May 31, 2013

Like The Fast and the Furious? Watch Young and Dangerous.

I've never really quite gelled with The Fast and the Furious. I saw the original film and was pretty underwhelmed: it was basically a car-centered remake of Point Break - only with less charismatic actors (Paul Walker is no Keanu Reeves, and Vin Diesel is no Patrick Swayze). The sequel, amusingly titled 2 Fast 2 Furious, was actively awful, and to be honest the franchise lost me from there. I did try watching Fast & Furious 5, but completely failed to engage with the characters or the plot and stopped watching halfway through.

Despite my own opinions, it's a crazy popular franchise. The sixth installment just broke the all-time record for a Universal Pictures opening worldwide, and a seventh is already in active pre-production. It feels odd for a movie franchise. They're churning the sequels out at an alarming rate. These days you expect there to be a 3-5 year gap between installments, but we've got a sixth film coming only two years after the fifth, which itself came only two years after the fourth, and the seventh is coming out in 2014. Something about that clicked with me; I suddenly recognised the franchise from somewhere else. This afternoon I saw an advertisement for Fast & Furious 6 on the side of a passing bus, and it suddenly occured to me.

The Fast and the Furious is America's Young and Dangerous.

Random Comic: The Great Ten #4

I love the concept of the Great Ten, the Chinese superhero team created as part of the epic weekly series 52. I'm not sure which of that title's four writers created the team, but you'd be a fool not to see Grant Morrison's fingers all over them. They are a state-supported group of 'super-functionaries', pledged to the defence of the People's Republic against alien invasion, super-powered villains and other major threats to the Chinese people.

They are outstandingly Chinese, with names like August General in Iron, Accomplished Perfect Physician and Shaolin Robot. They're steeped in Chinese mythology and culture, and are an engaging, outstandingly original twist on the standard Justice League model of superhero teams.

It was great that DC expanded the Great Ten out into their own 10-issue miniseries, unfortunately they waited an astonishing four years to do so. So much for striking while the iron was hot. In the end the miniseries sold so badly that it lost an issue and finished its run with issue #9 - which sold a horrifying 5,800 copies. I've never seen a DCU series sell that poorly.

May 30, 2013

The Pull List: 29 May 2013

Ah the dreaded 'fifth week'.

This is how it works: each comic book publisher generally operates on a four-week schedule. This is particularly true of DC and Marvel, who of course account for the vast majority of the USA's more popular comic books. So in the first week of each month DC will publish Action Comics, in the third week they're always publish Batman, and so on. That's all fine and dandy, until you come up to a month like May 2013 - which has five Wednesdays in it.

Usually this is an excuse for a big cross-over event, something favoured by DC in particular. This week, they've instead focused on publishing a bunch of special-length annuals based on a pile of comics I don't read: Red Hood and the Outlaws, Earth 2 and so on. As a result, this column - which usually features about ten comics each week - only has three books in it. I'll do my best to say a bit more than usual about them, then.

Under the cut: reviews of Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time, The Wake and X-Men.

May 29, 2013

Doctor Who: Final Thoughts on Season 7

Now that "The Name of the Doctor" has been aired, discussed and digested, it's probably a good time to look over Season 7 of Doctor Who as a whole: how is the series going?

The first thing that occurs is how difficult it is to consider this one season and not two: not only did the season get split over two years - six episodes in 2012, eight in 2013 - but each half felt completely different thanks to the change in companions. In many ways the five 2012 episodes leading up to the departure of Amy and Rory felt like an add-on to 2011's Season 6, and Season 7 only really got started with "The Snowmen" on Christmas Day. Couple that with the six-month delay from when we expected Season 7 to start (Easter 2012) to when it did start (September 2012), and the overwhelming feeling I've developed is that Doctor Who has lost a lot of momentum. Seasons 5 and 6 seemed to rattle on from one to the other, with the developing story of the Silence and attempts to kill the Doctor, and then-

Quite frankly not a lot. There was a continuing story arc to Season 7 but it felt disconnected from Seasons 5 and 6. It's somewhat like the James Bond films in recent years, where a continuing storyline developed in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, and just when you'd expect the narrative would come to a rousing conclusion in Skyfall it all gets ignored for some guff about a rogue agent with a mother fixation.

May 28, 2013

Who50: "The Ark in Space"

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, #23: "The Ark in Space", a 1975 four-part serial written by Robert Holmes and directed by Rodney Bennett.

While "Robot" was the first Doctor Who serial to star Tom Baker, it was actually made by the Pertwee era production team: producer Barry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks. This, then, marks the real beginning of the Tom Baker years, under the guidance of producer Philip Hinchcliffe and script editor Robert Holmes. In the first adventure together, the fourth Doctor, Sarah Jane Smith and Harry Sullivan arrive on Nerva Beacon in the Earth's far future, where the last survivors of the human race lie in suspended animation before they can finally awake and re-populate the planet. The problem is that the Doctor, Sarah and Harry aren't the first visitors to arrive, and an alien menace now threatens the entire human race.

