Monday 30 November 2015

November Comics Round-Up (2)

Spider-Gwen #2 (Marvel) I'm enjoying the glimpses at parallel universe versions of favourite characters, particularly the backstory sketched in for the female Captain America who faces up against Gwen before becoming a tenuous ally. However, there's only so long this idea can hold the attention for, and this series is starting to feel like it's on autopilot. I'll probably drop this and come back to it later to see if anything new is happening.

Web Warriors #1 (Marvel) The ongoing adventures of multiple Spideys, continuing the fun begun in the Spider-Verse event. There's still some fun to be had with the concept, particularly the use of the 60s cartoon universe as a safe training ground for the Warriors (with appropriate nods to the notorious Spidey memes). It follows on from the Ultimate Spider-Man series' take on Spider-Verse by having multiple versions of the same villain - in this case, Electro. Fun, but I feel like this idea might soon have run its course.

All-New, All-Different Avengers #1 (Marvel) I like the racial politics in this, especially since people are actually making a big deal of the ethnic layout of a fictional team of superheroes in the real world. The romance building up between Ms. Marvel and Nova is pretty cute. Overall, though, this isn't especially grabbing me, which is a shame. Between the New, All-New All-Different and Uncanny, there's probably material for a really decent Avengers team and title.

Ultimates #1 (Marvel) The final "Avengers" group, taking on the mantle of the Ultimate universe team, but doing it completely differently (i.e. not shit). The new Ultimates are the great problem-solving team of the universe, facing cosmic weirdness and analysing it to find solutions. Sure, there's ass-kicking - Ms. America is on the team, after all - but this team focuses on solving issues, not destroying them. Their first case: meet Galactus, solve his hunger. It's an ingenious set-up, and on the strength of the first issue, worth carrying on with. Also notable is the colour of the main cast - Captain Marvel is the only white face so far in a team that includes Spectrum, the Blue Marvel, the Black Panther and Ms. America. Plus, a moment to actually ponder the philosophical repurcussions of Marvel's great multiversal reset. Very good indeed.

The Wicked + The Divine #16 (Image) This issue is the weakest in a long time. It's purely an origin story for the Morrigan, and a pretty cliched, uninteresting one at that. I don't think we really need to see each of the gods get their moment of ascension. I enjoyed the, ah, ketchupomancy though.

Ms. Marvel #1 (Marvel) I'm not sure why I ever dropped this. Money, probably. Anyway, this is just a great as it ever was, although now Kamala is part of the Avengers. It works better here, seeing the effects of this on her life, than it does actually in All New, All Different. There's a fine balance between her superheroics and her personal life, adorable artwork, and the phrase "giant weaponized amphibian." I am somewhat baffled as to why Marvel and her fellow New Jersey citizens remember the world sort-of ending while characters in other titles don't. Or do they? I can't follow everything.

Spider-Woman #1 (Marvel) Giving a female hero a pregnancy sounds, on the one hand, like the most stereotypical bad idea ever, but on the other... well, what's the point in having female-driven comics if you can't use them to explore the stories and issues women face? And, in practice, this, the story of Jessica Drew beginning her maternity leave before settling into life as a single mother, is really very good. Particularly as she's been training up the Porcupine to take over the crime-fighting duties while she's off. Jessica's fiercely independent nature makes her an interesting choice for this unexpected development, with everyone running around trying to help out and take care of her. This comic works. The bets bit is Spider-Man's Spidey-sense going off because Iron Man is about to ask who the father is.

The Mighty Thor #1 (Marvel) Spider-Woman isn't the only hero facing life-changing issues. Giving a character a life-threatening illness can be a cheap shot, but this is handled well. The pain of going through chemotherapy is a real one for many people, and I've seen enough of this in real life to call this comic out if it felt cheap. This is written with respect. While Jane Foster can never benefit from her therapy since each transformation into Thor burns the poisons from her system, the cancer remains, killing her. This is set against a sci-fi/fantasy backdrop of corporate greed and cosmic warfare, with some spectacular imagery. Classic Sandman fans could do worse than trying this.

