Comic Review: ‘Batman’ #36

Tom King dives deep into the heart of DC Comics’ most complex and enduring friendship…

Batman 36

Clay Mann’s striking cover for DC’s ‘Batman’  #36 (image belongs: DC).

Written by:  Tom King / pencils by:  Clay Mann / inks by:  Seth Mann / Colours by:  Jordie Bellaire

What’s it about?

“Superfriends” Part One : for many years Batman and Superman have fought alongside each other and even against each other…with Bruce Wayne’s engagement to Selina Kyle, the two heroes explore what they truly mean to one another…

In review

Whilst there has been an absence of an ongoing Batman/Superman title during DC’s Rebirth (now rebranded under the ‘DC Universe’ banner) both characters have still played a part in each other’s storylines as well as appearing together in the likes of Justice League and Trinity.  The history and dynamics of the relationship between DC’s Dark Knight and Man of Steel is a complex one, both fight for justice but their methods somewhat differ as do their morals – this has often lead to conflict between the two characters but there’s always been the notion that their core values are in alignment and a sense that they share an unspoken brotherly connection.

In Batman #36, writer Tom King takes the simple premise of a parallel narrative as the story jumps between Batman and Superman’s current crime thwarting efforts and uses it to flesh out and provide a deeper and more personal understanding of a complicated ‘friendship’ (as Superman finds himself questioning whether Batman really wants or needs a friend) between two men, born of different worlds – literally and figuratively.  With the world of Batman comics shaken by the recent engagement of Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle, this seems the perfect time to tell such a story where Bruce Wayne/Batman and Clark Kent/Superman agonise over whether one should call the other to discuss the news.  It’s a straightforward concept but it’s in the execution where King excels and having each hero’s respective partners in crime fighting and life – Selina Kyle/Catwoman and Lois Lane – function as the voices of reason is the genius stroke, whereby Bruce and Clark are able to divulge their true feelings of respect and friendship.

“Superfriends” is elevated further by returning artist Clay Mann (aided by inker Seth Mann) who’s powerful, attentive and intricate visuals are of great benefit.  His style has a sort of scratchy and nourish look to it that would generally seem a stronger fit for the dark and gritty world of Batman, but Jordie Bellaire’s well utilised colour palette makes it work equally well for the brighter and more optimistic world of Superman.

Tom King’s run on Batman has been a highlight of DC’s Rebirth and beyond, and whilst some arcs have been stronger than others (how could “Rules of Engagement” have hoped to top “The War of Jokes and Riddles”?) it’s been a consistently strong title and right now, DC’s best comic – if you’re not reading it, you really should be.

The bottom line:  Tom King delivers one of his strongest issues of Batman yet and together with artist Clay Mann gives readers a compelling insight into the bond between two of DC’s finest.

Batman #36 is published by DC Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.

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Comic Review: ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ #1

IDW launches its latest Star Trek title…

Spoiler-free review

ST Discovery #1

Main cover art by Tony Shasteen for IDW Publishing’s ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ #1 (image belongs: IDW)

Written by:  Kirsten Beyer and Mike Johnson / pencils and inks by:  Tony Shasteen / colours by:  J.D. Mettler

What’s it about?

“The Light of Kahless” : the Battle of the Binary Stars is over and T’Kuvma is dead…but what drove the Klingon warrior to pursue conflict and his desire to forge a new era of glory for his people?

In review

For those who have been enjoying Star Trek: Discovery and eagerly await its return from hiatus in January, IDW Publishing’s new ongoing tie in comic is an essential read and an ideal way to get your Discovery fix in the absence of any new episodes.