"The Ark in Space" marks the beginning of one of the most popular periods in Doctor Who history - and with good reason. Under Hinchcliffe and Holmes' leadership the series made a three-year transition from being a science fiction series to a fully-fledged horror show for kids, albeit one still dressed very effectively with spaceships, aliens and laser guns. The way in which "The Ark in Space" develops its scares is through one of the perennial horror techniques of Doctor Who: body horror. That is, horror in which the monster does not simply stalk you - it turns you into a monster yourself.

May 27, 2013

Babylon 5: "Divided Loyalties"

Lyta Alexander, Babylon 5's original telepath, unexpectedly returns to the station. She is on the hunt for a PsiCorps sleeper agent: it could be any member of the command crew, and thanks to PsiCorps brainwashing they wouldn't even be aware they are a spy.

"Divided Loyalties" is a weird episode in so many respects. I kept wanting to like it, and it constantly evaded any attempt I made to do so. It feels like it should be a bold, provocative game changer: an episode with actual consequences, and permanent change to the series status quo. Instead it feels more than a little like an extended episode of Scooby Doo. Who is the mole? Well it's actually really obvious to anyone who watches much television, as if Straczynski looked around his cast for the most redundant character in the show and kicked them out of the nearest exit.

The Pull List: 22 May 2013

I was intrigued this weekend to see a new development for two upcoming superhero sequels: X-Men Days of Future Past and The Avengers 2. Bryan Singer has confirmed that the Marvel superhero Quicksilver will be appearing in X-Men, while Joss Whedon has confirmed that Quicksilver - and his sister the Scarlet Witch - will be appearing in The Avengers. One film's a Fox production, the other a Marvel/Disney one.

How is this possible? Well both Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch have been sitting in a sort of legal limbo for more than a decade, because while Marvel Studios retained film rights to the Avengers, they sold off the film rights to the X-Men a long time ago. Both Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch are members of the Avengers, so you'd think their rights would sit with Disney, but of course they're also mutants and the children of Magneto, so you could argue they're morely likely to be owned by Fox.

It's not clear yet whether (a) there's going to be a legal stoush, or (b) that both Disney and Fox can use these characters, or even (c) that they'll use the same actors in the roles in an unofficial bit of cross-corporate synergy (doubtful). It has, however, intrigued me. Let's see what happens.

Big week this week: check under the cut for reviews of All-Star Western, Aquaman, Batman Incorporated, Daredevil, The Flash, Green Lantern, The Green Team, Journey into Mystery, The Massive, Revival, Star Wars Legacy, X-Men Legacy and Young Avengers.

May 24, 2013

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

The Hobbit is, as you probably know, a 1937 childrens fantasy by author and academic J.R.R. Tolkien. It is a marvellous novel, and a childhood favourite of mine, and while it's long been overshadowed by Tolkien's subsequent epic The Lord of the Rings it remains in my opinion the best book among his works. It's breezy where Lord of the Rings is ponderous. It whips along where its sequel meanders about.

I spent many years eagerly anticipating the day when someone in Hollywood made a feature film out of The Hobbit. I was surprised some years ago when New Line Pictures allowed Peter Jackson to write and direct a three-film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, rather than get him to direct The Hobbit first: it could be easily adapted into a single film, was self-contained and could have made for a brilliant hit. Instead, Jackson has come to The Hobbit a full decade later, adapting it into an all-new trilogy of films to be released annually from 2012 to 2014.

The first part, An Unexpected Journey, was released into cinemas in December 2012, and onto DVD a few weeks ago. It has many great elements in it. Overall, however, it's a disastrous failure.

Fun with Stats: Who's the longest-running companion?

Somebody asked me, after I posted a ridiculously excessive set of bar charts about which of the 11 television Doctors was actually the longest-running one, if I could tell them who the longest-running companion in Doctor Who was. Certainly we can probably name the most popular of the companion: Sarah-Jane Smith is almost certainly the consensus choice, and there have always been viewers keen on Jamie McCrimmon, or one or the other of the Romanas, or even more recent companions like Rose, Donna or Rory.

As with the Doctors, I've looked at who's the longest-running companion by three measures. Firstly, by the number of serials or stories they appeared in. Secondly, by the actual number of episodes they appeared in. Finally, the time in days between their first appearance and their last appearance. A few notes: I have not included return appearances for companions prior or subsequent to their initial departure from the series; one-episode companions like Grace Holloway or Wilf have been excluded; for Nyssa I have included her guest appearance in "The Keeper of Traken" for her total; I have separated both Romana and K9 into two separate characters each.

So: who is Doctor Who's longest-running companion?

May 23, 2013

Kindle Worlds, and why it may be bad for fandom

Amazon has attracted a fair amount of attention this week with the announcement of Kindle Worlds, an e-book initiative that allows fans of particular American TV dramas to write their own fan fiction based on those shows, publish it online via Amazon and earn a profit from it. Responses have varied from excitement to horror, and as a part-time professional writer who first developed his writing skills using fan fiction, I was particularly interested in the concept. Rather than simply rely on my opinions, I thought it might be worth talking to a few of Australia's prominent science fiction and fantasy writers, editors and publishers to get their feedback as well.

