November 30, 2017

The Pull List: 15 November 2017, Part 2

Nicholas Cox is an enthused teen fencer, one desperate to win a regional championship. In his first round, however, he finds himself facing top-level fencer Seiji Katawama - does he even stand a chance?

You know all of those manga and anime based around sports, with a plucky teen protagonist slowly learning how to be the best in their particular pursuit? Meanwhile they make friends and establish relationships with a wide variety of supporting characters? That's Fence: it really is a sports manga in an American comic book format.

That's both good and bad. It's nice to see this genre get a decent shot in the English-language market, but at the same time it's a comparatively expensive way to experience this sort of a story: a manga might be in black and white, but it's going to give you a lot of pages for comparatively little money. While the writing and character work here is solid, and the art clean and very easy on the eye, it's really going to come down to how much you love this genre to buy it every month. (3/5)

Fence #1. Boom Studios. Written by C.S. Pacat. Art by Johanna the Mad. Colours by Joana Lafuente.

Under the cut: reviews of Batwoman, Darth Vader, Doctor Strange and Mech Cadet Yu.

November 29, 2017

New Pants: New Pants (1998)

A few years ago I stumbled upon a CD by a Chinese post-punk band named New Pants. I bought it on a whim and absolutely loved its blend of Ramones-esque fast punk and breezy electronica. I've enjoyed what I've heard of the band ever since, but recently I managed to track down a copy of their original 1998 self-titled album. It is a chance to hear the band in their early stages.

It's a slightly strange experience, since it almost sounds as if the tracks were laid onto the album in the chronological order in which they were written. It certainly ends with a fairly similar sound to the one with which I'm familiar, but it begins somewhere quite different. In truth it begins with them sounding like a straight-up Ramones tribute act.

November 28, 2017

Highlander: The Series: "The Gathering"

Small-time thief Richie Ryan (Stan Kirsch) breaks into the antique store owned by the mysterious Duncan Macleod (Adrian Paul) - only to stumble into a confrontation between Macleod, a sword-wielding immortal, and the villainous Slan Quince (Richard Moll). Slan is intent on decapitating Macleod and stealing his power, however another stands in his way: Macleod's relative and fellow immortal Connor (Christopher Lambert).

In case you spent the 1980s under a rock: Highlander was a moderately successful fantasy film released in 1986, which starred Christopher Lambert as a Scottish highlander cursed by immortality. It depicted a disparate group of immortal warriors scattered throughout history that would fight one another to the death - by decapitation, the only means that worked permanently - until they would all assemble for "the Gathering", finish off killing one another until only one survived, at which point the winner would receive a mysterious "Prize". It was very stylishly directed by Russell Mulcahy, boasted a great soundtrack by Michael Kamen and Queen, and did a particularly strong line in flashbacks to various historical periods. In 1992 its producers decided to make a TV series out of it.

November 27, 2017

The Pull List: 15 November 2017, Part 1

The Wicked + the Divine is a fantastic comic book. It is almost certainly the best work that writer Kieron Gillen and artist Jamie McKelvie have ever produced - and they have done some sensational books over the years. In many ways it feels like the most refined and perfected form of their respective styles. It's energetic, musical, emotive, detailed, nuanced, funny, sad - I could literally just keep on listing adjectives, because they somehow encapsulate all of those things and more in a fashion that almost seems miraculous.

The book has been circling towards its conclusion for a while now, with a huge apocalyptic wave of ominous foreboding crashing over the entire cast. This, issue #33, was the final part of their "Imperial Phase II" story arc, and I was expecting something monumental to happen. What I did not expect was to have the rug pulled out from under my feet.

This isn't an issue to talk about without spoiling. This is an issue with big surprises, and game-changing reveals, and if I wasn't already feverishly anticipating each issue before I absolutely am now. This is one of the best single issues of an ongoing book I have read this year. (5/5)

The Wicked + the Divine #33. Image. Written by Kieron Gillen. Art by Jamie McKelvie. Colours by Matt Wilson.

Under the cut: reviews of Aquaman, Batman, Kill the Minotaur, Spider-Men II, and Superman.

