Saturday, 30 November 2013

Review - Agents of SHIELD: 1x09 - "Repairs"

Agents of SHIELD
Episode 1x09 - "Repairs"


Synopsis

When the sole survivor of a mysterious particle accelerator explosion appears to exhibit strange telekinetic abilities, Coulson and the team are called in to welcome another gifted super-human, only to discover that the explanation for the bizarre occurrences surrounding the survivor might be more complicated and dangerous than they initially thought…

Review

Hmmm...so judging by the flash of Ming-Na Wen's side-boob, it looks like not only did May and Ward have sex at the end of the last episode, but they have decided to continue on with some no-strings relationship which they are hiding from the rest of the team. With this episode setting up something of a rivalry between May and Skye, the inevitable reveal of the 'affair' is likely to cause further friction between the pair, although I do think it would have made more sense for Ward and Simmons to have some romantic connection after the small 'moments' the pair shared since he rescued her.

Considering that this episode was advertised as an Agent May-centric one, we don't get the same amount of insight into her back-story as we did with Agent Ward during 'The Well'. Coulson's second-hand account of the traumatic event felt purposefully vague with key words like 'gifted individual' used in order to build up mystery, possibly using established characters from the comics. While I appreciate the addition of more mysteries to the series to fuel speculation and theories, Coulson's description felt unnaturally vague and would have been better backed up with a visual flashback, but I imagine further exploration into May's past will come with later episodes, identifying what exactly happened during that mission to cause May's shift in behaviour. With the mention of a female civilian, perhaps it will tie in with Skye's parents and her father might be the 'gifted individual' who maintained a following?

I really enjoyed the action scenes as the SHIELD team attempted to tackle Tobias as he teleported between dimensions. The scenes reminded me of the 'Nightcrawler in the White House' sequence during X-Men 2 and showcased an effective super-power that doesn't require a huge budget to portray on TV. The moments where Tobias attacked Ward (and later, May) were well-choreographed and some of the best fight sequences seen in the series so far. The episode also managed to strike a nice balance between having its main storyline and the 'B-plot' (Fitz-Simmons and their pranks) which made it feel like a more rounded episode than some of it predecessors.

After nine episodes the show definitely feels like it is developing its own voice and playing with audience expectations with some truly surprising plot twists. This episode managed to continually pull the rug from under the viewer (and the characters themselves) with plot developments occurring that shifted the storyline dramatically from its opening concept. Throughout the episode, we went from a Carrie-esque telekinetic thriller, to what felt like a revenge-driven Ghost story to what was eventually revealed to be a tragedy about a man trapped between dimensions. I love that the actual content of the episodes seem to be more complex than the official synopses imply, which makes them refreshingly interesting to watch, especially since I read the online teasers to get the gist of what will be coming up and still find myself surprised by the twists and turns of each episode.

I am a little bit unsure that the recent upturn of quality will continue with next week's mid-season finale, which promises a return to the Centipede storyline with the Michael Peterson character assisting the SHIELD agents as their super-powered back-up. Considering that the pilot episode was the weakest episode of the series so far, and most of that was due to the uninspiring character of Peterson, who felt like a diluted version of Luke Cage. I am a little reluctant to see him return, especially since there have been much more interesting supporting characters who deserve a second appearance. Still, as I have been proved wrong before with the plot twists, perhaps he will show greater depth as a character once he reappears in a friendly capacity.

Score - 8.9 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • The name of the petrol station in the pre-credits sequence was Roxxon, a fictional energy company that appears in Marvel Comics – (First App: Captain America #180)
  • "I found Mike Peterson before you did" (Pilot)
  • "I didn't go to your stupid SHIELD Hogwarts, or whatever" (Harry Potter)
  • "Mayday, Mayday. Region North, this is SHIELD 616" (The original Marvel Comics Universe is called Earth-616)
  • "There were reports in London, after the spaceship landed, of multiple portals opening and Thor passing between worlds." (Thor: The Dark World)

Mysteries
  • What exactly happened to May to change her? 
  • Who was the 'gifted individual' who had followers/worshippers?
  • Did May lose someone close to her during the incident? The female civilian, perhaps?

Next Episode - "The Bridge"
In a shocking cliffhanger episode, Coulson takes the war back to Centipede, and this time he brings in Mike Peterson for some super-soldier support. As they get closer to the truth, startling secrets are revealed and an unexpected twist threatens the team

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

2000AD Prog 1860

Prog 1860 Cover by Mark Harrison

I found this Damnation Station themed cover to be a bit uninspiring, although the hidden face within the cloud of consciousness that is the Enemy is well done. I'd have preferred a more action-orientated cover showcasing Tura and her struggle against the infected crew members than a more thematic approach of the Earth Stations approaching the Enemy's "face".


JUDGE DREDD - FERALS (Part 3)
Script - Emma Beeby
Art - John Burns
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

I was right in my theory last week that the Juves were being kidnapped for medical tests, and the story goes one step further by featuring the Eldster Defence League (a cute pun on the real-life English Defence League) taking an unorthodox approach to anti-aging by sapping the youth from the Juves that they kidnap.


