Perhaps somewhat surprisingly shifting 25,918 copies in March 2018, a rise in sales of over a thousand books according to “Diamond Comic Distributors”, Donny Cates’ narrative for Issue Three Hundred and Eighty Seven of “Doctor Strange” must surely have still disappointed some with its truly depressing depiction of the “once again” Sorcerer Supreme as a thoroughly broken man. Indeed, it is hard to imagine the Master of the Mystic Arts at more of a low point in his life than that at the start of this second instalment to the American author’s “Bleeding Neon” storyline, where he lies immobile on the stone floor of “Mephisto’s Hellish Hotel Inferno”, his useless legs shattered into pieces by “a demonic Thor… with a burning hammer” and his left bloodshot eye trickling tears of despair at his utter failure to defeat the demon’s power.
Fortunately however, the former preeminent surgeon does not languish in the doldrums for the entirety of this twenty-page periodical, and after some significant soul-searching, as well as numerous speech-balloon riddled panels, is eventually rescued by the unlikely trio of Clea, Loki and the Scarlet Witch. This sequence is undoubtedly the highlight of the “Damnation” tie-in publication, with a seemingly physically-restored Strange trading spiteful barbs with the God of Mischief over the bearded magic user’s dead dog, Bats, and a genuinely pulse-pounding action scene prodigiously pencilled by Niko Henrichon, which promptly places the entire quartet amidst a veritable sea of heavily-horned, terrifically-tentacled devils; “If we weren’t all in mortal danger, I’d quip something about a Highway to Hell, or going from the Pan to the Fire. As it stands, all I can think of is -- Dammit, Loki!”
Disappointingly though, this brutal battle is disconcertingly short-lived and abruptly over in a supercharged flash just as soon as “the daughter of Umar and the niece of the demonic tyrant Dormammu” is quickly captured and then spirited away to the side of a tuxedo-wearing Mephisto. Of course, this Clea's situation is later perturbingly revealed to be little more than another macabre machination manufactured by the cosmic hero’s “perennial foe”, but, for a brief while at least, “Marvel Comics' new wunderkind” finally appears to have penned this comic’s titular character as something akin to the magical powerhouse Stephen Strange is supposed to be…
Riddled with more treacherous acts than the diabolical labyrinth of Sathariel has dead ends, Kevin Gunstone’s script for Issue Three of “Planet Of Daemons” must surely have made many readers of this mini-series doubt anyone except the strait-laced Magistrate of the Qliphoth was capable of telling anything even remotely resembling the truth during "The Eye Of Lucifer". Indeed, by the time a supposedly blind Husk leads Amos Deathridge into a seemingly fatal trap deep within a demonic warren literally teeming with ungodly hooved ones, it is arguably difficult to even maintain much confidence in the Puritan’s own memories as he chillingly recalls the dread night when he discovered his wife in Salem had actually been replaced long ago by Nehema, the Succubus Queen.
So thoroughly disconcerting a doubt as to the Seventh-Century soldier’s sanity starts straight from this twenty-four page periodical’s opening sequence and subsequently peppers the plot throughout, as an entirely innocent Silas is roughly arrested inside a New England “den of iniquity” simply because a befuddled Amos has fallen for his false spouse’s treacherous lies. To make matters even worse Deathridge is later further infuriated by his former friend’s threat to publically shame Trinity “during my trial” in front of the whole town, and resultantly doesn’t question the logic of the man's imprisonment until he investigates the so-called acolyte's apparent suicide a short time later; “He was many things, but never a coward. I believe that is the coward’s escape. The guards have deceived me in the past. They are protecting someone.”
