Sunday, 28 February 2021

Rom: Dire Wraiths #3 - IDW Publishing

ROM: DIRE WRAITHS No. 3, October 2020
Published almost eleven months to the day when the mini-series’ opening instalment was first released, Chris Ryall’s script for Issue Three of “Rom: Dire Wraiths” was arguably worth its long wait considering just how action-packed its concluding narrative is. In fact, the nineteen-page periodical’s plot flows so fast towards its fulfilling finale that some within the comic’s audience probably felt that the former President of “IDW Publishing” could possibly have ‘squeezed’ at least another edition or two out of his book’s premise that the entire 1969 moon landing was almost disastrously eaten by a pack of slavering Dire Wraiths.

 As it stands however, the surviving extra-terrestrial antagonists found within this magazine are rather uncharacteristically easy for the ‘fleshbag’ humans to overcome, with one particularly formidable-looking specimen actually running away from his space-suited prey after it becomes abundantly evident that the sharp-toothed alien isn’t quite as strong as its hulking size would suggest; “But I can’t help notice you’re blustering a lot more than you are attacking! By all rights, you should’ve cracked me open like a Maine lobster but I’m still up and around.”

Enjoyably though, the astronauts’ ability to physically intimidate and later tactically outwit their multi-eyed opponents doesn’t debatably stop either Ryall’s storyline or illustrator Ron Joseph’s astonishing good artwork from being any less entertaining, as these elements actually provide the opportunity for some marvellously tense action-packed set-pieces, such as Sandra Shen getting the better of a Dire Wraith sorcerer on board the Adventure-One Satellite, or the space mission’s commander courageously ordering one of his fellow cosmonaut’s to kill him with a technologically-advanced laser rifle before the hapless hero can be consumed alive by one of the ravenous aliens.

Correspondingly as compelling is this comic’s secondary story, “One Small Step For A Spaceknight”, which does a good job of explaining just how Rom somehow magically managed to be in orbit of the Earth’s moon at just the right moment to save Apollo 11 from a truly grisly fate. Dynamically drawn by Guy Dorian Senior and Maria Keane, this five-pager’s highlight is witnessing the ursine member of the Solstar Order, Nikomi, unselfishly sacrificing himself to be abandoned alone in outer space, so as to ensure his armoured friend was able to save Mankind from the Dire Wraith threat.

The regular cover art of "ROM: DIRE WRAITHS" #3 by Luca Pizzari

Saturday, 27 February 2021

Warhammer 40,000: Marneus Calgar #4 - Marvel Comics

WARHAMMER 40,000: MARNEUS CALGAR No. 4, April 2021
Marvellously mixing the titular character’s rise to becoming a Space Marine “hundreds of years earlier” with the ‘present-day’ events on Nova Thulium, Kieron Gillen’s narrative for Issue Four of “Warhammer 40,000: Marneus Calgar” arguably doesn’t give its audience time to breathe until towards its very end when the humble Neophyte faces a final test at the hands of a ruthless Inquisitor. And even then, the tense atmosphere generated by the deeply disconcerting agent’s conversation concerning Tacitan’s previous contact with Crixus’ Khorne Cult, is so palpable that the vast majority of this comic’s readers were probably too busy holding their breath to inhale any air anyway.

Indeed, the Inkpot Award-winner does an excellent job within this twenty-two page periodical’s plot of perpetually hurling any perusing bibliophile straight into the very heart of the action, whether that be Marneus’ retaking of the Calgar Estates from an army of Chaos Heretics or the detailed depiction of the adolescent aspirant desperately defying all the odds to overcome the xenos threat of an Ambull, the slaughter of servitors, and an attack by Orks; “The University of Death. I learned many things from many teachers. I survived when men died. I realised that is what makes a Space Marine.”

Happily however, all this bloodshed and carnage hasn’t simply been assembled just to pad out the publication, but actually strives to show how violent an upbringing the Chapter Master of the Ultramarines had, and how those gore-soaked experiences helped shape him into the killing machine he eventually becomes. This character-building is perhaps best seen when the Lord of Macragge is shown to willingly face down an enormous Helbrute who had literally just torn asunder one of his battle-brothers, without either of his hearts skipping a beat.

Jacen Burrows pencils Calgar as actually seeming to relish the opportunity to confront such a truly terrifying Chaos Dreadnought, so the San Diego-born artist’s subsequent illustrations of the legendary Space Marine’s rise from a gaunt-looking boy into such an icon of the Emperor makes for a truly mesmerising experience, especially as his ascension is documented alongside all the surgical enhancements his initially feeble physical body withstands. In fact, for those Warhammer 40,000 fan-boys fascinated by the numerous organ enhancements and adaptions which take place upon an Adeptus Astartes Neophyte, this comic book is the ideal place to ponder them.

The regular cover art of "WARHAMMER 40,000: MARNEUS CALGAR" #4 by James Stokoe

Thursday, 25 February 2021

Lytton #2 - Cutaway Comics

LYTTON No. 2, December 2020
Absolutely packed full of enthralling conundrums and nerve-wracking plot-twists, Eric Saward’s narrative for Issue Two of “Lytton” should readily hook any fan of the former “Doctor Who” Script Editor’s work from the comic’s very opening, in which Charlie Wilson nonchalantly mentions to his enigmatic boss that he’s already shipped some inconvenient corpses “to Afghanistan in a sealed container.” Indeed, the bodyguard’s imperturbable attitude towards all the death and utterly bizarre destruction occurring around him is one of this twenty-eight page periodical’s greatest draws, whether the Vietnam veteran is staring open-mouthed at the disconcerting demise of the robotic Miss L, being partially eaten by a hungry Space Louse, or thoroughly enjoying himself battering a pair of homicidal constables and then subsequently running for his life; “I’m enjoyin’ this. Didn’t realise I was so fit. We need to get off this road. Those Policemen won't be down for long.”

