June 30, 2016
Miles Morales has a problem though, and it is a problem shared by many of his Marvel Comics stablemates. It is event miniseries. They come along every few months, and the majority of Marvel's titles slavishly tie into them, and they throw up, switch and change around the status quo every time. More often than not they lead to half of the regular monthlies being cancelled and replaced with new editions. It's incredibly frustrating, because it not only interrupts the momentum of books like Spider-Man it often closes off intriguing story possibilities. Comic books are fighting a constant war of attrition: new titles are published every week, and old titles as a rule lose readers every month. On the one hand constantly rejigging and relaunching books seems like a smart idea, because it is constantly giving new readers an opportunity to jump onboard. At the same time it is also giving existing readers constantly excuses to jump off. This sense of what I'll call "volume fatigue" has already led to me dropping Thor. I'll probably catch up some day via collected editions. I'm pretty close to dropping Spider-Man as well, because while this issue was entertaining - Black Cat has Miles kidnapped, while Ganke further befriends the X-Men's Goldball - it ends with a proud announcement that next issue drops everything to tie into Civil War II.
I read superhero comics because I adore serialised storytelling. The more Marvel disrupts and interferes with that serial narrative, the less engaged with the book I become. It's a shame. This is a really entertaining book when Marvel aren't interrupting it. (4/5)
Marvel. Spider-Man #5. Written by Brian Michael Bendis. Art by Sara Pichelli.
Under the cut: Darth Vader, 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank, Jade Street Protection Services, 3 Devils, and X-O Manowar.
Cutie and the Boxer is a great documentary for a couple of reasons. The first is that Heinzerling has found an exceptional pair of artists upon which to focus his attention. The Shinoharas are fascinating to watch. Ushio is brash, chaotic and easily distracted. Noriko is calm, patient and visibly long-suffering against her husband's whims and self-obsessed fancies. Even before their art is explored, they are excellent documentary subjects. A couple for four decades, they have visibly and by their own admission been imperfect spouses and parents. Of course when the documentary focuses on each individual's art and artistic process, another layer of intriguing material is introduced. Their respective works are poles apart, and yet one clearly works as a reaction to the other.
Where the documentary really excels, however, is in the way it presents itself as one kind of story and then gradually shifts over time to be about something else altogether.
With a huge reward out for anybody willing to unmask Samurai Flamenco, Masayoshi finds himself in an increasingly desperate situation. Thankfully scientist Jun Harazuka is on the case to provide Samurai Flamenco with the superhero technology he requires.
It has close to 18 months since I last reviewed an episode of Samurai Flamenco, such is my lax attitude to watching anime. Thanks to a DVD release by Australian distributor Madman, however, it has suddenly become a lot more convenient to watch. A quick recap of the series: Masayoshi Hazama is a young male model and aspiring actor who is such a fan of Japan's Power Rangers-style superhero shows that he has put on a costume, called himself Samurai Flamenco, and has started fighting small-scale crime on the streets of Tokyo. It's a decision that has already gained him a sudden level of celebrity, a sidekick (Flamenco Girl) and now a bounty for him to be publicly unmasked. It is sort of a Japanese animated take on Mark Millar's Kick Ass, only less distastefully violent.
June 29, 2016
The popular Staton-House Band rolls into New Orleans for a stadium concert, and their road crew - known as "Roadies" make preparations for the evening's event. Tour manager Bill (Luke Wilson) has slept with the producer's 22 year-old daughter, rigger Kelly-Ann (Imogen Poots) is preparing to quit to go to film school in New York, production manager Shelli (Carla Gugino) stresses over whether to stay or join her husband on a Taylor Swift tour, and a groupie with a restraining order is loose backstage.
Roadies is a new lighthearted drama series (I kind of loathe the term 'dramedy') from writer/director Cameron Crowe. He brings with him an awful lot of cultural cache: at the age of 16 he went on the road with the Allman Brothers Band and sold the story to Rolling Stone magazine. He subsequently became one of the magazine's contributing editors. As a feature film writer and director he gave the world Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Say Anything, Singles, Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous. His films are renowned for their extensive and informed use of popular music in their soundtracks. Put simply: if one wanted to make a television drama about life backstage with a stadium rock band, Cameron Crowe is likely the first creative to whom you would speak.
Insidious Chapter 2 continues on directly from the conclusion of the original Insidious, but tonally speaking it feels like a quite different kind of horror film. To be completely honest it is a bit of a hot mess, where a story continues not because there is more to say but because commercial considerations demand it, and where the genre shifts weirdly into really unexpected and, to be honest, fairly uncharted territory. In some ways it reminds me of John Boorman's The Exorcist II, which went in a wildly off-the-wall direction that was quite difficult to comprehend. Now Insidious Chapter 2 is nowhere close to the colossal misfire that Boorman directed, but it is certainly a somewhat substandard and confused film compared to its predecessor.
