05 May 2021

You can't go home to Earth-Two again: The Young All-Stars

In the wake of Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC's All-Star Squadron was wound down and replaced by a new ongoing series, The Young All-Stars. Instead of focusing on established Golden Age characters, this focused on a group of largely original World War II-era characters, picking up from where All-Star Squadron had left off in early 1942. Some of the characters are vague analogues who were removed from the WWII era by the changes of the Crisis.

So there is:

  • Arn "Iron" Munro, a strongman (sort of a Superman analogue)
  • Flying Fox, a First Nations Canadian (a very loose Batman analogue, only in the sense that they're both spooky-looking flying creatures; his powers are all tribal mysticism stuff)
  • Helena "Fury" Kosmatos, deriving her power from the Greek Furies (replacing the Golden Age Wonder Woman as the mother of Lyta "Fury" Trevor of Infinity, Inc.)
  • Neptune "Neptune Perkins" Perkins, who has water powers (a preexisting character, but he had only appeared in two Golden Age stories before Roy Thomas picked him up for use in All-Star Squadron; kind of an Aquaman analogue)
  • Danny "Dyna-Mite" Dunbar, who has explosion powers (the only one of these characters to actually have an ongoing feature during the Golden Age, he had been sidekick to TNT)
  • Miya "Tsunami" Mishada, also with water powers (she appeared as a villain in All-Star Squadron)
  • [joining the team later] Paula "Tigress" Brooks, a master of all weapons (eventually it's revealed that she'll go on to be the original Huntress, a villain who appeared opposite Wildcat in Sensation Comics, as well as opposite the Helena Wayne Huntress in the 1970s All Star Comics revival)

The problem is that I just never really cared about any of these characters. I don't think character is Roy Thomas's strong point, but on All-Star Squadron and Infinity, Inc., he was able to get there in the end; the All-Stars were a colorful lot who popped well, and the Infinitors started weak but became compelling. Is it because the All-Stars were (mostly) preexisting characters and the Infinitors closely tied to preexisting ones? Did Dann Thomas exert less influence on this series than on Infinity, Inc.? (My assumption, perhaps unfounded, is he comes up with the plots that reconcile forty-year old continuity errors, and she writes all the good character stuff and dialogue.)

Or is it the art? The more I read comics, the more I come to suspect things people perceive as "writing" problems are often art ones. If characters don't pop, is it because the writing is poor, or because the artists can't communicate character? I never really warmed to any of the series regular artists, and it went through a number of them. All-Star Squadron and Infinity, Inc. were both blessed by Jerry Ordway, who went on to be a superstar, and other collaborators included standouts like Tony DeZuniga, Vince Colletta, and even, I must admit, Todd McFarlane. Young All-Stars didn't have such great artists, and the ones it did have were rarely constant; the first twelve issues had six different pencillers and six different inkers. The only one of the title's regular artists I'd ever heard of was Malcolm Jones III, who went from issue #19 of Young All-Stars in Dec. 1988 to issue #4 of obscure new title The Sandman in Apr. 1989. But being good is not the same as being a good fit, and you might guess someone well-suited to Neil Gaiman's milieu isn't well suited to Roy Thomas's, no matter how good he is.

The premise of Young All-Stars picks up from that of All-Star Squadron, chronicling a superhero-centric take on World War II. When it's good, it's when it's actually leaning into this; my favorite story line was Atom and Evil! (#21-25), a post-Crisis retelling of Superman vs. Wonder Woman. This did the kind of thing I always enjoyed in All-Star Squadron, take real history and refract it through the lens of the DC universe in a way that was pretty fun. I liked the incorporation of a supergroup made up of representatives of each of the Allies, especially Kuei, the Chinese demon. I would like to see more of him, but it looks like he was never used again after his final appearance in Young All-Stars #27. I also liked the way it played with Superman vs. Wonder Woman; at first it looks like it's going to be a beat-for-beat replay of that story (with, say, Fury in the Wonder Woman role) but then it goes off on its own direction. It did, alas, remove some of Gerry Conway's moral complexity.

But most of the time the series doesn't do this. I'm not sure why (various comments in the lettercol made me think it was a DC editorial directive, but also Roy Thomas seems to act like it's a creative choice at times). I think what really makes the Earth-Two/JSA stuff interesting, as I've said, is the sense of legacy and history, but that's largely lacking here.

There's not as much connection with real history as in All-Star Squadron, and there's not as much DC history, either, as Iron Munro, Flying Fox, Neptune Perkins, and Tsunami are all characters who didn't really have any connection to the present-day DC universe. Fury's daughter is one of my favorite Infinity, Inc. and Sandman characters, but I ended up often feeling like her mother was a potentially strong character rendered impotent by the stories told about her, which mostly revolve around 1) her powers being too strong for her and 2) whether she should date Iron Munro. You get little insight into Lyta Trevor by reading about Helena Kosmatos. (We never learn, as far as I know, what must be the thing we most want to learn about Helena: why did she give up baby Lyta and who was the father.)

Instead, the series often focuses on tying the DC universe into pre-superhero fiction. Iron Munro, for example, is revealed to be the son of Hugo Danner, the protagonist of the 1930 novel Gladiator by Philip Wylie (co-author of When Worlds Collide). Gladiator may have influenced Siegel and Shuster's conception of Superman, and so here Hugo Danner becomes the literal father of The Young All-Stars's Superman analogue. Similarly, Neptune Perkins is revealed to be the grandson of Arthur Gordon Pym, from the novel by Edgar Allan Poe, in a storyline that also takes in the vril (from The Coming Race, though Thomas doesn't seem to know this is the origin of the term because he never mentions it), Captain Nemo (establishing he was Pym!), and Frankenstein's creature! When Hugo Danner eventually appears, in the Sons of Dawn storyline, we learn he's taken refuge in the "lost world" of Arthur Conan Doyle fame, and there's even a relative of Professor Challenger involved.

As a concept, I think this is interesting. Superhero fiction is a genre that has pretty freely borrowed from other genres, and engaging with this more directly is a fun idea. Gladiator may have influenced superman, "lost tribe" narratives are a staple of superhero fiction, the X-Men's Savage Land is a pretty obvious riff on Doyle's Lost World, superhero fiction is full of Frankensteinesque mad scientists and Frankenstein's-creatureesque monsters. Why not make all this text instead of subtext?

Well, because if you're Roy Thomas, you're unable to do so in a way that's interesting. Young All-Stars doesn't really tell stories that use these connections; rather, it relates backstory that reveals them. The Arn Munro/Hugo Danner thing has an issue where basically Arn just reads Gladiator. The Dzyan Inheritance is the four-issue story where we learn about Neptune Perkins's ancestry-- and fully the first two and half issues are just people giving exposition! Does knowing his grandfather was Captain Nemo develop his character? It turns out, no; in fact, he barely contributes to the story. Sons of Dawn is the closest any of these tales come to have a present-day repercussion, but then the story is a bit of racist nonsense about how if American natives see an attractive white woman, they immediately begin with the pillaging to get ahold of her. Plus: will Arn be tempted to join his father as a genocidal dictator? Well, no, of course not.

