Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Review - Doctor Who: The Four Doctors # 3 (of 5)

Doctor Who: The Four Doctors # 3 (of 5)
"The Four Doctors" - Part 3 (of 5)
Written by: Paul Cornell
Art by: Neil Edwards
Colours by: Ivan Nunes

After an exciting action-packed interlude to the main plot in last issue, writer Paul Cornell returns the focus to the planet Marinus and the Voord’s nefarious plan to get the three Doctors in one specific location. Cornell throws in a lovely little curve-ball into proceedings by having the Doctors travel to defining points in the Tenth and Eleventh Doctor’s eras and showing alternative time-lines unfolding in a manner not dissimilar to the classic Marvel Comics series, What If?. I quite liked the alternative take to “The End of Time” where the Tenth Doctor, still embracing elements of his Time Lord Victorious persona, decides to let Wilf Noble die in his gas chamber. It’s an interesting scene, which allows those hard-core David Tennant fans to see how things would have unfolded if he’d stayed.

By contrast, The Eleventh Doctor’s ‘dark timeline’ doesn’t quite have the same dramatic impact and wisely Cornell moves the story quickly along to an unseen future event where Clara and the Twelfth Doctor have clashed, leading to an embittered and somewhat senile Twelfth Doctor piloting the TARDIS on his own. Given the events of the final pages, it’s clear that there is more to come from this particular dark time-line and despite his dislike of the term, it seems there has been some “timey-wimey” business to engineer this alternate Doctor’s existence. Without spoiling too much, Cornell constructs a very compelling cliff-hanger that makes me very grateful that I only have to wait a week. In fact, as I read the final lines in the speech bubble, I could almost hear the familiar twang of the Doctor Who end credits in my mind.


Once again, Neil Edwards’ artwork is incredible – I particularly liked his take on those iconic scenes from “The End of Time” and “The Wedding of River Song” and his representation of Wilf Noble and River Song. With cameos from the Slitheen, Dalek technology (although no Daleks themselves) and the Voord, this mini-series certainly feels more tied into the mythologies of the TV show than some of the preceding storylines. So far, this mini-series has felt like a total roller-coaster of an episode and Neil Edwards’ artwork has been a massive element in maintaining that epic, block-buster feel. I’ve enjoyed every panel of this mini-series so far, and hope that he’ll be back again to illustrate more Doctor Who stories in the near future.

In conclusion, this was a strong central episode to the five issue mini-series, delivering a smattering of answers to the mystery surrounding Marinus, but also dumping a whole lot more questions too. Cornell’s script just drips with a love for the character and the television show, and as a long-time fan myself, it’s great to see a writer dipping into the continuity of the show and building upon those landmark moments to create his own. It was always going to require a momentous event of a story to justify bringing three (possibly four) of the Doctors together, and with this time-twistingly epic tale Paul Cornell has achieved just that. I look forward to seeing this series come to a dramatic conclusion over the next two weeks!


Score - 9.7 out of 10

Doctor Who: The Four Doctors # 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 mini-series when you pick up your copy!

2000AD Prog 1945

Prog 1945 Cover by Jake Lynch

Wow, this is a great cover from Jake Lynch which immediately lets readers glimpse the aftermath of the napalm strike in last Prog's episode of “Enceladus: Old Life” before even turning a page. Lynch's rough, sketchy style really works well to set the tone for this piece, emphasising the intense pain of Dredd's injuries and his determination to continue on. The stark white background minimises any distractions, ensuring that the reader's attention is solely on Dredd and his smouldering, burnt skin. I was also struck by the similarities between this image and the iconic cover for Prog 85, which saw an equally dishevelled Judge Dredd refusing to back down in the face of insurmountable odds. If intentional, it's a nice call-back to a classic Dredd cover and serves to emphasise the dire situation that Dredd finds himself in.


JUDGE DREDD - ENCELADUS: OLD LIFE (Part 6)
Script - Rob Williams
Art - Henry Flint
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

As evidenced from the front cover, Judge Dredd didn't quite make it out of his napalm strike unscathed and spends most of this episode struggling to get back to his feet and to the Chief Judge. Rob Williams and Henry Flint manage to construct a display of endurance and determination akin to that iconic sequence from Amazing Spider-Man # 33, where Spider-Man lifts up an impossibly heavy amount of wreckage in order to free himself and save Aunt May's life. Aside from demonstrating Dredd's toughness, Williams' script also continues to build up the potential resolution to the attack on Mega-City One with the Titan rebuild team discovering the glowing pit in Enceladus where Aimee Nixon's human body was last seen. I'd imagine that the contents of this hole will shed some light on where she got her new powers from, and potentially offer a way to wipe out the ice-creatures in one fell swoop.


There's some lovely visual flourishes from Henry Flint in this episode, notably the stylish transition between the Judges descending into the heart of Enceladus and Dredd's helmet. It's moments like this that really give this story a cinematic tone. I also loved Flint's take on the charred, burnt skin on Dredd's back – the mesh of blood, uniform and skin just looks horrendously painful, allowing the reader to emphasise with the character's struggle to get back to his feet.

The main talking point of this episode is the surprising reveal at the end as a lone horse appears out of nowhere, offering Dredd a convenient ride. On its own, it's a bit of a head-scratcher, but it appears that this is the same horse that Dredd glimpsed in the Judge Dredd Megazine story, “The Man Comes Around”. In that episode, the horse appeared to be an hallucination, brought on by exhaustion and old age, but there have been lots of subtle moments like this in Rob Williams' stories recently. There was foreshadowing of snow in “Titan” and “Fit”, which later became a big plot point with the “Enceladus” chapters – while I initially assumed this was Dredd's age catching up with him, or problems with his bionic eyes. The appearance of the horse now, in his time of need, suggests that either her is developing latent Psi-abilities, receiving premonitions of future events. Of course, it could all just be in his mind and the horse represents his determination to uphold the law. Either way, we're treated to the fantastic visual of “Cowboy Dredd” riding off into action...



THARG'S 3RILLERS: APOCALYPSE ANONYMOUS (Part 1)
Script - Robert Murphy
Art - Sean O' Connor
Colours - Abigail Ryder
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

This first episode of the Tharg's 3riller, “Apocalypse Anonymous” displays a strong sense of confidence, straight out of the gate, with its interesting mix of characters (a scientist, mystic and priest) forming a team of special operatives that are tasked with preventing the apocalypse. I was impressed with how quickly Robert Murphy established their personalities and immediately it feels like there is a potential for more adventures here – as with Survival Geeks, which also made the transition from Tharg's 3riller to full series status. With its contemporary setting of present-day Syria and mysterious alien threat, this opening chapter reminded me slightly of the beginning of Predator, as our crack-team of commandos head into a war-zone.


I am glad to see fresh names appearing in the Prog, although Robert Murphy has contributed stories to 2000AD in the past, having written a Past Imperfect and Tharg's 3rillers in recent years. Artist, Sean O'Connor is a complete newcomer to the Prog, however, bringing with him a strong visual style that feels reminiscent of Marc Silvestri in some places. Abigail Ryder's colours really help to bring O'Connor's debris-ridden streets of war-torn Syria to life, giving the whole strip a Black Hawk Down vibe to it. When compared to the other stories running in the Prog at the moment, this modern-day supernatural thriller offers a breath of fresh air to the line-up and I look forward to seeing where the story goes as the supernatural elements become more prevalent in the narrative.



