May 25, 2015

Angels & Demons (2009)

Don't think. That's pretty much the core requirement to enjoy Angels & Demons, Ron Howard's 2009 adaptation of the popular Dan Brown novel. I read the novel back in 2006 while on a lengthy holiday in Europe. I was aware of Brown by repute - hugely popular, badly written, and so on - and figured it would be a silly and enjoyable read. To an extent it was, although the enjoyment was largely gained by reading select passages aloud to my wife and laughing as she accused me of making them up.

The plot, which if you've not read the book nor seen the film I promise you is not a lie: the Pope has died, and when the assembled Cardinals are locked inside the Vatican to elect his replacement the four most likely candidates are kidnapped. At the same time the kidnapper has hidden an anti-matter bomb somewhere on the premises. It's all down to Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), a Harvard professor of symbology, to track down the kidnapped Cardinals, find the bomb and save the day.

Star Trek: Enterprise: "The Aenar"

It's 11 February 2005, and time for Star Trek: Enterprise.

Analysis of the brain waves of the Romulan drone's controller reveal it to be similar but not identical to an Andorian. This prompts Commander Shran to reveal the existence of the Aenar, a white-skinned, blind and telepathic sub-species of Andorian living in isolation on his home planet. While Shran and Archer attempt to contact the reclusive Aenar, T'Pol, Trip and Dr Phlox work to develop a device that can enable them to hijack and deactivate the drone when it resurfaces.

Much of this episode takes a rather different tack to the previous two parts, and that's probably a good thing. We've had two weeks of diplomacy and cloaked Romulan attacks, so this third time around a lot of time is spent in ice caves on Andoria. It's a decent plot thread: the Aenar, when we meet them, are interesting and engaging, and the storyline showcases a different and refreshing side to Shran. In many ways it's rather unfortunate how fascinated Enterprise's writers are with Shran, because they're writing such good material for him while neglecting half of the series' regular cast. We're only a dozen episodes or so from the end of the entire series, so I'm assuming Mayweather's chance to be fleshed out and given some actual material has pretty much run out.

May 23, 2015

Judging the DCU: April 2015

April 2015 is an odd month for DC Comics. Here's why. The publisher is moving its offices for the first time, shifting everybody from New York to Los Angeles. The move is intended to align the company more closely with Warner Bros, who own DC in its entirety and have a lot of intellectual property invested in what DC publishes. Shifting the whole enterprise coast-to-coast is major disruption, however, so rather than try and edit and publish its entire line at the same time DC created Convergence.

In short, Convergence is a weekly miniseries backed up by 40 new two-issue comic books published in April and May. These two-issue series each bring back older storylines and continuities from DC's long history, mashes them together and makes them fight. As a self-contained two-month storyline, Convergence could be edited and managed by a temporary team leaving all of the regular DC editorial staff time to make the move, settle in, and get a solid head start on what the company has planned for the second half of the year. Putting aside the actual storyline of Convergence, which has by-and-large not been well liked by critics or readers, you might think this was actually a pretty clever idea. It's not: it's a terrible idea, and DC has thrown money away by doing it. Here's why.

May 22, 2015

The Pull List: 20 May 2015, Part III

I made a terrible mistake. I had become increasingly bored by the glacial storytelling and constant disappointment of Miles Morales: The Ultimate Spider-Man. Despite loving the character and reading Miles' adventures since the debut of Ultimate Comics Spider-Man a few years back I had made the choice that this was the end, and I couldn't waste money on reading such irritating comics any more. Then Marvel released this, the first issue of a final Ultimate Universe mini-series, and I figured I could find it within myself to give Bendis one more chance with the character - a last hurrah, if you will.

I made a terrible mistake.

Ultimate End #1 is a confidence trick: a book that promises to close off the Ultimate Universe yet focuses instead on the massive Secret Wars cross-over that Marvel has been publishing this past month. It doesn't have a proper opening or introduction: instead you're thrown into an angry debate between a dozen or more self-similar superhero duplicates. It doesn't even appear to have Miles Morales in it. It does have Peter Parker's Spider-Man, but it took me half the issue to work out whether Bendis was writing the original Marvel Universe Parker or the identical Ultimate Universe clone Peter who had prominently appeared in the last few issues of Miles Morales.

Mark Bagley does a great job illustrating the book, but in all honesty who cares? Without having read Secret Wars in advance, this book is patently unreadable. And that's the bare minimum I expect from a comic book: a comprehensible story. Not even a good one - just one I can read. And this, as I've said, is unreadable. (1/5)

Under the cut: the final reviews for this week, including Daredevil, Doctor Who, Jem and the Holograms and Usagi Yojimbo.

