Comic Review: ‘Batman’ #86

A new era dawns for the Dark Knight…

Batman #86

Cover art by Tony S. Daniel, Danny Miki & Tomeu Morey (image credit: DC Comics).

Written by:  James Tynion IV / pencils by:  Tony S. Daniel and Guillem March (epilogue) / inks by:  Danny Miki / colours by:  Tomeu Morey

What’s it about?

“Their Dark Designs” Part 1 : in the aftermath of Bane’s decimation, Bruce Wayne plans to help Gotham City rebuild but a new threat builds as his continuing mission as Batman brings him into a confrontation with the lethal assassin, and old foe, Deathstroke…

In review

Following Tom King’s epic (but divisive in some areas of fandom) near four-year run on DC’s leading title, former Detective Comics writer James Tynion IV is handed the keys to Wayne Manor (after a brief prologue that featured in #85) as he takes over the reins on Batman with penciller Tony S. Daniel with issue #86 – an ideal jumping on point for lapsed and new readers alike.

Batman #86 picks up in the wake of “City of Bane”, Tom King’s final arc on the comic which concluded in the previous issue.  It’s not necessary to have followed that story as James Tynion IV takes care to cover the essentials neatly and without an overload of convoluted exposition.  In the aftermath of Bane’s rule over Gotham City, a reflective Bruce Wayne begins picking up the pieces as he continues his war on crime as the Batman.  The difference this time is that Bruce sees an opportunity to not only help rebuild Gotham but to reform it as well, something that he feels can be achieved by both Bruce Wayne and Batman – with a little help from Selina Kyle and Lucius Fox.  However, it isn’t going to be easy and a confrontation with Deathstroke leads to a new threat for Gotham and its protector.

Tynion hits the ground running with his first full issue, it may lack the more poetic and existential quality that Tom King brought to the book, favouring a more action-orientated approach, but nor does it reinvent the wheel and there’s certainly a philosophical element to the story as Bruce Wayne contemplates the future of Batman and the possibility that if his plans for Gotham succeed there’ll no longer be a need for him.  Tynion carved a standout run on Detective Comics at the inset of DC’s Rebirth initiative and continues to demonstrate his talents at world-building and writing character, although, naturally he ensures that Bruce/Batman (whereas his work on Detective Comics was generally more focused on the extended Bat-family) are front and centre whilst providing significant roles for both Selina (their renewed romance no doubt to be given greater attention in Tom King’s forthcoming Batman/Catwoman maxi-series) and Lucius – who has some fun interactions with Batman as a formidable new addition to the Dark Knight’s arsenal is teased.

Tony S. Daniel returns to the pages of Batman as a regular artist after sporadic collaborations during Tom King’s run.  A veteran Batman artist and writer himself, Daniel provides bold and dynamic visuals – complemented by Danny Miki’s inks and Tomeu Morey’s colours – that are an ideal match for Tynion’s writing and make the duo a great pairing.  Daniel maintains the grand and cinematic scope expected of the premiere Bat-book and is especially effective in rendering the pacey action scenes, the energetic and brutal encounter with Deathstroke being the obvious highlight.

A promising start, Batman #86 closes with a short epilogue that continues building on the threads of that inaugural mini chapter in #85, with Guillem March on the art.  March’s work is in a pleasingly not-too-dissimilar style to Tony Daniel and there’s a further sense of continuity and consistency thanks to Tomeu Morey once again providing colours.

The bottom line:  James Tynion IV, joined by pencillers Tony S. Daniel and Guillem March, delivers a solid and engaging beginning as a new and promising run on DC’s Batman commences.

Batman #86 is published by DC and is available in print and digital formats now.

Images used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

It’s a Classic: ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ – “The Best of Both Worlds”

Looking at some of the best pop culture offerings in film, TV and comics…

“Resistance is futile”

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Captain Picard’s (Patrick Stewart) capture and assimilation by the Borg leads to a chilling cliffhanger in “The Best of Both Worlds” (image credit: CBS).

Year:  1990

Starring:  Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner, Wil Wheaton, Elizabeth Dennehy, Whoopi Goldberg

Director:  Cliff Bole / written by:  Michael Piller / series created by:  Gene Roddenberry

What’s it about?

