Wednesday, 30 June 2021

Batman: The Adventures Continue #17 - DC Comics


Throwing the utterly homicidal Joker together with the equally psychotic Scarface, this final instalment to the “Batman: The Adventures Continue” series of digital first comics definitely provides its audience with a fast-paced, thrill-a-minute journey through Gotham City’s underground rail network. In fact, apart from a brief visit to Harley Quinn’s shared apartment with Poison Ivy for a super-swift interrogation scene, the titular character is repeatedly portrayed simply kicking in as many doors as he can during a ferociously-fast investigation into both the location of some stolen CX explosions, as well as the Clown Prince of Crime’s diabolical plans for them; “I’ve had enough trouble tonight. And now Crazy’s with Insane. This could get a lot worse before it gets better.”

Intriguingly however, Alan Burnett and Paul Dini do add an extra element to their serious sleuthing narrative by depicting the Ventriloquist as literally being in two minds as to whether he wants to be partnered with his wooden puppet anymore. Such a noble hesitation by a reforming Arnold Wesker arguably creates some genuine sympathy for the ex-supervillain’s split-personality within the audience, especially when it is revealed the softly-spoken loner has risked his very life to aid the Dark Knight’s breakneck pursuit by leaving behind a few all-important clues as to Scarface’s secret whereabouts.

Equally as entertaining is the relationship between the Joker and his new smart-mouthed associate, which initially seems to unexpectedly be based upon a ‘healthy’ respect for the inanimate doll’s anti-social savvy. However, it soon becomes clear that the white-faced murderer was simply using his fellow felon to get his hands on a bomb, when he unflinchingly dispatches Wesker with a whiff of knock-out gas, and watches the figurine fall lifelessly upon some train tracks.

Enjoyably imbuing all this action with some considerable life and animation is Ty Templeton, who manages to generate oodles of compassion for poor lonely “Arnie” as the man desperately tries to enjoy his first Christmas going straight. Likewise, the Canadian artist does a great job pencilling the oft-times fraught interaction between this comic’s top two evil masterminds, with the panels showing Scarface threateningly pushing himself right into the Joker’s face so as to make a point doubtless providing the book’s audience with at least a few smiles.

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

Tuesday, 29 June 2021

Strange Academy #9 - Marvel Comics

Pretty evenly splitting its focus between the disconcertingly dark exploits of Calvin Morse and Doyle Dormammu, with the infinitely more humorous tongue-in-cheek shenanigans of Emily Bright’s ultra-competitive mother, Skottie Young’s narrative for Issue Nine of “Strange Academy” certainly provided its readers with a pair of distinctly contrasting storylines. In fact, it’s difficult to imagine two more different sub-plots as Morse’s enchanted leather jacket throttles his foster father to death right in front of the astonished man’s understandably horrified wife, and Missus Bright entertainingly goes toe-to-toe with Loki during a parents race through the magical grounds of her daughter’s college; “Oh, I’m going to beat you with those dumb horns on your stupid tiara!”

Fortunately, both of these action-packed scenarios are extremely well-written, with Dormammu’s distinctly dark descent into the academy’s treasure room alongside an inquisitive Calvin arguably being ever so slightly the more impactive, courtesy of its longer-lasting influence upon the students’ future. The two boys’ battle against a gang of murderous Mindless Ones is enthrallingly intense, and simply goes to show that not all the staff under Doctor Voodoo’s leadership are particularly pleased with some of the magic-using apprentices under their charge.

In addition, despite Morse somehow managing to momentarily floor the “virtually unstoppable engines of destruction” with a formidable display of sorcerous super-powers, it seems pretty evident that the adolescents’ attackers have not forgiven Doyle’s Dad for erasing their minds and enslaving them down in the Dark Dimension. This resentment has clearly built up within the Dread One’s numerous minions to the point where they are now willing to kill those who they are supposedly ‘sworn to protect’, so simply being temporarily thwarted in that endeavour by one of their targets doesn’t look likely to satisfactorily resolve their ill intentions any time soon.

Much less deadly, though equally as exhausting, is Young’s whacky take on parents taking on the various obstacles found within Jericho Drumm’s mind-boggling obstacle course. Dynamically sketched by artist Humberto Ramos, the extended action-sequence clearly brings out the worst in Missus Bright’s sense of sportsmanship, but that doesn’t stop the American author imbuing it with a genuine sense of fun right up to the point where Emily’s parent purposely trips up Loki just before the finishing line in order for her to become the competition's overall winner.

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

Monday, 28 June 2021

Blowtorch #2 - Second Sight Publishing

BLOWTORCH No. 2, June 2021
Starting with a seriously insane punch-up inside a fast-falling helicopter, and concluding with a sense-shattering shoot-out between some of Avery Davis’ top operatives and a mechanical killing machine, there isn’t debatably much room for a bibliophile to breathe in Issue Two of “Blowtorch”. Fortunately however, that is far from a bad thing, with Paige Alfred and Alex De Gruchy’s collaborative penmanship crafting a highly engaging storyline concerning an assassin-turned-drug dealer quickly realising that his change of occupation doesn’t sit terribly well with his political masters; “I genuinely hoped this wouldn’t be necessary and you’d actually have a solution up your sleeve… But me handing Fitzgerald your head should go some way to fixing this mess.”

Admittedly, not every scene in this twenty-two page roller-coaster of a read is crammed full of high-octane shenanigans and ferocious fire-fights. But even the dialogue-heavy initial briefing by Richard Kinkaid’s boss as to C.H.E.S.S.’ latest mission is delivered in such a dramatic way, that it still provides plenty of excitement and intrigue. Indeed, one of this comic’s greatest assets is that it is clear straight from the pair’s opening exchange that Blowtorch and his team-mate Pinpoint don’t get along with one another all that well; especially when Davis puts the facially disfigured titular character in charge of abducting a highly rated professional assassin.

