25 October 2021

Review: Doctor Who: Breakfast at Tyranny's by Nick Abadzis, Giorgia Sposito, and Valeria Favoccia

Collection published: 2017
Contents originally published: 2017
Read: July 2021

Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor: Facing Fate, Vol 1: Breakfast at Tyranny's

Writer: Nick Abadzis
Artists:
Giorgia Sposito & Valera Favoccia
Colorist: Arianna Florean

Letters: Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt

The opening story of The Tenth Doctor: Year Three is better than anything this series has served us in a while, but it still doesn't grab me. At first, aliens place the Doctor and his companions (who now include "Noob," actually the Phaester Osiran / Egyptian god Anubis) in a simulation of Gabby's life in New York City, and they have to break out of it. Pretty trope-y and kind of dull. The next story, where the Doctor and Gabby (and Noob, I guess) have to rescue Cindy from ancient China, where she's been cloned dozens of times, is more interesting, but occasionally had odd leaps that disrupted my experience. Abadzis experiments with storytelling techniques, which is fun, but these feel like sci-fi characters, not people.

But people told me Year Three was worth it even if I didn't like Year Two at all, and so I am trying to be open minded. We shall see how it goes!

I read an issue of Titan's Doctor Who comic every day (except when I have hard-copy comics to read). Next up in sequence: The Ninth Doctor: Sin Eaters

20 October 2021

Death's Head: Freelance Peacekeeping Agent in the Marvel Universe (From Stockbridge to Segonus: A Doctor Who Magazine Comics Marathon, Part 15)

Collection published: 2019
Acquired: March 2020
Second half read: July 2021

Death's Head: Freelance Peacekeeping Agent
stories from Death's Head vol. 1 #9-10 (Aug.-Sept. 1989), Strip #13-20 (Aug.-Nov. 1990), Fantastic Four vol. 1 #338 (Mar. 1990), The Sensational She-Hulk #24 (Feb. 1991), Marvel Heroes #33 (Mar. 2011), and What If... vol. 2 #54 (Oct. 1993)

Writers: Simon Furman & Walter Simonson with Ferg Handley
Pencilers: Geoff Senior, Bryan Hitch & Walter Simonson with John Ross & Simon Williams
Inkers: Geoff Senior, Bryan Hitch, Walter Simonson & John Beatty with John Ross & Simon Willams
Colorists: Louise Cassell, Euan Peters, Geoff Senior, Christie Scheele, Glynis Oliver & Sarra Mossoff with John Charles, Jason Cardy & Kat Nicholson
Letterers: Annie Halfacree, Helen Stone, Todd Klein, Jim Novak & Janice Chiang with Tim Warran-Smith

Issue #8 brought a big change of direction for Death's Head... but due to rights issues, it can't be printed in this collection! Suffice it to say that the Doctor takes Death's Head out of the Doctor Who universe in 8162 and plops him in the Marvel universe in the present day; I will eventually read it when I pick up The Incomplete Death's Head. So now Death's Head is in his third universe thus far!

So #9 picks up with Death's Head on the roof of Four Freedoms Plaza, where the Fantastic Four live. At first they fight, of course, but then they must team up the Fantastic Four's security system goes haywire. At the end of this issue, the Fantastic Four try to send Death's Head back to 8162 (I guess no one knows he's in the wrong universe), but when Reed Richards realizes he's a paid killer, he switches it off, which ejects Death's Head in the far-off year of, um, 2020. (Iron Man 2020 had been a feature of some Marvel comics, so this was an established setting.) The set-up is a bit confusing, as Death's Head is already established, and trying to find money to fix up his spaceship... which didn't come with him... and which doesn't appear in 2020 until the issue's end! 

Even Death's Head can't resist a baby.
from Death's Head vol. 1 #9 (script by Simon Furman, art by Geoff Senior)

These two issues are basically fine. There's some fun interplay between Death's Head and the FF, and the Iron Man 2020 has some great Death's Head moments, but on the other hand falls foul of the dull convolutions that bedevilled a number of the pre-time-jump stories. Overall though, one can sense a comic frantically searching for a new direction... and getting cancelled abruptly, as an obviously hastily final two pages in #10 sum up a lot.

After this, Death's Head doesn't have a status quo. The graphic novel The Body in Question (which has three parts; book one is set between the antepenultimate and penultimate pages of #10, and then books two and three after #10) makes the mistake of delving into the history of Death's Head, though it does reunite him with his supporting cast from his ongoing. No one cares about where Death's Head came from; what makes him interesting is what he does. Unfortunately this story gives us very little of that, instead spending time on a lot of cod mysticism. There is one good joke, though.

Actually, the issue number below is an educated guess. I can find very little information out there about the original appearance of this story.
from Strip #17 (script by Simon Furman, art by Geoff Senior)

I don't know why Furman bothered bringing the supporting cast back, because they never appear again. We next follow Death's Head into Fantastic Four #338, when he's starting freelancing for the Time Variance Authority. This is not much of a Death's Head story; it's just a Fantastic Four one he happens to be in. Better use is made of him in Sensational She-Hulk #24; he's back in New York 2020... but in a grave for some reason. (He still has his TVA time-bike, though, because he never returned it.) The story is goofy, but enjoyable, and actually makes good use of the 2020 setting in that something She-Hulk does in 1991 has repercussions thirty years later... and vice versa. Then in 2011, he's being hired by aliens to fight on their behalf (against the Hulk, as Earth's champion). (I assume because of time travel again, but I don't think anyone says.) Each of these is probably fine as a guest appearance, but it is a pretty disappointing way for the character to go out. He's brought into the Marvel universe... and promptly amounts to nothing!

