Saturday, 28 June 2008


Doctor Who [new]
4x11 Turn Left [2nd watch]
4x12 The Stolen Earth
See here for my thoughts on Turn Left. (A review of The Stolen Earth will appear with its second part next week.)

Mine All Mine
Part 1 (of 6) [2nd watch]

Wimbledon 2008
The odd point from Andy Murray vs Tommy Haas and the end of Rafael Nadal vs Nicolas Kiefer.


Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore & Brian Bolland
As well as the main story, there's an introduction by Tim Sale, an afterword by Brian Bolland, and a selection of art from the files of Brian Bolland included in the recently released Batman: The Killing Joke - The Deluxe Edition.
See here for my thoughts on The Killing Joke.

Blood Fever by Charlie Higson
Chapters 28 - 30 [the end]
An odd final few chapters, in which James faces off a string of increasingly minor enemies. Still, all in, an even better book than the first. Next up, the apparently Da Vinci Code-esque Double or Die.

An Innocent Guy by Brian Bolland
(from Batman: The Killing Joke - The Deluxe Edition)
Short Batman story written and drawn by Brian Bolland. Originally published as part of the Batman: Black & White strand, it's presented here in a coloured form.

Watchmen by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons
Chapter VI
Walter J. Kovacs files
See here for my thoughts on these chapters of Watchmen.

"Watchmen" by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons - Chapter VI

Major spoilers follow. You may well have gathered that I don't tend to do spoiler-free reviews, but there are some extra big ones in this entry.

Watchmen reaches the halfway point with a chapter focussed solely on Rorschach, much like the Dr Manhattan-focussed Chapter IV. Leaving all the other characters and stories aside for the moment, Moore focusses in on a series of interviews between Rorschach -- whose identity has been revealed to be Walter Kovacs; no one of importance, but we've seen him almost since page one as the guy wandering round with an apocalyptic placard -- and a prison psychoanalyst, who's attempting to find out what led Kovacs to become a vicious vigilante. Rorschach is a character who is, initially at least, easy to sympathy with. He had an horrendous childhood, later driven to extremes trying to protect the innocent. His efforts to murder childkillers, rapists, and other scum seem like the sort of thing we all might wish we could actually do, but he perhaps has a tendency to take it too far...

As well as showing how Kovacs came to be Rorschach -- including the origins of his incredibly shifting mask -- Moore follows the psychoanalyst as his obsession with the case leads to sleepless nights, perhaps the end of his marriage, and a general deterioration in his psychological state. It's an effective way of showing the effect of these truths of humanity on an ordinary, seemingly well-adjusted human being. As I've surely said before, this is really why Watchmen is so great and so acclaimed -- ostensibly it's about superheroes, but really it's about people, why they're driven to do things, and how they cope with the consequences. And all the while, in the background, (nuclear?) war is brewing...

Halfway through, Watchmen continues to be a stunning achievement. There are many mysteries left to be solved, undoubtedly including some that, like the identity of the placard-man, I don't even know need solving.

"Batman: The Killing Joke" by Alan Moore & Brian Bolland

As regular readers will have noticed, I've been reading a lot of stuff by Alan Moore lately. Moore is widely credited with revolutionising the comics medium over a series of works, and I'm finally beginning to catch up with them. Most of his stories are wholly original tales, such as Watchmen (the most praised of them all) or V for Vendetta; when not, they're usually his own tales from re-used material, such as From Hell (a take on Jack the Ripper) or The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (which takes Victorian literary characters and makes a superhero team out of them). In this context, The Killing Joke is a rarity, because it's a Batman story -- a well-established existing character, obviously. Published in 1988, the 46-page tale is from the same era as Year One and The Dark Knight Returns, and not long after Watchmen -- all part of the growing-up and 'darkening' of comics in the '80s. Arguably this can be seen in Tim Burton's 1989 Batman film, but with 2006's Batman Begins taking elements from Year One and Dark Knight Returns and the forthcoming The Dark Knight reportedly using Killing Joke as the basis for its version of the Joker (not to mention Watchmen finally being released next year), it seems the full effect of this particular movement has taken a bit longer to hit our screens.

But enough of that, what of the tale itself? It has two prongs: a 'present' element, in which a recently escaped Joker kidnaps Commissioner Gordon and psychology tortures him, attempting to prove that anyone can be driven mad as the Joker was; and a past thread, in which a young father-to-be has quit his job to be a comedian, but is considering a crime to make ends meet... Within this, Moore packs in all his favourite regular tricks and techniques: there's the opening few panels that pull out from extreme close-up to long shot; two stories told in parallel, one revealing the past of a character; a version of match-cutting in and out of these; zooming in and out of items/faces across multiple panels; retaining the same static 'shot' across multiple panels, often while something develops in the background; long passages with no dialogue; using several panels to show a character performing a simple action; an act of sexual violence as a key plot point; a deliberate blurring of the line between hero and villain; long, wordy, philosophical speeches; and mirroring techniques in the structure -- here, for example, the opening line of the finale is inserted as the book's first line, while at the same time Batman's opening dialogue is repeated over the climax. To say Moore is repetitive or constantly copying himself may be a bit much, but he certainly has a tendency to re-use a certain set of techniques in new arrangements to craft his tales (a bit like Steven Moffat with Doctor Who, then).

