August 21, 2017

Atom: The Beginning: "Birth of the Mighty Atom"

It is 15 April 2017, and time for the first episode of Atom: The Beginning.

College students Hiroshi Ochanomizo and Ummataro Temma work together in the attempt to create a fully self-aware robot. Their latest attempt gets an unexpected road test when a fire breaks out at a street parade.

To me, and I suspect to more than a few others, Osamu Tezuka's Astroboy is one of the cornerstones of Japanese animation. It was hugely influential, internationally popular and has been periodically revisited over the decades with various remakes. Its historical significance puts an extraordinary amount of pressure on any new iteration of the story, since there is a weight of history and reputation with which original anime productions do not have to cope. Sadly, from this first episode at least, Atom: The Beginning buckles under the pressure.

August 20, 2017

The Pull List: 9 August 2017, Part 2

For those who came in late: every 90 years a group of young humans suddenly manifest supernatural powers and are reincarnated as Gods. This "Pantheon" then shines brilliantly for two years before they all die. The only constant element appears to be Ananke, an immortal and hugely powerful figure who turned out to have been murdering the Pantheon every cycle to avoid "the great darkness". This time around the Pantheon got there first, Ananke is dead, and now what the great darkness is is rapidly approaching. No one can agree on what to do, one of the Pantheon - Sakhmet - has murdered a bunch of people, and is hiding out from her fellow gods with Persephone, who was a fan of the Pantheon before being reincarnated as one of them.

Sure it sounds a little confusing, but that's what you get if you come in at issue #30. If you have never read The Wicked + the Divine before, go hunt down the first few trades: it's a regular four-to-five star comic book and is a worthy read.

This issue is dominated by Dionysus and Morrigan having a conversation in the dark. It sounds a little dull but it's an important conversation. This really all feels like a calm before a storm, and with the characters all getting developed up to a critical point it suggests that the next few issues are going to be pretty apocalyptic. I do think we're reaching a point where, after 30 serialised issues, it's becoming difficult to keep the characters and the storyline all set in my head with month-long gaps between instalments. A re-read of earlier arcs may be in order before long. (4/5)

The Wicked + the Divine #20. Image. Written by Kieron Gillen. Art by Jamie McKelvie. Colours by Matthew Wilson.

Under the cut: reviews of Action Comics, Batgirl and the Birds of Prey, Harbinger Renegade, Hulk and Ms Marvel.

August 17, 2017

The Pull List: 9 August 2017, Part 1

Mister Miracle of the New Gods returns to the DC Universe in a new 12-issue maxiseries. That is always cause for celebration, since Scott Free and his wife Big Barda have always been two great and underrated characters for DC. Every few years they pop up, delight me with their adventures, and then drop back into second-string obscurity again.

What makes this particular relaunch so exciting is the creative team: writer Tom King and artist Mitch Gerads, whose DC Vertigo book The Sheriff of Babylon was my favourite comic series of 2016. Seeing them reunited is a promise of great things to come.

Based on this first issue they seem pretty likely to satisfy their readers. This is an inventive and slightly off-kilter premiere, using a deliberately limited colour palette, deliberately mis-aligned artwork and many visual artefacts to create a genuine sense that the world has gone wrong. The same thing appears to be going on in King's script, in which Scott appears to be slowly going unhinged - or the universe around him is. Actually, I suspect the latter. It's a brilliant hook, beautifully packaged, and pretty much the number one must-read superhero book this month. (5/5)

Mister Miracle #1. DC Comics. Written by Tom King. Art by Mitch Gerads.

Under the cut: reviews of Detective Comics, Doctor Aphra, Freeway Fighter, Rogue One: Cassian and K-2SO Special, and Sacred Creatures.

August 15, 2017

Doctor Who: "The Slave Traders"

It is 16 January 1965, and time for another episode of Doctor Who.

A month after the TARDIS makes a crash landing in Ancient Rome, the Doctor (William Hartnell) and his companions relax in a nearby villa. When the Doctor and Vicki (Maureen O'Brien) head off to visit Rome, the Doctor finds himself mistaken for a murdered musician. Back at the villa Ian (William Russell) and Barbara (Jacqueline Hill) are ambushed and captured by slave traders.

There is something genuinely delightful about "The Slave Traders", the first episode of Dennis Spooner's historical serial "The Romans". A lot of the appeal comes from seeing the regular characters actually getting to stop for a while and relax. They have rampaged from one adventure to the next for a series and a half at this stage, and have more than earnest a rest. That rest comes with a huge boost in warm humour: it seems clear at this stage that Ian and Barbara are actively enjoying their travels with the Doctor. New companion Vicki has slipped comfortably into her new routine. The one-month jump in time actually benefits her introduction enormously because she is now happily familiar with her new friends. It is a great narrative shortcut.

