December 30, 2012

The Best Comics of 2012

2012 has been a great year for comic books. DC solidified the best of its New 52 comic books, Marvel did their own relaunch that's brought up at least two or three standout books, and between them Image has emerged as America's preeminent publisher of science fiction, crime, horror and action comics.

If 2011 has been remembered as the year of the New 52, I think 2012 has a good chance of being remembered as the year creators finally took back control of the industry. While DC and Marvel had the best-selling books, the real critical buzz was focused on independent creator-owned books like Saga, The Walking Dead, Chew and Fatale. Add in the growing number of Kickstarter-funded titles, and it feels like the writers and artists may finally be starting to call the shots. I think this can only be a good thing.

Under the cut, my favourite superhero, science fiction, fantasy and horror comics, as well as a shout-out to my favourite graphic novel of the year, my favourite reprint work and my favourite independent book. Please let me know your picks down in the comments.

Babble On #32: "Soul Mates"

Talia's ex-husband arrives on the station looking to reconcile. Conversely, Londo has chosen to celebrate the 30th anniversary of his ascension day by divorcing two of his three wives.

Oh thank heavens, a half-decent episode of Babylon 5. I was beginning to lose hope: despite my fond memories of the original viewing, Season 2 was shaping up to be an absolute disaster in terms of writing and acting. Thankfully we seem to be on firmer ground here. "Soul Mates", written by comic book legend Peter David, is a wonderful combination of humour and drama with a broad mixture of characters and some wonderful guest performances.

December 29, 2012

Pacific Heights (1990)

An unmarried couple (Melanie Griffith and Matthew Modine) purchase a pricey San Francisco townhouse, with the aim of subsidizing their mortgage by renting out their ground floor. At first it seems like they've found their dream tenant in Carter Hayes (Michael Keaton): wealthy, generous and upstanding. Once Hayes has moved in, however, the truth is uncovered and the manipulative tenant sets about making their lives a living hell.

Pacific Heights is a 1990 thriller directed by John Schlesinger (Midnight Cowboy). It's not going to win any awards for originality, and it doesn't specifically excel in any particular area. It is, however, a broadly entertaining domestic thriller with a nice slow burn and some great performances.

December 28, 2012

Free Enterprise #26: Season 1 in Review

The first time around I hated Enterprise. I didn't last the entire pilot episode, and only sampled parts of one or two episodes afterwards. I never really watched it again. I did sit through an entire episode of the fourth season, but didn't really know the characters so wasn't able to get a good idea of what was going on. Part of the problem was that so many elements of the series seemed constructed to annoy: the legendarily crap opening theme song taken from Patch Adams, the fact that it was a prequel, the way it was apparently rewriting the history of Star Trek willy-nilly, the tired old time travel story arc, and so on.

In retrospect, Enterprise's worst enemy was that it premiered straight after Star Trek: Voyager had wrapped up. Before that Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and before that Star Trek: The Next Generation. The pilot episode of Enterprise was the 527th episode of Star Trek in less than fourteen years. Familiarity had bred contempt, and all the changes in time period, sets and technologies couldn't mask the fact that Enterprise was still yet more Star Trek from the same production team, now heading into their 22nd season since 1987.

Who50: "Army of Ghosts"/"Doomsday"

Who50 counts down to the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who by reviewing my favourite episodes and serials over the history of the programme, counting down from #50 to #1. Today, #45: "Army of Ghosts" and "Doomsday", a 2006 two-part serial written by Russell T Davies and directed by Graeme Harper.

The Doctor (David Tennant) and Rose (Billie Piper) return to present-day London to find the world is experiencing a bizarre phenomenon of ghosts visiting homes across the globe. People believe it's the dead returning to life, but the Doctor knows different. So does Torchwood, a mysterious government organisation that's been lurking in the shadows for the past 100 years.

Inside Torchwood lies a mysterious sphere, a "void ship" that has punctured its way between universes, allowing the ghosts - actually Cybermen - to breach through and invade. Nobody knows what lies inside the sphere: not the Doctor, not Torchwood, not even the Cybermen. The answer may spell the final destruction of the planet Earth.

December 27, 2012

Free Enterprise #25: "Shockwave, part I"

Yes, Scott Bakula gets his shirt off again.
A first contact mission with a mining colony goes horrifically wrong - a plasma leak from the Enterprise's shuttlepod ignites a planet's atmosphere, searing the surface and murdering 3,000 alien colonists in their homes. The Enterprise is ordered back to Earth in disgrace - the mission is cancelled, the Vulcans are taking control and humans will not be permitted to explore the stars for another few decades.

Or will they?

"Shockwave" opens with a genuinely shocking (no pun intended) disaster, and the episode doesn't let up for a second. From the first explosive disaster to the final cliffhanger, it manages to not only act as a thrilling Star Trek season finale but also tie up a lot of the plot threads and themes of the first season as a whole.

House Calls #6: "The Snowmen"

It's been a few months, but Doctor Who is back for its now-traditional Christmas episode, before the final eight episodes of Season 7 take us into the 50th anniversary year. Matt Smith is back as the Doctor, along with new companion Clara Oswald - sort of - who was introduced earlier this year - sort of. It's all rather confusing. Timey wimey, et cetera.

It's Christmas Eve in Victorian era London, and a mysterious snow has started fall in the streets. It seems to have something to do with the dour Doctor Simeon (Richard E. Grant). The veiled detective Madame Vastra and her wife Jenny are investigating, as is part-time governess Clara Oswald. Then there's the Doctor, but he's given up investigating things and doesn't save the world any more.

December 26, 2012

Free Enterprise #24: "Two Days and Two Nights"

The Enterprise finally reaches Risa, apparently the only pleasure planet in the entire 200 year history of the Star Trek universe, since I'm pretty sure it's the only one we ever see anyone go to. It reared its ugly head in The Next Generation, and popped up again in Deep Space Nine, and now Enterprise demonstrated that even two centuries earlier humans were going to the planet with crass intentions of drinking themselves silly and making amorous advances on the closest bipeds.

