Saturday, 31 January 2015

Review - Agent Carter: 1x04 - "The Blitzkrieg Button"


Agent Carter
Episode 1x04 - "The Blitzkrieg Button"

Synopsis

Despite his status as a wanted criminal, Howard Stark returns to America to retrieve one of his stolen inventions, now in the custody of the SSR lab technicians. However, does Stark really have Peggy’s best interests at heart, or does he have a more selfish reason behind retrieving his inventions?

Review

Compared to its predecessors, this episode delivered a distinct change of perspective, with Howard Stark returning from overseas and replacing Jarvis as Peggy’s partner-in-crime, and in terms of enemy, mob-boss Mr Mink took over from the over-arching threat of Leviathan to produce a threat unrelated to the main narrative. In terms of pace, the episode was book-ended by some minor action sequences, but seemed more interested in exploring the central mystery behind the theft of Stark’s inventions and revealing the real reason behind Leviathan’s interest in his “bad babies”.

The return of Howard Stark was the main thrust of the episode, providing a healthy dose of humour in the first half as he attempted to hide out in Peggy’s shared accommodation, avoiding the strict house-matron and fraternising with the other females in the apartment building. It’s really amusing to watch him in action, as he behaves like a 1940’s version of Tony Stark. Despite his frivolous behaviour, Stark has returned to steal one of his inventions back from the SSR research team – the titular ‘Blitzkrieg Button’.

I must admit that I fell for Howard Stark’s misdirection and bought his lie that the device acts as a counter to air-raids by blacking out of the lights in a city, but is defective and would actually cause a permanent black-out if it was to be accidentally activated by the SSR team. I was expecting the episode to be another ‘gadget of the week’ adventure, much like Peggy’s trials and tribulations with the Nitramene, but it turned out that the Blitzkrieg Button was merely a smoke-screen to hide a vial of Steve Roger’s blood.

This shocking reveal actually turned the whole series on its head, revealing the true motivation behind Leviathan’s theft of Stark’s inventions – I’m guessing they want the blood to create their own Russian super-soldiers, and the rest of Stark’s “bad babies” are merely distractions. Obviously, being Captain America’s ex-girlfriend, Peggy is going to feel a bit betrayed by anyone who is hoarding vials of his blood as a way to make money, so she gets into an argument with Howard Stark, calling him out on his selfish and mercenary ways before telling him that she wants no part of his schemes anymore.


I really enjoyed the appearance of deadly mob-boss, Mr Mink, even though his attempt at revenge was shockingly cut short. Admittedly most of his appeal was in his impressive weaponry, which looked like a miniature Gatling gun shaped into a pistol. His introductory scene was great and quickly established him to be just as cold-hearted as Leviathan’s assassin. However, his appearance was merely there to deliver the shocking reveal that Peggy’s next door neighbour, Dottie Underwood, is some sort of trained killer. Interestingly, it’s ambiguous as to whether she is working with or against Peggy, as technically by killing Mr Mink she was protecting Peggy, but it could also be that she did so because she has her own plans. Personally, I think she might turn out to be an undercover ally, although I’m unsure of who might have hired her.

While Leviathan might not have been as overtly featured as it was in previous episodes, the SSR continued to investigate the mysterious organisation, digging deeper into the battle of Finow which seems to hold the secret behind the group’s origins. Chief Dooley travels to Germany to interview a condemned Nazi and discovers the massacre of the Russian soldiers at Finow wasn't related to the Second World War, and whoever is responsible managed to wipe out the entire regiment in a brutal and bloody way. Curiously, Thompson discovers Stark was at Finow shortly after the massacre, suggesting a larger cover-up – perhaps the massacre was the result of weapon testing gone wrong? As with his son, I think we’re going to find out that things are being done in Stark’s name that he, himself, might not be comfortable with and we’re going to investigate that morally grey area that comes with being an inventor of military technology.

Overall, this was another fantastic episode of Agent Carter which continued to balance the line between humour and drama, managing to make the viewer laugh at Howard Stark’s playboy attitude, yet also dislike him for it when his betrayal is revealed. Aside from focusing on our main protagonists, I love the way the show continues to develop the SSR supporting cast with Agents Thompson, Dooley and Sousa all getting a chance to shine in this episode as they each contribute towards the investigation – Even though Thompson and Dooley are old-fashioned about their views regarding women in the workplace, they’re good men and passionate about their job. While it did lack the action and adventure seen in its earlier installments, the episode continued to develop the over-arching story arc in an engaging manner, introducing some wonderfully shocking new twists and setting viewers up nicely for the season half of the mini-series. 


Score - 9.5 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • Following his long-standing tradition of making cameos in Marvel Studios productions, Stan Lee appears as a customer at the shoe-shine booth alongside Howard Stark and Jarvis.

Mysteries
  • Who (or what) massacred the men at the Battle of Finow, if it wasn't the Germans?
  • Were the two Russians (Demidov and Brannis) killed at the battle, or did they assume the identities of those who were?
  • Why was Howard Stark at Finow?
  • Who is Dottie Underwood working for and what are her motivations?
  • Are Leviathan after the vial of Captain America's blood?

Next Episode - "The Iron Ceiling"
Peggy is finally trusted with a mission and calls upon her trusted Howling Commandos squad for backup. But her cover could be at risk when SSR Chief Dooley also sends Agent Thompson with her.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

2000AD Prog 1915

Prog 1915 Cover by Greg Staples

It's only the fourth Prog of the year, but we might have a contender for 2015's 'Cover of the Year' already with this absolutely fantastic piece from Greg Staples showing the four Dark Judges in all of their horrific glory. The slightly skewed perspective gives the impression that the reader is frantically backing away from the fearsome quartet, whilst the aqua blue background just imbues the whole image with a really ethereal quality, befitting the deep space setting of the story within.

As always, I'm a sucker for a pun-based tagline and this Prog's “Fiends Reunited” certainly does the job – I wonder if the tagline droid has a set of pre-prepared taglines just waiting for specific characters to return to the Prog. I'm still waiting for “Jaegir-bomb” to rear its inevitable head for whenever Atalia Jaegir gets cornered by an explosive device.


JUDGE DREDD - DARK JUSTICE (Part 5)
Script - John Wagner
Art - Greg Staples
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Both John Wagner and Greg Staples work together flawlessly to establish a truly creepy atmosphere aboard the Mayflower following the massacre of its inhabitants. Wagner's script delivers a gut punch when Dredd and the others contact the survivors as they attempt a last stand against their supernatural attackers, only to discover that they're twelve days away from reaching them. Of course, by that time, only a handful of survivors who managed to get to an escape pod remain.



We finally get a glimpse into Judge Death's motivations and the reason behind choosing the Mayflower as his target. It seems that it has all been part of a plan to lure Dredd and Anderson out of Mega-City One and into space, so that they could remove their escape route and trap them aboard the derelict space station for their ultimate revenge. This reveal, and the subsequent destruction of Justice 4 space craft left me shocked and certainly raised the stakes higher than before - I'm not sure if it's been advertised as such, but it really feels as if this might be the final reckoning between Dredd, Anderson and the Dark Judges.

I'm enjoying the more personal, smaller-scale approach to this storyline, pitting Dredd and Anderson against their four nemeses without the large playground of Mega-City One to distract them. In my review for Prog 1914, I suggested that this storyline would make a fantastic plot-line for a second Dredd movie, but I now revise that statement and instead think that this would make a brilliant basis for a new Judge Dredd video-game, in the same mode of the recent Alien: Isolation. Greg Staples' art already captures that same feeling of deep-space isolation and inspires a sense of perpetual fear, knowing that deadly predators roam the empty corridors.



