Saturday, 31 December 2016

Top Ten 2000AD Covers in 2016

It's that time of the year again when we at Pop Culture Bandit take a look back at the past twelve months of 2000AD covers and pick our Top Ten 2000AD Covers published during 2016. Obviously, this is entirely subjective to us, so if you want to include your own list, please use the comment box below. For reference, the first Prog of the year was Prog 1962 and the various covers can be found at Barney, the unofficial 2000AD database.

For those curious to see our previous Top Ten lists, you can check out the 2013 post here, the 2014 post here and the 2015 post here.


10) 2000AD Prog 2005 by Clint Langley

Clint Langley produced three Flesh covers throughout his run in the tail-end of 2016, and this piece captures the stark brutality of the series perfectly. With father and daughter forced into conflict, Langley’s black and white imagery emphasises the series’ Spaghetti Western influences with its depiction of a pistol duel. Better known for his full-colour work on series such as Slaine and ABC Warriors, this cover is a perfect example of Langley’s skill with a reduced colour palette and his ability to create strong, iconic covers.


9) 2000AD Prog 1979 by Simon Davis

As Vice-President of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters, it comes as no surprise that this bloodied portrait of Slaine from Simon Davis would feature on the Top Ten Covers list. Not only does Davis infuse the piece with stunning realism (basing Slaine on his own visage) but he also makes use of a wonderful blue and red colour scheme to make the piece stand out. I love the attention to detail here, especially Slaine’s bruised eye and his bloodied beard – yet behind the injuries, the Barbarian’s fierce determination and spirit shines through, making this a wonderful insight into the character.


8) 2000AD Prog 2008 by Rob Davis

Brightly coloured with its yellow backdrop and heavy use of pinks, this Counterfeit Girl cover from Rob Davis captures the spirit of the strip with ease. There’s definitely an anime influence to the piece, which is also evident from the interior artwork provided by Rufus Dayglo – in fact, Davis strives to distinguish his art style from Dayglo, offering a more restrained take on Counterfeit Girl that suits the cover art format. This cover was a welcome contrast to the darker, more brooding pieces that often grace the cover of 2000AD, reinvigorating the Prog ahead of the year’s end.


7) 2000AD Prog 2002 by Jim Murray

I have fond memories of Jim Murray’s work in the late-nineties, particularly on the Batman / Judge Dredd crossover “Die Laughing”, so it is great to see him returning to 2000AD with this brilliant Judge Dredd cover. I love the design that Murray implements here with Dredd in the foreground and the ‘bookmark-style’ strip along the side showcasing the other Judges in his squad in a firefight. The light-blue background suits the cover perfectly, allowing Murray to distinguish between the action in the background and the series' star in the foreground. It’s a great painted cover and I hope there is more to come from Murray in 2017.


6) 2000AD Prog 1989 by INJ Culbard

Brink was definitely one of my highlights of 2016 as Dan Abnett and INJ Culbard introduced readers to a dystopian Soylent Green-esque future in deep space. Filled with twists and turns, each installment was gripping and rich with delicious dialogue and wonderful world-building from two masters of the form. As with his work on Brass Sun, Culbard made use of a POV-style cover to convey the claustrophobic atmosphere as Kurtis falls down a disused elevator shaft after a tense battle with the cultists. I love the immersive nature of this cover, making the reader complicit in Kurtis’ fate. There’s also a brilliant artistic flourish from Culbard as he includes the light glare from Kurtis’ gun as it falls down behind her, adding a real sense of movement to the piece.


5) 2000AD Prog 1973 by Mark Sexton

2000AD has proven itself committed to nurturing new talent, as evidenced from its ThoughtBubble Portfolio competition and its open submission policy for Future Shocks. This year has seen some new artists and script-writers enter the fold, and Mark Sexton has certainly made an impact with his first Judge Dredd story (“Ghosts”) and cover debut. Sexton’s work oozes realism with such impressive level of detail in the architecture and citizens of Mega City-One. His work is very reminiscent of Brian Bolland and Chris Weston, borrowing elements from both artists to create his own distinctive style that suits the world of Judge Dredd perfectly. Hopefully, this will be another rising star in 2000AD’s stable of artists.


4) 2000AD Prog 1997 by Cliff Robinson & Dylan Teague

It wouldn’t be a Top 2000AD Covers article without at least one entry from Cliff Robinson in the list. Easily one of my favourite 2000AD artists, Robinson’s covers have an enormous sense of anarchic fun that dovetails nicely with the magazine’s personality. In a similar vein to his iconic cover for Prog 1854, Robinson references 2000AD itself within the world of Judge Dredd, using the comic to symbolise a sense of rebellion – this time within the Academy of Law. Packed with detail and a wry sense of humour, this is a brilliant example of how to create a 2000AD cover piece that isn’t tied into the events of the Prog at all. It is no wonder that Robinson is one of the magazine’s most prolific cover artists, clocking up almost a hundred covers since Prog 414.


3) 2000AD Prog 1984 by Matt Ferguson

Another first-timer hits the list as 2000AD continues to experiment with new artists. This time, we have Matt Ferguson, a graphic designer and artist who produces film posters and prints through his company, Vice Press. His work highlights the architecture of Mega-City One beautifully, often relegating Dredd to a bit part to showcase the grandeur of the future city. I love the editorial decision to create an Orwell-themed piece of artwork to celebrate reaching Prog 1984, referencing the author’s seminal work. As much of Judge Dredd’s totalitarian themes stem from Orwell’s work, it is a very appropriate homage and Ferguson’s use of greys mixed with a dash of red really helps establish the dystopian future in which the Judges operate. It’s a very impressive piece of art and is also available to purchase from the artist’s website as a print.


2) 2000AD Prog 1986 by Tom Foster

Another art-droid who made their cover debut in 2016 was ThoughtBubble 2013 winner, Tom Foster, who produced this absolutely gorgeous Judge Dredd cover. Despite focusing on the character’s back, this cover captures the lawman’s stern personality perfectly and I love the added touch of the spray-painted Judge’s badge on the emerald green background. Foster has quickly proven himself to be a strong artist, producing some wonderfully detailed and realistic pieces such as his work on “Storm Warning” over in Judge Dredd Megazine. Evocative of Brian Bolland, his work feel quintessentially Judge Dredd in style and I’m sure he will continue to go from strength to strength throughout 2017 – hopefully with a return to interior work in the Prog.


1) 2000AD Prog 1971 by Tiernen Trevallion

Taking the top spot for me was this surprising entry from Tiernen Trevallion, which feels completely different from his work on Absalom and perfectly encapsulates the fantasy tone of The Order, rivalling John Burns’ impeccable work on the interiors. I adore the use of colours in this piece as Trevallion accentuates the gaslight propelling the hot air balloon into the sky – it really helps emphasise the time period. Of course, the giant Wyrm lurching towards our heroes is the standout element of the cover, rife with details and looking much scarier than the graboids from the Tremors series. It’s an absolutely brilliant cover, and a rare example of a guest artist stealing the limelight from the interior artist.



