March 28, 2013

Game of Thrones: "The Night Lands"

I really don't think there's an actor on American television right now who's better than Peter Dinklage. He gives Tyrion Lannister such a tremendous amount of humour, likeability and depth. It's looking like, for his scenes at least, Game of Thrones Season 2 is going to be a joy to watch. Here he goes about securing his position as King's Hand, deftly removing the captain of the guard to install a new one likely to be more loyal. I also love how, despite their evil deeds and incestuous relationship, he clearly retains much affection for his siblings.

This is a series with a bit of a body count to it, and I have deliberately avoided spoiling myself by reading ahead or going through the books. I really hope Tyrion survives for a very, very long time - he is absolutely this cast's greatest asset.

So what else happens in this episode?

March 25, 2013

Who50: "Silence in the Library"/"Forest of the Dead"

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, #32: "Silence in the Library" and "Forest of the Dead", a 2008 two-part story written by Steven Moffat and directed by Euros Lyn.

The Doctor and Donna arrive in a massive intergalactic library, only to discover it is mysteriously - and ominously - deserted. Soon they encounter an archaeological team led by Professor River Song, a woman from the Doctor's future who knows a lot more about him that he expects. Before long they are all on the run, as the deadly reason for the empty library becomes clear and they must all run from the shadowy Vashta Nerada.

While he's done a brilliant job as executive producer since Season 5 (at least he has in my mind), Steven Moffat's best Doctor Who scripts are almost all from the preceding four seasons, when he didn't have the responsibility of guiding the series as a whole but could instead focus closely on one exceptional story at a time. He is to my mind one of the top three writers of Doctor Who ever, alongside the unassailable Robert Holmes and the phenomenal David Whitaker.

March 24, 2013

Enterprise: "Stigma"

At an interplanetary medical conference, Dr Phlox surreptitiously attempts to get more data on P'Nar syndrome, drawing the suspicions of the attending Vulcan scientists and outing Subcommander T'Pol. Social prejudice among Vulcans for sufferers of the syndrome means that T'Pol's career is effectively over - unless Captain Archer can intervene. Meanwhile Phlox's second wife visits the Enterprise to install a new microscope.

This episode was produced at the behest of Viacom, who dictated that all TV programs in the 2002-03 season must in some way address HIV/AIDS, as a sort of public service announcement. "Stigma" is Enterprise's effort, a vaguely offensive story where only members of a small minority are susceptible to a fatal disease and where Archer can moralise at the Vulcans about their odd prejudice.

March 23, 2013

Game of Thrones: "The North Remembers"

Most TV dramas I watch once they're released on home video. Commercials in broadcast television annoy me too much (particularly Australian TV's habit of editing two minutes from American dramas to squeeze in extra advertisements), and generally speaking I'd rather wait and pay money to a show's producers than pirate my TV via torrents. As a result I'm often quite behind on my television. A case in point: HBO's marvellous epic Game of Thrones. Everybody else is gearing up for the Season 3 premiere at the end of the month, while I am only now wading my way through Season 2 on Blu-ray.

Diving into Season 2 of Game of Thrones a year after watching Season 1 is very much a case of running to catch up. This show's cast is massive, sprawling across an entire fictional continent and in many cases almost entirely unrelated to one another. A lot of my time was spent straining to remember which supporting character was which, what their agendas were, and who all the new people were too.

As with all of my TV reviews, the section above the cut may provide a brief general synopsis of the episode while anything below the cut may spoil significant portions of the episode.

March 22, 2013

The Pull List: 20 March 2013

Check out the illustration to the left: pretty cool, isn't it? This was originally intended to be the cover to Supergirl #62, part of Nick Spencer's proposed new direction for the title. It would have seen Supergirl taking on a more pro-active leadership role among the DC Universe's teen heroes. And check out that cast: Damian Wayne, Stephanie Brown, Miss Martian, Static Shock, Blue Beetle, a girl Impulse - this is the sort of bright, optimistic vision of the DC Universe that I really want to see. Also note: more girls than boys.