Star Trek: Voyager: "Non Sequitur"

It is 25 September 1995, and time for another episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

Ensign Harry Kim (Garrett Wang) wakes up in San Francisco, in a parallel world where he never joined the crew of the USS Voyager. While Starfleet begins to believe the confused Kim may be a Maquis spy, Kim desperately works to discover what has happened - and if he can ever return to his own universe.

Poor Ensign Kim. He doesn't get a huge amount of attention by the Star Trek: Voyager writers, but in Season 1 he did get to be the focus of "Emanations" - in which Harry is trapped in an alternative reality and must effectively die to get back to Voyager. Now he gets to feature in "Non Sequitur", in which Harry is trapped in an alternative reality and must effectively die to get back to Voyager. Like I said: poor Ensign Kim.

November 26, 2017

The Pull List: 8 November 2017, Part 2

In a neat twist on the usual first contact story, Port of Earth depicts a future where aliens do come and make contact with humanity, but only to lease space on the Earth for an interstellar spaceport. The aliens keep to themselves, the humans get advanced technology in payment, and that is supposed to be it. Unfortunately now and then an alien leaves the transit zone, leading to murder, violence and all kinds of mayhem.

The real strength here is that the aliens genuinely feel alien, since we do not really get to see them and we have no insight into their motivations. It makes everything feel just that little bit unsettling and paranoid - can the Earth be sure it's made an even-handed deal?

Port of Earth is a great spin on a traditional science fiction set-up, and in a comic genre that sometimes struggles to find fresh angles writer Zack Kaplan appears to have hit one right on the head. While it is too early to tell how this series will go overall, as a set-up it is second-to-none. It also benefits from great artwork by Andrea Mutti, and subtle colours by Vladimir Popov. It has a very mature, distinctive aesthetic. So far, so good - possibly even great. (4/5)

Port of Earth #1. Image. Written by Zack Kaplan. Art by Andrea Mutti. Colours by Vladimir Popov.

Under the cut: reviews of Batgirl and the Birds of Prey, Daredevil, Ms Marvel, Scales and Scoundrels, and She-Hulk.

November 23, 2017

The Pull List: Doomsday Clock #1

It is 1992. The United States government has uncovered the truth: that several years earlier the world-famous superhero Ozymandias faked an alien invasion to prevent global war, murdering hundreds of thousands of Americans in the process. Now the whole world is falling apart. Thermonuclear war seems inevitable. Meanwhile a vigilante presumed dead breaks into prison to rescue a pair of criminals.

Alan Moore turned 64 on Saturday. It seems a fairly distasteful birthday present, then, that DC Comics would yesterday publish Doomsday Clock: the sequel to Watchmen, arguably his most famous work. Moore and artist Dave Gibbons produced Watchmen for DC Comics between 1986 and 1987, under a contract in which the rights to the characters would revert back to their creators once the comic was out of print. Put simply, Watchmen never went out of print. It remains in print today, and as a result Moore and Gibbons never got the rights back. Warner Bros have produced a Watchmen film, they're currently producing a HBO TV series, and a few years ago they even produced a string of fairly average prequel comics about the key characters. Moore has long since washed his hands and moved onto more interesting projects, but whenever DC mines back into Moore's work - knowing that he created these characters and that he doesn't want them exploited in this fashion - it feels a remarkably tacky move.

November 21, 2017

The Pull List: 8 November 2017, Part 1

If you ever wanted a demonstration of how much Grant Morrison influenced the DC Universe over the past 20 years, then Dark Nights: Batman Lost is a perfect place to start. This one-shot, which ties in directly to Scott Snyder's six-part Metal miniseries, positively screams the name "Morrison" from every panel. It is difficult to imagine it being published at all had Morrison not laid out the groundwork in advance.

Some years ago Batman was struck by Darkseid's omega beams, throwing him all the way back to the dawn of the human race (see Morrison's Final Crisis and Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne). There he attracted the attention of Barbatos, a dark god that exists in the 'dark multiverse', which exists on the flipside to the main DC multiverse. Across thousands of years Barbatos has manipulated the entire human race in order to bring the 21st century Batman to a specific act in a specific place and time, and the gateway to the dark multiverse has been opened. While Earth falls to the power of Barbatos' Dark Knights, Batman is trapped in a nightmare world of illusions and cannot get out.

This is essentially an interlude to Metal, in which Batman struggles to escape the dreamlike environs into which Barbatos has placed him. It is a love letter: to Batman's seven-decade history, to Grant Morrison's unique style of comic book storytelling, and ultimately to DC Comics itself. It is tremendous fun, with a deliberately shifting art style and a wealth of clever comic book references. I imagine it might be hard to fully enjoy this issue without reading Metal, but in context and with an informed reader, it is one of the very best comic books I've read this year. (5/5)

Dark Nights: Batman Lost #1. DC Comics. Written by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV and Joshua Williamson. Art by Doug Mahnke, Yanick Paquette, Jorge Jimenez amd Jaime Mendoza. Colours by Wil Quintana, Nathan Fairbairn and Alejandro Sanchez.

Under the cut: reviews of Action Comics, Detective Comics, and Mister Miracle.

Star Trek: Voyager: "Elogium"

It is 18 September 1995, and time for another episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

When Voyager encounters a school of alien creatures in deep space, the crew are keen to investigate. The creatures then surround and trap the ship. Their emanations have an unexpected effect on Kes (Jennifer Lien), accelerating her development and forcing her into her 'elogium'; the brief period of time in which her species may conceive a child.

We need to talk about Neelix and Kes. They were introduced to the series as a romantic couple in the very first episode, "Caretaker". It is not a relationship that sits well with me, and it never has. A lot is made in the series about how Kes is two years old, and from a species with a life-span of  nine years. Neelix's age is never referenced in the series, although we know he was an adult at least 15 years prior to meeting the Voyager crew. It seems safe to assume he is at least in his mid-30s (Ethan Phillips, who plays Neelix, was 40 when the series premiered). In the end, it is difficult to see Kes and Neelix's relationship as being anything other than one between an adult and a child.

November 19, 2017

The Pull List: 1 November 2017, Part 2

It has taken Titan Comics three attempts, but they have finally nailed a multi-Doctor Doctor Who crossover miniseries without feeling forced and without tying everything together with a rushed and disappointing finale.

By contrast, The Lost Dimension has been well-plotted, carefully thought out and brilliantly fore-shadowed. The entire storyline has circled around a mysterious white void that has been sucking things in from all of time and space. By the time the true nature of the void is revealed, it is simultaneously a shock and stunning obvious at the same time: the best kind of revelation.

Every Doctor gets at least a momentary cameo, with the bulk of the lead time shared between Doctors 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12. Mariano Laclaustra's artwork is superb, giving everything a beautiful aesthetic somewhere between painting and traditional pen-and-ink. Carlos Cabrera's colours only enhance it. It simply looks tremendous.

So congratulations to writers George Mann and Cavan Scott; while individual issues of the crossover have wavered in quality, they have pulled out one hell of a climax. And think this all started with a comic I absolutely despised... (4/5)

Doctor Who: The Lost Dimension Omega #1. Titan Comics. Written by George Mann and Cavan Scott. Art by Mariano Laclaustra with Fer Centurion. Colours by Carlos Cabrera.

Under the cut: reviews of Atomic Robo, The Beautiful Death, Darth Vader, Extremity, Lazaretto and Superman.

November 17, 2017

The Pull List: 1 November 2017, Part 1

I couldn't honestly tell you why, but I have an enormous soft spot for Deadman, aka Boston Brand: a circus acrobat who was resurrected upon his death as a roaming spirit capable of possessing bodies and fighting crimes. DC recently gave him a miniseries in the form of Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love, which was a lot of fun, and now they're back with a new six-issue run simply titled Deadman. In this first issue, Deadman and Batman meet one another when Hook - the assassin who originally murdered Boston - sets up an attempt to kill Gotham's Commissioner Gordon at a nuclear power plant.