THE ALIENIST - THE HAUNTING OF HEX HOUSE (Part 2)
Script - Gordon Rennie & Emma Beeby
Art - Eoin Coveney
Letters - Simon Bowland

After an introductory episode that set the scene for this story's The Haunting of Hill House homage, Rennie and Beeby place the spotlight on the series' central characters, Sebastian Wetherall and Miss Vespertine. Those who read The Alienist's pilot episode in last year's 2000AD Winter Special would be aware of the duo's unique set-up of Miss Vespertine being the true alienist using a male actor to gain authenticity in the male-dominated Victorian era. It is teased here, through the narration boxes, but never outright explicitly mentioned – possibly to keep this reveal for those 2000AD readers who only read the core Prog. As a transitionary episode filled with conversation and introductions, there's not much for Eoin Coveney to do here, although he manages to implement a wonderfully tension-inducing “camera angle” for the final panel that promises a haunting experience for the main characters over the next few episodes.



HELIUM (Part 12)
Script - Ian Edginton
Art - D'Israeli
Letters - Ellie de Ville

This concluding episode of Helium ends with a bang, as our motley trio of heroes find themselves outmatched by the fighter jets from the Ballerophon and promptly shot down somewhere beneath the Poison Belt. As a cliff-hanger, it's somewhat anti-climactic as its clear that our heroes will survive the crash and merely find themselves in a new environment under the gas cloud – but as a whole, I've really enjoyed this series. Edginton's script and D'Israeli's artwork have come together seamlessly to create a wonderfully realised world that has a real old-school fantasy vibe to it. As with Brass Sun, Ian Edginton excels in creating strong, compelling characters with Constable Hodge and Solace Grimsby quickly becoming firm favourites of mine.

This initial chapter has been a great introduction to the world of Helium, with the three distinct factions all chasing after our heroes for a variety of different reasons. D'Israeli's fantastic world-building artwork effortlessly brings each of these different civilisations to life, giving the story a real sense of character. Fans of epic fantasy will note influences ranging from H.G Wells to Hayao Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli films, most notably Laputa: Castle in the Sky and Porco Rosso. I really enjoyed the more aeronautical elements of this series, with its fast-paced dog-fights against the bright skies – it offered a refreshing departure from the traditional sci-fi of 2000AD strips and definitely brightened up the Prog over the past twelve weeks. However, when the series returns, I hope that it comes back with a more focused storyline, as there were times where it felt that the characters were just reacting to events, rather than dictating their own futures.



GREY AREA - CONTACT
Script - Dan Abnett
Art - Mark Harrison
Letters - Ellie de Ville

This Prog sees the return of Grey Area, after a brief hiatus, with Dan Abnett quickly addressing the slow pace of the preceding series of stories by providing some forward-momentum in the narrative as Bulliet and Kymn finally meet with one of the Harmonious Free who rule over this alternate Grey Area. After the lengthy build-up, it's a relief to finally seen some movement in the God-Star plot-line with Bulliet and Kymn managing to cut through the red tape and actually convincing one of the ruling elite that the God-Star exists and intends to consume their planet. Of course, there's plenty more drama to come, as this alternate Grey Area seems woefully unprepared compared to the original universe which our heroes come from.


Mark Harrison returns to provide the art for the series, bringing with him a level of intricate detail and griminess that captures the alien environment onto the page. Even though this episode is largely a single conversation between four characters, Harrison's artwork is so evocative and intriguing that the narrative never feels static. While I do appreciate the episodic TV show format of this series, with its short-bursts of individually named episodes forming “seasons”, I do hope that this current run leaves the ETC team a little bit closer to resolving this current storyline than before. As with Abnett's current work on Sinister Dexter, there is a slightly decompressed pace to the over-arching plot which may lead to reader impatience if it continues.



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

The return of Grey Area and Tharg's 3rillers definitely reinvigorates the Prog, as we head towards the next jumping-on point. Unfortunately, Helium has a somewhat low-key ending, much like Jaegir and Outlier last Prog, although there is the promise of more to come soon which is good. With its amazingly visceral front cover, and agonisingly brutal interiors, Judge Dredd earns the top spot as “Thrill of the Week”, building up its mystery and tension as “Enceladus: Old Life” races to a conclusion.

Replacing Helium next Prog is a series completely different in tone: the dark and Gothic Dreams of Deadworld, a four-part series which focuses on each of the Dark Judges in a pseudo-origin story set shortly after their transformation. If the back-page preview looks like the stuff of nightmares, that's because it is. The inspiration behind this unique four-part collection of stories comes from dreams that artist Dave Kendall had which led to him redesigning the Dark Judges and pitching this story of their origins to Tharg. It looks absolutely horrific, judging from the preview art here, and I look forward to seeing what Kek-W and Dave Kendall can bring to the Dark Judges mythos.

Elsewhere in Tharg's Nerve Centre, there's a preview of an upcoming series from Dan Abnett and INJ Culbard called Brink, which appears to be rather space-centric, possibly influenced by recent cinematic releases such as Gravity, Interstellar and The Martian? I look forward to finding out more about this series in the near future.


Thrill of the Week: Judge Dredd


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1945 will be available in stores on Wednesday 26th August - Digital copies of this Prog will be available on the same day through the standalone 2000AD app, which can be downloaded onto iOS and Android devices.

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

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Review - Doctor Who: The Four Doctors # 2 (of 5)

Doctor Who: The Four Doctors # 2 (of 5)
"The Four Doctors" - Part 2 (of 5)
Written by: Paul Cornell
Art by: Neil Edwards
Colours by: Ivan Nunes

After the set-up and initial gathering of the Doctors in the first issue of this mini-series, Paul Cornell takes the reader on a fun-filled romp through multiple TARDISes (or should that be TARDI?) as our heroes attempt to escape from the Reapers on their tail. Cornell’s script maintains the same hyper energy present in the opening chapter, extending this to include some manic chase scenes which incorporate the Doctor Who staple of “running through corridors”. As with any multi-Doctor story, there’s plenty of conflict between the various incarnations as the three Doctors bicker throughout the issue, with Ten and Twelve having a particular dislike of each other, forcing Eleven into a mediatory role. I quite like how both Ten and Eleven are suspicious of the Twelfth Doctor, both knowing that he is a physical impossibility given their assumptions over the regeneration cycle.

With all of the action in this issue there is less opportunity for continuity references, although Cornell still manages to sneak in a nod towards the Valeyard, as well as that familiar multi-Doctor practice of judging the décor of each other’s TARDIS. I also liked the inclusion of Gabby’s sketch-book from the Tenth Doctor comic series, which offers an interesting insight into how companions must visualise the Doctor’s previous incarnations. I quite liked seeing her representations of David Tennant’s Doctor as an old man and with a rather Master-esque goatee. This was a nice way of giving a bit more spotlight to the Titan Comics’ companions – although I still hope that future issues pair up Gabby and Alice with different Doctors.


