The Quest is the Quest: Recovering Missing Doctor Who Episodes

Doctor Who, "The Enemy of the World"

The Doctor, Jamie, and Victoria hold on for dear life.

The announced recovery, and immediate merchandising, of nine previously missing episodes of Doctor Who has sent fandom into dances of joy. The whole saga reveals questions about the shifting value of media works, the hidden economies and politics of global television, and narratives of discovery.

First though, let me give the very short version of how dozens of episodes of Doctor Who (as well as many other 1950s and 1960s programs) went missing from the BBC Archives in the 1970s, and how fans and media historians have spent decades trying to find them. (The long version is to be found in Richard Molesworth’s unparalleled history Wiped!, which will no doubt have to go into a third edition after this week’s revelation. DoctorWho.TV also has a nice, new brief account up). It was standard practice of the BBC until the mid 1970s to junk most of its tapes and even films once their apparent usefulness (as either archive material ready for reuse, or commercial assets ready to sell to broadcasters outside the UK) had expired. There were seemingly sound reasons for this at the time in terms of resource management. Videotape was particularly expensive in the 1960s, and master tapes were routinely wiped and reused. Kinescopes–16mm film copies of live or taped TV programs–were only useful as long as they could be licensed. While the syndication market had certainly taken off by then, validating a shelf life of a few years, the longer-term value of television, either culturally or industrially, had yet to be realized at that point. Something can’t be effectively protected if it’s not valued (as we’re learning all the time about the planet itself, unfortunately). This policy reversed in the late 1970s, at which point the BBC realized it was losing its heritage, and efforts began to recover what was lost.

40 episodes of Doctor Who have been found since 1981, leaving 97 left missing, remaining to be found, or, more intriguingly, actually found but yet to be formally announced (as rumors circulating around fandom for the past year or two would have it; see below). The sites of these recoveries have been wildly varying, but all point to the cultural and economic power of British colonialism, even in the 1960s and 1970s (especially in Asia, Africa, and Australia and New Zealand), and the unpredictable and serendipitous fates of such systems when they end. Regimes most often don’t come to a clean stop, but rather tail off and fragment, leaving a mess for successor regimes to either ignore or sort out. Historians, museums, archives, and collectors of every interest have experienced or are familiar with stories of rescuing important artifacts or documents from trash heaps, attics, walls, or even on their way to incinerators. Such has been, and will continue to be, the case with recovered Doctor Who episodes, which have been found so far in dusty, forgotten storerooms or buried anonymously in collections, sitting for decades. While it seems incredible that these nine episodes (11, actually, including copies of the two that already exist in the archives) sat in a Nigerian television relay station untouched for over forty years, anyone who’s had to move out of a house or office after years or even decades knows just how much stuff–random stuff–can accumulate with minimal notice.

The discovery narratives themselves then take on the trappings of treasure hunting, clandestine meetings, and even subterfuge. Chance encounters lead to valuable finds. Furniture is moved, and out pop film cans. Secretive collectors have to be discreetly wooed. At its most romantic, this often veers into Indiana Jones or Maltese Falcon territory (and I have to think that the revelatory scene in that story must have actually played out at times in the hunt for missing episodes). Thus, this endeavor itself, when coupled with the sense of loss and tantalizing possibility (i.e., what the story could be, based on the bits and pieces that survive), elevate what once was (and let’s be honest here) a workaday, ephemeral television show into a religious text (in the sense of offering “proof” to reassure believers). The continuing belief, bubbling through fandom even after this week, that yet more episodes have actually been recovered, also adds a complicated filter of suspicion towards the BBC, perhaps still not forgiven for losing the episodes in the first place: they have them, so why can’t they tell us?

As with any “lost” cultural artifact, I’m glad these episodes are back. Indeed, since they come from a particularly “lost” era (1966-68) of my favorite TV show, I’m flappy-hands-of-joy ecstatic. I’ve only seen one of the recovered episodes so far, the first part of “The Enemy of the World,” but I’m already reassessing my thoughts on this story and this time in the show’s history. I’m sure the remaining episodes will open up more windows I didn’t even realize were shut. That said, in all our nostalgic glow and historic intrigue for the episodes themselves, we need to make sure that we don’t lose sight of the broader contexts of the “loss” and “recovery” of a cultural product, and the complex relationship of media objects to our identities as fans and as stewards of forgotten or even disavowed cultural regimes.

The Sound of Doctor Who

The second panel I’m on at A Celebration of Doctor Who, immediately after the first one, concerns the series’ aesthetics. Instead of examining aspects of mise-en-scene, cinematography, editing, or narrative design, I’m concentrating on what Doctor Who sounds like.

Sound has been a crucial part of the design of Doctor Who, from the very first appearance of the series on British screens on November 23, 1963. The first ghostly images of the original, swirly title sequence are accompanied by Delia Derbyshire’s landmark electronic arrangement of Ron Grainer’s theme tune. In a matter of seconds, Doctor Who has announced itself as new and alien, and it’s the sound–generated by various tone generators, oscillators, and hundreds of feet of tape loops at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop–that clinches it:

Note that as the theme fades out, the next sound we hear is the mysterious hum from a Police Box in a junkyard. Such sound effects were fundamental during the series’ first few years, as Derbyshire, Brian Hodgson, Dick Mills, and others in the Radiophonic Workshop created alien atmospheres, high-tech laboratories, weapons and tools, monsters, and of course, the most famous sound of all, the TARDIS dematerialization: 

At times throughout the 1960s (and at various points in the 1970s and 1980s as well), electronic sound effects and music bled into each other (occasionally even credited as “Special Sound”), emphasizing the relationship between the sound and image of “SF.” That is, electronic sounds (later generated by dedicated synthesizers) reinforce the mystery and otherworldliness of “proper” SF.

In contrast, music and dialogue are relatively secondary in the sound mix in the early years. Of course, the dialogue has to convey the plot, and the music (usually in brief “stings”) punctuates the emotional moments. But the sound effects are the basis of the series’ world-building, and what make it inescapably Doctor Who. In the first six seasons, these sound effects (and musical cues) were even piped into the soundstage during primary recording, helping the actors and crew locate themselves on alien worlds (post-dubbing music and sound effects became standard in the 1970s).

As the show’s style changed, this general emphasis on sound effects remained, with “alien” sounds locating the Doctor and friends (and us) in “alien” environments (or, in the Pertwee years, familiar spaces made “alien”…)

Along the way in the 1970s, however, the music changed from otherworldly compliment to more familiar counterpoint. After spending much of the Pertwee years favoring synthesizers, Dudley Simpson switched to more acoustic, chamber-like scores in the second half of the 1970s (with a half-dozen musicians, usually french horns, clarinet, piano, and percussion). This was the sound of this era, as alien atmospheres receded in favor of Simpson’s “organic” duets with Tom Baker’s velvet baritone.

