Comic Review: ‘Batman’ #21

DC Comics’ greatest detectives open the casebook on the mysteries of the DCU’s Rebirth…

Spoiler-free review

Written by:  Tom King / pencils and inks by:  Jason Fabok

What’s it about?

“The Button” Part One : Batman enlists the Flash to aid in his investigation into the mysterious smiley button found in the wall of the Batcave…

In review

Almost a year on from DC’s relaunch initiative under the now iconic (and for the most part creatively successful) Rebirth banner, one of its most tantalising mysteries is about to be explored in “The Button”, a four part crossover playing out across Batman and The Flash.

For this opening chapter, writer Tom King takes a simple and steady approach to a slowly unfolding narrative that spends a chunk of its page count depicting a violent brawl between Batman and a returning villain long thought dead.  If this sounds like a criticism, it isn’t, as Tom King masterfully eases the reader in to a story that answers little about those lingering threads from Geoff Johns’ triumphant DC Universe Rebirth #1 but manages to remain non-the-less intriguing whilst setting the stage for what’s to come.  If there’s any concern at this point it’s that four issues may not be long enough for this particular arc, given the potential ramifications it may have for the overall DCU.

As regular DC Comics readers will know, DC Universe Rebirth #1 established a startling and enigmatic connection to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ seminal masterwork Watchmen, the discovery of a certain blood-stained yellow smiley button embedded in the Batcave wall leaving the Dark Knight Detective with the promise of the most challenging investigation he’s likely ever to face.

Tom King (whose run on Batman is only getting stronger) makes good work out of a minimal narrative, throwing in a few shocks and surprises that help hold the reader’s interest through to a feverishly good cliffhanger.  King realises that the strengths of Batman #21 lie in its visuals – so thank the stars Jason Fabok is on hand to provide the art here.  Fabok has been sorely underutilised since Geoff Johns’ pre-Rebirth run on Justice League wrapped and it’s a real treat to see his meticulous, powerful and lavish layouts on show (Howard Porter will certainly need to up his game for The Flash issues), particularly during those pages in which Batman fights for survival against his opponent, whilst the Flash speeds his way through a fight of his own (King proving he has a good handle on the Scarlet Speedster in these moments as he dashes and quips his way through the action) before racing to the Batcave and into the heart of this mystery.

To say too much specific about Batman #21 would spoil the fun but it’s rewarding to see this story have ties to not only the DC Universe Rebirth special but also to DC’s earlier continuity twisting and New 52 birthing event, Flashpoint and of course, Watchmen, which King and Fabok pay homage to with some nifty panel construction that’s pleasingly reminiscent of that classic piece of work.  Although it may seem there’s little narrative progression in Batman #21, it’s via these connections that it actually offers far more than casual readers will appreciate but still provides enough visual thrills to keep any comics fan happy.

The bottom line:  Tom King delivers an intriguing and surprising opening to “The Button”, made all the more enjoyable by the exciting visuals of the stellar Jason Fabok.

Batman #21 is published by DC Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.

Batman #21

Jason Fabok’s incredbile art adds to the excitement of DC’s ‘Batman’ #21.

TV Review: ‘Doctor Who’ S10 EP01 “The Pilot”

Guess Who’s back…

Starring:  Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie, Matt Lucas

Written by:  Steven Moffat / Episodes directed by: Lawrence Gough / aired in the UK and U.S. :  15/04/2017

What’s it about?

Posing as a university lecturer, the Doctor’s path crosses with a promising new student and a mysterious threat…

Episode review

After an extended break, Doctor Who returns with its first full new series since 2015 (only Christmas special “The Return of Doctor Mysterio“ aired during 2016) uniting Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor with new companion Bill Potts, played by Pearl Mackie.

Doctor Who has always thrived on reinventing and refreshing itself and although this most successfully occurs with a change in lead actor – the Doctor regenerating into a new ‘version’ of himself – “The Pilot” feels, from the outset somewhat like a series with a renewed perspective.  Granted, series 9 of modern Who was generally strong but with the darkness surrounding the loss of Clara and the Doctor’s grappling with his own demons it’s welcome to see the show return to a lighter and purely adventurous tone.

