February 26, 2017

The Night Manager: Episode 5

It is 20 March 2016, and time for episode 5 of The Night Manager.

Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston) has defied the orders of his handler Angela Burr (Olivia Colman) and accompanied arms trader Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie) to his latest deal in Turkey. Jonathan has never been closer to trapping Roper and exposing his criminal enterprise, but with his location growing more and more isolated and with Corky (Tom Hollander) still working to unseat him in Roper's circle, it may be too dangerous to continue.

There is a striking change in tone with this fifth episode, which takes the series out of its luxurious settings in Spain and Switzerland and shifting instead to the industrial ports and wilds of Turkey. The stakes have been raised considerably, since Jonathan is now operating without any support from London at all. The series also shifts its visual palette: the softer, richer colours of earlier episodes have given way to muddy greys and browns. As Jonathan moves closer to the centre of Roper's operations, so too does the audience: it is all feeling much more vicious and unpleasant.

February 25, 2017

The Pull List: 22 February 2017, Part 2

As a pretty keen fan of Doctor Who, I have been a big fan of how Titan Comics has been handling the franchise: monthly ongoings for the most recent Doctors, and occasional five-part miniseries for the classic incarnations. Most recently it has been Jon Pertwee's Third Doctor that has been the focus of a miniseries, and writer Paul Cornell has certainly provided a lot of period-appropriate touch points and character traits to give it a proper 1970s vibe.

Sadly the story itself has been pretty haphazard and silly, first bringing in the Second Doctor to assist and then revealing midway that he was actually the identical-looking villain Ramon Salamander in disguise. It was fairly torturous continuity porn, to be honest, and with the fifth and final issue dropping into stores it's pretty clear to me that the story simply didn't work. This final issue in particular feels all over the place, and is far too rushed to generate any proper sense of drama. In the past Cornell has written some of the best Doctor Who available, for both prose and television. It is a shame that in this case he didn't manage to pull things off.

Christopher Jones' art is excellent, and captures the likenesses of the various TV characters very well. I would be very happy to see him have a turn on another Doctor Who miniseries in the future. Preferably one with a stronger storyline. (2/5)

Doctor Who: The Third Doctor #5. Titan Comics. Written by Paul Cornell. Art by Christopher Jones. Colours by Hi-Fi.

Under the cut: reviews of Batgirl, Highlander: The American Dream, and Spider-Gwen.

February 24, 2017

The Pull List: 22 February 2017, Part 1

One of the most influential films I have ever seen in terms of making an impact on my life is Jim Henson and Frank Oz's 1982 puppet fantasy The Dark Crystal. It is hugely imaginative, without a single human being to be seen. It told a wonderfully dramatic quest story set in a superbly realised and distinctive world. While its initial theatrical release was a little underwhelming it became a massive long-term hit on home video, so much so that some years back attempts were made to produce a much-delayed sequel. Those attempts all failed, and with the project seemingly dead and buried Archaia - who have already produced a number of excellent adaptations of cancelled Jim Henson works - have been granted permission to adapt the screenplay into a 12-issue comic series.

20 pages is probably not enough to sufficiently judge such a lengthy and anticipated project, but taking the first issue as an indication it is wonderful to confirm not a foot has been set wrong. The tone is one hundred per cent that of Henson and Oz's original film. It is set 100 years later, as the Gelfling race has been restored and its people proclaimed custodians of the healed crystal. In comes Thurma, a fireling from a distant land, with a quest that may have grave repercussions to the Gelflings.

Simon Spurrier demonstrated himself to be a tremendous fantasy writer with his miniseries The Spire, and seems to be doing a great job here of translating a screenplay to a comic. Kelly and Nicole Matthews' artwork is absolutely wonderful, and captures the look and tone of Henson's fantasy works wonderfully. Jae Lee's striking painted cover is the icing on the cake.

This is a comic book for three audiences: those who want a decent fantasy series, those who want a sequel to The Dark Crystal, and those who simply want to see what the failed movie sequel might potentially have been like. All three audiences should be very happy with what Spurrier, Matthews and Matthews, and Archaia have put together. (5/5)

The Power of the Dark Crystal #1. Boom Studios/Archaia. Written by Simon Spurrier. Based on the screenplay by Craig Pearce and Annette Duffy & David Odell. Art by Kelly and Nichole Matthews.

Under the cut: reviews of Darkness Visible, Divinity III: Stalinverse, and the very last issue of Revival.

February 23, 2017

The Night Manager: Episode 4

It is 13 March 2016 and time for the fourth episode of The Night Manager.

Former hotel night manager Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston) is now deeply enmeshed in the secret arms trade Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie). As Pine gets closer to securing evidence of Roper's crimes, his mission is imperilled by a romantic advance from Roper's girlfriend Jed (Elizabeth Debicki), the growing suspicions of Corky (Tom Hollander), and his London-based handler Angela Burr (Olivia Colman) attempting to pull him out of the fire.

