May 29, 2018

The Pull List: 9 May 2018, Part 2

A soldier named Rook makes her way through a ruined civilization, escorting a blue tiger - which appears to be a magically transformed queen. When exploring the remains of a stone city, Rook discovers an old acquaintance - but it is not the friendly reception that she needs.

The art and colours are what initially sell Isola: the book simply looks looks gorgeous, with a crisp design and rich palette that brings to mind some of the best American cel animation of the 1990s. The book is rich in atmosphere and feels hugely evocative.

What cements the deal is the writing. Fletcher and Kerschl have developed an involving and effective fantasy world, but they are deliberately drip-feeding it to the audience. It all positively drips with back story, but the slow reveal is keeping up the suspense over what exactly has been going on. This is a tremendous book. (5/5)

Isola #2. Image. Written by Brenden Fletcher and Karl Kerschl. Art and colours by Karl Kerschl and Msassyk.

Under the cut: reviews of Oblivion Song, Port of Earth, Prism Stalker, Punk's Not Dead, The Spider King, and a belated review of The Terrifics.

May 23, 2018

The Pull List: 9 May 2018, Part 1

A lot of long-term DC Comics readers will be familiar with the Source Wall: a massive impenetrable barrier on the edge of the universe. For the first time that wall has been blown wide open, and something unimaginable is crossing through into our universe. Seeing the imminent threat, the alien villain Brainiac has assembled an unwilling team of heroes and villains to save reality before it is too late.

The appeal of Justice League: No Justice, a four-issue miniseries designed to set up the next wave of Justice League titles, is the manner in which it assembles four disaparate teams of characters to head out and complete four separate missions. A good superhero universe always rises or falls on the back of its characters, and a series like this makes great use out of how they interact with one another in surprising and entertaining combinations. A particular highlight is Starro, a maniacal psychic alien starfish who would be just about the last character you'd expect to see joining the Justice League. It's a positive delight.

The story and set-up is fairly simple, but the interplay sells it. The script by Snyder, Williamson and Tynion is funny, and the artwork by Francis Manapul is great - as his work always is. I'm a sucker for these kinds of big screen DC miniseries, so I'm already hooked. (4/5)

Justice League: No Justice #1. DC Comics. Written by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV and Joshua Williamson. Art by Francis Manapul. Colours by Hi-Fi Design.

Under the cut: reviews of Batgirl and the Birds of Prey, Detective Comics, and Star Wars: Darth Vader.

May 16, 2018

Star Trek: Voyager: "Innocence"

It is 8 April 1996, and time for another episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

Lt Tuvok (Tim Russ) crashes his shuttlecraft on an unexplored forest planet - only to discover a small group of young children marooned there as well. While he protects them from what they claim is an invisible monster, back on Voyager Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) attempts to make first contact with the alien Drayans.

"Innocence" is a surprising episode in many respects. It starts off in a pretty risible fashion, and then somehow manages to pivot into something rather touching and effective, only to swing back once more with one of the more irritating endings to a Star Trek episode. What's a viewer to do?

May 15, 2018

The Pull List: 2 May 2018, Part 2

It is almost certainly an appalling coincidence, but just as DC Comics are set to relaunch Justice League with the arrival on Earth of massive, all-powerful giant aliens, Marvel has relaunched The Avengers with the arrival on Earth of massive, all-powerful giant aliens. Great minds and all that, I suppose.

In Marvel's case the storyline comes from the new creative team of writer Jason Aaron and artist Ed McGuinness. I am an enormous fan of the former, but somewhat on the fence with the latter. That pretty much fits with the issue at hand: Waid's script manages to introduce both the new Avengers line-up and the threat to the Earth, as well as cover all the various continuity elements and backgrounds in a fairly neat and non-frustrating way. McGuinness' artwork feels surprisingly weak an inconsistent; either Tony Stark is a giant or he drinks frighteningly tiny cocktails. The colouring feels a little off in places too (pink ships?), and together it makes this first issue feel a little bit rushed.

Solid writing wins the day - as does a spectacularly silly opening scene involving the Avengers of 1,000,000 BCE. Hopefully the art settles a little with issue #2, but in terms of story and characters this new volume of The Avengers is off to a pretty solid beginning. (4/5)

The Avengers #1. Marvel. Written by Jason Aaron. Art by Ed McGuinness and Mark Morales. Colours by David Curiel.

Under the cut: reviews of Action Comics, Green Arrow, Scales & Scoundrels, and Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Happy!: "Saint Nick"

It is 6 December 2017, and time for the premiere episode of Happy!.

When a young girl named Hailey is kidnapped by a disturbed man dressed as Santa Claus, Hailey's imaginary friend Happy (voiced by Patton Oswalt) goes for help: finding as her saviour a drunken ex-police detective turned professional killer Nick Sax (Christopher Meloni).

Based on a comic miniseries by Grant Morrison and Darick Robertson, Happy! is an absurd - and absurdly violent combination of grimy crime thriller and black comedy. Violence abounds, and over-the-top jokes and pratfalls sit uneasily alongside grotesque moments of horror. The episode works surprisingly well in fits and starts, but also makes several awkward missteps. It gets there in the end, but I suspect it will lose a fair proportion of viewers on the way.

