Friday, 30 July 2021

Moon Knight [2021] #1 - Marvel Comics

MOON KNIGHT No. 1, September 2021
Long-time fans of Marc Spector's alter-ego may well have been somewhat nervous as to the quality of Jed MacKay’s narrative for “The Mission”, considering that the writer's earliest “exposure to Moon Knight… was from the 1990 Marvel trading cards”, up until he read Warren Ellis’s “classic” 2014 series. But whilst this thirty-page periodical’s plot could be unfairly critiqued for its surprisingly episodic format as the titular character efficiently deals with three separate cases consecutively rather than a single investigation, there can be little doubt that the publication’s author definitely pens an intriguing portrait of the “renegade priest of an unworthy god.”

Foremost of these fascinating hooks has to be the creation of Mister Knight’s marvellous Midnight Mission, within which the local people may petition the street-level costumed crime-fighter “for protection from the weird and horrible.” This premise genuinely seems to promise some terrific storylines, especially if this comic’s opening tale concerning viciously-fanged blood-drinkers unsuccessfully attempting to establish some sort of “vampiric self-actualisation pyramid scheme cult” on the super-hero’s streets is anything to go by; “They kidnapped us! We’re from this neighbourhood! We’re not killers! We didn’t ask for this! I was a Vegan before, for God’s sake!”

Equally as enthralling are the supporting cast members Doctor Sterman and Reese, who persistently ‘pop up’ throughout this comic’s multiple storylines. MacKay uses the female psychiatrist to great effect as a ‘prop’ to bring the reader right up to speed with Moon Knight’s origin, the ex-mercenary’s apparent immortality, the fall of his divine benefactor and Khonshu’s subsequent imprisonment by the Aesir in Asgard. Yet it is probably the decidedly prickly vampire-victim Reese who proves the more interesting, on account of her no-nonsense attitude towards her masked saviour and biological compulsion “to keep the same [night-time based] schedule you do”.

Rounding off this book’s brilliance is Alessandro Cappuccio, whose ability to pencil “the defender of those who travel at night” seriously laying a hearty smackdown upon a cadre of Vermin clones within an apartment building is debatably worth the cover price alone. Tom Brevoort admitted prior to publication that he had originally “been looking for a more established artist” than the Italian illustrator, however, such is the quality of this periodical’s layouts that the Editor must now be pleased he “took a chance and rolled the dice on him.”

The regular cover art of "MOON KNIGHT #1 by Steve McNiven & Frank D'Armata

Thursday, 29 July 2021

Alien #5 - Marvel Comics

ALIEN No. 5, September 2021
Considering that in its simplest form this comic’s narrative could uncharitably be boiled down to depicting Gabriel Cruz basically racing down a corridor so as to reach Vice Director Harada’s escape pod, Phillip Kennedy Johnson’s penmanship for issue Five of “Alien” still delivers an almighty wallop of a pulse-pounding publication. True, artist Salvador Larroca is certainly required to pencil plenty of panels portraying “Weyland-Yutani’s loyal security officer” manfully carrying his unconscious son towards salvation as he dynamically races through cramped conduits, tightly-fitting doorways and Xenomorph-infested passageways. But that doesn’t stop the “Eisner-nominated writer” from adding plenty of nail-biting tension to such scenes by cramming them full of character-building exposition.

In fact, these ‘chase sequences’ really provide an intriguing window into Cruz’s emotionally complicated headspace, by detailing how the father of two suddenly realises that his eldest lad, Lucas, had been right as a kid to be terrified of the dark and the monsters which could inhabit it - A fearful state of mind which didn’t actually occur to the grizzled ex-marine himself until he was already a fully-grown man ordered upon a calamitous Corporation venture; “Every night in my dreams, I’m back in the nest… Strung up between the hollowed-out corpses of my teammates staring my own death in the face.”

Furthermore, the veteran soldier’s reminiscing as to his traumatising past also finally gives this publication’s audience the opportunity to discover just how Gabriel actually survived being impregnated by a Facehugger “twenty years earlier.” Johnson’s decision to use the doomed mission’s Bishop android as the trooper’s single-handed saviour makes perfect sense, and simultaneously nicely links the comprehensive flashback to the book’s current-day setting where another version of the automaton is busy trying to help Danny’s ungrateful girlfriend Iris on board Epsilon Station.

Ultimately though, a hefty chunk of this twenty-page periodical’s success sits squarely upon the shoulders of the aforementioned Larroca, and the Spaniard’s impressive ability to imbue this comic’s cast with all the hallmarks of the physical exertions they are undertaking so as to outlive their deadly opponents. This proficiency to pencil the desperate determination on Cruz’s face to triumph against overwhelming adversity as he rushes headlong down dark, dingy corridors with a pack of lethal aliens clawing at his heels really adds to the believability of the character’s conflicting motivations, and arguably forces the reader to wholeheartedly hope the evidently loving parent can somehow save his dying offspring.

The regular cover art of "ALIEN" #5 by InHyuk Lee

Wednesday, 28 July 2021

Star Trek #2 - Marvel Comics

STAR TREK No. 2, May 1980
Predominantly focusing upon the increasing tension being felt aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise’s recently refurbished bridge, Marv Wolfman’s “edits” for Issue Two of “Star Trek” arguably made this middle instalment to his ‘motion picture adaption’ an extremely agreeable reading experience. In fact, this eighteen-page periodical debatably proves just how exciting Harold Livingston’s movie screenplay may well have been, had its more dynamic sequences not been persistently plagued by lengthy, special effect-obsessed intermissions fixated upon the sheer size (and extra-terrestrial splendour) of V'ger's interior design; “Adjust parallel course, Navigator. Bring us in to one hundred kilometres distance.” 

Much of this success is due to some nicely-paced layouts energetically-pencilled by Dave Cockrum, coupled with plenty of punchy dialogue. The intruding space vessel’s attack upon the Constitution-class Starship is a good example of this creative collaboration, where the lethal threat of the twelfth powered craft’s second "whiplash bolt" and the resultant apprehensive atmosphere of Admiral James Kirk’s crew, is swiftly ramped up through a series of small(ish) panels depicting the various cast’s response to the mysterious cloud’s initial assault.

This ‘action over exposition’ stance is similarly as successful when it comes to the alien’s probe attempting to assimilate Starfleet strength and the records of Earth’s defences by taking control of the Enterprise’s ship computer. The “sophisticated plasma energy source” is well-visualised by the co-creator of “the new X-Men characters Nightcrawler, Storm, and Colossus”, and quickly demonstrates its deadliness through a flurry of well-sketched pictures depicting it completely evaporating both a hapless security guard and “the lithe Deltan” Lieutenant Ilia.

Perhaps this publication’s biggest draw though, can be found in the few instances where the New Yorker’s script somewhat diverts from the dialogue actually depicted on the Silver Screen. It is wildly known these days that “several scenes shot for Star Trek: The Motion Picture never made it into the theatrical release of the film.” However, they do seem to have made it into this comic, with a somewhat strange scene showing Doctor McCoy berating the uncharacteristically angry Commander Spock for the Vulcan people’s inability to create art, music and poetry accompanying the aforementioned vaporisation of poor Security Officer Phillips.

