Sunday, 28 April 2013

Review Month - Master of Kung Fu. Issue 1 (2002).

Some comics are like old friends that you miss. No seriously. There are three books from Marvel's Bronze Age that need the reprint treatment but are so tied up in legal shennanigans that it is unlikely that we will ever see that done. Imagine a double release of a big colour Omnibus and a black and white Essential (at the same time, because I would buy both!)? It's not like I don't have the single issues though as these three titles were as good then as they are now.

These titles are in reverse order:

3. The Micronauts.
2. ROM.
1. The Hands of Shang-Chi. Master of Kung Fu.

Anyone who knows me will have been bored stupid by my rattling on about Master of Kung Fu (MOKF). It was a title that spoke on so many levels and if you can find a reasonably priced run and have never read it you should throw yourself in now as those reprints still seem like a bridge too far. Ask me what my favourite title ever is and I will flat out tell you without hesitation that it's MOKF.



The book sprung out of a need to have a title that could take advantage of the boom in imported cinema kung fu movies and the tv series of the same name with David Carradine (the first series , not that strange new one that they show all the time on UK TV).

The book itself was a contradiction. The central character was full of existential angst. Although a master of his martial art he didn't want to use it. A man who was pulled into MI6 and was a super spy but just wanted focus and inner peace. Shang was as much a victim as he was a hero. He was a victim of being the son of Fu Manchu (a fact that is where much of the legal problems stem from regarding the reprint). He was a victim of manipulation by his friends and his family. He fought a stream of kung fu villaims. He was also a victim of his emotions, his face would often twist into Bruce Lee rage or he would be caught up as the naive fly in a femme fatale's web.

All books that have Shang as a central character are narrated by him. That is why I think the character is so beloved of many comics readers. He speaks to the reader directly in first person narration in caption boxes. You really get to the heart of his emotions and motivations. You also get to see his vulnerability. Many of his guest starring roles in books much later (Moon Knight immediately springs to mind) they still stick to this rule. We have seen him quite a few times recently. He has had pretty good appearances in Wisdom, secret Avengers, Heroes for Hire, X-Men: First Class and the Spider Island storyline.

'Games of deceit and death.'

The series had at it's heart the writer Doug Moench and much of it's quality is clearly down to his vision. There are at least four iconic art runs on this book as well. Firstly Jim Starlin, next Paul Gulacy (who we will get to later), Mike Zeck and Gene Day. All were equally great in my mind. As styles moved on Shang still kept the flaired trousers and the hippyish outlook. And the title was cancelled at the incredibly poetic issue 125. So incredible in fact I have a page framed and hung from this issue on the wall in front of me. This issue had Shang walk away from everything. His father was dead and he wanted to taste the world afresh and find inner peace finally.

A good MOKF book is missing from the shelves today. Who wouldn't want to see Moench back on this book, or maybe someone like Greg Rucka with Marc Laming or Gabriel Hardman on the art?  Shang was that single solitary voice of truth. Always on the outside of the party looking in. Commentating on what his naive eyes saw around him. The cynical part of me says that we need this sort of character more than ever. At the time he had many copy cats (see my recent Richard Dragon review for a good example) but nobody did kung fu as well as Moench and co did this.

In 2002 as part of the Marvel Max line we got a mini series. Here is the review of the first issue. I thought this was a fitting last review in my Month of Reviews.

Master of Kung Fu (November 2002).
'Part 1: Mortal Spirit.'

Writer - Doug Moench.
Art - Paul Gulacy.
Inks - Jimmy Palmiotti.
Colours - Paul Mounts.
Editor - Alex Alonso.

Published by Marvel Comics (Max Line).


I remember not hearing that this book was coming out (I have never been a big reader of Previews - only muttering at my LCS that it should be called 'Spoilers') so I was over the moon when I saw this cover on the shelf. It looks great and is an iconic image of Shang returning to the flames of battle.

The book opens with Leiko Wu (the love interest throughout most of the original run) being lured into a trap in an old castle. She is captured by a mysterious hooded figure and his bodyguard. Taken away and tortured with scorpions for information. Meanwhile we get a brighter different world and Shang is apparently a tutor for a young girl in China. He is clearly still troubled and tries to meditate but dreams of Leiko in danger trouble his peaceful solitude. He is then surprised by  a shadowy stranger who he attacks only to find out that it is his old pal (and love rival for the emotions of the aforementioned Leiko Wu) Clive Reston from MI6.

Reston attempts to talk Shang out of retirement and tells him that Leiko has been kidnapped. He also informs  Shang that he and Leiko are now married. He needs his friend to help combat a terrorist called 'The Comte de Saint Germain' aka 'The Ghost' who is believed to be an Immortal (ring anyFu Manchu shaped bells Sax Rohmer fans?) The story then jumps nineteen hours into the future and Black Jack Tarr and Clive Reston are caught by Dacoit assassins in an MI6 safe house. A full firefight erupts (beautifully realised by Gulacy and Palmiotti) and as they run out of ammunition Shang appears to help them escape.

This sequnce looks incredible. Shang looks dramatic and a force to be reckoned with. He has that frown again, the one that tells us that he does what he must, not what he wants to do. As they escape he speaks to his old friend Tarr and in doing so links the present with the past.

'And don't call me Chinaman.'

This book does so much in a first issue. We get the familiar faces and themes. But we also get a reflection of how the world has moved on. As always Shang is a mirror for society. We see his defence of his friends using a couple of flaming sticks. He is faced by techno kung fu assassins but doesn't flinch to use familiar weapons. He is still the old Shang, the man out of place but now we see the seriousness in his face and that his clothes reflect stylistically the post Matrix era. I loved this issue.

Moench has not skipped a beat and these are the people I remember. That nod to Shang's and Tarr's old friendship at the end was a really cool little twist. They shouldn't be friends, from their size difference (Tarr is a hulk of a man - a kind of cross between the Rock and Nick Fury physically), to their politics and motivations. Tarr is a life long spy, he is at home with these games. But somehow they are brothers.

Gulacy is a master. Every turn has beauty. His figures are cool and funky kung fu spies of style and his back grounds speak to a tone of menace. I really loved the candle light on the stairs as Shang meditates. Awesome. Everyone is dealt with the intricacy and flair they deserve after all these years. I am a huge fan of this guys work and he needs more Marvel work as he fits that street level noir so well.

