May 31, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Second Chances"

It is 24 May 1993, and time for the 150th episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The Enterprise travels to Nervala IV, a planet covered by a dangerous distortion field, to retrieve valuable data from an abandoned science station. That station was evacuated eight years earlier by the USS Potemkin, back when Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes) served as its lieutenant. With only a narrow window existing to retrieve the data before the distortion field returns, an Enterprise away team beams down - only to run into an alternative Riker who never left the planet's surface eight years earlier.

"Second Chances" is based on the most inspired of premises. That a transporter accident duplicated Riker eight years earlier - one who advanced in his career, broke up with Troi (Marina Sirtis) and moved onto the Enterprise, and one who languished alone on a desolate planet without anybody knowing he existed - is kind of secondary to the emotional core. What would you do if you met the version of you who made different life choices? How would it make you reconsider your life? The result is a stunning character piece, not only for Riker but for Troi as well.

The Pull List: 24 May 2017, Part 3

Arcadia Alvarado was Governor of New Mexico when she and her husband were abducted by aliens. Now she has been elected President of the United States, and struggles to determine what actually happened to her that night, and whether or not her own government knows about it.

Sound a bit familiar? If it does, it is possibly because back in 2012 and 2013 DC Vertigo published Saucer Country, a short-lived series by Paul Cornell and Ryan Kelly that blended elements of The West Wing and The X Files. Last week the series finally returned, shifting publishers from DC to IDW and with a change of title: Saucer State.

It is a little difficult to see how this new series is going to fare. For new readers this first issue dives in a little too hard and fast to make a huge amount of sense, and for old readers there is the question of just how many will pick the series up again after a four-year hiatus. Ryan Kelly's art has a nice energy to it, but Paul Cornell's script just feels as if it is covering too many bases at once. We are not reintroduced to the series so much as thrown in. It is ultimately a bit too messy to work with me, but hopefully in an issue or two things will settle down. (2/5)

Saucer State #1. IDW. Written by Paul Cornell. Art by Ryan Kelly. Colours by Adam Guzowski.

Under the cut: an IDW special, with reviews of Ghostbusters 101, Highlander: The American Dream, and Star Trek: Boldly Go.

May 30, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Rightful Heir"

It is 17 May 1993 and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Feeling dislocated from his Klingon beliefs, Lt Worf (Michael Dorn) travels to the planet Boreth where religious devotees await the prophesied return of Kahless: first Emperor of the Klingon Empire. Much to his shock Kahless does appear to return, leading to a fresh leadership crisis for the Empire.

"Rightful Heir" is a fairly remarkable episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and its most striking value is one that gets overlooked in the wake of spin-off series Deep Space Nine. That series spent a significant amount of time on theological issues, marking what seems like a sharp break from its predecessors. As those issues have become so firmly attached to Deep Space Nine within the broader Star Trek canon, it is easy to forget that "Rightful Heir" did it first. This is essentially the episode that brought religion to Star Trek.

Twin Peaks: Season 3 Episode 2

While in custody Bill Hastings (Matthew Lillard) admits to his wife that he has had an affair. Bad Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) goes on the hunt in South Dakota. Good Cooper (also Kyle MacLachlan) meets the Man from Another Place in his new form. In Twin Peaks, Hawk (Michael Horse) continues hunting through the woods.

I think it is really obvious by this second episode that the Twin Peaks of 2017 is significantly different to the Twin Peaks of 1991. The series is much more disturbing now, not just in content but in presentation. Scenes that would have been accompanied by a melodic score are now backed by harsh deep bass rumbles. Without the confines of a 42-minute time limit, events are stretching out to dizzying lengths, and performed with a deliberate slowness. The scratchy hand-made feel of Lynch's most avant garde works is infiltrating Twin Peaks from the sides. This all adds up. The series used to be a soap opera satire with occasional intrusions of weird arthouse moments. Now the series is a slow-boiling, constantly groaning, and deeply unsettling horror show.

May 29, 2017

The Pull List: 24 May 2017, Part 2

Valiant doesn't really do line-wide crossover miniseries like DC and Marvel, but they do regularly publish miniseries throwing multiple characters together for an adventure. Rapture presents a team-up between Ninjak, Shadowman and Tama the geomancer in the realm of Deadside, a creepy underworld filled with ghosts and demons.

Issue #1 pretty much sets up the story for the remaining three issues, and introduces the world of Deadside and its varied demonic inhabitants. Writer Matt Kindt has put a lot of creativity into this world, and the story benefits enormously by having this environment bedded down and explained before Ninjak and Shadowman enter it. Before they arrive the story is in the hands of Tama, a young girl with an enormous responsibility to see the approach of the end of the world. As written here she's very likeable and engaging.