Script/Edits: Marv Wolfman, Pencils: Dave Cockrum, and Inks: Klaus Janson

Tuesday, 27 July 2021

Batman/Superman [2019] #15 - DC Comics

BATMAN/SUPERMAN No. 15, February 2021
As self-contained, single edition long stories go, Joshua Williamson’s “Snow Fight” probably pleased many within the ongoing series’ audience with its thumpingly good tension and interesting take on Alfred Bester’s co-creation Solomon Grundy. But whilst the twenty-two periodical’s plot certainly does a solid job of squaring off this comic’s titular characters against the Secret Society of Super-Villains, it arguably does so due to its California-born writer having to force a few illogical leaps of faith.

For starters, just why Superman can’t simply convey the suddenly radioactive zombie to Slaughter Swamp on his own is never convincingly expounded upon, especially when the accepted alternative to the Man of Steel flying him in his arms is supposedly Batman placing the highly explosive prisoner in the Bat-Wing and piloting his bound passenger through a terrifyingly turbulent snowstorm. The notion that Kal-El’s super-speed may well detonate a volatile Grundy makes sense, however surely a simple alternative would therefore be for Colonel Marie Jonas to just ask the Kryptonian to fly a little less fast, and perhaps even go as so far as to encase Solomon in some sort of protective containment vessel first..?

Likewise, the pair’s mission to transport the white-skinned living corpse has seemingly only just been conceived, and yet Poison Ivy already knows that the plan has somehow miraculously reached the ears of The Secret Society of Super-Villains. Such an incredible breach of security is implausibly explained away by Pamela Isley as being due to information leaving “Arkham so quickly that you’d think it was an inmate”. Yet that doesn’t explain how word got back to a seemingly incarcerated “Doctor Green” that the criminal group plan to use the zombie as a weapon of mass destruction, or why Deadline’s attack squad know precisely where to intercept the Dark Knight during a blinding blizzard..?

Disappointingly, even Andrei Bressan’s artwork isn’t without its flaws either, despite the Brazilian illustrator certainly proving his worth when it comes to Superman, or even Solomon for that matter, laying a serious smackdown upon their ever-arrogant opponents; “The Society didn’t give me all the details, Lady Vic. But if we get Grundy, we get paid! Take ‘em down!” Sadly, Williamson’s script seemingly ends with the highly proficient penciller still needing to populate a fair few more panels, and the resultant snowball fight disconcertingly depicts a decidedly impressionable Bruce Wayne taking on a facially very similar-looking Kal-El.

Writer: Joshua Williamson, Artist: Andrei Bressan, and Colorist: Alejandro Sanchez

Monday, 26 July 2021

A Man Among Ye #5 - Image Comics

A MAN AMONG YE No. 5, July 2021
Initially depicting some sedentary-paced scenes involving Anne Bonny and “her crew of lady buccaneers” enjoying the rudimentary diversions of a supposed safe haven, Stephanie Phillips’ script for this opening instalment to her “second volume of A Man Among Ye” is probably best described as one containing two somewhat separate halves. For whilst Jane Castor’s brief attendance at a marvellously-envisaged puppet show certainly contains a modicum or two of tongue-in-cheek violence, it isn’t until the poorly disguised noblewoman encounters some knife-wielding ruffians down a darkish alleyway midway through this twenty-page periodical that things start to get truly interesting.

Indeed, up until Iris reaches for her trademark hand-axe to confront a sinister-looking, one-eyed vagabond, the most excitement this comic’s audience can arguably hope for is either Mary Read’s haughtiness over the Pirate Queen’s protracted sleeping habits or a marvellously-envisaged marionette of Woodes Rogers treacherously slaying a poor-thinking pirate as part of a well-received theatre show; “Anne brings us to this sh*t port and then disappears with booze and whore while I tend the boat and clean her messes. Someone here has to at least try to do something about this situation.”

Enjoyably though, once the criminals are identified by a local, law-abiding sword-smith, the pace of this publication really heats up, with Phillips penning one of this series’ finest moments as Bonny mercilessly engages two British soldiers in an intense flurry of cold steel. Initially, it is debatably easy for some bibliophiles to forget that the titular character is a vicious killer, and can therefore only be seen as an anti-hero at best. However, the American author makes it shockingly clear just where the female felon stands during this skirmish by having the woman lethally stab one redcoat when he’s distracted by being on fire, and unpityingly hacking apart a hapless second trooper after the kneeling figure pleads for mercy.

Ably aiding and abetting all these illegal acts is “Grimm Tales of Terror” artist Josh George, whose ability to imbue all the figures drawn within this comic with plenty of dynamic life really helps sell the lethal intensity of its action-sequences. In addition, this magazine also contains a glimpse of the gifted illustrator’s storytelling process once the actual narrative has concluded, and resultantly offers a rare insight into the world of sketched layouts which is worth the cover price alone.

The regular cover art of "A MAN AMONG YE" #5 by Josh George

Saturday, 24 July 2021

Star Trek: Year Five #22 - IDW Publishing

STAR TREK: YEAR FIVE No. 22, May 2021
Arguably making little rhyme or reason, Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly’s “return for their final arc” in “Star Trek: Year Five” probably landed like a lead balloon with those Trekkies who have fond memories of the science fiction television series’ broadcast adventures in the Sixties. For despite the collaborative pair’s twenty-page pedestrian-paced plot eventually ending with something of a bang, courtesy of a fleet of extra-terrestrial spaceships suddenly descending upon the Golden Gate Bridge, the writing partnership’s rationale behind their jaw-dropping cliff-hanger is debatably far from convincing; “Candidates, we have an emergency situation! Radiation signatures are appearing across the Federation.”

To begin with the “showrunners” immediately suggest that Bright Eyes has been ‘promoted’ to cadet in order to become “the first Tholian ever admitted to Starfleet Academy.” This ‘inspirational induction’ may make some sense, considering how useful the U.S.S. Enterprise’s “newest crew member” has become to the Federation during this title’s overall run. However, its timing is unconvincing considering that, as the Andorian Administer Renei quite rightly points out to the Admiralty, the young child’s increasingly hostile race is currently threatening the safety of the entire “supranational interstellar union” by placing its formidably-arrayed command platforms just beyond the Federation’s borders.

With such a potentially large inter-galactic war just around the corner, surely Starfleet Security would have something to say about such a potentially dangerous appointment, at least until the nature of the Tholian’s “apparently catastrophic cryogenic weapon” is better known and can be neutralised? The adolescent crystalline entity has already ‘unwittingly’ caused the creation of an alternative universe by supposedly innocently interfering with a time-altering tower on Vulcan. So who is to really say that Bright Eyes was simply naively curious when investigating that mysteriously powerful beacon, and not just testing out the technology prior to his people’s Federation-wide assault..?

Likewise, the two author’s handling of Mister Spock makes the Constitution-class starship commander appear both wholly incompetent and totally lacking in confidence to captain a space vessel. James Kirk is understandably adamant, having spent five years working alongside the science officer, that “the ship’s number two” is ready for the job. Yet frustratingly, instead of accepting the offer, the half-Vulcan insists he is “uniquely unsuited to command” by listing all the failures he has supposedly had since the likes of Lanzing and Kelly started penning this ongoing comic book series.

