Wednesday, 29 July 2015

2000AD Prog 1941

Prog 1941 Cover by Tiernen Trevallion

This week's Prog is adorned by a colourful cover from Tiernen Trevallion, whose work we're used to seeing in greyscale in Absalom. I really like the use of violent pink to depict the nastiness that threatens to envelope the everyday world, which is depicted in a similar monochrome colour scheme to Trevallion's interior artwork. The juxtaposition between the tranquility of the park and the seamy underbelly bubbling beneath is wonderfully realised thanks to Trevallion's trademark attention to detail, which fills the cover with lots of little hidden easter eggs, such as the bodies in the park's pond.


JUDGE DREDD - ENCELADUS: OLD LIFE (Part 2)
Script - Rob Williams
Art - Henry Flint
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Enceladus: Old Life” continues to move along at a brisk pace as Dredd and the other key Judges involved in the attack on Enceladus quickly figure out that Nixon is no longer human and has evolved into something else that is controlling the weather. Wisely moving away from the mystery element of this story and focusing firmly on Aimee Nixon's quest for revenge, Rob Williams manages to raise the stakes of this adventure. Killing off McTighe and possibly Gerhart, presents Nixon as a seemingly unstoppable threat on par with the Sisters of Death and Dark Judges – a comparison Dredd makes himself in this episode, providing a sense of scale to this attack through the indirect reference to “Necropolis” as well as pointing out that supernatural occurrences are commonplace in Mega City-One for any readers sceptical about Nixon's sudden change of status.


Henry Flint's artwork is absolutely perfect for this storyline, capturing both the intense snowstorms attacking Mega-City One and the gory, visceral nature of Aimee Nixon's attacks in her icy form. The moment where Gerhart takes an ice shard to a chest is quite shocking, and somewhat reminiscent of John Hurt's legendary after-dinner guest in Alien. Flint's artwork just embraces the grittiness and gore, especially with the amount of blood pouring out of Gerhart's mouth as he struggles for breath. I also like the claustrophobic flashback scenes of the Judges in their “war cabinet”, struggling to come up with a solution to avoid total extinction at the hands of Nixon's Ice Age. The omni-present red alert lighting helps emphasise the importance of this situation as Mega-City One appears to be heading towards disaster. I bet Rob Williams and Henry Flint are enjoying every moment of this storyline, as it shows in both the script and art.



JAEGIR - TARTARUS (Part 5)
Script - Gordon Rennie
Art - Simon Coleby
Colours - Len O' Grady
Letters - Ellie de Ville

All hell breaks loose in this episode of Jaegir as the titular heroine's cover is blown. After several episodes attempting to covertly infiltrate the Kashans and discover what they've been doing to the Souther POWs, Jaegir's team were finally exposed and swiftly put down. Outmanned and outclassed, they didn't stand a chance against the Kashans and are now facing what appears to be some kind of game where Strigoi-infected soldiers hunt down prisoners.


With all the action, this felt like a fairly brief installment, which actually helped emphasise the effectiveness of the Kashan troops as they took down Klaur, Reesa and Heize with minimal fuss. Gordon Rennie certainly knows how to deliver a cliff-hanger, placing all of our heroes in danger with seemingly insurmountable odds. Simon Coleby continues to showcase the grimy nature of Jaegir's world, especially the fight sequences which were brisk and brutal. This series remains a fun subversion of the Rogue Trooper lore, blending familiar elements together to produce something truly new and exciting. I look forward to seeing whether Jaegir and her team can escape Tartarus unscathed.



ABSALOM - UNDER A FALSE FLAG (Part 8)
Script - Gordon Rennie
Art - Tiernen Trevallion
Letters - Simon Bowland

Following the action-packed events of last episode, this installment of Absalom feels like a denouement as Gordon Rennie takes the time to initiate Harry's latest recruit into the fight against the corrupt satanic organisations the rule Britain behind the scenes. For those unfamiliar with the series, like myself, Rennie uses this park-side conversation to re-establish the over-arching storyline of the series through Harry's dialogue to Daniel. It's a great technique that helps re-centre the series and seed potential plot developments down the road.

Rennie's dialogue keeps this exposition heavy episode from becoming too dry, and once again Tiernen Trevallion fills his panels with lots of little in-jokes that add to the story, rather than distracting from it. I love the panel where Harry kicks the pestering puppy into the pond, and its rather disappointed face when it emerges. I also quite liked the geese attacking the approaching police officers at the end – could this be a subtle nod towards Hot Fuzz? Considering my inexperience with this series, I've really enjoyed it and I think it's worked well in its task to re-establish the character and his situation after a lengthy absence in the Prog.



HELIUM (Part 8)
Script - Ian Edginton
Art - D'Israeli
Letters - Ellie de Ville

The aerial action continues in Helium as D'Israeli's beautiful artwork and precision panel layout overshadows Ian Edginton's razor-sharp script. The superb visual of half a dozen biplanes dog-fighting in the open skies is just breath-taking and completely unlike anything seen in 2000AD before. With the brightly coloured skies and high-octane action, this sequence is highly evocative of the Studio Ghibli classic, Porco Rosso. There's a sense of child-like wonder to D'Israeli's art here, hitting that nostalgic funny-bone with waves of beautiful artwork that conjures up memories of classic fairy-tale stories.


D'Israeli's art is so epic in nature and grand in scope that it feels somewhat constrained by the five-page episodic format. This series would have been a fantastic opportunity for 2000AD to publish a story in its recent US-sized comic format without prior publication in the Prog, or even better an original graphic novel. With the recent emphasis given to expanding 2000AD's presence in the American marketplace, it would have been a great series to publish exclusively in a US-comic format. As it is, I'm sure Rebellion will reprint the series in the same way it did with Brass Sun, Ichabod Azrael and Aquila, but I do wonder if releasing brand-new material in that format might be a lucrative experiment for the magazine.



