December 31, 2015

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "The Host"

It's 13 May 1991, and time for more Star Trek: The Next Generation.

While the Enterprise delivers the Trill ambassador Odan (Franc Luz) to a growing crisis on Peliar Zell, During the journey Dr Crusher (Gates McFadden) and Odan have embarked on a passionate lover affair. When a terrorist attack mortally wounds Odan, Crusher is shocked to discover the secret of his species - an intelligent worm-like symbiont that may be transferred from one host to the next. With a new Trill host unavailable, the Odan symbiont is transplanted into Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) - but can Odan and Crusher's romance continue under such unusual conditions?

In terms of Star Trek history "The Host" will always be known for introducing the Trill, a symbiotic species comprising a succession of humanoid hosts and a centuries-old worm-like creature that sits inside their abdomen. Deep Space Nine will draw a huge amount of story and background detail from the regular character of Jadzia (later Ezri) Dax. The Trill presented here, Odan, bears little resemblance to that later take on the Trill concept. Here his species is a mystery to the Federation, they are unable to use a transporter in case it kills the symbiont, and there's nary a spotty neck to be seen - just a standard generic lumpy alien head.

Lupin the Third (2014)

Lupin III is a Japanese action manga that premiered all the way back in 1968, and follows a gang of international thieves on adventures around the world - always one step ahead of a dogged Interpol detective trying to arrest them. It has always been a neat blend of over-the-top chases, action, international intrigue, and comedy. So successful was the manga - the creation of writer/artist Monkey Punch - that it soon spawned numerous anime spin-offs: TV shows, feature films and original animated videos (OAVs). There have even been two stage musicals.

Last year Ryuhei Kitamura (Azumi, Godzilla: Final Wars) directed an all-new live-action adaptation of the manga. It is the second live-action film, following an earlier attempt back in 1974, and attempts to update the characters and the storylines to a contemporary setting. Sadly it's only partially successful. While it is a fast-paced, colourful action film, there is something rather hollow on the inside. It gets the visual aesthetic of the manga nailed to perfection, but somehow never quite nails the energy and joie de vivre of either the manga or its numerous animated counterparts.

December 30, 2015

The Pull List: 23 December 2015, Part II

When Marvel relaunched Daredevil last month, I was not outrageously impressed. The neat blend of lighter and darker tones that had typified Mark Waid's run were gone, and the comic had returned to the bleak, miserable outlook that had dominated its storylines since the 1980s. I figured it was worth persevering for another issue, however, in case I had judged this retrograde shift too harshly. Charles Soule is a great writer, after all, and Ron Garney a great artist.

The bottom line is that while they are a sensational creative team, they are being asked to write a book that readers have seen many, many times before. This is Daredevil played safe. There are no real surprises - a new villain doesn't really count when they feel like all the villains of previous stories - and nothing to jump out and stretch Matt Murdock in new directions. It is well written and paced - although I'm not enamoured with new sidekick Blindspot - and the art is both well drawn and nicely coloured. It simply isn't that interesting. Fans craving more old-school Daredevil adventures may really dig this. I'm interesting in something with a fresher angle than this. Marvel used to have it, but with the change in volume they've taken it away. (3/5)

Marvel. Written by Charles Soule. Art by Ron Garney. Colours by Matt Milla.

Under the cut: reviews of Aquaman, Doctor Who and Nameless.

Jellyfish Eyes (2013)

There is a long, rich tradition of fine artists making a transition into filmmaking. It is, after all, just another medium for expression- and a primarily visual one at that. American painter Julian Schnabel made the jump with his excellent 1996 biographical drama Basquiat, before moving on to acclaimed films like Before Night Falls and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Photographer Sam Taylor Wood kicked off with a biopic as well: 2009's Nowhere Boy, about the young John Lennon. Steve McQueen directed Hunter and Shame before hitting the Hollywood big time with the 2013 drama 12 Years a Slave. Jump back a few decades and you'll hit Andy Warhol, and in another few you encounter Jean Cocteau. Some of these artists-turned-directors do better in their new medium than others, but usually they are at the very minimum able to make interesting films.

One of the most recent to make the attempt is Japanese artist Takashi Murakami. He is famous for his so-called 'superflat' art style, and his canny blend of ultra-commercial elements, anime, Japanese popular culture and traditional art. His work is extraordinarily commercial, selling associate merchandise and mass-produced copies by the truckload. He is, in that respect, a particularly strong candidate to make the jump to directing his own commercial feature film. This he did, in 2013, when he wrote, produced and co-directed (with horror filmmaker Yoshihiro Nishimura) the film Jellyfish Eyes.

December 29, 2015

Babylon 5: "The Corps is Mother, the Corps is Father"

It's 15 April 1998, and time for more Babylon 5.

PsiCop Alfred Bester (Walter Koenig) is dispatched once more to Babylon 5 to apprehend a runaway telepath - this time with two rookies along for the ride. Do they have what it takes to properly serve the PsiCorps?

With the bulk of Babylon 5's story arcs wrapped up, there is the opportunity in Season 5 to relax a little and undertake a few experiments in story and creative style. Already the season has given viewers the janitor's eye view of proceedings in "A View from the Gallery", and explored conversations with the dead in "Day of the Dead". Now it tries what turns out to be the most effective experiment of the bunch: an entire episode told from the point of view of Bester and the PsiCorps.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Half a Life"

It's 6 May 1991 and time for more Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Lwaxana Troi (Majel Barrett) has returned to the USS Enterprise. Her return coincides with the arrival of Timicin (David Ogden Stiers), a scientist working to restore the dying sun around which his home planet orbits. Lwaxana and Timicin quickly enter into a romance, only for Lwaxana to learn that a custom of his home planet will see Timicin commit ritual suicide within days.

"Half a Life" is a genuine surprise, chiefly because it is a Lwaxana Troi episode that is not a comedy. Instead this brassy, self-confident character - usually presented for strained laughs at her expense - is the centre of a sensitively written and rather tragic romance. It's also an episode that presents a very different alien culture in a surprisingly respectful manner.

December 28, 2015

Spy (2015)

Paul Feig is rapidly becoming one of those directors whose films I will simply watch based on his name alone. While he had been an actor on American television for some time, and a writer for almost as long - he even created Freaks and Geeks - it was his 2011 comedy Bridesmaids that really made me sit up and take notice. It was gut-bustingly funny, and seemed particularly notable for using an ensemble cast of women to tell the sort of over-the-top gross-out comedy you would typically only see about men. His 2013 follow-up The Heat teamed up Bridesmaids co-star Melissa McCarthy with Sandra Bullock for a buddy cop movie - once again highlighting women in a traditionally male sort of story.

