Sunday, 31 January 2021

Fantastic Four Annual #3 - Marvel Comics

FANTASTIC FOUR ANNUAL No. 3, October 1965
Containing some stunning sense-shattering prenuptial shenanigans involving an all-encompassing cast of Marvel Universe characters, as well as complete and unabridged reprints of two of the “most requested Fantastic Four issues” since the ongoing series first hit the spinner-racks, this weighty tome surely lived up to the New York-based publisher’s boast of being “possibly the greatest annual of all time” when it was initially released upon an unsuspecting public in 1965. Indeed, considering that Stan Lee’s “Bedlam At The Baxter Building!” somehow manages to incorporate the likes of the Avengers, the X-Men, S.H.I.E.L.D., Daredevil and Spider-man alongside a truly impressive rogues gallery of the New York City-based publisher’s super-villains, it’s incredible to believe the then Editor-in-Chief was able to pen anything even resembling a coherent narrative, let alone one which not only contains plenty of ‘screen time’ for its titular characters but additionally produces numerous stand-out moments, such as the Mole Man’s surprise attack from beneath the very foundation of the Baxter Building and his minions’ subsequent defeat by Professor X’s mutant students.

Admittedly, the basic premise behind this comic’s narrative is undeniably contrived with Doctor Doom “skilfully manipulating my high-frequency emotion charger” so as to “fan the flames of hatred in the heart of every evil menace in existence” and resultantly create “a veritable army of the most deadly villains alive” with which to destroy Reed Richards’ famous quartet. Yet the utter simplicity of the ‘hokey’ plot point does allow for the reader to be rapidly immersed in the mad machinations of the “paranoiac” Puppet Master, and no sooner has his poison-armed pawn been subdued by Nick Fury’s undercover agents, than Ivan Kragoff and Harvey Rupert Elder make their separate moves to bring Su Storm’s imminent wedding ceremony to a deadly end; “Ahh! The coast is clear now, my beauties! And so, the time has come for the Red Ghost and his Super Apes to finish the job they’d begun many months ago!” This rapid succession of threats and foes is so successfully implemented that any thoughts as to the dubiously manufactured nature of the script is swiftly forgotten and replaced with a genuine sense of awe at Lee’s sheer vision, with even Attuma, “merciless warlord of the deep”, deciding to seize the moment and threaten the land-dwellers with an invasion of his trident-carrying legions.

Of course, just how enjoyable this carousel of costumed crime-fighters and malevolent Machiavellian evil-doers would be without the dynamically-charged pencilling of Jack “King” Kirby is hotly debatable. The Manhattan-born artist’s breath-taking visuals for this comic provides every punch, kick and energy blast portrayed with just the sort of bone-crunching energy one would expect from an illustrator “widely regarded as one of the medium’s major innovators.” Whilst his incredible splash-page “photo of a journey thru the Fourth Dimension” which depicts the Watcher transporting Mister Fantastic to “a laboratory whose wonders beggar description” was certainly worth the twenty five cent cover price of this book alone.

Written by: Stan Lee, Drawn by: Jack Kirby, and Inked by: Vince Colletta

Saturday, 30 January 2021

The Immortal Hulk #42 - Marvel Comics

IMMORTAL HULK No. 42, March 2021
Featuring both the disbandment of Gamma Flight under the blinkered leadership of Henry Peter Gyrich, and the departure of Jackie McGee from the Arizona Herald following the newspaper’s appointment of a faceless interim editor, those readers able to navigate their way through Issue Forty-Two of “Immortal Hulk” certainly couldn’t argue that the comic doesn’t make some progress in telling Al Ewing’s ongoing narrative for Bruce Banner’s alter-ego. But the fact that the titular character doesn’t even appear within the entirety of the twenty-page periodical probably made quite a few Hulk-heads think that way just the same.

Indeed, just what the point of the British author’s sedentary script is for “A Game Of Consequences” isn’t particularly clear, unless of course the former “2000 A.D.” writer was simply desperate to pad out an entire publication with disinteresting conversational pieces in preparation for the return of the U-Foes as agents of the American government; “The Hulk is the most dangerous gamma creature to exist - - and Gamma Flight just walked out on their responsibility to catch him. But who needs them? Am I right, Doctor Utrecht?”

Admittedly, the book does still manage some moments of tension, such as when Doc Sasquatch threatens to lethally cut through one of Alpha Flight Space Station’s windows following his new commander’s threat that he’d “drain the gamma out of you” and “maybe take your pelt” to make a rug out of it, if Leonard didn’t remember the location of Shadow Base Site G pronto. But such well-penned scenes are regrettably few, and easily get lost amidst all of the dreary, dialogue-heavy deliberations which this comic’s formidably-sized cast spout on about throughout the rest of the book.

Debatably this magazine’s greatest weakness though must surely lie in editor Will Moss’ decision to utilise a quartet of different artists with which to sketch its interior layouts. All four illustrators, especially regular Joe Bennett, would seem perfectly capable to pencil a prodigious-looking panel or two. Yet because their sequences are scattered across the entire comic somewhat piecemeal, the audience is disconcertingly forced to momentarily readjust their eye for every other page.

The regular cover art of "IMMORTAL HULK" #42 by Alex Ross

Friday, 29 January 2021

Future State: Harley Quinn #1 - DC Comics

FUTURE STATE: HARLEY QUINN No. 1, March 2021
Considering that Stephanie Phillips’ “goal was to really show how smart Harley is through her ability to psychoanalyze Gotham’s masked residents”, this twenty-two page periodical’s plot certainly shows Harleen Frances Quinzel in a light immeasurably different to the way the titular character is ordinarily portrayed. True, the Cupid of Crime is still as mad as a box of frogs as she merrily smart mouths her captors, complains about the roughness upon her skin of her prison clothes, and seemingly worries more about “some nasty holes” in her socks than the fact she’s looking at spending the rest of her life idling inside a high-security penitentiary cage.

But amongst all the blue and pink-haired gymnast’s foolhardiness the American author also manages to demonstrate precisely why the trained psychiatrist was once thought highly enough by the Gotham City medical authority to have been awarded the Joker as a patient. Indeed, just as soon as Doctor Jonathan Crane agrees to remove her restraints, Quinn immediately shows that she can still provide an incredibly deep analysis of her fellow super-villains by both rationalising just how Lazlo Valentin managed to ‘Frankenstein’ several police officers and suggesting an entirely successful method of bringing Professor Pyg to justice.

Such a seldom-used insight into the Maiden of Mischief’s mind really makes for a fascinating read, and despite Harley remaining within a cell for almost the entirety of the publication, the notion of her solving Crane’s problem of incarcerating Batman’s formidable Rogues Gallery a criminal at a time is utterly enthralling. In fact, Quinn's behind-the-scenes examinations are so enjoyable that it arguably comes as something of a disappointment when the Joker’s lover is apparently released to help her gaoler finally get his hands on the sole kingpin to have alluded all his previous efforts – the Black Mask; “Let’s go, Harley. You’re getting out of here. Your ideas proved out. Pyg and Firefly are… well. We’ll call them done.