Cafu's artwork is strong and Andrew Dalhouse's colours and wonderfully strong and rich. I am a huge fan of Dalhouse's work; he really makes his books pop off the page. You can pretty much always rely on Valiant to produce a solid and entertaining limited series, and Rapture is no exception. (4/5)

Rapture #1. Valiant. Written by Matt Kindt. Art by Cafu. Colours by Andrew Dalhouse.

Under the cut: reviews of Batgirl, Rat Queens, Seven to Eternity and X-O Manowar.

May 27, 2017

The Pull List: 24 May 2017, Part 1

Brian Wood and Andrea Mutti continue to do a wonderful job with Rebels: These Free and Independent States, a five-issue miniseries that follows on from their original monthly series from a year or two back.

It is a great series in part because it has such a rich historical background: a young United States of America being forced to defend its shipping lanes from French and English incursions. It is also great because it has such a strong and interesting protagonist: John Abbott, a highly talented ship-builder and engineer who also appears to be autistic. He does not care about family or romance or even the nation he helping to build: all he cares about are his ships.

Andrea Mutti's artwork is simply stunning, with a realistic style and a beautiful attention to detail. The realism is aided enormously by Lauren Affe's colours, which are deliberately muted in shades of grey, brown and green for the most part. It all gives a wonderful sense of the past, and of American history.

If this miniseries format is a long-term future for Rebels, it is one I welcome. There is so much potential for different aspects of American history to be showcased and explored in this exemplary fashion. This issue, for one, is a near-perfect exploration of history with a great script, a wonderful lead character, and remarkable artwork. (5/5)

Rebels: These Free and Independent States #3. Dark Horse. Written by Brian Wood. Art by Andrea Mutti. Colours by Lauren Affe.

Under the cut: reviews of The Power of the Dark Crystal, Action Comics and Detective Comics.

May 26, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Suspicions"

It is 10 May 1993, and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Dr Crusher (Gates McFadden) has been relieved of her duties as ship's chief medical officer, and awaits transportation to a court martial for disobeying a direct order. In conversation with Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg) she relates how she attempted to set up a small scientific conference only to have it end in a murder, a suicide, and the end of her Starfleet career.

Poor Gates McFadden. She does not get episodes dedicated to her character very often - certainly a lot less often than male counterparts like Jonathan Frakes and Brent Spider - and when she does get them they are almost invariably terrible. Her losing streak does not break with "Suspicions", a laboured and trite murder-mystery in which the killer is obvious and the flashback-based verbal narrative grates constantly on the nerves.

May 25, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Frame of Mind"

It is 3 May 1993, and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Riker fears for his sanity as he seems to shift back and forth between the Enterprise, where he is rehearsing the role of a mentally unwell murderer in a play, and an alien hospital - where he appears to be a mentally unwell murderer for real.

"Frame of Mind" is a trippy paranoid thriller, and a sharp change of tone and pace from its preceding episode ("The Chase"). It shines a spotlight on Commander Riker and puts him through pronounced psychological torture. That his mental instability is all some kind of alien ruse is never really in question, but the manner in which the story plays out remains enormously impressive.

May 24, 2017

Twin Peaks: Season 3 Episode 1

It is 21 May 2017, and time for the Season 3 premiere of Twin Peaks.

This review assumes that the reader has either already viewed the first two seasons of Twin Peaks, broadcast back in 1990 and 1991, or does not remotely care about having key plot points from those seasons spoiled for them. I have recently reviewed Season 1, but not Season 2. Keep an eye on the blog titles to ensure you know which season I am reviewing in any subsequent review, as I will likely be jumping back and forth between Seasons 2 and 3.

25 years later in New York City, South Dakota and the small town of Twin Peaks, mysterious events occur. That is pretty much the only synopsis you need.

May 23, 2017

The Pull List: 17 May 2017, Part 4

Angela Spica has a robot suit inside of her body that pours out whenever she is in trouble. She appears to be in a lot of trouble with two secret high-tech agencies hunting her down and murderously fighting each other over who gets to grab her. There is a lot of other stuff getting thrown at the reader in The Wild Storm, but thankfully that central conceit is enough to handle for now. Everything else is just washing over me.

