Thursday, 30 June 2016

Top Ten Doctor Who Monsters introduced since 2005


If you asked someone to name a Doctor Who monster, they’d probably reply with “Daleks” or possibly “Cybermen” but the series has had a plethora of different creatures throughout the lifetime of the show. Interestingly, since its reboot back in 2005, Doctor Who has made a concerted effort to create brand-new creatures to scare children into hiding behind the sofa rather than relying on the old favourites. Here at Pop Culture Bandit, we’ve taken a look at the 'Top Ten Doctor Who Monsters that have been introduced since 2005' to see just how successful some of these new creations have become.


10) The Hath
First appearance: "The Doctor's Daughter"

Engaged in a brutal war against the humans on the planet Messaline, the fish-like Hath have a fantastic visual design with purple-tinged scaly skin and their distinctive breathing apparatus, filled with a bubbling green liquid. Despite their initially violent appearance, the Hath were revealed to be a friendly race, helping Martha Jones reunite with the Doctor and Donna when she finds herself separated from them. The Hath have made brief cameo appearances since their debut in “The Doctor’s Daughter”, and are often used as ‘token aliens’ to fill out scenes in an alien bar as seen in “The End of Time (Part 2)” or “The Magician’s Apprentice



9) The Gangers
First appearance: "The Rebel Flesh"

The Gangers were cloned humans made from an organic substance called ‘The Flesh’ – used by industrial workers to perform dangerous and potentially deadly tasks, the Gangers were seen as disposable duplicates and easily replaceable. After a freak solar storm, the Gangers gained independent thought and personalities and demanded equality through violence towards their operators. The Gangers had a creepy yet effective visual design, with the creatures having doughy, featureless faces that resembled the look of the host. The episodes in which the monsters debuted were very atmospheric and dealt with questions surrounding identity and what it means to be human – common plot devices used in science-fiction.



8) The Whisper Men
First appearance: "The Name of the Doctor"

The Whisper Men were a group of featureless monsters that served the Great Intelligence, acting as ‘the muscle’ to influence the Eleventh Doctor to travel to Trenzalore and visit his grave in “The Name of the Doctor”. With a Victorian look, the top hat wearing creatures were reminiscent of the creepy Gentlemen from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode, “Hush”, in that they possessed a similar ethereal, otherworldly presence. Speaking whispered rhymes, the creatures conjured up a suitably creepy atmosphere in the episode, and the moment when they attacked Vastra and Jenny was spine-chillingly effective, given that the pair were in deep meditation and in the astral plane. While they have only appeared in a single episode, they made a strong impact and presented themselves as a worthy physical manifestation for the Great Intelligence compared to the Yeti and the Snowmen.



7) Vashta Nerada
First appearance: "Silence in the Library"

While “Silence in the Library” is more famous for introducing River Song into the Doctor Who mythology, the episode also brought the creepy Vashta Nerada into play. Created by Steven Moffat, the unseen creatures lived in the shadows and consumed humans right down to their bones – throughout the two-part storyline, they were represented by skeletal remains in spacesuits, communicating via the recorded memories of the dead they absorbed. As typical for a Moffat creation, the monster stems from an inherent fear – in this instance, shadows – and the storyline involved the ever-declining cast of space archaeologists attempting to avoid touching their own and other people’s shadows. The creatures are similar to the flesh-eating Kryll from the Gears of War series, equally as carnivorous and confined to the shadows, but the Vashta Nerada have the added creepiness of being microscopic and stealthy in their attacks. Inhabiting the corpses of the recently deceased to chase down the survivors is a particularly horrific touch that feels ripped straight out of horror movie.



6) The Adipose
First appearance: "Partners in Crime"

While most of the creatures on this list look scary or horrific, the Adipose are actually the opposite and resemble cute little blobs of marshmallow with cute bead-like eyes and a sole tooth. As adorable as they may seem, the creatures were actually born from the fat molecules of people who’d been taking a mysterious diet pill. The scene where one woman spontaneously combusts into dozens of Adipose is actually quite unsettling, especially given the cartoon-like nature of the monsters. While the main villain of the piece is Sarah Lancashire’s Miss Foster – the whole episode is a light-hearted romp to celebrate the return of Donna Noble and never really gets overly threatening. That said, the characters definitely struck a chord with the Doctor Who fanbase and are rare example of a ‘good monster’ in the series.



5) The Judoon
First appearance: "Smith and Jones"

Presented as inter-planetary peace-keepers, the Judoon are a race of alien rhinoceroses that enforce the law without question and ambiguity. Neither good nor bad, the creatures have a rather mercenary style to their policing and work with the Shadow Proclamation to capture alien criminals. Since their debut in “Smith and Jones”, the characters have appeared frequently in the TV show itself as a background alien race in episodes such as “The Pandorica Opens” and “The Magician’s Apprentice”. They are also one of the few “New Who” monsters to prolifically appear in spin-off media, such as comics and books, most notably the BBC NovelsJudgement of the Judoon” and “Revenge of the Judoon”. The frequency of their appearances showcases their popularity amongst fans, and in terms of the series, they perform an important role as a ‘peace-keeper’ force.



4) The Ood
First appearance: "The Impossible Planet"

With a face that resembles me attempting to eat spaghetti, the Ood made their dramatic debut in “The Impossible Planet” as a slave race eventually possessed by a malevolent force and turned into aggressive killers. The creatures were fleshed out more in subsequent appearances such as the Season Four episode, “Planet of the Ood”, which again saw the normally peaceful creatures driven to commit bloodthirsty attacks. Visually, the creatures share similarities with the Sensorites from the First Doctor serial “The Sensorites”, and they were later confirmed to be from the same solar system. The creatures straddle the grey area between peaceful and aggressive species, fluctuating between both roles due to their tendency to be possessed by outside threats. They have a strong visual presence, thanks to their distinctive costume design, and have reappeared in the series numerous times, becoming a common staple in the Doctor Who universe since 2005.



3) The Silence
First appearance: "The Impossible Astronaut"

Much like The Whisper Men, The Silence bear a striking resemblance to Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s ‘Gentlemen”, conjuring up a haunting juxtaposition of an alien dressed in a business suit. Quite why they dress so snazzy is beyond me, considering that they cause instant amnesia to people who look away from them. Debuting in “The Impossible Astronaut”, their wizened face and ‘grey alien’ design really helps the creatures stand out as they encapsulated that Area 51 zeitgeist of 1960’s America, which was used to great effect in the Season Six opener. The amnesia angle is an interesting one, and a typical Moffat high-concept idea, but it does make the creatures a bit of a one-note monster – especially when the likes of Madame Kovarian install electronic eye-patches displaying their form to prevent the amnesia. With the Trenzalore / Silence story-arc behind him, it is unlikely that The Silence will ever reappear, but they made a dramatic impact to the Doctor Who universe during the Eleventh Doctor's era.



2) The Boneless
First appearance - "Flatline"

The most recent entry to the list comes from Season Eight’s corker of an episode, “Flatline”, which was a Doctor-lite episode and saw Clara adopt the role of the Doctor to protect a group of citizens from the deadly Boneless. Attempting to bridge the gap between the second and third dimension, the episode saw the creatures trying to become fully 3D, whilst reducing their victims to 2D drawings in the process. It was a spectacular visual and the imaginative monsters symbolise all that is great about Doctor Who, so it was little surprise that the episode was one of the most well-received of the season. Aside from their debut televised appearance, the creatures even appeared in comic-book form in The Twelfth Doctor (Vol. 2) # 6 - a wonderfully inventive tale that played about with the confines of the comic format to deliver a tale equally as stunning as “Flatline”. There’s plenty of potential for these creatures to become the next breakout monster in the Doctor Who franchise.


1) The Weeping Angels
First appearance - "Blink"

It’s no surprise that the Weeping Angels have topped this list – ever since their first appearance in the Doctor-lite episode “Blink”, these creatures have become a firm favourite amongst fans – with plenty of merchandise and televised appearances since then. One of Steven Moffat’s earliest original creations for the series, the Weeping Angels managed to make “blinking” scary and preyed upon the innate fear of statues moving when we’re not looking at them.

