Wednesday, 19 October 2016

James Bond #10 - Dynamite Entertainment

JAMES BOND No. 10, September 2016
Hand-picked by the Fleming Estate to be the writer for this “ongoing spy thriller comic book series” it is clear from the British operative's ruthless killing of his foes deep inside an underground steam locomotive station that Warren Ellis’ incarnation of the titular character for Issue Ten of “James Bond” is arguably the “purest crystallization” of the fictional secret agent “since the original novels”. However even the franchise’s most ardent followers must surely have felt that the Eagle Award-winner’s depiction of 007 seemingly enjoying skinning a captive Gareth Cullen with a Stanley knife in order to “make nice chamois leather rags to polish our cars with” was taking the cold-blooded intelligence officer’s callousness a little too far. Certainly the torturous scene, graphically illustrated by Jason Masters and laden with (gallows) humour as Tanner complains about getting “all the blood out from my nails”, would seem more appropriate behaviour for one of the Secret Serviceman’s sadistic arch-villains rather than the title’s heroic lead?

Sadly, such a disconcertingly memorable sequence is also this magazine’s only real glimpse of “Jimmy” in action, not counting his ‘head shot’ of Hawkwood’s last remaining goon at the start of the comic, as the Essex-born author’s storyline interesting shifts its focus away from the Royal Naval Reserve Commander and instead settles upon the exploits of Bond’s mysterious superior M at “designated Safehouse India Uniform Lima.” Admittedly this surprising change of direction in the book’s writing does provide the audience with an opportunity to see just how formidable a gun-mistress the Head of the Secret Intelligence Service’s personal assistant Miss Moneypenny really is. But it also slows down the plot’s pacing with some quite disinteresting conversational pieces between the Intelligence Services Commissioner and Sir Stephen Mackmain; the majority of which strangely seem to make this twenty-two page periodical’s final third reminiscent of General Georgi Koskov’s somewhat lack-lustre post-defection debriefing in the 1987 motion picture “The Living Daylights”.

Jason Masters artwork for this particular instalment of “Eidolon” is equally as inconsistent as its script, on account of the South African pencilling a fantastically dynamic shoot-out between Bond and Cullen during the magazine’s opening, and then seemingly struggling to reliably illustrate the bearded Head of MI5 throughout the rest of the publication. Indeed, considering the poor quality of some of his panels, especially those involving the facially-disfigured Hawkwood, it is hard to imagine just why Ellis personally “requested” him to be “the artist” on the title…
Writer: Warren Ellis, Artist: Jason Masters, and Colors: Guy Major

Sunday, 16 October 2016

James Bond #9 - Dynamite Entertainment

JAMES BOND No. 9, August 2016
Initially somewhat slow, yet nonetheless tense as frustrated senior MI5 field officer Eve Sharma gets uncomfortably close to M’s desk, Warren Ellis' narrative for Issue Nine of “James Bond” doesn’t really liven up until halfway through the comic book, and even then it arguably has the titular character doing little except noiselessly manoeuvre himself through “a maze of tunnels under a hill and quarry” where “a fleet of steam locomotives” is being held in case there is ever “a nuclear attack on Britain.” Happily however, such disappointing inactivity does finally come to an end once the British Secret Service “tourist” is spotted by Eidolon’s heavily-armed freelancers and the horribly disfigured Hawkwood instructs his goons to “Bring me a corpse. I’ll pay a bonus.”

Such high-octane antics as the spy barrelling his way amongst the long-abandoned trains, gunning down the occasional long-bearded braggart despite their conspicuous body armour or hurling “a cheeky grenade or three” really must have pleased this comic’s 12,917 readers after such a dialogue-heavy and meandering start. Yet any such exhilaration caused by Cullen’s sour-faced ne’er-do-wells getting their comeuppance is frustratingly cut-short by Jason Master’s pencilling an unarmed titular character confronting a gun-toting mercenary in one bottom panel and “Dynamite Entertainment” ‘bolting on’ a “special preview of James Bond Hammerhead #1” into the next…  

This sudden and most unwelcome conclusion to the twenty-two page book is made all the more infuriating by the publisher’s bizarre decision to actually print a scene from their ‘new mini-series’ which is very similar in appearance and action to the darkly atmospheric firefight of “Eidolon”. As a result it isn’t until Luca Casalanguida’s noticeably different (and arguably inferior) art style sinks home that it becomes evident that Bond is not only no longer staving off the well-paid automatic weapon-carrying lackeys of SPECTRE. But is instead fighting a totally unknown group of foes from a totally unrelated periodical.