When John Nathan-Turner took over as producer in 1980, he aimed to overhaul the look and sound of the series. Simpson was an immediate casualty, as the composers of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop (including Peter Howell, Paddy Kingsland, Roger Limb, Malcolm Clarke, and Jonathan Gibbs) took advantage of rapidly developing music technology to craft all-electronic scores. By this point, electronic sound effects were still a mainstay, of course, but meshed more clearly with the music, particularly since they came from the same production house for several years.

In the embattled last three years of the classic series (1987-89), and despite a dwindling budget, the sound mix changed again, with more melodic, motif-driven music up front, and a new focus on the sound and texture of dialogue. Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor was far and away the most vocally expressive and varied Doctor to that point, and when paired with Sophie Aldred’s (sort of) working-class Ace and a wide range of expressive guest roles, the net result were voices that were not only conveyors of verbal information, but (finally) conveyors of character.

When Doctor Who returned in the mid-00s (setting aside for the sake of space the one-off 1996 TV Movie, which faithfully followed 1990s American genre TV conventions in its design), its sound design completely inverted the original formula. Television itself was, of course, now over fifty years old, rather than still fresh and weird, as it had been in 1963. Accordingly, as episodes are now tighter and faster, having to compete more for attention, dialogue is now king, and Murray Gold’s earwormy, wall-to-wall music is its queen. Sound effects are still there, of course, but are much more ad hoc and functional, rather than immersive (e.g., the new series’ ubiquitous sonic screwdriver). The scope of the SF sensibility is now carried primarily by the relatively sumptuous visuals and music, with most of the remaining “alien” sound effects being conveyed by various alien voices.

Moreover, in contrast with the general “BBC English” of most of the previous Doctors (save Hartnell’s “old man” tics and McCoy’s indulgent Scottish burrrrrrr), each contemporary Doctor has a very particular verbal style: Christopher Eccleston’s unabashed “Northern” patter:

David Tennant’s emo mockney (though it’s a shame he couldn’t go with his native Scots):

and Matt Smith’s Oxbridge nerdisms:

Starting with Billie Piper’s council estate princess Rose Tyler, each of the companions has also had a distinct vocal style. This emphasis is reinforced with the increased function of dialogue in the narrative: there’s not enough time to linger in as much in spaces and silences, and so dialogue conveys not only plot information, but also character (usually variations on biting wit), and greater subtext.

So, while sound of course continues to structure the series (and in more complex constructions and mixes), it’s important to consider the overall function of sound effects, music, and dialogue within the context of particular moments in the series’ history.

The DNA of Doctor Who

It’s been about 15 months, but yes, I’m still here. I’ve been busy.

I’m posting now because I’m off to Chicago this weekend to participate in A Celebration of Doctor Who, a one-day event at DePaul University’s Loop campus, organized by fellow aca-fan Paul Booth (thanks, Paul!). All day on Saturday there will be one-hour panels featuring many Doctor Who scholar-fans, and screenings of classic and current series episodes. The format of the sessions is geared, correctly, towards conversation rather than presentation; more like Gallifrey and less like SCMS. We won’t have a whole lot of time to present our individual piece of the panel, so I thought I’d present my pieces in more extended form here. This post concerns my thoughts about Doctor Who‘s DNA; the next post will offer my assessment of sound in Doctor Who.

Every long-running media story or setting (what the industry also calls a “franchise”; see Derek Johnson’s excellent new analysis of the concept) carries the DNA of its origins through every iteration. Consider:

  • Sherlock Holmes – rooted in 19th century urbanism, Victorian morality, ascendent forensic science and criminology, pop fiction
  • Star Trek – A product of the Sixties: the Cold War, the space race, changing geopolitics, the civil rights movement, and even the counterculture, all tempered with a strain of militarism and the flying fists of mid-60s action-adventure TV
  • Star Wars – A soup of Seventies neo-mysticism, mythology, Tolkien, movie brat cinephilia, and early Silicon Valley technophilia

No matter what happens down the line, that original formula is still there, passed on, if also modified along the way. Each of these particular franchises currently has major iterations in imminent release and/or production, and all of them still very much bear these original marks (even Sherlock and Elementary, which each somehow manage to successfully transfer Doyle’s Victorian London to the 21st century London and New York, respectively).

In the case of Doctor Who, while its original manifestation is still primary, it has had three more alterations significant enough to affect the current series. Like other strands of DNA introduced and passed on in other living things, these aspects will always be part of whatever Doctor Who will be in the future (more or less, as we’ll see).

1-Ian Barbara Susan (pub)First, and fundamental, is the series’ origins in the BBC of the early 1960s, which launched its function as a national institution. Famously conceived as Saturday family tea-time fare meant to bridge the afternoon into the evening, with the ostensible function of being broadly “educational” as well, Doctor Who in its first 17 seasons (1963-80) represents the cultural assurances of public service broadcasting in its prime. While it still adjusted to changing styles and producers over this time–the differences between, say, “The Daleks’ Master Plan” (1965-66) and “Spearhead From Space” (1970), broadcast exactly four years apart, are much starker than the differences between the similarly spaced “Planet of the Dead” (2009) and “The Bells of Saint John” (2013)–the series still functioned primarily as a national broadcast institution, alongside many others from the BBC of the 1960s and 1970s.

3-Jo (Colony In Space)This sensibility is clear throughout this span. The Doctor is an emphatically English (not quite British yet) agent of disorder: he may not do things the “right” way, but he always gets the “right” result. Established history can’t be altered, but humanity (i.e., England) will persist far into the future. Those Troughton-era “bases under siege” survive and face down real monsters. Jon Pertwee transforms the Doctor into an English action hero on English soil, sometimes facing down reactionary and destructive national powers, and ultimate Doctor Tom Baker channels the classic cool of Englishmen from Oscar Wilde to David Bowie as the unflappable eccentric.

Times change, though. Around the time producer John Nathan-Turner (known by fans as JNT) assumes the reins in 1980, Doctor Who gradually shifts from being a national institution to a cult institution. The series, like so many other pre-Thatcher British institutions at the time, finds itself increasingly marginalized and abandoned by the new establishment. It was literally displaced from its institutional home on Saturdays at this time, and aired instead in the middle of the week for most of its last decade.