THE ORDER (Part 5)
Script - Kek-W
Art - John Burns
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

This episode opens up with another tease that Anna Kohl has some kind of supernatural powers, following on from her references to both her and her father ageing at a slower rate than most humans. It also seems like she has some kind of ability to understand mechanics – almost seeing through them to decipher their inner workings. I'm guessing this will come in useful later on to reboot Ritterstahl from his self-inflicted shut-down. After the opening of the Wurm-hole last Prog, our heroes have found themselves split up, which allows Kek-W to pair them off with each other and explore their characters in greater detail. As I've said before, one of the strengths of this series is the richness of the cast, and I'm glad that Kek-W is spending time developing them all, alongside the advancing plot. 


We also finally get our first glimpse at the dreaded Wurms and I must admit I was surprised at their simplistic design, which just resembles a giant maggot with arms and legs, however once it becomes injured, it seems to bleed actual worms out of its wounds, which is a wonderfully creepy concept, brought to life by John Burns' fabulous painted artwork. It also seems that someone is intentionally summoning the Wurms into our dimension – In terms of who it might be, my thoughts immediately go towards Anna's father, even though he has been already established as dead. He is the only character that has been mentioned that would have some impact on the story to be revealed as the master-mind behind the attacks – it's not entirely impossible that he faked his death and turned against The Order. Perhaps upcoming flashbacks into Anna's childhood might provide more clues as to whether her father might be the central antagonist to this story.



ULYSSES SWEET, MANIAC FOR HIRE - PSYCHO THERAPIST (Part 5)
Script - Guy Adams
Art - Paul Marshall
Greytones - Chris Blythe
Letters - Ellie de Ville

After some amusing, but somewhat formulaic sequences featuring Ulysses' attempts to get his psyche-chip from two innocent citizens and being foiled by the assassins hired to kill him, the storyline seems to be moving onto the main focus – the Governor of Solonik-5. It seems that the rivalry between Senator Alma and the Governor has led to the situation getting further out of control, with Alma paying for information about the Governor's psyche-chip to be made public. I suspect that Alma probably has a similar psyche-chip in her head, and once the Governor is erased from the picture – probably through some more interference by the assassins he hired himself, Sweet will no doubt move onto the final target. In an earlier review, I stated how this story's narrative resembled a video-game and Ulysses Sweet seems to be progressing through mini-bosses, represented by the various assassins and psyche-chip owners, in order to achieve his final goal. While the humour helps ease this sense of inevitability about the series, I do think it would benefit from returning to the shorter runs and 'one-off' stories from the Grant Morrison era, back in Prog 507.

Despite my criticism of predictability, this episode does feature a somewhat surprising scene where usually comical and slap-stick Ulysses Sweet actually turns a bit menacing when he coldly informs his accomplice/hostage that he has lost count of the number of people he has killed and he is utterly remorseful of the fact. It's an effective change in tone that underlines how dangerous this character actually is beneath the wacky humour of the strip. As much as I want to avoid comparisons with Marvel's “merc-with-a-mouth”, this brief serious interlude reminds me of similar moments in Joe Kelly's excellent run on Deadpool during the late-90s, where he balanced the character's slapstick nature with more serious, sadistic and bullying traits. Definitely check it out if you've not read it – the story-arc where Deadpool travels back in time to 1970's Marvel Universe and interacts with Spider-Man's supporting cast is priceless!



SAVAGE: BOOK 9 - GRINDERS (Part 5)
Script - Pat Mills
Art - Patrick Goddard
Letters - Ellie de Ville

This episode delves more into the back-story of the titular “Grinders”, showcasing their “bio-punk” origins and the various modifications they've made to themselves in order to close the gap between human and robot. Some of the 'enhancements' are laughable, such as the man with routers built into his body so he can access the internet – I'm guessing he is going to feel pretty stupid when smartphones are invented in this alternate universe! 


Most of the episode is focused on the dialogue between Savage and his captors, setting up the various personalities for this new group of characters, as well as building up to the surprising reveal that the leader of the Grinders is none other than Bill Savage's older brother, Jack Savage. I'm guessing the character of Jack Savage hasn't appeared before in the series, otherwise his appearance in Prog 2015 would have invalidated the reveal in this issue. Despite the pro-Volg sentiments shared by some of his team, Jack claims to be a simple criminal with no real political agenda, although much like Bill, I am rather sceptical of how trustworthy he might be. Also, whilst he denies having any cybernetic implants, I suspect that he did in fact get some work done in that brief prologue sequence in the opening chapter, and at some point, both he and Sue will reveal their own powers.

The story continues to be moving at a fair pace and even though the threat of the Volgs has been removed from the foreground, there seems to be plenty of material to fuel the story onwards. I'm guessing the focal point of this particular chapter will be convincing Savage to turn on Howard Quartz and start up a second resistance, this time across the growing American occupation of the UK.



ORLOK: AGENT OF EAST MEG ONE - EUROZONED (Part 4)
Script - Arthur Wyatt
Art - Jake Lynch
Letters - Simon Bowland

This episode dropped a few more hints that Orlok’s betrayal of the Sov state might not be all that it seems, as his real purpose behind coming to Euro-City is teased. It seems like he has purposefully cultivated the Oberon personality and traitor status specifically to infiltrate La Reine Rouge’s organisation, possibly with the aim to take out all of the criminal organisations within Euro-City. The final scene, showcasing General Zhukov finally discovering Orlok’s location, threatens to add an extra layer of complications to Orlok’s scheme, unless it transpires it was him who leaked his own location in an effort to tie up all of the loose ends as part of some grand orchestrated plan. Either way, I’m looking forward to seeing the Sov’s re-enter the picture and creating more problems for Orlok to outwit.

I really enjoyed the sequence where Orlok and his team of assassins take out the five clones – it was quite fast-paced and chaotic. Jake Lynch makes inventive use of the panel layout and space to tell the story vertically instead of horizontally, which really stands out in the sequence where Orlok attacks the remaining two clones in the underground bunker, showing the action from both his and their perspectives. The climactic scene where the ‘back-up clones’ teleported themselves into La Reine Rouge’s hide-out reminded me of the scene in ‘Oz’ when the Judda clones use similar techniques to attack the Justice Department. It’s a nice bit of symmetry, whether it’s an intentional homage or not.



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

Once again, Judge Dredd: Dark Justice shines brightly in the Prog, not only impressing the reader from the outset with its wonderful cover image, but also establishing a true sense of dread (pardon the pun!) within the interior pages. There is definitely the feeling that this story will be a milestone in the Judge Dredd / Judge Death , with Tharg referencing the latter character's thirty-fifth anniversary. While I doubt Death will be permanently killed off, as after all “you cannot kill what doesn't live” - I do think that this might be the last we see of the Dark Judges under John Wagner's pen.

The Order continues to stand out from the line-up, challenging Judge Dredd for the coveted position of “Thrill of the Week”, whereas the remaining three thrills seem to be establishing their main plot threads after a series of introductory episodes setting the scene. I'd imagine that February's Progs will see the already high bar of quality raised up even higher as the five stories begin racing towards their conclusions. 

Thrill of the Week: Judge Dredd


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1915 will be available in stores on Wednesday 28th January - Digital copies of this Prog will be available on the same day through the 2000AD app, which can now 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!

