Saturday, 29 March 2014

Review - Agents of SHIELD: 1x13 - "T.R.A.C.K.S."

Agents of SHIELD
Episode 1x13 - "T.R.A.C.K.S."


Synopsis

The team goes undercover on a high-speed train travelling across Italy, in order to track down Ian Quinn by following an expensive piece of technology he has ordered for delivery, however, the team are soon pitted against mercenaries and a familiar face, resulting in deadly consequences for one of the Agents.

Review

This episode launched straight into the action with a fast-paced opening that downloaded the key information directly into the viewer's minds without a seconds hesitation, showing a confidence from both the SHIELD team, as well as the writers of the episode. I must admit it did feel a little bewildering at times, but I appreciated this more streamlined approach to the pre-credits introduction, cutting through the expository 'fat' in order to get to the 'meat' of the episode sooner. It is decisions like this that really showcases the series as finally hitting its stride and prepared to experiment within its traditional structure to surprise the audience.

Alongside its confident opener, there were further examples of the writers wanting to play about with the pre-established narrative structure, with the introduction of a Rashomon-style plot device midway through the episode, which set up a divergence point and followed the various character perspectives, adding an extra layer of mystery to the episode by using a non-linear format to tell the story. I really enjoyed this smarter take on the story and found it much more enjoyable than if the script had merely switched between the multiple narratives in real-time. I look forward to seeing more looser takes on the narrative in future episodes, hopefully with flashbacks and flashforwards, in the same manner as LOST.

I really liked the main conceit of the episode, with the majority of it taking place aboard an Orient Express-style train travelling across the Italian countryside, giving the episode the feel of an old-school spy thriller, reminiscent of films such as North by Northwest, Murder on the Orient Express and to a lesser extent, Under Siege 2. The episode also saw the return of some familiar faces, with Ian Quinn and Michael Peterson taking central roles in the storyline. There was also another familiar face in the form of Stan Lee, who made his first cameo appearance in the show, looking decidedly Hugh Hefner-esque, following up on his appearances throughout previous Marvel Comics movies and adding another 'big name' to the show's roster of guest-stars.

The biggest reveal of the episode was that Michael Peterson is the Marvel Cinematic Universe's version of Deathlok – a cyborg from the comic books. Unfortunately, I was spoiled by promotional materials that Deathlok would be appearing in the series, but despite this, I still got a little chill down my spine by the reveal of the name in the post-credits stinger. Keen eyed Deathlok fans might have seen it coming earlier by the reference to Cybertek Inc, who also feature in the comics, often coming into friction with Deathlok. While Michael Peterson doesn't quite resemble the character from the comics just yet, I think that this decision to slyly introduce him as a new character, then to later re-purpose him into an established comic book hero was a fantastic choice and makes up for the initial disappointment that I experienced during the pilot episode, when it turned out that he wasn't going to be Luke Cage. I'm guessing that we're going to be seeing Peterson straddling the line between good and evil in the future, residing in that 'grey area' while he is forced to do the Clairvoyant's bidding.

Coming up as a close second for most shocking moment of the episode was the shooting of Skye at the hands of Ian Quinn, who I'd pegged as a slightly slimy and corrupt businessman, but not willing to get his hands dirty. The initial gunshot took me by surprise, but I think it was the second one as Skye fell onto Ian's body that really shocked me. This was more of a 'double tap' execution than a simple 'shoot the girl and get out of town' situation. The way that Quinn, presumably under orders by the Clairvoyant, was willing to kill off Skye suggests that the Clairvoyant is unaware of Skye's origins as an 0-8-4, either that or he needs her to be fatally wounded for the next part of his plan. I don't think that we will see Skye die, and that either we will see some manifestation of her powers, possibly some kind of healing or defensive ability, or Coulson will appeal to the SHIELD higher-ups to use the same experimental techniques that were used on him to save her. Judging by the name of the next episode ("T.A.H.I.T.I."), it's looking likely that it is the latter.

As well as additional ties to the comics world in the form of Deathlok and Cybertek, this episode also saw further references to other films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, including The Incredible Hulk, which is considered the red-headed stepchild of the family, mostly due to the recasting of Bruce Banner for The Avengers. It was nice to find out what is happening to Emil Blonsky (The Abomination), especially since it is highly unlikely that we'll ever see a sequel, or if we do, it will probably avoid touching upon the open plot threads from the first film.

As well as the heavy action set-pieces, the episode also saw a great deal of character development with a love triangle forming between Agents Ward, May and Coulson. It might not be wholly romantic in nature but there seems to be some tense and jealous behaviour between the two men, which is compounded further by Ward appearing to blame Coulson for Skye getting shot. Also, it may seem odd, but I found that Ming-Na Wen delivered her best performance to date returning to the Bus after being tortured. It seemed to demonstrate more emotion than usual, as well as actually showing her to be a bad-ass, rather than keep telling us that she is.

Overall, this was one of the strongest plotted episodes to date, with a really strong conclusion and effective cliffhangers that not only appealed to fans invested in the programme, but also to comic-book fans who are eager to see familiar characters represented on-screen. Personally, I feel this would have made a far more effective mid-season break than 'The Bridge' as I am eagerly awaiting the next episode to find out what will happen with Skye and Deathlok. I also think that it isn't a coincidence that both Raina and Quinn are in SHIELD custody at the same time and that either Deathlok will attempt to break them out, or they are there to infiltrate the Hub for some purpose. Despite the relative success that the SHIELD team have had (excluding Skye's shooting) it does feel like they are still one step behind the Clairvoyant's grand plan.

Score - 9.2 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • Cybertek is an organisation in the Marvel Comics Universe that has associations with Roxxon and produces advanced technology, specialising in prosthetics and cybernetics, often clashing with the cyborg hero, Deathlok. (First app: Marvel Comics Presents # 62)
  • “Past events, like that unfortunate incident at the Hub, have shown me that I'm not good at improvisation, however I excel at preparation” Simmons is adopting new skills in order to become a better liar. (The Hub)
  • Stan Lee appears in a cameo as a passenger on the train, referencing his many cameo appearances across the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
  • Ward: “Maybe [the grenade] created some kind of portal and jumped the train there”
    Coulson: “Let's hope not. I can't deal with Asgard today” (Thor)
  • “I'll reassign you to Barrow, Alaska and you can spend the rest of your years pulling the night-shift guarding Blonsky's cryo-cell” - reference to Emil Blonsky, aka The Abomination (The Incredible Hulk)
  • Time Grenades are an advanced formula of Dendrotoxin, found in the Night-Night gun (Pilot)
  • With his bionic leg and eye, it is revealed that Mike Peterson is the Marvel Cinematic Universe version of Deathlok (First app: Astonishing Tales # 25)

Mysteries
  • Will Skye die? Will she undergo the same resurrection as Coulson did?
  • What does the Clairovoyant want Mike Peterson to do?
  • Why was Quinn expecting Coulson to arrive – is this part of some plan by the Clairvoyant to get both Raina and Quinn into SHIELD custody?

