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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Titan Comics Gives Us Our Doctor Who Fix in Two New Comic Series [Review]

Well, we're officially less than a month away from a brand new season of Doctor Who and a brand new Doctor. Like many of you, binge-watching previous seasons has become a tradition for me, a way of welcoming the Doctor back into my life. But if you're looking for ways to add variety to your tradition, may I suggest picking up a copy of Titan Comics's two new comic books series, both of which hit the shelves yesterday, just in time to drive fans and comic collectors bonkers in the lead-up to Comic Con this weekend. Can you imagine the lines at San Diego of fanboys and fangirls, all vying to get their hands on the limited runs of convention exclusive covers? Already much of the retail copies of each title has sold out of their first printings—and not just copies of the incentive and chase variant covers, but of the regular runs as well. Personally, I like the regular Alice X. Zhang painted covers best.

You can check out some of the different covers available here
UK Diamond Exclusive Covers [Image Source:]
There were plenty of speculations about the fate of the Doctor Who comics after the BBC did not renew IDW's license at the end of 2013. When it was announced that Titan Comics had been awarded the license, rumors began to circulate that this move was only one in a series of maneuvers "to bring the US and UK publishing rights under one roof," but those were quickly denied [1][2].

Regardless the motivation behind the change in publishers, both Titan titles are definitely bigger on the inside (See what I did there?).  I thought that the writers of both books captures the spirit of the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors well, not just in how David Tennant and Math Smith portrayed their respective characters on the show, but also the atmosphere of their respective television runs. The artists of each book play significant roles in translating each Doctor to paper and in rendering these stories in ways that are very appropriate to their respective Doctors. When it comes to story, Titan does not disappoint. Both books are set during periods in which the Doctor travels alone and introduce new companions to share the Doctor's adventures. Although spin-off media like comics are rarely considered canon, if Titan keeps their continuity as tight and as in line with the TV show and other spin-off media as IDW did during their tenure, we can expect these books to fit nicely within the series as extra-episodical adventures just as the IDW titles have.

Specific review on each title, after the jump. [WARNING: Spoilers possible.]

Issue #1Alice X. Zhang
Painted Cover Variant
[Image Source: Titan Comics]

Writer: Nick Abadzis
Artist: Elena Casagrande

This issue begins a five issue story arc in which the Doctor finds himself on the eve of Día de Muertos celebration in New York City where he meets Gabriella Gonzalez, a second generation Mexican-American, who is stuck between the rut of her obligations to her working class family and her unrealized dreams of college and a career of her own. Together they he must face "an infestation of psychic aliens."

Set sometime after "Journey's End," the loneliness and remorse the Doctor shows in this story seem to indicate that the series is set fairly soon after the lost of Donna Noble. I would even venture to say that the series falls before the events of "The Next Doctor," however we'll have to wait and see how the writers seed elements from the show's continuity to be certain. I thought IDW had done this very well during their tenure, keeping their books in line with the show chronology. So far, Titan has followed suit. Their one Easter Egg reference is spot on and might make you go ding! (hint, hint) when you read it.

The artwork is pretty forward. Casagrande's style is in line with modern styles of sequential art (her pervious works include Angel, Suicide Risk, Hulk, and Spider-man). She previously worked on the Tenth Doctor chapter of the IDW Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time mini-series, and she brings that same quality to Titan, once again capturing Tennant's likeness and charisma very well. You can find other samples of her work on DeviantArt. While you're there, be sure to check out her character design for new companion Gabriella Gonzalez.

All in all, great opening story. It's more drawn out and slower-paced than its Eleventh Doctor counterpart and more reminiscent of "Rose" or "Smith and Jones" in how the first three-quarters of the issue introduces and follows the Doctor's new companion before dumping them in the middle of the craziness that seems to follow our favorite Gallifreyan. The story does end on a cliffhanger just as everything gets interesting, but that'll just keep me coming back for more.

Issue #1Alice X. Zhang
Painted Cover Variant
[Image Source: Titan Comics]
Writers: Al Ewing & Rob Williams
Artist: Simon Fraser

Set between the events of "The Big Bang" and "The Impossible Astronaut," this title truly captures the essence that was Matt Smith's Doctor during the early days of his run: a mad man with a blue box who suddenly shows up and adds color to your dull, boring life. In fact, the creative team translates this quite literally into the page of this issue. The first few pages are rendered in gray scale reminiscent of Image Comic's The Walking Dead. In those page, we follow new companion Alice Obiefune as she copes with a humdrum exist that seems to become more bleak and sad with each panel. The only color, a small TARDIS blue blip in one panel, foreshadows what comes next for Alice. As we turn the page, we are greeted by a vibrant splash page as the Doctor enters her life—chasing a bright, multi-color space-dog. The art—and story—seems almost cartoon like after that, full of fantastic color and dizzying motion, reflect a Doctor that is full of the fun, grandfatherly spirit that epitomized the early Matt Smith episodes.

I really missed that Doctor, the Doctor before he lost Amy and Rory. He runs to get into trouble because they are fun. He is dark but you wouldn't know it by the clownish absent-minded professor persona he shows the world, replete with tweed jacket and colorful bow-tie. Even his TARDIS desktop theme reflects the madness and fun of this Doctor's personality. We have yet to see the Batman-ification of the later episodes. Unlike the Tenth Doctor adventure, which ends in a cliffhanger, this issue wraps up the internal conflict nicely, leading into the next installment with a brand new adventure, much like how "The Eleventh Hour" led into "The Beast Below."

Since this series is set during the period between Series 5 and Series 6 when the Doctor travels without Amy and Rory who are honeymooning and getting their lives together, I don't foresee this title facing many obstacles with continuity aside from establishing a firmer timely on when these events are set on the Doctor's timeline. My guess: after "A Christmas Carol" when the Doctor was chaffering the Ponds on their honeymoon, closer to the opening of "The Impossible Astronaut" when Amy and Rory are trying to build their lives together.

To sum it all up: two great books with top-notch creative teams. I'm definitely glad I decided to subscribe to the titles instead of waiting for the trade paperback collections. In fact, I'm now looking forward to October when Titan's Twelfth Doctor comic is set to premiere. Although I am wary about how Peter Capaldi's Doctor will translate to comics so soon after his debut. If history and Titan's work thus far are any indicators, we should be in good hands.