May 14, 2018

The Pull List: 2 May 2018, Part 1

It's time for another periodic soft relaunch for DC Comics. Justice League is getting a new issue #1 in the aftermath of Dark Nights: Metal. Batman and Catwoman are about to get married. Brian Michael Bendis is coming in to overhaul the Superman books. Heralding these changes, and acting as a kind of prologue, is DC's 25c special DC Nation (also, I believe, going for free on Comixology).

The book's divided into three sections. The first, "Your Big Day", sees the Joker waiting at a random man's house for a mail delivery. It is brilliantly written and illustrated, with a Joker that is simultaneously funny and scary in equal measure.

"Office Space" foreshadows Bendis' new Man of Steel miniseries with a new character and a new status quo. Of the three prologues, this feels the weakest. It's obviously too early to say what Man of Steel is like, but this taste feels as if it's changing a little too much of the status quo between recent Superman books and whatever Bendis has planned for the future. "No Justice Prelude" is pretty much an excuse for some nice artwork and colouring, and a preview of the new expanded (and oddly improbable) Justice League.

It's a little odd scoring a three-part prologue; it's effectively like giving a score to an advertisement. All that in mind, it's one must-read little Joker short, plus two easily missable bonus strips. That pretty much leads to a score of (3/5).

DC Nation #0. DC Comics. "Your Big Day" written by Tom King. Art by Clay Mann. Colours by Jordie Bellaire. "Office Space" written by Brian Michael Bendis. Art by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez and Dexter Vines. Colours by Alex Sinclair. "No Justice Prelude" written by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, and Joshua Williamson. Art by Jorge Jiminez. Colours by Alejandro Sanchez.

Under the cut: reviews of Batman, Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles, Giant Days, and Spider-Man.

May 13, 2018

An hour with Kirby's Epic Yarn (2010)

Reviewing videogames is often a challenge for me, because I absolutely suck at videogames and rarely finish one for months on end - if at all. It's a combination of incompetence and a short attention span, I guess. What if I just reviewed a bit of a videogame, though? What if I just spent an hour on it and then gave my thoughts on that? It seems a lot more feasible, and it's still going to give a solid critical impression - if a game has not grabbed you in 60 minutes, what are the odds of you playing further anyway?

Kirby's Epic Yarn is a 2010 platform game developed by HAL Laboratories and Good-Feel for Nintendo's Wii console. It features HAL's oddly enduring pink mascot Kirby, and is styled so that all of the characters look as if they have been made out lengths of colourful wool.

I describe Kirby as 'oddly enduring' because in all honesty I am not certain why the character has lasted as long as he has.

May 12, 2018

The Pull List: 25 April 2018, Part 3

Doctor Aphra is the best Star Wars comic on the market today. It towers over Poe Dameron, vaults beyond Darth Vader, and even tops the regular Star Wars book. It does this because it smartly follows its own protagonist: Aphra only exists in the comic books, and so we don't know her future. We read Darth Vader knowing he will one day die over Endor; we have no idea what fate has in store for Aphra.

This book gets to use Star Wars' toys without also using its constraints. It can play with convention, and throw up all manner of surprising and inventive situations. It can also be wonderfully and bleakly funny while doing it. It also gifts Star Wars with what I believe is its first canonically non-heterosexual protagonist.

This issue brings the "Remastered" storyline to a wonderfully unexpected and satisfying conclusion. It's not only funny but gripping; there is a real joy is seeing how Aphra gets her way out of her latest life-threatening predicament. With luck this book will continue for a long, long time. (4/5)

Star Wars: Doctor Aphra #19. Marvel. Written by Kieron Gillen and Simon Spurrier. Art by Emilio Laiso. Colours by Rachelle Rosenberg.

Under the cut: reviews of Doom Patrol, Mera: Queen of Atlantis, and Sacred Creatures.

May 8, 2018

The Pull List: 25 April 2018, Part 2

Marvel regularly struggle with their event miniseries - that's certainly been my feeling anyway. They always seem to run too long, get too many tie-ins, don't make a lot of sense, force characters to act in ridiculous ways to make the plot work, and collapse in their climaxes.

That's why Damnation seems to have made such a positive impression on me. It has a strong and easy-to-follow plot, smart twists and turns, a minimum of spin-offs, and a very clever use of a range of second-string characters. Sure its open-ended conclusion points to a forthcoming Midnight Sons series, but at the same time I don't need to wait for that series to get a satisfying conclusion here.

The artwork is strong, the dialogue sparks, and I really cannot exaggerate how well it utilises its broad cast of characters. With Marvel struggling to maintain market share in recent years, events like Damnation are a big step in the right direction. (4/5)

Doctor Strange: Damnation #4. Marvel. Written by Donny Cates and Nick Spencer. Art by Rod Reis and Szymon Kudranski. Colours by Rod Reis and Dan Brown.