Writers: Jackson Lanzig & Collin Kelly, and Artist: Stephen Thompson

Friday, 23 July 2021

X-Men Legends #2 - Marvel Comics

X-MEN LEGENDS No. 2, May 2021
Starting with a seriously sensational opening splash page depicting the fallen body of a head-shot Adam Neramani, and Corsair’s matter-of-fact explanation that in committing the cold-blooded shooting he had “saved the lives of several trillion people”, writer Fabian Nicieza immediately sets a disconcertingly deadly tone to this comic’s storyline which permeates throughout every subsequent scene in Issue Two of “X-Men Legends”. True, the Buenos Aires-born author manages to inject a slight element of humour into this book, courtesy of a running gag which sees Havok finally “have a little brother that I can boss around”. But even these brief glimpses of ‘family fun’ within the Summers household are tainted by Adam-X’s perpetual gloomy mood; “Ray of #$%&% sunshine, this one is.”

Fortunately, such solemnity really does suit the Starjammers’ brutal battle against Erik the Red, and Davan Shakari’s cult-like Crystal Claws on the blue area of the Moon. As Alex admits to his brother at the very start of the fight, it “feels really great to finally cut loose” with a no-holds barred punch-up which has “the fate of the galaxy at stake”, and Deadpool’s co-creator definitely doesn’t disappoint in seizing this opportunity to show just how “terrifying” the Ascendant One’s awesome ability “to ignite the electrolytes in exposed blood” can truly be.

In addition, Nicieza does a first-rate job in depicting Christopher Summers as the ever wily opportunist, who always seems to be considering the profit potential behind each and every situation he encounters. Corsair’s revelation that as a contingency plan he had actually contacted the “super-guardians of the Shi-ar Empire” is a great example of this, and even causes the intergalactic freebooter’s own sons, along with this comics’ audience, to momentarily doubt his true motivations.

Sublimely supporting this book’s prodigious penmanship is Brett Booth’s marvellous pencilling, which genuinely helps sell the sheer speed Neramani is able to attain on the battlefield when he’s darting in between the numerous deadly blows of his assailants. Furthermore, the artist also manages to provide a few visual gags within the odd panel, such as Adam-X’s evident physical discomfort at being cuddled by his half-brothers, and Christopher’s relief that Raza was ultimately able to safely secure his elderly parents from Erik’s despicable clutches.

The regular cover art of "X-MEN LEGENDS" #2 by Brett Booth

Thursday, 22 July 2021

Conan: Serpent War #1 - Marvel Comics

CONAN: SERPENT WAR No. 1, February 2020
Considering that the task in hand to pen Issue One of “Conan: Serpent War” was for Jim Zub to create a somewhat believable introduction to “an all-new saga built on [both] Robert E. Howard and Marvel lore from across the ages”, this thirty-page periodical’s plot can probably be viewed as being something of a major success. Sure, it’s never explained just how the mysterious James Allison is able to bend time to his will so as to bring the likes of the black-maned Cimmerian and swashbuckling Dark Agnes together on their “ages-spanning quest”, nor what manner of devilish creature is slowly slithering its snake-like tendrils about the supposedly immortal man’s dying frame. But such unanswered conundrums behind the origin of the “Elder God called the Wyrm” still manage to imply the enormous enigmatic power at work; “I am there with them all in spirit and song. The crashing of thunder. The scream of the crowd. It’s beautiful and terrifying… A cacophony of ages past flowing together to be as one.”

Furthermore, the Canadian author’s narrative easily manages to deliver on his promise that the publication should “act as a nice jumping on point for grand sword and sorcery adventure.” All four of this comic’s leading cast get plenty of spotlight throughout its serpent-entwined shenanigans, and Zub uses these opportunities to quickly bring any perusing bibliophile ‘bang up to speed’ as to just what the likes of Moon Knight, Solomon Kane, Agnes de Chastillon and Conan are all about. Indeed, the Web Cartoonists’ Choice Awards Winner does a particularly splendid job in demonstrating just how torn Marc Spector is between being “blessed… in the service to a god”, and pulling his normal life “back together” whilst suffering from the multiple personalities of his schizophrenia.

Also ably helping this book’s storytelling are artists Vanesa R. Del Rey and Scot Eaton, whose two decidedly distinctive styles are utilised depending upon whether the action is focused upon Allison’s death-bed, or the likes of Kane fighting his way through a demonic cult covertly housed inside Northumberland’s Dunbar Castle. The Cuban illustrator’s emaciated sketches depicting James’ final hours are debatably not as visually clean-cut as Eaton’s panels portraying Dark Agnes slaying a handful of poorly-skilled assassins who have been foolish enough to attack her “seven miles south of the Canal du Cure.” Yet Del Rey’s images still do an excellent job in strongly contrasting between the immortal warrior’s ghost-laden own past and that of the heroes he is hoping to use to thwart Set’s “plans to usher in an eternity of darkness.”
Writer: Jim Zub, Penciler: Scot Eaton, Inker: Scott Hanna, and Colorist: Frank D'Armata

Wednesday, 21 July 2021

Batman: The Detective #1 - DC Comics

Advertised by its Burbank-based publishers as “an epic tale… that will take Batman on a harrowing, action-packed European adventure”, Tom Taylor’s narrative for Issue One of “Batman: The Detective” certainly seems to deliver the goods with its carousel of high-octane explosions and insanely violent punch-ups. Indeed, there’s arguably a palpable vibe of Frank Miller’s highly entertaining mini-series “The Dark Knight Returns” to this comic’s super-heroic shenanigans, as the Caped Crusader battles seemingly insurmountable odds whilst simultaneously feeling the weight of both his years and exertions; “The pain doesn’t fade like it used to. The muscles, the scars, the memories. They ache. Just under the skin. A lifetime spent fighting.”

To begin with, the book’s army of white-costumed antagonists make it crystal clear straight from the start that they absolutely mean business by arranging for a plane load of innocent passengers to fatally crash on the West Pennine Moors, in Lancashire. This merciless mass-murder is incredibly impactive, and sets a sombre tone for each of the storyline’s subsequent set-pieces - Whether they be Bruce Wayne’s alter-ego and the new Squire facing off against a quartet of gun-toting killers inside London's multi-storey Tower Hospital, or Batman dodging a veritable hail of bullets simply so he can bat-a-rang one of his fleeing assailants and later interrogate the cowardly assassin.

However, perhaps this twenty-six page periodical’s most memorable moment comes when the Dark Knight saves Amina from a misshapen Gentlemen Ghost. Possibly transformed into a grotesque, spectral monster following his gorging upon the 146 passengers who “died here in absolute terror”, James Craddock has debatably never looked more a formidable foe than he does here when he savagely clasps the beating heart of a surprisingly slow-moving cowled vigilante, and disconcertingly perceives the one thing the crime-fighter is truly frightened of.

