Monday, 20 February 2017

The Clone Conspiracy #1 - Marvel Comics

THE CLONE CONSPIRACY No. 1, January 2017
Described by Editor Nick Lowe as “the craziest Spider-Man story I’ve ever worked on”, Issue One of “The Clone Conspiracy” arguably plays to one of Dan Slott’s supposed strengths by heralding the return of a number of “classic characters from Spidey-Lore” such as the Rhino, Otto Octavius, Gwen Stacy and even her father, Captain George Stacy. Indeed, even this publication’s ten-page secondary story, “The Night I Died”, must have delighted its 90,285-strong audience with the Eisner Award-winner’s re-imagining of Gwendolyn’s murder at the hands of the Green Goblin “a lifetime ago” and subsequent revival by the Jackal “in a lab. In San Francisco, of all places.”

Fortunately however, this opening instalment of the “Spider-Man event of 2016” is not just about having some of the franchise’s most popular dead make ‘shock returns’, and instead actually starts with Peter Parker doing a bit of ‘low-level’ snooping, just as he once did when he worked for the Daily Bugle. Admittedly, “the CEO of his own technology company” is accompanied by his trustworthy aide Anna Maria Marconi whilst questioning Jerry Salteres’ wife, and inevitably he dons his famous red and blue costume in order to conduct some “industrial espionage” at the New U’s Headquarters. But the entire tone of the super-hero’s investigation is highly reminiscent of the basic legwork he once employed before “his (and Spider-Man’s) friendly neighbourhood” got a lot bigger, and resultantly imbues the narrative with a nostalgic atmosphere somewhat akin to that of the character’s John Romita days; “This is just me cutting through all the red tape and saving everybody tons of time.”

Jim Cheung’s incredibly detailed artwork also clearly contributed towards making this comic the eleventh best-selling title of October 2016, with the British penciller’s dynamic drawings of Aleksei Sytsevich, the new Electro and Web-head’s riotous battle down amidst the Jackal’s “very mad-scientist-y” laboratory proving especially thrilling and pulse-pounding. In fact, the co-creator of the “Young Avengers” provides such consistently outstanding breakdowns, whether they be Jay Jonah’s grim-faced burial, Emma Salteres ‘interrogation’ or Parker’s alter-ego kicking the Rhino in the chops, that for this aspect alone the mini-series is “one Spidey fans will be talking about for years!”
The variant cover art of "THE CLONE CONSPIRACY" No. 1 by Mark Bagley

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Nemesis The Warlock #1 - Eagle Comics

NEMESIS THE WARLOCK No. 1, September 1984
The second of “Eagle Comics” thirty-two page Baxter titles, Issue One of “Nemesis The Warlock” not only colourfully delivers the extra-terrestrial freedom fighter’s prologue adventure entitled “The Terror Tune”, but also follows the rise of the “fire-breathing demonic alien” as he momentarily defeats the then Chief of the Tube Police, Torquemada, in the two-parter, “Killer Watt”. These bizarre tales, based upon Pat Mills’ premise that Mighty Terra’s teleport system utilises telephone lines and phenomenally drawn by Kevin O’Neill, really helps bring the leader of “the underground resistance organisation sworn to destroy the tyranny of Termight” to life, and additionally provides plenty of opportunity for the “primary antagonist of the series” to show just how evil he is.

Indeed, in many ways the Ipswich-born writer’s early Eighties storylines seem to provide the “haughty tyrant” with far more ‘screen time’ than the “fiend from Hell”, and seemingly delights in depicting the “fascist human supremacist” consigning a young mother and her doting infant to being eaten alive by a Concord-like living machine, as well as later ordering “thousands of innocent travellers” to be fatally electrocuted on “a mere technicality!” It’s certainly clear, why "the godfather of British comics" went on to develop a regular series of adventures featuring “The Grand Master Of The Terminators”, after his initial plans for some “one-offs inspired by popular music called Comic Rock” never got going. 