6 (Vengeance On Varos)7-Ace (Greatest Show)

At the same time, however, it began to be fervently embraced by a newly organized and rapidly expanding (thanks to international distribution) fandom. With the mainstream turning away, Doctor Who, led by JNT, embraced its cult status. The producer and his cast made regular appearances at conventions around the world. The series both ran from its past (in storytelling style) and towards it (in increasing use of old monsters and continuity). The Eighties Doctors symbolized this turn away from comfortable hegemony and towards brash marginality: Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor may have the most obviously “English” wardrobe of all, but  is nonetheless seen as a crazed outsider in many of his stories. Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor brandishes his contrarian aesthetic and demeanor like a knife. Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor clowns like Chaplin to mask a brooding, deceptive heart. By the time McCoy’s Doctor had picked up his trademark question-mark umbrella in 1987, the series made its last turn down Cult Alley, because that seemed all that was left to go. Accordingly, Doctor Who closed out with some of the most unusual, bracing, and divisive stories in its history, including “The Happiness Patrol” (1988), “The Greatest Show in the Galaxy” (1988), and “Ghost Light” (1989).

04revelationWith no more TV series in production, and almost no interest from the BBC (aside from the aborted attempt to relaunch the series in 1996), the “cult” essentially assumes ownership of Doctor Who in the 1990s. While known as the “wilderness years,” these are more precisely its “indie rock” years, when fan writers, greatly inspired by the tone and style of the McCoy era (but drawing concepts and characters from the series’ entire history, as well as tropes in Eighties and Nineties SF and politics) wrote and edited licensed novels “too broad and deep for the small screen” (as the original Virgin tagline put it).

The Virgin and BBC novels were Doctor Who at its most experimental: with darker themes, complex plots and characters, and long-running narrative arcs. This was also Doctor Who at its most “adult,” although in retrospect (from the viewpoint of one of those “adult” fans of the books at that time), and despite some stunning additions to the saga (such as Paul Cornell’s Timewyrm: Revelation  [1991], Kate Orman’s The Left-Handed Hummingbird [1993],  Gareth Roberts’ The English Way of Death [1996], Ben Aaronovitch and Kate Orman’s So Vile A Sin [1997], Lawrence Miles’ Alien Bodies [1997], and Lance Parkin’s The Infinity Doctors [1998]), it was, on the whole, more the sort of earnest, slightly callow “adult” material that only those in their smitten twenties could produce. Holy TerrorIn 1999, inspired in part by the success of the novels at keeping Doctor Who alive and kicking, fan-led Big Finish Productions began releasing full-cast audio dramas (with stories featuring, by 2012, regular appearances by all five of the living classic series Doctors, and almost all of their companions) which faithfully recreated the sensibility of the TV series while retaining some of the more experimental innovations inspired by the novels. Big Finish has released some of Doctor Who‘s most original and compelling adventures, with Colin Baker’s unfairly-maligned portrayal of the Sixth Doctor particularly rehabilitated in stories like Rob Shearman’s The Holy Terror (2000) and Jubilee (2003), Jac Rayner’s Doctor Who and the Pirates (2003), and Gareth Roberts and Clayton Hickman’s The One Doctor (2001).

And then, seemingly out of the blue in 2003, the BBC takes Doctor Who back to television, reclaiming it as a national institution in the classic mold. However, now the model national institution isn’t reassuringly English, but rather pitched as a global media franchise, the flagship of a solidly entrepreneurial BBC. While the “wilderness years” DNA clearly influenced the new iteration’s respective showrunners (Russell T Davies, who actually wrote one of the Virgin novels, and Steven Moffat) and many of its writers, and has been tacitly acknowledged by long-term fans, publicly it’s been elided, as if the show disappeared “sometime in the 1980s” and miraculously reappeared in 2005. Thus, the DNA of the 1990s is effectively hidden in the 2000s-10s, though its influence persists.

bellsofsaintjohn

Doctor Who is now both populist and cult, a combination that couldn’t have existed back in the 20th century. It’s unabashedly promotional, clamoring for attention across multiple media and product platforms in a very crowded media marketplace. Davies and Moffat have been incessant MCs, propelling a global hype machine, because they have to be. On-screen, the staid pacing of the classic series and meditations of the novels and audios have been replaced with a slick, thrill-ride ethos. The new series Doctors are younger, extroverted, and more than a bit narcissistic, “clever boys” needing and seeking attention in a way that never mattered as much before. Plots–in particular, under Moffat–have emphasized time travel, alternate realities, and long-running narrative arcs, as well as a much broader emotional spectrum than was ever seen previously on screen.

All that said, the flexibility of the concept–a strange, seemingly immortal being has adventures in time and space in a small blue box–has certainly been proven time and again.  Unlike Holmes, Star Trek, or Star Wars, who remain tied to stricter confines of character, tone, and setting (countless parodies notwithstanding), Doctor Who can continue to regenerate. Every time it does, however, it will continue to carry the DNA of its previous incarnations.

The Fandorica Opens: On Gallifrey One 2012

As expected, I had a fantastic time at Gallifrey One’s Network 23 Doctor Who convention in Los Angeles. There are already many great write-ups online (check the list at the bottom of the post), all well worth reading. This review differs in that I’m trying to balance my fan and academic perspectives on the event.

The obvious point of comparison is with academic conferences. I’ve been going to both fan and academic events for almost the same amount of time (over two decades), and in many respects, fan conventions have a remarkably similar vibe, but with the critical difference of less anxiety and judgement. As with academic conferences, the main engine of cons is social: striking up conversations with strangers, or just picking up where you left off with old friends. While there are differences–not everyone can be on a panel or have an awesome costume or hang out in the green room–cons are a far less hierarchical space than any academic conference. Almost nobody’s actual real-world career hinges on their demeanor or appearance at a con; given most of the con goers, including many of the celebrity guests, hang out in the lobby talking and drinking till the wee hours, this is a very good thing indeed. Because of this lack of rank, discussions at Gally were always as relaxed, open, random, profane and long as they could be (once past that nerdy awkwardness that all of us shared, and that Radio Free Skaro podcaster Warren Frey pointed out is now, bizarrely, a trendy affected hipster trait). Indeed, many of the best conversations I had at Gally did not even involve Doctor Who, or television.

