February 28, 2018

The Pull List: 14 February 2018, Part 3

As Oracle, Barbara Gordon has been using the Calculator's own network to stop his criminal enterprises. Now the Calculator is striking back, going to murderous lengths to discover Oracle's true identity - and it's up to the Birds of Prey to stop him before there's a body count.

I figured it was well worth shining a spotlight on Batgirl and the Birds of Prey this time around. It's never the greatest book on the shelves, but it's also at least very good. It has a pair of great writers in Julie and Shawna Benson, and they have a strong sense for what makes their all-female super-powered cast work. There is a continuing story arc - and it seems to be heating up - but what gets me back each and every month is the interplay and warmth between Batgirl, Black Canary and Huntress.

Roge Antonio's artwork is fairly strong, and well coloured by Marcelo Maiolo. The art in this book is generally always good and always tells the story effectively. This is the sort of superhero comic that knows what it's supposed to be and fulfils its remit wonderfully. (4/5)

Batgirl and the Birds of Prey #19. DC Comics. Written by Julie Benson and Shawna Benson. Art by Roge Antonio. Colours by Marcelo Maiolo.

Under the cut: reviews of Port of Earth, The Power of the Dark Crystal, Sleepless, and Star Wars: Darth Vader.

February 26, 2018

The Pull List: 14 February 2018, Part 2

It is not a surprise to see Grant Morrison's name on the cover of The Wild Hunt, alongside co-writers Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV and Joshua Williamson. This entire Metal tie-in positively screams Morrison, not simply because it's playing with a lot of his ideas - the Multiverse, inter-dimensional harmonic travel, and the like - but because structural it feels like a Morrison event book. It boasts a wide cast of second-string heroes (Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman are MIA), has a complex and jargon-filled story that is packed with offhand references, and scenes that are almost implied rather than played out. You definitely get your money's worth here, as long as you keep up with it.

There is always a certain disjointed quality when a book has multiple art teams on it, and despite three strong teams working here there don't precisely sew up together. It's up to the reader whether that's a big problem or a minor one.

The biggest criticism that can be levelled at this book is that it really deserves to be an issue of Dark Nights: Metal proper, as it tells a whole section of story that improves and illuminates the main narrative. A few too many readers will skip it, assuming it's unnecessary. I'm not sure that's the case. (4/5)

Dark Knights Rising: The Wild Hunt #1. DC Comics. Written by Scott Snyder, Grant Morrison, James Tynion IV, and Joshua Williamson. Art by Howard Porter, Jorge Jimenez, Dough Mahnke, and Jamie Mendoza. Colours by Hi-fi, Alejandro Sanchez, and Wil Quintana.

Under the cut: reviews of Action Comics, Doctor Strange, and Xena: Warrior Princess.

February 25, 2018

Star Trek: Voyager: "Maneuvers"

It is 20 November 1995, and time for another episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

Voyager is raided by the Kazon who, with the help of the Cardassian spy Seska (Martha Hackett), successfully steal components to develop their own transporters. Unwilling to let Starfleet technology alter the balance of power in the region, Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) begins to develop a plan of attack. Before she can initiate it, however, Chakotay (Robert Beltran) steals a shuttle to recover the components on his own terms.

Seska returns this episode, after leaving the Voyager crew for the Kazon back in Season 1's "State of Flux". In some ways it's a predictable return, but in other ways it makes very little sense: Voyager has been flying away from Kazon space for about 10 months, and the idea that the less technologically advanced Kazon Nistrim have followed them the whole time - and still manage to convene meetings with other Kazon clan leaders - suggests that either the entire Kazon civilization is on the move, or Kazon territory is much larger and their starships much faster than everything else in the series suggests.

February 24, 2018

The Pull List: 14 February 2018, Part 1

Teenager Derek James was caught in Gotham City when reality split in two and a giant castle appeared (see Dark Nights: Metal for the full details). As a result of that experience Derek can now travel between dimensions and from one place to another on Earth by slipping through rifts in space. It seems the perfect excuse to become a superhero - until more powerful forces in the DC Multiverse notice what he is doing.

Credit where it's due, DC Comics is currently launching a group of all-new superhero monthlies with a combination of all-new characters and fresh takes on old team books. It's a brave move, since the odds are decidedly against any new superhero book in the mid-to-long term. The books are also unusually artist-focused, adopting the so-called "Marvel method" in which artists develop and then draw their own plots, and writers are brought in at the end to put together the dialogue. It certainly keeps the artists happy, but more often than not it results in weaker storytelling and less interesting comics.