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur #1 (Marvel) Just a lovely start to this new title. Jack Kirby's old characters, Devil Dinosaur and Moon Boy, are brought back, alongside the absolutely wonderful new kid, hyperintelligent ten-year-old Lunella Lafayette. She's the most adorable, likeable new character since Kamala Khan (and god, that's a team-up I'd love to see some day). Like Ms. Marvel, it's tied in with the Inhumans/Terrigen mist plotline, but Lunella is deliberately avoiding any chance of being exposed. It's a slow beginning but promises to be a wonderful tale for anyone who's ever felt unappreciated - i.e. everyone. And it has a big red T. rex in it.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #1 (Marvel) Squirrel Girl in the Sixties. Also, Doctor Doom, her first adversary, returns to cause trouble. I wish I could do more to summarise this comic other than just gush about how joyfully daffy it is.

Saga #31 (Image) Saga returns, and it's a pretty good issue, both continuing from precisely where we left Hazel, her grandmother and abductors and catching up with them in captivity months later. While it's still not at the level that Saga used to play at, this is well told and has important things to say about prisoners of war, immigration control, xenophobia and transmisogyny.

Ghostbusters Annual 2015 (IDW) I haven't had a Ghostbusters annual since, what, 1993? What a joy. OK, so this isn't a kids' annual, but a bumper-sized comics issue, but still, this is good fun. The main strip, featuring the Sandman as the villain, works very nicely, tying into the overall storyline. Following that is a bunch of shorts by various artist/writer combos, some of which work well, others not so much. Overall, though, this is a hit.

Sunday 29 November 2015

WHO REVIEW: 9-11: Heaven Sent

After an exceedingly hectic week, one in which I didn't even find time to review Face the Raven, but did find time to watch The Day of the Doctor, Remembrance of the Daleks and An Unearthly Child in a pub's basement bar, Saturday was pleasantly relaxed. Although not for the Doctor. He had an absolute shitter of a Saturday, and it lasted several billion years.

Essentially a single-hander for Peter Capaldi (barring a couple of cameo moments), it's very hard to see how this episode would have worked as well under any of the previous Doctors. John Hurt could've pulled it off, because he's John Hurt, but Smith, Tennant and even Eccleston would have struggled to maintain sufficient gravitas, vulnerability and believability throughout the fifty-five minutes of the episode. Doctor Who has experimented with new approaches and storytelling devices quite frequently over the last few years, from the dream logic of Last Christmas to the flawed found footage style of the recent Sleep No More. It's with Heaven Sent, though, that it really manages to create a unique episode of the series, one which feels genuinely different to anything that has come before it.

Which is quite an achievement, considering that so much of Heaven Sent is Moffat taking his now overused tropes and stretching them to their endpoint. Though it's not a “timey-wimey” story as such, the cyclical storytelling brings those stories to mind. Creepy imagery and scares aren't new for the series, although they've rarely been as effective as the veiled ghost, dredged from the Doctor's nightmares and sent to slowly track him down. The Doctor's hypertime mental state is exactly the same as Sherlock's mind palace, down to the sleuth's ingenious last second before the bullet hits in His Last Vow. The time-stretched nature of the story is really a better realised version of the Doctor's long last stand in The Time of the Doctor. The shifting castle brings to mind Harry Potter, Dark City, The Cube... it's not original. Nothing is really new here. It's the way it's being deployed that's makes it so brilliantly effective.

It's an episode which relies on the skill of its central player and his support. Without wanting to overlook the many people who work on a production like this, whose skills go into making every episode, the success of Heaven Sent is down to Capaldi, Moffat and director Rachel Talalay, the latter in particular really making this something of a masterpiece, maximising the tension and managing to create a feeling of aeons passing as the story progresses. Also worth mentioning is Murray Gold, whose excellent music is sometimes overlooked when discussing the success of an episode. That said, it's still too high in the mix. If we're going to have emotive scenes of Peter Capaldi talking to himself, I'd like to be able to hear what he's saying.

Although this is a pure character piece for the most part, it manages to also be an intriguing example of science fiction. Sci-fi rarely takes the idea of how a teleporter actually would have to work and runs with it (there are some excellent stories that do, the best on screen being the adaptation of Christopher Priest's The Prestige). The dawning realisation of the Doctor's situation, the movement of the stars tipping him off that a vast amount of time has passed, and his sheer, bloody-minded refusal to lose to whatever has him trapped, makes for an incredible combination of high-concept and emotive storytelling. Again, it's Capaldi that makes it work, expressing the Doctor's fear, rage, and finally triumph against this haunting trap. It would be the best regeneration story ever, if he changed his form instead of iterating as an endless run of Capaldis.