Only thing that comes close to Geoff Senior drawing Death's Head is Walt Simonson doing it, complete with those amazing Simonson sound effects.
from Fantastic Four vol. 1 #338 (script & art by Walter Simonson)

Part of the reason was that in 1992, he was killed off and replaced by Death's Head II, an "extreme" 1990s character. So Death's Head makes it into a new universe, and is killed off for his troubles. Simon Furman got the opportunity to kind of undo this in an issue of What If..., which has him uniting a team of 1992 superheroes to take down a villain in 2020. It probably would have been much more interesting if I was familiar with the story it was rewriting... but I also can't imagine I would enjoy reading that story either! Geoff Senior's usually solid art seems compromised in pursuit of the mediocre 1990s aesthetic, to boot.

Is he in a grave because the character was "dead," as in no longer published? Is that the joke? If so, he'd only been last published three months prior!
from The Sensational She-Hulk #24 (script by Simon Furman, art by Bryan Hitch & John Beatty)

So, I wish Furman had left Death's Head in Los Angeles 8162 and perfected that set-up instead. This was a pretty dismal way for a once-great character to go out. (Though, in my marathon at least, there is more Death's Head to come.)

(Also it seems like a bummer that this doesn't contain the 2011 Revolutionary War: Death's Head one-shot... I haven't read it, though, so maybe there's a good reason for that.)

This post is the fifteenth in a series about the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip and Marvel UK. The next installment covers The Good Soldier. Previous installments are listed below:

  1. The Iron Legion
  2. Dragon's Claw 
  3. The Transformers Classics UK, Volume One
  4. The Tides of Time
  5. The Transformers Classics UK, Volume Two
  6. Voyager
  7. The Transformers Classics UK, Volume Three
  8. The World Shapers
  9. The Transformers Classics UK, Volume Four
  10. The Age of Chaos
  11. The Transformers Classics UK, Volume Five
  12. A Cold Day in Hell!
  13. Death's Head: Freelance Peacekeeping Agent (part 1)
  14. Nemesis of the Daleks

18 October 2021

Nemesis of the Daleks (From Stockbridge to Segonus: A Doctor Who Magazine Comics Marathon, Part 14)

Collection published: 2013
Contents originally published: 1980-90
Acquired: December 2013
Read: July 2021

Nemesis of the Daleks: Collected Comic Strips from the pages of Doctor Who Magazine
by Richard Starkings, John Tomlinson, Lee Sullivan, John Ridgway, et al.

This is sort of an odd hodgepodge volume: only four genuine DWM strips! Everything else is a back-up, or from another magazine entirely. (And one of the DWM strips was supposed to be in that other magazine.) Yet, despite that, I felt like there was a slight uptick here in terms of quality since A Cold Day in Hell! As always, I'm reading these in original publication order, so that's not quite the order they are organized in in the actual book.

This covers a pretty narrow slice of the monthly; not even a whole year of comics, given the inclusion of twelve strips from a totally different magazine! I remember a lot of moaning about this at the time, but it feels like the right thing to do: that have the same creators and same publisher, some were printed in DWM, and where else would they be reprinted if not here?

Abslom Daak... Dalek-Killer, from Doctor Who Weekly #17-20 (Feb. 1980)
from Doctor Who Weekly #18
script by Steve Moore, art by Steve Dillon
At four four-page installments, this isn't exactly an epic. I'm not particularly sure it's good, either. Abslom Daak is sentenced to being a Dalek-killer, which means he's teleported to a Dalek-occupied planet and expected to take out as many as he can before he dies. He's so successful, though, it feels like maybe the Daleks ought not have humanity on the back foot as they apparently do?

