DOCTOR WHO returns to the comic book world this July with Titan Comics’ two new ongoing series, featuring the 10th, 11th, and, following the premiere of series 8, the 12th Doctor!
The Doctor and comics have a history almost as long as the show itself, with a version (and if you’ve ever read them, you know why the word version is important) of Hartnell’s First Doctor appearing only a year after the show aired in TV Comic. They’d have the license on and off until 1978, and of course there were the Doctor Who Annuals, which also featured another comic book version of the Doctor. And then there was Doctor Who Weekly, which became Doctor Who Magazine and brought us the widely praised Fourth Doctor stories, with writers like Alan Moore and artists like Dave Gibbons taking their turn at sending the Time Lord across time and space.
It was also the comics which helped fans get their Doctor Who fix during the wilderness years, with the Seventh Doctor’s two comic series lasting until 1996, and the Eighth Doctor taking over until 2005 and the return of the show to the BBC. Starting with the Seventh Doctor, it was actually the normal state of things to have the character appear in multiple comics from multiple publishers, like the Radio Times and Doctor Who Magazine, and with the Tenth Doctor, a licensed American series from IDW Publishing.
(Of course, in the grand history of Doctor Who, it’s best not to even try and fit them into anything resembling continuity. That way lies a madness worse than trying to make UNIT’s timeline make sense. Seriously, don’t even try.)
And now Titan Comics has the license, and as of July 23rd, 2014, two new series featuring David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor and Matt Smith’s Eleventh, with a Peter Capaldi Twelfth Doctor on the way. Titan Comics also publishes Tank Girl and Alien Legion, among others, and has a rich history of supporting creator-owned comics, which we here at SciFi4Me are big fans of, so I was pretty excited when our Fearless Leader Jason Hunt asked me if I’d like to review the first issues of the new series, which Titan had so kindly provided us.
Like any Doctor Who fan, I’m looking forward to Peter Capaldi’s first episode in August, and with all the drama of the recent leaks of scripts and the first episode, there is something rather relaxing about having a publisher say “Here! Take a look at our new series! Tell us what you think!” before the official publication date. And so I did.
Mild SPOILERS to follow. Really mild actually, just enough to give you the flavor.
DOCTOR WHO: THE TENTH DOCTOR #1 “Revolutions of Terror”
Right off the bat this is really promising, just looking at the creative team behind it. For the writing, we have Eisner Award winner Nick Abadzis, and if you haven’t read his Laika, the graphic novel about the first dog in space, I highly recommend it. Not an easy read for those who love dogs, but an important one. For the art, there’s Elena Casagrande, who has worked on Angel, X-Files, and Doctor Who, and she’s good, folks, really good. So between Abadzis and Casagrande, we’re certainly in good hands creatively, but since we’re dealing with a character that the fans love, well, the real question is do they get Tennant’s Tenth Doctor right?
We kick off in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park, where we’re introduced to Gabriella and Cindy, two friends hanging out at a laundromat, complaining about their respective fathers. Gabriella is a second-generation Mexican-American, and the laundromat is her father’s latest business venture, while Cindy is Asian-American, and dealing with her father’s high expectations for her future. When the washers, even the ones that aren’t on, suddenly start blasting water into the room, Gabriella sees… something… in the water. Of course, no one in her family believes her story, but there’s a strange man at her family’s restaurant, with a machine that, oddly enough, doesn’t go ding, and strange and terrifying things are starting to happen in her neighborhood…
Of course it’s hard to tell where a story is going to go from the first issue, but there are some real pleasures to be found here. Abadzis has given us a smart, confident and interesting character in Gabriella, and Latino fans of Doctor Who may find much to like in seeing a Mexican-American main character. And she is the main character here, at least in this first issue, which is actually pretty light on the Doctor himself. It works though, in a very Russell T. Davies kind of way, establishing the family dynamics that he did so well, and giving the reader a real sense of the world Gabriella inhabits. That world is a little different than the usual U.K. based environment as you might imagine, with Latino culture being not only the background, but also influencing how characters react to the sudden and disturbing events. While we have a tendency to expect the science-fiction-aliens-behind-it-all explanation, the rich religious history of Latino culture might seem to offer at least the idea of a more supernatural explanation for, well… hmmph.
Certainly Casagrande’s art works extremely well for this story as well, and for me, it’s the body language and expressions on people’s faces that really sell it. You don’t have any question as to what the characters are feeling, for good or ill, and the action scenes, though few, are quite good. The environments are all realized quite well, with none of that blank background stuff you sometimes see in comics.
