Saturday, 30 January 2016

Review - Agent Carter: 2x03 - "Better Angels"


Agent Carter
Episode 2x03 - "Better Angels"

Synopsis

Distraught after the apparent death of Dr Wilkes, Peggy increases her efforts to discover what is happening behind closed doors at Isodyne Energy, raising the ire of Whitney Frost and the shadowy Arena Club. Meanwhile, Howard Stark becomes embroiled in events when his scientific know-how becomes critical to solving the mysteries surrounding Zero Energy.

Review

As with the first series of Agent Carter, Dominic Cooper reprises his role as Howard Stark but in a guest star capacity. While the plot of the original series provided a fairly credible narrative 'excuse' for his absence, it feels slightly more obvious that it's a scheduling issue in this season as Stark disappears to Peru to find one of his old mentors. However, no matter how fleeting his appearance, Stark's presence definitely propels the story in new directions as his scientific expertise allows Peggy to discover more about the season's latest MacGuffin, the Zero Matter. The writer's throw a nice curve-ball by making the viewers think Peggy has been infected by the Zero Matter, but it transpires that she's actually being “haunted” by the “ghost” of Doctor Wilkes, who is able to regain visibility, thanks to Stark's convenient inventions. I'm confused by the inconsistency of the Zero Matter and how it affects people in different ways, causing the female Isodyne worker to freeze to death, Doctor Wilkes to lose his corporeal form and whatever is going on with Whitney Frost. While it adds an air of unpredictability to the compound, it does stretch credibility somewhat.

The investigation into the Arena Club forms the bulk of this episode and I really enjoyed the tense sequence where Peggy attempted to sneak out of their inner sanctum without being seen by the security thug. It was a great way to inject some tension into an episode that was relatively free of action sequences, apart from the assassination attempt towards the end. The majority of the episode was spent developing the mystery surrounding Isodyne and the Arena Club, but also fleshing out the character of Whitney Frost, who is revealed to be a Soviet scientist masquerading as a Hollywood starlet. This incarnation of the character is quite the departure from the modern-day Marvel Comics version, giving her super-powers to go along with the shift in time-line. However, I do like that the series is concentrating on her loss of beauty with the scar on her face – hopefully it will develop further and bring her closer to her Marvel Comics counterpart with her Madame Masque persona.


The arrival of Jack Thompson in Los Angeles not only reunites the original cast from Season One, but reminds viewers how much of an arsehole he is. Clearly his insecurities surrounding Peggy's competence are driving his actions, leading him to become more embroiled in the conspiracies with the Arena Club and the Council of Nine. While he may be a bit of a dick, there seems to be some chance that he may redeem himself and help Sousa and Carter with their investigations. Much like with the Season One storyline, there are plenty of storyline elements blending together with the communist threat and this mysterious secret society both striving for control of the Zero Matter. I'm looking forward to seeing where Dottie Underwood fits into all of this when she inevitably returns to the fray – it seems that Jack's friend (played by Clarence Boddicker from Robocop!) is responsible for freeing her from custody and may have plans in hiring her to work for the Arena Club.

This was a solid episode for the series, which focused more on developing the plot further without any real standout action set-pieces. Clearly, the return of Howard Stark was the core attraction for the episode and events seemed to revolve around his brief guest-spot. I'm intrigued to see where the series is going as we've not got a clear motivation behind Whitney Frost's machinations or the purpose behind the Arena Club's Council of Nine. However, unlike Season One's more mystery-focused story-arc, this adventure feels less dense and multi-layered which is surprising considering that the season contains an additional two episodes. Hopefully, the remaining seven episodes will flesh out the story-arc without dragging the pace down to a snail's crawl. While I do enjoy the Los Angeles setting and the quick banter between the lead characters, this second season of Agent Carter lacks the same punch as the opening episodes of the original.


Score - 9.4 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • Howard Stark is making a Western movie based on the adventures of Kid Colt. Kid Colt is a cowboy character who appeared in numerous Western-themed comic series from Marvel Comics, even travelling in time to the modern era at times. (First app: Kid Colt # 1)
  • When showcasing the new alarm system, Jarvis comments on how he’d hate to exist as a disembodied voice, unwittingly foreshadowing Tony Stark’s A.I. support system J.A.R.V.I.S, which was based on his father’s butler, as seen in Iron Man.

Mysteries
  • Where exactly did the Zero Matter come from?
  • What is happening to Whitney Frost?

Next Episode - "Smoke and Mirrors"
Agent Carter and the SSR learn there’s more than just a pretty face behind Hollywood star Whitney Frost, Peggy’s most dangerous foe yet.

Friday, 29 January 2016

Review - Supergirl: 1x11 - "Strange Visitor from Another Planet"

Supergirl
Episode 1x11 - "Strange Visitor from Another Planet"

Synopsis

As a result of using his superpowers, Hank Henshaw (aka Martian Manhunter) has attracted a dangerous creature from his home planet of Mars – one that killed his family and his people. When the creature kidnaps a prominent anti-alien senator, can Supergirl and Hank work together to defeat this White Martian? 

Review

After the surprise reveal in “Human for a Day” that Hank Henshaw was actually the Martian Manhunter in disguise, the character has become one of the most intriguing parts of Supergirl series, so it was great to see the series give him an episode that showcased his tragic backstory and explaining why he escaped from Mars. While this was very much J’onn’s episode, Kara was not side-lined at all and participated in a surprisingly emotional storyline that revolved around Cat Grant and her estranged son. In fact, with the flashbacks to the massacre of the Green Martians and Cat Grant opening up about leaving her son at a young age, this episode certainly put viewers through the emotional wringer and gave the show’s veteran supporting actors, David Harewood and Calista Flockhart, a chance to flex their acting muscles.

I really enjoyed the way that the show’s writers managed to incorporate J’onn’s backstory organically into the series without hijacking the show from Kara. This is still firmly a Supergirl series, but with the added benefit of having a secondary DC Comics super-hero on the reserves bench. The brief flashbacks to the White Martian’s invasion of Mars were really effective and once again displayed this series’ fantastic CGI and cinema-quality special effects. Sure, there were some budgetary limitations at times – for example, they seemed keen to keep the White Martian in its human form even after the façade have been blown, but the series still stands out compared to others in the same genre. Once again, there were some gaps in the series’ internal logic – it hasn’t been fully explained why J’onn isn't able to use his powers. It was implied that continued usage would make him unable to return to Hank Henshaw’s form, but it hasn't been fully explored. Obviously, using his mind-wipe powers has severe consequences for the victim, but I’m not sure why he can’t abuse his other skills, aside from the fact the writers want to keep him as an infrequent supporting character.


I’ve really enjoyed the way the series dealt with the Cat Grant / Adam Foster storyline, showcasing a surprising amount of depth and delicacy around the storyline of a mother abandoning her child at a young age. Thanks to Calista Flockhart’s strong acting skills, it was easy to believe the relationship between her and her lost son, and the reunion felt genuinely uncomfortable. It was also good to see someone finally acknowledge the fact she calls Kara “Keira”, although it’s no less annoying – I guess the writers are running with this joke so that it actually means something when Cat finally starts using her real name. Rather than appearing for one episode, it seems that Adam Foster will act as another suitor for Supergirl’s affections, complicating not only her awkward love triangle with James and Winn, but also shaking up her relationship with Cat Grant, which had begun to settle down into near-mutual respect. I appreciate the decision to shake up the relationship status quo, and I think introducing another love interest is the best way to do so. I look forward to seeing how both James and Winn react to a third man on the scene.