The Enterprise crew draw lots on who gets to spend two nights down on Risa, and who has to stay on duty. By an astounding surprise all but two of the regular cast win trips to Risa with only T'Pol and Phlox staying onboard. Travis goes rock climbing. Hoshi goes looking for an opportunity to learn new languages. Archer settles down to read a book and walk his dog. Trip and Reed go looking for sex with alien women.

December 24, 2012

The best Christmas TV episodes

It seems like every time Christmas comes around there's a discussion among my social circles over what the best Christmas-themed movies are, and which ones people are going to watch. Love Actually makes a regular appearance. So does Die Hard. Actual direct Christmassy films like Miracle on 34th Street or It's a Wonderful Life never seem to make anybody's list.

I figured it was high time to give the same rigour to Christmas-themed episodes of television. Thanks to DVD and Blu-ray more TV series and specials are available than ever, and many shows have featured strong, enjoyable or interesting Christmas episodes. Here, in no particular order, are some of my favourites.

The Goodies: "Earthanasia"
The world's leaders have decided that, in response to rising crime, population and pollution, the world will end at midnight Christmas Eve. The Goodies was always a wonderful comedy series, but I think this is a good contender to be one of their best episodes ever. The concept is so remarkably bleak, yet played so lightly, as we watch the last 28 minutes in Tim, Graeme and Bill's lives. It's all confined to their apartment, and is capped with one of the best punch-lines in British comedy history. (Note: not recommended for people with belly button phobias - you know who you are.)

Judging the New 52 #11.1: Grifter

I already had a look at how the sales of Grifter had been going back in August, and predicted back then that there was nowhere for this book to go but cancellation. Since then the book has indeed been cancelled; January's Grifter #16 will be the final issue.

I wanted to take a second look at this book because, thanks to my ridiculously well-stocked local library, I have now had the chance to read the first trade paperback collection of Grifter and can actually review the comic this time around - last time I simply expressed my disinterest and looked at the sales.

It turns out that Grifter started quite promisingly: an action-packed first issue with a non-linear narrative and some wonderfully scripted and laid-out fights and chases. Nathan Edmondson sets up a pretty great premise here: there's an alien invasion of Earth and the only person who can see them is one former Special Forces soldier turned con artist named Cash Cole. Cafu's artwork is very good as well.

Then the book begins to slide into mediocrity, issue by issue, and I think you can clearly see the readership's reaction to that slide in the sales.

December 23, 2012

Free Enterprise #23: "Desert Crossing"

When the Enterprise picks up and repairs a damaged spacecraft, it's enthused owner (Clancy Brown) insists that Archer and Trip accompany him to his home for a thank-you dinner. Once there, they discover they're guests of a rebel leader, and the planet's legitimate government is not impressed.

"Desert Crossing" is a lightweight but enjoyable episode of Enterprise. It follows a trend set by quite a few of Enterprise's episodes: isolate two members of the cast for an hour and let them talk through some character development. It's not a bad strategy in itself, but it does begin to wear a little thin as we near the end of the season.

December 21, 2012

The Pull List: 19 December 2012

Possibly the best Double Dragon tribute in a comic book ever.
Marvel's double-shipping policy has become ridiculous this week, with a fourth issue of All-New X-Men hitting the shelves, as well as early issues of Thunderbolts, Thor: God of Thunder, X-Men Legacy, Hawkeye, Avengers, Avengers Arena, Cable and X-Force and FF. The week is an absolute killer for the wallet, partly because of double-shipping but also because DC and Marvel have basically shipped all of next week's comics this week.

News has just hit that Shelly Bond will take over DC Vertigo from Karen Berger. It's the obvious choice, but also the most sensible one. I really do hope DC give Bond some serious marketing support and help give some of Vertigo's titles a bit of a sales push. It will be good to see some new long-form series get launched through the imprint in 2013. With the imminent closure of Hellblazer and Sweet Tooth, and American Vampire on hiatus, things are looking a bit thin on the ground over there.

Writer Dan Slott has received death threats over what he's currently doing with The Amazing Spider-Man. I won't spoil what he's been doing with the character here, but I did want to shake my head at the stupidity of some people. I'm very happy Slott has elected to get the police involved, because some over-entitled, childish comic book fans need to learn what it means to be an adult in the real world. Top marks to Gerry Conway for his tweet: 'Makes me grateful we threw Gwen off that bridge before Twitter'.

Under the cut: reviews of Batwoman, Captain America, Daredevil, FF, Green Lantern, Happy, Hawkeye, Journey into Mystery, Legion of Super-Heroes, Multiple Warheads, Rotten Apple, Saga, Sword of Sorcery, Thor: God of Thunder, Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, Wonder Woman and X-Men Legacy - and if you think that looks like too many comics, it's because it is. All-New X-Men #4 was purchased, but mislaid. I promise I'll review it soon.

December 20, 2012

Free Enterprise #22: "Fallen Hero"

With the crew having run 10 months without a break, Archer agrees to a long-deserved spot of shore leave on the holiday planet Risa. Before the Enterprise can get there, however, it is redirected by Admiral Forrest to the planet Mazar - where it must pick up a disgraced Vulcan ambassador and deliver her to a distant Vulcan cruiser. T'Pol is conflicted, as Ambassador V'Lar was a major influence on her life. V'Lar is not telling the Captain or T'Pol everything she knows, however, and soon the Enterprise comes under attack from pursuing Mazar ships.

Oh Lord, bloody Risa. The holiday planet that graced its tedious presence in The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine rears its ugly, bikini-clad head once again in Enterprise. Thankfully the ship doesn't get there because of their sudden rescue mission. Fingers crossed they don't remember where they were going next week and we can avoid the bloody place.

December 19, 2012

Judging the New 52 #21: A look at some miniseries

While the New 52 relaunch breathed new life into DC's monthly superhero comics, the same can't really be said for their miniseries: short-run books of between four and twelve issues each. There have been ten miniseries released since September 2011; we're going to take a look at the first five of them here.

Huntress
Let's kick of with Huntress, a six-issue miniseries written by Paul Levitz that reintroduced the popular Batman character of Helena Bertinelli - or is she? A clever last-minute reveal is already old news to readers of Worlds' Finest, which launched after this series concluded, but it was quite a clever trick holding things back at the time.

