Doctor Who reviews: The Comfort of the Good

The first “season” of Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor from Titan Comics comes to its conclusion with issue #s 14-15.  The two-part “The Comfort of the Good” by writers Al Ewing & Rob Williams, artist Simon Fraser and colorist Gary Caldwell satisfactorily brings to a close many of the plotlines set up within the last year.

After the events of the last few issues the TARDIS has rejected the Doctor, leaving him, library assistant Alice Obiefune and the shape-changing ARC stranded in Rome in 312 AD.  Elsewhen, future prog rock god Jones has merged with the amorphous Entity.  Jones believes he is dead, but in fact the Entity is rocketing backwards in time towards the beginning of existence.  Through ARC’s telepathy, the Doctor and Alice are able to contact Jones, who merges with the Entity.  Rescuing his friends, Jones brings them to London in 2015, in search of the TARDIS.

Doctor Who Eleventh Doctor 15 cover signed

Throughout the prior 13 issues, Ewing & Williams had done interesting work exploring the Doctor and the disparate qualities of his personality that had been set up within the television series itself.  Simultaneously a lonely god and a deeply flawed fool, the Doctor allowed his long-buried yearning to reunite with the Time Lords to be twisted and used against him by SERVEYOUinc and their Faustian agent the Talent Scout.

Ewing & Roberts open issue #15 in a scene that parallels their very first issue.  In The Eleventh Doctor #1 we saw Alice in a grey, rainy graveyard, attending the funeral of her mother.  Now a year later it is the Doctor in that same cemetery, mourning his own “death.”  He may still be alive, but he has lost faith in himself, and he has lost what is (in certain respects) his oldest friend, the TARDIS.  He is marooned on one planet in one time, unable to explore the whole of time & space, which is for him the thing that makes life worth living.

Within these two issues Ewing & Roberts bring to a close the trajectory of character development for their entire cast.  The Doctor is able to work on mending his ways and repairing his relationship with the TARDIS.  Alice, who was left adrift by her mother’s death, discovers the means to let go of the past and move forward with her life.  Jones is able to tap into his full creative potential, setting him on the path to becoming a revolutionary musician.  ARC and the Entity are reunited, once again becoming a single being.  Even the Talent Scout finds closure.

I enjoyed the scripting by Ewing & Roberts.  They do a good job giving each character a unique voice.  Their dialogue is both poignant and witty.

“The Comfort of the Good” ties everything together while laying the groundwork for future stories.  Alice has a new lease on life and chooses to continue to travel with the Doctor in the TARDIS.  And it seems likely that SERVEYOUinc are still lurking about somewhere, plotting their corporate intrigues.

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I was extremely impressed by the artwork from Simon Fraser in these two issues.  Once again he renders these amazing cosmic vistas as we see Jones, merged with the Entity, gliding through the universe.

Fraser’s storytelling is excellent.  In issue #14, there is a two page sequence with the Doctor facing the TARDIS, first pleading and then demanding to be let in.  Cutting back and forth between the two, the “camera” slowly zooms in on each, and we see the Doctor become more and more distraught & angry.  It is very effectively done.

As I’ve mentioned previously, Fraser’s depiction of Matt Smith’s Doctor is not a photorealistic likeness, but it absolutely works.  Fraser superbly captures the personality of the Eleventh Doctor, his facial expressions and body language.  It is a very natural, organic rendering of the character.  Fraser also continues to bring to life Alice and Jones, two characters he designed, gifting them with nuance and subtlety that effectively complements their development by Ewing & Roberts.

The coloring by Gary Caldwell is wonderfully effective.  It works in conjunction with Fraser’s art to create tangible moods throughout these issues.

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While the past year of The Eleventh Doctor comic book series was not without some hiccups, on the whole it worked quite well at presenting an interesting, compelling storyline.  Certainly these two issues serve as an effective denouement.  I’m looking forward to reading the entire series again to see how it works.  Much as with various television episodes of Doctor Who, I expect that there are further layers and meanings to discern from reexamining these stories.

