June 29, 2017

The Pull List: 21 June 2017, Part 2

Some days it seems like every media property not properly getting nailed down is being picked up and adapted into a comic book. Cartoons, old TV shows, movie franchises, and even toy lines are getting tidied up and re-developed as comics. Some have been great; the majority have been pretty ordinary, and occasionally downright awful.

When independent publisher Dynamite announced they would be producing a range of comic books based on old 1980s Atari videogames, I was immediately fairly cynical. It is ostensibly a ridiculous idea, given how simple and slight those old games were. In effect it seems little more than a branding exercise, using a name like Yar's Revenge or Centipede to attract readers of a certain age to check out an otherwise unrelated book on the comic store shelf.

Sword Quest, then, comes as a complete surprise. Rather than adapt the game itself - a simple fantasy game released over three instalments between 1982 and 1984 - writers Chad Bowers and Chris Sims have instead taken inspiration from the real-life competition that accompanied the original games' release. Players who solved the console games could write in to Atari and get shortlisted for a Sword Quest championship, the winner of whom would receive a one-off genuinely expensive jewel encrusted artefact based on the games' in-universe lore. When the fourth game in the series was cancelled the grand prize - a jeweled sword - was never actually awarded. This new comic miniseries sees one man attempt to steal it.

It is another heist comic, coming hot on the heels of the likes of 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank  and Night Owl Society, and to an extent it shares much of the DNA of those books. The artwork, by the pseudonymous Ghostwriter X, reflects that to a large degree, and the writing has a very down-to-earth and grounded quality - until the final page, at any rate. Some times a comic can really surprise you: Sword Quest is definitely one of those comics. (4/5)

Sword Quest #1. Dynamite. Written by Chad Bowers and Chris Sims. Art and colours by Ghostwriter X. Colour flats by Karl Fan.

Under the cut: reviews of All Star Batman, Darth Vader, Silver Surfer and Star Trek: Boldly Go.

June 28, 2017

Twin Peaks: Season 2 Episode 2

It is 6 October 1990 and time for the next episode of Twin Peaks Season 2.

Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) and Truman (Michael Ontkean) attempt to question the awakened Ronette Pulaski (Phoebe Augustine). Donna (Lara Flynn Boyle) meets Laura's secret friend Harold Smith (Lenny Van Dohlen). Audrey (Sherilynn Fenn) remains trapped at One-Eyed Jacks for a third straight day.

So: one plot thread at a time. Donna heads out on Laura's old Meals on Wheels route. Her stop is to an old lady who fusses over being given creamed corn when she didn't want it. No problem: her tuxedo-wearing grandson teleports it across the room and into his hands. There is no explanation given for this, and Donna seems surprisingly calm about it. It is also the beginning of a worrying trend for Twin Peaks that will come to cripple this second season: weirdness for its own sake. In the first season, even when things got delightfully surreal, there was a sense that the supernatural elements were informed by something behind the narrative. This is the first episode where it really feels like things are getting made up for their own sake. It is not a development I like.

June 27, 2017

The Pull List: 21 June 2017, Part 1

One of the things that always made me prefer DC Comics superheroes to their Marvel equivalents was the sense of legacy. Characters didn't always stick around, so when Hal Jordan stopped being Green Lantern there was Kyle Rayner to provide an alternative take. Oliver Queen was replaced as Green Arrow by his son Connor Hawke. Barbara Gordon made way for Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown. Likewise Dick Grayson retired as Robin, to be replaced by Jason Todd and Tim Drake.

A lot of that legacy got jettisoned under publisher Dan Didio, who pushed a return to the Silver Age iterations of the DC legacy heroes. That sense of history is slowly coming back, however, and nowhere does it seem more obvious than in Super Sons. The book exploits the fact that both Batman and Superman each have a son, and their starkly contrasting personalities and methods make for a great combination. Issue #5 picks up with Damian Wayne and Jonathan Kent having finished their first adventure together, but both in trouble with their fathers. Meeting up in the Batcave, they start taking their frustrations out of each other.

It's a great breather, giving room to develop character and cement the growing bond between them. Peter J. Tomasi's script has plenty of wit and snark, while guest artist Allison Borges really pushes a sense of fun about the book. It is such a pleasure to see the legacy angle revived; I can only hope the sentiment spreads to other characters. (4/5)

Super Sons #5. DC Comics. Written by Peter J. Tomasi. Art by Allison Borges. Colours by Hi-Fi.

Under the cut: reviews of Britannia, Highlander, Poe Dameron and Rapture.

June 24, 2017

The Pull List: 14 June 2017, Part 3

I keep recommending to comic book fans that I know that they should check out Valiant's range of superhero comics, since they consistently some of the most enjoyable stuff getting published these days. In particular I really enjoyed Rai, which was more of a far future science fiction story despite being set in the same fictional universe.

This month Valiant has launched the first of four one-shots, all titled The History of the Valiant Universe, and they're kicking things off with a return to Rai and his orbital home of New Japan. While it is well illustrated by Francis Portella, I am honestly not sure precisely who the market for this book is. It retells a highly truncated version of the Valiant Universe's history, but anybody who's read the storylines when they were first published will walk away a little bored and anybody who hasn't will simply be a bit confused - and likely also bored.

There are great ways into the Valiant titles - just buying volume 1 of one of the series in collected form would be enough - and this one-shot simply feels redundant. (2/5)

Rai:The History of the Valiant Universe #1. Valiant. Written by Rafer Roberts. Art by Francis Portella.

Under the cut: reviews of Copperhead, Detective Comics and Jem and the Holograms.

June 23, 2017

The Pull List: 14 June 2017, Part 2

Kill the Minotaur is a new series out from Image that uses the comic book medium to retell the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. It is far from the first attempt to adapt the story to comics, but based on the first issue it seems a fairly promising attempt.

One big selling point is Chris Pasetto and Christian Cantamessa's script. It works pretty hard to actually give the various characters some depth and distinctive personalities. It makes them flawed human beings rather than iconic heroes and villains, and this is very much in the book's favour. They are not entirely original or fleshed-out - there is still a very heightened sense to them all - but it is a step in a good direction. Hopefully future issues will ease back just a little, since it has a tendency to be somewhat overwrought in key scenes. Lukas Ketner's artwork is lightly exaggerated, which emphasises the emotion of the script.

The Greek myths are rather dark, violent stories, and it is good to see that style retained for this adaptation. It even approaches a mild sort of horror from time to time, which feels appropriate. This is a slightly flawed but solid adaptation; I am keen to see where its creative team takes it. (4/5)

Kill the Minotaur #1. Image. Written by Chris Pasetto and Christian Cantamessa. Art by Lukas Ketner. Colours by Jean-Francois Beaulieu.