For more of what Spencer had planned - before it was nixed by DC's editors and Spencer wound up not writing the book at all - check out this Comic Books Resources article here.

Flash-forward to 2013, and rumours of DC's editorial interference are reaching clamorous levels. Andy Diggle has resigned as writer of Action Comics before his run's even started, and in a week where every DC title features a special preview of his run. Joshua Hale Fialkov has resigned as writer of Green Lantern Corps and Red Lanterns, again before his run has commenced. In his case it appears to be in protest over an editorial mandate to kill off Green Lantern John Stewart, the DC Universe's most notable African-American superhero.

It only seems a few months ago that Gail Simone was fired, and then subsequently rehired after an Internet protest. Before that it was Rob Liefeld quitting the company, citing excessive editorial interference.

This can't continue: DC has the strongest stable of superhero characters in the world. It should be a home for smart ideas, great writers and wonderful artists. Instead it's becoming an editorially-driven machine, churning out commodities for an ever-shrinking market of die-hards and collectors.

In 1992 Bill Clinton won the United States Presidency on the simple mandate of "it's the economy, stupid". Fix the economy, and the rest of the country will follow. DC desperately needs a similar mandate: "it's the story, stupid". Get the stories right, and the rest of the comic line will follow. Hire smart writers, and talented artists, and get out of their way. DC should be a place of bright, smart action-adventure stories, like Nick Spencer's Supergirl proposal. Instead it circles a drain of cynicism, shock tactics and sales gimmicks. Next month all of the New 52 titles will feature gatefold covers, depicting "shock" moments once opened. How's this for a shock: make good stories.

Under the cut: a big week, with reviews of Action Comics, All-New X-Men, Batwoman, Constantine, Daredevil, Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time, It Girl and the Atomics, Justice League of America, Legion of Super-Heroes, Revival, Saga, Storm Dogs, Sword of Sorcery, Ultimate Comics Spider-Man and Wonder Woman.

Enterprise: "Dawn"

Trip's shuttle is shot down while exploring a new system - and when his mysterious assailant has to make a crash landing, both human and alien must put aside their differences to survive. Time is running out, however, as when dawn comes the planet's surface temperature will kill them both.

"Dawn" is Enterprise meets Enemy Mine, or perhaps a re-envisaging of the classic Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Darmok". Two people - one a Starfleet officer, the other an alien soldier - have crashed on the same planet, and must overcome mistrust and an inability to speak each other's language in order to survive and be rescued.

March 21, 2013

Judging the New 52: Stormwatch

Stormwatch was a superhero team created by Jim Lee as part of his Wildstorm imprint. To be honest they weren't very interesting until Warren Ellis took over as writer. He made it a dark, more mature work, came up with a bunch of really interesting ideas, and notoriously killed off most of its cast in a WildCATS/Aliens crossover. It's a very fondly remembered book thanks to Ellis: mention Stormwatch and people generally think of clever ideas, edgy characters and provocative superhero storytelling.

The Stormwatch that premiered as part of the New 52 is nothing like that: this time it isa corporate product, taking the characters from the original title and slotting them awkwardly into the DC Universe. The book was originally written by Paul Cornell, however he departed after six issues and was replaced by DC stalwart Peter Milligan. There were big promises when the series started that it would tie in closely to Cornell's other title, Demon Knights, although apart from the occasional name-check and cameo that hasn't proved to be the case. Promises were also made that Stormwatch was a team that would beat the enemies that the Justice League couldn't face - it turned out that this enemy was Stormwatch itself.

March 20, 2013

Babylon 5: "In the Shadow of Z'ha'dum"

Three years ago John Sheridan's wife Anna perished in an explosion on the exploration ship Icarus, while investigating a dead civilization on a faraway world. The explosion left no survivors - until today, when Garibaldi identifies one of the apparent dead as Londo Mollari's mysterious associate Mr Morden. Putting Morden under illegal detention, Sheridan sets his career, his colleagues and his friends at risk in an attempt to get some answers.

