June 29, 2018

The Pull List: 13 June 2018, Part 1

A 12 year-old boy who likes to call himself Remco gets taken by a bright light in the woods, and wakes up in the surreal Cloud Hotel, hidden in the sky and populated by other children. While Remco seems able to return back down to Earth and come back again, a girl named Emma seems trapped there forever.

Cloud Hotel is an original graphic novel from the award-winning writer and artist Julian Hanshaw. It is a distinctive and moving work, one soaked in surrealism and melancholy. Partly inspired by a childhood experience, Hanshaw tells a story that feels poetic, funny and weirdly unsettling. It's quite hard to put a finger on it, but it's a story that I like.

His distinctive art style certainly marks its territory as an independent work. There is a sense of the grotesque about his characters, all with deep-set haunted eyes and squared-off heads. His use of panel layout is exceptional, particularly in some of the book's particularly odd and inexplicable moments. It may feel like a bit of a puzzle in terms of narrative, but it has a superb handle on tone. (4/5)

Cloud Hotel. Top Shelf/IDW. Story and art by Julian Hanshaw.

Under the cut: reviews of Darth Vader, Hawkman, and The Man of Steel.

June 27, 2018

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: "Apocalypse Rising"

It is 30 September 1996, and time for the Season 5 premiere of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

With Odo (Rene Auberjonois) confirming that Klingon Chancellor Gowron (Robert O'Reilly) is a changeling, he, Sisko (Avery Brooks), Worf (Michael Dorn) and O'Brien (Colm Meaney) head on a top secret mission to the heart of the Klingon Empire to reveal the infiltrator and potentially stop the Klingon-Federation War.

"Apocalypse Rising" is a high concept blockbuster of an episode - in its ideal sense, at least - and brings back Deep Space Nine for its fifth year in an energetic fashion. In practice it doesn't quite work as well as it should on paper, almost as if the production team elected to pull their punches. I have never managed to quit work out why.

The Pull List: 6 June 2018, Part 3

Scott Snyder kicks off a new ongoing DC series with Justice League, following on from the events of Dark Nights: Metal and No Justice, and truth be told it's pretty amazing.

I'm not sure if you were reading comics about 20 years ago when Grant Morrison and Howard Porter took over the Justice League comic book. It was relaunched as JLA with an all-star roster of heroes, and a deliberately big picture scope and 'widescreen' presentation. That's exactly what it feels like we're getting here: big-screen JLA all over again. The book puts the Martian Manhunter back at the centre of the League where he belongs, and surrounds him with the heroes you would expect to see. For enemies Snyder brings in the famous villains, and he ties it all together with a big apocalyptic and deeply ominous opening chapter. If the point of a first issue is to get readers to buy the second, then this is an unqualified success.

Jim Cheung and Mark Morales' artwork is excellent, and just distinctive enough from the current style of superhero comic to make a strong impact. With luck they will stick around to make as definitive a run here as Snyder managed with Capullo and Miki on Batman. Tomeu Morey's colours are wonderfully warm and nuanced. You couldn't want for a better-looking Justice League. (5/5)

Justice League #1. Written by Scott Snyder. Art by Jim Cheung and Mark Morales. Colours by Tomeu Morey.

Under the cut: reviews of Green Arrow, Isola, Prism Stalker, Sword Daughter, The Unexpected, and Vagrant Queen.

June 26, 2018

The Pull List: 6 June 2018, Part 2

Back in Marvel's crossover event Civil War II, Bruce Banner (aka the Incredible Hulk) died. Now he's back. How? Quite simply, he's the Hulk - and the Hulk is too powerful to die.

The Immortal Hulk brings back the original and best Hulk (apologies to recent stand-in Amadeus Cho) with a fresh coat of paint and a deliberate skew from superhero adventure to comic book horror. Writer Al Ewing takes what is - let's face it - a pretty lazy reason to bring the Hulk back, and transforms it into something genuinely horrible. When we first see Banner, he's about two pages away from a fatal gunshot wound to the head. No matter how many times that happens, however, night will fall, his body will rise and the Hulk will emerge. It's a nicely bleak set-up for this new volume.