Written by Trek comics veteran Mike Johnson and Discovery writer/Star Trek novelist Kirsten Beyer, with art from Tony Shasteen (Star Trek: Boldly Go), Star Trek: Discovery #1 kicks off Klingon-centric story arc “The Light of Kahless”.  Doing what the very best Trek comics and novels have always done, IDW’s Discovery title fills in the gaps of what we’ve seen on screen, adding background and depth as well as fleshing out character, delivering a satisfying missing chapter to the story being explored by the television series.  Opening in the wake of the Battle at the Binary Stars (as depicted in the show’s opening two-parter), the comic takes us back into the past as we learn of the troubled upbringing of T’Kuvma – ill-fated warrior and ‘saviour’ of the Klingon Empire – on the Klingon homeworld of Qo’nos, his discovery of the ancient sarcophagus ship and the forging of his path to glory.

Johnson and Beyer’s script hits all the right notes, effortlessly capturing the tone and ‘voice’ of the television series whilst expanding and enriching the mythology of Klingon culture as it is in Discovery, providing a deeper exploration of the themes of religion, tradition and war touched upon in the show together with a more detailed understanding of T’Kuvma’s motivations in his quest to bring about a new age for the Klingon race.

Unsurprisingly, the art by Tony Shasteen is phenomenal with the expected high quality and strong, meticulous detail that’s a faithful representation of Discovery as well as expanding the universe by giving readers a look at the home of the Klingon Empire as yet unseen in the series.

Some readers may be disappointed by the absence of any Starfleet/Federation presence and the main characters of Star Trek: Discovery but there’ll surely be opportunities to tell those stories further in the title’s run.  Right now, this is the sort of arc needed to embellish the narrative of Star Trek: Discovery’s journey on the small screen.

The bottom line:  A perfect companion for fans of the television series, IDW’s Star Trek: Discovery comic delivers an engaging and visually appealing look into some of the show’s backstory.

Star Trek: Discovery #1 is published by IDW and is available in print and digital formats now.

Comic Review: ‘Doomsday Clock’ #1

DC’s Rebirth collides with the world of Watchmen…

 

Spoiler-free review

Doomsday Clock #1

When universes collide: Gary Frank’s beautiful variant cover for DC’s ‘Doomsday Clock’ #1.

Written by:  Geoff Johns / pencils and inks by:  Gary Frank / colours by:  Brad Anderson

What’s it about?

In an alternate 1992, as the U.S. is on the verge of nuclear war, the vigilante ‘Rorschach’ sets about assembling a team to save the world…

In review

Here it is – the much mooted (perhaps feared) collision of the current DC Comics universe and the alternate world of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s undisputed and eternally celebrated series Watchmen.  First teased in last May’s DC Universe: Rebirth #1 and touched upon further in the brief Batman/Flash crossover “The Button” from earlier this year, Doomsday Clock #1 begins the culmination of one of the most daring projects DC Comics has ever attempted to tackle.

The first chapter of a twelve issue maxi-series, Doomsday Clock #1 is both a beautifully constructed homage to the original Watchmen and a worthy successor.  There could be no better creative team to bring this story to life, Geoff Johns – DC’s premier writer – and Gary Frank – one of the most exciting artists working in comics today – (both of whom have collaborated before on the critically acclaimed Superman stories “Secret Origin” and “Brainiac”) are a match made in heaven.  Whilst this first issue takes a slow-burn approach that doesn’t immediately thrust the narrative into the impending conflict between two universes, it’s a welcome one as Johns takes the time to immerse the reader in the gloomy dystopia of the world created by Moore and Gibbons and remind us of those elements that made that particular series such a masterwork, it’s simple, yet effective panel construction, focused dialogue and narration and political and social commentary faithfully replicated.  It’s seven years since the end of Watchmen as we follow Rorschach (who of course died…so how does he exist here? You’ll have to read to find out) as he seeks to assemble a new team to once again save a world that’s still under threat from crime, international conflict and a U.S. President driven by ego and his own interests (Johns’ substitution of President Redford for Trump being glaringly obvious).

