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.