September 30, 2013

The X Files: "Conduit"

A teenage girl vanished from the shores of Lake Okobogee, Iowa, leading Mulder on the hunt for evidence of alien abduction. Scully is concerned, however, that Mulder's growing obsession with the case has less to do with the missing girl and more to do with his sister Samantha, abducted by aliens when he was a child.

So with the format and tone of the series firmly established, this fourth episode takes the time to better explore Fox Mulder's background and motivations for researching the X Files. It also does some remarkably good work in defying traditional genre stereotypes. Ask yourself this: two FBI agents investigate a crime. One is pragmatic and responsible, concerned with evidence and logic. The other is emotionally compromised and foolish, following their heart and their feelings at the expense of proper procedure and responsibility. Which agent would typically be the man, and which agent the woman? This episode may be focused on Mulder's backstory, but it continues to craft Dana Scully as one of the strongest female protagonists in American television.

Who50 #5: "The Seeds of Doom"

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, #5: "The Seeds of Doom", a 1976 serial written by Robert Banks Stewart and directed by Douglas Camfield.

 One of Doctor Who's longest-running reputations is for being very scary for small children. There is an entire mystique built up around children hiding behind their sofa, or peeking out from behind cushions. I'm not sure if I was a particularly unusual child, but despite adoring Doctor Who from the age of three I never found it very scary. Except for "The Seeds of Doom", of course. "The Seeds of Doom" gave me nightmares.

This epic six-parter acted as the finale to Season 13, Tom Baker's second year as the Doctor. It is, in many ways, the archetypal Doctor Who story. It features the Doctor and Sarah-Jane Smith, it wallows in body horror (a staple of the series), it is in part a knowing pastiche, and it features an iconic, well-remembered monster. Its writer, Robert Banks Stewart, was one of the best writers of the period. Its director, Douglas Camfield, is pretty much the best director that Doctor Who ever had.

September 27, 2013

The Pull List: 25 September 2013

I was in the queue to buy comics this week, and I couldn't help but notice the young woman standing in front of me. She was holding both trade paperbacks (to date) of Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples' Saga, and I overheard her explaining to the store clerk that she had read the first volume at a friends' house and was so entertained by it she had to buy the next volume - and a first volume of her own. I could be making an enormous assumption, but she didn't appear to have been in a comic store recently - or certainly not regularly.

Comic books used to be an enormous mainstream medium, with issues regularly selling in the vicinity of half a million copies. Now publishers celebrate when their books break 100,000. Marvel and DC both seem to be fighting a battle to the bottom - DC more so than Marvel - with an apparent aim to retain a gradually declining readership of 30something men rather than to break out and capture new readers in any significant fashion. Yet it's books like Saga that actually are making it happen. On paper it looks like it's selling okay but not brilliantly - issue #13 sold around the 55,000 mark - but that's just individual issue sales to comic shops. The trade paperbacks are selling like gangbusters, and the book is picking up awards left, right and centre.

How has it managed this when so many other comic books have not? Let's take issue #14 as an example. It's got stunning artwork by Fiona Staples, as always. Her art emphasizes the characters over the background, and that accentuates to us that this is a story about character over plot. Brian K. Vaughn writes outstanding dialogue, able to turn from drama to comedy on a dime. There are strong characters, both male and female, that we like and believe in. Each issue treats us with respect, and doesn't take our business for granted. Time and time again, and definitely in this week's issue, Saga is as close to damn-perfect as a comic book can get.

If DC and Marvel treated its characters with the care and respect that Vaughn and Staples show to theirs, we might have a few more broadly acclaimed comic books out there. They might be more popular. Comic books - or graphic novels at any rate - might become mainstream culture again. (5/5)

Saga is published by Image Comics. It is written by Brian K. Vaughn with art by Fiona Staples.

Under the cut: reviews of Aquaman, Revival, Star Wars Legacy, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: New Animated Adventures, Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, The Wake, Wonder Woman and Young Avengers.

September 26, 2013

Holy Flying Circus (2011)

In 1979 the Monty Python comedy team - John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam - released their latest motion picture into British cinemas: Monty Python's Life of Brian. The film generated massive controversy, with 39 town councils across Britain banning the film from exhibition. So great was the furore that Cleese and Palin appeared on the late night talk show Friday Night Saturday Morning to debate the merits of their film with an Anglican Bishop and comedy writer Malcolm Muggeridge. The debate did not go as Cleese and Palin expected.