June 28, 2016
Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) is summoned to a Starfleet admiral for a top-secret intelligence briefing. Ambassador Spock (Leonard Nimoy), the most celebrated and respected diplomat in Federation history, appears to have defected to the Romulan Empire. Picard and Data (Brent Spiner) immediately dispatched on a secret mission to Romulus, while Riker (Jonathan Frakes) commands the Enterprise in an investigation into black market dealing of Vulcan technology.
"Unification I" presents a hugely significant moment in the history of Star Trek. While characters from the original series had appeared in The Next Generation before - DeForest Kelley made a humorous cameo in "Encounter at Farpoint", and Mark Lenard had reprised his role as Sarek of Vulcan in "Sarek" - this episode marked the first time a lead character from the original run guest starred alongside the Next Generation cast. Not just any lead either, but arguably the most iconic character in Star Trek's 25-year history.
After finding a set of space dinghies in storage, the yacht club decide to enter the upcoming Nebula Cup. The last time the school entered the race, their club caused a passive dinghy pile-up and earned a five-year ban. Fearing a similar disaster, the championship organisers hire the Bentenmaru to observe the race and keep an eye out for trouble. Kane decides to train the girls in the club in how to pilot the dinghies, but he has some fairly unusual teaching methods.
Another serialised story begins for Bodacious Space Pirates, this time split between two simultaneous tasks: the yacht club entering the race and Marika monitoring it as captain of the Bentenmaru. She seems confident everything will work smoothly. I foresee comical mishaps in the next few episodes. At the same time, Marika's mother has learned that a criminal syndicate is targeting Marika as captain of the Bentenmaru. It looks like it won't be all laughs in the next few episodes. For this week though, it is pretty much wall-to-wall comedy.
June 27, 2016
You have to marvel at the apparent financial wealth of a high school teacher and a stay-at-home mother can afford to not only purchase a two-story mega-house but then immediately sell it and buy a second one at the first sign of ghosts. It is a running joke with American film and television, selling an ideal of an expansive family home that the majority of viewers will never afford, but here it seems particularly egregious. To an extent I suppose it is a requirement of the supernatural horror film: for a house to be creepy it needs to be large, otherwise every room would be occupied and small and the ghosts would have nowhere to effectively haunt. It still stretches credulity, though, and arguably much more so than the idea that a family could be tormented by ghosts and demons. We know that is just movie fantasy, but real estate prices are very real.
Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton) returns to the USS Enterprise. While he romances Ensign Robin Lefler (Ashley Judd), a mysterious virtual reality game brought back from Risa by Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) becomes an obsession for the ship's crew.
Wil Wheaton returns to The Next Generation for a guest appearance, almost exactly a year after he exited the series as a regular member of the cast. It is actually a welcome return. Since this has been his only episode in the past 12 months he is actually given agency, intelligence and a stronger sense of purpose. The writing of Wesley in this episode demonstrates very clearly that it was never the character nor Wil Wheaton's performance that made the character so disliked by many Star Trek fans: it was the sloppy, disinterested writing. I am an unashamed Wesley Crusher fan, and as a character he is working brilliantly here.
June 26, 2016
Screamers is a 1995 science fiction thriller based loosely on the short story "Second Variety" by Philip K. Dick. Its screenplay was written by Dan O'Bannon, who also adapted Dick's "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale" as Total Recall and who had co-written both Dark Star and Alien. It is a low-budget affair, shot in Canada by director Christian Duguay. I remember when it was originally released it received fairly poor reviews but quickly gained a small cult following. I had not seen the film in 20 years, so it seemed about time to revisit it and see how Screamers has held up.
In issue #11, Learoyd, Dusty and Aelbert approach the top of the mountain, and the source of the infection that has poisoned the village below. What they find at the peak is certainly a bit of a surprise, and an intriguing set-up for whatever happens next.
Part of the appeal of The Autumnlands is its comparatively unique setting. It started off appearing to be a pulp fantasy populated with anthropomorphic animals: Dusty is a pitbull terrier wizard-in-training, for example. Aelbert is a barbarian goat. Before long, however, the very human Learoyd arrived - with technology and a lot of mystery. Now that mystery has increased issue by issue. Clearly something happened to turn Learoyd's world into Dusty's, but for now there's no real information as to what it was. Action, great characters, and an intriguing mystery: how could any reader resist? (4/5)
The Autumnlands #11. Image. Written by Kurt Busiek. Art by Benjamin Dewey. Colours by Jordie Bellaire.
Under the cut: reviews of Doctor Strange, Usagi Yojimbo and a delayed review of Darth Vader.
