Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Injustice: Gods Among Us - Year Three #1 - A Review

John Constantine has never been one for getting involved in noble causes. When Duty Calls, you can usually find John running the other way. But Superman's war with the Green Lanterns has changed many things and killed a lot of innocent people. And while he's not one for getting involved in noble causes, John Constantine also isn't one for letting bullies get away with murder.

Throw in a new magical menace that has been awakened by Superman's actions and John has ample reason to get involved even before things get personal.  So the rest of the world had best be wary. For when John Constantine gets involved in things, it usually means that a bad situation is about to become a whole hell of a lot worse.

Any fears that might have existed about this series dipping in quality as it shifted in gears from super-heroic space opera to street-level mysticism prove completely unfounded.  Tom Taylor rounds the curve into the new series effortlessly and his decision to focus this year upon DC Comics' magical heroes and their response to Superman becoming a tyrant is proving to be an interesting one thus far. John Constantine is the perfect central character for this story, being both an every-man figure the newer readers can identify with but also one of the few characters who can play comedy and horror with equal effectiveness - an essential trait in this series!

The artwork by Bruno Redondo and Xermanico is as wonderful as ever.  The characters are all well designed and the action of the story flows naturally throughout.  Colorist J. Nanjan creates some rather impressive effects throughout, particularly the light reflecting off Doctor Fate's helmet.  And because I don't think I've ever praised it before, let me say that the lettering by Wes Abbott is quite lovely and easy to read.

Arrow: Season 2.5 #3 - A Review

Times are tough for Oliver Queen and company.  Money is getting tight and it's getting harder and harder to get all the wonderful toys Ollie needs in his crusade to protect Starling City.  And things are becoming harder still, with Brother Blood seemingly returned from the dead and leading a new gang.

The third issue of Arrow: Season 2.5 is largely a housekeeping issue.  Little happens here in terms of the long-term plot, save that Ollie learns about Brother Blood's return and we, the readers, learn the secret of Brother Blood's resurrection.  One wishes they had kept the secret going a little longer but the story doesn't suffer from the revelation.  And there's a fair bit of humor in the opening sequence where we learn just who has been providing Ollie's new trick arrows.  The issue closes with the first part of a Suicide Squad mini-comic that promises to be an interesting read, if only for the real world issues it is based around.

The artwork is largely competent but nothing special.  Craig Yeung continues to create some wonderful splash-pages and close-ups but his work loses fine detail in the mid-range.  The Suicide Squad story drawn by Szymon Kudranski isn't bad, though it is heavily shrouded in inks as is typical of Kudranski's work.  Thankfully, the deep shadows fit the story, so in this case it works.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Gotham: Episode 102: Selina Kyle - A Review In Random Thoughts

* (As Alfred catches Bruce burning himself) This would be an entirely different show if Alfred had just taken Bruce to a good child psychologist at this point.

* I am now going to call Riddler "Weird Ed" in honor of the equally awkward character from the Maniac Mansion games.

* I see the name of The Tick creator Ben Edlund in the credits as an executive producer.  And suddenly a lot of the choices this show has made make sense, re: camp elements.

* The shout-outs to the comics are much more subdued this time. Quick mention of Maroni - the gangster eventually responsible for creating Two-Face.

* So far, Falcone is the most likable character on the show by sheer virtue of being the one person who seems to honestly care about the city.

* There's Carol Kane as Penguin's mom.  Apparently she just escaped from the set of a Tim Burton movie.

* Mention of Arkham Asylum being closed down but The Wayne Foundation almost reopening it.

* Don't you just love how Barbara doesn't give a damn about the chance that their house line might be traced when she calls in a tip to the press?

* Do they mean for the mayor to look like Richard Nixon?

* For years, comic fans have debated whether the GCPD is mostly incompetent or mostly corrupt.  So far, the show is doing a good job of providing both camps with good case material.

* Although, after the two kidnappers manage to grab a whole bus full of kids in the middle of a depot swarming with cops in broad daylight, I'm firmly on the side of "mostly incompetent".

* Obscure Batman villain The Dollmaker got a mention.  And a thousand Arrow fans immediately begin working on fan fiction to justify making this one the same guy Quentin Lance put away.

* Thomas Wayne had a "no psychologists" clause in his will yet he was ready to start funding Arkham Asylum?  I'm thinking there's a story here.  At least, there should be.

* Alternatively, The Waynes are Scientologists.

* Oh yeah!  I guess Penguin still is in this show.  Huh.


For an episode titled 'Selina Kyle', there sure wasn't a lot of Selina Kyle, was there?  That said, I enjoyed this episode far more than the pilot.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

All New Invaders #10 - A Review

When we last left The Invaders, our heroes were in dire straits. On a mission to rescue The Human Torch's sidekick, Toro, the group found themselves surrounded by the minions of a German terrorist and an army of Deathloks. Thankfully, The Invaders have a secret weapon of their own - the daughter of an old enemy, who has just discovered her heritage as an Inhuman!

There is a lot of material to cover in this issue of Invaders but James Robinson tackles the exposition with his usual aplomb.  More, he continues to offer a unique insight into each character and handles them in unexpected ways.  The highlights of the issue include a flashback where Namor testifies at the Nuremberg Trials and Captain America addressing the Deathloks, not as zombies, but as soldiers.  We're also given an interesting new character concept in the form of the new Iron Cross.