Packing this publication’s punch-ups with plenty of eye-wincing blows, kicks and bone-breaking impacts, is Andy Kubert, who genuinely helps depict Taylor’s incarnation of Batman as a world-weary champion for justice badly weighed down by his losses and apparent defeats. In addition, the American artist does an outstanding job of illustrating just how insanely vicious a fighter the titular character has needed to become these days whenever he is either outmatched or outnumbered by his younger, stronger opponents.
The regular cover art for "BATMAN: THE DETECTIVE" #1 by Andy Kubert & Brad Anderson

Tuesday, 20 July 2021

Star Trek #1 - Marvel Comics

STAR TREK No. 1, April 1980
For those Trekkies unable to experience the American science fiction franchise’s inaugural outing on the big screen in December 1979, this “first of a three part adaption of the Star Trek: The Motion Picture film” originally published in its entirety for Issue Fifteen of “Marvel Comics Super Special”, was probably not going to make all that much sense. Indeed, Marv Wolfman’s script for this particular eighteen-page periodical attempts to depict so many different scenes from the film’s storyline in so short a time possible, that it’s doubtful even some of those fans who had watched director Robert Wise’s movie would be able to follow precisely what was happening every now and then; “Why is any object we don’t understand called a thing?”

For starters, despite seemingly sticking quite meticulously to Harold Livingston’s dialogue, each conversation is largely confined to just a handful of panels, making any progress with the book’s plot rather difficult to navigate as the audience has to initially slowly plod through an apparently endless array of word balloons before reaching such notable highlights as Epsilon Nine’s total destruction, or the U.S.S. Enterprise finally leaving space dock. In addition, perhaps one of the story’s most dramatic moments when Captain Krase suicidally assaults the mysterious “cloud of energetic gas” with an entire squadron of Klingon battle cruisers, is sadly summarised within the space of a single sheet.

Of course, that isn’t to say that Wolfman’s writing is actually bad, far from it, as the Brooklyn-born author does a marvellous job of capturing the tension felt following Admiral Kirk’s ill-founded decision to engage the warp engines of his refitted Constitution-class starship “while still within the Solar System.” The Bridge Crew’s reaction to their precarious predicament inside the wormhole as the vessel fast approaches an oncoming meteorite is arguably far better visualised through Dave Cockrum and Klaus Janson’s proficient artwork than what was actually seen on the ‘Silver Screen.’

However, with hindsight it would seem to have perhaps proved more prudent if the Shazam Award-winner had spent more time focusing on the Klingons’ lethal encounter or Epsilon Nine’s doomed attempt to contact its all-powerful assailant, rather than dedicate an entire page to Lieutenant Ilia’s arrival or the brief introduction and subsequent swift demise of Commander Sonak, courtesy of a fatal transporter malfunction.

Script Editor: Marv Wolfman, and Artists: Dave Cockrum & Klaus Janson

Monday, 19 July 2021

Conan The Barbarian #23 - Marvel Comics

CONAN THE BARBARIAN No. 23, September 2021
Brimming with treachery, tension, and cruel-hearted traitors, Jim Zub’s “dramatic conclusion to the Nightstar saga” certainly brings Conan’s pulse-pounding trek across the God-Emperor’s “Land of the Lotus” to an extremely satisfying end. In fact, doubtless many readers were probably hoping for the Barbarian’s marvellously penned battle of wits against the truly despicable Maltus-Rai to have lasted for at least another issue or two; “Your heart is too wild, Cimmerian. I cannot walk the roads you travel, and you are not ready to settle in any one place with any one person… Not yet.”

To begin with the Canadian writer doesn’t simply show the muscle-bound adventurer miraculously fighting off hordes of Paikang’s finest warriors in some sort of super-human display of swordsmanship. But rather depicts Robert E. Howard’s creation coldly calculating the odds of every contest, and deciding when best to run, as well as when best to strike from a position of strength. This ‘thinking man’s game’ brings an enjoyable element to the Hyborian Age hero’s character which is arguably seldom seen in many of his comic book tales, and delightfully demonstrates just how deadly an adversary Conan has learnt to become through his previous perils.

In addition, the bare-chested savage’s savviness leads to one of this publication’s most memorable moments of revenge, when the “heathen” stealthily follows the malignant Boquin from roof-top to roof-top until the arrogant officer stands practically alone without the morass of men he usually relies upon to enforce his will. The Khitan warrior’s death is as swift as it is bloody, yet shows a calculating side to the Cimmerian which later convincingly explains just how he manages to overcome a dozen assassins of the Fifth Circle ‘off-screen’ with a simple blade in order to reach the man who actually “slit the Emperor’s throat”.

Equally as responsible for the success of “Escape from the East” is illustrator Cory Smith, whose layouts add a lot of dynamism and suspense to this twenty-page periodical’s proceedings. Of particular note is the American artist’s pencilling of Maltus-Rai, both when the stunned “new god” first hears that Conan has astonishingly gutted his entire bodyguard without any alarm being raised, and then later as the heavily-armoured conspirator willingly becomes fully-possessed by the demonic evil lurking within the Tooth of the Nightstar.

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

Saturday, 17 July 2021

X-Men Legends #1 - Marvel Comics

X-MEN LEGENDS No. 1, April 2021
Proudly proclaimed by “Marvel Worldwide” in their pre-publication hype as a title containing “all-new tales starring your favourite X-Men” and “spanning classic eras”, there is certainly some sort of entertainment to be found buried beneath this comic’s substantially numbered word balloons and text boxes. Yet for those readers who were looking forward to enjoying “a story decades in the making”, there is Fabian Nicieza’s opening salvo of dialogue-driven exposition to disconcertingly navigate first.

Indeed, arguably the opening half of this considerably-sized thirty-page periodical is bogged down in both an overly-long rationalisation as to just why Erik The Red would abduct Scott Summers’ grandparents from the Providence Hospital with a flock of Crystal Claws, and the history behind Adam Neramani covertly residing in Iowa on the planet Earth; “On the day my powers manifested, I learned I was not Shi-ar, or Mephitisoid, or even really Human. I was none. I was all. I was more. I was a mutant.”

Happily however, once Cable makes an appearance to convince the “Disciple of the Claw” to seek out Cyclop and Havok of the X-Men, the pacing of “Shattered Crystal, Scattered Dreams” transforms into a seriously sense-shattering thrill-ride which debatably doesn’t let go until its well-handled cliff-hanger. The arrival of Hepzibah and the cyborg Raza Longknife lead to some utterly insane dynamic action sequences, which not only mange to drum up plenty of suspense as to Adam-X’s survivability when facing the two lethally-skilled Starjammers. But also manage to progress the book’s central plot without resorting to too many of the aforementioned speech bubbles.

