Wednesday, 26 June 2013

2000AD Prog 1838

Prog 1838 Cover by John Charles

I'm not overly fond of this cover - it's hard to pinpoint what my problem is with it, possibly it's the lipstick on Sinister or the 'Joker' trap which some artists fall into when drawing him. Also, it's an odd  editorial choice to put the image in the foreground in front of both the logo and the headline. Maybe if it had been a black + white film noir image, I would have preferred it.


JUDGE DREDD - WASTELANDS (Part 2)
Script - John Wagner
Art - Dave Taylor
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Without wasting much time, Dredd is straight on the case and already seeing a deeper motive behind the attack than a simple case of turf wars. The final sequence suggests that the people responsible for the attack on Valentino Block (Onan Starbux, as suspected last Prog) are tying up their loose ends before the Law catches up with them.




In my review for last Prog, I was a bit critical on Dave Taylor's artwork for this storyline, but I must say this was a big improvement on the last issue. Maybe I just needed time to get used to it. I loved the level of detail on the interior scenes with Dredd and the downed Surfer, although it wasn't overly clear when he fell down the stairwell. It looked like suicide, but it may have been a misjudged leap with the wounded leg. Taylor's Dredd still looks a little scrawny at times, but I am liking it. I particularly loved the final panel with the two Surfers being 'dispatched' as the third looks on, awaiting the same fate. The way that the sudden death of his two partners is depicted was very effective and a nice closer to this chapter. 



SINISTER DEXTER - IN PLAIN SHITE (Part 3)
Script - Dan Abnett
Art - John Burns
Letters - Ellie de Ville

Sinister continues to earn his way across Generica by following a 'kill list' supplied by gangster, Frontal Lobe. However, Frontal plans to test Sinister's loyalty and sends the psychopathic "Uncle" Vanya to follow him during the hits to see whether the Irish gunshark can be trusted or not.

The momentum of the plot feels like it has come to a slow drag with more added obstacles in Sinister's way preventing him from reuniting with his former partner. I'm enjoying the storyline thus far, but it is a little irritating to see these 'roadblocks' appearing and delaying the story from the next natural beat. I think I would enjoy this interlude a lot more if we were seeing things from Dexter's point of view also. Perhaps a short chapter or two, showing Dexter's side before starting 'In Plain Shite' would have been a good idea to alleviate the suspense of wanting them to reunite.



Despite my issues with the pacing of the plot, I really enjoyed this installment, especially the joke about Sinister  bragging about having hyper-acute awareness, then promptly treading in dog shit. However, it was a little bit jarring to see a reference to Blowjobs in 2000AD - especially that blatant! For some reason, the final panel with Uncle Vanya made me chuckle with the simple 'LOL' in a speech bubble along with the satisfied grin on his face. John Burns' artwork is beginning to fit this strip and I'm enjoying his style, even if it isn't one I would associate with Sinister Dexter usually.



CADET ANDERSON - ONE IN TEN (Part 6)
Script - Alan Grant
Art - Carlos Ezquerra
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Okay, I was wrong last week - my theory was that this part would the inevitable wind-down and predictable ending, however things were fairly action-packed with the team of Cadets using their heads, rather than their powers to gain access to the mansion to discover the owner of the restaurants that serve human waste as 'gourmet food'. There is a nice twist to the identity of the mastermind behind the organ smuggling, which might go some way to explaining the cold-hearted nature of the crime.

As a side-note, I liked the reference (intentional or not) to The Dark Knight Rises with the final line delivered by Malaparte as he is discovered by the Cadets. It brought back memories of Tom Hardy's performance as Bane.



DEFOE - THE DAMNED (Part 3)
Script - Pat Mills
Art - Leigh Gallagher
Letters - Ellie de Ville

Defoe continues on fine form with Faust appearing to Tomazine in her dreams and promising to reunite her with the son she thought she'd lost during her pregnancy, if she betrays Defoe and her comrades and let the Reeks into the Tower of London. It's a gut-wrenching choice for the female Reek hunter, but one that as a reader is deliciously exciting. Obviously, Faust won't honour his bargain and as a reader we can see that, but I fear Tomazine will make the wrong choice here, which may cost her dearly.

The art on this strip is fantastic - I say that time and time again - it is so atmospheric. I work beside the Tower of London and as I walk past it each morning, I can imagine the hordes of undead scaling its walls and ravens filling the dark skies. It's spot-on and it is an effective setting for a last-ditch siege against the undead.



TERROR TALES - RATTLE
Script /Art - Montynero
Letters - Simon Bowland

This was a nice little Terror Tale, which felt reminiscent of 28 Days Later, but with super-smart snakes instead of rage-infected humans. The artwork really suited the black and white format to the strip and the final panel was suitably freaky, especially for anyone with a snake phobia! The twist-ending was pretty good and not what I expected - my initial thought was that there would be some human-snake hybrid involved, but the role reversal in the end was delightfully ironic. More from this droid please, Tharg!



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

We have a back-page advert for The Ten-Seconders which is replacing the short run of Future Shocks and Terror Tales we've had recently. I'm not overly familiar with The Ten-Seconders, other than it's related to Gods in some way. I'm a fan of both Rob Williams and Edmund Bagwell, so it should be good. Other than that, the rest of the Prog is developing nicely and Cadet Anderson is likely winding down now, so I suspect we'll get another new thrill shortly.


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1838 will be available in stores on Wednesday 26th June - Digital copies of this Prog will be available on the same day through the 2000AD app, which can be downloaded onto iOS devices from here.

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!

