Thursday, 31 December 2015

Top Ten 2000AD Covers in 2015

It's that time of the year again when we at Pop Culture Bandit take a look back at the past twelve months of 2000AD covers and pick our Top Ten 2000AD Covers published during 2015. Obviously, this is entirely subjective to us, so if you want to include your own list, please use the comment box below. For reference, the first Prog of the year was Prog 1912 and the various covers can be found at Barney, the unofficial 2000AD database.

For those curious to see our previous Top Ten lists, you can check out the 2013 post here, and the 2014 post here.

10) 2000AD Prog 1919 by John Higgins

This fantastic painted cover from veteran art droid John Higgins celebrates 2000AD's 38th anniversary in style with a wonderfully graffiti-inspired design. Higgins manages to capture the enigmatic look of Tharg the Mighty and the drips of paint that run down the page just emphasises the distinctive 'spray paint' style. I love this understated and somewhat mature take on an anniversary cover, which manages to evoke the sci-fi elements of the anthology inside.

9) 2000AD Prog 1924 by Brian Bolland

Prog 1924 saw another veteran art droid return to the Prog in the form of Brian Bolland, one of the legendary Judge Dredd artists. Rather than focusing on his iconic take on the Mega City One law-man, Bolland also turned his hand to bringing 2000AD's other two “leading men” to life. While it goes without saying that Bolland absolutely nails his Dredd, it was his take on Slaine and Johnny Alpha that was a complete revelation to me. I particularly liked his version of Slaine, which captured the timeless essence of the character perfectly.

8) 2000AD Prog 1934 by Simon Davis

Simon Davis’ work on Slaine has been simply amazing with his fully painted art style bringing the character to life in a fresh and exciting way. Here, he gets to play with the character’s trademark warp-spasm, resulting in a grotesque image of bulging eyeballs, torn flesh and a tongue that wouldn’t look out of place in a certain black-suited symbiote’s mouth. I’d long been waiting to see Simon Davis’ take on the warp-spasm and he did not disappoint one bit.

7) 2000AD Prog 1954 by INJ Culbard

One of my favourite moments from the previous Brass Sun chapter, “Floating Worlds” was the gut-punch revelation that Arthur had massacred General Pei and the Mercantile Guild. It was such a shocking moment that changed the tone of the strip – here, INJ Culbard revisits that moment, creating tension and dread for the readers with the image of Arthur once again cutting a bloody path in his single-minded attempt to get his hands on Wren and the Blind Watchmaker inside her head. It’s a fabulous image that makes the reader want to rip open the pages and devour the entire episode of Brass Sun in one go. Which I did…

6) 2000AD Prog 1920 by Dylan Teague

This is a wonderfully engaging cover from Dylan Teague, bringing the reader face to face with one of the Grinders from Savage. I love the shock value of the gun coming out of the woman’s mouth, and I can only imagine the reaction that people would have seeing this on the newsagent shelf. The decision to frame it from the reader’s POV is an inspired one, literally sucking onlookers into the art itself. I also love the rich and evocative colour palette used, which works well to direct the reader’s eye towards the deadly weapon emerging from her oesophagus.

5) 2000AD Prog 1947 by Henry Flint

There’s a hauntingly eerie quality to this cover which sees Judge Dredd riding his unlikely equine savior into action – I love the stark white of the background here, placing all of the focus on Henry Flint’s spectacular Dredd. It’s a powerful image that presents Dredd as the sheriff of his town, riding into danger to confront Aimee Nixon. There was a number of Judge Dredd covers during the "Enceladus: Old Life" storyline, but this one – along with another later in the list – really stood out as my favourites.

4) 2000AD Prog 1959 by Cliff Robinson & Dylan Teague

This fantastic Judge Dredd cover from Cliff Robinson and Dylan Teague also adopts a POV perspective, placing the reader in the role of a citizen recording a brutal beating – mirroring the story shown inside. I love the way Robinson places the main focus of the cover within the screen of the cellphone, making an interesting statement about how we seem to be living our lives through our mobile devices. It’s easily the most inventive use of space seen in a 2000AD cover this year, creating a cover that tells its own story in one dynamic image.

3) 2000AD Prog 1940 by Greg Staples

2015 has been a fantastic year for Greg Staples fans with the amazing “Dark Justice” storyline at the start of the year, supported by a number of excellent painted covers. Surprisingly, this entry was actually a cover for “Enceladus: Old Life”, but it remains one of my favourite covers by the artist throughout the year. I love the slightly tilted angle of the central image of Dredd on his Lawmaster, emphasising speed as he ploughs through the icy wasteland that Mega-City One had become. It’s a wonderfully evocative image, capturing the sub-zero climate that drove the action in the “Enceladus: Old Life” storyline.

2) 2000AD Prog 1938 by Neil Roberts

Sometimes a simple image can be much more effective for a front cover than a complicated detail-driven piece. Neil Roberts encapsulates this idea with this absolutely brilliant Judge Dredd cover that makes use of blank space to great effect. I love the energy of this piece, with Dredd punching one unfortunate Emerald Isle citizen out of the strip and into the white space of the cover. It evokes the feeling of a bar-room brawl perfectly, with people being thrown out of windows and tables turned over. I also love the decision to use a green and white colour scheme, subtly representing the Irish setting of the “Blood of the Emeralds” storyline.

1) 2000AD Prog 1915 by Greg Staples

It may not come as a shock to see this cover from Greg Staples appearing at the top spot of this list as it features all the core ingredients that makes up a truly fantastic 2000AD cover. It has a POV shot that brings the reader into the art, it’s fully painted and features Judge Dredd, and it is a relatively simple idea. Greg Staples kicked off 2015 in style with the amazing “Dark Justice” storyline and this cover image is the pinnacle of his achievements during those opening months. I love the turquoise colour scheme in the background, it’s so foreboding and suits the image perfectly – I also love the tilted perspective – which Staples also used later on in his Prog 1940 cover to equally great effect. Having Judge Death reaching out to the reader is a fantastic visual device, heightening the creepiness of the piece and engaging the reader – oh, and a special ‘well done’ goes to the pun droid for the pitch-perfect “fiends reunited” tagline that acts as the icing on the cake.

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

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Review - Doctor Who: The 12th Doctor # 15

Doctor Who: The 12th Doctor # 15
"The Hyperion Empire" - Part 4 (of 4)
Written by: Robbie Morrison
Art by: Daniel Indro
Colours by: Slamet Mujiono

This final issue of the Twelfth Doctor comic series sees Robbie Morrison reunited with artist Daniel Indro to deliver an epic conclusion to “The Hyperion Empire”. Straight off the bat, Indro's artwork breathes some fire into the story, as his raw but detailed style captures the drama of last issue's cliff-hanger involving a horde of ash-zombies advancing on our heroes. Morrison's script moves along at a great pace, never feeling rushed or too slow, whilst weaving through a number of narrative twist and turns. I've often praised Morrison's ability to get the Twelfth Doctor's voice right on the page in his dialogue, but I've neglected to mention how well he manages to capture Clara Oswald's personality. The banter between her and the Doctor feels delightfully authentic and true to the relationship depicted in the TV show itself, and I enjoy seeing her trade witty barbs with him. Even the secondary characters like Fireman Sam and Colonel Weir are wonderfully well-developed and rich with personality.

