Wednesday, 31 March 2021

Dune: House Atreides #5 - BOOM! Studios

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 30 March 2021

Iron Man [2020] #6 - Marvel Comics

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 28 March 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 27 March 2021

Lady Freedom #1 - Second Sight Publishing

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 25 March 2021

Batman: The Adventures Continue #14 - DC Comics

Finally bringing “the Red Hood's plan against the Bat-Family” to a somewhat contrived conclusion, Issue Fourteen of “Batman: The Adventures Continue” certainly provided its audience with plenty of action once its collaborative writing partnership finally manoeuvred their numerous playing pieces into position. Indeed, the ‘explosive’ re-appearance of the Joker’s supposedly deceased super-strong henchman, Straightman, and the Boy Wonder’s escape from an apparently unavoidable water-based death trap, both lead to some truly sense-shattering shenanigans as Jason Todd’s plan for revenge goes completely ‘belly up’ at the last minute.

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 20 March 2021

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 19 March 2021

The Immortal Hulk #44 - Marvel Comics

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 17 March 2021

Judas Breed #1 - PenInkColor Studios

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 15 March 2021

Doctor Who [2020] #3 - Titan Comics

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 13 March 2021

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 12 March 2021

Batman: The Adventures Continue #13 - DC Comics

Debatably depicting Jason Todd as a fully-fledged psycho, and containing a thoroughly enjoyable confrontation between the hired help of both the Joker and the Penguin, this third instalment to Alan Burnett and Paul Dini’s “Red Son Rising” surely must have landed well with fans of the “Batman: The Animated Series” when the digital first comic was released in October 2020. Sure, the Clown Prince of Crime appears to be a little too easy a target to get the drop on when he visits the Iceberg Lounge and is surprised by a sedative-dart firing Red Hood. But the pair have already previously met in this particular storyline before, providing Batman’s former Robin with plenty of intelligence with which to plan their all-too quick rematch; “It’s just half a dose. You’ll be out for hours.”

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 11 March 2021

Doctor Who [2020] #2 - Titan Comics

DOCTOR WHO No. 2, January 2021
For those readers of Jody Houser’s “Alternating Current” narrative whose heads weren’t already spinning from the plot’s incredibly confusing mix of different incarnations, companions, allies, and popular monsters, the American author’s inclusion of the villainous Skithra in Issue Two of “Doctor Who” as the supposed saviours of humanity will surely have done the job. Indeed, the sudden appearance of the extra-terrestrial scavengers as the Thirteenth Doctor’s apparent rescuers comes completely out of the blue, and arguably just makes an already convoluted plot packed full of long-winded interactions between characters who should never really meet in anything but the worst fan fiction, even more outlandish.

Of course, the explosions, death rays and subsequent foot-chases which follow the hive species’ prison break does at least imbue this comic’s seriously sedentary storytelling with some much needed energy and action. However, a lot of the dynamism generated by the Skithra’s shocking entrance is sadly soon diluted by the writer’s insistence of pairing their Queen up with the current TARDIS crew as they almost nonchalantly make their way back to the time machine and revisit the usually somewhat humorous set-piece of a new visitor describing the ship’s dimensionally transcendental interior as being “inside bigger.”

Quite possibly this twenty-two page periodical’s biggest disappointment though is the lack of chemistry shown between the Tenth Doctor and the Sea Devil enslaved Rose Tyler. The nineteen-year-old Londoner is understandably a little reluctant to believe a madman in a box who inadvertently lets slip that her still living parents should actually be dead. Yet that initial unease lingers throughout the couple’s uninspiringly long conversation, and doesn’t cease even after the heavily-armed young woman has entered the Gallifreyan’s spacecraft, and this comic’s audience have been subjected to another “bigger on the inside” scene.

Fortunately, for those bibliophiles able to negotiate such a debatably bizarre book, there is at least the enjoyment of looking at Roberta Ingranata’s artwork. The Italian does a very good job of sketching the central cast just as they would appear on the small screen, and captures all the awkwardness of the Sea Devils when they awkwardly lumber after their escaping workers whilst cutting down several of the humans’ scorpion-like rescuers in the process.

