Monday, 10 May 2021

Lytton #3 - Cutaway Comics

LYTTON No. 3, March 2021
Whilst Gustave Lytton’s fantastically fast-paced exploits “deep underground on a parallel Earth” may well have conjured up many more questions than actual answers as to just what is happening to the intergalactic mercenary, Eric Saward’s script for Issue Three of “Lytton” must still have had the vast majority of its readers clamouring for more once this mini-series’ particular instalment concluded. In fact, the nonsensical assault which this publication’s plot makes upon the audience’s senses, as the former British army Major encounters the Samurai-styled Mister Seaton, a ghost train, killer policemen and a time vortex riding Mini Cooper, arguably goes a long way to prove a bibliophile doesn’t necessarily need to understand exactly what’s taking place within a comic book’s narrative to still find it a thoroughly enthralling experience.

Undoubtedly helping to make this twenty-eight page periodical’s mishmash of ideas work has to be the author’s ability to imbue each and every one of its set-pieces with a genuine sense of menace, most especially those towards the magazine’s end when the titular character is suddenly stolen from Wilson’s side by some extremely sinister Raston Warrior Robot lookalikes. Admittedly, Lytton’s character remains ever calm and unassailably assertive, even when being chased through a trans-dimensional portal by a sky-boarding demon. But the same assurity of survival cannot be said for the man’s companions who leap from one life-threatening escapade to another. Indeed, “the mysterious Artemis” would appear to have been almost exclusively created in order to provide this comic’s cast with some additional vulnerability, courtesy of the young lady debatably coming extraordinarily close to being gunned down by a couple of homicidal Bobbies in a deserted car park.

Equally as responsible for this book’s success though has to be Barry Renshaw’s dynamic drawings and eclectic choice of colours. Whether it be the slightly sterile atmosphere of the heavily-tilled London Underground station with all its greens and cold blues, or the foreboding browns and candle-lit yellows of a catacomb, the artist’s proficient pencilling imbues each location with a unique, vibrant life all of its own, which really helps instil the storyline with a palpable sense that its protagonists are physically going on a lengthy journey; “From the way you handled those policemen, I think you deserve the chance to drive.”

The regular cover art of "LYTTON" #3 by Barry Renshaw

Saturday, 8 May 2021

Shadowman #1 - Valiant Entertainment

SHADOWMAN No. 1, April 2021
Absolutely chock-full of some serious occult beatings and buckets of blood, Cullen Bunn’s narrative for Issue One of “Shadowman” certainly seems to live up to his belief that he “could make some of the horror heroes sing in a way that readers might not be expecting.” For whilst the North Carolina-born writer initially appears to have penned a fairly standard storyline concerning Jack Boniface’s alter-ego physically battling a crocodile-headed demon down a New Orleans back alleyway, the American author soon ramps up his tale’s paranormal qualities by transforming the titular character’s mass-murdering opponent into an unlikely wannabe saviour of sorts.

Indeed, by the very end of this “shocking supernatural odyssey” the bestselling master of horror ably demonstrates that this comic’s true monster is not the multi-fanged grotesque who has been systematically slaughtering a number of supposedly innocent Masqueraders. But is actually the elderly widower Elsbeth Martinique, who along with her ‘church’ of gore-splattered devotees, plans to use the creature’s ensnared partner as a means to pass through the veil of reality; “Th-They summoned me. Shackled me. Harvested m-my blood… For their games. But… Y-You… Have come to rescue me.”

Intriguingly, this twenty-page periodical doesn’t just depict a straightforward battle between the Shadowman and an over-ambitious amateur ‘sorceress’ either though, with Bunn instead managing to manoeuvre all sorts of other interesting characters and uncanny conundrums into the mix. Foremost of these has to be the skeletal King of Death, who despite apparently being far from one of Boniface’s friends, undeniably lends the “powerful protector” a hand in keeping the world safe from Martinique’s misguided night-time soiree. However, Baron Samedi isn’t the only enthralling insight into “the other realm”, as Jack comes face-to-face with a ravenous swarm of flesh-eating corpse locusts and a spectral figment of the man’s imagination.

Adding enormously to this fright-fest is “bone-chilling artist” Jon Davis-Hunt, whose excellent layouts really draw out both the dynamic nature of Jack whenever he resorts to fisticuffs as a solution, as well as the truly horrific unpleasantness which can occur when ill-meaning laypersons attempt to pervert demonic magic to sate their own depraved appetites. In fact, the scene portraying Elsbeth’s face literally being torn asunder by a swarm of carnivorous devil-insects will doubtless haunt many a perusing bibliophile well into the night.

The regular cover art of "SHADOWMAN" #1 by John Davis-Hunt

Friday, 7 May 2021

Omega #1 - Cutaway Comics

OMEGA No. 1, January 2021
Fans of “legendary Doctor Who writers Bob Baker and Dave Martin” will probably enjoy Mark Griffiths’ script to Issue One of “Omega”. For rather than depict the great intergalactic engineer as some sort of over-the-top super-villain, prominent from the very start of this twenty-four periodical’s plot, the “comedy writer” instead simply has the renegade Time Lord much more realistically manipulate events from behind-the-scenes from beyond the confines of his inescapable black hole; “Lord, hear your servant. The chaos spreads… As you have willed… The Gods have fled, as if in shame at their failed experiment… The only rulers of Minyos now are fear and violence… As this psychic disturbance increases the bridge between your mind and mine grows ever stronger…”

Of course, every good comic still needs a memorable antagonist, and this publication’s playwright produces a truly loathsome one in the guise of people’s senator and Omega pawn, Oxirgi. The somewhat elderly politician initially seems rather sympathetic following the revelation that his world’s Gods actually disintegrated swathes of its population when it became clear its residents wanted to be free of the extra-terrestrial’s interference in their civilization’s evolution.

However, this approval quickly dissipates once it becomes clear the elderly statesman has absolutely no integrity whatsoever, and will happily lie so as to ensure the brave young Princess Malika is cold-bloodedly executed in front of a packed crowd simply to fuel his traitorous ambitions. Indeed, the old man’s dishonesty arguably beggars belief at times, as he outrageously accuses the last survivor of the Royal Family of trying to murder him with a harmless mechanical drone, and then later sentences “the vile coward” to death by firing squad for supposedly still treacherously consorting with the planet’s alien benefactors.

Just as pleasing as this comic’s narrative are the layouts of John Ridgway, the notable “artist behind some of the most memorable Sixth and Seventh Doctor strips for Doctor Who Magazine.” Admittedly, some of the British illustrator’s panels aren’t quite as well-pencilled as they may well have been in his ‘heyday’, especially towards the end of the book. But there’s still plenty of detail in the former “Judge Dredd” drawer’s layouts to both attract the eye and keep the storyline’s somewhat fast pace moving along quite splendidly.

