April 26, 2017

Colditz: "The Guests"

It is 28 January 1974, and time for another episode of Colditz.

Three British commandos are captured and locked up in Colditz's attached general prison. Colonel Preston (Jack Hedley) agitates for their transfer into the prison camp properly, aware that an order from Hitler has decreed all captured commandos be executed. In an unexpected act of generosity it is Major Horst Mohn (Anthony Valentine) - a proud member of the Nazi Party - who comes to Preston's aid. When the British prisoners enact a plan to help the three commandos escape, the true motive behind Mohn's generosity comes to light.

One thing that Colditz has done tremendously well is its way of representing the gradual passage of the war. It is represented in comments and exchanges of dialogue, but also in the slow and ominous way that the series has darkened in tone. Here we have Hitler's orders defying the Geneva Convention entirely - prisoners are now no longer confined to camps, but may readily be shot.

April 25, 2017

Riverdale: "The River's Edge"

In the all-American small town of Riverdale, the community reels from the disappearance on the river of popular high schooler Jason Blossom. As school returns troubled teen Archie Andrews (KJ Apa) finds himself wedged between classmates Veronica Lodge (Camila Mendes) and Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart), while his father Fred (Luke Perry) and Veronica's mother Hermione (Marisol Nichols) reveal a past connection.

Everything old becomes new again, and given the huge success that the American TV network the CW has enjoyed with its growing range of DC Comics adaptations it is little surprise that they might expand their focus to adapting other popular slices of comic book culture. Riverdale is an update of the Archie comics. They have recently enjoyed a widely acclaimed revival in print, and so it is unsurprising that they would also now make a jump to live-action television.

The Pull List: 12 April 2017, Part 2

One of the best things about Valiant as a superhero universe is the hugely inventive manner in which they re-position and re-develop their characters. For one thing their character roster includes three immortal brothers: Gilad, of Eternal Warrior fame, Armstrong, from Archer & Armstrong, and Ivar, star of Ivar Timewalker. Now in a new one-shot all three brothers stand together, not only in Europe's Dark Ages but the court of King Arthur of Britain in Immortal Brothers: The Green Knight.

It's a smart, funny retelling of the classic myth with a good mixture of comedy and drama. It is framed by fellow Valiant hero Archer reading a story to a bedridden and sick Faith, and does a solid job of wrapping an old story around the new characters. More impressive than the story is the artwork, which is simple but hugely effective and beautifully proportioned. Brian Reber's bold colouring also helps to bring the book to life.

In the end this really is just a small piece of whimsy, but I like that Valiant offers the freedom to tell these kinds of amusing side-stories. I can see a number of these Immortal Brothers one-shots developing in the future. (4/5)

Immortal Brothers: The Green Knight #1. Valiant. Written by Fred Van Lente. Art by Cary Nord, Clayton Henry and Mark Morales. Colours by Brian Reber.

Under the cut: reviews of Invader Zim, Justice League of America, and Motor Crush.

April 24, 2017

The Pull List: 12 April 2017, Part 1

The young viking woman Aydis has succeeded in freeing the goddess Brynhild from captivity, but has been captured and kidnapped by Freya and the Valkyries for her trouble.

There is a remarkable quality to Natasha Alterici's miniseries that is quite difficult to pin down. It skirts the edge of becoming an all-out sex-filled work of erotica - particularly in this issue, which reveals a Valhalla packed with scantily-clad lesbians - yet Alterici always pulls the book back to focus on characters and story, and a rich heartfelt tone of hope. The artwork is wonderfully subtle and almost gentle in style.

Perhaps best of all is just how distinctive and unique the book seems to be. It has an enormously strong identity and style that has made it stand out against all of the other comics I have been reading this year. When the time comes to consider the year's best books, Heathen is already a top contender. (5/5)

Heathen #3. Vault Comics. Story and art by Natasha Alterici.

Under the cut: reviews of Action Comics, Batgirl and the Birds of Prey, Copperhead and Detective Comics.