It is a mark of how effectively Warren Ellis can develop a story that I can find myself surrounded by too many characters referencing too many names without context, but still find a tremendously entertaining story being told. The effect is rather like being thrown into white-water rapids: sure you're probably drowning, but it sure as hell seems exciting at the same time. More experienced readers of the old Wildstorm universe are probably going to spot and understand a lot more here than I am, but what I am seeing is some fantastic and immersive world-building.

Jon Davis-Hunt and Steve Buccellato are doing sensational work with the art. It is a clean, very neatly composed world of sci-fi tech, that reminds me a little of The Manhattan Projects but with a much less exaggerated style.

This book is taking its time, but it was announced from the outset as a self-contained 24-issue story, so to be honest I have no problem with that. Right now, I'm just trying to keep my head above water and enjoy the view. (4/5)

The Wild Storm #4. Written by Warren Ellis. Art by Jon David-Hunt. Colours by Steve Buccellato.

Under the cut: reviews of Batwoman, Night Owl Society, Poe Dameron, Satellite Falling and a much-delayed review of Hadrian's Wall.

The Pull List: 17 May 2017, Part 3

Marvel's revolving door of relaunches and re-numberings continues this week with Generation X #1, a new take on the popular 1990s X-Men spin-off. With Kitty Pryde taking over as head of the Charles Xavier School, a new group of young mutants all learn to control and apply their powers.

So there is a group of mutants to follow - some new, some pre-existing - and fan favourite Jubilee has been assigned to mentor them. This issue focuses solely on introducing them and leads to a cliffhanger ending for some action in issue #2. Plotwise it is nothing anybody has not seen before, and that is a bit of a problem. Marvel's sales are declining across the board, and offering up relatively generic X-Men titles are unlikely to help alleviate or even reverse that trend. The bottom line with Generation X is that there is nothing here to get returning readers excited and not enough introductory material to let new readers get in on the ground floor.

To its credit the artwork by Amilcar Pinna is nicely distinctive, and I particularly Felipe Sobreiro's relatively soft colours. It should also be noted that Christina Strain's script does not do anything specifically wrong, it just fails to bring a fresh angle to the title. The so-called "House of Ideas" desperately needs some new good ones. (2/5)

Generation X #1. Marvel. Written by Christina Strain. Art by Amilcar Pinna. Colours by Felipe Sobreiro.

Under the cut: reviews of Britannia, Star Wars and The Wicked + the Divine.

May 22, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "The Chase"

It is 26 April 1993, and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) is urged by his own archaeology professor to abandon his Starfleet career and join the expedition of a lifetime. When that professor is killed shortly afterwards, Picard commands the Enterprise to investigate his discovery. It leads him on a planet-to-planet race against the Cardassians and the Klingons to gain an ancient secret from billions of years in the past.

"The Chase" takes a huge series-transforming concept and then attempts to tell it in the space of a self-contained 42-minute episode. That is a mistake on several fronts. For one thing the central concept that is revealed seems to demand a follow-up or further exploration, and gets none. For another the quest-like narrative turns the episode into a series of quickly expressed events rather than an actual story with weight and emotional resonance.

May 21, 2017

The Pull List: 17 May 2017, Part 2

Paige continues her attempt to stop her father from participating in a bank robbery, while her friends abandon her for their own safety. 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank is a masterful miniseries from Matthew Rosenberg, Tyler Boss and Clare Dezutti: masterful because the dialogue sparkles, masterful because the art is engaging and effective, and masterful because this isn't the sort of story we often get in comic book form.

It strikes me as inevitable that someone is going to turn this series into a feature film, because while it works beautifully as a comic book it contains the perfect ingredients to make a fantastic movie as well. That film will potentially become a moderate hit and a cult favourite, and if you act now you can claim you knew it back when it was an independent comic book.

The structure is great. The use of fantasy sequences feels pitch-perfect. The characters are immediately recognisable from anybody's childhood. This is a stunning miniseries that is worthy of a much wider audience than the one that it is getting. (5/5)

4 Kids Walk Into a Bank #4. Black Mask. Written by Matthew Rosenberg. Art by Tyler Boss and Clare Dezutti.

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

May 20, 2017

Twin Peaks: Season 1 Episode 7

It is 23 May 1990, and time for the Season 1 finale of Twin Peaks.

Under the orders of Benjamin Horne (Richard Beymer), Leo (Eric Da Re) sets about burning down the Packard sawmill - with murderous intent for Shelley (Madchen Amick), Bobby (Dana Ashbrook) and Catherine (Piper Laurie). Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) successfully lures Jacques Renault (Walter Olkewicz) across the border to the USA, and discovers his role in Laura Palmer's murder.