The regular cover art of "OMEGA" #1 by Martin Geraghty

Wednesday, 5 May 2021

The Recount #2 - Scout Comics

THE RECOUNT No. 2, February 2021
Dripping with suspense, terror and outright treachery, Jonathan Hedrick’s narrative for Issue Two of “The Recount” disconcertingly depicts a modern-day America where literally no-one is safe from a gun-toting maniac, not even the recently sworn in President of the United States. Yet whilst some lesser authors might have used this scary situation as an opportunity to simply depict the enormity of the nation’s large scale unrest with some sweepingly grand scenes of unruly rioting in the streets, the American author instead cleverly focuses upon a few personal moments of murder, which both brings a truly emotional aspect to this comic’s storytelling, as well as gives its victims an all-too believable vulnerability; “Eighteen and a soldier. Now he’s dead. That masked guy on TV is right. You voted for Christensen… And you should be punished.”

Of course, the main thrust of this twenty-four page periodical’s plot is Special Agent Barto’s desperate attempt to get her Commander-In-Chief safely back to the White House, and their pulse-pounding drive towards Pennsylvania Avenue doesn’t disappoint as their car quickly comes under attack from a jeep packed full of heavily-armed lunatics. However, this desperate dash for survival is made all the more impactive as it follows directly on from a truly harrowing sequence of well-meaning Americans being cold-bloodedly gunned down by fanatics whilst they are simply going about their day-to-day business.

In addition, Hedrick doesn’t seemingly fall into the trap of turning Meredith McDearmon’s sole saviour into some sort of omnipotent super-cop either, but simply pens the woman as being proficient at her job. Indeed, one of this publication’s highlights is the somewhat antagonistic relationship the bodyguard and Madame President quickly develop, with Barto’s boss being far from happy just to silently cower from her enemies in the back of an armoured vehicle. Let alone take ‘orders’ from the “badass secret service agent.”

Just as enjoyable as this book’s script are Gabriel Ibarra-Nunez’s excellent layouts, which do a first-rate job of imbuing his figures with plenty of personality and sentiment. The action scenes are as dynamic as any reader could surely want, whilst the Santiago-born artist’s ability to etch the sheer terror on the face of Abe as his neighbour guns him down in his own flat is gut-wrenchingly graphic.

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

Tuesday, 4 May 2021

Conan The Barbarian #20 - Marvel Comics

CONAN THE BARBARIAN No. 20, June 2021
Nicely bookended with the titular character fighting for his life in two very physical confrontations against a non-human opponent, Jim Zub’s narrative for Issue Twenty of “Conan The Barbarian” must surely have pleased the vast majority of its audience with its heavy dose of realistic action-packed adventure and swashbuckling swordplay. In fact, up until the Cimmerian’s climatic wrestling bout with Heng the Insurgent this comic’s main plot-thread is satisfyingly reliant upon the bronze-skinned giant’s down-to-earth survival savvy, rather an over-reliance upon a supernatural weapon or some poorly-penned unearthly ability to out fence an entire horde of heavily-armed Khitai royal guard.

Foremost of these conflicts is arguably Conan’s ferocious defence against a pair of savage leopards, who momentarily seem to have the upper hand over their would-be prey. Armed with just a long knife, the hero suffers a vicious bite from one of his attackers when he understandably becomes distracted by the hapless Meiwei’s plight. Yet this bloody blow actually galvanises the barbarian into a feral frenzy of thrusts, slashes and fatal stabs rather than impair his fighting prowess, and as a result some readers could probably just imagine Robert E. Howard himself writing something along these lines within one of his short stories from the Thirties.

Similarly as successful is the Cimmerian’s practical response to being trapped in between the guards of an Imperial Tax Collector and a sudden cavalry-charge by some bandits. Facing the threat of being either gutted by a phalanx of foot soldiers or ridden down by horses, Meiwei’s reaction is to somehow flee for her life. However, as the adventurer quickly points out to the terrified noble girl, “running will only get us a blade in the back or a spear in the face”, so instead Zub has “the warrior in the field hat” desperately try to stand his ground by fighting against any infantryman foolish enough to come with arm’s reach.

Prodigiously empowering this twenty-page periodical with his pencilling is Cory Smith, whose excellent early layouts depicting Conan’s tense tussle with two Panthera pardus really sets a first-rate pace for the rest of the publication. Indeed, the American artist’s illustrations are particularly impressive when portraying the barbarian’s surprise at just how powerful Heng’s wrestling moves are, and it is easy to hear the regret in the Northerner’s voice when he is forced to break the bandit’s neck; “You… You damn fool! You died for nothing.”

Writer: Jim Zub, Artist: Cory Smith, and Colorist: Israel Silva

Monday, 3 May 2021

Dune: House Atreides #6 - BOOM! Studios

DUNE: HOUSE ATREIDES No. 6, April 2021
Almost obsessed with a detailed depiction of the savage events occurring inside the “embattled city of Vernii” on Ix, Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson’s collaborative narrative for Issue Six of “Dune: House Atreides” provides this long-running adaption with arguably its most action-packed instalment yet. Indeed, the sheer sense of scintillating pace which emanates from Earl Dominic’s desperate attempt to hold back a veritable sea of savage Suboids from washing over his beloved civilisation must have had many of this comic’s readers wondering just how the ruler’s guest, Leto Atreides, was ever going to survive such utter carnage in order to eventually father the Kwisatz Haderach.

Enjoyably though, this twenty-two page periodical doesn’t simply hurl dynamic set piece after set piece at its audience ad nauseam either, but rather cleverly interrupts the insanity taking place upon “the ninth planet in the star system Alkalurops” with some similarly intriguing political machinations occurring within the Imperial Throne Room on Kaitain. Ambassador Cammar Pilru’s passionate pleas to the Padishah Emperor for help were always going to fall upon death ears considering that the treacherous Elrood is actually the mastermind behind the Ix workers’ rebellion. However, that doesn’t stop the dying ruler’s theatrical performance in front of his subjects from being any less gripping; “Interesting. But the Imperial Throne cannot be bothered with mere internal unrest… Oh dear, Ambassador. You are being overly dramatic.”

Just as well done is this publication’s ability to swiftly inject a bit of personality into some of the unexpected revolt’s lesser known combatants so as to better personalise the impact which the Emperor’s barbaric treachery is having upon the population. This extra attention to detail is most markedly seen with C’Tair Pilru, son of the Ixian Emissary to Kaitain, who is unluckily trapped amidst the ruins of his once elegantly-crafted capital, and quickly made aware that his “beautiful city” is now under the ever-tightening control of the Sardaukar-supported Tleilaxu.

Finally, this comic is also noteworthy for Dev Pramanik’s sumptuously coloured artwork and lavishly pencilled representations of the sheer slaughter taking place on Ix. It quickly becomes clear that despite their technology’s superiority, Dominic’s forces are being brutally beaten back by both the religious furore of their slaves, as well as through sheer weight of numbers, and the Indian illustrator does a cracking job of imbuing the Earl’s people with the necessary incredulity when facing such an unthinkably overwhelming defeat.

