Saturday, 27 September 2014

Review - Agents of SHIELD: 2x01 - "Shadows"


Agents of SHIELD
Episode 2x01 - "Shadows"

Synopsis

As Coulson adapts to his new role of SHIELD director with an expanding team of new agents, a mysterious obelisk from the past becomes the focal point of Hydra's plans. With deadly threats in the form of both General Talbot and The Absorbing Man, Coulson's team must prevent the artifact from falling into the wrong hands.

Review

And we're back! The second season kicks off with a nostalgic World War Two flashback that both provides a bit of context behind the obelisk 'macguffin' that takes the focus of the episode and acts as a teaser for the upcoming Agent Carter miniseries scheduled to air during the mid-season gap. I do hope we'll see further examples of interconnectivity between the two series as the season progresses, as it would be fun to see the 'ghosts of the past' affecting our heroes in the future. I really liked the mood and design of the 1945 sequence, with the Hydra uniforms evoking memories of the first Captain America movie. I hope that the Agent Carter series continues to capture that authentic post-war atmosphere when it airs in January as it would help distinguish the show from its more modern “sister” programme.

Once we return to the present-day, it seems that Coulson's team has undergone some changes during the three months gap since the events of last season, most notably the recruitment of some new undercover agents in the form of Isabelle Hartley, Lance Hunter, Mack and Idaho. It was slightly disorientating at first to see all the new blood, but the focus soon returns to the core cast, especially in light of the dramatic ending which saw two of the four new recruits killed off. Out of the new recruits, Lance Hunter seems the most interesting, showcasing a very mercenary attitude towards the mission and with a cheeky British accent to boot. I was surprised to see Hartley killed off, mainly because she was played by Lucy Lawless, but perhaps her interaction with the obelisk artifact might mean her story isn't quite over.

Out of our core cast, May and Skye seemed to be the most unchanged, continuing to operate in the field and assisting Coulson as his closest confidantes. The most interesting aspects were the changes that have occurred to both Ward and Fitz in the interim. The cocky Hydra double-agent is now imprisoned beneath the team's headquarters, The Playground, and has attempted suicide numerous times but appears to be in a calmer, more willing to help, state. He clearly still has feelings for Skye and is determined to win her back through his assistance to capture the Hydra remnants. One thing that didn't quite ring true was the level of knowledge he seems to possess about the inner-workings of Hydra and Skye's Father, given that in the concluding episodes of Season One, it appeared he only knew the basics from Garrett and was largely in the dark. I do hope they aren't going to try and make him into some 'Hannibal Lecter' style puppet master from his cell, but at the same time, I am glad that he remains a core part of the cast and that his presence in the Playground means he will feature often.

I loved the way that the show dealt with the repercussions of Fitz's injuries sustained at the end of the last season. Rather than throwing him in a wheelchair or in a coma, he has received injuries that are more debilitating to him as a character, his once-great intelligence has become fragmented, with him losing words and relying on “Simmons” to string his sentences together. I totally didn't see the twist between “Simmons” and Fitz coming, and instead expected to find out that Simmons was in a relationship with Agent Triplett, which they would have to hide from Fitz to stop his psyche from deteriorating further. Instead, it appears she has quit the team inbetween Seasons and he has been imagining her presence the whole time. It was a great 'Sixth Sense' style reveal and I didn't see it coming at all, proving that the show is still able to surprise its audiences.


Another brilliant element of the show was the inclusion of Carl “Crusher” Creel aka The Absorbing Man, who alongside Deathlok's appearance in the first season, is one of the bigger comic book characters to appear in the series so far. I loved the little nods to his appearance in the comics, such as the ball and chain weaponry, and the fact that he appears to be a recurring threat to the team will help the show fill the void left by Deathlok's absence. The special effects used to show Creel's absorption of various materials was great, especially the sequence where he absorbed concrete to act as a 'road-block' to the escaping agents. I think Creel's power-set really lends itself visually to the show and I loved the examples of him hiding against the glass and the walls, appearing out of nowhere to menace our heroes.

Overall, this was a fantastic season premiere which managed to cram in a lot of story into its  forty-five minutes. Not only were key sub-plots from Season One, such as Skye's father and the mysterious symbols, referenced but the show introduced a bevy of new characters on both sides to replace the large number of casualties from last season. While I initially worried that the influx of new cast members would overshadow the existing favourites, the end of the episode proved my fears to be unwarranted. Even though this episode only really delved into Fitz and Ward, I am sure we will see our other favourites receive spotlights in the future, with their own mysteries and backgrounds explored. When compared to both the original pilot episode last year, and the Season One finale, I would argue that this season premiere surpasses both in terms of its quality, setting up another awesome season of stories to come.


Score - 9.6 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and Dum Dum Dugan are part of a precursor to SHIELD, the Strategic Scientific Reserve (SSR) which operates in the post-WW2 era cleaning up the remnants of Hydra. (Marvel One Shot: Agent Carter)
  • Agent Lance Hunter also appears as a character in the Marvel Comics Universe, working for S.T.R.I.K.E, which is the UK counterpart to S.H.I.E.L.D. (First app: Captain Britain Weekly # 19)
  • Crusher Creel (aka The Absorbing Man) is a super-villain in the Marvel Comics Universe, who primarily antagonises Thor, gaining power from a magical potion supplied by Loki, and is able to absorb the properties of whichever surface he touches. (First app: Journey into Mystery # 114)
  • Two references are made towards Creel's appearance in the comics – the ball and chain he picks up in the park refers to his weapon of choice in the comics – a prison ball and chain, whilst his final appearance in the episode where he is shown topless, but wearing blue pants references his common “uniform” from the comics.
  • Reinhardt's alter-ego, Daniel Whitehall, is also the name of the legendary Hydra Agent known as "The Kraken" from the Marvel Comics Universe. (First app: Secret Warriors # 2)

Mysteries
  • Agent Triplett suspects that there is a larger mystery behind the many Koenig brothers – are they life model decoys?
  • Coulson has Skye working to decrypt the mysterious symbols that both he and John Garrett were drawing last season – what does it mean?
  • Ward seems to know things about Skye's Father
  • What effect does touching the obelisk have on Agent Hartley?
  • How has the HYDRA agent Reinhardt avoiding ageing since 1945?