Investigating the annihilation of a Federation colony, Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise are soon faced with the unstoppable threat of the cybernetic race known as the Borg…

In review:  why it’s a classic

Considered as not just one of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s finest stories but top-tier Trek in general, “The Best of Both Worlds” is a gripping, well-written and superbly executed event in the popular Star Trek television sequel.  TNG’s first two-part episode and its first season cliffhanger, “The Best of Both Worlds” closes out the show’s third season and opens its fourth and features the return of cybernetic nasties the Borg – introduced in season two’s “Q Who?”.

Written by Michael Piller – whose tenure as head writer helped to improve the creativity of The Next Generation – and directed by Cliff Bole, “The Best of Both Worlds” sees the Enterprise tasked with investigating the destruction of a Federation colony, all evidence pointing to the Borg as those responsible.  Soon confronted with a Borg ship, events take a turn for the worst when Captain Picard is captured by the Borg and transformed into one of them – leaving first officer Commander Riker in command.  The Enterprise’s engines damaged, preventing it from pursuing the Borg vessel as it heads for Earth, Riker and the rest of the crew must find a way to stop the Borg at all costs – even at the loss of their former captain.

At this point the Borg are a relentless and unstoppable force – a superior foe whose only desire is to consume the technology of other worlds and ‘assimilate’ (i.e. transform) their population into cybernetically enhanced drones who operate as a collective consciousness.  The very notion of one’s individuality being stripped away is what makes the Borg such a chilling enemy and Piller ensures that those elements are accentuated.  The decision to have Picard captured and assimilated by the Borg (the difference being that he is given the designation ‘Locutus’ and his own voice as a representative of the Borg, allowing Patrick Stewart to interact with his cast mates), thus deprived of his free will and responsibility for his own actions, is a genius stroke that establishes high stakes and at the time with no guarantee of his rescue (rumoured contract negotiations with Stewart placing his future in doubt) kept things surprising and unpredictable – not in the least since all of Picard’s knowledge and experience are used by the Borg to deadly advantage as they plough through and decimate Starfleet’s defences.

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Guest star Elizabeth Dennehy with Jonathan Frakes in “The Best of Both Worlds” (image credit: CBS).

The cast are all – unsurprisingly – brilliant with each of the principals having their place in the story as Piller continues his efforts to have a more character driven focus for the series.  Patrick Stewart is the obvious standout (his ‘Borgified’ persona affording him fresh acting challenges) and Whoopi Goldberg’s Guinan continues to be a soulful presence but this is also a great outing for Jonathan Frakes who rightly gets his time in the spotlight as Riker, grappling with uncertainty about the progression of his career, takes command of the Enterprise during the crew’s darkest hour.  Guest star Elizabeth Dennehy (daughter of Brian) adds a lot to the mix as Starfleet’s Borg expert, Lt. Commander Shelby – a young, resourceful and driven officer whose assignment to the Enterprise initially provides conflict as her over-eagerness and professional competitiveness causes headaches for Riker, but ultimately proves an important ally and gradually earns the respect of the Enterprise’s new captain.

Whilst not necessarily as energetic and flashy as a lot of modern television (which isn’t actually always a good thing), there is still a lot of action and excitement in “The Best of Both Worlds” – most significantly the Enterprise’s first confrontation with the Borg vessel in part one, the subsequent chase (the Starfleet ship seeking refuge inside a nebula building a sense of foreboding) and Picard’s abduction a highlight.  Part two also has its share with Riker’s plan to rescue Picard and Worf (Michael Dorn) and Data’s (Brent Spiner) infiltration of the Borg ship the highpoint.  The final resolution of the Borg crises is simple but effective and the tension remains tight as the story reaches its climax.

Mention should also be made of Ron Jones’ score for “The Best of Both Worlds”, atmospheric, thrilling and emotional it’s some of the composer’s best work on Star Trek: The Next Generation and an essential component in any classic piece of SF TV.  Ranked by TV Guide as one of its all-time top 100 television episodes and nominated for five Emmy Awards, “The Best of Both Worlds” is a high mark in the Star Trek franchise and ensured its continued popularity throughout the 1990s.

Standout moment

With Captain Picard captured and assimilated into the Borg Collective and the fate of all life in the Federation at stake, Commander Riker has no choice but to order firing the Enterprise’s modified deflector in the hope of destroying the Borg vessel…

Geek fact!