Steve Pugh does his usual stellar job on the artwork.  The story flows naturally from panel to panel during the conversational scenes but we're still treated to a number of spacious, poster-worthy panels.  No big splash pages, alas, but every page of this book looks amazing in spite of the smaller spaces that Pugh works within.

Red Sonja #12 - A Review

After 'rescuing' the finest dancer in the world from 'captivity', Red Sonja's current quest is done.  For a month she has traveled across the land, seeking six great artisans for a dying king's party with the promise of one-thousand slaves being given their freedom in exchange. Ah, but when do kings ever keep their word in the world of Hyboria?

That's the rub of this issue and the one flaw in this final chapter of the new Red Sonja title's second storyline. We've known that a double-cross was coming since the beginning. Hyborian kings are inherently untrustworthy. It is a fact that is as sure as water flowing downhill. As such, the sudden but inevitable betrayal robs this final chapter of the punch of the unexpected that fueled the earlier parts of this story.

There is little I more I can say about this final chapter of Gail Simone and Walter Geovani's second Red Sonja story beyond the fact that it proves to be a satisfying conclusion. While the resolution may be a standard piece of sword-and-sorcery, the build-up to this moment continually kept us guessing and every panel of it looked fantastic. I may be a brazen fanboy for saying such but that is not altogether a bad thing to be when you're enjoying a comic this well crafted.

Doctor Who, Series 8 - Episode 6 - The Caretaker


A funny, enjoyable episode that does a better job of defining the cast than any episode so far this Series.


Trying to balance her job as a teacher, her night-work as The Doctor's assistant and her burgeoning romance with fellow teacher Danny Pink is beginning to take its toll on Clara Oswald.  She's actually relieved when The Doctor says he'll have to leave her for a few days as he goes on a deep-cover assignment.  That relief turns to horror when a staff meeting at work the next day ends with the introduction of Coal Hill School's new caretaker - John Smith.  And balancing all the parts of Clara's life becomes very difficult indeed, as The Doctor intrudes on her classes, work gets in the way of her trying to help The Doctor and Danny starts asking too many questions about her relationship with John Smith.


* This honestly is one of the funniest episodes of Doctor Who we've had in a while and very little of that humor is based in the RomCom shtick that Steven Moffat usually indulges in when he goes funny.  But what else might we expect from Gareth Roberts, who is one of the best New Who writers when it comes to presenting comedy and drama in equal measure with equal skill?

* The triangle between The Doctor, Danny and Clara is played off not as a romantic one but more as a disapproving "Space Dad" taking issue with his daughter's new beau.  Apart from The Doctor's muttered remark about making the same mistakes again (a reference to the rivalry between himself and Rory Williams and/or Mickey Smith, perhaps?) there is no suggestion of a pseudo-romance between The Doctor and Clara.

* Danny Pink continues to impress as a character and good on him for pointing out The Doctor's hypocrisy as well as his aristocratic tendencies. ("I'm a soldier but he's an officer!").  His sarcastic "Sir, Yes Sir!" act was particularly delightful.  A lot of play has been made this season of The Doctor's antipathy for soldiers and military thinking which has been somewhat perplexing given The Doctor's history with UNIT and his long-friendships with the career soldiers there (Come to think of it, The Brigadier became a math teacher for a time...) and Pink's assertion here is a brilliant explanation of that contradiction.  Like Jon Pertwee's Doctor, Capaldi's Doctor is a patrician who is only anti-authority when he isn't in the role of the authority.

* Alternatively, Danny takes Clara to task for her attempts to fragment her life by pointing out that - for whatever reason - she doesn't trust him enough to let him know everything about her.  More, this scene offers an analysis of Clara's character that has been sorely lacking until recently.  Clara has been unique among companions with a romantic interest in trying to hide that life from her significant other and Danny's demanding an explanation for why she feels the need to keep that secret is not unreasonable.  Again, this is played not as a suspicion of her cheating on him romantically but a pain born of the idea that she could/would not be honest with him.

* Everything with Courtney Woods aka The Disruptive Influence.  Most of what we see of her suggests a potential companion and The Doctor even notes that he may soon have a vacancy.  But Roberts wisely takes the time to show why Courtney isn't really companion material at the end as we get a scene that shows that, however prickly he may be at times, Capaldi's Doctor really does have one care to give.


While not quite as bad as some of the Series 8 episodes in regards to feeling repetitive, a lot of the bits with The Doctor failing to fit in as he goes under deep cover do come off as a little too close to similar bits of business from Roberts' previous scripts for The Lodger and Closing Time despite the efforts at disguise this time being underplayed by Capaldi's Doctor.

* On that note, some of The Doctor's dialogue does seem to have been written more for Matt Smith's Doctor than Capaladi's, despite the performance.

* The Flip.  Just... The Flip.