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Review - Gotham: 1x13 - "Welcome Back, Jim Gordon"


Gotham
Episode 1x13 - "Welcome Back, Jim Gordon"

Synopsis

Freshly back on the GCPD, Gordon wastes no time in upsetting people, this time investigating corruption within the narcotics department, whilst Butch and Fish deal with the consequences of their attempted take-over of Falcone’s organisation.

Review

Ever since returning from its Winter hiatus, Gotham has demonstrating a better understanding of how to balance its sub-plots with its central story-line, often having the two types of story-line fuelling each other. Last episode, “What the Little Bird Told Him” was the pinnacle of this type of narrative, with practically every scene building towards the bigger picture. This episode doesn't quite reach the same heights, but maintains a healthy relevance between the main plot and the supporting story-arcs, providing actual progression on all fronts.

There was a very interesting symmetry between this episode and the pilot, with Fish Mooney finding herself in the same position that Oswald Cobblepot had found himself - exiled from Gotham. Unfortunately she isn't quite as calculating as the Penguin, reacting with violence and revenge instead of thinking about the long game. I was surprised at how quickly her 'punishment' was dealt with, expecting the series to drag it out over the space of several episodes, but it is clear that the show-runners have an end-game in mind for this season and are busy putting the pieces in the right places. The long-running feud between her and Cobblepot had a brief flare-up here and for one moment, it seemed like we would get some closure, but I suspect the final confrontation between these two characters is being saved for the season finale.

As an original character created for the TV show without a comic book counterpart, I've always viewed Fish Mooney as a temporary obstacle in the Penguin’s rise to power that will inevitably be removed, but given the popularity of the character and Jada Pinkett Smith’s strong portrayal of her, I wouldn't be surprised if Fish remains in play for longer than I initially thought. Perhaps she might even make her way into the DC Comics Universe proper, similar to how Harley Quinn initially appeared in the Batman: The Animated Series before making her way into the DCU canon.

I really enjoyed seeing the Penguin's glee at inheriting Fish Mooney's night-club, but as we've seen before, for every step forward he makes, he seems to sabotage himself. I expect that his mother might pay the price for his greedy ambition, either by Fish Mooney's hands or possibly Maroni, since he used his mother's health as a cover for meeting with Falcone. Given the unpredictability of the Gotham underworld and the shifting alliances within the opposing crime families, I wouldn't be surprised to see Fish out the Penguin as Falcone's mole and possibly taking his place as the second-in-command. For some reason, these Gotham mob-bosses love to keep their devious malcontents close by in high positions, almost daring them to betray them at some point!


The main 'GCPD' storyline introduced Detective Flass, a key player in the Batman: Year One storyline, which inspired this series. In the comics, Flass is Gordon's partner, adopting a similar role to Bullock in the show, but more overtly corrupt and bullying. Once Flass was name-checked, it was clear to me that he would be the killer, but luckily the episode didn't quite focus on the “whodunnit” element and instead turned the story into another Gordon against corruption in the GCPD plot-line. While it does feel that this type of story-arc has been explored quite a bit in this series, I quite like the slight differences seen in this approach, with Gordon actually getting some back-up from some of his GCPD colleagues, making up for their abandoning of him during the tense Zsasz shoot-out in “Penguin's Umbrella”. In the same way that Fish's exile from Gotham inversely mirrored the end of the pilot, this sequence was a nicely inverted repeat of that scene.

The other two prominent sub-plots in this episode; Bruce's search for Selina and Ed Nygma's continued pursuit of Miss Kringle, bubbled away in the background without much impact on the rest of the stories featured, but made some slight progress within their own narratives. I suspect that the Ed Nygma story is more of a slow-burn and we'll see brief glimpses of that ongoing thread developing over the remaining episodes, which is good because I want the writers to take their time with this character's descent into madness. He's so fun to watch as a quirky good guy that I am reluctant to see him change sides just yet. As for Bruce's disastrous interaction with Selina, I presume that occurred to spur him onto the next discovery relating to his parent's murder. With the sinister goings-on at Wayne Enterprises, first hinted at in “Viper” and barely mentioned since, I wonder if we're going to see the young billionaire restart his investigations into his own company.

Overall, this was a great little episode blending together various plot elements organically and having the A and B plots bounce along in near-symmetry. For example, if the Penguin hadn't have lent his bodyguard out to perform a “favour” for Gordon, then he wouldn't have been unguarded when Fish and Butch came around for a house-call. There was also plenty of seeds sown for future story-lines, as no doubt Bullock will begin investigations for Butch and come into contact with Zsasz and his trio (uhm...make that a duo) of femme fatales. I also suspect that Penguin's emotional outburst about working for Falcone all along might find its way to Maroni's ears, fuelling his suspicion over his second-in-command's loyalties. It's clear the series has really hit its stride now, continuing to deliver some fantastic storylines, and I'm particularly enjoying the recent flurry of DC characters introduced into the show (Electro-cutioner, Amygdala, Leslie Thompkins and now, Arnold Flass) and with rumours of The Scarecrow appearing in the next few episodes, it seems that they intend to flesh out the more manic elements of Gotham alongside the organised crime aspects.


Score - 9.6 out of 10


Next Episode - "The Fearsome Dr. Crane"
Fish Mooney reveals a secret of Oswald Cobblepot's, prompting Maroni to take him on a trip to test his loyalty. Meanwhile, Gordon and Bullock hunt down a killer who targets victims with severe phobias and Bruce Wayne confronts Gordon for failing to make progress on his parents' murder case.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

2000AD Prog 1914

Prog 1914 Cover by Alex Ronald

This explosive cover from Alex Ronald depicts a scene from this Prog’s Savage with the anti-Quartz protesters being attacked by his army of Hammerstein robots. I really like the way that Ronald renders the Hammerstein droid, which both captures elements from Patrick Goddard's depiction within the interior pages, as well as drawing similarities to Clint Langley's approach on The ABC Warriors strip, adding a nice touch of continuity between the two series’. However, the cover does feel a little bit dark and murky in places and I think it would have benefited from a more static and well-lit image, perhaps a row of imposing Hammersteins looking on at a rioting crowd rather than this more frenzied image.


JUDGE DREDD - DARK JUSTICE (Part 4)
Script - John Wagner
Art - Greg Staples
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

It’s hard not to review this episode of Dark Justice without gushing over Greg Staples’ fantastic artwork which steps up a gear now that the horror has been unleashed upon the residents of the Mayflower. While the initial episodes had a somewhat glossy cinematic feel to them, the resurrection of the Dark Judges sees Staples switch his approach and deliver some genuinely horrific sequences, delivering some genuinely horrific sequences, such as the fantastic panel at the bottom of the first page which depicts Will Orchard’s corpse undergoing a rapid decomposition and morphing into Judge Mortis – I would love to see that on the big-screen one day. I imagine it to look something like a cross between the gruesome finales from The Evil Dead and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

There are plenty of wonderful moments in this instalment of the storyline, such as the way that Wagner and Staples manage to inspire a sense of genuine guttural fear as the Dark Judges slowly rise up from their resurrection tanks and begin to unleash their dark justice onto the Mayflower crew. I loved the unbridled gore on display as Judge Fear’s man-trap launches across the room, clamping down on the poor Sheriff’s head. After setting up the Mayflower staff as woefully unprepared for any form of violence, this devastating attack feels all the more one-sided as Death and his fellow Dark Judges rampage throughout the orbiting colony. Staples also throws in some instantly iconic shots of the four villains together, using Death’s trademark pose of a leering hand towards the reader and that rictus grin on his face.


