December 30, 2017

The Pull List: 20 December 2017, Part 2

It's my experience that Marvel's Star Wars comic books work best when they blend elements from multiple films, and add fresh material of their own. It's the approach that made Kieron Gillen's Darth Vader run sing - and which led to an excellent spin-off book Doctor Aphra - and it's the approach that makes Charles Soule's latest issue of Poe Dameron feel so entertaining as well.

Lor San Tekka (played in The Force Awakens by Max Von Sydow) has been captured by a Trade Federation baron, and to rescue him General Leia and Captain Dameron must work together on a calculated heist to get inside the baron's facilities and steal him out from under the baron's nose. It throws in back story from the Star Wars prequels, foreshadows the relationship between Leia and Poe in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, and chucks in a couple of well-devised original characters.

It's a great issue, with strong art by Angel Unzueta and colours by Arif Prianto. I've gone up and down on Poe Dameron; with this issue I am way, way up. (4/5)

Star Wars: Poe Dameron #22. Marvel. Written by Charles Soule. Art by Angel Unzueta. Colours by Arif Prianto.

Under the cut: reviews of Doctor Strange, Invader Zim, and Ms Marvel.

December 28, 2017

The Pull List: 20 December 2017, Part 1

Batman and Superman are trapped in a dark dimension at the behest of the demon Barbatos. In order to save the DC Universe from being consumed by Barbatos' legions, the Justice League desperately need to arm themselves with the mysterious "Nth Metal". As a result three teams of heroes have journeyed to the corners of the universe to retrieve it.

Dark Nights: Metal is a ridiculous comic. It's a "throw everything at the wall and see what sticks" extravaganza, with an expansive cast, over-the-top villains, and a very self-aware attitude to just how ridiculous it is. This is a comic where a passing fish will see Deathstroke desecrate an Atlantean tomb with a cry of "Poseidon's beard!", where Starro the Conqueror will leap out from behind a curtain shouting "Hahaha! I'm back, losers!", and Batman and Superman can be snatching from certain death by Daniel from Neil Gaiman's The Sandman.

The bottom line is that is just fun. It's the sort of book we used to read as kids, where we didn't really care if anything made sense, we just liked watching superheroes have adventures and colourful images enchanted us. It's a deliberately over-egged pudding, filled with characters we like and throwing so much stuff into the mix that it'd be impossible not to find at least a few likeable elements. I adore all of it. This stuff is brilliantly stupid, and just plain brilliant. (5/5)

Dark Nights: Metal #4. Written by Scott Snyder. Art by Greg Capullo and Jonathan Glapion. Colours by FCO Plascencia.

Under the cut: reviews of BatmanLazaretto, The Wild Storm, and a delayed review of Scales & Scoundrels.

December 27, 2017

Roar: "Pilot"

It is 14 July 1997, and time for the series premiere of Roar.

In the year 400, young Irish rebel Conor (Heath Ledger) survives the massacre of his family before rising up to become the leader destined to rid his country of the Roman invaders. With the aid of his bodyguard Fergus (John Saint Ryan), former slave Catlin (Vera Farmiga), and African runaway Tully (Alonzo Greer), Conor starts with the rival chieftan who murdered his family and lover and who sided with the Roman during their invasion.

Roar is one of the most mid-1990s TV dramas you could find. Following the runaway success of the linked fantasy series Xena: Warrior Princess and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, American TV networks and syndicates briefly went spare trying to recapture the appeal of those shows. To my mind Roar is the most accomplished of those attempts - albeit one of the more short-lived at just 13 episodes. It's an engaging remix of other programs, produced with a lot of enthusiasm and good humour.

December 26, 2017

The Pull List: 13 December 2017, Part 3

In 15th century Florence, Leonardo da Vinci works building war machines for the Medici while secretly building his own wooden automaton. I love period settings in comic books, and with this combination of history and science fiction the new comic series Monstro Mechanica is well set to be exactly the sort of book that I like.