Next Episode - "T.A.H.I.T.I."
Coulson goes on the attack to save Skye, enlisting the aid of Ward's former S.O. John Garrett (Bill Paxton) and uncovers shocking truths about his own life

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

2000AD Prog 1874

Prog 1874 Cover by Edmund Bagwell

This image has been in the ether for a while, and I've gotten somewhat accustomed to seeing it, but that doesn't distract from it being a great piece of artwork by Edmund Bagwell, which does well to highlight the 'jumping-on' aspect of the issue and showcase the variety of characters within, hopefully attracting new and lapsed readers.


JUDGE DREDD - MEGA-CITY CONFIDENTIAL (Part 1)
Script - John Wagner
Art - Colin MacNeil
Colours - Chris Blythe
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

This week’s Judge Dredd sees creator, John Wagner, back on scripting duties with a very mysterious storyline, aided superbly by Colin MacNeil’s shadow-heavy artwork, which captures the mood perfectly, filling every dark area with palpable menace and paranoia, fitting in with Erika Easterhouse’s mood. I also adore his depiction of Dredd, especially his chin!


I am chomping at the bit to find out what the secret judicial department is doing, and why Easterhouse has turned whistle-blower. Perhaps it is some kind of phone-hacking scandal, to comment on the current-day invasions of privacy and the moral argument for and against such behaviour? Since Dredd seems to be aware of the situation, I’m guessing it’s something for ‘the greater good’ but judging by the strong urge to hush things up; this storyline could have some major repercussions, fuelling more unrest and distrust amongst the citizens, as well as place Dredd in that moral 'grey' area.



SLAINE: THE BRUTANIA CHRONICLES - A SIMPLE KILLING (Part 1)
Script - Pat Mills
Art - Simon Davis
Letters - Ellie de Ville

With more emphasis on the art than the actual story at this stage, this was a beautiful episode of Slaine, with amazing artwork by Simon Davis, ushering in a new age for the axe-wielding Barbarian. After years of associating Davis' painted artwork with Sinister Dexter, and later, Ampney Crucis, it feels like this is a perfect fit for his stylistic approach and quite simply some of the best work of his career. As something of a casual Slaine fan, this jolt in the arm and refresh from Clint Langley's work has acted as a wake-up call and gotten me excited about the character again. Not to take anything away from Langley’s work, as I think his work on The A.B.C. Warriors over the past twelve weeks has been absolutely fantastic, but I find that Slaine seems to excel when aided by painted artwork, such as Glenn Fabry and Dermot Power, which manages to capture the intensity of both the bulging muscles and blood and guts.


The story opens up with a fairly straight-forward premise; the 'simple killing' of the title, welcoming new readers with a continuity-free opener that requires no prior knowledge at all, apart from the fact, the big guy is called Slaine and he carries an axe. While I'm sure that things will get more complicated as the story evolves over the weeks, I'm strapped in for the ride and ready to enjoy this new chapter in the character's life.



OUTLIER (Part 1)
Script - T.C. Eglington
Art - Karl Richardson
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

This opening installment feels like an episode of CSI, with Carcer reconstructing the events of the murder from clues found at the crime scene. The flashback to the murder and Carcer's examination of the scene reminded me of Rorschach's investigation into the Comedian's murder in Watchmen.

It was interesting to see the parallels between Carcer and the killer, with several panels showing the characters in the same poses in order to convey a connection between them. Further strengthening this suggestion of a link was the line, "Funny, it almost sounds like you're begging”, which was spoken by both Carcer and the murderer at different points in the episode. I'm not sure what the relevance of this repetition is, and whether we should be suspecting Carcer as the murderer this early on, or if it is to highlight some kind of psychic bond between the hunter and the hunted. Either way, it certainly raised my interest and I look forward to seeing the mystery unfold, and I suspect that this might be a story that requires re-reading from the beginning to pick up on foreshadowing and clues, such as the seemingly innocuous chat about 'placebo gods' and 'second universes'.


Karl Richardson's artwork is fantastic and he manages to capture the stark horror of the gruesome crime scene perfectly, as well as the brutal methods leading up to the actual murder glimpsed through the flashback sequences. I like the sleek, ninja-style design of the killer and toady-look to the alien billionaire murder victim, and expect to see some awesome looking designs and action sequences in upcoming episodes.



SINISTER DEXTER: THE GENERICAN DREAM - GUN SHY (Part 1)
Script - Dan Abnett
Art - Smudge
Letters - Ellie de Ville

Sinister Dexter returns to the Prog, occupying the black and white slot in the line-up, which is the first time (I think) that I've seen the series without colour. Smudge's artwork suits the Gunshark duo and the transition from colour doesn't disrupt the series as much as I would have expected. One minor nitpick though is regarding Tracy and Piper, who seem to have switched hair colours – I thought Tracy was the darker haired girl and Piper had blonder hair. I guess it can be explained away that due to being 'on the lam' they dyed their hair to avoid detection, but it does look like perhaps the word balloons were attributed to the wrong characters. It'll be interesting to see if they switch back next episode!

Dan Abnett's story remains pretty lightweight, as expected from Sinister Dexter, and we have a nice bit of satire on America's gun control laws. The setting of Generica, an American-esque location, allows Abnett to poke fun at various elements of Americana and showcase the cultural differences from Downlode, which itself, was a cipher for multiple European cities. Hopefully, this run of Sinister Dexter will be similar to the writer's recent 'season' of Grey Area and consist of a mix of quirky one-off short stories and more continuity-driven ones.



JAEGIR - STRIGOI (Part 1)
Script - Gordon Rennie
Art - Simon Coleby
Colour - Len O'Grady
Letters - Simon Bowland

This series feels like 'Anti-Rogue Trooper', depicting events from the Nort perspective, with a lead character who would be the natural enemy of the familiar blue-skinned GI soldier. Whilst the Rogue Trooper continuity got a little bit muddy with the introduction of Friday, Venus Blue Genes and Tor Cyan, this series appears to be very much self-contained and free from continuity headaches, merely using the backdrop of the Nort-Souther wars to tells its own storyline. That said, I wouldn't be surprised if it turned out to be some kind of back-door pilot for a relaunched Rogue Trooper series with the familiar character appearing at the end.

Simon Coleby's artwork is breath-taking and the colours by Len O'Grady really help to capture the war-torn, rusty landscape of the industrial world. The final panel where we see Jaegir's battle-scarred face is fantastic, although the big 'reveal' had been slightly spoiled by her appearance on the cover – whoops!