Disconcertingly however, the one thing which does debatably let down Issue One of “Future State: Harley Quinn” are Simone Di Meo’s layouts. The Turin-born artist’s ability to make his illustrations appear as if each panel has been screen-grabbed from an animated feature film cannot be disputed. Yet so many of the action-sequences within this comic are so strangely angled that it’s impossible to see what is actually taking place, most notably when Garfield Lynns is lured into a trap and overpowered.

The regular cover art of "FUTURE STATE: HARLEY QUINN #1 by Derrick Chew

Wednesday, 27 January 2021

A Man Among Ye #4 - Image Comics

A MAN AMONG YE No. 4, January 2021
Firmly fixated upon Anne Bonny’s daring attempt to rescue Captain Jack Rackham from his imprisonment on Fort Nassau, Stephanie Phillips’ narrative for Issue Four of “A Man Among Ye” arguably contains it all, from fast-paced swordplay and ear-shattering explosions through to shrewd scheming and villainous treachery. Indeed, apart from this twenty-page periodical’s rather frustrating conclusion, which sees the injured female pirate and her unconventional crew fleeing from the Bahamas-based fortification empty-handed, this comic book is virtually flawless, and doubtless will have many within its audience clamouring for the American author to pen some more adventures about the notorious buccaneer.

Much of this publication’s success stems from the writer steering well-clear of lazily having this mini-series’ lead protagonist just steamroller her way through Woodes Rogers’ forces, regardless of the governor’s formidable firepower, sizeable fleet and numerous soldiers. Instead, Bonny uses her brains to infiltrate the dauntingly defended stronghold, and rather cleverly latches on to the story of the Fall of Ancient Troy as told to Mary Read by a friendly sailor on the night her father was murdered by brigands; “The Trojans took the horse into their impenetrable city, only to have Greek warriors climb out of the horse once night fell.”

Similarly as successful is Phillips’ use of Jane Castor and her loyal companion Iris, who both play prominent roles throughout Anne’s delightful deception. Jonathan’s “gorgeous daughter” does a good job of fooling Rogers into believing she has somehow captured one of the most wanted pirates in the Caribbean, and debatably provides one of this comic’s highlights when she soundly socks the always-arrogant Woodes squarely on the nose. Whilst the high-born lady’s former servant plays a pivotal role in decimating the ex-English sea captain’s docked armada with a few well-placed torches and plenty of gunpowder.

Of course, this book’s greatest moment comes when an utterly astonished Bonny realises that she has risked all for a man completely unworthy of both her loyalty and love. Rackham’s decision to stand alongside the duplicitous Charles Vane and cold-bloodedly kill his former partner provides a genuine heart-stopping moment within the magazine, and the realisation that Calico Jack was entirely prepared to shoot her dead in that instant is as shocking as artist Craig Cermak dynamically pencilling Iris mortally burying her axe-head deep within Vane’s chest several moments later.

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

Strange Academy #6 - Marvel Comics

STRANGE ACADEMY No. 6, February 2021

Taking its audience by the hand down a dark and winding pathway from tongue-in-cheek magical machinations to some disturbingly lethal sorcerous shenanigans, Skottie Young’s narrative for Issue Six of “Strange Academy” definitely injects the ongoing series’ with a strong sense of deadly danger by its conclusion. In fact, by the end of the twenty-page periodical it seems certain that the somewhat carefree education of the school’s surviving students will never be taught in the same manner again; “Zelma. Did you get them stabilized enough for me to get back to the Sanctum Sanctorum and --”

Intriguingly though, this journey down the rabbit hole is so well penned by the Inkwell Award-winner that it is highly unlikely many of this comic’s readers actually noticed the plot’s ever-enclosing storm clouds of dread and doom until the publication’s final splash panel revelation. Up until this point, it still seems highly plausible that Emily Bright’s well-meaning, yet massively under-powered rescue expedition, are somehow going to survive their confrontation with the Hollow reasonably unscathed, especially considering that the heavily outnumbered adolescent apprentices are still occasionally swapping witticisms with one another.

Indeed, having managed to stave off the wooden-faced cultists with a wall of frozen icicles, an incredibly creepy horde of zombies, and vicious wall of fire, the children initially appear to have an entire arsenal of potent supernatural weapons up their young sleeves with which to defend themselves. Unfortunately however, if there is one thing Young’s storyline makes very clear, it is that the pupils have been sorely mislead as to their actual prowess in the Mystic Arts by their teachers, as one by one their visually impressive enchantments fall surprisingly flat when faced with some genuinely competent spell slingers.

To put things into even clearer perspective, the almost casual way Doctor Strange and Jericho Drumm dispatch the Hollow once they arrive ‘in the nick of time’ just goes to show how wide the chasm between Doyle Dormammu’s seemingly awesome powers are with those of the actual Sorcerer Supreme himself. Such a misleading sham to lull the students into a false sense of security concerning their abilities genuinely smacks as a major betrayal of trust by the teachers, and arguably causes as much consternation as the fact that this comic ends with the death of at least one pupil.

The regular cover art of "STRANGE ACADEMY" #6 by Humberto Ramos & Edgar Delgado

Monday, 25 January 2021

Strange Academy #5 - Marvel Comics

STRANGE ACADEMY No. 5, January 2021
Ultimately concentrating upon the students’ seemingly unsuccessful rescue of Calvin Morse from the mysterious Hollow cultists located in “the bayous outside New Orleans”, this twenty-page periodical’s plot probably generated a fair amount of annoyance in its audience beforehand, thanks largely to Skottie Young’s wonderful ability to pen Miss Hazel playing the innocent victim to Jericho Drumm, and Iric Brorson’s ‘holier than thou’ attitude towards some of his class-mates. Indeed, the frosty interplay between some of this comic’s considerably large cast contrasts quite wonderfully with the sudden team-bonding which subsequently takes place as the bickering children unwisely organise themselves into an ill-conceived search party.

Foremost of these ‘frustrations’ has to firmly sit with the aforementioned elderly fortune teller, who despite having purposely exposed Doyle Dormammu to some truly terrifying visions of his fiery future for her own perverted pleasure, has apparently complained to Doctor Voodoo about the consequences of her own utterly unfriendly actions. Now persistently plagued by the reoccurring prophecy herself, Miss Hazel wastes little time in lying about how she just innocently gave the Faltinian youth “a peek” at his fate and that she needs Drumm to ‘send over one of his staff to help untangle this.’

Equally as objectionable is the behaviour of the ever-condescending Iric, who has clearly already obtained a major chip on his shoulder over the success of Emily Bright with her classes. Irritated by “little miss perfect” being upset that none of the adults noticed Calvin’s disappearance, the Asgardian immediately tries to make the object of his jealously feel bad by publically highlighting that she didn’t observe her friend’s absence either, and satisfyingly gets a tremendous sock in his sanctimonious jaw for his trouble.

