Saturday, July 12, 2008

Review: Doctor Who, "The Pirate Planet"

I re-watched the 1978 Doctor Who serial "The Pirate Planet" tonight.

Written by The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy creator Douglas Adams, his first contribution to Who prior to being named script editor for the 1979 season, it's a fun little story filled with Adams' characteristic brand of absurdist humor. There's quite a bit of clever banter between the Fourth Doctor and Romana I, and at one point the Doctor utters the Hitchhiker's tagline "Don't panic!"

Tom Baker is in top form as the Fourth Doctor, Mary Tamm is settling in quite nicely as Romana I (this was only her second serial), K-9 has a lot of screen time, and Shakespearean actor Bruce Purchase is wonderfully over the top as the Pirate Captain.

It's also clearly an influence on the just completed fourth season of New Who with the theme of disappearing planets. One of the planets here is Calufrax, while a Calufrax Minor is mentioned as one of the missing planets in an episode New Who.


Comic Book Reviews

Review: Femme Noir: The Dark City Diaries #1, "Blonde Justice"

This four issue miniseries is the co-creation of writer Christopher Mills (Gravedigger: The Scavengers) and veteran artist Joe Staton. Staton co-created the underrated E-Man for Charlton Comics in 1973, worked on DC's Justice Society revival of the mid-to-late 1970s in All-Star Comics and Adventure Comics (including the famous "Only Legends Live Forever" story about the death of the Earth 2 Batman), and was involved with Green Lantern and its spinoffs in the 1980s.

It's a pulp tale of a female vigilante known as Blonde Justice, with her background explored through the eyes of a police detective as he tries to determine which one of three suspects (the daughter of a Mafia boss, a sultry singer, or a reporter) is really Blonde Justice. The influences of Will Eisner, Dashiell Hammett, and Raymond Chandler are apparent without being heavy handed, and Staton's art energetically captures the noir mood of the story. Overall, a reasonably entertaining and well drawn entry in what is an underutilized genre in modern comics.

Review: Final Crisis: Requiem #1, "Caretakers of Mars"

This one-shot spinoff from the Final Crisis miniseries further explores the shocking murder of J'onn J'onzz the Martian Manhunter in Final Crisis #1 and the effect it has on his fellow superheroes. The murder and funeral of J'onn were given a scant two pages in the miniseries, which seemed vastly insufficient for a venerable character who first appeared in Detective Comics #225 in 1955 and was a founding member of the Justice League of America in The Brave and the Bold #28 in 1960.

If his death and funeral were given short shrift there, this comic more than compensates as writer Peter J. Tomasi, penciller Doug Mahnke, and inkers Christian Alamy and Rodney Ramos admirably and powerfully fill the void with a poignant tribute to a fallen hero. It's rare that I get misty eyed over a superhero comic, but Tomasi's effective writing really cuts to the heart on the final page. It's emotional without crossing the line into mawkishness. It's one of the best, if not the best, single issue of a comic I've read since returning to reading comics in May.

Review: Captain America: White #0, "It Happened One Night"

In this prologue to the upcoming six-issue miniseries, the superstar team of writer Jeph Loeb and artist Tim Sale revisit the events of 1940's Captain America Comics #1 where Captain America takes on a young sidekick named Bucky. They follow in the footsteps of a legendary superstar creative team of the past, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, by recreating and expanding upon Simon and Kirby's original story. It's a nice bit of storytelling that pays tribute to the past while feeling relevant to the present.

Review: Trinity #6, "Truth, Justice & the American Way..."

Writer Kurt Busiek and artist Mark Bagley continue their weekly series (planned to run 52 weeks) that focuses on Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman as a trio. The first five issues were action packed, but things slow down here for a story that explores who these heroes are and how they relate to one another. It's not terribly deep, mind you, but it does convey a good sense of characterization and relationship dynamics. The backup story, "Almost," by writers Busiek and Fabian Nicieza with artists Scott McDaniel and Andy Owens is an action oriented team-up of Hawkman and Gangbuster that relates to the main Trinity storyline as it's been developed so far.

Review: Joker's Asylum: Penguin #1, "He Who Laughs Last...!"

The series of one-shots focusing on Batman villains as narrated from Arkham Asylum by the Joker continues with a well-written story about the Penguin. The Penguin is a character that can easily turn into a joke, but writer Jason Aaron conveys depth of characterization by showing how the Penguin is motivated by a deep-seated lack of self-esteem than frequently erupts into frightening violence against anyone he perceives as being against him. I especially like Jason Pearson's moody, stylized art. And you can't help but like the Joker declaring that "I guess I'm probably not the best person to ask when it comes to morals."

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Review: Stargate Atlantis, Episode 5.1, "Search and Rescue"

The popular spinoff of the late and still missed Stargate SG-1 begins its fifth season (it's the fifteenth season of the Stargate franchise overall) with an episode written by staff writer Martin Gero. The fourth season ended on a big cliffhanger, and this solid episode quickly gets to work resolving it and a key sub-plot from last season. It delivers the action and character interaction that I love and expect from this show, but somehow the resolution feels a little rushed and even a bit anti-climactic. Still, I'm generally pleased by how the season has started.


Review: Burn Notice, Episode 2.1, "Breaking and Entering"

The premise of this witty action show is simple: Michael is a spy who's been tagged as a bad agent ("burned" in the parlance of the trade). With his assets frozen, he's forced to work as a private investigator/bodyguard in his hometown of Miami while trying to discover who was responsible for issuing his burn notice. He's assisted in his endeavors by Fiona, a former lover who was once a member of the IRA, and Sam, an old friend who's a retired spy. The cast is a pleasure to watch, with Jeffrey Donovan as Michael, Gabrielle Anwar as Fiona, Bruce Campbell as Sam, and Sharon Gless as Michael's hypochondriac mother.