"In the Shadow of Z'ha'dum" is, I think, the first episode of Babylon 5 in which every member of the cast and crew has brought their absolute A-game to the proceedings. It is a stunning hour of television. It's clever, surprising, heartfelt, revelatory and incredibly tense. It is an episode that pulls together a set of hanging threads from the first season and a half of the series, and weaves them into a more strongly defined direction.

Pull List Online: 20 March 2013

There is an ease to digital comics that's quite dangerous, I think. It's not a matter of browsing through a store, finding a comic that looks interesting, queuing at the counter and handing over some cash. Now it's simple a case of: 1. see comic, 2. press button, 3. read comic. Thankfully the pricing of digital comics appears to be settling down to quite reasonable levels of between 99c and $2.99. I think anyone trying to sell 20 digital comic pages for $3.99 (such as Marvel) are begging to be disappointed.

Only two digital comics this week, however: I've been rather busy. Under the cut: reviews of the deliciously titled Tiger Lawyer as well as the Harlem-relocated Watson and Holmes.

March 19, 2013

Who Can Kill a Child? (1976)

Who Can Kill a Child?, aka Would You Kill a Child?, aka Lucifer's Curse, aka The Children's Playground, aka Island of the Damned, aka ¿Quién puede matar a un niño?, is a 1976 Spanish horror film written and directed by Narciso Ibáñez Serrador and based on a novel by Juan José Plans. The DVD caught my eye in the library of RMIT University because according to the cover it was only released uncut in the United Kingdom in 2011, 35 years after it was released. It's a film with more release titles that any I can remember, but Who Can Kill a Child? seems the most common - and certainly it's the one the British DVD used.

The film follows a young British couple, Tom and Evelyn, holidaying in Spain. They decide to spend a few days on an isolated island. When they arrive, the main village appears to be deserted save for its children. Soon Tom and Evelyn discover the island's grisly truth: all of the adults are dead, murdered by their own children - and Tom and Evelyn are likely to be next.

Think of a zombie movie. A really edgy, nasty, gore-filled, provocative zombie movie. Now replace the zombies with laughing ten year-olds. That's pretty much Who Can Kill a Child? in a nutshell. I am not surprised it was banned in the 1970s by the BBFC (Britain's film classifiers). It is a profoundly dark and horrible viewing experience.

March 18, 2013

Judging the New 52: Batman and Robin

How did DC Comics manage to go for so many decades without a book titled Batman and Robin? It seems a no-brainer.

This book originated as a follow-up to Grant Morrison's run on Batman, and featured Dick Grayson taking over as Batman in the place of the presumed-dead Bruce Wayne, and Wayne's ninja-trained son Damian taking over as the new Robin. It was an absolutely stunning book, the plot threads of which were picked up in Morrison's Batman Incorporated.

Relaunched along with the New 52, the book continued the same relatively tight focus on Damian-as-Robin, only with a resurrected Bruce back as Batman. Since the relaunch the book has been the work of writer Peter Tomasi and artists Patrick Gleason and Mick Gray, and they've done a great job with it. While Batman has been hogging all of the critical acclaim and Detective Comics has struggled to find its momentum, Batman and Robin has been quietly chugging away, producing some of the most solid and enjoyable superhero stuff in the New 52.

For me the appeal is entirely about Robin. Damian Wayne is a wonderful creation: disdainful, cocky, callous, dangerous, and yet for all of those elements he's still very clearly only a child. He has a child's enthusiasm. He has that hilarious "tt" verbal tick. He loves his dog Titus. The book has been a great read because it's allowed Bruce to be a father, and allowed Robin to be a "boy wonder" again for the first time since the 1950s.

Who50: "The Wedding of River Song"

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, #33: "The Wedding of River Song", a 2011 episode written by Steven Moffat and directed by Jeremy Webb.

Much of Doctor Who's second sixth season was devoted to a mystery set up in its two-part premiere: the Doctor's companions witness his death by a lake in Utah, and much of the season devotes itself to why he died, who kills him, and whether or not history can be changed. This, the season finale, resolves many of those plot threads - as well as exploring once and for all what can happen if one of those bits of history the Doctor insists can not be changed actually is changed.