Tiki Dalek

The Tiki Dalek, or, as I called it, Gilligan's Dalek (Flickr photo credit: jtrummer)

As at MLA, NCA, SCMS or every other academic gathering, there were also many discussion panels at Gally. However, rather than a series of anxiously scripted presentations, panels were instead joyfully rambling gatherings that nonetheless produced much more engagement than the usual scholarly session. A panel of SF writers discussing managing their creative lives was particularly energetic and direct, offering up seasoned, pragmatic, and occasionally contentious advice on work-for-hire, creative control, and finding an agent. Interaction between panelists and audience throughout the weekend was always informal, with a minimum of restraint, especially given the rapid 55-minute sessions. Understandably, some sessions, in the large main room, functioned more formally, with media-savvy fans interviewing guest actors, directors, and writers. But even then, discussions were lively and intriguing, as was especially the case in the revealing “Doctor Who in the 60s” panel which featured long-time fan/producer/writer/editor Gary Russell interviewing original 1963 actor William Russell and director Waris Hussein, and 1965 companion Maureen O’Brien. While certainly not all panels were as coherent or engaging as they could have been, that’s always the case at SCMS and every other academic gathering I’ve ever attended as well. In that regard, thankfully Gally doesn’t go rigidly non-stop from 8 till 6 in two-hour chunks, but rather has a more open and sociable schedule that encourages sleeping in and staying up late. Nothing “officially” started till 10am at the earliest each day, and in addition to the perpetual “lobbycon” (the unofficial party that ran nonstop in the Marriott lobby from Wednesday through Monday nights), there were many late-night events and panels, a few starting as late as 1am, each night of the con.

Moreover, the vibe at Gally was also very distinct from that at Comic-Con, and most other cons, for that matter. While the sheer scope of Comic-Con insures its own particular appeal to geekdom (myself included; this year will be my fourth), it’s also a much more impersonal experience. One cowers at the foot of the temple of pop culture amidst tens of thousands of teeming pilgrims at Comic-Con. In contrast, Gally, while growing rapidly (with a record 3183 coming this year, a 45% growth from the previous record set in 2011), still feels homey and informal, rather than public and anonymous. It’s a huge party, vs. a massive festival. In comparing the events, a few of us reasoned that the physical exhaustion of just one day of Comic-Con is about equal to that of three days of Gally, with the net enjoyment of the latter much greater than the former. Moreover, given that all involved at Gally love love love Doctor Who, there were no turf battles over space or influence of particularly distinct demographics or fandoms (as has unfortunately been the case at Comic-Con, especially in the recent years of its massive growth).

That said, as undeniably enjoyable and community-building an event as Gally is, there are certainly a few issues with the way time and space are manipulated there (see what I did there?). Despite an overwhelmingly positive and welcoming atmosphere, and a near gender balance (on the whole; see below) and diversity of sexualities, the con is still not as racially diverse as I thought it would be. Then again, neither are academic conferences, unfortunately. Diversity of fandoms is also an intriguing tension, as Emily Kausalik examines in her account of the weekend. Gally provided panels on many avenues of interest–from interviews with the series’ actors to discussion of its works in other media forms to explorations of its production history to critiques of its representations of sexuality to discussions of fancraft–but this resulted in some Balkanization along interest and (to an extent) gender lines. I missed a few more typically female-oriented fannish panels (on topics like shipping and cosplay) that I had planned on attending in favor of hanging out with several of my old, and admittedly mostly male, fan friends. Again, a situation not unlike SCMS, sadly. I owe fellow acafan and feminist Doctor Who blogger Courtney Stoker a particular apology for missing her late-night cosplay/crossplay panel in that regard, but look forward to her write-up (until then, here’s a great interview she gave to io9, along with some excellent photos).

Courtney Stoker as the TARDIS

Acafans cosplay too! Here's Courtney Stoker, as the TARDIS (Flickr photo credit: bio_grrl)

Speaking of cosplay, this was an area which frankly blew me away at Gally. I’ve been going to cons off and on for over 25 years, and have  probably seen thousands of costumed fans. But the creativity and craftspersonship I saw at Gally was at another level of awesome. There were the expected sea of scarves, bow ties, fezzes, and skinny bespoke suits that you’d expect from the most popular Doctors. But there were also many companions, obscure villains, and even more obscure one-off characters, all in amazing detail. Most impressively, however, were the overwhelmingly female cosplayers who “versioned” particular characters or themes. I lost count of how many incredible crossplay and femme Doctors, Captain Jacks, Daleks, and even TARDISes I saw; the pictures here indicate just a fraction what went on all weekend. The typical Comic-Con costumes seem like castoffs from the Halloween rental store by comparison.

The great level of dedication and love shown to Doctor Who by the most devoted fans–most clearly in cosplay and other fanart, but also in more archival endeavors, such BroaDWcast‘s mission to catalog every run of the classic series in every country–is probably what most discomforts academics. However, it’s also fandom’s greatest similarity with academia. Who other than the academic or fan devotee would trawl through dusty archives looking for discarded bits of knowledge, or frequently re-read or re-watch a text with an eye for new analyses and interpretations, or critique and reconfigure the very acts of devotion? While I still don’t agree that everything is/could be fandom, or that “acafan” is a useful long-term designation, I left Gally more encouraged than ever that these worlds are not only compatible but could powerfully work together. I’m working on a few projects that hopefully do just that.

In the meantime, of course, I’ve already registered for The 24 Hours of Gallifrey One in 2013, celebrating 50 years of Doctor Who. Hopefully I’ll see you there as well!

Eleven and the Girl Who Waited

The Amy Who Waited and a Femme Eleven (Flickr photo credit: bio_grrl)

More Gally coverage…

Twitter hashtag: #gally (unofficially; the con itself prefers #gallifreyone, but most of the attendees favor #gally)

Forum: Gallifrey Base (the largest, and one of the longest-running, Doctor Who online communities)

Some Reviews:

Emily Kausalik, “Gally Rewind: A Tale of Two Cons” (with an excellent back-and-forth between Emily and Courtney Stoker in the comments)

fangirlknitscarf, “Geek Girl Gushes: Gallifrey One’s Network 23″

Kyle Anderson, “The Wrath of Con,” Nerdist.com

Armillary Observations, “The Maturing of Doctor Who Fandom, or 3 Reasons Gallifrey One is a Must-See for Who Fans”

Crave Online, “Gallifrey One 2012 Video Interviews”

Teresa Jusino, “Gallifrey One 2012: The Who-iest Place on Earth,” Tor.com

Andrew Reynolds, “Gallifrey One Review,” Kasterborous.com

Going Back to Gally

DK and Dalek

Aca and fan at Comic-Con. That's me on the right.