However, perhaps Young’s best writing comes towards the end of this comic following the students’ decision to ‘go it alone’ without their teachers, and discover the whereabouts of Morse. Literally crammed into a small rowing boat and being lead by the missing magician’s animated jacket, the increasing tension of this sinister sequence is truly palpable, and only escalates as artist Humberto Ramos pencils the party being ‘picked off’ one by one; “It took her! Something took Dessy! She was here, and there was a branch or vine or something. It just --”

The regular cover art of "STRANGE ACADEMY" #5 by Humberto Ramos & Edgar Delgado

Sunday, 24 January 2021

Batman: The Adventures Continue #12 - DC Comics

BATMAN: THE ADVENTURES CONTINUE No. 12, September 2020
Containing a storyline which is so savagely violent that it would never have seen the light of day as an actual episode of the superhero animated television series in the early Eighties, Alan Burnett and Paul Dini’s narrative for this particular instalment to their “Red Son Rising” storyline arguably traverses a delicate path between paying its respects to the beloved world of “Batman: The Animated Series” and Jim Starlin’s somewhat controversial "A Death in the Family" four-issue mini-series. For whilst the “digital first” publication doesn’t go to lengths of actually having the Joker cold-bloodedly kill a hapless Jason Todd with a crowbar, as per the “DC Comics” book so memorably pencilled by legendary artist Jim Aparo, it doesn’t stop far short.

Indeed, if not for Harley Quinn’s apparent squeamishness at the suddenly all-too serious Clown Prince of Crime’s murderous intentions, and the timely arrival of the Caped Crusader, there seems to be no doubt that the ‘out of control’ Boy Wonder would have been remorselessly beaten to death with absolutely no hope of escape or clemency; “Did you think we were just going to give him a love tap and let him go?! He won’t stop until he’s killed every one of us! You’ve seen what he’s done! He begged for this!”

Similarly as successful is the writing partnership’s enthralling ability to genuinely place Batman between a rock and a hard place, both physically and morally. A highly-emotional Dark Knight is understandably horrified at what the Joker has done to his former crime-fighting companion, and seemingly has his vow to never take a life pushed to its very limits. However, despite everything his white-faced arch-nemesis has done the cowled vigilante still remains true to his oath, and desperately attempts to rescue the villain from a flaming overturned car, even when his dying team-mate is screaming at him to let the homicidal maniac meet a grim demise.

Tying all these plot threads up together into a thoroughly entertaining roller-coaster of a read are Ty Templeton’s fast-paced panels and Monica Kubina’s colours. Insanely calm and calculating one moment, then brandishing his improvised hand-weapon with deadly glee seconds later, the Joker’s facial expressions are particularly well-drawn, especially once his bloodlust takes over and any suggestion of humour has been entirely erased from his countenance.

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

Saturday, 23 January 2021

Strange Academy #4 - Marvel Comics

STRANGE ACADEMY No. 4, December 2020
Bounding along with an incredibly energetic depiction of “the craziest game of tag ever”, Skottie Young’s narrative for Issue Four of “Strange Academy” must surely have pleased its 46,000 readers upon this comic’s release in October 2020. For whilst the twenty page periodical’s plot undeniably focuses upon the magical variant of the popular playground pastime as a way for the students to blow off some steam, it also manages to weave into its story-telling some considerably much dark elements as well.

Indeed, the all-too brief appearance of the deeply disturbing wooden-faced Hollow may well only be limited to just a handful of panels. Yet such is the purple-robed cultists’ impact upon the book that their earnest threat to help rid the Earth of “the Rot” by teaching the children a strict lesson in not wasting the planet’s old power, permeates throughout the entire publication, and is always there at the back of the audience’s mind even when they’re following Emily Bright’s light-hearted headlong dash through numerous mystical teleportation doors.

Just as sinister, not least because of the young girl’s convenient happening upon a suspiciously helpful Catbeast in Woolly Woods who has the means of instantly transporting her home, is Bright’s stumbling upon the Sorcerer Supreme’s Sanctum Sanctorum and the mysterious prisoner locked tight in one of its underground rooms. Long-term fans of Doctor Strange will probably surmise the fledgling magician has inadvertently stumbled upon the cell of Mister Misery, but the suggestion that the Master of the Mystic Arts might be harbouring another perturbingly murky secret makes this a wonderfully tense interaction.

Pulling all these different threads together into a visual feast for the eyes is Humberto Ramos, whose marvellous pencilling both adds plenty of youthful joy to the kids’ crazy-brained shenanigans, as well as a truly sinister vibe to the plans of the fanatical followers of the Hollow. In fact, this comic is arguably worth its cover price alone for the Mexican penciller’s artwork, especially when it includes a thoroughly fun cameo by ‘your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man’ and a bizarre-looking, multi-eyed purple blob which has apparently escaped from one of the Academy’s library manuscripts; “It was an accident! And how was I supposed to know it was a prison book for a giant beast???”

The regular cover art of "STRANGE ACADEMY" #4 by Humberto Ramos & Edgar Delgado

Friday, 22 January 2021

Maestro #5 - Marvel Comics

MAESTRO No. 5, February 2021
Crammed full of political manoeuvring, bare-faced treachery and some truly insane destruction, Issue Five of “Maestro” probably landed reasonably well with Hulk-heads everywhere when it was first published in December 2020. Admittedly, Peter David’s storyline for this seventeen-page concluding instalment perhaps somewhat disconcertingly shows just how precarious the titular character’s rise to the summit of post-apocalyptic power actually was. But it also intriguingly illustrates the palpable fear of becoming his abusive father this particular incarnation of the nuclear physicist carries deep inside of him as well.

Indeed, besides the truly shocking depiction of a badly-burnt Hercules rising from his funeral pyre to wreck his vengeance upon the Olympian deity’s utterly flabbergasted former-friend, arguably this book’s greatest highlight is the Eisner Award-winner’s ability to suddenly make the reader realise that the Hulk’s old travelling companion Rick Jones is entirely correct in his assertion that the human mutate’s decline down the path to utter madness closely mirrors that of his pater’s own mental regression; “No matter who you start out as. You eventually turn into your Dad. You’re not Bruce Banner anymore. You’re Brian Banner.”

Also adding enormously to this “final note in a symphony years in the making” are German Peralta’s layouts, which do a cracking job of depicting Maestro’s fragile psychological state as the tin pot tyrant’s duplicitous machinations are almost brought to a sticky end by both the aforementioned Prince of Power's return and one of Jones’ followers attempting to atomise the traitorous murderer using a gun previously built by Forge “to kill the Hulk!" Banner’s terrifyingly haunted eyes are especially well-pencilled in this regard, and really help convey the brute’s utter disbelief that his well-laid plans could potentially be going awry.