Similarly as successfully penned is this book’s titular character, who exudes all the arrogant charm and assertive confidence which made him so popular when portrayed on television by the late Maurice Colbourne in the mid-Eighties. Gustave’s apparent knowledge of the deranged “space traveller” Longbody, as well as his evident familiarity with a portal to a parallel Earth, definitely raises more questions within the audience’s mind than they answer. But that just makes his repeated need for Wilson’s presence all the more intriguingly troubling, especially when things start to happen which the straight-backed mercenary was clearly not anticipating, such as his chance encounter with Astro-physicist Artemis Brown and a time slip bricking up the entranceway to the underground tube tunnel Lytton was trying to escape from.

Also adding enormously to this comic’s extra-dimensional ambiance is Barry Renshaw’s garishly coloured pencils, energetic layouts and genuinely creepy viewpoints of the adventure as it unfolds before the readers' eyes. The Liverpool artist really manages to capture the standoffish stiffness of this mini-series’ leading man from Riften 5, whilst simultaneously showing that he can equally be every bit the action hero a situation requires by dynamically sketching him sprinting through spatial doorways after his work colleague, unloading his pistol upon a particularly nasty-looking spectral amoeba and haring down heavily-tiled corridors as they collapse about his ears.
The regular cover art of "LYTTON" #2 by Barry Renshaw

Tuesday, 23 February 2021

Shang-Chi #4 - Marvel Comics

SHANG-CHI No. 4, February 2021
Rather nicely mixing the modern day values of this mini-series’ titular character with the mythical past of his ancestors, Gene Luen Yang’s narrative for Issue Four of “Shang-Chi” probably surprised many within its audience courtesy of its somewhat sympathetic portrayal of the evil sorcerer, Zheng Zhu. For whilst it is the Master of Kung Fu’s long-dead uncle, Zheng Yi, which this twenty-page periodical’s plot actually focuses upon, it is the ghost’s recollection of the Five Weapons Society’s fall in 1860 at the hands of Baron Harkness and the subsequent revelation that “Fu Manchu” lied about stealing his late brother’s spirit energy in order to inspire fear, which arguably leaves a lasting mark upon the audience.

Indeed, the American author seems to positively delight in wrong-footing any perusing bibliophile with this book’s narrative by repeatedly switching the existing relationships between its central characters, such as the stoically loyal Takeshi suddenly losing his infectious faith that the former MI-6 operative should single-handedly lead his secret society following Chi's half-brother being given a vision of Shang's dark future by a multi-limbed tomb guardian; “Before I eat your face meat, want to hear my secret? Master Zheng Zu’s spirit commanded me to let Hand go! First Hand defeats Hammer! Then Hand becomes Commander! Then Earth burns to ashes! Master Zheng Zu’s revenge!”  

Yang is also very good at intertwining a significantly spiritual storyline with plenty of pulse-pounding pugilism. Admittedly, the battle against the aforementioned Chimera-like creature in a cave buried deep beneath Henan Province in China, is arguably this comic’s action-packed highlight. But there’s also the shockingly swift defeat of MI-5’s reconnaissance squad at the House of the Deadly Staff to enjoy, following the covert operations team’s unwise decision to change their mission goal and attempt to arrest “a gang of illegals who fight with sticks!”

Equally as responsible for this publication’s success as its penmanship is the artwork of Dike Ruan and Philip Tan, who between them do a stellar job of imbuing even the most sedentary of scenes set at Zheng Yi’s gravesite with mesmerising life. Of particular note are Tan’s layouts depicting Lord Dormammu’s Mindless Ones demolishing Zheng Zu’s super-powered defenders during the Nineteenth Century Opium War, and in many ways it is a real pity that the Manila-born illustrator isn’t given more sheet space with which to sketch such a sensational-looking sequence.

The regular cover art of "SHANG-CHI" #4 by Bernard Chang

Monday, 22 February 2021

Star Trek: Year Five #19 - IDW Publishing

STAR TREK: YEAR FIVE No. 19, January 2021
Predominantly focusing upon the Starfleet surgeon Leonard McCoy, as well as the ship-based shenanigans of Hikaru Sulu and Pavel Chekov, Jim McCann’s script for Issue Nineteen of “Star Trek: Year Five” certainly contains plenty of nervy emotional suspense and pulse-pounding phaser action. Indeed, almost every scene within the twenty-page periodical ends on some sort of dramatic cliff-hanger, whether it be the Enterprise’s Chief Medical Officer demanding to be released from an isolation cell so he can lead the investigation into the “pandemic raging across Alpha Centauri”, or one of the senior helmsman’s many corridor-confining confrontations with the homicidal shape-shifter Isis.

Disappointingly however, any reader willing to scratch just below the surface of this comic’s high-octane antics will arguably soon find a highly illogical plot which seems to have been manufactured simply so the book sets a pleasing pace, and everybody, apart from a bucket load of hapless ‘Red Shirts’ savagely torn asunder by Gary Seven’s feline friend, has something reasonably exciting to both do and say; “Damn it, Jim, I’m a Doctor, not a lab rat. If you’ve got questions, come in and ask me.”

To begin with, the Eisner-winning writer’s storyline involving Bones debatably makes little to no sense, considering that the ‘old country doctor’ starts the instalment angrily berating his Commanding Officer for locking him up following the physician’s accidental exposure to a deadly virus. Considering that James Kirk went to some quite extraordinary lengths to protect his shipmate, the skipper’s immediate decision to then release Leonard back to the planet's surface without any further debate appears strangely out of character for the Federation’s youngest Starship captain, and proves as head-scratching a conundrum as the plague’s highly unlikely cure which can simply be delivered by having a human breathe over its victims..?

Similarly as contrived is Sulu and Chekov’s victory over the seemingly invincible Isis. The psychotic killer has repeatedly shown herself to be virtually indestructible when in her Tholian form. Yet Hikaru almost nonchalantly puts her out of commission by somehow breaking the alien’s arm in hand-to-hand combat, whilst phaser beams and Starfleet security guards are flying all over the place. This unlikely success doesn’t sit well at all considering just how many other participants also tried to physically overpower Seven’s “pet cat” during the fracas and were all lethally disembowelled once they got within touching distance of the extra-terrestrial’s crystalline claws.

