There’s a trick to good plotting. You should, if you do it just right, give just enough clues to the tuned-in audience, to allow them to get jussssst a little ahead of your reveal. One of the greatest things about Earthshock, Episode 1, was that it did that – you worked out who the Big Bads were just moments before they were first shown on screen, and then you went a bit nuts for the next week running around going “Oh my god, they’re back! AND I worked it out before they appeared. Yes, yes, yes, yes, I am SuperFan!”
Ahem – just me, then?
The same was true to some extent in Utopia – the clues were there, and if you picked up on them, then right before it became obvious to even the moderately clued-in fan, you knew they’d gone and done it.
It happened again with Dark Water – all the speculation over who Missy was added up just before she spilled her bananas beans.
That’s the territory we’re in here, with Spiral Staircase, Part 2. And yes, it’s that big a Big Bad.
It’s on Page 6 that everybody finally gets what’s going on. Panel 3. But there’s a declaration in Panel 2, and if you haven’t got it already, Superfans (it was cooler than you think – there were capes and everything) will get it there.
From there on in, you know what you’re dealing with. Not, by any stretch who you’re dealing with – that’s the reveal saved for the final panel cliff-hanger – but what you’re dealing with, absolutely.
But before we get there, we have to give credit to Rachael Stott and Leonardo Romero on artwork duties this time out. For those just tuning in, there’s a big black flat triangular obelisk in the skies above New York, like the darkest chunk of Toblerone in history. As it begins to bark out its orders to the ‘primates of Earth,’ Stott and Romero borrow a trick from the TV show, and give us reactions from various viewpoints, all looking at the same thing. Page 4 is one great page full of reaction shots, with a background of what it is they’re reacting to – cops, newscasters, and several key people in the story, all looking up at the speaking slab of darkness in the sky. If you tried to do this on TV, it would look confused, and you’d miss things. Sometimes on screen, even the linear progression of reaction shots looks rushed and overplayed. But Stott and Romero take advantage of the whole-page format of comic-books to really deliver a reaction shot that really gives the sense of scale we’re dealing with here.
Once we know what we’re doing, is the excitement blown?
No more than it was in Power of the Daleks, Day of the Daleks, Death To The Daleks and so on. Knowing what you’re up against, if you’re up against something cool and deadly – as we are here – just allows the writer to ramp up the tension, throw us curve-balls, develop character and take us to unusual, unexpected places, both geographically and dramatically, en route to the inevitable, tingling cliff-hanger. Nick Abadzis is good at this sort of thing, and here he takes the time to really develop the characters of both regular Tardis-traveller Gabby Gonzalez, and more especially her bestie, Cindy Wu, who here comes into her own, tackling the Doctor to the ground when necessary, and providing the hip, flip likeably sarcastic guide to what’s going on, while also revealing what she thinks about her friend, and what she’ll do to anyone who hurts her – it’s enough to almost make us want her to go traveling with the Tenth Doctor herself. Gabby, meanwhile, is handholding the person everyone wants a piece of – faded, but now markedly reinvigorated movie star Dorothy Bell, who’s bonded with a piece of alien kit that the Giant Toblerone In The Sky is looking for. It’s a solid representation of the other side of the companion coin, the caring side that tries to make sure as few people are hurt or frightened as possible, and it’s enough to make us remember what it is the Doctor sees in this daughter of New York that makes her worthy of all of time and space.
There’s conflict and drama, space phenomena to put the Medusa Cascade to shame, the Janitor of the Gods, some great colourful art that shows us a key piece of historical information, and the Doctor, mouth as ever set to 90 words per minute, being massively disrespectful to just about all and sundry before the denouement of this issue, and even though you know what it’ll be, there’s enough entertaining hoop-jumping on the way to make the reveal when it comes something of an ‘Oooooh!’ moment.
The joy about that is that while it’s not exactly a returning villain, it is the product of a very rich backstory that’s been touched on recently in other areas of the Who universe, and which clearly still has much to give. And while the cliff-hanger here is not as gasp-worthy as some of those seen earlier in the Tenth Doctor’s comic-book run, it’s one to make you run around for a bit, pondering all the potential it holds for story development going forward.
Get issue #14 and you can be assured of artistic richness, sumptuous character development, a fun, quirky take on the ride with Cindy, and a new iteration of an old, highly exciting villain. What’s not to love?
You know what separates really great geek entertainment from all other entertainment?
It’s the thrill, and it’s the ache.
The thrill when a new episode or issue comes out – the brightness and brilliance of that day, because your new episode’s on, or your new issue’s in stock, available for pickup or download, and there to be relished and pored over, enjoyed however you like – whether you’re a guzzler, eyeballs glued to everything and gorging through every page, or sipping so it lasts longer, page by page or minute by minute, reveling in all the details, the in-gags, the art or the philosophical stance of the people you trust to give you what you need.
And then the ache, because it’s over for another however-long – another week, another month, another x-amount-of-time before the thrill begins again. Geeks were the creators of concepts like box-set binging. Geeks understand the thrill and the ache.
Geeks love Death Sentence.