This weekend I will be in Los Angeles at the 23rd annual Gallifrey One convention. Gallifrey One, or “Gally” as its attendees call it, is the largest, longest-running Doctor Who convention in the world. I’m finally going back after a six-year absence, during which time the revived series (starring Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, and, currently, Matt Smith in the title role) has achieved massive global and American success. This in turn has fueled attendance at the con: at my last Gally in 2006, attendance was about 750; this weekend, over 2500 people are expected to turn out.

This is my fourth Gally. I attended the very first one way back in 1990, and did not attend for years due mostly to living in Madison as a grad student of limited means for the remainder of the decade (though I did regularly attend the midwestern DW/SF con of that time, Visions, held down the road in Chicago; the original site, last updated in 2000, is still up). I finally went back in 2005 and 2006, but haven’t been able to justify the time or expense since then, until now.

So, why go back? This is complicated, but cuts to the core of my identity.

While I’ve long loved SF and SF media, I’ve always had a mixed relationship with organized fandom. I’ve known and admired many amazing people actively involved with fandom (some of whom for over twenty years), and shared their passions and interests in person at cons, through newsletters and zines, and online. However, at the same time, I’ve also always been unable to “fully commit” to fandom. In large part, this has been a matter of time, particularly during grad school, and when my children were very young. But overall, I’ve realized this reluctance is more a longstanding result of my scholarly orientation, which, while generally supportive of the political idea of fandom, has not been especially welcoming to its affective expression. The party line in cultural studies has generally gone like this: fandom is great if it’s for or against something substantial (and especially subversively); but fandom for fandom’s sake is kinda embarrassing. Cultural studies’ primary theorist Stuart Hall crystallized this sentiment in his 1981 article “Notes on Deconstructing the Popular,” which ended with his dismissal of the idea that popular culture mattered beyond the political.

While this view of popular culture, and fandom specifically, has certainly changed in cultural studies over the past three decades, and “fannish” modes of engagement have become arguably dominant across media culture, there remains a whiff of suspicion in academia about active participation in affective cultural engagement, as if you can’t “cross the streams” between the two worlds. Attempts to bridge these gaps, most notably through the concept of the hybrid “academic fan” or “acafan,” have explored intriguing conceptual territory over this period, yet have remained unsatisfying, as the series of discussions at Henry Jenkins’ blog last summer bore out. (bonus: here’s my colleague Suzanne Scott on her own misgivings about the term and fannish identities) I’m uncomfortable with the term “acafan” primarily because it leaves out many other possible perspectives (producer, consumer, citizen, viewer, owner, etc.), reducing the range of viable encounters with media texts to a narrow band of intellectual and/or affective engagement.

Rather than continuing dodging the issue, however, I’ve come around to embracing the contradictions; it’s either that or continued frustration, after all. I am an academic. And a fan. In that order as well, for what it’s worth. Moreover, I am also a producer of media content and media knowledge, a consumer of media products, a media mentor to my children and students, and a citizen of media-facilitated states. There is no one “hat” I, nor anyone else, can decide on. Accordingly, I’m trying to grasp experiencing the world through these multiple conceptions. My growing appreciation for comics has led me to new courses and research projects, but it has also given me a greater understanding of the variety of cultural production, distribution, and consumption in the digital age; fostered an addiction to Wednesdays at Keith’s Comics in Dallas, and inspired me to attend the San Diego Comic-Con every July, as both a scholar (observing the cultural economies of fandom up close) and a fan (standing in line for hours to see Matt Smith and Karen Gillan). When I talk about my experiences at Comic-Con in class, students always ask if I go to enjoy it or study it. I always say, “Yes!”

My return to Gally this week extends this embrace back to my roots with old friends, and my first fandom, Doctor Who. The scholar in me is looking forward to seeing how the con has grown and attracted a new generation and new modes of fandom; the fan in me just wants to hang out, meet friends, and talk about Doctor Who, SF, and whatever else comes up for three days. I see this as not only reconnecting with this milieu, but forging new models of engagement across these streams. Indeed, with the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who looming in 2013, I’m hoping to make enough connections to spark a new collaborative project (that’s both “aca” and “fan” in the best ways, but also engaged with broader contextual issues), but more on that later…

I’ll report back on Gally. In the meantime, I challenge all of us to think more about how our streams cross (outside of academia, fandom, and every other box we live in), and how to cross them with others.

DC’s New 52: Week 4

The Flash #1Finally, my take on the last batch of DC’s new titles.

Again, here’s my ratings scale:

Pull = I’m putting it on my pull list, picking up every issue

Ponder = I’m wobbly with it, and may stick with it for another issue or two, but haven’t yet committed.

Pass = No thanks; not working for me, and there’s too much else out there to give this any more attention.

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All Star Western #1 – Written by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti, art by Moritat
While crime, fantasy, horror and SF all contend and mix with the dominant superhero flavor, other genres are few and far between. The western, ruler of the roost a half-century ago, is one that keeps flickering along on the margins. Here, DC promises a serialized anthology of their stable of wild western characters, though this first arc is led by their most famous creation, Jonah Hex. And it’s not technically a western, but more of an “Eastern,” with Hex brought in to 1880s Gotham City to deal with some gruesome murders. While this is somewhat standard Sherlock Holmes/League of Extraordinary Gentlemen stuff, its urban American setting is a nice variation. Moreover, this past will connect with the further reaches of the DCU past as well as its present. In addition, Moritat’s direct yet grotesque art, and Gabriel Bautista’s outstanding sepia coloring, keep this stylistically separate from the present. While I hope we do get out west, and see some other characters (e.g., the much-neglected Cinnamon), this is a great start.  Recommendation: Pull.

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Aquaman #1 – Written by Geoff Johns, art by Ivan Reis
Poor Aquaman. Always the after-thought of the top level of DC characters, and usually considered a joke (based largely on his exposure in Super Friends in the 1970s and 1980s) as the guy who talks to fish. DC’s continually tried to make him relevant (and frankly, butch him up a bit), going so far in the 1990s as to lop off his hand in favor of a big hook. The reboot gives yet another chance to redo Aquaman, though it’s doubtful that this version will fare any better. Johns acknowledges that most people in the DCU don’t think much of Aquaman, with criminals, cops and civilians shown dismissing and laughing at him. However, he’s still a pretty powerful being, on land or water, much to their surprise. He even eats fish and chips. Noble intentions here, with a creepy new deep-sea menace and the trademark solid work from Ivan Reis (this generation’s Gene Colan). However, the chip-on-his-shoulder-“I-am-too-a-superhero!” tone could get tiresome quickly. Recommendation: Ponder.

