Saturday, 28 February 2015

Review - Agent Carter: 1x08 - "Valediction"


Agent Carter
Episode 1x08 - "Valediction"

Synopsis

Working on the same team, Agent Carter and the SSR, aided by Howard Stark hatch a plan to lure Leviathan out into the spotlight and prevent a national catastrophe from occurring. All of the events of the previous seven episodes lead here as secrets are revealed and friendships are tested to the limit.

Review

This grand finale of Agent Carter wastes no time resting on its laurels after a spectacular penultimate episode. Quickly getting the Agents up to speed on the stolen gas and its effects, the episode then swiftly deals with the remaining exposition and mysteries, having Howard Stark arrive at the SSR and reveal all the unanswered questions. Now, I can understand why he didn't turn himself in to the SSR since they were all out for his blood, but it seems ultra-convenient that he didn't mention the Battle of Finow, or the Midnight Oil to either Peggy or Jarvis in either of the two times they've met up throughout the series. I guess the only explanation is that he assumed that they were about the Blitzkrieg Button and Steve's blood, and therefore didn't mention anything about the Midnight Oil, plus the Finow sub-plot was always more Dooley's investigation rather than Peggy's.

The speed of the “plot dump” was a little bit fast, but I'd manage to piece most of the mystery together on my own – I make quite the armchair detective when I want to be. One element that was finally explained was the reasoning behind Brannis and Demidov's laryngectomy operations – rather than being used to keep them quiet, it was because they were legitimate survivors from Finow who had ingested too much Midnight Oil and needed the emergency treatment to prevent from asphyxiation. With all the loopholes dealt with, the episode concentrated on the action, following the SSR's attempt to lure Dottie and Doctor Faustus out of hiding using the bait of Howard Stark.

The remaining three-quarters of the episode truly felt like a cinematic release – the action and long-awaited confrontations between heroes and villains were pitch-perfect and there were moments of genuine peril where I thought either Thompson or Sousa were going to become the final martyr of the series. Faustus and his powers of hypnotic suggestion are quite easily one of the scariest and unsettling powers I've seen on a Marvel Cinematic Universe television show, and ironically required the least amount of visual effects. Luckily, there series wisely kept both Faustus and Dottie in play, hinting at a potential follow-up adventure for the next season. Given that end credits tease that Arnim Zola is now cell-mates with Doctor Faustus, I really hope that a second season is green-lighted and we can see more from Toby Jones and Ralph Brown, especially as a dastardly duo out for revenge on Carter and the SSR.


It's quite hard to review this episode as the pace was so thrilling and watchable that I often forgot to make notes and discussion points, which is a high compliment in itself. Each scene was compelling and had my eyes locked onto the screen, eagerly anticipating the conclusion. I also loved the sequence where Peggy had to talk down Howard Stark from completing his suicide mission, echoing the similar scenes from the end of Captain America: The First Avenger. The scene gave both Peggy and Howard a degree of closure over losing Steve Rogers, and helped restore their damaged friendship – it was also provided a more dynamic element to the storyline, moving the action to the air whilst the SSR agents attempted to apprehend the two enemy agents.

As I write this, there still hasn't been a decision either way about whether to renew Agent Carter for a second series. With murmurings of low ratings, and the irrational decision by Channel 4 not to air the eight-part series in the UK to fill in the Agents of SHIELD hiatus, it isn't a dead cert that we'll see a return.  If this series doesn't get picked up for another season, it will be a massive travesty – it was a solid eight episode miniseries that put a female role model front and centre, targeting a demographic that is often overlooked and ignored. If this series fails to get picked up, it just sends the wrong kind of message about whether female leads are able to sustain TV shows. As it is, I'm bitterly disappointed as an Englishman that Channel 4 decided not to air the series and no other service (NetFlix / Amazon Prime) picked up the scraps, but I will be even more aghast if ABC decide to drop the show. Here's hoping someone sees sense and Agent Peggy Carter returns to duty next year.


Score - 9.7 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References

Mysteries
  • Could the partnership between Arnim Zola and Doctor Faustus be foreshadowing for Bucky's brainwashing into the Winter Soldier?

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

2000AD Prog 1919

Prog 1919 Cover by John Higgins

With this special cover from John Higgins, 2000AD celebrates its 38th birthday, edging ever closer to the “big four-oh”. As is customary for these big anniversary issues, the cover features the comic's Betelguesian editor, Tharg, looking particularly old as his wispy white Mohawk flows behind his head. The cover has a slight graffiti vibe to it, with what looks like paint trails dripping from the bottom. It's a fantastic piece of painted artwork, effortlessly capturing the cosmic nature of the anthology comic, and adding a sense of grandeur to proceedings.


JUDGE DREDD - DARK JUSTICE (Part 9)
Script - John Wagner
Art - Greg Staples
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

The action doesn't let up in this latest installment of Dark Justice, which features an iconic moment that might follow in the footsteps of the immortal “Gaze into the Fist of Dredd” scene, as Judge Dredd picks up Judge Fire and throws him into a corn masher. The full page panel of Dredd holding Fire above his head just emphasises the iconic nature of the sequence, as well as letting the reader turn the page to see the punchline to Dredd's sentence. Curiously, Anderson fails to capture Fire's spirit form and he escapes, which makes me wonder if he still has a part to play in the final episodes. It seems that Dredd has some kind of plan involving the Aqua Dome, but it's unclear what that might be. Those final panels with Death and Mortis advancing on Dredd and Anderson accentuates that feeling of hopelessness that has pervaded this adventure, as Dredd says “the odds aren't in our favour, Anderson”. While the two Judges have held their own until now, there is the distinct feeling that this next battle will be the climactic one.


Greg Staples' artwork continues to capture the emotion of the story, especially that second-to-last panel with Dredd and Anderson looking at their advancing foes with a mixture of determination and apprehension. I can't imagine any other artist working on this particular story and achieving that same emotional touch-points as Staples has. The gloominess of the Mayflower spaceship just oozes out of every panel, and his representations of both the warped forms of the Dark Judges and the heroic Dredd and Anderson is simply amazing. As we approach the final few episodes, I must admit that I'm still unsure of how this might all end – I guess we know that Dredd will survive this, but is there the possibility that Judge Anderson might die, or perhaps as I theorised earlier, could this truly be the Dark Judge's last hurrah? Even if this story ends with the status quo reset back to normal, it has still been a fantastic ride, thanks to Staples' blockbuster artwork and Wagner's cinematic script.



THE ORDER (Part 9)
Script - Kek-W
Art - John Burns
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Following on from the shocking cliff-hanger of the previous episode, Anna's Father arrives to deliver a 'mind-f*ck' that the Wurms are actually benevolent creatures and it is Ritterstahl who is the enemy, attempting to subvert history to ensure that robots rule in the future. Ultimately, this is proven to be a lie, but it would have been one hell of a plot twist if it had been true. The scene reminded me of that moment in Total Recall where the Doctor arrives to convince Quaid that the events of the movie are all fictitious and that he is trapped in his own dream, although the jury is still out on whether that particular plot twist is true or not.

