Tuesday, August 5, 2008

voyager / ego

Voyager, drawn by John Ridway

My first loan from the new Swansea Library was the Sixth Doctor comic collection, Voyager. Though I very much enjoyed all the Doctor comics I’ve read, I think I have to say the Eighth Doctor stories are the most complex and visually arresting. Never mind—in Voyager we meet Frobisher, a companion about whom I had long heard, who looks like a penguin but isn’t. Indeed, Frobisher’s introduction story, “The Shape Shifter,” is the most charming. The whole thing channels Dick Tracy-style potboilers with a dose of humor and ingenuity. There’s also a funny section where the Doctor is attacked by a sandwich and is naked in the bath (!). In close-ups, John Ridway demonstrates his absolute prowess, and to think he was pursuing a full-time job as an egineer while he drew the strip in his spare time—insanity!

Steve Parkhouse writes most of these: and he introduces the bizarre character of Astrolabus, a renegade Time Lord (sound familiar?)who has the most delightful curse phrases—“Gare du Nord!” is my favorite. Parkhouse loves to enter the realm of dreams, and the title story is a perfect example of that. There’s some cracking good art from Ridway, but overall these visionary, very weird stories bore me. This is true for “Once Upon a Time-Lord,” though it is a fantastic fairy tale sequence of which Steven Moffat himself would be proud, which pushes storytelling boundaries and definitely goes beyond the plain “comics” realm into the graphic novel.

Though Peri is on the cover, she’s only featured in one story, by Alan Mackenzie, and then only briefly. There’s a distinct lack of the feminine in Voyager, with the only woman of real consequence being Kara the Draconian in “War-Game.” It’s the first time I’ve seen a female Draconian, and it’s wonderful that that race is used in two of the stories. The only thing “Fun-House” contributes, in my opinion, besides some more fabulous art by Ridway, is a fun (almost obligatory) backtrack through all six Doctors.

The Sixth Doctor is well on his way to becoming the rehabilitated hero of Big Finish’s triumphs in Voyager. He isn’t nearly as grating as on TV though he can be a bit tough on Frobisher. He spouts Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, even channels a bit of V for Vendetta. His best quip, is, however, one that would make Colin Baker proud, “I’ve been threatened by experts. You know. Cybermen, Ice Warriors, Daleks, BBC Producers . . .”

Batman: Ego and Other Tails by Darwyn Cooke

Darwyn Cooke worked on the animated series of Batman, which I watched as a kid, and his style in that is clearly echoed in the title tale. Part of the trickness of the Nolan films is that they have to feel modern while at the same time paying homage to the 1930s/40s style of Gotham. “Ego” fits in very easily into this latter category—character design is very much like what I saw in Road to Perdition. Cooke is clearly a talented artist with an excellent mind for storytelling—thus his work flows beautifully with cinematic scope.

Cooke says “Ego” is “an earnest but flawed first effort,” but I disagree—I think it’s quite well-done. The pre-titles sequence is a bit wordy, maybe, with a dramatic monologue from Batman, but it’s backed up by stunning artwork. The moral backbone is purely Batman—I know some of you are Spider-Man fans, but Batman clearly wrote the book on angst. In that way, I was (somehow) surprised to see Batman’s original design, so close to Superman—the square jaw, the impossibly ripped physique, the crew-cut hair. I expected something more svelte.

The story is partially flashback, partially current action, (a suicide for which Batman feels responsible) and partially a trippy Jekyll and Hyde-esque confrontation between Batman the effigy and Bruce Wayne the man. Appropriately enough considering the Nolan movie, the question Batman asks Bruce is why doesn’t he just kill the Joker because he always breaks free and always kills more people. Bruce is committed to his “code of honor,” while Batman accuses Bruce of needing an archnemesis for his own wholeness (something the Joker actually brings up in the film). Batman also accuses Bruce/Batman of fostering the environments that created monsters—Two-Face as well as the Joker. Wordy it may be; dumb “Ego” is not.

Speaking of monsters, the strip “Here There Be Monsters” is written by Paul Grist and illustrated in pencil and ink by Cooke. The story is slight but the art is striking. Another black-and-white strip is the amusing but inconsequential “The Monument,” written by Cooke, drawn by Bill Wray. Another short strip is the romantic (?) “Date Knight,” written by Cooke, illustrated by Tim Sale, whose only saving grace is a panel of Batman hanging upside down with Catwoman’s lipstick all over him. Frankly the art is not my cup of tea—Catwoman looks like a man.

Speaking of Catwoman, Cooke’s strip “Catwoman: Selina’s Big Score”won the Best Graphic Novel of 2002—and it’s easy to see why. It’s fast-moving, beautifully drawn, brutal, and populated with fascinating—if amoral—characters. Heist stories seem to fascinate people, and this is one of the best I’ve seen. An intimate knowledge of Selina Kyle—aka Catwoman—is not required, as Cooke draws and writes her beautifully. She is made to look like a cat-eyed pin up of the ‘50s—yet she is clearly a bad-ass, modern (anti?)heroine.

Her ex-lover/partner Stark is a great character, as is Jeff, Cooke’s self-proclaimed “Chow Yun Fat” of Hong Kong crime. The locales are suitably picturesque—Las Vegas, Morocco, Miami, and of course Gotham (though I was a bit weirded out by the fact the heist took place in Canada, not far down-river from where my latest Batverse fan fiction took place). The heist itself has the exuberance of Firefly’s “The Train Job.” It ends in tragedy, however, with Selina as lonely and angsty as Batman. I’m not quite sure what the point of “Deja Vu” was, other than thrown in as another Stark story—nevertheless, I will be on the lookout for Darwyn Cooke’s work now.

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