Monday, 7 April 2014

Top Five Batman Graphic Novels

As our, ulp, very special guest established earlier, for one month only Scribbles Creatures is... Comic Creatures! To start our series of posts on everything comic, we're turning to that courageous Caped Crusader, that determined Dark Knight, that reliable Roving Rodent (that's not right, is it?), the Batman. While not as encompassing as my love for those other long-lasting heroes, the Doctor and Sherlock Holmes, I've been a Batman fan since watching repeats of the gloriously-camp 1960s television series as a kid. Though I'm much more familiar with on-screen exploits, I've also read a fair few Batman comics over the years and the following five are those I like to keep handy in my utility belt. Just in case I get a chance for a spot of reading while crusading at night.



 Batman: Gothic

While not as well-known as the others on this list, this early comic from modern-day Batman writer Grant Morrison was one of the first Batman graphic novels I read - and it's rather stuck with me. The story starts with Gotham's mobsters being picked off by a mysterious stranger called Mr Whisper. As Batman investigates, he finds out this Mr Whisper, a man without a shadow, may be something more peculiar than the Penguin, more curious than Catwoman, something altogether more... gothic.
With allusions to the Faust legends and Matthew Lewis' classic novel, The Monk, this is a graphic novel that stands out for the strength of its literary illusions, taking the Bat from his usual superhero habitat and putting the Goth firmly back in Gotham.

Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?

Batman is dead and every one of his friends and foes has gathered in Crime Alley for his wake. And so has Batman. With a ghostly guide for company, Batman watches as various stories are given as to how he died. But which is the real one? Or is he even dead?
As strange and as lyrical as anything Neil Gaiman writes, this was intended to be a bookend for all the different versions of the Batman across the ages. Rather than pitting the Bat against a scheming villain, this sees Batman face up to his own subconscious, or maybe its something else. As a touching testament to the endurance of the World's Greatest Detective, WHTTCC? cannot be beaten. Much like the Dark Knight himself.

 Batman: The Killing Joke

The Joker is far and wide the greatest comic book villain, a raging lunatic who's popularity has sustained as long as the Batman's own. As you would expect for such a popular character, he's featured in dozens of strips over the years but Alan Moore's The Killing Joke is certainly the definitive Joker story.
Detailing the two-sides-of-the-same-coin nature of Batman and his arch-enemy like never before, Killing Joke gives us a potential origin for the clown (but even the man himself isn't sure if its real), his most despicable crime (poor Barbara Gordon...) and the only time he's ever made Batman laugh (what does that ending mean?). An influence on both Nicholson's and Ledger's portrayals of the character, this is a deeply psychological, often grisly, look at what makes the usually-unfathomable Joker tick.


Batman: The Long Halloween

The Long Halloween is most probably my favourite story in a Batman comic. A proper whodunnit, it spans a year-long investigation of the serial killer known as 'Holiday' by the triumvirate of Batman, Commissioner Gordon and District Attorney Harvey Dent. As that name may have suggested, aside from an engaging mystery featuring appearances from all your favourite Bat-villains, TLH also details the fall of Harvey Dent and his transformation into Two-Face, one of the most interesting of Batman's rogue's gallery. An expert blend of classic Hollywood film noirs and traditional Batman detective work, this is actually a sequel of sorts to another Batman storyline. I wonder which one...?



 Batman: Year One

While it may be sacrilegious not to include Frank Miller's seminal graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns in a 'Best Batman stories' list... it's what I've gone and done! As previously stated, while TDKR is undoubtedly an impressive piece of work, an ultra-violent, tank-driving version of the Caped Crusader is just not my preferred idea of the character. Conversely, the quality of Miller's follow-up Batman: Year One, which details how the Batman came to be, is much harder to argue with. In a Gotham corrupt to its core, Year One follows its two true heroes, the fledgling Batman and rising cop James Gordon, as they attempt to clear up their beloved city, eventually coming together in an alliance. Year One is a perfect summation of what makes Batman so enticing a character; due to his terrible past, Bruce Wayne gives his life to guarding over the people of Gotham City. It's not just an act of pure vengeance but a dedication to a bigger purpose. Unlike many of his comic counterparts, Batman shows you don't need to be super to be a hero.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

C for Comic Creatures



Hello there, my dears.

It's your favourite homicidal harlequin here - don't worry you're faithful blogger will be returned to you shortly. Once he's stopped dangling over a tank of my special laughing fish. He's always hanging around, but he'd better be careful - or he'll end up in deep water.