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Review - Doctor Who: The Blue Tooth


Doctor Who: The Blue Tooth
The Companion Chronicles 1.03
Written by: Nigel Fairs
Directed by: Mark J Thompson
Performed by: Caroline John & Nicholas Briggs
Duration:
 60 mins approx
ISBN: 978-1-84435-265-4
Chronology Placement: Between Inferno and Terror of the Autons

One of Big Finish's most popular Doctor Who audio ranges is The Companion Chronicles, which focuses primarily on the adventures of the first three Doctors, as these Doctors are no longer with us. Rather than full-cast audio dramas, these adventures take the form of a two-person performance, with one of the Doctor's companions narrating an "unseen" adventure and a second supporting character taking part at times to add some variation and prevent it from becoming a monologue. They also tend to be shorter than the Big Finish's full-cast audios, typically with two half hour episodes on one CD.

This release, The Blue Tooth, is narrated by Caroline John, who played Liz Shaw, a UNIT scientist. Unlike other companions of that era, Liz never travelled in the Third Doctor’s TARDIS and was almost his equal when it came to science. As such, the two never really ended up with the same close relationship that he eventually came to have with both Jo Grant and Sarah-Jane Smith. This audio drama addresses the decision by Liz to leave both UNIT and the Doctor behind, something that occurred off-screen between the transition of Season 7 and 8.

Faced with the rare opportunity of a few days off, Liz contacts her old university friend, Jean Basemore, for a catch up in Cambridge. However, when Jean doesn't show up for their meeting, it prompts an investigation into her disappearance that brings Liz herself into danger, and reintroduces an old enemy from the Doctor's past: The Cybermen.

Jon Pertwee's Doctor never faced the Cybermen on screen, possibly due to their over-exposure during the Patrick Troughton era. However that misdeed has been rectified in this story, which draws a lot of its plot from the aftermath of the Second Doctor story, The Invasion and finally puts the character of the 3rd Doctor against a Cyberman threat.

This story had a nice slow build-up with Caroline John taking most of the narration duties until the Cybermen themselves appear in the latter half, voiced by Nicholas Briggs (who also voices them in the current series of Doctor Who). John manages to convey the story well, although I found her delivery was a bit quick in places and disorientating, especially when describing action scenes. As the Cyberman are hardly the most vocal of enemies, Nicholas Briggs doesn’t feature too much in this audio adventure, making it seem more like a solo story. While Caroline John does attempt to use different voices for the Brigadier and the Doctor, they aren’t the most effective; however, it isn’t too jarring.

I particularly liked the script which really captured some of the subtleties of both Liz’s character and the 3rd Doctor. For example, the description of the Doctor rubbing the back of his neck whilst speaking to Liz was very accurate as it was a common trait of Jon Pertwee’s on-screen and it helped me visualise the scene perfectly. Within her narration, Liz comes across as an older and somewhat wiser version of the character she played in the 1970’s, aware of her shortcomings as an ‘academic’ with little time for frivolous things.

I loved the fact that the Cybermats are referenced, especially as they’ve made resurgence in the current series too. The evolution of both the Cybermen and the Cybermats is an interesting concept and even though the changes to their ‘methods’ are contained to just within this audio – it is curious to note that some of the ‘upgrades’ that featured here, such as the smaller insect-like Cybermats, eventually appear in the recent episode, Nightmare in Silver.

Overall, this was a fun story set within a period of the show which is ripe for exploration, as there is something of a blank space between Liz’s departure and the introduction of Jo Grant. I liked the continuity references in this audio, remembering that the Brigadier had encountered the Cybermen before and introducing Mike Yates as a newly arrived Captain. It is these little touches that make it much easier to fit these audio adventures in with the canon of the televised serials.

The Blue Tooth can be ordered on CD from BigFinish.com or available externally from Amazon.co.uk

Score - 8.2 out of 10

"Dental Danger with the Cybermen"

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

2000AD Prog 1837

Prog 1837 Cover by Chris Weston

This is a fantastic cover, showcasing the massive damage done to Mega City One on Chaos Day and the scope of the destruction. Dredd looks so small and ineffectual when he is compared directly to the results of such a large-scale disaster. This would have been an amazing cover wrap. My only minor gripe is the use of camo-green for the logo and text – it doesn’t quite fit the tone of the artwork. 


JUDGE DREDD - WASTELANDS (Part 1)
Script - John Wagner
Art - Dave Taylor
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

This week's Dredd features the much heralded return of John Wagner to the strip since the Chaos Day storyline. As one of the co-creators of Judge Dredd, fans look forward to the Wagner stories as being the ones most likely to evoke change to the status-quo or seeding plot points for the next Mega-epics.

This story opens up with Dredd serving a self-imposed penance amongst the wastelands of Mega City One, but while he is ruminating over the past, there are others who are more focused on the future - in particular, the renovation and sale of  Valentino block, something that has caught the eye of entrepreneur, Onan Starbux. Predicting trouble, he sends an underling to the viewing of the block, which inevitably falls foul of an invasion of Surfers, who murder the Estate Agent, which is witnessed by Dredd, promising us some action in the next Prog.

Surfin' MC-1 style

I like this opening installment and how it balances both the regret of the past with the potential for the future across six pages, although it seems predictable that Onan Starbux is responsible for the attack on Valentino Block in order to lower the asking price. However, I suspect that this is only a small aspect of the storyline which looks to explore more aspects of the aftermath of Chaos Day. 