Season cliffhangers were a popular technique in American television at the start of the 1990s: get the audience on the edge of their seats and then leave them hanging desperately over the Summer months before the series can make a widely hyped return in the Fall. Twin Peaks engages in a cliffhanger as well, but it does so in a typically self-aware, ridiculous and over-the-top fashion. I am not sure any other American series has developed a cliffhanger with so many characters' welfare at stake.

May 19, 2017

The Pull List: 17 May 2017, Part 1

After being hyped as the next great step forward for DC Rebirth, the Batman/Flash crossover "The Button" has wound up being more of a four-issue tease for a miniseries coming in November. That's the sort of bait-and-switch shenanigans that that really irritates. Rather than introduce any new developments it simply re-emphasises one the readers already know: that someone, most likely Dr Manhattan from Watchmen, has manipulated the history of the universe, that former DC Universe heroes are trapped in time and can only be freed via a close personal connection with someone already in the revised timeline, and that there is going to be a Watchmen/DC Universe crossover soon.

Some readers will be thrilled to see the return of original Flash Jay Garrick for an issue. I was more annoyed by how this widely promoted four-issue arc gave a lot of vague gesturing at continuity references and DC Universe history without providing a very satisfying story.

And the epilogue just irritates. No matter how much portent and gravitas DC shoves into their upcoming crossover, it will take a monumentally clever miniseries to overcome just how bad an idea exploiting the Watchmen characters is. Bad in terms of creativity, and bad in terms of respecting creators and artists. (2/5)

The Flash #22. DC Comics. Written by Joshua Williamson. Art by Howard Porter. Colours by Hi-Fi.

Under the cut: reviews of Daredevil, Freeway Fighter and Superman.

May 17, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Lessons"

It is 5 April 1993, and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) begins a tentative romance with the Enterprise's new head of stellar cartography Lt Commander Nella Daren (Wendy Hughes). While they share a love for performing music, and Daren's enthusiasm helps Picard to open up to his past experience, a dangerous away mission puts their romance under strain.

"Lessons" is another 'bottle' episode, using just the one main guest star and a simple additional set (the Enterprise's stellar cartography room) in order to save money on more ambitious episodes elsewhere. At first it seems it is going to be a fairly sedate and underwhelming episode, but as it develops "Lessons" is actually a rather wonderful epilogue to "The Inner Light".

May 16, 2017

The Pull List: 10 May 2017, Part 2

Doctor Aphra, the rogue archaeologist introduced in Marvel's Darth Vader, has certainly made an impact with fans. Not only did she get her own follow-up series, and not only did she just get voted to receive her own 4-inch action figure in 2018, but now she gets to co-star in a special new crossover event The Screaming Citadel, teaming her up with a pre-Empire Strikes Back Luke Skywalker.

Aphra finds Luke on the Outer Rim, and entices him to join her on a mission to the 'Screaming Citadel', the palatial home of the mysterious Queen Ktath'atn. Luke thinks it may enable him to meet a Jedi Master. Aphra clearly has a secret motive of her own. The mysterious Ktath'atn appears to be a space vampire.

This is Star Wars as gothic horror, a creative move that may seem a little risky, but which dances along merrily thanks to an excellent script by Kieron Gillen and incredibly strong artwork by Marco Checchetto. The story continues across Star Wars and Doctor Aphra over the coming weeks - based on the opening chapter, it is set to be a sensantional read. (5/5)

Star Wars: The Screaming Citadel #1. Marvel. Story by Kieron Gillen and Jason Aaron. Script by Kieron Gillen. Art by Marco Checchetto. Colours by Andres Mossa.

Under the cut: reviews of Copperhead, Detective Comics, Doctor Who: The 11th Doctor and Silver Surfer.

May 15, 2017

Twin Peaks: Season 1 Episode 6

It is 17 May 1990, and time for another episode of Twin Peaks.

The only witness to the Laura Palmer murder may be a myna bird belonging to suspect Jacques Renault (Walter Olkewicz) - so long as it can be coaxed to talk. Leo Johnson (Eric Da Re) plans revenge on Shelley (Madchen Amick) and Bobby (Dana Ashbrook). James (James Marshall), Donna (Lara Flynn Boyle) and Maddie (Sheryl Lee) uncover tape recordings made by Laura to Dr Jacobi (Russ Tamblyn) - and hatch a scheme to get inside Jacobi's office to find evidence he killed her.