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

Friday, 19 February 2021

Conan The Barbarian #18 - Marvel Comics

CONAN THE BARBARIAN No. 18, March 2021
Almost exclusively focusing upon the history behind the Tooth of the Nightstar, as well as the mystic blade’s malevolent hold over its long line of wielders, Jim Zub’s narrative for Issue Eighteen of “Conan The Barbarian” certainly contains just the sort of concoction of bloody duelling and magical machinations fans of Robert E. Howard’s Sword and Sorcery hero would probably expect. However, whilst this twenty-page periodical’s plot depicts some truly haunting images as to the hand-weapon’s forging, and its subsequent journey through the ages from warrior to warrior, it is arguably hard not to shake the feeling that much of the Joe Shuster Canadian Comic Award-winner’s storytelling would have simply been contained within a black-and-white double-splash illustration during the Seventies, rather than pad out an entire publication.

Indeed, large sections of this comic seem to be solely dedicated to just reshowing the reader the hallucinogenic influence the eternally-glowing foil has over the adventurer’s mind which has previously been seen in this distended tale’s previous instalment; “Now beset on all sides by horrifying creatures he can barely fathom the Cimmerian knows what he must do.” Such repetition undoubtedly reinforces the malignant power stored deep inside the living sword “liberated from the Uttara Kuru leadership”, but it also swiftly becomes a tad boring too, as Conan cuts a swathe through another supposed horde of demonic foes only to resultantly find himself staring upon a hapless caravan of badly-butchered innocent travellers.

Thankfully though, Zub’s lengthy flashback sequences do debatably still contain the odd gem of interest and innovation, with the writer penning a truly disconcerting death for the weapon’s maker at the hands of a goblin-like, hooded apprentice. This marvellously savage scene readily captures the treachery bound within the Tooth of the Nightstar, and is skilfully sketched by Luca Pizzari. In fact, despite the artist pencilling some astonishing panels packed full of sense-shattering combat, buckets of bodily gore, and eye-watering mutilations before it, the cowardly murder of this tale’s hulking blacksmith from behind whilst the bare-headed titan is busy tending to his infamous forge of tormented souls is the highlight of the Italian illustrator’s contribution to this comic.

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

Thursday, 18 February 2021

The Immortal Hulk #43 - Marvel Comics

IMMORTAL HULK No. 43, April 2021
Despite not containing much in the way of pulse-pounding pugilism, Al Ewing’s script for Issue Forty-Three of “Immortal Hulk” probably kept its audience somewhat entertained with its intriguing insight into just how Joe Fixit is “real good at staying alive” and Henry Gyrich’s recruitment of the U-Foes as Alpha Flight Space Station’s latest super-group. Indeed, witnessing Bruce Banner’s alternative personality working his way up from a penniless bum to a financially-stable nobody through numerous lucratively criminal means, genuinely provides a fascinating contrast as to how the Nuclear Physicist ordinarily survives on the streets whilst trying to keep a low profile.

However, that still doesn’t mean that the former “2000 A.D.” writer’s narrative actually makes much in the way of progress to this ongoing series’ overarching plot. True, the Fantastic Four wannabes’ efforts battling a Hulk-bot for their acting commander’s pleasure arguably provides this comic with some much-needed action. But even this scene is somewhat sedentary in its execution, as each member of the quartet demonstrates their own unique abilities one-on-one with the green-coloured automaton for the benefit of any bibliophile unfamiliar with Bill Mantlo and Sal Buscema’s creations from the early Eighties.

In fact, with the exception of Vector’s team finally confronting Banner’s alter-ego at the very end of this twenty-page periodical, the only real step forward this book’s storyline debatably takes is Shaman, Puck and Doc Sasquatch’s visit to Los Diablos in New Mexico. Somewhat dialogue-driven and pedestrian paced, the trio's superficial exploration of Shadow Base Site G at least leads to the revelation as to what happened to the Leader’s heavily mutated body following the facility's mass evacuation a few issues back, before their discovery is infuriatingly then cut short by this book swiftly shifting its focus back upon Fixit; “This ain’t that complicated. They’re lookin’ for me -- If they ain’t found me yet, it’s only ‘cause I ain’t makin’ noise.”

Fortunately though, what this publication lacks in its penmanship it somewhat makes up for with its pencilling. Joe Bennett’s depiction of the U-Foes literally dismantling Gyrich’s robot and subsequently incapacitating his “volunteers” with Tear Gas is very well visualised, as is the Brazilian artist’s excellent illustration of an emaciated Hulk tearing into a hapless patrol vehicle of the New York Police Department.

The regular cover art of "IMMORTAL HULK" #43 by Alex Ross

Tuesday, 16 February 2021

Shang-Chi #3 - Marvel Comics

SHANG-CHI No. 3, January 2021
Considering that this publication’s titular character was last seen haemorrhaging “sparkly” blood from a deep wound whilst on a boat heading towards the ghost of his dead father, the opening to this particular instalment of Gene Luen Yang’s “Brothers And Sisters” storyline probably had many readers pondering whether they had inadvertently missed an edition or two of the limited mini-series. In fact, apart from a single line in the comic’s introductory scrawl, which vaguely references the Master of Kung Fu previously ‘narrowly escaping death’ at the hands of his “long-lost sibling”, little seems to be made of the American author’s earlier plot until half-way through this twenty-page periodical, when Shang-Chi reveals his Jiangshi-inflicted wound is turning “crusty and white”.

Happily however, that doesn’t mean for a second that the beginning of this book is in any way unentertaining, as the California-born writer’s audience are given a brief glimpse of the Five Weapons Society battling it out against “the Eight Nations Invasion” during the final days of the infamous Boxer Rebellion. Fast-paced and packed with plenty of tension, this all-too short sortie into the fall of the House of the Deadly Sabre, not only shows how merciless Zheng Zu was when dealing with the failure of his subordinates. But also depicts just how utterly treacherous the sorcerer could be, even with his younger brother - the "gentle soul" Zheng Yi.

