Wednesday, 29 October 2014

2000AD Winter Special 2014

Winter Special 2014 Cover from Ben Templesmith

Ben Templesmith, of '30 Days of Night' fame, is the perfect choice for this horror-themed special bringing his distinctive look to the familiar 2000AD cast. I love the gore-drenched appearance of his zombified Judge Dredd, and it's a shame that the interior story doesn't feature the Dredd zombie duplicate from the classic tales “City of the Damned” and “Darkside” as it would have made a nice thematic link. Regardless, it's a wonderfully stylised cover which accurately sums up the terrifying choice of stories featured inside.


JUDGE DREDD - SOREBONE
Script - T.C. Eglington
Art - Riccardo Burchielli
Colours - Luca Saponti
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

This is a fun little story from T.C. Eglington which features a wonderful dose of that old Mega-City One irony, with a healthy mix of the supernatural, as a gang member finds a prop from an old movie which he thinks imbues him with macabre powers. There's a definite Hammer Horror vibe to the tale, enhanced by the Vincent Price-esque narrator that appears at the denouement. I love the twist at the end of the story regarding the validity of Sorebone's powers and the fact that it was slightly more complex than a possessed perp with a supernatural weapon.


The artwork from new artist Riccardo Burchielli is fantastic, aided by some wonderfully atmospheric colouring by Luca Saponti, which really accentuates the griminess of the city and inherent horror of the story. Burchielli's artwork has hints of PJ Holden's style about it, delivering clear and well-structured panels that really help the storytelling. I also liked his take on Dredd, who spent the majority of the strip obscured in shadow, appearing all the more menacing and omnipotent.



ROGUE TROOPER - THE FEAST
Script - Guy Adams
Art - Lee Carter
Letters - Simon Bowland

As with this summer's Sci-Fi Special, this one-off episode of Rogue Trooper by Guy Adams wisely takes place at an undetermined time in the character's chronology, thereby freeing it from the complex continuity associated with the series. With Tharg seemingly wanting to tell different stories in the Nu-Earth universe, such as Jaegir, it seems that these seasonal specials are the only place where readers will see new installments of the classic Rogue Trooper character.


This is a fun little story, which script-wise feels like it would slot effortlessly into Rogue's first batch of Nu-Earth adventures chasing after the Traitor General, but the stellar artwork from Lee Carter adds a thoroughly modern twist to proceedings delivering beautiful realism to the character of Rogue and the Nu-Earth battlefield. I also liked the way that Rogue's bio-chips framed the main panels during the hallucination, offering their own commentary on Rogue's condition in the real world, whilst the reader witnessed his drug-addled nightmare within the story itself.

I also loved the rather gruesome visual representation of Gunner, Helm and Bagman as disembodied parts that Rogue carries around, with the stretched blue skin on Rogue's helmet, the torso on his back and the severed arm as a weapon. It really tapped into the horror vibe that the anthology was aiming for. My only real quibble is the fact that Rogue got poisoned at all, considering the G.I troopers were bred to be immune to all known poisons. It's not a complete error though, as there was a toxin in the original series which affected Rogue, so it's entirely possible that a second might exist.



THE ALIENIST
Script - Gordon Rennie & Emma Beeby
Art - Eoin Coveney
Letters - Ellie de Ville

Well, I wasn't expecting this Winter Special to contain a 'pilot episode' for a new series. I think that this introductory installment of The Alienist would have worked well as one of Tharg's 3rillers, given that it introduces a new character and the series' status quo in the space of ten pages. It was an impeccably crafted tale by both Gordon Rennie and Emma Beeby, with echoes of Doctor Who about the script, such as the psychic paper, supernatural Victorian London and need for a companion for the lead character to operate on an alien world. There was also a nice bit of misdirection in the opening pages, as I too assumed that the male character would be the titular Alienist instead of Miss Vespertine, which is precisely the reason she hired him at the story's end.

Aside from the cracking script, the story was ably illustrated by Eoin Coveney, who managed to freak me out with the bug-like eyes that appeared on the possessed doctors and nurses of the hospital. After experiencing his coloured artwork in the Judge Dredd story which appeared in the Sci-Fi Special this summer, I have to say that I really like the detailed line work in its black and white form. I would love to see this series return in the future, although it is unfortunate it debuted in this sister publication instead of the Prog itself, but an introductory episode (or reprint)  in 2000AD would soon remedy that. Although saying that, Sinister Dexter debuted in a 2000AD Winter Special, so it's not unheard of.



TERROR TALES - PHANTOM PAINS
Script - Eddie Robson
Art - Jeff Anderson
Letters - Simon Bowland

The first thing that struck me about this short four-page Terror Tale was how beautiful Jeff Anderson's artwork was. I really loved the watercolour-esque style to the colours, and unusually for a Terror Tale it was fairly brightly lit, establishing a rather mundane atmosphere which juxtaposed against the gruesome climax. The story had a fantastic little twist in the tale that was perfectly paced by Eddie Robson and the horrific tableau at the end with each severed body part highlighted in its own panel was wonderfully visualised by Jeff Anderson to deliver maximum impact.



DEFOE - FRANKENSTEINER
Script - Pat Mills
Art - Leigh Gallagher
Letters - Ellie de Ville

Defoe is the perfect choice for inclusion in a horror-themed anthology with his zombie-infested 17th century London providing a unique voice in the Prog proper. This wonderful little prequel fills in some more of the gaps in Titus Defoe's life prior to him becoming the Reek Hunter we're familiar with in his ongoing series. Despite the fact this storyline takes place before his current adventures, Pat Mills still manages to inject some genuine moments of peril for the character, such as the fantastic sequence where he is trapped in stocks as the Reek horde advance upon him. It's a absolutely riveting moment, perfectly realised by the series' artist, Leigh Gallagher.


As with the longer storylines, Leigh Gallagher's artwork manages to capture the demonic nature of the undead creatures, particularly in their flesh-hungry faces. The sequence where the imprisoned Defoe has to try and kill a possessed Reek Hunter is just sublime and the frenzied expressions on the zombie's faces just adds to the tension and drama of the moment. While the story doesn't appear to bear much relevance on the ongoing adventures in 2000AD, it works well as a brief untold tale of Defoe's past and a really dramatic little slice of action. If they ever adapt Defoe into live-action, they should definitely include the “stockade scene” as it's quite unlike anything I've seen in zombie fiction before.



ANDERSON, PSI DIVISION - HORROR COMES TO VELMA DINKLEY
Script - Alan Grant
Art - Darren Douglas
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

After becoming trapped in what looks like a virtual reality version of Ghosts n' Goblins, a young boy brutally murders his family, falling under the radar of Judge Anderson. The reference to Velma from Scooby Doo is quite an apt one, as this storyline evolves into something of a whodunnit, although this time it's the pesky kids who are the victims. It's a nice one-shot script from Alan Grant, which doesn't really focus on Anderson as a character and instead delivers a nice little storyline that reminded me of that episode of Spaced where Simon Pegg thinks he's trapped in Resident Evil.

Darren Douglas does some fantastic work here which feels reminiscent of Boo Cook's recent work on the character in the Judge Dredd Megazine. He also introduces some lovely little visual flourishes into his work, such as the motion blur from the rear light of her bike as Anderson drives towards Velma Dinkley block to investigate the murders. I also liked the design of the little boy responsible for the tampered video games – he was rather Otto Octavius-looking, which doesn't really bode well for his future, even if he is inducted into the Justice System's Tek Division. 