Neil Edwards’ artwork continues to impress, especially with his wonderful choreography of the action sequences. His panels add a truly cinematic tone to events, further emphasising the special nature of this “cross-over”. Each page just drips with quality art, with some absolutely gorgeous representations of the actors behind the various Doctors and Clara. Even Gabby and Alice, who have no real-world counterparts, look fantastic and recognisable from their previous appearances. I also loved his take on each Doctor’s TARDIS and the adjoining corridors – it reminded me of the brief glimpses we’ve seen of the TARDIS interior from “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS”.

While this installment of “The Four Doctors” doesn’t move the central story along dramatically, it does provide the reader with a fun diversion as the Doctors deal with the Reapers. We are given further confirmation that the Voord seem to be manipulating the Doctors into some trap, although the details and motivations remain unclear – I’m guessing that this is where the War Doctor comes into the picture. This storyline is shaping up to be tremendous fun, thanks to the skills of both Paul Cornell and Neil Edwards – much like the rest of Titan Comics’ Doctor Who output, there is a real sense of confidence and authenticity behind the surface, ensuring that this comic is a vital read for fans of the TV show. Even fans unfamiliar with the ongoing series’ that this mini-series has sprung from should go out and pick up these first couple of issues, and strap themselves in for the ride!


Score - 9.7 out of 10

Doctor Who: The Four Doctors # 2 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 mini-series when you pick up your copy!

2000AD Prog 1944

Prog 1944 Cover by Cliff Robinson & Dylan Teague

Proudly announcing the debut of The Alienist into the core 2000AD title, this great cover from Cliff Robinson captures that Ghostbusters supernatural vibe, thanks in part to Dylan Teague's excellent luminous colouring on the spirits that swirl across the page. It's an interesting decision to use Robinson to promote The Alienist, given the similarities between his and Eoin Coveney's artwork. This similarity was something I noticed when Coveney worked on a Judge Dredd story in last year's 2000AD Sci-Fi Special, but it's even more pronounced here, with me instinctively crediting this cover to Coveney until I peered at the credits. Both artists are absolutely fantastic, and it's good to have similar styles in the magazine as it allows for alternating art teams without much disruption to the aesthetics of a strip.


JUDGE DREDD - ENCELADUS: OLD LIFE (Part 5)
Script - Rob Williams
Art - Henry Flint
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Initial installments of “Enceladus: Old Life” had positioned the Judges as outmatched with only a single ice-creature in Aimee Nixon, but by introducing a whole horde of them, Rob Williams has further increased the apocalyptic nature of this storyline, which was already pretty doom-laden beforehand. Henry Flint's artwork comes into its own here, wonderfully displaying the chaotic nature of events as Mega-City One is invaded by a supernatural force, reminded me of his work on the equally excellent Judge Dredd / Aliens crossover from 2003. His amazingly detailed panels really help bring the invasion to life, giving the battle an epic sense of scale deserving of the story. You can almost imagine both Williams and Flint grinning with sadistic glee as they put both Dredd and Mega-City One through the wringer.


The high-octane action of this episode is simply breath-taking, especially the sequence where Dredd and Dirty Frank rescue an injured Hershey (who seems determined to position herself as the most bad-ass Chief Judge there ever was) and subsequently initiate a napalm attack on the city walls. There's a slight echo of that iconic scene from “The Apocalypse War” where Dredd nuked East-Meg One, but also there's a nice bit of symmetry of Dredd forced to fire upon parts of his own city, after launching missiles at Enceladus – although I suspect Aimee Nixon's revenge will extend beyond this simple irony.

This whole story feels rooted in old-school Judge Dredd mega-epics, recalling those city under siege stories, such as “Necropolis”, “Judgement Day” and even “The Doomsday Scenario” which is appearing in Judge Dredd: The Mega Collection currently. Utilising a three-act structure, rather than a traditional block of twenty-plus episodes, Rob Williams and Henry Flint have crafted a modern-day ode to those classic Judge Dredd mega-epics of yesteryear – one that I'm sure will be named in the same breath as those legendary stories in years to come.



JAEGIR - TARTARUS (Part 8)
Script - Gordon Rennie
Art - Simon Coleby
Colours - Len O' Grady
Letters - Ellie de Ville

This concluding episode of Jaegir'sTartarus” storyline is mostly occupied with explaining the last minute rescue at the end of last week's installment. In a surprising twist, it transpires that Jaegir's love interest, Storm Commander Kansezy, was actually working against the Kashan system using Jaegir and her team to flush out the corrupt leaders in order to gain recognition and his own promotion. This was a nice bit of misdirection from Gordon Rennie, as I immediately had him pecked as the chief antagonist of this adventure, or possibly one of the Strigoi himself, due to his romantic attachment. This epilogue also reveals that Jaegir's team were alive and well after their supposed death – this didn't come as a total surprise, given how ripe for character development the trio are and the rather low-key way they appeared to be dispatched.


At eight episodes, “Tartarus” has been the longest story-arc in the Jaegir series thus far, and has easily been the most successful, balancing a variety of character-driven flashbacks against the team's present-day actions. Rennie has been developing the character of Atalia Jaegir wonderfully since her first appearance, gently dropping clues as to her family history and possible unique biological make-up. This episode's denouement gives us our first glimpse of Atalia's father in the current day, and much like his daughter he appears heavily scarred by war. His request to send for his daughter suggests that the next story-arc will actively deal with Jaegir's father issues, after months of set-up. While I have enjoyed these "Strigoi hunts” that Jaegir has been involved in, I am far more invested in the complexities of her paternal relationship and look forward to seeing Rennie and Coleby address this long-running sub-plot.



THE ALIENIST - THE HAUNTING OF HEX HOUSE (Part 1)
Script - Gordon Rennie & Emma Beeby
Art - Eoin Coveney
Letters - Simon Bowland

Rather than continuing to release Future Shocks until the next jumping-on point, this Prog sees the return of occult horror series, The Alienist, which debuted with a one-off pilot episode in last year's 2000AD Winter Special. I must admit I was surprised to see this return, especially since it debuted away from the core 2000AD series, but I guess this highlights the importance of picking up the seasonal specials which balance nostalgic retro-thrills against more contemporary developments in series' such as Survival Geeks and Ace Trucking Co

Having read the pilot episode, I had a vague recollection of the series' concept, which revolves around a female occult investigator who, due to the Victorian attitudes towards women, hires a male actor to be “the alienist” whilst she works in the background. Luckily for those unable to read (or re-read) the series' introductory episode, there is little reference to these prior events here and instead Rennie and Beeby set up a storyline that feels akin to an Agatha Christie murder mystery, by way of a haunted house horror. Hopefully later episodes explain the central concept of this series, catching any lapsed readers up to date.

Also returning is artist, Eoin Coveney, whose lovely black and white artwork manages to sustain the series' supernatural vibe. I particularly liked the sequence where Agnes Sotherby meets her untimely end during the séance – I suspect the remaining episodes of this multi-part adventure will revolve around the rest of the cast succumbing to the forces of darkness in equally macabre ways with Wetherall's amateur Alienist character providing levity to the situation.