George Murdock, who plays Admiral Hanson also appeared in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier as the malevolent ‘God’ entity.

If you like this then check out…

Star Trek: Voyager – “Endgame” : the crew of the U.S.S. Voyager are faced with the Borg in the feature-length finale to the fourth live-action Star Trek television series (read the retrospective here).

Flashback: ‘Star Trek Generations’

It’s 25 years since the cast of ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ transitioned to the big screen…

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Captains Picard (Patrick Stewart) and Kirk (William Shatner) unite to save the galaxy in ‘Star Trek Generations’ (image credit: Paramount Pictures).

Year:  1994

Starring:  Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, Malcolm McDowell, William Shatner, James Doohan, Walter Koenig

Directed by:  David Carson / written by:  Ronald D. Moore & Brannon Braga (story by Rick Berman, Ronald D. Moore & Brannon Braga.  Based upon Star Trek, created by Gene Roddenberry)

What’s it about?

Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise must stop an obsessive and dangerous scientist from causing the deaths of millions as he searches for a way to return to a mysterious extra-dimensional realm…

Retrospective/review

With Star Trek: The Next Generation completing it’s highly successful seven year run on television and the original Star Trek crew’s big screen voyages concluded with 1991’s Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country it was time for the torch to be passed.  Production on a seventh Star Trek film, in which the newer Star Trek cast would make their silver screen debut, commenced almost immediately after work had wrapped on The Next Generation’s series finale with Star Trek Generations releasing in cinemas in the fall of 1994.

An enjoyable and fun science fiction adventure, Star Trek Generations facilitates a meeting between William Shatner’s Captain Kirk and Patrick Stewart’s Captain Picard whilst also incorporating smaller cameo roles for two other classic Trek characters – Chekov (Walter Koenig) and Engineer Montgomery Scott, a.k.a. “Scotty” (James Doohan).  The story begins in the 23rd Century as Kirk, Chekov and Scotty are guests of honour aboard the newly commissioned successor to Kirk’s ship, the Enterprise-B.  Her maiden voyage is interrupted by an incoming distress call from the Lakul – a transport ship ferrying El-Aurian refugees to Earth, amongst them future Enterprise bartender, Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg).  Discovering that the Lakul is tangled in a mysterious energy ribbon with destructive tendrils threatening to tear it apart, the Enterprise (under the command of Captain John Harriman, played by Alan Ruck) risks all to save the refugees – including Captain Kirk, seemingly lost when the Enterprise’s hull is breached.

Flashing forward 78 years to the 24th Century, Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D investigate the attack of a deep space observatory.  Recovering the only survivor, the El-Aurian scientist, Dr. Tolian Soran (Malcolm McDowell, star of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange), Picard soon learns that Soran, along with Guinan, whose race has a life span many times greater than humans, were rescued during the Lakul incident and that the energy ribbon encountered by the Enterprise-B is a recurring phenomenon known as the Nexus, a gateway to an extra-dimensional realm were one’s fantasies and dreams are realised and time has no meaning.  Soran, in cohorts with the Klingon Duras sisters Lursa and B’etor (Barbara March and Gwyneth Walsh, respectively, reprising their villainous roles from Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), in exchange for providing them with a powerful new weapon, plans to draw the Nexus to him by destroying stars and threatening the lives of millions.  With the stakes set high, Picard is soon confronted with Soran on the planet Veridian III before being swept into the Nexus, leading to an encounter with a legendary Starfleet captain once thought dead…James T. Kirk, offering Picard his only hope of stopping Soran.

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Malcolm McDowell as Soran (image credit: Paramount Pictures).

Although they may have felt encumbered by a laundry list of requirements for the film (the essential ingredient being a Kirk/Picard team-up), screenwriters Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga – who also wrote the TNG series finale (the feature length “All Good Things”) took their knowledge and experience as former writers on The Next Generation to construct an entertaining narrative that gets the job done, providing some decent character moments together with an imaginative and action-packed science fiction story, under the capable direction of David Carson, himself no stranger to the franchise having helmed fan-favourite TNG episode “Yesterday’s Enterprise” and the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine series premiere.  Generations also boasts a music score from veteran TNG and Deep Space Nine composer Dennis McCarthy, particularly effective during Picard’s scenes in the Nexus where the music has an appropriately wondrous, mystical quality to it.

