Tony joins the clan.
Welcome to a thing.
This is a thing that TV Who can’t do very well without confusing some viewers or losing the patience of others, but which comic-books can do by virtue of the total control of the narrative that the writer and artists possess.
Welcome to a Doctor Who story largely told through the eyes and the viewpoint of a third person.
Doctor Who comic-books have a strong history of doing this sort of thing, going at least as far back as The Shape Shifter and Polly The Glot in Doctor Who Magazine, where for the most part, the story was narrated by the Whifferdill-cum-penguin, Frobisher, the Doctor simply another character who invades the shape shifter’s peace and quiet.
The Medicine Man, Part 1, begins with a long and lyrical introduction in the voice of Munmeth the story-singer of the Wolf Tree Clan, shamen, painter of pictures to trap his imagination, and Neanderthal. Yes, this is Doctor Who meets Clan of the Cave Bear. Munmeth worries because he has seen whole tribes killed or stolen by creatures that fly, and he feels beholden to try and warn others about the danger, to help protect his world from this new, impossible threat.
He has been shunned by some, his warnings dismissed, while others have heard him and followed his advice, when out of the undergrowth bursts Gabby Gonzalez, begging help for her friend, the medicine man.
It’s important to know two things about this issue, and this half of a new two-part story from Nick Abadzis. Firstly, yes, there are aliens, but there are in fact more aliens than at first you might appreciate. And secondly, that’s not the most interesting thing about the story.
The most interesting thing about the story is Munmeth himself. Abadzis gives the man great solid characterisation, allowing him to grasp, if not exactly to understand some things that people many thousands of years beyond his time would struggle with. We’re shown his motivations, his thought processes, his hopes and fears. And for the most part we’re shown them through his own voice, which has a lyricism rare in comic-books (or indeed books of any kind in the 21st century). It’s the lyricism of aboriginal thought, the world much simpler in some ways than our own, but in others a world of its own ineffable complexities and stories. When the issue begins, Munmeth promises to sing us his story and to make us know it and feel it as if his story was our own, and this is something that between them, Abadzis’ choice of words, the uncomplicated artwork of Leonardo Romero and the almost watercolour palette of Arianna and Azzurra Florean conjure for us, a kind of stripped-back shamanism in its own right, creating visions for us of Munmeth’s world.
There’s a particularly appealing trick at work here too – When Gabby or the Doctor say something for which Munmeth has no analogue, nor even the understanding of language to comprehend, the lettering goes squiggly and relatively meaningless, to show his confusion, the gaps in his interpretation of their speech.
It’s very easy to overplay the ‘noble savage’ idea, especially when racked by the kind of existential guilt Gabby feels when she realises how impressive the Neanderthal actually is, the sense that it’s ‘our lot’ who were responsible for the extinction of the species, and to have that guilt brought up close and personal through the kindness of the man you believe your species is responsible for destroying. But as the Doctor points out, the process of the Neanderthal extinction was gradual, probably taking place over a thousand years as they were ‘outcompeted’ by Homo Sapiens.
There’s a slightly Earthshock vibe at work when the Doctor says this. Just as in the Fifth Doctor story he talks dispassionately about something colliding with the Earth and wiping out the dinosaurs, and is later brought face to face with the reality of that event, it’s tempting to think that Abadzis has been inspired here to explain to us the alien intervention that set the seal on the fate of the Neanderthals – but of course to find out if that’s the case, you’ll have to buy issue #2.5
What he’s certainly given us is a lot of personality-hooks and curiosity-hooks to lead us on, and a story of war in the heavens, aliens stealing whole tribes away for reasons of their own. There’s also an extra-special squealing moment in the final panel of the issue for fans of early Davison stories, but to say more than that would be to spoil the surprise. In terms of delivering a tone, this issue is an example of what Titan has a well-deserved reputation for doing very well – the harmony of writing, artwork, colour and lettering, to create something which is bigger and better than the story would be if delivered flat.
Go get issue #2.4 today and settle in for the posing of a question that exists in the grey areas of prehistory, while revelling in a great new character and his unique voice, simply ringing with the poetry of life.
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