This is a really solid, entertaining book of international intrigue and crime-fighting with a strong script, nice art and (thank goodness) Huntress in a sensible costume. You'd be amazed how rarely that happens. She's a great character, and I don't think she's ever had a strong miniseries as this one. It's available now in trade paperback if you want to check it out.

Free Enterprise #21: "Vox Sola"

After a first contact mission goes disastrously wrong, the Enterprise is infiltrated by a mysterious web-like alien intelligence. As it begins to consume the crew and take over the ship, Hoshi must work against the clock to find some way of communicating with the creature before it's too late.

"Vox Sola" is a very traditional Star Trek episode, and I adore it for that. There's something very classically "Trek" about encountering an inexplicable alien menace and - rather than attempt to kill it or blow it out of the nearest airlock - attempt to make meaningful communication with it. When the series started I had my doubts about Lt Hoshi's presence on the ship: if they all have universal translators, why employ a human translator at the same time? This episode, and a few others before it, absolutely justifies her presence on the ship, and Linda Park does a great job.

December 18, 2012

Babble On #31: "Spider in the Web"

An old acquaintance of Talia Winters' is murdered in front of her by a mysterious agent, sending the station crew on a hunt into a mysterious agency named Bureau 13 who appear to be making controllable assassin cyborgs out of the bodies of the dead.

Watching this episode made me wish I was a zombie cyborg. It's an incredibly dull hour of television, low on energy or distinctiveness, and opening up a plot thread (Bureau 13) that is never resolved or brought up in the series again. I am struggling to think of anything interesting to say about this episode at all. In the background of one scene you can see security officer Zack Allen (Jeff Conaway) for the first time. That's pretty much it: everything else this week is liable to send you spiralling into a coma.

Skyfall (2012)

There's no avoiding the fact that this review of Sam Mendes' Skyfall, the 23rd James Bond movie, is going to contain spoilers. Major plot and character developments will be exposed and discussed, so if you haven't seen it yet and plan to, then you might want to skip over this review and come back once you've watched the film.


Skyfall is a maddening film, packed with as many admirable set pieces as it is infested with poor scripting choices. At times it made me want to punch my fist into the air. At times it made me want to punch the filmmakers in the face. Despite the great moments - and we'll discuss those in a second - my ultimate emotional reaction to the film is a mixture of frustration and rage. I feel frustration because the film can't help itself from being quite unpleasantly sexist and - in one specific scene - actively misogynist (in the sense that I wonder if the writers and director hate women). I feel rage because for all the character development and progression in the franchise we saw in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, Skyfall exits with a status quo re-established that James Bond hasn't experienced since the mid-1980s. It's a backwards step not seen since Bryan Singer spent $200 million dollars of Warner Bros' money remaking an early 1980s Richard Donner movie in Superman Returns.

December 17, 2012

Who50: "Marco Polo"

The Doctor (William Hartnell) and Kublai Khan (Martin Miller)
Who50 counts down to the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who by reviewing my favourite episodes and serials over the history of the programme, counting down from #50 to #1. Today, #47: "Marco Polo", a 1964 serial written by John Lucarotti and directed by Waris Hussein and John Crockett.

As Doctor Who fans are well aware, much of the early seasons of the original series are missing from the BBC archives. This isn't specifically anyone's fault - until the development of home video in the 1970s television drama was seen as an ephemeral, ultimately disposable form of popular entertainment. As a result, if a TV network's archives got too full, rather than find more space it was often easier to throw old and unwanted tapes and film reels into a furnace. The BBC was particularly prone to this space-saving process, although they were hardly alone in it: almost the entire first season of ITV's The Avengers was junked as well, for example.

Missing episodes have been recovered in the decades since. Many were recovered in the form of film prints struck for international sales, and left behind filing cabinets or long-forgotten old cupboards. Some have been recovered from personal collections - quite a few episodes got souvenired by BBC employees on their way to the fire.

The first series of Doctor Who, which ran for 48 episodes from 23 November 1963 to 12 September 1964, is actually not too badly effected by missing episodes: only nine episodes remain missing. Unfortunately seven of those nine episodes comprise the entirety of "Marco Polo", an epic historical adventure by John Lucarotti.

December 16, 2012

Legendary Blogging #3: "Hercules and the Circle of Fire"

You can say one thing for the Hercules TV movies. They definitely improve as they go on. "Hercules and the Circle of Fire" is a significant step up in quality over "Lost Kingdom", which was in turn a major improvement over "Amazon Women". It was first broadcast on 31 October 1994, and is the third of the five original Hercules: The Legendary Journeys films.

The goddess Hera has stolen the flame of Prometheus, condemning the world to slowly die in an ever-growing, endless winter. It's up to Hercules, paired up with the plucky Deianeira (not the one from "Hercules and the Lost Kingdom", just a completely different woman with exactly the same name - it happens, I guess), to travel to Mount Aepion, retrieve Prometheus' flame and save the world.

December 15, 2012

A Cat in Paris (2010)

A Cat in Paris is a heart-warming delight. It's the sort of animated film that families should see, and treasure, because it is warmly written and beautifully animated. It's also the sort of animated film that families (at least here in Australia) probably won't see, because the film is French. The DVD has both French and English dubs, but most video libraries seem to stock it - if they do at all - in their foreign film section, where no English-speaking child or family tends to go.

The film follows the misadventures of a domestic cat in present-day Paris. By day the cat is the pet of Zoe, a young girl traumatised into silence by her father's murder. When the sun goes down the cat sneaks off to hang out with Nico, a daring cat burglar who dances across the roofs of Paris each night in search of his next big score.

The entire film is hand-animated: no computers, no CGI, no digital colouring or processing. It's marvellously distinct and eye-catching. One thing I absolutely adore in animated films is distinctiveness. I often find myself disinterested in the latest Hollywood animated blockbuster because it looks exactly like every other Hollywood animated blockbuster. None of them look like A Cat in Paris.

December 14, 2012

The Pull List: 12 December 2012

So this week, DC Comics fired Gail Simone. The widely acclaimed, high profile writer had been scripting Batgirl since the New 52 relaunch, but her new editor let her know via e-mail that her services would no longer be required. It's a stunningly poor move on DC's part: they were already tackling accusations of being a fairly hostile "boys only" club, and their apparent response in the past fortnight has been to first lose Vertigo editor Karen Berger and now fire Gail Simone.

