We shall remember them, says Tony Fyler.
The Weeping Angels of Mons has been, from its earliest panels, haunting, spooky, and heartbreaking by turns. Writer Robbie Morrison has delivered a Tenth Doctor story of real nuance and heart, a love letter to the ordinary men who found themselves, voluntarily or not, changing their day to day world for a hell of muck, bullets, wire, fear, noise, gas and all the horrors the human race had by 1914 devised.
In that environment, the Weeping Angels work superbly, terrifyingly well – arguably better, in fact, than in any of their TV adventures so far.
As we open issue #9, things do not look good – the Tardis has been stolen by the angels down a deep tunnel beneath the Western Front, and it’s up to the Tenth Doctor, Gabby Gonzalez from modern-day New York and Private Jamie Colquhoun to get it back, aided by a trench chaplain who’s keen to be of help.
The artwork and storytelling collude in the first few pages to deliver a re-cap of some events through Gabby’s eyes – in a technique we’ve seen before in this run of Tenth Doctor Adventures from Titan Comics, Gabby, an amateur artist, narrates through ‘voice-over’ and her own pictures (think recent Disney for the style). It’s clear that there’s a growing attraction between Gabby and Jamie, and that’s neatly summed up by the image she draws of the two of them in a heart, about to kiss – it’s a beautiful, soppy, teenage girly note that shows a side to Gabby that’s rarely on public display: with her family, she’s always been strong and slightly stroppy, and on adventures with the Doctor, she’s highly capable, like a pre-Clara Clara, so this peek inside her softer heart is endearing without crossing over into schmaltzy territory. It’s a collusion achieved by using Ariana Florean and Elena Casagrande to deliver that particular diary style, and it works well as a kind of ‘soft open’ to an episode more than replete with grimness.
When the Disney-drawn re-cap from Gabby gives way to a much harsher real world as drawn by Daniel Indro, the tonal shift is a slap in the face, like waking from a warm dream to a world of greys and browns and biting cold. As the adventure begins, you might expect it to be fairly predictable – angels in dark tunnels, yadda yadda yadda. And certainly there are angels in dark tunnels here, but before we get to them, there’s one of the most quietly creepy images we’ve seen in a long time. It would be a crying shame to spoiler it, but you’ll never forget it – any time you get in a lift from now on and it does that slight lurch before moving, you’ll remember the angels.
The chaplain, sadly, confuses iconography with reality, and goes to meet the angels with his faith and his cross. The Doctor meanwhile finds the Tardis surrounded by angels and uses a trick that, had it appeared in the TV show during the Tenth Doctor’s time would have been a very big ‘D’oh!’ moment, but oddly here it falls down, mostly because we’ve actually seen it used on TV in the time of the Eleventh Doctor, so it gets trapped in the timelines of storytelling and the experience of most readers. New idea for the Doctor, old news for us.
To be fair though, our emotional investment is not with the Doctor at the time he delivers his angel solution, but with Gabby and Jamie, trapped behind a rockfall with the World War I equivalent of a great big threatening button which must never ever ever be pressed. Surrounded by angels, and looking into each other’s eyes, they press it.
No, we’re not going to tell you what happens when they do. There’s every chance it’ll catch in your throat when you read it though. Every chance.
As the story ends, there are distinct, not to say overt parallels between The Weeping Angels of Mons and the other occasion when we’ve seen the Tenth Doctor visit this time period. To some extent it’s a shot-by-shot replay, but in terms of the explanatory power of the dialogue and imagery, Morrison and Indro outdo the TV version in spades. The explanation of the nature of war on Page 23, and the full-page panel on Page 24 will melt all but the stoniest of angel hearts, and the final panel on Page 25 gives a nod to the shock value of movies like Carrie, and that delicious thrill you get from last-minute twists in some of the best Doctor Who stories from the last 51 years.
It’s actually possible that The Weeping Angels of Mons, if made for TV, would qualify as one of those best stories – it’s taken the angels massively forward, while using them in ways and in a scenario that allows them to bring both familiar creepy menace and new hard-edged survivalist malice to their portrayal. It’s also introduced a credible love story among companions ‘before’ the Ponds ever set foot aboard the big blue box, and given the Tenth Doctor a story that’s both gritty and sentimental by turns, paying tribute to the unlikely warriors on both sides of arbitrary lines drawn by leaders. It’s a reminder and a thank you for all their sacrifices.
Let’s not mess about – buy issue #9. In fact, buy issues #6-#9 and get the whole Weeping Angels of Mons storyline. You’ll laugh, probably. You’ll gasp, definitely. Your Inner Who Fan will do positive cartwheels. And you may even cry along the way, particularly at the end of issue #9. That issue has one moment of editorial naffness – at least in the preview copy we saw – with a break in the heat of the angel action for a one-page comedy strip that came as a bucket of water over the tension. It also has one slight dialogue misstep, Scotsman Jamie using “I guess,” probably to Americanize the comic-book for a US readership. But those aside, this is the culmination of some seriously heavyweight storytelling, with artwork that takes the breath away on more than one occasion in each issue, even though David Tennant’s face appears a particularly difficult one to render well.
The Weeping Angels of Mons is a four-issue journey that seems, in the depth and richness of its character stories, and in the surprising freshness it brings to the motivations and the portrayal of the angels, significantly longer. That’s a good thing, because it’s a journey more worth taking than several of the Tenth Doctor’s TV adventures turned out to be. It’s a story that takes everything good you think you know about the Weeping Angels, turns it up full blast, and then adds elements you never even dreamed of, just to scare you rigid while you remember the people who fought and died on one of Europe’s bloodiest battlefields.
The Tenth Doctor #9 is released Wednesday April 15th. Check out an advance art preview here.
To find your local comic store visit: http://www.comicshoplocator.com/
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk