Comics Review: Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor


AuthorCavan Scott
Artists: Blair Shedd, Rachael Stott
Colorist: Blair Shedd, Anang Setyawan
Letterer: Richard Starkings,Jimmy Betancourt
TitleVol. 1: Weapons Of Past Destruction
Publication Info: London : Titan Comics, 2016.
Summary/Review:

Way back in 2011, I started watching Doctor Who with Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor.  He remains one of my favorite Doctors and it’s disappointing that there’s only one season.  Even the Eighth Doctor has been able to get a ton of stories in audio dramas and novels.  So I’m pleased to read the further adventures of the Ninth Doctor with Rose Tyler and Jack Harkness.

Appropriately, these comics are set after The Doctor Dances and before Boom Town, the story in which the Doctor, Rose, and Jack spend a dinner with Mickey telling stories about adventures we never got to see.  I’ll have to go back and watch that show to see if the comics illustrate any of those stories.

The crux of this volume is that the Doctor and his companions discover an arms market selling Gallifreyan weapons.  They soon find themselves in the middle of a war that is rehashing the battles of the Time War.  The Doctor angrily – and carelessly – announces that he’s selling off the “mind of a Time Lord.”  The comic is epic and imaginative and uses the format well to illustrate ideas that wouldn’t have worked in a tv show.

Rating: ***


AuthorCavan Scott
Artists: Adriana Melo, Chris Bolson
Colorist: Matheus Lopes, Marco Lesko
Letterer: Richard Starkings,Jimmy Betancourt
TitleThe Ninth Doctor, Vol. 2: Doctormania
Publication Info: London : Titan Books, 2017.
Summary/Review:

There are two main adventures in this story.  First, the Doctor and his companions arrive at a planet where the Doctor is a big celebrity.  This leads to lots of meta-commentary about Doctor Who as a television show and fan culture. Ultimately, this story leads to a hunt on Raxacoricofallapatoria.  I don’t know if anyone was clamoring for more Slitheen stories, but they are the signature monster of the Ninth Doctor, and this comic does a decent job of setting a story on their planet.

The next story is much better with timey-wimey twists.  Mickey Smith calls the Doctor to San Francisco, but he’s the older, more confident Mickey whose married to Martha and teamed with her as free lance monster hunters.  The story requires that Rose not see future Mickey and the Doctor not meet his future companion Martha which makes for interesting plotting. Meanwhile, Rose is lured in a group of people who’ve gained flying powers and are contending with gargoyle creatures.  Her flirtatious romance with a handsome young man in the group is true to Series 1 Rose before she ended up romantically interested in Tennant’s Doctor.

This comic collection builds on the Ninth Doctor’s adventures in a fun and visually varied ways.

Rating: ***1/2


AuthorCavan Scott
Artists: Adriana Melo, Chris Bolson
Colorist: Marco Lesko
Letterer: Richard Starkings,Jimmy Betancourt
TitleThe Ninth Doctor, Vol. 3: Official Secrets
Publication Info: London : Titan Books, 2017.
Summary/Review:

The Doctor, Rose, and Jack continue there adventures by working with a 1970s or 1980s where they end up working with UNIT division in Bristol lead by Harry Sullivan.  This is a nice touch since it would be impossible to bring back Harry on TV due to Ian Marter’s early death. The story also introduces Tara Mishra, a UNIT nurse and soldier who joins the TARDIS Team!  Who knew the Ninth Doctor would be getting new companions between The Doctor Dances and Boom Town!

The second story sees the team travel back in time to 17th century Brazil, where the Doctor deals with both Portuguese slavers and alien mer-people.  Meanwhile, Jack continues to make discoveries about his past and the moments erased from his mind by the Time Agents.  Rose is uncertain she can trust Jack after what is revealed.

The characterization of Jack relies much on what would learn about him from Torchwood, while the Doctor in these comics is also informed by revelations of the War Doctor.  The creators of the comics cleverly retcon these things that no one knew about in Series 1 without overdoing it.