Another area in which Morrison excels is in his use of Doctor Who continuity in his stories – it's always subtle and doesn't distract from the reading experience. For example, those with a keen eye may notice that when the Doctor teleports the entire fusion web onto the same sun seen in the Season One episode, “The End of the World”, which expands and destroys the now-empty Earth. It's the event that the Ninth Doctor takes Rose to see on their first ever trip in the TARDIS. Maybe it's the Back to the Future fan in me, but I love the idea of re-watching that episode and imagining the Twelfth Doctor, Clara and the Hyperions attached to that sun as it reaches super-nova and destroys the Earth and the Fusion Web in one fell swoop. There's also a reference to River Song's curious “half-life” as an hologrammatic AI program when the Doctor employs similar technology to give Colonel Weir a somewhat happy ending. Again, it's not required knowledge to understand the storyline, but it definitely enhances the experience for hard-core Whovians, like myself.

All in all, this has been a tremendous story-arc from start to finish, capturing that same bleak and downbeat from “The Dalek Invasion of Earth” but in a more modern setting and with a more dynamic monster. My only criticism was the lack of attention given to the aftermath of the Hyperion's attack on Earth – in those initial issues, it seemed a majority of London and England had been affected by the invasion, but we never see things get fixed or go back to normal. It felt a bit too big to be wrapped up so quickly and neatly at the end, and I'd have liked a page or so with the Doctor speaking to Kate Stewart about UNIT's plans to fix up the damage, etc. Maybe I'm being too picky, but I was expecting some kind of “undo button” at the end of the story. That said, I did love the way Morrison tied the ending into that pivotal scene from “The End of the World” - it was simply inspired.

This first year of Twelfth Doctor stories has been quite the journey of different stories, book-ended by the two Hyperion tales. I quite liked this approach to structuring the season compared to the Tenth Doctor's adventures which seemed fairly random until the final story-arc finale which then bled over into the second year, or the Eleventh Doctor's adventures which form one long story-arc made up of smaller bite-size adventures. Here, Robbie Morrison had the best of both worlds, much like the TV show itself, blending one-off adventures with stories tied into a grander story such as the Hyperion War. This issue has a preview for the next year of stories which moves the timeline firmly into Season Nine's chronology and features the wonderful Rachael Stott on art duty. I was lucky enough to meet Miss Stott at a comics signing a few months back where she drew me a lovely Doctor Who / Spider-Man mash-up sketch and I can safely say that she is a great talent that suits the Doctor Who series very well.

Score - 9.8 out of 10

Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor # 15 is now available in all good comic shops, including Forbidden Planet, as well as on the Comixology website. Be sure to put in a standing order for the upcoming issues in the series when you pick up your copy!

Review - Doctor Who: The 11th Doctor (Vol. 2) # 4

Doctor Who: The 11th Doctor (Vol. 2) # 4
Written by: Rob Williams
Art by: Warren Pleece
Colours by: Hi-Fi

This fourth issue of the 11th Doctor comic series sees the return of artist Warren Pleece, who drew some key issues in the first year of stories. Unfortunately, this change in artist does require a brief adjustment period after three issues of excellent Simon Fraser artwork. That's not to say that Pleece's artwork is sub-par, but there is a noticeable difference in styles that takes some getting used to. Fraser has certainly put his mark on Absalom Daak and The Squire, leaving Pleece's interpretations to feel less authentic. Again, the problem isn't with Pleece's artwork, but more the juxtaposition between art styles which seems far more jarring here compared to the other Doctor Who comic series where the artists tend to have similar styles, or are used on separate and distinct story-arcs. The fact that this is all one rolling storyline doesn't help mask the inconsistencies between art styles. That said, I do like the simple and straight-forward style that Pleece brings to the comic, bringing a different tone to the comic as the Doctor and his companions search for clues to the series' over-arching mystery.

The mystery surrounding whether The War Doctor was responsible for creating The Malignant during The Time War remains central to this second year of stories as writer Rob Williams introduces more clues, including a potential mastermind behind the whole scheme. As with the preceding issue, Alice sees a mixture of visions from the past and future, which seemingly make no sense out of context, but assures the reader that Williams and Spurrier have spun a narrative equally as complex and organised as the first year's “timey wimey” story-arc involving ServeYouINC. Like a jigsaw puzzle, each issue reveals more hidden pieces regarding The War Doctor and the Time War. I am a sucker for a good mystery – it's part of the reason why LOST became a personal obsession for six years of my life – and this series is shaping up to be a thoroughly rewarding read, bringing in recent revelations from “The Day of the Doctor” to create a truly compelling mystery from the very DNA of the show.

The reveal that the Master may be the one responsible for framing the Doctor was a huge surprise for me. For some reason, I'd assumed that he wouldn't be appearing in any of the Titan Comics spin-off media, especially considering chronologically these adventures take place after “The End of Time” where the Master gets sent back to the Time War with the rest of the Time Lords. I am very curious to see which incarnation of the Master we get to see in this adventure – whether it is John Simm's version before he regenerates into Michelle Gomez's Missy, or whether it is an unseen version from The Time War that eventually becomes Professor Yana (Derek Jacobi) from “Utopia”. Given the appearance of the little boy in a number of the War Doctor's flashback sequences over the past four issues, I also wonder whether the Master may have regenerated into the body of a child, creating a situation even more unusual than a Doctor and Master of opposite genders.

Overall, this was another strong installment for the Eleventh Doctor's second year of adventures - one that further developed the series' central mystery but also provided the first glimmer of actual answers. I'm extremely excited at the possibility of Williams and Spurrier tackling the Doctor / Master relationship, especially considering the wide variety of incarnations that are available for them to use. As much as I'd love to see a Roger Delgado Master appear, I am hoping for a bridge between the John Simm and Michelle Gomez incarnations – something that will probably never be seen in the TV series proper. There's a slight swagger of confidence about this “second season” of adventures as Williams and Spurrier build an enthralling untold story from the Time War. This is a series that needs to be on the pull list of every comic-reading Whovian as it expands upon one of the most intriguing gaps in the Doctor Who mythology with an attention to detail and continuity that rivals the TV show itself. This isn't an optional extra - this is essential reading for Whovians!

Score - 9.4 out of 10

Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor (Vol. 2) # 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!

Friday, 18 December 2015

Review - Supergirl: 1x08 - "Hostile Takeover"

Episode 1x08 - "Hostile Takeover"


Supergirl is forced to listen to some hard truths about her mother when her aunt Astra attempts to recruit her. Meanwhile, Cat Grant is the victim of corporate espionage and faces losing everything she holds dear unless Kara, James and Winn can discover who hacked into her email account.


