September 26, 2017

The Pull List: 20 September 2017, Part 1

An unexpected ally helps Batman bring the "War of Jokes and Riddles" to a climax, in this presumably penultimate instalment of Tom King and Mikel Janin's current Batman epic.

It certainly feels climactic, with a few nicely played twists and turns, a very strong sense of 'ramping up', and some absolutely stunning artwork by Janin. The large cast of supporting players also helps to amp up the epic sense of scale.

That said, a continuing issue in this arc has been writer Tom King's tendency to tell the reader how devastating and violent the war has been, rather than actually showcasing it properly on the page. It has weakened everything slightly, and more than anything else is responsible from drawing the work back from 'future classic' to merely 'very good'. This all feels like it had the scope to be a major long-running arc along the lines of the big crossover events of the 1990s: "Knightfall", "Cataclysm", "No Man's Land", what-have-you. Despite being hugely enjoyable it's feeling like a missed opportunity at the same time. (4/5)

Batman #31. DC Comics. Written by Tom King. Art by Mikel Janin. Colours by June Chung.

Under the cut: reviews of Aquaman, Batwoman, Poe Dameron and Spider-Men II.

September 25, 2017

Doctor Who: "The Pandorica Opens"

 It is 19 June 2010, and time for another episode of Doctor Who.

A message bounces from person to person through time and space until it finally reaches the Doctor (Matt Smith), and directs him to AD 102 England where he discovers River Song (Alex Kingston), Stonehenge, and the Pandorica - a fabled prison for the most dangerous criminal in the universe.

As showrunner of Doctor Who, Steven Moffat clearly had a different attitude to story arcs than his predecessor Russell T Davies. For Davies it was largely sufficient to develop a buzzword or catchphrase ("bad wolf", "Torchwood", "Mr Saxon") and then lead the audience along until the meaning of the phrase was used in the season finale. With Season 5 Moffat took a much more active approach. The crack in Amy Pond's (Karen Gillen) bedroom wall, the growing silence falling across the universe, the revelation that the TARDIS will explode in the future, and the teasing of the mysterious Pandorica by River Song back in "Flesh and Stone" all come together in one two-part finale - not to mention cameo appearances in the cold open by Vincent Van Gogh, Elizabeth X and Winston Churchill. I'm honestly not sure any season climax has previously felt so deliberately climactic.

September 22, 2017

The Pull List: 13 September 2017, Part 3

Nolan is a mercenary working in a post-apocalyptic United States. After one contract ends in bloodshed, Nolan picks up another: escorting four scientists across the country and ensuring they don't get murdered or eaten along the way.

The Realm is a standard kind of post-apocalyptic adventure with one key twist: while the circumstances remain unexplained, the marauding hordes threatening humanity are not zombies for once but rather fantasy animals. It is as if a Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual has been unleashed upon the Earth, spilling out orcs, drakes, dragons and who knows what else. It is a neat change that helps lift an otherwise very predictable storyline. I suspect how future issues explore and expand this fantasy setting will dictate the long-term quality of the book.

Also lifting the book's game is Jeremy Haun's extremely detailed and boldly inked artwork. It gives the book a level of style and prestige that does paper over the story weaknesses quite a bit. (3/5)

The Realm #1. Image. Written by Seth M. Peck. Art by Jeremy Haun. Colours by Nick Filardi.

Under the cut: reviews of Batgirl and the Birds of Prey, Ms Marvel, Ninjak and Sacred Creatures.

Colditz: "Chameleon"

It is 18 March 1974 and time for another episode of Colditz.

While the Kommandant (Bernard Hepton) is away, Major Mohn (Anthony Valentine) is left in charge of Colditz. When he learns via a lover that the German effort is close to defeat, and that his close connections to the Nazi government may see him executed for war crimes, he goes into a panic and tries ingratiating himself with the camp's prisoners.

"Chameleon" is an episode that has been a long time coming, ever since the deeply odious and unlikeable Horst Mohn joined the cast at the beginning of the season. He has constantly over-stepped his authority, broken the Geneva Convention, and pushed hard for the treatment of the prisoners to be harsher and more punitive than his superior has allowed. The swing in this episode is sudden and remarkable: he begins the episode at his most powerful to date, and ends it at his very lowest and most desperate.

September 21, 2017

The Pull List: 13 September 2017, Part 2

Runaways is a Marvel title about which I have heard a world of praise, and yet circumstance has resulted in me never actually reading the book myself. I figured I would correct that in a small part by sampling Marvel's new relaunch, which returns to a group of friends who bonded together when they discovered that their respective parents were all super-villains.