He has been at it again in 2015 with Spy, once again featuring Melissa McCarthy - this time as a CIA analyst forced to head undercover when the identities of the front-line agents are exposed. While it doesn't quite reach the heights of Bridesmaids, it does feel stronger than The Heat - and I liked The Heat a hell of a lot. So basically this is a really funny movie comedy.

Babylon 5: "The Ragged Edge"

It's 8 April 1998, and time for Babylon 5.

Continued attacks upon Alliance freighters lead Garibaldi (Jerry Doyle) on a mission to the Drazi home world. G'Kar (Andreas Katsulas) returns to the station and finds he has become a religious icon to the Narn people.

With the telepath arc seemingly concluded, attention turns back to the growing threat of Alliance freighters being massacred along the borders from one government to the next. As viewers we are in a privileged position: we know the attacks are being undertaken from Centauri Prime in secret, at the behest of the Drakh that are hiding there. As a result there's just a little bit of tension taken away from Garibaldi's investigation, since we basically spend an episode waiting for him to catch up.

December 27, 2015

The Pull List: Best Comics of 2015 Not Elsewhere Classified

It seemed a decent enough plan to recount my favourite comic books of the year by splitting them by genre. One post for superhero books, one for science fiction, and one for fantasy and horror. The problem with this approach is that it left a pile of other books I really enjoyed in 2015 but which didn't fit easily into any of those genres.

As a result, this is the collected "other" books: the ones that I really enjoyed, but which simply didn't fit easily anywhere else. It includes comedy books, two TV cartoon tie-ins, comics written for children, and a work of historical fiction.

It's great that comic books have become such a diverse field in recent years. At this point it feels as if any lack of variety is due more to my spending habits than to any deficiencies in the industry.

One more time: let's kick off with the runners-up, before shifting to my top three.

Doctor Who: "The Husbands of River Song"

I am genuinely not sure what I should make of "The Husbands of River Song". It is Doctor Who's 2015 Christmas special, finally reuniting the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) with long-running associate - and wife - Professor River Song (Alex Kingston). It's the first encounter between River and Capaldi's Doctor, which makes the episode feel as if it should be something of an event. It is also a Christmas special, most of which since 2005 have been lower-then-average quality, more often than not rather silly, and occasionally quite irksome in their 'don't question the details, just have fun' tone.

In the end the episode basically does both things at once. There is some beautiful interplay between the Doctor and River that is sometimes funny and sometimes sad, and often perfectly observed. These moments are wedged in between several scenes of eye-rolling tedium, and jokes that fall flat on their face more often than they elicit a smile. It is like two episodes that you have to view simultaneously. One is wonderful and one is really not worth the audience's time. What is a viewer to do?

December 26, 2015

The Pull List: Best Fantasy Comics of 2015

Fantasy comics have trailed behind their science fiction cousins in the last couple of years, but each month it feels as if a few more have been added to the pile. Generally speaking they seem to struggle to match the popularity of their SF and superhero-based cousins, but hopefully as more readers discover them that will change. More than a few books that deserved to be huge - like last year's Umbral from Johnston and Mitten - wound up floundering in terms of sales.

Fantasy is a pretty broad genre, and for this list I've expanded the definition to include a lot of peripheral stuff, including one horror book and another based around anthropomorphic animals. Genre definitions are fluid, and I figured in this case I'd really take advantage of that.

So without further delay, let's kick off with a look at a few runners-up: books that I certainly loved this year in the broad fantasy genre, but which didn't quite managed to break into the top three.

December 25, 2015

Survivors: "Garland's War"

It's 21 May 1975, and time for more Survivors.

When Abby (Carolyn Seymour) hears word of some boys living in a nearby country estate, she abandons her friends in the night and drives to find out if one of them is her missing son. Once there she stumbles into a violent conflict between the group of men who have assumed control of the estate and Jimmy Garland (Richard Heffer), the charismatic army veteran who actually owns it.

On initial inspection "Garland's War" seems like a great episode of Survivors. It throws Abby into the middle of an ongoing cat-and-mouse game between Garland and the group of men that have violently supplanted him from his own home. It provides some action, a few surprising twists, and even a light touch of romance between Garland and Abby. Unfortunately the moment the viewer begins to think about what they've seen the entire episode falls apart.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "The Drumhead"

It's 29 April 1991, and time for more Star Trek: The Next Generation.

When a Klingon scientist is caught selling the Enterprise's schematics to the Romulan Empire, and the ship's warp drive appears to have been sabotaged, an investigation is immediately launched to root out any traitors or collaborators. Retired Admiral Norah Satie (Jean Simmons) is assigned to lead the investigation, but soon Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) finds himself questioning her methods.

"The Drumhead" is a bottle show, where a production saves money already pegged for more expensive episodes by shooting with a small guest cast on pre-existing sets. They're fairly easy to spot in Star Trek: they're the ones set entirely on the Enterprise with no away missions, and by and large scenes in one room of people talking. They can be awful, particularly when they're made as the dreaded clips show (see "Shades of Gray" in Season 2), but they can also be remarkable. Thankfully "The Drumhead" is one of the best ones.

December 24, 2015

The Pull List: Best Science Fiction Comics of 2015

Science fiction is a genre that, in recent years, has really exploded in popularity in American comic books. It used to be you would struggle to find just one or two books - even then they would more often than not be a Star Wars tie-in or a Marvel or DC Universe title. Now there are plenty on sale from numerous publishers both major and independent.

I'm not outrageously surprised. Science fiction is a great fit for a visual medium like comic books. The limits of the stories are pretty much the limits of what an artist is capable of drawing. The French have been producing outstanding science fiction graphic albums for decades, of course, so it is no surprise to see quite a few American books in recent years emulate the French style of art and story.

As a science fiction fan first and foremost, I have to say this burst of comic books in my favourite genre has been delightful to see. Some of my absolute favourite books of the year in any genre can be found in this list. Let's start with a few runners-up.

Survivors: "Gone to the Angels"

It's 14 May 1975, and time for more of Survivors.