Outgoing showrunner Steven Moffat (who departs along with Peter Capaldi this year) delivers a fairly simple script that’s in measures, fun, exciting, scary and peppers in just the right amount of detail to establish the lore and universe of Doctor Who for new viewers without bogging the episode down in its expansive and – in places – messy history (Moffat doesn’t forget the fans though by including some delightful Easter eggs).  Moffat’s basic ‘water monster’ plot is easy enough to follow – no ‘timey-wimey’ convolutions here – throwing in a number of behind-the-sofa scares amongst smatterings of cheeky humour and intrigue (what could be behind that mysterious vault beneath the university campus?).

Capaldi makes an assured return as the Doctor and once again excels in the role but it’s Pearl Mackie’s introduction that proves the most significant highlight in a wide-eyed and affable performance that keeps proceedings as grounded and believable as possible against the otherworldly alien-ness of the Doctor’s world.  Capaldi and Mackie hit it off right from the start, their dynamic solidified as Bill’s curiosity is rewarded with an invitation into the TARDIS (made all the more memorable by Bill’s longer than usual realisation of its true nature)…and a run-in with the Daleks for good measure!

Less fortunate is returning (from the 2015 and 2016 Christmas specials) companion Nardole, with Matt Lucas given little to do other than…well, just hang around really.  Yet, this episode is more about Bill and no doubt there will be more opportunities to explore Nardole as the series progresses and the relationship of the new TARDIS team develops.

If “The Pilot” is representative of the rest of the series then outgoing showrunner Steven Moffat should exit on a creative high, the closing ‘coming soon’ tease (classic Cybermen! Missy! John Simm! Regeneration!) certain to whet viewers’ appetites for the adventures that lie ahead.

The bottom line:  Doctor Who makes a welcome return with a promising new companion in a highly entertaining reintroduction to the series.

Doctor Who airs in the UK Saturday evenings on BBC One.  US viewers can catch it on BBC America.

Doctor Who S10 prem

Read for new worlds and new adventures: the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) with the newest member of the TARDIS crew, Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie).

What did you think of the ‘Doctor Who’ season premiere?  Share your thoughts below!

Flashback: ‘Star Trek V: The Final Frontier’

Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner, directs Star Trek’s

notorious fifth big screen adventure…

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‘Star Trek V: The Final Frontier’ – a flawed but fun adventure for the original crew…

Year:  1989

Starring:  William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Laurence Luckinbill

Directed by:  William Shatner / Written by:  David Loughrey (Story by William Shatner, Harve Bennett & David Loughrey)

What’s it about?

Spock’s estranged half-brother, Sybok hijacks the U.S.S. Enterprise to go in search of the fabled planet Sha Ka Ree…

Retrospective

It’s generally looked upon as the weakest of the original crew’s big screen voyages, but is Star Trek V: The Final Frontier really all that bad?  With the critical and commercial success of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home in 1986 and the franchise entering a new golden era with the launch of television series Star Trek: The Next Generation it would have been fair to say that the odds were already stacked against Star Trek V, in whatever form it would take.  With Leonard Nimoy having helmed Star Treks III and IV it would be William Shatner’s turn in the director’s chair and although the results would be less successful with the production being hindered by budgetary woes and script and story issues, The Final Frontier does have its moments.

The story of The Final Frontier sees an undermanned and malfunctioning U.S.S. Enterprise despatched to Nimbus III – dubbed “The Planet of Galactic Peace” – where Spock’s long lost half-brother, Sybok (Laurence Luckinbill) has taken envoys of the Federation, Klingon and Romulan governments hostage.  Using his Vulcan telepathy to ‘influence’ individuals into joining his cause, Sybok succeeds in commandeering the Enterprise and taking her crew on a voyage to the mythical planet ‘Sha Ka Ree’…where he believes God himself resides!  Adding to the tension is the eager commander of a Klingon vessel out to prove himself (Captain Klaa, played by Todd Bryant) by relentlessly pursuing the Enterprise, in the hopes of engaging her captain in battle.