Under the cut: reviews of Action Comics, Hulk and Star Wars.

June 20, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Gambit, Part 1"

It is 11 October 1993, and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The apparent death of Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) leads the USS Enterprise on a hunt for a rogue starship of pirates, who are moving from planet to planet stealing archaeological artefacts. When Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) is taken prisoner by those pirates, he finds Picard alive and well and working in their crew.

"Gambit" sees Star Trek: The Next Generation really head where no Star Trek episode had gone before: into a full-blown space opera replete with starship chases, space battles, races to track down ancient artefacts and a shipful of space pirates. It is hardly The Next Generation at its most intellectual, but after the past three episodes - whose quality has ranged from the underwhelming to the dire - it is a refreshing change and a hell of a lot of fun.

June 19, 2017

Colditz: "Ace in the Hole"

It is 11 February 1974, and time for another episode of Colditz.

Famed Squadron Leader Tony Shaw (Jeremy Kemp) is brought to Colditz. Carter (David McCallum) hopes that a high profile escape will raise the flagging morale of the British prisoners, only Shaw appears to have no intention of escaping and dedicates himself to researching English literature instead.

There is a problem with the format of a series like Colditz, or indeed any prison-based drama really, which is a lack of potential storylines. This is the sixth episode of the second season, and the third episode to base itself around a new inmate being transferred to the castle and interacting with the regular cast. On the one hand it's an easy way to create drama and intrigue, but at the same time it easily falls into a familiar and ultimately slightly dull routine. This episode is the first to really feel like part of that routine. It does not do anything specifically badly, but it does wear a little on the patience.

June 18, 2017

The Pull List: 14 June 2017, Part 1

DC Comics have a high profile miniseries coming up called Metal, reuniting the Batman team of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo. I tend to enjoy DC's events a lot more than Marvel's for two reasons: firstly they tend not to suck in every monthly ongoing into the storyline whether their readers want them to or not; secondly they are in almost every case vastly superior stories. For some reason DC seems to get the events a lot more instinctively than Marvel do.

Metal is not quite here yet, but Dark Days: The Forge is. It is a prologue issue that sets up some mysteries, teases some new characters and lines up a broad-ranging cast of popular DC heroes. It is co-written by Snyder and James Tynion IV, and illustrated by a cavalcade of A-list art talent.

It is a mixed success. Some elements work, and some really do not. It is nice to see Carter Hall, aka Hawkman, make an appearance in flashbacks, and indeed it appears the mysterious 'nth metal' that powers Hawkman's flight may be a key factor in the series. There are also roles for Batman and Aquaman, Green Lantern and Duke Thomas, and even a few surprises thrown in. The mysterious 'immortal men', who are getting their own ongoing series on the back of Metal, make no great impression at all.

The book is a little pricey at US$4.99, but to DC's credit it comes in an attractive cardstock cover and does have a fairly lengthy page count. It doesn't satisfy as a book in its own right, but as a teaser of things to come it stimulates reader interest pretty well. If you're planning on reading Metal it's probably best to get in on the ground floor. (4/5)

Dark Days: The Forge #1. DC Comics. Written by Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV. Art by Jim Lee, Adam Kubert, John Romita Jr, Scott Williams, Klaus Janson and Danny Miki. Colours by Alex Sinclair and Jeremiah Skipper.

Under the cut: reviews of Doctor Who: The 11th Doctor, Freeway Fighter and Ms Marvel.

June 17, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Interface"

It is 4 October 1993, and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

While testing a new remote-controlled probe on a Starfleet vessel drifting inside the atmosphere of Marijne VII, La Forge (LeVar Burton) comes to believe that his mother - whose own starship has recently vanished without a trace - is trapped on the planet's surface.

By the time The Next Generation came around to its seventh and final season, viewers had been introduced to the family of almost the entire regular cast. They had seen Riker's father, Troi's mother, brothers for Data, Worf and Picard, a son and a late husband for Dr Crusher, and even a sister for the late Tasha Yar. The only character left with a proper back story or family was Geordi La Forge. That in mind, "Interface" was a pretty obvious episode to make.

June 16, 2017

The Pull List: 7 June 2017, Part 3

Quite a few European bandes desinees have been getting reformatted and released in American format lately. Add to that list Jazz Maynard, a new crime book by the pseudonymous Raule and Roger.

Maynard is a jazz trumpeter returning to Spain with his sister after many years away. He has just rescued her from a New York brothel, shooting a number of gangsters on his way, and while he's reached home his troubles have definitely followed him home.

There's a sort of ugly sexist tone to this first issue, visibly in the way it treats women - usually naked or half-naked - as collateral damage rather than proper characters in their own right. It may change in future issues, but for now it sets everything off on a slightly unpleasant foot. That's a shame too, since Roger Ibanez's artwork is stunning. It's reminiscent of both the anime Cowboy Bebop and the works of animator Peter Chung. The limited colour palette also gives it a great amount of atmosphere.

Repackaging bandes desinees as American comics is not my personal preference - I'd much rather English translations of the original paperback and hardcover volumes - but any exposure of European comic book creators to an English-speaking audience is a good thing. Something, as always, is better than nothing. (3/5)

Jazz Maynard #1. Magnetic Press. Story by Raule. Art and colours by Roger.

Under the cut: reviews of Extremity, Night Owl Society and Planetoid: Praxis - as well as delayed reviews of Hulk and Southern Cross.

June 15, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Liaisons"

It is 27 September 1993, and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The Enterprise plays host to three ambassadors from the planet Iyaara. One is paired with Counselor Troi (Marina Sirtis), and seems oddly obsessed with desserts. Another demands to be paired with Lieutenant Worf (Michael Dorn), and is an antagonistic boor. A third Iyaaran travels in a shuttle with Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart), only for them to crash on a nearby uninhabited planet. While searching the crash site Picard is struck by an electrical discharge, and wakes up the prisoner of an amorous castaway named Anna (Barbara Williams).

"Liaisons" is one of those Next Generation episodes where you can see what the writers (Roger Eschbacher, Jaq Greenspon, Jeanne Carrigan Fauci and Lisa Rich) were attempting to achieve, but its execution simply does not properly capture their intention. Instead of a surprising story of aliens trying to comprehend the emotional states of other species, the episode is dominated by Picard being held against his will by a mentally unwell woman desperate to have sex with him. The gender politics, even at the time of broadcast, felt a little odious and out of date.