Potentially unenthused by so sedentary a script, Master’s breakdowns for much of this magazine are disappointingly lifeless and in many instances, such as when Tanner secrets a penknife down his sleeve in M’s office, contain some extremely stiff-looking, wooden drawings. Fortunately though, the South African’s artwork improves immeasurably once the Royal Naval Reserve Commander stealthily enters the “secret underground town” Box Tunnel and starts killing Cullen’s wilful dogs of war.
Writer: Warren Ellis, Artist: Jason Masters, and Colors: Guy Major

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Star Trek: Waypoint #1 - IDW Publishing

Announced by “IDW Publishing” as a “blockbuster bi-monthly anthology to celebrate fifty years of Star Trek” and supposedly “featuring short stories across all Treks by the top talent of today and yesterday”, Issue One of “Star Trek: Waypoint” must surely have come as something of a major disappointment to its audience, on account of the comic’s inconsistent artwork and tediously dull writing. In fact, considering just how anaemically actionless the mini-series’ opening instalment is, it's hard to believe Group Editor Sarah Gaydos genuinely felt that these two tales were “a place to stop and reflect on what’s come before, and look ahead to the next fifty years of Trek.”

Set both after the television series, as well as the crew’s excursions upon the silver Screen, it is certainly difficult to imagine that the quality of Donny Cates’ narrative for the “The Next Generation” story “Puzzles” would safely assure the science fiction franchise’s future for another half-century. For her twenty-page tripe unconvincingly places Captain Geordi La Forge in command of an unnamed Federation starship whose bridge is exclusively populated by numerous holograms of Doctor Noonian Soong's Data; a somewhat surreal situation supposedly due to the androids’s physical form deteriorating over time, rather than being blown up at the conclusion of the 2002 film “Nemesis”. Such an unconvincing development, which largely follows events depicted within "Pocket Books" novels, undoubtedly must have irked those readers with a casual understanding of official canon. Yet probably not as much as the storyline's conclusion which depicts the Enterprise's former Chief Engineer being reprimanded by an uncharacteristically callous Admiral Jean-Luc Picard for simply taking a very human course of action and saving “two hundred time-displaced Starfleet” engineers. Little wonder the one-time blind helmsman questions his superior officer as to “what would you have done” in the same circumstances.

Equally as lack-lustre is Sandra Lanz’s ‘Original Series’ short “Daylily” involving Lieutenant Uhura becoming incomprehensibly separated from “the rest of the landing party” “on a strange planet” and subsequently encountering “a bizarre alien creature.” Admittedly the writer/artist’s colourful illustrations are infinitely better than the rough-looking scratchings Mack Chater pencilled for this title’s lead story. But even her ability to capture a wonderful likeness of actress Nichelle Nichols is not enough to save a script which tediously portrays the lonely communications officer teaching an amphibian-looking extra-terrestrial how to weave planet leaves before being simply beamed back up to her ship; "Wait right here! We'll come back for --"
The regular cover art of "STAR TREK: WAYPOINT" No. 1 by Marc Laming

Monday, 10 October 2016

The Amazing Spider-Man [2015] #12 - Marvel Comics

Selling 74,963 copies in May 2016, a slight improvement upon its distribution figures for the month before, it would seem highly likely that Dan Slott probably thought the writing for Issue Twelve of “The Amazing Spider-Man” was far wittier than the majority of the comic’s audience. For whilst the narrative to “The Stark Contrast” contains plenty of humour on account of Peter Parker’s nervousness upon seeing long-time love Mary Jane Watson once again, as well as plenty of battlefield banter between his costumed alter-ego and the Invincible Iron Man, the somewhat ‘juvenile’ nature of its tone genuinely dispels any sense of apprehensive tension throughout a story which ultimately should have been packed with menace as the Ghost attempts to eradicate “the man behind the privatisation of super-prisons” and subsequently threatens the lives of M.J. and Harry ‘Lyman’ Osborn.