OUTLIER - DARK SYMMETRIES (Part 7)
Script - T.C. Eglington
Art - Karl Richardson
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

This exposition-centric episode of Outlier serves mainly to set up events for the conclusion and T.C Eglington's script is very successful in building up tension and raising the stakes for the main characters. The uneasy alliance between Caul and Carcer is wonderfully realised through Eglington's dialogue as the two bicker and argue with each other. Despite having a lukewarm response to the initial Outlier series, I'm now fully invested in the fates of both Carcer and Caul as they head towards the Hurde archive to rescue the original versions of Caul, Jess and Carcer's parents trapped aboard the ship.

Karl Richardson's artwork is another major reason why this series is so enjoyable. Even though this is a predominately “talking heads” installment, his artwork remains so detailed and polished that it helps keep the reader transfixed on the page, even though it's just two men discussing their upcoming plans. Throughout this whole second series, Richardson's art has exuded a cinematic feel, evoking memories of iconic science-fiction movies, and that's even true for this slower-paced episode. The rules of storytelling demand that Caul's plans don't work without some kind of hitch, so I'll be looking forward to some more of Richardson's frenetic action sequences over the next few weeks. Here's hoping this series goes out with a bang, rather than a whimper!



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

Yet again it's another tough decision for Thrill of the Week, with Judge Dredd and Helium continuing to have such strong episodes, alongside Gordon Rennie's excellently scripted Jaegir and Absalom. Even Outlier was impressive as it built up towards its final act. Ultimately, however, Judge Dredd wins the honour this Prog with its brisk pace and shocking final page. I'm really enjoying the epic tone to this storyline as Rob Williams and Henry Flint bring together plot threads from Williams' Dredd spin-off Low Life to what appears to be an epic conclusion, given that Dirty Frank seems to be scheduled to make an appearance soon.


Thrill of the Week: Judge Dredd


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1941 will be available in stores on Wednesday 29th July - Digital copies of this Prog will be available on the same day through the new standalone 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 # 10

Doctor Who: The 12th Doctor # 10
"Gangland" - Part 2 (of 2)
Written by: Robbie Morrison
Art by: Brian Williamson & Mariano Laclaustra
Colours by: Hi-Fi

Wrapped up in an absolutely gorgeous cover from Rian Hughes, this second episode of the Doctor and Clara's sojourn to Las Vegas concludes the two-part “Gangland” storyline in style with Robbie Morrison, Brian Williamson and Mariano Laclaustra all working together seamlessly to bring that iconic Vegas flavour to Doctor Who. There's also a strong B-Movie vibe to the storyline with the robotic squid aliens invading Las Vegas – it reminds me of key scenes from the cult classic, Mars Attacks and the videogame Destroy all Humans with its blend of vintage Americana and over-the-top aliens. It really worked well and brought something fresh and new to the Doctor Who mythos – something that's tough to do after over five decades of stories.

While I was somewhat critical of Robbie Morrison's decision to use fictional analogues of the Rat Pack in the last issue, it didn't grate as much in this installment as the action scenes took prominence, pushing the “Wolf Pack” to the background. Morrison had some fun with the character of Sonny Lawson, developing him beyond his initial muscle-man persona and giving him the same sort of three-dimensional character arc often seen in the show for temporary companions.

I also quite liked how the “in media res” opening of last issue with the “Rassilon Roulette” is brought back into the play for the final section of the story, as well as the little twist in the tale which plays along with the Twelfth Doctor's less forgiving persona. While it didn't quite get me on the edge of my seat in the same way Morrison's previous Russian Roulette sequence in Nikolai Dante did, I could imagine this playing very well on-screen with Peter Capaldi's intense eyebrows and gravitas.


This time around I did notice the differences between Williamson and Laclaustra's art styles as they once again worked together on this issue. It was still very subtle and the two artists certainly compliment each others work with little distraction across pages, but Laclaustra seems to have thinner lines to his characters and less detailing. That said, I really enjoyed both of their work on this issue – their realistic takes on the characters really help ground these stories in our world. I would be intrigued to see whether it would work on a more alien environment.

Overall, this was a great little two-part story and I really enjoyed the classic Vegas atmosphere and science-fiction B-movie vibe that Morrison injected into the story. It was also neat to see a cameo from the Judoon and references to Rassilon – a character who really needs to reappear in the TV show soon - Timothy Dalton did a fantastic job and didn't really get long to shine. This series continues to run strong, although I'm not overly engaged by the ongoing Hyperion War sub-plot that has been present throughout the series thus far, although I have every confidence that Morrison will deliver a strong and satisfying finale to “Year One” of the Twelfth Doctor series.


Score - 9.5 out of 10

Doctor Who: The Twelfth 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!

Review - Doctor Who: The 10th Doctor # 13

Doctor Who: The 10th Doctor # 13
"Spiral Staircase" - Part 1 (of 2)
Written by: Nick Abadzis
Art by: Elena Casagrande
Colours by: Arianna Florean

Rather than continuing under the title of “The Fountains of Forever”, this issue of the Tenth Doctor comic series makes the unusual decision of changing the name of the story-arc midway through to “Spiral Staircase”. It's clearly a deliberate move, but I can't quite understand the reasoning behind it – is it an attempt to replicate the naming conventions of the early Doctor Who serials where each episode of a story-line had a different name, or does this name change reflect the change in focus towards the Pyramid object orbiting the Earth? It's not a major nit-pick, but it did make me curious as to the motivations of the name change.

Story-wise, Nick Abadzis continues where he left off last issue with the cosmically-enhanced Dorothy Bell, now joined with some unknown entity, embarking on a mission to improve and rebuild elements of Manhattan. We're also given a better glimpse into the shadowy organisation that has been collecting the alien artifacts that endowed Dorothy with her newfound youth and powers – it seems that they are more of a religious cult than a UNIT-esque taskforce. I quite enjoyed the characterisation of these three antagonists, especially Cleo, whose shifting morality scale reminds me of Michelle Ryan's jewel-thief character from “Planet of the Dead”.

