• Artists: Simon Fraser & Boo Cook
• Colors: Gary Caldwell & HI-FI
• Letters: Richard Starkings & Comicraft’s Jimmy Betancourt
• Publisher: Titan Comics
I think every Doctor Who fan occasionally has THAT bad day.
Not just the average, regular old bad day that happens to most people once or twice a week, but THAT bad day. You know the one I’m talking about. The kind of bad day where not only has everything gone wrong, it’s gone SO wrong that you’re left feeling spent and worthless. No matter how carefully you’ve considered every choice that life has presented you with throughout the day, you’ve somehow managed to take the wrong turn at every single crossroad moment. The bad choices stack up like a teetering pile of unopened and unpaid bills that eventually spill Jenga-like to the floor, scattered at your feet, covering your carpet and denying you a clear path out of the hole you have dug for yourself. Then, to top it all off, the universal other shoe drops. (Why is it that the “other shoe” is always the bad guy? Is it because nothing has gone RIGHT and you have nowhere LEFT to turn?) The big, miserable cherry on top of your Hot Crap Sundae is the fact that no matter the choices you’ve made, random circumstance will barge in and make it worse, making it THAT bad day. At that lowest of low moments, all you can wish for is the wheezing, groaning sound that accompanies a Police Public Call Box blinking slowly into reality and the hope that a time-traveling madman will march out of the battered blue doors to whisk you away from THAT bad day.
That bad day is where we find recently orphaned (and soon to be evicted) Assistant Librarian Alice Uwaebuka Obiefune in the Titan Comics Doctor Who: After Life hardcover. Collecting issues one through five of Titan’s Eleventh Doctor comic series, this hardcover gives each and every owner of a bad day hope that it might just turn around.
My very first foray into the Whoniverse was the first issue of the Marvel Doctor Who series, which offered color reprints of comic strips by that originally ran in black and white within the pages of UK magazine Doctor Who Monthly. The first story, Doctor Who and the Star Beast written by Pat Mills and John Wagner with interior art (and cover art) by Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons beautifully portrayed the likeness of Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor and had me hooked from the first few pages. Following that, I read the Target novelization of The Five Doctors and began watching Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor omnibus episodes on my local PBS station. Needless to say, being introduced to the worlds of Doctor Who by a comic book, the property in comic form has always been just as important to me as the actual televised program. Over the years, some of my favorite Doctor Who moments have occurred between the covers of a comic book, and even though there have been many hits and misses throughout the years, the comic adventures of Doctor Who have always held a certain charm for this Whovian collector!
This Eleventh Doctor (portrayed by Matt Smith on television) hardcover collection from Titan Comics ranks right up there with the best of the printed Who material I have read in the last 31 years. Choosing to place these adventures in the Eleventh Doctor’s life after he has dropped television companions Amy Pond and Rory Williams off for their honeymoon allows writers Al Ewing and Rob Williams a chance to create strange and exciting new tales for a Doctor at the top of his game, taking a breather within a shoehorned respite between intricate television series story arcs.
With Amy and Rory out of the picture for the time being and future companion Clara Oswald not yet introduced, the first matter of business for Ewing and Williams was the creation of an all new, exclusive to the comics human companion for the Doctor. Along with artist (for the first three issues) Simon Fraser, they laid the ground work for a very compelling new companion who has recently experienced THAT bad day and slowly begins to find herself again through her travels in the TARDIS. Alice comes across as a very distinct character who (employing the very common Doctor Who trope) discovers the worlds and devices of the Doctor with a fresh perspective, essentially being the point of view character for the reader and introducing the reader to everything they need to know in order to enjoy the standard Doctor Who romp. The first two issues read very much like a romp, in fact. Issue One drops Alice squarely into the Doctor’s world as he is chasing an alien (which very much resembles a very colorful alien dog) who feeds off of the negative emotions of the people of London. This is the perfect moment to recognize the coloring talents of Gary Caldwell, who has been coloring Simon Fraser’s art for over two decades. When we first meet Alice in the midst of THAT bad day, the colors are very monochromatic and washed out, to match the mood of the trials that Alice is currently going through. Once she is dropped into the Doctor’s world, however, the colors explode in a very “Dorothy steps into Oz” manner that set the pace for the adventures to come.
The next obstacle that Ewing, Williams and Fraser had to overcome was the portrayal of the Doctor. Many comic strips have absolutely nailed the likeness of the actor portraying the renegade Time Lord, but completely failed to capture the voice of the actor in the role. This team succeeds on all counts, giving us a visual characterization of the Eleventh Doctor that maintains the young-but-centuries-old nature of Matt Smith’s oddly handsome visage and also allows you to hear his voice in your head as you read the Doctor’s dialog. Eleven’s speech patterns, giraffe-like body posture and general characterization are all there in the comic, without solely relying upon tired catchphrases that many writers use for character shorthand.
The following two issues give us a lighting-fast visit to a space theme park built upon a once beautiful society that has fallen under the supervision of a mysterious and tyrannical mega-corporation followed by a visit to the blues-soundtracked landscape of a plantation in Mississippi in 1931, with a side step to 1962 where we witness the origins of a very Ziggy Stardust-type pop star. John Jones, who begins his music career as a very bland and hardly noticed stage performer, finds his fate intertwined with the Doctor and Alice’s travels. Some of the most charming moments in this entire hardcover come from watching him observe the wonders of time and space while jotting down very Bowie-esque lyrics to describe the sights to which he is exposed. The idea to include a David Bowie analog companion on this TARDIS team was incredibly inspired! Another “punch the air” moment involves the return of a very familiar bastion of the Third Doctor era in an all new form.
Normally when a collected edition switches artists three issues in, it really frustrates me. However, the one constant in Doctor Who comics is change, so it plays much better within this framework. In the final two issues of After Life, Boo Cook takes over the artwork, with HI-FI stepping in to take care of coloring duties. The two-part story that wraps up the hardcover have a much more traditional comic book look, but the likeness of the Doctor is still very strong and the two companions are still very recognizable. Towards the end of the second part, there is one page in particular that really captures the fury of Matt Smith’s pissed-off Time Lord face. The colors by HI-FI are vibrant and strong, matching the tone of the Sci-Fi base under siege tale set in the distant future.
The lettering in the entire volume is produced by Richard Starkings and Comicraft’s Jimmy Betancourt, and is quietly unnoticed when it needs to be and in your face and cleverly done when something needs to grab your attention.
The lovely wafer-thin after dinner mint at the very end of the book is a cover gallery including some (but not all) of the variant covers that adorned each individual issue. It was nice to see them gathered together in this format, rather than having to hunt each of them down on the rack!
Topped off with a gorgeous cover painting of the Eleventh Doctor by amazing talent Alice X. Zhang (oddly not listed on the credits page), this omnibus offering of the Eleven’s first few Titan Comics jaunts through the vortex are perfect for the hard-core Whovian and the new fan who has just begun a long and winding road through the Whoniverse. Applause all around!
This review by Brent Kincade was originally published at Word of The Nerd Online!
Categories: Worst Comic Podcast Ever