February 19, 2017

The Pull List: 15 February 2017, Part 2

Way back 25 years ago, when Marvel's most popular artists jumped ship to make and own their own comics, Jim Lee wrote and illustrated the hugely successful superhero team book WildCATS. That soon expanded to an entire line of superhero books under a unified imprint named Wildstorm. Eventually Lee went to work for DC Comics, selling the entire Wildstorm line to them in the process. Some of those characters were incorporated into the DC Universe as a result of the New 52 relaunch. Now that original and separate Wildstorm Universe is getting a relaunch of its own, in Warren Ellis' 24-part maxi-series The Wild Storm.

It is a clever reboot of the various characters and settings, because Ellis remixes the elements into something that feels smart, fresh and socially relevant. At the same time older readers who enjoyed earlier iterations of the characters will appreciate the little nods and touches that are included along the way. It is an intriguing first issue, with plenty of characters and set-ups to keep the title going for quite a while, and its snappy dialogue and well-crafted personalities making an immediate and positive impression.  Jon Davis-Hunt provides some tremendously effective and clean artwork, which is subtlely coloured by Ivan Plascencia. It is a hugely attractive book, visually speaking. On a creative level at least, DC look set to have another hit on their hands. (5/5)

The Wild Storm #1. DC Comics. Written by Warren Ellis. Art by Jon Davis-Hunt. Colours by Ivan Plascencia.

Under the cut: reviews of Animosity, Batwoman Rebirth, Daredevil, Doctor Strange, Poe Dameron and Spider-Man.

February 18, 2017

The Pull List: 15 February 2017, Part 1

One of the greatest strengths of the DC Universe - when its editors aren't indulging in rampant Silver Age nostalgia - is its constant creation of legacy characters: new versions of old characters that transform those personas a little a keep the various franchises fresh and interesting for readers. Two of the best in recent years have been Damian Wayne - the arrogant, aristocratic son of Bruce Wayne and Talia al Ghul - and Jonathan Kent - the bright-eyed, hopelessly optimistic son of Clark Kent and Lois Lane. One has been Robin for some years now, and the other has adopted the Superboy identity as part of DC Rebirth. Now they're sharing their own monthly comic book: Super Sons.

It's a delight. It immediately reminded me of Young Justice, a much earlier team-up book featuring a different Superboy and Robin alongside Impulse (a Kid Flash variant). It's engaging, bright and tremendously funny. Peter J. Tomasi has a long experience writing for both characters, and Jorge Jiminez's artwork perfectly captures the script's tone.

They are a fantastic pair of characters, because they are effectively exaggerated versions of their respective fathers. Superman may be the straight-laced boy scout, but Jonathan is charmingly obsessed with helping others, doing the right thing, and taking down bullies. At the same time Damian is every iconic aspect of Batman dialled up to 11. He's moody, smart, stand-offish and an expert in tactics and hand-to-hand combat. The contrast between them throws huge amounts of comic potential into the air - a potential that this creative team seem very well-suited to capture. (4/5)

Super Sons #1. Written by Peter J. Tomasi. Art by Jorge Jiminez.

Under the cut: reviews of Aquaman, Batman, Green Arrow, and Superman. It's a DC Comics fiesta!

February 17, 2017

Red Dwarf: "Officer Rimmer"

It is 13 October 2016, and time for another episode of Red Dwarf.

After an act of cowardice accidentally saves another starship, Rimmer (Chris Barrie) is promoted to lieutenant. Not only does he take the opportunity to lord it over his crewmates, he uses a captured bio-printer to replicate himself dozens of times to populate the whole of Red Dwarf with Rimmers.

As with all of the other episodes of Red Dwarf's 11th season, "Officer Rimmer" takes a bunch of old episodes and throws them into a blender. In this case the resulting mess feels deeply unpalatable - while there are a few early jokes that work incredibly well, the episode as a whole simply fails to work. You can only recycle these sorts of jokes so many times, and in the main Red Dwarf appears to have passed that limit some time ago.

February 15, 2017

The Pull List: 8 February 2017, Part 3

Deadman is one of those wonderfully charming old-school DC superheroes who is never going to be a mainstream success but who continues to foster a small, dedicated fanbase over the years. It was great to see DC give him a brief bit of exposure with the three-issue miniseries Deadman: Dark Mansion of Love, which came to a conclusion last Wednesday. It was a slightly odd format, with double-length issues published every two months - yet it was clear from their structure that it was definitely a six-issue series instead. I quite liked getting the larger chunks of story each time.

