Torchwood #1 (Titan Comics)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 3 August 2016 - Reviewed by Thomas Buxton
Torchwood #1 - Cover A: Tommy Lee Edwards (Credit: Titan)
Script: John Barrowman & Carole Barrowman
Art: Antonio Fusio & Pasquale Qualano
Colours: Marco Kusko
Letterer: Richard Starkings & Comicraft's Jimmy Betancourt
Senior Editor: Andrew James
Assistant Editors: Jessica Burton & Amoona Saohin
Designers: Andrew Leung & Rob Farmer
Released by Titan Comics - August 3rd, 2016 

Few could ever accuse Titan Comics of lacking in ambition when it comes to their range of licensed comics set in the Doctor Who universe, especially since until now, that range had comprised of no less than four regular comic strips – featuring the Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors on a monthly basis – as well as three mini-series bringing classic Doctors such as Tom Baker and Paul McGann’s into the fray. Yet on the basis of its astoundingly dense, plot thread-laden opening issue, the publishing house’s launch of a strip continuing the escapades of Captain Jack Harkness, Gwen Cooper and the rest of the Torchwood gang already looks set to represent perhaps their boldest venture yet, one which will surely pay immense dividends in the near future so long as everyone involved keeps their eye on the ball.

Thankfully, the odds of this latest regular series’ writing team losing their way are utterly astronomical, not least as Titan have oh-so-wisely drafted in both Captain Jack Harkness himself, John Barrowman, as well as his sister Carole to take the permanent helm of what they’re bravely branding as the spiritual Season Five of the original TV show. As anyone who read the pair’s 2012 post-Miracle Day novel Exodus Code will know – and speaking of which, those who haven’t could do worse than to pick up a copy, since Issue 1 takes place after the events of that particular storyline and incorporates a few secondary characters from the text too – the siblings Barrowman have a fine handle on what made Torchwood tick on-screen. Whether it’s the endearing dynamics formed between the central team members, the world-threatening but morally ambiguous conflicts thrown at them every week or the underlying efforts by the likes of Chris Chibnall to develop plot arcs beneath the show’s usual procedural narratives, the pair show a promising dedication to keeping such elements alive here, thereby validating the strip’s status as a fully-fledged continuation from the outset.

At the same time, though, as they depict Jack, Gwen and Exodus Code’s Ice Maiden frigate crew beginning to realize that the Earth’s once again about to come under threat from antagonists both extra-terrestrial and worryingly closer to home, the helms can sometimes let their imaginations run almost too wild, to the extent that they end up juggling so many plot elements – including an elderly man spending the final days of his life in a familiarly-named Scottish house, the Iron Maiden’s membership tackling adversarial tentacle-clad creatures in the Otega system and Gwen’s beachside picnic with Rhys getting interrupted by one of the most bizarre invasion fleets in Torchwood’s history – that few readers could be blamed for losing track of what’s occurring from time to time. It’s by no means a crippling issue, particularly as Exodus Code more than confirmed the pair’s capability with regards to allowing seemingly disparate threads of their storyline to coalesce by the time of their narrative’s denouement, yet John and Carole could do worse than to follow a few less plot strands at one time as they begin drafting future issues and story arcs.

That issue of overcrowding extends somewhat to their characterisation as well, with the well-staffed crew of the Iron Maiden – as well as the aforementioned residents of Torchwood House – beefing up the show’s classic ensemble in the absence of the late Owen, Toshiko or Ianto, but at the same time consequently giving off the impression that they’re competing with the series’ returning favourites for ‘screen time’, a crease the writing team must iron out if they’re to develop these Exodus Code returnees in particular as the series progresses. With all of that being said, no-one could possibly accuse John or Carole as struggling to resurrect beloved protagonists like Jack, Gwen and Rhys in printed form – again, as demonstrated in their earlier novelised work, they know better than anyone how vital the rapport of this long-suffering trio of underrated heroes was to the TV drama’s original success, even during the divisive 10-week spanning Miracle Day, as well as how each of them functions, with Jack displaying all of the swashbuckling swagger that John did on-screen, Gwen still capable of standing up to the very fiercest opportunities in an identical vein to the manner in which Eve Myles portrayed her and Kai Owen’s Rhys still as lovably hapless – yet unquestionably loyal – as ever. Indeed, a long running theme of this reviewer’s critiques of Titan’s Doctor Who-centric output has been the strength of the individual writing team’s depiction of each series’ central protagonists, and suffice to say that this USP hasn’t been diminished by the Barrowmans in the slightest in this instance.

Yet if John and Carole take an admirably dedicated approach to portraying the former’s team of undercover agents as authentically as possible here, then the series’ resident artists – Antonio Fusio and Pasquale Qualano as well as resident colourist Marco Lusko – opt for a far more stylised range of accompanying images, preferring to revel in the sheer fantastical lunacy of their scribes’ globe-trotting, alien-encountering set-pieces while rendering many of the locales visited here in bright, bombastic hues that offer up a clear sense of the strip channelling much of the uplifting hope – even in the face of darkest odds – and awe-inspiring wonder at the unknown that made the TV show itself such a joy to watch in the latter stages of the noughties, in spite of all of its minor quirks. Anyone who’s familiar with the similarly eclectic artwork found in Titan’s regular Tenth Doctor comics should have a fair idea of what’s coming their way here, and whilst that far from photorealistic style of drawing won’t necessarily be to everyone’s taste, for the most part it works wonders in terms of bolstering this narratively accomplished freshman instalment.

In fact, aside from the rather off-key note on which Issue 1 leaves its narrative – expect a bonkers cliffhanger to be sure, but not one which succeeds in leaving the audience desperate to learn what happens next in three weeks’ time – only one real point of contention comes to mind here, and in fairness, the sticking point in question has mainly come about due to the marketing campaign more than anything else. When they first announced their Torchwood series, Titan claimed that John and Carole’s storylines would reside in the same continuity as Big Finish’s currently booming wave of audios exploring the titular organization’s past, present and future. Yet considering that the aforementioned series of radio dramas has already revealed the events succeeding Miracle Day to involve the remaining Torchwood members’ hunt for the sinister Committee, the decision here to make no mention whatsoever of either these ambiguous antagonists or to establish when the events of Exodus Code – so far unreferenced by Big Finish – took place in relation to audio dramas like Forgotten Lives or Made You Look – can’t help but seem downright baffling. Most readers won’t give a damn about such trivial matters, of course, but anyone like this reviewer who’s followed both of Torchwood’s recent audio seasons and looked forward to seeing the Committee arc continued – or at least get a mention – while we wait for news on Big Finish’s Season Three might well leave Issue 1 slightly underwhelmed.

That’s but a minor, somewhat nit-picky gripe, though, and one which doesn’t detract from the otherwise well-rounded success of Torchwood Issue 1 in bringing back a hit TV spin-off show’s storylines, its charismatic ensemble of lead characters, its quirky humour and its inspired aesthetic elements in full force. Purist fans who’ve followed every non-televised plotline featuring Cardiff’s most intrepid band of detectives might have wanted John and Carole to at least pay their respects rather than outright ignoring what’s come before in printed and audio form, yet it’s near impossible to pay such insignificant grievances much real heed when the fruits of the pair and their art team’s labours taste so gosh darned delicious so far. John may well be in the process of negotiating the show’s on-screen resurrection with the BBC, but even if those discussions don’t pan out favourably, judging by Big Finish’s stellar recent output and this memorable first issue from Titan, the brand will only continue to thrive regardless for the remainder of its triumphant tenth anniversary year.