September 27, 2016

Star Trek: Voyager: "State of Flux"

It is 10 April 1995, and time for another episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

After an altercation with the Kazon Nistrim, it becomes clear that someone onboard Voyager has been secretly passing Federation technology to the Kazon. Ensign Seska (Martha Hackett) immediately comes under suspicion, and no matter how much she protests her innocence the guiltier she appears.

"State of Flux" is one of those frustrating episodes of Star Trek where you can sort of enjoy what's been produced, but your enjoyment keeps getting interrupted by realising all of the alternative creative choices that could have made it all so much better. Its biggest problem is that it spends 40 minutes pushing us to believe that Seska is actually a traitor to the Voyager crew, and then reveals that she is indeed a traitor to the Voyager crew. There is simply no suspense. It's a shame as well, because Martha Hackett was developing Seska into a much more interesting character than half of the regular cast.

September 26, 2016

The Pull List: 21 September 2016, Part 3

One of the best things about DC's New 52 was Francis Manapul. In The Flash and then Detective Comics he presented a solid knack for writing with an exceptional talent for art. His books looked absolutely glorious, boasting sharp design work with outstanding panel layouts and vivid colours. One of the worst things about DC's New 52 was the way it seemed to lose the overall sense of a united DC Universe. There was continuity between books, but the tone felt wrong: it was too dark and bleak for my tastes, and seemed to throw out the close familial aspect of the original DC Universe.

The new ongoing monthly Trinity is, then, a tremendous next step. Manapul writes and illustrates this new book, and his artistic talents have only grown stronger since he dropped off Detective Comics. It is a wonderful character-centric title, uniting Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman and showcasing their friendship. Not a lot happens in this issue - basically Diana and Bruce come to Lois and Clark's house for dinner - but there is more warmth and friendship on display than DC has allowed for some time.

The book also acknowledges and works with the current situation. The Superman that Wonder Woman and Batman knew is dead, and they're only just getting to know his pre-Flashpoint replacement. It has not thrown out the good parts of the New 52, it has simply replaced the bits that didn't work with a tone that does. I'm really enjoying DC's Rebirth titles, and this looks set to be another great addition to the line. (4/5)

Trinity #1. DC Comics. Story and art by Francis Manapul.

Under the cut: reviews of Aquaman, Batman, Green Arrow, Nightwing, and Superman.

September 25, 2016

Fantastic Four (2015)

A group of smart young scientists collaborate to build an inter-dimensional transport that links the Earth to a mysterious alien planet bubbling with green energy. When they travel across to explore this strange world, an unexpected and terrible disaster transforms them all, giving each of them super-human powers. For Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) it means turning into an enormous rock monster. For Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) it means the ability to fly and burst into flames. For his sister Sue Storm (Kate Mara) it means turning invisible and generating force fields. For young scientist Reed Richards (Miles Teller) it means the ability to stretch his limbs to ridiculous lengths - and a world of guilt.

I'm of the pretty firm opinion that the Fantastic Four are, as a pop culture property, pretty much unsuitable for live action cinema. Hollywood has tried four times now, and on a creative level at least pretty much all four attempts have been unmitigated failures. With the clock ticking down for 20th Century Fox to further exercise their options on the characters, we are facing a pretty much inevitable case of either yet another franchise reboot at Fox or the introduction of the Fantastic Four to the Marvel Cinematic Universe over at Disney. Both options are, to me, fairly bad ideas.

September 23, 2016

The Pull List: 21 September 2016, Part 2

Antonius Axia is a Roman Centurion who rescues a vestal virgin from cultists and is subsequently allowed to read their mysterious Codex. Six years later Antonius works as Rome's best private investigator - at which point he is unwillingly dispatched by the Emperor to investigate reports of massacres and monsters in far-off Britannia.

Britannia is an unexpected new miniseries from Valiant. It's unexpected because unlike their usual run of loosely connected superhero and science fiction titles, this is a horror comic set in the Roman Empire in the year 66 AD. It is also most welcome as it brings into the Valiant fold the widely regarded British comic book writer Peter Milligan. He provides a great story here: well researched and intelligent, with a nice blending of Roman history and nightmarish horror imagery. Juan Jose Ryp's artwork is striking and distinctive, and beautifully expresses the combination of ancient world settings and horrible, violent imagery.

It's great to see Valiant stretching itself in this fashion. With any luck this is the first of many such stretches, taking the high level of quality for which the publisher is known and directing it towards all new genres of graphic fiction. (4/5)

Britannia #1. Valiant. Written by Peter Milligan. Art by Juan Jose Ryp. Colours by Jordie Bellaire.

Under the cut: reviews of Jackboot & Ironheel, Mechanism, and Ringside.

