Showing posts with label Prog Reviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Prog Reviews. Show all posts

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

2000AD Prog 2017

Prog 2017 Cover by Jake Lynch

Judge Dredd gets a bit meta with this cover from Jake Lynch as he bursts out from inside the Prog, revealing snippets of the Nerve Centre contents page as he does so. It's an effective image and I love the whole concept of having Dredd rip through the cover and out towards the reader. Lynch puts in a lot of attention to detail here, especially when it comes to the interior imagery of the Nerve Centre, and I really like his take on Dredd. My only nit-pick would be the arms, particularly the one holding the law-giver – I think the eagle emblem on his shoulder obscures the angle somewhat, making it look like his arm is coming out of his chest. That said, it's a great piece and definitely stands out from the crowd. I applaud Lynch for trying something new and different with the cover format!


JUDGE DREDD - DEEP IN THE HEART (Part 6)
Script - Michael Carroll
Art - Henry Flint
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

The hunt for the Sector Zero operative hurtles towards a conclusion as Dredd and his unlikely group of assistants finally discover his true identity. There’s a nice moment where it seems as if the fugitive is one step ahead of Dredd once more, but it’s revealed that Dredd has accounted for this and sent a group of Texas City Judges ahead of time. I really enjoyed the sequence between Dredd and Vega and the way he disregards her threats to jump out of the transport. I’m glad she got some clemency for helping out the Judges and I hope she returns in a later story – she had a great visual design, and I like her spunky, energetic personality.


Henry Flint continues to demonstrate why he is one of the most popular Judge Dredd artists in recent history, displaying his flair for the action sequence as he choreographs a scene where our heroes attempt to outmanoeuvre a rogue Robocab. As mentioned before, his design for Paradox Vega really helped the character to stand out and I hope Michael Carroll revisits her in a later storyline, as he often does. I have to admit that the fugitive doesn’t fit the typical look for an undercover assassin, but I guess that’s the point and Dredd’s doom-laden prediction for Weaver and his team suggests that we might see his true abilities in the next episode. 



KINGMAKER (Part 7)
Script - Ian Edginton
Art - Leigh Gallagher
Letters - Ellie de Ville

Ian Edginton reveals treachery in the kingdom of the Dryads in this latest episode of Kingmaker, as he continues to peel back more layers behind this mysterious mystical world. It appears that the mysterious energy discharge from the earth which Crixus witnessed may be a manifestation of the Ebora – the very spirit of the earth itself. Lord Tycho's alliance with the alien hordes is unexpected, but makes sense within the context of the tale, and I suspect that his daughter may end up accompanying Ablard and Crixus on their quest to awaken the Ebora. Looking at the narrative structure, there are definite similarities between this series and Edginton's other epic adventures such as Scarlet Traces, Brass Sun and Helium. He has a very clear authorial voice that shines though in all of his stories for 2000AD, and there's a timelessness nature to his adventures. There is a fantastically epic scale to all Edginton's work, and Kingmaker is no exception.


I continually find myself mesmerised by the quality on display from Leigh Gallagher's artwork as he effortlessly captures the darkness of this tale. Gallagher has proven himself more than capable at depicting the grittier side of medieval fantasy, and I love the highly detailed backgrounds of the Dryad's woodland palace. With pink lightning bolts whizzing about the place and a shock betrayal, there's definitely a touch of Star Wars about this sequence and it also reminds me of the sequence from The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring when Saruman battles Gandalf. Edginton does well to riff on this iconic moments in science-fiction and fantasy, but without losing his own voice in the process. Kingmaker remains a highly original hybrid of genres, taking the best elements from alien invasion stories and fantasy war stories and merging them together to produce a one-of-a-kind adventure.



THE ORDER - WYRM WAR (Part 7)
Script - Kek-W
Art - John Burns
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Stepping back from the time-travelling antics of the previous few installments, Kek-W instead returns to character development as he focuses on the fates of several core characters from The Order's second series, specifically Daniel Calhoun, Francis Bacon and Izta. I really enjoyed the cast of heroes from the Elizabethan adventure, so it is great to see them returned for this third storyline, albeit aged and in the twilight of their years. There's even romance between Cyrano and the Wyrm Lady Catalina, demonstrating Kek-W's love for unlikely romantic pairings and his innate knack for characterisations. Even in a quieter, more reflective chapter such as this one, John Burns' fully-painted artwork stands out with its wonderfully emotive qualities. That final panel where Ixta and Calhoun's children are running through the fields chased by a huge Wyrm is absolutely chilling and works effectively as a cliffhanger, forcing the reader to come back to find out their fates. 



