Wednesday, 25 May 2016

2000AD Prog 1982

Prog 1982 Cover by Mark Harrison

This fantastic cover from Mark Harrison heralds the return of Grey Area to the Prog, as the series begins its final run of stories. With the main cast lined up in an action blockbuster-esque pose, there's an epic sense of scale to the image, which feels somewhat reminiscent of a Star Wars movie poster with its character placement. With this cover, Harrison manages to sum up the series in one strong image. In fact, this piece would make an excellent choice as the cover to the inevitable complete collection of Grey Area, once the series has ended. Harrison's computer-generated artwork has a wonderfully polished feel to it, and this cover works perfectly to build up the excitement and high-stakes tension surrounding the series' climactic episodes.



JUDGE DREDD - THE LION'S DEN (Part 5)
Script - Michael Carroll
Art - PJ Holden
Colours - Adam Brown
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

This episode of “The Lion's Den” touches base with the three concurrent plot threads running through Judge Dredd at the moment – Joyce's problems in Brit-Cit, Dredd's 'resurrection' and incarceration and the gradual Texas City influence on the streets of Mega-City One. Michael Carroll balances these three storylines together nicely, offering readers small tid-bits in the way of answers as he continues to craft a strong and engaging mega-epic, quite unlike anything that has gone before. Looking at the storyline, we're still unclear as to the identities of those chasing after Joyce – are they Irish sympathisers as Chief Judge Mitchell from Brit-Cit states, or part of some larger conspiracy? Presumably they're the same people who have Dredd in custody, but they seem to want both men alive for some unknown reason. There's also the question of the Texas City takeover, and whether it is part of some plot in conjunction with Brit-City's abduction of Dredd & Joyce. Carroll's story keeps the reader guessing throughout like any great mystery.


PJ Holden continues to deliver some absolutely brilliant artwork, switching between the dual locales of Brit-Cit and Mega-City One with ease and creating enough distinction in his backgrounds to maintain each country's unique flavour. His work on the Judge Joyce sequences manages to evoke a strong British crime drama feel, almost like a futuristic take on The Long Good Friday. I'm enjoying the 'fish out of water' elements to this story and Holden's artwork manages to convey a real sense of pace and drama throughout these scenes. I'm very curious to see where this story is headed, as Carroll bucks the trend of a traditional narrative structure. Presumably Joyce is going to discover Dredd's location through his own investigations and the two of them will lead the fight back to Mega-City One, but there's still plenty of unanswered questions about the motivations, and even the identities, of those wanting to challenge Mega-City One at its weakest moments. This is shaping up to be a worthy follow-up to the Day of Chaos storyline, picking up the narrative from that mega-epic and moving it into a whole new direction.



BRINK (Part 5)
Script - Dan Abnett
Art - INJ Culbard
Letters - Simon Bowland

With a police procedural storyline, there is often plenty of talking heads and little action and aside from a brief flurry of action at the beginning of the series, Brink has adopted that same format. However, Dan Abnett and INJ Culbard's truly inspiring world-building ensures that the story never feels dull or slow-paced, instead creating a really engaging mystery with strong characters at its centre. I'm really enjoying the world that both creators are bringing to life here, capturing that feeling of crampedness and disillusionment that comes with being forced to live in deep space habitats. There's a neon-tinged aura of griminess to the Brink evident in both Culbard's artwork and Abnett's script, and this might sound like an odd comparison but it feels like Blade Runner mixed with Wall-E. A darker, crime-ridden version of the Axiom from the Pixar kid's movie where humans aren't fat and lazing around on holo-chairs, but pumped full of chems and artificial foods by corporations and forming illegal cults.


The success of this series comes from the inspired pairing of Abnett and CulbardAbnett's inherent aptitude for dialogue ensures that this crime drama remains compelling throughout the investigation stage, whilst Culbard's innate ability to create evocative landscapes and worlds allows the Brink to instantly resonate with readers. It's always great fun to read a series rooted in such talent, and there is a strong undercurrent of confidence exuding from every panel that suggests both creators know just how good this series is. I have to say that I'm really enjoying the investment that 2000AD is putting into new stories and creators, building up a new generation of series' that rival its classics with stories like Brass Sun, Helium and now Brink. Often, 2000AD undergoes fluctuations in quality due to the very nature of an anthology publication – but I have to say that right now, it is undergoing one of the strongest runs yet, and it has been fantastic ever since I started reviewing the Prog on a weekly basis back in 2013.



THARG'S TIME TWISTERS - THE TIMELESS ASSASSIN
Script - Rory McConville
Art - Steven Austin
Letters - Ellie de Ville

This one-off Tharg's Time Twister sees Thought Bubble 2015 winner, Rory McConville return for his third story in the Prog, bringing with him debuting art droid Steven Austin! Much like with his previous work for 2000AD, McConville creates a stunningly effective twist ending into his adventure that feels like classic Future Shock material. Within four pages, he manages to build a strong narrative and glimpse into an alternate universe that leaves you wanting more. I really enjoyed the central conceit at the heart of this adventure – employing someone's descendants to carry out an assassination before they are born, and the shift in tone midway through was excellently brought to life by the story's artist, Steven Austin. Austin's artwork is simply astounding and really suits the black and white format well. It reminds me of veteran 2000AD artist Cliff Robinson and relative newcomer, Eoin Coveney, whose work recently appeared on The Alienist. This was an flawless example of a Tharg's Time Twister and a wonderful introduction to Austin's artwork – I'm sure both artist and writer will be returning to the Prog in the near future on the strength of this story. 



GREY AREA - END GAME
Script - Dan Abnett
Art - Mark Harrison
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Dan Abnett and Mark Harrison return to deliver the final series of episodes of Grey Area, and judging by the current status-quo, it will be a 'summer blockbuster' of an ending. With the dreaded God-Star approaching the alien Homeworld, every living creature is facing extinction on the planet including our rag-tag group of heroes from the ETC. Abnett's script manages to emphasise the dire situation that Bulliet and his team face, although he drops a hint of possible salvation when he mentions a transmitter – presumably Bulliet is attempting to communicate with Earth and I wonder if the series will end with a last-minute save. I've really enjoyed this series and am slightly sad to see it come to an end – I guess that there is limited mileage to come from a series set in an alien border-control on Earth – I mean, Abnett has already drifted far from the series' original status-quo by moving the characters to a parallel universe for the last few years. Still, I'm glad the series is getting a proper send-off, rather than outstaying its welcome, or worse yet, failing to get a proper ending.


Mark Harrison's artwork is breathtaking and the perfect artist to draw these epic space-battle storylines – I still remember being in awe of his work on Durham Red: The Scarlet Cantos way back when. While his art may get cluttered at times, I love Harrison's attention to detail and the little easter eggs he slips into his panels, such as the randy alien attempting to grab ahold of Feo. It's a nice nod back to previous episodes where the same creature spied on her in the shower. Given the upcoming big-scale battles, Harrison is a superb choice of artist for this series and over the past few years has really made it his own, bringing the grimy alien planet of Homeworld to life. Both Harrison and Abnett have made these characters extremely likeable and I am strongly invested in the outcome of this adventure, especially given the last-minute proposal between Bulliet and Birdy – the heart of the Grey Area series. While I'm sad that the series is coming to a final end, I have every confidence that Abnett and Harrison will deliver a strong finale worthy of the Grey Area series.