HELIUM (Part 11)
Script - Ian Edginton
Art - D'Israeli
Letters - Ellie de Ville

After the revelations of last week's episode of Helium, the pace again returns to action as Hodge, Sol and Bloom make their escape from the Ballerophon. There's a slight feeling of deja vu as the escape once again revolves a last minute plane take-off, but I guess that kind of symmetry is to be expected in such an aeronautical storyline. Tharg's Letters Page reveals that this is the penultimate episode of Helium, which suggests that next Prog's climax will act as an epilogue, presumably setting the scene for Book Two of this epic series in the same way that both Jaegir and Outlier have this in this Prog. Given that Hodge's original destination before their capture was the Commonwealth Command, I wonder if this chapter will conclude with them arriving there, introducing yet another faction interested in Professor Bloom's world-changing research.


Even though this episode feels slightly by-the-numbers in terms of content, D'Israeli continues to deliver world-class artwork that just exudes atmosphere from every line. When this series concludes next week, it is going to leave a rather sizeable vacuum in the current line-up! I will miss looking at D'Israeli's stunning panels on a weekly basis, so I hope that Tharg gets him to work on the next book of Helium pretty sharp-ish. The one silver-lining in this cloud-filled story is that Ian Edginton's equally epic Brass Sun is scheduled to return soon with its fourth book, “Motorhead”, ensuring that despite Helium's absence, readers will have another imagination-fuelled world to delve into.



OUTLIER - DARK SYMMETRIES (Part 10)
Script - T.C. Eglington
Art - Karl Richardson
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

This concluding episode of Outlier deals with the threat of a brain-washed Carcer somewhat anti-climatically by having him dispatched within the first panel. However, considering the open-ended nature of the ending, I suspect that T.C Eglington has a more final confrontation between the two planned for the inevitable third chapter to the trilogy. This epilogue ending served mainly to set up the next series, establishing Caul and Carcer's new roles as the two men have effectively switched allegiances with Carcer now under the Hurde's command - with his skin peeling away to reveal what appears to be alien DNA.

In both this series and the previous story-arc, the Hurde have been presented as a distant threat to the human race, but it's heavily hinted that Caul's actions here will lead to a more formal confrontation between the two races, once again raising the stakes. I've really enjoyed the slow-burn approach to this series – while I wasn't overly enamoured with the initial run, which seemed to be superficial with its revenge-driven plot, this second series has fleshed out the Outlier universe and made me care about the characters of Caul and Carcer. I'm sure this series will read much better in a collected format, where Eglington's pacing and subtle foreshadowing can be appreciated more. I look forward to the series returning for a third (and final?) adventure!



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

With its epic battle sequences from Henry Flint, Judge Dredd was the clear choice for “Thrill of the Week” in this Prog. Elsewhere, both Outlier and Jaegir came to relatively low-key conclusions with two epilogues that served mainly to tease forthcoming story-arcs. They did their job, however, as I am keen to see both series return to 2000AD in the near future. Given the nature of Helium's current narrative, I'd imagine we're going to see a similar ending for that series next week.

Tharg's Letter's page announces that there's a new Low Life tale on its way next year, which implies that Dirty Frank will survive this current Judge Dredd storyline, although my money is still on Chief Judge Hershey biting the bullet before the story ends. Also mentioned is the return of Grey Area and a new Tharg's 3rillers – both of which begin next week and will presumably run until the next jumping-on point. I'm a big fan of Grey Area, and look forward to its return and I love the variety that comes from the Tharg's 3rillers format.


Thrill of the Week: Judge Dredd


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1944 will be available in stores on Wednesday 19th August - Digital copies of this Prog will be available on the same day through the standalone 2000AD app, which can be downloaded onto iOS and Android devices.

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

Friday, 14 August 2015

Review - Doctor Who: Human Resources (Part 2)


Doctor Who: Human Resources (Part 2)
The Eighth Doctor Adventures 1.8
Written by: Eddie Robson
Directed by: Nicholas Briggs
Performed by: Paul McGann & Sheridan Smith
Duration: 60 mins approx
ISBN: 978-1-84435-262-3
Chronology Placement: After the 1996 Doctor Who TV Movie and Human Resources (Part 1)

Business as usual? Not at Hulbert Logistics, where staff are facing a menace far worse than the prospect of the office Christmas party. Lucie’s made some new friends and the Doctor’s met some old enemies. But just who will become the Headhunter’s new apprentice? Welcome to the job interview from hell.

This concluding episode of “Human Resources” serves as a season finale for this first series of Eighth Doctor Adventures. Eddie Robson's script manages to deliver not just a satisfying conclusion to his Cybermen storyline, but also provides an engaging explanation behind Lucie Miller's “witness protection” in the TARDIS. Whereas the previous installment was largely set-up and intrigue, rich with an atmosphere that resembled Ricky Gervais' The Office, Robson focuses more on action and the threat of the Cybermen, who were revealed as the victims and not the masterminds of the Hulbert Logistics army.

Moreso than previous releases in this series, this adventure made use of the larger continuity of the Doctor Who universe, referencing both the Time Lords High Council and the Celestial Intelligence Agency. Not only is this a nice nod for long-term fans, but these organisations are introduced in a manner that makes them accessible to new listeners, familiar only with the “new Who” continuity. In fact, this whole run of stories has been a fantastic example of Big Finish's audio range and with the relatively blank slate of continuity with the Eighth Doctor – fans of the post-2005 series are able to enjoy these adventures without much knowledge of the classic series.

I really enjoyed the presence of the Cybermen in this installment, although their voices did take a bit of getting used to. As the current voice of the Cybermen (and Daleks) Nicholas Briggs provides a nice link between the old and new incarnations of Doctor Who, although these are Mondasian Cybermen and not the Cybus variants currently seen in the new series. Again, keen-eared fans will pick up references to previous Cybermen adventures such as, “The Tenth Planet” and “The Invasion”, adding a sense of history and nostalgia to proceedings.

While most of the drama was derived from the Cybermen and their retaliatory attack against Hulbert Logistics, Eddie Robson also provides a strong conclusion to the long-running mystery around Lucie Miller’s role as a companion forced upon the Doctor. I quite liked the misdirection around this particular plot point, with multiple revelations forming the bulk of the third act of this storyline. I was very impressed by how well it all tied together in a really satisfying manner, even resulting in two potential recurring enemies for our TARDIS team.

Once again, Paul McGann and Sheridan Smith were on fine form as the Doctor and Lucie, developing their relationship further and building a real sense of trust and camaraderie, which makes the listener accept the duo’s decision to continuing travelling together now that they are no longer bound to each other. As mentioned before, Nicholas Briggs plays the Cybermen to perfection, distinguishing them from the Daleks with a more calculated nature. I also enjoyed Katarina Olssen’s deliciously smarmy Headhunter, and look forward to seeing her return in future adventures – hopefully with more interaction with the Doctor next time!

