October 21, 2016

Bride's Story Volume 1 (2008)

In the late 19th century, a 20 year-old woman named Amir has been pushed into an arranged marriage with a nearby family along the edge of the Caspian Sea. Placed into a new community with a distinctively different culture to her own, Amir must adjust not only to a new lifestyle but to her new husband Karluk - who is only twelve years old.

Bride's Story is a historical romance manga written and illustrated by the noted manga creator Kaoru Mori. It started in 2008 and has run through eight volumes to date. In 2014 the series was awarded the prestigious Manga Taisho award, after running second back in 2011. Going by its first volume it is a remarkable work, not just in terms of its strong character writing and warm-heated tone but also in terms of its exceptional art, and the careful and honest manner in which it approaches the rather unorthodox and worrying arranged marriage at its centre. There is some discomfort in recommending people read a manga about an adult marrying a child, but Kaoru Mori has done a fantastic job with this. It is one of the most entertaining manga series I have read in some time.

October 20, 2016

The Pull List: 19 October 2016, Part 1

The "Mona Lisa" has unexpectedly changed its appearance, leading the Louvre art gallery to call in dream painter Art Brut. It turns out to be part of a much broader crisis: unexpectedly transformed paintings leading to gallery visitors to commit suicide and murder.

This is a wonderfully odd and surreal sort of comic book, reminiscent of early DC Vertigo work such as Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol and Peter Milligan's Shade: The Changing Man. In terms of more recent comparisons I'm actually getting quite a strong sense of Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra's The Manhattan Projects. The book clearly has one eye on fine art, with numerous references and inspirations thrown in, but it also does a fairly nice line in creepy horror. There's a splash page in particular featuring a mysterious child in a car and a field of cows that is about as unsettling as comics can get.

Martin Morazzo's interesting and eye-catching art style has a fairly noticeable similarity to Manhattan Projects' Pitarra, as well as regular Morrison collaborator Frank Quitely. Mat Lopes' colours are subtle and gently enhance the work without ever getting in its way.

This one's definitely for fans of Doom Patrol and/or fine art. It's rich with promise and ideas, and represents another nice original title from IDW. The more they publish original work the more I like them. As for this particular book, I think I may be hooked. (4/5)

IDW. Written by W. Maxwell Prince. Art by Martin Morazzo. Colours by Mat Lopes.

Under the cut: reviews of Star Trek: Boldly Go and well as a bonus review of last week's The Black Monday Murders.

October 19, 2016

To Live and Die in L.A. (1985)

Richard Chance (William Petersen) is an edgy Secret Service agent in Los Angeles. When his partner is gunned down during a money counterfeiting investigation, Chance becomes obsessed with taking down the elusive forger Rick Masters (Willem Dafoe). Teamed with a new partner named John Vukovich (John Pankow), Chance takes every step he can - both legal and illegal - to track down Masters and bring him to justice.

A synopsis of To Live and Die in L.A. makes it sound like an incredible crass and cliche-ridden potboiler, and to a large extent that's a fair assessment of the movie. It's a 1985 action film directed by William Friedkin that really does trade extensively on stereotype. The first half pushed my limit for tolerating this sort of silly machismo. The second half completely redeemed it, as Chance's actions grew more extreme and the film began to push off in unexpected directions.

This is not top-tier Friedkin; the director's earlier works include The French Connection, The Exorcist and Sorcerer, after all, and To Live and Die in L.A. would have to be pretty formidable to hit those peaks. It is a smartly directed film, however, and some clever direction and typically strong editing help to make it much more than the sum of its parts.

October 18, 2016

Lego The Lord of the Rings (2012)

So some years ago Lego started releasing construction toys based on the Star Wars films, and some years after that somebody had the bright idea of turning them into a videogame. Lego Star Wars was an unexpected delight, combining the appeal of both the science fiction movie franchise and the perennially popular Lego bricks into one package. Buoyed by success, the developer Traveller's Tales arguably went a little bit overboard, releasing such videogames as Lego Indiana Jones, Lego Batman, Lego Pirates of the Caribbean, Lego Harry Potter and Lego Marvel's The Avengers. To be honest there were only a certain number of trips to the well before the concept grew tired, and whatever number that was I am betting it was less than the number of Lego-branded games that have been released.

So in among all of these pop culture adaptations came Lego The Lord of the Rings, based on the three films directed by Peter Jackson. Like most of the Lego games it was released to multiple gaming platforms. I decided to sample the Nintendo 3DS version, since I have been enjoying using the console recently and had never tried a handheld version of a Lego game before.

