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Star Trek: Enterprise – The Expanse (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This April, we’re doing the second season. Check back daily for the latest review.

And, finally, everything changes.

It feels inevitable. Maybe not in this particular form, maybe not in this particular way, but Star Trek: Enterprise needed something. The show needed to stop feeling like a relic of the early nineties – a great song played on loop to the point where it became nothing more than generic white noise. The Expanse gives the show a clear sense of direction and a clear sense of purpose. It is not a direction that is unanimously loved, and it is not a purpose that is realised as well as it might be, but it finally feels like Enterprise is boldly going in its own direction.

A walk among the wreckage...

A walk among the ruins…

In many respects, the obvious point of comparison for The Expanse is an episode like The Jem’Hadar or A Call to Arms. It is an episode that is clearly written to reach an ending so that the show can start doing something new. These episodes tend to tease a brave new future, one utterly unlike anything that Star Trek has done before, but they play like extended forty-five minute trailers. Watching The Expanse, it feels like show runners Rick Berman and Brannon Braga are thinking more about the direction than the destination. That’s not a bad thing at this point.

Polarising as it might be, and occasionally awkward as it might be, The Expanse was utterly necessary. Enterprise is a Star Trek show that exists in the shadow of 9/11. That horrific terrorist attack has reverberated throughout the series. The War on Terror informs and distorts narratives like Shadows of P’Jem, ShockwaveThe SeventhCease FireThe CrossingJudgmentRegeneration and Cogenitor. However, there is a sense that Enterprise never accepted that heavy pull of gravity.

Homecoming...

Homecoming…

Sometimes it worked; Judgment, Regeneration and Cogenitor are all examples of the series trying to apply its own morality to a more complicated and confusing geopolitical climate. However, the War on Terror made it hard to reconcile Jonathan Archer as both an explorer and a paranoid reactionary. The unquestioning trust in authority in The Seventh, to the point where he did not question the Vulcan High Command’s mindwipe of T’Pol? The all-consuming dread upon meeting something different in The Crossing? These do not fit well within Star Trek.

So The Expanse pushes all that to the front. The opening teaser features a strange alien ship appearing and carving a large scar in the surface of the planet – a very visual representation of the damage done to the utopian optimism of Star Trek. Now that the scar had been literalised, it could be discussed and explored. The Expanse made sure that nobody was talking around the elephant in the room; everybody was now charging right at it.

The way ahead is cloudy...

The way ahead is cloudy…

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Star Trek (IDW, 2009) #13 – The Red Shirt’s Tale (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

The IDW monthly comic series that launched after the release of Star Trek is an interesting beast.

Writer Mike Johnson has been on board since the title launched in September 2011, lending the comic a sense of creative consistency. Much has been made of the involvement of Roberto Orci as “creative consultant” on the title, as if to imply that the comic might somehow be legitimised in relation to the blockbuster franchise that spawned it. Certainly, the series does not enjoy the same loose attitude towards contemporary continuity that characterised the DC comics series published during the mid-eighties.

Suit up!

Suit up!

At the same time, it is not as if IDW’s on-going Star Trek comic series can claim a closer relation to canon. After all, the events of the comic’s first arc were rendered explicitly non-canonical by a casual conversation between Pike and Kirk in the first twenty minutes of Star Trek Into Darkness. This is not a problem of course – any more than continuity issues were a problem for the mid-eighties DC series – but they do suggest that the series’ fixation on continuity is perhaps misplaced.

This weird fetishisation of “continuity” defined the first year or so of the title’s existence, with issues dedicated to essentially re-telling classic Star Trek stories using the new cast and crew. (Indeed, only one story from that year – Vulcan’s Vengeance – was not based on a classic episode.) The Red Shirt’s Tale serves as something of a half-way marker as the comic began to transition away from these sorts of continuity-heavy retellings, focusing a bit more on the new characters and the new world. The issue is a retelling of The Apple, but in a way that is more thoughtful and playful than a lot of what came before.

Colour-coded...

Colour-coded…

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The Flash (1987-2009) #1-2 – Happy Birthday, Wally!/Hearts… of Stone (Review)

So, I’m considering reviewing this season of The Flash, because the pilot looks interesting and I’ve always had a soft spot for the Scarlet Speedster. I’m also considering taking a storyline-by-storyline trek through the 1987-2009 Flash on-going series as a companion piece. If you are interested in reading either of these, please share the link love and let me know in the comments.

Like the rest of the comic book industry, DC comics went through some serious changes in the late eighties. Books like Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns had re-shaped expectations of the comic book world. There was a sense that things had to change. DC was worried about its own expansive and increasingly convoluted continuity. In order to streamline that continuity, DC decided to stage a massive crossover event. Crisis on Infinite Earths was a truly epic comic that reshaped the shared universe.

It made quite the impression, providing the opportunity for a clean start for many of the characters. George Perez gave Wonder Woman a new origin and back story. John Byrne reinvented The Man of Steel, making several additions to the Superman mythos that have remained in place through to today. Frank Miller offered one of the defining Batman origin stories with Year One. There were obvious continuity issues around certain characters and franchises, but Crisis on Infinite Earths was a new beginning.

If the suit fits...