In this, the penultimate episode of Twin Peaks' first season, the plot threads are getting pulled together towards some loose sort of climax. We have one set of characters moving to determine whether or not Dr Jacobi is Laura's killer, and another doing the same thing with Canadian drug runner Jacques Renault and local thug Leo Johnson, and Audrey Horne (Sherilynn Fenn) doing her own independent investigation in parallel. It seems to be a common element of the series to run identical storylines at the same time. The series started with a string of simultaneous secret love affairs, and this episode also features Leo plotting against Bobby while Bobby plots against James while James plots against Dr Jacobi. It gives the series a weird sense of unity while it juggles its relatively unwieldy cast of characters.

May 12, 2017

The Pull List: 10 May 2017, Part 1

Cannon Cove is a small, half-forgotten town whose only claim to fame is that the 1980s hit film The Gloomies was filmed there. When an elderly resident dies, leaving an old chest to the town's dilapidated and under-funded museum, four young woman find a secret map inside that points to a real-life treasure buried nearby.

Boom Studios seem to working to quite a formula with their all-ages books, riffing on Lumberjanes to create a raft of titles involving strong groups of female protagonists in pop culture savvy situations. It is a nice alternative to the overwhelmingly male set-ups of most DC and Marvel books, and it has been great to see Boom's work rewarded with both critical and commercial success. Misfit City is the latest in their run of books, and from its first issue it seems like a pleasing and light-hearted tribute to 1980s adventure films - The Goonies in particular.

Now in all honesty I never boarded the Goonies train. The film never impressed me as a child as much as it did many of my friends, and as an adult I'm not quite caught in its nostalgia trap. I think Misfit City works pretty well to capture both those enthused fans and people like me, since the book's cast are for the most part pretty jaded about an old 1980s movie too. Altogether it's a really fun set-up: hopefully the next three issues deliver on the premise. (4/5)

Misfit City #1. Boom Studios. Written by Kiwi Smith and Kurt Lustgarten. Art by Naomi Franquiz. Colours by Brittany Peers.

Under the cut: reviews of Action Comics, All-Star Batman, Batgirl and the Birds of Prey, and Star Trek/Green Lantern.

May 10, 2017

Twin Peaks: Season 1 Episode 5

It is 10 May 1990, and time for another episode of Twin Peaks. Or, to put it another way, hey let's all celebrate the 27th anniversary of episode 5 of Twin Peaks.

Audrey Horne (Sherilynn Fenn) blackmails the department store owner into giving her Laura Palmer's position at the perfume counter. Maddie (Sheryl Lee) joins up with James (James Marshall) and Donna (Lara Flynn Boyle) to investigate Laura's death themselves. In the woods Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) and Sheriff Truman (Michael Ontkean) discover the log cabin that they believe is the scene of Laura Palmer's murder.

There is a lot of plot advancement to enjoy in this episode of Twin Peaks, not only for the investigation into Laura Palmer's murder but also for the plot to burn down the sawmill, Shelley's (Madchen Amick) desperate need to escape Leo's (Eric Da Re) clutches, and two independent quests to find Laura's killer - one by Audrey and the other by Maddie, Donna and James. It feels as if there are more narratives simultaneously developing in this episode than other other episode so far. That's a lot of plates to keep spinning for 45 minutes.

The Pull List: 3 May 2017, Part 2

In the shattered remains of a once technologically advanced civilization, a roaming group of survivors work to enact their revenge against the empire that decimated their community. For traumatised artist Thea, further details of her past are revealed while she gains a chance to personally take revenge against one of the soldiers that cut off her hand.

Extremity is one of the best American comic books on the market. It is a realisation that took three issues to properly dawn on me, but as the shape and tone of the series has become clearer its immense merits have been cast into sharp relief. This is a hugely imaginative and brilliantly developed blend of science fiction and fantasy, one rather reminiscent of Hayao Miyazaki's Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind yet still distinctive and packed with original angles and ideas.

More impressive still is that it's essentially the work of one creator: writer/artist Daniel Warren Johnson, who infuses his artwork with a real sense of energy and motion. Mike Spicer's colours and wonderfully complementary, sealing off an outstanding creative package. We're only a third of the way through the year, but I will be very surprised if Extremity doesn't stand as one of 2017's very best titles. (5/5)

Extremity #3. Story and art by Daniel Warren Johnson. Colours by Mike Spicer.

Under the cut: reviews of Ghostbusters 101, Giant Days, Planetoid: Praxis, Poe Dameron and Spider-Man.

May 9, 2017

Twin Peaks: Season 1 Episode 4

It is 3 May 1990 and time for another episode of Twin Peaks.