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Batman: The Dark Knight #1 – Written by David Finch and Paul Jenkins, art by David Finch and Richard Friend
How many Batman-led titles can DC sustain? The magic number seems to be about three. This title is number four. While Detective is standard (despite some hatred for it out there), Batman & Robin expansive, and Batman superb, The Dark Knight is a bad hodge-podge of dusty story elements. Political intrigue for Bruce Wayne? Check. Mysterious beauty? Check. Trouble at Arkham Asylum? Check (and double-check: ripping off the Arkham Asylum videogame as well). This is paint-by-numbers Batman, with no soul or pulse. Finch’s too-calculated style borders on Liefeld-land; pretty stuff, for some, but too belabored. In a strong lineup of Batbooks (including the above, Batwoman, and possibly Batgirl), this is conspicuously superfluous. Recommendation: Pass.
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Blackhawks #1 – Written by Mike Costa, art by Graham Nolan and Ken Lashley
This is another example of updating an old idea, making over the WWII Blackhawks air combat team as a 21st century, stealthy quick-strike anti-terrorism unit. Conceptually, this could be fascinating, and fans of high-tech speculation, team-based shooters like Battlefield or Call of Duty, and (yes) anime will find much to enjoy here, with some bold ideas (e.g., saliva-borne nanotech weapons). The execution is solid, with Nolan and Lashley’s art giving it the requisite sweep and punch. That said, the tone’s a bit too over-the-top for me, and feels out of synch with the rest of the books. Good stuff if you like sexy body-armor clad badass warriors bristling with guns and spouting military jargon, but if you don’t, it’s meh. Recommendation: Pass.
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The Flash #1 – Written by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato, art by Francis Manapul
Despite some convoluted continuity, the Flash has been one of the most popular and significant characters in the DCU for years. Indeed, he’s apparently solely responsible for this reboot in the first place, via Flashpoint. DC sticks by its decision to make Barry Allen the Flash (sorry Wally West fans: no sign of him yet), and Manapul delivers the goods. This is textbook 21st century superhero storytelling, involving both Allen and the Flash, laying out some of the character’s key complications and relationships, and setting up an intriguing mystery from the get-go. Moreover, Manapul’s art successfully conveys the speed and movement of the character (always a favorite challenge of DC’s artists over the decades). The constant lightning bolts are a nice element in this regard, instantly conveying his instability. Great stuff, and next to Wonder Woman, the best relaunch of one of the A-List. Recommendation: Pull.
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The Fury of Firestorm: The Nuclear Men #1 – Written by Ethan Van Sciver and Gail Simone, art by Yildiray Cinar
Firestorm’s long been an intriguing, but difficult character for DC, fusing the worlds of magic and science like no other, and embodying a core psychological complication (two identities in one body). This reboot attempts to embrace these contradictions, combining both earlier versions of the character (Ronnie Raymond and Jason Rusch) into hybrid superbeing. While I’m sure this looked great in brainstorming sessions (and particularly the opportunity to address race dead-on), the execution is a mess. Perhaps it stems from an uneasy working relationship between Van Sciver and Simone; the latter has reportedly already left the book. The terrorist subplot is way too grim for the overall material (e.g., a family is tortured and killed to open the issue), and is poorly grafted onto the story of Ronnie and Jason. Cinar makes what he can out of the mess, but the damage has been done. A bold idea, but completely botched. They need to shut this down quickly. Recommendation: Pass.
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Green Lantern: New Guardians #1 – Written by Tony Bedard, art by Tyler Kirkham
Here’s your Kyle Rayner fanservice, and it’s actually not bad. After a neat condensed origin story, we’re whisked into a story involving multiple lantern rings converging on poor old Kyle. Again, as with the other GL titles, you’re either into this sort of thing or not. I’m not. Still, as with the previous week’s GL Corps, this is entertaining and appropriately epic in its scale, with a few touches of humanity and wit. Bedard’s an underrated writer, with a good sense of plotting and ear for dialogue. But again, I’m not on board with the whole Lantern concept, so… Recommendation: Pass.
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I, Vampire #1 - Written by Joshua Hale Fialkov, art by Andrea Sorrentino
Vampires are to popular culture in the early 2010s as cowboys or processed cheese were in the early 1960s: ubiquitous well past the point of banality. So here we have more vampires, only this time set in the DCU, and they’ve decided to come out into the open. Apparently vampire plots are as banal as vampires. Anyway: immortality, desire, betrayal, bloodlust, superiority, blah blah blah. That said, Sorrentino’s stark and moody art is outstanding, and raises the material much higher than it deserves. Sure, it’s more than a bit reminiscent of Mignola, but he’s set the bar high for this sort of material, so fair enough. She’s a rising star, and deserves more exposure, and better story material to work with. I’d love to see her on some of the other dark/magic DC titles. Recommendation: Pass.
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Justice League Dark #1 - Written by Peter Milligan, art by Mikel Janin
Here’s where things get complicated. Take the dark magic of some Vertigo characters (most notably John Constantine) and blend it with the relatively primary colors of the mainline DCU. The result is uneven but definitely intriguing. Milligan wisely foregrounds the weirdness and horror of magic (even to the likes of Superman and Wonder Woman), keeping the stakes clear and high. The mysterious and terrifying images and plot points here (a massively multiplied amnesiac woman, a raging storm of Enchantress’ teeth. Yes: teeth) keep the events moving briskly. It’ll be interesting to see how the component parts of this odd Justice League come together over this arc, but Milligan generally has a good grasp on team dynamics (e.g., X-Statix at Marvel). Janin’s art bridges the gap between these worlds effectively, leaking the nightmares into otherwise normal-looking scenes. Recommendation: Pull.
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The Savage Hawkman #1 - Written by Tony S. Daniel, art by Philip Tan
Like Aquaman, Hawkman’s a perpetual second-line hero. His unique properties are intriguing, but not enough to keep him consistently in the A list. However, over the years a rich (though convoluted) backstory has developed around him, which has made him more interesting, but has also kept him more on the margins than others. This reboot strips away a good chunk of this backstory and restores the mystery around him. The “Savage” in the new title is also meant to raise the character’s stakes: think Wolverine or even Hulk, rather than the stoic warrior of the past. Tony Daniel’s story is all physical and emotional, with a lot of torment, and people shouting “RAAAARGH!” This isn’t a whole lot to go on, though there’s a leanness about it that’s not totally unappealing. Philip Tan’s expressive lines (coupled with Sunny Gho’s painterly coloring) is well-suited to this tone. Still, that’s not enough to make this a compelling read. I’ll prefer Hawkman as a role player in the Justice League. Recommendation: Pass.
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Superman#1 - Written by George Perez, art by George Perez and Jesus Merino
As Grant Morrison showed in Action Comics, you can’t go too wrong with the classic notes in relaunching Superman. Here, this comes via George Perez and Jesus Perino. This is a dense script; there’s much more dialogue and action here than in the standard decompressed 21st century style of quiet panels and simmering gazes.This is talky, noisy, old-school action, with the requisite big throwdown with a giant monster, but also a huge and complex story of the role of journalism and the fate of the Daily Planet. There’s more than one hero here. Perino’s art, following Perez’ lead, is well up to the task, loaded with expressive faces, actions and textures. Bold and dynamic but also very much the classic, ideal Superman that we hoped for. Recommendation: Pull.
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Teen Titans #1 – Written by Scott Lobdell, art by Brett Booth
Another legendary DCU team, though even more change coming. In the boldest relaunch of this team since 1980, Scott Lobdell offers up both new characters (or at least points to them showing up soon) and new versions of old favorites. Only Tim Drake’s Red Robin seems close to the character left behind in the old DCU, with Kid Flash, Superboy and Wonder Girl more emotional and unstable than before. Unfortunately, all this energy takes the whole thing off the rails, with Drake chest-deep in international metahuman intrigue already, and Cassie Sandsmark (i.e., Wonder Girl) hamming it up as a larcenous schizophrenic with expensive and dangerous tastes. Brett Booth’s meaty, exaggerated art is a good vehicle for this material, but the book as a whole comes across as too energetic and chaotic, like a 15 year-old after a couple of energy drinks. If you’re already pegging the action meter at the start, where can you go? Recommendation: Pass.
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Voodoo #1 – Written by Ron Marz, art by Sami Basri
The last of the controversial books of the new 52 which have led many to wonder how the men at DC relate to actual women. The eponymous character is a mysterious stripper who happens to be a mysterious and dangerous shape-shifting alien. While there’s a lot to applaud about the mystery in general (we can’t tell where this story might be going, what/who she really is, or whether or not she’s even “good”), it’s unfortunately rendered under a thick layer of unapologetic cheesecake. Most of the book is set in a strip club, resulting in a whole lot of flesh and leering looks (e.g., no less than 30 panels of cleavage). It could be argued that we’re meant to feel shame (like the title’s only interesting character, Fallon), but the environment is rendered so meticulously and seductively that any ambiguity is drowned out. Worse, the book culminates this display with graphic, bloody violence (though directed at the smug male agent pursuing Voodoo). There’s certainly room for all sorts of depictions of women in comics, and it has to be said that Sami Basri’s art is legitimately gorgeous in that regard. I defend DC’s right to publish this, and fans to read it. It’s just that this is yet another wasted opportunity to change the discussion, to broaden the landscape of representation, to offer something significant. Instead, like too much in comics these days (see for example the entire ouput of Zenescope), its particular mashup of fantasy sex and fantasy violence functions largely to stimulate straight pubescent fanboys. Comics should aspire for more. Recommendation: Pass.

