Saturday, 28 March 2015

Review - Agents of SHIELD: 2x14 - "Love in the Time of Hydra"


Agents of SHIELD
Episode 2x14 - "Love in the Time of Hydra" 

Synopsis

Coulson and May attempt to come up with a solution to Skye's problem, unaware that members of their team are plotting against them. Meanwhile, a recovered Grant Ward and Agent-33 rise from Hydra's ashes to begin the first steps of their plan to get revenge on those who wronged them.

Review

After three episodes focusing on the ramifications of Skye's transformation and the Inhumans, “Love in the Time of Hydra” wisely takes a break from that storyline to revisit some of the other loose ends from the mid-season finale, such as catching up with the “Bonnie and Clyde” of disgraced SHIELD agents, Grant Ward and Agent-33, who were last seen limping off into the sunset following the clash between Hydra and SHIELD at Puerto Rico. Given that Ward received several bullets in the back as his reward for bringing Skye to meet her father, it seems that whatever romantic attachments he once had have now disappeared, with him becoming romantically involved with the formerly brainwashed spy, Agent-33.

The two characters make a great pairing – both of them are psychologically damaged and slightly deranged ex-SHIELD and ex-Hydra agents, unsure of their place in the world following Hydra's failed attempt to take over. While it's not clear who exactly is the target of their revenge plan, I would guess that SHIELD, particularly Coulson, Skye and May, are the likely targets. Despite all this, I still sympathise with Ward somewhat – he was willing to rejoin the side of the angels, but Coulson's damning statement in “A Fractured House” and Skye's backstabbing (or rather 'backshooting') in “What They Become” has pushed him down this path. As I've said before, I don't foresee the character lasting much longer in the show, possibly dying this season, which will be a shame as he is easily one of the more interesting elements of the series.

Agent-33 is an excellent addition to the series, finally coming out into her own now that she has left Hydra. I love the idea of having a shape-shifter character in the series and the scenes of her infiltrating Talbot's army base were a perfect example of the 'espionage fun' that can be derived from her powers. The fact that she is able to replicate anyone's face but unable to produce a perfect version of her own is a lovely bit of irony, making the character even more tragic. While a connection between the two isn't made explicit, part of me suspects that Agent-33 might be the Marvel Cinematic Universe's equivalent of Madame Masque, a disfigured crime-lord who wore a golden mask to obscure her scarred face.


The other major plot point of the episode was the revelation that Mack and Bobbi have been working for an alternate SHIELD, headed up by Robert Gonzales. It seems that Gonzales sent Mack, Bobbi and Hartley undercover into Coulson's team to keep tabs on him, but found himself rather alarmed by the SHIELD director's erratic behaviour and obsessions with alien technology. It seems that he wishes to stage a coup d'etat and overthrow Coulson and merge his team into his own “real SHIELD”. I'm not sure how I feel about this storyline as it feels a bit derivative of the whole Hydra reveal, as well as threatening a return to the status-quo of having Coulson's team as an unorthodox off-shoot of the main SHIELD organisation. Plus, I find it hard to believe that Coulson would be totally unaware of a second SHIELD organisation, especially with the resources shown on-screen, working away in the background against him.

The cliffhanger to the episode felt slightly contrived with Hunter escaping “real SHIELD's” naval base via a submersible and given an estimated twelve hours until he reaches shore and can contact Coulson. This curiously long deadline gives Bobbi time to travel back to Coulson, via much faster air travel, and attempt to utilise the ever-declining element of surprise to help Mack stage their mutinous coup. It feels reminiscent of the episode of Season One, where Ward had to maintain his cover to extract some data that Hydra needed. While that was a great episode, rife with tension, it feels a bit repetitive to hit those same beats but on a slightly different instrument. Nevertheless, I do look forward to seeing Bobbi and Mack attempting to overthrow Coulson and breaking up our team of heroes.

In conclusion, this episode was a fun change of pace for the series, bringing back the same espionage vibes seen in the concluding episodes of Season One, demonstrating the series' ability to switch from superhero drama to spy thriller over the course of a few episodes. Even though the episode wasn't quite as action-centric as its predecessors and didn't feature the added bonus of cinematic guest-stars or an army of super-villains, it had a sense of fun at its core, particularly during General Talbot's scenes, which has felt missing for much of this season. While there may be elements of the plot which are a bit too similar to its previous season-arc, I'm hoping that the series takes them into a new direction and gives us something different.


Score - 9.6 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • The episode's title “Love in the Time of Hydra” is a reference to novel, “Love in the Time of Cholera
  • Ward and Agent-33's opening scene in the diner bares a striking resemblance to the opening of Pulp Fiction, where Pumpkin and Honey Bunny hold-up a diner.
  • This episode sees the return of Agent Weaver, head of the Science Academy (last seen in “Seeds” and “Turn, Turn, Turn”)
  • Lance Hunter and the “Real SHIELD” organisation still believe that Nick Fury is dead. (Captain America: The Winter Soldier)
  • Gonzales blames Coulson for Isabelle Hartley's death, due to his obsessive pursuit of alien tech (“Shadows”)

Mysteries
  • May compares the situation with Skye to Bahrain, suggesting that the Gifted she encountered there was possibly a former Agent of SHIELD?
  • What side-effects will the power-limiting gloves have for Skye?

Next Episode - "One Door Closes"
War comes to Coulson’s doorstep in a way he never anticipated as shocking revelations are brought to light, and Skye struggles to control her new abilities but will soon make a decision that irrevocably changes her life.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

2000AD Prog 1923

Prog 1923 Cover by Nick Percival

This lovely painted cover from Nick Percival “reveals” the full extent of Howard Quartz's transformation into Mr. Ten Per-Cent, although this will come as no surprise to readers familiar with The ABC Warriors continuity. I like the turquoise background, which really helps the image lift off of the page, placing all the emphasis on Howard himself. I also love the retro-styling of his robotic suit, particularly the multi-coloured phone receivers – it's a lovely nod to the past, replicating inside by Patrick Goddard, and will surely act as a draw for any old-school Ro-Busters fans, who have since lapsed their readership.


JUDGE DREDD - PERPS, CRIMES & VIDEOTAPE
Script - Alec Worley
Art - Carl Critchlow
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

This is a great little Judge Dredd one-shot, revisiting some of the more quirky crimes committed by Mega-City populous – something that hasn't really happened much in the wake of Chaos Day. It's a great chance for Alec Worley to unleash his imagination and come up with some bizarre methods of criminal activity for Carl Critchlow to illustrate. As with all good Judge Dredd stories, there's an element of satire aimed at our own daily lives, in this instance targeting YouTuber personalities and the desire to create standout content to boost subscribers. Obviously, in the world of Judge Dredd, this is magnified to the nth degree with a Vidman staging outlandish crimes to film and host online.