Holy Flying Circus is a 2011 made-for-television film, first broadcast on BBC4, that explores that debate and the events that led up to it. The film is written by Tony Roche, best known as co-writer of political satire The Thick of It, and directed by Owen Harris. It is a remarkable film, not because it's well written and well acted (and it is), but because the production team behind it have made the choice to tell the story of Monty Python in the style of Monty Python.

September 25, 2013

The X Files: "Squeeze"

A former academy classmate of Scully's requests her assistance in a string of brutal murders in Baltimore, in which victims are found with their livers ripped out. Mulder comes along for the ride, tying in a string of identical murders 30 years in the past, and 60 years, and even 90 years. Facing growing resentment and opposition from their peers, Mulder and Scully close in Eugene Victor Tooms, an unusual human being with a horrifying physical ability.

"Squeeze" marks what we might consider the opening trilogy of The X Files. The pilot established Mulder and Scully, the FBI's "X Files" program and the idea of alien abductions. "Deep Throat" established the government conspiracy story arc. As a follow-up "Squeeze" marks the first of the series' celebrated "Monster of the Week" episodes: stories about freakish creatures, monsters and mutants that generally stand alone but which provide some of The X Files' most memorable and iconic moments.

September 24, 2013

Babylon 5: "Convictions"

A string of bombings threaten the station. When one explodes near a docking port, Lennier saves Londo Mollari's life - only to be critically injured himself. When Sheridan orders for the perpetrator to be captured as soon as possible, Ivanova brings in some unusual assistance: a group of human monks relocating to the station in order to study alien religions.

"Convictions" is what I'm beginning to consider a fairly typical Babylon 5 episode: in broad strokes it's fairly tedious and full of cliche, but in the smaller details it's regularly quite well observed and entertaining. Certainly the central plot - a disaffected and mentally unhinged human contractor is running around setting off bombs - is entirely missable. There isn't a well-worn stereotype that isn't ticked off in this storyline, and it's further worsened by a ridiculously over-the-top and shriekingly painful performance by the actor playing the bomber. I'm amazed Sheridan doesn't just slap him in the side of his head, take away his trigger device and send him to his room.

September 23, 2013

Who50 #6: "Blink"

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, #6: "Blink", a 2007 episode written by Steven Moffat and directed by Hettie McDonald.

Amateur photographer Sally Sparrow enters an abandoned house in the search of images to capture, and instead finds a set of creepy stone statues and a message to her, hidden behind some wallpaper, from someone called the Doctor warning her about "the weeping angels". What follows is not only the most effective horror that Doctor Who has ever presented, but also the best-ever exploitation of time travel for narrative purposes in the history of science fiction television.

There are more emotionally engaging episodes of Doctor Who, and more effective ones as well, but in terms of sheer writing mechanics this is the greatest episode of all time: constructed like a clockwork machine in which every cog and gear has a purpose, and every movement ticks over in perfect precision.

The Pull List: 18 September 2013

Ales Kot is rapidly becoming a writer to watch in American comics. His miniseries Changes was bizarre but engaging, and he's started dabbling in scripting some comics for DC and Marvel as well. Zero is his latest series; a near-future espionage book with artwork by Michael Walsh (Comeback). The first issue launched on Wednesday, so with a lot of hype behind this talented new writer I figured it was well worth a look.

The book follows Edward Zero, a secret agent sent into the field in Palestine to recover stolen biological technology from the body of a Palestinian terrorist - a terrorist that's currently still fighting in the streets against a super-powered Israeli soldier.

There's more than a hint of Warren Ellis about this book: it's certainly very bold and provocative, however it doesn't quite gel in the way that Ellis' work usually does. There's something a little juvenile about the book: the violence is ridiculously over-the-top, and it feels like Kot picked the Palestinian setting for no reason other than to be edgy and a bit controversial. Truth be told it could be set in any war zone on the planet and the story would still work. There's also a weird sex scene thrown into the issue that feels completely out of place and entirely gratuitous.

I suspect this will be a bigger success for Kot than Changes was: it's more commercial and a much less challenging read. On the other hand, it does appear to be giving us material we've seen many times before. I may check in on the book again down the road, but for now I have to be honest: Zero #1 didn't grab me.

Zero #1 is published by Image Comics, with writing by Ales Kot and art by Michael Walsh.