The ingenious idea works on a horror level, and over the years, the Weeping Angels have become more of a stock villain type, rather than the mysterious and haunting creature from their debut episode. The characters also made a comic book appearance in the excellent Tenth Doctor adventure, “The Weeping Angels of Mons”, which transplanted them into World War One – a perfect time period for the creatures to exist in.

Creatures that can kill you with only a touch, but are render immobile when you are looking at them – it’s a fantastic concept and is executed in style with such an iconic design. Who can forget that moment in “Flesh and Stone” when we first see them move on-screen – it was absolutely terrifying! The Weeping Angels are definitely the best monster to be introduced in Doctor Who since 2005, without a doubt, even giving the Cybermen and Daleks a run for their money in terms of sheer scariness!



What do you think – is there a Doctor Who monster missing from our list here? Or do you think the Ood are creepier than the Weeping Angels? Feel free to drop a comment below with your thoughts on this list, or message us on our social media channels – Facebook and Twitter.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

2000AD Prog 1987

Prog 1987 Cover by Simon Davis

Simon Davis graces the front cover of 2000AD once again with another spectacular fully-painted take on Slaine. As with his artwork inside the Prog, Davis’ attention to detail and ability to recreate realistic portraits of fantasy characters is unparalleled, and this bold and dynamic stance has an almost three-dimensional look as Slaine aims his arrow out to the reader, or just over their left shoulder to shoot that pesky Drune Lord lurking behind them. With minimal background interference, the attention is wholly on Slaine as he prepares his next shot and I love the heavy use of reds, including inside of his mouth, to symbolise the violence and determination of the character. This cover serves as further proof, as if it was needed, that Simon Davis is the ultimate Slaine artist, and I hope he continues on the series long after the current Brutania Chronicles tale ends.



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

After weeks of subtle foreshadowing and nudging, Texas City Chief Judge Oswin finally makes her move and stages a coup over Hershey and the Council of Five. Aside from the overwhelming numbers of Judges she has brought into the city, Oswin also mentions the fact that her men have access to chemical weapons that could wipe out large chunks of the city, should there be any resistance to her takeover. There are some wonderful echoes of “The Apocalypse War” to this storyline, switching the aggressive hostile takeover of Mega-City One for a more political House of Cards approach. It's a great parallel to the current US Presidential Election, especially considering Oswin's hard-line approach and distaste for the mutant immigrants coming into the city.



The tension is palpable in this story, and Carroll's script is an absolute joy to read, offering a genuinely thrilling pay-off to the machinations of the past few months. I honestly have no idea how Dredd and his crew hope to overcome these insurmountable odds – presumably the chemical weapons are the key here, and perhaps by threatening to do a “The Apocalypse War” style nuke of Texas City, Dredd can force them to retreat? Colin MacNeil continues to demonstrate why he is one of the quintessential Judge Dredd artists, balancing both the action scenes of Judge Giant's take-down of the trigger-happy Texan Judges against the bloodless coup of the Council of Five. His artwork is impeccable, and suits the high-stakes tension of this story perfectly. The final panel of Beeny is brilliant, giving off a bit of a Die Hard vibe as she is underestimated by Oswin and her men, but will likely be instrumental in taking them down. I am utterly enthralled by this storyline, and am eager to watch it develop and blossom into one of the greatest mega-epics in recent times.



BRINK (Part 10)
Script - Dan Abnett
Art - INJ Culbard
Letters - Simon Bowland

This latest episode of Brink sees Dan Abnett and INJ Culbard switch gears once more as Kurtis' investigation takes a turn for the worst and she finds herself being chased by a group of oddly-dressed Sect members. Culbard artwork ensures that this episode remains gripping and fast-paced throughout, evoking a genuine sense of unease once Kurtis catches sight of her ghoulish pursuers. It reminds me of The Wicker Man and Don't Look Now, due to that visceral “punch to the gut” horror feel to the reveal. Outnumbered and on the run, Abnett and Culbard do not let up the pace with some claustrophobic panel work as Kurtis escapes through the inner workings of the Habitat.


Every week Brink manages to exceed my expectations and this episode is no different – I find myself utterly mesmerised by the beauty of Culbard's artwork and wowed by his capacity to generate a very real atmosphere and sense of panic through his storytelling. If it wasn't already apparent he was a master storyteller from his work on Brass Sun, then this series just cements it. With this episode focused on action and tone, Abnett's trademark dialogue is placed onto the back-burner as he allows Culbard to weave his magic on the page. I am loving the constant surprises coming from this series and the fluidity of its genres, switching from detective procedural to supernatural horror with ease. I am convinced that Brink will be one of those series that 2000AD fans will fondly look back upon in the decades to come as a high-point in the magazine's already illustrious history.



BLACK SHUCK - SINS OF THE FATHER (Part 5)
Script - Leah Moore & John Reppion
Art - Steve Yeowell
Colours - Chris Blythe
Letters - Ellie de Ville

This fifth episode of Black Shuck opens up with another portend of doom as Shuck’s wife sees visions of two Black Dog pups attacking a deer – could this be a premonition of her own death at the hands of her unborn sons? Leah Moore and John Reppion continue to develop multiple plot threads with the Black Shuck training Eadwald’s men to fight against Coenwulf and the introduction of a rival black beast who has been terrorising the livestock and villagers of East Anglia. Personally, I’m more invested in the fate of Queen Freydis as she faces a troubled birth, but Moore and Reppion are doing a great job of developing a multi-faceted story to accompany this emotional core. Steve Yeowell continues to deliver some fantastically atmospheric artwork that conjures up that feeling of 9th Century East England perfectly, although there are times when the various bearded men of the series begin to merge into one – I do find it tough to distinguish who is who, based on their hair colour and facial hair.



GREY AREA - A LONG WAY HOME
Script - Dan Abnett
Art - Mark Harrison
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

For some reason, I’d convinced myself that this run of episodes was the grand finale of Grey Area but instead, it seems like it was just the end of this current story-arc on Homeworld. This is absolutely brilliant news as it means that there’s plenty more Grey Area to come in the future. Further additions to the “good news” column is the decision to bring Resting Bitch Face and Compelling Musk Odour over to Earth with Bulliet’s team – these two aliens have made this current chapter of Grey Area really enjoyable with the naivety of Earth ways, and I’m looking forward to seeing them as “fish out of water” in the real world. I also look forward to seeing the human reactions to her rather skimpy costume!


Dan Abnett has done a great job with this series, and whether intentionally or not, the fact that it appeared that this was the final series really heightened the tension of these final episodes. His dialogue remains his strength, and this concluding episode demonstrated that in style – showcasing his sense of humour and the strong personalities of his characters. As much as I’ve enjoying Mark Harrison’s work on this particular section of Grey Area, part of me would like Patrick Goddard to return to art duties for the Earth-based stories, thus creating a clearer delineation between Earth and the Homeworld. That said, Harrison has done a tremendous job over the past few years on this strip, bringing the grime and alien nature of the Homeworld to the page in his own inimitable style, so I wouldn’t be completely adverse to him continuing on the strip!



SLAINE - THE BRUTANIA CHRONICLES: PSYCHOPOMP (Part 9)
Script - Pat Mills
Art - Simon Davis
Letters - Ellie de Ville

Narration and exposition take centre-stage once more in this penultimate installment of Slaine as the Psychopomp Gododin continues with his attempts to break Slaine's spirit by besmirching the reputation of his mother, and casting his parentage into doubt. This has been a plot point that Pat Mills has been hammering into both Slaine and the reader's mind over the past few weeks, and it is beginning to feel a bit anti-climactic each time Gododin promises to say something that'll devastate Slaine. It feels like there isn't much substance to this story-arc, apart from the much-welcomed glimpse into Slaine's origins as a young boy. While I appreciate the recent nostalgic and retrospective kick that Mills has been on with many of his 2000AD series over the past few years, I think Slaine would benefit from a more forward-facing direction rather than these continued looks back.