Equally as eloquently penned is the main protagonist’s confrontation with a cabal of truly horrific-looking devils deep within the Spirit of War’s nightmarishly configured realm. Splendidly pencilled by Paul Moore, the mass of horned ones, complete with sightless facial features, tusks, fur and chaotic symbolism, genuinely help depict the sheer depth of unholy depravity into which Amos has unwisely allowed himself to be drawn to and perturbingly illustrates just how many enemies the guardian of the Soul Key has infuriated with his past noble actions. Admittedly, there is a moment of satisfaction when the Magistrate rewards Salis’ duplicitous betrayal with a lethal lead ball in the back, but such a delightful act of retribution is soon swallowed up by the Justice of the Peace’s ultimate fate at the hands of the ethereal Despair and his vengeful sword.
Absolutely packed full of all the puritanical persecutions its fans probably anticipated from a mini-series partially based upon Seventeenth Century New England, Kevin Gunstone’s screenplay for Issue Two of “Planet Of Daemons” must have kept many within its audience thoroughly riveted to their reading chairs with its fascinating mixture of "mystery, intrigue, and dark sorcery." For whilst the twenty-four page periodical somewhat lacks in pulse-pounding action, especially once Amos Deathridge has wisely fled “the forsaken Palace of Lilith” following its partial destruction at the hands of a pair of Eligos’ winged emissaries, the reason behind just why the former Puritan magistrate now “serves as jailer of the daemons and evil spirits who cast their sinister influence over mankind” proves an utterly enthralling narrative.
Indeed, this slowly unfolding tale of the god-fearing man’s harrowing fate on Earth, courtesy of a foul deception “by those closest and dearest” to him, becomes particularly compelling once the esteemed “man of experience and wisdom” starts to doubt the chasteness of any town resident who even so much as dares to ask a question of him, and simply has them arrested. Such an oppressive atmosphere of disquiet and suspicion is genuinely palpable, and resultantly it comes as no surprise when Amos’ conspiratorial wife seemingly uncovers a treachery beyond the mortal realm being committed by one of his closest friends; “I saw Silas pray to the evil spirits of beyond. His call was answered by a succubus called Nehema.”
Of course, that isn’t to say that the main protagonist’s pursuit of a daemon of war on the world of Sathariel, prodigiously pencilled by Paul Moore, isn’t equally as absorbing. Deathridge’s discovery of the nude Heinous and her subsequent rescue from a collapsing royal residence provides the lone traveller with a much-needed companion, as well as an opportunity to illuminate this book’s audience with more insights into his tragic backstory, even when it is made abundantly clear straight from the start that “this was an act I would live to regret…” In fact, by the time the past justice of the peace has witnessed the disturbingly bizarre demise of a trio of daemonic concealers, who stalk “doomed souls trapped in the maze”, he has acquired a second intriguing acquaintance in the guise of the “misplaced soul” Salis and unknowingly already entered the Labyrinth within which resides the fortress of Count Eligos.
Despite providing a finale which is a far cry from the “shocking conclusion” publicised by “IDW Publishing”, Paul Jenkin’s storyline for Issue Four of “Judge Dredd: Toxic” still must have pleased the vast majority of its 4,101 readers in February 2019, with its entertaining mix of graphic violence and over-the-top politics. Admittedly, the twenty-page periodical debatably contains one of the most contrived set-ups seen upon the streets of Mega-City One as the titular character discovers the “entire cavern system” making up “literally half the Spillover” is actually an English-speaking, peace-loving extra-terrestrial entity which only wants to keep the humans safely protected from the poisonous sewage running beneath the metropolis.
But once this lazily manufactured premise has been explained, the British novelist’s narrative gathers pace at a pulse-pounding rate, especially when the hostile metal-eating environment leaves the three lawmen woefully under-gunned against a raging mob of die-hard anti-alien fanatics. In fact, the “suicide mission” of some “sixty to seventy armed individuals neither “harbouring symbiotes” or “the necessary protective gear” to survive their “one-way ticket” is undeniably the highlight of this publication, with the bearded Judge Scammon proving a thoroughly intriguing addition to the Grand Hall of Justice following the loss of his Lawgiver and admirable determination to at least “draw a few of the intruders below” with nothing more than two handheld batons; “Remember your training: Hand-to-hand against any perps who break through the outer cordon.”