FUTURE SHOCKS - DONATIONS WELCOME!
Script - Rory McConville
Art - Steven Austin
Letters - Simon Bowland

Rory McConville returns to the Prog with another Future Shock, bringing with him relative newcomer Steven Austin, following their collaboration in Prog 1982 with the Time Twister tale, “The Timeless Assassin”. McConville opens up this short story with the wonderfully subversive concept of soldiers being forced to donate their organs to help repair more physically proficient soldiers on the battlefield. It's a great idea, and unfortunately it doesn't get much chance to shine in this short four-page story. It would have been great to see it explored in greater detail in a Rogue Trooper tale, for example. As with his debut appearance in the Prog, Steven Austin’s artwork is hugely impressive and evokes memories of those early classic 2000AD Future Shocks from the late-seventies. It’s a great self-contained story, and one that offers a breath of fresh air amongst the Prog’s current line-up. 



KINGDOM - AS IT IS IN HEAVEN (Part 7)
Script - Dan Abnett
Art - Richard Elson
Letters - Ellie de Ville

Dan Abnett deals with the aftermath of last episode's bloody battle between the Aux with a surprisingly emotional death scene for Cutback. While it was obvious that Michelle Barkmann and Cutback were destined for that doghouse in the sky, Abnett made both of their deaths resonate and gave them strong final moments, instead of reducing them to cannon fodder. While this story-arc has felt like an elongated chase sequence through various corridors, this chapter ends with a shocking twist that introduces another species to the world of Kingdom. The idea of a feline version of the Aux to rival the canine ones is an inspired idea and in retrospect, it seems so obvious that I'm surprised I didn't see it coming. It's a brilliant twist and it opens up a whole new world of possibilities for the series.


Richard Elson maintains the same level of momentum from previous installments, especially during Cutback's final moments. I'm amazed how seamlessly Elson can switch from those quieter character moments into an action-packed cliffhanger. The design of this new feline Aux is brilliant and feels smoothly into the established aesthetics of this series, capturing the animal's cat-like properties whilst maintaining similarities with the Aux. Abnett wisely preserves Major Canis for a later date, having him survive his injuries but resting on the subs bench whilst his second-in-command heads off on a suicide mission to eliminate his targets. As this story-arc heads towards its conclusion, there is a touch of inevitability about the remaining episodes as Gene and Leezee attempt to escape from the Orbital Station. That said, Abnett and Elson still know how to surprise, and I wonder whether there might be another twist in the tale before it comes to a close.



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

Once again, this was another strong Prog as the various stories seem to be heading towards their conclusions in the next couple of weeks. The addition of a Future Shock adds a sparkle to the line-up, offering a ‘done-in-one” adventure amongst the long-form storytelling that has been in play since the beginning of the year. It’s tough to pick a “Thrill of the Week” for this Prog, but Kingdom narrowly edges out Judge Dredd to take the spot, thanks to its surprisingly emotive send-off for Cutback and a whopper of a twist ending.

Elsewhere, Tharg’s eyes are firmly on the future, with another tease for the 40th Anniversary Edition revealing the return of Ro-Busters with the same Pat Mills / Clint Langley creative team that brought the series back for a “lost adventure” within ABC Warriors. I really enjoyed the trip down memory lane with the “Return to Ro-Busters” storyline and I look forward to another chance to visit that era again when the 40th Anniversary Edition comes out on 22nd February.


Thrill of the Week: Kingdom


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 2017 will be available in stores on Wednesday 8th February - 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!

