This is really good comic. Writer Walter Mosley and artist Tom Reilly pack so much into the thirty-two pages that’s instantly worth reading it again and again!
The Thing #1 (1/6)
Written by Walter Mosley Art by Tom Reilly Colour Art by Jordie Bellaire
Released November 2021 Published by Marvel Comics
Join Ben Grimm, or The Thing to use his professional name in a new six-part solo series entitled The Next Big Thing. Set away from the Fantastic Four’s present continuity, somewhen in the team’s past, this is something to be enjoyed on its own, without the need for a ‘previously on’ recap button.
And I hope you do enjoy it. Because I thought it was fantastic! There, got my verdict in early…
This is really good comic. Writer Walter Mosley and artist Tom Reilly pack so much into the thirty-two pages that are instantly worth reading it again and again. It’s got a bit of everything, action, humor, super-hero hijinks, and a surprising amount of horror. Presumably, the kitchen sink will be in issue two.
But mostly it’s full of character. Mosley and Reilly combine to capture all sides of Ben’s personality, from his big heart to his big temper. Reilly’s cartoon-style art is incredibly expressive and perfect for capturing the range of emotions on The Thing’s rocky exterior. However, the standout theme is one of loneliness and melancholia. Despite his positivity and can-do attitude, Ben is still a man forever trapped in the body of a rock-skinned monster. Although it’s his jealousy and not his appearance that is the biggest obstacle to love and happiness.
Ben returns home from a few days fishing, ever-lovin’ and ready for some company only to find the Baxter building empty and the rest of the FF and girlfriend Alicia away being busy or having fun. Ben is out of the loop and reunions will have to wait. It’s the first touch of sadness but there’s more to come.
The reunions don’t go well. Ben’s jealousy and temper get the better of him and he ends up getting arrested by the superhero police. The prison sequence is great fun, locked up with the Avenger Hercules (who’s hungover) in an unbreakable cell. It’s proper superhero daftness and it’s a joy to watch them break out.
Bailed out by his teammates and dumped by Alicia, Ben is offered the chance to join an intriguing new dating agency. Reluctant at first but loneliness and bad dreams change his mind. There’s a lovely scene where Ben has to fill out a character questionnaire form and has to be thoughtful and honest with himself. In fact, every page seems to have a lovely moment or surprising detail in it that elevates everything to another level.
Sometimes it’s just a panel, like the look of regret on Reed Richard’s face unable to ease his friend’s pain. Other times it’s the whole page. Ben walking alone through the cavernous fairy-tale Baxter Building surrounded by wonders, a Beast minus his beauty. I could list a dozen other special moments.
Meanwhile, there’s a horrifying new villain called MOT stalking the streets and dreams of New York. A death-like figure is able to reach into a person and pull out their heart, corrupt it, and then put it back in. MOT’S sequences add an unexpected strain of horror to the story. There’s some strong imagery and nasty violence (and the consequences of violence, which is refreshing). However, there’s nothing gratuitous. Like everything else in this comic, its pitched just right.
Finally, Ben starts a new day with a message in his inbox and he’s off to meet someone new. A positive ending on what’s been a bit of an emotional roller-coaster.
Then the wall explodes. Roll on issue two.
See above. Superb storytelling and great art, a really strong exploration of the character, and packed with lovely moments. These guys really know their Thing!
Justice League offers two stories with marked contrast, each bringing its own strengths to the mix. Both teams share a base of operations but their stories are pleasantly divergent in tone.
Justice League #68
Written by: Brian Michael Bendis (Justice League), Ram V (Justice League Dark) Art: Scott Godlewski (Justice League), Sumit Kumar (J.L.D.) Colours: Gabe Eltaeb (Justice League), Nick Filardi (Justice League Dark) Letters: Josh Reed (Justice League), Rob Leigh (Justice League Dark)
Published by DC Comics November 2021
Justice League #68 seems to be rolling out the red carpet for DC fans and newcomers alike with its cover from David Marquez and Alejandro Sanchez, depicting a huge gathering of heroes outside the newly rebuilt Hall of Justice. There’s Superman offering a welcoming gesture in the foreground and, behind him, members of not only the League but also nods to JLD and other cameos besides. Perhaps even more notably, Batman is smiling. If that doesn’t invite you to read on, then what will?
It’s a really warm piece of art, which depicts the aftermath of recent events in Justice League in just the right way. Comics don’t always have to be full of drama and pathos, after all (at this point, readers of the Justice League Dark backup story will admittedly not connect the vibe of the cover to their favored content!).
As before, the issue opens with Brian Michael Bendis giving readers an ‘in case you missed it’ synopsis page, with mugshots of the prominent heroes within. This is a nice touch for comic fans who might either be taking their first ride with Justice League or are more inclined/able to dip a toe in only every now and again. It also helps younger readers keep track of events; a wise move, in light of the pacing of this title in recent times. In essence, though, it levels the playing field each time and broadens the appeal.
Rejoining our heroes in the aftermath of their battle with Synmar Utopica (think alien Superman gone awry), we find them in a surprising face-off with the United Order (an intergalactic JL). They are debating proper use and control of the Phantom Zone and, even in the wake of such a harrowing battle, tensions are mounting. The resolution of this is interesting and gives a nice insight into Superman’s intergalactic standing.
We then move to a much-needed light relief scene involving Doctor Fate’s mild panic over John Constantine’s transgressions – both real and imagined – while he was in the Tower of Fate looking after Naomi’s parents. These pages serve not only to amuse but also act as a further ‘catch-me-up’ for those needing it (another sign this comic is trying to include newcomers). Meanwhile, the Justice league debrief and set about rebuilding the Hall of Justice (at least, two of them do…).
