‘This is the part where you explain what I’m actually doing here, by the way.’There’s a rule about Bond films. There’s a rule about Star Trek movies. Now there’s a rule about Torchwood comic-books – the odd-numbered issues are gonna kick ass.
After a frantic, lively, punch-in-the-face paced launch issue, the second instalment kind of…erm…stalled, despite the ninjas on jetskis. It was an issue in which, while some Stuff Happened, it mostly happened while a lot of people stood about, and then exploded into action, leaving the issue feeling comparatively unbalanced as a result.
The balance is back in place in issue #3. The scene descriptions get pithier, and there’s action on at least three fronts. Now, let it be fully understood, there’s a lot of standing about explaining the plot in this issue too, but it feels more substantive, and it’s punctuated by Gwen shouting ‘Womb!’ a lot, so on the whole, we mind it really rather less. The crew of the Ice Maiden (Torchwood’s new mobile home) are for the most part trying to deal with the aftermath of AI Shelley’s freak-out session at the end of issue #2, when she was overrun with seemingly – but only seemingly – random radio signals. Oh and trying to run away in a big hurry before the local Coast Guard catch them.
Don’t blame us, it’s Gwen’s dialogue. The way she’s written here is very true to the on-screen character, as you’d expect from the Barrowmans, and for reasons that remain largely undisclosed despite her demands throughout the issue, the point of her being collected for this mission is apparently womb-related. We’ll just let that sit with you for a while. The Barrowmans let it sit with all of us, Jack simply doing a slightly more charming version of the Doctor’s ‘I’ll explain later’ when she (rather politely, for Gwen) insists he give her more insight. There’s not quite enough ‘arm up the back,’ Gwen Cooper diplomacy perhaps, but there is certainly a good bit of back-and-forth Cooper-Harkness banter in this issue, which is another thing that felt lacking from issue #2, and which powers this one on.
There’s also more action from a favourite Torchwood baddie in a seedy space bar, and if Jack doesn’t give us a great deal of detail on the plan, we learn a chunk more from the villain. Not for nothing, there’s also a great Sontaran cameo in this sequence. Means nothing as far as we know, but still great to have, tucked away in a scene where Other Things take centre stage.
Back at Torchwood House in Scotland, following the murder of its master, the Gilly is up to something, calling the Ice Maiden and its crew home based on, if not a discovery then a revelation – and there are more such revelations in this issue. The familiar room with a telescope, as seen on TV burning the bejesus out of werewolves has…changed somewhat, looking spookily overgrown, and a combination of that image and later scenes in the Arctic circle send our mind reeling to one very particular Tom Baker story, which is enough to get the blood (or indeed sap) pulsing in our geeky veins, however red a herring it may turn out to be. What’s more definite is the appearance of a very specific sigil, both in the telescope room at Torchwood House, and in the hands of more, reasonably rapidly killed ninjas on jetskis. That’s enough, when we see it, to spin the story off in almost a thousand directions in our heads. The question of what it means, if it means anything, is enough to drive us on to want to read issue #4, in the hope of finding some less enigmatic explanations than those provided by Jack as he activates the Ice Maiden’s CHAMELEON CIRCUIT (just in case that subtle detail escapes you), and puts the crew into cryo-sleep till they get where they’re going – a slightly confusing precaution if they’re only heading to Scotland, but what the hell, it’s Torchwood, if everything made sense it would rob it of its essential character.
Artwise, Antonio Fuso and Pasquale Qualano, with the aid of Marco Lesko (yes, they all sound like they could be Torchwood team members themselves) deliver a brisk look to this issue, with the familiar characters looking enough like the people they’re supposed to be to enhance the voices the Barrowmans give them and sell the story. It must be quite a gig, drawing and colouring the Torchwood comic-book, because you can probably never be sure what’ll be coming out of the Barrowmans’ minds next – but there’s good atmosphere here, both on board the Ice Maiden, in Torchwood House and in the seedy space bar where mischief is afoot. Again, nailing the familiar characters, as much in their stances and body language as the particularities of their facial expressions, helps anchor this story in our mind as ‘proper’ Torchwood, helps sell the less familiar elements to the more general Torchwood fan, as well as the rabid, ‘read everything’ hardcore fan-base who will cut you for dissing the memory of Ianto or expressing the idea that Rex wasn’t a total monster. That means the artwork is an active aid for the more general Torchwood fan, selling this comic-book series to those who haven’t followed the show beyond its on-screen iterations, and so are probably getting their heads spun by all the ‘new’ characters and the new mobile base that Torchwood has acquired since they last signed on. It’s a combination that works, at least in issue #3 – the Barrowmans’ imaginations pushing Torchwood only ever forward, and the artwork doing enough to bring along the general fans who may have some catching up to do.
Here’s hoping the odd-number rule doesn’t genuinely apply to the Torchwood comic-book, and that issue #4 is as good as it needs to be to take the story forward. Issue #3 though is beyond doubt. It’s a good one – go get it, and see if you understand what’s going on.
And if you don’t, imagine Jack grinning at you, and come along for the ride anyhow.
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 day, he 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