Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Spotlight On... Constructor


It was the late-nineties and tactical construction simulators were all the rage. Iconic titles such as Sim City, Age of Empires, Theme Park and Civilisation II had shaped the genre for PC gamers, ensuring that there was no shortage in “god sims” on the shelves. However, it wasn’t until 1997 that Constructor came onto the scene and offered something that those other games didn’t – a very British sense of humour. Straight out of the warped minds of video game developer System 3, the game’s dark sense of humour was visible from the very start as the opening full-motion-video credits depicted a hapless builder being drowned in liquid cement by a ruthless gangster, all the while set to the game’s jaunty theme song. Constructor wasn’t like any building-sim that had come before – there was a gleefully malicious heart beating behind the isometric view that subverted the genre in a similar manner to fellow god-sim, Dungeon Keeper. Sticking two fingers up at political correctness, the game poked fun at working-class stereotypes and actively encouraged the player to be corrupt in their business handlings.

The game adopted a similar format to other construction-simulation games seen before and since, requiring the player to stockpile various resources, in this instance; timber cement and bricks, before building their properties. Rather than having access to build shiny, modern-looking homes from the outset, the player’s initial choice of buildings are grimmer than a Grimm Brother’s fairy tale. Not only are the houses low-rent, but the occupants are the type of people you’d find on “Neighbours from Hell” and are either boozy louts or creepy scumbags. This introduces the second core element of Constructor – the people. In order to increase your standards, you have to educate the children of your tenants and cultivate a better class of resident. Installing computers and building schools allows you to rent homes out to more sophisticated occupants and will soon have you climbing the property rental ladder with ease.


While you could choose to play a single-player game, the biggest fun came from Constructor’s multiplayer mode. Pitted against a computer AI or enemy players, you had the ability to sabotage each other’s communities, and the options were endless. You could build a flat full of football hooligans to cause chaos, send gangsters to collect protection money, and even send hippies into empty properties to become squatters. It’s gloriously chaotic and System 3’s cast of undesirables were absolutely hilarious and perfectly realised on-screen. The short animated sequences that appeared when you click on a character were brilliant, and after hours playing the game you would find yourself replicating the voices, such as the Foreman’s long drawn-out “helllooooo” down the phone, or the "do be do" tune that the builders hum whilst redecorating rooms.

The distinctive sound and graphic visuals go a long way towards cultivating Constructor’s unique sense of humour. Each character is voiced by some of the most exaggerated accents ever seen in a video game, which adds to the charm. While the early stages of the game mock the working class quite mercilessly, once the player reaches a level of professionalism, the middle and upper class soon become fodder for ridicule. As a fourteen year-old playing this game, I remember having great fun with the game’s mechanics and the funny voices but returning to it almost twenty years later, I can appreciate it on a whole different level. Despite the over-populated genre, the game remained one of the most original examples of the constructor-sim and it represents that anarchic, spirit of rebellion that was present in the late nineties as smaller developers took chances and brought passion projects to life, rather than releasing sequel after sequel.


While the learning curve was a bit tough, especially against any of the computer AI difficulties, this game was pure FUN from start to finish. Sure, there’s some nostalgia bias at play here as this game did come out at the height of my MS-DOS gaming obsession and sits proudly alongside my love for classic point-and-click adventures, but its sense of humour and willingness to poke fun at council estate stereotypes is what set this game apart from the crowd and still makes me remember it fondly over twenty years after its release. If you’ve never played Constructor before, you should do yourself a favour and take a look at this hidden gem – even twenty years later, the game holds up well.

The classic 1997 version of Constructor is available as a PSone classic download on the PlayStation Store or available digitally on PC through GOG.com. A HD-remake of the original is due for release on 28th April for Sony PlayStation 4, Microsoft Xbox One and PC DVD-Rom.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Review - Agents of SHIELD: 4x11 - "Wake Up"

Agents of SHIELD
Episode 4x11 - "Wake Up"

Synopsis

Held captive by Radcliffe and AIDA, May finds herself trapped in a simulation which she may never be able to escape. Meanwhile, Coulson and Yo-Yo take part in an operation that may ruin SHIELD’s credibility as a legitimate organisation.

Review

Learning lessons from the success of its self-contained ‘Ghost Rider’ block of episodes, Agents of SHIELD continues to demonstrate its tight narrative and economical approach to storytelling as it returns the focus back to its LMD storyline, even tying it into the series’ existing Watchdogs arc to create more continuity. While it was predictable that May’s escape sequences in this episode were some kind of implanted memories to keep her stable in her coma, I did like the fact that they didn’t work and Radcliffe was forced to adopt a different tactic – one that might have some emotional repercussions on the character when she is released. Recreating her mission from Bahrain was one thing, but having her succeed and achieve a semblance of peace was a cruel twist and I think we’ll see a different side to May when she comes out of this. Ming-Na Wen is doing a brilliant job at portraying two different versions of May – a feat she’d already achieved during Season Two when she also had to play Agent-33.

Ironically, in trying to get ahead of their enemies and plant tracking devices on Senator Nadeer, SHIELD demonstrated that they were actually two steps behind as it was revealed Nadeer had been using Radcliffe for information. I quite like how the episode combined both of the season’s main plots together in the closing moments of the episode, creating a stronger central narrative instead of splitting the focus across two strands. This was a tactic the series also used in Season Three when it revealed that Hydra was connected to the Monolith and Hive. Now, I can see why they always say “It’s all connected” in its advertising! I was actually quite surprised at how quickly SHIELD figured out that Radcliffe was behind AIDA’s villainous turn, and I have to say that I never considered that Radcliffe might be an LMD. It was slightly disappointing that the show didn’t capitalise on the concept of a “second LMD” that was unknown to the audience, but it makes sense that Radcliffe would use his technology to preserve his own safety.


With a more espionage focused threat to deal with in this block of episodes, the action quotient has been dialled down and the series has instead focused on character development. The introduction of robots who can pass for humans allows the writers to deal with questions regarding identity and what it means to be real. I really liked the scene with the May-bot talking to Radcliffe, and now that she is aware of her origins, I think she will be a far more interesting character to watch on-screen, especially as she grows closer with Coulson. While the ‘Ghost Rider’ arc was big on the action set-pieces and special effects, the smaller scale of this ‘LMD’ arc has allowed the show’s writers to focus more on character development. To be honest, I think the deception and emotional pain that lies at the heart of this storyline is equally as enthralling as seeing Ghost Rider take out a bunch of evil ghosts. I’m really enjoying the dramatic tension that has been set-up over these past few episodes and the cruel sense of inevitability as Coulson and May-Bot grow closer. I mean, it’s obvious that they’re going to bang each other and he’ll find out the truth afterwards. It’s deliciously ripe for drama potential, and I can’t wait to see it unfold.

There were some other key character moments throughout this episode, such as the progression of Mack and Yo-Yo’s relationship. The revelation behind ‘Hope’ was surprisingly low-key, given the level of foreshadowing beforehand, and I suspect that is more to come on this storyline. Given the fact that things have taken a turn for the supernatural, perhaps there is a ‘deal with the devil’ on the horizon for Mack. It could be like the extremely divisive Spider-Man story, “One More Day”, which saw Spidey make a deal with Mephisto to save Aunt May’s life, unwittingly losing his marriage to Mary Jane in the process. Perhaps, Mack will sacrifice his potential happiness with Yo-Yo to bring his daughter back? It would make a pretty dark final act for this season, but it would also potentially bring Ghost Rider back into the mix.

