Monday, 30 November 2020

Batman: The Adventures Continue #10 - DC Comics

BATMAN: THE ADVENTURES CONTINUE No. 10, August 2020
As retcons or rather reimaginings go, Alan Burnett and Paul Dini’s second instalment to their “Red Son Rising” storyline probably landed reasonably well with their audience in August 2020, considering that the digital first comic contains more than its fair share of frantic fisticuffs and Bat family tension. But whilst their “secret history of Batman's second Robin” initially follows the somewhat familiar path of Jason Todd taking “an alarming amount of zeal in doling out punishment to [his] more formidable adversaries”, its sudden and shocking portrayal of Dick Grayson’s successor actually attacking the Dark Knight in the Bat Cave so as to escape with the adolescent’s colourful costume and motorcycle arguably makes the sidekick even more unlikeable than when he was revamped by Max Allan Collins in the late Eighties.

Indeed, Issue Ten of “Batman: The Adventures Continue” makes it disconcertingly very clear that Todd was criminally flawed from the very start and that his dark descent into violent wrongdoing as an anti-hero was always destined to happen. Unfortunately, such a ‘fait accompli’ also means that the Dark Knight was wholly wrong when he originally saw the potential in his protégé to become the new Boy Wonder, and so bleak an assertion arguably undermines one of Jason’s most intriguing aspects in that the hooded vigilante could still become one of the Caped Crusader’s greatest assets if only he’d keep his juvenile temper in check; “The thing about you, Bruce, is you believe so much in the people you care about that you blind yourself to the obvious.”

Quibbles aside however, this particular publication still provides plenty of entertainment, especially once the Scarecrow decides to commandeer “the airwaves to plunge Gotham into an epidemic of fear” during Halloween, and ‘causes’ Robin to finally cross the line. Dynamically drawn by Ty Templeton, Todd’s ego is plainly on show for all to see as the cock-sure kid ignores the silent attack plan of his costumed peers “to minimize danger to the hostages” and instead decides to go toe-to-toe with Jonathan Crane’s twisted alter-ego. Brutal, vicious and undoubtedly fatal if not for Batman’s intervention, the sense-shattering scene epitomises just how low the unhinged youngster will stoop to ensure the “other creeps will realize we mean business.”

Writers: Alan Burnett & Paul Dini, Artist: Ty Templeton, and Colorist: Monica Kubina

Sunday, 29 November 2020

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - Too Long A Sacrifice #4 - IDW Publishing

STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE - TOO LONG A SACRIFICE No. 4, October 2020
Despite arguably containing a fair few red herrings, some brutal fisticuffs and sizzling phaser beams, it is still pretty unlikely that Scott and David Tipton’s supposedly “shocking conclusion” to this murder-mystery mini-series convinced the most recent generation of Trekkies to seek out the old televised adventures of Constable Odo and his crewmates aboard Deep Space Nine. For whilst this twenty-page periodical’s padded out plot provides the Starfleet station’s Chief of Security plenty of spotlight within which to demonstrate his formidable detective skills, the Federation facility’s cold-hearted serial-killer is eventually only seemingly caught because they’re foolish enough to get close to a telepath.

Indeed, if anything the brothers’ narrative for Issue Four of “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Too Long A Sacrifice” depicts a hard-learnt lesson in how not to lead an investigation into multiple homicides during the Twenty-Fourth Century, as elderly mind-reader Detective Retlaw incompetently lurches from pillar to post before wrongly accusing one “of the most powerful and well connected people on the station.” To make matters worse though, the ordinarily fastidious Odo is no less ineffectual, and even bumbles the arrest of the terror suspect when the lone diner-owner takes on his technology advanced armed guards whilst carrying no more than a small kitchen knife; “Your security team won’t be enough. We’re going to need more help.”