OVERALL THOUGHTS:

Assigning a horror theme to the 2000AD Winter Special was an inspired decision by Tharg, tying into the Halloween and darker nights associated with the season, plus it affords his script and art droids the chance to delve into the more macabre elements of their strips. Traditionally science-fiction based series' like Judge Dredd, Rogue Trooper and Anderson: Psi Division were able to tilt their storylines into more gory and horrific avenues than they perhaps normally would, but Defoe felt totally at home as one of the core horror strips in the anthology.

If Tharg continues to use horror as the theme for forthcoming Winter Specials, I would love to see him experiment a bit more with the boundaries, possibly doing “what if” storylines akin to The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror episodes where the normal rules don't apply and things happen outside of continuity. It would free up script and art droids to truly experiment with the strips and develop really shocking and out of character moments, like the apocalyptic vision of Mega City One glimpsed in the classic Judge Dredd storyline, “City of the Damned


The physical edition of the 2000AD Winter Special will be available in stores on Wednesday 29th October - 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!

2000AD Prog 1905

Prog 1905 Cover by Dave Kendall

This is the perfect cover choice for this week’s Halloween themed issue, with Dave Kendall’s fantastic painted artwork bringing the gruesome nature of the Hunter’s misshapen and mutated body to life. The choice of colours and wonderful textures really help to exaggerate the brutal violence central to this character, and as with his previous cover for Prog 1853 which depicted the deadly dinosaur, Gorehead, from Flesh.


JUDGE DREDD - BLOCK JUDGE (Part 6)
Script - John Wagner
Art - Carlos Ezquerra
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

The investigation into Gilbert George’s murder takes a brief hiatus as Dredd sends the newly discovered evidence off to the Tek Judges at the nearest Sector House and resumes his campaign against the various gang leaders of the Vipes, although his overly pedantic methods do garner criticism from both the Chief Judge and the local news station. It seems like these seemingly disparate plot threads are set to intertwine in the near future, hopefully painting a picture behind the death of Dredd’s predecessor in the Block Judge role.


As I've said in previous weeks, I do like this more methodical and procedural-led approach to the character but it feels like the storyline is being shortened to fit into this run of Progs leading up to the end of year Prog 2015 annual. I feel like the storyline would have benefited from a series of smaller story-arcs under one umbrella in the same vein of the mega-epic, The Pit. This would have provided readers with a much broader view of life in Gramercy Heights and add a lot more weight and gravitas to the situation. However, I am really enjoying the plot and look forward to seeing the various elements come together to deliver a dramatic conclusion.



STICKLEBACK - THE THRU'PENNY OPERA (Part 6)
Script - Ian Edginton
Art - D'Israeli
Letters - Ellie de Ville

After several episodes setting up the events of this storyline, we finally get a glimpse at some action as a gigantic demolition robot, controlled by Mr Punch, uses its dual crane arms in an attempt to crush Stickleback and company. With the nifty use of a catapulted grenade, the team manage to take down the hulking behemoth, sending it careening into the Thames where it begins to sink. However, despite their success, it appears that Ackroyd (aka The Cutter) has died. Well, actually I'm not too sure as it's left a bit unclear whether he died in the rubble or escaped. It's implied that he died via the dialogue, but we're given no visual clarification on this fact through the artwork, so it is equally as possible that he escaped. I'm guessing we'll get further confirmation in the next installment.

Stickleback realises that he has been duped and manipulated by the three “bad pennies” who appear to be using London to summon up their dark masters, and accidentally led to towards Ackroyd, who is presumably a threat to their dark plans. Assuming that he has died as a result of this attack, it seems that it is up to Stickleback and his motley crew to stop the three sisters from performing their occult ritual and bringing through their master. The story seems to be fairly straight-forward now that the various plot threads have become to converge and hopefully now that the scene has been set, things will advance at a quicker pace with a balance of action and investigation.



KINGDOM - AUX DRIFT (Part 6)
Script - Dan Abnett
Art - Richard Elson
Colours - Abigail Ryder
Letters - Simon Bowland

This episode of Kingdom continued to showcase our heroic dog soldier engaging in fantastically visualised fight sequences against the hordes of insectoid creatures that threaten to overrun the mining town of Aux Drift. However, unlike previous action scenes, I found this one to be perfectly paced, directed flawlessly by Richard Elson's brilliant storytelling skills. The moment where Meelea found herself in danger really amplified the stakes and elevated the sequence beyond mindless violence and actually added some risk and emotion to the battle, something which has felt missing in prior encounters. Suddenly, Gene the Hackman wasn't quite as overpowered as he has seemed before, and he had to dig deep through his memories to find the strength to defeat this large Rak beast.

As if that emotionally charged sequence wasn't enough, Dan Abnett introduces an even larger threat on the horizon with the dramatic, almost cinematic reveal of a massive Them creature, unlike anything glimpsed before, surrounded by a swarm of Them that will no doubt provide a bigger challenge for Gene and his pack. It honestly feels like the insectoid Them creatures have amassed enough of an army to appear as a genuine threat to Gene and his experienced scrappers, as opposed to the plot fodder they've appeared like until now. The sense of dread and tension conjured up by Elson and Abnett is just superb and they've got me moving closer to the edge of my seat to see how this dramatic encounter will unfold.



GREYSUIT - PRINCE OF DARKNESS (Part 5)
Script - Pat Mills
Art - John Higgins
Colours - Sally Hurst
Letters - Ellie de Ville

After last week's brilliant cliff-hanger, I must admit that I am slightly disappointed to see John Blake recover his memories so quickly, especially without the “codewords” that was hinted in an earlier episode to be the way to reverse the process. Unless the key phrase was actually “Prince has to be stopped. He's getting away with murder”, which is a stupid phrase to implant into someone who is being sent to assassinate someone who is very likely to say something along those lines. It was also slightly annoying that after four episodes setting up the government's brainwashing as flawless and perfect that it was able to be undone so quickly. Hopefully there will be further wrinkles to this and Blake will find himself battling for dominance in his own mind.


I suppose he had to recover his senses eventually, and even though the cliffhanger really made things seem like it could go either way, it makes sense from a narrative point of view to not have him cross that line and turn evil. As with previous episodes, I loved the grim and gritty vibe that John Higgins' artwork brings to the strip, with the burst of action as Blake takes out the Greysuit checking up on him, and the dramatic leap out of the apartment building acting as a promise for more spy-related action in upcoming installments. Now that Blake is back on the side of the angels, I'm expecting some excellent set-pieces in the near future and maybe even some of his Bionic Man-esque super-powers showcased.



THE GRIEVOUS JOURNEY OF ICHABOD AZRAEL - ONE LAST BULLET (Part 5)
Script - Rob Williams
Art - Mike Dowling
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

With this installment, Ichabod Azrael ceases to flirt with the idea of a meta-fictional theme and outright flaunts it. I have had a theory for the last few weeks that this storyline was going to take a step towards the meta-fictional and acknowledge the fact it is a fiction in the head of a writer, even going as far to suggest that Rob Williams himself will be revealed as God, or the writer character, so imagine the shit-eating grin that crossed my face as the Hunter begun dropping phrases such as, “I am the master of your narrative” and then the unmistakable and explicit use of the panel borders within the story itself, and acknowledged by the characters as 'invisible barriers'.