The slightly unconvincing insertion of Pine into Roper's life is complete, and that frees the second half of The Night Manager to arc up the stakes and suspense as it approaches its climax. Pine now has two main causes for worry: the fear he will be caught out spying on Roper, and the fear he is going to get caught out sleeping with his girlfriend. The second one feels a bit of a cliche to me, but it is admittedly very well performed by Hiddleston and Debicki and does lead to the episode's most outstanding scene.

February 22, 2017

Avantasia: Angel of Babylon (2010)

Avantasia is a rock opera super-group concept by heavy metal musician Tobias Sammett. It is a pretty simple concept: every few years he assembles a group of musicians from other European metal bands and gets them to perform a bunch of songs. The completed albums usually follow themes or narratives of one kind or another, but they also work as pretty great straight-up power metal CDs as well.

Angel of Babylon was released back in 2010 and was the third volume in a loose trilogy of releases. It was released side-by-side with The Wicked Symphony. Here Sammett used a core band including Sascha Paeth, Eric Singer (KISS) and Michael Rodenberg (aka Miro), and a group of musical guests including Jens Johansson (Stratovarius), Felix Bohnke (Edguy), Bruce Kulick (KISS, Grand Funk Railroad), Henjo Richter (Gamma Ray), and Jørn Lande (Masterplan).

February 19, 2017

The Pull List: 15 February 2017, Part 2

Way back 25 years ago, when Marvel's most popular artists jumped ship to make and own their own comics, Jim Lee wrote and illustrated the hugely successful superhero team book WildCATS. That soon expanded to an entire line of superhero books under a unified imprint named Wildstorm. Eventually Lee went to work for DC Comics, selling the entire Wildstorm line to them in the process. Some of those characters were incorporated into the DC Universe as a result of the New 52 relaunch. Now that original and separate Wildstorm Universe is getting a relaunch of its own, in Warren Ellis' 24-part maxi-series The Wild Storm.

It is a clever reboot of the various characters and settings, because Ellis remixes the elements into something that feels smart, fresh and socially relevant. At the same time older readers who enjoyed earlier iterations of the characters will appreciate the little nods and touches that are included along the way. It is an intriguing first issue, with plenty of characters and set-ups to keep the title going for quite a while, and its snappy dialogue and well-crafted personalities making an immediate and positive impression.  Jon Davis-Hunt provides some tremendously effective and clean artwork, which is subtlely coloured by Ivan Plascencia. It is a hugely attractive book, visually speaking. On a creative level at least, DC look set to have another hit on their hands. (5/5)

The Wild Storm #1. DC Comics. Written by Warren Ellis. Art by Jon Davis-Hunt. Colours by Ivan Plascencia.

Under the cut: reviews of Animosity, Batwoman Rebirth, Daredevil, Doctor Strange, Poe Dameron and Spider-Man.

February 18, 2017

The Pull List: 15 February 2017, Part 1

One of the greatest strengths of the DC Universe - when its editors aren't indulging in rampant Silver Age nostalgia - is its constant creation of legacy characters: new versions of old characters that transform those personas a little a keep the various franchises fresh and interesting for readers. Two of the best in recent years have been Damian Wayne - the arrogant, aristocratic son of Bruce Wayne and Talia al Ghul - and Jonathan Kent - the bright-eyed, hopelessly optimistic son of Clark Kent and Lois Lane. One has been Robin for some years now, and the other has adopted the Superboy identity as part of DC Rebirth. Now they're sharing their own monthly comic book: Super Sons.

It's a delight. It immediately reminded me of Young Justice, a much earlier team-up book featuring a different Superboy and Robin alongside Impulse (a Kid Flash variant). It's engaging, bright and tremendously funny. Peter J. Tomasi has a long experience writing for both characters, and Jorge Jiminez's artwork perfectly captures the script's tone.

They are a fantastic pair of characters, because they are effectively exaggerated versions of their respective fathers. Superman may be the straight-laced boy scout, but Jonathan is charmingly obsessed with helping others, doing the right thing, and taking down bullies. At the same time Damian is every iconic aspect of Batman dialled up to 11. He's moody, smart, stand-offish and an expert in tactics and hand-to-hand combat. The contrast between them throws huge amounts of comic potential into the air - a potential that this creative team seem very well-suited to capture. (4/5)

Super Sons #1. Written by Peter J. Tomasi. Art by Jorge Jiminez.

Under the cut: reviews of Aquaman, Batman, Green Arrow, and Superman. It's a DC Comics fiesta!

February 17, 2017

Red Dwarf: "Officer Rimmer"

It is 13 October 2016, and time for another episode of Red Dwarf.

After an act of cowardice accidentally saves another starship, Rimmer (Chris Barrie) is promoted to lieutenant. Not only does he take the opportunity to lord it over his crewmates, he uses a captured bio-printer to replicate himself dozens of times to populate the whole of Red Dwarf with Rimmers.

As with all of the other episodes of Red Dwarf's 11th season, "Officer Rimmer" takes a bunch of old episodes and throws them into a blender. In this case the resulting mess feels deeply unpalatable - while there are a few early jokes that work incredibly well, the episode as a whole simply fails to work. You can only recycle these sorts of jokes so many times, and in the main Red Dwarf appears to have passed that limit some time ago.