The last week of comics of 2014, that is, the week of 31.12.2014, saw the release of SHIELD #1, a new comics series from Marvel that is presumably set in its own continuity and also contains characters from Agents of SHIELD, Marvel’s first live-action show that is currently in its second season. To see characters like Agents Simmons and Fitz, or Agent Melinda “The Cavalry” May among others is a great feeling, and the first issue two weeks back was a lot of fun indeed, with its focus on Phil Coulson and his particular strengths as a SHIELD agent.
In last week’s SHIELD #2, we got to see some different things than in the first issue, particularly since this issue starred Marvel’s biggest hit character of 2014, Kamala Khan aka Miss Marvel. And the best thing was that we got to see Kamala interact with Jemma Simmons and even bond. That’s pretty fantastic. The comics version of Jemma is of course quite different from her live-action counterpart, but that has little bearing on the matter here since she is so much more immediately awesome here. The art was different this time as the art team is different, but it was still pretty fun, and the final one-page backup with Fitz and May was hilarious.
The first Comics Picks of the new year, and while I of course wished for a Magic 40 to kick off 2015, I’m happy with the fact that I didn’t go overboard much and read only a few measly 10 comics, two of which were graphic novels.
For the first week of 2015, the top hits were SHIELD #1 from Marvel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes from Boom Studios, Legends of Red Sonja Volume 1 from Dynamite, and Star Trek/Planet of the Apes from IDW/Boom Studios. The disappointing reads of the week were both from Zenescope unfortunate, Dark Shaman #3 and Quest: Age of Darkness Volume 1. The others… they were decent, nothing major.
As mentioned above, the graphic novels for the week were Legends of Red Sonja Volume 1 from Dynamite and Quest: Age of Darkness Volume 1 from Zenescope. The former was a fun book where Gail Simone brought together several different female prose writers, paired them with different artists, and wrote a grand, sweeping Red Sonja story. The latter was part of the publisher’s Age of Darkness event and was more a prequel story.
Marvel’s cinematic universe has had an interesting effect on its comics in recent years. And that applies to the movies released by Marvel itself, and those by other studios who own rights to some of Marvel’s characters. One of the most noticeable of late is that Fantastic Four is facing cancellation without recourse to a republish, possibly because Disney is pushing its own properties to which it has full control. Another is that through Agents of SHIELD, we are seeing some trickle down of characters and relationships in the comics from the television/movies stuff, and one of the biggest changes of late is the new SHIELD comic, out this week.
Phil Coulson has been a mainstay of the Marvel Cinematic Universe since it kicked off back in the Bronze Age with Iron Man. Since then, the character has come a long way and has gone from being a regular old field agent to becoming the Director of SHIELD itself in Agents of SHIELD. In the comics, he is still an agent in Secret Avengers but with the new SHIELD #1, we learn that he is the supreme commander of SHIELD’s Special Ops department, giving him an unparalleled access to all the different heroes and all of SHIELD’s resources. And Mark Waid writes a damn good story that is beautifully illustrated by Carlos Pacheco and the rest of the art team.
When Marvel’s Avengers ended, it set a new standard for superhero movies. To the best of my knowledge, superhero team movies hadn’t happened before this movie, especially not when the movie in question was preceded by no less than four movies that set the stage for it. With Avengers, Marvel’s cinematic universe also moved into a new phase, a phase where we’ve seen some big changes in teh status quo for the various heroes and where we’ve also gotten to see lots of new characters, heroes and villains alike as well. And now, in just about half a year, we are going to see Avengers: Age of Ultron, the next big Marvel money-maker.
Avengers: Age of Ultron does not have anything to do with last year’s Age of Ultron event in the comics, though they both share the same name. It is going to be a new story about the sentient robot built (most often in the comics) by Hank Pym, the Ant-Man, that then goes on a genocidal rampage against humanity. Of course, we haven’t seen Pym in the MCU as yet, though there is a movie coming out soon that deals with his successor as Ant-Man, Scott Lang, so it is all going to rest in the hands of the MCU’s go-to tech-serf, Tony Stark aka Iron Man. Last night, after a trailer of the upcoming movie leaked out, Marvel and Disney went ahead and released the official teaser, and by gods it is awesome!
NBC’s The Blacklist has had an interesting second season so far. Lots of new characters have strung up in the wake of season one’s finale, and the Reddington Task Force has experienced some big changes of its own, whether that is losing some people or gaining some new allies. But things are still in flux, as they ever are on this show, and that is a good thing, since there are some mysteries still left unexplored, which define the show itself, and none more so than the relationship between Red and Liz, which got murkier and ever more mysterious in last week’s “Dr. Linus Creel“.
In “The Front” this week we see the heroes go up against a group of eco-terrorists, who have some grand plans for cleansing the world of the species that eradicates dozens of species a year. It all starts off with a murder, and by the end we are left with the team redefining some of its interrelationships and also Red finally getting one of the things he has wanted since the start of the season.It is not all that interesting an episode, personally speaking, since the eco-terrorists were rather boring, but the good thing is that the subplot involving Red and his investigation still remains a strong story, despite everything else.
