Monday, 24 August 2020

Batman: The Adventures Continue #6 - DC Comics

Concluding their “Mentors” storyline with a distinctly fiery finale, Paul Dini and Alan Burnett’s narrative for Issue Six of “Batman: The Adventures Continue” must have caught a few of its readers somewhat off-guard when it was first published digitally in June 2020. For whilst the plot strongly tries to suggest that the titular character is haplessly walking into Slade Wilson’s well-devised trap to both kill the Dark Knight and take over the tutorage of the remaining Bat-Family members, it eventually becomes all too clear that it was the one-eyed assassin Deathstroke who was ultimately being played as the fool; “You mean you were playing possum? I thought I was saving you.”

Happily however, this revelation at the comic’s very end doesn’t stop the audience from positively willing the Caped Crusader to piece together the numerous clues beforehand, especially when the super-villain seemingly coerces Bruce Wayne’s alter-ego into blindly following him to Firefly's hideout. Warned about Batman’s destiny by their mysterious stalker, this book’s writers genuinely manage to instil a sense of trepidation concerning the well-being of Bill Finger’s co-creation into the likes of Robin and Batgirl, and resultantly there’s a palpable sense of desire created within the perusing bibliophile for the World’s Greatest Detective to deduct something is not quite right before he's cold-bloodedly murdered.

Enjoyably, the “producers of the original animated series” also perpetuate this pretence of the cowled crime-fighter apparently falling for Wilson’s lies by populating the publication’s concluding pages with plenty of thought balloons in which a supposedly ill-fated Batman finally begins to ‘smell a rat’. The Dark Knight’s assessment of Firefly requiring more explosives than those found “to bring down the dam”, as well as Garfield Lynns behaving more erratically than normal, quite wonderfully illustrates just how the hero’s increasing doubts as to the validity of Slade’s story are firmly taking root.

Responsible for adding even more menace to this comic’s proceedings are Ty Templeton’s awesome-looking pencils and Monica Kubina’s vivid colours. Indeed, the creative team’s layouts during Deathstoke’s confrontation with the Caped Crusader will arguably cause many within this periodical’s audience to actually hear the mercenary’s Hephasetus Sword sizzle as its effortlessly used to slash through concrete pillars, deflect bat-a-rangs and scythe through Batman’s back.
Writers: Alan Burnett & Paul Dini, Artist: Ty Templeton, and Colorist: Monica Kubina

Sunday, 23 August 2020

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - Too Long A Sacrifice #2 - IDW Publishing

Specifically placed “in the sixth season between One Little Ship and Honour Among Thieves”, Scott and David Tipton’s excellent script for Issue Two of “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Too Long A Sacrifice” most assuredly must have caused fans of the television franchise to wish the storyline had actually been put in front of the cameras way back in the late Nineties. Indeed, the comic’s dialogue is so authentic sounding, and its characters so accurate to their broadcast counterparts, that it is genuinely difficult not to imagine this four-part mini-series as an actual official adaption of a transmitted two-hour adventure.

To begin with, the collaborative writers’ handling of Constable Odo is absolutely spot on just as soon as the Chief of Security makes an appearance, with actor Rene Auberjonois’ voice clearly emanating from each word balloon during a highly enjoyable interrogation of an outraged Quark. Thoughtful, precise, carefully contemplative, as well as brutally forthright in his opinions as to the dishonesty of his peers, the Changeling easily captures the attention throughout this twenty-page periodical, and even manages to maintain an off-screen presence whenever the focus momentarily moves away from his investigation on to some more action-orientated events, like the successful assassination of an entire Ferengi trade delegation.

The Tipton brothers’ handling of the rest of this book’s cast is equally as well portrayed too, with both Worf and Major Kira getting plenty of attention as they try to support Odo in his frustratingly difficult hunt for the space station’s mysterious killer/s. In fact, the Klingon’s suggestion to adopt a “more aggressive manner of questioning” provides one of the comic’s highlights as the Starfleet officer accompanies the Constable on a satisfying sting operation targeting this title’s duplicitous Nausicaans; “All the contraband traces back to you two. You pointing the finger at Quark was more about covering your own tracks.”