Under the cut: reviews of Batman, Daredevil, The Flash, Thor: God of Thunder, Uncanny X-Men and X-Men Legacy.

September 21, 2013

Ralph Azham Vol 1 (2012)

Lewis Trondheim is one of my favourite comic book creators, combining inventive wit, odd flights of fantasy and beautifully drawn anthropomorphic animals. In the English-speaking world he appears to be a writer/artist of some cult renown, however in France he's a megastar creator of some of the highest selling 'bande desinnees' in Europe. I first encountered his work via his long-running graphic novel series Dungeon (aka Le Donjon, co-written by fellow cartoonist and film director Joann Sfar), and soon expanding my reading to include McConey, Mr O, La Mouche and a more recent series of hilariously observed autobiographical strips.

Ralph Azham is the latest of Trondheim's works; a multi-volume fantasy epic about a rural village duck who may just be 'the chosen one' of myth. USA publisher Fantagraphics have published the first volume in a beautiful hardcover edition, while in France readers are already awaiting the recently completed sixth volume (due over there in January 2014).

September 20, 2013

Odds'n'Sods: 20 September 2013

  • British comic and author David Baddiel writes a very nice piece on Tottenham Hotspur, football fans, Prime Minister David Cameron and whether or not the term 'yid' is offensive (hint: it is). (link)
  • Over at Comics Alliance Andrew Wheeler writes a neat summation of just how far down the rabbit hole DC Comics' idiocy has gone in recent years. (link)
  • Amazing re-imaginings of popular videogames as Little Golden Books: first trio here, second trio here.
  • Today is the 12th anniversary of George W. Bush's "war on terror". (link)
  • It's also the 826th anniversary of the Siege of Jerusalem. (link)

Super 8 (2011)

When Steven Spielberg was a kid he used to borrow his parents' super 8 film camera and make his own movies. One of them, Amblin', even inspired the name of his production company many years later. When J.J. Abrams was a kid he used to watch movies directed or produced by Spielberg, including E.T. the Extraterrestrial, The Goonies and Explorers. Jump a few decades into the future and we have Super 8. It is Abrams' tribute to the Spielberg films of his youth, combined with a knowing reflection on Spielberg's childhood movie-making.

14 year-old Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) is mourning the death of his mother in an industrial accident while struggling to connect with his grieving father Jack (Friday Night Lights' Kyle Chandler). With his friends Joe is shooting a zombie movie using a Super 8 camera. When they sneak out one night to shoot a scene for their movie, the kids witness a horrific train crash and get drawn into a deadly mystery involving a monster, power outages across the town and an invasion by the US military.

September 19, 2013

Bad Girls (2012)

Teenage tomboy Ah Dan (Ella Chen) is an aggressive defender of young women throughout her rural town, beating senseless any man or boy she sees bullying or disrespecting girls. When Asia's most popular heartthrob chooses to shoot his latest romantic film at Dan's school, a string of mishaps sees Dan accidentally injuring the film's female lead and forced to take her place.

Bad Girls is a 2012 Taiwanese teen romantic comedy directed by Weng Jing-ting and starring Ella Chen and Mike He. As far as I'm aware it isn't available on home video in Australia - I reviewed it via a Hong Kong DVD.

Oh good grief this is a terrible movie, yet for some reason I couldn't stop watching it and enjoyed it immensely all the same. There are bits of the film that do genuinely work, and there are other bits that fail so profoundly that they make the jump from bad to excruciatingly bad and all the way to so-bad-it's-actually-perversely-good. Basically, if you're wondering whether or not it's worth tracking down and watching Bad Girls, answer this simple question: do you think it's likely you will enjoy a Taiwanese teen romantic comedy starring pop stars as high school students? If the answer is yes, then give it a shot. If the answer is no, or even an unenthusiastic 'maybe', then you should probably give Bad Girls a wide berth.

September 18, 2013

Hercules: The Legendary Journeys: "The Wrong Path"

In a flash of light, the vengeful goddess Hera murders Hercules' wife and children, leading the demigod on a violent mission of revenge. Meanwhile Hercules' long-time travelling companion Iolaus travels in his stead to a village cursed by a snake-like she-demon with the power to turn people to stone.