The story is genuinely messy, and regularly mystifying. For some reason Gordon is now acting as a US ambassador, and why he's assumed the role and why he's inspecting a nuclear plant both go unanswered. The artwork, however, is wonderfully old-fashioned and enjoyable to view, and will be the book's main selling point. Deadman is, after all, a book written and illustrated by legendary DC artist Neal Adams. Anybody with a sense of history and a love for DC's 1970s titles will get a lot out of this new series.

Overall it's a head-scratcher, but in the moment it's a wonderful throwback to the fast-paced, chummy books of my childhood. I'm a huge fan of Adams' artwork, and his talented have not abandoned him with age. Is it perfect? Not at all, but it is hugely fun to read. (4/5)

Deadman #1. DC Comics. Story and art by Neal Adams.

Under the cut: reviews of Batman, Giant Days, Green Arrow, Spider-Man and Usagi Yojimbo.

November 15, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Masks"

It is 21 February 1994, and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The Enterprise encounters an ancient temple in space, hidden beneath the surface of a comet. After an attempt to scan the temple, Data (Brent Spiner) begins to suffer the effects of external manipulation: he becomes increasingly obsessed with unusual sigils and begins to develop multiple personalities. As the Enterprise itself is gradually transformed by the temple's power, Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) must play out ancient history in order to save his ship and crew.

"Masks" really is one of those episodes where you feel compelled to applaud the production team for their adventurous outlook, but you cannot actually praise the end result. It's a somewhat silly, and certainly very uneven hour of Star Trek. The ideas are there, and they're potentially great ones, but the execution stumbles badly.

November 14, 2017

The Pull List: 25 October 2017, Part 3

At this stage we all know the drill: another six issues have passed, bringing a story arc of Fiona Staples and Brian K. Vaughan's Saga to a close. There is going to be tugging on heartstrings, a shock conclusion, perhaps a violent character death - it's become something of a routine.

That's where Saga #48 comes as a total surprise. Readers expecting to see some terrible tragedy befall Alana, Marko and their daughter will be shocked to find themselves back with the anthropomorphic seal Ghus, the young robot prince Squire, and the journalists Upsher and Doff. They are stranded on a remote planet with no hope of rescue and a rapidly shrinking supply of food. To avoid killing Ghus' beloved walrus, he and the young prince set off into the forest to kill an invisible monster for its meat.

It is not only a refreshing change from the trials of Alana and Marko, it is also a refreshing change in tone. This issue has a beautiful fairy-tale quality that makes it stand out. The characters are sweet and pleasant to read about, and Fiona Staples' art is - as always - wonderful to look at. Saga may go up and down from arc to arc, but now and then it really knocks an issue out of the park. I thought this one was fantastic. (5/5)

Saga #48. Image. Written by Brian K. Vaughan. Art and colours by Fiona Staples.

Under the cut: reviews of Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter, Copperhead, The Power of the Dark Crystal, Star Trek: Boldly Go, and X-O Manowar.

November 13, 2017

The Pull List: 25 October 2017, Part 2

Science fiction horror series Southern Cross is back for a third story arc, and it is a very welcome return indeed. For the past 12 issues writer Becky Cloonan, artist Andy Belanger and colourist Lee Loughridge have developed a gripping and claustrophobic story that started with a murder and has no reached the exploration of a missing spacecraft that has just returned from somewhere outside of our own reality.

Set your expectations to Event Horizon and you'll have a ball with this series, which combines science fiction and horror with a strong cast of hard-edged, cynical characters. Andy Belanger's artwork uses slightly grotesque designs and a thick inking style to make it all look very stark and brutal. Lee Loughridge's limited colour palette tones everything down and gives it a very consistent and desolate aesthetic.

The biggest strength of all is the unpredictable storyline. Each arc has taken off in an unexpected direction, and this third volume seems set to do the same. Things have moved much faster than I expected them to here, from the opening - which pretty much picks up the exact moment the second volume ended - to the violent climax. (4/5)

Southern Cross #13. Written by Becky Cloonan. Art by Andy Belanger. Colours by Lee Loughridge.

Under the cut: reviews of Action Comics, Daredevil and Rebels.

