July 31, 2013

Daimajin (1966)

In the 1960s there were two incredibly popular film genres in Japan. The first was the 'daikaiju eiga', the giant monster movie. Spearheaded by Toho's Godzilla in the 1950s it was a massively popular style of disaster film in which enormous fantastical monsters trashed entire cities on screen. The second was the 'chambara eiga', essentially the samurai film, which had been and remains today an overwhelmingly popular form of historical drama.

So what did the Daiei studio do? Combine the two. It's such an obvious yet ridiculous move and it resulted in a unique movie trilogy in 1966: Daimajin, three stories of dishonourable nobles whose castles and towns are broken to pieces by a 25 foot tall stone warrior god. In this first film, directed by Kimiyoshi Yasuda, a noble is overthrown and murdered by one of his retainers. Ten years later the noble's son returns to reclaim his lands. When he is captured and scheduled for execution, his younger sister begs with the spirit of Daimajin to save him.

July 30, 2013

Eden Lake (2008)

A middle-class couple decide to spend their weekend camping at an isolated lake. Their holiday is interrupted by a young gang of youths. Arguments between the two parties escalate, until the couple are running for their lives through the woods in a desperate scramble to escape the now-murderous children.

Eden Lake is a critically acclaimed English horror movie written and directed by James Watkins. It stars Michael Fassbender (Hunger, Prometheus) and Kelly Reilly (Sherlock Holmes). It was awarded the 2009 Empire Award for Best Horror Movie. It is also, in my personal opinion, one of the most offensive films I have seen. It's not offensive because it contains relatively graphic scenes of torture and bodily mutilation, although it does contain those things. It's also not offensive because it depicts children being excessively violent and homicidal, although again it does contain that. Earlier this year I watched the Spanish horror film Who Could Kill a Child?, and that film was twice as confrontational in this respect, and it was a powerful viewing experience as a result. It's not even offensive because it contains images of extreme violence against a child, although I wouldn't blame anybody who hated this film because it contains 12 year-olds getting stamped on the face until dead, doused in petrol and burned alive or stabbed in the throat with broken glass.

Instead I find myself offended because this is a film that openly and unashamedly wallows in a privileged middle-class paranoia about the working class. It tells its audience not to trust those filthy, untrustworthy poor people, who clearly don't control their kids, are uniformly violent, drunk and abusive, and who would sooner murder an injured woman than call her an ambulance.

July 29, 2013

Who50: "Midnight"

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, #14: "Midnight", a 2008 episode written by Russell T. Davies and directed by Alice Troughton.

When Doctor Who returned to British television in 2005 it was under the energetic leadership of executive producer and head writer Russell T. Davies. I remember being tremendously excited, not simply because my favourite TV series was coming back but also because it was Davies who was writing it. Through edgy dramas like Queer as Folk and The Second Coming he had established himself as one of Britain's strongest television writers - arguably that country's best since the late Dennis Potter.

Then when the series finally started, it was a shock to discover that - generally speaking - the series' finest episodes weren't by Davies at all. The better episodes were the ones by Steven Moffat, like "Blink" and "The Girl in the Fireplace", or by Matt Jones, like "The Impossible Planet", or Robert Shearman with "Dalek". All Davies seemed to be providing were overblown misfires like "Aliens in London" or ridiculous season finales like "The Last of the Time Lords" and "Army of Ghosts".

Then came "Midnight", and it was as if the Russell T. Davies of Doctor Who had grabbed a time machine of his own and hired the Russell T. Davies of The Second Coming to write for the series at last.

Enterprise: "Horizon"

While the Enterprise makes a course diversion to observe a previously unseen phenomenon, Ensign Mayweather takes his leave from the mission to reunite with his family onboard the cargo ship Horizon. He is met with tragedy in the form of his father's death, as well as resentment from his brother Paul - who has been forced to take command of the family business on his own.

Travis Mayweather (Anthony Montgomery) has always been Enterprise's most under-utilised character, so it's great to see him finally get an episode to himself. I mean by himself quite seriously - asides from a few early scenes the entire episode takes place on the Horizon with none of the regular cast in sight. The result is a nice change of pace and tone for the series, as we get to see not only more of Montgomery and his origins, but a key piece of series history as well.

July 28, 2013

AKB0048: "Stardust Selection"

It's been a while since I reviewed the first two episodes of this anime, so to quickly recap: AKB0048 is a science fiction animated series from Japan, and is a spin-off for the immensely popular girl band AKB48. It follows a trio of teenage girls who aspire to join the interplanetary pop troupe AKB0048 and perform to colonies across the galaxy - many of whom have banned entertainment.

This third episode, "Stardust Selection", picks up where the second left off: the girls are onboard one of the AKB0048 spaceships and must undergo a rigorous audition process to determine if they're suitable to be the new understudies. In order to prove themselves, the contestants are tasked with defending the band during an upcoming guerilla contest - to the death, if necessary.