What makes this book work isn't just the genre blend. It is also the characters, with Da Vinci sharing the limelight with his young female apprentice Isobel - a rebellious woman who turns head by her insistence on wearing men's clothing. On top of that it is the beautiful clean artwork by Chris Evenhuis, which feels quite reminiscent of the work undertaken by Mike Norton in Image's Revival. Sjan Weijers adds some outstanding colours too, with each page using a limited but rich palette. Altogether it's a highly promising package.

Of course it's hard to judge a whole story via its first issue, but as an opening chapter Monstro Mechanica seems very promising indeed. (4/5)

Monstro Mechanica #1. Aftershock. Written by Paul Allor. Art by Chris Evenhuis. Colours by Sjan Weijers.

Under the cut: reviews of Invader Zim, Mister Miracle, and The Wicked + the Divine.

December 23, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Firstborn"

It is 25 April 1994, and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

While Worf (Michael Dorn) encourages his son Alexander (Brian Bonsall) to better embrace his Klingon heritage, he comes under attack from a House of Duras assassin. When the Klingon warrior K'mtar (James Sloyan) arrives to protect and guide Worf, the two men come to blows over how Alexander's instruction in Klingon tradition should be done - and indeed his future in general.

And that's it for Brian Bonsall's run as Alexander Rozhenko, after a seven-episode run across three seasons. Generally speaking, fans have been quite harsh on Alexander; both the character and Bonsall's performance. To be honest I'm a mild fan of both. Could the character have been better written? Possibly, but it was a genuinely nice extension of Worf's character to make him a father - particularly of a son who is not particularly interested in being a Klingon warrior any time soon.

December 22, 2017

The Pull List: 13 December 2017, Part 2

Zedo and Gogi are two boys living underground beneath the ruined wreckage of human civilization. Down below, rival gangs rule the streets. Up above, the Earth is dominated by giant monsters. When Zedo and Gogi earn the chance to prove themselves worthy of joining the "Bloodwolves" gang, they take it up without hesitating - but it does mean venturing across the city limits, and into the territory of the giants.

Fans of post-apocalyptic drama and giant monsters are going to have a ball with Giants. It marks the debut of Spanish brothers Carlos and Miguel Valderrama, and based on their work here they have a long and successful career ahead of them. This is a smartly plotted first issue. It introduces the setting and the characters with great effect. It's hugely enjoyable to read.

It has a lovely art style as well: there's a lot of motion in the art. It feels energetic and frantic. It's subtly coloured too, so that nothing ever feels overwhelming or overly busy. I cannot think of many comic book debuts that feel so slickly presented, or so immediately enjoyable. (5/5)

Giants #1. Dark Horse. Story and art by Carlos and Miguel Valderrama.

Under the cut: reviews of Action Comics, Batgirl and the Birds of Prey, and She-Hulk.

December 21, 2017

Myrkur: Mareridt (2017)

Myrkur is not a band but an alias: used by Danish musician and folk singer Amalie Bruun to separate her heavy metal works from the rest of her compositions. She released her first album as Myrkur anonymously in 2015; while her identity has since been leaked to the public, she has kept the pseudonym for her 2017 follow-up Mareridt (the Danish word for nightmares).

It is a really distinctive act, because while Bruun personally identifies her Myrkur projects as black metal, there is a much more complex and nuanced sound being developed here. Her folk background feeds in heavily, and that tends to soften the harsher elements one would expect from a traditional black metal act and create something that feels a lot more mythological and unearthly. To a large degree the rage one would expect to hear in a metal album is absent. Instead it feels rather mournful and haunted. Long-term metal fans may struggle with Myrkur, because it often sits on the fringes of the genre. Anybody put off by the metal tag should probably give it a chance; it may pleasantly surprise you.