Overall, “Human Resources” has been more than a worthy conclusion to this first season of Eighth Doctor Adventures. With a series structure clearly influenced by modern-day Doctor Who and relatively light continuity, this is a set of adventures that I would whole-heartedly recommend to any Doctor Who fan curious about previous incarnations after watching “The Day of the Doctor”. To me, this series is as essential as the television show itself and should be sitting pride of place next to every Doctor Who fan’s DVD box sets.


Doctor Who: Human Resources (Part 2) is available as a CD or Download from Big Finish, or available externally from Amazon.co.uk

Score - 9.8 out of 10


Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Review - Doctor Who: The Four Doctors # 1 (of 5)

Doctor Who: The Four Doctors # 1 (of 5)
"The Four Doctors" - Part 1 (of 5)
Written by: Paul Cornell
Art by: Neil Edwards
Colours by: Ivan Nunes

Ever since Titan Comics announced that it had the Doctor Who licence and would be releasing an ongoing comic series for the Tenth, Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors, part of me hoped that they would unite in a multi-Doctor cross-over across the three titles. With the limitless budget of the comic book page and no tricky cast negotiations to deal with, bringing together multiple Doctors in the comic book format seemed like a no-brainer, and it seems that someone in Titan Comics had the same idea. “The Four Doctors” is a five-issue mini-series event taking place throughout August and September that acts as a buffer between Year One and Year Two of the main ongoing Doctor Who titles. Rather than featuring just the Tenth, Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors, this series also teased the return of the War Doctor, thus presenting the storyline as a pseudo-sequel to the amazing 50th anniversary episode, “The Day of the Doctor”.

The series is written by Paul Cornell, who has written key episodes of the Doctor Who television show, “Father's Day”, “Human Nature” and “Family of Blood”. As one would expect, Cornell possesses an intimate knowledge of the series' continuity and makes references to both the classic and modern eras of Doctor Who. Long-term fans will recognises the planet Marinus and the Voord, seen here in the War Doctor's prologue, as elements from the fifth ever Doctor Who serial, “The Keys of Marinus”. Given the foreboding nature of this encounter with the Voord, I suspect they may end up being the main villains of the piece – another race damaged by the effects of the Time War.

Cornell also makes references to his own episodes, as the cliff-hanger to this issue revolves around one of the villains introduced in the episode, “Father's Day”. I was very pleasantly surprised to see the return of these forgotten enemies, especially since they've been underused in the TV show itself, and logically it makes total sense that they would reappear in a multi-Doctor storyline where paradoxes are rife. With two nostalgic call-backs to earlier episodes, Cornell's script is a delight for fans of both the classic and modern eras.


When watching these multi-Doctor episodes, it was struck me that a degree of mental choreography was needed by the writers to keep track of what part of each Doctor's timeline they have come from and what memories they should have. To simplify things for the continuity minded, it's best to remember that only the most recent incarnation will remember these events in full – every other incarnation will have fuzzy memories. This loop-hole explains why the Tenth Doctor doesn't remember the Eleventh when they next meet in “The Day of the Doctor”. Chronologically, the Tenth Doctor's adventures with Gabby take place after “The Next Doctor” and before “The End of Time”, whereas the Eleventh Doctor's adventures are after “The Big Bang” and before “The Impossible Astronaut” which explains why he doesn't recognise Clara Oswald, as they've yet to meet. Even after this adventure he won't recall her as the Twelfth Doctor is the most recent incarnation. Cornell's script displays a full understanding of the complex continuity around these characters and doesn't make any mistakes or errors.

While I was taken with Cornell's skilled scripting of this issue, I have to also single out Neil Edward's amazing artwork. The level of quality on display across these pages is absolutely staggering and certainly justifies this series as an “event”. It really helps channel the cinematic feel of this storyline, much in the same way “The Day of the Doctor” felt like an special event compared to ordinary episodes. There's a slick and stylish look to Edwards' artwork, no doubt enhanced by Ivan Nunes' brilliant colouring – there's no weak link in the chain of panels that make up this first issue. The tricky element of characters based on real actors and actresses is achieving that balance of getting the likeness right without losing the artist's own individuality in the process. Edwards achieves this with all of the televised characters, capturing the essence of the characters rather than doing portraits of the actors. This mini-series will be a true thing of beauty when collected together in a graphic novel format, if Edwards continues to produce all five issues.

Overall, this is a strong opening issue to what promises to be a fantastic multi-Doctor adventure. I have to admit that the sequence in the Parisian cafe does feel a bit busy and cluttered, but I think that's supposed to be the point, given that all three Doctors (and their companions) had converged at one location. Hopefully, future issues will give the characters a bit more space to breathe and interact with each other in smaller groups – it would be cool to see different companions paired up with different Doctors. Gabby and Alice took a bit of a backseat here, compared to Clara, so hopefully they are given a bit more time to shine in future installments. I think this series will definitely benefit from its weekly release schedule as I'm eager to see what will happen next, and I think I can just about manage to wait another seven days.


Score - 9.7 out of 10

Doctor Who: The Four Doctors # 1 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 mini-series when you pick up your copy!

2000AD Prog 1943

Prog 1943 Cover by Alex Ronald

Wow, this a lovely cover from Alex Ronald that accurately captures the “under siege” atmosphere to this week's penultimate episode of Jaegir. As far as I'm aware, this is the first time that someone other than series artist, Simon Coleby, has drawn Jaegir and I have to say that I'm really impressed with the results. Ronald's take on the Strigoi-infected soldier reminds me of the iconic Nemesis from the Resident Evil series – a comparison I hadn't made before – and his take on the beautiful, but facially scarred Atalia Jaegir is a wonderful interpretation of the character. While Coleby's artwork is a perfect fit for this bleak, future-war series, I would love to see Alex Ronald take another swing at a Jaegir cover in the future.


JUDGE DREDD - ENCELADUS: OLD LIFE (Part 4)
Script - Rob Williams
Art - Henry Flint
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

With Dirty Frank in tow, this episode of “Enceladus: Old Life” sought to emphasise the lengthy history behind the character of Aimee Nixon, with Dirty Frank almost eulogising the character through a nice flashback sequence using D'Israeli's artwork, which not only evoked memories of the Low Life series, which D'Israeli illustrated but could also be the artist's own “goodbye” to the character of Aimee Nixon, if this indeed turns out to be her swansong.


Rob Williams book-ends this exposition/flashback sequence with a nifty action sequence between Maitland and Nixon that gives the meek accounting Judge a chance to shine, and a final page cliff-hanger that raises the already high stakes up to impossible heights with the formation of an ice creature army made up from Titan's dead. Even in its slowest installment, Williams and Flint are still pushing the envelope of this story, continuing to create a thrilling conclusion to one of the longer-running plot threads in recent Judge Dredd history. 

This story exemplifies the strength of emotion and reader investment that a continuity-driven story, built up over many years, can have and this is something 2000AD does well again and again, thanks to the real-time ageing of its universes and continued desire to push stories forward rather than stick to a fixed status-quo.