Despite this reveal, the story maintains its sheen of mystery, but I still feel like the proverbial cat that got the cream, considering my theories are normally so unrealistic that they are dismissed as the ravings of a madman and lunatic. I mean, my theory about LOST was that the giant statue was a tribute to a massive god creature that lived under the island and would rise at the end to greet the survivors...now, perhaps in hindsight Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse may have wanted to use that idea, but at the time I was mocked, and I was sure that my gut instincts of a meta-fictional twist here would be equally as ludicrous, but it looks like I am onto something here.

Regardless of my own theories, I am absolutely loving this series and the pitch-perfect tone that both Rob Williams and Mike Dowling have achieved with this final book. Just like Williams' final book of The Ten-Seconders, it really feels like he has pulled out all the stops to deliver a chaotic and cataclysmic finale, and all bets are off. I love this feeling of unpredictability and coupled with some very intriguing mysteries, this series is literally ticking all of my boxes. It is easily the highlight of each Prog since Prog 1900 and it is a shame that is heading towards its inevitable climax.



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

This Prog delivered a thrilling mix of stories, with some fantastic plot developments, such as the shocking meta-fictional reveal in Ichabod Azrael which tilts the narrative slightly and raises far more questions than it answered, then there is also the overwhelming sense of dread from Kingdom as a mammoth-sized insectoid creature looms over the horizon. While some of the other stories didn't deliver quite as much an impact, I do look forward to seeing how they develop, especially Greysuit, now that John Blake has recovered his true memories and seems determined to get revenge on Prince. This is truly a fantastic line-up and I can't wait to start getting clues as to what we should be expecting in the upcoming Prog 2015, alongside the long-awaited Judge Dredd 'Dark Justice' storyline.

Thrill of the Week: Ichabod Azrael


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1905 will be available in stores on Wednesday 29th October - 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 # 4

Doctor Who: The 11th Doctor # 4
"Whodunnit"
Written by: Al Ewing
Art by: Boo Cook
Colours by: Hi-Fi

This fourth issue of Titan Comics' Eleventh Doctor series sees the first major shift in the status quo with the addition of a new guest artist, Boo Cook, who is stepping in to cover the regular artist, Simon Fraser, for a two-part storyline. In fact, the very concept of a two-part storyline is also something of a departure for the series which until now has featured fast-paced “done in one” stories. Will these changes wreak havoc upon the series, which scored three perfect “10 out of 10” scores for its previous issues? Read on (or skip ahead) to find out...

As I mentioned before, this issue saw the first change in artist for this series and it did come as a bit of a shock after three issues of Simon Fraser's artwork. It actually surprised me how quickly I'd become accustomed to Fraser's style for the Eleventh Doctor and his new companions, which goes to show how well attuned to the mood of the series his artwork became. Boo Cook, another stalwart from the 2000AD stable of artists, doesn't attempt to copy Fraser's style and brings his own distinctive look to the comic, in fact his artwork felt somewhat reminiscent of Marc Silvestri in some panels, bringing a more rough and ready look to his pencils rather than the smoother, more polished style seen in his work for Elephantmen and 2000AD.

While it took some time to get used to the changes to Alice, Jones and August Hart, Boo Cook's representation of the Eleventh Doctor is pretty darn good and evokes memories of Matt Smith. I think the biggest issue is the fact that Cook's artwork came after Fraser's. Had Boo Cook been the one to illustrate the first three issues, I'd probably be suffering the same adjustment issues if Simon Fraser provided the artwork for this issue. By the end of the issue, however, I'd grown more accustomed to Boo Cook's interpretation of the main cast and was enjoying the difference in art styles.


With this story, we get our first two-parter for the series, providing us with a fun cliffhanger at the end, as well as the chance to spend a bit more time in one place with a meatier storyline. I really like the whole “whodunnit” approach with the Doctor arriving aboard a space station in the midst of a power struggle amongst office workers. Al Ewing manages to tease out the various details of the ServeYouInc hierarchy and the various office politics and machinations over the course of the issue without ever seeming overly expository or heavy-handed. It's a great skill for a writer and really adds a cinematic flair to the proceedings, rather than brain-dumping the status quo onto the reader.

Once again, the villainous ServeYouInc appears as the main threat with the Doctor and Alice encountering August Hart for the second time, although it is the first time from his perspective, resolving the paradox set in place in the second issue, where the opposite was true. We get more of a glimpse into the organisation and its scientific experimentation, but there’s not much exploration into the larger motivations of the company and the meanings behind its curious title, “ServeYouInc”, which sounds more benevolent than malevolent to me.

I quite like this take on the ‘space base under siege’ trope that often occurs in Doctor Who, so it was nice to see it reflected in comic-book format as the Arc experiment picks off its victims one-by-one, adding a sense of claustrophobia to the story. We also get an interesting development from the supporting cast, with Alice Obiefune expressing her concerns about travelling with the Doctor and losing touch with the real world and her real problems. This leads into a nice conversation between the Doctor and Alice where he references the way that previous companions have found themselves in much better places after travelling with him. While this is true, it manages to come out somewhat condescending and causes more friction between the two.

Overall, this was another strong issue of the Eleventh Doctor series, with Al Ewing managing to bring that same “base under siege” atmosphere present in many of the TV show’s serials to the page. His tone of voice for the Eleventh Doctor remains spot-on and he has a real knack for developing the supporting characters and ‘office politics’ that our regular heroes stumble into, giving a really three-dimensional sense to the story. The change in artwork did shake me initially and it’s a shame that the whole fifteen issue run won’t be drawn by Simon Fraser, but Boo Cook does do a fantastic job in depicting the regular characters in his own inimitable style.


Score - 9.8 out of 10

Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor # 4 is now available in all good comic shops, including Forbidden Planet, as well as on the Comixology website. Be sure to put in a standing order for the upcoming issues in the series when you pick up your copy!

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Review - Gotham: 1x03 - "The Balloonman"


Gotham
Episode 1x03 - "The Balloonman"

Synopsis

Gotham sees its first vigilante hit the streets, attacking famously corrupt officials with the unusual method of sending them skywards attached to weather balloons. Meanwhile, the Penguin returns home with the aim of ingratiating himself with a rival mob boss.

Review

This episode explores the concept of vigilantism, a theme integral to the Batman mythos, establishing Gordon’s position against individuals taking matters in their own hands, as well as illustrating the way that the Gotham people embrace the Balloonman, who they see as bringing justice to an unjust town in ways that their corrupt and inefficient police force cannot. Knowing that Gordon will eventually accept the Batman as a necessary force for justice within Gotham, it is interesting to note his disdain for vigilantism here, and demonstrates the ways that he will gradually adapt new methods in his quest to keep Gotham clean.

Somewhat surprisingly, the Balloonman mystery was given very little focus in the first half of this episode, which instead worked on developing the various plot points from the previous two episodes and building up the inevitable gang-war between Maroni, Falcone and Mooney. As a result, the Balloonman plot felt slightly under-utilised and a bit of a distraction from the other storylines flying about. But that’s not to say that the plot fell like a ‘lead balloon’ – I quite liked the dynamic way that the vigilante dispatched his victims and the mystery behind his identity was relatively well handled, as I originally suspected the thuggish policeman Cranston to be the killer until it turned out he was one of the victims. The eventual reveal that it was the social services worker did come out from left-field, but with the motivations behind his actions feeding on from the events of the first two episodes, it actually demonstrated an organic sense of evolution and continuity to the storyline, rather than feeling like a one note ‘villain of the week’.