Abby (Carolyn Seymour) wants to re-visit her missing son's school, to see if any boys have returned. On the way she, Jenny (Lucy Fleming) and Greg (Ian McCullough) find two orphaned children - Lizzie and John - as well as a paranoid, anxious man named Lincoln (Peter Miles). They also hear word of a group of Christian hermits nearby known as 'the Angels', and wonder if they might have seen or met Abby's son.

Things do not get any cheerier in this fifth episode of Survivors. Within minutes the episode has led to a pair of children sharing a house with the corpse of one of their grandmothers, and soon after a terrified Lincoln stumbles upon Greg and shoots him in the arm. By the time Abby leaves Jenny and Greg to go visit the Angels there is already a pall hanging over the episode - what dreadful thing is inevitably going to happen when she gets there?

December 23, 2015

The Pull List: 23 December 2015, Part I

Boom Studios seem to run a really nice line in miniseries. I've really enjoyed a bunch of them this year, including Broken World and Plunder - and particularly Wild's End. It looks like they might be onto another winner with Venus, a new four-part science fiction series written by Rick Loverd with art by Huang Danlan.

Set in the mid-22nd century, the book follows an American mission to colonise Venus. An alliance of foreign powers from around the Pacific have already laid claim to the more habitable Mars, leaving the USA to do its best with the hotter, incredibly inhospitable Venus. Suffice to say that from the outset things do not go well for this critical mission.

This is a solid, well-considered first issue. It introduces a cast of characters, a dramatic setting, and raises a lot of questions to be answered down the line. If there's a major criticism it's that not quite enough happens here. It's a good set-up, but a lower panel count per page really keeps the story from kicking into high gear. Still, if you're looking for a science fiction comic with a low commitment (four issues between now and March) this is definitely worth tracking down. It has a lot of promise. (3/5)

Boom Studios. Written by Rick Loverd. Art by Huang Danlan. Colours by Marcio Menyz.

Under the cut: reviews of Darth Vader, Robin: Son of Batman and Saga.

December 22, 2015

The Pull List: Best Superhero Comics of 2015

All things considered it has been a fairly shaky year for the superhero comic genre. DC Comics continued to flounder creatively with the majority of its titles. Marvel spent much of the year wallowing in it's overly involved, maddeningly disruptive Secret Wars event series - not to mention an endless series of relaunches and re-numberings. Smaller publishers like Valiant and Dark Horse produced some pretty good stuff, but struggled to get their books in front of an audience.

On one level that's a little disappointing, but on another it's maybe good news for the American comic book as an artistic medium. American comics have been near-exclusively slaved to the superhero genre for decades, and it's only recently that the industry has started to properly expand into different genres and types of stories. I don't think superheroes are ever going fall entirely out of favour, but I do see the scale of DC and Marvel's books slowly contract over the next few years.

Despite some rocky territory in 2015, there were a bunch of books worth mentioning. Let's begin with some honourable mentions.

Babylon 5: "Phoenix Rising"

It's 1 April 1998, and time for more Babylon 5.

The ongoing crisis on the station reaches a critical phase, as several telepaths take hostages in Medlab and Bester (Walter Koenig) decides to take matters into his own hands.

This is a really frustrating episode of Babylon 5. It frustrates because half of the episode is absolutely brilliant and well-performed, with strong character work and great dialogue, and half is teeth-grindingly awful with bad dialogue, poorly thought-out motivations and a nonsensical climax. I'm not sure anything or anyone could have saved the episode's dreadful and melodramatic ending, but to his credit Walter Koenig does his best. With Andreas Katsulas and Peter Jurasik consigned to comic relief duty for much of the season so far, it's really been down to Koenig to provide a quality performance and keep the series somewhat enjoyable.

December 21, 2015

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Qpid"

It's 22 April 1991, and time for more Star Trek: The Next Generation.

When the Enterprise hosts an archaeology conference, Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) is reunited with Vash (Jennifer Hettrick), the woman with whom he shared an adventure on Risa a year earlier. Their reunion is interrupted by Q (John De Lancie), the omnipotent entity who has decided it is time to repay Picard's former assistance with a gift.

Time has come around again for The Next Generation to present its annual Q episode. After making his debut in "Encounter at Farpoint" the character has returned once a year like clockwork to tease and torment the Enterprise crew, usually in a humorous fashion. This episode is no exception, presenting an out-and-out comedy in which Q sends Picard and his bridge crew to Sherwood Forest for an adventure as Robin Hood and his Merry Men.

December 20, 2015

The Pull List: 16 December 2015, Part III

The Wicked + the Divine ends its third story arc this week. I'm still not entirely sure what I've thought of it. While regular artists Jamie McKelvie and Matt Wilson have been away producing art for Phonogram, a string of one-off guest artists have been illustrated Kieron Gillen's scripts - each one focusing on a different member of the Pantheon. This one focuses on the Egyptian goddess Sakhmet, and comes with artwork from Brandon Graham.

I'm not entirely certain how I feel about this particular arc. Without consistent art, and structured as a series of one-off character profiles, it has lacked the urgency and the clarity that marked earlier instalments. I've found myself less desperate to read each issue, and less impressed with each issue as I read it. It's still a good comic, but of late I'm not sure it's been a great comic.

Brandon Graham picks up the book's game a lot, but then he's one of my favourite comic artists. He has a nice loose style that really jumps out in comparison to the earlier issues. Sadly I'm just not feeling the energy I used to get with this comic's earlier arcs. Without an easily relatable human lead, it all feels a bit too distanced to be dramatically effective.

I'm still committed to The Wicked + the Divine, but it's up to the fourth arc - beginning in March - to keep me committed for the long-term. I really hope Gillen gets his groove back. (3/5)

Under the cut: reviews of Darth Vader and The Autumnlands.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "The Nth Degree"

It's 1 April 1991, and time for more Star Trek: The Next Generation.

After the Enterprise comes into contact with an alien probe, Lieutenant Reg Barclay (Dwight Schultz) starts to experience an accelerated increased in his IQ. As his powers grow far beyond that of any human being in existence, he begins to present a threat to the Enterprise's safety.

Back in Season 3 The Next Generation ran an unexpected single-episode experiment where the regular cast were sidelined in favour of a one-off guest character: Reg Barclay, an under-confident and awkward junior engineer, whose frustrations with his superior officers led him to create a fantasy world on the holodeck. The episode was a hit both with the production team and with viewers, so it's no surprise to see them return in Season 4 to revisit the character. It does feel a bit different this time around, however, I suspect because in his first appearance Barclay was created to service a narrative whereas this time around the narrative has been created to service Barclay.