November 12, 2017

The Pull List: 25 October 2017, Part 1

Abram Adams was a cosmonaut who was sent into deep space, where an unexplained encounter transformed him into the enormously powerful cosmic entity known as Divinity. Now, after three great miniseries, the character is heading back out into void in this new four-issue event from the Divinity creative team of Matt Kindt and Trevor Hairsine.

It is a strong opening, one that both reminds the readers of Divinity's origins and current situation as well as set this new story in motion. The alien sequences are easily the best, showcasing a wonderfully 'out there' imagination of strange characters, names and settings.

The visuals definitely sit on a shelf next to the likes of Jack Kirby and Moebius, but there is a much more direct and realistic aesthetic to it. All in all it is an intriguing hook into what looks to be yet another excellent Valiant miniseries. (4/5)

Eternity #1. Valiant. Written by Matt Kindt. Art by Trevor Hairsine and Ryan Winn. Colours by David Baron.

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

November 11, 2017

Star Trek: Voyager: "Projections"

It is 11 September 1995, and time for another episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

The Doctor (Robert Picardo) is activated in Voyager's sickbay, only to discover the entire ship has been abandoned. After discovering both Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) and Torres (Roxann Dawson) are still onboard, the Doctor then discovers the Starfleet engineer Reginald Barclay (Dwight Schultz) who drops a bombshell: the Doctor is not onboard Voyager, but is in fact hologram designer Lewis Zimmerman inside a holodeck simulation that cannot be deactivated.

"Projections" hits off with a fairly dramatic hook: that we're not on Voyager back somewhere all the way back near Earth (Jupiter Station, to be precise). The problem is that before we even get to the central mystery - is he the Doctor or Zimmerman - the episode has included scenes that make the Barclay/Zimmerman scenario fundamentally impossible. The result is thus a fairly tedious wait for an extra 25 minutes for the Doctor's actual situation to be resolved. Thanks to poor scripting by writer Brannon Braga, the entire episode becomes a waste of time.

November 10, 2017

The Pull List: 18 October 2017, Part 3

Editor Shelly Bond was one of the most critical and successful editors at DC Vertigo, the imprint where she worked from its second month of publication all the way through to April 2016 when DC Comics made her redundant as part of a company restructure. Now she's back, thanks to IDW Publishing, with a new imprint called Black Crown and a new monthly comic by Peter Milligan and Tess Fowler: Kid Lobotomy.

Sadly, as an imprint-launching comic, it is a messy disappointment. The story feels haphazard and unfocused. The characters feel derivative and uninteresting. All in all it feels as if writer Peter Milligan is running on automatic: this reads like a photocopy of much of his earlier, much better work. Tess Fowler's artwork is good, but artwork alone can rarely save a comic book.

It's ultimately a big disappointment, because Bond had a huge opportunity here to set up something truly dynamic, original and provocative - and instead she's edited together something that just feels like a by-the-numbers Vertigo copy. It's a terrible shame. (2/5)

Kid Lobotomy #1. Black Crown/IDW. Written by Peter Milligan. Art by Tess Fowler. Colours by Lee Loughridge.

Under the cut: reviews of Batwoman, Behind You, Kill the Minotaur, Spy Seal, and The Wild Storm.

November 9, 2017

Star Trek: Voyager: "Initiations"

It is 4 September 1995, and time for another episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

Commander Chakotay (Robert Beltran) is undertaking a Native American ritual in a shuttlecraft when he comes under attack by the Kazon. His key assailant is Kar (Aron Eisenberg), a Kazon youth undergoing a ritual initiation to become an adult member of his community.

With the Season 1 finale "The 37s" held over to launch Season 2, this actual opening episode got bumped to the second week. It is certainly a much stronger episode, although that doesn't necessarily make it particularly good. "Initiations" is a flawed hour of Star Trek with some decent character work, but a fairly rote and underwhelming story.

November 8, 2017

The Pull List: 18 October 2017, Part 2

Four issues in, and Swordquest is really firming up as one of the most surprisingly good comic book miniseries of 2017. I find myself how things possibly worked out as well as they did. Dynamite, a publisher mainly responsible for remakes of old pulp characters like John Carter of Mars and Vampirella, picked up the rights to make comic books out of Atari videogames. I expected fairly tedious attempts to expand 8-bit arcade games into science fiction narratives. I didn't expect Swordquest.