Greg Scott also helps imbue this publication with the slight suggestion its readers are looking at an old “Futura” photo-adventure novel rather than a run-of-a-mill comic book. Admittedly, the former "Gotham Central" artist’s work does arguably look a little rough around the edges in some of the layouts. But that clearly doesn’t stop him capturing a good likeness of the show’s leading cast, nor some of their endearing tell-tale looks at one another when things aren’t going to plan…
Writers: Scott Tipton & David Tipton, Artist: Greg Scott, and Colorist by: Felipe Sobreiro

Saturday, 22 August 2020

Batman: The Adventures Continue #5 - DC Comics

Fans of Tim Drake’s incarnation of the Boy Wonder would surely have felt well-served by Paul Dini and Alan Burnett’s penmanship throughout Issue Five of “Batman: The Adventures Continue”, as the pair provide Robin with such characterful moments as the “skilled martial artist” being grounded by the Dark Knight for recklessly joining Deathstroke in an apparent attempt to ‘assassinate’ a deranged Garfield Lynns. Indeed, despite the boy’s evident bravery and keen detective skills this particular digital first publication delivers an enjoyable reminder to its audience as to just how much Batman’s protégé has yet to learn about the world of crime-fighting, and how young he actually is; “You have no idea what it’s like when he gets this way. I might as well be talking to a bear.”

Similarly as impressive is the writing duo’s handling of Firefly, who actually appears to be a genuine threat to the well-being of Drake’s costumed alter-ego, rather than ‘just a down-and-out film special effects expert armed with a flamethrower and jet-pack’. Agile in the air, clever enough to have dismantled the museum’s water sprinklers before launching his attack, and decidedly precise as to where his flames should land, this particular version of the felon is every bit the “sociopathic pyromaniac” a bibliophile would expect from a member of the Secret Society of Super-Villains.

Admittedly, the later revelation that Robin and Batman weren’t actually fighting Lynns inside the crook’s specialized outfit, but rather Deathstoke’s mysterious female associate, does come as something of a disappointment. However, the replacement makes perfect sense in this narrative’s wider context of ‘The Terminator’ setting Batman up for a lethal fall, and ties-in rather nicely towards the book’s end when it becomes apparent that a vengeful Lex Luthor is behind all of Slade’s shady shenanigans.

Ty Templeton and Monica Kubina also deserve a lot of credit for making this particular instalment to the “Mentors” storyline a visual triumph, particularly during the sequences set within Gotham City’s Entomology Pavilion. The intense heat caused by Firefly’s weaponry is physically palpable, so by the time poor Robin is pencilled literally dripping in sweat from the heat of the vividly orange flames about to engulf him, many suddenly parched readers were probably reaching into their refrigerators for a refreshingly cold drink or two…
Writers: Alan Burnett & Paul Dini, Artist: Ty Templeton, and Colorist: Monica Kubina

Friday, 21 August 2020

Doctor Strange [1968] #183 - Marvel Comics

DOCTOR STRANGE No. 183, November 1969
With hindsight it is perhaps somewhat easy to see just why this title was abruptly cancelled following the publication of “They Walk By Night!”, as Roy Thomas’ bizarre tale about three demonic gargoyles draining the life force out of the man who helped sponsor Stephen Strange through his medical education probably just bemused its audience at best. True, at the time the Missouri-born writer thought the comic featuring the magic-user’s disconcerting fully-masked new look “was [still] actually selling a couple hundred thousand copies” per month, but in the late Sixties a book “needed to sell even more” if “Marvel Comics” were going to ever consider it a sustainable success.

In addition, the three-time Shazam Award-winner’s decision to suddenly change the lead protagonist’s name to Saunders at the very start of this twenty-page periodical, courtesy of the awesome entity called Eternity, must have completely baffled and potentially alienated a number of readers too, as its inclusion appears to simply be a rather clumsy attempt to move the “Master of Black Magic” in line with rest of the publisher’s roster of super-hero alter-egos; “He saw that, in a desperate moment, I had revealed my name to a milling crowd… and he knew how vulnerable I would be if I lived on as Stephen Strange..! Thus he changed my name… My very identity…”

Happily however, despite this notable change to the magic user’s moniker, as well as the book’s odd premise that in order to reveal the location of a mysterious idol the Creatures of the Night would simply keep Kenneth Ward a wheelchair-bound prisoner within his own home, there’s actually quite a bit of enjoyment to be had during Strange’s investigation of the “sombre brownstone” residence. Indeed, the sorcerer’s sleuthing skills prove to be the highlight of the comic, as he stealthily circumnavigates his colleague’s captors in order to elicit an account of Ward’s latest adventure “in a lonely valley between Himalayan Peaks…”

Gene Colan also appears to be at the very top of his game, providing the good Doctor’s spells with some wonderful, eye-catching embellishments, most notably his magical exchange with the Creatures of the Night when they finally reveal their true physical nature. Disappointingly, this battle is all-too quickly brought to an end by Strange subjecting his fast-petrifying foes to sunlight, yet there is still enough time for the American artist to draw a cracking panel populated “with mirror images of the mortal!” before the fantastic fight concludes.
Writer: Roy Thomas, Artist: Gene Colan, and Embellisher: Tom Palmer

Wednesday, 19 August 2020

Red Sonja: Age Of Chaos #6 - Dynamite Entertainment

Essentially consisting of one publication-length pitched battle between Red Sonja and Purgatori, this concluding instalment to Erik Burnham’s marvellous six-issue mini-series must surely have left its readers breathless on account of its sense-shattering shenanigans. Indeed, the “Dynamic Entertainment” pre-print press release for this particular comic declaring it to be a sensational confrontation between a “literal she-devil” and the “She-Devil with a Sword” is absolutely spot on, as the pair savagely batter one another with talons and blade for almost the entirety of the twenty-age periodical.