If the suit fits…

This was arguably most true for The Flash. Cary Bates had finished up a decade-long run on the title with the mammoth storyline The Trial of the Flash, where Barry Allen was accused of murdering his arch-nemesis in cold blood. Although the arc ended with Barry retiring to the distant future (comics!), the character went straight from that extended arc into Crisis on Infinite Earths, where he eventually gave his life to save the multiverse in what became an iconic death sequence.

More than that, Barry Allen stayed dead for twenty years; a phenomenal amount of time for a comic book character. In the wake of Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC offered a fresh new beginning for the Flash. Wally West, the former “Kid Flash” and sidekick, stepped into the iconic role and headlined a monthly series for over two decades.

His heart might not be in it, yet...

His heart might not be in it, yet…

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Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Run on Batman – Zero Year: Secret City & Dark City (Review/Retrospective)

23rd July is Batman Day, celebrating the character’s 75th anniversary. To celebrate, this July we’re taking a look at some new and classic Batman (and Batman related) stories. Check back daily for the latest review.

It takes considerable bravery to craft an origin story for Batman in the wake of Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s Year One.

Superhero origins are constantly being tweaked and re-written and re-worked. Superman has had a half-dozen comic book origins (in- and out-of-continuity) since Crisis on Infinite Earths rebooted the DC universe. There’s John Byrne’s Man of Steel, Kurt Busiek’s Secret Identity, Mark Waid’s Birthright, Geoff Johns’ Secret Origin, J. Michael Straczynski’s Superman: Earth One and even Grant Morrison’s Action Comics run.

It's only a pale moon...

It’s only a pale moon…

In contrast, Batman has been relatively undisturbed, with only Geoff Johns’ Batman: Earth One positing an alternate origin story for the Caped Crusader. A large part of that is down to how sacred Year One is. Written by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli, Year One is considered to be one of the best Batman comics ever published. It recently topped Comic Book Resources’ high-profile fan poll for the character’s seventy-fifth anniversary.

In many cases, an “if it ain’t broke…” mentality applies. Having a universally-beloved comic book story that is easily accessible as the origin story for a particular character is not a bad thing at all. You can hand Year One to anybody and they can read and enjoy it. Although undoubtedly a product of the late eighties, the comic remains relevant and compelling to this day. Indeed, we have not moved so far from the eighties that it’s hard to reconcile a Batman origin grounded in that social context.

Talk about falling so far...

Talk about falling so far…

However, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo are the creative team working on the Batman book for the character’s seventy-fifth anniversary. The duo have enjoyed a tremendous run – managing that rare intersection of critical and commercial success in mainstream comics. There are legitimate criticisms to be made, but Snyder and Capullo’s Batman work does hold up as some of the best Batman comics produced in quite some time, and one of true success stories of DC’s “new 52.”

So, if there was ever a time to go back to Batman’s origin, this was it. A well-loved creative team, a significant anniversary, a clear distance between this time and Year One. The risk associated with Zero Year is phenomenal. It is an incredible gambit. Even though the story is not in competition with Year One, comparisons are inevitable. The result is a very satisfying and exciting tribute to an iconic comic book character that doesn’t quite surpass Year One, but is clever enough to be clear that it isn’t trying to.

Getting into the swing of things...

Getting into the swing of things…

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Non-Review Review: RoboCop (2014)

José Padilha’s RoboCop reboot is much better than the lame duck attempt to adapt Total Recall a few years back. It’s a functional action film, structured well enough to stand on its own two feet as a science-fiction thriller. There are the obligatory explosions and CGI, but there’s also a clear enough story populated by reasonably well-drawn characters with just the faintest hint of social commentary at the core. It is solid and functional on its own terms, even if it suffers in comparison to its source material.

Robocop 2.0...

Robocop 2.0…

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Non-Review Review: The Amazing Spider-Man

The Amazing Spider-Man is a jumble of clever ingredients thrown into a pot, stirred for two hours and yet never managing to produce that ideal flavour. There are moments in Marc Webb’s adaptation that are fantastic, as good as anything Raimi brought to the best of his films in the series, Spider-Man II. However, there’s also simply too much going on here for its own good. Running for two-hours-and-a-quarter, the film feels like one-part origin to two-part stand-alone adventure, unsure whether it should it is trying to rush through the motions of one of the most iconic origin stories ever told or if it’s trying to bring something a bit deeper to the table. When it gets going, it’s a solidly entertaining piece of film that does try to do something just a little new with the superhero formula, but it suffers from the same identity crisis as its lead and struggles to really find its own voice.

Peter’s not quite on top on the world…

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Geoff Johns’ Run on Green Lantern – War of the Green Lanterns (Review)

I think that Geoff Johns deserves to take the majority of the credit for pushing the Green Lantern series forward as one of the mostly highly regarded properties in DC’s stable of intellectual property. That the Green Lantern continuity was allowed to remain almost entirely intact represents a huge vote of confidence in Johns as a creator, and the work that he has done. Still, War of the Green Lanterns can’t help but feel like a bit of a disappointment. An attempt to do a “mini-event” contained to the franchise (similar to the successful Sinestro Corps War), War of the Green Lanterns suffers because it doesn’t have the same thematic through-line as its predecessor, one that engaged the reader throughout the carnage and crossovers. That’s not to say War of the Green Lanterns doesn’t have any good ideas, but that it’s too jumbled and mixed up to be great.

Mogo doesn't socialise...

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