In addition, the notion that Shang-Chi is slowly turning into a vampiric zombie arguably greatly enhances the storytelling throughout by imbuing all the martial artist’s subsequent scenes with an added element of urgency, especially when it becomes clear that “Brother Hand” is also becoming increasingly susceptible to the verbal directives of his homicidal sister; “Then Shi-Hua speaks another command. I feel the sudden urge to push a button on my belt. But there is no button. The command wasn’t meant for me.” This seemingly terminal infection makes it abundantly clear that time is definitely not on the New Avenger’s side, and adds extra haste to the man’s fraught quest to discover his Uncle’s long-hidden secret shrine.

Also well worthy of highlighting are this comic's layouts by Dike Ruan and Philip Tan, who between them weave a mesmerising mix of modern-day events with enthralling flashbacks respectively. Tan's wholly unscrupulous Zheng Zu is particularly well-pencilled in this issue, with the tyrant's inner rage clearly on show for all to see when he realises he has chosen poorly in placing Commander Sabre as his field commander, and immediately slices off the dishonourable warrior's head.

The regular cover art of "SHANG-CHI" #3 by Philip Tan & Jay David Ramos

Monday, 15 February 2021

Judge Dredd: False Witness #4 - IDW Publishing

Those fans of Old Stony Face able to successfully slog their way through Issue Four of “Judge Dredd: False Witness”, probably felt Brandon Easton’s narrative technically lived up to IDW Publishing’s pre-release boast that it contained a “shocking conclusion.” But whilst the San Diego-based company were presumably referring to their belief that the “award-winning writer” had penned a sense-shattering finale to his Teutonic tale of Mathias Lincoln going “toe-to-toe with Mega-City One’s most infamous lawman”, this comic’s readers were arguably highlighting its incredulous contrivances, erratic plot-threads and sudden inclusion of elements, such as the villain of the piece’s formidable super-strength, simply to give the book’s main cast something to do.

Indeed, it is genuinely doubtful that many within this publication’s audience could guess from one moment to the next what nonsense the American author was going to come with, as Judge Cassandra Anderson causes her prisoner to experience an anti-Christian religious reawakening using her mental abilities, Joe Dredd preposterously conjures up “a backup Mechanismo unit to follow us underground to escape detection” just as the Justice Department’s attack on Newton Block looks ill-advised, and Shannon McShannon develops the ability to literally punch this comic’s titular character straight off of his feet whilst he’s handcuffing her thanks to the treatment she’s receiving for venereal diseases..!?!

Disconcertingly however, this randomness and illogical penmanship does still lead to a couple of rather enjoyable action sequences, with artist Silvia Califano’s proficient pencilling of Dredd and Anderson storming McShannon’s robot-infested power base possibly proving to be the highlight of the book. Packed full of pulse-pounding laser beams, bullets and more metallic wreckage than you’d see on an episode of “Scrapheap Challenge”, there’s definitely plenty to entertain with this frantic gun battle, and it’s genuinely a shame that the fight is over almost as soon as it’s started; “For all their fascist bluster, Street Judges possess a freedom in being exactly who and what they say they are.”

Ultimately though, this twenty-page periodical’s script fails as a result of its deeply troubled ending which sees Lincoln inexplicably take his own life by jumping into a vat of toxic goo with a hand-grenade rather than face an Iso-Cube. Considering that this entire four-part mini-series has seemingly been about the illegal immigrant strenuously fighting for his very existence within the huge metropolis such behaviour seems erratic at best, and appears to have been included, along with the youth’s aforementioned abrupt religious zeal, just to give the tale something of a sting in its tail other than Judge Dolphy’s eventual arrest.

Story: Brandon Easton, Art: Silvia Califano, and Colors: Eva De La Cruz

Saturday, 13 February 2021

Shang-Chi #2 - Marvel Comics

SHANG-CHI No. 2, December 2020
Penned by Gene Luen Yang to be “a comic where a kid like me would be okay picking it up”, Issue Two of “Shang-Chi” certainly must have entertained many of its 29,000 readers with its mixture of treacherous family intrigue and miraculous martial arts. Indeed, the very notion of the Master of Kung Fu fighting off a laboratory filled full of Chinese hopping zombies probably had many a perusing bibliophile snatching this particular publication straight off of the spinner racks in October 2020. 

Disappointingly however, much of this twenty-page periodical’s impact is arguably lost though following the titular character being unceremoniously killed by his perfidious sister mid-way through the book, and then later inexplicably resurrected from the dead by his already long-deceased father, Zheng Zu. True, Jim Starlin’s co-creation has always maintained an air of mysticism with many of his adventures, but the notion that the former MI-6 operative would somehow magically return from beyond the grave having fallen prey to a lethal batch of poisonous Crystal Cakes is debatably contrived at best.

Similarly as disheartening is the Michael L. Printz Award-winner’s decision to seemingly drop Leiko Wu from this comic’s cast no sooner than Shang-Chi’s lover has actually appeared, courtesy of her aeroplane’s autopilot taking the enraged agent straight back to her headquarters. Considering that the Secret Avenger is expecting to face an entire army at the London-based House of the Deadly Staff, it makes little sense for him to ‘go it alone’, except to prevent someone with a less emotional head from pointing out to Brother Hand that accepting a bowl of food from your homicidal sister is probably a literal recipe for disaster; “Let’s see how your conquered self holds up against real temptation.”

Fortunately, one thing this magazine doesn’t suffer with is a lack of eye-candy for its audience, with both Dike Ruan and Philip Tan’s layouts providing plenty of sense-shattering sequences throughout. The aforementioned short-lived battle between the Master of Kung Fu and a horde of vampiric Jiangshi is probably worth the cover price of this comic alone. Yet Tan's flashback scene of an enraged Zheng Zu burning the brains out of his infant offspring for having dared strike him from behind is just as impactive; “You’re no daughter of mine” You’re a daughter of dirt! Return to your father, Dirt Girl!”