The regular cover art of "DUNE: HOUSE ATREIDES" #6 by Evan Eagle

Sunday, 2 May 2021

The Mean Arena Volume One: All To Slay For - Rebellion [Part Five]

THE MEAN ARENA VOLUME ONE: ALL TO SLAY FOR, March 2021
Whilst Tom Tully’s final storyline for this weighty tome somewhat strangely doesn’t depict Slater’s Slayers competing in an actual match, “The Jensens” does still maintain the British writer’s modus operandi for “scrotnig” shenanigans involving plenty of death and destruction. In fact, despite almost the entire narrative being set inside the club’s training complex, it is this six-part adventure which notches up Matt Tallon’s most kills since "the finest street footballer in the world" first started upon his merciless quest for revenge upon the people responsible for his younger brother’s death; “You defended yourself so well, Mister. You wiped out the whole family! Five dead and it’ll be a long time before the Jensen girls get out of hospital.”

Such a heavy death-toll really does show how violent a world the Shadow of the Slayers lives in, and ably demonstrates just why the ‘Big-Shot’ isn’t all that popular with his team-mates despite having elevated them into the national spotlight through his lucrative sponsorship deal with Kosi-Flex Sportswear. In addition, Tully takes the opportunity to use this homage to High Noon as a vehicle for introducing Sheena Lloyd and Ryk Rogan to the comic strip’s audience, as well as providing some much-needed ‘pen pictures’ of Mike Slater’s other players, such as Hangman, Sourpuss, Screaming Sid, Dirty Nigel and Crazy Lil.

Of course the highlight of Tallon’s confrontation against the Malevolent Seven is his no holds barred battle within the Slayer’s drill ground, and how Matt manages to utilise his street smarts so as to outwit his truly vicious opponents. Whether it be simply attaching a ten-second timed limpet mine to a game ball, or simply spooking Hazell into making a rash move by booing at her through a garage window, the author shows this book’s central protagonist exploiting every trick the man has ever learnt during his highly successful sport’s career in order to survive his seemingly deadly ordeal.

Perhaps this tale’s greatest asset however, lies with Steve Dillon’s impressive layouts, and the way in which his pencilling adds enormously to both the sheer sense of Jarl Jensen’s physical menace, as well as the entire criminal crew’s evident notoriety. The Bedfordshire-born artist’s depiction of the aggressive gang gunning down hapless store keepers and chopping up practice droids quickly denotes just how noxious they can be, and arguably makes the way they are subsequently whittled down one-by-one by an equally mercenary Matt all the more impressive.

Script Robot: Tom Tully, Art Robot: Steve Dillon, and Lettering Robot: Pete Knight

Friday, 30 April 2021

The Immortal Hulk #45 - Marvel Comics

IMMORTAL HULK No. 45, June 2021
Whilst “Marvel Worldwide” were undoubtedly referring to both the physical and mental condition of this comic’s titular character when their pre-publication blurb intimated that “The Hulk is at his lowest point” in this particular book, those readers unable to navigate their way through Al Ewing’s goulash of grisly ideas were probably thinking the same could be said for this particular instalment’s writing too. Sure, the British author somehow manages to cram an incredibly large cast into this twenty-page periodical’s narrative, but in doing so few individuals enjoy much ‘screen time’ and even when they do, it is debatably hard to ascertain just what is actually happening to them.

For starters, having been completely ‘crispified’ by the U-Foes, Joe Fixit and the Hulk’s emaciated psyche once again face the Leader in the bedrock of Hell. However, having apparently had the One Below All enter his flesh so as to ‘complete their circuit’ a horribly mutated Sam Sterns has suddenly been transformed into a mass of writhing, tentacled mouths which fully intend to tear his opponents to pieces; “You will be a true hulk -- A wandering carcass, wreaking destruction. Making me ever stronger. I will be your leader -- And you will follow. As my good and faithful servant.”

This head-scratching situation is made all the more bemusing, as the action unrelentingly leaps to Jackie McGee’s ‘ghostbusting’ on the plains of New Mexico, Doc Sasquatch’s discovery that his body is missing from the vaults of Shadow Base Site G, Walter Samson’s bizarre surprise appearance as a hitchhiker, and X-Ray’s continuous assault upon the Hulk’s frazzled corpse with Cosmic Radiation, before finally bringing some sort of resolution to Fixit’s precarious predicament by having the Grey Hulk’s former alias fortuitously utilise the U-Foes attack to contrivingly reenergise his physical body.

Disappointingly, even Joe Bennett’s usually first-class pencilling seems to be slightly off-key for Issue Forty-Five of “Immortal Hulk”. Indeed, it is hard not to shake the impression that some of this comic’s set-pieces featured on “the bottom layer of reality” were specifically penned by Ewing simply to provide the Brazilian artist with an excuse to go mad sketching a multitude of disconcerting mouths biting limbs asunder, rather than progressing the actual overall storyline.

The regular cover art of "IMMORTAL HULK" #45 by Alex Ross

Tuesday, 27 April 2021

Black Widow #5 - Marvel Comics

BLACK WIDOW No. 5, April 2020
Featuring one of the most emotional incarnations of Natalia Alianovna Romanova arguably ever seen within the pages of a “Marvel Worldwide” publication, Kelly Thompson’s superbly enthralling narrative for Issue Five of “Black Widow” must surely have gone down well with its audience. For whilst it might be hard for some of the super-spy’s fans to reconcile the ex-K.G.B. agent's heartfelt grief at the sudden loss of both her beloved husband and infant son inside a horrendous fireball with that of the ordinarily cold-hearted killer, the sheer sense of deadliness these deaths bestow upon the black-suited assassin is truly palpable; “Natalia. People are coming to kill us. We must kill them instead. You must put aside your grief and move. There will be time for grief later. I promise you. It is not going anywhere anytime soon.”

This disconcerting sense that an Avenger may well kill if provoked strongly enough is additionally heightened by Hawkeye shooting the Weeping Lion straight through the head whilst the criminal is foolishly trying to set his sniper rifle’s sights upon the world famous archer. Perhaps somewhat disappointingly, this debatably defining moment loses some of its gravitas when it is later revealed by Yelena Belova that the crime-lord simply “lost his eye”, but it is the thought that counts, especially when Clint Barton later willingly sets off an explosive arrow within a warehouse crammed full of hapless Hydra goons.

Romanoff’s sister-in-arms, Clone 3, also makes a lasting impact within Thompson’s finale for “The Ties That Bind” story-arc, when she literally smacks a distraught Natasha to her senses one moment and then lays down a serious beating upon the Viper in the next. Indeed, Belova’s battle against an absolute horde of Madame Hydra’s seriously outfought henchmen is one of the highlights of this comic, and the notion of her subsequently accompanying the titular character as a partner-against-crime in future instalments will doubtless have proved an irresistible hook for many readers.

Pulling all this book’s numerous punches together into a visual treat for the eyes, is Elena Casagrande and her marvellous ability to interject the savage violence which Thompson’s narrative demands with some superbly endearing moments, such as when the Black Widow briefly cuddles her dead son’s toy duck. However, the Italian artist’s finest moment within this twenty-page periodical has to be her double splash of Hawkeye watching from a high roof rafter as both Romanoff and Yelena dispatch numerous goons with a variety of kicks, missiles and bullets.

