Tony goes underground.
Issue #2.6 of the Twelfth Doctor adventures was something insanely special. But here’s the thing – when you combine talents like George Mann and Mariano Laclaustra, you’d be amazed how quickly ‘insanely special’ becomes your expectation of the norm. So does issue #2.7 stand up to its predecessor? Yes, it does – but by virtue of the different needs and different storytelling beats of an opening and a mid-section, there’s less about it that absolutely blows the wax out of your ears and the fluff out of your belly-button. But as long as you understand what you’re reading, and perhaps a little about the dynamics of storytelling, you’ll still reap the rewards of this issue.
Look at it this way – Episode 1 of anything gets the chance to blow you away with the initial building of a whole new world, a whole different slant on the characters you know, and a whole handful of new people with whom to have an adventure. Episode 2 of anything doesn’t have that opportunity for breath-taking newness, it has to take what its predecessor gave you and actually lead you forward, to some point of interesting development.
That’s where we are here.
We start the issue in mortal peril – why wouldn’t we be, we ended on a cliff-hanger of potentially throat-ripping terror – but we quickly advance from there, Mann’s story seeding its philosophical underpinnings lightly, rather than forcing them home. Here’s how lightly – we didn’t even realise they were there until we came to write this review, because the actual adventure is very much foregrounded, which is as it should be. What we’re dealing with here is two cultures inhabiting the same essential space, and the sense of entitlement that one of them has to all of that space, treating the other as something shadowy and violent without understanding an iota of its depth, its complexity, or the truth about that sense of entitlement. It’s not so much satire as a gentle mirror of our world, showing us how dangerous entitlement can be, even to those who’ve done no harm. It’s a story of some considerable dignity and gravitas, told with walking, talking, seriously sentient foxes.
Yeah, you heard us. Foxes. Oh sure, it’s always about the wolves with you people, isn’t it? But if you think about it for jusssst a handful of heartbeats, you’ll recognise the logic at play – urban foxes are a recognised thing, they’re becoming cohabitors of the environment we like to casually think of as ‘ours’. Urban wolves? Notsomuch unless you’re in Alaska. So what we have in #2.7 is a situation with humans and foxes sharing an environment in much the same way as they do right here and now on Earth – the humans relatively clueless of fox-life until it makes itself known and felt.
The storyline of this issue takes us into quite a lot of backstory, the exposition of which feels relatively natural, at least inasmuch as these things can be in a three-part comic-book – Part 2 is always going to be the twist section, the one that changes the perceptions that Part 1 has given you, and sets you on a new path for Part 3. There are notes of homage in this issue too, both in terms of the central ideas and the artwork – there’s a gorgeous Ark In Space vibe going on in this issue, which Mann shouldn’t and doesn’t ignore, and which Mariano Laclaustra accentuates gloriously.
Laclaustra? You want to talk Laclaustra? This is no hardship at all – it might well be that we have a bit of an art-crush on the work of Mariano Laclaustra here at WarpedFactor, but that doesn’t happen without reason, and he’s by no means alone (Lee Sullivan, Luis Guerrero…). The thing about Laclaustra’s artwork is that it’s always so crisp, the vision so precise that it does that bizarre thing to your eyes and your brain – while always being comic-book art, rather than going for photorealism per se, it’s comic-book art so inherently right that within its panels and pages, it transcends photorealism. Rather than necessarily giving you an actual snapshot of something real, it pulls you into its reality, and your brain, not entirely sure of the trick that’s been played on it, goes happily along. This is art as a kind of magic, a kind of cosmic creativity that only works because Laclaustra gives his worlds that precision, that sense of architectural and physical rightness that draws you in. Nor does Laclaustra get the chance to rest on his #2.6 laurels here – there are giant cities and sweeping skyscapes to conjure, as well as that homage to The Ark In Space, a fantastic cryo-chamber that in Laclaustra’s hands has a sense of grand design as well as a sense of its deep-freezing functionality.
So much for Laclaustra’s growing confidence in his own abilities. Here he also comes with two art assistants, Agus Calcagno and Fer Centurion, to help him realise his vision of Mann’s world, and doubtless they should take some bows too. Colourist Carlos Cabrera, who has almost fooled us before now into thinking his work belonged to Guerrero, also brings an apprentice to the table this time, Juan Manuel Tumburus, to help deliver the necessary contrasts and tones and surprising watercolour light to take Mann’s story from what it looked like at the end of issue #2.6 through all we learn here to the entirely different way it looks at the end of #2.7.
What we have in issue #2.7 is a story that’s moved beyond its initial mystery and its first round of shocks into the backstory of how we got to where we are. It’s a story that still allows for plenty of artistic grandeur, and Laclaustra and Co certainly deliver that grandeur, but essentially Mann’s story of how the situation arose changes the potential outcomes, and – as is ever the case – knowing where we’ve come from helps us see where we must more or less be going in Episode #3 (Issue #2.8, if you’re counting), while, as we’ve admitted, sowing the seeds of its philosophical argument with both a subtlety and a strength of purpose of which, shall we say, Malcolm Hulke would have been proud.
Get issue #2.7 of the Twelfth Doctor comic-books not because you have to if you’re ever going to make sense of #2.6, but because of the clever inversions in which it deals, the necessities of thought inherent in the Doctor’s alien perspective – and consequently the better, more measured approach we can learn about what we think of as ‘our’ world, particularly when ‘our’ world is seeking, as it is right now, to demonise the different. Get it for Laclaustra’s soaring cityscapes, the grandeur of his cryo-chambers and that signature crispness and precision. Get it for Cabrera, breathing life and colour and light into worlds that seem inherently bizarre. Get it for all of these reasons, but get it. Get it with a clear heart and a musical conscience, because what we have here is just possibly an all-time classic Episode 2.
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