Rating: ***1/2


AuthorCavan Scott
Artists: Adriana Melo, Cris Bolson, Marco Lesko
Title:  The Ninth Doctor, Vol. 4: Sin Eaters
Publication Info: London : Titan Books, 2017.
Summary/Review:

With Jack having left the team, the story begins with the Doctor incarcerated in a high-security prison on a space station for the murder of Tara.  It is, of course, a fakeout to give the Doctor a chance to investigate the prison’s suspicious rehabilitation methods.  Things go wrong when Rose arrives in disguise and is unable to prevent the Doctor having his anger and darkest thoughts removed into a doppelganger called a sin eater.  The sin eaters would be absolutely ridiculous in televised Doctor Who, but some how they work as in pen and ink, where the body horror is quite so bad. The whole story is built on well-worn science fiction tropes, but still somewhat entertaining.

The remainder of the volume pays off the plot of Jack Harkness losing his memories and the Doctor offering up the Mind of Time Lord plot is also paid off.  Once again the Doctor is held in captivity for much of the story as four alien agents attempt to bid on his brain.  The Doctor is able to defeat his enemies with his grief (not unlike a plot twist in an episode of Class). Tara ends up staying behind to help a devastated planet, freeing up the Doctor, Rose, and Jack to return to Cardiff to meet up with Mickey and Margaret.

Rating: ***1/2

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Book Review: Prairie Fires by Caroline Fraser


AuthorCaroline Fraser
TitlePrairie fires : the American dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder
Publication Info: New York : Metropolitan Books, 2017.
Summary/Review:

Like anyone else who grew up in my generation, I watched and loved the tv series Little House on the Prairie as a kid. In fifth grade we read a section of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book Little House on the Prairie and I was entranced.  I immediately read all the books in the Little House series in sequence (except I skipped Farmer Boy because I had no interest in Almanzo).  The earlier books were my favorites and I read Little House in the Big Woods, Little House on the Prairie, and On the Banks of Plum Creek multiple times. This was an important time in my life as a reader because up to that point I was rather finicky and found it hard to finish books, especially fiction.

Of course, I knew that the books were highly fictionalized stories of Wilder’s life and the tv show even more greatly removed from reality.  It was interesting to read this biography to learn the true story of Wilder’s life. Fraser’s research and writing is especially good at establishing Wilder’s story in the context of historical events – conflicts with Indians, financial crises and depressions, political movements, and even climate change. The period of Wilder’s life covered in her 9 books is just a small portion of her long life and is covered in the first 150 pages of the 500+ page book.  For all her romance of life on the Great Plains and the admiration of the rugged individualism of farming, Laura and Alamanzo Wilder were not able to find stability and success in life until they left the West for the South (specifically the Ozarks of Missouri) and found work off the farm.

Laura Ingalls Wilder established herself in Mansfield, MO through her activity in local clubs and working for Farm Loan Asssociation, a federal agency that made small loans to farmers.  Wilder also worked as a writer and editor, eventually creating a popular column in a publication called The Ruralist. Wilder’s entry into writing was inspired by a key figure in this biography, Rose Wilder Lane, who lived in various parts of the country working as a journalist (albeit specializing in “fake news”) and freelance writer, and eventually writing novels and political treatises.  Fraser is barely able to contain her contempt for Lane, who admittedly is an awful person, but nevertheless its surprising when someone is so bad that a historian can’t keep a neutral tone

Wilder writes the Little House books during the Great Depression and Dust Bowl of the 1930s and early 1940s, with the current events informing her reflections on the past. Since the books were written for children, Wilder naturally sanitized some of the darkest times of her childhood, elided events, and created composite characters.  But she also chose to use the books to hide her family’s deep poverty and multiple failures while idolizing her parents as exemplars of independence. This means leaving out parts of their lives when Charles Ingalls skipped out of town to avoid a debt or when the family had a miserable time working at a hotel in Iowa.

