January 31, 2017

Sun in the Last Days of the Shogunate (1957)

In the 1860s Japan is in a turbulent period of transition as the Americans' gunboat diplomacy forces the country to interact with a broader world. In a Tokyo brothel a grifter named Saheji (Frankie Sakai) overstays with no money, and is forced to work off his debt over the winter.

Sun in the Last Days of the Shogunate (released by Eureka's Masters of Cinema label under its Japanese title Bakumatsu Taiyoden) is a 1957 comedy directed by Yuzo Kawashima. In its own country it has been regarded as an all-time classic for many decades. A 2009 survey in the prestigious film journal Kinema Junpo ranked it as Japan's fourth-greatest film of all time, for example. Despite its local acclaim it has only recently become widely available to English-speaking audiences: better late than never.

This is a great movie comedy. While it does take a little while to build up steam, it is a beautifully performed farce with a nicely political edge, and a wonderful central performance by the stand-up comedian and actor Frankie Sakai.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Chain of Command, Part I"

It is 14 December 1992, and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) is unexpectedly relieved of his command in order to undertake a top secret mission for Starfleet. In his place comes Captain Edward Jellicoe (Ronny Cox), a no-nonsense commanding officer with his own way of organising the ship - and who takes an immediate dislike to Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes).

The path to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine received its final piece with "Chain of Command", a two-part storyline that brings back the Cardassian Union and emphasises their tenuous peace with the United Federation of Planets. It also throws a hugely entertaining wrench into the Enterprise's typically close-knit and cosy atmosphere. Edward Jellicoe is not like Captain Picard. We don't know him. He arrives abruptly. He immediately starts demanding changes. He rubs his entire crew up the wrong way. Riker looks to Picard for support, but Picard is already neck-deep preparing for a secret infiltration of Cardassian territory.

January 30, 2017

Gods of Egypt (2016)

Set (Gerard Butler), the god of the desert, betrays his own family at the coronation of his brother Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). He kills his own parents, blinds Horus, and assumes control over all of Egypt. A year later, a thief named Bek (Brenton Thwaites) sets out on a quest to save Horus and save all of Egypt from Set's rule.

Gods of Egypt was released about a year ago to some mild controversy over casting Caucasian actors as Egyptian gods and people, and to a wave of fiercely negative reviews by critics around the world. The film's director, Alex Proyas, took a great amount of offence at the critical response, calling the entire profession a pack of 'diseased vultures' and generally carrying on in a deeply embarrassing manner. His primary accusation was that most critics published negative reviews because most critics wanted to ensure they sided with the popular consensus: that critics basically all tow the same party line instead of judging individual films on their merits.

Whether that's true or not (spoiler: it isn't) I can at least attest to being a regular holder of minority opinions. When other critics thought John Carter was a terrible film, I said - and continue to maintain - it was great. When most critics hailed La La Land as one of 2016's best films, I found it rather mediocre. Alien 3 remains my favourite Alien film. So with my fiercely independent hat on, with a love for ambition in big-budget effects pictures over how much they actually succeed, I can say this: Gods of Egypt is a terrible film.

Red Dwarf: "Samsara"

It is 29 September 2016, and for the second episode of Red Dwarf XI.

The Red Dwarf discovers an escape capsule. As it approaches Kryten (Robert Llewelyn) and the Cat (Danny John-Jules) speak to one of the survivors. When the capsule is opened, both survivors are dead. The capsule's trajectory is tracked back to a crashed spaceship - the Samsara - lying at the sea floor of an ocean moon. Once onboard Kryten and Rimmer (Chris Barrie) are separated from the Cat and Lister (Craig Charles) and the true horror of the Samsara is revealed.

Last week I complained about how weak and tired the season premiere of Red Dwarf seemed to be. It was filled with old, repetitive jokes, and drew its humour from science fiction concepts and situations without really exploiting the core cast for humour. I always feel comedy comes best not from story but from interaction between characters, and over the years Red Dwarf seems to have increasingly forgotten that fact. I'm not sure if "Samsara" is honestly any fresher - it's still recycling the same jokes that have maintained the series for close to 30 years - but it at least works with the characters this time around. The result is a genuinely funny, if old-fashioned, half-hour of TV comedy.

January 29, 2017

The Pull List: 25 January 2017, Part 3

King Mancastle heads out to fight monsters, only to get himself killed - along with all but one of his knights - at the first dragon he meets. Now the blacksmith's wife Merinor is declared king, the tower-imprisoned princess Aeve is the new guard captain, and it's up to the remaining women of the newly renamed Ladycastle must prepare for the approaching onslaught of monsters and fantasy beasts charging their way.

Ladycastle has an amusing premise, and great artwork by Ashley A. Woods. The colouring is soft and delicate, and the character designs distinctive and appealing. It also subverts a few expectations: it's not the king's daughter that is declared king, but rather the blacksmith's wife. The princess, who's never wanted to be royalty, seems much happier grabbing a sword and preparing for battle.

That said, there's something very slightly disappointing about this first issue. I think I wanted something a lot more openly funny from this set-up, and writer Delilah S. Dawson appears to want to have her cake and eat it too. The book feels humorous in parts, but other sections fall a little flat. It feels flabby, which is not a reaction you likely want from readers for your first issue. This is a four-issue miniseries, however, so there are three more issues for the series to pick up. (3/5)

Ladycastle #1. Boom Studios. Written by Delilah S. Dawson. Art and colours by Ashley A. Woods. 

Under the cut: reviews of Action Comics, Batgirl, Detective Comics, Doctor Strange and Revival.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "The Quality of Life"

It is 16 November 1992, and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The Enterprise travels to an orbital mining platform at Tyrus 7A, where the project leader Dr Farralon  (Ellen Bry) demonstrates her innovative new maintenance robots known as 'Exocomps". When one of the Exocomps appears to malfunction Commander Data (Brent Spiner) takes the opportunity to investigate, and discovers indications that the Exocomps are not malfunctioning but are actually sentient beings.

"The Quality of Life" does not really do anything wrong, but at the same time it does not do anything particularly great or out of the ordinary. Ultimately its only crime is that it is boring. There's little urgency in the episode, and it takes what feels like an age to reach a fairly predictable ending. Even the occasional attempts to generating tension fall extremely flat, because there is never a proper sense of jeopardy generated.

