March 31, 2017

The Pull List: 22 March 2017, Part 2

Gerard Way's relaunch of Doom Patrol has had a fairly shaky start due to repeated delays: so much so that the entire book is getting temporarily shelved after next month's issue to give it enough time to recommence on a more regular schedule. These sorts of delays can really hurt a book's chances: it makes them a little more difficult to follow from issue to issue, and often kill any of the story momentum.

That is certainly the case here, since Way's deliberate pastiche of Grant Morrison's iconic Doom Patrol run employs a lot of surrealism and deliberately weird segues, and that is the sort of thing that already makes a book a little more difficult to follow. Add in the delays and it's a big of a mess for the average reader.

Nick Derington's artwork is appealing and well-suited to the material, but sadly that material still feels too locked-in to Morrison's run. The old familiar characters are returning one by one, and it continues to feel more like an enthused fan work that a proper advancement of the series. It's fun, and silly, and enjoyable enough, but it could be a lot more beyond. (3/5)

Under the cut: reviews of Batgirl, Black Road, Descender and Ghostbusters 101.

March 29, 2017

The Pull List: 22 March 2017, Part 1

I had honestly assumed that Rebels, a historical comic book by Brian Wood and Andrew Mutti, was done and dusted. It told a story of Seth Abbott, a soldier in the American War of Independence, as well as a few side narratives here and there. It was exceptional stuff: well researched in both writing and art, and intelligently and thoughtfully presented. Then the issues stopped coming out, and I simply assumed low sales or creative disinterest had killed the book off.

Suddenly Dark Horse are back publishing Rebels: These Free and Independent States, a new follow-up storyline that jumps forward a generation to tell the story of Seth Abbott's son John. He is a quiet, intelligent boy clearly living somewhere along the autism spectrum, but he knows ships intimately: their names and routes, their designs, and their construction. As a young man he's encouraged into shipbuilding by his father, just in time for the United States of America to enter its first major naval conflict.

It's engaging history, smartly written and nicely illustrated. I adore historical drama in comic book form, and Brian Wood - through this and Northlanders - is one of the best writers of the genre. I hope Rebels sticks around for at least another few issues in this form: it's great stuff. (4/5)

Rebels: These Free and Independent States #1. Dark Horse. Written by Brian Wood. Art by Andrea Mutti. Colours by Lauren Affe.

Under the cut: reviews of Detective Comics, Hulk and Spider-Gwen, as well as bonus late reviews of Justice League of America and Super Sons.

March 27, 2017

Colditz: "Odd Man In"

It is 21 January 1974, and time for another episode of Colditz.

The Germans bring in a new British prisoner: Pilot Officer Lawrence Page (Ian McCullough). He keeps to himself. He shies away from discussing his past. When another officer gets frustrated and threatens him, Page almost gouges his eye out. Suspicions are raised that Page may not be a British officer at all. Meanwhile Carter (David McCallum) tries to establish a coded communications line with British Intelligence back in London.

Some of the best episodes of Colditz have focused their stories on single guest stars, allowing the series to showcase particular events or personalities without having to worry about how to ensure that character survives or copes intact to appear in later episodes. "Tweedledum", for example, was pretty much the strongest episode in the first series, because by using a guest character it was free to take his story to its logical conclusion without having to pull its punches. Something very similar happens here with Pilot Office Lawrence Page.

March 26, 2017

The Pull List: "Superman Reborn"

Over the past four weeks, between Action Comics and Superman, DC Comics has been publishing "Superman Reborn", a four-part storyline in which the identity of the second Clark Kent is revealed and where young Jonathan Kent is kidnapped with Lois and Clark hot on the trail to get him back. For readers who have been trying to follow the various plot threads launched by DC Rebirth, this is a pretty significant storyline. After a shipping delay forced me to miss the first issue I figured it was worth waiting a couple of weeks and reviewing the storyline all at once.

It all kicked off four weeks ago in Superman #18, in which the mysterious second Clark Kent turned up at the real Kent family home - and demonstrated some genuinely unexpected powers, like a magical blue flame that engulfs the Kent home and seemingly erases Jonathan from the world altogether. It's an attention-grabbing first issue, since it really throws the potential identity of the fake Clark way up into the air. It also includes a tantalising prologue in which one of Mr Oz's prisoners - we don't get to see which one yet - escapes from captivity.

