Saturday, 31 October 2015

Review - Agents of SHIELD: 3x05 - "4,722 Hours"

Agents of SHIELD
Episode 3x05 - "4,722 Hours"

Synopsis

Traumatised by her stay on an alien world, Simmons finally opens up to Fitz about how she managed to survive the six months until her rescue…

Review

In a departure for the series, even resulting in an alternative title card, this episode of Agents of SHIELD consisted of an extended flashback that explained what happened to Simmons during her six months on the alien world. Effectively a two-hander between Simmons and new character, Will, this slow-paced narrative felt reminiscent of “The Other 48 Days” in LOST’s second season, which portrayed the events from the first season from the perspective of the tail-section survivors. Aside from a post-credits scene set in the present day, the whole episode was an uninterrupted flashback charting the 4,722 hours that Simmons spent on the alien planet – with a time counter on the bottom of the screen to demonstrate the passage of time.

Little is revealed about the actual planet, although there appears to be some shadowy figure that preys upon the hapless survivors who stumble into the planet’s “no fly zone”. Existing survivor, Will, also makes claims that the planet is sentient and causes changes in its terrain (sandstorms, widening chasms) to prevent people from leaving. This makes me wonder if this planet might be the MCU version of Ego, the Living Planet – a sentient planet (with a face!) that exists in the cosmic realms of the Marvel Universe. It would be very unlikely, but also very cool if the show’s writers attempted to bring that character into the show. I’m glad that the show’s writers left room for mystery, and given Simmons decision to return back to the planet to rescue Will, I expect we will find out a lot more about the planet and its inhabitants in the near future.


Given the similarities in plot and tone, it is quite serendipitous that “4,722 Hours” came out following the release of Ridley Scott’s The Martian. Despite its TV show budget, “4,722 Hours” feels delightfully cinematic, thanks in part to the blue tint that transforms the Californian desert environment into an otherworldly locale. With a full episode dedicated to Simmons’ ordeal, the writers are able to take their time and show some of the more mundane aspects, such as her initial struggles to come to terms with the situation or her encounters with the tentacle creature in the lake. It also allows us to see the relationship developing between her and Will, as she forgets about poor Fitz and moves onto a new love, disappointing countless FitzSimmons shippers!

One of the most fun things about Joss Whedon’s television shows, such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, is those episodes where it bucked the usual format to create unique episodes such as “Hush” or “Once More with Feeling”. This episode felt like the Agents of SHIELD equivalent and the show’s first foray outside of its traditional boundaries, stepping out of the confines of its superheroes and spy genre to develop a more hard sci-fi tone. I’m glad that the series is moving towards the more cosmic area of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, picking up the baton first laid down by Guardians of the Galaxy. The only problem is that it does make the more earth-centric storylines such as, Daisy’s Secret Warriors and Ward’s rebuilding of Hydra, appear rather bland in comparison. Hopefully the show will find a way to ties this divergent plot threads together before the end of the Season, much in the same way that it managed to blend the Hydra and Inhuman elements from Season Two.


Score - 9.5 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • The date of Will's NASA mission (2001) and method of travel (Monolith) are subtle nods to 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Mysteries
  • How did NASA know there was an inhospitable planet on the other side of the Monolith portal?
  • What is the name of the planet? Is it really sentient?
  • What is the mysterious "it" creature?

Next Episode - "Among Us Hide..."
The stakes get higher as May and Hunter pursue Ward and Hydra; Coulson thinks the ATCU could be keeping a big secret.

Friday, 30 October 2015

Review - Supergirl: 1x01 - "Pilot"

Supergirl
Episode 1x01 - "Pilot"

Synopsis

After twelve years of keeping her super powers a secret on Earth, Superman’s cousin Kara Zor-El, decides to finally embrace her superhuman abilities and become the heroine she was always destined to be - Supergirl. However, she soon discovers that is the not the only one in her family hiding secrets…

Review

DC Comics has had a history of putting characters from the Superman franchise into television shows – most recently to great success with Smallville, which chronicled the Man of Steel’s early days before he embraced the role of Superman. Looking back to the 90’s, and I’m sure no-one could forget Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, which focused on the “will they, won’t they” relationship between Dean Cain’s Clark Kent and Terri Hatcher’s Lois Lane. Going even further back into the past, there’s even George Reeves’ take on the character from 1952’s The Adventures of Superman. So when Supergirl was announced, it was no real surprise that DC Comics wanted to return to that well – especially in light of the success of Arrow and The Flash. The only problem I had was whether Supergirl was a strong enough character to stand out from her cousin’s shadow…

Whereas Smallville spent ten Seasons keeping Tom Welling’s Clark Kent out of the spandex and the skies, CBS’ Supergirl wastes no time in dwelling on a “coming of age” origin story and quickly throws the viewer into a world where Superman has existed for twelve years and pushes its female protagonist into her super-powered destiny. In some ways the disorientation from the opening fifteen minutes allows the viewers to feel in a similar boat to the teenage Kara – thrust into a living, breathing world without much chance to fully grasp the history. Unfortunately, the script-writers don’t really allow the characters time to develop – instead, they are pre-occupied with quickly setting up the status-quo to make viewers come back for a second viewing. As such, some of the secret identity reveals come too thick and fast – at the end of this one episode – Supergirl has revealed her true identity to two of her love interests, discovered her sister is a spy, discovered her mother was a Kryptonian Judge and the viewer finds out that the big villainess of the piece is Supergirl’s biological aunt. It feels a little bit desperate and the script-writers attempting to appease fans with fast pay-offs.


Avoiding issues with the episode’s pacing and ill-judged plot decisions, Melissa Benoist does well with the dual role of Kara Danvers and Supergirl – balancing her geeky civilian identity with the confidence that comes from her superheroic one. I also liked how the series took the classic “working at a newspaper” cliché and added a The Devil Wears Prada twist to it with Calista Flockhart playing the bitchy Cat Grant – almost like an evil twin of Ally McBeal. It’s these scenes and the cutesy love-interest moments where Supergirl speaks to its female demographic the most – and as a male, it feels slightly forced and inorganic at times. Okay, I’m not the target audience for this series, but I wonder whether female comic geeks were impressed with those moments. I guess Smallville and Lois & Clark had those same relationship angst scenes too, so it isn't too unusual for Supergirl to do the same. However, series’ like Buffy the Vampire Slayer show that you can create strong female-centric genre TV shows without alienating a male fan-base.

Despite my criticism of key elements of this pilot episode, the series does show promise. For one, I really like the design of the Supergirl costume - it’s simple, iconic and looks great on-screen. Secondly, the special effects were really impressive for a television budget, particularly the sequence where Kara launches into action to save her sister from an impending plane crash. Sure, it’s not big-screen quality and I’m expecting a lot more from Superman v Batman: Dawn of Justice – but it impressed me. Returning back to my original fears about the series and whether the shadow of Superman would overwhelm future episodes – I have to say that this pilot episode didn't resolve those fears with its frequent references to “him”. The decision to avoid casting an actor in the part suggests that the character will continue to be an off-screen presence, so hopefully script-writers will avoid focusing too much on the adventures happening over in Metropolis, otherwise fans will be wishing that there was a Superman TV show, and not a Supergirl one.