This was a very enjoyable episode of Supergirl, shifting the perspective slightly away from its titular character to build up its supporting cast, much like it had done with Winn and Alex in previous installments. While the series has sometimes felt inauthentic with its ‘emotional drama’ moments, it has certainly undergone an upturn in recent episodes with Kara’s rage and heartache over her mother’s apparent betrayal and Winn’s complicated relationship with his father. Here, we see Hank and Cat undergo a similar examination under the microscope, which left their characters much stronger than before. At the moment, the only weak links in the chain are James Olsen and Lucy Lane, who have the sexual chemistry of a toilet brush and the acting skills of a hermit crab. Hopefully, the pair will be given some meatier storylines to develop their characters, but at the moment they feel like badly-written and badly-utilised plot devices, rather than characters integral to the series’ mythology.


Score - 9.1 out of 10

Next Episode - "Bizarro"
Kara must deal with a twisted version of Supergirl, while venturing into a possible romance.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

2000AD Prog 1965

Prog 1965 Cover by Cliff Robinson & Dylan Teague

Cliff Robinson is up there as one of my favourite Judge Dredd artists, and his covers are usually fantastic and innovative images, and this latest iteration is no different. Robinson injects a sense of dynamic movement to the piece with the motion blur of the Lawgiver as Dredd swings it around to fire at his unseen target. I love that the aperture of the gun is used to represent the zeroes in 2000AD’s logo – it’s a stroke of genius and again proves Robinson’s skill at designing cover art. I also love the tagline at the bottom that makes use of alliteration to add rhythm and movement to the text that mirrors that rapid-fire nature of the image. 


JUDGE DREDD - GHOSTS (Part 3)
Script - Michael Carroll
Art - Mark Sexton
Colours - Len O' Grady
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

After the violent carnage of the previous episode, this installment sees the Justice Department determined to locate the killer rogue Judge who was behind the attack. Rather than getting fixed completely, Dredd is left with a memento of the attack in the form of an arm-length robotic cast, which is working to knit his flesh back together whilst he begins the investigation into Judge Grayden. Michael Carroll's script is filled with twists and turns, and the fast-paced nature of this story is fantastic – it's shaping up to be one of the best Judge Dredd stories he's written for 2000AD. Carroll has thrown both the reader and Dredd in at the deep end, and has us gasping for air as we attempt to figure out the mystery that threatens to engulf us. It's a great narrative technique, and I love seeing Dredd out of his depth and on the back foot on this one. While the past twelve months or so have been heavy on “corruption within the Justice Department” stories, this one has managed to stand out from the crowd based on its more dramatic narrative style.


Another reason for the success of this story is Mark Sexton's impeccable artwork. I absolutely loved the sequence with Dredd interrogating his suspect, and the way Sexton cloaked him in darkness with only part of his helmet and his shoulder pad visible as he asks his questions. There have been plenty of interrogation scenes in Judge Dredd history, but I don't think many have captured the true sense of fear that citizens must feel when they are in the chair. Turning the page, the room is filled with light and dozens of Judges are revealed to be watching the interview – it's a great visual trick and you can almost imagine the scene playing out in real time with every dramatic beat hitting home. With Carroll's amazing script, which has echoes of a political thriller about it, and Sexton's tremendous artwork, this is shaping up to be a strong year for Judge Dredd stories, with Tharg hinting at more to come in Spring.



KINGDOM - BEAST OF EDEN (Part 5)
Script - Dan Abnett
Art - Richard Elson
Letters - Ellie de Ville

Once again, Richard Elson takes the lead on this episode of Kingdom with another action-fuelled installment which sees Gene and his pack attempting to reach Kingdom ahead of the Them horde. Focusing on the “Gene-Machine” and vehicular carnage creates further associations with the Mad Max franchise, which should only serve to boost the popularity of the series when this latest storyline is collected into graphic novel format. While I do appreciate the action-packed nature of the series, and Elson does an absolutely flawless job at bringing the characters to life, this series seems to suffer the most from the constraints of the six-page weekly format and would read much better in a US monthly format. I absolutely love the series, and enjoy re-reading storylines as a whole, but on a weekly basis, it does feel a tad decompressed which makes it tough to review sometimes!



THE ORDER - IN THE COURT OF THE WYRMQUEEN (Part 5)
Script - Kek-W
Art - John Burns
Letters - Ellie de Ville

As a child, I remembered watching Raiders of the Lost Ark and being transfixed to the television as Indy seemed to fall in and out of scrapes for the entire running time of the film. It felt like the perfect balance of exposition and action, fuelling the narrative of the story without ever slowing down for too long. This second series of The Order reminds me of that same feeling as Kek-W takes the reader on a comfortable adventure through Elizabethan England, name-checking plenty of historical figures as he goes along. Even though we've barely touched the plot, I am going to make the bold statement that this series of The Order far surpasses the original, and I loved the first one! I feel like Kek-W has hit his stride with the characters and is able to take his time to develop the story, presumably because he has a longer game-plan now. He is no rush to get to the meat of the adventure and is enjoying the journey just as much as the reader.


John Burns' take on Elizabethan England is wonderfully evocative, and really highlights the grimy feel of the era. I can't think of any other 2000AD artist who would be able to bring the same level of authenticity to the series with his beautifully painted panels capturing the spirit of swashbuckling adventure. It's truly magical to watch writer and artist come together in perfect harmony to create such a fantastic series, and I firmly believe that this has the makings of a modern classic for 2000AD. I'm thoroughly impressed by the way that Kek-W has effortlessly crafted this adventure, achieving a pitch-perfect pace that fits the weekly serialised structure of 2000AD like a glove. Each week I find myself wanting more, but not because it hasn't been enough but because it is simply comics done right! 



THE A.B.C. WARRIORS - RETURN TO RO-BUSTERS (Part 5)
Script - Pat Mills
Art - Clint Langley
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

The conspiracy surrounding Howard Quartz's attempts to frame “Nameless” for his own terrorist attacks deepens as Ro-Jaws reveals footage that proves that Quartz has been causing the recent disasters to discredit the robots and earn money through Ro-Busters. While the original Ro-Busters stories had a touch of pathos to them in amongst the humour, this more political retelling of the events works brilliantly. I love how Pat Mills weaves in elements from the classic stories, such as Doctor Feely Good and a reference to one of the best Ro-Busters stories, “Terra Meks” which told the heart-breaking story of Charlie, the guardian robot of Northpool. If you haven't read it, go right away and pick up The Complete Ro-Busters – it is one of the best stories from 2000AD's early days!