While the writing was on top form, I cannot say I was as impressed with the artwork by Dave Taylor. It's not terrible, but it just doesn't feel like Dredd. I would have preferred the interior to match the cover artwork by Chris Weston to capture the grandiose nature of the devastated MC-1 ruins. As it is, everything looks a bit rubbery and slightly rounded. Like I say, it's not terrible, but it doesn't really suit the tone or the atmosphere of the story.



SINISTER DEXTER - IN PLAIN SHITE (Part 2)
Script - Dan Abnett
Art - John Burns
Letters - Ellie de Ville

Even though the entire episode consists mainly of a conversation between Sinister and Frontal Lobe, it manages to be gripping and entertaining. I'm not sure I'm 100% sold on Sinister's schizophrenic personality he seems to be developing, as it seems too much like a narrative device for the writer to showcase how Sinister is thinking without relying on thought boxes. Personally, I'd prefer that as unless there is a pay-off to Sinister's growing isolation and mental imbalance, it'll just feel like a plot device to cover these Dexter-less moments.



CADET ANDERSON - ONE IN TEN (Part 5)
Script - Alan Grant
Art - Carlos Ezquerra
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Remembering something that the deceased Cadet Calvi said prompts Anderson and the others to launch a bust in a high-class Mega City restaurant, whereupon she reveals to the stunned diners that they've been feasting on human meat, presumably the final resting place of the various reject body parts from the organ-farming operation.

During their vomiting frenzy, no-one noticed that the Robo-Waiter had a head like a Pokeball

I have a feeling that next week will likely be the final part as things predictably wrap up with the Cadets learning that they have to overcome the emotional side-effects of the horrific crime scenes that they will investigate. It's been a pleasant enough story, but it just feels like it's been by-the-numbers.



DEFOE - THE DAMNED (Part 2)
Script - Pat Mills
Art - Leigh Gallagher
Letters - Ellie de Ville

Defoe continues with the flashback into the titular character's history as the outbreak begins, opening up with a surprising panel which seems to show Defoe getting bitten on the hand by his zombie wife. It was only through a careful examination of the following panel that I noticed it was merely the glove that was bitten and not Defoe's hand, which makes sense, since he's not a zombie in the present day, however, it wasn't overly clear within the artwork.



As someone who hasn't read the preceding stories, I'm not sure how much old ground is being tread by these flashbacks, but as a new reader, I've found it to be very interesting and says more about the character than a few lines of exposition ever could. I could see some people getting frustrated with the lack of forward pace in these two parts, and while I've been critical of the same problem within  the Cadet Anderson story, for some reason, it seems more compelling and interesting here. However, the time for dwelling on the past looks set to end as the Reeks continue to besiege the survivors within the Tower.

On a side-note, Leigh Gallagher would be an awesome replacement for Charlie Adlard on The Walking Dead, if he ever decided to stop working on it. He has a very Adlard-esque approach to drawing the undead that would suit the comic.



FUTURE SHOCKS - TIME IS THE ONLY ENEMY
Script - David Baillie
Art - Graeme Neil Reid
Letters - Simon Bowland

As I mentioned before, I'm a bit of a sucker for meta-fictional stories, which is why I initially liked the concept of Gunheadz from Prog 1830. This Future Shock is a bit self-referential and some might find it a little egotistical in the same way M. Night Shyamalan cast himself as Earth's saviour in his film, Lady in the Water. I actually enjoyed this story and the fictitious David Baillie came off as a really nice guy (I'm sure the real one is too!)

The artwork is really good and I loved the design of the aliens. I liked the subtle visual clues that led to the twist at the end and the level of detail on the final panel of Baillie showing his aged form. I would definitely like to see more artwork from Graeme Neil Reid



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

Not much to say about this week's Prog - it seems to be firing on all cylinders with the promise of forward momentum on all of it's stories after a few week's of stagnancy, particularly Cadet Anderson and Sinister Dexter. Hopefully, we have the addition of another Terror Tale or Future Shock as I do enjoy this one-offs.


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1837 will be available in stores on Wednesday 19th June - Digital copies of this Prog will be available on the same day through the 2000AD app, which can be downloaded onto iOS devices from here.

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!

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Review - Doctor Who: Horror of Glam Rock


Doctor Who: Horror of Glam Rock
The Eighth Doctor Adventures 1.3
Written by: Paul Magrs
Directed by: Barnaby Edwards
Performed by: Paul McGann & Sheridan Smith
Duration: 60 mins approx
ISBN: 978-1-84435-257-9
Chronology Placement: After the 1996 Doctor Who TV Movie and Blood of the Daleks - Part 2

Whilst looking for a bite to eat, the Doctor and Lucie arrive at a Motorway Service Station on the M62 during a terrible blizzard. Also en-route to the Service Station is star-making music manager, Arnold Korns, and his latest signings, Trisha and Tommy Tomorrow, ready to make their debut on Top of the Pops. However, outside in the snow and darkness is a dangerous threat – a pack of alien monsters that threaten to bring a sudden halt to the careers of these fledgling Glam Rockers…

The idea of a remote Service Station under siege by alien creatures is very reminiscent of the classic ‘base under siege’ storylines that were used during the Second Doctor’s era such as: The Moonbase, Fury from the Deep and The Ice Warriors. Unfortunately, the story doesn't have the benefit of a multi-part serial to build up the suspense and instead, throws itself straight into the action and is finished within the hour, which is the equivalent of a two episode storyline in the classic series. As a result the story felt like a mish-mash of ‘Classic Who’ storytelling, mixed with the format and modern approach of the current series, similar to recent stories like Cold War.

