Wednesday, 30 March 2016

2000AD Prog 1974

Prog 1974 Cover by Dylan Teague

Considering the strip itself focuses on alternate realities and parallel universes, it’s ironic that this cover for Survival Geeks offers an alternative take on the series’ characters from artist Dylan Teague. Compared to Neil Googe’s animated style, Teague offers a slightly more realistic take on the characters which works really well for the series and I think he would do a fantastic job as a stand-in artist. It’s a surprisingly complicated piece of cover art with a plethora of characters featured, and it’s really fun to see the male/female versions of the same characters interacting with each other on the page. I’m pretty sure that this is the first piece of cover art to feature Survival Geeks and thanks to Teague, it’s certainly a strong debut!


JUDGE DREDD - THE GRINDSTONE COWBOYS (Part 2)
Script - Michael Carroll
Art - Colin MacNeil
Colours - Len O'Grady
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

This Cursed Earth centric adventure continues to rattle along at a cracking pace as Dredd and his crew deal with the group who attacked the Munce Farms on the outskirts of the city and get a name for the ringleader behind the attacks. Michael Carroll writes some superb Judge Dredd dialogue here, capturing the brutal efficiency of Dredd and his fellow Judges. I really liked the scene where he interrogated the survivors of the skirmish, leaving their “trusted informant” to walk away, whilst dealing with the stubborn four-armed mutant. The highlight of this episode was the way that Carroll had the various Judges interacting, especially Dredd as he cut short the younger Judge's game of quoting laws to each other. He clearly has a strong handle on Dredd's voice, bringing an authenticity to the character's voice rarely seen outside of John Wagner's work.


Aside from the Cursed Earth adventure, Carroll continues to reference his ongoing story-arc involving Brit-Cit and the Emerald Isle's desire to extradite Judge Joyce and Judge Dredd for their part in the events of “Blood of the Emeralds”. Ably juggling these plot-points with effortless skill, Carroll is able to create a strong stand-alone tale that also hints towards the future, replicating the narrative structure of hit US TV shows. Colin MacNeil continues to produce some absolutely beautiful artwork here, bringing the irradiated Cursed Earth to life on the page. I am a huge fan of his take on Dredd, which rivals that of Carlos Ezquerra and Henry Flint in my eyes, capturing the strength behind the character without reducing him to a caricature. While most of MacNeil's recent stories have been set in Mega-City One and revolving around conspiracies, this adventure allows the artist to embrace a whole new locale and artistic tone, knocking the ball out of the park once more!



THARG'S 3RILLERS: REPOSSESSION ORDERS (Part 2)
Script - Eddie Robson
Art - Jake Lynch
Letters - Simon Bowland

Eddie Robson's three-part urban horror hits its stride in this central installment as the spirit haunting the abandoned block of flats attacks the occupants in a wonderfully choreographed sequence from story artist, Jake Lynch. This action-heavy episode provides little exposition or explanation behind events, but offers readers an atmospheric ghost story with a modern twist. While there is little narrative meat on this story's bones, it is hugely enjoyable and a great uncomplicated adventure with some beautiful artwork from Lynch. Robson has proven himself to be a master of the “three-act structure” that comes with the Tharg's 3rillers format, so I am expecting a strong finale that ties up the loose ends and gives readers a satisfying ending. After a number of successes with Future Shocks and these smaller stories, I hope to see a longer narrative from Eddie Robson in the future, which puts his imaginative world-building and love for science-fiction to good use.



SURVIVAL GEEKS - GEEKS FATALES (Part 2)
Script - Gordon Rennie & Emma Beeby
Art - Neil Googe
Colours - Gary Caldwell
Letters - Ellie de Ville

While the science-fiction trope of encountering gender-swapped versions of the main characters has been seen before, most notably in Red Dwarf episode, “Parallel Universe”, it is fun to see the concept explored with Survival Geeks' trademark wit. Artist Neil Googe takes full advantage of this female-orientated alternate universe and creates some great visual easter eggs of gender-inverted science-fiction properties such as “Biffy” the Vampire Slayer, a Female version of Doctor Who and Luke Skywalker in a Slave outfit! Part of the fun of this series is spotting all the subtle pop culture references in both the script and art. Having re-watched Red Dwarf recently, I am struck by how similar the set-up is in both series, with Survival Geeks having a distinctive sitcom feel – in fact, I could see 2000AD working with BBC Three to produce a six-part sci-fi sitcom based on this series. As much as fans want a Dredd series on Netflix or Amazon Prime, I think Survival Geeks would be a far more accessible option for television. Not that it has to be one or the other – I'm sure both series could be developed for TV!



TAINTED: THE FALL OF DEADWORLD (Part 2)
Script - Kek-W
Art - Dave Kendall
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

This second episode of Tainted: The Fall of Deadworld introduces us to what appears to be the main protagonist of this series, Judge Fairfax. Kek-W makes use of flashbacks to establish the character before showcasing him interacting with the family of farmers seen in the initial episode – it's an effective technique and I love the complexity of the character as he is depicted as rather unlikeable, yet heroic at times. As with his recent work on The Order, Kek-W doesn't explicitly spell out events, leaving plenty of space for readers to read between the lines and figure out the events not shown on the page. It's a technique that works well and rewards the more dedicated of readers.


While the initial episode focused more on setting the scene and mood of the tale, this more action-heavy installment is concerned with moving the plot forward and sending our protagonists on what appears to be a fateful journey. Dave Kendall's artwork has a spooky ethereal quality to it that suits this series perfectly, recalling elements of Peter Doherty's work on Judge Death from the mid-nineties, further establishing it as a companion piece to the Young Death: Boyhood of a Superfiend storyline from that era. With an air of inevitability surrounding the fate of Judge Fairfax and his fellow survivors, I am excited to see where this story is headed and whether we will get any cameos from the more famous Dark Judges. Wisely, Kek-W has focused on the human element for this prequel series and within two episodes, I'm invested in the fates of these characters, knowing full well that Deadworld eventually becomes a haven for the undead. Still, the beauty of Kek-W's writing is that despite the inevitable nature of this storyline, it remains no less exciting and thrilling!



AQUILA - CHARON'S MERCY (Part 2)
Script - Gordon Rennie
Art - Paul Davidson
Colours - Len O' Grady
Letters - Simon Bowland

Starting off with a brief flashback which provides some context behind the events of the previous episode, Aquila continues to be new reader-friendly with its narrative, providing just the right amount of information to intrigue new and lapsed readers. Gordon Rennie showcases a true understanding of the weekly narrative, balancing action and exposition together in a way that has the reader hankering for more. Despite his monosyllabic protagonist, Rennie manages to keep the story moving through the dialogue of Aquila's motor-mouth companion, creating instant personalities for the series' double-act.


New to the series, Paul Davidson provides a different artistic style that maintains the high level of gore that was seen in Leigh Gallagher's work. While Davidson's artwork offers a smoother, more animated style than Gallagher's more sketch-like art, it still manages to convey the brutal nature of Aquila's world with body parts being severed and strewn across the streets of Rome. It reminds me of PJ Holden's art style in places, capturing grime and gore together in a very atmospheric manner. Much like Rennie's script, Davidson's artwork provides readers with straight-forward storytelling that is drenched in bloody ultra-violence. It's a fun read, countering the science-fiction elements of the current line-up with a dose of historical fantasy and mysticism that allows 2000AD to demonstrate its versatility as an anthology magazine. 



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

Following in the footsteps of its excellent “jumping-on point” Prog 1973, this latest issue of 2000AD manages to maintain the momentum across all of its stories, delivering some fantastic second episodes that continue to engage and entice new readers. Michael Carroll's sterling script-work, ably assisted by Colin MacNeil's fantastic artwork, earns Judge Dredd the top spot of “Thrill of the Week”. However, there was some strong competition from the likes of Tainted: The Fall of Deadworld which sees Kek-W and Dave Kendall delivering some pitch-perfect Gothic horror in the midst of an apocalypse. The best thing about this current line-up of 2000AD stories is the eclectic mix of genres that fills out its 32 pages, ranging from action to horror and to comedy. There is literally something for all tastes here, proving again that 2000AD is one of the best value magazines out there, cramming a multitude of worlds between its pages for less than the price of a pint. If you're a lapsed reader, there are plenty of reasons to rejoin the fold as 2000AD continues to usher in a golden age of thrill-power.