Likewise there’s some delightful interplay between Cassandra Anderson and the titular “old curmudgeon” once the grim-faced Senior Judge finally accepts the underground monstrosity is trying to save the scrubbers, and actually goes so far as to politely thank the gigantic species “for your service” to his people. The telepath’s quips as to Dredd being a “closet Empath” and his stern retorts concerning the female Judge’s sentimentally doubtless brought many a smile to the lips of this comic’s audience, and additionally proves a welcome reminder as to just why the two heroes from the Apocalypse War work so wonderfully well together as a crime-punishing pairing.
Sadly this book’s somewhat rushed and sickly-sweet conclusion does debatably result in “acclaimed writer Paul Jenkins’ first Judge Dredd story” ending on something of a low note; albeit Scammon’s miraculous resurrection following his ill-fated meeting with a laser blade wielding maniac does offer the possibility of future adventures featuring the fearless Noah. For no sooner have “the pugilists taken their blows” than the entire sprawling city’s noxious skies are almost instantly cleaned, and having caused so much prejudicial hatred Citizen Spencer Richards, undoubtedly modelled upon American President Donald Trump, is unsurprisingly revealed to have been carrying an alien symbiote of his own all the time…
Whilst Greg Rucka may well have been right in his assertion that “Lois Lane is the best investigative reporter in the DC [Universe]”, his opening narrative for this “twelve-issue max-series” arguably demonstrates that this fact alone doesn’t necessarily mean a conversation-heavy yarn focusing upon the award-winning journalist is going to prove an enthralling experience. Indeed, if anything, the San Francisco-born writer’s script for “Enemy Of The People” simply demonstrates the dialogue-driven monotony of the news correspondent’s life, as she ensures her apartment continually has a well-stocked mini-bar, feverishly types an article packed full of spelling mistakes, dispatches a hireling to do the real ‘dirty work’ and is then finally ousted from Pennsylvania Avenue by the White House Spokesperson for implicating the administration have been “monetizing the separation of children from their families”…
Such a relentless barrage of well-populated word balloons, political statements, and manifestations of the Freedom of the Press really does make it hard to wade through this periodical’s twenty-pages, especially when even the sudden appearance of the titular character’s husband, Clark Kent, disappointingly leads to nothing more than a somewhat steamy shower scene and an awkward breakfast tête-à-tête where Lane disconcertingly defends her stance that their ‘successful’ marriage is built upon her being able to keep dark secrets from her spouse; “We’ve got a good thing, Clark, and it’s not because we’re relentlessly honest with one another. You know if I’m keeping something from you, I’ve got a reason.”
Fortunately, the three-time Eisner Award winner does manager to capture the readers' attention momentarily, when his story’s viewpoint turns to Moscow and the Question’s brutal beating of three Russian ne'er-do-wells who were clearly responsible for the murder of Mariska Voronova. Staged whilst the criminal trio are struggling to locate their victim’s hidden stash of evidence, which has been buried amidst a diorama of statues, this action sequence finally imbues the publication with some semblance of energetic life, and debatably marks out the featureless “adherent of objectivism” as someone whose comic book exploits are far more interesting to follow than Lois’s.
Similarly as successful as the Pseudoderm-mask wearing vigilante’s all-too brief pulse-pounding appearance are Mike Perkins’ storyboards, which competently demonstrate the British artist’s mantra of always relishing “portraying that real world in the comics I illustrate as much as the super heroics.” Well-detailed, and vibrantly coloured by Paul Mounts, it is just a pity so many of his panels are crammed full of supercilious, fairly suffocating conversations.
Writer: Greg Rucka, Art & Cover: Mike Perkins, and Colors: Paul Mounts
Undeniably “building a universe one brick at a time”, Issue Two of “Exciting Comics” probably gave the majority of its “faithful followers and comic connoisseurs” precisely what they wanted with its mixture of modern-day super-heroics, Egyptian mummery and a poignant flashback to the Forties. But whilst some of this anthology’s arguably all-too brief tales managed to provide plenty of closure to those readers eager to better understand the “deadly power” imbuing the Crimson Scorpion or witness the legacy of Madam Mask being passed from geriatric Geema to her grand-daughter, there’s a distinct feeling to its overall pacing, particularly where its artwork is concerned, that strongly suggests much of this thirty-two page periodical was rather rushed.