January 28, 2017

Risen (2016)

In AD 33 Jerusalem, a Roman tribune named Clavius (Joseph Fiennes) is assigned by Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth) to supervise the execution by cruxifiction of a Jewish agitant named Yeshua (Cliff Curtis). When Yeshua's dead body disappears - appearing to fulfil predictions of his resurrection - Clavius is dispatched to rediscover the body and hunt down the disciples who spread rumours of Yeshua's return.

Risen is based on what strikes me as a remarkably inventive premise. It tells the Biblical story of Christ's death and resurrection, which has been adapted to the screen many times, but it does so from the perspective of a Roman soldier and investigator. The result is an odd little film suck somewhere between religious propaganda and a period crime movie.

I suspect for a lot of non-Christian viewers the film's religious nature will be a severe turn-off. For those comfortable with that aspect of the film or who, like me, have no problem enjoying it purely as fiction, there is a lot here to recommend. It is an imperfect but interesting historical drama with decent performances, some great moments and a nice visual aesthetic.

Yowamushi Pedal: "I Want to Catch Up!"

It is 18 November 2013, and time for the seventh episode of Yowamushi Pedal.

Armed with a proper racing bike for the first time, Onoda sets off in an attempt to close a near-impossible eight-minute lead and catch up with Imaizumi and Naruko. As the race begins to snake up the side of a mountain, it may be too difficult a task for Onoda to achieve. Meanwhile up ahead Imaizumi and Naruko have an unexpected encounter with a mysterious Frenchman.

So Yowamushi Pedal is a slow-paced series, with racing sequences that appear to be more or less occurring in real time. This cycling club welcome race for the first year students kicked off two episodes ago, ran all through the last episode, and is barely halfway through by the end of this one. I had a sneaky glance ahead and confirmed that the entire race, including the preparations, takes a full five episodes to play out. That's not even a championship race: it's simply the first race for new students.

January 27, 2017

The Pull List: 25 January 2017, Part 2

Jack Kirby would have turned 100 years old this year. The comic book industry legend created a raft of characters and series for both Marvel and DC Comics. At Marvel he co-created some of the publisher's most enduring and iconic characters, including the Incredible Hulk, the Fantastic Four, Thor and Iron Man. When he moved to DC Comics in 1971 he created a range of hugely inventive series that, while never as popular as his Marvel creations, helped to shape the fictional DC Universe into the form it takes to this day. His New Gods, notably the hugely powerful villain Darkseid, retain a dedicated cult audience to this day. A slightly more obscure creation, but again one with a keen cult following, was Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth, in which a blond teenage boy must navigate a post-apocalyptic world where humans have reverted to savagery and anthropomorphic animals now rule the Earth.

Kamandi seems particularly popular with comic book creators, and every time DC has relaunched or revived itself in recent years, a queue of writers and artists have formed - each with the hope of relaunching Kamandi and giving it their own personal angle. DC's publisher Dan Didio has resisted every time until now, where he's giving half of them the opportunity all at once.

Kamandi Challenge is a serialised re-imagining of Kamandi's story, with a different writer/artist team tackling each chapter. There is no over-arching storyline to this series: one team builds their issue to a cliffhanger, and it is up to the next team to resolve it. I am curious to see how this experiment goes, because while it could build to a very surprising and unexpected story it could also easily turn into some indulgent masturbatory exercise for the creatives involved. They are sure to have fun with this structure, but will their readers?

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "A Fistful of Datas"

It is 9 November 1992 and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Alexander (Brian Bonsall) drags his father Worf (Michael Dorn) onto the holodeck to play a wild west simulation. At the same time La Forge (LeVar Burton) and Data (Brent Spiner) attempt to interface Data's own positronic net with the Enterprise's computer systems. Something goes wrong: out in the real world Data begins to exhibit signs of Alexander's western game, and inside the holodeck the virtual characters all start turning into Data.

Season 6 must have been 'silly season' for the Star Trek: The Next Generation writers room. No sooner have we gone through Enterprise crew members being transformed into children that we're presented with this: Worf, Troi and Alexander playing at westerns in the holodeck, with Brent Spiner playing an entire town full of characters. It is ridiculous; in fact it's likely the most ridiculous holodeck-based episode so far. Somehow, and much like "Rascals" the previous week, "A Fistful of Datas" overcomes the stupidity of its premise and winds up being a remarkably funny and entertaining episodes.

January 26, 2017

The Pull List: 25 January 2017, Part 1

Justice League vs Suicide Squad comes to a slightly rushed end this week. It's a series that put itself in quite a creative bind. The stakes got raised massively in the previous two issues, so much so that I'm not sure any final issue potentially written could have been completely satisfying. From Maxwell Lord stealing the fabled Black Diamond to becoming possessed by its power to the insanely powerful Eclipso being released onto a defenceless world, there was simply not enough room to give such a terrible crisis the attention and story that it deserved.

Instead we get a fairly brief climax with an unexpected saviour, and a neat dove-tailing into Justice League of America, which relaunches in a couple of weeks. It's solid, but it still does not fully satisfy. There is some nice character work in the issue's second half, however, as well as a couple of tantalising threads for future DC storylines.

This final issue was illustrated by Howard Porter, using the looser aesthetic he developed while working on Justice League 3000. It's not the best art the series had, but it's effective enough. This has been a generally entertaining miniseries, taking what could have been a dreadful premise and actually working it into a really fun action storyline. I also really appreciated the weekly schedule, which gave it a momentum and a drive that made it feel like a properly important and gripping story. More miniseries from DC like this would not go awry. (3/5)

Justice League vs Suicide Squad #6. DC Comics. Written by Joshua Williamson. Art by Howard Porter. Colours by Alex Sinclair.

Under the cut: reviews of Divinity III: Stalinverse, Justice League of America: Killer Frost Rebirth #1, and Star Trek/Green Lantern: Stranger Worlds.

Yowamushi Pedal: "Welcoming Race"

It is 11 November 2013, and time for episode 6 of Yowamushi Pedal.

The first years' welcoming race begins: a 60 kilometre trail through the city, across flat roads, up a mountain, and around a dam. Onoda is excited to finally share a competitive race with Imaizumi and Naruko, but his excitement soon turns to despair when his 'mommy bike' simply cannot keep up with the other riders' racing bikes.

There is an immediate and overriding question that hangs over this episode: why did the cycling club allow Onoda to race with his mommy boke in the first place. It is clearly under-specced compared to the other riders, guaranteeing failure from the get-go. So why go on with the race? It may make for momentary drama on-screen, but it feels like a baffling move to generate suspense at the expense of actual story logic.