We’re quickly introduced to the cast of supporting characters: Flo, Pat, Arnold Korns, Trisha and Tommy Tomorrow, as well as a few extras who are effectively ‘Monster Meals’ with several lines. Each of the characters was easily identifiable by their voices, which is something that can cause issues if several characters sound similar to each other. I really liked the character of Arnold Korns, played well by Bernard Cribbins who managed to chew on the audio scenery when on-air. While I wasn’t entirely convinced by his change of heart mid-way through the story, I was impressed by Cribbins’ acting range in playing a different character to the one he would eventually play on-screen, Donna Noble's grandfather, Wilfred Mott.

I enjoyed Stephen Gately's performance as Tommy Tomorrow and while I initially thought, "Wow, a member of Boyzone playing an Irish musician, that's original", Gately actually managed to put a lot of originality into the role and played Tommy really well, giving him both depth and a mysterious otherworldly quality that I wasn't expected from reading the blurb on the inlay sleeve.

The tone of the story is hard to define as it’s a strange balance of both comedy and horror with the unusual setting and references to 70’s Glam Rock and the horror of bear-like creatures attempting to smash their way in and devour the humans inside. The death sequences seemed to be played for laughs with the over-the-top screaming and crunching sound effects used, along with the jokes prior to them, such as when Arnold observes Ron the Roadie making a run for it: “Maybe he’ll make it” and then we hear the sound of crunching as Arnold adds, “But then again…

I liked Paul McGann's performance of the Doctor and the dynamic between him and Lucie. There is more of his personality shining through her than did in his initial TV appearance, and I wonder if that is true for the audio dramas set prior to this series. I like his sarcastic approach at times and the way he attempts to deal with Tommy and the stylophone. However, there were a few moments that seemed a little out of character for the Doctor. For example, he didn't seem too bothered about the implications of Lucie meeting her future aunt and the paradoxical possibilities of such a meeting, but this may be explored in further detail in future audio adventures. I also thought it was a bit mean of the Doctor to acknowledge that Tommy wanted nothing more to travel the galaxy and promptly offer the same opportunity to Lucie instead. Surely, he could have given Tommy a give 'once around the block'.

Overall, this was a fun little adventure which took the Doctor Who trope of the base under siege and gave it an unusual setting in both time and space. The setting of a Motorway Service Station is really quite inspired as it is a very British tradition and evokes that feeling of isolation that a good 'base under siege' story needs. I also really enjoyed the Bowie-esque incidental music (and Glam Rock closing theme!), especially during Arnold Korns' speech to the rampaging monsters as he stays behind to buy the rest of the group time - it felt very much like David Bowie's Life On Mars as the music swells.

The CD closes with a trailer for the next adventure, Immortal Beloved, which sounds like a Romeo & Juliet love story set on an alien world with a Greek God twist. I'll be interested to see whether it comes across like a typical Doctor Who story or not.

Doctor Who: Horror of Glam Rock is available as a CD or Download from Big Finish, or available externally from Amazon.co.uk

Score - 8.8 out of 10


Wednesday, 12 June 2013

2000AD Prog 1836

Prog 1836 Cover by Leigh Gallagher

This cover has been teased for a few weeks now, both in the back of the Prog itself and online through 2000AD's social media. It's a beautiful cover and very eye-catching with it's use of the zombie as one image and the cast of Defoe as an alternate image within the zombie. I love the choice of colours and the stark white background, especially within the zombie's gaping mouth. It's no wonder it's been so heavily used to promote the return of Defoe as it really stands out.


JUDGE DREDD - SKULLS
Script - Rob Williams
Art - Trevor Hairsine
Colours / Letters - Chris Blythe / Annie Parkhouse

The story throws us straight into the action with Dredd pinned down by a gang, known as the Bug Boyz, who have ramped up their crusade of killing Judges since Chaos Day and wear their victim's helmets as badges of honour. Dredd gets unexpected back-up from the SJS, who are now out from behind their desks due to the shortage of Judge's on the streets.



This strip featured Trevor Hairsine's return to Judge Dredd after a thirteen year absence - the reason for his return was the Dredd movie, which he saw and thought "that looks like fun" and it made him want to draw him again. I've always loved Hairsine's rugged look, especially his Dredd, so it was a real treat to see him back in action. I really liked his take on the Bug Boyz, with their overly muscular bodies and stolen Judge helmets. He also designed the new awesome looking SJS bikes with the intimidating skulls emblazoned on them.

As for the story itself, I really enjoyed the interaction between Dredd and SJS Judge Gerhart as the two begrudgingly worked together and the foreshadowing of a future confrontation between the two. It was a really nice, fast-paced one-parter which both made use of the current Chaos Day status quo and hinted at future woes for the aging lawman.



SINISTER DEXTER - IN PLAIN SHITE (Part 1)
Script - Dan Abnett
Art - John Burns
Letters - Ellie de Ville

Staying with Sinister, but starting a new storyline, we are shown the mental effects that the recent problems with Moses Tannenbaum and the separation from Dexter have caused, with Sinister referring to himself in the first-person plural. It could be that the other 'Sinister' he is talking to is an aspect of his Malone identity. It remains to be seen whether this is a plot device for Dan Abnett to allow Sinister to narrate his thoughts and movements whilst alone, or whether Sinister's mental degradation is something that will get worse over time.

Despite the loose ends from the last big storyline, I'm still enjoying this Witness Protection story-arc which seems to making Sinister rely on his own wits for a change and makes me seem a lot more interesting and vulnerable than he has been in a while.



