August 15, 2017

Doctor Who: "The Slave Traders"

It is 16 January 1965, and time for another episode of Doctor Who.

A month after the TARDIS makes a crash landing in Ancient Rome, the Doctor (William Hartnell) and his companions relax in a nearby villa. When the Doctor and Vicki (Maureen O'Brien) head off to visit Rome, the Doctor finds himself mistaken for a murdered musician. Back at the villa Ian (William Russell) and Barbara (Jacqueline Hill) are ambushed and captured by slave traders.

There is something genuinely delightful about "The Slave Traders", the first episode of Dennis Spooner's historical serial "The Romans". A lot of the appeal comes from seeing the regular characters actually getting to stop for a while and relax. They have rampaged from one adventure to the next for a series and a half at this stage, and have more than earnest a rest. That rest comes with a huge boost in warm humour: it seems clear at this stage that Ian and Barbara are actively enjoying their travels with the Doctor. New companion Vicki has slipped comfortably into her new routine. The one-month jump in time actually benefits her introduction enormously because she is now happily familiar with her new friends. It is a great narrative shortcut.

August 14, 2017

The Pull List: 2 August 2017, Part 3

It started with a resentful drug-addicted police detective flying out to a distant spaceship to conduct a murder investigation. It ends, eight issues later, with two people huddled together with no oxygen or warmth left with which to survive. A hell of a lot happened in between.

Hadrian's Wall has been a tremendous miniseries. A smart murder-mystery in space that segued into a sort of siege thriller, with well-crafted characters and intelligence science fiction detail. Rod Reis was the icing on the cake, creating stunning painterly artwork that echoed some of the best production design of 1980s science fiction cinema. It is a blueprint for a cult film that never got made; who knows, with the series complete perhaps an enterprising studio will be tempted to take a chance on it.

A collection edition is coming soon. I really hope that it finds a strong readership on top of those who have already discovered it. This is the sort of SF work that deserves a big audience. (5/5)

Hadrian's Wall #8. Image. Written by Kyle Higgins and Alec Siegel. Art and colours by Rod Reis with Eduardo Ferigato.

Under the cut: reviews of Extremity, Giant Days and Seven to Eternity.

Doctor Who: "Desperate Measures"

It is 9 January 1965 and time for another episode of Doctor Who.

The Doctor (William Hartnell) and Ian (William Russell) make their way past the ancient traps of the Didonians. Barbara (Jacqueline Hill) and Vicki (Maureen O'Brien) get to know one another onboard the crashed starship. When the Doctor finally joins them, he gets to the bottom of the mysterious identity of the alien Koquillion.

"Desperate Measures" is a deceptively brilliant episode of Doctor Who. It throws in some great character-building scenes, properly integrates Vicki in the TARDIS crew, and climaxes with a tremendously atmospheric and dramatic reveal in an underground temple. This may be, at two episodes, one of the briefest of William Hartnell's Doctor Who serials, but it makes great and efficient use of its time.

August 11, 2017

The Pull List: 2 August 2017, Part 2

What if all of the famous people who vanished over history did not simply get murdered or die in obscurity somewhere, but actually found themselves transported to another universe? That is the basic premise of Elsewhere, a new fantasy series by writer Jay Faerber (Copperhead), artist Sumeyye Kesgin and publisher Image Comics.

To begin with, the series introduces us to Amelia Earhart, famous American long-distance pilot whose plane vanished over the Pacific Ocean in July 1937. After being rescued from a tree by a pair of goblin-like rebels on the run from their totalitarian government, she goes looking for her co-pilot Fred.

Kesgin's artwork has a quite traditional sort of look: clean, bold and immediately readable. Faerber's script is where the book staggers a little: it's relatively early, so the story could go either way, but there really is not a huge amount of plot here and nothing really leaps out to feel inventive or especially attention-grabbing. The basic premise is a cool one, but the execution really does let it down just a little. (3/5)

Elsewhere #1. Image. Written by Jay Faerber. Art by Sumeyye Kesgin. Colours by Ron Riley.

Under the cut: reviews of Robotech, Spider-Man and Swordquest.

Doctor Who: "The Powerful Enemy"

It is 2 January 1965, and time for another episode of Doctor Who.