December 19, 2015

The Pull List: 16 December 2015, Part II

The Spire is one of the best comics on the market right now. In terms of storyline it's a murder mystery in a massive castle-like city - the Spire - in the middle of a toxic desert. Sha is the guard captain assigned to investigate the murders. She's also Sculpted, a magically transformed warrior race that suffers at the hands of city-wide prejudice. She's also secretly sleeping with the Spire's princess. As the murders appear to be taking place in the lead-up to a critical peace treaty negotiation, there's a particular urgency in seeing them resolved. Writer Simon Spurrier has put together something that's both gripping and familiar while also feeling quite evocative and fresh.

Tonally the book has the sort of spiky, cynical edge one might get from Warren Ellis or Antony Johnston's The Fuse. Aesthetically it's a neat blend of influences - Jean "Moebius" Giraud and Hayao Miyazaki are the two that leap out most obviously. Jeff Stokely has a wonderful and distinctive aesthetic as well, that manages to draw in these influences but make his own work still seem distinctive and highly appealing.

Is this the best fantasy comic on the shelves at the moment? I'm inclined to say yes. If the remainder of the series continues at this level of quality, it's going to make one hell of a collected edition. (5/5)

Under the cut: reviews of Batgirl, The Mighty Thor and Ms Marvel.

The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies (2014)

Now that Peter Jackson's bloated, self-indulgent and thoroughly messy Hobbit trilogy has been and gone, it is genuinely difficult to look back and ascertain precisely how things managed to get this far out of control. It beggars belief. How can the writer/director who successfully adapted The Lord of the Rings, a lengthy and complex novel widely considered unfilmable, do such a terrible job adapting The Hobbit, a significantly shorter and rather simple adventure story? How did this project get warped so wildly out of all proportion? The Battle of Five Armies, the final instalment of this Hobbit trilogy of films, is the worst of the three. It's also the worst sort of bad movie - the one where you look at the talent involved, remember their earlier successes in filmmaking, and simply fail to work out how it all went so terribly, embarrassingly wrong.

I'm not throwing these words around lightly, and honestly do wish this was a great film. I adore The Hobbit. It is a childhood favourite. It has the potential to form a delightful three-hour fantasy film, and Peter Jackson is demonstrably capable of making it. He didn't. Since the final release of The Battle of Five Armies: Extended Edition (a mind-boggling concept, given this film's theatrical release takes 144 minutes to adapt about 45 pages) Jackson has gone on the record admitting that he simply made much of this third and final film up. He improvised on set, threw together the lengthy battle sequences and ultimately had to delay it's release by about six months just to get the thing completed.

Do I have sympathy for Jackson, who only signed up to make The Hobbit when Guillermo Del Toro jumped out of the director's chair? Of course I do. Nobody wants to make a bad movie. At the same time I'm unable to sugar-coat it: Jackson didn't just make a bad movie, he made three.

December 18, 2015

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Identity Crisis"

It's 25 March 1991 and time for more Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Five years ago Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton) accompanied an away mission on Tarchannen III. Now three of the five officers involved have vanished, and Geordi is reunited with the fifth to solve the mystery of their disappearance before it happens to him as well.

"Identity Crisis" is a noble failure. There's an intriguing idea at its centre: an alien infection that basically transforms its host into an alien, who then travels to its new home planet in order to be with its own mutated kind. It's an opportunity for great body horror, and that might be one of the episode's major problems. Star Trek: The Next Generation is essentially family entertainment, and the sort of disturbing transformations that lend themselves to this sort of story concept really don't lend themselves to the relatively neat and clean style of the series overall. As a result it's an episode that pulls its punches and winds up weakened and a little dull as a result.

The Pull List: 16 December 2015, Part I

Southern Cross has been a great little science fiction horror hybrid, telling the story of a woman on a spaceship - the Southern Cross - on its way to Titan. This woman, Alex Braith, boarded the ship to solve the mystery of her sister's disappearance. Before long she was seeing ghosts, people were having visions, and the Southern Cross' journey started looking a lot less like a murder mystery and a lot more like Paul W.S. Anderson's Event Horizon.

Issue #6 ends what I assumed was a six-issue miniseries, in a typically apocalyptic and dramatic fashion. It turns out it's merely the end of the first story arc, and the fact that this series is now going to extend beyond where you'd normally find the ending is fascinating. I can't wait to see which direction Becky Cloonan takes the book in next.

Cloonan is a remarkable talent. I first noticed her as an artist, but here she's engaged purely as a writer and is doing an excellent job of it. Andy Belanger's artwork is very boldly inked, which gives the book a very distinctive look, and those inks get to play centre stage thanks to Lee Loughridge's subtle, almost monochromatic colours. It's getting to the point where Image has a surfeit of quality science fiction comic books. Southern Cross is absolutely one of them. The first collected edition is due in stores this coming January. (5/5)

Under the cut: reviews of Batman & Robin Eternal, Ultimate End and We Are Robin.

December 17, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

As a child of the early 1980s, the coolest thing in the world was naturally Star Wars. I bought into that franchise wholesale. I repeatedly watched Star Wars on an increasingly scratchy VHS tape. I bought all of the action figures I could afford with my pocket money, and begged for the others as birthday and Christmas presents. When Return of the Jedi came to Australia in October 1983 I could hardly contain my excitement; I'm not sure there was a film in my childhood that I was anticipating more. When it ended I couldn't wait for George Lucas to make Episode VII. As it turns out the wait lasted 32 years. Sure there were the prequels, but regardless of what people think of their respective merits they weren't ever the same. They were telling me what had happened before. The seven year-old watching the closing credits of Return of the Jedi wanted to know what happened next.

How is a film like that supposed to cope with that sort of anticipation? What film could possibly meet those expectations, or tap effectively into so much pent-up nostalgia? Purely by being made at all The Force Awakens is tempting fate. It isn't simply required to be as good as the original Star Wars trilogy - it needs to be as satisfying as our collective memories of it - and it is, much to my delight and surprise. We can discuss and dissect its merits for years to come, but for now - and this really is the important bit - it is precisely the Star Wars sequel I think we needed. If you haven't seen it yet, which is probably likely, then that's all you need to know. It is absolutely a Star Wars movie, and it's absolutely a good one. Stop reading right now and go join the queue.