Unfortunately, Ritterstahl appears to die in this episode. Initially he was my favourite character in the series, but he seemed a bit superfluous to the plot once the , serving to just wander about aimlessly whilst the rest of The Order fought the Wurmlings. However, I am interested to see how our heroes will manage without his foreknowledge and expertise. I suspect that either he, or another automation like him, will return for the concluding episodes as the Wurms state that that they have fought him under many different aliases, suggesting multiple versions of the character. Kek-W and John Burns continue to deliver a thrilling adventure here, with all the contrasting ingredients (steam-punk, wurmlings, robots and imaginary falcons) blending together to make for a very distinctive, yet pleasing series.



SURVIVAL GEEKS - STEAMPUNK'D (Part 2)
Script - Gordon Rennie & Emma Beeby
Art - Neil Googe
Colours - Gary Caldwell
Letters - Simon Bowland

Rescued by an alternate version of their flat-mate, Evan, the Survival Geeks are taken to the floating steam-punk city of Milton Keynes, which seems to get a lot of post-apocalyptic love from 2000AD, as evidenced by its prominence in the Strontium Dog universe. With this episode, Rennie and Beeby spent a bit more time developing the characters, establishing the rivalry between Evan and Simon to add more dramatic tension to the love triangle between the two guys and Sam. It's quite amusing to see the juxtaposition between how Sam imagined Evan to be in the opening episode and the self-important prick he actually is. It's interesting to see that Evan has he same personality traits in both universes, no doubt adding more fuel to the rage that Simon has.


Aside from building up the character's motivations, this episode delves a bit further in the 'chibi Cthulhu' infestation of this steam-punk universe, revealing that a giant “mother” Cthulhu is being held captive somewhere on the city, presumably causing the creatures to swarm and attack. It's an interesting parallel to the most recent series of Indigo Prime, which ended with a similar cliff-hanger of a giant Cthulhu creature held in captivity, although I'm sure this will be a more light-hearted take on the concept compared to John Smith's mind-alteringly trippy series. I'm really enjoying this series, especially now that Rennie and Beeby have the space to develop the characters and introduce sub-plots – I hope this becomes a regular fixture of the Prog as the series' central concept offers a lot of potential for different types of storylines and Neil Googe's artwork is simply beautiful and a joy to look at.



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

The Grinders plan finally comes to fruition as the undercover agents within the VV Day Parade disrupt the event with nanotechnology, causing the human-controlled Hammerstein robots to run in auto mode and begin attacking everybody. This chaotic situation mirrors the same problems seen with the earlier rioting, and will no doubt cause detriment to Howard Quartz's plans to implement the robots as an armed force, since they're so easy to hack and send haywire. While Savage and his friends attempt to take out the Grinders interfering with the Hammersteins, the pyro-powered Grinder known as the Junk Monk attacks Bill, much to his traitorous brother's dismay.


This episode is much more action-orientated than its recent predecessors and presumably is setting up events for the end of this particular chapter. I have a feeling that Jack Savage is going to try and redeem himself, possibly sacrificing himself to save his younger brother. He certainly seems to be reluctant to see any harm befall Bill, but at the same point, he has been shown to be pretty ruthless and keen to survive. I'm still not sure where things will end up regarding Quartz and the Hammersteins, as Pat Mills continues to leave readers unsure of who to root for with Savage caught between two evils. In some ways, I sympathise with the 'Stop the Robots' Coalition, but not with their terrorist tactics – although in some ways, they're just freedom fighters in the same way that Savage was in the previous stories, except now that he's part of the establishment.



THARG'S 3RILLERS: STATION TO STATION (Part 2)
Script - Eddie Robson
Art - Darren Douglas
Letters - Ellie de Ville

As with most Tharg's 3rillers, the second episode is the exposition-heavy chapter, and this installment clarifies the events of the previous episode, explaining that The Link is a fractured hive-mind from an alien planet that seeks to restore itself on Earth, using the design of the London Underground to replicate the pattern of a brain, with tunnels and rails acting as synapses. The setting and storyline actually reminds me a bit of the classic Doctor Who serial, The Web of Fear, which saw the Great Intelligence attempting to invade London via its Underground System, and I wonder if that was an inspiration behind Eddie Robson's tale.

Darren Douglas' artwork continues to wow me with every panel, realistically depicting areas of the London Underground and making the everyday seem all the more terrifying and alien. His art is wonderfully clear and easy to follow, balancing both clarity and detail in every frame. I also love the visual flourish he has adopted to show the disintegration effect that occurs whenever one of the 'infected' touches a victim. It's certainly put to good use in that shocking final panel as Amany Ayoubi is attacked and seemingly killed. I look forward to seeing how this storyline wraps up, and it's a shame that we couldn't have seen it extended beyond the standard three parts for this format.



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

Overall, this was another fine example of a Prog, with each strip delivering more than ample amounts of thrill-power. As usual, Judge Dredd was the clear leader of the pack, but I am finding myself drawn to the light-hearted nature of Survival Geeks, especially since the story seems to be developing beyond pop culture references. Meanwhile, Savage and The Order continue to hold up the backbone of the Prog, delivering strong installments as both stories head towards their conclusions. I'm also quite enjoying the Tharg's 3rillers format, providing bite-size stories that are a little bit more filling and substantial than a Future Shock.

In terms of future stories on the horizon, Tharg's Nerve Centre teases another upcoming thrill entitled 'Helium', which reminds me of Bioshock: Infinite with its steam-punk airships and clear blue skies. It is from the creators of Stickleback, Ian Edginton and D'Israeli, so immediately I'm predicting that it'll be a hit. It's certainly one to keep an eye out for.

Thrill of the Week: Judge Dredd


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1919 will be available in stores on Wednesday 25th February - 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 # 5

Doctor Who: The 12th Doctor # 5
"The Swords of Kali" - Part 3 (of 3)
Written by: Robbie Morrison
Art by: Dave Taylor
Colours by: Luis Guerrero

With another absolutely beautiful Alice X.Chang painted cover, this issue of the Twelfth Doctor series brings the concluding installment of “The Swords of Kali” storyline, which sees the Doctor attempting to prevent the Scindia family from resurrecting the goddess, Kali, who is in fact an alien entity whom feeds on death and destruction. The issue opens up with a nifty bit of “timey wimey” goodness as the Doctor travels to the site of the fourth sword, which was previously said to be missing. Confused on how it happens to be there now, the Doctor reveals that he has travelled two week before it Tiger Maratha discovered it missing, thereby ensuring that everything that happens is predetermined. As Tiger discovered two 'monstrous' corpses at the location, it is inevitable that the two enemies will meet their end. I quite enjoyed this playful subversion of the traditional narrative using time travel, as this is exactly what Doctor Who should be about. Moreso than any other writer for the TV show, Steven Moffat uses time travel as a plot device, rather than just the means to visit new locations, so it is good to see that same spirit of narrative experimentation used in the comics.

Robbie Morrison weaves in the background sub-plot of the Haven space-station, which had been present in the previous two episodes as a “Chekhov's Gun” waiting to be fired. It turns out that the Scindia family plan on sacrificing all those on board to appease and empower their goddess, Kali. This adds an additional level of peril to the Doctor's final confrontation with the Kaliratha, as he entrusts his new companion, Priyanka, with the task of preventing the ship from crashing into the Earth. There's a touch of nostalgia about this particular sub-plot, with the Doctor's red astronaut suit (first seen in “The Impossible Planet”) making another appearance and the whole crashing spaceship scenario has echoes of the opening to “A Christmas Carol”.