I must admit that I wasn't expecting poor Brian to die, especially since he was so innocent in the initial episode – it was actually quite sad to see him drained of his life-force in that tube. I have to admit that I'm on Roman's side on this one and the old man should be killed, rather than brought in. I'm intrigued as to what Dredd's stance on the feral youths will be when the immediate threat of the Eldster Defence League has been dealt with – surely, he will have to follow the law and re-home them all, with Roman possibly re-entering the Psi Academy as a Cadet.



DAMNATION STATION - THE HOWLING BEAST ON THE BORDERLINE (Part 3)
Script - Al Ewing
Art - Mark Harrison
Letters - Simon Bowland

Even though I thought Tura was dead based on the events of last issue, her suicide in this issue came as a bit of a shock, adding yet another casualty to Joe Nowhere's quest to destroy the Enemy, although with this double-sized penultimate episode, we don't get long to grieve for her, as the story continues and we see a much larger sacrifice for the greater good as Nowhere destroys the four supporting Earth Stations in an effort to kill the Enemy consciousness.


Curiously, the Host mentions that it cannot feed on the Enemy, but the Enemy can feed on it, which makes me think that Joe Nowhere will redeem himself by feeding upon the Host to protect the rest of the human race from 'The Harvest' the Host has planned. The only loose end I can't seem to figure out is what is happening with Brett Grayle, and why Joe Nowhere gave him the tampered CX-919 to put him into a coma. Hopefully, in next week's series finale, everything will become clear.



FLESH - BADLANDERS (Part 11)
Script - Pat Mills
Art - James McKay
Inks - Lee Townsend
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Finally, we get our long-awaited confrontation between McG and Gorehead, as the two tussle outside of the normal passage of time. Surprisingly, there isn't a clear winner as both of them end up drowning in quicksand, although Gorehead does appear to munch on McG's legs, so I guess he was technically the victor. Ever the sceptic, I do wonder if either of them are truly dead, as there was no body, and Gorehead seems a bit too iconic to be taken out so easily.


I'm not too sure where the story is heading next, but with the arrival of Claw Carver and Earl Reagan on the base, I'm guessing Vegas will meet her father, and we'll start following the adventures of the original characters from the first book of Flesh from way back in Prog 1.



BRASS SUN - THE DIAMOND AGE (Part 11)
Script - Ian Edginton
Art - INJ Culbard
Letters - Ellie de Ville

After the capture of the trio by the Sky Pirates last week, I was expecting a slow introduction to the new status quo and perhaps a hint of where the next series will be heading, however, what I didn't expect was a whopping massive Skyshark to attack the ship! It seems that because our trio are new to the world of Hot Air, they give off a smell that the Skysharks can track, leading to a sudden attack!

I like the introduction of Ariel O'Conner as a potential new ally for the group, as well as the Sweet Sisters, who act as bounty hunters for the Floating Council, which will probably be the focus of the next storyline, after the group deal with the 'minor' inconvenience of the Skyshark!



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

Next week is the final episodes to all of the current thrills, clearing the plate for the end of year Prog, Prog 2014, which features Strontium Dog and Maniac for Hire: Ulysses Sweet, which I didn't realise had run in the Prog before (way back in Prog 507) - hopefully his reappearance in the Prog will be fairly new-reader friendly!


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1860 will be available in stores on Wednesday 27th November - 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!

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Review - Agents of SHIELD: 1x08 - "The Well"

Agents of SHIELD
Episode 1x08 - "The Well"


Synopsis

After the events of Thor: The Dark World, a group of Norse mythology fanatics begin the hunt for the three pieces of an ancient Asgardian staff, which is said to gift its bearer with great strength and a beserker rage, leading to a global race to find the artifacts to prevent the deadly threat.

Review

Going into this episode, I was aware that it was a tie-in to the recent cinematic release, Thor: The Dark World and would be reflecting the events of that movie. Unfortunately, I hadn’t actually gotten my ass to the cinema yet, so I approached the episode with trepidation that it might not make sense, or it would spoil the ending of the film. Apart from the initial pre-credits sequence set in London, with the team cleaning up after an Asgardian battle, it required no real prior knowledge, choosing to explore the theme of Asgardians on Earth rather than specific references to the film. Despite this, it was still a wise bit of cross-promotion and I’d like to see more of it when Captain America: The Winter Soldier is released.

As the show continues to rotate the focus onto different members of the team, we have a Ward-centric episode complete with a flashback to a traumatic event of his childhood, which was alluded to in the pilot, shedding some light on the Agent's past. The flashback was expertly constructed to imply that the two boys were Ward and his brother in order to suggest that Ward had failed to save his brother from drowning. It isn’t until the final act that it is revealed that Ward’s brother was actually the one responsible for the boy being in the well, as he was bullying the both of them. It was an effective plot twist - one of many in this episode - that played with the audience's expectations and subverted them causing genuine surprise. I imagine this flashback will come into play again in the future, possibly with Ward’s brother resurfacing as an adult at some point, forcing him to deal with those repressed emotions.

Despite his tragic childhood memories, Ward manages to be quite the ladies-man, with developments on his relationship with all three of the ladies in the team. He initially displays his supportive side to Simmons as she struggles with heights, showing how the bond continues to grow between the two of them, since he saved her life a few episodes ago. Skye shows her own concern for him when he is haunted by the memories of his childhood, asking if it was his brother that he saw, suggesting the two had shared a heart-felt conversation at some point off-screen. But finally, and more shockingly, it seems that he hooks up with Agent May after they share the experience of the Beserker staff. It seems like poor Fitz and Coulson have been well and truly outplayed by Ward.