Here's how it works: you write a fan fiction (10,000 words or longer) based on Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars or The Vampire Diaries. They're all Warner Bros properties, but Amazon are reportedly planning to add more properties down the road. Assuming the deal with WB expands, future properties that could be incorporated may include Person of Interest, Nikita, Supernatural and Arrow. You then used Amazon's special Kindle Worlds web portal to design a cover, publish it online exclusively via Kindle and then receive monthly payments (35% of the sale price) for any copies of the fanfic sold. While you retain copyright on your story, Amazon claim an exclusive license on all elements in the story for the duration of that copyright: basically a slightly tortured way of Amazon taking your copyright any from you. Create a new character, or a specific story, and Amazon effectively own it. They could on-sell that concept to Warner Bros for use in the actual TV series, and you'd have no rights or participation in that whatsoever. Thinking of creating a fan fiction turned literary bestseller in the vein of 50 Shades of Grey? Forget it: you won't own your story any more, and any profits generated from a quick name replace will be going straight to large corporations.

May 22, 2013

Babylon 5: "Confessions and Lamentations"

A deadly plague is spreading through Babylon 5, affecting the Markab at first but with the potential to infect everybody onboard. While Captain Sheridan puts the station under quarantine, Dr Franklin races against time with the help of a Markab doctor to find a cure.

Allegories are great in science fiction - at least they are most of the time. They enable a writer to discuss and pull apart social issues or sensitive topics, and do so under a slight abstraction so that the bitter pill of social comment can be swallowed via the sugar coating of laser beams and starships. Of course I noted that allegories are great most of the time. The time when they're not necessarily great is when the writer creates an allegory, and then has his or her characters explain to the audience what it's an allegory of. This is the case with "Confessions and Lamentations", in which characters compare the plague that's killing the Markabs with the AIDS epidemic and the Black Death - and Straczynski even gets his details wrong when it comes to that medieval pandemic. It's rather sad because aside from the obvious and regularly trite dialogue this is one hell of an episode.

May 21, 2013

Doctor Who: "The Name of the Doctor"

This review of "The Name of the Doctor" spoils significant elements of the plot. If you haven't yet seen the episode I strongly recommend that you watch it before reading anything else about it.

There is a constant problem with Doctor Who, a problem that has plagued the series since its revival in 2005 and continues to plague it after seven full seasons. It's an issue that has pretty much single-handedly ensured that while I continue to adore the original series that ran from 1963 to 1989 I only really enjoy the second series post-2005.

The issue is this: modern Doctor Who is remarkably good at making emotional sense. A lot of time is given over to how the characters feel, and react, and develop. In terms of depth and nuance it is light years ahead of the original series. On the other hand, and this is the problem, the series is not very good at making logical sense. Put simply: the plots are nonsensical. Too much goes unexplained, or gets hand-waved away, and episodes are more prone to wrapping up thanks to some emotional "clap-your-hands" mumbo-jumbo than they are to the Doctor coming up with a clever plan and outwitting his opponents.

"The Name of the Doctor" is a classic example of this. Emotionally speaking, it's close to perfect. Narratively speaking, it's a bunch of old cobblers. Who knows what was actually going on? I don't. I'm going to hazard a guess that you don't. Maybe head writer and executive producer Steven Moffat does, but to be completely honest I doubt that he does. This isn't a show that thinks any more - it's a show that feels.

May 20, 2013

Who50: "The Green Death"

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, #24: "The Green Death", a 1973 six-part serial written by Robert Sloman and Barry Letts (uncredited) and directed by Michael E. Briant.

Doctor Who is an international television phenomenon now, with massive audiences in the UK, USA, Australia and all around the world. Jump back 10 years, however, and it was a long-dead children's drama, obsessed over by a small community of hardcore fans but fondly and vaguely remembered by an entire generation of adults. It used to be that if Doctor Who came up at a party, and my excessive fondness for the show became known, I'd be asked one of three questions. 1. "Do you remember the one with that creepy walking hand?" 2. "Do you remember that one with the big spiders?" 3. "Do you remember the one with the giant maggots?"

The giant maggots. They're possibly one of the grossest monsters Doctor Who ever had; after all, who on Earth actually likes maggots? They're disgusting. They sort of pulsate. They squirm over rotting things. Just the thought of them make most people involuntarily shudder. I suppose it's no surprise that they, and "The Green Death", are among the most fondly and distinctively remembered elements of the original series.

May 19, 2013

The Pull List: 15 May 2013

There's something cool about the fact that of the nine comic books I purchased this week, five of them feature female protagonists: Batgirl, Batwoman, It Girl and the Atomics, Sword of Sorcery and Wonder Woman. It seems like only last year we were still all bemoaning the lack of female characters in American comic books. Now sure, of those five books two of them (It Girl and Sword of Sorcery) have been cancelled, but it still feels like an impressive development.