It all sounds a little hokey, but with the revelations of the film’s final act it all comes together like a fairly entertaining episode of 1960s Star Trek.  Although the finished film lacks the complexity, nuance and real-world commentary writer/director Nicholas Meyer would infuse into Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, The Final Frontier is still an imaginative and fun science fiction adventure carried by the beloved characters of the original Star Trek, especially the central troika of Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock and Doctor McCoy and the performances by their respective actors William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley.  Principal cast aside, one of the film’s biggest assets is guest star Laurence Luckinbill who brings both strength and passion to the role of Sybok, an outcast of Vulcan society who has shunned their traditions in repression of emotion and an adherence to logic above all else.

It’s been well documented that Shatner’s original vision for The Final Frontier was far more elaborate and, perhaps, daring than what eventually appeared on screen.  Most notably, a diminished budget meant a finale in which Kirk was to be pursued by monstrous rock creatures (a sequence preserved in the pages of the DC Comics adaptation) would not be possible.  There were also some major script changes, facilitated in part by concerns from Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley about how Spock and McCoy would be portrayed in the film, both particularly startled by an earlier draft of the story which had Spock and McCoy also falling under Sybok’s influence and turning on Kirk along with the rest of the Enterprise crew.

Some of Shatner’s concepts certainly work, particularly the concept of “the Planet of Galactic Peace” – a well-intentioned, yet failed experiment in co-operation between seemingly implacable enemies.  The very notion of Sybok and his ‘crusade’ is also allegorical of religious extremism, an element watered down likely at the behest of Paramount Pictures but still has some presence in the completed version of the film.  Working with Shatner and producer Harve Bennett on the problematic narrative, David Loughrey’s screenplay does a respectable job in focusing the disparate elements into a reasonably cohesive and entertaining adventure that gives all of the Star Trek crew moments to shine with strokes of humour that’s as enjoyable as some of The Voyage Home’s funniest moments.

One of the film’s biggest drawbacks is in its visual effects, which generally fall below the quality of previous instalments.  With legendary effects house ILM stretched by their commitments on Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Ghostbusters II, the film’s visuals were undertaken by a smaller, less established effects company and lack the overall punch of what was seen in prior Star Trek films, made all the more noticeable by the inclusion of stock footage from The Voyage Home.  It’s a shame because if ILM had been available it would have improved The Final Frontier, especially those sequences in which the Enterprise traverses the ‘Great Barrier’ where the effects work is adequate but clearly weaker and far less impressive than ILM’s work on Star Trek: The Motion Picture, a decade earlier!  Luckily, the production design by The Next Generation’s Herman Zimmerman is decent with the trashy, decaying aesthetic of Nimbus III’s ‘Paradise City’ aiding greatly in the sort of gritty Western feel Shatner strived for.  The bridge of the newly commissioned Enterprise-A is also a highlight, brightly lit and with advanced touch screen displays on show, it’s slightly reminiscent of the set of J.J. Abrams’ films as opposed to the subdued and submarine like styling Nicholas Meyer would employ for The Undiscovered Country.  Jerry Goldsmith’s score also proves to be a successful component, mixing themes from Star Trek: The Motion Picture with new material to enrich key moments of excitement, awe and mystery.

In the end Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is by no means the strongest entry in the series, mainly due to disappointing special effects work and the dilution of the stronger themes William Shatner sought to explore.  Yet, viewed with an appreciation for the original Star Trek series and affection for its cast of characters there’s a certain level of enjoyment to be had.

Geek fact!

The role of Sybok was originally intended for Sean Connery, ‘Sha Ka Ree’ being derived from his name.

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In search of “the ultimae knowledge”: Kirk, Sybok, Spock and McCoy reach the Final Frontier…