The episode featured a fantastic guest appearance from Peter MacNicol (most famous for his role in Ghostbusters II) as a retired Asgardian Beserker, whose staff was broken into three pieces and hidden across the world to prevent it being misused. Hiding in plain sight under the identity of Elliot Randolph, a Norse Mythology professor with an eye for the ladies, the actor provided the biggest surprise of the episode in the scene were an angry Ward lunged at him with a penknife in order to prove Coulson's theory. The moment where MacNicol bent the approaching penknife with minimal effort actually elicited a vocal exclamation of surprise from me (the F-word, to be precise) as I hadn't seen it coming at all. I really enjoyed MacNicol's laid-back approach to the character and while it would be difficult to feature him in a regular capacity, I would love to see more appearances from him!

The recurring mystery of Coulson’s resurrection saw some developments with a conversation between Coulson and Randolph clearly defining the memories that Coulson had – there is a blank period between his death and months later where he was in Tahiti. The post-credits stinger featured him waking from a nightmare about Tahiti upon hearing the oft-repeated phrase of "It’s a magical place", which suggests that the phrase may be part of some post-hypnotic conditioning, perhaps, in order to reassert the false memories of Tahiti. I found it very interesting how Randolph’s injury in the final act mirrored the “death” of Coulson, and how Randolph was saved by holding his pierced heart long enough for his natural Asgardian regeneration to heal him. Could Coulson’s resurrection be the exact same process? Is he an Asgardian, or from Asgardian heritage and doesn’t know it?

Overall, I really enjoyed this episode - it had some of the more surprising and unpredictable plot twists of the series so far. I could be reading too much into the plot, but it reminded me of the recent Marvel Comics event, Fear Itself, which involved Asgardian artifacts that the Red Skull's daughter, Sin, used to incite hatred and fear across America. Obviously, this was a hugely scaled-down version of that story-line, but it felt reminiscent of that same basic plot. With next week's episode focusing on Agent May, I'm really looking forward to seeing the traumatic events that affected her in the past and delving into her character, since she's easily the most unexplored character in the show, so far.

Score - 9.2 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • The team are on clean-up duty after an Asgardian attack on London (Thor – The Dark World)
  • Simmons has a slight fear of heights since her suicide attempt (FZZT)
  • “Which means Sid and Nancy might be looking for a complete set” (The Sex Pistols)
  • “You're a guy who saves lives. I can overlook a little Hulk rage” (The Incredible Hulk)

Mysteries
  • What did Ward's flashback mean, and how did that situation resolve itself?
  • What did May see when she held the Berserker Staff?
  • Did May and Ward have sex?
  • Coulson's dream of Tahiti – what did it mean? The repeated use of "It's a magical place" suggests a post-hypnotic suggestion, or memory implant.

Next Episode - "Repairs"
Coulson and his team are haunted by a mysterious force that threatens to destroy them all, and only a secret from May's past can save them

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

2000AD Prog 1859

Prog 1859 Cover by INJ Culbard

This week we have another Brass Sun cover from the strip's interior artist, INJ Culbard, who uses another POV shot, in a similar fashion to his earlier cover from Prog 1852, providing a nice symmetry between the two covers, which both feature raised hands against the sight of upcoming danger. I really like the dynamic viewpoint that Culbard uses here and sense of immersion that the first person perspective allows, bringing the reader up close to the action.


JUDGE DREDD - FERALS (Part 2)
Script - Emma Beeby
Art - John Burns
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

I’m glad to see that the monster is more complex than a mutation or an alien creature, considering the recent stories featuring similar themes. The storyline of strange men kidnapping the Juves using mechanical robots feels like a side mission from the game, Fallout 3. Judging by the dumped dead bodies and the clinical design of the robot antagonists, it looks like the Juves are being kidnapped for some experimental reasons, possibly for medical tests? Perhaps Roman's Psi-powers may be linked to the motives behind the kidnappings - either his powers are a result of prior testing, or they are trying to find him?


As usual, John Burns' painted artwork continues to impress, although I did think that Dredd looked a little Jon Pertwee-esque in one of the panels, but maybe it's just me? I do love the mood that Burns' art evokes and it captures the dilapidated feel of the ruined Sector houses perfectly, but I feel it would struggle with a more futuristic locale.



DAMNATION STATION - THE HOWLING BEAST ON THE BORDERLINE (Part 2)
Script - Al Ewing
Art - Mark Harrison
Letters - Simon Bowland

The Enemy continues their assault on the Earth Stations, overrunning the ship's bar where Tura is drowning her sorrows after her recent encounter with the creatures, only to have them gate-crash her maudlin alone time. With the stakes raised higher than ever before, Joe Nowhere makes the bold decision to open the airlocks, condemning all aboard floor seven to a death in the vacuum, alien and human alike, including Tura.