Interestingly however, this mini-series doesn’t end by focusing upon the Maestro finally taking his long sought after throne, but rather finishes upon an emotionally sad flashback to Captain America’s wheelchair-bound former sidekick saying a final goodbye to his underground lair before fleeing the wrath of the Hulk. Visited by the memories of the First Avenger, as well as “the one and only Captain Marvel”, the elderly survivor clearly misses the long-dead family of super-heroes and supporting cast members he shared his life with, including a fondly-remembered ‘heroic’ version of Banner’s alter-ego.

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

Wednesday, 20 January 2021

Hot Brass, Pharaoh's Gold #1 - Unlikely Heroes Studios

HOT BRASS, PHARAOH'S GOLD No. 1, January 2021
Initially conceived as a story “written for kids”, John Pence’s script for “Hot Brass, Pharaoh’s Gold” arguably contains plenty of action-packed adventure with which to capture both an adolescent’s imagination and adult’s mind. For whilst the concept of American ranchers fighting Ancient Egyptian mummies might sound like some ill-conceived sequel to Jon Favreau’s financially disappointing 2011 American science fiction film “Cowboys & Aliens”, the thirty-two page periodical’s plot consistently conjures up all manner of disconcertingly diabolical situations and exciting threats to the wellbeing of all Mankind; “His final curses, written as he realised he had been poisoned by his priests, were that when men had the foolhardy courage to say out loud that they no longer feared him, he would return and enslave all humanity!”

In addition, the actual rationale behind just how such an intriguing war in the Wild West occurs is genuinely well-thought out, courtesy of a pair of greedy entrepreneurs turned grave robbers bringing the “evil Pharaoh and his army” over to the United States so as make a mint “auctioning off the lot to private collectors.” Such a mammoth amount of glittering treasure on public display was bound to attract the attention of the San Francisco criminal fraternity, and unsurprisingly results in Mekhenaten’s mummified remains being subsequently waylaid en route to Albuquerque by a band of bona fide “train-robbin' scallywags” lead by the bandit Blaze Dell.

Similarly as convincing is the resultant explanation as to just why the Dell Boys Gang would inadvertently trigger the long dead corpse’s curse, without the need for Pence to resort to penning the usual trope of the Stetson-wearing thieves either sacrilegiously stealing from the undead Sovereign’s tomb or supposedly reminding the ruler of a long-deceased sweetheart. Mekhenaten’s awakening by Jolly’s arrogant boast that “King Dusty-Britches” doesn’t scare him seems like the kind of thing a foolishly egotistical raider would say to a coffin-bound cadaver, and exactly the sort of cowardly irreverence to rile the former leader of a mighty empire into attempting a nation-wide coup.

Also helping this comic’s storytelling bound along with plenty of ‘tongue-in-cheek’ gusto is Joe Koziarski’s artwork, which does a proficient job of depicting both life in the Wild West and the machinations of the mad Egyptian king. The former illustrator for “Speed Racer” appears particularly good at pencilling the gun-fights between the panicky cowboys and their bandage-encased opponents, as well as adding some nice extra details to some of his panels, such as the Pharaoh’s pet cat leaping around its master when the Sheriff’s posse desperately tries to rid the megalomaniac of his magical power gems.

Writer: John Pence, and Artist: Joe Koziarski

Monday, 18 January 2021

Warhammer 40,000: Marneus Calgar #3 - Marvel Comics

WARHAMMER 40,000: MARNEUS CALGAR No. 3, February 2021
Dynamically split between the titular character’s current crusade against the Forces of Chaos infesting his former family’s estates on Nova Thulium, and the Lord Defender of Greater Ultramar’s earlier exploits as a wannabe Space Marine aspirant on the Agri-world’s savage moon, Kieron Gillen’s script for Issue Three of “Warhammer 40,000: Marneus Calgar” must surely have pleased many within the mini-series’ audience with the central protagonist’s contrasting fighting abilities. Indeed, in many ways it is hard to imagine that the thin, scruffily-clothed adolescent desperately trying to stay alive amidst a slavering cabal of Khorne worshippers, would ultimately survive to become the formidable Chapter Master who single-handedly storms a hapless Blood God death machine and causes untold carnage wearing just the Gauntlets of Ultramar.

Enjoyably however, this well-defined distinction is definitely what the British author’s narrative needs in order to remain at least slightly ‘believable’. Armed with little more than a knife and a belly full of revenge for his fallen friend, it would arguably have been all too easy to have penned Tacitan waging a war upon the perfidious Crixus like some sort of super-fighting machine. But rather fall into that particular trap, the former video game journalist instead shows the outnumbered loyalist desperately trying to use his brains to overcome his opponents’ brawn, and ultimately actually failing in his mission to destroy the traitors’ foul underground altar.

Likewise Gillen appears rather good at depicting the sheer might of a lone Space Marine sergeant when faced with a cybernetically-enhanced, axe-wielding maniac and his fanatical brethren. Power sword in one hand and bolter in the other, Arta readily overcomes all of the physical hurdles which stood in Tacitan's way, and still has time to rescue the awestruck youth from a self-imploding demonic dais before he’s done dispensing the Emperor’s justice; “I saw the monster that was Crixus advance. Full of dark power and darker madness. Any man would have run. But the marine? He knew no fear.”

Just as important to the telling of this twenty-page periodical’s pulse-pounding plot is Jacen Burrows’ awesome artwork, which genuinely seems to add an awful lot to the mythos behind Calgar’s rise to become the Lord of Macragge. The sheer weight behind Marneus’ power-fists can almost be felt whenever he swings the gigantic close-combat weapons in anger, and such well-pencilled scenes diverge marvellously with those of the light-footed serf, who is forced to rely upon sheer speed and cunning rather than the overwhelming weaponry of the Adeptus Astartes.

Writer: Kieron Gillen, Artist: Jacen Burrows, and Colorist: Java Tartaglia

Star Trek: Year Five #18 - IDW Publishing

STAR TREK: YEAR FIVE No. 18, December 2020
Whilst penning a plot about “a planet in the midst of a deadly global pandemic” might seem to some Trekkies an excellent way to provide the badly underused Leonard McCoy with an opportunity to shine, the fact this particular storyline is being published during the Covid-19 worldwide epidemic could equally be seen as Jim McCann simply taking advantage of the highly infectious disease to write an unimaginative adventure set upon Alpha Centauri which rather disconcertingly mirrors our own modern-day misfortunes. Sadly however, this twenty-page periodical’s unoriginal plot isn’t the only thing arguably wrong with the American author’s script, as he repeatedly seems to manufacture circumstances in order for them to forcefully follow his storyline’s implausible path and unconvincing dialogue; “I am James T. Kirk, Captain of the starship Enterprise. These are my top advisors and most trusted allies…”

Foremost of these inconsistencies appears to be the sudden decline in Mister Spock’s relationship with the Constitution-class vessel’s “old country doctor." The ever-duelling pair have always had something of an antagonistic affiliation with one another. But in this book, McCann would have his audience believe that their skipper feels it necessary to immediately admonish them during the adventure’s initial briefing, even though at the time neither of the senior officers arguably says or does anything particularly aggressive to one another. Indeed, if anyone is ‘out of order’ it is the condescending McCoy, not “the green-blooded iceberg”, and yet the entire scene seems to strongly suggest that the Vulcan has somehow been transformed into some potentially loose cannon who could apparently go off on a “temper tantrum” without the slightest provocation.