Joe Bennett and Ruy Jose give the book a nice aesthetic, giving everything a slightly old-fashioned edge. Bennett's art comes into its own in one climactic moment - you'll know it when you turn the page. Between this and Doctor Strange's current sojourn into space, it seems Marvel is playing with fresh and innovative angles on its long-running characters. Hopefully they're successful enough to allow these new set-ups to play out in full. (4/5)

The Immortal Hulk #1. Marvel. Written by Al Ewing. Art by Joe Bennett and Ruy Jose. Colour by Paul Mounts.

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

June 25, 2018

Star Trek: Voyager: Season 2 in review

What a difference a year makes. The second season of Star Trek: Voyager marked a significant step up from quality, particularly once it got away from the season's first messy episodes - hang-overs produced as part of the Season 1 shoot.

One key challenge that faced the series in its second year was how to extend its storytelling from a series of self-contained adventures to a more extended storyline that crossed over and developed from one episode to the next. It was a challenge because the core premise of the series is that the USS Voyager is always moving, by-and-large in the one direction, and that makes it very hard to believably bring back the same antagonists or alien civilizations. Voyager's solution? Bring those antagonists back anyway, and hope like crazy that audience doesn't interrogate things too much.

June 24, 2018

The Pull List: 6 June 2018, Part 1

In 1967 Australia, a crashed alien spacecraft is uncovered in the middle of the Maralinga nuclear test site. 60 years later, a satellite clean-up mission in Earth's orbit discovers another spacecraft drifting in space. What is inside that ship links both time periods, but it will take 1967's Group Captain Gilmore, Allison Williams and Professor Rachel Jensen - along with the Seventh Doctor and his companion Ace - to find out how and why.

Titan Comics' range of Doctor Who tie-in comics returns with revised trade dress and a new three-issue miniseries featuring Sylvester McCoy's Seventh Doctor. Let us not beat around the bush: this is hands-down the single best issue of Doctor Who that Titan has published to date. It is smartly written by McCoy-era TV script editor Andrew Cartmel, giving it an immediate authenticity and pitch-perfect tone. It is being published in extra-length issues, allowing for more plot per issue - and that really helps. Christopher Jones' artwork is exceptional, and captures the TV characters perfectly - and it's more than just the Doctor and Ace, since Gilmore, Williams and Jensen all return from Ben Aaronovitch's 1988 TV serial "Remembrance of the Daleks". It's a welcome return: they always seemed like they should have returned on TV.

A back-up strip sees the Doctor and Ace revisit the Psychic Circus and the werewolf Mags - a strip made oddly special by the artist being Jessica Martin, the actress who play Mags on television in "The Greatest Show in the Galaxy". Her art is not outstanding, but it's a cute touch. It's all just a bonus, however; the core storyline is essential for any discerning Who enthusiast. (5/5)

Doctor Who: The Seventh Doctor #1. Titan Comics. Written by Andrew Cartmel. Art by Christopher Jones. Colours by Marko Lesko. Backup written by Richard Dinnick, art by Jessica Martin.

Under the cut: reviews of Batman, Doctor Strange, Scales & Scoundrels, and Star Wars Adventures.

June 23, 2018

Star Trek: Voyager: "Basics, Part I"

It is 20 May 1996, and time for the Season 2 finale of Star Trek: Voyager.

Chakotay (Robert Beltran) receives an emergency transmission from ex-lover and traitor Seska (Martha Hackett): she is about to give birth to their child, her new lover Cullah (Anthony De Longis) has discovered the baby is not his, and she fears for his life. Despite suspecting the entire message is a trap, Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) leads Voyager on an urgent rescue mission.

Star Trek history time: "Basics, Part I" is the final episode of Star Trek to be written by Michael Piller. Brought it as a writer and then as an executive producer on Star Trek: The Next Generation, it was Piller who aggressively shifted the series' narratives from a science fiction/action focus to one on characters and relationships. His effect on the franchise cannot be understated: not only did he effectively create 1990s Star Trek, he went on to co-develop both Deep Space Nine and Voyager. On the way he contributed some of the franchise's best-ever episodes, including "The Best of Both Worlds".

