March 30, 2018

The Pull List: 21 March 2018, Part 1

Aric attempted to unite a warring planet, but then failed to lead it. Now he is fighting for his survival against a team of bounty hunters that have been paid to kill him on the same planet's behalf. In order to survive, Aric has finally re-united with his armour. Now all that is left is to see if he does survive.

Matt Kindt's epic 13-issue story arc comes to an explosive conclusion as Aric fights for his life, while flashbacks finally reveal the heartbreaking season for his arrival on Gorin in the first place. It's a well-rounded and emotionally satisfying conclusion; one that ties up loose ends, sets the book into a fresh direction, and still finds space for action.

X-O Manowar has been Valiant's best book this past year, and I'd urge anybody with a desire for a well-illustrated and epic-scale space fantasy to track down the trade paperbacks and give it all a read. This should be an ongoing example to future comic book writers on how to shake up an existing superhero book and give it a fresh style and angle. (4/5)

X-O Manowar #13. Valiant. Written by Matt Kindt. Art by Ryan Bodenheim. Colours by Andrew Dalhouse.

Under the cut: reviews of Batman, Descender, Star Wars: Poe Dameron, Shadowman, and The Spider King.

Star Trek: Voyager: "Meld"

It is 15 February 1996, and time for another episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

The shocking murder of a Voyager crew member leaves Lieutenant Tuvok (Tim Russ) on a dangerous journey as he tries to rationalise the motivations of the killer (guest star Brad Dourif) and understand the logical purpose of a random act of violence.

When Voyager was originally broadcast, it was widely seen - quite rightly in my opinion - as the more breezy and upbeat alternative to companion series Deep Space Nine. The latter series had a cynical 'realpolitik' edge that separated it from its predecessors, and which was not popular with all franchise viewers. If one was not interested in the darker and more bleak take on Star Trek that Deep Space Nine offered, one could always stick to Voyager for something more in keeping with The Next Generation's generally utopian outlook. Then "Meld" was broadcast, and for at least one week Voyager went dark. It went really dark.

March 28, 2018

The Pull List: 14 March 2018, Part 3

If you aren't convinced to read Mister Miracle #7 based on the premise 'Barda gives birth to her baby', then in all honesty you probably do not deserve to read Mister Miracle anyway.

Tom King and Mitch Gerads arthouse superhero hit continues apace, with an issue rich in humour and packed with strong dialogue. There's a wonderful absurdity about the war between Apokolips and New Genesis being put on hold so that the Female Furies can wait in a hospital hallway for Barda to have a baby. King keeps the dialogue dynamic and sharp, and this allows the characters to feel less like superheroes and more like honest-to-god people that simply happen to have powers. Gerads continues to exploit the nine-panel grid format better than anybody since Dave Gibbons. The sense of timing - both comedic and dramatic - created by the format is a masterclass for aspiring comics professionals.

This is one of the comic series that absolutely deserves to be read in an episodic fashion, with each issue pushing forward a broader story while working as a self-contained 20-page work. It is hands-down one of the best books coming out of "the big two" this year. (5/5)

Mister Miracle #7. DC Comics. Written by Tom King. Art and colours by Mitch Gerads.

Under the cut: reviews of Invader Zim, Sleepless, and Vs.

March 27, 2018

Star Trek: Voyager: "Threshold"

It is 29 January 1996, and time for another episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

Lt Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill) becomes the first person to ever fly past the 'transwarp barrier', the point where a vehicle is travelling so fast that it simultaneously occupies every point in the universe. Once back on Voyager, however, he begins to suffer a massive cellular change - and if the Doctor (Robert Picardo) cannot arrest the development, it may wind up killing him.

Every Star Trek series tends to wind up with one episode that is so widely derided by fans that it gains its own perverse kind of mystique. For fans of the original 1960s series, there is "Spock's Brain": aliens steal Spock's brain from his body, forcing Dr McCoy to control his movements with a remote control deck. In The Next Generation there is "Sub Rosa": Dr Crusher has a torrid sexual affair with a glowing alien ghost on a colony based on 18th century Scotland. For Voyager there is "Threshold", otherwise known as 'that one where Paris and Janeway turn into giant lizards that have babies'.