My only complaints (and yes, I do have a couple, unfortunately) do fall on the art side of things, although the first one is actually both minor and a personal taste one. There’s a lot of story here, and a lot of establishing of Gabriella’s world, and sometimes, just sometimes, the art and dialogue feels… cramped. I know there are page count restrictions on these things, and I would suspect that Casagrande would have happily had more space to work with, but still, there are a couple of reveals that would have played better if they were allowed to be a full page. Still, I like her art, I like the way she builds space and character, so it is a kind of minor complaint. The not so minor one, in fact, my only serious complaint about this whole first issue?
The Doctor’s face. Oh, the clothes are right, the hair is right, but the face? Errrrrmmmm, weeeellllll, not so much. Ten just doesn’t look very Tennant-y. Not to me anyway. But hey, I have an art degree, I have plenty of experience in illustration myself, and I know exactly how hard it is to make a comic book version of a character look exactly like the actor who plays the TV/movie version in every single panel. How hard? Hard enough that I, personally, was terrible at getting it right once, let alone doing it panel after panel.
Yeah, that’s right, I too wanted to be a comic book artist. Those who can’t… become critics. But we know it’s the Tenth Doctor, and it’s David Tennant enough, and again, I think Elena really has done a lovely job here. So! Pick it up? Yes, yes you should. If it stays this strong, story, art and character-wise, and we get Gabriella traveling in the TARDIS for at least a little while? I’m quite OK with that.
DOCTOR WHO: THE ELEVENTH DOCTOR #1 “After Life”
Al Ewing and Rob Williams are the writers for this series, and they too have a pretty encouraging pedigree, with Ewing having written for Judge Dredd, Mighty Avengers, and Loki: Agent of Asgard. Williams has written for 2000 AD and Judge Dredd, and has done stories for several TV and film comics, like Star Wars: Rebellion, Indiana Jones, and Robocop. The art is by Simon Fraser, who created Nikolai Dante with Williams, and has drawn for Judge Dredd and Richard Matheson’s Hell House. So again, a solid creative team, and with the same question… do they get Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor right?
We start in a very different place, in stark grey tones, as Alice Obiefune is burying her mother. Her life is losing meaning; her job as a Library Assistant, which once filled her with passion and joy, now hollow and rote. Caring for her mother had been her cornerstone, and without it, her life is crumbling. Then she loses her job, and her apartment building is being sold out from underneath her, and the grief and loneliness and grayness consumes her more and more…
And then she meets a madman with a box, chasing a brightly colored monster through the streets of London.
I must confess, I read through this one in a hurry the first time, and on first impressions, it didn’t do much for me. The art is very loose, the humor is very broad and slapstick, and the central story seemed so slight… and then I read it again. And while there are some things I’m not the biggest fan of here, there really is much to enjoy, and much to look forward to from this comic. The biggest one? Alice Obiefune.
Alice’s introduction is much like Rose’s back in Series 1, and she very much feels like the viewer stand-in. She’s not a young, easily swept up character, feeling a touch more Martha than Rose or Amy, and this issue is really about her. It’s nice to see another woman of color traveling in the TARDIS, sure, but more than that, this is a woman who is pretty much immediately relatable, dealing with not only the loss of her mother, but the kind of life issues that many of us can relate to, like losing interest in your job, your place to live, your sense of direction. How she deals with the appearance of aliens in London and the odd man in the bow tie is what really makes this story work for me. Do I still think the story aside from her is slight? Yes, yes I do, and there is a level of silliness that seems a bit much to me, and ye gods, the portrayal of UNIT… but I really liked Alice, and that makes everything work.
Oddly, for a Eleventh Doctor story, it feels very Russell T. Davies in influence, and if it had been a TV episode in his run, it wouldn’t have been terribly out of place. It certainly would have made for a better episode than the dreadful Aliens of London/World War Three, and treads some similar ground much, much better. If you were wondering what Matt Smith’s Doctor might be like if Davies had continued as show runner, this is probably as close as one could ask for. There’s also a sweetness here, something one doesn’t necessarily think of with Doctor Who, that is… charming, honestly.
Other things to look out for here are the mystery that is clearly being set up for later developments, the rather blatant nod to The Neverending Story, and the TARDIS doors opening “out the way”. If your first read of this is like mine, read it again. If you find the occasionally cartoony art a distraction, wait a panel or two, and Fraser will give you a character expression that speaks volumes. It all grows on you.
So there we are… my thoughts on the first issues of the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors from Titan Comics. Overall, I’m liking them, and plan on picking them up as the two series progress, so that, I suppose, is the most important part, isn’t it? Do I want to read more from these writers and artists, working on a character that I’ve been a fan of since I was a child?
Yeah. Yeah, I do.