May 29, 2015

The Pull List: 27 May 2015, Part II

Valiant continue to release some of the best superhero comics on the market. Divinity is just one of them. This week it concludes its initial four-issue run, although a second miniseries has already been announced for later in the year. It's been genuinely good stuff, and I think this fourth issue is probably the best.

The book follows Abram Adams, who travelled into space as a cosmonaut only to return to Earth 50 years late and gifted with godlike powers. The superhero team Unity have been sent to capture and contain him, but as of the end of issue #3 he was pretty much running rings around them. This issue concludes that fight.

It's wonderfully written, because at its heart this issue showcases a man who's simply decades too late to recover what he wants. The ending is bittersweet, and the journey there is carefully told and very well developed. The artwork, by Trevor Hairsine and inker Ryan Winn, shows remarkably subtlety in the characters: their movements and expressions are lifelike and rich in detail.

This comic has been a fascinating experiment: what would happen if a godlike super-human did suddenly arrive on Earth? How would people react? What effects would they have. Based on this issue, it looks like the impact of Divinity's arrival is going to have some pretty huge ramifications for the Valiant Universe. (5/5)

Valiant. Written by Matt Kindt. Art by Trevor Hairsine and Ryan Winn. Colours by David Baron.

Under the cut: reviews of Hellbreak, Ivar Timewalker, and The Life After.

West Wing Month: An Introduction

American television in the 21st century is in a very different place to where it was just 20 years earlier. The rapid expansion of cable television drama, followed by new online drama platforms such as Amazon and Netflix, has led to an unprecedented advance in quality and prestige. This increase in prestige and respectability has brought with it a wave of actors, writers and directors who have in part abandoned feature films - where the visual effects-driven blockbuster now reigns supreme - for more creatively fertile grounds.

I think that this current 'golden age' of television can be drawn all the way back to 1999, and two widely acclaimed, memorable dramas. The first is David Chase's HBO series The Sopranos. It wasn't the first original hour-long drama series for the cable channel - that was Oz, which premiered two years earlier - but it was the first to make a seismic impact on the industry in terms of storytelling style and depth of character.

The other key series of 1999 was Aaron Sorkin's political drama The West Wing, and that is the series on which I've decided to focus this month with a set of reviews. It follows the story of fictional United States President Josiah "Jed" Bartlet (Martin Sheen) from the beginning of his second year in office to the inauguration of his successor seven seasons later.

May 28, 2015

The Pull List: 27 May 2015, Part I

Image continue to publish an impressive range of titles, and a great example of that this week is Pisces. The book follows Patrick Keene, a Vietnam veteran suffering from the strangest of flashbacks and waking nightmares. We're two issues in, and the reality behind what he's experiencing is still a complete mystery to me. It's got me intrigued as all hell though.

The book is written by Kurtis J. Wiebe, best known for the acclaimed and award-nominated Rat Queens. This is a very different kind of book, both in look (the Johnnie Christmas artwork is great) and tone. It's sort of a science fiction thing - it keeps jumping to maddening scenes of Patrick as an astronaut and then back to his post-war life in Miami - but at the same time it's a deeply effective psychological thriller.

I actually have no idea how long this book is intended to run. I assume it's a miniseries, but haven't bothered to check. I don't need to check. I picked up the first issue based on Wiebe's name and it's entertaining me so far. This second issue is stronger than the first, suggesting this might be one of those series that just picks up steam as it goes. (4/5)

Under the cut: reviews of Black Widow, He-Man: The Eternity War, Indestructible: Stingray, The Infinite Loop and Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye.

Gatchaman Crowds: "Collage"

It's the final episode of Gatchaman Crowds. The Crowds have overrun Tachikawa. Berg Katze seems impossible to defeat. The Gatchaman are not strong enough to push back the tide of destruction. It's time for the final showdown - and so on and so forth.

The series concludes on a high note. That's the first and foremost thought on my mind. There's always a risk with a serial narrative of screwing up the climax, and it's fantastic to see just how effective and satisfying this conclusion is. It's dramatic, thrilling, funny and more than a little sad. It boasts multiple pay-offs for the audience, and even a couple of surprises.

The first thing that happens is that OD, the playful androgynous Gatchaman who never transforms, challenges Katze to a duel and not only transforms but damn near defeats Katze all by himself. It's a stunning, cataclysmic battle that pretty much destroys Gatchaman headquarters in the process.