The second season begins with an episode written by creator/showrunner Matt Nix, picking up right where the first season ended with Michael finally being taken to meet the people behind his burn notice. As is usually true on this show, things don't go according to plan, and that's the fun part for the audience. It's as witty as ever, and should easily avoid a sophomore slump. Battlestar Galactica's Tricia Helfer guest stars as a woman representing the people who burned Michael.


Thursday, July 10, 2008

I think Doctor Who will see the Eleventh Doctor debut in the fourth special of 2009. Outgoing showrunner Russell T Davies recently said that star David Tennant has made a decision and the BBC knows what it is, but with another report claiming that the BBC is offering Tennant £1.3 million per season to stay on as the Tenth Doctor, it reads to me like he's decided to leave the show and they're trying to bribe him to come back for 2010. That's just my personal speculation, but I think it fits the known facts.

British science fiction drama Primeval will make its US debut on BBC America in August. Two seasons have been shown on Britain's ITV with a third scheduled for next year, but the first two seasons will be combined for US broadcast. One of the second season's episodes was written by Paul Cornell of Doctor Who fame.

MGM has greenlit The Cabin in the Woods, a horror film written by Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon and former Buffy staff writer Drew Goddard (who also wrote Cloverfield), with Goddard set to make his debut as a director. The chairperson of MGM's motion picture group is Mary Parent, a former Universal Studios executive who was instrumental in getting Serenity made.

MGM is also doing a remake of Red Dawn, the "o noes, commies are invading!" action film from the 1980s. Weird choice for a remake, seeing as how the whole Cold War premise is a thing of the past. Unless they present it as an alternative history, I don't see how it'll work.

It looks like Iron Man director Jon Favreau is returning to the director's chair for the 2010 sequel, Iron Man 2. Considering what a good job he did with the first film, it's a positive sign that he's coming back for the next one.

An Elfquest film is under development at Warner Bros. with Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story) set to write and direct. Not exactly the first person I'd think of to adapt Elfquest.

Quote of the day: "We got Jesus and Gandalf!" - AMC network general manager Charlie Collier on the casting of Jim Caviezel (Jesus in The Passion of the Christ) and Ian McKellen (Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings) in the remake of The Prisoner.

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Partly for my reference, here's a list of returning summer shows I'm looking forward to, listed with premiere dates and networks.

Burn Notice - second season begins July 10th on USA Network
Stargate Atlantis - fifth season begins July 11th on SCI FI
Monk - seventh season begins July 18th on USA Network
Eureka - third season begins July 29th on SCI FI

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This week's comics: Femme Noir: The Dark City Diaries #1, The Invincible Iron Man #3, Powers #29, Young X-Men #4, 100 Bullets #93, Wonder Woman #22, Action Comics #867, Justice Society of America #17, Joker's Asylum: Penguin #1, Trinity #6, Final Crisis: Requiem #1, Green Arrow and Black Canary #10, Batman Confidential #19, Detective Comics #846, The Goon #26, B.P.R.D.: The Warning #1, The Amazing Spider-Girl #22, Red Sonja: She-Devil with a Sword #35, Witchblade #119, New Exiles #8, and Captain America: White #0.


Monday, July 07, 2008

Review: Patsy Walker: Hellcat #1, "Snowball Effect, Part 1"

From her early humorous adventures as a teenager in the 1940s to her later reinvention as the superheroine Hellcat in the 1970s, spirited redhead Patsy Walker has had an interesting career as a comic book character that continues in this five issue miniseries.

Her first appearance was in Miss America Magazine #2 (1944) as a creation of Stan Lee and pioneering female artist Ruth Atkinson. Within a few years, the popularity of Patsy saw her rewarded with her own comic book series and eventually several spinoffs, all in the humor genre. Think of a female version of Archie and you won't be too far off the mark. The creators who worked on those titles included Lee, Al Hartley, and future Mad Magazine cartoonist Al Jaffee. In 1976, Marvel Comics brought Patsy back in a story where she donned a yellow-and-blue costume and became a superheroine called Hellcat, eventually becoming a core member of the Defenders and even marrying the Son of Satan!

The first issue of the miniseries starts out very promisingly, with Hellcat called into action by Iron Man and sent to Alaska to be its official Initiative-sponsored superhero. Writer Kathryn Immonen (her artist husband Stuart provides the cover art) deftly marries the humor of Patsy's early stories and the superheroics of her later ones, accompanied by David Lafuente's manga inspired art with a few nods to Art Nouveau. I think fans of Patsy from any era should enjoy this title.

On a related note, one of the older comics in my collection is Patsy Walker #22 from 1949.

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Review: Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight #16, "Time of Your Life, Part 1"

While I'm still not sold on continuing Buffy's story and I wasn't impressed by the previous issue, I feel much more optimistic after reading this issue. Now this? This I like.

From 2001-2003, Buffy creator Joss Whedon wrote an eight issue miniseries called Fray about a future Slayer in the 23rd century. Now Whedon serves up a long-awaited Buffy/Fray crossover with Fray artist Karl Moline along for the ride.

This is the Whedon style of writing that I love, and Moline's art is a big improvement over the cartoonish art of his predecessor, Georges Jeanty. My only complaint about the art here is that like Jeanty, Moline is apparently incapable of drawing Xander as anything other than pre-pubescent.

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