Hercules: The Legendary Journeys doesn't really start with a bang, it just sort of... starts. The five TV movies of the previous year had been commercially successful for Universal Pictures, so they were quick to order a weekly series as a follow-up. This truncated (13 episode) first season premiered in January 1995, just two months after the last of the TV movies aired on American TV. Kevin Sorbo is back as Hercules, the presumably very expensive Anthony Quinn is curiously absent as Zeus, but Michael Hirst is along for the ride as the diminutive yet plucky sidekick Iolaus.What we're ultimately given here is more of what we got in the TV movies. It's been refined a little, and at 40 minutes per episode feels a lot tighter and more watchable, but if it isn't broke why fix it? This is a commercial hour of mostly breezy, slightly silly pulp fantasy adventure.

September 17, 2013

Star Trek Enterprise: "Anomaly"

The Enterprise is critically damaged when it flies through a series of spacial anomalies. While Trip does his best to make repairs, the Enterprise is attacked by an alien vessel: pirates who prey on those ships that get damaged by the anomalies. After a successful raid takes badly-needed supplies from the Enterprise, Archer must convince his one prisoner to help him get the supplies back.

"Anomaly" is one of those episodes that is mostly entertaining, but which is almost scuttled by one glaring flaw. The flaw is this: Archer tortures a man to get the information he needs. He does it without any visible remorse and he does it without any subsequent mention of his actions by his crew. Lt Reed warns him that the prisoner is about to die, but he does not intervene. I get that Enterprise is a prequel series, and therefore the standard rules of the franchise don't necessarily have to apply, but first and foremost Star Trek is a utopia. The captain shouldn't be torturing people. A line got crossed here, and while it's not as bad as Captain Janeway committing premeditated murder in Star Trek: Voyager's "Tuvix", it does come dangerously close.

September 16, 2013

Who50 #7: "The Caves of Androzani"

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, #7: "The Caves of Androzani", a four-part 1984 serial written by Robert Holmes and directed by Graeme Harper.

Everybody dies. No one knows this more keenly that the Doctor, who's died at least 10 times already. Nowhere is the finality of regeneration felt more keenly than in "The Caves of Androzani", a four-part serial from 1984 that presents the final adventure for Peter Davison's fifth Doctor. Shortly into the first episode he and his companion Peri expose themselves to a toxic substance called spectrox. From there on in they are both dying. This serial, one of the best bits of Doctor Who ever produced, is pretty much the bleakest, darkest and most relentlessly miserable story the TV series ever had, because everybody dies. Even the Doctor.

September 13, 2013

Odds'n'Sods: 13 September 2013

  • This specially-themed set of wedding photographs were doing the runs of the Internet at the beginning of the week. I love them. (link)
  • Fumetti is a style of photograph-based comic book popularised in Italy, but which never really caught on in the English-speaking world. Maybe that will change with John Byrne's upcoming Star Trek graphic novel, which tells an entirely new episode using images from pre-existing footage. (link) Is it bad I want to do something like this with Doctor Who?
  • J.K. Rowling has signed to write the screenplay to a new Harry Potter spin-off film. I love the idea - it's a wonderful fictional world, and I look forward to seeing it from a different angle. (link)
  • Finally, I found this Variety article really interesting: it's on how Ubisoft have hired production company Starlight Runner to develop a franchise book for Splinter Cell. Basically the company has pored over the details of every Splinter Cell game to put all of the in-universe information together and determine the best way to form that information into a hit film. This is the soundest approach for a videogame adaptation I've ever heard, and good luck to them. (link)

The Pull List: 11 September 2013

In the last week the creative team behind Batwoman, J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman, resigned from that comic. They cited editorial interference as one of the two main reasons; not just editors leaning in and demanding changes, but demanding them at the last minute, often disrupting storylines that were already in-part published and distributed. They also cited DC editorial's refusal to allow them to marry series lead Kate Kane to her love interest Maggie Sawyer.

Putting aside the difficult question of whether DC is censoring its GLBT characters (DC insist the refusal to marry Kate and Maggie is purely because they don't think superheroes should be happy - I'm not making that up!), this is part of a continuing and unfortunate trend at DC Comics. They're losing a lot of momentum with their readers at the moment, and sooner rather than later they really need to adopt a policy of hiring good writers and artists for their titles, and to stand back and let them do their thing. This last-minute chopping and changing is just damaging their own business.

Under the cut: reviews of Aquaman, Batman, Federal Bureau of Physics, The Flash, The Manhattan Projects, Prophet, Star Wars, The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys and X-Men.

