Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Time Lords and Showgirls

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: Agent Provocateur (IDW, 2008) and Nevada (DC/Vertigo, 1999).

In 2007, IDW got the license to make Doctor Who comics for the US market, and decided that six-issue miniseries were the way to go. They got Gary Russell, who's been writing Who novels for ages, and feature stories for Doctor Who Magazine since the mid-eighties, to be their first writer, and parceled his six scripts among four artist teams, only one of whom, Nick Roche, depicts the manic energy of the David Tennant series with anything approaching the job I'd like to see done. The other artists are at best passable.

"Agent Provocateur" is weighed down by a remarkably complicated plot and a giant cast of supporting characters, but where it is weighed down the most is in the dialogue. Certainly, Tennant is the Motormouth Doctor, but there has to be a better solution to accurately write for him than filling the most overpacked word balloons you've ever seen on a comic page, leading me to understand at last what the expression "tl,dr" means. Seriously, they were making editorial cartoons a hundred years ago that were easier to read than this mess. Not recommended.

Steve Gerber's fiction has been so important to me over time that, the first time I ever looked back at my own work and realized that I had unconsciously ripped off somebody's work for Marvel Comics - as opposed to intentionally cribbing from somebody like all kids learning to make comics do - it was this soul-crushingly embarassing eight-page proto-GMS Legion episode I did when I was thirteen. It had something to do with a character having a terrible nightmare for some forgotten but critically important reason, reminding him of some nebulous philosophical lesson. About two months after I wrote it, I realized I'd pulled it straight from one of Gerber's Adventure into Fear episodes about a nebulous philosophical lesson that I didn't understand then, either, but I'd somehow subconsciously come to understand that these were the sort of stories that comic books were supposed to tell. Ashamed of my theft, the notebook paper episode in question was crumpled into a ball immediately afterward.

Nevada has been the first Gerber story that I've reread since he passed away earlier this year. Originally published as a six-issue miniseries by Vertigo in 1998, and preceded by an oddball one-off episode in one of that label's periodic anthologies, it is the story of a Las Vegas showgirl and her pet ostrich getting caught between dueling cosmic forces with an interest in our reality, while the management of the hotel where Nevada performs deals with a rash of grisly murders.

Honestly, it's not a complete success. Episode five is really nothing but nebulous philosophical lessons, but you can certainly look at the many examples of Gerber working through his issues with our existence by putting comic book characters through an emotional wringer and railing at someone who claims to be their creator, and see a vision throughout his work quite unlike anybody else in the medium. While this stuff may be a bit heavy for many readers, Nevada herself is an oddly engaging character, despite her abrasive personality and distance. The police procedural stuff, from investigating the grisly murders to questioning a homeless, drunk former academic - a foreshadowing of the Dr. Fate revival he was working on when he passed - is really interesting stuff. Frankly, I found Nevada's cosmic resolution a small disappointment compared to the human possibilities and potentials that the plot promised, and I use "human" with the caution flag of one antagonist having a lava lamp for a head.

Nevada never returned after this outing; I suppose it didn't sell enough to warrant a follow-up, which is a shame. Despite her short shelf life and cosmic detour, Nevada was a classic Gerber character and we're better for having met her. Recommended for mature readers.

(Originally posted October 07, 2008 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

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