Mr Oz, a mysterious hooded figure that has been kidnapping different characters to prevent them from acting on the DC Universe's changed history, is one of the ongoing mysteries of the Superman books, and his return here immediately signifies something of importance is kicking off. Patrick Gleason and Mick Gray's art is excellent, as it always is, and nicely coloured by John Kalisz. (4/5)

Superman #18. DC Comics. Written by Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason. Art by Patrick Gleason and Mick Gray. Colours by John Kalisz.

March 25, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Tapestry"

It is 15 February 1993, and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

When an away mission goes disastrously wrong, Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) dies in the Enterprise sickbay. When he awakes it is in an afterlife controlled by the alien entity Q (John De Lancie), who offers Picard the chance to re-live a critical moment in his life all over again.

Q returns to torment Picard for the second time in one season - and only a week, in broadcast terms, after harassing Benjamin Sisko over in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. It runs a terrible risk of over-using the character, since a little bit of Q tends to go a long way and also because his earlier 1992/93 appearances in "True Q" and "Q-Less" were hardly high quality outings. Thankfully "Tapestry" is a much, much stronger episode. It is probably the single-best Q episode Star Trek ever had.

March 24, 2017

The Pull List: 15 March 2017, Part 3

Head Lopper returns, with an all-new story arc but the same blend of simple, abstracted art work and Robert E. Howard-style sword and sorcery adventure. Norgal and Agatha are on a mission to enter the Crimson Tower and defeat the diabolical Ulrich the Twice-Damned. They are accompanied by a disparate group of other adventurers and - unexpectedly - a group of small goblin-like children.

Andrew Maclean is a tremendous talent, telling engaging fantasy stories with a strong sense of absurd humour. Anyone who enjoyed Trondheim and Sfar's excellent Dungeon series of graphic novels - and who wouldn't? - will find themselves very much at home here. Head Lopper also benefits from the extra length afforded to each issue. It makes the decompressed style and big colourful panels really work to the book's advantage.

Perhaps the book's greatest strength is that there simply is not another comic like it on the market. Maclean has established himself a comparatively exclusive niche with which to tell broad, entertaining pulp adventures with his own distinctive take. It is one of my favourite books in the US market today. (5/5)

Head Lopper #5. Story and art by Andrew Maclean. Colours by Jordie Bellaire.

Under the cut: reviews of All-Star Batman, Ms Marvel, Poe Dameron and Spider-Man.

March 22, 2017

The Pull List: 15 March 2017, Part 2

Last week saw the release of issue #2 of The Wild Storm, DC's relaunch of Jim Lee's popular 1990s Wildstorm Universe. A lot of the Wildstorm characters were inserted into DC proper back during the New 52, but The Wild Storm resets them all in their own world, and it makes a world of difference.

This is a smart, contemporary take on a superhero story, one without secret military organisations like SHIELD but rather Apple-style tech giants. This issue is low on action but high on dialogue and plot development, and the no-nonsense panel layouts and Jon Davis-Hunt's superb artwork make it an extremely clean, entertaining read. It is worth noting Steve Buccellato's emotive colours as well. As for the story, a young woman with an advanced tech-suit is now being tracked down by three separate organisations at the same time, with the strong sense that bad things are going to happen when those three groups collide.

For long-term Wildstorm fans it's great to see old characters reworked into a new form. For fresh readers this is just an intelligent and inventive new comic that is absolutely worth reading. Writer Warren Ellis is doing some great work here, and it deserves our attention. (5/5)

The Wild Storm #2. Written by Warren Ellis. Art by Jon Davis-Hunt. Colours by Steve Buccellato.

Under the cut: reviews of Daredevil, Divinity III: Escape from Gulag 396, Highlander: The American Dream, and Star Trek: Deviations.

March 21, 2017

Colditz: "Ghosts"

It is 14 January 1974, and time for another episode of Colditz.

