Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Top Ten 2000AD Covers in 2014

It's that time of the year again when we at Pop Culture Bandit take a look back at the past twelve months of 2000AD covers and pick our Top Ten 2000AD Covers published during 2014. Obviously, this is entirely subjective to us, so if you want to include your own list, please use the comment box below. For reference, the first Prog of the year was Prog 1862 and the various covers can be found at Barney, the unofficial 2000AD database.

For those curious to see which covers made 2013's Top Ten list, you can check out the post here.


10) 2000AD Prog 1869 by Alex Ronald

This wonderfully realistic looking interpretation of Ulysses Sweet by Alex Ronald captures the horrifically gory appearance of the 'maniac-for-hire' and his stapled-on face. The slight smile on his blood-soaked face as he revels in the carnage is really unsettling and emphasises the unpredictable nature of the psychopathic assassin perfectly. As a cover image, it certainly stands out and there's something eerie about the way that his eyes stare out to the reader that just sticks in the mind.


9) 2000AD Prog 1888 by I.N.J. Culbard

This great cover from INJ Culbard heralds the much-anticipated return of Brass Sun to 2000AD with an image that encompasses the main themes of this third book, 'Floating Worlds'. The beautiful star-filled sky that forms the background of this image suggests a more aerial approach to the forthcoming adventure, whilst the mysterious masked figure looming over our quartet of adventurers adds a sense of intrigue. It is a great way to generate excitement about the return of the series and the rich, blue tones of the night sky really gives the image an ethereal quality that fits in well with the way the story inside develops.


8) 2000AD Prog 1886 by Simon Davis

This, the third of Simon Davis' Slaine covers for 'A Simple Killing', is perhaps the best of the bunch showcasing the titular barbarian in the midst of battle with the grotesque miscreations. It's a gorgeous piece of painted artwork, much like the interiors for this serial and it demonstrates without question why Simon Davis was such an inspired choice of artist to work on this series.


7) 2000AD Prog 1890 by Karl Richardson

This is a fantastic visual of the Roman gladiator, Aquila, looking down at the reader with his blade seemingly coming off of the page. There's also a glossier style to Karl Richardson's pencils here, giving this cover an increased sense of prestige as it heralds the return of Aquila to the Prog. I also love the way that the image captures the stern, uncompromising personality of the gladiator, whilst the blood at the end of sword is a subtle hint at the blood-soaked carnage that would follow in the series itself.


6) 2000AD Prog 1862 by Henry Flint

This great looking cover by Henry Flint adorned the first Prog of the year and announced the epic Judge Dredd new story 'Titan' in style with a piece of artwork that encapsulated the key themes of the story. Evoking the mood of isolation and weightlessness from outer space, Flint's cover really helped set the scene for those early episodes of 'Titan' as Dredd and his team struggled to make their way down to the moon prison, almost dying in the attempt.


5) 2000AD Prog 1900 by Greg Staples

This full-painted Judge Dredd cover from Greg Staples is simply amazing. The jaw-dropping level of detail to Dredd’s face and skin is remarkable with the subtle blemishes and changes in skin tone creating a sense of photo realism to this piece. As I described at the time, the image feels like going from standard definition to “full HD” with the heavy level of detail provided by Greg Staples’ work. Considering that Prog 1900 was a “jumping on Prog”, it makes sense for 2000AD to showcase their best artwork upfront to lure unsuspecting readers to the thrill-power contained within.


4) 2000AD Prog 1898 by Dave Kendall

The second of two Aquila covers to make the Top Ten, this fully painted cover from Dave Kendall delivers a lovely slice of Gothic horror, wonderfully encapsulating the creepiness of the Mater Clementia and her army of demonic cherubims. Reminding me somewhat of the “zombie variant” covers that Arthur Suydam did for Marvel Comics a few years ago, this artistic style is rich in atmosphere delivering a bone-chilling response upon first glance. I’d love to see Dave Kendall adopt this same approach for interior work as it would suit a horror tale perfectly.


3) 2000AD Prog 1905 by Dave Kendall

Another one of Dave Kendall’s covers and the latest entry chronologically to the list, this horrific representation of the Hunter from Ichabod Azrael is simply fantastic. Kendall manages to convey the feeling of brutal agony experienced by the Hunter who has been merged together with his three wolves to create a grotesque mutation of his body. It’s a powerful image that not only encapsulates the gory elements of the character, but also positions him as a formidable threat to the titular anti-hero. I particularly like the spittle flying out of one of the wolves’ mouths, which just adds a sense of movement to the piece and draws the reader’s eyes to the active background.


2) 2000AD Prog 1892 by Colin MacNeil

While the majority of the covers showcase gore or violence, sometimes the most effective 2000AD covers can be light-hearted and fun, as is the case with this Judge Dredd cover from Colin MacNeil, which features Walter the Wobot and Mrs Gunderson. Brightly coloured and simple in design, the circular framing of the characters evokes memories of the Looney Tunes title screen and helps establish a frivolous tone that matches the story inside. It works well as a cover, thanks to the upbeat colour scheme, drawing in lapsed readers with the prominent appearance of classic characters.


1) 2000AD Prog 1889 by Chris Weston

When compiling this list, it was obvious which cover would take the number one spot from the outset, this wonderful Judge Dredd cover by Chris Weston stood out from the others thanks to its mix of humour, detailed artwork and the sheer iconic nature of the image, which was promptly featured on a t-shirt proving just how popular it was. The “back off creeps, he’s sensitive” speech balloon is perfect and sums up the tone of the interior strip with one sentence. I also love the fact that it tells a story rather than just being a stock cover image, even going as far to feel like a panel ripped from the interior itself.




So, what do you think? Do you disagree with my Top Ten? Is there a cover that you think was spectacular and should be included in the list, or do you think one of my favourites is way below par? Feel free to post your thoughts below or on my Facebook and Twitter pages

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Review - Doctor Who: The 12th Doctor # 3

Doctor Who: The 12th Doctor # 3
"The Swords of Kali" - Part 1 (of 3)
Written by: Robbie Morrison
Art by: Dave Taylor
Colours by: Luis Guerrero

This issue grabs the reader’s attention straight away with a Moffat-esque cold opening that features an “in media res” appearance of the Doctor, before going back and explaining how he got there. It’s a technique often used in the show itself, such as in the recent episode, The Crimson Horror, and it works well here too, playing about with the narrative structure to add an extra layer of mystery to proceedings. I also liked the way the opening of the story took place across multiple time zones, another technique utilised by Steven Moffat, taking advantage of the flexible time-travel nature of the series to showcase the un-eventful interludes between the adventures we see on screen.

