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Friday, 17 December 2010

Review Round-Up: Superman - On Trial, Star Trek - The Motion Picture, Hack/Slash Omnibus - Volume 3

It was the success of the bizarre BBC full-cast audio play Superman - On Trial, for the character's 50th anniversary, that led to the creation of the slightly less strange Batman - The Lazarus Syndrome (reviewed last week).

This hour-long (extended edition) play, by Dirk Maggs, has Lex Luthor (William Hootkins) hauling a poisoned and weakened Superman (Stuart Milligan) into court - presided over (for some reason) by one of The Guardians Of The Universe - to answer charges that the Man Of Steel's actions have interfered with the natural development of humanity.

Luthor, who is using this circus as a launchpad for his campaign to become mayor of Metropolis, acts as prosecution, while Lois Lane (rather than an actual lawyer, obviously), voiced by Shelley Thompson, is in charge of Superman's defense.

While this is all unfolding, the sickened Superman episodically recalls his origin story (as told in John Byrne's 1986 reboot of the franchise).

Where it gets even more peculiar is the mashing up of reality with this fictional environment, with references to kryptonite's origin in the Superman radio series and quack psychiatrist Fredric Wertham' Seduction Of The Innocent hysteria (which tried to link Supes with the Nazis!), as well as character witnesses in the form of Adam West (aka TV's Batman), Jenette Kahn (then President of DC Comics) and Dave Gibbons (writer/artist and co-creator of Watchmen).

An odd fish that sort of works, but in a very contrived manner, but certainly not one of the strongest Superman audio plays.

Star Trek - The Motion Picture (1979): With Christmas fast approaching I thought it was about time I made an effort to catch up on the DVDs I got last Christmas - particularly the box set of the first six Star Trek movies.

I have fond memories of seeing this at the cinema and being blown away and even though some of the effects are not so special seen through modern, adult eyes, director Robert Wise puts on a light show to rival the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Jerry Goldsmith's score still stirs the blood three decades later.

I don't think it will matter how successful JJ Abrams' reboot of the franchise becomes, when you say the name 'James T Kirk' people will always think of William Shatner. While it's great to see all the original crew back where they belong, there's no doubt that the film belongs to Shatner.

A mysterious alien cloud is heading to Earth and the refitted Enterprise is the only ship within intercept range; Kirk resumes command and Spock is compelled to break off his meditations on Vulcan to join the  investigation.

Star Trek - The Motion Picture is the closest I can recall the franchise tackling a 'hard science' subject, with the seriousness it deserves - even if balanced against the banter of the Enterprise's command crew - and the revelation of the true nature of the object at the heart of the cloud still remains for me one of the most memorable in Star Trek's rich canon.

I can understand why it might not have been a popular film with a lot of people because, unlike other Star Trek movies, it's not about the action it's all about the "big ideas", and a lot of time is spent simply embracing the scale and majesty of space and the creations it contains.

You also have to feel a bit sorry for Lt. Ilia (Persis Khambatta), a member of the Enterprise crew for only a matter of hours before she is snatched away to become the mouthpiece of the cloud entity... and she's not even wearing a red shirt!

In fact, no one does with the trendy (for the late '70s) redesigned uniforms, which emphasise how much has changed while Kirk has been away from his ship. Thankfully they received another redesign before the next movie - I guess Star Fleet churns its uniforms out through dispensers like its food units or it would blow its budget every year kitting out its entire staff with new uniforms every six months.

Hack/Slash Omnibus Volume 3: After the traumatic events at the conclusion of the previous omnibus volume, Cassie Hack just wants to leave her life as the "serial killer killer" behind her, but it isn't long before her old adventures catch up with her and drag her, and constant companion Vlad, back in.

Writer Tim Seeley has created a wonderful cast of characters here, who are all capable of acting independently, in a totally believable fashion, yet, invariably they stumble into the slasher movie tropes of this deliciously complex and dangerous world they exist in.

Among the many interweaving sub-plots here this volume introduces a troublesome ancient cult of slasher-worshippers, The Black Lamp Society, and the amnesiac vigilante Samhain who stands against them.

Like the films that inspired Hack/Slash, this isn't a title for the youngsters, being fully fruity with strong language, graphic violence and suggestive sexual scenes, but it's also sharp, funny and intricately scripted and has, over the issues, broadened its embrace to include Lovercraftian extradimensional beasties and other, almost mainstream superheroic weirdness, as well as the straight-forward undead serial killers.

Seeley is still switching out art teams for each storyline, which can be a bit of a shock but it more often than not it fits the unique tone of the tale and, combined with the Lovecraftian bent the comic has taken,  leads to one wacky story which is pure Hack/Slash sex and violence by way of Archie Comics and Stuart Gordon's Dagon, filtered through the mind of Grant Morrison.

This collection wraps up the Hack/Slash run at Devil's Due Publishing (issues 18 - 32) and a handful of one-shots from various sources, making a great warm-up for the return of regular Hack/Slash next year, now from Image Comics.

A useful guide to the various Hack/Slash collected editions can be found at the Hack/Slash Inc News And Updates site.

4 comments:

  1. Star Trek TMP was a fantastic rebirth of that franchise; I love your review.
    On the uniforms: The cast hated them for many reasons, primary among them they had to be zipped in and out and it made the trip to the restroom an annoying time consuming diversion, likewise note the change to multiple pieces.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks, AK. I'm hoping to get the first season of the Original Series on DVD for Christmas and thought it was time I got my head back in "Star Trek" mode. Just hadn't realised how long it was since I'd seen TMP!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I think that Superman story is based on a comic. I certainly recall a story -- perhaps by Elliot S! Maggin? -- in which Superman is put on trial by the Guardians for upsetting the natural development of Earth and its people. Of course, he gets away with it, I think via one of his bog-standard inspirational speeches.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I'd probably have preferred that though. As it was it was an uncomfortable mish-mash of real life documentary and 4th-wall-breaking comic book adventure.

    ReplyDelete

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