It looks like we've lost another supporting character, leaving just Joe Nowhere and Brett Grayle in the frame, which adds to the evidence that this might be the final storyline for the series. I have a feeling that Joe Nowhere will make some supreme sacrifice eliminating both threats from mankind, possibly jettisoning Brett's comatose body in an escape pod in order to tell the story of the events to the rest of mankind, back to Earth. Either way, I like this high-stakes dramatic approach as the story races towards its conclusion, even if it has felt a little unevenly paced at times.



FLESH - BADLANDERS (Part 10)
Script - Pat Mills
Art - James McKay
Inks - Lee Townsend
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

While we don't get the McG vs. Gorehead battle that was teased last week, we do see the results of Vegas' terrorism as her activist gang escape, whilst the dinosaur chaos continues, including a rather gory moment with a Triceratops. There's also a little bit of unrealistic 'bullet-time' when Vegas uses her pistol to shoot down the barrel of a rifle, preventing it from firing at her. Even though this slight diversion managed to set the scene with the other characters, I am really looking forward to seeing McG tackling Gorehead next week...unless we get another distraction!!


The one gripe I had with this episode was a bit of confusion that arose when I thought Vegas was the one who'd hidden away with the Pastor, to get killed off-panel, then seemingly reappear again. It wasn't until I'd had a second read-through that I realised it was two separate female characters, which just happened to look very similar. The dialogue clarifies which character is which, but the artwork did confuse me initially.



BRASS SUN - THE DIAMOND AGE (Part 10)
Script - Ian Edginton
Art - INJ Culbard
Letters - Ellie de Ville

As this serial comes to an end, we have another location change in the form of a Sky Pirate ship, capturing our trio of protagonists for unknown reasons. Presumably this additional change in the status quo will set up events for the next story line, as this one heads towards an end.

I've enjoyed how this story-line has kicked up a gear since going off-world, but it does feel like there isn't any clear objective, just a series of random events which the characters are reacting to. Despite criticism of the pacing of the series, the wonderful world-building that Edginton and Culbard have been implementing continues to be top-notch and really pushes this story above the others in the Prog.



FUTURE SHOCK - HOME ARE THE HEROES
Script - AJ Butcher
Art - Nick Dyer
Letters - Ellie de Ville

I quite liked this Future Shock and its allusion to the Trojan Horse, with the aliens gaining access to the domed city by using shape-shifting technology, although it would have fit the analogy better if they had somehow hidden inside the humans, wearing them like skins before bursting out and instigating their invasion. In a way it's a shame the concept was limited to a one-off strip, with a longer duration, it could have been written as a science-fiction version of Homeland, showing the corrupted returned 'hero' in a double-agent role.


AJ Butcher managed to craft a fully realised universe with minimal exposition allowing the characters to set things up in a naturalistic manner using the narrative decision to have the story take place through the young boy's perspective as he awaits his father's return from war. Nick Dyer's art was great, as always, managing to tell the story in a clear manner, using a great design for the alien enemies that reminded me of 'Nemesis' from the Resident Evil series.



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

As with previous weeks, Tharg teases more of the contents of the upcoming Prog 2014, mentioning the Ten Seconders epilogue, which will pick up on the loose end of Harris left aboard the Father's ship and how he manages to return home, if at all. I'm looking forward to this final part giving some closure to the series that felt lacking in the conclusion to its recent run.


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1859 will be available in stores on Wednesday 20th November - 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!

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Review - Agents of SHIELD: 1x07 - "The Hub"

Agents of SHIELD
Episode 1x07 - "The Hub"


Synopsis

When Coulson and his team arrive on The Hub to hand in some clearance level 8 Intel, events transpire that lead Fitz and Ward into a classified and highly dangerous two-man mission, casting doubt as to whether or not the larger organisation have their best interests in mind.

Review

This episode opened with a great pre-credits sequence that threw the viewer in at the deep end wondering why Coulson had been captured, awaiting torture, slowly revealing the real reason and letting the audience figure it out for themselves. There’s a brief ‘Total Recall’ moment, where Simmons extracts some classified Intel from the double-agent’s nose, prompting the question of how did he get it up there in the first place? With the Clearance Level 8 information in hand, the team make their way to the Hub, for the first time since the Pilot episode, giving us a glimpse into the inner workings of the organisation, outside of Coulson’s team.

Once at the Hub, we are introduced to Victoria Hand, a character introduced by Brian Michael Bendis, a few years ago during the Dark Reign story-line. Hand looks similar to how she does in the comics with the red streak in her black hair, but it doesn't seem like she shares the same characteristics as her comic-book counterpart, who was effectively over her head the whole time, with her abilities “tainted” by her association with Norman Osborn. This version seems more capable and more senior than Sitwell and Coulson, so it will be interesting to see how she develops over time.

Agent Sitwell is also re-introduced after his appearances in Thor and the Marvel One-Shot short films that appear as bonus features on the DVD releases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films. The inclusion of established characters such as Sitwell and Hand, adds more peripheral characters to the show and the secondary location of The Hub provides the sense of a larger world, rather than having the characters jet-setting about on 'The Bus'. Also, the shadow of the larger organisation also gives the team a sense of accountability and acts as a reminder that their actions do have consequences.