The regular cover art of "DOCTOR WHO" #2 by Peach Momoko

Tuesday, 9 March 2021

Star Wars: Bounty Hunters #8 - Marvel Comics

STAR WARS: BOUNTY HUNTERS No. 8, February 2021
Opening with a scintillating starfighter shoot-up over the skyline of Howlan City on the planet Qhulosk, and featuring a delightful guest appearance by a young Han Solo during his brief tenure as an Imperial pilot, Ethan Sacks’ script for Issue Eight of “Star Wars: Bounty Hunters” barely gave its readers pause for breath when it first hit the spinner racks in December 2020. Indeed, even when this comic’s action does momentarily quieten down to allow Beilert Valance to wander through the packed H’unn Cabaret Pit or ‘light-speed’ his way to “the intersection of the Corellian Trade Spine and the Hydian Way”, there’s still an almost palpable sense of nerve-tingling tension to be found within this book’s narrative as the reader never knows just what might be lurking around the corner for the cyborg.

This well-penned feeling of jeopardy for the ongoing series’ lead protagonist is particularly noticeable during the bounty hunter’s trip to Nar Kaaga and his business meeting with the truly treacherous Syphacc. Partially disguised by a large hooded cloak, the packed club seems a somewhat strange place for the former Chorin Slave to select for a meeting, but his dubious plan to unsuccessfully seek safety in so visible a venue at least means that there’s no shortage of options as to where the next attack upon the wanted human will come from; “Well, as much as the Unbroken Clan wants to get their hands on me to get to the girl -- Zuckusss and Four-Elloem would have to be sloppy to make a move in such a public place.”

Spookily however, despite knowing that someone will inevitably attempt to claim the price upon Valance’s head in the Pit doesn’t debatably diminish the sense of surprise when the thoroughly dislikeable Hondra decides to make his move. The young so-called killer is as arrogant as he is impotent, and many bibliophiles must have taken a lot of satisfaction in seeing artist Paolo Villanelli prodigiously pencil the annoyingly boastful brat getting taken down a peg or two by an extremely patient Beilert; albeit “the deadliest pit fighter out of Nar Kanji does make a very valid point that if he hadn’t unwisely wanted his target “to see who is pulling the trigger” he could easily have just shot the famous Bounty Hunter in the head without the man even knowing he was in danger.

The regular cover art of STAR WARS: BOUNTY HUNTERS #8 by Paolo Villanelli & Arif Prianto

Friday, 5 March 2021

Doctor Who [2020] #1 - Titan Comics

DOCTOR WHO No. 1, December 2020
Somewhat disconcertingly resuming the Time Lord’s adventures straight on from the final edition of “Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor” after a six-month sabbatical, Jody Houser’s storyline for this revamped comic book’s opening issue rather disappointingly smacks of being penned simply to appease a certain element within the franchise’s amateur fan fiction community, rather than being a serious attempt to replicate the BBC science fiction series’ televised exploits upon the printed page. True, the author definitely manages to capture the characteristics of this publication’s leading cast as depicted on the small screen, but its debatably difficult to take any plot seriously which throws the likes of the entire Tyler family, the Sea Devils, the Tenth Doctor and an alternative universe into the mixing pot without any convincing explanation; “That’s an incredibly simplified and not terribly accurate way to describe it, Ryan.”

To make matters worse though, this entire twenty-two page periodical is packed full of the so-called “charismatic and confident explorer” tediously trying to be amusing at every opportunity with some extraordinarily unfunny tongue-in-cheek gags. This persistent frivolity really ruins any sense of tension or threat throughout the entire magazine, with presumably it’s highlight of the Doctor and her “fam” being captured by a patrol of heavily-armed “Aquatic Silurians” simply seeming an embarrassingly silly set-piece once the Gallifreyan pretends to be a Human/Sea Devil Chief Liaison officer so as to unsuccessfully convince her captors to rebel against “their bosses.”