July 27, 2013

Hercules: The Legendary Journeys: "Hercules in the Maze of the Minotaur"

It seemed easy. Watch some old SF television, and write a review of each episode. A paragraph of introduction, throw in a synopsis, maybe another two or three paragraphs of observations, and voila! Instant blog fodder. I started with a long-intended rewatch of Babylon 5, then incorporated Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, then Enterprise, and then I opened the floodgates and started reviewing all manner of shows - including Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, starting with the five TV movies produced in 1994. In this post I am supposed to write about the fifth and final TV movie, "Hercules in the Maze of the Minotaur".

It's a clip show.

A clip show is a cost-saving measure developed by US television networks tasked with producing large numbers of episodes each year. Perhaps you're running out of money, or more likely you're simply running out of time - a clip show can be quickly put together with a character reminiscing over past adventures, and the episode jumping back to re-play key and popular scenes. Many shows have done it. Friends did it regularly, Stargate SG-1 did it, so did Avatar: The Last Airbender, Seinfeld, Cheers and even Star Trek: The Next Generation (Season 2's "Shades of Gray"). Until "Hercules and the Maze of the Minotaur", however, I had never ever ever seen a television series throw in a clip show at the fifth episode.

July 26, 2013

The Pull List: 24 July 2013

I like to periodically take a step back from week-to-week reviews and have a look at what are the best comic books getting put out there at the moment. I've collated them into a handy little set: basically the five best comic books coming out from DC, Marvel and Image. There are the books that I'm digging the most, and have been doing so consistently. If you're looking for a new book to try, these are the ones I recommend.
  • DC: The Wake, Batman, Batman and Robin, Batgirl and Batwoman.
  • Marvel: Thor: God of Thunder, Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, Young Avengers, Daredevil and Hawkeye.
  • Image: Manhattan Projects, Revival, Prophet, Bedlam and Saga.
They're all ongoings with the exception of The Wake, which is currently two months into a ten-issue run.

Some books got delayed at my local comic shop this week, so I figured I'd review what I did buy. Under the cut, reviews of Aquaman, Batman/Superman, Constantine, The Flash, The Green Team: Teen Trillionaires, Justice League Dark, Lazarus, Star Wars Legacy, Wild Blue Yonder and Young Avengers.

The House of the Devil (2009)

College student Samantha takes a last-minute babysitting job in an isolated manor house. Once she arrives, however, it becomes clear that things are not as they seem, and that her life may be in terrible danger. It sounds like an awfully generic storyline, and to be honest it kind of is, but the key to The House of the Devil is not its premise but rather its execution: this is a great horror movie.

It is written and directed by Ti West, whose follow-up The Innkeepers I reviewed last week. I enjoyed that film a lot, and it inspired me to track down this earlier work to see how it compared. I think I prefer The House of the Devil. Like The Innkeepers it is quite a slow-burn of a movie, but it burns just that little bit faster and overall feels just that little bit tighter. It's a nicely old-fashioned horror movie - while there are certainly moments of blood and gore, for the most part it's a deliberately restrained work. In an ocean of survival horror - Saw, Hostel, The Hills Have Eyes, et al - Ti West's work is a bit of an island of creeping menace and well-crafted suspense.

July 25, 2013

Under the Dome: "Blue on Blue"

The military has returned to the dome, bringing with them friends and family of those trapped inside. While the people of Chester's Mill enjoy their reunions, something else seems to be afoot. Meanwhile, Father Coggins goes off the deep end, Big Jim tries to work out what to do about his son holding Angie prisoner, and Norrie receives an unexpected piece of news about her past.

And it's all terrible. This is an utterly awful hour of television, packed with soap opera-style storylines, narrative twists so obvious they're visible from orbit and cringe-worthy dialogue that made me want to flee the room. What's particularly perplexing is that this episode is written by Brian K. Vaughan, whose comic book work on Y: The Last Man, Saga and Ex Machina demonstrates that he should be way, way better than this. I'm not entirely certain of what went wrong.

July 24, 2013

Animated women: Frozen in context

A few weeks back I was linked to a tumblr post by the Feminist Fangirl, titled "Reasons Why I'm Not Supporting Disney's Frozen". At first I was fairly dismissive of the post, primarily because it discusses reasons not to watch a film that nobody has seen yet; it seems a bit like jumping the gun to boycott a film without actually knowing its proper context and content. Sure, Disney have very loosely adapted Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen to create their upcoming film Frozen, but that's basically par for the course. (And feminist viewers got to dodge a serious bullet with the changes Disney made to Anderson's The Little Mermaid, trust me.) It will nonetheless feature a female protagonist and a female antagonist, and I can't see how - in the broader context of Hollywood feature films - that this is a bad thing.

It did get me thinking about how female protagonists are treated in animated feature films. My gut feeling was that surely Disney was better at this than their competitors. When I think of Disney characters, most of the ones who come to mind - Ariel, Mulan, Snow White, and so on - seem to be women. How rare are women in animated films?

July 23, 2013

Shadows and Fog (1991)

A hapless office worker (Woody Allen) is woken in the middle of the night and press-ganged into a vigilante mob. Tasked with hunting down a serial killer, he is told to stick to the plan - only no one has told him what the plan is. Meanwhile a circus acrobat abandons her cheating boyfriend and walks the streets, eventually coming into the fold of a group of local prostitutes. All the while the serial killer continues to anonymously stalk the streets.