CADET ANDERSON - ONE IN TEN (Part 4)
Script - Alan Grant
Art - Carlos Ezquerra
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Anderson quickly works out that it isn't her nightmare that she's trapped in, but fellow Psi-Cadet Vin's. She manages to wake up, freeing both herself and the rest of the Cadets that found themselves sucked into Vin's dream. Unfortunately, the nightmare isn't over as they discover that Psi-Cadet Calvi has taken his life, unable to live with the horrors that they have seen. Despite the cold statistics that 'one in ten' cadets take their own life in the first year, Anderson and her team vow to continue the case in honour of their fallen comrade.

This was an interesting instalment and I hope that the revelation that Vin can drag people into his dreams has some relevance later as it seemed to be a bit out of place with no real consequence to the story. Calvi's suicide, however, is a much more relevant plot development and spurs the team on to solve this case, as well as providing a sober wake-up call to the Psi-Cadets that they will see terrible things and are more vulnerable to depression due to their empathic nature.



I do enjoy Ezquerra's art, but I struggled to determine the gender of both Calvi (I thought he was a she, at first) and the team's commander (who looked like an ugly woman, but turned out to be a man also!) - Plus, Anderson's age seems to fluctuate from panel to panel - she looks very young in the final panel of this strip (see above). What age is she supposed to be? I assumed 17 or 18, due to the Cadet status, but in that final panel she looks about 13!



DEFOE - THE DAMNED (Part 1)
Script - Pat Mills
Art - Leigh Gallagher
Letters - Ellie de Ville

Defoe opens up with a beautifully gory and detailed double-page spread by Leigh Gallagher showing the horde of undead surrounding the Tower of London as Defoe and his group look down. For a first impression, it's a damned good one (pun not intended!)

Despite being an existing series, Pat Mills opens up this first part with a very accessible introduction - starting off with a quick description of the situation from the previous series, then moving onto a quick character study of the lead character, Defoe, by two of his colleagues, before switching to a flashback sequence that sheds a bit of light on Defoe's past. Not much happens, but for a new reader it's really handy to have such a simple introduction. I'd imagine things will get more complicated as they go on, but I'm looking forward to seeing more.



TERROR TALES - THE DEATH MAGNETIC
Script - David Baillie
Art - Will Morris
Letters - Simon Bowland

This week's Terror Tale featured the debut of artist, Will Morris, who won the Thoughtbubble Portfolio competition last November, earning him the opportunity to draw this Terror Tale. I really enjoyed his art style, which reminded me of Warren Pleece's style on Dandridge. I would be very interested to see more work from Morris, especially in colour, although I did like the greyscale approach to this strip.



As for the story, it was a nice little horror story, although my mind started running through potential twists once the narration mentioned the four ways that the singer, Lester Veinburst, died. I didn't connect the strangulation of Bazza with the 'curse' - it was hardly erotic, after all - but it did seem to make sense. Unfortunately, due to the short nature of these Terror Tales, it didn't seem particularly believable that the lead character would figure out the curse and decide to burn himself alive with the tape so quickly, but I can forgive that due to the format of the story and I guess you could explain it as him being 'possessed' by the tape.



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

A great Prog - Defoe is off to a fantastic start and I really enjoyed the single-parter Dredd, with the promised return of creator, John Wagner, next Prog to deal with the aftermath of Chaos Day. While Cadet Anderson and Sinister Dexter are moving at a slower pace, both stories continue to hold my interest and remain strong. The addition of Terror Tales to the roster gives a refreshing rotating storyline that changes every Prog.


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1836 will be available in stores on Wednesday 12th June - Digital copies of this Prog will be available on the same day through the 2000AD app, which can be downloaded onto iOS devices from here.

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!

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Top Ten Videogame Boss Fights

One of the most satisfying aspects of playing a video-game is beating a boss fight, especially if the battle is particularly difficult or the character you're fighting is a bit of a shit-bag...

Here is my list of the Top Ten Videogame Boss Fights:



10) Bowser (Super Mario Bros.)

The original Bowser is the template for all great 2D platformer bosses – at the end of every four stages in Super Mario Bros for the NES, Mario would find himself facing the turtle king, Bowser, who guarded the Princess. Well, we thought it was the Princess until she turned out to be in another castle. A trick Mario fell for across eight worlds...

There were two ways to defeat Bowser – if you’d managed to keep your Fire Flower, you could pelt him with fireballs until he died and was revealed to be one of the lower-level baddies in disguise, or you could dodge his constant fireballs and make your way behind him to lower the drawbridge, sending him to a fiery death in the lava below. Unfortunately there wasn't much variation within the game with each Bowser encounter being similar to the previous one, but there was a great feeling of accomplishment when you send the fire-breathing turtle to his doom.




9) Cyberdemon (Doom)

While the Cyberdemon wasn't the final boss in Doom, it was one of the most frustrating. First appearing in the end of Chapter Two - the final level is dedicated to defeating this near-invincible demon. Armed with hundreds of rockets, the canny space marine must attempt to avoid the Cyberdemon and his own deadly rockets, whilst navigating the rather bland and empty environment. 

This boss fight was surprisingly tense, as rather than throwing countless enemies at you as the game had done prior to this point, it was almost a one-on-one situation, apart from a few flaming skulls that littered the arena. Even now, I remember this level vividly as one that caused many replays and half-baked strategies. Truly a classic boss battle within the FPS genre.




8) Dr. Robotnik (Sonic the Hedgehog)

Much like Bowser, Dr. Robotnik is an iconic end of level boss for the platformer age, appearing on every third level in Sonic the Hedgehog’s original adventure to menace the titular hero. The beauty of Robotnik is that he continually ‘upgraded’ himself throughout the game with every boss encounter becoming progressively more difficult. The initial battle is simple, but still tricky – Robotnik, in his hovering, robotic egg swings a wrecking ball from side to side, which you have to avoid whilst trying to bash into the underside of his transport until he crashes.