The regular cover art of "BLACK WIDOW" #5 by Adam Hughes

Sunday, 25 April 2021

The Mean Arena Volume One: All To Slay For - Rebellion [Part Four]

THE MEAN ARENA VOLUME ONE: ALL TO SLAY FOR, March 2021
Following on from a fascinating two-part interim tale based upon incidents taken from left-flank blocker J.T. Venner’s biographical book “With A Mate Like This, Who Needs Enemies?”, Tom Tully’s sense-shattering conclusion to the Slater Slayers’ heavily-sponsored challenge match against the Southampton Sharks is certainly well worth the wait. For whilst the game’s disappointingly short-lived night-session isn’t covered anywhere near as long as the first-half, its narrative debatably gets as dark as Street Football can probably get following Matt Tallon’s truck with a savage gang of armed Fan-actics; “Mindless vermin who use sport as a tribal war! Any other time I wouldn’t even spit on them! But now..! Maybe they can help me to rid his game of the biggest street-rat of all..!”

Interestingly however, despite this pulse-raising romp towards the old Saints Soccer Stadium arguably portraying the Slayer as actually being even more of a cold-hearted killer than the players and officials he has vowed to hunt down, “the longest-running writer of the popular football-themed strip Roy of the Rovers” still somehow manages to make the central character somewhat sympathetic to the reader. This quite disconcerting feeling is probably in part due to the sheer sense of poetic justice the storyline’s road takes as the audience discovers just how Jaws Jensen got rid of Port Vale Pirates’ Paul Simpson by messaging a bunch of crazed Southampton followers to mercilessly ambush the player when he was isolated and without help.

The fact that Tallon manages to almost engineer a similar fate for the Sharks’ captain somehow allows the anti-hero to seemingly get away with badly breaking both the game rules and the actual law. Indeed, by the time an absolutely terrified Jensen is ruthlessly dispatched by a “gun-happy old codger” who simply refused to leave his shop unattended during the match, many bibliophiles were probably elated at Matt’s nefarious actions, even though the star Striker had clearly conspired with a bunch of brainless thugs to commit premeditated murder.

Sadly however, this cataclysmic conclusion does contain something of a sole disappointment following John Richardson’s replacement as Art Robot by Johnny Johnson for the very last part. What with Steve Dillon pencilling the aforementioned interlude spotlighting Venner, this substitution means that no less than three different artists end up sketching four successive instalments, and despite Johnson’s similarity in style to his predecessor, definitely jars the mind away from Tully’s storytelling.

Script Robot: Tom Tully, and Art Robots: Steve Dillon, John Richardson & Johnny Johnson

Thursday, 22 April 2021

Iron Man [2020] #8 - Marvel Comics

IRON MAN No. 8, June 2021
Considering that Christopher Cantwell’s narrative for Issue Eight of “Iron Man” doesn’t actually feature the Golden Avenger in any way whatsoever, preferring instead to replace Tony Stark’s ongoing battle against Michael Korvac with a bizarre exploration of Hellcat’s seriously damaged psyche, it is somewhat doubtful “America’s #1 Teenager” landed particularly well with Shell-head’s fanbase. Indeed, considering that the vast majority of this twenty-page periodical arguably just concerns itself with a lack-lustre rehash of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” it was probably hard for some readers not to shake the impression that the American author was, for some inexplicable reason, having to pad out Patsy Walker’s attempt to rekindle her long-dormant psychosomatic powers for almost the entire comic book.

Of course, the sudden appearance of Moondragon and Walker’s subsequent surprising visit back to her old High School days does produce a modicum of momentary interest when first presented, especially when Hellcat’s “old friend and psychic mentor” indicates she hopes to make her pupil’s access to “the ol’ psychoactive radio waves” stronger than ever. However, Heather Douglas’ guest-star appearance does raise a few questions considering the Guardian of the Galaxy is apparently perfectly capable of reaching out across time and space to Patsy in order to imbue her with a considerable cerebral boost, yet unable to mentally attack Korvac when the “would-be deity” is in close proximity to Hellcat.

Similarly as illogical is Walker having to cheat at a history examination by reading the mind of her old teacher and fending off her former husband, Daimon Hellstrom with a couple of office chairs. This entire sequence lurches from set-piece to set-piece, including a disagreeable hospital bedside scene in which the heroine’s mother actually tries to convince her daughter to kill herself, simply so the Defender can supposedly show her own inner fear some kindness; “Your fear. Fear of your own mind. With a soft touch free it. Accept it. Hold it. Deep down, Korvac is afraid. If you are not… You can win.” 

Adding to the feeling that this particular publication is little more than a ‘filler’ edition are Angel Unzueta’s layouts, which whilst proficient enough, debatably lack the visual impact of series regular artist Cafu. This difference in consistent quality is particularly noticeable in the Spaniard’s pencilling of the events housed within Centerville, with the sketching of Mister Brown’s angry outburst over a decimated red apple proving particularly poor when compared to the drawing of Jim Rhodes’ desperate attempt to loop back upon an enemy spaceship in an attempt to destroy it with missiles.

The regular cover art of "IRON MAN" #8 by Alex Ross

Tuesday, 20 April 2021

Conan The Barbarian #19 - Marvel Comics

CONAN THE BARBARIAN No. 19, May 2021
Providing its audience with the first instalment to Jim Zub’s “Land Of The Lotus” storyline, this twenty page periodical quite possibly lived up to its publisher’s boast of it being the “perfect jumping-on point for new or lapsed readers!” when it first hit the spinner-racks in early 2021. Indeed, for those fans patient enough to navigate this comic’s opening summary, the premise of the escapade starting with the titular character already being in grave jeopardy proves strongly reminiscent of many of Robert E. Howard’s original prose tales.

Enjoyably however, the Canadian writer doesn’t simply pad this comic out with the regurgitated ideas taken from the back catalogue of “Weird Tales” or “Thrilling Adventures”. But rather adds some innovative twists to the fictional sword and sorcery hero’s tried and tested formula, courtesy of some seriously terrifying Silver Apes attempting to slaughter the barbarian’s brutal captors when the prisoner-laden caravan foolishly travels a little too deep into the monsters' bamboo-infested domain.

Of course, the Web Cartoonists’ Choice Award-winner does admittedly somewhat quickly pair Conan up with the “one bright spot the Cimmerian sees in the pouring rain” in the guise of the beautifully na├»ve scholar Meiwei of Paikang. Yet, even this helpless academic, who unsurprisingly proves utterly inept when faced with a charging gorilla, is arguably of far stronger character than many of the damsels in distress who have gone before her. In fact, rather than being particularly motivated by a desire to be bedded by the barbarian, the woman seems far more interested in simply doing what is morally right; “Your conduct is disgusting! These prisoners should be treated with respect until they are properly judged for their crimes.”

Adding plenty of gratuitous gore to this comic’s prodigiously-penned proceedings are Cory Smith’s pencils, which genuinely imbue many a scene, such as Conan stabbing a Silver Ape straight through the brain with a spear-point, with buckets of blood. The artist also appears extremely adept at depicting the stinking squalor the Cimmerian must endure housed alongside his fellow inmates within the confines of a tiny cell on wheels, as well as the vile contempt shown on the faces of the Khitai warriors whenever they are goading the condemned.