Thrill of the Week: Judge Dredd


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1974 will be available in stores on Wednesday 30th March - Digital copies of this Prog will be available on the same day through the standalone 2000AD app, which can be downloaded onto iOS and Android devices.

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

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Review - Gotham: 2x16 - "Prisoners"


Gotham
Episode 2x16 - "Prisoners"

Synopsis

Jim Gordon struggles to come to terms with his new life in Blackgate Prison as the other prisoners and a corrupt warden continue to make things difficult for him. Meanwhile, Oswald Cobblepot gets closer to his father, unaware that his step-family are plotting against them.

Review

Wow, that was possibly the best hour of serialised drama I’ve seen all year! After sending its lead character to prison for a murder he didn’t commit, Gotham then switched genres for an episode and became a Shawshank Redemption-esque prison drama that focused on Jim Gordon and his experiences within Blackgate Prison. Adopting a dual narrative that switched between The Penguin’s ‘happy ending’ with his adoptive family and Gordon’s ‘living hell’ within the prison gates, “Prisoners” made for thrilling viewing as the episode charted the fortunes of these characters throughout the episode. By the end of their journey, it seemed their luck had changed as Gordon demonstrated his determination to prove his innocence and regain his life, although the task seems almost impossible given the strength of the Riddler’s scheming plans. With the death of his remaining parent, I suspect Cobblepot will revert back to his old ways, beginning with revenge against his step-family for causing the death of his father.

The scenes with Gordon within Blackgate prison drove the episode, with its fantastically bleak and claustrophobic setting. The opening montage that showed Gordon’s routine not only helped portray the passage of time, but emphasised the boredom and dire nature of his prison sentence as he came close to his breaking point. The show’s writers certainly pushed Gordon to his limits in ways we’ve never seen before – stripped of his badge, his friends and his honour, we had a Gordon who had lost everything and was resigned to his fate. Ironically, it was his friends (with a wonderful surprise cameo from Falcone) who conspired to get him out of his situation, but there is still a long way to go for Gordon to even come close to getting his former life back. In contrast, the Penguin was teased with a new life of luxury alongside a father figure who loved him unconditionally – while his step-family came across as a bunch of goofy amateurs rather than scheming gold-diggers, it was destined to end in tragedy for the greasy-haired gangster. While it feels as if events have been slightly contrived to get Cobblepot ‘cured’ and in the bosom of his new family, I do like this new status-quo for the character and he presumably inherits the Van Dahl fortune, edging closer to his characterisation in the comics.


This more streamlined approach to the series’ storytelling really helped this episode, reducing the supporting cast to a minimum and concentrating on two narrative strands. Ben Mackenzie, who has always played Gordon as irritated and determined, was given the chance to show some range in his acting skills and it was great to see him adjust slightly, although he reverted to some of his old acting tics at times. I also enjoyed seeing more of Donal Logue’s Bullock in this episode, after being much maligned in this second season – hopefully he will prove to be a vital part in Gordon’s reinstatement, although I worry he might be a casualty of the Riddler’s schemes. The scene where Bullock breaks the news to Gordon that Leslie had miscarried his baby was really well-acted, bringing some real emotion to a scene that could have come across as hokey. I’m very excited to see where the series takes this storyline and whether the Riddler will be unveiled as the mastermind behind Gordon’s troubles. There’s a wonderful unpredictability to this series, which is surprising given that it revolves around the origins of characters we’re intimately familiar with.

It’s no understatement to say that this might be the strongest episode of Gotham yet – everything came together perfectly to deliver a solid hour of television drama. The change in locale and tone completely reinvigorated the series and the jarring nature of this sudden status-quo shake-up has made the tail-end of Season Two seem like a dangerous and unpredictable time for the main characters, much like how the final episodes of Season One seemed to deliver shock after shock with eye-gouging and sudden deaths. While I’m enjoying this focus on Jim Gordon on the wrong side of the law and the Riddler’s emergence as a criminal mastermind, it feels that Hugo Strange and his weird experiments at Indian Hill have taken something of a back-seat. Hopefully, the show will be able to bring these seemingly disparate plot threads together in a satisfying manner, not forgetting to maintain the ‘shock value’ that has worked wonders for the series thus far!


Score - 10 out of 10

Next Episode - "Into the Woods"
In an attempt to clear his name, Gordon steals his case file and approaches Nygma for help. Meanwhile, Penguin discovers his step-family's role in his father's death, and awakens from his conditioning.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Review - Agents of SHIELD: 3x13 - "Parting Shot"

Agents of SHIELD
Episode 3x13 - "Parting Shot"

Synopsis

Bobbi and Hunter find themselves in danger when they are sent on a mission to prevent Malick from acquiring more Inhumans and inadvertently cause an international incident between Russia and the USA which Coulson may not be able to save them from.

Review

This episode of Agents of SHIELD acted as a back-door pilot for the long-rumoured spin-off show, Marvel’s Most Wanted, which is expected to focus on Bobbi and Hunter as a pair of married spies on the run from the government. For some naïve reason, I didn’t think this would drastically affect Agents of SHIELD and that whatever adventures the pair had in store for them in this new series would be told in-between seasons of Agents of SHIELD, just like Agent Carter. Looks like I was wrong, as this episode writes out both characters and sets up their new status-quo as rogue spies operating outside the system and without the back-up of SHIELD to help them. I’ll be honest, the events of this episode felt dictated by outside forces rather than naturally coming from the narrative of the story – there were definitely moments where characters acted out-of-character to facilitate the eventual outcome of getting Bobbi and Hunter blacklisted from SHIELD. I’m sure this decision can be easily over-turned if Marvel’s Most Wanted ends up at the bottom of the ratings chart, as Coulson mentions possible new identities for the duo.

As a tease of what to expect for the eventual pilot episode of Marvel’s Most Wanted, “Parting Shot” didn’t really focus on the interplay between Bobbi and Hunter, and as much as the show’s writers try to establish chemistry between the two, it always seems like Bobbi tolerates Hunter’s whiny attempts at humour, rather than genuinely caring for him. That said, the characters do work well separately and I enjoyed their different approaches to being interrogated. While previous episodes have felt somewhat restrained in nature, this episode certainly allowed the writers to shake up the series’ status-quo, removing two of its non-powered cast members to make room for more recruits to Daisy’s team of Secret Warriors. It has been a while since there has been any significant change to the roster, so in some ways I do welcome the decision to remove Hunter and Bobbi from the show to make room for new and existing characters.


Even though Gideon Malick and the Inhumans were still key elements behind this episode, it felt like a departure from the recent laser-focused attention these plot-points have received. Hopefully, the show’s writers will continue to create standalone adventures like this that tie into the overall narrative of the season – I have definitely found myself missing the early days of the series which saw more varied threats for the team to deal with. As with the preceding episode “The Inside Man”, “Parting Shot” was surprisingly focused on its main plot-line, with minimal attention given to the sub-plots of its supporting characters. Naturally, Bobbi and Hunter were given the spotlight as the series gave them a final hurrah, and I must admit that even though their ‘parting shot’ with the rest of the cast was a bit cheesy and unrealistic, it still managed to hit the right emotional tone and give the characters a respectful send-off. To be fair, it had to beat Agent Triplett’s undignified exit from the series!