I'm really enjoying Clint Langley's art style here, such as his subtle redesigns of the Ro-Busters world to make it more technologically advanced and a natural development into the world of Termight from Nemesis The Warlock. I love the way that Langley sparingly uses colour to emphasise certain elements of the artwork, such as the explosion at New Liverpool Street or the light bulbs in both the Overseer and Hammerstein's helmets. It's a lovely touch and really heightens the artwork. I'm really enjoying this retelling of Ro-Busters' last days with increased context and background – the way that Pat Mills has gone back and knitted Savage, Ro-Busters and ABC Warriors together has been brilliant and I'm sure it's a treat for long-term fans of the series to finally see the connections become clearer. While it's not always a good idea to fill in the gaps through prequels (The Phantom Menace, for example) I'm certainly enjoying this enhanced retelling of classic stories.



STRONTIUM DOG - REPO MEN (Part 5)
Script - John Wagner
Art - Carlos Ezquerra
Letters - Simon Bowland

This episode features the culmination of the last few weeks of planning as Johnny and his team of mutants attempt to steal the Brain of Hoomonos from under the Galanthan’s noses. The scene itself feels like the 2000AD equivalent of that iconic scene from Mission: Impossible where Tom Cruise descends down into the alarmed room on a wire, except here we have a stretchy-armed mutant attempting to snag a fossilized brain from a robotic sentry. You can see the similarities, right?

Wagner and Ezquerra manage to maintain the tension through this climactic scene, and while it goes off without a hitch, I suspect that things are only going to get more complicated from here on out. I’m really enjoying this more low-key Strontium Dog story, where secrecy and stealth overshadow action and gun-fights, although I’m sure we’ll get to see some of that before the tale is told. Wagner has struck gold with this motley crew of mutants and I do hope we get to see more of this supporting cast in future stories as I find Johnny Alpha works much better with a side-kick, or in this case, a small team.



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

Wow, this was a tough week to pick a favourite strip as they were all hitting the right notes for me. As much as I love The Order, I'm absolutely loving Carroll and Sexton on Judge Dredd at the moment – it's a great double act that is producing some amazing Dredd moments. Both Strontium Dog and The ABC Warriors are fantastic as well, offering some old-school thrill-power for long-term fans. With all the goodwill they've built up over the years, both Wagner and Mills are able to take their time with their stories, advancing them at a slower pace and taking advantage of the nostalgia to create some modern classics. One thing that all of the strips have in common is their absolutely stellar artwork. From the amazing Cliff Robinson cover to the final page, this issue of 2000AD is a feast for the eyes, with a menu filled with some of the greatest artistic talent out there.

Thrill of the Week: Judge Dredd


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1965 will be available in stores on Wednesday 27th January - 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 (Vol. 2) # 5

Doctor Who: The 11th Doctor (Vol. 2) # 5
"The Judas Goatee"
Written by: Si Spurrier
Art by: Warren Pleece
Colours by: Hi-Fi

After last issue's tease that the Master may be the architect behind the conspiracy framing the Doctor for despicable war-crimes during the Time War, this follow-up adventure from Si Spurrier and Warren Pleece sees the Doctor take his unlikely group of companions to yet another far-flung planet in order to get some tangible evidence that points to the Master's involvement. Spurrier certainly captures the multi-tasking element of the Doctor's personality well as the narrative feels just as layered as Inception, with multiple reasons for their diversion disclosed along the way. This frenetic scripting ensures that the reader gets caught up in the whirlwind of chaos left in the wake of the Doctor, creating a sense of urgency to this storyline as they struggle to catch up with a lead character who is several moves ahead, yet still trailing behind his greatest nemesis.  With the Doctor presented as distant and distracted, the series' gang of supporting characters prove all the more vital, acting as the reader's window into the action and allowing Spurrier (and Williams) the chance to explain their wonderfully complex plot to the layman. It's a technique often used in the TV show itself, and it's great to see it employed with great effect in comic book form.

I've admired Titan Comics' restraint in keeping the iconic Doctor Who monsters off the printed page, apart from some minor exceptions in the Weeping Angels and Cybermen, but it was great to see the Sontarans make their Titan Comics debut. It was a brilliantly placed cameo – not only was it a nice nod for the fans, but the concept of a war over facial hair works perfectly with identical clone armies of the Sontarans. This issue also gives us our first glimpse of the Master, albeit in silhouette, and judging from the goatees sported by the renegade Sontarans, I'm guessing we're going to see the classic iteration of the character, rather than John Simm or Michelle Gomez's incarnations. This decision certainly appeals to me, as I find the Roger Delgado version to be the definitive take on the character and I think the goatee perfectly defines the villainous nature of the Master.


In a rather surprising move, a third character from the TV series makes a cameo appearance at the end of this adventure as the Doctor and his companions break into the Stormcage prison to meet with River Song. It's a fantastic cliff-hanger and an inspired decision from the series writers as I'm sure River's presence will add a whole new dimension to the series, especially if she joins the team as a companion for the remainder of the story-arc. While River may be a somewhat divisive character amongst the Whovian fan-base, I am looking forward to seeing what her strong personality can bring to the series' status-quo. It's also quite a timely appearance given the recent Christmas Special, “The Husbands of River Song” and the Big Finish audio series, “The Diary of River Song – Series One”. It seems that years after her death, the character is still casting a heavy shadow over the Doctor Who franchise.

Whereas the first year of adventures merely dabbled with the TV show's monsters with appearances of the Nimon and the Cybermen, this second year of adventures feels firmly entrenched in the show's continuity referencing not only the Time War and War Doctor, but also bringing characters such as The Master, Sontarans and River Song into the mix. I'm a sucker for stories set during the gap between “Doctor Who: The Movie” and “Rose”, so it's great to see this era explored in spin-off media, especially since it seems the series is keen to move on and away from the Time War. With this increased focus on the War Doctor and the hidden adventures he underwent between “The Night of the Doctor” and his appearances in “The Day of the Doctor”, it would be great if Titan Comics released a War Doctor series, possibly once its Eighth Doctor mini-series has come to an end. Back to this series, I am thoroughly enjoying each issue of the Eleventh Doctor series as Spurrier and Williams spin together a rich tapestry of adventure filled with plenty of twists and turns. It's absolutely brilliant storytelling and essential reading for fans of the Doctor Who mythology.


Score - 9.5 out of 10

Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor (Vol. 2) # 5 is now available in all good comic shops, including Forbidden Planet, as well as on the Comixology website. Be sure to put in a standing order for the upcoming issues in the series when you pick up your copy!

Review - Doctor Who: The 10th Doctor (Vol. 2) # 5

Doctor Who: The 10th Doctor (Vol. 2) # 5
"Medicine Man" (Part 2 of 2)
Written by: Nick Abadzis
Art by: Elena Casagrande
Colours by: Arianna Florean

With the bulk of the opening episode of “Medicine Man” told from the perspective of Neanderthal, Munmeth, this concluding installment takes the form of a traditional Doctor Who adventure and sees Gabby and the Doctor separated, but working together to solve the mystery of the Neanderthal abductions. In a nice bit of serendipity, the plot of this story-arc felt reminiscent of the recent Season Nine episode “The Girl Who Lived”, which also featured an alien race plundering a primitive civilization and abducting people, although it was Vikings, and not Neanderthals which were focused upon in that storyline. Even, the concept of humans being forced to fight in artificially created environments reminded me of the final Second Doctor adventure, “The War Games”, ensuring that this whole storyline felt very Doctor Who in design.