Perhaps this publication’s biggest disappointment however, is the way in which all of the puzzle’s links are pulled together without there ever being a hope of the comic’s readers snatching hold of a clue themselves and even remotely suspecting who the psychopathic slayer might be. True, the elderly Betazoid’s explanation as to what he read in the murderer’s mind makes some sense, but it’s hard to stomach a ‘miss-mash’ of disconcerting contrivances, such as Lavin Meryn wooing a Starfleet officer in order to ensure he betrayed his allegiance, simply because she was uppity with a fellow Bajoran who during the Cardassian occupation played them against the Ferengi “to line his own pockets and earn himself a softer bed.”

Luckily, artist Greg Scott does provide this book with some enjoyable artwork from time to time, with his ability to project Retlaw’s emotions upon the character’s aged face being one of this magazine’s highlights. In fact, it’s a real pity that the Tiptons’ script didn’t include a bit more action, as the artist seems to hit a prodigious stride with his pencilling once Lavin takes flight and the pace of his layouts really hammers home the sheer desperation in her insane machinations.

Writers: Scott Tipton & David Tipton, Artist: Greg Scott, and Colorist by: Felipe Sobreiro

Saturday, 28 November 2020

Iron Man [2020] #3 - Marvel Comics

IRON MAN No. 3, January 2021
If Christopher Cantwell’s aim for Issue Three of “Iron Man” was to depict a truly despicable Tony Stark desperately trying to find a place within an equally detestable world, then the American producer almost certainly succeeds with “The Land Wherein Thou Art A Stranger.” Indeed, it is hard to imagine a less depressing twenty-page periodical than this particular publication, where the billionaire industrialist lurches from punch-up to punch-up, becoming increasingly irate that the general public don’t seem to “see how strong I am”, fail to understand “what I am capable of”, and are apparently all-too “blind” to his universal greatness.

Admittedly, in the past the Golden Avenger has often proven somewhat difficult to root for due to his overwhelming ego and sheer arrogance. But in this instance, Cantwell actually asks his audience to believe that Shell-head would purposely fly an unconscious Melter up above the city skyline, simply to then lethally drop and subsequently save the villain at the last minute simply in an effort to show his critics just how all-powerful the supposed super-hero apparently is; “I dunno, you were talking about, um… don’t have to play by our rules… and… whether we should thank you for being Iron Man…”

Unfortunately, the Chicago-born writer also seems intent on destroying Hellcat’s character as well, portraying the Defender as some sort of suicidal has-been who is literally “walking a razor’s edge” between taking her own life and fighting crime every second of the day. There’s no doubt that Patsy Walker has had her fair share of emotional rollercoasters since first appearing in the Marvel universe way back in 1944, and ‘working her way back from being dead’ has clearly taken its toll. However, it is difficult to imagine the former occult investigator persistently experiencing such dark thoughts now she is (supposedly) free of Daimon Hellstrom’s demonic influence.

Disappointingly, this comic’s quite significant cast of supporting villains don’t fare too well either, with the likes of the Gladiator, Madame Masque and the aforementioned Melter, all simply being penned as some sort of short-lived ‘comedic relief’. Bruno Horgan’s successor is arguably especially poorly served by this book’s script, with the former member of the All-New Sinister Six apparently tracking down Stark’s Lower East Side home simply so he can melt his arch-nemesis’ car into bubbling scrap and make Tony mad at him.
The regular cover art of "IRON MAN" #3 by Alex Ross

Thursday, 26 November 2020

Star Trek: Year Five #16 - IDW Publishing

STAR TREK: YEAR FIVE No. 16, October 2020
On paper the prospect of publishing a twenty-page periodical featuring Gary Seven and Harcourt Fenton Mudd battling James Tiberius Kirk probably looked like a sound investment of creative talent, with both Sixties-based characters still proving incredibly popular with the science fiction franchise’s fanbase to this day. But disappointingly, Jody Houser’s decision to crowbar the pair into a narrative supposedly depicting just how scintillating an election season can be, isn’t arguably the place for either of the ‘antagonists’ to demonstrate just why they still hold a place within a Trekkies’ heart some six decades after they originally appeared on the small screen.

