February 20, 2018

Doctor Who: "A Christmas Carol"

It's 25 December 2010, which means it's time for the fifth Doctor Who Christmas special.

A passenger space liner, whose passengers include Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill), is set to crash onto an isolated human colony. Its only hope is for an artificially generated cloud layer to be deactivated, but the only man that go do it is the miserly Kazran Sardick (Michael Gambon) - and he has no intention of saving anybody. It is up to the Doctor (Matt Smith) to change his mind.

Doctor Who traditionally hasn't used time travel as anything more than a convenient method to get the Doctor and his companions from one adventure to the next. When Steven Moffat started writing for the series that approach started to change. When writing for executive producer Russell T Davies, scripts like "Blink" and "Silence in the Library" were built around time travel. When Moffat assumed producing duties himself, his entire first season became wrapped around time travel and paradoxes. This focus on the story potential of time travel continues in Moffat's first Christmas special, in which the Doctor actively and repeatedly changes history to save the day.

The Pull List: 7 February 2018, Part 2

Leonardo Da Vinci has built a sentient wooden automaton, and used it as part of a siege of the town Volterra. He dispatched his apprentice Isabel to oversee it in action - just as he assigned Isabel to reset the automaton's memory each time it was used. Isabel failed to do the latter, and it may destroy her chances of doing the former, since the automaton has learned - and the only thing it has been taught is war and violence.

I am really enjoying Montro Mechanica, a Renaissance-era fantasy from creators Paul Allor and Chris Evenhuis. The dialogue is smart and the historical setting well researched. The artwork is crisp, clean and well-proportioned. Sjan Weijers' colours have a soft sort of pastel quality to them that has an unusual and interesting effect.

Monstro Mechanica is out via independent publisher Aftershock, which means it's not going to be in every local comic book store and it's not going to have a huge marketing budget. If it sounds like your kind of a book then order a copy in, or grab a copy via Comixology. It's one of the best new books out at the moment. (4/5)

Monstro Mechanica #3. Aftershock. Written by Paul Allor. Art by Chris Evenhuis. Colours by Sjan Weijers.

Under the cut: reviews of Giant Days, She-Hulk and Spider-Man.

February 18, 2018

The Pull List: 7 February 2018, Part 1

In the distant future, war has transformed into a spectator sport. Massive audiences cheer on heavily armoured and equipped soldiers as they take one another on in small groups. Satta Flynn is one such soldier, famed for his skill but recovering from serious injuries sustained in the field. Repaired and re-dispatched, he finds out just how hard the fights are starting to be.

Another month, another new science fiction series kicking off at Image. The selling point this time around is absolutely artist Esad Ribic, whose painterly work - which has been beautifully coloured by Nic Klein - gives this first issue an immensely glossy, high budget feel. It's more reminiscent of Metal Hurlant than an American comic book.

Ivan Brandon's script shows promise, but with a lot of large panels (including five splash pages) there really is not a lot of room in which to establish a story. It looks tremendous, but it is honestly too early to say if the story is going to watch. One to watch, for sure - the potential is huge. (4/5)

Vs. Image. Written by Ivan Brandon. Art by Esad Ribic. Colours by Nic Klein.

Under the cut: reviews of Batman, Daredevil, Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles, and Superman.

February 17, 2018

Star Trek: Voyager: "Cold Fire"

It is 13 November 1995, and time for another episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

10 months after Voyager was thrown into the Delta Quadrant by the mysterious "Caretaker", the crew encounter that now-dead creature's former mate - now the guardian of an isolated colony of Ocampa. Kes (Jennifer Lien) is excited to meet members of her own race, but joy soon turns to fear as these isolated Ocampa are revealed to be less benevolent than they appeared, and the second Caretaker a far more dangerous force than Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) had hoped to meet.

"Cold Fire" is quite a surprising episode. The series premiere gave the series a convenient hook: the Caretaker that dragged the USS Voyager to the Delta Quadrant died before he could return them home, but before dying he mentioned a former mate somewhere else in the Quadrant that could potentially do the task as well. It felt like a convenient bit of foreshadowing. Whenever it was determined an appropriate time for the ship to get back to the Federation, it could encounter the mate and achieve that. It felt like something that was going to happen in the series finale some years hence, not halfway through the second season. Despite that, here we are.