Abadzis' script continues to weave mystery into the storyline with plenty of unanswered questions regarding the alien threat and Dorothy's transformation. Aside from the central conflict for the Doctor to solve, there are plenty of secondary story-arcs arising from the wealth of interesting supporting characters, particularly Cindy and Gabby. I have a feeling that Gabby's experiences in “The Arts in Space” will come into play at some point, considering Dorothy's ability to reconstruct and design things and Gabby's own proclivities towards the same. I'm really invested in the various character relationships and eager to see what happens between Gabby and Cindy, Cleo and the Doctor and Vivian and Dorothy.


As always, Elena Casagrande's artwork impresses on this title, particularly the sequences where Dorothy rebuilt the various buildings, breaking them down into pieces and reassembling them. I also really enjoyed the way she contrasted her artwork against a photo-realistic New York skyline – it really helped evoke that right kind of atmosphere. As I've said before, her clear and smooth style suits this more action-orientated romp through New York, adding a sense of fun and light-hearted adventure to proceedings.

While lacked the same punch of the previous episodes' “retro-regeneration”, this issue was still a solid and intriguing read, bringing the characters together in time for an Independence Day-esque ending with the sleek, black pyramid-shaped space-craft covering the skies of New York. Abadzis' script has developed an interesting set of supporting characters for this storyline and I hope that the remaining two episodes of “Year One” explores their potential to the full. I really enjoyed the fantastic cliff-hanger of the Doctor, Cindy and the others summoned up to the alien spaceship, and look forward to seeing the alien creatures behind the events of the last three issues.


Score - 8.9 out of 10

Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor # 13 is now available in all good comic shops, including Forbidden Planet, as well as on the Comixology website. Be sure to put in a standing order for the upcoming issues in the series when you pick up your copy!

Review - Doctor Who: The 9th Doctor # 3 (of 5)

Doctor Who: The 9th Doctor # 3 (of 5)
"Weapons of Past Destruction" - Part 3 (of 5)
Written by: Cavan Scott
Art by: Blair Shedd & Rachael Stott
Colours by: Anang Setyawan

There's a real sense of chaotic action to this third issue of the Ninth Doctor mini-series, which follows on from the Doctor's rash proclamation last issue to sell the secrets of his mind to the highest bidder, particularly the elements relating to his survival in the Time War. Naturally, this raised the interest of the warring alien races, The Unon and The Lect, who have both descended upon the illegal weapons market at Fluren to collect this valuable bounty leading to a battle royale between the two armies with the Doctor, Rose and Jack caught in the middle.

Cavan Scott's writing continues to impress and delight, with his knowledge and love for Doctor Who lore shining through every panel. There are plenty of subtle references to the series' continuity (both new and old) with the Ninth Doctor's name-dropping of fellow time-lords, The Rani and The Corsair. Scott's enthusiasm and devotion to the source material is also clearly evident from the way he perfectly captures Christopher Eccleston's portrayal of the Ninth Doctor in his dialogue. He manages to nail the wide spectrum of emotions seen from this particular incarnation of the Doctor from his broad comedy and goofy grin, to his more brooding nature, as he remains racked with survivor's guilt following the Time War.

Scott wisely places the Time War at the heart of this mini-series, given that he has the unique opportunity to revisit the Ninth Doctor with the recent information about the Time War (and the War Doctor) gleaned from “The Day of the Doctor”. With Eccleston's reluctance to reprise the role of the Ninth Doctor, this gives us the opportunity to explore the character's emotions in ways that the show never can. I also like how the raw wounds of the Time War are still fresh for the Doctor here, as they were in episodes such as “Dalek” - he acts rashly and without consequence here, striding into danger and nearly getting obliterated, all because he feels that the Unon are profiting from the Time Lord's destruction.


Assisting Cavan Scott's fantastic script is Blair Shedd's equally amazing artwork, which has a strong photo-realistic style to it. His interpretation of both Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper are spot-on, which greatly adds to that “lost episode” feel. Shedd's panels help convey the frantic nature of the situation on Fluren as the illegal traders attempt to flee the battlefield as the Lect and Unon fight it out. There's some impressive spreads here too, such as the full page panel of a threatening Lect being split in two by the Unon, or the Doctor's apparent disintegration. I also enjoyed the sequence, drawn by Rachael Stott, where Jack attempted to materialise within the TARDIS, with the panel layout feeling very reminiscent of Jim Steranko's psychedelic covers for Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD back in the late 60s.

Once again, this was another amazingly strong episode in the Ninth Doctor mini-series with Cavan Scott's script and Blair Shedd's artwork coming together in perfect harmony to create an experience so close to that of the TV show, you'd think it was a direct adaptation of an episode you'd missed. Despite the fact that we know all three characters will make it through this adventure unscathed, Cavan Scott manages to weave another thrilling cliff-hanger in the style of “old-school” Doctor Who that has you wondering how they will get out of this one! With the increased focus on the Time War, an area of the show's mythology that really intrigues me, I look forward to seeing how the rest of this series pans out. Fans of the Ninth Doctor's era should really be reading this series, as it feels so authentic, you'd almost think Cavan Scott was a pen-name for Russell T Davies.


Score - 10 out of 10

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

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Review - Papercuts and Inkstains # 1

Papercuts and Inkstains # 1
Written by: Rob Jones
Art by: Nick Gonzo, Kevin Pospisil, Mike Smith and Dan Butcher
Published by: Madius Comics

Much like my food diet, my comic-reading habits aren't necessarily the healthiest – I tend to stick to the superhero genre (especially Marvel) picking up the biggest-selling titles and event storylines, barely casting my eye over the independent comics scene. I hear rave reviews about series' such as Saga, Sex Criminals and East of West, but I've been very slow in actually getting around to reading them. Even my non-Marvel books, 2000AD and Titan Comics' Doctor Who range, are fairly mainstream in terms of content – so when I was invited to review Madius Comics' anthology series, Papercuts & Inkstains, I was was keen to step outside my comfort-zone and read some independent comics.