June 14, 2017

The Pull List: 7 June 2017, Part 2

Ashli is a nurse undertaking her first shift at the Saint Cascia Hospital. It is understaffed, under-funded, and packed with too many people suffering from mental illness. Then there are the 'administrators', shadowy men in suits that Ashli is told to keep away from and with whom she should never make eye contact.

The Unsound is a new dark fantasy comic from writer Cullen Bunn and artist Jack T. Cole. Cole's art is wonderful. It has a sketchy, slightly off-kilter style that suits the material - as does his relatively pale and subtle colouring work. As for the writing...

It is an effective first issue, without a doubt. Bunn establishes Ashli well from the get-go, and she is a sympathetic and immediately likeable character. The entire city in which she lives has a slightly threatening, edgy aspect to it, which ramps up the menace from the get-go. Inside the hospital the fantasy and horror imagery is creative and wonderfully effective. The problem is the use of a mental hospital as a site for horror. Not only does it feel like an over-used trope, it feels like an inappropriate one. It makes fictional horror out of human illness, and that is a very risky idea with which to play. It's not impossible to make it work, but the risk of crossing a line and being offensive seems pretty great to me. I worry this is a great comic borne from a bad idea. (4/5)

The Unsound #1. Boom Studios. Written by Cullen Bunn. Art and colours by Jack T. Cole.

Under the cut: reviews of Daredevil, Darth Vader and Giant Days.

June 13, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Descent, Part II"

It is 20 September 1993, and time for the Season 7 premiere of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Data (Brent Spiner) has turned against his crewmates to ally with his twin brother Lore. While Data begins to conduct a potentially lethal experiment on La Forge (LeVar Burton), Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Worf (Michael Dorn) make contact with a Borg resistance group.

"Descent" simply fails to work as a story. There is something crudely superficial about it, as if the writers involved simply felt that 'Lore and the Borg team up' was a sufficient draw to make an entertaining pair of episodes. It simply fails to make any sort of impact, or indeed pick up where the Season 6 cliffhanger left off. Rather than destroy the Federation as claimed, Lore and Data simply continue some experiments into creating artificial life - including possibly killing La Forge in the attempt to give him brain implants.

June 12, 2017

The Pull List: 7 June 2017, Part 1

Atlantis declares Corum Rath as their new king, putting Arthur in serious trouble. With two successive wars with the surface world just ended, and relations still very strained, a war-monger for a king is pretty much the last thing the kingdom needs. Arthur could help - but his people have abandoned his leadership.

There is solid entertainment value in Aquaman #24, which brings some long-running Atlantean tensions to a head. Dan Abnett's script relies on that long build-up rather well, and the artwork (by a combination of Briones, Eaton and Faucher) is reasonably attractive and tells the story well enough. Sadly it all feels a bit repetitive. There is an over-reliance on Atlantis in Aquaman going back for many years. There are numerous creative directions in which one could take a comic book about a water-breathing super-human who patrols the world's oceans. Only a few issues ago Arthur and Mera uncovered a portal to an ocean planet on the other side of the universe. That seemed ripe for exploration and adventure, but as soon as it was revealed that portal was closed.

I adore the Aquaman character, but I feel as if successive writers simply do not quite now the best way to push the character forward. I am enjoying Abnett's run, but I want something more interesting than what he is currently providing. (3/5)

Aquaman #24. DC Comics. Written by Dan Abnett. Art by Philippe Briones, Scot Eaton and Wayne Faucher. Colours by Gabe Eltaeb.

Under the cut: reviews of Batman, Green Arrow, Heathen and Spider-Man.

June 9, 2017

Twin Peaks: Season 2 Episode 1

It is 30 September 1990, and time for the Season 2 premiere of Twin Peaks.

Nadine (Wendy Robie) and Leo (Eric Da Re) remain in comas. Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), shot by an unseen assailant, lies bleeding on the floor of his hotel room when he has a supernatural encounter with a giant. Donna (Lara Flynn Boyle) is pressed by the Log Lady (Catherine E. Coulson) to investigate Laura Palmer's 'meals on wheels' route.

Twin Peaks returned for its second season with a 90 minute premiere, written by Mark Frost and directed by David Lynch. From the get-go there is something off. Much was been written about the decline of the series during its second season, particularly once Lynch left the series following its seventh episode, but to be honest the rot - if we can call it that - has set in already. There is a wooliness to this 90-minute opener. It feels somewhat lost in its own storylines, and quite a few of them are simply not very good.

June 6, 2017

The Pull List: 31 May 2017, Part 2

Black Road comes to its inevitable, fatal conclusion: this 10-issue series, heralded as a "Magnus the Black mystery", has been a bloody and bleak journey through an early medieval Scandinavia overrun and transformed by Christianity. It has been rich in tone and character, and this final issue is no exception.

This is essentially more epilogue than climax. The main battle has been fought, and all that is left here is basically tidying up the loose ends and providing a full explanation for where Magnus has come from and what has led him to this point. He is a great character, and I really hope the "Magnus the Black mystery" tagline means we will get a sequel series before too long.

Garry Brown and Dave McCaig's artwork has effectively pressed the barren, frozen environs of the story. It's a wonderful shift in style from what the same creative team were doing on The Massive a year or two back.

There are no huge surprises here, because Black Road is not really intended as a surprise story. It is simply a good story, told in a strong and measured fashion. It ends on pretty much a perfect note. (5/5)

Black Road #10. Image. Written by Brian Wood. Art by Garry Brown. Colours by Dave McCaig.

Under the cut: a short end to the week with reviews of Hadrian's Wall and Star Trek: Waypoint.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season 6 in review

After rewatching all 26 episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation's sixth season, it is time to take stock and consider the season as a whole before moving on to the series' seventh and final year. I think there is a general arc to the quality of The Next Generation: a generally poor first year, incremental improvements through the second and third, and a series running at its creative height through the fourth, fifth and sixth years. While Season 4 generally seems to present the series at its best, in terms of average quality, Season 5 and 6 both coast along providing what is by-and-large now a well-rehearsed formula. Whenever the quality drops to something particularly poor, it generally seems to be because the production was simply out of time and shot with whatever half-developed script was lying around.

That race to get 26 episodes produced each year is not something that's widely appreciated. All too often things get produced that are not good, but simply 'good enough'. Contemporary television, where HBO or Netflix might commission eight to 13 episodes in a year, is generally better and should be better. They have the time to make quality television. That The Next Generation can make 26 episodes in a year, of which 17 are good or better, is pretty remarkable.

June 5, 2017

Yowamushi Pedal: "First Day of Camp!"

It is 23 December 2013, and time for episode 12 of Yowamushi Pedal.