Man! I miss this book.

NIA.

Review Month - All Star Western issue 19.

All Star Western - issue 19.

Written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray.
Art by Moritat.
Colours by Andre Szymanowicz.

Published by DC Comics as part of the New 52.



What can you say about this title that hasn't been said already (and mostly by myself). Palmiotti and Gray have such a great grip on this character. Forget Lobo, Jonah Hex is pretty much DC's Wolverine analogue. (Yes, I know Hex came first!) We also get this surprise guest star of Booster Gold. A great left field decision to introduce such a 'regular' DC hero into this dirty and violent environment. I reviewed an old Booster Gold comic just last week and this put a big smile on my face.

The book opens with Hex and Booster talking and Booster trying to impress him about how tough he really is and the fact that he is now a Sheriff of a local town.. Hex isn't having any of it. The pair examine three bodies of men working a claim who seem to have been killed without putting up a fight.

The story then switches to a small town as the Clem Hootkins Gang ride in. They are lead by a real nasty Klaus Kinski lookalike. They have a chat with a local drunk, kill him, reveal a big Wild Bunch machine gun. Rob the bank and destroy the town. Hex and Booster appear and (kind of) agree to track the gang down. We get a flashback sequence that shows how Booster became the sheriff. Booster then wakes up drunk / hungover on the floor of the tavern and the two ride off to find the gang.



I got a little confused at this point as the story seemingly flows into the Stormwatch back up piece. Some more end / start credits were needed possibly?

The book is full on funny and full on violent. A mean feat. The art by Moritat is the best of his I have seen for a while and is also (as usual) some of the best out there. The colour palette has that washed out, almost sepia look to it that works as well in the old west setting as it did in the turn of the century Gotham. The gold and blue of the Booster Gold costume works really well as a clean cut counterpoint to the old dirty west. Loved it!

The weaving of Booster Gold into this setting makes for some interesting possibilities for this arc and I can't wait to read the next issue! Hex never misses a beat in his speech and his movements into action. At this point in the DC Universe I would rather read him than any other character (yes even Batman!).I just wish that we got a full issue. I shall be buying this book in trade as well. This is a future classic, trust me.

Buy it.

NIA.


Saturday, 27 April 2013

Cover of the day (extra).

From December 1976.



Paperback Weekend.

Some great Phoenix Force paperback covers.







Cover of the day.



Panel of the day.

Fuck. This book is amazing!


Review Month - Police Action featuring Lomax NYPD and Luke Malone: Manhunter.

I thought for today's review we could jump in the time machine and head back to Apri; 1976 and take a look at a book from the short lived Atlas Comics (aka Seaboard / Atlas). It was a company that threw itself wholesale into comics publishing and for a few short months (no title lasted for more than four issues) could have been a contender. Created to be full on competition to Marvel and DC Comics of the time it produced some interesting (and odd) books. 

Who could forget titles like 'Tales of Evil: The Bog Beast', 'Morlock 2001', 'John Targitt: Man-Stalker' (no not a slightly suspect name for a website) and my personal favourite 'Tiger Man.' They poached some great talent as well, Howard Chaykin, Steve Ditko, Mike Ploog, Rich Buckler and others. I remember when I heard about the New 52 as being a possibility and how they were going to address different genres other than Superheroics. It did for an instant sting my negativity with 'Oh, for fucks sake, hope it ain't gonna be like Atlas.' But recently I have revisited a few of the books and really enjoyed their non cynical, Bronze age approaches to the medium.

Some of the characters survive (kind of) to this day. 'The Scorpion' by Chaykin was introduced into the Marvel 616 as 'Domonic Fortune' and 'Demon Hunter' by Rich Buckler became 'Devil Slayer' and a regular in one of my favourite runs of volume 1 of the Defenders comic in the 1980s.

So today I thought I would have a look at one of the lesser known titles (actually two titles).


Police Action featuring Lomax NYPD and Luke Malone: Manhunter issue 2.

Lomax NYPD - Written by Gary Friedrich, Art by Mike Sekowsky, Inks by Al McWilliams and Letters by Alan Kupperberg.

'....Taxi 2147 is Missing!'

Luke Malone: Manhunter - Written by Gary Friedrich, Art by Mike Ploog and Frank Springer.

Editor - Larry Lieber.

'Whatever Happened to Luke Malone.'

Published by Atlas Comics.


The Lomax story is I think fair to say the maion story of the issue (although both are roughly the same in length) and features in the main on the cover. It treads all the 1970s hardboiled pavements like Starsky and Hutch did often. It has a pulpy detective feel to it and follows the adventoures of Lomax who they are at pains to make us realise is a maverick cop.


The hero and his partner get called to a kidnapping at the airport. A 'hippy' wearing a red beret has taken hostage at gunpoint a sexy 70s chick and two men who all seem to be cab sharing without knowing each other. Said hippy drives them onto a runway at Laguardia (airport security was a bit shit back then evidently) and asks for cash and a flight out of the country.  

Lomax and his partner (McBride) take the call and straightaway witness an unconnected mugging of an old lady. They intervene and Lomax gets a kick in the 'gut' (probably couldn't say 'balls' back then). Lomax leaves his partner to secure the prisoner and makes for the airport on his own (maverick cop style).


Of course he solves the kidnapping in his own way and afterwards takes the sexy 70s chick for a 'nice quiet drink'. Rockford eat your heart out!

The book is light weight sure and doesn't involve any deep thought but it looks great and tells a story that is fun and held my interest. It also tells a story over ten pages that a lot of current writers would take six issues to tell. The dialogue is a blast and is full of people digging this and digging that.

'You better dig me, and dig me good.'

Sekowsky's line looks great. It is as usual quite thick and deliberate but it still reads well today. His costumes look like they were pulled straight out of 'Kolchak The Night Stalker.'! the dialogue is era specific and over predictable in a cool way. But there isn't much else to say about this story other than that. It's just great fun.

The second story in the issue has a more serious tone and is also told in a very succinct style.

'Stow is rookie.'



Luke Malone is also (initially a cop) who has to go to another hostage situation (lots of them about). He is a bit of a hot head and barges in too early, kills most of the criminals but one of them manages to kill Malone's wife who coincidentally is present.