In November, Batgirl sold 77,000 copies and was DC's fourth highest-selling title. Even in October, when it didn't have a "Death of the Family" tie-in to rely on, it still sold more than 50,000 copies. That's still 18th for DC, and 36th in the entire industry. It outsold Fantastic Four, The Flash, Wonder Woman, Captain America, Catwoman and Wolverine. Simone was keen to stay on the book. She loved the character.

Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I honestly think the best superhero comics ever written have been written by writers who were given the chance to stick with a character they loved, not suffer too much editorial interference, and simply write the hell out of their book. Peter David on The Incredible Hulk. Grant Morrison on New X-Men. Chris Claremont on Uncanny X-Men. You can even see it now with Mark Waid's current run on Daredevil or Snyder's Batman.

As far as I can make out, there are two likely reasons DC would have fired Ms Simone from Batgirl. First reason: they wanted to "shake things up". New writer, new opportunities to promote the book, new editor wanting to make a fresh start. That's a stupid reason. Second possibility: the new editor wanted to push creative directions on the book that Simone was unwilling to accommodate. That's an even stupider reason: she has demonstrated over several years that she has a strong story sense and a brilliant head for character. If Gail Simone says your new ideas aren't any good, I'd be liable to believe her - otherwise what are you really paying her for?

Marvel did launch two new titles this week - Avengers Arena and Cable and the X-Force. I didn't buy either, having spent this month's Marvel money on double shipments of All-New X-Men, X-Men Legacy and Thor: God of Thunder. You see how this works, Marvel? Do you see?!

Under the cut: reviews of Batgirl, Batman, Batman and Robin, Change, Demon Knights, Frankenstein: Agent of SHADE, Hollows, It Girl and the Atomics and The Massive.

December 12, 2012

Judging the New 52 #20: All-Star Western

It's been a while since I wrote one of these, so let's dive in and look at one of my favourite books in the New 52, All-Star Western.

The writing team of Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti have been writing the comic book adventures of scarred bounty hunter Jonah Hex for several years now. Their previous book, simply titled Jonah Hex, was a bizarre anomaly at DC Comics. It seemed that no matter how low the sales fell, it remained resolutely in publication. I'm not sure precisely why this was. Perhaps publisher Dan Didio simply really liked the character (this is what saved Blue Beetle for quite a while). Perhaps DC were keeping it in print hoping that the Warner Bros movie adaptation would bump up the readership (and to be fair, sales went up about 18% in the month of the film's release). Maybe it was simply that Gray and Palmiotti could write the hell out of a comic book western (they can, and - in All-Star Western - they do).

December 11, 2012

Legendary Blogging #2: "Hercules and the Lost Kingdom"

In his second adventure, Hercules agrees to escort a young woman named Deianeira in search of the lost city of Troy. When they finally reach the outskirts of the city the find its population living in refugee camps - and the city itself in the hands of Hera's Blue Priests.

"Hercules and the Lost Kingdom" is the second made-for-television film for Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, first broadcast on 2 May 1994. It is a step up from its predecessor, and provides a more accurate template for the TV series to follow. It's a much more relaxed affair and it's willing to have a laugh at itself. Kevin Sorbo seems a lot more comfortable as Hercules, and the overall vibe is a silly pulp fantasy that wants its audience to have fun.

December 10, 2012

Who50: "Utopia"

Who50 counts down to the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who by reviewing my favourite episodes and serials over the history of the programme, counting down from #50 to #1. Today, #47: "Utopia", a 2007 episode written by Russell T Davies and directed by Graeme Harper.

 For the most part, "Utopia" is a curiously small-scale and sedate episode of Doctor Who. The Doctor and Martha stop off at the Cardiff space-time rift in order to refuel, leading to a reunion with Jack Harkness and a runaway trip to the year 100 trillion. There, on the planet Malcassario, the kindly Professor Yana and his insectoid assistant Chantho work to save the last of the human race from the cannibalistic Futurekind.

It's a rather nice episode all told. The Doctor and Jack finally get some time to discuss what exactly happened when the Doctor abandoned Jack, and Jack subsequently found himself an immortal government agent living in 19th through 21st century Earth history. Martha befriends Chantho, who is an absolutely wonderful and engaging character. Professor Yana potters around preparing to send a rocket of humans to safety, all the while complaining about a strange drum beat he's heard in his head for as long as he can remember.

Then Martha finds a pocket watch...

December 9, 2012

Legendary Blogging #1: "Hercules and the Amazon Women"


As part of my continuing reviews of science fiction and fantasy television, I figured I may as well jot down some notes about Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. This syndicated drama originated as a series of TV movies, which I've been re-watching lately.

On the eve of his friend Iolaus’ wedding, both Hercules and Iolaus embark on a quest to rescue a distant town from a horde of ravenous beasts – only to find that the townsfolk haven’t been entirely honest with them. Before long Hercules is prisoner of the Amazons, and their leader Hippolyta.

First broadcast in April 1994, Hercules and the Amazon Women was a made-for-television movie starring Kevin Sorbo as the titular Hercules. It formed part of “the Action Pack”, a package of TV movies produced by Universal Pictures and sold into syndication.  Hercules was one of several franchises launched as part of Universal’s package. Other films included William Shatner’s Tekwar and spin-offs of the films Smokey and the Bandit and Midnight Run.

Blog Space Nine #25: Season 2 in Review

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was always my favourite Star Trek series - rewatching the second season has confirmed to me that it still is. It has a moral complexity and a rough edge that you simply don't find in any other iteration of the franchise. The first season was concerned primarily with setting up the characters, reassuring them they were still watching a Star Trek series, and cementing the religious and political affairs of Bajor as a core element of the show.

The second season has successfully expanded from that base to provide two long-running hooks for the show: the Maquis, demonstrating that there's unrest within the Federation, and the Dominion, demonstrating that the Federation isn't the most powerful force in the galaxy any more and pointing Star Trek towards all-out war. It's funny that these elements make Deep Space Nine feel more important and influential in the history of Star Trek than any other series, yet this is the one series were the show doesn't physically go anywhere: they're on a space station and the important elements by-and-large come to them.