Lane served as an editor for her mother’s writing, and the surviving manuscripts includes notes back and forth, of what to retain and what to cut.  Fraser indicates Wilder fought to retain many of her own ideas and writing against Lane’s edits and suggestions and the finished novels have the same style as Wilder’s handwritten manuscripts.  Some scholars believe that Lane ghost wrote some or all of the novels, but Fraser use this evidence to attest that Lane mainly did the editing while writing an occasional interpolation. Lane’s increasingly radical right wing, libertarian ideology also influenced her mother’s political leanings and the underlying messages of the novels.

Fraser also examines the cultural effect of the Little House stories, both as a response to the New Deal when the books were published and in the post-Nixonian era of the television.  In both eras, Little House played the role of offering a rose-tinted view of a patriotic past where Americans took initiative and supported themselves through hard work.  Ironically, Wilder created a fictional version of her parents as independent farmers by erasing their poverty, their inability to survive as subsistence farmers, and the times they benefited from help of the government.  In fact, if the government is to be blamed for an of the suffering of the Ingalls, Wilders, and thousands of other pioneer farming families it is when they acted on laissez-faire and libertarian policies that someone like Lane would support. Examples include the US government ignoring their own scientist’s research that showed the Dakotas should not be opened to farming because it was too arid, and state governments offering little aid to farmers suffering from plagues of locusts and droughts because they did not wish to create “dependency.”

This is an excellent work of biography and history.  While offering a look at the exceptional life of a successful and beloved author, it also is a glimpse into the lives and dreams of many Americans in some of the most turbulent times in our nation’s history. Amazingly the book contains contrasting ideas of what it means to be American and the best way to govern this country that are still relevant to the current political debate. If you love the Little House books, this is a good way to deepen your understanding of their author and the books’ place in our culture.  But even if you have never read or watched any Little House material, this is still a great biography that I’d recommend.

Favorite Passages:

“The New York Times asked recently, ‘Why Do People Who Need Help from the Government Hate It so Much?’  It was no mystery to Wilder.  As she knew too well, people who are poor are ashamed.  It’s easier to blame the government than to blame yourself. Wrestling with shame was one of the reasons she wrote her books…” – p. 511

Recommended booksThe Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan

Rating: ****

Book Review: The Princess in Black and the Science Fair Scare by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale


Author:  Shannon Hale and Dean Hale
Illustrator: LeUyen Pham
Title:  The Princess in Black and the Science Fair Scare 
Publication Info:  Somerville, Massachusetts : Candlewick Press, 2018.
Previously Read by the Same Authors: The Princess in Black (I’ve read all of the Princess in Black books multiple times, but only reviewed the first one for some reason).
Summary/Review:

I received a free advanced reading copy of the 6th book in the Princess in Black series through the Library Thing Early Reviewer program.

My daughter and I enjoy reading the Princess in Black books which gently send up princess culture and superhero stories while be sweet and charming in their own way.  In this adventure, Princess Magnolia leaves monster-fighting behind to attend a science fair.  Or so she thinks, until a goo monster emerges from a volcano model!

Princess Magnolia changes costumes to become the Princess in Black, and the Princess in Blankets introduced in The Princess in Black and the Mysterious Playdate is also there to help.  But then, three undisguised princesses also help out.  The book has a good message about working together to solve a problem.  We also get the goo monster’s perspective, and he just wants somewhere where he can fit in.  And the princesses (and monster) even use public transportation!

It’s a ripping good yarn and things end well for all involved.  My 6 y.o. and I have read it multiple times already and she’s not yet tired of it.