Malone hits the bottle and goes to the seaside to try and get over what has happened. He gets refused service in a local bar. Gets beaten up in a fight. The man who had just fought him hires him for some sculduggery. they drive off, a sniper / hitman shoots at them. The car crashes. Malone kills the sniper, throws a bottle away (deciding not to be an alcoholic) and decides to be Luke Malone: Private Investigator.

Just like that. Yeah. Forget my earlier gripe about modern comics, this one was a little too packed in.

The art however by Ploog and Springer looks excellent and reminds me of Ploog at the height of his Bronze Age powers when he was on Man-Thing and Werewolf By Night.

Both stories read like they should have been TV scripts and are by no means intellectual. However I had real fun reading them and for 50 pence cost from a back issue sale they are fine by me.

NIA.



Agent Coulson will be playing The Fonz!



Friday, 26 April 2013

Review Month - One from the back issue box - Doc Macabre issue 1.

At a recent con I picked up a bundle of cheap back issues that I have been working my way through so I thought I would have a look at one of them and maybe find out why it's laying there unwanted.

Doc Macabre issue 1.

Written by Steve Niles.
Art by Bernie Wrightson.
Colours by Tom Smith.
Edited by Bob Schreck.

Published by IDW.


I have to admit to at first not really liking this cover. But looking at it again I have found the humour in the image. It shows the three old school moldy zombies in the foreground with the cheeky Doc Macabre (aka Chad Martin) peeking over the top of them. The grey tone on the zombies may be a censorship style issue (ie, full on gore on a cover doesn't sell the book) but it's pretty cool nonetheless.

The book starts with a very nicely done intro sequence where Macabre saves some people from a zombie attack in a graveyard. He uses a an experimental weapon that causes the undead to bury themselves again in the open graves. He then produces a mobile credit card machine and charges the local vicar (at a discounted price) for his help.

Think kind of 'Doogie Howser' meets a douchebag version of 'Ghostbusters'.

The background to Macabre is then cleverly set out by Niles in a talking head page. He gets people who know him to say how they know him and what they think of him. It's a neat intro to the character without any boring flashback origin story or something similar.

We then go back to the Headquarters and meet Macabre's robot butler / helper Lloyd (superb design). There are two new clients waiting for him and they explain that they are being haunted. Long story short, they all head to the haunted house (although I am sensing a double cross coming soon), Macabre tries to get a new weapon to work on the ghost and gets a smack to the floor when it doesn't work.

The book is short. Sixteen pages didn't feel enough. We get a cute four page 'Interview with Doc Macabre' text piece that's OK but smells a little bit of filler. Then we get some character sketches for another title Wrightson is working on called 'The Ghoul' and some adverts and a preview of a John Byrne 'Next Men' book. But there needs to be more of the Macabre story main.

What there is, is fucking awesome. Wrightson has not skipped a beat since his Swamp Thing (and similar) work. His art is fresh and crisp and an absolute joy to look at. Some standout pages are the wide shot of the haunted house looking all American Gothic and the reveal of the ghost. The ghost appears in front of us as a lanky, naked, moustache sporting bad ass. You know as soon as you see him that he is going to give this upstart boy a good kicking. The zombies are straight out of a classic Wrightson sketchbook or print and look amazing.

Steve Niles tells an interesting and attention grabbing story that had me pissed when I got to the last page because I wanted more. He writes to Wrightson's strengths and you get the sense that he is enjoying writing a book like this. Both horrific and funny in equal measure it's a great comedy horror book.

Nicely done.

NIA.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Advert of the day.

From the back of DC Comics Vigilante Annual 2 (1986).

Love this image in black and white with the red outline!

On the 80s.

Letter columns in the 1980s were a little lively.



Panel of the day.

From Elementals volume 2 issue 9.

Written by Bill Willingham.
Art by Mike Leeke.
Inks by Mike Chen.

Review Month - Alien Worlds - issue 3 (cover).


Alien Worlds- issue 3 (cover review).

Dated July 1983.
Art by W. M Stout.
Written by Bruce Jones.
Published by PC Comics (aka Pacific Comics).


For today's edition of Review Month on the blog I thought it would be cool to review another cover.  We got a great reception to our last cover review but this time I thought we could try something from the 1980s.

So today I looked at the cover to Alien Worlds issue 3 by the really interesting and deserves to be known more artist W. M. Stout (aka William Stout).

Mr Stout is probably better known for his movie work and has been pretty prolific over the years. He started in the late 1960s and was soon working as Russ Manning's assistant on the Tarzan of the Apes newspaper strip. He is pretty well known in the field of movie posters, storyboarding and in production design. He worked on Raiders of the Lost Ark and on that recently reinvigorated animated movie from Ralph Bakshi  the wonderful 'Wizards'.

Interestingly he specialises in Paleontological art and has given lectures on the subject. Looking at the image above this may explain the vermin's lizard features, almost like little dinosaurs themselves. 

Clearly a man of many talents, Stout lists Frank Frazetta, Norman Rockwell, Alex Toth, Robert Crumb, Wally Wood and Will Eisner as influences (well he would wouldn't he). This presents an interesting list as I examine the cover image. I can see the iconic old school space imagery of Wally Wood and I can also see some facial influences from Crumb - quite a mixture I am sure you agree, but one that he pulls off superbly for my money. For me I would add a touch of space strangeness of Moebius and some animal design originality by someone like Leo. All the above prove to make a truly original and shockingly weird image, ideal for the time and placing.

Stout's linework isn't glossy and over rendered like a Frazetta and this only adds to the impending doom of the piece for me. It gives the whole book an edgy feel to it. I would love this as a poster for the study.

Alien Worlds was an anthology title that was in the most part written by Bruce Jones with guest artists. Sadly this cover image must have been completed apart from the interior content as this story is not represented in this issue.

The image speaks in many ways.  It has that European 1970s and 1980s sci-fi weirdness to it that you could see in Heavy Metal. But most of all it tells a story. The face of the trapped astronaut is haggered, tired and starved looking. He is frightened and trapped. We see that he is sinking in some form of quicksand. Maybe he has walked from a crashed spacecraft or shuttlecraft of some kind. Alone in an alien landscape he has fallen into the sand. Nobody to help him. He is surrounded by these strange (and cute in any other arena) mini lizard vermin. You see that they are waiting for his death so that they can rip the flesh from his bones. Death, horribly on a desolate and alien planet. It speaks to our own fears and failures. The image chills you and sets you up for more strangeness inside. I loved it.

