July 31, 2018

Doctor Who: "The Zarbi"

It is 20 February 1964, and time for the second part of the Doctor Who serial "The Web Planet".

On the planet Vortis, the Doctor (William Hartnell) and Ian (William Russell) continue exploring the surface before being captured by the ant-like Zarbi. Meanwhile Barbara (Jacqueline Hill) finds herself captured by the Zarbi and the Menoptera, butterfly-like humanoids whom the Zarbi are hunting into extinction. Vicki (Maureen O'Brien) is still in the TARDIS, which the Zarbi then drag into their lair.

There is something quite impressive about this episode, which presents Doctor Who's first genuinely alien planet. There is no one here outside of the regular cast that looks in any way human. The ant-like Zarbi stumble around like drunk pantomime horses, and while the bee-like Menoptera have humanoid bodies, they are buried under bee masks and wings. I'm straining to remember for certain, but I'm pretty sure Doctor Who never tells a story so devoid of humans (or their analogues) ever again.

July 27, 2018

The Pull List: 4 July 2018, Part 3

The Man of Steel hits its sixth a final issue, which means wrapping up the immediate crisis of Rogol Zaar's attempt to blow up the Earth to kill Superman as well as revealing precisely what has happened already to cause Lois and Jon's absence.

The Rogol Zaar section is straight-up superhero action, as Supergirl assists Superman in defeating Zaar before his plan comes to fruition. It is very well illustrated by Jason Fabok, with a lot of pace and energy. That really is all backgrounded, however, in favour of Lois and Jon, and that's kind of where the issue struggles a little.

Superman's father Jor-El has arrived once again (oh yeah, he didn't die on Krypton after all), insisted on taking his grandson Jon around the galaxy to better train him in how to be a better super-human. Clark and Lois debate whether or not Jon should go, and ultimately Lois accompanies him on the voyage. After the terrible acts performed by Jor-El in his previous appearance, one would assume the idea of handing him your son would be unimaginable. Instead Lois and Jon willingly go with him, and Clark reluctantly allows it all to happen. It gets them out of the way for whatever ongoing story Brian Michael Bendis has in mind, but it's an awkward process and feels very badly shoe-horned in. It's not a great sign for the immediate future of the Superman ongoing titles. (3/5)

The Man of Steel #6. Written by Brian Michael Bendis. Art by Jason Fabok. Colours by Alex Sinclair.

Under the cut: reviews of Doctor Strange, Doctor Who: The Seventh Doctor, and Sword Daughter.

July 26, 2018

Dreamcast20 #19: Chu Chu Rocket

2018 marks the 20th anniversary of the Dreamcast, Sega's final - and in my opinion the finest - home videogame console. Despite a range of excellent games, it simply failed to compete against Sony's PlayStation 2. To celebrate, The Angriest counts down its 20 best games.

Some times the best videogames are the simple ones, and they often don't come simpler that puzzle games. Chu Chu Rocket. Conceptually it's pretty easy: there's a grid upon which a train of mice are walking in a straight direction. Also roaming the board are cats looking to eat the mice. The player can drop arrows onto the grid to change the direction of the mice and guide them into a rocket that allows them to safely escape. If they get on the rocket, the player wins. If they get eaten by cats, the player loses.

It's a simple enough concept, but it's all playing just a little too fast to handle. It rapidly becomes a frantic combination of strategy and twitch gaming as the player starts having to lay down paths in faster and faster ways and in more and more complex set-ups.

July 25, 2018

The Pull List: 4 July 2018, Part 2

Spinning off from the events of Batman #50 comes an all-new volume of Catwoman, featuring its first-ever all-female creative team of writer/artist Joelle Jones and colourist Laura Allred.

While attempting to lie low in Mexico, Selina Kyle is in trouble with the law once again - not for anything she has done herself, but because of the two police officers shot dead by an apparent copycat. Despite having enough issues on her own, she is reluctantly dragged back into costume again.

