Thursday, 31 December 2020

Warhammer 40,000: Marneus Calgar #1 - Marvel Comics

WARHAMMER 40,000: MARNEUS CALGAR No. 1, December 2020
Shifting between 22,500 to 25,000 copies in October 2020, at least according to “Diamond Comic Distributors”, it is arguably quite clear from the depth of its narrative that Issue One of “Warhammer 40,000: Marneus Calgar” was penned by someone “venerable enough to have bought Rogue Trader in 1987.” For whilst this opening instalment to a five-part mini-series somewhat skirts around the detail of the titular character’s involvement in the Thirteenth Black Crusade, Kieron Gillen’s fascinating depiction as to just how a Space Marine aspirant becomes a neophyte contains plenty of scripture and verse, as well as a thrilling confrontation between young Tacitan and a deadly Ambull.

Indeed, the never-before-told origin story of the Ultramarines’ legendary Chapter Master is debatably far more enthralling than the elite warrior’s battle on Nova Thulium against the forces of Chaos. True, the horde of red and black clothed heretical fanatics who hurl themselves against humanity’s greatest warriors certainly provides the former computer games journalist with plenty of opportunities to demonstrate the superior firepower on hand in the distant future. Yet it is arguably Calgar’s noble actions as an adolescent which proves the most intriguing element of this twenty-four page periodical’s plot, once the boy’s personal trainer appears to make it abundantly clear that the man-child “will either become a neophyte or you will be dead.”

Likewise, the British author also manages to start weaving an intriguing scenario surrounding “the smallest habitable moon of the agri-world of Nova Thulium” which makes it clear that Marneus won’t just be facing poorly lead cultists on his former home planet. Initially, the Ultramarines’ dynamically-paced victories over the gun-toting rabble would simply seem to have been included in this comic as something to sharply contrast with the more sedentary storyline of the Chapter Master’s past. However, by the end of this book the sudden appearance of hulking Chaos Space Marines strongly suggests that something far more sinister is about to take place.

Quite wonderfully drawing all this action and scheming together into a veritable feast for the eyes is Jacen Burrows’ artwork, which does a magnificent job of portraying Calgar in all his formidable glory. The American illustrator evidently has a great flair for pencilling bolter-infested battles, with his double-splash of the Ultramarines emerging from a swooping Thunderhawk gunship to tear bloody chunks out of a heretical mob being one of this publication’s biggest highlights.

The regular cover art of "WARHAMMER 40,000: MARNEUS CALGAR" #1 by Jacen Burrows

Wednesday, 30 December 2020

The Immortal Hulk #41 - Marvel Comics

IMMORTAL HULK No. 41, February 2021
Promising that artist Joe Bennett would be pencilling a stonkingly good rematch against the titular character’s long-time rival, Benjamin Grimm, Al Ewing’s script for Issue Forty One of “Immortal Hulk” must have proved something of a disappointment to the majority of its readers with its predominantly sedentary storyline. True, Bruce Banner’s alter-ego does manage to swap a few punches with the Fantastic Four’s strongest member, but the jade giant’s “puny” physical condition makes this confrontation so absurdly one-sided that it arguably comes as something of a relief when the duo set aside their differences and tuck into a hot meal at a local diner; “Big beef dog and all the extras. Made with my own rocky hands.”

In addition, the usually kind-hearted Thing is disappointingly penned as being a bit of a dislikeable bully in “The Man Downstairs”, who having quickly realised that something is badly amiss with his opponent’s famous formidable super-strength, appears to take great delight in laying down a significant smackdown upon his surprisingly fragile foe. Such a disconcertingly dark version of “Aunt Petunia's favourite nephew” is explained away by the British writer as being payback for when the Hulk “beat me into a coma on my honeymoon”. However, it is still debatably difficult to reconcile a deeply religious hero who had his Bar Mitzvah “thirteen years since the Cosmic Rays” with this comic’s incarnation who seemingly revels in the stark terror of a clearly surrendering adversary.

Sadly, the former “2000 A.D.” author’s narrative also seems to rely far too heavily upon a few illogical plot points to push this twenty-page periodical along. For starters, having established in this ongoing book’s previous instalment that in order to change back into his human guise Joe Fixit’s persona has to literally tear himself out from inside the Hulk’s body, Ewing suddenly reverts back to the green Goliath’s old transformation process simply so he can pen for the Thing to punch an utterly defenceless ‘Bruce Banner’. This inconsistency is then followed up by the authorities, who have been desperate to incarcerate the founding Avenger since the Iowa massacre, impotently standing outside a cordoned-off funfair, whilst Mister Fantastic allows his team-mate to enjoy a cold beer with their ‘detainee’ and ultimately let the man go scot-free.

The regular cover art of "IMMORTAL HULK" #41 by Alex Ross

Tuesday, 29 December 2020

Strange Academy #3 - Marvel Comics

STRANGE ACADEMY No. 3, November 2020
Rather cleverly conveying this comic’s considerable cast onto the actual streets of the French Quarter in New Orleans, Skottie Young’s script for Issue Three of “Strange Academy” arguably manages to do a very good job of showing how easily tempted “the best and brightest young sorcerers” could be to use their incredible powers without restraint when faced with the more ill-mannered elements of society. In fact, Emily Bright’s encounter with the incredibly rude Miss Hazel and the fortune teller’s liberalness concerning the young girl’s “personal space” readily demonstrates just how much self-restraint all the students need to acquire in order to simply pass through a Voodo Museum without a magic-related incident.

Of course, having unsuccessfully managed to physically force the Kansas-born pupil into having her future read, the highly disagreeable precognitive quickly establishes herself to be no mere elderly mortal by giving Doyle Dormammu the fright of his young life with just the merest of touches. But even then, the fast-bonding schoolmates don’t resort to conjuring up all manner of curses or spells themselves, and simply allow Zoe Laveau to admonish the evil cackling witch with a few well-placed words in Louisiana Creole; “Gade mwen fanm! Mwen kunnen ou ka we kisa mwen ye. Pran men ou nan zanml ‘anvan mwen mache ou nan krwaze semen reyel la!”

Just as much a test upon the apprentices’ resolve also comes when Alvi Brorson, Germán Aguilar and Calvin Morse are set upon by a group of cowardly ruffians, who foolishly feel that strength in numbers and poorly-fitting costume masks makes then invincible. Precisely how the three undergraduates happened to fall prey to the self-righteous bullies down a dark alleyway isn’t made clear. However, the fact that they are repeatedly assaulted by the arrogant thugs and still don’t unleash their powers upon the increasingly irritating weaklings shows just how much each character clearly values their place at Strange Academy, even when they “absolutely can and will destroy them…”

Visually helping along this twenty-page periodical’s rather tense narrative is Humberto Ramos’ artwork, which really captures the mood and internal conflict on the students’ faces whenever they are faced with adversity. In addition, the Mexican illustrator’s pencilling of the world as seen through Emily’s third all-seeing eye is stunningly superb, with all manner of beautifully-imagined xenoplasmic parasites feasting upon the essences of the world’s blissfully ignorant inhabitants.

The regular cover art of "STRANGE ACADEMY" #3 by Humberto Ramos & Edgar Delgado

Monday, 28 December 2020

Batman: The Adventures Continue #11 - DC Comics

Firmly focused upon Jason Todd’s downward spiral into becoming one of Gotham City’s most notorious anti-heroes, this particular instalment of Alan Burnett and Paul Dini’s “Red Son Rising” storyline must surely have delighted many fans of the 1992 "Batman: The Animated Series” with its clever weaving of the rogue Robin into the television programme’s mythos and its numerous characterful cameos. Indeed, considering that the digital first comic book contains appearances from the likes of Leslie Thompkins, the Clock King, Killer Croc, Man-Bat, The Penguin and Commissioner James Gordon, it is quite remarkable that it still seemingly finds plenty of time to shine a spot-light upon both Harley Quinn and the Joker, as well as the Dark Knight himself.

Of course, the true highlight of this publication is following Alfred Pennyworth’s narration to a wide-eyed Tim Drake as to just how Todd went “from Boy Wonder to Boy Barbarian” by ruthlessly beating up any low-life criminals unlucky enough to cross his path during a robbery. But it is still nice to see that Park Row’s dedicated doctor continues to tend to the injured over at the Gotham Clinic, and how informants such as Sid the Squid repeatedly react when dangled upside down over the metropolis’ skyline by the Caped Crusader; “Waaah! Okay! Okay! I’ll tell ya!”

What it particularly noticeable about Issue Eleven of “Batman: The Adventures Continue” however, is just how much the sheer savagery of Jason’s violence is on show for all to see. The always aggressive adolescent appears to have little mercy for the street-level goons he encounters and even less for “Batman’s usual rogues”, with both the heavily-mutated Morgan and Temple Fugate getting riddled with numerous bullets and stabbed through the chest with a giant clock arm respectively.

Such wanton carnage is only the start though, once Harleen Quinzel’s deranged alter-ego and the Clown Prince of Crime arrive on the scene. Supposedly riled by her lover’s lack of attention, “the Joker's on-and-off girlfriend” is dynamically-drawn by Ty Templeton demolishing half a dozen fairground stalls and toy stores with all manner of bulldozers and hydraulic cranes. Yet this is just a taster for the comic’s cliff-hanger of a conclusion as “Punkin-Pie” faces off against an all-too cocky Robin, and gets savagely smacked to the ground by a stinging back-handed swipe.

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

Sunday, 27 December 2020

The Recount #1 - Scout Comics

THE RECOUNT No. 1, November 2020
Absolutely packed full of political intrigue, gruesome assassinations, and a ton of treachery, Jonathan Hedrick’s script for Issue One of “The Recount” must surely have caused this comic’s readership to be constantly second-guessing just who the Vice President of the United States of America could actually trust during his narrative’s distinctly trying times. Indeed, the script for this twenty-four page periodical arguably conveys such a disconcerting sense of governmental sedition and suspicion, that it is hard not to draw an analogy for this modern-day storyline with that of the ambiguity surrounding the deaths of John F. Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby back in the early Sixties.

For starters, impeached President Anthony Christensen’s cold-blooded murder just as the Commander-in-Chief was publically resigning from his great office, is immediately followed by both the killing of the vacating leader’s hit man and his would-be saviour’s instant arrest for shooting the traitorous Agent Ischy “instead of tackling him.” Such a flurry of deaths, allegations and insinuations immediately brings every character’s motivations into question, and even implies that the interrogator interviewing Agent Simon Kanaan believes that his prisoner only shot his target so quickly because he knew beforehand what the rogue secret service operative was about to do.

Likewise, the Vice President is very quick to question both the loyalty and competence of her entire circle of closest advisors. This atmosphere of distrust is genuinely palpable, and increasingly builds throughout the publication as more murders follow. In fact, by the time the sheer scale of the mass conspiracy is finally revealed “by a group calling themselves The Masses”, it would be blatantly clear to all but the most naively-minded perusing bibliophile that, with the possible exception of quick-drawing bodyguard Bree Barto, no-one within the White House should probably be  trusted; “Christensen wasn’t alone in his crimes. He may have given the order to send young men and women overseas to an unnecessary war. But that was with the people whispering in his ear. They pushed their own agendas and used him like a puppet. Those who could gain from his position orchestrated the corruption.”  

Helpfully stoking the fires of Hedrick’s disconcerting national nightmare are Gabriel Ibarra-Nunez’s excellent layouts, which go a long way to adding plenty of pace to some shockingly violent scenes and harrowingly tense confrontations. The Chilean artist’s sense of timing with the frequency and shape of his panels is perfect for conveying the mistrust pervading from this comic’s considerably-sized cast, with Kanaan’s bloody rescue from "an undisclosed location" proving especially well-plotted and pencilled.

Writer: Jonathan Hedrick, Artist: Gabriel Ibarra-Nunez, and Colorist: Sunil Ghagre

Saturday, 26 December 2020

Doctor Who: Time Lord Victorious #1 - Titan Comics

Considering that the Time Lord Victorious saga was “told across audio, novels, comics, vinyl, digital, immersive theatre, escape rooms and games”, this forty-four page periodical’s 6,600 strong audience probably struggled to see what all the fuss was about in September 2020. For whilst Jody Houser’s script certainly heralds the return of the Doctor’s “deadliest enemies”, her pedestrian-paced plot of the Gallifreyan’s Tenth incarnation simply conversing with a variety of Daleks on Skaro is hardly the “thrilling new adventure” promised by “Titan Comics” in its pre-publication fluff.

Instead, all Issue One of “Doctor Who: Time Lord Victorious” arguably offers its readers is an exercise in how to draw out an actionless, dialogue-driven narrative across an entire double-sized comic book using such techniques as sedentary soliloquies, a coma-inducing chase sequence through the known universe, and yet another confrontation with the Emperor Dalek in which the so-called supreme ruler of the Dalek Empire once again begs the Doctor for help because the race of inhuman killers are "scared" of being defeated by another alien race; “The Hond are alive. And they are coming for us. The Dalek armies have held them back. But now they are coming to Skaro to invade. To exterminate… The Doctooor will save Skaro and the Daleks.”

Of course, that isn’t to say that Houser’s narrative, based upon a story by James Goss, doesn’t contain some noteworthy features, as the appearance of the dilapidated Prime Strategist and his ‘tour’ of the Vault of Obscenities attests. But this rusty, bent-out-of-shape Dalek sadly only makes an appearance towards the very end of the badly bloated magazine, and then is debatably just used by the Eisner-nominated author to demonstrate just how physically immobile the original design of the Kaled Mark Three Travel Machines were before ‘its people made flying cases’ so as to overcome large holes in the ground.

Fortunately however, those bibliophiles brave enough to endure this book’s lethargy do at least get to enjoy plenty of Roberta Ingranata’s excellent pencilling, with the Italian illustrator providing an astounding good likeness of thespian David Tennant and his easily recognisable mannerisms throughout. Indeed, the artwork makes it very easy to imagine the actor actually saying the lines, as well as helping the Prime Strategist navigate the ruins of the mysterious vault with all the tangible energy the Tenth Doctor was famous for when seen on the small screen.

Writer: Jody Houser, Artist: Roberta Ingranata, and Colorist: Enrica Eren Angiolini

Thursday, 24 December 2020

Maestro #4 - Marvel Comics

MAESTRO No. 4, January 2021
Described by “Marvel Worldwide” as “a pivotal moment” in the mini-series as part of the New York-based publisher’s pre-print publicity, Peter David’s narrative for Issue Four of “Maestro” definitely delivers a surprisingly severe incarnation of Bruce Banner’s alter-ego which must have somewhat stunned the majority of this comic book’s audience. For whilst the nuclear physicist would appear to have lost none of his scientific savvy in creating an army of giant robotic dogs and accompanying cloned riders, the biochemist undoubtedly crosses the line from being a misunderstood anti-hero to that of a cold-hearted super-villain by nonchalantly murdering his fellow Avenger, Hercules, with “the main ingredient of arsenic”, arsine.

This successful assassination attempt, consummately carried out on the Hulk’s direct orders by the deadly U-Foe, Vapor, is marvellously penned by the American author, and whilst it is clear from the moment an all-too civil jade giant arrives at the Lion of Olympus’s luxurious palace that trouble is just around the corner, the sudden savagery of the Greek god’s death is as shocking as it is grisly. Indeed, the Prince of Power’s ending is arguably only overshadowed in its abruptness by Ann Darnell’s own termination at the hands of the titular character, who shatters her crystalline form into a thousand fragments courtesy of some freezing gun he found inside the nearby abandoned Alchemax facility; “Take all these pieces and bury them individually. All over the kingdom. Out in the plains. Make sure that they can never re-integrate.”

Of course, some Hulk-Heads would probably argue that despite turning Betty Ross’ former husband into a homicidal murderer, the Haxtur Award-winner’s biggest bombshell in this twenty-page periodical actually arrives far sooner than Hercules’ gruesomely painful passing, and comes during this comic’s opening sequence when Bruce is battling the “Hero Of All Heroes” for control of Dystopia. Dynamically pencilled by German Peralta, and packed full of some outrageously deafening punches, this bout of pugilism would debatably only go one way if the Hulk “were mindless”. But because “Banner’s brain is in control” the jade behemoth is easily outmatched in the strength department, and eventually has to meekly surrender before his immortal assailant beats him to death.

The regular cover art of "MAESTRO" No. 4 by Dale Keown & Jason Keith

Tuesday, 22 December 2020

Black Widow #4 - Marvel Comics

BLACK WIDOW No. 4, February 2021
Basically boiling this book’s plot down to one of the titular character desperately trying to save her ‘new’ husband and son single-handedly against Madame Hydra’s personal security team, Kelly Thompson’s script for Issue Four of “Black Widow” surely must have delighted its readers with its mixture of kick-ass action and genuinely touching interplay. In fact, the sense of danger this twenty-page periodical generates for the former Soviet spy as she stealthily slinks through her pitch black home doggedly defending Natalie’s family from the Viper’s best would-be killers, is surprisingly palpable, especially when it appears at least one of the assassins has somehow outflanked her defensive position.

Fortunately, all is not lost due to the timely appearance of Yelena Belova, and some astoundingly impressive acrobatics by the titular character. Understandably incensed by her enemy’s brainwashing, and determined to protect her loved ones from harm, Natasha Romanova appears to be in tip-top form, snapping necks, stabbing minions, and nonchalantly gunning down goons, whilst she tirelessly somersaults her way around her house; “Stay low. When I say your name. That’s when you come out… I need you to trust me. No hesitation. It’s the only way I can get you both out here alive.”

However, for those bibliophiles more interested in just how the Black Widow became so thoroughly immersed in Madame Hydra’s fake world, Thompson is equally as adept at penning a significantly long flashback sequence which goes to some length to explain precisely how the Russian has somehow acquired both a devoted spouse and adoring boy within the space of just fourteen weeks. Extremely-well pencilled by Carlos Gomez and vibrantly coloured by Federico Blee, these five-pages really prove a visual feast for the eyes, yet do beg the question as to why the “authoritarian paramilitary-subversive organization” didn’t simply kill the unconscious Romanova when they had the chance, rather than spend at least four weeks brainwashing her..?

Arguably this publication’s most stand out moment though, has to be Elena Casagrande’s stunning double-splash of Natasha blazing away at some heavily-armed Hydra thugs across a pool table. This stunningly paced scene is just crammed full of dynamic touches, such as the super-hero landing double-footed upon the head of one hapless soldier, and ‘thunking’ a knife into the brain of another green-suited brute as the battle moves into her residential abode’s kitchen area.

The regular cover art of "BLACK WIDOW" #4 by Adam Hughes

Monday, 21 December 2020

Star Wars: Bounty Hunters #6 - Marvel Comics

STAR WARS: BOUNTY HUNTERS No. 6, December 2020
Providing its 29,500 readers with plenty of insights as to the background behind Beilert Valance, and his brutal ‘rise’ from being a lowly worker on the Mining Planet of Chorin to a well-renowned bounty hunter, this twenty-page periodical must surely have agreeably entertained even those within its audience who were wholly unacquainted with this “canon” comic book series’ central protagonist. In fact, the flashbacks involving the human’s unconquerable love for Yuralla Vega makes it crystal clear just how as an Imperial grunt, the soldier was later able to somehow survive his “quite substantial” injuries on Mimban when he “was scorched in a ground assault” and given substandard cybernetic parts by a less than sympathetic superior officer.

Similarly as well scripted is Ethan Sacks’ narrative concerning Valance’s confrontation with some of the mercenaries sent to murder his recently acquired young ward, Cadeliah. Beilert’s battle with a beskar body-armour wearing killer inside the Spur Orbiting Market is an absolute pleasure to peruse, due to the man having to spontaneously work together with his dependant so as to defeat their seemingly impregnable opponent; “Get off him! Valance, now! Fry him with your palm blaster!”

However, it is this comic’s confrontation between the recently-restored cyborg and Zuckuss inside Slade’s Repairs shop which is undoubtedly this publication’s highlight, as the infamous insectoid Gand findsman manages to inflict a serious wound upon his “old friend” with a sonic immobilizer. Bloodied, but most definitely not bowed, the battered hero’s subsequent brutal bout of fisticuffs is superbly paced, and definitely sets up the pair for a future re-match after 4-LOM’s partner-in-crime is temporarily side-lined with a sliced breathing regulator.

Adding enormously to the emotionally-charged energy of this book are Paolo Villanelli’s layouts, which really go a long way to ensuring the ever-shifting tempo of Sacks’ story-telling. Somewhat sedentary when used to depict the cybernetic bounty-hunter’s touching love affair with Yura, the Italian artist’s pencilling of this comic’s action sequences then come thick and fast in a splendid flurry of sense-shattering sketches. Indeed, much of the desperate urgency behind Beilert’s actions during his skirmishes comes from the rapidity of Paolo’s panels and some of the insane movement lines which accompany the participants’ blows.
The regular cover art of "STAR WARS: BOUNTY HUNTERS" #6 by Lee Bermejo

Saturday, 19 December 2020

Mighty Morphin #2 - BOOM! Studios

MIGHTY MORPHIN No. 2, December 2020
For those readers oblivious of the plot behind Boom Studios! sibling publication “Power Rangers”, or simply unaware as to the existence of characters Jason, Trini, Zack and Lord Drakkon, Ryan Parrott’s opening to Issue Two of “Mighty Morphin” may well have proved something of a disconcerting diversion. In fact, it arguably isn’t until the twenty-page periodical is a third of a way through that the writer finally starts penning a piece focusing upon this comic’s titular cast rather than depicting Zordon’s anger at his other super-powered protégés’ apparent betrayal and the floating head’s desire to “replace the emergency beacon with an outgoing message” demanding that the Omega Rangers “be taken into custody by any means necessary.”

Needless to say though, that doesn’t mean for a moment that the galactic wizard’s determination to apprehend his ‘off-screen’ misguided pupils and rid them of their phenomenal abilities doesn’t provide plenty of interest, especially when it affords Billy’s current team with an opportunity to show how personally conflicted the surprising situation has caused some of its members. But once this book’s narrative does settle back down to focusing upon Zedd’s latest attack at the Earth, as well as Bulk’s false belief that Rocky is muscling in on her brother’s romance with Candice, the storytelling becomes much more straightforward to follow for those less familiar with the long-running Super Sentai-based franchise; “Excuse me, Mister Putty! Have you met my Power Sword?!? Heee-Aayagh!”

Indeed, the subsequent battle at the college’s highly-anticipated musical festival with a seriously-formidable four-armed “psycho putty” is undeniably the highlight of this comic’s narrative, as the Mighty Morphin line-up eventually realise that they’ve inadvertently been lured into an all-too deadly trap with an entire army of Finster’s latest chaotic minions. Packed full of some genuine pulse-pounding panels pencilled by Italian artist Marco Renna, and featuring an appearance by the mysterious Green Ranger when things look dangerously bad for the main heroes, this action-sequence is so frantically-paced that its sense-shattering cliff-hanger showing the heroes about to be overwhelmed through the Putty Patrol’s sheer weight of numbers, arrives all-too soon despite the scene actually lasting an impressive seven-pages.
The regular cover art of "MIGHTY MORPHIN" No. 2 by Inhyuk Lee

Friday, 18 December 2020

Maestro #3 - Marvel Comics

MAESTRO No. 3, December 2020
There was clearly a lot for this comic’s 29,500 readers to enjoy whilst perusing this seventeen-page periodical, considering that Peter David’s plot involves a pulse-pounding bout of pugilism featuring Hercules Panhellenios, an initially moving reunion with an elderly Rick Jones, and an almost “Resident Evil” vibe permeating the balding Hulk’s exploration of the long-abandoned Alchemax central science facility. In fact, on paper Issue Three of “Maestro” would appear to contain everything the evil incarnation’s return to comics promised back when the limited series was first announced by the character’s Maryland-born creator in May 2020.