SLAINE - THE BRUTANIA CHRONICLES: PSYCHOPOMP (Part 4)
Script - Pat Mills
Art - Simon Davis
Letters - Ellie de Ville

This fourth installment of “Psychopomp” offers some forward momentum on the plot as Slaine and Gort finally end their battle against Gododin, thanks to another convenient deus ex machina. Before that battle, Gododin gets in some more jabs about Slaine's illegitimacy and hints at a mystery surrounding the identity of his father, which suggests a dramatic reveal somewhere down the line – probably at the end of this current chapter. Simon Davis' artwork continues to wow my optical circuits, creating beauty and majesty in the gory violence. Obviously, that final double page spread was something breathtaking as the hordes of the half-dead congregated to do battle with our heroes. I'm looking forward to some more gorgeous fight sequences in the upcoming episodes, but once again the current storyline feels rather paper-thin and more of an excuse to showcase Davis' spectacular painted artwork rather than engage readers with a thrilling narrative. It's not too much of an issue as Davis' artwork is worth the price of entry alone, but I do wish that the story itself had more of a punch to it. Perhaps now that Slaine and Gort have escaped Gododin, we'll see some substantial developments to the plot, but the series has started off on the back foot with this chapter.



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

In a Prog full of strong stories, rather surprisingly my choice for 'Thrill of the Week' goes to the one-off Tharg's Time Twister from newcomers Rory McConville and Steven Austin. An excellent example of the format, McConville's script and Austin's fabulous art really impressed me and I can see why Tharg continues to feature the Thought Bubble 2015 winner in the Prog with his strongly plotted single-issue stories. After proving his ability with these shorter stories, I wonder if we'll see a Tharg's 3riller from the McConville droid in the near future.

Elsewhere, the return of Grey Area ensures we have a double-dip of Dan Abnett space-drama goodness each Prog – although Brink and Grey Area are totally different beasts altogether. Slaine remains visually strong, and hopefully subsequent episodes will put more emphasis on the narrative rather than providing Simon Davis with impressive fight sequences to put to paper. Tharg also teases the return of Black Shuck next Prog, which will see the supernatural Viking series come back for a second series from Leah Moore, John Reppion and Steve Yeowell. All in all, it's shaping up to be another excellent run for 2000AD, with two deep-space dramas and a double helping of 'swords and sorcery' fantasy to complement an absolutely thrilling Judge Dredd mega-epic.

Thrill of the Week: Tharg's Time Twisters


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1982 will be available in stores on Wednesday 25th May - Digital copies of this Prog will be available on the same day through the standalone 2000AD app, which can be downloaded onto iOS and Android devices.

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

Review - Doctor Who: The 12th Doctor (Vol. 2) # 6

Doctor Who: The 12th Doctor (Vol. 2) # 6
"The Twist" - Part 1 (of 3)
Written by: George Mann
Art by: Mariano Laclaustra
Colours by: Carlos Cabrera

It’s all change for the Twelfth Doctor for this latest issue of the comic series as George Mann takes over writing duties from regular script-writer, Robbie Morrison. Replacing Rachael Stott on art is the wonderful Mariano Laclaustra, who brings a whole new flavour to the series that suits this new jumping-on point. Aside from the creative team changes, the series has also moved forward chronologically to feature stories post-Season Nine without Clara Oswald as the Doctor’s companion. Taking place after “The Husbands of River Song”, these stories are in the unique position of offering readers brand-new adventures taking place between the annoyingly long hiatus between Seasons Nine and Ten, which airs in 2017. As such, the Titan Comics staff are able to fill the space with new, temporary companions until the series returns with the recently announced Bill, played by Pearl Mackie. I'm actually quite excited to see the comic series creating adventures ahead of the televised episodes, rather than slotting ‘untold stories’ in-between the continuity of existing episodes.

Upon opening up the comic, I was struck immediately by the beauty of Mariano Laclaustra’s artwork on this issue. While the Argentinian artist has worked on Doctor Who before on a number of stories, his artwork really stands out in this issue, thanks to the amazing colouring from Carlos Cabrera. I’ll be honest, I've never really considered the effect that the colourist has on an artist’s work, but seeing Laclaustra’s work in this issue compared to his guest stint in “Unearthly Things” in last year’s The Twelfth Doctor # 11 really emphasises the difference it makes. I also love the attention of detail given to Laclaustra’s artwork, especially in those huge awe-inspiring double page spreads. The added coat of ‘grime’ given to Laclaustra’s artwork helps established the dilapidated streets of the Twist, evoking memories of The Hoop from Alan Moore's The Ballad of Halo Jones, another British sci-fi classic! I wonder if that series, and its eponymous female lead was an inspiration on Mann’s writing.


The change of writer and artist certainly adds a new tone to the Twelfth Doctor series, adding a touch of gravitas to proceedings following the events of the Season Nine finale. While Rachael Stott’s art is fantastic, it does have a more light-hearted feel to it that wouldn't have captured the same grittiness that Laclaustra’s art manages to. That said, there are definitely similarities between the two artists, especially when it comes to the depiction of the Twelfth Doctor, capturing Peter Capaldi’s mannerisms with alarming accuracy. George Mann’s storyline works well, riffing on classic science-fiction tropes of cramped, dystopian colonies of the future whilst introducing what appears to be werewolves as the storyline’s main threat. Mann also introduces a pair of potential companions to travel with the Twelfth Doctor during these comics set within the Season Nine hiatus. While it’s early days yet, I'm quite interested in seeing more from Hattie – the punk rocker from the 40th Century – as she offers a refreshing alternative to the usual companions usually featured on the TV series.

This was a very impressive start to a new status-quo for the Twelfth Doctor, and I'm surprised that there wasn't more fanfare on the cover to promote this as a jumping-on point for new and lapsed readers. For fans itching for more Doctor Who during the series’ hiatus, this is absolutely essential reading. With a cracking script from George Mann and beautifully cinematic art from Mariano Laclaustra, this is shaping up to be an excellent series-defining arc for the comic book. I cannot say enough good things about this issue, it is an excellent addition to the Doctor Who canon and deserves to be read by the entire fan-base! Titan Comics has proven itself to be impeccable with its ever-expanding Doctor Who range of comics, with each series offering readers something entirely different from the others. I’d argue that the Twelfth Doctor series is the one most likely to appeal to mainstream audiences, telling in-continuity tales about the current incarnation, so it is great to see it deliver some absolutely spell-binding stories.


Score - 9.8 out of 10

Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor (Vol. 2) # 6 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) # 10

Doctor Who: The 10th Doctor (Vol. 2) # 10
"The Infinite Corridor"
Written by: Nick Abadzis
Art by: Elena Casagrande
Colours by: Arianna Florean

With the Tenth Doctor still reeling from last issue’s revelation that ancient Gallifreyans were responsible for sending children into the untempered schism, this episode serves as an opportunity to re-introduce the current ‘season arc’ involving Anubis, Dorothy Bell and Gabby’s notebook. Taking place entirely in the TARDIS, this transitional episode allows Nick Abadzis to take stock of the various sub-plots floating about and tease the inevitable confrontation between the Doctor and Anubis. As vast and infinite as the TARDIS is, I do find stories set within it to be rather lacking in momentum and limited in scope. The Eleventh Doctor episode, “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS” suffered from this, and to some extent so does this issue of the Tenth Doctor comic series. Abadzis does channel those ‘stuck in the TARDIS’ episodes in his script here, making use of technobabble to explain the distortions of time and space within the TARDIS – I quite liked the visual of the TARDIS stretching, both internally and externally, reminding me of that strong visual of a giant TARDIS on the fields of Trenzalore from “The Name of the Doctor”.