The writing is great and the strong, cinematic visuals are the icing on the cake, Gary Frank’s realistic and detailed layouts enhanced by the rich and moody palette of Brad Anderson’s colours.  It’s a comic that looks and feels like the true Watchmen sequel this is, as for how things tie into the main DC universe, Doomsday Clock #1 provides a small but significant taste of what’s to come…we yearn to see the inevitable confrontation between Superman and Doctor Manhattan but good things come to those who wait and Geoff Johns clearly wants to take us on a journey and one that has the potential to become a modern classic in its own right.

The bottom line:  A gripping and compelling read, Doomsday Clock gets off to a strong start thanks to a phenomenal creative team.

Doomsday Clock #1 is published by DC Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.

Film Review: ‘Justice League’

It’s all in or bust as DC’s league of heroes unite in Warner Bros’ Pictures latest comic book blockbuster… 

Spoiler-free review

Justice League

DC’s premier super team unite in the Warner Bros’ Pictures release ‘Justice League’.

Starring:  Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Mamoa, Ray Fisher, Ciarin Hinds, Amy Adams, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, J.K. Simmons

Directed by: Zack Snyder / Written by: Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon / 121 minutes

What’s it about?

In the wake of Superman’s death, Bruce Wayne enlists the help of Wonder Woman to assemble a team of powered individuals in order to protect the Earth from a looming cosmic threat…

In review

It’s no secret that Warner Bros’ DC Comics film universe has had it tough so far.  2013’s Man of Steel was fairly well reviewed but divided audiences, its sequel 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was even more divisive and Suicide Squad…again, more so.  The tide seemed to turn with the critical and financial smash of Wonder Woman this summer, meaning the pressure was well and truly on for Warner Bros/DC with team-up event Justice League, a popcorn superhero action flick that is enjoyable and entertaining even if it doesn’t quite hit the mark.  Directed by Zack Snyder, who helmed Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, Justice League is held together by its central heroes, with likeable performances from their respective actors and great chemistry that makes it worth a look.

There are flaws to Justice League that prevent it from being as great as it could’ve been.  Firstly, the film’s narrative is a little messy and disjointed (a criticism that Batman v Superman was able to remedy with its superior extended cut), becoming more problematic as it rushes through various plot points that could have warranted more focus – it seems clear that the studios’ insistence on a relatively slim running time has resulted in a good chunk of material being excised.  Another weak link is Steppenwolf, an adequate but generic CGI villain (voiced and performance-captured by Ciaran Hinds) who, albeit, provides a reasonable enough threat, pales in comparison to some of the stronger comic book film villains.  He’s by no means terrible, just not all that interesting or memorable.  There’s also some disappointingly shoddy VFX work that can on occasion be distracting, especially in the film’s busy and action packed final act.

However, it’s with its main characters that Justice League is elevated.  Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot make strong returns as Bruce Wayne/Batman and Diana Prince/Wonder Woman respectively, both providing solid leadership to the rest of the team.  After fleeting glimpses in BvS, we’re fully introduced to Ezra Miller’s Barry Allen/the Flash, Jason Mamoa’s Arthur Curry/Aquaman and Ray Fisher’s Victor Stone/Cyborg.  All three are great, with Miller’s nerdy, excitable and hilarious take on the Flash a particular highlight.  Mamoa is a pleasing surprise with a fun, swashbuckling twist to the iconic heir to the throne of Atlantis and Fisher brings fitting strokes of tortured humanity to the brooding Cyborg.  As for the return of the Man of Steel himself it’s a triumphant one, the rebirth of Clark Kent/Superman forming an integral part of the story and Henry Cavill slips back into the cape and boots with ease, his selfless, heroic sacrifice in BvS and a second chance at life leading to a Superman with a renewed purpose and a more hopeful perspective.