Without doubt though, this comic’s greatest asset has to be Brett Booth’s incredible-looking layouts, which must have lured many an unsuspecting bibliophile perusing “X-Men Legends” into placing it at the very top of their Pull List. Whether it be sheer speed with which Erik’s Crystal Claws literally tear through an instantly overwhelmed line of gun-toting Police officers, or the Forsaken One’s formidable fight against Hepzibah and Longknife in a head-tall corn field during the dead of night, the artist’s style encapsulates just the sort “certain Nineties' vibe” this book was presumably aiming for with it nostalgia-inducing “fan-favourite runs.”
The regular cover art of "X-MEN LEGENDS" #1 by Brett Booth

Thursday, 15 July 2021

Strange Academy #11 - Marvel Comics

STRANGE ACADEMY No. 11, August 2021
Consisting of a “murder mystery at Strange Academy, and not the fun kind with the pretend roles”, Skottie Young’s storyline for this particular twenty-page periodical marvellously mixes up both deadly solemnity with a sudden healthy dose of surprising humour before the cold-hearted killer is finally revealed. Indeed, right up until Howard the Duck begins his lengthy interrogations, the Illinois-born author appears to have predominantly penned a disturbingly dark tale depicting every effort to resurrect an entirely-shattered Toth failing, despite the best efforts of Doctor Voodoo, the crystalline youth’s magical parents and even “a wizard in our world [who] lost his way and paid the price!”

Happily however, once the Duckworld detective arrives this “Whodunnit” momentarily stops taking itself quite so seriouslessly and instead initiates a series of black comedies focused upon the alibis of all the dead student’s friends; “Kid, save the theatrics for drama club. I need to know where you were last night after eleven pm.” Foremost of these has to be the feathered Private Investigator’s questioning of Calvin Morse, who seems suitably enthusiastic to “play along” with the duck’s demands by wanting to both make a phone call and have a lawyer present. But there’s also a good deal of fun to be had by Iric Brorson unsuccessfully trying to implicate his room-mate, Doyle Dormammu in the death too.

Equally as well done is Young masterfully shifting the comic’s plot back to its much more solemn side, courtesy of the slaughterer’s stooge unexpectedly discovering Toth’s heart whilst innocently turning out the contents of their jacket pocket. This revelation stops any giggles or guffaws amongst the audience stone dead, and sets the book up for a truly dramatic conclusion as Jericho Drumm discovers he’s facing an infinitely more dangerous foe than he initially imagined.    

Adding plenty of suspense, as well as some cheap laughs, to this publication’s proceedings are Humberto Ramos’ energetic layouts, which for most of the comic do a first-rate job of switching the atmosphere from despair, to farce, and then back again once “the thing in the cellar” has dropped its convincing disguise. Bizarrely though, this issue does disconcertingly contain the odd occasion, such as when the Mexican is sketching an aggressively angry Ogeode the Catbeast, where a perusing bibliophile could be forgiven for double-checking that the illustrator hasn’t been momentarily supplanted in their artistic duties by somebody less proficient in their pencilling for a rare panel or two.

The regular cover art of "STRANGE ACADEMY" #11 by Humberto Ramos & Edgar Delgado

Wednesday, 14 July 2021

Dune: House Atreides #8 - BOOM! Studios

Arguably best capturing this comic book’s audience with its exhilarating coverage of the Old Duke Atreides’ commemorative ‘corrida de toros’ in the Plaza de Torres, Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson’s narrative for Issue Eight of “Dune: House Atreides” does a simply splendid job of illustrating just how dangerous a universe the distant future can be whilst Mankind is under the waning grip of the Padishah Emperor Elrood IX. For whilst the novel adaption provides a glimmer of hope in the shape of planetologist Pardot Kynes’ new-born Fremen child on Arrakis, the twenty-two page periodical’s plot predominantly dwells upon the somewhat sudden and certainly savage deaths of two central characters – Leto’s dangerously generous father, and the recently declared renegade, Lady Shando Vernius.

Foremost of these killings has to be the shocking demise of Minotauros at the cataclysmic conclusion to the last of his famous bullfights. The suggestion that something foul may well occur during the contest is hinted at by this publication’s creative team much earlier when a young “Duncan Idaho has a bad feeling about the upcoming celebration at Castle Atreides.” But such doubts as whether or not to be worried about the planet’s charismatic leader debatably don’t truly manifest themselves until the increasingly fatigued Duke himself starts to question just why his nerve toxin-tipped banderillas are having absolutely no effect upon the red-eyed, steaming beast who is angrily trying to gore him to death. 

Slightly less impactive, though probably much more heart-breaking on account of the elderly noblewoman’s last thoughts dwelling upon her desire to once again be reunited with her much beloved husband, is the cold-blooded execution of the “former [favourite] concubine of the eightieth Padishah Emperor.” Much of this mini-series’ violence and political manoeuvring can indirectly be laid at the feet of this woman, courtesy of Shando’s decision to marry Dominic Vernius after leaving the service of the Emperor, and Elrood’s resultant festering jealousy. However, artist Dev Pramanik pencils such a traumatic death scene for the lady, mercilessly gunned down midway through the act of romantically reminiscing, that only the most black-hearted bibliophile would feel she was in some way responsible for the total collapse of her family’s household.

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

Tuesday, 13 July 2021

The Immortal Hulk #48 - Marvel Comics

IMMORTAL HULK No. 48, September 2021
Besides making it abundantly clear that Joe Fixit’s green-skinned alter-ego and the Harpy have just shared a highly intimate, physical moment with one another, most Hulk-heads were probably scratching their heads as to what the purpose Al Ewing’s narrative for Issue Forty-Eight of “The Immortal Hulk” actually was. For whilst the British author’s sedentary storyline includes cameos by both the Avengers and the Fantastic Four, absolutely nothing happens within the twenty-page periodical whatsoever apart from Betty Banner eventually leaving her lover by literally flying out of their bedroom window.

Indeed, for those comic book collectors who struggle to finance the combined cost of their monthly Pull List, it could easily be argued that by simply depicting the two characters conversing for almost the entirety of this publication, the GLAAD Media Award-nominee has penned the perfect instalment to save money on by giving this title a miss, and still not losing any progress when it comes to the series’ ongoing narrative; “We all don’t know. All this time and we all don’t know a damn thing. But I wanna learn. I wanna be better. I want to be a better me.”

Of course, “Hiding Places” isn’t just about the titular character communicating with his fantastically-feathered other half, as the “Gamma Madmen” behind this comic do provide some additional spotlight upon both Jennifer Walters and long-suffering reporter Jacqueline McGee. However, even then all the reader is given is panel after pedestrian-paced panel of the two characters sat upon a sofa talking about whether they’re in control of their own destinies. Such doubts may well add some extra vulnerability or interest to the cast’s personalities, but such a seemingly endless carousel of speech bubbles and word balloons debatably makes for an entirely disinteresting discourse.

Perhaps equally as uninspired by this book’s lifeless script is illustrator Joe Bennett, who despite trying to inject some dynamism into its proceedings with the occasional angry-faced Harpy, still seemingly struggles to do anything except draw Fixit, Ross, She-Hulk and Jackie looking straight towards their audience. In fact, the Brazilian penciller actually appears to be conserving his strength when it comes to his sketches, by reusing either the odd identical or slightly re-touched panel of the Hulk and Betty whenever he presumably believes he can get away with it.

