May 21, 2015

The Pull List: 20 May 2015, Part II

Since April 1995 Adrian Tomine has been writing and drawing Optic Nerve on one of the slowest schedules of pretty much any major comic book. Not that he's been any kind of slouch: in between he's written and illustrated a raft of acclaimed graphic novels as well as extensive work for The New Yorker. This week the 14th issue of Optic Nerve was finally published, and it's predictably an absolute knock-out.

In "Killing and Dying" a father and his teenage daughter struggle to relate to one another as she embarks on an attempted career as a stand-up comedian. It's a perfectly observed character piece, told through dialogue and a stream of tiny panel layouts. It's deeply melancholic, and almost perversely banal, but page by page it wins you over, making you relate very deeply to both the daughter and her awkward, constantly wrong-footed father.

In "Intruders" a man desperate to reconnect to his past life uses a spare set of keys to break into his old apartment while it's new resident is at work. It's a much darker story, presented in a heavily narrated fashion, and has sharply different tone and aesthetic to "Killing and Dying". It's testament to Tomine's talent that two vastly different comics can be released in the same single issue.

Comics like this demonstrate just how versatile the comic book medium is. Why I can't deny I have a lot of love for superhero adventure books, it's so refreshing to read something like this now and again to remind myself just how great the medium can be. This is easily one of the best comic books I've read this year. (5/5)

Optic Nerve #14. Drawn & Quarterly. Story and art by Adrian Tomine.

Under the cut: reviews of Bloodshot Reborn, Convergence: Hawkman, The Fly: Outbreak, Ninjak and Winterworld: Frozen Fleet.

Star Trek: Enterprise: "United"

It's 4 February 2005, and time for Star Trek: Enterprise.

Captain Archer struggles to salvage the Andorian-Tellarite peace negotiations in the face of overwhelming odds: a Romulan drone ship is still roaming the area, with Trip and Reed still trapped onboard, and Commander Shran's first officer and lover has been killed by one of the Tellarites, leading him to demand revenge. There's only one way to track down the drone ship, and that method will require ships from the humans, Vulcans, Tellarites and Andorians. That level of interplanetary cooperation has never previously been achieved.

"United" is the second part of Enterprise's "Babel One" trilogy, and combines action - both space battles and fisticuffs - with generous helpings of Star Trek historical lore. While the series is continuing to swallow its own tale with continuity references, and I think this episode might contain the densest collection yet, it's managing to be entertaining sci-fi adventure at the same time. To an extent this episode's all "inside baseball", but given that the hardcore were pretty much the only ones left watching the series at this stage that's not necessarily the disaster it could be.

May 20, 2015

The Pull List: 20 May 2015, Part I

It's always good to see Dirk Gently get more attention. Douglas Adams wrote two Dirk Gently novels - Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency and The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul - and while they never gained the popular appeal of his Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy works I always felt they were actually much better books. Now the character is making a fresh jump to comic books in an all-new ongoing series from IDW.

This first issue does an outstanding job of adapting the character with a story that seems right up Adams' alley: an Englishman in San Diego, amateur serial killers, and revived Egyptian mummies all thrown into one complicated string of interconnected things.

If there's one major criticism, it's that Dirk himself has undergone a bit of a redesign: less overweight redhead and more, well, David Tennant's Doctor Who, basically. Asides from that, this strikes me as the best adaptation of the character I've seen. (4/5)
IDW. Written by Chris Ryall. Art by Tony Akins.
 Under the cut: reviews of Empire: Uprising, Kaijumax and The X Files.

Robin of Sherwood: "The King's Fool"

It's 26 May 1984, and time for the Season 1 finale of Robin of Sherwood.

Robin (Michael Praed) rescues a Norman knight (John Rhys Davies) from bandits in Sherwood. The following morning the knight reveals himself to be Richard Lionheart, King of England, returned from his ransomed captivity in Germany, When the King pardons Robin and his men, and Sir Guy of Gisburne is disgraced, it seems as if everything is going to end happily for once - but how long can this new peace last?