Simon Davis' artwork remains the driving force behind his strip and he manages to infuse this episode with a strong momentum, despite the frequent flashback interruptions. I particularly liked the way he represent Gododin and Macha's internal monologues in Slaine's mind as their faces appearing in his eyes – it was an effective visual technique, and yet another example of the artist's genius. Once again, Davis gets to draw a defeated and dejected Slaine as the knowledge of his mother's many infidelities gets the better of him – unfortunately, this has become something of a repeated trope in the series and as such, the impact isn't quite as strong as it was the first time it appeared. While I appreciate that Mills is attempting to build up to a crescendo with dramatic cliff-hangers, it does come across as a bit ineffectual at times and part of me wishes for some actual consequences to occur as a result of these events.



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

The utterly amazing Brink earns the spot of “Thrill of the Week” once more, continuing to battle for first place against Michael Carroll's excellent Judge Dredd mega-epic. While Grey Area ends on a somewhat predictable note, the news that it will be returning for more adventures set on Earth comes as a pleasant surprise – especially since I thought this will the final hurrah! Tharg's Nerve Centre teases the welcome return of The Order in an un-named third series, which judging from the appearance of two Ritterstahl machines, could be set further in the future with another chronological 'time jump' between chapters. Next Prog sees a more immediate thrill joining the ranks as Ian Edginton and D'Israeli reunite for more adventures with a brand new Scarlet Traces story. I'm unfamiliar with the team's work on the previous chapters, but look forward to seeing the Stickleback and Helium duo returning to the Prog with another brightly-coloured alternate history epic.

Thrill of the Week: Brink


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1987 will be available in stores on Wednesday 29th June - 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) # 7

Doctor Who: The 12th Doctor (Vol. 2) # 7
"The Twist" - Part 2 (of 3)
Written by: George Mann
Art by: Mariano Laclaustra
Colours by: Carlos Cabrera

With this latest issue, George Mann and Mariano Laclaustra continue to chart the adventures of the Twelfth Doctor in the absence of new televised episodes, filling in the blanks until the 2016 Christmas Special airs. Mann’s script takes familiar cues from past Doctor Who adventures, such as human colonies in space, and modernises them with his own little twists. Fans of classic Doctor Who serials will notice a thematic similarity to adventures such as “The Ark” or “The Ark in Space”, mixed with a smidgen of Red Dwarf, with the Foxkin adopting a similar role to The Cat. The plight of the Foxkin reminds me of the Silurians, with both races living alongside the humans in peace until conflict breaks out. Despite these similarities to other stories, Mann ensures that the tale remains very much his own and interplay between the Twelfth Doctor and his two new companions helps drive the narrative of the story.


Mariano Laclaustra’s artwork remains as breathtakingly gorgeous as ever, although I prefer the more urban backgrounds of the Twist compared to the more generic outdoor sequences seen in this installment. Laclaustra’s visual design of the Foxkin is fantastic, encapsulating the mix of human and vulpine elements in the creature. I also greatly admire Laclaustra’s attention to detail throughout the issue, and his take on the Twelfth Doctor, Hattie and Jakob is absolutely brilliant, offering a cinematic quality to the story.

Rather than stretch this storyline out across five issues, Mann has condensed it into a tight three-parter, which allows him to write in the traditional three act structure with a beginning, middle and end. While this installment has its fair share of exposition, it does set up the adventure for a strong conclusion and I wonder whether the Doctor will be bringing both of his newfound companions with him in the TARDIS, or whether one of them will stay behind to broker peace between the humans and the Foxkin. This has been a strong story-arc for the series, propelling the comic into the unexplored regions of the post-Season Nine era of the show.


Score - 9.5 out of 10

Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor (Vol. 2) # 7 is now available in all good comic shops, including Forbidden Planet, as well as on the Comixology website. Be sure to put in a standing order for the upcoming issues in the series when you pick up your copy!

Review - Doctor Who: The 9th Doctor # 3

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

Cavan Scott and Adriana Melo bring the opening story-arc to the Ninth Doctor comic series to a dramatic close, as the Season One TARDIS team of Jack, Rose and the Doctor attempt to prevent a Raxacoricofallapatorian Civil War from taking place. Taking cues from The Hunger Games, Scott has Rose and her Slitheen captor, Slist, on the run from a group of dangerous hunters in the jungles of the planet Clix, part of the Raxacoricofallapatorian Empire. Rose is definitely the focus of this concluding installment of the storyline as Scott goes to great lengths to showcase her idealistic nature and innocence – key traits of hers seen during those Season One years. I really enjoyed her interactions with Slist as she attempted to help him, despite his mistreatment of her earlier in the tale. I was really impressed with how Scott took Billie Piper’s performance in the show and recreated it onto the page, ensuring Rose’s ‘voice’ remained strong throughout. While the Doctor and Jack were vital elements, this was definitely Rose’s issue!

Adriana Melo continues to sprinkle her artistic magic over this issue as her grittier style lends itself well to this storyline, especially when it comes to displaying the gruesome consequences of the acidic rain on the skin of the Slitheen. As I’ve said in previous reviews, Melo and Scott have taken the goofy, fart monsters and made them into truly terrifying threats. Melo establishes a ferocity to the creatures that was lacking in their televised appearances, and I absolutely adore her designs of the other Raxacoricofallapatorians, such as the Jinglatheen. Aside from making the Slitheen seem cool, Melo does a tremendous job at capturing the likenesses of John Barrowman, Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper, but without being a slave to realism. Her art is dynamic and flows with ease on the page, ensuring that the story moves with a rapid pace.


With this issue, Cavan Scott has demonstrated his innate ability to write thrilling Doctor Who stories that dovetail nicely into the established continuity of the television show, enhancing the experience and offering essential information. I’ll be honest, I could have quite happily gone the rest of my life without seeing another Slitheen, but this storyline actually has me enthused about the creatures and interested in future instalments featuring the complex Raxacoricofallapatorian hierarchy. Keen to play with his reading audience, Scott introduces a humdinger of a cliff-hanger in the final page, which is sure to get heads scratching. I love the fact that he is clearly having a great time playing about in the Ninth Doctor era, expanding that initially short period of the Doctor’s life with some excellent adventures, making use of events from later episodes to inform his plots.

Doctormania” has been a promising start for the Ninth Doctor series, fully justifying the decision to move from a mini-series format to a fully-fledged ongoing title. Scott and Melo prove themselves to be highly capable team, and on the basis of this inaugural adventure, I hope to see plenty more stories from the pair exploring the hidden secrets of the Ninth Doctor’s era. Scott’s love for the character and this particular era is evident from his work on the page, and that surprise cliff-hanger demonstrates his willingness to shake up continuity and offer readers some genuinely exciting stories that take the Ninth Doctor into brand-new territories. Even though the Ninth Doctor’s time on the show was over ten years ago, Scott and Melo have done a fantastic job in making the character still relevant and exciting all these years later. As with all of Titan Comics’ Doctor Who output, this is essential reading for fans of the show – old or new.


Score - 10 out of 10

Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor # 3 is now available in all good comic shops, including Forbidden Planet, as well as on the Comixology website.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

2000AD Prog 1986

Prog 1986 Cover by Tom Foster

Thought Bubble 2013 winner Tom Foster returns to 2000AD with his first ever cover piece, following his work on Storm Warning for the Judge Dredd Megazine, and what a treat for the eyes it is! There’s a definite Brian Bolland influence to Foster’s artwork that really stands out when he works on Judge Dredd – for more examples of his work on classic Dredd characters, check out his DeviantArt website. I absolutely love his Mean Machine and Judge Death commissions. Both are very old-school 2000AD in nature with an impressive level of detail. Aside from the absolutely amazing representation of everyone’s favourite lawman of the future, I also love the choice of background image for this piece, with that rich emerald green and spray-painted Dredd badge emblazoned along it. It’s a great debut from the newly-minted art droid, and easily a strong contender for 'Cover of the Year'.


