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February 23rd, 2015
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Josh Reviews Catastrophe Season Two!

I absolutely adored the first season of Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney’s Catastrophe, so of course I quickly moved on to season two.  Thank goodness, it’s just as brilliant, hilarious and absolutely filthy as season one.

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For those of you not in the know, Catastrophe tells the story of Sharon and Rob (fictional characters although they are played by the creators who have the same first names), who hook up for a weekend of passionate sex when Rob is in England on business.  When they discover Sharon is pregnant, Rob decides to move to England and he and Sharon try to make a go of being a couple.  The first six-episode series chronicled the nine months of Sharon’s pregnancy.  It was an extraordinary delight, fall-on-the-floor funny and with a level of blunt raunchiness — pulling no punches in its depictions of the realities of sex and pregnancy and everything that comes with both of those things — that made me quickly fall in love with it.

The very first scene of the first episode in season two is playful in terms of misleading the audience as to when this second series takes place.  But since all the promotional images for the show depict Sharon and Rob with two kids, I don’t think I’m really spoiling anything by saying that this second season, in a somewhat surprising move, takes place several years after season one.  Their first child is a few years old already and, in the first episode, Sharon gives birth to their second.  I praised the first season of Catastrophe for many reasons, one of which was that I loved how quickly they moved through the nine months of Sharon’s pregnancy, rather than doing what many American sitcoms would do and milking the show’s set-up for years.  Here again I applaud Ms. Horgan and Mr. Delaney for having the courage to move the show, and its characters, forward by several years so that we can see how they have developed and so the show can tell different stories here in series two.

Season two expands the focus beyond Sharon and Rob.  Many of the show’s supporting characters, most particularly Chris (Mark Bonnar) and Dave (Daniel Lapaine), get some interesting development here in season two.  The show is suddenly unafraid to spend time with these characters when they are away from Sharon and Rob.  It’s an interesting development, and one that I enjoyed, even though it led to a few more somber moments (as both men struggle mightily with their loneliness) that interrupted the show’s fun.  But I enjoyed this broadening of the show’s horizons.  These story-lines also seemed to indicate that Mr. Delaney and Ms. Horgan are envisioning … [continued]

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Star Trek…Lives?

May 23rd, 2016

As I have often lamented here on this blog, it’s been a dark time for Star Trek fans.  The Next Generation movie series sputtered to a halt with the dreadful Star Trek: Nemesis in 2002, and there hasn’t been a Trek series on TV in over a decade, since the cancellation of Star Trek: Enterprise in May 2005.  Since then, the only official on-screen new Trek adventures have been J.J. Abrams’ enjoyable but flawed reboot of Star Trek in 2009, and the abomination that was Star Trek Into Darkness in 2013.

Fans like me have found joy, and a Trek fix, in sources such as Pocket Books’ wonderful continuing series of Star Trek novels, which tell a sophisticated interconnected saga of stories that feature characters from all of the 24th century-set Trek shows (click here for my review of the novels Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Sacraments of Fire and Ascendance, by David R. George III); and in fan-made projects such as Star Trek: New Voyages (which was for a while called Star Trek: Phase II) and Star Trek: Continues, both of which are spectacular fan-made projects to create new episodes of original Kirk/Spock/McCoy Original Series adventures (click here for my review of Star Trek: New Voyages’ latest episode, “The Holiest Thing,” and click here for my review of Star Trek: Continues’ latest episode, “Divided We Stand”).

The past few days have presented me with a few glimmers of hope that maybe, just maybe, we might be getting some quality “official” on-screen new Trek adventures in the near future.

First was this brief tease of the new Trek series that is being made for the CBS Digital platform:

There’s nothing great in that teaser, but it does reinforce that this series is actually getting made, which feels like good news to me.  With the series being helmed by Bryan Fuller (a man with actual Trek experience, having worked on both Deep Space Nine and Voyager, and who then went on to become a very well-respected show-runner of shows like Hannibal) and with the involvement by Nicholas Meyer (the man most single-handedly responsible for my very favorite Star Trek installments, having written and directed Star Trek II and Star Trek VI, and who wrote all of the 20th-century-era sections of Star Trek IV), I have a high hopes for this new show.  Many fans have seized on this teaser trailer’s reference to “new crews” (plural) as perhaps confirmation of the intriguing rumor that this new Trek show would be an anthology, with different stories set in different eras of Trek history.  That’s a very cool idea and if done well it could be incredible.  I am excited to … [continued]

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Star Trek: Ascendance

I loved Sacraments of Fire, the first half of David R. George III’s new Star Trek: Deep Space Nine duology, and I’m pleased to say that the second book, Ascendance, is a strong conclusion to the story!

