Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Firestorm #4 - DC Comics

FIRESTORM No. 4, August/September 1978
Considering the action-packed Al Milgrom cover depicting both this comic’s titular character and the Manhattan Island Police force bravely battling the Hyena, Gerry Conway’s script for Issue Four of “Firestorm” probably came as something of a disappointment to the audience of “DC’s newest creation”. Indeed, with the exception of Ronnie Raymond’s fused form quickly besting a gang of viciously armed Artic seal hunters, and then later momentarily incarcerating some warehouse robbers, this seventeen-page periodical actually predominantly focuses upon the rather depressingly dreary ‘home life’ of the unpopular Bradley High School pupil and Professor Martin Stein’s determined efforts to discover what happens to him when his memory black-outs occur.

Admittedly, the “vicious ‘crime-fighter’ who attacks criminals and lawmen alike” does make something of a memorably dynamic first appearance by savaging both the villainous Shine Family and the officers who subsequently attend the doomed Travel Agents’ heist. But this fiercely sadistic episode only lasts a handful of pages, and is swiftly replaced by a disconcertingly bizarre father-son argument which leaves a tearful teenager sobbing uncontrollably in bed; “Every time I turn around, I’ve done something to disappoint you. I just wish, once, we could be happy… Just once… I’d like to make you smile…”

Sadly, even Firestorm’s aforementioned encounters arguably must have failed to do little more than place a bemused smile upon the lips of this title’s “Hoo-boy” readers. For whilst Conway’s co-creation undeniably faces controversial gun-wielding fur stalkers and loot-laden raiders, “The Nuclear Man” overcomes his opposition by either converting their firearms into plastic fish, thus placing the men at the mercy of the ribbon-slashing bull seals, or by imprisoning them in an absurd giant wax pumpkin, complete with readily detachable lid. Little wonder Raymond is chastised by the Nobel Prize winning physicist for such inappropriate usages of his “atomic restructuring powers.”   

Just as inconsistent as the Brooklyn-born writer’s narrative, is Allen Milgrom and Jack Abel’s combined breakdowns. Ronnie’s cataclysmic confrontations are sketched well enough, with the comic’s Prince Charles Island-based opening and its panicking pups proving especially well-pencilled. Yet the same cannot be said for the were-hyena’s bloodthirsty attack upon “Spit” Shine and Manhattan’s finest, whose scratchy-looking panels lack much of the enthrallingly energic detail depicted elsewhere within the book’s interior illustrations.
Writer/Creator: Gerry Conway, and Artists: Allen Milgrom & Jack Abel

Monday, 16 January 2017

James Bond #12 - Dynamite Entertainment

JAMES BOND No. 12, December 2016
It is hard to imagine that many of this comic’s 10,710 readers agreed with publisher “IDW Entertainment” when they boasted that Issue Twelve of “James Bond” brought the ‘second 007 story’ in their comic book series to an “explosive conclusion”. For whilst the twenty-two page periodical does culminate in the gruesome demise of Beckett Hawkwood, the “terrifying” SPECTRE operative is neither spectacularly dispatched by the titular character or actually even 'killed' for any rational reason except perhaps to bring a tediously overlong narrative to a most welcome end.

Indeed, in many ways Warren Ellis’ script for this final instalment of "Eidolon" appears to be a desperate attempt by the graphic novelist to simply pad matters out until the magazine’s end, and seems a far cry from his writing on the title’s preceding “Vargr” story-arc; a six-parter which was actually praised as being “the best contemporary take on 007” by American television producer Brian K. Vaughan. Certainly, there arguably can’t be any other plausible excuse as to why the best-selling author wastes two pages depicting Miss Birdwhistle chit-chatting through the streets of London, and a further seven showing the British Intelligence Service’s deficiencies as a couple of agents fatally fail to intercept the tale’s facially disfigured lead antagonist from manhandling Cadence as she flees for the relative safety of Portcullis House…

Unfortunately, even this comic’s final, highly-anticipated showdown between Hawkwood and Bond proves something of a major disappointment, with the Secret Serviceman once again being portrayed as a woefully inadequate sparring partner for an enemy of the British government. In fact, the multiple Eagle Award-winner’s impotent spy is completely outfought by an “unstoppable” Beckett and only survives because his opponent contrivingly decides to slit his own throat rather than be arrested by the imminently arriving Police and Security Service. Hardly the most inspiring of James’ victories and one which adds weight to John McCubbin’s criticism on “SnapPow.Com” that Ellis’ incarnation of the Royal Naval Reserve Commander ‘lacks flair.’