Doctor Who reviews: The Eleventh Doctor #6

Things are not going well for the Eleventh Doctor and Alice Obiefune.  Their friend Jones, who was one day destined to become a Bowie-esque rock god, has been killed saving Alice from a power-mad Nimon, and the mysterious shape-changing robot known only as ARC has barely saved the TARDIS from being destroyed.  And that’s only on the first page of our story.  Or should I say the last page?

The beginning is the end is the beginning.
The beginning is the end is the beginning.

Writer Rob Williams and artist Simon Fraser turn matters back-to-front in Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor #6, published by Titan Comics.  “Space in Dimension Relative and Time” sees the time stream “running backwards in incremental jumps.”  Only the Doctor, due to his Time Lord nature, is able to perceive this.  “I’m aware we’re running backwards through time but no one else is,” the Doctor announces to himself.

With history repeatedly leaping back, the Doctor realizes that he has an opportunity to change events and save Jones from being killed.  However, an even more pressing issue is at hand.  As he tells Alice:

“We have to stop this… time can’t run backwards. It’ll destroy us. It’ll destroy everything.”

This is one of the most high-concept Doctor Who comic book stories I’ve read since Rich Johnson penned the Tenth Doctor adventure Room With A Déjà Vu, published back in 2009 by IDW.  Rob Williams’ plotting for The Eleventh Doctor #6 is mind-bending, tossing the reader right into the thick of things.  I’m still trying to wrap my head around the conclusion.

Appropriately enough, even the page numbering runs backwards in this issue!

Once again Williams does an excellent job at capturing the voice of Matt Smith’s Doctor.  I could so totally imagine him on television having a conversation with a geranium that he’s decided to call “Dave.”  Reading Williams’ dialogue for the Doctor, you can definitely “hear” Smith’s voice in your head.

This issue is more plot-orientated than the previous few.  Nevertheless, even with all the regressions back through time, Williams is able to fit in a few small moments to further develop Alice, Jones and ARC.  I’m interested in seeing where he goes with the trio and their relationship with the Doctor in upcoming issues.

Yes, Jones really is dead, but he'll be just fine once we hit rewind again.
Yes, Jones really is dead, but he’ll be just fine once we hit rewind again.

I am really wondering how exactly Simon Fraser illustrated this one.  How do you lay out a story where on each page events jump backwards?  He must have put a great deal of thought into deciding exactly how to pace this, as well as making sure all of the details lined up.  However Fraser went about it, the results are impressive.

Fraser even does a good job rendering the Nimon.  Now there is an old monster that I never thought I would see again.  Well, actually, if I had to pick the unlikeliest aliens to ever return to Doctor Who, it would have been the Macra, who appeared in a story that aired once way back in 1967 and which probably no longer exists barring a few seconds of footage that were saved from the scrapheap.  Yet low and behold the Macra popped up four decades later in “Gridlock.”  So if they could return from obscurity, I suppose the snicker-inducing Nimons were capable of doing so, as well.

Actually, the Nimons were used in one of the Doctor Who audio stories from Big Finish, which makes a certain sense, since their eerie, menacing voices were definitely their best feature.  Even the revived television series gave them an unexpected nod when the Doctor identified the Minotaur from “The God Complex” as a distant relative of the Nimons.  So, yeah, I guess it’s not too unprecedented that one of them shows up in this issue.

Credit where it is due: Fraser does his very best with what is a silly-looking design and manages to render the Nimon to look at least semi-menacing.  Fraser even gives the Nimon a handy suit of “temporal armor” which makes the creature appear slightly more imposing and less ill-proportioned.

No! Stop! You're making me giddy!
No! Stop! You’re making me giddy!

There’s some nice work on this issue by colorist Gary Caldwell.  His palette of colors works very well with Fraser’s art, emphasizing the reality-bending, time-twisting elements.  Caldwell’s work on the opening page (or is it the closing page?) of the issue, with the TARDIS amongst the vastness of the cosmos, is beautiful.

This issue’s time-twisty cover is by Verity Glass.  The Escher-inspired piece features an endless series of TARDISes inside one another, spiraling inward into an infinite regression.  It definitely suits the story by Williams & Frasier.