In many traditional Robin Hood stories, the arrival of King Richard signifies the end of the narrative: his arrival back in Britain heralds a return to the normal order, and a restoration of justice and fairness for the people. As a result it's not a surprise to see Richard turn up in this season finale. What is a surprise is where the episode goes from there: this isn't the noble, people-loving king of legend. This is Richard Lionheart, a militaristic absentee monarch whose only interest in returning to Britain was to raid its coffers for more war money.

May 19, 2015

Superman Earth One: Volume 3 (2015)

DC Comics publishes a range of graphic novels under the "Earth One" banner. They basically tell all-new versions of their most popular superheroes, from the beginning, unsaddled by several years of continuity, and published in broadly self-contained 128 page increments. I loved the idea, but the production pace has left a little to be desired. Since the launch of Superman Earth One in 2010 they have published just six volumes: two starring Batman, one starring the Teen Titans, and three starring Superman.

Superman Earth One: Volume 3 was published in February 2015, and sees writer J. Michael Straczynski teamed up with a new artist: Ardian Syaf, replacing earlier artist Shane Davis. It picks up pretty much where Volume 2 left off: Superman has revealed himself to the world, but his impromptu actions - including violently unseating a North African dictator - have made him a potential enemy to the Earth's governments. At the same time, an alien pod crash-lands on the Earth, containing an unexpected passenger: Zod-El, Superman's uncle and the only other survivor of the planet Krypton's destruction.

Sanshiro Sugata Part II (1945)

Movie goers concerned that Hollywood produces too many needless, money-hungry sequels should feel reassured that it's not just a contemporary phenomenon - nor is it an exclusively American one. After directing his second film, the 1944 propaganda picture The Most Beautiful, Akira Kurosawa was unwillingly roped into making a sequel to his first. The original Sanshiro Sugata had been a smash hit with Japanese audiences, and with morale dipping as Japan started to lose the war in the Pacific the military-led government was keen to see another rousing populist hit in the cinemas.

Sanshiro Sugata was an engaging martial arts drama set in the 1880s about a headstrong young man - the titular Sanshiro (Susumu Fujita) - becoming a judo master. Sanshiro Sugata Part II picks up the story a few years later. Sanshiro is disgusted to see a commercial fighting ring set up where an American boxer fights all manner of Japanese martial artists for money. At the same time the two brothers of Higaki - the man Sanshiro defeated at the end of the original film - have arrived in town looking for revenge.

May 18, 2015

Robin of Sherwood: "Alan a Dale"

It's 19 May 1984, and time for more Robin of Sherwood.

Robin and his outlaws come across Alan a Dale, a musician who has fallen in love with a local baron's daughter - only to see her unwillingly engaged to the Sheriff of Nottingham. Happy to take any opportunity to disrupt the Sheriff's plans, Robin sets up a scheme to rid him of his bride and her lucrative dowry.

Alan a Dale has been part of the Robin Hood mythology since about the 17th century, but when developing Robin of Sherwood creator Richard Carpenter elected not to include him in the Merry Men - instead choosing more obscure characters like Much the Miller's Son or complete inventions like Nasir. In a way it's rather pleasant to see him unexpectedly pop up five episodes in. This is the only episode in which he appears, but he's a welcome guest character to have.

May 17, 2015

The Pull List: 13 May 2015, Part II

It's taken eight issues, but with Thor #8 writer Jason Aaron and artist Russell Dauterman finally reveal the secret identity of the new Thor. I shall not spoil her identity here, but given the news got spoiled all over the Internet at the beginning of the week it won't be hard for you to look it up if you're keen.

The issue begins with a knock-down fight between Odin's Destroyer and pretty much the entire female cast of the Marvel Universe. It's a powerful statement to match the new female Thor, celebrating and promoting strong, powerful women in Marvel, and it certainly acts as a strong climax to this first story arc.

Then there's the revelation of Thor's true identity, which is possibly not the most surprising choice but is certainly one that adds an enormous complication to the character going forward. It's well revealed, and is a powerful moment. Overall the book still feels maddeningly slow, but at least we've made some solid progress through the story with this issue. Hopefully once it returns after Secret Wars things will pick up ever further. (4/5)

Under the cut: a big week, with reviews of Black Science, Copperhead, Darth Vader, FBP, Giant Days, Ms Marvel, ODY-C, Rebels, Saga and Southern Cross.