Disappointingly however, once Bruce Banner’s alter-ego gets his clock momentarily cleaned by the son of Zeus, the jade green Goliath’s personality arguably goes unconvincingly off-track and suddenly seems to degenerate into a downright malevolent psychopath who would rival Doctor Doom. Admittedly, this title's entire run is designed to portray the super-strong scientist’s pathway towards insane megalomania. But this book would suggest it occurs instantly, with the Hulk sharing an emotional meeting with his aged sidekick one moment, and then literally a beer later, angrily denouncing the ordinary people as sheep who need to be “ruled with an iron hand” because they destroyed the planet.

Similarly as bizarre is David’s suggestion that in order to rule Dystopia and the world beyond, Banner would need to create an army of giant cybernetic dogs so as to quell the city’s population. This formidable-looking state-of-the-art technological force, seemingly ridden by a horde of long-forgotten humanoid clones, debatably appears completely incongruous to the post-apocalyptic devastation previously depicted, and genuinely seems to smack of the American author struggling to create a plausible explanation as to how the Hulk could possibly replace Hercules as the decadent metropolis’ dictator; “There is a world beyond Dystopia. I have seen it. Strode across it. And now… I am ready to rule it.”

Luckily though, the writing for the three-page “Relics” appears a lot better, with a younger Rick Jones and Marlo Chandler stumbling across the adamantium skeleton of Wolverine amidst the destruction of World War Three. Short, punchy and surprisingly poignant, the pair’s confrontation with a couple of gun-toting scavengers is as well told as it is brief, and features some strong artwork from Canadian artist Dale Keown.

Writer: Peter David, Artist: German Peralta, and Color Artist: Jesus Aburtov

Wednesday, 16 December 2020

The Immortal Hulk #40 - Marvel Comics

IMMORTAL HULK No. 40, January 2021
It is arguably quite apparent with Al Ewing’s narrative for this twenty-page periodical that “the new Sasquatch was an idea that came to me quite suddenly” rather than being part of some long-term plan by the former “2000 A.D.” writer. For whilst Leonard Samson’s ‘off-screen’ transformation into Doc Sasquatch undoubtedly provided this comic’s Hulk-Heads with a startling revelation when the green furry beast suddenly makes an appearance in front of his astonished Gamma Flight team-mates, the character’s presence within “So Here’s The Thing” debatably makes an already somewhat uneven piece of penmanship even more choppy.

Indeed, considering that much of this comic’s story seems to simply involve setting up the pieces for another confrontation between Bruce Banner’s alter-ego and the Fantastic Four’s muscle, Benjamin Grimm, the abrupt arrival of Walter Langkowski’s replacement may well have struck some readers as simply being ‘shoe-horned’ into Issue Forty of “Immortal Hulk” simply to ensure Joe Bennett had enough material with which to pad out the publication with his pencilling; “The best thing we can do is plot his trajectory -- See where he’s going -- And have someone waiting when he splashes down.”

Naturally, that isn’t to say that Ewing’s script lacks for action, as the Hulk’s violent escape from the holding facility aboard the Alpha Flight Interstellar Defence and Diplomacy Initiative’s orbital space station attests. But even this somewhat disconcertingly dynamic sequence of events appears rather contrived seeing that Joe Fixit inexplicably emerges from the bloated belly of his securely incarcerated host body, and then easily ‘duffs up’ both a heavily-armed guard, as well as Acting Commander Peter Gyrich, with little more than a twist of his Terry-Thomas moustache.

Sadly, this comic’s seemingly ad hoc pacing isn’t the book’s only problem either, with Bennett’s layouts appearing rather rushed in several places, most notably those scenes involving Gamma Flight and Fixit’s extraordinary decision to blow out one of his prison’s glass windows in an effort to be ‘sucked’ back down to the Earth’s surface. Doc Sasquatch is also persistently poorly visualised, something which Ewing touched himself during an October 2020 interview with “Comic Book Resources” in which he admitted the Brazilian artist “didn’t have as much time to prepare as he has in the past.”

The regular cover art of "IMMORTAL HULK" No. 40 by Alex Ross

Tuesday, 15 December 2020

Strange Academy #2 - Marvel Comics

STRANGE ACADEMY No. 2, December 2020
Considering that Issue Two of “Strange Academy” simply follows nine of the educational facility’s brand new learners through their first day of lessons, Skottie Young’s narrative for this twenty-page periodical must still have pleased the vast majority of its readers with its plethora of super-powered special appearances and whimsical lecture-based shenanigans. Indeed, for a comic that doesn’t actually involve any specific villain or particular threat, the Inkwell Award-winner’s storyline provides an incredibly enthralling experience, especially when it becomes clear that all is not as hunky dory behind the college’s closed doors as Zelma Stanton would have its pupils believe; “Emily asked about the cost of the magic… You know how I feel about that. And how I feel about lying to the students. She won’t be the only one to ask.”

As a whole however, such an underlying sense of danger and dread is largely confined to the intimidating presence of the school’s various teachers, such as the Ancient One or Brother Voodoo, and the worrying fate of any learner foolish enough to purposely provoke their wrath. This ‘pushing of classroom boundaries’ arguably provides the book’s biggest highlight when the annoyingly arrogant Iric finally decides to show up for Inferno 101 with Illyana Rasputina, and in front of everyone else goads her into making an example of him when he immediately challenges her authority. Magik’s response to instantly dispatch both the Agardian and his room-mate Doyle Dormammu to Hell is a genuine laugh out loud moment, and later affords an entertaining cut-scene during lunch when the pair are brilliantly pencilled by Humberto Ramos battling against a large fiery, demonic dinosaur.

Far less action-packed, though equally as absorbing, is Young’s exploration of the burgeoning relationships developing amongst the Strange Academy’s colourful scholars. Guslaug and Toth both appear to do particularly well out of these numerous ‘under the spotlight’ moments, with the young Frost Giant seeming to quickly develop a rapport with Emily Bright, Shaylee and Germán Aguilar. Whilst the half-Crystal Warrior from the swamps of Weirdworld demonstrates his somewhat sulky temper later in the comic when his efforts during Professor Man-Thing’s Magical Plants and the care thereof go slightly awry, much to the consternation of Miss Moonpeddle.