Comic book reviews: Sensation Comics #3-4

I have definitely been enjoying Sensation Comics starring Wonder Woman.  Like many great fictional creations, Wonder Woman is a character who is open to different interpretations.  Throughout her 73 year history she has played the roles of warrior, hero, feminist, diplomat, peacemaker, and goddess.  Sensation Comics, with its diverse selection of creators presenting stories of Wonder Woman set throughout the different DC Comics continuities, or outside of continuity altogether, are able to examine Diana’s various aspects, and take numerous interesting & different approaches to the character.

The covers for Sensation Comics #3 and #4 really epitomize this.  Ivan Reis & Joe Prado’s intense image for issue #3 depicts a fierce Wonder Woman engaged in close combat with armored mythological beasts.  It very much captures Diana’s role as a warrior.  In contrast, issue #4 features a vibrant, beautifully serene image of Diana gracefully gliding through the clouds.  This one is by Adam Hughes, who was the regular cover artist on the Wonder Woman comic book from 1998 to 2003.  This piece certainly demonstrates that Hughes is much more than merely an artist who draws sexy women, that he is an accomplished illustrator who can create powerful, evocative images.

Sensation Comics 3 and 4 covers

The first story in Sensation Comics #3, “Bullets and Bracelets” written by Sean E. Williams and illustrated by Marguerite Sauvage, postulates a world where Wonder Woman is not just a superhero but also a rock star headlining a band.  There’s an interesting scene after her concert ends where Diana is approached by a man who shouts “Slut! You’re corrupting our children! Go back to where you came from!”  A second man then yells back “Shut up, man! Some of us like the way she dresses! She’s hot!”  Diana, clearly annoyed at both of them, responds “I hate to break it to you both, but I dress this way because I want to, not to provoke or impress you.”  Wonder Woman has a lot on her mind and, instead of accompanying everyone on the tour bus, decides to go for a walk.  She encounters two young girls who are huge fans of the band, and joins them for a bite to eat, learning about who they are.

Williams and Sauvage’s story is a nice one, well written and beautifully illustrated.  Sauvage’s Diana is very beautiful, dignified and human.  Williams’ script examines how Diana is a role model for many young women, a figure of female empowerment.  As I saw it, this story is examining the idea that women should not feel that they need to exist as an adjunct to men, fulfilling the roles expected by them.  And, really, that is true of all people, women and men.  We should primarily be happy with ourselves first, with who we are, before we set out to try to impress or please other people, be they our significant other, relatives, employers & co-workers, or society at large.

Sensation Comics 3 pg 5

The second tale in #3 is “Morning Coffee” by writer Ollie Masters and artist Amy Mebberson.  Early one morning in London, the larcenous Catwoman raids the vaults of the British Museum.  The police call in Wonder Woman, who is currently living in the city.  Diana, who hasn’t yet had a chance to grab her daily cup of joe, is mildly perturbed at having to deal with this.  Easily catching the cat-burglar, Diana is left to watch over Catwoman until the properly equipped authorities arrive to transport her back to the States.  Diana takes custody of Selena and brings her along to a local café, hoping to finally get her caffeine fix.  It is there that the second part of Catwoman’s scheme goes into effect, much to Diana’s consternation.

The story by Masters is charming and fun.  His tale fits perfectly into the 10 page long space allotted to it.  Mebberson’s artwork is very cute.  She gives the characters some really fun, comedic expressions and body language.    One thing I have noticed about the stories from Sensation Comics, as well as the other digital-first titles that DC publishes, is that the art is designed primarily to fit on a computer screen.  10 published pages equals 20 pages on the computer.  This limits the storytelling choices available to the artists.  Sometimes I think there are artists whose strengths are not nearly as well suited to strong layouts, and given the confines of the digital format they do not do work that is as strong.  Mebberson’s work, however, fits perfectly in with this format.  She clearly knows how to lay out a story, and the flow of action & narrative is unhindered by the requirements within which she is working.