The tone of Justice League is certainly lighter and more accessible than Batman v Superman, with a fair amount of humour sprinkled throughout and it’s generally well-placed and doesn’t undermine the film’s more dramatic moments.  It’s well known that due to personal tragedy, Zack Snyder handed over post-production duties to Avengers Assemble and Avengers: Age of Ultron writer/director Joss Whedon, with Whedon (who shares screenwriting credits with Chris Terrio) scripting some additional material and handling reshoots.  This could’ve easily been to the film’s detriment but gladly, the end result actually feels quite consistent.  Visually, Justice League is most definitely a Zack Snyder film, it’s themes of heroism enhanced by Joss Whedon’s knack for snappy character dialogue.  The screenplay may lack the deeper, more introspective themes and idiosyncratic touches of BvS but it gets the job done.

Although Justice League isn’t perfect its positive aspects make it enjoyable and fun in all the right places, particularly for fans of these iconic characters.  It isn’t on the same level as Marvel’s Avengers but it sets the DC film universe on the right path for the many further cinematic adventures ahead.

The bottom line:  Flawed but ultimately enjoyable, Justice League assembles some of DC’s finest heroes and establishes the road ahead for future outings.

Justice League is in cinemas now.

Film Review: ‘Thor: Ragnarok’

Thor does Planet Hulk…

Spoiler-free review

 

Thor 3

For Asgard: Chris Hemsworth leads the quest to save his home in Marvel Studios release ‘Thor: Ragnarok’.

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Mark Ruffalo, Cate Blanchett, Jeff Goldblum, Karl Urban, Anthony Hopkins, Idris Elba, Tessa Thompson

Directed by: Taikia Waititi / Written by: Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle & Christopher L. Yost / 130 minutes

What’s it about?

As Asgard is attacked by Hela, the Goddess of Death, Thor finds himself stranded on a hostile alien planet where he is reunited with a familiar face and a hope to save his civilization from destruction…

In review

After sitting out last year’s team up in Captain America: Civil War, Marvel’s God of Thunder returns to the screen for a third solo outing where he is reunited with a “friend…from work” – the raging Incredible Hulk for an offbeat cosmic comic book adventure that’s a lot of fun, if overly daft and a little too self-indulgent.

Thor: Ragnarok largely eschews the more Shakespearean tone of Kenneth Branagh’s Thor and Alan Taylor’s Thor: The Dark World, director Taikia Waititi taking things in a somewhat goofier and lighter direction.  This is both a blessing and a curse, because at times Ragnarok feels like a James Gunn cover version, rarely straying too far from zany frivolity – often at the expense of drama and character.  A good dose of levity isn’t unwelcome, and there are genuinely funny moments, but what works so well for Guardians of the Galaxy doesn’t always hit the mark here and for a film that concerns the fall of Thor’s home – the mighty and magical realm of Asgard, the preference for those instances undermines some of the dramatic potential of Ragnarok.

Like those aforementioned directors, Waititi presents the viewer with a colourful, visually majestic film with grand scale and exciting blockbuster action.  If the film is occasionally let down by its slapstick tendencies and Guardians-esque imitations, there’s no faulting the craftsmanship and slick direction.

Chris Hemsworth makes an assured return as Thor and clearly relishes this particular take, confidently leading the rest of the cast.  What Ragnarok achieves more successfully than previous outings is giving us a Thor that truly feels like a God of Thunder and there are a few standout moments where director Waititi ensures that this strikes the viewer with awe.

Tom Hiddleston is once again on top form as he effortlessly hits the ground running as the devious Loki, further exploring his fractured brotherly dynamic with Hemsworth’s Thor.  There are also notable returns for Anthony Hopkins (Odin) and Idris Elba (Heimdall) as well as a guest role for the always excellent Karl Urban as Skurge (Asgard’s new keeper of the Rainbrow Bridge) and Westworld’s Tessa Thompson proves to be a highlight as former Asgardian warrior turned drunken bounty hunter, Valkyrie.

As for the bringer of Asgard’s doom, Cate Blanchett oozes and thrills as Hela (Marvel Studios’ first female villain) in a performance that deftly melds a dark, maniacal edge with sizzling sassiness.  Along with Hiddleston’s Loki she is one of the more memorable and better served antagonists of the MCU thus far.

