Friday, 27 July 2007

Reviews: Doctor Who, Crécy, Buffy

Doctor Who Magazine issue 385, “Bus Stop!” by Rob Davis (story), John Ross (art), James Offredi (colours), Roger Langridge (letters), Clayton Hickman and Scott Gray (editors), Panini Magazines, 22 August 2007, 9 pages of strip (out of 68), £3.99

Of the three regular licensed Doctor Who periodicals, Doctor Who Magazine is the one aimed mostly at adult readers. The comic strip runs only to a handful of pages each issue, but this time out it’s worth a look even if you aren’t particularly interested in the articles, because “Bus Stop!” is possibly the best Doctor Who strip published since the TV series returned to the screen.

It’s an inconsequential, one-off story about assassins trying to kill a future president by bumping off his ancestor, the present day Mayor of London. But although slight, it captures the upbeat energy and invention of the modern TV show without either the stodginess of storytelling that tends to weigh down the Magazine strip or the toothless, anodyne feel that usually disarms the strip in Doctor Who Adventures (on which Ross is the regular artist). Despite catching the TV tone, it remains resolutely a comic strip, using devices, such as keeping the Doctor off-panel for the opening page of his conversation with a bus passenger, that would not work on the small screen but which do work on the printed page.

Good stuff. I hope that we see more from this team.

Crécy by Warren Ellis (story), Raulo Caceres (artwork) and Felipe Massafera (cover), Avatar Press/Apparat, July 2007, 44 pages of strip, US$6.99

This is the Anglo-American way of war: stay as far away from your enemy as possible, and kill him before he can get near you. Before the cruise missile, before the Lancaster bomber or the Martini-Henry rifle, the way to do that was with the longbow. Handled by a skilled archer, it had a greater range, penetration and rate of fire than any personal weapon before the twentieth century. Muskets replaced it, not because they were inherently more effective, but because any untrained idiot could fire one, whereas it took years of practice to be a longbowman. At Crécy in 1346, the flower of French chivalry met the longbow for the first time, and died. This was in the early days of the Hundred Years War – in truth, perhaps just a particularly intense stage in the 750-year war that began with the triumph of the Bastard in 1066 and ended with the crushing of the Monster in 1815.

Warren Ellis’ story is a monologue by an English longbowmen, anachronistically aware of the 21st century readership he is addressing. His language is foul, and so are his attitudes, but his blunt, coarse honesty keeps the reader on side as he explains why and how the English are fighting in France, while the humour, scatology and xenophobia keep things from getting too schoolmasterly. His account is reasonably accurate, if you discount a far more complete sense of national identity than existed in the fourteenth century, and it is both informative and cruelly entertaining.

In keeping with Avatar’s house style, Cacares’ artwork suggests that much more time has been spent on elaborate rendering than on composition, but it is serviceable.

In comparison with Crécy, the old-school true war stories reprinted in The Mammoth Book of Best War Comics seem bloodless in more senses than one.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight issue 5, “The Chain” by Joss Whedon (script), Paul Lee (pencils), Andy Owens (inks), Dave Stewart (colours), Richard Starkings & Comicraft’s Jimmy (letters) and Scott Allie (editor), cover by Jo Chen, Dark Horse Comics, August 2007, 22 pages of strip, US$2.99

A new Slayer is recruited to impersonate Buffy, going underground (literally) to intimidate a demon lord with the power of Buffy Summers’ reputation. “There’s always a name … The name can inspire terror, awe, sometimes great things…”

The name on the credits is Joss Whedon. So … how do we know that he actually wrote this?

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