Enjoyably though, this flurry of supernatural-powered fisticuffs doesn’t lead to a senseless array of blood-soaked set pieces designed to pad out this book to its conclusion. But rather presents a nicely-paced number of opportunities for members of this title’s extensive cast to make one last impact upon the titanic tussle taking place over Kulan Gath's amulet; “Don’t seem to be healing, which means I’m about to go away for a while. But Smiley and I hold a grudge. So before we go, we have a present for you… Take the power and use it to shove that sword into whatever hole you feel like…”

These ‘cameos’ are admittedly somewhat restricted to simple depictions of Jade, Sakkara, Catherine Bell and Chasity relocating back to their proper place in the planet’s timeline. However, the likes of Evil Ernie and Lady Demon make a real contribution to the comic’s narrative, both reminding its audience as to precisely why the Hyrkanian warrior’s victory is so fundamental to the world’s survival, as well as Sonja’s motivation for disconcertingly wishing her sorcerous arch-nemesis to be resurrected from the dead into an already rotting cadaver.

Adding an astonishing amount of palpable energy and dynamism to these pulse-pounding proceedings are Jonathan Lau’s incredibly dramatically-drawn layouts. Barely a panel has been pencilled which doesn’t in some way contain a painful reminder to any perusing bibliophile that a mere mortal is facing off against an extremely powerful vampiric creature of evil, and so by the end of the pair’s fraught fight, all of its observers are probably almost as physically tired from scrutinising the intense action-packed conflict as Roy Thomas’ co-creation clearly is having fought throughout it.
The regular cover art of "RED SONJA: AGE OF CHAOS" No. 6 by Lucio Parillo

Sunday, 16 August 2020

Spacewarp #1 [Part Two] - Millsverse Comics

SPACEWARP #1, July 2020
Providing this anthology comic with both an utterly disconcerting and superbly solid midway point story is Pat Mill’s marvellous tale of a technologically-advanced Earth being infiltrated by repugnant-looking extra-terrestrials entitled “Xecutioners”. Crammed full of gun-play, a veritable host of zinging bullets and mind manipulation, this seven-pager’s greatest asset is arguably not actually its enjoyable violence, but rather the developing relationship between Chaval and his new partner Zola as they attempt their first mission together to reveal the true Machiavellian intentions of Saturn One CEO, Mister Mezeros.

Just as unnerving with its opening ‘Harry Potter at Hogwarts’ vibe is “Fu-Tants”, which initially focuses upon three would-be protectors of the planet whilst undergoing the final stage of their training, and then leaps a decade into the future to the Church of the Apocalypse in Spain where super-powered Koda discovers an alien race trying to steal some valuable dinosaur-related artwork. Featuring Mike Donaldson’s stunningly pencilled bout of fisticuffs between “Drogeda’s top agent” and the Warp Lord’s “top gun”, there’s nothing not to like about such an action-packed yarn; especially when it promises future adventures to come, not least of which might be another fascinating insight into the utterly enthralling Warpstone Academy.

Perhaps penned for those within this book’s audience who enjoy planet wide battlescapes such as those depicted in Robert A. Heinlein's “Starship Troopers” or Gerry Finley-Day’s Nu-Earth, “Special Forces One” definitely doesn’t beat around the bush in setting up its heroes’ seemingly suicidal mission to behead the Junkarrs’ leader Zahar. Populated with all manner of weird-looking giant microbes and mutated single cell bacteria, Mills does a grand job of combining some serious slaughter with as much insight as he can manage into the motivations of the elite combat unit’s colourful members.

Finally bringing this publication full circle, and pleasantly incorporating some of the fluff established in this tome’s preceding narratives, is the brilliantly brutal “Slayer”. Once again featuring Schlock, “the Cosmic Lawman”, this concluding chronicle rounds off the comic with a fascinating supposition that if an “offender escapes justice through death or senility” then a suitable descendent can be punished in their place, even up to seven generations depending upon the crime.
Stories: Pat Mills, and Art: Gareth Sleightholme, Mike Donaldson, Ade Hughes & James Newell 

Friday, 14 August 2020

Batman/Superman [2019] #10 - DC Comics

BATMAN/SUPERMAN No. 10, September 2020
Packed with plenty of pulse-pounding pugilism involving the Man of Steel, a fascinating autopsy of the Atomic Skull’s corpse by the World’s Greatest Detective, and a seriously shocking conclusion which reveals the Ultra-Humanite’s sole motivation is to “be remembered as the mind who killed Batman and Superman”, Joshua Williamson’s script for “Atomic” must surely have thrilled each and every one of the comic’s readers. Indeed, the California-born writer’s combination of a sense-shattering flashback concerning the grisly demise of “the first supervillain faced by Superman”, a seriously sinister exploration of the Gotham Industrial Clean Waste facility, and subsequent capture of the Dark Knight by a horde of cybernetic-zombies is arguably faultlessly penned.

