Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Dark Knight III: The Master Race #6 - DC Comics

Dousing the vast majority of their cast in the ghostly green-hued droplets of synthetic Kryptonite, Frank Miller and Brian Azzarello’s narrative for Book Six of “Dark Knight III: The Master Race” must surely have been as gritty and enthrallingly compelling as any of its impressive 133,642-strong readership could have wished for with its bloody depiction of pugilistic violence and barbaric savagery. In fact, this twenty-page periodical’s sadistic shocks simply don’t stop and range from the gratuitously graphic demise of a baseball bat-carrying vigilante by Baal through to the Kryptonian terrorist’s own gruesome facial mutilation courtesy of Robin and her primitive hand-held catapult.

Regrettably though, not all of the Maryland-born writer’s sense-shattering surprises are as fortuitous as Carrie Kelley’s aim with “a ballistic device” and Kryptonite pebble. True, for large portions of the text the weakened Kandorian cultists literally get their clock’s cleaned by the formerly downtrodden people of Gotham City and Commissioner Gordon’s immovable riot police. But before long a handful of foolishly brave Batboys are burned alive by an enraged son of Quar, whilst even the formidable tank-like Batmobile is disconcertingly demolished within the space of a few panels; “My, my. How totally human… Bringing a car, to a god fight.”

Foremost of these unhappy happenstances however, occurs during this publication’s particularly harrowing cliff-hanger ending, when its titular character is apparently mortally wounded by the cowardly “Leader of the Master Race” using his heat vision. An unbelievably emotive moment already, due to Andy Kubert’s superb pencilling of the heavily-armoured crime-fighter lifelessly falling into Clark Kent’s anguished arms, this heart-wrenching instant is made all the more bitter by the American artist subtly sketching in a cruel grin upon the lips of Quar as he cowardly flees the scene of his alien people’s unforeseen defeat.

Equally as engaging to any perusing bibliophile is this book’s mini-comic “Dark Knight Universe Presents: World’s Finest”. Initially focusing upon Batman’s livid green and purple costumed “Chosen One” and her outmatched confrontation with Superman’s all-powerful offspring Lara, this ‘short’, marvellously drawn by Frank Miller, swiftly transforms itself into a pulse-pounding punch-up between Wonder Woman and her errant daughter; “I’ve never experienced an earthquake, but no way it could measure up to this.”

‘First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
Story: Frank Miller & Brian Azzarello, Pencils: Andy Kubert, and Inks: Klaus Janson

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

The Amazing Spider-Man [2015] #31 - Marvel Comics

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN No. 31, October 2017
Whilst Dan Slott’s script for “End Of An Empire” must have undoubtedly pleased the vast majority of its 54,102 strong audience with its comic book long confrontation between Spider-Man and the Superior Octopus, this twenty-page periodical’s narrative must also disconcertingly have felt like some sort of callous rebooting of everything the Berkeley-born writer has ever penned for the titular character. Indeed, with the notable exception of depicting Otto Octavius as “a mere lackey” to Steven Rogers’ glorious Hydra, this third instalment to the series’ “Secret Empire” tie-in story-arc does arguably little else but eradicate any and all traces of the international company Parker Industries; a ‘golden thread’ which has arguably been both weaved and developed throughout Peter Parker’s life since “The Superior Spider-Man” was first published in January 2013.

Foremost of these purges has to be the Chief Executive Officer’s decision to destroy “all the great work we’ve done here” and literally tear down everything to do with his global business, including the Uncle Ben Foundation. This momentous edict debatably comes completely out of the blue, simply as a result of “Doc Ock” infiltrating the corporation’s computer systems, and shockingly results in the firm’s staff literally smashing away at their desks with fire-axes, hammers and fire extinguishers. In fact, the American author would even have his audience believe that Phillip Chang would willingly destroy “all my research… [when] I was so close… [to] a perfect green energy source” just because it had the “potential [to be a] weapon in the wrong hands.”

Just as remarkable is Peter’s decision to return to his original cloth-based costume, rather than continue to use his miraculous technologically-advanced web-slinging suit. Admittedly, his most recent spider-armour is shredded to pieces by Otto using an improved version of Harry Osborn’s electro-magnetic pulse, yet surely the supposed “proficient scientist and inventor” would have accounted for this inherent weakness in his apparel with a subsequent significant upgrade or even an alternative version utilising a different unsusceptible technology?

