain America’s so-called rebels, is the Coatbridge-born writer’s debatably demeaning portrayal of “little Peter Spider-Man” as a seemingly helpless victim of Iron Man’s Machiavellian manipulations. Having finally found the courage to challenge Stark’s utilisation of a cyborg killing machine cloned from Thor, Web-head’s personality is seemingly regressed back to the human mutate’s adolescent days in the Sixties, when the teenager is still developing both emotionally and physically.

Resultantly, the unbelievably experienced costumed crime-fighter appears to do little else but surprisingly panic in the face of his pursuers Jester and Jack O’Lantern. Indeed, despite the pulse-pounding nature of the subsequent action sequence, which sees the two ‘reformed’ super-villains batter the wall-crawler into semi-unconsciousness with an exploding toy and a whiff of pumpkin gas, Millar would have any perusing bibliophile believe that a pitiful Parker’s alter-ego requires the help of the Punisher to defeat his two opponents, whilst the ordinarily hot-headed Johnny Storm is calmly shown serenely evading the entirety of S.H.I.E.L.D. Capekiller Team Nine and Eleven in the very next scene.

Happily however, despite this apparent ‘nerfing’ of Spider-Man’s super-abilities, this comic still provides plenty of sense-shattering entertainment on account of McNiven’s excellent pencilling. The aforementioned clash between the Web-slinger, Jester and Jack O’Lantern within the confines of a stinking underground sewer is superbly paced, with Stark’s colourfully-garbed recruits really socking it to the all-too vulnerable Parker within the space of a dozen beautifully illustrated panels.
Writer: Mark Millar, Penciler: Steve McNiven, and Inker: Dexter Vines

Thursday, 9 July 2020

Civil War #4 - Marvel Comics

CIVIL WAR No. 4, October 2006
Absolutely pulverising the sales of “DC Comics” most successful title of September 2006, “Justice League Of America”, by almost a hundred and thirty thousand copies, this fourth instalment to the “Civil War” mini-series by “Marvel Worldwide” certainly must have stunned its 272,547 audience with its brutal depiction of Iron Man seemingly going to almost any lengths in order to defeat his old comrade-in-arms, Captain America. Indeed, in many ways it’s hard to reconcile Mark Millar’s incarnation of the ‘win at all costs’ billionaire industrial with that of the Golden Avenger’s character during the Bronze Age of Comics…

Fortunately however, Tony Stark’s single-mindedness undeniably leads to some sensational confrontations within this twenty-two page periodical, most notably his patronisation of a badly-beaten Captain America, who despite his jaw “practically hanging off”, still has enough steel inside of him to stand up against the fully-armoured “pampered punk”. Utterly oblivious to all the pain and suffering his sonic attack is causing to all those super-heroes around him, the “mechanical engineer” genuinely seems to enjoy watching the Sentinel of Liberty suffer, and even goes far as to demean the “tough old bird” for “still getting up” when other people’s brains would have simply shutdown due to the sound waves.

Easily this publication’s most shocking moment though, has to be the horrific death of Goliath at the hands of a scarily-deranged Thor. This tragic moment is clearly the tipping point for some of Stark’s less convinced followers, such as Invisible Woman and Spider-Man. But also goes to show just how coldly calculating Iron Man has apparently always been when it is subsequently revealed that the murderous Thunder God is simply a cybernetic clone created from a strand of hair Tony covertly acquired from his furniture following “the first meeting of the Avengers.”

