March 27, 2015

The Pull List: 25 March 2015, Part II

Batman and Robin has been one of the New 52's constants: high quality, well characterised, beautifully illustrated, and presented pretty much interrupted for almost four years by the same creative team: writer Peter J. Tomasi, penciller Patrick Gleason and inker Mick Gray. It's never quite hit the heights that some other DC titles have - Batman and Batwoman both spring to mind - but it's never been less than excellent. As a result it's been one of the books I've reached for first whenever it's popped up in my order at the comic shop.

Issue #40 concludes the "Super" storyline, in which a resurrected Damian Wayne has come back to life with the powers of flight and superhuman strength. It also concludes this volume: this is the final issue of Batman and Robin. In June, Damian Wayne returns in Robin: Son of Batman #1 with Patrick Gleason both writing and illustrating the book. I'll be picking that book up like a shot, but I'm actually rather sad. This book has sort of crept up on me. I talk a lot about how great Snyder and Capullo's Batman is, or how entertaining Batgirl has become, and in the background Batman and Robin has kept ticking away, providing month after month of near-flawless superhero adventure on an uninterrupted monthly schedule.

As a final issue this is great: it wraps up the "Super" arc neatly and effectively, and presents a really strong, warm bond between Bruce and Damian. I mentioned this while reviewing the last issue, but I really hope somebody at DC picks up on the amazing chemistry between Damian Wayne and Shazam: it has the makings of an all-new "world's finest" pairing and it'd be a shame not to exploit that with a miniseries or story arc somewhere.

So thanks to Tomasi, Gleason and Gray for an outstanding three-and-a-half years of superhero action, father-and-son bonding and wonderfully heartfelt emotion. It's been great reading it. (5/5)

DC Comics. Written by Peter J. Tomasi. Art by Patrick Gleason and Mick Gray. Colours by John Kalisz.

Under the cut: more comic reviews from this week including The Autumnlands, Batman Eternal, Daredevil, The Fuse, Gotham Academy, He-Man, The Multiversity and The Wicked + the Divine.

March 25, 2015

The Pull List: 25 March 2015, Part I

I am a child of the 1980s, which is to say I was born in the late 1970s and grew up watching 1980s cartoons. It explains my regular purchase of DC's He-Man, and it also explains my irrational and ever-so-slightly embarrassing excitement that IDW have launched a new Jem and the Holograms comic.

I have to be honest: I haven't watched a single episode of Jem since the 1980s. As a child I remember it being one of the better cartoons on the TV, and it strikes me as a particularly cool concept to revisit as a comic book. What could be cooler than action-adventure starring a pop group?

The key here is reinvention. Writer Kelly Thompson and artist Sophie Campbell haven't simply reproduced the design and style of the cartoon on the page. They've taken the basic concept and the characters and developed them for a contemporary audience. The story is reasonably good, although not a great deal happens in this first issue. The art and design work, however, is fantastic. There's diversity in race and body shape, cool costuming and outrageous hair. It's hard to say whether or not this book will have narrative legs, but visually it's a brilliant start. If, like me, you have fond memories of the original cartoon, or if you're looking for an entertaining comic starring a group of women, this could be the new comic for you. (4/5)

IDW. Written by Kelly Thompson. Story by Kelly Thompson and Sophie Campbell. Art by Sophie Campbell. Colours by M. Victoria Robado.

With many thanks to IDW Publishing, I'm now receiving review copies of their titles each week. As a result I'm breaking The Pull List into multiple posts for the future. This is for two reasons: firstly, I now have access to a lot more books that I can review each week and I don't want to stack them all into one massively long post. Secondly, it means I can get the IDW reviews out on their day of release, along with anything I manage to read on the day I buy it, and you can read some of these short reviews a bit more promptly.

Under the cut: reviews of (deep breath) Aquaman, Darth Vader, Doctor Who, Miami Vice Remix and Transformers.

Mission: Impossible II (2000)

Four years after his first cinematic outing, IMF agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) returned in a long-awaited sequel. In this second film, directed by noted action director John Woo, Hunt enlists the help of an international jewel thief (Thandie Newton) to track down and stop a rogue IMF agent (Dougray Scott) who plans to sell a deadly engineered virus to the highest bidder.

It all sounds tremendously promising when written down like that. The truth is that Mission: Impossible II is a terrible film. No, more than terrible: it's an actively offensive film. Hollywood regularly makes films that are sexist, and that sideline or objectify its female characters - or in some cases exclude women from their narratives altogether. M:I2 goes one step further than that. Based purely on on-screen evidence, I'm pretty sure those in control of this film actively hate women.

March 24, 2015

Star Trek: Enterprise: "The Augments"

It's 12 November 2004, and time for more Star Trek: Enterprise.