Arguably though, the real star of the show is Mark Ruffalo – whether via performance capture as the Hulk (continuing advances in technology allowing every nuance to penetrate the computer generated exterior) or Bruce Banner, he infuses the role with a richness and charm that seizes the attention of the audience with a portrayal that’s equally heartfelt and funny.

Ragnarok is ostensibly a Thor film, however the ‘Ragnarok’ aspect of the narrative tends to take a back seat to its incorporation of fan-favourite Marvel Comics epic “Planet Hulk” – with much of the running time devoted to Thor’s exile on the planet Sakaar where he finds (and is at first pitted against in the gladiatorial arena by the Grandmaster, played wonderfully and exuberantly by the inimitable Jeff Goldblum) his ever angry green comrade.  Whilst this might devalue the central threat and the character arc possibilities for Hemsworth’s Thor, the inclusion of the Hulk is a welcome one – given the unlikelihood of a future solo outing of his own – and it’s pleasing to see some evolution for the character, this version more garrulous and playful than what has come before.

Whilst it would’ve been interesting to see a stronger and more focused exploration of Asgard’s fall and all that entails, there’s no arguing that Ragnarok is at its best whenever Thor and Hulk or Thor and Banner (and by extension, Valkyrie) are sharing the screen, all the more appealing given the sparky chemistry between Chris Hemsworth and Mark Ruffalo.

Despite some of its missteps, Thor: Ragnarok is a highly enjoyable romp – wearing it’s influences with glee, it’s kitsch infusion of 80’s metal, Flash Gordon, Masters of the Universe and cult sword and sorcery making it all the more pleasing on the whole.  It may not be the best Marvel Studios effort nor is it necessarily the strongest ‘Thor’ centric-story but it’s a good time non-the-less.

The bottom line:  A fun, if at times overly silly comic book adventure, Thor: Ragnarok is a reliably entertaining offering from Marvel Studios.

Thor: Ragnarok is in cinemas across the UK now and opens worldwide from 3rd November.

Flashback: ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ – “Encounter at Farpoint”

Trek TNG Farpoint 2

An all-new Starship Enterprise for a new ‘Star Trek’ venture…

Starring:  Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Denise Crosby, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner, Wil Wheaton, John de Lancie, Michael Bell

Series created by:  Gene Roddenberry

Written by:  D.C. Fontana & Gene Roddenberry / Episode directed by:  Corey Allen / 1987

What’s the episode about?

Captain Jean-Luc Picard and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise find themselves placed on trial by a powerful alien entity and must prove that humanity is no longer a savage race as they attempt to solve the mysteries of the enigmatic Farpoint Station…

Retrospective

It’s hard to believe that Star Trek’s second –and highly successful – foray into television is now thirty years old.  Whilst the original voyages of Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock and the U.S.S. Enterprise are arguably Star Trek at its purist and best, for many it was Star Trek: The Next Generation that was their gateway drug to a vast science fiction universe and a worldwide phenomenon that endures today.

With the popularity of the original Star Trek cast’s big screen adventures (which hit fever pitch with the release of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home in 1986) a new series made for an easy sell – albeit a risky one when the concept meant introducing a whole new set of characters and an all-new Enterprise and their adventures in the 24th Century, almost 80 years after the times of Kirk and his crew.

Paramount television felt it was worth a shot and enlisted Gene Roddenberry to create this new iteration – Star Trek: The Next Generation.  Assembling some familiar faces in his production and writing staff including Star Trek producer Robert Justman and writers Dorothy ‘D.C.’ Fontana (who also served as head writer on the vastly underrated animated series) and David Gerrold (mastermind of fan favourite episode “The Trouble with Tribbles”), Roddenberry set out to perfect his vision of the future.