January 25, 2017

Calvary (2014)

Father James (Brendan Gleeson) is a Catholic priest serving a small Irish coastal community. One day a man enters the confession booth and warns Father James that he is going to shoot him dead the following Sunday. Over the remainder of the week, James grows increasingly confronted as the people of the town seems to uniformly goad and mock him, and he suffers unexpected attacks on his life and those closest to him.

Calvary is an independent British/Irish drama by writer/director John Michael McDonagh, following in the footsteps of his highly regarded playwright and screenwriter brother Martin McDonagh (In Bruges). It has a deeply idiosyncratic, bleakly comic tone to much of the film, and brings together an excellent cast to bring the odd, troublesome town to life. The film centres upon a career-best performance by Brendan Gleeson, but sadly it is weakened considerably by a deeply uneven and occasionally flat-out ridiculous screenplay. Gleeson's performance and some excellent cinematography by Larry Smith pulls the viewer through, but in more than a few moments it is a bit of a rough ride.

Izetta: The Last Witch: "The Secret of the Witch"

It is 22 October 2016, and time for the fourth episode of Izetta: The Last Witch.

Princess Finé returns to Landsbruck upon the death of her father. While preparations begin for her coronation, Finé meets with her military council to determine the next course of action. All are keen for Izetta to continue fighting for Eylstadt, however it is clear that her magical powers are not always available to her.

After the action-packed war scenes of episode 3, Izetta: The Last Witch takes events down a level for an episode of plot development, character backstory and the laying-down of rules for Izetta's magic. That's an important thing: magic may be fantasy, but to work effectively in a narrative it needs to have rules. There needs to be parameters set for the viewer, so that they can understand what Izetta's limits are, and what she can and cannot do. If this episode simply contained the above, it would easily get another thumbs-up from me. Unfortunately events are derailed by the bane of anime: fan service.

January 24, 2017

Lake Placid (1999)

On a large lake in Maine, a marine fine and game warden is killed in the water by an unseen predator. An investigation is mounted by a team including the local sheriff Hank Keough (Brendan Gleeson), fish and game officer Jack Wells (Bill Pullman), palaeontologist Kelly Scott (Bridget Fonda) and eccentric millionaire and crocodile enthusiast Hector Cyr (Oliver Platt). They soon discover that the lake is home to a 30 foot long saltwater crocodile, which leads to the question on how to track, capture or kill such an animal.

Lake Placid is the sort of film one would describe as a 'guilty pleasure', where there ever a need to feel guilty about enjoying a film. It is a deliberate B-movie, pitting four humans against a giant, hungry and fiercely territorial monster. It has the requisite scenes of people in peril, supporting players getting bitten and murdered, and hushed theories about its origins and purpose. Where the film excels is that director Steve Miner has cast a calibre of lead actor way above what is expected for this kind of a film, and the screenplay comes from television writer/producer David E. Kelley who brings with him the self-awareness and snark that typified his popular creations like Ally McBeal, Picket Fences and Boston Legal. The result is like watching a tricked-out Holden Torana: it should be something cheap and forgettable, yet it unexpectedly - and absurdly - out-performs its expectations.

Yowamushi Pedal: "The Sōhoku High School Bicycle Racing Team"

It is 4 November 2013, and time for episode 5 of Yowamushi Pedal.

Onoda is shocked to discover Naruko has become a student at his high school, and is persuaded by Naruko to go with him to join the school's bicycle racing club. On the way they encounter three other prospective new members: Kawada, Sakurai, and the weirdly over-confident Terufumi. All six first-year students are expecting a warm welcome. Instead they are told they must compete in their first race immediately - and only the fastest two will compete in the inter-school championships.

Yowamushi Pedal has shown the Sōhoku High bicycle club a few times already, but only ever in relatively brief snippets. It has taken until this fifth episode to actually send the lead characters over to try and join them. I actually like the patience in that, particularly in a series that has such a high episode count. It has given the audience time to get to know and like Onoda, Imaizumi and Miki, and certainly experience Naruko - I'm not sure like is the best word, but I am warming to him a little.

January 23, 2017

Red Dwarf: "Twentica"

It is 22 September 2016, and time for the Season 11 premiere of Red Dwarf.

When a group of cyborgs travel back in time to change Earth's history, Lister (Craig Charles), Rimmer (Chris Barrie), Cat (Danny John-Jules) and Kryten (Robert Llewelyn) ride the timestream back to stop them. They discover an alternative 1920s America where technology has been outlawed and the cyborgs rule the Earth.

Red Dwarf returned last year for an 11th season, beginning with this time travel adventure. It's been a long-running series with some enormous gaps in between seasons: while this might be the 11th season, it comes a full 28 years after the series began. It feels old. It feels worn out and jaded. Obviously the cast are almost three decades older, but that's fine: actors get old, and there are always stories you can tell with a man in his 50s that you cannot tell about a man in his 20s. The cast have aged. The characters, by-and-large, have not. The series itself - the sense of humour, the plots, the gags - just feels so dreadfully, miserably old. Even the jokes are likely receiving an old age pension.

The Pull List: 18 January 2017, Part 3

Black Road has returned with a new story arc. Magnus the Black has been betrayed by Julia, but now finds himself allied with the lethal mercenary Kitta to infiltrate the northern walled town of Oakenfort and murder its bishop.

Some years ago Brian Wood wrote an exceptional historical series for DC Vertigo titled Northlanders, which told self-contained stories about vikings across several centuries. It was a stunning, impeccably researched series, and it is fabulous to see him back working in that area once again. Black Road is a much pulpier, exaggerated sort of a comic, but that's a deliberate choice and it is resulting in a very different kind of viking story. Magnus is a great character, and Kitta is shaping up to be pretty solid as well.

Garry Brown's artwork, paired by Dave McCaig's colours, enhances the drama through powerful character designs and massive, bleak landscapes. Wood and Brown did outstanding work together on The Massive and Ninth Wave, and it is really great to see this immensely talented partnership continue with a new set of characters. Image has had so much success in recent years with science fiction comics; I reckon historical comics could easily be their next big thing - so long as they can find a few more titles as strong as this one. (5/5)

Black Road #6. Image. Written by Brian Wood. Art by Garry Brown. Colours by Dave McCaig.

Under the cut: reviews of Aquaman, Descender, Doctor Aphra and Spider-Gwen.