For starters, Carlos Tron’s storyboards for “The Revenge Syndicate” appear a little Spartan for the majority of Bradley Golden and John Crowther’s narrative. Sure, the collaborative writers have penned an interesting sub-plot to the exploits of Black Jaq in the guise of the Murder Prophet, the Griever and Black Rat cold-bloodedly murdering both Benny and Fats McQueen. Yet that doesn’t debatably explain why numerous scenes are padded out with depictions of the heroine working her day job, or a security guard following a few rats through the corridors of the New York Presbyterian Hospital.
Shoddier still is David Doub’s disconcerting finale for Madam Mask, where the latest incarnation of the bullet-resistant costumed crime-fighter miraculously manages to save her grandma from a fiery death only to have her elderly inspiration expire of old age straight afterwards; “Geema, You… You can’t leave me… You can’t. Nooo!!” Disappointingly illustrated by Larry Jarrell, to the point where it’s hard to believe “Spike” drew this adventure’s prodigiously pencilled previous instalment, matters abruptly turn even more surreal as the tale ends with Diana inexplicably being surrounded by the living dead in a graveyard..?
Perhaps this compilation comic’s most successful asset is therefore the concluding chapter to Professor Samuel Kocian’s exploits thwarting a terrorist cell in an ancient temple, several hours drive from Cairo. Appearing rather cartoony to the eye, courtesy of Joseph Olesco’s quite humorous sketching style, this twelve-page central feature is absolutely packed full of automatic gun-play, knife-fights, poisonous gas and everything else a reader might well expect from a pacifist protagonist suddenly empowered by a mystic scorpion.
Whilst Jason Aaron and Dennis Hallum’s collaborative script for Issue One of “Sea Of Stars” is debatably far from being “as boring as hell… with a capital Boo”, this twenty-eight page “Rated T” periodical’s narrative would almost certainly seem to contain one of the most dislikeable leading cast characters imaginable in the guise of eight year-old Kadyn Starx. True, it is well to remember that Gil’s “young son” is actually still only an infant, absolutely chock to the brim full of the impulsive impatience readers will associate with the adolescent, and emotionally bereft following the death of his mother to boot. But that doesn’t debatably stop the boy’s persistent plaintive whining from very quickly aggravating the senses as the child bitterly cries about how his “recently widowed” father won’t fly “past black holes and supernovae” just because the ageing, fun-less, space trucker thinks they’re “a really great way to die horribly.”
Disappointingly, this increasingly irritating opening sequence isn’t particularly brief either, due to the comic’s writing partnership utilising it to demonstrate what a reasonably-minded, doting single-parent the Intergalactic Parcel Service’s courier is, despite his ungrateful offspring ultimately attempting to emotionally blackmail him by bitterly stating that “Momma woulda let me” see Quarksharks. To make matters worse, the little brat then disobeys his father to wander the Porkchop Comet’s storage section and insolently meddle in the artefacts of the Krogarrian Museum of Space History despite being warned that “it’s all really old. And really expensive.”
Surprisingly, it is only at this point, when attention firmly focuses upon the veteran “star duck” and his realisation as to just how dangerous the “something huge on the long-range scanners” really is that “Lost In The Wild Heavens” provides a sense-shattering sequence of some magnitude, and almost literally grabs its audience by the throat in a similar manner to that of the storyline’s “gigantic Space Leviathan!” With the man’s big rig lying in tatters within the mighty monster’s enormous maw, and Kadyn already sucked out into deep space, the pulse-pounding pace of this book’s penmanship really comes to the fore and doubtless a fair few bibliophiles will find themselves as breathless as the human postman is by the scene’s end.
