A Plant in The Audience

I read yesterday that, presumably because of the success of Deadpool,  a Batman cartoon movie  will be R-rated.  R stands for restricted. Again: that’s a Batman cartoon.

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Now, I hate to sound stuffy and middle-aged but I don’t care how much reverence is shown to the brutal Killing Joke. If Batman were (however bizarre this sounds) purely a Mature Readers/Viewers property and if it were a film, or under  the Gotham umbrella, I could see the justification. But it’s a cartoon and Batman cartoons have had a history of  being part of children’s programming from the 1960s until as recently as 2008 (on the BBC website).  Asda sells Batman fancy dress costumes for kids.

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Edgy and “mature” themes appear in many iterations of Batman, however, even in the noir-ish, all-ages Batman Adventures series of the 90s. I recently bought a copy of Batman: Harley and Ivy The Deluxe Edition:

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Here, there is a dissonant blend of cartoony hi-jinks and overtly adult imagery and dialogue.  Introduced in the animated series of the early 90s that took its inspiration from the Tim Burton Batman, Harley was, perhaps an iteration of the Golden Age Green Lantern’s “loving enemy”, Molly Maynne. Harleen Quinzel’s indoctrination by and abusive relationship with the Joker was recounted in Mad Love. Of course, New 52 Harley ( shortly to appear in the PG-13 rated Suicide Squad) has become even more of a provocative, even  transgressive character.

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Poison Ivy, meanwhile, has always been portrayed as an alluring and sexually aggressive villain, even in her earliest and campiest incarnation, some fifty years ago. While a B-lister bat-villain, she was also characterised as the temptress in the infamous Batman and Robin.

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This book opens with a 2004 miniseries, Harley and Ivy, which traces the pair’s quest for the Zombie Root. Their close relationship in comics always reminded me of Violet and Light(ning) Lass in the Legion: romantic but underplayed. I was surprised, therefore, by the cheesecake shower and underwear scenes in this series and the sequences that recall tentacle hentai.  I suppose I personally find it difficult to picture people getting an erotic charge from cartoon characters.

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Harley and Ivy also encounter their own distorted reflections: a couple of burly male aggressors named Slash and Burn, who are also implied to be gay ( through their proximity, an earring and a comment about “not liking girls”). The final installment is admittedly quite a clever parody of Hollywood superhero movies but the mixture of horror and humour ( and even environmental themes) is all overtly adult.

Even the 90s features which comprise the rest of the collection often strike a tone which seems very arch or even suggestive.

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24 Hours is a silent vignette from 1994’s Batman Adventures Annual in which Harley tries-and fails- to go straight. The look is playful but the arc is pessimistic, even tragic.

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“The Harley and the Ivy” is a seasonal screwball comedy from The 1995 Batman Adventures Holiday Special. That’s the comic that really  rekindled my affection for Batgirl, since Babs’ costumed identity had been retired in such a brutal, ugly way in the aforementioned Killing Joke.

Here, Bruce Wayne is kidnapped by the pair and they go on a spending spree. It’s the most all-ages example of material in the book.

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Harley, Ivy and- Robin?” With a callback to a classic Infantino image, it’s nice to see a B&R tale ( from 1996).  But the Robin-enslaved-by-Ivy trope leads to comments such as “cradle Robin” and ” There’s something about ’em when they’re this age” which seem rather creepy and inappropriate.

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 I had read “Oy to the World!” before, in the 1998 Batgirl Adventures Special. Babs and Harley team up to save Ivy from Kit Nozawa, a Yakuza assassin. Kitsune, (Japanese for “fox”) is well-suited as a Batgirl villain: her martial arts prowess is augmented with a hypnotic jewel a la the Legion’s Universo. There is a supposedly comic scene where Babs asks if Harley and Ivy are a couple, which again seems awkward and out of place.

I think it’s a positive thing that DC can portray two leading characters in a same- sex relationship. Challenging discrimination and promoting equality are admirable. But I can’t help feel there’s an unfortunate frisson because these characters are criminals– even murderers.

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I think, if you look at Marvel’s b/w magazine range in the 70s, it was abundantly clear that those characters were intended for a teen to adult market. The visual cues were different from the colour comics. Of course, there were several exceptions- McGregor’s Killraven and Black Panther or Gerber’s Man-Thing all presented challenging-even shocking-images.  I would question, however, if these characters were ever marketed to children in quite the way Spider-Man or Batman have always been.

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I’ve written before about my imaginary b/w 70s Batman mag which would have been somewhat more harder-hitting than Detective Comics, say. but I always visualised something that clearly depicted it was less child- friendly. In this “deluxe edition”, the visual language of animation is blurring the lines.

