Saturday, 30 April 2016

Review - Agents of SHIELD: 3x18 - "The Singularity"

Agents of SHIELD
Episode 3x18 - "The Singularity"

Synopsis

With Daisy under Hive’s sway, Coulson and his team hunt for ways to counter Hive’s brainwashing powers whilst preventing more Inhumans from falling under his spell. Meanwhile, Fitz and Simmons come to a crucial moment in their burgeoning relationship, but will they be able to make the leap from friend to lover?

Review

After the dramatic reveal that Daisy had been turned by Hive, this episode provides a bit more context on what that entails as we see the two interact with each other. Curiously, Daisy maintains enough of her own personality to exhibit a dislike for Ward and even correct Hive on his usage of her old name, Skye. Some Fitz-Simmons science reveals the experience to be like a drug-high and the turned Inhumans find themselves entranced and willing to serve, whilst maintaining elements of their own personality. While the episode’s title “The Singularity” relates to a conversation that Fitz has with Simmons about the “point of no return” in their friendship, it also seems to hint at Hive’s grand plan, which presumably is him gaining control over the entire planet’s population with his influence, literally becoming a god with a singular consciousness obeying him.

Building up to the season finale, this episode reveals some potential weaknesses in Hive’s plans which will no doubt come into play very soon, such as bio-chemist, Holden Radcliffe, and the mysterious Kree artefacts buried under James’ house. Also, let’s not forget that Lash is still languishing in a detention cell in the SHIELD base. I'm guessing SHIELD will discover some kind of cure or protection against Hive’s powers and use these on the Secret Warriors and Lash to build their own force to combat Hive’s army of Inhumans. Talking of which, it was great to see Alisha the Multiplying Woman resurface as one of Hive’s cronies, although this does make it the second time that she has been manipulated into working against SHIELD. I also liked James, whose powers made him into an Australian version of Gambit, with a hint of fire on the side. Coupled with Giyera’s “Magneto-light” telekinesis and it seems Agents of SHIELD is circumnavigating its “no mutants” rule with some X-Men rip-offs.


The episode moved along at a quick pace, balancing plenty of different sub-plots along nicely and despite being mostly set-up for later episodes, the final act with Fitz-Simmons coming into contact with Daisy and Hive was extremely tense. Given the couple’s “cursed” relationship, part of me worried that one of them would end up dead before they could consummate things, which would be pretty shitty. Luckily, the writers provided the couple with a degree of mercy and the pair banged boots while Mack was loading up the Quinjet. While it was great to see Fitz-Simmons get a happy ending after their tumultuous “will they, won’t they” storyline, I am fearful for the future as the scriptwriters may choose to split them up, or kill one of them. Even though I'm 80% certain that Mack is the one who’ll die at the end of this season, it wouldn't be completely out of the realms of possibility that the script-writers opt to break up the Fitz-Simmons team with a tearful sacrifice. With only four episodes remaining of this season, it will be interesting to see whether the writers will play with the mystery and drop some red herrings in place, specifically revolving around Elena’s necklace.

Once again this was another solid episode from Agents of SHIELD, proving that last episode’s return to form was not a fluke and that the series is back on track. I'm really enjoying seeing Daisy on the bad side of the fence and it was very interesting to see her interactions with Hive. I am curious as to how much control and influence the various personalities within Hive have as it seems that Astronaut Will was genuinely the one speaking to Simmons in their confrontation and that he actively allowed the personality to ‘take control’. Even though Simmons shot him point-blank, I don’t think Hive meant her any harm at all. It seems that the memories he has absorbed over the years have a much greater hold on Hive than originally thought and I wonder if we’ll see more from Grant Ward. Daisy certainly makes a great villain, especially when force-choking her friend, and while it is likely not a permanent transformation, I am enjoying seeing Chloe Bennett play a different type of character and am looking forward to how she deals with the repercussions of her actions once she is cured.


Score - 9.7 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • The special specs worn by Ward in “Eye Spy” make a return in this episode, sported by Fitz as he goes undercover.
  • References are made to Cybertek, the Hydra organisation responsible for the Deathlok technology used on Mike Peterson in Season One.
  • In the comics, Holden Radcliffe was the founder and owner of the Holden Radcliffe Corporation, an organisation obsessed with creating and developing androids as soldiers. (First app: Machine Teen # 1)
  • Coulson has an holographic energy shield built into his robotic hand, not unlike the one sometimes sported by Captain America in the comics when the physical one is unavailable.
  • James Taylor James is the civilian identity of Hellfire, one of the Secret Warriors in the Marvel Comics Universe (First app: Mighty Avengers # 13)

Mysteries
  • What exactly does the orb and the buried machine do to Hive?
  • What is Hive's grand-plan, and what does the an empty town have to do with it?

Next Episode - "Failed Experiments"
As the threat of Hive looms, loyalties are put to the test and the team must come up with a decisive resolution.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

2000AD Prog 1978

Prog 1978 Cover by INJ Culbard

This bold yet minimalistic piece from INJ Culbard communicates the key elements of new series, Brink - the huge Odette Habitat floating through deep space and its security guard protagonists. It's a great piece to introduce the series, conveying the tone of the series through a single image and I could see this being used as the cover for any eventual trade paperback collection. Culbard captures an epic sense of scale to the story as its characters are set against a deep space background. While most artists would use a dark colour palette to depict the vastness of outer space, Culbard uses pinks and reds to achieve distinction and highlight the beauty of deep space. I also like the poses of the two security guards as they aim out at unseen threats, positioning the duo as the guardians of peace aboard the station – there's a definite Mulder and Scully vibe from the pair, and I wonder if this carries over into the main story at all.


JUDGE DREDD - THE LION'S DEN (Part 1)
Script - Michael Carroll
Art - PJ Holden
Colours - Adam Brown
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Those hoping for a quick resolution to last Prog's cliff-hanger, as to whether Judge Dredd is alive or not, will be sorely disappointed as Michael Carroll switches the perspective from the Cursed Earth to concentrate on Judge Joyce – the other Judge wanted by Brit-Cit for extradition after the events of “Blood of the Emeralds”. The action moves along swiftly enough, moving away from the events of “The Grindstone Cowboys” and focusing on the Brit-Cit sub-plot which had been boiling away in the background. With the absence of Dredd, Judge Joyce manages to carry the strip as a stand-in protagonist, bringing with him a more youthful and impetuous central voice to the series. Stripped of his badge and abandoned by his surrogate city, Joyce is presented as a man with nothing left to lose and I look forward to seeing where Carroll plans to take the character. Given the explosive ending to this episode, I'm going to suggest that Dredd's own explosive ending was no coincidence and perhaps there is a conspiracy going on here, but as to how Dredd could have survived, well, only Michael Carroll knows for sure, and he doesn't seem to be telling just yet!


Returning art droid, PJ Holden does a fantastic job at capturing the neon nightmare that is Mega-City One with garishly loud signs screaming out for attention in an over-populated city. The opening page, where Joyce is thrown through a window, is 2000AD at its anarchic best and a wonderfully chaotic visual. Holden's artwork has never looked better, thanks in part to Adam Brown's superb colouring. There's a brilliant energy to Holden's work that suits the high-octane action of this storyline, and I love the attention to detail seen in every panel. Eagle-eyed readers will even notice a subtle reference to “Dave's Porky Pies”, a swipe at the current prime minister and his penchant for telling lies and spending time with porcine members of the food chain. Holden also establishes a distinctive architecture for both Mega-City One and Brit-Cit, bringing to life the different cultural backgrounds of the two cities and creating a strong British feel to the current locale. As long as Carroll and Holden are producing stories of this calibre, they can take their time in revealing the truth behind Dredd's untimely demise. I'm glad that Michael Carroll has been given the opportunity to sink his teeth into a mega-epic, because judging from these early installments, it's going to be something very special indeed!