March 26, 2018

The Pull List: 14 March 2018, Part 2

Aisha is an American Muslim, recently moved into a new apartment building with her non-Muslim partner and his subtly racist mother. When she begins to suffer growing and increasingly realistic nightmares, Aisha comes to believe that something inhuman is living in the building with them.

Infidel is a fantastic new horror comic. It's fantastic for a number of reasons. For one thing, the art is sensational. It uses a realistic style, and that makes the supernatural occurrences really stand out and feel atmospheric and frightening. Aaron Campbell's artwork makes the characters feel real, and that makes the horror elements feel disturbingly real too.

Then there is Pornsak Pichetshote's script, which cleverly ties in the horror material to real-world social and political issues. It's smart and effective, and it's not hard to see this being optioned as a feature film any day now.

This is, all up, a great first issue - the rest of the miniseries looks set to follow in much the same quality and style. (5/5)

Infidel #1. Image. Written by Pornsak Pichetshote. Art by Aaron Campbell. Colours by Jose Villarrubia.

Under the cut: reviews of Detective Comics, Doctor Strange, and Giants.

March 25, 2018

Highlander: The Series: "Revenge is Sweet"

It is 12 December 1992, and time for another episode of Highlander.

In 1988 the immortal Walter Reinhardt (Christoph Ohrt) plunged into the ocean in the middle of a duel with Macleod (Adrian Paul) and has not been seen since. Almost four years later his former lover Rebecca Lord (Vanity) arrives in Seacouver to recover Reinhardt's sword - and to have revenge on Macleod himself.

"Revenge is Sweet" is predictably imperfect - this really is a shaky season of television - but it does have a solid narrative, a back story that actually informs present events and character, and finds something of worth for each of the three series leads to do. It also runs a nice line is rising paranoia: is Rebecca plotting against Macleod? Does she even know that Reinhardt and Macleod are immortals? Is Reinhardt somehow hiding in the background, manipulating events from behind the scenes? As I mentioned, this isn't outstanding television drama. It does show a television series finally beginning to get the hang of itself.

March 23, 2018

The Pull List: 14 March 2018, Part 1

The world above is ending. The world below has one last chance, and even that now appears to be lost. It's the obvious place to begin this final issue of Boom Studios and Archaia's 12-part sequel to The Dark Crystal, one based on the never-filmed screenplays by Craig Pearce, Annette Duffy and David Odell. It has been marvellous stuff, and it ends on a beautiful note.

The greatest achievement of Simon Spurrier and Phillip Kennedy Johnson's comic script is that it has really felt appropriate to the world of The Dark Crystal. The emotional tone, the settings, and the dialogue all feel authentic and well-matched, while expanding the story into new environments and situations. Had this ever been produced on-screen, it would have likely been a satisfying follow-up to the beloved original.

Kelly and Nichole Matthews' artwork is particularly strong for this final issue, with some bold panel layouts and brightly vivid colouring. It has helped make it a wonderful reunion for this reader with a childhood favourite. (5/5)

The Power of the Dark Crystal #12. Archaia/Boom Studios. Written by Simon Spurrier and Phillip Kennedy Johnson. Art and colours by Kelly and Nichole Matthews.

Under the cut: reviews of Action Comics, Darth Vader, and Judas.

March 22, 2018

Star Trek: Voyager: "Alliances"

It is 22 January 1996, and time for another episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

After Voyager is almost destroyed in the latest of a series of Kazon attacks, Chakotay (Robert Beltran) persuades Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) to seek an alliance with one of the rival Kazon houses to protect the ship from the others. It is a proposition that Janeway despises - it is everything her Federation values stand against - but simply to ensure the survival of her crew, she is forced to compromise.

"Alliances" is a mostly great episode of Voyager, one only let down by an inevitably gun-shy conclusion. Until that point it is probably the best Season 2 episode so far, and a rare episode that actually makes use of the series' basic premise: Starfleet and Maquis crews having to join together and work as a single unit. This is, in essence, the sort of episode for which Voyager seemed designed to accommodate.