I liked the contrast of the two approaches to field-work, with the more formal version that Sitwell and Hand represent against the haphazard, instinctive approach that Coulson has developed with his close-knit team, and I expect the opposing views on how to perform missions will continue to cause friction between Coulson’s team and the SHIELD management.

It was nice to have the focus alternating to different characters, giving Ward and Fitz a chance to shine and develop their characters a bit more instead of spotlighting Skye, who was been featured heavily in the opening episodes because she acted as the audience proxy, allowing the writers to introduce us to the world of international espionage alongside her. I liked how the scenes with Fitz and Ward were balanced, giving them both moments where their approaches were useful to the mission, rather than the typical narrative of having the inexperienced field operative blunder throughout the mission until he proves himself. It also developed the plot thread from the previous episode, with Fitz determined to prove himself, after Ward "stole" his chance to be the hero when Simmons leapt from the plane.

The episode clearly had a theme of 'secrets', with the key question being whether or not SHIELD as an organisation can be trusted, leading to a slight double-standard where Coulson and May with-hold information from Skye about her parents, whilst Coulson gets mad that the secrets regarding his recovery in Tahiti are unavailable to him. Interestingly, Coulson makes the prophetic statement to Skye that, "If SHIELD are keeping something secret, it's usually for a good reason", which makes me wonder what potentially devastating secret regarding his resurrection may be kept from Coulson, for his own good.

The conclusion of the episode brought forth a lot of information about one of the key mysteries of the show, regarding Skye's parents and why she was placed into an orphanage. It is revealed that a female SHIELD agent was the one who brought Skye to the orphanage, giving her hope that the woman might be her mother, but later on Coulson and May discuss the elements of the truth they are withholding, with a photo in her file suggesting her parents were murdered, although quite why SHIELD were involved is yet to be determined. The whole sub-plot with Skye does raise one potential continuity error though - in the film, Iron Man, it is implied that SHIELD is a relatively new organisation, not even boasting their famous acronym until the final scenes of the movie, but here we have them being active during Skye's childhood.

Overall, this was a fairly solid episode which focused on two characters who hadn't had much chance to develop yet, and established a secondary location and more peripheral characters, giving the series a more rounded feel beyond the initial six protagonists. I'm looking forward to seeing future episodes pushing boundaries further, maybe focusing on the supporting cast so we may one-day see episodes focused on Sitwell, Blake or Hand.

Score - 9.0 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • Extraction of a device via the nostrils (Total Recall)
  • “Wait until you see the Triskelion” – name of SHIELD's base in the Ultimate Universe (First app: Ultimates # 2)
  • Agent Jasper Sitwell, a long supporting SHIELD agent in the comics (First app: Strange Tales # 144)
  • Maximiliano Hern├índez has portrayed Agent Sitwell in Thor, and the Marvel One-Shot short films, The Consultant and Item 47
  • Victoria Hand, a SHIELD accountant who ends up becoming Norman Osborn's deputy in the HAMMER organisation (First app: Dark Avengers # 1)
  • “Don't you do anything rash while I'm gone...like jump out of an airplane” ("FZZT")
  • “He's acting like a robot version of himself right now!” - reference to the popular fan theory that Coulson is a Life Model Decoy, or the Vision.
  • “Barton. Romanoff. They never have an extraction plan.” (The Avengers)

Mysteries

  • Who is the female SHIELD agent who dropped Skye off at the Orphanage?
  • It looks like her parents are dead – Who killed them? Why were SHIELD involved?
  • Coulson doesn't have access to his own 'death and recovery' file, making him suspicious about his resurrection once more

Next Episode - "The Well"
In the aftermath of the events chronicled in the feature film, Thor: The Dark World, Coulson and the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. pick up the pieces - one of which threatens to destroy a member of the team.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

2000AD Prog 1858

Prog 1858 Cover by Clint Langley

Yet another Flesh cover – There must be something about having dinosaurs in the Prog that whips the art droids into a cover creating frenzy, as this is the third cover to appear for the series. However, this is a fantastic Gorehead profile by Clint Langley whose digital artwork really brings out the scaly aspect of the dinosaur’s skin and the focus on the creature’s jaws adds a more vicious side to the character than the previous cover for Prog 1853. Over on the 2000AD Covers Uncovered blog, Pete Wells has examples of alternative ideas for the cover, including a final version (with added gore) which didn’t make it in time for printing. Well worth checking out!


JUDGE DREDD - FERALS (Part 1)
Script - Emma Beeby
Art - John Burns
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

This week sees something of a historic first with Emma Beeby becoming the first solo female writer to write for Judge Dredd, after previously working with Gordon Rennie on ‘Suicide Watch’ for Prog 1826. Teaming up with artist, John Burns, she spins a tale of a group of feral children, left behind to fend themselves in Lindsay Lohan block…yes, you read that. Lindsay Lohan Block. I must admit, this overt reference to the Mean Girls actress did take me out of the story somewhat, I’m not sure why as the running joke of using celebrity names in the block addresses has being happening for decades, but this one just stuck out somewhat.



John Burns' art really suits the devastated areas of Mega City One, with his painted backgrounds emphasizing the crumbled nature of the derelict block and I love his take on Dredd, capturing his grizzled expression and chin. I liked the twist that the Juves had stolen the weapons to use against 'monsters' instead of the Judges, but it feels too soon for another monster-themed storyline, straight after the Scrall three-parter and Beeby's previous story also featuring a monster, although since we don't see any monster on panel, it may be misdirection.