Score - 7.9 out of 10

Next Episode - "Stronger Together"
Kara must put doubts aside as she tries to apprehend an escapee from the Kryptonian prison; Cat pressures James for an interview with Supergirl.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

2000AD Prog 1954

Prog 1954 Cover by INJ Culbard

This fabulous cover by Brass Sun artist INJ Culbard gives a glimpse at the bloody carnage that awaits readers inside. Rather than using the iron walls of the facilities interior, Culbard provides the image with a star-covered backdrop, emphasising the cosmic nature of the story and really allowing the central image of a blood-covered Arthur to stand out as he strides towards the reader. It's an effective piece, channelling the character's ruthlessness and presenting him as an unstoppable force of nature. It certainly made me want to skip ahead to Brass Sun to read this week's installment, which is the sign of a great cover!


JUDGE DREDD - SERIAL SERIAL (Part 5)
Script - John Wagner
Art - Colin MacNeil
Colours - Chris Blythe
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Seemingly out of nowhere, we get the final episode of “Serial Serial” which quickly wraps up the case of the Serial Serial killer and allows John Wagner to throw another spanner in the works with PJ Maybe seemingly getting arrested and facing execution. After the relatively low-key execution of Orlok the Assassin back in Prog 1337, I wasn't sure whether Wagner was ready to eliminate another of Dredd's long-term enemies “by the book” and without much fanfare, so I was actually on the edge of my seat turning every page until the reveal that this was another red herring. Ultimately I'm glad that PJ Maybe escaped both Judge Death and Dredd to return to plague Mega-City One another day, but given the increased frequency of his appearances recently, I do wonder whether his endgame is on the horizon.


This has been a really engaging storyline, right up until the end. Judging from his recent stories, “Mega City Confidential” and “Block Judge”, it seems that Wagner's storytelling style has been more focused on the procedural and day-to-day aspects of Dredd's world rather than the big mega-epics of the past. I'm quite enjoying this style of storyline and Wagner's confident mastery of the character and his world makes these detective stories all the more intriguing and fun to read. Add to that the beautiful artwork of Colin MacNeil and you have another instant classic. MacNeil's artwork, much like Carlos Ezquerra's, is indelibly linked to Judge Dredd and while he is more commonly attached to Total War stories (like the one currently running in the Judge Dredd Megazine), he is also a master at capturing that noir-ish elements of Mega City One. Just seeing Wagner and MacNeil's names on the credits box guarantees the reader an absolute treat of a Judge Dredd storyline!



DEFOE - THE LONDON HANGED (Part 5)
Script - Pat Mills
Art - Leigh Gallagher
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Pat Mills and Leigh Gallagher continue to serve up some deliciously ghoulish goings-on in this episode of Defoe, which moves the focus away from the titular character and onto his former allies – the Brethren. Compared to previous series, this is a slower-paced excursion into the world of the 17th Century Undead, with Mills relying more on the class divide of the era to draw parallels to that of contemporary London. Leigh Gallagher's artwork remains a defining element of this series, accurately capturing the spirit of Mills' alternate London, with a splash of gore when needed. Hopefully with the Brethren headed into battle, we will see some more action scenes and perhaps this will force Defoe into taking a stand against his former allies.



BRASS SUN - MOTORHEAD (Part 5)
Script - Ian Edginton
Art - INJ Culbard
Letters - Ellie de Ville

Having already established the robotic Arthur as a unstoppable killing machine in the previous book, “Floating Worlds”, Ian Edginton makes full use of that characterisation to instil fear into both his protagonists and the reader. It reminds me of the scene from the original Terminator where Arnold Schwarzenegger's T-800 calmly walks through a fully-staffed police station, fixated on reaching Sarah Connor and effortlessly eliminating anyone foolish enough to get in his way. Our heroes are completely outclassed, as are the various soldiers to the Cog religious sect. It's absolutely fantastic story-telling by Edginton here, really raising the stakes and tension to an unbearable level. Once again, this demonstrates a cinematic tone to this adventure and I love the high drama that the script manages to conjure up in a scant amount of pages.


Ian Edginton's amazing script is only one half of the equation here, and it's INJ Culbard's truly fantastic artwork that completes the Brass Sun experience. Culbard's panel work remains impeccable, creating genuine unease as Wren and Septimus navigate the empty corridors to find escape. I also love the design of Arthur, whose emotionless golden features have an Ancient Greek feel to them, despite the Arthurian roots of his name – he looks like a villain from a Ray Harryhausen movie. This is shaping up to be the most action-packed chapter of the Brass Sun saga yet, and moreso than the previous ones I am finding myself unable to wait the obligatory seven days to read the next installment. Edginton and Culbard are absolute masters of storytelling, crafting what is fast becoming one of 2000AD's greatest fantasy epics ever. If you're enjoying this fourth series, you owe it to yourself to pick up the hardcover collection, collecting the first three chapters in one beautiful book.



BAD COMPANY - FIRST CASUALTIES (Part 5)
Script - Peter Milligan
Art - Rufus Dayglo & Jim McCarthy
Letters - Simon Bowland

This latest episode of Bad Company hints at a dark secret in the early days of the 19th Division, buried underneath years of medication. Given the half-remembered details revealed here, I suspect that the team were involved in an attack against an enemy that wasn't Krool – possibly a group of innocents. It would certainly explain the meaning behind the storyline's title “First Casualties” - aside from the reference to the Ancient Greek quote, “In War, truth is the first casualty.” I quite like the idea of a terrible secret at the heart of the Bad Company's formation and it's interesting to see the team in their early days, before their chronological first appearance in 2000AD.

Rufus Dayglo and Jim McCarthy continue to honour the late Brett Ewins with some simply sensational artwork here. It's certainly a worthy tribute to the man, capturing the mannerisms of his art style with ease. It's such a distinctive look that it demonstrates the duo's skill at accurately recapturing the same line-work and frenzied approach. I'm absolutely loving the crazy character designs, particularly Kano who looks fantastic as this mish-mash of pieces, barely held together by stitches and make-shift fastenings. This isn't a team at the height of their powers, and Peter Milligan's script continues to emphasise this point – this isn't a last hurrah, but more a confused blunder through a world that moved on without them. I'm really enjoying this storyline and the huge amounts of unspoken pathos behind each panel.



SINISTER DEXTER - THE TAKING OF THE MICHAEL (Part 4)
Script - Dan Abnett
Art - Patrick Goddard
Colours - Eva de la Cruz
Letters - Ellie de Ville

As Sinister and Dexter come ever closer to their target, Dan Abnett uses this episode to focus on Holy Moses Tannenbaum before the hit occurs, allowing new readers to see the villainous mob-boss in action. There's a strong “Kingpin” vibe from Abnett's Tannenbaum, both in looks and behaviour and it's fun to see an out-and-out villain in contrast to the moral greys that the series' titular anti-heroes occupy. There's no redeeming Holy Moses – he is a selfish, power-hungry mob-boss who teeters on the two-dimensional with his stereotypical dispatching of his underlings. I love the fact that this is all coming to a close with Sinister and Dexter sneaking upon the yacht, in quite an inspired move. I really hope that we are getting an actual conclusion with this storyline though, and we don't have a last-minute escape from Holy Moses to prolong the plot-line further.