While Staples’ artwork does much of the heavy lifting in this instalment, Wagner’s script helps bring the Mega-City Judges to speed as a hastily formed team is organised to head up to the Mayflower. Alongside Dredd and Anderson we have Judge Logan, who has seemingly recovered his possession by the Sisters of Death, although I suspect his slight case of demonic possession will rear up again at the most inopportune moment. With Judge man-power at an all-time low, the rest of the team is made up from Verminators, who I suspect will be playing the role of cannon fodder, as they did in the Judge Dredd vs. Aliens storyline.

This was easily the best instalment of the storyline so far, and bodes well for the remainder of the tale. Quite frankly, the Dark Judges have never looked so scary, and I absolutely love it. If Tharg handed this story into the nearest Hollywood big-wig, I'm sure that “Dredd 2: Dark Justice” would be green lit within minutes! However, I should point out that I have very limited knowledge of how the movie business works and perhaps just handing someone a graphic novel doesn't necessarily equate to a blockbuster movie being made.



THE ORDER (Part 4)
Script - Kek-W
Art - John Burns
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

As evidenced from my reviews of the previous installments, I am really enjoying this series and this episode is no exception. Within the space of a mere five pages, Kek-W's script manages to effortlessly blend together superb characterisation, intriguing plot development and an action-packed cliff-hanger. I loved the way that the script side-steps traditional plot exposition, as evidenced by Iron John's aborted flashback, and allows the characters to organically move the plot forward. Through Anna's questioning about her father, we also learn more about Iron John and Blazen. This is a well-written series focused on developing the characters along with the plot, so as a result, the characters are coming to life in a more natural manner.

There are also some hints that The Order may have some preordained knowledge of future events and how things are supposed to be, as Blazen explains that the reason The Order failed to warn Prague of the impending Wurm attack was that it could have changed history and prevented the city from becoming Bohemia's capital. I suspect that this future knowledge may have come from Ritterstahl, considering his futuristic origins, but it also appears that their enemy, The Wurms, also possess knowledge of the modern age as they seem to have access to some form of electric weaponry, as evidenced by Ritterstahl predicting an EMP blast and shutting down his systems to prevent himself from being fried. I am really enjoying the mish-mash of past and future elements that inhabit this series, with technology and magic, swords and guns appearing alongside each other in this 'medieval-punk' universe.



ULYSSES SWEET, MANIAC FOR HIRE - PSYCHO THERAPIST (Part 4)
Script - Guy Adams
Art - Paul Marshall
Greytones - Chris Blythe
Letters - Ellie de Ville

Guy Adams and Paul Marshall deliver another slapstick-infused episode of Ulysses Sweet, which sees the Maniac-for-Hire's hunt for his elusive psyche-chip hit another roadblock as his attempt to extract the device from a young child's head is cut short by some assassins attached to crucifixes. Yes, you read that right... This series is as barmy as a bag of snails on LSD, but as with the previous storyline, it all feels a bit formulaic and more like a collection of short sketches joined together by a rough guiding plot. I don't want to judge it too harshly as it provides a light-hearted and easily digestible interlude compared to the other stories in the Prog, but I am finding myself seeing the strings in the way the narrative is formed.


Despite my issues with how the story is structured, I really enjoyed the humour in this episode with a meta-fictional situation of the boy protesting about violence in comics, only to be killed violently within a comic himself. It genuinely raised a chuckle to see the boy's head pop and the psyche-chip's narration box to simply read “...” - sure, it's a bit juvenile and immature at times, but the series does tickle the funny bone. I also really enjoyed Paul Marshall's artwork this episode, especially in the panel where Sweet lunges at his enemies. The composition is really effective and gives the impression that Ulysses is leaping out of the page towards the reader.



SAVAGE: BOOK 9 - GRINDERS (Part 4)
Script - Pat Mills
Art - Patrick Goddard
Letters - Ellie de Ville

While it's easy to dismiss Bill Savage as a shotgun wielding thug – this episode demonstrates his cunningness and ability to think on his feet. I really liked the way that he outsmarted the Hammerstein operator to grant him full control over one of the robots, quickly using it to attack the others and prevent the protest from turning into a massacre. However, this victory is short-lived as he is kidnapped by some Volg collaborators who are upset that the Volgans are out of power.


Pat Mills and Patrick Goddard continue to demonstrate that there is plenty of story opportunities for Bill Savage, even after the Volgan occupation of Britain has ended. Now that Savage is in the hands of the Volg collaborators, I suspect that he will come into contact with the titular Grinders, glimpsed at in the first episode of this series. I'm really looking forward to seeing these attempts at replicating the Hammerstein and Blackblood robots in human form, and watching Savage deal with a whole new type of enemy.



ORLOK: AGENT OF EAST MEG ONE - EUROZONED (Part 3)
Script - Arthur Wyatt
Art - Jake Lynch
Letters - Simon Bowland

The plot continues to thicken in Orlok: Agent of East Meg One, with Orlok adopting a new alias. 'Oberon', for use during his stay in Euro City. The narration quickly establishes that there are three criminal organisations operating in the area, and we soon see Orlok ambushing a debt collection by the largest group, La Reine Rouge. As with the preceding episode, the story runs at a quick pace, showcasing Orlok in his new identity and continuing to leave the reader in the dark as to his true motives. Clearly, he has purposefully stolen money from La Reine Rouge in order to get an audience with their leader, but beyond that it is unclear. I'm looking forward to finding out what Orlok plans to do, and how he intends to re-ingratiate himself with East Meg One once he has completed his task.

Jake Lynch's artwork continues to bring a gritty vibe to the story, especially during the gorier moments, such as when the debt collectors decide to remove their victim's spinal column as payment. I loved Orlok's pet dog, complete with a Mega-City One Judge's helmet – it was a nice little touch and demonstrates Orlok's distaste and lack of respect for the Judges. Arthur Wyatt maintains a sense of mystery about his lead character's motivations and loyalties, despite the fact that this is a prequel and we know where events will lead, but the fun in this story is the journey rather than the destination and seeing how Wyatt will manage to write himself (and Orlok) out of this potential dead-end.



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

Ever since Prog 2015, The Order has been my 'Thrill of the Week', thanks to its wonderful script and amazing artwork, but with the dramatic developments in 'Dark Justice', Judge Dredd took the top spot. Given the quality of both series, I imagine it will be tough choosing between the two in the forthcoming weeks. However, that's not to say that the rest of the line-up doesn't compare – Savage, Orlok and Ulysses Sweet have all been delivering really strong episodes as well, ensuring that this New Year line-up is hitting home-runs across the board.

The appearance of a letters page provides a glimpse into the future with Tharg teasing a Spring line-up of Slaine, Strontium Dog, Grey Area and Absalom. I really enjoyed the previous storylines of the first three in the line-up, but am rather unsure about Absalom, which last appeared in Prog 2014. In other news, the Judge Dredd Mega Collection has finally launched, even appearing on a TV ad ensuring maximum exposure to non-2000AD readers. I've already picked up three copies of the first installment, which contains Judge Dredd: America at a more than reasonable £1.99 – I've given my excess copies away to friends who enjoyed Dredd but feel scared away by the continuity of 2000AD, and I recommend any Squaxx dek Thargo's out there do the same. Spread the Thrill-power, people!