DAMNATION STATION - THE HOWLING BEAST ON THE BORDERLINE (Part 1)
Script - Al Ewing
Art - Mark Harrison
Letters - Simon Bowland

Oh me of little faith! So, in my review for last Prog, I was convinced that Joe Nowhere had gone off the deep end and cracked under the pressure, confessing all to the Hosts, but this week reveals that he has something of a plan up his sleeve as he uses their custom Chu-ro and Cho-ra (obligation and counter-obligations) to bargain with them to destroy the Enemy, for his own immunity. Curiously, the Hosts mention that even if the Enemy is defeated, it will “harvest” the human race, although I suspect Joe Nowhere has a plan for this too, possibly relating to Brett Grayle?

I must admit that I’m not overly keen on the weird “Chu-ro / Cho-ra” system that the Hosts employ, but it’s nice to see it get a pay-off here, with the Hosts unable to decline Nowhere’s request (although I thought he’d already redeemed his Cho-ra, by arranging the previous mission where he encountered the Enemy). It feels like we’re heading towards a grand finale, but with three Progs remaining until Prog 2014, will we get a series ending, or a cliffhanger?



FLESH - BADLANDERS (Part 9)
Script - Pat Mills
Art - James McKay
Inks - Lee Townsend
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

And all at once it all becomes clear…My concerns last week that Gorehead would rip the children to pieces and Vegas Carver would have a lot of innocent blood on her hands was unfounded as her crew had prepared in advance and sprayed the VIP booth with T-Rex pheromones to ensure Gorehead would focus its attention there. Also, the ‘speedophile’ interlude, a few Prog ago, begins to make sense to explain why Gorehead is ‘untouchable’ since the dinosaur is out of sync with time, prompting McG to join him in a battle to the death.



I must admit some of the finer details of the carnage, such as which victims deserved a good dino-chomping and which didn’t, were lost on me, but it was enjoyable to see some unbridled action in the traditional Flesh manner. Once again, James McKay has some support on inks from Lee Townsend, which changes his art, making his rougher style appear cleaner with clearer lines. However, it does feel like the artwork doesn't have the same level of detail as it did in earlier parts, which is a shame as with the action ramping up, this sequence deserves the higher calibre of artwork compared to the talking heads from earlier in the story.




BRASS SUN - THE DIAMOND AGE (Part 9)
Script - Ian Edginton
Art - INJ Culbard
Letters - Ellie de Ville

Acting as a transitional episode, we follow our trio as they navigate their way to another world, using a capsule device through the complex pipe system, which nearly results in them flying directly into the Brass Sun. The capsule arrives on the planet of ‘Hot Air’ which had been sealed off to allow a civil war to conclude without interference from other worlds, allowing Wren, Ramkin and Septimus to be the first to view the dilapidated environment post-war.



I really liked the change of scenery and the glimpse into the larger universe filled with worlds that have imaginative names such as, 'Plentitude' and 'High Dudgeon'. As always, I am interested to see how this pans out, especially with this dramatic change of setting, which presumably will bring a fresh set of threats to the trio. I also appreciated the way Ian Edginton continued to build upon the series' history, adding more information and back-story to help realise this quirky steam-punk universe. This series has the potential to run for a long time and I hope that we get frequent reappearances in the new year!



THARG'S 3RILLERS - REWIND (Part 3)
Script - Robert Murphy
Art - Jesus Redondo
Colours - Eva De La Cruz
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

After expressing concern that Robert Murphy would struggle to tie up the loose ends he’d engaged in his second part of his three-part story, I’m glad to say that he managed to tie them all up rather nicely, whilst leaving room for a potential series based on this ‘pilot’ of sorts. The ending was pretty satisfying and felt like a mix of Quantum Leap and Life on Mars.

While my theory that the cops investigate crimes for the opportunity to solve my own wasn’t proved right, I did like the fact that they were able to punish those who’d escaped punishment in the real world with the split of having a real version of the criminal that lives out their existence in the past and the ‘blister version’ who is kept for punishment. There are a few unanswered question, however, particularly around the status of the ‘outside world’ in the normal timeline – are they in Heaven, or the Future? But, overall, I did like the series and would love to see it explored in greater detail with a follow up series.



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

I wonder if we'll have a new Tharg's 3rillers to round out the last three Progs before Prog 2014, or whether we'll have some one-off Future Shocks. It feels like we're heading towards the conclusions of the stories now, although I have no idea how Damnation Station or Brass Sun will end. I'm looking forward to seeing the McG vs. Gorehead fight in the next episode of Flesh, and whether one of them will die...


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1858 will be available in stores on Wednesday 13th November - 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!

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Review - Agents of SHIELD: 1x06 - "FZZT"

Agents of SHIELD
Episode 1x06 - "FZZT"


Synopsis

Coulson and his team investigate a series of strange deaths that leave the victims suspended in mid-air and filled with electro-static energy, but as the agents try to determine whether the deaths were due to a freak of nature, or a super-powered killer, the team risks losing one of their own.