For starters, the thought of Harry rising to the top of the Federation Presidential polls is utterly “ridiculous”, especially when such a notorious conman’s extensive criminal past is well-known to both his Andorian sponsors and the electorate. Arguably, this premise alone ruins any sense of credibility to a narrative which already heavily relies upon its readers’ willingness to suspend disbelief, and is made all the more unbelievable when the Originalist movement reveal that they were so desperate to identify a so-called “suitable candidate” before the election’s imminent deadline that they just exonerated the swindler for all his past dark deeds.

Disappointingly, Mister Seven’s involvement in this particular storyline isn’t much more convincing either with the mysterious “laddybuck” disconcertingly wanting Mudd to win the galaxy-wide election in order to help him somehow bring Starfleet to a violent end. Sadly, the writer’s room for “Star Trek: Year Five” seem intent on transforming Supervisor 194 into some sort of omnipotent busybody, who suddenly appears to be more a sworn foe of the U.S.S. Enterprise’s captain than the likes of Khan Noonien Singh ever was, and as a result Kirk’s former friend frustratingly jars in every panel in which he appears; “Let’s just say that there are… pieces in motion far larger than either you or I. It’s my job to ensure that they stay in motion. Distractions, chaos… these will serve my masters’ purposes.”

Ultimately however, this comic’s biggest anti-climax is in how Scotty thwarts Harcourt’s real plan to steal as much sensitive technological data as he can from the Andorians by simply sweet-talking the smuggler’s female robot companion into telling him the truth. Such a lack-lustre finale beggars belief and comes across as being as contrived a conclusion as Spock inexplicably appearing from inside Mudd’s small space shuttle just in the nick of time to pinch the rogue on the neck before he can depart the moon with a hostage.

Writer: Jody Houser, Artist: Silvia Califano, and Colorist: Charlie Kirchoff

Tuesday, 24 November 2020

The Immortal Hulk #39 - Marvel Comics

IMMORTAL HULK No. 39, December 2020
There’s quite clearly some sort of protracted plot lurking beneath the surface of Al Ewing’s penmanship for Issue Thirty Nine of “Immortal Hulk”, and for a significant portion of this twenty-page periodical it would seem not to be going in the Leader’s favour. In fact, for a few fleeting moments it very much appears that Samuel Sterns is about to be utterly devoured by the frenzied Devil Hulk inside Bruce Banner’s mindscape, despite the super-villain somehow managing to inhabit the psyche of Green Scar; “Ha! Beg some more, Sterns! I love it! Ain’t it great? C’mon, Snake Eyes! Take him! Kill him!”

Disconcertingly however, the green-skinned criminal mastermind eventually manages to gather his wicked wits in order to shockingly tear off his monstrous opponent’s head and accompanying spinal cord with a blood-wrenching effort. This truly gratuitous fatal fighting manoeuvre is then further emphasised by a suddenly strangely, insectoid-looking Leader, almost nonchalantly ripping the already dying creature’s gurgling heart into gory pieces with one of his multi-tentacled pincers.

Such violent savagery really could be viewed as being a tad unsettling, but seems to be the sole motivation behind this comic’s storyline as the British writer leaps from weird set-piece to set-piece simply to show members of the cast being horribly mutilated or satanically tortured. Indeed, even Brian Banner’s demise at the beginning of this book isn’t for the faint-hearted, as Sterns apparently needs to ‘physically’ suck the man’s innards out through his head so as to better digest the doctor’s “genius, violent paranoia, [and] just a hint of narcissism…”

Positively emboldened by this disturbing journey down into the very bowels of bodily mutilation is Joe Bennett’s pencilling, which seems to go to incredible lengths to show how utterly despicable the Leader has become in his vile quest to control the Hulk once and for all. Faces splitting open to reveal snaking mouths lined with a vast array of sharp teeth, anguished heads haplessly peeking out from inside the throat of their foes, and sightless eye sockets being speared by writhing brain-branches are simply the tip of the iceberg for the Brazilian artist’s spine-chilling contribution to this comic. Yet little of these layouts will arguably help the reader actually understand precisely what is going on within the narrative.

