Monday, September 22, 2008

The Two Doctors

Here's how this works: I finish reading something, and I tell you about it, and I try not to bore you to death. This time, reviews, of sorts, of Doctor Who: The Glorious Dead (Panini, 2006) and Doctor 13: Architecture and Mortality (DC, 2007).

I've been rereading the complete run of Eighth Doctor adventures (sidelining, for now, the most recently released World Shapers), and grudgingly have to admit that this one is the weakest of the four collections. That's not to say it's without a great deal of charm, as two light-hearted one-offs, each illustrated by Roger Langridge, demonstrate. Langridge also got to tackle a three-part story called "The Autonomy Bug" which concerns a hospital full of incarcerated robots who might be demonstrating sentience, and this brilliant little lump-in-the-throat story is as good as Doctor Who ever gets. Scott Gray handles cliffhangers amazingly well; there's a moment where the same guy that we've been thinking is an alien time traveller wakes up in bed with his friend Grace Holloway having dreamt the whole thing, and that's just flooring. But heavens, the titular epic, all ten agonizing parts of it, evokes the worst of bloated Marvel storytelling, with two opponents locked in a battle of wills for some nebulous, reality-shaping MacGuffin. Even without the specifics, it feels overly familiar and unsurprising. Recommended with reservations.

DC Comics has published thousands of stories featuring thousands of characters over the decades, but every so often they revise their internal continuity into one squished order of things, and some worlds, tales and oddball characters devised by creators no longer actively working don't find favor, and therefore don't find a place in the new scheme of things. Doctor Thirteen was one of these guys, a short-tempered loudmouth ultra-skeptic, sort of what you'd get if James Randi started acting like Sean Hannity. But he was trying to tell a world of Phantom Strangers, Supermen and Sandmen that there were no such things as ghosts, aliens or other-dimensional superbeings, and that simply stopped making sense a long time ago.

Brian Azzarello's weirdly compelling little story receieved enough positive reviews for me to want to read it, and I'm glad I did, even if I knew too much about it going in. Heaven only knows how much more I would have enjoyed it had I been following its original appearance in 2006-07 in a miniseries anthology with the top-billed The Spectre, a comic I still have no interest in reading. Suffice it to say that over the course of the series, with the assistance of several other timelost fictional properties who are also on the losing end of the argument as to whether they should "exist," Dr. Thirteen learns a lot more about his odd place in his even odder universe, and Azzarello doesn't mince words letting the "architects" of the current DC Universe know that whatever hard-and-fast rules they'd like to nail down for their playthings, they'll just be rewritten by somebody else in fifteen years. The art by Cliff Chiang is just gorgeous; I wish they'd get that guy on a book that I'd like to read. Highly recommended.

(Originally posted September 22, 2008 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

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