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

This was a great introduction Prog for new readers with all five storylines gently introducing readers to the premises. While there was a lack of actual action, I think the sheer quality of the artwork and the writing would definitely bring readers back for a second Prog and hopefully get them hooked! Out of the current line-up, I’m looking forward to more from Slaine, even if it’s a paper-thin plot just to establish set-pieces for Simon Davis’ artwork. I also am quite intrigued by the dual mysteries of Judge Dredd and Outlier and look forward to seeing how those unravel over the next few episodes!


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1874 will be available in stores on Wednesday 24th March - 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, 22 March 2014

Review - Agents of SHIELD: 1x12 - "Seeds"

Agents of SHIELD
Episode 1x12 - "Seeds"


Synopsis

After an incident nearly kills some SHIELD cadets, the team are called into the Science and Technology division of the SHIELD Academy to investigate the 'bad seed' responsible. Meanwhile, Coulson and May make a shocking discovery about Skye's past, which threatens to bring the whole team into danger.

Review

Since returning from its mid-season break, Agents of SHIELD has been giving its viewers answers to some of the mysteries it set up in its first half, such as how Coulson was brought back to life after his untimely death in The Avengers and in this episode, we got a glimpse into Skye’s troubled past and what happened to her parents.

I found the reveal that Skye was a 0-8-4 much more intriguing than the truth behind Coulson’s resurrection, because of the further questions that this “answer” provides, such as whether this means Skye is an extra-terrestrial, possibly Asgardian, although she could also be Chitauri, albeit a very pretty one! There is also the possibility that she is a different alien race from the comics, perhaps Kree or Skrull, serving as an introduction to the greater ‘alien world’ before August’s Guardians of the Galaxy movie, which seeks to introduce a plethora of new alien races to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

As well as shining a light on Skye’s past, Agent Lumley introduces a new threat to the team when he tells May and Coulson about the danger that follows Skye and how a small Chinese village and all of his team were killed in order to get to her. There’s the insinuation that this is Centipede or some other complex ‘shadowy’ organisation, but I think that it could be bigger than this. If Skye is truly of extra-terrestrial origins, perhaps the threat that is after her is more “alien” in nature – maybe even the Skrulls disguised as humans. This could put a whole new spin on the series, providing a loose adaptation of the Secret Invasion storyline from the comics, if Coulson’s team discover that Skrull’s have already infiltrated the Earth.

As you can see, I found the Skye sub-plot much more interesting than the main storyline of Donnie Gill and his ‘origin story’ of how he becomes Blizzard, one of the villains from the comics, although I did like the way that the episode introduced a series of twists, as well as bringing back Ian Quinn (last seen in The Asset) in his second attempt to utilising emerging scientific discoveries for his own means, but inadvertently creating a super-villain instead. I really liked the character of Quinn and find him much more interesting as an antagonist to Coulson’s team than Raina, and I was a little bit disappointed to find out he was affiliated with Centipede, as I liked the idea of him being a separate entity.

It was fun to see the Science and Technology division of the SHIELD academy, with Fitz and Simmons returning to their old haunts as the ‘cool kids’. The thematic message of ‘bad seeds’ was well utilised with Donnie and his friend becoming corrupted by bad influences, whereas on the opposite side of the coin, Skye has redeemed herself under the guidance of Coulson, avoiding becoming used as a force for wrongdoing at the hands of the Rising Tide hacker group.

The episode managed to maintain his knack for the ‘unconventional’ with the fun moment where May confesses her ‘affair’ with Ward to Coulson, only to be interrupted immediately by the appearance of their target. I also liked the twist-motive behind the freezing incidents, with them being part of a ploy to lure Fitz to the campus so Donnie can make use of his technical know-how. The episode also seemed to be constructed in a much better way than previous attempts, with the two plots working well together to provide a better sense of pace and more action.

While last week’s mid-season premiere might have been a slight misstep in quality, this episode managed to reinvigorate my interest in the series with a number of key sub-plots being developed further and a sense of forward momentum to the series again. While it still needs a bit of work, particularly with the whole ‘Clairvoyant’ aspect, it is definitely becoming more interesting and worthy of a second look, if anyone dropped the series after the lengthy hiatus in the UK, especially since I've heard from viewers in the US that the show continues to pick up, especially in light of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Score - 8.8 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • Bucky Barnes' name is on the 'Wall of Valor' at the SHIELD Academy (Captain America)
  • Donnie Gill is the alter-ego of the Blizzard in the Comics (First app: Iron Man #223)
  • Ian Quinn was also indirectly involved with the creation of Graviton – his MO seems to be developing scientists to engineer technological breakthroughs (The Asset)
  • 0-8-4 stands for object of unknown origin (0-8-4)

Mysteries
  • If Skye is an 0-8-4, where did she come from? Could she be Asgardian?
  • Who killed the SHIELD team and the Chinese villagers to get to Skye?
  • Whereabouts does Ian Quinn fit within Centipede? Does he out-rank Raina?

Next Episode - "T.R.A.C.K.S."
Hot on the trail of the Clairvoyant, Coulson and his team board a mystery train that seems to be headed for certain death.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

2000AD Prog 1873

Prog 1873 Cover by Clint Langley

This is a great A.B.C. Warriors cover by Clint Langley showing Howard Quartz towering over his creations, acting as the puppet master to the Mek-nificent Seven. The cover helps to establish the character as the current ‘big bad’ of the series as he casts his shadow across our heroes, and it also manages to convey the raised stakes that comes with the Warriors challenging him.


JUDGE DREDD - FIT
Script - Rob Williams
Art - Henry Flint
Colours - Chris Blythe
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

This week saw the return of Rob Williams and Henry Flint in an epilogue to the recent Dredd storyline, Titan, which revisits some key plot threads, particularly SJS Judge Gerhart and Dredd’s relationship and the after-effects of Dredd’s torture at the hands of Amy Nixon and the Titan inmates. I really liked that the episode consisted of a framing device between Hershey and Gerhart, discussing Dredd’s physical and mental condition post-Titan, as it gives us an insight into how others view Dredd, rather than seeing the events first-hand. There’s an interesting moment where Dredd is staring at his hand – a reference to the visions he was having on Titan, so while he may have passed Gerhart’s evaluation, there is clearly something wrong with the Judge (as seen in Rob Williams’ other stories) and I am very interested to see how this will pan out in future stories.



This interlude features clearer, brighter artwork by Henry Flint, which works well to contrast the Mega City streets compared to the dark, isolated corridors of the Titan facility. We also get a better look at Gerhart, after another batch of cybernetic enhancement and I must admit that I’m quite fond of him, especially those robot lips! Overall, this was a great way to revisit the Titan storyline and reflect upon the events, whilst building up interesting sub-plots. I cannot wait to see more collaboration between the Williams and Flint droids in future Progs!