The first step was getting the big two superhero publishers to start publishing more female characters and I think they are doing it - the next step is to actually get people reading them. Red She-Hulk was cancelled this week as well, and Captain Marvel is looking relatively shaky. I'm wondering: is the problem that readers (still primarily male) aren't interested, or is it that publisher's aren't highlighting these characters as well as they should? All I know is that I'll be looking to replace my cancelled titles with something similar - if it's available.

Reviewed this week: Age of Ultron, Batgirl, Batwoman, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, It Girl and the Atomics, Legion of Super-Heroes, Sesame Street, Sword of Sorcery, Ultimate Comics Spider-Man and Wonder Woman.

May 17, 2013

Fun with Stats: Who's the longest-running Doctor?

Ask any Doctor Who fan, and the answer to this question is obvious: clearly, after seven seasons it's Tom Baker. The problem is this: how do we measure the length of a particular Doctor's tenure? We could, for example, do it the easy way with the number of televised seasons each actor starred in as the Doctor.

This first table ignores the fact that William Hartnell was still the Doctor for the first two serials of Season 4, and that Colin Baker was the Doctor for the final serial of Season 21. I've also given Paul McGann a little blip: he's there, but he only played the Doctor for a single TV movie, and not a full season of any kind. Finally, I considered the four specials starring David Tennant between April 2009 and January 2010 to be a very short season. These results are pretty much what Who fans are familiar with: Tom Baker is the longest-running Doctor, followed by Pertwee, then Tennant, then a pack of five Doctors before the list rounds out with Colin Baker at two seasons, Eccleston at one, and poor old McGann at one bit.

There we go. Done and dusted. Or is it?

May 16, 2013

Fun with Stats: Doctor Who viewing figures

One of the more perennial obsessions with Doctor Who fans is viewing figures: I think ever since the series was axed in 1989 for poor ratings - and they really were very poor - fans look to any fluctuation in viewing numbers as a sign that their favourite television drama is in danger of getting axed.

The latest fear seems to be that ratings under Steven Moffat have nosedived, and that things were so much more popular under previous producer Russell T Davies. I figured it was worth taking a quick look at those stats and see if this was true.

May 15, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

After an away mission goes terribly wrong, James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) finds himself temporarily demoted from captaining the USS Enterprise. Then a terrorist attack in London brings him back into the fold, and commanding the Enterprise once again on a trek... into darkness.

It's such a silly title. It doesn't even have a colon: it's not Star Trek: Into Darkness. There is no sub-title here, it's just one sentence, like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Star Trek Into Darkness. It makes me think they just need to turn the lights on. Then again, it's yet another Hollywood film retro-fitted into 3D, so given the dimming effect of those polarised 3D glasses, Star Trek Into Darkness is weirdly appropriate.

This is a mostly great film dragged back by a few elements of monumental stupidity. The stupid bits aren't easy to discuss without revealing key elements of the plot, so we'll put the rest of this review under a cut.

May 14, 2013

Judging the New 52: Deathwatch update

So three days ago I confidently predicted that DC was about to pull the plug on Batwing, Demon Knights, Dial H, Stormwatch and Threshold. The August solicitations have been released, and it turns out that I was partially correct.

Demon Knights, Dial H and Threshold all reach their final issues in August, but I was surprised to see Legion of Super-Heroes is ending as well. I was even more surprised to see that both Stormwatch and Batwing have been given temporary reprieves. I know both books have recently received soft reboots (okay, in the case of Jim Starlin's take on Stormwatch it's a ridiculously hard reboot) but they haven't really affected sales enough to justify their continued publication.

Of course four cancellations means four potential new titles. Perhaps it's time to look over DC's back catalogue of properties to work out what might be getting dusted off next. Booster Gold? Kamandi? A Demon solo book? A Robin solo book? Of course for that last one they'll need a new Robin.

May 13, 2013

Who50: "Revelation of the Daleks"

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, #25: "Revelation of the Daleks", a 1985 four-part serial written by Eric Saward and directed by Graeme Harper.

The Doctor (Colin Baker) takes Peri (Nicola Bryant) to the icy planet Necros, where the body of his old friend Stengos is said to be lying. Instead he finds an intergalactic funeral home under mysterious new management, a problem of disappearing corpses, and an old enemy lying in wait for him.

"Revelation of the Daleks" is a bleak and violent satire, coming as the finale of a season typified by being bleak and satirical, and by being particularly and graphically violent. The season begins with a man's hands being bloodily crushed by Cybermen and continues through hideous acid burns, mock executions, cannibalism, stabbings, and all manner of actions and consequences both graphic and distasteful. In some cases this horror works remarkably well, but in others it feels sensationalistic and more than a little tacky. In the case of "Revelation of the Daleks" I feel the horror works perfectly. It very likely contains some of the most effective uses of violence in Who history.