The Twin Peaks police successfully track down the one-armed man from Agent Cooper's (Kyle MacLachlan) dream. In addition it becomes clear that the mysterious crazed man seen in Cooper's dream and the visions of Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriski) is indeed the one person. Suspicion grows around Leo Johnson (Eric Da Rae) and Jacques Renault (Walter Olkewicz).

There is quite a bit of work done in this episode to tie the events of Cooper's episode 2 dream back into the main narrative of the show. For one thing, the mysterious one-armed man seen in Cooper's dream and spotted sneaking around the hospital by Hawk (Michael Horse) is actually tracked down and questioned by the police. His name is Phillip Gerard, a travelling shoe salesman who does not seem to have anything to do with Laura's murder at all. The name is a reference to the 1960s TV drama The Fugitive, which featured both a US Marshal named Phil Gerard and a one-armed man.

Izetta: The Last Witch: "On a Quiet Day..."

It is 5 November 2016, and time for the sixth episode of Izetta: The Last Witch.

With the latest battle won, and the Germanian forces retreating for the time being, Izetta and Fine manage to spend a day out among the common people of Eylstadt. Meanwhile Jonas knows Izetta's secret, and it's a race between a Germanian spy and Eylstadt spymaster Müller to get to him first.

After the previous episode of Izetta had thankfully avoided the egregious fan service that marred episode 4, "On a Quiet Day..." dives straight back in to the cesspit of leering cleavage and unnecessary and unpleasant sexual titillation. It is tremendously frustrating, because in every other respect this is a wonderfully entertaining series. These intrustions - and in this episode's case it is one early scene - have a tendency to sour whatever appeal the rest of the episode has.

May 8, 2017

The Pull List: 3 May 2017, Part 1

In the 14th century the Papal assassin group Fiat Lux - led by the mercenary Roderick Helms - uncovers a new scourge threatening to devastate the whole of Europe. Not the Black Death, as history might suggest, but a continent-wide zombie infestation.

There is a weary sort of 'been there, done that' vibe to Pestilence. Its story beats feel worn-out and overly familiar, and there is nothing in this first issue that leaps out and suggests any sense of originality or invention. It is also unremittingly bleak and unpleasant, with plenty of graphic violence of both a physical and sexual kind. Naked women are used as decoration, and the paper-thin characters feel trite and under-developed.

I genuinely hate writing reviews like this: comic books take enormous effort and talent to assemble, and in all fairness there is likely some kind of audience for this kind of violent medieval gore horror. Sadly I am not that audience, and this first issue of Pestilence left me deeply disappointed. (1/5)

Pestilence #1. Aftershock. Written by Frank Tieri. Art by Oleg Okunev. Colours by Rob Schwager.

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

May 7, 2017

The Pull List: 26 April 2017, Part 3

A police detective attempts to find his way into a world where money does not simply buy social power, but elemental powers over the fabric of reality. At the high table of the world's most richest elite, a young woman fights to control her legacy and avenge her brother's murder.

The Black Monday Murders is back after a brief hiatus, to kick off its second story arc. If you have ever read one of Jonathan Hickman's independent books you are well primed for what to expect: hugely complex and imaginatively world-building, inventive ideas, and a slightly avant-garde presentation that nudges at the periphery of what the comic book format can do.

Tomm Coker's artwork is moody and atmospheric, although to an extent it is occasionally a little too atmospheric - sometimes it takes a moment to recognise a particularly odd setting or action. It feels a minor criticism in the grand scheme of things: this is a great, ominous sort of urban horror that is slowly unfolding like a well-developed mystery. (4/5)

The Black Monday Murders #5. Image. Written by Jonathan Hickman. Art by Tomm Coker.

Under the cut: reviews of Black Road, Doom Patrol, Ladycastle, Night Owl Society, Rebels and Satellite Falling.

Colditz: "Frogs in the Well"

It is 4 February 1974, and time for another episode of Colditz.

Lt Player (Christopher Neame) thinks he has found an escape route via the closed castle theatre. After Colonel Preston (Jack Hedley) convinces the German authorities to re-open the theatre for morale, things are all set for an escape attempt - until Player discovers that the French are attempting an identical escape using the same route.

I suppose this sort of thing would have to happen eventually: military officers of multiple nations all imprisoned together, segregated from one another and not speaking each other's language. Sooner or later two groups are going to have the same idea, and if they're working without the knowledge of their superior officers disaster is bound to occur. It is a great concept for an episode, and the execution is enhanced even further by some great interactions between Lt Carter (David McCallum) and Major Mohn (Anthony Valentine).