Heated exchanges and veiled threats aside however, the pair immediately realise they have a dangerous job to do, and their ability to work well together despite their differences of opinion leads to some of this book’s most memorable action sequences. Foremost of these set-pieces is arguably the image of a gun-toting James Washington literally dangling off one of Infrared’s robotic arms, whilst the android itself is clinging on to the side of a swooping helicopter. Albeit Pinpoint subsequently diving behind a variety of garden-based stone statues as large chunks of masonry are torn up into the air around him by a semi-automatic shotgun, probably comes a close second.

All of these marvellously visualised moments are wonderfully illustrated by Osvaldo Pestana Montpeller, whose gritty technical style of pencilling really suits the black and white colouring of this comic. In fact, the Cuban artist’s attention to detail whilst depicting the breakdown in relationship between middle man Gareth Davenport and Mexican-American former-Marine Michael Cabral is sublime, to the point where some in this publication’s audience can probably hear the older killer’s sigh of disappointment when he realises his only course of action following a semi-bungled hit-job is to shoot his cybernetically-enhanced employee dead in cold blood.

Authors: Alfred Paige & Alex De Gruchy, and Artist: Osvaldo Pestana Montpeller

Saturday, 26 June 2021

Shang-Chi [2021] #1 - Marvel Comics

SHANG-CHI No. 1, July 2021
Reading like an instalment from the New York-based publisher’s beloved Seventies series “Marvel Team-Up”, Gene Luen Yang’s script for Issue One of “Shang-Chi Vs. The Marvel Universe” must surely have delighted both fans of the titular character, as well as those of “your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man” with its enthralling mixture of martial arts and web-throwing. Indeed, in many ways it’s a real shame that Peter Parker’s alter-ego is seemingly only destined to make an appearance in this particular publication, as his long-standing friendship with the Supreme Commander of the Five Weapons Society develops some intriguing friction once the wall-crawling super-hero realises his comrade-in-arms’ new allegiance and begins questioning whether “you still one of us?”

Of course, this nagging doubt as to Shang-Chi’s motivation for ‘confiscating’ the entire proceeds of a combined drugs/weapon ring for his own undisclosed ends doesn’t manifest itself until the conclusion of this twenty-page periodical. Before these reservations appear the duo are depicted as being as ‘thick as thieves’, and even briefly remind this comic’s audience, courtesy of some mid-action banter, that the Master of Kung Fu had once devised The Way Of The Spider fighting style for his colourfully-costumed fellow crime-fighter so as to ensure his “spider-sense will grow even stronger.”

Perhaps therefore this book’s only disappointment is the infuriating inclusion of Sister Dagger, who despite creating a few genuine ‘laugh out loud’ moments, increasingly starts to grind upon the senses with her persistent desire to slaughter everyone around her. In fact, in many ways Esme quite infuriatingly appears little more than a second-rate ‘knock-off’ version of “DC Comics” homicidal hero Damian Wayne, especially when she instantly decides to kill Spider-Man after he’s been unknowingly infected by the toxic properties of the Yeren root and has to be stopped from slitting the deformed vigilante’s throat by her older brother; "I've got a better plan! Grab his webbing!"

Happily however, this is only a minor quibble, and easily forgotten if not forgiven once the audience become immersed in Dike Ruan’s sumptuously-pencilled artwork. The Chinese illustrator does a fantastic job of imbuing every action-shot with some breath-taking speed and provides this book’s lead protagonists with all the acrobatic nuances a bibliophile would expect from two such physically dynamic athletes.

The regular cover art of "SHANG-CHI" #1 by Lenil Frances Yu & Sunny Gho

Friday, 25 June 2021

BRZRKR #3 - BOOM! Studios

BRZRKR No. 3, June 2021
For those bibliophiles who thoroughly enjoy buckets of blood being literally thrown across each and every page of their books, Issue Three of “BRZRKR” must surely have landed well, considering that its collaboratively written storyline predominantly depicts its titular character cutting a red swathe through the numerous tribes who supposedly threaten his ‘vulnerable’ Prehistoric community. Indeed, Keanu Reeves and Matt Kindt’s narrative is most definitely not for the faint-hearted as it features the long-haired killing machine repeatedly hacking his way through his hapless opponents with a deadly double-handed axe that seems to have little trouble decapitating, eviscerating and mutilating anybody foolish enough to get within the blade’s razor-sharp reach.

Intriguingly however, this comic isn’t arguably just about gratuitous gore, thanks largely to a well-penned sub-plot concerning Bezerker’s (non-biological) father increasingly succumbing to the power his son’s immortality offers their tribe. Initially born out of a desperate desire to simply survive the repeated raiding parties striking their village to its very core, the young warrior is suddenly seen to be little more than a “tool” which once fully-honed, will seemingly help the ambitious leader conquer vast expanses of land, and bring even those civilisations who offer no danger whatsoever to his rule, under the headman’s vicious heel; “This village is so far, father. How can they possibly be a threat?”

In addition, this publication does a good job of sowing the seeds of doubt in the lead protagonist’s mind that there must be more to life than him simply wading through the bodies of broken men, women and children just because his patriarch commands it. In fact, the friction between the living weapon’s mother and her power-hungry husband becomes quite palpable by this comic’s end, especially once the woman’s offspring confides in her his doubts and she realises that they emotionally echo her own concerns as to his God-given gift being badly misused.

Equally as enthralling as this book’s narrative, is the attention to detail which Ron Garney’s excellent pencilling provides. Some readers may unfairly gloss over the artist’s scarlet-soaked layouts as one of many ‘over-the-top’ illustrations which litter this publication’s battle-scenes. But for those who take the time to look a little closer at each panel’s composition, they contain some astonishingly savage moments, such as Bezerker literally severing the odd enemy’s head by squishing the fellow’s neck flat with his bare hand, or battering to death an unnamed King’s bodyguard using their monarch’s amputated leg as a particularly grisly weapon.