The Pull List: 12 October 2016, Part 3

Britannia is two issues in, and it is already standing out as one of the most interesting books that Valiant has published. The current iteration of the imprint took pre-existing superhero franchises and re-invigorated them with good writers and artists, and it has since been slowly expanding that "Valiant Universe" into some interesting and provocative directions - the recent 4001 AD miniseries, for example, was straight-up science fiction of a style usually seen in Metal Hurlant. Britannia, on the other hand, heads firmly in the other direction. It tells a horror story in 1st century Britain, as a Roman investigator finds himself neck deep in Rome-versus-Britain violence and mind-warping demonic creatures.

It feels like a real break from the existing Valiant line-up, and not just a break but an opening: I am really keen for the company to keep pushing in this direction. New genres, strong writing and artwork, and handsomely packaged issues. This book doesn't just read well, it feels good in the hands. The paper is high quality, the colours are printed richly and it comes inside a beautiful matt finish cardstock cover. The content matches the packaging as well. The storyline is gripping and beautifully researched, the art is distinctive and atmospheric, and Jordie Bellaire's colours are some of the strongest work I've seen her do. This is a great comic book. (5/5)

Britannia #2. Valiant. Written by Peter Milligan. Art by Juan Jose Ryp. Colours by Jordie Bellaire.

Under the cut: reviews of Daredevil, The Sheriff of Babylon, and Southern Cross.

October 17, 2016

A Fish Called Wanda (1988)

A team of bank robbers undertake a jewel robbery, only for two of them to double-cross the others and land the leader George (Tom Georgeson) in police custody. They subsequently discover George relocated the loot before he was arrested, sending the duplicitous Wanda (Jamie Lee Curtis) on a mission to seduce George's barrister Archie (John Cleese) - so long as her idiot ex-CIA lover Otto (Kevin Kline) stays out of the way. Meanwhile George dispatches his stuttering offsider Ken (Michael Palin) to assassinate the sole witness who can identify him in court.

A Fish Called Wanda was a huge commercial hit back in 1988, managing to not only become a success in the United Kingdom but breaking out to an international audience as well. It won a pile of awards, notably a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Kevin Kline, and is regularly cited in 'best comedies' lists by audiences and film critics alike. It seemed well worth returning to the film and seeing how it has fared 28 years on.

In short, A Fish Called Wanda remains a comic masterpiece. It is an enormously funny comedy that benefits from strong performances and characters, a tight and focused storyline, great jokes and gags, and a really well defined sense of purpose. I think it is one of the best comedy features ever made.

October 16, 2016

The Pull List: 12 October 2016, Part 2

This week Marvel's ongoing comic series Darth Vader came to a close, after 25 issues tracking the character's transition from the disgraced lieutenant who got the Death Star destroyed at the climax of Star Wars to the all-powerful fleet commander seen at the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back. It has been a remarkably good series - not just great by the standards of a movie tie-in, but genuinely one of the best comics that Marvel has published over the last two years.

In this climactic issue Vader has his final showdown with Cylo, the treacherous scientist appointed by the Emperor as his replacement. At the same time there is also the matter of Dr Aphra, the renegade archaeologist that Vader hired to help track down Luke Skywalker - and who now knows far too much to survive. It is all wrapped up in the sensational art of Salvador Larroca and the colours of Edgar Delgado, the creative team that has worked on the entire 25-issue run with Gillen.

The key to this book's success is that Gillen has never lost sight of the fact that Darth Vader is a murderous villain. We root for him, and we enjoy watching him overthrow his enemies, but he never shows love or forgiveness and he will kill anyone in his way without hesitation. Gillen managed to tie in a lot of rich material from the film sequels, which surprised and delighted, but he never lost sight of what sort of character Vader was. That pretty much cemented the book's quality throughout. This is a great finale, and wraps up the title at a creative height: more comic books should do this. (5/5)

Darth Vader #25. Marvel. Written by Kieron Gillen. Art by Salvador Larroca and Max Fiumara. Colours by Edgar Delgado and Dave Stewart.

Under the cut: reviews of Descender, Doom Patrol and The Fuse.

Star Trek: Voyager: "Heroes and Demons"

It is 24 April 1995, and time for another episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

When three officers go missing on Voyager's holodeck, the Doctor (Robert Picardo) is sent into a simulation of the medieval epic Beowulf to find out what happened to them. While he prepares to fight the demon Grendel, outside the holodeck the crew stumble upon a previously-undiscovered and energy-based life form.

You really have to question why holodecks and holosuites were never banned by the United Federation of Planets. Whether in Voyager, The Next Generation or Deep Space Nine, they seem to constantly malfunction, misfire or generally threaten the lives of Starfleet officers. It is a running joke among Star Trek fans, since they really do seem to malfunction more often than they work. One wonders who on Earth would willingly use one. It was inevitable that Voyager would get around to a holodeck episode; my only surprise is that they go there so soon.