The regular cover art of "IMMORTAL HULK" #48 by Alex Ross

Monday, 12 July 2021

Black Widow #7 - Marvel Comics

BLACK WIDOW No. 7, July 2021
Whilst Kelly Thompson’s “new story arc” for Issue Seven of “Black Widow” may well have featured Natasha Romanoff “with a new suit, a new base of operations, new allies and a new perspective”, it was probably still a little difficult for many readers of this twenty-page periodical to get too enthusiastic about the titular character’s latest mission. In fact, up until Spider-Girl’s covert phone call to the ex-Soviet spy detailing the location of Apogee’s latest criminal cult meeting, little of any interest arguably takes place within this comic as the book’s plot is slowly progressed via several incredibly fraught conversations; “I’m going to speak to Lucy about this… Are you still mad at me? Will you get over it soon?”

In addition, the Eisner Award-nominee’s handling of “Natalia” appears inconsistently contrived at best, with the cloned assassin suddenly changing her stance on not bringing adolescents into the super hero business simply to help push the plot along at a reasonable rate. The entire opening half of this publication focuses upon Romanoff vehemently arguing with Yelena Belova over the White Widow’s desire to train the twenty-year old Lucy because Natasha feels the young girl is still young enough to “escape” a life of battling villains. Yet, just as soon as the Black Widow requires “someone on the inside” of Apogee’s organisation, the Avenger immediately recruits the teenage Anya Corazon to go deep undercover. 

Admittedly, the youth is given plenty of opportunity to bow out of the job offer should she wish too, and has previously undergone S.H.I.E.L.D training in espionage. However, having spent so much of this comic waxing lyrical about how she deeply cares about super-powered juveniles becoming involved in her mixed up world of ‘war, death, honour, betrayal and loss’, the fact Romanoff has already recruited just such a person to her cause debatably makes her actions appear duplicitous at best.

Enjoyably though, Corazon’s presence (or at least the information she provides) does lead to this book’s biggest highlight in the shape of Elena Casagrande pencilling an astonishingly dynamic punch-up between the two former Red Room operatives and a cadre of Apogee’s latest disciples. The Italian illustrator provides some first-rate panels of the gun-toting pair shedding their red-robed disguises mid-ceremony, and then follows this up with a sense-shattering double-splash of both women seriously cleaning the clocks of the entire congregation.

Writer: Kelly Thompson, Penciler: Elena Casagrande, and Letterer: VC's Cory Petit

Saturday, 10 July 2021

Shang-Chi [2021] #2 - Marvel Comics

SHANG-CHI No. 2, August 2021
Providing a thoroughly different perspective on this ongoing series’ titular character as he sets about changing his father’s cult-like organisation’s evil ways, Gene Luen Yang’s narrative for this second instalment to “Shang-Chi Verses The Marvel Universe” surely must have enthralled its audience with a great mixture of tongue-in-cheek humour, some serious super-hero antics and a disconcertingly dangerous sub-plot full of treacherous intrigue. In fact, possibly this twenty-page periodical’s sole disappointment is that Captain America doesn’t make his highly-publicised entrance at the Iron Eighty-Eight’s auction for a Cosmic Cube until the comic is already half-way over; “You called Cap here, didn’t you?! I knew you couldn’t be trusted!”

Minor quibble aside however, this book is debatably packed full of highlights, with the opening uncomfortableness of A.I.M., HYDRA, The Hand, the Inner Demons and The Five Weapons Society trying to be politely civilised with one another at the private sale being just the first. Shang-Chi’s lack of social etiquette whilst in the company of his former foes, such as when he almost drinks the poisoned complimentary champagne being offered, genuinely provides a few chuckles. Albeit not to the extent of M.O.D.O.K.’s major hissy fit with a fellow bidder who tries to high five the “mutagenic medical experimentation” and abruptly has his left arm blasted right off for the implied insult.

Steve Rogers’ aforementioned arrival also certainly produces the goods as he initially appears to be opposing the Supreme Commander’s central aim and momentarily has to take on the entire auction house’s occupants with his famous shield-arm. Perhaps somewhat unsurprisingly, this precarious predicament is actually a ruse, so as to allow the Sentinel of Liberty to supposedly take the Cube into custody “for the sake of the Greater Good!” But that still doesn’t stop artist Dike Rulan from pencilling some pulse-pounding scenes of Lady Iron Fan taking on both the First Avenger and the Master of Kung Fu in a scintillating fight scene.

Lastly, this publication finishes upon a serious note as to the loyalty of Brother Sabre. It is clear straight from this book’s beginning that the bearded Takeshi has some very strong feelings for their shade-wearing female host, especially when it is revealed he has fussing over a necklace she gave him. Yet even so, the highly trained assassin’s decision to use the “wish-granting” power of the Cosmic Cube to fool Captain America into letting his beloved leader of the Iron Eighty-Eights escape is significantly unsettling.

The regular cover art of "SHANG-CHI" #2 by Lenil Frances Yu & Sunny Gho

Friday, 9 July 2021

Star Trek: Year Five #21 - IDW Publishing

STAR TREK: YEAR FIVE No. 21, April 2021
Having arguably established a fascinating time-travelling conundrum worthy of this sci-fi franchise’s original television series in this title’s previous instalment, Brandon Easton’s penmanship for Issue Twenty One of “Star Trek: Year Five” must have come as a bitter disappointment to its readers. In fact, for many Trekkies it will be hard to imagine a more contrived conclusion than the one the Baltimore-born author presents for this twenty-page periodical, as Gary Seven inexplicably suddenly pops out of nowhere to irrationally save the day; “My motives are far from clandestine. For all that you have done… Taking Isis away from me… You will pay the ultimate price. But only when I see fit.”

Sadly though, things have already gone horribly wrong with this publication’s storytelling long before the mysterious Class 1 supervisor momentarily materialises to somehow create an energy wave to restore the U.S.S. Enterprise’s antimatter mix, and provide the exact geo-synchronous orbit co-ordinates the Constitution-class starship requires so as to allow it to send “a message back through the temporal vortex.” Spock’s successful physical assault upon Surak at the start of this comic strongly suggested that the historical flow of time was about to be altered by the Starfleet Science Officer replacing the legendary Vulcan as the ‘Father of Logic’. However, that notion is quickly dispelled by Amanda Grayson’s son as he simply departs the scene allowing the elderly philosopher to bring the Time of Awakening to its proper end following his death “from radiation sickness after a nuclear attack by Rihan’s faction.”

Just what therefore causes the formidably aggressive Vulcan space fleet which Captain James Kirk and his crew faces in an alternative future is never explained, nor how Spock’s presence in the past even instigated the birth of so Romulan-like an Empire on the planet Ni'Var. Instead, Easton’s plot has everything panning out as planned, courtesy of the Federation Commander simply being allowed to walk towards his means of escape by Surak, following a highly unlikely mind meld between the two men which supposedly showed the half-human’s life-long struggle to keep his emotions in check.

Ultimately, this two-parter would appear to have been exclusively written to explain why Spock suddenly decides to leave Starfleet at the end of the Enterprise’s first five-year mission so as to undergo the Kolinahr ritual on his home world, and finally purge himself of all emotions. Yet, such a major decision doesn’t debatably make much sense now the character realises that the legendary figure behind the onerous sacrament was entirely capable of murder, the erection of mass extermination camps, and inflicting pitiless misery upon the very people whose culture he was supposedly meant to have rescued.