The regular cover art of "STRANGE ACADEMY" #2 by Humberto Ramos & Edgar Delgado

Monday, 14 December 2020

Conan The Barbarian #16 - Marvel Comics

CONAN THE BARBARIAN No. 16, January 2021
At first sight Jim Zub’s script for this particular twenty-page periodical strongly suggests that the titular character is probably just as close to an ignoble end as Robert E. Howard depicted him way back in his 1933 prose tale “The Scarlet Citadel”. In fact, the similarities between the Cimmerian’s fatal-looking predicament are arguably quite close, considering that in both adventures the incarcerated warrior has refused any suggestion of clemency by paying ‘lip-service’ to his captors and resultantly faces certain death locked away within a seemingly impregnable prison cell.

Yet whilst Conan’s creator would have his hero ‘saved’ by a chance encounter with an old adversary from his piratical days as Amra, this comic’s Canadian author rather nicely ties the savage’s unlikely escape in with the previously depicted cold-blooded murder of Yohnic of the Oaks and the dead Hyrkanian’s thirst for retribution against a brutal people who slaughtered him in cultish obeisance to a god who actually doesn’t exist; “I’ll avenge you, old man. You and Naru-Li deserve vengeance -- We all do. I promise. These wretches will pay…”

Similarly as well-penned is Zub’s ability to portray the barbarian’s somewhat believable course through the City of Garchall’s palace without having to resort to the usual trope of the Cimmerian frenziedly fighting his way through an entire army of sentinels with little more than his dogged determination and a basic hand-weapon. Admittedly, the freed captive does skewer a pair of hapless sentries with a stolen spear when he initially makes his bid for freedom, and then later winds up fencing with the “cursed Magistrate’s elite guards" once the alarm is raised. But these battles are fleetingly fast and involve just a handful of soldiers at most, rather than proposing the unrealistic suggestion that a half-starved semi-naked warrior could matter-of-factly wade through a sea of swords, shields and armour.

Perhaps therefore this comic book’s sole disappointment debatably lies in its conclusion when Conan faces the Chief Magistrate and simply discovers that the death-god Challi-Mai is a sham designed to ensure that the common people have “something to fear.” This deception is certainly plausible, especially as it has allowed a single family to rule the municipal behind the scenes for several generations. However, some readers may well have felt a tad let down that the multi-part narrative didn’t end with a spectacular confrontation between the adventurer and the Crucible’s deity, rather than having the barbarian slope away in the night with a stolen blade…

The regular cover art of "CONAN THE BARBARIAN" #16 by E.M. Gist

Saturday, 12 December 2020

Black Widow #3 - Marvel Comics

BLACK WIDOW No. 3, January 2021
It must have been hard for the vast majority of this comic’s audience not to side with the Weeping Lion when he angrily points out to the rest of his criminal co-conspirators that their plan to permanently side-line Natasha Romanoff by making her “permanently happy… in her own personal paradise” is an anathema of a plot. Indeed, the notion that such notorious super-villains as Madame Hydra, Arcade and the Red Guardian would invest such “considerable trouble and expense” for such an outlandish method of ‘removing’ the titular character from interfering with their future immoral machinations is arguably preposterous.

However, that is precisely what Kelly Thompson would have this twenty-page periodical’s readers believe when the Eisner Award-nominee reveals mid-way through the book that the “architect named Natalie in San Francisco with a fiancé and a beautiful baby boy” is nothing more than a brain-washed Black Widow, who has been duped by the Viper simply so the ex-Soviet spy won’t interfere with the unlawful operations of her biggest arch-nemesis; “I’m not an idiot. I have big things coming and I want her off the board. She’s been so damn happy that she’s been out of the game for months.”

Fortunately, the Weeping Lion quickly makes it clear that he has taken matters into his own hands to ensure that such a surreal scheme doesn’t last much longer, by covertly ordering Romanoff’s immediate death courtesy of some knife-wielding hitmen. Such decisive action by the balaclava-wearing Yugoslavian kingpin instantly restores some sensibility to the publication’s narrative, and transforms Natasha’s night-time arrival at her disconcertingly deserted home into a thrill-a-minute experience packed full of pulse-pounding pugilism and acrobatic mayhem.

Helping this sudden and quite considerable change of pace along is artist Elena Casagrande, whose pencilling of the Black Widow somersaulting her way through a goon-packed kitchen is an absolute joy to behold. Deadly with both a handy coat-hanger, everyday carving knife and energy-efficient kettle, the double-splash illustration is undoubtedly the highlight of the book and once again demonstrates just how formidable a fighter the former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent can be when confronting non-powered combatants like Platch Liev’s henchmen.

The regular cover art of "BLACK WIDOW" #3 by Adam Hughes

Friday, 11 December 2020

Strange Academy #1 - Marvel Comics

STRANGE ACADEMY No. 1, November 2020
Absolutely crammed full of all manner of new characters and numerous guest-star cameos, Skottie Young’s script for Issue One of “Strange Academy” could easily have overwhelmed its 71,039 strong audience when it first hit the spinner racks in March 2020. But mercifully, the Illinois-born writer does such a terrific job of presenting “the very first class attending Strange Academy” in a semi-piecemeal fashion, that the comic’s considerable cast actually proves to be one of the thirty-page periodical’s biggest draws rather than a meaningless parade of non-relatable protégé sorcerers, demons and frost giants.

For starters, the publication initially just purely focuses upon the magical awakening of Emily Bright, and the Midwestern girl’s rather dramatic initial meeting with Zelma Stanton. This combination of a new wannabe wizard and the much more familiar librarian from the Bronx arguably proves a great way to meet the title’s lead protagonist, whilst simultaneously exploring the enormous estates of Stephen Strange’s vast educational facility buried deep within the hustle and bustle of Bourbon Street in New Orleans; “There are many ways to access the grounds, but today we’re just going in through the front gates.”

Similarly as well-penned are the introductions of the haughty Iric and Alvi of Asgard, Doyle – the Lord of the Dark Dimension’s son, and the super-energetic pink-coloured fairy Shaylee. All of these magic users are immediately blessed with plenty of personality straight from the ‘get-go’, and some of their fractious relationships with one another bode very well for future frictions. Indeed, Zelma’s insistence that Iric become room-mates with the satanic-headed offspring of Dormammu promises plenty of adventures to come, especially after the arrogant Asgardian immediately attacks the “evil minion” upon first setting eyes upon him.

