Thursday, 22 September 2016

Review - Gotham: 3x01 - "Better to Reign in Hell..."

Gotham
Episode 3x01 - "Better to Reign in Hell..."

Synopsis

Six months after the Indian Hill fiasco, Fish Mooney has crafted a crime empire made up of super-powered threats and taken control of Gotham’s criminal underworld. Unwilling to return to the GCPD, Jim Gordon works outside of the law to take down the Indian Hill escapees, whilst Penguin attempts to re-consolidate his own organisation. Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne returns from overseas with a new mission – to expose the mysterious Court of Owls who influence events within Gotham.

Review

Over the past two seasons Gotham has moved away from the realism of organised crime and gang wars to focus more on crazed criminals and super-powered threats. Towards the end of the second season, the series lent heavily on its science-fiction elements and resurrected characters from the dead, granting them a range of fantastical powers by the demented Hugo Strange. This moment definitely changed the format of the show, aligning it more with the other DC superhero TV shows from The CW and Marvel’s Agent of SHIELD. The third season embraces the concept of super-powered villains and almost recreates the status-quo from the initial season by having the Penguin pitted against his nemesis, Fish Mooney. With a six-month time jump at the start of the episode mirroring the show’s own hiatus over the summer, much of “Better to Reign in Hell…” is focused on re-introducing our favourite characters and showcasing their current status quo.

The most notable change is Jim Gordon’s decision to become a bounty hunter working outside of the GCPD to apprehend the escaped Indian Hill convicts for monetary recompense. It’s an interesting diversion for the character, removing his loyalties to the city and the law, and it certainly fits well with his decreasing set of morals throughout the second season. Hopefully the show will remain committed to this plot point, rather than quickly reinstating the detective to his familiar posting within a few episodes. The rest of the cast are shuffled into familiar roles with Barbara and Tabitha working together as nightclub owners, mirroring the Penguin’s own attempts to own a club in the first season. Interestingly, Butch and the Penguin remain partners in crime despite the fact that Butch had regained his own free will – considering Penguin cut off his hand, I’d have expected Butch to want to kill him and re-join with Mooney. This definitely felt out of character and the show has made no attempt to explain why Butch would want to work for his former enemy. Hopefully future interactions with Fish Mooney will explain Butch’s bizarre choice of allegiance.


Not willing to showcase any famous Indian Hill residents in its opening episode, most of Fish Mooney’s new gang members were no-name monsters. It would have been more interesting to see Killer Croc and other super-powered Batman villains working with Mooney, but instead they opted for a two-dimensional set of supporting characters. Controversially, Gotham has decided to sex up its Poison Ivy character by making her into a twenties-something bombshell and while I’m not sure how I feel about that decision, I quite liked the in-universe explanation behind the ageing as Ivy found herself in contact with a man with ageing abilities. The character herself has been largely useless for the past two seasons and this drastic change should hopefully provide some more interesting story options, although it will take some time to get used to seeing her as post-teen. If only they could magically speed up Bruce Wayne’s ageing and get him into the cowl! That said, Bruce returned from yet another break from Gotham with Alfred intact and proceeded to piss off the Court of Owls. I’m enjoying David Mazouz’s portrayal of Bruce, and am very interested to find out more about his emo clone.

As a re-introduction to the series “Better to Reign in Hell…” did well to touch base with the series’ expansive cast, spending enough time with each character to showcase their evolution over the past six months. Things certainly moved along at a swift pace for the majority of plot-lines, but I suspect that future episodes will focus on a modest selection of characters to tighten the focus, like in previous seasons. Despite changes to the status quo, there was a great deal of familiarity with this season opener as characters echoed previous plot-lines to an extent. With Lee seemingly written out of the season, it appears Jamie Chung’s Valerie Vale will be Gordon’s next love interest to clash with Barbara Keen. While this season opener felt like an odd mix of Season One and Season Two plot-lines mashed together, the show certainly shows promise as it confidently moves away from the crime genre to a more generic superhero-themed show. With its frequent sidestepping of Batman continuity, the series needs to make a bold statement and depart from the constraints of audience expectations – with Gordon placed in a semi-vigilante position working as a bounty hunter, it would make more sense to have him become Batman instead of Bruce, subverting expectations and providing Gotham fans with a different take on the Batman mythos.


