Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Giant-Size Little Marvel: AvX #2 - Marvel Comics

GIANT-SIZE LITTLE MARVEL: AVX No. 2, September 2015
Absolutely crammed full of some genuine, belly-laugh inducing quick-fire gags and comical set-pieces, Issue Two of “Giant-Size Little Marvel: AvX” doubtless had its 36,019 readers heartily chuckling to themselves with each and every turn of the page. Indeed, considering this publication’s opening groan-inducing “Dodgeball” sequence, which starts by depicting team captain Cyclops boldly declaring “Eye pick [those on my side] first” and ends with Spider-Man asking the blind super-hero Daredevil “Did you see who won?”, it is hard to recall “Marvel Worldwide” printing a more pun-filled publication this side of their Late Sixties title “Not Brand Echh”.

Somewhat fortunately however, Skottie Young doesn’t just rely upon a seemingly endless series of unrelated corny gags with which to fill this twenty-page periodical’s script, and soon introduces two new students to Marville Elementary in the shape of the dour-looking Zachary and Zoe. Not being mutants, “lost in a time not of your own”, “bitten by any insect or animal”, or interested in visiting a homicidal Arcade’s “house after school to play my own indie game Murderworld”, the twins soon become the subject of a secret clubhouse tug-of-war between “the astonishing, amazing, uncanny, super-dope X-Men” and “the mighty, ultimate, super-fresh Avengers.”

Perhaps predictably, such a titanic tussle provides the Inkwell Award-winner with plenty more opportunities with which to demonstrate his witty waggishness, and Black Widow’s needling of Scott Summers, after the X-Men’s leader has had a “Welcome” (to our not-so secret headquarters) banner made from macaroni and glue, is a good example of this. Although even the subsequent mass-battle involving a cutesy Sentinel blasting the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier doesn’t compare to the belly-laugh caused by Namor feeding a pet goldfish which is simply waiting for ‘the World to soon be covered in water once again’ so he can have his “cousin Toothy” eat the Sub-Mariner; “Heh heh.”

Featuring a somewhat more sedentary storyline than its previous edition, Skottie Young’s ultra-cartoony and brightly-coloured breakdowns still manage to instil this comic’s narrative with plenty of pace and energy. In fact, the children’s book illustrator somehow even succeeds in imbuing Professor Xavier’s “few minutes to get to know each other” classroom question & answer session with some much-needed dynamism, simply by over-exaggerating the facial features of each character concerned.
Words and Art: Skottie Young, Colors: Jean-Francois Beaulieu, and Letters: Jeff Eckleberry

Monday, 29 August 2016

The Punisher #4 - Marvel Comics

THE PUNISHER No. 4, October 2016
Undeniably reminiscent of something from out of the “Australian dystopian action multi-media franchise” “Mad Max”, at least in the comic's awesomely incessant vehicular combat, Issue Four of “The Punisher” must surely have “totally grabbed… [its audience] right away” with Steve Dillon's graphically illustrated depiction of Frank Castle brutally battling both an armoured truck full of ‘juiced-up’ homicidal killers and a determined D.E.A. sharpshooter flying on board a ‘company’ helicopter. In fact, whilst Becky Cloonan’s narrative does momentarily focus upon “the Punisher’s former commander Olaf” visiting the Exeter Mental Hospital, the twenty-page periodical only strays ‘off-piste’ fleetingly before ramping up the action even more so, courtesy of Agent Ortiz’s pilot taking a fatal headshot and her ill-fated partner, Henderson, tumbling from their now erratic ride into the very ‘lap’ of the mercenary organisation the Administration agents were investigating…

Admittedly, not all of this title’s readers were entirely happy with such a “reboot” on account of ‘all the wordless action’ purportedly showing “the Punisher for what he really is and always has been: a two-dimensional character with really nothing to build upon.” But as Editor Jake Thomas pointed out at the time of publication, “so much of his [Castle] humanity dies with his family… [and] every now and then… you [still] see the man he used to be.” Besides, it’s arguably rather difficult to provide any significant insight into the anti-hero’s personality, even by way of an inner monologue, when he’s being repeatedly shot at by numerous semi-automatic weapons and has to deal with an overdosing wannabe ‘van-jacker’ armed with “a #@$% rocket launcher!”