March 21, 2018

The Pull List: 7 March 2018, Part 3

Robert Kirkman is pretty much the most successful independent comic book writer at the moment, thanks to the runaway success of his ongoing zombie series The Walking Dead. He's branching out to a fresh title this month, with Oblivion Song #1.

Something happened to Philadelphia. The city was sealed off and transformed. 300,000 people went missing, and what remains is a no-go zone filled with monsters. Nathan Cole uses advanced technology to teleport himself inside and rescue civilians still trapped there after a number of years. The US government won't help, and Nathan won't stop until he finds the brother who went missing during the event.

Oblivion Song boasts a neat premise, and a lot of potential for a developing story. The artwork by De Felici is well composed and appealing. The characters, to be honest, feel a little thin in this first issue, but they work well enough to hook the reader in to see what happens next. That is largely due to the last page cliffhanger, which is the cleverest element in the entire series premise. With an entire year's worth of issues already waiting to go to print, it's a guaranteed 12 issue run at least - and in a time when indie books get regularly delayed, that's actually a pretty enticing promise. While it's doubtful Oblivion Song is going to reach the prestige and success of The Walking Dead, it has potential to be something pretty outstanding all the same. (4/5)

Oblivion Song #1. Image. Written by Robert Kirkman. Art by Lorenzo De Felici. Colours by Annalisa Leoni.

Under the cut: reviews of Doctor Strange: Damnation, Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles, Green Arrow, Scales & Scoundrels, Spider-Man and The Wild Storm.

March 20, 2018

Star Trek: Voyager: "Prototype"

It is 15 January 1996, and time for another episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

When Voyager recovers an inactive robot from deep space, Torres (Roxann Dawson) successfully repairs and revives it. Believing her to be one of the god-like aliens that created it, the robot kidnaps Torres and forces her to build a prototype for more of its kind to win a robot-vs-robot civil war.

"Prototype" is just a straight-up bad piece of television. Weak in concept, poorly brought to the screen, and crippled by one of the worst pieces of costuming undertaken in Star Trek history. Regardless of any other faults, if a single element of "Prototype" scuttles the whole enterprise it is those ridiculous robot costumes. Without exaggeration, Doctor Who was presenting more convincing robots more than 30 years before this episode hit the screen.

March 19, 2018

The Pull List: 7 March 2018, Part 2

Vep is a refugee, picked up from a planetary disaster and deposited inside some strange biological environment. She and her fellow prisoners work farming alien eggs in return for shelter. One day Vep is picked out from the crowd for resettlement - whether she wants resettling or not.

Prism Stalker is a new ongoing science fiction series from writer/artist Sloane Leong. While the artwork is relatively ordinary, it is vividly coloured - and that lifts the overall visuals up remarkably well. It has a richness that really suits its surreal, alien environment.

The script is stronger, establishing a setting and protagonist in an effective manner. It is a potent premise for a series, given the number of real-life refugees around the world, and shows plenty of potential for both future story directions and world-building. It's a new comic worth checking out and seeing how it develops. (3/5)

Prism Stalker #1. Image. Story and art by Sloane Leong.

Under the cut: reviews of Monstro Mechanica, The Spider King and Superman.

March 16, 2018

The Pull List: 7 March 2018, Part 1

The Roto and the Paznina face each other in one final battle - unless Thea can stop them both. With Shiloh transformed, that may not even be possible any more.

Extremity ends, after 12 sensational issues, and it's almost certainly the best comic of its genre from the past year or two. It's combined a sort of Miyazaki-esque sensibility with a stunningly developed post-apocalyptic world, strong characters, and Johnson's striking and deliberately rough, emotive artwork.

The entire series has been based around the damage caused by war, and the futility of violence, so it is not a surprise that the climax would be focused so closely on one final pitched battle. While unsurprising, it is absolutely not a disappointment: instead it feels perfectly appropriate and hugely satisfying. In essence, Extremity ends the way the reader should want it to. There is a resolution. There is heartbreak. Things are both won and lost. While one could conceivably keep some sort of story going from this point, it would never be as strong as leaving this world and characters right here. This has been one hell of a good series. (5/5)

Extremity #12. Image. Story and art by Daniel Warren Johnson. Colours by Mike Spicer.