Following on from last episode's ambush attack, Supergirl returns the focus to the Fort Rozz escapees and fills in some much needed backstory on Kara's seemingly evil Aunt Astra. Surprisingly, the show presents Alura as a sympathetic character, aware of Krypton's impending destruction and willing to do anything to prevent the event, even performing 'terrorist activities'. Interestingly, Astra references her desire to prevent Earth from being destroyed like Krypton, and given the attack on Lord Industries at the end of the episode, I wonder if Maxwell Lord is involved in experiments that could jeopardise Earth's eco-system in the same way Krypton was. I'm glad the show-writers spent some more time developing Astra's character through the flashbacks on Krypton, firmly establishing a genuine relationship between her and Kara that didn't feel as tangible in those initial episodes. I'm also pleased that Astra's motivations appear to be more complex than a simple attempt to take over the Earth, as once again Supergirl moves away from predictability to deliver a more rewarding narrative to its viewers.

There were some fantastic scenes in this episode, such as the fight sequence between Kara and Alura, which really captured the frenetic and emotional energy between the two as they battled across National City. I loved the 'over-the-shoulder' viewpoint as Kara attacked her aunt with such intense ferocity. That same level of emotion was on display when Kara confronted the A.I hologram of her mother about how she'd been used as a pawn to lure Alura out of hiding – Melissa Benoist did a tremendous job showing the betrayal and heartache in the character, demonstrating her range as an actress. Over the past eight episodes, she has proven to be a fantastic Supergirl and Kara Danvers – managing to literally transform between the two roles. While the glasses 'disguise' isn't cast-iron, Benoist does manage to look slightly different when she is playing Kara, as opposed to Supergirl. The final battle at Lord Industries might be one of the most ambitious fight scenes yet, introducing a bevy of Kryptonian villains with a wide variety of amazing powers pitted against Hank Henshaw and the DEO. It truly felt like a mid-season finale and once again demonstrated the series' high budget for special effects, easily rivalling those seen in the lacklustre Superman Returns.

Aside from the big-budget fight scenes, there were some very interesting developments in Kara's personal life – particularly with Cat Grant. Throughout the past few episodes, we've seen the acid-tongued media magnate gradually open up and warm to Kara (or Keira, as she annoyingly calls her!) and showcase a more human side. With her vulnerability in this episode, we see it develop further, but that revelatory final scene reminds us that Cat Grant is extremely savvy and very observant, and clearly Kara had let her guard down around her boss. I loved the way that Cat listed the various clues she'd picked up upon throughout the series so far, building up her argument up until that final request where she asked her to take off her glasses. I honestly wasn't expecting Cat to discover Kara's secret so soon, and given her firm evidence and the fact that Kara even removed her glasses, I have no idea how the writers are going to be able to reverse this reveal – if they even choose to. Hopefully they choose to run with it, as it will add a whole new dimension to the relationship between the two, but at the same time, I'm not sure how the series would function in the long-term. As with Kara's reveal to James and Winn in the first episode and the Martian Manhunter reveal in the last one, Supergirl seems willing to surprise its audience and break out of the typical format for these types of TV shows.

This episode set a new benchmark for the series, amping up the action and the emotion to a whole new level. Sure, there was still remnants of the romantic love triangle in there, although it was more focused on the likeable Winn this time around. I suspect that James advice to pursue Kara will backfire somewhat, causing more emo-drama between the three of them. Personally, I think Winn should hook up with Cat Grant – she certainly seems like a bit of a cougar! Fans of Superman mythology may have noticed a reference to Superman II during this episode with the reveal that Astra's husband was named Non, the mute Kryptonian bodyguard to General Zod in the 1980 movie, although clearly he is much more verbose in this universe. Given his more violent nature, I suspect he may be misleading and manipulating the seemingly more altruistic Alura into performing misdeeds and will turn out to be the real “big bad” of the series – presumably General Zod has already been established in this universe as a Superman villain and like with Maxwell Lord / Lex Luthor, the show has come up with its own alternative to the infamous villain. I honestly can't wait for the series to return in the New Year – it has fast evolved from a bit of goofy fun to a genuinely entertaining show and if it can maintain this trajectory, I have every faith it will become as iconic as its predecessors, Lois & Clark and Smallville.

Score - 9.2 out of 10

Next Episode - "Blood Bonds"
A stand-off ensues between the DEO and Astra's forces, while Kara tries to refute Cat's allegations that she's Supergirl.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

2000AD Prog 1961 [Annual]

Prog 1961 Cover by Ian Kennedy

Unusually for 2000AD, this end-of-year special features two variant cover choices. The above “news-stand” cover from Ian Kennedy and a Diamond Previews exclusive from Simon Bisley, only available in UK comic stores. I received the Kennedy variant, which features a beautiful Mega City-One cityscape from the veteran 2000AD artist that evokes memories of Ian Gibson’s art style. While the glossy nature of the city might contrast against the current dilapidated post-DOC version, it’s a great image that feels suitably epic for the end-of-year special. Out of the two covers, I’d say this one edges out over the darker and more violent Bisley variant.

Script - Rob Williams
Art - Henry Flint
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Hot on the heels of their recent success with “Enceladus: Old Life”, the super-star team of Rob Williams and Henry Flint return for another tale of sentient snow with this anarchic homage to the Christmas classic, Raymond Briggs' The Snowman. Tying into the aftermath of the Enceladus invasion, this Christmas themed episode sees a quartet of punk Snowmen attempting to steal enough freezers to extend their lifespan and create an ice-rink in the Undercity. After showcasing Dredd's more heroic qualities during the Enceladus saga, this story which is told from the viewpoint of a young child showcases the sterner, unforgiving side of the Judge. As with previous Judge Dredd Christmas Specials, there's a brilliant sense of dark humour running through the story as 2000AD subverts the whole idea of a feel-good Christmas story.

The pairing of Rob Williams and Henry Flint is shaping up to be an indicator of brilliance with some excellent stories under their belt over the past couple of years, starting with “Titan” and leading up to this issue. There seems to be three core writers on Judge Dredd at the moment: John Wagner, Rob Williams and Michael Carroll – each of whom brings a different flavour to the series, crafting their own sub-plots and supporting characters. 2015 was a fantastic year for Judge Dredd with brilliant stories from all three writers, starting off with the horror blockbuster “Dark Justice”, the operatic nature of “Enceladus: Old Life” and the conspiracy-driven “Blood of the Emeralds”. I have every faith that 2016 will bring forth another set of modern classics featuring the law-man of the future. Even after nearly forty years, Judge Dredd remains as fresh and exciting as its ever been.

