Monday, 31 May 2021

These. Damn. Kids! #1 - Second Sight Publishing

THESE. DAMN. KIDS! No. 1, May 2021
Successfully funded through “Kickstarter” in November 2019, courtesy of 54 backers pledging $2,658, creator Bradley Golden’s claim that this particular “scary and twisted Horror series” could best be described as “Slither meets Children Of The Corn” probably actually undersells the comic’s terrifying narrative, and certainly won’t prepare the more faint-hearted bibliophiles from encountering a veritable treasure chest of decapitations, mutilations and downright grisliness. Indeed, for those readers who have young children, the storyline to Issue One of “These. Damn. Kids!” will literally have the adults up all night nervously watching their tightly shut bedroom doors and straining their ears for the tell-tale patter of little feet as they’re demonically-possessed dear ones mercilessly make their way towards them armed with all sorts of deadly house-hold objects.

Thankfully however, this twenty-two page periodical’s plot contains much more than a series of gruesome murders by providing plenty of focus on the book’s central protagonist Gary Marshall, long “before he became the hero cop on the case in Leave On The Light." Desperately trying to give up smoking, spend some quality time with his lovely wife, and keep his last meal down whilst examining macabre pieces of art built using assorted body parts, the policeman’s increasing suspicion as to just how the multiple victims’ children could somehow sleep through their ordeals nicely matches the readers’ increasing revulsion at the seemingly senseless mass killings; “That is very odd, from the looks of the murders, they must have made some noise. Kinda hard to sever a head without sound.”

In addition, Peter Breau and Golden’s collaborative script also manages to instil a little life into this publication’s wider cast, most notably Marshall’s wife, Kelli, who discovers she is pregnant halfway through the comic. True, few of these insights aren't particularly illuminating, but even the running gag throughout that the town needs a better Health Inspector owing to all the upset stomach cases occurring to the Sherriff’s people during this tummy-churning investigation makes the characters appear a little more human and much less simple cardboard caricatures.

Also worthy of note are Helmut Racho’s mesmerising layouts, which go a considerable way to depicting both the raw innocence of the children before they become possessed, and their utterly irreprehensible counter-parts, who seem perfectly capable of drilling their father to death with an electric drill whilst simultaneously carrying a disconcertingly joyous glint in their eyes. In fact, despite this book containing several gratuitously graphic splash-pages, it is the artist’s ability to suggest what occurred ‘off-screen’ which will undoubtedly give many within this prequel’s audience some seriously sleepless nights.

Writers: Peter Breau & Bradley Golden, and Artist: Helmut Racho

Saturday, 29 May 2021

BRZRKR #2 - BOOM! Studios

BRZRKR No. 2, April 2021
Firmly focused upon the origin story behind Bezerker’s incredible aptitude for physical violence and longevity, Keanu Reeves and Matt Kindt’s 80,000 year old narrative for this second chapter to their twelve-issue limited series probably caught a fair proportion of its audience off-guard upon its release in April 2021. Sure, the twenty-page periodical’s plot does occasionally return to the modern day as “U.S. government doctor Diana Ahuja seeks to unlock the mysterious B.’s memories”, but these scenes are both rather brief and fleeting.

Fortunately though, this change of setting to the Paleolithic still provides this publication with some incredibly thrilling, pulse-pounding set-pieces, such as the then adolescent killing machine successfully mutilating almost an entire heavily-armed raiding force in defence of his village, as well as giving a good explanation as to just why the ever-restless titular character now wants to be mortal; “I remember that day, now. I remember having parents… Having a tribe… Having a purpose. And I remember that being the last time… The last time I ever felt… Happy.”

In addition, the collaborative creators do a good job in suggesting just how long Bezerker has ‘suffered’ at the hands of so-called scientists in an effort to understand his extraordinary super-powers. As a boy, his ability to quite literally tear wolf, bear and unfortunate boy to bloody pieces with his bare hands whilst experiencing his inhuman bloodlust is arguably accepted by his fellow tribespeople as the price to pay for their protector’s coming of age. Yet during the most recent centuries, when Mankind is supposedly more civilised (and potentially curious as to how things work), the immortal warrior undergoes days, months and years of physical measuring, samples, psychological profiling, injections and scans.