Elena Casagrande returned to art duties to wrap up this two-part storyline, maintaining a similar artistic style to Leonardo Romero's work in the preceding issue, but without losing her individual voice. I loved the varied character designs on Gabby alien allies and the Monaxi themselves, which resembled giant alien hermit crabs wearing cymbals on their heads. It's a great visual and I loved the creepiness of their tentacles and jagged teeth – the eerie way they observed those in their battle arenas reminded me of the Zygons, and Casagrande's design reflected that same crustacean-esque quality. Again, the monsters felt like authentic Doctor Who monsters, which ensured that the comic felt tonally accurate to its source material.


Nick Abadzis has done a fantastic job on this storyline, hitting the right balance between historical drama and science-fiction fantasy. Some of the best Doctor Who stories have involved injecting a science-fiction element into a historical time zone and seeing the two worlds clash, and it's great to see that technique used to great effect here. I really enjoyed how Abadzis made Munmeth the narrative voice for this two-part adventure, with the Neanderthal taking the role usually occupied by Gabby. This substitution provided the reader with a narrator unlike any we've seen in Doctor Who before, and immersed us into the pre-historic time period in a much more effective manner than if we'd been following Gabby or the Doctor's narration. My only nit-pick would be the way that Gabby's team of alien associates were somewhat sidelined, but given the cliff-hanger at the end, I suspect they will become more of a presence in the spin-off storyline.

Overall, this was another solid storyline for the Tenth Doctor's second year of adventures, demonstrating Nick Abadzis' growing confidence in the role of “show-runner” for the comic as he sets up multiple mysteries for the season's central story-arc. I'm looking forward to seeing how the Monaxi's mysterious employers, Cindy and the Magic Notebook and the impatient Anubis all tie together in the end. Whilst the first year of adventures lacked any sense of continuity between its stories, this second year has felt very much in the spirit of Doctor Who, showcasing a series of inter-connected, yet separate adventures that are building towards a season finale. I am very curious as to whom the Monaxi's mysterious employer could be, and where the Doctor and his companions have been transported to. As the sole writer on this second year of adventures, Abadzis has been given increased freedom to develop strong cliff-hangers and let his stories overlap with each other, making the series far more unpredictable and fun to read.


Score - 9.6 out of 10

Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor (Vol. 2) # 5 is now available in all good comic shops, including Forbidden Planet, as well as on the Comixology website. Be sure to put in a standing order for the upcoming issues in the series when you pick up your copy!

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Review - Agent Carter: 2x02 - "A View in the Dark"


Agent Carter
Episode 2x02 - "A View in the Dark"

Synopsis

With loose ends being tidied away with brutal efficiency, Agent Carter finds herself in a race against time to discover which experiments at Isodyne Energy caused the Lady in the Lake victim to become frozen solid. Meanwhile, Doctor Wilkes offers to provide Peggy with some answers, but can he be trusted?

Review

After introducing Peggy Carter to her new locale of Los Angeles, this second episode spends some time building up her key relationships and sowing the seeds for some interesting romantic entanglements down the line, with Sousa and Dr Wilkes positioned as potential suitors for our titular heroine's heart, although each of them comes with their own baggage. While Sousa initially appeared to be moving on with a new woman in his life, it seems clear that the reappearance of Peggy has caused him to doubt the strength of his feelings for his would-be fiancée.

However, this episode seemed to focus more on Dr Wilkes as a love interest, following on from the brief flirtations seen in the previous installment. I did enjoy the scenes highlighting the bigotry and racism prevalent in late 1940s America, but it seemed clear from the outset that Wilkes wasn't going to be the man for Carter. Their whole “date” seemed laden with foreshadowing and I fully expected Wilkes to be either revealed as a traitor, or killed off to isolate Carter further. As it happens, the writer's went with the latter, although it seems clear that the door isn't firmly shut on the character. It would be funny if he was transported to the same alien world that Agents of SHIELD's Agent Simmons ended up on, but it's unlikely!

There was a slow and measured pace to this episode, which sought to develop the mystery surrounding Isodyne Energy and this new substance, Zero Matter. Whereas the season premiere served to raise questions, this episode focused on providing viewers with a rough framework to how the remainder of the season will play out, introducing a new mysterious threat in the shadowy cabal of lapel-pin wearing businessmen and explaining the newest scientific “MacGuffin” that they'll all be chasing after. As a double-bill premiere event, these two episodes worked nicely back-to-back, acting as well choreographed introduction to this new season.


Even though this episode filled in many of the blanks left behind from “The Lady in the Lake”, there were plenty of unanswered questions remaining at the end, such as the motivations behind the secret cabal of lapel pin owners and the fate of Dr Wilkes and Whitney Frost. Given the way that her face was crumbling away, and the emphasis on her old age and fading looks earlier in the episode, I suspect that her plot-line will see her face becoming disfigured like in the comics, providing her with a motivation – to return her looks. It's interesting to note the similarities between Whitney's condition and the way that the 2005 Fantastic Four movie decided to do the origin of Doctor Doom – I wonder if Whitney's face will peel away to reveal an organic metal mask beneath.

Hayley Atwell remains the heart of this show, and it's great to see her playing off against her supporting cast members, particularly James D'Arcy's Edwin Jarvis – the pair make a brilliant double-act. While Whitney Frost doesn't quite have the same presence as Dottie Underwood, I am enjoying the way that her storyline of pushy trophy-wife seems to be developing into something more unusual. I do hope that the writer's get around to weaving the New York storyline revolving around Thompson, The FBI and Dottie Underwood into this Los Angeles story-arc. With the appearance of the mysterious lapels, it seems highly likely that we will see Underwood reappear to menace Peggy in the very near future.

Overall, this was a great episode which did a brilliant job of outlining the remainder of this season's storyline, whilst leaving plenty of scope for surprises down the line. I'm really enjoying the series' central theme of post-war atomic weapons and the huge risk that they pose to the world. This was explored in Season One with Howard Stark's dangerous inventions and is set to continue with Isodyne's inadvertent creation of Zero Matter. It's great to see the origins of scientific experiments in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, knowing that these old forays into science-fiction will eventually led to things such as Iron Man's armour and Bruce Banner's Gamma experiments. Moreso than any of the TV shows on ABC or Netflix, Agent Carter feels absolutely vital to the DNA of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, showcasing the evolution from Captain America: The First Avenger to Iron Man.


Score - 9.5 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • Hugh Jones, Howard Stark's former friend and President of Roxxon Oil is revealed to be a member of the Arena Club, having previously appeared in the Season One episode "Bridge and Tunnel".

Mysteries
  • Where does Zero Matter come from? Is it related to either Gravitonium or the Monolith from Agents of SHIELD?
  • What happened to Dr Wilkes?
  • What is wrong with Whitney Frost's face?
  • Why does Whitney Frost want the Zero Matter?
  • Why did Dottie Underwood want to get one of the secret society lapels?