For starters, despite his destructive death in this story-arc’s opening instalment, Albert Michaels’ alter-ego is still very much at the heart of the narrative, with both his desperate attempt to right his many wrongs in Metropolis and a remote detonator found near his heart, leading the Caped Crusader to determine someone within his city “is experimenting with turning people into drones… into bombs.” This gruesome discovery clearly rattles even Kal-El and actually leads to the Kryptonian looking a tad nervous during the titular characters’ grim investigation into a missing “shipment coming in from Metropolis weeks ago.”

Just as enthralling is the pair’s battle against a wave of WayneTech’s deceased employees, which debatably demonstrates both the strengths and weaknesses of the ‘dynamic duo’. The Ultra-Humanite touches a raw nerve with Superman when the white gorilla admits he enjoys watching them work together as “one is the mind and the other is the muscle”, and cleverly ensures the Last Son of Krypton must abandon his friend to a pack of cyborg-cadavers by ordering one of his long-dead minions to self-detonate; “Superman, you need to get that drone out of the city. Now.”

Clayton Henry’s artwork also adds an incredibly amount of energy to this twenty-two page periodical, with his pencilling of Kal-El’s reaction to the mutilation taking place around him proving to be one of this publication’s highlights. There’s a palpable sense of sheer superhuman power in all the panels the Jamaican sketches involving the Man of Tomorrow, especially when he’s desperately trying to keep his anger in check whilst facing either the Ultra-Humanite’s seemingly senseless determination to steal an experimental atomic sequencer or the criminal's antagonising mind-games.
Writer: Joshua Williamson, Artist: Clayton Henry, and Colorist: Alejandro Sanchez

Thursday, 13 August 2020

Judge Dredd: False Witness #2 - IDW Publishing

Building upon this book’s shocking premise that Doctor Filth is trafficking children from the Cursed Earth so he can dissolve them in vast chemical tanks and “extract their mutant genes”, Brandon Easton’s penmanship for Issue Two of “Judge Dredd: False Witness” certainly brought home the horror of the post-nuclear world to his audience in August 2020. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a more grim fate for the hapless adolescent immigrants than the one which the television personality has in store for them once they arrive at Mega-City One and fall prey to his laboratory’s “nightmarish experiments”.

However, such trauma is arguably as nothing when compared to the gaping holes within this twenty-page periodical’s plot and the Baltimore-born writer’s incredibly impotent version of the metropolis’ Justice Department. True, such glaring contrivances as the “professional provocateur” simply allowing Mathias Lincoln to freely walk out of his test centre despite knowing that Filth is chemically “turning humans into puddles of goo” and subsequently selling it to the rich as a life enhancement drug, certainly ensures that this comic contains plenty of pulse-pounding action once the good Doctor apparently realises his mistake. But why would someone as all-powerful as the industrial/entertainment megalomaniac possibly allow any person who had first-hand knowledge of his entire operation to simply leave his establishment alive in the first place..?

Similarly as jarring is the response of Chief Judge Logan to the Shannon McShannon show, whose broadcast is clearly inciting the conurbation’s citizens to rise up against the Cursed Earth immigrants. In the past, whether via a covert smear campaign, blatant set-up, or highly visible arrest, the Judges would debatably never allow such ‘trash-talking’ to continue; especially when it appears the so-called legitimate protestors are also being armed with some “off-world heavy deployment technology”. Yet Dredd’s superior is all-set to allow the madness to continue simply because he’s afraid “this is beyond our ability to control.”

Fortunately, the titular character does seem to be aware of the poor message his leader is sending to the increasingly agitated demonstrators, and having discovered a corrupt cell of judges aiding Filth’s efforts, he decides to tackle the problem head-on by blasting his way through the security robots of McShannon’s broadcast headquarters. This destructive confrontation is probably the highlight of the book, with the senior lawman literally punching an argumentative rich kid right out of his sneakers for impudently standing in his way.
Writer: Brandon Easton, Art: Kei Zama, and Colors: Eva De La Cruz

Wednesday, 12 August 2020

Star Wars: Bounty Hunters #2 - Marvel Comics

Whilst Senior Editor Mark Paniccia may well have argued that this title’s first story-arc focused upon “the cutthroat criminal world” of just two favourites from Irvin Kershner’s 1980 epic space opera film “The Empire Strikes Back”, namely Boba Fett and Bossk, the script to Issue Two of “Star Wars: Bounty Hunters” debatably tells a somewhat different tale with most of the comic’s pulse-pounding action predominantly focusing upon Beilert Valance’s exploits rather than the cloned Mandolorian or male Trandoshan. In fact, with the exception of Cradossk’s son sneakily tracking his prey to the Graveyard Planet of Galmerah, and Slave-1’s owner being shown in a holographic flashback, much of this twenty-page periodical actually concerns itself with just how the facially disfigured cyborg first came to meet his disgraced mentor Nakano Lash.