Patrick Goddard's artwork is excellent and ably assisted by Eva de la Cruz's colours, which accentuate the mood of the locale. I really enjoyed the scene where Ted Behr meets his end, with the perspective used in Goddard's panels serving to convey a genuine sense of movement in the action. I've enjoyed the way that Goddard has effortlessly imbued the action scenes of this story-arc with cinematic choreography and I look forward to seeing how he brings the bloodbath aboard the yacht to life. While this series has suffered from pacing in the past, Dan Abnett is at the top of his game with this seemingly final story-arc, especially with the dual narrative of the past and present competing for page space. While it may be more contemporary and “light-weight” than other 2000AD series', there's no denying that Sinister Dexter is a helluva lot of fun!



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

There were two clear candidates for this week's “Thrill of the Week” with a twist-laden climax to the ongoing Judge Dredd storyline, “Serial Serial” and the intense adventure of Wren and Septimus in Brass Sun. Ultimately only one can win the coveted position and this Prog it was the superb storytelling of Ian Edginton and INJ Culbard which won. I'm eagerly awaiting the next Prog to see how our heroes will get out of this situation, as well as learning more about the unstoppable metal man who has pursued them across space.

Elsewhere, Sinister Dexter continues to build up the anticipation towards its own conclusion with the gun-sharks about to embark on a deadly collision with Moses Tannenbaum. Bad Company and Defoe are still weaving their various plot-threads together, courting readers with a mixture of nostalgia and political satire. With “Serial Serial” at an end, I'm curious to see what Judge Dredd storyline will replace it – will it be another multi-part episode, or perhaps it'll be a selection of single “done in one” adventures until the Christmas Prog? Either way, I look forward to some fresh content into next Prog's line-up.


Thrill of the Week: Brass Sun


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1954 will be available in stores on Wednesday 28th October - 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!

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Review - Gotham: 2x06 - "By Fire"


Gotham
Episode 2x06 - "By Fire"

Synopsis

Freed from her brother's influence, Bridgit Pike attempts to escape Gotham but the young “Firefly” finds herself caught in the GCPD's cross-hairs following the death of one of their own. Meanwhile, Edward Nygma and Kristine Kringle's relationship takes a dramatic turn for the worse!

Review

Wow, this was a great episode. Not only did the show-writers introduce and develop a established DC Comics villain in the form of their female “Firefly”, but the slow-burning plot-line of Edward Nygma's descent into his Riddler persona took another leap forward with the death of Kristine Kringle. While it was inevitable that the Nygma and Kringle love-story would end up in tragedy, I didn't expect it to happen so suddenly in this episode and it really felt Shakespearean in nature, thanks in part to Cory Michael Smith's superb portrayal of the character and his genuine regret at accidentally killing the girl he loved. Given Leslie Thompkins and Kristine's recent friendship in this episode and the last, I suspect that she may turn detective and possibly uncover the inconsistencies in Nygma's lies. Hopefully, the series will continue to adopt a slow-burn technique with this story-arc and have Nygma evade capture for some time, possibly making use of his riddles.

This episode's central plot-line, revolving around the female Firefly character, not only introduced another recognisable villain to Gotham's roster, but it also allowed Selina Kyle to return to prominence with some actual purpose. Despite her sudden turn to the dark side following her involvement in Reggie's death last season, this episode demonstrated that Selina still cares about her friends - when she's not getting slapped about by aggressive butlers, that is. Although, given the results of Bridgit's stand-off against the GCPD, it seems like she may revert back to her villainous stance. I quite liked Bridgit's turn from wall-flower into fire-fly, won over by the power that her flame-thrower provided. I loved the design of her suit, which certainly evoked elements of the comic version of her character! Interestingly, rather than killing her off, the character's demise was a gateway to another dramatic advance in the series' mythology with the reveal that Indian Hill, a subsidiary of Wayne Enterprises, is responsible for creating biological weapons – adding more potential for “super-powered” threats later in the season. Given the scientific setting, I wonder if we'll see Hugo Strange and Victor Fries introduced in this facility?


The rivalry between the Penguin and the Galavan's continued to manifest in this episode, with Theo Galavan proving to be a worthy adversary for the crafty “King of Gotham”. Interestingly, it appears that Butch has had his mind-control reversed (or at the very least, re-programmed to serve the Galavans) – given his love for Fish and hatred for Penguin, it'll be very fun to see him confront his “master” without anything stopping him. Moreso than Maroni and Falcone, Galavan seems to make an interesting rival for Robin Lord Taylor's Penguin, and I look forward to the two continuing to butt heads throughout the remainder of the Season. I'm guessing that Galavan will maintain his illusion as a legitimate businessman, edging closer to Bruce Wayne in an attempt to settle his blood feud. It's great to see Galavan at the centre of multiple storylines, spreading out like a web and influencing the various sub-plots of our characters.

By Fire” had all the hallmarks of a superior Gotham episode, in that it actually moved the various sub-plots forward and had nods to existing characters from the Batman universe for continuity fans. With a more relaxed and organic approach to pacing its stories across multiple episodes, Gotham is definitely hitting its stride – even in the wake of its “proto-Joker”. While episodes of Season One tended to focus on either the GCPD or the Waynes, this Season seems to be adopting a more balanced approach to the storytelling, bringing Bruce and Alfred deeper into the heart of the show's mythology and giving them renewed purpose beyond their crusade to clean up Wayne Enterprises. As with the best episodes of Season One, it feels like the writers are writing themselves into a corner, particularly with the Riddler and Penguin storylines and I am excited to see how the characters can continue to operate, despite the increasing odds against them. I thoroughly recommend that any lapsed fans catch up with the end of Season One and get hooked on Season Two for the “rise of the villains”.


Score - 9.6 out of 10

Next Episode - "Mommy's Little Monster"
Butch leads Penguin and his men to the warehouse where Gertrude is being held, as Penguin plots his revenge on Galavan for kidnapping his mother. Meanwhile, Nygma deals with the aftermath of a deadly accident.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Review - Agents of SHIELD: 3x04 - "Devils You Know"

Agents of SHIELD
Episode 3x04 - "Devils You Know"

Synopsis

As Coulson and his team continue to investigate the murder of Inhumans at the hands of the mysterious monster known as Lash, Agents May and Hunter get ever closer to getting Ward in their cross-hairs.

Review

Proving the fluid nature of Agent of SHIELD's storylines, this episode moved the series further away from its espionage roots and into the police procedural drama genre with its investigation into an Inhuman serial killer. With the same third-season confidence as its earlier episodes, the main plot of this episode turned the focus back onto Coulson's Secret Warriors as Daisy attempted to uncover the truth behind the dread-locked Inhuman killer, Lash. Once again, the team butted heads with the ATCU, although Coulson himself seemed keen to co-operate rather than repeating the mistakes of the past.