Madius Comics is an independent comics publisher, formed of a small group of writers and artists based around Leeds. Their content encompasses a range of genres such as horror, science fiction, action, drama and comedy, aimed at all ages. Papercuts & Inkstains is the brand's flagship anthology, influenced by 2000AD's Future Shocks short story format to deliver bite-size excursions into a range of weird and wacky scenarios. This first issue contains three stories, all written by Rob Jones, and with art from a trio of up-and-coming artists. Considering my proclivities towards 2000AD, I was intrigued to see an indie title's approach to the same formula.

Instantly, I was greeted by the lush and colourful front cover artwork from Dan Butcher, which instantly gave a positive first impression and imbues the comic with a healthy dose of professionalism. I also quite liked the Madius Comics' logo in the top corner - once again, it helped present the comics as official and real, rather than a disposable fanzine or vanity project. It was only after reading the whole comic that I realised that the cover art was an amalgamation of all three stories, which was a nice touch. Before opening a page, I was already impressed – the team were off to a great start.

The first story, “No” written by Rob Jones, with art from Nick Gonzo, features a lovely juxtaposition between the fantastical and the mundane, which seems to be a theme for this particular anthology. Jones' script takes a back-seat here to Gonzo's artwork, which conveys the frenzied chaos as various creatures from different time periods are brought together to fight. Ultimately, it does feel a little too chaotic in places with some overcrowded panels, but the punchline is well crafted. It reminds me of that famous anecdote where President Kennedy asked a janitor sweeping the floors at NASA what he was doing and the man replied, “helping put a man on the moon”. I wonder if that was an influence on this story.


The second story, “By 'Eck on Earth” again written by Rob Jones but with art from Kevin Pospisil, is an improvement on the first story. Pospisil's greyscale artwork is great and suits the post-apocalyptic zombie landscape. Once again there's a wonderful clash of two worlds as Jones puts a Northern spin on the well-worn Zombie genre – if I had to describe it in four words it would be “Coronation Street meets Zombies”. It's an inspired mish-mash of styles and Pospisil's artwork really does the script justice. There's some great one-liners in the dialogue and narrative that will certainly raise a smile – fans of Shaun of the Dead will definitely enjoy this strip.

The third and final story, “Profits of Doom” also written by Rob Jones, this time features artwork from Mike Smith. Again, blending the mundane with the supernatural, this short story feels like something that could easily appear in The Viz, with its satirical swipe at a group of geeky middle-class cultists attempting to summon a Lovecraftian creature to help them rule the world. Smith's artwork is really strong and his panel placement and layouts really help sell the jokes, especially the final punchline.

As an aspiring (but lazy) writer myself, I really have to commend Rob Jones and his artists for creating a great anthology comic, with such high production values and professional standards.  It clearly must have taken a lot of hard work to bring it all together, but it shows. This is obviously a labour of love for all involved, and really deserves to get wider recognition. On the strength of this comic, Madius Comics is certainly an independent publisher I'll be keeping an eye out for in the future.


Score - 8.5 out of 10

Papercuts and Inkstains # 1 is available to buy digitally from Madius Comics' web-store.

The creative team for this issue can be found on Twitter:

Rob Jones - (@RobJonesWrites)
Nick Gonzo - (@Nick_Gonzo)
Mike Smith - (@DeadCertMike)
Kevin Pospisil - (@AriseToDarkness)
Dan Butcher - (@VanguardComic)

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

2000AD Prog 1940

Prog 1940 Cover by Greg Staples

While the final page of last Prog teased the return of Rob Williams and Henry Flint’s sequel to “Titan”, this amazingly gorgeous cover from Greg Staples heralds the series’ return in style. I absolutely adore this piece, with the rich colours bringing the icy blizzard to life. Staples’ design of the Lawmaster is flawless and I really like how the slight slant to the image helps convey a sense of urgency, as Dredd ploughs through the icy roads of Mega City One. It’s absolutely brilliant!

At just over halfway through the year, I think we've found our contender for 2015’s Prog Cover of the Year – it’s going to be hard work for the art droids to surpass this beauty, but with such a bevy of talented artists in Tharg’s employ, it’s certainly a possibility!


JUDGE DREDD - ENCELADUS: OLD LIFE (Part 1)
Script - Rob Williams
Art - Henry Flint
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

This opening episode of “Enceladus: Old Life” wastes no time in getting to the action with the Judge's frantically working to counter the severe ice blizzard that has hit Mega City One. Dredd, perceptive as always, recognises the extreme weather as a co-ordinated attack on the city, rather than freak weather conditions, whereas the rest of the Judges attempt to find solutions using the Weather Control. Considering the slower pace to the preceding chapter, “Enceladus: New Life”, I must admit I was surprised how quickly Rob Williams launched into this story, swiftly killing off Tek-Judge McTighe and revealing Aimee Nixon to the Judges. While we haven't exactly seen her new form clearly, it seems like she has been possessed, or assimilated, into the icy being that she discovered on Enceladus.


Henry Flint's artwork continues to astound, with the heavy details in his exterior panels emphasising the icy chaos now overtaking Mega City-One. In just a few jaw-dropping pages, he manages to set up the new status-quo for the city as it undergoes an ice age. His interior panels are also brilliant, especially the gore-dripped sequence where McTighe meets his unfortunate end. The gore is further enhanced by the overwhelming red glow of the emergency alarm that fills the following panels, demonstrating Flint's expertise at creating tangible atmospheres with just his colour palette. This year has been an absolute cracker for Judge Dredd fans with an amazing line-up of stories including “Dark Justice” and “Blood of Emeralds”, and this conclusion to the “Titan” epic looks to continue that trend in style.



JAEGIR - TARTARUS (Part 4)
Script - Gordon Rennie
Art - Simon Coleby
Colours - Len O' Grady
Letters - Ellie de Ville

Gordon Rennie continues to weave a compelling story entrenched within the Rogue Trooper universe but without the infamous blue-skinned genetic infantryman. A brief flashback to the Quartz Zone massacre re-establishes Jaegir's place in Rogue Trooper lore and acts as a nice little easter egg for fans of the preceding series. I really enjoy the complex motivations and political machinations that fuel the narrative of this series as Jaegir resorts to a honey-trap to find out information about the presumed atrocities taking place in the Kashan POW camp. Even though the Norts were the enemies in the old Rogue Trooper series, focusing on Jaegir's internal investigations of war-crimes is such an inspired perspective for the series.