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

Thursday, 24 June 2021

Alien #3 - Marvel Comics

ALIEN No. 3, July 2021
Eking out much of the excitement found within this franchise’s cinematic history and cramming it into the narrative for Issue Three of “Alien” Phillip Kennedy Johnson must have pleased the vast majority of this book’s audience when this particular publication hit the shelves in May 2021. In fact, it is arguably pretty hard to find any faults with the twenty-page periodical’s plot as Gabriel Cruz once again wages a very personal war against Xenomorph XX121, whilst simultaneously trying to thwart the insane machinations of some ill-thinking eco- extremists on board Epsilon Station; “You’re Iris Humphries. The zealot terrorist who brainwashed my boy.”

Foremost of this comic’s strengths is the interplay between the retired Weyland-Yutani “loyal security officer” and the rest of the narrative’s cast, which is enjoyably edgy even when the military veteran’s “off the books” mission is momentarily heading in the right direction. Much of this success is down to the tangible friction between the company’s sole-surviving agent and Danny’s father, who despite repeatedly witnessing the older man save his life through either epic gun-slinging or simple, sound advice, continues to question his superior’s decision-making like some frightened schoolboy.

In addition, the “Eisner-nominated writer” makes it abundantly clear that Cruz will sacrifice anyone in order to retrieve the mysterious Alpha Embryo and rescue his hapless boy, even if that means mercilessly gunning down an old family friend from behind when he realises Mitch has been impregnated by a face-hugging alien. Admittedly, it is clear that the ex-soldier commits such an act with a heavy heart, but his momentary display of emotion as he thanks his victim beforehand for previously being so kind to his kids, doesn’t stop him doing his perceived duty.

Equally as adept at adding to this book’s terrifying traumas are the fast-paced layouts of Salvador Larroca, whose ability to etch terror upon the faces of this comic’s characters genuinely helps sell the sheer horror they are experiencing. Likewise, the Spanish artist’s prodigious pencilling really captures the insane speed with which the aliens can move, especially when at close quarters, and how difficult they are to kill even when facing someone as efficient with a firearm as Gabriel apparently is.

The regular cover art of "ALIEN" #3 by InHyuk Lee

Tuesday, 22 June 2021

Slaughter Bowl - Rebellion [Part Two]

Wading waste deep in dinosaur carcasses, scattered human limbs and an entire arsenal of “tactical nuclear artillery”, John Smith’s script for the second half of “Slaughter Bowl” must easily have made the majority of this comic’s audience carry a massive grin across their faces throughout the entire length of the race. For whilst the utterly insane sport’s coverage does contain the odd commercial break, so as to allow the film crew to focus upon Chief Plastic Surgeon Cliff Hammond’s financially-fuelled efforts to save Stanley Modest’s sick wife, the vast majority of this graphic novel’s sense-shatteringly paced final four instalments predominantly focus upon the bespectacled serial killer’s homicidal efforts to get his Parasaurus called Myrtle across the finishing line in one piece; “Stan! You gotta snap out of it! This is it, Stan! Your big chance!”

Happily however, so simple a plot such as first past the winner’s post doesn’t mean that what follows is in any way sedentary or dull, thanks to the British author penning a number of high-octane set-pieces involving heavily-toothed carnivores mercilessly tearing chunks out of the numerous competitors in the most grisly way imaginable. Indeed, this so-called sport’s kill count is phenomenal with the tournament’s initial death actually taking place just outside the starting stalls when Salvator Ligotti’s bright green Triceratops catches “a trip wire with his very first step” and decapitates participant Number Thirty-Four.

Smith is also somewhat innovative in just how his exhilarating story is told by using the Word Television News Service coverage to ‘skip’ any boring bits and repeatedly whisk the reader straight into the very heart of the action wherever on the 120 mile endurance course it is taking place. This technique means that despite a few scenes depicting the rider’s purchasing either armaments or life-saving medical aid during a well-timed pit stop, Paul Peart’s marvellous illustrations are never really more than a handful of panels away from depicting some ghastly moment of unqualified carnage on the racing track - even if “the co-creator of Tracer” includes a disconcerting viewpoint straight down into a Megalosaurus’ digestive tract when DJ Jackmaster Chill and his accompanying Harry Camera are shockingly swallowed by the ferocious giant lizard.

Ultimately though, this entire publication lives or dies by the quality of its conclusion, when Stanley’s soft demeanour is finally put to the test against the homicidal barbarism of Mister Throat. Excitingly, Smith’s penmanship doesn’t disappoint, and even manages to throw the book’s bibliophiles a few curve balls within the final pages as the literally legless defending three-time champion goes tooth to tooth with his closest rival just mere inches from the race’s end.

Writer: John Smith, Artist: Paul Peart, and Letterer: Ellie De Ville

Monday, 21 June 2021

Batman: The Adventures Continue #16 - DC Comics

There’s debatably a strong sense of ‘padding’ to be found within Alan Burnett and Paul Dini’s script to Issue Sixteen of “Batman: The Adventures Continue”. For whilst the digital first comic provides an interesting insight into Bruce Wayne’s under-cover alter-ego Knute Brody, the vast majority of the publication simply focuses upon the present-swapping shenanigans taking place at Harley Quinn’s Christmas party, and the celebration’s subsequent sudden conclusion once it’s been gate-crashed by a somewhat irate Joker; “Straightman and I were chilling at the Ha-Ha-Hideaway when we heard you were in need of Yuletide cheer."

Such festive joyfulness is admittedly momentarily entertaining, as it provides the collaborative writing couple with plenty of opportunities to include a number cameos from the DC Universe, such as Penguin, the Carpenter, March Harriet, Baby Boom, the Mad Hatter and Scarecrow. But endless panel after endless panel depicting some of Gotham City’s less glamourous criminals drinking heartily, kissing under the mistletoe, and singing carol songs together soon starts to grate upon the senses, even if the audience knows that the Father Christmas recklessly mixing up everyone’s well-wrapped presents in the background is actually the Dark Knight himself.