August 14, 2017

The Pull List: 2 August 2017, Part 3

It started with a resentful drug-addicted police detective flying out to a distant spaceship to conduct a murder investigation. It ends, eight issues later, with two people huddled together with no oxygen or warmth left with which to survive. A hell of a lot happened in between.

Hadrian's Wall has been a tremendous miniseries. A smart murder-mystery in space that segued into a sort of siege thriller, with well-crafted characters and intelligence science fiction detail. Rod Reis was the icing on the cake, creating stunning painterly artwork that echoed some of the best production design of 1980s science fiction cinema. It is a blueprint for a cult film that never got made; who knows, with the series complete perhaps an enterprising studio will be tempted to take a chance on it.

A collection edition is coming soon. I really hope that it finds a strong readership on top of those who have already discovered it. This is the sort of SF work that deserves a big audience. (5/5)

Hadrian's Wall #8. Image. Written by Kyle Higgins and Alec Siegel. Art and colours by Rod Reis with Eduardo Ferigato.

Under the cut: reviews of Extremity, Giant Days and Seven to Eternity.

Doctor Who: "Desperate Measures"

It is 9 January 1965 and time for another episode of Doctor Who.

The Doctor (William Hartnell) and Ian (William Russell) make their way past the ancient traps of the Didonians. Barbara (Jacqueline Hill) and Vicki (Maureen O'Brien) get to know one another onboard the crashed starship. When the Doctor finally joins them, he gets to the bottom of the mysterious identity of the alien Koquillion.

"Desperate Measures" is a deceptively brilliant episode of Doctor Who. It throws in some great character-building scenes, properly integrates Vicki in the TARDIS crew, and climaxes with a tremendously atmospheric and dramatic reveal in an underground temple. This may be, at two episodes, one of the briefest of William Hartnell's Doctor Who serials, but it makes great and efficient use of its time.

August 11, 2017

The Pull List: 2 August 2017, Part 2

What if all of the famous people who vanished over history did not simply get murdered or die in obscurity somewhere, but actually found themselves transported to another universe? That is the basic premise of Elsewhere, a new fantasy series by writer Jay Faerber (Copperhead), artist Sumeyye Kesgin and publisher Image Comics.

To begin with, the series introduces us to Amelia Earhart, famous American long-distance pilot whose plane vanished over the Pacific Ocean in July 1937. After being rescued from a tree by a pair of goblin-like rebels on the run from their totalitarian government, she goes looking for her co-pilot Fred.

Kesgin's artwork has a quite traditional sort of look: clean, bold and immediately readable. Faerber's script is where the book staggers a little: it's relatively early, so the story could go either way, but there really is not a huge amount of plot here and nothing really leaps out to feel inventive or especially attention-grabbing. The basic premise is a cool one, but the execution really does let it down just a little. (3/5)

Elsewhere #1. Image. Written by Jay Faerber. Art by Sumeyye Kesgin. Colours by Ron Riley.

Under the cut: reviews of Robotech, Spider-Man and Swordquest.

Doctor Who: "The Powerful Enemy"

It is 2 January 1965, and time for another episode of Doctor Who.

While the Doctor (William Hartnell) mourns the loss of Susan, the TARDIS arrives on the planet Dido and Ian (William Russell) and Barbara (Jacqueline Hill) go exploring a mountain-side network of caves. In the valley below, the two survivors of a crashed human starship - Vicki (Maureen O'Brien) and Bennett (Ray Barrett) - live under the tyrannical control of the alien reptile Koquillion.

It is good that Susan's departure at the end of "The Dalek Invasion of Earth" was not ignored or quickly shuffled away. The early scenes of "The Powerful Enemy" see the Doctor visibly worn by the loss. He sleeps through a TARDIS landing for the first time. He seems very keen to send Ian and Barbara off to give him time alone. At one key moment he asks Susan to open the TARDIS door, then pauses, with a mixture of sadness and embarrassment. Barbara gently asks the Doctor to show her how to do it. It's a perfect small moment between the two characters: a little bit of healing for the Doctor, and the acknowledgement for Barbara that she and the old man really have become good friends.

August 10, 2017

The Pull List: 2 August 2017, Part 1

Stanford Yu works as a young janitor at an elite academy for giant robot pilots. On the appointed day, when three alien giant robots are supposed to descend and accept their pilots, one fails to show up. When Stanford finds it damaged a few miles down the road it does the unimaginable and accepts him as its pilot instead.