As I said earlier, the various sub-plots from the previous episodes continued to see development in this episode although there was no real sense of movement across the board. The most frustrating moment was when Selina Kyle, who last episode dramatically claimed to know who killed the Wayne’s, escaped from Gordon’s custody without imparting the knowledge. Elsewhere, The Penguin returned to Gotham, somewhat sooner than I expected, and began to work his way back up the criminal food chain by targeting and befriending rival mob-boss Maroni, no doubt to earn himself protection from Falcone and Mooney. It seems that the Penguin will prove integral to the next few episodes as his ‘death’ seems to be the catalyst for many of the current storylines and once it comes out that he is alive, Gordon will find himself having to answer some awkward questions. His appearance at the end of the episode in Gordon’s apartment seems to suggest that Cobblepot knows this and will begin extorting information/money in exchange for his continued ‘death’. As with previous weeks, Robin Lord Taylor’s performance continues to be the most watchable element of the show, so I am glad to see him get such a large focus.

However, not all of the sub-plots have worked for me as I have found the whole Montoya/Allen investigation into Gordon to be somewhat frustrating; especially from the audience’s perspective as they are investigating a crime that we know wasn't committed. It feels like a somewhat ineffectual subplot, as by their own admission they have no proof that he did it. I'm hoping that this will develop into a more thrilling and dramatically interesting storyline soon – perhaps if they discover Cobblepot is alive and have leverage over Gordon, this will prove more a more suspense driven plot point.

Overall, this was a good episode with an intriguing central plot which didn't get enough spotlight within the episode itself, which sought to develop and touch base with its various secondary plot lines instead. Unfortunately there was very little reward to this focus on the supporting plots, with the episode feeling like it was retreading old ground until the next big shift in the status quo. The constant reference to Arkham from both Maroni and Falcone suggests that this will be the catalyst which sees the ‘cold war’ between the two crime families heat up and possibly infuse the storyline with more drama and tension than what we've seen so far.


Score - 9.0 out of 10


Next Episode - "Arkham"
As a contentious city council vote on the future of the Arkham city district approaches, politicians from both sides are in danger from a hitman hired to influence the vote.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Review - Agents of SHIELD: 2x05 - "A Hen in the Wolf House"


Agents of SHIELD
Episode 2x05 - "A Hen in the Wolf House"

Synopsis

Stuck between two deadly men, Raina attempts to bargain or blackmail her way to safety by threatening to reveal Simmons’ secret identity to Hydra, unless Skye comes to meet her long-lost Father. Meanwhile, Hydra attempt to weaponise the Obelisk's deadly effects.

Review

As teased in last episode’s post-credits stinger scene, this episode shone a spotlight on the trifecta of villains (Whitehall, Raina and Skye’s Father) and their varying motivations behind their desperate attempts to obtain the Obelisk artifact. It was very interesting to see an increased exposure of these shadowy characters and watching them develop some surprising changes to the status quo by the episode’s end. Even though this episode felt more weighed towards the villains, it was very much a success story for the Agents of SHIELD, with Coulson’s fore-planning and manipulation of events resulting in a satisfying win for the team, as well as a more unified front.

After a few cryptic appearances here and there, this episode finally brought Skye’s Father out of the shadows and into the spotlight – both for the viewers and the characters within the show. It seems that the character’s continual bloodied hands might be linked to his work as a ‘back alley surgeon’, patching up injured criminals. He seems quite shabby and disheveled, despite dressing smartly – it’s an interesting juxtaposition and fits nicely with his contrasting behaviour as he goes from doting father to murderous psychopath within the space of one sentence. Kyle MacLachlan really seems to nail the manic nature of this character, who curiously remains unnamed throughout the episode, suggesting to me that he will be someone familiar to the Marvel Comics Universe. My random theory, based on his surgeon skills and desire to evolve things, is that he is Herbert Wyndham, aka the High Evolutionary – a scientist who indulged in genetic experiments. He is very watchable on screen, much like Bill Paxton’s John Garrett, and I look forward to seeing more from him in future episodes.

Raina got the short end of the stick in this episode, stuck between Whitehall and Skye’s Father as they fought over the Obelisk. I liked how she attempted to claw her way to survival, bargaining and blackmailing with Simmons’ undercover identity – while it seems like she might be at rock bottom, the union between Skye’s Father and Whitehall suggests a last-minute reprieve might be in her future. Whitehall, himself, saw very little exploration into his character and seems to be portrayed as an eager successor to the Red Skull title, even making the comparison himself between the Skull’s obsession with the Tessaract and his own obsession with the Obelisk. The episode gave a glimpse into his motivations, however, with his interest in the Obelisk being purely based on its destructive capabilities and his desire to weaponise it and assist Hydra in its plans for global domination. This really adds a world-wide ‘extinction’ level threat to the show, raising the stakes beyond that of the team.

"All I'm saying is...if you're going to be a Doctor, you should really clean your jacket sometimes"

It felt like the mystery behind Skye's origins had been somewhat maligned in this season's opening episodes in favour of a greater focus on the Obelisk and Coulson’s etchings, but this episode brought her back to the fore, addressing her possible alien origins in a rather humourous way, as well as revisiting her own desires for answers about her heritage. I really liked that the estranged relationship between Coulson and Skye was fixed in this episode, restoring the father-daughter dynamic between the two and unknowingly acting as an inciting incident for Skye’s real Father to become jealous and murderous towards Coulson.

So much happened in this episode that I’m only now just getting to the other main element – Bobbi Morse (aka Mockingbird) and her role in rescuing Simmons from brainwashing at the hands of Hydra. Unfortunately, after being revealed at comic-con, I knew that Mockingbird would be coming to the show, so I did expect her to be revealed as a double-agent within Hydra, which undercut the dramatic tension of Coulson’s dinner date deal with Raina about Simmons’ safety, but it was still really well done and a great example of how the show is getting better at delivering high-tension moments without resorting action sequences – the whole scene with Coulson and Raina in the restaurant was riveting, and I hope the show remembers to resort to these more tense conversations set pieces in the future.

It seems that some of the repercussions of Simmons’ Hydra rescue will be dealt with in the next episode, as Mockingbird gets integrated into the team and working alongside her ex-husband, Lance Hunter – not to mention, the reunion between Simmons and Fitz, which was cut short in this episode, but it seems like it will be a major focus in the upcoming episodes as the two struggle to get back into that conjoined “FitzSimmons” head space.

Overall, this was a fantastic episode absolutely stuffed with some great moments, providing character development across the board with every sub-plot from the past four episodes given some kind of forward momentum, if not conclusions. It actually felt like a mid-season finale in some ways, tying up the various plot threads since the start of the season into a one really thrilling episode, leaving the show refreshed with a new direction and purpose as it heads into the second batch of episodes. It will be very interesting to see if the show maintains this same pacing in future episodes, delivering several episodes of set-up before a “mini-finale” ties things up in time for the next act. This was easily the best episode yet, and sets up a high precedence for the upcoming mid-season finale.