I really enjoyed how Robbie Morrison gave both of the Doctor's temporary companions the chance to get redemption for their losses, with Priyanka avenging her father's death by defeating the monster who killed him and Rani also avenging her lover, even getting a chance to say goodbye to her spirit once it was released from Necro-Cloud. The pair of them also got a chance at a happy ending, possibly finding love and companionship after their experience together. As for Clara, she got somewhat maligned in this issue after becoming the host body for the Kaliratha creature – still, she managed to get a brief moment to shine as she once again adopted her “impossible girl” status and managed to break free from Kali's control to damage the Necro-Cloud's casing.


I'm still not sure how I feel about Clara, both in terms of the TV show and the comics. I think my main dislike of the character is due to the way she has been given prominence over every other past companion, after being the one person to experience all of the Doctor's incarnations in “The Name of the Doctor”. I'm guessing this is more of a criticism of the TV show than the comic, but it would be nice to see Clara develop as a character, rather than as this “impossible girl” plot device. It seems that in Season 8, this has been more of a priority, what with the introduction of Danny Pink and her teaching job, but it would be nice if the comics could make her more interesting as well, even if they can't introduce any permanent changes to the character. Morrison's work with Priyanka and Rani shows that the series can provide intriguing supporting characters, so perhaps Titan Comics needs to leave Clara back in Coal Hill and take out some new companions, in the same manner as the Tenth and Eleventh Doctor series.

Once again, Dave Taylor's art looks amazing and completely fits the tone of the series. His rendition of the Kali-Clara hybrid was fantastic, as was his depictions of the Nosferatu Scindia family as they each met their end in this installment. While his first few issues were a bit more inconsistent, it is clear that Taylor has grown into this role at this point, ably drawing each of the humanoid characters with a level of consistency, especially when it comes to Clara who is resembles Jenna Louise Coleman. While the art is never going to be a photo realistic as Alice X. Chang's amazing covers, it is a fairly strong representation of both the Doctor and Clara and Luis Guerrero's colours just elevate the whole issue into another level, especially that final sequence during the fireworks display, which signals a complete change in tone for the story as it reaches its denouement.

Overall, I really enjoyed “The Swords of Kali” and how it managed to tackle mythical elements from cultures rarely explored in Doctor Who serials. Compared to the initial Hyperion story-arc, this was a much stronger and more rewarding tale, elevated even higher by the brilliant artwork from the Taylor and Guerrero combination. Interestingly, the next issue features the first major artist change for this series with Brian Williamson taking over – I'm curious to see how much of a shake up this will be, and whether or not, Williamson's art will match the same tone set by Dave Taylor. The next storyline teases a return to the present day and a mysterious enemy called 'The Fractures' – I could be completely off-base, but I'm imagining a story akin to “Flatline”, which was one of the strongest episodes from Season 8.


Score - 9.6 out of 10

Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor # 5 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, 24 February 2015

Review - Gotham: 1x17 - "Red Hood"


Gotham
Episode 1x17 - "Red Hood"

Synopsis

A gang of armed robbers, led by a man in a red hood, begin a spree of bank heists across Gotham, but will their bickering and petty jealousies catch up with them before Gordon and Bullock can? Meanwhile, Alfred welcomes an old army buddy into Wayne Manor, but can his friend really be trusted?

Review

Yet again, Gotham continues to pull the rug out from under the viewer's feet, this time with an episode that was chocked full of surprising moments, including one particular scene that left me open mouthed in shock. I really enjoyed the central premise of the Red Hood gang, which once again allowed the show-runners to tease add another potential Joker into the pack. In the comics, the Red Hood was the identity used by the Joker before his unfortunate accident in the Ace chemical factory disfigured him. I must admit I fell for the misdirection as the initial Red Hood manically joked his way through the first bank robbery and seemed to take charge – well, until he was shot dead by one of his cohorts, that is. I have a feeling that we're going to see a few more potential Jokers before the real one emerges – still, I do like this guessing game and I look forward to more red herrings as the show continues.

Moving away from the typical homicide / serial killer cases gave this episode a breath of fresh air, and the whole plot felt akin to one of Guy Ritchie's gangster films, such as Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels or Snatch, with the criminals ineptness and in-fighting causing most of their problems. While I understand most of the cases that Bullock and Gordon will investigate will revolve around murder or organised crime, it was nice to get something different for a change, yet still tying into DC Comics continuity. In fact, the Falcone / Maroni gang war seems to have receded into the background since Fish Mooney's exile from Gotham City, allowing for some of the other season arcs to get some prominence, such as Bruce Wayne's investigation into Wayne Enterprises.

Immediately I suspected Alfred's old SAS buddy, Reggie Payne, to be up to no good – his sudden appearance in the middle of the night was reminiscent of the same ploy that Copperhead used in “Lovecraft”, but as the episode continued, I wasn't sure whether he had been hired by someone or if he was just a random chancer. As it transpires, he was working on behalf of the corrupt Wayne Enterprises board members, who were spooked by Bruce's investigations into their corruption and sent Mr Payne to uncover what he'd found so far and remove Alfred from the equation. Given his army experience and willingness to stab one of his only friends, I heavily suspect that Reggie Payne was the one who killed the Waynes, way back in the pilot episode. Narratively, it would make more sense to have him be the murderer, because it would fuel a confrontation between him and Alfred, once he recovers from his injuries. It could still transpire that it is another character, such as Zsasz, Butch or some other 'heavy', is responsible for pulling the trigger, but given Reggie's connection with Bruce and Alfred established in this episode, I think it will be him.


Before addressing the 'mind-fuck' of the episode, I'll delve into the Penguin sub-plot, which saw him struggling to look after Fish Mooney's night-club, thanks to Maroni's embargo of selling alcohol to the premises. I suspect that this 'golden goose' of a night-club that Penguin's been chasing since the beginning of this series won't be laying any 'gold eggs' for him, and may even cause him to lose face with Falcone. I really enjoyed watching brainwashed Butch, complete with a V-shaped scar on his cranium, as he calmly and rationally offered Penguin advice, even recalling his past with Fish without any real sense of emotion. Drew Powell is doing a great job of inverting his character's loyalties and creating a feeling of unease due to his contradicting personality. I noticed his hand was shaking somewhat when he was drinking with Penguin – could this be a representation of his old personality attempting to break free? I have a feeling that Butch will revert to his old self at the worst possible moment for Penguin, possibly once Fish returns from her exile...assuming she does!

I must admit that I wasn't expecting much from this sub-plot of Fish Mooney in an overseas prison. It felt like it was the writer's way of pushing her off into a corner so she can come back in the final episodes of the season to wreak havoc, and that still might be the case, but she won't be coming back unscathed. As I predicted, the Dollmaker (or Dr. Dulmacher, as he prefers) is behind the live-organ transplant operation and his representative has no intention in dealing with Fish Mooney, instead making threats about taking her eyes. She grabs a spoon from the nearby table, and I expected her to try and put up a fight and be knocked out and thrown back to her prisoners, but instead, she does the unthinkable. She gouged out of her eyes and stamped on it, presumably to prevent the Dollmaker from having the set, and thereby leaving her with one remaining eye, although this is no guarantee as he might just decide to remove the other one out of spite. It was a truly shocking moment, easily the most shocking scene that I've seen in this series. Not only did it permanently change the looks of one of the central characters, but it was also done in such a gory manner, evoking memories of Sam Raimi's Evil Dead Trilogy. While I don't imagine she'll be losing any other body parts in the near future, this storyline has really reminded me that anything could happen in this series, and that there is no such thing as “filler” scenes in Gotham.