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

With the action relocated to Mega-City One, Colin MacNeil returns to art duties for this latest chapter of Michael Carroll's conspiracy heavy mega-epic involving the Brit-Cit and Texas City Judges. Quickly reuniting Dredd and Rico together, Carroll takes the opportunity to fill in readers about the events of “Dust to Dust” - the storyline running in the Judge Dredd Megazine – summarising the plot in one simple sentence and establishing the link between the Texan City Judges and the Grindstone Cowboys for those readers not following the Megazine. It seems that the rumours of Dredd's reappearance have set Chief Judge Oswin's plans into motion, and the attack on an undercover Judge Giant implies that they are attempting to prevent Dredd's allies from reaching him. Things certainly seem dire as the Texan City Judges present themselves a strong invading force, determined to take over the remains of Mega-City One.


I'm a huge fan of Colin MacNeil's artwork, especially the more modern style he has adopted in recent years and it's no surprise that he remains one of the definitive Judge Dredd artists. I love the way he depicts Dredd's uniform as battered and rusting at the edges, symbolising his length of service and the physical consequences of years on the streets. He also illustrates a fantastic Mega-City One, effortlessly evoking the grim noir atmosphere of the futuristic city. The scene where Dredd and Rico reunite is played wonderfully low-key by Carroll – there's no outburst of emotion between the clones when they meet, and Dredd's immediate question is about “his city”. The switch in pace between this storyline and “The Lion's Den” is expertly done, and it definitely benefits from the change in artist to emphasise the tonal shift. Carroll continues to ratchet up the tension in this unconventional mega-epic as things appear to be heading towards a dramatic conclusion, and I remain curious to see how a handful of Judges will be able to overthrow an invading force. This storyline really is going from strength to strength and marks a career highlight for the Carroll droid.



BRINK (Part 9)
Script - Dan Abnett
Art - INJ Culbard
Letters - Simon Bowland

Moving on from the shocking disruption of Brinkmann’s death, this installment of Brink sees Bridget Kurtis return to the investigation of the Sect Crime in Ludmilla Habitat, chasing down another potential lead to find out more about “The Leper Heart”. Despite being in the ninth episode of the series, it feels like we’ve barely scratched the surface of the mystery at the heart of the Brink space-station. Dan Abnett has certainly been drip-feeding the readers with information, whilst he and INJ Culbard set about “world-building” this modern sci-fi classic. With talk of “primordial daemon space-gods”, it really feels like anything could happen in this series as Abnett and Culbard have set no boundaries for audience expectations. I love the genuine sense of unease that pervades through Culbard’s artwork in this strip, bringing that dystopian ‘space colony’ feeling to life with flawless expertise.


The crime scene that Kurtis finds herself in at the end of this episode feels pitch-perfect and gets the hairs standing up at the back of your neck, especially with the surprise ‘cameo’ in the final panel. Abnett’s dialogue has been a high-point of this series, closely tied with Culbard’s fantastic storytelling, and the opening monologue showcases Kurtis’ insecurities, loneliness and grief in one hit. It also acts as a great set-up for the final panel – establishing herself as “sane” before revealing that she is now seeing Brink’s “ghost”. By the way, having him drenched in blood really ramps up the creepiness factor and gives him a malevolent touch. I wonder if this means the series is going to firmly push into the supernatural elements, rather than focus on conspiracy, organised religion and drug use. I have no clue where this series is going to end up, and that’s exhilarating as a reader – Abnett and Culbard are creating “must read sci-fi” here, and 2000AD is the best place for it.



BLACK SHUCK - SINS OF THE FATHER (Part 4)
Script - Leah Moore & John Reppion
Art - Steve Yeowell
Colours - Chris Blythe
Letters - Ellie de Ville

The plot thickens in this latest episode of Black Shuck as the titular character makes a deal with the deposed King Eadwald to restore him to the throne, in an attempt to protect the treasures and learnings of East Anglia from Coenwulf. While much of this episode is set-up, it is extremely well-written as it weaves myth and legend against historical facts – John Reppion and Leah Moore also offer some foreshadowing in the form of Eadwald’s eerie premonition of death, providing the series with a Shakespearean tone. While it’s been a while since I’ve read any of the bard’s plays, this series does have a slight Macbeth vibe about it, and I can see the Black Shuck making a deal with the devil in order to save his cursed wife and children. Steve Yeowell’s artwork remains as impeccable as ever, effortlessly channelling that Viking Age tone with his distinctive style. Even though I have a natural predisposition towards the science-fiction stories found within 2000AD, I am finding myself increasingly drawn to the historical fantasy action of both Black Shuck and Slaine.



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

With the threat of the God-Star out of the way, Dan Abnett and Mark Harrison introduce a new player to the game as the galactic might of the Congruence approaches Homeworld after hearing Birdy and Keats’ distress call. Unlike the God-Star, this gathering of alien elite are actually a benevolent group and offer to help accelerate the education and evolution of the Harmonious Free. Ultimately, though, their appearance in this episode boils down to an offer to take Bulliet and his team back home, providing the series with an element of closure as it heads towards its final installment. While this episode consists largely of a “talking heads” segment to explain away the deus-ex-machina needed to return the ETC crew back home, Abnett and Harrison ensure that the series’ swift pace remains evident, thanks to the series’ trademark naturalistic dialogue and stunningly detailed artwork. On a surface level, the actual plot of this story-arc is fairly “by the numbers”, Abnett’s knack for writing likeable characters takes centre-stage, elevating the quality of the strip greatly.



SLAINE - THE BRUTANIA CHRONICLES: PSYCHOPOMP (Part 8)
Script - Pat Mills
Art - Simon Davis
Letters - Ellie de Ville

Bursting into action with a magnificent double-page spread, this installment of Slaine allows Simon Davis to once again showcase his skill as a storyteller. His fully-painted artwork remains impeccable as ever, and I absolutely loved the six-panel sequence depicting Slaine’s expertise with the bow as the spirit of his mother guides his hand. Without wanting to sound morbid, there is an element of beauty to the way Davis depicts the arrow-related injuries that the Drune Lords, Trojans and Diluvials endure, with the blood splatter of the impact wounds enhanced by the painted art style. It is moments like this that really hammer home how well-suited to the series Davis’ distinctive artwork is.


As with the opening episodes of this storyline, Pat Mills provides a narration over Davis’ artwork that sometimes hampers the visuals and slows down the pace of the action. I think it is the sequences where the Psychopomp that feel the most intrusive as he continues delivering dramatic statements about how he is going to destroy Slaine’s confidence or kill him, but fails repeatedly to do either. It reminds me of the ineffectual villains of 1980s cartoons – “I’ll get you next time, Gadget!”. That said, I did enjoy the sequence where Mills showcases his research into archery by having Slaine perform various types of attack; The Eagle, The Owl and The Falcon, with each one effectively brought to life by Davis’ amazing visuals. Ultimately, many of the issues I have with the flow and content of this series remain, but boy, doesn’t it look absolutely fantastic on the page?



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

The change in artist for the latest chapter in the Judge Dredd mega-epic helps to revitalise the storyline as it heads off into a new direction, and Colin MacNeil's artwork is always a joy to see on the page. Michael Carroll is definitely pulling out all the stops on this storyline and it's immensely satisfying to see the various plot threads knit themselves together to reveal a tapestry of conspiracy. Meanwhile, Brink and Grey Area offer up strong and compelling installments to raise the thrill-power quota for the Prog. While Slaine and Black Shuck aren't quite to my tastes, they offer a refreshing change of pace and genre, ensuring that the Prog is well-balanced and as eclectic as ever!