This episode provides high-quality character comedy while being a marvelous character study of both The Doctor and Clara, though one wonders how much influence Moffat had on the final product and how much the episode's few flaws might have been born of his hand.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Tex Murphy in The Tesla Effect - A Spoiler-Free Game Review

The year is 2050 and the Earth is still reeling from the effects of World War III. The world is a harsher, crueler place and that suits Tex Murphy just fine. Once an idealistic private investigator, seven years of hard living have changed Tex Murphy from the kind of man you go to when you're in trouble to the kind of man you go to when you need to cause trouble.

That all changes one night when Tex wakes up on the floor of his office with a bump on his head, two injection marks in his arm and a suitcase full of money. A quick tour of the neighborhood reveals that Tex has lost seven years worth of his memories and most of his old friends want nothing to do with him.  Worse yet, one of his old enemies is now his business partner!

What happened to Tex that night? What happened to change him over the past seven years? Whatever happened to Tex's girlfriend Chelsea, who disappeared seven years ago? And what does any of this have to do with Tex's current case, which involves a missing neurologist, a mysterious cult and the lost research of Nikola Tesla?

You, as Tex Murphy, will have to figure it all out.... or die trying.

It's not a subject I've written about much in all my years of covering the gamut of geek culture, but I love adventure games. I spent more weekends than I care to think of in my formative years playing all the classic point-and-click adventures by Sierra On-Line and Lucasarts. But there's one series that holds a special place in my heart and indeed still holds a place on my computer desk's disc-shelf to this day - The Tex Murphy Adventures.

As such, I was both pleased and horrified to learn that after the better part of a decade and some change, the long-awaited Project Fedora finally saw light in the form of a new Tex Murphy game called The Tesla Effect. I was pleased to see that a new game in the series (which promised to resolve the cliff-hanger ending of the last game, Overseer) had finally come out and I was horrified that such a game had been brought to fruition without me being able to support the KickStarter that made it all possible!

For the first few hours, The Tesla Effect is the homecoming fans of the series have been waiting for. Everyone who fondly remembers games like Under a Killing Moon and The Pandora Directive will thrill to walk the streets of Chandler Avenue one more time.  They'll love talking to all the old gang once again, as they start putting together the pieces of just what happened to Tex and learn more and more horrifying details about the man he has become.

Then you'll get to the game's halfway point and it becomes clear that The Tesla Effect was rushed to completion.  Movie scenes become information dumps and the classic logic-driven object puzzles are replaced with mazes, sliding-tile puzzles, pixel-hunts in dark rooms and the sort of random deaths that made many old-school adventure games so frustrating to play.

Thankfully, The Tesla Effect offers a learning curve of sorts for those who are experiencing a classic adventure game for the first time.  There are two game modes - one of which offers harder puzzles for the veterans and another that offers in-game hints, a hot-spot highlighting flashlight and the ability to skip some puzzles in exchange for a loss of points for the newbies.

Another boon is that Tex is accompanied this time around by Smart Alex - a digital personal assistant (with the voice of Kevin Murphy, Tom Servo himself!) who will not-so-gently remind the player of your current objective throughout most of the game.  The game itself is also surprisingly forgiving compared to earlier entries, as it is completely impossible to find yourself in an area without the tools you need to accomplish your goals for that day.  Tex himself will often note that you still have things to do before leaving some areas you can't come back to easily at a later time.

I should note that despite the flaws (and there are more than a few, which I plan to detail in a later, spoiler-filled review) I still greatly enjoyed The Tesla Effect for non-nostalgic reasons.  The acting and direction of the movie sequences are top notch and everything is played with the right amount of the melodrama that the series is famous for. You just wish that they had time to let what seems like two-games worth of story unfold more naturally.  Still, whether you are a hardened P.I. or a green rookie, I'd suggest giving The Tesla Effect a try.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Flash: Season Zero #2 - A Review

There are times when super-speed can be as much of a curse as it is a blessing and one of those times is when your body attempts to heal a broken bone faster than you can properly set it yourself. It's a good thing The Flash has allies he can count on at STAR Labs to lend a helping hand because he'll have little time to rest and recover. This is both because CSI Barry Allen has been called to the crime-scene that he just left as The Flash and because another mysterious villain is about to wreak havoc on Central City.

The second issue of Flash: Zero Year is far-less fast-paced than the first. Thankfully, this issue is a fun read in spite of that. Most of the script here is devoted toward exploration of the characters - particularly Barry Allen's friends at STAR Labs and his co-workers in the CCPD - and in setting up our new villain. There's little action to be had but the cliff-hanger ending promises a lot of excitement in the next issue.

As in the previous issue, the penciling duties are handled by the always-excellent Phil Hester.  Hester's distinctively angular style is tested here, as he proves to be as capable of drawing exotic animals as he is superheroic action. The inking by Eric Gapstur is decent enough but I do think he overdoes it on some panels and some of Hester's fine details are lost as a result.  Thankfully, these moments are few and far-between and do little to harm the final effect of the issue as a whole.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Gotham : The Pilot - A Review

Gotham is a paradox on multiple levels. On the one hand, the show goes out of its way to try and win over skeptical fans of the Batman comics by dropping repeated references to the books. On the other hand, much of the show's story cuts out the heart of those same comics.