Mech Cadet Yu is a four-issue miniseries from writer Greg Pak and artist Takeshi Miyazawa. It pays tribute to Japanese pop culture, particularly all of the giant robot anime productions that have been produced since the late 1970s.

The pedigree of its creatives is pretty high for anybody who's been reading Marvel comics: Pak did a sensational extended run on The Incredible Hulk, while Miyazawa has done superb work illustrating Ms Marvel in recent years. If anything it unfairly raises expectations. This is a pleasantly enjoyable first issue, but so far there is nothing that leaps off the page or makes the most significant impression. It's simply an enjoyable giant robot story; and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. (3/5)

Mech Cadet Yu #1. Boom Studios. Written by Greg Pak. Art by Takeshi Miyazawa. Colours by Triona Farrell.

Under the cut: reviews of Batman, Darth Vader, Green Arrow and Superman.

August 8, 2017

The Pull List: 26 July, Part 3

Usagi Yojimbo and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have always had a fairly close relationship: both independent black and white comic books of the 1980s, they crossed over fairly quickly and Usagi has been an intermittent presence in the Turtles comics and television cartoons ever since (right up to an appearance in the current series a few weeks ago).

This new one-shot is a real gem: written and drawn by Usagi creator Stan Sakai, with absolutely beautiful soft colouring by Tom Luth. The story itself is relatively straight-forward, but as is often the case with Sakai it is told in a very simple and elegant fashion with some absolutely beautiful art.

I feel the market does not give Usagi Yojimbo the respect it is due: it is rarely sensationalised or attention-grabbing, but Sakai does a flawless job with every issue he creates. It has a warm, likeable tone, a strong sense of Japanese history and culture, and a cartoon-like sensibility that is much harder to produce than it looks. It is such a pleasant read every time. Hopefully this crossover might bring a few new readers to Sakai's work. He deserves them all. (4/5)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles/Usagi Yojimbo. Story and art by Stan Sakai. Colours by Tom Luth.

Under the cut: reviews of All-Star Batman, Doctor Aphra and Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor.

Doctor Who: "Flashpoint"

It is 26 December 1964, and time for the final episode of "The Dalek Invasion of Earth".

While the Daleks work to detonate their bomb inside the Earth's core, the Doctor (William Hartnell), Ian (William Russell), Barbara (Jacqueline Hill) and Susan (Carole Ann Ford) finally reunite in Bedfordshire to stop the Dalek invasion once and for all.

"The Dalek Invasion of Earth" ends with a finale that, while never particularly surprising, manages to bring this epic storyline to a strong and hugely entertaining close. It has been a success on a number of levels. Firstly this has easily been the most ambitious production of the series thus far, and with a few mishaps (the unfortunate-looking Slyther for one) the production team has pulled it off with tremendous skill. Secondly it has taken the Daleks and elevated them from one-off monsters to the series' first recurring villains. They will appear a third time to plague the Doctor before the second series is out.

August 4, 2017

The Pull List: 26 July, Part 2

John Abbott has designed and built the ships that won America its naval war against the British, but an act of mutiny to win a battle now sees him imprisoned for treason. An infection has cost him an arm. With peace settled, Nicholson travels to the White House to beg for John's freedom.

These Free and Independent States has been an exceptional miniseries, using the historical background of early American history to tell the story of a difficult man living in a difficult time. Brian Wood has developed a subtle and deeply affecting character in John Abbott, whose obvious autism in an age that knows nothing of the condition constantly disrupts and damages his life.

There is a gentle quality to this issue. It is there is Wood's carefully paced story, and certainly in Andrea Mutti's matter-of-fact, beautifully composed pencils and inks. It is particularly evident in Lauren Affe's colours: all muted and subtle, allowing the narrative to unfold without distraction but with beautiful enhancement.

This appears to mark the end of John Abbott's story, but Rebels continues in August with a self-contained issue focused on George Washington. I love that Wood and Mutti take the opportunity to explore these side stories. They did the same thing with the original Rebels series too. (5/5)

Rebels: These Free and Independent States #5. Written by Brian Wood. Art by Andrea Mutti. Colours by Lauren Affe.

Under the cut: reviews of Ghostbusters 101, The Power of the Dark Crystal, and Saga.

August 3, 2017

Colditz: "The Gambler"

It is 25 February 1974, and time for another episode of Colditz.

Flight Lieutenant Jack Collins (Ray Barrett) arrives at the castle, immediately setting up a regular card game with some of the other British prisoners. He cons and cheats Captain Brent (Paul Chapman) out of his entire life savings - including his family house - and does the same to a German guard as part of an independent escape attempt.