June 25, 2016
A new inmate arrives, whose cheerful manner and over-the-top Britishness immediately raise the suspicions of his fellow prisoners. Lt Player (Christopher Neame) takes the sudden opportunity of a break for freedom, and soon finds himself on the road to Vienna - and experiencing the most remarkable string of unexpected encounters.
I had assumed after the initial trilogy of introductory episodes that Colditz would now restrain itself to the confines of its castle prison. Instead "Lord, Didn't It Rain" turns out to be a surprise: after a weird misdirection in its opening minutes most of the episode takes place in Germany and Austria as Dick Player makes his dangerous attempt at escape.
June 24, 2016
When the Enterprise collides with a quantum filament, it leaves the ship's crew trapped in a variety of life-and-death situations. Troi (Marina Sirtis) finds herself in command for the first time, aided by Chief O'Brien (Colm Meaney) and Ensign Ro (Michelle Forbes). La Forge (LeVar Burton) and Dr Crusher (Gates McFadden) are trapped in a cargo bay with a radioactive fire. Worf (Michael Dorn) must assist Keiko O'Brien (Rosalind Chao) in giving birth in Ten Forward. Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Data (Brent Spiner) have to find a route to the Engineering deck to stop the ship from exploding. Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) is trapped in a turbolift with three crying children and a broken ankle.
The Next Generation's tribute to the all-star multi-plot disaster films of the 1970s is a gleeful, wonderfully indulgent and wholly entertaining romp. It is good-humoured, features a strong balance between the regular cast members, throws in a couple of semi-regular characters for good measure, and keeps a fast, addictive pace from the cold open to the closing credits. It is not Shakespeare by any strength, but it is a tremendous amount of fun.
The space yacht club head back up to the relay station to clean the Odette II, finding some half-forgotten space dinghies in the process. Marika takes the opportunity to head over to the Bentenmaru for some spring cleaning of her own, accidentally losing her ID ring to power the ship in the process.
This is a slightly weird episode, but if any form of TV entertainment is going to dedicate an entire episode to cleaning and tidying spaceships it is going to be anime. This is yet another 'downtime' episode of Bodacious Space Pirates, giving the ongoing narrative a pause between story arcs and taking the opportunity to do something a bit lighter and more relaxed.
June 23, 2016
Take Aquaman, for example, which launches this week with an all-new volume. It is no surprise to see the first storyline out of the gate feature Black Manta launching yet another assault on Aquaman and Mera. It is effectively like launching Action Comics with a Superman/Lex Luthor/Doomsday triple-header (see below), or throwing Tim Drake, Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown into action in Detective Comics (also see below). These new books are specifically tailored to give pre-existing readers immediately familiar set-ups and to stimulate their sense of nostalgia. To an extent this approach works perfectly fine: Aquaman #1 is an entertaining read, with some nice character set-ups and a solid pace. To a further extent, however, it really is just more of the same. The last decade or so has seen DC go out of its way to make everything feel like the 1960s again - only with bleak ultra-violence thrown in for good measure. Rebirth is making everything feel like the early 1990s instead. So far the bleak violence is taking a back seat, and I hope it stays there, but I can't help but feel DC needs something a bit more interesting to fully retake the American comic book market.
Other thoughts on Aquaman #1: the art by Walker and Hennessey is a little bit off, as if there's an odd hint of Frank Quitely about some of the pages that jibes with the more traditional super-heroic look. I'm also a little concerned this first issue is leading into another 'on the run and falsely accused' storyline, which was only recently done for half a year in this very title by Cullen Bunn. (3/5)
Aquaman #1. DC Comics. Written by Dan Abnett. Art by Brad Walker and Andrew Hennessey. Colours by Gabe Eltaeb.
Under the cut: reviews of Action Comics, Detective Comics and Robin: Son of Batman.
Some games are good, some are bad. Occasionally one comes along that is genuinely great, but even rarer still is the game that makes a real and lasting impact on your life. It creates fond memories of playing it, and discovering its world. It sticks in your mind for years after the fact. These are the games I treasure. They are generally either role-playing or adventure games: ones with a fictional world to explore, and characters to discover. They are games that require a significant investment of time, because they tell an actual story. They are not just fun to play, they have a real emotional effect.
There have been a bunch over the years for me. Secret of Mana. Shenmue. Red Dead Redemption. Harvest Moon. Of all of the games that have stuck with me over the years in this fashion, the best of them by a country mile is The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time.
June 22, 2016
Young adult fiction has been running on an all-time high in recent years, with scores of best-selling books - usually speculative fiction trilogies - pitting teenage protagonists against love, romance, the end of the world, near-and-far future dystopias and magical worlds. As many of these books have become successful with young readers, so Hollywood has come knocking with an open cheque book, and correspondingly cinemas have been awash with young adult adaptations for a solid decade now. Twilight. The Hunger Games. Divergent. I Am Number Four. The Maze Runner. By now the craze has well surpassed saturation point, and it is becoming pretty difficult for an individual film to rise over the tide and actually stand out in any memorable way. The 5th Wave, which is based on a novel by Rick Yancey, fails in this regard. It is an essentially watchable film, but does nothing to be original or even particularly memorable. This is the sort of movie that simply fills up two hours in between watching more interesting films.