So, what do you think? Do you disagree with my Top Ten? Is there a cover that you think was spectacular and should be included in the list, or do you think one of my favourites is way below par? Feel free to post your thoughts below or on my Facebook and Twitter pages

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Review - Torchwood # 4

Torchwood # 4
"World Without End" - Part 4 (of 4)
Written by: John Barrowman & Carole Barrowman
Art by: Antonio Fuso & Pasquale Qualano
Colours by: Marco Lusko

With the final issue of its first volume, the Torchwood comic finally aligns its seemingly disparate plot threads into something of a linear fashion. As a result, the narrative feels a lot smoother and concentrated on a singular storyline as opposed to the scattered approach seen in previous issues. In fact, re-reading the four issues of this volume in one go heavily reduces the staccato feel to the plot, and almost makes the awkward pacing bearable – clearly John and Carole Barrowman are writing for the trade paperback, which makes the individual issues frustrating at times. Despite its confusing narrative style, there is a really interesting story at the heart of this comic which makes it worthwhile preserving with the pacing. While some aspects of the plot are made clearer in this final installment of the volume – there are plenty of mysteries that are carried over such as what is going on with Rona the stowaway. While this issue shows definite improvements, it still doesn't feel like the Torchwood that fans may remember. That said, I am happy to see the Torchwood narrative move forward as many spin-off stories seem to revolve around the original team line-up from Seasons One and Two. There just needs to be more work on developing the new supporting cast-members into likeable characters.


The art continues to be handled by Antonio Fuso and Pasquale Qualano, who manage to maintain a level of consistency between their differing art styles. At times it is noticeable when the two artists pass the baton to each other, but it isn't too disorientating – although, I do wonder why the series requires two artists on each issue. Fuso and Qualano do a great job at communicating that 'black-ops' tone that Torchwood fans will remember from the series, with an added nautical element that the Ice Maiden provides. There is definitely a darker feel to the art on this series compared to the various Doctor Who comic series, mirroring the more mature tone that Torchwood had in its televised form. I must admit that I'm not overly keen on restarting the series after four issues to signify a new story-arc, especially since the next story-arc seems to be a direct continuation to this one. With the Doctor Who comic series it makes sense as each 'year' is treated like a season of the television show, but here it doesn't make sense. Given the improvements to this series since its first issue, I am hopeful that when Torchwood returns with its “Station Zero” storyline that it will be adopting a more streamlined narrative that befits the monthly comic-book format. Despite all the problems, I am enjoying this series and am curious to find out more about the mysteries teased.


Score - 8.0 out of 10

Torchwood # 4 is now available in all good comic shops, including Forbidden Planet, as well as on the Comixology website. Be sure to put in a standing order for the upcoming issues in the series when you pick up your copy!

Review - Doctor Who: The 11th Doctor (Vol. 2) # 15

Doctor Who: The 11th Doctor (Vol. 2) # 15
"Physician, Heal Thyself"
Written by: Si Spurrier & Rob Williams
Art by: Simon Fraser
Colours by: Gary Caldwell

There's a huge amount of satisfaction to this issue as writers Si Spurrier and Rob Williams wrap up their sprawling fifteen-issue epic with a healthy dose of timey-wimey goodness and some brilliant narrative gymnastics. There's no denying that this has been a densely plotted and sometimes confusing journey for both the Doctor and the reader to follow, but Spurrier and Williams do their best to pull back the curtain and explain the inner-workings of this time-loop of an adventure. There are some grey areas that I was unsure of, and I think the whole fifteen-issue saga would definitely benefit from a re-read with the added foresight of knowing the ending in advance. While this novel-style approach to the storytelling has resulted in a fantastically well-plotted adventure rife with lots of intricate details and wonderful narrative loops, it has also been very tough to keep up with at times, especially in monthly installments. I've really enjoyed this long-form approach to telling a Doctor Who comic story, and it reminds me of how Season Six revolved around River Song's back-story with most of the episode's tying into her origins and the apparent death of the Doctor at Lake Silencio. This was one of the most intellectually-demanding and time-bending Doctor Who stories I've ever encountered and I applaud both Mr. Spurrier and Mr. Williams for pulling it off with such self-assured confidence.


To say that I'm a fan of Simon Fraser's artwork would be an understatement, I love the raw emotion that he infuses into his panel and I've followed his work since the early days of Nikolai Dante in 2000AD. Echoes of his work on that strip can be seen in his panels for this issue, particularly the blood-red rage of Abslom Daak as he unleashes his pent-up anger on the Squire. Fraser's work on the Abslom Daak sequences of this issue were absolutely brilliant and a worthy tribute to the character's co-creator, Steve Dillon, who passed away in October. I'm very glad that Daak got his happy ending – and only he would see banishment to a time-locked Time War infested with Daleks as a happy ending! Fraser's artwork was such a natural pairing for Abslom Daak that I would love to see him working on an Abslom Daak mini-series set during the Time War - come on, Titan Comics, you can make this happen!

Overall, this was a solid conclusion to a year's worth of spectacular stories, tying up the loose ends in true Doctor Who hyper-exposition fashion. Spurrier and Williams should definitely take a bow after fifteen issues of the most well-choreographed scripting that I've ever seen in a comic. It is truly a talent to keep track of all those loose plot threads over fifteen issues whilst ensuring that the story remains engaging, coherent and above all else, fun. I'm looking forward to seeing what Year Three brings the Eleventh Doctor under this extremely capable creative team.


Score - 9.6 out of 10

Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor (Vol. 2) # 15 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) # 17

Doctor Who: The 10th Doctor (Vol. 2) # 17
"Old Girl: War of Gods" - Part 5 (of 5)
Written by: Nick Abadzis
Art by: Giorgia Sposito
Colours by: Hi-Fi

After an additional two issues added to the Tenth Doctor's second year of comic-book adventures, we finally reach the 'season finale' which addresses many of the plot threads that have been prevalent in the series since the Year One finale. With Sutekh increasing in power now that he has escaped from the void, the Doctor and his companions find themselves on the back foot as they attempt to discover a way to banish him back to the netherworld. Despite the high stakes involved in this storyline, Nick Abadzis continues to focus on his characters and the impact that events have on their relationship. There's a noble sacrifice at the end of this chapter that serves to remind the Doctor how his actions often leads others to their deaths, and while the character in question was a fun addition to the cast – her absence has little impact on the series, and in some ways, it was almost expected. It was also enjoyable to see Abadzis focus on the relationship between Gabby and Cindy, and how travelling with the Doctor has changed them both in dramatic ways. This is one of my favourite aspects of Abadzis' scripts and I hope Year Three will continue to develop these characters in unexpected ways.


Giorgia Sposito continues to provide some top-notch artwork for this final issue of the volume, making use of huge double-page spreads to emphasise the importance of these epic set-pieces. Sposito has done a fantastic job at carrying this series throughout the past year or so, working alongside a bevy of other artists to establish a strong sense of continuity in the artwork. There's a light-hearted mood to her artwork that suits the Tenth Doctor's era perfectly, and I love how she manages to capture that sense of wonder in all of the alien locales that she brings to life on the page. Overall, this has been a strong year of adventures for the Tenth Doctor and one that has seen series writer Nick Abadzis adopt a more serialised approach to the story-telling with the Osirian subplot bubbling away in the background throughout the majority of the issues. Personally, I was hoping that this season finale would spell the end of the Anubis / Sutekh storyline, but the blurb for Year Three seems to suggest that the memory-wiped “Noobis” will be joining the Doctor on his travels. While I welcome the addition of a different type of companion to the TARDIS, I do hope Abadzis is able to keep the same balance of shorter one-off adventures and more 'mythology'-based storylines that he maintained throughout this year.