One element of Rennie's script that I particularly enjoy is how he makes Atalia Jaegir's internal voice so strong through the narration boxes as she reminisces about her childhood traumas, drawing parallels between her own experiences and those occurring in the present. Each episode, I come away feeling that I know the character even more intimately than I did before – it's a great technique and has me rooting for our unexpected hero, especially when she finds herself in dire situations like in the cliff-hanger to this episode. Simon Coleby's art continues to compliment Rennie's script, with his rough and violent style emphasising the grimy nature and corruption rife across Tartarus. It's a perfect partnership of words and art to create a tangible and evocative atmosphere.



ABSALOM - UNDER A FALSE FLAG (Part 7)
Script - Gordon Rennie
Art - Tiernen Trevallion
Letters - Simon Bowland

After last Prog's spot of exposition, we finally get our long-awaited punch-up between Harry's crew and the Tick-Tock Men sent to tie up the church's loose ends. Consisting of a flurry of action sequences, this installment rests firmly on Tiernen Trevallion's shoulders as he brings to life the conflict between Harry's Cockney coppers and the mechanical muscle-men. With cogs and pieces of machinery flying about the panel, Trevallion certainly captures the frenzied atmosphere of this battle royale.


The secondary focus of the episode is on the youthful church-sanctioned assassin's attempt to escape those sent to kill him. Trevallion's artwork shines through here too, as he ably depicts the teen's fluid movements, adding a Spider-Man-esque level of athleticism to his body language. It works really well, emphasising the sprightly nature of the assassin and presenting him as a continual threat, despite his injury. This series continues to tick along nicely with some great art and a fairly strong script, but it doesn't quite have that “wow factor” for me, especially compared to the rest of the current line-up.



HELIUM (Part 7)
Script - Ian Edginton
Art - D'Israeli
Letters - Ellie de Ville

For a series called Helium, I'm surprised it took seven episodes for its protagonists to get up into the air, but after a narrow escape last episode, it's time for a spot of aerial adventure. With a group of pirates hot on their tail, this episode certainly recalls elements from the most recent chapter of Ian Edginton's other series, Brass Sun. However, whereas Brass Sun's aerobatics took place in a dark fantasy environment called The Deep, Helium adopts an opposite approach with D'Israeli using a brightly coloured skyline that evokes memories of Studio Ghibli's airborne movies, such as Porco Rosso or Laputa: Castle in the Sky. It's a real treat for the eyes, and helps capture the fantastical elements of the series.


After a moment of doubt, Edginton reveals the fate of Sol who, as expected, managed to make his way onto the aircraft before it left the runway. I'm enjoying the banter and relationship between our cast of unlikely heroes, with Edginton's script delivering some excellent one-liners. As with Brass Sun, there's a really cinematic feel to both the characters and the situations that they find themselves in. I've mentioned Studio Ghibli already in this review, but these characters really do feel cut from the same cloth – well developed and intriguing to read on the page. They're the perfect choices to guide the reader into this odd, alternative universe where a poison gas cloud splits the skies in two. With each episode, I'm in amazement at the level of effortless genius both Edginton and D'Israeli possess and I cannot wait to read this whole series in full once it is complete.



OUTLIER - DARK SYMMETRIES (Part 6)
Script - T.C. Eglington
Art - Karl Richardson
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

The long-awaited confrontation between Caul and Carcer serves mainly to deliver some story exposition, laying out the plot for the remainder of this chapter. It appears that Caul has infected Carcer with a terminal disease that will render him able to facilitate a plan to board the Hurde ship and free the original copies of Caul, Jess and his parents. T.C Eglington's script and the dialogue between the two enemies ensures that this episode flows well, revealing the selfish motivations of the mysterious Caul and his grand scheme.

One of my favourite tropes in movie sequels is the old “villain from the first film teams up with the heroes to take down a bigger threat” scenario and this second series of Outlier delivers exactly that. The final panel with Caul and Carcer standing together as allies is simply fantastic and injects a sense of action and excitement into the tail-end of this chapter. I'm really intrigued to see how this uneasy alliance pans out, especially considering the wild-card of Colonel Luthra. Despite the “talking heads” element of this episode, Karl Richardson's art maintains the series' sense of pace with some great flashback images. As our two 'heroes' head towards the Hurde Archive, I look forward to seeing more of Richardson's high-energy action sequences on the page.



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

Despite the introduction of a new Judge Dredd storyline, Helium returns to the position of “Thrill of the Week”, thanks to an absolutely sublime installment from Ian Edginton and D'Israeli. As with previous weeks, the Prog is firing on all cylinders delivering a varied menu of delicious thrills to appeal to a range of taste-buds. While it might not be a standard jumping-on point, there is plenty to enjoy at the moment so lapsed readers should really dig back in and reach for the back issues!


Thrill of the Week: Helium


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1940 will be available in stores on Wednesday 22nd July - Digital copies of this Prog will be available on the same day through the new standalone 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!

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Review - Doctor Who: Human Resources (Part 1)


Doctor Who: Human Resources (Part 1)
The Eighth Doctor Adventures 1.7
Written by: Eddie Robson
Directed by: Nicholas Briggs
Performed by: Paul McGann & Sheridan Smith
Duration: 60 mins approx
ISBN: 978-1-84435-261-6
Chronology Placement: After the 1996 Doctor Who TV Movie and No More Lies

Lucie Miller's been head-hunted to join the staff of Hulbert Logistics, a respectable blue-chip firm in Telford. Great prospects, competitive salary - you don't have to be mad to work here! But wasn't she made for better things, like travelling by TARDIS through time and space? The Doctor, meanwhile, has been fired - into a confrontation with the most terrifying of enemies...

