July 22, 2017

Doctor Who: "Vincent and the Doctor"

It is 5 June 2010, and time for another episode of Doctor Who.

When the Doctor (Matt Smith) and Amy (Karen Gillan) spy the image of a monster hiding in a Van Gogh painting, they travel back in time to 1890 Artes to question the man himself. They find Vincent Van Gogh (Tony Curran) living in fear of a creature that only he can see - and which is murdering the villagers each night.

When Steven Moffat assumed control of Doctor Who in 2010, one of the bigger surprises was in the names of some of the writers hired to contribute to Season 5. One was Simon Nye, creator of the sitcom Men Behaving Badly, who wrote the excellent "Amy's Choice". The other was Richard Curtis, then a popular screenwriter of romantic comedy films including Four Weddings and a Funeral and Love Actually. Curtis seemed an odd choice for a science fiction drama; indeed seven years after the fact he still does. The biggest surprise, however, is just how outstanding his one script for the series is.

July 21, 2017

The Pull List: 12 July 2017, Part 1

Batman's quest draws him closer to the mysterious metal that may hold the secret to the entire existence of superheroes. Back in the Batcave, Duke Thomas and Hal Jordan confront the Joker - who has been held captive there without anybody's knowledge.

This second prologue issue to the upcoming miniseries Metal is nowhere near as effective as the first. Where the first felt provocative and foreboding, the second feels off-base and awkward. The various artists jamming together also feel a lot more discordant this time around, suggest perhaps the labour would have been divided better giving each artist their own issue instead of getting them to each one all together.

There is some big and provocative hints thrown around regarding the origins of DC's pantheon of superheroes as well, with an admittedly quite clever new take on the concept of 'metahumans'. It even shows off its roots back in Scott Snyder's hugely successful Batman run. Altogether it's adding into something that is certainly ambitious in places but could quite easily collapse into hideous and self-indulgent mess. I have my fingers crossed that once Metal commences in August it will also settle down and prove a large-scale entertaining epic. (2/5)

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

Under the cut: reviews of Detective Comics, Dread Gods and Freeway Fighter.

July 18, 2017

The Pull List: 5 July 2017, Part 2

In Sacred Creatures, an unwitting university student gets dragged into a supernatural conflict at the behest of a mysterious and seemingly diabolical family of magically enhanced siblings. It takes its time in doing so too: this first issue is practically its own graphic novel at 66 pages of story, more than justifying its US$4.99 price tag. You're definitely getting value for money.

The art by Pablo Raimondi is detailed and enormously readable. The story, by Raimondi and Klaus Janson, is where the book struggles a little. It tells a reasonable enough story in many respects, but it is saddled by two core problems. First, it feels terribly out of date. Stories like this seemed very popular a decade ago, and to an extent it seems the book is simply retreading old ground.

Secondly it just feels fiendishly complicated. The book begins with an ominous but incomprehensible prologue, and then flashes back. Then a few pages later it flashes back again. Then it simply becomes a bit of a non-linear mess, so much so that for a few pages in the middle I became genuinely confused as to what was going on. It also introduces too many characters too quickly, making it difficult to engage with either the story or its relatively bland protagonist.

There is potential, but in all honesty I am not sure there is enough. Some story knots will need to get untied very cleanly in the second issue to make this a comic worth chasing down. (3/5)

Sacred Creatures #1. Image. Written by Pablo Raimondi and Klaus Janson. Art by Pablo Raimondi. Colours by Chris Chuckry.

Under the cut: reviews of Diablo House, Extremity, Giant Days, Rat Queens, Spider-Man and The Wicked + the Divine.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Dark Page"

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

Lwaxana Troi (Majel Barrett-Roddenberry) has returned to the Enterprise to help a race of psychics better learn verbal communication. When she collapses unconscious in the ship's arboretum, her daughter Deanna (Marina Sirtis) is forced to enter Lwaxana's dream-state to uncover the cause of her collapse.

The merest mention of Lwaxana Troi is usually enough to make me run for the hills shrieking. She is a complete tonal mis-match for Star Trek: The Next Generation, adding an unwanted sort of 'saucy' sex comedy banter to any episode that she inhabits. There have been some exceptions for sure, but not enough to stop that instinctive flinch the moment she appears on the screen. What a pleasant surprise, then, to discover that in her final episode of The Next Generation the characters get her best story yet - and arguably ever, if one includes her handful of Deep Space Nine appearances.

July 15, 2017

The Pull List: 5 July 2017, Part 1

12 year-old Cloudia, her sister Rex and their mother drive cross-country to their new home. They collide with a rift in the universe, out of which pour a pantheon of gods escaping their own destruction. Suddenly Cloudia has super-strength, the gods can talk to her through her smartphone, and her sister Rex appears to have turned into a woolly rhinoceros.