But there's a purity to this, it's so completely itself, that it's impossible not to enjoy it. Daak is an uncompromising character and thus an utter delight to read about. What really elevates it is the artwork of Steve Dillon, which reeks of power and violence. Why does this lady fall for Daak? I don't know, but Steve Dillon makes me believe it. Having already read Daak's storyline in Titan's Eleventh Doctor comics, it was interesting to come back to this and see how little of a relationship he actually had with Taiyin. So it actually works just fine; it was a total blast to read, and left me wanting more...
from Doctor Who: A Marvel Monthly #45
Star Tigers, from Doctor Who Weekly #27-30 (Apr.-May 1980) and Doctor Who: A Marvel Monthly #44-46 (Sept.-Nov. 1980)
script by Steve Moore, art by Steve Dillon and David Lloyd
Alas, the more that we got, I think, strays a bit too much from the pure essence of Daak. I want to watch Daak do ridiculous action, not connive on Draconia; Steve Dillon may be a great artist, but he's not up to the task of making Draconians visually distinct enough for me to follow any level of political machinations. Most of this story is about Daak putting a team together... which would be fine if we ever got to see this team do anything, but seven installments was all the Star Tigers ever got. Putting Daak on a team moves him a bit away from the pure rampage he was in the original story. Which, I get it, that couldn't last forever, but this is a bit duller than he deserves.
from Doctor Who Magazine #154
Nemesis of the Daleks, from Doctor Who Magazine #152-155 (Sept.-Dec. 1989)
plot by Richard Alan, script by Steve Alan, art by Lee Sullivan, lettering by Zed
The Star Tigers might detract from the Daak concept, but I can't help but feel that Nemesis of the Daleks does them dirty. They have one adventure together in Star Tigers, and then they apparently all die... off-panel! They deserved better, surely? Anyway, Daak might live in the universe of Doctor Who but he's not a good fit for a Doctor Who story, not right out of the box anyway. By using the Time War and the War Doctor, I thought The Eleventh Doctor made great use of him... but it by necessity, I think, had to make him overtly comedic and somewhat pathetic. I can imagine a good seventh Doctor story where the Doctor manipulates Daak as part of some masterplan of his... unfortunately, this story is more like the Doctor just stands there a lot while Daak does his thing (and then dies). This story features some absolutely gorgeous art from Lee Sullivan, including some great two-page spreads, but aside from that is not up to much. Pretty generic action, without the vigor of the original Daak story, or the cleverness of a good Doctor Who one.
from The Incredible Hulk Presents #1
Once in a Lifetime, from The Incredible Hulk Presents #1 (Oct. 1989)
script by John Freeman, art by Geoff Senior, lettering by Stuart Bartlett
This is the first of a set of twelve five-page strips published in the Marvel UK anthology mag, The Incredible Hulk Presents. It has a cute idea at first (the Doctor trying to dodge a nosy reporter, leads him into a bar of his enemies), but quickly goes too far to be plausible (why does the Doctor maroon and ruin this guy when he could just fly away in the TARDIS himself?).
Hunger from the Ends of Time!, from The Incredible Hulk Presents #2-3 (Oct. 1989), reprinted in Doctor Who Magazine #157-58 (Feb.-Mar. 1990)
script by Dan Abnett, art by John Ridgway, lettering by Annie Halfacree
John Ridgway is back! And so is Dan Abnett's future space police/military, Foreign Hazard Duty. I think probably there's a fun idea here about bookworms in a digital library, but the story's technobabble is far too muddled, and the whole thing (despite being one of only two two-part IHP stories) is over too quickly to make any sense.
from The Incredible Hulk Presents #6
War World! / Technical Hitch / A Switch in Time! / The Sentinel!, from The Incredible Hulk Presents #4-7 (Oct.-Nov. 1989)
scripts by John Freeman, Dan Abnett, and John Tomlinson; pencils by Art Wetherell, Geoff Senior, and Andy Wildman; inks by Dave Harwood, Cam Smith, Geoff Senior, and Andy Wildman; lettering by Annie Halfacree, Stuart Bartlett, and Helen Stone
I've never been a big fan of DWM's occasional foray into the a spooky sci-fi Twilight Zoneesque thing happens and the Doctor doesn't really do anything genre, and it turns out I like them even less when compressed down to five pages. Plus, maybe I am stupid, but I didn't even understand what was happening in A Switch in Time! (the Doctor materializes in a holo-tv, so every time the viewers change the channel, he's in a new situation) until I read the behind-the-scenes material.
from The Incredible Hulk Presents #8
Who's That Girl!, from The Incredible Hulk Presents #8-9 (Nov.-Dec. 1989)
script by Simon Furman, pencils by John Marshall, inks by Stephen Baskerville, letters by Stuart Bartlett and Spolly
This was my favorite of the IHP stories, and one of my favorites in the volume. The Doctor regenerates... into a woman!? The best part of the story is that the Doctor's old friend, the warlord Luj, pretends he's going to make a pass at the Doctor but then immediately lets it go and acts the same toward him. But the female Doctor is really a mercenary named Kasgi hired to sabotage an interdimensional peace conference-- and Luj is really a bad guy, so Kasgi is on the side of right, despite the questionable method of hijacking and kidnapping the Doctor! I liked Kasgi a lot, and I see potential in a reappearance, but I guess not at this point. This was a fun story that made good use of its ten pages.
from Doctor Who Magazine #156
The Enlightenment of Ly-Chee the Wise / Stairway to Heaven / Slimmer! / Nineveh!, from The Incredible Hulk Presents #10-12 (Dec. 1989) and Doctor Who Magazine #156 (Jan. 1990)
scripts by Simon Jowett, John Freeman & Paul Cornell, Mike Collins & Tim Robins, and John Tomlinson; art by Andy Wildman, Gerry Dolan, Geoff Senior, and Cam Smith; letters by Helen Stone, Stuart Bartlett, and Peri Godbold
DWM #156 has a cover date of Jan. 1990, but it was released 14 Dec. 1989, putting it between IHP #10 (9 Dec.) and #11 (16 Dec.), so that's where I read it. It reads well in that context, actually; as a done-in-one story of weird sci-fi happenings, Paul Cornell's first piece of licensed Doctor Who fiction feels like a slightly longer IHP story. And if that sounds like damning with faint praise, it kind of is; I didn't really get it, though I think mostly down to some awkward storytelling in the art, which often left me confused as to what was actually happening. I didn't think the joke of Enlightenment was very well executed, but Slimmer! was decent fun, and Nineveh! had some good ideas, even if it wasn't much of a story. So the volume was on an upswing here overall.
from Doctor Who Magazine #159
Train-Flight, from Doctor Who Magazine #159-61 (Apr.-June 1990)
script by Andrew Donkin & Graham S Brand, art by John Ridgway
The best part of this is the idea that would be reused two decades later on tv in Planet of the Dead, the public transit that accidentally takes you into space. Unfortunately, the story doesn't really do much with that idea, pretty much abandoning the people on the train right away, unlike Planet of the Dead, which is built around them in classic RTD fashion. (Though, that's not one of RTD's better-characterized scripts.) It also features the return of Sarah Jane Smith... but it doesn't do much with her, either; she could be any old companion, so why bother? That said, you say, "John Ridgway, draw a train in the space-time vortex," and he draws it like none other.
from Doctor Who Magazine #162
Doctor Conkerer!, from Doctor Who Magazine #162 (July 1990)
script by Ian Rimmer, art by Mike Collins
I might have got more out of this if I knew what conkers was. But it was cute enough.
Stray Observations:
  • With #13, the The Crimson Hand graphic novel, these collections got a visual redesign, but reading in original strip order, this is the first of the new-look volumes I've gotten to. It makes me pretty grumpy that part of this redesign means removing the credits from the table of contents-- the actual strips were not very good at including credits during this era (I assume they were printed somewhere else in the mag), meaning it takes more work than it ought to to figure out who wrote and drew any particular strip. (And some letters go completely uncredited.)
  • In part six of Star Tigers, we hear a human colony has rebelled and is using Kill-Mechs to invade other planets, and we see them in a couple panels. In the next installment, though, Daleks burst out of meteroids and the Kill-Mechs and their emperor are immediately forgotten. "The Kill-Mechs don't matter!" Apparently DWM was unsure it had the rights to the Daleks and hastily redid part six, but a month later, it was all sorted out. (I gather that the 1990 Abslom Daak graphic novel edits out the Kill-Mechs, but here the strips are printed as they originally appeared, not as originally intended.)
  • David Lloyd never illustrated the main DWM strip, I believe, but he did draw a number of back-ups across the first few years of the mag. Star Tigers is the only one to be collected thus far; a couple years after Star Tigers went out, he would begin illustrating his most famous work, V for Vendetta, with fellow DWM back-up strip vet Alan Moore.
  • As I stated last time, "Richard Alan" is a pseudonym for strip editor Richard Starkings, used because he was an editor commissioning himself. "Steve Alan" was writer John Tomlinson, used because was worried what he had written was a bit crap!
  • I don't think Panini began including prose stories in these collections until later. Which is a shame, because Marvel UK published a Daak short story in the Abslom Daak graphic novel that would have been a good inclusion here. (Or so I think... having never read it!)
  • Nemesis of the Daleks is, I think, the first time the distinctive "Dalek lettering" was used in DWM. Googling tells me it was first used in The Dalek Book back in 1964!
  • Who's That Girl! is the last Doctor Who comic work of Marvel UK regular Simon Furman; I don't think he ever really "got" Doctor Who the way he did The Transformers, but he goes out with his best strip here. He would go on to do a lot of work for Marvel US, including a particularly mediocre run on Alpha Flight. (But then, is there anyone who had anything other than a mediocre run on Alpha Flight?) Two decades after reinventing the Transformers for the UK market, he would reinvent them all over again for the 2000s with, I think, no small amount of success. Gary Russell must have thought he wrote good Doctor Who, though, because he commissioned a fifth Doctor audio drama from him in 2004.
  • The Enlightenment of Ly-Chee the Wise was Simon Jowett's only Doctor Who work for two decades, until he contributed a short story to the anthology The Story of Martha-- put together by fellow Marvel UK writer Dan Abnett. Mike Collins's co-writer on Slimmer!, Tim Robins, never contributed another Who strip to Marvel UK, but he did conduct a number of fanzine interviews later collected in Telos's Talkback series. Stairway to Heaven was Gerry Dolan's only DWM strip, and he left comics soon after this for "a successful if little noticed career as a storyboard artist," according to John Freeman.
  • Train-Flight establishes that Ace is in the Cretaceous, her first mention in the DWM strip. Since the Doctor is still trying to get to Maruthea in subsequent stories, that seemingly means all DWM stories since at least Echoes of the Mogor! must take place in a gap during Ace's travels.
  • Doctor Conkerer! was Ian Rimmer's only Doctor Who work, but he wrote a number of Transformers strips for Marvel UK, including two charming Christmas specials.
  • Train-Flight has some forebodings that something is off in the Doctor's life; an extra piece of text in Doctor Conkerer! (replacing where the credits would have been if it had been printed in IHP) adds to this.