Focusing on the acting performances and characterisation, there’s a lot for fans to appreciate.  Beyond the obvious delight of having Kirk and Picard onscreen together, both William Shatner and Patrick Stewart are given a reasonable amount to chew on.  Stewart’s Picard suffers the tragic accidental deaths of his brother and nephew (his scenes with Whoopi Goldberg’s Guinan are also a highlight, as they always where in TNG) before his later experience in the Nexus which presents the noble starship captain with the dream of an idyllic family life at Christmas time and a renewed sense of faith as he unites with Captain Kirk to save the day.  Despite only appearing in the opening and closing acts of Generations, Wiiliam Shatner is still given enough time to prove his worth as his meeting with Picard invokes a realisation that the fantasy the Nexus offers just can’t compare with the reality of risking all for the greater good.  The horse-riding scenes also allow Shatner to combine his real-life enthusiasm for the equestrian with his defining and most iconic screen role.

James Doohan and Walter Koenig are a pleasing addition to the opening of Generations and along with Kirk, a comforting sight, yet although William Shatner is afforded a larger role, this is still very much a Star Trek: The Next Generation film – with Brent Spiner’s Data particularly well-served as the Enterprise’s android experiments with emotions allowing him to experience a range of feelings and human concepts, from humour and joy to fear and regret.  The always excellent Spiner rises to the occasion with ease and its unsurprising that Data becomes such a key player in the subsequent Star Trek films.  As the central villain, Malcom McDowell delivers a decent measure of threat, Soran’s desire to revisit the Nexus driven by the yearning to see his dead wife and children.  It’s something touched upon but sadly not fully explored but does however provide the character with some depth and the script furnishes McDowell with some memorable lines, such as “they say time is the fire in which we burn” which has something of a literary and philosophical quality to it.

Of course, the biggest surprises of Generations (spoilers…) are the heroic – but highly controversial – death of Kirk (reshot after test audiences were underwhelmed with the original scene, in which Soran simply shoots Kirk in the back), truly marking the end of an era and the destruction of the Enterprise-D to make way for a new and more big screen friendly U.S.S. Enterprise for the sequels.  Both elements help to supply Generations with a suitably tense and gripping finale and an emotional farewell to a beloved character.  Whilst Star Trek Generations is not on the same level as perennial favourites Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, it’s still a fitting first big screen outing for the crew of Star Trek: The Next Generation which would lead to the superior and popular sequel, Star Trek: First Contact.

Geek fact! 

It was originally intended that Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley would reprise the roles of Spock and Doctor McCoy in Generations in place of the Chekov and Scotty cameos, but both actors declined feeling that Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country was a more satisfactory finale for their characters.

Image(s) used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

Flashback: ‘The Twilight Zone’ – “The Night of the Meek”

Christmas of 1960 saw Rod Serling’s ‘The Twilight Zone’ enter festive territory…

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John Fiedler and Art Carney in ‘The Twilight Zone’ (image credit: CBS).

Year:  1960

Starring:  Art Carney, John Fiedler, Robert P. Lieb, Val Avery, Meg Wyllie (introduction/narration by Rod Serling)

Series created by:  Rod Serling

Written by:  Rod Serling / directed by:  Jack Smight

What’s it about?

On Christmas Eve a drunken and depressed store Santa Claus is fired only to discover a mysterious and magical sack full of presents…

Retrospective/review

Originally airing on 23rd December 1960 during The Twilight Zone’s second season, “The Night of the Meek” is a special seasonal tale written by series creator Rod Serling.  It features The Honeymooner’s Art Carney (who would go on to appear in the infamous 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special) as Henry Corwin, a drunken but kind spirited department store Santa Claus who after being fired on Christmas Eve discovers a magic bag that dispenses a wealth of gifts.