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Fun city by Sean Deveney


Author: Sean Deveney
TitleFun city : John Lindsay, Joe Namath, and how sports saved New York in the 1960s
Publication Info: New York : Sports Publishing, 2015.
Summary/Review:

Jonathan Mahler’s excellent book Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning examines New York City in 1977 through the lens of that years highly contested mayoral election and the New York Yankees championship season, despite the high conflict within the team.  Deveney takes a similar approach to New York City in the 1960s, albeit over a longer period of time. The political point covers the election and first term of liberal mayor John Lindsay, perhaps the last good Republican. The sports angle focuses on quarterback Joe Namath who would lead the New York Jets to an unlikely Super Bowl championship in 1969.  Both men are characterized by their youth, good looks, individuality, and celebrity that defines the “New Breed” of 1960s New York.  They also both make a lot of mistakes are subject to hefty amounts of criticism.

There’s a lot of nostalgia by proxy for me in this book as this was the New York City of my parent’s teenage and young adult years, a legendary time in “Old New York” that I would only later realize happened just a few years before I was born. Nevertheless, a lot of the issues in the book are startlingly contemporary: structural racism, angry white resentment that minorities are getting too much attention, conflicts over public education, growing inequality, disinvestment in municipal services, resources going to war taking away from resources that could be used to alleviate poverty, et al  Other issues are from a different time such as the frightening increase in crime or unions with the power to dictate terms to the Mayor while still calling multiple strikes.

The book follows Lindsay and Namath’s careers from 1965-1970, with in-depth details of city politics and the New York Jets football.  Occasionally, Deveney veers into other things happening in New York during the period, such as Muhammad Ali fighting a title bout that would be the last fight  in the old Madison Square Garden and coincidentally would also be Ali’s last fight before his draft protest would get him suspended from boxing.  Deveney also documents the demise of establishment teams, the New York Yankees and New York Giants, contrasting them with the rise of the fresh, new teams the Mets and the Jets. Lindsay, not a sports fan, attaches himself to the Mets’ 1969 World Series drive as part of his reelection campaign, which proves a successful strategy. A final chapter on the New York Knicks also winning their first championship in 1970 seems more an addendum than tying into the themes of the rest of the book.

I think Deveney is more effective as a straightforward sports writer than political analyst, but overall it’s still a good history of an interesting time in New York City history.

Recommended booksLadies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning: 1977, Baseball, Politics, and the Battle for the Soul of a City by Jonathan Mahler and Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968 by Ryan H. Walsh
Rating: ****

Book Review: The Poisoned City by Anna Clark


AuthorAnna Clark
TitleThe Poisoned City: Flint’s Water and the American Urban Tragedy
Publication Info: Metropolitan Books (2018)
Summary/Review:

I briefly knew Anna Clark when I used to volunteer at the Haley House in Boston and she was a member of the intentional community that lived there. Ever since she moved to Michigan I’ve followed her journalism career from afar.  She seems the perfect person to bring together a passion for social justice and the skills of journalism to documenting the water crisis in Flint, Michigan.

Clark tells the story from the perspective of the local activists who brought the problems with the water to light and the health and science experts who verified that the water was dangerous.  So much of the Flint water crisis is rooted in greed and indifference. The decision was made by the city’s emergency manager who was appointed by the governor to “run the city like a business” (a practice carried out in many Michigan cities leading to 53% of Michigan’s African American population living under non-elected local government).  The switch from Lake Huron water via Detroit to the backup system of the Flint River was purportedly to save money until a new regional water authority came online, although it is questionable if money was saved at all considering the costs of updating the local treatment plant.

While it’s often reported that the Flint River water is unhealthy, it turns out that water in the river and when it left the treatment plant was in fact clean.  But the different chemistry of the river water compared to lake water had a corrosive effect that leeched lead from the city’s ancient pipes and also promoted growth of infectious diseases.  The water authority failed to use the proper anti-corrosives to help prevent this from happening.  But the real scandal is that when residents complained of discolored and odoriferous water and the bad health effects, especially among children, the city and state officials refused to help and continued to claim there was no ill effects from the water.