In addition both the Pisa- born writer, and artist Steve Dillon, do actually manage to ‘lighten’ the ultra-violent script up occasionally with some much appreciated moments of caustic humour, such as the protagonist’s sarcastic response to nine-year old Juniper’s driving advice, the mercenary becoming so evidently awe-struck by Frank’s collection of weaponry that he momentarily forgets he’s supposedly there to kill the “decorated marine”, and Ortiz’s ‘over the top’ reaction to a deputy’s assertion that, having managed to walk away from her helicopter’s crash-landing, “everything’s all right now.” Indeed, Cloonan’s ability to intermix frantic pulse-pounding action with plenty of genuine laugh-out-loud moments is undoubtedly why some Punisher fans could not have been “any happier or prouder to see a woman take on a character [so loved]… and do him such justice.”
Writer: Becky Cloonan, Artist: Steve Dillion, and Color Artist: Frank Martin

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Kong Of Skull Island #2 - BOOM! Studios

KONG OF SKULL ISLAND No. 2, August 2016
Packed full of titanic struggles between gigantic apes, prehistoric killer fish and razor-sharp clawed devil lizards, all of which are superbly pencilled by Carlos Magno, it is clear from the narrative to Issue Two of “Kong Of Skull Island” just why James Asmus, an author perhaps best “known for his work on “All-New Inhumans”, “Quantum & Woody” [and] “Gambit”, felt that this “chance to jump into and build on the original King Kong’s DNA was too incredible an opportunity to pass up!” It’s certainly clear from this book’s harrowing depiction of a great gorilla fending off an enormous Pachycormidae as it gobbles up shipwrecked survivors that the New Orleans-educated comedian thoroughly enjoyed scripting a storyline where mankind trades “one disaster for [another upon] a savage island of dinosaurs”; even if his plot does disappointingly flounder mid-way through the twenty-two page periodical as it frustratingly, and almost exclusively, focuses upon the heathen nuptials of K’Reti and Usana.

Indeed, for many bibliophiles the Stan Lee Excelsior Award-winner’s tale of the Konga dramatically slugging it out with primordial meat-eating predators, whilst the hapless humans surrounding them can only gaze in awestruck wonder and foolishly pray to their false gods, must genuinely have reminded them of just how impotently small many astonished cinema-goers surely felt when they first watched the crew of the Venture follow an abducted Ann into the monster-infested jungle of Skull Island during Merian C. Cooper’s 1933 “American pre-code disaster film”.

Sadly however, these colossal brutal bouts between the likes of the primitively loyal Tul and beach bound rampaging Carnosaurs eventually give way to an incredibly dialogue-heavy series of 'conversation pieces' which lamentably labour upon K’reti’s well-founded doubts regarding his imminent “theatrical marriage” to a woman whose "self-serving" father is likely to manipulate the tribesmen against him should he go against his wishes. “Already married” to an apparently pregnant Ewata following “a private ceremony months ago”, the most unhappy Prince therefore disappointingly spends the majority of this comic simply flitting from one unaffected person to another, telling them how the enforced “pageantry will not avert [the] catastrophe” of their island’s volcanic eruption and consequently, swiftly sucking all the energy out of what was initially a genuinely pulse-pounding read; “Ha! Ah… Youth. So we’ll have it severed. But you can keep her as your mistress. There are some perks to being king.”
Writer: James Asmus, Illustrator: Carlos Magno, and Colors: Brad Simpson

Friday, 26 August 2016

The Punisher #3 - Marvel Comics

THE PUNISHER No. 3, September 2016
Judging by the reader mail published within this comic’s letters page, Publish or Punish, Issue Three of “The Punisher” doubtless ‘knocked the socks off’ of its 46,534 strong audience in July 2016 with its graphic portrayal of murder, mutilation and mayhem. Indeed, apart from the twenty-page periodical’s opening, which portrays D.E.A. Agents Ortiz and Henderson foolishly thinking they’ve cornered the “decorated Marine” in a Vermont Motel room, Becky Cloonan’s script concerning the titular character ably handling "a country throw-down” contains little in the way of exposition except the occasional “Augh!!”, “Aaagh!” and “Hng… Hnngh…”

Fortunately Steve Dillon’s well-detailed and traditionally solid breakdowns, which at times actually depict “the Punisher like a horror movie bad guy”, are more than up to the task of telling the Pisa-born writer’s partially wordless story, and it’s clear just why some of this title’s fanbase view him as being “on “peak form here.” Patient, wary and battle-experienced, the English artist does a terrific job of building the narrative’s tension up by first illustrating Castle carefully observing his targets through a rifle scope, before the one-time “family man” remorselessly kills every single one of them.