You can visit www.williamstout.com to see more and to shop. Well worth a mouse click.

NIA.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Review Month - Deadpool Max issue 8.

I thought (after the fun I had last time) to try a couple more from the 'not read' pile. Or as they call it on the  11 o'clock Comics podcast the 'Regine Pile' (not sure why).

Deadpool Max - issue 8.
'One Night In Bangkok.'

Written by David Lapham.
Art by Kyle Baker.
Published by Marvel Comics.


This is the first of the Deadpool Max books that I have read and I was curious to see how it was going to be pulled off. Before starting I wondered how the 'Bugs Bunny of the Mutant World' would work as a Max title. For those not in the know, the Max titles have been around for a while now and generally feature adult themes. I shouldn't have worried because this book is a blast!

My actual low point of the book is the cover. It looks a little bit like an elaborate panel that has been blown up to fit a cover. It's abstractness is in theme with the book's contents (which I loved) but the colour and printing is a little bit muddy in places and it doesn't really show off the issue enough - but like I say that is only a small gripe.

The story surrounds the agent Bob who is Deadpool's handler. He narrates the issue in a series of mostly flashbacks whilst he is waiting for a Moon Knight dressed terrorist to chop his head off on video. the first three quarters of the book are essentially the life history of Bob. His relationship with a female agent that goes sour after he discovers her true cause(s).

'She was a tree hugging, commie, liberal, hippie, bisexual, nympho pacifist...'

Bob has not had it easy and his story brings us up to his current predicament. We then get a fight between a Max version of Cable (who seems facially to suspiciously like Stephen Lang - you know him, that bloke from Avatar.) Then there is a conclusion that perfectly fits Bob's luck.

Eight pages in and I realised that this book is fucking great.

Imagine a cross between a Darwyn Cooke 'Parker' book and Bill Sienkiewicz on 'Elektra Assassin.' It looks gorgeous, reads and flows like a quirky dream and oozes cool on every panel. Where Deadpool was irreverant in the 616 this book takes us on a neo noir psychedelic spy trip. The titilation is palpable and the violence is blatant, in your face and darkly humorous. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall in a pitch for this book. Kyle Baker really has his ducks in a row on this book. He strings the panels and moments together in a masterful way that makes me wish he did more like this. Just little themes and jokes (the female agent's backside gag for example) are thrown in with superbly crafted winks and nudges - he understands the movements of the readers eye and plays little games with us.

David Lapham is set free to play to all those strengths we saw him use in Stray Bullets. It's not only an exercise in cool but it shows reactions and emotions that seem both quirky and at the same time blackly realistic. Some of the dialogue made me smile widely whilst reading it on the daily commute.

Deadpool only appears briefly in the book and was actually not as interesting as Bob to my mind. the fight he has with cable is a little long (but maybe that was an editorial mandate - who knows). But all in all this is a superb book and I shall be investing in the trade straightaway.

Who says that all the good books come from the 1980s!?

NIA.

  

Twitter and Instagram.

Hi.

Thanks for reading so far, it's much appreciated.

Don't forget that you can also find me on Twitter @Ezohyez or at Instagram at www.instagram.com/ezohyez

Hopefully see you over there.

NIA.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Review Month - Thunderbolts issue 008.

Thunderbolts - issue 008.
'Heavy Recon.'

Written by Daniel Way.
Art by Phil Noto.
Colours by Guru FX.

Published by Marvel Comics.


This issue starts with the Red Hulk confronting a terrorist called Mullah Assad. It turns out that Assad is an undercover American operative who has gone rogue. (On page one - whether on purpose or not - he looks like Tony Blair with a beard!) Red Hulk gets some information from him before he reveals Deadpool, Punisher and Elektra who shoot him and his men. It occurs to me at this exact moment that this book should just take the plunge and be called 'Secret Avengers'. It's written like a cross between 'Queen and Country' and the main 'Avengers' books. Get rid off all that Hawkeye mind wipe crap and just put Red Hulk in charge of a covert Avengers team. That would make for a great book.

Not that this isn't very enjoyable. Way and Noto have transitioned smoothly from Way and Dillon with barely a pause. Noto is a real talent in the sequentials and everything flows from panel to panel. His take on the Red Hulk looks great and the later Venom reveal was a superb shock moment for him.

Back to the story. we get a short two page interlude where a later revealed player is speaking at Cambridge university and then signing a book from a fan. My only tiny gripe with this book is the colouring in this sequence. The student is dressed all in green. She looks like a bronze age Marvel girl without the mask.

We then get the team on the aforementioned 'Recon' and we get a great little back and forth between the group. I am not sure about this Punisher/Elektra/Deadpool love triangle and can only think that there will be  more to it at some future point. (Maybe a riff on the Cyclops/Jean/Wolverine triangle?) They are covering a meeting between some Islamic terrorists and a Russian? It all kicks off and Venom reveals himself (he was dressed as a lady!)

We get a really dramatic Noto double page spread with Punisher in the foreground. (Remind me to get a commission off this guy soon.) Then we get an explosion that leads into next month's exciting installment.

I have read this book in all it's incarnations and especially over the last three or four years it has been a little bit of a hidden pleasure. It has featured quite a few times in the 'Panel of the day' section I post on this blog. This incarnation of the group was a combination that I have to admit to being a little sceptical of but I have to admit to enjoying greatly all the twists and turns so far.

Buy it. Before it goes or they fuck around with it again.

NIA.


This comic was supplied (like the good dealers they are) by Derek and Luke of Chaos City Comics, St Albans, Herts, UK.
www.chaoscitycomics.com


Monday, 22 April 2013

Mike Carey talk 23/4/2013.

I shall be there.

Pop along.

Review Month - Daredevil: The Man Without Fear (Cover).

I thought I would have a look at a cover today rather than a whole book. This week I picked my favourite cover from the stack and try my best to describe why I liked it so much.

Purchased with my great pull list discount from Chaos City Comics (www.chaoscitycomics.com).

Daredevil: The Man Without Fear - Issue 025.