Writer: Jim Zub, Artist: Luca Pizzari, and Colorist: Israel Silva

Thursday, 1 April 2021

Iron Man [2020] #7 - Marvel Comics

IRON MAN No. 7, May 2021
For those readers interested in Frog-Man discussing his religious thoughts on the existence of a one, true God with the likes of the Gargoyle, Misty Knight and the Scarlet Spider, or negotiating a twenty-six panel sedentary sequence in which Michael Korvac waxes lyrical about his “one single entity”, Christopher Cantwell’s script for Issue Seven of “Iron Man” debatably delivered. However, for those bibliophiles anticipating any action whatsoever from this particular publication, “Overclock” probably left them feeling bitterly disheartened; “This collective aggregate knows only peace and calm. All acts are ones of softness and grace. Universal good is omnipresent and owned by no individual. Not even myself. The Self melts away completely. It serves only the aggregate.”

To begin with, the vast majority of this comic is padded out with Hellcat and Shell-head receiving an utterly befuddling update from this ongoing series’ lead antagonist as to just what the villain’s central goal of establishing a “Universal Harmony” means. Word-heavy and stretched to almost breaking point by a couple of Cafu’s prodigiously pencilled splash page illustrations, this dialogue-driven scene eventually concludes with the bizarre revelation that Korvac wants to turn all galactic life into nothing more than an existence of “crystals eating crystals.”

Admittedly, such an insane admission definitely shows just how completely mad the “would-be deity” has become, whilst simultaneously making it abundantly clear that the resurrected android must be stopped from carrying out his diabolical plan no matter what the cost. But arguably this book’s American author could have accomplished a similarly convincing ‘reveal’ in a quarter of the sheet space, and subsequently have enlivened this periodical’s lethargic tempo by focusing more upon War Machine’s disappointingly brief battle against a faster-than-light spacecraft.

Perhaps this comic’s biggest curve-ball though is Cantwell’s somewhat head-scratchingly surreal cliff-hanger, which sees Tony Stark somehow teleported to another world which is apparently populated by a group of exotic-looking extra-terrestrials and a futuristically-armed Canadian. Such a sudden departure from this title’s long-running narrative must have proved a little jarring to this comic’s audience, especially for those already puzzled as to just how the billionaire industrial somehow managed to ‘piggy-back’ upon Hellcat’s telepathic conversation with Korvac beforehand.

The regular cover art of "IRON MAN" #7 by Alex Ross

Wednesday, 31 March 2021

Dune: House Atreides #5 - BOOM! Studios

DUNE: HOUSE ATREIDES No. 5, March 2021
Despite predominantly focusing upon the exploits of Pardot Kynes and his desire to understand all that there is to know about the deadly Fremen, as well as young Leto Atreides’ harrowing flight through a rebellion-torn Ix, this twenty-two page periodical must still have proved something of a disconcertingly sedentary reading experience for many within its audience upon its release. For whilst this comic book adaption’s narrative does eventually portray a treacherous attempt upon the lives of both the Imperial Planetologist and the eventual ruler of Caladan, these somewhat exciting events don’t actually occur until the publication’s pedestrian plot is already two-thirds spent.

Regrettably, up until this point, all Issue Five of “Dune: House Atreides” provides its fans is a series of seemingly endless panels featuring lots of dialogue, plenty of political manoeuvring, and a fair amount of cordial greetings. Indeed, those bibliophiles more inclined towards dynamic action than conversational set-pieces might argue that much of what occurs before Uliet makes his unsuccessful assassination attempt upon Kynes, could easily have been truncated or even removed without this comic’s story-telling being even slightly impinged upon; “Will the old vulture never die? Why is it taking so long? You gave him the poison a month ago!”

Happily however, once “the revolt brewing on Ix” does take hold, then this book’s pace picks up considerably, and its debatably quite easy to imagine the horror unfolding before Leto’s eyes as his escape car flies through the city’s underground tunnels. Aghast at the carnage unfolding around him, the courageous young man’s commentary as to the destructive events taking place around him are enthralling, especially once it becomes clear that this well-planned insurrection isn’t the sole work of the Suboids, but rather Tleilaxu engineers who want to take the planet for themselves.

Adding enormously to this frenzy of death and demolition are Dev Pramanik’s layouts, which do an extraordinarily good job of depicting the combination of revulsion and excitement in Atreides’ face as he squashes it up against his automobile’s window to better see the barbaric frenzy unfolding before him. The Indian artist genuinely seems to capture the sheer chaotic rapidity of the revolution and its unhinged violence with his pencilling, as well as generate the ‘zip’ of the Ix car as it flies through a maze of sprawling channels in its desperation to convey its passengers to some semblance of safety.

The regular cover art of "DUNE: HOUSE ATREIDES" #5 by Evan Eagle

Tuesday, 30 March 2021

Iron Man [2020] #6 - Marvel Comics

IRON MAN No. 6, April 2021
Proudly proclaimed by “Marvel Worldwide” as the beginning to Book Two of Korvac, “Dreams Of Deicide” certainly must have pleased some within the comic’s audience, with its sense-shattering start as a mentally scarred Hellcat desperately tries to wheel a fatally-injured Tony Stark off to hospital in a shopping trolley. Indeed, Patsy Walker’s panicky attempt to save the life of her recent lover is probably the highlight of this twenty-page periodical, thanks to the former Defender’s determination to flag down a yellow cab in the pouring rain and Shell-head’s palpable pain whenever his unlikely four-wheeled conveyance clunks off the pavement onto the road.

Disappointingly however, this sense of urgency to get the billionaire industrial medical care soon evaporates once Christopher Cantwell pens Iron Man deciding to simply ‘sit tight’ inside his metal suit and just have Halcyon fuse “my armour’s cervical column rings together” so as to “stabilise the spinal injury and prevent me from suffocating.” This rather disconcerting course of treatment seems incredibly foolhardy, even for someone as egotistical as Stark, and arguably erodes any sense of genuine peril to the titular character when it not only results in the Golden Avenger being able to walk around without any impairment, but immediately afterwards beat the living hell out of an unwise Guardsman with a single punch; “What? I gave him a break. You know you’re not going to stop me. So you’re either with me… Or not.”

Sadly, Issue Six of “Iron Man” also portrays an irate Tony at his sanctimonious worse, with the American author unconvincingly trying to depict the one-time Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. as some greatly wronged victim who, having politely apologised for all his past mistakes, is still being unjustly treated by life. Such a holier-than-thou attitude just doesn’t work, as it’s debatably difficult for any bibliophile to sympathise with this particular incarnation of Shell-head when he cold-heartedly tells the Scarlet Spider that a badly-wounded Gargoyle is now “a waste of my time” after the super-hero lost one of his wings whilst saving the rest of the team’s lives.

Happily though, what this comic lacks in persuasive plot-points it somewhat makes up for with sumptuously-sketched layouts. Cafu’s pencilling is particularly noteworthy during Hellcat’s aforementioned trolley-dash with many readers doubtless feeling the pouring rain actually striking Walker’s colourful costume, as she bundles an uncooperative Iron Man into a taxi.

