April 28, 2017

The Pull List: 19 April 2017, Part 1

When DC Comics undertook a soft reboot last year with DC Rebirth, one of the most contentious elements was the foreshadowing of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' hugely popular and influential miniseries Watchmen colliding with the DC Universe. The key part of that foreshadowing was Batman's discovery of the famous Watchmen smiley-face button embedded into the wall of the Batcave. It's been almost a year, but Batman #21 finally returns to Batman's discovery in the four-part crossover with The Flash, "The Button".

While examining the button, Batman places it on a table next to Psycho Pirate's mask - something else he has been investigating - and an electrical flash allows him to temporarily see his father Thomas as Batman (from the 2011 crossover Flashpoint). He is then unexpectedly assaulted by the presumed-dead Reverse Flash, and must fight to survive the super-fast villain for 60 seconds until the Flash can come to the rescue.

There are positive ways to view this issue: Jason Fabok's art is great, and Tom King does an excellent job of both telling an action scene sliced down to second-by-second moments and of echoing the Watchmen aesthetic with a nine-panel layout. It also feels good to see the over-arching mystery of the DC Universe, the missing five years and the events of DC Rebirth finally start moving again - the Legion of Superheroes gets some positive foreshadowing for one thing.

Then there is the downside. No matter how well King writes this issue (and he writes it very well) the fact remains that combining the DC Universe and Watchmen is a catastrophically bad idea. One is a critical comment upon the other, which doesn't suggest there is anything to creatively gain from merging them. There is also the issue of cracking open a self-contained work to scoop out the IP inside (never a great look), and given the highly contentious manner in which DC has shut Moore and Gibbons out of their own work it does not exactly speak highly of DC's attitute to creators' rights.

At any rate, the storyline is here assuming you can stomach it. It is well written and well illustrated. It points to something that will very likely awful. Make your own choices. (3/5)

Batman #21. DC Comics. Written by Tom King. Art by Jason Fabok. Colours by Brad Anderson.

Under the cut: reviews of All-Star Batman, Aquaman, Batwoman and Daredevil.

April 27, 2017

The Pull List: 12 April 2017, Part 3

Seven to Eternity is back for its fifth issue, following a brief hiatus and the release of its first trade paperback. I really appreciate the Image release schedule, first employed on Saga: a string of single issues, then a collected edition for other readers to catch up, then a few more single issues, and so on. It's a strategy I'd actually be happy to see the 'big two' employ on at least a few of their books.

The issue picks up right where the fourth left off: Adam Osidis, slowly dying from an incurable sickness, travels across the wilderness with the Mosak Knights along with their prisoner - the tyrannical Mud King. They are intercepted by one of the Mud King's warriors, leading to a fierce battle and an emergency change of plans. You can probably tell from the names that this is a high fantasy saga, but the synopsis and the names fail to express the book's key strengths.

Rick Remender has developed a great range of characters with depth, regrets and grit. It is a much bleaker and more desolate fantasy world than the typical literary fantasy, edging almost into the post-apocalyptic milieu. Jerome Opeña's artwork is, quite frankly, jaw-dropping. There is a beauty and an attention to detail that most other contemporary comic books cannot match. Each issue to date has been an absolute feast for the eyes, and it is easily one of the book's strongest selling points. Matt Hollingsworth's colours accentuate the work rather than over-power it. Altogether it's a hugely attractive package. (4/5)

Seven to Eternity #5. Image. Written by Rick Remender. Art by Jerome Opeña. Colours by Matt Hollingsworth.

Under the cut: Rat Queens, Silver Surfer and The Wicked + the Divine.

April 26, 2017

Colditz: "The Guests"

It is 28 January 1974, and time for another episode of Colditz.

Three British commandos are captured and locked up in Colditz's attached general prison. Colonel Preston (Jack Hedley) agitates for their transfer into the prison camp properly, aware that an order from Hitler has decreed all captured commandos be executed. In an unexpected act of generosity it is Major Horst Mohn (Anthony Valentine) - a proud member of the Nazi Party - who comes to Preston's aid. When the British prisoners enact a plan to help the three commandos escape, the true motive behind Mohn's generosity comes to light.

