April 18, 2015

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)

I am a sucker for a good Robin Hood story. There's something about the narrative, the setting and the characters that simply grabs my attention and warms my heart. For me the gold standard remains Richard Carpenter's ITV television series Robin of Sherwood, closely followed by Michael Curtiz and William Keighley's 1938 film The Adventures of Robin Hood. That said, I still have a lot of affection for Kevin Reynold's 1991 film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. It's a film that continues to get a lot of mild ricidule, but despite several faults it remains a well-produced and entertaining movie.

Robin of Loxley (Kevin Costner) returns to England from the Crusades accompanied by Azeem (Morgan Freeman), a Moor whose life he saved while in captivity. Upon his arrival Robin learns that the Sheriff of Nottingham (Alan Rickman) has had his father killed and his family lands confiscated. Soon Robin leads a growing band of thieves in an attempt to unseat the Sheriff and prevent his plot to overthrow King Richard I and rule the whole of England.

April 17, 2015

The Pull List: 15 April 2015, Part II

Marvel has been having tremendous success with its latest iteration of Thor. Thor himself has lost faith in his ability to be worthy of his own name, and as such has lost the power to hold his magical hammer Mjolnir. In his place has come a mysterious woman who's taken the hammer and started fighting the villainous Roxxon corporation, the dark elf Malekith, and even Asgard's own ruler Odin - who has not taken kindly to a woman usurping his son's role.

Issue #7, published this week, does not reveal the identity of the new Thor. It does, however, provide some excellent plot developments in other areas. The highlight is definitely a knock-down brawl between the new Thor and the Destroyer - which has been sent by Odin to retrieve Mjolnir at any cost.

There's an over-arching narrative about challenging the patriarchy going on here. It's not just that there's a woman claiming to be Thor - and doing a damn fine job of it too - there's also the ongoing issue that a revived Odin has returned to Asgard after a long absence, overthrown his much more effective wife as ruler, and is slowly going about destroying everything she worked to build up. One senses that such insanity will not stand.

Jason Aaron's a great writer, and Russell Dautermann is doing some outstanding artwork. I do wish they'd pull the pin and reveal Thor's secret identity, but for this issue at least the rest of the book was strong enough that I didn't mind too much. (4/5)

Marvel. Written by Jason Aaron. Art by Russell Dautermann. Colours by Matthew Wilson.

Under the cut: reviews of Doctor Who, Giant Days, Lumberjanes, Ms Marvel and Revival.

April 16, 2015

NES30 #28: Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!

In 2015, Nintendo's hugely successful Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) turns 30 years old. The NES, an adaptation of Nintendo's already successful Famicom console, re-invigorated console gaming internationally after the collapse of Atari and went on to sell 43 million units worldwide. NES30 celebrates this anniversary by counting down my favourite 30 games for the system.

In Punch-out!! the player controlled aspiring boxer Little Mac as he fought a series of matches leading up to a challenge against the world heavyweight champion. In the American edition, this champion was real-life boxer Mike Tyson, and the game was released for the first few years internationally as Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!. The game itself pre-dates Mike Tyson's name, of course. It was originally an arcade exclusive title created by Nintendo manager Genyo Takeda, and the NES version released in 1987 was actually the fifth iteration of the franchise.

April 15, 2015

The Pull List: 15 April 2015, Part I

For the last few years Valiant has been a widely ignored creative force in American superhero comics. When they launched, it was with subtle re-imaginings of old characters from the last Valiant Entertainment: Archer and Armstrong, Quantum and Woody, Ninjak, X-O Manowar, and so on. These weren't particularly famous characters compared to Marvel and DC, but in many respects that helped the company. They were free to bring them back in genuinely fresh and interesting ways, and for a couple of years now Valiant has been publishing some brilliant inter-connected superhero books. It's an expanded universe that's still small enough that your average comic book reader could probably afford to buy all of their titles each month.

This month sees the next stage for the popular character Bloodshot commence, with Jeff Lemire and Mico Suavan's Bloodshot Reborn.

Bloodshot Reborn features Ray Garrison. He used be Bloodshot, a super-powered government assassin. Now he's an ordinary man, working as a motel handyman during the day and lying awake at night - tormented by the memory of all the people he has killed. When a random killing spree is undertaken by a stranger wearing Bloodshot make-up, Ray finds himself irresistibly drawn back towards the life he had willingly left behind.

The beauty of this first issue is that it clearly functions as an effective sequel to the monthly Bloodshot comic, yet it also works exceptionally well as a starting point for new readers. That's something Valiant really get that Marvel and DC often don't: every comic book is a first issue for somebody. Obviously as issue #1 this is a strong entry point, but to be honest I've found every Valiant comic I've read this month to be just as easy to get into.