Regardless of these perceived plot-holes however, Issue Thirty-One of “Amazing Spider-Man” is undoubtedly a joy to behold due to Stuart Immonen’s sense-shattering illustrations. The Canadian penciller must have had a blast sketching all the spider-riders scuttling across the glass-windowed side of Parker Industries’ Shanghai headquarters, whilst this comic book’s readers surely felt every single one of the blows Octavius receives during his fisticuffs with Spider-man; “You spiteful man! You won’t let me have anything!”

‘First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
The regular cover art of "THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN" No. 31 by Alex Ross

Monday, 16 April 2018

Vampblade: Season Three #1 - Action Lab Comics

Lest there be any doubt in any perusing bibliophile’s mind that this title is for seriously “mature readers only”, Jason Martin’s script for Issue One of “Vampblade” opens up with his titular character firing off a quartet of ‘f-bombs’ before “Down The Vamp Hole” has even started, and disconcertingly doesn’t have Katie Carva stop spouting expletives until the “other-dimensional vampire” slayer has switched into a Queen Amidala costume and saved her alternate younger self from being murdered by the twenty-two year-old’s possessed cuddly toy collection. Such colourful metaphor-based shenanigans disconcertingly seem to be the core feature of the American author’s unnerving, over sexualised narrative, and arguably only adds to the continuous assault upon the senses with which this book’s graphic contents assails its readership.

Admittedly, that doesn’t necessarily mean though that there’s no fun to be had with “Action Lab Comics” ‘rebooted’ risqué story of a mystically-bladed cosplayer fending off “the Glarkian space vampire invasion all over again…” If the more morality-laden readers amongst this tome’s audience can momentarily set aside their Victorian values then the periodical’s opening panels alone do a rather stellar job of both providing the uninitiated with a rather tongue-in-cheek introduction to this warped incarnation of downtown Detroit, as well as providing a few laughs along the way; “The translucent space dicks decided to change up their game and go full on scorched Earth!”

Likewise, Martin isn’t stingy about imbuing his eighteen-page long script with plenty of over-the-top violence either, as the “comic shop owner” literally severs hands, impales chests and guts criminals with her evidently lethal namesake weaponry, whilst all the time wearing next to nothing. Why, even Vampblade’s previously deceased father gets in on the graphically-pencilled action, courtesy of a behind the counter hand-gun and a somewhat callous head-shot which partially blows away the brains of a temporarily distracted, bald-headed robber.

Possibly this book’s biggest attraction however, is in its dynamically-charged, colourful and cartoony illustrations. Featuring the work of “new artist” Marcelo Costa, a Brazilian with a clear talent for turning even the most harmless looking stuffed animals into terrifyingly frenzied killing machines, few observers can surely question the forceful speed with which either version of Carva can wield her razor-sharp throwing swords, or just how blood-flow stoppingly tight the girls’ minimal “getup” is.

‘First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
The regular cover art of "VAMPBLADE: SEASON THREE" No. 1 by Marcelo Costa

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Rom: Tales Of The Solstar Order #1 - IDW Publishing

Advertised by “IDW Publishing” as a “special re-presentation of Rom comic co-creator Sal Buscema’s storied return to the character… along with bonus art, an interview… and other cool extras”, this one-shot rather beautifully collects the “series of back-up strips” initially printed in Issue Eleven of “Rom” into a single “special” edition. As a result, regular readers of the Spaceknight’s ongoing monthly title probably won’t take much more from Christos Gage & Chris Ryall collaborative writing, except perhaps all the additional material, such as pencilled panels, crammed into the back of the book. But for those bibliophiles unfamiliar with the San Diego-based company’s currently licensed series, this eighteen-page long narrative contains an entertaining look at the Wraithslayer’s “third wheel”, Fy-Laa, and their genuinely sorrowful “last mission together”.

Indeed, for many of this comic’s readers, the one-time Velovian living on Elonia is arguably the star of this tale, ill-advisedly trying to live up to his best friend’s expectations one minute by unwisely ‘bulking-up’ his crystalline armour so as to look “more menacing”, and then nobly sacrificing himself at the adventure’s end when he realises he has been ‘fatally’ contaminated by “the strange planet of Verdulun-5” and its Dire Wraith desire for universal domination. Admittedly, the “assimilated” member of the Solstar Order does spend the vast majority of “Battle Scars” trying to kill the titular character, or at least damage Rom’s protective panoply so as to allow the planet-wide collective through his defences. Yet even amidst such despicable treachery, Fy-Laa is still, in his addled mind at any rate, simply trying to bring “a peace that, together, with our ability to fly unaided through space we will carry to every living being in existence”, rather than maliciously betraying his old chum from the Elonia University of Arts and Sciences.