One of the biggest things last season in this show was the whole mystery of the relationship between Red and Liz, something that showrunner Jon Bokenkamp teased often, but never really committed to. It was really fascinating to watch regardless, and going into the new season, it was also something that I was quite looking forward to, especially when it turned out that Red did have a wife, Naomi Hyland, who was still living, and that she was going to play sort of a major role this season. Not much has been done with her to date, but I think that’s changing now.
“Dr. Linus Creel” is this week’s episode and it deals with an old US government black budget program that investigated the possibilities of mind control. Where the Reddington Task Force is concerned, someone of late has been causing people to go total violent psycho and commit some horrible murders, and this is what Red has to offer to them, even providing some crucial leads. It was a good episode, partly because of how well-performed the role of Dr. Linus Creel was, but also because we got a serious peek at what Red and Naomi’s life was before it was all upended several years back, and that was the true strength of the episode, the villain himself being somewhat lackluster.
Last week The Blacklist closed out one phase of the ongoing feud between Red and Berlin, leaving viewers with a vague promise that the two might be able to ally with each other to root out whoever had caused the feud between them in the first place. It was a pretty damn good episode, especially since it marked the two meeting each other face-to-face for the first time. While the first season finale and the second season premiere showcased a lot of changes on the FBI’s Reddington Task Force, things are also setting in the same kind of groove they were in towards the end of the first season.
This week’s episode, “Dr. James Covington” does some really great things, such as bringing back Tom Keen for a brief cameo and forcing Elizabeth to once more question Red’s motives and his longer game plan. Along the way she also helps take down a rogue surgeon who has been running an organ scam for a number of years, ruthlessly and callously so. Some of this episode is a bit filler, but by and large I loved it since it continued some of the mysteries from the previous two episodes while also creating some interesting new ones, keeping me hooked.
NBC’s The Blacklist kicked off its second season last week on a very good note. With the introduction of the Berlin plotline last year, the show gained on a very personal, very emotional aspect that came to the fore by the end of the season when we learned that Berlin wanted Red because Red had had his daughter killed. And in last week’s season two premiere we saw that Berlin upped the stakes of his mission for revenge by kidnapping Red’s estranged wife. The character interactions and the tone of the new season were all pretty damn strong and this week’s follow-up episode builds on all of that.
The promos at the end of the first episode promised a meeting between Red and Berlin in this week’s episode. That was pretty mind-blowing in itself and something to really look forward to this week. In a game of cat-and-mouse that has all been about leverage from day one, Red gains the upper hand on Berlin this week, despite the fact that the latter is holding Red’s wife hostage and is breaking her apart piece by piece (a finger last episode, a tooth this episode). And in the midst of all this are Elizabeth and Donald, trying to keep ahead of the game of deception that Red is playing with everybody. And as a friend said, this week’s episode floored me.
Last year NBC debuted the FBI procedural The Blacklist, starring James Spader, Megan Boone, Parminder Nagra, Harry Lennix and others. It was a show that quickly built up a great following and, owing primarily to the performances by both Spader and Boone, become one of NBC’s top breakout hits. The first season championed stand-alone storytelling to a great extent and it ended on a great note with some pretty big shakeups in the status quo of the main cast. I came on to the show quite late, but I too quickly became a fan of it, especially since I love James Spader in everything he’s been, and I found myself a great new show to get excited about this Fall.
Two nights back NBC aired the first episode of The Blacklist season 2, which introduced us to the main cast and showed all the changes that have been made since the team’s big shakeup. Given that the season finale finally showed us Red’s big nemesis, we revisit him too, and it seems as if the show is definitely working towards building Berlin up to be a major villain this season, which is fine with me, though it might become a bit too unwieldy. Still, what matters is that the new season premiere was rather explosive on all counts, figuratively and otherwise and was a great start to a new chapter in the lives of Raymond Reddington and Elizabeth Keen.
In a rather surprising move, and owing to the popularity of Wes’ debut novel The Lives of Tao, Angry Robot fastracked the sequel for an end-of-the-year release date, instead of putting it out a few months back. It was a great move as far as I’m concerned since based on my reading experience Wes improved quite a bit in the sequel and delivered a much better novel. In fact, The Deaths of Tao would have made it to my end of the year “best of…” list, but it was unfortunately narrowly beaten out. Suffice to say, if you liked The Lives of Tao, then you are definitely going to love The Deaths of Tao as well.
This review is a repost of the original review on The Founding Fields, which can be found here.
Another one of my great finds last year was SF author Wesley Chu, who debuted in the Spring with The Lives of Tao, a contemporary SF novel about long-lived, body-hopping aliens who have been guiding the course of Humanity’s development for thousands of years. The Lives of Tao was one of the better debuts that I read last year, and I’d certainly recommend that everyone read the first novel at least. It is fun, it is serious, it has great action, great characters, and what more can you want?
This review is a repost of the original review on The Founding Fields, which can be found here.