Thursday, December 18, 2014

Doctor Who: Engines of War - A Book Review

The Great Time War has raged for centuries and across millenniums. Scores of worlds have been destroyed by the machinations of both The Daleks and The Time Lords. And it is in The Tantalus Eye - a nebula now dominated by Dalek forces - that the Time Lord once known as The Doctor crash-lands after the fleet of Battle TARDISes that he was leading is destroyed.

It is on the world of Moldox that he will meet Cinder - a human Dalek hunter rebelling against the occupying Dalek forces.  This puzzles the Time Lord, as Daleks never use slave labor unless they are building something. But what could they be building on the outskirts of the galactic rim?

The answers will unearth a terrifying secret and send the two warriors from the slums of Moldox to the gleaming towers of Gallifrey and back. For The Daleks are not alone in having secrets. And in order to save billions of lives, an embittered old soldier must become The Doctor once more.

The most regrettable thing about Engines of War is its finality. It spoils little to say that this story is The War Doctor's lead-up into the events of The Day Of The Doctor and we get to see the exact chain of events that lead to him uttering the immortal words 'No More". This does make the climax of the book somewhat predictable, as the exact ending is clearly foreshadowed.

The events leading up to that ending, however, are some of the best writing I've seen in any Doctor Who novel to date.  And George Mann is to be hailed for how much drama he wrings out of what could have been a dry, by-the-book pastiche. Gruff and crusty though he may be, The War Doctor is still a likable hero and Cinder is now on my top-ten companions list.

There's a fair amount of continuity for long-time fans of the series, but nothing newcomers will prove unable to cope with.  Fans of the classic series will no doubt enjoy the references to The Five Doctors and The Deadly Assassin. And if nothing else this book is noteworthy for confirming that the Rassilon we see in The End of Time is indeed THAT Rassilon and that the depravity he got up to behind closed doors was even worse than the plans he discussed openly.

Bottom Line: If you're a Doctor Who fan of any age or era, you should check out Engines of War.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Injustice: Gods Among Us - Year Three #12 - A Review

As The Phantom Stranger confronts The Spectre on the Saturn moon of Mimas, The Demon Etrigan attacks The Hall of Justice. Even with the power of a Sinestro Corps ring, Superman may be hard pressed to fight the fires of Hell. But who is the "form of Man" that now controls Etrigan?

Detractors of the New 52 universe will love this issue if for no other reason than it makes it clear that, in the reality of Injustice, the identity of The Phantom Stranger is kept a mystery. This is a shame, because there are so many other reasons to admire Tom Taylor's script for this issue.  The surprising identity of Etrigan's new host, for instance...

Bruno Redondo and Mike S. Miller tag-team the artwork on this issue, with inks provided by Juan Albarran and colors by Rex Lokus.  They all do their usual stellar job, to the surprise of no one.  At least, no one who has been following this series and grown accustomed to the high quality artwork that these creators bring to every issue of Injustice.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Batgirl #37 - A Review

An impostor Batgirl is making Barbara Gordon's life difficult.  Bad enough that the faux Dark Knight Damsel has been impersonating her on-line.  Now the copycat is helping criminals and posing for sexualized artwork!  Worst of all, they seem to know her secret identity!

The new direction of this series is starting to grow on me.  Brazen Gail Simone fanboy that I am, I do miss the old tone of Batgirl.  But the book's new attitude is not a bad one, driven as it is by modern trends and selfie culture.  Trying to write Barbara Gordon as a college-age woman dealing with the society that real twenty-something women have to cope with is not a bad idea at all and pitting Barbara against an enemy who exemplifies the worst aspects of that culture is a brilliant conceit. The artwork emulates that same level of manic energy and even when the characters are at rest there is a grand sense of motion to everything.

I was going to say something about the controversy sparked by this issue.  Yet I find that my former Comics Nexus colleague - noted comics expert and LGBT activist Dr. Manolis Vamvounis - has already said everything I wished to say and with far greater authority than I could ever muster.  Suffice it to say, I believe that the shock and disbelief expressed by Barbara and the crowds upon the fake-Batgirl's unmasking was honest shock and disbelief and not based upon any kind of prejudice on the part of the creative team.

John Carter: Warlord of Mars #2 - A Review

John Carter is used to facing bad odds. Yet  the current state of affairs on Barsoom is bleak by even his standards. The city-state of Helium has been captured, his warrior-queen Dejah is in bondage and the enemy responsible is a treacherous soldier who has chased him all the way from Earth seeking revenge. Thankfully, John Carter is also used to finding allies in the most unexpected places and he will need the gift of diplomacy as much as his superhuman abilities and fighting skills to succeed.

Ron Marz's script captures the aesthetic of the old pulp adventures with style.  The story here is not a subtle one but it is not meant to be.  This tale is a melodrama where the heroes are heroic, the women as bold as they are beautiful and the villain is one step away from twirling his mustache as he kills a captive just to prove he is willing and capable of doing so.

The artwork matches the script in its epic scope.  Abhishek Malsuni perfectly portrays the awesome grandeur of Edgar Rice Burrough's world.  The inks by Zsolt H. Garisa enhance the artwork without obscuring the original pencils.  And the dry, dead world of Mars has never seemed quite so alive with color as under Nanjan Jamberi's palettes.

The Flash: Season Zero #8 - A Review

Here it is!  The Big Finale under The Big Top, as The Flash faces off against Mister Bliss and his Fabulous Freaks! Can Barry Allen prevail against an army of murderous clowns, a car-crushing strongman and a mind-controlling ring-master?

Yes.  Yes he can.  Unfortunately, this final battle falls flat and ends anti-climatically.  Thankfully, most of the issue isn't concerned with the fight so much as it is with the aftermath.

Unfortunately, the aftermath of the battle raises more questions than it answers, such as what happens to the snake-charming woman Barry had to save from Bliss when she turned on him?  Has she been imprisoned in The Pipeline among with the rest of the circus?  And looking at the cells in the make-shift metahuman prison, those inclined to ponder such things are bound to ask questions about the lack of toilets.

Though the fight is a bit lackluster, this comic is still likely to provide amusement to fans of the show through the comedic dialogue and the trivia relating to the show.  For instance, this issue establishes that this story took place sometime between the third and fourth episode of the show, owing to the facts that The Pipeline exists and Barry is already subsisting on the super-protein bars Cisco first started making in the second episode. Also, the issue ends with Barry running off to face Captain Cold for the first time.
The artwork continues to be decent but unspectacular.  Phil Hester is a great artist but his firm, darker style seems at odds with the more fluid tone one expects of The Flash.  The inks of Eric Gapstur only compound the problem, with the finished artwork seeming more appropriate to a urban-action or horror title than the brighter, more colorful world of Central City.