June 21, 2018

The Pull List: 30 May 2018, Part 2

Senior high schooler Julia Malliari gets dragged out to a rock concert by a girl named Tabitha - only to discover that Tabitha is the band's drummer. When Tabitha breaks with that band, she and Julia decide to form one of their own.

I have quite a soft spot for Black Mask, an independent publisher who seem prepared to take a punt on early career writers and artists and give them a major career break. It's a strategy that can lead to mixed results, but to the credit their books are always varied and interesting.

We Are the Danger comes from Fabian Lelay (Jade Street Protection Services) and is an engaging but superficial first issue. It certainly tells an amiable story, but beat by beat it feels too derivative to make a proper impact. Anybody who has read IDW's Jem and the Holograms revival will be on overly familiar territory. It is also annoyingly superficial: the potential for a proper indie rock comic series is huge, but so far Lelay simply isn't capturing it. Future issues may expand or change the story direction, but for now this is a little too unremarkable to get worked up over. Lelay's artwork still struggles a little as well, although Claudia Aguirre's colours bring it capably over the line. If you're after a pleasant comic book with female leads, check it out - but keep your expectations measured. (3/5)

We Are the Danger #1. Black Mask. Story and art by Fabian Lelay. Colours by Claudia Aguirre.

Under the cut: reviews of The Crow: Memento Mori, Doomsday Clock, Green Arrow, Harbinger Wars, and Vs.

June 19, 2018

Star Trek: Voyager: "Resolutions"

It is 13 May 1996, and time for another episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

After being infected with an incurable virus that could infect the rest of the crew, Voyager first officer Chakotay (Robert Beltran) and Tuvix murderer Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) are left behind on the planet as its natural properties will keep them alive. As the castaways build a new life for themselves, the Voyager crew struggle with their orders to continue heading for Earth.

An attempt to achieve something quite different to the normal style of Voyager episode wobbles a little - not because the idea was a bad one, but because the episode simply doesn't go quite far enough. There are some good elements in "Resolutions", as well as a smart return of some old antagonists, but in the end everything falls just a little too flat and feels a little too dull.

June 18, 2018

The Pull List: 30 May 2018, Part 1

After much in-house promotion and hype, former Marvel Comics writer Brian Michael Bendis makes his DC Comics debut with The Man of Steel, an all-new six-part weekly focused on Superman. There's a new villain on the horizon: Rogol Zaar, a hulking scarred alien intent on wiping out all Kryptonian life - and while he's introduced here in flashback, we have already seen back in DC Nation's prologue sequence that he is on his way to Metropolis soon. There is also a new deputy fire chief in town, who weirdly seems set up as a new love interest for Superman - but where is Lois? A two-page epilogue hints that something terrible has happened to both Lois and her son Jonathan.

This is a solid opening without ever feeling sensational. Bendis' dialogue is remarkably wordy, which slows down the book's reading time considerably and also slows the narrative pace. Ivan Reis and Joe Prado's artwork is strong and detailed, and it is great to see Superman back in his archetypal 'red shorts' costume. It's been a while.

All signs are that this is going to be an entertaining miniseries without being a particularly groundbreaking one. Bendis clearly has a handle on Superman as a character, so now it's just up to the readers to wait and see how things develop. (4/5)

The Man of Steel #1. DC Comics. Written by Brian Michael Bendis. Art by Ivan Reis, Jay Fabok, and Joe Prado. Colours by Alex Sinclair.

Under the cut: reviews of Daredevil, Descender, Justice League: No Justice, Ms Marvel, and Saga.

June 12, 2018

The Pull List: 23 May 2018, Part 2

About a year after he started, Donny Cates' run as writer on Doctor Strange comes to a sudden and unwanted end. With sales continuing to decline across Marvel, desperate times have apparently called for panicky measures. For Doctor Strange that means abandoning its recent renumbering to align with its original run, and with only 10 more issues left before its 400th issue I fully anticipate that Mark Waid's incoming run will get launched again to meet it.