BRINK (Part 1)
Script - Dan Abnett
Art - INJ Culbard
Letters - Simon Bowland

Aside from a few promotional images that emphasised the deep space nature of the series, I had little expectations about Brink before reading this first installment, and I was surprised to find out that it was a police procedural set aboard a colony spaceship. Much like with his work on Grey Area, Dan Abnett has weaved familiar elements from our world (homicide detectives, border control) into an extraterrestrial or deep space setting, easing readers into an 'alien' world through recognisable concepts. I really enjoyed the level of detail that Abnett put into designing the Odette Habitat, with some helpful info-blurbs littering the panels pointing out key details such as weaponry, location information and even character bios. Clearly, both writer and artist have spent a lot of time designing this off-world colony for the series, but once again Abnett excels in his characterisation, quickly establishing his leads through likeable banter.


Someone should check INJ Culbard's fingers for traces of gold-dust as I'm sure he must have the Midas Touch. Hot on the heels of his fantastic work on Brass Sun, he has struck gold again with another new series, showcasing his immense skills as a world-builder once more. The intricate design of the Odette Habitat is mind-blowingly good, and Culbard fills each panel with enough atmosphere to terraform a small planet. Before reading the first episode, just knowing the names Dan Abnett and INJ Culbard were paired together promised a brilliant adventure, but this opening episode just blew my expectations out of the water and served as a master-class in how to debut a new series. Confident from the outset, Brink is a series that deserves readers' attention and I look forward to seeing how Abnett and Culbard intend to play off this strong debut. This series, along with Brass Sun, Helium and The Order, is further proof that 2000AD is investing in its future with some of the boldest, most exciting new series in comics at the moment, written and drawn by some of the best talent out there.



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

Continuing to tell stories with its tongue firmly placed in its cheek, this latest episode of Survival Geeks makes use of the 'cold open' narrative device, often used in science fiction shows such as Doctor Who, but not without first mocking the technique. Despite its post-modernist attack on the cold open, it is actually quite an effective way to tell the story allowing know-it-all Clive to act as an unreliable narrator as he tells the story of how he and Rufus got stranded on an alien world. While I'm not overly fond of comic-book characters breaking the fourth wall, it works here and fits nicely against the series' pop-culture references. Bringing back the villains from the Tharg's 3rillers 'pilot', Gordon Rennie and Emma Beeby are attempting to build some continuity into the series, after teasing their return in last year's 2000AD Sci-Fi Special. Unfortunately, my memory is a bit fuzzy on the details of that earlier adventure as the villains didn't really stand out that much. Hopefully with this adventure, Rennie and Beeby will achieve a more memorable impact, especially if they are going to be regular antagonists to our heroes. 

Neil Googe's artwork remains one of the best parts of this series, accurately capturing the light-hearted nature of Rennie and Beeby's script. His distinctive style is just fabulous and I absolutely love seeing more of his work appearing in 2000AD. There's a touch of Jamie Hewlett about his work, and it's great to see such a diverse range of artists appearing in the Prog at the moment. While humour strips in 2000AD can be a bit 'hit-or-miss', I really value their inclusion in the Prog as a way to spice up the current roster of thrills and provide some levity in a particular dark run of tales. Some of my favourite adventures have been “humour strips”, such as D.R and Quinch, Ace Trucking Co. and Sinister Dexter. I love the accessible nature of Survival Geeks and how it makes use of familiar science-fiction tropes to draw readers in. We're all fans of the genre, so it's fun to see a series reference and ridicule some of the stereotypes of both the work and the fans. While it may be frothy and light-weight, Survival Geeks definitely holds its weight in the Prog, thanks to its razor-sharp script and its absolutely gorgeous Neil Googe artwork. I might not look at a French Maid outfit in the same way again...



TAINTED: THE FALL OF DEADWORLD (Part 6)
Script - Kek-W
Art - Dave Kendall
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Acting as the polar opposite to Survival Geeks' light-hearted whimsy, Tainted: The Fall of Deadworld sees Kek-W and Dave Kendall continuing to paint a nightmarish vision of the last days of Deadworld. Kendall's haunting artwork just hammers home the desperation of our main protagonist's futile quest for salvation during the end times. Even Judge Fairfax, with his wise-cracking bike and penchant for violence, seems doomed to an inevitable fate as one of Judge Death's undead lieutenants. Kek-W's script is utterly flawless, balancing the dual narratives of the series' protagonists as they charge blindly towards their destiny. In a typical horror movie way, the various survivors are being picked off one-by-one and it's actually becoming uncomfortable to see these characters reduced to undead creatures because of the fine work that Kek-W has done in establishing their personalities. Kendall's fully painted artwork is a thing of beauty and fits the series perfectly, conveying the grotesque horror of the situation and the downbeat futility of survival. Even though it's a prequel series and the ending is somewhat fixed in stone, Kek-W and Dave Kendall have created a truly 'edge-of-your-seat' experience with Tainted: The Fall of Deadworld, and if the Dark Judges ever make it to the big screen, this should be the storyline they use as their guide. Utterly cinematic in every way, this is comics at its best!



AQUILA - CHARON'S MERCY (Part 6)
Script - Gordon Rennie
Art - Paul Davidson
Colours - Len O' Grady
Letters - Simon Bowland

Rather surprisingly, Aquila comes to an end this Prog to make way for Slaine. Despite the brevity of this storyline, it has never felt rushed and Gordon Rennie has done a grand job at setting up a new direction for his lead character as he heads towards Hades to free Caligula's spirit from the Underworld. With his companion Felix, and now a talking severed head in a bag, Rennie has built up an interesting supporting cast around Aquila, making up for the titular character's taciturnity. I'm really enjoying the mythological elements of this series, and placing Hades as the setting of the next adventure certainly fills me with anticipation for Aquila's return. There's no denying that Rennie has a firm grasp on the Ancient Rome setting, imbuing his stories with such a distinctive and palpable atmosphere that they feel like a grittier, grown-up take on a Ray Harryhausen film.


Paul Davidson's artwork has been instrumental in capturing the stark horror of the Ancient Rome setting, from the bloody gore of the gladiator's arena seen in this storyline's opening episode to the dank and deadly dungeons of Tortrix the Torturer seen in this Prog. I particularly liked the grisly nature of the Screaming Passage, which had still-living faces nailed to pillars to act as an alarm system should intruders enter. It's a wonderfully grotesque image and one that Davidson brings to the page with skill, making it seem ripped from the pages of legend. This has been a great chapter of the Aquila saga, and a excellent way to introduce Paul Davidson onto the series. His art style is a natural fit for the series and I do hope he remains as the lead artist for the upcoming installments, especially the sequences set in Hades, as I'm sure he'll do a great job at bringing the horrors of the underworld to life.



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

Yet again, it's another close call for the position of “Thrill of the Week” but the super-stylish opening episode of Brink takes the prize as it effortlessly introduces readers into its brand-new world. I was very impressed by the storytelling on display by Abnett and Culbard, two of the 2000AD's most imaginative creators. Elsewhere, Michael Carroll continues to build the foundations of his latest mega-epic, dropping the smallest hints that there might be an over-arching conspiracy at play here, but it's not quite clear how the Brit-Cit situation ties into the goings-on with the Grindstone Cowboys in the Cursed Earth, but I look forward to seeing Carroll bring his dual narratives in the Prog and the Meg together over the coming months.