In short, all hell breaks loose.

March 17, 2013

The Black Panther (1977)

Not a movie about Marvel's African superhero, and not a biographical picture of the Black Panther movement in the USA (that would be 1995's rather good Panther). This is The Black Panther, a deeply disturbing crime drama based on a true story, roundly demonised in its abortive cinema release, and only now being re-evaluated as one of the best British films of the mid-1970s.

Donald Neilson was a profoundly disturbed individual. An ex-army soldier, he undertook several failed burglaries of English post offices between 1971 and 1974 that resulted in his murdering three people. Finally he masterminded a bungled kidnapping for ransom of teenage heiress Lesley Whittle. A series of mistakes resulted in Neilson never getting his ransom, and Whittle died - either by misadventure or murder, it has never been fully made clear. While he was at large, the British media referred to him as "the Black Panther". After his arrest in December 1975, Neilson was sentenced to five consecutive life sentences.

March 16, 2013

Enterprise: "The Catwalk"

As the Enterprise approaches a dangerous wave of energy in space, the crew must take refuge inside the shielded sections of the ship's warp engine nacelles. When the ship unexpectedly powers up, Commander Tucker discovers that the Enterprise has been invaded by an enemy force, under the cover of the storm.

"The Catwalk" is a nicely paced, well shot suspense thriller. It places the Enterprise in a unique situation, and then finds a clever way for the characters to work their way out of it. It also produces some solid character drama using the most tried-and-trusted technique in the book: shove some people into a confined situation and see what happens to them.

March 15, 2013

Babylon 5: "And Now For a Word"

A television news crew spends 36 hours onboard Babylon 5, as the Centauri-Narn War heats up and humans back on Earth start to question whether the Babylon Project is a waste of public money.

This is one of the most acclaimed episodes of Babylon 5, and rightfully so. It takes an under-used dramatic technique - framing the narrative inside a fictional news broadcast - and applies it to a science fiction setting. The result is something that science fiction audiences have never seen before. It's a regularly funny episode, because we can all recognise the tropes and techniques of commercial television news, and it's also a surprisingly dramatic one, because J. Michael Straczynski uses the cover of a news broadcast to explore much of the changing environment within which the series is set.

I'm very quick to criticise Mr Straczynski when his writing is under-par. Let me be equally quick to praise "And Now For a Word". It is a stunning piece of television drama of which he - and his production team - should be most proud.

The Pull List: 13 March 2013

So over the weekend Marvel and Comixology undertook a remarkably popular stunt, in which 700 first and single issues from the entire history of Marvel Comics were made available to download for free via Comixology's website and apps. It's a great idea in principle, allowing potential new readers to sample the entire breadth of Marvel's back catalogue. In practice, however, both companies should have seen the end result coming.

Comixology crashed hard, with clients unable to download any comics for several days, whether they were free or paid, or from Marvel or one of Marvel's many competitors. DC, for example, must have been furious to learn that a Marvel sales stunt actively prevented DC from selling its own comics. The crash also prevented customers from reading any of the titles they had already purchased but which had not been downloaded to their tablet or computer.

This incident, which seems to have settled down (I managed to download some stuff yesterday) showcases the very real problems facing digital comics: storing your purchases in a cloud rather than downloading a discrete file, and allowing a single company to near-monopolise the digital comics market. The former issue is a very real one for customers of the website JManga, which announced this week that it is to shut down, removing its customers' access to the titles they purchased at the same time. Digital consumers may be paying for comics, but more often than not they're not actually purchasing them, and that's an issue that needs to be fixed sooner rather than later.

Under the cut: reviews of Age of Ultron, Batgirl, Batman, Batman and Robin, Change, Demon Knights, Manhattan Projects, Star Wars, Thor: God of Thunder and X-Men Legacy.