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

Thursday, 8 July 2021

Strange Academy #10 - Marvel Comics

STRANGE ACADEMY No. 10, July 2021
As far as school field trips to Asgard go, Skottie Young’s sedentary sojourn to “the land in which the Aesir reside” probably didn’t land all that well with any readers half-expecting the title’s “best and brightest young sorcerers” to at least encounter a minor threat to their well-being during such an important visit. But whilst Volstagg’s decision to take the students to the Ram’s Den for an unofficial nosh-up does eventually lead to “a good, old-fashioned brawl” between Shaylee and some grumpy elves, this enormous punch-up is disappointingly, completely confined to a single splash page of artwork by Humberto Ramos.

Instead, the American author fills Issue Ten of “Strange Academy” with Doyle Dormammu’s sickly sweet “high school love story” and the long, drawn-out revelation that Alvi and Iric’s mother is actually the super-villainess known as the Enchantress. Both of these sub-plots are undoubtedly important for future storylines, and add plenty of extra depth to the personalities of those characters involved. However, combining the two slow-paced scenarios together to form the basis of this book’s central narrative arguably negates any energy or excitement generated by the prospect of Zelma Stanton’s pupils encountering problematic fire demons and equally as irascible Frost Giants within a confined space.

This sense of lethargy debatably starts to take its toll upon any unsuspecting bibliophile just as soon as Thor’s overweight stand-in settles down to gorge himself on one of “the finest feasts in the Ten Realms”, and despairingly doesn’t end until the comic’s incredibly rushed conclusion when Emily Bright is whisked back inside the Academy’s magical flying bus, along with her new-found boyfriend, as the vehicle hurriedly departs along the Rainbow Bridge; “We have been asked to leave Asgard immediately die to a multi-realm battle royal set off by one hot-tempered fairy.”

Fortunately, there is some comfort to be taken from the aforementioned Ramos and his marvellous layouts. The Mexican illustrator manages to incorporate all the lavish Medieval-era grandeur expected of a sight-seeing tour of “one of the God Realms”, and also imbues the Enchantress with all the loving, gentle touches of a mother who is genuinely “concerned when a prophecy surfaces possibly involving one of my sons.”

The regular cover art of "STRANGE ACADEMY" #10 by Humberto Ramos & Edgar Delgado

Wednesday, 7 July 2021

Iron Man [2020] #9 - Marvel Comics

IRON MAN No. 9, August 2021
It is arguably difficult to fathom just what Christopher Cantwell was aiming at with his sedentary storyline for Issue Nine of Iron Man. For whilst the comic’s twenty-page long plot certainly provides some insights into the “Origin of [Michael] Korvac”, the America author doesn’t seem to paint the “computer technician born on the Blue Area of the Moon” in a particularly sympathetic light. Indeed, it must have been hard for any reader to feel anything but utter contempt for “Adam IV” after the weakling “trades the lives of his fellow species in exchange for a modest position” within the Badoon’s ever-growing Empire.

Sure, the traitor is eventually overcome with remorse for having cold-bloodedly gunned down his fellow prisoners, after his sudden appearance at the doorway to their confinement cell had initially given them a modicum of hope that together they might escape their extra-terrestrial torturers. However, a few crocodile tears in the Year 2997 A.D. hardly demonstrates overwhelming regret at his pusillanimous actions, even if they do lead to Korvac being literally sawn in half by his masters for daring to abandon his duties; “Return to your station, Earthborn. Tend to your precious computer modules and don’t waste my time again.”

Furthermore, this book’s central plot concerning Korvac desperately attempting to convince the original Human Torch as to the benevolent legitimacy of his grand scheme, doesn’t debatably ever appear likely to succeed. Put simply, the villainous megalomaniac wants to “forcibly transform all sentient life into a homogenous consciousness”, so what on Earth makes the autocratic android believe that “one of the first superheroes of the Marvel Universe” would willingly support him in such a death-dealing endeavour..? Little wonder, Jim Hammond violently rejects joining the “coward with delusions of grandeur” just as soon as he learns the “selfish” fiend killed all the Avengers in “a moment of anger!”

Luckily, this publication at least has some proficiently pencilled artwork by Cafu to enjoy. The “Marvel Comics exclusive artist” does a terrific job of bringing across the true horror of Michael’s abhorrent actions, most notably the utter terror in the all-too conscious man’s eyes as he’s cut to pieces by his so-called benefactors on an operating table. Yet even this ability can’t help save a book which for almost its entirety is comprised of its central ‘heavy’ simply spouting his intergalactic nonsense to whichever character happens to be within earshot.

The regular cover art of "IRON MAN" #9 by Alex Ross 

Tuesday, 6 July 2021

Mighty Morphin #3 - BOOM! Studios

MIGHTY MORPHIN No. 3, January 2021
Illustrator Marco Renna must have found his pencilling hand to have been considerably the sorer after working upon the layouts for Issue Three of “Mighty Morphin”. For whilst Ryan Parrott’s script contains several dialogue-led scenes which help flesh out the characters of this comic’s considerably-large cast, it also includes an outrageously dynamic punch-up at Angel Grove, which sees the entire super-team literally up to their colourfully-costumed necks in putties; “Do I have to worry about who I’m punching here?”

Luckily, the “BOOM! Studios” writer doesn’t simply rely upon panel after extremely-well sketched panel depicting Zordon of Eltar’s disarrayed heroes getting their clocks cleaned by Lord Zedd’s “deadliest attack yet” to help fill out his twenty-page periodical’s storyline. But actually uses the high octane action as a backdrop to progress several sub-plots, such as the mysterious Green Ranger’s disconcerting vulnerability to Chaos Energy, and the alarming ease with which Adam’s visual input can be compromised so as to make him think his friends are actually a horde of heavily-fanged monsters.

Moreover, Parrott also bookends this comic’s frantically-paced fight-scene with some enthralling insights into Zordon’s past on the planet Bivix “over ten thousand years ago”, and a wonderfully-tense confrontation between the blue-skinned “galactic wizard” and Grace Sterling. Indeed, the American author even seems to somehow find the space to illustrate just how Bulk, Skull and Candice escaped “the psycho alien concert”, courtesy of a head-long flight down some debris-filled alleyway and a well-stocked dustbin to a putties’ head.

Easily this book’s biggest shock though arguably comes towards its conclusion, when the identity of the person responsible for successfully smuggling the Dragon Power Coin from out of the Power Rangers’ ultra-secret Command Centre is finally revealed. Those bibliophiles who weren’t entirely dazzled by all the flying fists and karate-kicks shown during Zedd’s aforementioned ambush were probably already aware of Billy’s treachery, as the Blue Ranger clearly covers for his green-garbed confederate’s sudden departure mid-way through the assault. However, it isn’t really until Aisha confronts her traitorous team-mate that the full scope of Cranston’s misguided duplicity is made clear, when he begrudgingly admits to both figuring “out a way to recharge the” coin and helping “Promethea create the Green Ranger.”