Tharg's Nerve Centre teases a new thrill from Gordon Rennie and PJ Holden called Hunted, but the grossly disfigured creature depicted in the preview reminds me of the Traitor General from the original Rogue Trooper series. Could this be a sneaky preview of another Rogue Trooper reboot? Rennie has had prior experience in the Rogue Trooper universe with Jaegir and The 86ers, so having his name attached seems to indicate a Rogue Trooper connection. Also, Hunted seems like a rather generic name for a series, so I presume that it is more of a teaser 'tagline' rather than the real name.

Thrill of the Week: Judge Dredd


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1986 will be available in stores on Wednesday 22nd June - Digital copies of this Prog will be available on the same day through the standalone 2000AD app, which can be downloaded onto iOS and Android devices.

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

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Review - Spider-Gwen: Vol. 0 - "Most Wanted?"

Spider-Gwen: Vol. 0 - "Most Wanted?"
Written by: Jason Latour
Art by: Robbi Rodriguez
ISBN: 978-0785197737

This graphic novel collects the following comics:

  • Edge of Spider-Verse # 2
  • Spider-Gwen (Vol. 1) # 1 - 5

In one universe, it wasn't Peter Parker who was bitten by the radioactive spider, but Gwen Stacy! She's smart, charming and can lift a car — just don't tell her father, the police chief! And now, in the wake of Spider-Verse, Gwen swings into her own solo adventures! And she soon finds herself between a rock and a hard place when the Vulture attacks, and NYPD Lieutenant Frank Castle sets his sights on bringing her down. Then, still haunted by Peter's death, Gwen visits his only family: Ben and May Parker. But what really happened the day Peter died? Find out right here as the spectacular Spider-Gwen steals not only the spotlight, but also the hearts of comic fans worldwide!


Much like how the original Spider-Girl sprung out of a single-issue alternate universe storyline, Spider-Gwen took the comics world by storm soon after the solicitations for her debut issue Edge of Spider-Verse # 2 appeared online. Most of this was down to her distinctive costume, designed by Robbi Rodriguez, which made a definite statement about the character – this wasn’t anything like any Spider-Woman we’d ever seen before. With its distinctive mix of white and neon purple colours, coupled with the hooded cowl, the costume was an instant hit and sent the cosplayers running to their sewing machines before the first issue had even dropped. Internet word-of-mouth went into overdrive, leading the first issue to sell out almost immediately and receive a further four more printings – not to mention a re-branding as Spider-Gwen # 0 later in the year. Sure, the Marvel hype machine had done its job and built up plenty of anticipation and speculator interest in the single issue, but was the story any good?

Well, the simple answer to that is a resounding “yes!” – skipping over the well-trodden origin story with a fantastically effective double-page spread, Jason Latour showcased the familiar beats from Amazing Fantasy # 15 spliced with some new tid-bits that sets Spider-Gwen’s Earth-65 from the mainstream Marvel Universe we all know and love. In this universe, Gwen was bitten by the radioactive spider instead and Peter, consumed by his inadequacies and jealousy, attempted to gain his own powers using Curt Connors’ formula, becoming The Lizard. In an inspired twist, Peter dies in Gwen’s arms (mirroring “The Death of Gwen Stacy” in the mainstream universe) and teaches Spider-Gwen the importance of power and responsibility, whilst the circumstances of his death causes her to become a wanted felon. It’s truly impressive to see that origin condensed into a single splash page without losing any of the impact at all. Later issues in the ongoing series revisit key scenes from this sequence to flesh out Gwen’s part in Peter’s death, as well as the impact that it has on the Parker family.


The single-issue acts largely a set-up to the “Spider-Verse” event, which ran through Amazing Spider-Man during 2015 and saw every alternate version of Spider-Man ever come together to defeat the dimension-hopping Inheritors. However, Latour had sown enough seeds to warrant a return to Earth-65 once the event was over, and the enduring popularity of the Spider-Gwen character meant that an ongoing series was quickly commissioned. While it might be tempting to label Spider-Gwen as a Spider-Girl or Spider-Woman knock-off, the character really does hold its own place in the Marvel Universe with a distinctive tone that sets her apart from her predecessors. To distil it down to an elevator pitch, I’d say it was “Spider-Man meets Scott Pilgrim”, mainly due to her band “The Mary Janes”, and the slight punk attitude seen in both the script and art. There's a wonderful post-modernism feel to the series and youthful energy to Latour's script and Rodriguez's striking artwork.

Robbi Rodriguez is just a tour de force in this series, creating a distinctive style that cuts down deep into the heart of the Spider-Gwen character and her world. While it might be easy to dismiss the character as just a gimmicky costume, Rodriguez and Latour quickly prove that there is more to this version of Gwen Stacy than meets the eye. Fans of the mainstream Spider-Man continuity will notice plenty of nods and variations on classic characters, such as beat-cop Ben Grimm (aka the Fantastic Four’s Thing) and Frank Castle (aka the Punisher). Aside from this minor nods to classic continuity, Latour makes some striking changes such as introducing Matt Murdock as a slimy, villainous lawyer who works for the Kingpin – the complete antithesis of his character in the regular Marvel Universe. Familiar foes are also redesigned for the series with The Rhino and The Vulture making an appearance in this volume, alongside Felicia Hardy – who undergoes a more drastic change to become the French jewel thief, La Chat Noir. While these are fun in-jokes for hard-core Spider-Man fans to pick up on, the comic is completely accessible to new readers as well – in fact, it was one of the first titles my girlfriend begun to read and she loves it!


On that note, Spider-Gwen fits in nicely with Marvel Comics' current pattern of introducing and developing “All-New, All-Different” variations of its iconic characters with Miles Morales, Kamala Khan, Cindy Moon and Jane Foster stepping into the shoes of established 'franchises' and building up strong fan-bases. With a definite message of female empowerment, Spider-Gwen is a fantastic role model for young women and female comic book fans, in general. Yet, there's no reason to shuffle the title off as a “girl's book” - while Latour has stripped away some of the familiar elements that makes Spider-Man who he is, the core essence of the character is still there – much like it is in Miles Morales' Ultimate Spider-Man book. This is Spider-Man viewed through a different prism, and the result is a fantastic spin on an old classic. With the initial rush of interest and subsequent high sales of its ongoing series, it seems that Spider-Gwen has made an impact on the fan-base that preceding female Spider-Man titles have failed to make, even Spider-Girl which had its own loyal fan-base. Could it be that readers are more accepting of alternate realities, following the “Spider-Verse” cross-over, or perhaps the unique 'punk rock' tone of the series has struck a chord with comic book readers?

This collected edition features all five issues of the pre-Secret Wars volume of Spider-Gwen, which mainly revolves her attempts to prove her innocence whilst battling The Vulture, Frank Castle and Le Chat Noir. Each issue is filled to the brim with surprising plot developments as Jason Latour creates fun and exciting parallel versions of established characters. It reminds me of the early days of the Ultimate Universe when Brian Michael Bendis would put his own stamp on Spider-Man's rogue's gallery – in some ways, reinventing them completely. With the Ultimate Universe in ashes following Secret Wars, it is titles like Spider-Gwen that allows Marvel Comics to exercise its “What If?” muscle, yet Spider-Gwen feels so much more than an imaginary story given her appearance in “Spider-Verse” and subsequent role in the Web Warriors series. Also, if Old Man Logan and Miles Morales can make the transition from their own pocket universes into the Marvel Comics Universe proper, I wonder how long it will be until Spider-Gwen becomes a permanent fixture. Having read this debut graphic novel, it is clear that the character is a major landmark in the Spider-Man chronology, and I suspect she will be around for generations to come. My advice – get in on the ground floor and read up on this fascinating take on the Spider-Woman format. You won't regret it!

Spider-Gwen: Vol. 0 - "Most Wanted?" is available from a range of retailers including: Amazon.co.uk, Forbidden Planet and from Comixology in a digital format.