The Sohoku team head to a special cycling facility for a four-day training camp. On the way Onoda gets sick and is left by the road to wait for the follow-up van to pick him up. While there he meets Manami, an enthused cyclist from another high school. Once at the camp the first years learn their training regimen is simply - and almost impossible: cycle 1,000 kilometres in four days with modified bicycles designed to remove their specific riding strengths.

Yowamushi Pedal appears to be produced on a relatively tight budget. I make this assumption because the quality of the animation is proving to be quite variable. Some episodes, usually the climactic racing-based ones, look rock-solid. Others, including this episode here, seem littered with shots that are comparatively substandard. The proportions feel wrong, and the perspective looks terrible. It is by no means a deal-breaker in terms of watching the show, but it does stand out.

June 4, 2017

The Pull List: 31 May 2017, Part 1

Saga re-commenced this past week, for its eighth story arc and its 43rd issue. As part of a marketing campaign to draw in new readers, this issue has been specially priced at just 25c, so if you have considered trying Saga before but never quite got around to it then this month gives you few excuses not to.

The story picks up in the provocatively named "Abortion Town", which is as good an indication as any of the sort of gleefully edgy and puerile touches that hang around the fringes of this title. It's funny, but also dramatic. It's wildly imaginative and absurd, yet always keeps a very relatable emotional core at its centre. Many of the character are adorable, and the plot has a tendency to shake itself up every few issues in unexpected ways.

As far as opening issues go this one is pretty great. New readers get a brief summary on what the general story is, and continuing readers get some nice moments with each member of the cast. I am not quite sure where the book is headed with this arc, but it has me solidly re-engaged. (4/5)

Saga #43. Image. Written by Brain K. Vaughn. Art by Fiona Staples.

Under the cut: reviews of Doctor Aphra, Doctor Strange and Ladycastle.

June 3, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Descent"

It is 21 June 1993, and time for the Season 6 finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The Enterprise responds to a distress call from an isolated colony, only to encounter the Borg there - individual Borg who act with emotion and no longer seek to assimilate others. While fighting one of the drone Data (Brent Spiner) experiences rage for the first time. While the Enterprise continues to patrol the area for further Borg incursions, Data questions whether or not his quest to experience human emotions should continue.

"Descent" presents Star Trek: The Next Generation's fourth annual season cliffhanger, following in the tradition of "The Best of Both Worlds", "Redemption" and "Time's Arrow". It brings back the Borg for their fourth appearance in the series and follows up directly from their third: "I, Borg". That saw one Borg drone isolated from the Collective before being returned with a computer virus intended to disrupt their collective consciousness. Based on their behaviour here it appears to have worked. Aggressive, emotional and in total disarray, the Borg appear here as the weakest threat they have ever presented.

June 2, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Timescape"

It is 14 June 1993, and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

After returning from a three-day conference, Picard (Patrick Stewart), Data (Brent Spiner), La Forge (LeVar Burton) and Troi (Marina Sirtis) encounter a strange array of pockets in time that appear to slow down and even stop whatever is contained within them. They navigate their way to the Enterprise, only to discover the entire ship has been frozen in time while in battle with a similarly frozen Romulan warbird.

Brannon Braga is Star Trek's king of time travel and temporal paradoxes. He wrote "Cause and Effect" for Season 5, "Parallels" and "All Good Things..." in Season 7, and of course both Generations and First Contact played with time travel of one kind or another. From there he moved to write or co-write a veritable truckload of time travel/paradox episodes for Star Trek: Voyager. All things considered, "Timescape" is one of Braga's earlier efforts, but it still manages to play a lot with the potential of time slowing down, stopping or even reversing entirely.

P.K.14: City Weather Sailing (2008)

P.K.14 is a Nanjing-formed and Beijing-based post-punk rock band. Formed back in 1997, they have become a well-respected fixture in China's independent rock scene. Internationally their sound gets compared to the like of the Pixies and Sonic Youth, although based on this album I find the comparisons under-value P.K.14's own distinctive sound.

City Weather Sailing is the band's fourth studio album, released in 2008. I found the CD in a charity shop here in Melbourne, and purchased it purely on the basis of its intriguing and artful cover. It has wound up being one of the most unexpectedly great albums I have heard this year.

There is a general kind of indie Britpop feel to the album, which is dominated by rolling guitars that give it a sort of Manchester sound - to me, at any rate. I am hardly a musical authority, and just describe these things as I see them. I am very keen to track down the band's other work - not to mention their members' side projects - to see how they all compare.

June 1, 2017

The Angriest: May 2017 in review

With the long-awaiting return of Twin Peaks in May, I went back and reviewed the entire first season from 1990. The review of the series pilot was the most-read post on The Angriest this past month; you can check it out here. Most of the other popular posts in May were reviews of Twin Peaks episodes, although rather a lot of people read this Izetta: The Last Witch review as well.

Reviews of Doctor Who continued over at FilmInk, notably this one on "Thin Ice". Over at FictionMachine, where I now publish the bulk of my film reviews, readers seemed most interested in a long-form essay on Alien 3 (celebrating its 25th anniversary) and my review of Guy Ritchie's King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. Across all websites, in May 2017 I reviewed five new films, 14 older films, 22 TV episodes, 2 anime episodes, and 74 comic books. The month's FictionMachine essay was on Alien 3.

A full index of May 2017 posts is included below.

May 31, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Second Chances"

It is 24 May 1993, and time for the 150th episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The Enterprise travels to Nervala IV, a planet covered by a dangerous distortion field, to retrieve valuable data from an abandoned science station. That station was evacuated eight years earlier by the USS Potemkin, back when Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes) served as its lieutenant. With only a narrow window existing to retrieve the data before the distortion field returns, an Enterprise away team beams down - only to run into an alternative Riker who never left the planet's surface eight years earlier.

"Second Chances" is based on the most inspired of premises. That a transporter accident duplicated Riker eight years earlier - one who advanced in his career, broke up with Troi (Marina Sirtis) and moved onto the Enterprise, and one who languished alone on a desolate planet without anybody knowing he existed - is kind of secondary to the emotional core. What would you do if you met the version of you who made different life choices? How would it make you reconsider your life? The result is a stunning character piece, not only for Riker but for Troi as well.

The Pull List: 24 May 2017, Part 3

Arcadia Alvarado was Governor of New Mexico when she and her husband were abducted by aliens. Now she has been elected President of the United States, and struggles to determine what actually happened to her that night, and whether or not her own government knows about it.

Sound a bit familiar? If it does, it is possibly because back in 2012 and 2013 DC Vertigo published Saucer Country, a short-lived series by Paul Cornell and Ryan Kelly that blended elements of The West Wing and The X Files. Last week the series finally returned, shifting publishers from DC to IDW and with a change of title: Saucer State.