The inside-back cover provides a hint at what is to come with a wonderfully iconic image of a bruised and beaten Slaine. Last seen as a broken man in front of his vilest enemies, this cover image seems to signal dark times ahead for the Celtic Barbarian as "The Brutannia Chronicles" returns for its third chapter. Simon Davis is the perfect fit for this series, as evidenced by this simply amazing image and I can't wait to see his artwork grace these pages again. I only hope that the pacing problems which plagued the previous volume have been ironed out and that Pat Mills moves the narrative along from episode to episode. With an eclectic mix of stories and artists, 2000AD proves yet again why it is one of the most visually diverse comics on the newsagent's shelves today – there is literally something for all tastes within those 32 pages of unadulterated thrill-power!

Thrill of the Week: Brink


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1978 will be available in stores on Wednesday 27th April - 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!

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Review - Agents of SHIELD: 3x17 - "The Team"

Agents of SHIELD
Episode 3x17 - "The Team"

Synopsis

With the rest of the team in Hydra’s clutches, Daisy summons the Secret Warriors for their first solo mission as a team. However, Hive’s mind-control abilities soon result in a divide between the Human and Inhumans of SHIELD, as the base once again becomes rife with paranoia and suspicions about where people's loyalties lie.

Review

Since its mid-season return, I've begun to feel slightly disillusioned with Agents of SHIELD as it appeared to fall into a predictable groove with its main story-arc. Sure, there were some brief glimpses of innovation, such as the flash-forward centric episode “Spacetime” or the double-bluff surrounding Gideon Malick’s demise in “Paradise Lost”, but this latest episode certainly revitalised my flagging interest in the season with its inspired and claustrophobic premise. Borrowing plot elements from Reservoir Dogs of all places, the show’s writers managed to play with audience’s expectations and craft a truly compelling drama revolving around paranoia and prejudice. The series has dealt with double agents and threats from inside the team before, but keeping the viewer in the dark and confining the characters to the underground base was a brilliant move from the scriptwriters and really added to the tension throughout the episode. I must admit that I was fooled by the false reveal, and actually grinned from ear-to-ear when Daisy was revealed as the “swayed Inhuman” who’d murdered Malick. This is just the plot development that the character has been crying out for, and I can’t wait to see her reunited with Brett Dalton as the two have some great chemistry together.

The episode was also provided viewers with an official name for the Inhuman creature residing in Ward’s body. While the reveal was hardly a surprise to anyone who’d read the internet, it was good to finally see Hive named within the series itself as opposed to the episode’s solicitations. While he had a minor role in this episode, his influence was clearly felt and with Malick’s death, the visions experienced in “Spacetime” seem to be inevitably moving towards their natural conclusion, meaning that one of the Agents of SHIELD or Secret Warriors will end up being flash-fried aboard a spaceship in the near future. Despite their bust-up in this episode, I strongly suspect that it’ll be everyone’s favourite mechanic, Mack, wearing Yo-Yo’s necklace as a symbol of good luck. Given the tricky and misleading nature of these flash-forwards, there is no guarantee who it might be and everyone is a potential victim.


I really enjoyed the fast-paced approach to the opening of this episode as Daisy’s Secret Warriors worked together to free the non-powered Agents of SHIELD, even taking out Lucio in the process. It was a great resolution to the impromptu cliff-hanger of last episode and allowed the scriptwriters to develop this tense, identity thriller for the remainder of the show. I loved how Daisy, under Hive’s thrall, managed to fool both Coulson and the audience by manipulating her tantrum-throwing boyfriend into the frame. It was a lovely bit of misdirection, even though she spoilt it by spilling the beans at the end and using her earthquake powers to submerge the base. Given this contradicting behaviour, and Hive’s desire to find her in the post-credits stinger, it remains to be seen just how much of Daisy’s personality remains after being “swayed” by the Inhuman God. It’ll be fun to see her interactions with Ward, especially since neither character is themselves.

This was a solid return to form for Agents of SHIELD, taking the time out of setting up its season finale to have some fun with its characters and develop a taut, well-scripted standalone episode that harkened back to the show’s high point back in Season One, following the Captain America: Winter Soldier tie-in. This show works best when it is constantly surprising its audience, and I have to admit that it is definitely trying to regain that element of surprise in spite of its somewhat predictable story-arc. With five episodes left until the season finale, I am slightly worried that there may be some filler in store as it pads out the battle between SHIELD and Hive. Hopefully, this won’t be the case and the show’s writers will use these episodes as an opportunity to build strong standalone stories that feed into the overall narrative of the season. There’s also the upcoming tie-in to Captain America: Civil War, which should provide ample content for the writers to dig their teeth into. Without wanting to jinx things, it certainly seems like Agents of SHIELD is on an upswing, as long as it can continue to produce episodes such as this one.


Score - 9.8 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • Though hinted in promotional materials, this episode finally puts a name to the Inhuman creature possessing Grant Ward. In the comics, Hive is a parasitic creature created by Hydra to physically embody the organisation’s rhetoric. (First app: Secret Warriors # 2

Mysteries
  • What is Hive's grand plan?
  • What does the orb that Daisy stole from SHIELD actually do?
  • Which SHIELD agent dies in Daisy's vision of the future?

Next Episode - "The Singularity"
The S.H.I.E.L.D. team is left reeling and decimated as Hive continues to sway Inhumans to his side. But there is a sliver of hope as Agents Fitz and Simmons follow a lead that may be able to stop the maniacal Inhuman once and for all.

Friday, 22 April 2016

Review - Supergirl: 1x20 - "Better Angels"

Supergirl
Episode 1x20 - "Better Angels"

Synopsis

With Project Myriad averted, Non and Indigo unleash a deadly follow-up attack that threatens the life of every man, woman and child on Earth. Outnumbered and facing certain death, can Supergirl defeat the two villains and save the world?

Review

Despite the huge build-up and high-stakes cliff-hanger at the end of last episode, the threat of Project Myriad and its plan to mind-control Earth’s citizens is resolved relatively quickly. Sure, it’s a bit hokey that “hope” is the medicine that wakes the population of National City from their slumber, but the show attempts to provide some kind of scientific rationalisation behind the goofy premise. The remainder of the episode is spent building up the second part of Non and Indigo’s plan as they hit the ‘nuke button’ and gradually begin to amplify Myriad’s signal with the aim to pop the skulls of every human being on the planet. Of course, the process isn't instantaneous and everyone begins to have headaches that gradually begin to get more painful, allowing Supergirl the opportunity to locate Non and Indigo and head into a final confrontation with the pair.