Of course, this marvellous magazine’s greatest asset is its rich-looking illustrations, which prove a joy to behold, especially to those long enough in the tooth to remember Sal Buscema’s original “ten-year run as artist of The Incredible Hulk” and “Marvel Comics” 1979 Galadorian incarnation of the Spaceknight. Impressively pencilled by Guy Dorian Senior, this narrative’s leading cast really impress in every single panel within which they appear, whilst the New York-born inker’s finishing is magnificently ‘highlighted’ throughout the book’s printing process to the point where one can debatably see every single embellishment the eighty-two year-old has made over the original artwork.
Plot & Script: Christos Gage & Chris Ryall, Pencils: Guy Dorian Senior, and Inks: Sal Buscema

Saturday, 14 April 2018

The Immortal Men #1 - DC Comics

THE IMMORTAL MEN No. 1, June 2018
Originally planned for a December 2017 release as “part of the New Age of DC Heroes line”, this twenty-page periodical would seem to have suffered a series of delays before the Burbank-based publishing company’s “Direct Channel” retail newsletter finally confirmed it had been re-solicited for April instead. Whatever the reason for its delay, with one rumour being that co-creator Jim Lee subsequently signed “on to illustrate a Brian Michael Bendis’ story for… Action Comics #1000”, it certainly doesn’t seem to have affected the quality of either the writing or artwork. In fact, for some of this book’s younger bibliophiles they’ll doubtless be the enjoyably exhilarating feeling of following in a specially-gifted super-team’s footsteps for the first time and the excitement which comes with the recruitment to their roster of someone who will supposedly “save the world”; a somewhat familiar sentiment to those who experienced Chris Claremont’s opening instalment of “New Mutants” way back in 1983…

Fortunately, such obvious comparisons to “Marvel Comics” mutants and Professor Charles Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters is arguably a strength to James Tynion IV’s script for Issue One of “The Immortal Men”, as it allows the New Yorker to consistently wrong-foot those within this comic’s older audience who unwisely believe that they’ve seen “The End Of Forever” all before. Foremost of these compelling contradictions is the fact that the Campus, “the Fifth house of the Immortals” and “one mile beneath Philadelphia”, has been utterly destroyed, along with hundreds of the refuge’s occupants. In addition, the remaining team members, whilst clearly a formidably-strong band of super-powered heroes, are alarmingly already on the run for their very lives from a foe whose seemingly easy ability to kill their kind make her appear awfully omnipotent.

Such ‘hooks’ really help immerse the reader into the narrative, and one can’t help but feel their pulse pound as Jim Lee dynamically pencils Ghost Fist leading the Immortal Man’s shell-shocked survivors headlong down “a much different sort of secret cavern” in a desperate escape bid, whilst the Infinite Woman, the Hunt and their multiple-fanged, dire wraith-like monsters track them down. Certainly, when coupled with Caden Park’s emergence as a meta-human, this all-pervading sense of persecution and flight makes it hard to put the publication down until it ends with a wickedly delightful cliff-hanger on board a claustrophobic underground train carriage; “I think you know the answer. I think you’ve always known we’re the Immortal Men. Now get up and fight.”
Storytellers: Jim Lee, Ryan Benjamin & James Tynion IV, and Letterer: Carlos M. Mangual

Friday, 13 April 2018

Moon Knight #188 - Marvel Comics

MOON KNIGHT No. 188, January 2018
Billed by “Marvel Worldwide” as “a new day is dawning” with “the introduction of Moon Knight’s greatest nemesis”, this twenty-five page periodical may well have initially disconcerted many of its 50,971 buyers in November 2017. For whilst Max Bemis’ opening instalment to his “Crazy Runs In The Family” story-arc initially appears to follow the titular character’s previous series by focusing upon Doctor Emmett at the Ravencroft Asylum, the New York City-born writer’s narrative soon leads it audience off down a different, yet somewhat familiar track, following another “lunatic [who] joins the army… freaks out and ends up spiritually reborn in a near-death experience.”