The cover, along with the interior references to Kali and the Thuggee instantly made me think of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, but it appears the story seems to be going in a different direction, weaving in vampiric monsters and multiple time zones in the unique way that only Doctor Who can. That said, I do hope that we see a bit of tomb-raiding from the Doctor in future installments, especially now that he has gone back in time to India in the 1800s. I also love the fact that the dual narratives to the story take place in both the past and the future, giving the adventure a bit of a Back to the Future: Part II vibe – I wonder if we’ll see the Doctor’s activity in the past directly impacting Clara’s adventure in the far-future.

Compared to the previous story arc, this issue feels like a step up in quality in both the script and artwork. Luis Guerrero’s beautiful colours makes Dave Taylor’s artwork stand out even more and gives the story an absolutely picturesque quality, whilst Robbie Morrison’s interpretation of the Peter Capaldi’s Doctor sounds pitch-perfect, nailing his voice and his anti-social qualities. This, coupled with the familiar narrative structure to the story, makes it truly feel like a missing episode of the TV show.


For those wanting to insert this adventure into the Season 8 continuity, Robbie Morrison provides us with a clue when Clara talks about multi-tasking her relationship with Danny Pink, which suggests that this storyline takes place between The Mummy on the Orient Express and Flatline, as she has resumed her adventures with the Doctor after their falling out, but she is still keeping it a secret from Danny. As this series develops, it will be interesting to see whether it will reference the status-quo changing events of the season finale, or continue to tell stories with the Clara / Doctor / Danny set-up.

Talking of links to the TV show, this issue also features a great extended cameo from the Fourth Doctor, which is funny coming from his brief appearance in The Tenth Doctor # 5 – clearly the writers (and most fans) have a fondness for Tom Baker’s incarnation of the Doctor, but it would be nice to see more nods towards the other classic Doctors in future issues. Although saying that, I do think there was a subtle reference to the Seventh Doctor with the “More Scottish” line from the Twelfth Doctor, possibly referring to the slight Scottish accent he had when he was played by Sylvester McCoy.

With this issue, Robbie Morrison, Dave Taylor and Luis Guerrero manage to capture the action, humour and hide-behind-the-sofa scariness of the Doctor Who television show and translate it perfectly to the printed page. Quite simply, this is as good (if not better in some cases) than the source material it borrows its characters from. This is a master class in how to write licensed comics properly, and another feather in Titan Comics' cap as it continues to build a strong foundation for its Doctor Who comic franchise – Long may it continue!


Score - 10 out of 10

Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor # 3 is now available in all good comic shops, including Forbidden Planet, as well as on the Comixology website. Be sure to put in a standing order for the upcoming issues in the series when you pick up your copy!

Review - Doctor Who: The 11th Doctor # 6

Doctor Who: The 11th Doctor # 6
"Space in Dimension Relative and Time"
Written by: Rob Williams
Art by: Simon Fraser
Colours by: Gary Caldwell

This issue of the Eleventh Doctor series sees the return of Rob Williams and Simon Fraser for an innovative new story that sees the writer undertaking a rather bold narrative structure as he tells a Doctor Who story completely in reverse. Beginning with the end and gradually travelling back to the starting point, the structure of the story is quite similar to Christopher Nolan’s Memento, with each successive page taking jumps back further in the timeline, but the actual panels within the page continue to tell the story in a normal fashion.

Not surprisingly, this very different style of storytelling requires a bit more concentration than the average comic, often resulting in flicking back through the pages to consolidate the prior events with the new developments discovered in later pages. Fans of non-linear storytelling like Pulp Fiction or LOST will likely get a kick out of the more cerebral take on the narrative, but those who like their stories told from A to B will possibly be frustrated or confused by this issue. Personally speaking, I loved it! This brave and experimental storytelling just demonstrates the fantastic possibilities afforded by the comic book format, as this type of story wouldn't have worked in the same way on the TV show. The natural breaks provided by each page helped formalize the temporal shifts and create rules to this new paradigm.

As with the recent issues of the Twelfth and Tenth Doctor series, there is a nod towards the Tom Baker era of the classic series with a reappearing villain – The Nimon. Luckily the creature’s appearance doesn't require any prior knowledge, serving only to reward longstanding fans of the series with a nice slice of continuity. Unfortunately, I haven’t quite gotten to ‘The Horns of Nimon’ in my watching of the classic series, only just reaching ‘Horror of Fang Rock’, so I didn't get the full benefit of the reference myself, but as I said, it didn't impact the story at all.


With the emphasis on the reverse narrative and establishing the ‘rules’ of the story, there isn't much room for character development here, which is a shame as we haven’t really had a chance to get to know ARC yet. However, we do learn that he has the ability to change his shape to mimic other life-forms and he is willing to sacrifice himself to save the others. This trait is also seen by Jones who manages to overcome his self-doubt in this issue and perform a truly heroic feat. My only criticism is that it feels like there has been adventures occurring in between the cracks of these issues and I would like to see more time spent with these supporting characters and seeing them evolve as a team rather than these quick glimpses. With another two part story on the horizon, it seems like we’ll be given a more prolonged look at the TARDIS crew next issue.

It is great to see Simon Fraser return to the series, even if it is just for the one issue. I really enjoy his rendition of the characters, including his interpretation of ARC which remains consistent with his portrayal in Boo Cook’s issues. He also does a great job bringing the varied alien environments within the TARDIS to life, providing a wonderful backdrop to a story which concentrates more on the action than its surroundings. By injecting some variety into the many corridors within the TARDIS, including some more retro designs, Fraser manages to make sure that the reader is engaged visually as well as via the script.

Overall, I would say that this issue was a grand success offering a “timey wimey” brainteaser for Doctor Who fans to decipher within 22 pages, using time travel in a really inventive and different way, which for a TV show which has been around for 51 years is really impressive. Rob Williams manages to inject a sense of glee into his interpretation of Matt Smith’s Doctor, who you can imagine grinning like a fool as things seemingly fall apart around him content in the knowledge that he has a plan…or part of a plan…or a rough concept of a plan. For fans of the TV show that feel like they can live without the ‘non-canon’ material of the comic books, the work that both Al Ewing and Rob Williams have done on this series might just prove them wrong!


Score - 9.8 out of 10

Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor # 6 is now available in all good comic shops, including Forbidden Planet, as well as on the Comixology website. Be sure to put in a standing order for the upcoming issues in the series when you pick up your copy!


Wednesday, 17 December 2014

2000AD Prog 2015 [Annual]

Prog 2015 Cover by Greg Staples

I must admit that I found this to be a surprising choice of cover for the end of year annual, as they tend to feature Tharg or a selection of characters from within the pages. Instead we have this rather understated teaser image for Judge Dredd: Dark Justice featuring Judge Death's blood-splattered badge. Anticipation has been growing for this series for a while now with a variety of different teaser images appearing in Progs and 2000AD's social media pages, so this understated approach on the front cover doesn't really diminish the level of excitement I have of finally getting the first installment in my hands.