This two-part conclusion to the first series of the Eighth Doctor Adventures promises to reveal the truth behind Lucie Miller and why she was placed in “witness protection” with the Doctor. The mystery behind Lucie has been a recurring theme throughout each of the audio adventures, much like the references to Bad Wolf, Torchwood and Harold Saxon were throughout the initial three seasons of the reboot.

It's been impressive to watch Big Finish replicate the same format seen in the current incarnation of the TV show, with single episode adventures and a season-long plot arc. It certainly helps build a bridge between the classic adventures and the modern day approach. While I was initially sceptical of Russell T Davies' decision to scrap the multi-episode stories and cliff-hangers of the past, I have grown to appreciate this more modern approach to serialised television drama.

As the first episode of a two-parter, it comes as no surprise that this installment is more concerned with setting the scene and building up the tension, which it does fantastically. Eddie Robson's script manages to slowly peel back the fa├žade of the seemingly ordinary Hulbert Logistics, teasing listeners with the promise of hidden menace behind the office gossip and PA announcements of Fantasy Football leagues. There's some excellent dialogue and banter between the characters here – something that has been prevalent throughout the entire series, but really shines through here.

I really enjoyed the way that Eddie Robson's script and Nicholas Briggs' stage direction helped conjure up an environment akin to that of The Office, swapping Slough for Telford and introducing a David Brent-esque embarrassing boss in the form of Jerry. It feels easily identifiable and relatable...well, until the weirdness starts. This approach of focusing on the mundane aspects of the extraordinary also reminded me heavily of the Hank Scorpio episode of The Simpsons, where Homer inadvertently gets a job working for a James Bond super-villain organisation and reminds completely oblivious to what's actually happening.

Paul McGann and Sheridan Smith continue to excel in their roles as the Doctor and Lucie, demonstrating a firm friendship that has evolved over their time together. I've always been a fan of the Eighth Doctor, mostly due to the fact he had all that unexplored potential after the 1996 Movie ended, and this series definitely capitalises on that missed opportunity, giving Paul McGann's Doctor some excellent moments and character development.

Overall, this is a stunning start to what promises to be an excellent conclusion. Despite being credited on the front cover, I liked how Robson saves the Cybermen up for the cliff-hanger reveal, giving the Doctor an additional foe to fight alongside Hulbert Logistics. I also expected them to be revealed as the puppet-masters behind Hulbert Logistics, so it was very refreshing to see them as “the victims”, rather than the masterminds. With strong writing, natural dialogue and a very tangible Doctor Who feel to proceedings – this could easily have featured on TV as a Ninth Doctor and Rose televised storyline – it feels just as worthy as any of the episodes seen in Season One of the rebooted series, and the perfect way to cap off this first series of Eighth Doctor Adventures.

Doctor Who: Human Resources (Part 1) is available as a CD or Download from Big Finish, or available externally from Amazon.co.uk

Score - 9.6 out of 10


Friday, 17 July 2015

Top Ten Movie Sequels that Surpassed the Originals

Sequels. They always promise to improve upon the originals, but they seldom do. It’s hard to replicate the elements that people enjoyed in the first film without repeating the same formula (The Hangover – Part II) and if you make too many changes, you end up with a film that utterly ruins the franchise (Batman and Robin). It’s a fine line to walk, and as recent releases Mad Max: Fury RoadJurassic World and Terminator: Genisys prove, Hollywood is still determined to add new installments to their greatest franchises. Here, at Pop Culture Bandit, we've taken a look at the Top Ten Movie Sequels that Surpassed the Originals.


10) Superman II (1980)

There’s no denying that the original Superman: The Movie is a classic. It nailed that grand operatic tone of the character’s epic origin story – hitting all the right narrative beats (Krypton, Smallville and Metropolis) as it brought the comic book characters to life. On its own, it still stands tall as one of the greatest interpretations of the Superman mythos – filled with a great deal more heart and humanity than its ultra-grim reboot, Man of Steel.

However, Superman II completely surpasses the original in almost every way, building upon the foundations set up in the first movie to create even more action and a greater threat to Metropolis through the appearance of General Zod, Ursa and Non – three Kryptonian criminals who have escaped with the aim of conquering Earth. No longer was Superman dealing with the buffoonish Lex Luthor, but instead he had three equally-powered rivals to deal with.

Not only were the action sequences much better in this sequel, but the romantic sub-plot between Clark Kent and Lois Lane was explored in more detail, with her discovering his true identity. It’s one of the best renditions of the Superman/Lois Lane relationship I've ever seen, even if it does get retconned at the end with Clark Kent’s “memory-loss kiss”. Sure, there are a few areas where the script falters, but overall this feels like a stronger film – exploring the character in greater depth through the removal of his superpowers.


9) Spider-Man 2 (2004)

The sequel to the 2002 smash-hit, Spider-Man, wisely follows the Superman II formula, in that it further complicates the romantic sub-plot between the hero and his leading lady, whilst having him losing his powers and temporarily going into retirement. With the origin story out of the way, Sam Raimi is able to have some fun with the Spider-Man character, introducing the villainous Doctor Octopus, who is brought to life with some amazing CGI and props. Raimi’s creepy cinematic direction, perfected in his horror movies, comes to the fore here as he treats Octavius’ metallic arms as sentient snapping beasts, giving them plenty of close-up shots.

Doctor Octopus makes more a more visually interesting villain compared to the original’s Green Goblin. Even though, the climactic scene on the bridge was impressive – it lacked the same frenetic energy seen with later Goblin battles (Spider-Man 3 and Amazing Spider-Man 2). However those scenes with Doc Ock fighting Spider-Man aboard the train hold up even now. Sure, subsequent sequels and reboots have featured more extensive fight sequences and bigger budgets, but much like Superman II before it, most of Spider-Man 2’s charm comes from its heart. That final sequence where Mary Jane appears in her wedding dress at Peter’s crummy apartment still manages to give me goose-bumps, and although the relationship is shit all over in Spider-Man 3, it is a great moment for the character. Ultimately out of all the Spider-Man films, it is Spider-Man 2 that has the most resonance for me and the best in the franchise.