Carl Critchlow's art is always a pleasure to see in the Prog, and I loved his depiction of the Sharks with mechanical legs. I also really enjoy his interpretation of Dredd, which captures the square-jawed nature of the character. One of the things that stands out in his art is the way he utilises his colour palette to create mood within the panels, such as the radiant blues seen in the sequences with the giant water-tank. Both Worley and Critchlow are great talents, so it is unsurprising that this one-shot episode flowed so easily and worked well to fill in the space between “Dark Justice” and “Enceladus: A New Life”.



BOB BYRNE'S TWISTED TALES - THE SCAMP VS. THE PIGS
Script - Bob Byrne
Art - Bob Byrne

With such a distinctive storytelling style that relies on visuals only, Bob Byrne has earned his own sub-category of the Future Shock format, which features his warped, wordless stories. The old adage of “a picture is worth a thousand words” is certainly true here, as Byrne manages to create rich and vivid worlds without ever using a single word. Aside from communicating the atmosphere of the story, he also has the challenge of conveying the action and motivations of the characters within it.


Just looking at the story, it is clear that each panel is meticulously planned out and designed to tell the story in a specific way. While sometimes the intention isn't always clear on the first read-through, Byrne's stories always reward a second read-through, allowing readers to discover the subtleties within his artwork and narrative style. This particular story, which quickly and effortlessly establishes a twisted world where the gluttonous pigs rule over the scamp creatures, is fairly straight-forward in its approach, but I enjoyed reading through it multiple times and picking up on the little details in each panel. It's definitely one of the strongest Twisted Tales I've read, balancing the typical feeling of unease seen in the stories with a somewhat light-hearted tone.



SURVIVAL GEEKS - STEAMPUNK'D (Part 6)
Script - Gordon Rennie & Emma Beeby
Art - Neil Googe
Colours - Gary Caldwell
Letters - Simon Bowland

The concluding episode of Survival Geeks wraps up the series' first full-length adventure in style with a steam-punk Mech fighting against an enraged Cthulhu creature, whilst the floating city they're atop begins its ascent towards the ground. There's some nice jokes here and there, but this conclusion is somewhat formulaic, returning our protagonists back to their dimension-hopping house and sending them off onto their next adventure. There's an interesting sequence with a stowaway Chibli Cthulhu, which might become a pet for the characters in future episodes, or perhaps it was just a throwaway gag.

I certainly enjoyed this longer form narrative for the series, as opposed to the three part format it was confined to for its Tharg's 3rillers debut. The characters all had longer to get themselves established, and within the first few episodes, it was clear that this concept of The Big Bang Theory meets Sliders has masses of potential. I hope to see it recur in the future, complete with Neil Googe's artwork, which perfectly straddles the line between dark humour and adventure. While it might not sit well with certain demographics of readership, I certainly appreciate a more contemporary and easily accessible series sandwiched between the bleak dystopia's and grim science fiction universes contained with the Prog, and I hope that it will take up the space left behind from Bec n' Kewl, a similarly student-themed pop culture driven series.



SAVAGE: BOOK 9 - GRINDERS (Part 13)
Script - Pat Mills
Art - Patrick Goddard
Letters - Ellie de Ville

After last week’s dramatic conclusion to the storyline, this final episode of Savage serves more as an epilogue, setting up the status quo for the next chapter of the series, with Bill heading off to Europe to help their resistance overthrow the Volgan invaders. While the return of Bill Savage into Volgan-occupied territory might seem like a step back in the status quo, Pat Mills introduces a new threat in the form of Howard Quartz and his brother, who are plotting revenge for the death of Howard’s human body. It feels like we’re coming to the natural end of this storyline and the only thing left is for Savage’s downfall, presumably at the hands of Howard Quartz. While this particular area of the continuity is hazy, it is inevitable that the Volgan war will continue way beyond Savage’s lifetime, leaving a degree of futility to his efforts to free Europe from their grasp.


While I've been quick to praise Pat Mills’ script on this series, I should also take the time to applaud Patrick Goddard’s sterling work over the last thirteen episodes. There’s a fantastic full-page sequence in this episode that features a montage of different moments from the previous eight books, demonstrating how Savage has evolved over the years. It’s a really effective moment and almost feels like a “best bits montage” that you would see in an episode of a TV show. There’s the sense that we’re fast approaching the end of an era, and I'm looking forward to Savage’s return in what might possibly be the series' swansong.



THARG'S 3RILLERS: 1% (Part 3)
Script - Eddie Robson
Art - INJ Culbard
Letters - Ellie de Ville

The beauty (and risk) of the Tharg's 3rillers format is that it can live or die by the sum of its parts. The three-part structure offers writers the chance to break their stories down to a simple beginning, middle and end format. As a result, sometimes stories will have a strong opening episode, but fall apart before the end; or sometimes they will build up into something truly spectacular. One recent example of that was David Baillie's three-parter “After the Vengeance” which opened out with two solid episodes, but was elevated greatly by a fantastic twist ending in its conclusion. With this final episode, Eddie Robson has delivered a cracking ending that not only explains the mystery behind its initial installments, but provides a truly satisfying conclusion.

It is clear that Robson has a flair for the Tharg's 3rillers format, having written a number of stories in the past. I think that “1%” might be his finest achievement to date, delivering an excellent three-parter that reads brilliantly as a whole and feels perfectly complete in its own right. With Tharg seemingly using this series as a bridging step between the one-off Future Shocks and the full-length series, it seems abundantly clear from this example that Eddie Robson deserves to be given a chance to develop a longer narrative, possibly making way for more “new blood” into the anthology.



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

As Tharg clears the decks to make room for the all-new thrills within Prog 1924, the conclusion to “1%” stood out as the Thrill of the Week, offering a genuine sense of satisfaction to the end of the story, whilst both Savage and Survival Geeks ended as expected, with the promise of more excitement to come.

In the Nerve Centre, Tharg is in full promotion mode as he discusses the upcoming Thrills that form Prog 1924's jumping on point. There seems to be confirmation that the new series of Strontium Dog will continue to take place within the current continuity with the resurrected Johnny Alpha as the lead, whereas Grey Area which ended somewhat definitively is set to return with “things taking a left-field turn”.

And if Tharg's tantalising teases aren't enough, the inside back cover features a sneak peek at the Brian Bolland cover for next Prog, with Johnny Alpha, Slaine and Judge Dredd all amazingly represented. Even without the return of Grey Area and Orlok: Agent of East Meg One, this is shaping up to be a monumental Prog, featuring the holy trinity of 2000AD characters in all-new stories. I can't wait to read it!

Thrill of the Week: Tharg's 3rillers


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1923 will be available in stores on Wednesday 25th March - 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 # 10

Doctor Who: The 11th Doctor # 10
"The Other Doctor"
Written by: Rob Williams
Art by: Simon Fraser
Colours by: Gary Caldwell

In a somewhat unprecedented move, the second part of this two-part story-arc sees the previous issue's creative team of Al Ewing and Boo Cook passing the baton onto Rob Williams and Simon Fraser to complete the story. I don't think that this was an issue of deadlines, but rather another example of the fluid partnership between the two writers on this series, which they've co-written and plotted out together, as well as the chance to make use of the various legendary artists that are part of the Eleventh Doctor team.