The Pull List: 13 December 2017, Part 1

Since childhood I have been fascinated by Judas Iscariot, the man who betrayed Christ to the Romans and led to him being crucified. He strikes me as a complicated figure: a traitor, yet one whose betrayal enables the entire Christian religion to unfold. If he was destined to betray Jesus, then how can he be fully culpable for doing what he was always going to do? It's fertile creative ground, which has famously been sowed before in The Last Temptation of Christ, and now the same ideas circulate through Judas, a four-part miniseries by Jeff Loveness and Jakub Rebelka.

It's rare to see a theological book published as a mainstream comic book, but Judas is well worth the read. It looks outstanding, thanks to Rebelka's clean, haunting artwork. It also digs into Judas' character and backstory, while utilising a clever non-linear storytelling style. You absolutely don't need to be religious to enjoy this issue; I'm not, and it's one of the best debut issues I have read this year. This is an excellent set-up for an intelligent, literate dark fantasy. (5/5)

Judas #1. Boom Studios. Written by Jeff Loveness. Art and colours by Jakub Rebelka.

Under the cut: reviews of Daredevil, Detective Comics and Port of Earth.

December 20, 2017

The Pull List: 6 December 2017, Part 3

Jack Kryznan arrives outside the post-apocalyptic city of Paradiso, looking for a way inside. He brings with him a mysterious device that everybody - once they learn what it does - is going to kill to get it into their possession.

This new science fiction monthly is certainly the more mysterious debut of recent years. There's clearly a story here. There's clearly a lot of work done in terms of world-building that will undoubtedly pay off in future issues. The artwork by Pramanik is busy but eye-catching. The problem is that it really is all a little too mysterious; it's kind of hard to know what's precisely going on here.

In the end you're being asked to trust writer Ram V and assume that things will become clearer in the future. That's actually a big ask; there are a lot of independent and creator-owned books getting published these days, and they're all competing for readers. If you're really craving a cyberpunk-come-post-apocalyptic title, by all means check Paradiso out - but be prepared to work a little for your entertainment. (3/5)

Paradiso #1. Image. Written by Ram V. Art by Devmalya Pramanik. Coloiurs by Dearbhla Kelly and Alex Sollazzo.

Under the cut: reviews of Doctor Strange, Faith, Giant Days, and Spider-Man, plus a bonus review of November's issue of Eternity.

December 19, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Journey's End"

It is 28 March 1994, and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

While Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) attempts to relocate a Native American colony that has fallen under Cardassian territory, Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton) returns to the USS Enterprise.

With the seventh and final season wrapping up, and The Next Generation soon to be replaced by new spin-off Voyager, "Journey's End" tries to kill two birds with one stone: giving former series regular Wesley Crusher one last send-off, and introducing the idea of Native Americans living near Cardassian space. The former feels necessary: the last time viewers saw Wesley he was disgraced at Starfleet Academy and held back a year. It's nice to find out what happens next. The latter is just plain odd: while Voyager will feature a Native American first officer, the colony and events here never get referenced. It's foreshadowing without a purpose.

December 18, 2017

The Pull List: 6 December 2017, Part 2

Pyppenia - known familiarly as Poppy - is a princess; the illegitimate daughter of a recently deceased king. On the day of her uncle's coronation, Poppy falls under attack - and her 'Sleepless' bodyguard is the only man standing between her and death.

Sleepless is a new fantasy series from Image: written by Sarah Vaughn and illustrated by Leila del Duca, it introduces a medieval kingdom, courtly intrigue, an appealing and upbeat protagonist, and a strange magical sort of guardian. There is not a lot of detail here; in fact, this first issue feels more like a prologue than a genuine first chapter. Despite this, its evocative setting, beautiful artwork and clever world-building make it immediately addictive. It promises an excellent series to come.

Del Duca's artwork is beautiful. It isn't simply the art style, it's the production design: the costuming of this series is eye-catching and richly detailed. It all feels like a proper place, with a consistent and believable aesthetic. Sarah Vaughn's script teases a world without really opening it. It makes issue #2 a tantalising proposition, since what has been revealed so far is so evocative and entertaining. This seems all set to be a marvellous new comic book. (5/5)

Sleepless #1. Image. Written by Sarah Vaughn. Art by Leila del Duca. Colours by Alissa Sallah.