Ultimately however, this publication’s content does steer away from the exploits of Torquemada, and provides both ample reason as to why alien life throughout the galaxy trembles at the very thought of the forces of Termight, courtesy of Brother Behell’s murderous inquisition on the planet Thrum, as well as far more focus upon Nemesis and his organic spaceship, the Blitzspear. In fact, by the time this first in “a seven-issue Necro-series” concludes, and the cloven hooved creature has caused a butcher to chop his own hand off, had a robotsmith strangled by “the most dangerous snakes on this planet", and ensured an elderly widow has been smothered by flies, it is abundantly clear just why the horn-headed sorcerer would go on to be “one of England’s most popular and certainly weirdest science-fiction” comic book characters.
Script: Pat Mills, Artist: Kev O'Neill, and Colors: Kev O'Neill

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Uber: Invasion #3 - Avatar Press

UBER: INVASION No. 3, January 2017
Predominantly concentrating upon the Battle of Naugatruck on the 19th November 1945, as well as the conflict’s central combatant, “one of the book’s true sadists” Siegfried, Issue Three of “Uber: Invasion” could surely never be criticised for not containing enough blood-soaked human mutilation to sate even the most gore-hungry of its audience. However, perhaps because Kieron Gillen’s script does focus upon the American’s attempt to duplicate the Soviet’s success at Kursk, it is hard not to shake the disconcerting belief that one has read much of this narrative before, especially when unsurprisingly the Third Reich's “greatest battleship warrior” is soon wrestled to the ground through sheer weight of numbers.

Sadly, this frustrating experience isn’t wholly appeased either, when the Germans create “a complication” the United States tank-men hadn’t anticipated by introducing Siegmund into the melee just as the ‘idiot boy’ is about to succumb to his opponents; “Thank the Fuhrer.” In fact, considering that the invaders are led by General Guderian, a man “noted for his success as a leader of Panzer units in Poland and France”, it would actually have proved more of a revelation if Hitler’s favourite had been injured by the somewhat ‘gung-ho’ assault.

This twenty-two page periodical’s saving grace however, is that its Stafford-born writer doesn’t dwell upon the Yanks’ disappointing “single battle engagement” for the comic’s entirety, but instead still manages to additionally skip around “the large canvas” of “Uber” in order to better tell his tale. These welcome ‘snapshots’ of Speer and Hitler conversing in Germany, along with Agent Stephanie and Alan Turing arriving in Boston really help elevate Gillen’s narrative above being just another “alternate World War II book”. Whilst Guderian’s concerns as to Siegfried’s notable lack of “grand battle honours”, foolish absence of fear and misbegotten belief that he’s a “better man” than the one-armed Siegmund, provides plenty of enthralling depth to the title’s supporting cast.

All of these scintillating shenanigans, whether they be Americans being literally torn apart by the halo effect blast of Panzermensch or the Third Reich’s supposed finest nonchalantly crushing the head of an injured tank-man with his bare-hands, are tremendously well illustrated by Daniel Gete. Indeed, it’s easy to see just why Gillen has subsequently agreed for the title to “take slightly longer coming out” in order to ensure that the penciller doesn’t “have to have the third arc off” and can provide “artistic consistency across all of Volume Two”.
The regular cover art of "UBER: INVASION" No. 3 by Daniel Gete

Friday, 17 February 2017

World Of Tanks #5 - Dark Horse Comics

WORLD OF TANKS No. 5, February 2017
Although “ComicWow!”, the media marketing entity dedicated to the comic and gaming industry, were probably correct in their declaration that “Garth Ennis is a legend and an institution among comic writers”, it is extremely doubtful that the Northern Irish-born American’s narrative for Issue Five of “World Of Tanks” played any part in just such a statement. In fact, considering that this twenty-two page periodical’s script gets the title’s leading characters so horribly wrong, such as portraying British Lieutenant Simon Linnet as a cold-blooded killer seemingly capable of murdering unarmed German prisoners simply because they wear skulls on their lapels, it’s hard to reconcile that the Eisner Award-winner had anything to do with the book’s writing at all. It’s certainly tough to recognise Snakebite’s normally calm and compassionate commander as the gun-toting madman who seems determined to mow down “defenceless” soldiers simply because he’s suddenly “had a bellyful of these Nazi savages” and decided to “see how you like it --”

Disappointingly, so disconcerting an alteration in temperament is not just restricted to C Squadron’s new “2 I/C” either, as “Herr Hauptman” and his Panther tank crew also undergo a surprising change in their attitude to the Fuhrer's war, seemingly just because it illogically leads to the title’ two competing antagonists confronting one another at La Belle Bocage. This incredibly unbelievable contrivance really does spoil the publication's realistic ambience, and makes the Wehrmacht officer's decision to conduct repairs on his smoking armoured vehicle in the very village which the British “artillery destroyed on Thursday” an extremely implausible one; especially when he could have tried to follow a “clockwork bootboy” Unterscharfuhrer back to Berlin earlier in the comic. 