Overall, this was a fairly strong episode that had an odd mix of predictable reveals (May’s virtual escape) and surprising shocks (Radcliffe working with Nadeer). I’m really enjoying this more low-key, character-driven approach to the season and seeing the inevitable emotional turmoil that is about to occur once the truth is revealed. Season Four remains Agents of SHIELD’s strongest season yet, and these past few episodes have proven that its success is due to more than a guest appearance from Ghost Rider.


Score - 9.4 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • Radcliffe creates an alternative version of the Bahrain mission that traumatised May, as seen in “Melinda”. In this version, she saves the young Inhuman girl instead of executing her.

Mysteries
  • Who is The Superior?
  • Is there another leak within SHIELD besides Radcliffe's LMD?

Next Episode - "Hot Potato Soup"
Agents Sam and Billy Koenig are hunted down to get at the Darkhold book, and only Coulson and the team can save them before the clock ticks out

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Review - Supergirl: 2x09 - "Supergirl Lives"

Supergirl
Episode 2x09 - "Supergirl Lives"

Synopsis

Stuck in a rut, Supergirl searches for job satisfaction when she comes across a missing person case – although she doesn’t realise the full interplanetary ramifications of the situation. Meanwhile, Winn suffers a crisis of confidence when he is almost killed helping the Guardian.

Review

After directing two episodes of The Flash, Kevin Smith makes his directorial debut on Supergirl with this eventful mid-season premiere episode. Smith certainly brings a cinematic flair to the series, aided by the decision to transport Kara and Mon-El onto a different planet for the first time in the series. As a long-time fan of Smith, I was surprised at how different this episode felt compared to his cinematic work and how consistent it was to the series’ existing tone. Known more for his dialogue-driven movies, Smith managed to maintain the action quotient with some wonderful set-pieces, such as the Rocket Launcher-powered car chase at the beginning. That said, he also handled the character moments brilliantly, especially the scenes between Maggie and Alex - it was great fun to see a different side to DEO agent as she acted love-struck and in awe of her new girlfriend. The whole cast were on-point throughout this episode, no doubt super-charged by the presence of their guest-director.

In a marked contrast to the weak romantic sub-plots of Season One, this episode focused on the Danvers sisters’ relationships to great success. I loved the little moments of intimacy between Alex and Maggie after their first night together; and then later on, between Kara and Mon-El as they snuggled under the sofa blanket. I find myself rooting for both couples to succeed far more now, than I ever did with Kara and James – in fact, I used to actively hope they would fail – and it worked! While there was plenty of ground to cover in this inter-planetary adventure, Smith ensured that the episode never felt crammed and there was a strong ‘cause and effect’ to all of the various character arcs. My only nitpick would be how quickly Winn swung from being petrified of dying in the line of duty to being gung-ho about busting crime. Surely almost dying alone at the hands of an alien on a different planet should have exacerbated his fear of a premature death.


The episode also saw the guest appearance of Harley Quinn Smith, who played Izzy Williams – the girl whose disappearance sparked Supergirl’s involvement in the case. I was initially worried that it would be a case of “nepotism gone wrong”, but Smith made the most of her limited screen time, demonstrating herself to be a capable actor. She didn’t distract from the core cast and complemented them nicely during some of the more emotional sequences. Another standout guest appearance for me was the evil Maaldorian doctor who was responsible for luring the victims to the Slaver’s Moon. Played by James Urbaniak, he had that archetypal evil scientist look and I was a bit disappointed when he got executed at the end. He was far more watchable than the true architect of this scheme, the two-dimensional Roulette, who escaped captivity to plague Supergirl again in the future.

While “Supergirl Lives” served as a perfect entry-point to any new viewers that were following the character from last year's multi-series “Invasion” crossover, it also dealt with some of the recurring plot threads from the season – namely Mon-El and his secret. Aside from wearing a sign that read “I am the Prince”, he couldn’t make it any more obvious to the audience that he was actually really the Prince of Daxam, and his tale of escape had been complete fiction. With two mysterious aliens on the hunt for him, it seems like Mon-El’s true identity will be exposed in the near future and I wonder how that will impact his burgeoning relationship with Kara. Clearly there is some kind of bounty on the Prince’s head, so his existence on Earth may bring forth some unwanted attention.

Figuratively and literally, this episode was out of this world as it condensed the plot of a feature-length film into half the time, and with a fraction of the budget. I loved the journey to another planet, and I hope that is something that Supergirl continues to experiment with in future episodes, especially since there has been a much heavier focus on other alien races during this season. Based on his work on this gem of an episode, Kevin Smith has definitely found himself at home with Supergirl and the Arrowverse, and I look forward to seeing him return to guest-direct more episodes.


Score - 9.5 out of 10

Next Episode - "We Can Be Heroes"
After Livewire seemingly breaks out of prison, Supergirl is intent on recapturing her. After training Mon-El, Supergirl takes him with her when she sees Livewire attack the NCPD but things go awry when Mon-El puts Supergirl before the citizens of National City. Meanwhile, James decides to come clean with Kara, and M’Gann has a psychic attack and collapses into a coma.

Review - Gotham: 3x13 - "Smile Like You Mean It"

Gotham
Episode 3x13 - "Smile Like You Mean It"

Synopsis

Gotham City is gripped by madness as Dwight unites the followers of Jerome in an attempt to resurrect the former Maniax member. Meanwhile, Barbara and Tabitha continue their plan to ruin the Penguin’s standing within the underworld by using his love for Ed against him.

Review

Wasting little time, this episode of Gotham dealt primarily with the resurrection of Jerome Valeska, positioning the character as the latest “big bad” to appear in this season. After making an impact with his debut appearance in Season One and his untimely death in Season Two, the show’s writers seem to have finally committed to the idea of having Jerome be the series’ incarnation. Cameron Monaghan does a brilliant job at bringing the character to life (again) as he borrows elements from both Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger’s takes on the character, creating an interesting Joker medley. Riffing on the recent “Death of the Family” storyline occurring in the Batman comics, this version of the Joker has had his face removed and stapled back on – it’s a great visual and I’m surprised the series was willing to go there. With his facial disfigurement, Valeska seems to have that extra oomph that sets him apart from previous incarnations – I particularly liked the scenes where he was wearing bandages and talking with a slight lisp. It really emphasised the maniacal nature of the character, channelling his inner Joker perfectly.

Despite this clear movement towards establishing Valeska as the Joker, Gotham still shies away from naming him as the character and part of me was hoping that this episode would end with him christening himself with the name. That said, I did get a kick out of seeing the Joker-esque logo appearing as spray-painted graffiti all over the city. One element that felt inconsistent was the size of this cult that worshipped Valeska as their “prophet”, it seemed to fluctuate in numbers and I think it was purely so that the writers could have the flexibility to bring them back again in the future. I’m not sure how I feel about the Joker in charge of an army of loyal followers, especially ones who seemed crazier than him. Now that Gotham has gone to great lengths to bring the character back from the dead, I hope they utilise him wisely and make him into a true threat for Gordon and his city.