It's clear from the outset that this relaunch assumes prior knowledge of the characters, because while it explains the basics of the spell-caster Nico Minoru and the time-travelling Chase it never really pauses to properly re-introduce them. That put me at something of a disadvantage when reading issue #1: it tells a tense, very well written scene, but because I am not invested in its participants it does not have the intended effect. I suspect pre-existing fans will get a lot more value for money.

Kris Anka's artwork is reasonable, but it is lifted to a new level by Matthew Wilson's colours. This issue is a really good example of just how important and useful good colouring can be. (4/5)

Runaways #1. Marvel. Written by Rainbow Rowell. Art by Kris Anka. Colours by Matthew Wilson.

Under the cut: reviews of Hulk, Mech Cadet Yu, Mister Miracle and Spy Seal.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Inheritance"

It is 22 November 1993, and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The Enterprise hosts two scientists who are attempting to repair a planet whose magma is inexplicably cooling. One of the scientists, Dr Juliana Tainer (Fionnula Flanagan), reveals herself to be the former wife Dr Noonien Soong - the cyberneticist who created Data (Brent Spiner).

So after meeting a brother in Season 1, and a father in Season 4, Data finally completes his family set by meeting his de facto "mother". "Inheritance" is a weirdly flat and lifeless episode. The science fiction plot is so weirdly arbitrary and unimportant that it is barely worth noting. The development of Data and Dr Tainer's relationship is a meritable idea, but the execution is inexplicably dull. This is an easily skipped, readily forgotten episode.

September 20, 2017

The Pull List: 13 September 2017, Part 1

Dark Nights: Metal is a ridiculous miniseries: completely over-the-top, garishly silly, packed with DC Universe characters to the point of overload, and just wonderfully enjoyable to read.

It is a work that ties up plot strands that run back nine years to the climax of Grant Morrison's Final Crisis, and picks up elements from Scott Snyder's multi-year run on Batman along the way. It is essentially tailor-made for DC's hardcore fan base; I honestly don't know whether the casual reader will get confused by the various references and cameos or simply gloss over them. As one of the hardcore, I was delighted.

Snyder is really employing an 'everything but the kitchen sink' approach, providing superhero action and team-ups, surprise cameos and continuity reference, inter-dimensional horror, and numerous twists and turns. The sudden appearance of The Sandman's Dream at the end of issue #1 is almost hand-waved away here. It's a smart approach that softens the jarring effect that it had then, but still opening the character up to return later in the series.

It's all wrapped up in Greg Capullo and Jonathan Glapion's fabulous artwork, that is just exaggerated enough and just detailed enough to hit that perfect superhero comic sweet spot. Metal isn't going to be for everyone, but for those for whom it is for, it's pretty much perfection. (5/5)

Dark Nights: Metal #2. DC Comics. Written by Scott Snyder. Art by Greg Capullo and Jonathan Glapion. Colours by FCO Plascencia.

Under the cut: reviews of Action Comics, Detective Comics, and Teen Titans.

September 19, 2017

Doctor Who: "The Lodger"

It is 12 June 2010, and time for another episode of Doctor Who.

Amy (Karen Gillen) is trapped in the TARDIS after it ejects the Doctor (Matt Smith) and gets caught by an unexplained force. Stuck in modern-day Colchester, the Doctor is forced to rent a room and become the housemate of the unsuspecting Craig Owens (James Corden) until he can work out what it is that is preventing the TARDIS from landing.

 "The Lodger" is a strange little episode of Doctor Who that largely sees the Doctor trapped in present-day England and forced to pretend to be a normal human being for several weeks. The episode does have a science fiction plot at its core, but it is almost an arbitrary one. The bulk of the episode consists of Matt Smith trying - and failing - to look and act ordinary and not arouse any suspicions. It is messy, but also likeable.

September 17, 2017

The Pull List: 6 September 2017, Part 3

As a virulent virus spreads around the world, two first year college students begin their first day in a new dormitory. Lazaretto is a new five-issue miniseries from Clay McLeod Chapman and Jay Levang, that basically plays out a viral outbreak with its characters trapped inside a quarantine area.

This first issue is pretty much set-up of story and establishing characters, so it is a little difficult to fully judge the series at this stage. As a set-up it works perfectly well: we know the protagonists well enough, and we see them thrown into an extreme and potentially lethal situation. Is there enough to convince a reader to jump onboard for another four issues? That likely depends on how much that reader is willing to put their trust in the creative team I guess. I'm still on the fence.