This post is the fourteenth in a series about the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip and Marvel UK. The next installment covers part 2 of Death's Head: Freelance Peacekeeping Agent. Previous installments are listed below:

  1. The Iron Legion
  2. Dragon's Claw 
  3. The Transformers Classics UK, Volume One
  4. The Tides of Time
  5. The Transformers Classics UK, Volume Two
  6. Voyager
  7. The Transformers Classics UK, Volume Three
  8. The World Shapers
  9. The Transformers Classics UK, Volume Four
  10. The Age of Chaos
  11. The Transformers Classics UK, Volume Five
  12. A Cold Day in Hell!
  13. Death's Head: Freelance Peacekeeping Agent (part 1)

15 October 2021

Reading Ozma of Oz Aloud to My Son

Originally published: 1907
Acquired and read aloud: August 2021

Ozma of Oz: A Record of Her Adventures with Dorothy Gale of Kansas, the Yellow Hen, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, Tiktok, the Cowardly Lion and the Hungry Tiger; Besides Other Good People too Numerous to Mention Faithfully Recorded Herein by L. Frank Baum, illustrated by John R. Neill

I feel like Baum got his mojo back here after the stumble that was The Marvelous Land of Oz. Much as I claim audiobooks do, reading something aloud makes you aware of the pacing and the energy of the text. Like Wonderful Wizard, Ozma of Oz has a great, arresting opening that immediately plunges the reader (or listener) into adventure: Dorothy is on a ship at sea, a wave knocks her overboard, and soon she is adrift, clinging onto a chicken coop. It must have captured my son's attention, because soon he was sitting in a cardboard box on the floor, claiming to be floating in the ocean himself. Also like Wizard, Baum does a good job of introducing a set of weird characters who make contributions to the story: Billina the Yellow Hen is an utter delight, and surely one of the best Oz characters Baum ever devised, and I had great fun reading her dialogue aloud in a chicken voice. I also really like Tiktok, but found him hard to perform. It's okay to read in a monotone for a single line of dialogue, but sometimes he gets a page-long expository speech! Both Billina and Tiktok contribute to the problem-solving, unlike Marvelous Land's gang of misfits; indeed, it sometime seems that Dorothy is just along for the ride! This is the book where Baum begins making her speech less formal and precise, with contractions and mispronunciations that weren't present in Wonderful Wizard (even though, going by Neill's illustrations, she must be a couple years older).