One of the biggest reveals of the episode was the fact that the monstrous Lash has the ability to shape-shift into a more discreet human form – creating a further layer to the mystery as Coulson's team attempts to discover the creature's true identity. Narratively, it only makes sense if it is someone we know, so for me the main suspect would have to be either be the gruff, monosyllabic Banks or Rosalind Price herself. Given Agents of SHIELD's tendency to surprise, I wouldn't be shocked if they did a gender switcharoo and have the hulking male Lash to be the middle-aged “dragon lady” Rosalind Price.


While the murder investigation was far more thrilling than the hunt for Lincoln Campbell last episode, the biggest highlight for me in this episode was how quickly Hunter and May came up against Ward. Completely subverting expectations, the script-writers had Hunter squaring off against the wannabe Hydra leader – almost decimating his organisation and wounding him. Of course, it appears that May's ex-husband may have paid the price for Hunter's recklessness, causing further friction between the two and complicating this tale for revenge. While I am glad Ward lived to fight another day, there were some moments during that tense exchange where I thought it might be all over for him. This, along with Simmons' rescue in “Purpose in the Machine”, are moments that had me on the edge of my seat, proving how far this show has come from its first uneven season.

This episode was certainly a great return to form for the show after last episode's minor misstep, with the season's central Inhuman plot-line finally gaining some momentum against the secondary story-arcs of Ward's Hydra empire and Simmons' outer space adventures. With the post-credits stinger promising answers to Simmons' time on the alien planet, it seems that the story is moving back to that particular plot thread, but I also look forward to seeing how Hunter's reckless decision impacts May. After two seasons watching Coulson's team develop and evolve into different roles, it is very rewarding to see these characters continue to grow. I'm particularly invested in the Ward storyline, naturally gravitating to this plot-line as it pits members of the core cast against each other, presumably in a battle to the death. However, the mysterious aspect of the Season's other main storylines certainly appeals and I'm excited to see how they all develop going forward.


Score - 9.5 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • Lash is an Inhuman super-villain from the Marvel Comics Universe, borne out of the mass-release of Terrigen Mist at the end of the "Infinity" storyline. In the comics, he undertakes a role of Judge, Jury and Executioner to determine whether new Inhumans deserve their powers. (First app: Inhuman # 1)

Mysteries
  • What is Lash's human identity?
  • Is Doctor Garner really dead?
  • What happened to Simmons on the alien planet, and why does she want to return?

Next Episode - "4,722 Hours"
After her dramatic rescue from another planet, Simmons is still reeling from her ordeal and reveals how she had to fight for her life in a harsh new world.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

2000AD Prog 1953

Prog 1953 Cover by Ryan Brown

This Prog features another great Judge Dredd cover from digital illustrator, Ryan Brown, who manages to bring Dredd's Lawmaster to life here, mirroring the same attention to detail seen in the 3A Toy's Lawmaster figure advertised in the Nerve Centre. While I understand the inclusion of the suspect thumbnails in the background was to tie this cover closer to the contents of this Prog's Judge Dredd episode, it does feel like it clutters the image and perhaps a standard cityscape would have benefitted the piece more.


JUDGE DREDD - SERIAL SERIAL (Part 4)
Script - John Wagner
Art - Colin MacNeil
Colours - Chris Blythe
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

John Wagner and Colin MacNeil continue to weave an absolutely compelling murder mystery for the Judge Dredd universe with another installment that focuses on the procedural elements of the storyline, but manages to enthrall the reader throughout. It's truly fascinating to watch Dredd (on the advice of PJ Maybe) pore over the clues and set a trap for the serial serial killer. It felt quite reminiscent of the David Fincher classic, Se7en, at times – substituting the seven deadly sins for a preoccupation with the number eight. Much like how cinephiles point out that The Dark Knight works brilliantly as a cop movie if you remove all of the superhero elements - this storyline feels like a Judge Dredd story that isn't a Judge Dredd story. The setting of Mega City One and the future is relatively inconsequential to this tale – it's about detective work pure and simple and that's what makes this such an accessible and enjoyable tale.


I absolutely adore Colin MacNeil's artwork here, and readers of the Judge Dredd Megazine can get a double-dose of film noir goodness from his current tale with John Wagner that reunites the two creators with Total War – the terrorist organisation from “America”. Despite the down-to-earth procedural tone to this storyline, I do wonder whether we will see some dramatic conclusions to the PJ Maybe / Dredd rivalry. Initially, I theorised that Maybe might have died in “Dark Justice” and the letters seen here might be the serial serial killer teasing Dredd, but given the level of detail provided in the letter, I'm guessing it is the real PJ Maybe. Even though the character has been a prominent presence throughout this story, we've yet to see him in the present-day, which further fuels my theory that he might be hiding in plain sight as Dredd's companion, Judge Corrigan. He does seem rather complimentary of Maybe's deductive skills – much to Dredd's chagrin. Regardless of whether Wagner has a twist up his sleeve or not, this is another fantastic example of Judge Dredd at its best – oozing atmosphere from every panel and every speech bubble.



DEFOE - THE LONDON HANGED (Part 4)
Script - Pat Mills
Art - Leigh Gallagher
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

As an interlude to the action, this episode of Defoe consists mainly of an interesting conversation between Defoe and Damned Jones that adds an interesting wrinkle into proceedings by placing Defoe's adopted son, Sean, as the main culprit of this renegade faction of Reeks. I also liked the subtle threat between Jones and Defoe which served to reignite the conflicting allegiances with Defoe – does he ignore his Leveller origins in favour of his new family and old friends, or does he join forces with the Reeks and bring war and revolution for the poor? It's an interesting moral quandary for the character and Pat Mills is certainly making the most of the character's indecision.

Despite the “talking heads” nature of this installment, Leigh Gallagher provides some wonderful visuals to keep the strip flowing naturally. His interpretation of the hanging at Tyburn is fantastically evocative, transporting the viewers to that historically alien world of public executions as grim peasants cheering for blood. Even though there is few panels with the undead, Gallagher's grasp of the Gothic extends to the horrendous faces of the crowd as they jeer and shout at the condemned man hanging from the noose. The atmosphere just pours out of every panel of this series and I'm really enjoying this slower, more measured pace just as much as the block-buster action movie of the last multi-part story-line, “The Damned”.



BRASS SUN - MOTORHEAD (Part 4)
Script - Ian Edginton
Art - INJ Culbard
Letters - Ellie de Ville

The appearance of the Agent of Modernity has allowed Ian Edginton and INJ Culbard the opportunity to inject some action into this fourth book of Brass Sun, allowing a sliver of hope into the dismal situation that Wren and Septimus have found themselves in. As glimpsed in the previous book “Floating Worlds”, the Agent of Modernity appears to be a ruthless killing machine intent on preventing Wren from restarting the Brass Sun and single-minded in his goal. Immediately here, he causes destruction and with a false sense of politeness, carelessly dispatches some of the fanatically Cog worshippers. INJ Culbard manages to create a real sense of frenetic action as the Agent of Modernity bursts into the structure, sucking a trio of poor unfortunates out into the void of space.