Review

After a week's hiatus, Agents of SHIELD returned to the screen maintaining the quality of recent episodes and with its return, there was a slight change in focus with the episode concentrating on the scientific double-act of Fitz-Simmons rather than spotlighting hacker, Skye. Unfortunately, Fitz and Simmons might be the weakest characters on the show. As two young, abnormally-smart scientists, it is hard for the audience to relate to them, especially since their roles dictate that they spout constant pseudo-scientific deus-ex-machinas to solve problems. However, this episode attempts to humanise the duo by placing one of them in mortal danger, allowing us to see the people behind the genius babblings.

I really enjoyed the structure of the episode, which felt like it was told in two parts, with the initial half dealing with the external threat and the second half concentrating on the after-effects as Simmons became infected with the Chitauri virus. It was unexpected pacing and one of many surprising moments in the episode, such as the misdirection employed to make the audience think that the fire-fighter with the helmet had murdered his comrades, before the reveal that it was merely a souvenir that the trio had unknowingly contracted a deadly virus from. I also enjoyed the deliciously ironic moment where Fitz discovered that the “failed” cure had actually worked, but was unable to warn Simmons as she jumped from the plane. It is these subversive moments that play against audience preconceptions that give the show the 'Whedon' flavour, and help push it above a formulaic Sci-Fi show. Several times I tried to predict the ending, even thinking that Coulson's blood might be the "cure" to save Simmons, not once suspecting that Chitauri dandruff would hold the answer...

The episode had a bunch of stand-out scenes, but two really stood out for me. Firstly, the scene with Agent Coulson talking to the fire-fighter about his upcoming death and sharing his experiences of his own death was really touching, and it was such a powerful moment, which also managed to drop a few more clues to the 'What happened to Coulson' mystery. It seems that he is aware that he was actually dead, rather than clinically dead for eight seconds, even to the point where he references some after-life location, presumably NOT Tahiti...

The second outstanding scene was that amazing moment where Agent Ward leapt from the plane to rescue Simmons. Now, I wasn't expecting something like that on a TV show budget. While it might not have looked as polished as a scene from The Avengers, I was really impressed with the Superman-esque descent as Ward sky-dived to rescue his comrade. It was possibly the best action scene in the show, so far, although the team's encounter with Scorch, last episode, felt equally as cinematic.

As for the rest of the episode, we managed to get a brief cameo from Agent Blake, who appeared in the Marvel One-Shot short film, Item 47, which appeared on the Blu-Ray edition of The Avengers. While he was only in the episode for a handful of scenes, it would be nice to see him reappear as the actor who plays him, Titus Welliver, was great as the Man in Black in LOST, and I think Blake and Coulson could play well off of each other, judging from their interaction in the post-credits scene.

Overall, I think this was another great example of the show growing into his own style and not relying on having a super-villain in each episode. While this episode did refer to the events of the Chitauri Invasion directly, with the actual "macguffin" during out to be a Chitauri helmet, it felt like the type of clean-up missions that the Agents of SHIELD would be responsible for, with the bigger super-villain stuff reserved for the likes of Tony Stark and Steve Rogers. Even though I find her acting dubious, I'm glad that Simmons wasn't killed off and I'm looking forward to seeing a love triangle (or square?) from between her, Fitz, Skye and Ward, whilst May and Coulson are busy looking at each other's scars.

Score - 9.2 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • “This guy makes Captain America look like 'The Dude'" (Captain America, The Big Lebowski)
  • The virus originated from a Chitauri Helmet from the Battle of New York (The Avengers)
  • Agent Blake (Titus Welliver) appeared in one of the Marvel One Shot short films (Item 47)
  • “I'm perfectly normal – little heavy on the Iron, but don't worry, you don't have to start calling me Iron Man” (Iron Man)

Mysteries

  • What does Coulson remember about his death? Where exactly is the “there” he refers to during his chat with the dying firefighter?
  • Coulson ordered his own medical tests because he feels different – the blood reports and medical exam prove that he isn't a robot or LMD, so what happened to him?
  • What was the trauma that May went through? Presumably, it is the same thing that put her out of combat duty.

Next Episode - "The Hub"
Dangerous secrets are being kept from Coulson’s team, as he works against the system to save Ward and Fitz when they are sent on a Level 8 classified mission that may end in tragedy.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

2000AD Prog 1857

Prog 1857 Cover by Karl Richardson

Ahh, the classic pose of a monster looming behind Dredd, last seen earlier this year with the cover to Prog 1826, which featured a nearly identical image. Despite the slight case of deja vu, I really like the polished look to Dredd, which looks slightly different to Karl Richardson's interior work. One minor nitpick is the appearance of the Scrall creature, which looks out of proportion when you consider the size of Dredd in the foreground.


JUDGE DREDD - PREY (Part 3)
Script - T.C Eglington
Art - Karl Richardson
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

After the cliffhanger ending of last Prog, Dredd is left incapacitated by the Scrall's venom, while it continues to feed on a prior kill, giving Dr Danes an opportunity to elaborate on his relationship with the creature, and how the venom can be synthesised into a drug that can help millions at the cost of the lives of a few.