Art by Chris Samnee.
Written by Mark Waid.
Published by Marvel Comics.


I really loved this cover. It is one of the best I have seen for a while.  I just wanted to pin down why I thought this. Mr Samnee produces some of the best work in comics and seemingly is a very fast worker. His covers on this title have all been excellent.

Issue 25 has at first sight quite a simple style. It features just two figures on a plain background. It also interestingly only features a few colours. To me it has a distinct and impactful style that is stripped back to show some interesting story points.

It shows a beaten hero. The blood Matt spits from mouth matches the bloodied knuckles from the man standing astride him. The figure with his back to us (revealed inside as Ikari) stands still, with fists clenched. Looking down (apparently) in triumph. Daredevil is the vulnerable hero of Marvel. We know that he will not and cannot always triumph. This cover does in a simple two figure image what all good covers should do - it tells a story. It is a reflection in one dramatic image of what you can expect inside. It raises interest and emotion in the observer and so will get a browsing shopper to pick it up.

This cover shows Samnee's skill in presenting true drama in a single emotion filled image. It has iconic balance and makes use of the few colours to great effect. The yellows are a counterpoint in the foreground and the background. One providing a blank flat world and the other giving us a glimpse of a previous Daredevil costume. It raises a few mental guesses from me as I look. Is this a dream? Is this another Daredevil? Is Matt cracking up again? Is it Matt's father brought to life? It makes you want to buy this book.

As I look at the image I feel that it also has an element of the more traditional Marvel cover. It could easily be a cover from a Ditko or Romita Snr Spider-man issue. You can easily swap the Daredevil image for Peter and Ikaru for a Ditko Kraven or a Romita Green Goblin. This is evidence of the real ability of Samnee. You can see why Waid wants to keep hold of this artist.

Samnee incorporates the logos on the page into the image in a clever way. The Daredevil logo presents itself proudly on the back of the villains robe. Like a wrestler or a boxer entering the ring Samnee is challenging the reader. The Marvel boxed logo fits (just below it) on the belt. It is the central word and the central image on the page, evident in it's bright red surround. Blaring out at the reader. Marvel is the fighter and the winner. I am probably reading too much into this image but are we showing Marvel dominace. Are we showing the artistic win by Marvel in the comics world. They stand with victory and bruised knuckles over the body of other companies? Maybe. 

Mr Waid being the writer has sown the seeds (at least) for this cover and also deserves credit. The darker descent of the book is making it one of my first reads from the stack when I pick it up and along with Daredevil: End of Days I don't think this character has ever been better served.

I would love this as a print. Really great stuff. 

NIA.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Cover of the day!



Review Month - Captain America 2 - Death Too Soon (1979).

Today I decided to review a movie.  Captain America 2. This is not the hotly anticipated Winter Soldier sequel but rather the second of two abandoned TV pilots from 1979 for a proposed TV series.

I recently got this along with the first movie from Amazon.  they have just been released on a R2 DVD in the UK and Europe.

Be warned this review may include self harming.

Captain America 2: Death Too Soon. (PG).

Released by 101 Films.

Starring. 
Reb Brown as Steve Rogers / Captain America.
Len Birman as Dr Simon Mills.
Connie Sellecca as Dr Wendy Day.
and 
Christopher Lee as Miguel.

Directed by Ivan Nagy.
Written by Wilton Schiller and Patricia Payne.



Since this is the second pilot we don't get any origin. Steve Rogers is already Captain America and is travelling around sunny America in his Cap Van. This movie opens on the most terrible photo / credit montage that would seem cobbled together. The credits lead into an extended ariel shot of Cap's Van driving down the coast.  In fact the whole movie has never ending ariel shots of cars, bikes and van driving along roads (normally near the coast).

The movie lays out what Cap is about with a little intro storyline in a disco seaside town. In Discotown we see Steve has befriended a little old lady who he is drawing a portrait of on the beach. She tells him that the older people in the town get robbed every time they pick up their pension. Steve tells her to pick up her pension straightaway. She does this and gets robbed (hang on Steve got her robbed?!) Cue Cap and his Cap Cycle chasing down Disco robbers and winning a running race against a beach buggy.

The script and editing literally face fuck you with terribleness! It's like nobody says cut! We get cameras that zoom in on locations and then zoom out - and they then zoom in again!

It was about this time that I looked up the Director Ivan Nagy. A seemingly jobbing director his other credits include the following 'Trailer Trash Teri.' 'All Nude Athena.' 'Sara St James.' 'Intimate Encounters.' and 'All American Pin-Up.' You would think he understood the concept of the close up!!


Much has been said of Reb Brown as Cap. I have to admit that he isn't great. (But actually not the worst.) I presume that this would have been his big break if the series was picked up by a network but that was not to be. His other movies are scattered over four decades and include 'Howling 2.' 'Uncommon Valor.' and 'The Sword and the Sorceror.' At least he looks the part in civvies.  The costume just didn't work and the bike helmet just looked like it was unbalancing him during his Cap scenes.

Steve is working for a lab that send him on missions. The head of the lab is a Dr Simon Mills who is played by TV regular Len Birman. Mr Birman could quite possibly be the inspiration for 'Blue Steel' pouting. He pauses painfully before each line and acts like he is modelling for a 1970s catalogue. I have to be honest that every time he speaks he really annoys me.

The third member of Cap's team is Dr Wendy May played by Connie Sellecca. She plays a sexy research scientist who helps to solve the plot's ageing gas by testing it on herself (whilst on a flight ?). She also loves a pause and a cheesey smile. During the movie she smiles at babies and cougars of all ages (not that type). She was also on another superhero series 'The Greatest American Hero.'

Back to the plot. Christopher Lee is the villain called Miguel who is also a notorious Terrorist who is posing as the Governor of a prison (seriously) as he thinks that nobody would suspect him there (recognise him maybe??) He has a gas that ages people 38 days for every hour (a figure that everyone repeats throughout the script). He intends to blackmail the country and has a small town under his control. He then gets his henchman to spray Portland, Oregon from a stunt plane with the gas (whilst sky writing 'SMILE'). Strangely the stunt plane is decked out in Red, White and Blue. It's like someone got the plane for Cap to use then realised they didn't have time to repaint it.