That's not to say it's flawless. I'm finding it hard to invest in Clara's death, since I don't believe for a second she's not coming back. Even if we didn't already know she was set to appear in the finale in some fashion, nobody ever stays dead in this show (q.v. River returning once again for Christmas). There's also the question of whether any of this actually happened at all. If the castle really did exist inside the confession dial, it was surely some virtual environment, presumably in some region of the Gallifreyan Matrix (as with the Nethersphere in last year's similarly Hell-themed finale). The Doctor would still have suffered in his own personal Hell, but it still reduces the impact. On the subject of impact, his arrival on Gallifrey would have ahd more clout if it hadn't been revealed in the press release weeks ago, although I guess it was no big surprise anyway. However, the main problem with Heaven Sent is precisely what's so wonderful about it. The production team have had the guts to do an experimental, intense one man show, that repeatedly shows the Doctor blackened, burnt and on the edge of death, but how many children could have sat through this? This is genuinely adult Doctor Who, but it's worth remembering the series' target audience is meant to include the whole family.

Still. It was bloody good.

Continuity Corner: The Doctor has generally suggested that he left Gallifrey because he was bored and wanted to see the universe, although there have been suggestions there was more to it. He, he confirms that he fled because he was scared.

So, is he really the Hybrid, or is he just really cross and spitting blood? This could be a resurrection of the idea that the Doctor is half-human from the TV movie, something that most fans prefer to ignore. Personally, I assume it only applied to the eighth Doctor (due to an anomaly in his regeneration), and that he was put back to pure Gallifreyan biology when he regenerated into the War Doctor.

Alternatively, what the Doctor actually says is, “the Hybrid destined to conquer Gallifrey and stand in its ruins is me.” Maybe he actually means Me, aka Ashildr. She is in the next episode, after all.

Maketh the Man: As I didn't review last week's episode, I missed the chance to comment on the Doctor's new Pertwee-esque look, with a frankly gorgeous burgundy velvet jacket.

Questions: I may have missed an explanation for this, so forgive me, but why didn't the wall of diamond-like material reset like the rest of the castle?

Also, the Doctor, after diving into the sea, swaps his sopping wet clothes for his previous iteration's nice dry ones, leaving his wet ones to dry out for the next one. Does this mean the first iteration of the Doctor spent most of his time in the castle naked?

And Another Thing:

Neil Perryman of Adventures with the Wife in Space points out that “Heaven sent and Hell bent” are lyrics from “Sweet Bird of Truth” by The The. This might be a clever reference, or it might be Neil getting carried away.

Sunday 15 November 2015

WHO REVIEW: 9-9: Sleep No More

It's not fashionable to like Mark Gatiss's Who scripts, but I'm keen on most of his episodes, the exception being series six's Night Terrors. Like that episode, though, Sleep No More is a case of style over substance, blessed with strong visuals but without the heft of a decent story to back them up. There are some excellent ideas here, but very little exploration of any of them. The compression and elimination of sleep, the distressing notion of genetically engineered "grunts" for combat, the potential of a video to infect its viewers with a malevolent force; all of these could form the basis of an intriguing, potent science fiction story, but none of them are used to any real effect here. There are hints at an interesting future world, where there's idealogical conflict between "Wideawakes" and "Rip van Winkles"," and where civilians are conscripted into the military to serve alongside both career soldiers and indentured servants. So little of this explored at all. Who holds the power here? Who is this army fighting? Why do people willingly give up their sleep to get ahead, and who are they working for? Nothing is elaborated upon beyond soundbites.

I'm not generally a huge fan of the found footage school of film. I struggle to see past the artificiality of it all. One of the more effective elements of the script is that it embraces this artificiality, not simply using the cobbled together footage as a visual conceit, but as a storytelling one. The drawbacks of the approach, however, are the same as they ever have been, from Blair Witch to Cloverfield. The storytelling lacks coherence. We need to be told what has happened to characters who die offscreen, and have incidences explained to us because we can't fully make them out. It's goes to far into a "tell, not show" method of storytelling.

The characters fall foul of the sketched-in nature of the story. Capaldi is as watchable as ever as the Doctor, even he seems to be lacking interest in proceedings. Jenna Coleman might as well not be present, so minimal is Clara's contribution to the story. This episode has received some coverage for its casting of Bethany Black, the first openly transgender actor in the series, and this is rightly praised. However, her character, the aforementioned grunt designated 474, gives her virtually nothing to work with. Is she a good actress? I honestly couldn't say, based on what she has to do here. None of the other guest actors, bar Reece Shearsmith, gets much better. I can only praise the episode for continuing this series' trend for diverse casting, but only the white cis guy actually get anything decent to work with. Although presumably that's more because he's old mates with the author.