Books of May: Them!: Adventures with Extremists, by Jon Ronson (2001)

Books of May highlights books - both fiction and non-fiction - that have engaged, entertained or otherwise made a significant impact on me over the years. The goal is to highlight one book a day for the entire month. Today, book #9: Them!: Adventures with Extremists, by English journalist Jon Ronson.

Jon Ronson is a fantastic English journalist whose radio and television documentaries combine both fascinating reporting with a remarkable sense of humour and absurd. His most famous book is probably The Men Who Stare at Goats, which was adapted into a popular feature film starring George Clooney, but I still think his best book is Them! which was published in 2001 as a tie-in to his documentary series The Secret Rulers of the World.

The book basically recounts Ronson's encounters with a string of extremists and conspiracy theorists around the world. As he goes he begins to actively follow the mysterious Bilderberg Group, as several conspiracy enthusiasts have cited that group as the one that secretly rules the world.

May 12, 2013

Doctor Who: "Nightmare in Silver"

The Doctor takes Clara, Angie and Artie to an intergalactic theme park in the far future, only to discover it has closed down. He finds a few remaining entertainers there, as well as a squadron of incompetent soldiers, some weird insects and one of his oldest and most dangerous foes.

Neil Gaiman returns to Doctor Who with "Nightmare in Silver", his second Doctor Who television script and his first since his widely (but not universally) loved Season 6 episode "The Doctor's Wife". Also returning are the Cybermen, who are pretty much my favourite Doctor Who monster.

I can't help but feel that this was an episode I felt I was supposed to like, rather than an episode that I actually liked. Actually that's a little unfair, because all things taken together I did ultimately enjoy "Nightmare in Silver". I simply didn't enjoy it as much as I felt that I should have.

Part of this episode's stated goal was to make the Cybermen scary again. I always have a mild problem when people attempt this sort of thing, because they often misinterpret what makes people scary in the first place. For one thing, being more elaborate is not scary: a super-fast 'bullet-time' Cyberman is a surprise, definitely, but it isn't scary. A Cyberman that can remove its head as a distraction isn't scary either - it's actually slightly silly. A Cyberman that removes its hand, which then scuttles about like a hand-shaped robotic spider, is so silly they already used the gag in an episode of Red Dwarf.

May 11, 2013

Judging the New 52: Comic Book Deathwatch

One thing that's become pretty clear about DC's publishing strategy in recent years is their criteria for cancelling a monthly book. Generally speaking, if a book drop below 20,000 copies a month it's in danger. If sales drop below 15,000 copies it's pretty much toast. This means we can get an easy idea of which books are likely to be in danger, which are circling the drain, and which ones might be getting a temporary reprieve.

Here's the titles most at risk for the month of March 2013. Titles in black have already been cancelled, and are simply running out their final issues. Titles in red are on deathwatch: they're selling less than 15,000 copies and are mostly relying on new creative teams to turn them around with fresh directions or characters. Titles in orange are selling less than 20,000 copies but more than 15,000, so they're in danger of cancellation over the next year but are probably safe for now. Titles in green are selling less than 25,000 copies but more than 20,000: they're definitely safe, but if I was DC I'd be keeping a very close eye on how their sales progress in the coming months. The graph is a little small: if you click on it you should get a larger version to look at.

May 10, 2013

Books of May: Archer's Goon, by Diana Wynne Jones (1984)

Books of May highlights books - both fiction and non-fiction - that have engaged, entertained or otherwise made a significant impact on me over the years. The goal is to highlight one book a day for the entire month. Today, book #8: Archer's Goon, by English author Diana Wynne Jones.

 Diana Wynne Jones cast a long shadow over the landscape of children's fiction, and is rightfully held up as one of the giants of English language fantasy. I wasn't certain which of her books I wanted to mention in this series, but in the end I went for Archer's Goon. I don't think it's as well known as some of her more famous novels - Howl's Moving Castle being a key example - but for whatever reason it's a book that stuck in my head, and one that immediately came to mind.

The novel follows thirteen year-old Howard Sykes, whose father is an author. One day a huge thug arrives at the house to collect two thousand words that Howard's father apparently promised to write for somebody named Archer. Hijinks ensue, as they say, and before long Howard is off on an adventure involving town secrets, magic, time travel and more. It's a wonderfully off-the-wall sort of a book.

Babylon 5: "Knives"

Sheridan goes down into the haunted Grey Sector of Babylon 5, and starts to suffer paranoid hallucinations as a result. An old friend of Ambassador Mollari's arrives with an important request - one that Londo may not be able to gr-zzzzzzzzzz...

Sorry, fell asleep there for a moment. This is what frustrated me about Babylon 5 the first time around: for every genuinely decent, gripping episode like "In the Shadow of Z'ha'dum", there's an inanely tedious and boring episode like "Knives". Sure, things happen in the episode. The problem is that they're presented in such a way that I genuinely don't care.

May 9, 2013

The Pull List: 8 May 2013

I'll get to reviewing this week's comics in a minute. First, let's talk about DC Comics' trade paperback publishing schedule.