Aside from the central plot of the Red Hood gang, this episode felt like a direct continuation from “The Blind Fortune Teller” as it followed the same sub-plots along to their next destinations. Not content to rest on their laurels, the show's writers gave us some major moments in this episode, such as the potential confirmation that Wayne Enterprises was behind the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne, even providing a key suspect. I also appreciated Sean Pertwee being given something more to do than interact with Bruce – he is a fantastic actor (like his father!) so it is great when he is given something meaty to get his teeth into, much like his wonderful change of pace into 'action-butler' during “Lovecraft”. While it is expected that Alfred will survive his stabbing, the show is quite happy to swerve convention and shock the audience, as evidenced with Fish Mooney's self-mutilation. The fact that she did it to herself just shows how determined and crazy she really is. I honestly thought she'd get out of this unscathed – when she returns to Gotham, she will literally be a changed woman. With five episodes remaining, I am looking forward to seeing what is in store for the season finale, and just how much more the series can be shaken to its roots.


Score - 9.8 out of 10


Next Episode - "Everyone has a Cobblepot"
While Gordon seeks information about the recent controversy with Commissioner Loeb, Fish's allegiance with the prisoners is questioned when she appears to join forces with Dr. Dulmacher. Meanwhile, after an attack close to home, Bruce deals with the aftermath.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Review - Agent Carter: 1x07 - "Snafu"


Agent Carter
Episode 1x07 - "Snafu"

Synopsis

Trapped in the SSR offices and suspected as a spy, Agent Carter must convince her former colleagues of the real danger before Leviathan can launch their attack.

Review

Despite mainly taking place in the SSR offices, this penultimate episode remained a tense and engaging affair as the ‘disgraced’ Agent Carter struggled to prove her innocence and alert the team to the real traitor in their midst – the hypnotist Doctor Ivchenko. Through the introductory flashback sequence, we finally got confirmation that Doctor Ivchenko was actually the Captain America villain, Doctor Faustus. He was referred to by his civilian identity in the comics, Doctor Fennhoff, but because that was a bit too cryptic, he was also seen reading “The Life and Times of Doctor Faustus” to further identify him as the character.

There was a distinct “24” vibe about this episode, with the action occurring almost in real-time. It certainly helped ramp up the tension as Peggy struggled against the tight deadline to protect her distrusting colleagues from a Leviathan attack. The sequences where Doctor Faustus got inside the mind of Chief Dooley were really creepy, especially after seeing how he manipulated Agent Yauch to commit suicide. There is something particularly unsettling about seeing heroic characters being mind-controlled by the villains – I’d imagine we’ll be revisiting this sense of unease in Daredevil, with the recent confirmation that Kilgrave the Purple Man will be appearing in the series, played by David Tennant.

Even though the stakes were pretty high, the show maintained its sense of humour, such as in the scene where Peggy and Jarvis are attempting to escape a locked interrogation room by throwing a table through the two-way mirror. It is always a joy when Hayley Atwell and James D’Arcy are on screen together and their back-and-forth banter is just pitch-perfect and I hope that if the series returns for a second season that Jarvis maintains a central presence. The relationship between the two unlikely partners has been great throughout the season and the reason why “The Iron Ceiling” stands out as the weakest episode was mostly due to the lack of their interaction.


Interestingly, there were echoes of The Avengers in this episode, in the sense that Dooley’s death united Thompson, Sousa, Carter and Jarvis together to fight against a greater enemy, in the same way that Coulson’s death gave the Avengers something to avenge. It was a great way to end the penultimate episode, setting up a great finale as our heroes must now work together to stop Leviathan from unleashing a deadly chemical weapon onto the streets of New York. However, it was a shame to see Dooley go as the character had definitely evolved over the seven episodes from the chauvinistic boss to a staunch supporter of the truth.

The pieces of Leviathan’s plan became clearer in this episode, with the revelation that the invention that they were after was Item No. 17; a poisonous gas which when inhaled drives its victims into a murderous rage. I’m guessing it was this gas that was used at the Battle of Finow, given that the level of carnage seen at the cinema tallies with the description of the massacre seen there. Perhaps, Leviathan have chosen to steal the invention, as opposed to the Nitramene and Captain America’s blood, because it provides a sense of irony to their plan of revenge on America – killing their people with the same experimental weapons used on them. It seems that both Dottie and Doctor Faustus are working for someone, possibly the man glimpsed in last episode’s flashback. Hopefully, we will see the mysteries surrounding Leviathan, such as the missing vocal chords, revealed in the finale.

Overall, this was a cracking penultimate episode, and quite possibly the best episode of the series yet. The finale has a lot to live up to, but with the promise of a Dottie / Peggy fight sequence still out there, I’m sure it will meet expectations. I am sad to see Dooley go, but at least he went out in a blaze of glory (quite literally!) – Given the series’ penchant for killing off characters, part of me is a little bit worried that either Thompson, Sousa or Jarvis might not make it out of the finale alive, but hopefully all three supporting characters survive.


Score - 9.9 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • Ivchenko is reading Doctor Faustus in the flashback, which heavily suggests he is the MCU version of the character of the same name. Doctor Faustus is an enemy of Captain America, who is well versed in psychiatry and uses hypnosis as a weapon. (First app: Captain America # 107)

Mysteries
  • What does Leviathan plan to do with the “mania” gas?

Next Episode - "Valediction"
Peggy faces the full fury of Leviathan, as Howard Stark makes his return in the explosive season finale of Agent Carter.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

2000AD Prog 1918

Prog 1918 Cover by Rufus Dayglo

This is a great cover by Rufus Dayglo with the neon purples, blues and pinks working together to capture the light-hearted atmosphere of the interior Survival Geeks strip. It's a very striking colour scheme, especially with the blank background, and it will no doubt stand out from the newsagents shelf. It also feels a bit anarchic in its approach, once again summing up the mood of the series with its irreverent take on pop culture tropes. Considering that most people would be unaware of the strip, which debuted in Prog 1924, it is a good idea to convey tone through the artwork rather than attempting to re-familiarise people with the characters, who are basically three geeks and a girl.


JUDGE DREDD - DARK JUSTICE (Part 8)
Script - John Wagner
Art - Greg Staples
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

This latest installment of Dark Justice continues to deliver pulse-pounding action, with each one of Greg Staples' gorgeous panels giving the story the feeling of an epic blockbuster. This episode really heightened the stakes, as Dredd and Anderson have a brief discussion about their limited ammo and weaponry as three Dark Judges remain on the loose. Despite his lack of lawgiver, Dredd manages to improvise and deliver some actual damage to Judges Death and Mortis, smashing in the former's teeth and blowing apart the latter's arm. Despite this small victory, it still feels like our heroes are fighting a losing battle.


Greg Staples' artwork is truly raising the bar of quality in this series, with every installment cementing this storyline into the Judge Dredd “hall of fame”. I can see this story-arc being spoken about as highly as such classics as The Apocalypse War, Necropolis and Day of Chaos. While it remains to be seen whether it will have any far-reaching consequences like those earlier stories, the sheer breath-taking quality of both the script and the artwork means that this is unmistakably a modern classic.