Shadows and Fog is a stunning blend of disparate elements. It's shot like F.W Murnau, is scripted like Franz Kafka yet stars an archetypical nebbish protagonist straight out of any number of previous Woody Allen vehicles. Previous films situated Allen's standard comedic character within a comfortable, well-fitted environment; Shadows and Fog throws him completely out of his element, still wisecracking and nervously fumbling his way through the story - but it's a darker, far more sinister story. Rather than dictate the film's overall tone, Allen - as the hapless protagonist Kleinmann - is forced to actively fight against it.

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (2011)

Eight year-old Sally Hurst is sent by her mother to live with her father Alex (Guy Pearce) and his girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes). Alex is restoring the historical Blackwood Manor, an abandoned mansion with a dark past. Sally begins to hear voices coming from a secret basement, and before long she is targeted by a strange army of fairy-like creatures intent on dragging her down to their lair.

Guillermo Del Toro produces but does not direct this passion project; an adaptation of a 1973 TV movie he saw as a child and had always wanted to remake. It's odd in many respects, that he cared enough to see the story remade but not enough to actually oversee the remake himself. Instead the directorial reins were handed to newcomer Troy Nixey, a comic book artist making his directorial debut. It's an entertaining popcorn flick, albeit one that never quite fulfils its potential.

July 22, 2013

Who50: "Kinda"

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, #15: "Kinda", a 1982 four-part serial written by Christopher Bailey and directed by Peter Grimwade.

I was never particularly scared of Doctor Who as a child. There was one story, which we will get to in a few weeks, that gave me nightmares, but generally I never found it a particularly frightening show. Thrilling, certainly, and often very tense, but never actually scary. There were a few other exceptions, however, and here's one: a military officer driven out of his mind, clutching a cardboard cut-out man in his hand as he screams at the Doctor that 'you can't mend people!!' It doesn't involve a monster in a rubber suit, or a giant maggot or spider, and yet it's always been one of the most frightening moments I've encountered in Doctor Who's long history. It's frightening because, unlike Daleks, Cybermen and Zygons, paranoia is real. Mental illness is real. Hindle (Simon Rouse) progressively goes out of his mind while retaining a position of authority, and for once there's precious little the Doctor can do.

July 21, 2013

The Dead (2010)

US army mechanic Brian Murphy wakes up on a beach in West Africa, having survived a plane crash. The country is in chaos. It's everyone for themselves - and the dead are walking the African wilderness. The Dead is a 2010 horror movie written and directed by Jon and Howard J. Ford, in which the zombie apocalypse comes not in American suburbia, but in the middle of Africa. It's an incredibly clever film, because it takes a very well-worn sub-genre of horror - the zombie movie - and applies it to an intriguing and distinctive setting.

There's been a trend in recent years to have film zombies break into a run, pretty much started by Danny Boyle in 28 Days Later, and that's a trend that The Dead refreshingly avoids. Instead it uses the shambling, stumbling breed of zombie, and uses that to tremendous effect. When Murphy is desperately trying to put a wheel back onto a jeep, and you can see the dead shuffling towards him in the background, it's about as tense as anything I've seen in a horror movie in recent years.

July 19, 2013

The Pull List: 17 July 2013

One big announcement that DC has made before the San Diego Comic Con is the upcoming release of Harley Quinn, a new ongoing monthly written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner. They're a great writing team and give me a lot of hope for the book, but then I remember how Harley has been treated by the New 52 and get fairly ambivalent about the prospect.

It's good that DC are attempting to add another female protagonist to their line-up. It's good that they've secured such a strong pair of creators to guide the book (an interior artist is yet to be announced). Now all they need to do is ensure the character is redeveloped a bit towards the old-school funny Harley Quinn that worked, and away from the bondage-outfit overtly sexualised version that's been headlining Suicide Squad for the past two years. Amanda Conner has cited roller derby girls as an influence on their take on Harley, which sounds like a great idea. I really hope it works out. I love the character, and would love to see DC treat her a bit better - and also maybe get her out of short-shorts and poor-fitting corsets.

Under the cut: reviews of All-New X-Men, Batman and Catwoman, Batwoman, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Justice League of America, Legion of Super-Heroes, Revival, Thor: God of Thunder, Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, The X Files and Wonder Woman.

July 18, 2013

V/H/S (2012)

A gang of violent young men break into a deserted two-story house on a mission to recover a video cassette. Inside they find a corpse sitting in front of a rack of television screens, surrounded by dozens of tapes. While some members of the gang hunt through the basement to find the tape they need, other members begin to watch the tapes that are upstairs - with disturbing results.

V/H/S is essentially a collection of short horror films, or - to take advantage of my university screen studies lessons - a 'portmanteau' film. Wedged into the broader narrative are five short films viewed on videotapes by the main characters. The entire film - both the shorts and the framing story - are produced and presented as 'found footage'. So if you're the sort of viewer who hated The Blair Witch Project or found that Cloverfield gave you headaches, then V/H/S is definitely not the film for you.