10 Doctor Who enemies that deserve a rematch

One of the advantages of a series like Doctor Who is that it has such a long, rich history of aliens, villains and rubber-suit monsters just itching for a rematch with the Doctor. Since returning in 2005 the series has brought back all manner of original series foes, some obvious (Daleks, Cybermen, the Master) and some a little more surprising (the Macra).

You would think that after nine seasons and a pile of specials that this particular well might have run dry, but I think there are plenty of monsters and baddies from the series' first 26 years that could make a real impact with contemporary viewers. Here are my picks.

December 16, 2015

Kiki's Delivery Service (2014)

Mention Kiki's Delivery Service and the mind turns understandably to Hayao Miyazaki's delightful 1989 animated film. What many Studio Ghibli fans might not realise, however, is that Miyazaki's film was an adaptation of a hugely successful children's novel: Witch's Express Home Delivery, by Eiko Kadono. That book, which was published in 1985, was ultimately popular enough for Kadono to write four sequels - the most recent in 2009.

Given the overwhelming prominence of Miyazaki's animated adaptation on Japan's pop culture landscape, it actually seems quite a provocative move by Kadokawa Films to produce a new live-action film. It's immediately going to suffer comparisons with the earlier movie, and given the extraordinary quality of that earlier work it's a contest that the new film is going to lose.

In some respects that's a shame, because this new Kiki's Delivery Service is a breezy, broadly entertaining children's fantasy with a lot to recommend. It's not perfect, but it does deserve a better chance than a lot of online critics appear to be giving it.

Doctor Who: "The Vampires of Venice"

It's 8 May 2010 and time for more Doctor Who.

To save Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory's (Arthur Darvill) relationship, the Doctor (Matt Smith) takes them to 16th century Venice. There they immediately stumble upon a secretive academy for teenage girls, that appears to be transforming its students into vampires.

"The Vampires of Venice" boasts a fabulous setting, and thanks to a location shoot in Trogir, Croatia, it actually looks better than pretty much every previous attempt at a historical background. This is a remarkably pretty episode. It also boasts a great set-up for a Doctor Who story: aliens disguised as humans who get mistaken for vampires. Unfortunately this is another all-too-regular case of a concept not having enough time to properly play out to the audience's satisfaction. There's enough promise in Toby Whithouse's script to easily extend to two parts, but with the constraints of 21st century Who, we only get 50 minutes. That's five more minutes than usual, but it still feels uncomfortably cramped and cut short.

December 15, 2015

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Night Terrors"

It's 18 March 1991, and time for more Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The Enterprise has been dispatched to locate the USS Brattain, which has gone missing while on a mission. When they locate the ship, they find the entire crew is dead bar one catatonic Betazoid officer. An investigation reveals that the Brattain's crew slowly went insane and murdered one another - and now the same phenomenon is affecting the Enterprise.

There's always a problem with these kinds of hallucinatory episodes, in which the characters all start to have creepy and horrific experiences that turn out to be entirely in their own minds. That problem is that there really isn't anywhere particularly dramatic for these stories to go: weird things happen for 30 minutes, and then the real problem is understood and fixed and the Enterprise goes on its way.

Babylon 5: "A Tragedy of Telepaths"

It's 25 March 1998 and time for more Babylon 5.

As Byron (Robin Atkin Downes) and his telepaths seal themselves up inside Down Below, Captain Lochley (Tracy Scoggins) takes emergency measures to end the crisis. Over on Centauri Prime, G'Kar (Andreas Katsulas) and Londo (Peter Jurasik) make an unexpected discovery. Along the galaxy's borders, cargo transports continue to be annihilated by an unknown enemy.

Byron is very upset this episode because a splinter group of his telepath cult have assaulted a security officer and broken into the station's armoury. The situation must be resolved through peaceful negotiation, he cries, which doesn't really fit with the manner in which he dived in and threatened the entire Interstellar Alliance last episode. It also doesn't explain why he's ordered his remaining loyal telepaths to use their powers to seal up the doors and keep station security from putting them all into custody. This whole storyline is a mess of contradictions, and as I noted in the previous review it's all based around a guest character - the regulars are by-and-large confined to the periphery. Even Lyta (Patricia Tallman) isn't really getting a lot to do despite spending the bulk of the episode by Byron's side.

December 14, 2015

Scandal (1950)

A painter named Ichiro Aoe (Toshiro Mifune) meets a pop singer named Miyako Saigo (Yoshiko Yamaguchi) in the mountains. She has missed her bus, so he offers her a ride back to her hotel on his motorbike. They are photographed together by an opportunistic paparazzo, and a tabloid magazine prints a lurid - and false - story about their love affair. A furious Aoe hires a lawyer (Takashi Shimura) to sue the magazine, but his lawyer may not have his best interests at heart.

1950 was the year Akira Kurosawa made the transition from talented director to international sensation, thanks to his phenomenally successful jidai-geki drama Rashomon. Before he reached that career milestone, however, he directed this: his tenth feature film, and a sharp indictment on Japan's increasingly powerful news media. While generally regarded as one of his lesser films - and that's an assessment with which I'd have to agree - it does pack a fairly solid punch in its first half. The social issues with which Kurosawa tackles here remain depressingly relevant today, 65 years after the film was released.

The Pull List: 9 December 2015, Part III

Andrew Maclean is doing something really stunning with Head Lopper, a quarterly fantasy comic about a bearded swordsman dragging the severed head of a witch around behind him. It's quarterly because he's telling his story in big 50-odd page chunks, which actually makes everything a lot more readable and immersive. You can really chew into an issue, and the big, bold panel layouts don't mean you're getting starved for story.

This issue sees Norgal make camp in the ruins of some massive ancient graveyard, which immediately leads to an attack by ghosts and then zombie giants (or is that giant zombies?). The action is beautifully but simply expressed, and the banter between Norgal and the beheaded witch Agatha is witty and sharp. There's also some nice world-building in between, as the story cuts away to other characters and a broader story going forward.

I mostly like this comic because it feels as if Maclean is actually trying to do something fresh and interesting with the standard comic book format. The longer length really does help it out and make it feel a lot more entertaining than your average action-based title. The bottom line: this is a really great comic book. (5/5)

Image. Story and art by Andrew Maclean.

Under the cut: reviews of Doctor Who: The Eighth Doctor and Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor.

December 13, 2015

Babylon 5: "In the Kingdom of the Blind"

It's 18 March 1998, and time for more Babylon 5.