Another area where the series' absolutely fantastic artist talent shines through is with the amazing cover image from Blair Shedd, which initially caught my eye during the March solicitations and immediately sat as my desktop background for several weeks. I absolutely love the design of Alice dressed up in Eleventh Doctor cosplay – a plot point that is also featured inside the issue by Simon Fraser. It's a great visual and will no doubt intrigue fans from the comic-book shelf. It easily ranks up there with Alice X. Chang's amazing photo realistic artwork for the initial two issues.

As for the story itself, it picks up an undetermined amount of time from the previous adventure with the Doctor still under the influence of ServeYouInc and ruling “ServeYouCity” from inside of his enlarged TARDIS. Rob Williams nicely riffs on some elements from the TV show in this story – the whole plot-line of a renegade Alice, Jones and ARC is reminiscent of Martha Jones' plight during the Season Three finale, “Last of the Time Lords” as she worked to inspire mankind to rise up against the Master, whereas the visual of a monolithic TARDIS evokes memories of the recent “The Name of the Doctor”. Even the act of a companion adopting the role of the Doctor was seen recently in the Season Eight episode, “Flatline”. Intentional or not, I really enjoyed seeing the parallels between this story and the ones that have happened before, and ones that will take place chronologically later in the timeline.


While part of me did enjoy the bleakness of the situation that the Doctor's companions found themselves in, I always feel slightly uneasy when the Doctor is portrayed in a negative light, even if he is brainwashed, such as in “Human Nature” where as John Smith, he has a few nasty moments with Martha and the boys from the school. I guess I prefer to see him in his more heroic stance, which might be why it took me longer to warm to Peter Capaldi's interpretation of the character. The whole point of the scene is to make us want the Doctor to overcome his programming, much like the pivotal scene from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom where a Kali-possessed Indy is whipping Short Round about. We're meant to hate seeing our hero like this, and Rob Williams did a great job in getting a reaction out of me.

Even though I was glad to see our Doctor restored to his rightful place at the end of this issue, it did feel that a story of this magnitude deserved a bit more room to breathe than a two-part story. Still, it's clear that the mysteries surrounding ServeYouInc are not resolved by any means, so Williams and Ewing still have an opportunity to deliver a “season finale” to knock our socks off. I've really been enjoying the ongoing plot threads of this series and how each of the stories has tied back to the central ServeYouInc storyline. It certainly helps the comic feel more in line with the TV show to include these season long story-arcs, especially when compared to seemingly disconnected arcs found in the Tenth and Twelfth Doctor comic series. At the end of the planned fifteen issues, this whole run of comics should be able to inserted between Season 5 and 6 of the television show as a lost and unfilmed “Season 5B”. On a purely speculative nature, I am curious to see where Titan Comics goes with the series once those first fifteen issues are complete.


Score - 9.1 out of 10

Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor # 10 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!

Monday, 23 March 2015

Spotlight on...Judge Dredd: The Mega Collection


After an extensive run of hardcover graphic novels, collecting key storylines from the Marvel Comics continuity, Hachette Partworks has turned their hand towards the law-man of the future, Judge Dredd. Judge Dredd: The Mega Collection is comprised of eighty hardback graphic novels that collect stories relating to Judge Dredd and key members of his supporting cast, such as Judge Anderson and Devlin Waugh. What distinguishes this series from the existing Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files series is that while the Case Files offer a complete and unabridged collection of all of Judge Dredd’s adventures chronologically, the Mega Collection instead groups stories thematically, allowing for a greater relevance within an individual volume.

Upon first seeing promotional materials for the Mega Collection, I was struck by the amazing cover designs chosen for the series. The stark black and white artwork, enhanced by splashes of red, is simply fantastic and really distinguishes this collection from anything that either Rebellion or Hachette have produced before. There is a real sense of prestige about these books, which becomes even more abundantly clear once you hold one in your hands. Opening one up, you get that luxurious smell of freshly printed pages and the artwork is perfectly replicated on the thick, glossy interior pages. As expected from Rebellion, there is a keen attention to detail with a foreword from current 2000AD editor, Matt Smith, as well as supplementary materials to bookend the stories, normally in the form of bonus artwork, interviews or even articles from 2000AD PR droid, Michael Molcher. It’s clear that this has been a labour of love between Rebellion and Hachette, and their “offspring” is certainly a thing to behold.


Book One - America

As with all part-work collections, the initial book is offered at a discounted price to encourage readers to try the series, with the intention of getting them hooked and onto a subscription, so naturally the first story has to be the most popular and most mainstream storyline to attract repeat customers. For those well-versed in Judge Dredd’s universe, it comes as no surprise that Hachette went with “America”, quite possibly the most influential storyline in the Judge Dredd, at least in terms of how the strip was viewed by its fan base. In his afterword, Michael Molcher delves into the impact that this story had for both Judge Dredd and 2000AD, moving the strip into more adult territory and providing its readers with some challenging questions about the character and his role in Mega City One.

As I mentioned before, this series collects tales thematically and rather than just collecting the initial America storyline, readers are also treated to America II: Fading of the Light and America III: Cadet, as well as a selection of other stories featuring Colin McNeil's artwork. While I was initially sceptical about the thematic approach, it really works well here, allowing readers to follow the main threads of the story throughout the years, without deviation into other storylines. Each story is broken up with a distinct chapter header, allowing customers to recognise the passage of time and get an appreciation for the way the story unfolds over a number of years.

I’d read America before, and wholeheartedly agree with everything that everyone before me has ever said in praise of this great story. From John Wagner’s fantastic script focusing on the star-crossed lovers of America Jara and Bennett Beeny, to Colin MacNeil’s absolutely gorgeous painted artwork, this story earns its iconic status with every page. These “day in the citizen’s lives” stories had been told before on a smaller scale, even casting Dredd as the villain of the piece, but none had the same impact as this tragic love story did. I was less familiar with the sequels, and was very interested to read them – America II: The Fading of the Light is a very worthy follow-up to the original, picking up the story four years on from its dramatic climax. The most compelling thing about this story, and its eventual follow-up, Cadet, is the wild-card it introduces in the form of Cadet Beeny. A child of the revolution, she seems determined to affect change in the Justice Department from within, gradually earning Dredd’s respect and becoming a valued ally in current adventures, proving that the after-effects of America continue to be felt in Mega City One, over twenty years after its publication. No wonder this vital story was chosen to launch Judge Dredd: The Mega Collection.


Book Two - Mechanismo

A surprising choice for the second book in the series, this 1992 story addresses the question of why the Judges don’t use robots to enforce the law, and why the human element is so vital. Interestingly, there are parallels to the film, Robocop, which itself features many of the same themes as Judge Dredd. Whereas the preceding volume solely consisted of Colin MacNeil’s artwork, this edition is more of a medley of different artists, thanks to a collection of different robot-themed stories making up the collection.