THE ORDER (Part 8)
Script - Kek-W
Art - John Burns
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

With this episode of The Order, we discover some more clues towards the mystery of who has instigated this invasion of the Wurmworld into the world of man. The group uncover the body of Cornelius Nettesheim, implying that he is the mastermind behind the Wurm invasion, but that doesn't really explain why he got Anna’s Father inside a water tank. Is he a clone? Resurrected from the dead? Or is he the real mastermind? There are plenty of questions as the story begins to enter the final act, and hopefully the true scale of the danger that our heroes face will become clear. I must admit that ever since the Wurm invasion begun, these last few installments have felt a little bit stale, and I much preferred the series when it was introducing the characters and having them interact with each other. I still adore John Burns’ beautiful painted artwork and Kek-W’s story remains a fascinating read, but maybe I’m getting impatient.



SURVIVAL GEEKS - STEAMPUNK'D (Part 1)
Script - Gordon Rennie & Emma Beeby
Art - Neil Googe
Colours - Gary Caldwell
Letters - Simon Bowland

This Prog sees the return of Survival Geeks, which was introduced via the Tharg's 3rillers format way back in Prog 1824. The pilot series was a light-hearted pop culture reference laden sci-fi comedy which saw a lone female trapped in a dimension-travelling house with three geeks. Effectively The Big Bang Theory meets Sliders! Co-writers Gordon Rennie and Emma Beeby jump right back into the characters where they left off – even though I went through my back Progs to read their first adventure, this reintroduction is actually fairly accessible. The three boys actually resemble the main cast from The Big Bang Theory quite well, with a heavily scientific focused nerd, a loveable romantic lusting after the “cool girl” and a wise-cracking cocky geek. It's a good template to follow, and 2000AD is the perfect place to create an action-orientated version of the hit geek sitcom.


Also returning is artist Neil Googe, bringing with him the fantastic colourist talents of Gary Caldwell, who touches up Googe's artwork and helps bring out the distinctions between each colour, especially with the green fields filled with equally green Cthulhu creatures roaming freely. As with the last series, the series seems aimed more at twenty-somethings, but the pop culture references definitely appeal to all ages of 2000AD fan, blending references to Star Trek and Doctor Who into the character's general conversation. I particularly liked the geeks' variation on Rock Paper Scissors: Aliens Predator Schwarzenegger. The script is fun and seems to be developing the characters more now that the strip has graduated into a full series, allowing for some exploration of sub-plots, such as the unrequited love between Sam and Simon. I wonder how the joint writing process works between Rennie and Beeby – does she provide the female perspective in the series? On the strength of this first episode, I can definitely see why its “pilot” was picked up and developed into a actual series.



SAVAGE: BOOK 9 - GRINDERS (Part 8)
Script - Pat Mills
Art - Patrick Goddard
Letters - Ellie de Ville

Jack Savage attempts to get rid of his brother and sister with a trip to Disneyland, hoping to go down the non-violent route of removing Bill from the equation, but Bill sees through this diplomatic approach and turns them down. Wearing Google Glass-styled devices entitled “Quartz Glasses”, Bill and his men patrol the VV Day parade keeping an eye out for any Grinders hoping to interfere with the event. Unfortunately, they don’t spot the undercover Grinder, Metal Heart, until it’s too late and he seemingly takes control of one of the Hammerstein robots and begins to attack the VIPs.

This series continues to be tightly scripted by Pat Mills, who clearly knows his characters inside and out, delivering some funny lines such as when Savage explains that he won’t be going to Disneyland because “cos I’m not Mickey Mouse!” or his friend Harry’s idle speculation on the potential injuries that could result from a Grinder with magnets in his fingers and piercings in his…well, you get the idea. Patrick Goddard’s artwork is pretty much flawless, working seamlessly with Mills’ script to create a fully realised alternate 2010. Despite the relative lack of action, I’m really enjoying this slow-burn approach as family loyalties and political ideologies hang in the balance.



THARG'S 3RILLERS: STATION TO STATION (Part 1)
Script - Eddie Robson
Art - Darren Douglas
Letters - Ellie de Ville

Writer Eddie Robson returns to the bat with his second Tharg's 3riller, with what appears to be a story about alien possession and invasion. In this instance it seems that humans are being infected by some kind of virus transmitted by the expulsion of gold coins from people's mouths. It's quite a trippy (and creepy!) image and the fast-paced nature of the story purposefully leaves me somewhat disorientated, much like the victims in the story itself. This traumatic and mind-altering event comes out of nowhere, and before either the reader or the protagonist can make sense of what is happening, it is over and our heroine finds herself on the run from the horde.


The story includes a very interesting metaphor for racial intolerance and the distrust of immigrants, as the hive-mind senses this prejudice within its linked populace and expels Amany. It's an interesting angle to take, and I am curious to see more about this strange alien event. In terms of the art, I have to say that I absolutely love the realism of Darren Douglas work, especially since it is set in a location that is very familiar to me as a London commuter. I've enjoyed his recent work on Rogue Trooper for the Sci-Fi Special last year, but seeing him tackle a real world setting is quite a treat indeed. His panels are filled with lots of background details that reward closer inspection – for instance, I didn't notice at first, but the infected coin that affected Amany actually came out of the mouth of the red scarved gentleman in the third panel.



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

The introduction of Survival Geeks and Station to Station definitely reinvigorated the current line-up, injecting not only fresh new artwork into the Prog, but some interesting new concepts. I was a big fan of Survival Geeks when it initially appeared, so I’m really glad that it’s been given a second run of stories and the opportunity to develop into a recurring series. Reuniting the same creative team is a fantastic decision as Neil Googe’s light-hearted look suits the zany antics of the cast perfectly. In fact, the quality in the artwork for this Prog is simply staggering with all five strips delivering mind-blowingly gorgeous art.

In terms of the existing strips, there might be some slight hints of fatigue about the stories as they all begin heading towards their final acts. Judge Dredd remains positively thrilling, even if the last few installments have been rather plot-light and action-heavy, but both The Order and Savage seem ready to head into their final chapters. Hopefully both of those series’ will be able to deliver stunning endings that match up to their strong opening chapters.

Thrill of the Week: Judge Dredd


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1918 will be available in stores on Wednesday 18th February - 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, 17 February 2015

Review - Gotham: 1x16 - "The Blind Fortune Teller"


Gotham
Episode 1x16 - "The Blind Fortune Teller"

Synopsis

Whilst on a date at the Circus, Jim Gordon becomes embroiled in a murder mystery involving two warring circus families, but the actual culprit might be more unexpected. Meanwhile, Fish Mooney attempts to take control of her current situation and escape her fate as a potential organ donor.

Review

Only in Gotham City, could a man take a girl out on a date to the circus and have to end it early to break up a fight between the clowns and the acrobats. Jim Gordon doesn't seem to have the best of luck with women, however the way that Leslie, or “Lee”, enthusiastically jumped in to help Gordon solve the crime just serves to emphasise how well they work together as a couple, especially compared to his previous relationship with the needy Barbara. It was not coincidence that she returned in this episode, serving to highlight the difference between the two love interests in Jim Gordon's life. While I've been quick to moan about Barbara Kean and her frustrating on-off relationship with both Gordon and Montoya, I was actually quite impressed by the scene where she discovered Selina and Ivy in her apartment and rather than overreact and throw them out, the three females kinda bonded and seemingly became friends. While I initially wanted her written out of the series, I am now quite fond of her relationship with the two homeless girls and hope that is given a bit more focus, rather than her pining after Jim. C'mon, writers, make me like Barbara as a character, I dare you!