Sensation Comics 3 pg 14

Split between Sensation Comics #3 and #4 is a humorously bizarre story written & illustrated by Gilbert Hernandez.  “No Chains Can Hold Her” has Wonder Woman battling the robot armies of the alien Sayyar, who has joined forces with the Justice League’s old foe Kanjar Ro.  The two extraterrestrial tyrants manage to take mental control of Diana and pit her against Supergirl.  Also drawn into the mix is Mary Marvel, who is accidentally yanked through an other-dimensional portal.

I am a huge fan of Gilbert Hernandez’s work with his brother Jaime on Love and Rockets.  It is fantastic that they have been able to sustain a successful three decade long career on a creator-owned title.  Having said that, I do enjoy when Gilbert or Jaime make the occasional foray over to Marvel and DC, because it is so much fun to see those mainstream superheroes filtered through their independent sensibilities.  I fondly recall Gilbert’s offbeat six issue stint writing Birds of Prey in 2003.  So I’m happy to see him on a Wonder Woman story.

Hernandez’s writing on “No Chains Can Hold Her” is rather minimal.  That is very much in line with his work over the last several years, where his main concern has been less with crafting complex plotlines than it has been in creating a particular mood or atmosphere.  Hernandez’s art on this story evokes both the work of Wonder Woman’s original Golden Age artist H.G. Peter and well as the Silver Age house style of DC, with Supergirl and Kanjar Ro drawn in their early 1960s incarnations.  Mary Marvel has a Bronze Age look that evokes a bit of Kurt Schaffenberger.   Much as they did in the 1970s, Mary and rest of the Marvel Family, along with their adversaries, even reside off in their own separate reality, Earth-S presumably.

Hernandez endows Diana with an exaggerated muscular physique reminiscent of his Love and Rockets character Petra.  Certainly it is miles away from some of the contemporary DC artists who unfortunately draw Wonder Woman with the body of a supermodel.  Hernandez’s approach is an interesting interpretation of the character that suits the tone of his story.

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Following on in issue #4 is “Attack of the 500-Foot Wonder Woman” by writer Rob Williams and artist Tom Lyle.  Diana is teamed up with the Atom, Hawkman and Hawkwoman against the shape-changing Thanagarian criminal Byth, who is wrecking Gateway City.  So that she can combat Byth, who has transformed into towering lizard creature, Diana temporarily grows giant-sized with the Atom’s assistance.

This story was a bit underwhelming.  It felt very rushed, and Williams would no doubt have benefitted from an additional 10 pages to give it room to unfold more naturally.  I have not seen new work from Lyle in quite some time, so his return to the comic book biz is welcome.  His art on this story did feel a bit cramped, though.  I think that he may have been constrained by the aforementioned digital-first format.  When you have a giant Wonder Woman fighting a Godzilla-like monster, BIG is the way to go.  But between the short length of the story and the half-page format, Lyle isn’t allowed to go too large with his layouts or do any splash pages.  Given the constraints I think he did the best work he could.  This story wasn’t bad.  It certainly had potential.  But it could have been stronger, both in terms of writing and art, if it had been longer.

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Rounding out Sensation Comics #4 is “Ghosts and Gods,” written by Neil Kleid and illustrated by Dean Haspiel.  As with the Hernandez story, “Ghosts and Gods” is an insanely entertaining mash-up of a number of different eras and styles.  The Golden Age incarnations of Wonder Woman and Etta Candy team up with Silver Age character Deadman to retrieve the Purple Healing Ray that has been stolen from Paradise Island by Bronze Age villain Ra’s al Ghul.  Yes, really!  All that was missing was Etta enthusiastically shouting “Woo Woo!”

Kleid’s story is a fun, exciting romp.  The art by Haspiel is fantastic.  As I’ve observed in the past, Dino has always been great at evoking different artistic eras in his work, and he successfully renders these various characters interacting with each other.  Haspiel is also a superb storyteller who very much knows how to lay out a page.  He clearly had no problems working within the digital-first format, and the action flows very smoothly.  I guess my only complaint (if you can call it that) is that this story wasn’t longer.  It was so enjoyable I would have been thrilled if had gone on for another 10 pages.