The trilogy of Mechanismo stories are also notable for acting as a prelude to the Wilderlands story-arc, which saw the wedge between Dredd and McGruder widen even further as Dredd is accused of criminal damage and perjury and sentenced to twenty years on Titan. Presumably, this storyline will be dealt with in a future edition of the collection, perhaps one focused on Chief Judge McGruder.

As with America, the attention to detail for this collection is staggering. It looks absolutely gorgeous with a similar black, white and red cover image, this time featuring one of the Mechanismo robots. Sharp-eyed readers will notice that the spine reads Vol. 24 instead of Vol. 2, and the reason for this is because the volumes are numbered by themes, and not chronologically ordered by release date. Once complete, the eighty volume set will span a number of key themes, including Democracy, The Dark Judges, Supporting Characters, Robot Rampage, The Mega Epics and Mad City.


Conclusion

Future books include collections such as: The Apocalypse War, Origins, Judge Anderson: Shamballa and Mandroid, reflecting a mix of both classic and modern stories. While there is the unfortunate conflict and cross-over with the Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files, I honestly think that this thematic approach utilised by the editorial droids in assembling this collection definitely warrants long-time Dredd fans checking this out. In some instances, entire series that will never been collected in the Case Files banner will be brought together as part of the Mega Collection. As well as the core books, Hachette are also offering subscribers some additional bonuses such as a replica Judge Dredd badge, takeaway mug, tin coasters and metal bookends. There’s even the option to upgrade your subscription and receive six ultra-limited edition prints from top Dredd artists, adding an extra level of exclusivity to the collection.

Subscriptions are available on the collection’s dedicated website, and can currently be started from any of the first ten issues, ensuring that even if you missed the initial editions, you can get a full set of books. It’s easily one of the best, and most lavishly produced part-work collections I've ever seen and should be an essential buy for both casual and experienced Judge Dredd fans alike.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Review - Agents of SHIELD: 2x13 - "One of Us"


Agents of SHIELD
Episode 2x13 - "One of Us"

Synopsis

In an effort to persuade his daughter to join his side, and wreak revenge on Coulson for ruining his vengeance upon Whitehall, Cal assembles a make-shift gang of gifted super-villains to attack SHIELD. Meanwhile, Skye undergoes a psychiatric evaluation to determine whether she remains fit for active duty.

Review

Filling the void left by Hydra's apparent dissolution, this episode instead focuses on Cal's attempts to gain revenge upon Phil Coulson, using his knowledge of the super-powered Index to form his own team of super-powered threats. Not only is he jealous of Coulson's father-daughter relationship with Skye/Daisy, but Cal is also furious that Coulson robbed him of his chance to avenge his wife's murder by killing Daniel Whitehall. As it's already been established, Cal has some anger issues (not surprising considering his comic-book counterpart is Mr. Hyde) and is exactly the type of person to hold a grudge.

I must admit that I was surprised at how this sub-plot, hinted at during Cal and Raina's chat in “Aftershocks”, was developed and implemented so quickly. This break-neck pace has been a recurring trend ever since the series returned from its mid-season break. Looking back, so much has happened over the last two episodes (Hydra dismantled, Skye “outed” as Inhuman, reveal behind the Kree/Inhuman connection) and when you compare that to the slower approach seen in the initial ten episodes of this season, it is clear that the show-runners have increased their pace, and have plenty of stories to tell in these back-end twelve episodes before the finale. With such a drastic shift in the series' status-quo, it is certainly an exciting time to be a fan of the show, harking back to the retooling the show underwent in the wake of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Unfortunately, introducing four new super-powered threats to act as Cal's “muscle” in this episode didn't really give them much opportunity to be developed, especially Levy and Francis, who I doubt we'll ever see again on the show. Not only were they not based upon characters from the Marvel Comics Universe, but there possessed generic powers and even blander personalities. On the flip-side, I must admit that I found Angar the Screamer and Karla Faye Gideon to be rife with potential. Angar's super-powers were pretty interesting, with some nifty CGI jaw-stretching scenes to go with it. The only issue is that he shares the same weakness as Doctor Faustus did in Agent Carter – he can be easily defeated with a pair of earplugs. As for Karla Faye Gideon, while her powers merely consisted of razor bladed fingernails, she is played by Drea de Matteo, who is always very watchable in the characters she portrays, as evidenced by her roles in The Sopranos and Sons of Anarchy.


Skye's struggle with her powers continues to dominate the SHIELD base scenes, with her seemingly maintaining control over the quakes, but both May and Coulson worry that she might not be mentally ready for field work. It seems that this conflict will not be resolving itself any time soon, with the team (apart from Fitz) acting afraid and prejudiced towards Skye, worried that any emotional blip might cause an unnatural disaster. While it seems that she is able to control and stifle her powers, it is revealed that she is in fact directing them inwards, causing tiny bone fractures and internal damage to her body. With her health on the line, Skye is in dire need of some “Inhuman 101” lessons and I'm expecting Gordon the blind teleporter to snatch her up soon, although I have to echo Cal's question as to why they didn't take her with them when they had the opportunity. I think these remaining ten episodes will focus on Skye's morality and whether she will be used as a force for good, or evil. Judging from Cal's presence at the Inhumans base, I suspect upcoming episodes will involve her being swayed over to their side and pushed away from SHIELD.

Aside from the focus on Skye and Cal, this episode brought back some other plot points from the initial season that I thought had been brushed aside. Briefly mentioned in “The Only Light in the Darkness”, we finally get to meet her ex-husband, who is a psychologist who used to work for SHIELD before it disbanded. While we don't find out exactly what happened between them to break them up, it seems like it might be linked to the “Bahrain incident”, which also led to her “The Calvary” nickname. We've yet to get a definitive answer on what caused Agent May's stern demeanour and her infamy within SHIELD ranks, but the fact that the show-writers are revisiting these loose plot-threads from Season One (along with Ward's family in “The Things We Bury”), it gives me hope that we'll find out more from May's past in future episodes.

Overall, this was a really strong episode, giving us our first “super-villain team” although they were rather easily defeated. However, it does open up the possibility of more villains teaming-up in future episodes and it would be cool to see some of the antagonists already introduced, such as Blizzard, Graviton and The Absorbing Man, to reappear later on in the series as a more visually dynamic group. The show continues to move at a lightning pace, although curiously the only real filler came from the Mack / Bobbi sub-plot, although we did get confirmation that they believed themselves to be working for “the real SHIELD”, which is presumably being run by a rival SHIELD official, eager to usurp Coulson's throne. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about there being two SHIELDs, as it seems to be heading back to the status-quo seen in the series' early days, with Coulson's team acting as a unique team operating outside the typical SHIELD confines. I'm guessing this is being done to align the series to Avengers: Age of Ultron, which will have SHIELD existing as a global force once again, with Hydra reduced to a small splinter-cell, run by Baron Von Strucker. I look forward to seeing how this develops, but I'm far more invested in the Inhuman plot-line than any in-fighting between the SHIELD organisations.