Death Sentence is that kind of entertainment – just as your favourite show is never ‘just on’ but you wait for it all week, think about it, talk about it, share ideas about what might be in it, then enjoy it, then talk about it endlessly until the thrill for the following episode begins, so Death Sentence never just releases an issue. It’s the kind of comic-book that you wait for with nothing even remotely approaching patience, that you revel in when it arrives, and that you want to go door-to-door with afterwards, asking your neighbours if they’ve considered letting MontyNero into their lives, because it might just make them better people.
Death Sentence London, three issues in, is taking the time to behave like the real world. Whereas the first Death Sentence series was pre- and right-freakin’-now- Apocalyptic, dealing with the idea of G+ – the sexual plague that hides inside you till you have six months to live, then turns your system all the way up to 11 – and in particular the idea of Super-Gs, who are granted remarkable powers by the virus, Death Sentence London is distinctly post-Apocalyptic – people have died in their millions, and the world, and London in particular, needs to find out how it gets back on its feet after that, and how it goes on to deal with the G+ and Super-G threats. In the middle of that, while plot-strands are certainly developing – Jeb Mulgrew, FBI agent, is preparing to go on a mission to infiltrate the island where the UK Government has a G+ research and containment facility, while getting so divorced by his wife he may be known as Jeb The Eunuch on future missions; London Mayor Tony Bronson is clamping down on organized and disorganized gatherings, and wants to stop sex between unmarried people (partly as a way to stop the spread of G+ and partly because some people are just born to be religious assholes who want to outlaw fun); there’s a rather more organized resistance movement on the streets, using a famous comic-book character as an avatar of dissent, and so on – while all that is going on and advancing issue by issue, Issues 2 and 3 have consciously turned down the pace of mayhem, to deal with characters. Last time, we spent the majority of the issue with Weasel, one of our two Super-G ‘heroes,’ who lost his son during the cataclysm of the first Death Sentence, and has spent the time since those events mourning in every which way he knows how. Here in Issue #3, we’re with Verity Fette for the majority of the time. Verity Fette, ‘Art Girl,’ who can now create pictures with the power of her mind and who also has an on-again, off-again relationship with visibility.
Neither of these are your typical comic-book heroes. Weasel’s a dick, almost guaranteed to fuck up everything good in his life, and Verity…
Verity’s a wounded heart and a brain that’s thinking clearer every day, but about which she can do nothing. In this issue, we go back with her, through the cyclic pattern of her relationships, examining why none of them ‘worked’ in any kind of long-term way. People are quite welcome to tell her why they dumped her, ranging from her flirting with everyone, to her scoping the room over their shoulder, to her potentially self-indulgent, self-revolving artistic nature, to the wilder sexual side she displayed, which men ‘don’t settle down and bake souffles with,’ because to be fair, many, many men are hypocritical cockwombles.
Did I mention – Verity calls a cockwomble a cockwomble. We love her for that here at WarpedFactor. But of the two of our Super-Gs, Verity is naturally drawn to appeal to us more – apart from her ready way with a cockwomble, she’s the especially articulate one, able to bring art and life and death and viruses and humanity and, as she puts it in this issue, ‘the whole sick joke,’ while still being able to put a smile on our lips with lines like ‘What is this constant need for approval? Am I fundamentally weak? Or am I just missing Twitter?’
The point is that Verity is the character that carries the intellectual oomph of Death Sentence with her, while acknowledging that her emotional past has been a minefield of disasters for one reason or another (and that possibly, just possibly, she’s selected specific ways of exploding every single connection she’s had), and also admitting that while her brain is increasingly clear, there’s precisely nothing she can do about her continuing base desires – which leads her back to her old haunts to sit, as she puts it, ‘with smouldering knickers in Southwark,’ while waxing philosophical about all the things that matter, and why, unless we’re very emotionally smart and switched on, there’s every chance we’ll miss them. As comic-book characters go, Verity’s something a bit special.
Verity, as it turns out, is also extremely special in one other crucial respect which draws the threads of the issue screaming together and ends on a cliff-hanger that’ll make you draw in a sharp breath and shout the word ‘Cockwomble!’ rather more than you’ve ever felt the need to do before.
Annnnnnd so the ache begins again.
Go get yourself some thrill right now, in the handy form of Death Sentence London #3.
The Bond series is always supposed to be ‘modern’ in that it’s supposed to keep pace with the times and threats of its particular era, and deliver technology that is, perhaps, just a little ahead of those times. But if we’re looking at ‘modern Bond’ in 2015, before the arrival of Spectre, then Goldeneye represents the beginning of our era. Not a bad achievement when you consider it’s actually 20 years old, being released in 1995.
It had been six years since Timothy Dalton’s last Bond film, and the world had been turned upside-down in the meantime. The 80s were an era of phenomenal change, but it was the 90s that really began to see the effects of those changes – the Berlin Wall had fallen between the end of Dalton’s era and the making of Goldeneye. All change was the order of the day – Goldeneye brought not only a new Bond, but a new M, and a female one at that, Judi Dench taking the top job, as well as a new Moneypenny, Samantha Bond.
