Shock and Awe: X2 – X-Men United (2003)

With X-Men: Dark Phoenix on the horizon, a film predicted to signal the end of the original iteration of the X-Men franchise, I’ve decided to go back and revisit this highly influential collection of comic-book movies.

We continue with Bryan Singer’s sequel, 2003’s X2…

Though far more of a muscular and accomplished film than its predecessor, X2: X-Men United would never have worked without it.

X2 is in danger of being overlooked in our era of dominant comic-book movie franchises and behemoth superhero pictures as one of the key, formative pieces of cinema in the genre, something we must work hard to avoid. Bryan Singer’s sequel is a skilled piece of work which does precisely what a follow up is designed to do – build on the foundations of the previous film, add complications and greater depth, and provide a heightened, meaningful experience. X2 does that very successfully. It is The Empire Strikes Back to X-Men’s A New Hope. It even has strong shades come the denouement of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan in how it punches you with an earned sacrifice on one hand, while promising a rebirth on the other. X2 feels like a picture that everyone involved had been constructing in their minds long before it was ever committed to celluloid.

On that basis, X2 feels on some level like the first truly meaningful X-Men movie but one that needed the prologue of the original 2000 film in order to function in the manner it does. When Singer came back to helm the sequel, he combined screenplays by David Hayter—who penned the previous movie—and Zak Penn, brewed up with rewrites from Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris, in order to fuse together a film which develops many of the established character arcs from X-Men, placed the film distinctly in a post-9/11 context, and digs deep into the ideological and existential conflict between Professor X and Magneto – namely whether mutants should believe in humanity or reject and destroy them. It does this while never forgetting the human cost of being different, exploring the difficulty of living with what genetics, evolution, gives you in a less than tolerant society.

X2 does this with a poise and panache that few comic-book movies have equalled since.

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Star Trek: The Q Conflict (#1)

Tie-in fiction loves a good crossover event and Star Trek, in particular, is full of them.

Outside of recent Trek crossovers with Planet of the Apes, Transformers and Green Lantern, IDW Publishing most recently have tied into Star Trek: Discovery‘s narrative trends with a heavy focus on the Mirror Universe (particularly the untold on TV story of The Next Generation side of the Mirror coin) and now The Original Series with the newly launched Year Five, but The Q Conflict is a different animal. It is the kind of story that could only take place in tie-in continuity for a variety of reasons, and more specifically the comic as opposed to the novel. It feels mostly in step with Doctor Who events such as The Two Doctors, The Three Doctors or The Day of the Doctor; tying together in this case the legendary Starfleet Captains and crews across the four most popular Star Trek series from the last 50 years.

The Q Conflict is, consequently, a huge gimmick which hinges on the excitement of seeing Kirk, Picard, Sisko and Janeway, and key members of their crews, working together. How long that gimmick may last is open to question.

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Star Trek: Year Five (#1)

As tie-in comic series go, Star Trek: Year Five is about as prestige as you can get.

IDW Publishing have tapped into an area explored fairly widely in the tie-in novel world over the years – the original Captain James T. Kirk-led five year mission of exploration of The Original Series. There is an alternate universe out there somewhere where Gene Roddenberry’s groundbreaking series was never cancelled in 1969 after three seasons, and aired for the fourth and fifth year’s of the USS Enterprise’s voyage to seek out new life and new civilisations. Year Five is attempting to capture, on the page, that never seen 1970-1971 season of television – unless you count The Animated Series which purports to be the final two years but is questionable in terms of canon. IDW gave us a Year Four comic over a decade ago but this is only a spiritual sequel, running with the concept of the last year of Kirk’s mission.

The result, even in this first introductory issue, is exciting and fertile ground.

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Star Trek: Waypoint (Special 2019)

By definition, the Star Trek: Waypoint specials are fairly hit and miss in their anthological approach to the Star Trek universe, telling stories which fit in the greater lexicon without contradicting canon. Eschewing Discovery and Enterprise, this latest special focuses on the remaining four series in crafting a short story for each show at different points in their timeline.