I think that this would have been a much stronger episode if the fingerprints of the ABC execs hadn’t have been all over it – I’m not 100% sold on the idea of a Bobbi/Hunter spin-off show, preferring the two characters as part of an ensemble cast. In fact, the concept of Marvel’s Most Wanted doesn’t feel that different from Agents of SHIELD, making its existence even more questionable. Personally, I’d rather that they invest the funds into making a third season of Agent Carter. Still, the show’s writers did the best they could with the hand they were dealt and provided Hunter and Bobbi with an exit that also sets up their new status-quo, whilst leaving them open for ‘guest appearances’ later down the line. It will definitely be interesting to see how the series copes with their loss, and how the writers plan to fill in the gap, considering that there are hardly any field agents left in the show’s cast anymore. After a few stale episodes, this shake-up might be exactly what Agents of SHIELD needs to reinvigorate itself in the final half of Season Three.


Score - 9.1 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • Bobbi's code-name "Bird" is a reference to her code-name from the comics, Mockingbird.
  • General Androvich's Inhuman soldier makes use of Darkforce to create his shadowy duplicates. The same mysterious substance was also used by Blackout in "The Only Light in the Darkness" and known as Zero Matter in the second season of Agent Carter.

Mysteries
  • What will Hunter and Bobbi do now that they have been disowned by SHIELD?
  • What will SHIELD do with the vaccine to prevent Terrigenesis?

Next Episode - "Watchdogs"
Agent Mack and his brother step in when a radical group called the Watchdogs plan to eliminate the Inhumans; Simmons finds a powerful chemical compound.

Friday, 25 March 2016

Review - Supergirl: 1x17 - "Manhunter"

Supergirl
Episode 1x17 - "Manhunter"

Synopsis

With Hank Henshaw’s secret identity revealed, external forces are brought in to judge whether J’onn Jonzz is a threat to the Earth and whether he murdered the real Hank Henshaw and Jeremiah Danvers. Meanwhile, Siobhan Smythe plots revenge on Kara after losing her job at CatCo.

Review

While Supergirl has dabbled with flashbacks in the past, most of them revolving around Kara and her childhood on Krypton, this episode was driven by its multiple flashbacks into the series’ past. Interestingly, the flashbacks were centred on characters other than Kara, providing insight into the “secret origins” of J’onn Jonzz, Hank Henshaw (the real one!) and the Danvers family. To be honest, most of the flashbacks offered nothing new to viewers, merely portraying events on-screen that had been described through dialogue. While it was interesting to see the confrontation between Hank, J’onn and Jeremiah play out, it didn’t actually offer anything new. The same was true for the early interactions between Alex and J’onn, Kara and Winn; and Kara and Cat Grant – sure, it was fun seeing revisiting the first encounters between these characters after getting to know them over the past season, but it kind of stunk like filler at times, which is a shame given the strength of the previous episode.

Okay, so while the flashbacks weren’t as revealing as I’d have liked, this episode of Supergirl still provided plenty of changes to the series’ status-quo as both J’onn and Alex were forced to quit the DEO and go on the run together or face criminal charges. Given that these two characters form a huge part of Supergirl’s life, it is interesting to see how the show’s dynamic will change without them – I’m not entirely sure that Lucy Lane is a suitable replacement for the pair as the new head of the DEO, although I must admit that I was shocked that Kara revealed her true identity to her love rival. I bet that decision is going to come back to bite her in the ass! Obviously, J’onn and Alex won’t be away from the series for long and will no doubt be back in time to help Kara take on Non in the Season One finale, or kick-start the mythology of the second season. Clearly, the show’s writers intend to build up more mystery around Jeremiah Danvers’ “surprise” resurrection and I can’t see them rushing this into the next three episodes.


There was a surprising amount of content in this episode squeezed in-between the slower-paced flashbacks, with Kara struggling to deal with the aftermath of her Red Kryptonite fuelled rampage. While CatCo is quick to explain that she was under the effect of mind-altering drugs, she is still viewed with suspicion and fear, echoing her cousin’s current situation in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Ultimately, the episode didn’t get a chance to focus too heavily on this plot point, but hopefully the writers will continue to position Supergirl in this uncertain role, rather than quickly reverting back to her being National City’s ‘national treasure’. Not content to sit on its laurels, the show continues to demonstrate a brave willingness to shake its status-quo to the core. After Jimmy failed to reveal Kara’s identity to Lucy in “Truth, Justice and the American Way”, I figured that sub-plot was over, but the writers bring it back here to great effect, finally adding some depth and relevance to the Jimmy/Lucy/Kara love triangle. While it seemed the road for clear for James and Kara to hook up, it has been further complicated by the fact Lucy is now the head of the DEO and knows Kara is Supergirl. Awkward!

While this episode was slightly uneven in terms of pacing, it was another example of how well this series has evolved from its pilot episode. Even though the flashbacks were largely confirmation of things we already knew about the characters, it was fun to see the supporting characters interacting before the events of the pilot episode. Two particular highlights for me was seeing a long-haired party animal version of Alex Danvers before she was drafted into the DEO by J’onn, or watching Kara interview for her job at CatCo. While they weren't revelatory by any means, it provided some nice character moments and fleshed out their backstories a bit more. Ironically the present-day events were filled with far more revelations with the shocking plot twists involve Jeremiah Danvers and the reveal that Siobhan Smythe has super-screaming-powers. The synopsis for next episode not only promises the long-awaited Supergirl / The Flash cross-over but also the return of Livewire, and given both she and Siobhan have a grudge against CatCo, it looks like it might be a Cat Grant-centric episode, which is great as I feel like CatCo has taken a backseat recently to the events at the DEO. With only three episodes left of Season One, I am predicting a strong finish for Supergirl, which will hopefully cement its renewal for a second season!


Score - 9.2 out of 10

Next Episode - "Worlds Finest"
Kara gains a new ally when the Flash arrives from an alternate universe and helps her fight the Silver Banshee and Livewire in exchange for helping him return home.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

2000AD Prog 1973

Prog 1973 Cover by Mark Sexton

Fresh off of his recent stint on the Judge Dredd storyline, “Ghosts”, art droid Mark Sexton has produced this excellent cover image for this jumping-on Prog. It certainly feels like a quintessential “new readers friendly” cover with its iconic imagery of Judge Dredd and Mega-City One. As with Sexton's work on “Ghosts”, I was struck by the level of detail in his background images with street signs and citizens used to populate the city. My only nit-pick is regarding Dredd's Lawgiver, which looks a bit misshapen here, as if the angle isn't quite right. Other than that, it's a great cover debut for the artist, who seems to be quickly slipping into the roster of great Judge Dredd artists with a clear line-work that evokes memories of legendary artists, Brian Bolland and Chris Weston.


JUDGE DREDD - THE GRINDSTONE COWBOYS (Part 1)
Script - Michael Carroll
Art - Colin MacNeil
Colours - Len O'Grady
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Michael Carroll and Colin MacNeil reunite for another Judge Dredd adventure – one that nicely dovetails with their previous collaboration, “Blood of the Emeralds”, demonstrating Carroll's knack for juggling left-over plot threads. I suspect that this is merely a nod to the reader to let them know that both Dredd and Joyce still have to deal with the consequences of their last visit to the Emerald Isle, rather than a direct threat for this storyline. Once again, the Justice Department's thinning resources and desire to portray outward strength to their allies and enemies is the central theme of this storyline, creating continuity across the series' writers in the wake of Chaos Day. Carroll does a great job at care-taking the status-quo of the series whilst John Wagner is away from the strip, building up his own sub-plots and storylines within the post-DOC framework. One can't help but feel that this 'house of cards' that Chief Judge Hershey is building will collapse at the slightest push, causing even more dramatic changes to the Judge Dredd universe.