Next Episode - "Heavy is the Head"
Hunted and running out of solutions, Coulson puts his team right in the line of fire in the hopes of saving them all. But with General Glenn Talbot, HYDRA and Crusher Creel all on the attack, can they possibly survive? Meanwhile, a mysterious Doctor harbours some dangerous secrets that could destroy one of the team.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

2000AD Prog 1900

Prog 1900 Cover by Greg Staples

First off, I love the new design for the 2000AD logo and the scaled down, barebones approach to the front cover template, which allows for more of the artwork to be showcased as well as lending a futuristic feel to the whole design with the prominent barcode. Tharg should definitely treat the PYE-01 design droid (aka Simon Parr) to an extra serving of oil for his work both here and in the Nerve Centre contents page.

This week's cover image itself is a truly beautiful Judge Dredd cover from artist Greg Staples, whose painted work is simply amazing here. The jaw-dropping level of detail to Dredd's face and skin is remarkable, with subtle blemishes and changes in skin tone helping create a sense of photo realism about the piece. I found myself getting lost just staring at the little bits of stubble on Dredd's chin - it's like going from standard definition to "full HD". It's a fantastic choice of cover for this "jumping on" Prog and also works brilliantly to whet the appetite for Staples' long-awaited “Dark Justice” storyline, rumoured to begin in this year's annual.


JUDGE DREDD - BLOCK JUDGE (Part 1)
Script - John Wagner
Art - Carlos Ezquerra
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Firstly, it's nice to see creators John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra reunited on Dredd, as according to 2000ad.org, the last time was Prog 1687 – 1693 on 'Tour of Duty: Mega City Justice' back in 2010. When I first heard about this storyline, my mind immediately went back to 'The Pit' storyline, which ran in the Prog 970 – 999 and saw Judge Dredd take over a corrupt Sector House and clean it up. I really enjoyed the story-arc which felt more like a soap opera, riddled with secret affairs and clandestine behaviour as Dredd had a supporting cast develop around him. With 'Block Judge' however, it looks like we're getting the similar “fish out of water” set-up of Dredd being assigned a tricky project, but on a much smaller scale.


Confining the story to a single block also evoke memories of the Dredd movie, which took place predominately in the Peach-Trees block, so as a jumping-on point, there is a greater level of synergy on display here between the movie version of the character and the comic strip, which will hopefully leading to a bigger retention rate of new readers. As for the story itself, this opening chapter consists mainly of set-up, introducing the new status quo as Dredd takes over the role of Block Judge with an aim to crack down on crime in Gramercy Heights.

I found myself experiencing a feeling of slight confusion, possibly intentional, during the multi-paneled pages as our three Judges undertook a number of different crimes occurring simultaneously. It was tricky trying to determine what was happening when, but I think this was on purpose to create a sense of the overwhelming odds facing the Judges. It's always great to see Carlos Ezquerra on art duties for Judge Dredd as it feels like The Beatles getting back together for one more album. I'm really looking forward to seeing this story develop over the coming weeks.



STICKLEBACK - THE THRU'PENNY OPERA (Part 1)
Script - Ian Edginton
Art - D'Israeli
Letters - Ellie de Ville

Stickleback returns and while I was unsure about the series in its last outing, I recently watched the classic Doctor Who serial 'The Talons of Weng Chiang' which also featured a Gothic Victorian horror atmosphere, and I feel refreshingly enthused about the series. While I might be a bit unsure about the background of the series, the handy Nerve Centre synopsis sums up the salient points – that Stickleback was once a master criminal in Victorian London with a mix of oddballs and supernatural deities in tow, and he briefly died and has returned from beyond the grave to a London that has moved on without him.


There's a lot going on in this installment, which sets up an over-arching subplot with the ruthless Ophidian hunting down minor deities, Mother London and Father Thames, at the behest of some mysterious females before being briefed with a new target: Stickleback himself. Then there's also the curious cliffhanger featuring a crazed serial killer using bodies of his victims to create some kind of occult symbol. Thankfully, the interlude in the middle gives newer readers a glimpse at the titular character and his oddball supporting cast. I really liked the example of Stickleback's dry sense of humour, but I hope future installments delve into a bit more character development, rather than throwing new plot twists into the mix.

The series also sees fantastic artwork from D'Israeli, which perfectly crafts the shadowy underworld of this alternate London. Unlike some series that run in the Prog, D'Israeli has made himself so synonymous with Stickleback that it is quite impossible to imagine any other artist on this strip. The distinctive use of greyscale colours will no doubt stand out to new readers and it's this desire to experiment that really sets 2000AD apart from its competition in the United States. In one issue, we have three totally different art styles, not to mention a diverse variety of stories.