Score - 9.5 out of 10

Next Episode - "Burn the Witch"
Fish Mooney takes matters into her own hands to locate Hugo Strange, forcing Gordon to reluctantly team up with journalist Valerie Vale to find her. Penguin rises in popularity after criticising the work of the GCPD and Bruce’s investigation of the Court of Owls is compromised. Meanwhile, Ivy Pepper is reintroduced into Gotham city.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

2000AD Prog 1999

Prog 1999 Cover by Boo Cook

It's yet another Judge Dredd cover for Prog 1999 and unlike last week's more grim and foreboding example, this piece is filled with bright colours and a wicked sense of humour, much like the interior strip itself. Boo Cook does a tremendous job at conveying the story's light-hearted tone through his artwork and his style lends itself well to the design of the gelatinous dinosaur rampaging through Mega-City One. I also love the little in-joke references to the Eldsters crossing the road, such as “Streets of Age” and the Werthers Original balloon. It's a great cover showcasing Cook's strengths as an artist and offering a memorable image that directly ties to the story. 



JUDGE DREDD - WELL GEL
Script - T.C Eglington 
Art - Paul Marshall
Colours - Chris Blythe
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

After ruthlessly dispatching one of his longest-serving enemies, this episode of Judge Dredd switches gears quite dramatically to deliver a one-off quirky tale of Mega-City One life. It's this balance between serious police procedurals and humourous 'day in the life' stories that makes Judge Dredd such a fantastic series to read. T.C Eglington makes full use of his iconic visual of two juves riding a dinosaur made of jelly and contrasts this outlandish scenario with the very Mega-City One concept of an OAP pride march. It feels like classic Judge Dredd, taking elements of our own culture and stretching them to the nth degree – it didn't escape my notice that the inventor of the 'Well Gel' solution happened to look like Steve Jobs – another pop culture reference slipped in there.


While I initially expected Boo Cook to be on art duties following his spectacular cover art, it was a pleasant surprise to see Paul Marshall back in the Prog. Marshall's artwork has a wonderful ambidextrous quality to it – able to depict the most serious and brutal stories (“Darkside”) yet also able to inject a light-hearted tone when needed, such as with Ulysses Sweet. As a palate cleanser following the dramatic conclusion of “Ladykiller”, this story works brilliantly, thrusting Dredd back into chaotic and unpredictable adventures, and the cameo appearance of Mrs Gunderson at the Wrinkly Pride Parade reassures readers of her safety following her kidnap at the hands of PJ Maybe. With Prog 2000 promising a “very special Judge Dredd story” within its pages, this one-off adventure does a brilliant job as acting as a buffer between events.



JAEGIR - WARCHILD (Part 4)
Script - Gordon Rennie
Art - Simon Coleby
Colours - Len O' Grady
Letters - Simon Bowland

Rather than using flashbacks of Jaegir's father to punctuate the action sequences taking place in the present day, Gordon Rennie finally showcases the patriarch himself in a fight sequence that mirrors his daughter's own struggles against the Strigoi-powered children. The symmetry between the two plot threads is wonderfully effective and allows Rennie to adopt his dual narrative technique without slowing down the pace with flashbacks. As a long referenced figure, it's intriguing to see Josef Jaegir in person and it certainly appears that the legends surrounding him are justified. Judging from the final sequence of this episode, it seems that Atalia is going to choose to assist her father against those Nordland assassins who wish to eliminate him. I'm excited to see where this new direction will lead the series in the future, and whether Atalia will find herself turned against her former allies in the Nort Army.


