Torchwood #1 Review
Written by John Barrowman & Carole Barrowman
Art by Antonio Fuso & Pasquale Qualano
Colours by Marco Lusko
Lettering by Richard Starkings & Comicraft’s Jimmy Betancourt
Published by Titan Comics
Review by Billy Seguire
In dramatic fashion, Torchwood #1 opens with the flutter of a grey trenchcoat on an alien world. Captain Jack stands proud in a location so breathtakingly other that it makes the television series seem conservative by comparison. More than a scene, this opening is a mission statement. Titan’s Torchwood isn’t going to hold back on any of the weirdness of its world and takes full advantage of its medium. It’s tough making sci-fi on a BBC budget. While Doctor Who always finds a way to make its limitations charming, Torchwood always seemed like it wanted to take things one step beyond what it was capable of doing and pushed boundaries in telling adult stories throughout the limitless world of time and space. Titan’s take on the series sets Torchwood #1 up to deliver on that promise. While still not totally getting there yet, issue one sets the crew up for an adventure that doesn’t disappoint.
As a comic, this incarnation of Torchwood has many traits in common with Titan’s Tenth Doctor and Eleventh Doctor comics in that its main drive is to carve out a new era independant of the series. Torchwood ended its TV run in 2011 but the path is clear for John and Carole Barrowman to move the series forward rather than trying to fit stories in between already existing breaks in continuity. As writers, John & Carole Barrowman collaborated before on Torchwood: Exodus Code and the Hollow Earth trilogy of novels. While John clearly knows the character of Jack inside and out, Carole’s degree of care in crafting in story makes the siblings a commendable team.
Torchwood HQ is now the Ice Maiden, a ship loaded with all the alin tech Jack has been collecting from defunct Torchwood locations across the globe. New characters like Dana MacLeish and the crew of the Ice Maiden are introduced with a familiarity that makes us believe we (as an audience) are late to the party that welcomed them into the ongoing Torchwood team. Short, one line descriptions tell us everything we need to know to hit the ground running without wasting time. Mary Shelley, the ship’s insubordinate AI that fancies itself Captain of the ship is a very clever twist on the trope of AI character, and gives an instantly alien quality to the ship without taking away the human quality of the crew that feels more fitting than if a genuine alien like a Sensorite or Ood were to join the team.
In addition to the new talent, old characters return just as strong as we left them. Jack and Gwen take the centre stage as the core returning members, with Rhys unjustly getting shafted to the side in a way that’s crucial to the Torchwood dynamic. Jack is represented in both his swashbuckling and omnisexual forms, taking centre stage in the lives and bedrooms of the Torchwood crew. Gwen seems more stoic in her portrayal, as if she’s been waiting for this moment to come. An old nemesis from the series also returns, instantly recognizable to longtime fans, yet it’s not important yet that you know who he is. At a glance, it seems it’s not necessary to have seen Torchwood to jump into this comic, and I think all parties know that the only way to do this series properly was to give it a fresh start.
The art of this issue brings Torchwood to the comic page on a scale impossible to have been witnessed on TV. As said above, the opening with Jack on an alien world was a mission statement, and as we blaze through a plot which culminates in space-ninjas on flying jetskis, there’s an unrelenting push to how big Titan Comics is going to let Torchwood become. Backgrounds play a big role in this, but small details also populate the comic with subtle hints of the alien influence. Torchwood #1 also benefits from the effort taken to draw characters as representations of who they are and not their actors as they portrayed them, the best example being Gwen, who isn’t a picture-perfect recreation of Eve Myles, but a perfect take on the character of Gwen in Fuso and Qualano’s own vision.
Fascinatingly, this version of Torchwood has also been advertised as existing hand-in-hand with Big Finish’s astoundingly-good Torchwood audio series. A smart move from both companies that assures that, in this age of expanded-universe revivals, neither new take on Torchwood bites the hand that feeds them and results in a soft-canon that can be embraced by new and old fans alike, at least until John Barrowman gets his wish and Torchwood returns to TV.
Check It Out. Nobody knows Torchwood better than John Barrowman. With his and Carole Barrowman’s involvement in the revival of this series, Torchwood #1 delivers a comic that feels like the real thing. While this issue is definitely only setting up the pieces for something bigger yet to come, my expectation for depth and adult storytelling in this is high. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really hit on anything significant as an issue that stands on its own if you’re looking for a genuinely strong hook to sell you on issue one. As an opening issue, Torchwood #1 is still rich with character potential and delivers a suitably intriguing premise. Jack is back. Gwen is back. Rhys is standing idly by with the best quip of the book. “Might be the 21st century, but nothing’s bloody changed at all if you ask me.”