Score - 9.7 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • Karla Faye Gideon – She appeared in the Daredevil: Redemption mini-series as an abused wife, but never developed the razor-blade fingernails seen in this episode. (First appearance: Daredevil - Redemption # 1)
  • In the comics, David Angar is known as Angar the Screamer. He received his powers Moondragon to help her fight against Thanos, but ultimately became a villain, fighting against Daredevil and Iron Fist. (First appearance: Daredevil # 100)

Mysteries
  • Why did Agent May divorce her husband?
  • What exactly happened to May during the Bahrain mission?

Next Episode - "Love in the Time of Hydra"
Coulson and his team are still reeling from a shocking revelation that leaves the team fractured as they must decide what to do with one of their own. Meanwhile, Bobbi and Mack reveal their true allegiance to Hunter, while elsewhere, Ward and Agent 33 embark on a personal mission.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

2000AD Prog 1922

Prog 1922 Cover by Jake Lynch

This fantastically striking cover by Jake Lynch propels Dredd towards the reader as he rides his Lawmaster into action. I absolutely love the attention to detail that Lynch puts into this piece, not only on Dredd's uniform but on the design of the Lawmaster, bringing the motorcycle to life in a realistic manner. I also love the choice of background with the flaming orange evoking a sense of explosive action as Dredd rides into action. For a “stock” Judge Dredd cover, it definitely manages to stand out from the newsagent shelf, drawing attention to the Lawman of the Future in a visually exciting manner.


JUDGE DREDD - 300 SECONDS
Script - Ian Edginton
Art - Simon Coleby
Colours - Chris Blythe
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Considering that “Dark Justice” concluded with Dredd and Anderson stranded in space, awaiting pick-up from the Justice Department, it is a great decision by Tharg to schedule this one-shot story that tells a story about the character without featuring him in the present-day, thereby creating the illusion that time has passed before his return to Mega City One. I also liked the added gravitas that the story had, by having the character described to a group of cadets, providing readers with a glimpse of how the other Judges on the force view the man.

The Man. The Legend. The Chin.

Ian Edginton's script shows the perfect level of reverence for the character, showcasing the iconic stature of Judge Dredd in his own world, even going as far as to have him mirror the same pose of the city's imposing symbol for Justice - the Statue of Judgement. In many ways, Dredd is the physical embodiment of Justice, and this neat little tale gives us an insight in how both the criminals and the Judges consider him to be the personification of the concept. Simon Coleby's artwork is simply fantastic and suits the world of Mega City One well, bringing to mind echoes of Ben Willsher's work on the strip, but with a slightly darker tone to it. All in all, this is one of the strongest single-Prog storylines I've read in a long while, effortlessly underpinning the very nature of the character in the space of six pages, who after all these years in active service has become a legend in his own right on the streets of Mega City One.



THE ORDER (Part 12)
Script - Kek-W
Art - John Burns
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Even though it lost its way somewhere in the middle, I have really enjoyed The Order, especially the interplay between the characters. The whole “wurms” storyline didn't quite inspire me as much as it should have, but I loved the dynamics of the team, which Kek-W once described as “like The Expendables, but set in the thirteenth century”. This climactic episode puts an end of the inter-dimensional invasions from the Wurms, but not before losing two members of the team, although I suspect Iron John might have survived his trip into the Wurm dimension, presumably to return in a sequel.


The surprising twist that the series will return in some form in the future was a welcome one, especially considering the unanswered questions regarding both Anna Kohl and Ritterstahl. The epilogue sequence reveals that Blazen is still alive many years after the fact, whereas the young boy Karl appears to be the son of Kohl and Ritterstahl, suggesting that their 'seedlines' have managed to continue and develop a new generation of heroes to reform The Order. It will be interesting to see which direction Kek-W takes with a sequel – given the ageless nature of Blazen, Kohl and Ritterstahl, it could be that the next series takes place in an entirely different time period, possibly blending some more genres together.

One constant throughout the series has been John Burns' legendary artwork. Tharg certainly knows how to pair his art droids with series' that lend to their strengths – every strip that appears in this Prog is perfectly matched with its appropriate artist, delivering a perfect blast of thrill-power. Burns' painted artwork screams medieval fantasy and instantly transported me to the world of The Order within the first few panels, keeping me engaged right up until the final frame. While I loved Burns' work on Nikolai Dante, his work here seems to be a much better tonal fit for his style and I sincerely hope he works on the eventual sequel.



SURVIVAL GEEKS - STEAMPUNK'D (Part 5)
Script - Gordon Rennie & Emma Beeby
Art - Neil Googe
Colours - Gary Caldwell
Letters - Simon Bowland

All hell breaks loose on the floating Milton Keynes as our hapless heroes struggle to escape the sinking airship. I liked that Evan's arsehole qualities were exposed to Sam, although he didn't seem to get a suitable comeuppance, unless the next episode features a bleak ending for him. I'm really enjoying this story, especially the blend of pop culture references and actual action sequences. I especially enjoyed the sequences that featured character development and hope that future installments will focus more on the interactions of the Survival Geeks, rather than the new time-lines they find themselves in. Despite the fact that the robot Mech was introduced earlier in the storyline, it never once occurred to me that this might end up as some kind of kaiju spoof, with the Gappa-Bot fighting the Cthulhu like some kind of steam-punk version of Pacific Rim.

In the past, I've praised Neil Googe's character design and his anime-esque approach to drawing the female cast members, but this episode demonstrates that he can handle the insane action sequences as well, with a crazy double-page spread depicting the Momma Cthulhu breaking free and eating as many “steam-punk tossers” as it can fit into its cake-hole. His art style is absolutely perfect for this series, capturing the exact mood of light-hearted anarchy that the script provides. Without Googe's brightly coloured artwork, this series would be a lot less appealing, so I hope the team continues to work together on future storylines.



SAVAGE: BOOK 9 - GRINDERS (Part 12)
Script - Pat Mills
Art - Patrick Goddard
Letters - Ellie de Ville

As I've said before, the concluding episodes of this chapter of the Savage saga has had a strong vibe of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith about it, and this particular episode with the death of the traitorous Jack Savage, unrepentant to his dying breath, and rebirth of Howard Quartz into Mr. Ten Percent, definitely echoed Anakin Skywalker's transformation into Darth Vader. I could almost hear the electronic voice-box of Howard Quartz as he spoke to his brother about Bill Savage, presumably setting up a revenge plan and possibly leading towards the final, tenth book of the series.