As the newly appointed escape officer, Carter (David McCallum) identifies the key problem facing escape attempts is the Germans noticing people are missing too early. After finding an old priesthole underneath the chapel pulpit, he decides to test the idea by hiding Player (Christopher Neame) and Brent (Paul Chapman) there

One of the greatest strengths of Colditz is how the series managed to find fresh angles on the same activity each episode. "Ghosts" presents a particularly clever variation: Player and Brent's use of the priesthole accidentally collides with a failed tunnelling attempt by some French prisoners, which leads the Kommandant (Bernard Hepton) to seal up the chapel completely. The episode's goal, therefore, is not to escape any more but to somehow save Player and Brent's lives without having to admit they are there to the German guards.

March 20, 2017

The Pull List: 15 March 2017, Part 1

After a fairly underwhelming prologue issue, Batwoman hits the ground running in its first issue. Kate Kane is travelling the world on the hunt for an illegal serum that transforms normal humans into terrifying monsters. Accompanying her on her travels is Julia Pennyworth, daughter of Alfred. It is a nice set-up that keeps the strong angle on female characters that made the last volume of Batwoman work so well.

Steve Epting's artwork is great, but the real star is colourist Jeromy Cox. His stark monochrome work in the issue's flashback sequence really makes it stand out. Exceptional artwork and Batwoman feel like they go hand in hand, due in no small part to J.H. Williams III's outstanding work some years back. The work here is different of course, and nowhere near as intricate, but it looks wonderful and adds a great deal to the book.

Batwoman is a great character. She is tied to Batman enough to benefit from the extended Batman characters and situations, but she is very much her own character as well. In many respects she is the Black Widow of the DC Universe: a talented espionage agent haunted by a violent past. She even has the red hair. It's another solid win for DC Rebirth. (4/5)

Batwoman #1. DC Comics. Written by Marguerite Bennett and James Tynion IV. Art by Steve Epting. Colours by Jeromy Cox.

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

March 16, 2017

The Pull List: 8 March 2017, Part 2

The Grass Kingdom is a small pocket of rural America that runs by its own rules, ignoring the Federal government in favour of independent, off-the-grid living. It is run by three brothers, including Sheriff Bruce - introduced escorting a young trespasser off their lands - and eldest brother Robert, who remains traumatised over the apparent drowning death of his daughter.

This is Grass Kings, a new monthly book by writer Matt Kindt and artist Tyler Jenkins. It is a very understated opening, easing the reader into the environment and characters without resorting to smash-and-grab action scenes or surprise cliffhangers. Kindt writes sparse, hugely effective dialogue too. Tyler Jenkins' artwork is beautiful, and similarly low key, and well served by Boom Studios' matt finish paper that really allows the delicate visuals to pop off the page.

If there's a problem it is that the book actually too low-key for its own good. It may ease the reader in gently, but it also lacks any proper sense of drama. There is nothing here to drag the reader back beyond the quality of the dialogue and the art, and in the hugely competitive world of American comic book publishing I am not certain if that will be enough. It is a soft opening, with a great deal to recommend, but it left me wanting just a little bit more than what I got. (3/5)

Grass Kings #1. Boom Studios. Written by Matt Kindt. Art by Tyler Jenkins.

Under the cut: reviews of Copperhead, Doctor Aphra, and Planetoid: Praxis.

March 15, 2017

The Night Manager: Episode 6

It is 27 March 2016, and time for the final episode of The Night Manager.

Everything comes full circle: Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston) is back at Cairo's Nefertiti Hotel, where he was first drawn into the criminal world of Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie). Roper's arms deal is about to be made, and with Corky dead Jonathan is running out of avenues to keep Roper from discovering he is a spy. Angela Burr (Olivia Colman) is in Cairo to help, but can she do enough to help trap Roper and keep Jed (Elizabeth Debicki) out of harm's way?

There is a very pleasing symmetry to this final episode of The Night Manager. After moving from Cairo to Switzerland to Spain to Turkey, the series now snakes back to its starting point: a new deal, a new disguise, but the self-same hotel in which Jonathan originally worked as the titular night manager. It also brings him back in contact with corrupt Egyptian playboy Freddie Hamid (David Avery), whose murder of his lover brought a vengeful Jonathan to British intelligence in the first place.