In fairness, though, Shearsmith is great here, doing what he does best: a shifty, slightly unsettling character. Rasmussen's villainy is blatant from the start, and it's not intended otherwise. He stands by in his Dastari specs and a monochrome suit straight out of a Pertwee serial, every inch the Doctor Who villain. The monstrous Sandmen are also very effective, a revolting concept well rendered, their ill-defined formes well suited to the found footage format. However, they make no sense at all, either scientifically (we're used to that, of course), or narratively. There's so much that could be done with the concept of removing sleep from human life, but all we get is eye-gunk monsters with dubious and poorly explained origins. The final scene, with Rasmussen (or is it a copy of Rasmussen? I was left confused), crumbling away as he speaks to the audience is creepy as hell, but it's lost in a script that has no real impact overall. When the story makes absolutely no sense, it's probably not a good idea to have the Doctor point it out.

Sleep No More boasts arresting visuals and a potentially interesting central idea, and has the guts to leave things open-ended, with the Doctor escaping but crucially not stopping the villain's plans. However, this is lost in the general confusion of the finished product. An interesting experiment, but one that was scuppered by poor handling.

Continuity Corner: 

This episode is set in the 38th century, during which time the Indo-Japanese nation is a major force in the Solar System. According to the Doctor, a tectonic realignment occurred merging India and Japan, which was part of the Great Catastrophe. He says to Clara that she has this to look forward to, which suggests it might be something in her personal future, although he could just be speaking figuratively. If he does mean it's shortly to come, it's tempting to suggest that the Great Catastrophe is the same as the Great Cataclysm, an event that saw a huge rise in sea levels and major environmental change, and formed the backstory of the Australian K-9 TV series, which was set around 2050. However, it's quite likely it's an event further into the future and closer to the time of the episode. Interview's with Mark Gatiss in the latest DWM have him make the link with the event that led to the evacuation of the Earth mentioned in the serial Frontios, something normally cited as being much, much further in the future, while Bethany Black thinks it might be linked to The Sun Makers, in which humanity relocates to Pluto, and is apparently also set in the 38th century (but I've no idea where she got that date from). So make up your own head canon on that one, I guess.

We've not seen the 38th century before (barring possibly Sun Makers), but the Peladon/Galactic Federation serials featuring the third Doctor are generally accepted to take place in the 39th century, although there's absolutely nothing in the episodes themselves to suggest that. According to The Daleks' Masterplan, in the year 4000, Uranus is a planet of some importance in the Solar System, but Neptune is hardly mentioned. Here, though, it's a hub for the Indo-Japanese culture, with a major population living on its satellite, Triton.

The Doctor says people don't put "space" in front of things, like "space restaurant." I'd suggest the takes a look back at some of his old serials.

"When I say run, run!" is, of course, a bit of a second Doctor catchphrase.

Most pertinent line: "It doesn't make sense! None of this makes any sense!"

Friday 13 November 2015

REVIEW: The Flash 2.6 - Enter Zoom

A one-episode review for once, because said episode was just too exciting to hold onto. It's an odd episode, in fact, with a switch thrown halfway through that turns it from utter silliness to the most intense Flash story yet. That said, the two elements bleed through to their opposing halves.The bulk of the early part of the episode deals with Barry constructing a ludicrous plan to capture Zoom by convincing him that Linda is Dr. Light, complete with an absurd training session in which everyone is clearly having a ball. But in the middle of this is Harrison Wells. "Harry remains an electrifying, untrustworthy figure, genuinely alarming in his nervous attack on Cisco, but is tremendously sympathetic due to the fact Zoom is trying to coerce him by holding his daughter captive. Oh, and his daughter is none other than Jesse Quick, so we've not seen the last of her. On the other side, the climactic battle between Zoom and the Flash is as heart-stopping as this show has ever got, and Zoom is actually pretty terrifying, in a way the Reverse-Flash never was. Yet even this has the villain catch a lightning bolt in his hand and throw it back, at once the comicbook-y moment the show has yet offered.