Once again, the series piles on the dramatic tension by presenting this as a suicide mission for Supergirl and most of the episode relies on Kara saying goodbye to her loved ones. While it was obvious that a show called Supergirl wouldn't kill off the character called Supergirl, I was still a bit worried that someone was going to bite the bullet – especially once an already injured Martian Manhunter agreed to accompany Kara on her dangerous mission. However, thanks to all the build-up and foreshadowing, the actual final battle felt a bit anti-climactic as Kara and J’onn made short-work of their foes. Despite my disappointment at the length of the fight scene, the show continues to make use of some absolutely fantastic CGI special effects that easily rival those used in its big-screen ‘cousin’, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Unfortunately for this season finale, there were plenty of moments where the viewer had to suspend their disbelief, such as the instant cure to Myriad restoring everyone back to normal straight-away, people returning back to work the same day that they were almost conquered by aliens, and most notably Alex Danvers being able to get Kara’s shuttle up and running to pick up her sister from the outskirts of space. This is the problem with season finales – writers are so keen to ramp up the stakes and make everything huge, they sometimes let plot holes slip past in order to get that dramatic moment. Doctor Who is a repeat offender of this with some rather implausible solutions to global, or even universal, threats in its season finales. Just check out “Last of the Time Lords”, “Journey’s End” or “The Big Bang” for examples of some ‘happy endings’ that fly in the face of logic, just to get that dramatic pay-off.


Another element that stuck out for me was Superman himself. After his brief cameo from a distance in the last episode, I thought that we might actually get a glimpse of the Man of Steel once he was freed from Myriad’s control. Well, we got a glimpse…of his fucking shoes?! For some reason, he was laid out in the DEO infirmary doing his best impression of the Wicked Witch of the East from The Wizard of Oz. I can understand the series’ coyness at casting an actor for Superman at the start of the series, as it might overshadow Kara and Melissa Benoist, but over the past twenty episodes she has held her own, partnering with Martian Manhunter and even, The Flash. I'm sure they could have shown Superman’s face without dramatically affecting the series. In fact, by avoiding it and doing a “Wilson” from Home Improvement, the series actually suffers. I mean, because of their silliness, they were unable to show a scene where Kara said her goodbyes to her comatose cousin. She literally was in the same room as him making an emotional goodbye speech to J’onn, and then walked past his clown shoes without a second glance. The one thing that the series needs to do if it is renewed for a second season is to cast Superman in a more recurring role, rather than have the character being played by an IM chat window.

Despite some minor leaps in logic, this was a really satisfying conclusion to Season One of Supergirl and I feel that, like Kara, I've been on a real journey with this show. My first impressions were less than enthusiastic, but over the past twenty episodes it has genuinely become one of the highlights of my week and it also appeals to those without 20 years of comic book knowledge as my girlfriend also loves the show and finds it very accessible and entertaining. DC Comics really need to capitalise on this increased interest in the character and develop a series set in the show’s continuity – sure, there’s a few digital-only comics available on Comixology, but an ongoing monthly would be a fantastic move from the company. After the success of the recent cross-over with The Flash, it seems like a Season Two is almost guaranteed, but I think the show deserves a second season on its own merits too, as it really has grown into a fantastic superhero TV show for all-ages. As for my guess as to who it is inside the pod – I'm predicting either a clone of Supergirl (i.e – Power Girl) or possibly her mother? While it's not quite as gripping as the "Who did Negan kill?" cliff-hanger on this season's The Walking Dead, I really hope CBS renews the show as I'm eager to find out who it is...


Score - 9.2 out of 10

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

2000AD Prog 1977

Prog 1977 Cover by Carlos Ezquerra

As is appropriate for this historic Prog, Carlos Ezquerra lends a real retro style to this cover as Tharg towers above Earth dropping thrill after thrill onto an unsuspecting public. It's a great and striking image that really encapsulates the history of the magazine and its modest origins way back in 1977. However, while Ezquerra certainly communicates the history of the magazine with his artwork, there is a lack of detail on some of the background characters that does rob the cover of its impact. Eagle-eyed readers will spot the likes of Durham Red, Nikolai Dante and even the Gronk, falling from the skies but I can't help but feel that more detail could have gone into this part of the image. That said, it is a wonderful slice of nostalgia and a fun way to commemorate this quasi-anniversary of Prog 1977, referencing Tharg's arrival on Earth almost forty years ago.


JUDGE DREDD - THE GRINDSTONE COWBOYS (Part 5)
Script - Michael Carroll
Art - Colin MacNeil
Colours - Len O'Grady
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Blimey - What a last page! Throughout this adventure, Michael Carroll has focused on a rather bleak and doom-laden vision of the future of Mega-City One, positioning the city as weakened and under threat from both the mutants on its borders and its rivals overseas. Interestingly, Dredd himself has been presented as one of the few remaining icons of strength and power left in the city and here, Carroll seemingly takes him off the board. What begun as a relatively standard Judge Dredd adventure into the Cursed Earth has exploded (pardon the pun!) into something much bigger and it appears that Michael Carroll will be running his own mega-epic, following in the footsteps of Rob Williams' recent “Titan” and “Enceladus” storylines. I loved the fake-out with Judge Lorenzo fetching the riot foam to prevent Dredd from bleeding out before the Med-Wagon arrived, lulling readers into the false sense of security that Dredd would be healed from his injuries, then upon turning the page, we see what appears to be the death of Judge Dredd.


It's an effective cliff-hanger, quite possibly one of the greatest twist endings in recent Judge Dredd history, and I'm sure Rebellion will see a huge spike in Judge Dredd Megazine sales as readers flock to their newsagent shelves to find out more. I'll be honest, I'm not overly fond of these dual-magazine crossovers as I tend to only read 2000AD, but I will be including the relevant chapters in my weekly Prog reviews as and when they occur. Now, the biggest question is whether Dredd is dead or not, and rather frustratingly there are arguments for both sides. Firstly, there is the question of the Prog number – there's a wonderful sense of irony about Judge Dredd dying in Prog 1977, which is also the year in which 2000AD and Judge Dredd himself debuted. On the flip-side, it isn't long until the character's fortieth anniversary, so Rebellion may be planning a return for that occasion. Other evidence for Dredd's demise is the recent John Wagner interview where he said he planned to kill off a major 2000AD character – now, perhaps this was misdirection and Wagner had merely given his blessing for Dredd to be killed off by Carroll?

The hand-over between Rico and Dredd was pitch-perfect, thanks to Carroll's script and Colin MacNeil's artwork and if this isn't really the end for Joe Dredd, I can't see how they could improve on it in the future. The suddenness of his 'death' feels like a gut-punch and much more effective than a lengthy build-up telegraphed from the start. Despite this, I do not think that Dredd is dead – for a start, who is responsible? No-one fired at the Med-Wagon, it just exploded without any explanation and the blue light that enveloped the vehicle could be some kind of teleportation. After all, Carroll recently reintroduced the alien Lawlords and had them licking their wounds in anger. Also, as much as it has been an effective punch in the gut, I honestly can't see Rebellion killing Dredd off in a quiet, understated affair such as this. Surely, it would be one of this rare one-story Progs and much more commemorative than this Prog? I mean, Prog 2000 seems to be the likeliest candidate. Regardless of whether Dredd is dead or not, this has been a wonderful twist and another example of why 2000AD does it better than its American cousins.



JUDGE DREDD - DUST TO DUST (Part 1)
Script - Michael Carroll
Art - Henry Flint
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

This is my first time reviewing a strip from the Judge Dredd Megazine, and it's interesting to see how different the magazine is from 2000AD. Aside from warning people to read Prog 1977 first, the Editor's Notes section also provides us with a rough time-frame for this mega-epic as the Megazine will cross over with 2000AD for the next four months, which is approximately sixteen of 2000AD's Progs. So, we're in for quite the lengthy storyline over the Summer! Joining Michael Carroll to continue the tale in the Cursed Earth is Henry Flint, who alongside Colin MacNeil and Carlos Ezquerra, is one of the most iconic Judge Dredd artists in recent times so it is great to see him on-board for this storyline, mainly so we can see his take on Chief Judge Hershey as she becomes increasingly more stressed and pushed the edge. Flint's style also really suits the Cursed Earth environment and really brings out the Western vibe of the location, which ties nicely into Carroll's script.