Joelle Jones has been doing sensational work with Tom King over in Batman, and Laura Allred is a well-established and strong talent in colouring, so the visuals of this new ongoing were never in doubt. Nicely dense panel layouts get a lot of story into one half of the book, while the other half loosens out to accentuate the action. It's a superb balance, and the art and colours match the slightly grittier aesthetic that Jones has chosen.

The big surprise is in the writing: Jones absolutely nails both the story - it's intriguing and intelligent - and the characters. It gives Selina a great sense of both agency and humanity. This is a superb opening chapter to what I suspect will be a big success. (5/5)

Catwoman #1. DC Comics. Story and art by Joelle Jones. Colours by Laura Allred.

Under the cut: reviews of Giant Days, Justice League, and Prism Stalker.

July 24, 2018

Doctor Who: "The Web Planet"

It's 13 February 1965, and time for a new episode of Doctor Who.

The TARDIS is dragged down by an unknown force to a seemingly desolate and rocky planet. Unable to break free, the ship remains trapped. Giant ant creatures lurk outside. A piercing noise in her head incapacitates Vicki (Maureen O'Brien). The Doctor (William Hartnell) and Ian (William Russell) head outside to explore. Soon the piercing noise returns, and Barbara (Jacqueline Hill) leaves the ship alone under some form of mind control.

Doctor Who enters into a new serial with the strangest goings-on since "The Edge of Destruction" all the way back near the beginning of Series 1. Vicki falling under a trance, Barbara succumbing to mind control, glimpses of giant ant people - it's all weird and off the wall stuff, particularly since it follows directly on from a four-episode comedic farce in "The Romans".

July 23, 2018

The Pull List: 4 July 2018, Part 1

So after much build-up and anticipation, Batman reaches the wedding of Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle. It is kind of impossible to discuss this issue without spoilers, so if you haven't read Batman #50 but plan to, head beneath the cut and read the reviews of the other books instead. This one's is going to be spoiler city.

When the big day arrives, and with the happy couple choosing to do it with two witnesses and a judge on a Gotham City rooftop, Selina leaves Bruce at the altar. No wedding ensues. Batman and Catwoman are not married. The titular event does not actually occur. Two immediate thoughts come to mind. The first one is that this is not a surprise. The Joker explained last issue how Bruce being happy will destroy Batman, and Selina's best friend Holly explains it again here. Both are correct: with Batman being the brooding monomaniacal creature of the night he's been portrayed as for the past three decades, being happy would absolutely ruin him. Anybody expecting a happy ending simply hasn't been reading Batman comics for a long, long time. The second thought is that whatever went through the minds of comic readers who did expect an actual wedding that led to writer Tom King being sent enough credible death threats that he spent the whole of San Diego Comic Con with an honest-to-god bodyguard is genuinely a worry. It's just a comic book, guys. In a few years DC will launch a line-wide crisis and reboot it all anyway.

You can see what's being attempted here, with full-page narrated splash pages allowing a range of guest artists to contribute work to the celebration, and it is remarkably clever that King uses unreliable narration to flash back to conflicting back stories of years past, but it also makes the book a little bit of a drag. It actually feels a little dull, and it's only the concluding cliffhanger that actually gives the book the spark that it needs. As an issue in its own right, it is a little underwhelming, but it does kick off what look like another great 50 issues of King's run. (3/5)

Batman #50. DC Comics. Written by Tom King. Art by Mikel Janin. Colours by June Chung. Guest art by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, Trish Mulvihill, Becky Cloonan, Jason Fabok, Brad Anderson, Frank Miller, Alex Sinclair, Lee Bermejo, Neal Adams, Hi-Fi, Tony S. Daniel, Tomeu Morey, Amanda Conner, Paul Mounts, Rafael Alberquerque, Andy Kubert, Tim Sale, Jose Villarrubia, Mitch Gerads, Clay Mann, Jordie Bellaire, Ty Templeton, Keiren Smith, Joelle Jones, David Finch, Jim Lee, Scott Williams, Greg Capullo, FCO Plascencia, and Lee Weeks.