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

2000AD Prog 2016

Prog 2016 Cover by Alex Ronald

This brightly coloured cover from Alex Ronald looks quite different from the artist's usual style, instead evoking memories of Colin MacNeil's artwork, especially with Dredd's design. I love the stoic look on Dredd's face as he lifts up his grinning perp towards the reader, it's a great juxtaposition and makes you want to read inside to find out more about this unusual-looking criminal. Ronald does a great job at maintaining consistency with Henry Flint's interior work on the strip, but he also puts his own stamp on the piece too. I like the heavy use of yellows and blue as a colour scheme, adding a summery feel to the cover that helps distinguish it from the streets of Mega-City One. This is a solid cover design, and one that piques the interest of the reader to find out more about the situation that is being depicted.


JUDGE DREDD - DEEP IN THE HEART (Part 5)
Script - Michael Carroll
Art - Henry Flint
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Henry Flint joins Michael Carroll for this next stage of Judge Dredd's adventure in Texas City, taking over from Tiernen Trevallion as Dredd and his temporary partners search for a mutant that may be able to help them locate their perp. I really like the design of Paradox Vega as she parkours and cracks wise across the shanty-town – she reminds me of Screwball, the social-media focused bandit from Amazing Spider-Man. I'm not sure if she's appeared in Judge Dredd before – there seems to be some familiarity between her and Dredd, so perhaps she was in a previous Michael Carroll storyline as he does like to revisit past plot threads to create a strong sense of continuity amongst his own adventures.


As with previous episodes of this story, Carroll is taking Dredd (and the reader) on a tour of Texas City, using the hunt for the Sector Zero fugitive as the main through-line for a group of smaller stories – it reminds me of “The Hunting Party” series of stories from Prog 1033 – 1049 where Dredd and a group of cadets went from adventure to adventure in the Cursed Earth whilst trying to discover the origin of some dune sharks that attacked the Big Meg. It's great to see Henry Flint on art duties – he is one of the most prolific Judge Dredd artists in recent years, present for some of the biggest events in the series' history so it is always a welcome sight to see his beautiful and distinctive artwork in the Prog. Even though it was a bit jarring to have a switch in artist, the transition between the adventure in Oil Rig Diana and this section in the Shanty-town ensured that it wasn't a total upset to the narrative.



KINGMAKER (Part 6)
Script - Ian Edginton
Art - Leigh Gallagher
Letters - Ellie de Ville

Safe from their enemies, our unlikely heroes find themselves deep within the kingdom of the Dryad, although they don’t receive the warmest of welcomes from the tree-people. Ian Edginton’s script reveals the deep-seated prejudices between the Orks and the Dryad, causing some misunderstandings and in-fighting between these potential allies against the Shrike. Edginton does a tremendous job at filling in the history between these characters and their natural animosity between each other, and I like how he uses dialogue to establish the character’s personalities. There’s a hint of Avatar about this sequence, and Leigh Gallagher’s artwork captures the dense feeling of the forest and the magical qualities of this hidden realm. I really like his design for the Dryads which maintains an humanoid, almost elf-like appearance but with vines and greenery growing onto their skin as armour, almost like the Witchblade – but with much less cleavage! Despite its slower pace, Kingmaker continues to feel like the beginnings of a legendary quest and I like how Edginton is taking his time on uniting his ‘fellowship’ of heroes.



THE ORDER - WYRM WAR (Part 6)
Script - Kek-W
Art - John Burns
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

This episode of The Order is another brief respite in the battle against the Wyrms, which allows Kek-W to explore the concept of humanity through two of his most inhuman characters. I love how the makes the parallel between Catalina and Ritterstahl – two 'creatures' who've “tasted what it's like to be human” and have evolved past their programming. It's a shrewd connection, and one that demonstrates Kek-W's skill as a character writer as he showcases just how much Ritterstahl has developed over the past three series but placing his different iterations up against each other. Each version of Ritterstahl has a distinct personality, as a result of the specific stage in his life, and it's great fun to see them interacting with each other.


This is a series that definitely rewards long-term readers, with plenty of nice call-backs to the previous adventures. While its not a necessity to have reader the previous chapters, it enhances the feeling of nostalgia as the various timelines clash together. Given Ritterstahl's futuristic design and the anachronistic nature of the series, I am fully expecting our heroes to travel to the future at some point to set events into motion. It's like Terminator – someone at some point must send the original Ritterstahl, Jan Grimm, back in time to protect mankind from the Wyrms and the further into the series we progress, it seems like we're heading closer to discovering who that might be. John Burns continues to deliver some tremendous fully-painted panels here, managing to convey a true sense of grief and loss into the expressionless face of a robot head. You can feel Ritterstahl's anger in those final panels as his loss spurs him on to face his mortal enemy, and I can't wait to see what'll happen next!