Score - 9.8 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • “What sort of Hellcow produces carmine milk?” - reference to one of the more obscure Marvel Comic characters, Bessie the Hellcow - a cow bitten by Dracula and turned into a vampire. (First app: Giant-Size Man-Thing # 5)
  • “Our founder, he had his Tessaract...” - reference to the Red Skull and the Cosmic Cube, as seen in Captain America: The First Avenger.
  • Ward has seen the alien etchings twice before – First time was in Belarus (“Eye Spy”) and the second time was when Garrett etched it into the glass (“End of the Beginning”)
  • Last time Coulson and Raina met, he was strapped to her memory machine (“The Magical Place”)
  • Bobbi Morse (aka Mockingbird) is a SHIELD agent from the Marvel Comics, who ended up married to Hawkeye and  becoming a member of the West Coast Avengers (First app: Astonishing Tales # 6)
  • The dual batons that the character uses to help Agent Simmons escape are the same key weapons that her comic-book counterpart uses. Reference is also made to her trademark blonde hair, which she dyed in order to appear undercover within Hydra.

Mysteries
  • “Don't beg – it reminds me what you were when I found you” - What exactly is the relationship between Raina and Skye's Father?
  • Why does Skye's Father need Raina to bring Skye to him? What does having the Obelisk help him prove to her?
  • Skye's Father claims that “Skye” is not her real name? What is her real name? She once claimed it was “Mary Sue Poots”, but I'm assuming her father is referring to some alien name instead. Could it be that both of their names will be familiar to Marvel Comic readers, hence the delayed reveal?
  • If the alien carvings are a map – where does it lead? Is it a map of space?

Next Episode - "A Fractured House"
The world turns against S.H.I.E.L.D. when Hydra impersonates them to attack The United Nations, and an unexpected enemy leads the charge to bring about their downfall

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Review - Brass Sun # 6 (of 6)

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

This final episode of the Brass Sun miniseries features the concluding half of the third book, 'Floating Worlds' bringing US readers up to date on where the series has reached within the pages of 2000AD. This final installment ramps up the action quotient considerably as Wren and her friends are ambushed at the bottom of the Deep by the Sweet Sisters, then face the deadly and mysterious Agent of Modernity in the ruined headquarters of General Pei and the Mercantile Guild.

After several sequences displaying the majestic beauty of The Deep and its inhabitants, I.N.J. Culbard's artwork transitions from this slower-paced “sightseeing” into a more frenzied action sequence that showcases the artist's amazing ability to convey fluid movement through his panel usage. The firefight between the Sweet Sisters and our heroes is fast-paced and frantic, leaving our heroes with tragic consequences once the gunfire has ceased. Later on in the issue, his panels of devastating carnage in the Mercantile Guild's headquarters really helps amplify the tension as Wren and co are exploring the area before encountering the gory tableau of General Pei and his daughter.

I loved this curveball of a twist that Ian Edginton delivers in the final act of this story, removing General Pei from the equation after setting up his quest in the previous issue. It is this kind of shocking deviation from the norm that really sets this series apart, challenging reader preconceptions and offering genuine surprise. The whole action sequence with the Agent of Modernity was perfectly paced from both writer and artist, evoking a truly cinematic feel. Had I been in a cinema, I'd have let out a cheer when Ramkin appears out of nowhere to save the group from certain death. It's a nice little call-back to the way that Septimus saved him from one of the Scythes, rewarding keen-eyed readers.


Once the action has abated, there is a touching little epilogue scene which sees Ariel and Ramkin depart together as a couple. I was quite surprised to see the two supporting characters leave, although I have no doubt that they will return at some point, probably in a last minute rescue scenario. Despite the loss of two supporting characters, the introduction of the Blind Watchmaker 'wraith' provides Wren and Septimus with some support in the next stages of their quest, offering sage advice alongside a series of pop culture references. The fact that he can only be seen by Wren (and the Agent of Modernity) should provide an interesting dynamic going forward.

One other crucial element introduced in this issue is the deadly Agent of Modernity, who was glimpsed briefly last issue escaping from his mechanical moon. Unlike previous antagonists in the series, this murderous robot seems to be directly linked to Wren's quest and is committed to preventing them from restarting the Brass Sun. Shrouded in mystery, I was really impressed with his stainless steel design and the way that both Edginton and Culbard manage to convey the high level of danger he represents through his brutally precise actions. I look forward to seeing him reappear at inopportune moments to present further problems for Wren and Septimus.

Overall, this issue delivered a fantastic conclusion to this first 'act' of Brass Sun stories. As a whole, these three chapters (and six issues) formed a brilliant introduction to the clock-punk universe of the Orrery and brought our heroes together and put them on the pathway to completing their quest, even establishing a recurring adversary for the future. I've said before how great I've found this series and this issue represents the pinnacle of my enjoyment. There's wonderful action sequences, some rather touching goodbyes and there's even a kick-ass cinematic 'save' from Ramkin. It's truly a worthy conclusion to this first batch of stories, and I look forward to seeing it return in the pages of 2000AD soon with Book Four, 'Motorhead'. Presumably once the next few books are published (probably in the space of a year or so, given the fast turnover this series has seen), 2000AD will release a second series of US format comics to compliment this first series. For those preferring a more rigid collection, they are also releasing a hardcover edition (collecting all six issues) on 4th December – available from the 2000AD webshop or Amazon. I would heartily recommend it!


Score - 9.8 out of 10

Brass Sun # 6 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!

2000AD Prog 1904

Prog 1904 Cover by Alex Ronald

Great little cover from Alex Ronald who takes the class-room riot sequence from out of the interior Judge Dredd strip and expands upon it to deliver a fun alternative take on the scene. There's plenty of small details here too, such as the worried face of the Juve who has Dredd's night-stick pushed up against his nose, or the ginger female in the foreground who is wearing a 2000AD logo pin badge, as well as the “Muties Out” badge that was given away with subscriptions a few years back. 


JUDGE DREDD - BLOCK JUDGE (Part 5)
Script - John Wagner
Art - Carlos Ezquerra
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

This week’s episode of ‘Block Judge’ continues the slow, measured approach as Dredd investigates the curious murder of Gilbert George. Even though this instalment concentrates on Dredd’s detective skills, there’s a flourish of action in the form of the classroom riot, which features a funny scene where a poor student gets his nose stapled. I also liked the sequence where Judge Beeny helps out in the small claims court, a la Judge Judy, and has to put up with tedious cases. It showcases just how busy the small team are and how much focus is required.


The story also features a brief cameo from the female Fatty who appeared in an earlier instalment, suggesting that the roll call of character mentioned in that episode will play a part in events as they unfold. It also seems that the conspiracy behind Gilbert George’s murder will play a prominent role in the story as it appears there are more secrets behind the slaying.

Overall, this is an entertaining change in pace for the Judge Dredd character, offering a new type of storyline in the form of this mundane day-job, with different cases intermingling to provide a more realistic look at the life of a Judge instead of the more episodic approach we tend to get. After almost forty years of stories, it is no mean feat to deliver a fresh perspective and new storytelling approach, and I applaud John Wagner for experimenting with the traditional Dredd narrative to bring this very different story.