The second half of the Justice League story involves Checkmate, Green Arrow’s ‘other team’, a group tasked with covert operations/spycraft. We join them as they watch footage of Leo Lane, aka. Daemon Rose, fight multiple Deathstroke’s. This fight follows on from the ambush at the end of the last issue and shows some of Leo’s prowess. The group makeup of Checkmate is interesting, with a particular highlight being The Question (a Steve Ditko creation thought widely to have influenced Alan Moore’s Rorschach). Checkmate seems to be interested in Daemon Rose, be it as a potential threat or ally.
Hints of another shadowy group emerge, one intent on killing the Justice League. Before more can be revealed, all hell breaks loose once again, leaving us wondering what comes next. Until the next issue…
‘United Order’ part 5 brings the intergalactic threat storyline seemingly to a close while expanding on plot seeds planted in recent issues. There’s now a sense that perhaps the mega threat of Synmar Utopica was in fact Bendis’ ‘magician’s assistant’; while we were watching the spectacle, hands were busy at work, building the true threat.
Certainly, his approach to writing Justice League seems to be focused on delivering entertainment with variety, almost in the style of the Saturday morning cartoons. We have big headline characters, with impressive action set pieces, drama, comedy, and cliff-hangers. What new peril will the League face down next?
While the sheer volume of characters involved in his stories might seem off-putting to some, he is careful to offer some guidance for those not fully immersed in the series. This is a commendable approach and is one that might further appeal to a younger audience too.
The writing is supported not only by some fine lettering from Josh Reed but also by a different art team this time, with Scott Godlewski and Gabe Eltaeb working hard to bring us well-defined and dynamic superheroes. Panels are always laid out thoughtfully to enhance the narrative: wide and cinematic when suitable; closer, more intimate for dialogue. Their art is eye-catching and atmospheric throughout and delivers some cool moments.
Speaking of cool moments, the Justice League Dark story has many. ‘The Wrong Way Up’ opens on the catastrophic events facing John Constantine and the company as they try to both stop Merlin and save Atlantis. Matters go from bad to worse as they tackle the many problems and distractions Merlin has left in his wake. Ram V has written this in such a way that even with characters like Constantine, Detective Chimp and Zattana in the mix, we always have the sense that Merlin is several steps ahead of anything our heroes might fathom.
We’re given page after page of excellent reading here, with no end of superlative art depicting some seriously ‘way-out’ moments. The closing page for this issue has some serious nightmare fuel, so be warned…
This run of Justice League Dark has been consistently superb, and all credit is due to the team working on it. It’s clear they’re having great fun with a very cool story and the ‘back-up’ story (as they are sometimes known) stands as a wonderfully contrasting counterpart to the lead.
Justice League offers two stories with marked contrast, each bringing its own strengths to the mix. Both teams share a base of operations but their stories are pleasantly divergent in tone. This issue gets bonus points for a double dose of Constantine, too. There’s something for everyone here, but I’d mention – perhaps in hushed tones – that Justice League Dark is the show-stealer. It’s excellent.
SPIDER-MAN is Marvel’s most popular, iconic, and lucrative character. He’s been headlining the comic industry for 60 years and has no shortage of iconic stories such as Kraven’s last hunt, the night Gwen Stacy died, coming home as well as a myriad of others. However, those are stories mostly EVERY Spidey fan has at least heard of if not read multiple times over, and not every great Spidey story has had its fair share of attention, so here’s 10 (count ’em, 10) Fantabulous Spidey books that deserve a little more love.
Some ground rules: 616 only (this list would be too hard if it wasn’t), must feature Spider-Man (obviously), and must be in comic book form, no books, games, or movies/shows are going to be found here.
10: THE CLONE SAGA (1994-1996)……..yup
Yes, the clone saga. THAT clone saga. The 2-year mega-event that for some reason is cast aside as a convoluted, uninteresting, pointless mess. Whilst it IS a convoluted mess, it’s got a hell of a lot going for it and most people you talk to likely haven’t read it due to what they’ve heard (and also the fact it was a 2-year mega-event). The clone saga gave birth to great stories like power and responsibility, revelations, and the heartbreaking issue 400; let’s consider these honorable mentions. I for one think that stories like these make memorable additions to Spider-man’s long history and so does the clone saga as a whole. The reason the clone saga is at the bottom of this list is that it’s kind of a cheat. It’s more of an era of Spider-man than one storyline but screw it, I want to show it some love. Go the 90’s! (P.S this isn’t the last you’ll hear from the clone saga on this list).
9: TO HAVE AND TO HOLD (Sensational Spider-man annual #1 2007)
The final hurrah of Peter Parker and Mary Jane’s marriage before one more day (curse you, Joe Quesadaaaaa!) is a really beautiful, touching story set during the post-Civil war era where Spider-man is on the run from the government. Two paths are taken. Peter Parker in a cafe talking to an agent and also Mary Jane talking to a S.H.I.E.L.D operative. That’s just the setup however, the great part of this story is the flashbacks, redrawn masterfully by Salvador Larroca, the book gives us both sides of their experiences together in an incredible one-shot issue. I won’t spoil it so you’re just gonna have to go and read it!
When the self-titled ‘Spider-man’ title of the ’90s came to an end in 1998, it was relaunched as Peter Parker: Spider-man the following year (not to be confused with Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-man). In 2003, this new series would end, bringing the run to a definitive ending. The title gave us a hell of a lot of long box fillers but on the other hand, did deliver some fantastic stories like the one listed here. REBORN is the work of acclaimed writer Zeb Wells alongside legendary Maxx creator Sam Kieth. REBORN centers around the sandman…Um, sandmen rather. William Baker’s alter ego is having a supernova of a mental breakdown, dividing himself into parts: his good-hearted self, a seductive woman, an innocent child, and a disturbing villain. In the midst of this, Spider-man attempts to solve Baker’s problems and stitch himself back together for the better. The ending of this arc is kind of sad, however, and ultimately Spider-man loses. If you want to know how I guess you’ll just have to read it for yourself!