FUTURE SHOCKS - THE FLOWERS OF VIBER HINGE
Script - David Baillie
Art - Paul Marshall
Letters - Simon Bowland

As well as writing the current Tharg’s 3rillers storyline, David Baillie employs his knack for the surprise ending in another Future Shock. As with all the best Future Shocks, the story managed to craft a vibrant and believable world within four pages and deliver a strong twist in the final panels. I really liked how the title and imagery of flowers becomes relevant in the final few panels, when the Venus flytraps are used as a metaphor to describe how the creatures intend to drain their human ‘invaders’ of their nutrients. The artwork by Paul Marshall is top-notch, managing to effortlessly add a sense of pace to the story which is primarily told through reflective narration boxes, and his design of the Yetz manages to highlight the horrific side-effects of the Language Bomb and how far they have been mutated.



THE A.B.C WARRIORS - RETURN TO MARS (Part 12)
Script - Pat Mills
Art - Clint Langley
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

As expected, the story moves back to the present-day for its final episode and we get an indication of what the A.B.C. Warriors' next mission to ‘increase the peace’ will be; to destroy their maker, Howard Quartz. However, things are slightly more complicated than that with the addition of a third force to the conflict – Volkhan and Blackbood. However, those hoping for more forward momentum in the near-future might be slightly disappointed as it seems like that the team will be looking back into the past once more for a method to defeat Quartz, as Hammerstein recounts his memories of Ro-Busters to figure out a way to adapt Ro-Jaw’s anti-authoritative behaviour for the Warriors.



I’m really looking forward to a potential Ro-Busters flashback strip, hopefully with Clint Langley’s black and white artwork again, channeling the classic ‘Thunderbirds' element of the original series. As said before, this whole storyline has felt like a love letter to Pat Mills' early days, and having just read through the original Ro-Busters and A.B.C. Warriors stories, it has been even more relevant and fun for me to read. Anyone who hasn't appreciated this look back, should revisit those tales, then get excited for some more Ro-Busters adventures!



GREY AREA - ID, PLEASE
Script - Dan Abnett
Art - Mark Harrison
Letters - Ellie de Ville

This current run of Grey Area ends on a fairly low-key note, making me wonder if perhaps the cliff-hanger at the end of last week's episode would have been a more effective point to end this 'season'. The episode seems to balance the routine alien investigation with some soap-opera, with the development of a love-triangle causing some angst within the ETC team. Mark Harrison continues to handle art duties for Patrick Goddard, providing a better lit strip than last week and some fun alien designs with the Rithuans and his living Pradix passport.

After being unsure about this strip in Prog 2014, I've quickly become a convert and absolutely love it and am looking forward to seeing more of it later in the year when it returns. If Dan Abnett ever decides to permanently retire Sinister Dexter (and judging by the current story-arc, he might be) then he could easily use this series as his recurring title in the Prog.



THARG'S 3RILLERS: AFTER THE VENGEANCE (Part 3)
Script - David Baillie
Art - Jon Davis-Hunt
Colour - Gary Caldwell
Letters - Ellie de Ville

With its concluding part, After the Vengeance, kicked into overdrive with a fantastic Fight Club-esque twist that forced readers to rethink everything that they had read up until that point. Even though I had suspicions that Vengeance Fawkes may have murdered Havel, I assumed he had done it for the greater good and didn't expect him to be an out-and-out murderer, concerned only with saving his skin and covering up his secret. The wonderful thing about the twist that ‘Munroe’ was actually one of the bankers and not the folk hero everyone assumed him to be, was that I did notice some of the clues (such as him being naked in one of the panels from Prog 1871, which depicted the Wharf Fall) but still didn't connect the dots.

They do say that Banking is a cutthroat industry!

Alongside the absolutely pitch-perfect reveal of Munroe’s true identity, we had some fantastic artwork by Jon Davis-Hunt, who seems to do ‘gory’ really well (as evidenced from his work on Age of the Wolf and Stalag 666) and the unsettling panel with the female corpse with her throat slit, contrasted to the flashback showing her in a similar position was really effective in communicating to the reader that she was his secretary prior to the Wharf Fall, helping the pieces tumble into place in time for the big reveal. Overall, this was a fantastic Tharg's 3rillers adventure and a masterclass in misdirection and twist endings - I look forward to seeing the next David Baillie scripted adventure in the Prog soon!



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

After feeling a bit stale the last few Progs as the stories headed towards their conclusions, this week felt like a massive boost with all of the final episodes to the series having the right amount of oomph. Between the nostalgia hit of The A.B.C. Warriors and the shocking twist of After the Vengeance, this Prog manages to blast thrill-power out of all its cylinders. I’m looking forward to next week’s ‘jumping-on’ Prog, with two completely new series to read, and the return of Sinister Dexter to the line-up. Oh, and it’ll be my one-year anniversary of reviewing 2000AD!


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1873 will be available in stores on Wednesday 19th March - 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, 15 March 2014

Review - Agents of SHIELD: 1x11 - "The Magical Place"

Agents of SHIELD
Episode 1x11 - "The Magical Place"


Synopsis

Thirty-six hours after Coulson's disappearance, the team continue to exhaust all of their leads in order to find him before Centipede can extract the secrets of his resurrection from his subconscious.

Review

Returning from his mid-season cliffhanger, this episode of Agents of SHIELD had a lot to prove, with the tantalising tease that the secrets of Coulson's resurrection might be revealed – it begun by opening up with a slick pre-credits sequence that showed the team working together without Coulson in order to subdue a threat, even using Fitz-Simmons' micro-drones in combat. One of the cliffhangers from last episode is immediately addressed, Ward survived his gunshot wound (it turns out he only took a bullet to the shoulder) and we learn that it has been thirty-six hours since Coulson was taken, and this time, the larger SHIELD organisation, represented by Victoria Hand are involved in recovering the lost agent.

The biggest element of the episode, and the part I found the most disappointing, was the reveal behind Agent Coulson's resurrection, which is shown to be more scientific than I expected, with a fully dead Coulson brought back to life through multiple 'unethical' surgical operations, although  his 'will to live' was severely damaged in the process, prompting SHIELD to tamper with his memories and create the Tahiti cover story in an effort to remove the trauma of being brought back from the dead. While this feels like a more grounded approach to the resurrection, I do hope that we see more about this mysterious process Coulson underwent, as well as any side-effects it may have had, beyond the mental breakdown. Part of me does still hold out hope that there's a more mystical element to the resurrection that has yet to be revealed, which would help counter the rather 'mundane' explanation we got in this episode.

Elsewhere, we have the 'shock' ending that Michael Peterson survived the explosion on the bridge and remains in Centipede's custody, albeit with one of the dreaded eye implants and a missing leg. I'm glad that his story is continuing, but it appears as if he is going to return to a more antagonistic role with Centipede controlling him via the eye implant. I must admit that I did expect him to survive the explosion, but I was quite shocked to see him without a leg, and with one of the bionic eyes.