Similarly as unconvincing is the (re)introduction of Isis as the tale’s main adversary. Just how or why the shape-changing partner of Gary Seven would detonate the airborne pathogen responsible for such mass destruction isn’t made very clear. However, that doesn’t apparently stop Ensign Chekov from spotting the alien’s almost imperceptible blue blip on the Enterprise’s incredibly colourful energy scan following the “security officer in-training” supposedly watching endless old footage of previous attacks upon the constitution-class starship as part of his schooling. Such a fortuitous observation smacks of lazy writing and is as believable as Spock needing to remind the Bridge Crew as to just who Zephram Cochrane is during a conference, despite some of the characters having already met the “pivotal figure in Human history” on an isolated asteroid during the 1967 televised episode “Metamorphosis”.

Writer: Jim McCann, Artist: Angel Hernandez, and Colourist: Fran Gamboa 

Friday, 15 January 2021

King-Size Conan #1 [Part Two] - Marvel Comics

KING-SIZE CONAN No. 1, December 2020
Potentially providing this anthology with perhaps its most emotional story is “Die By The Sword” by Chris Claremont, which rather intriguingly restricts itself to just an hour or two of time during the titular character’s tenure fighting for Yezdigerd of Turan against the Hyrkanian Nomads. This ten-page mini-saga initially seems to be all about the Cimmerian’s somewhat lengthy sword-fight with a female opponent who almost bests him with her lighting speed during the duo’s close combat. But then completely changes tempo, once the adventurer finally manages to deal a killing blow, and subsequently encounters the deceased's mortally wounded daughter during the chaotic battle’s aftermath.

Spurred on to try and make her final moments more bearable by trying to rationalise just why fate has been so cruel to the young girl’s dreams, Conan admittedly doesn’t deliver his viewpoint of the world as tenderly as the woman-child might want, courtesy of his gruff dismissal of the injured adolescent’s gods. However, the mercenary does stay with the increasingly weakening teenager until she finally dies beside him, admitting to her that he would enjoy sharing “a flask of ale” with both the youngster and her mother “in the next life…”

By far this book’s longest fable time-span wise is Kevin Eastman’s “Requiem”, which deals with the Cimmerian’s revenge upon a group of bandits who slaughter the village he was recently recuperating at. Disappointingly falling into the trap of simply turning the Sword and Sorcery hero into an unstoppable axe-wielding killing machine who single-handedly wades into the heavily-armed brigand’s camp without a care in the world, this rather unimaginative narrative isn’t debatably helped by the co-creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles pencilling the tale too with his rather recognisable idiosyncratic art style.

Rounding off this comic-bound celebration, and possibly the best of the bunch, is the distinctly creepy “Ship Of The Damned” as penned by American screenwriter Steven S. DeKnight. Beautifully illustrated by Jesus Saiz, this feast for the eyes provides a palpable taste of horror for its audience as Belit boards a rudderless hulk possessed with all manner of macabre spirits, and only really disappoints with its ending which intimates that Conan knew his beloved was destined to die well before she met her gory end in Robert E. Howard's 1934 novelette “Queen of the Black Coast”, yet deliberately didn't tell the female pirate.

The variant cover art of "KING-SIZE CONAN" #1 by Carlos Pacheco

Wednesday, 13 January 2021

Star Trek: Year Five #17 - IDW Publishing

STAR TREK: YEAR FIVE No. 17, November 2020
Promising “the super-secret origin of Gary Seven” in its solicitation blurb, Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly’s storyline for this “stand-alone spy thriller” probably pleased many of the comic’s readers during its opening half, thanks to the showrunners’ script filling in many of the background gaps left behind by the popular character’s sole appearance in the science fiction franchise’s 1968 televised episode “Assignment: Earth”. In fact, up until the time-travelling secret agent’s inexplicably bizarre agreement to destroy all life in the galaxy, Issue Seventeen of “Star Trek: Year Five” would arguably appear to be an essential purchase for any Trekkie fascinated as to how the eyes of Aegis turned upon Caleb Howell five days after the man’s thirty-fifth birthday.

For starters, this twenty-page periodical provides an intriguing insight into Supervisor 194’s blissful life before he left 408 Monroe Drive to take up his code name, and then subsequently depicts how he first met “your recruiter, your partner, and, if you’ll have me… your friend” Isis. The duo’s early missions are also particularly well-summarised, with Seven’s involvement in such notable historical events as the Sarajevo assassination, Genghis Khan’s Mongol invasion and First Contact with the Vulcans endowing this edition with some mouth-watering glimpses as to just how heavily Gary influenced the shaping of Mankind’s pathway to the stars.

Sadly however, this enthralling expose debatably rockets straight off of its rails following the Class One supervisor’s return from his aforementioned adventure with Captain James Kirk and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise. Clearly impressed with the Federation Officer, Seven is suddenly floored to find out that his ever-present feline comrade-in-arms has been manipulating him the entire time they’ve been working together in order to ready him for his real mission – the total destruction of the entire human race and everything else, apart from the Tholians.

This nonsensical narrative comes completely out of the blue, and raises so many questions as to just why the super-powered operative was tasked to protect the Earth in the first place. To make matters worse though, having realised that his entire life has been one big lie, Gary instantly shrugs off these decades of deceit and whole-heartedly agrees to join Isis in her illogical plan to eradicate Kirk simply so the Klingons, Dominion and Borg never have a conflict with humanity.; “Eons of war… A death toll far greater than any that could be imagined. All because of those… tool-using apes.”

Writers: Jackson Lanzing & Collin Kelly, and Artist: J.K. Woodward

King-Size Conan #1 [Part One] - Marvel Comics

KING-SIZE CONAN No. 1, December 2020
Described by “Marvel Worldwide” as an oversized “special spanning the breadth of Conan’s life and times by the most dazzling array of creative talent ever assembled to tread the jewelled thrones of the Earth”, this celebratory comic probably still fell a little short of its readers’ expectations when it hit the spinner-racks in December 2020. Indeed, by limiting itself to escapades which are nestled hard up against some of Robert E. Howard’s most famous literary adventures, the concept behind such an anthology had arguably already infuriatingly hamstrung its numerous authors to provide its sword and sorcery fans with anything resembling an exciting adventure, before they had so much as put pen to paper.