Under the cut: reviews of Deadman, Green Arrow, The Power of the Dark Crystal, and Usagi Yojimbo.

December 16, 2017

Highlander: The Series: "Innocent Man"

It's 10 October 1992, and time for another episode of Highlander: The Series.

Homeless veteran Leo Atkins (Vincent Schiavelli) is in the wrong place at the wrong time when he stumbles upon the recently decapitated corpse of an immortal. Framed for the crime by local sheriff Howard Crowley (John Novak), he must rely on a visiting Duncan Macleod (Adrian Paul) to demonstrate his innocence.

The late Vincent Schiavelli is one of those beloved fixtures of cult and genre cinema that his mere presence alone seems to demand that "Innocent Man" deserves praise. In a long career he appeared in such films as One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Buckaroo Banzai, Amadeus, Ghost, Batman Returns, Lord of Illusions, Tomorrow Never Dies, and Man on the Moon. The temptation is there to simply shout 'Vincent Schiavelli, it's great, shut up', and call the review a day.

December 14, 2017

Black Cab: 明 (Akira) (2017)

For their fifth studio album, Melbourne-based electronica band Black Cab pay direct tribute to Katsuhiro Otomo's legendary 1988 anime feature Akira. In a project that commenced as a live in-cinema performance, they now distil the melodies and rhythms developed there into a full-length album. You won't be able to whack it into a CD player and play it in sync with the actual movie, but you can slip on a pair of headphones and imagine a 45-minute long cyberpunk film of your very own.

The immediate surprise is how much the album sounds like Blade Runner, rather than Akira. Its extended use of drawn-out synthesiser notes immediately remind you of Vangelis rather than Akira composer Geinoh Yamashirogumi. Even at the base melody level there is a sense that the band is often only one misplaced note away from a Blade Runner cover version. That is not necessarily a bad thing - Blade Runner boasts one of the best movie scores of all time - but it's a surprise when one expects to hear an aural tribute to another 1980s cyberpunk film.

December 13, 2017

The Pull List: 6 December 2017, Part 1

Tom King is regularly and effectively perfect as the writer of Batman. Take "Superfriends", the new storyline beginning in issue #36. Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle are engaged. Bruce has told his sons, both biological and adopted. Now, surely, it is time to tell his best friend Clark - but is Clark his friend? Do Batman and Superman have anything in common?

Over the course of one issue Tom King drives right to the heart of Bruce and Clark's relationship: how they relate to one another, how they perceive one another, and just why a friendship between the two seems so odd and difficult. The characterisation is pitch-perfect; not just the two superheroes but also their respective partners Lois and Selina. It is regularly and hugely funny, but then that humour leads to genuine insight.

It's a structural marvel too, with a clever layout and story structure that impresses enormously once it becomes apparent. Clay and Seth Mann's artwork is simply stunning, and excellently coloured by Jordie Bellaire - currently the best in the business, as far as I'm concerned.

I really think this might be my favourite King issue of Batman so far. It's quite simply and effectively perfect. (5/5)

Batman #36. DC Comics. Written by Tom King. Art by Clay Mann and Seth Mann. Colours by Jordie Bellaire. 

Under the cut: reviews of Darth Vader, Rocko's Modern Life, and Superman.

December 12, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Genesis"

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

An unexplained disease begins to affect the Enterprise crew in different ways. When Picard (Patrick Stewart) and Data (Brent Spiner) return to the ship after an away mission, they find the entire crew have devolved into a variety of animal-like creatures.

At the time of its broadcast I felt reasonably certain that "Genesis" was the worst episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation ever made. I hated it so much that it has taken me more than 20 years to get around to watching it a second time. It is still awful, but time has somehow made it that special kind of awful in which - once you overcome its silly premise and unconvincing make-up effects - it's a strange kind of fun. It's an episode in which Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) is a fish person and Picard begins to transform into a lemur. It's hard to top that kind of insanity.