Blog Space Nine #24: "The Jem'Hadar"

Sisko takes Jake and Nog on a field trip to the Gamma Quadrant, along with Quark - who's weaseled his way onboard in an attempt to persuade Sisko to approve his latest money-making scheme. When Sisko and Quark are captured, they find themselves in the custody of the Jem'Hadar - the mysterious reptilian servants of the Dominion.

"The Jem'Hadar" is a very clever season finale, one that begins with an innocuous camping trip on a forest planet and ends with the Federation on the brink of a galactic war. It ramps up the threat in stages, carefully building scene by scene to a worrying, troubled and distinctly open-ended conclusion. Throughout the season there have been references to the Dominion, the unseen overlords of the Gamma Quadrant. Now we come face to face with their shock troops, and it's a worrying sight.

December 7, 2012

Blog Space Nine #23: "Tribunal"

Miles and Keiko O'Brien head off on a long-awaiting vacation - only to be stopped in deep space by a Cardassian patrol. While Miles is arrested and taken to Cardassia Prime for trial, Keiko and the Deep Space Nine crew work against the clock to prove O'Brien's innocence.

What started as an offhand reference in "The Maquis, part 2" is blown out into an entire episode, as Cardassia's cheerfully Orwellian justice system is explored in-depth. The accused is found guilty at the same time they are charged - their trial exists to demonstrate their guilt, show the public that all crime is severely punished, and allow the criminal's family to disown them in public to avoid any shame on their own part. The accused is never told what they have been charged with - as it is widely known that only the guilty are charged the accused by definition already knows what he or she did. The trial is televised planet-wide so all can see the sentence carried out and boost public morale.

December 6, 2012

The Pull List: 5 December 2012

This week DC Comics confirmed that DC Vertigo editor Karen Berger will be stepping down and leaving the company, ending an association with them that has endured since 1979. She was the editor of Alan Moore's Swamp Thing and, by following a personal interest in the horror genre, spearheaded the development of The Sandman, Hellblazer, Shade the Changing Man and then - in 1993 - the acclaimed DC Vertigo imprint.

It's not enough to suggest that Karen Berger had an enormous influence over Vertigo. For all intents and purposes Berger is Vertigo. With her departure I strongly suspect the imprint will close up shop within 12-24 months. It's glory days are long past and, while new and worthwhile series are always being developed there, it has nothing of the support from DC Comics at-large that it used to enjoy.

Vertigo used to be the go-to place for creator-driven, long-form comic book works: Neil Gaiman's The Sandman. Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon's Preacher. Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson's Transmetropolitan. Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso's 100 Bullets. Grant Morrison's The Invisibles (still my all-time favourite comic book). Today readers are better off looking to Image Comics, and a new generation of writers such as Robert Kirkman and Jonathan Hickman. These are writers who, 15 years ago, would have been making their best work for DC. Now they're making it someplace else.

It's clear that DC has no interest in sustaining Vertigo in the future. They've strip-mined it for old IP (John Constantine, Swamp Thing, Animal Man). They've cancelled their longest-running title, Hellblazer, in favour of re-fashioning its lead character as a superhero. The once strong range of prospective long-running titles has slowed to a trickle (has there been a new monthly launched since Paul Cornell's Saucer Country?). DC Comics is now solely aimed at generating corporate IP for film and television, and a mature readers line of creator-owned, corporate-supported titles doesn't help that aim at all. It's a shame: it feels as if they haven't just let the creative fields run fallow - they've burned and salted the earth underneath as well.

I suspect the first rival publisher to offer Berger an editorial job, a health commissioning budget and carte blance to publish what she sees fit, will make an awful lot of money in the future.

Under the cut: reviews of Action Comics, All-New X-Men, Animal Man, Avengers, Batwing, Cyber-Force, Detective Comics, Great Pacific, Hawkeye, The Human Bomb, I Love Trouble, Red She-Hulk, Storm Dogs, Stormwatch, Thunderbolts and Worlds' Finest.

December 5, 2012

Five Questions for Lee Battersby

I first encountered Lee Battersby by reading one of short stories. I then met him a few weeks later at a science fiction convention, and I'm very pleased to be able to call him my friend. I'm also in the weird position where I have been his friend for almost exactly as long as I have been a fan of his writing. I've read his short fiction, including his excellent solo collection Through Soft Air, and now I'm immensely happy to be able to read his debut novel, The Corpse-Rat King (available now from Angry Robot).

I'm halfway through the book at the moment, and enjoying it immensely. Lee is exceptionally good at juggling humour and horror - not the "ooh, ahh, vampires and werewolves" kind of horror, the "ah! ah! fetch me the mind soap!" kind - and that talent is boldly on display here. A sequel novel is due early next year, I can't imagine how Lee won't have a long, lucrative career ahead of him. If the nicest thing for a writer is to succeed, the second nicest thing is to see a deserving friend succeed - and succeeding he certainly is. This past weekend I asked Lee five questions.

Your debut novel The Corpse-Rat King has recently been published by Angry Robot Books. I'm struck by its grit: for me fantasy is often a genre of beautiful mountain vistas, rival aristocratic houses and enormous wars. Your book seems to be the opposite of that: the battle seems to be over at the start of the book, half the aristocrats are dead, and the story itself seems caked in mud and shit from the first page. Was this a deliberate attempt to find a different approach to the genre, or were there other inspirations?

"I guess you could say my inspirations are the opposite of what you read in the book - the novel was written in frustration at all those soft-focus phat phantasies that seem to say "Weren't medieval times just so grand and flowery and wasn't it great when we had Kings and nobles to do all our thinking for us so we could get on with the task of being jolly yeomen?". I wanted to write something foul and smelly and with dirt jammed so far under its fingernails that they split. And then my absurdist self snuck into the process while I wasn't looking and kind of subverted that aim too, so I ended up with something partway between all of it."