Elena Casagrande returns to art duties for this one-off adventure and her bright and colourful artwork always brings a smile to my face. She seems to be the artist who sets the tone of this series, responsible for the initial designs of both Gabby and Cindy, with guest-artists maintaining a level of consistency in subsequent issues. While the interior of the TARDIS can be quite a challenging location for an artist to render onto the page, Casagrande did a brilliant job ensuring that it remained dynamic and interesting throughout the book. While this issue’s narrative lacked the same momentum and energy as preceding storylines, I thought it was a great way for Abadzis to remind the readers of the series’ central plotline after pushing Anubis to the background for the last few story-arcs. My one nit-pick, however, would be the choice of cover art – clearly Casagrande’s cover was designed to reflect the upcoming New Orleans tale and perhaps it would have been better suited for next issue’s cover – which itself has a generic Doctor and Gabby in space image. Overall though, this was another solid issue of the Tenth Doctor series that performed some vital ‘housekeeping’ by touching base with the series’ big-bad Anubis.


Score - 9.2 out of 10

Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor (Vol. 2) # 10 is now available in all good comic shops, including Forbidden Planet, as well as on the Comixology website. Be sure to put in a standing order for the upcoming issues in the series when you pick up your copy!

Review - Doctor Who: The 9th Doctor # 2

Doctor Who: The 9th Doctor # 2
"Doctormania" - Part 2 (of 3)
Written by: Cavan Scott
Art by: Adriana Melo
Colours by: Matheus Lopes

I’ll be honest – I hate the Slitheen. I get that they were created during the early days of the Doctor Who relaunch when Russell T Davies wasn't entirely certain of the tone to take the series, and he introduced these funny, farting monsters with child-like faces to appeal to a younger audience, but they seemed to reek of the more ridiculous elements of classic Doctor Who. While there were sinister elements are work with the characters – they wear the skin of dead men to sneak into positions of power – they were played as laughs with fart jokes and pantomime performances. Here, Cavan Scott, takes the Slitheen and makes them into genuine threats once more, expanding more on the monsters’ backstory and providing a glimpse into the complicated civil war encompassing Raxacoricofallapatorius’ inhabitants. There’s even a spot of sympathy for the creatures as one of their skin suits rupture, resulting in sudden decompression which kills them in a particularly brutal fashion.

Adriana Melo continues to deliver some wildly impressive artwork in this issue, developing the Slitheen into a truly menacing monster, replete with razor-sharp teeth and claws. I also loved her designs for the other Raxacoricofallapatorian families which took the Slitheen design but changed it slightly, resembling the differences between frogs and toads. Melo ensures that the issue is well-paced and her art style is wonderfully clear and cinematic at times. There’s a grittiness to her work on the page which suits the Ninth Doctor’s era of the show and I love the way she brings the series’ cast to life but without being a slave to the actor’s likenesses. Her Rose Tyler looks like a real character rather than Billie Piper running around fighting rubber-suited aliens – she’s a fantastic fit for the series and I hope she sticks around beyond this opening three part story-arc.


The script crackles along with such energy and excitement, it’s clear that Cavan Scott is a massive fan of the source material and is enjoying every moment he gets to write for his favourite character. While I might not be the biggest Slitheen fan in the world, the monsters rightfully belong in a Ninth Doctor story and Scott’s storyline fleshes them out (pardon the pun!) and fixes many of the problems with the creatures. While taking the Ninth Doctor into outer space may be a departure from the tone of his earth-based stories seen in Season One of the television show, bringing in the Slitheen ensures that the story maintains that Ninth Doctor feel. Adding to that nostalgia factor is Scott’s keen grasp on the character’s voices and personalities – the story feels so authentic, you’d swear it had been written way back in 2005, rather than eleven years after the Ninth Doctor last appeared.

As surprised as I am to say this, Cavan Scott and Adriana Melo have actually made the Slitheen cool, transforming the fat farting monsters from “Aliens of London”, “World War Three” and “Boom Town” into something genuinely creepy. With the addition of synthetic skin suits, the Slitheen can now take the form of anybody – which immediately makes them a more dangerous threat – and Melo’s more ferocious take on the creatures makes them appear more violent and deadly. I wonder if Scott can give Peter Kay's atrocious Abzorbaloff from “Love and Monsters” a make-over, but I suspect that job may be impossible! Overall, this was a fabulous second issue to the series and with a sterling creative team at the helm, I'm predicting big things for the Ninth Doctor in the future.


Score - 9.8 out of 10

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

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Review - Gotham: 2x22 - "Transference"


Gotham
Episode 2x22 - "Transference"

Synopsis

Under orders from the Court of Owls, Hugo Strange begins plans to erase evidence of his experiments at Indian Hill by detonating a bomb that will wipe Arkham Asylum off the map. Can Jim Gordon, Lucius Fox, Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle escape before the explosion, whilst preventing the inmates from doing the same?

Review

The Season Two finale of Gotham had plenty of scattered sub-plots to contend with in forty-two minutes, but fortunately they were all taking place within Hugo Strange’s laboratory of horrors, Indian Hill. Sure, it was a bit frantic at times, but it did all come together without seeming over-filled and rushed. Whereas the Season One finale was a satisfying climax to a year’s worth of crime drama and Machiavellian plotting by the Penguin, the Season Two finale seemed more focused on setting up the series’ status-quo for the next series, populating Gotham City with a bunch of augmented freaks to plague the GCPD over the next twenty-two episodes. I was worried that Jada Pinkett-Smith’s turn as Fish Mooney would be a brief two-episode cameo, but it seems that she will be back in a full capacity next season, presumably taking charge of her new ‘family’ of freaks to clash with the Penguin. In fact, I’d have been happier if their ‘reunion’ had taken next season as it felt rushed and odd that she would leave Penguin unconscious on the streets without killing or capturing him.

Aside from the outbreak of monsters from the bowels of Arkham Asylum, Gotham also teased a new ‘big bad’ for Season Three in the form of The Court of Owls. I quite liked the conversation between Alfred and Bruce regarding another investigation into the conspiracy surrounding the death of his parents, and how Alfred thought this was the end – only to find out that there is another layer of mystery to be solved. While The Court of Owls is interesting, I am far more invested in the bevy of creatures let loose onto the streets of Gotham – presumably this will lead the show back towards its “monster of the week” format and allow the writers to introduce more familiar villains from the Batman comics. Killer Croc seems to have been teased heavily and the writers have mentioned The Mad Hatter may be making his debut during Season Three. With so much going-on, there’s no danger of this series running out of steam any time soon as it has transitioned from crime drama to a fully-fledged superhero genre show.


The biggest “WTF” moment to come out of the episode had to be the appearance of what seemed like an evil version of Bruce Wayne. My initial guess is that Hugo Strange made a clone from Bruce’s DNA, but perhaps it could be a twin brother separated at birth. Given the series’ attempts to bring The Court of Owls into the story, perhaps this alternate version of Bruce Wayne is Lincoln March – a character in the Batman comics claiming to be Bruce’s younger brother. Either way, this is a plot development that I am very interested to see explored further! There were plenty of fun moments in this chaotic finale, most of which came from Ben McKenzie take on Clayface pretending to be Gordon. I loved seeing this more exaggerated version of Gordon with the inane grin, overcompensating gruff voice and completely out of character persona. At times I've found McKenzie’s take on Gordon to be weak and one note, but in this episode he actually showed some depth – portraying both Clayface-Gordon and Drugged-Gordon. I also wonder how much the character will be changed when he returns after finding Leslie, and whether Monica Baccarin will return to the role.