Picking up immediately from the cliff-hanger of Prog 1977, “Dust to Dust” follows Rico's journey to get revenge on Thorn and the Grindstone Cowboys, partnering up with Cursed Earth Koburn to do the job. In terms of clues about Dredd's fate, we are shown a screen detailing the deceased Judges aboard the Med-Wagon and Rico is shown a charred Judge's helmet. There's no corpse, so the jury is still out as to whether Dredd has died or not. Perhaps 2000AD will follow Dredd's storyline, possibly as a prisoner of the Lawlords, desperate to return home before war breaks out between Mega-City One and Brit-Cit? Once Dredd is laid to rest, Carroll quickly moves the story along and develops it into a Western buddy-movie with Rico and Koburn making their way through the Cursed Earth to locate a tribe of vigilantes. Given the way the plot has steered away from Dredd's death, I suspect that the two narrative strands will be relatively separate from each other. It's interesting to note how the leader of the tribe mentions the increased fire-power of the Grindstone Cowboys, implying that someone has outfitted them with weaponry. Possibly Brit-Cit, or maybe even Texas City?



THARG THE MIGHTY - THE SECRET OF PROG 1977
Script - Tharg the Mighty
Art - Mike Collins
Letters - Simon Bowland

To celebrate reaching the milestone of Prog 1977, which shares the same number as the year in which 2000AD launched, Tharg the Mighty has penned a short tale that promises to reveal a long-kept secret. I have to admit upfront that I'm not normally a fan of these Tharg the Mighty stories that take place in the Nerve Centre – they just feel a bit self-indulgent and self-referential at times and are largely inconsequential. I think the only time I have found them interesting was back in the 90's when Vector 13 took over as editors, capitalising on The X-Files zeitgeist and Tharg returned to send them packing. Much like the recurring Droid Life segments, they are a bit of fun but largely forgettable. This episode offers an explanation for all of those “dud moments” in 2000AD history – it was Tharg dispensing a psychic virus into the pages of 2000AD. It's nice to finally get an explanation behind Space Girls and Babe Race 2000! While I do love and appreciate the concept of Tharg, I just don't find strips focused on him to be that interesting – well, at least they tend to be single episode stories and only appear on anniversaries and annuals.



SURVIVAL GEEKS - GEEKS FATALES (Part 5)
Script - Gordon Rennie & Emma Beeby
Art - Neil Googe
Colours - Gary Caldwell
Letters - Ellie de Ville

Providing some much-needed light relief, Gordon Rennie, Emma Beeby and Neil Googe bring the current gender-switch adventure to a close with some humourous set-pieces, such as Howard the Cthulhu going “Full Hulk” on the rat creatures and the girls' Robo-Cthulhu. I'm really enjoying the chaotic sense of humour to this series, which is rife with pop culture references to appeal to everyone's inner-geek. It was also fun to see Sam and her male equivalent attempt to switch houses, but be foiled by their own comrades. I was hoping that we would see more of the female counterparts, although Clive does hint that they might cross paths again in the future.


Neil Googe continues to do a tremendous job on art duties, especially the sequence where Howard unleashes his inner Cthulhu. Without his artwork, the series would lose most of its spark and energy. Interestingly, the episode ends with the reappearance of Kevin – the antagonist from the series' pilot episodes as a Tharg's 3riller – who has somehow slotted himself into the team without raising an eyebrow. It reminds me of how Dawn appeared in Season 5 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer as Buffy's younger sister, despite never appearing in an episode before that. I'm really enjoying the way that this series taps into familiar tropes in the sci-fi genre and explores them with a tongue firmly lodged in its cheek. It's definitely a breath of fresh air for 2000AD, providing some diversity in the current roster of thrills.



TAINTED: THE FALL OF DEADWORLD (Part 5)
Script - Kek-W
Art - Dave Kendall
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Things are getting biblical in Tainted: The Fall of Deadworld as a plague of Locusts falls upon our doomed group of survivors. Kek-W and Dave Kendall continue to weave gold here as the pair create a truly terrifying vision of the apocalypse. Wisely steering clear of the more “blockbuster” elements of the Dark Judges, Kek-W focuses on a small family attempting to stay alive during the end of the world, immediately creating poignancy as the readers already know their fate. Moreso than previous installments, this episode centres on the family as they are torn apart by the dark forces being unleashed onto their world. Kek-W has maintained the tension throughout this series, ably assisted by Kendall's haunting artwork. If you removed the loose connection to Judge Dredd, this would still be a brilliant series and could easily be translated onto the big screen as a Cloverfield-esque movie. By holding off on showing any of the Dark Judges, Kek-W has created a feeling of anticipation for their eventual appearance as they presumably bring Judge Fairfax under their thrall.


With each episode, Kek-W and Dave Kendall continue to wow me, and if it wasn't for the shocking events occurring over in Judge Dredd, this series would easily earn “Thrill of the Week” on a regular basis. It's wonderful to see the script and artwork working together in perfect harmony to create a strong atmosphere on the page. I think this would be another strong candidate for 2000AD's recent foray into US-sized comics, given that it has a tangential connection to Judge Dredd but can also be enjoyed on its own merits. As seen on his recent work on The Order, Kek-W has a real talent for creating strong characters and making the reader connect with them on an emotional level. His script crackles with some wonderful dialogue between the characters, such as Fairfax and his Byke, and its this realistic approach that helps endear Kek-W's characters so quickly. Within a few episodes, I'm invested in the fates of these characters and am prepared to be heartbroken when they all succumb to the apocalypse.



AQUILA - CHARON'S MERCY (Part 5)
Script - Gordon Rennie
Art - Paul Davidson
Colours - Len O' Grady
Letters - Simon Bowland

With Aquila under the torturer's knife, Paul Davidson is given the opportunity to unleash some more gruesome images as he depicts our titular hero having his skin shaved off to reveal the muscle beneath. Davidson continues to prove himself a perfect fit for this series, bringing the gore and bloodshed to life on the page, especially in Tortrix's lair, where numerous freaks and experiments are imprisoned. Having submitted to Tortrix's painful experimentation with the flesh, it seems that Aquila is about to learn the location of Ammit the Devourer but I suspect that his partner Felix may inadvertently interrupt the process with his rescue attempt. Gordon Rennie is clearly having fun with this series, embracing the more mythological elements of Ancient Rome.

As a fan of Greek and Roman mythologies, I really enjoyed the brief glimpse of Hades seen in the final panel as Davidson is let off his leash to conjure up an entire world of demons, death and destruction. It will also be very interesting to see Nero's fate in the afterlife, given his attitude and behaviour during his life. This series continues to move along at a swift pace, pushing Aquila and Felix further towards their final destination. While I am enjoying the visuals and atmosphere of this historical fantasy, I am not wholly invested in the characters themselves and perhaps Rennie should spend some time re-establishing their motivations and allowing readers to connect with them. A task I understand is tough, considering that Aquila is a soulless killing machine, but this hard and impenetrable exterior does make it hard for readers to root for the character in the same way as Slaine, for example.



