Sunday, 28 February 2016

Review - Agent Carter: 2x09 - "A Little Song and Dance"


Agent Carter
Episode 2x09 - "A Little Song and Dance"

Synopsis

Determined to find out more about Dr. Wilkes exposure to the alternate dimension, Whitney Frost begins to experiment on him – whilst Peggy and Jarvis find themselves at odds as they attempt to escape Manfredi's men. Meanwhile, Agent Thompson reveals his true colours as he attempts to engineer a plan to defuse the Zero Matter problem…

Review

Even in its penultimate episode, Agent Carter continues to experiment with its narrative structure with an opening dream sequence that resembled a musical production of the 1940s. While it was fun to see the main cast singing and dancing their way through Peggy’s romantic sub-conscious, this sequence did overrun slightly and offered nothing constructive to the episode aside from a brief cameo from Angie, Peggy’s room-mate from the first season. Earlier in the season it would have made a nice diversion from the slow-burning storyline, but with the stakes raised and the plot hurtling towards a conclusion, it did feel like an over-indulgent way to open this episode. Admittedly, after the fast-paced action of last episode, “A Little Song and Dance” did feel somewhat slow at times, rebuilding the tension and suspense for the final episode.

The main thrust of this episode was Chief Thompson and his wavering loyalties – after seemingly establishing him as an ally in the preceding episode, the show’s writers kept the audience guessing as to his true motivations with multiple double-crosses and bluffs. I must admit part of me did think he was stupid enough to betray everyone in order to gain a seat on the Council of Nine – in fact, I was surprised at how quickly the writers raised and dismissed that notion. It would have been more fun if they’d played with it a bit longer before letting us (and Peggy) in on Thompson’s plan. Despite the fact he was working on the right side, Thompson’s extreme plan was met with criticism from both Carter and Sousa, leading to a tense confrontation outside the junkyard. I suspect it will be quickly resolved once they become aware of Dr. Wilkes’ explosion inside, but it made for an interesting stand-off and injected some dramatic tension in the episode’s final moments.


My initial guess that Dr. Wilkes had been possessed by an alien entity turned out to be completely wrong and it seems he has instead observed a massive amount of Zero Matter, which has made his body unstable and extremely volatile. His final scenes, which saw him accept his fate and exploding all over Whitney Frost and Vernon Masters, suggest that he has inadvertently empowered the pair of power-mad villains, giving Agent Carter and her friends two super-powered threats to eliminate. I’m curious to see the aftermath of this development and how much it has changed Masters and Frost. With Joseph Manfredi and Dottie Underwood also on the side-lines, the season finale has been littered with a number of antagonists for her heroes to deal with and I hope it manages to deliver a satisfactory ending to what has been a slightly uneven second season. With the stakes raised, I do worry about the safety of our heroes – particularly Thompson and Sousa – who are the most expendable of the cast.

As a prelude to the grand finale, this episode of Agent Carter does a tremendous job in setting events in motion, although it was slightly off-centre at times. In amongst the scene-building for the finale, there were some great character moments, especially between Peggy and Jarvis as the two let loose their pent-up frustrations about the other. It was great to see the series deal with Jarvis’ footloose “love affair” with the espionage and spy world, which has been a subtle ‘narrative fruit’ that has been growing throughout the season. While the relationship has been played for laughs throughout the two seasons of Agent Carter, it was great to see some genuine character moments between the two and seeing Jarvis grow out of the caricature foppish butler role and into a three-dimensional character. While the first season was firmly focused on Peggy Carter herself, this second season has done a great job at sharing the spotlight, providing secondary characters like Edwin Jarvis, Daniel Sousa and Dottie Underwood with some intriguing character development.


Score - 9.4 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • The opening dance sequence feels like a blend of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes, "Once More with Feeling" and "Restless".

Mysteries
  • What happened when Dr. Wilkes exploded?

Next Episode - "Hollywood Ending"
Peggy needs Howard Stark to eliminate Zero Matter as they are faced with a mission none of them could come back.

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Review - Agent Carter: 2x08 - "The Edge of Mystery"


Agent Carter
Episode 2x08 - "The Edge of Mystery"

Synopsis

As Jarvis and Peggy deal with the aftermath of Whitney’s invasion of Stark’s home, she begins her plans to re-enact the atomic explosion that introduced Zero Matter into our universe with the aim to increase her power and mastery over the alien element. With things heading towards a climax, there are some surprising last-minute changes of allegiance as the two sides clash.

Review

This was a stand-out episode of Agent Carter, which much like “Life of the Party” served to push the narrative closer towards the season finale. I was surprised by the amount of character development that occurred in this episode, with both Dr. Wilkes and Chief Thompson making sudden switches in their allegiance and revealing their true colours. As Wilkes snapped and turned against Peggy and Sousa, it seemed clear that the love triangle was something of a red herring and the writer's planned for Peggy and Sousa to get together – although, I can't shake the feeling that either Sousa or Thompson might not make it out of this season alive. In fact, the moment when Thompson stood up to Vernon Masters, I half-expected him to receive a bullet in the gut for his reward, but luckily he only received a mild case of amnesia. I really liked seeing the two SSR boys working alongside Peggy – it felt like old times, and was one of the highlights of the episode was both Thompson and Sousa shouting at Samberly to “do as Peggy says”.

There was also a dramatic change in character from Jarvis, who displayed some wonderfully human moments when he was beside his wife's hospital bed. Both the writing and James D'Arcy's performance were top-notch, elevating the character beyond a simple side-kick and buffoon. It was interesting to see him driven by revenge, especially the way he shot Whitney Frost in the chest without warning. It adds a whole new dimension to the character, demonstrating how easily good men can snap and become ruthless, dangerous and bad-ass. He's like the 1940's version of The Punisher! With his last will and testament stored in his wife's care package in the hospital, it seems clear that the writer's want us to think that Jarvis is in serious danger, but considering his double-act with Peggy is one of the defining elements of the series, I would be very surprised if he was killed off. On a side-note, I thought the revelation that his wife was unable to have kids due to her internal injuries was a bit out of the blue – it felt like it was merely introduced to give Jarvis more reason to want Whitney dead, but I don't think it was needed.


The climactic set-piece in the desert certainly felt 'big' as all of the lead characters congregated in one place. If it has been two episodes later, it could easily have been the final battle, but clearly something else has been introduced into the mix that is bigger than Whitney Frost's hunger for more power, and I suspect these remaining two episodes will position Wilkes (or whatever is inside him) to be the new “big bad”. Once he went inside the void, I wasn't expecting him to be spat back out into our world, and I definitely wasn't expecting him to have things crawling about underneath his skin. It's interesting to note how similar this particular aspect of the plot is the current one running in Agents of SHIELD, which saw saw Grant Ward also returning through a portal and possessed by an alien entity. I am very eager to find out what has happened to Wilkes, and what he has brought back with him. The whole scene was masterfully paced, creating a genuine sense of uncertainly as the two scientists opened up a black hole to another dimension. Given that there are two nukes, I expect Whitney will attempt a second breach in the finale, and I can't wait to find out more about the dimensional rift and what lies behind it.