Undeniably presenting these early exploits with all the sense-shattering savagery a reader might expect from such a viciously barbaric time in Humanity’s history is Ron Garney, whose figure’s facial expressions alone tell a horror story of a thousand words. Indeed, much of this comic’s emotion stems from the artist’s ability to show both the love and fear in the eyes of Bezerker’s parents, as well as the pain and terror of the man-child’s numerous victims – whether they be his hapless peers, long-fanged animals or overconfident cavalry.

Written by: Keanu Reeves & Matt Kindt, and Illustrated by: Ron Garney

Thursday, 27 May 2021

Doctor Who [2020] #4 - Titan Comics

DOCTOR WHO No. 4, March 2021
Apart from a horribly clichéd conclusion which revolves around the Thirteenth Doctor’s decision to activate a stolen Venusian spaceship’s conveniently-accessible self-destruct device so as to save Humanity, there arguably wasn’t much to Jody Houser’s plot for Issue Four of “Doctor Who” to keep its readers either enjoyably enthralled or even briefly entertained. Admittedly, the twenty-two page periodical does contain one brief moment of action when the female Time Lord’s friendly extra-terrestrial Queen bravely battles her much more ferocious counter-part for control of the aforementioned vessel. But even this savage clash of vicious kicks and lashing scorpion-like tails is over within the space of a handful of panels.

Instead, the American author seems to spend the vast majority of this comic desperately trying to pad her storyline out with a series of dialogue-heavy conversational pieces, and portraying the Gallifreyan’s Tenth incarnation in a less than charitable fashion. Indeed, there genuinely appears to be some sort of ‘hidden agenda’ going on with this book’s narrative to seemingly show Jodie Whittaker’s character as the two-hearted adventurer’s definitive regeneration by having her repeatedly scold her earlier male self in front of the TARDIS crew and telling him to “just shut it.”

Equally as unlikeable is Houser’s suggestion that the ‘holier than thou’ “live wire” is apparently perfectly entitled to criticise others for proposing that they use violence to achieve their personal goals, such as the technology-stealing scavenger aliens who have abducted both Nikola Tesla and Thomas A. Edison. Yet when it comes to stopping the Skithra, the Doctor doesn’t even batter an eyelid when she quickly elects to literally blow all the aliens orbiting Mars out of the sky without any warning whatsoever; “Love a good plan, or a bad plan with room for improvisation. Or an idea that could become a plan.”

Desperately trying to make this publication’s narrative last just long enough to fill out its required page count is Roberta Ingranata, whose prodigious pencilling at least manages to provide those bibliophiles able to successfully endure Jody’s sedentary script with a modicum of pleasing eye candy. In fact, one of this comic’s highlights is the Italian illustrator’s excellent ability to provide all of its quite considerably-sized cast with plenty of readily recognisable facial expressions and physical mannerisms.

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

Wednesday, 26 May 2021

Star Wars: Bounty Hunters #9 - Marvel Comics

Featuring an intriguing insight into what caused Beilert Valance’s disaffection for the Empire, a pulse-pounding battle between a Rebel transport and a pack of blood-thirsty pirates, and an appearance by the Corellian bounty hunter “known as Dengar the Demolisher”, many of those bibliophiles who bought Issue Nine of “Star Wars: Bounty Hunters” were probably wondering just how Ethan Sacks managed to cram so much narrative within the space of a single twenty-page periodical. Happily however, rather than being a jumbled mishmash of ideas and convoluted sub-plots, “Squadron Of One” is instead a genuinely well-penned thrill-a-minute ride, which includes some enthralling back history to this book’s central character, as well as some truly sensational starfighter set-pieces.