The regular cover art of "MIGHTY MORPHIN" No. 2 by Inhyuk Lee

Monday, 5 July 2021

Shadowman #3 - Valiant Entertainment

SHADOWMAN No. 3, June 2021
Presenting the titular character receiving a serious smackdown by a mysterious “sinister undertaker” during its opening sequence, Cullen Bunn’s script for Issue Three of “Shadowman” must have instantly gripped any and all readers with its enthralling look at just how disconcertingly tenuous the physical link between a Loa and their all-too mortal human host can be. In fact, long-term fans of Jim Shooter’s co-creation will probably struggle to recollect another storyline in which Jack Boniface’s unearthly powers are so sorely tested as they are in this “terrifying tour” of Barcelona’s streets and maze-like alleyways.

To begin with, a surprisingly vulnerable Shadowman is depicted as being on his back foot just as soon as the action-packed adventure starts, courtesy of “the supernatural defender” somehow being poisoned by his fast-paced pursuers’ ethereal blows. Coupled with the sudden loss of the hero’s trademark scythe, plus the subsequent depiction of Boniface’s alter ego taking another over-the-top beating, and everything about this comic’s pulse-pounding plot would seem to suggest that an understandably fearful lead protagonist is about to meet his final end; “In his eyes. I see something. For him, this is not an evil act. No. He wants to kill me because he sees me as an evil thing.”

This compelling hook is made all the more irresistible by Bunn’s brilliant inclusion of several harrowing scenes which show some of Jack’s impressively skilled peers already falling victim to the Pallbearer’s deadly assaults. The violent beheading of Spain’s keeper of secrets proves especially persuasive as an indicator of the lank-haired killer’s lethal abilities, and it is arguably hard not to feel a modicum of sympathy for the shaking, floating Loa as it realises that its own death is at hand, yet still tries to buy itself additional life by trading gossip and lesser known confidences with its invisible assailant.

Adding much in the way of visual excitement to these quite shocking shenanigans are Jon Davis-Hunt’s superb panels, which serve to both instantly entrap any perusing bibliophile into the masters of terror’s well-imagined world, and then carry them off on a truly disturbing journey across the Shadowman’s domain. Boniface’s battle against the Pallbearer provides a perfect example of this top tier pencilling by demonstrating the rapier-quick attacks of the Pallbearer’s Loas one minute, and then the sheer ineffectiveness of Jack’s physical punches upon an utterly unmoving foe in the next.

The regular cover art of "SHADOWMAN" #3 by John Davis-Hunt

Saturday, 3 July 2021

Gamma Flight #1 - Marvel Comics

GAMMA FLIGHT No. 1, August 2021
Enthusiastically described by writer Al Ewing as being a series which will both "explore some of the concepts and plant some of the seeds from Immortal Hulk in their own space”, as well as “tickle Hulk fans old and new.”, this twenty-two page periodical probably disappointed many of the Eisner Award-nominee’s fans upon its release. For whilst the British author’s script undoubtedly deals with Puck, Absorbing Man, Titania, Doc Sasquatch, Doctor Charlene McGowan “and a horribly changed Rick Jones” suddenly becoming “fugitives from every known authority”, the comic’s plot focuses far more upon the considerable cast’s social life as uncomfortable ‘roomies’ as opposed to depicting any significant pulse-pounding action.

True, this opening instalment to a five-part story co-penned by Crystal Frasier, certainly starts off well enough with Carl Creel and Leonard Samson being caught red-handed by some badly out-gunned soldiers whilst the super-strong duo are busy pillaging the decommissioned Shadow Base Remote Facility FNJ4 for essential supplies. But this bullet-riddled sequence is cut all-too short by the abrupt departure of Sasquatch to “somewhere in New Mexico” via his team’s cantankerous translocator, and the creative crew’s disappointing decision to skip depicting Absorbing Man’s subsequent minute alone with the military; “I need sixty-five seconds to recharge the capacitors, Carl --”

Instead, Ewing decides to concentrate upon how well Samson can give McGowan a shoulder massage, Mary MacPherran going down on one bended knee so as to propose to an already-married Creel, and the physically malformed Jones unsuccessfully trying to play a car racing video game using Del Frye’s fluorescent green hands. Such long-winded insights into Gamma Flight’s relationships with one another badly slows down the pacing of this publication, to the point where it isn’t until its final third that the ‘outlaws’ actually begin investigating news of a gamma-mutant attack in Austin, and even then the sense-shattering shenanigans only last seven panels before the normally violent Absorbing Man supposedly talks their huge opponent down into peacefully conversing with them...?

Equally as unimposing as this comic’s narrative are Lan Medina’s layouts, which are arguably so inconsistent that some Hulk-heads were probably fooled into initially thinking more than one artist was behind the book’s pencilling. The Filipino illustrator does a pretty proficient job when tasked to sketch the likes of an angry Titania crunching a hapless Police car or two. Yet, the aforementioned scenes involving ‘domestic bliss’ in the Creel household seemingly lack any real animation or dynamic life.

The regular cover art of "GAMMA FLIGHT" #1 by Leinil Francis Yu & Sunny Gho

Friday, 2 July 2021

The Edge #1 - Second Sight Publishing

THE EDGE No. 1, March 2021
Splitting its action into three distinctly discernible subdivisions, Marvin Wynn’s narrative for Issue One of “The Edge” certainly supplies it audience with a cavalcade of conflict, both physical and emotional. For whilst the super-sized thirty-two page periodical contains plenty of the brutal pulse-pounding batterings a bibliophile might expect from a publication “about super-humans who use a drug which gives them amazing powers”, it also seemingly touches upon the regrets held by the team’s commander, Mister Tartabull, when it comes to his past failings as their leader; “Somehow, our control over the experiment slipped away from us becoming something none of us even imagined. It’s something I’ve had to live with to this very day.”

These self-doubts immediately help create an extra element of vulnerability to the man’s latest mission to safely resolve a hostage situation in San Diego, as well as increase the tension generated by Interim as she stealthily infiltrates the dilapidated block of flats being utilised by a group of 'psycho terrorists'. Having previously failed in developing the somewhat homicidal Revenant into a ‘force for good’, it is clear that Tartabull is fallible, so there is always a chance that one (or more) of his current team of heroes might also prove unreliable when faced with a particular crisis. 

Similarly as intriguing is Wynn’s well-penned introduction of this comic’s large cast of characters. The author wastes little time by literally throwing the reader straight into the deep-end of the action with Interim’s aforementioned penetration of a multi-tenant building, and subsequently utilises the support the purple-clad, portal-manipulator enjoys from her squad-mates to bring each member’s unique skills to the fore.

Likewise, Mark Louie Vuycankiat does an excellent job with his pencils and inks of bringing this glimpse of the Freedomverse to sense-shattering life. The early, extremely violent death of Doctor Blas at the hands of a clearly ill-thinking Revenant sets a high standard for drama which continues throughout the entirety of the book, and such incidents as the artist’s attention to detail when Mystic saves Interim’s life from a gun-toting occultist, repeatedly help show just how deadly the world within which the protagonists inhabit, can be.

Writer/Creator: Marvin Wynn, and Pencils & Inks: Mark Louie Vuycankiat