Thrill of the Week: Judge Dredd


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1914 will be available in stores on Wednesday 21st January - Digital copies of this Prog will be available on the same day through the 2000AD app, which can now 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 # 4

Doctor Who: The 12th Doctor # 4
"The Swords of Kali" - Part 2 (of 3)
Written by: Robbie Morrison
Art by: Dave Taylor & Mariano Laclaustra
Colours by: Luis Guerrero

This second installment of the three-part storyline, “The Swords of Kali” opens up, rather boldly, with a flashback sequence that reveals that supporting character, Rani Jhulka to be a lesbian. By prominently featuring a gay character, this story follows in the Doctor Who tradition of pushing boundaries and showcasing diversity, most recently seen in the same-gender, inter-species relationship between Madame Vastra and Jenny, but before that with Captain Jack Harkness and numerous other gay and bi-sexual characters. It seems fit that the licensed comics also explore these themes and it also gives Robbie Morrison to sum up the Doctor's stance on relationships with this brilliant line: “Man loves woman. Man loves man. Woman loves woman. Who cares? People hating each other. That's what bothers me. That's when the trouble starts.

The issue manages to balance the episode's exposition and plot development with some great action sequences, such as when the mutated Thuggee creatures chase Clara and Priyanka towards the TARDIS, or the tense sequence where Chandra Scindia attempts to blackmail the Doctor into finding the final sword of Kali by threatening Clara's life. This moment made even more tense by the extreme close-ups on the Doctor and Clara's eyes, with Dave Taylor effortlessly channelling the intensity from Peter Capaldi's on-screen performance onto the page. As Scindia counts down to Clara's impending incineration by jet engine, there is a similar uncertainty about whether the Doctor will be there for Clara or not, seen in “Deep Breath” and nicely parallels the duo's relationship during Season 8.

In true Doctor Who fashion, the story reveals a science-fiction element behind seemingly mystical events, explaining that the deity worshipped as Kali is in fact an alien being known as the Kaliratha, which thrives on the life-force of its followers. I really like the blend of historical and futuristic settings to tell the story, with the Doctor investigating 19th Century India, whilst Clara and Priyanka attempt to deal with the Scindia family in the 24th Century. There's also a reference to the “Hyperion War” and a concerted effort to purge other malevolent species, including the Kaliratha, possibly suggesting an over-arching theme to Robbie Morrison's first 'season' of stories.


Dave Taylor continues to deliver some truly fantastic artwork for this storyline, maintaining the high level of quality seen in the preceding issue. The beautiful colour palette by Luis Guerrero once again elevates every panel, especially the rich purples and vibrant oranges. It truly inspires a sense of atmosphere into the story, particularly during the sequences where the Doctor and Rani explore the tomb. Taylor also seems more consistent in his rendering of the Doctor and Clara, to the point where some of the panels featuring Clara really captured the likeness of Jenna Coleman, rather than just a young brunette.

Aside from the main feature, I also really enjoyed the humour strip from Colin Bell and Neil Slorance. In just one page, it managed to tell a funny little 'slice of life' tale in the TARDIS which can be read in both directions, using a similar timey-wimey approach to the recent Eleventh Doctor # 6 comic by Rob Williams and Simon Fraser. It was very well scripted and really benefitted from being read start to finish, then finish to start, to get the full effect. These single-page gags add a nice indie web-comic feel to the whole package, as well as providing more bang for the reader's buck.

Overall, this was another strong installment for the Twelfth Doctor series, capitalising on the magnificent opening episode last issue and maintaining the same level of quality for this second chapter. It is always a pleasure to see writer, artist and colorist working together in perfect harmony to produce something of true beauty. I'm really looking forward to seeing how this story-line concludes, and hopefully seeing more from this creative team in the future.


Score - 9.6 out of 10

Doctor Who: The Twelfth 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!

Review - Doctor Who: The 11th Doctor # 7

Doctor Who: The 11th Doctor # 7
"The Eternal Dogfight"
Written by: Rob Williams
Art by: Warren Pleece
Colours by: Hi-Fi

This two-part storyline sees the introduction of a third artist, Warren Pleece, into the roster of talent for the Eleventh Doctor series. I'm familiar of Pleece's artwork from 2000AD, particularly the series Dandridge, which he has worked on with Alec Worley. His art style here resembles the same approach used for Dandridge, and feels like the middle-ground between Simon Fraser and Boo Cook's art styles. The three artists, despite their different approaches, have managed to maintain a consistency across their relevant story-arcs, ensuring that the changes in artist results in only a minor adjustment period from the reader. Pleece's take on the Eleventh Doctor is instantly recognisable as the character, but paradoxically doesn't always resemble Matt Smith, apart from the odd close-up panel. It still works well and channels the heart of the character without being a portrait of the actor in each frame.

The story sees the Doctor returning to our current time of 2015, which is technically the future within the narrative of the show since this comic series takes place after the 2010 Christmas Special. 'A Christmas Carol' and before Season 6 begins, which presumably took place during 2011 for the Amy and Rory contemporary Earth scenes. Talk about timey-wimey... Within minutes of entering Alice's apartment, the Doctor discovers an inter-galactic battle known as 'The Eternal Dogfight' taking place just outside of the Earth's atmosphere and decides that “enough is enough” and that he is the man to bring an end to the battle between the two warring races.

I must admit that I wasn't overly keen on the designs of the Amstrons and J'arrodic races, with the Amstrons looking very similar to Sontarans, to the point where they resemble knock-off action figure versions of them that you'd find in a pound shop, and the J'arrodic, which to be fair aren't featured much, look like red feathery pigeons. There could be a story reason behind the close resemblance between the Amstrons and the Sontarans, but it did stand out and take me out of the story somewhat. Despite this minor nit-pick, there were also some nice narrative touches from Warren Pleece here, such as the recurring circular theme with the Amstron's Great Wheel space-ship and doughnut food-stuffs, down to the subtle bulls-eyes on the back of the jet-packs, almost pre-empting the fact the Doctor and co. will end up as targets.

Just to clarify, those are blasters and not giant yellow nipples....

Through his script here, Rob Williams proves that he knows exactly what makes the Eleventh Doctor tick – Alice's observations about how the Doctor changes whenever war is mentioned, nicely references The Time War and foreshadows 'The Day of the Doctor', even if the character herself is unaware of those events. As mentioned before, Alice continues to be the lead companion here, getting her own narration boxes and introspective monologue, but by leaving her alone (well, apart from the evil Time-Lord in her kitchen), we get to see more from Jones and ARC. I must admit that the comfort-eating plot point didn't really connect with me, and initially seemed like a way to explain away the difference in Jones' appearance between artists, but with the twist at the end, it seemed to have more relevance. I hope he doesn't end up with a chest-burster sequence, a la John Hurt in Alien.

This episode also sees the development of some of the 'season-long' sub-plots that have been running along in the background since the series begun, such as the mysterious time-lord who has been haunting the Doctor on his recent adventures, Alice's relationship with her mother and coming to terms with her loss, and the mysterious origin of ARC and whether he ultimately is a friend or foe. While I'm not entirely invested in the outcome of the 'Eternal Dogfight' storyline, this issue's greater focus onto the recurring themes of the series definitely captured my interest, leaving me with more questions than answers, as the writers take the next logical step of building on their initial teases and crafting genuine mysteries for the characters (and readers) to solve.