Script - Gordon Rennie
Art - Tiernen Trevallion
Letters - Simon Bowland

This end-of-year episode of Absalom worked well as an epilogue to the recent story, “Under a False Flag”, addressing the series’ central plot-line of Harry’s captive grandchildren in a surprisingly emotive way with a series of photographs that chart the years they've spent in the care of demons. This is contrasted with scenes that focus on the latest addition to the team, the teen demon hunter Daniel, who ends up encountering a horrendous beast whilst attempting to retrieve a family photo. Gordon Rennie expertly uses the notion of family ties to draw parallels between the two characters, bringing out the real heart beneath the series that sometimes gets lost in amongst the violence and bluster of the cockney copper.

Tiernen Trevallion once again brings a unique flavour to the strip, somehow balancing simplicity and complexity in his panels at the same time. I love the level of detail he brings to the backgrounds, especially the graffiti-ridden walls of an inner-city block of flat – it really helps brings out the London vibe of this horror series. Trevallion’s monsters are deliciously warped as well, as evidenced by the Alien Queen-esque bug creature that attacks Daniel in his home. This one-off adventure certainly teases an interesting future for the series, even hinting at a more macabre end for Harry’s quest to rescue his grandchildren. I look forward to the series returning, hopefully in 2016, for a more extended run that develops this central plot thread a bit further.

Script - Dan Abnett
Art - Richard Elson
Letters - Ellie de Ville

While elements of the last series of Kingdom felt dragged out and slow-paced, this opening installment of the wonderfully titled “Beast of Eden” advances the series' central storylines considerably, jumping ahead in time to reveal Gene and his pack settled into Kingdom, with Gene siring two children with Clara Bow. In fact, things look so comfortable for our protagonist, that it feels almost inevitable that something terrible is going to befall those he cares about. Maybe it is because Mad Max: Fury Road was released this summer, but I found myself noticing plenty of similarities between George Miller's post-apocalyptic Australian science fiction classic and Dan Abnett's tale of genetically enhanced dogs battling against giant insects that rule the earth - especially when Gene and his pack arrived back in Kingdom aboard their vehicles.

Richard Elson continues to deliver career-defining artwork on this series with each panel looking like an animation cel. I've long maintained that this series would be fantastic as an adult animation and with the revival of Mad Max franchise, 2000AD would do well to capitalise on that hunger for post-apocalyptic carnage. Elson's artwork is simply perfect for this series, capturing both the butch ferocity of the Aux and the insectoid creepiness of Them. Both Abnett and Elson manage to infuse the series with plenty of influences ranging from the aforementioned Mad Max to classic 1950 pulp sci-fi movies, such as Them! There's something oddly comforting about reading Kingdom and seeing Gene, or one of the other Aux, ripping into the carapace of the huge insectoid Them, spilling green blood across the panel. This is an absolute gem of a series, and one that could only ever appear in 2000AD

Script - Peter Milligan
Art - Rufus Dayglo & Jim McCarthy
Letters - Simon Bowland

Up against insurmountable odds, this final episode of Bad Company sees our anti-heroes embark on a suicide run against the Earth Government's forces, only to have Golgotha Joe, the character based on the late Brett Ewins' likeness, come to the rescue and eventually join the team permanently. Temporarily reprieved from their war against the Earth Government, the Bad Company crew have an entirely new direction and purpose as they seek to prove the unjust origins of the Ararat War. It's a great development of the original series, and serves as a fine tribute to Brett Ewins' legendary work on the strip.

Rufus Dayglo and Jim McCarthy have done a tremendous job on the artwork throughout this series, capturing the very essence of the Bad Company series but adding their own artistic flourishes as well. While the narrative has been somewhat uneven at times, Dayglo and McCarthy have produced consistently impressive artwork with plenty of standout panels that feel like mini-posters, each of which feature a short message of love to their late colleague and friend. While some fans were worried about revisiting one of 2000AD's classic series through a more modern lens, I think this has been a great success at redefining Bad Company for a whole new generation.

Script - Kek-W
Art - John Burns
Letters - Ellie de Ville

Kek-W and John Burns return with a sequel to the sleeper hit of last year, The Order. Moving the story from the thirteenth century into the sixteenth, this opening episode introduces a whole new cast of heroes from the Elizabethan era, including historical figure Sir Walter Raleigh. Kek-W once again fuses anachronistic elements into the series, introducing airships into 1575 Mexico and rudimentary versions of escalators inside Aztec tombs. As with the previous series, Kek-W manages to bring his characters to life with his authentic-sounding dialogue, quickly establishing the personalities of his protagonists.

John Burns is the perfect artist for this strip as his art instantly evokes that classic swashbuckling era, whilst capturing the Gothic horror of the supernatural that threatens to consume humanity. His painted style is so evocative and brilliant that it instantly drags the reader into the time period and makes every panel feel so real. I've been a fan of John Burns' artwork since his work on Judge Dredd and Nikolai Dante, but his style feels like a completely natural fit for historically themed strip. This was a great reintroduction to there series, and I'm really looking forward to seeing this storyline develop, especially given how much I enjoyed the initial run of episodes. Advancing the narrative to a new time period certainly refreshes the series and adds a more epic feel to proceedings as the adventures transcend generations – I suspect some of the original cast may reappear, such as Ritterstahl and Anna Kohl, but it seems Kek-W is keen to bring in plenty of new blood to form a new team to combat the Wurms.

Script - Pat Mills
Art - Clint Langley
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

As teased at the end of the last ABC Warriors storyline, Pat Mills digs even further into his back catalogue and brings back the early 2000AD series Ro-Busters as Hammerstein reminisces about a 'lost story' from that era. While some fans may bemoan the appearance of another flashback in The ABC Warriors, after the heavy use of the narrative device in “Return to Earth” and “Return to Mars”, but I very much welcome this retro revisitation of the Ro-Busters era. I love the juxtaposition of the classic stories given a “HD remaster” with Clint Langley's amazing artwork and a more sophisticated script. I loved the reappearance of Hammerstein's old head and the cameos from the lesser-known Ro-Buster robots. This opening episode was certainly a fitting tribute to that by-gone era and I expect long-term readers got a major kick out of this nostalgic glimpse into the past. Not to content to revisit old stories, the final page indicates another secret from The ABC Warriors past that threatens to come to light and affect the future.

I've always found Clint Langley's artwork to be a bit hit-and-miss, with so much detail and computer colouring often obscuring the artwork underneath. Here, however, Langley relies more on his original pencils, creating a visually interesting hybrid of his two styles. The initial double-page spread showcasing the spiral roads of the Superbowl evokes memories of Nemesis The Warlock, and demonstrates Langley's skill at bringing truly alien locales to life with intricate detail and architecture. I also enjoyed his depiction of Ro-Jaws, Hammerstein and Mek-Quake as he captures the metallic nature of the characters in a way that no other artist has managed. He has easily become the definitive artist on The ABC Warriors in recent years, imbuing each panel with a rich and almost tangible atmosphere.