To make matters worse though, this particular instalment to “Secret Santa” ends with the Joker revealing his grand scheme for revenge to be nothing more than to reunite Arnold Wesker with his wooden partner-in-crime Scarface. This ‘touching reintegration’ arguably made some semblance of sense whilst the Ventriloquist was visiting Quinzel’s social gathering, as presumably the Clown Prince of Crime was hoping to use the puppet master’s fragile psychological state to ruin his ex-girlfriend’s moment of merriment. However, with the shindig now silenced following Brody’s clever bluff that he “saw a bunch of cops pulling up outside ‘bout, oh, ten minutes ago”, it seems odd that the white-faced homicidal maniac would continue to stalk a bespectacled Wesker out onto the metropolis’ snowy streets.

Perhaps therefore this book’s sole guilty pleasure is studying some of Ty Templeton’s bar room-based scenes to spy just how many members of Batman’s almost limitless Rogues Gallery pay a visit to the Iceberg Lounge. Some bibliophiles might see this as an exercise in futility, however, there is undoubtedly a little fun to be had spotting the Clock King doing the rounds, Captain Boomerang propping up a countertop, and the identical cousins Tweedledum and Tweedledee giving the odd carol their vocal all whilst Jervis Tetch tinkles the ivories of a solitary piano.

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

Friday, 18 June 2021

Slaughter Bowl - Rebellion [Part One]

Featuring an insane amount of disconcertingly graphic gratuitous violence, ranging from the merciless mutilation of hapless Pandas in a protected species preservation area through to an enraged Tyrannosaurus Rex devouring a fleeing felon whole, John Smith’s narrative for the opening half of this digital-only collection must have somewhat surprised many of its readers with the enormous amount of sympathy it somehow also generates for the lack-lustre central character Stanley Modest. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine life getting much worse for the greeting card company employee than that depicted within the first four instalments to “Slaughter Bowl”, as his twenty three year career is suddenly terminated, the doctor looking after his “dangerously ill wife” threatens to pull the plug on her, and the police shockingly arrest him for apparently being a mass murderer.

Fortunately, being dealt such a bad hand in the card game of life does mean that the swiftly convicted killer can now join the likes of Multiple Bob, Cannibal Deacon Makuth and Kasimir Rodchenko as a contestant in the “deadly battle royale where criminals riding dinosaurs attempt to annihilate each other for cash and prizes!” Such a surprising change of direction for the spectacled protagonist on Death Row gives the Lancashire-born writer an excellent opportunity to slowly fill in the details behind the gruesome sport to this graphic novel’s audience, whilst simultaneously providing the tale’s supporting cast, such as World Champion Mister Throat, with plenty of personality too.

In fact, this book’s build-up toward the start of the world-wide media event is arguably palpable, courtesy of Smith literally taking each bibliophile by the hand and walking them through the competitors’ lengthy preparations as they negotiate sponsorship deals, undergo an RNA-Infosquirt straight into the Hippocampus area of the brain, select their particular Prehistoric mount, and then finally equip the creature with all manner of lasers, automatic weaponry and missiles; “We need something light and manoeuvrable, but something that packs a punch too…”

Furthermore, the decision to present much of this information by way of a supposed broadcast by the Word Television News service allows the hype surrounding the Slaughter Bowl to become incredibly infectious, and ensures artist Paul Peart is given plenty of opportunity to pencil some excellent-looking camera shots of the various dinosaurs to be ridden in the race. These theatrical, often fast-paced news items also act as a great contrast to some of the more muted, rather introspective personal thoughts of Modest, and help highlight the quiet, inner turmoil taking place within Stanley’s mind amidst the utter hubbub of the frenzied, lucrative show surrounding him.

Writer: John Smith, Artist: Paul Peart, and Letterer: Ellie De Ville

Thursday, 17 June 2021

Batman: The Adventures Continue #15 - DC Comics

Despite starting with a pretty pulse-pounding punch-up between the Caped Crusader and a dirigible full of Scarface’s well-dressed henchmen, it was probably a good bet that the majority of this digital first title’s readers felt a little cheated by the plot to “Secret Santa”. In fact, the more uncharitable within this comic’s audience could well argue that little to nothing actually occurs within Alan Burnett and Paul Dini’s narrative once the Dark Knight has snatched Arnold Wesker from the fiery jaws of certain death; “Robin! I hope you have us in your sights.”

Of course, that isn’t to say that Issue Fifteen of “Batman: The Adventures Continue” doesn’t contain the odd highlight here and there, such as when the ever-arrogant Detective Bullock unwisely forces the Ventriloquist to once again place his wooden puppet upon his hand during the bespectacled prisoner's interrogation, and unsurprisingly gets walloped straight across the face for his trouble. But such scenes don’t arguably do much in the way of progressing this book’s central plot, which bizarrely appears to revolve around Harley Quinn trying to arrange a Christmas party for all her criminal friends – apart from her ex-boyfriend, the Joker.

Indeed, once Poison Ivy rather begrudgingly agrees to support Quinzel in her Yuletide endeavour, very little of any significance actually occurs within the storyline until the Clown Prince of Crime rather contrivingly just happens to hack into his former partner-in-crime’s computer and sees that “she’s sent out a bunch of invitations for a Christmas party” and that he is not invited. This rather manufactured moment disappointingly comes completely out of the blue, and seems to have been bolted onto the publication’s end simply so its writers can provide it with something of a cliff-hanger.

Nobly adding to this comic's smattering of spills and thrills are Ty Templeton and colourist Monica Kubina. The creative pairing do an excellent job of imbuing Batman’s attempt to thwart Scarface’s plan to detonate fifty pounds of CX-8000 explosives over Gotham City with some palpable pace, and even manage to temporarily put the frighteners on any perusing bibliophile during a brief scene where Wesker realises he hasn’t seen his old mannequin’s reflection in a shop window. But rather that of four animatronic puppets who have been programmed to replicate elves busily building some of Santa’s presents for those children who have been nice not naughty.