Byron (Robin Atkin Downs) ups the ante in his fight with the Interstellar Alliance, and gets his army of telepaths to scan the various ambassadors' minds for damaging intelligence. Londo (Peter Jurasik) and G'Kar (Andreas Katsulas) return to Centauri Prime to begin preparations for Londo's ascendancy to the throne.

Byron's attempt to blackmail the Alliance probably couldn't come at a worse time, since a mysterious force is destroying their ships along various trade routes and everybody is more than a little paranoid and on edge. Telling their collected ambassadors to give him a planet or have their state secrets revealed to all and sundry probably wasn't the wisest move. In fact it's a ridiculously stupid move, and one wonders nobody in Byron's camp tapped him on the shoulder and told him so. There's not even a build-up. There's no attempt to negotiate, or to plead a case to the Alliance Council. Byron simply goes straight for the threats - and it's pretty clear already he's just signed his own death warrant. He's not just an unlikeable character, but a stupid one as well.

The Pull List: 13 August 1986

Welcome back to August 1986 for a quick look at what's out on comic book store shelves this week.

The second issue of Watchmen, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' widely hyped maxi-series, continues to impress. The Comedian's funeral brings back some bad memories for those who knew him, leading into some pretty confronting and upsetting material in the flashbacks. Meanwhile Rorschach continues his investigation into the Comedian's murder.

Alan Moore's script is exceptional, showing a slow, awful degradation of superheroes from the bright, colourful heroes of the 1950s into being the brutal, violent characters they seem to be turning into today. What's really impressing me is the panel layouts, ascribed to a neat nine-panel grid on each page. It gives both issues thus far a very measured, almost hypnotic quality. Dave Gibbons' artwork is just perfectly pitched as well, providing an even blend of abstracted, emotive art and a cold realism.

This is a bold, immensely fascinating series, and I can't wait to find out how things develop over the remaining issues. (5/5)

DC Comics. Written by Alan Moore. Art by Dave Gibbons. Colours by John Higgins.

Under the cut: reviews of Blue Beetle, Blue Devil and Doctor Strange.

Doctor Who: "Flesh and Stone"

It's 1 May 2010, and time for more Doctor Who.

The Doctor (Matt Smith) and his companions are on the run from the Weeping Angels through a forest inside a spaceship - but while the Angels stalk them, something even more dangerous is developing in the heart of the ship.

Steven Moffat originally created the Weeping Angels for a two-part story for Season 3, "Silence in the Library" and "The Forest of the Dead". When other writing commitments restricted his availability his two-episode slot was shifted to Helen Raynor for "Daleks in Manhattan" and "Evolution of the Daleks". A short while later he found enough time to contribute a single episode, and so co-opted the Angels into their own story "Blink". The following year, with more time, Moffat finally wrote "Silence in the Library"and replaced the Angels with a new monster called the Vashta Nerada. I'm explaining all this because in many respects "The Time of Angels" and "Flesh and Stone" feel pretty much like what I imagine a Weeping Angels version of "Silence in the Library" and "The Forest of the Dead" would have been like. This episode even has a forest in it.

December 12, 2015

The Pull List: 9 December 2015, Part II

Batman & Robin Eternal #10 fully re-introduces Azrael and the Order of St Dumas to the DC Universe - this time seemingly tied in quite closely to the mysterious "Mother" who acts as the villain for this series. I suppose it's one way to make Mother an instantly significant figure in the Batman mythos. Earlier issues of this weekly series have tied her into the origins of Cassandra Cain as well. One wonders how many supporting and spin-off characters are going to get tied into this by time the series is over.

This issue is fairly well plotted, but feels a little flat on the scripting and dialogue level. The artwork is reasonable enough, but all in all it feels little the book is getting a little weak and bogged down. The focus this issue on Red Robin and Red Hood joining Bane to fight Azrael just felt rather ordinary.

I'm not a huge fan of Azrael either. He was introduced as a lead-in to a specific 1990s story arc, and outside of that storyline I'm not sure he has a decent enough purpose to bring back into the fold. Back in the day DC pushed him really hard with a solo book that struggled for more than five years. In today's market it's hard to imagine such a book surviving more than eight issues.

I really hope Batman & Robin Eternal picks up again, because for the first six or seven issues it really felt like DC was onto a winner. Now it seems like it's lost its way. (2/5)

DC Comics. Script by Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly. Story by James Tynion IV and Scott Snyder. Art by Roge Antonio and Geraldo Borges. Colours by Allen Passalaqua.

Under the cut: it's a Batman special, with new reviews of Batman, Grayson, Gotham Academy and Detective Comics.

December 11, 2015

Doctor Who: "The Time of Angels"

It's 24 April 2010, and time for more Doctor Who.

The Doctor (Matt Smith) and Amy (Karen Gillan) come to the aid of the Doctor's mysterious future associate River Song (Alex Kingston). The starship Byzantium has crashed into a long-abandoned stone labyrinth on the planet Alfava Metraxis, and its cargo - a Weeping Angel - has escaped into the maze. Together with a squadron of clerics they head into the labyrinth to catch and disable the Angel before it's too late.

"The Time of Angels" was the first episode of Doctor Who that Matt Smith and Karen Gillan made, and if you weren't told that you wouldn't have guessed it. They leap into their roles seemingly fully-formed: engaging, believable and appealing. They're joined by Alex Kingston as River Song, making her second appearance in the series after 2008's "Silence in the Library". On top of that it brings back the Weeping Angels, the villains of the immensely popular and critically acclaimed Season 3 episode "Blink". The difference in quality between this episode and the last ("Victory of the Daleks") is so pronounced it's liable to give viewers whiplash.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Galaxy's Child"

It's 11 March 1991 and time for more Star Trek: The Next Generation.

La Forge (LeVar Burton) gets the chance to meet the real Dr Leah Brahms (Susan Gibney), the Starfleet engineer who formed the basis for his holodeck fantasy a year earlier. Sadly for La Forge, the real Dr Brahms is not what he expected. Meanwhile the Enterprise has an encounter with a previously-undiscovered space-faring organism, and winds up nursing its infant.

Okay so the title has a double meaning, since it refers both to engineers considered the Galaxy-class starship engines as their 'baby' as well as to the actual alien infant that latches itself to the Enterprise's hull in order to feed on the ship's energy reserves. Let's quickly cover that alien subplot first, since the rest of this review is going to involve a lot of loud ranting about runaway misogyny. It's actually quite a neat little plot. The Enterprise gets a little too close to a pregnant sort of space whale, so it attacks the ship. In the process of defending themselves, the Enterprise crew accidentally kill the creature. When they discover it was pregnant, they try to free the infant and escort it to a food source.