Score - 8.9 out of 10

Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor (Vol. 2) # 17 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 # 8

Doctor Who: The 9th Doctor # 8
"Official Secrets" - Part 3 (of 3)
Written by: Cavan Scott
Art by: Adriana Melo
Colours by: Marco Lesko

This issue sees the conclusion to the Ninth Doctor’s sojourn to the seventies (or eighties) for a bit of old-school UNIT action, and Cavan Scott does a brilliant job at tying up the loose ends over the past few storylines whilst setting up potential avenues to explore regarding Jack Harkness’ missing memories. Scott’s script is a delicious blend of classic and modern Doctor Who, meshing the gung-ho espionage elements of the Third Doctor’s era with the more modern sensibilities of the 2005 relaunch. Shadowy organisations such as Albion were commonplace during this period of the show, and I was half-expecting The Master to be involved somewhere down the line underneath a rubber mask. As someone who has a great deal of fondness for the UNIT-era of the series, it’s great to see Scott revisit iconic characters such as the Brigadier, Benton and Harry Sullivan and maintain a strong degree of authenticity in their voices. The scene where the Brigadier notes how the Doctor has changed and become more militaristic in his behaviour is a nicely realised character moment, referencing the Time War and how much it has affected the Doctor. While she is only briefly featured in this storyline, UNIT nurse Tara Mishra seems like a fascinating character and I’m very happy to see that she’ll be joining the TARDIS team in the future – I love the idea of characters from different time-zones travelling as companions and can’t wait to see the interactions between her, Rose and Jack.


Adriana Melo returns to art duties for this issue, and reminds me why I have fallen in love with her artwork. She has a great artistic style, which is made even better by Marco Lesko’s superb colouring. In an issue that features plenty of real-life likenesses from actors and actresses from the TV show, Melo manages to convey the essence of each character perfectly without needing to produce carbon-copies of the actor on the page. I also love the way she includes Manga-esque emotions in some of her panels, removing some of the finer details to showcase a more simplistic grin. It’s a wonderfully effective technique and one that further endears her work to me. Clearly, Melo is having a great time drawing these issues as there’s a lovely sense of joy to her artwork that radiates off the page. That sense of fun is also present in Scott’s writing as he continues to put the Ninth Doctor in strange and unusual circumstances, making the most of the unlimited possibilities that comes from writing for comics. There’s a chaotic energy to the Ninth Doctor series that is so infectious and really sets this series apart from the others produced by Titan Comics. Readers who may be put off by tales from past Doctors should really give the series a chance as Cavan Scott is creating some of the most imaginative and exciting Doctor Who stories in recent memory. Overall, this issue was a great conclusion to a solid story-arc, filled with plenty of promise that more fantastic adventures will follow soon.


Score - 9.7 out of 10

Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor # 8 is now available in all good comic shops, including Forbidden Planet, as well as on the Comixology website.

Friday, 16 December 2016

Review - Agents of SHIELD: "Slingshot"

Agents of SHIELD - "Slingshot"

Synopsis

With Daisy back on the team, Yo-Yo asks for her help in covering up a secret mission that the pair of them undertook during the early days of Director Mace’s tenure.

Review

During Season Three, Agents of SHIELD flirted with the concept of digital-only content with two web-series, “Double Agent” and “Academy” that focused on a fictionalised account of events occurring behind-the-scenes. This year, however, ABC has decided to produce the series’ first in-continuity web-series focusing on the Inhuman Elena Rodriguez that also bridges the gap between Season Three and Four as Director Mace takes over from Coulson. Despite firming focusing on Elena’s character, I was pleasantly surprised to see each of the main cast show up for a cameo appearance as the series progressed – although it did feel like a conveyor belt of character appearances throughout the first four episodes. Once the action started in the final two episodes, it actually began to feel like a proper episode of Agents of SHIELD with some special effects and choreographed fight sequences included.


While it was fun to see loose plot threads from Elena’s origin in “Bouncing Back” addressed and tied up, the mini-series offered little in the way of plot development and it would have been more interesting if it had debuted ahead of Season Four, giving viewers their first glimpse at the new SHIELD status-quo. I was impressed by the number of Easter Eggs crammed into the six episodes, including a Stan Lee cameo (of sorts), and the way that the writers brought back the Peruvian 0-8-4 from the second episode and also delved back into Elena’s origin by having her get vengeance for her cousin’s murder – subtly, kick-starting the theme of vengeance ahead of the Ghost Rider’s appearance. Compared to the digital content for other series, “Slingshot” managed to maintain the feel of the series by making use of key set locations and almost all of the main cast. While the narrative did suffer from the bitty nature of the webisode format, it felt like an authentic mini-episode from the series and I’d imagine it will be included on the Season Four box-set as a DVD extra.

Overall, “Slingshot” is a nice addition to the Agents of SHIELD mythos, but maybe next time ABC should use the format to tease upcoming storylines instead of revisiting untold stories.


Score - 8.5 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • When moving out of his office, Coulson brings his “lucky charm” - the axe that Mack used to sever his hand when it begun to turn to stone during the Season Two finale.
  • To remain part of SHIELD, Elena has signed the Sokovia Accords which were put in place in the wake of Ultron's attack on the country in Avengers: Age of Ultron, prompting the schism amongst the Avengers that played out in Captain America: Civil War.
  • A picture of Stan Lee is seen in Coulson's box of belongings.
  • Coulson hands Elena a medallion from the formation of SHIELD that once belonged to Peggy Carter.
  • Super-humans who break the Sokovia Accords are sent Secretary Ross and the Raft as seen in Captain America: Civil War.
  • Elena is hunting down Victor Ramon, the corrupt police officer who killed her cousin in the episode “Bouncing Back”.
  • Ramon is in possession of the Peruvian 0-8-4 introduced way back in the series' second-ever episode “0-8-4”.


The entire "Slingshot" mini-series can be watched on YouTube for free. The first episode is located below:

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

2000AD Prog 2011 [Annual]

Prog 2011 Cover by Cliff Robinson

Heralding the festive season in 2000AD’s typically subversive style is this wonderful cover from Cliff Robinson which showcases the perils of crossing over restricted Mega-City One airspace in a sleigh. Robinson’s attention to detail is amazing, such as Rudolf’s panic-stricken face as he and the other reindeer make their unscheduled descent towards the ground. The visual of Santa’s beard and hat bobble being singed by the flames of justice is an equally fantastic visual flourish and helps encapsulate 2000AD’s anti-establishment tone. Sure, it’s Christmas but it isn’t all jingle bells, mistletoe and wine. Sometimes it is laser cannons, jack-booted Judges and strict anti-aircraft laws. Wonderfully wicked in every way, this cover is the ideal piece for a 2000AD Christmas Annual.