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

Wow, what a Prog! Surely, there's no doubt as to what strip will earn the position of “Thrill of the Week”. The last time I was this anxious and exciting the read the next Prog was during the final few episodes of Nikolai Dante. Michael Carroll and Colin MacNeil have done a fabulous job at chronicling what might be Joe Dredd's final adventure, and whether this death sticks or not, they've done a tremendous job at shocking Squaxx Del Thargo around the world. I literally have no idea where Judge Dredd will go from here, as the Judge Dredd Megazine seems preoccupied with the Cursed Earth storyline. Its an exciting time to be a Judge Dredd fan as 2000AD pulls the rug out from under our feet with devilish glee! I can't imagine any American publisher adopting the same level of restraint around the death of one of their title characters – in fact, it's surprising that this hasn't been plastered across the Metro newspaper.

The rest of the Prog remains top-notch, albeit slightly overshadowed by the shocking events of Judge Dredd. For me, Tainted: The Fall of Deadworld is a wonderful blend of masterful storytelling from both artist and writer, fast becoming one of my all-time favourites. I also like the more laid-back and irreverent adventures of the Survival Geeks, riddled with pop culture references and tongue-in-cheek mockery of tired sci-fi cliches. Tharg uses the inside back-cover to tease next Prog's upcoming new thrill, Brink, which appears to be a deep space cop drama from the minds of Dan Abnett and INJ Culbard, two of 2000AD's most talented creators. Dredd may or may not be dead, but there's plenty of life within 2000AD regardless.

Thrill of the Week: Judge Dredd


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1977 will be available in stores on Wednesday 20th April - 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) # 8

Doctor Who: The 11th Doctor (Vol. 2) # 8
"Downtime"
Written by: Si Spurrier
Art by: Warren Pleece
Colours by: Arianna Florean

After last issue’s revelation that the Master wasn't behind the creation of the Malignant, things are looking increasingly bleak for the Doctor as he finds himself once again in the frame for “war-crimes” during the Time War. While this latest issue is lot less action-packed than its predecessor, it is still a thoroughly entertaining chapter in the series’ long-running storyline, offering more clues and questions to the central mystery at the heart of Year Two. I’m really enjoying the “long-game” approach that Rob Williams and Si Spurrier have adopted with this series, teasing and plotting out key reveals way in advance. I’m appreciated the densely plotted narrative structure and both writers are doing a tremendous job at maintaining the suspense through each twist and turn of the tale. It feels like a natural evolution of Year One’s storyline, tightening the ‘flabby areas’ and creating a much more personal and continuity-driven mystery at the heart of the year-long narrative. That said, I have felt a slight twang of fatigue at the heavy focus on the “Whodunnit?” side of the storyline, given that the series hasn't really deviated from the plot point since its return.

One of the strengths of this issue, and in fact this entire storyline, is the way that both Spurrier and Williams examine a broken and insecure Doctor – this motif was briefly touched upon by Ewing and Williams in the first year, but came across as slightly inauthentic at times, but here it feels completely accurate and in keeping with the character’s shame of his War Doctor incarnation. As much as he likes to think he is a hero, he knows deep-down that he is capable of making cruel decisions and I love the way that Spurrier and Williams pick at this side of his personality, whilst maintaining the same Matt Smith ‘voice’ inherent to this incarnation of the character. This slower, more character-driven issue by Spurrier is good fun and I like the increased focus on Absalom Daak and seeing how his time as the Doctor’s companion has changed him for the better. Despite the slower pace, there’s some surprising revelations, the chief foremost being that a renegade sect of the Daleks may be the ones responsible for the Malignant, once again shifting suspicion from the Doctor. But there are still plenty of questions waiting to be answered, and much of the fun of this series is the way Williams and Spurrier litter the issues with reveals.


Recurring artist, Warren Pleece, is back on art duties for this issue and he does a fantastic job at bringing the ‘Mos Eisley Cantina’-esque space bar to life. It’s particularly apt that he is the artist on this issue as his interpretation of Absalom Daak seems to be softer and more sensitive than Simon Fraser's and it suits this more resigned (and dare I say, relaxed?) iteration of the Dalek Killer. However, that may be short-lived, given his discovery at the end of this issue that there are more Daleks to kill. In fact, this raises a question for me as I’m not sure why everyone thinks the Daleks are extinct as chronology-wise, they've escaped the Time War. The last Dalek story to take place in the series’ continuity (aside from the Stone Dalek in “The Pandorica Opens” / “The Big Bang”) is the Season 5 episode, “Victory of the Daleks”, which effectively rebooted the monsters, albeit in the gaudy Power Ranger colours that were never seen from again… I guess it’s just “timey wimey” stuff.

This was another strong episode of the Eleventh Doctor comic series, which manages to maintain the excitement and tension of its preceding episodes, adding more twists and turns to the central narrative of this year of stories. As we head past the half-way point, it seems like we’re coming to the end of the mysteries and we’re going to get more answers, which I’m looking forward to seeing. Spurrier and Williams have crafted a truly fantastic Doctor Who adventure that rewards loyal readers and long-time fans of the show. While there is a hint of fatigue settling in, Spurrier’s last page cliff-hanger promises the return of the Malignant to re-establish them as a threat following their absence in the series and remind readers of the crime that the Doctor is fighting to exonerate himself from. It’s extremely well-timed and will hopefully offer a shot in the arm to the series’ narrative as it begins to drift dangerously close to repetition. As I've said before, this is such a densely and intricately plotted series and I feel extremely confident putting my brain in the hands of Spurrier and Williams as they take it (and me) on a wonderful journey through some of the unexplored eras of Doctor Who history.


Score - 9.2 out of 10

Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor (Vol. 2) # 8 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 # 2 (of 5)

Doctor Who: The 4th Doctor # 2 (of 5)
"Gaze of the Medusa" - Part 2 (of 5)
Written by: Gordon Rennie & Emma Beeby
Art by: Brian Williamson
Colours by: Hi-Fi

Gordon Rennie and Emma Beeby’s glorious juxtaposition of Ancient Greek mythology and Victorian London continues with this second chapter of the Fourth Doctor miniseries, as the Doctor enlists his new companions in a rescue mission to free Sarah-Jane Smith from the grasps of the Scryclops. Whereas last issue threw readers (and the Doctor) into the action without much explanation, this follow-up instalment provides exposition behind Lady Carstairs’ actions and fills in the back-story behind Odysseus and Athena James’ involvement. Rennie and Beeby do a grand job at capturing the Fourth Doctor’s distinctive voice, which along with Brian Williamson’s photo-realistic artwork, helps recreate that classic era of the series in comic book form. The story hits all the right notes and feels torn out of the Fourth Doctor’s “Gothic era” as it mashes impossible monsters with iconic time periods. You can almost visualise the Scryclops being brought to life by tall actors wearing rubbery costumes as their unblinking eyes stare at our heroes. You can’t get much more Doctor Who than that!

As seen from his work on other Doctor Who comics, Brian Williamson has an immense talent for capturing the likenesses of the actors and actresses from the show and here he does a fantastic job at trapping Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen onto the printed page. It’s almost uncanny how realistic his characters look, and Williamson’s dark style and thick inks suit this horror-infused adventure well. My major nitpick from the first issue was issues with scale and perspective, which is largely addressed in this issue aside from a few panels where the Scryclops seemed out of proportion to their surroundings. Despite these issues, Williamson provides an impressive level of detail and contributes hugely to establishing the right tone to this adventure alongside Rennie and Beeby’s script.


