Tony gets his swagger on: Torchwood’s back in the hands of the Barrowmans.
Torchwood was originally a great idea in the barking mad mind of a Welshman. As a Welshman with a barking mad mind, I appreciate that fully. But like any successful TV show, it stopped being the exclusive property of Russell T Davies very early on, and has found a host of other impressive minds to nestle in and grow. Chris Chibnall was one. The writers at Big Finish have added significantly to the world. But it’s also fair to say there wouldn’t be Torchwood without John Barrowman, anchoring the show as Captain Jack Harkness. Since Miracle Day, John and his sister Carol, have become two of the many keepers of the Torchwood flame, writing a Torchwood novel together (among their other literary collaborations), The Exodus Code, which took Jack and Gwen off on a whole new adventure, collecting a whole new bunch of Torchwooders (Torchwoodees? Ohhhh dear) along the way.
What The Exodus Code made perfectly clear to any doubters is that the Barrowmans can not only write, they can write Torchwood, and they can do it in ways that keep the heart of the original show beating, but free it up to find new strands to its destiny, fresh ideas and adventures in a wider universe.
Torchwood in comic-book form was surely a no-brainer from the start – like Doctor Who in the 90s and early 2000s, Torchwood might have dropped off our screens, but it’s never dropped off our radars. It keeps bubbling away, emerging here and there in new forms – by no means in small part to the relentless (seriously, we think he’s probably plugged into the mains overnight) energy of John Barrowman himself, who, while going on to find new roles in which to immortalise that cheese-cutting jawline and that supernova twinkle, has always retained a sense of passion for Torchwood and for Captain Jack, as well as going out of his way to be good to the show’s fans. After all, you don’t write a novel unless you’re passionate about the subject, so getting The Exodus Code out there was a sign of his continuing commitment to the man in the really good coat, and his eager participation in the Big Finish Torchwood audios has also done a lot to keep Torchwood alive in our consciousness.
Titan Comics is riding high at the moment on a wave of Who – multi-Doctor stories, six separate strands of single-Doctor releases, and it’s also publishing the manga version of the showrunner’s other baby, Sherlock. So what could be more natural than Torchwood in comic-books? Apart from anything else, comic-books are a perfect audience-fit for Torchwood – perhaps perversely, they’re a little bit more grown-up, with a greater freedom for sex and violence, which is practically Torchwood’s signature remit: Who, but human and aimed at slightly more grown-ups. It’s a marriage made in storytelling heaven.
Getting the Barrowmans on board to write the first Torchwood story in comic-books has a feeling of jigsaw-rightness, of coming home, and of exciting potential. But does it work?
Are you freaking nuts, of course it works!
The tone is perfect – it has some fast cutting, it has a good deal of Jack-swagger, it has Gwen and Rhys being authentically Gwen and Rhys, it even has an old frenemy dropping by to do what they do best (cause chaos and kill things), and it also has some Torchwood storytelling staples to make you go ‘Oooh’ and ‘Ahhh’ and do the job of any good writer – get its curiosity-hooks deep under your skin and yank you forward, wondering what the hell happens next, and ready to spend good money to find out.
So if you’re only familiar with TV Torchwood, you won’t be disappointed by this first issue; it has plenty of what you remember of the show: the Welsh, being as dry and down to earth and occasionally divvy as they are; Jack being saucy, and brave and handsome and making it look a whole lot better than your Jack Reachers or your Jason Bournes could ever dream of; a weird potentially alien MacGuffin, stolen from the safe place it’s been kept for x-number of years, meaning it’s now in disreputable hands; a disappearance from a Welsh beach; and Gwen and Rhys fabulously failing to get it on in a knackered old caravan when Jack comes calling. TV Torchwood fans – buy this thing, you’re gonna love it.
But make no mistake about it – this is post-Miracle Day Torchwood, and the Barrowmans grab Torchwood fans by any damn thing that dangles loose in this issue to say ‘There’s this book we wrote. Go with it – Torchwood’s moved on from Miracle Day. Here are the new people you’ve missed.’ The Barrowmans’ writing style allows for the cunning use of captions to bring the TV purists up to speed – there’s a ship which is more than a ship, there’s a crew which look traditionally Torchwood-hot and occasionally semi-naked, there’s an AI with attitude. As writers, they take no prisoners, because they can’t afford to – they have to please both audiences, the TV-only and those who’ve followed the extension of Torchwood through their novel. Do they pull it off? Oh hell yeah, this is the Barrowmans for god’s sake, you knew they would when you walked in the door.
It’s not just about the balance of expectations for audiences, though. This is Torchwood, we expect innovation, and no, of course they don’t disappoint on that score either – there’s a creepy-as-all-get-out idea right on Page 1, resonating with Series 9 Who on some levels, added to the abduction, the MacGuffin theft and the general Captain Jack brooding that gives the issue its balance between action and zap-pow mayhem and a mood of Something Big A-Coming. The Exodus Code crew bring their own innovations with them, meaning this is a Torchwood with different abilities to the TV version, an expanded sense of scope – without ever feeling remotely invincible (however ironic that may be, given the leading man’s signature move of coming back from the dead).
What’s perhaps more questionable than the Barrowmans’ storytelling skills going in is the artistic tone. Torchwood was a show positively dripping in tone from the very beginning, which makes it actually perverse that the tone also changed from episode to episode, from series to series, as dynamics and personnel shifted. That means getting the artistic tone right is crucial – get it wrong and it won’t feel authentically Torchwood, it’ll feel like something that sounds like Torchwood, but doesn’t deliver.
The tone adopted here by Antonio Fuso and Pasquale Qualano on artistic duties is one that stops short of photorealism, but, for instance, never slights the actors who stamped their personalities so forcible on the characters we know and love. Eve Myles has a very distinctive face, frequently used to great effect on the show to invest it with heart and its funny bone, and Fuso and Qualano do her good service here, as indeed they do to Captain Cheekbones – again, get those wrong and Torchwood in comic-book form collapses. Fuso and Qualano knock them out of the park.
The style also brings with it the freshness and inventive flair of The Exodus Code though, bringing a ‘best of both worlds’ feel to this debut issue, a sense helped along by some light-handed colourwork from Marco Lusko, which can deliver the dankness and slither-up-the-spine creepiness of the initial sequence, but make the Welsh seaside look positively idyllic as – jusssst occasionally – it can be, and give the interior of the Torchwood ship a combination of functionality and frolic.
So ultimately, what are we saying?
Well again, you knew this coming in, but we’re saying grab your army greatcoat and swagger to your comic-book supplier of choice. Give them a white-toothed grin, smooch their face off, and lay down your coinage for issue #1 of the Torchwood comic-book. The Barrowmans take their Torchwood just seriously enough, while lacing it with its TV-traditional tongue in cheek humour, and the artists and colourists that have been assigned to bring Torchwood back in the visual medium know enough of their stuff to let you relax in their hands. If you ever had any interest in the show at all, you’re gonna be jussssst fine with the Barrowman crew.
It’s the 21st century, and Torchwood is ready for your comic-book collection.
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