Lamentably, Houser’s narrative also feels like it is just something of a rehash of other people’s plot-threads, which frankly have all been done both before and better on either the telly or within a novel. Those readers old enough to remember Jim Mortimore’s book “Blood Heat” from the old “Virgin New Adventures” range will probably recall his highly convincing Silurian-dominated world once they lay eyes upon artist Roberta Ingranata’s prodigiously-pencilled panels of human survivors desperately fending off the Earth reptiles within this comic's dilapidated London. Whilst disconcerting duplicates of Pete, Jackie and their gun-toting daughter have already been seen in broadcast episodes such as “Rise of the Cybermen”, “Doomsday” and "Turn Left".

The regular cover art of "DOCTOR WHO" #1 by Peach Momoko

Thursday, 4 March 2021

Warhammer 40,000: Marneus Calgar #5 - Marvel Comics

WARHAMMER 40,000: MARNEUS CALGAR No. 5, April 2021
Firmly fixated upon the titular character’s final battle against two of the traitorous trainees he once fought when he was universally known as just lowly Tacitan, this twenty-one page periodical’s plot certainly can’t be described as being unexciting or actionless. But whilst Kieron Gillen’s storyline for Issue Five of “Warhammer 40,000: Marneus Calgar” contains plenty of pulse-pounding power fist-based pugilism and several bucket loads of gory blood, its opening scene depicts the Chapter Master of the Ultramarines in such a dire predicament that arguably any plausibility that he could single-handedly survive the Khorne threat on Thulium Minor is immediately lost.

For starters, having endured his Thunderhawk’s horrific crash the Lord of Macragge finds himself stood facing both the double-headed, physically-fused incarnation of his former acquaintances, as well as a good half a dozen able-bodied Chaos Space Marines. These formidable enemies are all within spitting distance of Calgar, yet seem to make no effort at all to close the gap between them, preferring instead to ineffectively fire at the retreating Adeptus Astartes as he withdraws deep inside a nearby mining facility. 

True, as Marneus points out to his accompanying tech priest, the Lord Defender of Greater Ultramar is “a small army” in his own right. But considering that he is literally also just a stone’s throw away from the incredible firepower of a gigantic, super-heavy Daemon Engine of Chaos, it is difficult to believe even he could survive such close proximity to a great cleaver of Khorne, or a Skullhurler, or even a Daemongore cannon, if the “grotesque battle construct” had attacked him from this comic’s start; “Unleashing a torrent of burning filth at all that lies before the Lord of Skulls. It is capable of reducing whole armoured divisions to molten slag.”

Instead, the British writer pens a bizarrely unambitious conclusion which sees Jacen Burrows proficiently pencilling the Primaris Space Marine besting a mere handful of the Blood God’s most loyal acolytes within the ruins of a long-downed World Bearers vessel, before apparently being both outmanoeuvred and subsequently outfought by his heavily mutated main adversary. This climax is debatably made all the worse by having the Ultramarine willingly have one of his hearts pierced by the semi-naked Chaos Champion’s sword in a clichéd effort to get his hands on his opponent after deciding his Power Fists alone didn’t give him the reach needed to do the job.

The regular cover art of "WARHAMMER 40,000: MARNEUS CALGAR" #5 by James Stokoe

Tuesday, 2 March 2021

Shang-Chi #5 - Marvel Comics

SHANG-CHI No. 5, March 2021
Considering that this twenty-page periodical inexplicably begins with Sister Hammer suddenly invading London with an army of blood-drinking Jiangshi, Gene Luen Yang’s storyline for Issue Five of “Shang-Chi” must surely have made most of its readers sit bolt upright in both surprise and anticipation for a serious Kung-Fu fest. Regrettably however, the promise of an action-packed confrontation on the streets of the English capital between ancient Chinese vampires and the rapidly dwindling military never actually materialises, courtesy of the American author deciding instead to base this book’s focal point around a simple battle of wills rather than something replicating the frantically-fast action of Marc Forster’s 2013 American post-apocalyptic zombie action horror film World War Z.