While there is a slightly slower pace here compared to that of the other Doctor Who series under the Titan Comics banner, this chapter of “Gaze of the Medusa” feels in-keeping with the classic era of the series. The multi-episode serials of the original Doctor Who run often used a slower pace than the relaunched version currently does, and this storyline definitely feels reminiscent of that, almost mimicking the serialised format with its cliff-hanger endings. It’s quite nostalgic to see Rennie and Beeby channel that storytelling method for the comics – as I've said before, it definitely helps present this miniseries as a missing adventure, lost to the BBC Archives. On that note, it would be great if Titan Comics worked on those infamous ‘missing stories’ where no surviving footage is available. I’d quite like to see the likes of “The Daleks’ Master Plan”, “The Power of the Daleks” and “The Macra Terror” adapted for the comic book format, in lieu of the actual televised episodes. The scripts all exist, so it would merely be a matter of illustrating the adventures, and possibly editing some of the dialogue to fit in better with the comic book format.

With the action poised to relocate to Ancient Greece, Rennie and Beeby have the opportunity to take “Gaze of the Medusa” in a whole new direction for the remaining three issues, and with the Chekhov’s Gun of Sarah-Jane’s petrified stone statue waiting in the wings, I look forward to seeing this storyline come together. Both writers have proven themselves adept at telling Doctor Who stories which feel authentic to their specific era, not just here but in their previous work for Big Finish, and I am thoroughly enjoying their take on the Fourth Doctor in comic book form. With Williamson pumping a tangible creepiness into his panels, this series is pitch-perfect and true to its source material, even down to Tom Baker’s manic grin and “man out of time” attitude to his surroundings. This series has all the ingredients of a quintessential Doctor Who adventure, and two issues in, is shaping up to tell a fantastic story for fans of that classic era.


Score - 9.0 out of 10

Doctor Who: The Fourth Doctor # 2 is now available in all good comic shops, including Forbidden Planet, as well as on the Comixology website.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Review - Gotham: 2x18 - "Pinewood"


Gotham
Episode 2x18 - "Pinewood"

Synopsis

Determined to find out who ordered the hit on his parents, Bruce Wayne continues to investigate the conspiracy surrounding Wayne Enterprises and the mysterious genetic experiments going on at Indian Hill. Meanwhile, Barbara Keen emerges from Arkham Asylum as a sane woman, intent on restoring her relationship with Jim Gordon.

Review

Up until this episode, Gotham has remained relatively grounded in the real-world, occasionally introducing slight fantastical elements such as strength-enhancing drugs, fear gases and lately, Mr. Freeze’s cryogenic ice formula which has left him unable to withstand ordinary temperatures. While the introduction of Hugo Strange’s genetic experimentation facility, Indian Hill, has pushed the boundaries somewhat, the conclusion of this episode which sees Strange literally bring back someone from the dead finally breaks the laws of physics and establishes Gotham as taking part in a comic-book universe unlike our own. In some ways, this excites me as it opens the door to some of Batman’s more exotic super-villains like Killer Croc, Bane and Ra’s Al Ghul, but in other ways, it feels out of character for the series which made such a strong effort in its opening season to be grounded in the real world.

Aside from dramatically shifting the tone of the series with Galavan’s resurrection, this episode also featured another ‘game-changer’ as Bruce Wayne finally uncovered the man who arranged the death of his parents – Mr. Hugo Strange. For fans of the Batman comics, this revelation has a bit more weight behind it as Hugo Strange is a long-established villain in the franchise, but for fans of just Gotham, this must be something of an anti-climax as the character has barely been featured and hasn't really ‘earned’ the right to be the grand master-mind behind all of Bruce Wayne’s woes. Still, in some ways this reveal is a welcome one as it finally puts to bed the mystery of the Waynes’ murder and allows the show to move in a new direction for the next season. Hopefully this revelation will result in B.D Wong’s Hugo Strange having more of a prominent role in the next few episodes, outshining Galavan as the big bad of Season Two.


While this episode suffered from a slight loss of momentum now that the excellent Riddler/Gordon storyline has wrapped up, it was still a strong example of Gotham at its best. I really enjoy the show when it brings its ensemble cast-members together and allows them to interact with people from different corners of the series – seeing Gordon, Alfred and Bruce teaming up was great fun and it always livens up an episode when there’s “cross-over” between the different narrative strands that make up the series. It was also excellent to see Mr. Freeze return as Strange’s enforcer, positioning him in a recurring antagonistic role rather than a one-off bad guy never to reappear. I hope that we get to see more of Freeze before the season ends as he definitely has a strong presence on screen, much like the seldom seen Victor Zzsaz. The brief glimpse of Butch and Tabitha in this episode reminded me how much I miss the organised crime elements of Gotham, and I hope that they still have a part to play in the series, either in this season or a later one. The return of Barbara Keen was also well done, recalling memories of the character’s pre-madness days but with a greater sense of confidence and purpose not seen in those early Season One episodes. I never thought I would say this, but I actually enjoyed her presence and am glad that she wasn't killed off in “Tonight’s the Night”.

With four episodes to go until the Season Two finale, we’re no clearer on figuring out what Hugo Strange’s endgame is – in fact, all of his actions in this tail-end of the season seem to be rather inexplicable to the viewer. I mean, what was the purpose behind sending Penguin and Barbara out of Arkham? Does he want to actually cure the insane, or is he brainwashing them with secret commands – I hope these remaining episodes flesh out his motivations, or at the very least, hint at a grander scheme behind his bizarre experimentations and mind-games. B.D Wong does a great job at bringing the character to life, but the script-writers aren't really giving him too much to work on. The reappearance of Galavan was slightly expected, given the heavy foreshadowing and I like the idea that he will take the role of Azrael, a religious vigilante from the Batman comics. I'm really enjoying the chaotic feel to this final few episodes of Gotham, but am getting more anxious about how this season will end, and whether it will offer a satisfying conclusion to the current mix of seemingly disparate plot threads.


Score - 9.6 out of 10

Next Episode - "Azrael"
Gordon and Bruce question Professor Strange about Project Chimera, which leads Strange to send the newly resurrected Galavan to confront Gordon. Meanwhile, Nygma investigates who Professor Strange really is.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Review - Agents of SHIELD: 3x16 - "Paradise Lost"

Agents of SHIELD
Episode 3x16 - "Paradise Lost"

Synopsis

Haunted by a vision of his future death, Gideon Malick struggles to maintain his loyalty to his new Inhuman leader, while SHIELD attempts to find out more information about the ancient Inhuman entity that now controls Grant Ward’s body.

Review

After dabbling with flash-forwards in “Spacetime”, Agents of SHIELD continues to play about with its narrative structure with its latest episode, which focuses on the past, present and future of Gideon Malick through a series of flash-backs and flash-forwards. “Paradise Lost” works well as a companion piece to its predecessor, “Spacetime”, focusing on the same concept of fate, free-will and inevitability as Gideon Malick attempts to circumvent his predicted fate. It was interesting to see the flash-backs detailing his rise to prominence, although it was slightly predictable from the outset that he would betray his brother, and that “It” still possesses the memories and anger from his previous forms. That said, I was surprised when he killed Malick’s daughter, which goes to show that the series can still manage to shock its audience, even when it seems extremely predictable! The key question is whether Malick somehow managed to prevent the vision of his death, or whether it is still yet to come. Given previous events, I suspect it is the latter and we will see Malick meet his untimely end in the near future.