December 4, 2012

Blog Space Nine #22: "The Collaborator"

The election of the next Bajoran Kai draws near, with Vedek Bariel and Vedek Winn neck and neck in the race to lead the planet's religious affairs - but when a known Occupation-era collaborator arrives on the station with information implicating Bariel in a notorious massacre, all bets are off.

How many science fiction dramas would spend an entire episode dedicated to the internal politics of an alien culture's predominant church? Of those, how many would manage to make the episode interesting? I'm pretty sure the answer to those two questions is 'one': Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the first SF drama bold enough to tackle the issue of religion head on in a sensitive and intelligent fashion. Sure, other shows have tackled it since - Battlestar Galactica is an obvious choice - but generally they're written by people who had previously written for Deep Space Nine.

Who50: "The Lodger"

Who50 counts down to the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who by reviewing my favourite episodes and serials over the history of the programme, counting down from #50 to #1. Today, #48: "The Lodger", a 2010 episode written by Gareth Roberts and directed by Catherine Morshead.

"The Lodger" is such an obvious episode of Doctor Who to take that it's jaw-dropping it took the various production teams this long. We've seen the Doctor save the Earth hundreds of times. We've seen him run around famous landmarks, and underground science laboratories, and military installations - yet until "The Lodger" we never got to see him go down to the corner shop for a pint of milk, or hang out in the evening watching TV in the living room.

It's a ridiculous idea, but that's what makes the concept work. There have been plenty of Doctor Who stories about the unearthly or uncanny breaking through into the ordinary world: giant maggots in Wales, cat people riding horses around Perivale, and so on. This is the first time since Doctor Who's very first episode in 1963 that the uncanny element has been the Doctor himself.

December 3, 2012

Blog Space Nine #21:"Crossover"

Something goes awry as Kira and Bashir travel through the wormhole. Once back in the Alpha Quadrant they find the station has inexplicably moved. Then they are arrested by a Klingon patrol, and find that Deep Space Nine is under the control of a Klingon-Cardassian alliance, and another Kira Nerys is in command.

In Japanese animation there's this phenomenon known as "fan service". Usually it refers to those slightly skeezy shots of teenage girls' underwear, but when it boils down to it fan service is all about giving the hardcore what they want, no matter how offputting it might be to the general viewer. "Crossover", then, is fan service run riot in the most gleefully egregious of ways. We don't get women in their underwear (although, to be fair, we do get a naked Kira Nerys). What we do get is a brazen sequel to an episode of Star Trek's original series.

December 1, 2012

Five Questions for Brandon Graham

Comic book creator Brandon Graham has been gathering a lot of attention in the past 12 months, thanks to his critically acclaimed relaunch of the Rob Liefeld comic book Prophet. He's a master of surreal fantasy and science fiction, and can push it in both dramatic and comedic directions with equally impressive results. He also wrote and drew the acclaimed comic series King City, and is currently producing the wonderfully strange Multiple Warheads: Alphabet to Infinity (also through Image Comics).

I am an enormous fan of his work, and am absolutely delighted to welcome his as my first recipient of this blog's Five Questions.

1. Why comics? What drew you to the medium and not fine art, film or something else?

"I grew up liking comics more than anything, both my parents and my older brother read them. Comics were the most exciting thing I had around me as a kid and as I got older I got more and more into the possibilities comics allow and how untapped the medium is. Also just how much fun it is to work in.

It's really exciting, especially when I'm doing everything myself, there's so many options on what to focus on, it can be lettering one day and then architecture or dialog the next and then how those things work together to tell a story."

Popular Posts: November 2012

It turns out November was the most popular month in the history of this blog, so thank you all for reading it. You should comment on the articles more often - let me know what you're thinking. In other news, that review of Pale Rider is back in first place after a month off. It's the energizer bunny of reviews.

The five most popular posts read in November were:

  • Review: Pale Rider (link)
  • On Wonder Woman's Costume (link)
  • Five Films: David Morse (link)
  • I Love the Sega Dreamcast (link)
  • Five Films: Michelle Yeoh (link)
The most popular posts actually published in November were:

  • The Racketeer, by John Grisham (link)
  • The Pull List: 31 October 2012 (link)
  • The Pull List: 21 November 2012 (link)
  • The Pull List: 28 November 2012 (link)
  • The Pull List: 14 November 2012 (link)

November 30, 2012

The Pull List: 28 November 2012

Okay, come on Marvel. This is taking the piss. You are fooling nobody. It was only last week that I was complaining about having to buy Iron Man twice in one month due to double-shipping. Now I find myself at the comic shop buying second issues of Thor: God of Thunder, All-New X-Men and X-Men Legacy only two weeks after buying the first. You might have got me to keep trying Uncanny Avengers past the first issue - I was on the fence after issue #1 - but there are only so many comics I am prepared to purchase in a single week. If I wasn't reviewing them for this blog, I'd probably be buying even less.

There is one reason for Marvel to double-ship all these relaunches in a single month, and that's market share. They want to be able to claim their sales dominated the market, and smashed those of their "Distinguished Competition" (am I the only one who used to love the way they used to write that in the letters columns?). Except they won't have, not really, and I think in the long term it'll do them damage. You only have to look at The Amazing Spider-Man, whose sales declined further and further once they started publishing it three times a month.

I had no problem sticking with quite a lot of fairly average DC New 52 titles because they were only costing me $2.99 a month. A lot of Marvel's comics cost $3.99, and if they double ship them I'm paying $7.99 a month for the privilege of their company. That suddenly makes a lot of the mid-list a much less attractive proposition, and if you take a close look at the sales figures you'll see a hell of a lot of Marvel's range is mid-list. The slack I gave DC from last September is simply not an amount of slack I'm going to be willing to extend to Marvel. Iron Man's gone - after the first two issues I've decided to drop it. I'm going to take a pass on Uncanny Avengers as well. Indestructible Hulk and X-Men Legacy are currently on the fence - they could go either way. If I'm asked to buy either title within the next two weeks, they're toast.

Under the cut: reviews of (deep breath): All-New X-Men, All-Star Western, Aquaman, Batman Incorporated, Bedlam, FF, The Flash, Journey Into Mystery, Multiple Warheads, Nowhere Men, Planetoid, Revival, Thor: God of Thunder and X-Men Legacy.