Script - Dan Abnett
Art - Simon Davis
Letters - Ellie de Ville

As Tharg notes in his Nerve Centre introduction, it has been twenty years since Sinister Dexter first appeared in the 1995 2000AD Winter Special and to celebrate that anniversary, he has brought back Simon Davis to the series. Arguably the definitive Sinister Dexter artist, Davis has drawn the majority of the duo's adventures but has moved away from the series to work on Slaine with Pat Mills. Interestingly, Davis' take on the two characters has changed since his last appearance on the strip, most notably Dexter, who used to be modelled on Davis himself but now features a different face – probably due to the fact that Davis' likeness is now being used for Slaine MacRoth. It's a good thing that the two gun-sharks have returned to Downlode as Davis' painted artwork really brings out the futuristic Eurotrash vibe of the city.

After the twist at the end of their last adventure, Dan Abnett returns the series back to basics with the two gun-sharks making the most of their 'blank slate' to continue to operate within their home-town of Downlode. It feels a bit odd that given the opportunity to rewrite their lives, they've decided to go back to being hitmen. Given that the 'reset button' has been hit, there's a great deal of nostalgia in this episode which seems to take the characters back to their Pulp Fiction-inspired roots with the opening conversation, although the two are discussing 'park benches' instead of 'quarter pounders'. It's not clear whether this is an ending for the two characters, sending them off with a blank slate to retread their old paths and re-establish their reputation, or whether Abnett plans to investigate the mystery behind the sudden reset. Hopefully the series will continue more intermittently from now on, moving away from the lengthier story-arcs and becoming an occasional treat.

Script - Martin Feekins
Art - Jesus Redondo
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

In a rather unprecedented move, we have a sequel to a Future Shock that appeared thirty one years ago back in Prog 371. Luckily, readers aren't expected to have any recollection of that adventure as it merely features the same alien broadcaster from that tale. Whether intentional or not, this certainly felt like a story from the early days of the series with Tharg's fourth-wall breaking guest appearance at the end of the adventure. As it was in the end-of-year annual, I guess I can forgive the kitsch nature of this Future Shock and it was great to see some artwork from veteran art droid, Jesus Redondo, however there was no real substance to the story aside from a bit of meta-fictional reference to the three decades gap between adventures. Maybe I'm being a Christmas Grinch, but I really didn't see much point to this story at all...

Script - John Wagner
Art - Carlos Ezquerra
Letters - Simon Bowland

One of my highlights from earlier this year was the wonderful Strontium Dog storyline, “The Stix Fix”, which saw John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra return back to basics with a straight-forward storyline that saw Johnny Alpha returning to his bounty hunter ways. It was a refreshingly nostalgic take on the series that had been missing from the recent “The Life and Death of Johnny Alpha” which sought to reconcile the old and new continuities together and erase the original death of the character in “The Final Solution”. Both Wagner and Ezquerra seemed unburdened by the umbrella of “lost tales” and seemed to relish creating new adventures in their universe – although the only thing that I felt was missing was the series' excellent supporting cast. Immediately with this first installment of “Repo Men”, Wagner remedies that oversight and brings the motley crew of former Strontium Dogs back into Johnny's life, spurring him onto another wacky adventure across space.

Much like “The Stix Fix” before it, there's a wonderful timeless quality to Wagner's storytelling here and once again, it feels ripped straight out the golden age of 2000AD. In fact, one could argue that the past decade has been a brand-new golden age for the comic with a wonderful balance of new series and old favourites in constant rotation. In the space of six pages, Wagner sets up the adventure and allows some of the supporting cast to develop their personalities. I also liked how the storyline picked up the loose ends from “The Stix Fix” with Castor Limax and the criminal-ridden Rock he owns. It was an interesting locale from the previous storyline and I'm glad that Wagner plans to revisit it and its Jabba The Hutt-esque owner. The story, dialogue and artwork are all impeccable, and there's a certain degree of comfort in knowing that Wagner and Ezquerra are working on new Strontium Dog stories. I can sit back and bask in their collective genius for the duration of the storyline.


This was quite possibly the best year-end Prog to date, with an exciting and eclectic mix of stories. In terms of the new line-up, I'm thrilled to see Strontium Dog return to the Prog, alongside The ABC Warriors and the excellent Kingdom. Meanwhile, the return of The Order provides the Prog with a dash of new blood as Kek-W introduces a new generation of heroes to fight against the Wurms. 2015 has been a great year for 2000AD and with the promise of Prog 2000 during September 2016, I have every expectation that this upcoming year will herald some huge changes to the anthology too.

Tharg looks ahead to the future with advertisements for Indigo Prime and the third book of the current Slaine storyline, which presumably will form part of the Spring Offensive during March and April. There are so many fantastic serials running at the moment that each new line-up contains raw, un-contained thrill-power. Prog 1961 certainly acts as a great jumping-on point for new and lapsed readers, promising some top quality stories over the next few months with some classic series and modern gems. Once again, Tharg has managed to give his readers the ultimate Christmas gift as 2000AD continues to go from strength to strength.

Thrill of the Week: Strontium Dog

The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1961 will be available in stores on Wednesday 16th December - Digital copies of this Prog will be available on the same day through the standalone 2000AD app, which can be downloaded onto iOS and Android devices.

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

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Review - Agents of SHIELD: 3x10 - "Maveth"

Agents of SHIELD
Episode 3x10 - "Maveth"


Desperate for revenge, Coulson is hot on Ward's trail as the Hydra strike team traverse the alien planet of Maveth in order to bring the banished Inhuman back to Earth. Meanwhile, Daisy and her team of 'Secret Warriors' work together to keep Hydra from gaining control of the exit portal.


Despite the strong set-up in the preceding episode, the Agents of SHIELD mid-season finale lacked any real impact, which is surprising considering that the episode featured the death of one of the series' original cast members. While “Closure” was filled with unpredictable moments and a breakneck pace, “Maveth” was the opposite with a somewhat formulaic plot that meandered towards its climactic final ten minutes. Even the long-awaited battle against Coulson and Ward felt uninspired, even though we saw a glimpse of bad-ass Coulson as he crushed Ward's chest cavity with his bionic hand. Considering that they were planning to kill Ward off this episode, it would have been neat if they'd subverted the traditional final battle and had Coulson shoot him on sight. It would have provided the kind of shock surprise that this episode lacked.

The moment Ward went through the portal, I knew that the only way he wouldn't be coming back. I thought he'd either be stranded on the other side with the Inhuman, or he'd die and be possessed by the creature. With the character's death and resurrection in one episode, it is hard for viewers to properly mourn the loss of the character as Brett Dalton will remain a presence on the show, presumably until the end of this season. Judging from the way that Not-Will acted, the Inhuman is able to tap into the memories and personality of the dead person it possesses, so Ward will be present in some form. It reminds me of LOST's final season and how one of its leading characters was killed and resurrected/possessed by a similar entity. I have mixed feelings about this development as while it does give Ward new powers and a fresh new direction, it also robs his death scene of dramatic tension.