"Let's put a FACE on that SMILE"

Whilst Gordon and the GCPD were dealing with the threat of the Joker cult, the other core storylines running throughout this season seemed to be spinning their wheels, waiting for their turn in the spotlight. The plot involving Selina and her mom fizzled out rather disappointingly, especially since everyone involved actually commented on the predictability of her mother’s deception – it just seemed like an excuse to explain away Selina’s commitment issues and then force a wedge between her and Bruce. That said, I did like the scene as Selina attempted to fight Bruce and he defended himself against her blows. It seemed very reminiscent of the relationship between Batman and Catwoman in Batman Returns, and a nice foreshadowing to their eventual costumed alter-egos. Elsewhere, the Penguin plot-line continued to plot along and Edward Nygma couldn’t even be bothered to make an appearance to advance the story. Again, this felt rather “by-the-numbers” in its approach as Penguin continued to become the “Crumblepot” reported in the Gotham Gazette.

Yet again, Gotham continues to display a schizophrenia to rival that of its most infamous residents. On one side, this episode was taut, thrilling and exciting with the Jerome storyline, but it padded out the episode with some slow, predictable elements in other areas. This split in focus has been evident throughout the season as the series lurches from storyline to storyline – compared to the operatic twists and turns of Season One’s mob-war story-arc, it feels like Gotham has become a cluttered mess of different narratives – each one vying for prominence. The Jerome storyline seems like a natural lead for the remainder of the season, but there are plenty of untouched elements to be dealt with, including the Court of Owls, Fish Mooney and Hugo Strange, the Mad Hatter and Barnes, Penguin and the Riddler. Hopefully the remaining nine episodes of the season can bring some stability to this “Mad City” arc and deliver a cohesive and satisfying climax.


Score - 9.4 out of 10

Next Episode - "The Gentle Art of Making Enemies"
With Jerome on the loose with one target in mind, Bruce and Alfred's safety is compromised. Meanwhile, Gordon's Uncle Frank pays him a visit whilst Nygma and Penguin are forced to confront their issues face-to-face with possible deadly consequences.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

2000AD Prog 2015

Prog 2015 Cover by Leigh Gallagher

This awesome cover from Leigh Gallagher showcases his immense skill as an artist, showcasing Kingmaker's unique blend of Tolkien-esque fantasy and science-fiction in an epic medley of images. The composition of this cover is pure genius and I love how Gallagher uses the Ork and the Wizard to separate the two juxtaposing genres at the heart of this series. Despite having plenty of action taking place on the one page, Gallagher ensures that the cover remains simple and straight-forward, thanks to its strong layout. This cover works as the perfect teaser image for the series, referencing its key elements in a lovely montage of action shots.


JUDGE DREDD - DEEP IN THE HEART (Part 4)
Script - Michael Carroll
Art - Tiernen Trevallion
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Even though the last episode of Judge Dredd ended with the man himself offering the Oil Rig Diana Marshalls one second to surrender, I didn’t expect Michael Carroll and Tiernen Trevallion to unleash such ferocious violence so quickly. Proving that Dredd has the skills to back up his claims, Carroll delivers a brilliant episode that showcases just how highly-trained the future lawman is. There’s a brutal efficiency to how Dredd deals with his enemies here, and Trevallion brings it to life on the page perfectly. Thanks to his clear storytelling abilities, it is easy to visualise the smooth nature of this action sequence and you could almost picture the fluid movements as Dredd effortlessly dispatches the men. While Dredd leaves Oil Rig Diana without further interference, Carroll hints that there may be a rematch on the cards – presumably when Dredd decides to shut down this illegal practice.



Carroll continues to slowly draw out the identity of Dredd’s prey – revealing that the Justice Department aren’t aware of the target’s name, but are only aware that he exists. This upsets my previous theory that it might be a character we’ve seen in the Prog before, but under a new identity – or maybe I’m just grasping at straws! I do like that Carroll continues to blend his sub-plots together into a great big melting plot of narrative goodness, introducing his Sector Zero storyline into his plans about Texas-City. Sure, there’s sometimes a bit of discontinuity between his and Rob Williams’ stuff as the pair alternate on the series, but I do like how each writer is developing his own continuity within the strip. It’s just a shame that there isn’t much more crossover between the two, especially considering that they are both currently focused on secret organisations within the Justice Department.



KINGMAKER (Part 5)
Script - Ian Edginton
Art - Leigh Gallagher
Letters - Ellie de Ville

Ian Edginton reveals a little bit more of the vibrant world at the heart of his new series, Kingmaker, by introducing the ferocious Dryads into the mix as potential allies for our Ork and Wizard heroes. A staple in traditional fantasy, Edginton's Dryads adopt animal forms to attack their enemies – a design that Leigh Gallagher's artwork brings to life with violent glee. It is a brilliant visual to see bears and tigers made from tree bark and branches leaping out of the forest and attacking the alien intruders, and Gallagher's style really emphasises the otherworldly appearance of these 'animals' in a similar way to how he portrayed the diseased Reeks in Defoe. There's a brutality to these pages that subverts the series' Tolkien-inspired roots and helps distinguish it from any outside influences. It's easy to see why Gallagher was chosen to help create this strip, infusing the series with a maturity that comes naturally from his dark artwork.


Edginton's scripting on this series is a thing of beauty as it simultaneously handles world-building, character development and action sequences without losing a moment's pace. As with his work on his countless other 2000AD series, Edginton focuses firmly on his characters – making them the entry points to these vivid, new worlds that he conjures up. As much I loathe the word “banter” - mostly due to idiot millennials who seem to think it means flirting with women – there is some genuine banter between Edginton's leads here, and I love how he uses that antagonist relationship as a focal point to frame the story around. It's still early days and most of this new universe is unknown to us – much like the foggy map at the beginning of a game of Command & Conquer, so by putting so much effort into the relationship of its core characters (much like with Scarlet Traces last year), Edginton can slowly reveal the surroundings. I'm assuming this will be another multi-book epic that will run and run, so I am more than happy to sit back and let Edginton and Gallagher build the heck out of this world.



THE ORDER - WYRM WAR (Part 5)
Script - Kek-W
Art - John Burns
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Diving into a time portal, this future version of Ritterstahl soon reunites with the cast from the second series of The Order, older and wiser but still hardy adventurers. Kek-W is able to convey a sense of nostalgia about this scene, re-introducing characters who haven't actually been away from the series all that long, but by having them aged and replaced by a younger, albeit more mutinous crew, he manages to evoke a sense of comfort and relief through their reappearance. I'm really enjoying the way that Kek-W is uniting the various incarnations of the Order through the use of time travel, it really feels like an 'event series' in the mould of Crisis on Infinite Earths or the original Secret Wars as all of the old favourites are brought back together, united against a dire threat. John Burns' artwork is such a perfect fit for this series, it's unreal. There is so much pathos and emotion naturally present in his fully-painted panels, that it just emphasises the nostalgia factor in Kek-W's script.