DC’s New 52: Week 3

Wonder Woman #1, art by Cliff ChiangFalling behind a bit, but such is academic life. We’re deep in the run of second issues already, but here are my thoughts on Week 3 of the relaunch, with far and away the most controversial of the new books. Week 4 will follow shortly.

Again, here’s my ratings scale:

Pull = I’m putting it on my pull list, picking up every issue

Ponder = I’m wobbly with it, and may stick with it for another issue or two, but haven’t yet committed.

Pass = No thanks; not working for me, and there’s too much else out there to give this any more attention.

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Batman #1 – Written by Scott Snyder, art by Greg Capullo and Jonathan Glapion

This is one of the most assured books in the reboot, smoothly continuing Grant Morrison’s setup, and locating Bruce Wayne at its center. Most importantly, this isn’t a one-note brooding Batman: he’s got a dry wit and a definite soft spot for his three sons (Dick Grayson, Tim Drake, and Damian Wayne). His detection skills are on full display as well, leading to the shock climax (with repercussions with Nightwing in particular). Capullo is a good match for this style, similar to Cameron Stewart or even Kevin O’Neill, with just enough exaggeration and flourish to keep the tone fantastic rather than grim. One of the definitive cornerstones of the new era. Recommendation: Pull.

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Birds of Prey #1 – Written by Duane Swiweczynski, art by Jesus Saiz
Despite having some significant fears (no Gail Simone?!?), I found this book to be one of the most pleasant surprises of the entire batch. Swiericzynski pulls back a bit on the banter and  madcap tone that defined Simone’s run, and instead gives us a story that’s not only well-paced and action-packed, but also surprisingly grounded, with well-drawn (in every sense of the word) characters and a distinctive team vibe. Moreover, unlike a few other titles this week, this is a comic that respects women beyond their appearance. Saiz’ style is conventional but fresh: there’s no doubt Black Canary, Starling, and Katana are superheroes, but they’re defined much more by their intelligence and actions than by their cleavage. While we’re still a long, long way from gender equity in mainstream comics, Birds of Prey (alongside Batwoman and the new Wonder Woman, and so far, the new Supergirl) is a solid step in the right direction. Recommendation: Pull.
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Blue Beetle #1 – Written by Tony Bedard, art by Ig Guara and Ruy Jose
Arguably the only truly interesting character created at DC in the 2000s, Jaime Reyes was a lock to return to the DCU as Blue Beetle. All of the elements of his high school and family life in El Paso are retained, with a few subtle shifts (Brenda’s Tia Amparo now lives on the US side of the border), enabling these relationships to continue (if started from scratch again). The most significant change has to do with the Beetle scarab itself. While its powers and intentions were always a bit mysterious in the last version, here the reader is presented with the scarab as a weapon of invasion of subjugation, and a long-time foe of the Green Lanterns. Jaime doesn’t know this yet (the scarab has just infected him at the end of the issue), but his version of the “power/responsibility” superhero dynamic looks to be more challenging this go around. While this likely means this darker take won’t be as Buffy-esque in its humor as the original, it will certainly keep things intriguing if played right. Too early to commit, but the potential is there. Recommendation: Ponder.
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Captain Atom #1 – Written by J.T. Krul, art by Freddie Williams II
Oddly, one of the most forgettable of the titles, and I’m not sure why. It’s tone and remit screamed Watchmen‘s Dr. Manhattan, so much so that I’m still sure DC has something up its sleeve to actually go there. But so far it feels more derivative and less a homage to Moore and Gibbons’ character. There’s nothing wrong with the story and art; I like Williams’ new character design. There’s nothing all that remarkable about it either. I may give it one more issue to see if the Dr. Manhattan allusions go anywhere, or if Krul can successfully advance a completely different take on this idea (the near omniscient science-created super-being), but otherwise there’s nothing compelling here. Recommendation: Ponder.
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Catwoman #1 – Written by Judd Winick, art by Guillem March
I really wanted to like this. I even re-read it a few days later to give it a second shot, but nope, there’s now no doubt: this is a tragic failure. Selina Kyle was one of the five best characters in DC in the 2000s, a model superhero who worked by her own code, which often left her stuck between the more conventional battle lines. Unfortunately, this relaunch basically channels her self-esteem away from the grim determination and sheer smarts she showed in her 2000s run and towards her body. More specifically, her breasts, with many panels featuring them perilously close to spilling out of lacy D-cups. While the situations presented could be intriguing (if not so narratively confused), Winick and March rely entirely on the suggestive appearance of her body. The hugely controversial spur of the moment hook-up with Batman that closes the issue is actually narratively and thematically fine (it’s certainly happened before); it’s the execution here that’s so, so wrong, culminating in a page causing many to ponder the design of each of their costumes, and the sexual maturity of both writer and artist. Don’t even give this a look; hopefully DC will end this travesty shortly. Instead, read the fantastic run of Ed Brubaker, Darwyn Cooke and Cameron StewartRecommendation: Pass.
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DC Universe Presents #1 – Written by Paul Jenkins, art by Bernard Chang