It is a little difficult to see how this new series is going to fare. For new readers this first issue dives in a little too hard and fast to make a huge amount of sense, and for old readers there is the question of just how many will pick the series up again after a four-year hiatus. Ryan Kelly's art has a nice energy to it, but Paul Cornell's script just feels as if it is covering too many bases at once. We are not reintroduced to the series so much as thrown in. It is ultimately a bit too messy to work with me, but hopefully in an issue or two things will settle down. (2/5)

Saucer State #1. IDW. Written by Paul Cornell. Art by Ryan Kelly. Colours by Adam Guzowski.

Under the cut: an IDW special, with reviews of Ghostbusters 101, Highlander: The American Dream, and Star Trek: Boldly Go.

May 30, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Rightful Heir"

It is 17 May 1993 and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Feeling dislocated from his Klingon beliefs, Lt Worf (Michael Dorn) travels to the planet Boreth where religious devotees await the prophesied return of Kahless: first Emperor of the Klingon Empire. Much to his shock Kahless does appear to return, leading to a fresh leadership crisis for the Empire.

"Rightful Heir" is a fairly remarkable episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and its most striking value is one that gets overlooked in the wake of spin-off series Deep Space Nine. That series spent a significant amount of time on theological issues, marking what seems like a sharp break from its predecessors. As those issues have become so firmly attached to Deep Space Nine within the broader Star Trek canon, it is easy to forget that "Rightful Heir" did it first. This is essentially the episode that brought religion to Star Trek.

Twin Peaks: Season 3 Episode 2

While in custody Bill Hastings (Matthew Lillard) admits to his wife that he has had an affair. Bad Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) goes on the hunt in South Dakota. Good Cooper (also Kyle MacLachlan) meets the Man from Another Place in his new form. In Twin Peaks, Hawk (Michael Horse) continues hunting through the woods.

I think it is really obvious by this second episode that the Twin Peaks of 2017 is significantly different to the Twin Peaks of 1991. The series is much more disturbing now, not just in content but in presentation. Scenes that would have been accompanied by a melodic score are now backed by harsh deep bass rumbles. Without the confines of a 42-minute time limit, events are stretching out to dizzying lengths, and performed with a deliberate slowness. The scratchy hand-made feel of Lynch's most avant garde works is infiltrating Twin Peaks from the sides. This all adds up. The series used to be a soap opera satire with occasional intrusions of weird arthouse moments. Now the series is a slow-boiling, constantly groaning, and deeply unsettling horror show.

May 29, 2017

The Pull List: 24 May 2017, Part 2

Valiant doesn't really do line-wide crossover miniseries like DC and Marvel, but they do regularly publish miniseries throwing multiple characters together for an adventure. Rapture presents a team-up between Ninjak, Shadowman and Tama the geomancer in the realm of Deadside, a creepy underworld filled with ghosts and demons.

Issue #1 pretty much sets up the story for the remaining three issues, and introduces the world of Deadside and its varied demonic inhabitants. Writer Matt Kindt has put a lot of creativity into this world, and the story benefits enormously by having this environment bedded down and explained before Ninjak and Shadowman enter it. Before they arrive the story is in the hands of Tama, a young girl with an enormous responsibility to see the approach of the end of the world. As written here she's very likeable and engaging.

Cafu's artwork is strong and Andrew Dalhouse's colours and wonderfully strong and rich. I am a huge fan of Dalhouse's work; he really makes his books pop off the page. You can pretty much always rely on Valiant to produce a solid and entertaining limited series, and Rapture is no exception. (4/5)

Rapture #1. Valiant. Written by Matt Kindt. Art by Cafu. Colours by Andrew Dalhouse.

Under the cut: reviews of Batgirl, Rat Queens, Seven to Eternity and X-O Manowar.

May 27, 2017

The Pull List: 24 May 2017, Part 1

Brian Wood and Andrea Mutti continue to do a wonderful job with Rebels: These Free and Independent States, a five-issue miniseries that follows on from their original monthly series from a year or two back.

It is a great series in part because it has such a rich historical background: a young United States of America being forced to defend its shipping lanes from French and English incursions. It is also great because it has such a strong and interesting protagonist: John Abbott, a highly talented ship-builder and engineer who also appears to be autistic. He does not care about family or romance or even the nation he helping to build: all he cares about are his ships.

Andrea Mutti's artwork is simply stunning, with a realistic style and a beautiful attention to detail. The realism is aided enormously by Lauren Affe's colours, which are deliberately muted in shades of grey, brown and green for the most part. It all gives a wonderful sense of the past, and of American history.

If this miniseries format is a long-term future for Rebels, it is one I welcome. There is so much potential for different aspects of American history to be showcased and explored in this exemplary fashion. This issue, for one, is a near-perfect exploration of history with a great script, a wonderful lead character, and remarkable artwork. (5/5)

Rebels: These Free and Independent States #3. Dark Horse. Written by Brian Wood. Art by Andrea Mutti. Colours by Lauren Affe.

Under the cut: reviews of The Power of the Dark Crystal, Action Comics and Detective Comics.

May 26, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Suspicions"

It is 10 May 1993, and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Dr Crusher (Gates McFadden) has been relieved of her duties as ship's chief medical officer, and awaits transportation to a court martial for disobeying a direct order. In conversation with Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg) she relates how she attempted to set up a small scientific conference only to have it end in a murder, a suicide, and the end of her Starfleet career.

Poor Gates McFadden. She does not get episodes dedicated to her character very often - certainly a lot less often than male counterparts like Jonathan Frakes and Brent Spider - and when she does get them they are almost invariably terrible. Her losing streak does not break with "Suspicions", a laboured and trite murder-mystery in which the killer is obvious and the flashback-based verbal narrative grates constantly on the nerves.

May 25, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Frame of Mind"

It is 3 May 1993, and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Riker fears for his sanity as he seems to shift back and forth between the Enterprise, where he is rehearsing the role of a mentally unwell murderer in a play, and an alien hospital - where he appears to be a mentally unwell murderer for real.

"Frame of Mind" is a trippy paranoid thriller, and a sharp change of tone and pace from its preceding episode ("The Chase"). It shines a spotlight on Commander Riker and puts him through pronounced psychological torture. That his mental instability is all some kind of alien ruse is never really in question, but the manner in which the story plays out remains enormously impressive.

May 24, 2017

Twin Peaks: Season 3 Episode 1

It is 21 May 2017, and time for the Season 3 premiere of Twin Peaks.

