July 24, 2016
While it's always great to see a good band get back together, the script by Julie and Shawna Benson feels a little too much on the nose. There is not a lot of room for subtlety, and this issue at least dwells perhaps a little too much on Alan Moore and Brian Bolland's notorious graphic novel The Killing Joke. It looms over pretty much every take on Batgirl since 1988, and it would be a relief to finally see a take on the character that moves on from her being shot in the spine by the Joker to make Batman and her father unhappy. Claire Roe's artwork does not quite meet with my expectations, but I suspect that may be more of a taste thing than a question of quality. Certainly it's quite distinctive.
This issue does feel slightly confused when it comes to continuity. It seems to mention continuity from both before and after DC's Flashpoint, creating a strange sort of Schrodinger's Huntress situation where I was unsure whether Batgirl and Black Canary knew Huntress until they finally encountered one another in the issue's final act. I suspect this may be the fault of DC's messy continuity rather than this issue in particular, and for new readers it is likely not an issue at all.
I am not sold on this new iteration of Birds of Prey, but this is just the kick-off - with any luck the series proper, which begins in two weeks, will be better. (2/5)
Batgirl and the Birds of Prey Rebirth #1. DC Comics. Written by Julie Benson and Shawna Benson. Art by Claire Roe. Colours by Allen Passalaqua.
Under the cut: reviews of Aquaman, Batman, Green Arrow and Superman.
July 23, 2016
Mockingjay Part II continues Hollywood's love for splitting adaptations of single books into multiple parts. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was split into two, the final Twilight film was split into two, and The Hobbit was even split into three. It is a strategy that certainly makes a mercenary kind of financial sense - double the films and double the revenue - and can arguably make narrative sense if one novel's climactic narrative really is too long and dense to fit into a single movie. It often winds up straddling some sort of middle ground, however, so The Deathly Hallows wound up with a rather slow and padded first half followed by a dramatic and entertaining second. I worry the opposite has happened with Mockingjay. The first film was really very good, but this second half - and final film for the franchise - is really quite sedate and maudlin for what should be an emotional finale.
July 22, 2016
Thunderbolt Fantasy is a rather surprising new anime series. This 13-part series is a Japanese-Taiwanese co-production, one written by noted author and script writer Gen Urobuchi (Black Lagoon, Psycho Pass, Fate/Zero). It tells a typical Chinese wuxia adventure full of super-human sword-wielding vigilantes, rich and extensive back stories, and lengthy speeches and narration. It is full of portent and gravitas - so much, in fact, that it is often difficult to treat this first episode seriously.
Oh, and it's also performed in live-action with glove and rod puppets.
This is in many respects a very traditional sort of superhero narrative. Faith is a superhero in Los Angeles with a secret identity and a day job working for a tabloid news website. She is struggling to hide her true identity - some friends know, some don't - as well as to juggle being a crime-fighter with having a normal life. The art is strong. Pere Perez handles the bulk of it, with Marguerite Sauvage and Colleen Doran taking on a range of extra pages including dreams and a quick origin recap.
As is often the case with these books, it is not what the story is but how it is told. Jody Hauser writes a fantastic character with Faith: she's uncertain, yet powerful, and has a geeky edge that I suspect will appeal to quite a few readers. If you're looking for a rock-solid superhero book with a female protagonist and a bit of a fresh angle, Faith is definitely worth checking out. (4/5)
Faith #1. Valiant. Written by Jody Hauser. Art by Pere Perez, Marguerite Sauvage, and Colleen Doran. Colours by Andrew Dalhouse.
Under the cut: reviews of Darth Vader, Rai and Spider-Man.
July 21, 2016
2016 marks the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, and to celebrate Paramount, Bad Robot and an improbably large number of co-producers have teamed up to make Star Trek Beyond. It is the third in producer J.J. Abrams' run of rebooted pictures, featuring a younger cast and updated design, and the thirteenth Trek film overall. There is an oft-quoted rule, ironically once quoted by co-writer and actor Simon Pegg in his classic geek comedy series Spaced, that the odd-numbered Star Trek films are not any good. The three Trek films since Star Trek: Nemesis caused that rule to wobble. Beyond shatters it entirely. This is simultaneously a great Summer blockbuster, a great 50th anniversary celebration, and easily the best Star Trek film since The Undiscovered Country back in 1991.
The mysterious King Torture announces he will invade Japan with a series of deadly monsters, however those monsters keep getting defeated by Samurai Flamenco and the Flamenco Girls. Hidenori begins to worry about how enthused Masayoshi has become about the conflict. Mari begins to feel jealous of how Masayoshi is dominating their monster battles.
This really has become a quite peculiar series. The first six episodes followed a clueless male model attempting to be a superhero in a mundane world. The seventh suddenly introduced a genuine monster that kills several police officers before killing itself in an explosion. I really was not sure what sort of series was going to emerge after such a weird change in tone and content. Now that I have watched the eighth episode, I am still not sure. I'm intrigued, and that does count for quite a bit.
July 20, 2016
The prison receives a new German medical officer, a stern disciplinarian who insists all prisoner salute him as he passes. When Carter (David McCallum) repeatedly obeys this order, the doctor has him arrested and subjected to a court martial. The escape committee think the trial may prove to create a valuable escape opportunity, but when Carter appears set to be sentenced to death priorities are changed in an instant.
"Court Martial" is the first episode of Colditz to simply feel like just another episode. While the cast do a solid job, the story simply does not seem as gripping or original as the previous ones. Perhaps it is simply that the episode has followed a particularly strong one ("Tweedledum"). Perhaps it simply is not as good as the others. While I am open the possibility of the former, I really do think it is the latter: "Court Martial" is simply not that interesting.
July 19, 2016
Five girls are playing together. One is drawn away from the group by a strange man, and is assaulted and murdered. When her four friends cannot remember what the man looked like, the dead girl's grieving mother (Kyoko Koizumi) promises that all of them will be forced to face a penance. Fifteen years later one of the friends, Sae (Yu Aoi), encounters the grieving mother again - the time has come for her penance to begin.
Penance was originally a novel by Kanae Minato, whose other book Confessions was turned into a particularly bleak and relentless film drama in 2010. Penance was adapted not into a film but rather a five-part television series, one directed by acclaimed filmmaker Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Internationally the series was distributed as a pair of feature films, but I have decided to give it a watch in its original television format.