Later appearances of the egg-obsessed scientist would boast more ingenious attempts to defeat the blue-haired Hedgehog, such as: shooting lava at platforms, or trapping you within two lasers, while a beam of blue energy fired down at you.  Because of his repeated attempts to annihilate you, there is a deep satisfaction to be found when you manage to strike that crucial hit and watch his face get covered with soot as his hover-egg explodes and veers off-screen to crash.




7) M. Bison (Street Fighter II)

Famously played in the 1994 live-action movie by Raul Julia (aka Gomez Addams), Street Fighter II’s M. Bison was a bastard to defeat in the videogame. Not only did you have to fight his three ‘lieutenants’, Vega, Balrog and Sagat, before you faced him but when you eventually did come up against him, he utilised devastating moves such as the 'Psycho Crusher', where his body becomes engulfed in a deadly blue flame as he flies at his opponent. It’s a tough move to avoid and annoyingly the CPU would spam the move incessantly.

Bizarrely, the name that is mostly associated with the character isn’t actually his. In the original Japanese version, M. Bison was the name given to Balrog, who was a thinly veined version of famous boxer, Mike Tyson. Worried that Tyson’s lawyers would notice similarities with M. Bison and M. Tyson – the names of the bosses were switched and the character formerly known as Vega in Japan, became our M. Bison – something which has stuck ever since, even appearing in the live-action release and animated movies.




6) Goro (Mortal Kombat)

The four-armed Shokan Warrior acts as Shang Tsung’s bodyguard in the first Mortal Kombat tournament and is the first boss battle you come across during the game. The battle takes place in his lair, complete with hanging skeleton and beady eyes peering through the darkness. Goro was much more powerful than any of the prior enemies, but his extreme power was countered by his hulking mass, which slowed him down somewhat.

Unlike other characters in the first Mortal Kombat game, Goro was not based on a digitized actor, but instead a clay sculpture, which helped capture his inhuman movements and look. Unfortunately Goro was not a playable character in the initial game, which led to much of his popularity as he was unobtainable. He disappeared from the sequel (replaced by the similar, but not as impressive Kintaro) and eventually reappeared, as a playable character, in Mortal Kombat Trilogy, an anthology which brought all the characters introduced thus far into one massive game.





5) General RAAM (Gears of War)

RAAM, the imposing General of the Locust army, is the figurehead and final boss of the original Gears of War game. Commanding both the Locust army and his personal Kryll shield, RAAM became a fan-favourite amongst gamers due to his non-nonsense approach when it came to dispatching his enemies, such as Delta Squad leader, Minh Young Kim, who met with an untimely end at the end of Act I.

Marcus and Dom manage to get their revenge in the final Act, whilst aboard a speeding train. Picking the worst moment to appear and signalling a terrible sense of foreboding whenever he does show up, RAAM arrives on the train, trapping the two Gears and forcing them into a life-and-death battle. What makes RAAM particularly difficult is his control of the Kryll, which he uses to both protect himself from gunfire and as a weapon to tear you limb from limb. Careful manoeuvering around the crates on the train is the best bet and keeping enough distance from RAAM and his bat-like comrades.

RAAM proved more popular than the later bosses, Skorge and Myrrah, even appearing in a special prequel DLC chapter in Gears of War 3, named RAAM’s Shadow. RAAM is also playable in the various multiplayer modes across the Gears of War Trilogy and while he doesn't have any special abilities over other character skins, he tends to be favoured amongst the online crowd.





4) William Birkin (Resident Evil 2)

William Birkin is the primary antagonist of Resident Evil 2, appearing periodically throughout the game in various forms of mutation. He is a much more interesting final boss than his predecessor, the Tyrant, who was fairly bland and uninteresting. What is fascinating about Birkin is that he has countless mutations which make him more powerful, although this trend has been done to death in later Resident Evil games, such as in Resident Evil 6 and the ridiculous amount of times you have to fight both Derek Simmons and the Ustanak creature.

To me, Birkin’s best mutation is when he first gains the unsightly looking (pardon the pun) eye in his shoulder. It’s such an iconic image that it stays with the player, even after Birkin continues to evolve into a more hideous creature. Due to the number of times Birkin appears throughout the game, it is very satisfying to dispatch him at last, firing a rocket into his teethy mass and leaving behind in Raccoon City to be nuked out of existence. Birkin’s legacy continues however in the form of his daughter, Sherry, who later grows up to be an Agent in her own right, appearing in Resident Evil 6.




3) Nemesis (Resident Evil 3)

One of the relaxing things about Resident Evil is that you knew that if you managed to make it to a door and go into a separate room, the zombies wouldn’t be able to follow you. Resident Evil 3 changed things and returned the horror back to this franchise with the introduction of Nemesis, the 'Terminator' of zombies, who chased Jill Valentine throughout the entirety of the game. It introduced a feeling of urgency to the game as you were being hunted throughout your time playing, and I’ll be honest, I hated every second Nemesis appeared!

Nemesis was easily identified by his hissing voice as he called out “Stars” upon sighting Jill Valentine. He also sports a gruesome face, hastily stitched together and a dark, leather trench-coat. Not content with using his physical strength to attack the players, Nemesis also used a Rocket Launcher in his attempts to destroy his targets. As with many of the Resident Evil bosses, Nemesis continued to be a constant threat and underwent several mutations before being destroyed at the game's climax.