If, on the other hand, you're looking for an inventive, clever and startling independent horror movie, then you should absolutely hunt this one down and have a watch. It is genuinely impressive.

July 17, 2013

Are there too many sequels in 2015?

Anyone else keeping tracking of the number of sequels, spin-offs and reboots hitting Hollywood in two years' time? Columbia Pictures have just announced Inferno, the third Robert Langdon film starring Tom Hanks, for December. That's the fifteenth such film to be announced so far.
  • The Fantastic Four (reboot)
  • The Penguins of Madagascar (spin-off)
  • The Avengers 2 (sequel)
  • Star Wars Episode VII (sequel)
  • Terminator (reboot)
  • Independence Day 2 (sequel)
  • Pirates of the Caribbean 5 (sequel)
  • The Smurfs 3 (sequel)
  • Ant-Man (spin-off)
  • Hotel Transylvania 2 (sequel)
  • James Bond (sequel)
  • The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part II (sequel)
  • Inferno (sequel)
  • Finding Dory (sequel)
  • Kung Fu Panda 3 (sequel)
I'm pretty sure that's not all of them either - for one thing there's not a Warner Bros picture in there yet, so we can safely assume they'll be racing to slot Man of Steel 2 somewhere into the summer. You have to wonder if Hollywood has left any room in 2015 for original ideas.

Judging the New 52: June 2013, Part VII: The Dark

The Dark is rattling along with four reasonably solid titles and three books spiralling towards cancellation. The top seller in June was Constantine, which is not unexpected as its only four months old. It declined 9% from May, which isn't too dangerous as long as that drop slows down over the next few months. I can see Constantine surviving quite successfully in the long term with about 20-23,000 readers.

Packed in around the 23-25,000 mark are Swamp Thing, Justice League Dark and Animal Man. Of the three Justice League Dark seems the most stable - not real change in sales since May and down only 26% since June 2012. On top of that it's got a high-profile tie-in with Justice League in July and August, which should add more than a few thousand new readers for a while. Both Swamp Thing and Animal Man declined 8% over the past month.

Under the Dome: "Outbreak"

Tensions heat up within the dome as the US military move out. Then, one by one, the townspeople begin to succumb to a mysterious illness. The hospital is short on antibiotics, and someone has raided the town's only pharmacy.

There's a bit of a bounce-back in "Outbreak", returning the show back to the quality demonstrated in its first two episodes. Don't get me wrong - I think that Under the Dome remains a relatively clunky and awkward series, but this week it was significantly more watchable and certainly a lot more enjoyable. It's funny that this series is being produced for CBS because, all things considered, it resembles pretty much exactly a late 1990s drama from Fox. There may be a continuing storyline, but each episode pretty much has its own self-contained and neatly concluded plot. This week it's a meningitis outbreak that appears to appear, manifest and go away in the space of a day. Sure it was entertaining, but it is kind of ridiculous.

July 16, 2013

The Innkeepers (2011)

Reviewing a horror movie can sometimes be difficult, because most rely on a certain level of surprise for their scares to work. As a result I'm going to have to be fairly circumspect about the plot of The Innkeepers, a 2011 American horror film written and directed by Ti West.

I have heard about Ti West repeatedly in recent years, and he's become one of the horror directors that film buffs seem to recommend we keep an eye on. His 2009 film House of the Devil scored a lot of attention and praise; after seeing The Innkeepers I am now keen to track that one down and give it a watch as well.

The premise: the Yankee Pedlar Inn is a hotel that, while once immensely popular, is now closing down. While the owner is holidaying in Barbados, two staff members - Claire and Luke - hold the fort for the hotel's final weekend of operation. There have long been rumours of a ghost haunting the hotel, and with only two guests booked into the entire hotel, Claire and Luke decide to hunt down the ghost and prove whether or not it exists.

Enterprise: "Judgment"

After defending a group of refugees from a Klingon warship, Captain Archer finds himself on trial by the Klingon Empire. If he can not convince his advocate to make a better defence, he'll be spending the rest of his life on the penal colony of Rura Penthe.

"Judgment" is a two-pronged exercise. On the one hand it's a by-the-numbers courtroom drama with limited sets and cast and no real surprises. On the other it's a dive into Star Trek continuity, with J.G. Hertzler (Deep Space Nine) returning to play a Klingon, and name-checks and cameos for a whole raft of Klingon backstory and paraphernalia. We see Rura Penthe (Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country) and Narendra III (The Next Generation), we meet an ancestor of the Duras family (also The Next Generation) and hear mentions of targs, bloodwine and other stuff.

July 15, 2013

Who50: "The Impossible Planet"/"The Satan Pit"

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, #16: "The Impossible Planet" and "The Satan Pit", a 2006 two-part story written by Matt Jones and directed by James Strong.