Under the cut: reviews of The Avengers, Beneath the Dark Crystal, Delta 13, The Immortal Hulk, and Lowlifes.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: "Nor the Battle to the Strong"

It is 21 October 1996, and time for another episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Dr Bashir (Alexander Siddig) and Jake Sisko (Cirroc Lofton) are travelling in a Runabout when they receive a distress call from a Federation colony. A splinter faction of Klingons are attacking the base, inflicting heavy casualties. Jake is keen to visit to get material for his developing writing career, but Bashir is reluctant to put him in harm's way. Reluctantly arriving to assist in the colony's makeshift hospital, Bashir does his best to assist while Jake is confronted with the real horror of war.

"Nor the Battle to the Strong" feels like it's about a month late - war with the Klingons ended four episodes ago - but it still works as both a relatively strong war story and a showcase for Cirroc Loften's Jake Sisko. It also provides a rare team-up between Jake and Bashir - a pairing that works so effectively it's a shame it isn't really done again.

July 22, 2018

The Pull List: 27 June 2018, Part 2

This month marks 50 issues since G. Willow Wilson's awesome character Kamala Khan has featured in her own comic. Never shy to celebrate an anniversary, Marvel presents a festive jam piece of writers and artists; still led by Wilson, but with plenty of support as well.

Kamala's attempting a sleepover with her friends from high school, one that gets persistently interrupted by other heroes needing help, small-fry villains demanding a fight, and other secret complications. It's a cute framing device that allows the issue to work in vignettes by different creatives, each of them brief enough to sustain the novelty without feeling forced or tedious. Some work better than others, but as a one-off comedy issue it's all pretty enjoyable.

That said, Marvel's current attempt to simultaneously number their comics by both issue of the current volume and issue of the entire legacy series is weird. This book is issue #31, but it's also issue #50, but to be accurate (Ms Marvel didn't start with Kamala Khan) it should be issue #123. Marvel need to decide how they're counting these things and stick with it. The pedants in the audience are growing frustrated. (4/5)

Ms Marvel #31. Marvel. Written by G. Willow Wilson, Saladin Ahmed, Rainbow Rowell, and Hasan Minhaj. Art by Nico Leon, Gustavo Duarte, Robert Quinn, and Elmo Bondoc. Colours by Ian Herring.

Under the cut: reviews of Detective Comics, Harbinger Wars II, Saga, The Terrifics, The Wicked + the Divine and X-O Manowar.

July 20, 2018

Dreamcast20 #20: Omikron: The Nomad Soul

2018 marks the 20th anniversary of the Dreamcast, Sega's final - and in my opinion the finest - home videogame console. Despite a range of excellent games, it simply failed to compete against Sony's PlayStation 2. To celebrate, The Angriest counts down its 20 best games.

In the alien city of Omikron, the player assumes the role of a police detective investigating a string of serial killings. When that detective is killed, however, the player begins a string of reincarnations from body to body while uncovering a supernatural war running out of sight for thousands of years.

Released in 2000 to decidedly mixed reviews, Omikron: The Nomad Soul was an adventure game with varied gameplay - some action, some puzzle-solving - with the original wrinkle of reincarnating the player's character as a different person each time they die. The universe created for the game is imaginative, and for 2000 it seemed like a pretty imaginative one.

July 17, 2018

The Pull List: 27 June 2018, Part 1

It is genuinely odd, given the success of Black Panther in cinemas this year, that the response from Marvel Comics is not simply to relaunch the book with a new volume (sensible enough) but to relaunch it as a far future Star Wars-esque space opera with a whole new generation of namesake characters flying around in space fighters in battle with a galactic Wakandan Empire.