Admittedly, a never-ending series of pictures containing brains being blown out, legs getting shot away and throats being slit, would probably prove somewhat too much even for bibliophiles delighted when “Frank doesn’t say a single word for the whole issue”. Yet cleverly Cloonan avoids just such a trap by incorporating a moment of respite from the seemingly incessant farmyard slaughter, courtesy of a brief visit to Exeter Asylum and Condor's lieutenant Face; “I’ve been expecting you. I hand-picked some good soldiers, like you requested.”

The “American comic book creator” is arguably just as good at penning cliff-hangers too. For having saved the life of little Juniper and extracted the dinosaur-obsessed girl from her (very recently departed) father’s suicide vest, many lesser wordsmiths may well have settled for the story to end on a high with the stony-faced, victorious Punisher simply driving off towards the “centre of the whole EMC operation”. Dramatically however, this publication doesn’t actually quite finish there and instead somehow manages to cram in a final three-panel sequence depicting a wide-eyed homicidal-looking Face driving a van-load of heavily armed “&$#%-ass city-boy gangsters” straight towards the anti-hero’s screeching vehicle.
Writer: Becky Cloonan, Artist: Steve Dillion, and Color Artist: Frank Martin

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Doctor Strange [2015] #10 - Marvel Comics

DOCTOR STRANGE No. 10, October 2016
Advertised as the finale to Jason Aaron’s “Last Days Of Magic” story-arc, and depicting the Sorcerer Supreme’s supposed victory over the Empirikul, Issue Ten of “Doctor Strange” must still have proved something of a frustrating experience for its readership with the Alabama-born writer’s seemingly arbitrary removal of the Imperator’s resilience to the mystic arts at the comic’s conclusion. In fact, having repeatedly demonstrated an incredible hardiness to spells, chants and incarnations throughout the rest of this far-reaching ‘event’, the “inter-dimensional army” leader’s sudden and almost fatal susceptibility to the titular character’s ever-evaporating magic is so unconvincing and illogical that it arguably appears to have occurred simply to allow the American author to end his narrative within the space allowed. Certainly the fact that Hellgore is able to withstand the trauma of taking a magical arrow in the eye one moment, and yet be blinded by “the milled powder of the Ancient One’s skull” in the next, smacks of lazy penmanship; especially when such a ‘game-changing’ revelation is simply, almost inadvertently, rationalised by the practicing magician with the words “Magic isn’t just the thing he hates. It’s his weakness.”

Equally as disappointing is this twenty-page periodical’s resolution to “the so-called Thing in the Cellar”, a being of pain and suffering which was created by Doctor Strange and secretly kept in the basement of the Sanctum Sanctorum. Initially depicted as a force capable of destroying both its “Father” and the Imperator, this multi-eyed monstrosity ultimately joins the former Defender in his fight against the Empirikul. However once the battle is ended, the creature is subsequently shown simply wandering the streets of New York City as a free entity, with absolutely no discernible explanation as to how it actually helped the former “preeminent surgeon” defeat his formidable foe, or even managed to escape from its own captivity?

Fortunately such exasperating omissions within Aaron’s script do not seem to have detrimentally affected the vast majority of Chris Bachalo’s breakdowns. True, some of the Canadian comic book illustrator’s panels, such as those depicting librarian Zelma Stanton and Wong dripping in black ooze whilst ‘praying’ for the Sorcerer Supreme’s wellbeing, are as awkward-looking as their subject matter is disturbing. But few of this publication’s audience could arguably have balked at the mainstream artist’s wonderfully complicated renderings of the Thing in the Cellar as it confronts Doctor Strange and inkily envelops him within its oleaginous manifestation.
The 'Death of X' variant cover art of "DOCTOR STRANGE" No. 10 by Andrea Broccardo

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

The Brave And The Bold #148 - DC Comics

THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD No. 148, March 1979
As a “DC Comics” Christmas tie-in publication, Bob Haney’s narrative for Issue One Hundred and Forty Eight of “The Brave And The Bold” was arguably always going to contain a certain amount of festive joviality and silliness. In fact, considering that Batman is partnered with the quirky, comical character of Plastic Man, many of this seventeen-page periodical’s buyers probably felt an “offbeat” tongue-in-cheek tale was effectively guaranteed.