While I enjoyed seeing Hugo Strange’s empire crumble and his cockiness melt away when he realised he’d messed up, I hope that this isn't the last we’ll see of the character and he’ll regain his position of manipulative mastermind again soon. Compared to the Season One finale, this episode left me with a lot more questions and excitement about the future of Gotham, as it threw plenty of twists and turns into the narrative to be dealt with when the series returns. While I was initially hesitant about the series pushing the boundaries of realism and resurrecting characters from the dead, it has been a great move for the show and revitalised it completely, unleashing the more colourful aspects of the Batman mythos onto the small-screen. As for why the Court of Owls pushed Strange to perfect the resurrection formula? I suspect that the head of their organisation will turn out to be Ra’s Al-Ghul and this whole endeavour will be the series’ version of the infamous Lazarus Pits that the character uses to cheat death in the comics. Overall, this was a strong finale filled with plenty of avenues for plot development when the series returns for its third season in September 2016. It’s been an absolute roller-coaster ride of a second year that has easily surpassed its equally fantastic first year, so I have high hopes for the show when it returns for its third.


Score - 9.7 out of 10

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Review - Agents of SHIELD: 3x22 - "Ascension"

Agents of SHIELD
Episode 3x22 - "Ascension"

Synopsis

Running out of time before Hive launches the nuclear weapon to infect humanity with his Inhuman virus, one of SHIELD’s agents makes the ultimate sacrifice to save the Earth. Meanwhile, Daisy attempts to come to terms with her experience under Hive’s thrall and the pain she has caused her friends.

Review

Firstly, I have to say that was the strongest season finale that Agents of SHIELD has ever produced – the tension revolving around the “Fallen Agent” sub-plot was brilliant and well done to the writers for playing with audience’s emotions throughout the two-parter by passing the cursed necklace from agent to agent. I have to admit that I genuinely thought that Daisy was going to sacrifice herself for the greater good – the writers and Chloe Bennett had sold it perfectly and it would have completely changed the series if they’d killed off the audience surrogate in the third season. Ultimately, however they opted to get rid of Lincoln instead, who was probably the most obvious candidate from the outset and the most expendable. Despite his annoying habits and whiny nature throughout this season, his final goodbyes with Daisy were genuinely emotional and paralleled the similar ‘goodbye scene’ between Peggy Carter and Steve Rogers at the end of Captain America: The First Avenger. Even the sequence with Hive and Lincoln philosophising before the explosion were utterly riveting and effectively done. Even though I didn't care for Lincoln, the writers made me genuinely sad at his passing.

However, the strongest part of the episode was the five-minute teaser for Season Four which flash-forwarded six months to show our heroes in a completely new situation. Daisy was on the run, Coulson was no longer the director and it appeared that Holden Radcliffe may be responsible for creating the next ‘big bad’ for SHIELD to deal with. I loved the disorientation of this flash-forward and it seems Agents of SHIELD are starting to have fun with the different narrative techniques available to them after their reliance of foreshadowing with its “Fallen Agent” sub-plot. In some ways, this teaser reminded me of Heroes and how they would overlap their seasons and offer similar time-jumps into the future at the end of each ‘volume’. Given that Daisy is on the run, it seems certain that Lincoln’s death has fundamentally changed the character and her time under Hive’s thrall has pushed her away from her former ‘family’ in SHIELD – I’d imagine that she is on the wrong side of the law as a result of the Sokovia Accords from Captain America: Civil War, suggesting that while it was briefly featured in this season, the fallout from that movie will be more heavily felt in Season Four.


In terms of the conclusion to the Season Three narrative, it seems as if the Hydra and Inhuman storylines have run their course as both Hive and Ward have been removed from the show. It would weaken the narrative if Hydra made another resurgence considering that multiple times we've been told it was on its last legs with hardly any members left. Given that the Inhumans movie seems to be on Marvel Studios' back-burner, I wouldn't be surprised if we didn't see any more Inhuman communities appear in the show, with Marvel likely saving up the big names like Black Bolt, Medusa, Maximus, Triton and Lockjaw for the cinematic release. I’d also imagine that the Secret Warriors story-arc has run its course too, although both Yo-Yo and that suspiciously absent melty guy are still floating about and waiting to be inducted full-time into the cast. I'm also curious as to whether we’ll see more from Hunter and Bobbi, especially after the Marvel's Most Wanted pilot failed to secure a full series order. Could we see the plot from that series retooled into Season Four, bringing the two fan-favourite characters back, or will they be retired in favour of new characters? Talking of cancelled series, it would be awesome if the show could somehow incorporate the left-over mysteries from the second season of Agent Carter into a one-off episode in the future – Hayley Atwell has cameoed before and I'm sure she probably would do so again.

Overall, this was a strong finish to an uneven season. Most of the problems during Season Three stemmed from the reuse of familiar enemies from earlier seasons (Hydra and Inhumans) and the heavily-serialised storyline that didn't allow for any offbeat ‘monster of the week’ episodes. Given that Season Four appears to be a break from the series current status-quo and there isn't a clear-cut villainous entity as yet, I wonder if we’ll see the series return to its Season One roots and introducing smaller story-arcs that build up to a wider mythology rather than repeating the same 'cookie-cutter' template which was used in both Season Two and Three. For the first time in a long time, I'm really excited about Agents of SHIELD and I hope this refresh of its status-quo will reinvigorate the show’s writers and allow them to experiment more with the format. Moreso than Daredevil and Jessica Jones, this show deserves to be the crown of the Marvel Television Universe as it shares cast-members with the movies and has the greater connection and ‘influence’ with the cinematic entries. Hopefully Season Four will capitalise on this and help create a stronger bond between the films and the TV shows.


Score - 9.8 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • Mack has finally created his shotgun-axe combination weapon, first mentioned in “Laws of Nature”.
  • Lincoln's sacrifice and heartfelt goodbye to Skye is reminiscent of Steve Rogers flying the plane into the ocean in Captain America: The First Avenger.
  • Holden Radcliffe appears to be working on a LMD (Life Model Decoy) program. In the comics, Nick Fury made use of LMDs as a decoy to avoid assassination attempts. (First app: Strange Tales # 135)
  • As promised in “Spacetime”, Daisy visits Charles Hinton's wife and daughter and has been looking after the two of them.
  • I wanted to introduce you to a friend of mine, he has a practice near here. I think you'll like him. He likes animals too” - Daisy is referring to her father, Calvin Zabo, who underwent a mind-wipe to become a vet at the end of  “SOS (Part 2)

Mysteries
  • Why is Daisy on the run from SHIELD in the flash-forward?
  • Who is the new director of SHIELD?
  • What does Holden Radcliffe intend to do with the LMD program?

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Review - Agents of SHIELD: 3x21 - "Absolution"

Agents of SHIELD
Episode 3x21 - "Absolution"

Synopsis

With the fate of the world at stake and the Avengers fractured in the wake of Captain America: Civil War, SHIELD attempts to prevent Hive from launching a nuclear weapon that could spread the Inhuman plague across the globe. Meanwhile, Daisy struggles to come to terms with her actions whilst under Hive’s thrall.