7: DOWN AMONG THE DEAD MEN (Marvel Knights: Spider-man (2004) #’s 1-12)
Mark Millar has delivered some of the most prominent comic book stories of the last 30 years: kick ass, the secret service, the ultimates, swamp thing and so much more, I could go on for hours. Marvel Knights Spider-man however, is a series that doesn’t get noticed enough though. Without a doubt, you can walk into any comic book shop and find an issue from this series no question. It’s absolutely everywhere and yet it’s treated like box filler! It’s great! It’s exciting and moody, bringing new villains like Mac Gargan as Venom into the mix as well as old ones like Norman Osborn himself, the thriller tone to the book keeps you from putting it down and Terry Dodson and Frank Cho do an absolutely jaw-dropping job on pencil duties. The only reason this series shouldn’t be on your bookshelf is that a complete collection trade paperback is pretty tough to come by and if you manage to spot one, it’s likely to run you some change, so the cheapest way to get your hands on this series is to actually get the floppy’s in all their well-loved glory.
6: VS.FIRELORD (The Amazing Spider-man (1963) #’s 269-270)
Do you want to see Spider-man beat the ever-loving H-E-double hockey sticks out of a herald of Galactus? Yes? Well then, you’ve come across just the Spidey story for you! This quick, two-issue arc from 1985 delivers one of the worst @$$ Spider-man moments of all time. Firelord, a cosmically powered super being descends upon the earth for nothing more than a slice of pizza, in the process, he ends up getting a couple of New York citizens hurt which royally ticks Spider-man off. So with the little confrontation between the two, Firelord begins hunting Spider-man down with no signs of slowing until Spidey uses a combination of brains and brawn to beat the snot out of the former right-hand man to the galaxy’s scariest foe. And don’t be deceived by the (absolutely incredible Ron Frenz) artwork, all though Spider-man IS in his black suit, his powers aren’t enhanced as it’s not the actual symbiote, meaning Spidey took the Firelord out with only his standard set of arachnid-enhanced abilities. The only reason this balls to wall epic isn’t further up on this list is that it’s probably the most famous among the tales on this page and is not actually THAT underrated.
5: WHATEVER HAPPENED TO CRUSHER HOGAN (The Amazing Spider-man (1963) #271)
Well, would you just look at that? Roger Stern and Ron Frenz must have been doing something right when they delivered this sensational story right after the last entry on this very list! Whatever happened to Crusher Hogan is the only issue of Amazing Spider-man that made me cry (yep, I’m man enough to admit it). Crusher Hogan is, of course, the brutish wrestler Peter Parker fought all those years ago in Amazing Fantasy #15. Unfortunately for Crusher, these days he’s a caretaker of a wrestling ring under the ownership of Man-slaughter, a big ol’ tough guy akin to tombstone or kingpin. Crusher tells these wonderful stories to the kids training there about how he trained Spider-man and gave him his web-shooters and the like. So when Spider-man shows up to take down Man-slaughter, the pair finally reunite. Although Crusher’s stories were all nothing more than fables, Spider-man gives Crusher vindication for his hard work and tells all the kids at the gym that Crusher really was Spidey’s mentor, they shake hands and Crusher was brought to tears, truly one of the most beautiful and heart-warming stories in Spidey history. If you can find this issue in the wild, I promise you that you won’t regret picking it up.
Remember when I was talking about the relaunched Peter Parker: Spider-man title? I said the majority of it was just long box fillers but there were some highlights. This story is one such highlight. A very, very high, light. Written yet again by Zeb Wells and again featuring the Sandman, this is probably the most fun, and funniest Spidey book ever, and when you’ve got an artist as cool as Jim Mahfood (GRRL SCOUTS author) there’s no way you can go wrong. If you want an absolutely hilarious story about the Sandman invading an MTV beach house equivalent with a certain web-slinger thrown into the mix, this is one story you don’t want to miss out on!
3: A MATTER OF FAITH (Taken from Spider-man: Holiday Special 1995)
It’s Christmas Eve, and Ben Reilly is taking out the trash in the New York City allies. (Yep, Ben Reilly, What did I say about the clone saga, eh?) On his patrol he sees that a woman is falling off the side of the Queenborough bridge, he instinctively swings in to save her but once they land safely on the ground, for the first time in Spidey’s career, he doesn’t get a thank you because tragically, the poor lady didn’t actually want to be saved. Sadly, the woman jumped off, so Spider-man decides he’s gonna show her around the city in an attempt to lift her Spirits, but on their tour, the D-list super-villain Scorcher shows up on the streets of times square! Spidey and the villain do battle but when some debris is flying straight for a member of the on-looking crowd, the woman heroically jumps in and saves them. Ben is able to teach Jenny (the lady’s name) that life is beautiful and worth living. Spidey is able to leave Jenny with a more hopeful output on life as they wish each other a merry Christmas. I myself have never actually heard anybody talk about this story, ever. So if YOU, o’ humble reader, see this, then hopefully you’ve discovered a story you weren’t formally aware of (or maybe you just know everything).
2: THE LOST YEARS (Spider-man: the lost years (1995)
Once more, we venture into the divisive clone saga for one of the most straight-up awesome Spider-man stories ever. Written by Spider-man vet J.M Demattias (Kraven’s last hunt, c’mon) and penciled by Spidey legend John Romita JR. The lost years take place in the five years in-between the original clone saga in the ’70s and its 90’s counterpart. Centering around Ben Reilly and his ‘brother’ Kaine, these issues tell two sides of the same story in an unexplainably awesome fashion. I won’t spoil it, but this book reads like a thriller novel. We’re given all the tropes of a great Tom Cruise movie and it works like a charm. If you have a day or two to spare on a shorter Spider-man series, this is it! You don’t even need to know anything going into it whatsoever except that it’s not Peter Parker we’re following, but his clone. Stunning art and a stellar story, what could possibly go wrong? The lost years is one Spider-man storyline you’ll never forget.