As I’ve said before, DC once proudly proclaimed comics aren’t just for kids anymore. I sometimes feel that should now read : at all. As a business strategy, it makes no sense to pander to an ageing, shrinking audience.

However, here and on Some Fantastic Place in the next couple of weeks, I intend to redress the balance with reviews of comics and graphic novels with a broader appeal…

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Nor Iron Bars A Cage

I first encountered The Prisoner through my parents’ recollections and repeat billings in the TV Times, in exotic regions like Southern or Westward, I suppose.

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I finally saw one episode as part of an ITV celebration “The Girl Who Was Death”. I had no idea that it was something of a spoof and not indicative of the style of the series.

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I also think it might have inspired the early scenes of The Tides of Time. Later, I was aware that it was an influence on a FF arc in the late 60s and we glimpsed the abortive Kirby project above.

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It wasn’t until the Channel 4 repeats of the early 80s, however, that I saw the majority of episodes in this eccentric, allegorical sci-fi spy thriller.  In the 80s, I read the Thomas Disch novel and of course, I paid some cursory attention to the desert-based remake in 2009. Now Big Finish have released an audio box set, “re-imagining”  the series.

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Departure and Arrival sets the series squarely in 1967, with a bit of back story for No. 6 and his incarceration in the Village.

The Schizoid Man: another tv adaptation as No.6 is cloned and also develops a telepathic link with No 9, who has a melodic Caribbean accent. This version is more overtly sci-fi than the original.

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Your Beautiful Village is a new story and is the most intense of the four episodes as No.6 is traumatised when his senses fall under Number 2’s control.

The Chimes of Big Ben: the third adaptation of a tv episode and one in which No. 6 and Nadia,  a defecting Soviet swimmer, use a Village art competition to stage a (temporary) escape.

I found the series more satisfying than I’d imagined: Mark Elstob mimics McGoohan’s clipped, snarling delivery but imbues the character with more vulnerability. Michael Cochrane’s disturbing jollity makes for a memorable No.2 and the  theme music is a convincingly Sixties arrangement- an Earth-Two version, if you like: similar but not identical. I think this is more successful than the Noughties  tv reboot.

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On my long weekend in Glasgow- made longer by trains diverted to Central Station- I listened to another BF collection: the second Doom Coalition box. The previous quartet of audio plays introduced the Eighth Doctor and glum space medic companion Liv Chenka to 1960s languages scholar, Helen Sinclair. We also met supervillain The Eleven, a Time Lord criminal with a multiple personality.

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Beachhead is a bland Earth Invasion adventure from Nick Briggs, reviving the alien Voord. There’s no callback to Domain of the Voord, which portrayed them as a cult-like society but the female-dominated cast is a pleasant change.

Scenes From Her Life, the most satisfying episode, is basically Gormenghast in Space. A trio of grotesques are carrying out horrible experiments in an unrecognisable Tardis. Their victim is revealed to be the telepath Caleera, Clarice Starling to the Eleven’s Hannibal, and the Doctor enables her to escape.

The Gift is a magical realist Marc Platt tale set during the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. The eponymous gift is a mysterious destructive power which passes from host to host. This episode was more bombastic, given that it involves actors and actor-managers.

The Sonomancer, Matt Fitton’s concluding disc, is also the new identity of the destructive Caleera. Aboriginal people on the volcanic planet Syra are being exploited but Prof. River Song is fighting back.  As in The Diary of River Song box, the Doctor can’t meet his future wife but we have to assume she will play a part in the ultimate showdown.

I found this box set more engaging than its predecessor but I would like more of a sense of where the series is going; there’s really no apparent arc, merely a sense of the episodic. Also, like box one, I found the production values poorer than usual: I struggled to make out some of the dialogue ( McGann murmurs at the best of times!) and the whole thing sounded muffled.

Finally, following up yesterday’s post, here are my top five Doctors, in traditional reverse order:

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5) to my surprise, watching the box set of the second series, I find the austere and unknowable Twelfth Doctor captivating. While I understand that his experiences as a war veteran twice over would have made this Doctor more abrasive, I think the move towards a more playful performance was a wise one.

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4) in my forties I had cooled toward the suave, protective Third Doctor played by the commanding Jon Pertwee. A decade later and his psychedelic adventures, while rather morally simplistic by modern standards, have won me over again.

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3) the image of the freewheeling, unpredictable Fourth Doctor dominated the series for so long- conceivably until the arrival of David Tennant. His era is divided (somewhat unclearly) between the teatime body horror of the mid-70s and the Postgrad playfulness of the later years of the decade. Increasingly,it’s that capriciousness I enjoy now.