May 27, 2015

Star Trek: Enterprise: "Affliction"

It's 18 February 2005, and time for more Star Trek: Enterprise.

Dr Phlox is kidnapped by aliens in San Francisco. While the Enterprise crew attempt to work out where he has been taken, Phlox finds himself unwillingly forced to help a Klingon scientist find a cure to a virus that is decimating his species.

Given Season 4's ridiculous propensity to indulge in all manner of unnecessary continuity references, I suppose it was only a matter of time before the series tackled Klingon foreheads. In the original Star Trek the Klingons were basically humans with orange-hued make-up and thick black eyebrows. For Star Trek: The Motion Picture, however, they were re-envisaged with thick cranial ridges that remained throughout all of their remaining Star Trek appearances. Some fans - evidently the ones with too much time on their hands - always wanted to know why this change occurred, demanding some in-universe reason to cover the fact that essentially 1980s Star Trek had a lot more money than 1960s Star Trek and could finally do decent prosthetic make-up. By Deep Space Nine they were even making jokes about it, with Worf noting "it is not something we discuss with outsiders". It was a great joke, basically telling the audience "Yes, we know. Stop fussing about it."

May 26, 2015

Gatchaman Crowds: "Gamification"

It's the penultimate episode of Gatchaman Crowds. Rui finally manages to reconnect with X, giving the people of Tachikawa hope in defeating the Crowds. Hajime convinces Prime Minister Sugiyama to go on the Internet Gatchachannel and plead with the people of the city to reconnect with Galax and fight against the Crowds and Katze.

That doesn't seem like quite enough plot to sustain an entire 25 episode - and there's a reason for that. The story cited above fills about 12 minutes, and forms the second half of the episode. The first half consists of 12 minutes of clips from the previous 10 episodes, as the Gatchaman team take turns in reminiscing over their experiences since Hajime joined the team in episode 1.

Now I am very much aware that anime is an expensive art form, and that costs often overrun and must be clawed back in some fashion. An episode comprising clips of pre-existing footage is sometimes a necessary evil for producers, and while I'm often bored by these episodes I understand the reason why they exist.

The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail (1945)

Let's have a look at Akira Kurosawa's fourth feature film, The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail, which is to be honest more interesting for when and how it was produced than what it's actually about. Kurosawa originally wanted to direct a large-scale feudal epic titled The Lifted Spear, however it required battle scenes with samurai on horseback. With Japan losing its war with the Allies there simply weren't any horses left in or near Tokyo for Toho Studios to use. As a low-budget back-up the studio suggested Kurosawa adapt the kabuki play Kanjincho (The Subscription List). The film was ultimately shot almost entirely inside a studio with only a brief trip to the nearby Imperial Forest to shoot some establishing scenes.

The play, based on a true event from the 12th century, followed a disgraced feudal lord as he crossed a heavily guarded border with his retinue disguised as itinerant monks. Kurosawa was not keen on making the film, but its subject matter of feudal loyalty and bravery in the face of certain defeat was appealing to Japan’s military authorities. Kurosawa wrote a screenplay for the film in three days, keeping the narrative relatively close to the original play. The only significant addition he made was to introduce a comic porter, to be played by popular comedian Kenichi Enomoto – an actor on whose films Kurosawa had worked as an assistant director through the late 1930s.

May 25, 2015

Angels & Demons (2009)

Don't think. That's pretty much the core requirement to enjoy Angels & Demons, Ron Howard's 2009 adaptation of the popular Dan Brown novel. I read the novel back in 2006 while on a lengthy holiday in Europe. I was aware of Brown by repute - hugely popular, badly written, and so on - and figured it would be a silly and enjoyable read. To an extent it was, although the enjoyment was largely gained by reading select passages aloud to my wife and laughing as she accused me of making them up.

The plot, which if you've not read the book nor seen the film I promise you is not a lie: the Pope has died, and when the assembled Cardinals are locked inside the Vatican to elect his replacement the four most likely candidates are kidnapped. At the same time the kidnapper has hidden an anti-matter bomb somewhere on the premises. It's all down to Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), a Harvard professor of symbology, to track down the kidnapped Cardinals, find the bomb and save the day.