Fortunately however, such a difference in perspective as to just who the book’s narrative is about doesn’t impact upon the quality of Ethan Sacks’ penmanship, as the writer does a tremendous job of depicting a disgruntled young Valance seemingly yearning for death and picking a fight with a stormtrooper patrol in Phelar Port on Eriadu to ensure it happens; “Attacking Imperial personnel is a capital offence!” The ex-miner’s subsequent rescue by Lash makes it abundantly clear just why Beilert would initially follow the female bounty hunter with such loyally, and additionally explains his determination to find her following Nakano's supposed betrayal of him during their mission together on Corellia.

Equally as enthralling is Sacks’ portrayal of T’onga desperately attempting to infiltrate the Fortress of the Mourner’s Wail so as to prevail upon the girl’s distraught father to sanction her mission of revenge against the Nautolan who killed her brother, T’ongor. Extremely well-paced by artist Paolo Villanelli, and filled full of some incredibly ferocious close combat action sequences, this ultimately doomed attempt to stealthily circumnavigate through the numerous maze-like corridors of the heavily guarded fortification is probably this book’s greatest highlight. Indeed, the Italian artist does such a good job of pencilling the sublime quickness of the one-time farmer on the Moon of Logal Ri, that her eventual capture by Lord Khamdek “deep in Hutt Space” comes as something of a disappointing shock.
Writer: Ethan Sacks, Artist: Paolo Villanelli, and Colorist: Arif Prianto

Monday, 10 August 2020

Star Trek: Year Five #13 - IDW Publishing

STAR TREK: YEAR FIVE No. 13, August 2020
Focusing upon ‘the Enterprise and her crew finally making it back to Federation space’, Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly’s incredibly forced narrative for Issue Thirteen of “Star Trek: Year Five” doubtless had many devotees of the science fiction franchise’s original series shaking their heads in disbelief at the staggeringly huge plot holes on display within this twenty-page periodical. Indeed, the less generous readers of “Guide Of Fire” might even go so far as to describe the collaborative creators’ penmanship on this particular publication as disappointingly being some of the worst sort of fan fiction imaginable.

For starters, the pair suggest that because James Kirk has been away from Earth on his five-year mission “Starfleet's youngest starship captain” is so out of touch with how the Federation now operates that he didn’t even know that the service had changed its uniforms into those seen in the 1979 motion picture, nor realised that his constitution-class starship was already obsolete when compared to the sleekness of the new vessels which greet his arrival. Such a notion strongly insinuates the officer is completely incompetent when it comes to keeping up with the day-to-day developments of the organisation in which he is a high-ranking leader, and even goes as far as to state that costume designer Robert Fletcher’s new livery was only implemented to replace female miniskirts; “It was the women, Jim. We demanded pants.”

Sadly however, much worse is yet to come with this comic’s storyline, following the arrival of a single cloaked Klingon vessel which somehow manages to evade being detected by both the entire Federation fleet, as well as the home planet’s defensive network of border beacons. Admittedly, the warrior race’s stealth technology may well have been upgraded since Starfleet obtained their own version of the machinery in the television episode “The Enterprise Incident”, but instead of addressing the issue the astonished Flagship Thesus simply dismisses the fact that their recurring antagonists can now simply fly straight up to the Earth unnoticed as ‘one of those things’.

Equally as unpalatable is the premise that the firepower of Admiral Koraxi’s massive armada and nearby starbase is completely impotent when compared to the warhead of a solitary, newly-designed Bird of Prey. This contrivance seems to have been solely engineered simply to ensure an uncharacteristically submissive Kirk is readily beamed aboard the Gauntlet in order to keep the story moving, and arguably makes even less sense when the reason for the Klingon’s incursion is simply explained away as being due to their unhappiness at the Captain's role in the Organian Peace Treaty.
Writers: Jackson Lanzing & Collin Kelly, and Artist: Angel Hernandez

Saturday, 8 August 2020

Spacewarp #1 [Part One] - Millsverse Comics

SPACEWARP #1, July 2020
Produced by the legendary Pat Mills, this “one-shot, anthology sci-fi comic for readers of all ages” must surely have landed well with its audience in July 2020 considering the digital periodical contains plenty of action, memorable characters and the mind-bending machinations of various extra-terrestrials. Indeed, the weighty tome will immediately transport those familiar with “IPC Magazines” titles during the late Seventies and early Eighties back to their childhood, whilst undoubtedly hooking the current generation of bibliophiles with its straight forward story-telling, excellent advice for avoiding any skulking Tyrannosaurus Rex which happens to be in the audience’s neighbourhood, and the delightful editorials of Doc Zot.