January 22, 2017

Jolin Tsai: Play (2014)

Jolin Tsai is a hugely popular Taiwanese recording artist, whose career has been peppered with smash hits, sold-out concert tours and constant Madonna-style image reinventions. As is often the case with North Asian celebrities, Tsai has expanded her performing career to incorporate modelling, consumer goods promotion, and acting - most recently providing the voice of Judy Hopps in the Chinese edition of Disney's Zootopia.

Play, released in 2014, is her most recent album to date. It is a collection of bright, superficial pop songs that was a huge success in her own country.

Given the right melody I can really engage with sugary, superficial pop music, and I had particularly enjoyed Tsai's earlier 2012 album Muse. Sadly Play does not match up. There are a few too many songs here that simply lack that ear worm quality that makes for great pop music. Asides from one highlight it is all just a bit too ordinary and disappointing.

Izetta: The Last Witch: "The Sword in the Heavens"

On the front lines of Coenenberg, the Eylstadt army makes a final stand to prevent an invasion by the Germanian forces. They have no hope of success, and are simply buying time so that civilians may evacuate the area. Izetta wants to help, but Finé forbids her involvement; will Izetta obey?

It would be a pretty boring episode if she did: "The Sword in the Heavens" matches the first episode of Izetta: The Last Witch with tremendously exciting action sequences and emotive war drama. It manages to pack quite a lot into 25 minutes, and does a generally great job of it too.

January 21, 2017

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)

An environmental catastrophe sends the Klingon Empire spinning towards total collapse. Taking advantage of the crisis, the Klingon Chancellor Gorkon (David Warner) arranges with Starfleet's Captain Spock (Leonard Nimoy) to begin immediate peace negotiations with the United Federation of Planets. Captain Kirk (William Shatner) is sent to escort the Chancellor to Earth onboard the USS Enterprise, but when Gorkon is assassinated and the Enterprise's crew implicated, Kirk and McCoy (DeForest Kelley) are sentenced to a Klingon prison while Spock plays detective in the attempt to find the real culprits.

A lot Star Trek fans debate which series was best: the original series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager or Enterprise? The smug side-answer is actually none of those. I think there's a strong argument to be made that the best Star Trek ever got was the four-film extended narrative formed by The Wrath of Khan, The Search for Spock, The Voyage Home and The Undiscovered Country. They combine humour with drama, action with intrigue, and they actually seem to mean something to their characters. They may initially seem to be about space battles, rescuing whales and assassinating Klingons, but really they're ultimately about what it means to grow old.

Izetta: The Last Witch: "Scars and Gunfire"

It is 8 October 2016, and time for the second episode of Izetta: The Last Witch.

The witch Izetta has rescued Princess Finé from the Germanian military, but now she must race to find assistance before Finé's injuries overcome her. A series of flashbacks reveal how the witch and the princess first met, and the bond that initially formed between them.

The second episode of Izetta: The Last Witch is a more sedate affair than the first; after a brief but dramatic aerial dogfight the episode settles down to further set up its characters and premise. That is not necessarily a bad thing in the long term, but it does make things feel a little deflated and disappointing.

January 20, 2017

The Pull List: 18 January 2017, Part 2

So I read comic books as a child, like most children do: mainly British comedic books like Nutty and Whizzer & Chips. I did read American comics when I got my hands on them, though - usually anything involving Batman or The Incredible Hulk. In my teenage years I got back into them around the time that Image Comics was launched, and I've stayed interested in comics in a big way ever since. There were basically three comics that captured my interest at that time: Todd McFarlane's brand-new, wonderfully ridiculous Spawn, Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle's excellent run on Batman, and The Ray: a six-issue miniseries by Jack H. Harris and Joe Quesada. It rebooted an old DC superhero for the 1990s, and now 25 years later DC is rebooting him again in the one-shot Justice League of America: The Ray Rebirth #1.

For an introduction to a revised character it is simple, direct and pretty entertaining. Ray Terrill, aka the Ray, has been redeveloped a little. He's gay now, and his power set has been advanced and expanded somewhat. Now he can fly, shoot light, create illusions and make both himself and other invisible. Thankfully his iconic appearance remains: I always thought the Ray Terrill version of the character looked the best out of all the versions over the decades.

Having now read the introductions for the Ray, Vixen and the Atom, I have to say the forthcoming Justice League of America is shaping up to have a pretty inventive line-up of characters. This has been a good stunt by DC to publish these one-shot prologues. (3/5)

Justice League of America: The Ray Rebirth #1. DC Comics. Written by Steve Orlando. Art and colours by Stephen Byrne.

Under the cut: reviews of Batman, Green Arrow, Justice League vs Suicide Squad and Superman.

Doctor Who: "The Daleks"

It is 28 November 1964, and time for the second instalment of "The Dalek Invasion of Earth".

The Doctor (William Hartnell) and Ian (William Russell) are prisoners of the Daleks, who have successfully invaded the Earth of AD 2164. Meanwhile Barbara (Jacqueline Hill) and Susan (Carole Ann Ford) have been rescued by London's human resistance, who are planning a bombing attack on the Dalek saucer.

Doctor Who's first epic event serial continues in this solid second episode. It is not quite as attention-grabbing as the first part, but a combination of drama, action and menace help to ensure this serial remains one of the best of the series so far. The presentation of the Daleks feels much more confident than in their debut run, and the devastated future London brings along with it a provocative parallel with the real-life London during the Blitz.

January 19, 2017

The Pull List: 18 January 2017, Part 1

In a post-apocalyptic USA, two brothers find an unconscious woman beneath a tree, cradling a baby in a gas mask. Certainly it's one of the more arresting opening premises for a comic series, and it helps kick The Few off in fine style.

This extra-length opening issue tells a reasonably engaging story, but it is Hayden Sherman's artwork that really makes it jump off the page. Using a similar visual style to the likes of Sean Phillips, Sherman's jagged, edgy images give the whole story a sense of danger and tension. He has a strong sense for white space as well, using fairly limited art in many of the panels to emphasise the action and drama. The limited colour palette works towards that goal as well.

Like a lot of first issues, this gives a solid set-up without really indicating where the story is going to go in future months. For now it seems well worth keeping an eye on: if the story kicks in well in February this might really be something. The art quality is already here - it's just Sean Lewis' story and script that need to bring the goods. (3/5)

The Few #1. Image. Written by Sean Lewis. Art by Hayden Sherman.

Under the cut: reviews of Black Widow, Divinity III: Aric Son of the Revolution, Revolutionaries and Star Trek: Waypoints.

Railroad Tigers (2016)

In December 1941 a group of Chinese railroad workers, led by the station porter Ma Yuan (Jackie Chan) engage in carefully staged raids of Japanese train shipments to disrupt Japan's military efforts to occupy China and invade other Asian nations to the south. When an injured soldier tells the group of a failed mission to blow up a strategically vital bridge, they take it upon themselves to complete the mission on the Chinese army's behalf.

Railroad Tigers is a hugely enjoyable slice of populist action-comedy, headlined by Jackie Chan in one of his most entertaining films in years. While the film has problems - in fact it has quite a few of them - none of them manage to fully obstruct what is ultimately a hell of a lot of fun. This is his third collaboration with director Ding Sheng, following Little Big Soldier in 2010 and Police Story 2013. To my mind this is the strongest of the three. It has plenty of action, a strong line in slapstick comedy, and makes the best use of its ageing star that I can remember.

January 18, 2017

Ikiru (1952)

A disaffected civil servant in late middle-age (Takashi Shimura) learns that he has terminal cancer and a few months left to live. After the initial shock and panic wears off, he sets out in a last-ditch attempt to find a proper purpose and meaning to his life.

Ikiru is Akira Kurosawa's 13th feature film as director, and was his first film after his disastrous experience making The Idiot - which his studio sliced down in post-production and arguably badly weakened in the process. I have no idea if the bruising gauntlet had to run with The Idiot affected his ability to direct Ikiru, but it strikes me as a fairly messy and inconsistent film - and a fair drop down in quality from his widely regarded classics Rashomon and Stray Dog.

There are tonal problems with the film, which swings from bleak satire to uplifting melodrama and back to satire. It is very possible that these shifts in tone were wholly intentional; if so, they strike me as a failed experiment. By trying to make two sorts of film in one there is an extent to which Kurosawa fails to deliver with both. General critical opinion seems to disagree with me entirely, as Ikiru is regularly held up as the 'lost classic' of Kurosawa's career. Personally - and in the end all film reviews are personal ones - Ikiru simply failed to fully impress me. Kurosawa had done better, and would go on to do much better, in the future.

Izetta: The Last Witch: "Beginning of the War"

It is 1 October 2016, and time for the first episode of Izetta: The Last Witch.

In an alternative Earth, a Second World War is looming as the Empire of Germania begins to invade its immediate neighbours. With the island of Britannia refusing to participate and defend its regional allies, Princess Fine of Eylstadt goes on the run from the Germanian forces with the assistance of a flying witch named Izetta.

So this new 12-episode anime is not exactly subtle with its fictional universe, but you can immediately see a method to its madness. Making late 1930s Germany a slightly transformed nation means that Izetta: The Last Witch can essentially do 'magical witch versus nazis' without the inconvenience and controversy of putting actual nazis into its narrative. There is not a Fuhrer but an Emperor. No one salutes with a 'seig heil', but they do a slightly different salute with a 'seig reich'. It's so close as to make no odds, but just far enough away to give the series a nice bit of freedom with what happens as the story goes on.

January 17, 2017

Spotlight (2015)

In 2001 the Boston Globe gains a new editor, Marty Baron (Liev Shreiber), who directs the paper's dedicated "Spotlight" team to investigate claims that the city's Catholic Cardinal Bernard Law knew that one of the city's priests was sexually abusing children, but relocated the priest rather than remove him from the Church or report him to the police. As the team - led by Walter "Robby" Robinson (Michael Keaton) - investigates, they uncover a larger story than they could ever have imagined.

Spotlight is based on a true story: the above-mentioned investigation into the Catholic Church's unofficial policy of relocating and hiding abusive priests to avoid scandal. The real-life story won its writers a 2003 Pulitzer Prize, and had enormous repercussions for the Church worldwide. Tom McCarthy's 2015 film adaptation is a phenomenal piece of work that was appropriately rewarded with the Academy Award for Best Picture. It is an intelligent, provocative and powerful work of filmmaking.

The Pull List: 11 January 2017, Part 3

It is often difficult to track down English-language editions of French comic books. Cinebooks do an exceptional job, but they cannot adapt everything. It is interesting to see Titan Comics dabble in this area as well with Khaal: Chronicle of a Galactic Emperor, a 2011 bande dessinée series reformatted to an American comic book length and size and released last week to comic shops.

Khaal is set on a massive penal colony starship that, due to its isolated location and locked-down nature, evaded the destruction of a huge galactic war. Inside it is ruled by Khaal, a powerful human with psychic links to alien servants, who defeats any challengers to his rule in the arena. Meanwhile a small group of alien enemies conspire to overthrow him.

This is a very traditional French science fantasy epic, packed with sex and muscles. Valentin Secher's artwork is gorgeous in that typical Metal Hurlant style. For the most part Louis' script matches the tone, although scenes of Khaal and his harem of sex slaves feel woefully out of date and a little tedious to read. Overall I'd prefer seeing this series presented in 48-page perfect-bound or hardcover editions like French comics usually are: what we have here not only splits the narrative in two but shrinks the artwork down awkwardly to American dimensions. For anybody craving some old-fashioned sexy French comics, however, it is definitely promising stuff. (3/5)

Khaal: Chronicle of a Galactic Emperor #1. Titan Comics. Written by Louis. Art by Valentin Secher. Colours by Delphine Rieu.

Under the cut: reviews of Daredevil, Grave Lilies, Motor Crush, Ms Marvel and Poe Dameron.

January 16, 2017

Yowamushi Pedal: "Naruko Shoukichi"

It is 28 October 2013, and time for another episode of Yowamushi Pedal.

While visiting the anime fan's paradise Akihabara, Onoda meets Naruko Shoukichi, a loud and aggressive cyclist from Japan's Kansai region. When a passing motorist flicks a lit cigarette onto Onada's bicycle, Naruko is incensed and insists they chase down the car on their bikes to flick the cigarette butt back. The chase further educates Onoda on the science and strategy of high-speed cycling.

There are two main elements to this fourth episode of Yowamushi Pedal. The first is an explanation for high-speed cycling techniques, including the use of gears and slipstreaming in high winds. The second is the introduction of the series' fourth key character: the noisy, brash and ridiculously self-centred Naruko Shoukichi.

Doctor Who: "World's End"

It is 21 November 1964, two days shy of Doctor Who's first anniversary, and it is time for "World's End".