HOPE - ...FOR THE FUTURE (Part 5)
Script - Guy Adams
Art - Jimmy Broxton
Letters - Simon Bowland

In the midst of researching the movies of the child star whose disappearance he is investigating, Hope discovers that little Joey has some low-level magical ability to make people addicted to seeing his movies, allowing them to see past the poor jokes and awkward dialogue and want more. However, the rest of his investigation has hit a slow point – rather than rushing the procedural elements of this tale, Guy Adams allows his gumshoe detective to work through the story at a leisurely pace, interviewing the child star's agent for more clues. It's this laid-back approach to storytelling that allows Hope to embrace its 1950s setting and emphasise that gritty LA Noir tone. Jimmy Broxton's artwork remains impeccable and works alongside Adams' restrained script to deliver a perfectly-paced pulp fiction tale. With all the skill of a master, he uses the stark black-and-white colour scheme to create some truly evocative panels that really encapsulates that feeling of post-war depression prevalent throughout the series. This is one of those stories that will look absolutely gorgeous as a collected edition, and I'm sure it'll succeed in drawing fresh eyes towards 2000AD and its eclectic library of adventures.



KINGDOM - AS IT IS IN HEAVEN (Part 5)
Script - Dan Abnett
Art - Richard Elson
Letters - Ellie de Ville

Dan Abnett continues to ratchet the tension up to unbearable levels in this latest episode of Kingdom as the cat-and-mouse chase through the bowels of the Human Orbital Station becomes a hostage situation. It's interesting to see Gene pitted against a different type of enemy – one that understands him and can use tactics to exploit his pack-mentality. With the appearance of the Masters and the trained-Aux, I am more fearful for Gene's fate than I ever was when he was fighting against Them or the Ticks. Abnett has dropped hints that Gene and Leezee have had assistance in their escape, and in this chapter, he introduces a shadowy observer with red fur. Presumably this is another Aux, although its unclear what their motivation is for helping Gene get free.


Richard Elson never fails to impress with this series, and he does such a fantastic job at recreating that sense of isolation and confinement as our heroes attempt to escape the Orbital Station. You can almost hear the echo of their footsteps as they walk through the abandoned cryo-chambers searching for an escape route. While it seems likely that their mysterious benefactor will swoop in to save them from Major Canis and Bull, I can help but think that Michelle Barkmann and Cutback aren't long for this world, especially since the trained-Aux have already sustained two fatalities of their own. Presumably, this particular chapter of Kingdom will end with our heroes finding their way back to Earth – but it is highly likely that there isn't anything left for them there. As Abnett and Elson hurtle towards their thrilling endgame, things are looking increasingly more bleak for Gene the Hackman.



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

Before I deal with this week's Thrill of the Week, I have to say how freaking excited I am to see that Nikolai Dante is returning to the Prog for the 40th anniversary. It's no secret how much I loved this series – it is probably the closest thing to perfect to come out of 2000AD, and definitely what made me go from a casual reader into a mega-fan! I own all the graphic novels, even those awkwardly hard to get ahold of “Tsar Wars” ones, so to see it return – while it upsets my complete collection – is a MASSIVE moment for me. Considering it is almost 20 years since its first appearance, its a very timely return and I hope it won't be the last. Judging from the image, it's a flashback story to his early days, but I would love it if there is some hint towards resolving the series' open ending.

So, enough of my excited ramblings about Nikolai Dante's return, I should be rambling on about this Prog's contents instead. Well, it was another strong showing across the board, but the thrill of the week has to go to Judge Dredd for an adrenalin-pumping conclusion to last week's cliff-hanger. While Hope and Kingdom adopted a slower rhythm this Prog – both stories remained intensely readable and there is enough action-exposition ratio throughout the whole Prog to balance it out. With the 40th anniversary Prog occurring in late February, we must be hitting the halfway point on most of these stories, so I'd imagine things will start to heat up over the next few weeks. As tempting as it is to put myself in cryo-suspension until Nikolai Dante returns, there is plenty in the Prog to keep me unfrozen and waiting for each upcoming edition every Wednesday.

Thrill of the Week: Judge Dredd


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 2015 will be available in stores on Wednesday 25th January - 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, 20 January 2017

Review - Agents of SHIELD: 4x10 - "The Patriot"

Agents of SHIELD
Episode 4x10 - "The Patriot"

Synopsis

The truth behind Jeffrey Mace’s powers and his ascension to SHIELD director are revealed after a group of Watchdogs shoot down the Quinjet, leaving Coulson, Mack and Mace isolated and outnumbered. Meanwhile, Radcliffe continues his plot to get ahold of the Darkhold using the May-LMD to infiltrate SHIELD.

Review

Taking a step back from its “LMD” arc, this episode of Agents of SHIELD focuses on Jeffrey Mace – the man in the hot seat as Director of SHIELD. Up until now, the character has been portrayed as a company man who has introduced coloured level clearances and motivational slogans into SHIELD’s internal processes, and not much of a tactician in the field despite his ‘hero status’. This episode sheds some light at this juxtaposition by revealing that Mace is not actually Inhuman at all and instead uses a modified version of the Mr. Hyde serum from Season Two. From the outset of this episode, it seemed likely that this would be the eventual reveal – I thought the suitcase would contain the source of Mace’s powers but I hadn’t figured out that it would be the Hyde serum. The follow-up reveal that he’d accidentally saved lives during the Vienna bombing was equally as expected, and explained why his behaviour was at odds with his position. Instead of phasing the character out, the episode concludes with a compromise – Mace will remain the SHIELD figurehead (presumably until his secret is outed to the public) and Coulson will maintain control during operations.

I really liked the added tension found in this episode by removing Coulson, Mack and Mace from the hi-tech trappings of SHIELD – out-manned and under-equipped. Much like AIDA taking the SHIELD base under siege last episode, there is plenty of dramatic potential in removing SHIELD’s technology and leaving the agents to fend for themselves. While the main characters are never really in any danger of dying (unless it’s a season finale), I do appreciate the increased stakes that comes from episodes such as this. Recent episodes, particularly in the past few seasons, have focused heavily on the superpowers of the Inhumans and Ghost Rider, so it is refreshing to see the under-powered members of SHIELD getting a chance to shine. As much as I like Daisy and Yo-Yo, it was great fun to see Mack and Coulson kicking ass old-school style. With LMDs as the major threat of this chapter, I hope we’ll see more emphasis on the human members of the team.


While the episode concentrated on the Director of SHIELD and his relationship with Coulson and the rest of the team, there were some minor developments on the LMD arc, although these felt largely inconsequential to the overall plot. I did, however, like the explanation that May escaped from her virtual reality ‘prison’ because her body would reject a pleasant scenario and that she could only be contained within VR, if she was being challenged constantly. The fight sequence between AIDA and May was brilliant, and it’s interesting to note AIDA’s attitude in this scene – it seems to me that she is somewhat jealous of May and the May-bot, possibly because it is an improved model. I suspect that AIDA may be developing some actual human responses unbeknownst to Radcliffe, and perhaps he will actually end up losing control of his faithful assistant in the end.

Another interesting wrinkle to the LMD story-arc introduced in this episode was Fitz’s eerie obsession with AIDA’s severed head, secretly stashing away in his locker to work on it. Obviously, this will drive a wedge between Fitz and Simmons, but I also wonder if Fitz is developing a romantic crush on the virtual woman and his attempts to rebuild the device are not as scientifically motivated as he makes out. The various ingredients are coming together nicely for this second stage of stories, and I suspect Mace’s faux-Inhuman powers may come into play later on, especially with the Watchdogs remaining a presence. It would be a complete mind-fuck if he turned out to be the mysterious benefactor running the Watchdogs, as he technically isn’t an Inhuman and it wouldn’t be that much of a stretch to have him be an anti-Inhuman figurehead in disguise. Clearly a transitional episode, “The Patriot” laid some groundwork for the upcoming LMD and Watchdogs storyline and provided some much-needed background on Jeffrey Mace, even though its revelations weren’t as momentous as it could have been.