September 12, 2013

The Little Mermaid (1989)

This week Walt Disney Pictures Australia release The Little Mermaid onto blu-ray for the first time. It's a beautiful transfer, with the best sound I've ever heard for this film and a crystal picture so clear you can see the individual pen strokes on the screen.

It's a film with a remarkably important place in Walt Disney history, as well as a lengthy journey from the first idea to its debut in cinemas. Walt Disney himself originally conceived the project as a follow-up to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1938 before choosing to adapt Carlo Collodi's Pinocchio instead. It bounced around the studio until it was revived in 1985 by animators Ron Clements and John Musker and pitched to studio head Michael Eisner. Eisner rejected their pitch, considering it too similar to the studio's live-action hit Splash, but animation studio boss Jeffrey Katzenberg encouraged Clements and Musker to keep developing their proposal. Their final 20-page treatment ultimately convinced Michael Eisner to go ahead with the film, which would act as Clements and Musker's follow-up to The Great Mouse Detective.

September 11, 2013

Star Trek Enterprise: "The Xindi"

After six weeks of fruitlessly searching the Delphic Expanse, the crew of the Enterprise receive a tip from a freighter captain: a member of the elusive Xindi is a prisoner on a nearby mining planet. While Archer and Reed head planetside to negotiate for the prisoner's release, Dr Phlox attempts to convince Subcommander T'Pol to help Trip with his insomnia.

So begins the great re-imagining of Enterprise, now Star Trek: Enterprise just in case the reason viewers were turning away in droves was because they didn't realise that a science fiction series set on a spaceship called the Enterprise with a Vulcan on the ship and regular appearances by Klingons was actually Star Trek. Season 3 forms one big 26-episode story arc as the Enterprise searches the Delphic Expanse for the mysterious Xindi so as to prevent the destruction of the Earth at their hands. I really hope the arc improves on this first week, otherwise this is going to be a really long season.

Confessions (2010)

At the end of term, a junior high school teacher assembles her class together. She informs them that her four year-old daughter was found dead in the school swimming pool, and that she knows that it was not an accidental death but murder. Furthermore, she knows that two of her students are the murderers. The rest of the film follows the class as they move into a new year, and gradually self-destruct from the after-shocks of that revelation.

Confessions is a tightly wound Japanese thriller. It is stylised to the point of abstraction. It is a bleak and confrontational story, switching its focus from one character to the next to reveal their backstories, inner conflicts and motivations. It's not a "whodunnit" mystery - you know who the murderers are by the end of the first scene - but rather a "whydunnit". Some of the motivations aren't clear until the final 15 minutes.

It's worth warning prospective viewers that this is an often-times challenging movie. Nothing happy happens for the entire two hours. It is a film about murder and slow-boiling revenge, with more than one shocking moment to startle the viewer out of his or her complacency. I adored it, but I can imagine a lot of viewers resenting the fact that they ever saw it at all.

September 10, 2013

Babylon 5: "Matters of Honor"

An Earthforce representative (Tucker Smallwood) arrives on Babylon 5 to investigate the late Lt Keffer's sighting of a Shadow vessel in hyperspace. Also arriving on the station is Marcus Cole (Jason Carter), a Ranger assigned to assist in the coming war against the darkness.

"Matters of Honor" launches Babylon 5's third season in a mostly satisfying way. There are a few bumps and scrapes on its way through, but it's overall a very entertaining hour of television. One element that does deserve praise first and foremost is how it carefully reminds the viewer of all of the important plot points that he or she will need to make sense of the coming year. Almost all the regular cast get a moment - I think the only one I missed was Vir - and each of their personal predicaments is explored and laid out in a tight and seemingly effortless fashion. That's pretty hard to do, and Straczynski deserves praise for managing it.

September 9, 2013

Who50 #8: "The Mind Robber"

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, #8: "The Mind Robber", a five-part 1968 serial written by Peter Ling and Derrick Sherwin and directed by David Maloney.

When I start rattling off the reasons why I think Doctor Who is the greatest TV series of all time, pretty much my top reason is the fact that - due to the versatility of the format - you can tell almost any kind of story with it. You can tell science fiction, supernatural horror ("Hide"), murder mysteries ("Black Orchid"), comedic romps ("Love and Monsters"), political satire ("The Sunmakers"), historical epics ("Marco Polo"), Shakespearean drama ("The Crusades") and even Arthurian fantasy ("Battlefield"), and the format simply will not break.