Aside from the bigger action sequences, there were some fantastic character moments between Wren and Septimus in this installment, building upon his betrayal in earlier episodes. Too cowardly to acquiesce to her wishes and kill her, Septimus bravely but futilely stands up against the Cog fanatics, only to be spared an ignominious death by the chaos above. It's moments like this that really heighten the Brass Sun narrative and give it that cinematic atmosphere that makes it easy to picture this adapted to the big screen by an animation studio. In fact, Culbard's panels are so fluid and brilliantly choreographed that it exudes motion throughout the strip. As I've said before countless times, this is easily the best breakout hit for 2000AD since Nikolai Dante emerged fully formed into the anthology back in Prog 1035.



BAD COMPANY - FIRST CASUALTIES (Part 4)
Script - Peter Milligan
Art - Rufus Dayglo & Jim McCarthy
Letters - Simon Bowland

This latest episode of Bad Company continues to deliver a wonderful mix of nostalgia and post-modernism, thanks to Peter Milligan's sharp script which takes the war-weary anti-heroes and throws them in a mundane war hospital, medicated to the eyeballs to prevent them from remembering a traumatic past. As I've said before, this whole series feels like Last of the Summer Wine meets The A-Team but with a science-fiction twist. I'm sure fans who grew up with the early incarnations of Bad Company will get extra resonance from seeing their heroes in this state. Even me, with my passing knowledge of the Bad Company history, is able to feel the powerful undercurrent to the story's narrative – made even more poignant because of Brett Ewins' death earlier in the year.

Dayglo and McCarthy continue to capture the essence of the classic series, with their modern take on Ewins' classic artwork acting as a metaphor for this more serious and restrained take on the once frenetic and over-the-top violence that the series was famed for. Revisiting old classics in modern times can often result in lacklustre returns – just ask George Lucas! - but I am glad to say that Milligan, Dayglo and McCarthy have really nailed it here, bringing Bad Company back to a new generation in a completely different way that pays reverence to the past, but also pushes it in new directions for the future.



SINISTER DEXTER - THE TAKING OF THE MICHAEL (Part 3)
Script - Dan Abnett
Art - Patrick Goddard
Colours - Eva de la Cruz
Letters - Ellie de Ville

There's a bit of a Scarface vibe to this episode of Sinister Dexter as the duo indulge in a lovely bit of neon-tinted carnage whilst they continue to make short work of Holy Mose's crew. Given the relative ease and professional nature of Sinister and Dexter's attacks, I'm getting slightly worried about the foreshadowing taking place in the present-day crime scene segments of the narrative – perhaps the Downlode duo have finally met their match. It's a testament to Dan Abnett's writing skills that there is still an unpredictable air about the story, even after almost twenty years of writing the characters. In fact, given that we're heading towards the twentieth anniversary of the Gun-shark's first appearance in 2000AD (Prog 981) – perhaps Abnett is planning to retire them permanently?


Once again, Patrick Goddard and Eva de la Cruz have managed to capture the essence of its Florida-inspired “Skeleton Keys” locale – this time moving away from the sun-drenched coast-line and instead heading underground with the rich pinks and purples of the nightclub evoking that sense of care-free decadence and sleazy drug deals. As with last Prog's gunfight in the back of a van, Goddard manages to convey an acute sense of space and fluid action through his panels, which makes the present-day scenes featuring the aftermath of an epic gun fight even more teasing. My anticipation levels continue to rise as Abnett and Goddard edge ever closer to this climactic showdown between our anti-heroes and their enemy. Regardless of whether Abnett chooses to retire the series, or reset the status-quo, I am really enjoying the tension he has built up over the past few episodes.



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

Once again, John Wagner and Colin MacNeil’s fantastic work on Judge Dredd is the highlight of the Prog as the duo continues to weave a wonderful tale of intrigue and investigation. With all of the current line-up providing ample thrill-power, it is getting increasingly difficult to pick a “Thrill of the Week” above the others. I’m particularly enjoying the oddball feel to this series of Bad Company and the strange blend of nostalgia and post-modernism it provides – not to mention, the much bleaker take on Brass Sun as Septimus and Wren struggle against their captors.

It’s starting to feel like a well-worn mantra, but I have to say it again and again each week – this is 2000AD at its best! The anthology has gone through peaks and troughs over its nearly 40 years of publication, but this seems to be one of the highest peaks that the comic has seen in decades, with a fresh injection of new thrills set alongside revisited classics from the past. It’s no wonder that 2000AD is finally breaking into the American market with its US-sized comics and graphic novel collections. It’s a great time to be a 2000AD fan – all we need now is a Dredd sequel!


Thrill of the Week: Judge Dredd


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1953 will be available in stores on Wednesday 21st October - 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 12th Doctor # 13

Doctor Who: The 12th Doctor # 13
"The Hyperion Empire" (Part 2 of 4)
Written by: Robbie Morrison
Art by: Daniel Indro
Colours by: Slamet Mujiono

Things are heating up in this second installment of the Twelfth Doctor's “Year One” finale, as Robbie Morrison and Daniel Indro re-introduce the fiery Hyperions to the comic. The creatures have evolved somewhat from their initial appearance in the first story-arc of this series, adopting a more feral and threatening look that better suits Daniel Indro's more detailed art style. I have to say that I absolutely love this redesign compared to the more 'impish' look that they originally sported as it gives the Hyperions a true sense of menace that better fits the level of death and destruction they have wrought onto the human race. When Morrison's script teased a return of the Hyperions at the end of the first story-arc, I was less than enthused, but both Morrison and Indro have taken a fairly weak element-based monster and transformed them into a genuine threat.

Once again, Morrison's script taps into that classic Doctor Who tone – while the slower-paced exploration of an empty London seen in last issue reminded me of “Invasion of the Dinosaurs”, the scale of destruction and genuine sense of hopelessness seen here reminded me of the classic “The Dalek Invasion of Earth”, especially with the mind-controlled humans, who evoked memories of the Robo-Men from that serial. As with that televised storyline, I really like the dystopian atmosphere that Morrison has created here – with scenes like the survivors hiding out in the underground really emphasising the stakes of this adventure. Between Daniel Indro's more aggressive take on the Hyperions and the hordes of Scorched zombies, it really feels like the Doctor is out of his depth in this adventure.


This issue, much like the last, represents the perfect marriage between writer and artist, with Daniel Indro's edgier art style supporting the bleak tone that Robbie Morrison has cultivated. The pair worked really well together on “The Weeping Angels of Mons” and they're looking to surpass that storyline with this fantastic “season finale” here. As I've said already, I absolutely love the new designs of the Hyperions as these hulking great monsters with what appears to be molten hearts swirling about in their chests – then there seems to be a more feminine form which sport a more angelic appearance. It's amazing how a change in artist has completely changed my opinion on the monsters. Immediately I feel more engaged and genuinely excited to read about the Hyperions, compared to their initial appearance and a lot of that is down to Indro's portrayal of them.

Once again I'm awarding this series a perfect “10 out of 10” score! This is shaping up to be the best Doctor Who comics storyline I've read yet across all of Titan Comics' output as Robbie Morrison hits that Doctor Who vibe with pin-point accuracy. This is expert storytelling from both writer and artist that even overcomes the added challenge of remaining true to its source material – an element that some licensed spin-off material doesn't always achieve. I have every faith that Morrison and Indro will knock the remaining two episodes straight out of the park and deliver a strong conclusion to the Twelfth Doctor's first year of comic-book adventures. If you're not reading this series, you are seriously missing out on some of the best Doctor Who stories this year!