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

Wednesday, 16 June 2021

The Immortal Hulk #47 - Marvel Comics

IMMORTAL HULK No. 47, August 2021
Containing a mouth-watering confrontation between the titular character and the latest Avengers roster, Al Ewing’s screenplay for “Chaotic Terrain” surely must have impressed the vast majority of Hulk-heads when it first hit the spinner racks in June 2021. In fact, many readers probably struggled to remember another time within the Diamond Gem Award-winning series when the twenty-page periodical was so packed with such a powerfully-large cast all duking it out against one another under the misguided belief that the Green Goliath was about to destroy Manhattan.

Rather gratifyingly though, amongst all this utter chaos and breath-taking destruction are also a plethora of well-penned sub-plots, which see the British author establishing a series of highly enthralling ‘personal’ duels featuring some of the New York City-based publisher’s mightiest heroes. Foremost of these contests is arguably the continuation of hostilities involving Bruce Banner’s alter-ego and Thor Odinson, which is so cataclysmic that at one point it actually results in a bolt of lightning severing the Hulk’s right hand.

But equally as unforgettable are debatably the founding Avenger’s all-too brief encounter with Blade, who somewhat strangely seems to believe the gamma-strong powerhouse is “a stinkin’ vamp”, and T'Challa’s subsequent limb-slicing shenanigans with his maximum-charged energy daggers, which some within the comic book media have used as conclusive proof that the “Black Panther could easily beat the Hulk.” Interestingly however, not all of this magazine’s high-octane antics solely revolve around Joe Fixit’s green-hued persona either, courtesy of Ewing making both the Harpy’s skirmish with Captain Marvel, and Carl "Crusher" Creel’s clash against Captain America mouth-watering prospects too; “Heads up, Flag-man -- You and me, right now --”

In addition to its writing, Issue Forty-Seven of “Immortal Hulk” also owes much of its success to artist Joe Bennett, who manages to quite wonderfully depict the numerous combatants various emotions on their faces with consummate ease. Indeed, Jennifer Walters increasing doubts as to the validity of the Avengers authority to permanently take down the Hulk can clearly be seen in just the character’s eyes for the majority of the well-pencilled comic, and makes the She-Hulk’s change of loyalties at its jaw-dropping conclusion much more believable.

The regular cover art of "IMMORTAL HULK" #47 by Alex Ross

Tuesday, 15 June 2021

Conan The Barbarian #22 - Marvel Comics

CONAN THE BARBARIAN No. 22, August 2021
Whilst Jim Zub’s script for Issue Twenty Two of “Conan The Barbarian” arguably doesn’t contain much in the way of dynamic weapon play or savage fighting until its very end, that doesn’t stop this comic from still containing a thoroughly enthralling storyline where danger seems to be lurking around every corner. Indeed, the sheer sense of jeopardy which permeates through this entire twenty-page periodical is palpable as the rather head-strong and ignorant titular character ponderously presents himself to the super-strict disciplinarian court of the Emperor at Paikang in order to return a “cursed sword to its rightful owner…”

Foremost of these engaging hooks is the poor manner in which the Cimmerian is treated by his hosts, who clearly view the “bare-chested beast” as someone utterly unfit to walk within the “blessed Jewel of the East”, let alone stand in the presence of their divine imperial ruler. This friction persistently promises to flare up, even when the adventurer is honing his skills against an aged sword master with wooden sabres, and threatens to hurl an ever-uncomfortable Conan into a fatal confrontation against overwhelming numbers; “You are an outsider. You must follow my lead to ensure we both come through this with honour intact and heads still attached.”

In addition, there is also the ever-present fear that the barbarian’s demon-possessed hand-weapon will once again ‘flare-up’ and force its wielder to go on a remorseless, blood-soaked killing spree throughout the beautiful city. This possibility seems to become increasingly ever-likely as the Canadian author’s narrative builds up to the black-haired warrior handing the cursed blade over to its rightful owner, General Maltus-Rai - the Commander of the Fifth Circle, following a ceremonial display of various elaborate weapon stances.

Ultimately however, one of the Emperor’s supposedly loyal subjects unsurprisingly decides to use Conan’s presence at court to make a play for the top job, and when that occurs Zub is definitely not shy in packing his prose with as much action as he manage. Coupled with some super-dynamic pencilling by Cory Smith, the subsequent assassination attempt ends this publication on an impressively high note, with the Cimmerian barely able to survive the sorcerous attack and facing a highly-agitated party of noblemen who firmly believe him to be responsible for the traitorous assault upon their living deity.

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

Monday, 14 June 2021

The Immortal Hulk #46 - Marvel Comics

IMMORTAL HULK No. 46, July 2021
Absolutely packed with the titular character engaging in some bouts of pulse-pounding pugilism, whether it be Bruce Banner’s alter-ego battering Ironclad or standing toe-to-toe against the might of a certain Thunder God, Al Ewing’s script for Issue Forty Six of “Immortal Hulk” certainly seems to deliver on its ‘promise’ that “the gamma monsters are [all] coming back” to this title’s main narrative. Indeed, despite being somewhat side-lined for the vast majority of this twenty-page periodical, the British author still manages to give the likes of Doc Sasquatch, Jackie McGee, Rick Jones, Del Frye and Betty Ross-Banner some memorable ‘screen-time’; especially Harpy, whose surprise appearance at this comic’s very end must have had many a bibliophile desperately desiring to know when the book’s next instalment would hit the local spinner racks.