The regular cover art of "IRON MAN" #6 by Alex Ross

Sunday, 28 March 2021

The Mean Arena Volume One: All To Slay For - Rebellion [Part Three]

THE MEAN ARENA VOLUME ONE: ALL TO SLAY FOR, March 2021
Quite possibly the most memorable match from this early Eighties “Rollerball-meets Roy Of The Rovers” comic strip series, Tom Tully’s thoroughly absorbing depiction of the events surrounding the Slater Slayers’ challenge game against the Southampton Sharks justifiably forms the back bone of this “digital-only” release from “Rebellion”, and arguably doesn’t let up until smart-mouthed commentator Kevin O’Connor provides a player profile piece on J.T. Venner during half-time. Up until this point, whether the spotlight be on either the housing estate-sized pitch or just Matt Tallon’s revenge-fuelled machinations, the British author is almost relentless in his depiction as to just how brutal and deadly a sport Street Football can be.

For starters it seems even the wealthy world of Kosi-Flex owner Rollo Hartie can be highly dangerous, as the hover-chair bound magnate agrees a lucrative sponsorship deal with the Slayer just seconds after one of his hirelings has had his head turned to gory pulp testing out the tycoon’s experimental ram-suit. This "grotesque product of Twenty-First Century medical science" imbues everything disdainful about the sport as he contemptuously arranges for another minion to replace poor aforementioned Wilson without batting an eyelid. But the corpulent cyborg also demonstrates just how low Tallon will evidently go so as to ensure he can have his payback against the people who apparently caused his younger brother to die.

Equally as mercilessly mercenary is Matt’s behaviour in Southampton as he repeatedly goads his opponent’s squad-leader Jaws Jensen into mistake-after-mistake. Whether it be at a staged press conference where the star Striker slaps an abusive banner on his target’s forehead right in front of an audience packed-out with the press, or later when his scoring talent drives the Sharks’ player to sacrifice one of this own team-mates between the deadly steel teeth of the Slayers’ gaping-mouth goal, Tully’s penmanship makes it abundantly clear that the former Louis Leopard is willing to wade in blood as deep as those unfortunates he is targeting; “You’re not interested in crowds! All you care about is nailing the people who helped put your kid brother Paul in his grave..!”

John Richardson’s layouts also help enormously with this storyline’s excellent pacing, whether he’s illustrating a truly fascinating flashback sequence as to the history of Street Football, or pencilling the impressive new Slayer uniforms. Indeed, one of the match’s opening highlights is the way the artist sketches the physical ease with which “The Shadow” silkily evades the opposition’s best efforts to unsuccessfully bring him down, and having “left three Sharks for dead” subsequently puts Mike Slater’s club into a well-deserved lead.

Script Robot: Tom Tully, Art Robot: John Richardson, and Lettering Robot: Pete Knight

Saturday, 27 March 2021

Lady Freedom #1 - Second Sight Publishing

LADY FREEDOM No. 1, March 2021
Wasting absolutely no time in throwing its readers straight into an action-packed furore inside a secret American military base, Arthur Bellfield’s script for Issue One of “Lady Freedom” undoubtedly provides Sergeant Natalie Cloudrider with a truly sense-shattering “Second Sight Publishing” debut. Indeed, even when this comic’s plot momentarily pauses to provide its audience with a bit of backstory to the Machiavellian motivations of its central antagonist, “the villainous Black Valkyrie”, the dialogue is so ‘straight to the point’ that mere moments later the action has already whisked their attention back to the criminal’s evil plans for those hapless tourists unlucky enough to have sought inspiration from Liberty Island; “Find out which one of them is wearing that ridiculous perfume and kill them first.”

Enjoyably however, this comic doesn’t simply deliver an endless series of frantic fisticuffs between the titular character and her very evident arch-nemesis. But also raises several intriguing questions as to just what the mysterious Freedom Fighter Program is all about, and why, after hundreds of men and women volunteered, just the native American and Camille Abhorghast survived to see active duty..?

These disconcerting conundrums are just the ‘tip of the iceberg’ too, as in between bouts of panicky punch-ups, bone-breaking batterings and telekinetic trickery, it is additionally revealed that the Government doesn’t yet trust the other super-powered “freelancers” who populate this publication’s world, or seemingly believe that “the only other successful experiment in our little hero maker programme” is genuinely ready for combat. In addition, this book intriguingly never actually explains just why Black Valkyrie is so bitterly opposed to the values of the United States of America, and merely hints at the darkly deep history between the silver-haired strongwoman and Lady Freedom, rather than somewhat lackadaisically ‘spelling it out’.

Ultimately though, the considerable success of this twenty-three page periodical rests upon the shoulders of creator Larry Spike Jarrell’s layouts, and his prodigious ability to imbue some serious smackdowns with plenty of “Thud” and “Ker-plank”. In fact, one of this comic’s highlights is arguably the artist’s ability to depict its quite sizeable cast performing plenty of athletic acrobatics, laying down some eye-winching beatings and surviving the odd eardrum-bursting explosion.

Creator/Pencils: Larry Spike Jarrell, Writer: Arthur Bellfield, and Inks: Bill Marimon

Thursday, 25 March 2021

Batman: The Adventures Continue #14 - DC Comics

BATMAN: THE ADVENTURES CONTINUE No. 14, October 2020
Finally bringing “the Red Hood's plan against the Bat-Family” to a somewhat contrived conclusion, Issue Fourteen of “Batman: The Adventures Continue” certainly provided its audience with plenty of action once its collaborative writing partnership finally manoeuvred their numerous playing pieces into position. Indeed, the ‘explosive’ re-appearance of the Joker’s supposedly deceased super-strong henchman, Straightman, and the Boy Wonder’s escape from an apparently unavoidable water-based death trap, both lead to some truly sense-shattering shenanigans as Jason Todd’s plan for revenge goes completely ‘belly up’ at the last minute.

Disappointingly however, much of the tension before this cataclysmic closing is lost due to the narrative’s over-reliance upon Batman being in any way tempted to kill the Clown Prince of Crime in cold blood with a crowbar. As long-time producers of “Batman: The Animated Series” franchise both Alan Burnett and Paul Dini should know far better than to suggest Bruce Wayne’s alter-ego is even slightly inclined to commit such a horrific act against his personal code, despite being threatened with the demise of his latest Robin, and resultantly there is arguably never a doubt in the reader’s mind that the Red Hood’s diabolical plan is ever going to successfully reach fruition; “Wake up, little Red! You’re out of threats. You snuff that Robin, he’ll just get another… Then Batman will haul your red-hooded rump to the cops.”

What this digital first publication does provide though, is an excellent portrayal of the Joker at his maniacal best. Full of witticisms and homicidal banter, it really is easy to hear actor Mark Hamill’s voice uttering the criminal mastermind’s dialogue, especially when the green-haired villain’s muscle spectacularly emerges from the sewer so as to overpower Todd and provide Bill Finger’s co-creation with a fleeting opportunity to “pin that punk down” for a final, lethal time.