Under the cut: reviews of Batman and the Signal, Doctor Strange, and Saga.

May 7, 2018

The Pull List: 25 April 2018, Part 1

Breen is an MI5 agent on the run after a mission to the Middle East resulted in the disappearance of his partner. The only clue he has to go on is the rumoured espionage organisation known only as "the Village".

The Prisoner is more than 50 years old now, but it remains one of the best television series ever produced. The series starred Patrick McGoohan as the pseudonymous Number Six, a secret agent held prisoner in a highly surreal and isolated village, whose authorities press him incessantly for the reason he resigned from the secret service in the first place. It is such a delicately prepared work that it would be near-impossible to replicate its qualities decades later.

Peter Milligan certainly doesn't manage it, with an ill-advised attempt to give a real-world introduction to the Village, something that simply punctures the entire mystique of the original. There is an overriding feeling that Milligan is trying to make sense of The Prisoner, and that is exactly the wrong thing to do with this sort of property. Colin Lorimer's realistic art and Joana Lafluente's gloomy colours do no favours either. (2/5)

The Prisoner #1. Titan Comics. Written by Peter Milligan. Art by Colin Lorimer. Colours by Joana Lafluente.

Under the cut: reviews of Batgirl, Darth Vader, Detective Comics, and Dungeons & Dragons: Evil at Baldur's Gate.

May 6, 2018

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Preemptive Strike"

It is 16 May 1994, and time for the penultimate episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Lieutenant Ro Laren (Michelle Forbes) returns to the USS Enterprise to undertake an espionage mission deep inside the Federation-Cardassian demilitarized zone. Making contact with the Maquis rebellion, she is tasked with ingratiating herself into the terrorist cell and taking it down from within. Once embedded, however, she finds her sympathies may not lie with Starfleet after all.

Star Trek: The Next Generation's penultimate episode acts as a victory lap for Michelle Forbes' popular and combative Ensign Ro - now promoted for her final appearance. Introduced as a semi-regular character at the beginning of Season 5 to contrast with the likes of Troi and Crusher, she was popular with both audiences and the production team - so much so that spin-off series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was partially developed with Ensign Ro in mind (Forbes turned down the offer of a regular role, and it was rewritten as Major Kira Nerys).

May 3, 2018

The Pull List: 18 April 2018, Part 4

Aisha is a Muslim engaged to a non-Muslim named Tom. After moving in with Tom's bigoted mother Leslie, Aisha has started to hallucinate ghostly apparitions around the apartment building. Trying to convince herself it is all a side effect of her medication, Aisha makes the attempt to push through - but it is soon apparent that the hauntings are both real and dangerous.

Infidel's second issue further cements it as a top-notch work of horror, using its supernatural conventions to play with issues of religion, Islamophobia, multi-culturalism, and racism. Pornsak Pichetshote's script is well plotted and nicely creepy, while incisively hitting the sub-texts in a provocative and efficient manner. Aaron Campbell's artwork has a nicely realistic style that emphasises the horror elements brilliantly. Jose Villarrubia's colours have a clear strategy and structure to them, and that enhances the horror still further.

I think comic books are a comparatively difficult medium in which to express the horror genre, but Infidel manages it so well. Now that we are two issues in, it seems safe to name it one of the year's strongest American comic books. If you're a horror enthusiast you need to check it out. (5/5)

Infidel #2. Image. Written by Pornsak Pichetshote. Art by Aaron Campbell. Colours by Jose Villarrubia.

Under the cut: reviews of Aquaman, Batwoman, Deadman, Punk's Not Dead, and Sonic the Hedgehog.

May 1, 2018

The Angriest: April 2018 in review

A set of comic book reviews for 21 March (link), headlined by Stan Sakai's new miniseries Usagi Yojimbo: The Hidden, was far and away the most popular blog post on the Angriest this past month. Other popular posts included reviews of episodes of Outlander (link) and Star Trek: Voyager (link).

Over at FictionMachine, the most popular reviews were understandably of new releases Avengers: Infinity War (link) and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (link).

In April 2018 I blogged an obituary, an interview, reviews of 10 films in new release or at festivals, 13 reviews of older films, seven TV episode reviews, and mini-reviews of 55 comic books. A full index of posts for the month are included below the cut.

Star Trek: Voyager: "Deadlock"

It is 18 March 1996, and time for another episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

To avoid approaching a Vidiian colony, Voyager tracks through a nearby nebula only to be bombarded by subspace turbulence and unexplained proton bursts. The ships is catastrophically damaged with extended loss of life - including Ensign Harry Kim (Garrett Wang) - and unless the mysterious bombardments can be blocked, the entire ship will be destroyed.

"Deadlock" is the most dramatic episode of Star Trek: Voyager yet. It is packed with action, crises, character deaths, and the sort of batty pop science that is the franchise's stock-in-trade. The opening act may be one big 'gotcha' at the audience, but it's a surprise that they hold out for an impressively long amount of time. A few weeks ago I pointed to "Meld" as the best episode of the series to date; "Deadlock" is better.