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2) the gauche, hyperactive Eleventh Doctor, like his successor, took a long time for me to learn to like. His foibles and quirks disguised the depth of emotion Matt Smith could mine. Now, he is for me, the most endearing of the modern Doctors.

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1) It had to be really. The first Doctor I ever knew: the ambiguous, whimsical performance of Patrick Troughton will always be my Doctor.

Coming soon: Wonder Woman; the Legion; the Infinity Entity

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Le Medecin Malgre Lui

Having been a fan of Doctor Who, as you’re aware since before I could actually read,  it might be a surprise that I’ve never ranked my favourite Doctors in a blog! It seems such an obvious “fan” thing to do. I haven’t included Doctors who are solely audio, like David Warner. Nor have I included Nicholas Briggs since his Doctor ( although a multimedia one, as we’ll see below) was a bit of continuity nightmare. It’s just for fun- don’t write in!

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Joint 17: Mark Gattis in his Lewis Carroll guise from Dr. Who Night  in 1999 ties at the bottom of the list  with the laconic and lovestruck parodic Doctor of Steven Moffat’s charity spoof The Curse of Fatal Death.

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16) The paternal but authoritarian Doctor of Seven Keys to Doomsday and  15) the grizzled, self-doubting War Doctor…

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14) The energetic but guilt-ridden rough diamond Nine and 13) the sprightly, eccentric, entirely human Cushing Doctor…

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12) the calculating and mysterious Seven  11) the snobbish and haunted REG alt-Nine;

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10) the dynamic, sorrowful but self-righteous Ten;  9) the bombastic ,egotistical and theatrical Six.

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8) the irascible but mischievous One; 7) the energetic but exasperated Five  and at 6) the passionate, aristocratic Eight

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I was a little surprised that 80s Doctors overtook modern Doctors.  Perhaps that’s because of the impact of stories in other media?

The Good Soldier is a collection of Seventh Doctor comic strips from DWM in the very early 90s. I wasn’t reading the magazine in those days- too gauche and corny for the dastard actor laddie I fancied myself. But I bought the book in Aberdeen a month or so ago to catch up with the ones I had missed.

Fellow Travellers is a photorealistic three-parter by tv script editor Andrew Cartmel and Look-In/2000 AD artist Arthur Ranson ( no relation to the Swallows and Amazons author). A hitch-hiking alien  entity takes over a nana and menaces her a family. They seem to be related to Travers -the explorer from Troughton’s era- but it’s quite unclear. The strip captures the blend, however, of the Gothic and the domestic that flavoured DW in its last 80s incarnation.

 

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Darkness Falling and  Distractions by Dan Abnett and Lee Sullivan are preludes to The Mark of Mandragora– once a graphic novel in its own right ( and on the shelves at the central library in Aberdeen a few years back). This is a UNIT adventure set in the late twentieth century, where the Mandragora entity is invading in the form of a designer drug. It’s very much in the vein of the Virgin books of the early 90s.

 

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Party Animals by Mike Collins and uberfan/ addict to superfluous continuity, Gary Russell introduces us to an audio Doctor played by Nick Briggs, whom we’d see years later in the Eighth Doctor Strip.  There are also glimpses of Captain Britain, Steed and Mrs. Peel, Sapphire and Steel and the Freefall Warriors.

The Chameleon Factor, by Paul Cornell and Lee Sullivan is a trifling vignette about the First Doctor’s ring and features a cameo by Ben and Polly

The eponymous Good Soldier, by Andrew Cartmel and Mike Collins, is a rather gruesome Cyberman story, set in Atom-Age Nevada. It’s followed by A Glitch in Time, a timey-wimey “Sound of Thunder” parody.

Finally, Seaside Rendezvous, from the 1991 Summer Special is an early collaboration between modern-day comic stars  Cornell and Gary Frank . This is DW as “shared student flat irony-fest”. It’s set in Blackpool and features a Vic Reeves gag. Ho ho.

Nonetheless, it’s interesting to see the Doctor of the New Adventures developing here. The more adult and “gritty” aesthetic of the novels is very apparent in the Abnett/Cornell/ Cartmel strips. Just as in the novels, however, there are far too many fan-service “kisses to the past” and groansome in-jokes .

The reference to the Audio Visuals plays ( and their Doctor) is at once bold and hermetic. I only knew of them in a passing reference in a text feature within the magazine itself; ironically, Big Finish, direct descendant of the AVs has become the most prolific ( if traditionalist) generators of DW stories.

In the near future, you’ll find out who my top five Doctors are…

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