The shame of it all is that there are some potentially interesting threads. Helena wants to be using her powers to liberate Greece, but can't because of the spell cast by Hitler. Tsunami changed sides-- but is now fighting for a nation that puts her parents in camps. Flying Fox is a "fish out of water" in the modern world. All of these bits have potential, but the series basically neglects them in favor of much less interesting stuff. Flying Fox may as well have not been in this series for all he ultimately contributed to it beyond being a body in fight scenes.

There were a couple neat storylines aside from Atom and Evil! I liked the journey into Project M, America's attempt to create monsters to use in the war; the "Meanwhile..." issue that showed what the rest of the All-Star Squadron was up to was a fun one; the Millennium tie-in issues were fun, and a good use of the Manhunters. But too often I sighed as I opened another issue.

I'll be curious to see if future JSA writers make use of Young All-Stars concepts going forward. Something I had totally forgotten (I guess because it didn't mean much to me at the time) is that Arn Munro is actually the grandfather of the Kate Spencer Manhunter; he would sleep with the Phantom Lady, and she gave the child up for adoption, who grew up to be Kate's dad. Arn even appeared in the Forgotten and Face Off storylines, but rereading my reviews of them, I liked the Golden Age aspect of them the least! I know Helena put in some more appearances that I will get to. But did Flying Fox, Neptune Perkins, and Tsunami amount to anything? I have this inkling the answer might be "no" but comics writers always surprise me by bringing back the most obscure of concepts. Clearly Marc Andreyko was a big Young All-Stars (and Infinity, Inc.) reader, so who else was?

This post is sixteenth in a series about the Justice Society and Earth-Two. The next installment covers Gladiator. Previous installments are listed below:

  1. All Star Comics: Only Legends Live Forever (1976-79)
  2. The Huntress: Origins (1977-82)
  3. All-Star Squadron (1981-87)
  4. Infinity, Inc.: The Generations Saga, Volume One (1983-84)
  5. Infinity, Inc.: The Generations Saga, Volume Two (1984-85)
  6. Showcase Presents... Power Girl (1978)
  7. America vs. the Justice Society (1985)
  8. Jonni Thunder, a.k.a. Thunderbolt (1985)
  9. Crisis on Multiple Earths, Volume 7 (1983-85)
  10. Infinity, Inc. #11-53 (1985-88) [reading order]
  11. Last Days of the Justice Society of America (1986-88)
  12. All-Star Comics 80-Page Giant (1999)
  13. Steel, the Indestructible Man (1978)
  14. Superman vs. Wonder Woman: An Untold Epic of World War Two (1977)
  15. Secret Origins of the Golden Age (1986-89)

03 May 2021

Reading Roundup Wrapup: April 2021

Pick of the month: The Transformers Classics UK, Volume Five by Simon Furman, et al. This was good but its first-place positioning is rather by default, in a month where I did very little reading. Don't know what's wrong with me!

All books read:
1. Bernice Summerfield: Adorable Illusion by Gary Russell
2. Doctor Who: The Fourth Doctor, Vol 1: Gaze of the Medusa by Gordon Rennie & Emma Beeby and Brian Williamson
3. The Transformers Classics UK, Volume Five by Simon Furman, et al.
4. Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor, Vol 2: Doctormania by Cavan Scott, Adriana Melo, Cris Bolson, et al.
5. Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor, Vol 5: The Twist by George Mann, Mariano Laclaustra, Rachael Stott, et al.
6. Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor, Vol 6: Sins of the Father by Nick Abadzis, Giorgia Sposito, Eleonora Carlini, et al.

Just reading my Doctor Who comics over breakfast and that's it!

All books acquired:
1. Excellent Women by Barbara Pym
2. Star Trek Adventures: The Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook, system design by Nathan Dodwell
3. Bernice Summerfield: True Stories edited by Xanna Eve Chown

All books on "To be read" list: 664 (up 1)

28 April 2021

Review: Secret Origins of the Golden Age by Roy Thomas, et al.

In the wake of Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC began publishing an ongoing series of origin stories, clarifying and adjusting the histories in the wake of the new universal history. Especially in the early days of the series, it alternated between Golden Age heroes and newer heroes; our man Roy Thomas of course edited and wrote most of the Golden Age ones. All of the JSA ones were collected in Last Days of the Justice Society, and I enjoyed reading those ones interspersed with Infinity, Inc., so I decided that when I read The Young All-Stars, I'd intersperse all the non-JSA stories.* (I did also read the non-Golden Age story in each issue, if I hadn't read it already.)

I would say there's sort of three genres here. One seems to basically re-present an old story, but with a new artist and slightly spruced up dialogue. The Superman one is a good example of this: you know all of this because you've read other Superman stories. How can anyone compete with Action Comics #1, even if you do get Wayne Boring and Jerry Ordway to illustrate it? For most of the others, even when you haven't read the original story, you can tell that you're reading a not very tweaked version of something that isn't very interesting: being a slightly better version of a dumb Golden Age story is still a dumb Golden Age story. Doll Man, the Whip, Doctor Occult, Black Condor, and the Grim Ghost were all hard to slog through even though they were just 20 pages long.

The second genre is the continuity solution: the story that fixes a problem, and sews some old stories together. Sometimes this is interesting if it's done deftly. The Batman story, for example, does this. Thomas weaves together some backstory elements from a few early Golden Age Batman stories to make a coherent story about a young Bruce Wayne figuring out if he can love and be Batman. Plus, then, he gets Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin to do the art, a team that has nothing to do with the Golden Age Batman, but who were responsible for one of the best Batman runs ever. The Manhunter story does a good job weaving DC's many Manhunters (four, I think) plus an alien space robot cult, into a coherent history in a way that nicely sets up the Millennium storyline and fleshes out the world of All-Star Squadron/Infinity, Inc./Young All-Stars. The origin of the "Golden Age" Fury is designed to solve a problem created by the changes to Wonder Woman's continuity, but works nicely on its own as a story that ties into both Infinity, Inc. and Young All-Stars.

On the other hand, it can feel like you're reading a bunch of exposition solving a problem you didn't particularly care about. I think probably there's potential in Miss America, for example, but her tale here is one part origin, one part explanation of how come she's alive when she died in All-Star Squadron, and one part explanation of how she fills Wonder Woman's place in the JSA. Like, this isn't going to get me interested in reading more about her-- and even if it did, I couldn't, since she just puts in small appearances in Young All-Stars. Of course this is Roy Thomas's specialty, but it's not just him; the Power Girl story by Paul Kupperberg is just a really long and convoluted explanation of how she could think she was Superman's cousin, but actually be an Atlantean princess, since in the post-Crisis universe, Superman was supposed to be the only surviving Kryptonian.