One of the things that Doctor Who found problematic in its first two years was iconic monsters. The production team gave it their best shot in 2005 with the Slitheen, who cropped up in three out of the first twelve episodes, but audiences failed to respond to them and as recurring monsters they were quietly shelved (although they did get a fresh lease of life in the subsequent spin-off series The Sarah Jane Adventures). They were intended to return in this two-parter as a cost-saving measure, but instead the money was found to create a new monster - the Ood - so long as only the rubber masks were made and the rest of the monster got to wear a suit. Out of necessity comes genius: the Ood steal the show in these episodes, and became the first bona fide hit monster of the new series.

Judging the New 52: June 2013, Part VI: The Edge

Like Young Justice, The Edge is a line with a lot of cancellations. This is where most of the old Wildstorm characters ended up, and almost without exception they failed to find an audience. Books that haven't survived the first two years include Deathstroke, Voodoo, Grifter, Blackhawks, OMAC, Men of War and Team 7.

Deathstroke was one of the books I rather liked, until it was taken over by Rob Liefeld - whose art and writing I don't particularly enjoy. Also good was OMAC, which only lasted eight issues but which is well worth picking up in trade paperback.

One book in this range is still selling more than 20,000 copies. That's Suicide Squad, which started off incredibly awful and vaguely offensive before slowly getting better (or so I've been told, it's not a book I follow). Improvements in quality don't look like they'll save the book: sales are down 3% compared to May and down more than a quarter in the past year. At this rate the book's likely to be cancelled in the next 6-9 months.

July 14, 2013

Judging the New 52: June 2013, Part V: Young Justice

Of all the lines in the New 52, it's the Young Justice books that have suffered the most cancellations. A full five monthly titles have been cancelled since September 2011: Blue Beetle, Legion Lost, Hawk and Dove, Static Shock and Ravagers, and Legion of Super-Heroes is winding up in August. Two new monthlies - The Movement and The Green Team: Teen Trillionaires - are not looking very healthy either.

Teen Titans may be performing best out of the four, but let's not pretend it's performing well. The book's readership has declined by more than a quarter in the past year, and it's now selling less copies per month than it did before the New 52 hit. This is a very strong franchise for DC, particularly given it's the only place to see the massively popular Tim Drake, so in all fairness this book should be selling 50,000 copies a month.

July 13, 2013

Random Comic: Kamandi #52

It's Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth! After co-creating a raft of incredibly famous characters for Marvel Comics, writer/artist Jack Kirby defected across the street to DC, where he created another raft of characters - not anywhere near as famous, but possibly more original. Kamandi is a case in point: a young man with long blonde hair and ragged blue trousers who lives on a far future Earth where all of the other humans have either died or regressed to primitive savagery. Meanwhile many other animals have evolved into sophisticated, humanoid forms.

I bought an old copy of Kamandi #52 today. It comes towards the end of the title's run, which went from 1972 to 1978. The first 37 issues were written and drawn by Kirby, but after he quit working for DC the book continued with other writers and artists. This issue is by writer Jack C. Harris and artists Dick Ayers and Alfredo Alcala. It's really enjoyable. It's also bloody weird.

Under the Dome: "Manhunt"

With a former police officer armed and on the run, Big Jim and Barbie team up to take the rogue officer down. Meanwhile, Junior goes looking for a way out of the dome, and Joe and Norrie make a connection.

I don't know if this is a deliberate creative decision, but each of the three episodes of Under the Dome so far have taken place over one day of story. This is making it already feel excruciatingly drawn out, particularly when a lot of time in this episode is devoted to Jim Rennie Jr's cartoon-like mental illness. I want things to speed up: I know Under the Dome was a long novel, but things could be tightened up so much without damaging the narrative.

July 12, 2013

The Pull List: 10 July 2013

So Comicon is nearly upon us, which usually means an avalanche of announcements involving new titles, new creative teams for popular superheroes, movie trailers of comic book spin-offs and all manner of things. I'll do my best to filter through the junk and post about the announcements that actually get me excited.

One thing I'm hoping for is a fresh wave of titles from DC: not a few each month in dribs and drabs, a big semi-relaunch of the New 52 to get people excited again. At least 10 books in one month should get people looking in their direction again - as well as give them the chance to introduce some fresh writers and artists, maybe even some women too.

A man can dream.

Under the cut: reviews of Batgirl, Batman, Daredevil, Demon Knights, Great Pacific, Hawkeye, Justice League, Katana, Killjoys, Sheltered, Star Wars, Storm Dogs, Worlds' Finest and Young Avengers.

Judging the New 52: June 2013, Part IV: Green Lantern

While I read through my enormous stack of new comics for this week's Pull List column, let's have a look at how DC's Green Lantern franchise went in June - it was an important month for them. June 2013 saw a complete shake-up of DC's four Lantern titles with all-new creative teams and, in the case of Green Lantern itself, the first new writer in about a decade. DC also took the opportunity to add a fifth book to the line, dedicated to Orange Lantern Larfleeze.

Geoff Johns' legacy on Green Lantern is enormously impressive, because he leaves it with not just one successful book but four. He managed to transform a sometimes-popular superhero comic into an honest-to-god franchise. It even got its own high budget Hollywood movie (although, if you've seen that movie, you understand it's not actually a very good one). This leaves the new creative teams with a tremendous challenge to keep interest high on these books and keep them selling.