Likewise Ty Templeton’s pencils, ably coloured by Monica Kubina, also imbue the Dark Knight’s arch-nemesis with plenty of the purple-suit wearing character’s infamous swagger. The Joker’s facial expressions are perhaps this periodical’s greatest highlight, with the Canadian artist’s ability to switch the murderer’s mood from gleeful amusement to deadly darkness within the space of a single panel or two, wonderfully capturing the mischievous killer’s psychopathic instability.

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

Saturday, 20 March 2021

The Mean Arena Volume One: All To Slay For - Rebellion [Part Two]

THE MEAN ARENA VOLUME ONE: ALL TO SLAY FOR, March 2021
Firmly focused upon Matt Tallon’s account “of the last, terrifying game he played for St. Louis Leopards against Florida Fiends”, Tom Tully’s second storyline inside “The Mean Arena Volume One: All To Slay For” certainly provides its readers with a thoroughly compelling comprehension as to the flawed character of the legendary American Street Football Star. Indeed, considering just how arrogantly reckless the Slayer comes across from this publication’s printed pages, it probably isn’t all that surprising that some within this tale’s opposing team decide to set aside any notion of winning the actual ball-game in order to murder the “King of the Road” with a masonry-drill looted from a local builders’ yard.

Fortunately for this graphic novels’ sports fans however, this plot to rid Archie Sugrue of his main rival is enthrallingly intermixed with plenty of thrilling football action too, with the “noted British comic writer” even going so far as to pointing out all the regulation differences between the English game and those from across the Pond; “That was another reason why I’d decided to quit Street Football – The Fliers. The latest rule change allowed two of them per squad…” These insights into just how the deadly game is played “American-style” really add an authentic air to some of the narrative’s more science-fiction based elements, and arguably consistently ensnare the audience into believing that they’re listening to a commentator broadcasting a play-by-play account of the Superleague title contest.

Perhaps this tale’s biggest draw though is the Arch-fiend’s ultimately unwise decision to play the Death-Card at the start of the match in an effort to win a million dollars by scoring. The fact Sugrue could be shot dead by the Leopards’ rifle-armed Longstop packs every appearance made by Archie with some extra tension, especially when the “Grexnix” manages to extract himself from the teeth of a shopping mall’s pedi-ramp and appears on the verge of outwitting Tallon with a stunning goal. Artist John Richardson’s ability to imbue this zarjaz sequence’s panels with plenty of pace will genuinely cause bibliophiles everywhere to momentarily hold their breath as a head-strong Matt ignores the sage advice of his manager and attempts to stop the badly crippled striker on his own at the very last second.

Script Robot: Tom Tully, Art Robot: John Richardson, and Lettering Robot: Pete Knight

Friday, 19 March 2021

The Immortal Hulk #44 - Marvel Comics

IMMORTAL HULK No. 44, May 2021
Apparently penned as “a gruesomely pleasant escape for all” his Hulk-Heads, Al Ewing’s narrative for “To Rule In Hell” certainly shouldn’t have disappointed the vast majority of its readers. In fact, the grisliness of this publication’s bouts of pugilism actually gets increasingly graphic in nature the further into the twenty-page periodical its audience progresses, and disconcertingly concludes with the titular character being burnt to little more than a lifeless husk; “No, you were right -- We’ve had our turn. And we don’t have all night. Let James have the kill… There. That’s that. Anyone else feel like getting barbecue?”

Happily however, this relentless assault upon the senses makes for a compelling read as the U-Foes systematically break down an emaciated Hulk’s remaining strength one-by-one, and show just how deadly a quartet Henry Peter Gyrich’s goon squad can actually be when given half a chance. Of course, not everything goes the former super-villains’ way, as Ironclad discovers whilst attempting to mercilessly pound the green-skinned “bag of bones” into the pavement. But this momentary ‘fight-back’ debatably makes the team’s emphatic victory over Bruce Banner’s alter-ego all the more convincing.

Equally as well written is Ewing’s fascinating depiction of Leonard Samson struggling to keep his gamma-fuelled Sasquatch bloodlust in check when faced with the truly terrifying, physically-merged gestalt of Rick Jones and Delbert Frye. The sheer anger the Doctor has for the tragically-disfigured creature before him is truly palpable, and so it comes as no surprise when the formidably savage hairball launches a devastating clawed attack upon what eventually turns out to be an entirely helpless amalgamation of flesh.

Undeniably this book’s greatest contribution though has to be the pencilling of Joe Bennett, who seems to go to astonishing lengths in order to sketch every sinew and skin cell visible on the Hulk’s increasingly marred body. The Brazilian does an absolutely stand out job in drawing the murderous rage indelibly etched in Doc Sasquatch’s glaring eyes. Yet these incredible illustrations debatably pale in comparison to the artwork on show when the likes of X-Ray and Vector literally strip their pain-wracked opponent of his flesh, muscle and eventually, bone.

The regular cover art of "IMMORTAL HULK" #44 by Alex Ross

Wednesday, 17 March 2021

Judas Breed #1 - PenInkColor Studios

JUDAS BREED No. 1, March 2015
For those sci-fi horror fans who like their comics to play out more like Ridley Scott’s original “Alien” film than the franchise’s later all-action sequels, Kenneth Brown’s narrative for Issue One of “Judas Breed” must have seemed like a manna read from heaven when it first hit “Kickstarter” in September 2014. Indeed, the increasingly tense atmosphere generated by Connie Beaumont’s exploration of an unknown planet is so well-penned that it comes as no surprise that the publishing project was successfully funded with “two weeks to go.”

Foremost of this book’s enthralling ‘hooks’ is the freelance screenwriter’s ability to seemingly place the NASA scientists in deadly danger, such as when the expedition’s leader is sucked down into a sink hole, only to then show that the central protagonists were never going to actually come to much harm. This technique repeatedly puts the reader on edge, especially once the astronauts start handling a supposedly long-dead fossil found on the neck of a giant extra-terrestrial skeleton, as the audience knows that at any moment the potential threat is suddenly going to become all too real.

Likewise, when the alien menace does finally reveal itself, Brown’s ability to significantly up this comic’s pace is excellent, as all hell breaks loose in the cargo room within the space of just a few panels. This truly shocking sequence is particularly well-delivered due to the author once again momentarily bringing a brief pause to the bloody proceedings by intimating that the inert fossil could only merely stab its hapless victim if they were unwise enough to physically touch it, before ratcheting up the terror another notch or two when it becomes a fully-mobile, dart-firing insectoid; “Oh my god! Connie! I can’t feel my legs! Help me! Aaahhh! Connie, get it off! Get it off!”

Helping this twenty-eight periodical make such a terrifying impact are Ryan Best’s layouts, which go a long way to showing both the friendly relationship enjoyed by this comic’s central characters and the ancient decay of their surroundings when they excitedly discover “the find of the Century.” The artist’s pencilling is particularly prodigious when it comes to Linda’s grim fate, as its easy to imagine from his drawings just how frantic the female scientist is to escape the scuttling of the living fossil as it clambers up her back and heads for the nape of her exposed neck.