December 10, 2015

Doctor Who: Season 9 in review

Last year I was pretty underwhelmed by Doctor Who, and it came at a time when I felt I should have been energised by it. A new Doctor, played by an actor of whom I was already a keen fan, and who instinctively felt like a better fit for the role than either of his two most immediate predecessors. The problem was that while the star had changed, the series around him had not. It was almost a "business-as-usual" approach from executive producer Steven Moffat, at precisely the time when everything should have been thrown up in the air and changed around. He did it so well when Matt Smith debuted in Season 5; I wanted something like that, and didn't get it.

We definitely do get an adjusted style of Doctor Who with Season 9, but rather than a shock change it was a subtle adjustment over a period of episodes. It began very much in the style of Moffat's earlier seasons, but it ended somewhere a bit slower, a bit darker, and a lot more textured and mature. The season premiere, "The Magician's Apprentice", feels like any number of Steven Moffat episodes from the previous four seasons. By the time we hit the finale, "Hell Bent", it feels tonally changed. It's clearly the work of the same writer but the sort of emotional beats he's hitting have changed. There's a great focus on dialogue than on frantic activity. I actually liked every episode this year, some more than others, and that's a feat I haven't managed in any prior season of the revived show.

So what specifically worked and didn't work in Season 9? Let's break out some dot points and see.

The Pull List: 9 December 2015, Part I

James Tynion IV seems to be tremendously active these days, writing comics not just for DC Comics but also Boom Studios and now IDW as well. His latest book, The Eighth Seal, is a new horror title featuring artwork by Jeremy Rock and colours by Nolan Woodward. The book follows Amelia, a woman suffering from horrific visions of monsters and inhuman violence. She may even be a monster herself. She's also the First Lady of the United States of America.

It's an intriguing concept, but it doesn't work too well in execution. The first problem is that not a great deal happens in this issue. We're introduced to Amelia, and her visions, and some of the supporting characters around her. There's not really a strong hook to make us keep reading. She's having visions, but there's no indication of what they mean or if they're likely to be dangerous. The pages are laid out with fairly large, sparse panels that don't let a lot of plot into them.

The idea of blending some sort of supernatural or psychological horror with the realistic political process of The West Wing has potential, but it would need a much stronger and more deeply researched work than this. The White House scenes feel superficial and cursory. I've thought for some time that you could do a very effective political drama in comic book form, but this simply isn't going to be it. Horror fans desperate for some new comics might want to check it out, but for everyone else this seems easily skipped. (2/5)

Under the cut: reviews of Back to the Future, Ninjak and Star Trek/Green Lantern.

December 9, 2015

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "First Contact"

It's 18 February 1991, and time for more Star Trek: The Next Generation.

On the planet Malcor III, a man is rushed to hospital after an industrial accident. When the doctors examine him, they discover freakish aberrations in his body: organs in the wrong place, extra fingers on his hands, plus evidence of cosmetic surgery on his face. It is clear he is not a Malcorian, and before long it is discovered that aliens from another planet have been hiding in plain sight among them.

"First Contact" is a comparatively unique episode of Star Trek. While the concept of the Federation making first contact with alien civilizations on the verge of interstellar travel had been explored before, "First Contact" presents it almost entirely from the point of view of the aliens being contacted. We see the Next Generation regulars during the episode, but we see them through the eyes of the guest characters. It allows the episode to make a striking impact, and demonstrate just how shocking the unheralded arrival of the USS Enterprise might be.

Babylon 5: "Day of the Dead"

It's 11 March 1998, and time for more Babylon 5.

Babylon 5 receives a visit from popular comedians Rebo and Zooty (Penn and Teller). The Brakiri temporarily purchase part of the station to allow them to celebrate their mysterious "day of the dead" - a ceremony that leads to unexpected conversations for several of the station's residents.

It's been 57 episodes since anyone other than J. Michael Straczynski wrote a script for Babylon 5 - not since Larry DiTillio wrote "Knives" all the way back in Season 2. The drought is broken by popular novelist and comic book writer Neil Gaiman, who contributes this slightly odd effort about people meeting and speaking with the souls of the dead. It's only partially successful, but does have a lot to recommend and certainly feels like a much more effective script that what Straczynski himself has been providing to Season 5.

December 8, 2015

Doctor Who: "Victory of the Daleks"

It's 17 April 2010, and time for more Doctor Who.

The Doctor (Matt Smith) is summoned to war-time London by Winston Churchill (Ian McNeice), who presents his latest weapon to fight the Nazi menace: the Daleks. Can the Doctor convince Churchill of the error of his ways and discover the Daleks' true motives before it's too late?

Now where should we begin? Let us not muck about: "Victory of the Daleks" is a dreadful episode of Doctor Who. The basic ideas at its foundation are terrible ones. The execution of those terrible ideas is awful.

It's almost a requirement of a new Doctor to face the Daleks - almost as if they're not fully legitimate until they've defeated the psychotic pepperpots at least once. Patrick Troughton got to debut opposite them in the peerless "The Power of the Daleks". Jon Pertwee got the time-travelling shenanigans of "Day of the Daleks". Even Colin Baker, whose tenure was cursed with poor script writing, managed to get the superbly satirical "Revelation of the Daleks". Poor Matt Smith is saddled with this: Spitfires in space and caricature Prime Ministers.

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

I have never been a particularly keen fan of the Mad Max films. It's not that I don't appreciate their quality - it's eminently possible to appreciate the quality of art without actually enjoying it. For whatever reason, and despite being a fan of both action and science fiction, I have never emotionally responded to explosive car chases through deserts with angry men wearing funny leather costumes. Call it a blind spot if you like, or a personal failing. Mad Max has simply never been my cup of tea.

It was quite a surprise to see director/producer George Miller's interminably delayed fourth film Mad Max: Fury Road actually get filmed and make it to cinemas. He had been developing it for so long that it was originally going to star original Max actor Mel Gibson. What was even more surprising was how well received this fourth film was. It was a reasonable commercial hit, but critics went crazy for it. The National Board of Review even named it the best film of 2015. Reliable friends were telling me it was an amazing film, and a cinematic master work. Despite not really caring about the franchise in the slightest, the sheer weight of acclaim made me feel obliged to give it a shot.