1: THE COLLABORATOR (Spider-man’s tangled web (2002) #15)
Here we are, number one on this list. So that means that in my opinion, at least, this should be the best and yet most underappreciated Spider-man comic book ever. Well friends, I truly believe that this is it. The collaborator is the greatest Spider-man comics book of all time.
It’s not just the best-underrated one, I can honestly say that this is the best. Ever. Master of independent comics Paul Pope joins marvel for a one-shot story for Marvel’s criminally overlooked tangled web title which tells the tale of a teenage girl who absolutely adores Spider-man, more than anything in the world. Unfortunately, her father doesn’t share the same opinion. But when the daughter is caught in the middle of a super-powered attack, Spider-man appears on the scene, on one page only, for the girl to tell him where the Villain went. Don’t worry, I’m not going to ruin the end for you because you owe it to yourself to hunt this book down like it was dinner for tonight. The sheer brilliance of this story lies in the fact that it is a Spider-man comic book through and through and yet he appears on one solitary page, in silence. The story isn’t even about him but it shows Spider-man how he would really be. The story is crafted to make you anticipate and build your expectations for the arrival of the wall-crawler and when he shows up you find yourself awe-stricken by the sight of this hero. It’s simply Amazing, Spectacular, sensational, ultimate, one could go as far to say its Web of. When I say that you NEED to read this issue, I really mean it. Treat yourself and snatch it up. My imaginary hat goes off to Paul Pope 1000%.
And with that, we draw to the conclusion of our list. So what have we learned? That’s right, Spider-man rocks and we should read more comics. Good night!
In previous ‘Beyond’ issues, Peter Parker has been slowly recovering from radiation poisoning and at this point in the beyond storyline, he’s in a very weakened state and can barely remain consciou
The Amazing Spider-man #82
Written by: Saladin Ahmed Artwork by: Jorge Fornés
Published by Marvel comics Released – 22/12/21
Spider-Man gets spooky in this oddball issue of the Amazing Spider-Man as writer Saladin Ahmed teams up with eerie artist Jorge Fornés to create a one off, special issue!
In previous ‘Beyond’ issues, Peter Parker has been slowly recovering from radiation poisoning and at this point in the beyond storyline, he’s in a very weakened state and can barely remain conscious for 5 minutes. After being moved out of the ICU , Peter meets a guy in the same ward, after talking to him for only a few moments, a doctor comes and wheels him Away, Fornés manages to use his art create an off-putting tone for the issue by obscuring the doctor and he is helped by the colourist Dan Brown, choosing to use a colder colour pallet in the room.
Being wheeled away, the patient cheerfully says goodbye to Pete as MJ enters the room to visit. Midway through the conversation, the mysterious Doctor, whose face is still hidden tells the wife of the other patient that he was never registered to the hospital, which is evidence enough this Doc is one bad dude. Another nice bit of attention to detail is that the panels showing the outside of the ward displays mostly warm colours, just a nice touch to emphasise the dark, cold feeling of the room. Pete notices the doctors lies but before he can say anything, he falls asleep.
Finally, the doctor enters the page on full display, a grotesque looking man with blood red eyes, it’s such an exciting moment as you see the villain of the story emerge, looking just as you’d expect. Great stuff. The doctor clears MJ out if the room and takes another woman from the ward, unbeknownst to her, his intentions are far more sinister then he let’s on and as she’s wheeled away. Peter tries to stop him but he moves to fast, jolting into pain and fading into unconsciousness. Ahmed is surprisingly good at knowing how to build tension in readers through his storytelling like in a movie when the main character has solved the mystery but is helpless to do anything about it.
When Parker awakens, the doctor decides it’s time to take him away and wheels him through the hospital, taking him to the abandoned -2 level. These pages are riddled with gorgeously morbid images of subtly uncomfortable panels such as The use of shadows the doctor emits which show him to look even more disgusting then he himself does and the Dutch angle shots, symbolising a sense of uneasiness . Once the doctor reaches his destination, he gives some exposition to Peter and shows him a pile of bones (presumably from the other patients) before walking into the darkness to emerge as a giant demon monster thing! In its creepy glory, it prepares to star eating Spider-man as it tells him about its weakness (which is incredibly stupid, I mean c’mon man he’s Spider-man you should know that’s a bad idea even if you don’t know he’s Spider-man). He says that light causes him pain which helps out MJ a lot, who was spying on the pair and flashes the monster with her phone, temporarily stunning it!
Leading him into a room of lights, she manages to set the creature on fire and burn it to a crisp in a particularly horror movie fashion. I just have to mention the colours once again, they make this scene so much more energetic from the moody blues of the abandon corridors to the blinding light of the fire, it’s probably one of the best colour jobs marvel have put out in a while. And sticking to the horror movie tropes, the two treat the whole fiasco like its no big deal and move on.
After that, we get a little epilogue with Misty Knight and Coleen Wing in the sewers, stumbling upon the lizard. This weird little spinoff in the beyond saga is the only part I don’t really understand. I mean, why are they there? I’ve tried to find other books they’re in to try and piece together their involvement but this is it. They just show up in random spots with no explanation. Weird, right?
Overall, this book is a special one, it was a really great one off read with great atmospheric writing, art and colour similar to stylish horror movie from the 70’s. This issue really impressed me and I hope we can get more off shoot stories like this in Spidey’s future. Next time, we stay with Peter in an issue Marvel says contains “on of the biggest moments in Spider-man history!”, Be here! 10/10 (wow!)