As with Lash’s cryptic conversations last episode, the show’s writers continue to drop massive hints about where the series is headed, as evidenced by the scene where the Agents discovered the burnt remnants of some kind of chemical formula that Dead-Ward wanted destroyed. Clearly, that must be the one weapon that can kill his parasitic insects, so I'm guess Fitz-Simmons will have from now until the end of the Season to figure that one out! When the show isn't hitting its audience over the head with obvious foreshadowing, it does manage to handle the quieter moments quite well, focusing on Coulson’s feelings surrounding Ward’s death. While justified, the cold-blooded murder of Ward on Maveth still haunts the SHIELD director and given that Dead-Ward maintains the memories of those he absorbs, I'm guessing there will be a proper Coulson/Ward rematch at some point this season. Perhaps we may even see Ward redeem himself and destroy “It” from within?


Although it was largely filler, I quite enjoyed Daisy and Lincoln’s visit to the grumpy Southern potential Inhuman, well apart from the rather clunky exposition that Lincoln was ‘responsible’ for the death of his ex-girlfriend. I’ll be honest, I have no idea what the purpose behind this revelation is, other than to try and make Lincoln more sympathetic to the viewers. Well, it didn't work. I'm guessing it’ll serve as some motivation for the inevitable sacrifice that Lincoln will make to save Daisy’s life in the Season finale. Perhaps, he will be the one in the space-ship, although I don’t know why he’ll be wearing Yo-Yo’s necklace. Given the brief flirtation between Mack and Yo-Yo in her debut episode, I suspect he might be the SHIELD agent doomed to become extra crispy in outer space. This mystery seems to be the most thrilling aspect of the show at the moment as everything else feels slightly predictable, thanks to the heavy-handed signposting of future developments. It’s disappointing as Agents of SHIELD does have the capacity to shock its viewers, as evidenced by the death of Malick’s daughter in this very episode, but it rarely makes that decision.

Overall, this was a fairly fun episode, albeit one that suffered from the general fatigue that Season Three of Agents of SHIELD has suffered from. It was nice to see flashbacks fill in the blanks of Malick’s past and also provide context behind his more religious off-shoot of Hydra compared to the more scientific factions ruled by the likes of Von Strucker and Daniel Whitehall. The series has definitely hit a mid-season lull and while enjoyable, it doesn't feel as strong as previous seasons. Hopefully the upcoming tie-in with Captain America: Civil War will revitalise the series and increase its role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Moreso than previous seasons, Season Three has felt very disparate from the joined-up universe with a noticeable lack of cameo appearances from Maria Hill and Lady Sif, and any other “big names”. With most of the team captured by Hydra, the next episode certainly has the potential to push the series out of its comfort-zone and surprise audiences. I look forward to seeing the debut of the Secret Warriors as they embark on their first proper mission, and seeing Dead-Ward interact with Coulson, May and Daisy. I have every faith that the show’s writers will nail those smaller character moments, but I am worried that the episode will lack that punch that rival series’ such as Gotham and Supergirl manage so well.


Score - 9.3 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • The Malick family are referred to as “True Believers” – which is also a term of endearment used by Stan Lee to describe fans of Marvel Comics.
  • The book Paradise Lost by John Milton is featured prominently in this episode, even appearing as the title, and recounts the biblical stories of Genesis particularly Adam and Eve.

Mysteries
  • Which SHIELD member did Daisy see die in her flash-forward?
  • What does Dead-Ward's true form look like?
  • Has Gideon Malick prevented his death, or merely postponed it?

Next Episode - "The Team"
Agent Daisy Johnson must call upon the Secret Warriors for an inaugural mission that will leave no member unscathed, and S.H.I.E.L.D. learns more about Hive's powers, forcing them to question everyone they trust.

Friday, 15 April 2016

Review - Supergirl: 1x19 - "Myriad"

Supergirl
Episode 1x19 - "Myriad"

Synopsis

Non and Indigo launch Project Myriad, which sees everyone in National City become mindless drones working under the Kryptonians. With all of her allies under mind-control, how can Supergirl hope to defeat this threat?

Review

After months of build-up, Non finally puts ‘Project Myriad’ into operation and it seems that the Kryptonian’s grand plan consists of brainwashing the entire human race and putting them to work on solutions to the ecological problems that face the planet. While well-meaning, the plan also reduces humans to mindless drones who are glued to computer screens, which is not that dissimilar to my day job, actually. Fans of Doctor Who may notice some slight similarities between this evil scheme and the Krillitane’s attempts to brainwash school children into cracking the secrets of the universe using specially coated chips – don’t laugh, that seriously happened in the “School Reunion” episode which, despite its ludicrous premise, was a surprisingly good episode. By brainwashing the entire human population of National City, Non leaves Supergirl without her support network of friends and allies, forcing her to work out a solution on her own…or, as it turns out, partnering with an unlikely comrade-in-arms.

Considering this is the first half of the season finale, the show’s writers did at creating an ‘epic’ threat for Supergirl to overcome that surpassed the dangers seen in previous episodes. However, there were some gaps in logic in how the Myriad devices worked, such as Superman being affected by the sound-waves because he was raised on Earth longer than Kara had been. Sure, it’s comic-book logic but it was also a very convenient way to make sure Superman was removed from the equation. I must admit I did get a bit excited when we saw his silhouette heading towards CatCo, only to stop short and fall in line with the masses of hypnotised citizens. Despite sometimes seeing the editorial fingerprints over the story, it was really fun to see Supergirl faced with overwhelming odds, even considering Maxwell Lord’s “Kryptonite Nuke” option as a solution.


While the acting and dramatic tension was spot-on, the episode was riddled with plot holes and inconsistencies at times. For example, up until now Non had been portrayed as cold, merciless and determined to do what he wants but in this episode he seemed to have self-doubt about his plans and was reluctant to kill Kara by his own hands, despite his promise to do so earlier in the series. He also didn’t kill Alex when he had the chance, instead deciding to construct a rather complicated plan where he would force the two sisters to fight to the death. Maybe Astra’s death, and apparent change of heart in “For the Girl Who Has Everything” has begun to affect him too, as it seems Indigo is a bit too gung-ho about this whole situation and is possibly manipulating Non for her own endgame. It was also odd that Non’s army of Kryptonians were nowhere to be seen after their appearances in “Hostile Takeover” and “Blood Bonds”. I’m guessing budgetary reasons forced the writers to just focus on Non and Indigo.

While the writers want us to think that J’onn J’onzz is dead, I suspect he is merely resting and will return to help break up the fight between Kara and Alex, restoring the latter’s mind back to normal. However, I can’t help but think there is a cloud of death over the character and that perhaps he will make the ultimate sacrifice to protect the Danvers sisters before this season comes to an end. Given his out of character reluctance to kill Kara, I suspect that ‘Uncle Non’ will follow in his wife’s footsteps and help Kara put an end to Project Myriad, but possibly at the expense of his own life. The main question I have about the concluding episode of this season is whether we will get to see Superman’s face, or whether Kara will get back to her desk and find an Instant Message from Clark saying “Good Job”. As for Jeremiah Danvers, I’m guessing that his rescue will form the basis of Season Two, no doubt propelling Kara and the DEO into a new season-long mystery. Despite a few weak spots, this was a strong start to the Season One finale, placing Supergirl and National City in immense peril and bringing the various plot threads sown throughout the season to fruition.


Score - 9.3 out of 10

Next Episode - "Better Angels"
Supergirl is forced to do battle with an unexpected enemy as she risks everything - including her life - to stop Non and Indigo from destroying everyone on Earth.
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