The end of the Cold War allowed for a looser backdrop – experience for hire, rather than dogmatic obedience – and it also allowed a shift in focus to perhaps a more realistic, less idealised view of the Secret Service as an organisation that got things wrong, that had consequences – and that sometimes would have to clean up the bodies and the mess of its malfunctions.
Stepping in to the tuxedo of death was suave Irish actor Pierce Brosnan, who had been in the frame for years to pick up the Walther, but who, on his closest previous brush with Bond, had been tied into contracts on TV’s fiction-within-a-fiction detective show, Remington Steele.
There are loose theories that Bonds are divisible by type – there are the harder, more intense Bonds (Connery, Dalton, Craig), and the smoother, more wisecracking ones (Lazenby, Moore – and Brosnan). That’s the alchemy at play in Goldeneye – the story is ultimately about an MI6 mistake, and the way the organisation has to be able to coldly move on with its business, while those with licenses to kill also have obligations to die. But against such intense, grim fare, you put a smoother, more smiling Bond in the middle to deflect and charm the audience.
If you want further proof that Goldeneye is the beginning of our modern era of Bonds, you could do worse than compare its skeleton with that of the latest Bond movie, Skyfall – both movies seem to be about shady villains, but are actually about former MI6 operatives gone spectacularly rogue. Both movies bring info-war and the power of computer aggression to the fore too, giving a distinctly similar feeling – betrayed ‘sons’ of the Service, using computing power to wreak havoc and pull off the ultimate crime.
It’s not all new of course – as once there was Pussy Galore, so Goldeneye brings us Xenia Onatopp, a villainess with a disconcerting sado-masochistic streak who kills men by crushing them between her thighs of steel. Jane Fonda, eat your heart out. And of course, it wouldn’t be Bond without a couple of staggering, outrageous set-pieces – the pre-credits bungee jump is positively quease-making, and the tank chase scene is sheer, wonderful, what-can-we-do-now camp bliss, most especially when Bond drives through a statue, and carries its figure, perfectly balanced for several blocks, including a couple of sharp turns. Delicious. Nonsensical in the extreme, but delicious.
Equally delicious is the inclusion of Sean Bean, towards the start of what is now his notorious career of not making it to the end of movies, as Alec Trevelyan, 006 – a kind of Moriarty to the Holmes of this new Bond. Bean and Brosnan are well matched – hard-edged, but quipping, Bean essentially giving us his Bond (because clearly, there could never be a blond Bond… erm…), but showing in three dimensions the dichotomy of Bond that’s highlighted by M when she calls him a Cold War dinosaur. Where Bond essentially belongs to an older generation (the generation that originally spawned him – Ian Fleming’s generation), Bean’s Trevelyan is able to point out his inconsistencies, his weaknesses and the contradictions of his personal recklessness and borderline sociopathy with his ‘Queen and Country’ Boy Scout motivation, and to expose those values we think of as being archetypally Bond as potentially quite outdated in the real world of the 90s. Not for nothing, but it’s another way in which Goldeneye provides the blueprint for Skyfall, this equal and opposite Devil’s advocate, pointing out the uncomfortable truth.
The central MacGuffin, the Goldeneye, is basically your traditional supervillain devastation-from-the-sky uberweapon, and the plot is actually a vengeance-against-London/let’s-get-incredibly-rich/financial-meltdown triple whammy, but there’s a certain Thunderbirds joy about it all as the film dispenses with all the Russian shenanigans and gets down to the clash of ideologies between Trevelyan and Bond, the boys with toys. On balance, Trevelyan’s got the better gizmos – giant antennas that emerge from under the water, space-based Star Wars weaponry firing EMPs to wipe every computer in Greater London and send a leading financial hub ‘back to the Stone Age,’ etc. The tone is always one of duality, with Bond and Trevelyan trading insults and Freudian analyses, and yet both showing the power of the MI6 mindset, doing whatever is necessary to get the job done. The final showdown on the giant antenna is where the psychology is played out, and Trevelyan’s assumption of Bond’s Boy Scoutism – the idea that he’ll always favour the mission before everything else – comes fatally unstuck when Bond essentially settles the score of what he feels is Trevelyan’s personal betrayal of him, rather than his treasonous betrayal of Queen and country.
Goldeneye began a new age of Bond movies – Brosnan lightening the portrayal of the character wherever possible, but still delivering an inner steel in terms of doing his job. The film brought Bond into the properly computer age, and perhaps more importantly, it did away with a lot of the baggage of rigidly dogmatic and nationalistic villains – the arch-villains Brosnan’s Bond would go on to face would frequently be rogues, individuals with personal agendas, or even ultra-capitalists, reflecting the post-Cold War realities of the world the audience understood. Perhaps most crucially of all though, to balance the essential machismo of Bond, the advancement of a female M would go on to give the Brosnan and early Craig Bond movies both a modernity and a tension that would elevate them above many of the earlier entries in the series. Goldeneye held the key to Bond’s future in the post-Cold War world, and it delivered complexity, deception, and ultimately a parable of two brothers with different takes on the same life. It delivered fun, action, even cod psychology, and a car chase with a tank.
As Bean’s Trevelyan remarks when he sees it – ‘Bond. Only Bond.