Review

Without wasting much time, Agents of SHIELD kicks off its two-part finale by sending its team in to prevent Hive from launching a nuclear warhead armed with the Inhuman virus. There’s a decent pace to the opening of this episode, watching the team come together to get access to the shut-down codes and cancel the launch. I particularly liked the moment with Fitz using motion-capture green screen technology to pretend to be a senior member of the military alongside General Talbot. There was a playfulness to this sequence that really translated well onto the screen, such as the moment where Coulson opened up the shut-down codes to discover it consisted of hundreds of letters and numbers. It’s always fun to see the team operating like a well-oiled machine, rather than lurching from disaster to disaster. It’s interesting to note the comparisons between this episode and “The Team” – both of which opened up with a fast-paced sequence that showcased SHIELD’s expertise, but ended up revealing that Hive had placed a Trojan Horse within the team – first, Daisy and now, the Terrigen gas.

This episode played with the audience’s emotions throughout, passing Yo-Yo’s necklace between members knowing that it was destined to be worn by the person who dies. While initially Mack was the prime suspect, the show transferred the cursed necklace over to Fitz and the shadow of death followed. While it could be that the second episode may continue to play ‘pass the parcel’ with the doomed artefact, there are plenty of signs that point towards Fitz being the “Fallen Agent” who dies at the end of this season. Firstly, there’s his ‘cursed’ relationship with Simmons – now that they've been united, the “will they, won’t they” tension has been defused and it would prove the curse correct if Fitz met his untimely end, especially after she’d just booked a holiday for them. Secondly, it seems like every season finale has resulted in the two of them being estranged/separated. In “Beginning of the End”, Fitz’s advances are rejected and he suffers brain damage, and then in “SOS (Part Two)”, Simmons is swallowed up by the Obelisk and sent to Maveth. Hopefully, this is just misdirection on the part of the writers, but it certainly seems as though Fitz’s time is up.


This episode places the focus back onto Daisy as she struggles with her ‘withdrawal symptoms’ after leaving Hive’s sway and her immense guilt at hurting her friends in SHIELD. Initially filled with self-loathing, the writers pulled the rug out from under the viewer by having Daisy chase after Hive and beg for him to re-accept her. It was a bit of shock considering how much she was blaming herself, but I wonder if this might be part of some plan of hers. If she is indeed an addict, jonesing for a hit of Hive’s parasitic brain-bugs, then the character is certainly in for some dark times ahead as she actively betrayed the team in an effort to re-join with Hive. It is a bold move for the character to have her willingly want to join the ‘bad guys’ and I look forward to finding out more about the context behind it in the second half of this finale. The other key moment of this episode was when Hive was affected by Coulson’s memory-machine, bringing forth the various personalities he’d absorbed over the years – notably Grant Ward’s. I wonder if this might end up with Ward taking control of Hive’s body and escaping, therefore keeping Brett Dalton and Grant Ward on the show and ret-conning his death in “Maveth”. It’s a long shot, but I am very interested to find out how the writers intend to deal with Hive / Grant Ward.

This was a solid opening to the two-part season finale, subverting expectations and ‘defusing’ the nuclear threat at the start of the episode, only to have it resurface at the end. While elements of this episode were too familiar to last season’s finale with Jiaying also attempting to use Terrigen to infect the human population, it remained a fun watch and had enough differentiation to avoid repeating the same story beats. The twist regarding Daisy’s allegiances was an effective one, making me want to skip this review and watch the second half straight away, but I have written this review without any knowledge of the finale’s end. Also, intriguing is the mystery surrounding the “Fallen Agent” and the poisoned chalice unknowingly passed about between the different team-members. While it seems like Fitz is the current choice for the chop, I'm wondering if this is misdirection and we’ll see the necklace change hands a few more times – perhaps Daisy herself will be the one to go out with a bang in the next episode. Either way, this episode has inspired excitement within me and I'm keen to find out how this all comes to a head – something that I've not felt since the series returned after its mid-season break.


Score - 9.7 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • SHIELD turned the memory machine, once used to restore Coulson's memories of his resurrection, into a weapon against Hive.

Mysteries
  • Who will be the "Fallen Agent" who dies saving the world from Hive?

Next Episode - "Ascension"
In this season finale, SHIELD must spring into action to combat Hive and prevent him from launching a devastating global attack on mankind.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

2000AD Prog 1981

Prog 1981 Cover by Jon Davis-Hunt

Ironically, this cover to Prog 1981 celebrates the recent reveal that Judge Dredd isn't as dead as it seemed, but Dredd himself doesn't actually feature in this week's installment of “The Lion's Den”. Regardless, this is a powerful image from Jon Davis-Hunt, although some have mocked it as being Dredd constipated on the toilet. To me, it feels reminiscent of the cover to Prog 1690 by Greg Staples, which depicted Dredd on the Chief Judge's throne – it also reminds me of the famous Abraham Lincoln statue at Washington DC, or perhaps I'm reading far too much into it. I love the attention to detail on Dredd's tattered uniform and the grizzled expression on his face – my only nitpick is the size of his helmet (ooh, err) which seems to be a bit too wide for his head, although it could be an optical illusion. 



JUDGE DREDD - THE LION'S DEN (Part 4)
Script - Michael Carroll
Art - PJ Holden
Colours - Adam Brown
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Despite the surprising reveal that Judge Dredd is alive and in Brit-Cit custody, this episode of “The Lion’s Den” concentrates more on Judge Joyce’s precarious situation as he attempts to escape his would-be assassins and reach his allies. Alongside this more immediate plot-thread, Michael Carroll continues to sow seeds of future problems as Texas City begins to integrate its Judges into Mega-City One, hinting at a possible takeover and civil war. In exchange for providing aid and resources, it seems that Texas City wants to edge a tired Chief Judge Hershey out of the picture and introduce new laws that mirror their own. It’s not clear whether this ties into the current Brit-Cit storyline, but it certainly seems like Mega-City One is under threat from all sides.


Carroll’s script is full of intrigue and crackles with all the suspense of a good political thriller. Just like Judge Joyce, the reader feels out of their depth and removed from their comfort-zone, making for a suitably thrilling narrative. The temporary loss of Dredd adds a distinct feeling of vulnerability to the Judge Dredd universe that really hasn't been felt since “Necropolis” / “The Dead Man”, and makes it an exciting time to be a 2000AD reader. PJ Holden is doing a tremendous job on art duties, capturing the juxtaposition of styles in Brit-Cit and giving iconic landmarks a futuristic polish, as well as adding little easter eggs into the background – It’s somewhat comforting to know that Gregg’s survives through into the 22nd Century. Holden’s use of dark colours and heavy shadows helps convey the danger of Joyce’s situation as he attempts to find sanctuary from his enemies. This is shaping up to be a very different type of Judge Dredd mega-epic, focused on political machinations and scheming rather than zombies, undead super-fields or robot warlords.



JUDGE DREDD - DUST TO DUST (Part 2)
Script - Michael Carroll
Art - Henry Flint
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Once again I find myself reviewing the lead Judge Dredd story appearing in Judge Dredd Megazine whilst Michael Carroll weaves his dual narrative mega-epic across both magazines. While most of 2000AD's activity has revolved around Judge Joyce in Brit-Cit, Carroll focuses on resolving the issue of the Grindstone Cowboys within his Megazine story. Partnered with Cursed Earth Koburn, Judge Rico takes the lead in this adventure which sees the two characters joining forces with a tribe of Cursed Earth natives, who look similar to the Native Americans of old. There's a Dances with Wolves vibe about this adventure and it's interesting to see the parallels between this story and the real-life treatment of the Native Americans by the settlers. Interestingly, aside from the link to the Grindstone Cowboys, the storyline seems quite separate from the goings-on in 2000AD at the moment. Those unwilling to buy both magazines could easily skip over the Megazine and still get a coherent narrative, but those who do read both magazines are treated to an interesting side-story about the aftermath of Dredd's 'final mission'.