This was a superb episode that set things up nicely for the finale and provided viewers with a wonderful cliff-hanger ending riddled with mysteries. I must admit that the ending had me eager to watch the next installment – something that rarely occurs with TV shows nowadays – I think the last time I was this excited for the next episode of a TV show was at the end of the penultimate episode of Breaking Bad's final season. With two episodes left to go, I hope that the show's writers don't lose the pace established in the final quarter of this episode as it truly felt as if things were coming to a head. It will be interesting to see how Sousa and Thompson work together to rescue Peggy and Jarvis from Whitney Frost's clutches, especially with her pet mobster Joseph Manfredi in charge. There's also that loose end of Dottie Underwood, who I sincerely hope returns during these final two episodes, especially if a Season Three looks unlikely. It would be a great twist if she partnered with Sousa and Thompson to rescue Peggy, possibly even redeeming herself in the process. I have no idea how things will play out over the next two episodes, but the events of this episode have certainly gotten me ready for what promises to be a thrill ride of a finale!


Score - 9.7 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • N/A

Mysteries
  • Where is Dottie Underwood?
  • What has happened to Dr. Wilkes?
  • Where did Dr. Wilkes travel to when he went inside the dimensional rift?

Next Episode - "A Little Song and Dance"
Peggy desperately tries to save Dr. Wilkes with a dangerous plan to stop Whitney Frost. But Thompson makes a surprising move that could destroy them all.

Friday, 26 February 2016

Review - Supergirl: 1x14 - "Truth, Justice and the American Way"

Supergirl
Episode 1x14 - "Truth, Justice and the American Way"

Synopsis

When one of the jailers from Fort Rozz begins to hunt down and execute the prison ship's escapees, Supergirl finds herself in the Master Jailer's cross-hairs. Meanwhile, Jimmy finds himself torn between his loyalties to Supergirl and his journalistic ethics when Cat Grant asks him to investigate Maxwell Lord's 'disappearance'.

Review

Hot off the heels of Astra's surprise demise, the episode opens up with Non bursting into the Danvers Sister's apartment – however rather than starting a fight, he invites Supergirl to Astra's funeral and makes a threat against her life before disappearing into space to observe the traditional Kryptonian mourning period of two weeks, which along with Alura's AI refusing to answer questions about Project Myriad, allows the show's writers to postpone this story-arc until the season finale. Instead we're treated to a whole new perspective on the Fort Rozz escapee format with the revelation that one of the prison ship's security guard's survived the crash onto Earth and has been hunting down the alien criminals and executing them with a surprisingly high-tech guillotine. This plot-line was relatively predictable, but watching the Master Jailer's extreme methods to capturing the Fort Rozz prisoners allowed Kara to re-evaluate her own decisions.

While the majority of the supporting cast have had episodes centred around them, James Olsen hasn't seen much focus or character development aside from his badly-acted revelation to the Bizarro Supergirl that he loved the real version. Here, he displays a conflict of interests – finding the DEO's imprisonment of Maxwell Lord to be unjust and akin to Guantanamo Bay. While it is an interesting way to build barriers between James and Kara, Mehcad Brooks doesn't really pull it off and comes across as an ineffectual and whiny teenager – this is compounded by his bizarre request to tell Lucy Lane about Supergirl's true identity, in order to get her to trust him more. Yeah, I'm sure that will work, James – she already thinks you fancy Supergirl, I'm sure she'll be fine when she discovers it's your co-worker who clearly fancies you back. The guy is as dumb as a pile of bricks – the handsome ones normally are! As idiotic as his demand is, it does raise a slight bit of dramatic tension into proceedings and I'm very interested to see how James and Supergirl handle things – will she forbid him from telling her, or will he break things off with Lucy? Considering my past disinterest for the forced love triangle between the three of them, I'm much more interested now that Kara's secret identity is on the table.


Aside from James' temper tantrums, this episode introduced more drama into Kara's civilian life with the debut of a rival receptionist in Siobhan Smythe. I quite liked the irony of Cat getting Siobhan's complicated name right first time, but continuing to pronounce Kara as “Keira” - although at this point, you have to think that she is doing it deliberately to piss Kara off. Just when it seemed that things had gotten stable at CatCo, Siobhan threatens to add some spice to the environment and give Kara an antagonist to battle against in the office. Those who read the Supergirl comics will recognise Siobhan Smythe as the civilian identity of the super-villain, Silver Banshee, which foreshadows a super-powered fate in store for the character, but I hope it is more of a slow-burn development instead of the “done-in-one” approach used for Livewire. Hopefully she will stick around as a rival for a while, as her appearance has injected some spice into the CatCo scenes in a way that having Lucy Lane work there never did.

This was a strong episode that set up some interesting elements for the third and final act of the season – clearing Non and his army from the playing field to allow the writers to concentrate on other storylines and introducing conflict for Kara between both James and Siobhan. I'm also enjoying the dramatic tension between Kara, Alex and Hank surrounding the death of Astra – it's clear that when she discovers that Alex was the one who really did it, she will be devastated. Given his knack for discovering secrets and the fact he is a smug arsehole, I suspect that the newly released Maxwell Lord will be the one who reveals the truth to Kara, potentially weakening her confidence and trust in her friends and family when she needs it most. This secret has to come out during the final episodes, and I look forward to seeing how it changes the team dynamic – same with the developments between James and Lucy. Supergirl remains committed to shaking up the status-quo and creating unpredictable moments on-screen - something that has also been seen in the real world with the shock revelation that it will be crossing over with The Flash later on in the season.


Score - 9.1 out of 10

Next Episode - "Solitude"
Kara travels to the Fortress of Solitude hoping to find information on how to defeat Indigo, a being from her past who can travel through the Internet. In the meantime, James and Lucy reach a crossroads in their relationship.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

2000AD Prog 1969

Prog 1969 Cover by Alex Ronald

Fan-favourite cover artist, Alex Ronald returns to 2000AD cover duties with this excellent Judge Dredd and Sensitive Klegg cover which evokes memories of the fantastic Prog 1889 cover by Chris Weston featuring the same characters, which incidentally won the Pop Culture Bandit award for “Best 2000AD Cover in 2014”. I really enjoy Alex Ronald's photo-realistic style and the approach he has used here makes the two characters look like fully 3D models, almost resembling action figures. In fact, Tharg, if you're listening, it might be worthwhile making an action figure set based on this cover! My only nitpick would be the texture on the Klegg's skin, it looks a bit too smooth and doesn't quite have that alligator/lizard appearance – it's only a minor criticism however, as this is a brilliant cover that heralds the return of one of the most popular Judge Dredd supporting characters in recent years.


JUDGE DREDD - UNDERCOVER KLEGG (Part 1)
Script - Rob Williams
Art - D'Israeli
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

It is stories like this which position Rob Williams as the natural successor to John Wagner's throne, as Williams proves himself able to tackle a variety of different genres, ranging from sprawling mega-epics such as the “Enceladus” storyline, or more humour-led adventures such as this one. I love the dry humour that runs throughout this story, particularly the glimpses into Dredd's inner-thinking and his extreme distaste for the Kleggs. The panel where he sees the dead Klegg ambassador and realises it means that he'll have to spend more time dealing with the Kleggs is priceless and D'Israeli absolutely nails the reaction shot. I'm really fond of this take on Dredd, which humanises the character without weakening him. It is perfectly natural that he'd take a dislike to the clownishness of the Kleggs, particularly Sensitive Klegg, given his low tolerance for ridiculousness, and it's fun to see him out of his comfort zone. He'd much rather be involved in a ferocious gunfight than attempting to deceive the Klegg Royal Family into signing a peace treaty.