Written by: Kenneth A. Brown, Illustrated by: Ryan Best, and Lettered by: HDE

Monday, 15 March 2021

Doctor Who [2020] #3 - Titan Comics

DOCTOR WHO No. 3, February 2021
Considering that two thirds of this twenty-two page periodical are essentially a dialogue-driven rehash of the 2020 televised episode "Nikola Tesla's Night of Terror", Jody Houser’s script for Issue Three of “Doctor Who” most likely lulled the majority of its readers into something of a stupor. In fact, it is arguably hard to imagine just why the American author picked Nina Metivier’s story for the basis of this book’s plot in the first place, when the only elements of it which she’s pays homage to are that particular broadcast’s conversational pieces, as opposed to its pulse-pounding action sequences depicting the Skithra’s attempt to abduct the famous Serbian-American inventor at his Wardenclyffe lab.

Admittedly, the “Eisner-nominated comic writer” does inject her narrative with a moment of dynamic tension when Rose Tyler decides to help out the Skithra’s Queen in dispatching two of her race who have been tasked to wake the Sea Devils earlier than history had actually planned. But this short-lived sequence is debatably more silly than tension-filled though, especially as the Tenth Doctor’s young companion supposedly kills one of the giant extra-terrestrial scorpions simply by hurling a rock at its head ‘David verses Goliath-style’.

Sadly, the rest of this publication predominantly just follows the Time Lord’s first female incarnation as she goes about her business chatting to the likes of Dorothy Skerrit, pointing out how much more experienced she is to her younger self, and being ‘holier than thou’ when her allies are forced to kill their opponents before they themselves are killed; “This is a war, Doctor. One I’ve been fighting for a long time.” Indeed, the Thirteenth Doctor’s arrogant belief that she can solve every problem solely by talking rather than doing anything physically harmful increasingly grates upon the nerves, as does her perpetual levity at the fact that the Earth’s history has been significantly rewritten and resultantly her “fam” currently consists of another of the Gallifreyan’s past regenerations.

Disappointingly adding to the lethargic atmosphere of this comic book are Roberta Ingranata’s layouts, which for once appear somewhat rushed in places and are clearly designed to help ‘pad out’ the publication. Of particular note is the Italian artist’s repeated use of large blank voids between some of her panels in order to fill out the odd page, and the illustrator’s uncharacteristically poor pencilling of the eight-legged Skithra.

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

Saturday, 13 March 2021

The Mean Arena Volume One: All To Slay For - Rebellion [Part One]

THE MEAN ARENA VOLUME ONE: ALL TO SLAY FOR, March 2021
The latest title by “Rebellion” in their “brand new series of digital-only 2000 A.D. collections for 2021”, this bumper one hundred page periodical opens with a sense-shattering insight into the final twenty minutes of Slater’s Slayers’ Third Division Street Football match against the increasingly dominant Wakeford Warriors, and arguably doesn’t let up with its high-octane antics until the full-time flare is fired. In fact, apart from a momentary pause to witness Matt Tallon losing his temper at the sudden death of the Slayers’ latest signing, Paul Simpson, whilst watching the match at a local bar, this comic strip initially simply sticks to depicting all the action which takes place on the streets.

Enjoyably, Tom Tully’s successful technique of plunging this book’s audience straight into the thick of things really works well as an inescapable hook, and alongside all the rule clarifications and sporting lingo, creates an enthralling atmosphere which appears as authentic as the ball game is clearly fatally violent. Admittedly, there is the odd occasion when the writing debatably seems to waiver into the utterly fantastic, such as when the Slayer suddenly starts seeing one of his opponents shockingly transform into a bizarre-looking slavering monster and cowers in the corner like a quivering coward. But in the main the exciting passes, bombs, Droid gun blasts and wall-vaulting acrobatics are as realistically grounded as any perusing Squaxx dek Thargo could demand.

Rather delightfully, the Glasgow-born author also immediately demonstrates that Tallon has plenty of faults of his own rather than lazily being depicted as some sort of super-human star player who’ll effortlessly score with every opportunity. The gifted striker’s forgetfulness not to wear an “approved suppressor” over his bionic thumb almost gets the man shot on suspicion of being a droid. Whilst Matt’s poorly-played decoy run late in the match results in him getting dangerously struck in the neck by the ball and later suffers the aforementioned hallucination that he was about to be torn to shreds by some giant horned beast; ““No! N-No..! You… You can’t take me now! Not now! I paid for what I did!”

Additionally adding plenty of grittiness to the street football shenanigans of this sport are John Richardson’s somewhat scratchily-sketched layouts. The artist’s pencilling provides all of the characters with lots of dynamism and athletic ability; albeit it’s probably the way he sympathetically draws the sad facial features on Wakeford’s Joe when the player disconcertingly realises his best friend, Harry Carpenter, was nothing more than a robot, which is this storyline’s most memorable scene.
Script Robot: Tom Tully, Art Robot: John Richardson, and Lettering Robot: Pete Knight

Friday, 12 March 2021

Batman: The Adventures Continue #13 - DC Comics

BATMAN: THE ADVENTURES CONTINUE No. 13, October 2020
Debatably depicting Jason Todd as a fully-fledged psycho, and containing a thoroughly enjoyable confrontation between the hired help of both the Joker and the Penguin, this third instalment to Alan Burnett and Paul Dini’s “Red Son Rising” surely must have landed well with fans of the “Batman: The Animated Series” when the digital first comic was released in October 2020. Sure, the Clown Prince of Crime appears to be a little too easy a target to get the drop on when he visits the Iceberg Lounge and is surprised by a sedative-dart firing Red Hood. But the pair have already previously met in this particular storyline before, providing Batman’s former Robin with plenty of intelligence with which to plan their all-too quick rematch; “It’s just half a dose. You’ll be out for hours.”

Foremost of Todd’s despicable acts however, has to be the way the anti-hero physically assaults the aged Leslie Thompkins when she catches him burgling her stock of medicines. Despite clearly being cross at her former friend’s intrusion, the elderly doctor genuinely appears to care for the young man’s well-being, and as a result any sympathy this book’s audience might have had for the malicious, mask-wearing hoodlum goes straight out the window when he savagely swats her away from him with one hand.

Easily this periodical’s biggest draw though has to be the aforementioned tussle between Mister Wing and Straightman. Sadly, this scene involving the two super-strong heavies duking it out is a little short-lived, yet their pulse-pounding bout of pugilism makes an excellent backdrop to the Joker’s explanation as to how he came to hire “one of those Captain White House guys” as Harley Quinn’s replacement. Indeed, one of this narrative’s most chilling elements is the way the homicidal criminal calmly recollects how he personally lobotomised his henchman with a scalpel and his “natural ability.”

Adding plenty of “Bam!”, “Crunch!” and “Smash!” to this comic’s shenanigans are Ty Templeton’s pencils and Monica Kubina’s colours. The collaborative pair do a particularly fine job of bringing the Penguin’s genetically-enhanced hatchling to life, with Mister Wing’s mix of white feathers and muscles making the massive bird-man dominate each and every panel in which he appears - even after the badly-beaten guardian has been smacked semi-conscious and is simply laying in a star-spinning stupor.

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