The regular cover art of "IMMORTAL HULK" No. 39 by Alex Ross

Monday, 23 November 2020

Dune: House Atreides #1 - BOOM! Studios

DUNE: HOUSE ATREIDES No. 1, October 2020
As official prequels go to Nebula Award-winning novels, Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson’s narrative for Issue One of “Dune: House Atreides” most likely pleased the vast majority of the science fiction franchise’s fanbase in October 2020, with its intriguing combination of familiar figures in their apparent prime and the introduction of several fresh, innovative characters. Indeed, having been only briefly mentioned “in the appendices of the original Dune” this twenty-two periodical provides a fascinating insight into the Kaitain courtroom of Padishah Emperor Elrood Corrino IX, and his dealings with the likes of Imperial Planetologist Pardot Kynes and the much less likeable Earl Dominic Vernius of Ix.

However, such a successful amalgamation of the old with the new isn’t simply limited to the capital world of the Imperium. But is actually used to treat this comic’s audience to some fascinating foretastes of the events upon both Arrakis and Caladan as well, with an adolescent Leto Atreides debatably seizing the lion’s share of the spotlight as his daily duties at the theatre, Castle Caladan and the Colosseum-like Plaza de Toros are documented in detail; “One of my grand bullfights! Something the people will never forget! It is the old-fashioned extravaganza you deserve, Leto.”

Interestingly though, it is arguably this publication’s opening sequence, focusing upon the Baron Harkonnen’s exploits on a certain desert planet, which prove the most memorable, as the newly appointed Siridar Governor inspects his men’s collection process of the spice Melange. Packed full of the grandiose machinery such a large scale mining operation would require, this visit is made all the more impactive when the site is struck by a cataclysmic chemical reaction that threatens to bring Vladimir’s planetary reign to an abrupt end if not for the quick-thinking and piloting skills of Kryubi.

Ably assisting this comic’s collaborative writing team in their story-telling are Dev Pramanik’s layouts and Alex Guimaraes’ colours. The Indian artist’s pencils do a fantastic job of depicting the sheer size of “the known universe” which Frank Herbert created. Whilst the Brazilian’s choice of palettes for the different homeworlds provides each fiefdom with its own unique atmosphere, especially Kaitain with all its regal purples and royal turquoise.

Written by: Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson, and Illustrated by: Dev Pramanik

Saturday, 21 November 2020

Maestro #1 - Marvel Comics

MAESTRO No. 1, October 2020
Billed by “Marvel Worldwide” as a story “you’ve waited decades for”, Peter David’s opening narrative explaining the origin of Maestro probably had a fair few of its readers rather worried when they were initially faced with Doctor Banner single-handedly whumping a party of Sentinels whilst the likes of Thor, Captain America and Wolverine impotently watched on. Indeed, the opening third of this thirty-page periodical arguably plays out like the worst sort of fan fiction, as a ‘house-trained’ Hulk sits at the dining table with his beloved wife and two playful children, talking about just how good life has become; “Thaddeus” Rick” Stop running and sit down! Dinner’s getting cold!”

Fortunately though, this comic’s plot takes a decidedly darker turn once Bruce deduces he’s actually in a computer life simulation, and angrily defeats the Avengers when they try to convince him that the super-villain Mysterio has somehow gotten into his mind. Fully-bearded, with long lank hair, a befuddled Hulk finds himself buried deep underground in an impoverished A.I.M. facility, and slowly starts to understand that he has been kept in suspended animation for several decades along with the likes of his old antagonists Vapor and the Abomination.