One thing that Colditz has done tremendously well is its way of representing the gradual passage of the war. It is represented in comments and exchanges of dialogue, but also in the slow and ominous way that the series has darkened in tone. Here we have Hitler's orders defying the Geneva Convention entirely - prisoners are now no longer confined to camps, but may readily be shot.

April 25, 2017

Riverdale: "The River's Edge"

In the all-American small town of Riverdale, the community reels from the disappearance on the river of popular high schooler Jason Blossom. As school returns troubled teen Archie Andrews (KJ Apa) finds himself wedged between classmates Veronica Lodge (Camila Mendes) and Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart), while his father Fred (Luke Perry) and Veronica's mother Hermione (Marisol Nichols) reveal a past connection.

Everything old becomes new again, and given the huge success that the American TV network the CW has enjoyed with its growing range of DC Comics adaptations it is little surprise that they might expand their focus to adapting other popular slices of comic book culture. Riverdale is an update of the Archie comics. They have recently enjoyed a widely acclaimed revival in print, and so it is unsurprising that they would also now make a jump to live-action television.

The Pull List: 12 April 2017, Part 2

One of the best things about Valiant as a superhero universe is the hugely inventive manner in which they re-position and re-develop their characters. For one thing their character roster includes three immortal brothers: Gilad, of Eternal Warrior fame, Armstrong, from Archer & Armstrong, and Ivar, star of Ivar Timewalker. Now in a new one-shot all three brothers stand together, not only in Europe's Dark Ages but the court of King Arthur of Britain in Immortal Brothers: The Green Knight.

It's a smart, funny retelling of the classic myth with a good mixture of comedy and drama. It is framed by fellow Valiant hero Archer reading a story to a bedridden and sick Faith, and does a solid job of wrapping an old story around the new characters. More impressive than the story is the artwork, which is simple but hugely effective and beautifully proportioned. Brian Reber's bold colouring also helps to bring the book to life.

In the end this really is just a small piece of whimsy, but I like that Valiant offers the freedom to tell these kinds of amusing side-stories. I can see a number of these Immortal Brothers one-shots developing in the future. (4/5)

Immortal Brothers: The Green Knight #1. Valiant. Written by Fred Van Lente. Art by Cary Nord, Clayton Henry and Mark Morales. Colours by Brian Reber.

Under the cut: reviews of Invader Zim, Justice League of America, and Motor Crush.

April 24, 2017

The Pull List: 12 April 2017, Part 1

The young viking woman Aydis has succeeded in freeing the goddess Brynhild from captivity, but has been captured and kidnapped by Freya and the Valkyries for her trouble.

There is a remarkable quality to Natasha Alterici's miniseries that is quite difficult to pin down. It skirts the edge of becoming an all-out sex-filled work of erotica - particularly in this issue, which reveals a Valhalla packed with scantily-clad lesbians - yet Alterici always pulls the book back to focus on characters and story, and a rich heartfelt tone of hope. The artwork is wonderfully subtle and almost gentle in style.

Perhaps best of all is just how distinctive and unique the book seems to be. It has an enormously strong identity and style that has made it stand out against all of the other comics I have been reading this year. When the time comes to consider the year's best books, Heathen is already a top contender. (5/5)

Heathen #3. Vault Comics. Story and art by Natasha Alterici.

Under the cut: reviews of Action Comics, Batgirl and the Birds of Prey, Copperhead and Detective Comics.

April 23, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Starship Mine"

It is 29 March 1993, and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

After the Enterprise is evacuated for periodic maintenance, Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) reboards the ship - only to find it taken over by mercenaries on a raiding mission. While his command crew are held captive on a nearby planet's surface, Picard is forced to single-handedly take back his ship by force.

"Starship Mine" is an unashamed riff on the popular 1988 action film Die Hard, in which hostages are taken, a heist is performed, and a single man with a gun is forced to save the day all by himself. It is a fun episode because it provides some straight-forward action and adventure, but it is particularly fun because it does all of that with Patrick Stewart playing the man with the gun. Some episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation are science fiction masterpieces. Some provide intellectual debate on social issues. Some just run around punching and shooting people.