That's sadly the case here. Sideways is a good-looking book thanks to Kenneth Rocafort's art, but the story (by Rocafort and Dan Didio) simply isn't very interesting. While there's always potential to develop characters over time, commercial pressures will likely kill Sideways before Rocafort and Didio can. This new character has simply failed to get out of the gate without tripping up. He looks and feels completely generic, and this first issue doesn't have enough plot to hook the readers in. It's a missed opportunity; one that I hope doesn't discourage DC from taking more risks in the future on new books and ideas. (2/5)

Sideways #1. DC Comics. Story by Kenneth Rocafort and Dan Didio. Script by Dan Didio and Justin Jordan. Art by Kenneth Rocafort. Colours by Daniel Brown.

Under the cut: reviews of Detective Comics, Ms Marvel, and Star Wars: Poe Dameron.

February 23, 2018

Giant Spider & Me: A Post-Apocalyptic Tale Vol 1 (2016)

Nagi is a 12-year-old orphaned girl living on her own in a cottage in the woods. In the valley below a massive city has been flooded and deserted before she was even born. Surrounding her is what is left of humanity, huddled together in isolated villages. One day, while foraging for food, Nagi stumbles upon a two-metre-long spider. She names it Asa, and it follows her home.

Giant Spider & Me is a 2016 manga by writer/artist Kikori Morino, whose first volume has just been published in English by Seven Seas Entertainment (translation by Adrienne Beck). It's a wonderful new series with a very simple and traditional manga style, and a surprisingly bright and heartwarming tone. It's also one of the more original concepts for a manga I have noticed of late. Japan is well renowned for its comparatively unusual story concepts, but a 12-year-old making friends with a giant spider is one of the stranger ones. It certainly makes for a book that readers are unlikely to forget in a hurry: arachnophobes potentially need not apply.

February 22, 2018

The Pull List: 7 February 2018, Part 3

Another one-shot special for The Wicked + the Divine, showcasing the Pantheon of a former generation. In this case it's the immediately preceding group from 1923. I really love these WicDiv one-shots, partly because they offer other artists the chance to play in the series but partly because it allows Kieron Gillen to experiment with storytelling style and format.

He goes all-out here, with a lengthy issue that's half comic book half prose short story. It's a technique I've seen before - Grant Morrison did a sensational issue of Batman like this once - but in this case Gillen really knocks it out of the park. It's one big Agatha Christie pastiche, with comic images used only to showcase the climactic moments. Aud Koch's artwork is superb, and fits the tone and style of the book perfectly.

Gillen captures the 1920s perfectly. His prose is purple - it feels deliberate - and his cast of gods reflect numerous literary identities and works of fiction. It is tremendously clever stuff and, coming just as the main storyline seems primed to wrap up, it's perfectly timed too. (5/5)

The Wicked + the Divine: 1923. Image. Written by Kieron Gillen. Art by Aud Koch.

Under the cut: reviews of Armstrong, Green Arrow, Mech Cadet Yu, Scales & Scoundrels, and Walt Disney Showcase.

February 20, 2018

Doctor Who: "A Christmas Carol"

It's 25 December 2010, which means it's time for the fifth Doctor Who Christmas special.

A passenger space liner, whose passengers include Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill), is set to crash onto an isolated human colony. Its only hope is for an artificially generated cloud layer to be deactivated, but the only man that go do it is the miserly Kazran Sardick (Michael Gambon) - and he has no intention of saving anybody. It is up to the Doctor (Matt Smith) to change his mind.

Doctor Who traditionally hasn't used time travel as anything more than a convenient method to get the Doctor and his companions from one adventure to the next. When Steven Moffat started writing for the series that approach started to change. When writing for executive producer Russell T Davies, scripts like "Blink" and "Silence in the Library" were built around time travel. When Moffat assumed producing duties himself, his entire first season became wrapped around time travel and paradoxes. This focus on the story potential of time travel continues in Moffat's first Christmas special, in which the Doctor actively and repeatedly changes history to save the day.

The Pull List: 7 February 2018, Part 2

Leonardo Da Vinci has built a sentient wooden automaton, and used it as part of a siege of the town Volterra. He dispatched his apprentice Isabel to oversee it in action - just as he assigned Isabel to reset the automaton's memory each time it was used. Isabel failed to do the latter, and it may destroy her chances of doing the former, since the automaton has learned - and the only thing it has been taught is war and violence.

I am really enjoying Montro Mechanica, a Renaissance-era fantasy from creators Paul Allor and Chris Evenhuis. The dialogue is smart and the historical setting well researched. The artwork is crisp, clean and well-proportioned. Sjan Weijers' colours have a soft sort of pastel quality to them that has an unusual and interesting effect.