Colin MacNeil's artwork remains as impeccable as ever, bringing his years of experience with the character to the storyline. I am immediately comforted whenever I see his artwork on Judge Dredd as you know that it is going to be a strong storyline – often vital in its importance. They don't waste an artist of MacNeil's caliber on a sub-par story arc! As this is another jumping-on point for new readers, MacNeil is an inspired choice for this storyline, recognisable to even the most casual reader as the artist behind “America” – the most important Judge Dredd story ever published. Carroll quickly gets Dredd and his group out into the Cursed Earth, but it seems that this is more than a simple case of raiders attacking Mega City-One food stores. It'll be interesting to see what long-term ramifications this storyline will have for Dredd and his world, especially as the Justice Department continue to loose their grip on power.



THARG'S 3RILLERS: REPOSSESSION ORDERS (Part 1)
Script - Eddie Robson
Art - Jake Lynch
Letters - Simon Bowland

Veteran Tharg's 3rillers script droid, Eddie Robson, returns to the format with another urban slice of science-fiction, this time subverting the classic “haunted house” template with a tale of squatters being victimised by spirits in a derelict new-build. Robson does a great job at instilling everyday realism into his scripts before he flicks the switch and lets the crazy out, and he has demonstrated a firm grasp of the three-act narrative structure over the past few years with his various Tharg's 3rillers adventures. Jake Lynch's sketch-like artwork is a great fit for this contemporary urban horror, immediately creating a recognisable atmosphere for Robson's script to unfold. Given that this is a jumping-on point for new readers, it is a great decision to include a Tharg's 3riller into this current line-up, giving readers a complete “three-part” adventure to enjoy from the beginning to the end without any prior knowledge. With a bold confidence to his script, Eddie Robson demonstrates why he has become the “go-to name” for Tharg's 3rillers, with an uncanny ability to condense his adventures down to a three episode format.



SURVIVAL GEEKS - GEEKS FATALES (Part 1)
Script - Gordon Rennie & Emma Beeby
Art - Neil Googe
Colours - Gary Caldwell
Letters - Ellie de Ville

One of the most recent Tharg's 3rillers to make the transition to full series, Survival Geeks takes a number of common pop-culture and science-fiction tropes and blends them together to produce a light-hearted romp through parallel dimensions. Wrapped up in some brilliantly frenetic Neil Googe artwork, Survival Geeks always offers some levity to 2000AD's line-up, with its cast of geeks sent to increasingly outlandish post-apocalyptic situations. It's great fun and it's clear Gordon Rennie and Emma Beeby are having fun with their central concept – this time focusing on the familiar science-fiction storyline of a gender-swapped alternate cast. It's fun to see our cast of male geeks visualised as female versions, particularly the drugged-out stoner, whose female counterpart seems to have accrued psychic powers. Neil Googe does a great job at capturing the series' spirit of madcap adventure with another high-octane chase sequence to open the storyline. Googe is a fantastic choice for artist, with his style reflecting the pop-culture bravado of the series whilst creating some fabulous post-apocalyptic set-pieces for its heroes to escape. It might not be the most high-brow of 2000AD stories, but it offers a lovely bit of contrast to the tense sci-fi and ultra-violence seen elsewhere in the Prog, providing a much needed burst of mischief.



TAINTED: THE FALL OF DEADWORLD (Part 1)
Script - Kek-W
Art - Dave Kendall
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

After the success of the stand-out Dreams of Deadworld mini-series, which examined the Four Dark Judges ahead of their chronological first appearances, Tharg has re-teamed Kek-W and Dave Kendall to create a prequel series set within the Fall of Deadworld, previously only depicted in Young Death: Boyhood of a Superfiend. Dave Kendall's artwork is wonderfully haunting and really captures the mood of a world on its last legs as disease and pestilence run rife through the farmyard crops. While it might not sound like a compliment, this opening episode feels reminiscent of an M. Night Shyamalan film, evoking memories of the director's apocalyptic thrillers such as Signs and The Happening.


As seen with his fantastic work on The Order, Kek-W manages to quickly build up his supporting cast through naturalistic dialogue – a technique that works well with Dave Kendall's evocative artwork to create a tangible post-apocalyptic atmosphere. There's something genuinely unsettling about that final panel when a Judge's Lawmaster, carrying an injured Judge, appears at the scene. Kek-W is clearly channelling masters of horror and suspense through his script here, bringing a shade of Stephen King to this tale of Deadworld. I'm really enjoying this more personal and intimate take on the “Fall of Deadworld” compared the more blockbuster approach seen in Dreams of Deadworld, focusing on this extended family of farmers who are struggling to survive against the end of days – it's a brilliant narrative technique and promises some fantastic storyline potential in the future.



AQUILA - CHARON'S MERCY (Part 1)
Script - Gordon Rennie
Art - Paul Davidson
Colours - Len O' Grady
Letters - Simon Bowland

After a two year hiatus, Aquila returns to the pages of 2000AD with a change in artist and what appears to be a fresh new direction for the series. Paul Davidson maintains the gore quotient with his artwork – a vital ingredient for this gritty Ancient Rome revenge-fantasy – whilst providing brighter backgrounds and more clarity to his panels than seen from his predecessor, Leigh Gallagher. Perfect for a jumping-on point, this episode reintroduces the two lead characters – although it fails to nail them both – and gives us a glimpse at their personalities through their reactions to the gladiatorial combat occurring before them. I was struck at how similar the set-up is to Slaine and Ukko, with the stern but silent muscle-bound hero accompanied by a morally-corrupt weakling, obsessed with money. It's clearly a recipe that works and Gordon Rennie does a great job at establishing the relationship between the pair.


Davidson is a great choice of artist to replace Leigh Gallagher, capturing the visceral violence of Ancent Rome with ease. I also liked his character designs for Charon and Mercury, the two “cleaners” of the arena floor – Aquila has long featured grotesque creatures from Ancient Rome mythology and I look forward to seeing how Davidson brings the various monsters to the page. There are plenty of similarities to be had here between Aquila and Slaine, and yet room enough for both series to co-exist in 2000AD's stable of thrills. Relatively undeveloped as a series, Aquila is rife with potential and I really like the enigmatic central character. My only concern is the lack of central narrative – the previous storylines revolving around Emperor Nero's attempts to ascend to godhood were thrilling and offered a great villain to overcome, but with that story-arc resolved, I wonder where Rennie plans to take the character next.



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

In terms of appealing to new readers, Prog 1973 was an unmitigated success, offering five brand-new stories that welcomed new and lapsed readers into the fold. The opening installment of “The Grindstone Cowboys” provided an entry-level view in Judge Dredd's world, sending the titular Judge into the Cursed Earth to apprehend a group of raiders. Even the returning series, Survival Geeks and Aquila were positioned as introductory episodes, giving new readers the opportunity to quickly familiarise themselves with these bold new worlds. Tharg also presented readers with completely brand-new stories in the form of Tharg's 3rillers and Tainted: Fall of Deadworld, ensuring that both new and old readers started off on the same playing field.

Ultimately, Tainted: Fall of Deadworld stood out for me as “Thrill of the Week”, thanks to the combined efforts of Kek-W's script and Dave Kendall's amazingly emotive artwork. With a mix of ultra-violence and pop-culture craziness, this current line-up of stories certainly showcases 2000AD's eclectic tastes, offering a broad mix of genres for readers to sample. It's like stuffing your faces at a buffet without worrying about paying any charges for unfinished food – even if you don't like that side portion of Tharg's 3riller, there will be someone else there who does! Tharg also teases the imminent arrivals of Slaine and Brink, offering further diversity to his current line-up of adventures. Yet again, it's a glorious time to be a 2000AD fan and no other comics publisher works as hard to reach new readers – if you're even the slightest bit curious, pick up this “jumping-on” Prog and see what you've been missing for the past thirty-nine years!