Originally intended as a single hour story, written by Fontana, “Encounter at Farpoint” was expanded into a two-hour premiere at the insistence of Paramount and the reticence of Gene Roddenberry who would add a framing plot to the overall story – coupling Fontana’s Farpoint Station mystery – where every visitor’s needs and requirements are miraculously and inexplicably catered for – with the Enterprise’s encounter with an all-powerful alien entity known as the ‘Q’.  With impressive special effects (that hold up well today in the series’ fully remastered Blu-ray release) and production design the result is, though not a fair reflection of how good The Next Generation would ultimately become, remains entertaining and enjoyable despite some of its hokey execution.

Trek TNG - Farpoint 1

Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) faces the charges of ‘Q’ (John de Lancie).

In its premiere, the characters fans would eventually come to know and love are not fully formed and the actors not immediately in the ‘groove’.  Despite this and the odd piece of cheesy or clunky dialogue, the cast of The Next Generation turn in respectable performances.  Patrick Stewart is a strong lead albeit the Captain Picard here is a little different from the Picard we see later on, being a more distant and irascible version of the character who happens to have no patience with children (the Enterprise ‘D’ compliment including crewmembers’ families).  Stewart receives solid support from Jonathan Frakes as First Officer – aka ‘Number One’ – Commander William T. Riker as well as the rest of the Enterprise crew, most notably Brent Spiner’s Lt. Commander Data, a Starfleet android who yearns to be human – the Pinocchio analogy aptly drawn on by Riker during their first meeting.

The crew is rounded out by Security Chief Lt. Tasha Yar (played by Denise Crosby, granddaughter of Bing and who would depart the series before the end of the first season), blind crewman Lt. Geordi La Forge (Roots’ LeVar Burton), Chief Medical Officer Doctor Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) together with her son Wesley (Wil Wheaton, of Stand By Me fame), Ship’s Counsellor and old flame of Riker, the empathic ‘Betazoid’ Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) and significantly – Klingon officer Lt. Worf (Michael Dorn), his race now at peace with the Federation.

As for the main antagonist, John de Lancie is quite simply superb as ‘Q’ and so well received that he would go on to reprise the role in several more episodes of The Next Generation in addition to appearances in future Trek spin-offs Deep Space Nine and Voyager.  Much like Picard, the Q of “Encounter at Farpoint” is quite different from the lighter, more comical version of the character we would see in later seasons and this earlier take on Q is much darker, more malevolent and a credible threat to the Enterprise and her crew which drives the high stakes drama, his ‘trial’ of humanity and their handling of the great mysteries of Farpoint facilitating the morality play aspect of the narrative which Star Trek fans had become accustomed to.

Not forgetting its roots, a highlight of “Encounter at Farpoint” is a cameo from DeForest Kelley as the elderly (human life expectancy greatly increased by the 24th Century), even more cantankerous Admiral McCoy in a wonderful little sequence between McCoy and Data that hands over the baton from one generation to the other and is a real treat for fans.

Beyond “Encounter at Farpoint”, the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation was a little shaky and uncertain but things began to improve in its sophomore year (which saw the introduction of iconic villains the Borg) and further refined with changes to the writing staff in the third season which saw the series become more character focused, Star Trek’s return to television would prove to be a huge success and The Next Generation would run for seven seasons (a total of 178 episodes) and spawn four feature films.  Along the way it would gain Whoopi Goldberg as a recurring guest star, pick up numerous Emmy Awards (as well as being nominated for several more – including Outstanding Drama Series in 1994) and launch a golden age of small screen science fiction.  Star Trek: The Next Generation demonstrated that the appeal and durability of the franchise was strong and is a series that continues to be loved all these years later.

Geek fact!  Riker and Troi were based on officers Decker and Ilia, characters who were to be part of the aborted 1970s Star Trek: Phase II series.  They would eventually be portrayed by Stephen Collins and Persis Khambatta in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Trek TNG - Farpoint 3

The cast of ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ as they were in 1987.