JUDGE DREDD - BOXING DAY
Script - Rob Williams
Art - Chris Weston
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

After last year’s hilarious subversion of Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman, Rob Williams returns for another anti-festive tale that showcases his finely-honed sense of humour. There’s a delicious irony to the fact that it is better for the economy to pay each citizen to behave themselves than to have crime figures remain at the same level. Williams handles Dredd’s reticence to reward the citizens for good behaviour well, and I love the way he gets curmudgeonly when it appears that the scheme has worked – only to get his own Christmas miracle at the end when it all goes tits up and crime returns to Mega City One. As with his Sensitive Klegg stories, Williams captures Dredd’s frustration with the bureaucracy and ridiculousness of Mega City One life perfectly, and its great fun to see him put in these awkward situations.


Chris Weston’s artwork is absolutely divine and its brilliant to see him paired up with Rob Williams again after their Sensitive Klegg adventure last year. Despite the realism inherent to Weston’s work, his style actually suits the comedic tone of this storyline with some glorious close-ups on Dredd’s scowling face. Looking at Weston’s work on the page is like a Christmas gift in itself, and I would love to see him work on the series on a more regular basis as he is able to bring Mega City One to life in such a unique manner. This was a great Christmas-themed episode that tied into the economic depression suffered in the wake of Chaos Day and the Titan inmates’ invasion, but took the story off into more frivolous territory. It certainly helps that Williams’ sense of humour fits the satirical tone of Judge Dredd’s world. Time and time again, Williams has proven himself an adept script-droid, able to tell these ‘done-in-one’ humour stories and bigger, sprawling blockbusters like the “Enceladus” saga.



KINGMAKER (Part 1)
Script - Ian Edginton
Art - Leigh Gallagher
Letters - Ellie de Ville

With its Tolkien-esque map framing the sky in the opening panel, it’s abundantly clear what Kingmaker’s influences are. The initial pages recount an adventure not that dissimilar from Tolkien’s masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings, but Ian Edginton uses this thinly-veiled homage to throw a spanner in the works and introduce an extra-terrestrial element to proceedings. It’s an extremely high concept idea – Lord of the Rings meets Star Wars – blending two of pop culture’s greatest franchises into one brilliant hybrid. Edginton succinctly moves from the legend of the past to the series’ current day which sees the Gandalf analogue, reduced to a piss-stained mess as bounty hunters working for the mysterious Shrikes attempt to bring him in. This is a perfectly paced opening installment, blending exposition with a thrilling action set-piece that grips the reader by the throat and demands that they read the next episode.


Fresh from his work on Defoe, Leigh Gallagher brings his unique vision of gore and violence to the ‘swords and sorcery’ fantasy genre. Gallagher’s artwork has an innate grittiness to it that suits this tale perfectly – you can almost taste the stale mead in the tavern as Edginton switches location to a stereotypical inn. My favourite moment from this introductory episode is that simply spectacular double-page spread from Gallagher, which interprets the opening scenes of The Lord of the Rings through a punk-rock prism. The level of carnage on display is absolutely mind-blowing and given Gallagher’s past work on Defoe with hordes of zombies clamouring for human flesh, I suspect we’re likely to see more examples of these overwhelmingly gorgeous battle sequences as the series continues. Edginton is an absolute master of world-building and it’s great to see him move away from H.G Wells-inspired steampunk to play about with some hard-core Tolkien instead.



ACE TRUCKING CO. - THE FESTIVE FLIP-FLOP!
Script - Eddie Robson
Art - Nigel Dobbyn
Letters - Ellie de Ville

This rather festive edition of Ace Trucking Co. offers a satirical look at the commercialisation of Christmas, most notably Amazon’s emergence as a conglomerate retailer monopolising online sales over the festive season, as well as its dubious tax status. Eddie Robson’s razor-sharp script pokes fun at everybody’s favourite online retailer and its penchant for tax-avoidance and underpaid staff with his fictional company, Euphrates – which happens to also be named after one of the longest rivers in the world. Since returning to the Prog in the 2015 Sci-Fi Special, Robson has re-purposed Ace Trucking Co. as a way to mock various business-related topics, such as the strict branding rules of the Olympic Games. It’s a great way to realign the humour-based strip, making it more relevant and arguably more amusing than its original incarnation. Nigel Dobbyn does a tremendous job at recapturing the atmosphere of those original stories, channelling the distinctive art style of the late, great Massimo Belardinelli with ease. Originally a polarising strip amongst fans for its CB Slang and outlandish plots, I think Ace Trucking Co. has truly found its feet in its new guise – appearing occasionally in annuals to deliver a slice of business satire with a science-fiction twang.



THE ORDER - WYRM WAR (Part 1)
Script - Kek-W
Art - John Burns
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

With his third series of The Order, writer Kek-W once again moves the narrative forward in time to a brand-new period – with the adventure this time taking place during the mid-17th century. While time travel and anachronisms have been part of the series from the outset, Kek-W takes things further in this chapter by having two versions of the Ritterstahl robot come into contact with each other, potentially causing paradoxes. It's great fun to witness different iterations of The Order coming into contact with each other, and I love seeing the similarities between each generation's line-up. The series' core concept of introducing new iterations of the same team throughout different time periods reminds me of Alan Moore's Watchmen and how the golden-age Minutemen were replaced by a newer generation of heroes. Having the different Ritterstahl's come together for a greater purpose also recalls memories of another DC Comics classic, Crisis on Infinite Earths, and I very excited to see that this latest adventure will focus more on Ritterstahl and his manipulation of time.


John Burns' artwork is the perfect choice for this series, capturing that sense of swashbuckling fantasy with ease. Burns' work is so atmospheric and rich with emotion that it just harmonises perfectly with Kek-W's immaculately written script. While this third chapter may be slightly dense and difficult for newcomers to grasp, it is an absolute delight for long-term fans who've followed the series over the past three years. Kek-W has been surprisingly restrained in his references to time travel and temporal anomalies, and its great fun to see him let loose and play about with the established rules of his universe. I have a sneaking suspicion that this series will involve a lot of time-loops and predestination paradoxes to explain some of the anachronisms inherent to the plot and I'm looking forward to seeing everything come together. The previous two chapters of The Order were personal favourites of mine, so it's immensely exciting to see the series return for a third run and with much bigger stakes at play.



THE FALL OF DEADWORLD - WINTER BREAK
Script - Kek-W
Art - Dave Kendall
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Acting as a prequel series, The Fall of Deadworld offered readers a glimpse into the events that led to the Dark Judge's wiping out every living creature on their home planet. While this cataclysmic event was glossed over in the Judge Death origin story Young Death: Boyhood of a Super-Fiend, Kek-W and Dave Kendall teamed up to tell the tale of this nightmarish descent into extinction. I absolutely loved the initial series, which had a surprisingly human core to the story as a single family attempted to survive against all odds. With a second series on the horizon, the creative team have reunited for a seasonal one-off adventure to bridge the gap between chapters. 