A man stands on the edge of the Thames in London. A bridge is behind him; it has clearly seen better days. Weeds have grown over rubble and wreckage. Behind the man is a large sign: "It is forbidden to dump bodies in the river". The man wears a strange mechanical apparatus around his head and neck. In a sudden, frenzied moment the man rips the apparatus away from around his neck, and then stiffly but calmly walks into the river and drowns himself. Once he is dead, the scene returns to a state of silent, desolate calm.

You really do have to pause for a moment to consider what has just occurred. All this in the first minute of an episode of Doctor Who. This is a television series for children, isn't it? Rubber-suit monsters abound, or historical figures dressed in wonderful period costumes, or William Hartnell as the Doctor coming up with a clever scheme to escape his latest adventure and return to his TARDIS. Instead there is death, and suicide, and the ruins of London. It is easily the most startling and eerily effective opening to a Doctor Who serial yet.

January 15, 2017

Deadpool (2016)

Deadpool is a film that several Hollywood studios have been attempting to make for about a decade and a half, and it has taken until 2016 for it to finally gets its chance to impress. For most of that time actor Ryan Reynolds has been attached to star as well, so before any kind of actual review begins I feel it's worth pausing to both applaud 20th Century Fox for finally giving the project a chance and to congratulate Reynolds for his stamina and persistence, if nothing else.

Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) is a terminally ill mercenary given a second chance at life through an experimental process to activate mutant genes in his body. Ruthlessly betrayed, he sets out on a quest for revenge against the villain who transformed him into a hideously scarred psychopath with Wolverine-like healing powers.

To be honest there is not much in the way of story to Deadpool. It essentially has a couple of extended action scenes that frame extended flashbacks. It is basically a loose skeleton upon which the film can hang a lot of rude gags, extreme violence, knowing pop culture references and comic book in-jokes. That does not just work as a description of Deadpool the film; it can also work as a description of the comic book franchise upon which it is based.

The Pull List: 11 January 2017, Part 2

The first five-issue story arc of All-Star Batman had been entertained, but also questioning the book's general purpose. Written by Scott Snyder, it simply felt like another five issues of his lengthy Batman run. Thankfully with this sixth issue we get something genuinely different and, to be honest, rather artful.

In this issue Batman tracks down Mr Freeze to prevent his latest insane plan to punish the world for his wife's near-death: releasing a long-frozen virus from beneath the Earth's perma-frost. The big difference in this case is that the story is related not through dialogue but through prose. It gives the entire issue a strange, artful feel and tone. The turn of phrase is just beautiful to read, with a near poetic rhythm to it. That is all accompanied by excellent art by Jock, the artist with whom Snyder did a tremendously good run on Detective Comics ("The Black Mirror") shortly before the New 52 started.

In a short back-up strip, Duke Thomas continues his training under Batman in a great little storyline illustrated by Francesco Francavilla. I adore Francavilla's artwork, so it's great to see him contributing a few pages to this series.

I'm not sure where this new lead arc "Ends of the Earth" is going, or if the prose style is going to continue, but even taken as a done-in-one single issue this is pretty remarkable stuff. (5/5)

All-Star Batman #6. DC Comics. Written by Scott Snyder. Art by Jock. Colours by Matt Hollingsworth. Backup art by Francesco Francavilla.

Under the cut: reviews of Action Comics, Batgirl and the Birds of Prey, Doctor Who: The 11th Doctor, Justice League of America: Vixen, and Justice League vs Suicide Squad.

January 14, 2017

Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley's The Island of Dr Moreau (2014)

In the mid-1990s cult director Richard Stanley (Hardware, Dust Devils) went to Hollywood with a dream of making a stylish film adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel The Island of Dr Moreau. That dream was pretty much shattered immediately, and the resulting film - ultimately directed by Hollywood career helmer John Frankenheimer - went down as one of the most unpopular and critically derided films of 1996.

Lost Soul, a 2014 documentary by David Gregory, recounts the troubled development and production of The Island of Dr Moreau, interviewing key members of the film's cast and crew and putting together the most comprehensive account available on precisely what happened to the film and what occurred to make such a promising project crash and burn in such a spectacular fashion. It is not the best documentary of its kind - that remains Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe's spectacular Lost in La Mancha - but it is a fascinating and regularly entertaining account of one of modern Hollywood's most legendarily disastrous movie shoots.

Jessica Jones: "AKA 99 Friends"

While continuing her hunt for Killgrave (David Tennant, Jessica (Krysten Ritter) accepts a case from a jewelry designer who suspects her husband is having an affair. Meanwhile police officer Will Simpson (Wil Traval) returns to Trish's apartment to apologise for his actions while controlled by Killgrave. At the law firm, Hogarth (Carrie Ann Moss) and Jessica begin putting together a support group for Killgrave's victims.

While failing to match the quality of the series' first two episodes, "AKA 99 Friends" at least manages to improve on the third. Many of the problems that disrupted that episode for me are still there, but for whatever reason they are being managed a little better. The overall story arc progresses to a satisfying extent while time is taken out for an essentially self-contained storyline at the same time.

January 13, 2017

The Pull List: 11 January 2017, Part 1

I have been fairly harsh on the comic book adventures of Miles Morales in recent years. This alternative universe Spider-Man started off so well, with a strong, likeable character and a great supporting cast, and creator/writer Brian Michael Bendis' excellent dialogue. Then his own adventures started to get derailed by constant and intrusive crossovers and events. I generally do not read Marvel's event series, because every time I do I seem to go away bitterly disappointed by them, and this makes all of those tie-in Miles Morales comics essentially a waste of time and money. Still I have persevered, because the character really is great, and I keep hoping beyond hope that he will one day return for a sustained run of self-contained adventures.

Spider-Man #12 gets it half-right. It is a crossover with Spider-Gwen #16, a comic that I do not read, and that is mildly annoying. On the other hand thus far it has not relied upon me having read an event series (most recently Civil War II - who won?) and seems to be telling its own story. The dialogue is great, and the flashback structure is pretty amusing - although it does get over-played a tad. Sara Pichelli's artwork is, as always, excellent, with varied panel layouts and great character expressions. It's a solid set-up to what looks like it could be a really fun issue over in Spider-Gwen, so much so that I will likely grit my teeth and buy it to see what happens next.

I do still hope Miles gets a bit more of a focus on his own book, but I will grudgingly take a contain crossover over an event tie-in. At least Marvel is headed in the right direction. Mind you: Spider-Gwen as a love interest over Ms Marvel? Don't do this to me, Marvel. (4/5)

Spider-Man #12. Marvel. Written by Brian Michael Bendis. Art by Sara Pichelli with Gaetano Carlucci. Colours by Justin Ponsor.