December 11, 2017

The Pull List: 29 November 2017

The latest movie property to be adapted into a comic book is John Wick, the 2014 action film directed by Chad Stahelski and David Leitch. Thanks to Dynamite Entertainment and writer Greg Pak, John Wick's ultra-violent gun-shooting adventures come to comic books on a monthly basis.

It's a wonderful concept to adapt, given Wick's stripped-back nature and reliance on near-endless, brutal gunfights. It is also heartening to see a talented writer like Greg Pak taking the reins. This first issue kicks off with Wick revisiting his childhood with lethal intent, and fills in some back story in the process.

Telling an origin story feels in some small part a betrayal of the films, since Wick's pre-existing reputation and anonymous history forms a fairly key part of his appeal. At the same time Giovanni Valletta's artwork does not seem dynamic and energised enough to capture the tone of the two John Wick films. There's promise in a John Wick comic book, but based on this first issue Dynamite is struggling to find it. (2/5)

John Wick #1. Dynamite. Written by Greg Pak. Art by Giovanni Valletta. Colours by David Curiel and Inlight Studios.

Under the cut: a bumper crop of reviews including Aquaman, Atomic Robo, Batman, Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter, Doctor Who: The 11th Doctor, Green Arrow, Poe Dameron, Sacred Creatures, Spy Seal, Star Trek: Boldly Go, and Star Trek: Discovery.

December 7, 2017

The Pull List: 22 November 2017, Part 2

The world has ended, with almost all of humanity gone and the Earth populated by strange alien insects. Three human survivors wander through a vast, empty city in search of both food and other people. Now the three men have met a mysterious woman, and everything looks set to fall apart.

The Beautiful Death is a strange, somewhat surreal post-apocalyptic drama. It has an arresting sort of dream-like style to it. Explanations have, to date, been in pretty short supply, but the air of mystery that leaves makes it all the more intriguing.

The real selling point is the artwork. Bablet has a slightly unusual style, giving his characters a distinctive angular look. The backgrounds and cityscapes are beautifully detailed, and it is all coloured in a typically French subtle style. Add in the lengthy page count per issue and this is a hugely addictive and enjoyable read. (4/5)

The Beautiful Death #3. Titan Comics/Statix Press. Story and art by Mathieu Bablet.

Under the cut: reviews of Action Comics, Copperhead, Detective Comics, Doom Patrol, and Rat Queens.

December 6, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Eye of the Beholder"

It is 28 February 1994, and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

When a crew member commits suicide, Counselor Troi (Marina Sirtis) begins to suspect that their death may be related to a previously undiscovered murder while the Enterprise was under construction.

"Eye of the Beholder" takes and ruins a pretty cool premise: that there's been a dead body sealed inside one of the Enterprise's bulkheads for close to seven years. It also sets off in a pretty bold direction for mid-1990s science fiction drama by starting things off with a suicide. From there it runs pretty enthusiastically downhill. The individual elements all have merit, but some specific creative choices halfway through scuttle the whole thing by the end. It's a shame, because I think the episode has genuine potential.

Highlander: The Series: "Road Not Taken"

It is 17 October 1992, and time for another episode of Highlander: The Series.

A cyclist goes on a violent rampage in a jewelry store before collapsing dead just outside. With the cyclist a friend of Richie (Stan Kirsch), he and Duncan Macleod (Adrian Paul) investigate - leading them to an old immortal acquaintance of Macleods who has spent centuries seeking the perfect super-strength elixir.

"Road Not Taken" marks an improvement over "Family Tree", which in its own small way improved upon "The Gathering". Highlander: The Series definitely appears to be getting better with each episode; in this case the episode is almost good. For one thing it involves another immortal. For another, it actually holds a comparatively complex storyline. On top of that the action is genuinely impressive stuff for a weekly television drama. It's still not particularly good television, but at least you can begin to see the good stuff in the distance.