Leading this veritable shoal of science fiction goodness is the British writer’s marvellous “Sfeer & Loathing”, which genuinely helps set up the entire publication’s premise of multiple Earths being manipulated by a super-powered host of tentacle-covered alien deities. This four-page parable introduces the fascinating “sheriff of the Galaxy”, Schlock, in a short-lived bloody engagement with a pack of slavering warp hounds, and literally pulses with energy thanks to some superb pencilling by artist Gareth Sleightholme.

Similarly as action-packed is Mills’ second tale “Jurassic Punk”. Quickly establishing 1977 as the year when dinosaurs returned to conquer Birkenhead in Merseyside, as well as crammed full of titanic close-quarter skirmishes between local archaeologist-turned-lizard-killer Joe Megiddo and a fascinating array of prehistoric monstrosities, this tantalising insight into the crazy professor’s determined effort to be reunited with his lost family genuinely pulls at the heart strings; especially when having finally got the solution to his estrangement in his sights, the Jurassic Man is forced to join the resistance for the greater good of humanity.

Perhaps somewhat less frantically-paced, at least once two prisoners have successfully escaped from the demonic hosts of Dis - capital city of Hell, is the enthralling “Hellbreaker”. Firmly focused upon the pair of escapees and their disconcerting habit of executing Cosmic Law transgressors by literally melting them alive in either boiling pitch or “blood and fire”, this sophisticated-looking yarn has the additional hook of “cosmic assassin” De La Rue being romantically reminded by his nemesis of the beloved he tragically lost whilst absconding the horrors of the Ninth Circle.
Stories: Pat Mills, and Art: Gareth Sleightholme, Bruno Stahl & Ian Ashcroft 

Thursday, 6 August 2020

Star Wars: Bounty Hunters #1 - Marvel Comics

Set during the aftermath of the Battle of Hoth, and advertised by “Marvel Worldwide” as “the bounty hunter adventure you’ve been waiting for”, Ethan Sacks’ thrill-a-minute script for this opening instalment to his “Galaxy’s Deadliest” storyline probably entertained the vast majority of its 61,941 readers in March 2020. But whilst much of this comic’s pre-publication hype focused upon Nakano Lash supposedly violently betraying the likes of Beilert Valance, Bossk and Boba Fett, the twenty-one page periodical’s plot arguably tells a somewhat different tale.

To begin with, Valance’s much-maligned mentor doesn’t actually deceive any of the mercenaries working for her on the outskirts of Coronet City, but rather simply slays “the crinkin’ heir to the deadliest crime syndicate in the sector” after the arrogant criminal seemingly slaughters an unseen target which the Nautolan clearly felt should have been left unmolested. This action obviously blows the entire mission, and puts Lash’s team in deadly jeopardy from the corrupt consortium’s retribution. However, from the way some of her colleagues react to the news of Khamus’ death, especially the highly unlikeable Fett, many bibliophiles would have thought Nakano had personally tried to gun them all down so as to claim the reward for herself: “Your mentor just got us all killed… I’m going to make sure I return the favour.”

Similarly as disconcerting is Sacks’ depiction of Jango’s son, who is portrayed as an incredibly arrogant killer who is as reckless as he is self-centred. Admittedly, this book’s opening is set some years in the orphaned clone’s past when the Mandalorian was still honing his skills and professional attitude. Yet it is still debatably hard to witness Boba rushing headlong straight into a heavily-armed fortification armed with little more than a hand-flamer, and then idly stand by whilst his back-up is shot to pieces right beside him simply so he can make a point to a facially-disfigured Valance that “you just get in the way.”

Happily though, such quibbles certainly don’t stop Issue One of “Star Wars: Bounty Hunters” from being a pulse-pounding publication, partly thanks to Paolo Villanelli’s layouts imbuing the comic with a furious pace that simply doesn’t stop until the book’s end when Slave-1 receives an incoming transmission concerning an “especially sentimental bounty” and its owner decides that Jabba can perhaps wait a little longer before the Hutt receives a certain Corellian smuggler encased in carbonite. The Italian artist seems especially good at pencilling frantic firefights, with Beilert’s battle against a gang of furious Devaronians proving particularly sense-shattering.
Writer: Ethan Sacks, Artist: Paolo Villanelli, and Colorist: Arif Prianto