I also had good fun reading the Hungry Tiger. (He doesn't contribute much, to be honest, but he is there.) And Langwidere. Really, this book is a delight, one of my favorites to begin with, and reading it aloud brought that out even more so.

This is one where I owned the Del Rey edition growing up; those reproduce the original illustrations, but they are mass market paperbacks, so everything was squished down, so I again took the excuse to upgrade to a Books of Wonder facsimile edition, and it was well worth it.

The military humor went over Son One's head. I am pretty sure this is the first time I read it where I got it myself! Sometime after reading this book, he was talking about an "army of books," and I realized from context that he thought the word "army" meant "a big group," which is a pretty reasonable deduction. When I read these aloud, I sometimes massage the continuity and connections between books; for example, in the first book, I called the Emerald City maid who waits on Dorothy "Jellia Jamb" even though she's not given that name until book two. Similarly, here I made it clear that the lone private of the Oz army was the Soldier with the Green Whiskers from the first two books, something that the fourth book seems to indicate but even there isn't explicit about. (He just has a mustache here, not a long beard, but the Soldier did shave off his beard to escape detection by Jinjur's Army of Revolt in Marvelous Land.)

Weird thing I noticed: Billina gains the power of speech because she and Dorothy are in a fairy country, i.e., the Land of Ev... but when Billina interacts with some Ev chickens, we're told she's unusual because none of them can talk!

13 October 2021

Hugos 2021: Monstress: Warchild by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda

Collection published: 2020
Contents originally published: 2020
Acquired and read: June 2021

Monstress, Volume Five: Warchild
 
Writer: Marjorie Liu
Artist:
Sana Takeda

Lettering & Design: Rus Wooton

Like volume four, I found this more interesting than I remember the series typically being. The dense continuity of this series does make it tough to follow the big story (I read volume one back in 2017, so that's four years ago), but this volume has an individual story that works on its own, about a city under siege. Like with volume four, I found the stuff about Kippa, the adorable fox kid, trying to navigate a cruel and dark world the most interesting; I continue to be bored any time we delve into the backstory of the main character. People must like this because it keeps making the Hugo ballot, but it does not really take me. I wonder how long it will go on for. But volume of this quality provide a nice day's diversion if nothing else, and there is a good joke about nuns.

11 October 2021

Death's Head: Freelance Peacekeeping Agent in the Doctor Who Universe (From Stockbridge to Segonus: A Doctor Who Magazine Comics Marathon, Part 13)

Collection published: 2019
Acquired: March 2020
First half read: June 2021

Death's Head: Freelance Peacekeeping Agent
stories from Dragon's Claws #5 (Nov. 1988), Death's Head vol. 1 #1-7 (Dec. 1988–June 1989), and Marvel Comics Presents vol. 1 #76 (May 1991)

Writer: Simon Furman
Pencilers: Geoff Senior, Bryan Hitch, Lee Sullivan, John Higgins & Liam Sharp
Inkers: Geoff Senior, Mark Farmer, David Hine, Lee Sullivan, John Higgins, Paul Marshall & Jeff Anderson
Colorists: Steve White, Nick Abadzis, Louise Cassell & Stuart Place with Joe Rosas
Letterers: Annie Halfacree with Richard Starkings

I had always intended to follow Death's Head out of A Cold Day in Hell! and into his solo series. If I had been smart, though, I would have picked up Panini's two-volume collection of his adventures; since Panini has (had?) the UK reprint rights to both Marvel and Doctor Who, they could include both Death's Head stories with Doctor Who elements and ones with Marvel elements. Alas, I did not, and that collection is now prohibitively expensive and/or just unavailable. Instead, I picked up this Marvel collection, which has to skip over, for example, Death's Head #8 because both the Doctor and Josiah W. Dogbolter appear in it.

So: in the Transformers storyline "The Legacy of Unicron!", Death's Head was lost in a time portal; in the Doctor Who Magazine story The Crossroads of Time, he emerged in the Doctor Who universe. At the end of that story, the Doctor sent him to Earth in the year 8162, setting up his appearances here. That means all the stories in the first half (which are the ones I'm discussing here) take place in the Doctor Who universe, and thus also Marvel UK's Dragon's Claws series must take place in the Who universe, though neither Lars Pearson's Ahistory nor the Tardis wiki seem to buy this argument. As I discussed in my review of A Cold Day in Hell!, the fact that Dragon's Claws is set in the 82nd century is actually what allows us to date a significant number of DWM stories: Dreamers of Death, The Free-Fall Warriors, The Moderator, The Shape Shifter, Polly the Glot, War-Game, the Kane's Story sequence, A Cold Day in Hell!, Redemption!, and many I haven't gotten to yet must take place in the 82nd century because Death's Head #8 established that Dogbolter was from the same era as Dragon's Claws. Yet, as far as I know, we never see Earth in DWM during what Lars Pearson calls "the Mazuma Era"; the status of humanity's homeworld in this time is only fleshed out in Dragon's Claws and in Death's Head #1-8. (I think? It may have appeared in passing in the Kane's Story sequence now that I think about it.)