April 23, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Starship Mine"

It is 29 March 1993, and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

After the Enterprise is evacuated for periodic maintenance, Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) reboards the ship - only to find it taken over by mercenaries on a raiding mission. While his command crew are held captive on a nearby planet's surface, Picard is forced to single-handedly take back his ship by force.

"Starship Mine" is an unashamed riff on the popular 1988 action film Die Hard, in which hostages are taken, a heist is performed, and a single man with a gun is forced to save the day all by himself. It is a fun episode because it provides some straight-forward action and adventure, but it is particularly fun because it does all of that with Patrick Stewart playing the man with the gun. Some episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation are science fiction masterpieces. Some provide intellectual debate on social issues. Some just run around punching and shooting people.

April 22, 2017

The Pull List: 5 April 2017

Thea continues her quest for vengeance against the Paznina war lords. In the wreckage of the rising plains, she discovers a new ally for her mission.

There is a certain kind of bleak, desolate science fiction/fantasy that particularly appeals to me in comic book form. It can be found all through the works of Moebius, and more recently in American comic books in the likes of The Spire, Prophet, Wild Blue Yonder and Planetoid. You can add to that list Extremity, a vivid and richly developed saga about a one-handed girl on a mission for revenge among the shattered remnants of her home lands.

Creator Daniel Warren Johnson has developed an intriguing and dramatic fantasy world in which Thea seeks her vengeance, and his detailed, distinctive artwork really draws the reader into that world. Colourist Mike Spicer is particularly good in this issue, making a sharp visual distinction between flashback and present events as well as the various locations revealed. For fans of speculative fiction, this book is definitely worth checking out; personally, I'm hooked. (5/5)

Extremity #2. Image. Story and art by Daniel Warren Johnson. Colours by Mike Spicer.

Under the cut: reviews of Aquaman, Batman, Eleanor and the Egret, Giant Days, Green Arrow, Spider-Man and Superman.

April 20, 2017

Yowamushi Pedal: "Human Bullet Train!!"

It is 16 December 2013, and time for the 11th episode of Yowamushi Pedal.

The day after their special training sessions, the first years discover that the senior classmen have all travelled in secret to the preliminaries of the Inter-High Championship. Not wanting to miss seeing their schoolmates compete, Onoda, Naruko and Imaizumi sneak out of school to see the race. When they arrive, they discover the Sohoku team trailing in third with 50 seconds between them and their competitors.

To an extent this episode feels like an epilogue to the first 10 episodes, since it sets up the Inter-High Championships and gives a brief taste of the rival cyclists and teams that the protagonists are going to face. On the one level it's a nice piece of set-up. On another it makes the episode feel relatively redundant, since it is just sign-posting stuff the audience is going to encounter in due course anyway.

April 7, 2017

The Pull List: 29 March 2017, Part 2

Joyride kicked off with two wayward teenagers escaping a totalitarian planet Earth, hitching a ride on a spacecraft and going to explore the galaxy. Now it turns back: the cast has expanded, with four humans on the team, and they have decided it is time to re-introduce Earth to the rest of the galaxy and overthrow the despotic regime that controls the planet.

It's a plot development that carries a lot of narrative weight, since it reverses the 'running away' motivation that drove the first story arc. It also makes this a pretty fast-paced, energetic sort of issue as a lot of story gets told in a very brief amount of time. It's almost too brief: a slightly slower pace might have allowed events to carry even more weight than they already do.

The scripting is strong as always, as is Marcus To's wonderful artwork and designs. Irma Kniivila's colours always make this comic a visually rich reading experience, and certainly this issue is no different. This continues to be a hugely entertaining science fiction adventure comic. (4/5)

Joyride #11. Boom Studios. Written by Jackson Lanzing and Colin Kelly. Art by Marcus To. Colours by Irma Kniivila.

Under the cut: reviews of Divinity III: Stalinverse, Hadrian's Wall, Justice League of America, and Ladycastle.