After a pretty poor show with the villainous Dr. Light - still out there, by the way - Malese Jow gets to show she's actually a pretty decent actress, making Linda, Light and Linda-as-Light all recognisably different. Good to see she's in on the team now, so she might finally get some better material to deal with. Patty, however, has replaced Iris as the female character who everyone continually lies to, and I'm starting to hope she just tells both Barry and Joe to go stuff it and heads up her own metahuman taskforce.

The monstrous Zoom has shown up earlier than I expected, and from the look of him, he's not the Earth-2 Barry Allen, so I'll scrap that idea. There's someone reasonably beefy under that monster suit. However, his vendetta against Barry seems more personal than just a desperate need to be the Fastest Man Alive. There's some link there. Is it too daft to suggest that Zoom might be the Earth-2 version of Henry Allen? It would be fascinating to have the roles of the first season reversed for the second.

Coming soon - more Grodd!

Monday 9 November 2015

November Comics Round-Up (1)

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #1 (Marvel)

"Only our second Issue One of the year!" proclaims the cover, happily setting the tone for the rest of the book. There's little else to say on Squirrel Girl - this carries on exactly as it would have done had none of that Secret Wars pap ever happened. Except Doreen is now a New Avenger and has access to their canteen. Ryan North brilliantly takes the piss out of the Marvel-Fox shenanigans by having it declared that Squirrel Girl is in fact not a mutant, but something slightly different and that is irrevocable and legally binding. Hilariously, at least one commentator is genuinely upset about this.

New Avengers #2 (Marvel)

Two comics featuring Squirrel Girl in one week, which is obviously marvellous. Other than that, this ticks along nicely. Evil Reed Richards and his bizarre experiments with the fabric of reality make for a peculiar and interesting threat. I like that he seems to be the only individual who is actually aware that the universe has been rebooted, having gained this knowledge from empirical observation.

Bombshells #15 (DC)

Dropped back into this after missing most of it. Soviet Supergirl protecting her family and homeland, with her sister Star Girl, is basically impossible to get wrong, although this doesn't really do anything spectacular with the idea.

Doctor Who - The Eighth Doctor #1 (Titan)

The very fine George Mann's new Doctor Who comic steps back an incarnation or two to give us new adventures for the eighth Doctor, perhaps the version of the Doctor most suited to the comic format. This is a late-in-the-day Eight, but he's in a good mood, channelling the exuberance of his earlier stories. This actually feels very like the heyday of the Doctor Who Magazine strips, but with fun new ideas. Emma Vieceli's art is charming, and new companion Josie is very likeable (and gorgeous).

Doctor Who - Eleventh Doctor Year Two, #1-2 (Titan)

This, perhaps, is even better. Si Spurriers and Rob Williams create an intriguing tale that builds on the questions of what the Doctor did during the Time War, but at the same time, they have a spot-on grasp of the eleventh Doctor. It's a look at actions and consequences, that makes us wonder if even the Doctor knows quite what he did during the War. The Squire, seemingly his companion during some great battle, is a wonderful addition to the team; clearly damaged, not quite sane, but very loveable. Plus, Abslom Daak is in it, working better than he ever did in DWM because Spurriers and Williams absolutely refuse to take him seriously. The threat in this story - a timeless void that was once a person - is abstract but very effective, threatening to pull the Doctor's timeline apart from his first incarnation to his last.

The Vision #1 (Marvel)

Not what you'd expect from a Vision comic, this sees the cosmically-powered, nigh-indestructable android settle down to raise a family. The robot family is an old, careworn science fiction idea, but it has mileage, and never tires as a way to explore what it means to be human. Lyrically written by Tom King, with great art and colours by Gabriel Walta and Jordie Bellaire.

Howard the Duck #1 (Marvel)

Finally, another series that has had two Issue Ones this year, one that is almost (but not quite) as silly as Squirrel Girl. Who does appear in it, albeit briefly. Howard works better as a supporting character in my opinion, but I like this, fronting a detective agency with Aunt May as his Mrs. Hudson. I also realy like his sidekick, the shapeshifter called Tara (look, I know these girls are cartoons, they're just kind of my type, OK?) Plus, an extra story, featuring, for some reason, "Gwenpool." Because, something.

Sunday 8 November 2015

Return of The Doctor Who Project

It's back! After a short hiatus (that's a very Doctor Who-y word) The Doctor Who Project has announced a return, and are now looking for writers for new adventures featuring their alternative tenth Doctor and his companion Hannah Redfoot.

Full details of submission rules and where to send them can be found here. Submission deadline is December 5th.