Featuring Haly's Circus and the Flying Graysons was another fantastic nod to the continuity of the Batman comics, especially with Dick Grayson's parents introduced as members of two rival circus families with a strong Montagues and Capulets vibe. I actually thought the story would revolve around them and have some kind of Romeo and Juliet star-crossed lovers theme, but if anything they were more of an after-thought to the central murder mystery involving the heads of their respective families. In fact, the story drifted off in many directions I didn't expect, especially with the introduction of the Blind Fortune Teller who, like Lee, I actually believed was gifted and bringing a paranormal slant to the series. Of course, it all turned out to be hokum and lies, but I do wonder if the show-runners will begin exploring the supernatural aspects of Gotham City and the DC Universe in future episodes.

The biggest talking point of the episode has to be Jerome and the subtle hints that he might be an early version of the Joker. Now, the show-runners did claim that we wouldn't see the Joker in this first season of Gotham, but that doesn't mean that we won't see his civilian persona as he begins to develop into the clown prince of crime. The character's name, Jerome, is almost an anagram of the word Joker, possibly itself a clue that while the two share many traits, he isn't quite the real deal. I have a feeling that the writers are just going to tease us with this particular plot thread, and fair play, they should. With characters like Oswald Cobblepot and Edward Nygma, the audience already knows where they will end up, but with the Joker, who has a degree of anonymity behind his identity, we have no idea what his origin story might be.


I must admit that the interrogation scene was fantastic, rivalling last episodes iconic first meeting between the Penguin and the Riddler for the best moment of the season thus far. Watching Jerome's mask slip as he switched from softly spoken teenager into a manic, hysterical criminal was genuinely unsettling and I would urge the Gotham show-runners to cast Cameron Monaghan as the Joker immediately, regardless of whether he was intended as a red herring or not. The creepy look and manic grin that he gave Gordon once he was exposed just captured the essence of the Joker character for me, in the same way that Mark Hamill, Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger all managed to take on the role in their own ways. After Ledger's untimely death, there was always a degree of trepidation about who could follow in his footsteps and stamp their own mark on the character and from this brief glimpse here, I would certainly like to see Monaghan give it a try ahead of Jared Leto's turn in next year's Suicide Squad movie.

Interestingly, this episode was actually quite removed from the central Falcone / Maroni crime war, although it did revisit the Waynes' Murder with Bruce finally approaching the Wayne Enterprise board of directors, first hinted at in the fifth episode “Viper”, with the evidence he had amassed regarding corruption within the company – both in selling the Arkham development to organised crime families and developing chemical weapons. Given the number of awkward faces, I'd imagine most of the people in the room are involved in something shady, so young Master Bruce has probably painted a huge target on his back. Thinking back to the assassins sent to kill Selina when they thought she was the eye witness, I wonder if we'll see the same group set onto Bruce himself. If so, it would be a strong indication that the person who organised the Wayne's murder works for Wayne Enterprises. With six episodes to go, I wonder whether we'll get a conclusive answer on that mystery this season or whether it will overrun into the next season. Considering that it is Bruce Wayne's sole raison d'etre at the moment, it will be interesting to find out where the character goes next once it is solved.

Opposing forces, Fish Mooney and the Penguin once again featured in the episode as their duelling story-arcs continued to run in parallel with each other. It seems that Penguin's takeover of Fish Mooney's club hasn't been as successful as Falcone would like and in a very surprising turn of events, Victor Zsasz introduces Penguin's new assistant, a seemingly brainwashed Butch. I like this development, mainly because it further muddies the waters of loyalty and also it provides a healthy dose of dramatic tension as the audience waits for Butch's mental conditioning to run out. Meanwhile, we get some more answers regarding Fish Mooney's predicament, it seems that she and her fellow inmates are all being kept prisoner to act as 'living donors' for some black market organ operation. Fish manages to negotiate a meeting with “the manager”, who I am going to guess is the Doll-maker, who was referenced way back in the second episode, “Selina Kyle”. My memory is slightly fuzzy, but I think his reason for abducting the children of Gotham was for an black market organ transplant business, but I could be wrong.

Yet again, this was another cracking episode of Gotham, weaving in nods to the DC Comics continuity and this time, having fun with the audience by teasing a potential Joker. The move away from the organised crime element was a breath of fresh air, and having the circus storyline dominate the episode really made it feel different than its preceding chapters. As we begin to move towards the season finale, I am looking forward to seeing the storylines begin to intertwine once more and watch the various pieces on the chessboard congregate. This series is really hitting its stride and delivering fantastic episodes week after week – I have high hopes for these remaining six as it all begins to come together.


Score - 9.7 out of 10


Next Episode - "Red Hood"
Following several bank robberies, Gordon and Bullock investigate the Red Hood gang. Selina Kyle continues to bond with Barbara, and Fish Mooney tries to reclaim her position in the underworld.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Review - Agent Carter: 1x06 - "A Sin to Err"


Agent Carter
Episode 1x06 - "A Sin to Err"

Synopsis

Reunited with Edwin Jarvis, Peggy Carter continues to investigate new avenues to determine how Stark's vault was robbed, but whilst she works on her own investigations, the SSR have finally uncovered her duplicity and role as Howard's Stark's accomplice. With all this in-fighting at the SSR, are Leviathan poised to make their move?

Review

After a slight lapse in quality last episode, “A Sin to Err” saw the series returning back to its winning formula by partnering Agent Carter back with Edwin Jarvis, as the two explored the possibility that one of Howard Stark's ex-girlfriends may have been a member of Leviathan's “Red Room” training facility. Unfortunately, her investigation was cut short by the fact that Agent Sousa had worked out that she was the mysterious female who'd been impeding their investigations all along. It was here that the episode leapt into overdrive, pitting Peggy against her former colleagues as she strove to escape the SSR.

I quite liked how both Dottie and Peggy's storylines mirrored each other – both of them were 'double agents' hiding in plain sight from those around them, and both of them were “outed” in this episode. It neatly referred back to the central theme of this miniseries: men underestimating the female of the species. Dooley, Thompson and Sousa never conceived that Peggy could be capable of independent thinking or working underneath them – in fact, this chauvinistic attitude still pervaded their thoughts when they gave both Angie and Dottie the benefit of the doubt. Even, Howard Stark, who clearly recognises Peggy's talents was blind to Dottie Underwood's real agenda. Out of all the male characters seen in the show, only Jarvis seems to truly understand and appreciate the power of the female.

Duality was a recurring aspect of this episode with Doctor Ivchenko appearing to aid the men of the SSR in their investigations of Leviathan, but in actual fact, it was a part of a larger plan to get access to the confiscated weapons. The Doctor's use of hypnosis was quite eerie, and continues to point towards the possibility that he might be long-time Captain America enemy, Doctor Faustus, under an alias. The sequence where Dottie had taken residence in a Dentist's office to the SSR building had me thinking that she was there to silence him with the sniper rifle, but in a wonderful bit of misdirection it turned out that they were communicating via Morse code instead.


The episode zipped along at a great pace, especially once Carter and Jarvis were forced to go on the run. The fantastically choreographed fight sequence in the restaurant set the tone for the remainder of the episode as Peggy found herself having to out-think her comrades. To be honest, she would have gotten away with it if it wasn't for that pesky lipstick! I must admit I was as taken back as Peggy was when Dottie planted that kiss on her – given that she had already been established as having some kind of perverse attraction to the SSR agent, I almost expected it to be a genuine kiss, but then it turned out that it was a way to use the 'knock-out lipstick' on her.