HOPE - ...FOR THE FUTURE (Part 6)
Script - Guy Adams
Art - Jimmy Broxton
Letters - Simon Bowland

Coming out of nowhere, this chapter of Hope acts as a mid-series finale as the series goes on hiatus for a few months. As a result, Guy Adams throws in a hell of a curve-ball, quite literally if my suspicions about the mysterious Hollywood Producer are correct. Up until now, Hope’s own past with his missing son has been seen as motivation for his interest in this case, but the stunning revelations in this chapter seem to suggest a direct correlation between the two missing children. The sudden sucker-punch of reveal is a jarring change of pace, made even more disorientating by Jimmy Broxton’s artwork which transitions from white open spaces to a darker, black-centric series of panels. It’s an effective technique and the reader comes away feeling as stunned as the central character himself, left confused and wanting more information. These past six episodes have been a great introduction for the series, and I can’t wait for it to return in the near future to continue the bleak, noir-drenched hunt for Joey Fabrizzi.



KINGDOM - AS IT IS IN HEAVEN (Part 6)
Script - Dan Abnett
Art - Richard Elson
Letters - Ellie de Ville

The hostage situation between the two Aux factions reaches a dramatic and bloody conclusion in this latest episode of Kingdom. I'm glad Dan Abnett didn't write Michelle Barkmann as a victim and had her go out like a fighter, sacrificing herself for her pack leader. It was a strong moment for the character and Richard Elson gore-drenched panels really made it stand out as one of the more startling moments of the series. Given his injuries, I suspect that Cutback might not last much longer than his friend, leaving Gene without a pack to back him up. Also, isn't it ironic that his name is Cutback and it's Gene who has ended up with a “cut back”...Oh well.


I wasn't expecting Major Canis to suffer such a dramatic injury, since he'd seemed to be positioned as Gene's mirror-image, but I guess he had to be out for the count so the more foolhardy Bull would discharge his weapons in the cryo-chambers. I fully expect Canis to return in the future, though, as he has far too much potential to be killed off this soon. There has to be a no-holds-barred fight to the death between Gene and Canis before this series is finished, and with his neck injury here, I'm sure Canis will be even more determined to make the Wild Aux pay. Abnett and Elson are doing a terrific job on this series, not letting up on the tension throughout the past six episodes. I can honestly say that this might be the most thrilling installment of the Kingdom saga yet!



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

This Prog saw a couple of surprising shake-ups to the status-quo, with the first being Henry Flint taking over art duties for the latter half of this Judge Dredd storyline. Unexpected, but not unwanted – this change in artist hasn't affected the strip drastically, especially since the narrative has moved towards a different area. The second shake-up was the sudden hiatus for Hope, which had proven to be a solid gem in Tharg's collection of rarities. Of course, this is a temporary break for the series, but it is a shame to see it go, especially when things were beginning to heat up for the detective. 

Kingdom takes the spot of 'Thrill of the Week', thanks to its action-packed resolution to its hostage drama. While we bid a sad farewell to one of the series' mainstays, it was a strong character moment that was handled terrifically by series creators Abnett and Elson.

Alongside the exciting news that Nikolai Dante will be returning for the 2000AD 40th Anniversary Special, Tharg teases the revival of another old favourite as Durham Red returns to the Prog. Judging from the promo image, this will be another untold tale as she appears to be alongside Johnny Alpha, although its unclear whether this will contradict the events of "The Scarlet Cantos", or predate that story-arc. Personally, I hope this is a way to reintegrate Red back into the Strontium Dog continuity, especially since Carlos Ezquerra is back on art duties for the character. 

Thrill of the Week: Kingdom


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 2016 will be available in stores on Wednesday 1st February - 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!

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!

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!

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!