Writers Chad Bowers and Chris Sims did the cleverest thing by noticing that the most interesting aspect of Swordquest was its real-life background. A four-game series, in which players who completed each game and solved its puzzles, could write into Atari and register for a special event. The best player at each game's event would win a special game-related prize. The final prize - a sword - was never given away, because Atari essentially collapsed before it could be awarded. It is that weird set-up and downfall that is powering this series, as a terminal ill ex-games player works to steal the never-awarded sword from a retro games expo. This issue things get a little weird, in the best possible fashion. The pseudonymous Ghostwriter X illustrates the book beautifully, with a very grounded, thickly inked style that add to its sense of real world, small-scale criminality.

That this series is not only readable but genuinely great is possibly the biggest surprise of my comic-reading year. (5/5)

Swordquest #4. Dynamite. Written by Chad Bowers and Chris Sims. Art and colours by Ghostwriter X.

Under the cut: reviews of Doctor Strange, Green Arrow, Poe Dameron and Super Sons.

November 7, 2017

The Pull List: 18 October 2017, Part 1

For a lot of people Aquaman is a kind of silly punchline: the ridiculous superhero from that old cartoon Super Friends who wore orange and green and talked to fish. For DC Comics fans he's often something more, but in the grand scheme of things not that many actually care about the character enough to read his comic.

They should. You should. Right now Aquaman the comic is about as good as it has ever been. Under writer Dan Abnett it has evolved into a long-running, character-focused epic. Arthur Curry, the rightful king of Atlantis, hides in his city's bottom slums while the tyrant Corum Rath rules in his place. Above the surface his fiancee Mera fights desperately to locate a way into the city. It is one big undersea fantasy, with long-term consequences and great character-based pay-offs. This particular arc is illustrated by Stjepan Sejic, one of the finest comic book artists working today.

This issue brings the current arc right up to a climactic point, and it feels like it's going to be character-defining one. This is a sensational run on a hugely underrated character. (5/5)

Aquaman #29. DC Comics. Written by Dan Abnett. Art and colours by Stjepan Sejic.

Under the cut: reviews of Batman, Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor, and Superman.

November 6, 2017

The Angriest: October 2017 in review

I am yet to be impressed by Riverdale, but my review of its second episode - "A Touch of Evil" - was the most-read post on The Angriest in October. Other popular posts included comic book reviews for 20 September (link), the review of the Colditz series finale "Liberation" (link), and reviews of the Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes "The Pegasus" (link) and "Sub Rosa" (link).

All up in October 2017 I wrote one film essay, six film reviews, 11 TV episode reviews, three artist profiles, and short reviews of 48 comic books. A full index is included below the cut.

The Pull List: 11 October 2017, Part 3

The Seven Deadly Sins have lived in exile on Earth for thousands of years, under the careful watch of the angel Naviel. Now they have successfully killed Naviel, and the only thing stopping them from running riot over the Earth is Naviel's son and an innocent human bystander drawn against his will into the conflict.

Sacred Creatures is warming on me more with each issue. It is a beautifully illustrated book, with detailed artwork that carries two distinctive styles - one for the present day and one for a series of flashbacks. It is also a much thicker comic than you usually see - this issue has 48 pages of story, for example - and that gives it a lot more room to expand each installment for maximum impact.

It is a decidedly adult comic book. Previous issues have featured plenty of violence; this one tops that by the personification of Lust sparking off an incontrollable orgy in a New York hospital. Interestingly while the design and illustration of Sophia (aka Lust) is of the vaguely tiresome Greg Land school of sexualised characters, the actual story feels a lot more like the sort of thing you'd see in an issue of The Invisibles. I had my earlier doubts, but this book absolutely has me hooked. (4/5)

Sacred Creatures #4. Image. Story and art by Pablo Raimondi and Klaus Jansen. Colours by Dean White, Chris Chuckry and Brian Reber.

Under the cut: reviews of Lazaretto, Mech Cadet Yu, and Scales and Scoundrels.