JAEGIR - TARTARUS (Part 7)
Script - Gordon Rennie
Art - Simon Coleby
Colours - Len O' Grady
Letters - Ellie de Ville

This penultimate installment of Jaegir certainly ramps up the excitement as our heroine finds herself trapped in a shack with a group of weakling Souther POWs, as hordes of super-powered mutated monsters attempt to rip her to shreds. While she is ultimately saved by a bit of a deus-ex machina in the end, Gordon Rennie's bleak script manages to create a genuine sense of tension as Jaegir comes close to death. I also liked how her potential last moments were related to her disapproving father, showcasing how her dysfunctional childhood continues to dictate her thoughts and actions in adulthood.


Rennie's writing on this series has been simply magnificent, and this episode is no exception. I love the way he deftly weaves flashbacks and Jaegir's narration into the story to give a stronger sense of her character and motivations. It's an effective technique that helps the reader identify more closely with Atalia and her trauma-riddled past. When the series first started, I was a bit lukewarm on the character and desire to focus on a Rogue Trooper spin-off, but the way that Rennie has peeled back the layers of the character's past has been excellent and each successive storyline has improved upon the last.

Simon Coleby's artwork continues to effortlessly capture the horror of this future war, filling each panel with grim violence and grittiness. This isn't some glossy and glamourous science-fiction series, it feels like the equivalent of the trench warfare in the First World War. There are no winners or losers here – just constant death and destruction on both sides. Coleby's artwork comes into its own when he has to depict the grotesque Strigoi monsters, which have a lovely Frankenstein's Monster vibe about them. While I imagine the next episode will focus on wrapping up the loose ends, I look forward to seeing what Rennie and Coleby have in store for Atalia Jaegir in the future.



FUTURE SHOCKS - CLOUD NINE
Script - Sally Anne Hurst
Story / Art - John Higgins
Letters - Simon Bowland

This Future Shock from Sally Jane Hurst and John Higgins looks absolutely gorgeous, thanks to Higgins' amazing painted artwork. There's a real sense of nostalgia to this story that harkens back to 2000AD's early days – while its twist isn't the most revolutionary, Hurst and Higgins do manage to create a living, breathing universe for their short story to live within. Visually, the story reminds me of the film, Avatar, with Higgins' art bringing lush alien jungles to life. Following on from this and Higgins' previous Future Shock seen in this year's 2000AD Sci-Fi Special, I would love to see him paired with other writers in the future to create more one-off stories like this, imbued with that classic 2000AD pulp-sci fi atmosphere that his artwork naturally brings to the page.



HELIUM (Part 10)
Script - Ian Edginton
Art - D'Israeli
Letters - Ellie de Ville

This episode of Helium is largely exposition as Captain Torrin elaborates more on Foundling Hodge's parentage, explaining that her family were murdered by assassins working for the Quorum. While not overtly stated, it's insinuated that Hodge comes from some kind of royalty that ruled over the lower lands underneath the Poison Belt. Despite some of the clichéd elements of this secret origin, Ian Edginton manages to keep the story moving in exciting ways, with the Captain's shocking (and gruesome) suicide at the end of his confession. It certainly gave this installment a jolt of action, compared to if he'd agreed to escape with them.


Even though this episode was light on action, D'Israeli's dynamic artwork ensures that the reader is completely engaged with the page. I really enjoyed the claustrophobic feel that his narrow panels brought to the story, representing the confined nature of the cells and the submarine-esque innards of the airship. As we head towards what appears to be the end of Book One, it seems Ian Edginton has set up a dominant enemy in the form of the Quorum, who appear to be the ones responsible for Hodge's orphancy and the attempts on Professor Bloom's life. It has been great fun watching this series develop over the past ten weeks and as I've said before, this is shaping up to be a modern classic.



OUTLIER - DARK SYMMETRIES (Part 9)
Script - T.C. Eglington
Art - Karl Richardson
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Writer T.C. Eglington introduces a thrilling cliff-hanger for this penultimate episode of Outlier as Carcer is re-programmed by the Hurde to act as their muscle and detain Caul, Jess and his parents from escaping. This twist feels reminiscent of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines where Arnold Schwarzenegger's T-800 experiences a similar switch of alliances. I've really enjoyed the fluid morality of this second series, which has seen the previous series' protagonist and antagonist placed in opposite roles. It's been a bit of a slow-burner of a series, but I've become much more involved in the character's fates than I was at the end of the original run.

Karl Richardson delivers a lovely double-page spread of the Hurde war-zone that allows his imagination to run wild designing alien beasties to engage in fierce combat with the Hurde. It's a shame that this element of the story wasn't explored in more detail, as it would have been nice to see more glimpses at the war-mongering side of the Hurde. As I've said in previous reviews, I am very impressed with how T.C. Eglington has improved upon the original Outlier series, and judging from the direction he appears to be heading, a third chapter in the series might end up being a reversal of the original with Carcer in the role of the Hurde-controlled villain and Caul as the hero, reflecting the "Dark Symmetry" subtitle for this chapter. I really hope that I'm right and we see this series concluded as a trilogy, rather than wrapped up in next Prog's episode.



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

With its strong narrative and effectively bleak atmosphere, Jaegir is my choice for Thrill of the Week. The series has been strong throughout its current run, but overshadowed by the brilliance of Helium and Judge Dredd, however with both of this series focused on exposition this week, Jaegir has had the opportunity to shine.

Next Prog promises to deliver the final installments of Jaegir and Outlier as this current line-up of stories begins to head towards their conclusions. With the fantastic cliff-hanger of hordes of ice monsters about to storm the walls of Mega-City One, I am looking forward to reading the next episode of Judge Dredd as “Encaledus: Old Life” continues to deliver intense cinematic action, courtesy of the dream-team of Williams and Flint.


Thrill of the Week: Jaegir


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1943 will be available in stores on Wednesday 12th August - Digital copies of this Prog will be available on the same day through the standalone 2000AD app, which can be downloaded onto iOS and Android devices.

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

Review - Doctor Who: The 11th Doctor # 15

Doctor Who: The 11th Doctor # 15
"The Comfort of the Good" - Part 2 (of 2)
Written by: Al Ewing & Rob Williams
Art by: Simon Fraser
Colours by: Gary Caldwell

Here we are, at last, with the final issue of the Eleventh Doctor's “Year One” adventures, which sees the culmination of the epic Talent Scout / ServeYouInc storyline that has dominated the title over the past twelve months. There's a wonderful sense of symmetry and nostalgia about this issue as Rob Williams, Al Ewing and Simon Fraser evoke memories of their work on the first issue, with an opening sequence that shows the Doctor stuck in the same drab and colourless world that Alice found herself in following her mother's death. I really liked the parallels between the Doctor's sense of loss and grief and Alice's, and rather fittingly, it is Alice who brings him back into the world of colour with a similar jolt into reality.