2) Psycho Mantis (Metal Gear Solid)

This creepy looking gimp was one of many bosses that featured in Metal Gear Solid, the cinematic 'tactical espionage action game' - The reason Psycho Mantis stood out in particular against the likes of Vulcan Raven or Sniper Wolf was due to the ingenious methods used by developer, Hideo Kojima, to showcase Mantis' psychic abilities. 

Mantis seemed aware that he was a character in a videogame often directing comments at the player themselves. He could 'read' your mind and see what other Capcom games you'd been playing, when in reality he was merely reading your memory card data, but it was still a nifty trick that had never been utilised until then. Another of Mantis' neat tricks was predicting your moves forcing you to switch your controller to the second port in order to outsmart him. Best of all was the nasty visual trick he played where he made the screen on your TV appear to switch off, prompting many gamers to think they'd hit the remote or suffered a power-cut, when it was actually part of the game.



1) Sephiroth (Final Fantasy VII)

Sephiroth was the final boss of Final Fantasy VII (unless you count the secret bosses - Diamond and Ruby Weapons) and annoyingly you had to fight him in two incarnations without any respite. If the players had spent enough time leveling up their characters, as well as building up your stats and materia, then you will find it fairly easy to defeat him. The reason he finds himself at the top of the list is due to the callous way he kills off fan-favourite character, Aeris, at the end of Disc One. It came as a shock as the storyline seemed to indicate a long, drawn-out storyline between Cloud, Aeris and Tifa, but it was cruelly brought to a premature end as Sephiroth murdered her with a Masamune sword to the chest.

It's a testament to the fantastic storyline and characterisation within the game that the final battle between Cloud and Sephiroth is so powerful and evokes such strong emotions to those playing it when they finish it for the first time. It is certainly one of the few boss battles that I've been genuinely relieved to complete and eagerly looked forward to the half hour FMV sequence that concluded the game. Ironically, it wouldn't be the end of Sephiroth completely, who returned to menace Cloud in the film, Final Fantasy: Advent Children.


Do you agree with my Top Ten Videogame Boss Fights? Are there any moments that you feel are missing, or are there any bosses you still struggle with? Let me know in the comments section or contact me via Twitter or my Facebook page.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

2000AD Prog 1835

Prog 1835 Cover by D'Israeli

I may be in the minority, but I find that D'Israeli's cover art can be a bit hit and miss, usually depending on how complex the image is. This week's cover seems to be somewhat messy and unclear at first glance, a total opposite to the earlier Stickleback cover for Prog 1824 to herald the strip's return.


JUDGE DREDD - THE FORSAKEN (Part 6)
Script - Michael Carroll
Art - PJ Holden
Colours / Letters - Chris Blythe / Annie Parkhouse

The hunt for the missing Cadets, including Cadet Paris, the female clone of Dredd, comes to an end in this final installment, as Dredd & Dolman confront Falcon in Uranium City, but there is still one final twist in the tale before things come to an end.

I quite liked the twist of Dredd's female clone being pregnant, presumably with Falcon's child. I'll have to re-read the whole story to see whether there were any hints of a potential relationship between the two. I'm guessing this aspect of the story isn't truly over and we may see Falcon and Paris reappearing in future storylines as Michael Carroll develops his own corner of the Dredd universe, away from the larger changes that co-creator John Wagner introduces. I'm guessing Dolman, Paris and her child are all part of a larger plan of his, and I look forward to seeing them revisited in the near future.


Oh no, Falcon, you fell for the "He's Behind You" pantomime approach. Shame on you!

Overall, this was a great storyline and managed to maintain its strong pace, despite the majority of the story taking place via flashbacks or word of mouth. The artwork from PJ Holden was top notch, particularly in capturing the horrific injuries suffered by Cadet Sorvino and some of the close-ups of Dredd's grizzled face. I also look forward to seeing more Dredd strips from PJ in the future!



SINISTER DEXTER - MALONE AGAIN (Part 4)
Script - Dan Abnett
Art - John Burns
Letters - Ellie de Ville

Sinister/Malone manages to use his frontal lobe to get out of his dilemma with Frontal Loeb, by convincing him that his presence on Generica is to do with the witness protection and not because he's there to whack him. Escaping from the police with one of their guns, he sets off to locate Dexter, who just happens to be situated on the west coast of Generica, some three thousand miles away.

This was a great twist to see Sinister using his brain to get out of trouble without resorting to gunfire, and there was an element of tension as he attempted to explain his situation to both the police and Loeb's "bullet-monkeys". The final page introduces a new adversary in the form of Art MacArthur, a Marshall Officer who will be chasing after Sinister, and is possibly in on the Moses Tannenbaum conspiracy. Oh, it took me a far too long to get the 'Marshall Art / Martial Art' pun... Oh, Abnett, how your words mock me!



CADET ANDERSON - ONE IN TEN (Part 3)
Script - Alan Grant
Art - Carlos Ezquerra
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

The Psi-cadets deal with the aftermath of the last part by digging out their two comrades from the mountain of human waste that they're trapped underneath. It appears that the human body parts were expected to be delivered to Texas City - frustrated that their investigations have hit a brick wall, the Psi-cadets head to their sleeping quarters, where Anderson begins to have a strange dream...or perhaps, a nightmare?


"Give me DUM DUM!"

Again, nothing much seems to develop in this story and the investigation seems to have come to an early end - whether Anderson's psychedelic dream will shed some light on matters is unknown, but it seems like next week's episode is going to feature some illuminous, creepy babies. I wonder if this is a side-effect of Cadet Baroc's trauma after being buried alive in body parts and waste, or if another of the Psi-cadets is unwittingly sharing their dreams with the group?