D'Israeli is an inspired choice for this storyline, with his brightly coloured artwork adding a sense of whimsy to what is shaping up to be a comedy of errors, featuring an undercover Klegg. Both Williams and D'Israeli have amazing comic timing, hitting the story beats flawlessly and getting a few audible chuckles out of me as I read through. With this introductory episode, Williams has set up such a fantastic premise that I can't wait to see play out in full. Despite the humour, there is an element of risk and danger at the heart of this story, which just heightens the comedy by creating a sense of unease. Sensitive Klegg is easily one of the greatest additions to the Judge Dredd world over the last decade, and judging from the reaction of the 2000AD fan-base, I'm not alone in welcoming him back to the Prog with open arms. After the dour mood of “Enceladus: Old Life”, it is great to see Rob Williams revisiting lighter subject matter with Sensitive Klegg, and I'm eagerly awaiting the next installment already!



KINGDOM - BEAST OF EDEN (Part 9)
Script - Dan Abnett
Art - Richard Elson
Letters - Ellie de Ville

Dan Abnett quickly resolves the brawl between Gene and Canis, allowing the human arrivals to impart some plot exposition onto our Aux heroes. It soon transpires that the two groups have a shared interest in visiting the Them home-mound, although Abnett drops hints of some potential skulduggery by Numan and Hershall, which I suspect may involve plans to launch some kind of orbital doomsday weapon that will wipe Them out, but also kill off any Aux remaining on the planet, hence their desire to keep their “weaponisation plans” quiet from Gene and his pack. It's great to see some hints at the wider story-arc of Kingdom, as recent storylines have felt quite narrowed in on Gene's hunt for Kingdom, rather than an endgame for the Masters and Them. Abnett also touches upon Leezee Sower, reminding long-term readers of the character. Despite the “talking heads” aspect to this episode, Richard Elson does a fantastic job with the art, maintaining his bar of high quality throughout the inaction, and judging from the ominous looking home-mound, I suspect there will be plenty more chances for Elson to showcase his skill at depicting action sequences.



THE ORDER - IN THE COURT OF THE WYRMQUEEN (Part 9)
Script - Kek-W
Art - John Burns
Letters - Ellie de Ville

As we ease into the final act, the tension is beginning to rise as this second incarnation of The Order of Ouroboros attempts to break into Somerset House and put an end to the demon offspring of Mary, Queen of Scots. That last sentence showcases how wonderfully barmy this series is, and I love the fact that Kek-W has thrown plenty of historical figures into his imaginative sci-fi fantasy drama. I've really enjoyed the pacing of this series and the added time that Kek-W has invested into bringing these characters together – it has really paid off as each of the members of this new Order feel much more fleshed out and three-dimensional compared to the previous group seen in the first series. An able script-writer, Kek-W also ensures that smaller character moments such as the exchange between Calhoun and Browne don't get lost amongst the big plot revelations.


As an aspiring writer myself, I often get fixated on the scripting elements of series but John Burns' artwork is a major component of what makes this series work. Burns not only manages to capture that unique Elizabethan atmosphere with ease, but also heaps lashings of gore and slime onto the gruesome depictions of the Wurms. The flashback scene of the Doctor getting both of his hands bitten off by the newborn Wyrmqueen is so vivid that it stays in the mind long after finishing this installment – given the reticence to showcase the creature on-panel in these flashbacks, I suspect we're going to see something truly horrendous when it is eventually unveiled and John Burns is the perfect artist to bring this beast to life on the page. Kek-W and John Burns have performed the one of the most difficult tasks out there, and created a sequel that surpasses the original in every single way!



THE A.B.C. WARRIORS - RETURN TO RO-BUSTERS (Part 9)
Script - Pat Mills
Art - Clint Langley
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

In the aftermath at the gunfight at Gracie's robot bar, Hammerstein and Ro-Jaws finally meet the elusive Apex and told that they must spread the Defiance Code amongst the rest of the ABC Warriors. Unfortunately, they are promptly mind-wiped by Apex and will only remember this conversation when the time is right, which explains why this flashback is occurring now. Since this issue seems to focus on the pivotal moment of the flashback, I suspect that we're going to re-transition into the current-day events of the series. Hopefully, Pat Mills will provide some forward momentum in this final few episodes and set-up the next ABC Warriors adventure, which presumably build upon the revelations of these past few 'flashback-centric' storylines and tell a fresh and exciting story in the current continuity.


While last issue I noticed visual similarities between Sir James of the P.D. Troopers and Judge Dredd, this time around I noticed how similar his hate-speech about robots was to Torquemada's hatred of aliens and anything different. Given Torquemada's history of past selves and reincarnation, perhaps this is another incarnation of the Grand Master in the timeline? I'm enjoying seeing the connective tissue between Ro-Busters and Nemesis the Warlock forming, especially in this episode's fast-paced vehicular escape which saw the environment beginning to resemble the mass highways of Termight, first seen in those introductory episodes of Nemesis.



STRONTIUM DOG - REPO MEN (Part 9)
Script - John Wagner
Art - Carlos Ezquerra
Letters - Simon Bowland

With all the pieces landing in the right places on the chessboard, Johnny and his fellow Strontium Dogs begin to implement their grand plan to overthrow Castor Limax and reclaim the Rock. Johnny's plan seems to be working fine, but he needs to silence the loose ends – the Twister Sisters and Limax, himself – before they can contradict his story to the Galanthans. Heading into the final phase of the story, John Wagner pushes his foot on the accelerator and Carlos Ezquerra ably assists him with some gorgeous splash pages depicting the brief space skirmish between Limax's attack crafts and the mighty Galanthan battle cruiser. Despite the hiccup with the Twister sisters, everything seems to be going well for Johnny and his crew, and I'll admit that it has deflated the tension somewhat – hopefully Wagner is able to throw some spanners in the works and create some dramatic tension for these final few episodes to prevent it from becoming stale and routine.



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

It goes without saying that Judge Dredd is my choice for “Thrill of the Week” this time around – Rob Williams and D'Israeli have done a superb job and blew away my already high expectations. Given the set-up of this inaugural episode, I'm eagerly awaiting the rest of this storyline. Elsewhere, it is clear that the remaining strips are preparing for their finales as the tension begins to ratchet up across the board. I'm eager to see what comes next for Kingdom and The Order as both series hide their “big bads”, ready to unveil dual monstrosities upon the reader in the form of the King Them and the Wyrmqueen. Meanwhile, both The ABC Warriors and Strontium Dog seem to be heading towards slightly more foreseeable endings, although I hope the veteran script droids behind those series are able to throw a curve-ball in their climaxes. All that, and I nearly forgot to wish 2000AD a “Happy 39th Birthday” - with a stellar line-up like this, 2000AD continues to deliver top-class storytelling as it rounds out its thirties.

Thrill of the Week: Judge Dredd


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1969 will be available in stores on Wednesday 24th February - 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!

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Review - Agent Carter: 2x07 - "Monsters"


Agent Carter
Episode 2x07 - "Monsters"

Synopsis

With Dottie Underwood being held captive by Whitney Frost, it is a race against time for Peggy to rescue her nemesis before she reveals key Intel to Frost and her cohorts. Meanwhile, Doctor Wilkes begins to make the first steps towards regaining his corporeal form, but could that be cut short by Whitney Frost’s nefarious plans?