Under my jurisdiction, this blog will have a little makeover for one month only - out with the Scribbles, in with the comic - and will be dedicated to the THWACKing, POWing and OOFing world of comic books. 'But why now, Clown Prince of Crime,' I hear you cry. Well, it's obvious, isn't it - April begins with April's Fools Day, a day known for its comical pranks. Comics... comic books. Geddit? No? Hey, I'm not the Riddler...

You'll be treated to posts on a cavalcade of comic creations - and, first up, its my beloved Bats. But before  I go, how about a joke? 

'Doctor! Doctor! I feel so flat and two-dimensional. And wherever I go it's like I'm trapped in a box.'

'Well, that's very easy to diagnose,' says the very pale doctor with a big ol' grin on his face. 'You're in a comic book!'

Keep smilin', darlings,

The Man Who Laughs. 

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Doctor Who: Step Back in Time - Series One

With Doctor Who's eighth series starring Peter Capaldi's brand-new incarnation of the Doctor in a few short months, it's time to start a retrospective look at the Doctor Who of years gone by. First up, it's 2005 and the show has been off the air for 16 years. Until one Saturday teatime nine years ago yesterday, Doctor Who returned, triumphant. The rest is history... and the future and occasionally the present.


Starring: Christopher Eccleston (the Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), John Barrowman (Captain Jack), Noel Clarke (Mickey Smith) and Camille Coduri (Jackie Tyler). 
Produced by: Phil Collinson
Executive Produced by: Russell T Davies, Julie Gardener and Mal Young


Best Episodes


Rose by Russell T Davies
The episode that relaunched Doctor Who for the 21st century serves as a tremendous introduction to all the elements that define the Davies era; the root in the contemporary world, the Doctor's brooding nature and the companion at the heart of the story. A rollocking adventure that promises a whole lot more to come...

Father's Day by Paul Cornell
Although more gung-ho adventures such as 'Dalek' usually get all the attention, 'Father's Day' is an equally terrific episode, and perhaps the first that shows that the Doctor Who of 2000s is built around its characters. If you like your timey-wimey monster mayhem tinged with touching human drama, this is the Who for you.  

The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances by Steven Moffat
No list of the best of Series One would be complete without this wondrous two-parter. Moffat really shows us what he's made of here with his customary mix of humour, scares and cleverness being sharper than ever. Starring the creepiest 'monster' in years, 'The Empty Child' proved that Doctor Who still had fangs...


TARDIS Team


From the opening credits of 'Rose' we know that the traditional dynamic of Doctor Who has changed. No longer will the companion, though the original run produced many bright and shining ones, be reduced to needing the Doctor to save them or handily asking all the right questions. This show was all about the Doctor and Rose Tyler, his latest time-travelling companion. Though don't tell her there's been others.
Steven Moffat has gone on record saying that the first two series of the revived show 'belonged' to Billie Piper and in many ways it's hard to argue. Though the tortured yet barnstorming Ninth Doctor is undoubtedly our hero (and as much as I love his fellow Time Lords, Christopher Eccleston offers perhaps the most robust performance of any Doctor) Rose is our eyes and ears. We learn about the Doctor as she does. Who he is, his mysterious, war torn past and, by the end, his little 'trick for cheating death'...
Throughout the series, the Doctor and Rose are also joined on their travels by Adam Mitchell, the companion who was kicked out the TARDIS after one episode, and the whole lot more loveable Captain Jack Harkness who has, of course, since gone on to helm his own spin-off series in Torchwood. Mention must also be given to Rose's mother, Jackie, and her ex-boyfriend, Mickey, who serve to anchor the show to the real world. Though one would get his turn in the TARDIS eventually...


Story arc


Doctor Who had properly materialised in the 21st century with this innovation for the series itself but beloved motif of every other contemporary television show; the story arc. The linking narrative of Series One is slight on the ground but rightly so as something more direct would have detracted from the easing-in to the world of Doctor Who that the series aimed for. The message of 'Bad Wolf' littered through space and time is a neat device and one which is still referenced in the show now, think last November's 'The Day of the Doctor.' Paradoxes have since become a fixture of Doctor Who, particularly in Moffat stories, but the 'Bad Wolf' meme (created by a god-like Rose only after seeing the phrase already) proved that the show was fresher and more imaginative than ever. Doctor Who was back. But it wasn't staying still.
Did someone say 'Barcelona'?


 Next month: Series Two... New Doctor, that's weird.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Monthly Scribbles: A Study in Danny Pink And Other Stories


Well, that's another month gone by. As the shortest month of the year, February we hardly knew you. But before it sinks into the murky backwaters of our memories to be replaced by the bouncing baby March (yes, I know it's nearly a week old, sssh!), let's take a look at the things that shook the world this past month. And for 'shook the world' read 'relevant to me.'