May 6, 2017

Twin Peaks: Season 1 Episode 3

It is 26 April 1990, and time for another episode of Twin Peaks.

Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) struggles to remember the details of his dream. Laura Palmer's funeral ends in violence and tragedy. Truman (Michael Ontkean) introduces Cooper to the "Bookhouse Boys", and their investigation into alleged drug runner Jacques Renault (Walter Olkewicz). Diner owner Norma Jennings (Peggy Lipton) prepares for her incarcerated husband's parole hearing.

The problem with the previous episode of Twin Peaks is that it is so inventive, strange and unexpected that any follow-up would likely disappoint. Episode 3 is the first episode of the series not written by David Lynch and Mark Frost, and you can immediately sense the difference. This is a much more conventional hour of television: not bad by any stretch, but unavoidably somewhat underwhelming.

May 5, 2017

The Pull List: 26 April 2017, Part 2

Antonius Axia is a Roman investigator that has been granted knowledge of the Codex, a mystical text that has given him great insight into the minds and motivations of humanity. His latest case sees him looking for young Romans reportedly joining a cult - only to stumble upon the site of a horrifying massacre in one of the city's temples. Dispatched to investigate by both Emperor Nero and the Vestal Virgins, Antonius' path takes him to the gladiatorial arena - and a very unexpected gladiator.

Britannia was a beautifully packaged four-issue miniseries of Roman history and graphic horror, packed with blood and gore and nice pieces of historical detail. It was an odd book for Valiant to publish, since it did not really line up with their shared superhero universe at all, but with Peter Milligan's entertaining writing and Juan Jose Ryp's excellent artwork it really won me over.

Now there's a sequel miniseries in the offing. Based on this first issue, Milligan and Ryp are onto another winner. The same dark tone and graphic violence is there, and the setting has shifted from the wilds of Britain back to Rome itself. If detective-horror in Ancient Rome sounds like your kind of comic book, you should absolutely check this series out. (4/5)

Britannia: We Who Are About to Die #1. Valiant. Written by Peter Milligan. Art by Juan Jose Ryp. Colours by Frankie D'Armata.

Under the cut: reviews of Action Comics, Archangel and Batgirl.

May 4, 2017

The Pull List: 26 April 2017, Part 1

"The Button", the DC Universe's next step in combining their characters with Watchmen, continues in The Flash #21. In the aftermath of the Reverse Flash's unexpected return and sudden death, Batman and the Flash go into forensics mode. It's a great creative move, finding a common ground between the two characters and exploiting it well for this story. The clues drive the Flash to pull the famous 'cosmic treadmill' out of storage, and before long he and Batman are on their way to a parallel universe.

This is huge issue for fans of DC's tortured and lengthy continuity, with some pretty major foreshadowing for the future of the line and a chance for a face-to-face meeting that's been hiding in the wings since Flashpoint back in 2011. Joshua Williamson writes a great script here, and Howard Porter does a fine job of illustrating it - he's always been one of my favourite DC artists.

The first instalment followed up on Saturn Girl's incarceration in Arkham, and this second part returns to former JSA member Johnny Thunder raging against a storm above an old folks' home. There is a very strong sense of set-up going on here too, for future DC books and certainly the proper return of such much-loved characters. I remain deeply concerned about the Watchmen elements, but as a hardcore DC fan this storyline is increasingly pressing all of the right buttons. (4/5)

The Flash #21. DC Comics. Written by Joshua Williamson. Art by Howard Porter. Colours by Hi-Fi.

Under the cut: reviews of Detective Comics, Hulk, Joyride and X-O Manowar.

May 3, 2017

Twin Peaks: Season 1 Episode 2

It is 19 April 1990, and time for the second regular episode of Twin Peaks.

FBI agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) employs a bizarre method of investigation to get a clue as to Laura Palmer's killer. A mysterious one-armed man is seen lurking in the hospital where the killer's other intended victim has been admitted. FBI forensics expert Albert Rosenfield (Miguel Ferrer) arrives to review evidence. Laura's father Leland (Ray Wise) grows emotionally unstable. Cooper has the strangest of dreams.

This is pretty much the make-or-break episode of Twin Peaks. Get through it with a smile on your face and you will know this is a television series for you. Come out frustrated, annoyed, or even bored out of your mind, and I honestly think you can move on and never watch the show again. With Episode 2 the series dives full-Lynch into some remarkably odd territory - and it only gets weirder as the episode goes on. It is probably easiest to run through the episode in order from the most normal to the most inexplicable.