I think that, with the possible exception of the aforementioned "Love and Monsters", this idea is best exemplified by "The Mind Robber", a five-part foray into fantasy, folklore and above all bug-eyed surreality. This is Doctor Who at its most bizarre, but also at its most inventive. Its strong sense of play is what makes it, for me, one of the 10 best Doctor Who stories of all time.

September 6, 2013

Odds'n'Sods: 6 September 2013

  • This link has been doing the rounds all week, but it's worth re-posting: I am massively impressed with this home-made range of Masters of the Universe Lego. (link)
  • Penny Arcade's Mike Krahulik draws a regularly laugh-out-loud webcomic and his company donates huge amounts of money to charity. If only he'd also stop being so damned offensive. The neverending 'dickwolves' controversy got coverage on The New Statesmen (link) while Elizabeth Sampat urges gamers to "quit fucking going to PAX already" (link). Sampat's article begins with a handy series of links to help you understand exactly what this whole shemozzle is all about.
  • I am very glad to see that, after completing their excellent series of hardcover collections of the Carl Barks Disney comic books, Fantagraphics are pushing ahead with a Don Rosa range as well. Fantagraphics treat comic creators exceptionally well; I'm hoping to find out if Rosa will be receiving royalties for the first time with these books. (link)
  • J.H Williams III and W. Haden Blackman are departing their DC comic book Batwoman after issue #26, citing editorial interference and a refusal by DC management to allow them to depict the marriage of the book's two lead characters (who are both women). This saddens me, not just because of DC refusing to depict a strong lesbian relationship or editorial interference, but also simply because Batwoman has been one of their best titles in recent years. (link)
  • This one's been knocking around in my links drawer for a month, and I honestly can't remember if I posted it before or not: Dark Horse are publishing an Ewoks graphic novel by Zack Giallongo that ties together elements of Return of the Jedi, Caravan of Courage and the Star Wars: Ewoks cartoon. It's out in October, and I'm already excited. What? Shut up. (link) Leave me alone.

The Pull List: 4 September 2013

Last weekend Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples' Saga was awarded the 2013 Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story. The graphic story category was introduced in 2009 to honour excellence in science fiction and fantasy in comic books and graphic novels, and over the past five years has been pretty roundly criticised by many (including myself) for the blinkered, non-representative choices made by the Hugo nominators. Some (again, including myself) have even been arguing that if the Hugo-voting community couldn't get its act together with recognising the best SF/F comics each year, it should probably drop the category completely rather than continuing embarrassing itself. Thankfully, in the case of 2013 I honestly think the best comic took home the prize.

So: assuming the Hugo voters are paying better attention these days, it's worth looking ahead to the 2014 Hugos and highlighting books that should probably be on the ballot by then. One example: Trillium, whose second issue drops this week. It's written and illustrated by Jeff Lemire in a beautiful abstract style that I have absolutely fallen in love with. It's also telling an intriguing story of hallucinogenic flowers, time travel, alien invasions and 1920s explorers. I'm not saying it should be guaranteed a slot in the Hugo nominations - we're only two issues in - but I am saying that if you're a person who generally nominates for the Hugo Awards, you should probably give Trillium a look. It's only two issues in and has been absolutely faultless. (5/5)

One last comment I would make about the 2013 Hugos: after the awards are announced, a full list of all nominated works are released, including the number of nominations each work received. When Carey and Gross' marvellous book The Unwritten didn't make the shortlist, I was surprised. It turns out that it received more than enough nominations to make the shortlist - had the organising committee not separated its nominations across two separate volumes and the comic in general. Poor form, Hugos. Poor form.

Under the cut: reviews of All-New X-Men, Batman, Daredevil: Dark Nights, Earth 2, The Flash, Forever Evil, Justice League Dark, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, X-Men Battle of the Atom and X-Men Legacy.

September 4, 2013

Enterprise: Season 2 in Review

Generally speaking, the second year of a Star Trek series is where the kinks and problems of the first year get shaken out or improved, and the full potential of the series becomes clear. It happened to The Next Generation, and again to Deep Space Nine and Voyager. I was hoping for something similar with Enterprise, since its first season - while enjoyable - did show quite a bit of room for improvement.