New Doctor Who companion unveiled

In the Whoniverse, February brought the news that the Twelfth Doctor and Clara will be joined in Series Eight of the show by Danny Pink, played by Samuel Anderson. Danny (whose name is strangely reminiscent of Marc Warren's Hustle character, Danny Blue) will be a fellow teacher at Coal Hill School alongside Clara who was seen working at the school, which first appeared in Doctor Who's pilot episode 'An Unearthly Child', in November's The Day of the Doctor. While it waits to be seen what sort of character Danny will be - another love interest in the vein of past male companions Mickey and Rory? - it's a clever move by Moffat to mirror the Doctor's original two companions, Ian and Barbara, who both worked at Coal Hill. All we need now is the Doctor's granddaughter to join them in the TARDIS and the original TARDIS team will be recreated. Now if only a close relation of the Doctor's was still around to come back in the show, then we'd have a real 'generated anomaly'...




Writing Across the Web

For those loyal Scribble fans who eagerly await new material from this site (hello Mum), I apologise for the sparse number of posts over the last month but I've had my fingers in so many pies I didn't have any free to write blog posts with.
February saw me undertake numerous online endeavours including three articles for Whatculture. Fancy reading about Sherlock Holmes' ten weirdest adaptations? Or if you've got a hankering for a headache, why not spend some timey-wimey reading over the greatest time-travel orientated episodes of Doctor Who, either written by Steven Moffat or from the other talented timey-wimey writers to grace the show. If you are in the mood for some fiction, a flash fiction of mine, concerning the social media addiction of a super-villain, can be read over on The Flashnificents. Oh, and I almost forgot, I've also started writing for Hypable, and you can read a couple of news pieces I wrote up for them here. Phew.

Mini-Reviews

Shada

Based on the famed (at least in Doctor Who circles) untelevised story, modern Who scribe Gareth Roberts (whose episodes include 'The Lodger' and 'The Shakespeare Code') takes the baton from Douglas Adams in this fun romp - and I mean that in the best possible way - that merges the Adamsian Who of the late seventies with modern sensibilities.
Shada sees the Fourth Doctor and Romana in Cambridge to visit the Doctor's absent-minded old friend, Professor Chronotis. However, with the ruthless alien Skagra also in the area, it becomes a race to stop the most dangerous book in the universe from ever being read...
The book (that is the novel, not the dangerous universe-destroying one) is a delight, with Roberts treading exactly the right line between affectionate nods to Adams' style yet understanding not to attempt to write like him. While some of it may be familiar if you're a fan of Adams' work (after the TV story was abandoned, Adams used many plot details in his Dirk Gently
novel), Shada is a treat for any Who fan or anyone who enjoys humorous science fiction.


Jonathan Creek: 'The Letters of Septimus Noone'

Last Friday night, the first full series in ten years of the Alan Davies-starring detective series, Jonathan Creek, began. I was once quite the fan of the show, with its impossible crimes and dedication to Holmesian logic. However, since Sherlock I'm afraid it's rather been knocked from the top spot of 'Cleverest Detective Show on TV.' Nevertheless, I was hopeful that the show could still deliver.
Sadly, this first episode left me a bit underwhelmed. An unorthodox 'mystery' (I.e. as an audience, we are shown the stages of the murder rather than being asked to work them out) meant that there was little of the customary guessing-game that one likes to play with shows like this. As well narratively, the set-up of the show has changed as instead of being an eccentric bachelor in his wind mill, Jonathan is now retired from sleuthing and living in a country house - with a wife! As Polly, Sarah Alexander is a solid successor to Sheridan Smith's sidekick and, although it seems a tad too cosy, could make for an interesting development across the series. On the basis of this episode, while Jonathan is still a competent show and deserves this new series, it is not without its creaks.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Favourite Fictional Characters: On Valentine's Day

To celebrate Valentine's Day, I thought I'll treat you to some poetry. Prepare, readers, for some romantic verse, inspired by an unlikely bunch of poets...


The Eleventh Doctor: 

Fezzes are red
My TARDIS is blue
Bow ties are cool
Just like you

 Sherlock: 

Roses are red
Violets are blue
The statistical chances of you finding someone with whom you can tolerate a lifetime are incredibly low, meaning you should probably spend your time on something more constructive than a feeble attempt at attracting a short-term romantic partner.

 Homer Simpson: 

Roses are red
Like the floor stains at Moe's 
I will spend time with Marge
Tomorrow on Valentine's - d'oh!

