July 25, 2016

The Pull List: 20 July 2016, Part 3

Joyride was initially solicited as a four-issue miniseries, however solid sales and strong word of mouth has led it to become an ongoing series instead. I'm glad: this book has a great core concept, beautiful art and designs by Marcus To, and a set of characters I really want to follow for a whole pile of future issues.

So, to recap: sometime in the far future, a repressive Earth government has closed its entire population off from the broader universe. Three human teenagers have escaped: the idealistic Uma, the love-struck Dewydd, and the reluctant soldier Catrin - recently revealed as the daughter of Earth's dictatorial leader. Together they have stolen a starship, and joined up with an eccentric robot and a cynical alien drifter. This issue sees the pursuing Earth military finally catch up with them, and attempt to take Catrin home.

This is a rock-solid space opera, with a great plot, really likeable characters and stunning artwork. Each issue has endeared itself to me more than the last: like all good stories, the characters are key. As I have read more of Catrin, Uma and Dewydd, I have come to relate to them more. This climactic issue seals the deal: I want to read the further adventures of these runaways for as long as the creative team are willing to tell them. I can see a bright future ahead for this book: a TV or film deal seems a certainty. Why not get in at the ground floor? (5/5)

Joyride #4. Boom Studios. Written by Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly. Art by Marcus To. Colours by Irma Kniivila.

Under the cut: reviews of Black Road, Black Widow and Usagi Yojimbo.

Roadies: "The City Whose Name Must Not Be Spoken"

It is 17 July 2016, and time for another episode of Roadies.

It is time for a much-needed day off for the roadies of the Staten-House Band, but when Reg (Rafe Spall) says the name of a cursed city on the tour bus everyone's day is immediately devoted to breaking the curse before it ruins the tour. Meanwhile the band's bass player goes missing, sending Bill (Luke Wilson) and Shelli (Carla Gugino) on a road trip to find him.

So this is the fourth episode of Roadies, the 2016 TV drama so weirdly awful that I simply have not been able to look away. Every week I am dragged back by its gravity of predictable characters, well-worn stereotypes, and bizarrely gargantuan smugness, just so that I can get flummoxed by how it got to be so hopelessly awful all over again. This episode is not an improvement. It is perhaps a slightly different kind of awful to earlier episodes, but awful it remains. I will be stunned if this series gets a second season.

July 24, 2016

The Pull List: 20 July 2016, Part 2

Birds of Prey was one of DC Comics' great team-up books. It kicked off with a 1995 one-shot by writer Chuck Dixon, and when that sold well DC followed it up with a miniseries and eventually an ongoing series. The book united Oracle, aka Barbara Gordon, with Black Canary and the Huntress, and via a bunch of writers - notably Gail Simone - it became one of the better superhero books on the shelves. A 2011 attempt to revive the book with a new cast of characters failed to get an audience. Now DC is trying again with a more traditional take: Barbara Gordon's back, now as Batgirl, and this prologue issue sees her teaming up once again with Black Canary and the Huntress.

While it's always great to see a good band get back together, the script by Julie and Shawna Benson feels a little too much on the nose. There is not a lot of room for subtlety, and this issue at least dwells perhaps a little too much on Alan Moore and Brian Bolland's notorious graphic novel The Killing Joke. It looms over pretty much every take on Batgirl since 1988, and it would be a relief to finally see a take on the character that moves on from her being shot in the spine by the Joker to make Batman and her father unhappy. Claire Roe's artwork does not quite meet with my expectations, but I suspect that may be more of a taste thing than a question of quality. Certainly it's quite distinctive.

This issue does feel slightly confused when it comes to continuity. It seems to mention continuity from both before and after DC's Flashpoint, creating a strange sort of Schrodinger's Huntress situation where I was unsure whether Batgirl and Black Canary knew Huntress until they finally encountered one another in the issue's final act. I suspect this may be the fault of DC's messy continuity rather than this issue in particular, and for new readers it is likely not an issue at all.

I am not sold on this new iteration of Birds of Prey, but this is just the kick-off - with any luck the series proper, which begins in two weeks, will be better. (2/5)

Batgirl and the Birds of Prey Rebirth #1. DC Comics. Written by Julie Benson and Shawna Benson. Art by Claire Roe. Colours by Allen Passalaqua.

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

July 23, 2016

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part II (2015)

With civil war exploding across PanEm, rebel figurehead Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) makes a dangerous journey into the capital with the hope of finally meeting President Snow (Donald Sutherland) face-to-face. On the way she must help Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) recover from his torture at Snow's hands, and to finally decide which of her two suitors - Peeta and Gael (Liam Hemsworth) - she really loves.