Thrill of the Week: Tainted: Fall of Deadworld


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1973 will be available in stores on Wednesday 23rd March - 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) # 7

Doctor Who: The 11th Doctor (Vol. 2) # 7
"The One" - Part 2 (of 2)
Written by: Rob Williams
Art by: Leandro Casco & Simon Fraser
Colours by: Gary Caldwell

After last issue’s surprise reveal that the Doctor and his merry band of companions had broken through the time barrier and entered Shada, the prison planet of the Time Lords, Rob Williams takes time to have fun with the ambiguity over the canonicity of the legendary unfinished adventure by having the Doctor unable to remember his previous time on the planet. Williams also provides a subtle nod to the serial’s writer, Douglas Adams of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy fame, with a rather depressive AI system that bears similarities with Marvin the Paranoid Android. Williams’ script manages to be very accessible and requires no real background knowledge of “Shada” and its complicated history, but rewards those hard-core Whovians who do know about it. There’s a fabulous pace and momentum to this story as the Doctor, River and the others attempt to break through the prison security to find out whether the Master was involved in the war-crimes that the Doctor has been accused of.

Unfortunately, this issue features two artists working together and while their styles do contrast against each other – the point at which the ‘switch-over’ occurs allows the transition to occur relatively seamlessly minimising disruption to the narrative. I really enjoyed Leandro Casco’s art in this issue, which offered a distinctive take on the Eleventh Doctor and his many companions. There’s a smoothness to Casco’s style that adds a minimalist flavour to his artwork and gives it an animated style – unfortunately, this does contrast against Simon Fraser’s more detail-laden style, which makes use of shading and intricate line-work. Both art styles are great and would have worked perfectly on their own, but blending the two together in one issue is slightly problematic. However, as I’ve said before, the editors picked the perfect transition moment to switch between the artists as the companions find themselves placed in stasis. I really enjoyed the sequence from Simon Fraser where the Squire uses her sword to prevent the Doctor from being placed into stasis for one thousand years. It’s full of dramatic tension and the emotion of the scene leapt out of the page – it was definitely the highlight of the issue for me.


Ultimately, this issue offered little in the way of answers, choosing instead to bombard the reader with more questions than before. For example, what was on the photo that the Doctor printed out of the Master’s TARDIS – was it something incriminating himself in the genocide of the Cylors? Also, what exactly is going on with Alice – the Shada AI made a blink and you’ll miss it reference to “fluctuating Tachyon technology in her neck”, further building up the mystery about her visions of the future. Obviously, the Squire remains a conundrum for both the Doctor and the readers, revealed her to be a being with no history – which suggests that she might be some kind of artificial construct? Interestingly, the Shada AI asks if she is the owner of the Master’s TARDIS – a question that goes unanswered, meaning that my theory that she is a hidden incarnation of the Master remains open, ready to be disproved at a later date! I’m really enjoying the multiple layers of mystery that Rob Williams and Si Spurrier have piled onto this storyline, crafting a “whodunit” that continues to confuse the reader and take them on a journey of twists and turns.

Despite the inconsistencies between the two artists, this was a strong issue of the Eleventh Doctor comic series which pulled the rug out from under the reader’s feet by dismissing the Master as the master-mind behind this storyline. Of course, it’s possible that he is still involved further down the line, but I’m intrigued to see where Spurrier and Williams intend to take this storyline over the coming months. With such a firm grasp on Doctor Who mythology, it feels like they have fifty-plus years of material at their hands. Forget “hiding behind the sofa”, the compelling mysteries of this storyline will have you shouting at the TV for answers, thanks to some absolutely brilliant storytelling from Spurrier and Williams. I can't recommend this series enough to fans of Doctor Who - go buy it now!


Score - 9.2 out of 10

Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor (Vol. 2) # 7 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) # 7

Doctor Who: The 10th Doctor (Vol. 2) # 7
"Arena of Fear" - Part 2 (of 2)
Written by: Nick Abadzis
Art by: Elena Casagrande
Colours by: Rodrigo Fernandes

Trapped in an alien world with an eclectic mix of Neanderthals, modern-day humans and alien bounty hunters for company, Nick Abadzis brings the Tenth Doctor’s adventures in the Arena of Fear to an epic conclusion with this issue. Over the past four installments, Abadzis has built up a strong storyline, filled with a rich supporting cast that each plays a part in this grand finale. Most of the tension comes from the confrontation between a mind-controlled Gabby and her former friends with Abadzis revisiting plot points from previous storylines and having her manifest deadly psychic butterflies – a talent briefly glimpsed at the end of the series’ second storyline, “The Arts in Space”. It’s nice to see these nods to past stories, suggesting that Gabby has some latent psychic abilities that are being nurtured by the adventures that the Doctor has taken her on. It’s also good to see her best friend Cindy Wu get more ‘screen-time’ as she replaces Gabby for the second half of this adventure and acts as the Doctor’s companion and confidante, earning her the right to travel in the TARDIS at the story’s end.

I’ve really enjoyed the “Arena of Fear” storyline with its The Hunger Games overtones, but it would have been nice to see the adventure developed over a few more issues with more focus on the individual ‘battles’ between the mind-wiped friends. Despite this, I have really enjoyed how the various plot threads of the past few issues have come together to form a strong narrative that transcends time and space. While it was nice to see Captain Jack Harkness make his Titan Comics debut, it did feel like he was side-lined with the mind-wipe plot device and the frantic action of this concluding episode. I like the idea of him working with Cleo and Erik to potentially form a new version of Torchwood and hopefully this plot thread will be investigated in future episodes, or potentially a spin-off comic series?


I absolutely love the cover from guest artist, Todd Nauck, with its bright colours and distinctive takes on the Doctor and Gabriella. I’d love to see him draw interiors for a story-arc in the future, as his artwork really captures the sense of fun and adventure that comes with the Doctor Who franchise. Inside the issue, Elena Casagrande continues to deliver top-class artwork that reflects the added darkness in the storyline, especially the sequences featuring ‘Dark Gabby’ and Mister Ebonite. I was wowed by the attention to detail seen in the panels featuring Gabby’s horde of psychic butterflies as they overwhelmed our heroes. There’s a wonderful momentum to Casagrande’s panels in the climactic fight scene against a giant-sized Mister Ebonite, as she captures the epic scale of the battle onto the page.

I’ve really enjoyed watching this story evolve over the past five episodes, moving from a simple excursion into pre-historic times into a battle for survival in the Arena of Fear. There are plenty of subtle homages to classic Doctor Who stories such as “An Unearthly Child”, “The War Games” and “Carnival of Monsters”, resulting in an old-school “mash-up” of Doctor Who stories with a modern twist. Abadzis and his rotating team of artists have done a fantastic job at maintaining consistency across the three different ‘acts’ of this adventure, with Leonardo Romero, Eleonora Carlini and Elena Casagrande maintaining a very similar art style across each issue. Overall, this was a fitting conclusion to a wonderfully epic story-arc and I certainly look forward to seeing what Nick Abadzis has in store for the Doctor, Gabby and Cindy in the next adventure.


Score - 9.3 out of 10

Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor (Vol. 2) # 7 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 4th Doctor # 1 (of 5)

Doctor Who: The 4th Doctor # 1 (of 5)
"Gaze of the Medusa" - Part 1 (of 5)
Written by: Gordon Rennie & Emma Beeby
Art by: Brian Williamson
Colours by: Hi-Fi

Following in the footsteps of its Eighth and Ninth Doctor miniseries, Titan Comics continues to explore the rich history of the Doctor Who franchise with the launch of the Fourth Doctor miniseries, which sees the comic publisher focusing on the fan-favourite incarnation of the Time Lord. Once again Titan Comics have enlisted the help of the best in British Comics talent with writing team, Gordon Rennie and Emma Beeby, well-known for their work in British science-fiction anthology, 2000AD. Focusing on the early adventures of the Fourth Doctor’s era, this Victorian-themed adventure sees the Doctor partnered with Sarah-Jane Smith, prior to their final adventure together in “The Hand of Fear”. It’s great to see this era of the show revisited in comic-book format, and setting the adventure during the Victorian era certainly captures the Gothic Horror atmosphere of the Fourth Doctor’s era, particularly the iconic serial, “The Talons of Weng-Chiang”.