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Ascendance picks up right where Sacraments of Fire left off.  The crazed Iliana Ghemor (the Cardassian Kira Nerys look-alike from the DS9 episode “Second Skin”, who has been brought back as a major player in the post-finale DS9 novels) is leading the Ascendants, a fearsome race of interstellar religious zealots, in a crusade to destroy Bajor.  The planet’s only hope: the Jem’Hadar Taranatar.

Whereas Sacraments of Fire bounced back and forth around the timeline, this novel is presented in a more linear fashion.  The first half of the novel is set in what had been the missing years of the DS9 saga: after the events of 2009′s The Soul Key but before the events of David Mack’s Destiny trilogy.  The second half of the novel is set seven years later, in the “present day” of the current Trek novels’ continuity, taking place after the Federation-shaking events of last year’s The Fall five-book series.  It’s interesting that Mr. George chose such different structures for the two books in this duology.  I’m not sure which approach I prefer.  They both work for their respective books.

As I commented in my review of Sacraments of Fire, it is an enormous delight to see these novels finally go back to fill in the years of the DS9 story that got skipped when the entire Star Trek novel series jumped several years ahead of where the DS9 story was unfolding with David Mack’s excellent Destiny trilogy.  I had almost abandoned hope that the books would ever go back and fill in those missing years, so this two-book series was a delight.  (I detailed in my review of Sacraments of Fire the many old plot-lines from previous books that Mr. George so carefully picked back up and wove together in this wonderful new duology.)

I loved how these two novels carefully helped catch readers up on how all of the DS9 characters got to the places we saw them in Mr. George’s 2011 post-Destiny novel Rough Beasts of Empire.  Several years after that at-the-time-controversial novel (at least it was controversial to me, because of the very surprising places it took many of the DS9 characters), I have accepted and taken for granted many of those changes.  So it was an unexpected pleasure to get to actually see here, in this novel, just how and why Kira decided to leave military service to pursue a life as a Vedek (not to mention how she became friends … [continued]

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The Great Hellboy re-Reading Project Part XIV: Lake of Fire

My epic project to re-read Mike Mignola’s complete Hellboy saga from the very beginning is finally nearing its conclusion!

What began as a series of sporadic mini-series and short-stories featuring the big red occult investigator has deepened over the past twenty years into what is, for my money, the richest and most consistently entertaining comic book universe of stories out there.  Click here for part one, in which I discussed the very first Hellboy tale: the four-part mini-series Seed of Destruction.  Click here for part two, in which I discussed The Wolves of Saint August, The Corpse and the Iron Shoes, and Wake the Devil.  Click here for part three, in which I discussed a variety of Hellboy short stories including The Right Hand of Doom and Box Full of Evil.  Click here for part four, in which I discussed Hellboy’s last mission for the B.P.R.D.: Conquerer Worm.  Click here for part five, in which I discussed the beginning of a series of B.P.R.D. spin-offs and a whole new expansion of the Hellboy universe: Plague of Frogs.  Click here for part six, in which I discussed the major shift in the Hellboy story that took-place in The Third Wish and The Island.  Click here for part seven, in which I discussed the incredible B.P.R.D. mini-series that became the new central focus of the continuing Hellboy saga.  Click here for part eight, in which Hellboy finally returns to the spotlight with Darkness Calls.  Click here for part nine, in which the Hellboy universe expands with spin-off series focusing on Lobster Johnson, Abe Sapien, and the founding of the B.P.R.D.  And click here for part ten, in which I discussed the “Scorched Earth” trilogy of B.P.R.D. mini-series that wrapped up the series to that point and began the “Hell on Earth” story-line. Click here for part eleven, in which I discussed the death of Hellboy in The Storm and The Fury.  Click here for part twelve, in which I discuss the new B.P.R.D. “Hell on Earth” story-line.  Click here for part thirteen, in which I discuss the game-changing B.P.R.D. mini-series The Return of the Master along with the beginning of Hellboy in Hell.

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It’s exciting to be so close to the end of this massive re-read project.  Onward!

B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth #105-106: A Cold Day in Hell (2013) – This two-issue story brings a welcome focus onto Iosif and his relationship with Varvara.  The first page of issue #105 spells out the horror happening world-wide: monsters and upheaval and death.  Our heroes have proven to be woefully inadequate at stopping any of this.  Is this truly the end … [continued]

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Marvel Triumphs Again with Captain America: Civil War!