Next Episode - "Better Angels"
Peggy's pursuit of the truth about Zero Matter places her on a collision course with her superiors.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Review - Agent Carter: 2x01 - "The Lady in the Lake"


Agent Carter
Episode 2x01 - "The Lady in the Lake"

Synopsis

A year after her previous adventure with Howard Stark, Agent Peggy Carter finds herself drawn into another exciting mystery as she is transferred to Los Angeles to help out Sousa and the SSR’s West Coast division. Meanwhile, Dottie Underwood re-emerges from hiding with a new mysterious agenda and her obsession with Peggy still firmly intact.

Review

After the success of its initial eight episode mini-series, Agent Carter returns to TV screens to once again fill in for Agents of SHIELD during its hiatus, this time for a ten-episode run and substituting the dark streets of post-war New York for the glitz and glamour of Los Angeles. Straight off the bat, the series addresses the loose plot thread of Dottie Underwood before setting up its newest season arc, although I suspect that Miss Underwood will return to menace Peggy at the most inopportune moment. It was interesting to see a different side to Peggy this time around, bolstered with confidence and support following on from her success at apprehending Leviathan – in fact, it was this new-found respect and recognition within the team that made Thompson, now Chief of the SSR, somewhat envious and eager to transfer her over to the west coast offices.

The writers clearly know they have a good thing with the pairing of Carter and Jarvis, and the two are quickly reunited and a new perspective is introduced to their relationship with the first on-screen appearance of Ana, his wife. In fact, with Sousa, Thompson and Underwood all returning for this second series, Agent Carter managed to maintain the same atmosphere and tone as its inaugural series, despite the change in locale. The decision to relocate to Los Angeles is an inspired one, and I love that whole 1940's Hollywood vibe, and while it isn't overly apparent in this first episode, I hope that the series will tap into that whole gritty detective noir mood. I'm a massive fan of that “Hollywood Grime” genre, exemplified by stories such as LA Noire and the Black Dahlia. There's something about explored the seamy underbelly of Hollywood excess that appeals to me, and this 1940s time period is so evocative. Most of my enjoyment from the first series came from the effectiveness of its period-centric storytelling and the way the series felt like a spiritual sequel to Captain America: The First Avenger, showcasing the world that Steve Rogers left behind. I certainly hope this continues with this sophomoric outing.


The murder mystery at the heart of this episode is a fascinating one, and much like the theft of Stark's inventions in the first series, I like the subtle introduction of science-fiction into this 1940s time period. This is a world before alien invasions became a routine, almost annual, occurrence for the people of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so it's good to see the series adopt a restrained approach to its more colourful elements. Once again it seems as if scientific advances are at the heart of this storyline with the mysterious Isodyne Energy corporation behind some experimentation that led to the “cold virus” that spread through its victims in this episode. It's a great visual hook, and much like the Nitramene from the last season, it seems wholly believable in this 1940s environment where scientists are busy creating the latest nuclear weaponry.

While most of this episode was dedicated to reintroducing the characters in their new situations and setting up the new status-quo, I found myself enjoying the beginnings of this latest mystery, which had enough similarities to the previous season-arc to feel  true to the spirit of the series, but also distinguished itself to ensure that it wasn't just retreading old ground. It seems that the Agent Carter writing team has a clear vision of what made Season One so great and is building upon that for its second season. Hayley Atwell remains pitch-perfect as the charismatic lead, bringing Peggy Carter to life as the unflappable special agent who is able to take charge of things in a male-dominated world. She's a fantastic actress and a brilliant role model for female empowerment – something that has been lacking in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and comic book TV shows as a whole. Yes, I'm looking at you, Supergirl!


Score - 9.7 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • Whitney Frost is the civilian name of Madame Masque, a love interest and enemy of Iron Man in the Marvel Comics Universe. She wears a golden mask to cover up her disfigured face and has no super-powers, although she is skilled in hand-to-hand combat and a keen marksman. (First app: Tales of Suspense # 98)
  • Frost’s latest movie “Tales of Suspense” is a reference to the name of the comic she first appeared in.

Mysteries
  • Why did Dottie Underwood break into a bank just to steal a lapel pin?
  • What was it that caused the corpse, the mortician and Detective Henry to freeze to death?
  • What is the mysterious substance that Dr Wilkes was observing at the episode climax?

Next Episode - "A View in the Dark"
Peggy discovers her murder investigation has huge ramifications that can destroy her career, as well as everyone near and dear to her.

Friday, 22 January 2016

Review - Supergirl: 1x10 - "Childish Things"

Supergirl
Episode 1x10 - "Childish Things"

Synopsis

Winn’s life is shaken to the core when his father (the super-villain known as Toyman) escapes from a high-security prison in the hopes to re-connect with his son and turn him over to the dark-side. Meanwhile, Alex and Hank work together to infiltrate Lord Technologies and discover what he is hiding behind locked doors.

Review

After an uneven return after the Christmas break, this tenth episode of Supergirl reached new heights for the series with a brilliant central storyline revolving around hapless side-kick, Winn, developing the character away from the one-note “best friend in love” persona he’d been stuck with from the beginning. It’s great to see Jeremy Jordan given some meatier storylines, rather than looking longingly at Kara – although he does manage to squeeze some of that in too! As with Kara’s emotional outburst over her 'mother issues' in "Hostile Takeover", this episode sees Winn unleash his buried feelings about his father, resulting in a surprising kiss and attempt to sneak out of the friend zone, although judging from Kara’s awkwardness at the end of the episode; she isn’t prepared to let things change just yet. I do like that the show is beginning to push its actors to their limits, generating some emotionally-charged scenes. Benoist and Jordan have some great chemistry, and have proven themselves to be strong actors, compared to Mehcad Brook’s Jimmy Olsen who just hasn’t really had the opportunity to stand out, and seems to be on the show to look attractive.

I really enjoyed the Toyman storyline, which was surprisingly low-key compared to some of the grander threats to National City in the past ten episodes. Quite rightly, the writers were focused on the emotional consequences of Winslow Schott Sr’s escape and its impact on Winn, rather than organizing another dramatic set-piece, although I quite liked seeing Supergirl stuck in the quicksand when she attempted to confront Toyman in his hideout. The way that Toyman constantly referred to Winn as his “greatest creation”, for one moment, I actually thought that we’d get a shock reveal that Winn was actually some kind of artificial intelligence or ‘ultimate toy’ that had been designed by his father. That certainly would have been a shocker… although the episode did manage to pull the rug out from under me and my girlfriend later on when we both audibly gasped at the reveal that Maxwell Lord had planted a bug on Alex, which led to the reveal of her secret identity. This has to be the best cliff-hanger that the series has managed yet, and promises to be more of a game-changer than the bait-and-switch we had with Cat Grant in “Blood Bonds”.


Ever since the reveal that Hank Henshaw was actually Martian Manhunter in disguise, I’ve found myself enjoying the DEO scenes and appreciating the character more. The opening sequence which saw J’onn J’onzz giving Supergirl some flying lessons provided some great visuals, and I love the fact that J’onzz is beginning to use his powers more to assist Kara and Alex. With his shape-shifting abilities, he was the perfect candidate to sneak into Maxwell Lord’s facility and find out what was going on behind locked doors. It also gave us the opportunity to discover another of his powers – his memory wipe – which not only wipes out short-term memory but appears to butcher the victim’s memory in multiple places. Given the way that Henshaw reacts to being forced to reuse his abilities, I suspect that he has used them before reluctantly, possibly wiping the memories of the real Hank Henshaw and Alex’s father, Jeremiah Danvers. I find it hard to believe both characters were killed off, and it would explain their absence if they’re both memory-wiped somewhere. I mean, you don’t hire Dean Cain to just make two cameo appearances with less than a dozen lines – clearly, we will see more of his character – either in flashback or current day form.