Sadly though, despite Stephen Green’s best pencilling efforts, this publication’s conclusion comes as a massive anti-climax after all the aforementioned high octane action, with the utterly bizarre premise that the adventure's overly-argumentative kid has somehow been saved from being eaten alive and a distinct lack of oxygen by “a talking Space Monkey riding a Space Dolphin…” Head-scratching and wholly contrived, this whacky revelation is made all the more stupid by the boy being able to both understand and communicate with the extra-terrestrial wanderers, as well as swim in outer space like a fish; “This is a miracle we’re witnessing right now. I mean, look at this strange little man-person.”
The regular cover art of "SEA OF STARS" No. 1 by Stephen Green
Unsurprisingly printed so as to tie in with the “upcoming web television series on Netflix… which stars Ian Somerhalder”, Jonathan Maberry’s script for this “V-Wars” one-shot both builds upon the established storyline of the short-lived “IDW Publishing” comic book series from 2014, as well as rather delightfully develops Michael Fayne’s fanatically self-righteous Red Empire into a decidedly devious ‘fresh’ threat to the current truce between Bloods and Beats. Indeed, the conclusion to this twenty-four page periodical rather dramatically turns the entire world of Luther Swann’s supposedly government-sanctioned military squad upside down, with the good doctor’s gun-toting soldiers inadvertently assisting the machinations of the vampiric one-time “barista in Manhattan” rather than preventing a Holy War which “I don’t think we can win…”
Dishearteningly however, in order to achieve such a radical change in fortune for the world’s most “foremost expert on the folklore and beliefs on vampires”, the five-time Bram Stoker award-winning author absolutely roars through his story-telling, transforming the former meek and mild anthropologist overnight into a hard as nails, merciless maniac with a decidedly dislikeable penchant for gunning down any and all blood-drinkers who happen to be so foolish as to stand between his automatic rifle and the book nerd’s mission objective. Admittedly, this distinct change to the character’s entire outlook upon life certainly ramps up the kill rate, with all manner of Bloods and Beats being torn asunder by an almost endless torrent of mutilating bullets. But such cold-hearted behaviour seems to have been far more in keeping with the perspective of Victor Eight’s commander, Big Dog, than the pacifist who against all the bigoted odds of Mankind incredibly “negotiated a peace with the V-Cells.”
Perhaps this publication’s biggest disappointment though, is Alex Milne’s somewhat coarse-looking interior artwork which, whilst undeniably dynamic when used to depict Maberry’s monumental gun-fights and all their incumbent gratuitous violence, appears to become increasingly more crudely-drawn and angular as the comic’s end approaches. In fact, as the plot to “V-Wars: God Of Death” pulse-poundingly progresses, there is arguably quite a noticeable decline in some of the Canadian’s pencilled panels, such as Swann’s awful realisation that he’s been duped into chasing after a fake patient zero, and resultantly many readers may well feel that at some point the well-known “Transformers” illustrator probably started rushing so as to finish before the magazine's deadline…
Written by: Jonathan Maberry, Art by: Alex Milne, and Colors by: Brittany Peer
Any fans of Selina Kyle’s alter-ego who hoped this super-sized thirty-eight page periodical’s pulse-pounding cover was just a taster of the excitement to come within the comic’s narrative, must arguably have been bitterly disappointed by “Joelle Jones’ first Catwoman Annual” and it’s disconcerting over-reliance to tell a truly dreary murder investigation “through a variety of points of view.” Indeed, apart from an all-too brief confrontation between the titular character and the Immortal Man, absolutely nothing occurs whatsoever which even vaguely attains the adrenaline-racing illustration of the jewel thief, resplendent in her Michelle Pfeiffer cinematic costume, stretched out across the bonnet of a fast-moving police patrol car as it hurtles down the road at break neck speed with its emergency lights flashing.