For starters, the “can’t-miss Conan comic of the decade” begins with a ten-page long plot which leads directly into the first ever issue of the Cimmerian’s exploits, “originally published precisely half a century ago.” Described by Roy Thomas as being “more a vignette than a story” the yarn admittedly does a fair job explaining just why the inexperienced barbarian originally decided to visit a few of the world’s corners following his involvement in the infamous Battle of Venarium, as well as rationalising the youth’s somewhat bizarre choice in adornments and armament; “The [horned] helmet was my far-wandering grandsire’s. And Rion -- was like a big brother to me.” However, despite artist Steve McNiven dynamically pencilling Conan subsequently walking smack into a Vanir ambush en route to see the blond-haired people’s leader Olav, the truncated plot ends very abruptly with the bloody skirmish having only just started and the antagonist literally about to properly whet his blade.

Perhaps therefore far more satisfying is Kurt Busiek’s “In The City Of Thieves”, which very much acts as a precursor to Howard’s highly popular 1933 classic fable “The Tower Of The Elephant” by having the young Cimmerian disappointingly sit out an opportunity to encounter an aspiring wizard’s pet demons during his time in Zamora. Unwilling to take up a well-paid offer to guard the fledgling magic user whilst the student conjures up a chittering cloud of lethal sprites, the Boston-born writer instead has our titular hero arrive far too late to save the day, and rather disappointingly just depicts him looting the hapless deceased of their treasure before skulking off to investigate the rumours surrounding Yara’s mysterious citadel.

The original cover art of "KING-SIZE CONAN" #1 by Andrew C. Robinson

Tuesday, 12 January 2021

Iron Man [2020] #4 - Marvel Comics

IRON MAN No. 4, February 2021
Starting with a demoralised Tony Stark being interviewed by the New York media over the sudden disappearance of his long-term friend James Rhodes, Christopher Cantwell’s script for “The Man With The Golden Arms” more than likely had some of its readers scrambling through the ongoing series’ back issues to see whether they had somehow missed an edition or two. For whilst the twenty-page periodical’s plot does an okay job in quickly explaining that War Machine’s alter-ego has apparently been abducted by the “cut-rate android” Michael Korvac as a deterrent to thwart Iron Man’s meddling in the cosmic entity’s plans, the comic never explains just how the U.S. Armed Forces Commander was kidnapped, nor how this event directly follows on from this book’s previous instalment which left both Shell-head and Hellcat apparently at their enemy’s mercy following them receiving a massive electrical discharge.

Instead, Issue Four of “Iron Man” simply takes up with the contrived narrative that Korvac allowed his opponents to live, even though he clearly thought the titular character was such a threat to his machinations that he needed the Controller to help snatch Rhodes, and will apparently kill his prisoner if Tony attempts “to bring in help.” Of course, even the arrogant billionaire inventor isn’t quite so egotistical as to believe he can tackle the cyborg “with mega-lightning powers” alone. But rather than apparently risk involving the Avengers, the Fantastic Four or “Xavier’s people on Krakoa”, the hero rather unconvincingly argues that it would be in James’ best interest if he fought the former “Wielder of the Power Cosmic” with nothing more than a group of “fringe” vigilantes; “I don’t even know if these people could win against the Phillies.” 

Perhaps this comic’s biggest disappointment however, is in its portrayal of a love-sick Patsy Walker, who despite suffering “insane fractal burns on my face” and disconcertingly hearing a strange voice in her head, decides the best course of action will be to start a romantic relationship with a man she has persistently criticised and scolded since she was first introduced into the storyline. In addition, Cantwell would have his audience believe that somehow Korvac has established a strong telepathic link with Hellcat, to the point that he physically takes over the Defender whilst she is helping Stark recruit his ‘new team’ and makes a complete mockery of any aspiration Tony has of surprising Michael with his "off the radar" rescuers.

The regular cover art of "IRON MAN" #4 by Alex Ross

Monday, 11 January 2021

Warhammer 40,000: Marneus Calgar #2 - Marvel Comics

WARHAMMER 40,000: MARNEUS CALGAR No. 2, December 2020
Focusing far more upon just how an adolescent Marneus Calgar prepared himself for the Astartes tests under the instructor Crixus than the Chapter Master of the Ultramarines’ current battle against the Forces of Chaos on Nova Thulium, Kieron Gillen’s narrative for this twenty-page periodical caused quite a bit of controversy amongst fans of the Warhammer 40,000 tabletop game when it originally hit the spinner racks in November 2020. For whilst the British author arguably does an excellent job of providing this comic’s audience with a thoroughly riveting read, courtesy of some surprisingly dark treachery on the Agri-world’s moon, the writer also takes “one of the franchise’s most beloved characters” in an entirely new direction by having the twelve year-old shockingly die in the arms of his best friend at the very end of the book; “No, Tacitan. It is over. I am over. I… Marneus Calgar will never be a space marine.”

This act of ultimate betrayal by the adolescent’s bitterly twisted trainer is admittedly a little disconcerting at first, with this twenty-page periodical seemingly therefore depicting the beloved Lord of Macragge as being an ignoble imposter rather than the high-born heir to “the richest house on the planet”. However, such a potential mass cover-up is quickly shown to be nothing of the sort as the Lord Defender of Greater Ultramar quite openly talks about how he took on the name of his closest companion to “little Quintus” Heximar following the true Calgar’s demise, and even goes as far as to show the Adept the impressive family statue dedicated to the deceased youth who “died… in service of the Emperor.”

In addition, the shocking casualty certainly makes some sense story-wise considering the would-be marine Marneus and his ferociously-loyal serf Tacitan are superbly pencilled by American artist Jacen Burrows haplessly stumbling upon their treasonous team-mates’ nightmarish temple to the Blood God Khorne with no weapons apart from a small knife and a couple of lanterns. Surrounded by a sizeable number of ‘brain-washed’ trainees, their barking mad mentor and over half a dozen cybernetically-enhanced Chaos acolytes, this comic’s narrative would debatably appear far too contrived if the two unarmed boys managed to escape the turncoats’ deadly underground trap with nothing but a couple of bruises and cuts.

Writer: Kieron Gillen, Artist: Jacen Burrows, and Colorist Java Tartaglia

Friday, 8 January 2021

Mississippi Zombie #2 [Part Two] - Caliber Comics

MISSISSIPPI ZOMBIE #2, November 2020
Setting up a strong second half for this corpse-laden compilation is “Return To Horn Island” by Marcus H. Roberts. Clearly penned as something of a sequel to “Zombie Attack On Horn Island” from this title’s previous volume, this twelve-pager rather neatly weaves America’s current obsession with building a great wall “to protect the country and its citizens” with the fate of a man whose great great grandmother somehow managed to survive the aforementioned assault on the nation’s earliest settlers by an old witch woman.

