October 4, 2015
'Base under siege' is pretty much one of Doctor Who's stock-in-trade formats. As early as the second episode of "The Sensorites" back in 1964 the Doctor and his companions were trapped in confined spaces with a group of fearful humans, attempting to outwit and outmatch an invading alien force. It was probably 1967's "The Moonbase" that perfected the format, although even then it was largely copying story elements tested out in "The Tenth Planet" a year earlier. It seems as long as there is Doctor Who it will, inevitably, return back to a small group of humans running down corridors. Here we are again in 2015: a base, some humans, some aliens, a bunch of corridors, and a siege.
Writer James Tynion IV really feels like the heir apparent to Batman. He got his break co-writing with Scott Snyder, and moved to writing fill-ins and annuals such as this, and finally his own titles - including the excellent Boom Studios book The Woods. Here he once again demonstrates enormous skill in handling the Batman universe characters, and tells a nice self-contained story with a couple of genuine surprises.
Roge Antonio's artwork is expressive and strong: I don't recall seeing his work before, and would be very happy to see him illustrating a DC book again.
This is precisely what a comic book annual should be for: telling a great self-contained story that's a little bit longer than the usual issue, and giving talent the chance to play around with the big league characters they might not otherwise get the chance to handle. (4/5)
DC Comics. Written by James Tynion IV. Art by Roge Antonio. Colours by Dave McCaig.
Under the cut: reviews of Aquaman, From Under Mountains, Godzilla in Hell, The Infinite Loop and Revival.
October 3, 2015
Londo Mollari (Peter Jurasik) suffers a sudden heart attack. While Dr Franklin (Richard Biggs) works around the clock to keep him alive, Londo finds himself in a surreal dream where he is forced to face his greatest fear - and to decide whether to live or die.
One thing to which J. Michael Straczynski has constantly returned throughout Babylon 5 is the dream sequence. He can't get enough of them, with characters regularly experiencing visions, hallucinations, dreams and other strange, deliberately symbolic and weird scenes. I think here he goes for the most ambitious dream of all, putting almost the entirety of the episode inside Londo's head.
I've already covered both Castlevania and its sequel in this countdown, so I suppose it's a sign of how good this series was that I'm now covering the third Castlevania game for the NES, Dracula's Curse.
The things that made those games successful are still very much in evidence here: an evocative horror setting, crisp and appealing graphics, strong and precise gameplay, and the non-linear structure that adds complexity and a richness that other platforming action games didn't have. So why is the third game superior to the first and second?
October 2, 2015
Anne (Louise Jameson) gets on a train from Edinburgh to visit a renowned psychological research facility. She doesn't get off at the other end. When he is once again blocked at every turn by his employers at Department 7, Tom (James Hazeldine) takes matters into his own hands to track Anne down and rescue her.
"After-Image", which was written by Sean Hignett, is a nicely-paced and cleverly plotted little thriller. It tells its own gripping story while pushing the overall storyline of the series forward much further than one might expect. It is also very effectively directed by Gerald Blake, and overcomes a visibly low production budget in an effective and experienced fashion.
While he seems the definitive American director, he was actually born John Martin Feeney in 1894 to Irish immigrant parents. He may have been a naturally born American, but he held a strong love for his Irish ancestry for his whole life. In 1952 he satisfied a 20 year-long ambition to direct The Quiet Man, an adaptation of a Maurice Walsh short story in which an Irish-born American (played in the film by John Wayne) returns to his home town and falls in love with a local woman there (Maureen O'Hara). It became Ford's most popular and commercially successful film to date, and led to Ford's fourth Academy Award as director.
The making of the film, and Ford's personal connection to Ireland, are extensively detailed in John Ford: Dreaming the Quiet Man. It is a feature-length 2010 documentary from Irish filmmaker Se Merry Doyle.
October 1, 2015
Excitebike is a Famicom racing game produced in 1984, which meant that it was available to be a launch title for the NES the following year. It was designed by legendary Nintendo producer Shigeru Miyamoto, and benefits enormously from his uncanny ability to perfectly shape an enjoyable gameplay experience.
The player controls a motocross rider along a side-scrolling track, attempting to complete a track of ramps and obstacles within a specified time limit. It looks alarmingly simple, but hides a fair amount of subtlety and depth.
With the future of the galaxy's energy dominated by the use of volatile and immensely valuable feldon crystals, Avon (Paul Darrow) has hatched a plan to steal a batch of the crystals from a mining facility on Mecron II. His only hurdles? The continuing presence of Commissioner Sleer, aka Servalan (Jacqueline Pearce), and the facility controller Belkov (Stratford Johns) - a corrupt official obsessed with laying traps and playing games.
Given the rapidly growing popularity of videogames in popular culture in the early 1980s, it shouldn't come as a big surprise that Blake's 7 would choose to exploit the phenomenon for an episode. The eccentric Belkov has hidden a cache of feldon crystals onboard the "Orbiter", an abandoned space station circling above Mecron II. To access the crystals, visitors must defeat a series of challenges: a shooting game where you duel a replica of yourself, an immersive space flight simulator, and a complex puzzle game. Fail at a game, and it will kill you - and all three seem rigged to ensure nobody gets to the crystals alive. Viewed today, these gaming sequences seem charmingly primitive, and date the episode in a specific manner unlike most other Blake's 7 adventures.