August 21, 2017

Atom: The Beginning: "Birth of the Mighty Atom"

It is 15 April 2017, and time for the first episode of Atom: The Beginning.

College students Hiroshi Ochanomizo and Ummataro Temma work together in the attempt to create a fully self-aware robot. Their latest attempt gets an unexpected road test when a fire breaks out at a street parade.

To me, and I suspect to more than a few others, Osamu Tezuka's Astroboy is one of the cornerstones of Japanese animation. It was hugely influential, internationally popular and has been periodically revisited over the decades with various remakes. Its historical significance puts an extraordinary amount of pressure on any new iteration of the story, since there is a weight of history and reputation with which original anime productions do not have to cope. Sadly, from this first episode at least, Atom: The Beginning buckles under the pressure.

August 20, 2017

The Pull List: 9 August 2017, Part 2

For those who came in late: every 90 years a group of young humans suddenly manifest supernatural powers and are reincarnated as Gods. This "Pantheon" then shines brilliantly for two years before they all die. The only constant element appears to be Ananke, an immortal and hugely powerful figure who turned out to have been murdering the Pantheon every cycle to avoid "the great darkness". This time around the Pantheon got there first, Ananke is dead, and now what the great darkness is is rapidly approaching. No one can agree on what to do, one of the Pantheon - Sakhmet - has murdered a bunch of people, and is hiding out from her fellow gods with Persephone, who was a fan of the Pantheon before being reincarnated as one of them.

Sure it sounds a little confusing, but that's what you get if you come in at issue #30. If you have never read The Wicked + the Divine before, go hunt down the first few trades: it's a regular four-to-five star comic book and is a worthy read.

This issue is dominated by Dionysus and Morrigan having a conversation in the dark. It sounds a little dull but it's an important conversation. This really all feels like a calm before a storm, and with the characters all getting developed up to a critical point it suggests that the next few issues are going to be pretty apocalyptic. I do think we're reaching a point where, after 30 serialised issues, it's becoming difficult to keep the characters and the storyline all set in my head with month-long gaps between instalments. A re-read of earlier arcs may be in order before long. (4/5)

The Wicked + the Divine #20. Image. Written by Kieron Gillen. Art by Jamie McKelvie. Colours by Matthew Wilson.

Under the cut: reviews of Action Comics, Batgirl and the Birds of Prey, Harbinger Renegade, Hulk and Ms Marvel.

August 17, 2017

The Pull List: 9 August 2017, Part 1

Mister Miracle of the New Gods returns to the DC Universe in a new 12-issue maxiseries. That is always cause for celebration, since Scott Free and his wife Big Barda have always been two great and underrated characters for DC. Every few years they pop up, delight me with their adventures, and then drop back into second-string obscurity again.

What makes this particular relaunch so exciting is the creative team: writer Tom King and artist Mitch Gerads, whose DC Vertigo book The Sheriff of Babylon was my favourite comic series of 2016. Seeing them reunited is a promise of great things to come.

Based on this first issue they seem pretty likely to satisfy their readers. This is an inventive and slightly off-kilter premiere, using a deliberately limited colour palette, deliberately mis-aligned artwork and many visual artefacts to create a genuine sense that the world has gone wrong. The same thing appears to be going on in King's script, in which Scott appears to be slowly going unhinged - or the universe around him is. Actually, I suspect the latter. It's a brilliant hook, beautifully packaged, and pretty much the number one must-read superhero book this month. (5/5)

Mister Miracle #1. DC Comics. Written by Tom King. Art by Mitch Gerads.

Under the cut: reviews of Detective Comics, Doctor Aphra, Freeway Fighter, Rogue One: Cassian and K-2SO Special, and Sacred Creatures.

August 15, 2017

Doctor Who: "The Slave Traders"

It is 16 January 1965, and time for another episode of Doctor Who.

A month after the TARDIS makes a crash landing in Ancient Rome, the Doctor (William Hartnell) and his companions relax in a nearby villa. When the Doctor and Vicki (Maureen O'Brien) head off to visit Rome, the Doctor finds himself mistaken for a murdered musician. Back at the villa Ian (William Russell) and Barbara (Jacqueline Hill) are ambushed and captured by slave traders.