Dynamically drawn by Dan Gorman, this yarn doesn’t debatably contain any surprises for those fear-fans familiar with Roberts’ earlier adventure, as it seems clear from the very start that the military’s decision to turn the island into a safe haven for evacuees isn’t going to go down terribly well with its brain-eating inhabitants; especially when the General decides to split his forces so as to get the clearance job done in double-quick time. But it is still enormously entertaining watching as the elite seal team soon realise that their automatic weapons are no match for a horde of flesh-eating creatures who can tear a man’s still beating heart from out of his chest despite the soldier wearing advanced body armour.

Alfred Paige’s “C.H.E.S.S.: The Dead” is similarly as straightforward in its story-telling, with the Indie comic book creator penning a piece about a pair of super-skilled operatives being helicoptered into a crisis-hit chemical laboratory on a rescue mission to save a family friend of their director. Unsurprisingly, carnivorous cadavers abound throughout the ominously dilapidated facility, and need dispatching ‘toot sweet’ if Mary Maise is ever going to be located safe and well. However, it is the lead protagonist’s excellent interplay with one another alongside John Epple’s highly stylised artwork, which really makes this narrative’s opening instalment essential reading for zombie-loving maniacs.

Finally bringing this gore-filled graphic novel to an end is Jonathan Hedrick’s “Freakshow Princess”. Initially appearing to contain a quite simplistic tale of a woman and her pet dog somehow surviving the apocalypse inside their claustrophobic bungalow, courtesy of the now dead Chris’s procrastination in building the dwelling a functioning garden deck, this deeply demoralising story ends with a tragic twist which really pains the heart, and probably brought many within the book’s audience back down to Earth with a resoundingly loud bump; “The freaks found a way in! She’s starving. I have been so worried about feeding myself that I neglected her.”

Writers: Marcus H. Roberts, Alfred Paige & Jonathan Hedrick

Thursday, 7 January 2021

Dune: House Atreides #3 - BOOM! Studios

DUNE: HOUSE ATREIDES No. 3, December 2020
Somewhat disconcertingly a comic of five distinctive parts, this twenty-two page periodical’s flow is repeatedly truncated by the book simply providing a short-lived awareness as to the ‘goings-on’ at one specific location before suddenly upending its readers and depositing them upon another planet entirely. True, such siloed storytelling does mean that Issue Three of “Dune: House Atreides” contains a handful of dramatic cliff-hangers with which to ensnare its audience for future instalments. But it also strongly suggests that this particular mini-series is probably much more suited to being enjoyed as a complete trade paperback, rather than the lengthy, twelve-part episodic format “BOOM! Studios” have decided to present it in for now.

Luckily, each compartmentalised insight is still extremely well-penned by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson, and definitely holds the attention, whether the perusing bibliophile be a fan of House Harkonnen, Pardot Kynes, Duncan Idaho or Leto Atriedes. Indeed, arguably every leading cast member is very well-served within this comic, as the writing duo appear to go to great lengths to award them both plenty of limelight and some quite noticeable character development; “The Sisterhood has issued their instructions. And I must obey… You must impregnate me. Rest assured, this will not be pleasant for either of us.”

Foremost of these moments is that involving the future Swordmaster of the Ginaz, and his harrowing efforts to escape being fatally recaptured by his Harkonnen captors on Giedi Prime. Armed only with “a knife, hand-light, [and] a few metres of rope”, the recently orphaned adolescent demonstrates all of the fighting savvy he will become famous for in Frank Herbert’s original 1965 novel by painfully removing his tracker implant from his back and using it as bait for a particularly nasty trap. Wonderfully pencilled by Dev Pramanik, there’s a palpable vulnerability to this sequence’s early panels, which soon hardens into deadly determination once the boy resolves to stand and fight, rather than give Glossu Rabban the pulse-pounding pursuit “The Beast” desires.

Likewise, the Imperial Planetologist on Arrakis is similarly well-served by the authors and comic book artist during his data collection in the vast open desert. Initially seeming utterly occupied by his job to discover how life somehow manages to survive on the supposedly waterless world, Kynes suddenly demonstrates a surprising savagery when the ‘scholar’ shockingly takes sides with an outnumbered group of Fremen against a band of Harkonnen thugs, and literally guts a handful of the barbaric antagonists with his blade before they even know what has hit them.

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

Wednesday, 6 January 2021

Mississippi Zombie #2 [Part One] - Caliber Comics

MISSISSIPPI ZOMBIE #2, November 2020
Offering an enjoyable continuation of the zombie menace within the Mississippi region, Bradley Golden’s second anthology of horror centred entirely within the thirty-second largest state of America certainly packs its pages with plenty of brain-chomping terror and thought-provoking adventure. Indeed, the graphic novel’s creator even goes so far as to cram in both a sequel story to this title’s original volume following a modern-day military expedition's unwise decision to pay Horn Island a visit, as well as a couple of exciting cliff-hangers which will doubtless have this book’s buyers clamouring for more details as to when the third volume of “Mississippi Zombie” will be released.

First up however is a quite delightful visit to the glorious Gulfport Beach to meet this weighty tome’s bikini-clad narrator nonchalantly drinking a fruit-laden cocktail whilst the long-haired decaying corpse enjoys watching some crows peck away at the remnants of a man’s dismembered cadaver. Toasty hot and glamourous in her gruesomeness, the skeletal-faced ‘babe’ sets the publication’s somewhat morbid-humoured ambiance as she encourages the local “beefcake” to run screaming for their lives with just her perplexing presence on the shore.

Equally as dark, though somewhat lengthier than the long-dead chronicler’s all-too brief appearance, is the quite personal account of Doctor Madison Wilde in “I Did It All For Him”. Penned by Travis Gibb, this penitentiary-based nightmare depicts just how the utterly deluded prisoner manages to orchestrate his “largest controlled experiment” to date inside an incarceration facility following the discovery that his son has been transformed into a zombie. Intriguingly drip fed details of the disgraced medical practitioner’s plan bit by bit, this gruesome yarn genuinely gets the periodical off to an enthralling start, and is arguably only let down by some of Juan Pablo Milto’s somewhat unclear, scratchy-looking panels.

Somewhat easier on the eye though is the action-packed “Butcher Brothers” written by Lou Graziani. Boiled down to its most basic level, this eleven-pager just follows the two heavily-armed siblings as they gorily tear through a horde of the undead with all-manner of close combat weapons, and debatably seems to just be an excuse for Florentino Santibanez to demonstrate his insane, slightly Rob Liefeld-like pencilling. Packed full of pulse-pounding splash panels depicting the duo mercilessly chopping up their grisly opponents into ghastly bits, it’s no wonder the tale concludes just as reinforcements arrive with the text box “to be continued…”

Writers: Travis Gibb & Lou Graziani, and Penciler/Artist: Juan Pablo Milto & Florentino Santibanez

Tuesday, 5 January 2021

Batman/Superman [2019] #13 - DC Comics

BATMAN/SUPERMAN No. 13, December 2020
It is difficult to imagine that many of this comic’s 31,000 readers in October 2020 didn’t get caught up in the pulse-pounding pace of Joshua Williamson’s plot for Issue Thirteen of “Batman/Superman”. For whether they be a fan of just the titular characters or this twenty-two page periodical’s guest-stars – Steel and Batwoman, the almost endless series of nefarious knockdowns, titanic tussles with mechanical arch-nemeses and brutal bouts of cybernetically-enhanced boxing, surely must have sated the pugilistic desires of even the most voracious bibliophile; “…It is clear your battles are never-ending. I must act quickly if I am to truly help you put an end to your enemies. You have passed many of my tests.”