Reading ‘In my Infancy’ part 3, we open on a scene with Nightmare Nurse offering a warning to Peacemaker which serves as a strong reminder of the true nature of what Levi Kamei has become.
The Swamp Thing #8
Written by: Ram V Art: Mike Perkins Colours: Mike Spicer Letters: Aditya Bidikar
Published by DC Comics Released – October 2021
With the cover of issue 8, Mike Perkins and Mike Spicer bring a new, twisted meaning to the notion of becoming one with nature. We see the suggestion of Swamp Thing in the throes of emergence or rebirth, his features in a tortured scream as he regenerates from within an ancient tree in the Kaziranga forest. Perkins’ tangled, twisted lines are used to great effect here and are made all the more unsettling by Spicer’s unusual colour choices. We’re very much transported to the setting before we even open up the book.
Reading ‘In my Infancy’ part 3, we open on a scene with Nightmare Nurse offering a warning to Peacemaker which serves as a strong reminder of the true nature of what Levi Kamei has become. Her words are punctuated as we turn to the spectacular title page, depicting a ‘rumble in the jungle’ between Swamp Thing and Chemo. It’s a double page spread straight out of an old monster flick or kaiju movie, and is yet further proof of the quality of this title.
In order to save Kaziranga Forest and himself, Levi/Swamp Thing must now face the remaining members of The Suicide Squad along with powerful memories, not all his own. As he is ambushed by a frenzied Parasite, we see Parasite’s grim origin (featuring further DC cameos). This segues into a sequence of Levi’s memories as the two combatants share an osmosis of recollection.
It’s an interesting and uniquely ‘Swamp Thing-esque’ way to resolve a showdown, and while the two brutish forms still go toe-to-toe, the real battle is fought in the mind. In what proves to be an issue jam packed full of action and revelation, Levi then goes on to face not only Peacemaker but his brother too, who bears a warning and hints of the larger tapestry at work.
In a run that has been unfailingly good in every way, this issue stands as perhaps one of the most ‘non-stop’ reads. Certainly, the Swamp Thing versus Suicide Squad element of the ‘In my Infancy’ story has been full of crowd pleasing moments (particularly in light of Peacemaker’s appearance in the recent DC film). But while Ram V writes to entertain, filling each page with cool stuff, he also gives us food for thought, each and every time. That’s one of the really great things about his work.
In a similar way, the work of his teammates, from the art of Perkins and Spicer to the ever-inventive lettering of Aditya Bidikar can be appreciated on a number of levels. There’s the initial read-through that gives the ‘wow’ factor, and then there’s the times when you look again and see the really clever things going on throughout.
Swamp Thing #8 is a superb comic, being hugely worthy of the series’ reputation. It’s an ongoing testament to the remarkable talent of its creators that we get to read something exciting, cerebral and immediately relevant to our current world. I recommend you take a trip to The Green, maybe even stay a while. You’ll be glad you did.
Tales of the Dark Multiverse: Batman: Knightfall #1 is part of a 10-issue series that puts a new spin on some of the biggest events in DC comics history, by looking at them from alternative realities, where all the wrong choices were made.
Writers: Scott Snyder and Kyle Higgins Art: Javier Fernandez Colors: Alex Guimaraes Letters: Clayton Cowles
Released: 16/10/19 Published by DC Comics
The first single issue comic book that ever I bought, as opposed to a collected edition graphic novel or movie adaptation, was issue 19 of Batman: Shadow of the Bat. It featured a man named Jean Paul Valley, wearing a brutal looking variation of the dark knight’s costume, traipsing around like he was Batman. I was so offended by this notion that I scratched a mark across the front cover of that very comic book. Little did I know at the time, that the long running story-line (Knightfall, Knightquest and Knight’s End) of which that issue was but a fraction, would go on to become one of my all-time favourite Batman stories.
Something else I didn’t know at that time was that the man parading himself around as Batman, Jean Paul Valley, would go on to become a huge part of my life as a comic book reader (I own all 100 issues of the original Azrael comic book run and have written a rejected screenplay for an animated movie featuring the character’s origin story). So it goes without saying that anything featuring links to Knightfall, in particular Jean Paul and Azrael, peaks my interest big time!
Tales of the Dark Multiverse: Batman: Knightfall #1 is part of a 10-issue series that puts a new spin on some of the biggest events in DC comics history, by looking at them from alternative realities, where all the wrong choices were made. In the case of this particular story, Bruce Wayne’s Batman did not defeat Jean Paul Valley at the climax of Knight’s End, leaving Jean Paul to wage a religious war against crime for thirty years in Gotham. The result is catastrophic. Without his defeat at Bruce’s hands, Jean Paul’s instability has brought ruin to the city, whose people are now divided into two camps: those who worship “Saint Batman” and those who secretly yearn for someone to save them from Jean Paul’s tyrannical rule. That possible salvation comes in the shape of a man claiming to be the son of the super villain, Bane, as well as the highly skilled martial artist, Lady Shiva. As they lead an assault on Valley’s forces it becomes clear that victory may depend on one man; Bruce Wayne, or what’s left of him. But can thirty years of brokenness be overcome by the former Dark Knight?
Writers Scott Snyder and Kyle Higgins do a great job here of capturing the flavour of the Batman comics from the 90’s. If you look at where the character of Jean Paul was at the time in which this story kicks off (a slave to “the system” seeing visions of “Saint Dumas”) then it’s logical to assume that the path he might head down would be not too dissimilar to what we get here.
There is a tendency, for anyone who isn’t named Dennis O’Neil, to write Jean Paul as a religious nut-job with a psychopathic personality. Check out a recent iteration of the character depicted in the pages of Legends of the Dark Knight for a prime example. But to do so is to strip him of all the growth he achieved as a character during the years that O’Neil was writing him after the events of Knightfall. It takes him twenty steps backwards and fails to understand what O’Neil was doing with the character. But Snyder and Higgins set their story at the perfect moment in time to justify taking Jean Paul down the kind of rabbit hole that most other writers should be trying to avoid. For this reason I am able to go on the journey willingly as we see what might have been.