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

2000AD Prog 2012

Prog 2012 Cover by Luke Preece

Kicking off 2017 in style is this distinctive cover from Luke Preece, one of the graphic design droids working for 2000AD's parent company, Rebellion. Preece’s take on Dredd shows the character as rough and ready, complete with a stubbly chin and battle-worn shoulder pads. The inclusion of the Texan state flag ensures that the cover remains connected to the contents of the Prog, and Preece’s detailed art style imbues the piece with a Spaghetti Western vibe that aligns itself nicely to the change of locale.


JUDGE DREDD - DEEP IN THE HEART (Part 1)
Script - Michael Carroll
Art - Tiernen Trevallion
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Following on from last year’s summer mega-epic “Every Empire Falls”, Michael Carroll returns to Judge Dredd to deal with the aftermath of the attempted Texas City coup. Having installed a Mega-City One friendly Chief Judge in office, the relationship between the two cities has begun to rebuild to the point where Dredd is able to make use of Texas City resources to locate an escaped fugitive from Mega-City One. While this initial installment doesn’t dwell on the events of Carroll’s previous story-arc, it showcases the new status-quo between the two major powers and develops into another “fish out of water” storyline to complement Dredd and Joyce’s visit to Emerald Isle in 2015’s “Blood of the Emeralds”. While Texas City shares many of the same elements as Mega-City One, it is interesting to see that unique Texan attitude come through in both the script and artwork.


Interestingly, Dredd is relegated to a supporting character in this opening installment as the story follows the narrative of a Texas City Judge writing a letter to be read in the event of his death – it’s a curious technique and certainly makes a fairly standard story about extraditing a wanted felon into something more curious. Tiernen Trevallion handles art duties for this story-arc, balancing the sprawling urban landscape of Texas City with the vast deserts that one would expect from the locale. It’s a strong opening episode, and one that manages to reference plenty of past adventures without being beholden to continuity. On a side-note, I have to say that I’m really enjoying the diversity of stories in recent years, taking place in unlikely locations such as Emerald Isle, Brit-Cit, Titan, Enceladus and now, Texas City.



KINGMAKER (Part 2)
Script - Ian Edginton
Art - Leigh Gallagher
Letters - Ellie de Ville

After the heavy-exposition seen in its introductory episode, Ian Edginton continues to develop the world of Kingmaker but this time through the dialogue of his lead characters rather than a series of narration boxes. Firmly focused on character, Edginton establishes the conflict between the Wizard Ablard and his Orc rescuer whilst continuing to set the scene of this brand-new fantasy landscape. Through the inclusion of the Thorn and the Shrikes, Edginton continues to demonstrate how much Kingmaker diverges from its Lord of the Rings inspiration. I particularly like how two natural enemies on opposite sides of the war are brought together to fight against a common enemy – it’s a fantastic premise and one that instantly endears the series to the reader. It’s like a buddy-cop movie, but with Orcs and Wizards...

Despite a slower pace to the proceedings in this episode, Leigh Gallagher’s artwork remains just as spell-binding, working alongside Edginton’s script to carefully establish a distinctive tone for the series. While I was a huge fan of his black-and-white work on Defoe, this move into colour has blown me away – maintaining the artist’s trademark style and without sacrificing any of the intensity. Yet again, Ian Edginton has brought another imaginative, fully-formed world into existence to sit alongside the likes of his recent series, Brass Sun and Helium. As with his work on Stickleback and Scarlet Traces, he has taken the worlds dreamed up by a pre-existing author and moulded it into a wholly original title that bears little resemblance to the source material. I love the way that he is able to breathe fresh air into classic tales and conjure up weird and wonderful worlds to explore.



THE ORDER - WYRM WAR (Part 2)
Script - Kek-W
Art - John Burns
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Moving along the time-stream once more, this latest episode of The Order introduces another incarnation of the titular organisation, this time comprising of Cyrano de Bergerac, Louis Garou, Milady de Winter and Athos from The Three Musketeers. In a final confrontation, reminiscent of last series' clash with the Wyrmqueen, the gang find themselves up against the Pope and Cardinal Richelieu. Despite an apparent victory, the Wyrms' manipulation of time sees Anna Kohl wiped from existence, tying into the Crisis on Infinite Earths vibe from the opening episode. I'm really enjoying how Kek-W is playing with the pre-established format of The Order, bringing historical figures from specific timelines to work together as a team. In some ways, it is reminiscent of Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, albeit with a mix of real and fictitious characters.