Cross-overs between multiple titles are a double-edged sword – the writer has to cater for readers who only purchase one magazine, whilst making sure that the supplementary adventures are important enough to warrant the cross-over. Here, Michael Carroll hits the right balance, using his Megazine story to mop up the loose ends left after “The Grindstone Cowboys” ended with a bang. Reading this installment, it seems likely that Thorn and his gang aren't directly related to the Brit-Cit conspiracy currently going on in 2000AD, so I'm guessing that Dredd's abduction from the Medi-Wagon was more about Brit-Cit seizing an opportunity, rather than a pre-mediated plan that involved the co-operation of the Grindstone Cowboys. Henry Flint proves once again why he is one of the fan-favourite artists working on Judge Dredd at the moment as he delivers another brilliant installment. I love his take on the Cursed Earth, and his action sequences are filled with a frenetic pace that evokes memories of the climax to Mad Max II: The Road Warrior. While not essential reading, this is certainly a fun way to deal with the loose plot threads.



BRINK (Part 4)
Script - Dan Abnett
Art - INJ Culbard
Letters - Simon Bowland

Moving along at a steady pace, Dan Abnett and INJ Culbard's space-cop procedural continues to impress as our two heroes arrive at Ludmilla Habitat to follow up on their leads about cultists operating in their own area. Abnett's talent for writing realistic and flowing dialogue is on full display here as he continues to develop his two lead characters – Brinkmann and Kurtis. Sure, it's a slow-burner of a story that relies on detective work rather than action sequences but both Abnett and Culbard are so gifted at building worlds, it's easy to get lost in the majesty of the Brink space-station and its evocative locales. Culbard's artwork is absolutely stunning and rich with atmosphere, effortlessly communicating the essence of Ludmilla Habitat to the readers. Aside from establishing the personalities of his leads, Abnett also introduces us to this wonderful new world through the bureaucracy of the HSD and sets up an intriguing new mystery involving religious sects and criminal organisations. It makes for utterly enthralling reading and INJ Culbard's magnificent artwork is literally the icing on the cake. I'm a huge fan of Abnett's past work on Sinister Dexter and Grey Area, but Brink could possibly be his best work for 2000AD yet.



SURVIVAL GEEKS - LORD OF THE RINGERS (Part 4)
Script - Gordon Rennie & Emma Beeby
Art - Neil Googe
Colours - Gary Caldwell
Letters - Ellie de Ville

This current run of Survival Geeks comes to an end this Prog as the reunited Geeks attempt to thwart malcontent Kev in his ultimate form. Once again, writers Gordon Rennie and Emma Beeby use Kev as a method to poke fun at some of the less “cool” geekdoms such as My Little Pony, Babylon 5 and Highlander: The Series. For once, brain-box Clive isn't the architect of the solution to the team's problems as every-man Simon realises that Kev craves acceptance and friendship and gives it to him...before throwing him out of the house and stranding him in a parallel dimension. Neil Googe remains impeccable on art duties, capturing a real sense of urgency to the chase throughout the house. I absolutely love his character designs on this series and the series owes a lot of its charm to Googe's unique hyper-frenetic style. I've really enjoyed this elongated run of stories from Survival Geeks, especially in light of the drama occurring elsewhere in the Prog – it's a great laid-back series that doesn't take itself too seriously and celebrates the geekiness and love of sci-fi that all us readers have in common.



TAINTED: THE FALL OF DEADWORLD (Part 9)
Script - Kek-W
Art - Dave Kendall
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

The excellent Tainted: The Fall of Deadworld comes to an action-packed climax in this Prog, tying up some of the immediate loose ends but leaving plenty of opportunity for the inevitable sequel. With most of the supporting cast dead or undead, the series concludes with three surviving characters – Judge Fairfax, Jess and Fairfax's Bike – all three of which have become strong, independent characters over the past nine episodes. It's great to see them all convene after the chaos that has befallen them, and there's a nice Lone Wolf and Cub moment as Fairfax 'adopts' the young girl. I am definitely looking forward to the series returning with these three cast-members and seeing their attempts to survive in a world overtaken by evil. This first series has been a brilliant homage to the 'end of the world' and zombie genre, and I look forward to seeing how Kek-W approaches the follow-up. I'd imagine it'll be the same tonal shift seen between Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, establishing a post-apocalyptic tone.


As much as Kek-W's script has detailed the various horrors befalling the population of 'Deadworld', it was Dave Kendall's haunting artwork that really captured the mood of the series. The original Dreams of Deadworld series originated from Kendall's dreams about the Dark Judges, and it's fantastic that this has spawned a prequel series that provides details behind the downfall of Deadworld. This series has been a firm favourite of mine since it begun in Prog 1973, and each installment has been absolutely flawless – in terms of both art and script. The very nature of a prequel series makes it hard to shock and surprise readers, but by keeping the story focused on everyday survivors instead of the Dark Judges, Kek-W managed to create a strong and emotional storyline that really engaged readers. For me, it's another example of Kek-W's skill at writing characters – coming soon after his sterling work on The Order. While there has been a concerted effort to make the Dark Judges scary again, as seen from last year's “Dark Justice” storyline, Kek-W and Kendall have succeeded in making them truly terrifying.



SLAINE - THE BRUTANIA CHRONICLES: PSYCHOPOMP (Part 3)
Script - Pat Mills
Art - Simon Davis
Letters - Ellie de Ville

Visually, this episode of Slaine ticks all of my boxes with some absolutely fantastic painted artwork from Simon Davis. The panel where Slaine and Gort loom over Gododin before losing their warped powers is amazing, demonstrating Davis’ skill at bringing the grotesque to life on the page. Liberal use of the colour red ensures that the hyper-violence of the past few episodes lingers on as Slaine changes his opponent from the Primordial to his nemesis, Gododin. Davis provides some excellent moments in this battle scenes, such as the scene where Gododin’s guts are spilled out from his stomach, but are soon sucked back in, leaving nary a scratch. I've said it before, but over the past few years Simon Davis has quickly established himself as one of the all-time great Slaine artists, it’s just unfortunate that the storyline doesn't quite match his talents.


As with preceding episodes, Pat Mills likes to lump on the hyperbole during the battle with the excessively verbose Gododin spending most of his time chatting smack to Slaine instead of actually delivering deadly blows. I must admit that the “Slaine is about to get killed” cliff-hanger is getting a little tired now, after being used constantly throughout this series of books – perhaps Mills is attempting to acclimatise us to seeing Slaine in mortal danger, so that he can pull a twist and actually have Slaine killed off and reanimated as one of Gododin’s corpses. While it’s a gorgeous read, I am finding myself frustrated by the stop-start pace of the battle sequences, although I suspect that may be a side-effect of the weekly episodic structure and the story would perhaps read better in its eventual collected format. Hopefully, this particular fight sequence will come to an end soon and Mills can develop the story in new and exciting places.