March 13, 2013

Pull List Online: 13 March 2013

Comixology have finally launched an open submission process, allowing aspiring comic book creators to submit their works for inclusion on the Internet's most popular comic book app. This has the potential to be a game-changer for comic books: previously getting readers to find your independent comic has been a gargantuan task, whereas now readers can simply search for your book alongside more popular titles by DC, Marvel and Image.

To support independent digital comics, I've decided I'm going to review some independent books. I'd like to say I'll do it every week alongside the regular Pull List column, but I'm not going to make that promise. I will try to check some out fairly regularly though. All books reviewed on Pull List Online will be available for sale on Comixology, and will not be available from any of the major comic book publishers.

First time around: Relaunch, Robot 13 and Wolves.

Enterprise: "Precious Cargo"

Commander Tucker helps repair the systems of a Retellian cargo freighter, only to be taken captive when he discovers their cargo: a cryogenically frozen alien princess kidnapped for ransom. While Captain Archer attempts to track Tucker's abductors down, Tucker and Princess Kaitaama break free from the Retellians and go on the run for their lives.

This episode took me four attempts to get through. Admittedly I was watching quite late at night each time, and so may have just been a bit tired, but four attempts really does indicate that this episode lacks something. To be honest there's simply nothing here: it's fluff, inoffensive, forgettable and rather dull.

March 12, 2013

Star Wars animation shake-up

Walt Disney have confirmed via the official Star Wars website that Lucasfilm's range of animated programmes is undergoing a shake-up. In short:
  • The Clone Wars is ending, after a hugely successful run of five seasons and over 100 episodes, although new story arcs will be produced via an as-yet unannounced means.
  • Detours, the CGI comedy spoof by the creators of Robot Chicken, has been shelved indefinitely.
  • A new animated series is in development, set in a period previously unseen on screen.
None of these announcements surprise me, but let's take each of the three points in turn.

Who50: "The Sun Makers"

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, #34: "The Sun Makers", a six-part 1977 serial written by Robert Holmes and directed by Pennant Roberts.

The Doctor, Leela and K9 arrive on the planet Pluto where - much to the Doctor's surprise - the human race lives inside a planet-sized industrial city warmed by a series of artificial suns. Humanity is overtaxed and enslaved by the Gatherer and his master, the mysterious Collector. Naturally it's up to the Doctor and Leela to lead the revolt and overthrow their tyrannical rule.

The popular story goes that former script editor and long-time script writer Robert Holmes wrote this serial in response to an unpleasant experience being audited by Inland Revenue. "The Sun Makers" is a tremendous satire, in which the masses are overtaxed to the point of destitution while a corporatised elite government rules over them in the lap of luxury. It has places named after British taxation forms and a villain styled on Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer.

It's not just a great satire, however: I personally think it's one of the best Doctor Who serials of the 1970s.

March 10, 2013

Batman: Death by Design (2012)

Chip Kidd is one of the USA's best graphic designers: his layouts and designs for book and comic covers have been consistently outstanding, and he remains one of my favourite artists currently working in that field. He is a self-avowed comic book geek, with a passionate love in particular for Batman. Death by Design is, as far as I'm aware, his first graphic novel. He wrote it, with artwork by Dave Taylor.

The book focuses on Gotham City's iconic train station, an architectural icon paid for by Dr Thomas Wayne and whose son Bruce (aka Batman) is now responsible for its demolition. Competing architects fight to produce the winning design for the station's replacement, while one woman personally lobbies Bruce to keep the original building standing. Enter a string of random industrial accidents, a mysterious masked man warning of disaster and Gotham City's notorious criminal the Joker: Batman is on the case.

March 8, 2013

The Foundation Trilogy (1973)

I'm not a particularly big fan of Isaac Asimov. I know his work primarily through his short fiction, where he seems to be from a generation of authors for whom the science and speculative aspects of science fiction and speculative fiction were much more interesting to them than characterisation or depth. Either that or tremendously awful jokes.

As a result I've never actually read his famous Foundation novels. To be honest I didn't even really know what they were about beyond the basic premise. What I have now enjoyed, however, is a 1973 BBC radio drama serial based on the Foundation books - and very enjoyable they were too.