Even though this particular part of the story feels somewhat predestined and following in the footsteps of the continuity established by Ro-Busters and The ABC Warriors, there is something thrilling about seeing these story beats take shape, much like with the Star Wars prequels as we saw the connecting tissue between the two trilogies form. The fact that I'm thoroughly invested in this series, even though I missed out on the previous eight chapters, is a testament to the strength of Pat Mills' writing. Patrick Goddard's artwork has been sublime throughout, managing to evoke a sense of gritty realism to the strip, even though it features hulking great robots and surgically enhanced super-powered terrorists fighting it out in the streets. While I'll imagine the next episode will be more of a denouement and tease for the next book, I eagerly look forward to where Mills and Goddard take Bill Savage next.



THARG'S 3RILLERS: 1% (Part 2)
Script - Eddie Robson
Art - INJ Culbard
Letters - Ellie de Ville

The mystery thickens in this Tharg's 3rillers adventure, with revelations that the dust-cloud that caused the ship to crash is some discontinued invention called Allmata, which can mimic any shape, which accounts for the bizarre visions experienced by the crew, including the lighthouse in the middle of space, and the two creepy children. Curiously, it seems that the mind of the inventor, Talavage, is tied up in this Allmata dust-cloud, feeding the human personalities within this bizarre world.

As I mentioned in my previous review, this storyline certainly feels reminiscent of some of the core components of the TV show, LOST, specifically being stranded in a mysterious location and the sentient cloud of dust (or smoke, in the case of the show) which can take on the forms of all manner of objects. Perhaps its just me reading too much into things, but writer Eddie Robson mentioned how his previous story, Station to Station, was influenced by the classic Doctor Who story, The Web of Fear, so perhaps this story is his homage to LOST, but through his own unique prism.



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

Despite a spectacular one-shot Judge Dredd stealing “Thrill of the Week”, the rest of the series' continued to maintain the high bar of quality for the current line-up. The dramatic conclusion to The Order, and promise of more stories from that universe, was a particular highlight, as was the dense foreboding of the penultimate chapter to this Book Nine of Savage

With one Prog remaining before the launch of the Spring Offensive, Tharg teases some of the upcoming thrills, such as the return of Slaine with the second chapter of the Brutannia Chronicles, with Pat Mills joined once again by Simon Davis. I loved the initial chapter of this re-imagining of Slaine, featuring Davis' amazingly atmospheric artwork, so I am eagerly anticipating its return to the Prog. Looking further ahead, Tharg also teases a sequel to last year's Outlier series, which told a brutal story of revenge and betrayal with some great Karl Richardson artwork. While it wasn't the most memorable of series, I am intrigued to see which direction a sequel will take the story.

Thrill of the Week: Judge Dredd


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1922 will be available in stores on Wednesday 18th March - 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 # 6

Doctor Who: The 12th Doctor # 6
"The Fractures" - Part 1 (of 3)
Written by: Robbie Morrison
Art by: Brian Williamson
Colours by: Hi-Fi

It's all change for this sixth issue of the Twelfth Doctor comic, which sees the series moving away from the more fantastical settings of outer space and the future and instead returning back to contemporary London for a more grounded storyline. Accompanying this change in direction is the introduction of a new artist, Brian Williamson, who brings with him an ultra-realistic art style, which not only captures Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman and Jemma Redgrave's likenesses perfectly, but also uses a few prominent politicians as the basis of the villains of the piece.

Brian Williamson's artwork is impressive, helping bring a completely different tone to this adventure than if previous series artist, Dave Taylor, had illustrated it. Williamson's realistic take on the characters, aided by a more muted colour palette from Hi-Fi, helps establish the 'real world' as a colourless and adventure-less place, where the mundane seeps into everyday life. In fact, it's only when the Fractures intrude on our existence that we get a splash of colour injected into the strip, setting up the potential for a Doctor Who adventure. Another moment where Williamson excels is on that final page with the three villains, fully infected by The Fractures, appear at the doorstep. There's something about the way that he has draw the black liquid oozing out of the George Osborne character's eye and mouth that just unsettles me, and given the realism depicted in this issue, I'd imagine this is set to be a scary adventure, rather than an action adventure.

Robbie Morrison's script is top-notch, especially the sequences that deal with the grief of losing a loved one. Maybe it's the choice of a modern-day setting or the inclusion of Coal Hill School and UNIT as part of the plot, but this particular storyline feels more in tone with the recent season of the shoe than the preceding two storylines did. Including UNIT as a pivotal part of the story helps integrate it into the show's continuity further, showcasing an area of the series which hasn't been given too much focus in recent years. Morrison continues to impress as a writer for Doctor Who, managing to write both the Tenth and Twelfth Doctors with completely different voices that don't contrast with their appearances on the show.


This storyline also sees an unexpected, but very welcome appearance from Kate Stewart, although her presence does cause a slight continuity headache in terms of when this story is set. In Season 8 finale, “Death in Heaven”, it is implied that this is the first time that Kate has met the Twelfth Doctor as she makes a comment about his “new haircut” presumably referring to his regeneration, but setting this story after that episode would mean that Danny Pink had died, which doesn't quite ring true with Clara's conversation about death with Lisa Foster, when she says that she “can't imagine what it feels like” to lose someone that close, although the conversation is left somewhat ambiguous as she later mentions how “you'll never forget him, but it will get better”, implying that she is talking from her own personal experience with Danny. Ultimately, continuity purists can decide for themselves where the story should fit – personally, I'm leaning towards it taking place after “Last Christmas”, placing it in the hiatus before Season 9 begins this year.

Overall, this is easily the best issue of the Twelfth Doctor series yet, with script and art working together effortlessly to create a creepy, horror tone that would not be out of place on the TV show itself. Similar in tone to the recent episode, “Flatline”, this initial chapter of the storyline manages to set up the threat of The Fractures effectively, whilst delivering a healthy dose of character development. While I do love the alien worlds explored by the Doctor during his adventures across time and space, there is something really refreshing about seeing him interacting with the world that we inhabit. Also, much like the TV show itself, the comic is willing to experiment with different genres, moving away from the blockbuster action movie format and instead delivering a tense, scientific thriller with splashes of horror. I am looking forward to seeing how this storyline develops over the next two installments, and wholeheartedly recommend it to fans of the “behind the sofa” moments on the show.


Score - 9.7 out of 10

Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor # 6 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!

Monday, 16 March 2015

Competition - Kick-Ass 3



UNFORTUNATELY, THIS COMPETITION HAS NOW CLOSED!

THE WINNER HAS BEEN CHOSEN AND IT WAS ENTRY # 3 OF 6 - 
'@BatmansBride'


CONGRATULATIONS TO BATMAN'S BRIDE, AND BETTER LUCK NEXT TIME TO EVERYONE ELSE.

REMEMBER TO FOLLOW THIS BLOG, AND OUR SOCIAL MEDIA PAGES TO KEEP UP TO DATE WITH THE LATEST COMPETITIONS!