After saving Cold Station 12 from a massive pathogen leak, Captain Archer (Scott Bakula) is back on the trail of the augments and their stolen Bird of Prey. Dr Soong (Brent Spiner) has finally realised how uncontrollable his 'children' are once Malik (Alec Newman) decides to seed the atmosphere of a Klingon colony with stolen pathogens in order to spark a Klingon-Earth war.

This is the episode where the stretched narrative of the first two parts strikes home, since there's precious little here for anybody to do. Sure the Enterprise pursues the Bird of Prey, and there's a bit of a fight, but there's nothing to the episode that couldn't have been compacted into the earlier episodes. This episode is, all things considered, remarkably dull.

Blake's 7: "Duel"

It's 20 February 1978, and time for the eighth episode of Blake's 7.

The Liberator arrives at a distant, long-dead planet, whose populations appears to be have been wiped out in a terrible war. The ship's power reserves are exhausted from constantly fleeing Space Commander Travis and his squadron of pursuit fighters. When Travis launches a fresh ambush, the situation looks grim - until the powerful survivors of the planet below intervene. Now Blake (Gareth Thomas) and Travis (Stephen Greif) find themselves in a dense forest, where they must kill each other in hand-to-hand combat - or learn not to fight at all.

"Duel" is the strongest episode of Blake's 7 so far. It succeeds because Terry Nation has managed to write a well-structured, strongly characterised script, but more so it succeeds because of its director, Douglas Camfield. Doctor Who fans know Camfield well as one that series' finest directors. He had an inventive eye for shot composition and timing, and pushed the technical limitations of the BBC to their limits. His Doctor Who serials included "The Crusade", "The Daleks' Masterplan", "The Invasion", "Inferno", and "The Seeds of Doom". Sadly this was the only episode of Blake's 7 Camfield directed, but at least in his one attempt he pulls off something really special.

March 23, 2015

Mission: Impossible (1996)

Mission: Impossible strikes me as one of Hollywood's slower movie franchises. I recently rewatched the first film in the series, released in 1996 and directed by Brian De Palma. A fifth film, Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation is due in cinemas in a few months' time. That's a 19 year gap from first film to fifth, or almost five years between each sequel. James Bond, by comparison, has averaged just over two years between each film. The Fast and the Furious movies average about two years as well.

It all makes Tom Cruise's ongoing performance as super-spy Ethan Hunt rather surprising. If we ignore the nostalgic "many years later" sequels like Never Say Never Again or Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull, then we can see that Harrison Ford played Indiana Jones for eight years, and Sean Connery played James Bond for nine. Tom Cruise has played Hunt for nineteen years. To start beating that kind of franchise longevity you have to start looking at Japanese franchises like Tora-San (still the world record-holder with 48 films in 26 years, all starring Kiyoshi Atsumi as Torajiro Kuruma), although I note that next year's X-Men: Apocalypse will bring Hugh Jackman into his 16th year as Wolverine. It's actually quite a shock to re-watch Mission: Impossible after a break of some years. Tom Cruise seems so young.

Star Trek: Enterprise: "Cold Station 12"

It's 5 November 2004, and time for more Star Trek: Enterprise.

Dr Arik Soong (Brent Spiner) leads the augments to Cold Station 12, the highly secure asteroid facility where Earth and Denobula keep their most dangerous pathogens. It also contains 1,800 augment embryos that have been kept on ice since the Eugenics Wars. Captain Archer (Scott Bakula) and the Enterprise remain in hot pursuit.

"Cold Station 12" feels like a much more focused episode than "Borderland". The latter seemed to get a little derailed halfway through with an Orion slave traders storyline. The focus of this episode is entirely on the augments, as they take control of Cold Station 12 and begin torturing and murdering the scientists there to get what they want. It's a highly dramatic episode, with some great action sequences, the debut of an oft-mentioned character and a strong moral challenge for Arik Soong.

March 22, 2015

Wonderful Days (2003)

By the mid-22nd century, environmental pollution has all but wiped humanity from the face of the Earth. Now two communities remains: the rich, powerful elites of the city Ecoban and the "diggers" outside, who are exploited to mine for the resources needed to keep Ecoban's high-technology paradise working. Childhood friends Shua and Jay meet one another for the first time in a decade - only this time she works for Ecoban security, and he leads a growing revolution agains Ecoban's control.

Wonderful Days, released in some markets as Sky Blue, is a 2003 animated feature film from South Korea. It tells a fairly familiar science fiction story, and certainly keen fans of anime are unlikely to see any kind of story here they haven't already seen before - although it is well-expressed. Where animation fans are likely to find more worth is in the astounding manner in which the film has been animation - a process that involved traditional cel animation, computer-generated graphics and physical model work.