Score - 10 out of 10

Doctor Who: The Twelfth 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 10th Doctor (Vol. 2) # 2

Doctor Who: The 10th Doctor (Vol. 2) # 2
"The Singer Not The Song" (Part 2 of 2)
Written by: Nick Abadzis
Art by: Eleonora Carlini
Colours by: Claudia Iannicello

This concluding installment of “The Singer Not The Song” splits the Doctor and Gabby up to deal with the problem of the musical virus separately. Once again, we get a glimpse at how capable Gabby is as a companion, taking command of the situation occurring on Wupatki, and bravely facing what she believes to be her final moments. This episode has echoes of the final installment of “The Weeping Angels of Mons” with Gabby once again facing certain death, but receiving a last-minute reprieve from the Doctor. Whereas the initial episode sought to set the scene and establish the beautiful alien environment of Wupatki – this chapter focuses on action, as the Nocturne virus threatens to bring the planet crumbling down. In some ways, this episode reminded me “The Waters of Mars”, especially with the viral aspect as our heroes attempted to battle an unorthodox contagion.

Nick Abadzis' script really makes use of the imaginative concepts he has introduced in the previous installment and I really enjoyed the character of Mr Smoke, a creature made up of sentient songs, who accompanies both the Doctor and Gabby on their adventures in this issue. During the scenes aboard Waystation Terra, Abadzis drops hints of a larger conspiracy surrounding the Nocturne as the Doctor fails to discover whether it was a natural occurrence, or whether it was deliberately planted. This, along with the reappearance of Anubis at the end of the issue, suggests a wider plan for the series, building sub-plots and a season arc, which was lacking in the first year of the Tenth Doctor comic adventures.


Eleonora Carlini's artwork is absolutely amazing in this issue, capturing the frenzy and growing darkness as the Nocturne begins to take over Wupatki. Carlini's style manages to expertly straddle the line between light and darkness, with some wonderfully bright and colourful sequences evidenced from last issue's interpretation of the Wupatkian skyline and the darker elements of the Nocturne virus in this issue, as it begins to mutate those it infects. I also like the way she uses a dotted background to emphasise emotion in key panels – it's a great technique and really adds to the narrative of the story. Talking of backgrounds, the scenes inside the TARDIS are visually stunning and captures the essence of the TV show!

Overall, this was a solid conclusion to the first story-arc of the Tenth Doctor's “Year Two” of comic-book adventures. As a stand-alone tale, it was a great variation on the “base under siege” trope – making use of a truly imaginative set-up of auditory viruses to create a wonderful slice of sci-fi goodness. I also enjoyed the various references to a larger story, from the Doctor's dislike of the “song is ending” metaphor, to the ongoing threat of Anubis and the Osirians. One of my favourite aspects of the Eleventh and Twelfth Doctor comic series' was the way that they had plot threads seeded throughout their stories, connecting the adventures together, so it's good to see that coming to fruition on the Tenth Doctor series. With one writer at the helm, and a similarly-styled rotating art team – I have no doubt that this sophomore year of Tenth Doctor stories will be a fantastic journey through time and space.


Score - 9.5 out of 10

Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor (Vol. 2) # 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 series when you pick up your copy!

Review - Doctor Who: The 9th Doctor # 4 (of 5)

Doctor Who: The 9th Doctor # 4 (of 5)
"Weapons of Past Destruction" - Part 4 (of 5)
Written by: Cavan Scott
Art by: Blair Shedd
Colours by: Anang Setyawan

After a slight delay, the penultimate issue of Titan Comics’ Ninth Doctor miniseries is out and while some of the momentum was lost due to the gaps between issues, Cavan Scott and Blair Shedd deliver another thrilling chapter to this saga. Scott resolves the cliff-hanger from last issue by having the Lect and Unon responsible for saving both Jack and Rose from the supernova that engulfs Fluren’s World – splitting the two companions up on opposite sides of this temporal war. Inside the TARDIS, Captain Jack is reunited with the Doctor and Scott spends time developing the relationship between the two. In keeping with Season One’s characterisation, there is friction between the two as they clash over their different ideologies.

Scott’s script provides a bit more background behind the conflict between the Lect and Unon – showcasing the aftermath of the Time War and how other races sought to fill the gap left behind by the disappearance of the Daleks and the Time Lords. In a nifty flashback sequence, we get a glimpse of some old-school Mondasian Cybermen (a favourite of mine!) and the Sontarans – implying that the two factions were among the many feuding over control of the galaxy. I quite like the idea that the Unon are fixing the rips in time-space, which recalls the alternate timeline seen in “The Wedding of River Song” where time folds in on itself and the past, present and future converge on one date. However, given the nature of Rose’s appearance at the end, I have to wonder whether the Unon are as benevolent as they appear…


Blair Shedd continues to do a cracking job on this series, creating some simply amazing images on every page. I really like the way that he switches viewpoints, particularly during the scene when Rose is held prisoner by the Lect. Rather than featuring fixed “camera shots” – each panel shows the action from a different perspective, adding a sense of motion to the conversation. The brief “behind the scenes” section at the end of the issue also showcases the exhaustive level of work that Shedd puts into every page and how he is able to create such a unique look to his art.

While this penultimate installment didn’t quite reach the same heights as its preceding issues, the curious cliff-hanger of Rose pointing a massive laser-gun at the Doctor certainly suggests a strong conclusion is waiting in the wings. Cavan Scott and Blair Shedd have really worked well together on this storyline, crafting an adventure that provides readers with a more immediate glimpse at the aftermath of the Time War, compared to the scenes we've seen with the War Doctor in the midst of the conflict. It’s been a great burst of modern Doctor Who nostalgia, especially during the tenth anniversary of the show’s resurrection. Fans of the Ninth Doctor should definitely pick this up in its collected edition next year.


Score - 9.0 out of 10

Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor # 4 is now available in all good comic shops, including Forbidden Planet, as well as on the Comixology website. Be sure to put in a standing order for the upcoming issues in the series when you pick up your copy!

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Review - Gotham: 2x05 - "Scarification"


Gotham
Episode 2x05 - "Scarification"

Synopsis

Still firmly under the Galavan’s control, the Penguin schemes to find ways to rescue his mother and wreak revenge on his new enemies, whilst Gotham finds itself under threat from the arsonist Pike Brothers, whose youngest member has become forcibly initiated into the family business.

Review

With the absence of Jerome and the Maniax, this episode sought to properly establish Theo Galavan as a worthy adversary for Penguin and the GCPD for the remainder of the season. Up until now, the motivations behind the character have been relatively unclear, but through an interesting flashback sequence that reaches far back into Gotham’s past, we discover more about the character’s ancestors that ties him deeper into the Batman mythos. The Galavan’s original family name, Dumas, may be familiar to comic-book readers as the religious society responsible for Azrael and the flashback makes brief reference to this sub-sect of the family for the continuity focused. This sequence provides viewers with a better understanding of Galavan and his grudge against the Wayne family, which appears to be manifesting itself as a plot against Bruce Wayne himself.