The show is at its best when it is played as a straight police procedural drama. It is at its worst when it winks at the camera whenever anyone compares toadying-thug Oswald to a penguin or GCPD technician Eddie is told to stop talking in riddles. However, the unsubtle references are merely an annoyance. It is the subtler references that are likely to outright offend the comic fans.

Case In Point. Early on in the episode, Detective Rene Montoya is introduced along with her partner, Crispus Allen. In the comics, they are among the few honest cops in Gotham City. In Gotham, they are glory-hounds who try and take over the Wayne murder case. Later, when they are given a tip that an innocent man was framed for the murder as a result of Jim Gordon's investigation, Rene goes to Jim's fiancee - Barbara Kean - to tell her that James is a low-down crook and she should leave him. And then we get the revelation that Rene and Barbara are more than old friends.

Where do I start in describing everything that is wrong with this from the perspective of a comic fan? Rene Montoya being more concerned with publicity than justice? Rene's first response to finding out that a fellow detective is bent being to go outside the department and tell stories out of school? The cliche of the predatory lesbian trying to win back the ex-girlfriend who went straight? All of this is a slap in the face to fans of Rene's character in the comics.

This is the most extreme example, but other characters are similarly warped. Harvey Bullock, for instance, is portrayed as a mobbed-up cop whereas his comic counterpart is as clean in his conduct as he is dirty in appearance. And Alfred Pennyworth - from what little we see of him - seems to be an East London thug rather than a Gentleman's Gentleman.

Jim Gordon introduces a completely different set of problems. Jim is portrayed as the honest policeman that he should be but much of the character's motivations in the comics were born of his being an outsider to Gotham and their way of doing things. It seems ludicrous for Gordon to be as naive as he is portrayed here when he's reportedly a Gotham native and his father was a former district attorney. Then again, having Gordon be part of an old money Gotham family is perhaps the only way to explain how he can afford the opulent apartment he has on an honest cop's salary.

Still, at least Harvey and Jim are fully developed as characters in this pilot.  Most of the references to the comics are completely incidental to the plot.  Yes, we get to see a young Selina Kyle prowling around but nothing is made of her appearances throughout the episode nor of her chance presence when The Waynes are killed.  Yes, there's a young redhead girl who loves plants named Ivy Pepper but she is completely unnecessary to the story.  And how is Edward Nygma's presence in this episode like an unsharpened pencil?  They're both completely pointless.

Technically, the show is something of a mixed bag.  The cinematography is decent enough when we're getting long, slow shots of the Gotham skyline yet it becomes laughably bad during the action scenes, which feature some of the worst shaky-cam effects I've ever seen on television.  The music is subpar industrial rock, which leaves a montage of Harvey Bullock's questioning suspects looking and sounding like a Slipknot video from four years ago.

The performances are equally mixed.  Ben McKenzie is suitably earnest as Jim Gordon and Donal Logue makes Harvey Bullock into a likable rogue, even as he's working against Jim. Sean Pertwee manages to make Alfred Pennyworth intriguing by sheer force of personality. But Robin Taylor's Oswald Cobblepot and Cory Michael Smith's Edward Nygma are far too campy compared to the dark tone of the show.  And Jada Pinkett Smith's performance, as the mob boss Fish Mooney, shows why she is best remembered by audiences as Will Smith's wife.

In the end, Gotham tries too hard to be all things to all people and succeeds only in being nothing special.  Fans of cop dramas are unlikely to be wowed by the differences the show's setting inspired. And most comic fans will be indifferent, at best, to the nods to the source material that amount to nothing more than a handful of names and nothing else.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Doctor Who, Series 8 - Episode 5 - Time Heist


A good, well-written episode. Capaldi's Doctor finally feels like his own man yet also seems much more like The Doctor we know and love. The guest stars are memorable and work well with what relatively little material they have. And the monster for this episode is one of the best in recent memory... no pun intended.


The Doctor is ready to go off on an adventure but Clara has other things on her mind.  Specifically, her second date with Danny Pink.  But adventure has a way of finding you when you least expect it... or want it, in Clara's case!  So when The Doctor answers the phone on The TARDIS that never rings, the two quickly find themselves elsewhere, with a cyborg computer-hacker, a mutant shape-shifter and directions from a mysterious figure called The Architect on how they are to go about robbing the most secure bank in the universe!


* By necessity, a good heist film has to be tightly plotted and this episode is that.  There's no major plot holes and the story hangs lampshades on all the obvious problems (i.e. Why aren't they using The TARDIS, when a time machine would make any bank caper ludicrously easy?) before providing a logical explanation in the end.

* Great cinematic direction again this week by Douglas Mackinnon.

* All the guest stars in this episode are excellent.  Jonathan Bailey brings out the full humanity of the cyborg Psi as does Pippa Bennett-Warner the shape-shifting Saibra.  And Keeley Hawkes is an imposing villain, despite not being given much in the way of depth.

* The Teller is one of the most frightening monsters - physically and conceptually - in a good while, looking like something from Star Wars crossed with a particularly nasty beast from the 1st Edition Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual.

* Every episode of the series so far has struggled with two questions - "Is The Doctor a good man?" and "Is he a hero?"  This episode is no exception but the answers this time  are a bit clearer.  We're still not sure where Capaldi's Doctor may stand at any given moment but, to paraphrase a line from Terry Pratchett, "...where you stand isn't as important as which way you are facing."  And this Doctor is firmly established as staring into the shadows with the light at his back.