Snyder and Higgins focus on one of the key aspects of Jean Paul’s character that O’Neil was always trying to explore, which was the fact that, Jean Paul’s father not really having been there for him means that he has got some serious daddy issues. He looks for approval from the closest father figure he has had in his life, which is Bruce Wayne, without being emotionally equipped to function beyond what “the system” has programmed him for. And so he remains locked in an internal battle concerning his own identity. That was always the journey of the character that O’Neil played out. The question of, “who am I?” constantly hung on Jean Paul’s shoulders. We find Jean Paul here having decided who he is, and yet still seeking that approval from Bruce, which will never be forthcoming. It makes him a tragic figure rather than a mere nut-job playing at being Batman.
Another key influence for Snyder and Higgins appears to be Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns”. It’s a cliché these days to name that particular work as an influence. But it’s almost inescapable. If you look at where we find Bruce’s Batman at the start of TDKR, we are given an almost plausible journey to show how he became that particular version of the Batman. It’s clearly not the same, but with a few tweaks here and there, it very well could be. Gotham City certainly looks ripe for a mutant takeover by the time we reach the end.
Javier Fernandez does a great job on the art work. I love his design of Jean Paul’s evolved Batman costume. It looks like a variation on his famous Knightquest costume, with a bit more medieval knight vibes added in for good measure. Another gripe I have, besides different writers tackling the character, is with different artists who’ve come to draw Jean Paul’s Azrael over the years and their purposeful attempts to simplify his costume. The original Azrael costume, designed by Joe Quesada, is quite simply one of the best costume designs in comic book history. The iconic Az-Bats costume of the “Knightquest” era is also a particular standout for me. So it’s great to see Fernandez putting as much care and attention into making something that looks just as iconic.
This book made me yearn for the days where Jean Paul was a part of my life each month. He’s never been a particularly popular character, no doubt due to the threat he posed to the mantle of the bat. But maybe it’s time for a reappraisal of the impact this character has had upon the legacy of Batman. And maybe it’s time writers like Snyder and Higgins were encouraged to bring Jean Paul back into regular continuity with a monthly title all of his own again. On the strength of this, I’d say he deserves it.
Verdict – An absolute must-read for fans of 90’s era Batman comic books. Snyder and Higgins do a great job of re-imagining the ‘Knightfall’ legacy, without betraying the roots of the original story or it’s characters.
There are some huge moments within this issue, and the team have delivered some pitch-perfect work here. It’s a gripping and satisfying end to an excellent story…
Written by: Phillip Kennedy Johnson (Superman), Sean Lewis (Tales of Metropolis)
Art: Daniel Sampere (Superman), Sami Basri (Tales of Metropolis) Colours: Adriano Lucas (Superman), Ulises Arreola (Tales of Metropolis) Letters: Dave Sharpe (Superman & Tales of Metropolis)
Published by DC Comics Released – 28/9/21
The sixth and seemingly final part of the ‘Warworld Rising’ saga brings us a cover depicting ‘The Goodbye!’, words which can be read in a number of ways, as we see Superman leaving not only Lois and Jon but the Justice League too, if the headline on the paper at Jon’s feet is to be believed. In the wake of events during the stand-off between Atlantis and the surface dwellers, this is not too surprising. It’s a great cover from Daniel Sampere and Alejandro Sanchez, capturing the emotional departure of Superman perfectly.
Reading on and we’re straight into the action as Jon and Supergirl take on Thao-La while Superman whisks Lois to safety. The ensuing explosive battle is complicated further by Mongul’s ongoing insidious interference and eventually leads to Clark seeing this particular nemesis face-to-face.
As Superman and family have a brief respite to recover from the events set in motion by Mongul, discussion turns to what happens next, both within his family and with his ‘other family’, the Justice League. The League visit the Fortress to check on all concerned and confirm that, as things stand, they cannot accompany Superman to Warworld. Batman and Superman share a quiet word, alluding to a second team (this further outlined in Batman/Superman and The Authority #1) while Bruce expresses concern for his friend, Clark.
What follows for the rest of this final chapter are emotional scenes of farewell as Clark says goodbye to Jon and then Lois ahead of his departure for Warworld, with his backup team being fully revealed on the closing page.
In writing this series, Philip Kennedy Johnson has always done an incredible job of balancing plot and character development with spectacular action scenes. We have a huge amount going on each issue and yet never feel overwhelmed. He’s a talented storyteller, juggling a good number of characters, settings and events and weaving a cohesive whole as he goes.
Meanwhile, Dave Sharpe has always supported and enhanced the work of each writer on both main and back-up titles through clear, clever and effective lettering and this issue is no exception. It’s always a pleasure to read when Mr. Sharpe is helping guide our way.
Further guiding us are the excellent panel layouts, which hold some of the most striking art you could hope to see in a superhero title. Daniel Sampere conveys super humans in really effective ways, with dynamic poses, judicial use of exaggerated anatomy and clean, confident line work. The end result is stunning, especially when paired with gorgeous colour work from Adriano Lucas. This issue in particular is a stand-out one for Mr. Lucas, as he takes the spectrum and makes it his own, using light to reinforce the emotional impact of each scene.
There are some huge moments within this issue, and the team have delivered some pitch-perfect work here. It’s a gripping and satisfying end to an excellent story.
Replacing Midnighter as the backup story is ‘Tales of Metropolis’. Our first tale is ‘The Guardian’, brought to us by a team who seem ready to have a lot of fun. In this opening story, they mine the rich vein of urban myth and folklore and emerge with something very much of the present day. We join Jimmy Olsen in detective mode, with trench coat to boot, as he investigates stories of kids getting involved in something called the ‘Cloud Game’ and subsequently going missing.