Sadly however “The Night The Mob Stole Xmas!” actually seems to take this notion of “surreal slapstick humour” a little too far, and not only milks Jack Cole’s creation for all the funnies the malleable superhero can muster, but does so within an atrociously contrived storyline that is as implausibly manufactured as it is unamusing. It’s certainly hard to imagine that despite all his wealth and power the Crime Lord Big Jake still found it necessary to steal “Gotham’s Great Xmas Display” and transport it to his residence “at Conch Key -- A palm-studded coral island off the Florida Coast”, rather than simply build an alternative to “the famous Lacy’s Department Store” yuletide exhibition; unless of course he purposely wanted to attract the attention of that particular metropolis’ Dark Knight and ruin his well-prepared plans for murdering “all the creeps who tried to muscle in on our butt-smuggling” operation.   

Equally as illogical is the Philadelphia-born writer’s handling of the Caped Crusader himself. Clearly aware of Commissioner Gordon’s deep concern regarding a spate of hijackings and murders related to illegal cigarettes, Batman nonsensically decides to initially ignore the Policeman’s request for him to ‘crack the smuggling ring’ and instead needle him by explaining he has to “do my Xmas shopping”. To make matters worse, Haney also has Bruce Wayne’s alter ego later impotently surrender to two armed gangsters, and subsequently be stretched out across a gigantic evergreen conifer “as a tree decoration”, despite the fact that Plastic Man is right beside him and could presumably readily dispatch the goons with a couple of elongated fists?

Fortunately what this comic lacks in credibility, it more than makes up for with its wonderfully dynamic-looking artwork, courtesy of Joe Staton and Jim Aparo. Imbued with a genuine feeling of energetic athleticism, whether it be him landing flat-footed on top of a van roof, karate-chopping a goon with throat strike, or swinging into his open-topped Batmobile, the creative team’s rendering of the Caped Crusader, as well as Plastic Man, is top notch throughout.
Writer: Bob Haney, and Artists: Joe Staton & Jim Aparo

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Micronauts [2016] #3 - IDW Publishing

MICRONAUTS No. 3, June 2016
Considering that this particular comic book title depicting “the Micronauts’ far out world” was advertised by “IDW Publishing” as “a fresh series that captures the property’s magical nostalgia and meshes it with modern twenty-first century storytelling”, the vast majority of its 9,715 fans in June 2016 surely must have anticipated a fair amount of exposition within its opening narrative. However, having previously penned two action-packed monthlies which genuinely immersed its audience “into the doomed microscopic realms of the Micronauts”, Cullen Bunn’s storyline for this particular twenty-page long periodical disconcertingly contains an incredible amount of discussion and dialogue.

Indeed, whether it be during his incarceration at the hands of Baron Daigon, the mistreatment of his robotic comrades by their captors, or the space pirate’s lengthy confinement within a prison cell which skirts the Entropy Storm, all central character Oziron Rael does is relentlessly talk about how he's descended from a race of long-forgotten time travellers who “crafted vessels to help them cross space and time” and his special relationship with the Ministry of Science's white-armoured leader. Such dedication to ‘scene setting’ is arguably a laudable attempt by the “dream come true” writer to firmly establish Pharoid’s prominence within the plot, yet going so far as to have Oz continue to just chat with the Force Commander right up until the comic’s cliff-hanger hardly seems like the sort of thing that will “make sure readers have the time of their lives reading this series!”

Fortunately at least this magazine’s despotic ruler of the Microverse, Baron Karza, provides a fleeting moment of pulse-pounding entertainment by foiling an assassination attempt. Sudden as it is savage, the brief sequence ably demonstrates just how viciously dangerous an existence the former Chief Scientist and Overseer of the Body Banks leads, with Shazrella’s husband not only needing to strafe the cybernetically-enhanced assassin with his ruby red chest lasers, but incapacitate the would-be executioner with his remote-controlled detachable hands; “I say burn.”

This comic’s heavy reliance upon seemingly endless panels populated with speech balloons would also appear to have been somewhat detrimental to Max Dunbar’s breakdowns. Flat and distinctly tired-looking, the Canadian’s lifeless pencils fail to do anything other than simply show just which figure is talking with whom; a lack-lustre art-style that proves all the more frustrating when used to depict Rael’s supposedly cataclysmic confrontation with a partially unarmoured and seemingly elderly Baron Daigon.
The regular cover art of "MICRONAUTS" No. 3 by J.H. Williams III