JUDGE DREDD - DARK JUSTICE (Part 1)
Script - John Wagner
Art - Greg Staples
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

After years in the making, it is finally here – the long-awaited return of the Dark Judges to Mega-City One. Surprisingly this first installment is the standard six-page size, with John Wagner adopting a more restrained approach to the story, letting this initial chapter act like a prologue as he visits the key cast members and sets up the various elements for the story, such as: the Mayflower space station orbiting Earth, Judge Death breaking into PJ Maybe's mansion to liberate his Dark Judge brothers and Anderson attempting to heal Judge Logan's damaged mind. These introductory scenes feel big-budget in nature, mostly due to Greg Staples' gorgeous artwork – laying my eyes on these beautiful panels immediately wipes clean all those months of impatience. They are truly a joy to view and really help to build up the cinematic nature to this story, especially evident in the sequence where Dredd is testing out the latest version of the Lawgiver.


Having read an interview with Greg Staples over at Comic Book Resources, he has stated the story has been influenced by the film, Alien, which I'm guessing is where the space station comes into play. I've recently been playing the video game, Alien: Isolation, so I imagine these scenes will resonate quite strongly with me. He also expresses an interest in making Death and his fellow Dark Judges seem scary once more, and judging from his work on these initial pages, I think he has no worries in achieving that ambition. Despite the slow-burn approach in this initial episode, this has an epic feel to it and I can't wait to see it unfold over the coming weeks.



THE VISIBLE MAN - THE SCREAMS IN THE WALLS
Script - Pat Mills
Art - David Hitchcock
Letters - Ellie de Ville

The Visible Man is a bit of an odd story – it seems like it was initially intended to be an inverted parody version of The Invisible Man which ran during the early days of 2000AD history (Prog 47 – 52) so when it reappeared recently in Prog 2013, I thought it was just a tongue-in-cheek revisitation of a retro 70's strip, but with its second appearance in an end of year annual, it seems like Pat Mills is working to develop an ongoing story here, much in the same way he continues to revisit his other past creations such as Flesh, Savage and the recent Ro-Busters cameos in the last ABC Warriors storyline. Even Greysuit feels like a glossier remake of MACH One, which makes me wonder if this introspective approach from the 2000AD creator will also see him one day return to the world of Termight for more tales of Nemesis the Warlock.

Despite its roots in the 70s, this story adopts a very modern tone, referencing hot button topics such as paedophilia in the church and the recent Jimmy Savile scandal. It's an odd juxtaposition to see serious topics such as child abuse discussed by a translucent couple, but it manages to engage the reader, thanks in no small part to the fantastic artwork from David Hitchcock, which brings a really Gothic and macabre tone to the story, bringing the creepy Dunwich presbytery to life. His sketchy pencils work well with the B-movie horror vibe established by the story, and he manages to cope with the intricacy of two lead protagonists who literally have their insides on display. Overall, this was a fun short story which took two 'joke characters' and placed them on an interesting path – hopefully we will see more from this series in the future, perhaps once Greysuit has concluded?



THE ORDER (Part 1)
Script - Kek-W
Art - John Burns
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Out of all the stories to feature in Prog 2015, The Order is the only completely brand-new thrill to be introduced and this opening chapter gently eases into the story, establishing the leader character, Anna Kohl, on a journey to find out the truth behind her father's death and the strange men who accompanied him in The Order. John Burns' artwork manages to capture the atmosphere of thirteenth century Germany perfectly, with his fully painted art style really emphasising the medieval fantasy elements. He is the perfect choice for a series like this, and as usual he delivers a fantastic job.


Kek-W's script manages to intrigue, mixing a blend of fantasy genres into one melting pot with a touch of lycanthropy side-by-side by medieval robotics. In fact, the appearance of the anachronistic robotic knight reminded me of the mechanical owl, Bubo, from Clash of the Titans. It's still early days and not much has been revealed about the story yet, but this short introductory chapter has definitely caught my interest with its distinctive setting and beautiful artwork. I look forward to seeing more from the series as it continues.



ULYSSES SWEET, MANIAC FOR HIRE - PSYCHO THERAPIST (Part 1)
Script - Guy Adams
Art - Paul Marshall
Greytones - Chris Blythe
Letters - Ellie de Ville

As with his appearance in Prog 2014, this year's annual sees Ulysses Sweet feature in a double-sized opening episode, picking up on the main loose-end from the previous series, which is the loss of his old psyche-chip. Stuck with a more frustrating replacement, our seemingly indestructible mercenary begins a quest to locate the last remaining physical copies of that particular psyche-chip therapist.

While I do enjoy the light-hearted fun and manic nature of the character, who feels like 2000AD's version of Deadpool mixed in with the bio-crest from Nikolai Dante, the previous series did feel stretched out in parts, so hopefully this time around, the pacing will be better handled. I am already more invested in this storyline with Ulysses hunting down his missing psyche-chip than I was with the bodyguard job he had in the previous job. Returning artist, Paul Marshall continues to do a fantastic job on the artwork, managing to make Ulysses look gruesome, but at the same time, comical with his ultra-violence. He is the perfect artist for this strip, achieving the right tone to accompany Guy Adams' crazy script. 



JAEGIR - BROTHERS IN ARMS
Script - Gordon Rennie
Art - Simon Coleby
Colours - Len O' Grady
Letters - Simon Bowland

Reappearing for her third story in the Prog this year is Atalia Jaegir, with a more reflective tale than her previous adventures, delving into her often-referenced turbulent family history to provide more evidence of her hatred for her Father and tough childhood. Through a series of flashbacks, we see how her father poisoned not only her and her brothers, but how he was ultimately responsible for turning the atmosphere of Nu-Earth into a toxic wasteland to avenge the death of his favourite son. I really liked this reveal, as it tied into those classic Rogue Trooper stories and gave an explanation behind the ravaged state of Nu-Earth. Effectively, his act here ultimately led to the creation of the Genetic Troopers, as they were produced to survive the poisonous Nu-Earth environment.


Once again, Simon Coleby handles the art duties, creating consistency with the previous adventures and delivering some fantastic visuals of the war-torn Nu-Earth chaos, which juxtapose nicely against the calm serenity of the Nordland graveyard as the story transitions from the past to the present. I especially liked how he depicted the younger Jaegir with bruises or shadows on her face, foreshadowing the distinctive facial scarring she would receive later in life. With just three short adventures, Coleby has established himself as the definitive Jaegir artist, and I hope that he remains on the strip for the rest of its duration.

This episode is the perfect 'annual story', in the sense that it worked well as a refresher to the character, redefining both the central plot-line to the series and the lead character's motivations, whilst acting as a teaser for the next adventure, “Tartarus”. Accessible and interesting to both new readers and old, this was a great story that I enjoyed more than Jaegir's previous two appearances in the Prog, mostly down the brevity and self-contained nature of the story. Jaegir's complex relationship with her father is the most interesting aspect of this series, so I enjoyed seeing it explored in greater depth here.