This brief four-parter has been an excellent recap of the story thus far, reaffirming the fractious relationship between the two Jaegirs and sending the series off in a new direction. I've long enjoyed this series and its alternate take on the Rogue Trooper mythos and Atalia Jaegir certainly makes for an interesting female protagonist – subverting the traditional beauty for a scarred soldier (both inside and out). Simon Coleby's artwork helps bring Nordland to life, spewing out sulphur and rust from every panel and hammering home the struggle of the people. His interpretation of the Strigoi disease and the way it scars and transforms its hosts into mindless killing machines is brilliant and conveys the griminess of this world and the war crimes of Josef Jaegir. I look forward to seeing the series return with its new status-quo with the uneasy partnership between Atalia and her father against the Nort empire.



ANDERSON, PSI DIVISION - THE CANDIDATE (Part 7)
Script - Emma Beeby
Art - Ben Willsher
Colours - Richard Elson
Letters - Ellie de Ville

Rather surprisingly, this final episode of Anderson, Psi Division has a replacement artist as Ben Willsher steps in for Nick Dyer. Despite the change in creative team, there is a strong element of consistency between the two artists and it doesn't distract from this climactic conclusion. Willsher is a hugely talented artist and I always love seeing his work in the Prog – even though he maintains the same character designs implemented by Dyer, it's great to see him drawing Anderson, Hershey and the others. Emma Beeby delivers a surprising last-minute twist as Anderson controls the Chief Judge and uses her to assassinate Carol Smart – it's a strong ending and Willsher's art delivers a gruesome end for the mind-controlling mayoral candidate. This storyline has been a real roller-coaster ride from start to finish, delivering a healthy mix of twist and turns to the narrative, not least in this final episode. I look forward to seeing Beeby tackling Anderson, Psi Division in the future, possibly focusing more on the central character herself.



SCARLET TRACES - COLD WAR (Part 12)
Script - Ian Edginton
Art - D'Israeli
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

There's a strong Empire Strikes Back vibe to this concluding episode of Scarlet Traces as our heroes reluctantly retreat from the Martian attacks, leaving the Theed to die. Ian Edginton fills this installment with some wonderful character moments, such as the emotional farewell between Iykarus and Irya and the frantic escape through the Theed toilets. Not content with a solid ending to this chapter of his storyline, Edginton also pushes boundaries with the inclusion of a waterfall shaped like an anus and the appearance of full-frontal male nudity. This series has been a highlight of the Prog over the past twelve weeks, thanks to Edginton's timeless script and D'Israeli's unparalleled skill as an artist. Much like the original Star Wars trilogy, Edginton has tapped into the quintessential 'fairy tale' structure and re-purposed it in a science-fiction format, resulting in a very enjoyable read.


While I'm always quick to point out the beauty in D'Israeli's artwork, this installment also showcased some of his skill at storytelling and making use of panels and perspective to emphasis the cinematography of a moment. The striking scene between Iykarus and Irya is just magnified due to D'Israeli's choice of perspective, framing Irya against the white light bursting through the walls as the tentacles encircle her. The following panels featuring the two lovers both being pulled away by external forces is immensely satisfying and conveys the action and movement perfectly. I'm not sure whether Edginton or D'Israeli was behind the specific design of the waterfall that our heroes exit from, but it was an inspired decision and a wonderful in-joke for those eagle-eyed viewers. By having the Martians shed their immobile forms and adopting a more humanoid shape, Edginton has shifted the status-quo once more and upped the ante for our heroes, giving them an equal threat to fight against. I cannot wait for this series to return in the future as yet again, Edginton and D'Israeli produce pure narrative gold onto the page.