Review

In the aftermath of Whitney Frost's decimation of the Council of Nine, the criminal underbelly of Los Angeles is looking rather different than it did the night before. With the majority of the first season of Agent Carter focused on Peggy's attempts to get recognition and legitimacy from within the SSR, it is another interesting parallel to see Whitney, already portrayed as mirror image of Carter, achieve her goal of “female empowerment” through a power play, relying on fear to gain prominence in an all-male environment, as opposed to respect. It's interesting to see these two strong-willed women clash, especially with Dottie Underwood caught in the middle and acting as a wild-card. Despite her disappearance at the end of this episode, I suspect she may return before the season's end, possibly to provide assistance to Peggy once more. I certainly hope she does, and her reappearance in both this episode and the preceding one has reinvigorated the season after a slight lull.

This episode was firmly focused on Whitney Frost, allowing the viewers to see her true personality now that she had finally gotten rid of her husband, Calvin Chadwick. After her attack on the Council of Nine, which acted as a metamorphosis for the character, she seems to be embracing her dark side and the obsession to gain more power and more Zero Matter continues to motivate her actions. Given the discussion she has with Dr. Wilkes at the episode's climax, and the strange symbiotic relationship the two of them have when they come into contact, I suspect that Wilkes may find himself following her down the dark path to re-enacting the Atomic Experiment that caused the Zero Matter to manifest in our universe. Replacing whiny Calvin Chadwick is the hot-headed Joseph Manfredi, who acts as Whitney's muscle and will no doubt become another hurdle that Carter and her team will have to deal with before they confront Whitney Frost. It's a shame that they couldn't use the Spider-Man villain, Hammerhead, as he'd have made an excellent 1940s gangster with his pin-striped suits and metal-plated forehead.


While there was less action in this episode compared to “Life of the Party”, the show's writers managed to create a genuine sense of unease as Ana Jarvis was put into danger. In a nice “bait and switch”, the writers focused on Ana's fear of her husband being hurt in action to make the readers think that Jarvis was in danger, but then turned the tables and had Ana injured instead. Considering that she wasn't declared dead in this episode, I suspect she'll pull through and perhaps this incident will have a profound effect on Jarvis and his continued partnership with Agent Carter. While he has primarily been a figure of fun in the show, James D'Arcy did a fantastic job at making the foppish and pedantic Edwin Jarvis appear very human when his beloved wife was shot down in front of him. The action also showcased the ruthless side of Whitney Frost – a trait not wholly shared by Peggy, as she quite rightly stayed with her injured friend rather than give chase after Frost.

While it may have been something of a transitionary episode that moved the various pieces into their places for the next big action sequence, this was a solid and enjoyable episode of Agent Carter. Events moved along at a decent pace, including some further development to the awkward love triangle between Peggy, her boss and the weird ghost fella. It was funny to see Jarvis and Carter discuss her love-life on the way to their mission, both of whom were equally uncomfortable with the situation as each other. Personally, I am rooting for Carter and Sousa to get together, mainly because the only interesting thing about Dr. Wilkes is that you can walk through him. Once he gets his corporeal form back, he's just a boring scientist who likes to make wine with a Bunsen burner kit. As we head towards the final three episodes of this season, I'm looking forward to seeing more physical transformations from Whitney Frost, or at least an appearance of the iconic gold-plated mask that the character wears in the comics. Both her and Vernon Masters have done a great job at establishing themselves as “love to hate” villains, and I can't wait for them to get their comeuppance over the next few installments.


Score - 9.4 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • N/A

Mysteries
  • Will Anna Jarvis survive her gunshot wounds?
  • What does Whitney Frost intend to do with Dr Wilkes?

Next Episode - "The Edge of Mystery"
Peggy and Sousa propose a trade with Whitney Frost, while the SSR gets help from Howard Stark that may be the key to eliminating Zero Matter.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Review - Agent Carter: 2x06 - "Life of the Party"


Agent Carter
Episode 2x06 - "Life of the Party"

Synopsis

Still injured after her encounter with Whitney Frost, Peggy must turn to her worst enemy in order to retrieve some vital Zero Matter to prevent Dr. Wilkes from disappearing into the void forever. Meanwhile, Whitney finds herself coming face to face with the shadowy Council of Nine with dramatic repercussions.

Review

I must admit that Season Two of Agent Carter hadn't grabbed me in the same way that Season One had – while I liked the relocation to Los Angeles, the storyline revolving around Whitney Frost and the shadowy Council of Nine failed to excite me. It was only when watching this episode and seeing Dottie Underwood cause mischief amongst Carter and her colleagues that I realised how much she brought to the first Season of the show, and how much I’d been missing her. As powerful and evil as Whitney Frost is, she lacks that psychotic spark that Bridget Regan brings to the character of Dottie Underwood. The chemistry between her and Hayley Atwell is brilliant, and far outshines the supposed sexual tension between Peggy, Sousa and Wilkes. I’m really enjoying seeing their relationship develop into a Holmes/Moriarty-esque rivalry – you can’t escape the feeling that these two might be friends if they were on the same side. With this in mind, it was great to see Underwood temporarily helping out Carter, even though it was inevitable that she’d attempt to escape or betray Peggy.

This episode featured a very similar structure to the preceding episode with a seemingly impossible task outlined at the beginning, resulting in Peggy drafting in some unlikely help to achieve her goal. Despite the thematic repetition, I really enjoyed this episode – even moreso than its predecessor – thanks mainly to Bridget Regan’s involvement. Not content to rest on its laurels, the episode saw dramatic development in Whitney Frost’s story-arc as she finally addressed the men of the Council of Nine, only to be betrayed by her spineless husband. This resulted in the best display of her Zero Matter powers yet, as she seemed to remotely drain the life-force from her targets, conjuring tendrils of Zero Matter out of the floor. It felt very reminiscent of Spawn or Venom, and not at all like the Madame Masque character from the comics, but given how cool the scene was, I’m prepared to ignore the drastic changes to continuity. After the more grounded threat seen in Season One, I’m excited to see Carter take on this more super-powered enemy, although I suspect Howard Stark will return from Peru with some gadget that will drastically de-power Miss Frost, allowing Peggy to defeat her.


One of the most interesting elements of this episode was seeing Peggy in a wounded state, recovering from the dramatic injuries she sustained in her battle with Whitney Frost. After her almost superhuman antics, it was quite startling to see her suddenly immobile and unable to even open a door – however, this temporarily disability meant that Jarvis and Underwood took the spotlight. In fact, this episode offered a greater focus on the series’ supporting characters than of late – providing us with a glimpse of some tension between Jarvis and his wife over his second, more adventurous day-job, and further developing the love triangle between Carter, Sousa and Wilkes. I also liked seeing the return of Jack Thompson, and I actually squealed with delight at the prospect of Jarvis and Underwood having to avoid his gaze during the party. It was almost like a Frasier episode, but set in the 1940s and instead of social embarrassment, the consequences would be death or imprisonment. Thompson continues to be a divisive figure – while he seems easily led and eager to please the higher-ups, I wonder if he’ll follow Masters’ orders and turn his back on Carter and Sousa. Given his limited screen-time this season, and the unfortunate fate of the last SSR chief, I have a feeling Thompson might meet a sad end no matter where his moral compass points.

This was easily the best episode of the second season thus far, capitalising on the relationships set up in Season One between Peggy and Dottie, as well as Peggy and Thompson, to create some genuinely engrossing moments. I loved every scene that Dottie Underwood appeared in, and Bridget Regan seems to be relishing every moment too – I sincerely hope that she remains a central character for the remainder of this season, and hopefully a third one too? As this season’s storyline becomes more complicated and new threats emerge in the form of Underwood and Thompson, I've found myself becoming more engrossed. With the additional two episodes this season, the story has felt slightly padded out and it has definitely shown in the third and fourth episodes. Hopefully now that Dottie is back in the picture, and Whitney is on the warpath, the series will continue to deliver knock-out episodes like this one!