However, it is probably the sheer conscious viciousness of Joe Fixit’s incarnation of the green Goliath which is this publication’s most notable asset. Red eyed, and claret-veined, the Hulk facing off against the U-Foes is a marked contrast from the emaciated beast Henry Gyrich’s villainous cronies beat to death just a short while earlier, and creates one of this ongoing series’ most eye-wincing moments when he literally attempts to slowly stab into Michael Steel’s brain with his fingers; “See, that makes me curious. Are ya metal all the way through? Or is it squishy organs in a smooth, shiny shell. Let’s find out…”

Equally as enjoyable, though far less sadistic, is the Hulk’s confrontation with Thor Odinson at the wonderfully named Wein’s public bar in Manhattan. The Asgardian’s cowardly assault upon an unsuspecting jade behemoth suggests just how desperate the Thunder God is to “break” his opponent “like the beast you are” before the gamma-irradiated power-house is able to summon his full formidable strength, and similarly shows just how anxious the rest of the Avengers are to avoid a cataclysmic catastrophe such as the one they deliberately caused in Iowa.

Helping this fight-fest bound along at an enjoyable pace, are the well-detailed panels of regular contributor Joe Bennett, whose prodigious pencilling would strongly suggest just how much fun the illustrator was having sketching both the sound defeat of the U-Foes, and the nervous apprehension of Captain America and his colourfully-costumed team-mates. In fact, one of the highlights of “You And Me Against The World” is the Brazilian’s ability to provide a satisfying ‘thud’ behind every one of the Hulk’s punches whenever he trades blows with either Ironclad or a teeth-clenched Thor.

The regular cover art of "IMMORTAL HULK" #46 by Alex Ross

Thursday, 10 June 2021

Star Wars: Bounty Hunters #11 - Marvel Comics

Nicely bookended by a scene on the Outer Rim in which Beilert Valance partners up with Dengar the Demolisher so as to track down the Corellian smuggler Han Solo, the vast majority of “The Great Hunt Of Malastare” actually focuses upon “a special solo adventure starring the most savage bounty hunter of all” rather than this ongoing series’ usual cybernetically-enhanced central protagonist. Yet whilst such a decision by Ethan Sacks might have perturbed some readers who were looking forward to another tale concerning the former Carida Imperial Academy cadet, those willing to give the infamous Trandoshan, Bossk'wassak'Cradossk, a moment in the American author’s spotlight were probably far from disappointed.

Indeed, this twenty-page periodical’s plot is absolutely packed full of sense-shattering action, plenty of the lizard-like killer’s trademark ferocious savagery, “some of the most dangerous scum in the galaxy”, a handful of wonderfully-penned moments of bold-faced treachery, and a great cameo by Jabba the Hutt's majordomo, Bib Fortuna; “Be careful out there. A lone hunter can be… vulnerable without the right kind of friends.”

Furthermore, Sack’s script for Issue Eleven of “Star War: Bounty Hunters” also provides a fascinating insight into just how utterly cold-blooded Bossk can be when presented with both a lucrative contract on a desperately dangerous planet and a motley group of unsuspecting innocents who’ll prove the perfect Judas goats when the opportunity arises. True, few bibliophiles were probably caught off-guard when the Wookie hunter willingly sacrifices his na├»ve entourage to the deadly gunfire of the group’s pursuers, simply so he could mark his opponents’ positions on the high ground. But that still doesn’t arguably stop the Trandoshan’s brutal act from being any less shocking, especially when he later indicates he feels the sole survivor should actually thank him for outliving the ordeal.

Paolo Villanelli’s pulse-pounding pencilling also adds plenty of barbaric swagger to the character of Cradossk’s son during this comic, most notably whenever the “scaly horror” feels his authority or ability as a natural born killer is being questioned. The Italian artist’s sequence depicting Bossk literally tearing through Vice Chair Jermit’s heavily-armed henchmen with little more than a blade and a rock is the highlight of this publication, and rather enjoyably seems to set-up a future rematch between Bossk and the Dowutin mercenary, Grummgar, at the same time.

The regular cover art for "STAR WARS: BOUNTY HUNTERS" #11 by Mattia De Iulis

Wednesday, 9 June 2021

The Recount #4 - Scout Comics

THE RECOUNT No. 4, April 2021
There’s a definite sense of Jonathan Hedrick ‘closing in for the kill’ with his narrative for Issue Four of “The Recount” as the American author basically boils down his United States wide uprising to a somewhat self-contained, action-packed assault upon the White House by a team of mask-wearing assassins. Happily however, that doesn’t mean for an instant that this mini-series’ final chapter lacks the sense-shattering surprises of its earlier instalments, courtesy of Special Agent Barto’s desperate attempt to ward off the President’s would-be killers with any household compliance which comes to hand, and the brains behind America’s so-called revolution finally revealing his true identity to Meredith McDearmon.

Furthermore, this twenty-eight page periodical does occasionally manage to throw a brief spotlight upon the rioting in Downtown Macon, Georgia, and show that despite the current Chief of Police’s traitorous behaviour, your average member of the public thankfully won’t “point those weapons at each other” and irrationally commit cold-blooded murder. Indeed, despite being highly emotional and armed with automatic weapons, Hedrick illustrates through the compassionate behaviour of ex-Vietnam veteran Abe, that the American people can not only tell the difference between right and right, but also make a stand against those in authority who would either try to blur or cross those lines; “All my mistakes are in the past, Seth. I’ve moved forward. While you’re crawling into the bottomless pit.”

Easily this comic’s biggest draw though, is Barto’s aforementioned battle against a cadre of colourfully-costumed weapon-wielding contractors who prove utterly merciless in their mission to execute President McDearmon. Garfield, Teddy, Lady Bird and Kanaan’s fight sequences are as pulse-pounding as they are bloody, and certainly make for a plethora of memorable moments - not least of which concerns Meredith gunning down the “modern-day sneak thief in the mold of Nezumi Kozo” as the skull-faced hitman attempts to saw his way through the Oval Office’s unprotected ceiling.