Under the cut: reviews of Detective Comics, Doctor Who, and Dungeons & Dragons.

Top 10 films of 2016

This is a top 10 list with a pretty big caveat. I simply do not get the time to go to the cinema with anywhere near the kind of frequency with which I used to manage. In total I have managed to see just 27 films first released in 2016, and that really is not any kind of list from which to assemble a legitimate top 10. That said, the 10 I enjoyed the most are all films that I would enthusiastically recommend to others. My recommendation is to view this not as a proper "Top 10" - there are almost certainly films I have not yet seen that would supplant others on this list - but simply as a list of 10 films released last year that I think are well worth viewing.

The list got delayed by about a week because I took a while to successfully see Moana, and given my opinions on other Walt Disney animated features, it seemed a likely bet for a top 10 slot. Let's count them down from #10 to #1, and see if it made the list.

January 12, 2017

This is the End (2013)

A group of narcissistic actors get together for a raucous party - only for the world to end at the same time. Trapped inside James Franco's Hollywood mansion, they must contend with a post-apocalyptic world of fire and demons while not turning upon one another at the same time.

This is the End, directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, feels like a genuinely inventive Hollywood comedy. It takes the assembled cast of a whole generation of recent comedies, including Rogen, Franco, Danny McBride, Jonah Hill, and others, and gets them to play ridiculous parodies of themselves in a disastrous situation. On the one level it's the ultimate in 'inside baseball' comedies, since so much of the humour depends on familiarity with the various and actors and their films. On the other it's a really fresh idea that is played out to wonderful extremes.

Obviously comedy is particularly subjective, and if you do not enjoy the sorts of comedy films usually produced by the likes of Franco, Rogen or McBride you are unlikely to see much appeal here. If you're a fan, however, this is absolutely one of their best works.

Yowamushi Pedal: "I Don't Have Any Friends"

It is 21 October 2013, and time for Yowamushi Pedal.

Competitive cycling enthusiast Imaizumi has challenged Onada to a race up the sharp incline to their high school, because he wants to see Onada's freakish natural talent for cycling uphill for himself. To give Onada an incentive he has agreed to join Onada's anime club at school should he be beaten. Halfway through the race, it seems as if Onada has no chance - until assistance from Miki gives him the boost he needs.

The majority of this episode is taken up by the second half of Imaizumi and Onada's bicycle race, which one would think would make it a pretty boring episode. As it turns out it's pretty great, thanks to some great action and a clever insertion of real-life bicycle maintenance and cycling practice.

January 11, 2017

Heartbeat Detector (2007)

Simon Kessler (Mathieu Almaric) is a workplace psychologist working in Paris for a German corporation. One day he is approached by the company's vice-president with a problem: the CEO, Mathias Jüst (Michael Lonsdale), has been behaving erratically. He sits in his company car listening to music instead of coming into the office. He goes off in strange trails of thought. He has been caught quietly sobbing at his desk. When Kessler begins to investigate Jüst, he also winds up discovering more than he expected about the company for which he works - and its appalling past.

Heartbeat Detector is a 2007 French drama with an extraordinary sense of menace and atmosphere but also a central accusation with which it is almost impossible to fully engage. At the least, however, it is a powerful and provocative work with strong performances and a nicely ambivalent screenplay. The central performance by Mathieu Almaric alone is worth the price of admission. On the other hand if you are easily triggered by imagery from or discussion of the Holocaust, it's best turning away now.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Rascals"

It is 30 October 1992, and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

A transporter accident turns Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart), Ensign Ro (Michelle Forbes), Keiko O'Brien (Rosalind Chao) and Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg) into children, while retaining their adult intelligence and experience. Before a solution can be found the Enterprise is invaded by Ferengi, and repelling the enemy may come down to Picard and his de-aged companions.

If there was an award for the stupidest concept ever thrown at Star Trek: The Next Generation, it would be the idea of transforming several characters into children for an episode. It makes no scientific sense; in fact, it does not even generally wave in the rough direction of science. It is a farcical idea with no basis in reality and pretty much no possibility of ever being treated seriously. Coupled with that is the idea that a small group of Ferengi could take over the Enterprise with two beaten-up Klingon birds of prey and a few firearms. There basically is not a single element of this entire episode that is not one of the most ridiculous things you will ever see.

January 10, 2017

Yowamushi Pedal: "To Recruit More Members"

It is 14 October 2013, and time for episode 2 of Yowamushi Pedal.

Having seen Onoda's freakish abilities at cycling uphill, Imaizumi challenges him to a race: from the town below the school all the way around to the steep rear entrance. To give Onoda a stake in the race, Imaizumi promises to join Onoda's anime club if Onoda wins the race. Hearing of their contest, Miki organises a group of friends to watch and cheer the cyclists on.

There is good and bad in this second episode of Yowamushi Pedal, but it is mainly good. The series continues to impress with its immensely likeable characters and great sense of humour. On the other hand, the effectively slow pace of the episode - the race begins but does not end here - suggests, along with the episode count lying ahead, that this is going to be a very stretched-out kind of a series. While I am concerned my patience may not last, given I'm notoriously slow and lazy at finishing anime, for now its immense charms are keeping me watching.

The Pull List: 4 January 2017, Part 3

Let's talk about Giant Days. I read it every month, and more often that not give it a quick review along the lines of 'so great, really funny, nice characters' and so on. Now that it's hit an impressive 23 issues (including a one-shot holiday special) it is worth pausing to appreciate just how likeable and enjoyable a book it is.

The book focuses on three women, now aged 19, who have been studying together at university. That experience has brought along with it storylines about romance, break-ups, coming out as gay, being a goth, finding student accommodation, student politics, music festivals, and pretty much anything else immediately recognisable to any former or current university student in the developed world. The humour is great, and very closely tied to the characters. Those characters are broadly developed but equally likeable.

This issue focuses on Daisy's first steps in a lesbian relationship with the aggressive and intense German exchange student Ingrid. It is funny and also rather sweet, as the insular and nervous Daisy is forced well out of her comfort zone for the first time. Subplots keeps spinning for her housemates: Esther, for example, is stuck in a horrible job in a bakery while desperately graving a job at the science fiction bookstore down the road.

One of the best assets of Giant Days is that it is enormously consistent. It might not be the very best book published in any given week, but it is never less than excellent. It's warm, funny and just one of those wonderful comic books you look forward to reading each and every month. (4/5)

Giant Days #22. Boom Studios. Written by John Allison. Art by Max Sarin and Liz Fleming. Colours by Whitney Cogar.