KINGDOM - AUX DRIFT (Part 1)
Script - Dan Abnett
Art - Richard Elson
Colours - Abigail Ryder
Letters - Simon Bowland

Kingdom is a recurring series that has seen an absence from the Prog since 2011, mainly due to artist Richard Elson's availability. There were fears that the strip might be in limbo for a while, so it is a relief to fans to see it back! Perhaps it is due to this absence that the strip feels so new reader-friendly, introducing the character of Gene the Hackman through the eyes of Meelea and Snoop, who are experiencing him for the first time, along with some of the newer readers brought to this jumping-on Prog. Through Gene's narration and his conversation with Meelea, it is clear what the backstory to this particular post-apocalyptic series is, and the concept of genetically engineered dogs fighting to protect humans against genetically enhanced bugs is simply fantastic. This is easily one of Dan Abnett's best ideas and I love it whenever this strip returns to the Prog, even if I haven't caught up with it properly – which is something I intend to rectify very soon!


I absolutely love Richard Elson's artwork on this. Each panel looks like an animated cel from a cartoon – as with D'Israeli on Stickleback, it would be impossible to imagine another artist on this series and I'm glad that 2000AD were willing to wait until Elson's schedule cleared up before continuing rather than ploughing ahead with a replacement artist. The final page showcasing the rest of Gene's pack launching into action is just perfect and I am eagerly looking forward to the beautiful action sequences that will surely follow in future episodes. It just feels like both writer and artist are having fun on this series, which translates onto the page and the reader.



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

The biggest question I have to ask about this Prog was “Did it work as a Jumping-on point for new and lapsed readers?”, to which my answer would be a resounding “Yes”! While all three series' were recurring titles, these introductory chapters helped define the characters and their status quos very effectively, aided by the longer than usual synopses in the Nerve Centre page. While there will always be questions in readers' minds about the backstories of these series, this Prog delivered a smooth introduction to the series' featured, which should then spark interest to seek out graphics novels (now more accessible than ever!) or to do a spot of online research around the questions they have. 

2000AD's fantastic PR staff have also gone the extra mile and produced a “2000AD 101” video to further induct new recruits into the way of the anthology, explaining key points that many of us long-term readers take for granted. You cannot underestimate the appeal of these jumping-on Progs – my first experience was a jumping-on Prog (Prog 950) and while I lapsed in and out of the series, I did always prefer to rejoin on a fresh slate, rather than midway through existing stories. Next week introduces two more stories (Ichabod Azrael and Greysuit) to the line-up, expanding things and hopefully developing more new thrill-hungry readers into addicts!

Thrill of the Week: Kingdom


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1900 will be available in stores on Wednesday 24th September - 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 - Brass Sun # 5 (of 6)

Brass Sun # 5 (of 6)
Written by: Ian Edginton
Art by: I.N.J. Culbard

This penultimate episode of the Brass Sun miniseries features the first half of the recently released third book, 'Floating Worlds', which was published only three months ago in weekly instalments within 2000AD. Unlike the previous dense nature of the first two books, there is a slower pace to the events here allowing I.N.J. Culbard’s artwork to shine. Taking place several months after the last chapter, our group of heroes find themselves enlisted against their will on a quest into the dangerous underworld known as The Deep, in order to find the magical gaseous clay which is said to grant healing benefits to its recipients.

I really enjoyed the aero-nautical theme to this particular chapter, as well as watching the foursome working together as a team, presumably after several “off-screen” adventures in between issues. I.N.J Culbard manages to demonstrate the passage of time through subtle changes in the character's looks, mostly through their hair-styles with Septimus finally looking somewhat stylish after his initial monk-style haircut. Ian Edginton also manages to build upon their characterisations, giving each member a very distinct voice and position within the team – I really enjoyed the banter between the four and found the dynamic to be really interesting, possibly moreso than the journey itself.

Aside from his character design, I.N.J. Culbard also gets to stretch his muscles on conjuring up fantastic locations for our heroes to traverse, first starting with the beautiful oriental palace fortress of the Mercantile Guild, ruled by Chairman Pei. I loved the architectural design utilised here, once again creating a distinct setting for another corner of the Orrery. It isn't long before our heroes enter The Deep, which is where Culbard seems to loosen his leash somewhat, drawing a more psychedelic environment filled with all manner of beasts.


It is the Jackanape attack which forms the bulk of the conflict in this issue, as the razor teethed beasts swarm the Nominal Charge in an attempt to devour any living creature unlucky enough to be in the way. I loved the overwhelmingly frenetic pace to this sequence as the airship is bombarded with the creatures, who along with their mouth full of sharp incisors, also possess a deadly poisonous tongue which sends Wren into her brief coma.

It is this dream-like interlude which seems to raise the most questions as Wren is introduced to the Blind Watchmaker, the mysterious deity who created the Orrery and possessed the body of Cantor last issue. This sequence feels a bit like an exposition-dump with lots of key bits of information being relayed to both Wren and us, the reader. The gist is that there is an antagonistic force known as the Modernity, which has malfunctioned and believes itself to be a God and is working to stop the Brass Sun from being reactivated, sending out its own agent to come into contact with Wren.

When reading this in the weekly format, it felt a bit slow with very little action sequences, but reading it in this collected format, it flows a lot better and seems to be paced quite well, evoking a sense of awe as the Nominal Charge explores the dense underworld of The Deep before getting into conflict with the Jackanapes. Perhaps it is due to the fact that this is my second read-through but the dream sequence introducing the Blind Watchmaker and the earlier interlude showcasing the Agent of Modernity feel well placed, setting up the seeds for the dramatic conclusion to come in the final issue. It might lack the Machiavellian politics of the previous issues, but the change of pace is welcome in this collected format, allowing I.N.J. Culbard the chance to take the reins storytelling-wise and take the reader on a journey through the Deep, whilst Ian Edginton delivers a burst of exposition in the concluding section of the story to make up for the slower pace in the first half.


Score - 8.9 out of 10

Brass Sun # 5 is now available in all good comic shops, including Forbidden Planet, as well as on the 2000AD webshop. Be sure to put in a standing order for the remaining issues in the series when you pick up your copy!