Perhaps therefore this book’s sole disappointment lies in Joe Bocardo taking over the artistic duties of Gabriel Ibarra-Nunez. Admittedly, there isn’t anything actually wrong with the illustrator’s proficient pencilling, especially when it comes to such bouts of pugilism as Barto going hand-to-hand with Teddy underwater in a swimming pool. Yet, the discernible difference in technical style to their predecessor is debatably a little disconcerting, and as a result takes some reading time to acclimatise to some of the slightly different looking leading cast members.

Writer: Jonathan Hedrick, Artist: Joe Bocardo, and Colorist: Sunil Ghagre

Saturday, 5 June 2021

Dune: House Atreides #7 - BOOM! Studios

There’s an almost palpable sense of urgency to simply getting the story told with Issue Six of “Dune: House Atreides”, which rather seems to be at odds with some of the complicated and emotionally important issues the comic’s script covers. In fact, the sheer contrast between this twenty-two page periodical’s various plots, ranging from a pair of adolescent boys immaturely laughing at the destruction of their sailing craft on Caladan, through to the horrific sexual assault of Gaius Helen Mohiam, debatably marks out this particular instalment to Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson’s novel adaption as simply being ‘thrown together’, rather than a well-paced, self-contained chapter of the Prelude to Dune prequel trilogy.

Much of this haste is arguably on show during the comic’s opening quarter, when its readers are subjected to little more than a summary of events involving Pardot Kynes’ successful acceptance into the Fremen on Arrakis. The young planetologist is not only suddenly married to the sister of Stilgar without any exploration as to how the bearded scientist managed to find true love amongst the sand banks, but is also inexplicably now supported by the senior tribesman who had previously arranged for him to be assassinated; “As I promised Umma Kynes, I… I will relinquish my role as Naib. You have been shown to be our prophet.” Just what the Padishah Empire’s liaison agent has actually done so as to accomplish such strong feelings remains utterly unclear, as is the motivation behind why his new-found allies are so willing to install “my devices in the most remote parts of the desert.”

Leading straight on from this whirlwind tour of Fremen life is the disconcertingly detailed depiction of Mohiam’s aforementioned rape by Vladimir Harkonnen on Giedi Prime. This shocking scene is so traumatising that the comic’s publishers actually have a warning as to its explicitness stamped inside the book’s cover, and even go so far as to highlight the National Sexual Assault Hotline for those readers who want “more information on how to prevent and report acts of sexual assault”. Such a responsible attitude to an utterly reprehensible crime by “BOOM! Studios” is extremely laudable, but also debatably begs the question as to why illustrator Dev Pramanik couldn’t have been tasked to pencil more of Kynes’ adventures on Arrakis rather than provide so detailed a depiction of the Baron’s attack that the artist even goes so far as to actually sketch the release of the “virulent pathogens” latently stored within the Bene Gesserit’s polynucleotide chain during the couple’s disagreeable intercourse.

The regular cover art of "DUNE: HOUSE ATREIDES" #7 by Evan Eagle

Friday, 4 June 2021

Star Wars: Bounty Hunters #10 - Marvel Comics

Besides an intriguing opening scene which sheds even more light upon the fractious relationship between Beilert Valance and Han Solo back when they were both Imperial cadets together on Qhulosk, Ethan Sacks’ script for Issue Ten of “Star Wars: Bounty Hunters” is primarily focused upon providing the science fiction franchise’s fan-base with a truly pulse-pounding gun-battle aboard a lone Rebel Alliance transporter. Indeed, this conclusion to the author’s “Terminus Gauntlet” storyline is almost unrelenting in its action-packed antics as the human male bounty hunter goes on a solo killing campaign against Skragg’s band of piratical misfits.

Rather pleasingly though, this twenty-page periodical’s plot isn’t simply limited to a number of unimaginative set-pieces in which the cyborg brutally murders his opponents so as to save the lives of the space vessel’s crew, but instead includes a surprising secondary scenario concerning Dengar the Demolisher being long-term friends with the traitorous Commander Hill Purpura, and the scurrilous pair’s plan to sell “the transponder codes for every ship in the Rebel armada” to the Empire.

In addition, despite his preparedness and ability to physically connect himself to the transporter’s computer-controlled systems, Valance is still ‘realistically’ shown as being somewhat vulnerable to chance, and more than once relies upon the assistance of Private Blanch Sproull in order to overcome his vicious adversaries. Such susceptibility to bad circumstances really helps add a truly palpable sense of concern for this title’s central character, and also imbues each of Beilert’s successful assassinations with an extra celebratory element – especially when the former mining slave manages to pull off something quite clever like trapping a pair of poorly-thinking bandits in an air lock; “Doesn’t require much intelligence to become a pirate does it?”

Helping this comic’s narrative bound along is artist Paolo Villanelli, whose marvellous panel work both clearly shows all the steps required by the facially-disfigured bounty hunter to enact his plan for retaking the stranded Rebel Transport, as well as portrays the increasing fear experienced by the new Ohnaka Gang as their superior numbers quickly dwindle and they realise that their own deaths are imminent. Furthermore, the illustrator appears to be able to pencil a seriously bone-crunching blow whenever it is called for, as seen on a couple of occasions by the cybernetically-enhanced Sproull walloping her foes from behind with a trusty iron bar.

The regular cover art for "STAR WARS: BOUNTY HUNTERS" #10 by Mattia De Iulis

Thursday, 3 June 2021

Shadowman #2 - Valiant Entertainment

SHADOWMAN No. 2, May 2021
It really is very clear why publishers “Valiant Entertainment” are already referring to Cullen Bunn and Jon Davis-Hunt as a “bone-chilling team” if the collaborative creators’ work for Issue Two of “Shadowman” is anything to go by. Indeed, considering that this terrifying tale will probably wrong-foot many a bibliophile with the horrific outcome of just its opening sequence involving a seemingly harmless family foolishly stopping to ‘rescue’ a homicidal hitchhiker, there will doubtless be a timid few within the comic’s audience who in future will momentarily pause before gingerly turning this title’s pages and casting their eyes upon the next instance of abject gruesomeness.