All these intriguing revelations are quite wonderfully drip-fed to the audience by the GLAAD Media Award winner as the titular character discovers them, and resultantly the plot pans out as if both the bibliophile and Banner were exploring their dilapidated surroundings together. Delightfully, this sense of a ‘shared experience’ is then subsequently increased when an elderly M.O.D.O.K. (Mental/Mobile/Mechanized Organism Designed Only for Killing) appears to explain that the subterranean shelter houses some of the sole survivors of a combined World War Three nuclear holocaust and genocidal terrorist campaign by the Black Scythe, who must wait another twenty seven years before the “radiation will decrease sufficiently…”

Adding enormously to this publication’s successful story-telling are artists Dale Keown and German Peralta, whose decidedly contrasting styles really help separate Banner’s simulated world of supposed marital bliss with that of the grim and disconcertingly destitute future. In fact, Peralta’s pencilling in particular proves incredibly effective in putting across both the grubbiness and decay of M.O.D.O.K.’s fast-failing facility, as well as the dawning horror of the Hulk’s real life predicament.

The regular cover art of "MAESTRO" No. 1 by Dale Keown & Jason Keith (After Kirby)

Wednesday, 18 November 2020

Batman: The Adventures Continue #9 - DC Comics

BATMAN: THE ADVENTURES CONTINUE No. 9, July 2020
Considering the controversy “DC Comics” caused back in the Mid-Eighties when Jason Todd’s origin was revamped from being the offspring of circus acrobats to a “young street orphan who first encounters Batman while attempting to steal the tires off the Batmobile in Crime Alley”, many readers of “Red Son Rising” may well have been a little nervous of Alan Burnett and Paul Dini’s efforts to incorporate the character into the “Batman: The Animated Series” continuity they created for “Fox Kids”. Indeed, the writers’ decision to additionally amalgamate some elements of the Joker’s criminal past as the mysterious Red Hood into the pot in order to provide the gung-ho kid vigilante with some additional motivation, could easily have concocted an unpalatable recipe for disaster.

Fortunately though, this digital first publication arguably does a very good job of making such a mishmash of plot lines work out for the best, with the death of Todd’s older brother whilst acting as a red-hooded lookout for the Wolves street gang, providing the Dark Knight’s protégé with plenty of reasons as to just why he became such a viciously formidable and savagely head-strong costumed crime-fighter; “I must admit, however, that his energy and skills were amazing. Such unfettered ferocity! He was to my eye the very equal of Master Dick at his age. Still, there were signs.”

Debatably this comic’s greatest moment however, has to be its inclusion of the Joker and the Clown Prince of Crime’s mysteriously super-strong minion, Straightman. The relationship between Todd and the Caped Crusader’s white-faced nemesis has always been tense following the fatal finale of Jim Starlin’s “A Death In The Family” storyline, and Issue Nine of “Batman: The Adventures Continue” quickly hints at the tension between the two adversaries when Jason unwisely decides to do a spot of “recon on the Clown” in order to scope “out his movements and any backup he’s got.”

Likewise, the former Robin’s skirmish upon a Whacky Wheel funfair ride with the Joker’s genetically enhanced soldier, is a visual tour-de-force by artist Ty Templeton and colourist Monica Kubina, with the action sequence being packed full of both feats of incredible strength, as well as a well-placed hand-grenade. In fact, these pulse-pounding panels are only let down by the scene’s brevity, and the slightly bizarre response of the deranged psychopath to flee the battle in a bumper car despite having a dazed Jason at his mercy, buried beneath the remnants of a shattered shooting gallery stall.

Writers: Alan Burnett & Paul Dini, Artist: Ty Templeton, and Colorist: Monica Kubina

Tuesday, 17 November 2020

Judge Dredd: False Witness #3 - IDW Publishing

JUDGE DREDD: FALSE WITNESS No. 3, September 2020
Chock-full of contrivances and manufactured motivations, Brandon Easton’s narrative for Issue Three of “Judge Dredd: False Witness” probably struck most of its 2,400 strong audience in September 2020 as being a bit of a choppy mess. Indeed, whether it be “illicit plastic surgery centres” helpfully providing the Justice Department with a sub-dermal identification marker on their illegal “surgical subterfuge” so the surgeons can be readily traced, or Mathias Lincoln just happening to have an “override disc” about his person so as to conveniently commandeer a Lawmaster just as the Judges have him cornered, this comic’s script is literally riddled with disconcerting coincidences.