Under the cut: reviews of The Autumnlands, Saga and The Wicked + the Divine.

January 9, 2017

Yowamushi Pedal: "Because I Can Go to Akiba for Free"

It is 7 October 2013, and time for the first episode of Yowamushi Pedal.

Onoda Sakamichi has his first day at Chiba Sohoku Public High School, where he plans on joining the school's anime club. Upon arrival he is dismayed to discover that the club has been closed down with no groups available other than athletic ones. Another new student, Imaizume Shusuke, is a hyper-competitive cyclist who plans to join and dominate the school's cycling club - only to discover that Sakamichi, who rides his bike 45km a day to visit Akihabara and buy anime merchandise, is secretly an enormously talanted rider himself.

Yowamushi Pedal is an amiable comedy-drama anime based around a high school cycling club, and based on the popular manga by Wataru Watanabe. It is a sports anime as well, a genre that has been rolling along to great success for decades now. I have never really watched that much sports anime. I did enjoy Tsuritama, a 12-part anime about bass fishing, but it also featured mind control and aliens. Yowamushi Pedal is just about the cycling, and its first season alone is much, much longer.

Moana (2016)

Moana Waialiki is the young heir to the Polynesian island of Motonui. When a spreading sickness begins to affect the island, she sets off alone on a quest to find the demi-god Maui and force him to return a stolen gemstone to the island goddess Te Fiti. It is a perilous quest, packed with dangers including an army of coconut warriors, an avaricious giant crab, and the fearsome lava demon Te Ka.

The Walt Disney Animation Studios owe a hell of a lot to Ron Clements and John Musker, the directors who arguably more than any others came to define the tone and style of the studio's feature film output from the mid-1980s. Their directorial debut The Great Mouse Detective was something of a warm-up, but with their second feature The Little Mermaid they knocked Disney's animated films into a commercial and critical stratosphere. The film kicked off what is widely referred to as 'the Disney Renaissance', an unparalleled string of high quality and hugely successful films that ran from The Little Mermaid in 1989 through to Tarzan in 1999. During that period Clements and Musker also directed Aladdin and Hercules, and subsequently they also delivered the underrated Treasure Planet and the excellent The Princess and the Frog. To a large extent Moana may be seen as the culmination of their directorial careers.

January 8, 2017

Jean Michel Jarre: Zoolook (1984)

Zoolook is the seventh studio album by French electronic musician and composer Jean Michel Jarre, released in 1984. Jarre became an international sensation with the release of his 1978 album Oxygene, which easily remains his best known work. Throughout the 1980s in particular he was an immensely popular electronic musician, producing works combining synthesizers and electronic samples. As a child I was quite a big fan of his stuff, and owned several albums on cassette tape. They all got left behind many years, however, and it has been years since I have listened to any of his music beyond what appears in the occasional feature film like Peter Weir's Gallipoli.

The discovery of some cheap 2014 remasters has tempted me back to see whether or not his works stand up, beginning with Zoolook. This 2014 remaster contains new mixes of both "Ethnicolor" and "Diva" produced by Jarre specifically for the re-release. While admittedly I haven't heard either track since the mid-1990s, they sound pretty much the same to me.

The Fog (1980)

Just as the Californian town of Antonio Bay prepares to celebrate its 100th anniversary a supernatural fog envelops the town, bringing with it the ghosts of those murdered a century ago by Antonio Bay's founders. The ghosts are out for revenge: their murderers are long dead, but it seems their descendants will do just as well.

The Fog is a 1980 horror film directed by John Carpenter from a script by Carpenter and producer Debra Hill. It was Carpenter's first film following the release of his successful and groundbreaking slasher movie Halloween. While The Fog is also a horror movie, it is made in a distinctly different style. It is a much more old-fashioned, gothic sort of film. While far from Carpenter at his best, it nonetheless has a modest sort of charm to it. At 89 minutes including credits it is a pretty breezy watch, and has enough scares and clever ideas to sustain its fairly short running time.

January 7, 2017

The Pull List: 4 January 2017, Part 2

Let's have a look at this past week's DC titles, starting with the weekly event crossover Justice League vs Suicide Squad. Last week the League were defeated and transported to Belle Reve prison, under the control of Amanda Waller. Waller's subsequent proposal is simple: team up with the Suicide Squad to protect her and the critical resource she holds from a fast-approaching team of villains led by the psychic Maxwell Lord.

So the downside to this issue is that the action pretty much entirely grinds to a halt. It is effectively an issue for plot exposition and character moments. The huge storyline running underneath the whole DC Universe at the moment - that someone influenced history and somehow removed 10 years from the world - gets a lot of attention, including a key revelation about Max's villain team that I did not expect.

Jesus Merino's artwork feels a bit flat after the work done in the first two issues, but I suspect that may be more the result of a weaker story than a weaker artist. Hopefully next issue will boast a bit more in the way of fight scenes and adventure. (3/5)

Justice League vs Suicide Squad #3. DC Comics. Written by Joshua Williamson. Art by Jesus Merino and Andy Owens. Colours by Alex Sinclair and Jeremy Skipper.

Under the cut: reviews of Aquaman, Batman, Green Arrow and Superman.

Fleabag (2016)

Fleabag, written by and starring Phoebe Waller-Bridge, is the best television series of 2016. It is nominally a six-episode half-hour comedy produced in partnership between the BBC and Amazon Studios. While it is savagely funny throughout, selling Fleabag purely as some kind of new sitcom severely under-sells its achievements. It is also a superb and deeply effective drama, capable of some of the most gut-wrenching moments of upset in between its harsh, cutting laughs. It is a complete cliche to claim 'you'll laugh, you'll cry', but in the later episodes in particularly I have to admit to both laughing out loud and tearing up within the same 25 minute episode.

Waller-Bridge plays the protagonist, an unnamed woman living in London and single-handedly running a failing guinea pig-themed cafe. She is constantly breaking up with her boyfriend Harry (Hugh Skinner) to indulge in one-night stands. She regularly squabbles with her tightly wound sister Clare (Sian Clifford). Her mother has died, and her father (Bill Paterson) has married a close family friend: a supremely passive-aggressive artist (Olivia Colman) with whom the protagonist (which publicity materials have nicknamed "Fleabag") has a deeply antagonistic relationship. From the first episode there is an enormous awful mystery hanging over the story. We know that something dreadful has happened, but the full story - and its full implications - trickles out over the course of the season.