April 22, 2017

The Pull List: 5 April 2017

Thea continues her quest for vengeance against the Paznina war lords. In the wreckage of the rising plains, she discovers a new ally for her mission.

There is a certain kind of bleak, desolate science fiction/fantasy that particularly appeals to me in comic book form. It can be found all through the works of Moebius, and more recently in American comic books in the likes of The Spire, Prophet, Wild Blue Yonder and Planetoid. You can add to that list Extremity, a vivid and richly developed saga about a one-handed girl on a mission for revenge among the shattered remnants of her home lands.

Creator Daniel Warren Johnson has developed an intriguing and dramatic fantasy world in which Thea seeks her vengeance, and his detailed, distinctive artwork really draws the reader into that world. Colourist Mike Spicer is particularly good in this issue, making a sharp visual distinction between flashback and present events as well as the various locations revealed. For fans of speculative fiction, this book is definitely worth checking out; personally, I'm hooked. (5/5)

Extremity #2. Image. Story and art by Daniel Warren Johnson. Colours by Mike Spicer.

Under the cut: reviews of Aquaman, Batman, Eleanor and the Egret, Giant Days, Green Arrow, Spider-Man and Superman.

April 20, 2017

Yowamushi Pedal: "Human Bullet Train!!"

It is 16 December 2013, and time for the 11th episode of Yowamushi Pedal.

The day after their special training sessions, the first years discover that the senior classmen have all travelled in secret to the preliminaries of the Inter-High Championship. Not wanting to miss seeing their schoolmates compete, Onoda, Naruko and Imaizumi sneak out of school to see the race. When they arrive, they discover the Sohoku team trailing in third with 50 seconds between them and their competitors.

To an extent this episode feels like an epilogue to the first 10 episodes, since it sets up the Inter-High Championships and gives a brief taste of the rival cyclists and teams that the protagonists are going to face. On the one level it's a nice piece of set-up. On another it makes the episode feel relatively redundant, since it is just sign-posting stuff the audience is going to encounter in due course anyway.

April 7, 2017

The Pull List: 29 March 2017, Part 2

Joyride kicked off with two wayward teenagers escaping a totalitarian planet Earth, hitching a ride on a spacecraft and going to explore the galaxy. Now it turns back: the cast has expanded, with four humans on the team, and they have decided it is time to re-introduce Earth to the rest of the galaxy and overthrow the despotic regime that controls the planet.

It's a plot development that carries a lot of narrative weight, since it reverses the 'running away' motivation that drove the first story arc. It also makes this a pretty fast-paced, energetic sort of issue as a lot of story gets told in a very brief amount of time. It's almost too brief: a slightly slower pace might have allowed events to carry even more weight than they already do.

The scripting is strong as always, as is Marcus To's wonderful artwork and designs. Irma Kniivila's colours always make this comic a visually rich reading experience, and certainly this issue is no different. This continues to be a hugely entertaining science fiction adventure comic. (4/5)

Joyride #11. Boom Studios. Written by Jackson Lanzing and Colin Kelly. Art by Marcus To. Colours by Irma Kniivila.

Under the cut: reviews of Divinity III: Stalinverse, Hadrian's Wall, Justice League of America, and Ladycastle.

April 4, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Birthright, Part 2"

It is 1 March 1993, and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

While searching for his father, Worf (Michael Dorn) discovers a secret Romulan penal colony populated entirely by Klingons. Raised outside of the Empire and without the tutelage of their own kind, they have forgotten what it means to be a Klingon warrior. Captured by the guards and imprisoned alongside them, Worf takes their cultural education into his own hands.

The key fault of "Birthright" is clear once you view the second part. There is basically just a little bit more plot to the story that would fit into a single 42-minute episode. As a result the production team had two choices: condense and truncate, or expand and elaborate. Buoyed by the success of "Chain of Command" a few weeks earlier, the production team went with expanding. I think they made the wrong choice. While the first half, padded out by Data's learning to dream, had some genuine good material, the second half is just a chore.