After uniting Judge Fairfax with the young girl in the closing moments of the first series, this brief interstitial chapter showcases their relationship. It has a distinct Lone Wolf and Cub vibe that works well against the zombified landscape – fans of the videogame The Last of Us will notice similarities here with the father and 'adopted daughter' dynamics on show. There's a grittiness to the script that Kendall's haunting artwork never fails to emphasise, and the frequent forays into ultra-violence are handled with perfect precision. It's a gorgeous gore-fest and each panel hits the right notes. Even though there's a grim inevitability to the series' conclusion, Kek-W's script keeps the reader engaged and rooting for the heroes despite the overwhelming odds. I can't wait to see this return in Spring 2017 with a full second series.



HOPE - ...FOR THE FUTURE (Part 1)
Script - Guy Adams
Art - Jimmy Broxton
Letters - Simon Bowland

After seeing preview artwork for this series in a previous Prog, I knew that Hope was going to be a series quite unlike anything we’ve seen in 2000AD before and I was right. I love the thick Hollywood-noir atmosphere that Guy Adams and Jimmy Broxton have created with this opening episode, from the grainy black and white artwork and the familiar trope of the alcoholic private detective. Where the series really intrigues me is the inclusion of dark magic as a weapon used by the allies during World War Two, riffing on the rumours of Hitler’s obsession with occultism but turning the concept on its head to have the allies make use of it instead. There’s plenty of questions raised by this opening episode, especially the wonderfully bizarre visual of a gasmask-wearing Nun, and I love the confidence in Adams’ writing as he grabs the reader by the lapels and drags them into this seedy world of bright lights and dark arts. In some ways it reminds me of fellow 2000AD series Absalom, but switching out the familiar London backdrop for the sinister darkness of 1950s Hollywood. I am a sucker for that LA-noir style of storytelling, and judging from this truly brilliant opening episode, Hope is going to tickle all of my “thrill-zones” over the coming weeks.



AQUILA - MORS VENETIAE
Script - Gordon Rennie
Art - Paul Davidson
Colours - Gary Caldwell
Letters - Simon Bowland

There’s a rather disorientating change in time period in this special episode of Aquila, which sees writer Gordon Rennie move the narrative over a thousand years into the future from Ancient Rome to a plague-stricken 14th century Venice instead. While initially confusing, I quite like this “flash-forward” technique and the way that current and future events occurring in the series’ usual narrative are spoken about as apocryphal tales, similar to how Alan Moore prefaced the second book of The Ballad of Halo Jones with a flash-forward talking about her adventures in the past tense. Hopefully, Rennie will return to the Ancient Rome narrative to fill in the blanks as I love that time period, but it is very interesting to see that Aquila continues to deal death over a thousand years later.


Despite the change in locale, Aquila loses none of its trademark violence and bloodshed as Paul Davidson remains on art duties following his debut on the strip earlier in the year. Davidson does a fine job at capturing the raw gore that has fast become a staple of the series, and with the move to 14th Century Venice, he gets the opportunity to pepper his pages with plague victims and deadly assassins. It’s unclear whether Rennie intends to revisit this time period in forthcoming stories, but I like the fact that he has established Aquila as a timeless assassin as this frees up the series to explore other time periods, much like those episodes of Xena: Warrior Princess which would explore the concept of reincarnation and past lives. This was a brilliant way to recap previous storylines and tease future instalments without resorting to a bland and inconsequential exposition dump, and has successfully reinvigorated my interest in Aquila.



KINGDOM - AS IT IS IN HEAVEN (Part 1)
Script - Dan Abnett
Art - Richard Elson
Letters - Ellie de Ville

There’s a definite feeling of finality to this episode of Kingdom as the series appears to be heading towards its endgame with the remaining humans orbiting the earth putting plans in motion to eradicate them and recolonise the planet for themselves. Unfortunately, the humans have little sympathy for the wild Aux both on the planet’s surface and aboard the ship in VR stasis. Even though Dan Abnett reunites Gene with his former friend, Leezee Sower, he increases the risk and danger by putting the Aux up against devious humans instead of the single-minded nature of Them. This change in location is a breath of fresh air for the series, which was beginning to stagnate over the past few adventures. Pitting Gene up against humans and other Aux is a great twist on the concept and I look forward to seeing which direction Abnett now intends to take the series.

This is a series that Richard Elson was born to draw for – his artwork is simply amazing and really captures the essence of Abnett’s world. While previous fight scenes against Them have been frenetic and full of green-blooded gore, the sequence is this episode felt vastly different as Gene brutally ripped the hand of a fellow Aux before slitting his throat. The increased gore seems to be deliberate move on the part of Abnett and Elson, showcasing the higher stakes at play with this new and dangerous enemy. Abnett captures the bittersweet moment as an adult Leezee is reunited with her childhood friend, Gene-dog, but cuts it short to immediately put the pair in grave danger. The tension is almost unbearable as Abnett plays with my emotions like they are putty in his hands. As ever, Kingdom remains a masterclass in storytelling, in terms of both script and art and boy, am I glad it’s back in the Prog!



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

Tharg certainly knows how to compile a cracking Christmas special, and this year's installment is no exception. Packed to the brim with quality thrills, this really is a gift for all those loyal Squaxx del Thargo out there! I love the unconventional takes on Christmas that litter the Prog with satirical tales from Judge Dredd and Ace Trucking Co. nestled alongside a zombie-filled festive adventure in The Fall of Deadworld. There's also the return of some most loved series in the form of The Order and Kingdom, which are both filled with the promise of top-notch action and adventure in the weeks to come. I particularly like the developments occurring in Kingdom, which seems to be hurtling towards its series finale. Standing out for me, however, was Kingmaker - the latest new addition to the 2000AD library from Ian Edginton and Leigh Gallagher. A glorious mix of science-fiction and fantasy, rooted in familiar Tolkien-esque tropes, this initial installment is fantastic and drags the reader down into a rich new world of orcs, wizards and aliens?! There's plenty to look forward to in the New Year with this brand-new line up of stories as 2000AD heads into its fortieth year of publishing looking just as strong and confident than ever before.

Thrill of the Week: Kingmaker


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 2011 will be available in stores on Wednesday 14th December - 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!

Friday, 9 December 2016

Review - Agents of SHIELD: 4x08 - "The Laws of Inferno Dynamics"

Agents of SHIELD
Episode 4x08 - "The Laws of Inferno Dynamics"

Synopsis

Determined to show off his new abilities and create matter out of nothing, Eli Morrow constructs a device which may end up obliterating the whole of Los Angeles. It's up to Coulson and Mace to reunite the team and prevent disaster, whilst AIDA begins to put her mysterious plans into motion.

Review

The Laws of Inferno Dynamics” delivers a satisfying conclusion to the Ghost Rider arc of this fourth season, seemingly concluding Robbie Reyes' narrative and restoring SHIELD to its more cohesive structure with Daisy rejoining the organisation. Sure, there's plenty of loose story-arcs (Nadeer, The Watchdogs, AIDA and the Darkhold) left to be addressed when the show returns, but I've really enjoyed the narrow focus that the series has employed towards the Ghost Rider / Robbie Reyes plot-arc. Eight episodes seems to be the ideal length of time to spend on his storyline, and I'd be more than happy to see the character return from inter-dimensional limbo to help out in the final few episodes of the season. Ultimately, the character was never really going to work out as a long-term cast-member for the show – not only does the Ghost Rider CGI require a hefty slice of the series' SFX budget, but he is far more interesting in measured doses and could risk “burning out” if he continued to be the main focus of the season. There's also the potential that ABC might spin him off into his own series, although they've not had much luck with spin-offs recently.