The first volume of Talon is coming out in August. It's a paperback collection that includes the first eight issues of the comic, and comes four months after the last issue in the book was released to stores. Just think if DC had released it one month later instead of four: then readers who tried out the first volume and wanted to read more could just pick up the monthly book without skipping an issue.

You think the situation is bad for Talon, though? You should check out the release schedules for some other New 52 titles. The first Worlds' Finest trade paperback shipped in April, six months after the last issue it collects was published. The next volume of Batwoman will ship in September, seven months after the last issue of that storyline was published. Issue #16 of All-Star Western was published in January 2013; you will have to wait until November to read that in a trade paperback. Volume 2 of The Flash is coming out in hardcover in August, a stunning 12 months after the last issue in that collection was released into stores. Volume 1 is finally getting a release in paperback the same month: the most recent issue in that collection was published in April 2012. (Basically, if you wanted to read The Flash, didn't want to buy single issues and couldn't afford the hardcover, you are now 16 months behind the regular comic.)

Under the cut: more trade paperback talk, and then reviews of Batman, Batman and Robin, Constantine, Demon Knights, Justice League of America, Katana, Star Wars, Storm Dogs and Thor: God of Thunder.

Books of May: All Tomorrow's Parties, by William Gibson (1999)

Books of May highlights books - both fiction and non-fiction - that have engaged, entertained or otherwise made a significant impact on me over the years. The goal is to highlight one book a day for the entire month. Today, book #7: All Tomorrow's Parties, by Canadian author William Gibson.

 William Gibson is probably the most famous science fiction author of the 1980s. His debut novel Neuromancer crystallized the cyberpunk genre and helped influence an entire generation of science fiction writers and filmmakers. His novel The Difference Engine, co-authored with Bruce Sterling, helped to prefigure the current craze for steampunk. Pretty much all of his other books have been hailed as classics of their genre: Count Zero, Mona Lisa Overdrive, Spook County and others.

All Tomorrow's Parties (the title is lifted from a Velvet Underground song) is the third part of a trilogy, and was preceded by Virtual Light and Idoru. While all three novels are incredibly good, for some reason it is this third novel that has made the greatest impact on me. It may not be the best William Gibson novel - that's probably wide open to extensive debate - but it's definitely my favourite.

May 8, 2013

Judging the New 52: Supergirl

Oh Supergirl. She's such an awkward character for me. On one level I love the concept: give the powers of Superman to a teenage girl, who may be less secure in herself, or less mature, maybe more prone to make mistakes, and so on. On the other hand she is so prone to being depicted as an object of lust: a scantily clad bit of teenage eye candy generated entirely for a male gaze. This problem is, I think, a comparatively recent one, thanks to an ill-advised redesign by the late Michael Turner. It's dogged the character ever since, to the point where DC apparently got complaints when they stuck a pair of bike shorts under her miniskirt a few years ago.

So overwhelming has been my distaste for Supergirl's look in recent years that I originally bypassed the New 52 version completely. Most other books I gave at least a cursory look, whether it was buying the first issue or even flipping through a copy in the comic shop. Supergirl I just ignored. It wasn't a deliberate thing: I just realised when looking for the next New 52 series to review that I hadn't looked at this comic once. So I have purchased the first trade paperback, Supergirl Volume 1: Last Daughter of Krypton, and am pleased to report it was a very enjoyable book.

It does have some issues, of course. For one thing it's a very slow story, because it's dominated by large panels and splash pages. They make look cool, but they significantly reduce the amount of plot that you can squeeze into each issue. I read the entire six-issue arc within an hour or so. It's not such an issue when collected into a book, but issue by issue this comic would have been excruciating.

Then there's that damn costume.

May 7, 2013

Books of May: The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin (1969)

Books of May highlights books - both fiction and non-fiction - that have engaged, entertained or otherwise made a significant impact on me over the years. The goal is to highlight one book a day for the entire month. Today, book #6: The Left Hand of Darkness, by American author Ursula K. LeGuin.

On the distant planet of Gethen, a diplomat named Genly Ai negotiates with the Gethenians in an attempt to convince them to join the galaxy-wide civilization known as the Ekumen. When the political situation on Gethen suddenly shifts, Genly finds himself displaced in the freezing tundra with a betrayed prime minister and little hope of survival.

I was highly fortunate to be teaching a university course on science fiction when I first came to The Left Hand of Darkness, which meant that not only did I get to read an amazing science fiction but I was able to effectively get paid to read it too. Let's be honest, though, I would have read this for free. I always intended to get around to reading it, and when I did I discovered an eye-opening masterpiece of science fiction.

Who50: "The Deadly Assassin"

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, #26: "The Deadly Assassin", a 1976 four-part serial written by Robert Holmes and directed by David Maloney.

The Doctor is compelled to return to his home planet of Gallifrey when he receives a premonition of the Time Lord President's assassination. Instead of stopping the murder, the Doctor instead becomes the prime suspect: leading him into a confrontation with his oldest and most dangerous enemy the Master.