November 29, 2012

Ads from Comics: Lego (1982)

From the back cover of ROM: Spaceknight #36. Cue a generation of adults diving into nostalgia over how Lego used to be.

November 28, 2012

Ads from Comics: Dungeons & Dragons (1982)

Advertisement for Dungeons & Dragons, from the back cover of ROM #28 (1982).
One of the reasons I adore reading old comic books in their original "floppy" form is the advertisements. If you buy the trade paperback you miss all of these hilarious or fascinating ads they used to publish. The older the comic, the better. Read a comic book today and the ads are all for deodorant sprays, cars and TV shows. Read a comic for 1982, and you get ads like this: selling Dungeons & Dragons to the kids of America. This one's from the back cover of Marvel's ROM: Spaceknight #28, dated March 1982.

Free Enterprise #20: "Detained"

Archer and Mayweather wake up in a Tandaran internment camp after encroaching on military space. At first it seems as if their stay will be short - three days in prison, a meeting with a magistrate, then freedom - but when Archer discovers that the camp's Suliban population are being held without cause or charge, and when the overseer Colonel Grat learns of Archer's previous contact with the Suliban Cabal, Archer and Mayweather's stay may just be a little longer.

In the role of Colonel Grat is Dean Stockwell, a veteran actor of American film and television. Contemporary audiences still probably remember him best for his five season run on the science fiction drama Quantum Leap, which starred Scott Bakula (Captain Archer). This is then the episode of Enterprise that I think every science fiction fan knew was coming: an unofficial Quantum Leap reunion inside the Star Trek universe.

November 27, 2012

Babble On #30: "The Long Dark"

An early Earth spacecraft drifts into the station's vicinity, carrying within it a cryogenically frozen explorer who's been on ice for a century. If a homeless veteran in the bowels of the station is to be believed, it has also carried an invisible, demonic entity to the station - an entity that murdered his entire team during the Earth-Minbari War. While Garibaldi investigates, Dr Franklin cares for the revived century-old explorer.

Is it just me, or is Dr Franklin a hysterically bad doctor? He comes dangerously close to taking advantage of his patient. It isn't as if she makes the first move - he's fawning over her and stroking her hair as soon as she's awake. Never mind she's 125 years old or more, her husband is long dead and he hasn't actually told her either of those facts yet - our hair-strokey doctor is deeply inappropriate at best. No wonder she abandons him at the end of the episode to return to Earth. If it was me I'd have been running for the hills from the fifteen-minute mark. Thankfully I wasn't the only one to notice Dr Franklin's malpractice: Garibaldi calls him out on it, and Sheridan gets pretty short with him as well.

November 26, 2012

Who50: The TV Movie

Who50 counts down to the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who by reviewing my favourite episodes and serials over the history of the programme, counting down from #50 to #1. Today, #49: Doctor Who, a 1996 made-for-television film written by Matthew Jacobs and directed by Geoffrey Sax.

The TV Movie is possibly a contentious pick for one of Doctor Who's fifty best stories. It's been a controversial episode in the series' history pretty much from when the idea of an American co-production was first mooted in the early 1990s. Lots of fans seem to actively hate it. I've even seen some, albeit a thankful minority, attempt to claim that the TV movie "doesn't count" and that Paul McGann is not a "real Doctor".

This is insanity: Paul McGann is an outstanding Doctor. He slips into the role with such apparent ease. I remember when Peter Davison debuted as the Doctor. It took me a full four episodes to accept him in the role. Colin Baker took me half a season. Sylvester McCoy took me a couple of weeks. Paul McGann took about six minutes. There's something about his gushing enthusiasm and intensity, oblivious to how silly he may look or sound, that simply convinces. He's that perfectly-formed English eccentric that American audiences would have gone crazy for, had the TV movie not been broadcast against one of the highest-rated episodes of Roseanne ever.

November 24, 2012

Free Enterprise #19: "Oasis"

Following a lead from a rogue trader, the Enterprise investigates a crashed spacecraft. It seems to be long-abandoned, and the crew take a shuttle down to take a closer look. There they discover that despite negative scans the wreck's crew are alive and well. Or are they?

There's a strange sense of deja vu about "Oasis", until the penny drops and you remember that you've actually seen this episode before. It's Deep Space Nine's "Shadowplay", in which a sad old man has resurrected his friends and family as unwitting holograms. That version was written by Robert Hewitt Wolfe; this version is by Stephen Beck, Rick Berman and Brannon Braga. If was was Wolfe, I'd be asking for some royalties.

November 23, 2012

Odds'n'Sods

A few interesting web links for your weekend:
  • It's the 49th anniversary of Doctor Who, and the BBC's celebrated by giving him a new Director General. (link)
  • Speaking of Doctor Who, Tansy Rayner Roberts is counting down to the 50th anniversary with a series of great posts like this one: (link)
  • Deadline have a short interview with Bill Murray about playing F.D. Roosevelt in Hyde Park on the Hudson, and not winning Oscars. (link)
  • Patton Oswalt talks through his film performances - this one is a must-read for his section on Blade III, which is almost on a par with Richard E. Grant's memoirs on making Hudson Hawk. (link)
  • Kyrax2, the famous Batgirl of Comicon, writes about Stephanie Brown and DC Comics - it's weird how the only people I see criticising this for being a silly, frivolous issue are men. (link)

Quote of the Day

'Although Bigelow is a major filmmaker to anyone who has looked closely at Near Dark, Blue Steel or The Loveless, she is diminished in press clips as that woman who makes action movies. Yeah, and Hitchcock was that old fat guy who liked to scare people.'
Peter Travers, reviewing Strange Days for Rolling Stone.

Random Comic: Daredevil #327 (1994)

It's 1994. Everybody has learned that blind lawyer Matt Murdock is also the New York vigilante Daredevil, but that's okay because they just buried Matt Murdock's corpse in the cemetery. Except not really: they buried someone else, because Matt is running around undercover now disguised as a replacement Daredevil in a slightly different costume. You'd think this was a terrible disguise, but surprisingly it works like a charm. I always figured Steve Rogers to be a pretty smart guy, but even he doesn't recognise Matt when they meet.

