February 6, 2016

The Pull List: 3 February 2016, Part II

When it is at its best, Detective Comics is one of the greatest superhero comic books. It's a Batman title, but it is supposed to have a more investigative bent. Over in Batman the Caped Crusader can fight colourful villains, travel around the world, have supernatural encounters or even alien encounters. By contrast Detective is always about Batman as 'the World's Greatest Detective'. It is a moodier book, more about sneaking around in alleyways solving crimes than in fighting monsters or super-powered antagonists.

That is why I am really digging "The Bronze Age", the current story arc running in Detective Comics. A serial killer is stalking Gotham, kidnapping innocent people, and disguising their dead bodies as iconic historical figures. It seems to have something with the bronze statues around Gotham - statues like one would find in any city - and as Batman investigates the body count begins to rise sharply.

Peter J. Tomasi is writing a storyline that has been rock-solid so far, with twists and turns and great characterisation. Batman is still being performed by Jim Gordon, who brings a particular and rather fresh attitude to the character. In the suit or out of it, he is always going to be a police detective first and a superhero second, and that's a really refreshing style. The art by Fernando Pasarin and Matt Ryan is similarly strong. There's nothing here that pushes the book into 'classic' territory, but it is an immensely satisfying read. (4/5)

DC Comics. Written by Peter J. Tomasi. Art by Fernando Pasarin and Matt Ryan. Colours by Chris Sotomayor.

Under the cut: reviews of Amazing Forest, Batman and Robin Eternal and We Are Robin.

February 5, 2016

Doctor Who: "Hidden Danger"

It's 11 July 1964, and time for another episode of Doctor Who.

The Doctor, Ian and Susan travel down to the Sense-sphere to negotiate the release of the TARDIS lock from the Sensorites. Already badly affected by a plague that came with the last set of human visitors, some members of the Sensorite community are intent upon killing them as soon as possible.

It has been six months since I last watched an episode of "The Sensorites". That is partly because I simply got distracted by other viewing options, but I think it is also down in part to "The Sensorites" being a remarkably slow-paced and rather sedate serial. Things do happen, and occasionally those things - such as in episode 2 - can get effectively creepy, but in the main it all feels a bit leaden. I think "Hidden Danger" may be the least engaging episode so far. While things do happen, and the plot does move ahead, it simply does not hold the viewer's attention very well.

Babylon 5: "Thirdspace"

It's 19 July 1998, and time for more Babylon 5; in this case the second of TNT's made-for-television films, Thirdspace.

While returning to Babylon 5 Commander Ivanova (Claudia Christian) and her squadron discover an enormous alien object drifting in hyperspace. They bring it to the station, where initial tests show it to be more than a million years old. While a pair of scientists investigate and research the object, people on the station begin to fall under its power. Some dream of a mysterious alien city, others begin to lose their minds. Before long everyone is in mortal peril if Captain Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner) cannot destroy the object, and the gateway to 'thirdspace' within it.

Shot immediately following the conclusion of Season 4, and narratively wedged somewhere in the middle of it, "Thirdspace" sees Babylon 5 re-tooled as a Hollywood action film. It boasts punch-ups and martial arts fights, big visual spectacles, one of the series' biggest-ever space battles, and more CGI in 90 minutes that was squeezed into all 22 episodes of Season 1. It is big, loud and rather stupid, but it's also rather silly fun.

February 4, 2016

The Pull List: 3 February 2016, Part I

Damn you Brian Michael Bendis.

I was all ready to give up on reading Ultimate Spider-Man. The book had relaunched in a pointless manner, the story was slowing to an intolerable crawl, and just when things finally pulled together into an interesting climax it all got abandoned in favour of the much-delayed and jaw-droppingly dreadful Ultimate End. I figured enough was enough, and whatever form in which Miles Morales, the Ultimate Spider-Man, returned, I was out for good.

Then I found myself buying issue #1 of Marvel's new Spider-Man, which brings Miles into the main Marvel Universe for the first time. It's pretty good. The wonderfully appealing characters that Brian Michael Bendis created are here, and the story sets up in a fairly nice fashion, and the great dialogue is back. Rather frustratingly it holds off explain how Miles is in the Marvel Universe now, or what his relationship to Peter Parker is, or how any of this new continuity works. Hopefully Bendis won't take too long to reveal that stuff. Sara Pichelli's artwork (with ink assists by Gaetano Carlucci) is just flat-out great.

This is not a perfect comic book, but I'd be lying if I said it was a bad one. There I was, about to drop Miles for good, and instead Bendis comes back with a last-minute save to get me hooked again. Damn you Brian Michael Bendis. (3/5)

Marvel. Written by Brian Michael Bendis. Art by Sara Pichelli and Gaetano Carlucci. Colours by Justin Ponsor.