The regular cover art of "SHANG-CHI" #2 by Philip Tan & Jay David Ramos

Friday, 12 February 2021

Star Wars: Bounty Hunters #7 - Marvel Comics

Despite containing enough lethal laser-blasts to populate a Death Star detention cell corridor with, as well as “the deadliest bounty hunting duo in the galaxy”, Ethan Sacks’ plot for this twenty-page periodical probably didn’t land all that well with some readers due to its somewhat contrived conclusion. Sure, the former film editor for the New York Daily News fills this comic with plenty of excellently penned, high-octane action and some truly exciting one-on-one combat sequences. But then arguably ruins it all by manufacturing an unlikely arrangement between Beilert Valance and his nonsense pursuers at this book’s very end; “All of us can walk away… But the girl stays. And I’ll make it worth your while.”

Indeed, having already chased the Chorin-born cyborg to a secret Rebel base it seems somewhat preposterous that Zuckuss and 4-LOM would suddenly decide to let their quarry escape their clutches unharmed, simply because he offers them a highly valuable fire ruby the one-time Carida Academy cadet was given by his lover, Yuralla Vega. Considering that the mercenaries both outnumber the “badly wounded Valance” and will collect the same reward for their target either dead or alive, it would surely make much more sense for them to just blast him to pieces at point blank range and subsequently take the treasure off of his cold corpse..?

Furthermore, the so-called sentimental value of the prized rock to Valance is badly undermined by a flashback scene on the planet Lowik, in which Sacks depicts the “cold-hearted cretin” simply giving the token back to Vega “years ago” because he feels the young woman’s good luck charm would do her more good than him. Such an act seems completely at odds with this comic’s pre-publicity boast that in handing the fire ruby over to the victorious insectoid male Gand findsman, Beilert is supposedly making “the toughest decision of his entire life.”

Happily however, up until this discomfiting choice, the plot to Issue Seven of “Star Wars: Bounty Hunters” is first-rate, with Paolo Villanelli pencilling some superb gun-fights and close combat confrontations. The “ambitious LOM-series protocol droid” 4-LOM seems especially well-served in this area, with the artist really capturing the Terminator-like determination of the robot to kill his opponent, even when the galactic thief’s plating and motor circuits are badly damaged.

The regular cover art of STAR WARS: BOUNTY HUNTERS #7 by Lee Bermejo

Thursday, 11 February 2021

Shang-Chi #1 - Marvel Comics

SHANG-CHI No. 1, November 2020
Publicised by “Marvel Worldwide” as a “new chapter in the legend of Shang-Chi”, Gene Luen Yang’s script for this five-issue mini-series’ opening instalment probably pleased the majority of its 63,000 strong audience when it first hit the spinner racks. For whilst the twenty-two page periodical initially depicts the ‘Master of Kung-Fu’ innocently working behind a store counter in Chinatown, the comic’s plot soon has him battling for his life against a myriad of formidably-armed opponents inside the titular character’s cramped apartment just “off Sacramento Street.”

In addition, the American born Chinese author also does a fine job of penning a fascinating insight into the enthralling saga behind Shang-Chi’s lineage, most notably that of his infamous father, the “evil, presumed-dead sorcerer and martial arts master Zheng Zu.” This clearly convoluted family history immediately grabs the reader’s attention, and quickly becomes doubly important when it becomes clear that the selection of the malevolent magic user’s successor is going to come back and haunt Fu Manchu’s killer; “I am the Supreme Commander of the Five Weapons Society! You’ve never been able to accept that, dear sister, so all I can off -- is death!”

Of course, this comic’s biggest selling-point lies in its aforementioned Kung-Fu action, with “Brother Hand” quickly teaming up with the beautiful yet deadly Leiko Wu, and taking on a band of nunchaku-wielding assassins. Frantically paced, and entertainingly interspersed with the female British Secret Agent mercilessly gunning down some of their attackers with her sure-fire hit pistols, this sense-shattering sequence is only then matched by the surprise generated by some of Shang-Chi’s would-be attackers suddenly turning on their comrades-in-arms and mercilessly mowing them down at the battle’s climax.

Equally as enjoyable as this book’s writing are the layouts by Philip Tan and Dike Ruan, who split their artistic duties between this comic’s flashbacks and present day activities respectively. Ruan’s pencilling is particularly proficient, especially once the martial arts show starts, with the illustrator managing to include all sorts of nice touches into his panels, such as Zheng Zu’s son donning his metal bracelets just as his first assailants pounce through a shattered window.

The regular cover art of "SHANG-CHI" #1 by Jim Cheung & Laura Martin

Monday, 8 February 2021

Hulk: Future Imperfect #2 - Marvel Comics

HULK: FUTURE IMPERFECT No. 2, January 1993
Bookended by two seriously sense-shattering fight sequences between Bruce Banner’s alter-ego and his utterly insane future incarnation, it is debatably difficult to imagine Peter David’s narrative for Issue Two of “Hulk: Future Imperfect” not completely satisfying each and every one of its readers in January 1993. But whilst the pulse-pounding pugilism on display at both this publication’s beginning and end are undoubtedly all an adrenalin junkie should require when it comes to comic book action, the forty-eight page periodical’s middle is arguably a bit saggy in its storytelling.

For starters, having horrifically broken the jade green giant’s neck at the end of their first bout, Maestro somewhat strangely allows his temporarily paralysed opponent to survive so as to apparently ‘kill him with kindness.’ This motivation seems a little questionable considering just how utterly merciless the post-apocalyptic tyrant has become, especially when it seems clear that his younger self is probably the only possible threat on the planet to the bearded dictator’s long-lasting rule; “I do not understand, sir. Why don’t you simply kill him?”

However, what this unnerving truce does provide is the opportunity for the Maryland-born writer to better depict just how this fantastic weird world functions under the super-villain’s less than tender administration, by taking its audience to the Wastelands to witness the futile existence of Boz, leader of the Wasteland Survivalists and “architect of a new future through vision and diligence.” This ‘field trip’ supposedly arranged to help convince Bruce to join his dislikeable counter-part, really helps expose how decadent and malevolent Banner’s alternate self has become, whilst simultaneously showing the fragility of humanity’s survival when the barren earth yields few edible crops.