Saturday 7 November 2015

REVIEW: The Flash 2.4 - 2.5 (with added Arrow)


This episode exists purely to set up Firestorm Mk. 2 for Legends of Tomorrow, which is does pretty efficiently if unremarkably. Jay Jackson is a likeable character, and has a pretty good rapport with Stein (if you can ignore the homosexual undertones. Good name for a band, that). Caitlin is an unbelievable bitch to him though, slagging him off because he's wasting himself earning a living instead of going to a college he can't afford. The fight with Tokamak is perfunctory. This also has the cheesiest dialogue of any episode yet, which in The Flash is really saying something.

In the B- and C-plots, Iris is hugely growing on me, absolutely refusing to take shit from her estranged mother, but it's a huge shame that Joe is becoming increasingly stupid as the series progresses. Assumption: his unheard of son is the series' version of Wally West. Patty is an utter delight... and then that cliffhanger! King Shark looks incredible, and I am so pleased that this series has the guts to have monsters like that running around (although how the hell he sneaks up on Barry is inexplicable).


A pity we couldn't have had more King Shark, but Tom Cavanagh is back as Harrison Wells, and that makes it all OK. So this, it seems, is the real Harrison Wells, albeit of Earth-2, and in that reality it seems he's a bit of a dick. Good to see that Barry gives him the benefit of the doubt; he's significantly more grown up than either Cisco or Joe, the latter of whom just immediately shoots the guy. He really can't get his head round this parallel universe stuff, can he? We can understand how Cisco would feel, though, and his scenes with "Harry" are great. Only Barry and Caitlin seem able to remember that the man they were fighting before wasn't Wells, but the man who killed him and took his form. Which is, admittedly, a bit confusing.

There's good fun to be had with the Earth-2 alter egos, with the minor villain Dr Light being here the parallel Linda Park. We know that we'll see Killer Frost later this season (presumably the Earth-2 Caitlin), and even if he doesn't turn out to be Zoom, surely we'll see Earth-2 Barry? Meanwhile, our Barry finally gets together with Patty, and though the literal blind date is ludicrous, their chemistry is so good it really works. A cracking episode.


Arrow, episode 4-5. I'm a little behind on Arrow, which I still don't enjoy anywhere near as much as The Flash, so this was a bit of a cheat, and sneaking ahead left me a little confused. There's also so much backstory on Arrow now that I forget who loves/hates/banged/murdered who. However, this is the highly anticipated return of John Constantine, after his own series got the axe. Matt Ryan is still great in the role; I can see why he's not everyone's cup of tea, but I've completely warmed to him. We watched the Constantine movie afterwards to remind ourselves how bad it could be instead. Introducing magic, soul quests and demons into the world of Arrow creates an interesting clash, reflected in the strong yet uneasy alliance between Oliver Queen and John Constantine. Although it's perhaps a bit of a surprise Oliver didn't call on his favour from a bloody wizard during any of his earlier crises. In the end, the actual battle for Sara's soul was a bit easy, but still, this bodes well for future mystical adventures. I hope the CW manage to negotiate another appearance of Matt Ryan in the future (maybe in Legends of Tomorrow?) Talking of which - Ray Palmer's coming back!

Wednesday 4 November 2015

Now, what I want to see in the new Star Trek

This week, CBS announced that plans were in place for a new Star Trek TV series, set to be available for streaming from early 2017. This will be some months after the thirteenth Trek movie, Star Trek Beyond, hits the screens, itself timed to mark the franchise's fiftieth anniversary. Naturally, every geeky outlet on the net has begun setting out what the new series should feature; that is, those that aren't already dismissing it as utter crap. Alex Kurtzman is set to be the exec. producer, having already co-written and produced the 2009 and 2013 movies. This could go either way, really, but I note that Kurtzman has a strong track record with television. In his favour: Star Trek 2009, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (hey, I liked it), Now You See Me, Alias, Locke & Key, Limitless. Against him: Star Trek Into Darkness, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Cowboys and Aliens, The Island. Let's give him some leeway and see what he comes up with, alongside co-exec Heather Kadin. Certainly, it looks like the times he's had more creative control have generally produced better results, and we still don't know anything about producers, directors, and crucially, writers at this stage.

