July 28, 2014

The Pull List: 23 July 2014

Doctor Who has a long, rich history of being adapted into comic books. It is, in fact, the single longest-running comic book adaptation in television history. There's been a Doctor Who comic or comic strip running somewhere in the United Kingdom since 1964. In recent years the Americans have been in on the act as well, with IDW publishing several ongoings and miniseries. Some of those books were pretty decent. Some, like their 50th anniversary maxi-series Prisoners of Time, wound up being significantly less than decent. Obviously someone within the BBC wasn't happy, because IDW lost the license, and now an all-new range of Doctor Who comics are kicking off at British publisher Titan Comics.

Titan are simultaneously launching two Doctor Who monthly comics, both titled Doctor Who with the exact same logo. One features ongoing adventures for David Tennant's 10th Doctor and the other features ongoing adventures for Matt Smith's 11th Doctor. A 12th Doctor comic, featuring Peter Capaldi's interpretation of the character, has already been announced and will come along in a few months. This opens up a worrying possibility that we'll soon be seeing a monthly 9th Doctor comic, then an 8th Doctor comic, and before long we'll all be getting hit up for 12 monthly comics - one for each Doctor. Part of me would love to read a regular 2nd Doctor comic book. Another part of me screams for my bank balance.

Both books come with absolutely gorgeous painted covers by Alice X. Zhang. Really: they are the classiest comic book covers for Doctor Who since Ben Templesmith did some early ones for IDW. Absolutely stunning. Let's look at what's inside each one.

Under the cut: reviews of (deep breath) Doctor Who: The 10th Doctor, Doctor Who: The 11th Doctor, All-Star Western, Aquaman, Batman, Batman and Robin, Batman Eternal, Daredevil, The Flash, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Revival, Saga, Star Wars Legacy, Wild Blue Yonder and Wonder Woman.

Doctor Who: The 10th Doctor #1
Titan Comics. Written by Nick Abadzis. Art by Elena Casagrande with Michele Pasta.
Mexican-American Gabriella Gonzalez discover strange things going on in her family's New York laundrette. Her brother thinks he's seeing demons. And a strange man in a stripey brown suit is poking around with an odd-looking machine. This issue perfectly captures the tone of David Tennant's Doctor, a quality it shares with its sister book (as I shall mention in a moment). It's tightly written and nicely illustrated, and sets up new companion Gabby's first adventure with the Doctor remarkably well. Its cliffhanger is beautifully staged, with a final splash page that's got Doctor Who all over it. It's also very well presented for new readers: it's impossible for me to know for sure, but I think new readers could pick this issue up and run with it without having ever seen an episode of the TV series. The hardcore will be pleased to know this comic is even slotted properly into continuity, taking place somewhere between "Journey's End" and "The End of Time". Of the two books, this is the one I was less interested in, simply because I got very burned out by the end of Tennant's TV run. This is great stuff though. It even got me nostalgic for the 10th Doctor. (4/5)

Doctor Who: The 11th Doctor #1
Titan Comics. Written by Al Ewing and Rob Williams. Art by Simon Frazer.
If the 10th Doctor book was a success, this is a knocked-out-of-the-park home run. There are some people who think that the Doctor is the Doctor, and from one incarnation to another he can essentially be written the same way. I don't agree. I think several of the Doctors are extremely distinctive, and Matt Smith's 11th Doctor is one of them. Al Ewing and Rob Williams absolutely nail it, and this book has the best prologue I've seen in a comic in ages. This is the Matt Smith Doctor through and through, in all of his fumbling, fidgeting glory. This book also features a new companion, English library assistant Alice Obiefune, and is also set in a specific continuity gap: between "The Christmas Carol" and "The Impossible Astronaut". This issue takes a different route to the 10th Doctor book, in that it presents a one-shot self-contained first adventure, albeit with one major hanging plot thread for the writers to pick up on in later issues (and it's a big one). This is the perfect 11th Doctor comic. It, and its sister book, has made the wait for Season 8 much more bearable. (5/5)