Workmanlike at best, Jason Masters’ breakdowns for this book appear as equally ‘drawn-out’ as the narrative, and it was doubtless hard for the audience to attain any sense of excitement or panic until a third of the way through the magazine when Miss Birdwhistle is positively running for her life, armed with nothing more than pen. Admittedly, the South African pencils a pulse-pounding finale, with a multitude of kicks and punches all seemingly carrying a hefty weight. But even this ‘fist-fight’ is disconcertingly soon resolved, and only goes to demonstrate how increasingly adept the artist has had to become at illustrating Bond becoming badly bloodied and bruised.
Writer: Warren Ellis, Artist: Jason Masters, and Colors: Guy Major

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Warhammer 40,000: Will Of Iron #0 - Titan Comics

WARHAMMER 40,000: WILL OF IRON No. 0, October 2016
“Aimed at fans and newcomers alike” with its “wealth of compelling characters, species, and searingly-memorable imagery” this twelve-page periodical was packaged alongside the October 2016 edition of “White Dwarf” as a free gift, and advertised as the first in a series of “brand-new comics based in the world of Warhammer 40,000” to be published by “Titan Comics”. Sadly however, it is extremely doubtful that anyone unfamiliar with the “dark-gothic dystopian... universe” created in 1987 would have had much of a clue as to what George Mann’s supposedly “accessible science-fiction action" was actually about, apart from perhaps Astor Sabbathiel’s palpable doubts regarding the chaotic cleansing of the planet Exyrion by Baltus and his fellow Dark Angel Space Marines.

Indeed, as introductory tales go, the most useful aspect of this “exclusive” Prologue is disconcertingly the comic’s opening foreword within which the “Black Library” writer goes into some detail as to the background, past experiences and motivations of the title’s main protagonists. Such a detailed preamble genuinely proves essential reading prior to perusing this mini-series and certainly provides the female inquisitor’s troubled musings some additional gravitas; especially when the text establishes that the Emperor’s “relentless” agent “often engages in questionable methods to get to the truth.”

For those readers already immersed in the lore of the “iconic, power-armor-encased Space Marines” and their unending battle “against unspeakable forces of xenos” though, Issue Zero of “Warhammer 40,000: Will Of Iron” was undoubtedly a thoroughly entertaining look at the Imperium’s campaign within the “re-opened” Calaphrax Cluster and a terrifically dynamic introduction to Interrogator-Chaplain Altheous and his all-smiting power-fist. In fact, Mann’s story-line is so unrelenting in its intensity that the brevity of this tome must surely have had ‘40K fan-boy’ bibliophiles everywhere clamouring for more; “Those with righteousness in their hearts found salvation in the glory of the Emperor’s light.”

Tazio Bettin’s artwork for this comic is equally as pulse-pounding as the Lion’s Blade Strike Force landing amidst “the frothing, Daemonic intensity of Chaos.” Superbly detailed and sense-shattering the breakdowns genuinely portray all the mayhem wrought by the “seventh edition of the tabletop game”. Whilst the Italian’s incredibly revealing “Anatomy Of A Cover” article provides plenty of appeal for those interested in the penciler’s attempt to get “the strongest and most iconic visual” for the first issue’s composite cover.
Writer: George Mann, Artist: Tazio Bettin, and Colorist: Enrica Eren Angiolini

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Star Trek: Boldly Go #4 - IDW Publishing

STAR TREK: BOLDLY GO No. 4, January 2017
Whilst Chris Cerasi, “new(ish) editor here at IDW” and “life long Trek fan”, was quite right in his belief that Issue Four of “Star Trek: Boldly Go” brings both Spock and the planet Romulus’ fate “at the mechanized hands of the Borg… to a dramatic conclusion”, it does so in such a disagreeably lackadaisical manner, as to make the villainous Collective appear a rather superficial and impotent adversary. Certainly, it must have irked this franchise's fans that once again, when outclassed and outgunned, the Captain of a Federation starship simply transports “every photon torpedo we have” into the interior of their opponent’s superior vessel in order to ‘save the day’; a plot device which Marc Guggenheim used to great effect in “Star Trek: Captain’s Log: Harriman”.