For starters the comic starts on the planet Qhulosk after an Imperial raid, and pits “the top cadet in the whole Carida Imperial Naval Academy” against some of the ravaged world’s tentacle-headed survivors. Deprived of his vessel, his hand-blaster and the rest of his squadron, a livid Valance demonstrates a truly impressive appetite for life by battering his numerous attackers apart with nothing more than a rod of rusty metal; “Why… Why did the Empire… Leave me behind? I gave everything I had…”

Such tenacity in the face of seemingly unassailable odds is subsequently reinforced by Sacks’ script when the book returns its readers back to current events, and depicts Beilert besting a formidably-sized blockade in order to ‘land’ the partially-destroyed Broken Wing aboard a Gallofree medium transport ship. The subsequent hostility between the Rebels’ cyborg rescuer and Commander Hill Purpura is palpable, especially when it becomes clear that the freedom fighters’ dislikeable leader is all-too willing to surrender to Captain Skragg simply to save his own worthless hide.

More than aiding this publication’s considerable pace is Paolo Villanelli, whose ability to etch Valance’s emotions upon the human bounty hunter’s ravaged face genuinely helps sell each and every scene the former Chorin-born mining slave features in. Furthermore, the artist’s attention to detail by capturing the likenesses of actors Harrison Ford and Maurice Bush during their on-screen characters' cameos as Han Solo and Dengar is excellent, and makes both scoundrels’ all-too fleeting appearances enjoyably memorable.

The regular cover art of STAR WARS: BOUNTY HUNTERS #9 by Paolo Villanelli & Arif Prianto

Tuesday, 25 May 2021

Conan The Barbarian #21 - Marvel Comics

As ‘startling turns’ go, “Marvel Worldwide” were most assuredly correct in their pre-publication blurb that Jim Zub’s plot to “The Ancestors Blessing” would surprise many within the twenty-page periodical’s audience. For whilst the revelation that Heng the Insurgent is actually a soul-sucking demonic ghoul who will selfishly sacrifice the eternal life of his loyal followers comes as no great shock, the hidden agenda of the previously depicted meek Meiwei of Paikang is arguably altogether unseen; “My orders came directly from Di Chai, mystic counsellor to the Emperor himself.”

Furthermore, the Canadian author’s sudden transformation of the mild noblewoman into a magic-user of some formidable might is wonderfully delivered when the unsuspecting cut-throat Li-Fen attempts to once again intimidate the supposedly naïve courtier with her curved knife-blade and winds up being momentarily zombified. In fact, for many a moment the author cleverly intimates that Meiwei may very well be treacherously waiting for just the right opportunity with which to do lasting harm to this comic’s titular character.

Happily however, Zub’s narrative for Issue Twenty One of “Conan The Barbarian” isn’t simply based upon the secretive schemes of the Cimmerian’s female travelling companion, but also contains a fantastically ferocious dollop of dynamic action in the shape of a bungled bandit raid upon a well-guarded treasure caravan travelling “through Wutin Village by dusk tomorrow.” This failed attack really does show just how deadly the Khitai Imperial Guard are when fully-formed up in ranks of armoured spearmen with plenty of eagle-eyed archers at their backs, and similarly establishes just how powerful an antagonist Heng can be when the heinous criminal fully submits to his unholy possession by Kuei Demon-Spirits.

Generously augmenting all this book’s gory combat with plenty of well-pencilled stabbings, beheadings and fiery explosions is Cory Smith. The American artist seems to really hit his creative stride once Conan is badly outnumbered by the Emperor’s well-disciplined soldiers, and does a first-rate job sketching the heavily-muscled hero’s confrontation against a seemingly unstoppable immortal insurrectionist who, buoyed by a series of stunningly sketched maelstroms, is persistently surrounded by all manner of swirling supernatural winds, disconcertingly dreadful open mouths and disintegrating vapours.

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

Monday, 24 May 2021

Star Trek: Year Five #20 - IDW Publishing

STAR TREK: YEAR FIVE No. 20, February 2021
For those readers able to struggle through this comic’s horribly contrived opening and settle down to an intriguing nine hundred year-old trip back into the dark past of Vulcan, Brandon Easton’s narrative for Issue Twenty of “Star Trek: Year Five” must surely have pleasantly reminded them of such classic televised tales such as “The City on the Edge of Forever” and “All Our Yesterdays”. For whilst on this occasion it is only the U.S.S. Enterprise’s Science Officer who is suddenly hurled back in time to “a pivotal moment” in his home planet’s history, the twenty-page periodical’s plot is still predominantly focussed upon the inherent dangers of altering a world’s past events, no matter how noble a time-traveller’s intentions may be.