Score - 9.7 out of 10

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

2000AD Prog 1985

Prog 1985 Cover by Simon Davis

Thanks to its bold use of a plain white background and the perspective between its two characters, this Slaine cover from Simon Davis really stands out and demonstrates why the artist is such a master of storytelling. I really love the design of Slaine’s mother, Macha, and the realism that comes from Davis’ fully painted artwork – she is clearly a fierce warrior-woman, yet maintains an element of beauty and poise about her, which Davis wonderfully contrasts against the adult Slaine’s rough and bloodied body. It’s a simple, but effective piece and just another example of why Simon Davis’ art is the perfect fit for the series.


JUDGE DREDD - THE LION'S DEN (Part 8)
Script - Michael Carroll
Art - PJ Holden
Colours - Adam Brown
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

The Lion’s Den” comes to a conclusion in this episode as the various Brit-Cit plot threads converge to produce a satisfying climax as Dredd is liberated from captivity and sent on a shuttle back to Mega-City One. I’ve really enjoyed this “fish out of water” storyline and it’s been interesting to see the series shift the spotlight off Dredd and onto his supporting cast for an extended period, but it feels great to see the big man back in the driving seat and back in his iconic uniform. While Michael Carroll doesn’t explicitly reveal who was behind Mayhew and McCluskey’s plan to frame Emerald Isle for Dredd’s abduction and murder, it seems increasingly likely that Texas City was involved in the conspiracy as they seem to have gained the most from Dredd’s absence and Hershey’s subsequent loss of confidence. The final page acts as a teaser for the next phase of this story-arc as Hershey acknowledges that with twenty-two thousand Texas City Judges expected on her streets, it isn’t humanitarian aid but a takeover.


PJ Holden has done a tremendous job on this eight-episode run, bringing Brit-Cit to life with cheeky nods to current day politics (“Dave’s Porky Pies”) and a visual style that blends classic British traditions with the futuristic world of the 22nd Century. It’s been a great journey that has evoked memories of classic British crime thrillers such as Get Carter and The Long Good Friday, and I’m looking forward to the story evolving into a traditional Judge Dredd mega-epic with the Texas City take-over. I’m guessing the reveal that Dredd is alive and well will hopefully inspire Hershey and Mega-City One Judges to overthrow the Texas City Judges, but I have no idea how the logistics of that will work. Given the recent emphasis on mutant immigration and the Texas City’s hard-line approach to it, perhaps the Judges will enlist the mutant population in a massive civil war inside Mega-City One. I’m really enjoying the pacing to this adventure as it continues to offer readers a completely new take on the usual Judge Dredd mega-epic.



JUDGE DREDD - DUST TO DUST (Part 3)
Script - Michael Carroll
Art - Henry Flint
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Since Dredd's “death” in Prog 1977, Michael Carroll has been running a secondary plot-arc in the Judge Dredd Megazine that has followed Judge Rico and Cursed Earth Koburn as they hunt down the remainder of the Grindstone Cowboys and their leader, Thorn. Along the way the duo have gotten embroiled with Daniel Crow and his tribe of Cursed Earth natives – a civilisation that Thorn and the Grindstone Cowboys have attempted to destroy. Most of this installment revolves around Henry Flint's gorgeous artwork as he creates an action sequence that feels like “Mad Max meets Dances with Wolves”, if you can imagine such a thing. While most of this story feels slightly formulaic in nature, Carroll introduces a surprising twist to the tale that ties it back into the conspiracy surrounding Texas City and the attempted take-over of Mega-City One. It seems that the Texans deployed Thorn and the Grindstone Cowboys to weaken Mega-City One's food supplies and remove the Cursed Earth natives from play – engineering their plans to prey on Mega-City One's weakness.


I'm very interested in the relationship between Thorn and his psychic controller – a weird blend of human and machine that came from the clone labs of Texas City. It reminds me of the psychic attack that Mega-City One endured way back in “Traumatown” (Progs 1883 – 1887) which was also written by Carroll. While this adventure provided closure to “The Grindstone Cowboys” story-arc which was interrupted by Dredd's “death”, it hasn't been vital reading for 2000AD fans. It's that age-old problem with a crossover storyline, how to make it important enough to warrant reading the supplementary title without making it absolutely necessary in order to understand the story. While this three-part adventure allow readers did offer a connection between the Cowboys and Texas-City, it was largely assumed that Chief Judge Oswin was up to no good, and probably involved in a mass-conspiracy against Mega-City One alongside Brit-Cit and the Cowboys. I guess it's the equivalent of deleted scenes from a Blu-Ray, it's a nice addition and offers greater context, but you can still enjoy the main story without the added materials. That said, I am interested to see whether the next issue of the Judge Dredd Megazine will feature a story tying into the new “Reclamation” story-arc running in the Prog.



BRINK (Part 8)
Script - Dan Abnett
Art - INJ Culbard
Letters - Simon Bowland

After the dramatic developments of the previous episode, this installment of Brink adopts a more measured approach as it focuses on the aftermath of Brinkmann's death. Suspended from the case, Bridget Kurtis seems haunted by her experiences at the Affiliated Ducting and Ventilation Union and confused as to her partner's motives during the unauthorised investigation of the premises. Dan Abnett's script emphasises the procedural element of the series as Kurtis finds herself dealing with the bureaucracy of the HSD. While this is a slower, more introspective episode of the series, INJ Culbard gets plenty of opportunities to showcase his art, with little flourishes like the graffiti morphing into the blood stains from the crime scene. There's definitely a subdued tone to this installment as both Kurtis and the readers come to terms with the shocking death of what appeared to be the lead character – Abnett has done a terrific job here at playing with audience expectations and this series remains one of the most striking and fully-formed new series to debut in 2000AD over the past decade or so, with both Culbard and Abnett delivering some of the best work of their careers. This is a series that really suits the slow, measured pace of a weekly serialised magazine and I'm enjoying the slow reveal of the dark heart at the centre of the Ludmilla Habitat.



BLACK SHUCK - SINS OF THE FATHER (Part 3)
Script - Leah Moore & John Reppion
Art - Steve Yeowell
Colours - Chris Blythe
Letters - Ellie de Ville

In the aftermath of last episode’s cliff-hanger, it certainly seems like the Black Shuck is the one responsible for killing the young boy and decapitating his horse, but I suspect this is misdirection on the part of John Reppion and Leah Moore, and there is actually a second were-creature on the moors of Dunwich. I’m very impressed with the level of historical detail and information that Reppion and Moore infuse into the narrative, weaving their tale in amongst the Anglo-Saxon history of the 9th Century. I’ll be honest, it’s a period of history that I’m largely unfamiliar with apart from occasional films with Vikings in, so it’s quite interesting to learn more about the period – even if it is in a fictitious context. Steve Yeowell continues to make the series his own, bringing with him that same rich historical fantasy atmosphere that his artwork provided his previous series, The Red Seas, with. I also really like his understated take on the Black Shuck’s werewolf form, hitting the right balance of realism and the supernatural in his portrayal of the character.



GREY AREA - LAST CALL
Script - Dan Abnett
Art - Mark Harrison
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

The threat of the God-Star comes to an end with this episode of Grey Area as Kymn's plan to disguise Homeworld with the 'frequency' of a God-Star, using the Harmonious Free, comes to fruition. Most of this episode revolves around the celebratory aftermath of the big climax, much like the closing scenes of Return of the Jedi. This allows Dan Abnett to focus on those character moments with his finely-honed dialogue – providing some closure to the relationship of Bulliet and Birdy in the wake of his unlikely proposal, and developing the character of Resting Bitch Face, completing her journey of self-awareness. However, it isn't a quiet denouement by any means as Abnett throws another spanner in the works with the arrival of three huge space-ships shaped like hands – personally, I think this is a fake-out and it will turn out to be Earth reacting to the distress signal from Homeworld and bringing Bulliet and his team back to their rightful planet – I would be very surprised if Abnett decided to eschew his happy ending for a shock twist.