April 2, 2017

The Pull List: 29 March 2017, Part 1

Recently DC Comics has undertaken a bizarre re-imagining of the Hanna Barbera cartoon properties, reworking children's entertainment from the 1960s and 1970s into odd re-imaginings aimed less at children and more at nostalgic thirty-somethings. Post-apocalyptic Scooby Doo has been a bedfellow with a Mad Max-esque Wacky Races and a cross-over Space Ghost/Johnny Quest mash-up. I have heard - but cannot confirm for myself - that their satirical new version of The Flintstones is actually very good, but to be honest the entire concept of these books do not interest me. A crossover between Banana Splits and Suicide Squad, however? That is a concept so completely wrong-headed and egregiously stupid that I felt compelled to check it out for myself.

More fool me. Suicide Squad/The Banana Splits is a train wreck in comic book form. Over-priced at US$4.99, its story by Tony Bedard is weak and superficial and its attempt to cross over the two properties takes the easy way out. It drags the look and tone of the Banana Splits aggressively towards Suicide Squad rather than work within the sharp contrast between the two properties. Ben Caldwell's pencils are generic and ordinary. There is a backup strip in the book's final third that launches another Hanna Barbera re-imagining - Snagglepuss as a gay 1950s playwright - but it is a little too short and simple to make any real kind of impact.

If you are going to deliberately produce a ridiculous crossover comic, it is important that you commit to the stupidity and make the most ridiculous comic that you can. Here DC pull their punches. Here they catch themselves in the middle. This book is garbage. (1/5)

Suicide Squad/Banana Splits #1. DC Comics. Written by Tony Bedard. Art by Ben Caldwell and Mark Morales. Colours by Jeremy Lawson.

Under the cut: reviews of Black Widow and Heathen.

The Pull List: 22 March 2017, Part 3

Every ongoing comic book needs jumping-on points for the new readers, and whether the pre-existing fans like it or not the most obvious way to provide one is to re-start a serialised comic from a new issue #1. Valiant in particular use this technique on all of their books, with few titles extending far between twenty issues or so without getting revamped, renumbered and relaunched. This month it has been the turn of X-O Manowar, which begins anew with a script by Matt Kindt and Tomas Giorello.

To their credit it really does feel like a fresh book. Aric, the Roman gladiator who bonded with an alien suit of armour, now lives in a distant planet as a farmer with one hand missing and his iconic armour buried in the ground. When the military come conscripting cannon fodder, he is dragged away and forced to fight whether he wishes to or not.

Tomas Giorello's artwork absolutely sells this book. It looks fantastic, with a rich visual blend of science fiction and fantasy elements and a huge amount of tecture and depth. For new readers it is an easy book into which to jump: people often ask me which Valiant books to read, and this month you should absolutely be reading X-O Manowar. (5/5)

X-O Manowar #1. Valiant. Written by Matt Kindt. Art by Tomas Giorello.

Under the cut: reviews of Bloodshot Reborn, Helena Crash and Star Trek/Green Lantern.

April 1, 2017

The Angriest: March 2017 in review

Counselor Troi's adventures on a Romulan warbird caught the fancy of Angriest readers in March: the review of the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Face of the Enemy" was the most-read post of the month, followed by comic reviews for 1 March (here and here), and reviews of two Colditz episodes ("Arrival of a Hero" and "Ghosts").

In total, between The Angriest and its sister site FictionMachine, March saw the publication of a new full-length film essay on The Last Temptation of Christ, and reviews of five new films, 17 older films, six TV episodes, one anime episode, and 53 comic books. A full index of posts is listed below the cut.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Birthright, Part 1"

It is 22 February 1993, and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

While the Enterprise is docked at the space station Deep Space Nine, Worf (Michael Dorn) is presented with claims that his presumed-dead father may actually be alive and living on a Romulan penal colony. Meanwhile Commander Data (Brent Spiner) is hit by a strange energy discharge when assisting the station's medical officer Dr Julian Bashir (Alexander Siddig), leading to a series of unexplained hallucinations.

"Birthright" presents yet another unexpected two-part serial for The Next Generation. Only a few episodes after "Chain of Command" the series is at it again; only this time the results are much less successful. While Worf's search for his missing father stretches over the two episodes, the side-plot of Data learning how to dream is run through and complete by the end of the first hour. It creates a slightly off-kilter rhythm to the story.