Under the cut: reviews of Batman, Giant Days, She-Hulk, and The Wicked + the Divine.

March 15, 2018

The Pull List: 28 February 2018, Part 3

Finding Metamorpho being used to open a gateway to the Dark Multiverse, Mr Terrific and Plastic Man dive in to save him - getting dragged into another dimension in the process. There they meet Phantom Girl, and begin an all-new adventure as the DC Universe's newest super-team.

I have to spoil the last page of this comic to discuss it, so fair warning if you don't want to know.

Broadly speaking I really like this issue. It would have been nice to have gender parity, or even a predominantly female super-team, given the genre's historical penchant for all-male groups bar one woman. That aside, it's a solid group of second-string heroes whom I have often enjoyed, and they are well-written by Jeff Lemire and very nicely illustrated by Ivan Reis and Joe Prado. Then their first mission is revealed to be tracking down the mysterious Tom Strong - that's where the issue kind of lost me (albeit on the last page).

That would be the Tom Strong created by Alan Moore and Chris Sprouse for Wildstorm's America's Best Comics in 1999. A character picked up by DC Comics as part of a wholesale buyout of Wildstorm, and now incorporated for the first time into DC's continuity. This was never Moore's intention, but it forms part of a growing obsession with DC's editorial division in shoe-horning whatever Moore creations they own into whatever they're currently publishing. Watchmen reborn in Doomsday Clock. Tom Strong appearing in The Terrifics. Promethea in Justice League of America. It feels tacky. It feels ugly in the most corporate of fashions. Moore doesn't want this, although at this stage I suspect he's simply washed his hands of the whole affair. Moore's fans likely don't want it either, at least not the majority. That leaves people who don't even know who Tom Strong is, at which point DC would be better off expanding their IP with new characters. This is a neat little comic with a really mercenary edge; what's a reader to do? (3/5)

The Terrifics #1. DC Comics. Written by Jeff Lemire. Art by Ivan Reis and Joe Prado. Colours by Marcelo Maiolo.

Under the cut: reviews of Batgirl, Doom Patrol/Justice League of America, and Mera: Queen of Atlantis.

March 14, 2018

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Emergence"

It's 22 May 1994, and time for the ante-penultimate episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

When a train crashes through Data's holodeck simulation, Picard (Patrick Stewart) orders an assessment of how the data glitch occurred. When the Enterprise unexpectedly goes to warp on its own, it becomes clear that the computer problems are more widespread. Entering into a mish-mash holodeck projection of the Orient Express, Data (Brent Spiner), Worf (Michael Dorn), Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Troi (Marina Sirtis) attempt to get to the bottom of things.

Two episodes to go, and with the clock ticking down on The Next Generation, it is time to take one last trip into the holodeck for a victory lap of surreality and whimsy. I really do wish that they hadn't.

March 12, 2018

The Pull List: 28 February 2018, Part 2

15 years ago a group of teenagers stole a map to a hidden treasure and buried it, planning to come back as adults - when the heat had well died down - and collect the treasure for themselves. Now those 15 years are up, and the group has come back together. It's not to collect the treasure, but because one of their number has died - and it may not have been an accident.

Cult Classic: Return to Whisper, by writer Eliot Rahal, artist Felipe Cunha and colourist Dee Cunniffe, is another nostalgic crime book based on children and adults crossing paths. We have already had the likes of 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank and Night Owl Society, and now Return to Whisper adds its own personal wrinkle to the formula.

The balance between youthful flashbacks and present-day adult life works well, and certainly the stakes get raised a lot faster than I had expected them to be. Cunha's artwork has a simple, independent style that seems par for the course for this kind of a book. There are perhaps a few too many characters - and it's difficult to get a handle on at least half of them - but this is a first issue, so there's always time to get to know them. This is a solid book, but not an exceptional one - the US$1.99 price tag works well in its favour though: a cheap opportunity to test the waters. (3/5)

Cult Classic: Return to Whisper #1. Vault Comics. Written by Eliot Rahal. Art by Felipe Cunha. Colours by Dee Cunniffe.