All-Star Western #33
DC Comics. Written by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti. Art by Staz Johnson.
Once again Gray and Palmiotti stick to rock-solid, highly enjoyable western action now that the book has crashed, burned and lost most of its readers. I've been thinking about this a lot: I don't blame them for the failure of the book, and I completely understand the attempts - whether theirs or dictated by editors - to tie the book into the DCU more directly, stupid as that arc turned out to be. It's just a shame that a western comic simply can't sustain the numbers DC requires to make it work. (4/5)

Aquaman #33
DC Comics. Written by Jeff Parker. Art by Paul Pelettier and Sean Parsons.
Aquaman reunites with Mera and Chimera continues to investigate Aquaman's past. I really like how the various elements of Jeff Parker's run are all pulling together. Chimera has the makings of a great villain, with a new raft of super powers on display here that make him an even more formidable opponent. I also appreciate how Parker hasn't abandoned the story elements that Geoff Johns was using on his run - the political intrigue of Atlantis' royal court seems to arcing up again. This is, once again, good solid superhero entertainment. (Note: Batman does not actually appear in this comic like he does on the cover. See below.) (3/5)

Batman #33
DC Comics. Written by Scott Snyder. Art by Greg Capullo and Danny Miki.
Last month DC published a whole pile of variant covers featuring 1940s-style glamour girl artwork. They caused a huge boost in sales, so it's not a surprise that DC will be doing this variant cover thing for a while to come. This month it's Batman covers: Batman on the front of lots of comic books, whether Batman's actually in it or not. Happy 75th birthday, I guess. This one, however, does have Batman in it, and what's more it's the long-awaited final issue of "Zero Year", Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo and Danny Miki's 12-issue re-telling of Batman's origins. It's predictably brilliant, not so much for the way the Riddler is defeated but for the beautifully sad epilogue and for all of the unexpected new wrinkles and adjustments the team have made to Batman's origins. There are some major changes here that are probably going to glide by most readers because they're just subtle enough for them to not notice the difference. I can't wait for this to be collected into one big omnibus edition, because it's going to be a hell of a read. Storyline like this are how the New 52 should have started. (5/5)

Batman and Robin #33
DC Comics. Written by Peter J. Tomasi. Art by Patrick Gleason and Mick Gray.
Damian Wayne's body is on Apokolips, and Batman intends to follow it - only the Justice League won't let him. There's something really, really off about this issue, which is well below the standard I usually expect from Tomasi's writing. This is the sort of story where, if Batman wants to go save his son's body from Kalibak, and the Justice League find out, then the League would willingly back Bats up and go along with him. Instead they actually tackle him to the ground and refuse to even let him go on his own. Shazam in particular (formerly Captain Marvel) is a right dick about it - I have no idea why DC deliberately elected to make the New 52 Shazam such an unlikeable idiot, but there we are. This is, after Robin Rises: Omega, the second part of this story in a month, and it still feels like it hasn't actually started. This isn't good. I'm feeling sorely short-changed. (1/5)

Batman Eternal #16
DC Comics. Written by Ray Fawkes. Story by Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV. Contributing writers: Tim Seeley, John Layman. Art by Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs.
A little bit more Jason Bard and Vicki Vale, a little more Red Robin and Harper Row, and a lot more Batwing and the Spectre. The Arkham situation becomes a lot more clearer now, but I'm still not seeing how it ties into the crime gang antics of the first 14 issues or so. Hopefully it will all tie together, otherwise things are going to get more than a little disappointing. Dustin Nguyen provides solid artwork, and Batwing gets to be better written than he usually is in his own book. I still hate the Joker's Daughter though - silly character with an ugly concept that does nothing whatsoever for me. This is a passable issue, but not a great one. (2/5)