Earth in the 82nd century isn't up to much... maybe that's why the Doctor didn't care if he unleashed Death's Head there.
from Death's Head vol. 1 #3 (art by Bryan Hitch & David Hine)
 
Okay, okay, enough context, what about the stories? Reading this, at first I wondered if Death's Head could actually work as a solo character. What made him fun in The Transformers was the way he was above it all-- or rather, beneath it all. Here's this vast cosmic war happening, and especially in the 2006-set stories he originated in, it features titans of the universe. But Death's Head doesn't give a crap: he just cares about money, and if someone is going to call him a "bounty hunter" instead of a "freelance peacekeeping agent." The fun derives from the fact that Death's Head is basically operating in a totally different story to that of our usual protagonists and antagonists. But can that be maintained when he becomes the star of the show?

Most of the time, Simon Furman seemingly can't figure out how to do it. At first, this title really struggles because of Dragon's Claws. The first issue collected here is Dragon's Claws #5, and the story drops you right in, with no context for who these people are or why you should care about them. Which, okay, to be fair, it was their series and Death's Head was a guest star. Why should they be explained? But Death's Head was the breakout star of Marvel UK, and surely Death's Head fans followed him from The Transformers into this without picking up issues #1-4? Yet no concession is made for them. This is also true of some of the individual issues of the actual solo series once it gets started, especially #2, which really strongly assumes I understand who all these characters are and what they are doing when I just don't.

Just try to care about these guys... it can't be done!
from Dragon's Claws #5 (art by Geoff Senior)

In issues #3-7, the series moves into its short-lived status quo, where Death's Head with his assistant Spratt set up a business in the Los Angeles Resettlement. There are two I particularly liked, two that make the format work. The first is #5, which brings back self-interested space trash Keepsake from the Doctor Who Magazine story Keepsake. Now, when I saw this, my reaction was, "uh, really?" because Keepsake wasn't exactly a noteworthy story where I was thinking, "let's bring back that guy." But when I read it, I finally saw what this series was doing and could do. In this one, Keepsake returns to L.A. to meet up with an old partner; between the two of them, they have a complete map to a buried treasure. Only Keepsake-- who now has a new girlfriend in tow-- ran out on his wife so that she wouldn't get part of his half, and so the wife hires Death's Head to get Keepsake. The result of this is a confusing panoply of Keepsake vs. ex-partner and Keepsake vs. ex-wife. But just like the Autobot/Decepticon war, Death's Head doesn't give a hoot, he just wants a payday. It's dumb, and it's fun because Death's Head agrees with us that it's dumb, and doesn't give the interpersonal dynamics any real thought if he gets his money.

Don't annoy Death's Head, lady.
from Death's Head vol. 1 #5 (art by John Higgins)

Similarly, #7 is about Death's Head and Spratt chasing a mark-- but what they don't know is that two different bounty hunters are chasing down Death's Head. So these two bounty hunters are trying to kill him, which he doesn't know, and also trying to kill each other so that the other one doesn't get the credit. Again, this sense that Death's Head attitude means that he's just above it all is where these stories are the most fun.

They've won, and they don't even know why.
from Death's Head vol. 1 #7 (art by Bryan Hitch & Jeff Anderson)

But when they expect you to take these things seriously, they don't work, because much of the time, they are impossible to: a lot of macho early 1990s stuff, even though it's still the late 1980s. Too many stories are dependent on action, which I don't care about, or keeping track of a bunch of interchangeable nobodies. There are occasional flashes of wit and color, but overall the effect is drab.

(I did also like #1, where we get a series of flashbacks each of which ends with Death's Head laying down one of his principles of being a freelance peacekeeping agent.)

Still, I think the comic was getting somewhere and figuring itself out, which is why it's a bummer that #8 totally shifted the direction of the comic, though I'm sure there were good sales-related reasons for this. Well, at least I think it'll be a bummer; I'll see when I get there.

This post is the thirteenth in a series about the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip and Marvel UK. The next installment covers Nemesis of the Daleks. Previous installments are listed below:

  1. The Iron Legion
  2. Dragon's Claw 
  3. The Transformers Classics UK, Volume One
  4. The Tides of Time
  5. The Transformers Classics UK, Volume Two
  6. Voyager
  7. The Transformers Classics UK, Volume Three
  8. The World Shapers
  9. The Transformers Classics UK, Volume Four
  10. The Age of Chaos
  11. The Transformers Classics UK, Volume Five
  12. A Cold Day in Hell!

08 October 2021

Reading The Land of Oz Aloud to My Son

Originally published: 1904
Acquired: July 2021
Read aloud: July-August 2021

The Marvelous Land of Oz: Being an account of the further adventures of the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman and also the strange experiences of the Highly Magnified Woggle-Bug, Jack Pumpkinhead, the Animated Saw-Horse, and the Gump; the story being A Sequel to The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, pictured by John R. Neill

As Son One and I drew towards the end of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, his interest was high enough that I resolved to continue onward into the second book. (Indeed, at the time that I write this, we're a few chapters into book six.) But when I pulled my childhood edition of The Marvellous Land of Oz off the shelf, it was clear to me that the book was inadequate to our purposes. One of the big draws of the first book for my son was the profuse illustrations by W. W. Denslow, but my edition of Marvellous Land was a re-illustrated Puffin Classic from 1985. Far from having multiple John R. Neill illustrations per chapter, including color plates, it had about one crappy picture every other chapter! This was great when I was reading the books to myself at age ten, but I did not think it would maintain a three-year-old's interest. So I seized the excuse to upgrade my much-loved copy of Marvelous Land, and I picked up the 1985 Books of Wonder edition; the Books of Wonder editions of Baum's original fourteen are not quite facsimiles of the first editions (this one, for example, has different end papers than the original), but they are pretty close.

Son One seemed to enjoy this one as much as the first. After we read about Tip building Jack Pumpkinhead, he built a version of his little brother out of household objects! (See left. The "pineapple ball" was the head, the towels the arms. The towels were my idea, but everything else, including the fairy wings, was all him. He objected when I suggested we could bring him to life with the magic powder, though.)