I was first exposed to Ulises Farinas and Erick Freitas via their intriguing anthology series Amazing Forest. Now they're working on a longer-form work, the contemporary fantasy Cloudia & Rex. This first issue is rich with ideas, but perhaps a little too abrupt to get the dramatic traction their story needs. On the plus side the characters are appealing and believable, despite the strange circumstances in which they find themselves.

Daniel Irizarri's artwork has a rough quality to it, but very subtle and effective colours. It has a distinctive style, which always helps. Particularly impressive are Irizarri's designs for the various gods - all inspired by real-world deities. This is a promising beginning to a new independent series, and time will tell if future issues live up to its potential. (3/5)

Cloudia & Rex #1. Roar. Written by Ulises Farinas and Erick Freitas. Art by Daniel Irizarri.

Under the cut: reviews of Batman, Daredevil, Green Arrow, Seven to Eternity and Superman.

July 12, 2017

Colditz: "French Leave"

It is 18 February 1974, and time for another episode of Colditz.

The French prisoners are scheduled to be transported from Colditz to a labour camp in Poland. The British contingent are desperate to secure one of the French group's secret wireless sets. When a local church requests that the British prisoners perform as a choir for an important service, one French officer spies a chance to escape.

"French Leave" does what Colditz does best: take an element of World War II history and spin it out into a gripping drama. In this case, with France and Germany no longer at war, the French prisoners are to shipped out from a high security prison to undertake hard labour at a Polish prison camp instead. This change does not sit well with the entrepreneurial Andre Vaillant (Gerard Paquis), a seductive 'wheeler and dealer' who has been running an effective black market inside Colditz for years. He sneaks his way into the British choir and then seduces a young German woman to escape German custody.

July 11, 2017

The Pull List: 28 June 2017, Part 2

Livewire is a "technopath", a psychic who can use her mind to control electronic and computer devices. She's one of many so-called psiots in the world. Now a third party is tracking down a group of low-powered psiots, with Livewire hot in pursuit.

These low-level psychic powers are actually rather sweet - one young woman can talk to birds, while a young man has the ability to make inanimate objects glow. Writer Eric Heisserer gives them immediately distinctive and likeable personalities as well, making it a pleasure to be in their company for the duration of the issue. They are also very nicely drawn by Raul Allen and Patricia Martin. There is an 'indie' sensibility about the art in this issue. It feels a bit more grounded and simple than the usual superhero universe artwork, and that would tremendously to the book's advantage.

Valiant do such a good job with these four-issue miniseries. They are easy to pick up, easy to digest, and consistently imaginative and enjoyable. In many ways it seems a smarter approach to a superhero universe than either DC or Marvel: find a story worth telling, with a character worth using, get in and out in a brisk fashion, and move onto the next worthwhile story. Based on issue #1 Secret Weapons already feels pretty worthwhile. (4/5)

Secret Weapons #1. Valiant. Written by Eric Heisserer. Art and colours by Raul Allen with Patricia Martin.

Under the cut: reviews of Batgirl, Ghostbusters 101, Kull Eternal, Rebels and X-O Manowar.

July 10, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Phantasms"

It is 25 October 1993, and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

While Picard (Patrick Stewart) tries to avoid going to a tedious Starfleet banquet, Data (Brent Spiner) discovers that his dreaming program has started to give him nightmares instead.

"Phantasms" is a terribly messy episode with an awful lot of problems. It involves Data suffering from first bad dreams and then conscious hallucinations, leading to him actually stabbing a crewmate. It then concludes with everything being okay, and the Enterprise saved from harm once again. That feels decidedly false. To reiterate, Data stabs a crewmate in the shoulder - this is a horrifying act that should have serious consequences. That it does not makes the entire episode collapse; it simply is not believable.

July 9, 2017

The Pull List: 28 June 2017, Part 1

Kensho and Thurma are on the run with a crystal shard. Facing a prophecy that could spell the end of the world, an ageing Jen sets off on one final quest to retrieve the shard - unless the Skeksi Chamberlain finds them first.

We are now at the one-third mark of Archaia and Boom's 12-part maxi-series The Power of the Dark Crystal, adapting the screenplay for the never-produced sequel to Jim Henson and Frank Oz's 1982 fantasy masterpiece. I was always keen to read this comic to find out what the Jim Henson Company had in mind for the sequel. Based on the first four issues we lost a remarkably faithful and respectful follow-up, set a generation later and with a whole new angle on the characters.