This was easily the best episode of the series so far, developing both the series’ main characters and advancing the central mythology story-arc in a satisfactory manner. While some of the plot holes from “Hostile Takeover” and “Blood Bonds” remain, the series has introduced a great mystery with the Jane Doe in Lord’s laboratories and willingly shaken up the status-quo by having Supergirl’s greatest enemy learn her true identity. This episode feels like the Supergirl writers are planning beyond their inaugural season, dropping hints at a longer story-arc with Winn and his potential dark side, and setting Maxwell Lord up to be a viable threat against Supergirl and the DEO. Despite a few wobbly episodes at the beginning, Supergirl is fast becoming a series that I look forward to watching every week, and one that I am glad I took the chance on. I just hope the writers maintain this winning formula of superheroics and character development, and shy away from the clichéd relationship melodrama that soured those initial episodes.


Score - 9.4 out of 10

Next Episode - "Strange Visitor from Another Planet"
Kara helps Hank face his painful past when a White Martian, who wiped out all of the Green Martians from Mars, kidnaps Senator Miranda Crane who is an anti-alien politician. Meanwhile, Adam Foster (Cat Grant's estranged first-born son) arrives in National City.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

2000AD Prog 1964

Prog 1964 Cover by Clint Langley

After a few weeks acclimatising to Clint Langley's artwork in black and white, it's fantastic to see it in colour again here. Unfortunately most of the tension that comes from this dramatic pose is easily defused when you consider that this entire ABC Warriors storyline is told as a flashback and Ro-Jaws is currently alive in the series' present, but it doesn't detract from the layout of the image. I love this rougher look for Langley's artwork, compared to the smoother textures of his computer-assisted artwork, as it not only gives the robots a more dishevelled look but it also allows details, such as the wiry “tendons” in Hammerstein's biceps to stand out.


JUDGE DREDD - GHOSTS (Part 2)
Script - Michael Carroll
Art - Mark Sexton
Colours - Len O' Grady
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Michael Carroll and Mark Sexton pull no punches on this dramatic second episode of “Ghosts”. While I expected a slow-burn approach to this mystery of missing cadets, Carroll immediately turns the action levels up to eleven by having an assassin strike Dredd and brutally murdering a control room full of Judges. It is possibly one of the most shocking and violent scenes in recent Judge Dredd history, with Sexton’s fabulous artwork enhancing the sudden and vicious nature of the attack. That final panel with Grayden making her extraction and leaving a dying Dredd and numerous bloody bodies in her wake manages to communicate the trauma that occurs in the aftermath of such a shocking incident. Given the recent attacks in Paris, there is an added resonance here at this spree shooting and it’s brave of 2000AD to showcase scenes that parallel current events with both this storyline and the ongoing Total War terrorist attacks.


Sexton, along with Len O’ Grady’s pitch-perfect colour palette, is doing a truly spectacular job in his debut strip and has instantly made a name for himself in a scant two episodes. The realism to Sexton’s art helps this scene deliver a punch to the reader’s gut, leaving you breathless as you reach the final page. Aside from the quality of the artwork itself, there’s a wonderful sense of direction in the panels – I particularly liked the way the action switched to the POV of the remote drone once Dredd gained the upper hand, viewing the event from outside before its eventual introduction into the conflict. It was a brilliant cinematic flourish and really added to the blockbuster nature of this storyline. Carroll and Sexton are doing a tremendous job with this serial, subverting expectation and grabbing the reader by the throat and not letting go.



KINGDOM - BEAST OF EDEN (Part 4)
Script - Dan Abnett
Art - Richard Elson
Letters - Ellie de Ville

After a burst of action last Prog, Dan Abnett pours on the mystery in this installment of Kingdom as Gene and company explore the LOST-inspired hatch and unravel more layers to the series' mythology. However, there isn't much chance to delve into the new questions raised by the Auxiliary Storage facility as Gene discovers that the giant swarm of Them they encountered earlier on is headed towards Kingdom. This technique of alternating between exposition and action is what manages to keep Kingdom moving along at such a fast pace, never letting events rest too long and keeping the narrative flowing with set-piece after set-piece. Given the heavy foreboding at the start of this storyline, I have a horrible feeling that Gene and the remnants of his pack will be too late to prevent their home from being destroyed and the life that our hero has built up may be lost. Richard Elson continues to deliver top-notch artwork, bringing a very tangible mood to the underground laboratory that helped fuel Abnett's script.



THE ORDER - IN THE COURT OF THE WYRMQUEEN (Part 4)
Script - Kek-W
Art - John Burns
Letters - Ellie de Ville

With this latest installment of The Order, Kek-W continues to explore the anachronisms that were a compelling element of the initial storyline, with a motorcycle riding through the streets of 16th Century London. Rather than overtly spelling out the plot, Kek-W makes use of the character's dialogue to draw the brush strokes and allows the reader's imagination to fill in the gaps. Clearly, the Order of Ouroboros is some organisation set up by Ritterstahl, as evidenced by the helmets they wear which are fashioned on the metallic man's previous head-piece. It appears that Queen Elizabeth is under the control of the Wurms and has used her men to get her hands on the Golden Seed for some nefarious plan. I love this more sophisticated approach to storytelling, which removed the need to stale exposition at the start of this new series and allowed the reader's to join events in motion.


Curiously, I noted that this new incarnation of The Order is named “the Order of Ouroboros” - now those familiar with their ancient iconography may recognise Ouroboros as the symbol of a snake eating its own tale, which represents an infinite loop. The inclusion of this subtle easter egg seems to lend credence to my theory that the anachronisms in this series are a result of Ritterstahl sending himself back in time to engineer events a certain way to prevent the Wurms from taking over the world. Kind of like Terminator, but set in Elizabethan England and with worm creatures! I'm enjoying every moment of this series, thanks to Kek-W's wonderful scripting and John Burns' simply sublime artwork. As with its predecessor, this is shaping up to be a breakout series for 2000AD, showcasing the rich diversity that the anthology is capable of.



THE A.B.C. WARRIORS - RETURN TO RO-BUSTERS (Part 4)
Script - Pat Mills
Art - Clint Langley
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Revisiting Ro-Busters has allowed Pat Mills to showcase his sense of humour, and this episode's opening sequence which has Ro-Jaws parody Roy Batty's famous speech from the climax of Blade Runner is a brilliant example. It's clear that Mills loves writing for Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein – after all, these were the two characters who launched the whole ABC Warriors series. I am impressed by the way that Mills manages to recapture that classic Ro-Busters mood from the original series but coated with a more modern edge that references real-world developments since the late 70s / early 80s, such as Anonymous. It seems that this story is building towards a retelling of “The Fall and Rise of Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein” which closed out the initial run of Ro-Busters stories.