This eight-part series adapts Asimov's three novels Foundation, Foundation and Empire and Second Foundation. It was produced by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, which guarantees the production is backed by a hilarious soundtrack of odds murbles and bleeps, in turns evocative, inexplicable and hilariously ridiculous.

The Pull List: 6 March 2013

Oh Marvel, it's the mid-1990s all over again. I purchased the first part of the latest Marvel Universe "event" pretty much just to review it for this column: I'm not a big fan of Marvel's events, as more often than not they really suck. Siege sucked. Secret Invasion sucked. Civil War really sucked.

So the latest "event" (I put that in quotation marks because they're never really events at all - just a little churn on the surface of the never-ending, never-changing lives of the superheroes) is Age of Ultron, by Brian Michael Bendis, Bryan Hitch plus whatever artists they wind up dropping in because Hitch's art style is incompatible with a regular publishing schedule. I'll review the contents of the book beneath the cut, but right now I wanted to spend a little time talking about the cover.

You can't really tell from the picture of it here, but it's chrome. It's got that weird pseudo-metallic finish over it. You know, like they did all the time back in the 1990s when two-thirds of the comics being sold were picked up by idiot speculators who figured that because Detective Comics #27 is really valuable then surely Spawn #1 would be worth a million dollars if they just held onto it for 20 years. (Hint: you can buy Spawn #1 in near-mint condition online for just over five bucks.) You could buy comic with chrome covers, glow-in-the-dark covers, hologram covers, fifth-ink colours (usually silver or a lurid flourescent green), and die-cut cardboard covers.

The novelty cover is always a cheap sales gag, and tends to put my back up a bit. Surely this is just the start - before we know it one of the "big two" is bound to make an entire themed month out of novelty gatefold covers, and then where will we b- oh, wait.

Under the cut: reviews of (deep breath, this is a big week) Age of Ultron, All-New X-Men, Animal Man, Batwing, Bedlam, Daredevil: End of Days, Detective Comics, Fairy Quest, 47 Ronin, Great Pacific, Green Lantern, Human Bomb, Red She-Hulk, Sex, Stormwatch and Worlds' Finest.

March 7, 2013

Random Comic: Showcase '95 #7

Showcase was a DC Comics anthology title that ran for about five years or so. Each issue would generally contain three stories or serials, usually featuring characters who didn't necessarily have their own book at the time. The title changed volume every year, so Showcase '93 would run for 12 issues in 1993, Showcase '94 for 12 issues in 1994, and so on.

This is Showcase '95 issue #7, dated August 1995. It features "Exit to Eden, part 1" as the lead story. This is a follow-up to the Superman "Reign of the Supermen" story arc, starring the alien villain Mongul. It is written by Peter Tomasi with pencils by Scott Eaton and inks by Pam Eklund. The two back-up strips are "Hiding Place on Rye, Hold the Mayo" - an Arion the Immortal story by Peter Kupperberg, Mike Huddleston and Mark Propst - and "A Shadow Over Eden" - a New Gods story by Scott Ciencin, Ramon Bernado and Joe Rubenstein.

In principle I love the idea of anthology titles. In practice they shit me to tears.

March 6, 2013

Judging the New 52: I, Vampire

I, Vampire was originally one of several strips in the DC book House of Mystery. It was written by J.M DeMatteis and ran from 1981 to 1983. Never averse to regurgitating old titles for new audiences, DC elected to revive the series as part of the New 52 relaunch. The new version was written by Joshua Hale Fialkov and pencilled by Andrea Sorrentino. I hadn't heard of I, Vampire before. I hadn't read anything by Fialkov or Sorrentino that I could recall. There were 51 other comic books launching that month, and I am really, really sick to death of vampires. So I skipped it, and to be honest pretty much ignored it entirely. When it was announced that I, Vampire was ending at issue #19 I didn't even pause to think about it. Then I found a copy of the first trade paperback on sale, figured "oh what the hell" and picked it up to see what I was missing.