8) Evil Dead II (1987)

Dubbed as a “video nasty” in the UK, the original Evil Dead was a low-budget gore-filled extravaganza that saw a fresh-faced Bruce Campbell taking on the undead forces within the Necronomicon. Revelling in the horror and brutal violence of the genre, there are very few laughs to be had - it wasn’t until the sequel, Evil Dead II, that the franchise’s now-iconic dark sense of humour kicked in.

The initial five minutes of Evil Dead II serve as an abridged retelling of the original, as we watch the character of Ash turn from a victim into an enduring hero with a bevy of witty one-liners (“Groovy”). There’s a more playful tone to the ultra-violence in this installment, whether it be Ash bashing the possessed head of his girlfriend against the furniture to stop it from biting him, or the iconic sequence where a flying eyeball lands in the mouth of an unfortunate red-neck. It’s clear that this horror isn’t meant to be taken as seriously as its earnest predecessor.

One highlight is the scenes with Ash’s possessed hand, which inject a Buster Keaton-esque slapstick segment into the film, forcing the audience to alternate between fits of laughter and wide-eyed terror. With a bigger budget, better storyline and pitch-perfect blend of horror and comedy, Evil Dead II is a superior film to the original and easily the highlight in the franchise, which moves further into humour than horror. However, the recently announced Ash vs. The Evil Dead TV series could prove to be a worthy successor to Evil Dead II’s crown.


7) Toy Story 3 (2010)

Toy Story 3 stands out for being the only “three-quel” on this list, and also has the honour of surpassing both of its predecessors. While the original Toy Story film focused on Woody being replaced by a new and more exciting toy, this instalment sees all of Andy’s toys faced with retirement. Those cunning guys at Pixar use this scenario as an analogue for the human condition, making parallels between the plight of the toys and our own frail mortality.

While it is still a children’s movie at heart, the adult themes in Toy Story 3 feel more pronounced and emotionally resonant than in the preceding chapters. While some laud Jessie’s flashback sequence in Toy Story 2 as a highlight of the trilogy, this movie takes that theme of rejection and spins a whole movie out of it.

I was literally on the edge of my seat in the cinema when the toys held each other’s hands and prepared to face their end in the incinerator, and I still have a lump in my throat whenever I watch the sequence where Andy says goodbye to them for the last time. Pixar just nailed it with this movie, which makes me concerned about the upcoming Toy Story 4, and whether it will undo the good work of the original trilogy. And, for those who think Pixar can do no wrong… just look at Cars 2!


6) Dawn of the Dead (1978)

The original Night of the Living Dead marks a cultural milestone in the horror genre with director, George A. Romero, responsible for westernising the Zombie and moving it away from its Voodoo roots. Clearly a classic, and supremely influential, the film has gone on to inspire generations of movie-makers with countless zombie-themed movies in its wake. However, the original 1968 movie, shot in black and white and on a shoe-string budget, isn't as narratively rich as its sequel, 1978's Dawn of the Dead, which delivered a full-colour masterpiece that is quite possibly “the best zombie movie ever”.

Known to many as the “Zombies in the Mall” movie, Dawn of the Dead allowed Romero to make statements about commercialism and the human condition, creating more depth to the film and raising it beyond a blood splattered gore-fest. Clocking in at almost three-hours (depending on the cut you watch) the film feels epic in nature, despite taking place in one location for the majority of the movie. The decision to set the movie in a shopping mall is genius, taking that child-like wish of living in a shop and running with it. It's such an iconic concept that it even inspired Capcom to create a computer game, Dead Rising, allowing players to live out that fantasy themselves.

Romero manages to capture a bleak, hopeless tone for his four survivors as they attempt to carve out a close approximation to life before the outbreak. He injects moments of levity into proceedings, particularly when the quartet make the mall into their home, but ultimately the downbeat nature of life in this new world overwhelms their brief attempt at “happy families”. While no-one can deny the historical importance of Night of the Living Dead, its sequel is a far more enjoyable and visually impressive zombie movie. Unfortunately, Romero's handle on the zombie genre does begin to slip after his second sequel, Day of the Dead, with the subsequent movies lacking the same biting social commentary and impact as his original trilogy.


5) The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

The original Star Wars adopted a fairy-tale inspired structure for its narrative with a young ‘prince’ trained by his mentor to rescue the princess from the dark lord, almost singlehandedly defeating the forces. Clearly an iconic film, even in its original 1977 incarnation, it laid down the foundations for the franchise for decades to come and inspired legions of film-makers and science fiction writers. It made sci-fi cool and mainstream, and spawned hundreds of expanded universe stories.

The sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, released three years later offers a more downbeat vision of the Star Wars universe with the Empire taking steps to quash the rebellion and Han Solo’s eventual capture by Boba Fett. It also delves deeper into the lore of the Jedi and Sith, culminating in that iconic reveal of “I am your Father”, which while often parodied now, was innovative and shocking at the time.

The film is also filled with some spectacular visual set-pieces, that pushed the SFX envelope back then – something the series has done consistently generation after generation. Scenes such as the Battle of Hoth and the Cloud City duel between Luke and Vader are permanently etched on the collective consciousness of all pop culture geeks.

Personally, Star Wars works best when things are bleak, dark and brooding - that’s why Revenge of the Sith stood out as the most interesting entry in the prequel trilogy. Lucas’ continual interference to lighten up the universe (Ewoks and Jar Jar) stick out and weaken those installments, while the darker entries into the saga shine above the rest. It will be interesting to see where J.J Abrams takes The Force Awakens this December. Judging from the trailer, it looks to capture elements of The Empire Strikes Back.


4) The Dark Knight (2008)

The Batman film franchise was in pretty bad shape after 1997’s Batman & Robin – the Gothic charm of Tim Burton’s films had given way to a garish, campy romp that dragged the series back to the goofiness 1966 Adam West TV series. Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins was an antidote to this, bringing forth a refreshing sense of realism to the Batman mythos that surpassed the gritty approach seen in Batman and Batman Returns. In fact, Nolan’s trilogy makes those films seem as equally campy as the awful Batman & Robin.