February 16, 2018

The Pull List: 31 January 2018, Part 2

It's the final issue of The Beautiful Death, and with the alien insects massing - and just two humans left on Earth - it seems that it really is the end of the world. Everything comes to such a grant, beautiful conclusion. Sure it's sad - possibly sadder than many readers expected - but it's also tonally perfect and wonderful lyrical.

Mathieu Bablet has made a masterpiece of tone here. The artwork and colours are both beautiful and melancholic, and the characters are hopelessly imperfect. Quiet apocalypses are rare. As readers primarily raised on American pop culture we're used to enormous explosions, screaming crowds and mass panic. The Beautiful Death is the other kind. It has maintain an eerie stillness for most of the time. It's felt silent too, which is a remarkable achievement for a comic book.

Admittedly the narrative stumbles a little at the end, and some readers may even feel a little cheated - but that tone, and that style. It's profoundly effective. (4/5)

The Beautiful Death #5. Titan Comics. Story and art by Mathieu Bablet.

Under the cut: reviews of Atomic Robo, Eternity, Invader Zim, Justice League/Doom Patrol, and Quantum and Woody.

February 9, 2018

The Pull List: 31 January 2018, Part 1

With almost every comic book creator worth their salt jumping to better deals from Image, Boom Studios and other independent publishers, it has been rough sailing for DC Vertigo in recent years. Once home to the very best of mature readers works of fantasy and horror, it now seems to limp by year to year. There's always the occasional new title launched, but few seem to last very long.

Motherlands is the latest attempt: a busy multiverse-jumping bounty hunter story in which a jobbing hunter struggles to make a living in the shadow of her mother - one of the most popular of all time. So of course for her latest and highest profile assignment, she needs help from the one person she does not wish to rely upon.

It's a reasonable enough premise by writer Si Spurrier, but in all honesty and despite some innovations here and there it feels like second-string work for him. Rachael Stott's artwork is strong and appealing - particularly when it comes to a rival bounty hunter named Oona - and it's vividly coloured by Felipe Sobreiro. All in all, it's a good book, but Vertigo doesn't need good books: it desperately needs great books. I don't think Motherlands is going to fit the bill. (3/5)

Motherlands #1. DC Vertigo. Written by Si Spurrier. Art by Rachael Stott. Colours by Felipe Sobreiro.

Under the cut: reviews of Dark Nights: Metal, Detective Comics, and Star Wars: Doctor Aphra.

February 7, 2018

Star Trek: Voyager: "Tattoo"

It is 6 November 1995, and time for another episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

While on an away mission, Chakotay (Robert Beltran) discovers a symbol carved into the rock that resembles one he first saw with his father in central America. In an attempt to discover how an ancient Native American inscription was made in the Delta Quadrant, Voyager follows a warp trail to another planet where Chakotay undertakes a spiritual journey that reminds him of his youth.

From the outside, "Tattoo" really does not feel like an episode that should work. Chakotay's spirituality and Native American heritage have previously felt cursory at best, and sometimes even tokenistic. At the same time a comedic B-plot involving the Doctor (Robert Picardo) giving himself simulated influenza to demonstrate the human crew are weak and feeble sounds relatively dreadful. In practice the episode is a real surprise.

February 5, 2018

Star Trek: Voyager: "Persistence of Vision"

It is 30 October 1995, and time for another episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

As Voyager nears the territory of an isolationist civilization, Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) is ordered by the Doctor (Robert Picardo) to take some much needed leave to relax and de-stress. She attempts to enjoy a gothic holo-novel - only to question her sanity when elements from the novel begin appearing outside of the holodeck.

"Persistence of Vision" is a faulty episode. It lacks focus, its plot wavers incessantly, and it really seems to be at loss as to how to effectively use the entire regular cast, but it also has a fairly strong concept behind it and a nicely unsettling adversary once everything is said and done. It's imperfect television, but ultimately entertaining television. I seem to be saying that a lot about Voyager's better episodes.