This review assumes that the reader has either already viewed the first two seasons of Twin Peaks, broadcast back in 1990 and 1991, or does not remotely care about having key plot points from those seasons spoiled for them. I have recently reviewed Season 1, but not Season 2. Keep an eye on the blog titles to ensure you know which season I am reviewing in any subsequent review, as I will likely be jumping back and forth between Seasons 2 and 3.

25 years later in New York City, South Dakota and the small town of Twin Peaks, mysterious events occur. That is pretty much the only synopsis you need.

May 23, 2017

The Pull List: 17 May 2017, Part 4

Angela Spica has a robot suit inside of her body that pours out whenever she is in trouble. She appears to be in a lot of trouble with two secret high-tech agencies hunting her down and murderously fighting each other over who gets to grab her. There is a lot of other stuff getting thrown at the reader in The Wild Storm, but thankfully that central conceit is enough to handle for now. Everything else is just washing over me.

It is a mark of how effectively Warren Ellis can develop a story that I can find myself surrounded by too many characters referencing too many names without context, but still find a tremendously entertaining story being told. The effect is rather like being thrown into white-water rapids: sure you're probably drowning, but it sure as hell seems exciting at the same time. More experienced readers of the old Wildstorm universe are probably going to spot and understand a lot more here than I am, but what I am seeing is some fantastic and immersive world-building.

Jon Davis-Hunt and Steve Buccellato are doing sensational work with the art. It is a clean, very neatly composed world of sci-fi tech, that reminds me a little of The Manhattan Projects but with a much less exaggerated style.

This book is taking its time, but it was announced from the outset as a self-contained 24-issue story, so to be honest I have no problem with that. Right now, I'm just trying to keep my head above water and enjoy the view. (4/5)

The Wild Storm #4. Written by Warren Ellis. Art by Jon David-Hunt. Colours by Steve Buccellato.

Under the cut: reviews of Batwoman, Night Owl Society, Poe Dameron, Satellite Falling and a much-delayed review of Hadrian's Wall.

The Pull List: 17 May 2017, Part 3

Marvel's revolving door of relaunches and re-numberings continues this week with Generation X #1, a new take on the popular 1990s X-Men spin-off. With Kitty Pryde taking over as head of the Charles Xavier School, a new group of young mutants all learn to control and apply their powers.

So there is a group of mutants to follow - some new, some pre-existing - and fan favourite Jubilee has been assigned to mentor them. This issue focuses solely on introducing them and leads to a cliffhanger ending for some action in issue #2. Plotwise it is nothing anybody has not seen before, and that is a bit of a problem. Marvel's sales are declining across the board, and offering up relatively generic X-Men titles are unlikely to help alleviate or even reverse that trend. The bottom line with Generation X is that there is nothing here to get returning readers excited and not enough introductory material to let new readers get in on the ground floor.

To its credit the artwork by Amilcar Pinna is nicely distinctive, and I particularly Felipe Sobreiro's relatively soft colours. It should also be noted that Christina Strain's script does not do anything specifically wrong, it just fails to bring a fresh angle to the title. The so-called "House of Ideas" desperately needs some new good ones. (2/5)

Generation X #1. Marvel. Written by Christina Strain. Art by Amilcar Pinna. Colours by Felipe Sobreiro.

Under the cut: reviews of Britannia, Star Wars and The Wicked + the Divine.

May 22, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "The Chase"

It is 26 April 1993, and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) is urged by his own archaeology professor to abandon his Starfleet career and join the expedition of a lifetime. When that professor is killed shortly afterwards, Picard commands the Enterprise to investigate his discovery. It leads him on a planet-to-planet race against the Cardassians and the Klingons to gain an ancient secret from billions of years in the past.

"The Chase" takes a huge series-transforming concept and then attempts to tell it in the space of a self-contained 42-minute episode. That is a mistake on several fronts. For one thing the central concept that is revealed seems to demand a follow-up or further exploration, and gets none. For another the quest-like narrative turns the episode into a series of quickly expressed events rather than an actual story with weight and emotional resonance.

May 21, 2017

The Pull List: 17 May 2017, Part 2

Paige continues her attempt to stop her father from participating in a bank robbery, while her friends abandon her for their own safety. 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank is a masterful miniseries from Matthew Rosenberg, Tyler Boss and Clare Dezutti: masterful because the dialogue sparkles, masterful because the art is engaging and effective, and masterful because this isn't the sort of story we often get in comic book form.

It strikes me as inevitable that someone is going to turn this series into a feature film, because while it works beautifully as a comic book it contains the perfect ingredients to make a fantastic movie as well. That film will potentially become a moderate hit and a cult favourite, and if you act now you can claim you knew it back when it was an independent comic book.

The structure is great. The use of fantasy sequences feels pitch-perfect. The characters are immediately recognisable from anybody's childhood. This is a stunning miniseries that is worthy of a much wider audience than the one that it is getting. (5/5)

4 Kids Walk Into a Bank #4. Black Mask. Written by Matthew Rosenberg. Art by Tyler Boss and Clare Dezutti.

Under the cut: reviews of Aquaman, Batman, and Green Arrow.

May 20, 2017

Twin Peaks: Season 1 Episode 7

It is 23 May 1990, and time for the Season 1 finale of Twin Peaks.

Under the orders of Benjamin Horne (Richard Beymer), Leo (Eric Da Re) sets about burning down the Packard sawmill - with murderous intent for Shelley (Madchen Amick), Bobby (Dana Ashbrook) and Catherine (Piper Laurie). Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) successfully lures Jacques Renault (Walter Olkewicz) across the border to the USA, and discovers his role in Laura Palmer's murder.

Season cliffhangers were a popular technique in American television at the start of the 1990s: get the audience on the edge of their seats and then leave them hanging desperately over the Summer months before the series can make a widely hyped return in the Fall. Twin Peaks engages in a cliffhanger as well, but it does so in a typically self-aware, ridiculous and over-the-top fashion. I am not sure any other American series has developed a cliffhanger with so many characters' welfare at stake.

May 19, 2017

The Pull List: 17 May 2017, Part 1

After being hyped as the next great step forward for DC Rebirth, the Batman/Flash crossover "The Button" has wound up being more of a four-issue tease for a miniseries coming in November. That's the sort of bait-and-switch shenanigans that that really irritates. Rather than introduce any new developments it simply re-emphasises one the readers already know: that someone, most likely Dr Manhattan from Watchmen, has manipulated the history of the universe, that former DC Universe heroes are trapped in time and can only be freed via a close personal connection with someone already in the revised timeline, and that there is going to be a Watchmen/DC Universe crossover soon.

Some readers will be thrilled to see the return of original Flash Jay Garrick for an issue. I was more annoyed by how this widely promoted four-issue arc gave a lot of vague gesturing at continuity references and DC Universe history without providing a very satisfying story.