As I've said before in previous reviews, Clint Langley's artwork looks absolutely fantastic in black and white, evoking a retro feel that fits nicely against this revisitation of the Ro-Busters era. Steeped in darkness, the sequences featuring Howard Quartz evoke a truly Machiavellian tone to the story, giving the owner of Ro-Busters an air of menace not unlike Claw from Inspector Gadget. I also love the energy that comes from the scenes of Hammerstein unleashing his pent-up anger against Mek-Quake, filled with intricate detail and the “robot gore” of wires and oil spilling out all over the panels. With its heavy nostalgic tones contrasting against the modern art techniques, this storyline feels watching a cinema classic like Gone with the Wind in high-definition and discovering hidden details you never realised were there.



STRONTIUM DOG - REPO MEN (Part 4)
Script - John Wagner
Art - Carlos Ezquerra
Letters - Simon Bowland

John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra continue to develop this latest Strontium Dog caper, taking their time to showcase Johnny and his gang infiltrating the inner sanctum of the Galanthans. While nothing of note occurs during this particular installment, it remains engaging and full of the same nostalgic energy currently seen over in The ABC Warriors. I'm enjoying the slower pace to this story as it dwells on the heist aspect of the adventure, showcasing the mutants making use of their various powers to evade detection. It's a credit to Wagner and Ezquerra's storytelling skills that an episode with little action manages to remain engaging to the reader, drawing them further into the high-stakes nature of this adventure. With two of 2000AD's best creators at the helm, it's relaxing to sit back and enjoy the narrative ride which they intend to take us on.



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

Without a shadow of a doubt, the sheer brutality of this Prog's Judge Dredd earns it the spot as “Thrill of the Week”, with Mark Sexton's stunning artwork bringing the shock attack to life with unsettling realism. I'm also enjoying the fast-paced nature of The Order and Kingdom, which help counter-balance the slower moving Strontium Dog and The ABC Warriors, as they revel in nostalgia. 2000AD has gotten the mix of stories just right with this line-up, blending an array of wonderful worlds together to make a fine broth of thrill-power in one handy magazine format. If you like comics or sci-fi, then you have no excuse – you should be reading 2000AD right now!


Thrill of the Week: Judge Dredd


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1964 will be available in stores on Wednesday 20th January - 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!

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Review - The Shepherd: Apokatastasis

The Shepherd: Apokatastasis
Written by: Andrea Lorenzo Molinari & Roberto Xavier Molinari
Art by: Ryan Showers
Colours by: Heather Breckel
Letters & Logo Design by: Jacob Bascle
Published by: Caliber Comics

Written by the father-son team of Andrea Lorenzo Molinari and Roberto Xavier Molinari, The Shepherd is a supernatural comic series that tells the story of a grief-stricken father as he makes the ultimate sacrifice in order to rescue the lost soul of his recently departed son. The series itself was borne out of a nightmare that Andrea had, which haunted the writer until he was able to put it to the page with the help of his son, Roberto, and artist, Ryan Showers. With an unusual muse behind the series’ origins, it’s clear to see why this story feels so raw and real, with Andrea’s experience helping bring those feelings of grief and loss to life in such an effective manner. The initial installment, which covers the death of the protagonist’s young son, is depicted with chilling normalcy and everyday realism that the character’s drastic decision to end his own life feels like the natural end to his journey. Except, it isn't…

The remainder of this introductory storyline manages to channel the same energy and flavour seen in other supernatural redemptive stories such as, Spawn and Ghost Rider. Lawrence Miller is an interesting and complex protagonist, both before and after he becomes ‘The Shepherd’, dealing with his anger and grief in ways that most people are unable to do, by getting revenge on those individuals who caused his the death of his son. Armed with a staff of truth which has powers that resemble Ghost Rider's own penance stare, Miller seeks out the drug dealers responsible for his son's death and unleashing pure and unbridled truth onto them, causing them to react in different ways. Both Andrea and Roberto do a fantastic job at capturing the lead character’s personality, placing his grief over his son at the heart of the book with a strong narrative voice evident throughout the series. I was blown away by the strength of the writing on display here, not only do the Molinari’s manage to get under the skin of grief, but they do a excellent job at exploring the grieving process through the voice of a fictional character.

Man's Best Friend?

The series’ artist Ryan Showers brings a wonderful tone to the book, whilst its colorist, Heather Breckel effortlessly conjures up the right mood with her choices, using a more muted “everyday” colour palette used to depict the living world of the first issue, before indulging in darker hues and a sickly green shade as Miller finds himself stuck between the two worlds of life and death. Supplementary materials at the back of the collected edition reveal that the Showers was brought in when the original artist Josh Barker was unable to complete the series due to family illness – some of Barker's pages are showcased in this section and I have to agree with Andreas' decision to go with Showers' more emotional take on the story as opposed to the darker, grittier feel that came from Barker's artwork. Showers' artwork certainly ensured that the emotional core of the story resonated deeply with me and was the ideal companion to the Molinaris' script, managing to balance family melodrama and supernatural horror in equal measures.

The Shepherd: Apokatastasis is an absolutely fantastic example of independent comics, and several times I found myself thinking that this could easily have been published by Image or Top Cow – it has that gritty supernatural feel to the storyline that makes it an ideal fit for those publishers. The story had me gripped from the start and I eagerly devoured all five chapters in the space of an evening – enjoying Lawrence Miller's journey through the afterlife as he searches for the soul of his son, and retribution for his death. The writing was absolutely sublime, adding a real human element to a story of revenge from beyond the grave, whilst the artwork excelled at communicating the emotional core of the storyline. Fans of Spawn, Ghost Rider and The Crow should definitely check this series out – and the characters themselves should step aside because there's a brand-new spirit of vengeance in town!


Score - 9.4 out of 10

The Shepherd: Apokatastasis is available to buy from Amazon.com and digitally from DriveThruComics.com and Comixology.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

2000AD Prog 1963

Prog 1963 Cover by Ryan Brown

This more realistic take on Kingdom from Ryan Brown has me torn – while I find it hard to adjust to any artist besides Richard Elson bringing Gene and his world to life, there is something about this interpretation of the character that lingers in the mind. With Tharg ‘dream-casting’ Tom Hardy in the role of Gene in the Nerve Centre, this fresh approach to the character certainly feels like promotional artwork for a film adaptation of the series. Whereas Richard Elson’s artwork imbues the strip with a Saturday Morning cartoon vibe, Ryan Brown goes for a much darker and mysterious approach – with his red eyes and gritted teeth, Gene the Hackman looks less like “man’s best friend” and more like “someone’s worst nightmare!”


JUDGE DREDD - GHOSTS (Part 1)
Script - Michael Carroll
Art - Mark Sexton
Colours - Len O' Grady
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Michael Carroll kicks off the first multi-part Judge Dredd thriller of the year, focusing on a missing person case that appears to reveal corruption and misdeeds at the heart of the Cadet Judge selection process. Corruption in the Justice Department has always been a plot device that writers have drawn upon, but recently it seems to be recurring more frequently with stories like “Bender”, “Mega City Confidential” and “Blood of the Emeralds” all exploring Judicial misconduct in a variety of different ways. Here, by concentrating on the grief of the parents, Carroll hooks the reader into the mystery with the emotional bait, and I'm ready to be reeled in for the rest of the mystery.