July 11, 2013

Judging the New 52: June 2013, Part III: Superman

DC's Superman books got an enormous shot in the arm in June. Timed to coincide with the release of Warner Bros' Man of Steel were not one but two all-new monthly titles: Superman Unchained (by fan favourites Scott Snyder and Jim Lee) and Batman/Superman (by more fan favourites, Greg Pak and Jae Lee). Superman Unchained did particularly well; given it's US$4.99 price tag, that one issue grossed more than US$1.25m alone.

Batman/Superman (not to be confused with pre-New 52 title Superman/Batman) also did incredibly well, although in both cases I expect sales to drop pretty sharply over the next few months. DC have already announced Superman/Wonder Woman for October, so personally I'm hoping they also announce Wonder Woman/Batman so as to make the circle complete.

The bigger issue I can see, however, is with Superman's other monthly titles.

July 10, 2013

Judging the New 52: June 2013, Part II: Batman

The Batman books are the powerhouse of DC's comic book publishing efforts, and that is nowhere more apparent than in Batman itself. Under the creative guidance of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo it has overtaken Justice League to become the effective flagship of the entire New 52. June 2013 saw the launch of its third major story arc, "Zero Year", and a corresponding 10% bump in sales compared to May's relatively self-contained issue. Batman shipped 9% more copies in June 2013 than in June 2012, which is an extraordinary feat in an industry where each issue generally sells less than the one before it.

Detective Comics, on the other hand, is still suffering from a fairly weak start by writer/artist Tony Daniel. I think that it's lost a lot of goodwill from readers, which is a shame because John Layman and Jason Fabok are doing some great work here. Sales are down 17% compared to May, where Layman and Fabok's first arc wound up: sadly it looks like about 8,000 readers were waiting for a chance to jump ship.

Judging the New 52: June 2013, Part I: Justice League

Let's have a look at how DC Comics' New 52 are going at the moment; more specifically, let's check out the June 2013 sales estimates to find out what's selling, what's failing and what maybe needs a bit of a shake-up to get readers interested again.

Just to clarify: these are the sales estimates for physical comic books shipped to comic shops via Diamond Distribution in the USA, Australia and other markets, and does not represent actual issues sold to customers. It also doesn't include digital comics sold via Comixology. All estimates have been sourced from John Jackson Miller's excellent Comichron.

To make things easier to break down, DC divided the New 52 into a series of ranges, so we can look at them in turn, starting with their Justice League books.

July 9, 2013

Marvel Superheroes: Secret Wars, Part 1 (1984)

Over the past year or so I've been subscribed to Hachette's partwork series The Marvel Graphic Novel Collection. It's brilliant: every four weeks I receive a pair of hardcover Marvel Comics collections in the mail at AUD$19.95 each. I've always been more of a DC fan than a Marvel reader, so this collection has given me the opportunity to read a whole pile of quite famous storylines and runs that I hadn't previously read.

A case in point: the first six issues of Marvel Superheroes: Secret Wars, widely considered the first of the big summer crossover epics that now seem to hit the Marvel Universe twice a year or so. We just finished Age of Ultron and Infinity is already getting started. In previous years we've had Seige, Secret Invasion, Civil War, Spider-Island, X-Men Schism, Avengers vs. X-Men and many, many more - and Secret Wars is widely seen as the forerunner to all of them.

July 8, 2013

Silent Japan V: Who is Mikio Naruse?

The first two Japanese silent films I have watched - Flunky, Word Hard and Apart from You - were both directed by Mikio Naruse, so as part of my exploration of early Japanese cinema it seemed a good idea to find out exactly who that guy is and what sort of films he made. What is his position in the history of Japanese film?

Naruse was born in Tokyo in 1905. He was by accounts a shy, reserved young man who scored a job at the newly formed Shockiku film studios as a property manager and then as an assistant director. After much begging for the chance, Naruse was finally granted the right to direct a film of his own in 1930 (aged 25). His first film was Mr and Mrs Swordplay (Chambara Fufu). Despite obvious skill and talent, Naruse's films were not commercially successful and he struggled to secure directorial assignments at Shockiku. He ultimately jumped studios to PCL (later named Toho), where he continued to direct up into the mid-1960s.

For Western audiences, the first exposure to Naruse's work was his critical hit Wife, Be Like a Rose, which was released in the USA in 1935. It was particularly liked by American critics but it was, however, the first Japanese 'talkie' to be screened internationally. Western audiences may have later embraced Mizoguchi, Ozu and Kurosawa, but they were exposed to Naruse first.

Who50: "The Girl in the Fireplace"

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, #17: "The Girl in the Fireplace", a 2006 episode written by Steven Moffat and directed by Euros Lyn.

The TARDIS arrives on a deserted spaceship somewhere in the 51st century - a spaceship inexplicably linked via a portal to the fireplace of an 18th century French palace, and the bedroom of famed mistress Madame de Pompadour.