Under the cut: reviews of Action Comics, Rat Queens, Saga and X-O Manowar.

March 9, 2018

The Pull List: 28 February 2018, Part 1

Archaia have enjoyed huge success over the years with a string of Jim Henson-derived titles, including comics and graphic novels based on The Dark Crystal, Fraggle Rock, The Storyteller and even long-forgotten unfinished Henson works like A Tale of Sand. Last year they hit a creative goldmine in adapting the abandoned sequel The Power of the Dark Crystal, and for a follow-up they have understanding gone to Henson's beloved feature film Labyrinth for an all-new 12-issue maxi-series.

On the face of it, it all seems like a wonderful idea. They have hired excellent writer Simon Spurrier to script the new project, and decent artist Daniel Bayliss to illustrate it. Sadly once you begin reading the first issue, it all falls into a bit of a heap. It's a prequel.

Yes it's decently written, and yes the art is solid, but at the end of the day no reader needs to know the origin story of Jareth the Goblin King, memorably performed by David Bowie in the original film. Prequels do not provide drama or suspense; at their best - and I find that rare - they offer character insight, but most often they deliver trivia. The hard-core may adore the chance to see how he got to the Labyrinth. For me it's a mystery I never wanted solved. (2/5)

Labyrinth: Coronation #1. Archaia/Boom Studios. Written by Simon Spurrier. Art by Daniel Bayliss. Colours by Dan Jackson.

Under the cut: reviews of Darth Vader, Detective Comics and Doctor Strange.

March 6, 2018

The Pull List: 21 February 2018, Part 2

Back in 2016 comic book editor Shelly Bond was crudely dropped from DC's Vertigo imprint as part of a broader publisher shake-up. Landing on her feet at IDW, she went about setting up her own imprint of original comic book titles. Black Crown has published a couple of books so far, some promising (Assassinistas) and some less so (Kid Lobotomy). With Punk's Not Dead, a new ongoing monthly, I think she has hit the jackpot. If you want a good mature age comic book, this very well may be it. If you want a book to remind you of DC Vertigo at its height, this is even more likely to be your book. Punk's Not Dead has Shelly Bond's editorial insight all over it.

Fergie is a rebellious teenager from a town near Manchester, who - after an unexpected encounter at Heathrow Airport - finds himself visited by what appears to be the spirit of punk singer Sid Vicious. At the same time MI5's top-secret Department for Extra-Usual Affairs is tracking down an imp from hell inside 10 Downing Street.

If you were a fan of Vertigo back in the mid-to-late 1990s, Punk's Not Dead is like putting on a warm, comfortable sweater. It feels immediately familiar, infused with a sense of British pop culture and brilliantly and effectively illustrated. It's funny where it needs to be, and points to a broader supernatural storyline as it goes on. Previous Black Crown books have left me intrigued. This one has me actively excited. (5/5)

Punk's Not Dead #1. Black Crown/IDW. Written by David Barnett. Art by Martin Simmonds. Colours by Dee Cunniffe.

Under the cut: Batwoman, Daredevil, Descender, Doctor Strange: Damnation, Heathen, Invader Zim and Quantum & Woody.

March 5, 2018

Highlander: The Series: "The Sea Witch"

It is 5 December 1992, and time for another episode of Highlander: The Series.

Richie (Stan Kirsch) runs into a former friend, which leads to both of them getting chased down by a local drug syndicate. When Duncan (Adrian Paul) gets involved, he discovers the drug kingpin Alexi Voshin (Stephen Macht) is the same immortal that betrayed him in 1938.

I can go no further in reviewing this episode until I express how disappointing it is to watch an episode of a fantasy television series titled "The Sea Witch", only to discover that the titular witch is not a witch at all, but rather the name of a 1938 Eastern European cargo ship. Way to let the audience down from the outset. On its own, the title suggests any number of cool stories and characters. In reality, "The Sea Witch" is a staggeringly dull waste of time.