Ultimately though, all these somewhat sedentary insights into Dystopia are soon brushed aside once it becomes clear that the Avenger has simply been biding his time and launches a seemingly unsuccessful attempt to wrest control from the Maestro. The resultant power struggle is marvellously pencilled by George Perez, and features some superb ‘set-pieces’ such as Rick Jones using Captain America’s shield to partially protect his aging body from a lethal punch, the main antagonist once again demonstrating his physical superiority over his less experienced foil, and the mighty monarch's ultimate demise at the centre of an atomic explosion back in the past.

Writer: Peter David, Artist: George Perez, and Colorist: Tom Smith

Marvel Tales: Captain Britain #1 - Marvel Comics

Reprinting the first couple of issues of “Captain Britain Weekly”, along with some additional adventures taken from both “Marvel Team-Up” and “Excalibur”, this weighty tome certainly must have pleased fans of “the British Isles’ answer to Captain America” upon its release in September 2020. Indeed, despite Chris Claremont’s opening story only lasting sixteen pages in total, having been originally ‘chopped’ into two eight-page instalments for the “anthology comic published exclusively in the United Kingdom”, the super-hero’s origin story is simply packed full of pulse-pounding pugilism, despicable treachery and supernatural swordplay.

For starters the British-born American author throws his 5,000 strong audience straight into the deep end with Brian Braddock’s freshly-formed alter-ego weighing into a bunch of the Reaver’s steel-clad henchmen with plenty of bone-breaking blows; “I’m battling these thugs as if I’ve been fighting all my life…” Enthrallingly characterful in his garishly red costume, and as utterly bemused at his predicament as this comic’s readers probably were, it is difficult not to get caught up in all the insane action as the “shy and studious youth” trades witticisms and wallops with the heavily armoured, blade-wielding “Butcher.”

Happily however, once Claremont’s narrative has fully captivated any perusing bibliophile, the five-time Comics Buyer's Guide Fan Award-winner does pen a straightforward explanation as to just how this bizarre collection of super-powered personalities somehow managed to come together “in the remote fastness of the Cheviot Hills, just south of the Scottish Border.” An utterly insane attack upon a top secret nuclear complex by Joshua Stragg and his technological advanced machinery quickly establishes just why a pipe-smoking Braddock would want to escape the installation in the dead of night, whilst the university student’s sudden choice to own the mystical Amulet of Right rather than the Sword of Might rationalises his shocking transformation into a champion “of law and justice”.

Adding enormously to this spectacular series from the Seventies' storytelling are Herb Trimpe’s layouts, which genuinely manage to hold the eye throughout courtesy of some astounding athletic fighting manoeuvres and an increasingly enraged Reaver’s mad facial expressions. “The definitive penciler on the Incredible Hulk comic” is especially good at adding plenty of “Whod!” to this book’s numerous wallops, and it is easy to see why he would later recall that Claremont was a ‘flexible writer who allowed him considerable free rein in laying out and pacing the stories.”

Writer: Chris Claremont, Artists: Herb Trimpe & Fred Kida, and Color Artist: Marie Severin

Saturday, 6 February 2021

Dune: House Atreides #4 - BOOM! Studios

DUNE: HOUSE ATREIDES No. 4, January 2021
Neatly bookended by the increasingly tense exploits of Duncan Idaho on the Harkonnen Homeworld of Giedi Prime, as well as containing an abundance of misadventures featuring this comic book adaption’s considerably-sized cast in between, Issue Four of “Dune: House Atreides” certainly seems to pack an awful lot of action within its twenty-two page count. Indeed, with the odd notable exception, such as when Reverend Mother Gaius Mohiam’s unpleasant impregnation by the Baron in his bedchamber is secretly spied upon, Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson’s narrative arguably doesn’t let up, even when it follows young Leto Atreides’ romantic wanderings deep underground during his naïve endeavour to better understand the cave-dwelling existence of Ix’s supposedly sub-human labour force.  

Leading this charge of sense-shattering storytelling is Rabban’s aforementioned unsuccessful pursuit of young Idaho and the fleeing youth’s remarkable ability to momentarily turn the table upon his hunters with something as simple as a forest clearing and a well-used hand-light. However, this furious dash across “the third planet orbiting the star Ophiuchi B” isn’t the only time this publication should have its audience gasping in anticipation, with the likes of Pardot Kynes partially forming an uneasy alliance with the Freman and an adolescent Atreides facing off against a rather sinister looking Ixian Training Mek providing plenty of dynamic entertainment too; “Aggressive, enthusiastic, but sloppy. Very little control.”

Somewhat less pulse-pounding, though equally as intriguing, is this periodical’s perusal of Crown Prince Shaddam and his ill-advised plot to overthrow the Emperor Elrood with the help of Count Hasimir Fenring. It seems pretty clear straight from the start that the self-righteous heir’s plan to somehow synthesise the spice Melange is not going to end well. Yet the princeling’s impatience to sit upon the Golden Lion throne and no longer have to accede to the Spacing Guild’s monopoly still makes this somewhat sedentary plot-thread incredibly enthralling, especially when it’s revealed Shaddam will have to deal with a mysterious Tleilaxu researcher in order to achieve his goal.

Perhaps therefore this comic’s sole disappointment lies in some of Dev Pramanik’s erratic pencilling, which seems particularly poor when depicting Fenring at the Imperial Observatory on Kaitan. Wide-eyed with a toothy grin, Shaddam’s maternal cousin and his curly hair debatably doesn’t withstand much scrutiny, appearing perturbingly rushed when compared to the Indian artist’s ability to imbue the likes of Duncan and Leto with substantial speed during their respective dashes for freedom.