In addition to thoroughly documenting the crisis, Clark also provides the historical background that shows why the water crisis inordinately affected Flint’s poorer residents, especially black and brown people.  The prosperous Flint of the mid-20th century was heavily segregated, with the effects of redlining and housing segregation still felt today. The movement of prosperous white families and corporations out of Flint was funded by disinvestment in the city itself.  And while medical experts have been aware of the poisonous nature of lead for centuries, that did not stop industry from making efforts to use lead – whether it be in gasoline or water pipes – and promote it as safe.

Poison City is a well-written book, and a very important book to read as Flint’s crisis is one that is happening or could happen in various ways in cities across the country.  It’s hard not to read this book without feeling rage, yet Clark finds hope in the community activists who fought to bring this issue to international attention, and continue to fight for clean water in Flint.

Recommended booksThe Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein, The new Jim Crow : mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness by Michelle Alexander, and Foul Ball by Jim Bouton
Rating: ****1/2

Book Review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz


AuthorBenjamin Alire Sáenz 
TitleAristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
NarratorLin-Manuel Miranda
Publication Info: New York, NY : Simon & Schuster Audio, p2013.
Summary/Review:

Sáenz has written a beautiful novel about friendship, family, love, coming of age, and coming to terms with your identity as a teenager. Set in El Paso in the mid-1980s, the book is narrated by 15-year-old Mexican American boy Aristotle – or Ari – who has learned to repress his feelings from his parents. His father won’t speak of the horrors of fighting in the Vietnam War and neither of his parents will talk about Ari’s much older brother who is in prison.  The story begins when Ari meets and befriends Dante, another Mexican American boy his age, at the swimming pool. Dante and his family are more open in their feelings and he draws out Ari over a series of meaningful conversations.  The two boys deal with the typical trials of teenagers as well the specific problems related to understanding their identity as Mexican Americans and masculinity.  They suffer injuries when hit by a car, are separated when Dante’s family goes to Chicago for a year, and explore their sexuality.  Without giving too much of the plot away, this is an absolutely beautiful book and one that I think a lot of young people (and formerly young people) can identify with. As an added bonus, Lin-Manuel’s expressive voice is absolutely perfect for the audiobook narration.

Favorite Passages:

He didn’t say anything. And then I heard him crying. So I just let him cry. There was nothing I could do. Except listen to his pain. I could do that. I could hardly stand it. But I could do that. Just listen to his pain.

Recommended booksGeorge by Alex Gino, The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon, and Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Rating: ****1/2

Comics Review: Doctor Who: The Seventh Doctor


AuthorAndrew Cartmel
Illustrators: Christopher Jones, Marco Lesko
Contributor: Ben Aaronovitch
TitleDoctor Who: The Seventh Doctor
Publication Info: Titan (2018)
Summary/Review:

The three parts of this Titan comics miniseries include two different stories.  “Operation Volcano” takes up most of the pages with “Hill of Beans” filling out each volume.

“Operation Volcano” is set in 1967 when a hydrogen bomb exposes an alien craft in the Australian desert.  RAF Group Captain Gilmore – a character introduced in Aaronovitch’s Remembrance of the Daleks – calls in the Doctor and Ace to investigate. Subsequent issues reveal a horrifying snake-like species that can attach itself to humans and tap into their consciousness.  But all is not what appears and the Doctor knows more about these aliens than he lets on. Can his plan prevent the destruction of Earth by nuclear weapons, and how does Gilmore end up in the future with a snake on his back? There’s a strong UNIT/spy thriller feel and the artistry captures the 60s style (write up to the illustrator lovingly detailing the women’s breasts and short-shorts in the classic style).  This is faithful the Seventh Doctor stories as portrayed by Sylvester McCoy and the Virgin New Adventures and I could see it succeeding as a tv adaptation.

“Hill of Beans” catches up with Mags, the werewolf from The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, and the physic circus.  She’s under threat as her planet Vulpana is under fascist rule and rounding up werewolves and other noncomformists. Eerily, the villain looks like Donald Trump and says “fire and fury.” The art style is softer and works to capture an 80s aesthetic.  Being the shorter of the two stories, it is very bareboned, and everything gets resolved rather easily.   Again, though, it could be fleshed out into a tv show or book.