OUTLIER - SURVIVOR GUILT (Part 10)
Script - T.C. Eglington
Art - Karl Richardson
Letters - Ellie de Ville

Winning the award for most depressing end to a series is this week's final installment of Outlier, which sees humanity wiped out completely by a weaponised star. After weeks of foreboding and warnings, T.C Eglington writes a dramatically downbeat finale that sees the Hurde win the war by making the human race extinct, absorbing what little remains into their shared consciousness. I admire Eglington for writing such a depressing end to his trilogy, although I did feel that the central story of Caul and Carcer got lost amongst the grander scheme in this final chapter. This brutal and uncompromising ending certainly elevates the series as a whole, and reminds me of the equally futile ending of Damnation Station a few years back. As always, Karl Richardson's art is impeccable, and the final sequence featuring the Hurde amongst the radiated remains of the Alliance planets was particularly poignant and a perfect way to close out the series. While it might not be an instant classic in the same way as Brass Sun or Helium were, Outlier was a fun diversion into the future war genre and definitely provided a gut-punch of an ending.



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

This has been one of the most enjoyable 'wrap up' Progs in recent years, delivering some fantastic conclusions to the existing stories. Apart from the humourous Judge Dredd story, all of the tales in this Prog had quite dark and bleak endings. Both Outlier and Scarlet Traces competed for the honour of “Thrill of the Week”, and it was a close call but the apocalyptic and sheer downbeat ending of Outlier earned it the title. While Scarlet Traces has been a better strip overall, I was taken aback by the apocalyptic ending of T.C Eglington's trilogy. Both Jaegir and Anderson Psi Division ended on a strong note too, and I look forward to seeing both strips returning in the near future with the same creative teams.

On the horizon for Prog 2000, Tharg has teased the full contents of the much-anticipated issue with a “very special Judge Dredd story” from the character's creators, the return of Nemesis the Warlock, another trip to Nu Earth but this time from the point-of-view of Rogue Trooper, another Anderson Psi Division story from legends Alan Grant and David Roach, Sinister Dexter and a new series from Peter Milligan and Rufus Dayglo called Counterfeit Girl. It's a great mix of new and old stories and I'm sure it will be worth the long wait. I am most excited about the Judge Dredd story, but I'm also looking forward to seeing Rogue Trooper explored again, especially in light of the events of Jaegir. 2000AD continues to go from strength to strength and I have no doubt that Prog 2000 will be nothing short of spectacular.

Thrill of the Week: Outlier


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1999 will be available in stores on Wednesday 21st September - Digital copies of this Prog will be available on the same day through the standalone 2000AD app, which can be downloaded onto iOS and Android devices.

Keep checking back each week for more reviews and features about 2000AD, the Galaxy's Greatest Comic! Remember to leave your comments below, or contact me on Twitter or through my Facebook page!

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

2000AD Prog 1998

Prog 1998 Cover by Paul Marshall & Chris Blythe

Playing on the cliff-hanger of last Prog's Judge Dredd, this dynamic cover from Paul Marshall teases a major death as the grim reaper's scythe hovers over both PJ Maybe and Vienna Pasternak. After John Wagner's reveal that he planned to kill off a major character, speculation has been rife and in fact, it is this rampant speculation which has driven this storyline. While the entire tone of the story has pointed towards Maybe's long-awaited downfall, I wouldn't be surprised if Wagner threw in a curve-ball and made the story's title “Ladykiller” into a reality. Marshall's cover is simple in its design, yet still manages to convey a real sense of occasion as a long-running supporting character meets their end inside.


JUDGE DREDD - LADYKILLER (Part 8)
Script - John Wagner
Art - Carlos Ezquerra
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Wow! What a gripping conclusion to one of the most tense and exhilarating Judge Dredd thrillers of recent memory. While it was inevitable that PJ Maybe would meet his end in this story, John Wagner still managed to add a twist regarding Undercover Judge Morgan posing as Vienna. The Justice Department had the advantage over Maybe throughout the entire story, and ironically, it was his own desire to stand out and punish Dredd that led to his downfall. The entire final sequence was chilling as Maybe attempted to escape Dredd, and I loved the subtle homage to The Fugitive as the pair had their final confrontation in the tunnels. Unlike Tommy Lee Jones, however, Dredd didn't let his man escape and Maybe got a brutal, and surprisingly gory, execution at the hands of his long-time enemy. I think it was a fitting end to the 'cat and mouse' game that the pair had been playing over the decades, and I'm glad Wagner got to end the PJ Maybe saga on his own terms.