With the Maniax stealing the limelight, I hadn’t really had a chance to warm up to the Galavan siblings but these past two episodes have managed to develop the characters nicely, especially Tabitha, who in the initial episodes of the Season appeared to be more eye-candy than anything else. The discovery that Galavan’s grudge extends beyond the whole of Gotham to specifically the Waynes and their last remaining heir has certainly increased my interest in this sub-plot, knowing that it’ll bring Bruce Wayne back to the fore and centralise him in the show’s storyline again. It’s also been fun bringing the Penguin into play, especially since he is on the back foot once more – revisiting his scheming and Machiavellian personality from Season One as he tries to outwit his new “superiors”.


The other major development of this episode was the introduction of the Pike brothers – a group of arsonist criminals who are Fish Mooney loyalists. There was a curious abundance of references to the dearly departed Miss Mooney, which might be foreshadowing of a surprise return later in the Season. I would certainly like to see Jada Pinkett Smith return to the series, and am glad that the show is willing to reference the ambiguity of her death. While the Pike brothers are largely inconsequential, it is their youngest member – Bridgit – who is the most interesting character. Bullied by her older brothers, she finds a degree of empowerment from her role as an arsonist, even building a fireproof costume, not unlike the one worn by Firefly in the comics. Yet again, it appears Gotham has introduced a prototype version of a popular DC Comics villain. With an accidental death under her belt, it seems that the next episode will be focused on our female Firefly as she has to deal with the full force of the GCPD strike force.

This was a really strong episode that balanced a few different plates at once – developing the season arc surrounding Theo Galavan, as well as a smaller multi-part storyline revolving around another established DC Comics villain. There were also some humourous moments between Gordon and Thompkins as the pair double-dated with the Riddler and Miss Kringle – although that scene didn’t quite live up to its potential. In terms of developing its newest “big bad” and filling in the vacuum left by Jerome’s death, this episode was a great success, with Theo Galavan’s sinister schemes reminding me of Max Shreck from Batman Returns, once again demonstrating the influence that the Tim Burton films have over this series. With its current three-act structure of its multi-episode storylines, Gotham seems to be developing a strong internal pacing that really creates a cinematic tone, offering a much more rewarding viewing experience compared to its uneven first season.


Score - 9.4 out of 10

Next Episode - "By Fire"
After Bridget Pike rejoins her brothers, a new spark of courage ignites within her, as she chooses to take control of her future. Meanwhile, Kringle and Nygma's relationship will take a new step and Penguin and Galavan continue to battle for control of Gotham City's underworld.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Review - Agents of SHIELD: 3x03 - "A Wanted (Inhu)man"

Agents of SHIELD
Episode 3x03 - "A Wanted (Inhu)man"

Synopsis

Desperate for results, the newly formed ATCU are on the hunt for Lincoln, prompting Daisy to launch a rescue team to find him, but does he want to be rescued? Meanwhile, Hunter and May continue to infiltrate new-Hydra, uncovering a rather nasty underground fight club.

Review

After the fast-paced nature of this Season's opening two episodes, this latest installment of Agents of SHIELD definitely suffered from a lack of momentum, content to let its various sub-plots bubble along without much progression. The central story revolved around the newly-formed ATCU team, charged with finding alien threats and so consumed with getting quick results that they launched a witch-hunt after Lincoln Campbell instead of hunting down the more alien-looking threat from the hospital. This 'cat and mouse' hunt for the electric-powered Inhuman did feel a bit formulaic in places, with a few predictable moments that emphasised the 'filler' aspect of this episode.

While the Lincoln-on-the-run sub-plot was uninspiring, I did enjoy elements of Hunter and May's attempts to infiltrate Hydra. The scene where Hunter and his informant friend's drunken conversation was subtitled was a fun Whedon-esque touch and was a brief glimpse of the type of genre-subversion that the show was capable of in past Seasons. I quite liked the Fight Club scene, which was surprisingly brutal for an ABC show – what with Hunter's blood-soaked upper torso and the rather merciless way he beat his opponent to death. We were also treated to a brief snippet of Agent May in action, although I wonder if that little fracas may prove to be the duo's undoing. I'm very interested to see where this particular story-line is headed, given that it puts three of our core cast on a trajectory towards massive conflict, and possibly death.


As expected, Simmon's recovery and re-adjusting to Earth life seems to be an ongoing plot-line, mirroring Fitz's own slow recovery following his accident in the Season One finale – this poor couple cannot catch a break, especially since Simmons seems determined to return back to her alien planet. Did she forget something, or does she want the team to help her capture or kill whatever creature was hunting her? After last episode's sudden rescue, I was worried that the Monolith sub-plot would be swept under the carpet but it seems that there is more about this alien world to come - hopefully, we'll see some flashbacks to her time there. As with the Hydra storyline, this particular sub-plot is far more interesting than the current central storyline about Lincoln and the ATCU – hopefully future episodes will adjust the screen-time ratio.

While this wasn't the strongest episode of Agents of SHIELD, it wasn't the worst. It was clearly a transitional episode, designed to pace out events – especially after the frantic nature of the first two episodes – and to focus on the characters. Unfortunately, I'm not overly interested in the Lincoln/Daisy relationship and the fact that he remained on the run at the end just added to the redundant tone of this episode. In fact, apart from Simmons' post-credits “I've got to back” tease, there was very little progression on any of the plot threads at all. Lincoln is still on the run, Hunter and May are a smidgen closer to Ward and the ATCU are still hunting down Inhumans...just not those Inhumans. Still, there were some nifty special effects and it is enjoyable to see the established characters interacting, but if this had been a Season One episode, it may have scored a lot lower.


Score - 8.9 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • N/A

Mysteries
  • Why does Simmons want to return to the alien planet?

Next Episode - "Devils You Know"
Having reluctantly agreed to share information with Rosalind and the ATCU, Coulson and the team search for the Inhuman who is killing other Inhumans; May feels that Hunter's mission to take down Ward is getting too personal.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

2000AD Prog 1952

Prog 1952 Cover by Leigh Gallagher

Leigh Gallagher delivers a wonderfully ghoulish cover for this week’s Prog, once again making use of the red/white colour scheme to inspire a sense of horror to the piece – while not quite as iconic as his Defoe cover for Prog 1836 (which we voted cover of the year in 2013), it remains visually impressive.  I love the double-meaning behind the hanging corpses which represents both the method of their death, and the fact that they are puppets manipulated by a master. I also really love the creepy red font used to subtitle the cover – it has a really devilish feel to it that fits perfectly with the series.


JUDGE DREDD - SERIAL SERIAL (Part 3)
Script - John Wagner
Art - Colin MacNeil
Colours - Chris Blythe
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

This latest episode of “Serial Serial” continues to focus on the procedural elements of Dredd’s investigation of both PJ Maybe and the Serial Serial killer – ultimately, his search leads to a dead-end when he uncovers an inheritance scam instead. By taking us down this narrative cul-de-sac, John Wagner’s script adds realism to the world of Mega City One, depicting the Justice Department as fallible and not the all-seeing eye it once was. MacNeil’s artwork subtly supports this idea of a less-efficient Justice department, evidenced from the rust alongside Dredd’s helmet. MacNeil has featured this visual flourish on previous stories, and I took it as a reference to Dredd’s longevity in the role, but it could also represent a limit to Justice Department resources – they’re stretched so thin that even their uniforms are showing signs of wear and tear.