An Enterprise away team is assisting the colonists on Melona IV when the Crystalline Entity appears in the sky above the colony site. Riker (Jonathan Frakes) manages to lead the colonists to safety, but two of their group are killed in the process. Back on the Enterprise, Data (Brent Spiner) collaborates with the Federation's expert on the Entity in an attempt to track it down and - if possible - communicate with it.
Well this is one of the most unexpected sequels that Star Trek has ever done. The Crystalline Entity is back, last seen collaborating with Data's evil twin brother Lore in Season 1's "Datalore". Of all the enemies previously showcased in the series it seems one of the less likely, not in the least because back in "Datalore" it was basically a plot mechanism and not really an antagonist in its own right.
June 21, 2016
Divinity is a four-issue miniseries by American comic book publisher Valiant. It is a superb book, one subsequently collected by Valiant into an over-sized hardcover book with an extensive appendix of rough designs and process artwork. In fact it is so handsomely packaged that it should service as a model for future collected editions of this type. Everything about it is gorgeous: the design, the layout, the packaging and the art.
Oh the art. Trevor Hairsine's pencils are tremendously detailed, and then accentuated wonderfully by Ryan Winn. Thanks to the appendix it is possible to see just how much each artist contributes to the book's overall look, as does colourist David Baron. This was hands-down one of the most attractive superhero books of 2015, and when collected together it is only more impressive.
June 20, 2016
Super Mario 64 was a launch title for the Nintendo 64, making its debut alongside the console itself on 23 June 1996. This was not an unexpected strategy: Nintendo had already found enormous success by launching their Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) with a Super Mario title alongside it. Super Mario 64 was a little different, however, since while Super Mario World marked a strong iterative improvement on earlier Mario titles, Super Mario 64 pretty much revolutionised an entire style of videogame.
Claire (Catriona Balfe) has been captured by English soldiers and taken to Fort William. She is in the process of being sexually assaulted by Captain Randall (Tobias Menzies) when her husband Jamie (Sam Heughan) comes to the rescue. While they successfully escape the English, where does there marriage go from here?
Outlander's first season was divided in the middle by a gap of several months. "The Reckoning" marks the beginning of the second half, and resolves the highly melodramatic mid-season cliffhanger: Randall in the process of assaulting Claire, Jamie revealed in the window, flintlock pistol in hand. It was an odd sort of a cliffhanger in many respects, because Outlander has never been quite so over-the-top in its episode endings before. It felt remarkably forced at the time. This subsequent episode struggles somewhat to get back to a sense of normality; in fact it pretty much takes the whole hour.
June 19, 2016
With his appeal to exit Britain rejected, Dr Vickers (Donald Gee) looks for other means of leaving the country. Meanwhile Kyle (Edward Woodward) finds himself drawn into an internal power struggle within the Department of Public Control.
One of the best things about 1990, a near-future dystopia created by Wilfred Greatorex for the BBC, is that it is a subtle dystopia. This is not a future Britain populated by jackbooted guards and Nineteen Eighty-Four style mass oppression. Don't get me wrong, it's getting there, but it is still a lot closer to the real world than it is to George Orwell. That in itself makes 1990 an uncomfortable watch. The world in the real-life 2016 seems an awful lot closer to Greatorex's 1990 than the real-life 1977 did.
Voyager encounters a wormhole that may lead back to the Alpha Quadrant, only to discover it is much too small for the vessel to enter. Instead a communication line is established - while Voyager may not make it back, at least Starfleet and the crew's families can be informed that they are alive. Contact is established with a starship on the other side - only it is Romulan.
Throughout the Next Generation era of Star Trek there was a growing unwillingness to shift the franchise too far away from safe territory. The same alien races tended to appear over and over, and even in situations where these aliens would not logically turn up, writing gymnastics somehow managed to make it happen anyway. "Eye of the Needle" is a case in point: only six episodes into the first season, set in a completely uncharted area of the galaxy, and the Romulans are turning up. Thankfully the episode itself more than makes up for it: this is the best episode of Voyager so far.
June 18, 2016
What strikes me as remarkable about Shutter is not that it is a remake, but that it is a Hollywood remake of a Thai film (directed by 2004 by Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom) relocated to a Japanese setting in order to stylistically emulate all of the Hollywood remakes of Japanese horror movies that preceded it. For a while there was an ongoing line of American remakes of Japanese horror: The Ring, The Grudge, Dark Water, Pulse, and One Missed Call, for example. I am uncertain if it is an act of genius by producer Roy Lee - who also co-produced most of those films above - to shift Shutter over to tonally match them, or if it is some weird form of cultural appropriation. To the film's credit, its Japanese setting and style comes along with a Japanese director: Masayuki Ochiai, who had previously directed Parasite Eve and Infection.
