Monday, September 15, 2014

Arrow: Season 2.5 #2 - A Review

The second issue of Arrow: Season 2.5 is remarkably light on action, compared to a typical episode of the show.  That does not mean it is entirely free of action.  Indeed, the issue opens up with an amazing sequence where we get to see yet another classic trick arrow employed - The Parachute Arrow.


Once Oliver and Roy are safely out of harms way, this issue mostly concerns itself with reestablishing the status quo in Starling City and Mark Guggenheim handles the exposition perfectly.  We're updated on how Quentin Lance is doing after his injuries at the end of Season 2 as well as where Felicity is working in the wake of the hostile takeover of Queen Consolidated.  We also get a little more development of a minor character introduced in the first issue and how they will tie in to the major villain of the series.


The artwork seems slightly stronger this time around.  While I found Joe Bennet's fight scenes in the last issue to be sloppy and rushed, he proves himself no mean caricaturist of the show's cast in these quieter, low-impact moments.  The inks by Craig Yeung also seems to be more evenly applied.

Bottom Line: If you're a fan of Arrow, you should definitely be reading this series.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Doctor Who, Series 8 - Episode 4 - Listen

THE QUICK, SPOILER FREE REVIEW 

Those who have missed the Steven Moffat of Blink will be quite pleased by this episode.  Clara Oswald continues to get the development she should have gotten a year ago and the RomCom elements are perfectly balanced against some well-directed existential horror.




THE PLOT 

One day The Doctor has a revelation - an idea of some form of life that, instead of evolving into the perfect predator or tracker, became the perfect hider.  Beings that shadow all sentient life, giving birth to the feelings that one is being watched while alone and spawning the nightmare that something is under your bed that you can't see.

The Doctor goes to grab Clara to help him investigate this theory, as she is getting home from a disastrous first (and probably last) date with her co-worker Danny Pink.  What follows is a snipe-hunt of intergalactic proportions.  And by the time they're done, they will see the end of the universe and the start of something Clara had never imagined.


THE GOOD PARTS

* When Moffat is on, he is completely on and his script here is completely on.  One can see the usual Moffat staples throughout (dating drama, the silly fears of young children made manifest, monsters that can't be attacked or even perceived directly, etc.) but the execution this time around makes it a bit less obvious than in Deep Breath or Into The Dalek.

* Much of the credit for that goes to director Douglas Mackinnon, who sells every moment of this episode visually.  The pacing is played perfectly, with lots of long, lingering shots.

* A larger part of the credit goes to Jenna Coleman, who is finally starting to shine after being given material that allows her to display a personality beyond being Matt Smith's Impossible Girl.  As in Robot of Sherwood, Clara is the one who winds up getting to the bottom of things while The Doctor is messing about.  And we get not one but two scenes of Clara speaking to a scared child and helping them cope with their fears.

* We get more of the theme of soldiers and the idea of them being seen as killers instead of protectors.  Clearly Moffat is building toward something with this season and - unlike Into The Dalek - the points here are made with a bit more subtlety.  

* The last ten minutes, in which we learn more of The Doctor's background than I think may have ever been revealed in a single episode, are good and sure to spark discussion among Whovians.  To Moffat's credit, the answers we are given only spark further questions.  Was The Doctor adopted?  What made him so sad at a young age? And how much has Clara influenced him and to what degree throughout his entire life?


THE PROBLEMS 

* Though the episode does work well, one wishes Moffat would take some more chances with the material and move beyond his usual tropes.  For instance, the monsters here are thematically too close to The Weeping Angels and The Silence.

* On that note, The Doctor is given surprisingly little to do in this episode after the remarkable opening sequence.  And while Capaldi interprets the material through the prism of his Doctor, the script leaves him sounding a bit more like Matt Smith's Doctor whenever he interacts with other people.

* The jokes about The Doctor thinking Clara looks bad or that other people think she looks fat are beyond old at this point.

* Random Observation - NOBODY else notices the man in the space-suit wandering around in the background of the restaurant but Clara?


THE FINAL VERDICT

Steven Moffat indulges in his usual tricks but this time it works.  This is due, in part, to some amazing direction, enough changes that this doesn't quite feel like Moffat's Greatest Hits Vol. 3 and a stellar performance by Jenna Coleman, who proves to be more than a pretty face when she's given decent material.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Justice League United: Future's End #1

Justice League United: Future's End #1 opens strongly enough. We're treated to a delightful scene of Equinox - still largely undefined by this series - getting to show off her powers and competence. She's set up against a rather interesting enemy who is as defined by technology as she is defined by a bond to nature.  This is a bit cliche thematically, but the sequence still works well.