Under the cut: reviews of Giant Days, Obi-Wan & Anakin and The Sheriff of Babylon.

Alien vs Predator: Requiem (2007)

After an alien bursts from the chest of a dead Predator, its spacecraft crashes into the woods outside a small American town. When a number of facehuggers emerge from the wreckage and begin impregnating the humans, another Predator arrives to clean up the mess. For the unsuspecting humans in Gunnison, Colorado, it means a long night of violence and terror as they run around like panicky kittens trying to survive.

After Paul W.S. Anderson directed Alien vs Predator and earned 20th Century Fox a tidy profit, it seemed as if the studio had a pulp B-grade movie franchise on its hands. After one sequel directed by visual effects specialists Colin and Greg Strause Alien vs Predator was stone-cold dead, with each property splitting back off into its respective franchise with Predators and Prometheus. It was not a matter of money: Alien vs Predator: Requiem turned a reasonable profit. It is simply as if the relevant executives at Fox saw where their combined film series was headed and simply broke it up before too much damage was done.

February 3, 2016

Outlander: "The Way Out"

1940s nurse Claire Randall (Catriona Balfe) is trapped in 1743 Scotland, where the Laird of the clan McKenzie has imprisoned her in Castle Leoch and its surrounds out of fear she may be an English spy. While biding her time Claire connects with the enigmatic herbalist Geillis Duncan (Lotte Verbeek), continues to flirt with the dashing Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan) and in saving a poisoned child's life earns the ire of the fire-and-brimstone priest (Tim McInnerny).

Thankfully Outlander's third episode skips any implied or threatened sexual assaults, although in return it does give us the spectacle of a 12 year-old boy having his ear nailed to the pillory. Asides from that it is a rather comfortable affair, settling Claire into 18th century life and further exploring the various characters living out their lives around her. There are a few glimmers of genius, but generally speaking this is a fairly amiable historical drama.

The Pull List: 27 January 2016, Part III

Aquaman #48 ends the brief run on the book by writer Cullen Bunn. It started with such a sudden, dramatic hook: Arthur on the run from his own people, and his wife Mera ruling Atlantis in his place while issuing warrants for his execution. It seemed to have a lot of promise to it, but for some reason that promise never quite eventuated. A lot of that might be due to the negative fan reaction Bunn claimed to have received when announced as the book's writer. He found some responses so aggressively negative that he had actually quit the book before his first issue had been released. That's depressing: disliking a writer's take on a comic book is fair enough, but it is not unfair to expect the fans to at least sample a book before writing it off.

The last few months have simply been a case of wrapping up a large, expansive storyline in the quickest and neatest manner possible. That is certainly what happens here. Arthur and Mera are reunited, he becomes king again, Atlantis sides with him, and he and the Justice League defeat the rival kingdom of Thule - all in the space of 20 pages. It's certainly fast-paced, and the art by Vincente Cifuentes (with inkers John Dell and Juan Castro) is really strong, but the abrupt nature of the story kind of steals its thunder.

Aquaman is a really tricky superhero for whom to write, and some writers do better jobs of it than others. In Bunn's case it feels as if his heart fell out of things almost as soon as he started. I would love to have seen him take a more enthused track at the title, but thanks to the vocal minority of Internet-based fans it seems we can't always have nice things. This was a really fun issue, but I regret not being able to see the whole run from beginning to end as Bunn had originally intended. (3/5)

DC Comics. Written by Cullen Bunn. Art by Vincente Cifuentes, John Dell and Juan Castro. Colours by Guy Major.

Under the cut: reviews of The Spire, Strayer and Venus.

February 2, 2016

Doctor Who: "Amy's Choice"

It's 15 May 2010, and time for another episode of Doctor Who.

Several years after leaving the TARDIS, Rory (Arthur Darvill) and a heavily pregnant Amy (Karen Gillan) are reunited with Doctor (Matt Smith) again in the sleepy surrounds of Upper Leadworth. Then they fall asleep, and find that they were dreaming, and that they are really trapped inside the TARDIS as it falls towards a deadly cold star. When they fall asleep in the TARDIS, and wake up again in Upper Leadworth, their real troubles begin.

It all brings to mind that old quote by the Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi, about the man who dreamed he was a butterfly and then woke not knowing if he was a man who dreamed he was a butterfly or a butterfly in the middle of a dream that it was a man. That is pretty much exactly the situation in which the Doctor and his companions find themselves here: two realities, one of which is real and the other of which is a lie, and they are forced to choose between them by the mysterious and deeply snarky Dream Lord (Toby Jones).