To be honest this is a pretty complicated set-up that is going to hurt this book's sales. For some reason a straight-forward Superman action comic is anathema to DC Comics these days, and they feel forced to over-complicate the storyline with new powers, changed identities, multiple Supermen and bloated cross-title story arcs. The bottom line for this issue's plot: young Jonathan Kent is inheriting his father's powers, and does not know how to control them.
It is an interesting set-up for a superhero comic, but I do feel slightly disappointed that we are not simply getting a great Superman title. This first issue already feels like a "Son of Superman" book instead, and I think DC are misjudging slightly by following this angle. Patrick Gleason and Mick Gray's artwork is strong as always, but it just feels a little bit underwhelming. Hopefully future issues will pick up. (3/5)
Superman #1. DC Comics. Written by Peter J. Tomasi. Art by Patrick Gleason and Mick Gray. Colours by John Kalisz.
Under the cut: reviews of Black Widow, Dungeons & Dragons, Green Arrow and Invader Zim.
June 17, 2016
Despite Galen (Peter Woodward) warning them not to investigate, the crew of the Excalibur head down to a long-dead planet in search of evidence of the Drakh plague. They are unsuccessful, and instead find the planet ravaged by a nanotech virus that turns each member of the crew into a homicidal maniac.
"The Memory of War" is a difficult episode to write about, not because it is bad - and it is - but because it is unexpectedly and remarkably boring. It is the sort of episode that sits there: its basic ideas are sound but unimaginative, the cast are talented but under-used, the script is a little tedious but far from the worst writing in the series so far. It is simply generic and dull, and wastes the viewer's time.
The Conjuring 2 sees the principal cast and crew of the 2013 original return for another supernatural horror film based around the real-life self-professed demonologists Lorraine and Ed Warren. In this case the film focuses on the widely publicised "Enfield Poltergeist" of 1977.
For pre-existing fans of the original film, this is a worthy and entertaining follow-up. For fans of supernatural horror movies, it will very likely satisfy your urge for uneasy scares and 'jump' moments. For anybody not overly enamoured with the genre this slick but essentially by-the-numbers movie will be unlikely to change your opinion. As the saying goes: expect what you get, and you will get what you expect.
June 16, 2016
The series has presented a murder mystery throughout its eight issues, one that gradually expanded to a whole conspiracy. When the answers finally come they are as unexpected as they are effective. It is a hugely dramatic and emotionally staggering finale. It wraps up what has been one of the best comic books of the past year or so: intelligently written, beautifully illustrated and very memorable.
Part of me wants to see a sequel. Part of me wants Spurrier and Stokely to move onto something else, and leave this perfectly cut gem of a book as it is. (5/5)
The Spire #8. Boom Studios. Written by Simon Spurrier. Art by Jeff Stokely. Colours by Andre May.
Under the cut: reviews of Batman, Descender and Joyride.
With Voyager running desperately low on energy supplies, Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) directs it towards a nearby nebula that may provide the raw materials the crew needs. Once inside the nebula, however, the ship comes under mysterious attack. After managing to escape, the crew discover it was not a nebula at all but a massive alien organism - and Voyager's activity has left it badly injured.
"The Cloud" is a generally enjoyable mixture of character vignettes and big-concept science fiction, marred only by a few scenes and elements. While it is very far from perfect, it is pretty much the best episode the series has managed since its premiere. To be honest that is a bit of a worry: this is the fifth episode of the series so far, and while sister series Deep Space Nine was pushing forward on its generally excellent third season it is odd to see that Voyager was floundering so badly out of the gate.
June 15, 2016
People across America begin falling ill with what seem like a collection of serious viral infections. While Scully (Gillian Anderson) and Einsten (Lauren Ambrose) struggle to identify a cure, Mulder (David Duchovny) - who is already badly infected - races to North Carolina for a confrontation with the infection's source: the Cigarette-Smoking Man (William B. Davis).
There is something genuinely sad about what has happened to The X-Files. For its first few years it was hands-down the best American television series on the air. It was provocative, atmospheric, intelligent and unexpected. It followed Twin Peaks in pushing the visual aesthetic of television drama towards a properly cinematic look, and it arguably pushed that shift much harder and for much longer. It was successful enough and effective enough to become properly iconic. Then it started to slip a little, an episode here or a story arc there. The long-running story arc of Mulder's quest to prove the existence of UFOs became overly complicated, and then hopelessly muddled, and eventually flat-out contradictory. By the time the series ended at its ninth season, the arc was not only failing to work but was actively destroying the series.