"The Deadly Assassin" is a striking four-part serial, releasing right in the middle of Doctor Who's 14th season. This season remains one of the most broadly and consistently acclaimed years of the series' entire 50 year history, juxtaposing Tom Baker's humorous portrayal with the darkest and most violent stories the series had ever generated. It was the first serial since the departure of Elizabeth Sladen as Sarah-Jane Smith, the longest-running companion the series had featured. Instead of replacing her, the decision was made to attempt a story in which the Doctor travelled on his own. It also featured the first-ever adventure set on the Doctor's home planet of Gallifrey, and was the first story to feature the Master since the death of Roger Delgado three years earlier.

May 6, 2013

Doctor Who: "The Crimson Horror"

1893. Madame Vastra, the "Great Detective", is drawn to Northern England when the eyes of a corpse appear to reveal the image of the Doctor in them. What is "the Crimson Horror"? What diabolical plans does Mrs Gillyflower and the elusive Mr Sweet have for the future of the human race? And where on Earth is the Doctor?

Something unexpected happened to me during the climax of "The Crimson Horror": I stopped caring. I suddenly realised that I was not even slightly invested in the action, and didn't have any curiosity as to what was going on or how the adventure would be resolved. Now obviously all Doctor Who is essentially a confection: we generally know how it will end, and we know good will triumph and the villain will be defeated. The quality of the series comes from how it is written and presented to temporarily fool us into thinking something else might happen, or to confound us with not working out how the Doctor will win the day in the end.

Odds'n'Sods: 6 May 2013

Monday afternoon links for you: some of these are a bit old, but they've been knocking around for a while waiting for me to put them up.
  • The BBC has released details and publicity stills for The Musketeers, based on the Alexandre Dumas novels. This 13 episode adventure series airs some time in 2014, as does Atlantis, the BBC's replacement for Merlin. (link)
  • Wired has a fantastic timeline of DC Vertigo, running from its foundation in 1993 right up to Fairest and Saucer Country in 2013. (link)
  • Threadless are selling some awesome Iron Man tie-in t-shirts. They're geeky, and also artfully created. (link)
  • Whereas this t-shirt over at We Love Fine is my favourite for the month, mainly because the Misfits' songs were better. (link)

Books of May: The Sword of Shannara, by Terry Brooks (1977)

Books of May highlights books - both fiction and non-fiction - that have engaged, entertained or otherwise made a significant impact on me over the years. The goal is to highlight one book a day for the entire month. Today, book #5: The Sword of Shannara, by American author Terry Brooks.

 People generally cite J.R.R. Tolkien as the father of modern fantasy, thanks to his epic three-volume novel The Lord of the Rings. I've always figured this to be rather inaccurate. Tolkien always struck me as an author on the bridge between two styles. While he certainly prefigures many of the tropes we consider to be modern fantasy he also harks back to lots of pre-medieval and Scandinavian epics. There's a very old-fashioned sensibility to The Lord of the Rings. It feels old, as if Tolkien not so much wrote it as discovered it in a vault.

I contend that if you want to find the real father of modern fantasy (certainly late 20th century fantasy) look no further than American author Terry Brooks and his debut novel The Sword of Shannara. It is a very derivative work. Some may accuse it of being somewhat plagiaristic. What it does do, however, is take Tolkien's slow, ponderous and highly literary three-book epic, streamline it, and strip it down to its most engaging and populist elements.

Whereas The Lord of the Rings saw Frodo Baggins leave the village of Hobbiton at the behest of the wizard Gandalf and embark on an epic adventure to the dark land of Mordor, The Sword of Shannara saw farmboy Shea Ohmsford leave the village of Shady Vale at the behest of the druid Allanon and embark on an epic adventure to the dark land of the Skull Kingdom. Frodo fought to destroy the spectral Sauron, whereas Shea fought to destroy the spectral Warlock Lord.

May 4, 2013

Books of May: The Wasp Factory, by Iain Banks (1984)

Books of May highlights books - both fiction and non-fiction - that have engaged, entertained or otherwise made a significant impact on me over the years. The goal is to highlight one book a day for the entire month. Today, book #4: The Wasp Factory, by Scottish author Iain Banks.

Frank Cauldhame is a deeply troubled sixteen year-old boy who lives on a small Scottish island with his father. He tortures small animals. He may be a murderer. When Frank's older brother escapes from a mental institution and plans a return to his family, he sets Frank onto a collision course with the truth about his family.

The Wasp Factory was the debut novel for acclaimed Scottish novelist Iain Banks, and it is a rough, scabby and quite unpleasant book. It's also distinctive, strikingly original and gripping from beginning to end. Banks has certainly written better novels than this, but like many first novels I think it retains an extraordinary amount of energy. It's a relatively short novel, and it rockets along like nobody's business. Ever since reading it the first time, I've never quite managed to get it out of my head.