Carlos Ezquerra has been on top form throughout this serial, but his artwork was absolutely sublime during that tense final face-off. I loved the greyscale shading and how the red from Dredd's helmet stood out – it was similar to the black, white and red colour scheme of the Judge Dredd Mega Collection books from Hachette, and equally as effective. That final page of Dredd looking down at his foe and summarily executing him with a shot to the gut was fantastic and just summed the character up perfectly - Tall, imposing and unrelenting. Even though there was an inevitability about this storyline, it has been an absolute joy to read over the past eight weeks and much like “Dark Justice” last year, it closes the chapter on an aspect of Dredd's life. However, I am very curious what the 'special story' teased in Prog 2000 will be, as my initial suspicions were that the death of PJ Maybe was being saved up for that issue. This has been a brilliant send-off for the PJ Maybe character, bringing his story to a natural end as his psychosis and need for attention eventually caused his downfall – I just hope that the character is allowed to rest in peace and no other writers attempt to retcon this wonderful storyline.



JAEGIR - WARCHILD (Part 3)
Script - Gordon Rennie
Art - Simon Coleby
Colours - Len O' Grady
Letters - Simon Bowland

The brutal opening scene of this episode of Jaegir instantly changes the tone of this short four-part adventure as Markha and her street orphans are slain by a group of young Strigoi. Rather than abandoning the reflective tone of this story-arc, Gordon Rennie demonstrates his immense skill as a writer as he weaves in Markha's stories about Josef Jaegir inbetween the action scenes, fuelling Atalia for her battle against the Strigoi youth. It's an effective narrative decision that amplifys the emotion of the battle, further displaying how Atalia's father has shaped her into the woman warrior she has now become as she uses her rage towards him to fight super-powered threats.


The sudden shift in tone from reflective memories of her father to fighting mutated children keeps the series fresh and exciting, preventing this interstitial story-arc from being slow. Simon Coleby's artwork crackles with energy as he captures the frenzied action of the fight between Atalia and her infant assailant. His style is so gritty and dark that you almost feel like you're getting dirt underneath your fingernails when you turn the page. Coleby is the perfect accomplice to Rennie's writing, helping create a whole new world 'behind enemy lines' in the Rogue Trooper universe. The final panel that showcases the three remaining “beastie boys” is full of foreboding and demonstrates Rennie's williness to push boundaries and put his characters in moral quandaries. I look forward to seeing how this adventure will shape Atalia going forward, and how she intends to deal with her father.



ANDERSON, PSI DIVISION - THE CANDIDATE (Part 6)
Script - Emma Beeby
Art - Nick Dyer
Colours - Richard Elson
Letters - Ellie de Ville

Peeling back more layers to this surprisingly complicated political thriller set against the Mega-City One backdrop, Emma Beeby leaves her lead character with a brilliant moral choice to make – uphold the law and shoot Carol Smart, or allow her to use her psi-powers on the Chief Judge to introduce reforms and changes to the Judicial System. As a character who has always struggled to deal with the harsh realities of the Justice Department, often clashing with hardliners like Dredd, it is very interesting to see Anderson offered this opportunity to introduce change to the system. Obviously, she won't take it as she wants change to happen naturally and not through murder and duplicity, but it's sure to put the character through the emotional wringer.