Score - 9.3 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • Project Patriot is a reference to the golden age character, The Patriot, whom Jeffrey Mace is based upon. (First app: The Human Torch # 4)
  • The Patriot formula is an amended version of Mr. Hyde's formula from Season Two.
  • Mace's act of heroism during the Vienna bombing (“Captain America: Civil War”) was just an accident.

Mysteries
  • How did the Watchdogs know that the Patriot Formula was in the briefcase?

Next Episode - "Wake Up"
May works to uncover the truth about what happened to her; Aida's next move puts everyone's life at risk.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Review - Gotham: 3x12 - "Ghosts"

Gotham
Episode 3x12 - "Ghosts"

Synopsis

Despite being cleared by the GCPD for Mario’s murder, Falcone and Lee both want Gordon to pay for his crimes and hire Zsasz to carry out the assassination. Meanwhile, during a routine murder investigation, Gordon and Bullock uncover a mysterious cult dedicated to worshipping the memory of Jerome Valeska.

Review

Despite my concerns at the end of the mid-season finale, Gotham addressed the burning issue of Gordon killing Mario Falcone with surprisingly speed by forgoing the formality of having Jim protest his innocence to the police force. Opening up with Mario’s funeral, it is quickly established via dialogue that the GCPD discovered Mario’s infection in an autopsy, corroborating Gordon’s initial claims in “Beware the Green-Eyed Monster” and explaining his decision to shoot the man. Of course, while he is legally innocent of the crime, he has still incurred Falcone’s wrath - resulting in another hit being placed on the unlucky detective. It was great fun seeing Victor Zsasz in a prominent role again, hunting down Jim Gordon with a psychotic glee. Anthony Carrigan does a great job with the character, hinting at his casual disdain for human life and foreshadowing his eventual descent into a trophy-obsessed serial killer. I was a little disappointed at how quickly the hit was called off, although given Zsasz’s efficiency, it was inevitable that this plot point would have to be reversed in order to maintain the status-quo.

While it’s too early to tell, there is a sneaking suspicion that the rushed nature of this sub-plot may be due to poor reaction to the mid-season cliff-hanger and the show’s writers have quickly revised their original plans in order to push ahead with the Jerome Valeska resurrection instead. After writing out Fish Mooney and putting the Indian Hill escapees back in the bottle, Season Three of Gotham has been an odd bag of aborted storylines. In fact, aside from the Mad Hatter plot thread – there hasn’t actually been a consistent through-line. With Jerome presumably picking up the baton from Benedict Samuel’s Mad Hatter, it seems Gotham will be returning to its winning formula of a single insane antagonist tormenting the city. Cameron Monaghan’s turn as Jerome during Season Two was a highlight of the series so I am very intrigued to see how Gotham handles this ‘proto-Joker’ when he is eventually resurrected.


Another subplot that has delivered less than expected is Bruce’s battle with the Court of Owls. While this episode provides a slight hint as to the true purpose of the Owl statue, as a shining light reveals some secret blueprints on the wall – little else of interest happens in this episode. Selina’s mother seems like an unnecessary wrinkle to the plot, and I am flabbergasted that no-one has thought to ask her why she was at the Court of Owls’ hideout. Clearly she knows something about the organisation! Despite this, it was good to see Selina let down her guard and showcase her vulnerable side – sometimes her sarcastic attitude can grate, especially when it comes to her and Bruce’s relationship. Obviously, the pair are destined to break-up at some point during the series and go their separate ways towards super-hero and super-villain destinies – I just hope it isn’t for a while yet as I like their awkward relationship.

Another relationship that I liked, and has sadly ended, is that of the Riddler and the Penguin. Here we see the beginning of Riddler’s plan to drive the Penguin insane – a surprisingly simple task, it turns out. As Penguin’s father appeared and disappeared as a ghostly image, I was worried that the show wouldn’t be able to adequately explain how Riddler achieved such as special effect – I mean, he’s not Mysterio… but the reveal of Clayface was a brilliant one, and I wonder if he’ll be used again in the future to bring back other dead characters? It seems that the Riddler’s plan to “completely destroy” the Penguin will be a slow-burner as he strips away everything the former mob-boss holds dear – starting with his position as Mayor. Unfortunately, Gotham hasn’t really spent much time in showing how important this new role is to Oswald Cobblepot, so his inevitable sacking won’t have the same amount of impact as his previous ‘low points’. Hopefully, the show-writers can take this grudge-match into an interesting direction and not drop it midway through in favour of a different story-arc.

Ghosts” certainly leaves Gotham in a stronger place than its mid-season finale did, but it continues to leave plenty of narrative ‘plates’ spinning and I am very intrigued to see how they will all come together to form a cohesive storyline. While this episode manages to condense the action to three distinct storylines, Gotham does have the habit of becoming a bit cluttered and unorganised at times, and it does feel like there are a number of different antagonists (Court of Owls, Jerome, Barnes, Falcone, Penguin/Riddler, Fish Mooney and the Mad Hatter) all vying for the spotlight. Hopefully the series can streamline some of these elements and end this season with a clear format, addressing and completing the various plots it has set in motion.


Score - 9.1 out of 10

Next Episode - "Smile Like You Mean It"
On the run from Gordon and Bullock, Dwight tries to revive Jerome and, in turn, activates his acolytes around Gotham City. Meanwhile, Selina's mom's intentions in Gotham are revealed, and the power play between Penguin and Nygma escalates as Barbara's plans are set in place.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

2000AD Prog 2014

Prog 2014 Cover by Neil Roberts

Adorning the Prog this week is this brilliantly moody cover from Neil Roberts depicting Ritterstahl from The Order holding the head of his future self. The piece feels Shakespearean in nature (“Alas, poor Yorick”) whilst showcasing the time-bending antics occurring within the strip. Roberts does a great job at recreating John Burns' designs for both Ritterstahl models and with a limited background and a spotlight on the lead character, it does actually feel like a scene from a play. Despite its simplicity, it's a wonderfully evocative image and it sums up the mood of the character perfectly as the near-immortal robot finds himself at the mercy of some chronological chaos. 


JUDGE DREDD - DEEP IN THE HEART (Part 3)
Script - Michael Carroll
Art - Tiernen Trevallion
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

This latest episode of “Deep in the Heart” pits Dredd up against an alternative law regime that is even more totalitarian than his own. For every crime committed, someone close to the perpetrator is punished instead – this over-zealous approach to justice seems to be effective with only a handful of crimes committed on Oil Rig Diana. Obviously Dredd isn't going to let bureaucracy and diplomatic sensitivity stand in the way of his mission, resulting in a brilliant action set-piece as he confronts the McMonagle brothers and some bad-ass moments of insubordination against the Marshals. As a stickler for the Law, its always great fun to see Dredd rebelling against corruption or tyrant regimes such as this one. I particularly liked how he boldly challenged the authority of the Marshals, even at gun-point. Giving them until the count of one to surrender, despite being outnumbered and outmanned, is a total Dredd thing to do and Michael Carroll ensures that the character is treated with respect and authenticity in these moments.