Without further ado, here's my penny's worth on hopes for the new series:

Keep moving forward

As yet, there's no word as to when this series will be set, or whether it will take place in the primary universe of the original franchise or the parallel universe of the new films. Frankly, I'm not too bothered which version of Trek history it takes place in. It could even take place before the split (i.e Enterprise onwards - maybe we'll finally get to see the Romulan War) or so far into the future that it's irrelevant which continuity we're seeing. What matters more is that we have new, original material, that fits with the Star Trek aesthetic and spirit, but doesn't shamelessly copy it.

When The Next Generation arrived, it stumbled early on by trying to recapture some of the camp glitz of the original series, but once it established it's own identity, it became quite its own animal, and a huge success to boot. The movies that have had the best reception have been the ones that were, tonally, very different to what came beforehand. The Wrath of Khan mined the original for inspiration but added new dynamics and a Hornblower aesthetic. First Contact took the optimistic and controlled TNG crew and put them through the wringer in a dark adventure against their greatest foes (and still ended on a hopeful note). The 2009 movie chucked everything away that had been holding the franchise back, taking favourite elements and characters and revamping them in a modern, flashy, action movie. The perennially popular Star Trek IV: The One With the Whales was perhaps the least Trekky of the lot, ditching outer space adventure for fish-out-of-water comedy, and still managed to be both a financial hit and a fan-pleasing sequel.

Conversely, Voyager and Enterprise, for all their charms, never caught the public imagination because they were riffing on story styles already mined by TNG. By the time Enterprise was cancelled, last minute attempts to revamp the show were too little and too late. Star Trek had become a genre into itself, and an out-of-date one at that. It drastically needed a reboot (and I say that as someone who genuinely loves Enterprise). Star Trek Into Darkness, although a commercial hit, was a lowest common denominator movie, slavishly reproducing the look and bombast of its predecessor without adding anything new, while providing echoes of classic scenes that meant little to casual viewers and infuriated fans.

The lesson being: don't be afraid to try something new. Be Star Trek, but not the Star Trek we've seen before.


Star Trek has an embarrassingly poor record at depicting alternative sexualities and lifestyles. There have been a handful of attempts to explore homosexuality and its social issues through alien allegories, all of which fell flat, largely due to never going nearly far enough. We've never had an openly gay character on any of the series. A couple of characters have been suggested as being closeted, but to play or write a closeted character misses the point. Gay characters should simply exist in Star Trek's future, as part of that world, not as a source of social drama or conflict. The same goes for people from other marginalised groups. The transgender, agender, polyamorous - the human cast should be as varied, if not more varied, than the alien races we meet. Trek has made a good effort to depict an egalitarian future for women and different races, but it needs to go further. We've had occasional steps forward with disabled characters - TNG had a blind character from the start - but again, it could go further.

That's not to say that these differences can't be the source of conflict, but that should come from outside. Star Trek, at its best, has been political, using science fiction to explore contemporary issues. Sure, it was often ham-fisted, but subtlety isn't always the most important thing. Have a gay character as part of the crew, then have him face homophobia on some backwards planet. Or transphobia, or victimisation of the disabled. "Can you believe it," they might say, "they used to think like this on Earth!" Humanity is vast, complicated and multifaceted. Let's explore it.

New aliens, old aliens

One thing that the more recent version of Trek have relied upon is previously established alien races, be they the widely recognisable Klingons and Vulcans, or obscure fan-pleasers like the Tholians or the Gorn. Now, I like this as much as the next fan, but we're supposed to be exploring strange new worlds. That's not to say we should completely forget the existing cultures; they still exist in this universe, after all. Just don't focus on them. I'd love to see a couple of Andorians, wriggling their antennae in the background, but we need to lay off the old faces sometimes. This will be the seventh Star Trek TV series (including the animation). There have been thirty seasons of Trek already. Of these, sixteen had a regular Vulcan main character, and eighteen have had a Klingon in the main cast. We've done these guys to death. Give us some new blood. Take us to an unexplored region of the galaxy, or another galaxy altogether. I'm not saying I won't smile like a prat if we meet the Talosians again, but let's keep that as a very rare treat. New life, new civilisations. And take advantage of the make-up, puppetry and CGI techniques we have now. These aliens could look like anything.