The episode ends on a very intriguing cliff-hanger, with Alice's mum returned to her alive and well, presumably by the time-lord in her kitchen. Clearly, as even the Doctor realises, this isn't a permanent solution and will cause Alice greater heartbreak in the end, but I am intrigued to find out how and why her mother has been brought back to life. We also get the hint of a prophecy from ARC who claims “He...is coming” whilst he is overcome with his blood-lust. This seems to suggest that there is a 'big bad' on the horizon – Could 'He' be referring to the time-lord? August Hart? Another character from ServeYouInc, or perhaps whatever entity took control of ARC?

When it comes to the time-lord, I am completely clueless to who it could be. My initial theory is that it is someone posing as a time-lord to disturb the Doctor, or possibly a new time-lord that somehow escaped The Time War. I strongly doubt that it will be a character from the series' history, such as The Master or Rassilon, but you never know! Given what we know about the cracks in the wall and their relationship with the Time-Lords from 'Time of the Doctor', it is entirely possible that this rogue Time-Lord has somehow bled through during the Big Bang 2.0 in 'The Big Bang' and is causing issues, explaining the writers' choice to set this comic-book season during that time period. Hopefully the concluding half of this storyline will give us a clearer glimpse into the motivations of this omnipotent observer, or better yet, reveal their identity completely.


Score - 9.4 out of 10

Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor # 7 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, 20 January 2015

Review - Gotham: 1x12 - "What the Little Bird Told Him"


Gotham
Episode 1x12 - "What The Little Bird Told Him"

Synopsis

In order to become reinstated as a detective, Gordon must apprehend the escaped Arkham inmate known as The Electro-cutioner before he can complete his scheme for revenge. Meanwhile, Fish finally makes her move on Falcone using Liza, but is the old man willing to let go of his crime empire just yet?

Review

The content of this episode of Gotham was a genuine surprise to me – initially, I expected it to be focused primarily on Gordon’s hunt for the two Arkham Asylum inmates (Jack Gruber and Aaron Helzinger) who’d escaped under his watch, but instead it developed into a far more rounded episode touching base with both sides of the Falcone / Maroni crime families and moving the over-arching mythology forward into a new stage. While Gordon’s search for the “Electro-cutioner” remained at the core of the story, I was surprised at how far the ramifications of Gruber’s revenge plan spread, even indirectly affecting Fish Mooney’s attempted coup of the Falcone Empire, and possibly endangering Penguin’s position as Falcone’s mole in Maroni’s organisation.

Even though the Electro-cutioner and Amygdala were somewhat maligned in this episode in favour of advancing the ongoing sub-plots, I did find them to be very intriguing and menacing “super-villains” filled with potential. Luckily, they were not killed off in the episode, so there is always the possibility that Gruber will return and attempt to get revenge on Gordon and Maroni in the future, maybe with more advanced (and water-proof) electronics. I really liked his unique MO of lobotomizing his victims as it resulted in a far more creepy and haunting end for those wiped clean by his electrodes, such as his former associate, Irwin, who was left mindlessly writing the same phrase onto the wall, like a brain-dead version of Bart Simpson from the opening credits of The Simpsons.

Even Gordon’s reinstatement into the GCPD was relatively low-key and almost inevitable, almost like the show-runners knew that there was no point making poor Jim jump through too many hoops to get his old job back. However, the sequence did finally introduce Commissioner Loeb, who seemed to be a rather odd fish to read – while he was stern and imposing, he still offered Gordon the olive branch to get his job back, suggesting that he possibly admires the “rebellious streak” in the young cop. His references about Gordon’s father, who it turns out was a District Attorney, felt like it was foreshadowing an appearance later on in the show, possibly developing Jim Gordon’s back-story and family life. As always, I loved the interplay between Bullock and Gordon, with Bullock’s one-liners as Gordon continues to lead him into trouble. The moment where he incredulously (and repeatedly) asked him “You think you've been careful so far?” was fantastic and summed up the relationship between the earnest cop and his good-hearted but lackadaisical partner.


The main meat of the story came from Fish Mooney’s long-anticipated take-over of Falcone’s business, where we saw her plan unveiled in all its glory. Using his romantic attachment to Liza, she planned to convince him to retire his throne and move out to the country by “kidnapping” the girl and threatening her safety. It was actually a surprisingly violence-free coup, choosing to manipulate Falcone into leaving instead of reverting to bloodshed – unfortunately, Penguin’s interference meant that poor Liza was caught in the middle between the two powerhouses and had the life squeezed out of her. I must admit I was in open-mouth shock when Fish openly admitted to Falcone that she was the one responsible for the attempted coup and shattered the status-quo of the past twelve episodes, much like when the Penguin strode into the GCPD station and announced himself to be alive and well in “The Spirit of the Goat”.

Interestingly, while Penguin gloats over his part in Fish Mooney’s downfall, he has possibly inadvertently begun sowing the seeds for his own betrayal to be discovered when he accidentally lets slip that he has “very important business with Falcone” during his dazed confusion following his electrocution. While he seemingly convinces Maroni that it was just incoherent ramblings, I suspect that the mob-boss is far savvier than he lets on and will no doubt be checking up on his “little friend” and his sick mother. Considering the amount of public appearances Penguin had with Falcone in this episode, it wouldn't surprise me if Maroni discovers Cobblepot's duplicity sooner rather than later.

Aside from the ‘big sub-plots’, there was also some development on one of the more slow-moving elements of the series, Edward Nygma and his descent into madness as he becomes The Riddler. Yet again, he is shown interacting with his unrequited crush, Miss Kringle, giving her a slightly creepy cupcake (with a live bullet inside of it) as a riddle. I can see this little infatuation developing into his first homicide, although I’m not sure whether the victim will be the loudmouth cop who warned Ed off, or Miss Kringle herself. In some ways, it’s almost a shame that he is fated to turn bad, because I like this innocent, kind-hearted version of Edward Nygma, who appears to genuinely care for Bullock and Gordon – suiting them up with rubber-soled boots to aid their investigation into the Electro-cutioner.

This was easily the best episode of the series yet, achieving a near-perfect score, thanks to the various plot-threads being weaved together to produce a practically flawless tapestry of a story. Aside from the awkward appearance from Barbara Keen and her parents, each moment in the episode worked together seamlessly to fuel the story and build up to the crescendo in Fish Mooney’s club. Part of me wanted Fish (or Butch) to cop a bullet to really shake things up, but clearly the writers want them still in play, even though they might be taken off the board for some time now. I really liked the balance between the “villain of the week” approach and the long ‘season-arc’ elements and how the two blended together nicely, with Gruber and Helzinger’s escape acting as a catalyst, rather than the episode’s focus. In retrospect, this episode gave added validity to the seemingly ‘filler’ content of the previous one, taking the story in a completely new direction and giving me that same “What’s going to happen next?” feeling that I had with "Penguin’s Umbrella".


Score - 9.9 out of 10


Next Episode - "Welcome Back, Jim Gordon"
When the key witness in a homicide ends up dead while being held for questioning by the police, Gordon suspects that it's an inside job and looks to an old friend for information.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Review - Agent Carter: 1x03 - "Time and Tide"


Agent Carter
Episode 1x03 - "Time and Tide"

Synopsis

With the Nitramene safely destroyed, Agent Carter decides to investigate the scene of the robbery for some clues on how Leet Brannis managed to steal Stark's “bad babies” from under his nose. Meanwhile, the SSR gets ever closer to discovering what happened at the Roxxon Implosion.