This has been a really strong outing for the Beeby droid, with each subsequent episode revealing greater depth and mystery to the initially shallow 'political assassination' storyline. Nick Dyer has provided solid support throughout with his excellent artwork which manages to evoke memories of classic Judge Dredd artists such as Cam Kennedy. Dyer's interpretation of Mega-City One is brilliant and feels rooted in 2000AD's past. While the first few episodes hadn't convinced me that this storyline was a good fit for Anderson Psi Division, Beeby has done a tremendous job at creating a strong and engaging story that showcased multiple sides of Anderson's personality – both her professionalism and her more emotive, sensitive persona for which she is best known. While it is obvious that Smart will fail in her plan, I am curious as to whether this story-arc will have a lasting effect on the title character.



SCARLET TRACES - COLD WAR (Part 11)
Script - Ian Edginton
Art - D'Israeli
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

This penultimate episode of Scarlet Traces offers an interesting revelation about the parentage of Ahron Shakespeare – unlike my initial suspicions, he isn't some heir to the Venusian throne, but the son of a provocative political leader who betrayed the Theed to the Martians causing much bloodshed. While Ian Edginton's previous works have usually focused on a 'chosen one' with a heroic backstory or bloodline, this slight subversion of the trope is a welcome one and places an exciting spin on Ahron's back-story - the son of a traitor attempting to rectify the mistakes made in his family's name. D'Israeli continues to draw some of the best scenes of his career here, and while this episode felt somewhat short in length, the fiery cliffhanger promises some brilliant sequences to come. Despite my complete lack of prior knowledge of the series and its original source material, Scarlet Traces has been refreshingly accessible throughout and a complete joy to read on a weekly basis – if not for the tense, game-changing story-arc unfolding in Judge Dredd over the past eight weeks, it would have been my “Thrill of the Week” many, many times. As with all of Ian Edginton's epic fantasy adventures, I will be eagerly awaiting its next appearance in 2000AD.



OUTLIER - SURVIVOR GUILT (Part 9)
Script - T.C. Eglington
Art - Karl Richardson
Letters - Ellie de Ville

Things are coming to a head with the penultimate episode of Outlier as Jess, Luthra and Caul attempt to persuade the Hurde that the humans are not a threat and the war has been organised by a rogue caste of the Hurde Elite. The pace of this episode is slightly off as T.C Eglington attempts to build duelling plot threads towards their conclusions, but he manages to inject a healthy sense of jeopardy into the final pages as it appears the Hurde are about to launch their final attack on the Alliance. Karl Richardson continues to provide dynamic visuals for the series, especially during the interplanetary fight sequences. His artwork is absolutely stunning and has defined this series from the very beginning, giving it a distinctive voice and flavour. With so many pieces left on the playing board, I have no idea how Eglington plans to end this trilogy in another five pages, and I love that feeling of unpredictability. Hopefully, the final episode in Prog 1999 will tie up the remaining plot threads and provide closure to the trilogy, but it will be a tough task!



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

Surprising absolutely no-one, the heart-stopping conclusion to “Ladykiller” takes the prize of “Thrill of the Week”, although all of the strips provide strong penultimate episodes with effective cliff-hangers. Tharg continues to tease upcoming strips with Flesh returning after Prog 2000 with Clint Langley taking over on art duties – I'm looking forward to seeing Langley on dinosaurs following his stints on Slaine and The ABC Warriors. The line-up for Prog 2000 itself seems very promising with a “very special” extended Judge Dredd story in the pipeline from creators John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra, alongside the return of old favourites such as Nemesis the Warlock and Rogue Trooper. Also appearing is Sinister Dexter, featuring Mark Sexton's amazing artwork. It's sounded like a wonderful mix of old favourites to celebrate the 2000th issue of the magazine, and I'm in eager anticipation to get a copy of it in my hands! 

Thrill of the Week: Judge Dredd


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1998 will be available in stores on Wednesday 14th September - Digital copies of this Prog will be available on the same day through the standalone 2000AD app, which can be downloaded onto iOS and Android devices.

Keep checking back each week for more reviews and features about 2000AD, the Galaxy's Greatest Comic! Remember to leave your comments below, or contact me on Twitter or through my Facebook page!
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