I quite liked how the two writers downplayed the appearance of the Doctor's Mother at the end of the last issue. After the initial shock, it was obvious that it was everyone's favourite mummy-mimicker, the Talent Scout, so I'm glad Ewing and Williams didn't waste page space on building up suspense on this mystery. Even though this finale was predominately emotion-led, there were some nice action sequences, skillfully realised by Simon Fraser, that really helped the writing duo achieve that big-budget finale feel. The script definitely achieved that authentic Doctor Who season finale flavour, balancing huge action set-pieces against grin-inducing character moments. There were countless moments that rewarded long-time readers, such as the TARDIS' return to the Doctor, ARC and Jones' happiness at finding their own places in the universe and Alice watching her mother dance like a wild child. After following these characters for fifteen issues, it was really satisfying to see them get their happy endings, which proves the wisdom in making these Doctor Who comics following the same season format as the TV show.


With all of the nostalgia present in this issue, it was very fitting that the original creative team of Williams, Ewing and Fraser were all reunited for this final installment. Seeing Simon Fraser's amazing artwork again certainly helped the story resonate more with me – especially during those sequences that specifically evoked memories from the initial issue a year ago. I don't think some of those character moments would have worked, especially Alice seeing her mother as a young woman, if another artist had been involved. Fraser's art just elevated those sequences and imbued them with a strong emotional core that reminded me of his equally sterling work on the 2000AD mega-epic, Nikolai Dante. If you've not read that series, you should stop reading this review and go out and pick up a copy of the first book, “Too Cool to Kill” and thank me later.

While there were a few missteps in the middle of the run, overall this past year of Eleventh Doctor stories have been a true pleasure to read with Rob Williams and Al Ewing alternating and teaming up on story-arcs with a trio of excellent artists in Warren Pleece, Boo Cook and Simon Fraser. Compared to the other Doctor Who comic series released by Titan Comics, the Eleventh Doctor has felt meticulously planned out with each installment feeding into the central plot of ServeYouInc and the Talent Scout. I really enjoyed the non-linear approach to the story that both writers implemented with some very fun narrative tricks that made the most of the comics medium, such as the reverse issue and the four coloured narrative split. Never afraid to tell complicated and “timey-wimey” stories, Williams and Ewing have delighted us over the past fifteen issues and I'm glad to hear that Rob Williams will be returning with new co-writer, Si Spurrier, for the second year of Eleventh Doctor stories after “The Four Doctors” mini-series concludes.

For anyone late to the party, I wholeheartedly recommend you pick up all three of the Eleventh Doctor's “Year One” trade paperbacks, “After Life”, “Serve You” and “Conversion”, for some of the best non-televised Doctor Who stories out there!


Score - 10 out of 10

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

Review - Doctor Who: The 10th Doctor # 14

Doctor Who: The 10th Doctor # 14
"Spiral Staircase" - Part 2 (of 2)
Written by: Nick Abadzis
Art by: Rachael Stott & Leonardo Romero
Colours by: Hi-Fi

The mastermind behind the Black Pyramid and Dorothy Bell's transformation stands revealed in this penultimate issue of the Tenth Doctor comic series, as writer Nick Abadzis rummages through the Doctor Who toybox to dig out a classic villain from the Fourth Doctor's era. I have to say that despite the prominent Pyramid imagery and vague allusions to a familiar foe orchestrating events, I had no idea that the Osirans would be revealed to be the “big bads” of this story-arc. Abadzis references the alien's previous appearance in the series in the classic series adventure, “The Pyramids of Mars”, tying Sutekh's demise to the cult of the Black Pyramid and later on establishing a familial connection with current antagonist, Anubis. It's an excellent choice of Doctor Who monster to use as the mastermind – not only does it link to one of the more iconic adventures, but it also managed to slip underneath the radar, even though it seems painfully obvious in retrospect.

While Gabby takes a slight backseat in this episode, Abadzis focuses more on the Doctor / Cindy dynamic, which demonstrates how differently the Doctor treats those who he doesn't see as companion-material. Throughout the issue, he seems to belittle and dismiss Cindy, even though she appears to be fairly bright and inquisitive It reminds me of the way that the Doctor treated Mickey in those early appearances, before the two built up a sense of respect for each other. I wonder if Cindy's passion for helping her friend will redeem her somewhat in the Doctor's eyes – however, having read through “The Four Doctors” and seeing no Cindy, it seems that she won't join her friend in the TARDIS – at least, not before Year Two begins. I quite liked how Abadzis made use of the text-speak narration boxes to show Cindy's inner feelings as she observed the Doctor and the Cult of the Black Pyramid try to make sense of the Osiran ship. Much like Gabby's sketchbook in earlier issues, it was a fun narrative technique that instantly made the character more relatable and endearing.


This issue saw Elena Casagrande temporarily replaced, presumably in an effort to get the series finished before “The Four Doctors” mini-series ends. While having stand-in artists in the middle of a story-arc is never a good thing, Rachael Stott and Leonardo Romero managed to keep their styles as close to Casagrande's as possible, minimising any visual disruption and inconsistencies. I particularly liked the epic tone that the artists brought to the story with numerous cinematic 'wide-screen shots', such as the Black Pyramid looming over New York or the approach towards the Osirian Mothership. I really enjoyed this change of atmosphere, which helped me understand the decision to change the title for these remaining three episodes of the story-arc. Tonally, this feels like a completely different story to the more contemporary Earth-based antics of the initial two episodes revolving around the Osiran artifacts.

In conclusion, this was a great return to form after a slower-paced middle installment. With the reveal of the Osirans, Nick Abadzis has injected a massive jolt of excitement and nostalgia into his Year One finale. While the Eleventh Doctor's 'season finale' was more of an emotional affair, tying into the Doctor's relationship with the TARDIS, the Tenth Doctor's is more of a block-buster epic evoking memories of the Season Four finale, “Journey's End”, which also got a subtle reference in the script! I'm really looking forward to the concluding installment of this adventure and seeing what Abadzis and Casagrande have in store for Gabby and the Doctor in Year Two.


Score - 9.4 out of 10

Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor # 14 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!

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

2000AD Prog 1942

Prog 1942 Cover by Glenn Fabry & Ryan Brown

At first glance, I really enjoyed Glenn Fabry's take on the snow-covered Mega City One with the “Aimee Entity” placed front and centre of the piece as an horrific omnipotent presence across the city. While I understand the need to include Judge Dredd on the cover, and to proportion him in scale to the city, for some reason it makes him look like an action figure. Perhaps the image would have been stronger without his inclusion?

Once again, the tagline droid delivers a wonderful pun in the form of “Frost > Nixon”, referencing the infamous David Frost and Richard Nixon interviews and the 2008 film, Frost/Nixon. It's just absolutely perfect and feels like all the various stars have aligned to deliver that excellent pun. At some point, I should do a list of the 'Top Ten 2000AD Cover Puns' because there have been some beauts over the years!


JUDGE DREDD - ENCELADUS: OLD LIFE (Part 3)
Script - Rob Williams
Art - Henry Flint
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

There's a strong sense of doom and foreboding in this week's installment of Judge Dredd as Aimee Nixon's frozen grip on Mega-City One continues, leaving the Judges predicting the city's total extinction in a number of days. As such, Rob Williams, writes an excellent scene for Chief Judge Hershey as she declines the safety and protection of a bunker in favour of spending her potential last few days as a street Judge, searching for answers. Given Nixon's fixation on the Chief Judge in prior episodes, I have a feeling that this could be the end for the character. It would certainly be a shocking end to the storyline if Nixon succeeds and kills off one of the most popular supporting characters in the Judge Dredd universe. Besides, the Chief Judge position has a certain cursed quality to it, which Hershey has escaped up until now.