In true Serling (who was actually born on Christmas Day of 1924) fashion the set-up for “The Night of the Meek” is sombre and relatively bleak but through the course of 25 minutes takes the viewer on a mysterious and enlightening journey that with a lot of heart and a good dose of Christmas spirit delivers a positive and jovial outcome.  Art Carney is perfectly cast and Serling’s rich and wonderfully dialogued script provides a lot of introspection and commentary on the human condition.  Henry Corwin is at the bottom of a barrel, a derelict who for most of the year is unemployed but finds some sense of worth each Christmas as he takes on the job of Santa.  This time however he is in deep despair at the plight of those less fortunate as he preaches the true meaning of Christmas, something he feels has been neglected in favour of commercialism.  Carney’s performance is suitably humble and melancholic with an underlying touch of benevolence and together with Serling’s writing creates a layered and interesting character who we sympathise with and ultimately root for.  Corwin’s discovery of the mysterious present-giving bag gives him a renewed purpose and a sense of hope as he hands out gifts to children and the homeless.  His charitable nature is justly rewarded in Serling’s inspiring and aptly festive twist ending.

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Rod Serling introduces viewers to a seasonal offering of ‘The Twilight Zone’ (image credit: CBS).

Of the rest of the cast, John Fiedler (famous for his roles in films such as 12 Angry Men and The Odd Couple, but perhaps best known to genre fans for appearing in the classic 1967 Star Trek episode “Wolf in the Fold”) is a particular standout, making for an appropriately irascible store manager who also helps to provide a touch of comedy in the episode’s latter act as the story moves into merrier territory.  The episode was shot entirely on impressive interior sets (including the fake snow-littered street scenes) and it’s all neatly staged by Emmy Award Winning director Jack Smight (who previously directed The Twilight Zone episodes “The Lonely” and “The Lateness of the Hour”).  The accompanying music score (the composer is unfortunately uncredited) is beautifully fitting as it utilises the tune of favourite Yuletide carol The First Noel.

“The Night of the Meek” would eventually be remade for the 1980s revival of The Twilight Zone (the cast of which includes Die Hard’s William Atherton) but as ever, nothing compares to Rod Serling’s original fable which should be part of anyone’s festive viewing.

Geek fact!

“The Night of the Meek” was one of six episodes from the second season of The Twilight Zone to be shot on video tape instead of film as part of a cost saving exercise.

Film Review: ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’

A celebrated science fiction-fantasy saga comes to its conclusion… 

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The end of a saga nears in ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ (image credit: Lucasfilm/Walt Disney Pictures).

Spoiler-free review

Starring:  Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Anthony Daniels, Domhnall Gleeson, Richard E. Grant, Ian McDiarmid, Billy Dee Williams

Directed by:  J.J. Abrams / written by:  Chris Terrio & J.J. Abrams (story by Derek Connolly, Colin Trevorrow, Chris Terrio & J.J. Abrams) / 142 minutes

What’s it about?

As the final battle between the forces of good and evil approaches, Rey prepares to complete her training as a Jedi and Kylo Ren investigates the apparent return of Emperor Palpatine…

In review

Forty-two years after it began, the original Star Wars story reaches its conclusion with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker the final chapter (‘Episode IX’) of what is now known as ‘the Skywalker Saga’.  It’s an entertaining and nostalgic ride that’s undeniably flawed, falling victim to a lack of a cohesive vision and direction for this sequel trilogy which began with 2015’s smash hit The Force Awakens and tries very hard to please fans jaded by the risky creative choices made by writer/director Rian Johnson in the divisive previous entry, 2017’s The Last Jedi.

The story of The Rise of Skywalker picks up in the wake of the events of The Last Jedi and sees General Leia Organa’s diminished Resistance struggling to survive as they continue the fight against the relentless tyranny of the First Order, under the rageful leadership of Supreme Leader Kylo Ren.  As mysterious transmissions from the supposedly deceased Emperor Palpatine are heard throughout the galaxy, the paths of Ren and Jedi-in-training Rey are once again drawn together as the powerful Dark Side of the Force beckons and the final battle between good and evil looms.

Returning director and co-writer J.J. Abrams (replacing Jurassic World’s Colin Trevorrow, who departed the project following creative differences) repeats much of what he brought to The Force Awakens, producing an action packed, visually striking and emotional Star Wars adventure that’s saturated with fan service, inducing the film with heaps of nostalgia that’s enjoyable and pleasing to a certain extent, but this reliance on sentimentality can also prove burdensome to the already convoluted and messy plot.  Abrams certainly builds a series of energetic and exciting set-pieces with land speeder chases, lightsaber duels and explosive space battles all confidently and rightfully in place although the CGI effects-heavy finale makes for a slightly muddled third act (which much like The Force Awakens has a tendency to repeat plot points of previous films, specifically Return of the Jedi).

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John Boyega, Daisy Ridley and Oscar Isaac in ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ (image credit: Lucasfilm/Walt Disney Pictures).

The cast of The Rise of Skywalker are all solid with standout performances from Daisey Ridley and Adam Driver as Rey and Kylo Ren, respectively, with the pair confidently driving the core narrative.  Oscar Isaac once again enjoys an increased presence as the fearless Poe Dameron, bolstered by the fun camaraderie he shares with John Boyega’s Finn.  Beloved classic characters Chewbacca, C-3PO and R2-D2 are also back (and in a smaller capacity, Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker) and the charismatic Billy Dee Williams makes a welcome return to the Star Wars universe as the ever-buoyant General Lando Calrissian.  As for the return of Emperor Palpatine (last seen plummeting to his presumed demise in Return of the Jedi), Ian McDiarmid is at his scenery-chewing best and provides a devilish and sinister threat, yet the character’s role largely feels like a retread of the past.

Of course, there needs to special mention of the late Carrie Fisher (who, honourably and fittingly, receives top billing) who via the use of unused footage is incorporated into The Rise of Skywalker.  Given the limitations of those cut scenes (particularly in terms of dialogue), Fisher’s appearances can come across as a little distracting at times yet Abrams and his team do well with what little was available to them and ensure that the sequences featuring Leia are both respectful and have an importance to them.

If there is one grand fault of the sequel trilogy it’s that it didn’t take enough time to bring the trio of Rey, Poe and Finn together more and sooner rather than later and although strides are made to correct that in The Rise of Skywalker it feels like it’s too little too late and the sense of unity and friendship between the three can’t hope to match the inseparable familial bond shared by original heroes Luke, Han and Leia.

Undoubtedly a reaction to the reception of The Last Jedi and an attempt to re-invoke much of the praise which greeted The Force Awakens, The Rise of Skywalker ultimately plays it safe and results in an entertaining if not wholly satisfying finale to a long running cinematic serial.  It’s still a superior effort in comparison to the maligned prequels but likely the weakest instalment of the modern Star Wars sequels.

The bottom line:  Visually stunning and boasting some great action sequences albeit encumbered by a problematic narrative and uninspired story choices, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is a flawed but entertaining finale to the franchise’s original saga.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is in cinemas now.

Images used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

Comic Review: ‘Superman #18’

Change is afoot for the Man of Steel… 

Superman #18

Cover art by Ivan Reis, Joe Prado & Alex Sinclair (image credit: DC Comics).

Written by:  Brian Michael Bendis / pencils by:  Ivan Reis / inks by:  Joe Prado / colours by:  Alex Sinclair

What’s it about?

“The Truth” : after facing the lies and secrets of his father, Superman makes the ultimate decision and reveals himself to the world…

In review

After months of teasing by DC and writer Brian Michael Bendis, Superman #18 sees the Man of Steel come to the ultimate decision and reveal his true identity to the world.  A gutsy move for sure and one that’s stirred – understandably – a lot of trepidation amongst the fan community but results in one of the most emotionally resonant and moving comic books to have been published in a long time.  Of course, the revelation that Superman and Clark Kent are one and the same has occurred before – as recently as DC’s New 52 – but it has never felt more relevant and appropriate than it does here and despite the initial apprehension of the readership, it just feels right.  The character of Superman is a beacon of hope and an embodiment of those much vaunted values of truth and justice and in these all too often troubled times where people may be fearful of the future and where there can be great distrust in public figures and disappointment at the duplicitousness of those in power, the reveal is a genuine and honest step for the world’s greatest superhero to make.

Brian Michael Bendis provides an unwaveringly strong script that keeps things very much on a personal level with plenty of emotional grounding and a healthy dose of moral debate as Superman/Clark considers the weight and possible outcomes of his decision.  Bendis makes a strong case for what on the surface is a risky choice, Superman’s conversation with Adam Strange facilitating the bulk of the argument.  Bendis retains his trademark style of snappy dialogue but not without undermining the seriousness of the situation, making the exchange both thought provoking and fun.  In the end it feels right and true because of what the Last Son of Krypton has endured in recent times – most specifically the actions of his father Jor-El and the dark secrets he kept, playing a significant role in Clark’s resolution.