GoldenEye 007 is a remarkable game. For one thing it is a licensed title based on a feature film, and it does not suck. Even today, almost 20 years later, that is a rarity. For another thing it revolutionised the first-person shooter in multiple ways, making it not only a great game but a historically important one as well. Finally it was for many players - myself included - the best party game that the Nintendo 64 had. While four-player GoldenEye matches were generally an excuse for me to repeatedly get beaten by my much more talented friends, those matches remain some of my most fondly remembered gaming experiences. This is a legendary game.
June 14, 2016
I have really, really enjoyed this comic. Andrew Maclean has told a fairly similar fantasy quest story with a grim, bearded warrior protagonist, a catty disembodied head as a sidekick, and a wide cast of evil wizards, feudal lords, beasts and monsters as their antagonists. The artwork has been simple but wonderfully effective. The tone has been beautifully self-aware and amusing. The extra-length issues have really helped to make each section of the storyline feel really satisfying to read.
What Maclean's book really reminds me of is Lewis Trondheim, the excellent French writer/artist whose books like Le Donjon, La Mouche and Lapinot have a very similar combination of simple and effective art, well-placed humour and an overall sense of whimsy. The collection edition of Headlopper is out in October. It looks like a second miniseries is due next February. I can't wait; this stuff is marvellous. (5/5)
Headlopper #4. Image. Story and art by Andrew Maclean. Colours by Mike Spicer.
Under the cut: reviews of Daredevil and The Wicked + the Divine.
Two Muslim suicide bombers commit a mass murder in an art gallery. One of the bombers has survived but lies in a vegetative state. In two separate attempts to contact the man and discover the location of his terrorist cell, Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) team up with two young FBI agents.
"Babylon" is a red-hot mess. There are scenes where the viewer is clearly expected to engage on a dramatic level, but there are also scenes that provide the same kind of overt comedy upon which "Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster"focused. Having the two styles in the one episode causes them to chafe against each other badly. Throw in some appallingly insensitive material on Islamic terrorism, and you have a pretty jaw-dropping recipe for disaster.
June 13, 2016
New inmate Carrington (Robert Wagner) immediately distances himself from the British prisoners with his admiration for Nazi politics and unpleasant demeanour towards his fellow inmates. At the same time he pleads with the Kommandant (Bernard Hepton) for privacy to complete a book on what he sees as the inevitable German victory over Europe.
It is honestly a bit of a surprise to watch this sixth episode of Colditz and discover that Robert Wagner - future star of Hart to Hart and Austin Powers - is playing a Nazi sympathiser. It immediately makes him a grotesque and unlikeable figure. He successfully begs for favours from the Kommandant. He gets in the way of the British escape attempts. He shows utter contempt for the main characters, particularly for Flight Lieutenant Carter (David McCallum). This series has already surprised me a couple of times. Now it surprises me all over again.
When a Federation outpost is attacked by Bajoran terrorists, Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) is ordered to track down the parties responsible. To assist him in his mission he is temporarily assigned a new officer: the contentious, rebellious and criminally convicted Ensign Ro Laren (Michelle Forbes).
As these reviews of The Next Generation track on, it is worth noting where the various elements of its sister series Deep Space Nine - which went into development soon after this episode was broadcast - first appeared. Season 4 introduced the Trill and the Cardassians. This episode makes a huge step forward in establishing the DS9 back-story. It not only brings the Cardassians back for a second appearance, but also introduces Bajor: a peaceful planet of artists and religious acolytes who have been enslaved under Cardassian rule for decades. It is also, by the by, a great episode in its own right.
June 12, 2016
When Marnie Was There is a 2014 anime feature directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi for the noted production company Studio Ghibli. Following its release, and with the retirement of company mainstays Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, Ghibli has gone into a production hiatus. This makes When Marnie Was There the final studio production for the immediate future - and very possibly forever. That is a shame on two fronts: it's sad that such an exceptional company may be closing shop for good, and if so it's sad that it is closing out on what is a fairly underwhelming film.
Colditz receives a new security head in the form of Captain Hauptmann Ulmann, a cold and authoritarian officer who is quick to home in on the prisoners' various escape attempts. His appointment seems odd - he is of too high a rank for such an ordinary prison - and a scheme is developed to find out why he has been appointed at the prison.
One of the best aspects of Colditz so far has been the way it has avoided portraying its German characters as one-dimensional Nazis. It's obvious to anyone that clearly not all Germans in World War II believed in what they were doing, or the full extent of the Nazi's agenda. Colditz presents a prisoner-of-war facility operated by the Wehrmacht whose officers have no love for the Gestapo or particularly the SS. They are for the most part career soldiers who are obliged by duty to follow whatever German government is in power. It is a provocative approach to take, since Nazi Germany remains an abhorrent spectre in world history, but it is also more accurate, intelligently presented and dramatically effective. Making a series where the German guards and gaolers are one-dimensional villains would have been easy. Making a series where they are fleshed-out and intelligent human beings must have been much harder - but the benefits are obvious on the screen.