TV Review: ‘The Gifted’ S1 E01 “eXposed”

20th Century Fox launch their newest small screen X-Men offering…

The Gifted Prem

On the run: The lives of the Strucker family are turned upside down in Fox’s new ‘X-Men’ series ‘The Gifted’.

Starring:  Stephen Moyer, Amy Acker, Natalie Alyn Lind, Percy Hynes White, Coby Bell, Sean Teale, Jamie Chung, Blair Redford, Emma Dumont

Series created by:  Matt Nix

Written by:  Matt Nix / Directed by:  Bryan Singer

What’s it about?

When an incident at school forces teenagers Lauren and Andy Strucker to reveal that they have mutant abilities, the Strucker family find themselves on the run and hunted by the authorities…

Episode review

Following the launch of Legion earlier this year, 20th Century Fox Television add another X-Men universe show to the roster with The Gifted, developed by Burn Notice creator Matt Nix with an enjoyable, if slightly flawed, series premiere.

Unconnected to Legion and taking place apart from the X-Men films, The Gifted is unshackled by the demands of shared universe canon that can sometimes by more of a curse than a blessing.  It’s a wise move in this instance given the loose, unclear approach to continuity of the big screen X-Men outings – The Gifted establishes a world where mutant groups the X-Men and the Brotherhood have disappeared, leaving the series free to chart its own course.

The premise is nothing new (mutants are of course still hated and feared) and The Gifted is more of a straightforward comic book action adventure series in the vein of Heroes or Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. than the arty head-tripping experience Legion is, yet it certainly doesn’t try to be anything else other than an entertaining watch.  As Reed and Caitlin Strucker, Stephen Moyer (True Blood) and Amy Acker (Person of Interest) are capable leads, along with their mutant teenage children Lauren (Natalie Alyn Lind) and Andy (Percy Hynes White), their characters are likeable and have potential but it doesn’t feel as though we get to know all that much about them and their backgrounds in this first episode in order to really root for them.  For example, we learn from the outset that Reed works as a mutant prosecutor but “eXposed” doesn’t quite delve into this properly and explore more deeply the fallout and consequences of him learning that his offspring have mutant abilities.  Hopefully this will all come later as the series progresses and the writers have had more opportunity to develop the principal characters.

Whilst there are no ‘A-list’ X-Men present (nor was it expected), the mutant underground sought by the on-the-run Strucker family does include fresh takes on iconic characters – Eclipse (Sean Teale), Polaris (Emma Dumont), Thunderbird (Blair Redford) and Blink (Jamie Chung).  They’re obviously not literal spandex-clad translations of their comic book counterparts but are a welcome addition that solidifies the show’s X-Men credentials.

The Sentinel Services and their spider-like drones are also a nice twist on established lore, a television budget pretty much ruling out the inclusion of the gigantic mutant-hunting robots seen in X-Men comics (and reimagined in X-Men: Days of Future Past).  Likewise, mutant powers are somewhat restricted and less elaborate than what we’ve seen on the big screen but that’s understandable and director Bryan Singer – who has helmed four X-Men feature films (including two of the most popular, X2 and Days of Future Past) – brings skill and experience in utilising the tools available to him and where “eXposed” may falter a little in characterisation it compensates for with relatively tense pacing and satisfying action beats.

With its premiere, The Gifted establishes an interesting set-up, the fugitive scenario promising plenty of excitement and the intolerance and prejudice towards mutants offering some social relevance in these sadly turbulent times.  There’s work to do with the characters but if the writers are able to flesh them out and explore them more deeply in episodes to come then The Gifted could prove to be a solid accompaniment to Legion and a worthy addition to Fox’s X-Men universe.

The bottom line:  Despite some initial shortcomings, the season premiere of The Gifted is non-the-less entertaining and shows potential for the series ahead.

The Gifted airs in the UK Monday nights on Fox UK.  U.S. viewers can catch it on Fox every Sunday.