Tiernen Trevallion continues to cultivate that sense of dilapidation in his artwork, emphasising the rusty metal and shanty towns on the Oil Rig Diana. I also like how he imbues Kretschmer, the female leader of the Marshals, with such power and using her distinctive vitiligo skin condition to make her stand out from the others. She could easily become a recurring foil for Dredd, especially since she shares much of his tenacity and dedication to upholding the law – it's just a different set of rules to the ones that Dredd follows. Trevallion's use of blues and greys, much like with his work on Absalom, helps to establish a rather grim atmosphere to the storyline, highlighting the grim location perfectly. Carroll drops a few more hints about Dredd's prey, suggesting some potential enhanced powers and skill with swords. Given the mystery surrounding their identity, I wonder if it is a character we've seen before in some capacity. Since the flashback shows them using swords, I wonder if it is a character with ties to Hondo-City?



KINGMAKER (Part 4)
Script - Ian Edginton
Art - Leigh Gallagher
Letters - Ellie de Ville

After a few exposition-led episodes to setup the world of Kingmaker, writer Ian Edginton thrusts the reader face-first into an epic action sequence as the Wizard Ablard and his orc companion flee a group of Shrikes. This is high-octane stuff, thanks to Leigh Gallagher's skill at designing these epic set-pieces – a trait often seen in his work on Defoe, which saw hordes of zombies often attacking the titular character. While this particular episode is light on plot and heavy on action, Edginton's dialogue shines through as the series' lead characters bicker their way through the battle. The most impressive moment of the episode comes from the Wizard Ablard as he unleashes his true power on the Shrike ships, revealing some bite behind his washed-up drunk facade. Transported into a secret forest area through a glimmer, I wonder if the next installment will see our 'fellowship of heroes' increase by a member. This series continues to tickle my Tolkien funny-bone whilst injecting some fabulous science-fiction visuals into proceedings. It's the ultimate mix-tape of science-fiction and hard fantasy, and another arrow of originality in 2000AD's quiver.



THE ORDER - WYRM WAR (Part 4)
Script - Kek-W
Art - John Burns
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

This chaotic installment of The Order has the same energy and enthusiasm as a multi-Doctor episode of Doctor Who as both versions of Ritterstahl attempt to quell some in-fighting amongst the members of the Order. Kek-W does a tremendous job at orchestrating the action sequences as everyone clashes in violence, but he never loses sight of the character moments. I particularly liked how the past-Ritterstahl casually announces Cyrano's year of death to the man himself without any forethought, demonstrating the automation's lack of understanding of human emotion. Just like with his previous series of The Order, Kek-W is able to quickly introduce his supporting cast and make them relatable and likeable within the space of a few panels. With such an expansive cast of characters, this is a very vital skill to possess.


With countless characters on-page and in the midst of battle, John Burns has the unenvious task of ensuring that the action sequences run smoothly and don't confuse the reader, and he succeeds with aplomb. His fully-painted artwork is simply amazing and encapsulates the series perfectly. Not once does the reader lose track of the action, with wonderfully realised cast of dozens – each individually identifiable and distinct from each other. As well as the dense fight sequence, Burns excels at the larger set-pieces with an eye-catching half-page panel of our heroes plummeting straight down into the open mouth of a giant Wyrm. That is what you call a cliff-hanger ending! Moreso than its predecessors, this third series of The Order possesses an infectious sense of fun as the rules of time and space are bent back like a ruler about to snap.



HOPE - ...FOR THE FUTURE (Part 4)
Script - Guy Adams
Art - Jimmy Broxton
Letters - Simon Bowland

Guy Adams turns the noir dial up to eleven with this episode of Hope, taking the titular character in the seediest bar in LA. With less focus on the occult and dark magics, this installment felt very reminiscent of Frank Miller's work on Sin City, from the two hired goons playing eye-spy in the parking lot to the archetypal mob boss vomiting in the golden bucket. Adams just nails that gumshoe detective narration as Hope surveys the scene and discovers the extent of Luigi's debts. On the surface, it seems to be unfolding like a typical hostage drama but I suspect that things will get increasingly more supernatural as Adams peels back the layers of the mystery. What I love most about this strip is how utterly authentic it reads, you'd almost think this was a lost tale from the 1950s being reprinted after all these years. It's truly a joy to follow.


Another key ingredient in achieving that post-war atmosphere is Jimmy Broxton's utterly amazing artwork. Each panel feels so vibrant and alive that you can almost hear the blues music playing in the nightclub as Hope makes his way through the crowds. While Broxton does a tremendous job at setting the scene with plenty of photo-realistic panels, he can also bring an action sequence to life with some tightly choreographed layouts. The whole page just erupts into a medley of violence as Hope attempts to escape capture – it is intense and fast-paced and it feels like watching a gangster movie in your hands. I love how Adams and Broxton are taking a very familiar time period and location setting but subvert it with the inclusion of dark magics to create something so unique for 2000AD. This is shaping up to be one of the highlights of the year, and we're only in January!



KINGDOM - AS IT IS IN HEAVEN (Part 4)
Script - Dan Abnett
Art - Richard Elson
Letters - Ellie de Ville

Dan Abnett and Richard Elson continue to maintain their measured pace with this storyline, placing Gene and Leezee in the relative safety of the Cryo-Deck which then forces Major Canis to use Gene's friends as bargaining chips. Abnett's script hits all the right beats, creating genuine tension and drama as our heroes attempt to escape from enemy territory. He has done such a great job at making all of the central characters so likeable that it causes the reader to feel anxious about their chances of survival – considering Gene has killed two of the ship's Aux, it seems highly likely that his own comrades will receive the punishment. Elson's work on this series is the artistic equivalent of curling up on the sofa with a blanket and a warm cup of hot cocoa. It is so effortlessly comfortable that you can almost take for granted how much effort and skill must go into creating such beautiful panel work. It is the perfect pairing of script and artist, and I couldn't imagine anyone else achieving the same results on this series.



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

At fear of sounding like a broken record, this is another top-notch Prog – filled to the brim with excellent stories that each warrant the price of entry alone. For me, it has to be the Sin City-influenced noir of Hope that takes home the prize of “Thrill of the Week” - mostly due to its perfect blend of script and artwork. It is quite unlike anything I've read in 2000AD before. That said, there's plenty of other competition for that accolade within the pages of this issue. I love the sheer craziness of The Order, especially since timelines have converged and we have multiple versions of the steampunk guardian, Ritterstahl, in play. Kingdom and Kingmaker are equally as mesmerising, delivering strong installments that grip the reader and force them to wait unbearably until the next chapter. It's a fantastic mix of stories at the moment, and a highly promising start to the magazine's fortieth year of publication.

Thrill of the Week: Hope


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 2014 will be available in stores on Wednesday 18th January - 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 9th Doctor # 9

Doctor Who: The 9th Doctor # 9
"Slaver's Song" - Part 1 (of 2)
Written by: Cavan Scott
Art by: Adriana Melo
Colours by: Marco Lesko

This issue of the Ninth Doctor comic series is different from previous instalments, in that series artist Adriana Melo helped plot the story alongside regular writer Cavan Scott. The story, which sees the Doctor travel back in time to 17th century Brazil to encounter slave traders and mystical water monsters. As a Brazilian herself, Melo adds a level of authenticity to the tale in the same way that Scott did when he featured his hometown of Bristol heavily in his UNIT arc. It’s great to see the Doctor thrust into different cultures and time zones, especially ones like this which are seldom explored in contemporary fiction. Against this Brazilian backdrop, Scott finally delves into the mysteries surrounding Jack Harkness’ missing memories, picking up a plot thread undeveloped from the TV series itself. The Brazilian jungle is an environment rich for storytelling, and both Scott and Melo capitalise on its potential with this fun adventure.