Marvel Studios is on a winning streak the likes of which I am hard-pressed to recall (the last decade of Pixar movies is the only thing I can think of that comes close) and Captain America: Civil War is even better than I had dared hope, an extraordinarily HUGE movie with astounding action and powerful emotional beats that pay off story-lines that have been building through the twelve (count ‘em, TWELVE) previous Marvel Studios movies ever since 2008′s Iron Man started this whole crazy adventure.  I am a huge fan of the under-appreciated Avengers: Age of Ultron (click here for my review), but a strong case can be made that Civil War is what The Avengers 2 should gave been, a film that embraces the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe, putting the characters through a wrenching emotional trial and eventually shattering the team that had come together in 2012′s The Avengers.

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Following the events of Age of Ultron, Cap has been training and leading a team of Avengers consisting of himself, the Falcon, the Black Widow, the Scarlet Witch, and the Vision.  As Captain America: Civil War opens, we find that Avengers team hot on the trail of Crossbones (the mangled ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Brock Rumlow from Captain America: The Winter Soldier).  As the try to stop Crossbones from obtaining a deadly biological weapon, a fight breaks out in the crowded streets of Nigeria.  Though the Avengers successfully stop Crossbones and his mercenaries, a tragic accident leaves a dozen civilians dead.  This proves to be the last straw for a world that has suffered from a series of increasingly-escalating super-hero/super-villain battles (as seen in the previous twelve Marvel movies).  Over a hundred nations band together to create the Sokovia Accords (named after the nation destroyed by Ultron in the climactic fight of Age of Ultron), declaring that the Avengers will no longer be an autonomous entity but now one governed by a UN-appointed supervising panel.  Tony Stark, desperate to find some way to prevent future civilian deaths and ensure that the Avengers remain a force for good across the world, supports the accords.  Captain America, worried that the international politics at play might prevent him and other super-heroes from acting whenever they feel it is necessary in order to save lives, opposes them.  This philosophical debate becomes more urgent when Cap’s former partner and best friend Bucky Barnes, now the brainwashed hit-man code-named the Winter Soldier (as seen in Captain America: The Winter Soldier) resurfaces and is apparently responsible for the murder of hundreds at the signing of the Sokovia Accords.  Tony begs Cap to let the world’s governments handle the subsequent manhunt but Cap refuses to … [continued]

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News Around the Net!

Let’s begin today with this: the single best joke told by every president, from Obama to Washington.

Fox has greenlit 12 episodes of a 24 spin-off series, 24: Legacy.  It’s hard to imagine my watching that since I didn’t make it past the first two episodes of 2014′s 24 revival mini-series Live Another Day.  I watched 24 from episode 1 of season 1, and at first I was evangelical about this amazing, intense serialized show.  But truth be told the only seasons I really loved were those first two years (and even those seasons had plenty of problems).  I stuck around for years afterwards and while there were some high points, I tended to find myself continually disappointed.  I finally bailed before the final season.  I had high hopes that Live Another Day would be a return to the show’s original greatness, but those first two hours just felt like more of the same.  Oh well.

Far more exciting: Netflix has announced a Wet Hot American Summer sequel!  The so-obvious it’s genius Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later will be eight episodes and, you can be assured, high on my must-watch list.

Was this seriously going to originally be the opening shot of Star Wars: The Force Awakens???  Love it!

So this is awesome: the Language Creation Society has just submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in Paramount’s suit attempting to halt production of the Star Trek fan-film Axanar.  Seems this Language Creation Society objects to Paramount’s contention that they can copyright the Klingon language.  You’ve got to read this article, it is nerdy and hilarious and wonderful.  To restate my position, I strongly object to Paramount’s heavy-handed effort to squash this fan-made film.  (After creating the amazing fifteen-minute Prelude to Axanar, this group of Trek fans fund-raised on Kickstarter — full disclosure: I have donated — to create a full feature-length film telling the story of the Five Years’ War between the Federation and the Klingons.  This is an event that is part of the backstory of Star Trek: The Original Series.  The planned film would focus on telling the story of Starfleet Captain Garth of Izar in the years before he became a crazy villain, as seen in the Original Series episode “Whom Gods Destroy.”)  To be clear, it is probably true that the Axanar folks are in violation of Paramount’s copyright, but who really cares?  These fan films are not a competition with Paramount’s official Star Trek efforts.  These fan-made projects are done by Trek fans who love Trek.  I absolutely guarantee you that every single Trek fan who donated to Axanar is going to buy a ticket (perhaps many!) to see Star [continued]