This is a great title to resurrect, because it offers stories featuring characters that may not be enough of a draw for their own book. This is the perfect sort of short-term relationship with a title that many readers are seeking. Deadman kicks things off here, with a moody and effective first issue that introduces him to new readers, centering on his voice. Boston Brand was more or less the star of Brightest Day, and that’s the version we get here as well: sad, regretful, resigned to his fate, but also dutiful. The twist at the end is that precisely who or what he’s being dutiful for may have betrayed him. Great story, and great art from Chang. Recommendation: Pull.
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Green Lantern Corps #1 – Written by Peter J. Tomasi, art by Fernando Pasarin and Scott Hanna
Another week, another GL book. This one’s not bad for what it is, actually. Centered on the odd couple of Guy Gardner and John Stewart, GLC focuses less on threats to Earth and more on the galactic scope of the Lanterns. In this case, it’s the threat posed by an invisible baddie slicing right through Lanterns. Pretty grisly stuff in the opening pages, but done well enough for what it is. Again, I’m just underwhelmed by the entire concept of the Green Lanterns, so this book isn’t quite for me. Recommendation: Pass.
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Legion of Super-Heroes #1 - Written by Paul Levitz, art by Francis Portela
Sigh. You think there’s a lot of X-Men? There are no fewer than 16 Legionnaires featured in this issue alone. While some of them can be intriguing in doses, the overall effect is disorienting. Who are these people? What’s going on? Again, as with Legion Lost, this seems to be written exclusively for existing Legion fans and nobody else. I expected something a bit more open and pragmatic from Paul Levitz. Portela’s art is passable, but limited due to the sheer scope of settings and characters involved. Recommendation: Pass.
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Nightwing #1 - Written by Kyle Higgins, art by Eddy Barrows and J.P. Mayer
Not a radical reboot here, and more of a return, like slipping on a favorite jacket found in the back of the closet. Dick’s done with being Temp Batman, and back to being Nightwing, with a clean slate to start things off (no apparent backstory with either Barbara Gordon or Koriand’r), though he’s visiting his old circus and opening those wounds. In addition, he’s the target of a new violent assassin (a storyline that ties into the flagship Batbook). This is meat-and-potatoes stuff, competently done, with lots of interior monologues and a couple of well staged fight scenes. Its lack of grand ambition (thus far) is almost refreshing, but it may take a bit more to make it more than a passable but thoroughly inconsequential part of the DCU. Recommendation: Ponder.
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Red Hood and the Outlaws #1 - Written by Scott Lobdell, art by Kenneth Rocafort
When people who don’t read comics complain about comics, it’s issues like these that unfortunately show they might have a point. This issue embodies what way too many people working in comics apparently consider “mature” material. See, this is “grown-up” stuff precisely because the characters are violent, amoral and have emotionless sex. While all three principals (Jason Todd/Red Hood, Roy Harper/Arsenal, and Koriand’r/Starfire) have been substantial characters in the past, here they only exist to look cool and spout zingers. The most insulting thing about the much-derided bikini page isn’t as much that Starfire looks like that as it’s presented as the end-all of her character. As several reviewers and fans have noted, this approach takes the Starfire girls might have loved from the DC Animated Teen Titans (2003-06) and turns her into a sexbot. This feels cold and calculated all the way through, aiming precisely for the 15 year-old lizard brain of het masculinity. The saddest part is that both Lobdell and Rocafort are and have done better; this is beneath them. Recommendation: Pass.
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Supergirl #1 - Written by Michael Green and Mike Johnson, art by Mahmud Asrar
Supergirl was another one of the intriguing female characters potentially cut short by the reboot. While she’s certainly been controversial (particularly in the first couple years of this iteration of the character, which made her out to be a panty-flashing badass), she’s also been a good counter to Superman. Thankfully, this relaunch distills the most intriguing parts of her character (in particular the fact that she has memories of life on Krypton, and is thus much more Kryptonian than Superman), and puts us in her shiny red boots as an outsider who finds herself on our primitive world. The writing and the art complement each other well: lean and assured, keeping to the basics. She’s portrayed here as understandably disoriented, but also strong, smart and resourceful, and far from the hypersexualized fembot she could have been. One to keep an eye on. Recommendation: Pull.
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Wonder Woman #1 – Written by Brian Azzarello, art by Cliff Chiang
This is the book of the week. WW is the character that everyone wants to succeed, but whose books have always been overshadowed and underappreciated by the readership. She’s been an integral part of the action in recent years (particularly in the aftermath of her murder of Maxwell Lord), with great runs written by Greg Rucka and Gail Simone (respectively). Unfortunately, the last run, by J. Michael Straczynski, hasn’t been as assured. Thankfully, Azzarello and Chiang are well up to the task of forging a new Wonder Woman. They draw from the best of the older versions of her character, delving back in particular to the essence of Greek mythology, and present a tough, no-nonsense, decisive, no-BS heroine. The tone is one of vague supernatural menace, with moments of shocking but quiet violence, and silent panels of movement and action. This is clearly the best of the new books, with a fearless ambition and style. Highly, highly recommended. Recommendation: Pull.

Bonus: Here’s another Laura Hudson piece, with comics creators discussing the representation of women, and what can be done about it.

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