Happily however, the ghastly fate of those mortals foolish enough to be seeking transportation to the deserted town of Enoch in Arizona isn’t simply a gratuitously graphic affair just for the sake of it. But is rather used to show just how depressingly dark the appetite of the run-down settlement’s resident demon actually is, as well as the insane grisliness of the three-headed beast’s plan to use a festering pile of slaughtered corpses to seed a rift to the Deadside.

As a result, this sense of revulsion generated by the inhuman way the creature’s over-zealous minions tear apart their latest victim limb by limb is clearly intentional, and arguably allows the reader to experience the actual emotions which subsequently motivate the somewhat indifferent titular character to finally act; “The Shadow Loa bound to my soul ensures that I can’t be scared. I can feel disgust though. I can be affronted by the nastiness I encounter. This is where the ghosts come from. Brought here to open the gate. Carcasses wedged like doorstops to keep the passage between worlds open.”

Similarly as successful in generating a sympathetic response for some of the grotesque farmer’s victims, is Davis-Hunt’s absolutely awesome illustrations and the way the artist pencils a pair of thrice-damned, fang-faced children as disconcerting flesh-devouring terrors. In addition, the effect of Enoch’s location straddling such a delicately-balanced cross-section of the universe is extremely well visualised by the video games designer, due to his panels constantly switching the municipality back and forth between its current-day depilated state and when it was previously a bit of a boom town.

The regular cover art of "SHADOWMAN" #2 by John Davis-Hunt

Wednesday, 2 June 2021

The Recount #3 - Scout Comics

THE RECOUNT No. 3, March 2021
Pitilessly playing upon the paranoia of the reader in his earnest endeavour to ensure that none of this comic’s cast are wholly trusted to keep Meredith McDearmon safe and well, Jonathan Hedrick’s script for Issue Three of “The Recount” initially seems more focused with undermining the loyalty of the American President’s personal protectors through a string of interrogation-based panels than depicting the disconcerting violence seen inside the mini-series’ previous instalments. But this approach soon changes once the publication turns its attention to “a standoff between the Police Department and armed citizens in the town of Macon, Georgia.”

Indeed, the Florida-born writer’s decision to suddenly throw this book’s audience a savagely violent curveball straight after such sedentary scenes in which Special Agent Barto and her boss are shown munching away on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, genuinely seems to add an extra layer of brutally to the cold-blooded execution of Public Order Team A when they are ordered to about face and have their heads literally blown off by their shotgun-wielding work colleagues; “This is yours now. Use it. Let them know you won’t be threatened.”

Equally as entertaining, though somewhat less physically vicious, is Hedrick’s well-penned meeting between the clown-faced ghoul behind America’s barbaric uprising and the White House’s former resident. The surprisingly intimate familiarity between the two characters smacks of just how well-planned and deeply rooted the bloody revolution actually is, as well as showing just what a truly deranged, yet dedicated, killer the rebellion’s mysterious leader is when the previous president is suddenly assassinated towards the end of their friendly conversation, courtesy of a poisonous “bottle of whiskey from Woodrow Wilson’s own supply.”

Adding plenty of emotion and raw action to this publication’s proceedings is Gabriel Ibarra-Nunez’s prodigious pencilling. The freelance illustrator’s double-splash showing off the specialist skills Kanaan’s hand-picked team of murderers is suitably reminiscent to something seen in a super-hero comic book when an arch-villain summarises the nefarious attributes of their latest criminal gang. Whilst the shockingly sad demise of Public Order Team A somehow manages to capture the stunned surprise of both the victims and onlookers as the ‘loyalist’ police officers are mercilessly gunned down.

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

Tuesday, 1 June 2021

Omega #2 - Cutaway Comics

OMEGA No. 2, April 2021
There can surely be little doubt as to the terrific pace Mark Griffiths imbues his narrative for Issue Two of “Omega” with, considering that the “comedy and drama writer” somehow manages to take the reader from the aftermath of Princess Malika’s failed execution through to her apparent death during an epic space dog-fight, all within the confines of a single twenty-four page periodical. Yet somewhat disappointingly, in order to achieve this remarkable feat, the author’s storyline does resultantly contain a fair few disconcerting contrivances which increasingly jar with the logic of this comic’s central storyline.

To begin with, the politician Oxirgi’s utterly demented plan “to release the rogue god Omega from his black hole prison” relies heavily upon the renegade Time Lord needing to feed upon “the psychic unrest” the crazed leader has created on his planet. However, in order for the statesman to acquire this ability to manipulate such vast amounts of psychic energy from raw fear the reader is asked to believe that he just happened upon the last of the Mindwranglers, Kyril – who supposedly saw “no harm” in imbuing him with such a truly horrendous ability.

Furthermore, the lawmaker’s insane scheme is suddenly altered to incorporate his use of the world’s gigantic flagship to “unleash terror on the entire planet” and basically wipe Minyos’ civilisation out of existence. Admittedly, such an attack would undoubtedly generate the psychosomatic power needed to free the once great intergalactic engineer from his anti-matter prison, but some within this book’s audience might find it a bit hard to believe that the elderly legislator’s own soldiers steadfastly support such utter Armageddon upon the very population they’re sworn to protect; “I’ll talk. But it won’t do you much good. Oxirgi’s going to steal a starship. The deadliest on the planet. He’s going to blast everything to Hell.”

Perhaps this publication’s most persuasive selling point therefore lies with its artwork by “Doctor Who legend John Ridgway.” The former design engineer who pencilled D.C.Thompson's Commando War Stories as a hobby, adds an extra element of megalomania to Malika’s main antagonist which the old man’s dialogue doesn’t debatably project. Plus, the illustrator’s inclusion of a formidably-sized Dimetrodon skulking outside a cave entrance on top of the Green Mountain is arguably worth this US format comic’s cover price alone.

The regular cover art of "OMEGA" #2 by Adrian Salmon