(And like many retcons done for the sake of retcons, rather than the sake of story, they didn't stick. I am pretty sure that basically no post-1989 JSA stories actually used Miss America as a Wonder Woman analogue, and as far as I know, no post-Crisis Superman stories really acknowledged that supposedly Superman thought he had a Kryptonian cousin for several years.)

There's a third genre here, though, and it's one Roy Thomas is the master of: the historical period piece. Probably my two favorite of all these origins were the ones for the Crimson Avenger and Midnight. Both of these Thomas suffuses with period detail and flair, fleshing out largely forgotten characters by making their worlds feel more lived-in and real. The Crimson Avenger story was a neat tale taking place on the night of the Orson Welles War of the Worlds broadcast, fleshing out the Crimson's role as a newspaper editor in a time of war-- but before America had entered it. Gene Colan and Mike Gustovich's art is atmospheric; you can see why the strength of this origin ultimately lead to a Crimson Avenger miniseries (which I will read after finishing Young All-Stars). Similarly, the Midnight story embeds him in the world of old-time radio, though as far as I know nothing much came of the character after this story. Len Wein's Uncle Sam story was also pretty good, giving an explanation (albeit a weird one, even by comic book rules) to a character I had seen in a lot of things, but didn't actually know how he really worked.

There are about 400 pages of story here; it could make a nice two-volume collection were DC so motivated (but I doubt they ever will be). I am happy I read even the weaker ones, because the good ones made it worth it, and I appreciate the extra context I got for the appearances of these Golden Age characters in various Roy Thomas productions and (I assume) future stories. Though I doubt I'll ever read something that makes me glad I read the Doll Man one!

Secret Origins of the Golden Age originally appeared in issues #1, 3, 5-6, 8, 11-13, 17, 19, 21-22, 26-30, and 42 of Secret Origins vol. 2 (Apr. 1986–July 1989). The stories were written by Roy Thomas, Dann Thomas, Paul Kupperberg, Len Wein, Robert Loren Fleming, and Sheldon Mayer, and co-plotted by E. Nelson Bridwell, Ehrich Weiss, and Roy Thomas. They were pencilled by Wayne Boring, Jerry Bingham, Gene Colan, Marshall Rogers, Murphy Anderson, Mary Wilshire, Tom Grindberg, Mike Gustovich, Howard Simpson, Arvell Jones, Grant Miehm, Tom Artis, Gil Kane, Sheldon Mayer, Mike Harris, Stephen deStefano, and Michael Bair, and the inking was by Jerry Ordway, Steve Mitchell, Mike Gustovich, Terry Austin, Murphy Anderson, Mary Wilshire, Tony DeZuniga, Bob Lewis, Greg Theakston, Bob Downs, Howard Simpson, Damon Willis, Grant Miehm, P. Craig Russell, Fred Fredericks, Gil Kane, Sheldon Mayer, Mike Harris, Paul Fricke, and Michael Bair. Colors were provided by Gene D’Angelo, Carl Gafford, Marshall Rogers, Shelley Eiber, Julianna Ferriter, Tom Ziuko, Anthony Tollin, Liz Berube, and Helen Vesik, and the stories were lettered by David Cody Weiss, Carrie Spiegle, Albert De Guzman, Agustin Mas, Milt Snapinn, Jean Simek, Helen Vesik, Gaspar Saladino, Duncan Andrews, Sheldon Mayer, and Janice Chiang. The series was edited by Roy Thomas, Robert Greenberger, and Mark Waid.

* The full list: Superman (#1), Captain Marvel (#3), Crimson Avenger (#5), Batman (#6), Doll Man (#8), Power Girl (#11), Fury (#12), the Whip (#13), Doctor Occult (#17), Guardian (#19), Uncle Sam (#19), Black Condor (#21), Manhunter (#22), Manhunter (#22), Miss America (#26), Zatara (#27), Midnight (#28), Red Tornado (#29), Mr. America (#29), Plastic Man (#30), Grim Ghost (#42).

This post is fifteenth in a series about the Justice Society and Earth-Two. The next installment covers The Young All-Stars. Previous installments are listed below:

  1. All Star Comics: Only Legends Live Forever (1976-79)
  2. The Huntress: Origins (1977-82)
  3. All-Star Squadron (1981-87)
  4. Infinity, Inc.: The Generations Saga, Volume One (1983-84)
  5. Infinity, Inc.: The Generations Saga, Volume Two (1984-85)
  6. Showcase Presents... Power Girl (1978)
  7. America vs. the Justice Society (1985)
  8. Jonni Thunder, a.k.a. Thunderbolt (1985)
  9. Crisis on Multiple Earths, Volume 7 (1983-85)
  10. Infinity, Inc. #11-53 (1985-88) [reading order]
  11. Last Days of the Justice Society of America (1986-88)
  12. All-Star Comics 80-Page Giant (1999)
  13. Steel, the Indestructible Man (1978)
  14. Superman vs. Wonder Woman: An Untold Epic of World War Two (1977)

26 April 2021

Review: Mistborn: The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson

Originally published: 2007
Acquired: July 2020
Read: December 2020

The Well of Ascension: Book Two of Mistborn
by Brandon Sanderson

The second Mistborn picks up a year after the first, and clearly the conceit is to consider the question of once you defeat the evil overlord.... how do you create an effective government to rule in his place? The book follows Elend and Vin's attempts to transition from well-intentioned renegades into viable government. It doesn't go well. I enjoyed this aspect of the book.

The problem, I think, is that it's also a book about someone who is embracing a magical destiny. This ultimately turns out to be a subversion, too, but I feel like the book's two purposes pull against each other rather than work together. Vin thinks she's supposed to go on a quest... but she spends month not going on the quest because to do so would disrupt the political plot line.

Like last time, I think Sanderson does a good job with the slow unspooling of character. The changes Elend and Vin go through are handled well; I continue to like Sazed, and this book gives Breeze some great scenes as well. I think Sanderson balances the cast better than in book one. That one had too many crew members who did too little; here, the ones who aren't interesting just aren't there very much, instead of constantly turning up in scenes to "humorously" quip at each other. My favorite, though, was OreSeur, Vin's kandra who is legally loyal but perhaps not always emotionally loyal. His conversations with Vin and eventually transformation were a real highlight of the book.