Perhaps this twenty-page periodical’s biggest disappointment however, is not how easily James T. Kirk bests a Borg sphere, which up until that point had been holding off every spacecraft in the Romulan Star Empire single-handedly. But Mike Johnson’s bizarre assertion that because Mister Spock is half-Human and half-Vulcan, his neural pathways allow him to resist the Hive mind’s microscopic nanoprobes and simply rip out of his body all their cybernetic parts; “Assimilation… unsuccessful.” Considering that the Collective have assimilated both Humans and Vulcans before, it seems rather contrived that a simple “emotional stimulus” from a “combined Vulcan and Human DNA” hybrid would prove “more of an obstacle”, and definitely doesn’t account for how Chief Medical officer Groffus can seemingly readily restore all of the U.S.S. Concord’s heavily ‘Borgified’ former crew...

Almost as infuriatingly annoying is Captain Kirk’s uncharacteristic acceptance to leave his First Officer behind on Romulus in order for Valas ‘to inherit the crimes of her ‘traitorous’ parents’. The Starfleet officer has just saved the Star Empire from assimilation, and rescued “the Romulans captured by the Borg”. Why then would he acquiesce to “a citizen of the Federation” and “one member of my crew” being held in perpetual custody simply because her parents fled the xenophobic interstellar state years before? True, there was probably little that James could do whilst stood within the heart of the Romulan senate house, but surely “the first and only student at Starfleet Academy to defeat the Kobayashi Maru test” wouldn’t just warp back to Federation space without having tried some sort of rescue attempt first?
The regular cover art of "STAR TREK: BOLDLY GO" No. 4 by George Caltsoudas

Friday, 13 January 2017

Doctor Strange [2015] #11 - Marvel Comics

DOCTOR STRANGE No. 11, November 2016
As ‘aftermaths’ go Issue Eleven of “Doctor Strange” must surely have come as something of a major disappointment to its 53,718 readers with its bizarre “100% pure mutant growth hormone” flashback sub-plot and the Sorcerer Supreme’s brutal battle with a giant winged parasite; “There was a time a thing like this would’ve been afraid of me, I swear, there really was.” Admittedly, Jason Aaron’s script for this twenty-page periodical quite admirably depicts the destruction of the world’s washed-out mystic arts following the “Last Days Of Magic”, and additionally brings about the return of arguably the former pre-eminent surgeon’s greatest competitor, Baron Mordo, in a terrific cliff-hanger reveal. But surely the Alabama-born author didn’t need to have the titular character waste away vast chunks of this comic either sipping a Mai Tai cocktail within the derelict remnants of Chondu’s magical bar, or mentally revisiting his time in Tibet when he studied the magic arts under the Ancient One alongside the Transylvanian nobleman?

Indeed, the majority of this book seems to be taken up with Stephen’s former obsession to repair his shattered hands, and the incredible lengths he was willing to take in order for them to be healed; a story any bibliophiles even remotely familiar with this franchise will already know. It certainly won’t come as any surprise to this publication’s audience that the gifted magician once turned down his rival’s offer to use a healing elixir on his wounds if Strange would just simply “forget the world of sorcery even exists” and go “back to your cities. Back to the only life you’ve ever known.”

Equally as perplexing is Editor Nick Lowe’s decision to utilise two quite differently-styled artists on the book’s breakdowns. Cover illustrator Kevin Nowlan does an extremely competent job of depicting a heavily bandaged, troubled soul purchasing drugs in a dingy back-alley on the oft-chance they’ll allow him “to wipe my butt without screaming in pain.” Whilst Leonardo Romero is similarly adept at pencilling the good doctor swinging “a baseball bat wrapped in enchanted barbed wire”. Yet the constant shifting from one penciller to the other consistently breaks any ‘spell of immersion’ which Aaron is presumably trying to weave with the comic’s writing…
The variant cover art of "DOCTOR STRANGE" No. 11 by Adam Hughes

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor #1 - Titan Comics

DOCTOR WHO: THE TWELFTH DOCTOR No. 1, November 2014
It could easily be argued that any comic book which is published with more variant covers than it actually has pages, is probably trying to make up for its deficiencies. Yet whilst Issue One of “Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor” doesn’t actually contain any of the “shocks, surprises, and galaxy-shaking revelations” promised with “seasoned TARDIS pilot Robbie Morrison” at the helm, it’s twenty-two page narrative does manage to imitate the BBC Television series rather well.