Colditz has had its fair share of characters, both decent and unpleasant. For some reason Jack Collins seems particularly unlikeable, to the point where he is my least favourite character across the entire series to date. He is a card player that cheats and takes advantage, he is wilfully against cooperating with others, and is disrespectful and insulting towards his fellow British officers. It is rather strange: I would actually argue that he is so completely unpleasant as a character that he effectively destroys his own episode.

August 2, 2017

The Pull List: 26 July 2017, Part 1

After a short hiatus, Gerard Way's loving and nostalgic tribute to Morrison-era Doom Patrol continues. This issue comes illustrated by Michael and Laura Allred who are, let's be honest, the best possible art team a Doom Patrol comic could have.

Niles Caulder is back, fully prepared to take control of the Doom Patrol once again - except his team are very reluctant to let him anywhere close to their lives and abilities ever again. This is a wonderful surreal and absurd issue that is largely self-contained - although obviously a familiarity with Caulder and the Doom Patrol's back story will add a huge amount of value here. If plaid-wearing invisible aliens from another dimension creating honey out of human bad ideas sounds like your kind of thing, then this is definitely the comic book of the week for you.

The Allreds' artwork is exactly what those familiar with their work might expect: beautifully proportioned work with a wonderful simplicity to the designs and the art. It's immediately engaging, bright and light-hearted. Sadly they're only here for the one issue, but it's an outstanding one. (5/5)

Doom Patrol #7. DC Comics. Written by Gerard Way. Art by Michael Allred. Colours by Laura Allred.

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

Doctor Who: "The Waking Ally"

It is 19 December 1964, and time for the fifth part of the Doctor Who serial "The Dalek Invasion of Earth".

Ian (William Russell) and Larry (Graham Rigby) infiltrate the Dalek's mine in Bedfordshire. Barbara (Jacqueline Hill) and Jenny (Ann Davies) arrive there soon afterwards, after they are captured by the Daleks. Romance swells between Susan (Carole Ann Ford) and David (Peter Fraser) as they continue their trek out of London with the Doctor (William Hartnell).

Terry Nation certainly demonstrates how to plot a six-episode serial here. Every episode of "The Dalek Invasion of Earth" has pushed the plot forward one key step, which gives each instalment a sense of purpose and avoids the middle parts feeling like a bunch of characters running around in circles. The bleak, despairing tone of the earlier episodes continues here as well: not only is this one of the best Doctor Who serials so far it is also certainly the darkest in tone.

August 1, 2017

The Angriest: July 2017 in review

When Richard Curtis agreed to write an episode of Doctor Who, he did not hold back in unleashing his talents. "Vincent and the Doctor" is a remarkable hour of television, presenting the reality of depression to a family audience with enormous sensitivity and effectiveness. I rewatched the episode in July, and my review was the most popular post on The Angriest for the entire month.

In July 2017, across The Angriest, FictionMachine and FilmInk, I wrote one interview, four new film reviews, 20 reviews of older films, 7 TV episode reviews, as well as short reviews of 52 comic books. A full index of my July blog posts is included below.

The Pull List: 19 July 2017, Part 3

Michael Cray, the world's best professional killer, is given an offer he really can't refuse. Angela Spica, who ran away from her employer IO with a highly advanced nano-technology super-suit, is reunited with the elusive billionaire whose life she saved. Perhaps most importantly, some things get explained and the set-up phase of The Wild Storm is completed.

Six issues initially seems an intolerable length of time in which to set up a comic series, but it's important to realise that Warren Ellis is playing a long game. The Wild Storm was conceived as a serialised 24-issue narrative, so this really is essentially the end of the first act. The cast has been introduced, the conflict revealed, and a huge amount of cool science fiction and technology concepts thrown up in the air. The issue's other great asset is artist Jon Davis-Hunt, who has managed to give it all a detailed and engaging look via his artwork.

Truth be told, the story will probably be more readable once collected into trade paperback form; there is an abrupt and arbitrary nature in the way the book simply stops at the end of each issue rather than hit a proper conclusion or cliffhanger. This issue ends more neatly than most; an indication, perhaps, that the first six issues will be collected together before long. (4/5)

The Wild Storm #6. DC Comics. Written by Warren Ellis. Art by Jon Davis-Hunt. Colours by Steve Buccellato and John Kalisz.

Under the cut: reviews of Britannia, Descender, Invader Zim, Kill the Minotaur, Rapture, Secret Weapons and Time & Vine.