I am also a little ambivalent about Jay Levang's artwork. The pencils and inks are rather scrappy and messy, I suspect intentionally so, and I am not sure it was the best visual style for the story that Chapman is attempting to tell. It looks a lot more like a fully independent kind of art style that you would usually see from a mid-level commercial publisher like Boom. I find myself very ambivalent about this book. It's good, but it's also not quite good enough. (3/5)

Lazaretto #1. Boom Studios. Written by Clay McLeod Chapman. Art and colours by Jay Levang.

Under the cut: reviews of Batman, Captain Phasma, Doctor Who: The 11th Doctor, Seven to Eternity, Spider-Man and Star Wars Adventures.

September 14, 2017

The Pull List: 6 September 2017, Part 2

Is there a comic book equivalent to cinema's "mumblecore" movement? The sort of shoe-gazing, low key conversational works that do not feel a need to have an urgent plot, and spend more time on introspection that traditional storytelling? Whatever that term is - and we may as well borrow mumblecore for convenience's sake - it applies very firmly to Sophie Yanow's What is a Glacier?

This autobiographical one-shot depicts a vacation to Iceland with a friend, and a bad romantic break-up. Yanow's artwork is almost gestural. Everything conforms to a simple six-panel grid in black and white. Detailed art is not the focus here, however. Instead it is a simple tool to express a rather effective exploration of anxiety.

The narrative is not clearly structured. As I alluded to above, it really is an introspective meander across a story rather than a tightly plotted drama. It is curiously effective: a simple way Yanow has drawn a line here, a description of being heartbroken there.

This is not the greatest comic of its type, but it is a good and effective one. Fans of this kind of comic - and you can probably work out if that's you from the cover art alone - will get a bunch out of this. Superhero book lovers may find it a challenge. (4/5)

What is a Glacier? Retrofit/Big Planet Comics. Story and art by Sophie Yanow.

Under the cut: reviews of Doom Patrol, 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank, Superman, Usagi Yojimbo and The Wicked + the Divine.

Colditz: "Very Important Person"

It is 11 March 1974, and time for another episode of Colditz.

With the tide of war firmly turned against Germany, orders are dispatched that the Waffen-SS will be placed in charge of all prisoners of war. All famous or well-connect prisoners, known as the Prominente, are to be transferred to Berlin to be used as hostages in the event that the war turns ever more against the Germans. When one of the American officers in Colditz is revealed to be the son of an ambassador, he is scheduled for transportation - leading to a tense stand-off between the prisoners and the guards.

There is a sudden and stark shift in Colditz with this episode. The end of the war is suddenly in sight, leading to desperate measures by the Germans and the sudden realisation by the British and American prisoners that they may all wind up murdered by the SS before the war concludes. It plays out in the series' well-established understated style, and that makes the climactic stand-off all the more confrontational and tense.

September 13, 2017

The Pull List: 6 September 2017, Part 1

Penniless treasure hunter Luvander sets out from the city in search of hidden treasure and adventure, in this charmingly written and illustrated high fantasy comic. While Scales & Scoundrels will have its worked cut out for it to stand out among the growing number of fantasy comics on the market, writer Sebastian Girner and artist Galaad are off to a pretty sensational start.

The book benefits enormously from its whimsical tone, one that gives the story and characterisation a nice lift and also soaks through the wonderfully simple but evocative art and design. There's a sense of Boom's successful all-ages book Lumberjanes in the air that suits the material well and gives it a fresh and hugely entertaining new angle.

This is a book that is playing with genre stereotypes, but it does so energetically and knowingly. It's the latter that makes the difference. It also benefits from a great protagonist in Luvander, whose spiky, cynical wit is already establishing her as a great character. The plot of this first issue perhaps falls just a little bit short of fully satisfying - it is a little too open and unresolved - but as a complete package this looks like another great Image title to watch. (4/5)

Scales & Scoundrels #1. Image. Written by Sebastian Girner. Art and colours by Galaad.

Under the cut: reviews of Daredevil, Darth Vader, Giant Days, Green Arrow and Swordquest.

September 12, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Parallels"

It is 29 November 1993, and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Reality begins to shift around Lieutenant Worf (Michael Dorn). At first it is only small changes: a painting jumps from wall to wall, and the flavour of a birthday cake changes. Then bigger jumps occur: Worf finds himself in a world where Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) has died, and then one where he and Counselor Troi (Marina Sirtis) are married. Is he losing his mind, or has something gone terrible wrong with reality?