Ably enabling this comic to additionally be a visual tour-de-force are Steve McNiven’s layouts and Dexter Vines' inks, which really help imbue even the more sedentary scenes towards the back of the book, with plenty of emotional energy. Bill Foster’s killing is tremendously well-drawn, and the sheer horror upon all those who witness his dreadful demise is clearly etched in everyone’s facial expressions; “I thought you said you knew what you were doing, Tony. I thought we were doing this so no one else got hurt.”
Writer: Mark Millar, Penciler: Steve McNiven, and Inker: Dexter Vines

Wednesday, 8 July 2020

Marshal Law #6 - Epic Comics

MARSHAL LAW No. 6, April 1989
Packed with just the sort of pulse-pounding pugilism this mini-series’ audience probably expected from a comic containing the final confrontation between Marshal Law and Public Spirit, “Nemesis” certainly proved Pat Mills’ was entirely right when he decided to make Joe Gilmore’s alter-ego a government-sanctioned “superhero hunter” rather than “much like Road Warrior/Mad Max” following Kevin O’Neill’s initial concept art and naming of the book’s titular character. In fact, "the godfather of British comics" arguably goes one step further by leaving the law enforcement officer’s story very much open for future escapades by having Doctor Shocc outrageously resuscitate the body of Danny Mallon, despite the formidably-powered serial killer almost being “clinically dead” for twelve hours…

This disconcerting sub-plot, which quite cleverly provides the author with an opportunity to intermix Buck Caine’s final battle with something more than just flashbacks to Lynn Evans’ newspaper article on the secret symbolism of the Public Spirit, demonstrates just how fixated Virago’s son has become with the “cave-cop”, and rather excitingly hints as to the future dangers Law might face when the mass murderer is fully-recovered from his near lethal injuries. Seemingly just as dauntingly deadly as his homicidal father, as well as fully conversant with both Marshal’s methods and resources, the Sleepman’s revenge upon the man who “stood over the spot where he sank” for six hours “to make sure he didn’t come up again” could be truly horrific.

Undeniably this twenty-eight page periodical’s highpoint though is Gilmore’s fight against the deranged colonel in an old airport. Public Spirit’s sheer strength and astounding skills are on full show in this sense-shattering sequence, with Caine not only savagely dispatching a uniformed policeman for having the effrontery to shoot a pistol at him, but later smashing his way through a derelict aeroplane in order to get his hands on the “leather-clad tinker-bell” who has supposedly brought ruination upon his life; “I’ve lost… I’ve lost everything. They expected too much of me.”

O’Neill’s contribution to this comic’s success cannot be overstated either, with the three-time Harvey Award-winner pencilling Buck as just the sort of wildly-exaggerated, grotesque-looking monster a bibliophile might expect from an anabolic steroid-abusing superman. Wide-eyed and snarling like a banshee, the contrast between the colonel’s controlled public image and one depicted when he angrily loses all sense of self-control makes for a mesmerising read, especially when the supposed “brightest, most colourful of all the super heroes” doesn’t hold back with his deadly laser-beams.
Writer/Creator: Pat Mills, Artist/Creator: Kevin O'Neill, and Letterer: Phil Felix

Tuesday, 7 July 2020

Civil War #3 - Marvel Comics

CIVIL WAR No. 3, October 2006
Perhaps due to Mark Millar possibly prevaricating a little too much as to just which side of the Superhuman Registration Act each (and every) leading character within the Marvel Universe was on, some of this twenty two page periodical’s 290,672 readers probably felt this book’s narrative was a little bit too sedentary for a crossover storyline focusing upon “the conflict between freedom and security.” However, such lethargy is arguably easily forgotten once Captain America’s team teleport to Geffen-Meyer Chemicals and discover that the emergency distress calls emanating from the petrochemical plant are actually a well thought-out ruse by Iron Man and his iniquitous cronies; “Get the hell out of here, boys! It’s a trap!”

Indeed, the confrontation at the abandoned division of Stark Industries between the two wildly diverging ideologies is debatably one of the mini-series’ highlights, with Steve Rogers’ side deciding to momentarily stand and fight for what they truly believe in, despite facing both overwhelming odds, as well as the sudden loss of both Cloak and Wiccan to some tranquiliser darts. Furthermore, the scene also quite shockingly shows just how deceitful the Golden Avenger has become in siding with the authorities, by additionally depicting Shellhead co-operating with known Masters Of Evil members Radioactive Man and Atlas, presumably because there aren’t enough powerful super-heroes to follow his orders..?