Wednesday, 5 August 2020

The Last American #4 - Epic Comics

THE LAST AMERICAN No. 4, March 1991
Featuring a pulse-pounding firefight against an underground bunker riddled with automatic defences and a genuinely disconcerting exploration of a secret experimental test centre for autistic pregnant women, Alan Grant’s fascinating script for Issue Four of “The Last American” must surely have instantly captivated his readers just as soon as this twenty-eight page periodical begins. For whilst the Scottish writer’s plot does contain the odd sedentary moment as a thoroughly demoralised Ulysses S. Pilgrim’s ponders “the whole damn schmoozle” of life, death and the universe, the vast majority of this book focuses upon the solitary soldier’s faint hope that Melinda, or rather test subject Alpha Delta 99/017, might somehow have survived her horrific ordeal beneath the planet’s surface and still be alive scraping out an existence in the post-apocalyptic world.

Indeed, even when it becomes clear that the young mother’s child has finally succumbed to the girl’s claustrophobic confinement, along with many of the grisly establishment’s other unwitting inhabitants, this publication’s enthralling penmanship still provides the vaguest of hopes that the wonderfully innocent parent might have managed to claw her way through a “natural break in the sandstone, carved by the same water that kept Melinda and her friends alive just that little longer”, and resultantly found herself safe in the expansive Luray Caves.

Similarly as successful as the desperate need this comic generates to discover just what occurred to the bunker's occupants, is Grant’s all-pervading atmosphere that at any moment Pilgrim might be lethally set upon by a horde of cannibal scientists. Alpha Delta 99/017’s diary entries make it crystal clear just how desperate the centre’s administrators quickly became to find food, and resultantly the threat of some half-starved hairy fiend leaping out at the US Army Captain and his robotic guardians with their insatiable fangs palpably lurks inside every one of the derelict installation’s ominously shadowy corridors.

Artist Michael McMahon also deserves a major congratulatory slap on the back for his fantastic pacing of this concluding storyline. Whether it be Ulysses suddenly finding himself surrounded by a hail of bullets from the complex’s faulty computer-controlled weapon system, or later desperately searching for Melinda’s next clue as to where she fled to with her dwindling friends, the former “Judge Dredd” penciler’s panels are absolutely packed with dynamic action and an urgency to discover what happened next…
Writers: Alan Grant & John Wagner, Artist: Michael McMahon, and Letterer: Phil Felix

Tuesday, 4 August 2020

Batman: The Adventures Continue #4 - DC Comics

Firmly placing Robin at the centre of this comic book’s plot, Alan Burnett and Paul Dini’s narrative for Issue Four of “Batman: The Adventures Continue” must have thrilled long-time fans of the Boy Wonder by pairing Tim Drake up with Deathstroke in a stupendous confrontation with the “pyrotechnics expert turned super-stalker” Firefly. True, Garfield Lynns himself doesn’t actually make an appearance, except in flashback, until near the end of this digital first publication, but the presence of the “pyro-merc for hire” is palpably felt throughout this tale courtesy of the criminal launching a host of Asian giant hornets upon Slade Wilson and his new “back-up” at Gotham City’s Entomology Pavilion.

This shift in attention away from Bruce Wayne’s alter-ego really does read very well indeed, as it depicts just how quick thinking “the third character to assume the role of Batman's vigilante partner” can be when the situation requires it, as well as how skilled the young martial artist has become under the Dark Knight’s tutorage. Managing to sneak up upon ‘The Terminator’ to the point where “had you been an assassin, you would have had me dead to rights” is no easy feat, yet impressively Robin manages to later trump this achievement by being the one to save the pair from Firefly’s insect-infested ambush by using his brains, his cape and a handy fire extinguisher; “The foam makes them too heavy to fly.”

Delightfully however, this second instalment to “Mentors” doesn’t keep Batman in the shadows for the entirety of the comic, and delightfully pits the Caped Crusader against his old adversary the Mad Hatter, in an incredibly dynamic, though all-too brief, battle over some stolen new circuity for Jervis Tetch’s mind control devices. This action sequence is also noteworthy for progressing the title’s long-running theme of the Bat-Family being watched by a mysterious observer, and even goes as far as to show the costumed crime-fighter desperately trying to intercept the ‘spy’ after he catches sight of “the tiniest flicker of light” from a nearby rooftop.