Even though Eli Morrow lacked any real presence as a super-villain, I really enjoyed the confrontation between him and his nephew, especially since we saw Reyes in a vulnerable position for the first time as the Rider. With a sketchy motivation that seemed to revolve around ego, Morrow didn't really have a clear agenda to his master-plan and hopefully, if he returns alongside Robbie, he will be more demonic and supernatural in a similar way to his comics counterpart and have a more defined personality. We've seen the series dip its toe into the mystical element of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but I would love to see things get even more supernatural when the season returns in 2017, although it seems that AIDA and her LMD takeover of SHIELD may be the main agenda when the series resumes.


With a shock reveal that set up the remaining episodes of the series, AIDA found herself elevated to 'big bad' status. It's unclear as to what her true motivations are in replacing Agent May with a LMD – technically, its an extension of Radcliffe's endgame to prevent agents in the field from dying by replacing them with LMDs, but the subterfuge and cold-blooded murder that AIDA employs seems to suggest she has a more nefarious plan in store. I love the idea of Agent May being a LMD-in-disguise, especially if she is unaware of her true origins like a proper 'sleeper cell' agent. It evokes memories of the initial Season One reveal of Grant Ward's role as an undercover Hydra agent, as well as the excellent Secret Invasion story-arc from the comics but with LMDs instead of Skrulls. While I've enjoyed Season Four's focus on the supernatural, I look forward to a more conspiracy-driven second half.

Saying goodbye to Ghost Rider (whether temporarily or permanently) was a bold move from the Agents of SHIELD creators, especially with the increased buzz that the Spirit of Vengeance introduced to the show. By slowly seeding the LMD story-arc in these initial eight episodes, hopefully any fans wooed back to the show by Ghost Rider will stick around to see how things develop with AIDA and LMD-May. I suspect this next phase of the season will see AIDA infiltrate SHIELD with more of her robotic-duplicates, allowing the show's writers to surprise viewers with some shock reveals, much like Secret Invasion did when it unmasked heroes to be Skrulls-in-disguise. This initial batch of episodes has been one of the strongest periods in Agents of SHIELD history, thanks to a much tighter and focused storyline and one that strayed away from tired plot-lines involving Hydra and Inhumans. It's early-days yet, but the LMD arc promises to return the series back to its Season One roots, replicating a similar level of paranoia that was seen in the wake of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. With Ghost Rider out of the picture, I sincerely hope that Agents of SHIELD resists the temptation to revert to its more formulaic structure and instead continues to innovate and surprise its loyal fanbase.


Score - 9.6 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • Does no-one remember Ultron?” - Jeffrey Mace references Avengers: Age of Ultron to showcase the dangers of AI technology.
  • By taking a more active role in the field and creating a battle suit, Jeffrey Mace seems to be following in the footsteps of his comic-book counterpart, also known as 'The Patriot'. (First app: The Human Torch # 4)
  • Maybe in the comic-book version?” - Daisy's response to Coulson's suggestion that she runs SHIELD as Director was a nice nod to the character's temporary tenure in the position in the comics universe. (First app: Battle Scars # 6)

Mysteries
  • What happened to Ghost Rider and Eli Morrow?
  • Why did AIDA kidnap Agent May and replace her with a LMD?

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

2000AD Prog 2010

Prog 2010 Cover by Clint Langley

This Prog sees the return of Clint Langley with another black and white cover that captures the ferocious intensity of the Cretaceous Period in Flesh. Focusing firmly on Gorehead's eye, the image is reminiscent of the eye of Sauron from The Lord of the Rings, adding an eerie omnipotent vibe to the deadly T-Rex. While its a good representation of the events inside the comics, it doesn't have that same oomph that previous Flesh covers have had. I'm guessing that Langley held off on including the rest of the T-Rex horde to preserve the twist-ending inside, but a cover based on this Prog's two-page spread cliff-hanger would have been terrific. In terms of the cover itself, the size of Gorehead's head seems to be too big compared to Earl Reagan in the foreground, and I think it would have looked much more dynamic and impressive if it had been in full colour, rather than black and white. Langley has experimented with black and white covers before to create some truly iconic cover art, but this one doesn't quite stand out. 


JUDGE DREDD - IN DENIAL
Script - Michael Carroll
Art - Andrew Currie
Colours - Chris Blythe
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Michael Carroll takes the reader on a roller-coaster of emotions in this perfectly-crafted single episode of Judge Dredd. Initially, the narrative presents the hapless citizen chained to a Holding Post as a sympathetic character, forgotten and ignored as he languishes on the street corner awaiting pickup, but then Carroll performs a brilliant swerve and reveals him to be a conspiracy theorist who was planning to picket the Chaos Day Remembrance Park with leaflet claiming the terrorist attack never happened. It's a complicated situation, and one that leaves the reader confused on who to root for in this narrative – as always, the Justice Department has the upper hand and I liked Dredd's solution for compensating the citizen for the time wasted at the Holding Post – knocking nine days off his three-year community service for “assaulting a Judge”. After a heavy year of stories, its great to see Dredd round out the year with some short-form adventures and I am very interested to see what the Carroll droid has in store for ol' Stoney-face next year!


I'm unfamiliar with Andrew Currie's work, but I really liked his take on Judge Dredd here, with a simple and straight-forward visual style that goes well alongside this “day in the life of a citizen” genre of stories. As always, Chris Blythe performed a sterling job on colours, bringing the brightness of Currie's work to life with his choice of inks. I really liked this shorter, one-off stories – especially when they focus on the citizens of Mega City One and use Dredd as the punchline to the tale. They are more like Future Shocks in a way, and Carroll put that 'twist ending' format to great use in this episode, challenging expectations and creating a complex argument about free speech. In some ways, it is similar to the Westboro Baptist Church and their decisions to boycott the funerals of soldiers with hate-filled messages. While it is abhorrent and disgusting, we live in a world with free speech which gives them the right to do so – in Dredd's world, that doesn't exist. Obviously, this was a short-form story so there isn't much time to go into the finer details of free speech, but it's a long-running theme in the series and its interesting to see it explored in these smaller stories alongside the wider-reaching tales.



FLESH - GOREHEAD (Part 9)
Script - Pat Mills 
Art - Clint Langley
Letters - Ellie de Ville

Flesh ends on a corker of a cliff-hanger as series stalwart, Earl Reagan, attempts to take out Gorehead and finds himself faced with an army of T-Rexes instead. Pat Mills avoids definitively answering whether any of the Carver family survived their confrontation last Prog, allowing that cliff-hanger to carry over to the next series too. I wonder if Claw and Vegas will save Reagan from a chewy fate in Gorehead's mouth and the trio will make a break for it. With the post-apocalyptic twist introduced in this storyline, it definitely feels like Flesh is heading towards an endgame – possibly resulting in Gorehead and his army being transported to the future. It would be ironic if Flesh ended with the 23rd Century becoming the new home for the dinosaurs, effectively becoming a Cretaceous landscape itself with humans becoming 'flesh' for the dinosaurs.