While the action on Maveth was less than thrilling, the episode balanced it with some great moments on Earth as Mack led the rest of the team in battle, including Daisy's Secret Warriors. I particularly liked the scene with Dr. Garner who convinced Simmons to led him escape under the guise of protecting her, but was later revealed to have murdered all of the other Inhumans in stasis. I suspect that he might end up joining Not-Ward and Hydra in some scheme to rid the planet of Inhumans in some weird misguided attempt to make things right. Given the number of Inhumans that have been popping up, it would make sense to put the whole race at risk, possibly with some anti-terrigenesis cooked up by the banished Inhuman residing in Ward's corpse. On a side-note, Doctor Who fans might have noticed similarities between the Inhuman slug infecting Ward and the way that the Master regenerated in the 1996 Doctor Who TV movie, using an astral snake to possess Eric Roberts.

Despite my disappointment at some of the plot decisions, this was still a strong episode – albeit riddled with predictabilities. With the slate wiped mostly clean, and with twelve episodes to come, I do hope that the show's writers introduce some more 'standalone' episodes that deviate from the main mythology of the show. It would be nice to see some more guest-stars from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or simply some “villain of the week” episodes that don't directly tie into Ward and Hydra. If the Secret Warriors is indeed the main theme of this season, then the roster needs to be build upon as the current line-up is somewhat flat. Lincoln seems to be irritated the whole time he isn't making out with Daisy, and the new guy has a look of perpetual surprise on his face at all times. Hopefully, we will see these characters fleshed out a bit more, in the same way that Hunter, Mack and Mockingbird were successfully integrated into the show's second season.

Score - 9.4 out of 10

Easter Eggs/References
  • N/A

  • What is the creature that has inhabited Ward's body, and what are its plans now that it has reached Earth?

Friday, 11 December 2015

Review - Supergirl: 1x07 - "Human For A Day"

Episode 1x07 - "Human For A Day"


In the midst of a natural disaster Kara must prove that she is still a hero even without her super-powers, whilst Alex’s distrust of Hank Henshaw reaches a new high when he attempts to single-handedly subdue a dangerous alien threat loose in the DEO headquarters.


Picking up from the cliff-hanger at the end of last episode, it transpires that Supergirl has temporarily lost her powers due to the excessive use of her heat vision, which resulted in a 'Super Flare' that exhausted all the stored solar energy in her Kryptonian cells, reducing her power levels to that of a human. This de-powering plot device was actually introduced into the DC Comics Universe earlier this year in Superman # 38 as a way to make Superman more vulnerable, adding an increased element of risk when he over-exerts his powers. Here, the Supergirl writers make use of the plot device to focus on the person behind the powers, demonstrating that Kara's desire to help others comes from deep inside. This was wonderfully depicted in the scene where she talks down an armed robber, despite being completely vulnerable to bullets. Throwing a de-powered Kara into the wake of a natural disaster allows the writers to examine her character without needing to rush to re-power her to deal with the threat. Kara, like many of the people she meets, is powerless and has to do the best she can to deal with the earthquake's aftermath.

The main thrust of the episode revolves around the increased paranoia and distrust that Alex has harboured towards Hank Henshaw – something that becomes exacerbated when an alien prisoner escapes during a black-out. It was interesting to see the action and the drama of the episode come from Supergirl's supporting cast members, and Alex proved herself equally as capable as her super-powered sister. While Jemm was an interesting threat, making use of mind control to cause havoc in the DEO headquarters, he felt side-lined in favour of the Hank Henshaw mystery. Unfortunately, I'd been spoiled by an over-zealous news article, but I must say the reveal that Hank Henshaw was in fact, J'onn J'onzz, the Martian Manhunter was absolutely fantastic. The show's writers had obviously played with expectations that Henshaw would be revealed to be the Cyborg Superman, as per DC Comics continuity, so this curveball would have taken me by complete surprise had I not been spoilt. I watch the show with my girlfriend, and although she didn't know who Martian Manhunter was, she was surprised by the reveal and intrigued to find out what this meant for the characters going forward.

Even though there were some remnants of the awkward love triangle, the majority of this episode was well-written and a strong introspective look at what makes Kara heroic. As with the series' sophomore episode “Stronger Together” which looked at Kara's self-doubt and neurosis, this episode's theme of power loss reminded of Spider-Man 2, which tackled similar themes in its storyline. The series is certainly showing signs of improvement after a rocky few episodes and it's clearly growing in confidence as it builds up its mythology. Considering the predictable and cliché nature of some of the series' sub-plots (evil aunt, obvious love triangle, Maxwell Lord's dark side), the Martian Manhunter reveal was really well crafted with strong misdirection at its heart. Hopefully, Supergirl can continue to surprise viewers and break out of the more formulaic story beats that have been treaded over the past seven episodes. With a de-powered Supergirl, there was a lot less special effects needed throughout this episode, which meant the story had to do the bulk of the heavy lifting and the writing certainly rose to the task with some pivotal dramatic scenes for both Kara and Alex.

Overall, this has been the strongest episode of the show to date. While the fight scenes with Jemm weren't as visually interesting as Livewire or the Red Tornado, the episode managed to succeed with the quieter moments. It's also interesting to note the series has begun to use cliff-hanger endings to tease and entice viewers – a practice I wholeheartedly support as there's no reason to have clean endings on a serialised drama such as this. Unfortunately, the cliff-hanger leading into next episode's mid-season finale saw the return of the evil Kryptonians led by Kara's evil aunt Astra. Ironically, this has become one of the least interesting elements of the series with the mythology surrounding Jeremiah Danvers' death and Maxwell Lord's Machiavellian schemes becoming far more interesting. Hopefully the writers will be able to make Astra and the rest of the Fort Rozz escapees more interesting, rather than a recurring treadmill of “single use” alien enemies for Kara to deal with in the confines of an episode.

Score - 9.1 out of 10

Next Episode - "Hostile Takeover"
Kara must face her evil aunt Astra when she threatens the safety of National City and challenges Kara's beliefs about her mother. Meanwhile Cat must also face her own problems when a few personal e-mails that could damage her career are exposed by a hacker.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

2000AD Prog 1960

Prog 1960 Cover by Brendan McCarthy

Wow, what a lovely psychedelic image. This Bad Company cover from Brendan McCarthy is simply fantastic, and encapsulates the drug-addled quest that our anti-heroes have been on as they've put the meds down and exhaled the mists of Golgotha whilst on a mission for the truth behind the Ararat War. I love the colour scheme here – it looks like a Global Technacolour t-shirt captured on paper! I'm sure this will stand out on newsagent shelves, attracting young Earthlets with its mind-altering contents inside. It's a fab cover, and its great to see an old-school 2000AD legend returning to the fold to deliver amazing cover art.