Still: issue #1 is still a few weeks away, and issue #390 is here as a welcome and rewarding epilogue to both the Cates and previous Aaron run. There is an unfinished conversation with companion Zelda to be had, and - in a flash of pure comic book brilliance - an unexpected encounter with Spider-Man.

Frazer Irving's art and colours are sublime and emotionally superb, but it's the weird interruption by Peter Parker that absolutely nails the issue. It's gut-bustingly funny stuff, including a two-page segue illustrated by Chip Zdarsky, and provides the perfect contrast to the more thoughful conversation in the rest of the book. This has been a fine run for Doctor Strange, and it's a shame to see it end. (5/5)

Doctor Strange #390. Marvel. Written by Donny Cates. Art and colours by Frazer Irving and Chip Zdarsky.

Under the cut: reviews of Delta 13, Justice League: No Justice, Poe Dameron, Shadowman, Super Sons, and X-O Manowar.

June 11, 2018

The Pull List: 23 May 2018, Part 1

I am an absolute sucker for space opera comics. Anything involving intergalactic empires, freedom fighters, alien species, laser gun fights, space battles - if it's in that general area, it will probably be in my wheelhouse. It is often great when a superhero comic starts to play around in that area too. I adored the "Planet Hulk" storyline in The Incredible Hulk, as well as the most recent volume of X-O Manowar, and one of the best monthly comics of DC's "New 52" initiative was Tom King's superb The Omega Men.

Add to that list Marvel's latest relaunch of Black Panther. It's set 2,000 years into the future. The Wakandan Empire stretches across huge tracts of space, enslaving other races and ruling with a violent and oppressive fist. Into the environment comes a new group of rebels and freedom fighters, styling themselves after heroes of Wakandan history and all dressing like Black Panthers.

It's a great idea, and feels like a genuinely fresh take for Marvel at a time when the publisher is really beginning struggle with its sales. Hopefully this new story will catch on, because it really feels like a model to open the Marvel Universe to a much wider range of stories. Ta-Nehisi Coates writes one hell of a first issue, and it's very effectively illustrated by Daniel Acuna. I'm hooked. (5/5)

Black Panther #1. Marvel. Written by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Art and colours by Daniel Acuna.

Under the cut: reviews of Detective Comics, Doctor Aphra, and The Terrifics.

Star Trek: Voyager: "Tuvix"

It is 6 May 1996, and time for another episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

A transporter accident sees Lt Tuvok (Tim Russ) and Neelix (Ethan Phillips) fused into one gestalt identity: a humanoid created from the fused dna of both men who elects to call himself Tuvix (Tom Wright). As the crew scramble to find a way of separating Tuvix back out into two people, Tuvix begins to immerse himself in his new life on Voyager.

What a hell of a rollercoaster this was. It begins with a terrible and rather tacky premise: the accident creating a 50/50 blend of Tuvok and Neelix, presenting aspects of both men in a very overt and two-dimensional fashion. It then evolves into a surprisingly sensitive and well thought-out drama about adjusting to loss and change. After that, it all wraps up with Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) committing a pre-meditated homicide with almost the entire crew sitting back acting as accessories to crime. From then, I suppose the audience is simply expected to move on without ever dwelling on the fact that the star of the show is an unrepentant murderer.

June 10, 2018

The Pull List: 16 May 2018, Part 3

Aisha is in hospital, still unconscious. A neighbour witnessed her push her future step-daughter and mother-in-law down a flight of stairs, something that Aisha's best friend Medina cannot believe. In the apartment building where the event allegedly occurred, something supernatural is growing in the corner of everyone's eyes.

We are at the halfway mark of the five-issue miniseries Infidel, and at this stage it seems a strong bet to be one of the best American comic books of 2018. This is a hugely effective horror story with very effective artwork by Aaron Campbell and colourist Jose Villarrubia.

Like the best horror, however, this feels like it's about something: Islamophobia is a major theme for Infidel, and the core of this issue is a confrontation between Medina and another resident in the apartment building who swears she saw Aisha commit the assault. The manner in which the conversation turns ugly is very believable, and adds a welcome layer on top of the growing supernatural elements. (4/5)

Infidel #3. Image. Written by Pornsak Pichetshote. Art by Aaron Campbell. Colours by Jose Villarrubia.