Cap heads off in his van and ends up in the aforementioned scared town. He spots a dodgy vet who doesn't understand cat's bones (?) and gets in a lot of fights with some local rough houses who turn out to be in the employ of Lee. Steve tries to seemingly chat a young boy up by showing him his pet cat. He then befriends a farming family of a widow and her son and it turns out that the towns people are hiding the secret of the ageing gas in return for daily imunisations. 

Steve Rogers - 'Whats the hecks going on in this town?'

Me - 'What the fuck is going on in this movie?'

Er. Cap gets to go on his Cap Cycle and then seemingly for no real reason jumps it off a dam whilst being chased. They spot the bike floating off. It's OK, the bike shows up later in good condition and he does some gliding stuff with it (it has a hidden glider - cue more ariel shots).



We get some more fighting. It was at this point that I realised what this script really was. The writer (Wilton Schiller) had written quite a few Six Million Dollar Man episodes and this Cap story is basically a Steve Austin story with added costume and bike action. At a couple of points the soundtrack even does Bionic Man noises when Cap jumps.

I hit the hour point and feel like stopping it. Fight it, fight it.

There is a prison gunfight and Lee escapes after Cap figures out his plans from reading a white board in his prison lab.


Cap chases Miguel / Lee down in a small wood that looks like it is probably at the back of an industrial estate in Stevenage. They have a gunfight thing and Lee get's a full face of the poison. He ages quickly (actually done pretty well and Lee does some Hammer Horror acting which cheered the movie right up).


He dies and Steve and Dr Simon Mills spray the antidote over Portland from a helicopter. Steve returns to the farm. Does a portrait of a lady whilst she rides a horse about a lot and gives her son a puppy (seriously).

The movie is typical 1970s TV and has some fun moments. But I can see why it didn't get picked up for a series.

Hmm. What next? Man-Thing the movie maybe?

NIA.



Panel of the day.

From First Comic's Starslayer: The Log of the Jolly Roger issue 17.


Cover of the day.



Saturday, 20 April 2013

Review Month - 1 from the Read Pile - Part 2.

Hi. As it's the weekend I thought that we could have another from the read pile that has mounted up over the years and deserves hacking back.

Again this one was a random choice from some books that I have not got around to reading.


Booster Gold - issue 0. 
(Cover dated April 2008).

Writers - Geoff Johns and Jeff Katz.
Pencils - Dan Jurgens.
Finished Art - Norm Rapmund.
Colours - Hi-Fi.

Published by DC Comics.



First off this is a great design for a cover.  It has a great iconic image and the colouring looks great. Done in the Booster blue and gold with the silver lettering. The production on it is pure DC, nobody else could be this brash and obvious yet somehow pull it off.

Jurgens kills it on this book. On Booster Gold (a character that he created) I can think of no better artist. His line (with assist from Norm Rapmund who seems uncharacteristically restraiuned compared to his recent DC New 52 work on Teen Titans) is crisp and controlled and is pure classic DC storytelling. Jergens lacks the huge stylistic flourishes of other artists but makes up for it with superb posing and clean images. His work is akin to the 'house style' at DC of the last couple of decades. He can easily sit at a table with Perez and Garcia-Lopez. I personally loved his Superman work and it fits well with this brighter side of the DC Comics Universe. 

The story opens with Booster Gold and a mess of Blue Beetles all wrangled into a time paradox situation (a theme that seems a constant in this title - at least it was every time that I picked it up). Booster has travelled back to rescue his pal Ted Kord (the 1980s Justice League Blue Beetle) from being murdered by Maxwell Lord. (A big time timey no, no!)

They are travelling in a time travelling bubble when they get in a scrap with the Zero Hour era Parallex and Extent. With a lot of discussion/explainy pages as well. A fight breaks out and the Beetles and Booster escape. But Parallex and Extent manage to send the group to the 25th Century. As this is a zero issue there is then a kind of origin thing with Booster and a thrown football game his father has set up. We get a moment with his sister who was later to become the hero Goldstar. (shit this is confusing!)

We get an attempted theft and a battle with Skeets and a load of other robots. They eventually escape and say their goodbyes and Booster and Ted Kord return to the present (yup still no roads). It's all fucked up however as apparently the time stream has been affected and the world is full of new style OMACs.

Above is a slightly long summary than I normally give but I am sure that you can see why. I can only think that Geoff Johns loves time travel stories 'cos this one is never ending. I have to say that it is fun in the most part and typical of John's style of this period.

In the normal Booster mixture of Superman and Back to the Future it is a little straight and lacks edge. But that is what you expect with this title. It's not mean't to offend. It looks great. It twists and turns and snowballs at the right moments and I am sure is all ages friendly.

NIA.


Friday, 19 April 2013

Review Month - 1 from the Read Pile.

I decided that today rather than picking a cool comic I would pick a random one. I am sure that like many comics fans out there you have a big pile of unread comics. Some were just impulse buys that I never got around to later. This book is one of them.

So Review Month becomes '1 From The Pile Day' (just for today and tomorrow).

Ghost Rider issue 5.
(Cover dated Jan 2012).

Written by Rob Williams.
Art by Lee Garbett.
Colours by Rob Schwager.
Cover by Arturo Lozzi and Frank D'Armata.
Published by Marvel Comics.




Ghost Rider seems to be one of those books that has had a million attempts at popularity. The Bronze Age series had a good run (81 initial run issues along with various guest appearances - and a brilliant run in The Champions) although went it bi monthly towards the end (the sure sign back then of cancellation? But hey it worked out OK for the X-Men.) Then we had the Danny Ketch Series in the 1990s that spawned books like Morbius and Midnight Sons. Then recently we seem to have had a few attempts - maybe because of the movies?

This book does not initially inspire me to read it from the second unpick it up. The cover looks OK but is a little forgettable. Hang on! Boobs? Flaming Boobs!

Yes. It would appear that the fiery curse has been passes on to a lady called Alejandra. She seems to have had a troubled background that Johnny Blaze is trying his best to help her with. Ignoring his help she has ridden off on her own.

Into the book itself.

Williams fakes a flashback on pages 1 and 2 which turns out to be Alejandra's thoughtful narration over a young girl being chased through the desert. We then get a short flurry of action before the focus switches to a desert base.

This base is collecting young girls and gets an immediate attack from the Spirit of Vengence. The skull cloud effect looks great but could have used a bigger panel and its written with energy.