"Parallels" is a deeply silly trip through a bunch of parallel universes, one packed with nonsensical technobabble, unexpected cameos (welcome back Wesley Crusher after almost two years), and 'what if?' fan-pleasing scenarios. Thankfully it is all anchored by Michael Dorn's spectacularly funny performance as Worf, whose deadpan delivery makes it all seem hugely entertaining.

September 10, 2017

The Pull List: 30 August 2017, Part 2

With Seth Abbott's story winding to a close, and with three more issues left to go, Brian Wood's historical comic Rebels now shifts over to a trio of self-contained short stories. These short works often present Wood at his very best - as seen not only the previous volume of Rebels but also the likes of The Massive and Northlanders.

This issue does not disappoint. It focuses on a young George Washington leading a group of soldiers on a reconnaissance mission. When he stumbles upon an English fort that has been taken by the French, he disobeys orders and decides to retake it by force.

The George Washington presented here is not the noble founder of the United States that we usually see. Here we see an arrogant young military leader with a poor respect for command, a lack of interest in his men's safety, and a casual disregard to any arrangement or promise made to indigenous peoples in the Virginia area. Andrea Mutti's artwork is beautifully composed and illustrated, but it is Lauren Affe's colours that richly bring the story to life.

As a one-short story you can easily just pick up this issue and ignore the rest of the series. It's well worth the purchase, and hopefully may drive some more readers to Rebels and offer Dark Horse a chance to keep its richly textured historical stories going. (5/5)

Rebels #6. Dark Horse. Written by Brian Wood. Art by Andrea Mutti. Colours by Lauren Affe.

Under the cut: reviews of All-Star Batman, Ghostbusters 101 and Rapture.

Doctor Who: "Inferno"

It is 6 February 1965, and time for another episode of Doctor Who.

Barbara (Jacqueline Hill) races to escape Nero's court. Ian (William Russell) fights to escape the Roman Colosseum. The Doctor (William Hartnell) and Vicki (Maureen O'Brien) fight to avoid being murdered and to get back to the villa in the country. Nero fiddles. Rome burns.

"The Romans" comes to its blazing conclusion in "Inferno", as the historical events of Rome's burning finally occur, and the four TARDIS occupants manage to make their way back to their villa before anybody notices anybody else was away. It's a successful return to the unusual blend of action, drama and comedy that made the first two episodes of the serial so good, with less of the English farce elements that dragged down the third.

September 8, 2017

Izetta: The Last Witch: "The Battle of Sognefjord"

It is 12 November 2016, and time for another episode of Izetta: The Last Witch.

To demonstrate Izetta's power to the allied nations, Finé pledges to destroy the Drachenfels - a newly built and immensely powerful Germanian aircraft carrier. On the ship itself, however, an ace Germanian captain prepares to defend the Drachenfels from the air, and Berkmann waits in the shadows to learn more of Izetta's powers.

We're up to episode 7 of Izetta: The Last Witch, and that is definitely long enough to get a firm understanding of the series' plot, tone and style. It is pretty clear at this stage that it's a series of two halves, one of which works exceptionally well and the other of which grates terribly on the nerves. What's a viewer to do?

September 7, 2017

The Pull List: 30 August 2017, Part 1

It is time for Titan's annual Doctor Who crossover. This year, instead of taking place as a separate miniseries, the crossover is going the regular title route. Following this opening chapter, the remainder is playing out across the monthly books for the Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors.

There is no rush to hunt those books down, however, because truth be told The Lost Dimension is off to a horrifying start. The script by George Mann and Cavan Scott seems less interested in telling a dramatic story and more interested in packing in as many continuity references and cameos as possible, from the obvious (UNIT shows up, as does Jack Harkness) to the remarkably obscure (a bowship from "State of Decay"). In between these jarring cameos are momentary flashes of humour and charm, but they're utterly buried.

Then there is the return of the Doctor's cloned 'daughter' Jenny, last seen on television flying off to have adventures of her own in 2009's "The Doctor's Daughter". She was a gratingly irritating character on screen, and she is no more entertaining in print. The book even shoe-horns a way for her to briefly meet Peter Davison's Fifth Doctor with a cry of 'Dad!'; actress Georgia Moffett, who played Jenny on TV, is Davison's actual daughter.