Mark Harrison's artwork remains an integral part of this strip's success and its space-opera atmosphere. Much like INJ Culbard's work over in Brink, Harrison manages to create a strong tone with his artwork which enhances the nuances of Abnett's script. The full-page spread acts as an effective cliff-hanger, raising the tension up once again after the brief glimmer of victory has finished shining. This has been a great “swansong” for the series, and while I think that there is still plenty of mileage for stories set back on Earth, I'm glad that Abnett and Harrison are ending the series on a high, rather than letting it drift off into obscurity without a proper conclusion. Clearly, the Abnett droid has plenty of worlds occupying his imagination with all of the series' he is working on at the moment, so it's understandable that he'll want to clear the plate somewhat where he can, but hopefully – providing our heroes make it out of this – he will return to Grey Area in the future one day as it has been a great ongoing series.



SLAINE - THE BRUTANIA CHRONICLES: PSYCHOPOMP (Part 7)
Script - Pat Mills
Art - Simon Davis
Letters - Ellie de Ville

Pat Mills weaves together a multitude of plot threads in this busy installment of Slaine, which opens up with the continuation of Slaine’s flashback to bow-training with his mother before saying goodbye to Gort for the time-being. I really enjoyed Simon Davis’ take on that flashback scene and while Mills’ preoccupation with Slaine’s upbringing seems to have slowed the action down in the present day, it has definitely fleshed the character out more. Mills has definitely shown a nostalgic yearning for the early days of his series, with this focus on Slaine’s origins mirroring a similar introspective take on The ABC Warriors earlier this year. It’s great to see Mills revisiting the core elements of the strip with fresh eyes and experience as a writer, but it does end up causing an uneven pace at times. That said, I would love to see Mills write a ‘Young Slaine’ series that took place entirely during the character’s childhood and focused on the inexperienced warrior seen in this Prog.


Artwise, Simon Davis delivers some absolutely stunning work here as he depicts three distinctly different narratives in this episodes, effortlessly moving from the sepia toned flashback of Slaine’s past, to the luscious green fields of the open land and finally concluding on the grimy dungeons of the Drune Lord’s inner sanctum. I love his interpretation of Slaine’s mother, balancing her gentle beauty with her skills as a fierce warrior and archer – she reminds of someone, but I cannot place it. It’s like a cross between Billie Piper and maybe Minnie Driver. I’m sure someone out there will be able to tell me who the character model behind this character is. On a similar note, the monster who gets an arrow to the head looks like Peter Kay’s turn as a Doctor Who rubber-faced monster from the episode “Love and Monsters”.



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

It's been yet another strong showing for 2000AD this week as “The Lion's Den” comes to an end this Prog. It's been a roller-coaster of a ride these past eight weeks as Michael Carroll and PJ Holden have done a spectacular job at developing the story behind Dredd's shock “death” back in Prog 1977. It feels great to have Dredd out of his sick-bed and back into the fray, and I look forward to where Carroll and Colin MacNeil plan to take the character in the second half of this mega-epic, “Reclamation”. Elsewhere in the Prog, I really enjoyed Dan Abnett's work on both Brink and Grey Area – two deep space epics with completely different tones, thanks to their immensely talented artists. Both Black Shuck and Slaine remain an entertaining read and worthy addition to the Prog, even if they fail to enthrall me totally. The beautiful thing about 2000AD is that not every story in the roster will necessarily appeal to all readers all of the time, and it's this rich diversity that has ensured the magazine's success over the past thirty-nine years.

Thrill of the Week: Judge Dredd


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1985 will be available in stores on Wednesday 15th June - 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 10th Doctor (Vol. 2) # 11

Doctor Who: The 10th Doctor (Vol. 2) # 11
"The Jazz Monster"
Written by: Nick Abadzis
Art by: Giorgia Sposito
Colours by: Arianna Florean

Developing an idea from this volume’s opening story-arc “The Singer Not The Song”, Nick Abadzis revisits the concept of living sound as he takes the Doctor, Gabby and Cindy to New Orleans during the Jazz Age for a relaxing holiday. Still pre-occupied with the revelations that Ancient Gallifreyans sacrificed their children to the untampered schism and time vortex, the Doctor buries himself in the TARDIS allowing Gabby and Cindy to acclimatise to 1920's New Orleans, with Cindy even finding love with a local Jazz singer. I really like how Nick Abadzis continues to touch upon recurring themes in his work – there’s been a heavy prevalence of psychic and otherworldly spirits in his work on this series and with this issue, the theme continues. He also touches upon his ongoing sub-plot revolving around Gabby’s journey of self-discovery and the psychic manifestations she is able to produce in the wake of her time with the artistic alien Zhe in “The Arts in Space” and being under Mr. Ebonite’s spell in “Arena of Fear”. Clearly, this is building up to some conclusion and it’s great to see Gabby getting developed more and more, especially since she has been overshadowed by Cindy in this volume of adventures. Talking of Cindy, I wonder if this might be her swan-song and whether the character will chose to remain in the 1920's with her new boyfriend? Either way, I'm sure that the concluding half of this adventure will tug at the heart-strings.


This issue also sees the introduction of another guest-artist to the Tenth Doctor series as Giorgia Sposito joins the team, and remarkably enough her artwork bears a strong resemblance to the other recurring artists on the title, Elena Casagrande and Eleonora Carlini. I love that Titan Comics has found a group of artists with a similar style to produce such consistency across the series – Sposito has a great style that instantly fits in nicely to the established tone of the Tenth Doctor series. I was blown away by how similar her takes on the Doctor, Gabby and Cindy were and how effortlessly she was able to communicate that historical setting of the New Orleans Jazz Age onto the page. It’s certainly an impressive debut onto the Tenth Doctor title, and I hope we see more of her artwork in the future in tandem with Casagrande and Carlini. Overall, this was a strong chapter in the Tenth Doctor comic series as Abadzis continues to build his very distinctive tone for the Tenth Doctor adventures, balancing many narrative plates at once as he brings multiple storylines together at once. This is great fun, and another shining example of amazing storytelling between writer and artist. I am really looking forward to the eventual confrontation between Anubis and the Doctor which will close out this volume, and seeing where Year Three will take us next.


Score - 9.4 out of 10

Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor (Vol. 2) # 11 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!

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

2000AD Prog 1984

Prog 1984 Cover by Matt Ferguson

2000AD has been working with Vice Press to produce some absolutely stunning prints and for this iconic Prog number of 1984, Tharg has commissioned Matt Ferguson to create an Orwellian Judge Dredd cover to reflect the totalitarian themes from the legendary book. I absolutely love the use of a grey colour palette, enhanced by the key inclusion of red – it’s a really effective technique and one that has also really worked well on the Judge Dredd Mega Collection hardback graphic novels. Ferguson’s artwork does a fantastic job at conveying those key themes from George Orwell’s 1984 and makes Mega City One look like a grim and dour place to live, with the seemingly omnipresent Justice Department always watching you. Judge Dredd works best as an analogue to our own culture and over time, perhaps, it has moved away from its totalitarian roots to focus on themes such as immigration (mutants) and terrorism (Day of Chaos), so it is great to see 2000AD acknowledging the paranoia and fear that the Justice Department evoke with such a stunning piece of art.


JUDGE DREDD - THE LION'S DEN (Part 7)
Script - Michael Carroll
Art - PJ Holden
Colours - Adam Brown
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

The plot moves swiftly on in this latest installment of “The Lion's Den” as it seems that Judge Joyce and Armitage are edging closer to discovering Judge Dredd's true fate – which is rather lucky, considering that Dredd has awoken from his coma with revenge on his mind. With this episode, Michael Carroll lays out some of the rationale behind the current conspiracy against Mega-City One, explaining that high-ranking Brit-Cit judges intended to use Joyce and Dredd's trial to dig up dirt on Mega-City One and further subjugate the Emerald Isle. It seems that the Brit-Cit Judges teleported Dredd before his death with the aim of using his body to frame Emerald Isle sympathisers and further fracture relations between the two cities. In some ways it reminds me of the old James Bond cliché of the villain revealing his plan, only to allow Bond time to escape his trap. Despite this slightly dodgy leap in logic, it's great to see the curtains being pulled back and the details of the Brit-Cit conspiracy laid bare.