* While some of the twists in this episode are effectively played, most fans will figure out the identity of The Architect long before The Doctor does.  And not for the reasons given involving nobody liking to look at themselves but because of the good and logical reason that The Doctor and Clara bring nothing useful to the heist and there's no reason for them to be there... unless The Doctor is the one running things.  The one "in charge".

* I'm as sick of Clara's Mary Sue tendencies as everyone else, she has very little to do in this episode and contributes nothing of significance to the plot.

* Moffatt really needs to stop with the two word admonishments.  On top of everything else, "Don't Think!" sounds way too close to "Don't Blink!".


Easily the best episode of Series 8 so far.  The story is well plotted and the guest stars are superb. Most importantly, this is the first episode where Peter Capaldin's Doctor truly seemed like his own man rather than a hodgepodge of elements from earlier Doctors vying for dominance.  Here's hoping for more episodes like this!

Friday, September 19, 2014

George Perez's Sirens #1 - A Review

George Perez's Sirens #1 is not an easy book to summarize and the reasons for this are its one weakness. While quite a lot happens in this first issue, little of it seems to pertain to the main plot. And what is that main plot? That, at least, is easily summarized but I can't really explain it without giving away the ending. Suffice it to say there is a group of space-faring, ass-kicking women called The Sirens who had to hide themselves through time and space.

Before I discuss the book proper, I should note that despite the all-female team and a plethora of alternate covers (my own comic shop of choice, Keith's Comics, has their own unique cover with the Siren Bombshell) this is not your usual girl-group comic. And by "usual", I mean that the excellent artwork depicting beautiful women is not being used to dress up a weak story. Those of you familiar with George Perez's work should know he is better than that. And this book is far better than that! Perez is a living legend in the American comics industry for a reason and that reason is showcased throughout this first issue.

Most of the book focuses on The Sirens at differing points in time, showcasing their abilities and personalities as we observe them in action. From Viking skalds to Roman gladiators to American frontier school-marms, we see a wide variety of time periods. Unfortunately, we don't get to see all of The Sirens in the field and more is the pity. What we do see comprises some of the best action sequences I've seen in a comic in recent memory.

That's the one weakness of the book.  Perez is not only introducing us to The Sirens - he is introducing us to a whole universe! And as much material is packed into this issue, it still seems like too little to really appreciate the scope of what Perez is trying to accomplish.

Still, I think it's better to leave an audience feeling overwhelmed rather than unimpressed. There's also something to be said for leaving an audience wanting more... and I definitely want more! And if you enjoy good books about awesome women, you'll enjoy Sirens #1 as much as I did.

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


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.


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.


* 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?


* 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?


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 Bête 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 Bête 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!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Join the Battle for Net Neutrality!

Today, our site is slowing down for Net Neutrality. Well, actually we'll be running at the same speed as usual. But if you want us to keep doing that, click on the link above and learn how you can join the fight to save our Internet.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Flash: Season Zero #1 - A Review

Adaptations are a tricky thing in any medium. Readapting something into its original medium is even trickier on those rare occasions when it occurs. And yet, that is what we have with The Flash: Season Zero - a comic series based on an as-of-yet unaired television show that is itself based on one of the most famous comic book heroes of all time.

Thankfully, this first issue makes no assumptions as to the reader's familiarity with The Flash mythos.  The script by Brooke Eikmeier and Katherine Walcazk (based on a story by Andrew Kreisberg) does a fine job of explaining everything for first-time Flash fans while keeping things interesting for those who know the DC Universe backwards, forwards and sideways.

We are quickly (no pun intended) introduced to Barry Allen and are shown how he gained the power of super-speed.  This information is relayed to us in flashback, as Allen's life flashes before his eyes whilst in the middle of a fight with a super-strong bank robber.  We are also introduced to the supporting cast from the show and learn a fair bit about Barry as a person as we see him at work in both his secret identity and as a superhero.  For instance, he's definitely an animal lover and he tends to pets as well as people in the midst of a crisis.

The pencils for this first issue are handled by longtime Green Arrow artist Phil Hester.  Hester's one of the best action-illustrators in the business and he perfectly captures The Flash's sense of motion on every page.  The inks by Eric Gapstur are a little heavy at times and the darker look of these pages seems at odd with the usually bright aesthetic that is typical of a Flash comic.

That said, the artwork is still uniformly excellent and any newcomers to the world of The Flash will find this a most welcoming entry point.  If you're planning on catching The Flash this fall, you should be reading this book.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Justice League United #3 & #4 - A Review

Through no fault of my comic shop, I somehow neglected to pick up the last two issues of Justice League United until this past week.  And I find myself wondering how I could ever have forgotten this book, even with my busy schedule.  Granting that it has been slow in finding its footing and in bringing its cast together, these two issues finally see our new Justice League united, including Jeff Lemire's creation Equinox and Alanna Strange - no longer a passive romantic figure but now a hero in her own right.