There is something genuinely delightful about "The Slave Traders", the first episode of Dennis Spooner's historical serial "The Romans". A lot of the appeal comes from seeing the regular characters actually getting to stop for a while and relax. They have rampaged from one adventure to the next for a series and a half at this stage, and have more than earnest a rest. That rest comes with a huge boost in warm humour: it seems clear at this stage that Ian and Barbara are actively enjoying their travels with the Doctor. New companion Vicki has slipped comfortably into her new routine. The one-month jump in time actually benefits her introduction enormously because she is now happily familiar with her new friends. It is a great narrative shortcut.

August 14, 2017

The Pull List: 2 August 2017, Part 3

It started with a resentful drug-addicted police detective flying out to a distant spaceship to conduct a murder investigation. It ends, eight issues later, with two people huddled together with no oxygen or warmth left with which to survive. A hell of a lot happened in between.

Hadrian's Wall has been a tremendous miniseries. A smart murder-mystery in space that segued into a sort of siege thriller, with well-crafted characters and intelligence science fiction detail. Rod Reis was the icing on the cake, creating stunning painterly artwork that echoed some of the best production design of 1980s science fiction cinema. It is a blueprint for a cult film that never got made; who knows, with the series complete perhaps an enterprising studio will be tempted to take a chance on it.

A collection edition is coming soon. I really hope that it finds a strong readership on top of those who have already discovered it. This is the sort of SF work that deserves a big audience. (5/5)

Hadrian's Wall #8. Image. Written by Kyle Higgins and Alec Siegel. Art and colours by Rod Reis with Eduardo Ferigato.

Under the cut: reviews of Extremity, Giant Days and Seven to Eternity.

Doctor Who: "Desperate Measures"

It is 9 January 1965 and time for another episode of Doctor Who.

The Doctor (William Hartnell) and Ian (William Russell) make their way past the ancient traps of the Didonians. Barbara (Jacqueline Hill) and Vicki (Maureen O'Brien) get to know one another onboard the crashed starship. When the Doctor finally joins them, he gets to the bottom of the mysterious identity of the alien Koquillion.

"Desperate Measures" is a deceptively brilliant episode of Doctor Who. It throws in some great character-building scenes, properly integrates Vicki in the TARDIS crew, and climaxes with a tremendously atmospheric and dramatic reveal in an underground temple. This may be, at two episodes, one of the briefest of William Hartnell's Doctor Who serials, but it makes great and efficient use of its time.

August 11, 2017

The Pull List: 2 August 2017, Part 2

What if all of the famous people who vanished over history did not simply get murdered or die in obscurity somewhere, but actually found themselves transported to another universe? That is the basic premise of Elsewhere, a new fantasy series by writer Jay Faerber (Copperhead), artist Sumeyye Kesgin and publisher Image Comics.

To begin with, the series introduces us to Amelia Earhart, famous American long-distance pilot whose plane vanished over the Pacific Ocean in July 1937. After being rescued from a tree by a pair of goblin-like rebels on the run from their totalitarian government, she goes looking for her co-pilot Fred.

Kesgin's artwork has a quite traditional sort of look: clean, bold and immediately readable. Faerber's script is where the book staggers a little: it's relatively early, so the story could go either way, but there really is not a huge amount of plot here and nothing really leaps out to feel inventive or especially attention-grabbing. The basic premise is a cool one, but the execution really does let it down just a little. (3/5)

Elsewhere #1. Image. Written by Jay Faerber. Art by Sumeyye Kesgin. Colours by Ron Riley.

Under the cut: reviews of Robotech, Spider-Man and Swordquest.

Doctor Who: "The Powerful Enemy"

It is 2 January 1965, and time for another episode of Doctor Who.

While the Doctor (William Hartnell) mourns the loss of Susan, the TARDIS arrives on the planet Dido and Ian (William Russell) and Barbara (Jacqueline Hill) go exploring a mountain-side network of caves. In the valley below, the two survivors of a crashed human starship - Vicki (Maureen O'Brien) and Bennett (Ray Barrett) - live under the tyrannical control of the alien reptile Koquillion.

It is good that Susan's departure at the end of "The Dalek Invasion of Earth" was not ignored or quickly shuffled away. The early scenes of "The Powerful Enemy" see the Doctor visibly worn by the loss. He sleeps through a TARDIS landing for the first time. He seems very keen to send Ian and Barbara off to give him time alone. At one key moment he asks Susan to open the TARDIS door, then pauses, with a mixture of sadness and embarrassment. Barbara gently asks the Doctor to show her how to do it. It's a perfect small moment between the two characters: a little bit of healing for the Doctor, and the acknowledgement for Barbara that she and the old man really have become good friends.