I’m a huge fan of Adriana Melo’s art on this title, and the energetic tone she brings to the series. It’s clear that she enjoys being part of the Doctor Who universe – an enthusiasm that is also seen in Tara Mishra’s own joy at being part of the TARDIS team. I love the way Melo captures the huge grin on Tara’s face as she walks within the jungle, and she also nails Rose’s jealousy in a way that very reminiscent of her behaviour in “School Reunion” when she discovers that the Doctor used to travel with Sarah-Jane Smith. I absolutely adore her interpretation of the main cast of characters, each of which emphasise the core qualities of the actors who portray them. Her take on Billie Piper is my favourite, bringing much of the character’s personality out onto the page. I also love the design of her monsters, especially the mermaid-inspired beauty who comes to the Doctor’s aid in the final pages.

Overall, this was a strong opening instalment to a fantastic storyline – one that could never be seen on television due to budget constraints. The infectious joy of both creators is more than evident and sure to raise a smile on the reader’s face. This series is fast becoming my favourite Doctor Who series from Titan Comics, taking the character off on unexpected journeys through time and space, and with a new companion in tow, things are looking all the more exciting and unpredictable.


Score - 9.6 out of 10

Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor # 9 is now available in all good comic shops, including Forbidden Planet, as well as on the Comixology website.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Review - Agents of SHIELD: 4x09 - "Broken Promises"

Agents of SHIELD
Episode 4x09 - "Broken Promises"

Synopsis

Having achieved sentience from the Darkhold, AIDA embarks on a dangerous mission to retrieve the book from the SHIELD hideout. Meanwhile, Senator Nadeer finds herself torn between her loyalties to her family and the Watchdogs.

Review

In the wake of its successful “Ghost Rider” story-arc, this mid-season premiere episode of Agents of SHIELD had the tricky task of retaining those viewers who’d tuned in to watch the Spirit of Vengeance’s small-screen debut. Initially I was surprised at the speed at which the show seemed to be dealing with its new "LMD" story-arc, revealing AIDA’s sentience to SHIELD almost immediately and having her meet an untimely end at the hands of Mack and his shotgun-axe. Of course, it was all misdirection and the actual villain behind events was Holden Radcliffe – which came as a shock as I’d completely bought into the concept that AIDA had achieved self-awareness from the Darkhold, mostly due to Mallory Jansen's pitch-perfect performance as the android. It turns out this was a lie, thanks to some careful editing, and Radcliffe had programmed AIDA to appear sentient so he could use her to steal the Darkhold without jeopardising his own position within the organisation. Even more nefarious was his decision to abduct May and use her as a host template for a second LMD, infiltrating SHIELD’s inner-circle and allowing him to access secrets.

Radcliffe’s turn to the dark side, while unexpected, shouldn’t really come as a surprise as he was presented as a morally ambiguous scientist in his initial appearance in “The Singularity”, obsessed with transhumanism and upgrading the human body with bionics. He even worked alongside Hive to produce the Kree primitives, although arguably he was threatened to do so. Credit must go to John Hannah and his ability to present Radcliffe as an affable, humourous addition to the cast – avoiding the finger of suspicion with his genuine friendship with Fitz and Simmons and appearing under the radar of both SHIELD and the viewers at home. Given how drastically things progressed when Eli Morrow got his grubby hands on the Darkhold, I wonder what plans Radcliffe has for the dark tome – even in this episode, he is presented as a sympathetic villain, obsessed with harnessing the powers of the Darkhold for the greater good. With the news that this season will feature a third ‘chapter’ to conclude the run, it seems like that this “LMD” section will be used to establish the main threat of the season – presumably with Ghost Rider returning at the end to help deal with the Darkhold once and for all.


The other plot thread that dominated this episode involved the anti-Inhuman politician Senator Nadeer and her brother, who was recently freed from a seven-month terrigenesis incubation. Torn between her love for her brother and her hatred for aliens, Nadeer eventually sided with the Watchdogs and shot her brother point-blank in the chest. However, it seems that the super-speed he initially displayed was only part of his Inhuman power-set as he begun to form a second terrigenesis cocoon when dumped underwater. Judging from this post-mortem evolution, I suspect that Vijay will end up displaying powers similar to the mutant Darwin from the X-men, and each time he is “killed”, he will develop a new power to prevent the same method of attack. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was bullet-proof the next time he shows up. Given the scope of his powers, I wonder whether Vijay will turn out to be the “big bad” of the third act, although I would think the series would soon be steering away from the Inhuman stories now that an independent Inhuman series is in the works.

As to whether Agents of SHIELD has maintained the momentum built-up during its “Ghost Rider” period, I’d have to say that it does. This new “LMD” arc is rife with possibilities and allows the series to return to its roots with betrayal from within the team with ‘May-da’ adopting the same role that the undercover Grant Ward did during Season One. This repetition even extends to the reappearance of the Watchdogs, working for a mysterious benefactor with the code-name “The Superior” – who I’m going to guess is actually Jeffrey Mace. Now that the core cast have reunited and become a functioning team now, his role as interim director is somewhat redundant and I suspect the writers are prepping him up for a villainous reveal later down the line. While this series is re-treading old ground, swapping out Hydra for the Watchdogs and revisiting the Inhuman subject once again, it is still riding high from its diversion into the mystical elements of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. If Agents of SHIELD can continue to tell fresh and exciting stories whilst surprising the viewer, then it fully deserves a Season Five renewal.


Score - 9.6 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • Senator Nadeer’s parents were killed during the Chitauri attack (“The Avengers”) fuelling her hatred for all things alien.

Mysteries
  • What does Radcliffe intend to do with the Darkhold?
  • Who is “The Superior” running the Watchdogs?
  • What will Vijay become when he emerges from his second terrigenesis?

Next Episode - "The Patriot"
Separated from their team, Coulson and Mack discover a shocking secret about Mace, leaving all of SHIELD in a precarious position.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

2000AD Prog 2013

Prog 2013 Cover by Clint Langley

This bold cover from Clint Langley captures the phantasmagoria of new series, Hope, perfectly. I love the way Langley infuses the occult symbolism into his image, using the rather striking visual of a gas mask-wearing nun to catch attention on the newsagent's shelf. I love the intricate nature of the background; filled with pentagrams, runes and various scribbling. While it is quite a departure from Langley's usual style of cover art, it captures the tone of the series well – offering a multi-coloured alternative to the black and white noir interior artwork of Jimmy Broxton. Both approaches communicate that same feeling of black magic and occult mysticism, but through totally different ends of the spectrum. This would be a perfect image for a graphic novel collection of Hope, and already a strong contender for the Top Ten 2000AD Covers in 2017.