In my edition, the story runs over 700 pages; I do kind of feel like it could have been at least 100 pages shorter... but that's easy for me to say. And the putting of pieces into position is effective, because once the enormous climax came, I was totally invested; the defense of the city is great stuff with lots of great moments for all the key characters. The revelation of what's really been going on is well handled, and makes a great cliffhanger ending. So getting to the conclusion is a little rough at times, but once Sanderson reveals how the political plotline and quest plotline actually do coincide, the book pulls it off.

21 April 2021

The World Shapers (From Stockbridge to Segonus: A Doctor Who Magazine Comics Marathon, Part 8)

Collection published: 2008
Contents originally published: 1986-87
Acquired: September 2008
Read: January 2021

The World Shapers: Collected Comic Strips from the Pages of  Doctor Who Magazine
by John Ridgway, Grant Morrison, Jamie Delano, et al.

The Tides of Time gave us the strip's first run with a consistent writer but different artists for each story; The World Shapers gives us the reverse, in that John Ridgway illustrates the whole volume (with some inks from Tim Perkins here and there), but no two sequential stories share writers. The result is a somewhat odd feeling collection, without a consistent tone or ethos. Ridgway does his best to make it all hang together, I reckon, but I did often feel like no two writers had quite the same idea of Frobisher, for example. You can, of course, make this kind of thing work in Doctor Who, but I'm not persuaded this volume does...

Exodus / Revelation! / Genesis!, from Doctor Who Magazine #108-10 (Jan.-Mar. 1986)
script by Alan McKenzie & John Ridgway, art by John Ridgway, letters by Annie Halfacree
Alan McKenzie's short run on the DWM strips comes to an end with a story that feels all too typical of his work. Exodus actually gets off to a good start; the TARDIS accidentally materializes around a refugee spaceship, and Peri and Frobisher have to talk the Doctor into helping them out. It's a slight but charming story, and would be perfectly enjoyable... except it leads into the last two parts. These, like a lot of Alan McKenzie stories, give the impression of having been completely made up until he ran out of pages, and don't really deliver on their promises. There's some attempt at a murder mystery, but the culprit is introduced so late in the game one barely remembers who he is! The Cybermen are in it, but don't really amount to much. I'm not sure I've really enjoyed any of the DWM stories based around tv monsters thus far, actually.
The end has this weird little stinger where Frobisher reveals he has mono-morphia. It's just two panels, and I found it kind of awkward, but it does finally make explicit something that only implied by Steve Parkhouse in Voyager. Frobisher says, "It's been coming on for a while," presumably to explain why he could shape-shift in some of the earlier Alan McKenzie stories.
from Doctor Who Magazine #111
Nature of the Beast! / Time Bomb / Salad Daze, from Doctor Who Magazine #111-17 (Apr.-Oct. 1986)
scripts by Simon Furman and Jamie Delano, art by John Ridgway, letters by Annie Halfacree
Here we have three stories that I struggle to say much about. Nature of the Beast! is a plodding werewolf runaround with little sparkle; it's interesting because at the same time he wrote his two stories here, Simon Furman was coming into his own as the primary writer of Marvel UK's The Transformers comic, but there's little sign here of the personality-based writing he used so effectively over there. (At the time this came out, Furman's stories "Robot Buster!", "Devastation Derby!", and "Second Generation!" were being released in The Transformers;* these aren't works of high art, but they're more interesting than this.) Jamie Delano's Time Bomb was also a struggle; there was some neat stuff like the Doctor and Frobisher running around on primordial Earth, but really what was this story even about? I can't really say. Furman's last contribution (in this volume) is a one-part story about Peri imagining she's in an Alice in Wonderland scenario. Furman seems to have grokked that Ridgway can sell the surreal like few others on the basis of Voyager and Once Upon a Time-Lord, but this is boring surreal, not interesting surreal.
from Doctor Who Magazine #118
Changes, from Doctor Who Magazine #118-19 (Nov.-Dec. 1986)
script by Grant Morrison, art by John Ridgway, letters by Annie Halfacree
This, I think, isn't a particularly great story. It would be a bottle episode if this was a Star Trek show: a shapeshifter is loose on the ship and attacking the crew. But of course, this is a comic so it doesn't mean anything to save on sets and casting, and this is Doctor Who, so the TARDIS interior is in fact very extravagant. But Grant Morrison and Ridgway work well together to capture the sense of whimsy and wonder that go with the TARDIS interior. Is Grant Morrison a Doctor Who fan? I always had the impression of "not actually, really" but isn't the trick the Doctor pulls at the end how he gets into Chronotis's TARDIS in Shada? That seems like a bit of a deep cut for 1987. One of the nice touches that keeps this kind of generic story interesting (aside from a Ridgway TARDIS interior) is that he has a very good handle on the voices of the TARDIS crew; the Doctor's bit about "van Gogh" was spot on. (It's not necessarily a quality one needs from the DWM strip, but it's nice when it happens.)
from Doctor Who Magazine #128
Profits of Doom!, from Doctor Who Magazine #120-22 (Jan.-Mar. 1987)
script by Mike Collins, pencils by John Ridgway, inks by Tim Perkins, letters by Annie Halfacree
In his intro to Voyager, John Ridgway complained that once Steve Parkhouse left the strip, it became much more like the tv show. This, I think, is not actually a complaint you can level at the work of Alan McKenzie, who often seemed to be trying to do something interesting even if I never particularly enjoyed reading what he actually did. The script by Mike Collins (who still works on the strip to this day!), though, does seem like one that could have aired on tv. Maybe because of that, though, I found it the most enjoyable story in this volume thus far. I think if I outlined the plot you wouldn't be wowed: what works is that Collins has a good sense of the whole TARDIS team, and the world he builds feels real and lived-in, in a way true of much 1980s sf film... but not really the glossy sci-fi stuff they gave us on the BBC. Like Morrison, he has some good Colin Baker bits, and he even remembers Peri is a botanist, and both his Peri and Frobisher are pretty smart and resourceful, and I liked the story's only real significant guest character, Kara McAllista.
from Doctor Who Magazine #123
The Gift, from Doctor Who Magazine #123-26 (Apr.-July 1987)
script by Jamie Delano, pencils by John Ridgway, inks by Tim Perkins, letters by Richard Starkings
This, though, was my favorite of the book. It's pretty nuts. The Doctor, Peri, and Frobisher go the planet Zazz looking for a party; instead they find a mad scientist trying to build a volcano-powered rocket ship. He gives them a gift for his brother, the Lorduke of Zazz; they attend an all-night party with the Lorduke (the Doctor is a great dancer), and when the open the present, it turns out to be a self-replicating robot. The Doctor must investigate the robots origins while a seemingly hungover Frobisher gets the scientist to help them and the Lorduke-- who models their whole society after the 1920s-- holds Peri hostage and forces her to sing. It's bonkers, none of this should go together, but it's a delight to read, because for the first time in a long time this feels like the madness of Doctor Who the comic strip, not Doctor Who the tv show. Profits of Doom! might have worked by hewing closely to the tv show, but this works by being nothing like it. It has a sense of humor, for one thing! One of my favorite bits is how the Doctor uncovers the history of Zazz's moon in a series of short hops through history, essentially watching it on fast forward.
from Doctor Who Magazine #127
The World Shapers, from Doctor Who Magazine #127-29 (Aug.-Oct. 1987)
script by Grant Morrison, pencils by John Ridgway, inks by Tim Perkins, letters by Richard Starkings
The sixth Doctor bows out of DWM with this atmospheric but ultimately pointless tale. Grant Morrison takes the opportunity to explain a throwaway line from The Invasion and tie the Cybermen together with the alien Voord from The Keys of Marinus. This is, I think, based on them having handlebar heads, which I actually kinda buy. It's vaguely clever and has some neat bits (such as the role of the Time Lords, and the dead Time Lord's TARDIS... though I didn't care for it talking)... but why? The actual story is just that the Doctor hears a bunch of exposition, and then Jamie dies. I dunno, I found this weird. It's going for epic, I guess, but it ends up being just kind of a jumble of possibly interesting ideas where nothing interesting is done with them.
Stray Observations:
  • Genesis! gives the writer credits as "SCRIPT: ALAN McKENZIE (ADAPTED BY JOHN RIDGWAY)," while the table of contents labels the whole story how I did above. In the introduction to Voyager, Ridgway explained that he rewrote the script as he drew it, putting the Cybermen in it more because the editor felt the magazine was wasting the money it had paid to use them with how little McKenzie had actually used them, and it was also Ridgway who added in the first explicit confirmation of Frobisher's mono-morphia.​
  • Peri is not in Time Bomb, except for one panel at the very end; Salad Daze came out between parts one and two of The Trial of a Time Lord and debuts the new look she had in that serial.​
  • Mel debuted as the Doctor's companion in The Trial of a Time Lord Part Nine, broadcast 1 Nov. 1986, between issues #118 and 119 of DWM. Peri, however, continues as the companion in the strip all the way to issue #129, released some ten months after she was written out of the show.​
  • Changes establishes that the TARDIS's occasionally-mentioned state of temporal grace only applies when the TARDIS is in temporal flight: when the engines are off, so is it. I am too lazy to go back and see if this matches up with the way it was used on the show.​
  • The ending of Profits of Doom! seems to set up Seth as a recurring villain, but unless it's not mentioned on the Tardis wiki, he never appeared again. Mike Collins has illustrated many, many Star Trek stories-- but written just one Trek tale, and it struck me that like this, it features a group of rapacious capitalist scavengers as the villains!​
  • Speaking of whom, I usually do little "what did they go on to do?" summaries when someone who is famous for subsequent work (e.g., Dave Gibbons) makes their last contribution to DWM. I cannot do this for Mike Collins because he has never not worked on DWM! Last year's Mistress of Chaos graphic novel featuring the thirteenth Doctor includes strips drawn by him; he has worked on seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth, eleventh, and thirteenth Doctor comics! But on the side, he has carved out a career in American comics, illustrating much of DC's The Darkstars, as well as Star Trek comics for DC, Marvel (especially Early Voyages), and Wildstorm. He also did the covers for over eighty Star Trek ebooks, including the S.C.E. series. And he worked as a storyboard artist on the Doctor Who tv show during the Moffat years!
  • These are Jamie Delano's only Doctor Who stories, I think; he is best known as the first writer of the Hellblazer comic book, a spin-off of Alan Moore's Swamp Thing.
  • Richard Starkings makes his Doctor Who debut here, lettering the last two stories. He is still lettering Doctor Who comics thirty-plus years later, working most recently on Titan's new Doctor Who Comic this year!​
  • Steve Moffat would actually reference The World Shapers on screen in World Enough and Time, as one of the multiple Cyberman origins the Doctor has experienced. I think I yelped when I heard that; even before reading The World Shapers, I knew the significance of the reference.