To begin with however, the book debatably gets off to an extremely shaky start as the Baltimore-born writer pens the Tholian Bright Eyes somehow being able to hear “a repeating signal from the surface of Vulcan” which cannot be detected by any Federation sensors. To make matters even more unbelievable though, the crystalline entity is then able to pinpoint the precise location from which the sound is emanating to a mysterious beacon situated just outside the planet’s capital, and subsequently inadvertently activate the unknown device without being sucked back in time himself.

Happily however, once Spock meets his philosophical hero Surak, and deduces that the legendary logician is most definitely not the great man of peace the writings contained within the Kir’shara would suggest, this publication’s ‘pull’ dramatically increases. Indeed, the suggestion that “the father of the modern Vulcan civilization” is perfectly willing to mercilessly mow down his opponents and incarcerate the survivors in violent re-education camps provides both the shocked Starfleet officer and this comic’s audience with an enthralling conundrum; “In this moment, I argued with myself that it is only logical to preserve life. But logic cannot undo the ramifications of my actions. A deep sense of regret fills my consciousness as I realise I may have obliterated the future.”

Likewise, Easton is not shy of adding some space-battle action to the proceedings by having artist Silvia Califano pencil a seriously outnumbered U.S.S. Enterprise facing a large armada of Vulcan/Romulan hybrid starships. Just how Bright Eyes is able to partially protect Captain Kirk and his crew from the ravages of an altered time-line using tachyon particles is probably something best forgotten, but it does lead to an exhilarating chase sequence involving plenty of phaser blasts and the Constitution-class vessel’s colourfully-costumed bridge personnel being thrown all over the place.

Writer: Brandon Eastman, Artist: Silvia Califano, and Colourist: DC Alonso

Saturday, 22 May 2021

BRZRKR #1 - BOOM! Studios

BRZRKR No. 1, February 2021
Financed through a highly successful “Kickstarter” in September 2020, which saw 14,571 backers pledge an astonishing $1,447,212 so as “to help bring this project to life”, this super-sized forty-three page periodical must have seemed like manna from heaven for those readers who enjoy an utterly insane amount of non-stop gratuitous violence within their comic books. Indeed, just Keanu Reeves and Matt Kindt’s body count alone for their collaboratively penned storyline makes an impressive overall number, but that simply doesn’t do the titular character’s savage violence and penchant for bodily mutilation any justice whatsoever.

For starters, the immortal soldier is relentless in his mission to thwart some Dominican Republic President from fleeing the presumably corrupt official’s country scot-free, and will stop at absolutely nothing to tear the man’s bloody heart from out of his horribly disfigured corpse – Whether the situation requires Berzerker to hurl himself out of a top-flight high-rise residence or single-handedly charge a heavily-armed, armoured car. In addition, the machine-like killer uses everything he can get his battle-damaged hands on to aid him in his quest, including one hapless victim’s rib bone which subsequently finds its way into the throat of another opponent; “I’d like to think this is different. Does this feel different to you?”

Happily however, despite all these enjoyable entrails and severed body parts, Issue One of “BRZRKR” still contains plenty of plot to keep its audience coming back for more. The writing partnership’s suggestion that the lead protagonist has suddenly remembered being born some eighty thousand years ago and how this may impact upon his already-traumatised psychological state is thoroughly intriguing, as is whether the recent memory of the dead President’s adolescent son being shot through the head by a government operative so as to prevent him from being a witness, will make the assassin start to question his role working for the authorities.

Perhaps this publication’s greatest asset though, are the breathtakingly stunning panels pencilled by Ron Garney, who seems to have completely immersed his creative skills in the ridiculous energy created by Reeves and Kindt’s script. The increasing damage depicted upon Berzerker whilst he is shot, marred by explosions and fire-ball causing collisions is well-worth the cost of this comic alone, never mind the illustrator’s attention to tiny details, such as the look in the warrior’s eye as he recalls the first sight of his heavily bearded father as he is about to batter to death “El Presidente”.