Script - John Wagner
Art - Patrick Goddard
Colours - Adam Brown
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

This final episode of “The Beating” once again demonstrates John Wagner's immense skill as a storyteller. From the first installment, Wagner has had us doubting our lead character's morality, wondering why he was so reluctant to deny his involvement in the unlawful murder of a biker thug. The misdirection surrounding the corruption and blackmail rife within the OCD was seemingly in the way of the central question, “Did Dredd snap and kill someone?”. Of course, he didn't, and Wagner addresses this was a lovely understated reveal at the end of the story. It's so simple and makes a lot more sense than the conspiracy theories I had. This has been another fantastic noir-ish storyline, and while it may seem to have no long-term consequences, I do wonder if Wagner is seeding another instance of civil unrest and judicial distrust in Mega City-One, what with recent stories such as, “Mega City Confidential” and “Bender” tackling excessive methods in keeping justice since the Day of Chaos.

Patrick Goddard's artwork is absolutely brilliant here, managing to keep Dredd's “poker face” throughout the story until those last panels. I absolutely loved those close up on Dredd's face – so stern and unforgiving – there was a touch of Brian Bolland about some of those shots. I'd love to see Goddard handle a Dark Judges story, as his work here just oozed a darkness that would fit well with the horror genre. This has been another fantastic year for Judge Dredd stories with “Enceladus” and “Dark Justice” standing out as some of the finest long-form storylines in recent years. With the Dark Judges out of commission for the foreseeable future and PJ Maybe back into hiding, I am interested to see what will emerge as the biggest threat to Mega-City One's safety in 2138 AD. Whether we see another mega-epic or not, I'm looking forward to see what the current team of regular Judge Dredd writers bring to the plate next year!

Script - Pat Mills
Art - Leigh Gallagher
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Another double-sized episode of Defoe brings Book Six, “The London Hanged” to a close as Defoe confronts Death Hunter, the man responsible for resurrecting the current batch of Reeks.  The climactic battle between Defoe and Death Hunter is brought to life wonderfully by Leigh Gallagher's frenzied artwork and Pat Mills' script really raises the stakes between the two. I really like the new status quo that has been set up with this chapter of Defoe, with our former Reek Hunter turning Vizard Hunter instead. Again, there are parallels with the recent book of Savage, which saw working class hero Bill Savage turn away from fighting against the Volgs to dealing with a home-grown threat instead.

It came as a complete surprise to read in Tharg's Nerve Centre that this was Leigh Gallagher's final work on the series after eight years – I wonder who will succeed him in the role going forward. I'm guessing it remain a black and white strip, so perhaps Patrick Goddard would be a good fit for the series? His work on the recent Judge Dredd storyline, albeit in colour, shared similarities with Gallagher's art style and it would be nice to see him tackling the undead. This double-sized conclusion was a great send-off for Leigh Gallagher, and I hope to see him on another 2000AD series in the near future as his artwork is truly a gore-drenched thing of beauty.

Script - David Baillie
Art - Paul Marshall
Letters - Ellie de Ville

After nearly forty years of Future Shocks, it has become increasingly difficult to craft an effective twist ending but David Baillie has managed it with an excellent Terror Tale that delves into the supernatural and presents an unusual solution to the overcrowding in Hell. Baillie's first-person narrative engages the reader immediately, forming a bond with the story's protagonist allowing the final page to deliver that gut-punch of a reveal. Paul Marshall does a fantastic job on the art here, switching from his usual style to a darker, more sinister look when the supernatural world bleeds through. This is quite possibly the best Future Shock-style story I've read in a long time and demonstrates Baillie's complete understanding of the format. For anyone contemplating submitting a story into 2000AD, or taking part in one of their Portfolio reviews at Thought Bubble, I would recommend reading this story first as an example of how to get it right! Almost forty years on, this is quintessential 2000AD storytelling, and David Baillie is certainly a talent to watch! Oh, and I've typed this out, I've only just got the joke in the story's title... "Why did the priest cross the road?" "To get to the other side!" - absolutely brilliant!

Script - Peter Milligan
Art - Rufus Dayglo & Jim McCarthy
Letters - Simon Bowland

Considering that this is the last Prog before the Christmas annual, I was surprised to see Bad Company carrying over onto Prog 1961, but this penultimate episode finally provided us with the big secret relating to the origins of the Ararat War. As expected, Bad Company were forced to engineer a massacre in Min Town to blame the Krool, allowing the Earth government to declare war and mine Ararat of its precious natural resources. Milligan's script makes clear allusions to the Iraq war, and re-frames all of the events of the previous series – the 80's action movie bravado of the original Bad Company series is tinged with an additional layer of tragedy, considering the war was unjust and motivated by greed.

This reveal couldn't be more timely and relevant with the recent discussions surrounding British military action in Syria, once again showing 2000AD to be ahead of the curve and a vital vein of satire running through Great Britain, along with Private Eye and The Viz. Rufus Dayglo and Jim McCarthy continue to do a fantastic job on the artwork, managing to add a chaotic brilliance to the action scenes as our heroes find themselves outnumbered and out-gunned. It seems that my theory of military purgatory might not be right after all, although Milligan's script continues to drop subtle references to the continuity inconsistencies compared to previous series – with one episode remaining, I am intrigued to see how this will all resolve, and whether it will be a final goodbye for the boys in Bad Company.


My initial thoughts was to award Judge Dredd the position of Thrill of the Week for the wonderfully scripted finale to “The Beating”, but once I read David Baillie and Paul Marshall's fantastic Terror Tale, I had to reward it with the prime position. Defoe wrapped up nicely too, teasing a new direction and a new artist for the series when it returns – I look forward to Tharg announcing who that will be! While I was surprised that Bad Company would roll over into the Christmas special, I look forward to seeing the conclusion to this very interesting take on the series.

Next week's Christmas Prog, Prog 1961, boasts an impressive line-up with a Christmas-themed Judge Dredd story, one-off stories for Absalom and Sinister Dexter and the start of a new line-up including Strontium Dog, ABC Warriors, The Order and Kingdom. With some of his best series collected in one issue, Tharg is keen to end 2015 with a bang with the promise of a thrill-laden New Year. It has been another fantastic year to be a 2000AD fan with some truly excellent stories, such as the aeronautical adventures of Helium, the return of the Dark Judges in “Dark Justice” and a more comedic tone in Strontium Dog. As we edge towards the milestone that is Prog 2000, it really couldn't be a better time to be a 2000AD fan!

Thrill of the Week: Terror Tale

The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1960 will be available in stores on Wednesday 9th December - Digital copies of this Prog will be available on the same day through the standalone 2000AD app, which can be downloaded onto iOS and Android devices.