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

2000AD Prog 1899

Prog 1899 Cover by Paul Marshall & Chris Blythe

While I really like the sense of scale that Paul Marshall & Chris Blythe bring to this image with the Lawlords towering over Dredd, it doesn't really feel like a front cover and instead feels like a panel from the interior artwork enlarged. I think this might be because Dredd, who typically features front and centre in the cover images is somewhat maligned in favour for showcasing the might of the Lawlords. While the art is an accurate representation of what occurs within the Prog, perhaps a more “conceptual” approach to the cover would have had a better impact, although this does bring into the focus the argument over cover artwork and whether it should reflect the story inside or capture the essence of the adventure, even acting as misdirection in some instances, such as with Prog 1107 and the infamous “DeMarco kiss”.


JUDGE DREDD - CASCADE (Part 6)
Script - Michael Carroll
Art - Paul Marshall
Colour - Gary Caldwell
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Despite fears to the contrary, this episode delivered a satisfying conclusion to the 'Cascade' storyline, although the epic scale of the events portrayed perhaps deserved a few more Progs dedicated to it. Maybe by introducing Indira Knight earlier in a separate two-parter, or using a bigger build-up to set up Gideon Dallas as a dangerous malcontent, the story might have felt stronger and more epic in feel. Aside from these minor nitpicks, this was a solid storyline that really shows off Michael Carroll's capabilities as a writer – between this and the recent Traumatown, it feels like he is itching to deliver a world-changing mega-epic, and I hope that he gets the opportunity to spend some lengthy time in Dredd's world soon.


The dangling plot thread of the Lawlords, who will now even more willing to get revenge on the Justice Department and Dredd, holds a great deal of promise for future stories, and given how well Carroll has cultivated his previous plot threads over the last year or so, I fully expect to see a third (and possibly final?) confrontation between the two groups in the near future. Paul Marshall's artwork has been fantastic over the last five weeks and this week is no exception, with some brilliantly choreographed moments that help emphasise the fast pace of the action. I particularly liked the use of repetition within the panel structure to show Dolman delivering his swift brand of justice upon Indira Knight and Gideon Dallas. It was really effective and helped develop Dolman's character, after initially appearing cowardly in earlier episodes.



FUTURE SHOCKS - PERSONALITY CRISIS
Script - Eddie Robson
Art - Nick Dyer
Letters - Ellie de Ville

With the gap in the line-up left by Jaegir’s conclusion last week, Tharg has opted to feature a one-off Future Shock featuring recent stalwarts of the format, Eddie Robson and Nick Dyer, as they collaborate on a tale that explores the importance of identity in the modern world. As with all good Future Shocks, the story concentrates on a very human question or situation and wraps it up in science fiction tropes to make it stand out. Here, Eddie Robson, explores the concept of individuality and ownership of one’s image. There are also existential questions here about how we take our own personality for granted, and whether the things that make us who we are could be manipulated or altered by external forces. It’s an interesting subject for exploration and I really enjoyed the way it was covered in such a short space of time, even managing to fit in a nifty little twist at the end, too.



BRASS SUN - FLOATING WORLDS (Part 12)
Script - Ian Edginton
Art - INJ Culbard
Letters - Ellie de Ville

As expected, this episode acted as an epilogue of sorts, setting up the status quo for the next book and giving the characters new direction and purpose. I was surprised to see Ariel and Ramkin exit at the end of this chapter, although I have no doubt that they will return in the future, possibly in the form of a last minute rescue. The tone to this whole sequence felt like the end of “Act 1” or the conclusion of the first part of a trilogy, evoking memories of the ending of Star Wars. I would love it if the Brass Sun series did end up spanning nine books in total, but I suspect we may be at the halfway point narratively, with Wren’s quest taking shape with an antagonist and guiding spirit joining the story. Given how the first three books have been collected in a US monthly format, I expect 2000AD will release a second US mini-series collecting the next three books once they are out, which considering the speed at which the Edginton and Culbard droids have been working on this series, will be soon!


While it’s almost pointless to predict where this series is heading, the title ‘Motor Head’ and our mechanical antagonist suggests more focus on engineering and the industrial nature of the Orrery, possibly tying back to Septimus’ origins as an engineer in the rails. I have adored this series since my first exposure to it last year, and through reading the previous chapters collected in the US monthly format and experiencing this latest book in weekly chunks, I have to say that it is quite simply a fantastic series and an absolute delight to read. I cannot wait for it to return!



BLACK SHUCK (Part 9)
Script - Leah Moore & John Reppion
Art - Steve Yeowell
Colours - Chris Blythe
Letters - Simon Bowland

After weeks of slow-paced build up culminating in the reveal of the Black Shuck’s “curse”, we've been treated to some action sequences as our titular hero tackles the deadly Dragur, Ovredal. This episode delivered a fantastic moment as Shuck, aided by some of his men, drag the injured Jotnar out into the sunlight, turning him into stone and allowing him to be destroyed. I really liked the way that Steve Yeowell managed to visually recreate the sense of movement in his panels as Ovredal is dragged out of the cave, with his feet turning to stone upon contact with the light.


Looking back at the story as a whole, it has been an interesting take on the fantasy genre, which is usually overlooked in 2000AD in favour of science-fiction, barring Slaine and The Red Seas. However, the deliberate slow pace and heavy use of flashbacks didn't lend itself well to the weekly episodic format. Overall, I think this initial story worked well as a ‘pilot’ to a potential recurring series by establishing the character, his curse and his environment, but as a stand-alone story, the flaws with the pacing really didn't help place the tale in the annals of 2000AD history.