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Review - Agents of SHIELD: 2x12 - "Who You Really Are"


Agents of SHIELD
Episode 2x12 - "Who You Really Are"

Synopsis

When Lady Sif is attacked and left with amnesia, the Agents of SHIELD rally together to help her regain her memories and find her attacker, unaware that her true mission on Earth directly involves apprehending one of their own.

Review

After her cameo in Season One's “Yes Men”, Lady Sif returns to Agents of SHIELD, not only boosting ratings after the mid-season hiatus but delivering another piece of cross-promotion with the Thor universe. In a similar vein to her previous appearance on Midgard, Sif is hunting  an alien presence that has trespassed onto the planet, but rather than a fellow Asgardian, the culprit is a member of the Kree race, tying in with the Guardians of the Galaxy and the whole Inhumans sub-plot developing within the show.

Whereas the previous episode appeared to swiftly deal with the Hydra sub-plot, this episode used a similar approach regarding the mysteries of the Terrigenesis process, with the Kree dumping a massive bucket-load of plot exposition onto Coulson, May and Skye on how the process works and what exactly the Kree planned to do with the altered humans it created. While many comic book readers had pieced these pieces together themselves, this was a great way to get non-comic book readers up to speed and clear off the last remaining mysteries around the plot now that it was finally out in the open.

I must admit I was surprised at how quickly Skye's secret was outed, but in some ways it was quite refreshing. Rather than prolonging the reveal across multiple episodes, this episode highlighted the danger that Skye's unpredictable powers pose, especially in an underground base! It also served to highlight how fractured the team has become with Fitz, Coulson, Simmons and May all divided over the right way to deal with her. With Skye placed in an outsider role, and distrusted, it seems that the Agents of SHIELD are going to end up alienating her and driving her towards her father. Perhaps the remaining episodes of this season will revolve around Skye's own decision whether to become a hero or a monster with her new-found powers.


It was great to see Jaimie Alexander again, especially during the sequences where she had amnesia and was acting slightly out of character. While I wouldn't want her to be a recurring character, it is nice to have elements of the larger Marvel Universe drop into the TV show, especially for these one-off episodes. There are rumours that Jeremy Renner might appear as Hawkeye in upcoming episodes, possibly relating to the prelude or aftermath of Avengers: Age of Ultron. Hawkeye would be a good fit, especially since it requires very little CGI to depict his powers. While I doubt many of the other A-list actors would appear in the show, it would be great if Joss Whedon had filmed some extra scenes during production of Avengers: Age of Ultron to insert into the Agents of SHIELD show.

As well as the conflict within the team surrounding Skye, it seems that there is further disruption on its way now that Bobbi and Mack's secret scheme is building up to a climax, especially since Mack has compromised his position by attacking Hunter. We have confirmation that neither of them are working for Hydra, and they seem to believe that they're working for the greater good. By the way that Mack reacts to Coulson's decisions, I believe that it is Coulson himself that they are working against, possibly for an alternate SHIELD agent who wishes to take his place. That minimises the candidates, it could be Maria Hill, perhaps, or possibly Agent Blake, assuming he has recovered from his injuries sustained at the hands of Deathlok in “End of the Beginning”.

Overall, this was a return to form for the series, blending the character development and angst surrounding Skye's metamorphosis with the action and adventure relating to Lady Sif's dilemma. I loved how the two disparate plot threads actually came together to deliver a strong, singular focus to the storyline, giving viewers definitive answers surrounding the central mythology. Even without Jaimie Alexander this would have been a solid episode, but the added Hollywood glamour provided by the Thor actress helped elevate this into one of the strongest installments this season. Despite the major revelations in this episode, there are still plenty of unanswered questions, particularly relating to Bobbi and Mack, which have me eagerly awaiting the next episode to find out more.


Score - 9.7 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • Lady Sif last appeared in the Season One episode, “Yes Men
  • We get an MCU explanation of the Inhumans – Kree needed soldiers for a war (possibly the Kree/Skrull War seen in the Avengers comics) and altered human DNA to create weapons.

Mysteries
  • We get confirmation that Mack and Bobbi aren't Hydra, but who are they really working for? And what is their goal?
  • Where are the other five Kree Obelisks? Have they been used already, or are they waiting to be activated?

Next Episode - "One of Us"
Cal seeks revenge on Coulson by assembling a team of Super Villains to destroy S.H.I.E.L.D. Meanwhile, May calls on renowned Dr. Andrew Garner (Blair Underwood), her charismatic ex-husband, with a crisis that threatens to tear the team apart.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

2000AD Prog 1921

Prog 1921 Cover by Greg Staples

This gorgeous wraparound cover by Greg Staples heralds the concluding episode of ‘Dark Justice’ and the art droid has saved the best until last, offering a gorgeous spread of the four Dark Judges in conflict against Judges Dredd and Anderson. There must be plans to reuse this artwork at some point in the future, because a painted piece as grand as this is crying out to be featured again in some fashion. I wouldn't be surprised if it ended up being the cover for the inevitable hardcover edition, although that would mean that the blurb would be covering the second half of the image. Perhaps, this will be another subscriber’s incentive poster, or art card? Either way, it definitely needs to be utilised again in some other form, as it’s a fantastic visual representation of the ‘Dark Justice’ storyline.


JUDGE DREDD - DARK JUSTICE (Part 11)
Script - John Wagner
Art - Greg Staples
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

For those expecting a shock ending and possibly a dramatic change to the status quo, “Dark Justice” failed to deliver on that score, although Wagner and Staples do manage a last-minute tease towards some long-lasting consequences at the end of page one, showcasing a panel which appears to depict Judge Death gutting Anderson, but it turns out she's only received some cosmetic damage. Ultimately, the story ends as one expects, with the Dark Judges left in limbo, free to return to Mega City One if another script-writer deems fit, but it feels like this might be John Wagner's final story with the foursome. While this story did go some way to restoring a sense of menace and actual danger to all four Dark Judges, they're not the most fleshed out of characters – somewhat literally, in Judge Mortis' case. I feel that like most horror movie franchises, they've become overexposed and could do with a rest until a writer has an idea to reinterpret them. Their fate at the end of this episode both removes them from the table indefinitely, but keeps them open for a potential return. I suspect I might be some time before they reappear.



It's become something of a common theme for my reviews over the past eleven weeks to champion Greg Staples' artwork, but it truly has been sublime. It's quite possibly the most realistic rendering of Judge Dredd I've ever seen, but rather than remaining static, Staples managed to inject a real sense of movement across the extended fight sequences that made up the bulk of this adventure. It really felt cinematic at times, particularly the sequence where Dredd was forced to fight both Judge Death and Judge Mortis, armed with a faulty Lawgiver. Despite these overwhelming odds, I must admit I was surprised to how little damage Dredd and Anderson seemed to accrue. In his recent adventure, “Titan”, Dredd seemed to undergo far more of a physical beating whereas in this storyline, he seemed a bit too impervious to harm. Although, while Dredd and Anderson managed to escape injuries, Staples got a chance to flex his 'gore muscle' with some of the other less fortunate members of the strike team, and the initial massacre about the Mayflower.