This disappointing state of affairs is predominantly caused by the Berkeley-born author’s insistence of playing every scene within this twenty-page periodical for laughs, even those involving Augustus Roman’s theatrical rescue by Tony Stark’s “new personal assistant and right hand.” Indeed, arguably the Eisner Award-winner’s main motivation for including such an old Mid-Eighties foe of Iron Man in this story is so the Golden Avenger and Spider-Man can be shown “squabbling like infants” as to which of them should fight the industrial saboteur; “Why don’t you let the guy who’s defeated him the most deal with this?” Such embarrassing shenanigans and puerile behaviour by two of the publisher’s A-List super-heroes certainly dilutes the impact of Regent’s “destructive debut”, something “Marvel Worldwide” clearly felt was supposedly serious enough to warrant its advertisement over Alex Ross' colourful cover illustration…

Fortunately, for those bibliophiles eager to better understand this 'new' character who has supposedly lined his “pockets off of the misery and despair of the Superhuman Community”, Slott’s script does finally ‘come good’ towards the end of the book, as events (finally) turn to the Cellar and Daily Bugle reporter Betty Brant undertakes an interview of a somewhat emotional Roman. This backstory, one which clarifies that the businessman’s family were “lost… to a super villain attack”, genuinely provides plenty of additional depth to Augustus’ motivations, and makes his belief that “the world will be a better place when those powers [both hero and villain] are in my hands” all the more sympathetically chilling.
The 'Age Of Apocalypse' variant cover art of "THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN" No. 12 by Jamal Campbell

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Star Trek: Captain's Log: Jellico #1 - IDW Publishing

Irrefutably the most unpopular of all the captains to so far command a Federation starship named Enterprise, this particular instalment by “IDW Publishing” in their “Star Trek: Captain’s Log” mini-series manages to convey all the arrogant unpleasantness yet mesmerising tension of Edward Jellico; an especially domineering and uncongenial commanding officer whose only appearance on the American science fiction television series “Star Trek: The Next Generation” in December 1992 was as disconcerting as it was riveting. In fact, in many ways this additional glimpse of the NCC 1701-D’s short-tenured captain probably made many of its 5,580 readers in October 2010 wish the supercilious Starfleet officer, as played by Ronny Cox, had remained ensconced within the Galaxy-class starship’s central chair somewhat longer than just two forty-five minute-long episodes.

Fortunately, some solace can at least be taken by this twenty-two page periodical’s narrative and its engaging account of Commander Leslie Wong’s early days aboard the U.S.S. Cairo “…serving under Captain Edward Jellico.” For not only does Keith R.A. DeCandido’s writing force the comic’s audience to equally shoulder the former Starfleet Academy Instructor’s difficulty in acclimatising to her superior’s overly-disciplined regime, but it also has them seemingly sustain the excelsior-class ship’s “new first officer” in her trials and tribulations as she battles the enthusiastic breaches of protocol by Ensign Sim, as well as “six disruptor cannons and five torpedo launchers” belonging to “Gul Zarkat of the [so-called] Cardassian Science Vessel Harkon.

Such well-penned emotional and action-packed drama genuinely makes it a shame that the Bronx-born author’s enthralling depiction of life within the corridors of the century-old Federation fleet warhorse didn’t eventually flourish into an ongoing series rather than remain a simple ‘one-shot’. It certainly would have been interesting to see more of Wong’s interaction with her fellow crewmembers after a somewhat 'charged' initial meeting, as well as how she succeeded Jellicoe “as commander of the Cairo” before the vessel was presumed destroyed by the Dominion whilst patrolling the Romulan Neutral Zone in 2374.

J.K. Woodward’s artwork for “Star Trek: Captain’s Log: Jellico” also does a very good job of capturing both the facial likeness of the titular character and his somewhat stiff, rather agitated-looking physical mannerisms. Indeed, the American artist’s likeness of Cox is so ‘spot on’ that at times it is hard not to believe the panel hasn’t in some way incorporated an actual photograph of the actor into the illustration.
The regular cover art of "STAR TREK: CAPTAIN'S LOG: JELLICO" No. 1 by J.K. Woodward

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Star Trek: Captain's Log: Harriman #1 - IDW Publishing

The second issue of a comic anthology mini-series printed by “IDW Publishing” on “an infrequent basis” in 2010, “Star Trek: Captain’s Log: Harriman” closely follows the exploits of the U.S.S. Enterprise-B’s commander six months after the Federation starship’s maiden voyage as depicted during the 1994 American science fiction film “Star Trek Generations”. Indeed, Marc Guggenheim’s narrative focuses almost exclusively upon the impact that the excelsior-class vessel’s ‘filmed’ rescue mission to save two El-Aurian ships from the mysterious Ribbon’s gravimetric field has had upon the officer, as well as his traumatic realisation that everyone will always remember him as “the captain who’s responsible for the death of a monument”, retired Captain James Tiberius Kirk.    