Furthermore, Humberto Ramos’ sensational layouts really go a long way to selling the sheer size of Strange Academy’s amenities, staff and students to this comic’s readers. The Mexican artist’s ability to imbue every character with an individualism all of their own is breath-taking, as is his pencilling of Doctor Strange’s sudden appearance towards the end of this book, when the Sorcerer Supreme requires the assistance of his new pupils to help him battle a multi-tentacled Throzil.

The regular cover art of "STRANGE ACADEMY" #1 by Humberto Ramos & Edgar Delgado

Tuesday, 8 December 2020

Geek-Girl #7 - Markosia Enterprises

GEEK-GIRL No. 7, September 2020
Focusing heavily upon some of the party games taking place at “fancy dress club nite Freakee Kiki’s”, this twenty-one page periodical’s plot arguably does a good job in highlighting the animosity bubbling beneath the surface between Ruby Kaye and her so-called friends Karin, Stacey and Jennifer. Indeed, straight from this comic’s opening, when the Maine College student shows her new team-mate The Minger a selfie of the three girls dressed as “the super-bitches”, it is clear that an evening packed full of over-indulgent alcoholic drinking and somewhat bizarre circus contests is probably not going to go all that well for the super-hero.

Of course, that isn’t to say that the self-centred trio don’t deserve everything Kaye later verbally gives them, considering that one of their group comes purposely dressed as Ruby’s arch-nemesis with the intention of having “some fun in the Feats of Strength” challenge, and another is simply rude towards poor Summer James for apparently having the audacity to be wearing Geek-Girl’s costume. But by the end of the night’s Airing of Grievances it seems reasonably clear that both Karin and Stacey are undoubtedly going to plan some sort of revenge upon their drunk “girl-friend” after she falsely accuses them of grabbing her pair of “power-inducing super-tech glasses” in front of a packed night club audience; “-- That stuff about slapping her, that wasn’t her. It was that Monster Guy’s fake Karin. Now they’ll really think I’m crazy…”

However, for those readers more interested in entrepreneur Johnny Carlyle’s creation of The Kaye Foundation than the titular character’s increasingly poor relationship with her college companions, Sam Johnson’s script for Issue Seven of “Geek-Girl” does still include a brief look at Digger Mensch’s equally poor rapport with his downright shady criminal chums. Badly hung over following his own bout of binge-drinking at some less than salubrious underground venue, the mechanically-limbed builder is less than impressed when he wakes to find one of his unsavoury associates has defaced his shirt whilst he slept, and having taken his revenge upon the semi-conscious vandal suddenly seems potentially destined to turn his back upon his felonious past for good.

The regular cover art of "GEEK-GIRL" No. 7 by Jason Hehir & Chunlin Zao

Monday, 7 December 2020

Maestro #2 - Marvel Comics

MAESTRO No. 2, November 2020
As origin stories go, especially one purported to cover that of the incredible Hulk’s greatest foe, Issue Two of “Maestro” probably left many within its 33,000 strong audience somewhat bemused and perturbed. True, Peter David’s seventeen-page plot features some excellent cameos from the likes of Machine Man, Rick Jones and Hercules. But such notable ‘guest appearances’ are arguably drowned out in a seemingly endless carousel of crater-filled new locations, instantly forgetful supporting cast characters and an utterly bizarre attack by a swarm of super-hungry cockroaches which apparently would’ve eaten Bruce Banner’s alter-ego alive if not for a conveniently placed sonic wave cannon.

Indeed, the vast majority of this comic’s narrative seems to simply depict the green giant aimlessly wandering from destitute underground complex to farming settlement on a continent surprisingly packed full of life for a country supposedly wiped out by both bombs and plague; “We call ourselves the Wasteland Survivalists. We are endeavouring to restore nutrients to the ground in order to grow crops.” Disappointingly, these rather choppily-written meanderings start off so well too, with a demoralised Hulk thoughtfully taking stock of his depressing situation upon a partially-destroyed Mount Rushmore before disconcertingly discovering Aaron Stack’s secret bunker hidden beneath the remnants of the nation’s capital.

Happily however, despite the somewhat haphazard nature of its storytelling, German Peralta’s pencilling undoubtedly helps lift this comic’s readability courtesy of some extraordinary landscapes and the aforementioned dynamically-drawn attack of the killer insects. Hoover Dam, Las Vegas and the Lincoln Memorial are all superbly sketched in various states of decay, and it’s resultantly easy to see just why David stated prior to the mini-series’ launch that he felt the artist had “the perfect style, very dark and post-apocalyptic.”

Perhaps this publication’s most intriguing element though, is the quite delightful three-page tale “Relics”, which is stuck at the very back of the book. Featuring an adolescent Janis Jones and Dakord, the ‘short’ depicts the diminutive duo locating Thor’s hammer amidst the wreckage of Avengers Mansion, and rather enjoyably demonstrates that much to an elderly Rick’s utter exasperation, one of the fledgling Anti-Maestro Freedom Fighters is actually worthy to wield Mjölnir.

The regular cover art of "MAESTRO" No. 2 by Dale Keown & Jason Keith

Thursday, 3 December 2020

Star Wars: Bounty Hunters #5 - Marvel Comics

STAR WARS: BOUNTY HUNTERS No. 5, November 2020
Publicised by “Marvel Worldwide” as the “battle of the bounty hunters”, Ethan Sacks’ narrative for “The High Cost of Revenge” surely lived up to its hype upon its release in September 2020 with its vicious struggle between Boba Fett and Beilert Valance. Indeed, the pair’s dramatic tussle over Nakano Lash’s life is the highlight of this twenty-page periodical, as both mercenaries ‘get up close and personal’ with one another, courtesy of some bone-crunching punches, kicks and the odd built-in bioenergy disrupter.