Even though this return to the small-screen failed to grab my attention, mostly due to the high expectations I had over the Coulson reveal, there were some nice quieter moments that I enjoyed, such as the increased camaraderie between the team, marking the second time that Coulson has been used to unite a team and get them working together. The double-bluff by Agent May, seemingly betraying Skye, but doing so to get her off of the plane and working independently, was a great little plot twist, as I was sure she did it because she was jealous of Ward and Skye's relationship. It is little moments like this that showcase the show's smart writing and ability to mislead the viewer effectively.

I also love the relationship between Skye and Coulson, and was pleased that it was her who found him, and the way that Skye was accepted back into the team despite her earlier indiscretions. She really proved herself in this episode, disarming a security guard (using skills from her training with Ward) and bluffing Lloyd Rathman into finding out Coulson's whereabouts, by pretending to be May in a funny side-plot to the main action.

As well as learning more about Coulson's past, we also manage to get a better glimpse into the hierarchy of Centipede, and it seems my theory that Edison Po and the mysterious Clairvoyant are two halves of the same coin is wrong, with Po getting killed off in favour of Raina. It seems that despite Coulson's insistence that psychics do not exist, The Clairvoyant does seem to exhibit some kind of psychic and telekinetic powers, managing to not only access memories of Coulson's past, but also to kill Po remotely, through the phone line. One interesting thing of note was Raina's behaviour and exhilaration after speaking to The Clairvoyant, which seems reminiscent of the 'talented cultist' who Coulson claimed May had encountered. We don't get any reveal of The Clairvoyant in this episode, but it could be that perhaps he is MODOK? It would be fantastic if MODOK, or another big-name Marvel villain was revealed to be the 'big bad' of Centipede!

Overall, this wasn't a terrible episode and was much more enjoyable upon a second viewing without having the anticipation of the Coulson reveal at the forefront of my mind. I really hope that this turns out to be the first layer of the mystery, rather than the outright answer, and that more questions are raised about the nature of the operations that brought Coulson back to life. Also, while Centipede saw a slight setback this episode with Raina captured and several of their labs shut down, it seems like there is more to come from them with both Mike Peterson and The Clairvoyant waiting in the wings.

Score - 8.4 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • Hand: "You're the consultant. The one who shot Agent Sitwell"
    Skye: "Technically, that wasn't me" (The Hub)
  • Dr Streiten first appeared in the Pilot stating to Maria Hill that Coulson could "never know" the truth about his resurrection.

Mysteries
  • Who is the Clairvoyant, and what are his abilities?
  • Why was Raina placed under the memory-unblocking machine?
  • What do they want with Mike Peterson if they have the ability to create fresh super-soldiers?
  • How exactly did SHIELD bring Coulson back from the dead? Was it purely science, or was there a more mystical approach? We only saw the seventh operation in the flashback.

Next Episode - "Seeds"
The team is swept into a storm at SHIELD Academy, while Coulson and May uncover information about Skye's past.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

2000AD Prog 1872

Prog 1872 Cover by Dylan Teague

I really like the way that the mutant tapeworm is depicted by Dylan Teague, with its razor-sharp teeth and deadly mandibles reaching for Judge Dredd. The bright colours and level of clarity in the details contrasts nicely against Nick Dyer’s interior work on the strip, which has a darker, grimier feel to it that works well to develop the B-movie horror feel to the story. My only nitpick of the cover is the positioning of Dredd himself – his pose looks more like he has been interrupted during a relaxing recline, rather than in the midst of a life and death struggle against the creature.


JUDGE DREDD - SQUIRM! (Part 3)
Script - Michael Carroll
Art - Nick Dyer
Colours - Chris Blythe
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

This week saw the concluding part of the ‘mutant tapeworm’ story, which took a Tremor-esque approach with the huge, rampaging worm bursting through the concrete streets in order to snag its prey. Michael Carroll’s script manages to keep things moving nicely with the introduction of little twists and turns to the narrative, much like a tapeworm itself. I particularly liked the development that the tapeworm wasn't just eating people indiscriminately, but was actually targeting drug-users in order to get its fix. After being exposed to BulkMeUp inside Hugh Munguss’ lower intestines, the worm had become addicted to the drug in the same way a new-born baby craves heroin if the mother uses the drug during pregnancy.


As I read through the story, I was beginning to wonder how Dredd was going to be able to deal with the monstrous creature and loved how he utilised the worm’s addiction to BulkMeUp to force it to eat itself. The final line about using the dead creature to feed the citizens in the form of “worm-burgers” was the icing on the cake to this darkly comic adventure, as well as a nice continuity reference to the food shortages due to Chaos Day. As a whole, I loved the B-movie feel to this storyline and the way it developed so much over just three episodes.



FUTURE SHOCKS - THE MODULAR WAR
Script - Eddie Robson
Art - Robin Smith
Letters - Simon Bowland

This is a great little Future Shock from Eddie Robson, with cracking art by Robin Smith. It felt like an old-school Future Shock from the seventies and managed to create and break its status quo within four pages. I really liked the concept of segregated blocks being traded back and forth between two opposing sides based on the results of a war, with the citizens memories being reset to ensure allegiance to their ‘owners’. It’s somewhat relevant to current events, considering the nature of things between Russia and the Ukraine over Crimea, making the final twist even more poignant when compared to real life struggles. I must admit that I found the ending to be something like a deus ex machina and while it was unexpected, it did feel slightly rushed.



THE A.B.C WARRIORS - RETURN TO MARS (Part 11)
Script - Pat Mills
Art - Clint Langley
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Finally, we have some plot developments with Tubal Caine in this episode, albeit somewhat predictable after the setup of the previous few episodes. Even though it was clear what was going to happen to Tubal’s adopted son, Tom, it was no less creepy when Mek-Quake attacked the boy, openly acknowledging that “Mek-Quake. He gonna do a bad thing now” as the panels closed in on his cold, mechanic eyes. The fact we don’t see Tom’s death just fuels the imagination and leaves the reader to conjure up their own traumatic death for the boy, making for a much more effective method of storytelling.


The epic clash between Mek-Quake and Tubal Caine manages to live up to expectations, thanks to Clint Langley’s graphic depictions of Tubal taking quite the beating, losing a hand and nearly his head. However, despite facing utter defeat, the final, defiant pose of the robot as he holds a rather unwieldy looking gun seems to suggest it isn't over yet. With Quartz’s denouncement of the ‘lone hero’, it seems clear that Tubal will re-join with the Warriors, returning us to the present-day setting of the first episode, armed with a fresh perspective on the events leading up to it. 

