September 25, 2017

Doctor Who: "The Pandorica Opens"

 It is 19 June 2010, and time for another episode of Doctor Who.

A message bounces from person to person through time and space until it finally reaches the Doctor (Matt Smith), and directs him to AD 102 England where he discovers River Song (Alex Kingston), Stonehenge, and the Pandorica - a fabled prison for the most dangerous criminal in the universe.

As showrunner of Doctor Who, Steven Moffat clearly had a different attitude to story arcs than his predecessor Russell T Davies. For Davies it was largely sufficient to develop a buzzword or catchphrase ("bad wolf", "Torchwood", "Mr Saxon") and then lead the audience along until the meaning of the phrase was used in the season finale. With Season 5 Moffat took a much more active approach. The crack in Amy Pond's (Karen Gillen) bedroom wall, the growing silence falling across the universe, the revelation that the TARDIS will explode in the future, and the teasing of the mysterious Pandorica by River Song back in "Flesh and Stone" all come together in one two-part finale - not to mention cameo appearances in the cold open by Vincent Van Gogh, Elizabeth X and Winston Churchill. I'm honestly not sure any season climax has previously felt so deliberately climactic.

September 22, 2017

The Pull List: 13 September 2017, Part 3

Nolan is a mercenary working in a post-apocalyptic United States. After one contract ends in bloodshed, Nolan picks up another: escorting four scientists across the country and ensuring they don't get murdered or eaten along the way.

The Realm is a standard kind of post-apocalyptic adventure with one key twist: while the circumstances remain unexplained, the marauding hordes threatening humanity are not zombies for once but rather fantasy animals. It is as if a Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual has been unleashed upon the Earth, spilling out orcs, drakes, dragons and who knows what else. It is a neat change that helps lift an otherwise very predictable storyline. I suspect how future issues explore and expand this fantasy setting will dictate the long-term quality of the book.

Also lifting the book's game is Jeremy Haun's extremely detailed and boldly inked artwork. It gives the book a level of style and prestige that does paper over the story weaknesses quite a bit. (3/5)

The Realm #1. Image. Written by Seth M. Peck. Art by Jeremy Haun. Colours by Nick Filardi.

Under the cut: reviews of Batgirl and the Birds of Prey, Ms Marvel, Ninjak and Sacred Creatures.

Colditz: "Chameleon"

It is 18 March 1974 and time for another episode of Colditz.

While the Kommandant (Bernard Hepton) is away, Major Mohn (Anthony Valentine) is left in charge of Colditz. When he learns via a lover that the German effort is close to defeat, and that his close connections to the Nazi government may see him executed for war crimes, he goes into a panic and tries ingratiating himself with the camp's prisoners.

"Chameleon" is an episode that has been a long time coming, ever since the deeply odious and unlikeable Horst Mohn joined the cast at the beginning of the season. He has constantly over-stepped his authority, broken the Geneva Convention, and pushed hard for the treatment of the prisoners to be harsher and more punitive than his superior has allowed. The swing in this episode is sudden and remarkable: he begins the episode at his most powerful to date, and ends it at his very lowest and most desperate.

September 21, 2017

The Pull List: 13 September 2017, Part 2

Runaways is a Marvel title about which I have heard a world of praise, and yet circumstance has resulted in me never actually reading the book myself. I figured I would correct that in a small part by sampling Marvel's new relaunch, which returns to a group of friends who bonded together when they discovered that their respective parents were all super-villains.

It's clear from the outset that this relaunch assumes prior knowledge of the characters, because while it explains the basics of the spell-caster Nico Minoru and the time-travelling Chase it never really pauses to properly re-introduce them. That put me at something of a disadvantage when reading issue #1: it tells a tense, very well written scene, but because I am not invested in its participants it does not have the intended effect. I suspect pre-existing fans will get a lot more value for money.

Kris Anka's artwork is reasonable, but it is lifted to a new level by Matthew Wilson's colours. This issue is a really good example of just how important and useful good colouring can be. (4/5)

Runaways #1. Marvel. Written by Rainbow Rowell. Art by Kris Anka. Colours by Matthew Wilson.