LOW LIFE - THE REALLY BIG CHRISTMAS SLEEP
Script - Rob Williams
Art - D'Israeli
Letters - Simon Bowland

I must admit that I'm not overly familiar with the status-quo of the Low Life characters, having started reviewing the Prog regularly after 'Trifecta', before that dipping in and out of the magazine while the series wasn't running. I'm aware of the Dirty Frank character, and his role within the Wally Squad, but the more subtle references in this tale to his prior adventures were somewhat lost on me. Despite this, I really enjoyed this short story on a surface level, and loved the quirky personalities that take up undercover roles within the Justice System's Wally Squad. D'Israeli's fantastic black and white artwork manages the impossible and is both recognisable as the artist's style, yet totally different from his recent work on Stickleback. It is beautifully suited to this Christmas themed tale with the artist conveying the snow-covered Mega-City One perfectly.

I'm not sure if Nicky Narko was an pre-existing character or one debuting in this Prog, but within the space of six short pages, Rob Williams had me caring about a character I knew nothing about previously and genuinely sad for his sudden demise. Williams has a great knack for creating these wonderful creations and getting the reader to care for them in a short space of time, with Dirty Frank and Sensitive Klegg being two notable examples. I really should go back and pick up the earlier Low Life trades and get established with the series from the very beginning, in order to get a better understanding of events when it returns.



MAX NORMAL - NO COMICS FOR OLD MEN
Script - Guy Adams
Art - Ben Willsher
Colours - Chris Blythe
Letters - Simon Bowland

Max Normal: The Pinstripe Freak is one of those goofier elements from early Judge Dredd stories, much like Walter the Wobot and Maria the landlady, which was gradually phased out of the series once it found its feet. The character was popular with the readers, appearing in a number of short solo stories, but gradually he was forgotten by the magazine and Dredd himself, which is what seems to have prompted this revisitation of the character. Taking place years after his last appearance, we have a much older version of Max Normal, reminiscing about the past with a former accomplice, Don Vito from the Ape Mafia. 

With this story Guy Adams mines that vein overflowing with nostalgia, both for the character himself and the reader, with a wonderful use of black and white 'old-school' artwork to represent the flashbacks to Max's heyday which ties back to his first appearance way back in Prog 20 entitled, “The Comic Pusher”. Adams manages to recreate Normal's unusual vocabulary and flamboyant personality, yet it is clear this is a Max Normal who has matured somewhat from his black-and-white stories. Ben Willsher interpretation of the older Pinstripe Freak is spot-on, giving him a grey moustache and wrinkled face, resembling Leslie Phillips in some ways, and the story manages to recapture that goofy era in Mega City One history, with the two eldsters attempting a heist for some classic 2000AD comics. It's a surprisingly touching 'love letter' to one of the more oddball aspects of the Judge Dredd universe, and I really enjoyed it.



SAVAGE: BOOK 9 - GRINDERS (Part 1)
Script - Pat Mills
Art - Patrick Goddard
Letters - Ellie de Ville

Returning for a ninth series, not counting its initial run as Invasion in the late 70s, is Savage which continues the story of the Volgan Invasion beyond the 1999 timeline of the original series. I must admit, as with Low Life, I'm a little unfamiliar with the finer details of this series, only having a broad sense of the story from the short synopsis in the Nerve Centre and my knowledge of the original Invasion series. From what I can gather, the initial sequence seems to be setting up some more formidable Volgan threats for Bill Savage to deal with, with  this team of “Grinders” who appear to be human undergoing drastic surgery to become more like the prototype ABC Warriors already used in the Volgan War. I'm sure I will pick up the gist of things as it goes on, but as an opening chapter, it isn't quite as new-reader friendly as some of the recent returning series have been.


Patrick Goddard's artwork, particularly on the large fella getting shown the Grinders, reminds me of Goran Parlov's work on Punisher Max with Garth Ennis. It's a nice clean, crisp style that suits the black and white colour palette. It's also similar to Leigh Gallagher's approach used in Defoe, with some wonderfully realised battleground sequences, drenched in chaos and shrapnel. I quite liked the old-school simplicity of the early Invasion series which were less science-fiction based and closer in tone to a pulp war comic, but with the inclusion of Grinders, prototype ABC Warriors and other science-fiction tropes, it seems that this more modern take on the concept has a bit more meat on its bones.



JUDGE DREDD - THE GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PRESENTS
Script - Michael Carroll
Art - Karl Richardson
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Aside from the first episode of “Dark Justice”, we're also treated to a second, more seasonal Judge Dredd story with script droid Michael Carroll dealing with some of the consequences of his recent “Traumatown” storyline. It's a neat little self-contained 'annual story' which shares parallels the classic A Christmas Carol three ghosts storyline, but viewed through a Mega-City One lens. I also really enjoy how Michael Carroll uses elements from his previous storylines to build up the new tales, creating a real sense of continuity between his stories and making each development have resonance with future episodes. He did the same with Gideon Dallas in the recent “Cascade” storyline, and I have no doubt the Lawlords he re-introduced in that storyline will return at some point. It makes for a nice 'side-dish' in comparison to John Wagner's work on the character, and nicely positions Carroll as the heir apparent to the Dredd-verse if Wagner decides to retire one day.

I really enjoyed Karl Richardson's artwork on the strip, which focused more on its cypher for Ebenezer Scrooge, Titus Axle, than Dredd himself. As a heavy-set guy, Axle was drawn perfectly by Richardson who seems to excel on drawing muscle-bound bruisers, flawlessly capturing their anatomy and body shape. It was a great little follow-up to “Traumatown” and  worked well as a Judge Dredd Christmas themed story.



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

Overall, this was another fantastic end of year annual Prog with a great mix of seasonal 'annual stories' and opening chapters setting up the brand new roster of thrills for 2015. Out of the continuing stories, The Order has definitely piqued my interest with its wonderful mixture of genres, whilst Judge Dredd: Dark Justice promises to be a blockbuster movie in weekly installments. The only strip I am a little bit concerned about is Savage – mainly due to my own gaps in knowledge. Hopefully, upcoming episodes will fill in these blanks and I will enjoy the series as much as I enjoyed Invasion.

Aside from the stories themselves, I really enjoyed the quiz section in the middle, although my score of 35 out of 100 doesn't really do me much justice. Did anyone else manage any higher (or lower) scores? I also enjoyed the full-page teasers for a sequel to Rob Williams and Henry Flint's amazing Judge Dredd: Titan and the return of Pat Mills and Simon Davis' Slaine: The Brutania Chronicles. Both preceding installments were highlights of last year's stories so it is extremely good news to see sequels in the works for both of them.

Thrill of the Week: Jaegir


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 2015 will be available in stores on Wednesday 17th December - 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!