Instead, this ponderous tome contains an unconvincingly contrived concoction of “conflicting stories” which would have its readers believe the female burglar would simply bring back a partially-dead drug addict to her private flat so as to help the young woman go ‘cold turkey’ and then inexplicably train Chesa’s unwelcome friends to steal for themselves simply so they can all ‘stick it to the man’? Such motivation debatably makes little sense whatsoever, especially when the likes of the truly detestable Amanda Burress are initially caught by Kyle trashing her lodgings, breaking her ornaments, wearing her jewellery and drinking her champagne; “A lot of people worked very hard to get all these things. People that always did what they were told. People that worked a job, made good investments, just so they could have these things.”
Lamentably however, this publication's plot only gets worse once the thieving fiends decide to strike out on their own and steal a valuable antique spear from a seemingly insecure mansion with “outdated security”. This building unfortunately turns out to be the home of Klarn, a caveman who has lived for fifty thousand years, and who just happens to be inconveniently sitting deep in the shadows of his living room when the hapless intruders enter. Three broken wind-pipes and a mystifyingly surreal suicide pact frame-up later, and Catwoman is suddenly being hunted for their murders by the Villa Hermosa Police Department.!?!
Sadly, Jamie S. Rich’s decision to utilise the talents of a number of different artists only seems to add to this storyline’s sheer sense of befuddlement, with Elena Casagrande’s pages in particular proving a real disappointment. In fact, only Scott Godlewski’s clean-lined sketches seem to really imbue Selina with any of the dangerously lithe grace associated with her nefarious nocturnal activities, and even this prodigious pencilling is put to the test by Jones’ decision to have Superman make a bizarrely artifical cameo at the publication’s very end…
Story: Joelle Jones, and Artists: Elena Casagrande, Hugo Petrus and Scott Godlewski
Somewhat worryingly starting out like a pale comic book adaption of the 1993 American animated superhero film “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm”, Peter J. Tomasi’s script for this second “Detective Comics Annual” will undoubtedly have caught a fair few of its audience out with its satisfyingly sudden departure from Paul Dini’s “cinematic continuation of Batman: The Animated Series” that the skull-faced killer cold-bloodedly murdering criminals in “Manchester, Paris, Zagreb and… Greece” is not in fact the late Judson Caspian’s daughter, Rachel. But rather something altogether unexpected, which takes both bibliophile and Dark Knight completely by surprise, whilst simultaneously adding yet another intriguing addition to the DC Universe’s already rich collection of global underground assassin-themed organisations; “I have made the Reapers an unstoppable international implement of vengeance.”
Mercifully though, such an enjoyable subversion of expectations doesn’t mean that the opening two-thirds of this whopping thirty-eight page periodical make for a lack-lustre reading experience either. For despite many doubtless thinking they’ve seen Bruce Wayne “assume billionaire playboy mode” and act the buffoon in the presence of an unsuspecting heiress a hundred times before, the “Blackest Night” co-writer’s narrative still provides plenty of ‘fresh’ insights into the Caped Crusader’s world courtesy of a visit to the Bat-Cave located in Pyrgos, Greece, and a charmingly melodramatic scene involving Alfred Pennyworth acting as a drunken Judas goat so as to lure the unsuspecting super-villain out into the open. Indeed, this somewhat highly-anticipated dip back into the Black Casebook of the costumed crime-fighter is simply packed with pleasing action-sequences, such as Sophia turning her philanthropist passenger green with some reckless high-speed driving across Crete or the Great Detective’s meticulous exploration of the “bookstore near the Ephorate of Antiquities.”
In addition, artists Travis Moore and Max Raynor really manage to bring the sheer savagery of this latest incarnation of the Reaper to dynamic life, as well as pencil Batman at his physical best, kicking his scythe-wielding opponent straight in the chops with some satisfyingly bone-crunching sound effects. This publication’s cataclysmic conclusion is especially worthy of praise as the creative collaboration, alongside colorists Tamra Bonvillain and Nick Filardi, really help imbue the “veritable shopping list of automation” known as the Reaper Prime with all the die-hard menace one would expect from an formidably-augmented killing machine.
Story & Words: Peter J. Tomasi, and Artists: Travis Moore & Max Raynor