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

This Prog saw the end of two vastly different series – the jovial, light-hearted Survival Geeks and the dark, haunting horror of Tainted: The Fall of Deadworld. I really enjoyed both series, but for vastly different reasons and the fact that they were both running at the same time is a testament to 2000AD's wonderfully eclectic personality. With its parting shot, Tainted: The Fall of Deadworld earned its place as “Thrill of the Week”, delivering a satisfying conclusion that left me wanting more – both Kek-W and Dave Kendall have done a marvellous job on this series over the past nine weeks, maintaining a high level of quality across each episode.

Filling in the space left over is another Dan Abnett deep-space adventure, Grey Area, which returns for its final run. I've really enjoyed the way Grey Area has evolved over the past few years, so I will be sad to see Bulliet and company go, but at least it will free up time in Abnett's busy schedule to write more Kingdom, Sinister Dexter and Brink. With the flurry of new series being launched in the past few years, it makes sense for some of the older ones to come to a natural conclusion, given the limited 'shelf space' available for thrills in the magazine. With Black Shuck on the horizon for Prog 1983, the current line-up of stories is expected to undergo some changes, refreshing the palate with a whole new batch of thrill-powered adventures.

Thrill of the Week: Tainted: The Fall of Deadworld


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1981 will be available in stores on Wednesday 18th May - 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) # 9

Doctor Who: The 11th Doctor (Vol. 2) # 9
"Running To Stay Still"
Written by: Si Spurrier
Art by: Leandro Casco
Colours by: Rodrigo Fernandes

Si Spurrier continues to tell his sprawling Eleventh Doctor epic storyline, which sees the Doctor accused of war crimes during the Time War and struggling to prove his innocence. As opposed to the previous year's story which featured individual stories that connected together to form a wider 'season-long' story-arc, this year's tale has been far more serialised with a singular narrative thrust driving the adventure along. While this does make it trickier for new readers to jump into the storyline, it certainly means that long-term followers of the series are rewarded with a densely-plotted adventure, filled with clues and references to earlier issues. Spurrier, along with his co-writer Rob Williams, has crafted an absolutely thrilling “whodunnit” mystery that reaches into the heart of modern Doctor Who mythology and offers a satisfying glimpse at the untold events of the Last Great Time War.

Now armed with a potential suspect, the Doctor attempts to appeal to the Overcast to call off their temporal bounty hunter, The Then and The Now, but finds himself blocked by the Malignant. Spurrier continues to raise the stakes for the Doctor, putting River in stasis as the Malignant begins to eat away at her body and critically injuring the Squire in the midst of a battle. This is Doctor at his lowest point, plagued with self-doubt and faced with momentous odds – something we don't get to see too often in the television series itself. He's usually the man with a plan, and although previous issues have seen him manipulating events and his companions in a last-ditch effort to prove his innocence, there's the strong sense that this is the Doctor out of his depth for the first time in a long time. I must admit that I found myself uncomfortable witnessing the Doctor's cold, calculated approach of pushing Alice away and forcing her to use the Master's TARDIS to break into the time-locked planet of Lujhimene to discover answers to the mysteries that have plagued the team (and the readers) since the start of this second year of adventures. Clearly, this is a Doctor who no longer has the luxury of being the nice-guy and is forced to make some tough decisions to facilitate his endgame. I'm guessing he knows that Alice is destined to go back to the Time War, but has he just sent her to her death?


Returning to the series after helping out during the seventh issue, Leandro Casco brings a refreshing look to the Eleventh Doctor series with his thick, bold line-work and smooth, nearly-animated character designs. Despite his distinctive style, Casco manages to create consistency with the previous artists, particularly Warren Pleece. I love the way that Casco ensure the story flows along nicely, especially during the action-orientated scenes between the Squire and The Then and The Now. As with its earlier appearances, The Then and The Now affects the Doctor, bringing forth former and future regenerations at once as it plays with the Doctor's chronology. Casco does a brilliant job at illustrating this side-effect and I loved seeing his interpretation of the other incarnations of the Doctor merging into one. While Casco did a fantastic job at bringing the TARDIS crew to life, I'm not sure his style lends itself well to drawing the elderly, wrinkled skin of veteran companion, The Squire. To be fair, she is a tricky character to get right but Casco's smooth style didn't really gel with the increased lines on her face, resulting in a juxtaposition that made her look mummified at times. Luckily, she spent most of the issue in a space-suit so it wasn't too distracting! On the flip-side, I absolutely love his representation of River Song and her mass of curly hair – it manages to channel Alex Kingston's take on the character without being a carbon-copy portrait of the actress. Much like his version of Matt Smith's Doctor, it captures the essence of the character without being a slave to realism.

Once again, this was another solid chapter of the Eleventh Doctor comic-book series and what promises to be a turning point in the narrative structure of the series. I've enjoyed the twists and turns up until now, but with six issues remaining of this storyline, I hope that we're going to start seeing the pace change up as we head towards the third act of the adventure. I've enjoyed seeing the Doctor being chased relentlessly by The Then and The Now, but it has resulted in each episode feeling somewhat similar to each other in structure. The Doctor goes somewhere, discovers a clue, gets chased away by the Then and the Now – this seems to have been the format for the past few episodes, and while enjoyable, it has become slightly formulaic. With Alice's decision here, though, it seems like we're about to get a shake-up to the status-quo and a different type of adventure to those seen recently. Perhaps we'll get a War Doctor-centric issue instead, shedding light on the mystery of the Malignant and the strange boy glimpsed in flashbacks? I remain utterly enthralled by the mysteries that Spurrier and Williams have conjured up onto the page, and cannot wait to get some much-needed answers.


Score - 9.3 out of 10

Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor (Vol. 2) # 9 is now available in all good comic shops, including Forbidden Planet, as well as on the Comixology website. Be sure to put in a standing order for the upcoming issues in the series when you pick up your copy!

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Review - Gotham: 2x21 - "A Legion of Horribles"


Gotham
Episode 2x21 - "A Legion of Horribles"

Synopsis

Realising that Selina Kyle is in danger, Bruce asks Jim Gordon and Lucius Fox to accompany him into Arkham Asylum on a rescue mission, unaware of the horrors that lie beneath. Meanwhile, Hugo Strange finds himself under pressure to perfect the resurrection process for his superiors in the Court of Owls.

Review

Rather surprisingly for the penultimate episode of a series, “A Legion of Horribles” introduced plenty of new plot threads and characters to be resolved in the subsequent season finale. There was a chaotic enthusiasm to proceedings as all of the series remaining cast members congregated on the secret laboratory beneath Indian Hill. With the GCPD poking their nose into his business after the Azrael debacle, Hugo Strange ramped up his experiments and we were introduced to his benefactors, the elusive Court of Owls. A recent addition to Batman mythology, the Court of Owls appeared in the New 52 continuity as a secret society manipulating behind-the-scenes events in Gotham, even before Batman’s first appearance. As such, they are an excellent addition to Gotham and will no doubt be the main threat of Season Three, although it remains to be seen how many of the new characters introduced in this episode will make the transition alongside them.

The return of Fish Mooney would have been a much bigger surprise if it hadn't been spoiled in solicitations and interviews with Jada Pinkett-Smith, but I was surprised that Gotham had waited until the penultimate episode of Season Two to bring her back. Pinkett-Smith returned to the land of the living with her brain (and penchant for chewing the scenery) intact, although at times it seemed like she’d forgotten how to play the character and was doing an impersonation of what she thought Fish Mooney was like. “I'm Fish Mooney, bitch” – really?! Interestingly, Mooney revealed a new superpower gained through her exposure to Cuttlefish DNA – the ability to influence people by touch – an interesting extension of her pre-existing persuasive skills. Given the slow-burn approach to her reappearance, I would be very surprised if she was killed off quickly in the next episode, so I assume that Jada Pinkett-Smith is scheduled to return to the series full-time during Season Three. I certainly hope so, as I have missed her unpredictable nature, and love her or hate her, she brings a certain flamboyance to the role that suits the Gotham landscape.