Under the cut: reviews of Hulk, Mech Cadet Yu, Mister Miracle and Spy Seal.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Inheritance"

It is 22 November 1993, and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The Enterprise hosts two scientists who are attempting to repair a planet whose magma is inexplicably cooling. One of the scientists, Dr Juliana Tainer (Fionnula Flanagan), reveals herself to be the former wife Dr Noonien Soong - the cyberneticist who created Data (Brent Spiner).

So after meeting a brother in Season 1, and a father in Season 4, Data finally completes his family set by meeting his de facto "mother". "Inheritance" is a weirdly flat and lifeless episode. The science fiction plot is so weirdly arbitrary and unimportant that it is barely worth noting. The development of Data and Dr Tainer's relationship is a meritable idea, but the execution is inexplicably dull. This is an easily skipped, readily forgotten episode.

September 20, 2017

The Pull List: 13 September 2017, Part 1

Dark Nights: Metal is a ridiculous miniseries: completely over-the-top, garishly silly, packed with DC Universe characters to the point of overload, and just wonderfully enjoyable to read.

It is a work that ties up plot strands that run back nine years to the climax of Grant Morrison's Final Crisis, and picks up elements from Scott Snyder's multi-year run on Batman along the way. It is essentially tailor-made for DC's hardcore fan base; I honestly don't know whether the casual reader will get confused by the various references and cameos or simply gloss over them. As one of the hardcore, I was delighted.

Snyder is really employing an 'everything but the kitchen sink' approach, providing superhero action and team-ups, surprise cameos and continuity reference, inter-dimensional horror, and numerous twists and turns. The sudden appearance of The Sandman's Dream at the end of issue #1 is almost hand-waved away here. It's a smart approach that softens the jarring effect that it had then, but still opening the character up to return later in the series.

It's all wrapped up in Greg Capullo and Jonathan Glapion's fabulous artwork, that is just exaggerated enough and just detailed enough to hit that perfect superhero comic sweet spot. Metal isn't going to be for everyone, but for those for whom it is for, it's pretty much perfection. (5/5)

Dark Nights: Metal #2. DC Comics. Written by Scott Snyder. Art by Greg Capullo and Jonathan Glapion. Colours by FCO Plascencia.

Under the cut: reviews of Action Comics, Detective Comics, and Teen Titans.

September 19, 2017

Doctor Who: "The Lodger"

It is 12 June 2010, and time for another episode of Doctor Who.

Amy (Karen Gillen) is trapped in the TARDIS after it ejects the Doctor (Matt Smith) and gets caught by an unexplained force. Stuck in modern-day Colchester, the Doctor is forced to rent a room and become the housemate of the unsuspecting Craig Owens (James Corden) until he can work out what it is that is preventing the TARDIS from landing.

 "The Lodger" is a strange little episode of Doctor Who that largely sees the Doctor trapped in present-day England and forced to pretend to be a normal human being for several weeks. The episode does have a science fiction plot at its core, but it is almost an arbitrary one. The bulk of the episode consists of Matt Smith trying - and failing - to look and act ordinary and not arouse any suspicions. It is messy, but also likeable.

September 17, 2017

The Pull List: 6 September 2017, Part 3

As a virulent virus spreads around the world, two first year college students begin their first day in a new dormitory. Lazaretto is a new five-issue miniseries from Clay McLeod Chapman and Jay Levang, that basically plays out a viral outbreak with its characters trapped inside a quarantine area.

This first issue is pretty much set-up of story and establishing characters, so it is a little difficult to fully judge the series at this stage. As a set-up it works perfectly well: we know the protagonists well enough, and we see them thrown into an extreme and potentially lethal situation. Is there enough to convince a reader to jump onboard for another four issues? That likely depends on how much that reader is willing to put their trust in the creative team I guess. I'm still on the fence.

I am also a little ambivalent about Jay Levang's artwork. The pencils and inks are rather scrappy and messy, I suspect intentionally so, and I am not sure it was the best visual style for the story that Chapman is attempting to tell. It looks a lot more like a fully independent kind of art style that you would usually see from a mid-level commercial publisher like Boom. I find myself very ambivalent about this book. It's good, but it's also not quite good enough. (3/5)

Lazaretto #1. Boom Studios. Written by Clay McLeod Chapman. Art and colours by Jay Levang.

Under the cut: reviews of Batman, Captain Phasma, Doctor Who: The 11th Doctor, Seven to Eternity, Spider-Man and Star Wars Adventures.