March 14, 2017

The Pull List: 8 March 2017, Part 1

Dan Slott and Michael Allred's run on Silver Surfer continues to be a sweet confection among Marvel's usual mess of crossovers and tie-ins. Ironically it was one of those incessant tie-ins that caused the book to stagger back in early 2016. That coincided with a significant slowdown in the pace of this title: since relaunching off the back of Secret Wars it has only managed nine issues over 15 months.

This ninth issue is the sort of self-contained story that makes the delays worthwhile. The Surfer and his companion Dawn discover a star system where the first three planets are devastated wrecks, but the fourth boasts a thriving civilization. While meeting the inhabitants, they discover the same people wrecked the other three worlds via environmental damage. The secret of how they have survived so well the fourth time around forms the core mystery for the Surfer and Dawn to solve.

Slott's intended model of treating the Silver Surfer as the Marvel Universe version of Doctor Who works incredibly well here. The plot is simple enough to fit comfortably into 20 pages, but still finds room for moments of character and some larger-scale story developments. Michael and Laura Allred do a predictably great job with the artwork. It is simple, but hugely engaging. (5/5)

Silver Surfer #9. Marvel. Written by Dan Slott. Art by Michael Allred. Colours by Laura Allred.

Under the cut: reviews of Batgirl and the Birds of Prey, Detective Comics, Star Trek: Waypoint and The Wicked + the Divine.

March 7, 2017

The Pull List: 1 March 2017, Part 2

Rat Queens seemed to be one of Image's very best and most entertaining comics. Then its artist quit the book after an incident of domestic abuse. Then the replacement quit after only a few issues. Then the second replacement left under an acrimonious cloud, claiming that the original artist was coming back. Then the book got cancelled, pretty much on a massive cliffhanger.

Now it is back, keeping its creator and writer Kurtis J. Wiebe but introducing a fourth regular artist: Owen Gieni. It also pretty much ignores the cliffhanger ending of the first volume and simply jumps ahead to effectively reboot the entire story. It is back to basics here, with a group of badly behaved violent women essentially playing out the plot of every Dungeons & Dragons game with a greater-than-usual serve of sex, drugs and rock'n'roll.

Gieni's artwork has a nice storybook quality to it. The characters all look the same, but the aesthetic is distinct from earlier versions by Upchurch or Fowler. Wiebe's sense of humour remains intact as well, although the book's second half gets a bit too parodic for my taste. It does not hit the creative heights that the original volume did, but we're only on issue 1 at this stage. I'm happy to give the book the chance to sink back into the swing of things. It's a great set of characters, and I'm pleased to see them return. (3/5)

Rat Queens #1. Image. Written by Kurtis J. Wiebe. Art and colours by Owen Gieni.

Under the cut: reviews of Cosmic Scoundrels, Doctor Who: The 11th Doctor, Extremity, Giant Days and Green Arrow.

Yowamushi Pedal: "Peak Spider"

It is 9 December 2013, and time for episode 10 of Yowamushi Pedal.

With the first club race complete, each new member is paired with a senior student to better develop their skills. Onoda is matched with Makashima, to improve his skills at climbing hills. Makashima's personal style, however, may be a little too distinct for Onoda to learn.

And, in fact, Makashima actively discourages Onoda from even trying. His nickname, "Peak Spider", comes from his bizarre weaving style of cycling uphill. After the overly lengthy serial of the club race, this episode is refreshingly self-contained. It is a nice continuation of the technical explanation of competitive racing, but that is balanced with a really enjoyable character piece.

March 6, 2017

The Pull List: 1 March 2017, Part 1

America Chavez has been a hugely entertaining Marvel Comics character without ever having an ongoing book to call her own. She was great in Gillen and McKelvie's Young Avengers, and more recently has since been leading the superhero team The Ultimates. This month she takes the spotlight for herself in her very first solo series: America.

I was really keen to like this book, because I love the character and want to see her succeed. Sadly this first issue at least really failed to work for me. It sees America break up with her girlfriend, take a break from fighting with the Ultimates, and enrolling to study at Sotomayor University. It is an oddly grounded and personal sort of story with a little bit of inventive panel designs and layout and a healthy dose of light-hearted banter.