In what seems to be a running joke, even acknowledged by the medical staff, SJS Judge Gerhart survives his brutal attack at the hands of “alien Aimee” and looks set to become even more cybernetic than his current “60% robot” status. I'm quite enjoying the character of Gerhart, so I'm glad he survives yet again and is undergoing even more drastic life-saving surgery to become less human. Fans of Williams' series, Low Life, will be glad to see the return of Dirty Frank to the pages of Judge Dredd as it looks likely that Dredd will attempt to appeal to Nixon's emotional side in a way to defeat her. Personally, I'm more interested in what the Titan clean-up team will find in the remains of Enceladus – possibly some kind of brain or Aimee's human body? With so many intense plot-threads being weaved together, this is shaping up to be the best Judge Dredd story of the year, which in a year that brought us the excellent “Dark Justice” and “Blood of the Emeralds”, is quite an accomplishment.



JAEGIR - TARTARUS (Part 6)
Script - Gordon Rennie
Art - Simon Coleby
Colours - Len O' Grady
Letters - Ellie de Ville

Atalia Jaegir finds herself caught up in the Tartarus equivalent of The Hunger Games, as her and a selection of Souther POWs are hunted by Strigoi-infected soldiers as a testing ground for the Kashan's latest genetic experiments designed to rival the Souther's own Genetic Infantrymen. Once again, Gordon Rennie deftly blends flashbacks into his fast-paced narrative, whilst Simon Coleby's gritty artwork aids the writer in achieving a truly cinematic tone to the story. I'm really enjoying this extended length adventure after a number of shorter stories, and the series seems to be really developing its own identity separate from the Rogue Trooper continuity, but yet still related.

However, there were a few moments where the artwork led to some confusion in following the story – for instance, the initial panel of this chapter seems to depict Atalia with red hair which had me thinking that Reesa was a part of her ragtag group of survivors, but it looks likely that was a colouring mistake and her colleagues are elsewhere. Another issue I had was in distinguishing between some of the characters – while there are similar attributes visible across Coleby's characters (facial scarring, short blonde hair) – this episode it seemed to be harder to identify some of the characters, especially Jaegir's “saviour” and past love interest, Iskar Kansezy. Overall, though, this was another strong installment for the series and I look forward to seeing how this all resolves itself in the upcoming weeks.



ABSALOM - UNDER A FALSE FLAG (Part 9)
Script - Gordon Rennie
Art - Tiernen Trevallion
Letters - Simon Bowland

This concluding episode of Absalom acts more like an epilogue to the current storyline with Harry discussing the new status-quo of his team with the doomed Reverend Grimalkin. Gordon Rennie manages to tie up the loose ends, whilst setting up future adventures for Harry Absalom and his team of investigators. While this has been a relatively self-contained storyline, Rennie has dropped hints of a larger conflict and this epilogue certainly suggests that Harry is ready to take on the satanic forces running Britain as he builds up his 'troops'.

Once again, Tiernen Trevallion pops in a little in-joke into his panels with what looks like a pair of Jesus-branded underpants in the Reverend's suitcase. His artwork throughout this series has been fantastic, capturing the gritty underbelly of this corrupt London yet adding a wry sense of humour about his panels with plenty of little jokes and references. As someone unfamiliar with the series, this storyline has worked a treat in getting me excited for the series' future – hopefully it returns soon with a meatier, more mythology-focused adventure for Absalom and his new team.



HELIUM (Part 9)
Script - Ian Edginton
Art - D'Israeli
Letters - Ellie de Ville

There's a subtle Star Wars vibe to this week's episode of Helium as Foundling Hodge's aircraft is captured by the mammoth-sized airship arising from beneath the poison belt. It is somewhat reminiscent of the sequence where the Millennium Falcon is captured by the Death Star's tractor beam. Ian Edginton continues to develop a multi-faceted world where it's hard to work out which faction to side with, as each civilisation has their own legitimate reason to be happy/angry over Professor Bloom's research. It's so refreshing to have a story filled with complex motivations and political machinations, rather than a straight-forward "good vs. evil" conflict.


Edginton throws in a nice curve-ball surrounding Fledging Hodge's origins – suggesting that she is a lost heir to the throne. This adds an interesting wrinkle to the story, tearing Hodge's loyalties between both the highlanders and her natural home below the gas clouds. As I've said before, this series has an enchanting fairy-tale atmosphere and adding “lost princesses” into the mix certainly accentuates that mood. D'Israeli's artwork remains as gorgeous as ever and I absolutely love the way he introduces such a stunning change to the colour palette, rich with purples and pinks, as the Ballerophon dips beneath the poison gas belt and into the lands underneath. This strip is the perfect “gateway drug” into 2000AD's rich library of fantasy worlds, and I urge all fans of science-fiction to read this tale!



OUTLIER - DARK SYMMETRIES (Part 8)
Script - T.C. Eglington
Art - Karl Richardson
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

After weeks of set-up, we finally get to see Caul and Carcer's prison break plan in action as Carcer makes his way to the Hurde archive to free the human bodies of Caul, Jess and his parents. This does make for a somewhat awkward family reunion as he chats to his un-aged mother and father as they stand there nude. If he survives this, Carcer might need some counselling to get over his paternal hang-ups! T.C Eglington and Karl Richardson manage to create a really exciting chapter, cashing in on the suspense and tension built up over the preceding episodes.


However, there was a missed opportunity for dramatic tension during the sequence when Caul is aiming the gun at Carcer, presumably to make the reader think that he has betrayed him. It doesn't quite flow so well as the very next panel shows Caul releasing his parents – perhaps a few more panels showcasing Carcer's surprise or an “over the page” reveal would have increased the suspense over that moment. One of the things I've enjoyed about this second series of Outlier is how fluid the storyline feels compared to the initial series – in eight episodes we've gone from an Aliens-esque exploration of an abandoned Hurde ship into a big-budget Prison Break storyline. This is shaped up to be an excellent series, and I hope there is a planned third chapter to form a trilogy.



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

Another week, another excellent Prog – although the line-up is set to see change as Absalom comes to an end. As we head towards a jumping-on point, I suspect we're going to get a few Future Shocks until the remaining stories come to a close. I'm really enjoying the current line-up and I think the addition of some short one-off stories will elevate things, providing some always welcome fresh blood.

Tharg's Nerve Centre teases another series in the works – this time for the excellent medieval fantasy romp, The Order from Kek-W and John Burns, who look set to reunite for another adventure. Given the seemingly finite ending to the previous story, I look forward to seeing how Kek-W continues the story. Judging from the teaser panel in the Nerve Centre, this sequel looks to be equally as gruesome as the original.


Thrill of the Week: Helium


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1942 will be available in stores on Wednesday 5th August - Digital copies of this Prog will be available on the same day through the standalone 2000AD app, which can be downloaded onto iOS and Android devices.

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