Retelling the Batman origin story in greater detail than ever seen before on-screen, Batman Begins effortlessly rebuilds credibility in the Batman franchise, riffing on classic comic storylines such as Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One and providing Ra’s Al Ghul and the Scarecrow with their cinematic debuts. However, it isn’t until the second film, The Dark Knight that the magic really begins. Heath Ledger’s Joker completely steals the film away from Christian Bale’s Batman, relegating the titular character to a foundering pawn throughout most of the film and taking the viewer on a breath-taking journey through insanity.

The beauty of The Dark Knight is the way that it feels less like a superhero movie and more like a bonafide crime thriller. Remove the capes and make-up, and the film works just as well – it’s like Michael Mann’s Heat but with superheroes! Ledger’s performance carries the film with his interpretation of the Joker rewriting the rule-book on how the character should be played. Every scene he appears in is simply mesmerizing with his awkward, unpredictable behaviour genuinely unsettling the audience. As it is, the film is probably one of the greatest examinations of the Batman / Joker relationship there is, standing proudly next to Alan Moore's The Killing Joke and the Batman: Arkham Asylum video-games. While The Dark Knight Rises was an equally impressive movie, it doesn’t quite have the same iconic confidence as its predecessor.


3) Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)

The original Mad Max was a low-budget Australian movie that achieved enough success overseas to warrant a sequel, however, the studio was afraid that the original wasn’t well-known enough in America so they re-titled the movie to “The Road Warrior” and removed references to it being a sequel. The standalone nature to the movie enabled the film to be enjoyed on its own, with audiences unaware that it was actually the second film in the series – ultimately, the success of Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior led to the studios releasing the original on VHS as “the thrilling predecessor to The Road Warrior”.

Mad Max 2 dramatically surpasses the original with a much larger budget, better special effects and a stronger atmosphere. The iconic post-apocalyptic visuals of the Australian outback have influenced a bevy of film-makers and science fiction writers ever since, fuelling the genre for decades. George Miller’s sequel is filled with impressive automobile stunts, with its climactic chase sequence standing out with its intense and exhilarating stunt-work. Even the most recent iteration, Mad Max: Fury Road, has relied on using real stunts over cheap and easy CGI effects. The film was so popular with American audiences that it launched Mel Gibson’s career in Hollywood, leading to the Lethal Weapon films and his eventual melt-down.


2) Aliens (1986)

Picking up from Ridley Scott’s tense claustrophobic horror, Alien, James Cameron ups the ante and sends the main protagonist, Ellen Ripley, back to the xenomorph’s home planet with a squad of space marines for company. With more Aliens, more cannon fodder and more action, Cameron’s take on the series moves it away from the horror genre of the original and towards action-adventure. While David Fincher’s Alien 3 attempted to return it back to suspense-filled horror of the original, the franchise is ultimately more recognisable as a sci-fi action with the Alien vs. Predator spin-offs and video-game tie-ins. While both approaches work for the series, I prefer the action-heavy style implemented by Cameron.

While Alien had an interesting blend of characters in the Nostromo’s crew of space junkers, Aliens introduces a small battalion of space marines with varied personalities and brilliant one-liners. Characters like Hicks, Hudson and Bishop stand out from the crowd, thanks to a strong script and performances, causing the audience to react when they are placed in peril against the nest of xenomorphs. Another strength is Ripley’s maternal relationship with the orphaned girl, Newt, which forms an emotional core to the story that was lacking in Alien. That climactic scene where Ripley returns to the colony to confront the Alien Queen and rescue Newt is simply breath-taking and encapsulates the whole Alien franchise for me. It’s a pinnacle that the series has yet to reach since with its countless sequels and spin-offs.


1) Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

Much like with Alien and Aliens, James Cameron’s approach to the Terminator sequel was to switch genres from horror to action, whilst increasing the budget and the number of antagonists. It’s a formula that obviously pays off, delivering a follow-up movie that surpasses the original and still holds up in the wake of subsequent installments. On a personal note, Terminator 2: Judgment Day might be my favourite movie ever – it’s a blend of the script, the action, the pioneering (for the time) special effects and the sense of humour that comes together to deliver the ultimate film experience. Sure, it may look a bit dated in places now, but that’s all part of the charm, with Schwarzenegger’s Terminator still exemplifying coolness with his leather jacket, motorcycle and pump-action shotgun.

Wisely moving the T-800 to the side of the humans, Cameron is able to place Arnold Schwarzenegger in a heroic role, playing upon his recent box office successes with Commando, Predator and Total Recall. It’s this unorthodox paternal relationship between the T-800 and the teen John Connor that drives the film and it’s interesting to note that the recent Terminator: Genisys has replicated this pattern, but with a young Sarah Connor instead.

Robert Patrick’s T-1000, or the “Liquid Metal Terminator”, works perfectly as the antagonist for the film, ruthlessly pursuing John Connor with an expressionless passion. The special effects on the T-1000 were amazing at the time and still hold up well now, even if his full-liquid metal form looks a bit too shiny and The Lawnmower Man-esque. The scenes where he takes damage, absorbing gunshots into its liquid metal form, stand out the most - particularly the moment where he is shot point-blank range in the head. He comes across as an invincible foe – making Arnie’s T-800 feel outdated and vulnerable.

There are so many amazing set-pieces in the film, such as the motorbike chase sequence, the T-1000 hunting Sarah Connor in the mental hospital and the moment where the nitrogen-frozen T-1000 shatters into thousands of pieces, only to reform moments later. Much like Aliens, it builds upon its predecessor but delivers a meatier storyline and much more action, whilst defining the series for years to come.



So, that’s our list of the Top Ten Movie Sequels that Surpassed the Originals – do you agree with our list? Is there anything you feel was missed out? Let us know in the comments box below, or via our Facebook and Twitter feeds.
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