Wednesday, 25 March 2015

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Hardened Space Corps sergeant Nate Slaughterhouse fights on the front lines for humanity. But when he’s grievously injured in battle, he’s deemed no longer fit for service and sent home to Mega-City One – albeit with a rather nifty new set of mechanical limbs. Life in the Big Meg ain’t easy, and when his wife Kitty goes missing and he pees off a local crime lord, Slaughterhouse turns vigilante. In the second part of his story, Instrument of War, he’s given a chance at getting Kitty back, but in return must help an old war general launch a military coup.

Mandroid relies heavily on well-worn tropes – the vigilante spurred into action by the loss of a loved one – yet tells this story with more conviction and depth than you might expect. Wagner’s script is full of anger at the crime-ridden city and the inability of the judges to deal with elusive crime lords, and yet Slaughterhouse is a complex figure who seems to take joy in killing, using the fact that his victims are ‘scum’ as tenuous justification. Dredd himself plays an interesting role, at first sympathetic to Slaughterhouse’s situation, but increasingly suspicious, leading to an effectively bombastic climax.

Instrument of War avoids the typical sequel traps by telling a boldly different story with the same character while feeling like a logical continuation of his journey – though it isn’t as gritty or hard-hitting as its predecessor, focusing too much on the procedural elements of General Vincent’s plot and Dredd’s investigation, and it ruins its own emotional tension by revealing a particular twist too early.

Together, the two Mandroid strips, though occasionally lacking in subtlety, tell the morally complex story of a man who loses it all and turns to some rather suspect methods of anger management, and do so in a bleak, thoughtful, thrilling manner.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

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Avengers: Age of Ultron is all set to be one of the biggest films of the year, so to mark its release, and the latest issue of Starburst Magazine has all you need to know about it and the surrounding Marvel properties.

I've contributed a piece about the Marvel Universe TV series, and there's a whole load more Avengers-themed content for you to get your super-powered hands onto.

Also in this issue – two of my reviews, and a merchandise column I sort of wrote. I found out I was writing a merchandise column towards the end of the magazine's print deadline day, after I'd been proofing copy for about 24 hours, so I apologise if the puns are even worse than the one in this blog post's title.

Starburst 411 is available from WH Smiths, independent comics retailers, or right here.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

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Read the full version of this review on Starburst.

After four volumes of classic Dredd, the Mega Collection partwork turns its attention to Cassandra Anderson, the Psi-Judge with her own spin-off series. Whereas her early stories were basically Judge Dredd strips with a different protagonist, Anderson: Psi Division came into its own in the early 1990s, when writer Alan Grant sent Anderson on adventures of a more mystical nature. Five such stories – Shamballa, The Jesus Syndrome, The Protest, R*volution, and Satan – are reprinted here.

In the title story, Anderson and her counterparts from Sov-Cit search for a mysterious city related to a number of psychic disturbances across the world. This fascinating story makes good use of its exotic settings, though the highlight is Anderson’s relationship with Russian PsiKop Amisov, a romance founded on a deep psychic connection.

Other stories see Anderson confront the leader of a dangerous religious sect known as Christianity, get trapped inside the mind of a gorilla servant, and confront Satan himself, in a bombastic adventure that, asks some interesting moral questions, though never really digs as deeply as it thinks it does.

In fact, that’s a common problem in these stories, which aim big, but often miss the opportunity to really give us Grant’s views on the issues, or cut away before explaining what’s truly going on. This may be the point – Grant wants us to make up our own minds – but there’s often a frustrating feeling that something’s missing.

A strength all Grant’s scripts do share is Cassandra Anderson, who is – dare I say it – a more interesting lead than Joe Dredd. While Dredd’s cold-hearted law-keeping is great for satirical purposes, Anderson is a complex, emotional protagonist who questions herself and her place as a judge. Shamballa in particular exploits that well, with the recent suicide of a colleague laying heavy on her throughout her journey.

Though not as deep as they could be, these Judge Anderson stories are nonetheless bold, intriguing adventures with their spiritual nature and self-doubting Psi-Judge marking them out as a very different corner of Dredd’s world to add to your collection.

Monday, 16 March 2015

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I've written a piece on the wonderfully intense Blue is the Warmest Colour for The Big Picture.

Shit me, Adèle Exarchopoulos is amazing (that comment had to go here, because I have to be all formal for the Big Pic).

Thursday, 5 March 2015

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Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Leviathan has caused quite the controversy recently; despite international acclaim including an Oscar nomination and a Golden Globes win, it’s not gone down well in its native Russia, with the cinema release subject to cuts and the Minister of Culture criticising its portrayal of the country. Watching the film, now available on DVD, it’s not difficult to work out why.

Leviathan follows Kolya, a heavy-drinking, ill-tempered everyman whose property is being repossessed by the government. Despite strong evidence that the repossession is illegal, he’s up against a corrupt mayor who’ll use every trick in the book to get one over on him, and his case begins to crumble when his lawyer begins an affair with Kolya’s wife. Oh, and his son’s a bit of a delinquent.

Yes, if you’re tired of cinema that puts a smile on your face, you’ll enjoy Leviathan’s harrowingly downbeat realism. You’ll repeatedly think ‘well, at least it can’t get any worse for him now’ only to be proven magnificently wrong.

But in this relentless despair lies the power of Leviathan; it’s a strongly anti-government film, in which the cops and the mayor are equally self-serving, and there’s little the poor, oppressed citizen can do when faced with uncaring, inaccessible bureaucracy.

Despite his anger management issues (or perhaps because of them – it makes him more human and relatable than his antagonists), it’s hard not to root for Kolya in his struggle against the leviathan that is the system, and it’s remarkable that this film got made at all in Putin’s Russia, a country that, it’s fair to say, isn’t renowned for its embracing of liberal media.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

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Read the full version of this review on Starburst, including comments on each individual story.

Time Trips was a series of short Doctor Who eBooks released throughout 2014, authored by successful novelists with a Doctor of their choice. All eight are now available in a handy hardcover, along with a bonus Twelfth Doctor tale.

The collection opens with the strongest story – A. L. Kennedy’s The Death Pit, a hilarious adventure in which the Fourth Doctor tracks a dangerous creature around an Arbroath spa hotel. As well as the finest description of a man being eaten by a golf bunker you’ll ever read, there’s a great one-off companion in frustrated receptionist Bryony.

After this, the Tenth and Third Doctors get two adventures each, and the Second and Sixth Doctors also get a go - and they're of very variable quality. There are too many disappointments here, and some Doctors getting two stories while others are left out isn't ideal. But, thanks to the few standout tales, you won’t regret getting onboard for these trips in time and space.