December 7, 2015

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Clues"

It's 11 February 1991, and time for more Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The Enterprise slips through a small and unstable wormhole, knocking out the entire crew for 30 seconds. As they attempt to continue their mission, small inconsistencies begin to appear. Dr Crusher (Gates McFadden) finds her botanic experiments have grown without explanation. Lieutenant Worf (Michael Dorn) discovers he has a recently broken wrist. There is evidence that someone has tampered with the ship's internal clock. All indications point to Commander Data (Brent Spiner). Has there been an entire day erased from the crew's memory? Why won't he explain what has happened?

How much one appreciates "Clues", a Next Generation episode first broadcast in February 1991, potentially depends upon whether or not one has already seen "Thanks for the Memory", a Red Dwarf episode broadcast all the way back in September 1988. The two episodes share a premise and a narrative gimmick: the crew wake up without any memory of the preceding day, become paranoid and - through their panicked investigations - discover the very good reason why their memories were erased. This isn't a suggestion that one episode plagiarised another, but the similarities are overwhelming. While "Clues" is a solid episode, it simply doesn't do the premise justice to the degree that Red Dwarf managed.

Lock Up (1989)

Frank Leone (Sylvester Stallone) is a convict living out his final six months in a minimum security prison. Without warning he is transported in the middle of the night to the maximum security Gateway Prison, whose sadistic warden Drumgoole (Donald Sutherland) bears a personal grudge against Leone. With Drumgoole hell-bent on breaking Leone's spirit, how long can Leone last before something snaps and he winds up trapped in prison for life?

Fair warning from the outset: Lock Up is a terrible movie. Its storyline is a dreadful pile of obvious clich├ęs, the characters are all stereotypes, and the dialogue is consistently predictable. Furthermore it's awfully unrealistic, with a plot that doesn't bear much scrutiny before it all falls apart.

On the other hand, if you lived through the 1980s there's still something strangely watchable about these old action movies. They're like a warm, reassuring blanket, giving us characters and stories that won't surprise so much as comfort. We know what we're going to get with a film like Lock Up. We can find enjoyment in seeing Sylvester Stallone flex his muscles and be the idealistic hero. Have no doubt: this is a bad film. Don't also doubt that I have an absolute ball watching it.

December 6, 2015

Doctor Who: "Hell Bent"

Season 9 has been, to my mind, the best season of Doctor Who since it returned to our screens in 2005. The quality of the scripts have been much stronger generally, and certainly more consistent. Peter Capaldi has settled into the title role and given his Doctor new angles and depths. The broad change in structure from self-contained episodes to two-part serials have given each story room to breath, and a very welcome ability to devote several minutes at a time to proper drama and dialogue between characters. There has also been a fair amount of experimentation, including an attempt at a found footage format and last week's solo outing. Basically if you couldn't find something to enjoy in Doctor Who this year, then it's probably time to hang up your scarf and stop watching the show altogether.

Of course all of this new-found quality puts extraordinary pressure on the season finale. Doctor Who also seems to aim for a big, show-stopping final episode of course, whether it's a mass Dalek invasion in "The Parting of the Ways" or the Master taking over the Earth in "The Last of the Time Lords", or even more recently Missy's Cyberman invasion in "Death in Heaven". In many ways this final episode, "Hell Bent", feels like it has higher stakes than most. For one thing it's never felt quite so personal for the Doctor himself.

Tag (2015)

Sion Sono really seems to be out to claim the title of Japan's busiest film director. He kicked off 2015 by directing the made-for-television movie All Esper Dayo! SP, and followed that up with the theatrical releases Shinjuku Swan, Love & Peace, Tag, The Whispering Star and The Virgin Psychics. You didn't misread that: five feature films and a TV movie, all in one year.

So in the middle of that flurry of activity we have Tag, a genre blend of horror, thriller and fantasy. It begins with a schoolgirl named Mitsuko (Reina Triendl) on a bus to summer camp. Within about a minute and a half pretty much everybody around her is dead, and she's running for her life. The film lasts about 85 minutes and, excluding the closing credits, she's pretty much on the run the whole time. To explain the film any further would be to ruin half of the surprise.

The film is an adaptation of Yusuke Yamada's novel Real Onigokko, which has already been adapted into a series of feature films in recent years beginning with 2006's The Chasing World. Sono takes maybe half of the premise of Yamada's novel and uses it as a springboard for his own story. The result is something that echoes the original without actually resembling it very closely at all.

December 5, 2015

The Pull List: 2 December 2015, Part II

Daredevil has always been a relatively dark character, but in recent years he had seemed to get ridiculously bleak. A series of writers beginning with Brian Michael Bendis appeared to push the character further and further down a hole until he was pretty much the most depressing thing either of the big two superhero publishers were putting out there. That all changed when Mark Waid took over writing the book a few years ago. He made the book brighter and funnier. He kept the darkness around the edges, but it became a much more engaging and entertaining comic. This was emphasised by the wonderful artwork of Paolo Rivera and Chris Samnee. For a good four years or so - it was the single-longest run on the character by any writer - it was one of the best comics out there.

That's an awful lot of pressure for new writer Charles Soule, who takes over writing Daredevil for its latest relaunch - its second in about as many years. Soule is a great writer, and after his exceptional run on She-Hulk I was pretty convinced he was a great person to take over from Waid. For one thing he's a lawyer, which guarantees some excellent material for Daredevil's alter-ego Matt Murdock in the courtroom.

Sadly, and I assume it's by editorial edict, the book has dived headlong back into the dark, dingy style of Daredevil comic. Ron Garney's artwork is grim and gritty, and Matt Milla's moody, almost murky colours drive the tone even harder. It's as if all of the work done by Waid to make Daredevil/Matt a more entertaining character has been abandoned wholesale. There's also a huge jump in story here that I assume will get explained out in future issues. He's back in New York, despite being never allowed to practice law there again. His girlfriend Kirsten McDuffie is nowhere to be seen. He has a sidekick named Blindspot, and his best friend Foggy doesn't want to see him any more. Oh, and nobody knows Matt Murdock is Daredevil any more.

I respect both Soule and Garney's talents enough to give this book another issue, and on its own merits this is reasonably high quality stuff, but really: everything that made Daredevil a must-read for the past four years is gone. (3/5)

Marvel. Written by Charles Soule. Art by Ron Garney. Colours by Matt Milla.

Under the cut: reviews of Batman and Robin Eternal, Doctor Strange and Revival.