* All of these are collected in The Transformers Classics UK, Volume Two; see below. My parallel reading is not quite in sync.

This post is the eighth in a series about the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip and Marvel UK. The next installment covers The Transformers Classics UK, Volume Four. 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

19 April 2021

The Transformers Classics UK, Volume Three (From Stockbridge to Segonus: A Doctor Who Magazine Comics Marathon, Part 7)

Collection published: 2012
Contents originally published: 1986-87
Read: January 2021

The Transformers Classics UK, Volume Three
editorial notes and assistance by James Roberts

Written by Simon Furman, James Hill, and Lew Stringer
Pencils by Jeff Anderson, Will Simpson, Ron Smith, Geoff Senior, Martin Griffiths, and Lew Stringer
Inks by Jeff Anderson, Will Simpson, Ron Smith, Geoff Senior, Tim Perkins, and Lew Stringer
Colors by Tony Jozwiak, John Burns, Gina Hart, and Steve White
Letters by Richard Starkings, Annie Halfacree, and Robin Riggs

Each volume of Transformers Classics UK is more confident and more distinct than the last; it's hard to believe that these stories overlap with what I think was one of the less interesting periods of the US title.* Imagine going from battling Galvatron to save the timeline in "Target: 2006" to the Bob Budiansky story where the Decepticons' big threat is painting graffiti on the Washington Monument.

Mostly this volume contains two big epics. The first is "Target: 2006," where Galvatron and his minions travel back in time from 2006, during the events of The Transformers: The Movie. Galvatron, feeling stymied by Unicron's control, plans to build a giant gun and bury it, so that he can return to the future and defeat Unicron. Because of that, Optimus Prime vanishes (if you jump back in time, you dimensionally displace an equivalent amount of mass) and so Ultra Magnus makes a risky spacebridge jump from Cybertron to Earth to find out what happened to him. And because of that, a mission Magnus is supposed to go on with the Wreckers to unite the Autobot resistance on Cybertron is put in danger. So we follow these three parallel threads of Galvatron, Ultra Magnus, and the Wreckers. Furman has continued to grow as a writer, and here he weaves it all together expertly. The time travel stuff is kind of nonsense (like, wouldn't the Autobots have two decades to disable Galvatron's cannon once he returns to 2006?) but it's glorious all the same. I enjoyed this now, but I wish I'd read it back in high school when I was eating up Transformers temporal machinations on Beast Wars and Beast Machines; this is more of the same, and back then I would have found it the pinnacle of epic storytelling. The way Galvatron is portrayed as a fundamentally unbeatable bad guy is neat, and the way the Autobots ultimately foil his plan is a clever one.