Clint Langley's work on this series has been truly amazing from start to finish. His double-page spreads are simply spectacular and well worth moving the Nerve Centre away from its traditional home for one Prog. I love the way he captures the cinematic aspect of this series, evoking memories from the Jurassic Park franchise, but taking it into much darker territory. While the script has been a bit bare-bones at times, Langley's artwork has ensured that the series was a visual delight over the past ten weeks. I've really enjoying this sojourn to the prehistoric era and with plenty of unresolved questions lingering, I certainly hope that Mills and Langley reunite to brings us another chapter soon! I'd imagine they're probably hard at work on the next ABC Warriors saga first, with Flesh waiting in the wings for later in 2017.



SAVAGE: BOOK 10 - THE MĂ„RZE MURDERER (Part 10)
Script - Pat Mills
Art - Patrick Goddard
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Not content with a pulse-pounding cliff-hanger ending for Flesh, Pat Mills goes all out with double-sized finale to the current chapter of Savage. This extended episode is perfectly-paced as it opens up with the conclusion to the Straw Dogs car chase and an alliance forged between Savage and Niko Volvodina, before launching into a cliff-hanger ending which sees Savage facing a firing squad by his fellow resistance fighters. Talk about “out of the frying pan, and into the fire” – it’s a great ending and another example of Pat Mills’ skill at generating those highly engaging cliff-hangers often employed by TV serials – unfortunately, you can’t binge-watch this series on Netflix, so we’re stuck with a lengthy wait until we see how Savage gets himself out of this predicament.


Throughout this chapter, Mills has made use of an internal monologue that has appeared in narration boxes during the violent acts which Savage commits. Initially, I thought this was a stylistic choice, but in one of the episodes, Savage mumbled the words from the narration boxes to himself – “don’t funk with my soul” – suggesting some kind of post-hypnotic situation. My theory is that somehow Savage has been exposed to the Thousand Year Stare and his Marze Murderer antics are a result of that trauma. Numerous times throughout the series, Patrick Goddard has framed Savage’s face in shadow, particularly his right eye – which seems to be a prominent part of the Thousand Year Stare graffiti. It’s certainly an intriguing mystery, and I can’t wait for this creative team to reunite to finish off the tale – it’s been truly gripping from start to finish, and easily the best chapter of Savage yet!



COUNTERFEIT GIRL (Part 10)
Script - Peter Milligan
Art - Rufus Dayglo
Colours - Dom Regan
Letters - Ellie de Ville

After the surprisingly bleak ending to Counterfeit Girl’s penultimate episode, I did wonder how Peter Milligan was going to approach this final chapter. While he does perform some narrative backtracking to reverse the dire fate of Libra Kelly (well, one of them), it is done in a well-constructed manner so it doesn’t feel like a cheat. This has been an absolute joy to read over the past few months, proving that 2000AD is just as ground-breaking as it ever was, creating wonderful new worlds to suck the readers into. Rufus Dayglo’s work has been stunning throughout this entire storyline, creating a rich and fully-formed world from the get-go and culminating in a gorgeous final page that evokes memories of iconic future-noir adventures such as Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell. With an open-ended finale, there is every chance that we may dip into the world of Counterfeit Girl again in the future, I only hope that it is sooner rather than later. 



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

Wow! That was a strong end-of-year Prog, tying up all of the stories in style ahead of the annual Christmas bumper edition. Pat Mills was on cliff-hanger mode with two extraordinarily exciting endings for Flesh and Savage – both of which have me eager to read the next chapters in the storyline. Counterfeit Girl ended as strongly as it started, leaving room for a potential return at some point and channelling that wonderful neo-noir atmosphere with a pitch-perfect final page. This Autumnal run of stories has been absolutely fantastic, mixing the old and the new with skill and creating some brilliant moments in thrill-power. 

Looking ahead to the Christmas Prog, we have the usual blend of seasonal one-offs and ongoing adventures. Returning for its third series is The Order, reuniting Kek-W and John Burns for another tale of anachronistic adventuring. This is a personal favourite of mine, so I am very excited to see it return again for another run. Kek-W also brings back Fall of Deadworld for a festive one-off installment, touching base before its inevitable sequel later in 2017. Another keenly-awaited series returns to the Prog in the form of Kingdom, picking up on the cliff-hanger ending of the last series and taking Gene the Hackman out of his comfort zone and into space.

There’s also brand-new thrill Kingmaker from Ian Edginton and Leigh Gallagher – two spectacular creators united to produce a new fantasy epic. Not content with launching one new series, we also have the curious noir-influenced Hope from Guy Adams and Jimmy Broxton – a series that promises to be unlike anything we’ve seen before in the Prog. Aside from new adventures, we also have classic thrills in the form of Ace Trucking Co. and Aquila – both of which return for a Christmas-themed tale. All in all, it’s shaping up to be a brilliant start to 2017 with another carefully curated mix of stories designed to appeal to old and new readers alike. 2000AD Prog 2011 looks like the ultimate stocking-filler for comic book fans.

Thrill of the Week: Savage


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 2010 will be available in stores on Wednesday 7th December - 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!

Friday, 2 December 2016

Review - Agents of SHIELD: 4x07 - "Deals with our Devils"

Agents of SHIELD
Episode 4x07 - "Deals with our Devils"

Synopsis

With Coulson, Fitz and Robbie trapped in a limbo dimension, the rest of the SHIELD team must discover a way to bring them back before they are sucked into the Dark Matter universe. Meanwhile, Simmons is sent on a mysterious assignment by Director Mace, involving an Inhuman whose Terrigenesis has lasted over several months.

Review

Returning after almost a month's hiatus, I was worried that it would be tricky for Agents of SHIELD to regain any of the momentum it had built up over the previous six episodes but this sharply scripted episode was a breath of fresh air for the series after the lengthy wait. As with last season's excellent “4,722 Hours”, this episode played about with the show's format and retold the same scenes from different perspectives, revealing hidden elements and advancing the plot in unexpected ways. It wasn't quite time-travel, but it reminded me of Back to the Future: Part II and how Marty McFly interacts with the events from the first movie, adding a whole new layer of context to the existing scenes. It was fun to see the show's writers playing about with structure to produce fresh and exciting narratives, thereby maximising the potential of the different dimensions. While I suspect that we won't see the series exploring the limbo dimensions in the same way that it was focused on Maveth during Season Three, I was glad for the break in format and opportunity to better understand what Lucy Bauer and her team were experiencing.

Surprisingly, this episode dedicated a considerable amount of time to developing Mack's character and back-story – something that the series had already attempted back in last season's “Watchdogs” with his younger brother. Oblique references to “losing hope” and the way he solemnly looked at a photo with the name on the back suggests that Hope may be an ex-wife, possibly deceased. Perhaps this explains why Mack hasn't made any moves on Yo-Yo yet, if he has unresolved issues with a former lover. Given the supernatural angle of the series, if this Hope is dead, it is likely that we may see her reappear in a spirit form. In fact, I wonder if we'll see any of the former cast-members make a reappearance in the second half of this series – perhaps Grant Ward or Lincoln could appear to haunt Daisy. It's certainly a possibility! I really like Henry Simmons' take on Mack and how the show has gradually built him up into a vital part of the group since his introduction in Season Two.