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The Best Not Quite “To Be Continued” Endings of Franchise Films

One of my complaints about Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was how much of the film was filled with shameless plugs for future DC Universe films.  I am all for connectivity between superhero films, thus establishing a shared universe of story-telling.  That is, in fact, one of the greatest triumphs of the Marvel cinematic universe!  The problem with Batman v Superman was how obvious and awkward and often confusing those connections-to-not-yet-made-future-films were.  The ending was a particular problem.  The film’s ending (which I won’t spoil) was clearly designed to be a cliffhanger that would make an audience excited for the next DCU adventure.  But I felt it landed with a thud.  Rather than being excited for the next film, I’m already dreading the time that will need to be wasted in Justice League to undo the events of the end of Batman v Superman.

This got me thinking about great endings to films in a series.  There’s something magical about a great ending to a film, particularly a film that is designed to be, not a stand-alone one-and-done entity, but rather an installment in a series.  There is a delicate art to being able to satisfactorily bring a film’s story to a close, while also teasing future adventures.  I adore that buzzy feeling of walking out of a movie absolutely desperate for the next installment, even if that next installment might be years away.

So what WERE some great endings to franchise films, endings that gave me that thrilled, excited feeling?  Well, I’m glad you asked, as I’ve decided to list some of my very favorites.

Now, before we begin, let me clarify that I’m not talking about a movie that ends on a out-and-out “to be continued” cliffhanger.  The best example of that would, of course, be:

Back to the Future Part II This film, gloriously, actually does end with the words “to be continued.”  (Well, actually the film ends with the words “to be concluded” which makes sense only when you know that the words “to be continued” were added on to the ending of the original Back to the Future for its home video release, so this ending of Part II now echoes/completes that ending of Part I.  Without that “to be continued” ending of Part I, you might expect the ending of Part II to read “to be continued” rather than “to be concluded.”  At least, I would!  Sadly, all DVD and blu-ray releases of the original Back to the Future restore the original ending and remove that “to be continued.”  But I dearly miss that “to be continued” ending, as that’s the ending I grew up with.  Why no branching option, Warner brothers, … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Catastrophe Season One!

Amazon’s six episode series Catastrophe, which originally aired in the U.K. on Channel 4, is a concentrated burst of comedic genius, fall-on-the-floor funny and staggeringly profane. I loved every minute of it.

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The series was written by Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney, who also star as Sharon and Rob.  The two meet when Rob is in England for a week for business, and they have a torrid few days of enthusiastic sex.  Then Rob goes home and neither truly expects to see the other again.  Until Sharon discovers she’s pregnant.  So Rob moves to London and he and Sharon decide to make a go if being a couple.  The series follows the following months of Sharon’s pregnancy.

Catastrophe is a magnificent creation.  It doesn’t go easy on either of its characters or the problems they face trying to get through a pregnancy and build a life together.  It’s a show that is very frank and honest about how hard this situation would be for Sharon and Rob, rather than giving us the gauzy-eyed rom-com version of this story.  But it does so without ever being anything less than blisteringly funny.  The jokes come fast and furious.  That the show is able to so deftly balance feeling so real, with being so consistently funny, is astounding.

I adore both Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney in these roles.  They are so funny, and also so human.  These are magnificent performances in instantly iconic roles.  I was not familiar with either Ms. Horgan or Mr. Delaney before watching Catastrophe, but believe me I will now be paying close attention to anything they do in the future.  Catastrophe works because of the delicious chemistry between these two leads.  (And remember, they also wrote the show together!)  I love the way they can each say truly horrible (yet very funny) things to the other, and then give a small grin to show how much they like the other, and that the way they bait each other is a part of the special and unique way that these two characters connect.

There’s a sweetness to Catastrophe underneath all the filthy jokes that surprised me, but that is part of why I loved the show so much.  Thankfully, though, the show is careful to never over-step into treacly over-sweetness.  In the finale, Mr. Delaney and Ms. Horgan give us one of the show’s most tender moments, in which Rob is willing to cut Sharon’s toenails on their wedding night, and immediately follows it up with their harshest, meanest argument.  That argument was deeply unsettling to watch, but I can understand why they included it.  As I commented above, this is a very human show.

For a tremendously … [continued]