Indeed, no sooner does a badly outnumbered Leiko Wu realise that her desperately needed reinforcements are actually the handful of armed MI-5 survivors already protecting her flanks, than “flashback artist” Philip Tan steps in with his prodigious pencilling to whisk the audience off to an infinitely less exciting spiritual world where Shang-Chi can ultimately show his little sister both the abject loneliness of the late evil sorcerer Zheng Zu, and the resultant futility of her all-conquering mission’s misguided motivation; “He will always be our father. But look at him, Shi-Hua! Not with a child’s eyes, but with your eyes now! See him as he actually was! A damaged old man, twisted by fear. And hate.”

Sadly, such a lack-lustre conclusion really does strike as a major anti-climax considering the potential of this publication’s pulse-pounding opening, and arguably even gets progressively worse following the utterly unconvincing revelation that the magical Jiangshi are somehow being controlled by implanted micro-chips rather than through the mystical means of them wanting to right an “unavenged grievance”. In addition, this five-part mini-series’ dissatisfying finale doesn’t even allow its two central characters to properly square-off against one another. Sure, an angry Sister Hammer eventually decides to swing her formidable hand-weapon at her brother when she realises he is “trying to empty my life of purpose”. Yet even this one-off assault is easily avoided by the Master of Kung Fu, who promptly then disarms his opponent without throwing a single punch in retaliation and impotently watches her flee into the River Thames.

The regular cover art of "SHANG-CHI" #5 by Marcus To & Sebastian Cheng

Monday, 1 March 2021

Strange Academy #8 - Marvel Comics

STRANGE ACADEMY No. 8, April 2021
Featuring a marvellous guest appearance by Rocket Racoon and Groot, as well as a rib-tickling cameo by the God of Thunder, Skottie Young’s script for Issue Eight of “Strange Academy” must have delighted those readers familiar with the antics of young Harry Potter and his Hogwarts friends in J.K. Rowling’s highly popular wizarding world. Indeed, certain elements of this twenty-page periodical, such as Agatha Harkness teaching her pupils “how to perform the Illusions of Ikonn” with various degrees of success, could mistakenly be seen as having been ‘lifted’ straight out from one of the successful British author’s fantasy novels; “Yes! I did it. I have produced three copies of this… Whatever this beast is called.”

Fortunately however, this comic’s narrative doesn’t exclusively concern itself with just giving an appreciative nod to “the best-selling book series in history”, but also adds plenty more mystery as to the identity of Doctor Stephen Strange’s unseen prisoner located deep within the basement of the Sanctum Sanctorum. Emily Bright’s temptation to open the inmate’s heavily barred door is arguably palpable in this well-penned scene, especially once the young mystic arts apprentice learns the detainee has spent the past two years locked away in the dungeon’s darkness and seems to be on the verge of actually agreeing with their argument to release them.

Debatably this book’s most engaging sequence though is the college’s off-world excursion to Templo Offdom - “a planet a tragillion miles from Earth.” Just as soon as it’s revealed that the students’ field-trip will be ‘aided’ by Rocket and Groot, every reader knows their quest to find the “scribbit” responsible for eating some long-lost mystical gems is going to end very badly, and Young’s subsequent tongue-in-cheek tomfooleries simply don’t disappoint. Frantically-paced and predominantly consisting of the adolescent magic users running for their very lives from a nest of giant-sized budgerigars, this ‘laugh out loud’ pursuit is finally brought to a close thanks to Zelma Stanton teleporting the entire class from out of danger and back to the Academy’s library at the last minute.

Adding enormously to both this book’s jolly tone and more sinister shenanigans are Humberto Ramos’ excellent illustrations. The Mexican penciller’s superb sketches of the multi-beaked baby scribbits and the various supernaturally replicated animals are dreadfully cute, whilst his collaboration with colorist Edgar Delgado to portray a truly grim gaol for Strange’s captive imbues Bright’s naïve exploration of Stephen’s foreboding basement with a disconcertingly dark ambiance.

The regular cover art of "STRANGE ACADEMY" #8 by Humberto Ramos & Edgar Delgado