Mockingjay Part II continues Hollywood's love for splitting adaptations of single books into multiple parts. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was split into two, the final Twilight film was split into two, and The Hobbit was even split into three. It is a strategy that certainly makes a mercenary kind of financial sense - double the films and double the revenue - and can arguably make narrative sense if one novel's climactic narrative really is too long and dense to fit into a single movie. It often winds up straddling some sort of middle ground, however, so The Deathly Hallows wound up with a rather slow and padded first half followed by a dramatic and entertaining second. I worry the opposite has happened with Mockingjay. The first film was really very good, but this second half - and final film for the franchise - is really quite sedate and maudlin for what should be an emotional finale.

July 22, 2016

Thunderbolt Fantasy: "Code of Umbrellas"

Dan Fei runs through the storm with her brother Heng. A group of swordsmen ambush them - they are after a legendary sword Fei carries - and while her brother is killed Fei manages to escape. She next runs into a travelling stranger, Bu Huan, who reluctantly defends her when the Xuan Gui Zong clan return to take the sword once and for all.

Thunderbolt Fantasy is a rather surprising new anime series. This 13-part series is a Japanese-Taiwanese co-production, one written by noted author and script writer Gen Urobuchi (Black Lagoon, Psycho Pass, Fate/Zero). It tells a typical Chinese wuxia adventure full of super-human sword-wielding vigilantes, rich and extensive back stories, and lengthy speeches and narration. It is full of portent and gravitas - so much, in fact, that it is often difficult to treat this first episode seriously.

Oh, and it's also performed in live-action with glove and rod puppets.

The Pull List: 20 July 2016, Part 1

Faith has been a popular character for Valiant, and just after she's enjoyed a successful solo miniseries she has now graduated to her own ongoing monthly from writer Jody Hauser and a range of talented and distinctive artists.

This is in many respects a very traditional sort of superhero narrative. Faith is a superhero in Los Angeles with a secret identity and a day job working for a tabloid news website. She is struggling to hide her true identity - some friends know, some don't - as well as to juggle being a crime-fighter with having a normal life. The art is strong. Pere Perez handles the bulk of it, with Marguerite Sauvage and Colleen Doran taking on a range of extra pages including dreams and a quick origin recap.

As is often the case with these books, it is not what the story is but how it is told. Jody Hauser writes a fantastic character with Faith: she's uncertain, yet powerful, and has a geeky edge that I suspect will appeal to quite a few readers. If you're looking for a rock-solid superhero book with a female protagonist and a bit of a fresh angle, Faith is definitely worth checking out. (4/5)

Faith #1. Valiant. Written by Jody Hauser. Art by Pere Perez, Marguerite Sauvage, and Colleen Doran. Colours by Andrew Dalhouse.

Under the cut: reviews of Darth Vader, Rai and Spider-Man.

July 21, 2016

Star Trek Beyond (2016)

Three years into its five-year mission the Enterprise is dispatched to an impenetrable nebula on an urgent rescue mission. Instead of a trapped starship they find an ambush. With the crew captured and an alien despot planning an attack against the Federation, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto), McCoy (Karl Urban) and the gang must work against a ticking clock to escape, defeat the enemy and save the day.

2016 marks the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, and to celebrate Paramount, Bad Robot and an improbably large number of co-producers have teamed up to make Star Trek Beyond. It is the third in producer J.J. Abrams' run of rebooted pictures, featuring a younger cast and updated design, and the thirteenth Trek film overall. There is an oft-quoted rule, ironically once quoted by co-writer and actor Simon Pegg in his classic geek comedy series Spaced, that the odd-numbered Star Trek films are not any good. The three Trek films since Star Trek: Nemesis caused that rule to wobble. Beyond shatters it entirely. This is simultaneously a great Summer blockbuster, a great 50th anniversary celebration, and easily the best Star Trek film since The Undiscovered Country back in 1991.

Samurai Flamenco: "Attack! Army of Evil"

It is 28 November 2013, and time for another episode of Samurai Flamenco.

The mysterious King Torture announces he will invade Japan with a series of deadly monsters, however those monsters keep getting defeated by Samurai Flamenco and the Flamenco Girls. Hidenori begins to worry about how enthused Masayoshi has become about the conflict. Mari begins to feel jealous of how Masayoshi is dominating their monster battles.

This really has become a quite peculiar series. The first six episodes followed a clueless male model attempting to be a superhero in a mundane world. The seventh suddenly introduced a genuine monster that kills several police officers before killing itself in an explosion. I really was not sure what sort of series was going to emerge after such a weird change in tone and content. Now that I have watched the eighth episode, I am still not sure. I'm intrigued, and that does count for quite a bit.