Perhaps this twenty-page periodical’s biggest disappointment however, is just how the Baltimore-born writer depicts Pendleton Snipe’s meteoritic rise from Eden Bridge refugee to super-rich media personality simply because the kid apparently had the ‘gift of the gab’. Having made his way across the Cursed Earth into Mega-City One it is not unbelievable to imagine the immigrant becoming involved in the distribution of contraband, and somehow scraping his way through a criminal organisation to the very top. But instead, this book’s American author would have his readers believe the adolescent merely ‘appealed’ to the better nature of an underground physician to provide him with “the full monty of body mods” after he handily “got the attention of the executive producer” of a television show one day..?

To make matters worse though, the recently deceased Snipe is suddenly revealed to be the long-lost brother of Technical Judge Dolphy, who also happens to have illegally entered the giant metropolis with Lincoln and joined the Justice Department using a false identity. This revelation is made even more fantastic when Mathias admits to swapping his final psych-evaluation with Bernita’s in order to fool Psi-Judge Franklin into thinking Dolphy was a suitable recruit; “They’re going to discover us! No, scratch that. They’re going to discover me!”

Perhaps therefore this comic’s one saving grace is Kei Zama’s ability to pencil the violence of the Twenty-Second Century, especially when Judge Dredd is busy bashing a surgeon’s security staff so badly they’ll need “two weeks of reconstructive facial surgery”, or punching Lincoln straight in the chops just as the fugitive thought he’d escaped the city. In fact, the Japanese artist’s layouts depicting the “organizer” gunning down a Mechanismo droid whilst hurtling through the streets on a Lawmaster is probably the sole highlight of this publication.

Writer: Brandon Easton, Art: Kei Zama, and Colors: Eva De La Cruz

Monday, 16 November 2020

Conan The Barbarian #15 - Marvel Comics

CONAN THE BARBARIAN No. 15, December 2020
Featuring a truly ferocious encounter with a giant aquatic predator, as well as an epic gladiatorial contest between the titular character and a “worthy warrior” armed with a deadly doubled-handed axe, Jim Zub’s narrative for Issue Fifteen of “Conan The Barbarian” must surely have proved well worth the wait for the vast majority of its readers in late October 2020. Indeed, crammed full of treachery, numerous death-traps, passionate love-making and the adventurer’s unconquerable will to survive, many fans of Robert E. Howard’s work could arguably have believed that the incredibly atmospheric “Into The Crucible” was actually an adaption of some long-lost manuscript from the Thirties rather than a modern-day interpretation of the “fictional sword and sorcery hero.”

To begin with, the Canadian author shows the Cimmerian facing off against one of the ongoing series’ most memorable monsters in the form of a Great Garfish. This enormous crocodile is as absolutely terrifying as it is multi-fanged, and initially seems almost unbeatable considering that an already tired Conan is fighting the beast underwater whilst armed with just a simple sword. However, rather than fall into the trap so many less fruitful writers have fallen prey to, Zub doesn’t simply show the nearly naked fighter besting the brute because he’s an unstoppable killing machine, but rather expands upon the man’s fighting savvy and use of his tightly confined environment to help him win the day.

Rather enjoyably, the Toronto-based art professor also successfully describes how the barbarian defeats Naru-Li and the blood-raged Banti. These one-on-one duels could easily have been penned as straightforward no contests, yet instead the audience are given an insight into Conan’s keen fighting mind as “he keeps her blade at bay, waiting for an opportunity” to strike rather than somewhat tediously just hacking his foes apart without a moment’s thought; “Banti is… as spirited and savage as Conan himself. Perhaps, in another life, they would have been allies, friends, maybe even lovers. But not here. Not now.”