This opening episode blends a variety of different time periods together with a curious mix of Ancient Greek mythology against a Victorian London setting. The imagery of huge psychic Cyclops bounding through the streets of old London is really quite effective and quintessentially Doctor Who in nature. Brian Williamson’s artwork has a wonderful photo-realistic quality to it, which captures the likenesses of Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen with ease. However, there are some minor quibbles with perspective, especially with the giant-sized Scryclops – some of the action sequences, such as the scene where Sarah-Jane is abducted, don’t quite flow as easily as Williamson’s work on the Twelfth Doctor comic-book adventure, “The Fractures”.


Rennie and Beeby do a fine job at recreating the relationship between the Fourth Doctor and Sarah-Jane on the page, evoking memories of Tom Baker’s unique delivery as the Doctor through their dialogue. In fact, it feels equally as authentic as Williamson’s photo-realistic artwork, transporting even the most ardent Doctor Who fan back to those Saturday evenings in the mid-to-late 1970s. Aside from channelling their inner-Tom Baker, the writing duo also manage to evoke that nostalgic atmosphere from classic Doctor Who serials with the deadly Scryclops appearing like the type of monster that would have had viewers cowering from behind their gaudy 70s-style sofas, whilst the mysterious veil-wearing mastermind behind this storyline feels ripped directly out of the Third and Fourth Doctor serials. Upon reading the final cliff-hanger, which sees Sarah-Jane come face-to-face with herself frozen in stone for all eternity, you could almost hear the Doctor Who credits theme in your head.

Overall, this was a promising start to another Doctor Who comic miniseries, which once again sees Titan Comics tap into the distinctive mood of specific eras of the show. The publisher has done a tremendous job at securing some of the best writers and artists in Britain to create an authentic home-grown feel to its comic series, and most importantly for spin-off media, it feels as if the creators have a strong love for the subject matter. Despite a few problems with the artwork at times, this was a great re-introduction to the Fourth Doctor and Sarah-Jane and I would wholeheartedly recommend it to both long-term fans of the character and more recent fans of Doctor Who, curious about the earlier incarnations of the Doctor. It’s completely new-reader friendly and doesn’t require any knowledge of the 1970s era of the show, but for those in the know, it’s a splash of nostalgic goodness. 


Score - 8.4 out of 10

Doctor Who: The Fourth Doctor # 1 is now available in all good comic shops, including Forbidden Planet, as well as on the Comixology website.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Review - Gotham: 2x15 - "Mad Grey Dawn"


Gotham
Episode 2x15 - "Mad Grey Dawn"

Synopsis

In an effort to prevent Gordon from discovering the truth about Miss Kringle’s disappearance, Edward Nygma engineers a complicated plot to discredit and distract the GCPD detective. Meanwhile, the Penguin discovers a secret that his mother kept from him until her untimely death.

Review

Wow, that was some episode of Gotham! After one and a half seasons of slowly building up the Riddler’s back story, this episode finally brought the character to life as Ed Nygma crafted a trap for Jim Gordon that drastically changed the status quo of the show. Nygma’s scheme gathered up pace throughout the entirely of the episode, starting off as a museum theft before evolving into a bomb attack, before the final reveal that everything had been put in place to frame Gordon for the murder of a fellow officer. Those whirlwind moments when Nygma’s plan came together and Gordon came to the dawning realisation that he’d been framed by someone in the GCPD were brilliant, and it was great to see him lose everything so quickly. Obviously, this status-quo won’t last too long, although Gordon seems to lose and regain his job surprisingly frequently! The ending of the episode definitely felt like a season finale, especially the scene with Gordon saying goodbye to Lee – in fact, it would have made such a brilliant finale that I wonder how Gotham intends to surpass it.

While the main thrust of the episode was on the Riddler’s game of “cat and mouse” with Jim Gordon, it was interesting to see the show revisit Poison Ivy for the first time this season, giving her more of a horticultural bent than her previous appearances. I doubt we’re going to see her get any meatier storylines than occasional cameos, but Clare Foley does a great job at portraying the haunted teen girl. In fact, all of the series' teen actors do a fantastic job with their characters, going toe-to-toe with the veteran actors in the cast. It was good to see Selina and Bruce paired together again on the mean streets of Gotham, with David Mazouz continuing to take footsteps to becoming the Bruce Wayne we know and love. I was surprised at the beating he took in this episode and his conversation with Selina afterwards certainly pointed towards his growing strength of character. I like that they are moving him away from the whiny emo-brat and giving him some actual balls – he looked genuinely tough as Selina sewed his face up.


The other sub-plot followed the Penguin as he discovered the father he never knew he had. In a genius bit of casting, Paul Reubens played Cobblepot’s father - a role he had also played in Batman Returns. The scenes between him and Robin Lord Taylor were brilliant, and I found myself truly believing that the pair were related to each other. While we didn’t get much chance to find out about his extended family, it seems Penguin may have some jealous step-siblings to deal with and a family fortune floating about. It’s interesting to see the writers pick up this plot-thread, moving the Penguin away from his organised crime roots and pushing him as an illegitimate child of nobility – one of many back-stories used for the character in the comic book continuity. I imagine that his backstabbing behaviour will resurface, possibly due to the machinations of his step-family, but it’s still not clear what Hugo Strange’s motivations are.

Overall, this was stunning episode of Gotham and easily one of the best so far. It goes to show that a ongoing drama can introduce shocking plot twists in the middle of a season without having to wait for season finales. While Agents of SHIELD has hit a mid-season lull, both Gotham and Supergirl have really hit their stride with some fantastic status-quo smashing storylines that proves both shows aren’t continue to rest on their laurels. With bold, uncompromising writing, Gotham continues to position itself as unpredictable and willing to take risks with its core cast. While I doubt Jim Gordon will remain in Blackgate Prison for the remainder of this season, I am eager to find out how he intends to unravel the Riddler’s lies and prove his innocence. Hopefully, the show’s writers will give this storyline time to breathe and give Donal Logue’s Harvey Bullock the chance to shine out from the shadow of his partner – the character has felt under-utilised all season and with Gordon in the clink, this is the perfect chance for Gotham to focus on the rest of its ensemble cast.


Score - 9.9 out of 10

Next Episode - "Prisoners"
After Gordon is removed from protective custody, he begins to face new threats and dangers from inside the prison walls. Meanwhile, Penguin grows closer to his father, while his step-mother and step-siblings move forward with their own plans for the family.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Review - Agents of SHIELD: 3x12 - "The Inside Man"

Agents of SHIELD
Episode 3x12 - "The Inside Man"

Synopsis

In an effort to flush out Hydra spies at a world conference about Inhumans, Coulson finds himself aligned with two former enemies: General Talbot and the Absorbing Man. Can the Head of SHIELD navigate the intrigue and double-crosses to discover the identity of Malick’s inside man?

Review

After some off-world action and super-powered shenanigans, this episode of Agents of SHIELD saw the series return to its spy drama roots as Agent Coulson partnered up with General Talbot to infiltrate a symposium about the Inhuman threat. Incorporating false identities, espionage and double-crosses, this episode borrowed plenty of plot elements from previous installments and as such felt slightly derivative of past episodes. Even the ‘twist’ with Talbot felt reminiscent of past storylines, resulting in a slightly raised eyebrow, rather than open-mouthed shock. There just wasn’t anything exciting here, really. The most interesting aspect of the episode, The Absorbing Man, felt side-lined and aside from the discovery that his blood contained an antidote for Terrigenesis, he didn’t have much impact on the plot at all.

It was great to see the show adopt a streamlined approach to its narrative, placing all of the focus going towards Coulson and Talbot’s infiltration of the symposium, rather than presenting a range of different storylines for each cast-member. That said, the episode did develop some of the season’s secondary plot threads, particularly with the revelation that Fitz-Simmons had devised an immunity to Terrigenesis that could prevent further outbreaks. Of course, Daisy got on her high horse about the discovery – once again presenting herself as a holier-than-thou expert in all things Inhuman, despite the logic behind the decision. The relationship between her and Lincoln doesn’t quite ring true and lacks the same spark and chemistry that she had with Ward, which makes it even more annoying that he has been killed off – we’re not likely to see any more plot developments on that front.