Daredevil #6
Marvel. Written by Mark Waid. Art by Chris Samnee.
Oh Daredevil, this is why you can never have nice things. Now that Mark Waid has spent some considerable time and effort pulling Matt Murdock out of the emotional hole dug for him since Frank Miller's days, he's now revealed that Matt's father - and lifelong inspiration - was an abusive husband who beat Matt's mother. After that I found the rest of the issue a little spiritless - he'd come so far. Now I feel we're back to square one. Good script, great art, horrible, depressing premise. (3/5)

The Flash #33
DC Comics. Written by Robert Venditti. Art by Brett Booth and Norm Rapmund.
This is yet another issue of Barry Allen trying to solve a crime in the present day, and future Barry Allen trying to change his own past - albeit still in present-day Barry's future. God these time travelling plots get hard to explain. This arc is really dragging out. The two plot threads seem completely unrelated, and they've seemed that way for a few months now. I really want them to tie up together soon, because at the moment it's really feeling as if my time is being wasted. (2/5)

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe #15
DC Comics. Written by Dan Abnett. Art by Pop Mahn.
This issue is simply full-on, action-packed rollicking adventure with He-Man and She-Ra. If you used to own the action figures, or watch the cartoon, or love hearing the phrase "by the power of Grayskull", then this issue is almost certainly for you. If none of that warms your heart, then this almost certainly isn't the comic for you. I do feel a bit sorry for Dan Abnett - his work on Guardians of the Galaxy pretty much led to its film adaptation being the biggest movie of 2014, and here he is adapting a toy range for comic books. (3/5)

Revival #22
Image. Written by Tim Seeley. Art by Mike Norton.
Some issues of Revival are just nicely creepy rural dramas, with richly drawn characters and slow-developing plots of intrigue and suspense. Then there are issues like this one, which do all of the above just fine, but also remind you quite directly that it is a horror comic, and as a result is sometimes going to really shock, unsettle and provoke you. If horror's not your thing, this book probably won't be either, but good God it's one of the best things on the market right now. (5/5)

Saga #21
Image. Written by Brian K. Vaughn. Art by Fiona Staples.
This coming is losing me. It's not completely losing me - I mean, it's not like I'm cancelling my order or anything. What I have noticed, however, is that it used to the first comic I'd pull out of the pile and now it's more like the sixth. It started so well with a million mad ideas per issue. Now I feel it alternates between momentary shock value and predictable domestic troubles. I keep waiting for the book to hit its stride again, but it's really just not reaching it any more. This is a good book that used to be a great one. (3/5)

Star Wars Legacy #17
Dark Horse. Written by Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman. Art by Brian Albert Theis.
One of the advantages this book has over its more popular original trilogy-era stablemate, is that it doesn't need to slot its ending neatly into the movies. As a result Legacy is going out in ridiculously excessive style, with armies of Sith and Stormtroopers charging one another on a rogue planet with Ania Solo and her friends running for their lives in the middle. This book has had its ups and down, but it's winding things way, way up. One more issue to go. Brian Albert Theis does some great artwork here too. (4/5)

Wild Blue Yonder #5
IDW. Written by Mike Raicht, Zach Howard and Austin Harrison. Art by Zach Howard.
The excruciating wait between issues is once again at an end. I'm not sure what circumstances have led to Wild Blue Yonder's extraordinary delays, but it's really been slapping hard in front of the book's momentum. This is a great issue which is basically all climax - clearly told and well illustrated - but it can't be denied that the slow pace is eating away at my enthusiasm. With one issue to go, I hope the wait will be shorter than the four months it took for this instalment. (4/5)

Wonder Woman #33
DC Comics. Written by Brain Azzarello. Art by Cliff Chiang.
This is a beautifully executed build-up to the mother of all climaxes. It's that part of the story where everything goes wrong, all the good guys look set to lose and the baddies reign supreme. Azzarello nails it: because he's working with gods and demigods, he has an awful lot more scope to push the situation into a really dark and dire place. People die. Heroes lose. Diana bleeds to death. I don't know exactly how this three-year mega-arc will end, but I do know that I'm desperate to find out. (5/5)

Winner of the Week: Batman and Wonder Woman in a tie.
Loser of the Week: Batman & Robin. Sigh...

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