Review

After the fast-paced introduction to Peggy Carter's world in the aftermath of World War Two, this third episode adopted a much slower approach, developing the relationship between Peggy and Jarvis, both of whom have been embroiled into the dangerous task of clearing Howard Stark's name from an ever-growing litany of crimes. Unlike the denser feel to the previous episodes, it felt like there wasn't as much actual content here, yet it never drifted into 'filler' territory. Once again, the episode dealt with the fallout from previous events, in this case leading to the interrogation of Edwin Jarvis in the SSR offices, before moving onto setting the wheels in motion for the next plot development.

After being portrayed as a foppish, and somewhat ineffectual, partner in crime to Agent Carter, this episode showed Edwin Jarvis in a much more heroic light as he withstood the harsh emotional blackmail of the SSR interrogators. I liked the way he initially dealt with Agent Thompson's accusations with wit and an unflappable nature, but once Thompson threatened to have Jarvis and his wife deported out of the country, we got a chance to see the real mettle behind the character. Luckily, Peggy managed to defuse the situation, but I suspect that Jarvis would have accepted the punishment before 'ratting' on Peggy and Howard's secret investigations. The sequence in the sewers where he reveals to Peggy why he was dishonourably discharged from the army also showcases his heroic and romantic side, explaining that he risked it all to save the woman he loves. As a result, it also shows a more serious and caring side to 1940's playboy Howard Stark, who made sure that Jarvis escaped a potentially lethal treason charge through his connections.

While Leviathan only made their presence known towards the end of the episode, we were given some more clues about the two deceased members. Both men were Russian, which itself makes the group distinguishable from the Nazi-focused Hydra, and were soldiers in the 457 riflemen brigade, which was apparently wiped out. It certainly raises up more questions than answers about the men, whose vocal chords were mysteriously removed. As Sousa says, they were “dead before they were dead”, but is that figuratively or literally? I suspect it is just a conspiracy relating to that specific battalion, rather than actual resurrections from beyond the grave, yet the removal of the voice-boxes certainly makes me wonder whether there is something supernatural about it all. Given the lack of conversation from the assassin at the end of the episode, I think the lack of vocal chords will be a recurring theme amongst the Leviathan members.

Talking of the ending, while it did feel like the death of Krzeminski was telegraphed ahead of time with his constant failed attempts to get out of the night shift, it did still manage to have an impact. I liked that he managed to discover Carter's involvement in the investigation, and had he survived, he might have gotten some kudos from his co-workers, but unfortunately, he was silenced before he could tell anyone. I was surprised when the writers killed off Peggy's first room-mate, so to have a second supporting character die at the ends of Leviathan just raises the stakes and establishes that no one is safe, apart from Peggy and Howard Stark who we know survive this to set up SHIELD. Still, I do worry for Jarvis, Angie and the rest of the SSR team...


Even though there was a brief appearance from 'The Constrictor', I did feel that this episode slightly suffered by not having a gadget at the heart of the story. Part of which made those opening two episodes so thrilling was the science-fiction element of the Nitramene and it worked well as a focal point for viewers. While I understand the desire to avoid falling into an 'invention of the week' format, especially with only eight episodes to tell the story, it would be nice to see more from Stark's “bad babies” in the future episodes. I do enjoy the more procedural elements to this series though, which actually feels like it earns its pay-offs by doing 'old school investigations' rather than the short-cuts or 'Sci-fi cheats' that Agents of SHIELD sometimes employs to jump straight to the action.

As I've said before, Hayley Atwell confidently owns this show in every scene. I noticed her subtle facial expressions as other characters talk, which showcases how great an actress she really is, inhabiting the character at all times. She also manages to display an amazing knack for humour and deadpan delivery, which works well with the superbly written script that buzzes with one-liners and jokes for her and her co-stars to bounce off of each other. This episode saw a slight change in wardrobe for Peggy, as she wears a more “stealthy” costume for her investigation into the sewers beneath Stark Mansion – it makes her look a bit more like Lara Croft, Tomb Raider – a part that Hayley Atwell would be perfect for, as she has the exact voice and look for the character – moreso than Angelina Jolie ever had! If they ever reboot the film series, they should definitely consider casting Atwell in the role!

Overall, I did enjoy this episode even though it has a slower pace than the previous two installments. While the action quotient may have dipped somewhat, the witty dialogue and natural comedy from both the actors and their characters really shone through and kept the series' momentum going. With some fantastically strong characters and a thrilling central mystery, the show has a lot going for it and its central leading lady has certainly won my heart over. I have no doubt that the remaining five episodes will continue to deliver a great serialised storyline and fill in some of the blanks behind the formation of SHIELD in the late 1940's.


Score - 9.3 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • Jerome Zandow, the muscle-for-hire whom Peggy and Jarvis fight with aboard the Heartbreak is a reference to the character Zandow the Strong-man, a circus entertainer hired by the Nazis to fight Captain America in the comics. (First app: Captain America Comics # 5)

Mysteries
  • Both Leet Brannis and Sasha Demidov were members of the Soviet 478th Rifle division, which was wiped out in 1944 – Does this mean that they faked their deaths, were resurrected or are using the names of the deceased as cover identities?
  • Who is the assassin who killed Jerome Zandow and Ray Krzeminski?

Next Episode - "The Blitzkrieg Button"
Peggy may be in more trouble than usual when fugitive Howard Stark suddenly returns for mysterious reasons. And Chief Dooley chases a new clue all the way to Europe that threatens to destroy Peggy's future at the SSR.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

2000AD Prog 1913

Prog 1913 Cover by Neil Roberts

This beautiful cover from Neil Roberts adopts a medieval portrait style depicting robotic knight, Ritterstahl, from The Order. I really like the juxtaposition of an old-fashioned artistic style against the modern, steam-punk design of the robot’s head. The square shape of Ritterstahl’s head really stands out, as does his glowing LED eyes – I already loved the character design by John Burns on the interior pages, but this alternative representation by Neil Roberts is fantastic in its straight-forward simplicity.


JUDGE DREDD - DARK JUSTICE (Part 3)
Script - John Wagner
Art - Greg Staples
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

This third episode of Dark Justice moves the plot along nicely, bringing Dredd and Anderson up to speed on the Dark Judges’ whereabouts as well as teasing their physical resurrection aboard the woefully unprotected Mayflower. I’m not sure of the total length of this tale, but it definitely feels like we've reached the end of the introductory first act, and now the shit is about to hit the fan.

Once again we get some exposition from the captain’s log, which provides us with a total population of the Mayflower, giving us a number (just over 4,000) to associate with the inevitable bloodbath. As with the previous episode, the captain’s monologue provides a heavy sense of foreboding, mentioning how weapons are prohibited aboard the colony and introducing a new-born baby into the mix. I’m fully expecting that by the time Dredd and Anderson make it to the Mayflower, it will be a derelict ‘ghost ship’ littered with corpses, with maybe this baby left as the sole survivor spared from the Dark Judge’s judgement. 


I quite like the way the story feels shrouded in mystery, with the reader unsure of why Death has chosen the Mayflower as his target location, as well as the ambiguity over PJ Maybe’s fate. It’s implied that he somehow escaped Judge Death’s wrath and has gone back into hiding, so I imagine that at some point we will see a follow-up episode from PJ’s point of view that details how he escaped, as well as setting up the character’s next scheme. I’m assuming that he won’t play any further part in this story, but John Wagner has proven before that he is capable of surprising the reader with shock twists.