And the epilogue just irritates. No matter how much portent and gravitas DC shoves into their upcoming crossover, it will take a monumentally clever miniseries to overcome just how bad an idea exploiting the Watchmen characters is. Bad in terms of creativity, and bad in terms of respecting creators and artists. (2/5)

The Flash #22. DC Comics. Written by Joshua Williamson. Art by Howard Porter. Colours by Hi-Fi.

Under the cut: reviews of Daredevil, Freeway Fighter and Superman.

May 17, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Lessons"

It is 5 April 1993, and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) begins a tentative romance with the Enterprise's new head of stellar cartography Lt Commander Nella Daren (Wendy Hughes). While they share a love for performing music, and Daren's enthusiasm helps Picard to open up to his past experience, a dangerous away mission puts their romance under strain.

"Lessons" is another 'bottle' episode, using just the one main guest star and a simple additional set (the Enterprise's stellar cartography room) in order to save money on more ambitious episodes elsewhere. At first it seems it is going to be a fairly sedate and underwhelming episode, but as it develops "Lessons" is actually a rather wonderful epilogue to "The Inner Light".

May 16, 2017

The Pull List: 10 May 2017, Part 2

Doctor Aphra, the rogue archaeologist introduced in Marvel's Darth Vader, has certainly made an impact with fans. Not only did she get her own follow-up series, and not only did she just get voted to receive her own 4-inch action figure in 2018, but now she gets to co-star in a special new crossover event The Screaming Citadel, teaming her up with a pre-Empire Strikes Back Luke Skywalker.

Aphra finds Luke on the Outer Rim, and entices him to join her on a mission to the 'Screaming Citadel', the palatial home of the mysterious Queen Ktath'atn. Luke thinks it may enable him to meet a Jedi Master. Aphra clearly has a secret motive of her own. The mysterious Ktath'atn appears to be a space vampire.

This is Star Wars as gothic horror, a creative move that may seem a little risky, but which dances along merrily thanks to an excellent script by Kieron Gillen and incredibly strong artwork by Marco Checchetto. The story continues across Star Wars and Doctor Aphra over the coming weeks - based on the opening chapter, it is set to be a sensantional read. (5/5)

Star Wars: The Screaming Citadel #1. Marvel. Story by Kieron Gillen and Jason Aaron. Script by Kieron Gillen. Art by Marco Checchetto. Colours by Andres Mossa.

Under the cut: reviews of Copperhead, Detective Comics, Doctor Who: The 11th Doctor and Silver Surfer.

May 15, 2017

Twin Peaks: Season 1 Episode 6

It is 17 May 1990, and time for another episode of Twin Peaks.

The only witness to the Laura Palmer murder may be a myna bird belonging to suspect Jacques Renault (Walter Olkewicz) - so long as it can be coaxed to talk. Leo Johnson (Eric Da Re) plans revenge on Shelley (Madchen Amick) and Bobby (Dana Ashbrook). James (James Marshall), Donna (Lara Flynn Boyle) and Maddie (Sheryl Lee) uncover tape recordings made by Laura to Dr Jacobi (Russ Tamblyn) - and hatch a scheme to get inside Jacobi's office to find evidence he killed her.

In this, the penultimate episode of Twin Peaks' first season, the plot threads are getting pulled together towards some loose sort of climax. We have one set of characters moving to determine whether or not Dr Jacobi is Laura's killer, and another doing the same thing with Canadian drug runner Jacques Renault and local thug Leo Johnson, and Audrey Horne (Sherilynn Fenn) doing her own independent investigation in parallel. It seems to be a common element of the series to run identical storylines at the same time. The series started with a string of simultaneous secret love affairs, and this episode also features Leo plotting against Bobby while Bobby plots against James while James plots against Dr Jacobi. It gives the series a weird sense of unity while it juggles its relatively unwieldy cast of characters.

May 12, 2017

The Pull List: 10 May 2017, Part 1

Cannon Cove is a small, half-forgotten town whose only claim to fame is that the 1980s hit film The Gloomies was filmed there. When an elderly resident dies, leaving an old chest to the town's dilapidated and under-funded museum, four young woman find a secret map inside that points to a real-life treasure buried nearby.

Boom Studios seem to working to quite a formula with their all-ages books, riffing on Lumberjanes to create a raft of titles involving strong groups of female protagonists in pop culture savvy situations. It is a nice alternative to the overwhelmingly male set-ups of most DC and Marvel books, and it has been great to see Boom's work rewarded with both critical and commercial success. Misfit City is the latest in their run of books, and from its first issue it seems like a pleasing and light-hearted tribute to 1980s adventure films - The Goonies in particular.

Now in all honesty I never boarded the Goonies train. The film never impressed me as a child as much as it did many of my friends, and as an adult I'm not quite caught in its nostalgia trap. I think Misfit City works pretty well to capture both those enthused fans and people like me, since the book's cast are for the most part pretty jaded about an old 1980s movie too. Altogether it's a really fun set-up: hopefully the next three issues deliver on the premise. (4/5)

Misfit City #1. Boom Studios. Written by Kiwi Smith and Kurt Lustgarten. Art by Naomi Franquiz. Colours by Brittany Peers.

Under the cut: reviews of Action Comics, All-Star Batman, Batgirl and the Birds of Prey, and Star Trek/Green Lantern.

May 10, 2017

Twin Peaks: Season 1 Episode 5

It is 10 May 1990, and time for another episode of Twin Peaks. Or, to put it another way, hey let's all celebrate the 27th anniversary of episode 5 of Twin Peaks.

Audrey Horne (Sherilynn Fenn) blackmails the department store owner into giving her Laura Palmer's position at the perfume counter. Maddie (Sheryl Lee) joins up with James (James Marshall) and Donna (Lara Flynn Boyle) to investigate Laura's death themselves. In the woods Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) and Sheriff Truman (Michael Ontkean) discover the log cabin that they believe is the scene of Laura Palmer's murder.

There is a lot of plot advancement to enjoy in this episode of Twin Peaks, not only for the investigation into Laura Palmer's murder but also for the plot to burn down the sawmill, Shelley's (Madchen Amick) desperate need to escape Leo's (Eric Da Re) clutches, and two independent quests to find Laura's killer - one by Audrey and the other by Maddie, Donna and James. It feels as if there are more narratives simultaneously developing in this episode than other other episode so far. That's a lot of plates to keep spinning for 45 minutes.