It was great to see Adrian Pasdar return as the inimitable General Talbot, providing some much-needed non-SHIELD presence. His banter and interplay with Coulson is always fun to watch and I’ve enjoyed seeing their relationship develop over the past season and a bit. While the episode addressed The Absorbing Man’s past as a Hydra assassin and the fact he’d survived absorbing the Obelisk, there was very little time spent on the character himself – he didn’t seem to exhibit any remorse or guilt about his crimes and could arguably be called “the two-dimensional man” for all the personality he displayed. Even Hunter seemed to be phoning it in with his distrust of the man who’d killed his colleagues, whining in typical Hunter fashion without backing it up. If the show’s writers intend to keep Creel around, they really need to develop him beyond his “cool absorbing powers”. That said, I did like the opening battle and how May used his absorbing powers against him to allow Lincoln to electrocute him.

With its streamlined narrative, this was clearly a “filler episode” designed to occupy some space and build dramatic tension before the inevitable reveal of Ward’s new powers. There was a sense of “déjà vu” about certain scenes in this episode as the show appeared to re-tread old ground, offering nothing new and exciting. While its mysterious flashbacks suggest that there is plenty to be excited about in the remaining half of this third season, Agents of SHIELD is struggling to recapture the same energy seen in the early episodes of the season, losing its way somewhat now that its heroes (and chief antagonist) have all returned from the alien planet. Clearly the show is building towards a big battle between the good and evil Inhumans, but it runs the risk of repeating similar story-arcs seen during the second season. What the show really needs now is a jolt of energy, either through the death of a lead character or a big-name guest-star, as these past couple of episodes has seen it spin its wheels slightly.


Score - 9.0 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • This episode sees the return of Carl “Crusher” Creel, the super-powered Hydra agent known as The Absorbing Man. Creel first appeared in the Season Two premiere “Shadows” and was responsible for the deaths of Hunter’s teammates, Isabelle Hartley and Idaho.
  • The Inhuman being kept locked-up by the Australian minister is Eden Fesi, also known as Manifold in the Marvel Comics Universe.  Manifold is an aboriginal Australian mutant who has the ability to teleport himself and others over great distances, and mostly recently joined the Avengers. (First app: Secret Warriors # 4)

Mysteries
  • What Inhuman powers does Grant Ward now possess? He is able to absorb the life-force from his victims, as well as take on the form of dead humans.

Next Episode - "Parting Shot"
After tracking Malick to Russia, Bobbi and Hunter become involved in an assassination plot; the team is changed forever as they race to save lives in the balance.

Friday, 18 March 2016

Review - Supergirl: 1x16 - "Falling"

Supergirl
Episode 1x16 - "Falling"

Synopsis

When Kara comes across some red kryptonite, she finds her behaviour altered and becomes more aggressive and irrational towards her friends and family. Quickly becoming Public Enemy Number One of National City, it isn't long before the DEO are summoned to apprehend the threat formerly known as Supergirl.

Review

Supergirl continues to touch upon key elements of the Superman mythology with the introduction of Red Kryptonite in this episode, a man-made substance which alters the mind-set of nearby Kryptonians and effectively turns them evil. A common occurrence in Superman stories, particularly Smallville, making use of Red Kryptonite allows the series to play with Supergirl's morality and further complicate her relationships with her friends and family. With all of her pent-up frustrations involving Jimmy Olsen and her aunt's murder, Kara was certainly ripe with repressed emotions which spiralled out of control once she was infected by the Red Kryptonite. It was great to see Melissa Benoist showcase yet another side to Kara's personality, removing the carefully cultivated “goodie two-shoes” identity and showcasing a sexier, more rebellious attitude instead. What really stood out was how Benoist distinguished this iteration of Supergirl from the other alternate versions she's played over the past few episodes – this “evil Supergirl” didn't seem like a revisitation of Bizarro-Supergirl, and her scenes as a bitchy and aggressive Kara were totally unlike her scenes as J'onn-Supergirl. It was a surprisingly nuanced performance and really carried the episode.

There was something fascinating about watching Supergirl sabotaging her own personal and public life, ruining her reputation as both Kara Danvers and Supergirl. I do enjoy these “fall from grace” storylines and with its Red Kryptonite plot device, the Superman universe does this really well. There have been countless episodes of Smallville showcasing Clark Kent turning evil upon exposure to the red substance, and even Superman III involves a similar plot-line, culminating in that iconic fight in the junk-yard against both sides of his personality. Stepping outside of the Superman mythos for a moment, even Spider-Man 3 featured a similar tale of corruption and darkness with the Venom symbiote exaggerating Peter Parker's dark side. Sure, it's a well-worn comic book trope, but Supergirl did a tremendous job at bringing it to life here and it felt like the consequences of her actions will be felt a long time after this episode, especially for the Martian Manhunter, who was forced to reveal himself in the episode's jaw-droppingly awesome conclusion.


There was a cinematic feel to this episode, possibly because it evoked memories of both Superman III and Spider-Man 3 as it tore down all of the hard work that Supergirl had put into her super-human identity. I wasn't sure how far the writers were going to go, and I have to admit I was in open-mouthed shock when Supergirl tossed Cat Grant off of the building. Sure, they made up towards the end, but it was quite a dramatic moment between the pair of 'friends'. As much as I enjoyed Supergirl's descent into becoming Public Enemy No. 1, there were some gaps in logic in the story – unfortunately, not a rare occurrence for Supergirl. For example, I'm not sure why J'onn found himself imprisoned at the end of the episode, considering that he subdued Supergirl, who was the real threat, and that there's no crime against hiding his true identity. It felt like the plot necessitated Hank being locked-up and distrusted, rather than it being a logical decision. I mean, technically, both Kara and Hank would be in a cell together, but because her name is on the title credits, she gets to go free. I'm guessing the fact Hank/J'onn looks like an ugly green alien might be why he is treated differently to the blonde american 'sweetheart', but the writers never make that distinction on-screen.

This was easily the strongest episode of the series thus far, and that's mainly down to the fearless manner in which the show's writers tore down massive chunks of the series' status-quo, in order to rebuild them back up. I loved the destructive element of this episode and seeing Melissa Benoist once again bring her best to the role. It was great to see all areas of Kara's life touched by the Red Kryptonite, including her relationships with both Winn and Jimmy. I suspect her involvement in Siobhan Smythe's dismissal will no doubt lead towards her becoming the Silver Banshee from the comics, mirroring the same journey seen from Eddie Brock in Spider-Man 3. There is no doubt whatsoever that this series has hit its stride, delivering episodes such as this one, which kept me enthralled from the opening scene until its blockbuster conclusion. It was immensely satisfying to see this “car-crash” of an episode and I hope this is the first of many “standout episodes” to come, especially considering the upcoming Supergirl / The Flash crossover is on the horizon.


Score - 9.8 out of 10

Next Episode - "Manhunter"
J'onn J'onzz finally reveals how he met Jeremiah Danvers and assumed the identity of Hank Henshaw.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

2000AD Prog 1972

Prog 1972 Cover by Clint Langley

With its distinctive red and purple colour scheme, this ABC Warriors front cover from Clint Langley certainly stands out from the crowd. I really like how the cover is split into eight segments showcasing each of the “Meknificent Seven” and their ally, Ro-Jaws. Considering how this storyline has been primarily focused on Hammerstein and Ro-Jaws, it's great to see the other six ABC Warriors represented on this piece. The red and purple lighting effects help conceptualise the “defiance code” being transferred amongst the eight robots, whilst the central purple node works well as a subtle reference to Howard Quartz, the series' core antagonist. It is also a great example of Langley's dual art styles, blending his more “old-school” pencilled artwork with computer-generated effects to create a fun and vibrant mish-mash of the two approaches.