Understandably, some readers have been a bit miffed with the lack of forward momentum in this particular storyline, and to some extent, I can sympathise, but as someone relatively uninitiated in The A.B.C. Warriors mythology, I've actually really enjoyed this lengthy flashback, although it might have been better if it had been named ‘The Memoirs of Tubal Caine’, or something along those lines, to prepare readers for its contents.



GREY AREA - VISITATION
Script - Dan Abnett
Art - Mark Harrison
Letters - Ellie de Ville

This week’s Grey Area saw a change in artist for the first time since Prog 2014, with Mark Harrison standing in for Patrick Goddard to tell a single-part story. While Harrison’s style has a murkier look than Goddard, utilising blur and shadows alongside his images, he manages to capture enough of the likenesses of both Bulliet and Birdy to keep things relatively consistent between the two artists, although I must admit I prefer Goddard’s clearer art style, and his aptitude for alien designs, for this series.


With this run of stories coming to a close next Prog, this one-off adventure brings the series’ over-arching storyline back to the forefront, after months of references and occasional mentions, advancing things ever so slightly in time for the next run of adventures. It looks like the Arakshu’s revenge extends beyond merely killing Adam Bulliet, as theorised by characters in earlier adventures, as the aliens make a threat against the whole of Earth before leaving the captain shaken in his bed-quarters. After the lengthy build-up, I really hope this subplot gets a decent pay-off when the series returns again.



THARG'S 3RILLERS: AFTER THE VENGEANCE (Part 2)
Script - David Baillie
Art - Jon Davis-Hunt
Colour - Gary Caldwell
Letters - Ellie de Ville

David Baillie and Jon Davis-Hunt's vision of dystopian future continues to develop, and it’s clear that the sheer scope of this story would have been better suited being expanded beyond three parts as Baillie continues to craft a rich world filled with detail. I really liked the opening sequence with the cocky banker reduced to begging for his life when faced with a public execution to demonstrate how far things had gone downhill in five years. There’s an interesting development which might see this fragile society collapse and I wonder if there is perhaps a twist in this tale – could Vengeance Fawkes, despite his reluctance to act as director of public executions, be the one who murdered Havel?

I do have one small nitpick regarding the page layout – I read my Progs digitally, which doesn't really allow for double-page spreads to read with ease, having to flick back and forth to read across the page. It’s not the biggest inconvenience, but I guess it’s one of the ways that a physical Prog is superior to its digital counterparts.



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

Next week sees the concluding parts of the ongoing stories, in order to make way for the next jumping-on point of Prog 1874. It seems like everything has pretty much wrapped up anyway, so we’re likely to have a one-shot Judge Dredd, the conclusion to the A.B.C. Warriors and After the Vengeance, another one-shot Grey Area and possibly a Future Shock.

In Tharg’s Nerve Centre, we have a teaser of the third Brass Sun series, ‘Floating Worlds’, which is expected to begin later this year. On 2000AD’s social media, the PR droid’s have announced that Brass Sun will be the first ‘mini-series’ released in a American-comic format, much like Dredd: Underbelly was. Personally, I think this is a fantastic choice as Brass Sun manages to capture a Studio Ghibli mood with its ‘clock-punk’ atmosphere and wonderful art by I.N.J Culbard, it will appeal to audiences who might not want to read a sci-fi anthology comic. I’ll certainly be picking up a copy (or two!)


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1872 will be available in stores on Wednesday 12th March - 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!

Monday, 10 March 2014

Top Ten 'Point and Click' Adventure Games


The ‘point-and-click adventure’ genre has long been a favourite of mine, filling me with nostalgia of the mid-90's and embarking on rich, narrative adventures armed only with a mouse and an impossibly large inventory space. Companies like LucasArts and Revolution Software were leaders in the genre, which began to suffer with the advent of home consoles and more three-dimensional adventure games, but the genre is making something of a resurgence recently thanks to digital stores, such as Xbox Live, PlayStation Network and Steam, offering companies a way to release the games relatively inexpensively. Another key development is the ease of which the gameplay mechanics can be adapted to touchscreen devices, leading to a vast majority of re-releases of old PC classics and a new generation of adventure games, from companies like Telltale games, that utilise 3D character models to provide a more in-depth approach to the classic 2D backgrounds.



10) The Curse of Monkey Island

Somewhat surprisingly, considering my love for the genre, I haven’t actually played the first two Monkey Island games, something that I really should rectify soon, especially since they are available as downloads on the Xbox 360 Live Arcade in the remastered format! However, despite not playing the original two games in the series, I did play the third game, The Curse of Monkey Island, after playing a demo on a CD that came with a magazine, back in the old days when that was the only way to experience new games!

The Curse of Monkey Island represents a massive leap in graphics over the original two LucasArts games, adopting a level of quality akin to feature-length animation films. The game also introduces voices to the likes of Guybrush Threepwood and LeChuck, allowing the characters and their sense of humour to develop further. While subsequent games would begin to utilise 3D models and more controller-based exploration and puzzles, this game represents the pinnacle of the series’ traditional ‘point and click’ roots, capturing the spirit of Monkey Island with a big-budget feel.



9) Full Throttle

One of LucasArts hidden gems, Full Throttle is an unusual beast – a blend of science fiction and motorbikes, it feels like an animated version of Mad Max with a heavy Hell’s Angel vibe. Unlike other point-and-click adventures of the time, the game featured a Road Rash-esque combative element where players were required to drive and defeat enemy bikers using weapons acquired throughout the game.

I haven’t actually completed this game after getting stuck on the final sequence, which featured one of the rare occasions where the protagonist could be killed, and giving up on it altogether (this was before a simple Google search for the answer!) but I remember it quite vividly and enjoyed the storyline and the unique juxtaposition of bikers and a dystopian future it depicted.



8) Grim Fandango

This was another one of Tim Schafer’s adventure games, once again the core concept featured an unusual melding of genres, in this instance, it was a combination of Film Noir mixed with the Aztec beliefs of the afterlife, which brought forth a truly unique voice. The game was notable for being LucasArt’s first footsteps into utilising 3D technology in its adventure games, which has influenced the way adventure games are made nowadays, especially with Telltale Game’s content.

Initially I was reluctant to embrace the new 3D technology being something of a 2D purist, but I managed to play this game sometime after its initial release and despite the advances in technology, it plays just like Schafer’s earlier games, combining wit, humour and adventure into a wonderful bundle. Quite rightly, it's considered a classic of the genre.



7) The 7th Guest

While I do enjoy the light-hearted and humourous aspects of the LucasArts adventure games, I have always been partial to the horror genre and how effectively it can be used in point-and-click games, especially in the instance of The 7th Guest, and its sequel The 11th Hour. These games terrified me as a young teen, combining full motion video (FMV) featuring live actors into the gameplay to create a realistic setting for the horror to take place in. While it might seem dated by today's standards, the mix of FMV and haunting music really worked well in tandem to create a scary atmosphere.