Whilst this issue is framed by the press conference in which Superman’s reveal is made (scenes which felt in some way reminiscent of the United Nations sequence in Superman IV: The Quest For Peace, carrying that same sense of nobility and highlighting the inherent “goodness” associated with the character – there’s also a neat little nod to Tim Burton’s Batman Returns elsewhere in the book), Bendis takes time to show things very much from Clark’s perspective and understands the importance of those close to him as he chooses to reveal the truth to certain others before going public.  One such moment is executed exceptionally well and without dialogue, allowing the art to tell a specific part of the story more effectively than any series of words could.

Speaking of the art, Ivan Reis (together with his collaborators Joe Prado and Alex Sinclair on inks and colours, respectively) returns after a short break and produces some of his best work – beyond the usual quality in layouts and character, Reis contributes a great deal to the storytelling especially in helping to convey the emotion of the narrative with highly intricate and expressive faces and body language enhancing the spirit of Bendis’ script.

Superman #18 is arguably a masterpiece and although not everyone may be pleased with such a significant change in status quo, Brian Michael Bendis doesn’t take things lightly and opens up a world of possibilities as readers are left with a hint of what the consequences are going to be and how it will shape the future for Superman and the DC Universe.

The bottom line:  A bold new chapter in the history of Superman begins as Brian Michael Bendis and Ivan Reis deliver an engaging and emotional story that upholds the positive virtues of the character.

Superman #18 is published by DC and is available in print and digital formats now.

Images used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

Flashback: ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’

2019 marks four decades since Gene Roddenberry’s ‘Star Trek’ was relaunched on the silver screen…

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Bob Peak’s wonderful poster art for ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’ (image credit: Paramount Pictures).

Year:  1979

Starring:  William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Majel Barrett, Persis Khambatta, Stephen Collins

Directed by:  Robert Wise / written by:  Harold Livingston (story by Alan Dean Foster)

What’s it about?

As a mysterious and hostile force advances towards Earth, Admiral James T. Kirk is reunited with his former crew as he takes command of the newly refitted U.S.S. Enterprise on a mission to intercept the intruder…

Retrospective/review

Celebrating its fortieth anniversary this December, Star Trek: The Motion Picture may not be as popular as its 1982 sequel – Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – but its place and importance in the history of the franchise shouldn’t be overlooked.  Originally conceived as a pilot for a new Star Trek television series, the production would evolve into a big budget feature film in the wake of the success of Star Wars – although Star Trek: The Motion Picture would take more of a high-concept science fiction approach similar to that of Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Produced by Gene Roddenberry (who would write the film’s interesting but slightly bizarre novelisation) and skilfully directed by The Day the Earth Stood Still’s Robert Wise with a story, credited to noted SF author Alan Dean Foster, that echoes elements of classic Star Trek episode “The Changeling”, Star Trek: The Motion Picture is presented on a visual scale that could only have been dreamt of back in the days of the original series.  The film opens as Klingon (the iconic Trek race given a more alien-like makeover for the big screen) warships commence an attack on an approaching force – an expansive and powerful cloud of energy which soon neutralises the aggressors.  As the cloud proceeds on a heading for Earth, an unfulfilled and desk-bound Admiral Kirk (William Shatner) convinces his superiors to place him in command of the newly refitted U.S.S. Enterprise on a desperate mission to intercept and establish contact with the intruder.

Believing the benefit of his experience and leadership will provide the best chance of success, Kirk initially finds himself troubled by an unfamiliarity with the refitted Enterprise and in conflict with her would be captain, Will Decker (Stephen Collins), whose situation is complicated further by the posting of his old flame, Ilia (the late Persis Khambatta, in her introductory film role) as ship’s navigator (Walter Koenig’s Chekov now occupying the post of security chief).

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Admiral Kirk (William Shatner) and the crew of the Enterprise (image credit: Paramount Pictures).