Of course it's a great and fresh take on the property, with a fast pace and a huge imagination in re-working old elements in new ways. This issue is dominated by a space dogfight, which could potential be a one-note bore. Instead writer Ta-Nehisi Coates uses it to express T'Challa's character and temperament.

The real star, however, is artist Daniel Acuña. His strong use of Afro-futurist imagery, and effective design, provides a rich enhancement to Coates' story. The book looks tremendous, and has a definite 'big budget' kind of blockbuster look to it. It's a strangely timed book, but absolutely a very welcome one. (4/5)

Black Panther #2. Marvel. Written by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Art and colours by Daniel Acuña.

Under the cut: a bumper crop of mini-reviews focused on Batgirl, Descender, Invader Zim, The Man of Steel, Mera: Queen of Atlantis, and Star Wars: Doctor Aphra.

July 13, 2018

The Pull List: 20 June 2018, Part 3

The second issue of Mark Waid's relaunched Doctor Strange feels a lot stronger than the first: with the slightly improbably set-up of Tony Stark sending Stephen Strange into space out of the way, the story can now move to developing a new setting, a supporting cast, and an exploration of what magic means in the Marvel Universe when you're surrounded by aliens, spaceships, and ray guns.

Waid always tends to have a strong handle on plot and character, and he's working much better now that he actually does that and not foreshadow his series via a narration-dominated prologue. New characters work well, and Strange reacts to his imprisonment on another planet in a manner that rings true. Jesus Saiz's artwork is excellent, and wonderfully detailed.

I swear you can feel the hand of Marvel Studios pulling the strings, though. With the huge runaway success of Guardians of the Galaxy and Infinity War in cinemas, this all feels like a dry run for Benedict Cumberbatch to take to the skies in future years for an intergalactic adventure. Based on this first proper issue, that hypothetical sequel just might work. (4/5)

Doctor Strange #2. Marvel. Written by Mark Waid. Art and colours by Jesus Saiz.

Under the cut: reviews of Batwoman, Delta 13, Punk's Not Dead, and The Wild Storm.

July 9, 2018

The Pull List: 20 June 2018, Part 2

With Aisha still in a coma, Medina makes the decision to return to the apartment block and uncover more information about the supernatural presence that lurks there. Meanwhile, Ethan and Reynolds discover the belongings of alleged occultist Arthur Quinn.

I have highlighted Infidel before, and with the release of its fourth issue it is well worth highlighting again. Pornsak Pichetshote is writing an effective and visceral horror story that drags in bigotry, religious faith, as well as a healthy serve of haunted house archetypes. Horror this good rarely makes it into the comic books.

One of the reasons that the horror works so well is Aaron Campbell's artwork. It is realistic, detailed, and atmospheric. It's all emphasised nicely by Jose Villarrubia's subdued colours.

I know it is a cliche to write 'they don't make them like this any more, but on the whole they really don't. There is an old-school DC Vertigo feel to this series that makes me think back on early issues of The Sandman or Hellblazer. It's great stuff. (4/5)

Infidel #4. Image. Written by Pornsak Pichetshote. Art by Aaron Campbell. Colours by Jose Villarrubia.

Under the cut: reviews of Aquaman, Daredevil, and Usagi Yojimbo.

July 8, 2018

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: "Looking for par'Mach in all the Wrong Places"

It is 14 October 1996, and time for another episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

When Quark's (Armin Shimerman) ex-wife Grilka arrives on the station, Worf (Michael Dorn) is immediately smitten - but due to his exiled status in Klingon society he has no means of courting her. When Quark shows a romantic interest instead, a reluctant Worf begins teaching him how to woo a Klingon woman - with the help of Dax (Terry Farrell).

Star Trek adapts Cyrano de Bergerac in the weird, faulty little romantic comedy that absolutely not be as entertaining as it is. A lot of its appeal comes down to Armin Shimerman's consistently wonderful performance as Quark. He spars well with everybody with whom he shares the screen, from an early scene with an eavesdropping Dr Bashir (Alexander Siddig) to his courting of Grilka (Mary Crosby) to his conversations with Worf and Dax. It's funny to think that Deep Space Nine started with the Ferengi being probably the most disliked alien civilization in Star Trek; by this stage of the franchise they're one of the most fleshed-out and entertaining. That's mostly down to Shimerman working his character so hard.

