Thursday, 24 March 2011

DVD Review: Neverwhere

Neverwhere (episodes 1-6), created by Neil Gaiman and Lenny Henry

Starring: Gary Bakewell, Laura Fraser, Hywel Bennet, Clive Russel, Paterson Joseph.

A collaboration between Neil Gaiman and Lenny Henry seems, at first glance to be a sort of bizarre joke, much less a project that was actually made and screened on TV, before being adapted into both a book and a comic book series. Luckily for us, such a project does exist and was released on DVD six years ago.

I think it's fair to say that there is more evidence of the former's involvement than Lenny Henry's. Neverwhere feels totally like a Gaiman creation from the off, an oddly comforting sensation to one used to the British writers work. Be warned though - the plot is anything but comforting as everyman office worker Richard Mayhew (Bakewell) is transported to a mysterious world beneath London, bizarrely inhabited by living and breathing personifications of several famous tube stops. The plot hangs together fairly loosely, zipping along at a brisk pace without ever being particularly gripping or compelling. Bakewell is never anything less than thoroughly likeable as Richard Mayhew and serves a logical purpose as an entry point for the viewer into the weird and wacky world of Neverwhere. Sadly his co-star Laura Fraser is less impressive, putting in a very bland performance, with the pair lacking in any chemistry whatsoever. Other standouts are Paterson Joseph as the enigmatic Marquis de Carabas and Clive Russel as hilariously blunt Mr. Vandemar. The script is largely excellent and gives the star studded cast a lot to work with, Luckily for the most part they do - there are several laugh out loud lines over the six episodes. Some of the more emotional scenes fall a little flat but Bakewell copes very well with a chilling psychosis sequence.

Sadly the show is let down by absolutely shocking production values, the music and costumes are passable enough but everything else is fairly uninspired, from the cinematography to the props and sound effects. Put it this way - a lot of the time it makes Doctor Who look like Avatar.

Neverwhere is a long way from perfect - Neil Gaiman reportedly wrote the novelization due to a lack of creative control and I think at times it shows. Nevertheless, despite the shoddy special effects and dodgy plot, Neverwhere is actually a very watchable show, with its three hour running time passing very quickly for me. It is not a masterpiece, nor anywhere near Gaiman's best work but is definitely worth a watch (even if it's just for the novelty value of seeing Johnson from Peep Show in a wig)


Sunday, 20 March 2011

Review: Uncanny X-Force #5

Writer: Rick Remender
Artist: Esad Ribic

I have never bought an issue of X-Force before, nor do I have any real interest in the concept or the current X-Universe. However, when I saw Esad Ribic’s beautiful cover and noticed that he was also drawing interiors, I couldn’t resist picking up this issue. Rick Remender is a highly rated writer and I was curious to see if he could get me interested in at title that had previously been nowhere near my radar.

The plot focuses largely on Fantomex, shortly after his controversial murder of a baby carrying the soul of Apocalypse. I found the story to be fairly complex and difficult to understand but Fantomex is a cool character with a great design so I was fairly happy to see the issue centred around him. The rest of the team do show up in a brief four page scene but it didn’t really interest me at all. Remender has chosen a very bizarre mix of characters and I’m not convinced that the dynamic between them works particularly well at all. The conversation between them was interesting enough but I found the idea of Deadpool being the team’s moral compass quite unsettling, perhaps Remender’s intention?

The sequences with Fantomex work a lot better, with Remender doing a lot to endear him to the reader. While I thought that he was in interesting enough character when written by his creator, Grant Morrison, I never thought that he had much of a personality, something that Remender at least attempts to remedy here. His origin has always been slightly off the wall and bizarre but this something that Remender tries to play with rather than shying away from and it is generally well dealt with.

Of course the real selling point of this issue (for me at least) is Esad Ribic’s superb artwork. He, along with the rest of the art team can give themselves a pat on the back because this is one of the best drawn comic books I have read for a long time. Ribic’s pencils are beautiful, and his layouts superb while Matt Wilson’s colours bring a lot to the story, imbuing each scene with a totally different tone. This is one of the few comic books that I can honestly say I would buy for the art alone. The story isn’t bad and is very well competently told by Remender but in truth, is not particularly interesting. Remender does deserve plaudits for making Fantomex an interesting character though. Overall this issue was pretty much what I was expecting – confusing and occasionally difficult to follow but never less than beautifully drawn. There is definitely enough here to keep me on board for the next issue.


Sunday, 6 March 2011

Retro Review: Web of Spider-Man #8-9

Local Super Hero by Micheline / Isherwood

I wasn't expecting much when I sat down to read these two issues, in truth having only bought them because of #8's gorgeous cover. David Micheline is a widely respected Spider-Man writer but his work on Web of Spider-Man has been largely ignored by critics, with the title having gone down in the annals of history as the 'black sheep' of Spider-Man satellite titles, sorely lacking in both purpose and quality stories.

Thankfully, Local Super Hero really surprised me. The plot takes us to Smithsville, where titular hero the Smithsville Thunderbolt has been protecting the sleepy town for years after gaining superpowers from a mysterious meteor. Approaching retirement age he is struggling to deal with the fact that his powers are gradually fading away, but is forced into action one last time after another, less immediately heroic recipient of the meteors power comes to town looking for answers. Spider-Man's role in the story is fairly minor as he is called to the town by the Bugle to cover the Smithsville Thunderbolt. He takes part in the fight scenes and there is a minor subplot involving Peter and a bratty local reporter but it is fairly uninteresting and really only serves to pad out the page count.

The real selling point of the story is the Smithsville Thunderbolt, a thoroughly believable character who engages the reader right from the off. The idea of superheroes getting older and having to face retirement is one that is rarely played out in modern superhero comics and it is dealt with brilliantly here, as Micheline captures the sense of desperation in a man who has no idea how else to live his life. The character of the second Smithsville Thunderbolt also works well - he is the archetypal sympathetic villain, leaving the reader ever unsure of who to root for. Where the story is really made is in its ending - without wanting to give it away it is unpredictable, bittersweet and tugs at the heartstrings, leaving an impression long after the issue has been put down.

Geof Isherwood's artwork is very unremarkable but it does little to harm the story and actually suits the somewhat downbeat tone more than a lot of styles probably would. It never detracted from the plot and really that is what you want in a story of this nature.

In short, this was a very entertaining two-parter- not your typical superhero story.