"Gaze into the fist of... oh, you know the rest"

This story marks the debut for new art-droid Mark Sexton, who Tharg reveals is an Australian storyboard artist who had recently worked on the film, Mad Max: Fury Road. I was struck by how wonderfully detailed his panels were, and his take on Dredd himself feels very reminiscent of Chris Weston's style. That first panel on the second page, which reveals Dredd in the doorway is a  brilliant self-assured debut on the character, effortlessly communicating his hard-ass personality with one single pose. I also loved the bold colour choices made by Len O'Grady, which works perfectly with Sexton's inks, giving it a distinctive look that suits the series. I am very impressed by this new art-droid and look forward to seeing him quickly fall into the regular roster of Judge Dredd artists in the future.



KINGDOM - BEAST OF EDEN (Part 3)
Script - Dan Abnett
Art - Richard Elson
Letters - Ellie de Ville

Richard Elson takes the lead on this episode of Kingdom with a fantastically choreographed action sequence that, as Tharg himself notes, feels heavily influenced by Mad Max: Fury Road. There's a genuine sense of danger throughout this installment as most of Gene's pack are killed during the chaos, including long-time supporting character Tommy Hawk, who suffers one of the goriest deaths in the series at the hands of a spit-bug. It's great to see the series developing in scale from the small skirmishes between Gene and Them seen in the initial storyline to these huge battles across the desert. The introduction of a mysterious hatch, much like in LOST, has piqued my curiosity and I am very interested to see where Dan Abnett plans to go with this, as I have felt like the series has felt dominated by its action sequences lately and needs some narrative thrust to push it forward.



THE ORDER - IN THE COURT OF THE WYRMQUEEN (Part 3)
Script - Kek-W
Art - John Burns
Letters - Ellie de Ville

Three episodes in and the first concrete link between the two books is made as Kek-W reveals that Daniel Calhoun has been infected with Ritterstahl's memories, with the ginger-haired Irishman compelled to locate “Anna Cole”, presumably an English derivation of her original name, Anna Kohl. Kek-W dangles some more morsels of plot to the hungry reader in the form of Calhoun's rantings, suggesting that Queen Elizabeth I is actually a Wyrmqueen in disguise and may be corrupting the Royal Court. Rather than spelling things out, the plot seems to be developing organically from the events and I'm very impressed with the way that Kek-W has plotted this sequel, bringing the themes of the original into a whole new era. I love the way that Kek-W explores the concept of legacy heroes in The Order, which feels like a mash-up between Watchmen and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, substituting the well-trodden Victorian era for Elizabethan London instead.


John Burns is producing some absolutely legendary artwork here, imbuing the series with an atmosphere that practically rises off of the page. He is the perfect choice for this romp through the Elizabethan era, and I love the colour choices he has made throughout these last few installments, making Calhoun's distinctive red hair stand out from every panel it is featured in. The final panel, which features a Terminator-esque “Come with me if you want to live” moment is a great cliff-hanger and indicates a reunion of sorts between Anna and Ritterstahl in the next installment. I am looking forward to seeing Kek-W fill in the blanks between the two series with these two characters, and creating some firmer continuity between the two time periods. I'm very glad that this series has returned to the Prog, after what was initially assumed to be a one-off outing – I would love to see the series do a Blackadder and advance throughout the various historical timelines, possibly even ending up with Ritterstahl sending his mechanic body back to the time period of the original series.



THE A.B.C. WARRIORS - RETURN TO RO-BUSTERS (Part 3)
Script - Pat Mills
Art - Clint Langley
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Pat Mills continues to court nostalgia with this latest episode of “Return to Ro-Busters” as he revisits a common theme of the original Ro-Busters storylines and has Hammerstein and Ro-Jaws facing destruction at the hands of Mek-Quake. Whereas they'd usually get a last minute reprieve, Mills shows no signs in making things that easy for the robot double-act and has Ro-Jaws undergo painful torture, all the whilst maintaining his trademark unruly attitude. Given how this story is transpiring, I'm guessing it is set to fill in some of the blanks between the final Ro-Busters story-arc and the re-emergence of the ABC Warriors in Nemesis the Warlock.


I'm really enjoying the blend of computer graphics and hand-drawn artwork that Clint Langley brings to the strip, alternating between art styles for the scenes featuring Howard Quartz and the more rough and ready sequences featuring Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein. I love the grind-house feel that Langley brings to Mek-Quake's lair, with bits of robots strewn across the floor in a gruesome display. This rougher style certainly emphasises the brutality of Mek-Quake's “big jobs” and makes the fact the duo aren't given an instant reprieve, all the more shocking. Obviously, given this is a flashback, we know that the two robots will make it through this somehow, but it's interesting to see Pat Mills play against expectations and develop 'cliff-hangers' within an established narrative.



STRONTIUM DOG - REPO MEN (Part 3)
Script - John Wagner
Art - Carlos Ezquerra
Letters - Simon Bowland

With the addition of humourous 'Lonely Cosmos' travel tips into the story's narrative, John Wagner has once again tapped into that nostalgic charm that makes his Strontium Dog stories so much fun. It's a fantastic narrative device that not only allows the writer to flesh out this new alien planet through a faux-tour guide, but also allows him to create humour. I'm really enjoying the Ocean's Eleven atmosphere to this story as Johnny attempts to lead his crew of friends, foes and in-between on a wonderfully complex heist. While I really enjoyed the previous adventure, “The Stix Fix”, the addition of this supporting cast has elevated “Repo Men” far beyond it, capturing that old-school Strontium Dog magic. The term “instant classic” gets tossed around a lot, but it is the best way to describe this current wave of Strontium Dog stories, following on from “The Life and Death of Johnny Alpha”.

One major ingredient in crafting these “instant classics” is Carlos Ezquerra, whose artwork brings a timeless quality to these stories. If these were printed in black and white, you'd almost mistake them for missing tales from the Starlord era! While this storyline is still firmly in the set-up phase, with Wagner placing the various pieces on the narrative chess-board and introducing Chekhov Gun's left, right and centre; it remains an entertaining read, thanks to the wit of the 'Lonely Cosmos' guide and the banter between 'Johnny's Nine'. This series feels like the narrative equivalent of a roller-coaster, currently making its ascent and heading towards the pinnacle where it will become a white-knuckle ride for the readers. If only Strontium Dog could be a permanent fixture like Judge Dredd...



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

Once again, we have another fantastic Prog with multiple stories vying for the position of “Thrill of the Week”, ultimately I have to say that The Order was the one that I enjoyed the most this week, although both Judge Dredd and Strontium Dog were strong contenders for the title. I'm really enjoying the mix of stories in this current line-up and the balance of nostalgic strips (The ABC Warriors, Strontium Dog) contrasted against newer series, such as The Order and Kingdom. It's a great time to be a 2000AD fan, with long-term readers rewarded with some classic thrills that feel just as fresh and ground-breaking today as they did when they debuted in the seventies.


Thrill of the Week: The Order 


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1963 will be available in stores on Wednesday 13th January - 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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