AQUILA - CARNIFEX (Part 10)
Script - Gordon Rennie
Art - Leigh Gallagher
Colours - Dylan Teague
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

These final episodes have felt somewhat anti-climactic as Nero's plot seemed to come undone far too easily, and if I'm honest, I'm not entirely clear how (and why) Aquila seemed to get the upper hand, since it seemed like Nero was near-omnipotent for most of the story. Perhaps a re-read is in order to work out how things changed – I'm guessing the defeat of the Mater Clementia put a severe crimp in Nero's plans, as she was his replacement Carnifex and Aquila himself was the final head, although I still don't quite understand the purpose of Simon of Capernaum's sacrifice in the previous episode.

Overall, this has been a cracking series with some visually fantastic set-pieces and thrilling action from Gordon Rennie and Leigh Gallagher, but it feels like a bit of a weak ending, even with the sudden inclusion of a massive fat monster for Aquila to despatch before wreaking his revenge on the mad emperor. While it seemed for a while that this might be the final story of the series, there are indications that there is more of the story to come, so perhaps the repercussions of Aquila's work here will be felt in later stories, but taken out of context as a complete story, it does feel a little uneven.



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

Overall, this Prog offered some great conclusions to the long-running storylines, in preparation for next week’s jumping on point.  I particularly enjoyed the low-key approach to Brass Sun’s denouement, although the action packed climaxes of both Black Shuck and Judge Dredd were also really impressive. The only hiccup was the slightly anti-climactic feel of Aquila, but perhaps this was because I was expecting Nero to go out with a big bang, rather than a whimper.

Looking ahead to next week, we’re in for a treat with a beautiful Greg Staples cover, a new template layout and logo, as well as three brand-new stories. We have Judge Dredd: Block Judge, which reunites the character’s creators John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra. There's also Kingdom: Aux Drift, which sees Dan Abnett and Richard Elson return to the character of Gene the Hackman as he fights giant insects in a post-apocalyptic earth, and finally we have Stickleback: The Thru’Penny Opera, which sees Ian Edginton and D’Israeli continue the story of master-criminal Stickleback and his gang of freaks and oddballs. It looks fabulous!

Thrill of the Week: Brass Sun


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1899 will be available in stores on Wednesday 17th September - 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!

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

2000AD Prog 1898

Prog 1898 Cover by Dave Kendall

This cover from Dave Kendall delivers a lovely slice of Gothic horror, wonderfully encapsulating the creepiness of the Mater Clementia and her demonic army of evil cherubims. The level of detail involved and the unique artistic style could easily make this a contender for cover of the year. It reminds me somewhat of the “zombie” variant covers that Arthur Suydam did for Marvel Comics a few years back. I'd love to see Dave Kendall adopt this style for some interior work, perhaps a Future Shock or Tharg's Terror Tales.


JUDGE DREDD - CASCADE (Part 5)
Script - Michael Carroll
Art - Paul Marshall
Colour - Gary Caldwell
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

This episode saw some major developments in the Lawlord's attempted takeover of Mega City One, with an explanation revealed about Gideon Dallas' influence over crowds – setting him up as the sole reason that the mass population of citizens at the parade have turned against the Justice department, suggesting an easy clean-up once he is dealt with. We also get to see Dredd's cunning side, with the revelation that he had long prepared for the Lawlord's return and took steps to ensure the city's safety with the creation of the Null ship, which threatens to create a black hole near the Lawlord's home planet. This also promises to be a way to resolve the large-scale threat of the orbiting Lawlord ships.



I loved seeing Dredd in his element against the Lawlord leader, Syrex, as they first argued about the Law and whether the Lawlords had transgressed any of their own laws in contacting Gideon Dallas, and then as he took on the alien physically, despite being outnumbered and outgunned and besting his hulking foe. This was a brilliant example of “Bad-ass Dredd” and one of the reasons why the character has endured for so long.

With one episode left, and some 'Deus ex Machinas' set in motion (Dallas and the Null) it is now seeming more reasonable that Michael Carroll will be able to wrap up this epic story in its remaining part with minimal loose ends. However, it does feel like Indira Knight, who was originally the focus of this story has gotten lost within the big blockbuster nature of the escalating events. Hopefully in his final episode, Michael Carroll will get the chance to address her story-arc again.



JAEGIR - CIRCE (Part 6)
Script - Gordon Rennie
Art - Simon Coleby
Colours - Len O' Grady
Letters - Ellie de Ville

As this second storyline 'Circe' draws to a close, I have to say that I have definitely preferred it to the introduction to the series, 'Strigoi', mostly due to way that this 'sophomore series' delved deeper into the connection with the Rogue Trooper universe, including actual appearances from Rogue via flashback. This episode featured a great reference to the classic Rogue Trooper stories with the inclusion of the rare Nu-Earth plant toxin that paralyses G.I troopers and plagued Rogue in the original run. I also loved the visual of Jaegir versus the Frankenstein's Trooper and the ingenious way that Jaegir managed to trap Mabuse's consciousness onto a bio-chip, once again making use of Rogue Trooper mythology, to provide Jaegir with a easy source of info, possibly leading to Mabuse being used in future stories in a similar role to the original bio-chips (Gunnar, Helm and Bagman) but maybe with a bigger “chip” on his shoulder?

I must admit that I was slightly confused by the sudden revelation that Circe was not only a drug, but also a person, but I assume that she is a rival war-criminal scientist guilty of illegal experimentations in the same vein as Colonel Mabuse (Doll Master) and Atalia's own father, Josef Jaegir. It seems that these illegal experiments and the monstrous results will be the underlying themes of this series, and I like the subtle way we are learning more about the history as the series develops. There's still plenty of unanswered questions, which really intrigue me, such as whether the Circe drug has given Jaegir any side-effects – it's hinted that her senses have all been amplified and there's even a vague suggestion of some kind of psychic power, but it's not entirely clear. Perhaps this will be dealt with in the third storyline?