Dealing with engine troubles and a near fatal wormhole encounter before rendezvousing with science officer Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) along the way, the stakes are raised as the Enterprise intercepts the approaching danger – traversing the energy cloud to discover a colossus alien vessel at its centre.  As Ilia is replaced by an android duplicate serving as a representative of the alien ship, Kirk learns that the intruder is ‘V’Ger’, a life-form on a journey to find and ‘join’ with its creator.  It all leads to a startling finale in which (spoilers follow…) Kirk and his crew face V’Ger, which they are astonished to discover is the lost 20th Century NASA probe, Voyager VI – repaired by an unknown machine race and sent on a return voyage to its point of origin where it can complete its programme of “learning all that is learnable” and providing all the information it has amassed to the creator.  Having gained sentience on its journey, V’Ger has reached the limits of its understanding and must evolve by joining with its creator…and one amongst the Enterprise crew volunteers to do so.

The film is commonly criticised for its slow pace (detractors unfairly labelling it as ‘The Slow Motion Picture’) and whilst this may be true, Star Trek: The Motion Picture is best viewed for what it is – a cerebral cinematic experience that reunites an iconic and beloved set of characters, unfolding steadily and subjecting the viewer to some striking visuals as it presents intriguing and intelligent science fiction ideas.  Despite the more conceptual and visually driven story, the cast are all reliably great – especially the central trio: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley, representing, respectively, the celebrated troika of Kirk, Spock and McCoy.  As the main star, Shatner is provided with some decent material as the ever-passionate Kirk wrestles with his regret at accepting promotion and his yearning to return to command of a starship.  Likewise, Nimoy gets to once again grapple with Spock’s conflicted half human/half Vulcan nature, his sensing of V’Ger and an inability to attain ‘Kholinahr’, the Vulcan ritual of complete emotional purging, driving his desire to re-join the Enterprise crew and seek out the mysterious invader.  DeForest Kelley’s Doctor McCoy is once again the cantankerous yet valued conscience and moral centre.

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The glorious refitted U.S.S. Enterprise, designed by Andrew Probert (image credit: Paramount Pictures).

The production design and special effects for Star Trek: The Motion Picture are reasonably impressive considering their age.  The redesigned Enterprise is simply beautiful, brought to life by the superb model work.  The sets are sparse but have an appropriately futuristic feel to them as do the crew uniforms which are a fitting evolution of those in the original series in comparison to the more military-based attire of the sequels.  In terms of the effects, led by 2001’s Douglas Trumbull and Star Wars’ John Dykstra, they remain a key element, the mesmerising sequence of the Enterprise’s penetration of the cloud, the jaw dropping ‘V’Ger flyover’ scenes and Spock’s ‘spacewalk’ being the most obvious highlights – in addition to the wonderfully executed launch of the Enterprise, of course.  Jerry Goldsmith’s Oscar nominated score is one of the composer’s best and an inseparable accompaniment to the story and visuals, capturing the romance and majesty of space in the 23rd Century, the grandeur of the Enterprise, the eerie mystery of the enigmatic force that threatens humanity and the wonders of the unknown.

It’s no secret that the production of Star Trek: The Motion Picture was troubled by last minute script re-writes, increasing costs (its budget inflating to a then eye-watering $46 million, making it the most expensive feature film at that time) and a tight schedule to meet its 7th December 1979 release date, leaving director Robert Wise with no time to produce a final cut and unsatisfied with the film in its theatrical form.  Much of this was remedied with the 2001 DVD release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture – The Director’s Edition, a superior edit of the film with Wise reinstating some of the more character-orientated scenes missing from the theatrical version whilst trimming down some of the longer and more superfluous moments, a fresh sound mix and new CGI effects to enhance and embellish the existing visuals.  Unlike the Star Wars Special Editions, the changes made were to benefit what Wise felt was an unfinished film and, largely, choices that would have been made in 1979 had the production been permitted the extra time and resources required.

Despite receiving a critical drubbing Star Trek: The Motion Picture would prove a box office success, paving the way for several sequels and an eventual television rebirth of the franchise.  Whilst Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is considered to be closer to the overall spirit of the original Star Trek series with a deeper focus on the characters and emphasis on morality play elements (whilst injecting a larger measure of action and excitement), Star Trek: The Motion Picture is perhaps more cinematic and – especially in its Director’s Edition form – an enjoyable and underrated first big screen adventure for Kirk, Spock and company that’s deserving of a revisit and perhaps a reappraisal as it reminds us that “The Human Adventure is Just Beginning”…

Read the classics review of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan here

Geek fact!

Mark Lenard, who portrayed Spock’s father in the original Star Trek series appears as a Klingon commander in the epic opening scenes of Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Image(s) used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).