The story aside, Bolland's art is fantastic. Stylistically, it looks like it was drawn now, not 20 years ago, which in part must be due to fresh colouring. Bolland was never happy with the original colouring of the book -- he was scheduled to do it, but ran out of time and so it had to be completed by John Higgins, who didn't have the same vision as Bolland -- and so he was glad to have the chance to re-do it for this new edition. I haven't seen the original to compare fully, and it will surely upset some purists, but it looks brilliant. Bolland has clearly utilised all the modern computer-based techniques available to colourists, creating a subdued pallet that suits the story's nature. While the gaudy colours of Watchmen create a thematic counterpoint to the grim, realistic story, here I think such a technique would just undermine the point, so Bolland's new work fits like a glove. From the odd frame I've managed to find of the original colouring online, I'd actually quite like to get hold of that just for the sake of comparison.

IGN voted The Killing Joke as the 3rd greatest Batman story ever. I'm yet to read most of those that surround it on that list, so can't really comment for myself, but, in spite of Moore's increasingly familiar tropes, it's an engrossing story. The recent oversized hardback re-release, called The Deluxe Edition on the cover, is certainly worth owning -- while its £12 RRP is steep for a 46-page main story, 8-page second strip, and 6 pages of other stuff, it can be had for less and seems worth it to me.

While I'm primarily reading Watchmen at the minute, don't be surprised if more graphic novel reviews -- primarily Batman ones, I expect -- crop up over the next week or two.

Doctor Who: Turn Left

"Unrelentingly bleak" is probably the most accurate way to describe the penultimate story of Doctor Who's fourth revived season. It's certainly the darkest thing you'll've seen broadcast as part of a family show so early on a Saturday evening -- tonight's first half of the finale two-parter, full as it's likely to be of apocalyptic slaughter, is unlikely to equal the real-world horror of what happened after Donna turned right. Obviously the chances of a replica Titanic obliterating London are slim, but the increasingly disastrous consequences of a major destructive incident in Southern England are all too believable.

Aside from scaring viewers witless, Turn Left allows the series' recurring characters to shine. There are great scenes for both Bernard Cribbins and Jacqueline King here, showing the calibre of actor that Who can cast in even the smallest of roles. But, as was so insisted before the episode's broadcast, it really is Donna's episode. Truth be told, in spite of what people liked to say in the hype, Tate's performance here won't convince many (or any) of those who hate her. That's not because she's no good -- she's brilliant -- but it's the performance she's been giving for the last 10 episodes, plus a resurgence of her one from the 2006 Christmas special, combined and pushed to their utmost quality... but if you hate her in the first place, you're not going to like her any more now. Your loss, but there you go.

Davies' script cunningly re-appropriates elements from the present-day-Earth episodes from the last two seasons, showing how badly wrong things could have gone without the Doctor. The silly moment from the last Christmas special when the Titanic just missed Buckingham Palace becomes the chilling event which wipes out London and ruins Britain. The cute little Adipose, whose creation only resulted in the death of one person back at the start of this season, wipe out swathes of America. The Sontaran's Atmos is stopped, but at the cost of the lives of all Torchwood's remaining team members; the Doctor stopped the Judoon from killing anyone (well, mostly), but Martha, Sarah Jane and her friends die trying to stop them, along with everyone else in the hospital. And to top it all off, the BNP seem to have come into power as ethnic minorities are shipped off to 'labour camps'. Somehow, I don't think it's for "education education education".

Perhaps the most impressive thing about this episode, however, is that, after two Christmas specials and almost two whole seasons, Rose is back... and I've written three paragraphs without even bothering to mention here. Such is the extent that Donna dominates this episode, the return of one of the Doctor's most beloved companions -- certainly of recent years -- is actually an almost incidental element of the episode. The best bit of it is the re-appropriation of Bad Wolf, the first season's intriguing thread that led to a denouement many felt was lacking (personally, I never had any problems with it). It seems Russell T Davies has found new significance to give to it -- as, I suspect, he will do with many things from the preceding seasons in the next two weeks -- and that's probably a good thing.

Certainly, it's easy for the surprising final moments, and the exciting trailer for The Stolen Earth, to take all attention away from the episode itself. Such is the nature of excitement for a season finale which has, as ever, been building since episode one (and possibly longer). Turn Left is still a great, if highly depressing, episode, though difficult to love because it's about as much fun as torture by mosquitoes. I don't imagine it will be topping any Best Of Season polls.

Days til New York...


For a full explanation, please see the start of the countdown.