BRASS SUN - FLOATING WORLDS (Part 11)
Script - Ian Edginton
Art - INJ Culbard
Letters - Ellie de Ville

This week's episode delivers perfectly on the cliff-hanger ending of its preceding instalment as the robotic agent of Modernity attacks our group of heroes. I.N.J. Culbard's artwork effortlessly captures the deadly efficiency of the robot's blows as it disables Ariel and proceeds to play with its prey. I absolutely loved the moment where Ramkin rescues the gang from the killing blow, recalling memories of a similar moment in Book Two, where Septimus has his own heroic moment protecting Ramkin from a pursuing scythe assassin. It's a fantastic moment that redeems the duplicitous character and would be a great crowd-pleaser if this series was ever adapted into live-action or animation. Culbard's artwork brings a cinematic quality to the moment without motion, so to see it realised on screen would be fantastic.



With both Edginton and Culbard delivering an absolute barn-stormer of an episode, and with the recent strength of the last parts, I have to say that this third 'book' has been a resounding success, despite the slow, meandering pace of the opening half. Even though the quest into the Deep was largely a waste of time from the perspective of the characters, it has provided the series with a powerful new antagonist and a spirit guide to lead our heroes onto the next part of the journey, which I imagine will be the basis of the next episode. I suspect it may be an epilogue of sorts, setting up the fourth book in the series and putting our heroes back on the path to restart the Brass Sun. Even though it's not actually finished yet, I really hope the series returns soon, as it is a simply fantastic piece of science-fiction storytelling that embodies everything that is great about 2000AD.



BLACK SHUCK (Part 8)
Script - Leah Moore & John Reppion
Art - Steve Yeowell
Colours - Chris Blythe
Letters - Simon Bowland

The story continues following on from the reveal of the Black Shuck's curse, which while it took me by surprise, it turns out that some readers saw it coming way before I did, as the phrase 'Black Shuck' refers to a renowned beast/wolf that is said to haunt East Anglia. I should have googled it on day one! The dual narrative continues, with a somewhat unnecessary flashback actually showing the moment that Black Shuck became cursed as a were-beast. I thought this could have been left to the reader's imagination, given how the last flashback saw Shuck and a possessed creature in a boat together, although interestingly it turns out that he gained his curse through biting his enemy, rather than being bitten himself.


I like the cliffhanger to the end with the King's own men shooting down his bastard heir without realising, as well as bringing in the cursed sword (and therefore the Dragur) into their camp. I'm still holding out hope that there is some kind of twist here – I have this strange feeling that somehow King Ivar will be dethroned, as we've yet to establish exactly why the Black Shuck travelled to Scandinavia in the first place. There also seemed to be some sexual chemistry with the King's young queen, so I suspect that perhaps the Black Shuck might hand over his father to Ovredal in exchange for the treasure.



AQUILA - CARNIFEX (Part 9)
Script - Gordon Rennie
Art - Leigh Gallagher
Colours - Dylan Teague
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

I really enjoyed the framing sequence to this chapter of this story as Felix Fortunato recounted the fight between Aquila and the Mater Clementia, including his own traumatising experience in defeating the demonic cherubs. It was far more effective than than seeing the fight play out in real time, and gave Felix's exit a tad more gravitas as it appears it might be his final appearance in the storyline.

In terms of the grander scale of events, I think I've slightly lost track of the momentum of the story – I thought that the Mater Clementia was the final head required, so I'm not entirely sure what Simon of Capernaum's sacrifice was in aid of. Also, did Aquila's black eyes at the end of the episode signify a change in him? Has he now received the power that Nero craved, and is he in control of himself? Hopefully next week's climactic episode will answer some of these questions and provide a thrilling finale to Aquila's tale.



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

With the climax of Jaegir this week, there is a gap in the line-up for a potential double-sized episode in Prog 1899 and out of the series' left, I could see Aquila having an extended conclusion tying up the various loose ends. But then again, it could be that Tharg has plans for a Future Shock in that slot instead.

Brass Sun was easily the highlight for me with a fantastic action sequence skilfully 'directed' by Ian Edginton and I.N.J. Culbard. Even though the series didn't end this week, it feels like the next episode will be more of an expository epilogue, setting up the next book. I'm looking forward to the final instalments of Aquila, Black Shuck and Judge Dredd as we clear the boards in preparation for the upcoming Prog 1900, which will feature Judge Dredd in “Block Judge”, and the latest series for both Kingdom and Stickleback, with two more to join the line-up in Prog 1901. It should be another great “jumping on point” so spread the word of mouth!

Thrill of the Week: Brass Sun


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1898 will be available in stores on Wednesday 10th September - 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 11th Doctor # 2

Doctor Who: The 11th Doctor # 2
"The Friendly Place"
Written by: Al Ewing
Art by: Simon Fraser
Colours by: Gary Caldwell

After a fantastic opening issue that featured the writing talents of both Al Ewing and Rob Williams working in conjunction, I was a little bit apprehensive about the ‘sophomore issue’, worried that the same level of enthusiasm and momentum might not carry through to the second and that the series might end up lacking the Doctor Who flavour that I enjoyed so much in the first issue. Well, I needn't have worried; Al Ewing delivered his ‘A-game’ here in his first solo effort writing for the series, producing a fantastic done-in-one story that brought the Doctor’s new companion to her first alien world, even if it resembled a certain theme park from our own planet.

