April 24, 2017

The Pull List: 12 April 2017, Part 1

The young viking woman Aydis has succeeded in freeing the goddess Brynhild from captivity, but has been captured and kidnapped by Freya and the Valkyries for her trouble.

There is a remarkable quality to Natasha Alterici's miniseries that is quite difficult to pin down. It skirts the edge of becoming an all-out sex-filled work of erotica - particularly in this issue, which reveals a Valhalla packed with scantily-clad lesbians - yet Alterici always pulls the book back to focus on characters and story, and a rich heartfelt tone of hope. The artwork is wonderfully subtle and almost gentle in style.

Perhaps best of all is just how distinctive and unique the book seems to be. It has an enormously strong identity and style that has made it stand out against all of the other comics I have been reading this year. When the time comes to consider the year's best books, Heathen is already a top contender. (5/5)

Heathen #3. Vault Comics. Story and art by Natasha Alterici.

Under the cut: reviews of Action Comics, Batgirl and the Birds of Prey, Copperhead and Detective Comics.

April 23, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Starship Mine"

It is 29 March 1993, and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

After the Enterprise is evacuated for periodic maintenance, Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) reboards the ship - only to find it taken over by mercenaries on a raiding mission. While his command crew are held captive on a nearby planet's surface, Picard is forced to single-handedly take back his ship by force.

"Starship Mine" is an unashamed riff on the popular 1988 action film Die Hard, in which hostages are taken, a heist is performed, and a single man with a gun is forced to save the day all by himself. It is a fun episode because it provides some straight-forward action and adventure, but it is particularly fun because it does all of that with Patrick Stewart playing the man with the gun. Some episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation are science fiction masterpieces. Some provide intellectual debate on social issues. Some just run around punching and shooting people.

April 22, 2017

The Pull List: 5 April 2017

Thea continues her quest for vengeance against the Paznina war lords. In the wreckage of the rising plains, she discovers a new ally for her mission.

There is a certain kind of bleak, desolate science fiction/fantasy that particularly appeals to me in comic book form. It can be found all through the works of Moebius, and more recently in American comic books in the likes of The Spire, Prophet, Wild Blue Yonder and Planetoid. You can add to that list Extremity, a vivid and richly developed saga about a one-handed girl on a mission for revenge among the shattered remnants of her home lands.

Creator Daniel Warren Johnson has developed an intriguing and dramatic fantasy world in which Thea seeks her vengeance, and his detailed, distinctive artwork really draws the reader into that world. Colourist Mike Spicer is particularly good in this issue, making a sharp visual distinction between flashback and present events as well as the various locations revealed. For fans of speculative fiction, this book is definitely worth checking out; personally, I'm hooked. (5/5)

Extremity #2. Image. Story and art by Daniel Warren Johnson. Colours by Mike Spicer.

Under the cut: reviews of Aquaman, Batman, Eleanor and the Egret, Giant Days, Green Arrow, Spider-Man and Superman.

April 20, 2017

Yowamushi Pedal: "Human Bullet Train!!"

It is 16 December 2013, and time for the 11th episode of Yowamushi Pedal.

The day after their special training sessions, the first years discover that the senior classmen have all travelled in secret to the preliminaries of the Inter-High Championship. Not wanting to miss seeing their schoolmates compete, Onoda, Naruko and Imaizumi sneak out of school to see the race. When they arrive, they discover the Sohoku team trailing in third with 50 seconds between them and their competitors.

To an extent this episode feels like an epilogue to the first 10 episodes, since it sets up the Inter-High Championships and gives a brief taste of the rival cyclists and teams that the protagonists are going to face. On the one level it's a nice piece of set-up. On another it makes the episode feel relatively redundant, since it is just sign-posting stuff the audience is going to encounter in due course anyway.

April 7, 2017

The Pull List: 29 March 2017, Part 2

Joyride kicked off with two wayward teenagers escaping a totalitarian planet Earth, hitching a ride on a spacecraft and going to explore the galaxy. Now it turns back: the cast has expanded, with four humans on the team, and they have decided it is time to re-introduce Earth to the rest of the galaxy and overthrow the despotic regime that controls the planet.

It's a plot development that carries a lot of narrative weight, since it reverses the 'running away' motivation that drove the first story arc. It also makes this a pretty fast-paced, energetic sort of issue as a lot of story gets told in a very brief amount of time. It's almost too brief: a slightly slower pace might have allowed events to carry even more weight than they already do.