May 21, 2015

The Pull List: 20 May 2015, Part II

Since April 1995 Adrian Tomine has been writing and drawing Optic Nerve on one of the slowest schedules of pretty much any major comic book. Not that he's been any kind of slouch: in between he's written and illustrated a raft of acclaimed graphic novels as well as extensive work for The New Yorker. This week the 14th issue of Optic Nerve was finally published, and it's predictably an absolute knock-out.

In "Killing and Dying" a father and his teenage daughter struggle to relate to one another as she embarks on an attempted career as a stand-up comedian. It's a perfectly observed character piece, told through dialogue and a stream of tiny panel layouts. It's deeply melancholic, and almost perversely banal, but page by page it wins you over, making you relate very deeply to both the daughter and her awkward, constantly wrong-footed father.

In "Intruders" a man desperate to reconnect to his past life uses a spare set of keys to break into his old apartment while it's new resident is at work. It's a much darker story, presented in a heavily narrated fashion, and has sharply different tone and aesthetic to "Killing and Dying". It's testament to Tomine's talent that two vastly different comics can be released in the same single issue.

Comics like this demonstrate just how versatile the comic book medium is. Why I can't deny I have a lot of love for superhero adventure books, it's so refreshing to read something like this now and again to remind myself just how great the medium can be. This is easily one of the best comic books I've read this year. (5/5)

Optic Nerve #14. Drawn & Quarterly. Story and art by Adrian Tomine.

Under the cut: reviews of Bloodshot Reborn, Convergence: Hawkman, The Fly: Outbreak, Ninjak and Winterworld: Frozen Fleet.

Star Trek: Enterprise: "United"

It's 4 February 2005, and time for Star Trek: Enterprise.

Captain Archer struggles to salvage the Andorian-Tellarite peace negotiations in the face of overwhelming odds: a Romulan drone ship is still roaming the area, with Trip and Reed still trapped onboard, and Commander Shran's first officer and lover has been killed by one of the Tellarites, leading him to demand revenge. There's only one way to track down the drone ship, and that method will require ships from the humans, Vulcans, Tellarites and Andorians. That level of interplanetary cooperation has never previously been achieved.

"United" is the second part of Enterprise's "Babel One" trilogy, and combines action - both space battles and fisticuffs - with generous helpings of Star Trek historical lore. While the series is continuing to swallow its own tale with continuity references, and I think this episode might contain the densest collection yet, it's managing to be entertaining sci-fi adventure at the same time. To an extent this episode's all "inside baseball", but given that the hardcore were pretty much the only ones left watching the series at this stage that's not necessarily the disaster it could be.

May 20, 2015

The Pull List: 20 May 2015, Part I

It's always good to see Dirk Gently get more attention. Douglas Adams wrote two Dirk Gently novels - Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency and The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul - and while they never gained the popular appeal of his Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy works I always felt they were actually much better books. Now the character is making a fresh jump to comic books in an all-new ongoing series from IDW.

This first issue does an outstanding job of adapting the character with a story that seems right up Adams' alley: an Englishman in San Diego, amateur serial killers, and revived Egyptian mummies all thrown into one complicated string of interconnected things.

If there's one major criticism, it's that Dirk himself has undergone a bit of a redesign: less overweight redhead and more, well, David Tennant's Doctor Who, basically. Asides from that, this strikes me as the best adaptation of the character I've seen. (4/5)
IDW. Written by Chris Ryall. Art by Tony Akins.
 Under the cut: reviews of Empire: Uprising, Kaijumax and The X Files.

Robin of Sherwood: "The King's Fool"

It's 26 May 1984, and time for the Season 1 finale of Robin of Sherwood.

Robin (Michael Praed) rescues a Norman knight (John Rhys Davies) from bandits in Sherwood. The following morning the knight reveals himself to be Richard Lionheart, King of England, returned from his ransomed captivity in Germany, When the King pardons Robin and his men, and Sir Guy of Gisburne is disgraced, it seems as if everything is going to end happily for once - but how long can this new peace last?

In many traditional Robin Hood stories, the arrival of King Richard signifies the end of the narrative: his arrival back in Britain heralds a return to the normal order, and a restoration of justice and fairness for the people. As a result it's not a surprise to see Richard turn up in this season finale. What is a surprise is where the episode goes from there: this isn't the noble, people-loving king of legend. This is Richard Lionheart, a militaristic absentee monarch whose only interest in returning to Britain was to raid its coffers for more war money.