Overall, this was a fantastic storyline, and while I might have been guilty of expecting some kind of final resolution between the heroes and villains here, I still thoroughly enjoyed every panel of the eleven-part storyline. Literally, every second spent absorbing Greg Staples amazing artwork felt like going to the movies, and Wagner's cinematic script hit the right notes, riffing on classic space horror movies. Not only do I hope that we've not seen the last of the Dark Judges, I truly hope that we'll see Greg Staples return to Judge Dredd again in the near future, either as a sequel to this storyline, or with a completely fresh one.



THE ORDER (Part 11)
Script - Kek-W
Art - John Burns
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Despite being the penultimate episode of the adventure, The Order continues to throw surprising plot developments into the mix with a now-human Ritterstahl emerging from Nettesheim's machine, seemingly in control of the Wurm-Golems. Curiously, this human avatar resembles the same person glimpsed at when Ritterstahl was infected by the Wurms, making me question as to whether he has accepted their offer of a cloned body, in exchange for his obedience. He appears to be working with the rest of the Order at the end of this installment, but given Kek-W's knack for the surprising twist, I wouldn't be shocked if there was some last-minute betrayal.


I have thoroughly enjoyed this series, with a fascinating script from Kek-W and absolutely gorgeous artwork from John Burns, which perfectly suits the mood and atmosphere of the adventure. My one criticism would be the pace of the story, which seems to have packed everything into this one twelve-episode tale, but could have instead benefitted from a much longer format, possibly a number of smaller series building up to a crescendo. As a result, these last installments have felt like a succession of exposition sequences and far less character-driven than the opening chapters were. It will be a shame if the finale does spell the end for these characters as both Kek-W and John Burns have done a fantastic job of crafting a series with the potential to run on. 



SURVIVAL GEEKS - STEAMPUNK'D (Part 4)
Script - Gordon Rennie & Emma Beeby
Art - Neil Googe
Colours - Gary Caldwell
Letters - Simon Bowland

Rather than relying on pop culture references to generate its humour, this episode of Survival Geeks showcases the inherent streak of dark humour that runs through the series, revealing the dark and twisted secret behind Steampunk Milton Keynes' – they're feeding baby Cthulhu's to a huge mother Cthulhu in order to generate the power needed to keep the city afloat. Neil Googe's light-hearted artwork helps keep the story from getting too morose, presenting this horrific revelation as another madcap development, rather than dwelling on the morals behind such a process, although it does seem that Clive might be more affected by this secret, considering that it was his alternate self that designed the sadistic set-up. Perhaps it might act as an early warning against his aloofness and fascination with science over humanity.

The series definitely feels like it has got a British sense of humour, not surprising considering it is written by two British writers and appears in a British sci-fi anthology, but it feels morally ambiguous and willing to subvert the traditional dynamics of a 'sci-fi sitcom' to deliver fresh new laughs, much in the same way that Red Dwarf did. It doesn't feel like the good guys will always win, and if they fail, it will be with us laughing at them as they do. For instance, Simon's “Princess Leia” analogue attempts to do the right thing by freeing the Cthulhu creature, but promptly gets eaten by it. It's harsh, unfair, but also cruelly funny. Much like Ulysses Sweet before it, this sharp edge and morally grey area just exemplifies 2000AD's sense of humour, following in the footsteps of classics, such as D.R. & Quinch, Robo Hunter and Ace Trucking Co.



SAVAGE: BOOK 9 - GRINDERS (Part 11)
Script - Pat Mills
Art - Patrick Goddard
Letters - Ellie de Ville

In the aftermath of last Prog's shocking episode which saw the 'death' of Howard Quartz, this installment takes the foot of the gas and focuses on the confrontation between Bill and Jack Savage, as the younger brother vents his anger at how his older brother has betrayed Great Britain and allied with the Volgs. Even though both brother's were reluctant about having the Hammersteins and the Americans on British soil, they're motivations are completely opposing. As the story heads to a close, there are echoes of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith about this scenario, with Bill and Jack engaged in combat, whilst the half-dead Howard Quartz gets rebuilt into a ninety percent robotic body. The fact we know how this will all turn out in the long-term just adds to the parallel between the Star Wars prequel – it's all predestined to fall apart and turn to shit – the only variable left unanswered is the finer details on what happens to Bill Savage as a result. With only a couple of episodes remaining, I suspect that this particular chapter might close on the reveal of Mr. 10 percent in all his robotic glory, setting up the next book of Savage to be his quest for revenge against our hero, finalising the transition between this continuity and The ABC Warriors continuity.



THARG'S 3RILLERS: 1% (Part 1)
Script - Eddie Robson
Art - INJ Culbard
Letters - Ellie de Ville

Hot on the heels of his previous story, Eddie Robson delivers another Tharg's 3riller, this time accompanied by the beautiful artwork of INJ Culbard. Set aboard an interstellar passenger craft, which seems to have a reputation not unlike that of Ryanair, a number of strange occurrences seem to be happening at once. The story is riddled with mysteries, such as the mysteries dust-cloud affecting the craft's navigational systems, the stewardess' decision to leap out into space in a suicide attempt, and most notably the bizarre action figure of a spaceman, which comes alive in the Captain's hand and dives into the instruments. It feels as if the ship has strayed into some outer space version of the Bermuda Triangle, but these random events and hallucinations must have some kind of rational explanation.


Eddie Robson has certainly gotten me hooked with this mysterious opening installment, which definitely has echoes of LOST about it, or perhaps I just think that about every story featuring lost air-crafts, hallucinations and dust-clouds! The only apprehension that I have is whether three episodes is enough time to tell the story without seeming rushed, or inconclusive. As always, INJ Culbard's artwork is a marvel to behold, managing to distinguish itself completely from the recent run of Brass Sun, which also featuring space travel. Culbard's clear line-work helps tell the story, whilst giving Robson the freedom to delve into surreal elements, without ever appearing unclear or confusing. While it's hard to tell where this story is going, as a reader, I feel totally safe in the hands of two experts in their relevant fields.



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

It was a tough race this week between Judge Dredd and Survival Geeks for the position of 'Thrill of the Week', but the black humour dripping from Survival Geeks allowed it to pip 'Dark Justice' to the post. With just two issues remaining until the next jumping on point of Prog 1924, I'd imagine we'll see a couple of short Judge Dredd stories to supplement the line-up whilst The Order, Savage and Survival Geeks come to their conclusions.

Tharg's Nerve Centre sees another tribute to a recently deceased art droid, this time it is veteran Judge Dredd artist, John Cooper, who illustrated the first commissioned Judge Dredd story, 'Muggers Moon', which was held back until Prog 19 due to its violent content. As one of the early architects of Judge Dredd's world, he had a hand in developing the character, and as such will be greatly missed. 

Thrill of the Week: Survival Geeks


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1921 will be available in stores on Wednesday 11th March - 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!
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