Batman:


Roses are red
Violets are blue
Poison Ivy is green
The Joker's hair is too





The Tenth Doctor:

Rose's jacket was red
...
Oh, God, Rose!
*Buries head in hands, sobbing*






Have a happy Valentine's Day, folks.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Monthly Scribbles: The Adventure of the Three Sherlocks and Capaldi's Coat


Welcome to a new series of posts on my blog: Monthly Scribbles! If that positively prosaic title was not clear enough for you, starting from this month I will write a round-up of, in Charlie Brooker's words, things that have been happening. Things like news bits and pieces and mini-reviews of things I've consumed within the month. Things like this:


Sherlock Series Three

Right at the beginning of January - if you can remember that far back - the stupendous Sherlock returned to our screens for a new run of three movie-sized adventures. Hyped for the two years since it's last series more than any other television show, it was feared that the result would not have been worth the wait. In the end, Series Three seems to have divided people far more so than the previous two, with many not being won over by its emphasis on character and humour as opposed to mysteries. Myself, while it did not quite reach the heights of the second series, Series Three was a fantastic run of television, with the definite highlight being 'His Last Vow' which saw the show at its most exciting, daring best. You can read my reviews of the episodes here or have a look at my favourite moments of the series over on Whatculture.

There was much talk about Series Four (which, as well as Series Five, Moffat and Gatiss apparently have all planned out) being broadcast at Christmas time but co-creator Steven Moffat has since said that seems rather unlikely. Personally, I don't mind waiting a while as long as the show is as good as it can be. Plus, this will be back in a few months...


The Clothes of the Doctor!

Doctor Who fans everywhere went wild the other day when Twelfth Doctor Peter Capaldi's costume materialised in our dimension. Capaldi said on the costume: 'No frills, no scarf, no messing. Just 100% rebel Time Lord!'
There's a lot of fun to be had picking out the various inspirations from different Doctors. The lack of tie evokes Eccleston's laid-back style, the cardigan under the coat is similar to the Doctor's previous penchant for waistcoats (see Numbers Four, Six, Eighth and Eleven) while the coat itself has more than a whiff of the stylings of Pertwee, thanks to the red lining.

At this stage, though he does look dapper, I've yet to think of Capaldi as the Doctor but that'll surely change soon as filming of Series Eight is already under way. Not much has been revealed yet - plus I'm actively avoiding spoilers - but we do know that the first episode will return to the familiar Victorian setting of recent years as the new Doctor and Clara team-up once again with the Paternoster Gang. Take a look at some spoiler-free snaps below:



Doctor Who Series Eight is expected to air in either August or September. What to do until then? Well, there's always old stuff to read and watch...



The Simpsons (Season Three)

In the wake of great new TV, I thought I'd re-watch a classic. I'm less familiar with The Simpsons' first few series, preferring the middle years of the 90s, but I'm thoroughly enjoying this season. Despite being three years in, the show was still finding its feet, with several characters not having developed their own personalities yet - for instance the endearingly dumb Ralph is often portrayed as an ordinary child - however, many episodes are real gems. 'Flaming Moe's' provides the groundwork for Moe, an up-to-then unimportant side character, while 'Lisa's Pony' must surely be one of the series' funniest ever episodes. As well as humour, the series also has that strong heart present in the show in the 90s which was sadly slowly replaced with cartoonish antics. Even now, The Simpsons isn't a bad way to spend half an hour but its good to look at its past to remember how good it once was.

The Sandman: Dream Country

For the last few months, I've been gradually working my way through Neil Gaiman's Sandman comics, the stories that made him famous. Focussing on the Sandman, Morpheus, the maker of dreams, it encompasses a vast range of myths and legends and literature and history all weaved together with Gaiman's consummate panache.
While I enjoyed the first two volumes - Preludes and Nocturnes and The Doll's House - they struck me as the work of a young writer still feeling his way around (boy, do I know that feeling). However, with the four separate stories in this third volume, Gaiman seems on much surer footing. The rightly-lauded 'Midsummer Night's Dream', which sees Shakespeare give the first performance of his play to an audience of the real Titania and Oberon and their fairies, is a triumph of comic storytelling while 'A Dream of a Thousand Cats' is a surprising and quirky tale of the true story of felinekind. If it is not to bold a claim, I think it's the defining story about cats ever written. Purrrfect, you might say, if you were a 1960s Catwoman.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Review: Sherlock - His Last Vow



'Sherlock Holmes has made one enormous mistake which will destroy the lives of everyone he loves and everything he holds dear.'

After two lighter-hearted episodes, the game was back on for the series three finale, 'His Last Vow', which turned out to be one of the strongest instalments the series has seen - and it's up against some stiff competition!