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 12th Doctor Christmas Special 2015

Doctor Who: The 12th Doctor Christmas Special 2015
"Relative Dimensions"
Written by: George Mann & Cavan Scott
Art by: Mariano Laclaustra
Colours by: Carlos Cabrera

George Mann and Cavan Scott dig deep into the Doctor Who archives for this Christmas-themed adventure which sees the Doctor lured to a Christmas party thrown by his grand-daughter, Susan Foreman. However, it soon transpires that this is a trap from one of the Doctor’s oldest and most powerful foes – the Celestial Toymaker, who debuted in the First Doctor adventure “The Celestial Toymaker”. Unfortunately, three of the four episodes are lost to the sands of times, but the fourth one was included in the “Lost in Time” DVD box set. The Toymaker has only made a single televised appearance, but the character has been used in expanded universe materials such as Doctor Who comics, novels and audio adventures, although this is his first time against the Twelfth Doctor. Much like the Great Intelligence’s reappearance in “The Snowmen”, it’s great to see these classic “lost” Doctor Who villains return to menace the character in a new era for the series.

Along with the reappearance of the Toymaker, Mann and Scott throw in some cameos from classic monsters and companions, giving the Christmas Special a real sense of history that rivals the wonderfully nostalgic “The Day of the Doctor”. Even though she only appears as bait to lure the Doctor into a trap, it would be fantastic to see the character of Susan Foreman explored more – although I guess this is a risky venture for the comic series as it may interfere with future plans in the television show. Perhaps a First Doctor adventure would be a way to explore the character deeper, without contradicting future continuity. Throughout its many comic series', Titan Comics have done a great job at respecting the essence of Doctor Who, and this issue certainly captures that quintessential Doctor Who Christmas Special feeling – minus the sensation of being stuffed up with Christmas Pud and wanting a nap afterwards!

Mariano Laclaustra does an incredibly festive job with the artwork, channelling the seasonal vibes onto the page. I particularly liked the experimental elements of the art – jumping in and out of photographs, or making use of a Snakes and Ladders board to tell the story. This certainly helped convey the unpredictable nature of the Celestial Toymaker’s Toyroom in the comic book format. At times it reminded me of the Land of Fiction from “The Mind Robber” with its fantasy setting and chaotic elements. I love the clarity that Laclaustra brings to his artwork, with wonderful line-work that captures the likenesses of its lead characters with ease. I was struck by how similar his style is to Rachael Stott, who will be taking over on the Twelfth Doctor series in the New Year – both of whom manage to bring the characters to life with a deceptive ease. Hopefully, we will see more of Laclaustra’s work in future Doctor Who stories.

Overall, this was a terrifically festive adventure in true Doctor Who style. Mann and Scott work well together as a writing team, bringing a clear love for the character and his lengthy history into their stories. While some of the more escapist elements of the story didn’t quite work for me, I loved the fact that a classic, and criminally under-used, Doctor Who villain got a chance to shine in the spotlight. My only other criticism was the length of the issue – given that it was a Christmas Special, it would have been nice to see an extended page count, or even an anthology of stories in the vein of those classic Christmas annuals! As it is, this was a brilliant way to kick off a new yearly tradition and I certainly hope that Titan Comics continue to bring out Christmas Specials in the years to come!

Score - 9.4 out of 10

Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor Holiday Special 2015 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 main series when you pick up your copy!

Review - Doctor Who: The 11th Doctor (Vol. 2) # 3

Doctor Who: The 11th Doctor (Vol. 2) # 3
"Pull To Open"
Written by: Si Spurrier
Art by: Simon Fraser
Colours by: Gary Caldwell

Setting adventures solely in the TARDIS has been a recurring theme for the Eleventh Doctor comic series, often resulting in some of the best and most imaginative stories in the run. Rob Williams did a great job at telling a story in reverse in the brilliant, “Space in Dimension Relative and Time” and Al Ewing did an interesting colour-themed story with the Eleventh Doctor and his companions stranded in different parts of the TARDIS for Issue 11’s “Four Dimensions”. Both stories pushed the boundaries of Doctor Who storytelling, making full use of the unique properties of a comic book page to tell fresh, exciting adventures. Here, the latest writer to join the Eleventh Doctor series, Si Spurrier turns his hand at his first TARDIS tale with another experimental adventure that could only be told in the comic-book format.

After the hectic pace of the first two issues of this storyline, Spurrier changes pace with a surprisingly introspective issue that sees the Doctor questioning himself with the help of some familiar faces. Putting the action to one side, Spurrier is able to examine the magnitude of the ‘war crimes’ that the Doctor has been accused of, whilst demonstrating the mental turmoil that this has on the Eleventh Doctor’s mental state. It’s interesting to see the Doctor questioning himself and what he is capable of – this theme carries over from Year One’s “Serve You Inc” arc, demonstrating consistency between the two volumes.

Aside from developing the Doctor, Spurrier also plays with the three companions – each of whom bring something different to the table. Alice serves as the clear head, assuming a reluctant leadership role and attempting to stay calm when the Doctor seemingly goes to pieces. The Squire, much like ARC before her, is an enigma wrapped in a puzzle and topped with a conundrum – clearly, she is tied to the central mystery of the Malignant and I can’t way to find out more about her. And then there’s Abslom Daak, who adds a delicious rebellious streak into proceedings with his boisterous personality and aggressive nature. There are plenty of great character moments throughout the issue and this trio of companions work wonderfully well together, complementing the Eleventh Doctor’s personality.

With this issue, Simon Fraser reminds me why he is one of my favourite artists with some terrific artwork, especially the full-page flashbacks. I’m not whether it was Spurrier or Fraser’s decision, but I absolutely loved the way the panel layout reflected the TARDIS’ front door, even including a white panel filled with text to mirror the instructions of the police box. Once again, it’s this type of artistic flourish that really sets the Eleventh Doctor comic series apart from the rest, with Williams, Ewing and Spurrier embracing the comic book format and all it can offer. I also enjoyed the brief glimpses of the Daleks in Fraser’s artwork – I’m not sure if there’s an official moratorium on showing the Daleks in the comic, but Fraser circumnavigates any such restrictions with brief splashes of eye-stalks, plungers and whisks, including a bizarre creature which might be some kind of “wheel-Dalek” that may be foreshadowing a future appearance.

Overall, this was another brilliant TARDIS-centric excursion, allowing fans to explore the infinite interior of the machine without any cost-prohibitive special effects needed. I really love how the writers of this series manage to make the TARDIS into a prominent character, mirroring Steven Moffat’s own direction during the Eleventh Doctor’s tenure. While the episode served many to re-evaluate previous events, it did so in splendid fashion – offering some very interesting glimpses into the past and potential future that add to the central story-arc at the heart of this year’s adventures. With a limitless budget, and some of the best artists in the business, there’s no shortage of imagination from Spurrier and Williams as they deliver another amazing storyline, fuelled by the fires of Doctor Who’s darkest days. Fans of the 50th anniversary episode, “The Day of the Doctor”, need to pick up this series!

Score - 9.8 out of 10

Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor (Vol. 2) # 3 is now available in all good comic shops, including Forbidden Planet, as well as on the Comixology website. Be sure to put in a standing order for the upcoming issues in the series when you pick up your copy!
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