May 3, 2013

The Pull List: 1 May 2013

DC's first big New 52 crossover is on the horizon: Trinity War. As part of the marketing build-up, a few choice quotes from writer Geoff Johns have demonstrated pretty much exactly why a lot of the New 52 simply isn't working.

Johns says: 'The thing about Wonder Woman and Superman is when their relationship ends, it's going to end badly. There is no good way for this one to end. And then there's other concerns. When those two start acting out together, people get nervous. Not because they don't think they're heroes, but because they have such incredible power, and who could stop those two?'

How can a relationship between Wonder Woman and Superman end badly? They're pretty much the two nicest, most honourable people in the entire DC Universe. They're as good-hearted, honest and level-headed as they come. A break-up between Wonder Woman and Superman would almost certainly be a mature conversation and a hug, not an all-out line-wide conflict requiring the Justice League and Justice League of America to go to war.

This is a textbook example of warping your characters to fit your story, rather than finding your story through your characters. It's the reason that Justice League is such an awful book at the moment. It is, DC Comics, the reason why we can't have nice things.

Under the cut: reviews of Action Comics, Age of Ultron, All New X-Men, Aquaman, Batwing, Detective Comics, 47 Ronin, Hawkeye, The Movement, Red She-Hulk, Stormwatch, Ten Grand, Worlds' Finest and X-Men Legacy.

Books of May: Orlando, by Virginia Woolf (1928)

Books of May highlights books - both fiction and non-fiction - that have engaged, entertained or otherwise made a significant impact on me over the years. The goal is to highlight one book a day for the entire month. Today, book #3: Orlando, by English author Virginia Woolf.

 Orlando, a young man in the court of Queen Elizabeth I, lives for more than 400 years and changes sex along the way. That's pretty much the one-sentence premise of Virginia Woolf's Orlando, and it's pretty much my favourite fantasy novel.

Not that you'll find it in the fantasy section of your local bookshop, of course. Since it was written by one of the great authors of 20th century literature, you'll have to go find a copy in either the classics or the literature section. It's both a classic and literature, of course, but first and foremost for me it's also a profoundly effective fantasy.

May 2, 2013

Books of May: Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, by Douglas Adams (1987)

Books of May highlights books - both fiction and non-fiction - that have engaged, entertained or otherwise made a significant impact on me over the years. The goal is to highlight one book a day for the entire month. Today, book #2: Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, by English author Douglas Adams.

The late Douglas Adams was many things, but to be brutally honest a good author was probably not one of them. He started his career as a sketch writer, and his first major work - the BBC radio comedy The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, was pretty much just a loose series of comedy sketches that simply happened to feature the same characters in each scene. He was a remarkable humourist, and a very perceptive social commentator, but if there was one thing he seemed relatively incapable of doing it was developing a proper plot.

His Hitchhiker's novels (five in all) either meandered, road-trip style, from one event to another, or they simply felt very woolly. They were slackly drawn, mainly because he generally hated writing so much that when forced by his publisher to deliver a manuscript he'd simply lock himself in a hotel room for a fortnight and bang the whole book out in one draft.

So why am I recommending one of his books? Because Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency is simply brilliant. It's possibly my all-time favourite novel.

May 1, 2013

Popular Posts: April 2013

Old favourites such as the Five Films articles or the Pale Rider review are nowhere to be seen this month, as you the readers go a little bit Doctor Who and comic book crazy. The assessment of the recently concluded I, Vampire comic was last month's most-read post, followed by "On Wonder Woman's costume" and a trio of Doctor Who reviews.
  1. Judging the New 52: I, Vampire (link)
  2. On Wonder Woman's costume (link)
  3. Doctor Who: "Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS" (link)
  4. Doctor Who: "Cold War" (link)
  5. Who50: "The Happiness Patrol" (link)
As for the most popular posts written in the past month, the popularity of the currently-airing Doctor Who Season 7 is pretty clear.
  1. Doctor Who: "Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS" (link)
  2. Doctor Who: "Cold War" (link)
  3. Who50: "The Happiness Patrol" (link)
  4. The Pull List: 3 April 2013 (link)
  5. Doctor Who: "The Rings of Akhaten" (link)

Books of May: Underground, by Haruki Murakami (1997)

Books of May highlights books - both fiction and non-fiction - that have engaged, entertained or otherwise made a significant impact on me over the years. The goal is to highlight one book a day for the entire month. Today, book #1: Underground, by Japanese author Haruki Murakami.

Haruki Murakami is one of Japan's most respected and acclaimed authors, and certainly one of the few to break out via translation to English-speaking readers around the world. His books have a marvellous sense of unreality to them, combined with a large amount of wit and charm. He's very often described as one of the world's best postmodernist authors - I like to think of him as one of the world's best authors.

The book I wanted to highlight today, however, is not actually one of his novels. It is Underground, a collection of interviews that Murakami undertook between 1997 and 1998 that focuses on the 1995 Tokyo subway gas attacks by the Aum Shinrikyo cult.