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Doctor Who: Agent Provocateur

October 2, 2011 Leave a comment

Written by Gary Russell, Art by Nick Roche, Jose Maria Berdy, Steffano Martino and Marco Pierfederici
IDW, 144 pp.
Rating: Teens (13 +)

Doctor Who: Agent Provocateur comes courtesy of Gary Russel and a bevy of artists, including Nick Roche of Doctor Who: The Forgotten. It’s a long, convoluted tale of the Doctor and Martha as they’re roped into a scheme to defeat some ancient, evil being from beyond our reality.

This story is a bit of a mess. It starts off with a one shot that seems to have no connection to the overall arc of the book, only the framing sequences give it any sort of the connection to the rest of the series. From there, very slowly, a large story begins to emerge but it does so at a snails pace. Essentially The Doctor and Martha find themselves sucked into a plan concocted by a group known as The Pantheon to defeat an ancient, nameless evil. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but it’s the way the plan unfolds that leaves you scratching your head. Why the elaborate ruse? Why all the intrigue? To make matters worse, The Pantheon is given zero personality beyond this plot, and only one member has anything vaguely resembling a regular talking role. Instead a lot of time is given over to one off adventures until the final few chapters, at which point all is revealed and the story careens head first to a conclusion that comes so quickly and suddenly that it feels terribly anti-climatic. Also, while the Doctor and Martha are more or less themselves, something about Russel’s writing and dialogue feels a bit off.

The artwork doesn’t help much as it’s all over the place due to the number of artists involved. I was rather keen on the later artwork, which I believe was done by Martino and Pierfederici though I’m not sure since there aren’t any specific chapter breaks in this collection. They seemed to do a fantastic job at catching Martha and The Doctor’s likenesses while keeping a nice amount of detail to the rest of the art as well. The earlier chapters are a bit too cartoony, which is odd since some where done by Nick Roche and I had no problems with his art in Doctor Who: The Forgotten.

Honestly, I think Doctor Who: Agent Provocateur is a bit of a mess. It feels like it could have been streamlined immensely to make the story a much easier, less convoluted read and probably would have cleaned up some of the head scratchingly obvious plot holes to boot. It certainly tried to be incredibly epic, spanning several time periods and planets, but in the end it just felt a bit silly and fairly forgettable.

Doctor Who: Agent Provocateur is available now from IDW Publishing and Emanga.com. Digital review copy provided by the publisher.

Doctor Who: The Forgotten

September 25, 2011 Leave a comment

Written by Tony Lee, Art by Pia Guerra
IDW, 146 pp.
Rating: Teens (13 +)

I dip my toes into the waters of the great and vast Doctor Who comic franchise with a look at Doctor Who: The Forgotten by Tony Lee and Pia Guerra. The Doctor and his companion Martha find themselves trapped in a museum culled from the long history of the Doctor and his various incarnations. With his memories fading and various enemies from his past pursuing him, the Doctor must unravel the mystery of how they got there and why before it’s too late.

The Forgotten follows something of a formula and sticks to it with each chapter. Some monster pops up and chases the Doctor while he flashes back to a previous incarnation, depicting short adventures from each one. Throughout this there’s the mystery of how he and Martha ended up in the museum, who brought them there and why. The eventual pay off is fraught with twists and turns and, like much of this book, calls back to adventures from the original TV series. It’s a perfectly acceptable, middle of the road adventure with tons of cameo’s and nods that are sure to appeal to long term Doctor Who fans. It’s a very dialogue heavy book, but I never felt this got in the way of my ability to enjoy it. Furthermore Tony Lee does a very good job at capturing David Tennant’s voice, the actor who portrayed the Tenth Doctor in three seasons of the TV series. He really nailed the rhythm and tone of the character. I didn’t feel that the voice of Freema Agyeman, the actress who portrayed Martha, faired quite as well though in fairness there’s an in story explanation for why that might be.

Pia Guerra does a good job at capturing the various likenesses of the different Doctors. With each face and costume looking accurate, but never quite crossing that line into photo realism which some comics using actors likenesses tend to cross. That’s a good thing as often times the faces becomes far more detailed than the surrounding art and is often stiff, lifeless and sticks out like a sore thumb. Unfortunately, while Guerra’s art is fantastic, clear and easy to follow, the process of putting it up on the Emanga e-reader renders it null and void in places. In several instances double page splash images or panel layouts stretching across two pages are broken up due to the organization of the pages in the e-reader. This really impacts the flow and ruins some of the impressive “wow” scenes. On more than one occasion I found myself having to jump back and forth between two pages in an attempt to follow dialogue or a panel-to-panel sequence, something that really hurts the flow of the story. On a related note I ran into a bit of a problem with the lettering. Often times the text was so small that it was difficult to read without enlarging the page considerably. This in turn affects the flow as it requires a lot of moving pages up and down, side to side and such to make out what’s being said.

In the end I found Doctor Who: The Forgotten to be a fun little read that didn’t really add a whole lot to the mythos but at the same time honored it nicely. It’s not required reading for fans of the franchise by any stretch of the imagination, but it is undeniably fun to see all Ten incarnations of the Doctor appearing in one story.

Doctor Who: The Forgotten is available now from IDW Publishing and Emanga.com. Digital review copy provided by the publisher.