PJ Holden remains as impressive as ever, despite the majority of this episode consisting of talking heads between Armitage and Joyce, then Mayhew and Corden. It's only when reviewing this episode that I noticed how much Holden's style reminds me of Warren Pleece's work, especially the sequences in Armitage's flat. In between both slices of exposition lies another glimpse into the Texas City takeover of Mega-City One as Carroll shows us their zero tolerance approach to mutants in the Big Meg. It's interesting to see the Texas City Judges portrayed as borderline racist, trigger-happy goons, contrasting against Mega-City One's own brand of justice. It makes me realise how much more liberal Mega-City One has become since it begun to allow mutants to enter the city. In a Prog which has an Orwellian image of Dredd on its cover, it's quite odd to see Mega-City One portrayed as the more lenient city. It certainly seems that the Brit-Cit story-line is merely one part of this mega-epic as Joyce and Dredd have a completely different Mega-City One to return to. That final panel of Dredd grabbing one of his captives promises an action-packed episode next Prog, and I can't wait to see the plot kick into overdrive now that Dredd has returned to the fray.



BRINK (Part 7)
Script - Dan Abnett
Art - INJ Culbard
Letters - Simon Bowland

Wow, things took a shocking turn in this amazing episode of Brink! Firstly, it seems as if something truly supernatural is behind the sect activity with the bizarre eye-ball vision that Brink suffered from as he came up against the graffiti of the Leper Heart on the wall. Given the physical reaction that people have when they speak the name “Melancholema”, it certainly seems that words and images can have an unusual effect on the human mind and body. It's a very interesting development in what initially appeared to be a police procedural set in the future. This future mysticism is quite unlike anything I've seen before in science-fiction and I like the way it blends into the dystopian space colony that Dan Abnett and INJ Culbard have designed between them. I thought this series was something special beforehand, but this episode has catapulted Brink into the stratosphere.


The second “WTF moment” has to be the shocking and brutal attack on Brink in the final panels of the episode. Culbard's pacing of this attack was absolutely pitch-perfect and the slow reveal before the attack just made it all the more unsettling and out-of-the-blue. This might be one of the most shocking panel sequences in 2000AD history – especially if Brink is dead as a result of this attack. In a series named Brink, you don't expect the lead character of the same name to meet a grisly fate midway through the series, but if he has been killed off then Abnett has pulled off a masterclass in misdirection here. Kudos also goes to Culbard's fantastic artwork which conveyed the horror of the event perfectly – it was the kind of 'punch to the gut' twist that you tend to see on gritty police dramas like Luther, but not in the pages of 2000AD. While there's still the chance that Brink may survive his injuries, the shock impact of that series of panels will stick with me for the remainder of this series and beyond. I am eager to see where this series goes next, not only to find out Brink's fate but to find out more about the trippy shit going on in the Ludmilla Habitat. This is top-notch storytelling that stays with you long after you finish reading the Prog.



BLACK SHUCK - SINS OF THE FATHER (Part 2)
Script - Leah Moore & John Reppion
Art - Steve Yeowell
Colours - Chris Blythe
Letters - Ellie de Ville

There is a change in locale with this episode of Black Shuck as the titular character brings his pregnant wife to Dunwich in an effort to remove the curse that threatens to kill her during childbirth. As mentioned in last Prog’s Nerve Centre, it appears this story is set to focus more heavily on the black dog myths present in East Anglia, moving away from the Viking legends of the Jotnar that formed the bulk of the initial series’ storyline. It seems unclear at the end of this adventure whether the red-eyed wolf creature that attacks the young horse-rider is our hero in his Black Shuck form, or another creature that may take on the role of an antagonist for this story. The change in setting is a welcome one and the series writers, Leah Moore and John Reppion, do a fantastic job at building up a tangible atmosphere for the series. Equal praise must also go to Steve Yeowell, whose fantastically minimalistic artwork simply radiates Middle Ages intrigue. The immediate plot thread of Black Shuck’s wife and the risks associated with her childbirth is a compelling direction for the series, providing the readers with an emotional hook to engage with the story and its characters – something that felt missing from the series’ debut story-arc. 



GREY AREA - UNTIL DEATH
Script - Dan Abnett
Art - Mark Harrison
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

In the wake of the levity provided by Bulliet and Birdy's impromptu wedding, this episode of Grey Area ramps up the tension as the God-Star renews its attack upon the Homeworld with the aim to destroy the planet. Dan Abnett offers readers one glimmer of hope as Kymn addresses the Harmonious Free with a plan – to send a concentrated psionic message in the God-Star's language to fool it into thinking that the planet is one of its own kind. While the cliff-hanger ending leaves it in doubt as to whether their last-ditch plan worked, I suspect that it has and we will see a happy ending for this cast of zany characters after all. I've really enjoying Abnett's script on this story-line and these final episodes have certainly been some of the writer's best work on the series. Abnett has a definite knack for creating likeable characters and his dialogue flows well with a natural rhythm.


Mark Harrison does a tremendous job switching up the tone from the goofy unconventional wedding to a frenzied final battle to the end, realised in the reds and orange of a world on fire. While his backgrounds aren't always the clearest visuals, Harrison's work effortlessly conveys the immense scale of a deep space battle. After seeing the recent trailer for the Independence Day sequel, I found myself struck by the similarities between that film and this current plot-line as both stories revolve around a massively overpowered alien threat attempting to destroy the 'primitives' on the planet below. Harrison definitely evokes that feeling in his gorgeous artwork, and it definitely feels like the end of an era as this series heads towards its finale. While I'm sad to see Grey Area come to its conclusion, I'm optimistic that Abnett will give its characters a happy and satisfying ending.



SLAINE - THE BRUTANIA CHRONICLES: PSYCHOPOMP (Part 6)
Script - Pat Mills
Art - Simon Davis
Letters - Ellie de Ville

Out of danger, Slaine and Gort take the time to discuss their pasts which leads to a flashback to Slaine’s childhood with his mother, Macha. Normally, I would be frustrated that the pace of this story had slowed down once again, but I don’t believe we’ve ever really seen Slaine’s mother in the series and this sequence showcases just how much of an impression the woman made on our hero as she introduces two of his catchphrases, “I didn’t think it too many” and “I am eminently severe in the work of violence”. Simon Davis does a tremendous job at bringing the flashback to life with sepia tones to frame the sequence in the past – I also really liked his representation of Macha as a beautiful warrior woman, evoking memories of Keira Knightley’s turn as Guinevere in the flop-tastic King Arthur. The question surrounding Slaine’s parentage is addressed in this flashback too, and I am curious as to where Pat Mills intends to go with this information. As a recurring theme throughout The Brutania Chronicles, I expect that this will pay off in the end somehow. Despite the slow pace, I found myself enjoying this installment of Slaine more than previous chapters, especially with this increased focus on Slaine’s mother and his childhood. 



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

Starting off with a brilliant 1984-themed cover, this Prog delivered the goods from beginning to end with a plenty of twists and turns to be found within its pages. Unsurprisingly, Brink earned the top spot as this Prog's “Thrill of the week” with his heart-stopping conclusion and the myriad of mysteries raised by its supernatural inklings. Not willing to be outdone, both Grey Area and Judge Dredd delivered some fantastic cliff-hanger endings that promise dramatic changes to the status-quo of both strips. While Slaine and Black Shuck have struggled to hit the right chord with me since they both begun, the episodes in this Prog showed definite promise and improvement on past adventures. Overall it was a really strong 'mid-season' Prog and yet another example of the bold, uncompromising storytelling that 2000AD has become synonymous with over the past thirty-nine years.

Thrill of the Week: Brink


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1984 will be available in stores on Wednesday 8th June - Digital copies of this Prog will be available on the same day through the standalone 2000AD app, which can be downloaded onto iOS and Android devices.

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