As always, the best parts of these issues are Jeff Lemire's grasp of these characters and his development of their personalities and the relationships between them.  The key sequence of Issue 4 sees these characters - working together but not yet a team - paired off and made to play off one another.  Green Arrow reaches out to Animal Man only to try and shrug off his olive branch with a joke.  Supergirl proves as cool and and jagged as Kryptonian crystal when Stargirl tries - and fails - to make a similar gesture of friendship only to stick her foot in her mouth.  And for the first time in a long while, we see the paternal side of J'onn J'onzz as he takes it upon himself to take charge of the newborn Ultra The Multi-Alien (long story) as well as the responsibility for failing to save an ally's life.

The book's weak point continues to be its artwork. Mike McKone is a competent penciler but the rotating team of inkers on this series do his work a disservice - particularly when multiple inkers are employed on a single issue and all hope of a consistent look is ruined.  I've noted before that McKone also seems guilty of recycling his panels but these two issues bring us a new problem - that of the artwork not matching up with the script. Consider this panel in which J'onn asks for Green Arrow to accompany him, Stargirl and Supergirl only for Ollie not to be included in the away team. For the rest of the issue, Ollie is seen standing in the background with the other half of the team, not saying anything or doing anything.  I blame the editor more for not noticing this problem before the book was printed but it is still a vexing point that takes the reader out of the story.

Despite this, the scripts are good enough that I can forgive the missteps in the art.  And it is gratifying to see so many characters that I enjoy in their New 52 incarnations being given a chance to shine.  So I shall be sticking with this book for a while longer.

Doctor Who, Series 8 - Episode 3 - Robot Of Sherwood


An enjoyable light and funny episode that is at its best when it isn't taking itself too seriously.  Ironically - after two episodes of being a highlight - Capaldi's more serious Doctor is the weakest link in this episode.  That's mostly due to a script by Mark Gatiss that leaves him acting more like Sherlock Holmes than any version of The Doctor we know but it's a minor point compared to the greater glory of a good story that will leave you wanting to believe that legends are real.


Offered a chance to go anywhere and meet anyone, Clara asks if The Doctor can take her to meet Robin Hood. Impossible, The Doctor says. Robin Hood is a myth. He isn't real. He never was. Still, The Doctor is willing to take Clara to Sherwood Forest around 1190-ish AD to prove the point... only to be confronted by an ever-laughing blonde bloke in green leathers with an immaculate beard and perfect aim.

There's also a Sheriff in Nottingham who is enslaving the peasants and taking their gold but The Doctor is less concerned about this injustice than he is about proving that he's right. Yet even after The Doctor discovers a castle disguised as a spaceship and robots disguised as knights, he still can't disprove the existence of a flesh and blood Robert of Locksley. But in a time of impossible heroes, will it be The Impossible Girl who saves the day?


* The casting for this episode's guest stars was perfect.  Tom Riley is a picture-perfect Robin Hood and his Merry Men are all enjoyable for the all too brief moments we see them on-screen.  Ben Miller is an amazing Sheriff of Nottingham, who plays the villain as a glorious ham of the same school as Anthony Ainley's Master but not quite so hammy as Alan Rickman's famous take on The Sheriff.  One wishes BBC's most recent Robin Hood series had been more like this and one longs for a new Robin Hood spin-off to start with this cast.

* The script by Mark Gatiss is one of the most fun Doctor Who scripts we've had in a long time.  We get all the classic moments one would expect in a Robin Hood story (the duel on a log over a stream, the archery contest with a golden arrow as the prize, etc.) and Clara proves a grand expy of Marian as she undertakes all the tasks usually reserved for Marian in a Robin Hood story (i.e. milking the bad guy for information to tell Robin what he's up against).

* More than any script so far this series, Robots of Sherwood defines The Doctor and how much he has changed after 1000 years in Trenzalore without resorting to contrivances such as The Doctor having to ask Clara if he is a good man or not.  I believe most of the previous versions of The Doctor would be a bit more excited about meeting Robin Hood than they would be worried by the implications of his existence.  Matt Smith would be jumping through the trees shouting "Geronimo!" in an instant.  Tom Baker would smile and shake his hand vigorously excited at the honor of meeting such a great man.  Even Jon Pertwee's more patriarchal Doctor would probably offer a polite greeting and inquire about a sparring match later on. This new Doctor is a skeptic and a scientist with little use for romance or fun.

* Clara has gotten far more development in these past three episodes than she ever did during Series 7.  Here, Clara acts like - for lack of a better term - a real person confronted with their childhood hero.  Jenna Coleman plays the fangirl angle well, without ever going overboard.  And her attitude in handling The Doctor as he complains about her usual skepticism dropping in the face of an Impossible Hero is perfectly played.

* Along those lines, we see Clara acting like a school-teacher as Robin and The Doctor are acting like petulant schoolboys in the dungeon scene.  There is much hilarity here, particularly in how Clara demands answers on exactly what their escape plans are in the same tone in which she might demand a particularly difficult student answer a problem at the blackboard.

* It's an interesting change of pace for an episode in that, for once, The Doctor is the one lagging behind everyone else in his search for answers.  The Merry Men are the first to notice how odd it is that The Sheriff and his "men" are only interested in acquiring gold as opposed to any other valuable or rare objects.  And Clara proves far more effective in getting to the bottom of the mystery of what The Sheriff's game is.  Indeed, Clara is the one who saves the day, forced into action when her heroes are rendered inactive.