Such a dauntingly destructive legacy for a man arguably at the pinnacle of his Starfleet career is incredibly well-handled by the Long Island-born screenwriter, especially when his failings aboard the ship are feistily highlighted to him by both an incredibly prickly Doctor McCoy and the doubtful, ever-questioning behaviour of his bridge crew; “As best as I can tell, Jim Kirk was in command. He was calling the shots. You were figuratively balled up in the fetal position.” Certainly the titular character’s self-torment and indecisiveness must have markedly reminded the title’s 5,610 readers of actor Alan Ruck’s marvellous portrayal of the ineffective 'Big Silver Screen' incarnation of John Harriman.

Surprisingly however, particularly when one considers just how much of the script is dedicated to their dwelling upon “Jim’s death”, it is not the New Yorker’s dialogue-heavy debate between Bones and his superior which causes this twenty-two page periodical’s disappointment, but somewhat shockingly, Guggenheim’s inclusion of General Choroth and the Klingon Battlecruiser Vengeance. True, the American author’s touchingly sentimental flashback sequence to “Star Trek III: The Search For Spock” as McCoy tells the deflated captain about his absent friend’s scuttling of the Enterprise, is an overly long and somewhat sickly sweet sequence. Yet its misplaced sentimentality pales in comparison with the excelsior-class vessel’s sheer impotence before its K’Tinga class opposition and the fact that the comic’s lead protagonist has to resort to sneakily transporting “the ship’s stores of photon torpedoes” inside the supposedly inferior Klingon craft in order to destroy it.

Equally as disconcertingly inconsistent is Andrew Currie’s breakdowns. The comic book artist’s depictions of John Harriman and Leonard McCoy are rather impressive caricatures of their movie counterparts, as is his renditions of Kirk, Scotty and the Enterprise-B bridge crew. Sadly though, the same cannot be said for the penciller’s drawings of the Klingons, whose prominent and instantly recognisable facial features look woefully misshapen and disfigured even when cleverly concealed in shadow by Moose Baumann's colours.
Writer: Marc Guggenheim, Art: Andrew Currie, and Colors: Moose Baumann

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

The Punisher #5 - Marvel Comics

THE PUNISHER No. 5, November 2016
Gratuitously depicting Frank Castle’s lethal storming of “Condor’s main [drug] production facility, Exeter Asylum”, as well as some truly harrowing scenes of facial mutilation and bodily dismemberment, it is hard to believe that Editor Jake Thomas wasn’t quietly stood beside this title’s creative team during the scripting for Issue Five of “The Punisher” and enthusiastically encouraging them to add even more gunshots, ghastly injuries and bloodshed to its already disconcertingly violent narrative. For whilst many of this comic’s readers clearly expected the “murderous… style of hard-core, gory Punisher action that made the character a hit” back when “Gerry Conway established the character in the 1970’s”, it’s doubtful many were anticipating a storyline where the “decorated marine” dispatches his narcotic-fuelled foes by making them swallow hand-grenades, stabbing them mercilessly through the eyeball and tricking them into having their hand weapons explode in their faces; “Do it. I dare you. Barrel was jammed. Let me guess… Olaf gave you that gun? With friends like him, huh?”

Incredibly however, Becky Cloonan’s tale doesn’t simply settle for having the one-time “family man” being the sole source of her script’s over-the-top violence, with the Pisa-born writer unsettlingly managing to give Agent Ortiz her own share of grisly goings-on too. Indeed, in many ways the female D.E.A. operative’s experiences during the twenty-page long gun-battle, are even more disconcerting than “Castle’s [personal] crusade against Condor”, as she not only has to kill her literally faceless former-partner Henderson when the mentally-damaged law enforcement officer tries to strangle her to death in his painful anguish. But also rather graphically blows off the left hand of “the maniacal Face” and leaves Olaf’s rival to fend for himself deep within a facility crawling with homicidal lunatics clutching just a bloody stump. Little wonder the American author is viewed within the letters of “Publish Or Punish” as someone who “certainly manages to keep the violence up to [Garth] Ennis standards.”

Perhaps worryingly for those bibliophiles with an aversion to grotesque marring and maiming, all of these distressing discombobulations are incredibly well illustrated by Steve Dillion. The English comic book artist’s breakdowns genuinely seem to have been drawn in order to admirably allow the audience’s vivid imagination to do much of the work by leading them up to the more repugnant scenes with well-detailed graphically-populated panels, and then hiding the truly macabre sights, such as Henderson’s savage skinless face, through the clever use of ‘camera angle’ or shadow.
Writer: Becky Cloonan, Artist: Steve Dillion, and Color Artist: Frank Martin