STICKLEBACK - THE THRU'PENNY OPERA (Part 5)
Script - Ian Edginton
Art - D'Israeli
Letters - Ellie de Ville

After a few weeks of exposition, we get a bit of forward motion on events as Stickleback and his motley crew encounter the man behind the “Cutter murders” and more is revealed about the three sisters and how they indirectly caused The Cutter to create his “box of bones” to hide from their sight. With more references to their “father” and “master”, it seems that we’re heading towards Lovecraft territory with the three witches attempting to use the city of London to summon an elder god. The cliffhanger ending injects a sense of action and immediate danger that has largely been missing for this series since it debuted in Prog 1900 – I look forward to seeing how Stickleback and company deal with the massive demolition automation that attacks them.



KINGDOM - AUX DRIFT (Part 5)
Script - Dan Abnett
Art - Richard Elson
Colours - Abigail Ryder
Letters - Simon Bowland

This week's episode of Kingdom delivers high-octane action as the insectoid Them attempt to catch Gene and his new found allies by surprise at night-time. Aside from the beautiful fight scenes, wonderfully depicted by Richard Elson, the story also sows seeds of discontent between Nick Rogue and Gene the Hackman, possibly foreshadowing a potential rivalry for the dominant position. As with previous installments of this storyline, there is very little plot development and more focus on the glorious battle sequences as Gene and his army take on Them. Hopefully, this balance will adjust in upcoming episodes and give us readers some meat to get our teeth into, especially regarding the long-teased Kingdom and the direction of the series overall.

As for this particular battle, I have a sneaking suspicion that there will be some dramatic casualties as a result of this ambush, with Gene's mate, Clara Bow, looking to be the likely victim. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if his whole pack were to get wiped out in this storyline, putting Gene back to being a solo adventurer like he was at the series' conception. I am enjoying this storyline and it does provide a burst of action in the Prog when the other stories are more exposition-heavy, but as with Dan Abnett's recent Sinister Dexter run, it just feels like it is taking a long time to get to the point, or maybe I'm just impatient! I'm sure this will read perfectly well in a collected edition format.



GREYSUIT - PRINCE OF DARKNESS (Part 4)
Script - Pat Mills
Art - John Higgins
Colours - Sally Hurst
Letters - Ellie de Ville


Pat Mills and John Higgins continue to craft this grim and gritty reality both through the look and feel of the artwork and the 'gallows humour' conversation that the Greysuits indulge in before dropping John off. Watching John Blake effortlessly subdue his target and prep the scene for a false suicide was so depressingly dark and voyeuristic that it also made me feel like an accomplice. The episode's cliffhanger of a pistol placed in Marsdon's mouth and with John Blake's finger on the trigger is absolutely brilliant! Whatever happens in that next panel will change the direction of this strip and will make for fantastic reading. I can't wait to see what happens next!


As I've said in previous reviews, I love the old-school style that John Higgins is bringing to this series and his stark realism in his panels really brings out the spy noir mood and government conspiracy nature to the series. He also seems quite fond of using celebrities to model the characters after, I spotted Keira Knightley on a computer screen last week, and in this episode I noticed Vinnie Jones in the front passenger seat driving John Blake to his hit. Luckily, it isn't obvious enough to take me out of the story and it will be fun to see which other famous faces appear as characters throughout the series.



THE GRIEVOUS JOURNEY OF ICHABOD AZRAEL - ONE LAST BULLET (Part 4)
Script - Rob Williams
Art - Mike Dowling
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

I absolutely love this series. Seriously, I could just end the review there. Rob Williams and Mike Dowling are hitting all the right notes here, with a story riddled with intriguing mysteries and artwork that just leaks atmosphere off of the page. I also think some of the strength of this series comes from its very likeable cast, even its morally destitute titular character. I particularly like the sarcastic talking Horse and the “Injun-obsessed” General Beauregard. In fact, I love this series so much that I'm disappointed that this is the final book, although I fully understand and respect the team's decision to end it on a high.


I really liked the way that the dramatic, and rather conversation, narration boxes helped heighten the level of tension to Ichabod's confrontation with the Hunter. Judging from more descriptive nature of this new narration, I strongly suspect that it comes from the mysterious Writer character (glimpsed this episode observing events from a window) further lending credence to my theory that he is either God or in a meta-twist, Rob Williams himself, commentating on events and bringing them forth into reality. As for the arrow-firing female, I would guess she is Ichabod's lost love, Eve, but I cannot work out why her eyes have been butchered. This is what I love about this series – it's a compelling mystery, blending Western themes with legends and myths about the afterlife.



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

In conclusion, this was yet another fantastic Prog with two absolute crackers of stories in the shape of Greysuit and Ichabod Azrael, which leave me eager to find out what happens next! With the slow-burn nature of both Judge Dredd and Stickleback, the high-octane action and cliff-hangers of the other stories really helps balance things out, giving the anthology a great mix.

Thrill of the Week: Ichabod Azrael


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1904 will be available in stores on Wednesday 22nd October - Digital copies of this Prog will be available on the same day through the 2000AD app, which can be downloaded onto iOS devices from here.

Keep checking back each week for more reviews and features about 2000AD, the Galaxy's Greatest Comic! Remember to leave your comments below, or contact me on Twitter or through my Facebook page!

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Review - Gotham: 1x02 - "Selina Kyle"


Gotham
Episode 1x02 - "Selina Kyle"

Synopsis

Detectives Bullock and Gordon are on the hunt for two child snatchers who have been kidnapping Gotham’s homeless children as part of a smuggling ring. One of these street-children is a young Selina Kyle (aka Catwoman) who possibly holds information about the man who killed Martha and Thomas Wayne.

Review

After a promising and cinematic pilot episode, I was very curious to see how the show would develop and whether it would be able to sustain the same level of quality now it was in a weekly episodic format, especially since it had already shown one of the most iconic sequences of the Batman mythology: The murder of the Wayne’s. From now on, the show has to craft its own identity and build its own continuity, separate from the DC Comics Universe, which is both fun and exciting but also filled with risk, as comic-book fans are known to get irate if the source material gets altered too much!

While this second episode moved the spotlight away from Bruce Wayne and the murder of his parents, it continued to showcase one of the more mysterious and enigmatic characters from the pilot episode - Selina Kyle, the homeless girl who is destined to grow up and become Catwoman. Last seen skulking about alleyways and witnessing a murder, this episode opened up with her… skulking about an alleyway and witnessing a murder. The poor girl doesn't get much luck, but if she will hang around the seedier parts of Gotham City, then this will happen!

One thing that I noticed in this episode that I didn't pick up on last week was the uncanny resemblance between Camren Bicondova and Michelle Pfeiffer, who famously played Catwoman in Batman Returns. This ingenious bit of casting acts as a nice nod towards the Tim Burton Batman films and plays upon the whole concept of these characters being the younger, unformed versions of the legendary archetypes. It is interesting to note the numerous connections to those early Batman films, as it seems to be acting as the blueprint for this incarnation of Gotham City, with its neon lights and 1950’s inspired atmosphere, rather than the more realistic and contemporary approach seen in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy.