There is a chase and the rider eventually confronts a man on a cliff top who her demon Zarathos tells her is actually her long lost father (with me so far?) Not only is he her father but he also seems to be some kind of baby stealing demon. She kills him (I think? The art is a little unclear on this as as she walks away he still has energy coming from his eyes) and she rides off.

Um. Is that it? Does this father thing carry on later? All seems a bit definite.

'All that's left to do is ride.'

The ending harkens back to that butt clenchingly bad final scene in the first Nick Cage movie. I am actually tempted to find the next issue to find out if this was all a 'fuck you' from the writer.

The art is functional and carries everything along well but in places lacks detail. It's a quick read and not a whole lot to it that needs dwelling on but it passed ten minutes of my commute so it ain't all bad. It reads a little like either a 1996 Marvel book or a 2013 DC book (or is that me just being a little snarky?)

Did I mention there are flaming boobs?

NIA.

Cover of the day!

Check out the comb over!

Score!

Some great 1980s pulp I scored at a charity shop today. All in great condition.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Review Month - FF issue 5.

FF issue 5.

Writer - Matt Fraction.
Art - Michael Allred.
Colour - Laura Allred.
Published by Marvel Comics.



FF. oh dear . I had such high hopes.

The idea is sound. The Fantastic Four are out in space adventuring and they have left the Fantastic Kids and the planet in the hands of Ant Man, She Hulk, Medusa and a lady in a Thing suit (Darla Deering aka Ms Thing - yeah I know). It's not going well and a Johnny Storm from the future/alternative reality with grey hair and one eye has appeared and is going a bit mental threatening to burn the city down.

Then a big monster appears. And something with something else. (Dunno.)

Matt Fraction is a hot writer at the moment and just this week his Hawkeye series has got him a couple of Eisner nominations.

Mike Allred is a cooler than cool artist who has been pinched from DC (kind of) and is putting the books out regularly. His work in the past such as Mad Man has been some if my favourite stuff artistically.

But somehow this series doesn't work. It has all of Fraction's trademarks. It tries too hard to be cool. It often is a series of moments that the writer thinks are funny or smart and it tends to wander.

Fraction is (rightly so) a big Allred fan (as should we all be). But he seems to allow for flourishes that seem stylistically too extreme. For example the photographer with the old school 1930s camera took me right out of the story. The interactions between characters don't really gel for me. Scott Lang seems to alternate from a grinning blunderer to a man with too much weight on his shoulders.

Allred's pop art influences are beautiful to stare at but as part of a sequential flow they fail me. I am taken out of the story too many times because the art seems too frozen in time, too static. The jump between may of the panels seems a little jarring. Flashes between the images often fail the storytelling.

Mr Fraction seems to write his pacing badly. Moments are written that appear to me to be for that seconds worth of cuteness or a joke. They don't appear part of the storyline or even in line with each character who is involved.

Remember when they did a comedy What If? Issue and it was full of page stories that joke about with different characters? 'What If Thor cut his hair' or 'What If? Daredevil could see?' All that sorta crap. This is what this issue reminds me of. Moments. Not a story. (and kinda unfunny).


Kind of harsh I know. But when I saw the above page online this morning it straightaway reminded me on the FF book.

A low point was the multi panel page of Dragon Man and Ms Thing trying different head gear on. It was just there as a gag seemingly, and a not very funny one to boot. In fact it was like a joke with the funny bit taken out.

There needs to be more story and more flow. Because at the moment it reads like an unfunny issue of Mad Magazine.

Mr Fraction who I am sure is a clever guy needs to stop telling us he is. The Ernie Kovacs reference (who i had to google - probably because I am in the UK, but sad as I am a life long comics reader) is an example of this. It feels like it panders to style junkies on a lot of the pages.

This series looks cool. It's witty and charming (to a point). But it seems ultimately shallow and uninvolving. I don't get any real emotional depth and this is what I am looking for in comics today.  It's just a personal feeling and I am sure that a lot of readers will like it. It's just not for me.

Must try harder.

Write a story.


Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Review Month - Punisher - River of Blood.

Punisher - River of Blood - Trade Paperback.

(Originally in Punisher War Zone issues 31-36).

Written by Chuck Dixon.
Art by Joe Kubert.
Colours by Joe Rosas.
Published by Marvel Comics.

'Now to be killing.'

This story follows Frank Castle and his Russian counterpart as they track a new heroin wholesaler through New York and into Eastern Europe. These new wholesalers Vikady and Kwoc are violent and desperate and constantly on the run from the vigilantes.

The book actually opens on a bleak Afghan war scene in a mountain pass that looks straight out of Kubert's Rock stories. The art style is bleak and washed out. There is almost a post apocalyptic feel to the desperation. Snow and cold and violence. It chills you.

In oh so many ways this is a superb example of Punisher how he was at his roots. Spinning out of books similar to Mack Bolan: Executioner by Don Pendleton and others Punisher was an ex army adventurer. He wasn't afraid to put bad guys in the ground and was a master of doing so.

It is (in a big part) what we see in this Punisher series. It harks back to the pre Welcome Back Frank and before all that 1990s War Zone rubbish. He is a tough stone faced killer who will travel around the globe to take people down.

We see foreign countries beyond the back streets of New York that can be a staple for Castle.

Now don't get me wrong. I fucking love what the likes of Garth Ennis, Jason Aaron and Greg Rucka have done with Castle. They have given him purpose again. We see that relentless drive of a man that is (and should be) Marvel's Batman.

He knows. He knows and he doesn't care what we think. He won't stop. He never hesitates. This is life. This is the whole of life. It's there. No surrender to any form of comfort. Handed over completely to this cause. Why Marvel don't do more with him I will never know. He shouldn't be on a team. What is the purpose?

But what we see in this story is more High Adventure. Imagine The Exterminator crossed with an Indiana Jones movie.

This is not to say that the writing is slight or simple in any way. There are moments of real poignancy of those around Castle. The story seems to reflect the fall into crime that these proud nations felt after the fall of Communism. The Punisher is almost being taught how cruel these nations can be and how widespread poverty and crime has become.

Saying that. I would read a fucking series on Dragonov! He is the standout star of this story. A giant of a man who is (nearly) indestructible. Dixon writes him and then (spoilers) kills him. But I am sure that these days they could find a way to pull him back in?