If you haven't grabbed some hapless local and demanded, WHAT YEAR IS THIS!?, have you really had the full time travel experience?
from The Transformers #78 (script by Simon Furman, art by Jeff Anderson)

Furman does have this one storytelling tic that is clever but I don't like. Each issue usually incorporates some recap of the previous, which makes sense, but reading them back to back, I usually skim those a little bit... except that so these recaps aren't pointless, he usually folds in new information, bridging the gap between the previous installment and the current one. So, if you are skimming the recaps, you quickly get confused when you miss the new information! No matter how often it happens, I keep skimming and having to jump back and reread the recap once I get confused about something.

I think Skids is still gone by the end of this volume. Does he come back...?
from The Transformers #101 (script by Simon Furman, art by Geoff Senior)

I also really enjoyed the sequence of linked stories that finishes out the volume: "Prey!", "...The Harder They Die!", "Under Fire!", "Distant Thunder!", "Fallen Angel," and "Resurrection!" Through a series of convoluted machinations, Optimus and Megatron end up on Cybertron. Megatron has to answer to Lord Straxus, who has taken over the Decepticons in his long absence; Optimus has to go on the run from his own people when a Decepticon misinformation campaign convinces the Autobots he's an impostor. Seeing the two match wits is fun, and Optimus gets some of his best material of the whole UK run, as he teams up with Outback, the only Autobot who believes him, a pessimist who believes he's doomed. I really liked this guy, and am disappointed I haven't seen him elsewhere that I remember. The way Optimus ultimately proves himself to the Autobots is great, too.

Megatron's body is invaded by Lord Straxus's mind. It's interesting how this (I suspect) recontexualizes things Bob Budiansky wrote in the surrounding US issues; I'll be curious to see what is done with this in the next volume.
from The Transformers #103 (script by Simon Furman, art by Will Simpson)

Both of these stories have a broader canvas, with bigger gaps between US tales than earlier in the run, and they really use that to their advantage, weaving together a number of subplots into a coherent whole. They also pop a bit because they introduce original characters not being used in the US stories, such as Ultra Magnus and the Wreckers, which allows them to not be constrained in character development. I always liked Magnus in More than Meets the Eye and Lost Light, and his first comics incarnation here is almost as good, a determined but overly single-minded warrior; the Wreckers are always good fun.

I didn't mention this in my body text, but I did find the celebratory 100th issue a bit weird in its choice of topic. It's a good story, just not the one I'd've done here!
from The Transformers #100 (script by Simon Furman, art by Will Simpson & Tim Perkins)

The James Hill story might be out of order, but I did like the existential angst of Jetfire, who feels out of place as the first Earth-born Autobot.

Plus some comedy strips from Lew Stringer, who thirty-five years later is still working for Marvel UK's successor Panini, drawing strips for Doctor Who Magazine! What's not to love?

What joke can I make about this that it didn't make itself? Stringer was (and is) a pun king.
from The Transformers #97 (script & art by Lew Stringer)

It's interesting, reading these in parallel with DWM prior to when they will converge in the seventh Doctor era. (I'm not reading them in publication sequence; I thought about it, but since Transformers UK put out so much content so quickly, I would have been reading two or three Transformers volumes in a row between Doctor Who ones, which didn't appeal.) There's not really a distinctive style: the approach of Voyager and "Target: 2006" is nothing alike. But what does shine through is that in both cases, the Marvel UK comics chart their own course, taking the ingredients of the parent series but remixing them to do something all their own. Voyager is nothing like Colin Baker's tv adventures; "Target: 2006" is nothing like Bob Budiansky's Transformers. But that's what makes these series sing.

* The stories in this volume still overlap with those contained in volume two of the US reprints. I suggest the following order: UK #78-88, US #21-22, UK #93, US #23, UK #96-104, US #24-25. It's one of the easiest periods to follow, except that for some reason this volume reprints UK #93 between UK #100 and 101, where it absolutely does not go.

This post is the seventh in a series about the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip and Marvel UK. The next installment covers The World Shapers. 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

14 April 2021

Voyager (From Stockbridge to Segonus: A Doctor Who Magazine Comics Marathon, Part 6)

Collection published: 2007
Contents originally published: 1984-85
Acquired: January 2008
Read: January 2021

Voyager: Collected Comic Strips from the Pages of The Official Doctor Who Magazine
by John Ridgway, Steve Parkhouse, and Alan McKenzie

After souring on Steve Parkhouse's approach to Doctor Who across the course of The Tides of Time, I was pleasantly surprised by this volume. I don't know if it's because Parkhouse found his enjoyment of the series revitalized by a new Doctor, or if it's because he was now writing toward the talents of John Ridgway (in the introduction, Ridgway discusses how Parkhouse tailored the strip to his interests), but suddenly the whole thing feels fresh and energetic in a way entirely unlike 4-Dimensional Vistas.

The Shape Shifter, from The Official Doctor Who Magazine #88-89 (May-June 1984)
script by Steve Parkhouse, art by John Ridgway, letters by Annie Halfacree

This picks up right from The Moderator; the Doctor, having regenerated between strips (it's this kind of thing that makes the strip feel like a parallel universe to the show rather than something that slots in between it) is tracking down whoever hired the Moderator to kill Gus. But it doesn't just pick up in terms of plot but also style and tone: just as The Moderator was dominated by colorful, humorous narration from its title character, so too is The Shape Shifter. This story introduces us to Avan Tarklu, a shape-shifting private investigator who decides to find the Doctor for Dogbolter and turn him in for the reward money. The narrator is a delight, and yet again, I found myself wishing Big Finish's comic strip adaptations lasted longer than a single box set, because I would have loved to hear Robert Jezek read some of this aloud. The story is filled with a lot of genuinely humorous shape-shifting antics; I laughed out loud more than once. This is definitely one of those strips where story and writing are totally simpatico. Avan becoming a burger or hijacking the TARDIS, the panels where they imagine how Avan could make the Doctor's life hell hiding in the TARDIS, it's all a delight. After a number of one-off artists, John Ridgway has debuted as the strip's new long-term artist, and he nails it from the off; his Colin Baker isn't perfect, but otherwise, he has a great sense of tone, both grim and humor, and his storytelling is always clear.

I did find there was one big leap I didn't quite follow: why does Avan agree to collaborate with the Doctor to fool Dogbolter and split the reward money? We go from Avan having the Doctor over a barrel to the two teaming up to take down Avan's ostensible employer! But hey, it's a fun con, and I'll take it.
from The Official Doctor Who Magazine #90
Voyager, from The Official Doctor Who Magazine #90-94 (July-Nov. 1984)
script by Steve Parkhouse, art by John Ridgway, letters by Annie Halfacree
In the time since The Shape Shifter, Avan has taken the name "Frobisher" "in deference to the Doctor's love of all things English" (and it's implied Avan might not actually be his real name, either); here he also adopts the penguin form that will become his default. His presence maintains the moments of humor that Parkhouse introduced with The Shape Shifter. (There's a great gag where Frobisher decides to disguise himself by putting on a fake mustache, for example, and I liked the bit about the gun the Doctor threatens Astrolabus with.) But otherwise this is very unlike what has come so far.