The story by Sarah Vaughn was ultimately a fairly predictable one, but it hit all the right beats to be a charming gothic horror story with a few neat contemporary touches. The real star for me was Lan Medina's artwork (aided by Phil Hester), which gave the series a wonderfully rich tone and style. Once collected into a single volume it should make a wonderful purchase for the Boston Brand devotee in your life.

I would be happy to see DC continue to publish some miniseries in this format and schedule, and give a few more semi-obscure characters a refresh. Fingers crossed that it happens soon. (4/5)

Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love #3. DC Comics. Written by Sarah Vaughn. Art by Lan Medina with Phil Hester. Colours by Jose Villarrubia.

Under the cut: reviews of Batgirl and the Birds of Prey, Detective Comics, Doctor Aphra, Motor Crush and Southern Cross.

February 14, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Aquiel"

It is 1 February 1993, and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The Enterprise arrives at a relay station lying along the Federation-Klingon border. Its crew are dead. While investigating the crime, Lt La Forge (LeVar Burton) studies the personal logs of the late Aquiel Uhnari (Renee Jones) to find any clue to what actually occurred. When Aquiel turns up alive and well and in Klingon custody, the mystery only deepens.

I have no idea why, or how it repeatedly occurred for the whole length of The Next Generation, but the series writers were fundamentally incapable of giving Geordi La Forge a normal romance. In "Booby Trap" they had him romance a hologram based on a real and unsuspecting person. In "Galaxy's Child" they had him meet the actual person he had copied, and actually have him somehow blame her for being offended - to the point where a weird creepy romance seemed to develop by the end. Here Geordi watches the personal video diary of a stranger, and then uses what he learns to chat her up. It's bizarrely awful, continuing the irregular process of making him the series' most unintentionally unlikeable character.

February 11, 2017

The Night Manager: Episode 3

Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston) has found himself stuck in Spanish island estate of billionaire-turned-arms dealer Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie). Now he has to ingratiate himself fully into Roper's service if he is to stand any chance of helping British intelligence pin him down. All the while Roper's right-hand man Major Corcoran (Tom Hollander) is watching Pine with suspicion, waiting for him to make a single mistake.

One thing you cannot fault about The Night Manager is its cast. There is not a single let-down in the entire group, whether it's Tom Hiddleston's intense, mercurial Jonathan Pine, or Tom Hollander's bitchy, predatory Corky, or Elizabeth Debicki's mysterious, brittle performance as Roper's girlfriend Jed. Each actors gives it their all, and transforms what are in the main very archetypal spy fiction characters into three-dimensional people. Sadly with this episode there are a few things to criticise about the script.

February 10, 2017

The Pull List: 8 February 2017, Part 2

The world may be ending, and the gods need to discuss what - if anything - they are going to do about it. Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie's The Wicked + the Divine has been an astonishingly good series. Sure there have been a few wavering periods, but it has always pulled itself back to feel challenging, hugely entertaining and very contemporary. It is a book for now.

We knew, as readers, that Ananke was murdering the pantheon of gods to prevent the coming of a great darkness, but then the pantheon killed Ananke. Without the required sacrifices being made, that darkness now appears to be both real and present. The beauty of this series - and this current story arc in particular - is that I have no idea where this is all going. Maybe the gods will all die. Maybe the world will simply end. Maybe they will somehow emerge victorious. I could honestly believe any of these things might happen - that's what makes WicDiv (as the fans call it) so addictive.

Jamie McKelvie's art remains sensational, with a perfect handle of character expressions and emotions. He really is one of the best in the business. (4/5)

The Wicked + the Divine #26. Image. Written by Kieron Gillen. Art by James McKelvie. Colours by Matthew Wilson.

Under the cut: reviews of All-Star Batman, Doctor Who: The 11th Doctor and Ms Marvel.

Olololop + MC Serious: Discovery (2014)

I find something rather wonderful about pop music produced in languages other than my own. It prevents me from engaging with the lyrics, since I have no ability to understand the words. Instead the vocals in any given tracks simply turn the singer's voice into another musical instrument. This seems to go double with hip hop, where the rhythm of an MC's voice essentially forms another layer of percussion. With the right musical backing it can sound positively hypnotic.

While in Taipei last October I bought a pile of North Asian independent rock and pop albums, and somewhere in the middle of the pile was Discovery (aka Hakken), a CD by Japanese electronic outfit Olololop and rapper MC Serious (Shiriashu). It is a stripped-back, staccato sort of an album, one that combines fairly minimal and experimental electronic beats with some very effective - and, to be, unintelligible, rapping. It's odd, but it's also highly addictive.