Kensho and Thurma have an enormous amount of appeal as protagonists: both young and uncertain, both wildly out of their depths, and having to trust that what they are doing is the right thing and not a catastrophic mistake. The older Jen is also effective: he's harder but wearier, and really does feel like an old man rather than the idealistic and naive hero he was in the film. If anything feels a little misplaced it's the Skeksis, although that might simply be that they are less entertaining as still images than they are as bickering, gleefully vile puppets on screen.

This is a sequel that gets why the original work was so creatively successful. It is definitely worth fans checking out to discover what we lost. (4/5)

The Power of the Dark Crystal #4. Archaia/Boom Studios. Written by Simon Spurrier. Art and colours by Kelly and Nichole Matthews.

Under the cut: reviews of Detective Comics, Invader Zim, Poe Dameron and Saga.

July 7, 2017

Doctor Who: "Cold Blood"

It is 29 May 2010, and time for another episode of Doctor Who.

Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) has been dragged far underground into a sleeping hive of Silurians - the original sentient inhabitants of the Earth. While a Silurian held hostage by a frightened group of humans on the surface, the Doctor (Matt Smith) and Rory (Arthur Darvill) race to prevent an inter-species war.

About six months ago I watched and reviewed the first part of this two-part adventure, "The Hungry Earth". Life got in the way a little, but after viewing Doctor Who's superb Season 10 finale "The Doctor Falls" I was keen to watch some more 21st century Who so figured I should finally get around to rewatching "Cold Blood". As with the first episode there is a certain level of timeliness about viewing the episode, since it is written by Chris Chibnall - the writer/producer who takes over running the entire series from 2018.

July 6, 2017

The Pull List: 21 June 2017, Part 4

I have mentioned this multiple times in earlier reviews, but it always bears repeating: The Black Monday Murders is one of the most interesting comic books on the market right now. It's complex, and dense, and is presented in an inventive combination of comic book narrative and background text.

This kind of hybrid format is not new for writer Jonathan Hickman, who created a range of provocative and interesting miniseries before becoming one of Marvel's key superhero writers. Here he presents a story about a global economy run from behind the scenes by all-powerful supernatural and magical forces. There is a power struggle within the echelons of power, and at the same time a half-believing homicide detective is trying to work his way behind the scenes to understand what the hell makes the world tick.

Tomm Coker uses a very realistic, photo-referenced art style to great effect in this book, making it feel distinctly film-like and sophisticated. Colourist Jordie Bellaire gives it all a gloomy, limited palette that beautifully ups the tension throughout.

Each issue is longer than your average comic book, using its extra space to expand the world, illuminate background detail and character, and sometimes simply give the narrative extra room to develop the strongest possible impact. I never realised that financial horror could be a genre. In the hands of the Black Monday Murders team, it's a great one. (4/5)

The Black Monday Murders #6. Image. Written by Jonathan Hickman. Art by Tomm Coker. Colours by Jordie Bellaire.

Under the cut: reviews of Batwoman, Green Arrow, Head Lopper and Superman.

July 4, 2017

The Pull List: 21 June 2017, Part 3

There I was, only two weeks ago, bemoaning that Aquaman never seems to find fresh angles any more, and seems dogged down by Aquaman arguing with Atlantean nobles and soldiers while trying to negotiate peace with the surface world. What a difference one issue makes.

Aquaman #25 sees Atlantis ruled by a new king named Rath, who covets magical items and who has sealed the city off from the surface world. Aquaman is presumed dead, but secretly lives on in the city's lower slums as a street-level vigilante: a sort of undersea Batman. It all feels exactly like the shake-up this book requires.

The new issue is immediately striking thanks to the presence of artist Stjepan Sejic, whose painterly work gives the entire story a very 'big budget' feel. Possibly to accommodate Sejic's process, the book has shifted back to a more leisurely monthly schedule. Combined with the new story direction, the art makes Aquaman feel the most exciting and dynamic that it has been in years. (5/5)

Aquaman #25. Written by Dan Abnett. Art and colours by Stjepan Sejic.

Under the cut: reviews of Batman, Daredevil, Doctor Strange and The Wild Storm.

July 3, 2017

The Angriest: June 2017 in review

A lot of people remain very excited about the return of David Lynch and Mark Frost's Twin Peaks, so I am not too surprised that my review of the second season premiere was the most popular post on The Angriest this month. The Star Trek: The Next Generation reviews continued to be popular as well, particular those for "Timescape", "Descent" and "Descent, Part II".

In June I published one full-length essay, four reviews of new movies, another 10 reviews of older movies, plus reviews of 15 TV episodes, one anime episode, one CD, and 44 comic books. A full index of reviews published here and on both FictionMachine and FilmInk, is available below the cut.