Great art by Carlos Ezquerra (as always) and the beginnings of the nightmare sequence are particularly fantastic and I'm looking forward to the prospect of even more warped and deranged images of Cassandra's subconscious as the grisly nature of this case begins to take affect.



STICKLEBACK - NUMBER OF THE BEAST (Part 12)
Script - Ian Edginton
Art - D'Israeli
Letters - Ellie de Ville

After my concerns that the ending to this storyline for Stickleback might seem rushed, Tharg wisely placed a double-sized final part to conclude this particular tale. There is something of a conclusion to the immediate threat of the dinosaur under-class, but with the survival of one of them (the more level-headed one), it seems that this plot thread is not finished with.



The final pages appear to reveal the return of an old foe, which may mean more to long-term readers but left me feeling slightly out in the cold. Still, it is nice to see the face behind the conspiracy and Stickleback's inevitable nemesis in future stories. I am quite keen to see how this develops and how Stickleback attempts to reform his empire with the rag-tag group he now has at the close of this storyline.

Overall, I quite liked this tale, even if it did drag on quite a long time, if you include both double-sized parts, it technically lasted for 14 parts. The black + white artwork suited the strip, but I did find that D'Israeli's art style did become overly saturated sometimes with the shading sometimes making it hard to decipher what was going on, as with the case of the cover - many a time, such as the reveal of Stickleback being inside Bob's body, I found myself staring at the image to work out where certain sections separated.



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

I'm really looking forward to next week's Prog with the return of zombie-horror strip, Defoe and a one-off Terror Tale, as well as a new Dredd. We may also be seeing a new Sinister Dexter focusing on Dexter, but that's just conjecture on my part based on the ending of this week's installment. The prospect of a near fresh slate is very exciting as 2000AD continues to reinvent itself with every new batch of stories that feature within its pages.




The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1835 will be available in stores on Wednesday 5th June - Digital copies of this Prog will be available on the same day through the 2000AD app, which can be downloaded onto iOS devices from here.

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!

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Review - Doctor Who: Old Soldiers


Doctor Who: Old Soldiers

The Companion Chronicles 2.03
Written by: James Swallow
Directed by: Nigel Fairs
Performed by: Nicholas Courtney & Toby Longworth
Duration:
60 mins approx
ISBN: 978-1-84435-292-0
Chronology Placement: Between The Silurians and The Ambassadors of Death

One of Big Finish's most popular Doctor Who audio ranges is The Companion Chronicles, which focuses primarily on the adventures of the first three Doctors, as these Doctors are no longer with us. Rather than full-cast audio dramas, these adventures take the form of a two-person performance, with one of the Doctor's companions narrating an "unseen" adventure and a second supporting character taking part at times to add some variation and prevent it from becoming a monologue. They also tend to be shorter than the Big Finish's full-cast audios, typically with two half hour episodes on one CD.

This release, Old Soldiers, is narrated by Nicholas Courtney, who played Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, one of the companions from the Third Doctor's era and senior member of the UNIT task force. The Brigadier is one of my favourite Doctor Who supporting characters so I was looking forward to hearing this, the only companion chronicles release made before Nicholas Courtney died in 2011.

The story takes place shortly after the TV serial, The Silurians, and deals with the aftermath of the Brigadier's decision to blow up the Silurian base at Wenley-Moor and how it affects both his relationship with the Doctor and his decisions in this story. I really liked how the writer, James Swallow, made use of the continuity of the TV show in his story and added an extra layer of depth to the Brigadier, allowing us to see the repercussions of that decision in a way we had never seen before.

The Brigadier is summoned to UNIT base in Germany located in the castle grounds known as Kriegeskind by an old army friend, Heinrich Konrad and is shocked to find him stricken by a mysterious disease. His second-in-command, the evasive Schrader proves most unhelpful in supplying the Brigadier with the details that led to Konrad's condition. Things take a more sinister turn however when midway through the night, the Brigadier awakes to narrowly miss a blade from a Roman Soldier cutting his pillow in two. It seems that the ghosts of Old Soldiers haven't taken form within Kriegeskind and are haunting those who occupy its walls.

I liked this story as it gave the Brigadier most of the focus, even after the Doctor appears on the scene. Nicholas Courtney manages to do a pretty effective Jon Pertwee impression, something he discusses in depth in the bonus track interview, but only uses it sparingly, often referring to the Doctor's lines in the character of the Brigadier, however when he does switch to the Doctor's voice, it captures many of his little quirks, such as the faint lisp and curtness of speech. I was very impressed!

Toby Longworth plays both Schrader and Konrad, who sound similar, although Konrad spends the majority of the audio-play gasping for his words, so it's never tricky to differentiate between the two. At first, I thought the fact Longworth played both characters hinted at a link between the two – possibly two halves of one man, or some kind of descendent, however it seems it was mainly because there wasn't much for both characters to do, so they combined the roles for the versatile voice actor.

Overall, this was a fun audio adventure, which told a nice two-parter and filled in some extra detail on the Brig's personality, particularly in those early Third Doctor adventures when he and the Doctor were at their most 'prickly'. The actual threat is quite visual and while one listens, it is easy to picture the action occurring with the recognisable images of ghostly Roman Soldiers and Nazi Officers roaming around an old castle. I'm not sure whether it would have been successful as a TV serial, but I think any fan of the UNIT era of Doctor Who will love this story!

Old Soldiers can be ordered on CD or Download from BigFinish.com or available externally from Amazon.co.uk

Score - 8.6 out of 10

"Ghostly goings-on with the Brig"

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