Sensation Comics 4 pg 26Despite a few minor hiccups, Sensation Comics #3 and #4 were very good.  If you are one of those readers who is dissatisfied with the current approach DC has towards the character of Wonder Woman then Sensation Comics is certainly a recommended alternative.  There really is something for everyone is this series.

Doctor Who reviews: The Eleventh Doctor #1

The Eleventh Doctor may be gone from television screens, but he is back in the pages of comic books, courtesy of the brand new ongoing series Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor published by Titan Comics. Written by Al Ewing & Rob Williams, illustrated by Simon Fraser, and colored by Gary Caldwell, the series is set during one of those periods of time when the Doctor was traveling without Amy and Rory (specifically between “A Christmas Carol” and “The Impossible Astronaut”). The first issue introduces a new companion: Alice Obiefune, a library assistant from London.

“After Life” opens on the mournful scene of Alice in a rainy churchyard, where she is attending her mother’s funeral. From that point on, it seems that life for Alice becomes ever bleaker: she is laid off from the library due to budget cuts, her few friends are all moving away, and her landlord wants to evict her so that he can build luxury flats (yep, gentrification totally sucks). Alice seems trapped in a downward spiral.

And then, while morosely making her way through the streets of London, Alice’s entire existence is turned upside down when she abruptly see the Doctor chasing after a giant alien rainbow dog.

Doctor Who Eleventh Doctor 1 pg 4

Ewing & Williams do a superb job with this first issue. They really have the Eleventh Doctor down perfectly, scripting both his rambling stream of nonsensical babbling as well as his insightful, empathic moments when you glimpse the wise, caring individual underneath all the seeming eccentricity. They also do excellent work introducing Alice, making her an engaging, relatable character, and setting up the beginning of her relationship with the Doctor. I am very much looking forward to seeing how the dynamic between the two of them develops in future issues.

Scottish-born Simon Fraser is a long-time Doctor Who fan, so this must be a dream job for him. I’ve always admired the way in which he illustrates people so distinctly. He really excels at making the characters in his artwork expressive, and in giving them natural body language. There is real emotion to his people. Fraser is able to imbue his figures with a range feeling, from pathos to joy. Likewise, he is equally adept at rendering his characters in scenes both comedic and dramatic.

Fraser’s depiction of the Eleventh Doctor is not so much a photo-realistic depiction of Matt Smith as it is something a caricature. But it definitely works. Fraser absolutely captures the personality and nuances of the Eleventh Doctor in his rendition.

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And then there is the aforementioned giant alien rainbow dog. Or, as the Doctor explains: “It’s a Kharitite. ‘Joy-Beast.’ Native to the planet Vreular in the Fifth Galaxy. I think this one fell through a dimensional rift.” I love the Kharitite.

There are some things that just do not work in live action. You could have the biggest special effects budget in the world, and they would still look ridiculous. But if you put pencil to paper, draw them into a comic book, they look incredible. The Kharitite absolutely falls into that category. If the BBC was ever crazy enough to try to bring something like that to life on television, it would probably be a disaster, and audiences would be howling with derision. But in the pages of a comic, rendered by Simon Fraser, the Kharitite looks amazing and funny and brilliant. And it’s great when the Doctor Who comic books do stuff like that.

Gary Caldwell’s coloring is top notch, an integral part of the storytelling. The first three pages of “After Life” are completely in grey, mirroring the events and emotions of Alice’s life. The first hint of color is in the very last panel on page three, a tiny blue spec in the background that is the TARDIS. Then, turning the page, there is an inset panel in the upper right hand corner, a close-up of Alice’s face still in grey. But immediately below that is the splash introduction of the Kharitite, and it’s rendered in an explosion of color, as Alice’s existence collides with that of the Doctor.

Doctor Who Eleventh Doctor 1 cover

Topping the issue off is a lovely painted cover by Alice X. Zhang. I am not familiar with her, but I already like her work. The preview image of her next cover also looks great, and I’m looking forward to seeing it full size when the second issue comes out.

All in all, Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor is off to a good start. If you are a fan of the show, this one is well worth picking up.