March 25, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Tapestry"

It is 15 February 1993, and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

When an away mission goes disastrously wrong, Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) dies in the Enterprise sickbay. When he awakes it is in an afterlife controlled by the alien entity Q (John De Lancie), who offers Picard the chance to re-live a critical moment in his life all over again.

Q returns to torment Picard for the second time in one season - and only a week, in broadcast terms, after harassing Benjamin Sisko over in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. It runs a terrible risk of over-using the character, since a little bit of Q tends to go a long way and also because his earlier 1992/93 appearances in "True Q" and "Q-Less" were hardly high quality outings. Thankfully "Tapestry" is a much, much stronger episode. It is probably the single-best Q episode Star Trek ever had.

March 24, 2017

The Pull List: 15 March 2017, Part 3

Head Lopper returns, with an all-new story arc but the same blend of simple, abstracted art work and Robert E. Howard-style sword and sorcery adventure. Norgal and Agatha are on a mission to enter the Crimson Tower and defeat the diabolical Ulrich the Twice-Damned. They are accompanied by a disparate group of other adventurers and - unexpectedly - a group of small goblin-like children.

Andrew Maclean is a tremendous talent, telling engaging fantasy stories with a strong sense of absurd humour. Anyone who enjoyed Trondheim and Sfar's excellent Dungeon series of graphic novels - and who wouldn't? - will find themselves very much at home here. Head Lopper also benefits from the extra length afforded to each issue. It makes the decompressed style and big colourful panels really work to the book's advantage.

Perhaps the book's greatest strength is that there simply is not another comic like it on the market. Maclean has established himself a comparatively exclusive niche with which to tell broad, entertaining pulp adventures with his own distinctive take. It is one of my favourite books in the US market today. (5/5)

Head Lopper #5. Story and art by Andrew Maclean. Colours by Jordie Bellaire.

Under the cut: reviews of All-Star Batman, Ms Marvel, Poe Dameron and Spider-Man.

March 22, 2017

The Pull List: 15 March 2017, Part 2

Last week saw the release of issue #2 of The Wild Storm, DC's relaunch of Jim Lee's popular 1990s Wildstorm Universe. A lot of the Wildstorm characters were inserted into DC proper back during the New 52, but The Wild Storm resets them all in their own world, and it makes a world of difference.

This is a smart, contemporary take on a superhero story, one without secret military organisations like SHIELD but rather Apple-style tech giants. This issue is low on action but high on dialogue and plot development, and the no-nonsense panel layouts and Jon Davis-Hunt's superb artwork make it an extremely clean, entertaining read. It is worth noting Steve Buccellato's emotive colours as well. As for the story, a young woman with an advanced tech-suit is now being tracked down by three separate organisations at the same time, with the strong sense that bad things are going to happen when those three groups collide.

For long-term Wildstorm fans it's great to see old characters reworked into a new form. For fresh readers this is just an intelligent and inventive new comic that is absolutely worth reading. Writer Warren Ellis is doing some great work here, and it deserves our attention. (5/5)

The Wild Storm #2. Written by Warren Ellis. Art by Jon Davis-Hunt. Colours by Steve Buccellato.

Under the cut: reviews of Daredevil, Divinity III: Escape from Gulag 396, Highlander: The American Dream, and Star Trek: Deviations.

March 21, 2017

Colditz: "Ghosts"

It is 14 January 1974, and time for another episode of Colditz.

As the newly appointed escape officer, Carter (David McCallum) identifies the key problem facing escape attempts is the Germans noticing people are missing too early. After finding an old priesthole underneath the chapel pulpit, he decides to test the idea by hiding Player (Christopher Neame) and Brent (Paul Chapman) there

One of the greatest strengths of Colditz is how the series managed to find fresh angles on the same activity each episode. "Ghosts" presents a particularly clever variation: Player and Brent's use of the priesthole accidentally collides with a failed tunnelling attempt by some French prisoners, which leads the Kommandant (Bernard Hepton) to seal up the chapel completely. The episode's goal, therefore, is not to escape any more but to somehow save Player and Brent's lives without having to admit they are there to the German guards.

March 20, 2017

The Pull List: 15 March 2017, Part 1

After a fairly underwhelming prologue issue, Batwoman hits the ground running in its first issue. Kate Kane is travelling the world on the hunt for an illegal serum that transforms normal humans into terrifying monsters. Accompanying her on her travels is Julia Pennyworth, daughter of Alfred. It is a nice set-up that keeps the strong angle on female characters that made the last volume of Batwoman work so well.