As with last issue, the story felt perfectly paced with the “credits page” appearing exactly where you would expect the Doctor Who theme tune to kick in, making the issue feel more like a proper episode of the TV show with a similar ‘pre-credits’ teaser scene. Over on the 10th Doctor series, there is a similar approach with the credits page appearing at the end, nicely working alongside the story’s cliff-hangers to evoke memories of the multi-episode serials from the “Classic Who” era. Whether this is a conscious choice by the writers themselves, or the editors, I am very impressed by this subtle detail, which while it may seem small makes a great difference to the tone of the book.

The story takes place on the planet of Rokhandi, where the formerly beautiful paradise-esque locale has been replaced by corporate greed with a bright, garish theme park filled with animated characters, which acts as a satire on Disneyland, even down to its “Friendly World” song, which uses the same hypnotic hook as “It’s a Small World”. It seems that there is a larger threat behind this capitalist exploitation of Rokhandi’s natural resources, with the mysterious ServeYouInc appearing behind the scenes. There’s an intriguing bit of “timey wimey” business going on with the chief guard, August Hart, who refers to a previous encounter with the Doctor which has yet to occur from the Doctor and Alice’s point of view. He also references “the other one” implying another companion is set to join the Doctor and Alice in their travels – could it be River Song, perhaps?


Aside from dropping hints at an overarching plot, the story also sees the relationship between Alice and Doctor evolve beyond their first encounter together, with Alice willing to put him in his place when he is being overly cocky, similar to how the 10th Doctor and Donna Noble played off of each other. Al Ewing nails Matt Smith’s voice and speech patterns in this story, with his flippant nickname of “Clever Librarian” for Alice evoking memories of “Come Along, Pond”. It’s clearly meant as a term of affection, but unlike Amy and Rory, Alice has yet to embrace it.


Simon Fraser’s artwork continues to impress, although there are a few minor issues with some of the backgrounds and perspectives looking slightly flat behind the characters. I absolutely adore the double-page spread featuring the two sides to Rokhandi with the Doctor placed in the centre, as it showcases the dramatic deterioration of the beauty of the planet. I really liked the look of the painted smiles on the hypnotised employees, and the stern angry face of August Hart, which reminded me of Tsar Vladimir Makarov from Fraser’s work on Nikolai Dante.



While I appreciate the slower pace undertaken in the 10th Doctor series, I must say that it feels like Ewing and Williams are committed to giving readers plenty of “bangs for their buck” with a series of self-contained adventures taking place across time and space. From interviewing Rob Williams last month, it is clear the two writers have outlined a basic ‘season’ format for their stories, not dissimilar to the way that Dark Horse have treated their Buffy the Vampire Slayer comics. I love this approach and look forward to it unfold across the upcoming issues, as the numerous subplots begin to build up.

Overall, this is another flawless episode that manages to capture the atmosphere and energy of the Doctor Who TV show. I am very impressed with both Doctor Who titles from Titan Comics, but I have to say that the 11th Doctor series is currently my favourite and deserves to be read by every fan of the show! I am eagerly awaiting the third issue, the first to be solely written by Rob Williams, which promises the appearance of a new companion.


Score - 10 out of 10

Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor # 2 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, 3 September 2014

2000AD Prog 1897

Prog 1897 Cover by Alex Ronald

This is another great piece of artwork from the ever-impressive, Alex Ronald, with the imposing figure of the Lawlords leaping out of the page at the viewer. The computer-generated art perfectly suits the futuristic urban metropolis of Mega City One with the massive electronic billboards evoking memories of Blade Runner or Times Square.

I absolutely love it when comics include the use of a speech bubble on the cover, it recalls memories of those classic 'Silver Age' covers where it felt like artists had replicated the most dynamic and action-packed panel from the interior to interest and intrigue customers to purchase. This particular example of a speech bubble helps convey the tyrannical nature of the Lawlords, giving readers unfamiliar with their history a quick glimpse into their personality before they turn the page.



JUDGE DREDD - CASCADE (Part 4)
Script - Michael Carroll
Art - Paul Marshall
Colour - Gary Caldwell
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Gideon Dallas' public condemnation of the Judicial System continues as he riles up his crowd into a riotous frenzy with the promise of peace and security offered by the stricter, uncompromising regime of the intergalactic Lawlords. This episode expands well upon last Prog's final page reveal, which may have been lost on some recent readers, by using editorial boxes to refer to the Lawlords prior appearance, as well as presenting Dolman and Dredd as 'character witnesses' of their viciousness and tyrannical nature to establish them as credible threats to the Mega-City One way of life.

One element of the story which I have been lax in championing throughout the episodes is Paul Marshall's fantastic art, which is always a pleasure to see in the Prog, especially when used for a Judge Dredd storyline. Even though this particular instalment has been more of a 'talking heads' episode, Marshall's artwork manages to capture the sense of panic within the Justice department and the unease of Dolman and Reyer as they witness rising tensions at Dallas' rally.


With two parts remaining, it seems like the Judges have got some insurmountable odds to overcome in order to smoothly resolve this conflict before the next storyline 'Block Judge' begins in Prog 1900. With the level of public unrest caused by Dallas' crowd-baiting and the double threat of the Lawlords and the Orbital laser satellites, I do worry about whether we will get a satisfactory resolution to the high stakes that have been raised. Also with the re-introduction of the Lawlords and Gideon Dallas, it feels like Indira Knight's story has been pushed out of focus, so I do hope that Michael Carroll is able to tie it all together in the end.