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: It’s All Relative by A.J. Jacobs


Author: A.J. Jacobs
Title: It’s All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World’s Family Tree
Narrator:A.J. Jacobs
Publication Info: Simon & Schuster Audio (2017)
Previously Read by the Same Author:

Summary/Review:

Jacobs has written excellent books about his lifestyle experiments of trying to follow all the explicit rules of the Bible and reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica.  Both books offer funny observations and lots of tidbits of arcane knowledge.  In this book, Jacobs applies a similar approach to genealogy, with much of the book structured around attempting a Guinness World Record for a Global Family Reunion, inviting everyone Jacobs is genetically related to (which could be everyone in the world).

Along the way, Jacobs examines traditional genealogical pursuits of family historians, and the newer methods of genetic testing and collaborative websites, and the tensions among them.  Jacobs visits with Mormon genealogists, attends the Hatfields and McCoys reunion, explores the practice of polyamory, goes to a twins convention, and interviews celebrities who are his distant relations.

This book feels weak compared with Jacobs other books, as if he was seeking out other genealogical things to do to fill in blank spaces around his story of the family reunion.  Maybe it would’ve been more focused as shorter work rather than a book?

Recommended books:
Rating: **

Book Review: Transit by Ben Aaronovitch


Author: Ben Aaronovitch
Title: Transit
Publication Info: London : Doctor Who, 1992.
Summary/Review:

Having read Set Piece, I decided to jump back to this earlier book in the New Adventures series that introduces the character of Kadiatu Lethbridge-Stewart. The author, Ben Aaronovitch, previously wrote the teleplays for the classic Seventh Doctor serials Remembrance of the Daleks and Battlefield.  This novel was controversial at the time of its release because in response to the adult audience of the New Adventures novels, Aaronovitch depicted scenes with profanity, drug use, and sex for the first time in a Doctor Who story.

The main plot involves a transit system that connects the Solar System through “tunnels” which are actually transmat systems that carry “trains” over long distances at faster-than-light speeds. An entity from another dimension enters the transit system like a virus causing power surges and killing people.  The TARDIS gets caught in one of the surges separating the Doctor and Benny.  This is the first novel in which Benny is traveling with the Doctor and she ends up possessed by the virus, which is an interesting choice when her character hasn’t even been fully established yet.

Like other New Adventures I’ve read, this is a complex novel with dozens of characters and an entire fictional universe in the cyberpunk style without anything really for the reader to latch on to be introduced to the characters and their world.  I shouldn’t complain so much about the novels’ complexity, but I did major in English and read complex novels (heck, I even read Ulysses for fun!), so it’s frustrating to struggle with sci-fi tv spinoff novels from the 1990s.  Still, there are some great details, such as allusions to the Ice Warriors (here called “Greenies”) and a great war.  The final showdown between the Doctor and the entity is also well-written.

Rating: ***

Previously Reviewed:

Comics Review: Prisoners of Time by Scott Tipton and David Tipton


Author: Scott Tipton and David Tipton
TitlePrisoners of Time
Publication Info: London : Titan Comics, January 2016.
Artist: Simon Fraser
Colourist: Gary Caldwell
Letterer:  Tom B. Long
Summary/Review:

The 50th anniversary comic tells one story for each Doctor, One through Eleventh, with the inevitable team-up in the last issue.  The stories are generally good, albeit short and easily resolved leading up to the conclusion of each story where a mysterious figure kidnaps the Doctor’s companions.  It’s eventually revealed to be Adam of The Long Game from the Ninth Doctor’s season, which is a bit underwhelming. Still, I like how the artistic style is a bit different for each Doctor, and how they pay tribute to the history of Doctor Who comics through the appearance of Frobisher, who appeared first in comics, and the essays at the end of each issue.  It’s nothing spectacular but it checks off each box of what an anniversary, crossover comic should do.

Rating: ***