July 6, 2018

The Pull List: 20 June 2018, Part 1

In the last issue of Batman, the Joker tried to hold an entire church of worshippers hostage so that he could ask Batman where his wedding invite was. It was a superb single-scene issue, showcasing a conversation between hero and villain. This latest issue provides the second half: a bomb's gone off, Batman is unconscious, and Catwoman swings into action for a one-on-one all of her own.

It is truly superb: this two-part prologue to the forthcoming Bruce-Selina wedding is insightful, clever, beautifully thought-out, and emotionally powerful. While the last issue focused on Batman's direct relationship with the Joker, this issue focuses on the Joker's relationship with other other Gotham City villains - and what it means to be Batman's enemy.

Mikel Janin and June Chung's visuals make excellent work of what could be a visually limited story: two badly injured people talking with one another while both running risk of bleeding to death. Together I think they're the best storyline so far for Tim King's Batman. (5/5)

Batman #49. DC Comics. Written by Tom King. Art by Mikel Janin. Colours by June Chung.

Under the cut: reviews of The Avengers, Justice League, The Man of Steel, and Star Wars: Poe Dameron.

July 3, 2018

The Pull List: 13 June 2018, Part 2

With the war against Apokolips reaching a cease-fire, Scott Free and Barda sit down to negotiate peace terms with Kalibak. The offer from Apokolips, however, may just be too high for Scott to accept.

Mister Miracle has been an absolute stand-out for DC Comics since it commenced nine months ago, combining a smart, complex script by Tom King with stunning and innovative art by Mitch Gerads. There is an insidious sort of underlying threat that has run beneath the entire book, and as the series marches towards its 12th and final issue the truth of what that threat actually is feels viscerally close. It is remarkable how tense everything is becoming.

Tom King is really demonstrating himself as DC's most valuable creative at the moment, with his intelligent and provocative work both here and in Batman. He's become one of those writers whose work you simply buy and read regardless of subject matter. This series has been pitch-perfect, and as it enters its final stretch it is difficult to imagine it's going to falter now. (5/5)

Mister Miracle #9. DC Comics. Written by Tom King. Art and colours by Mitch Gerads.

Under the cut: reviews of Copperhead, Mech Cadet Yu, Oblivion Song, and Port of Earth.

July 2, 2018

The Angriest: June 2018 in review

Some fairly significant health issues (I have been diagnosed with MS) slowed down the rate of posting on The Angriest and FictionMachine, so thank you for reading what I did manage to get out over the past 30 days. The most popular post on The Angriest this past month was a review of the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Tuvix" - it's my least favourite episode of the whole series, so it's nice to see something positive came out of it. Over at FictionMachine, it was the review of Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom that was the most-viewed new post (although the most-viewed overall continues to be the June 2016 essay on Bedknobs and Broomsticks, a post that just keeps on giving.

In June 2018, I reviewed five new or festival films, seven older films, five episodes of Star Trek, and 56 comic books. A complete list is included below for your convenience.

July 1, 2018

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: "The Ship"

It is 7 October 1996, and time for an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

While on a mission in the Gamma Quadrant, Captain Sisko (Avery Brooks) and his team find themselves marooned on a desert planet but in possession of a crashed Jem'Hadar spacecraft - and when the Jem'Hadar come to retrieve their property, Sisko is disinclined to surrender it.

The Deep Space Nine writer's room certainly doesn't waste time getting back into war with the Dominion. Just one episode after wrapping up the Federation-Klingon War, the DS9 crew are trading blows and gunshots with the Dominion's best shock troops in this 42-minute war movie packed with stereotypes and smart ideas in equal measure.