I really liked the explanation behind Danes and the Scrall's relationship, although I did feel that his moral argument of 'sacrificing the few to save the many' wasn't given enough emphasis, and it would have been more interesting to see some internal struggle against the dilemma, particularly from the Nurse, considering her background in medicine. However, I did like how she outsmarted Danes, managing to return enough energy to Dredd to allow him to use his lawgiver and dispatch Danes and the Scrall.


Overall, this was a neat little three-parter, which had great artwork from Karl Richardson and some nice one-liners from T.C Eglington, especially the moment where Dredd rebuts Danes threats to kill him with “not even on your best day, Creep!” before unloading a clip of bullets into the Doctor. It would be nice to see more of the Scrall creatures in future stories, maybe delving into the moral argument a bit deeper, perhaps?



DAMNATION STATION - IN ANOTHER LIFETIME
Script - Al Ewing
Art - Mark Harrison
Letters - Simon Bowland

Finally, we have the Joe Nowhere "origin" story, or more accurately his "confession" as he tends to the comatose Brett Grayle, who Joe admits to poisoning with tampered CX-919, although it isn't entirely clear why he did so. During his monologue to Brett, we see how Joe evolved from a blob of protoplasm to the humanoid he is today, but the real shocker of the story is on the final page, where it is revealed he has also recounted his origins to the Host - the same creatures he previously told Tura should never find out about him, otherwise they will raze the Earth.

I'm getting the sneaking suspicion that Joe Nowhere is severely out of his depth here - up until now, he has had a measure of confidence about his plan to defeat the enemy but his behaviour seems to be getting increasingly bizarre and erratic, making me question whether or not he actually knows what he is doing. For example, there doesn't appear to be any reason why he placed Grayle into a time-loop coma, and his confession to the Hosts contradicts his previous statements. It's intriguing stuff, and I look forward to seeing what his long-term plan is, and what the fallout of his actions are.



FLESH - BADLANDERS (Part 8)
Script - Pat Mills
Art - James McKay
Inks - Lee Townsend
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

This series has definitely picked up since the Rodeo started bringing all the plot threads together. It seems that McG's demotion has affected him deeply, with his reckless volunteering to wrestle Dancin' Jim for his tail feathers (getting a faceful of dino-poo in the process) and his willingness to let Vegas continue with whatever scheme she has planned, it's clear that he has lost faith with Trans-Time and doesn't care what happens anymore - although his decisions may come back to haunt him later on when he sees the consequences of his inaction.

It looks we will have to wait until next week to see the long promised Gorehead bloodbath, although the panel of the children screaming out for Trunko has made me realise that this might not necessarily be a good thing, and there will likely be a lot of innocent collateral damage as a result of Vegas' plan. 

The artwork looked slightly different in this installment with the addition of Lee Townsend on inks - some panels seemed more defined than others, with shading and darkness where James McKay normally wouldn't when inking his own work. It didn't look better or worse, just slightly different. Hopefully this addition to the art team doesn't mean that we will get a replacement artist for the final parts. 



BRASS SUN - THE DIAMOND AGE (Part 8)
Script - Ian Edginton
Art - INJ Culbard
Letters - Ellie de Ville

After a few episodes of exposition and character building, we have a lovely burst of action as Ramkin, Wren and Septimus attempt to make their escape, whilst the enemy are scouting for them. They make it to what seems like a space-craft and prepare to leave this world and travel to another one, which should make for a nice change of scenery.


The artwork and panel sequencing by INJ Culbard is sublime and really manages to help convey the franticness of the action, and the subtle change of colour helps set the scene superbly. Considering how little I know about the overarching plot and where the characters are going, I'm surprisingly invested in their fates, which showcases what a great job Ian Edginton has done with the characters and this slow burn approach to the tale. This strip continues to be my favourite in the Prog thus far, and rivals Defoe for my favourite 2000AD story of 2013.



THARG'S 3RILLERS - REWIND (Part 2)
Script - Robert Murphy
Art - Jesus Redondo
Colours - Eva De La Cruz
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

I must admit that this story seems to have taken a direction that I didn't expect with that final panel reveal. Considering that this is a three-parter, it does feel like there is quite a lot of plot threads to deal with in the final installment next week. So far, we have the diverse threads of time-travel, a murder-mystery and ghosts, which need to be wrapped together neatly to make sense in its final episode.


I feel that the premise could work well as an ongoing series and I have a theory that perhaps the ghost cops investigate these murders, in order to earn the opportunity to investigate their own, and perhaps get closure and ascend to another plane of existence. If that twist doesn't happen in the final episode, maybe I'll write my own Future Shock! 



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

In the Input Centre, Tharg teases the upcoming Prog 2014, which is due out on 11th December, meaning there's only four more normal Progs left as we round out the year. It looks like we're getting a Ten Seconders epilogue, which will be great as I really enjoyed the last series and thought it ended a little abruptly. It also looks like Absalom and Maniac-For-Hire: Ulysses Sweet will appearing in the end of year special too.

Also teased is the Strontium Dog: Among the Missing eBook by Matthew Smith, which is already out and available on Amazon. It looks like it's another 'Year One' story in the vein of the recent Judge Dredd eBook, but this time covering the early days of Johnny Alpha and Wulf Sternhammer, which sounds intriguing as there haven't been many stories set during this period.


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1857 will be available in stores on Wednesday 6th November - 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!
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