While the search for the Serial Serial killer proved somewhat fruitless, Dredd and Corrigan managed to piece together the missing pieces of PJ Maybe’s last appearance – connecting the criminal to his Roberto Smith identity through a nifty flashback to the opening episodes of “Dark Justice”. They even seem to have visuals of a potential new identity for Maybe, making my theory that he was murdered by the Dark Justices moot – although we’ve not got definite confirmation that Maybe is alive. I’m going to slightly adapt my theory and put my money on the fact that Judge Corrigan is actually PJ Maybe in disguise? I’m expecting some kind of twist reveal to this tale, but until then, I’m absolutely loving the spectacular writing from John Wagner on this storyline.



DEFOE - THE LONDON HANGED (Part 3)
Script - Pat Mills
Art - Leigh Gallagher
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

This series of Defoe continues to head in unexpected directions with the Reeks offering Defoe the chance to work alongside them and strike back at the rich in defence of the poor. It's an interesting subversion of the previous status-quo, although the threat towards Defoe's new family proves that the Reeks cannot be trusted. Rather than simply thrusting Defoe back into his old role, Pat Mills is presenting him with a tougher challenge and having him return to his Leveller roots and taking on the English Government – putting him at odds with his previous allies.


I'm really enjoying the brief obituaries for the various London Hanged at the beginning of each installment – it's an interesting way to flesh out the undead (pardon the pun!) and allows Leigh Gallagher to draw some close-ups of the despicable zombies. I love the way that Gallagher draws the hung zombies with elongated necks – it adds a whole new dimension to the zombies and looks absolutely grotesque. That grimy and unpleasant feeling pervades the artwork, capturing the filth of 17th Century London as well as the rotting corpses of the undead. It's impossible to imagine anyone else but Leigh Gallagher on art duties for this story – he has completely and utterly owned every panel.



BRASS SUN - MOTORHEAD (Part 3)
Script - Ian Edginton
Art - INJ Culbard
Letters - Ellie de Ville

Focusing on Septimus in the wake of his betrayal of Wren, Ian Edginton’s script delivers an emotional, character-driven moment accentuated by INJ Culbard’s artwork which allows the background to melt away so the reader can focus on the broken boy. It’s a powerful scene, inter-cut with flashbacks that show how he has been torn between love and duty over the past few books – ultimately, it is out of his control as he was physically tortured for the information but he continues to blame himself. It’s absolutely excellent storytelling that shows despite the high-concept world that Edginton and Culbard have built together – the two still have time to explore these smaller character moments.

This installment also offers Edginton and Culbard the opportunity to showcase another one of their imaginative creations in the form of the robotic ticks – the subservient creatures made up of robotic pieces and the “spares” from the older human Tocks. Literally, as I typed out that sentence I got the connection between the ticks and tocks – “Tick Tocks”.  Our heroes’ situation continues to get more dire as their captors plan to excise Wren’s brain from her head in order to extract the area containing the Blind Watchmaker. While it might seem hopeless, the final panel of the Agent of Modernity hovering outside should fill the reader with an equal measure of both dread and hope, given the death and destruction that follows in his wake.



BAD COMPANY - FIRST CASUALTIES (Part 3)
Script - Peter Milligan
Art - Rufus Dayglo & Jim McCarthy
Letters - Simon Bowland

There's an odd dream-like quality to this episode of Bad Company that seems to hint at a larger plot point for the series. Peter Milligan's script makes reference to behavioural changes and the 'softening' of the Bad Company crew, not to mention the curious comments regarding the deaths of some of the characters in previous adventures. I wonder whether this veterans facility is actually some kind of purgatory or afterlife for the characters to meet up, not unlike a certain TV show's finale. Whether the events of this strip are real or not, it's an interesting deconstruction of the whole Bad Company mythology – these characters aren't the battle-hardened kill-crazy maniacs from 2000AD's punk era, they're pitiful, damaged specimens who are being forced into retirement for their own good.

Artwise, Dayglo and McCarthy continue to knock it out of the park with the artwork on this series, managing to simultaneously evoke nostalgia whilst pushing forward with a new art style. Despite only having a passing knowledge of the original Bad Company series, I'm really enjoying this nostalgic trip back down memory lane, and the very different tone to the storyline. It feels like Last of the Summer Wine meets The A-Team, but on an alien planet and with some really psychedelic visuals. I'm really looking forward to how Milligan's script develops and where he takes this rag-tag group of soldiers on what appears to be their final hurrah.



SINISTER DEXTER - THE TAKING OF THE MICHAEL (Part 2)
Script - Dan Abnett
Art - Patrick Goddard
Colours - Eva de la Cruz
Letters - Ellie de Ville

While last Prog seemed to foreshadow the deaths of Sinister and Dexter, this episode demonstrated that there was life in the old dog (or sharks) yet. Dan Abnett continues to make use of the present-day framing device to add extra context to the flashback sequences, creating a fun multi-layered narrative that raises unanswered questions to be answered. It's far more interesting than a simple linear approach and is actually a nice nod to the strip's origins as a homage to Pulp Fiction. As deadly with a pun as Finny and Ray are with a gun, Abnett delivers a great one-liner during the final stand-off (“as God is my Witsec”) that demonstrates the fun, light-hearted nature of the series.


Patrick Goddard's artwork is on top form here, especially during the action sequences. His tightly-packed panels manage to convey the cramped nature of the mini-van gun fight, but he opens up to wide, white spaces once the action transitions to the outside. I'm looking forward to seeing how he choreographs the final gun-fight aboard the Michael, especially considering we've seen the bullet-splattered aftermath already. While, last Prog, I felt ready to say goodbye to the Downlode duo, the fun and pithy nature of this installment has me hoping that our anti-heroes make it out of this adventure intact, hopefully to return in one-off adventures instead of another long story-arc.



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

Yet again, this is another stunning Prog – delivering a variety of different flavoured thrills to satisfy even the most discerning reader's palate. John Wagner's work on Judge Dredd is up there with some of his best stories – there's something really appealing about this down-to-earth procedural tale, especially in the aftermath of huge events such as Chaos Day and the invasion of Titan inmates. I'm also keen to see Wagner and MacNeil partner up again with a story in the Judge Dredd Megazine, celebrating the 25th anniversary with the return of Total War – once again showing us the ripples of the events set forth in “America”.

Elsewhere, the Prog remains strong with some wonderfully tense foreshadowing in Sinister Dexter, a beautiful hit of nostalgia in Bad Company, some well-timed horror thrills in Defoe and a smidgen of clock-punk fantasy in Brass Sun. It's a brilliant line-up of stories and I'm eagerly anticipating where each one is heading – it's a great time to be a 2000AD fan and with the increased push on social media with the Thrillcast and YouTube videos, I hope that many new Earthlets are discovering the magic for themselves!


Thrill of the Week: Judge Dredd


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1952 will be available in stores on Wednesday 14th October - 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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