"I'm Fish Mooney, Bitch"

There were plenty of other great moments in this episode too, such as Bruce’s face-to-face confrontation with Hugo Strange. Both David Mazouz and BD Wong were spot-on in this scene, hitting the right emotional tones throughout. I particularly liked the sorrow in Wong’s face when he realised that he’d failed to sway another Wayne to his way of thinking. I also liked the sequence with Bullock taking on the role as Captain of the GCPD and being thoroughly uncomfortable in front of the reporters. It was a nice touch and hopefully we’ll see more of Bullock in this role in the future. While Hugo Strange had been relegated to an occasional character throughout much of the tail-end of this season, it was this episode that provided viewers with a greater look at the character and his motivations, revealing another level of corruption above him with the Court of Owls. With one episode remaining of Season Two, it is entirely possible that Strange might end up getting killed off in the finale, but I sincerely hope that he ‘rolls over’ onto the next season, even if he is incarcerated at the end of this one.

At a time when most series would be consolidating its plot threads and building towards a crescendo, it’s refreshing to see Gotham adding more and more plates to be spun with the introduction of Fish Mooney, Clayface, Firefly and The Court of Owls. It’s genuinely exciting to see the show buck tradition and planning for its third season. I suspect that this upcoming season finale will be far from traditional and will instead shake up the status-quo for Season Three. Given the super-powered threats within Arkham Asylum, I'm expecting the series to adapt elements from the “KnightFall” storyline and have a mass break-out at Indian Hill, which results in the various monsters and maniacs spreading out into Gotham City and causing chaos. This second season has seen Gotham embrace its comic-book roots big time, revelling in the unrealistic elements of the Batman universe, such as resurrection and super-powers. I’d be quite happy if the series never introduced Batman and instead altered its concept to be “a Gotham without Batman” and just hit full-speed on developing the recognisable super-villains.


Score - 9.7 out of 10

Next Episode - "Transference"
While Gordon, Bruce and Lucius remain at Indian Hill, the city of Gotham will be met with a new threat as Hugo Strange's inmates devise a plan to escape and start their new lives in Gotham.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Review - Agents of SHIELD: 3x20 - "Emancipation"

Agents of SHIELD
Episode 3x20 - "Emancipation"

Synopsis

In the wake of Captain America: Civil War, General Talbot demands a visit of SHIELD’s top-secret base to evaluate the Inhumans currently working under the ‘Secret Warriors’ program. Meanwhile, Hive advances his plans to create an army of Inhumans using Daisy’s blood, but could SHIELD have discovered a weapon to use against the seemingly immortal Inhuman?

Review

One of the biggest selling points of Agents of SHIELD was the fact it would reference and react to the happenings on the big-screen. The series’ first attempt at this was a brief nod to the aftermath of Thor: The Dark World in the episode “The Well”, which was more of a thematic connection rather than a direct tie-in. The biggest impact was felt in the aftermath of Captain America: The Winter Soldier with the revelation that Hydra had infiltrated SHIELD – naturally, this shook up the dynamic of the series greatly. When it came to Avengers: Age of Ultron, the series actually provided the lead-in to the movie with Coulson discovering the location of Loki’s staff, prompting the Avengers’ first mission in Sokovia. Edging towards the end of its current season, I was curious what impact Captain America: Civil War would have on the series, and it seems to be more in-line with its initial attempt in “The Well”. Oblique references are made to the events of the recent movie, but the tie-in is more of a thematic one as General Talbot, the face of the US Military in the series, comes to SHIELD HQ to evaluate the Secret Warriors in light of the new laws regarding superhumans.

Over the past two seasons, I've really enjoyed the relationship between General Talbot and Coulson and how they started off as enemies before becoming uneasy allies and now, almost friends. Despite their frequent butting of heads, you can tell there is a genuine respect and affection between the two characters and this was on display here. Adrian Pasdar does a great job at delivering one-liners, such as calling Lash “Rasta-Hulk” and he does a fantastic job at pointing out the ridiculousness of the situation that SHIELD finds themselves in, acting as a proxy for the audience at times. I sincerely hope Talbot remains a presence in the series’ fourth season as he provides a unique voice that is much needed in the show, much like Cordelia did in those early seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. While most of this episode was focused on Talbot’s tour of SHIELD HQ, the final quarter of this episode felt like a season finale as Lash confronted Hive, revealing an immunity to his parasites and even curing Daisy from her mind-control.


After defusing potential solutions to the Hive problem in the previous episode, “Emancipation” offered a glimmer of hope for humanity as Lash revealed his true purpose. Part of me suspected he might have some hitherto unmentioned immunity to Hive’s powers, but I didn't expect him to be able to cure people from “the sway”. I was actually surprised to see Daisy restored to normalcy ahead of the season finale, and in some ways, this has made the remainder of the season feel somewhat predictable. I’d imagine that Fitz-Simmons will somehow use Lash’s blood to reverse-engineer an immunity for the Secret Warriors allowing them to take-down Hive, whilst some poor soul is sent into space to prevent the warhead from releasing the Inhuman virus onto Earth. Given how Mack received Yo-Yo’s necklace at the end of this episode and has been given more character development with his brother, I'm guessing it will be him who makes the noble sacrifice to protect the planet. The one element that is left uncertain is where the series intends to go for Season Four as Hydra has been removed as a threat, and so have the Inhumans. Hopefully, the Season Three finale will give viewers a clue of which storyline the show plans to adapt next time.

While it was something of a slow-burner concerned mainly on setting up the 'switcheroo' with Lincoln and Lash, this was a great prelude to the upcoming double-episode season finale and a worthy tie-in to Captain America: Civil War. Sure, we didn't get any cameos from the characters in the movie, but the impact of the Sokovia Accords was felt on SHIELD, although ultimately nothing seemed to change. I'm guessing the ‘Secret Warriors’ will remain just that, and SHIELD will continue to operate inside the shadows, whilst the Avengers take the spotlight. I'm looking forward to the season finale, but I'm not expecting any major shocks. It seems fairly conclusive that the “Fallen Agent” will be Mack, and unless Hive’s death results in the resurrection of Grant Ward, I'm fairly certain that Brett Dalton will be leaving the show too. Given all these changes to the status-quo, I am very interested to see where the series is headed next – the next Marvel film is Doctor Strange, due out in November, so perhaps we will see more mystical and supernatural elements introduced into the Agents of SHIELD narrative for Season Four?


Score - 9.6 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • James (aka “Hellfire”) uses a fiery chain as his weapon against the Watchdogs and Lash, mirroring both his comic-book counterpart and Ghost Rider.
  • Episode makes frequent references to the "Sokovia Accords" introduced in Captain America: Civil War to monitor and regulate super-humans.

Mysteries
  • Is Mack the "Fallen Agent" destined to die in the season finale?

Next Episode - "Absolution"
It’s a showdown a season in the making as the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. try to thwart Hive’s master plan and take him down once and for all. But not everyone will survive the epic battle in the must-see Season 3 finale!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...