Set in a mansion filled with malevolent spirits, the player had to traverse the haunted rooms, catching glimpses of the terrible scenes that led to the guest’s demises and solve a series of puzzles, ranging from the tricky to the near-impossible! Even though the game didn't fit into the traditional mold of a point-and-click adventure, it managed to combine exploration and a thrilling narrative to provide a innovative and cinematic experience that has stayed with me, even decades later. With the resurgence of PC classics on touch-screen technology, The 7th Guest has reappeared on iTunes, seeing a second wave of popularity and scaring players all over again.



6) Heavy Rain

Offering players a unique experience every play-through with a myriad of subtle choices that affect the story in a variety of ways, Heavy Rain was a defining title in the current generation of adventure games, providing players with a truly cinematic experience, backed up with orchestral music and near-photo realistic character models, which were the result of extensive motion capture. The result is a "grown-up" game which provides a truly realistic experience, as the lines begin to blur between simple gaming and artistic expression.

Broken into over fifty small chapters, the story relied less on actual puzzles and inventory manipulation and more on exploration and quick-time events (QTE), making the game relatively straight-forward to complete and more of an interactive movie than other games in the genre. I loved the Film Noir aspect to the storyline and the way it introduced the typically PC-orientated point-and-click genre to the mainstream console player. It is a great example of how advances in graphics and technology have evolved the genre beyond its origins, with LA Noire as another attempt at this, mixing sandbox elements with the traditional investigation and puzzle mechanics to create a unique hybrid of the gaming styles.



5) Day of the Tentacle

Another Tim Schafer classic (his name crops up a lot in the point-and-click genre), Day of the Tentacle was the sequel to one of LucasArt’s first adventure games, Maniac Mansion, which uncharacteristically for the company, featured a high difficulty curve and allowed characters to die with a Game Over screen. Day of the Tentacle moved away from this approach, with a more player-friendly approach, allowing gamers to experiment with different strategies and solutions without worrying about dying or ‘breaking the game’.

One of the best parts of this game, besides its zany characters and use of time travel, is the fantastic character-swap function, which not only allowed players to explore three different time zones at their own leisure, but was actually a key element of the puzzle-solving with the player having to utilise multiple characters to solve a problem, such as changing events in the past to affect the future. While Grim Fandango might have revolutionised the genre with its use of 3D models and environments, Day of the Tentacle might be the most innovative game Schafer ever produced, thanks to its beautifully complex puzzles that involved players to think in different ways.



4) Toonstruck

One of my favourite films is Who Framed Roger Rabbit and this game, which blends FMV and animation, manages to capture the anarchic feel of the classic movie, whilst creating its own voice. The game tells the story of artist, Drew Blanc (played by Christopher Lloyd) who is sucked into the animated world of his imagination and has to enlist the help of one of his creations to help him return to our world. Throughout his journey, he encounters an array of wacky cartoon characters and an increasingly bizarre series of puzzles to solve.

One of the things I love most about this game is its very dark sense of humour and its near-the-knuckle jokes. The cover art captures the twisted nature of the game, which features both a sickly, cute animated world and a darker, twisted environment at war with each other, with the two interchanging at times to showcase warped versions of the friendlier characters, such as Marge, who goes from a kindly cow to a S&M addict, obsessed with the milking machine.

The production values are amazing for a game of its time, combining the beautiful animated backgrounds with the digitised image of Christopher Lloyd to provide a game just as unique in its genre, as Who Framed Roger Rabbit was to the world of cinema.



3) The Walking Dead: Season One

Formed from former LucasArts employees, Telltale Games is one of the biggest studios currently producing adventure games, adopting an episodic approach to its releases and releasing on a multitude of platforms, such as smartphone, console and PC. By using popular licensed properties, the company’s games have made an impact and helped re-establish the point-and-click genre for a new generation.

Based on the hugely popular horror comic of the same name, The Walking Dead is a narrative-heavy adventure series, mixing elements of survival horror with a point-and-click mechanics. Players can die in this game through making the wrong decisions and taking too long to react. The game gives players the sensation that decisions made in earlier chapters will have dramatic effects on the ending, but apart from some minor detours in the narrative, the overall story remains the same.

One thing I didn't expect when playing The Walking Dead was to become as involved in the character’s fates as I did. While it was slightly frustrating that events were scripted and my decisions had a limited impact on the overall storyline, it was fun to pick favourites amongst the survivors and get different attitudes based on how I’d treated them. By including the child character of Clementine to the game and making the player directly responsible for her safety, the game manages to create a strong paternal urge within players, making the events even more personal than watching a film, or reading the comic book. As with Heavy Rain, the game verges onto performance art and an interactive movie, further blurring the lines between entertainment forms.



2) Black Dahlia

It was a tough decision between the first and second spot on this list as both games are near and dear to my heart. Black Dahlia is an FMV orientated detective adventure, featuring Dennis Hopper in a small but pivotal role, and refers to the infamous murder cases of Elizabeth Short and the Cleveland Torso Murderer to weave a mystical and occult thriller with a smidgen of Film Noir in the mix.

Stepping into the shoes of Agent Jim Pearson (played by Darren Eliker) investigating a mess of cases left behind by his predecessor, who left under mysterious circumstances. The dense eight-CD adventure spans decades and manages to weave a fictional story around true life events. The murder case of the Black Dahlia is so notorious that it has been written about and made into a movie and still intrigues unsolved crime fanatics to this day, even appearing as a reference in the game, LA Noire.

While the game does feature some really hard puzzles, which are near-impossible at times, it is a brilliant example of the late-90's FMV craze and the desire to use point-and-click adventures to blur the line between games and movies. As with all the best video games, the storyline has stuck in my memory long after I last played it and it brings a smile to my face to reminiscence about my first experience playing through it. While it may be something of an obscure title, I strongly urge fans of the genre to hunt it down and give it a whirl.



1) Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars

When someone says ‘point-and-click’, my mind immediately flashes to this title – it might not be my first experience of the genre, but it is definitely the one that had the most impact and caused me to fall in love with point-and-click adventure games.

The opening animation perfect captures the romantic mood of Paris in autumn and sets the plot into action by thrusting our hero, George Stobbart, into the thick of things as he tries to uncover the identity of the identity of the murderous clown who nearly killed him. The game develops into a taut thriller, which manages to maintain a sense of humour throughout, never descending into parody but at the same time, avoiding becoming overly maudlin. Stobbart, an American tourist, reminds me of Cary Grant in North by Northwest, with his ability to maintain a wry sense of humour amidst the most dangerous of circumstances.