John Burns' painted artwork is a treat for the eyes, creating a vivid picture of the era in which our heroes find themselves up against the grotesque. Despite their simple design, Burns' take on the Wyrms is enough to make the reader squirm in discomfort as they ooze pus all over the page. There is something about Burns' art style that makes him the perfect choice for these swashbuckling adventures – I loved his time on Nikolai Dante, although it sometimes contradicted the futuristic stylings of Simon Fraser's work – but here, he has made this series his own, taking full advantage of the historical setting to create an eerie alternate history, rife with worm-like creatures from other dimensions. The increased reliance on time travel in this third series has definitely piqued my interest and I'm looking forward to seeing different versions of The Order crossing timelines to come up against a greater threat.



HOPE - ...FOR THE FUTURE (Part 2)
Script - Guy Adams
Art - Jimmy Broxton
Letters - Simon Bowland

As with its inaugural episode, this second chapter of Hope does a tremendous job at capturing that post-war LA-noir feeling of bleakness. I'm a sucker for a good detective story and Guy Adams' script hits all the right spots, blending mysticism with the seedier side of Hollywood. With the measured precision of a brain surgeon, Adams peels back the layers to reveal the heart of his noir-infused adventure, centred around the disappearance of a child actor. This is world's apart from his work on Ulysses Sweet, boasting a surprising maturity and atmospheric tone. Most of the strip's distinctive feel comes from Jimmy Broxton's absolutely amazing visuals, which experiments with the traditional panel-based storytelling in a way seldom seen in 2000AD. Broxton's art overwhelms the senses, infusing so much emotion and gritty realism into each black and white page. This is 'pulp fiction' storytelling at its finest, and its so authentic in its execution, you'd almost expect to find newsprint on your hands after reading it.



KINGDOM - AS IT IS IN HEAVEN (Part 2)
Script - Dan Abnett
Art - Richard Elson
Letters - Ellie de Ville

The Human Refuge Station orbiting the Earth makes a claustrophobic setting for this series of Kingdom, especially since our heroes are outnumbered and on the run. Despite reuniting Gene with his young master, Dan Abnett continues to raise the tensions by having them hunted by three rival Aux – one of whom is Major Canis from the previous adventure. There's a hint of tragedy to this installment as everyone on-board this ship is technically on the same side, but the cold, calculated nature of the human survivors doesn't allow for the sentimentality that Leezee is displaying. Ironically, in their attempts to ensure that the human race survives, the team have lost the empathy which makes them human.


While little happens in this installment, Richard Elson ensures that the episode remains nail-bitingly tense throughout. Everything about his work on the series feels so natural, as if he was somehow pre-ordinated to draw this series one day – so much of Kingdom's personality comes from his artwork and wonderful character designs. This is one of those series that would suffer greatly from a change in artist, and I'm glad that Tharg has maintained the same creative team throughout. While the series was beginning to become formulaic in its approach towards the insectoid Them, pitting Gene up against fellow Aux and the humans has introduced a sense of unpredictability to the series that has me eager to find out where the plot is heading next.



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

This Prog is a great way to ring in the New Year with a solid roster of stories that encompass a wide range of genres and time periods. It's tough to pick a favourite, and I find myself torn between the gritty detective drama, Hope, and the bonkers time-travel fantasy epic, The Order. Ultimately, The Order earns the coveted “Thrill of the Week” spot, thanks to Kek-W's energetic script and the pitch-perfect art from the legendary John Burns.

The Prog is firing on all cylinders, once again, and I love the diversity available in the current line-up. There's science-fiction, there's fantasy and there's even hybrids of the two – there's quite literally unlimited possibilities between the pages and 2000AD never stops surprising its readers with some of the most imaginative concepts ever seen in comics. I mean, where else would you read about a genetically-engineered dog protecting a young orphan girl from the last few remnants of the human race in a space station orbiting an insect-infested Earth?! Just brilliant...

Thrill of the Week: The Order


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 2012 will be available in stores on Wednesday 4th 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!

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!
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