'Then we nail everybody.'

Kubert kills it as always. His thugs are ugly boil ridden trash. His heroes are stony faced grim killers and his ladies are sexy double crossers. Just gorgeous work.

The only slight gripe I have (pointed out by an artist pal actually) is the terrible photoshop combo cover.

But otherwise it's an unusual Punisher story in many ways but a joy to read in many ways because if this.

Very cool indeed.

NIA.








Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Review Month - The Fearless Defenders - issue 03.


The Fearless Defenders - issue 3.

Writer - Cullen Bunn.
Artist - Will Sliney.
Colours - Veronica Gandini.
Publisher - Marvel Comics.


I have always been a fan of the Defenders and have been reading them since the Bronze Age.  It just seems that they can't get any traction these days.  With the likes of Eric Larsen, Matt Fraction and others they have always struggled and hopped to a cancellation line. They have nearly always had an outsider/quirky edge to them and I think that is what attracts me to them. they are almost a genre on their own. Elf with a Gun and Foolkiller are considered classics at NIA Towers.

So I threw my coin down and accepted willingly their booty. And what booty they flaunted. Not only are they a little strange, but they are all (lets me honest here) pretty fit to boot!

Issue 3 throws us straight in at the deep again and the action is kicking off on the first page after the intro stuff. Valkyrie has tried and failed to gather a team of new Valkyries. Due to her failure the Death Maidens have risen (see issue 1). Along with Misty Knight (still one of the best names in all comics) and a civilian / love interest Annabelle Riggs have set about to sort it out. Hela appears along with the All Mother (wife of Odin - keep up please) and the three heroines with cuckoo in the nest Hippolyta (daughter of Ares) head off on a quest. (Sadly no Dani Moonstar in this issue).

The four are transported to Harrowpoint Island, Washington which appears to be a Crystal Skull style fake town for nuclear testing - except with the twist of having super-hero mannequins. Whilst being watched from afar by a creepy old lady and a Hawkeye rip off they head into a cave. There they find the Death Maidens and we get a kick off again.

I like Sliney's line and really loved the work he did in the couple of opening pages in issue 1. This issue is a bit too packed? And I would like to see his artwork more room to breath. But I enjoyed the art and found it very much in line with other Marvel Now books like Winter Soldier and X-Factor. I have a feeling that it will only grow and inevitably when this book ends he should get snapped up onto another Marvel book straightaway. Certainly an artist that I intend to keep an eye out for.

Bunn writes this well and I found the dialogue especially satisfying later into the book. The opening five or so pages are a little too explanation heavy but perhaps that was needed. He handles the different egos well and I look forward to the next issue.

The book has had some hype recently but I worry that it will get lost in the flurry of press around X-Men and Avengers titles. However a book like this that is probably mid level sales wise for Marvel is a whole lot better than the books that the Distinguished Competition are putting out and I know where the bulk of my money goes every month.

This book will hopefully be given a chance to settle and introduce more members of the team along the way. I am sticking with it. It will be worth a look in trade soon if you didn't pick up the first couple.

NIA.

Cover of the day.



Monday, 15 April 2013

Review Month - ROM issue 58.

Yeah. We all miss him. ROM was a creation of Bill Mantlo and Sal Buscema from a short lived toy line.  They crafted a great mythos from a pretty simple looking toy. The comic series well outlasted the toy line and ran for 75 issues.  It is highly regarded by most of those that read it and was reprinted over a number of Marvel UK books in the 1980s (Forces in Combat and the Star Wars comic ran it as a back up for a while).

There has been another peak in ROM The Spaceknight nostalgia with the semi/possible (?) cameo on a wall of the head (in a photo?) of this character in a recent Avengers book. So because of this I decided to give an old random issue a try, having nor read any for quite a few years. I wanted to see if it still had that old magic?

ROM - issue 58 'A Plague of Insects.'

Writer - Bill Mantlo.
Art - Sal Buscema and Mel Candido.
Colours - Ben Sean.
Published by Marvel Comics from 1984.




This story is actually pretty cool and represents a kind of super-hero / alien invasion environmental disaster along with a monster movie. ('THEM' was clearly an influence.)



The issue opens with Ant Man (Scott Lang) flying into an army camp where Alpha Flight are being patched up. They along with ROM and Starshine (his fellow female and sometime love interest co' Spaceknight) have been fighting a Wraith (the big bad throughout the series) Spirit that has destroyed a town. With Alpha Flight out of action Ant Man steps in and he and the two Spaceknights shrink down to battle some infected insects. After an impressive battle ROM and Starshine shrink further to attack on a sub atomic level and Ant Man leaves to 'Warn Humanity.'

Bill Mantlo writes the ever loving fuck out of this book. Sure some of the dialogue is dated but we actually get some great comments and discussions between characters (the Alpha Flight moments are probably my favourites). The book hurtles along at a great rate and it reads like one whole story in the midst of an altogether bigger saga. Every page has me grinning.

The book also reads like an environmental warning long before that was so trendy to write about in books like Brian Wood's The Massive and such like. The Wraith threat takes many forms throughout the 75 issues and in this one it is threatening the planet's eco system. The two Spaceknights and Ant man (who was pretty under used during this period) fight to hold the line against this threat.



Halfway through the book I literally looked up and thought 'Why the fuck isn't this the norm?'. Books should be like this now! (Fuck all that 'lets take 4 years to tell one story')

'.......the screaming of the ants!'

If this book was written today all the message boards and news sites would be going ape shit for it. They need to sort out all the legal BS and get this out in a nice big hardback, followed by an Essential phone book treatment. I would buy both. Giant Wraith ants! (Need I say more?)



The art is also a big part of the pleasure in reading this. Sal Buscema is a master story teller. In the days when double page spreads were not the norm the 'Battle Beneath the Earth Begins' pages are breathtaking. Everyone reacts and moves how they should and many modern artists need to see how masterfully this is done. Sal has always been to me the forerunner of artists like Darwyn Cooke and Chris Samnee. His work is always a pleasure to read.

I am pleased to say that this was not a disappointment and surpassed my expectations. It looks gorgeous, it's packed with story. The team-ups are really interesting. I may well go through some long boxes to find some more.

NIA