Score - 9.8 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • N/A

Mysteries
  • What does Whitney Frost plan to do with Dottie Underwood?

Next Episode - "Monsters"
As Peggy plots a rescue mission, Whitney hunts for even more dark power; and Jarvis learns he should not make promises he cannot keep.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

2000AD Prog 1968

Prog 1968 Cover by Clint Langley

This is a great cover from Clint Langley, providing a glimpse into the chaos that occurs in this Prog's episode of The ABC Warriors. After several weeks of seeing Langley's artwork in black and white, it's refreshing to see it colourised here, although my one nit-pick would be on the choice of font for the front cover's tagline. While the metallic design of the “Grease 'Em” suits the robot-themed strip, it gets lost within the cover art itself, especially with the curious decision to have it appear in front of the blue robot, but behind Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein. Personally, I would have left it without any strap-line text, or possibly used a font that achieved better distinction from the artwork. Regardless of that, this is a pretty solid cover that will no doubt appeal to long-term ABC Warriors and Ro-Busters fans.


JUDGE DREDD - GHOSTS (Part 6)
Script - Michael Carroll
Art - Mark Sexton
Colours - Len O' Grady
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Working together like a well-oiled machine, Michael Carroll and Mark Sexton bring their storyline “Ghosts” to a satisfying conclusion as DeMarco alerts the Justice Department to Sector Zero's location, allowing them to quickly quell the threat. I really enjoyed the way that Carroll de-constructed the Justice System through Badger's final monologue, pointing out the various disasters that they'd failed to prevent over the years. While I'm not sure that his vision of Sector Zero would have prevented any of those, it's interesting to hear the inefficiencies of the Justice Department laid bare like this – in fact, Carroll addressed the same theme in “Cascade” when Gideon Dallas attempted to bring the Lawlords in as a more efficient system. It seems to be a theme that John Wagner has been addressing his stories, and I like the sense of continuity between these storylines that seems to be building towards another shift in the series' status-quo.


Mark Sexton's work on this six-part storyline has been a complete joy to behold, quickly establishing the art droid as a firm favourite. I would very much like to see him return to the pages of 2000AD in the near future, and judging the positive feedback from other fans online and in the letter pages, I'd imagine that's likely to happen. I've also enjoyed Len O' Grady's colours throughout the story, dictating the mood and atmosphere of Sexton's work with all the precision of a surgeon. This final episode had some of my favourite panels from the storyline, such as the sequence where the Judge's descend into the subterranean base spraying Riot Foam everywhere. The composition of the panel is just superb, and I love the attention to detail and stunning architecture of the building as they zip-line down. The last six weeks of Judge Dredd episodes have been an absolute pleasure to read, and judging from the reference to “Undercover Klegg” in the Next Prog teaser, it looks like we're going to get another Sensitive Klegg story – Oh, Tharg, you do spoil us rotten!



KINGDOM - BEAST OF EDEN (Part 8)
Script - Dan Abnett
Art - Richard Elson
Letters - Ellie de Ville

Moving away from the sprawling battle-scenes outside of Kingdom, this episode of the series focuses once more on a small team of Aux as they attempt to put an end to the King Them controlling the swarm of insects. With this installment, Dan Abnett revisits the strange group of visitors and their guardian, Major Canis, introduced at the beginning of the storyline. I was quite surprised to discover that one of the human arrivals was in fact, Numan, from one of the previous story-arcs, addressing a loose thread from “The Call of the Wild” - I hadn't picked up on it during the first appearance, and luckily, Tharg makes use of an editorial box to direct readers to that earlier story-arc. The exposition doesn't get too far, however, before Richard Elson is put back in charge with a brilliant fight scene between the two Aux. As seen with the previous episodes, Elson choreographs the action with the eye of a master director, creating a dynamic sense of movement across the pages as the pair scrap. This particular battle feels a lot more brutal than the clashes between Aux and Them, achieving more drama and suspense with the more intimate nature of the fight. I look forward to seeing how the series will progress now that the two plot threads have converged in such a dramatic manner.



THE ORDER - IN THE COURT OF THE WYRMQUEEN (Part 8)
Script - Kek-W
Art - John Burns
Letters - Ellie de Ville

This episode of The Order sees two of the series' narrative threads collide with startling results as Izta, Francis Bacon and Calhoun come face to face with Anna Kohl and Intuitor Browne. Interestingly, Ritterstahl transfers his consciousness out of the temporary avatar of Daniel Calhoun and downloads himself into the “golden seed”, which appears to be some kind of housing for his operating system. I'm a sucker for these anachronistic moments in the series and love the perfect juxtaposition between Elizabethan London and talk of emergency core dumps. Kek-W has created a brilliant blend of fantasy and science-fiction here, which reminds me of the way that LOST begun to introduce more and more science-fiction elements into the series as it continued. As a huge LOST fan, I appreciate this similarity and the incongruent blend of technology and history.


John Burns continues to prove what an asset he is to this series as he captures the gory nature of the bizarre 'memory transfer' ritual that Calhoun and Ritterstahl go through in this Prog, mirroring the similar sequence from earlier in the series which saw Calhoun cursed with Ritterstahl's consciousness in the first place. There's a wonderful sense of anachronism about Burns' artwork itself, which is fully painted with a traditional feel to it, but remains nestled between more modern art techniques found elsewhere in the Prog. Aside from the pseudo-science which saw Ritterstahl transmit his subconsciousness via blood into a crystal gem, Kek-W drops something of a bombshell – it appears that Queen Elizabeth herself is not the titular Wyrmqueen and that it is an entirely separate entity altogether. This series remains one of the highlights of the Prog each and every week, and it's shaping up to be a cracking conclusion now that the main players have all converged.



THE A.B.C. WARRIORS - RETURN TO RO-BUSTERS (Part 8)
Script - Pat Mills
Art - Clint Langley
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

This episode of The ABC Warriors gives readers a clearer sense of the purpose behind these flashbacks with Apex announcing his plans for Ro-Jaws to pass on the defiance code to Hammerstein, even mentioning that it might take hundreds of years, which appears to be the case. While I've enjoyed this jaunt into the nostalgic black and white days of Ro-Busters, it is good to see some hints towards the relevance of these flashbacks, as presumably the ABC Warriors will seek out this Ro-Jaws and this defiance code in order to enable them to fight back against Howard Quartz in the present-day. 

After a noticeable change in Clint Langley's art style over the past few weeks, it returns to its greyscale tones, which adds a premium quality to the art compared to the stark black and white approach. One of the things that I can't believe I only just noticed was the similarities between the head of the PD Troopers and our very own, Judge Dredd. He has the same elongated jaw and permanent frown – not to mention the same zero tolerance approach to crime. It's a nice visual easter egg that I'm ashamed I didn't pick up upon earlier. Talking of easter eggs, Pat Mills drops in one of his own with an explanation behind the “showbiz” dance seen at the end of “The Fall and Rise of Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein” - presenting it as a mocking gesture against Howard Quartz, rather than the meta-reference to the character's namesakes. 