Indeed, despite Patient 86’s lank, long hair and somewhat dishevelled beard, it’s all too easy to momentarily believe the disconcertingly obsessed psychiatrist isn’t actually once again re-interviewing Marc Spector, rather than a simply new patient whose hands have been heavily burnt during the multiple military murders he’s previously committed. Fortunately however, such similarities to the cowled crime-fighter’s mental instability actually makes the popular singer’s slightly surreal scenario all the more enthralling, especially when the well-meaning therapist introduces the disgraced soldier “to Egyptian mythology, specifically the god Amon Ra” and her enquiries at the United States Department of Veterans Affairs reveal that “the nameless one” was actually “tied up [and] naked” when he killed the army bullies tormenting him; “How could he possibly have started that fire? No matches. No lighter.”

Coupled with the softly spoken patient’s swelling semblance of sanity, these fleeting glimpses into the Old Kingdom’s pantheon rather cleverly suggest that perhaps it is the counsellor who is struggling to keep her fixations in check, and definitely must have wrong-footed this book’s bibliophiles when the “indie rock” composer finally reveals Patient 86’s true identity in his script’s final act. Delightfully, this truly horrific conclusion, wonderfully sketched by Jacen Burrows, and featuring a heavily-restrained, blood-drenched “Amon Ra” who has bitten off Nurse Hayworth’s nose, is made all the more jarringly shocking by the fact that up until this point, besides a briefly pencilled Doctor Emmett nightmare sequence, this comic had contained a rather pleasantly paced plot.   

Interestingly, Issue One Hundred And Eighty Eight of “Moon Knight” also contains an incredibly atmospheric three-page short, written by Robbie Thompson, which seems to confirm a plausible assumption behind this “bizarre” publication that Marc Spector has in fact “managed to make peace” with his multiple personality disorder, as well as Khonshu’s voice, so that “together, we are… Moon Knight”. This brief exposé strongly suggests that previous writer Jeff Lemire’s fourteen-edition long story-arc potentially never happened, especially as artist German Peralta pencils the Moon deity protectively supporting the “mercenary, scoundrel, lunatic” rather than his servant destroying him…

‘First published on the "Dawn of Comics" website.'
Writer: Max Bemis, Artist: Jacen Burrows, and Colorist: Mat Lopes

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Goosebumps: Download And Die! #1 - IDW Publishing

Proudly promoted by “IDW Publishing” as “the second three-issue arc in R.L Stine’s Goosebumps comic series”, this opening instalment to “Download And Die!” wastes little time in bringing the narrative’s leading cast together and providing the three schoolgirls with plenty of characterisation and adolescent angst. In fact initially, Jen Vaughn’s plot for this twenty-page periodical appears to realistically replicate all the peer-pressures found within a typical learning institution’s wall-locker filled corridor, and if anything actually wrong-foots the reader by arguably implying that newcomer Flips1101101, a ‘celebrity’ from the Travellers Of The Frost leaderboard, is possibly going to be the ‘one to watch’ within the Oklahoma-born writer’s storyline.

Enjoyably however, this book’s creator doesn’t simply follow the all-too obvious pathway followed by the likes of Kevin Williamson’s 1998 American science fiction teen horror film   “The Faculty”, and instead soon makes it clear that the focus of her story will be Merhdad’s sister, Mitra, rather than the so-called ‘friend-stealing’ Amanda Sneeds. This focus really helps bring Kyra’s somewhat jealous pal to the forefront of the story, and her increasing frustration at the fact that her best mate goes to the mall, “then a movie” and even runs into Weather, a girl Mitra clearly has a crush upon, all without her, provides plenty of rationalisation as to why she later foolishly utilises a mysterious state-of-the-art telephone which someone has suspiciously sent her without asking; “You’re not still angry about me going to the movies with Flips, are you?”

Of course, as far as the smartphone is concerned, all the warnings are there to be seen by the reader, and few in this comic’s audience probably needed Steelbreaker to voice her well-founded cautionary advice for her buddy to tell her parents about the unsolicited gift. Even so, Mitra’s unwise decision to post her school’s unfriendly “dumb computer hogs…” onto social media using some of the Deadroom application’s vomiting stickers still proves a somewhat engaging spate of storytelling, despite the fact that the boys becoming stomach-churningly ill a short time later comes as no surprise whatsoever.

Quite possibly this book’s greatest asset though is Michelle Wong’s clean-lined and somewhat cartoony-looking artwork. Competently drawn, and easy upon the eyes with more than a hint of Manga, especially when used to pencil the “three musketeers” playing their ‘dungeons and dragons’ computer game, it’s clear from this magazine’s storyboarding just how much the Hong Kong artist does indeed “love drawing cute characters… and monsters”.
The regular cover art of "GOOSEBUMPS: DOWNLOAD AND DIE!" No. 1 by Michelle Wong