Based on the first six issues, I was missing one of the best comics of the New 52.

There's not a lot here that's particularly original, but what is here is tight plotting, strong characterisation and wonderfully evocative artwork. It feels like it should be a DC Vertigo title, indeed it's not far into the series when John Constantine pops up - albeit the New 52 version who says things like "bleeding 'eck" and doesn't smoke or drink as much. It also contains a nice guest appearance by Batman, which they probably should have highlighted a bit more - he tends to sell fairly well.

March 5, 2013

Random Comic: ROM Spaceknight #29

For the purposes of this blog post I shall assume that, like me, you have heard of an old Marvel comic titled ROM but had never read it and didn't really know anything about it.

So all the way back in 1976 a preschool toy manufacturer named Kenner decided to branch out into action figures by purchasing the license to a new 20th Century Fox film titled Star Wars. We all know how that gamble paid off: not only did Kenner find themselves manufacturing the most popular toys of the 1980s, they stimulated an entire mini-industry of science fiction and fantasy-themed toys, all constructed in the sole hope that they'd give their makers the kind of sales kick Kenner experienced.

Parker Bros was at this point a very successful producer of board games, but seeing an opportunity they developed their first action figure. At one point they were going to call it COBOL after the programming language, but they ultimately settled on ROM. The big sales point of this plastic robot was that it had LED lights in the eyes. So convinced were Parker Bros executives that their toy would be a hit that they didn't even bother to give it articulated legs: ROM was effectively a metallic coloured statue with glowing eyes (red, because green LEDs cost too much).

To generate a backstory for the character, Parker Bros reached out to Marvel Comics - who published a tie-in comic book centred on ROM the Spaceknight who flies around the galaxy fighting Dire Wraiths. It was written by Bill Mantlo and illustrated by a range of artists staring with Sal Buscema. The toy was a commercial failure. The tie-in comic ran for 75 issues.

Judging the New 52: Catwoman

Catwoman is such a difficult title to sustain. First of all, she's a villain, and it's quite tricky making an antagonist into a functional protagonist on a regular, ongoing basis. Secondly she is essentially constructed entirely for a male gaze: traditionally dressed in fetishwear, sexually provocative while romancing Batman in-between criminal acts that are bad enough to make her a criminal but not so bad that we might stop finding her attractive. She makes for a difficult tightrope for any writer/artist team to negotiate: sexualise her too much and she comes off as tacky and vaguely offensive, sexualise her too little and she ceases to be Catwoman.

With the New 52, Catwoman received a solo title for the first time in about three years. The team assigned to the book was writer Judd Winick and artist Guillem March. Winick has since been replaced by Ann Nocenti and March by Adriana Melo, but for now I want to focus on the first six-issue arc since that's what I've read in trade paperback.

March 4, 2013

Red Dwarf: "Dear Dave"

I have been remiss in my Red Dwarf reviews. Season 10 is done and gone, and yet I still haven't reviewed the final two episodes. Let's redress that now with a look at the season's fifth episode, "Dear Dave". Lister is increasingly depressed about his life as the last human being alive. He's going stir-crazy, sulking on couches and flirting with vending machines. When a post pod arrives, Lister discovers that an ex-girlfriend - now dead for millions of years - may have had Lister's son without his knowledge.

This is a very mixed episode, combining the sort of comedy that made Red Dwarf so good in the old days with scenes that are just painful to watch. Lister falling over a vending machine and looking like he's having sex with it would have been tedious 30 years ago. In 2012, when this episode aired, it was just dreadful. As a result this is the most uneven episode of the season so far.

Who50: "The Sea Devils"

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, #35: "The Sea Devils", a six-part 1972 serial written by Brian Hayles and directed by Michael E. Briant.

When the Doctor and Jo travel to an island prison to visit the incarcerated Master, the Doctor cannot resist investigating a string of vanishing ships in the area. He discovers a colony of aquatic reptiles - sea-faring cousins of the Silurians he encountered two years earlier. Can he negotiate the peace he failed to secure last time - or are the humans and the Sea Devils destined for conflict?