Under the cut: reviews of Aquaman, Batwoman, Usagi Yojimbo, and The Wild Storm.

June 9, 2018

Star Trek: Voyager: "The Thaw"

It's 29 April 1996, and time for another episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

Voyager detects signs of life beneath the surface of planet rendered lifeless by an ecological disaster. They find several humanoids alive inside life support pods, each with their mind wired into a collective virtual environment. When Lieutenant Torres (Roxann Dawson) and Ensign Kim (Garrett Wang) enter the environment to make contact, they find the humanoids trapped at the mercy of an insane artificially intelligent clown (Michael McKean) - and once they arrive, the clown won't let them leave.

"The Thaw" is one of those unexpected Star Trek episodes that seems dreadful at the beginning - a mad horror circus is the sort of thing The Next Generation would do in a holodeck-based episode - but which unexpectedly unfolds into some genuinely interesting and entertaining.

June 8, 2018

The Pull List: 16 May 2018, Part 2

There is likely to be a lot of fresh interest in Bloodshot over the next year or two, now that Vin Diesel has signed on to play Valiant's immortal soldier in a major feature film release. This latest issue - the ninth in the current volume - is an unexpected shift from the usual stories of a nanite-boosted super-soldier. Instead it's the story of his dog.

A scientist comes to the trenches of World War I to test his latest invention - one that just might save the war. It's undead dogs. Impervious to pain, without fear, and able to recover from any injury, they are to be tested in a charge against the Germans. It's a bleak but cleverly developed one-shot, with a script that tells a satisfying and emotionally effective story in just a handful of pages.

The real star is artist Renato Guedes, who gives the story a much-needed realist aesthetic, one coloured with suitable levels of blood and grime. It seals the deal on making Bloodshot: Salvation #9 a hugely satisfying experience. (4/5)

Bloodshot: Salvation #9. Valiant. Written by Jeff Lemire and Ray Fawkes. Art and colours by Renato Guedes.

Under the cut: reviews of Daredevil, Rat Queens, and The Wicked + the Divine.

June 4, 2018

The Pull List: 16 May 2018, Part 1

The new Avengers line-up converges as they fight the newly arrived Dark Celestials, and the villain behind the scenes reveals themselves. Jason Aaron and Ed McGuinness' fresh run of Marvel's lead team does pretty much what readers would expect: big-scale widescreen action featuring a range of popular characters.

I'm still not fully sold of McGuinness' art style, but this is a broadly entertaining story which will likely appeal a lot to readers that have been waiting for Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor to return to their historical seats at the centre of the team.

I am a little underwhelmed by Ghost Rider. The character works well enough in his own comic, but is a poor match for the bright, cinematic style of this book. It's also not the 1970s heavy metal styled Johnny Blaze Ghost Rider, but rather the fairly weird and unappealing  Robbie Reyes - who doesn't even ride a motorcycle.

That's a personal niggle, however: the bottom line is that The Avengers pretty much does what it says on the cover. It's a large-scale character-based action-adventure. If that's what you're after, that's definitely what you get. (3/5)

The Avengers #2. DC Comics. Written by Jason Aaron. Art by Ed McGuinness, Mark Morales, and Jay Leisten. Colours by David Curiel.

Under the cut: reviews of Batman, Justice League: No Justice, and Superman Special.

June 1, 2018

The Angriest: May 2018 in review

A review of Star Trek: The Next Generation's penultimate episode "Preemptive Strike" was the most-read post on The Angriest last month. Other popular posts included a review of the first hour playing Kirby's Epic Yarn on the Nintendo Wii, and a bunch of comic book reviews. Over at FictionMachine, the most popular new reviews were for Solo: A Star Wars Story, Deadpool 2, and a feature essay on Tomorrow Never Dies.

All up, May 2018's activities involved one film essay, eight reviews of new or festival films, six reviews of older films, four TV reviews, one videogame review, and short reviews of 40 comic books. A full index of May's posts is included below.