Set up perfectly by the deepened characterisation of the first two episodes of this series, ‘His Last Vow’ accepts that we care for the all the characters and hurtles us into an adventures with more twists and turns then Sherlock’s mind palace (I imagine, I haven’t actually been). Sherlock's ability to take its audience by the scruff of the neck has always been impressive but here, Moffat has complete mastery over us, countermanding every expectation we have about what's coming next with a stonking great twist that's seemingly come out of nowhere but which was actually, as is one of his favourite phrases, hidden in plain sight.

Amongst the high-drama, there is also the customary laughs - particular highlights being, as always, the Holmes boys sparring at at their parents' house on Christmas Day ('Are you two smoking?' 'It was Mycroft!') and also Sherlock's surprise venture into the human world of relationships. However, remember rule one about this episode: nothing is as it appears...

While also serving up the thrills and the rib-ticklers, this episode also finds time for character notes on all three mains. Mary’s character is significantly deepened in ways that than no one had foreseen and there is some wonderful material for John, who gets to do everything from showing his tough side by surgically beating up a drug addict to dealing with a terrible truth, very close to home. As it called Sherlock, there is also considerable work done on the detective himself. In the fabulous scene in Sherlock's mind palace – featuring a gloriously insane Moriarty, chained up in a rubber cell – we get the revelation of Redbeard (with echoes of Citizen Kane) going some way to uncover why Sherlock is the way he is (incidentally, the young Sherlock seen throughout the episode is played by Steven Moffat's own son, Joshua). 


Intriguingly, there seems to be a reinvigorated sense of patriotism to the character that hasn’t been seen before. The Sherlock of Series One and Two, who turned down a knighthood and went to Buckingham Palace naked is now England's Greatest Hero. Hero, being the operative word. Just as Conan Doyle also understood, Moffat and Gatiss knew that their Sherlock could not stand still and had to develop as a character. Despite what he says, the three series of the show so far are really about the journey of a high-functioning sociopath growing into a hero.

And this review could not finish without a word to Lars Mikkelsen, pitch perfect as the detestable Charles Augustus Magnussen. While Moriarty was, as he put it, ‘a good old-fashioned villain’, Magnussen really is a nemesis for the modern age. A newspaper magnate with a hold over the western world, he is an absolutely chilling concept and an even better villain, every inch the ‘dead-eyed shark’ and thoroughly deserving of the vitriolic disgust Sherlock shows him. It is such a shame we won't see him again - although, who knows in the Sherlock world... 

Totally thrilling and unabashedly unpredictable, 'His Last Vow' was triumphant television, providing everything you could ask for from the show. Including the shocking reappearance of someone we all wanted to see again...

Sherlock, we will miss you.


Five Favourite Sherlockian References: 

  • Billy Wiggins, the drug addict that Sherlock takes under his wing, is a conflagration of two characters from the canon. The most obvious is Wiggins, the lead boy of the so-called Baker Street Irregulars (otherwise updated as Sherlock's homeless network). However, his first name is presumably a nod to Billy, 221B's page boy who helps out Mrs Hudson. Originally created for William Gillette's hit stage play,  he was consequently written by Conan Doyle into the later Holmes stories.
  • One of the first shocks we get in this episode is the revelation that Sherlock has a girlfriend! The fact that this is in all an act to get into Magnussen's office is lifted straight from the novel, where upon Holmes proposes to Milverton's maid for the same reason. Interestingly, the woman, Janine, moves to a Sussex cottage, which is home to a few beehives. In the story 'His Last Bow', Holmes retires to keep bees on the Sussex Downs. Maybe we haven't heard the last of her yet...
  • While the twist of Mary's true identity is completely Moffat's own creation, the memory stick containing information about her real life, scrawled with her actual initials, is a sly reference to the canon. In Mary's introductory story, 'The Sign of the Four', she recruits to Sherlock to investigate the disappearance of the Agra treasure. 
  • At one point, Mycroft casually hints at the fate of 'the other one', presumably referring to another Holmes brother. This is likely drawn from the Sherlockian notion that Sherlock and Mycroft have an even elder, and cleverer sibling, Sherrinford Holmes. Whether this tantalising remark is going to be drawn on remains to be seen.
  • The 'east wind' that Mycroft used to taunt the young Sherlock with is a clever inclusion of the famous patriotic closing speech of the original 'His Last Bow', published during the First World War: 'There is an east wind coming all the same, such a wind as never blew on England yet.... A cleaner, better, stronger land will lie in the sunshine when the storm has cleared...' 
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