June 11, 2016
Sky High is a 2003 supernaturally-themed action film directed by genre stalwart Ryuhei Kitamura. It is actually a prequel to a television series, and was produced and released into cinemas in between production of its two seasons. The series features Yumiko Shaku as Mina, the guardian of the Gate of Resentment, who would assist a different soul each episode in resolving their human affairs or solving their own murder. The film tells the story of how Mina became a guardian in the first place.
The Enterprise has been dispatched to make diplomatic overtures towards the Tamarians, a reclusive and seemingly unintelligible species. When Picard (Patrick Stewart) attempts to make contact he is kidnapped and transported down to the planet below. While the Enterprise crew struggle to rescue him, he and the Tamarian captain (Paul Winfield) share an encounter and begin to understand one another.
"Darmok" is one of the most wonderful episodes of Star Trek ever made: not simply for The Next Generation but for the franchise as a whole. It is based around a fabulous concept, is beautifully realised, and regularly hits the Top 5 of any "best of" lists and polls. "Redemption II" wrapped up the Season 4 cliffhanger well enough, but it is "Darmok" that launches Season 5 into action. To my mind it is the best year The Next Generation had.
June 10, 2016
Eaton, Jimenez and Morales provide strong artwork for this issue, particularly in a stunning early splash page that could easily work as a cover. Abnett's script is well structured and engaging, particularly through the use of a mysterious narration from someone watching Aquaman's progress. This seems to be a running theme among these relaunched titles: there's a superhero getting surveilled here, another in Detective Comics, and a third in Action Comics. At the moment it seems to be different people doing the watching each time.
I think DC is taking a chance with Aquaman at the moment. Like higher profile titles such as Action Comics and Batman, Aquaman is shifting to a fortnightly schedule for the immediate future. I honestly don't know if there are enough dedicated Aquaman fans to sustain that sort of schedule - given the quality of the book these days, it certainly deserves to have them. (4/5)
Aquaman Rebirth #1. DC Comics. Written by Dan Abnett. Art by Scott Eaton, Oscar Jimenez and Mark Morales. Colours by Gabe Eltaeb.
Under the cut: reviews of Action Comics, Revival, and The Sheriff of Babylon
Mario Kart 64 was one of the key early titles for the Nintendo 64. It was released in late 1996 in Japan, and in the first half in 1997 in the rest of the world. It was a huge hit for Nintendo, shifting almost 10 million copies and becoming the console's second highest-selling game after Super Mario 64. I strongly suspect it was responsible for selling a lot of consoles by itself: it is a capable game for a solo player, but it came into its own with played with friends.
June 9, 2016
For DC Rebirth, however, it has been transformed into a team book with Batman and Batwoman leading Red Robin, Spoiler, Orphan (aka Cassandra Cain) and Clayface. It has also been renumbered: not back to issue #1 but rather all the way to the original numbering. This is issue #934, which is a bit of a shock after DC and Marvel have spent so many years aggressively restarting their series.
It partially works. The set-up is that some unknown party is monitoring Gotham's vigilantes, and Batman - who clearly knows more than he's saying - decides to assemble a 'boot camp' to train up some of the younger heroes to make sure they're ready for whatever comes. It's great after Batman & Robin Eternal to see Red Robin, Spoiler and Orphan teamed up, and it always a pleasure to see Batwoman get some exposure. I'm not so convinced by Clayface, whose appearance here harks back to the fairly poor final issues of Batwoman when a similar team was assembled. The artwork here is solid enough, but James Tynion's script feels slightly under-done. He lacks the strength of other key DC writers like Scott Snyder or Geoff Johns when doing this stuff, and more often than not it feels a bit derivative and formulaic. Hopefully he'll pick up as he goes, now that the slightly awkward set-up is out of the way. (3/5)
Detective Comics #934. DC Comics. Written by James Tynion IV. Art by Eddy Barrows and Eber Ferreira. Colours by Adriano Lucas.
Under the cut: reviews of Black Canary, Doctor Who: The 11th Doctor, and Poe Dameron.
Months after arriving at the German prison Colditz, Captain Grant (Edward Hardwicke), Flight Lt Carter (David McCallum) and Lt Player (Christopher Neame) recieve a new commanding officer - only to find he does not want any of the prisoners to attempt an escape.
It took its time in getting here, but Colditz finally arrives at the titular castle. It has been an unexpected strategy to delay this episode with what were effectively three separate prologues, but it is a strategy that works. We begin the episode already well familiar with three of the central characters, and this relieves the pressure on trying to learn too many other characters at once.