Review - Doctor Who: The 10th Doctor # 5

Doctor Who: The 10th Doctor # 5
"The Arts in Space" - Part 2 (of 2)
Written by: Nick Abadzis
Art by: Elena Casagrande
Colours by: Arianna Florean

After a thrilling cliff-hanger last issue, the Doctor and Gabby return to solve the mystery behind the murderous art apprentices and their deadly sculptures in the concluding installment of Gabby's first off-world adventure. With the Doctor and Gabby split up and dealing with different parts of the binary apprentice, we get another chance to see Gabriella in action as a companion, using her brain to play towards the female apprentice's artistic ego by complementing her drawings. After the heavy focus on her character in the first issue of the series, it's nice to see her explored deeply here, arguably getting more screen-time than the Doctor. As the biggest 'variable' in the series, it's a wise move by Nick Abadzis to delve deeper into Gabby's mind, through her narration, diary entries and these solo moments. She comes across really well, embracing the alien culture quickly, even learning to create her own examples of block transfer which helps save the day.

I was surprised to see psychic power once again appear as a major theme for the story, after the previous arc's Pranavore and Cerebravores, which inhabited the Psycho-sphere of Earth. Here, the Doctor delves into Zhe's mental using his psychic abilities, which have been referenced in the show before, most notably during David Tennant's era with the 'Planet of the Ood' story from Season 4, but it's never really been a major focus of Doctor Who, and to be honest, I'm not a huge fan of it when it does appear. It could just be a coincidence that psychic energy appeared in both stories, or perhaps it is part of a larger story-arc that Nick Abadzis is trying to build for the series. It will be interesting to see if it reappears as a theme in upcoming stories.

Elena Casagrande's artwork continues to delight with the chance to deliver some fantastic action sequences in this more frenzied second half of the story. With only five issues, she has quickly stamped her mark all over this series, delivering some fantastically clear and bright artwork that manages to tell the story in an effective and eye-catching manner. Arianna Florean's Chibi-style diary segments take a backseat in this installment, bar a full page splash towards the end, but I would love to see them return in future issues, as I've said before, perhaps in place of the current recap page section.


As with previous episodes of this series, there were some subtle references in the art and script to past adventures, most notably the moment when Gabby experiences "The Song of Ages” and catches a glimpse of a prophetic Ood (is there any other kind?) who manages some cryptic statement about Gabby's harmony “happening so many years ago, and in the future, changing the now...” - it feels like a slice of foreshadowing, possibly teasing a long-running arc. As these adventures take place during the Tenth Doctor's Specials, whilst he is running away from “the end of his song”, there is the chance it is directly linked to that. There's another 'blink and you'll miss it' nod to the classic series with Tom Baker's Doctor and Lalla Ward as Romana as a painting in Zhe's gallery, implying that he once visited her during that incarnation.

Overall, this was fun little adventure that took the concept of art evolving and explored it in a fun way. I quite liked the sequence where the female apprentice discussed sentient being's desire to create, coming immediately after one's basic needs of food and shelter. It was a particularly profound bit of writing and appealed to me as a budding creator myself. Of course, being Doctor Who, it took the concept a little further and applied it to the base-code of the universe and manipulating matter, but hey, I liked the little introspective examination of the human compulsion to make things.

Next issue promises a shake up to the status quo with the creative team of Robbie Morrison and Daniel Indro to write a Weeping Angels story set during World War One – ever since I saw this solicited on Titan Comics website, I've been looking forward to reading it. The pairing of that time period with that particular monster just sounds perfect and Tommy Edwards' cover feels so evocative. Even though I'm excited about the change in the status quo, I do hope both Nick Abadzis and Elena Casagrande will return following this brief interlude, and continue the adventures of the Doctor and Gabby as I would love to see more from them.


Score - 9.1 out of 10

Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor # 5 is now available in all good comic shops, including Forbidden Planet, as well as on the Comixology website. Be sure to put in a standing order for the upcoming issues in the series when you pick up your copy!

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Review - Gotham: 1x10 - "Lovecraft"


Gotham
Episode 1x10 - "Lovecraft"

Synopsis

When armed assassins storm Wayne Manor, both Bruce and Selina embark on a journey through Gotham's underworld to survive, whilst Gordon, Bullock and Alfred work together to search for the truth behind the attack and find the missing children.

Review

Considering this was the last episode of Gotham before the Winter break, it was surprisingly low-key in terms of setting up cliff-hangers and the resolution of existing plot-lines. Continuing on, as expected, with the Lovecraft storyline introduced in the preceding episode, “Harvey Dent”, the story dovetailed nicely with the Selina Kyle sub-plot over at Wayne Manor, sending Bruce and Selina on the run and strengthening their burgeoning relationship to the point where young Master Wayne even got a cheeky kiss at the end of it.

Largely separate from the rest of the show, it was nice to see Bruce and Alfred interacting with the criminal elements of Gotham City in this episode, which saw the introduction of another villain from the comics. Originally, I thought that the female assassin leading the hunt for the two kids was Lady Shiva, but it turns out she was actually Copperhead instead, based moreso on the Batman: Arkham Origins version of the character, which is also female instead of the male version seen in the comics. While it seemed a bit obvious that Lovecraft wasn't the main threat behind the assassins, it was shocking that he was killed off in an episode named after him. Interestingly, the episode didn't resolve the threat of the assassins, with Selina Kyle still on the run from them and the GCPD unaware of who was behind the order. Personally, I suspect that Harvey Dent might be more involved in this than it first appeared, and he will certainly be one to watch out for in future episodes.

The interplay between Bruce and Selina carried the episode, making it really enjoyable to see the differences in their characters as they relied on each other to survive in the Gotham underworld. Despite being the kids of the show, they both managed to hold their own here against the 'adult actors'. Camren Bicondova, in particular, shined here in her portrayal of Selina Kyle, balancing her aloofness and “too cool for school” attitude with her genuine interest and affection for Bruce Wayne. I could quite happily watch multiple episodes with these two on the run together, so I do hope that this relationship continues to be featured in future episodes.


Another double-act that really won me over this episode was that of Harvey Bullock and Alfred Pennyworth, two characters who had yet to interact in the show, and haven't really been paired together in the comics either, but watching them both investigate the disappearance of the kids was a delight. After mainly seeing him in a paternal role with Bruce, it was interesting to see this more determined Alfred adopting a more 'offensive' presence – he was less Michael Caine and more Liam Neeson from Taken. It was also great to see Bullock get a bit more of the spotlight after fading into the background since “Spirit of the Goat” and surprisingly both characters seemed to work well as a team. Hopefully this represents the beginning of Alfred (and Bruce) interacting with other supporting characters and becoming more of a presence in the series, rather than a separated unabridged version of Batman Begins.