Of course, the best part to the Coatbridge-born writer’s plot is Captain America’s flurry of fisticuffs with his former friend, and the sheer savagery of the conflict once Tony has rerouted his armour’s primary power systems so as to put the billionaire industrialist back on his feet. Initially, it seems that the Sentinel of Liberty is ‘content’ simply to floor his opponent for taking “down two of my boys” with a couple of shield blows to the chops. But something clearly snaps within Stark’s mind at such an effrontery, and his subsequent ‘attack from the rear’ is so villainously vicious that Hercules clearly fears for Rogers’ life.

Packing this comic’s action-packed sequences with plenty of pulse-pounding vitality is Steve McNiven, whose pencilling of the aforementioned battle between Tony and Cap shows just how much physical damage a swing from Iron Man can cause, even when its connecting with the jawline of a human whose super-strength has been significantly enhanced by the super-soldier serum. In fact, even this book’s less exciting scenes, such as Miss Frost’s interview at Professor Xavier’s Mansion in Westchester, or Goliath’s disappointment at being given the false persona Rockwell Dodsworth, prove riveting reads on account of the Canadian artist’s awesome illustrations.
Writer: Mark Millar, Penciler: Steve McNiven, and Inker: Dexter Vines

Monday, 6 July 2020

Star Trek: Year Five #11 - IDW Publishing

STAR TREK: YEAR FIVE No. 11, February 2020
It’s hard to imagine anyone being able to take the popular character of Gary Seven from the 1968 transmitted episode “Assignment: Earth" and turn him into an utterly dislikeable, cold-blooded killer within the space of a single twenty-page periodical. But incredibly, Jackson Lanzig and Collin Kelly do an admirable job of achieving just that with their narrative for Issue Eleven of “Star Trek: Year Five”.

Admittedly, actor Robert Lansing’s slightly emotionless, thoughtfully detached portrayal of Supervisor 194 could easily be misinterpreted as someone who, when working for the greater galactic good, simply doesn’t care about the everyday lives their actions are impacting upon. But such a viewpoint arguably doesn’t withstand the scrutiny of even a single screening of director Marc Daniels’ potential pilot piece, nor the numerous spin-off novels and comic books featuring Roberta Lincoln's mysterious partner-in-crime, including the much-lauded “Star Trek: Assignment: Earth” mini-series by John Byrne.

Infuriatingly however, none of this fifty-year ‘development’ appears to have influenced either Lanzig or Kelly, with the comic’s collaborative team instead presenting to the reader an incarnation of the Assigner’s Class One Supervisor who quite mercilessly unleashes a deadly Andorian Nerve Agent into a highly populated U.S.S. Enterprise’s Engine Room and then angrily blames the Constitution-class starship’s security team for subsequently forcing him to shoot them when they try to apprehend him; “I didn’t want to do this. This is your fault… At least it will be painless.” To make matters worse though, the collaborative duo even have Seven crossly denounce the version of himself so familiar to this franchise’s television audience, by having him indignantly rebuke Ensign Pavel Chekov for challenging the remarkable change in his behaviour, with the explanation that “The last time I saw you I was new. Now? That’s hardly the case.”

Fortuitously, one thing this comic doesn’t suffer with is poor pencilling, courtesy of Stephen Thompson’s awesome interior artwork, and Charlie Kirchoff’s colours. Despite the shift in seriousness of Seven’s demeanour, it is still enjoyably easy to imagine all the subtle mannerisms of Lansing’s on-screen interpretation taking place within the mind's eye, and even a debatably dreary, word-heavy command review of Mister Spock’s debacle on the water-world of I’Qosa, ably demonstrates Captain Kirk as a man animated by his admiration for his Vulcan friend.
The regular cover art of "STAR TREK: YEAR FIVE" No. 11 by Stephen Thompson & Charlie Kirchoff