Greg Staples’ art continues to impress, with his beautifully rendered panels littering the pages. His close-ups on Judge Anderson are simply beautiful and those in the know will definitely see the inspiration of Lauren Integra in the appearance. It does feel like we've not seen much of Dredd himself yet though, as he has mostly appeared in the background. I’m hoping that when the two groups meet, we will see more focus on the titular character with Greg Staples bringing his fantastic vision to the lawman of the future. Overall, this storyline feels like it is just about to kick into overdrive and deliver some absolutely 'killer' episodes (pun intended) and I cannot wait!



THE ORDER (Part 3)
Script - Kek-W
Art - John Burns
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

After setting the scene and establishing the threat of the Wurms, Ritterstahl and Anna Kohl stumble upon the rest of the surviving members of The Order - namely, Iron John, a stern and proud man who also seems to be going deaf; Schmidt, the 'shoot-gunne' wielding warrior and the drug-addled Blazen, whose addiction to Ergot powder has him imagining a kestrel on his shoulder. It's a wonderful mix of quirky characters and Kek-W manages to inject them all with strong personalities and enjoyable banter as they interact with each other. It feels very reminiscent of The Seven Samurai, or perhaps more aptly, a human version of The ABC Warriors.


I really admire the way that Kek-W has managed to convey a sense of established history between these men in such as short space of time. There is an effective sense of nostalgia about the strip, which is remarkable considering that it has only appeared in three Progs so far. I hope that the story continues to place emphasise on developing these characters and their relationships with each other, as they are simply fantastic creations and deserve to be explored in greater detail. John Burns' art is just flawless and continues to prove that he is the perfect fit for this series, capturing the tone and atmosphere of the era and that wonderful juxtaposition of modern and the medieval. I loved Anna's final line of the episode which wonderfully summarised the concept of the series – Three old fools, an iron head and a wolf are all that remains of The Order and are the only people on Earth that are able to prevent an inter-dimensional breach from the Wurmworld. I wonder if that was the 'elevator pitch' used to sell Tharg on the series!


ULYSSES SWEET, MANIAC FOR HIRE - PSYCHO THERAPIST (Part 3)
Script - Guy Adams
Art - Paul Marshall
Greytones - Chris Blythe
Letters - Ellie de Ville

Continuing on from last episode's set-up, we have an hilarious encounter between Ulysses Sweet and the 'harmless' old lady whose brain contains one of the two remaining psyche-chips that Sweet desires. Adding an further dimension to the conflict is the appearance of The Hendersons, two would-be assassins who are joined at the hip...quite literally. Curiously, the previously placid psyche-chip seems to have malfunctioned and gone aggressive at the very sight of Ulysses Sweet, delivering some fantastic lines, such as: “doesn't he just make your tits itch?” and “kick the pig in his filth-sacks!” to encourage its elderly host to attack the maniac-for-hire. This is quite a departure from the persona that the chip had in the preceding adventure, where it attempted to act as the voice of reason. This suggests to me that either Ulysses has had some kind of influence on the psyche-chip when its cloud back-up overloaded and has somehow corrupted it to become more like him.

I really enjoyed the chaotic nature of this installment, with all the wacky elements working together nicely to produce a really funny episode. The key ingredients of the mid-coitus assassins, an ultra-aggressive elderly bigot with malfunctioning psyche-chip and the roadkill-faced maniac who is attempted to kidnap her come together to produce a really funny situation which, along with Paul Marshall's ability to capture the over-the-top cartoon violence, helps communicate the manic 'Looney Tunes' nature of the series. It's a great bit of light-hearted fun, which contrasts nicely against the other stories in the Prog. While the humour has been a bit inconsistent in the past, the jokes in this episode definitely hit more than they miss, which bodes well for the upcoming conflicts with the rest of the unlikely assassins.



SAVAGE: BOOK 9 - GRINDERS (Part 3)
Script - Pat Mills
Art - Patrick Goddard
Letters - Ellie de Ville

After the long-awaited liberation of England from the Volgs, the narrative jumps forward six months in time, with Quartz's robots fully integrated into the British way of life. It seems that the general public are equally as unhappy with their situation as they were with the Volgs, but Savage is conflicted. This is a much more complex situation than a brutal Invasion and demonstrates how much this series has 'grown up' from its roots, telling the story of a more subtle invasion from Howard Quartz and his robot army. Even though this series is filling in the blanks of the continuity we already know, I'm really enjoying it. It feels like a love-letter to the fans of classic 2000AD, with nods to the lengthy continuity of the Pat Mills universe. I particularly loved the reference to Ro-Jaws in the cafe – it was perfectly timed and definitely made me smile!


We also get a glimpse of how the titular 'Grinders' fit into the story, attacking the Hammerstein robots which they consider rivals to their own dreams of becoming 'trans-humans'. I suspect that our exposure to the modified humans in the first episode is setting up a rival terrorist group to Savage's own against the Volgs, possibly leading to Savage having to decide whether he stands with Quartz, or whether to take on his robotic army of drones and Hammersteins.

As this story continues it seems like Savage is coming to a natural end as Pat Mills works to connect it closer to the Ro-Busters and The ABC Warriors continuities. Given the recent focus on Howard Quartz, both here and in the last series of The ABC Warriors, I wouldn't be surprised if the end of Savage resulted in a retelling of those original Ro-Busters stories through this more modern prism. After recently reading those original stories for the first time, I know I would love to see that concept revisited again, possibly with a more sinister slant from the villainous Howard Quartz.



ORLOK: AGENT OF EAST MEG ONE - EUROZONED (Part 2)
Script - Arthur Wyatt
Art - Jake Lynch
Letters - Simon Bowland

After an espionage-laden opening episode, this second installment of Orlok: Agent of East Meg One adopts a more exposition heavy approach, detailing the way Orlok managed to outsmart and avoid his East Meg pursuers via the style of an update briefing delivered to War Marshal Kazan. It’s an interesting way to make the exposition sound interesting, but it feels a bit too much like an unnecessary recap.

In terms of plot development, this episode suffers from being rather thin on the ground, serving mainly to indicate the passage of time as Orlok travels from Sino Cit towards Euro-City. The double-page spread, while beautifully illustrated by Jake Lynch, only serves to emphasise the lack of content in this particular chapter of the story. I don’t want to sound too derogatory about this story as I really enjoyed the opening chapter and I do understand the need for this transitional stage and how the punishing nature of the weekly episodic format with sequences like this, so I applaud Arthur Wyatt’s attempt to condense it and make it more interesting, but perhaps ‘showing and not telling’ Orlok’s escape would have made for a more visually exciting transition between locations. I’m fully expecting things to heat up again now that Orlok has arrived in Euro-City and we can see the motivation behind his apparent betrayal.



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

As with the previous Prog, all five stories are really hitting their stride now, especially Judge Dredd which delivers an effective cliff-hanger designed to whip readers up into a frenzy about the upcoming chaos. Both Savage and The Order delivered strong installments that set up the direction for the remainder of the story, whereas the bonkers Ulysses Sweet continued to march to its own manic tune. While Orlok: Agent of East Meg One might not have been the strongest element of the Prog, Jake Lynch's beautiful double-page spread made it a treat for the eyes. The strong momentum set in place by Prog 2015 continues to run apace and I am finding it increasingly hard to pick my 'thrill of the week' with each successive Prog.


Thrill of the Week: The Order


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1913 will be available in stores on Wednesday 14th January - 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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