The end of the episode felt a little bit off with Gordon made into the scapegoat for Lovecraft's murder by the Mayor, in an attempt to halt his progress with the Wayne murders and impede his career by sending him off to work at Arkham Asylum. This twist seemed to lack any real impact as it didn't feel like it was permanent at all – obviously at some point Gordon will be drafted back into the GCPD and will renew his investigation. The only interesting thing is that this temporary relocation may result in more exposure to the criminally insane inhabitants of Gotham City, and considering the next episode's title is “Rogues' Gallery”, it certainly seems that way.

Another sub-plot that didn't quite have any impact, considering this was the last episode of the year was the crime family politics between The Penguin, Falcone and Fish. Falcone believes it was Maroni who took his money last episode, but Penguin tells him it is Fish, but because of their prior arguments and rivalry, Falcone wants proof that Fish has a mole in his organisation before he acts on this news. For some reason, Penguin isn't willing to give up his 'double-agent' in Liza, and decides to sit on this information. Meanwhile, Falcone is tightening up ranks, killing one of his lieutenants responsible for the armoury that was robbed and raising taxes on the others, allowing Fish to attempt to recruit more unhappy underlings to her cause. With the focus on Selina and Bruce, this whole storyline felt unresolved and I'm assuming with come back to the fore once the show returns from its hiatus.

Overall, this was a thrilling installment of the series and standing alone, it was another example of how the show is continuing to grow its sub-plots organically, weaving them together when necessary. Seeing Alfred interact with Butch and Fish Mooney was a personal highlight of the episode, alongside the focus on the Bruce Wayne / Selina Kyle relationship. However, looking at it in terms of the final episode before the winter break and I think that the shocking revelations and high-stakes drama of "Penguin's Umbrella" would have made for a much better mid-season finale. Either way, I am looking forward to seeing the show return and develop its sub-plots again.


Score - 9.5 out of 10


Next Episode - "Rogues' Gallery"
Detective Gordon's assignment at Arkham Asylum gets off to a rocky start when the murder of a guard ignites an investigation, leading him to meet Dr. Leslie Thompkins. Meanwhile, Cobblepot continues to build his army.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Review - Agents of SHIELD: 2x10 - "What They Become"


Agents of SHIELD
Episode 2x10 - "What They Become"

Synopsis

Both Whitehall and Coulson’s teams converge on the site of the ancient city, resulting in an action-packed collision between the two opposing organisations, whilst both Skye and Raina’s destinies lead them towards the subterranean temple to receive their ‘gifts’. Only one question remains: What will they become?

Review

Expectations were high for this mid-season finale, after the lengthy set-up provided by the episode before. Without the big budget special effects of its movie “siblings”, Agents of SHIELD will always be a bit stifled in what it is able to showcase on the small screen, but this episode managed to skirt around big-budget action sequences and lavish special effects by providing some much anticipated answers about its central storyline, revealing the true identities of both Skye and her father and the true purpose behind the alien artifact and the mysterious city underneath Puerto Rico. With some gratifying pay-offs to these long-standing sub-plots, this episode succeeded in revitalising the series and setting up a brand new direction when it returns next year.

The biggest moments of the episode for me was the reveal that Skye's Father was Calvin Zabo, aka Mister Hyde from the comics, which made all the pieces fall into place regarding his erratic personality and how he switches from bumbling eccentric to bloodthirsty maniac within the space of a sentence. I must admit that I didn't quite make the connection between “Cal” and “Calvin Zabo” until doing some post-episode research, so I guess that most casual viewers would have missed the reference to. Hopefully future episodes will clarify the connection and perhaps showcase how he got his super-strength, aligning it closer to Mister Hyde's origin from the comics.

The other big shock was the long-awaited reveal that Skye's birth name was Daisy, which coupled with the earthquakes she causes upon receiving her powers, suggests she is the Marvel Cinematic Universe's version of Daisy Johnson (aka Quake), who is a member of the Secret Warriors, and Mister Hyde's illegitimate daughter. It has long been suspected that Skye would be an existing Marvel character, often assumed to be Ms Marvel, but the character of Daisy Johnson makes for a great choice, although it will be tough to adjust to the change in her name, assuming the show decides to go ahead and refer to her as Daisy in future episodes. As with Michael Petersen's evolution into Deathlok, I have really enjoyed this “secret origin” approach that the show has adopted into integrating Marvel Heroes into its universe, and it makes me wonder whether any of the other newly created characters will “grow up” into someone from the comics. Perhaps Raina will turn out to be a recognisable Marvel villain now she has undergone Terrigenesis?

It wasn't just the revelations of Skye and her Father's real names that shocked me, there were a couple of shocking exits that had me raising an eyebrow or two. Firstly, I was very surprised to see Daniel Whitehall taken out so effortlessly in this episode – literally shot in the back by Coulson with minimal fanfare. I guess the point was to have the audience feel equally as “robbed” by his death as Skye's Father felt, but it did feel like a rather substantial loss that deserved a bit more of a moment behind it, especially since he was the current face of Hydra and represented SHIELD's greatest threat.

I was also shocked to see Skye shoot Ward down in cold blood. Even though he survived (thanks to some conveniently placed kevlar), she had no way of knowing that and was clearly aiming to kill him, demonstrating that she know longer has any romantic inklings towards him. I suspect this attempt on his life may act as something as a wake-up call for Ward who has been deluded himself into thinking he can win her back. It wouldn't surprise me if both he and Agent-33 end up taking over Whitehall's Hydra cell and become the “big bads” for the remainder of the Season. It would be really twisted if Ward and Agent-33 begin some kind of romantic relationship as a result of this episode, as she seems to have his ex-lover's face  permanently welded (and scarred) to her own. Still, it would make for a bizarre love-pentagon, so go for it!


Not all of the exits were particularly shocking – Triplett's death was on the cards. As the least developed member of the team so far this season, he might as well have been wearing a red shirt throughout the episode. I half-expected him to be blown up by one of his own devices, but instead he gets impaled by a piece of the Obelisk, which he himself caused to explode by kicking the Terrigen crystals. It was something of a dumb death, and I have a feeling that he won't be missed too heavily by the fan-base. The only sad note was the fact that he never got a definitive answer on the Koenig mystery, as he literally died without knowing whether they were triplets or Life Model Decoys (LMDs). When we, the viewers, finally get confirmation on this mystery, it will be a little bittersweet, knowing that ol' Triplett will never know himself.

While the actual ending wasn't as much of a cliff-hanger as the last mid-season finale, “The Bridge”, it managed to whet the appetite for the return of the show by promising a change in direction with the Hydra storyline possibly taking a backseat to the Inhumans, with the post-credits stinger implying that there is a larger group of them out there who are keen to meet with the two new recruits. This should be a fantastic opportunity for the show to delve deeper into the more alien nature of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with some ugly looking mutants (although of course, there not really mutants – Twentieth Century Fox has the copyright on those!) - I look forward to seeing the make-up and CGI implemented on these Inhumans – the  eyeless man looks interesting, if a little bit Pan's Labyrinth.