* This one is strictly personal, but The Doctor's duel with Robin Hood amused me for reasons beyond the writer's intent.  This past summer, I ran a Doctor Who RPG for the teens at my local library.  And one boy, informed that this was not the sort of game where you could arm yourself with all manner of guns or weapons and expect to win, asked if his character could always carry a spoon with him.  I agreed to this.  And circumstances contrived that this spoon would later prove to be useful in disabling a Cyber Controller.  And me, playing The Doctor, told the companions "And let that be a lesson to all of us - always carry a spoon with you."

* A subtle reference to the Classic Series - The Doctor claims to have studied swordplay with Richard the Lionheart, Cyrano De Bergerac and Errol Flynn.  The First Doctor met Richard The Lionheart in The Crusades and The Second Doctor met Cyrano De Bergerac in The Land of Fiction in The Mind Robber.  It's also worth noting that - like any historical Robin Hood that might have existed - these three men are better known today by the stories of their lives than the reality.

* Another reference to the Classic Series and the Pertwee era - The Doctor speculates that they might be in a miniscope as he's trying to figure things out.

* There are a lot of great lines in this episode, but none so grand as the final magical moment between The Doctor and Robin, where Robin lays out the moral of the episode - that it doesn't matter if a hero is real or not if the stories of that hero inspire others to become heroes -  and continues the season-wide theme of whether or not The Doctor is a good man or a hero and recognizing that there is a difference between the two.


* Capaldi's Doctor, for the first time, is a detriment to the story.  His skepticism here seems largely arbitrary given some of the equally impossible things he has been confronted with before.  This is a problem because as novel as it is for everyone else to be moving on with things around The Doctor, it is still worrying that he's digging for clues to prove himself right as everyone else is dealing with more pressing, serious issues.  In this regard, Capaldi's Doctor greatly resembles William Hartnell's First Doctor, who was (in his first few appearances, at any rate) an academic more concerned with his studies than playing the hero.  Of course Capaldi does finally play the hero but only after being convinced that not everyone around him are robots and that there is real danger to be found in the castle.

* On that note, The Doctor here seems to be written like Sherlock Holmes - more concerned with being right and solving a mystery than he is with saving lives or thwarting evil.  While The Doctor enjoys a good mystery, it should never be at the expense of other people's lives.

* The dodgy sound effects strike again, with the Wilhelm Scream being used at one point.

* Again - a personal point.  The archery stances and shooting techniques used by the actors are total crap.  Arrow has spoiled me on this point, I admit, but it drives me crazy when archers don't pull the string back properly


"History is a burden.  Stories can make us fly."

It is not without fault.  But since the moral of this episode is that looking for fault in a story that inspires you is pointless and that a good heroic tale is worth the telling in itself, I shall say nothing more than this - Robot of Sherwood is a good, inspiring heroic tale.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Superman #34 - A Review

A quick comment upon the cover of this issue.  I was less than enamored of the Selfie Variants that each DC Comics title had this month.  I disapprove of variant covers as a general rule and felt that this gimmick did not work for a lot of characters.  That being said, this one is damn good and a perfect send-up of the concept and the characters involved.  Because Jimmy Olsen would totally do this in the middle of a battle.

Curiously, Jimmy Olsen and the rest of the Daily Planet crew are absent from this issue.  The focus is once again upon Ulysses - strange visitor from another dimension, who has turned to Superman for guidance as he finds himself in what turns out to be the world of his birth.  The first part of this issue continues on from last month's closing revelation - that Clark Kent was able to track down Ulysses' scientist parents and uncovered the truth of how they sent him away in circumstances that mirror what Clark's own birth parents did to save his life.

Geoff Johns is in fine form here and the better part of the issue is spent explaining Ulysses's background and exploring the growing friendship between himself and Clark.  It is a slow story but it is still an enjoyable one and the reader feels Clark's subtle joy at having helped someone get the family reunion that he can never have.  There's also a bit of humor in how Clark is still a more human person than Ulysses, who thinks nothing of coming into Clark's apartment at night to watch him sleep because he had a sudden bout of curiosity regarding why he didn't need to sleep when Clark does and whether or not Superman dreams as normal humans do.  But worry not, action fans - the two heroes do team up against a new villain by the issue's end!

Unsurprisingly, the artwork by John Romita Jr.and Klaus Janson is as good as one would expect.  The action, once it starts, is well displayed but JRJ is just as capable of rendering the softer, quieter moments that this script requires..  The coloring by Laura Martin is also praise-worthy, with a variety of palettes being used throughout to subtly indicate the story's multifarious settings.

Future's End: Earth 2 #1 - A Review

Five years in the future, systematic discrimination against the refugees of Earth 2 has become the rule on Earth 1.  And on the eve of futurist Michael Holt's releasing his latest technological wonder to the public, he quickly finds himself a wanted man.  All of this is due to the machinations of the evil genius Terry Sloan and his accomplice... the evil genius Terry Sloan?