The regular cover art of "DUNE: HOUSE ATREIDES" #4 by Lorenzo De Felici

Friday, 5 February 2021

Strange Academy #7 - Marvel Comics

STRANGE ACADEMY No. 7, March 2021
As tragic teenage love stories go, Issue Seven of “Strange Academy” arguably has it all, from Emily Bright’s initial sense of almost overwhelming loss at the demise of her classmate, through to her understandable adolescent anger at both the hopelessness of the situation and the role which she actually played in poor Doyle Dormammu’s death. True, Skottie Young’s storyline equally does a stellar job of disconcertingly depicting Doctor Stephen Strange as the ‘villain of the piece’ by portraying the so-called Sorcerer Supreme as a somewhat callous benefactor who verbally abuses his friends and pours much of the tragedy’s blame upon the trembling shoulders of the grieving pupil. But ultimately, even the Master of the Mystic Arts is shown to have a softer side, when he marvels at Bright’s determination to penetrate the Dark Dimension so as to save her friend’s life; “He would have loved that you tried.”

Equally as well penned is the American author’s ability to successfully weave one of the educational institution’s biggest secrets into the twenty page periodical’s plot, with his revelation that Hoggoth, must “alone feast on the cost” of the students’ use of magic just so the college can exist. This enormous “favour” to one who dwells upon the Plane of the Old One is evidently not going to end well for Strange at all, especially when the arrogant magic user effectively demands that the Tiger God eats more of the Defender’s debt by ridding Emily of the dark power which is slowly consuming her failing body.

Helping this comic’s ‘tear-jerker’ genuinely tug at the heartstrings are Humberto Ramos’ sumptuous layouts and Edgar Delgado’s gorgeous colours. The Mexican penciller really does do a first class job of sketching the emotional trauma poor Bright is experiencing when she first realises that she didn’t dream ‘the swamp, Calvin’s coat, and the Hollow’, and then later viciously verbally reprimands Zelma Stanton for fooling her into thinking she was already an invincible sorcerer, who conceitedly talked “everyone into running off and trying to save the day.” In addition, the former “Kaboom Cómics” illustrator provides Hoggoth with all the spectral majesty a reader might expect from an enormous cat-like deity, most notably when the ferocious divinity lets its full fiery temper be known to Stephen mid-way through the book.

The regular cover art of "STRANGE ACADEMY" #7 by Humberto Ramos & Edgar Delgado

Thursday, 4 February 2021

Batman/Superman [2019] #14 - DC Comics

BATMAN/SUPERMAN No. 14, January 2021
Despite this comic bringing Joshua Williamson’s three-part “Planet Brainiac” storyline to a fairly fulfilling finale, some within this particular publication’s audience probably still found themselves checking out the comic’s actual page count once they had finished perusing it. Indeed, it’s arguably hard to recall such a rapier-fast read as the one the California-born writer presents within Issue Fourteen of “Batman/Superman”, as the titular characters finally manage to stop the homicidal machinations of an utterly deranged artificial intelligence located deep inside a “deadly moon base”.

Happily however, rather than “DC Comics” simply reducing its content, this apparent brevity of an experience is actually down to good old-fashioned prodigious penmanship and a thoroughly enthralling battle against a technologically advanced opponent, courtesy of the script cleverly mixing the Man of Steel’s pulse-pounding encounter against the composite Batman/Superman automaton in Metropolis, with that of the Dark Knight’s clever infiltration of its electronic mind in the digital world; “It worked… Overwhelmed the program long enough for you to download it into a closed system."

Also adding to this book’s sense-shattering shenanigans is Williamson’s use of Steel and Batwoman as supporting cast members, and their crucial involvement in distracting the misguided ‘Brainiac protocol’ prior to the “World’s Finest duo” applying their coup de grâce. John Henry Irons debatably takes the lion’s share of such a spotlight, thanks to his “little Hail Mary for rainy days” and ability to hack into the “army of killer robots”. But Batwoman definitely steals the show with a genuine badass moment as she single-handedly takes out an entire army of mechanical murder-bots using just her electrically-charged fists, and purposely poses atop her mountain of metallic mayhem.

In rounding off this excellent instalment, it would simply be rude not to mention Max Raynor’s extraordinarily dynamic contribution to the success of this comic’s story-telling too, and his breath-taking attention to detail for all the numerous automatons based upon the cream of the DC Universe Rogues Gallery. This publication’s prodigiously pencilled bouts of pugilism really are tremendously well-drawn, with the artist’s ability to imbue every punch with a palpable, bone-breaking impact doubtless making many wish the comic had at least depicted a few panels of Kate Kane’s aforementioned triumph over her numerous foes.

The regular cover art for "BATMAN/SUPERMAN" #14 by David Marquez & Alejandro Sanchez

Tuesday, 2 February 2021

Blowtorch #1 - Second Sight Publishing

BLOWTORCH No. 1, February 2021
Absolutely crammed full of pulse-pounding action, and providing plenty of enthralling insights into the titular character’s violent background, this one-shot by Alfred Paige simply doesn’t stop entertaining its audience from the moment Richard Kinkaid picks up his mobile phone to hear the voice of “the nurse that saved his life” eight years ago, through to the masked mercenary’s debrief with his boss Avery Davis a few days later. In fact, the twenty-eight page periodical’s plot, scripted by Alex De-Gruchy, could arguably be seen as being the perfect mix of mysterious intrigue, sense-shattering shenanigans and emotional drama; “However things ended between us. That doesn’t mean I don’t care. I always cared. I just… screwed it up.”

Foremost of this comic’s considerable strengths is the fact that Blowtorch’s deep-rooted connection to Suzanne is absolutely palpable just as soon as he receives word that his former lover is in danger. Supposedly on guard-duty at C.H.E.S.S. Headquarters in Colorado, the lead protagonist simply drops everything in order to fly to the woman’s rescue at a “top-secret government program hidden away in Alaska.” However, rather than simply pen Kinkaid as some sort of one-man army, he is cleverly depicted as someone who cares so strongly for the military medical practitioner that “the human weapon” isn’t afraid to immediately accept the help of his team-mate, Footpath.