The power struggle between Mooney, Falcone and Maroni is glimpsed briefly here as Falcone visits Mooney's club to question her loyalty. While he may be satisfied that she is subservient to him now, he has her lover beaten to a pulp in front of her as a show of strength and dominance, unaware that he is pouring more fuel on the fire of revenge. While we've yet to see Maroni, I am intrigued to see how this “cold war” will manifest itself as the various crime-bosses attempt to usurp the others, not to mention how the exiled Oswald Cobblepot will fit into proceedings. I'm guessing this undercurrent of gang war and Machiavellian plotting will take up the bulk of the first season, with the GCPD planted firmly in the middle of the backstabbing and power plays. Hopefully, the show will maintain the tension and deliver some really dramatic scenes in upcoming episodes.

Another thing that struck me about this episode was the level of gore that occurred, such as when the Penguin viciously stabbed the passenger in the neck with a broken bottle, or the horrific visual of the gouged-out eyes on the face of the guard Selina scratched. It seems this show isn't adverse to showing the violent side to the Gotham underworld, which is great as I feel that if it had to try and tone down these aspects, it would lose so much of its impact. For this show to work, it has to maintain a sense of legitimacy about its subject matter and not shy away from the gorier side. I'm not expecting it to be like The Walking Dead, but it is good to see that it is willing to push boundaries when needed.

The relationship between Bullock and Gordon continues to drive the show as they clash over the way to handle the investigation, although there are flashes of comradeship between the two, such as when they dive into action against the gun-toting kidnappers. The rest of the show's sub-plots bubble along nicely as we witness the Penguin's attempts to raise money now he is exiled from Gotham, Montoya and Allen's investigations into the corruption in GCPD and some more creepiness from Edward Nygma. Eagle-eyed comic book fans might have noticed reference to the Dollmaker, a super-villain in the Batman comics who makes dolls out of victim's skins, suggesting a rather macabre fate for the children if they'd been shipped overseas.

Overall, this was a worthy sophomore episode for the series that capitalised on all the elements that made the first episode so great and managed to introduce a thrilling new case, separate from the Wayne's murder that acted as its main plot while the other storylines bubbled away in the background. If the show is to continue to use this “case of the week” to propel the series' main plot as the various supporting storylines build and take shape, it will need to tie events directly to the various supporting characters, as they did in this episode with Selina Kyle becoming embroiled in the child-smuggling ring. As long as the rather large cast have enough things to be doing, I have every faith that this show will maintain its strong cinematic feel and become a must-watch.


Score - 9.5 out of 10


Next Episode - "The Balloonman"
Detectives Gordon and Bullock track down a vigilante who is killing corrupt Gotham citizens by attaching them to weather balloons. Meanwhile, Oswald Cobblepot returns to Gotham and gets a new job close to an influential figure in the underworld.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Review - Agents of SHIELD: 2x04 - "Face My Enemy"


Agents of SHIELD
Episode 2x04 - "Face My Enemy"

Synopsis

Coulson and May go undercover for a mission to discover more about the mysterious symbols that Coulson has been carving into the walls, only to find out that there are other parties are equally as interested in their origins.

Review

After episodes focused on Lance Hunter and Simmons, this time around it was the turn of Agents May and Coulson to take the spotlight with a light-hearted undercover spy mission that stepped away from the super-heroic elements of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to deliver a more espionage orientated storyline, reminiscent of early Season One episodes, such as 'Eye Spy'. The opening sequence where Coulson and May posed as a socialite couple to gain entry to a fundraiser reminded me of the NBC spy comedy drama, Chuck, in that it delivered a very “Hollywood” idealised version of undercover spying, filled with the glitz and glamour of dinner parties and gala events. I did like this humourous approach, though, especially the moment when Coulson and May came across a stereotypical laser grid, and May's unexpected way to overcome it.

It was nice to see the relationship between May and Coulson explored in a greater focus, hinting at the long history between the pair through Coulson's nostalgic discussions of their past missions. While the episode established how much May cares her for superior, through her reluctance to even acknowledge the possibility she may have to “cross him off” if his symptoms begin to worsen, it didn't really address any romantic pairings between the pair, leaving it unresolved.

Even though the focus was on both Coulson and May, the episode really belonged to Ming-Na Wen, who had plenty of opportunities to put her acting skills to the test by playing three different incarnations of her character. Initially she had to play the standard version of Melinda May, the kick-ass SHIELD agent – she also had to play Heidi Martin, the giggly and smiley socialite identity she used whilst undercover, and finally she had to play Agent 33 pretending to be May underneath a face-changing mask. And, she performed all three roles fantastically with subtle changes for each character.

The mysterious symbols once again acted as the impetus for this episode, with the Obelisk also returning to prominence in the post-credits sequence, suggesting that this mystery will be taking up the bulk of this season. I am actually really pleased that the show is keeping a tight leash on this particular sub-plot as it is the one that intrigues me the most and I look forward to seeing how it ties into Coulson's resurrection, especially since it seems like he might be suffering worsening degenerative effects. My theory is that the carvings is the Kree language and that by using their regenerative DNA (GH-325) to resurrect his body, he has somehow absorbed subconscious knowledge of their language. I also think that Skye and her father are probably “Inhuman” and that this Kree language holds the key to them unlocking their powers, which explains all of Raina's mysterious talk about “what will I become?” last season. As for the un-aging Whitehall, I'm guessing he shares whatever DNA that Coulson does and is equally as eager to get his hands on a cure.


Despite the move away from the super-villain threats of the last three episodes, I really enjoyed the high-tech spy dramas of this episode, especially with the introduction of the bio-mesh face masks that allow the wearer to replicate the face and voice of their target. This, along with the brainwashing, just adds a whole new layer of distrust to the series, making it difficult for the characters (and the viewers) to take things at face value. Unfortunately, I accidentally spoiled myself on the “Fake Talbot” twist, so I can't really write about the impact it had, but I did like the use of this technology and no doubt it will appear again.

The highlight of the episode for me was the absolutely fantastic fight sequence between the two Agent May's – not only was it well choreographed and brutally violent, but it also used the CGI very well to give the impression that Ming-Na was fighting herself, without resorting to body doubles and awkward angles too often. The scrappy nature of the fight scene reminded me of the brawl between Ward and May in the season one finale, and easily ranks amongst the best moments of the series thus far.

Even though the focus was on the two undercover agents, there was still some developments with the rest of the cast, with the troubled Fitz receiving advice from the imaginary “Simmons”. I found this sequence to be really sweet, with Fitz's subconscious trying to encourage him to make friends and bond with the new members of the team. Through overcoming the danger that presents itself later in the episode, Fitz manages to finally open up and converse with Mack and Lance Hunter, marking the first step towards recovery. After initially finding him to be rather one-note and irritating in Season One, I am actually starting to really enjoy Fitz as a character, thanks to Iain de Caestecker's wonderful acting bringing out the very human and fragile side to the damaged scientist.

In conclusion, this was yet another strong episode for the series, although I did have some concerns during the opening half of the episode, which felt a bit too glamorous and light-weight although this soon changed once Hydra were revealed and the gadgetry of the bio mesh masks came into play. The fight scenes were easily some of the most dynamic and visually exciting to be seen in the series and really helped elevate the episode. With SHIELD being less omnipotent and high-profile than before, I really hope that we get to see more of this spy-centric episodes in the future as they make for fun diversions to the more super-powered elements of the show. As always, the post-credits stinger delivers a wonderful tease for the next episode with Raina implanted with some kind of bug and forced to deliver the Obelsik back to Whitehall. This seems to be setting up a three-way battle between Hydra, SHIELD and Skye's Father for this mysterious artifact and I cannot wait to see how it all turns out.