Unlike the Future's End special devoted to Green ArrowFuture's End Earth 2 presumes the reader is already well familiar with the events of both the Future's End weekly series and Earth 2.  This is problematic on many fronts, particularly since there is so little of the characters that have made Earth 2 so interesting a title in recent months.  This is not a slight on Michael Holt or Terry Sloan but they have been bit-players in the drama of Earth 2 for much of the last year and to suddenly bring them front and center with no explanation of how they established themselves on Earth 1 is jarring to say the least.

Most of the characters who held the center stage in Earth 2 are absent from this issue.  Indeed, the only nod to these characters is a quick cameo by Jimmy Olsen and a cutaway that reveals Lois Lane - a.k.a. The Red Tornado of Earth 2 - being disassembled in a Cadmus lab.  None of this is explained for the readers who haven't been following Future's End and the only reason I understood any of the significance of this scene was due to Future's End: Green Arrow #1 taking the time to explain the Cadmus connection.

That said, the action of the story is well-written once one gets past the confusing continuity questions.  And the artwork by the same team who did fill-ins for Nicola Scott on Earth 2 is quite good all around.  In the final analysis, this isn't a bad comic but it doesn't seem like it is a wholly necessary one if you are an Earth 2 fan with no interest in Future's End.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Red Sonja: The Black Tower #1 - A Review

Red Sonja: The Black Tower is a sword and sorcery tale of the old-school.  By this I mean that it is heavy on action and short on plot.  There's precious little story to be found here and the action of the issue can easily be summed up in one paragraph.

Our story begins as Sonja arrives in a town where an ominous black tower appeared and inspired the townspeople to start fighting one another.  Sonja steps in when a gang of mercenaries set about trying to rape a beautiful outlander.  The leader of said mercenaries tells Sonja to back off, poking Sonja in the boob as he does so.  An orgy of violence worthy of Sam Peckinpah ensues, as Sonja kicks a lot of ass and makes her opinion on would-be rapists known quite forcibly.

The script by Frank Tieri is not deep or nuanced.  This issue is basically one extensive action scene and taken on those terms it is a damn good action scene. Yet very little is said about the titular tower and those who have come to know Red Sonja through the recent Gail Simone title may be surprised by how pointed and unsubtle this story is.

The artwork by Cezar Razik is good, if a little gory even by the standards of Red Sonja.  Never before have I seen so many severed limbs in a single comic!  That said, the action sequences are all well rendered and the action flows clearly throughout, save for one scene where it is unclear just how Sonja was able to deliver the unkindest cut of all to the mercenary leader.  Razik can also be added to that rare group of artists who can depict Sonja as a clearly dangerous warrior and yet also make her appear sexy without being exploitative.

This first chapter has my attention.  It is not like any Red Sonja story I've seen in recent memory and that alone makes the second issue worth picking up.  Hopefully we will get a little more story next time to go with the excellent action we saw here.

Green Arrow: Future's End #1 - A Review

As I commented in my review of the first two issues of Future's End, I would dearly have loved to have seen a comic detailing the events they described there.  I want to see that tale of a Green Arrow who preached unity over division - a hero who stood up for what was right at a time when others were lining their pockets or arguing over their own personal positions of power.  I want to see comics where the heroes act like heroes and work together instead of fighting one another, for cripes sake!

Green Arrow: Future's End #1 is not that comic.  It is, however, damn close.  This vision of the New 52 Green Arrow five years from now is everything I've always felt Oliver Queen should be as a character and Jeff Lemire captures that outlaw aesthetic perfectly.  The only problem is that as good as this story involving Ollie's efforts to unite The Outsiders in the wake of his impending death is, I really want to see the stories that lead up to this point.

Still, I cannot judge a comic for what I want it to be and not what it is.  Thankfully, the script for this book is good and Lemire does a fine job of explaining things for those readers who haven't been reading Future's End..  And the artwork by Andrea Sorrentino  and Marcelo Maiolo is as good as ever.  I don't know if I'll jump back into Future's End to see how the rest of this tale plays out but this issue was a welcome glance back to my favorite hero as I remember him.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Carpe Diem - I Hate Mondays TP - A Preview

This Wednesday, September 3rd, sees the release of the collected edition of Carpe Diem: I Hate Mondays by writer W.H. Rauf and illustrated by artist Rhoald Marcellius. This trade-paperback collects all of the previous Carpe Diem comics found exclusively in Titan Comics' anthology series A1.

Get ready to meet Carpe Diem: the world's seven greatest, color-coded secret agents (one for each day of the week, though everybody hates Mondays)! When danger rears its ugly head, it’s up to this motley band of super spies to issue the bloody-knuckled makeover. Whether they’re dishing out justice to satanic chefs, kicking giant kaiju butt, or saving the world from killer clowns, it’s all just other day’s work for these half-baked hired heroes.

Described as Scott Pilgrim meets The Dirty Dozen by the publisher, I would liken it more to a cross between Paul Cornell's Knight and Squire and Garth Ennis' Adventures Of The Rifle Brigade. Whatever colorful comparison you make, Carpe Diem: I Hate Mondays is chock full of everything you could hope for in a comic. I haven't laughed so hard at a book in a long time and I'd recommend it to everyone.