JUDGE DREDD - DEEP IN THE HEART (Part 2)
Script - Michael Carroll
Art - Tiernen Trevallion
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Dredd's hunt for his Mega-City One fugitive takes him to an oil rig off the shore of Texas City which has been converted into a make-shift habitat by squatters. The place is run by the Marshalls, an over-zealous law organisation that makes the Judges seem lenient, and within moments Dredd finds himself in conflict with them. After the initial installment of this storyline emphasised Texan stereotypes, this change in locale offers a refreshing take on Texas City and Michael Carroll uses the dilapidated oil rig to full effect. Out of his jurisdiction, Dredd has to play by someone else's rules and this particular story dynamic is always interesting to read. As with Carroll's previous 'fish out of water' story, “Blood of the Emeralds”, it is great to see Dredd stripped from his 'powers' as a Mega City Judge and having to play diplomat.


Tiernen Trevallion does a fabulous job on art duties, bringing oil-rig Diana to life on the page  and ensuring that it has that 'shanty town' feel. I also like his designs of the various mutants that reside on the Diana, including the McMonagle Brothers whom Dredd is searching for. Trevallion's attention to detail helps exaggerate the degradation of the area, similar to how his work on Absalom highlights the seedier underbelly of an alternate London. I'm enjoying the procedural feel to this storyline as Carroll takes time to explore the 'cat and mouse' chase between Dredd and his perp, throwing in oil-rig Diana as an obstacle to overcome. As evidenced by his reluctance to share information, there is more to this fugitive than meets the eye and I suspect it might be a former Wally Squad Judge given Dredd's reference to him being “trained to blend in”. This is a fun slow-boil mystery and I'm enjoying the work that Carroll is putting into building Dredd's world outside of Mega-City One.



KINGMAKER (Part 3)
Script - Ian Edginton
Art - Leigh Gallagher
Letters - Ellie de Ville

The juxtaposition of science and magic that lies at the heart of Kingmaker is explored in this installment which gives the reader their first proper glimpse at the aliens who've invaded the Middle Earth-esque world. There's hints of Star Wars about this sequence as the relationship between the two aliens resembles that of Vader and Tarkin in “A New Hope”. I like how Ian Edginton introduces the concept of quintessence – which doubles as a food source for the aliens and the mystical magics familiar to stories set in fantasy worlds such as this. As is typical of Edginton's adventures, he introduces another element into the conflict which sees the story transcend the simple format of “good vs. evil” with multiple factions, each vying for victory.


Leigh Gallagher's artwork transitions smoothly from the authentic Tolkien-esque landscape to a high-tech neon nightmare of a space ship without losing any of the series' unique tone. As our two antagonists walk through the ship, Gallagher's artwork showcases the horrific experiments that they are performing on the native residents (dragons, dryads and cherubs) in order to extract the quintessence from them. It's a brutal mish-mash of science and fantasy and one that Gallagher's intense style suits. The image of a dragon between ripped to pieces by probes and lasers is suitably epic and showcases the wonderful dichotomy at the heart of this series as the two genres clash with brilliant results. Having peeked behind enemy lines, the reader has a greater understanding of what is at risk and the dangers our heroes have to overcome to defeat them. Even though these initial episodes have been heavy on exposition, Edginton and Gallagher have ensured they have been nothing less than enthralling throughout.



THE ORDER - WYRM WAR (Part 3)
Script - Kek-W
Art - John Burns
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

The Order of Ouroboros is fractured as Athos leads mutiny against Ritterstahl – targeting the robotic guardian when he is at his most vulnerable. Having saved the Wyrm-girl, Catalina, Ritterstahl has incurred the wrath of his former comrades as their in-fighting threatens to tear about the brotherhood. Kek-W does a fantastic job at characterisation, making the reader care for these new additions to the series after a brief introduction. I also like the cyclical nature of this series and how certain patterns seem to form with each generation of The Order, with Taras Sich bearing resemblance to Iron John from the initial incarnation. It's clear that Kek-W is having great fun tampering with timelines and converging the various versions of Ritterstahl together to fight paradoxes.


John Burns' artwork is simply perfect for this series – I love the added emotion that comes from his painted style and the way he makes the character's faces so evocative, especially the roll call during Athos' impromptu council meeting – I particularly love the cheeky grin on Roosterman's face as he votes to overthrow Ritterstahl. I also love his depiction of the Wyrm menace that our heroes must face, depicted in this episode by that unsettling moment where Catalina reveals her Wyrm face to Cyrano. It's very disturbing to see a Wyrm with long black hair and a dress! This is shaping up to be an excellent chapter of The Order saga, touching upon many of the same themes that made the previous two storylines so enjoyable. With the hint of a temporal intervention at the end of this episode, I'm anticipating some more 'timey wimey' goodness from this series in the next few Progs.



HOPE - ...FOR THE FUTURE (Part 3)
Script - Guy Adams
Art - Jimmy Broxton
Letters - Simon Bowland

The finger of suspicion is pointed firmly at the missing boy's father as Hope discovers the man is linked with organised crime, however the most intriguing element of this episode is the flashback to World War Two which seems to hint at something dark and mystical occurring to Luigi, which may be affecting him now. Guy Adams continues to embrace that hard-boiled detective vibe with the protagonist's narration driving the story along, and Jimmy Broxton's absolutely gorgeous artwork bleeds film-noir onto the page. This is an extremely good-looking series and tonally different from anything that 2000AD has done before, breaking new ground with its merging of genres. While this particular chapter was more transitional than the previous ones, it remains as visually arresting as ever and I am very intrigued to find out more about Hope's powers and the eerie gas mask-wearing Nun that haunts him – could it be the angel of death waiting to claim him?



KINGDOM - AS IT IS IN HEAVEN (Part 3)
Script - Dan Abnett
Art - Richard Elson
Letters - Ellie de Ville

Dan Abnett and Richard Elson continued to raise the tension to unbearable levels in this latest edition of Kingdom. While most of the episode consisted of an extended fight sequence between Gene and Sultan, it is hard to complain about a lack of forward momentum when the action looks this gorgeous. Sure, it retread some of the old ground from the previous Aux vs. Aux fight which saw Gene execute Seizer, but in this instance we get to see how much Leezee has changed in her time aboard the space station – willing to kill others to protect her friend. Throughout the years, Kingdom has had some absolutely stunning action set-pieces that feel so fluid and cinematic that you'd swear they were animated on the page, but on a weekly basis, it can be tricky to review as the story doesn't have the same momentum as other strips in the Prog. I'm looking forward to seeing this storyline develop and hope that Abnett and Elson continue to press on with this isolated, outnumbered atmosphere they've cultivated.



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

Tharg continues to serve up a varied platter of awesomeness with this latest Prog, offering a wonderfully diverse range of stories. It is the epic ‘science vs. magic’ themes of Kingmaker that earn the series the place, “Thrill of the Week” – although it is a position hotly contended by the other stories in the Prog. It is tough to pick a favourite with so much raw talent shining through the pages, and even though some of the stories lack a sense forward momentum in this Prog, they are no less enjoyable for it. The lavish illustrations of Kingdom can charm even the most-hardened critic and I find myself wowed by the chronological complications occurring over in The Order. With its ‘fish out of water’ set-up, Judge Dredd remains as fresh and exciting as ever, whilst Hope offers readers something new in a comic that has been in print for almost forty years. As it embarks on its Ruby Anniversary this year, there is no denying that every story in this Prog is an absolute gem!

Thrill of the Week: Kingmaker


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 2013 will be available in stores on Wednesday 11th January - 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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