Written by: Keanu Reeves & Matt Kindt, and Illustrated by: Ron Garney

Wednesday, 19 May 2021

Alien #2 - Marvel Comics

ALIEN No. 2, June 2021
Absolutely dripping in claustrophobic tension to the point where readers can actually hear the disconcerting pings on a motion tracker in their mind, Phillip Kennedy Johnson’s script for Issue Two of “Alien” easily captures much of the excitement experienced during some of the most stressful sequences depicted during the science fiction film franchise’s lengthy lifespan. For whilst this twenty-page periodical’s plot somewhat disconcertingly picks up some thirty-two hours after its previous instalment’s cliff-hanger conclusion, the notable time-jump provides the “Eisner-nominated writer” with plenty of opportunities with which to build up this book’s nerve-wracking tension as both Gabriel Cruz and its audience slowly ascertain just what nightmare occurred on Epsilon Station following the misguided release of the Alpha specimen by a party of anti-corporate U.A. extremists.

In addition, this publication is most definitely not short of the sort of pulse-pounding action which helped James Cameron’s movie “Aliens” become “one of the highest-grossing films of 1986 worldwide.” Indeed, the retired Security Chief’s battle against a pair of fast-moving face-huggers is arguably the highlight of the comic, as bullets zing all over the place and at least one of the accompanying young cocksure marines comes face-to-face with the xenomorph’s terrifying proboscis; “Aaaagghk…! Aaaaahh! Get it Off! Oh God, please get it offfffff!”

Of course, such a frenzied fracas has been seen before on the big screen, but Johnson still manages to make his storyline appear fresh by giving Cruz an especially personal side-mission to locate his ‘missing presumed dead’ errant son, alongside the ex-soldier’s main goal of retrieving Weyland-Yutani’s extra-terrestrial property. On top of that this magazine also contains some tantalising teasers as to Gabriel’s original encounter with the titular creatures some twenty years earlier aboard the Hadley Carrier Two, and even goes so far as to suggest the lead protagonist somehow survived being impregnated with an alien embryo.

Lastly, it must be noted that Salvador Larroca does a first-rate job of imbuing all of this comic’s cast with plenty of personality, including the two naively arrogant Defence Agents who foolishly follow Cruz into the Lion’s Den without having ever bothered to watch the assignment’s video brief. In fact, considering just how well the Spanish artist manages to capture the look and feel of the “Aliens” cinematic universe with his well-pencilled panels, many fans would probably feel the illustrations alone are worth the book’s cover price.

The regular cover art of "ALIEN" #2 by InHyuk Lee

Tuesday, 18 May 2021

Alien #1 - Marvel Comics

ALIEN No. 1, May 2021
It is arguably crystal clear from Phillip Kennedy Johnson’s narrative for Issue One of “Alien” that the Eisner-nominated writer is indeed “a huge fan” of the science fiction films and was “good to go” just as soon as “Marvel Worldwide” had acquired the franchise's licence. Indeed, there’s a definite ‘comic book adaption of a motion picture’ feel to the author’s storyline as the threat of the titular creatures is simply inferred to begin with, whilst the main body of the publication focuses upon the political aspirations of a gang of well meaning, yet savagely violent activists.

Enjoyably however, that doesn’t mean for a second that H. R. Giger’s co-creations aren’t given plenty of spotlight, with Gabriel Cruz suffering several scary flashbacks to a time when he was both attacked and seemingly ensnared by the formidable xenomorphs. These terrifying trips to the recently retired Weyland-Yutani defence agent’s past are especially disturbing once they firmly focus upon the fate of one of his comrades-in-arms, who having had his leave revoked at the last minute due to a colleague getting sick, starts hysterically screaming that he was never supposed to be on the ill-fated mission and has to “get back for Jamie’s trip” before she asks somebody else to go out with her.

Similarly as successful in creating a dramatically-charged atmosphere is Johnson’s central plot involving Cruz’s ungrateful adult son stealing his father’s security data and using it to help a band of unlikeable terrorists infiltrate Epsilon Station. Having gunned down the hapless security guards before they’ve even had a chance to surrender, and then subsequently shot the space base’s lead scientist, this motley band of desperados come to a somewhat satisfyingly sticky end when it quickly becomes apparent that the Server Farm they foolishly thought they’d expose to a mortified general public turns out to be a face hugger breeding facility.