The game was immensely popular upon its release, spawning four sequels – the most recent of which came out this year, thanks to a Kickstarter campaign – and while the quality doesn't always match that of the first game, it manages to be one of the benchmarks in the genre. Incidentally, fans of the game should check out the Harrison Ford movie, Frantic, which is very similar in tone with an American vacationing in Paris and accidentally becoming embroiled in a conspiracy plot. While it doesn't quite have the same humour as Broken Sword, it is the closest thing to an actual movie that fans will ever get.



So, there they are – my top ten ‘point-and-click’ adventure games. Obviously, there were plenty of titles that didn't make the cut and perhaps there are even some that I'm even aware of. There’s the Gabriel Knight series, LA Noire, Sam and Max Hit the Road, the CSI games, Phoenix Wright and Professor Layton, to name just a few. Are there any titles out there that you feel should be represented that I've missed off the list? Do you have your own thoughts on what should be in the Top Ten? Feel free to unleash your opinions in the comments box below, or on Facebook and Twitter!

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

2000AD Prog 1871

Prog 1871 Cover by Jon Davis-Hunt

At initial glance, this looks like it will be a future sport themed Tharg's 3rillers, with a hint of Harlem Heroes and Mean Arena about the design of the character. I like the Canary Wolves pun and wonder if it’s a nod to Jon Davis-Hunt’s work on Age of the Wolf – I'm intrigued to find out more about the strip inside and I do like the bright colours, which helps make the cover stand out on the newsagent’s shelves.


JUDGE DREDD - SQUIRM! (Part 2)
Script - Michael Carroll
Art - Nick Dyer
Colours - Chris Blythe
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

This adventure continues to strike the right balance between spoofing the X-Factor and gory action as demonstrated by the sequence where the Judge's unsuccessfully attempt to restrain the tapeworm in quarantine. Although, with an extended appearance from the Simon Cowell inspired character in this episode, it did get me thinking as to whether the high-trousered music mogul had appeared in any previous episodes, as it feels like the X-Factor and Cowell, himself, are ripe for parody within Mega City One, and it surprises me that it has taken this long to get to one.


After a rather xenomorphic feel to the creature in the initial chapter, the revelation of a second and much larger tapeworm evokes memories of the Kevin Bacon horror classic, Tremors, with the over-sized tapeworm resembling one of the “Graboids” from the movie. I'm not sure whether these references to “movie monsters” have been intentional, but I have been enjoying them and as with the X-Factor references, it adds a tongue-in-cheek feel to the proceedings and acts as a nice contrast to the more serious and dramatic, Titan.



TERROR TALES - THE ICARUS INCIDENT
Script - Kek-W
Art - PJ Holden
Letters - Simon Bowland

I really loved the art style employed by PJ Holden for this Terror Tale, with the eerie luminous green glow radiating from the greyscale artwork. It was an effective way to demonstrate the escaping time energy within the house. The concept of time dilation that occurred within the house’s corridors reminded me of the "White Hole" episode of Red Dwarf, although they took a much more humourous approach to the material than seen here!

As a budding Future Shock writer myself, one of the common ideas that float in my head is the idea of someone killing a version of themselves of the future without realising, and it was nicely implemented here, but it felt too much of a side-note and didn't have as much impact as the twist should have. Overall, it felt like a case of style over substance with the artwork really elevating the story.



THE A.B.C WARRIORS - RETURN TO MARS (Part 10)
Script - Pat Mills
Art - Clint Langley
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

After a slow, but tense episode last week, we have a brutal battle between Tubal Caine and the junk-yard scraps that surround his home. The gritty black and white artwork really suits the violent nature of this battle and is a much better choice for this whole sequence than Clint Langley's more polished, coloured CGI artwork. Despite this being a flashback, I am genuinely excited to see what transpires between Mek-Quake and Tubal Caine as the two go against each other, and I love the irony that it was Tubal Caine who talked Hammerstein out of destroying Mek-Quake earlier in the story, only to suffer the consequences of his actions now.


As for the next two episodes, I'm guessing that we might see the death of Tubal's adopted son, Tom, at the hands of either Quartz or Mek-Quake, prompting Tubal Caine's desire to rejoin the A.B.C. Warriors in order to get his vengeance on Howard Quartz, who seems to be set up at the next 'big bad' for the series, possibly the ultimate villain, since he is their creator and has been part of the fabric of the series since its beginnings as Ro-Busters.



GREY AREA - RATES OF EXCHANGE (Part 3)
Script - Dan Abnett
Art - Patrick Goddard
Colours - Abigail Ryder
Letters - Ellie de Ville

With the stakes sufficiently raised from two alien infiltrators to five hundred, the action in this episode felt like the jump from the suspense of Ridley Scott’s Alien and the manic action of James Cameron’s Aliens, as the ETC team fought against hordes of blood-thirsty alien critters.


I really liked the reveal of the team after the quarantine, and the reaction shot of Lyra and the other spectators was brilliant and helped hammer home the brutal struggle that Bulliet and his team had undergone. Although credibility might have been slightly stretched by having the team wipe out the five hundred and one creatures and maintain an accurate kill count, all within ten minutes. Still, this was a really fun interlude and a nice remedy to the more diplomatic three-part adventure that preceded it.



THARG'S 3RILLERS: AFTER THE VENGEANCE (Part 1)
Script - David Baillie
Art - Jon Davis-Hunt
Colour - Gary Caldwell
Letters - Ellie de Ville

The Ghostship Mathematica was one of the most impressive series to come out of the Tharg’s 3rillers format last year, managing to tell a thrilling space opera across three parts that evoked memories of classics as diverse as Star Wars and The Pirates of the Caribbean. I managed to interview the writer, David Baillie, last September about his writing technique and he mentioned that he was working on this series.

I must admit that I was slightly misled by the cover, and assumed that the football shirts that the army wore meant that this would be some kind of future-sport orientated storyline, but it appears the shirts are part of a uniform that symbolises the working-class roots of the common man post-revolt.

As a Londoner, the concept of a bombed-out Canary Wharf and desolate streets affects me more than seeing a fictional city devastated and it was great to see Jon Davis-Hunt interpret some recognisable landmarks, such as Odeon West End cinema in Leicester Square, placing them through the prism of a post-revolutionary landscape. I like the concept of this new series, but as with The Ghostship Mathematica, it feels like there is much more scope and room for exploration here and we’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg. Perhaps it is time for Tharg to commission a longer series for the Baillie droid?



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

Tharg continues to use his Nerve Centre to promote the upcoming jumping-on point of Prog 1874, which contains all new stories, and the debut of two completely new strips, making it an ideal entry point for new readers. Personally, I’m looking forward to the return of Sláine with a new artist and a new direction for the barbarian with the first book from The Brutannia Chronicles. Unfortunately, as with every new jumping-on point, the excitement and desire to get the new stories means that these one-off Future Shocks and Tharg 3rillers tales tend to get slightly overlooked.


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1871 will be available in stores on Wednesday 5th March - 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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