Reading The Moderator and The Shape Shifter, you might think the strip was moving off into a new storyline about Dogbolter in a sort of noir universe, but Voyager is a surreal, weird fantasy epic. The Doctor has a dream about being lashed to a doomed sailing ship, then he finds the ship, along with the mysterious Astrolabus, who's fleeing the strange entity known as the Voyager, apparently for a past crime.

It's weird stuff. I don't quite entirely get it. But it's excellent stuff, too; Parkhouse's occasional moments of surreality in The Tides of Time were great, and with Ridgway as his partner, this story leans into it completely. But unlike some surreal stories, you really feel a sense of danger and mystery. Astrolabus's da Vinci helicopter is awesome; the true identity of his TARDIS is awesome. This is Doctor Who as grandiose mythology, and I wish I got it just a tad more, but I otherwise enjoyed it a lot.
from The Official Doctor Who Magazine #96
Polly the Glot, from The Official Doctor Who Magazine #95-97 (Dec. 1984–Feb. 1985)
script by Steve Parkhouse, art by John Ridgway, letters by Annie Halfacree
Ivan Asimoff of The Free-Fall Warriors reappears, having made his last DWM appearance nearly forty issues prior; I think this makes him the first original strip character to recur after an absence, and leads to a feeling of a DWM universe being built up. 
Shortly after Voyager, the Doctor and Frobisher bump into Asimoff at a busy spaceport; Asimoff asks for help freeing a spacefaring life-form called a zyglot from captivity in his capacity as treasurer of the Save the Zyglot Trust. The plan the Doctor and Frobisher come up with is to kidnap Asimoff and send off a ransom demand so that the public will donate to the Trust to help fulfill the ransom demand! This plan seemed a bit wacky, and I was feeling uncertain about the whole deal, but once the three of them go about an Akker zyglot-hunting ship, the strip sparkles with the kind of humor that has partially defined it of late; the dull Akkers are great, the janitor robot pretending to be a warrior robot is a delight.

In the end, the Doctor donates his share of the money he and Frobisher ripped off from Dogbolter to the Save the Zyglot Trust. It's not a total tonal shift into the humorous, though; the moment where Polly the Glot is freed from captivity is one of beauty, and Astrolabus turns out to the president of the Trust, giving the Doctor glimpses of doom throughout the story, and then kidnapping the Doctor at the end. I think it would be easy for a writer's approach to seem tired as he approaches the end of his tenure (Steve Moore's did after just over a dozen strips), but Parkhouse I think has totally reinvented himself as a writer to play to Ridgway's strengths. (In the introduction, Ridgway said Parkhouse had grown tired; he wasn't even scripting even more, he'd just call Ridgway on the phone and tell him what to draw on a panel-by-panel basis, and then he'd do the dialogue once Ridgway submitted his art.)
from The Official Doctor Who Magazine #98
Once Upon a Time-Lord, from The Official Doctor Who Magazine #98 / The Doctor Who Magazine #99 (Mar.-Apr. 1985)
script by Steve Parkhouse, art by John Ridgway, letters by Annie Halfacree
Steve Parkhouse departs the DWM strip in a story that wraps up the Voyager/Astrolabus storyline. This one too is a delight, as things all get a bit meta when Astrolabus uses his storytelling powers to slow down the Doctor, converting the strip into a children's story book! Surely "Frobisher Eats a Worm" and "Frobisher Wishes He Hadn't" is a highlight of the strip. When Astrolabus thinks he's escaped, he literally escapes the confines of the comic page, running across a blank space with no panel borders. In the end, though, the Doctor turns Astrolabus over to the Voyager, freeing himself from the feeling of doom he's had, but leaving him unsettled. This one is a little too quick to be as satisfying as Voyager, but I still enjoyed it.
from The Doctor Who Magazine #101
War-Game, from The Doctor Who Magazine #100-01 (May-June 1985)
script by Alan McKenzie, art by John Ridgway, letters by Annie Halfacree
Alan McKenzie, formerly editor of the strip, takes over as write from this story, which sends the Doctor and Frobisher to a barbarian planet where they meet a Draconian who crash-landed and set himself up as a local warlord. The comedy is the best part of it, my favorite gag being one where the Doctor and Frobisher get wine, but then reveal they don't have any money. The Doctor says, "I'm sure I can explain.... After all, what can they do to us?" Next panel: the Doctor and Frobisher are being auctioned off as slaves. In this story, Frobisher is back to shape-shifting, making himself look like a barbarian. When they attack a castle, Frobisher makes himself big... only to discover that makes it easier to be stabbed in the leg.

Outside of this, though, I found this one to be fairly dull stuff.
from The Doctor Who Magazine #103
Funhouse, from The Doctor Who Magazine #102-03 (July-Aug. 1985)
script by Alan McKenzie, art by John Ridgway, letters by Annie Halfacree
The TARDIS materializes in a weird sort of space entity that takes the form of a haunted house; it feels like McKenzie trying to give Ridgway the kind of surreal stuff to draw that he did so well under Parkhouse... but I didn't really find it interesting, a couple nice moments aside. (I liked the Doctor's attempted use of an axe to resolve the crisis is fun; the use of string for the actual solution is cute, but feels like nonsense even by Doctor Who time travel standards.)
from The Doctor Who Magazine #106
Kane's Story / Abel's Story / The Warrior's Story / Frobisher's Story, from The Doctor Who Magazine #104-06 / Doctor Who Magazine #107 (Sept.-Dec. 1985)
script by Alan McKenzie, art by John Ridgway, letters by Annie Halfacree
I wanted to like this story. Alan McKenzie takes a stab at the epic, with a four-part story about creatures called Skeletoids invading the Federation of Worlds. The Doctor and Frobisher are among a team of six who unite to stop the invasion; most of the other characters have very detailed backstories and become the strip's viewpoint characters... only it's three-and-a-half issues of set-up and just half an issue of actual action! All the set-up is made totally irrelevant, and the way the Skeletoids are defeated feels far too easy; I think you're supposed to feel bad about one character's sacrifice, but you barely know or care about him. One of the six is the Draconian warlord from War-Game, but at an earlier point in his timeline. If I had cared about him in War-Game, I might have found that more interesting.