However, rather than simply settle upon a comic-long bout of fisticuffs between two of the Star Wars franchise’s most recognisable fugitive recovery agents, the comic book writer also probably pleased this title’s 27,000 fans by intermixing all of its high-octane action with some fascinating insights into the background behind Lash’s notorious killing of her client “the heir of the Mourner’s Wail Syndicate”. These flashbacks really are a joy to read, as they not only reveal just how Nakano’s crewman T’ongor was killed by a misdirected blaster bolt from Fett, but also illustrates just why Jango’s clone and Valance detest each other so strongly after the Mandalorian armour-wearing warrior deserts his team-mate to be savagely tortured; “You Fool! You’ve doomed us both.”

Equally as intriguing though is Sacks’ sadly all-too fleeting look at how Nakano became orphaned on Glee Anslem by an extremist, and just how much this loss strengthened the Nautolan’s determination to ensure Khamus’ child was kept safe from a galaxy which would clearly do the young girl harm. In addition, the similarities between the harrowing murder of Lash’s hapless parents whilst her “mom” is heavily pregnant with that of Krynthia’s fatal predicament on Corellia, makes the bounty hunter's sudden decision to kill Khamus much more understandable. 

Of course, much of this book’s dynamic story-telling wouldn't be quite so impactive if not for the energetic layouts of penciller Paolo Villanelli and colorist Arif Prianto. The artistic duo genuinely imbue each scene with incredible vitality, whether it be Lash’s swollen-bellied mother desperately shoving her daughter’s would-be attacker to one side or Fett belting Valance in the chops with a jet-pack powered “Whump”.

The regular cover art of "STAR WARS: BOUNTY HUNTERS" #5 by Lee Bermejo

Wednesday, 2 December 2020

Dune: House Atreides #2 - BOOM! Studios

DUNE: HOUSE ATREIDES No. 2, November 2020
Somewhat strangely focusing upon House Harkonnen rather than its titular family, Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson’s storyline for Issue Two of “Dune: House Atreides” must nonetheless have provided its fans with a healthy dose of exciting endangerment and enthralling intrigue. In fact, arguably the highlight of this “newest release from BOOM! Studios’ eponymous imprint” is the detailed depiction of Rabban’s frightening attempt to bring down one of the mighty sandworms on Arrakis, rather than the comic’s somewhat matter-of-fact portrayal of young Leto slowly making planet fall on Ix; “We have delivered your belongings here. The shuttle will take you to the surface. We thank House Atreides for your patronage…”

However, for those within this book’s audience more interested in the wider political scope of the science fiction franchise, the collaborative pair’s script rather agreeably still manages to crowbar a tantalising taste of the Bene Gesserit Mother School of Wallach IX, in between Pardot Kynes’ attempt to show some polite veneration towards Vladimir Harkonnen at the Baron’s headquarters, and Duncan Idaho’s desperate attempt to flee from the slave pits on Giedi Prime. Furthermore, Reverend Mother Anirul’s evident delight at the ancient order’s attempt to create the Kwisatz Haderach is especially well-penned, with the woman positively beaming at her brethren over a scroll containing a complicated family-tree, when she announces that a Harkonnen daughter will mean the universal super-being is only a generation or two away from being born.

Likewise, this twenty-two page periodical’s cliff-hanger is similarly as beguiling, with illustrator Dev Pramanik pencilling a well-paced surprise for any bibliophiles unfamiliar with “the eponymous prequel novel” upon which this mini-series is based. It is easy to imagine the internal emotional struggle taking place within the adolescent Leto as he experiences a mixture of homesickness for Caladan and excitement for his new adventures on the mysterious industrial planet of Ix. So when his journey from the sterile atmosphere of a Spacing Guild Heighliner supposedly deposits “the guest of Earl Dominic Vernius” at his final destination, the stunned surprise and fear on the lad’s well-drawn face should actually cause many readers to actually hear a distinctive crack in his voice as he gives a distraught cry for assistance.

The regular cover art of "DUNE: HOUSE ATREIDES" #2 by Jae Lee & June Chung

Tuesday, 1 December 2020

Mighty Morphin #1 - BOOM! Studios

MIGHTY MORPHIN No. 1, November 2020
Publicised by Boom! Studios as “the first of two all-new series with two all-new teams in November 2020” and featuring a bizarrely entertaining battle between the Power Rangers and a technologically advanced giant panda, Ryan Parrott’s script for Issue One of “Mighty Morphin” certainly lived up to its promise of providing its audience with an exciting comic which is “perfect for long-time fans and new readers alike” when first released. Indeed, coupled with the mystery surrounding the secret identity of an all new Green Ranger, as well as the detrimental effect people’s personal suspicions subsequently have upon the team’s dynamics, the “superstar writer” would seem to have concocted an impeccable recipe for any fan of the American superhero children's television programme.

Furthermore, the thirty-page periodical presents a fascinating insight into one of Zordon’s physical battles “over ten thousand years ago” on the planet Artavias, as the modern-day Rangers' mentor accompanies the likes of Zophram in a fight against the invading Hartunian Empire. This well-paced bout of pulse-pounding pugilism provides an intriguing contrast to the usual Command Centre-based character, and also adds an additional emotional element to the ancient guide’s plight when he later blissfully recalls climbing the spine-covered trees on Eltar so as to eat their delicious fruit to Billy.

Of course, this book’s greatest highlight is the aforementioned contest against Lord Zedd’s latest creation, Pandamonium, at a building site in downtown Angel Grove. Festooned with sharp spears, and the odd helmet of those he has previously vanquished, this adversary looks as strangely formidable as he does incongruous amidst his surroundings. Yet just as soon as the beast starts battering his opponents about the worker’s yard, it quickly becomes clear that the super-powered team may well need the assistance of the Green Ranger and his awesome Dragon Strike if they hope to defeat such a frightening foe; “Look, I don’t know where you came from or how you that coin. But it seems like maybe we’re all on the same side here.”

Lastly, it would be rude not to mention Marco Renna’s invaluable contribution to this publication with his marvellous layouts and eye for a dynamically-pencilled action sequence. The Italian artist’s action sequences featuring a younger Zordon and Pandamonium are incredibly well-drawn and marvellously capture all the vibrant energy of the frenzied fighting depicted on the small screen during the Nineties.

Written by: Ryan Parrot, Illustrated by: Marco Renna, and Colored by: Walter Baiamonte