The scripting is strong as always, as is Marcus To's wonderful artwork and designs. Irma Kniivila's colours always make this comic a visually rich reading experience, and certainly this issue is no different. This continues to be a hugely entertaining science fiction adventure comic. (4/5)

Joyride #11. Boom Studios. Written by Jackson Lanzing and Colin Kelly. Art by Marcus To. Colours by Irma Kniivila.

Under the cut: reviews of Divinity III: Stalinverse, Hadrian's Wall, Justice League of America, and Ladycastle.

April 4, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Birthright, Part 2"

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

While searching for his father, Worf (Michael Dorn) discovers a secret Romulan penal colony populated entirely by Klingons. Raised outside of the Empire and without the tutelage of their own kind, they have forgotten what it means to be a Klingon warrior. Captured by the guards and imprisoned alongside them, Worf takes their cultural education into his own hands.

The key fault of "Birthright" is clear once you view the second part. There is basically just a little bit more plot to the story that would fit into a single 42-minute episode. As a result the production team had two choices: condense and truncate, or expand and elaborate. Buoyed by the success of "Chain of Command" a few weeks earlier, the production team went with expanding. I think they made the wrong choice. While the first half, padded out by Data's learning to dream, had some genuine good material, the second half is just a chore.

April 2, 2017

The Pull List: 29 March 2017, Part 1

Recently DC Comics has undertaken a bizarre re-imagining of the Hanna Barbera cartoon properties, reworking children's entertainment from the 1960s and 1970s into odd re-imaginings aimed less at children and more at nostalgic thirty-somethings. Post-apocalyptic Scooby Doo has been a bedfellow with a Mad Max-esque Wacky Races and a cross-over Space Ghost/Johnny Quest mash-up. I have heard - but cannot confirm for myself - that their satirical new version of The Flintstones is actually very good, but to be honest the entire concept of these books do not interest me. A crossover between Banana Splits and Suicide Squad, however? That is a concept so completely wrong-headed and egregiously stupid that I felt compelled to check it out for myself.

More fool me. Suicide Squad/The Banana Splits is a train wreck in comic book form. Over-priced at US$4.99, its story by Tony Bedard is weak and superficial and its attempt to cross over the two properties takes the easy way out. It drags the look and tone of the Banana Splits aggressively towards Suicide Squad rather than work within the sharp contrast between the two properties. Ben Caldwell's pencils are generic and ordinary. There is a backup strip in the book's final third that launches another Hanna Barbera re-imagining - Snagglepuss as a gay 1950s playwright - but it is a little too short and simple to make any real kind of impact.

If you are going to deliberately produce a ridiculous crossover comic, it is important that you commit to the stupidity and make the most ridiculous comic that you can. Here DC pull their punches. Here they catch themselves in the middle. This book is garbage. (1/5)

Suicide Squad/Banana Splits #1. DC Comics. Written by Tony Bedard. Art by Ben Caldwell and Mark Morales. Colours by Jeremy Lawson.

Under the cut: reviews of Black Widow and Heathen.

The Pull List: 22 March 2017, Part 3

Every ongoing comic book needs jumping-on points for the new readers, and whether the pre-existing fans like it or not the most obvious way to provide one is to re-start a serialised comic from a new issue #1. Valiant in particular use this technique on all of their books, with few titles extending far between twenty issues or so without getting revamped, renumbered and relaunched. This month it has been the turn of X-O Manowar, which begins anew with a script by Matt Kindt and Tomas Giorello.

To their credit it really does feel like a fresh book. Aric, the Roman gladiator who bonded with an alien suit of armour, now lives in a distant planet as a farmer with one hand missing and his iconic armour buried in the ground. When the military come conscripting cannon fodder, he is dragged away and forced to fight whether he wishes to or not.

Tomas Giorello's artwork absolutely sells this book. It looks fantastic, with a rich visual blend of science fiction and fantasy elements and a huge amount of tecture and depth. For new readers it is an easy book into which to jump: people often ask me which Valiant books to read, and this month you should absolutely be reading X-O Manowar. (5/5)

X-O Manowar #1. Valiant. Written by Matt Kindt. Art by Tomas Giorello.

Under the cut: reviews of Bloodshot Reborn, Helena Crash and Star Trek/Green Lantern.