Jeff Lemire's script is great: it re-introduces the character and rapidly fills the reader in all of the required back story. Mico Suavan's artwork is fantastic: it's richly detailed, and atmospheric. If you haven't sampled Valiant's stuff before, this seems as good a place as any to start. If you enjoy well-told, original superhero comics, they're consistently doing some of the best in the business. (5/5)

Valiant. Written by Jeff Lemire. Art by Mico Suavan. Colours by David Baron.

Under the cut: reviews of The Fly: Outbreak, Star Trek and Unity.

The Crogan Chronicles: Catfoot's Vengeance (2015)

For some years now Chris Schweizer has been writing and illustrating a series of excellent graphic novels, all based around the historical ancestors of schoolboy Eric Crogan. With the series moving from black and white to colour, some of the older volumes are getting re-released by Oni Press in new full colour editions. This week sees the release of the first book Crogan's Vengeance, now retitled The Crogan Chronicles: Catfoot's Vengeance to bring it in line with the series as a whole.

After a brief present-day prologue, the action of this graphic novel shifts to the West Indies in the year AD 1701, where sailor Catfoot Crogan suffers a series of misadventures that lead him into a life of piracy - and a fight to the death with the traitorous pirate mate D'Or.

This is a 200-page all-ages story of piracy in the West Indies. It's backed by some solid historical research and beautifully paced. I found in an immensely enjoyable and breezy read; the sort of graphic novel where you're reading quite fast and non-stop to get to the end.

April 14, 2015

Fire and Ice (1983)

The early 1980s were a boom time for American fantasy cinema. While the period only inspired a few genuine hits, such as John Milius' Conan the Barbarian, that didn't stop a whole raft of directors and studios from launching their own potential fantasy blockbusters. One of those directors was independent animation legend Ralph Bakshi, who teamed up with his friend - and noted fantasy illustrator - Frank Frazetta to create Fire and Ice, a deliberately pulpy fantasy saga of warriors, scantily-clad princesses and evil wizards.

The film focuses on war between Icepeak, ruled by Queen Juliana and her sorceror son Nekron, and Firekeep, ruled by the stern warrior king Jarol. Jarol's daughter Teegra is kidnapped by Nekron's soldiers, and it is up to a barbarian named Larn and a mysterious warrior named Darkwolf to rescue her - and to defeat Nekron once and for all.

Oh boy. The clichés. The clichés - they burn.

The Pull List: 8 April 2015, Part III

It's been quite a few years since Firefly departed from television screens, and despite one attempt at a revival it seems pretty likely that the space western TV drama is gone for good. Its fans continue to campaign for more space western goodness - I wonder if many of them have tried out Copperhead.

Copperhead is another space western, although in this case it wears its western influences a bit more boldly on its sleeve. It's set in a small frontier town. There are violent conflicts with the neighbouring indigenous population. It's a fairly rough, lawless community, with one bold, hard-minded sheriff named Clara Bronson trying against all odds to keep social order.

The first story arc was recently collected into a cheaply priced trade paperback, and this past week saw the book continue with its sixth monthly issue. It's the start of a new storyline, and as such a great opportunity for new readers to pick it up and run with it. I strongly recommend that they do: after a slightly shaky beginning this book has gone from strength to strength.

There's plenty to enjoy here: a sheriff balancing law-keeping with motherhood, a son who's befriended the most dangerous person in town, a slightly untrustworthy deputy who's being constantly tempted to betray his boss, a corrupt sheriff, and plenty more. The characters are really strong, and Scott Godlweski's artwork is fantastic. (4/5)

Image. Written by Jay Faerber. Art by Scott Godlewski. Colours by Ron Riley.

Under the cut: reviews of Nameless and ODY-C, plus late reviews of Plunder and Lumberjanes.

April 13, 2015

Star Trek: Enterprise: "Kir'Shara"

It's 3 December 2004, and time for Star Trek: Enterprise.

While Commander Tucker (Connor Trinneer) and Ambassador Soval (Gary Graham) head into Andorian space to prevent an interstellar war, Captain Archer (Scott Bakula) and the Vulcan agitator T'Pau (Kara Zediker) make their way across the Vulcan wilderness in a race to reach the capital.

This episode concludes the second Enterprise Season 4 trilogy, and it suffers many of the same problems. Put simply: there's not enough plot included to stretch out to 120 minutes, and there's too great a reliance on shoe-horning in every continuity reference and callback imaginable. The result is an episode where one spends a lot of time drumming one's fingers - save for the moments where one is throwing things at the screen.