Now that Peggy has been revealed as an accomplice of Howard Stark, these remaining two episodes are going to be somewhat different than the six that preceded it. The whole espionage and double-agent aspect that I loved is no longer needed, so I'm guessing we'll either see Peggy convincing the SSR of her innocence and working alongside them to expose Leviathan, or perhaps she'll somehow escape from their interrogation and return to working outside of the law to prove both her and Howard Stark's innocence. It's strange, even though we know she eventually becomes one of the founders of SHIELD, there is still a great deal of tension in the air as she faces interrogation at the hands of Sousa and Thompson – I have no idea how the writers are going to write her out of this corner, and I can't wait to see how they do it.

One of the most intriguing elements of this series has been the shadowy Leviathan organisation and the mystery of what happened at Finow. I'm guessing that one of Stark's “bad babies” was tested in combat without his agreement, and perhaps it is this same devastating weapon that the Russians are after. But then again, where does Steve Rogers' blood come into it? We know that it gets used by the government later on in the Marvel Cinematic Universe's chronology to create the Hulk in The Incredible Hulk, but presumably that is one of the vials that Howard said was already in the US Government's control. I'm really interested to see where this is all leading to, and whether it will have any impact on the Agents of SHIELD present day time-line.


Score - 9.6 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • N/A

Mysteries
  • Which one of Stark's inventions does Doctor Ivchenko want from the SSR Labs?
  • What happened at Finow to lead Howard Stark to build his vault?

Next Episode - "Snafu"
Peggy is cornered and more vulnerable than ever as Leviathan makes their move against her. As the SSR zeroes in on Howard Stark, they may pay the ultimate price when they find out their true enemy is closer than they realized.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

2000AD Prog 1917

Prog 1917 Cover by Jake Lynch

This Orlok: Agent of East Meg One cover from Jake Lynch is quite the departure from his interior black and white artwork, with the addition of colours adding a whole new dimension to the piece. I like the way that the image focuses on the scalpel in the foreground, hinting at the upcoming torture in store for the East Meg assassin. The use of lighting and the shininess of Zhukov's knuckles reminds me of digital artist, Clayton Crain, who has worked with Marvel Comics on series such as Venom vs. Carnage. One minor nitpick I had was the fact that Orlok seems to have grown man-boobs or “moobs” - maybe it's just the awkward positioning, or perhaps the East Meg spy has been piling on the pounds whilst hiding out in Euro City.


JUDGE DREDD - DARK JUSTICE (Part 7)
Script - John Wagner
Art - Greg Staples
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

The action continues to flow in 'Dark Justice', with Anderson and her team of Verminators fighting back against Dark Judges Fear and Fire, whilst Dredd and his companions find themselves having to deal with the deadly duo of Judges Death and Mortis. Wagner ably balances both fight sequences with his tightly-written script, offering a glimmer of hope as Anderson's team manage to subdue both Fear and Fire, yet maintaining the tension as Dredd fights Death, with “Chekhov's Lawgiver” jamming at the worse possible moment.

Greg Staples' artwork really captures the close quarters combat of the battle between Dredd and Death, giving it an epic feel as the two get to trade punches. The panel where Death attempts to reach into Dredd's chest, only to be thwarted by an impromptu shield made from a computer monitor really accentuated the brutal and frenzied action. Even without his trusty weaponry, Dredd is able to improvise and hold his own against the demonic Judge. Considering that we're only just past the halfway point of this storyline and already witnessing a physical altercation between the two forces, I wonder what secondary plan the Dark Judges have.


Wagner's script, especially with Judge Death's dialogue, continues to build this storyline up as the final encounter between the Dark Judge's and Judge Dredd. It seems like the Dark Judges have grown weary of the continual “cat and mouse” games they have played with Dredd and Anderson and by luring them out into the Mayflower, they are determined to make this the last confrontation. Given the outer space setting, I wouldn't be surprised if the ending involved the Four Dark Judges being shot into the sun or something equally as permanent. While I do enjoy the Dark Judges, I do understand the desire to retire them forever and 2000AD has never been a series to rest on its laurels and recycle the same plots like its American counterparts. Many of Dredd's iconic enemies, such as Mean Machine Angel, Rico Dredd, Orlok and Judge Cal, have either died or been retired, so it makes sense for the Dark Judges to eventually be put out to pasture too. But, will this story be the one to do it?



THE ORDER (Part 7)
Script - Kek-W
Art - John Burns
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

This episode of The Order opens up with the repercussions of the Wurm-hole as the sky turns purple and rains worms down upon the petrified populace of Prague. The sky turning purple reminds me of the conclusion to the second season of LOST when the turning of the fail-safe key results in the electro-magnetic energy of the island releasing out into the sky. It seems that this 'incursion' has had a similar effect with some electro-magnetic residue in the air, which seems to be affecting Ritterstahl's operating system. I have a sneaking suspicion we might see a corrupted version of Ritterstahl in the near future, possibly fighting against his error-ridden personality matrix to prevent himself from hurting his friends.


More hints are dropped regarding a human architect behind this otherworldly attack as Blazen stumbles across a laboratory filled with homunculi and man-made Wurms. Aside from this minor references to the over-arching mysteries of the Wurm attack, the bulk of the episode is once again taken with developing the relationships between the members of The Order, as Kek-W deftly weaves some nice character moments amongst the steam-punk action scenes. The conclusion, which sees Anna Kohl infected with some worms right up her nasal cavity, seems to suggest a more introspective chapter next Prog, possibly delving further into Anna's relationship with her father, who continues to be my main suspect for the big bad of this series.



ULYSSES SWEET, MANIAC FOR HIRE - PSYCHO THERAPIST (Part 7)
Script - Guy Adams
Art - Paul Marshall
Greytones - Chris Blythe
Letters - Ellie de Ville

This concluding episode of Ulysses Sweet: Maniac for Hire manages to squeeze in a genuine surprise with the titular assassin somehow becoming the new Governor for Solonik-5, sowing seeds for his inevitable third series. It was good to see him regain his psyche-chip in the end too, as I really enjoyed the banter between the two, which was something that felt sorely lacking in this particular series. Like with all great comedy double-acts, the crazed antics of Ulysses Sweet work much better when he is accompanied with a “straight man” and the kidnapped science lady in this storyline didn't quite work as a stand-in for the missing psyche-chip.


One of the most enjoyable moments of the previous Ulysses Sweet storyline was the episode that was told entirely in the style of the old Rupert the Bear strips from the Daily Express. Now, while this series hasn't quite delved into the same level of abstract storytelling, Paul Marshall does get to show off some imaginative panel layout for the double page spread, which turned the climactic fight sequence between Ulysses and the Foetal Assassin into a cross between a comic and a game  of Snakes & Ladders. I really do enjoy the way that Guy Adams and Paul Marshall continue play about with the narrative structure, and their constant cracking away at the fourth wall fits the maniac tone of this series perfectly, even though it once again creates more comparisons with Deadpool.