STRONTIUM DOG - REPO MEN (Part 8)
Script - John Wagner
Art - Carlos Ezquerra
Letters - Simon Bowland

Once again, John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra appear to take the reader on a pleasant detour from the main plot with most of this episode focusing on a failed mugging attempt on Johnny and Middenface, however Wagner skilfully brings the focus back onto the main story-arc before the end of the installment, providing the right amount of forward momentum to keep the wheels turning. I really enjoyed the fight scene between Johnny, Middenface and their horned attackers – apart from showing Ezquerra's fantastic artwork, it gave Wagner a chance to focus on Middenface's disability and the way he has worked to compensate for his missing arm. I wonder if we'll see him with a bionic replacement before this storyline is finished.


I'm really enjoying the meandering route that this storyline has taken – it's like being on the lazy river at a water park. Sure, there are faster rides out there that make a bigger splash, but there is something comforting about this more laid-back approach and the scenery from Carlos Ezquerra is worth taking the time to admire. However, given the ironic development at the end of this episode, it seems that Wagner is ready to move onto the next phase of the storyline that should result in the various loose-ends coming together in a dramatic climax. I can't think of anything more enjoyable than watching these two veteran creators continue to kick ass after all these years! This is definitely one for old-school Strontium Dog fans! 



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

Once again, I found myself torn between multiple strips in attempting to pick my “Thrill of the Week” with the final episode of the current Judge Dredd thriller, shocking developments in The Order and a slice of laid-back nostalgic goodness in Strontium Dog all vying for the somewhat coveted spot. Ultimately, I decided to stick with Strontium Dog, as Wagner and Ezquerra continued to demonstrate why they are masters of the craft. That said, the current roster of writers and artists, both new and old, is staggeringly good and serves as proof as to why 2000AD is currently enjoying yet another golden age of stories. 

Looking ahead to next Prog, I am keen to see the return of Sensitive Klegg to Judge Dredd, presumably with Rob Williams returning to script duties. Along with Dirty Frank, Sensitive Klegg is one of the series' best recent breakout characters and is fast becoming an fan favourite element of the Judge Dredd mythology, standing alongside iconic supporting characters such as Mean Machine Angel, Walter the Wobot and Max Normal, Pinstripe Freak.

Thrill of the Week: Strontium Dog


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1968 will be available in stores on Wednesday 17th February - 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 8th Doctor # 4 (of 5)

Doctor Who: The 8th Doctor # 4 (of 5)
"Briarwood"
Written by: George Mann
Art by: Emma Vieceli
Colours by: Hi-Fi

This penultimate episode of the Eighth Doctor miniseries teases readers with a brief glimpse at the architect behind the Eighth Doctor’s current series of adventures with a prologue featuring the Twelfth Doctor and Clara at an alien auction house. George Mann doesn’t offer any further clues as to how this ties into the Eighth Doctor’s current “to-do list” of adventures, instead saving that revelation for the final issue of the series. Once again, this storyline focuses on a standalone “done-in-one” adventure that continues to showcase Mann’s ability to compress a story that could easily span several issues into one installment without losing any of the pacing or detail.

Following on from the Vaudevillian adventures of last issue’s “The Silvering”, Mann offers up another pseudo-historical adventure taking place in 1932 with the plant-controlling Nixi, who share some similarities with the Krynoids from the Fourth Doctor classic, “The Seeds of Doom”. As evident from the lovely Rachel Stott cover, there’s a fair amount of vines and tendrils flying about the place as they infest and corrupt the English nobility. Emma Vieceli manages to capture the vicious nature of these plants as they swarm throughout the Briarwood townhouse and its grounds. Vieceli’s artwork continues to impress, creating a vibrant pace with her distinctive panel structure. I loved the designs of the Nixi imps, and was slightly disappointed that we didn’t get to see more from the creatures, although her artwork managed to convey the terror and menace represented by the vines. She remains a fantastic artistic choice for the Eighth Doctor, effortlessly capturing the right tone of voice for the character and the settings for these stories.


George Mann seems to have a knack for this historical stories and the genre seems to suit the Eighth Doctor’s personality to a tee. While it’s great to see the Doctor visiting alien worlds and far-future civilisations, I do enjoy these journeys into the past and seeing him mixing with different time periods. The Eighth Doctor, in particular, seems to have a Victorian feel about him so having two stories that are set around that era seems to be a logical decision from Mann. I’ve been a massive fan of the Eighth Doctor for years, thanks mainly to the Big Finish audios, and Mann certainly captures Paul McGann’s cadence in his dialogue, establishing an authenticity to the character which helps bridge the gap between canon and spin-off media. Tonally, this mini-series has been spot-on and I'd thoroughly recommend it to fans of the Eighth Doctor's Big Finish range of audio adventures as it feels like an organic development of their work.

While I've enjoyed these seemingly standalone adventures, I am excited to see how it all connects together in next issue’s finale and how the Twelfth Doctor comes into play. I also really like Josephine Day as a companion, with her distinctive hair colour and artistic temperament, so hopefully she will return as a comics-exclusive companion for the Eighth Doctor in a future miniseries. Given how fantastic this current run of stories has been, Titan Comics really should consider a follow-up – perhaps once the upcoming Fourth Doctor miniseries has ended? It's great to see Titan Comics step outside of the modern Doctors and investigate the entire Doctor Who series, and this mini-series certainly proves that there are plenty of new stories to be told with old Doctors!


Score - 9.6 out of 10

Doctor Who: The Eighth 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!

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Review - Agent Carter: 2x05 - "The Atomic Job"


Agent Carter
Episode 2x05 - "The Atomic Job"

Synopsis

With Whitney Frost determined to recreate the experiment which release Zero Matter into the world, Agent Carter and her friends find themselves drawn into a heist to steal two Atomic bombs before the deranged movie star can get her hands on them.

Review

After the slightly slow-paced “Smoke and Mirrors” which focused heavily on the pasts of its leading ladies, this episode saw Agent Carter return to form with a fun “heist” at the heart of the storyline, bringing an unlikely crew of thieves together to steal two Atomic bomb cores. The series blended some wonderful character humour, pairing Sousa and Carter up with clumsy scientist Dr Samberly and plucky receptionist Rose, who instantly became adorable supporting characters that I'd love to see again. While previous episodes have featured post-War themes such as Communism and Russian spies, this episode gave Atomic weapons the spotlight, and delivered two “Chekhov's Bombs” into the hands of our heroes. The last few episodes have meandered slightly without any main motivation for the villains of the piece, but here we get a clearer idea of Whitney Frost's endgame – she wants to recreate the experiment that brought Zero Matter into our dimension.

Despite the fact that we know Peggy Carter survives long into old age, based on her appearance in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, I must admit I was still shocked when she purposefully plummeted from the balcony and into a metal rebar. We've not really seen Peggy sustain any injuries during this season and last, so it was quite shocking to see her in grave danger like this. It was also quite a juxtaposition to the comedic elements from earlier in the episode, reminding viewers that while the series is willing to use humour in places, there are still real risks for its main players – even the ones we think are safe. We also get to see that Sousa still has feelings for Peg, and rather awkwardly for Daniel, his new fiancĂ©e also gets to see this. As much as I prefer Sousa over Wilkes as a love interest for Peggy, I strongly suspect that the writing is on the wall for our limping detective, and that he might make some sacrificial gesture to save Peggy's life before the season is out.