Score - 9.5 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • NONE

Mysteries
  • Who wrote the “alien writing” on the back on the painting?
  • Lance Hunter mentions an ex-wife – could this be foreshadowing for a future sub-plot? He is interrupted before he can go into more detail about the break-up.

Next Episode - "A Hen in the Wolf House"
Coulson's team is up against the beautiful and deadly Bobbi Morse, the Security Chief for Hydra. Meanwhile, Skye's father forces Raina to reunite him with his daughter at any cost.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

2000AD Prog 1903

Prog 1903 Cover by D'Israeli

I really like the design of this cover with D’Israeli’s distinctive greyscale colour approach standing out from the newsagent shelf, no doubt attracting the eye of new and lapsed readers. I also really like the choice of perspective for the three “bad pennies” as the loom over the reader, injecting a sense of menace and tension to the image, nicely mirroring their nefarious plans for London within the strip itself.


JUDGE DREDD - BLOCK JUDGE (Part 4)
Script - John Wagner
Art - Carlos Ezquerra
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

This week's episode of Judge Dredd sees another sub-plot added to the pile with the investigation into the strange death of Gilbert George, which might be related to the current gang war that rages on in Gramercy Heights. The second half of this installment features Dredd making full use of the law to get Walter Knight put away for the most menial of tasks, but hey, they got Al Capone on tax evasion. Curiously, he seems to have undergone a face lift and rejuvenation therapy to look younger than his initial appearance – could this be a major plot point, or did Carlos Ezquerra draw the wrong face and they fixed it via dialogue. Either way, it did stand out as an erroneous and unusual plot development.


I'm really enjoying this slow burn approach to the storyline, which alternates between more action-heavy sequences and the more methodical detective work that Judges do. I must admit that I am getting a little bit impatient in waiting for the plot threads to begin to weave together and give the reader an idea of the tapestry that John Wagner is creating here, but I am enjoying each part as it comes along without really concentrating on the bigger picture. I'm sure that once the whole thing is completed (presumably before the end of year Prog) that it will feel perfectly paced and almost novel-like in its construction.



STICKLEBACK - THE THRU'PENNY OPERA (Part 4)
Script - Ian Edginton
Art - D'Israeli
Letters - Ellie de Ville

This week's Stickleback features another episode rife with exposition, but with the aid of flashback panels this time as Black Bob gives us a glimpse into his past and a connection to the dark events about to hit London. After an insight into the motivations of The Cutter last Prog, we get more details on the secondary plot thread of the “bad pennies”, the three witch-like women who seem to have sinister plans for London involving a mysterious symbol, which appears to be a way to summon their dark master. Could this lead to another surprise appearance from Cthulhu, as seen in the recent series of Indigo Prime

The series contains to be really intriguing, despite what is now four episodes of generally conversation and very little action. Ian Edginton really does excel at building up a rich atmosphere and storyline, as evidenced with his fantastic work on crafting the imaginative clockwork universe seen in Brass Sun, and D'Israeli's fantastic greyscale artwork just breathes life into the Gothic Victorian setting. I'm looking forward to seeing the plot threads intertwine more as there appears to be a connection between this mysterious serial killer and the three witches.



KINGDOM - AUX DRIFT (Part 4)
Script - Dan Abnett
Art - Richard Elson
Colours - Abigail Ryder
Letters - Simon Bowland

This week's episode of Kingdom sees a brief respite between battles as Gene gets to know the new supporting cast and discovers more about the Kingdom. However, this brief interlude is over pretty quickly as Them have returned in greater numbers, promising a bigger fight than has ever been seen. The dramatic tension of this cliffhanger, as Nick Rogue comes screaming out of the darkness followed by countless red eyes, makes me wonder whether everyone will get out of this next battle alive.


While I am enjoying Richard Elson's glorious visuals on this strip, particularly his action sequences, it does feel like not much has happened in this series about from people talking about this “Kingdom” place, or fighting giant bugs. While it's likely that next week will be another epic battle between the creatures, I'm hoping that we will get some actual movement on the plot and an idea of the conflict beyond the attacks from the insects, as it feels a bit “rinse and repeat” at the moment.



GREYSUIT - PRINCE OF DARKNESS (Part 3)
Script - Pat Mills
Art - John Higgins
Colours - Sally Hurst
Letters - Ellie de Ville

I must admit I was actually quite shocked and surprised to see a reference to homosexual rape within a boarding school environment in this installment of Greysuit, which certainly is a far cry from the classic M.A.C.H. ONE stories of the late 1970's, although the series does still manage to evoke that old-school vibe despite its more modern and edgy subject matter. I'm not going to get into the debate as to whether 2000AD is still suitable for teenagers, or whether it has grown up with its audience and is pretty much aimed at the 18 – 45 demographic nowadays, but I did find this rather gritty sequence to be one of the more shocking moments in recent 2000AD history, although I guess if a teenager was reading it, they might not recognise the sexual undertones to the sequence.

Returning back to the series at hand, I am really enjoying the bleak, nihilistic tone that is being cultivated by both Pat Mills' gritty script and John Higgins' fabulously grim artwork. This series just encapsulates everything I love about 2000AD – it's pushing boundaries with anarchic and challenging stories that you'd never see in mainstream comics like Marvel and DC, apart from maybe their MAX and Vertigo imprints. However, this is British subversion at its best and is shaping up to be another cracker from Pat Mills.



THE GRIEVOUS JOURNEY OF ICHABOD AZRAEL - ONE LAST BULLET (Part 3)
Script - Rob Williams
Art - Mike Dowling
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

What a fantastic episode of Ichabod Azrael this was, with each panel dripping with tension as our titular anti-hero is about to be hung, alongside the returning comic relief character of General Beauregard. The sudden reveal of the mutated Hunter, now joined to his hounds in a sprawling mass of flesh just added further excitement to the strip, especially as he begun to tear into the villagers of Atonement, killing without mercy in an effort to reach his prey.


Mike Dowling's black and white artwork is brilliant, with the added line detail on the characters helping to accentuate the drama of their situation. Rob Williams' script is also flawless here, delivering buckets of atmosphere and dramatic tension to the situation whilst dropping further hints towards the mystery of Atonement. I think that my guess that the town is populated by Ichabod's victims might be correct, but it looks like the curious character of the writer seems to be set up as God's alter-ego, although for some reason I suspect that things might take a rather meta direction and the writer who knocked out Ichabod last Prog is actually Rob Williams himself and once Ichabod takes out his "creator", the series will end...yeah, I know... it's a bit of an out-there theory, but the beauty of this series is that it is still quite feasible.



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

Overall, this was another strong Prog with most of the stories taking the time to develop their plot-lines further with more exposition filled episodes. I particularly liked the high-noon tension from Ichabod Azrael, which ends on a fantastically suspense-laden cliffhanger. Elsewhere, Greysuit continues to impress with its gritty, spy noir atmosphere as brainwashed John Blake heads off to betray his own emotions and kill an innocent man. In fact, the only minor blip would be the repetitive nature of Kingdom, which feels a bit slow-paced and spinning its wheels with a somewhat cyclical plot structure.

Thrill of the Week: Ichabod Azrael


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1903 will be available in stores on Wednesday 15th October - 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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