The Pull List: 3 May 2017, Part 2

In the shattered remains of a once technologically advanced civilization, a roaming group of survivors work to enact their revenge against the empire that decimated their community. For traumatised artist Thea, further details of her past are revealed while she gains a chance to personally take revenge against one of the soldiers that cut off her hand.

Extremity is one of the best American comic books on the market. It is a realisation that took three issues to properly dawn on me, but as the shape and tone of the series has become clearer its immense merits have been cast into sharp relief. This is a hugely imaginative and brilliantly developed blend of science fiction and fantasy, one rather reminiscent of Hayao Miyazaki's Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind yet still distinctive and packed with original angles and ideas.

More impressive still is that it's essentially the work of one creator: writer/artist Daniel Warren Johnson, who infuses his artwork with a real sense of energy and motion. Mike Spicer's colours and wonderfully complementary, sealing off an outstanding creative package. We're only a third of the way through the year, but I will be very surprised if Extremity doesn't stand as one of 2017's very best titles. (5/5)

Extremity #3. Story and art by Daniel Warren Johnson. Colours by Mike Spicer.

Under the cut: reviews of Ghostbusters 101, Giant Days, Planetoid: Praxis, Poe Dameron and Spider-Man.

May 9, 2017

Twin Peaks: Season 1 Episode 4

It is 3 May 1990 and time for another episode of Twin Peaks.

The Twin Peaks police successfully track down the one-armed man from Agent Cooper's (Kyle MacLachlan) dream. In addition it becomes clear that the mysterious crazed man seen in Cooper's dream and the visions of Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriski) is indeed the one person. Suspicion grows around Leo Johnson (Eric Da Rae) and Jacques Renault (Walter Olkewicz).

There is quite a bit of work done in this episode to tie the events of Cooper's episode 2 dream back into the main narrative of the show. For one thing, the mysterious one-armed man seen in Cooper's dream and spotted sneaking around the hospital by Hawk (Michael Horse) is actually tracked down and questioned by the police. His name is Phillip Gerard, a travelling shoe salesman who does not seem to have anything to do with Laura's murder at all. The name is a reference to the 1960s TV drama The Fugitive, which featured both a US Marshal named Phil Gerard and a one-armed man.

Izetta: The Last Witch: "On a Quiet Day..."

It is 5 November 2016, and time for the sixth episode of Izetta: The Last Witch.

With the latest battle won, and the Germanian forces retreating for the time being, Izetta and Fine manage to spend a day out among the common people of Eylstadt. Meanwhile Jonas knows Izetta's secret, and it's a race between a Germanian spy and Eylstadt spymaster Müller to get to him first.

After the previous episode of Izetta had thankfully avoided the egregious fan service that marred episode 4, "On a Quiet Day..." dives straight back in to the cesspit of leering cleavage and unnecessary and unpleasant sexual titillation. It is tremendously frustrating, because in every other respect this is a wonderfully entertaining series. These intrustions - and in this episode's case it is one early scene - have a tendency to sour whatever appeal the rest of the episode has.

May 8, 2017

The Pull List: 3 May 2017, Part 1

In the 14th century the Papal assassin group Fiat Lux - led by the mercenary Roderick Helms - uncovers a new scourge threatening to devastate the whole of Europe. Not the Black Death, as history might suggest, but a continent-wide zombie infestation.

There is a weary sort of 'been there, done that' vibe to Pestilence. Its story beats feel worn-out and overly familiar, and there is nothing in this first issue that leaps out and suggests any sense of originality or invention. It is also unremittingly bleak and unpleasant, with plenty of graphic violence of both a physical and sexual kind. Naked women are used as decoration, and the paper-thin characters feel trite and under-developed.

I genuinely hate writing reviews like this: comic books take enormous effort and talent to assemble, and in all fairness there is likely some kind of audience for this kind of violent medieval gore horror. Sadly I am not that audience, and this first issue of Pestilence left me deeply disappointed. (1/5)

Pestilence #1. Aftershock. Written by Frank Tieri. Art by Oleg Okunev. Colours by Rob Schwager.

Under the cut: reviews of Aquaman, Batman, Green Arrow and Superman.

May 7, 2017

The Pull List: 26 April 2017, Part 3

A police detective attempts to find his way into a world where money does not simply buy social power, but elemental powers over the fabric of reality. At the high table of the world's most richest elite, a young woman fights to control her legacy and avenge her brother's murder.

The Black Monday Murders is back after a brief hiatus, to kick off its second story arc. If you have ever read one of Jonathan Hickman's independent books you are well primed for what to expect: hugely complex and imaginatively world-building, inventive ideas, and a slightly avant-garde presentation that nudges at the periphery of what the comic book format can do.

Tomm Coker's artwork is moody and atmospheric, although to an extent it is occasionally a little too atmospheric - sometimes it takes a moment to recognise a particularly odd setting or action. It feels a minor criticism in the grand scheme of things: this is a great, ominous sort of urban horror that is slowly unfolding like a well-developed mystery. (4/5)

The Black Monday Murders #5. Image. Written by Jonathan Hickman. Art by Tomm Coker.

Under the cut: reviews of Black Road, Doom Patrol, Ladycastle, Night Owl Society, Rebels and Satellite Falling.

Colditz: "Frogs in the Well"

It is 4 February 1974, and time for another episode of Colditz.

Lt Player (Christopher Neame) thinks he has found an escape route via the closed castle theatre. After Colonel Preston (Jack Hedley) convinces the German authorities to re-open the theatre for morale, things are all set for an escape attempt - until Player discovers that the French are attempting an identical escape using the same route.

I suppose this sort of thing would have to happen eventually: military officers of multiple nations all imprisoned together, segregated from one another and not speaking each other's language. Sooner or later two groups are going to have the same idea, and if they're working without the knowledge of their superior officers disaster is bound to occur. It is a great concept for an episode, and the execution is enhanced even further by some great interactions between Lt Carter (David McCallum) and Major Mohn (Anthony Valentine).

May 6, 2017

Twin Peaks: Season 1 Episode 3

It is 26 April 1990, and time for another episode of Twin Peaks.

Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) struggles to remember the details of his dream. Laura Palmer's funeral ends in violence and tragedy. Truman (Michael Ontkean) introduces Cooper to the "Bookhouse Boys", and their investigation into alleged drug runner Jacques Renault (Walter Olkewicz). Diner owner Norma Jennings (Peggy Lipton) prepares for her incarcerated husband's parole hearing.

The problem with the previous episode of Twin Peaks is that it is so inventive, strange and unexpected that any follow-up would likely disappoint. Episode 3 is the first episode of the series not written by David Lynch and Mark Frost, and you can immediately sense the difference. This is a much more conventional hour of television: not bad by any stretch, but unavoidably somewhat underwhelming.