While I thought Dottie Underwood would form the bulk of this second season, the writers have opted to focus on the cold-hearted Whitney Frost instead. I'm enjoying watching her develop further into her villainous role as her evil actions are reflected by the damage to her face. It's like a reverse version of The Portrait of Dorian Grey – the more people she kills, the uglier her face becomes. Given her husbands weak stomach, I suspect that he might not last for much longer – probably succumbing to the same fate as her manager and poor Mr Hunt. The first encounter between her and Peggy was positively thrilling, especially knowing that Frost's touch has the ability to kill. While Peggy was clearly outmatched in this skirmish, I suspect that she will prevail with some scientific back-up, in the form of Wilkes and Stark.

As with Agents of SHIELD, the strength of this series is its ensemble cast and with the two new additions to the team in this episode, Agent Carter seems to be building up a nice group of characters to bounce off each other. The series has always managed to maintain a light-hearted tone that sets it apart from its 'mother show' and the darker Netflix MCU shows, like Daredevil and Jessica Jones. I particularly liked the slapstick of Peggy's infiltration of Hugh Jones' office and the number of times she had to use her mind-wipe device on him. It was hilarious and campy, and fit perfectly with the era established in the show. I just can't imagine similar set-pieces appearing in any of the other MCU films and television shows. Judging from the action in this episode, Agent Carter has overcome its mid-season slump and the remainder of this season will bring the dual threats of the Council of Nine and Whitney Frost together to cause Peggy Carter some more trouble.


Score - 9.5 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • The gangster who Whitney and Calvin visit is Joseph Manfredi, son of Silvio Manfredi - the Mafia-based supervillian known as Silvermane. In the comics, Joseph became a supervillian like his father, adopting the name BlackWing. (First app: Daredevil # 118)
  • The red van the gang use to travel to the Isodyne Lab is labelled "Civil War Antiques" - could this possibly be a meta-reference to the upcoming Captain America: Civil War?

Mysteries
  • What will happen when Whitney Frost absorbs some more Zero Matter?
  • Where did Dr Wilkes disappear to at the end of the episode?

Next Episode - "Life of the Party"
When Peggy realizes she cannot save Wilkes on her own, she turns to her most unexpected adversary for help while Whitney makes a move to control the deadly Zero Matter.

Friday, 12 February 2016

Review - Supergirl: 1x13 - "For the Girl Who Has Everything"

Supergirl
Episode 1x13 - "For the Girl Who Has Everything"

Synopsis

Supergirl finds herself in an alien-induced coma, trapped in an imaginary world where Krypton was never destroyed. As Alex, Winn, Jimmy and the DEO attempt to save her from this latest threat, Non and Astra plan to take advantage of this distraction and implement the next stage of their plans for Earth.

Review

After introducing a female-version of Bizarro, this latest episode of Supergirl saw the writers once again raiding the Superman back issues for some other stories to riff on and settling upon the classic adventure, “For the Man Who Has Everything” by the Watchmen team of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. In this tale, Superman is attacked by an alien plant known as the Black Mercy and finds himself trapped in his own sub-conscious while his fellow heroes attempt to free him. Looking at the two stories side-by-side, it was interesting to see the Supergirl writers adapt the story so closely, especially after the deviations to canon already employed in the series so far. Obviously, it wasn't a word by word retelling, but I'd say it's a pretty worthy homage to that fan-favourite storyline.

After only appearing through a series of brief flashbacks, it was great to see the series spend more time on Krypton – even if it was only a figment of Kara's imagination. Clearly, the destruction of her home-world resonates more with Kara than it does her cousin Clark, given that she spent most of her formative years living on the planet, whereas he was a newborn child. It's good that the writers hone in on the distinction between the two Kryptonians – while Superman lost the chance to know his parents and home-world, Supergirl actually lost something she could remember and grieve for. Not to mention her trauma in the Phantom Zone, which resulted in her arriving on Earth after her newborn cousin did. I really enjoyed the way that Alex was brought into Kara's dream, Inception-style, and got to experience Krypton first-hand. I'm sure that was an defining moment for the pair, and it's a shame the show didn't allow them to discuss that experience afterwards.


There were plenty of cool moments in this episode, such as Hank Henshaw morphing into Kara's form and attempting to perform her assistant duties to Cat Grant, and fouling it up in the process. I literally paused the TV and squealed with delight when Hank reluctantly volunteered to hold the fort for Kara at Catco! I loved the way Melissa Benoist aped some of Henshaw's mannerisms during those scenes, both through her posture and her vocal tics. It really brought out the humour of the situation, and I would love to see some more of Henshaw-Kara in the future! After her work as the doppelgänger Supergirl and now Henshaw-Kara in this episode, Benoist is definitely getting to flex her acting muscles in fun and exciting ways, demonstrating a level of acting range that I didn't expect from her first appearances. It was also fun to see Winn and James invited to the DEO base, and judging from the way Winn seemed to get into the spirit of things, I suspect that he might be employed on a part-time basis to help out, which would be cool!

Obviously, there was a lot happening in this episode and it definitely felt like the writers are setting up the third and final act of the season, especially with Astra's death. While I absolutely love the dramatic tension that comes from having Alex kill Kara's last remaining blood relative, it did feel like a pointless act. We, as the viewer, knew that Astra had no desire to kill Martian Manhunter, so it seemed like overkill (pardon the pun!) to have Alex deliver a killing blow with the Kryptonite Sword. However, that aside, it seems that Astra's death will not only act as a catalyst for Non's evil plans – whatever they might be – but it will also drive a wedge between the Danvers sisters. In those early episodes, I once accused Supergirl of being predictable and formulaic, but it is episodes like this that prove me wrong. This is a series that is willing to challenge its status-quo, as evidenced from the Martian Manhunter revelation, Maxwell Lord's creepy ice-cream spy cam and now, Aunt Astra's sudden sword in the chest situation. The writers seem quite willing to shake things up on the action front, but the romantic sub-plots remain predictable and trite – hopefully the series will be able to revitalise those elements before the season comes to an end.


Score - 9.5 out of 10

Next Episode - "Truth, Justice and the American Way"
Kara battles the Master Jailer while dealing with a second assistant at CatCo and disagreeing with James over the DEO's methods.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

2000AD Prog 1967

Prog 1967 Cover by Patrick Goddard & Dylan Teague

It's really interesting to see an artist other than John Burns draw for The Order, as Burns' fully painted art style feels almost synonymous with the series now. However, Patrick Goddard does a grand job at capturing the feel of the series with this action-centric cover depicting Ritterstahl's latest flesh avatar in mid-combat. I've always been partial to action scenes set on stagecoaches (go check out Sleepy Hollow for an excellent example of that!) and Goddard does a tremendous job of satisfying that itch for me. Sure, Calhoun is giving off a bit of a Finnegan Sinister vibe here, but it is great to the characters through a different lens. Top marks, once again, go to the droid in charge of cover puns with “Hard Reboot” accompanying the image of the AI-controlled Calhoun “booting” an assailant off of the stagecoach.


JUDGE DREDD - GHOSTS (Part 5)
Script - Michael Carroll
Art - Mark Sexton
Colours - Len O' Grady
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

This episode of Judge Dredd should be renamed DeMarco, PI as the former Judge turned private investigator takes centre-stage in this installment of “Ghosts”. Posing undercover to infiltrate the mysterious Sector Zero, DeMarco makes short work of the murderous Cheyenne Radzik by putting a bullet into her heavily armoured chest as she falls to her apparent death. Given the brutality of the attack on the Justice Department in previous episodes and Michael Carroll's love for revisiting leftover plot threads, I wouldn't be surprised if the character reappeared in a later storyline. On that note, Carroll ties this Sector Zero plot-line into some of his other recent stories, such as the current DeMarco, PI story running in the Judge Dredd Megazine and “Cascade” which ran during Progs 1894 – 1899. It's little touches like this that create a strong and robust continuity amongst Carroll's stories, adding to the tapestry without creating walls to alienate new readers.