December 5, 2017

The Pull List: 22 November 2017, Part 1

Swordquest has been one of the big surprises of my comic-reading year: an adaptation of an Atari 2600 videogame that came from a right angle and told an unexpected and inventive story about a terminally ill gamer, an unfinished competition, and a planned heist at a retro-gaming convention. As it went on the book made a shift from realistic and light-hearted crime book into an actual fantasy, which I was prepared to run with because I'd enjoyed it all so much.

Sadly when the time comes to tie everything together in a final issue, Swordquest stumbles and falls. The art and colours by Ghost Writer X remain solid and enjoyable, but they work best with a relatively mundane, realistic setting, and don't do anywhere near as well with the fantasy elements. It is the script by Chad Bowers and Chris Sims that actually causes the book to collapse. Everything feels rushed, causing the issue to feel less like a conclusion and more like a set-up to a sequel miniseries or ongoing book. It leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

I'm sure some readers will enjoy the fanciful manner in which the book concludes. I found myself longing for the grounded tone of earlier issues. (2/5)

Swordquest #5. Dynamite. Written by Chad Bowers and Chris Sims. Art and colours by Ghost Writer X. Colour flats by Ellie Wright.

Under the cut: reviews of Batgirl, Giant Days and X-O Manowar.

December 4, 2017

Highlander: The Series: "Family Tree"

It is 19 December 1992, and time for another episode of Highlander: The Series.

Richie (Stan Kirsch) is trying to find out who his birth parents were, which leads the desperate con artist Joe Scanlon (J.E. Freeman) - who is in for $50,000 with the local mob - to masquerade as his father to get the money from him. Macleod (Adrian Paul) is suspicious, which puts him up against Joe's crime boss (Tamsin Kelsey) and violent henchman (Peter DeLuise).

Highlander's second episode is much better than the first: it's cleanly plotted and shot, the acting is better, and the production values seem a great deal stronger now that the majority of the budget isn't being spent on Christopher Lambert. You shouldn't get the wrong idea, however; "Family Tree" is still awful. It is derivative, creatively lazy and has almost nothing whatsoever to do with immortals fighting each other to the death. Some decent flashbacks to 16th century Scotland do lift it up a little, but certainly not by enough.

December 3, 2017

The Angriest: November 2017 in review

An absolute age after reviewing the first episode of Star Trek: Voyager Season 2 (I'm not joking - it was more than four years ago), I suddenly felt the urge to rewatch a few more episodes. The review of "Initiations" was the most-viewed post on The Angriest this month, as were the reviews of "Projections" and "Elogium". Over on the comic book side, reviews of comics from 18 October (here and here) proved unusually popular.

Over on the film side, readers of FictionMachine (where I keep all of my new film reviews and essays now) were most interesting in Justice League and Grosse Pointe Blank.

All up in November 2017, I reviewed three new films, seven older films, eight TV episodes, one music album, and 68 comic books. A full index is available below the cut.

The Pull List: 15 November 2017, Part 3

Talk about climactic: Tim-21 and Tesla fight off Tim-22, while the UCG and the Hardwire finally confront one another in open space - with catastrophic consequences.

All of that is probably unintelligible to you, assuming you don't already read Descender. This is a distinctive and smart science fiction series in which a galactic civilization was almost destroyed by a mysterious robot invasion, and ten years later it has become clear that the robots - all apparently destroyed - were not as thoroughly eliminated as had been assumed.

It's dramatic, intelligent and original, the latter nowhere more so than in Dustin Nguyen's excellent artwork. The entire series is illustrated in loose watercolours that are high on beauty but low on background detail. It's a style that forces the book to concentrate on the characters, not the technology around them. Given the technology-centric storyline, that creates a wonderfully odd effect.

This issue is probably the most satisfying Descender has had since it started more than two years ago. It pulls a lot of threads together and pushes the series into an all-new phase. (4/5)

Descender #26. Image. Written by Jeff Lemire. Art and colours by Dustin Nguyen.

Under the cut: reviews of Doctor Aphra, Ninja-K and Super Sons.