The Pull List: 19 April 2017, Part 3

Angela Spica is tracked down by Jacob Marlowe's agents and invited to meet him. That conversation turns to hell when IO launch a 'Razor' team to kill everybody in the room. The third issue of The Wild Storm presents all-out action with some pretty gory consequences.

On the plus side, this issue certainly presents some exciting action, not to mention properly revealing some of the re-imagined WildCATS characters for the first time. There are also some very cute references to other DC properties in the book's opening scenes; it's nice to see a superhero universe aware of the concept of superhero universes.

Sadly it doesn't so much end as stop. There is something very odd about the plotting of this issue, which spends maybe a page or two too long on the main combat sequence. It leaves the book with no way to conclude. The final panel is basically a guy barking an order. It remains a great series, with strong tech-future writing by Ellis and nice artwork by Davis-Hunt, but the weak structure does knock a point off its score. It's great stuff, but this month it's not quite brilliant. (4/5)

The Wild Storm #3. DC Comics. Written by Warren Ellis. Art by Jon Davis-Hunt. Colours by Steve Buccellato.

Under the cut: reviews of Poe Dameron, The Power of the Dark Crystal, Star Trek/Green Lantern, Superman and Super Sons.

May 2, 2017

Twin Peaks: Season 1 Episode 1

It is 12 April 1990, and time for the first regular episode of Twin Peaks.

James Hurley (James Marshall) is interviewed by the police about his relationship with Laura Palmer. Waitress Shelley Johnson (Madchen Amick) discovers a bloody shirt belonging to her violent husband Leo (Eric Da Rae). Truman (Michael Ontkean) and Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) interview mill owner Josie Packard (Joan Chen), who received English tutoring from Laura. Laura's mother Sarah (Grace Zabriskie) has a terrifying vision of a creepy man in her house.

One of the great achievements of Twin Peaks' early episodes is the sheer number of characters that the series throws at the viewer without ever coming across as overwhelming or confusing. This first post-pilot episode juggles numerous plot threads, all of which may be related to Laura Palmer's death, and also undertakes the impressive task of interrelating half of them. It is actually quite easy when in the thick of all the different threads to overlook how carefully and slowly the episode is paced.

Izetta: The Last Witch: "A False Miracle"

It is 29 October 2016, and time for the fifth episode of Izetta: The Last Witch.

Izetta is publicly revealed to the people of Eylstadt, an act that also reveals her existence to the Germanian military. Germanian agent Berkmann begins to develop a theory on how Izetta's powers may be limited - a theory he does not realise is very close to the truth. When Germania attacks a pass where Izetta's powers cannot function, her secretly is in danger of being revealed.

I was rather put off by Izetta: The Last Witch's fourth episode, which disrupted an otherwise hugely entertaining alternate historical fantasy with egregious and ridiculously tacky fan service. It soured the entire series to date for me, and left me reluctant to continue with watching it. In the end I decided to persevere. Thankfully this fifth episode is devoid of such unnecessary and intrusive titilation and returns instead to the series' strengths: action, World War II-inspired battles, and the inventive insertion of magic into an otherwise historical setting.

May 1, 2017

Twin Peaks: The Pilot

It is 8 April 1990 and time for the pilot episode of Twin Peaks.

The small town of Twin Peaks, Washington, is rocked by the discovery of popular high schooler Laura Palmer, her dead body found naked and wrapped in plastic on the river's shore. When a second missing high schooler is found raped and tortured across state lines, the FBI dispatches Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) to work with local sheriff Harry S. Truman (Michael Ontkean) and investigate the crimes.

Twin Peaks burst onto the television landscape towards the end of the 1989-1990 broadcast year, burned brilliantly for a season and a half, and then collapsed due to audience disinterest and behind-the-scenes turbulence. It is arguably that here never been another drama to last for such a brief amount of time yet exert such a phenomenal influence over the entire subsequent history of American television. The shadow cast by Twin Peaks is enormous. It is echoed in the quirky comedy-dramas of Northern Exposure and Picket Fences, the creepy mise-en-scene of The X Files, and the swathe of 'murder in a small town' serials that have continued to be produced both in the USA and overseas. Each of these subsequent works has drawn inspiration from some aspects of Twin Peaks, yet none have really managed to draw from them all. The original series remains comparatively unique.

It is also coming back: Showtime has commissioned an 18-episode third season to commence next month (it will be on Stan here in Australia), a mere 26 years since the second season ended on a whopping great cliffhanger. With the series returning, and having not re-watched the existing episodes in many years, it seemed an appropriate time to dive in and catch up.