SAVAGE: BOOK 9 - GRINDERS (Part 7)
Script - Pat Mills
Art - Patrick Goddard
Letters - Ellie de Ville

After meeting with his brother and seemingly agreeing to help him stop the automated robots from appearing during V.V. Day, we are treated to an interesting scene between Savage, Quartz and the US President, in which he is placed on mute during a video call. At this moment, both Quartz and the President speak freely about Rusty O'Dell and how they want to use Savage to discredit her. One of the panels, a close up of a suspicious Savage, seems to indicate that Bill can either hear what they're saying and is pretending not to, or perhaps he can lip read and he is aware of their duplicity. It's a subtle moment, but Patrick Goddard does a fantastic job of capturing Bill's facial expressions in that scene, leaving readers unsure of what Bill knows. Caught between his brother and Quartz, it will be interesting to see where Bill's loyalties lie, especially since it seems that no-one has his best interests at heart.

In the concluding scene, we get a glimpse at what Jack Savage's Grinder powers might be as he hacks the current Prime Minister's car and crashes it into a tree, killing him. Removing the Prime Minister eliminates one key obstacle in the removal of automated robots at V.V. Day, ensuring that Jack Savage's plan goes ahead, although it's unclear why exactly he wants there to be human-controlled robots at the event. I suspect that the Grinders are going to attempt some kind of Volgan-ordered attack at the event, which might indirectly aid Quartz in justifying the need for his Hammerstein robot army. With so many variables and potential directions for the plot to move in, I am really enjoying the unpredictable nature of this story as Pat Mills continues to weave his masterful tapestry of plot threads towards an epic conclusion.



ORLOK: AGENT OF EAST MEG ONE - EUROZONED (Part 6)
Script - Arthur Wyatt
Art - Jake Lynch
Letters - Simon Bowland

This concluding episode of Orlok: Agent of East Meg One felt like the ending of an episode of Colombo in some ways, revealing the last few details of the mystery and explaining what spurred Orlok into adopting his deep-cover traitor identity. In a rather nice bit of misdirection, Arthur Wyatt had tricked me into thinking that 'The White Russian' was the main goal of the Euro City mission, but in actual fact it was all part of a larger plan to lure Zhukov out of East Meg One into a foreign country where he had reduced support and could be easily taken out without fuss. While I may have been a bit harsh on some of the preceding episodes, the overall storyline worked well and read as a whole, it was a fun little 'cold war' style thriller, set against the back drop of Judge Dredd's universe.

Orlok is truly a fascinating character and this series did a fantastic job of displaying his commitment to the cause, even when he was acting very uncommitted at times! Wyatt managed to capture his single-mindedness and keen strategic mind with his plans-within-plans approach to infiltrating Euro City's criminal underworld. Also, in this particular episode we got an example of Orlok's bad-assery when he talks Zhukov into slicing open his wrist for a non-existent tracer, in order to free his hand from its bounds and escape his torture. As tough as Dredd is, I'm not sure I can see him performing the same self-harming technique to escape. Already, another flashback series for the East Meg Assassin entitled 'The Rasputin Caper' is being teased and I hope that both Arthur Wyatt and Jake Lynch return to tell another untold story from Orlok's past.



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

Once again, Judge Dredd is my choice for 'Thrill of the Week' with an absolutely fantastic installment that just makes me want to immediately devour the next Prog. It's going to be quite the adjustment once this series ends, although Rob Williams' and Henry Flint's sequel to “Titan” should prove a nice follow-up when it appears. This Prog also sees the conclusion of both Ulysses Sweet and Orlok: Agent of East Meg One, with both strips ending on a high note and promising to return for further adventures. While both series' had their ups and downs, I'm glad to see them both returning in the future, hopefully with the same creative teams. With Survival Geeks and a Tharg's 3rillers joining the line-up next Prog, I am looking forward to seeing some fresh new stories joining the long-running trio, giving us a mix of short and long form narratives.

Thrill of the Week: Judge Dredd


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1917 will be available in stores on Wednesday 11th February - 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 11th Doctor # 8

Doctor Who: The 11th Doctor # 8
"The Infinite Astronaut"
Written by: Al Ewing
Art by: Warren Pleece
Colours by: Hi-Fi

In an interesting piece of writing collaboration, Rob Williams passes the baton onto Al Ewing to conclude this two-part adventure, with Warren Pleece remaining as the connecting tissue between both installments. Picking up from the cliffhanger of last issue, we are treated to an amusing glimpse into Alice's mind as she attempts to convince herself that her mother's surprise resurrection is something that can happen, imagining the most upbeat possible scenario. It's also a fun way to see how she perceives her TARDIS colleagues, showcasing the Doctor spouting out exposition that she even fills with “blah blah” and ARC and Jones as some goofy Laurel and Hardy double act. It reminds me of the sequence in Shaun of the Dead, where Shaun imagines the best possible scenario for rescuing his girlfriend and mother and heading to his local pub to “wait for this to all blow over”. Of course, the reality turns out to be less optimistic than she hoped, and the Doctor has to break the bad news that this is not her mother, but something pretending to be.

While the reader is naturally going to side with the Doctor's expert opinion, Mrs Obiefune makes an interesting point when she asks the Doctor if, in all of his travels, he has ever experienced a soul reappearing in a different place. This immediately brings to mind Rory's unlikely “resurrection” as an Auton Gladiator in “The Pandorica Opens”, in a nice bit of self-reference from the series. This brief area of self-doubt allows the reader to believe that perhaps somehow Mrs Obiefune has returned from the dead. Given the Doctor's recent speech in The Eleventh Doctor # 4 about how travelling with him often leaves his companions in a better position than he left them, part of me did wonder if Alice's eventual departure would result in her mother coming back to life, or possibly getting some form of closure through meeting her earlier in her time-line. However, in this case, it turns out to be The Talent Scout from ServeYouInc taking her form and messing with both her and the Doctor's head.


Aside from the question mark over Mrs Obiefune's resurrection, the issue also deals with the 'Eternal Dogfight' between the Amstrons and the J'arrodic which threatened to engulf Earth. It transpires that the origins of this bitter war lie in religious differences (don't they all?!) and that the two sides are arguing about what lies behind their inter-dimensional gateway and what their “creator” looks like. Every astronaut sent through the portal has never returned, because, as it transpires, the wondrous beauty behind the gate compels them to stay and eventually starve to death. Because of her depression over discovering her mother is not really back from the dead, Alice is blind to the beauty of the other dimension dismissing them as just lights and piloting the ship home. Ironically, the Talent Scout's interference actually saved her life, which makes me wonder if it was a planned event, either by the big boss of ServeYouInc or perhaps the Doctor's interference later on in the timeline?

Overall, this was a cracking conclusion to a fun arc. I quite liked the reveal of the “real Amstron” beneath the armour, which provided a neat explanation for why they might look like Sontarans – they were just trying to emulate scary aliens with their armour. The transition between the two writers was seamless, which proves just how well Rob Williams and Al Ewing work together and their firm grasps on the Doctor's voice and that of the characters they've co-created in Alice, Arc and Jones. Aside from the fun diversion of 'The Eternal Dogfight', this storyline also threw in some more morsels of mystery regarding the season's central storyline, confirming a connection between the “impossible time-lord” and ServeYouInc. With the Doctor piloting the TARDIS straight towards ServeYouInc headquarters, it seems we're finally going to learn more about the mysterious organisation which has had its fingers in all the Doctor's pies since this series begun.


Score - 9.5 out of 10

Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor # 8 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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