June 8, 2016
I think a little variety would be better. Under the cut are my picks, pretty much made by browsing along my DVD collection until I hit 2,000 minutes of viewing time. These are not the best Asian films ever made, and they don't really follow any kind of pattern or logic beyond them being films that have really entertained me and that I would enthusiastically recommend to others. 20 movies in all: 12 from Japan, six from Hong Kong and China, and two from South Korea. Watch them over a weekend, or watch them occasionally over the course of a year. Either way, these are 20 Asian films I would wholeheartedly recommend.
The Klingon civil war continues. While Worf (Michael Dorn) defends the Empire from the Duras family, Picard (Patrick Stewart) leads a Starfleet mission to stop the Romulans from influencing the outcome of the war. This blockade leads Picard into an unexpected encounter with a Romulan commander (Denise Crosby) who claims to be the daughter of former Enterprise security chief Tasha Yar.
"Redemption II" is a somewhat messy season premiere. The material it includes and the narrative ground it covers are worthwhile and dramatic, but there is simply too much squeezed into one episode for it all to properly work. The episode is ultimately as frustrating as it is entertaining.
June 7, 2016
In the year 1990 the United Kingdom is slowly recovering from a total economic collapse. All commerce and industry has been nationalised. Emigrations is strictly controlled by the government. A special Department of Public Control attempts to keep the oppressed British population in line. Within this dystopian environment journalist Jim Kyle (Edward Woodward) fights to hold the government to account while secretly helping to smuggle people out of the country.
The BBC has been making science fiction television for almost 80 years now, and with the explosion of popularity of home video in the past 20 years it seems like every available science fiction series or TV play the BBC ever made has been publicly released in one format or another. That is not entirely true though, since there obstinately remain one or two productions that seem trapped indefinitely in the broadcaster's archives. One of these is the 1954 TV play of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. By an odd coincidence, one of the others is Wilfred Greatorex's near-future drama 1990 - a series he dubbed in the press "1984 plus six".
While on an away mission Neelix (Ethan Phillips) is shot by an unknown assailant and has his lungs stolen. The Doctor (Robert Picardo) finds a way to keep Neelix alive, but unless his own lungs can be recovered he will be stuck immobile in sickbay for the rest of his life.
Many Star Trek fans continue to mock the genuinely awful original series episode "Spock's Brain". Only four episodes into its first season the makers of Star Trek: Voyager weirdly decided to give it a spiritual sequel in "Neelix's Lungs". If only they had used the title. Instead it is titled "Phage", and it is what is fast appearing to be a typical combination of an interesting idea matched with poor dialogue and generally weak characterisation. As per earlier episodes there are occasional glimmers of quality here and there - in this case they involve the Doctor - but they are insufficient to overcome the critical flaws dragging down the episode as a whole.
June 6, 2016
Episode one of Colditz introduced an army officer en route to the titular castle prison. Episode two introduced an air force officer. It is only logical, then, that the third would introduce a naval lieutenant to finish off the set.
Lieutenant Player (Christopher Neame) washes ashore along the French coast after his submarine is torpedoed. He escapes from a prison hospital quickly enough, and his excellent German allows him to bluff his way almost to the point of freedom. Then he is recaptured. He has stolen German ID papers, which lead the Gestapo to assume he is a German defector. When he insists he is a British officer, but lacks the documents to prove it, he is accused of being a spy.
Terminator: Genisys, with - you guessed it - yet another director and production team is a colossal misfire on a scale I find difficult to comprehend. It takes the unnecessary complexity of the previous film not as a warning but as a challenge, and manages to twist itself into a frantic, charmless nonsense. This is a film that wilfully stumbles from the future to the past to a different future while spending an awful lot of its time introducing characters and refusing to explain what is going on. Like most people I enjoyed the first two Terminator films. I found the third unnecessary but enjoyable enough as a nostalgic action flick. I found the fourth hopelessly muddled and compromised, but with enough glimmers of potential to get me through it and not actively dislike it. I found this fifth film genuinely unwatchable. I finished it at least, mainly because I wished to review it fairly, but I cannot claim to have fully understood it.
June 5, 2016
Nintendo's much-delayed The Legend of Zelda title The Ocarina of Time was a massive hit in 1998, selling 7.6 million copies worldwide and becoming pretty much the most universally acclaimed videogame of its year. Nintendo was keen to avoid another lengthy delay between sequels - there were seven years between A Link to the Past and Ocarina - and so rather than develop the next game from scratch, the graphics engine was re-used and a small team assembled to quickly produce an Ocarina sequel as quickly as possible. Thus Majora's Mask arrived only two years later, looking very much the same as its predecessor but with a new setting, an all-new story, and an original game mechanic that ensured it stood out very much on its own.