In fact, the Dunbartonshire-born writer seems to have penned a somewhat complicated tale about the “richest human in the twenty-fifth century" terraforming “a former ice-giant” which genuinely feels like something taken straight from the science fiction programme. Certainly, the Scotman’s script follows the usual time-travelling formula of grisly death, TARDIS landing, crew are captured, Doctor wins over captors by saving lives, and then discovers the ‘big menace’ threatening the existence of the entire planet: “It’s fused with the terra-sphere, creating a single entity. This is what’s in evolutionary control of Isen VI… Run!” 

Equally as well done is Morrison’s handling of Peter Calpaldi’s prickly incarnation of the Time Lord. “Freshly regenerated and with a new head full of unanswered questions” the Gallifreyan could easily have been portrayed as a rather bland, uninspiring leading protagonist, or perhaps worst, have been erroneously imbued with the personality of one of his predecessors. Fortunately though, the co-creator of “Nikolai Dante” has clearly done his research on the show’s BAFTA Television Award-winning lead, and resultantly the abrasively benevolent Doctor both sounds and behaves precisely as this book’s 33,891 readers who probably expect. However sadly, the same cannot be said for companion Clara Oswald, who, apart from one moment of “impossible girl” magic where she demands her stolen ski hat back from a jungle full of ‘Skunkeys’, disconcertingly appears as lack lustre as the other “uncool teachers [at Coal Hill School] that they make fun of and give silly names.”     

Perhaps equally as disappointing as Jenna Coleman’s characterisation, are Dave Taylor’s somewhat dubiously cartoony-looking breakdowns. Clearly able to provide the Twelfth Doctor with his famous arched eyebrows and some exquisitely detailed “exotic flora and fauna”, the Liverpudlian’s pencils for the majority of this book are lamentably inconsistent, irregularly angular and at times, demoralizingly amateurish.
The variant cover art of "DOCTOR WHO: THE TWELFTH DOCTOR" No. 1 by Mariano Laclaustra

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Star Trek: Boldly Go #3 - IDW Publishing

STAR TREK: BOLDLY GO No. 3, December 2016
Any fans quibbling as to just how Mike Johnson could logically incorporate both James T. Kirk and the Borg within the same comic book adventure, doubtless had their questions well and truly answered by Issue Three of “Star Trek: Boldly Go”. In fact, much of this twenty-page periodical’s narrative, such as the deliberations of Spock and Uhura on board the U.S.S. Endeavour, specifically focuses upon ‘set pieces’ which explain just why the Collective have “arrived” in the Kelvin Timeline “over a century ahead” of when they did so within the American science fiction television show “Star Trek: The Next Generation”.

Admittedly, the “IDW Publishing” writer’s notion that the cybernetic organisms would spend thirty years travelling from the Delta Quadrant simply because the Borg “detected its own technology light-years away” with the arrival of the six-mile long Narada from the Twenty-Fourth Century, arguably appears a tad contrivingly convenient, especially when it’s later revealed that Nero’s doomed mining vessel “essentially” spoke “the same language” as the long-range tactical scout sphere due to it ‘incorporating the Hive Mind’s machinery.’ But the author has mentioned the Tal Shiar’s experimental retrofitting of the Romulan ship with “salvaged and reverse-engineered Borg technology” before in his previously published “Star Trek: Countdown” mini-series, and it does provide the assimilation-driven extra-terrestrials with something like a sound rationale as to why they start obliterating the Star Empire’s Fleet “ten light-years from the edge of the Neutral Zone”; “You failed to provide that which we seek. Your failure results in your destruction. Resistance is futile.” 

Equally as well embedded within this comic’s script is plenty of sense-stimulating Starfleet action. Whether it be an apocalyptic attack upon the Romulan planet Quirina VI, Kirk’s fisticuffs with a handful of Borg once he realises they’ve adapted to his landing party’s hand-phasers, or the Collective’s subsequent injection of microscopic machines called nanoprobes into Mister Spock, Johnson’s storyline intermixes enthralling explanations and dynamic ding-dongs with the same skill as Montgomery Scott uses at the controls of the U.S.S. Enterprise’s matter to anti-matter chamber.

Of course, much of the enjoyment gleaned by this book’s readers would have additionally arisen from Tony Shasteen’s excellently rendered breakdowns. The graphic designer, for the most part at least, can not only draw a good likeness of the cast’s ‘Silver Screen’ counterparts, whether they be involved in a sedentary sequence or not, but also demonstrates an incredible ability to pencil some seriously impressive space-battle single-splashes too.
The variant cover art of "STAR TREK: BOLDLY GO" No. 3 by Marc Laming