While the Doctor (William Hartnell) mourns the loss of Susan, the TARDIS arrives on the planet Dido and Ian (William Russell) and Barbara (Jacqueline Hill) go exploring a mountain-side network of caves. In the valley below, the two survivors of a crashed human starship - Vicki (Maureen O'Brien) and Bennett (Ray Barrett) - live under the tyrannical control of the alien reptile Koquillion.

It is good that Susan's departure at the end of "The Dalek Invasion of Earth" was not ignored or quickly shuffled away. The early scenes of "The Powerful Enemy" see the Doctor visibly worn by the loss. He sleeps through a TARDIS landing for the first time. He seems very keen to send Ian and Barbara off to give him time alone. At one key moment he asks Susan to open the TARDIS door, then pauses, with a mixture of sadness and embarrassment. Barbara gently asks the Doctor to show her how to do it. It's a perfect small moment between the two characters: a little bit of healing for the Doctor, and the acknowledgement for Barbara that she and the old man really have become good friends.

August 10, 2017

The Pull List: 2 August 2017, Part 1

Stanford Yu works as a young janitor at an elite academy for giant robot pilots. On the appointed day, when three alien giant robots are supposed to descend and accept their pilots, one fails to show up. When Stanford finds it damaged a few miles down the road it does the unimaginable and accepts him as its pilot instead.

Mech Cadet Yu is a four-issue miniseries from writer Greg Pak and artist Takeshi Miyazawa. It pays tribute to Japanese pop culture, particularly all of the giant robot anime productions that have been produced since the late 1970s.

The pedigree of its creatives is pretty high for anybody who's been reading Marvel comics: Pak did a sensational extended run on The Incredible Hulk, while Miyazawa has done superb work illustrating Ms Marvel in recent years. If anything it unfairly raises expectations. This is a pleasantly enjoyable first issue, but so far there is nothing that leaps off the page or makes the most significant impression. It's simply an enjoyable giant robot story; and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. (3/5)

Mech Cadet Yu #1. Boom Studios. Written by Greg Pak. Art by Takeshi Miyazawa. Colours by Triona Farrell.

Under the cut: reviews of Batman, Darth Vader, Green Arrow and Superman.

August 8, 2017

The Pull List: 26 July, Part 3

Usagi Yojimbo and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have always had a fairly close relationship: both independent black and white comic books of the 1980s, they crossed over fairly quickly and Usagi has been an intermittent presence in the Turtles comics and television cartoons ever since (right up to an appearance in the current series a few weeks ago).

This new one-shot is a real gem: written and drawn by Usagi creator Stan Sakai, with absolutely beautiful soft colouring by Tom Luth. The story itself is relatively straight-forward, but as is often the case with Sakai it is told in a very simple and elegant fashion with some absolutely beautiful art.

I feel the market does not give Usagi Yojimbo the respect it is due: it is rarely sensationalised or attention-grabbing, but Sakai does a flawless job with every issue he creates. It has a warm, likeable tone, a strong sense of Japanese history and culture, and a cartoon-like sensibility that is much harder to produce than it looks. It is such a pleasant read every time. Hopefully this crossover might bring a few new readers to Sakai's work. He deserves them all. (4/5)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles/Usagi Yojimbo. Story and art by Stan Sakai. Colours by Tom Luth.

Under the cut: reviews of All-Star Batman, Doctor Aphra and Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor.

Doctor Who: "Flashpoint"

It is 26 December 1964, and time for the final episode of "The Dalek Invasion of Earth".

While the Daleks work to detonate their bomb inside the Earth's core, the Doctor (William Hartnell), Ian (William Russell), Barbara (Jacqueline Hill) and Susan (Carole Ann Ford) finally reunite in Bedfordshire to stop the Dalek invasion once and for all.

"The Dalek Invasion of Earth" ends with a finale that, while never particularly surprising, manages to bring this epic storyline to a strong and hugely entertaining close. It has been a success on a number of levels. Firstly this has easily been the most ambitious production of the series thus far, and with a few mishaps (the unfortunate-looking Slyther for one) the production team has pulled it off with tremendous skill. Secondly it has taken the Daleks and elevated them from one-off monsters to the series' first recurring villains. They will appear a third time to plague the Doctor before the second series is out.