JAEGIR - CIRCE (Part 5)
Script - Gordon Rennie
Art - Simon Coleby
Colours - Len O' Grady
Letters - Ellie de Ville

It looks like Jaegir’s blood has some unique properties (possibly latent Strigoi DNA) which implies that her father experimented on her as a child, providing another layer to the complex family history that she has, which continues to affect her in the present day. However, with the introduction of the Circe drug into her system, it seems like there is some kind of internal reaction occurring, possibly leading to some side-effects. It would be very ironic if somehow she transformed into a blue-skinned G.I. like Rogue Trooper, assuming that the Strigoi experiments were an attempt to replicate the Souther G.I. process. It would make a great twist for the series if she was forced to wear the skin of her enemy as she hunts imperfect versions of her father’s experiments.

I like how the series mixes a range of different flashbacks in with the story, with this episode featuring a brief moment of how Klaur and Jaegir met on the battlefields of Nu Earth. This kind of character development is crucial to the series, as I do find it tough to identify the members of her team – there’s a red headed female and a maskless man, but besides Klaur, they've yet to exhibit any real distinctive character traits. Hopefully future stories will indulge in building up the supporting cast around Jaegir.



BRASS SUN - FLOATING WORLDS (Part 10)
Script - Ian Edginton
Art - INJ Culbard
Letters - Ellie de Ville

This has to be the best episode of Brass Sun yet, as Ariel, Septimus and Wren discover the aftermath of a gruesome battle at the Mercantile Guild’s headquarters. The level of gore and carnage left behind really helps build up the tension and suspense as the crew make their way through the deserted building in an attempt to retrieve Wren’s journal. I quite like the Kurt Vonnegut vision guide that seems to be accompanying Wren now – he has a fun personality and I enjoy the interactions that the two share, as well as the confusion that arises from her conversations with the invisible entity.

The highlight of the episode, alongside the finely tuned sense of tension maintained by Ian Edginton’s script and I.N.J Culbard’s artwork, was the fantastic final panel which delivers a shocking twist straight out of left-field and offers one of the strongest cliffhangers I've ever seen in 2000AD. It’s almost a shame that it will likely fall into the middle of the sixth issue of the US reprints as it would have made a brilliant final panel for the fifth issue.


I love the fact that the episode didn't pan out as expected and the shocking swerve in the narrative has completely redeemed this third series for me. I must admit I was slightly worried that this third book felt very “by the numbers” with the slower paced storyline of the crew’s journey into the Deep, but that approach has actually helped make this short, sharp shock even more effective. I literally cannot wait to read the next episode! Quite simply, this is storytelling done right.

I’m just glad that there’s still two episodes remaining to tell the story and that this wasn't the way that they decided to end Book Three, although there’s still the chance that the Edginton and Culbard droids have an equally fiendish cliffhanger in store for us in Prog 1899.



BLACK SHUCK (Part 7)
Script - Leah Moore & John Reppion
Art - Steve Yeowell
Colours - Chris Blythe
Letters - Simon Bowland

While I've been theorising that the recurring flashback sequences held the key to some mystery unravelling in the main plotline, I wasn't quite expecting the twist seen in this episode as the moonlight hits Black Shuck turning him into a werewolf! I must admit that I liked the action sequences featuring “Were-Shuck” as he attacked the Jotnar creatures and made sure work of them, but I’m not quite sure if the were-wolf reveal is entirely worth the slow build-up and strong use of the flashback narrative technique. Perhaps the series might have been a better fit for the Judge Dredd Megazine where it could have been delivered in meatier chunks, allowing the narrative to flow better and take full advantage of the twist. I’m intrigued to find out how the final two episodes handle the change to the status quo, but I haven’t really found myself caring about the lead character, which may be because of the focus on crafting the ‘werewolf reveal’ rather than building up the character in his own right.



AQUILA - CARNIFEX (Part 8)
Script - Gordon Rennie
Art - Leigh Gallagher
Colours - Dylan Teague
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

The story continues to heat up as it heads towards a dramatic conclusion and it seems that Aquila himself may be a candidate for the final head required to ensure Nero’s ascension to godhood. The scheming Locusta sends her new Carnifex, the Mater Clementia, after Aquila knowing that whatever the outcome of the battle, she will have the final head she needs for her emperor.


In a final effort to thwart Nero’s plans, Aquila begins a journey to the prison cells in an attempt to rescue Saint Peter before his public execution, but the break out instead culminates in a cracking final panel that pits the vicious Mater Clementia and her demonic cherubim against titular hero, or should that be anti-hero, as he hasn't really exhibited many heroic traits so far in this adventure. It’s a fantastic image as Clementia savagely lunges towards the battle-scarred gladiator and it promises a truly brutal battle next Prog. 

There is a brilliant climactic feel to the series as things begin drawing to a close. I strongly suspect that the series might end in a rather downbeat manner; with Nero (or Locusta) achieving the ultimate victory and becoming some kind of omnipotent force for evil, with Aquila’s head being the final nail in the coffin, or perhaps Aquila will sacrifice himself to provide an alternative host with the spiritual ‘upgrade’. I really love the fact that there are no guarantees in this series – it feels like no one is safe, and there’s every possibility of an unhappy ending with evil triumphing over good.



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

Both Aquila and Brass Sun have amazing final panels that manage to make the seven day wait between Progs seem like an eternity, whereas Black Shuck and Jaegir don’t quite inspire the same level of fervent impatience to read their conclusions, although they do both continue to hold my interest. I am also slightly cautious about the length of time remaining in the current Judge Dredd story and whether Michael Carroll will be able to deliver an effective and satisfying climax to the ‘high stakes’ he has set up thus far. All in all, though, this is a cracking Prog with all the stories picking up speed as they head to their respective conclusions.

Thrill of the Week: Brass Sun


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1897 will be available in stores on Wednesday 3rd September - 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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