Tribes: The Dog Years

August 7, 2011 Leave a comment

Written by Michael Geszei and Pater Spinetta, Art by Inaki Miranda, Colors by Eve de la Cruz
IDW, 202 pp.
Rating: Teens (13 +)

Tribes: The Dog Years is a post apocalyptic tale set some time in the future after a biological accident has resulted in a large portion of humanity being wiped out. The survivors have banded together in small, tribal communities and live short, brief intense lives. Sundog is part of the Sky Shadow tribe and he leads a life already full of struggle and hardships, but things get more even more complicated after a helicopter drops an elderly and oddly dressed man into the tribe’s lap, an event that will reveal the history of the world and change the fate of mankind.

I had never heard of this story and came into completely cold and I have to say that I’m glad I gave it a chance as it’s a surprisingly entertaining and engaging tale. Sundog is clearly the main character and he starts out as someone who’s a bit of an outsider and on the periphery of his tribe, the Sky Shadows, due to various reasons. His inability to fit in causes him to clash with the more orthodox Sky Shadows, including Rockjumper, the next chief, on several occasions. On the flip side it also earns him the affection of Fallingstar, Rockjumper’s betrothed. Over the course of the story we watch Sundog grow and develop from a hesitant, outsider to a leader who ultimately forms his own, ragtag tribe of survivors, misfits and run aways. It’s very much an origin story, not just for Sundog and his group, but for the world in general, and because of this it does suffer a little bit from introductory-itis, but thanks to Michael Geszei’s and Pater Spinetta’s skills none of it ever felt shoehorned in and it certainly didn’t keep the story from being engaging and fun.

Inaki Miranda and Eve de la Cruz do an amazing job in the visuals department and this book is absolutely gorgeous. The character designs are fantastic and reminiscent of the Mad Max series of movies, featuring armor made from scraps of items left over from the previous civilization. Tires for armor, colanders for helmets, that kind of stuff. It’s a visually stunning book presented in a slightly larger than usual format. This has some mixed results in that it allows the visuals to take on a grander scope and gives the story a very cinematic “wide screen” feel, but at the same time it occasionally causes the panel to panel flow to move in odd directions. While this is noticeable at times, the use of border thickness helps to direct ones eyes in the right direction. The oversized format also means that you’ll need to view it a page at a time in the Emanga reader or you’ll be cutting off the edges.

Tribes: The Dog Years was enjoyable all the way through with a nice, big blockbuster feel to it. The visuals are clearly the high point but don’t mistake it for all sizzle as there’s enough meat to the tale to have me wanting to see a follow up.

Tribes: The Dog Years is available now from IDW Publishing and Emanga. Digital review copy provided by the publisher.

Dead Space: Salvage

July 24, 2011 Leave a comment

Written by Antony Johnston, Art by Christopher Sly
IDW, 104 pp.
Rating: Young Adults (16+)

Dead Space: Salvage is a graphic novel tie in to the Dead Space video game franchise. It’s set between the events of the first and second game and involves the rediscovery of the Ishimura, a space ship that was believed lost due to the events of the first game, by an illegal salvage operation. Thinking they’ve found a veritable treasure trove the salvage team boards the empty vessel, inadvertently sealing their own doom.

Dead Space: Salvage is a bit of an odd bird. As it’s set between the two Dead Space game’s it acts as a bridge, helping to set the stage for the second installment of the video game franchise. It’s written in such a way that it assumes that the reader has some knowledge of the Dead Space universe, whether it’s from the previous comics like myself, or from the games or even from all of the various multimedia tie ins. Certain things are referenced off hand and events are alluded to but not really explained or fleshed out. Because of this it’s not entirely new reader friendly. The story itself follows the standard horror movie plot to a T. A small group of characters are introduced who quickly find themselves in over their heads as horrible things begin to happen to them. The working class nature of the characters gives it a vibe reminiscent of the original Alien movie, but sadly due to it’s placement within the franchise it feels a bit less complete than that movie. To make matters worse the short length of the tale and the muddy artwork, which I’ll talk about more in a bit, result in the cast feeling very blank and less like fully realized characters who you’re invested in and more like the cannon fodder that occupies the less popular slasher flicks of the 80s.

Christopher Sly’s artwork is a bit of a double edged sword. It’s beautiful and atmospheric and does a great job at reinforcing the creepy mood you’d expect from a book taking place on an abandoned space vessel. Unfortunately it’s also quite stiff and incredibly unclear at times. The action sequences are awkward and stilted and the dark, murky artwork does no favors for the clarity of a number of sequences. The murky artwork unfortunately often means that characters’ appearances are a bit muddled and unclear as well, and the photo realistic quality to the faces oddly strips them of any emotional weight, leaving it all for Johnston’s dialogue to carry. What’s worse is that they did away with speech bubbles in order to show off the artwork and instead they simply placed white text on top of the artwork and used small lines to indicate which character is speaking. While it does help to give an unobstructed view of some lovely artwork, it also has the unfortunate side effect of being difficult to read, especially when the text is laid over light colored portions of the artwork. Still, there is some eye candy to be had from it. The ships are lovely to look at as our the costumes for the various characters and settings.

All in all it’s a mixed bag. While I enjoyed returning to the world of Dead Space, a franchise I’ve only previously interacted with via the original comic miniseries and the first animated movie, I couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed. The shortness of the story and visuals lacked the punch and emotional hooks that made Antony Johnston’s first Dead Space series so enjoyable and engaging.

Dead Space: Salvage is available now from IDW Publishing and Emanga. Digital review copy provided by the publisher.

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