Steve Epting's artwork is great, but the real star is colourist Jeromy Cox. His stark monochrome work in the issue's flashback sequence really makes it stand out. Exceptional artwork and Batwoman feel like they go hand in hand, due in no small part to J.H. Williams III's outstanding work some years back. The work here is different of course, and nowhere near as intricate, but it looks wonderful and adds a great deal to the book.

Batwoman is a great character. She is tied to Batman enough to benefit from the extended Batman characters and situations, but she is very much her own character as well. In many respects she is the Black Widow of the DC Universe: a talented espionage agent haunted by a violent past. She even has the red hair. It's another solid win for DC Rebirth. (4/5)

Batwoman #1. DC Comics. Written by Marguerite Bennett and James Tynion IV. Art by Steve Epting. Colours by Jeromy Cox.

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

March 16, 2017

The Pull List: 8 March 2017, Part 2

The Grass Kingdom is a small pocket of rural America that runs by its own rules, ignoring the Federal government in favour of independent, off-the-grid living. It is run by three brothers, including Sheriff Bruce - introduced escorting a young trespasser off their lands - and eldest brother Robert, who remains traumatised over the apparent drowning death of his daughter.

This is Grass Kings, a new monthly book by writer Matt Kindt and artist Tyler Jenkins. It is a very understated opening, easing the reader into the environment and characters without resorting to smash-and-grab action scenes or surprise cliffhangers. Kindt writes sparse, hugely effective dialogue too. Tyler Jenkins' artwork is beautiful, and similarly low key, and well served by Boom Studios' matt finish paper that really allows the delicate visuals to pop off the page.

If there's a problem it is that the book actually too low-key for its own good. It may ease the reader in gently, but it also lacks any proper sense of drama. There is nothing here to drag the reader back beyond the quality of the dialogue and the art, and in the hugely competitive world of American comic book publishing I am not certain if that will be enough. It is a soft opening, with a great deal to recommend, but it left me wanting just a little bit more than what I got. (3/5)

Grass Kings #1. Boom Studios. Written by Matt Kindt. Art by Tyler Jenkins.

Under the cut: reviews of Copperhead, Doctor Aphra, and Planetoid: Praxis.

March 15, 2017

The Night Manager: Episode 6

It is 27 March 2016, and time for the final episode of The Night Manager.

Everything comes full circle: Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston) is back at Cairo's Nefertiti Hotel, where he was first drawn into the criminal world of Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie). Roper's arms deal is about to be made, and with Corky dead Jonathan is running out of avenues to keep Roper from discovering he is a spy. Angela Burr (Olivia Colman) is in Cairo to help, but can she do enough to help trap Roper and keep Jed (Elizabeth Debicki) out of harm's way?

There is a very pleasing symmetry to this final episode of The Night Manager. After moving from Cairo to Switzerland to Spain to Turkey, the series now snakes back to its starting point: a new deal, a new disguise, but the self-same hotel in which Jonathan originally worked as the titular night manager. It also brings him back in contact with corrupt Egyptian playboy Freddie Hamid (David Avery), whose murder of his lover brought a vengeful Jonathan to British intelligence in the first place.

March 14, 2017

The Pull List: 8 March 2017, Part 1

Dan Slott and Michael Allred's run on Silver Surfer continues to be a sweet confection among Marvel's usual mess of crossovers and tie-ins. Ironically it was one of those incessant tie-ins that caused the book to stagger back in early 2016. That coincided with a significant slowdown in the pace of this title: since relaunching off the back of Secret Wars it has only managed nine issues over 15 months.

This ninth issue is the sort of self-contained story that makes the delays worthwhile. The Surfer and his companion Dawn discover a star system where the first three planets are devastated wrecks, but the fourth boasts a thriving civilization. While meeting the inhabitants, they discover the same people wrecked the other three worlds via environmental damage. The secret of how they have survived so well the fourth time around forms the core mystery for the Surfer and Dawn to solve.

Slott's intended model of treating the Silver Surfer as the Marvel Universe version of Doctor Who works incredibly well here. The plot is simple enough to fit comfortably into 20 pages, but still finds room for moments of character and some larger-scale story developments. Michael and Laura Allred do a predictably great job with the artwork. It is simple, but hugely engaging. (5/5)

Silver Surfer #9. Marvel. Written by Dan Slott. Art by Michael Allred. Colours by Laura Allred.

Under the cut: reviews of Batgirl and the Birds of Prey, Detective Comics, Star Trek: Waypoint and The Wicked + the Divine.