Monstro Mechanica is out via independent publisher Aftershock, which means it's not going to be in every local comic book store and it's not going to have a huge marketing budget. If it sounds like your kind of a book then order a copy in, or grab a copy via Comixology. It's one of the best new books out at the moment. (4/5)

Monstro Mechanica #3. Aftershock. Written by Paul Allor. Art by Chris Evenhuis. Colours by Sjan Weijers.

Under the cut: reviews of Giant Days, She-Hulk and Spider-Man.

February 18, 2018

The Pull List: 7 February 2018, Part 1

In the distant future, war has transformed into a spectator sport. Massive audiences cheer on heavily armoured and equipped soldiers as they take one another on in small groups. Satta Flynn is one such soldier, famed for his skill but recovering from serious injuries sustained in the field. Repaired and re-dispatched, he finds out just how hard the fights are starting to be.

Another month, another new science fiction series kicking off at Image. The selling point this time around is absolutely artist Esad Ribic, whose painterly work - which has been beautifully coloured by Nic Klein - gives this first issue an immensely glossy, high budget feel. It's more reminiscent of Metal Hurlant than an American comic book.

Ivan Brandon's script shows promise, but with a lot of large panels (including five splash pages) there really is not a lot of room in which to establish a story. It looks tremendous, but it is honestly too early to say if the story is going to watch. One to watch, for sure - the potential is huge. (4/5)

Vs. Image. Written by Ivan Brandon. Art by Esad Ribic. Colours by Nic Klein.

Under the cut: reviews of Batman, Daredevil, Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles, and Superman.

February 17, 2018

Star Trek: Voyager: "Cold Fire"

It is 13 November 1995, and time for another episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

10 months after Voyager was thrown into the Delta Quadrant by the mysterious "Caretaker", the crew encounter that now-dead creature's former mate - now the guardian of an isolated colony of Ocampa. Kes (Jennifer Lien) is excited to meet members of her own race, but joy soon turns to fear as these isolated Ocampa are revealed to be less benevolent than they appeared, and the second Caretaker a far more dangerous force than Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) had hoped to meet.

"Cold Fire" is quite a surprising episode. The series premiere gave the series a convenient hook: the Caretaker that dragged the USS Voyager to the Delta Quadrant died before he could return them home, but before dying he mentioned a former mate somewhere else in the Quadrant that could potentially do the task as well. It felt like a convenient bit of foreshadowing. Whenever it was determined an appropriate time for the ship to get back to the Federation, it could encounter the mate and achieve that. It felt like something that was going to happen in the series finale some years hence, not halfway through the second season. Despite that, here we are.

February 16, 2018

The Pull List: 31 January 2018, Part 2

It's the final issue of The Beautiful Death, and with the alien insects massing - and just two humans left on Earth - it seems that it really is the end of the world. Everything comes to such a grant, beautiful conclusion. Sure it's sad - possibly sadder than many readers expected - but it's also tonally perfect and wonderful lyrical.

Mathieu Bablet has made a masterpiece of tone here. The artwork and colours are both beautiful and melancholic, and the characters are hopelessly imperfect. Quiet apocalypses are rare. As readers primarily raised on American pop culture we're used to enormous explosions, screaming crowds and mass panic. The Beautiful Death is the other kind. It has maintain an eerie stillness for most of the time. It's felt silent too, which is a remarkable achievement for a comic book.

Admittedly the narrative stumbles a little at the end, and some readers may even feel a little cheated - but that tone, and that style. It's profoundly effective. (4/5)

The Beautiful Death #5. Titan Comics. Story and art by Mathieu Bablet.

Under the cut: reviews of Atomic Robo, Eternity, Invader Zim, Justice League/Doom Patrol, and Quantum and Woody.

February 9, 2018

The Pull List: 31 January 2018, Part 1

With almost every comic book creator worth their salt jumping to better deals from Image, Boom Studios and other independent publishers, it has been rough sailing for DC Vertigo in recent years. Once home to the very best of mature readers works of fantasy and horror, it now seems to limp by year to year. There's always the occasional new title launched, but few seem to last very long.

Motherlands is the latest attempt: a busy multiverse-jumping bounty hunter story in which a jobbing hunter struggles to make a living in the shadow of her mother - one of the most popular of all time. So of course for her latest and highest profile assignment, she needs help from the one person she does not wish to rely upon.

It's a reasonable enough premise by writer Si Spurrier, but in all honesty and despite some innovations here and there it feels like second-string work for him. Rachael Stott's artwork is strong and appealing - particularly when it comes to a rival bounty hunter named Oona - and it's vividly coloured by Felipe Sobreiro. All in all, it's a good book, but Vertigo doesn't need good books: it desperately needs great books. I don't think Motherlands is going to fit the bill. (3/5)

Motherlands #1. DC Vertigo. Written by Si Spurrier. Art by Rachael Stott. Colours by Felipe Sobreiro.