In addition, despite the facially-disfigured soldier carrying enough weaponry to make even the Punisher blush with embarrassment, the storyline continues to suggest that at any moment Richard might actually fail in his mission and witness Suzanne being tragically killed before his very eyes. This intense atmosphere debatably permeates every black and panel beautifully pencilled by Montos, and leads to some spine-chilling sequences once it becomes clear just how badly the authority’s experimentation on dead American soldiers has gone awry.

Perhaps this publication’s biggest draw though, lies in its disconcertingly super-powered adversary S-26. The insane homicidal maniac really does generate a formidable sense of foreboding dread in every scene in which the zombie appears. Yet that probably doesn’t quite stop this comic’s readers from having some sense of sympathy for the mass-murderer when it becomes clear he has “retained a vague memory of having two children”, and resultantly can be viewed as simply being a desperate father who is understandably determined to see his youngsters once again.

The webstore Virgin exclusive variant cover art of "BLOWTORCH" #1 by Montos

Hulk: Future Imperfect #1 - Marvel Comics

HULK: FUTURE IMPERFECT No. 1, December 1992
Following on from Issue Four Hundred and Sixteen of the “Incredible Hulk”, Peter David’s narrative for this opening instalment to “Future Imperfect” certainly must have caught its readers’ imagination in December 1992, with its flipping of “the Terminator concept” by having someone from the past going to the future to save the world instead. Indeed, the Haxtur Award-winner’s premise of Bruce Banner’s alter-ego being transported to the post-apocalyptic world of Dystopia via Doctor Doom’s time platform, and subsequently battling the nightmarishly strong leader of a very unfree world is incredibly enthralling, especially when such an idea is so lavishly visualised by the pencils and inks of George Perez.

Somewhat surprisingly however, this two-part event’s opening is arguably a little disorientating, considering that it throws its audience straight into an action-packed chase sequence where names, faces and the inhabitant’s innovative lingo all seemingly flash before the eyes at an incredible pace. Admittedly, such an introduction to the Maestro’s realm undeniably makes an impressive impact, especially when Darkord is shot neatly in the centre of their forehead by the formidably-armed Gravity Police. But the flurry of bullets, punches, exclamations and injuries creates numerous unanswered questions which aren’t really resolved until the forty-eight page periodical is two-thirds through.

Luckily though, once the titular character does make a suitably dramatic appearance and literally rips the head off of a fearsome-looking robot Dog O’War, the story-telling becomes much more straightforward by simply following the Hulk’s exploration of his debris-littered surroundings. This gradual introduction to the adventure’s main cast, and eventual explanation as to just why Banner has somehow travelled to such an incredibly decadent metropolis is extremely well-penned, with the gamma scientist’s discovery that an elderly Rick Jones has hoarded as much super-hero related memorabilia as he can being one of several highlights; “Oh my Lord. This… This room… It’s completely filled with --”

Equally as successful in fuelling the imagination is the Maestro himself, who plays an increasingly prominent role within this book as the plot progresses. The green-skinned dictator’s bloodthirsty murder of an utterly helpless Pizfiz with his bare hands is certainly memorable enough. Yet even this grotesque demise debatably pales when compared to the homicidal maniac’s storming of the rebel’s underground base, and the terrible deaths his troops suffer from the secret facility’s hidden stash of flesh-dissolving acid, toxic cloth-eating gas, and deadly laser beams.

Writer: Peter David, Artist: George Perez, and Colorist: Tom Smith

Monday, 1 February 2021

Iron Man [2020] #5 - Marvel Comics

IRON MAN No. 5, March 2021
Featuring the likes of Gargoyle, the Scarlet Spider, Mercedes Knight and Frog Man as some sort of D-list Great Lakes Avengers, readers of Christopher Cantwell’s storyline for Issue Five of “Iron Man” could arguably have anticipated the Chicago-born writer injecting this comic with a modicum of humour. However, despite the likes of Eugene Paul Patilio certainly raising the occasional smile with his child-like enthusiasm to work alongside the titular character in an ‘official’ capacity, the predominant tone of this twenty-page periodical is deadly serious. In fact, somewhat snooze-inducingly serious as this comic's widening cast simply talk to one another, over and over again as to the desperate nature of their predicament.

Furthermore, absolutely no respect whatsoever is given to this book’s band of incoming mercenaries, despite the likes of Isaac Christians and Misty having been involved in numerous world-threatening escapades in the past. Instead, Tony Stark simply waxes lyrical on them panel after panel as to how outgunned his ragamuffin gang are against their mechanical opponent, and how even having “Spider-Man’s Xerox copy” on their side doesn’t mean they have any hope of winning; “My best answer is, you have me. So my advice is, do as I say. Then and only then can we hope to stop Korvac.”

To make matters worse though, Iron Man’s insistence on recruiting these ‘low tier’ heroes in the first place “or James Rhodes could get killed” is debatably moot as his enemy already knows what the Golden Avenger is up to, courtesy of the android establishing a seriously strong mental bond with Patsy Walker. Admittedly, this publication’s American author does do his level best to depict Hellcat as a psychologically unstable former-Defender, so potentially Michael isn’t quite getting sight of Shell-head’s entire plan. But that doesn’t debatably explain why the cyborg then subsequently sets a deadly trap for the crime-fighting cadre using a bogus radiation signature at “a warehouse in Port Morris.”

Lastly, it is genuinely difficult to have any sympathy for the utterly dislikeable Stark in this narrative. The Golden Avenger demonstrates incredibly poor leadership in front of his newly-formed team with his demoralising ‘pep-talk’, and then willingly risks sacrificing his costumed lover to Korvac when he decides to use the mentally unwell Walker as “bait” to lure his foe out into the open. Such selfish hubris is genuinely hard to stomach, and in many ways actually makes the audience want the hard-hearted hero to fail miserably, simply to teach the egotistical idiot a well-deserved lesson in the harshness of life.

The regular cover art of "IRON MAN" #5 by Alex Ross