"The Girl in the Fireplace" is an unexpected gem: it takes a premise that was previously unthinkable in Doctor Who (the Doctor has a romance) and not only pulls it off, but pulls it off in a way that feels natural, believable and as much a part of the fabric of Doctor Who as Daleks or Time Lords. Once again it's a Doctor Who pastiche - in this case cribbing liberally from Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveller's Wife. Moffat would return to this book later on when he crafted the Doctor's romance with River Song.

July 7, 2013

Game of Thrones: "Garden of Bones"

I think pretty much anything else about "Garden of Bones" falls by the wayside in comparison to the jawdropping scene of Melisandre (Carice van Houten) giving birth to an enormous terrifying smoke monster. Game of Thrones keeps its fantastical elements quite close to its chest. We've seen white walkers twice, and of course Daenerys now has her dragons, but all told it's pretty low on fantasy. That kind of gets blown out of the water here, and by holding back so much on the supernatural for the series' first 14 episodes the production team manage to make a phenomenal impact here.

As always, let's go from plot thread to plot thread to see how the second season fares in its fourth week.

July 5, 2013

Under the Dome: "The Fire"

With Under the Dome's second episode, most of my suspicions - both positive and negative - seem to be getting proven correct. With the Chief of Police dead, Mayor "Big Jim" Rennie goes into overdrive to hide his secret drug manufacturing industry. This leads to a string of unintended consequences - chiefly the fire referred to in the episode's title.

This episode brings with it a fairly significant pedigree in that it's written by Rick Cleveland, who won an Emmy award in 2000 for his West Wing script "In Excelsis Deo" (co-written by Aaron Sorkin). Given the matter-of-fact and fairly perfunctory work done with the characters in this episode, you'd be forgiven for thinking that with "In Excelsis Deo" Sorkin may have done a lot of the heavy lifting. It's not a bad episode, but it's a superficial one. It pushes the plot forward and solidifies what each character's arc is likely to be, but it's pretty slack in giving anyone any kind of depth or nuance.

The Pull List: 3 July 2013

When DC Comics let Vertigo editor-in-chief Karen Berger go, many people - myself included - foresaw the impending end of the imprint. Sales were down, books were getting cancelled and the only continuing series Vertigo seemed to have left were Fables and The Unwritten. Maybe we were a little premature in calling that death. Long-term Vertigo editor Shelley Bond has taken the top seat and appears to be jumping in all guns blazing.

Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy's The Wake, a 10-part miniseries, launched with the highest sales of a Vertigo title in a decade. The Sandman Overture, a 6-part bimonthly prequel to Vertigo's biggest-ever hit, launches in October. In recent weeks a string of new miniseries and ongoings have been announced, including Ian Edginton's Hinterland, Peter Milligan's The Disciple and Toby Litt's The Dead Boy Detectives (a Sandman spin-off). Meanwhile the back catalogue is getting nicely brushed off and repackaged, with thicker, better-value collected editions getting released for Hellblazer, Lucifer, Preacher and (in early 2014) The Invisibles.

Vertigo used to be the best place to find mature-readers fantasy and horror comic books in the USA. Hopefully in 2014 this will be the case again.

Under the cut: reviews of Batman Incorporated, Batwing, Daredevil: Dark Nights, Detective Comics, 47 Ronin, Green Lantern, The Movement, Red She-Hulk, Stormwatch and X-Men Legacy.

July 4, 2013

Bodacious Space Pirates: "The Final Battle is at Midnight"

The Odette II continues on its voyage, although it becomes clear that the ship is being tailed by another vessel. Marika discovers that the entire class knows she's under consideration to become a pirate captain, and together they agree to fight the enemy vessel once their teachers are asleep.

The battle might be at midnight, but it sadly doesn't begin in this episode. It's actually a little crazy once you think about it. An anime like Blue Submarine No 6 was done and dusted after four episodes. This anime has barely started in the same time. We've now spent three episodes on a school space yacht cruise, and we're clearly going to be spending a fourth one there as well. It's kind of frustrating.

Silent Japan IV: Apart from You (1933)

For my second Japanese silent film, I figured I would stick with Mikio Naruse and watch one of his more dramatic works. Apart from You was released by Shokiku Films in 1933, and is a full-length feature with a much more serious tone than the light playfulness of Flunky, Work Hard.

Kikue is a middle-aged woman who works as a geisha to support her teenage son Yoshio. Yoshio in turn resents his mother for what he sees as a disgraceful profession, and he rebels by getting drunk, dismissing her affection and joining a local street gang. Terugiko is a young geisha who works with Kikue, and forms a tentative friendship with Yoshio while harbouring a deep resentment against her parents for forcing her into her profession. Apart from You follows these three character relationships in a solid and mature melodrama. It's not perfect, but it's outstanding how watchable it is after 80 years.

July 3, 2013

Harvest (2013)

I've written many times in my Pull List column about the extraordinary quality of Image's comic books in recent years. In many ways they're the perfect publisher: they do a lot of the production legwork for creative teams who remain in total control of their own product. While I do still love my corporate-owned superhero titles, in terms of storytelling quality Image very often can't be beaten.