New art droid Mark Sexton continues to demonstrate an immense level of skill, especially as the story changes location to an industrial underground base. Throughout his panels, Sexton manages to create a three dimensional sense of this mysterious hide-out that helps communicate the bleak situation that these Sector Zero recruits have found themselves in. The level of background detail on display here is staggering, and I love the raw emotion that Sexton brings to the foreground with his character's facial expressions. The scene where DeMarco attacks Radzik is charged with energy, and as with the shoot-out in the Justice Department a few episodes back, the level of realism inherent in Sexton's artwork really adds to the sequence. This has been a great Judge Dredd adventure and an excellent start to what promises to be another strong year of stories for the character. 



KINGDOM - BEAST OF EDEN (Part 7)
Script - Dan Abnett
Art - Richard Elson
Letters - Ellie de Ville

Rather than dwelling on the siege of Kingdom, this latest episode sets up the next phase of the story with Gene volunteering to lead a small strike team to assassinate the Them King controlling the Swarm. This development promises a change of pace from the huge sprawling battles seen in previous installments to a more intimate, stealth-orientated attack that will allow Dan Abnett to focus more on his characters rather than choreographing action scenes. While I do enjoy the Aux vernacular that he uses to create a unique speech pattern amongst his characters, the sheer amount of action sequences means that we very rarely get to see the characters converse, so watching Gene and the rest of the upper echelon of Kingdom discussing tactics was actually a refreshing and welcome change of pace. Richard Elson's artwork remains spectacular, be it illustrating those blockbuster battle sequences at the walls of Kingdom, or the more intimate sequences as Gene and his fellow Aux form their plan to strike at Them's leadership in the hopes of ending the attack upon Kingdom.



THE ORDER - IN THE COURT OF THE WYRMQUEEN (Part 7)
Script - Kek-W
Art - John Burns
Letters - Ellie de Ville

Kek-W and John Burns continue to deliver some fantastic high-octane action in this latest installment of The Order, as we see Ritterstahl exuding his control on his newest avatar, Daniel Calhoun. As readers, sometimes it is clear when a writer and artist are having great fun on a series, and that certainly seems to be the case with this second series of The Order. Perhaps it is the Tudor time period, but Kek-W's script seems to have an added sense of glee and playfulness that wasn't as apparent in the initial series. John Burns' painted artwork also seems to suit the new time period better also, with the excellent era-specific costuming of the soldiers, replete with the 16th century ruffs worn by the elite. It's truly a thing of beauty when script and art come together as seamlessly as this.

We've all had nights like that, Daniel...

This installment is predominately made up of action scenes as our heroes lurch from one drama to another with the appearance of Intuitor Browne at the end. This perfectly-paced episode demonstrates Kek-W's strong understanding of the weekly format and how to advance the storyline along to the next cliff-hanger checkpoint. Rather than breaking up the action to explain the backstories of his characters, Kek-W keeps things moving nicely and drops hints through the dialogue, as evidenced by Itzu's cryptic statements about the fall of Xingu and how someone “saved” her. I'm guessing Ritterstahl was responsible for that, possibly because of his future knowledge and knowing that he would need her to protect Daniel Calhoun. I absolutely love the mix of occult horror, anachronism and swashbuckling derring-do, which is why The Order stands out as one of the best series in 2000AD's recent history.



THE A.B.C. WARRIORS - RETURN TO RO-BUSTERS (Part 7)
Script - Pat Mills
Art - Clint Langley
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Pat Mills' long-form retelling of the climactic Ro-Busters story, “The Rise and Fall of Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein” finally reaches the moment in the original tale where Howard Quartz attempts to destroy his robots for the insurance money. Rather than dwell over the original story, Mills glosses over the main event so quickly that I'm surprised that there wasn't an editorial box directing customers to the Ro-Busters graphic novel collection for more details, especially since the art features Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein with swapped heads – a plot point from the original tale that isn't fully explained here. For here on, Hammerstein's flashback is set to take readers into uncharted territory as the original Ro-Busters series ended on a vague cliff-hanger which saw its lead character's walk off into the sunset until their next chronological appearance in Nemesis: The Warlock.

While some might find Mills' retelling of old stories to be somewhat repetitive, I'm very much enjoying this revisitation of classic source material and sprucing it up with a stronger narrative that ties the various aspects of the Volgan war together, such as Savage and the ABC Warriors. On that note, I'm also enjoying the more classic and “back to basics” art style employed by Clint Langley, although I must admit that I do find some elements to be inconsistent, such as the greyscale shading on the Howard Quartz scenes, which seems to arbitrarily switch to a more stark black and white background on certain scenes. It feels as if certain pages may have been rushed out and didn't receive the same “final coat of paint” that the others receive. Personally, I think the plain black and white pages look excellent, evoking that classic late 70's period of 2000AD's history, and I think that a more consistent approach during the flashback sequences would have been better.



STRONTIUM DOG - REPO MEN (Part 7)
Script - John Wagner
Art - Carlos Ezquerra
Letters - Simon Bowland

After a relatively successful heist, John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra reveal a wrinkle in the Strontium Dogs' plan to convince the Galanthans to invade the Rock and allow them to evict Castor Limax. It seems that Shaggy Fuzz has lived up to his forename and accidentally allowed himself to be wooed by two of the Twister Sisters, a pair of con-artist siblings who've stolen the brain of Hoomonos from under his nose. The resulting chase to locate the sisters further emphasises the camp, nostalgic nature of this strip and serves to highlight the timelessness of this storyline – it feels like a classic Strontium Dog adventure from the series' glory days and a love letter to its fans.


Carlos Ezquerra's artwork is absolutely fantastic, and the search for the Twister sisters allows the veteran artist to showcase some fun new designs for the alien inhabitants of the resort world. I particularly liked the amphibian design of the massage parlour owner, who looks less than enthused to be answering Johnny Alpha's questions. Ezquerra has always excelled in creating a myriad of alien races or bizarre mutations to populate the worlds in the Strontium Dog universe, and part of the joy in reading the strip is sporting the unusual characters in the background. Wagner's script keeps the storyline running at a steady pace, whilst allowing for character development of his large supporting cast. Despite the large number of players in this  piece, it never feels crowded and hard to remember who is who. I'm thoroughly enjoying this adventure as what started as a simple heist begins to become a more complex affair for the Strontium Dogs.



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

Despite the lack of actual Dredd in this week's Judge Dredd, the series takes the spot of “Thrill of the Week” as DeMarco takes on the radicalised recruits of Sector Zero. Michael Carroll and Mark Sexton have done a great job with this storyline, and I'm looking forward to seeing how it concludes next Prog. Meanwhile, as Tharg notes in his Nerve Centre introduction, the rest of the serials passed their mid-way points and begin hurtling towards their conclusions within the month. In the case of The ABC Warriors, I'm assuming this will mean that the plot will develop beyond its retro-focused Ro-Busters rewrite and look towards answering the central question behind Ro-Jaws' disobedience virus, which the future ABC Warriors need to overcome their programming and defeat Howard Quartz. Other than that, the remaining three serials are shaping up nicely and seem to be organically heading towards their respective endings in time for the next run of exciting stories! 

Thrill of the Week: Judge Dredd


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1967 will be available in stores on Wednesday 10th February - 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!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...