Additionally adding plenty of trepidation and terror to this thirty-page periodical are Salvador Larroca’s excellent layouts. The Spanish artist does a stellar job of capturing the feel of James Cameron’s “Aliens”, most notably in Bishop’s likeness to actor Lance Henriksen, as well as projecting the sheer mercilessness of Gabriel’s son Danny by betraying his Dad's former workmates to a bunch of gung-ho killers; “He was reaching, baby” We didn’t have a choice.”

The regular cover art of "ALIEN" #1 by InHyuk Lee

Thursday, 13 May 2021

Black Widow #6 - Marvel Comics

BLACK WIDOW No. 6, June 2021
“Best described as San Francisco now belongs to The Black Widow”, at least according to its publisher “Marvel Worldwide”, Kelly Thompson’s script for this particular twenty-page periodical definitely shows a street-level side to the “world’s greatest superspy” which arguably harks right back to the character’s pre-Avengers days in the early Seventies when Gerry Conway penned her alongside Daredevil. Indeed, apart from a handful of super-strong enforcers, there’s barely anything ‘fantastical’ on show at all within this comic’s intriguing interior as Natasha Romanoff purely relies upon her fighting smarts and technologically-advanced hardware to defeat a Crime Boss’s top tier cadre; “Swords. Cool. I like swords too. Bit cumbersome though. Small throwing knives are also cool.”

This down-to-earth grittiness and focus upon street-level shenanigans really does seem to suit the Eisner Award-nominee’s incarnation of the Russian secret agent, especially considering that the woman is still emotionally traumatised by the loss of her adorable infant son, Stevie. Furthermore, it is clear very early on that the titular character is also still physically struggling from her recent battle with Madame Hydra’s cohorts, with Thompson’s riveting narrative even going so far as to have the vulnerable heroine tear open the stitches in her right side whilst breaking the arms of one particular heavily-muscled goon, and having to seek the wares of a pharmacy before returning to the fight.

Similarly as stimulating is the California-born writer’s inclusion of Yelena Belova and a poorly-skilled purse snatcher called Marigold in a fast-paced flashback sequence. Disappointingly, the White Widow doesn’t actually appear in her capacity as an assassin during her sister-in-arms’ pulse-pounding confrontation with Apogee's numerous henchmen. But does raise the fascinating suggestion with Romanoff that together the two successful graduates of Department X's espionage training program could potentially recruit “some young talent” in order to create “our own not-Red Room” in Golden Gate City.

Guest artist Rafael De Latorre also needs a notable nod of congratulations for his contribution to “Widows”. The Brazilian artist does a first-rate job of imbuing Natasha with all her trademark speed during the clone’s fight scenes, with the former S.H.I.E.L.D. operative’s limb-breaking blows proving a particularly well-pencilled, eye-wincing treat.

The regular cover art of "BLACK WIDOW" #6 by Adam Hughes

Monday, 10 May 2021

Lytton #3 - Cutaway Comics

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 8 May 2021

Shadowman #1 - Valiant Entertainment

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 7 May 2021

Omega #1 - Cutaway Comics

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 5 May 2021

The Recount #2 - Scout Comics

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 4 May 2021

Conan The Barbarian #20 - Marvel Comics

Nicely bookended with the titular character fighting for his life in two very physical confrontations against a non-human opponent, Jim Zub’s narrative for Issue Twenty of “Conan The Barbarian” must surely have pleased the vast majority of its audience with its heavy dose of realistic action-packed adventure and swashbuckling swordplay. In fact, up until the Cimmerian’s climatic wrestling bout with Heng the Insurgent this comic’s main plot-thread is satisfyingly reliant upon the bronze-skinned giant’s down-to-earth survival savvy, rather an over-reliance upon a supernatural weapon or some poorly-penned unearthly ability to out fence an entire horde of heavily-armed Khitai royal guard.

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

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

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

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

Monday, 3 May 2021

Dune: House Atreides #6 - BOOM! Studios

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 2 May 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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