Also, there seems to be more to Mockingbird's mystery with Mack, as she retrieves a USB stick from his garage when she thinks he is dead. It seems like this is something that the mercenary contingent of SHIELD (along with the deceased Hartley) were working on which they are trying to keep away from SHIELD itself. I don't think it is a negative or Hydra-related scheme, but probably some personal mission that is directly related to them. Who knows, it might inspire the next lengthy sub-plot in the same way Skye's search for her parents did.

Overall, this episode worked fantastically as a mid-season finale, providing closure and answers to its long-running mysteries, as well as avoiding frustration with its cliffhanger by choosing to set up the new status-quo and plot direction instead. My only nit-pick would be how much of the big reveals were reliant on prior knowledge of the Marvel Universe to get the impact of them. I guess future episodes will expand upon the changes to Skye and her Father and possibly even clarify their new identities (Quake and Mister Hyde) within the series itself. I certainly look forward to seeing how the show moves forward with an actual super-powered agent on the team and how Skye reacts to her new-found abilities.


Score - 9.7 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • “Dum Dum Dugan would be proud” - Triplett finds four Howling Commandos explosives in his grandfather's old SHIELD kit, last seen in “Ragtag”.
  • The Obelisk opens to reveal Terrigen Crystals inside it, which then emit a mist that causes both Skye and Raina to enter Terrigenesis, the method in which the Inhumans receive their powers.
  • Skye's Father is revealed to be Calvin Zabo (aka Mister Hyde) who in the comics is a research scientist who tapped into his bestial nature, unleashing a feral hulk-like creature akin to the Jekyll-Hyde character from fiction. (First app: Journey into Mystery # 99)
  • Skye's real name is revealed to be Daisy Johnson, who is the illegitimate daughter of Mister Hyde in the comics, possessing the power to create seismic waves, earning her the code-name “Quake” (First app: Secret War # 2)

Mysteries
  • What is on the USB stick that Bobbi retrieves from Mack's Garage?
  • Are the Koenig's really LMDs, or just triplets?
  • What is the “Theta Protocol” that Coulson asks the Koenig's to implement if things go badly at the Temple? Some kind of Nuclear strike?
  • What has Raina changed into?
  • Who is the eyeless man and what are his motivations regarding “someone new” gaining powers?

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

2000AD Prog 1911

Prog 1911 Cover by D'Israeli

Series artist, D’Israeli delivers a fantastic and very effective cover image for this concluding installment of Stickleback, showcasing the remains of the titular character’s disguise, his mask and false spine, both serving up an iconic image representing the way this strip has literally shed its skin, as well as generating a healthy level of excitement for readers unaware of the great reveal inside. It is so effective in its simplicity that it just works, and D’Israeli’s trademark greyscale colour tones helps give the image added emphasis to stand out from the newsagent’s shelves.


JUDGE DREDD - END OF THE ROAD
Script - Alec Worley
Art - Leigh Gallagher
Colours - Chris Blythe
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Alec Worley returns with another single-episode of Judge Dredd to tide us over until Prog 2015, and much like last Prog, it is humourous in approach, although it uses slapstick comedy rather than satirising elements of the comics industry. I do love these types of stories which showcase the crazier elements of Mega City-One life and the bizarre future fads that the overpopulated masses indulge in. Here, we have the wonderfully named Lemmingtons Euthanasia tour buses which give the eldsters one last guided tour around the city they're leaving behind before plummeting off a unfinished road into the polluted waters. As with last Prog, Worley manages to fit a twist ending into the six page story giving the whole thing a more rounded feel.


Leigh Gallagher is on art duties here and brings with him a fast-paced sense of action as we get a rather unusual interpretation of the classic film, Speed. I loved the sequence where one of the wheelchair-bound eldsters is shot out of the back of the bus, straight into Dredd's lawmaster, prompting him to commandeer a citizen's vehicle, although not without noticing and fining the couple for a missing tax disc. It's the brilliant blend of Gallagher's impeccable storytelling and Worley's razor-sharp script to brings that comedic moment to life. After the lengthy 'Block Judge' and the upcoming 'Dark Justice', it was nice to get these two humourous stories from Alec Worley to provide a slight contrast before things get very nasty indeed.



STICKLEBACK - THE THRU'PENNY OPERA (Part 12)
Script - Ian Edginton
Art - D'Israeli
Letters - Ellie de Ville

Wow...I honestly did not see that coming. I mean, I haven't been reading Stickleback long but I didn't think his true identity would be quite so mind-blowing. This revelation is classic 2000AD, which has a long history of shocking its readers with plot twists, sudden deaths and narrative tricks. Recently, there was the Judge Dredd: Trifecta storyline, which saw three seemingly disparate series join together to present one unified story. Further back, there was The Vort and Malone reveals, which saw two apparently new series revealed as continuations of fan-favourites Lobster Random and Sinister Dexter, and the most well known shocker (and perhaps the first of its kind) was The Dead Man / Judge Dredd reveal. I absolutely love that the writers are able to play these 'tricks' on their readers and deliver genuine shocks in a medium filled with leaked press releases and solicitation information.


As for the concluding chapter as a whole, Ian Edginton manages to convey a true sense of a defeated England, as the trio of sisters approach Queen Victoria to discuss terms of surrender, making it clear that there will be no resistance. Hordes of possessed creatures cause chaos in the streets, demolishing famous landmarks and really cementing the feeling that the shit has well and truly hit the fan this time around. Despite all of this dire circumstance, that final reveal and those two words, Sherlock Holmes, manage to inspire a glimmer of hope. If anyone can turn this situation around, it will be the iconic sleuth of Baker Street. While I've praised the script and the plot twist, that final panel from D'Israeli is just fantastic and helps deliver the impact of this shock twist. I have no idea where this series will go from here, but my interest is reinvigorated by this marvellous twist and I really look forward to seeing the next stage in the Stickleback saga now he stands revealed.



GREYSUIT - PRINCE OF DARKNESS (Part 11)
Script - Pat Mills
Art - John Higgins
Colours - Sally Hurst
Letters - Ellie de Ville

This double-length conclusion to the third book of Greysuit gets a tad more political than the previous episodes showcasing Blake in his undercover persona in the private military organisation run by Prince. As the mercenaries commit war-crimes in the fictitious Bolivaria (a close analogue to Bolivia), Blake uses social media to expose the heinous practices, even preparing to undergo their demeaning hazing rituals himself, until flashbacks to his torture under Dr Green forces him to snap and blow his cover.