Perhaps this “explosive” final edition’s biggest disappointment however, is P.J. Holden’s incredibly inconsistent breakdowns. Admittedly, the “Judge Dredd” artist can pencil an impressive looking tank, and captures Linton’s narrow-eyed, murderous expression when staring down the barrel of a Sten gun perfectly. But his appalling renderings of Karl Kraft’s battered and bruised face, as well as those of all this comic’s supporting cast, really leave a lot to be desired, and can’t help but raise a concern as to just how rushed the penciller was in order to meet this mini-series’ deadline.
Script: Garth Ennis, Artist: P.J. Holden, and Colors: Michael Atiyeh

Thursday, 16 February 2017

The Amazing Spider-Man [2015] #19 - Marvel Comics

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN No. 19, December 2016
Described by Editor Nick Lowe as “a pretty heavy issue”, this fourth instalment of Dan Slott’s “Before Dead No More” story-arc arguably focuses far more upon Peter Parker’s hapless failings as a ‘family’ man than many of the title’s 73,215 readers probably would have liked. Indeed, except for the web-slinger becoming momentarily involved in a "publicly shamed" petty cash robbery and then later, an incredibly contrived construction works accident, the majority of this twenty-two-page periodical rather arduously dwells upon the hospital bed of terminally ill Jay Jameson and his declination to utilise the experimental medical treatment offered by “new pharmaceutical company called New U” in favour of "the conventional procedure"; “I agree with Peter. And it’s my decision, so that’s final. Now if the Doctors are finished…”

Such a sedentary plot would however, still have proved something of an enthrallingly tense experience, as Aunt May’s husband battles for his life whilst her nephew and son-in-law passionately argue over the oldster's future care, if it weren’t for the fact that the super-hero’s objections to Doctor Clarkson's proposed remedy aren't so utterly unconvincing. True, Spider-Man’s famous “spider-sense goes to eleven” whenever he goes near the surgeon's most recent patient, Mister Salteres. But that doesn’t really explain why he becomes so vehemently opposed to the “miracle cure” that he actually lies to both Jonah and the television host’s dying father by telling them that he’s had “Parker Industries’ top minds look into this” and “they have… concerns.” As J.J.Jameson himself bluntly points out, it’s rather doubtful the noticeably whiskered Chief Executive Officer would make the same decision if it was his father or Uncle Ben’s life that was in jeopardy.

Sadly, so dialogue-laden a publication also means that a great many of Giuseppe Camuncoli’s panels predominantly feature numerous headshots rather than his wonderfully dynamic action-fests of Spidey swinging through high-rises or ‘punching out’ criminal masterminds. In fact, one of the most disappointing elements to Issue Nineteen of “The Amazing Spider-Man” is the the Italian comic book penciller’s inability to depict its cast’s increasingly-strained emotional states without resorting to some disconcertingly rectangular-looking facial features.
The variant cover art of "THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN" No. 19 by Aaron Kuder

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Firestorm #5 - DC Comics

FIRESTORM No. 5, October/November 1978
Unknowingly headed for sudden cancellation along with “more than two dozen [other] ongoing and planned series by the American comics publisher DC Comics in 1978”, Issue Five of “Firestorm”, packed full of unanswered plot-threads, is most assuredly not the ‘swansong’ edition co-creators Gerry Conway and Allen Milgrom would have wanted. True, the twenty-five page periodical does make good use of its publisher’s then-recent change in its marketing campaign, by populating its additional content with depictions of Ronnie Raymond battling either the Hyena or Multiplex. But these extra “super-thrills” actually prove a little monotonous after a while, especially when the reasoning behind the hero’s elongated fisticuffs are as unsatisfactory as him simply not appreciating his “atomic restructuring powers are useless” when fighting at close quarters with the Scavenger of Crime, or that Professor Martin Stein has just had one alcoholic beverage too many; “Hey! Something’s weird! I feel woozy -- off-balance!”