The most vital scene of this episode was AIDA downloading the Darkhold into her memory as digital files. I did wonder how the two stories would connect with each other, but hadn't suspected that she would end up absorbing the contents of the Darkhold inside of her. Presumably, she is under the book's thrall and the mysterious blueprints she was concocting in her lab at night are probably nothing good! I really like Mallory Jansen's stone-faced take on AIDA, creating a realistic take on an android attempting to pass for a human. I'd imagine that the second half of this season will revolve around AIDA's development, especially if she takes an Ultron-like disdain for her creators. I like the concept of blending together cutting-edge science with ancient magicks, and this certainly doesn't feel like an adaptation of any stories from the comics. On a long-shot, could AIDA actually turn out to be the Marvel Cinematic Universe's version of Jocasta (the bride of Ultron) and maybe she is plotting to rebuild Ultron in a new body – sure, its a bit ambitious for Agents of SHIELD, but it would be a brilliant way to deal with loose ends from Avengers: Age of Ultron.

While we'd seen the origin of Robbie Reyes' Ghost Rider, this episode put the finishing touches on the character – having him reaffirm his pledge towards vengeance, effectively reselling his soul at the cost of saving Mack's. It was great to see Reyes talking with the Ghost Rider spirit 'face-to-face', bargaining with the demon for the chance to get revenge of Eli Morrow. I suspect that we might see Ghost Rider disappear after next week's mid-season finale, but hopefully the series will revisit the character in the latter half of the series and not forget about him like they did with Deathlok. This was a great episode – one that tied together all of the various plot threads into one cohesive narrative, finally bringing the AIDA subplot into the main storyline and giving it some relevance. Interestingly, the Simmons / Inhuman storyline was given far less prominence compared to the rest of the events occurring at the same time, and I have a horrible feeling that the Inhuman who Simmons 'saved' may end up being another love rival to ruin the FitzSimmons relationship! Clearly, the Inhumans aren't going anywhere soon and with the news that ABC is launching an eight-part miniseries next year based on the characters, it seems that Agents of SHIELD will remain attached to that part of the Marvel mythology.

Overall, this episode did a grand job at setting the stage for a confrontation between Ghost Rider and Eli Morrow, whilst establishing plenty of ongoing drama for the rest of its cast to carry over into the second half of the season. While this first half has been shorter than previous years, the smaller batch of episodes has benefitted the series' narrative, allowing for a tighter story-arc without filler or repetition. Agents of SHIELD is on a creative high right now, and lapsed fans should definitely come back to the show and check out what ABC has been doing with its corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.


Score - 9.8 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • N/A

Mysteries
  • Who is Hope, seen in Mack's photo and referenced by the Ghost Rider?
  • What does AIDA plan to do with the brain she is designing? Is she building herself a male companion?
  • What does Eli Morrow plan to do with his newfound powers?
  • What scores does the Ghost Rider have to settle?

Next Episode - "The Laws of Inferno Dynamics"
With the lives of everyone in Los Angeles hanging in the balance, S.H.I.E.L.D. and Ghost Rider find themselves working together.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Review - Supergirl: 2x08 - "Medusa"

Supergirl
Episode 2x08 - "Medusa"

Synopsis

The threat of Cadmus re-emerges as Lillian Luthor launches her latest plan – a deadly airborne virus that only affects aliens. With Mon-El in critical condition and J’onn slowly becoming a White Martian, Supergirl is forced to turn to Lena Luthor for helping in taking down her mother’s organisation.

Review

Rather surprisingly, this mid-season finale wraps up most of the ongoing plot threads established in these initial eight episodes of Season Two, with Cadmus seemingly defeated and the Martian Manhunter’s “affliction” cured before he could transform fully into a White Martian. I was fully expecting Cadmus to be an omnipresent threat throughout the entire season in the same way that Astra, Non and their Kryptonian army were in Season One, but it seems that they’ve been shut down already with the arrest of Lillian Luthor. Despite wrapping up its ongoing storylines, the episode did drop some hints about future events for the remainder of the season with a brief interlude that featured two mysterious aliens who were searching for Mon-El. Presumably this is related to his attempted confession in “The Darkest Place”, where he tried to tell Kara something important about Daxam but was interrupted before he could finish. While it was refreshing to see Cadmus defeated so quickly, it did feel slightly rushed – especially the Martian Manhunter’s sudden cure – and I hope that we will still see the after-effects of Cadmus’ defeat play out in the remaining episodes since the real Hank Henshaw is on the loose and Jeremiah Danvers is still missing.

One of the central aspects of this episode was the burgeoning relationship between Mon-El and Kara, and I have to admit that the pair have a lot more chemistry than Kara ever did with Winn, James or Cat Grant's grown-up son. Chris Wood does a great job at portraying the  charismatic Mon-El and I find myself rooting for the two characters to finally hook up. This romantic sub-plot, along with Alex and Maggie, demonstrates the vast improvements that Supergirl has made in its soap-opera elements compared to its debut season. There's a maturity to the love stories being told in the series now, and the show seems to have a much better understanding of its supporting characters – especially James and Winn. I'm really fond of the current ensemble and how the show is beginning to show a wider focus on developing its entire cast, rather than being the 'Cat Grant and Kara' show.


After delving into her mother and aunt's chequered pasts on Krypton, this episode focused on Kara's father – Zor-El, a scientist responsible for developing a deadly weapon that would kill any alien apart from Kryptonian. Poor Kara seems to have really bad luck with her family tree, and its interesting to see her attempt to come to terms with the crimes committed by her birth parents. I liked the comparisons between Kara and Lena Luthor, both good people attempting to fix the mistakes made by their parents and I am glad the writers avoided making Lena “break bad” and turn evil as it would have been far too predictable and a waste of a character. Having Kara working alongside Lena Luthor to help aliens on Earth is a great plot development and subverts my expectations of where the writers were going to take Lena's character.

Peppered throughout the episode were appearances of the rift in time and space which culminated in an appearance from The Flash and Cisco. Unfortunately, I don't watch The Flash – despite his brilliant cameo appearance in last year's “Worlds Finest” - and so I won't be following the upcoming four-way crossover into the rest of the Arrowverse in the near future. Luckily, it seems like it'll be relatively self-contained for Supergirl fans with most of the storyline taking place in the other three shows. When the series returns next year with the Kevin Smith directed “Supergirl Lives”, it should pick up from where the series left off without leaving single-series viewers like myself in the dark. This was a great, albeit oddly paced mid-season finale that perhaps fumbled some of the more emotional pay-offs to its established storylines in an effort to clear the deck for the back-half of Season Two. I'm intrigued to see what the writers have left in store for Kara and her friends – presumably the aliens hunting Mon-El and James' turn as the Guardian will be the main focus, but hopefully we will also see Hank Henshaw's Cyborg-Superman take over Cadmus in Lillian Luthor's absence, ensuring that plot point isn't lost completely during the hiatus.


Score - 9.5 out of 10
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