"The Sea Devils" is the perfect sort of sequel. It provides the elements that made "Doctor Who and the Silurians" so successful - humanoid reptiles, a struggle for peace, the Doctor caught in the middle - and adds a significant boost of action and adventure. It gives audiences what they expect from a sequel, and mixes in so much more. The result is a gripping and massively enjoyable six-episode romp that's among the best serials the Pertwee era produced.

March 3, 2013

The Dragon Chronicles: Fire and Ice (2009)

I'm not sure if you've heard of Pitof. He was originally a very successful French visual effects designer, working on The City of Lost Children, Joan of Arc, Delicatessen and Alien Resurrection. He then made the leap to directing his own films, beginning with the wonderfully stylish Vidocq (aka Dark Portals in Australia). Based on that film Warner Bros hired him to direct Catwoman, starring Halle Berry.

I always liked Roger Ebert's review of Catwoman, in which he noted "it's not enough that careers are ruined, somebody should be slapped". I always figured it was Pitof who got slapped, probably unfairly - with a script that bad no one would have managed to make anything too watchable. After all, post-Catwoman he seemed to vanish entirely from the filmmaking world.

But no! He came back with his third film, The Dragon Chronicles: Fire and Ice. It's a bit of a plummet down in stature from Catwoman, which was a massively expensive Warner Bros summer tentpole. The Dragon Chronicles is a Romanian-produced film, bankrolled in part by the Sci-Fi Channel to add to their continuing line of really quite awful monster and fantasy movies. It's apparently the most expensive Romanian film of all time, because they spent US$3,000,000 on it.

March 2, 2013

The Pull List: 27 February 2013

Two weeks ago I listed the DC and Marvel books that I thought were essential purchases for the respectable comic book reader. This week I thought I'd pick out four non-superheroic ongoing monthlies I feel are the most worth your time and business.

Saga (Image) is pretty much a no-brainer: Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples are putting together an absolutely riveting and beautifully emotional book here that combines space opera with elements of romance, character drama and fantasy. If it doesn't win the Hugo Award this year, then the World Science Fiction Convention has no business giving awards to comic books.

Also from Image are Manhattan Projects and Revival. One is a twisted, darkly humorous and extraordinarily violent book about 20th century scientists running amok behind the cover of the cold war. It's written by Jonathan Hickman with distinctive art by Nick Pitarra. Revival is a self-described "rural noir" by Tim Seeley and Mike Norton that has, I think, the best chance to be the next Walking Dead. It's creepy and horrific but, like Saga, focuses on extremely well drawn characters.

A DC Vertigo book that I've been enjoying very much in trade paperback collections is Peter Gross and Mike Carey's The Unwritten. This is a natural heir to Neil Gaiman's Sandman: fantastical, lyrical and deeply inter-textual. It's clever stuff, and engaging fantasy too.

That's the four that I'm pushing: Saga, Manhattan Projects, Revival and The Unwritten. All four are available in monthly issues and in trade collections. Check them out, then let me know what you think.

Under the cut: reviews of All-Star Western, Aquaman, Batman Incorporated, Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time, The Flash, Guardians of the Galaxy, Journey into Mystery, The Massive, X-Men Legacy and Young Avengers.

March 1, 2013

Popular Posts: February 2013

For the first month since I started recording hits on The Angriest, that review of Pale Rider isn't in the top 5 posts for the month. Instead that honour goes to my review of Chicks Unravel Time, which is a good thing: a book that enjoyable deserves all the attention that it can get.

The five most popular posts in February were:
  • Chicks Unravel Time (2012) (link)
  • The Alternative Silurian (link)
  • The anti-gay adventures of Superman (link)
  • In praise of Short Round, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (link)
  • Five Films: David Morse (link)
Of course, three of those were from February. The other two most popular February posts were:
  • Seven things due for a Doctor Who comeback (link)
  • The Pull List: 13 February 2013 (link)