To make matters worse, these action-packed confrontations, dynamically sketched by the book’s Detroit-born penciller, are persistently interrupted by all-manner of seemingly haphazard interludes which just so happen to involve almost the entirety of the comic’s supporting cast. Whether it be Bradley High’s principal just ‘happening’ to look outside his office window and recognising “Spit Shine, son of New York’s most notorious mob overlord”, or Danton Black coincidentally emerging from his coma at the downtown Medical Centre just as “the ever-popular school smart-mouth” Cliff Carmichael deduces that Firestorm’s secret identity is somebody at his college, Conway’s narrative is almost awash with contrivingly staged flukes and disconcerting happenstances.

Sadly, the script to “Again: Multiplex” is also plagued with some incredibly bizarre, head-scratchingly odd character motivation. Just why Firestorm doesn’t simply keep his distance from Hyena and “zap” the villain with a nuclear blast whilst well out of reach is never explained, despite the youth’s realisation that just “one small caress” from their vibro-claws” and he’ll “be dog food!” Whilst Spit’s unbelievably reckless decision to bring the “refugee from a Wolfman movie” back to his parents’ criminal headquarters in a midtown office building so he’d “have something to show my mom and dad”, was clearly engineered just so the Hyena could subsequently leap through the address’ large glass window and become “a dwindling shape soon lost in the city’s sprawling shadows.”
Writer/Creator: Gerry Conway, and Penciller/Co-creator: Allen Milgrom

Monday, 13 February 2017

Divinity III: Shadowman & The Battle For New Stalingrad #1 - Valiant Entertainment

DIVINITY III: SHADOWMAN & THE BATTLE FOR NEW STALINGRAD No. 1, February 2017
Undeniably “an essential standalone tale from the Stalinverse”, within which “the Communist-occupied streets of New York City” desperately try and rid themselves of their Soviet oppressors, Issue One of “Divinity III: Shadowman & The Battle For New Stalingrad” must have immediately captured the attention of its American audience with its opening obliteration of Liberty Island, courtesy of a barrage of Red Army rockets. However, if this “huge symbolic gesture” didn’t attain the desired effect then Scott Bryan Wilson’s subsequent narrative depicting the Roman goddess being replaced with an even larger copper statue of the Russian dictator Joseph Stalin most assuredly would have done.

Admittedly, for those patriots unable to stomach such an affront to the ‘virtuous’ American values of Libertas, the majority of this twenty-two page periodical does frantically try to readdress the balance by having Jack Boniface hastily lead a revolt against his swaggeringly confident “commie” overlords. But the heroic uprising is entirely anticipated by the annexed authorities, and thus, despite outnumbering their hated foes, the opening third of this comic is ultimately dedicated to the Soviet enforcement officers gunning down large numbers of unarmed rioters, stabbing them through the head with combat knives, gouging out their eyes with black leather gloves, and even attacking them with chainsaws…

Such utter wanton violence is apparently entirely justified by the pen of the publisher’s “rising star” as the mass hapless slaughter convinces the titular character to “resurrect the sacred power of his people”, “raise an army of the dead to meet the Russians where they stand”, and bravely battle the dictatorship’s premier super-powered comrades, X-O Manowar and Komandar Bloodshot; two of Valiant Entertainment’s most recognisable properties who have had a severe facelift following the installation of Joseph McCarthy as a “puppet President of the United States” in 1951. 

Robert Gill’s contribution to this “Stalinverse” one-shot is arguably just as unsettling as Wilson’s scintillating script supposedly corroborating that communism is “the great equalizer, brother!”. For whilst the artist’s breakdowns of the New Yorkers’ bloodily remonstrating with their tormentors generally consist of graphic mutilations of the most eye-watering kind, his depiction of Shadowman trading punches with the sneering X-O Manowar are bone-crunchingly good, and really add to the sheer brutality of the close-combat conflict.
Writer: Scott Bryan Wilson, Artist: Robert Gill, and Color Artist: Andrew Dalhouse