March 3, 2018

The Pull List: 21 February 2018, Part 1

Bethany is a young woman travelling a medieval European-style world looking for adventure. She claims to be a minstrel, but that is simply a cover to hide her true identity: Bethany is a necromancer.

The good kind of necromancer, that is, and her first quest - to find a missing boy in the forest - gives her ample opportunity to show how one can raise the dead and still be a good person. This new comic series Songs for the Dead has a warm tone and a rich heart, even though both story and art feel a little limited. Coming via independent publisher Vault Comics, it feels very much like early career work.

That is not intended as a criticism by the way, it simply means that it is worth measuring your expectations before diving in. There is potential in the story, and a likeable protagonist, and while Sam Beck's artwork is perhaps not quite at a professional standard his colours lift it up considerably. I found myself rather taken with this book; with luck it will continue. (3/5)

Songs for the Dead #1. Vault Comics. Written by Andrea Fort and Michael Christopher Heron. Art and colours by Sam Beck.

Under the cut: reviews of Aquaman, Batman, Batman and the Signal, Star Wars: Doctor Aphra, and Superman.

March 2, 2018

Star Trek: Voyager: "Resistance"

It is 27 November 1995, and time for another episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

"Resistance" opens with half of the Voyager bridge crew sneaking through an alien market. They are interrupted by masked soldiers: Torres (Roxann Dawson) and Tuvok (Tim Russ) are captured, Neelix (Ethan Phillips) escapes, and Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) is shot. It is a hell of a way to open an episode; possibly the strongest one that Star Trek: Voyager has enjoyed to date.

After the opening titles we get some badly-needed context. Voyager badly needs a substance called terellium to ensure the warp drives continue to function. They can get it from a nearby planet, but that world is controlled by the xenophobic and oppressive Mokra Order. This requires a covert mission to secure the terellium from the local resistance - a mission that has gone spectacularly wrong. Tuvok and Torres are now imprisoned awaiting interrogation, Commander Chakotay (Robert Beltran) is forced to go cap-in-hand to the Mokra leadership, and Janeway wakes up in the care of an elderly man (Joel Grey) whose dementia leads him to believe she is his long-missing daughter.

March 1, 2018

The Pull List: 14 February 2018, Part 4

Brothers-in-arms Zedo and Gogi have been separated. Gogi finds himself drawn into a new family of orphans on the ruined surface, dodging giant monsters while discovering a better life. Zedo is still trapped underground, hoping to use his discoveries to curry favour with a local violent gang of youths.

Both storylines play out in parallel, and each has its own combination of character development and action. This has been an excellently paced miniseries, with efficient and intriguing world-building combining with solid and engaging characters. One scene in particular stands out, as Gogi comes face to face with an injured giant hiding in a cave. The Valderrama brothers absolutely nail the tension and awe of the scene.

Their artwork is tremendous: it shows quite a strong influence from Japanese writer/artist Katsuhiro Otomo, who is one of the more interesting artists upon which to develop one's own style. A typically subtle colour palette allows the moments of big action to really pop out and show contrast. If the last two issues of Giants are as good as the first three, then this could wind up being one of the top comic books of 2018. (5/5)

Giants #3. Dark Horse. Story, art and colours by Carlos and Miguel Valderrama.

Under the cut: reviews of The Black Monday Murders, Deadman, Judas, and Rocko's Modern Life.

The Angriest: February 2018 in review

Star Trek: Voyager is still liked at The Angriest, with the review of the Season 2 episode "Parturition" being the most popular post of February 2018. Other popular Voyager reviews included the episodes "Persistence of Vision" and "Tattoo". Over at FictionMachine, and far and away the most popular film review for February was for The Shape of Water.

February's total output consisted of one full-length essay, eight reviews of new films, 12 reviews of older films, eight TV episode reviews, one manga review, and short reviews of 41 comic books. A full index of reviews and posts - including those at FictionMachine and FilmInk - is included below.