Also greatly adding to this twenty-page periodical’s enthralling sense of adventure are Roge Antonio’s layouts, which do a terrific job of depicting both the decadence of Garchall, with its population’s slavish subservience to the God of Many-Deaths, and the claustrophobic grimness of the labyrinthine Crucible beneath the city’s streets. In addition, the Brazilian artist can clearly pencil a scintillating display of sword play, with the sound of the Cimmerian’s blade literally singing out of every panel in which it is swung.

Writer: Jim Zub, Artist: Roge Antonio, and Colorist: Israel Silva

Wednesday, 11 November 2020

The Immortal Hulk #38 - Marvel Comics

IMMORTAL HULK No. 38, December 2020
Fans of this ongoing series were probably delighted with Al Ewing’s depiction of the Leader throughout this twenty-page periodical, for whilst Samuel Sterns’ liquefaction of Shadow Base Site G’s hapless staff is truly a horrendous thing to behold, the overall “evil invasive entity” storyline undeniably lives up to the British writer’s promise of making the major villain’s involvement “fit the horror tone of the book.” Indeed, considering that Stan Lee’s co-creation has simultaneous mental control over three different characters within this tome, and clearly isn’t afraid to manipulate the likes of Rick Jones’ heavily mutated body in order to conduct an act of almost unspeakable gratuitous violence towards another, it is hard to imagine this comic’s Hulk-heads encountering a more dread-filled book on their local spinner rack.

To begin with, the former “Judge Dredd” writer does a first-rate job of penning the highly radioactive body of Delbert Frye disconcertingly stalking the dark corridors of General Reginald Fortean’s old headquarters, waiting to sizzle any scientist he might come across into a repugnant puddle of melted flesh and charred bones. Doctor McGowan’s sheer terror at the sight of the fluorescent green monstrosity is truly palpable, and doubtless many readers genuinely felt her sense of pure panic as the “genius-level genetic engineer” eerily approached her with his malformed hands outstretched towards her.

Similarly as gruesome is Jones’ fate, once an emaciated Doctor Samson has literally brained the Leader with a large piece of concrete in the Below-Place, and given Charlene an opportunity to activate the top secret military facility’s teleporter with an all-encompassing "six-foot radius.". His body’s partial translocation into two ghastly pieces of still writhing flesh is shockingly unpleasant to witness and looks like something taken straight out of a John Carpenter film from the early Eighties.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, a lot of this publication’s sense-shattering scares are also down to the excellent layouts of Joe Bennett, who seems to be able to pencil unnatural human anatomy with alarming aplomb. The Brazilian artist’s designs for Rick, Frye and Sterns are marvellously rendered throughout the comic, and only eclipsed by the sheer scaly nightmare which is the lizard-like Devil Hulk; “Hey, Big Guy. I hear you, kid. I love you. I’ll always be here for you. He’s not your Dad. Not a good Dad. A Dad can’t hurt you and be a good Dad. Just let me out, okay? Let me out and I’ll kill him.”

The regular cover art of "IMMORTAL HULK" No. 38 by Alex Ross

Monday, 2 November 2020

A Man Among Ye #3 - Image Comics

A MAN AMONG YE No. 3, October 2020
Opening with a swashbuckling duel between buccaneer Anne Bonny and Jane Castor’s servant girl, and finishing with the bloody elimination of John Rackham’s treacherous crew, Stephanie Phillips’ script for Issue Three of “A Man Among Ye” certainly promises its audience a pulse-pounding depiction of a pirate’s life during the Eighteenth Century. But whilst such an entertaining carousel of sword-play, double-dealing, and brutal murder undeniably provides this twenty-page periodical’s plot with plenty of pace, the storyteller’s execution and logic arguably lets down this epic adventure in a couple of places.