Both Captain America and Daredevil is on the trail of a gang of dangerous computer hackers-turned-supervillains known as System Crash. They all have hilarious super-villain names like Cobol Charlie and Sinclair Spectrum. To be honest, it's all pretty appalling stuff but it's also inexplicably appealing stuff too.

November 22, 2012

The Pull List: 21 November 2012

I've always considered myself a DC fan, and not so much of a Marvel fan. It's not that I dislike Marvel, I've just always responded more positively to DC's characters. Ask me to name my favourite superheroes, and I'm going to give you a list that includes Batman, Wonder Woman, Nightwing and Hawkman rather than a list including Iron Man, Spider-Man or the Fantastic Four.

I can't help but notice, however, that I'm starting to buy more and more of Marvel's product. Obviously I'm checking out their Marvel Now relaunches as they come out, but I'm also regularly buying Daredevil, Hawkeye and Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, and they're consistently among the best comics I read. Add in the new Thor and Captain America comics and I'm becoming more involved in Marvel by the minute.

This doesn't take into account Image, whose string of science fiction miniseries have me hooked pretty aggressively as well. Between them, Marvel and the DC titles I was already buying, my weekly comics spend is threatening to spin out of control. It may be time to make some tough choices on which regular titles I keep, and which get dropped.

Under the cut: reviews of Batwoman, Captain America, Comeback, Daredevil, Hawkeye, The Indestructible Hulk, Iron Man, It Girl and the Atomics, Judge Dredd, Legion of Super-Heroes, Sword of Sorcery, Ultimate Comics Spider-Man and Wonder Woman. I intended to read and review Journey into Mystery #646 and Revival #5, but haven't managed to buy copies of them yet. I really need to pre-order more often.

November 21, 2012

Who50: "Terror of the Autons"

The Master (Roger Delgado), in Terror of the Autons
Who50 counts down to the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who by reviewing my favourite episodes and serials over the history of the programme, counting down from #50 to #1. Today, #50: "Terror of the Autons", a four-part 1971 serial written by Robert Holmes and directed by Barry Letts.

Every hero needs a good villain. It was a core requirement of 20th century pulp fiction. Flash Gordon fought Ming the Merciless, Batman fought the Joker and Luke Skywalker fought Darth Vader. For the first four years Doctor Who coasted along using the Daleks, but after their climactic appearance in Season 4's "The Evil of the Daleks" they hadn't been seen. Successive production teams tried replacing them with the Cybermen, but that didn't seem to suffice. To be honest, the Daleks didn't seem to suffice. They were an army, full of faceless minions with no individual personality. They weren't able to look the Doctor in the eye and taunt. They couldn't gloat. The Doctor didn't need more monsters. He needed a villain. He needed a nemesis.

"Terror of the Autons" was the first serial of Doctor Who's 8th season. It was notable for quite a few reasons, including the debuts of popular companion Jo Grant (Katy Manning) and UNIT's Captain Yates (Richard Franklin) and the return of the faceless Autons. What it is really famous for, however, is introducing the Master.

The Master (Roger Delgado) was another rogue Time Lord, like the Doctor: only while the Doctor travelled the universe fighting evil and righting wrongs, the Master travelled the universe being evil and creating the wrongs in the first place. Or so we were told. In practice, the Master spent a large amount of his time on Earth, ostensibly trying to take over the world but for all intents and purposes just hanging around to give Jon Pertwee's Doctor the absolute shits.

November 20, 2012

Assassin's Creed III (2012)

Assassin's Creed III is a terrible videogame. There, I said it.

I hate such high hopes. I adored the original Assassin's Creed despite many finding fault with it. I found it had an elegant simplicity that made it an entertaining sort of stripped-down sandbox game. It was pretty to look at and had a wonderful historical setting. Assassin's Creed II was even better, taking the framework and gist of the original and adding a more complex plot, more varied gameplay and much more charisma. More importantly it retained the open world, sandbox feel. There was a plot to follow, but a lot more besides. It was easy to explore, and have fun. Side missions were abundant. So much fun was in Assassin's Creed II that it received two spin-offs, Brotherhood and Revelations, before the franchise finally wound its way on to a third proper instalment.

And it sucks. It's a depressing, unlikeable, sluggish chore of a game. It's mind-bogglingly disappointing, taking every element that worked so well in the earlier titles and removing them. It did keep the most annoying aspects of the old game, however, and even added a few of its own. Now other opinions are available: the game has received numerous glowing reviews, which are wrong. It's sold millions of copies already, sales that it does not deserve. It's the sort of offensively disappointing experience that doesn't make me want a refund - I demand that the designers and producers involved are spanked.

Good Soundtracks for Bad Films

There is a phenomenon I noticed in the 1990s, and while it isn't as common nowadays it's still something that I always keep half an eye out for. It's the phenomenon of "good soundtrack, bad movie". I don't mean the musical score underlying a film's action - although there are plenty of bad films with good scores - I'm talking about the soundtracks: albums filled with pop songs that may or may not have appeared during the film in question.

The movie soundtrack in the sense that we know it today - a group of contemporary pop songs collected together as a 'various artists' release and with the movie's key art splashed all over the cover - was pretty much invented by Hollywood producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer for their film Flashdance. It was a genius move: a popular film could now dominated the Billboard charts at the same time as the box office. It allowed for synergy between business divisions, since most companies that owned a film studio also owned a record label (and those that didn't rapidly set one up).

A new wrinkle on the soundtrack album came to prominence with the 1994 soundtrack to Alex Proyas' film The Crow, which featured all-new songs composed by pop artists specifically for the movie. This is a whole different beast entirely, and of far greater interest to music fans. If you're a fan of The Cure, for example, your record collection is incomplete unless you get the soundtracks to The Crow ("Burn") and Judge Dredd ("Dredd Song"). Yes, Judge Dredd - to be clear, not the recent one written by Alex Garland.

And this is the thing: you can have a terrible, terrible movie, and it can have this fantastic tie-in album with brilliant pop song unavailable anywhere else. The Judge Dredd soundtrack also includes contributions from White Zombie, The The and the Cocteau Twins. Under the cut are three of my personal favourites: the movie may be bad, but the soundtrack is well worth tracking down.