Under the cut: reviews of Dark Nights: Metal, Detective Comics, and Star Wars: Doctor Aphra.

February 7, 2018

Star Trek: Voyager: "Tattoo"

It is 6 November 1995, and time for another episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

While on an away mission, Chakotay (Robert Beltran) discovers a symbol carved into the rock that resembles one he first saw with his father in central America. In an attempt to discover how an ancient Native American inscription was made in the Delta Quadrant, Voyager follows a warp trail to another planet where Chakotay undertakes a spiritual journey that reminds him of his youth.

From the outside, "Tattoo" really does not feel like an episode that should work. Chakotay's spirituality and Native American heritage have previously felt cursory at best, and sometimes even tokenistic. At the same time a comedic B-plot involving the Doctor (Robert Picardo) giving himself simulated influenza to demonstrate the human crew are weak and feeble sounds relatively dreadful. In practice the episode is a real surprise.

February 5, 2018

Star Trek: Voyager: "Persistence of Vision"

It is 30 October 1995, and time for another episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

As Voyager nears the territory of an isolationist civilization, Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) is ordered by the Doctor (Robert Picardo) to take some much needed leave to relax and de-stress. She attempts to enjoy a gothic holo-novel - only to question her sanity when elements from the novel begin appearing outside of the holodeck.

"Persistence of Vision" is a faulty episode. It lacks focus, its plot wavers incessantly, and it really seems to be at loss as to how to effectively use the entire regular cast, but it also has a fairly strong concept behind it and a nicely unsettling adversary once everything is said and done. It's imperfect television, but ultimately entertaining television. I seem to be saying that a lot about Voyager's better episodes.

February 4, 2018

The Pull List: 24 February 2018, Part 2

We're now 10 issues into Doom Patrol, Gerard Way's loving tribute to Grant Morrison's legendary run on the same characters, and it's become pretty clear there isn't going to be much in the way of a fresh angle or take. The weirdness remains and seems absolute: individual ideas are fresh and funny, but they are all using an identical format and structure.

That sounds perhaps like a bad thing, but it's arguably a good thing instead. Many writers have tried to chart their own course with the characters, and none of them have been particularly popular with fans or successful sales-wise. Way's nostalgic run with the Patrol is easily the most acclaimed the title has been in decades.

Nick Derington, Tom Fowler and Tamra Bonvillain make this a visually wonderful book. When it comes to this kind of poppy, strange surrealism, it's usually Michael Allred who is behind the art and it's nice to see another talented group of artists have a go instead. It's bright and colourful, nicely cartoonish and exaggerated, and keeps everything feeling rather light-hearted and upbeat. (4/5)

Doom Patrol #10. DC Comics. Written by Gerard Way. Art by Nick Derington and Tom Fowler. Colours by Tamra Bonvillain.

Under the cut: reviews of Poe Dameron, The Wild Storm, and X-O Manowar.

February 2, 2018

Star Trek: Voyager: "Parturition"

It is 9 October 1995, and time for another episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

With Voyager rapidly running out of food stocks, Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) dispatches Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill) and Neelix (Ethan Phillips) down to the surface of the inhospitable "Planet Hell" in search of supplies. With Neelix fuming with jealousy at Paris appearing to woo Kes (Jennifer Lien) away from him, the biggest risk may not be on the planet's surface but rather between the two men.

If there is a single element of Voyager that has grated more than any other during its first season-and-a-half, it is Neelix's continuing jealousy at Kes spending time with Paris. It is a tedious character element: one that doesn't just feel rote and hollow, but also one that actively weakens Neelix as a character. It makes him unlikeable. It makes him petty. Given that Ethan Phillips is already working from behind the eight-ball with Neelix's other numerous character shortfalls, it renders the job of making him a likeable and entertaining character almost impossible. With "Parturition", the writing team finally attempt to remove the jealousy problem for good.

The Angriest: January 2018 in review

What were the best comic books of 2017? It's a question that a lot of people were clearly keen to ask, since my own countdown was the most-read blog post on The Angriest in January. Other popular posts this last month include comic book reviews for 20 December (link), a review of the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Twisted" (link), and a look at the Black Mare album Death Magick Mother (link).

Over at FictionMachine, the most popular post was - not surprisingly - my top 10 list of 2017's best films (link). Also popular were reviews of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (link) and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (link).

All up, across The Angriest, FictionMachine and reviews on FilmInk and VCinema, January's blogging consisted of five reviews of new films, 11 reviews of older films, one full-length essay, two year's best articles, 12 TV episode reviews, one music review, and short reviews of 68 comic books. A full index of posts and reviews is included below the cut.