This is the very worst kind of tie-in fiction. It is the sort of comic that gives all comics based on TV shows and films a bad reputation. I strongly recommend giving The Lost Dimension a miss. (1/5)

Doctor Who: The Lost Dimension #1. Titan Comics. Written by George Mann and Cavan Scott. Art by Rachael Stott with Cris Bolson, Pasquale Qualano, Elton Thomasi, Klebbs Jr and JB Bastos. Colours by Rod Fernandes.

Under the cut: reviews of Aquaman, Planetoid: Praxis and Saga.

September 5, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Force of Nature"

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

While the Enterprise is tracking a missing Starfleet vessel, the ship is brought to a standstill by the sabotage of a brother-and-sister team whose research suggests that warp travel may be fundamentally damaging space.

You can see the intent behind "Force of Nature", and it is a fairly noble one. Star Trek has always run a fairly strong line in social commentary, thinly veiled behind a science fiction cover. Here the series tries to take a look at environmental issues, but manages to fall flat on its face. Not only is the story relatively trite and dull, it is oddly short. That leaves an awful lot of time to be filled with a fairly silly and inconsequential B-plot.

September 4, 2017

The Pull List: 23 August 2017, Part 2

We're eight months through the year, and it's looking increasingly likely that my favourite book of 2017 is going to be Heathen. This independent book by writer/artist Natasha Alterici is just a wonderful read. The writing is striking and well characterised. The artwork is absolutely beautiful. As a combined package, with each issue coming in a beautiful matte finish cardstock cover, it's been a hard act to top.

Issue #5 sees Aldis setting out on her own again to secure passage north to the mysterious land of Heimdall. To do that she needs to convince the ship captain Makeda that it isn't a suicide mission, and that means one thing: mermaids.

The use of Norse mythology and fantasy creatures is beautifully done here, as is the very strong range of female characters throughout. Aldis herself was exiled from her own village for being a lesbian, and the book treats themes of female sexuality with heart and respect. Above all else this is simply a phenomenally readable book. It comes too slowly: at the end of every issue I desperately wish to read the next. (5/5)

Heathen #5. Vault Comics. Story and art by Natasha Alterici.

Under the cut: reviews of Batgirl, Doctor Aphra, War Mother and X-O Manowar.

September 3, 2017

The Angriest: August 2017 in review

All roads led to Rome in August; at least, the most popular post on The Angriest did. The review of Part 2 of the 1965 Doctor Who serial "The Romans" topped all other pieces for the month. You can read it here if you missed it. Other popular posts this month included comic reviews for 26 July (link), and a review from "The Dalek Invasion of Earth" (link).

Altogether in August 2017, I conducted one interview, 12 films in theatres (thanks mainly to the Melbourne International Film Festival), 7 older films, 9 TV episodes, one anime episode, and 62 comic books. A full list of my reviews and posts from The Angriest, FictionMachine and FilmInk for the month is included below. Thanks for reading.

Doctor Who: "Conspiracy"

It is 30 January 1965, and time for another episode of Doctor Who.

The Doctor (William Hartnell) is requested to play the lyre for Emperor Nero (Derek Francis). Barbara (Jacqueline Hill) earns the ire of Empress Poppaea (Kay Patrick), who tries to have her poisoned. Ian (William Russell) is recaptured and sent to become a gladiator.

The most remarkable part of that plot summary is that it all plays out as the broadest of comedies. To an extent there is a method to writer Dennis Spooner's madness: there is a surprising amount of rather callous bloodshed and murder in Nero's court, and playing such events straight would clearly make the episode unsuitable for children. By playing the same events for laughs it superficially softens the blows while actually making it even more unsettling after the fact.

September 1, 2017

The Pull List: 23 August 2017, Part 1

Boom Studios have a real knack for publishing fun and inventive miniseries, usually taking something very familiar and then giving it a distinctive twist or creative take. They're at it again with Hi-Fi Fight Club, which essentially blends mediocre 1990s cult film Empire Records with another element revealed in the first issue's final page (it's not a fight club).

The characters are all very familiar, but are presented in a generally upbeat and enjoyable way. The artwork is very appealing, enhancing the very warm and optimistic tone of the book. The big challenge facing Hi-Fi Fight Club going forward is how to keep that very likeable tone but find fresh and original material to sustain it in the longer term.

If you are after a funny, very light-hearted book with a strong cast of female characters, this is definitely worth a look. It's another solid entry for Boom's growing range of similar titles. (3/5)

Hi-Fi Fight Club #1. Boom Studios. Written by Carly Usdin. Art by Nina Vakueva and Irene Flores. Colours by Rebecca Nalty.

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