Sadly the bottom line is that Season 2 is not as accomplished as Season 1. It's more uneven, and while it does reach the same highs from time to time, those highs simply don't seem to come quite as often as they did in the first year. To be fair I'm not sure it hit the same lows either (with one exception), but as a baseline it simply didn't feel as fresh and enthusiastic. I wonder how much of that is in the show and how much is just my increased familiarity with it: Season 1's greatest appeal was that it was a whole series of Star Trek I had never watched, whereas with Season 2 I know the characters well enough to know when they're being used well, or badly.

September 3, 2013

Enterprise: "The Expanse"

By 2003 it was clear to Paramount executives that Enterprise was not the smash hit they had hoped it would be. While the first season had premiered with more than 12 million viewers in the USA, by the end of its first year the series was attracting less than half that amount. By the end of the second season the viewing figures had dropped below four million and the series was at a serious risk of a premature cancellation. It was determined that a shake-up was required, and that shake-up begins here with "The Expanse", the final episode of Season 2.

An alien probe arrives in Earth's orbit and, without provocation, burns a mile-wide path across the planet's surface that runs from Florida down to Venezuela. Seven million people are dead, and the Enterprise is immediately summoned home to help find out what happened. En route, Archer is kidnapped once again by the Suliban and informed by their time-travelling overlord that the attack came from a species called the Xindi, who launched the offensive from their territory within the "Delphic Expanse". While members of the Enterprise crew come to terms with what has happened, Archer argues with his superiors to launch a counter-offensive.

Who50 #9: "Full Circle"

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, #9: "Full Circle", a four-part 1980 serial written by Andrew Smith and directed by Peter Grimwade.

Of all the stories listed in my Top 50 of Doctor Who, it's "Full Circle" that's probably my sentimental favourite. It's not the best serial of all time - as you can see, even I think there are at least eight other stories that are better. It's also not really one that rates exceptionally highly in people's minds. You rarely hear fans discuss it that often, unless it's to bemoan Adric, probably the most contentious companion in the series' history and who is introduced here. When released onto VHS or DVD, it's always been as the first part of "The E-Space Trilogy" - as if it doesn't really deserve the spotlight on its own but instead has to share the attention with another two stories. And the thing is, it deserves a spotlight. It deserves closer attention and better appreciation, because this is a stunning work of science fiction with great performances, solid direction and a strong script (made all the stronger when you learn it's one of two serials in Doctor Who history to be written by a non-professional fan making their TV writing debut).

This might run a little longer than the usual Who50 entry, but then it deserves it, because this is "Full Circle", the ninth-greatest Doctor Who story ever made.

Popular Posts: August 2013

Welcome to September! The five most popular posts in August are listed below. My reviews of the Babylon 5 episodes "Midnight on the Firing Line" and "Deathwalker" continue to prove remarkably popular, while the 20th anniversary of Secret of Mana last month inspired a lot of people to go read my making-of article on that game.
  • Babylon 5: "Midnight on the Firing Line" (link)
  • Babylon 5: "Deathwalker" (link)
  • Secret of Mana (link)
  • Saludos Amigos (1942) (link)
  • Fun with Stats: Doctor Who viewing figures (link)
As for the five most popular posts actually written in the past month, why they would be:
  • Saludos Amigos (1942) (link)
  • Five Films: Peter Capaldi (link)
  • The Pull List: 14 August 2013 (link)
  • Who50: "The Massacre of St Bartholemew's Eve" (link)
  • Under the Dome: "Imperfect Circles" (link)

September 1, 2013

Enterprise: "Bounty"

Captain Archer is kidnapped by a Tellarite bounty hunter, who plans to sell him to the Klingons - who are still hunting for the Captain after he escaped from Rura Penthe. Meanwhile a bacterial infection causes T'Pol to enter the Vulcan "pon farr" several years early, leading her to start behaving erratically towards Dr Phlox.

This episode has two storylines, one of which made me go "ehh" and the other of which made me go "ugh". I figured we'd go with the bad news before the... well, not the good news per se, more like the generic and indifferent news.

When Enterprise was launched I took one look at the slim, sexualised Vulcan science officer and immediately began dreading the episode when Subcommander T'Pol would experience pon farr, the Vulcan sexual cycle. When the concept was introduced it made for a pretty entertaining episode of Star Trek ("Amok Time"), but a combination of male writers, a female Vulcan and a propensity to show the character off in a variety of tight-fitting jumpsuits had me fearing the worst. "Bounty" is about as bad as I was expecting.