JUDGE DREDD - UNDERCOVER KLEGG (Part 4)
Script - Rob Williams
Art - D'Israeli
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

After last episode's dragon-shaped cliff-hanger, I must admit I did have reservations as to whether Rob Williams would be able to tie up the remaining plot threads involving the Klegg peace treaty in the space of one episode without upsetting the pace and momentum of the tale. Of course, my fears were completely unfounded as Williams skillfully weaved a thrilling conclusion to the storyline that never once felt rushed. I really liked his characterisation of Dredd, getting crotchety in his old age and less tolerant of stupidity such as the Kleggs. While most Judge Dredd “humour strips” focus on the citizens as the source of the jokes, it was fun to see Dredd's inner monologue being used to generate laughs, demonstrating the veteran Judge's rather dry sense of humour. I'd certainly love to see more Dredd / Sensitive Klegg stories using this same narrative technique.


D'Israeli was a fantastic choice for artist, bringing with him a light-hearted touch that suited the tone of this strip. I also loved the way he captured the reptilian regalness of the Klegg Royal Family, evoking the characters' personalities perfectly with their designs. While I initially thought this storyline was going to be a “comedy of errors” with Sensitive Klegg attempting to maintain his cover during the treaty signing, I was pleasantly surprised to see it develop into an odd “buddy movie” between Dredd and Sensitive Klegg instead. Over the last few years, Williams has demonstrated a strong grasp on what makes a great Judge Dredd story, effortlessly switching genres from the blockbuster action of “Titan” to the more humour-led events of “Undercover Klegg” without losing any momentum at all.



KINGDOM - BEAST OF EDEN (Part 12)
Script - Dan Abnett
Art - Richard Elson
Letters - Ellie de Ville

This concluding episode of “Beast of Eden” introduces more dramatic revelations and changes to the series' status-quo as it is revealed that the Human Masters weaponised the Ticks in order to eliminate the Neosectus, inadvertently causing them evolve to tackle the threat, placing Kingdom in danger. Dan Abnett sets up a wonderful cliff-hanger for this chapter, having Gene taken off-world against his will, whilst his friends and family remain at risk as a second Tick-infested horde of Them heads towards the town of Kingdom. While the initial episodes of this current storyline felt slightly superficial and lacking in substance at times, Abnett has managed to deliver some real narrative progression in the second half of the story, offering readers a better glimpse at where the series is headed, and transporting Gene to an environment that promises to deliver steer the series in a whole new direction for the next chapter.


I'm guessing when Gene inevitably returns back to Earth, it will be too late and he will discover that Kingdom has been destroyed by the second swarm, but it remains to be seen whether Abnett will spare Clara Bow and children from a dire fate. Personally, I suspect that they will escape and survive – ready for a happy reunion towards the end of the series, which seems to be on the way soon. While I've focused on praising Dan Abnett's script-work on these final few episodes, it goes without saying that Richard Elson has been absolutely fantastic across all twelve episodes of this story. With episodes alternating between high-octane action and exposition, Elson has done a tremendous job at keeping readers engaged throughout the whole storyline with his distinctive art style, which remains one of the major reasons behind the success of the strip.



THE ORDER - IN THE COURT OF THE WYRMQUEEN (Part 12)
Script - Kek-W
Art - John Burns
Letters - Ellie de Ville

Kek-W and John Burns' Elizabethan epic draws to a close this Prog with a fantastic action-packed ending that allows each of the eclectic characters from this latest iteration of The Order of Ouroboros to have their moment of glory. As with the first series of The Order, Kek-W has done a fantastic job with his ensemble cast, creating plenty of interesting and three-dimensional characters in a short space of time. While the conclusion of this episode suggests another time-jump in the series' future, I hope that Kek-W carries over some elements of this series over into the next. I really like this Blackadder style of moving the series forward in time, revisiting similar themes albeit in different time periods. Hopefully the next chapter will be set during World War II, as I can imagine that being a strong setting for this series and John Burns' amazing visual style.


While the initial series of The Order was something of a mixed bag, hampered with some pacing issues towards the end, this second series has been near-perfection throughout its run. Rather than being over reliant on exposition and narration, Kek-W used his characters to tell the story, creating a vivid world populated by pseudo-historical figures in a totally fictional environment. The series' trademark anachronistic plot devices continue to inject a unique flavour into proceedings, whilst hinting at the over-reaching mystery surrounding Ritterstahl, who I'm convinced is some kind of robot sent back in time to ensure that the time-line occurs a certain way. The name “Ouroboros” represents a never-ending cycle, so I suspect that the series will tie into the origins of the strip. This chapter of The Order has been the back-bone of this current line-up, delivering solid and enjoyable episodes across the past three months, and I can't wait until Tharg announces a third series.



THE A.B.C. WARRIORS - RETURN TO RO-BUSTERS (Part 12)
Script - Pat Mills
Art - Clint Langley
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

As expected, this concluding episode of “Return to Ro-Busters” acts as an epilogue for this flashback-driven storyline, setting up events for the next ABC Warriors arc, which presumably will take place in the “current-day” continuity of the series and feature Clint Langley's lovely computer-generated artwork over his traditional black and white pencils. While the climactic scene of Ro-Jaws uploading the defiance code into his team-mates didn't quite have the same impact after such a lengthy build-up, Pat Mills instead focuses on the relationships and mixed personalities of the ABC Warriors, having the characters interact for the first time in a long time. The double-page spread neatly summarises the remaining elements of the ABC Warriors' quest, listing the various threats in their grand revenge scheme in something that ends up resembling a robot-centric version of Kill Bill. I'm really looking forward to this series returning in the near future and seeing Mills and Langley push the narrative in fresh new directions and moving away from the nostalgic navel-gazing of the past few years.



FUTURE SHOCKS - LIFOSUCTION
Script - Rory McConville
Art - Joe Palmer
Letters - Simon Bowland

2000AD has long been a mainstay at the Thought Bubble comic convention at Leeds, hosting a Portfolio competition for new artists that offered a paid gig in the Galaxy's Greatest Comic as the top prize. Last year's competition also included a script-writing element, allowing wannabe script-droids the opportunity to pitch stories ahead of a Dragon's Den style committee. This short four-page Future Shock is the result of that competition, teaming up the winning writer and artist together for a very unusual courtroom drama, complete with an effective twist at the end.

With an Indigo Prime-esque approach to amending time-streams, Rory McConville tells a great story of two rival organisations tasked with performing “Lifosuction” on a client's childhood, accidentally causing more damage than they realised. While the courtroom framing device makes the reader think that the pair of time-surgeons are on trial, McConville performs a brilliant 'bait-and-switch' that stands up as one of the best twist endings in recent years. It's clear to see why the judges picked this script from the competition – hopefully Tharg will upload video of the official pitch onto the 2000AD YouTube Channel, as it would be interesting to see how it developed. Joe Palmer's artwork offers a simplistic, yet effective take on the storyline, bringing a quintessential 2000AD feel to his pages, evoking memories of fellow Future Shocks art droid, Nick Dyer. This is a strong debut for both winners and I hope that we see more from the pair of them in the near future!



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

As this current line-up of stories draws to a close, I have to say that this was one of the strongest crop of thrills in recent years. There was a great mix of the old and the new, with strips like The ABC Warriors, Strontium Dog and The Order, served beside each other like a wonderful buffet of top-class storytelling. Not content to rest on his laurels, Tharg has prepared another feast of adventures in next Prog's “jumping-on point”, with the return of Survival Geeks and Aquila, not to mention a brand-new Tharg's 3rillers and a sequel to the amazing Dreams of Deadworld, which looks at how the Dark Judges took over. This diverse set of stories just goes to show why 2000AD is the Galaxy's Greatest Comic, offering something for everyone!

Thrill of the Week: Judge Dredd


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1972 will be available in stores on Wednesday 16th March - 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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