September 22, 2016

Samurai Flamenco: "Predetermined Quota"

It is 4 December 2013, and time for the ninth episode of Samurai Flamenco.

It is three months after King Torture's attacks on Japan began, and interest is waning among both the Japanese public and Samurai Flamenco's allies. Tensions are rising between Masayoshi and Mari, with the latter getting pretty dissatisfied with what she thought was going to be an exciting and varied vigilante life. Even Hidenori is getting tired of the situation, eventually losing his temper with both Masayoshi and Mari, and quitting helping them altogether.

There is a growing and ridiculous self-awareness in Samurai Flamenco. After staggering through an awkward transition stage over the last two episodes, the show about an obsessed tokusatsu fan has transformed into a tokusatsu parody. Masayoshi is fighting near-daily battles with mutated villains with names like Branding Piranha (pictured) and Whipping Walrus. While the tone is a little uneven, particularly in its final minutes - and we'll get to that, it is feeling like it has regained a lot of confidence after shifting the tone and context so significantly.

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)

The crew of the newly anointed USS Enterprise-A are dragged out of shore leave when terrorists take hostages on the half-forgotten diplomatic post of Nimbus III. The leader of the terrorists? Sybok (Laurence Luckinbill), Spock's half-brother and a religious zealot who hijacks the Enterprise to reach the centre of the galaxy and meet his god face-to-face. As the Enterprise crew fall one by one under Sybok's spell, the only hope of defeating him lies in Captain Kirk (William Shatner).

I've previously seen Star Trek V referred to as "Shatner's folly". Since co-star Leonard Nimoy was granted permission from Paramount to direct the previous two Star Trek films, it was understandable that William Shatner might put up his hand and demand the same privilege. It is also understandable that, as a creative individual with more than 20 years of experience playing Star Trek's lead character, Shatner might also have some ideas on what kind of story to tell in a fifth feature. The end result is pretty notorious among Star Trek fans, with The Final Frontier regularly cited as the worst Trek film of the set. So dismissively slated is it that I figured, after rewatching the three films before it, it was worth coming back to the film with fresh eyes and seeing just how fair that assessment really is.

September 21, 2016

The Pull List: 21 September 2016, Part 1

Adam Osidis lives among the mountains with his family, led by his exiled father - the one man who dared to stand up against the powerful Mud King's offers. When the Mud King's magically powered servants come to the farm and kill Adam's father, he finally rides down to the city and face the Mud King for himself.

Seven for Eternity is a new fantasy comic from Rick Remender (Black Science, Low) and artist Jerome Opena (Fear Agent, Infinity). It presents an immediately intriguing fantasy world, one that only really gets touched upon with this first issue. There are broadly traditional high fantasy elements here: kingdoms, wars and magical creatures abound, but at least on an aesthetic level Adam Osidis is clearly a cowboy. It feels as if something quite distinctive and visually arresting is going to be developed here, and I'm keen to see how Remender and Opena develop it.

Opena's artwork is simply beautiful and intricately detailed. It strikes me as unlikely that this book is going to stick to a monthly schedule, but to be honest if the art quality holds up to the standard this first issue has set, I'm happy with any delays. It is one of the best-looking comics I've seen this year. Matt Hollingsworth's colours make it all look ever better. (4/5)

Seven to Eternity #1. Image. Written by Rick Remender. Art by Jerome Opena. Colours by Matt Hollingsworth.

Under the cut: reviews of Joyride and The Wicked + the Divine, plus bonus delayed reviews of Spider-Man from last week, and Giant Days from two weeks ago.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "I, Borg"

It is 11 May 1992, and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The Enterprise responds to what appears to be an automated distress call. An away team discovers the wreckage of a Borg scout ship with one survivor. Dr Crusher (Gates McFadden) insists on bringing the injured Borg onto the Enterprise to heal its injuries, at which point a plan is put into motion to infect it with a viral attack that may damage or even destroy the entire Borg Collective.

The Borg are simultaneously one of the most effective and one of the most difficult elements ever created for Star Trek. They made an enormous impact in their first appearance, back in Season 2's "Q Who": an inhuman civilization so technologically powerful that the Enterprise was match for it whatsoever. They returned in the Season 3 finale "The Best of Both Worlds", kicking off a two-part epic storyline in which they kidnapped and violated Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) and destroyed almost 30 Starfleet vessels in a single devastating attack. It actually stretched credulity slightly in that the Enterprise crew somehow managed to defeat the Borg in that storyline, and therein lies the Borg's problem: every time they arrive they must somehow be defeated, yet they are presented as so powerful from the outset that every victory against them makes them a little less effective