December 16, 2017

Highlander: The Series: "Innocent Man"

It's 10 October 1992, and time for another episode of Highlander: The Series.

Homeless veteran Leo Atkins (Vincent Schiavelli) is in the wrong place at the wrong time when he stumbles upon the recently decapitated corpse of an immortal. Framed for the crime by local sheriff Howard Crowley (John Novak), he must rely on a visiting Duncan Macleod (Adrian Paul) to demonstrate his innocence.

The late Vincent Schiavelli is one of those beloved fixtures of cult and genre cinema that his mere presence alone seems to demand that "Innocent Man" deserves praise. In a long career he appeared in such films as One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Buckaroo Banzai, Amadeus, Ghost, Batman Returns, Lord of Illusions, Tomorrow Never Dies, and Man on the Moon. The temptation is there to simply shout 'Vincent Schiavelli, it's great, shut up', and call the review a day.

December 14, 2017

Black Cab: 明 (Akira) (2017)

For their fifth studio album, Melbourne-based electronica band Black Cab pay direct tribute to Katsuhiro Otomo's legendary 1988 anime feature Akira. In a project that commenced as a live in-cinema performance, they now distil the melodies and rhythms developed there into a full-length album. You won't be able to whack it into a CD player and play it in sync with the actual movie, but you can slip on a pair of headphones and imagine a 45-minute long cyberpunk film of your very own.

The immediate surprise is how much the album sounds like Blade Runner, rather than Akira. Its extended use of drawn-out synthesiser notes immediately remind you of Vangelis rather than Akira composer Geinoh Yamashirogumi. Even at the base melody level there is a sense that the band is often only one misplaced note away from a Blade Runner cover version. That is not necessarily a bad thing - Blade Runner boasts one of the best movie scores of all time - but it's a surprise when one expects to hear an aural tribute to another 1980s cyberpunk film.

December 13, 2017

The Pull List: 6 December 2017, Part 1

Tom King is regularly and effectively perfect as the writer of Batman. Take "Superfriends", the new storyline beginning in issue #36. Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle are engaged. Bruce has told his sons, both biological and adopted. Now, surely, it is time to tell his best friend Clark - but is Clark his friend? Do Batman and Superman have anything in common?

Over the course of one issue Tom King drives right to the heart of Bruce and Clark's relationship: how they relate to one another, how they perceive one another, and just why a friendship between the two seems so odd and difficult. The characterisation is pitch-perfect; not just the two superheroes but also their respective partners Lois and Selina. It is regularly and hugely funny, but then that humour leads to genuine insight.

It's a structural marvel too, with a clever layout and story structure that impresses enormously once it becomes apparent. Clay and Seth Mann's artwork is simply stunning, and excellently coloured by Jordie Bellaire - currently the best in the business, as far as I'm concerned.

I really think this might be my favourite King issue of Batman so far. It's quite simply and effectively perfect. (5/5)

Batman #36. DC Comics. Written by Tom King. Art by Clay Mann and Seth Mann. Colours by Jordie Bellaire. 

Under the cut: reviews of Darth Vader, Rocko's Modern Life, and Superman.

December 12, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Genesis"

It is 21 March 1994, and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

An unexplained disease begins to affect the Enterprise crew in different ways. When Picard (Patrick Stewart) and Data (Brent Spiner) return to the ship after an away mission, they find the entire crew have devolved into a variety of animal-like creatures.

At the time of its broadcast I felt reasonably certain that "Genesis" was the worst episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation ever made. I hated it so much that it has taken me more than 20 years to get around to watching it a second time. It is still awful, but time has somehow made it that special kind of awful in which - once you overcome its silly premise and unconvincing make-up effects - it's a strange kind of fun. It's an episode in which Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) is a fish person and Picard begins to transform into a lemur. It's hard to top that kind of insanity.

December 11, 2017

The Pull List: 29 November 2017

The latest movie property to be adapted into a comic book is John Wick, the 2014 action film directed by Chad Stahelski and David Leitch. Thanks to Dynamite Entertainment and writer Greg Pak, John Wick's ultra-violent gun-shooting adventures come to comic books on a monthly basis.

It's a wonderful concept to adapt, given Wick's stripped-back nature and reliance on near-endless, brutal gunfights. It is also heartening to see a talented writer like Greg Pak taking the reins. This first issue kicks off with Wick revisiting his childhood with lethal intent, and fills in some back story in the process.

Telling an origin story feels in some small part a betrayal of the films, since Wick's pre-existing reputation and anonymous history forms a fairly key part of his appeal. At the same time Giovanni Valletta's artwork does not seem dynamic and energised enough to capture the tone of the two John Wick films. There's promise in a John Wick comic book, but based on this first issue Dynamite is struggling to find it. (2/5)

John Wick #1. Dynamite. Written by Greg Pak. Art by Giovanni Valletta. Colours by David Curiel and Inlight Studios.

Under the cut: a bumper crop of reviews including Aquaman, Atomic Robo, Batman, Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter, Doctor Who: The 11th Doctor, Green Arrow, Poe Dameron, Sacred Creatures, Spy Seal, Star Trek: Boldly Go, and Star Trek: Discovery.

December 7, 2017

The Pull List: 22 November 2017, Part 2

The world has ended, with almost all of humanity gone and the Earth populated by strange alien insects. Three human survivors wander through a vast, empty city in search of both food and other people. Now the three men have met a mysterious woman, and everything looks set to fall apart.

The Beautiful Death is a strange, somewhat surreal post-apocalyptic drama. It has an arresting sort of dream-like style to it. Explanations have, to date, been in pretty short supply, but the air of mystery that leaves makes it all the more intriguing.

The real selling point is the artwork. Bablet has a slightly unusual style, giving his characters a distinctive angular look. The backgrounds and cityscapes are beautifully detailed, and it is all coloured in a typically French subtle style. Add in the lengthy page count per issue and this is a hugely addictive and enjoyable read. (4/5)

The Beautiful Death #3. Titan Comics/Statix Press. Story and art by Mathieu Bablet.

Under the cut: reviews of Action Comics, Copperhead, Detective Comics, Doom Patrol, and Rat Queens.

December 6, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Eye of the Beholder"

It is 28 February 1994, and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

When a crew member commits suicide, Counselor Troi (Marina Sirtis) begins to suspect that their death may be related to a previously undiscovered murder while the Enterprise was under construction.

"Eye of the Beholder" takes and ruins a pretty cool premise: that there's been a dead body sealed inside one of the Enterprise's bulkheads for close to seven years. It also sets off in a pretty bold direction for mid-1990s science fiction drama by starting things off with a suicide. From there it runs pretty enthusiastically downhill. The individual elements all have merit, but some specific creative choices halfway through scuttle the whole thing by the end. It's a shame, because I think the episode has genuine potential.

Highlander: The Series: "Road Not Taken"

It is 17 October 1992, and time for another episode of Highlander: The Series.

A cyclist goes on a violent rampage in a jewelry store before collapsing dead just outside. With the cyclist a friend of Richie (Stan Kirsch), he and Duncan Macleod (Adrian Paul) investigate - leading them to an old immortal acquaintance of Macleods who has spent centuries seeking the perfect super-strength elixir.

"Road Not Taken" marks an improvement over "Family Tree", which in its own small way improved upon "The Gathering". Highlander: The Series definitely appears to be getting better with each episode; in this case the episode is almost good. For one thing it involves another immortal. For another, it actually holds a comparatively complex storyline. On top of that the action is genuinely impressive stuff for a weekly television drama. It's still not particularly good television, but at least you can begin to see the good stuff in the distance.