Embrace the format

This isn't a one-off movie; this is television, and television has changed. Even 22-episode ongoing series have long, complex stories running on, although they do still spread them out with filler episodes. However, more and more TV series are going down the Netflix route: self-contained stories told over ten episodes or so, with a strong central storyline that doesn't keep you coming week after week so much as demand you swallow the whole thing in one go. Look at Sense8 or Daredevil. Explore the universe with a new set of characters, and let us explore how it effects them. Let them grow, let them change. Alternatively, look at the sprawling epics like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones. Huge casts, whose stories are told over years. Can you imagine a cross between Deep Space Nine and Game of Thrones, with alien political machinations and warfare told against astonishing vistas and hundreds of extras building a coherent world? Or send out a ship, have the crew beam down to a new planet that we've never imagined before and stay there for a full season, truly exploring and impacting upon it. Maybe the budget won't stretch to these fevered imaginings, but the storytelling techniques still hold. It could be majestic.

Failing all that...

... let's have Archer in space.

Sunday 1 November 2015

Marvel Comics October Round-Up

October was the month of the big relaunch for Marvel Comics, and while Secret Wars is still stumbling on - in fact, there's even some pre-Secret Wars stuff on the shelves - the main lines have been relaunched with a slew of new issue ones. Some seem to be making the most of the new universe they're launching, others are taking characters back to their core appeal. I've finally managed to catch up on the first bunch, and here are my thoughts. Nearly up-to-date now; The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl relaunched this week too, but I'll hit that with the November titles.

Sam Wilson: Captain America #1: Sam Wilson goes freelance, pitting himself against the corporate facade of American politics and fighting for the under-represented, instead of acting as a weapon for a corrupt national security force. Marvel-America tears him apart, and real America does the same. Sam Wilson pits himself against the forces of hatred and intolerance and defends Mexican illegal immigrants from hate groups. This is exactly what Captain America should be - putting the real America to shame.

Doctor Strange #1: A definite success, relaunching the Sorceror Supreme in a stylish, unnerving way. Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo work brilliantly together, illustrating Strange's deeply unsettling worldview. It doesn't seem that the big reboot has really made any difference to Strange, what with imagery from an early issue being used to illustrate his origins, but that's all for the better. This is a great fantasy comic.

The New Avengers #1: The first lot of Avengers to be introduced into the post-Secret Wars world, this is a mix of the Mighty Avengers and the Young Avengers retooled together as an official team, albeit under the auspices of AIM, which is a questionable authority. Plus, Squirrel Girl, happily acting like she's still in her own comic in spite of the serious chaos around her. There's an intriguing threat masterminded by the Maker, ie the evil Ultimate Universe version of Reed Richards, which is a good use of the melding of continuities that there's a place for now.

Uncanny Avengers #1: And the other Avengers team of the month, the continuing exploits of Steve Rogers and his desperate attempt at unity. It's often hard to see what the difference is between Marvel's various groups of superhumans and why anyone should care, but this does a good job making mutants, Inhumans and enhanced humans distinct, particularly with Rogue, the last of the X-Men to remain while the others have fled, slowly being killed by the Terrigen that has been transforming people into Inhuman beings. Thrown into this is Deadpool, so clearly not Avenger material that he had to join the team eventually.

Guardians of the Galaxy #1: Bendis doing good Bendis. Pletny to enjoy here. Again, I can't see how the reboot has changed anything, since this carries on directly from the events at the end of the pre-Secret Wars run, but I do like the new status quo, with Kitty Pryde as the new Star-Lord and the Everlovin' Blue-Eyed Thing having a whale of a time being an astronaut. Maybe the movieverse Chitauri are a continuity implant? I'm not sure. In any case, this is roughly 300% more fun than the Fantastic Four reboot, and Thing deserves that.

Spider-Gwen #1: Relaunched less than a year after its initial launch, Spider-Gwen looks to be be just carrying on happily as if no universe-collapsing events ever happened, so clearly Earth-65 survived the cataclysm. There's no reason that this needed to start over with issue one, but cool, let's go with it. Gwen continues to juggle her parallel lives while her father tries to clear her name with the NYPD. Meanwhile, the Lizard returns to terrorise New York, except that in this universe, Peter Parker was the Lizard, and died as such. It remains good fun, ticks along nicely. Nothing new here, but why break what's fixed? Oh, and then this reality's Captain America turns up, and she's not happy.

Karnak #1: Karnak of the Inhumans is a hell of an odd character to see headlining his own series. I bought this out of curiosity and on the strength of positive recommendation, but to be honest, it didn't do much for me. Karnak's power - to see the flaw in all things, and exploit it - is intriguing but rather opaque, and I'm not sure it makes for an exciting comic. However, I suspect the problem is with me on this one; I just don't think I really get what it's trying to be.