It’s clear something dark and dangerous is afoot, and so he enlists the help of Guardian. As more kids fall prey to the high-tech ouija board and the malevolent villain Dismember, Olsen and Guardian race to save them and stop the situation from getting worse.
This is a strong opener for Tales of Metropolis. The story is fast paced and well written, with convincing dialogue and a good sense of character from the pen of writer Sean Lewis. Olsen’s narration via internal monologue works well here, serving to take us down those mean streets of Metropolis with him as he searches for the missing kids.
Art is dynamic and expressive, with a clean, well executed style which renders the characters in a really pleasing way. As I look at Sami Basri and Ulises Arreola’s work, I see some hints of manga/anime influences blended in with a distinctly modern western style and, especially when considered along with the colours, the art could easily be the basis for the look of another run of animated shorts (Tales of Metropolis was a series of animated shorts featuring some of said city’s more notable characters). Basri’s characters are lively and engaging, and each panel has gorgeous and vivid colours from Arreola, making for a great first outing.
Here’s an issue where we see the close of one story and greet the start of another. It’s an easy recommendation, as the closing of Superman’ story contains some unforgettable and classic moments. Meanwhile, the new Jimmy Olsen and Guardian tale has plenty to offer and feels both a contrast and compliment to the lead story. Action Comics remains a really nice title in the DC lineup. If you haven’t done so before, consider jumping on board, as new storylines begin.
Alien #2’s cover of a ghostly Alien (Xenomorph) super-imposed on our protagonist, Gabe, had me eagerly anticipating what kind of direction this new story was going to develop.
In the first issue we learned that Gabe had been cocooned by xenomorphs in the past and his experience had been instrumental in the ongoing research at the Weyland-Yutani Epsilon station. Issue #2 Return to Epsilon Station opens with a time line summary of events that bring us up to speed with all things Alien up to this point.
Spoilers ahead!!! The plot development by Phillip Kennedy Johnson is engaging and progresses at a good pace. It is recognizably Alien franchise in nature, yet has a more Weyland-Yutani focussed twist to its development. Gabe has to return to Epsilon station having only recently been forced into retirement. Danny, his son, has broken into Epsilon Station with his girlfriend the leader of some anti Weyland-Yutani extremists called the Minute Hand Movement. Gabe may be Danny’s only chance of escape from almost certain death, either as a result of a “catastrophic systems failure”, (a cover up to burn up everything and everyone on Epsilon Station), or at the mercy of a new xenomorph threat that Gabe has helped create and that Danny has released.
Gabe isn’t given much of a choice when he first learns of his son’s transgressions. He would prefer to embark on the mission with five synths (androids). Instead he’s given two wet behind the ears, cocky and ill prepared human agents. The clock is ticking, it’s over 32 hours since Danny boarded Epsilon station. Gabe has to race to face the threat and bring home the company’s prized asset, the ALPHA EMBRYO.
Gabe’s interactions with the company’s agents cement him as a no nonsense salty dog who isn’t easily riled. The flashbacks to his past provide good character depth around his traumatic experiences at the claws of the xenomorphs. Gabe having to get back into the ring with a frightening foe was reminiscent of Ripley returning to LV426 in the face of trauma for the second Alien film. I really loved a beautifully choreographed xenomorph kill in the middle of this issue. A headstrong, naive and foolhardy agent rushes after a face hugger who attacks from a ceiling tile. Seeing the face hugger enter in this fashion and the impaled agent on an intercepting xenomorph tail is iconic Alien imagery. I recalled Bishop at the end of the Aliens film. The rib removal in this scene was a delightfully gory death on the back of a thrilling piece of action.
Having set up up a new experimental xenomorph outbreak in issue one, the story opens with a frightened girl and her grandpa bathed in emergency lighting red. Outside there is chaos and the sounds of what may be xenomorphs. We are propelled straight into the action. The sound lettering is consistently eerie throughout this issue. The overall feel is claustrophobic, atmospheric and tense. The terror of the girl trying to find comfort in singing to herself provided a nice touch of emotional investment I thought.
Salvador Larroca (Artist) captures the instant terror of what has been released on Epsilon station to open and close this issue well by capturing well the frenzy of xenomorph encounters. Once again GURU-eFX does an outstanding job bringing the art to life, the colouring uses the perfect pallet for terror, suspense and threat lurking just out of sight. The entry to the station for Gabe and the agents is cold and shadowy. The red of the alarms framing the xenomorph encounters at the start and ending of the issue add to the overall heart pumping action. Splendid job GURU-eFX!
Larocca’s Aliens are mostly tracings or copies and this makes some appear clunky, disjointed or misplaced in their framing. The tracings do give a certain consistency to their presence There is however, so much good xenomorph art to compare Larocca to that he comes off a bit short. The tracings do leave me questioning his passion for producing Alien franchise art. Gabe is drawn inconsistently in facial features and this affects the frame continuity. I did however wonder if this may be deliberate, maybe as part of some sort of clever metamorphosis process linked to Gabe’s encounter with Aliens, a mystery illness we know little about or perhaps as a result of the experimentation he was a party to at Epsilon Station.
The lettering is perfect and flows so well that I found it a great page turner and an easy choice to subscribe for A#3 Reunion. The xenomorphs are out! There is plenty scope in this story and more twists beyond a race to save the day. Keep it rolling Marvel!
Verdict Terror, action and horror in equal measures are strung together entertainingly in this continuation of a tense and atmospheric Alien story.