I really like how Pat Mills' script is unapologetic in the way it approaches 'hot button topics' such as the way capitalist countries exploit developing areas for oil and other natural resources. The parallels to certain real-life events are unflinchingly brutal, much like the violence featured in previous episodes and it really gets you thinking about the atrocities that go on in our names. However, this is still a work of fiction and Mills manages to make sure John Blake isn't lost within the political statements, ending the storyline on an interesting cliffhanger with the Greysuit chained between two cars, which will presumably be driven in opposite directions to kill him. We won't have long to wait to see the resolution of this cliffhanger as the next book, “Foul Play” is teased at the end, promising to conclude the Greysuit saga and Blake's quest for revenge against Prince, Green and Wood.



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

This week felt like a much shorter Prog to review, with only three stories inside, even if two of them were double-sized. Unsurprisingly, Stickleback definitely stole the show here with a literal jaw-dropper of a cliff-hanger that not only causes readers to re-evaluate the character at its core, but also ponder exactly where the story intends to go from here. Alec Worley delivered another great single-episode of Judge Dredd, which cleansed the palate nicely for the upcoming Dark Justice storyline. The conclusion to Greysuit left me a little bit wanting, mainly because it ended on a cliff-hanger rather than seeing the smug-faced Prince get his comeuppance, but the promise that the next book will be the last gives me faith that our hero will get his revenge soon.

Next week promises to deliver the end of year Prog 2015, which will be filled full of new thrills including a fresh line-up of ongoing stories, such as the long-anticipated Judge Dredd: Dark Justice, Ulysses Sweet: Maniac for Hire, Savage and new series, The Order, with Orlok: Agent of East Meg One set to join them in the New Year. I'm looking forward to getting stuck into my copy as its a real Christmas treat for long-term readers, as well as being an excellent way for new and lapsed readers to get back into 2000AD.

Thrill of the Week: Stickleback


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1911 will be available in stores on Wednesday 10th December - 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, 9 December 2014

Review - Gotham: 1x09: "Harvey Dent"


Gotham
Episode 1x09 - "Harvey Dent"

Synopsis

With Selina Kyle back on the scene, Jim Gordon renews his investigation of the Waynes’ murder making friends with a familiar face to the Batman mythos: district attorney, Harvey Dent. However, does Harvey truly want to bring the Waynes’ murderer to justice, or is he merely attempting to satisfy a long-running personal vendetta?

Review

After several episodes focusing on the ‘cold war’ that is brewing between Gotham’s biggest crime families, this episode returned the spotlight back to the central mystery of the series – the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne. The reappearance of Selina Kyle gave the plot some movement as she unknowingly became bait as part of a plot to force the real killer to reveal themselves – however, it remains to be seen if this newly introduced Lovecraft character is the real mastermind before the killing or just another red herring.

Despite having the episode named after him, there was very little focus on Harvey Dent here, but his introduction managed to sow enough seeds about his eventual transformation into Two-Face, establishing his obsession with making decisions with coins and his bi-polar anger issues which become a bigger part of his character once he receives his physical scarring. I am surprised that the series has waited this long to introduce the character, as he is a prominent part in most ‘Year One’ Gotham stories in the DC Comics universe, such as The Long Halloween and Year One, itself.

His portrayal by Nicholas D'Agosto differs slightly from the version of Harvey Dent seen in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight – he isn't the paradigm of law and order that Aaron Eckhart represents in that movie, eventually corrupted and broken by The Joker. This universe’s Harvey Dent is clearly damaged and slightly corrupt from the outset, making his inevitable descent into madness and obsession into duality all the more believable and inevitable. It seems that his storyline might be on something of a fast-track here, as I feel as if his persecution (unjust or otherwise) of businessman, Dick Lovecraft, might result in the court-room acid attack that gives him his ‘Two-Face’ personality. This could lead to him becoming the first fully-developed classic Batman villain to appear in the show and he would make an interesting ‘big bad’ for the rest of the season.

As sudden as Harvey Dent’s introduction seemed, the finger of accusation directed to the character of Dick Lovecraft was equally as rapid, with the suggestion that the corrupt businessman and rival to the Waynes was behind their murder. Judging from Dent’s personal vendetta against the man, I’m leaning towards this being some kind of set-up by the lawyer to get revenge, using the Waynes’ murder as a scapegoat. With the title of the next episode being "Lovecraft", I guess we will see this particular plot point develop there. I suspect the mystery behind the real murderer of the Waynes won’t be deal with until the season finale, but I could be wrong. If it does turn out to be this Lovecraft character, it would be something of a poor resolution to the arc, introducing a new character specifically to resolve a previously established mystery.


The main thrust of the episode revolved around the kidnap of the insane bomber, Ian Hargrove, by some Russians. What seemed like a standalone ‘crime of the week’ nicely dovetailed into the ongoing Fish Mooney / Carmine Falcone plotline, with Fish engineering the whole event in order to get revenge on Falcone for indirectly killing her Russian lover, Nikolai. I found this plot-line to be quite engaging, especially as the central target, Ian Hargrove, was being kept against his will and attempting to aid the cops himself. It was a nice little twist on the storyline, which had plenty of twists and turns already.

On the other side of the coin (appropriately enough for a Harvey Dent episode), we saw Penguin continuing to plot against Fish Mooney, quickly identifying the mole within Falcone’s organisation was Liza and rather than blowing the whistle, he recruited the increasingly unstable girl into becoming a double-agent for him, reporting on Fish’s activities. Given her fragile nature, I suspect this whole situation will become too much for her and either she will confess to one either Falcone or Fish and suffer the violent consequences. Either way, this whole conspiracy and double agent storyline is exactly where I hoped the series would lead, increasing the level of tension in these scenes as the various characters struggle to keep the secrets in check. After the big reveal of the Penguin’s survival, the show has kind of lost a little bit of that high-tension associated with big secrets, so it is nice to see it developing more sub-plots and mysteries waiting to be exposed.

One of the most rewarding moments in the episode was seeing the relationship between Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle develop as her rough around the edges personality rubbed off on Bruce, allowing him to temporarily forget that he was a millionaire orphan with revenge issues and concentrate on flirting with the cute girl staying in his house. It also gave us the opportunity to spend more time in Bruce and Alfred’s company, watching their surrogate parent and son relationship grow deeper as he offers his young master some romantic advice. It was a great little scene, especially the moments when Sean Pertwee’s Alfred breaks out of his butler protocol and says something really common, such as “watch her, she’s a lairy one!”

The focus on the Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle relationship brought a lot of heart to the episode, presenting a more youthful take on Gotham, whilst the Harvey Dent sub-plot and developments in the Wayne Murder investigation took precedence over the ‘crime of the work’ storyline, although that too was later revealed to be part of the ongoing ‘gang war’ storyline, ensuring that there was strong developments across the board, setting up an intriguing mid-season finale next episode.


Score - 9.6 out of 10


Next Episode - "Lovecraft"
Assassins attack Wayne Manor to try and kill Selina, causing her and Bruce to go on the run. While Harvey and Alfred try to find the kids, Gordon tries to track down the man he believes was behind the attack: Dick Lovecraft.
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