There are ways in which this one is fun to read aloud. There's a good cast of characters to which I could attribute distinctive voices: cackling Mombi, dim-witted Jack Pumpkinhead, the drawling Sawhorse, the extravagant Woggle-Bug. (I think he did point out, though, that my voice for the bear in Jon Klassen's I Want My Hat Back is the same as Jack Pumpkinhead's; he didn't comment on my Sawhorse voice being the same one I use for Applejack in My Little Pony comics.)

On the other hand, I found the book less appealing on this readthrough. Wizard has a very arresting first chapter: the excellent description of gray Kansas, culminating in the cyclone. Land's is much less successful: we hear about abusive Mombi, but don't see her, and then Tip spends some time building Jack for reasons that to be honest seemed a bit dubious... and then that's it. While Wizard puts Dorothy in peril right from the beginning, by the end of the first chapter of Land, where we're going is less clear. And indeed, the whole book is like that: Tip's decision to ride to the Emerald City with Jack and the Sawhorse is pretty random; the characters leave the Emerald City to get the Tin Woodman's help, and go right back and end up in pretty much the exact same situation they were in before they left, because as one guy with an axe, the Tin Woodman is actually not much help; the flight into what seems to be our world feels pretty pointless; and then Glinda solves everything.

That lack of agency was the main problem I had with the book. When I read the Shanower & Young comic adaptation, I praised the book for its cast of misfits... but on reading the actual book again, I found that element much less successful. I feel as though Baum was attempting to recapture the magic of the original book's Scarecrow–Tin Woodman–Cowardly Lion trio, but failing. Their power comes from the way they worked together (with Dorothy) to solve problems, often in spite of their self-perceived limitations. Here so many of the characters seem to do very little. Tip occasionally has good ideas, but the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman are pretty useless; and new characters Jack Pumpkinhead and Woggle-Bug pretty much contribute nothing at all. Plus everyone becomes mean and is constantly sniping at each other! Like, I want to see the misfits come together and save the day, I want to see the dim Jack Pumpkinhead suddenly prove clutch, but that very rarely happens. I think probably this is because Baum wrote the book with an eye toward a stage adaptation, and imagined some comedic banter. But in the actual book, it doesn't come off well.

I did have a new appreciation for General Jinjur. The gag about how hard the husbands have to work once the women stop working is a good one.* It seems a shame that there's no subsequent Oz book with a substantial role for here; even outside of the Famous Forty, no fan has ever written a General Jinjur of Oz as far as I can tell. Maybe I should be the one!

But, you know, the pictures are great! And Son One clearly had a good time. I was very happy we picked up the Books of Wonder edition.

* "[W]e've had a revolution, your Majesty as you ought to know very well," replied the [Emerald City] man; "and since you went away the women have been running things to suit themselves. I'm glad you have decided to come back and restore order, for doing housework and minding the children is wearing out the strength of every man in the Emerald City."
     "Hm!" said the Scarecrow, thoughtfully. "If it is such hard work as you say, how did the women manage it so easily?"
     "I really do not know" replied the man, with a deep sigh.

06 October 2021

Review: Doctor Who: Growth by Rob Williams, Alex Paknadel, I. N. J. Culbard, Simon Fraser, Leandro Casco, and Wellington Diaz

Collection published: 2017
Contents originally published: 2017
Read: July 2021

Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor: The Sapling, Vol 1: Growth

Writers: Rob Williams & Alex Paknadel
Artists:
I. N. J. Culbard, Simon Fraser, Leandro Casco, Wellington Diaz
Colorists: Triona Farrell, Gary Caldwell
 
Letters: Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt

This volume opens "Year Three" of Titan's Eleventh Doctor ongoing, and as always, I find it excellent stuff. The opening two-parter, "Remembrance"/"The Scream" by returning writer Rob Williams with artists I. N. J. Culbard, Leandro Casco, and Wellington Diaz, takes the Doctor and Alice first to the funeral of their old friend John Jones, and then to a trap laid for them by a Silence who's so good at being forgotten that not even his own people remember who he is. As always, it's full of bonkers, delightful, dark stuff that is both very Doctor Who and nothing like the tv show. (Well, actually, it reminds me a lot of the first half of series 6's opening two-parter; "The Impossible Astronaut" is a delightfully disconcerting opening that I felt "Day of the Moon" didn't really capitalize on, and this pushes out even further in that direction.) My only complaint here is that what actually happened to the memories of the Doctor and Alice is a bit nebulous; their quest to regain them seem to be the Year Three arc, but it also seems that they remember most things!

As always, Rob Williams trades off his stories with another writer; in this case, newcomer Alex Paknadel writes "The Tragical History Tour" with returning artist Simon Fraser. Again, this is a story with an off-the-wall concept: time on Earth becomes spatialized, so you can get from one year to the next just by walking. The late 1960s start invading future years to take their stuff; the Doctor, Alice, and the Sapling bump into Alice's neighbor Kushak, all whose past selves are taking refuge in his 2015 apartment. So the Doctor, Alice, the Sapling, and all the Kushaks pile into a bus and drive back to 1968 to figure out what's going on! I enjoyed it a lot, though I did wish it was a three-parter as I felt the character(s) of Kushak kind of got lost in the midst of everything else. But this is a series that never does three-parters really, and is probably better for it; The Eleventh Doctor rockets through concepts that other Titan ongoings would probably drag out to tedium, always chasing the novelty that makes it always the best of the ongoings.