Arguably leading this foray into some superbly-penned shenanigans is the half-blinded Batman, who despite being manacled upside-down by the robotic Prince of Puzzles, reveals just why he is both a formidable fighter and the World’s Greatest Detective by besting the android Nygma in a brutal game of Chess. Grim-faced, badly injured, yet still a formidable combination of brain and brawn, the Dark Knight absolutely tears through every trial Braniac's seemingly homicidal computer program can throw at him, and demonstrates just why the Caped Crusader is “listed among the greatest comic book superheroes… ever created.”

Similarly as impressive, at least as far as his ability to brutalise his motorised opponents, is Clark Kent’s alter-ego, who for once is given the opportunity to “enjoy the freedom to unleash your full power” upon his hapless foes. Superman’s action-packed sequences may well lack much of the mental agility depicted within his cowled team-mate’s scenes. But that doesn’t mean the Kryptonian wants for thought-provoking conundrums, especially when he is literally stopped dead in his tracks by his artificially-enhanced antagonist’s query as to why he doesn’t save Lex Luthor if he already realises that the people who raised the Metropolis businessman “would rather hurt him than teach him kindness.”

Also adding an enormous amount of bang to this book’s buck is Max Raynor’s dynamic and highly-animated pencilling. The artist’s layouts really help speed along this publication’s story-telling, and then provide its audience with the occasional splash-page long pause so as to help them gather their wits before hurling them head-first back into the awesome action.

Writer: Joshua Williamson, Artist: Max Raynor and Colorist: Alejandro Sanchez

Sunday, 3 January 2021

Conan The Barbarian #17 - Marvel Comics

CONAN THE BARBARIAN No. 17, February 2021
Whilst this book’s basic scenario of a lone warrior becoming possessed by their bloodthirsty weapon has debatably been done many times before, Jim Zub’s take on this ‘tried and tested’ fantasy trope still manages to deliver a few innovative nuances within Issue Seventeen of “Conan The Barbarian” which must have pleased the majority of those fans familiar with Robert E. Howard’s original pulp fiction character. Indeed, the Cimmerian’s famous honourable code of conduct would appear to be central to this publication’s plot, as the titular character seems to completely ignore the early warnings that the Tooth of the Nightstar is not all it seems, simply so he can “complete Naru-Li’s mission of returning the sword to Maltus-Ral -- Naru-Li’s mentor and the blade’s rightful owner…”

Furthermore, the Canadian author adds an additional element to this twenty-page periodical’s story-telling by depicting precisely what “the noble savage” is actually seeing and feeling whenever Conan falls under the increasingly strong influence of the weapon he “liberated from the Uttara Kuru leadership”. These increasingly disconcerting insights into the malignant magic afflicting the barbarian really are rather disturbing, especially once they go beyond mere re-imaginings of the real world surrounding him and artist Robert Gill’s prodigious pencilling hurls the adventurer towards a demonic furnace situated at the very heart of some fiery fortification built of bone, skulls, brimstone and ash; “The forge is near. The Forge of Fear. The forge is made of sin. The blood is brought. The rage is wrought. A weapon forged within.”

Zub’s writing also arguably provides a good sense of the internal conflict taking place within the Sword and Sorcery hero’s head. As highlighted in the comic itself “the Cimmerian senses foul magic in the air” when his “gaze rests a moment upon the blood-tinged metal”, and for an instant Conan’s formidable strength of will would appear to have prevailed as he angrily abandons the Nightstar to the ever-enclosing woodland about him. However, the warrior quickly fools himself into believing he actually needs to have the sword if he is ever going to survive the dangers of the strange land he’s currently traversing, completely forgetting that he could always have taken the double-headed axe of the bandit he blindly dispatched just moments before forsaking the haunting piece of sharpened steel.

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

Friday, 1 January 2021

Doctor Who: Time Lord Victorious #2 - Titan Comics

DOCTOR WHO: TIME LORD VICTORIOUS No. 2, November 2020
Despite pitching the Tenth Doctor and the Daleks together against a common foe, Jody Houser’s narrative for Issue Two of “Doctor Who: Time Lord Victorious” probably contained far less action than its 6,000 readers anticipated. Indeed, apart from an all-too brief confrontation between the oddly rusty Prime Strategist and a lone Hond scout, not a single gunstick is fired in anger until this forty-four page periodical’s end, when unsurprisingly the extra-terrestrial pepper-pots turn upon their former ally in order to eliminate him; “The Doctooor is no longer of use to the Daleks. Exterminate!”

Up until this point, the bloated book’s plot predominantly focuses upon the fast-talking time traveller and his dilapidated guide to the Vault of Obscenities simply discussing how to access the derelict building’s “power not seen by any Dalek in living memory” and its weaponry’s subsequent use to defeat "the primordial ooze given sentience as an embodiment of the concept of pain.” Such a lengthy conversation might somehow manage to work on the small screen given actor David Tennant’s remarkable energy and a dynamic music score with which to underpin any tension the long-winded, word-heavy sequence was trying to convey. But in the medium of a comic it debatably just plays out as a seemingly endless carousel of well-pencilled panels portraying the brown-suited Gallifreyan pontificating about all life in the galaxy being of prime importance.

In addition, the presence of a lone Hond advanced guard on Skaro makes little sense when the publication’s entire purpose is to supposedly tell the story of how the titular character stopped the Dark Times terrors from ever reaching the Dalek’s home world; especially when it is intimated that if they did so then the universe would come to an end. To make matters worse though, it is never explained how the ‘immortal slime’ is in a position to tear its way up from the bowels of the planet straight into the most heavily-guarded fortification that Davros’ creations have ever built. The unkillable creature just suddenly appears in the Vault’s epicentre and starts up a conversation with its two enemies.

Perhaps this comic’s biggest disappointment however comes with its inclusion of the Thirteenth Doctor to supposedly save both her former incarnation’s bacon and ultimately, the day. Nonchalantly stood waiting for her predecessor to run by whilst being chased by a posse of angry Daleks, the apparently omnipotent blonde-haired “live wire” doesn’t actually do anything but run down a few corridors alongside herself. Yet the adventurer’s condescending arrogance and dislikeable demure strongly suggests that if she hadn’t shown up at the last minute, the Tenth Doctor would somehow have failed to escape from his gun-toting mechanical pursuers…

The regular cover art of "DOCTOR WHO: TIME LORD VICTORIOUS" #1 by Andie Tong