Sadly, everything starts to go downhill once the plot starts and the actual tie-in to Future's End begins.  We're quickly informed that the team has broken up five years in the future and find that most of the characters we know and love from this series are not in attendance.  No Green Arrow.  No Stargirl.  No Supergirl.  No Animal Man.

So what do we have?  A random assortment of characters who aren't given the same attention Equinox is by the opening. This is problematic given that the future Justice League includes some relatively obscure heroes from Geoff Johns' Aquaman and Legion Lost.  One senses that Jeff Lemire's heart isn't in this story, as everything feels strictly standard once we're beyond introducing our central heroine and establishing the plot hook - J'onn J'onzz is running a prison on Mars and neess help stopping a break-out.


The artwork by Jed Dougherty is similarly by-the-book.  Dougherty's penciling style isn't bad but his inks are oddly heavy and his linework thick.  The final effect leaves everything looking somewhat like pages from a coloring book inspired by 1990s Image Comics.

All in all, the only reason to pick this book up is if you're collecting all of the Future's End tie-ins or you're a Justice League fan who needs this to understand the upcoming Justice League: Future's End #1 tie-in.  Regular readers of Justice League United can easily skip this one without missing a thing.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Batman: Future's End #1 - A Review

Five Years From Now, Bruce Wayne is a beaten and broken man. His spirit burns as bright as ever but though the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak. And though he has inspired scores of heroes to continue his war on crime, he feels that there must always be a Batman... and that it must be him. So begins a mission... his last mission... to raid the private lab of Lex Luthor and steal what he needs to create a perfect clone - a vessel for his memories that can be Batman eternal.


Once one gets past the outrageous premise and how horribly out of character it is for Bruce to deny his base mortality in this fashion, there is an enjoyable story at the heart of Batman: Future's End #1. That story - perhaps not coincidentally - exists independent of the Future's End setting and could have been told in a modern-day Batman story were the McGuffin to be changed. I speak of the scene in which Batman pits himself against Lex Luthor's security and we find that... well, the panel below says it all. Classic Luthor.


Unfortunately, this book is cursed with some of the worst artwork I've seen in a professional comic. Indeed, I had to look up the names of ACO and FCO Plascencia to find out why their artwork and their names seemed familiar. The good news is I figured it out - they were the same art team that drove me off of Constantine with their misshapen figures, poor visual storytelling and horrible coloring.

Enjoyable as it is watching Bruce and Lex match wits, it isn't worth suffering through this artwork.  Nothing is.  Skip this one, Bat-Fans.  There's nothing of value to be found here.

Batgirl: Future's End #1 - A Review

Two Years From Now... Barbara Gordon - who has faced tragedies and triumphs beyond imagining - will face one tragedy too many.  But surrender is not an option!  It never was for Barbara Gordon.  That which does not kill her makes her stronger and she will become stronger still.

Five Years From Now... Barbara Gordon is now known as BĂȘte Noire - The Black Beast.  And a trio of Batgirls protect the streets of Gotham under her command.  Until one fateful night when a group of thieves proves to be something more.  And Barbara Gordon knows she must finally confront the man who turned Batgirl into BĂȘte Noire.


This comic has little, if anything, to do with the overarching story of Future's End.  That is to its benefit.  What we have here is not a simple tie-in one-shot but the capstone on the pyramid of Gail Simone's Batgirl run and indeed the very concept of Batgirl as a whole.

I dare say there are a number of fans who will be glad to see Stephanie Brown as Batgirl again, as well as Cassandra Cain, in what I believe is her first appearance in the New 52 universe.  And it is a joy to see Gail Simone writing Bane again.  But this issue runs deeper than simple fan-service or Simone indulging her strengths as a writer.

This comic does for Barbara Gordon what Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns did for Bruce Wayne. I would, however, say that this story is better than The Dark Knight Returns in that it accomplishes its goals in a single issue rather than four. Simone's story distills Barbara down to her core elements and showcases who she is, no matter what mask she wears, in the face of her final battle.



The artwork by Javier Garron justifies the faith I placed in him after his turn on half of Batgirl Anniual #2.  It would have been nice to see Fernando Pasarin and Jonathan Glapion come back for one last hurrah for the sake of visual continuity but Garron's work is not bad by any stretch of the imagination.  The action scenes are handled well and there's a number of good sight-gags in the backgrounds, such as the trophy room of Barbara's "Bat-cave".

The bottom line is this - buy this comic.  If you're a fan of Bane or any version of Batgirl, you should read it.  If you're a fan of Gail Simone's writing, you should read it.  And if you think you might enjoy a story that balances light humor and dark tragedy in perfect harmony, well... just read it!