Bringing all of these sense-shattering shenanigans to vivid life is Ty Templeton’s marvellous artwork and Monica Kubina’s colours. The layouts of Deathstroke’s forced entry into the enormously elaborate ‘bug museum’ and subsequent exploration of its vast displays are particularly well-drawn, with the Pavilion’s giant sculptures of both scorpions and praying mantis’ casting some highly atmospheric shadows across the corridors and cast.
Writers: Alan Burnett & Paul Dini, Artist: Ty Templeton, and Colorist: Monica Kubina

Monday, 3 August 2020

Leave On The Light #3 - Antarctic Press Comics

LEAVE ON THE LIGHT No. 3, August 2020
Absolutely packed full of vicious murders, pugnacious prison break-outs and grisly bodily mutilations, Bradley Golden and George Aguilar’s ferociously fast narrative for Issue Three of “Leave On The Night” will most assuredly delight any fans of the horror comic book genre. In fact, many readers will probably struggle to comprehend the sheer scale of this thirty-two page periodical’s death count, as Thomas Lassey embarks upon a momentous slaughter spree which not only sees both Detective Gary Marshall and his partner Sarah McKinney being badly mauled by the Undead phantom, but a staggering number of ‘innocent’ family members getting cut, slashed and terrifyingly torn asunder as well; “This city has suffered tragedy after tragedy, but the attack on Catelin Hospital is by far the most disgusting act of violence I have ever witnessed.”

Delightfully however, such homicidal mayhem isn’t simply crowbarred into this publication to help pad out its plot or sate the odd bibliophile’s bloodlust, with the vast majority of these slayings actually helping progress this comic’s central storyline involving the Butcher making enough sacrifices with which to draw a demonic entity onto our plane of existence. This surprising twist genuinely elevates the initial premise of a supernatural criminal solely exacting his revenge upon the cops who sentenced him to death into something much grander, and rather enjoyably turns the mini-series into an entertaining prelude of further stories to come as the distraught police officers decide to “hunt the creatures” who slaughtered their loved ones at the book’s end.

Helping this comic along with it’s incredibly high body tally is Adam Fields’ artwork, which really does a good job of showing just how utterly merciless a serial killer Lassey can be. The lead illustrator of “Midnight27 Studios” doesn’t waste a moment in his build-ups to depict the ghostly ghoul stabbing his victims with a truly-terrifyingly large hunting knife, even when sketching the potential demise of this title’s lead characters such as McKinney and the shocking death of Marshall’s hapless son inside Saint Dominic’s Church. In addition, this comic’s prodigiously pencilled contents is noteworthy for containing the likenesses of some of the supporters of the title's “Kickstarter” campaign, who financially pledged a little bit extra so as to appear within this magazine’s third instalment as secondary characters.
Script: Bradley Golden & George Aguilar, and Artist: Adam Fields

Saturday, 1 August 2020

The Immortal Hulk #35 - Marvel Comics

IMMORTAL HULK No. 35, September 2020
Bogged down in the aftermath of the Hulk’s war against the Minotaur and lacking any discernible action whatsoever, the storyline to “A Certain Amount Of Light” arguably must have proved a somewhat sedentary experience to the majority of its audience. Indeed, apart from Bruce Banner’s alter-ego inadvertently crushing a wooden roof beam during a lack-lustre press conference staged by the Georgeville Mayor, all Al Ewing’s penmanship seems to promote is just how grateful humanity apparently is that “Jade Jaws” saved them from Xemnu and his mind-altering Magic Planet show.

Of course that isn’t to say that Issue Thirty-Five of “Immortal Hulk” is entirely devoid of some interesting concepts, with the Devil Hulk’s incarnation being mentally incarcerated inside an enormous iron maiden proving to be a particularly intriguing notion. But this fascinating view of the Atomic physicist’s fragmented psyche soon debatably flounders once another version of “the big dumb ape” sets foot upon the mindscape and floods numerous panels with some wearyingly word-heavy speech balloons; “Hulk is Hulk. Hulk knowing Hulk is Hulk saved all Hulks -- even puny Banner. Puny, stupid Banner! Banner who think him not Hulk like rest! Hulk is Hulk because Hulk know Hulk is Hulk --”

Disappointingly, the former “Judge Dredd” writer’s portrayal of Bruce’s relationship with his estranged wife also debatably seems to be going around in circles within this twenty-page periodical, as the scientist once again unsuccessfully tries to speak to Betty without his spouse’s personality being confined inside the anti-heroic Harpy. If General Ross’ daughter insists on speaking to the real man she married in order to discuss their marital problems, it seems extremely unreasonable that she in return then won’t actually talk to him as the woman he loves rather than as “a creature of rage” who is covered in crimson-coloured feathers.

“On a brighter note” this comic’s artwork is at least pleasantly drawn by guest penciller Mike Hawthorne, who does a great job of imbuing Banner with plenty of pent-up anger during his aforementioned argument with an unrelenting Harpy. The physicist’s face during this scene is positively pulsing with passion, and at one stage it looks almost certain that he’ll transform into the Hulk to either fend off Betty’s cowardly attack upon him from behind with her clawed foot, or at least throw a well-deserved punch in the direction of Doc Samson for arrogantly interfering in Bruce's private conversation with Betty.
Writer: Al Ewing, Penciler: Mike Hawthorne, and Inker: Mark Morales