For starters, it is quickly explained that the significantly wealthy lady Castor has fled with Iris from a disagreeable betrothal with the intention of stealing a ship in order to reach New England. However, it quickly becomes clear that neither woman can actually steer a boat or even hoist its mainsail for that matter. In addition, Jane’s companion later verbalises her belief that the pair of refugees had apparently agreed not to head for New England, so just what the couple’s plan actually was, apart from standing in someone else’s vessel during the dead of night and claiming it for themselves, appears utterly unclear.

Similarly, Bonny’s savage battle with Iris for ownership of the stolen ship is frustratingly confined to the background as the comic instead strangely focuses upon young Mary Read getting a lesson in diction from the insufferably arrogant Jane; “First. I was stealing the ship first. It’s an important distinction.” This conversation is undeniably important, as it quickly establishes the motivation behind this mini-series’ latest additions to the cast. However, by moving the swordfight momentarily ‘off-screen’, it does debatably lead to the question as to just how a simple domestic is able to stand her ground for such a long-winded discussion against supposedly one of the most feared fighters on the highs seas with nothing more than a small hand-axe..?

Happily such quibbles are easily forgotten courtesy of some excellent layouts by Craig Cermak, which are so detailed that many readers will doubtless feel it is well worth the effort to go back and scrutinise each panel for at least a second or third viewing. The 2011 Kubert School graduate does a particularly fine job of pencilling Governor Woodes Rogers’ soldiers gunning down Rackham’s former shipmates without any compunction whatsoever, with each sailor’s disbelief and terror evidently etched on their faces or visible in their frantic movements.

Written by: Stephanie Phillips, Art by: Craig Cermak and Colors by: John Kalisz

Star Trek: Year Five #15 - IDW Publishing

STAR TREK: YEAR FIVE No. 15, October 2020
Apart from presumably trying to tie-in with those comic collecting fans interested in the imminent 2020 United States presidential election, it is difficult to imagine just why Jody Houser would feel it was appropriate to pen a multi-part plot focusing upon James T. Kirk’s snooze-inducing investigation into the Andorians’ political aspirations for the Federation’s future leader. Indeed, even the U.S.S. Enterprise’s skipper himself warns the audience at this book’s very start that his mission to spy on a potential political opponent for the Attorney General is “little more than a waste of our all-too-brief flames.”

Unfortunately however, this misuse of a twenty-page magazine is precisely how this publication’s plot pans out due to absolutely nothing of any note occurring within the American author’s narrative until its very end when a startled Montgomery Scott is caught surreptitiously trying to spy upon Harcourt Fenton Mudd’s robotic assistant and gets clobbered across the clock for his troubles; “That… Could have gone better…” Up until this moment all the Constitution-class starship’s landing party are faced with is a carousel of seemingly endless panels crammed full of word-heavy dialogue balloons explaining just why the “warp-capable humanoid species from the moon Andoria” have decided to forgive Mudd for his past transgressions and unbelievably feel he is the inspirational candidate needed to lead their Originalist Movement to victory.

To make matters worse though, Houser’s storyline doesn’t even feature the science fiction show’s leading cast of Kirk, Spock and McCoy, but instead contrivingly substitutes the logical Vulcan and emotionally-charged physician with Scotty and this ongoing title’s original Tholian crewmember, Bright Eyes. Just why the Captain would be accompanied by such a strange landing party is never convincingly explained and is simply ‘written off’ because the science officer is implausibly worried that the vessel might suddenly be breached by enemy forces despite it being in orbit of a founding member of the United Federation of Planets.

Similarly as irksome as this comic’s soporific storyline is Silvia Califano’s decision to sketch Mudd as the fully-bearded criminal portrayed by Rainn Dietrich Wilson in the first season of “Star Trek: Discovery” rather than as the lovable rogue depicted by Sixties actor Roger C. Carmel. The Italian illustrator does a prodigious job of pencilling all the science fiction franchise’s other thespians from the original television series, so this choice arguably badly jars with the rest of the book’s aesthetics and nostalgic atmosphere.

Writer: Jody Houser, Artist: Silvia Califano, and Colorist: Charlie Kirchoff