I simply could not pull together much enthusiasm for this book. To an extent it may be a case of it simply not being aimed at me or readers like me. The artwork is solid, but Gabby Rivera's script is all over the place. There is very little holding the narrative together. It starts in another dimension, concludes back in the past, and spends a lot of time in the middle wasting that time. I want a great Miss America book. This isn't it. (2/5)

America #1. Marvel. Written by Gabby Rivera. Art by Joe Quinones, Joe Rivera and Paolo Rivera. Colours by Jose Villarrubia.

Under the cut: reviews of Aquaman, Batman and Doctor Strange.

March 5, 2017

Colditz: "Arrival of a Hero"

It is 7 January 1974, and time for the Season 2 premiere of Colditz.

With Carrington and Grant safely escaped, it is up to the remaining British prisoners to suffer the wrath of the German authorities. While Lieutenant Carter (David McCallum) recovers from a broken ankle sustained in the escape attempt, he becomes the target for the camp's new second-in-command, Major Horst Mohn (Anthony Valentine).

"Arrival of a Hero" opens the second and final year for Colditz, and immediately goes about reframing the series in the absence of Carrington and Grant. While Grant in particular played a leading role in much of the first season, it seems the focus this time around will be more closely on Carter. It also introduces a sinister new antagonist in the shape of Major Mohn.

March 2, 2017

The Pull List: 22 February 2017, Part 4

A few too many comics books came out last week, so we're off on a rare fourth instalment of The Pull List. Reviews of this week's comic will come along soon. let's start with Joyride.

After the pretty destructive events in issue #8 of Joyride, the book took a narrative jump forwards in issue #9 to show where the characters were a year later. Issue #10, released last week, focuses on love-struck teen Dewydd, now a walker-in-training on a mission to rescue his brother.

It is a smart and comfortable development for the character, rounding him off and giving him a greater strength and resolve. It is also great to see his relationship with his brother fleshed out. That all occurs within the framework of an inter-galactic prison break-in, with excellently devised aliens, technology and vehicles.

Marcus To does an excellent job with the art on this series, balancing the need to present realistic and sympathetic characters with wildly imaginative settings, aliens and planets. The book has consistently been wonderful to look at, and a large degree of its success comes down to his work. Irma Kniivila's colours complement the art beautifully. This is one of my favourite comic books at the moment: all science fiction fans should be reading it. (5/5)

Joyride #10. Boom Studios. Written by Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly. Art by Marcus To. Colours by Irma Kniivila.

Under the cut: reviews of Action Comics, Black Road, Descender, and Heathen.

March 1, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Face of the Enemy"

It is 8 February 1993, and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) wakes up on a Romulan warbird. Her face has been surgically altered to resemble a Romulan, and an officer named N'Vek (Scott MacDonald) reveals she has been kidnapped in order to assist in a top secret mission for Spock's underground unification group. While Troi works to hide the truth from the ship;s suspicious commander (Carolyn Seymour), the Enterprise collects a Romulan defector that may hold vital information for Troi's mission.

Troi rarely gets to be the focus of an episode, and when she does it is usually pretty poorly developed. "Face of the Enemy", then, presents a sharp contrast. It is a fantastic espionage thriller that uses Troi's talent and experience effectively and inventively. It also provides a nice central conflict between two female characters, with Carolyn Seymour giving a great turn as Commander Toreth.

The Angriest: February 2017 in review

February brought a big change to how I divide my blogging. From now on all of my film reviews are getting posted either to FictionMachine or FilmInk, leaving The Angriest to cover comics, TV episodes, anime, music and other things that take my fancy. I will still be using this post to collate all of my online writing for the past month, however, so if you haven't been following me at either of the other sites simply head below the cut to see what you missed.

In February, my episode-by-episode reviews of The Night Manager were far and away the most popular new posts at The Angriest, with episode 2 being particularly popular for some reason. Also particularly popular was my review of the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Ship in a Bottle". The full list of posts is below. Across all websites, in February 2017 I wrote seven reviews of new films, 10 reviews of older films, 11 TV episode reviews, three anime reviews, two music reviews, one long-form essay, one obituary, and reviews of 47 comic books.