The easiest way to report on these tales is to take them story by story, paragraph by paragraph.

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Plugging Gaps: How backstory is *becoming* story

Remember the time that backstory was just that? Backstory.

Many of the most successful TV shows and movies are specifically built on a sense of their own mythology and world building. Game of Thrones has a series of vast novels to draw on which detail an incredibly complicated social and political eco-system, for example. Backstory, the details of the universes of these tales and the histories of many characters within the stories, provide the unseen depth and ballast to the tale we are being told, the tale we are invested in.

In recent years, however, the trend of this has begun to shift. Our biggest stories within popular culture are now becoming obsessed with backstory not just being developed to enable the narrative, they are instead *becoming* the narrative. Storytellers are actively attempting to try and ‘plug gaps’, for want of a better term, in continuity and canon, believing it seems that audiences are as obsessed with these minor details as the writers of these properties appear to be. We are losing the element of ambiguity, surprise and mystery.

We are losing backstory by exploring too much of it.

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The Prisoner #1 – ‘The Uncertainty Machine’

When I’m not looking at all kinds of geeky media on this blog, I’m co-running my website Set The Tape, on which I now and then publish content. This is part of a review you can find the rest of in the link below.

Half a century on, The Prisoner remains a truly landmark piece of television. Much like Twin Peaks some quarter of a century later, Patrick McGoohan & George Markstein’s series adds definition to the era it was made while remaining defiantly *in*definable. A 16-part series for British TV channel ITV, The Prisoner ostensibly concerned an intelligence agent—known only as Number Six—who, after quitting for undisclosed reasons, finds himself captive in The Village – a strange, quaint British seaside town filled with nebulous intelligence operatives looking for why he left the service. This, however, is just the base layer.

The Prisoner was much like a set of Russian dolls in terms of narrative and comprehension – every answer just seemed to lead to another question. It remains one of the most fascinatingly bizarre TV shows ever made, on British TV or anywhere else, steadfast in its refusal to provide conventional narrative storytelling; indeed the more its star McGoohan took control of the reins, the stranger the concept became.

McGoohan edged it away from being a quirky spy thriller (and possibly sequel to his earlier hit series Danger Man) and further into an allegorical, surrealist farce designed to commentate on the evolving idea of big government and deep surveillance on society. By the end of its final episode, ‘Fall Out’, his message was clear. *Everything* is the Village.

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The X-Files: Case Files #1 – ‘Florida Man pt 1’

For 25 years, FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully have been shining their flashlights into the shadows, searching for the truth. To celebrate this anniversary, IDW Publishing is launching a new series of The X-Files: Case Files!

Under this banner, faithful fans will see the release of numerous micro-series, featuring stories that explore X-Files of the past and present by top talent from comics and prose!

In “Florida Man…” Scully and Mulder are sent to a small Florida town to investigate a rash of bizarre crimes only to find themselves in the clutches of an alligator-worshipping cult…

The recent history of The X-Files in comic form has been an interesting one, informed in many respects by the revival of the show on FOX over the last three years. The first part of ‘Florida Man’ begins a new phase for IDW’s license of Chris Carter’s series called Case Files – an anthological approach to the adventures of Agents Mulder & Scully investigating the paranormal across America.

Joe Harris until last year had been carrying the torch for The X-Files under IDW, firstly with his originally-canonical ‘Seasons 10 and 11’, which picked up roughly from where second movie I Want to Believe left off, and later his own tie-in ongoing issue set within the continuity of the revival. His approach to The X-Files was frequently arcane, mythic and certainly in the ongoing issues set roughly during Season 10, highly political – indeed this caused his run on the series to draw criticism in certain quarters given how unashamedly anti-President Trump and the alt-right he was in his writing. While politics and The X-Files have always been key bedfellows, many wanted more of a streamlined take on Carter’s show. Case Files may well end up being what they wished for.

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