Another of the six is Peri, making her strip debut-- which makes her the first human-played companion to appear. Peri doesn't do much, though the way she's folded in is interesting; the Doctor goes to pick her up, where she's working as a waitress in 1985 New York; she says, "I never thought I'd see you again!", so whatever circumstances she left the Doctor under, it felt like a final exit rather than a temporary break. I don't think Frobisher knows here, though, based on how he answers Kane's question about who she is. I don't know where you would wedge the Doctor's travels with her into the strip's continuity; before The Shape Shifter, I guess, but that would disrupt the way The Moderator flows right into it. I'm curious to see what kind of use the strip makes of her going forward; it didn't exactly make great use of its previous human companion.

Anyway, this means this volume, which begins quite strongly, ends with a fizzle. But, you know, tell John Ridgway to draw an ancient valley, and he will draw the hell out of it.
Stray Observations:

  • Pedants should note that the first installment of Voyager claims the story title is The Voyager... but even I am not pedantic enough to do something like list it as The Voyager / Voyager. Interestingly, it is the first story where each individual part has its own subtitle ("It Was a Devil Ship.." / "The Light at the Edge of the World..." / "The Lighthouse" / "Dreams of Eternity" / "The Final Chapter"). Also, the cover of the first twelve DWM graphic novels usually used the title strip's unique logo as the cover logo, but the way "VOYAGER" is rendered on the cover is not the way it's rendered in the strip itself. These are the things that I notice and wonder about...
  • In part two of Voyager, the TARDIS materialization noise is rendered as "VOORP! VOORP!" Boy, I really hope somebody got fired for that blunder.
  • In the introduction, Ridgway talks about how Parkhouse gave Frobisher mono-morphia so he couldn't actually change form, probably because as a shape-shifter he had virtually unlimited power... Ridgway also complains that McKenzie ignored this, most prominently in War-Game. But as far as I noticed, the word "mono-morphia" is never actually used here! There are just a couple Parkhouse stories where Frobisher acts a bit awkward when someone asks him to shape-shift. I think if you weren't paying attention, it would be easy to miss. (Though, given McKenzie was editor on most of the Parkhouse/Ridgway strips, he should have been paying attention!)
  • There was a small reference to the Freefall Warriors in The Moderator, but the reappearance of Ivan Asimoff in Polly the Glot definitively ties The Free-Fall Warriors to the home era of Dogbolter and Frobisher, beginning the creation of DWM cosmology of sorts. There's a reference to Dogbolter's company, Intra-Venus, Inc., in Abel's Story, implying that sequence (and thus War-Game) takes place in the same era, too, which would make this the same time period where Davros is active as Emperor of the Daleks (i.e., between Revelation and Remembrance, though at the time these strips came out, that would not have been known).
  • I feel like on tv, the sixth Doctor was always bumping into old friends, so the appearance of Asimoff is appropriate. Except that on screen, they were always old friends we'd never actually met before (Azmael in The Twin Dilemma, Dastari in The Two Doctors, Stengos in Revelation of the Daleks, Hallett and Traves in The Trial of a Time Lord), but we actually Asimoff already!
  • Steve Parkhouse departs the strip after a venerable run as writer (and sometimes artist) spanning three Doctors! I will see as I go, but I suspect no one will repeat this feat. After leaving DWM, he would go on to illustrate DC/Vertigo titles such as The Sandman and The Dreaming. He would also make one small but important contribution to Marvel UK's Transformers strip, writing its first original story, which was also the only UK story Marvel reprinted in its US book.
  • For the last six strips, Alan McKenzie is credited as "Max Stockbridge." The pseudonym of "Maxwell Stockbridge" was first used back in 1981 according to the Tardis wiki, but this was its first use in the main DWM strip itself. Poking around in the Grand Comics Database informs me it was previously used on DWM back-up strips, in DWM specials, and in other Marvel UK titles such as Marvel Super-Heroes and Savage Action. I had thought the pseudonym was inspired by Maxwell Edison and Stockbridge, but given those didn't appear until late 1982, the pseudonym must have inspired them. (Tardis wiki also claims it was retired by 1984, but these strips were published in 1985.)
  • In Kane's Story, Kane suggests fixing the damage done to the TARDIS in Funhouse by replacing the busted temporal component with the intact spatial one; Kane says they'll only need the spatial one for their mission to defeat the Skeletoids. But then they promptly travel back in time to 1985!
  • Some people seem to think that Kane's Story indicates Frobisher had already met Peri, but I think it indicates exactly the opposite. The Doctor and Frobisher encounter an illusory version of Peri in Funhouse, which turns into a demon. The Doctor expresses concern for her but Frobisher says nothing to her; in Kane's Story, basically the same thing happens again. When Kane asks who Peri is, Frobisher says, "I just hope she doesn't change into anything more comfortable this time!" This makes me think Funhouse was Frobisher's only previous experience of Peri.
  • It is sort of weird to note that the sixth Doctor had about half as many tv adventures as the fifth... but twice as many comic ones! As a helpful GallifreyBase commenter elucidates: "Davison was squished at both ends as Tom Baker was the lead in the strip right up to December 1981 and Davison didn't start until Castrovalva was broadcast. However with Twin Dilemma on air at the end of season 21, Colin went straight into the strip straight after Caves was broadcast and remained the lead until Time and the Rani went out, so he got both the gap between seasons 21 & 22, the hiatus and after 23 went out. Giving him much more time as the current Doctor." Good fact!

This post is the sixth in a series about the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip and Marvel UK. The next installment covers The Transformers Classics UK, Volume Three. 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

12 April 2021

Review: That Was Then, This Is Now by S. E. Hinton

Originally published: 1971
Acquired: ???
Read: October 2020

That Was Then, This Is Now by S. E. Hinton

The Outsiders and That Was Then, This Is Now were among a box of books that my father gave me when I was a kid. A bunch of Asimov was in that box, which I devoured; there was also some Vonneguts and the two Hinton books, which I never did for some reason. But after teaching and enjoying The Outsiders, I decided to add That Was Then to my reading list, and I've finally got round to it.

That Was Then, This Is Now isn't exactly a sequel to The Outsiders, but it's set in the same unnamed city, and Ponyboy is among the secondary characters. It's narrated by Bryon, a kid who makes money hustling pool, and mostly concerns his relationship with his friend Mark, who moved in with Bryon and his mother when his parents died. It's a quick read-- just 150 pages-- but an affecting one. Hinton's good at capturing that most important part of growing up: that the world is more complex than you thought, and there's nothing you can do about it. Somehow this book manages to be sadder than The Outsiders; while The Outsiders obviously has some dark stuff in it, it manages to end semi-optimistically, I think. But by the end of this book, Bryon has lost many of the people he cares about, by choice or by circumstance, and he isn't going to get them back. Hinton may have created a genre, but unlike some early works in a genre, this maintains its power, even fifty years on.