Harvest is a case in point. It's a five-issue crime miniseries that follows a disgraced, drug-addicted surgeon as he enters the shadowy world of human organ trafficking before starting an attempt to rise out on the other side and make things right. It's a mean, gritty work of pulp fiction featuring a tight script by A.J. Lieberman and stark, character-filled artwork by Colin Lorimer.

July 2, 2013

Silent Japan III: Flunky, Work Hard (1931)

While there's a lot more to explore in terms of the history and cultural context of Japanese silent films, I figured it would be worth diving in and actually watching one. For my first viewing experience I selected Flunky, Work Hard (1931), the earliest existing film by director Mikio Naruse (or Naruse Mikio, to use the Japanese format). This short feature (it's only 28 minutes long) follows a day in the life of harried insurance salesman Okabe and his tearaway bully of a son.

This is a surprisingly modern and genuinely funny little comedy. The performances are generally naturalistic, and the humour much more sophisticated than the broad slapstick you'd normally find in a silent comedy. It also has much more developed camerawork, including smooth tracking shots, interesting shot compositions and a few experimental moments. There is a moment late in the film where Okabe discovers his unruly son has been hit by a train. His moment of sudden panic and grief at the news is represented with a sudden 20-second montage of shapes, faces and kaleidoscopic effects. The montage runs at about one shot per second, which is a much faster editing speed than you'd expect from a film made at the start of the 1930s.

Silent Japan II: The Lack of Realism

The Water Magician (1931, d. Kenji Mizoguchi)
Before diving into some Japanese silent films, I think it’s important to understand the enormous differences between Japanese and French and American culture at the turn of the 20th century. Cinema as we know it is a French invention, developed by the Lumiere brothers and toured around the world by their father from 1895 at sideshows and expositions. While there were motion pictures prior to that year – going all the way back to the invention of the pinhole camera in the early 11th century – it was the Lumieres who developed a system of taking a sequence of photographs in rapid succession and then projecting those photographs in similarly rapid succession for an audience.

Motion pictures were, in essence, a progression of photography. That technology was also developed in France, with Joseph Nicéphore Niépce and Louis Daguerre’s invention of the daguerreotype in 1822. Over the course of the 19th century, the technology and materials used to create the photograph were developed and refined, and ultimately led to a popular and accurate method of reproducing images of family, significant events and the world at large. Photography was a great saviour for fine art, since up to the point of its invention there had been a general and centuries-long push within Europe towards a realistic mode of painting. Once the photograph perfected the realist reproduction artists was free to explore non-realist forms of art. Put all of these successive inventions into order, and you can see a slow, inevitable movement from the Middle Ages through to the late 19th century away from abstract expression to realistic reproduction.

Now consider Japan.

July 1, 2013

Silent Japan I: The One Per-Cent

Tokyo Chorus (1931, d. Yasujiro Ozu)
I have decided to watch some Japanese silent films. Exploring the earliest motion pictures of any country is relatively difficult. They were printed using nitrate-based film stock, which was not only highly perishable but also highly flammable – so much so that an old nitrate film sealed in a canister for long enough can, at sufficient temperatures, spontaneously and explosively combust. Being a projectionist used to be a considerably more dangerous job than it is today.

The generally received wisdom is that approximately 75 per cent of all silent films produced in the early decades of cinema have been lost forever. There are two primary reasons for this. The first is simply the perishable nature of nitrate film and the age of the motion pictures in question. The second is lack of care, plain and simple, combined with a general failure to appreciate the value of those early films.

Who50: "Dalek"

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, #18: "Dalek", a 2005 episode written by Robert Shearman and directed by Joe Ahearne.

The Doctor and Rose arrive in the private museum of the eccentric American millionaire Henry van Statten, filled with alien relics and artifacts. Locked inside a room at the centre of van Statten's archive is an alien; terrified and alone, in excruciating pain. Rose wants to help it, because that's what the Doctor would do. Isn't it?

"Dalek" is the episode that took the 2005 relaunch of Doctor Who and cemented it as a worthy replacement to the original series. It's the best episode of Christopher Eccleston's brief time as the Doctor, and one of the best episodes of the entire 50-year franchise. It achieves this for a couple of reasons, and it's worth going through them one by one.

Popular Posts: June 2013

June 2013 was the most successful month in the history of this blog, thanks in no small part to the enormous number of people who read the post on sexual harassment at science fiction conventions. After two days it is already the sixth most popular article ever on this website. Thank you for your support.
  1. Sexual harassment at science fiction conventions (link)
  2. My picks for the next Doctor Who (link)
  3. Babylon 5: "Midnight on the Firing Line" (link)
  4. Judging the New 52: Supergirl (link)
  5. The best Christmas TV episodes (link)
  6. Under the Dome: "Pilot" (link)
  7. Babylon 5: "Deathwalker" (link)
  8. Who50: The Bottom 20, #1-3 (link)
  9. Who50: The Bottom 20, #4-6 (link)
  10. Who50: "Remembrance of the Daleks" (link)