I read an issue of Titan's Doctor Who comic every day (except when I have hard-copy comics to read). Next up in sequence: The Tenth Doctor: Facing Fate: Breakfast at Tyranny's

04 October 2021

Review: Doctor Who: Ghost Stories by George Mann, Ivan Rodriguez, Pasquale Qualano, and Dennis Calero

Collection published: 2017
Contents originally published: 2016-17
Acquired: March 2020
Read: July 2021

Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor: Ghost Stories

Writer: George Mann
Artists:
Ivan Rodriguez, Pasquale Qualano & Dennis Calero

Colorist:
Dijjo Lima

Letters:
Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt

I thought this was going to be something slightly different than it was. Spinning out of the 2016 Christmas special, "The Return of the Doctor Mysterio" (the first issue came out literally the day after it aired), this sends the twelfth Doctor on an adventure with that story's superhero, the Ghost, and his wife and daughter. I thought it was going to be the ongoing superhero adventures of the Ghost, with the Doctor as a minor character maybe. Instead, it's a pretty standard set of Doctor Who adventures, but with the Ghost and his family as companions. There's no New York City superheroics here; instead, there's visits to the future and alien planets and Sycorax spacecraft to track down some cosmic thingummies.

It's fine. I appreciated the focus on Grant's wife Lucy, who is the focal character much more than the Ghost, actually. But it's pretty bog-standard stuff, slightly enlivened by the novelty of having an entire family (including a daughter who is either eight or eleven) as a companion team.

But I feel like something funner could have been done. "The Return of Doctor Mysterio" was a pastiche of the Richard Donner Superman films, and it seems that a comic book version of the character could have been a superhero comic pastiche. I can imagine some fun stuff: give the Ghost a classic Siegel and Shuster social justice adventure, a wacky Mort Weisinger Silver Age tale, a John Byrne Man of Steel-era adventure, each with appropriate art. Heck, use the TARDIS to show him what he inspired in the 31st century for some Legion of Super-Heroes madness! I know damning a story for something for not doing something it didn't even aspire to do isn't the done thing in reviewing, but I really feel like this squandered the potential of a fun episode. As is often the case, Mann's Twelfth Doctor comics aren't as playful as the television run they are trying to emulate.

I read an issue of Titan's Doctor Who comic every day (except when I have hard-copy comics to read). Next up in sequence: The Eleventh Doctor: The Sapling: Growth

01 October 2021

Reading Roundup Wrapup: September 2021

Pick of the month: Evening's Empire by Andrew Cartmel, Richard Piers Rayner, Dan Abnett, Marc Platt, John Ridgway, et al. This month was a tough choice. Some good stuff, but a lot of meh. But I did quite like this, one of the better Doctor Who Magazine comic collections.

All books read:

  1. Invisible Kingdom, Volume 1: Walking the Path by G. Willow Wilson and Christian Ward
  2. Evening’s Empire: Collected Comic Strips from the pages of Doctor Who Magazine by Andrew Cartmel, Richard Piers Rayner, Dan Abnett, Marc Platt, John Ridgway, et al.
  3. Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor: Time Trials, Vol 1: The Terror Beneath by George Mann, James Peaty, Mariano Laclaustra, Warren Pleece, et al.
  4. Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz by L. Frank Baum, illustrated by John R. Neill
  5. Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor: The Sapling, Vol 2: Roots by George Mann, James Peaty, I. N. J. Culbard, Ivan Rodriguez, Wellington Diaz, Klebs Junior, Leandro Casco, et al.
  6. Network Effect: A Murderbot Novel by Martha Wells
  7. Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor: Facing Fate, Vol 2: Vortex Butterflies by Nick Abadzis, Giorgia Sposito, Iolanda Zanfardino, et al.
  8. Invisible Kingdom, Volume 2: Edge of Everything by G. Willow Wilson and Christian Ward
  9. Anticipations of the Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific Progress Upon Human Life and Thought by H. G. Wells
  10. Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor: Time Trials, Vol 2: The Wolves of Winter by Richard Dinnick, Brian Williamson, Pasquale Qualano, et al.
  11. The Road to Oz by L. Frank Baum, illustrated by John R. Neill
  12. Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor: The Sapling, Vol 3: Branches by Alex Paknadel, Rob Williams, I. N. J. Culbard, Ivan Rodriguez, JB Bastos, and Luiz Campello
  13. Doctor Who: The Lost Dimension, Book One by George Mann, Cavan Scott, Nick Abadzis, Rachael Stott, Adriana Melo, Cris Bolson, Mariano Laclaustra, et al.
  14. Doctor Who: The Lost Dimension, Book Two by Gordon Rennie, Emma Beeby, George Mann, Cavan Scott, Rachael Stott, Mariano Laclaustra, Wellington Diaz, Ivan Rodriguez, et al. 

I seemingly read a lot of books... but only #2 came from my actual list. On top of that, #1, 6, and 8 were for the Hugos (so not that many, either), #4 and 11 were read aloud to my son, and all the others were my daily breakfast comic book. Meh. I have been moving very slowly through one particular book for weeks now... I don't even know why, it's not even bad. Just gotta be more disciplined! Maybe I can finish it today and get the month off to a good start.

All books acquired:
  1. A Short History of the World by H. G. Wells
  2. Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
  3. The Road to Oz by L. Frank Baum, illustrated by John R. Neill
  4. The Fantastic Four Omnibus, Volume 4 by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, John Buscema, Archie Goodwin, et al.
  5. The Scholars of Night by John M. Ford
  6. The Emerald City of Oz by L. Frank Baum, illustrated by John R. Neill
  7. The Daleks by David Whitaker, Richard Jennings, Ron Turner, et al.
  8. Star Trek: Section 31: Disavowed by David Mack
  9. Star Trek: Coda, Volume I: Moments Asunder by Dayton Ward

All books remaining of "To be read" list: 672 (up 3)