After cutting themselves off from the rest of the world in recent times, the X-Men are back to protect humanity from a multitude of threats sent one by one by the hideous and menacing Cordyceps Jones…
X-MEN #2 Reviewed By Nathan Harrison
Written by: Gerry Duggan
Art: Pepe Larraz
Colours: Marte Gracia
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Some of the best science fiction out there is the sort that can impactfully and economically tell a completely standalone main story whilst also effectively driving forward a broader narrative arc – see Doctor Who, Space:1999 etc. This certainly seems to be the approach that Gerry Duggan is taking with his new run on X-Men so far and it’s proving to be a masterstroke.
After cutting themselves off from the rest of the world in recent times, the X-Men are back to protect humanity from a multitude of threats sent one by one by the hideous and menacing Cordyceps Jones. This ‘monster of the month’ method of storytelling is an incredibly effective way of re-establishing the X-Men as superheroes rather than a small part of a self-interested island nation and brings with it echoes of some of the best Saturday morning cartoons of years gone by. Duggan’s little slips into Stan Lee style narration only heighten the nostalgia and should leave any X-fan with the widest of grins on their faces.
The art from Pepe Larraz continues to be outstanding and fits perfectly with the heroic focus of Duggan’s narrative. Every panel leaps off the page, from the busiest, chaos-filled action scenes to the quietest, zoomed-in character moments as Larraz shows once again that he is the perfect artist to draw Marvel books. Marte Gracia’s colours are similarly accomplished – the brightest moments seem designed to make eyes pop out of sockets and the darker, understated panels give just the right level of spook to the surprising returning threat the X-Men face this time around.
While the bulk of the issue centres around the heroics of the team, its final few pages hint at a new and menacing threat, with ripples from events that took place right the way back at the beginning of ‘Head of X’ Jonathan Hickman’s tenure seemingly starting to spread. While the X books may have shifted from Dawn to Reign, it seems these two eras are not as distinct and separate as the marketing would suggest. Anyone in doubt about whether Hickman is still the master of the long game, watch this space.
The newest team of X-Men continue to cement themselves as the superheroes they should be in this second thrilling issue, which screams pure quality and class from its frankly stunning cover (if this isn’t used as the dust jacket for the inevitable omnibus, we riot) right through to its intriguing cliffhanger ending that throws right the way back to House of X; it seems consequences and new dangers are ahead for Marvel’s mutants. In short, this is exactly what a superhero comic should be.
The first notable thing when picking up this issue is the new logo. It’s been overhauled by Darran Robinson, who has done a great job of encapsulating (in his words) 82 years of history. It’s a logo with a modern feel which still manages to echo ages past. The cover title ‘Under Siege’ refers to some of the story to follow and pairs well with further clues reflected in the excellent cover art.
The cover is handled on this occasion by the team of Daniel Sampere (also interior artist) and Alejandro Sanchez (colours). We have Superman in a determined pose, framed by Thao-La and a great depiction of Lois channeling strong ‘Ripley from Aliens’ vibes (foreshadowing a great scene she has later in the book). All this is set against the backdrop of Atlantean preparations for war. Anyone who has been reading thus far will know by now that tensions are mounting. It’s another great cover for this run, promising a good read.
And it’s no empty promise; there’s a lot to take in during this issue, with events moving pretty quickly. ‘Warworld Rising Part 4’ opens with scenes of espionage, as we witness two high-tech camouflaged figures infiltrate the crashed alien ship held by the Atlanteans. It’s a really atmospheric sequence, which leads us headlong into a face-off now made considerably worse. As the Justice League debate events and the best course of action (in itself making for some very cool pages), Jon and Lois are meanwhile trying their best to accommodate the refugee Thao-la as she struggles to adjust to her new situation. Tensions soon escalate even further, as the surface forces of Earth and the Atlanteans teeter on the brink of war and the Warzoon attack Thao-La at the behest of Mongul and his cronies.
If this sounds like too much to take in, fear not; Phillip Kennedy Johnson has done a fine job of making sure we are never lost, instead providing us with a truly enjoyable thrill ride. He delivers on the promises of both the cover and events of preceding issues while keeping multiple plates spinning in truly entertaining fashion. The dialogue is superb throughout, often being highly emotive, and we are with both him and the characters every step of the way until the closing panel.
Daniel Sampere’s art is, once again, just what the book needs. He gives us dynamic action, imposing superheroes and dark, mysterious bad guys. He etches lines of tension into the character’s faces, and draws us further into the drama unfolding. There are numerous occasions throughout this issue where a feeling of Sampere’s original pencils shine through, something I personally love to see, as the shading lines and contours are further enhanced by subsequent inks and colours.
And what colours they are! Once again, Adriano Lucas treats us to hugely atmospheric palettes, always giving us a firm sense of place and expanding our levels of excitement. The colours are bright and dynamic and support the story perfectly.
We have more excellent colours from Taki Soma as we move on to the Midnighter story in this issue. Her choices are always fresh, and support Michael Avon Oeming’s striking art in a hugely complimentary fashion. The writing duo of Becky Cloonan and Michael W. Conrad have written a story which showcases the strengths of the medium. It’s high concept and has a touch of the bizarre yet the creative team work together so well that it entertains and impresses each and every time.
The pairing of Midnighter and Mister Miracle works very well here and introduces a comedic element that plays well through their dialogue as the action unfolds. It’s another jam packed instalment, and the creative team here ensure that every panel pops and every line engages. This Midnighter run feels very new and fresh and serves as a great companion piece to the lead story.
Dave Sharpe letters both stories again and, as ever, his work is clean, clear and well considered. It really makes a difference when a comic is as easy to read as it is to look at or scan over. Thank you, Mr. Sharpe!
Everything about issue #1033 of Action Comics impresses, from cover to closing page. We have two excellent companion titles to enjoy and are spoilt by a wealth of great art and storytelling. It’s one of those comics which has you reading along thinking, “what happens next?” while feeling no small dose of excitement. If you haven’t done so already, give Action Comics a try. There’s a lot to like here.