My God, it's stunning. The only way you can tell it's not a professional magazine is that they've squeezed three issues' worth of material into one. The Steve Moore Abslom Daak comic strip alone means this will be selling for ridiculous money in twenty years' time.
However before I get started, a disclaimer. I'm in it. I interviewed Mick McMahon and incidentally he's a affable, lovely guy. It's probably bad form for me to review something to which I've contributed... but what the hell.
My first reaction on opening the envelope was "Holy Moses!" These free gifts! You probably think you could never again be surprised by free gifts after shuddering at Doctor Who Adventures on the newsstands, but this is something else. Forget the transfers we got with volume 1
. Some of the following may have sneaked into the envelope by themselves, but my copy of this magazine came with:
(a) sixteen Vworpabix cards with Matt Smith era artwork by Adrian Salmon, after the style of the 1977 Weetabix promotion. I collected those!
(b) a four-part Vworpabix game board, with beatiful artwork from: Graeme Neil Reid, Jon Pinto, Leighton Noyes, Simon Gurr, Paul Grist and James Offredi.
(c) a code card that tells you how to decode the Secret Messages From Time Lords on one side and has a reproduction of the original 1977 Weetabix promotional artwork on the other, by Gordon Archer.
(d) Vworpabix pieces and spinner
(e) advertising flyer for a Blake's 7 episode guide (possibly unrelated)
(f) advertising flyer for Doctor Who and the Monster Festival... no, hang on. Turn it over. Now boggle.
(g) an Abslom Daak bookmark
The magazine itself, for those who don't know, is about the comic strip in Doctor Who Magazine. What makes this worth reading is that it's a huge, rich ongoing history with massive names from the UK comics industry, but it's also too far removed from the Doctor Who mainstream to have drawn much fan scholarship until now.
The issue starts off with a section could be said to have a loose theme of Dave Gibbons, beginning with an interview with the man himself. This is a nice companion piece to his other interview in volume one and covers completely different ground. After that we talk to two of his colourists for the American market, Charlie Kirchoff for IDW and Andy Yanchus for Marvel. We meet the mighty Steve Parkhouse, who has a fascinating mind, and finally Mick McMahon, who shared a studio with Dave and swapped with him in the DWM strip for Junk-Yard Demon. This is all good, solid stuff. Some of these people are titans of their industry, but about the two colourists I'd previously known very little and yet it's both interesting and educational to hear their perspectives.
If nothing else, I now know much more about colouring and how it's changed over the past thirty years.
What comes next though is gold dust. It's basically about Abslom Daak, although it touches on all the back-up strips and so there's an interview with John Peel (who wrote four of them). There's an interview with Steve Moore that'll break your heart with what could have happened. Personally I'm a colossal Steve Moore fan and I found it fascinating to peek inside his mind and see the influences on the dark, unique stories he was writing. The Moores (Steve and Alan) carved some extraordinary nooks and crannies into the Whoniverse, in a way that no one since has even attempted. We also meet Steve Dillon and David Lloyd.
That much is to be expected. What I'd known nothing about was two Abslom Daak stories that never happened, The World of the War-King and After Daak. The former is a complete Star Tigers episode by Steve Moore that was written but never published, which had lain forgotten for years in his drawer. That's not a big piece, but the latter was to have been a 10-issue comic book series and was commissioned by John Freeman in 1991, but never happened despite Steve thinking it "one of the best things I'd ever come up with".
Furthermore both of these exist after a fashion, although not in their originally planned forms. The full 12,000-word outline for After Daak is online, courtesy of the people at Altered Vistas, which is another thing that I'd hardly been aware of before reading this.
The World of the War-King though is now a completed comic strip, appearing here for the first time. It's been drawn by Martin Geraghty, coloured by Adrian Salmon and lettered by Roger Langridge. To underline the bleeding obvious, these are three of the best-known names in DWM comics these days and you could hardly get more official short of bringing back Lloyd, Dillon or Sullivan. The episode is here. It's been done. It's in this magazine. It will also probably never appear anywhere else, it's incompatible with all other Abslom Daak continuity (including After Daak) and it's the reason you'll have to sell a kidney to buy a copy of Vworp Vworp! volume 2 in twenty years' time.
So what's it like? Obviously at the end of the day it's just another four-page episode of Star Tigers, albeit expanded to five pages to give the panels more breathing space. It won't change your world. However it does one thing that no one achieved post-Moore, which is to feel as it's going somewhere. No one else even attempted this. Be it in Nemesis, Emperor or Deceit, everyone aimed for some kind of resolution and incidentally betrayed their incomprehension of the character. (Peter Darvill-Evans ironically came closest.) This episode though is a game-changer in two ways and it'll make you want to see where the story was going next. I now want to commission Steve Moore myself and hire an artist to let him loose on Daak again. (Unfortunately I don't have that kind of money and I suspect Marvel and BBC Enterprises would also have words to say on the matter, but I still want to.)
As for the art, you know what it looks like. It's Martin Geraghty. It's solid, although more reminiscent of Lee Sullivan than of Dillon or Lloyd. Incidentally his War-King looks like Revenge of the Sith
's General Grievous.
More Abslom Daak in Vworp Vworp! volume 3, incidentally. There we'll enter the McCoy era.
Returning to the magazine, what comes next is a series of interviews with DWM editors. This is much more interesting than it sounds, especially since they're proceeding chronologically from Dez Skinn (1-22) to Sheila Cranna (97, 107-136). Read these in order. Trust me. Again this is history that was all new to me and there's a lot of it, including from time to time some surprising honesty. Incidentally, given that they only cover the magazine's first decade (1979-1988), I'd be astonished if they weren't planning to return to this too in volume 3. The highlight incidentally is the discussion between DWM's first and current editors, Dez Skinn and Tom Spilsbury, because they start talking shop in a way you wouldn't get with a normal interviewer.
Finally the magazine ends with a look at Gareth Roberts's The Lodger, comparing the original comic strip with its live-action adaptation.
That's mostly it for the prose, although I've skipped over bits and pieces. Now for the comic strips. I've already talked about The World of the War-King, but I haven't yet mentioned The Adipose (Mark Clapham, Barry Renshaw) or The Housekeeper (Paul Magrs, Bret M. Herholz). No continuations for volume one's Time Leech or Clash of Empires, mind you.
The Adipose is a one-page bit of fun. Just as Clash of Empires was paying homage to the Barnes-Salmon back-up strip The Cybermen, this is a sillier version of the TV21 Dalek strips. It's attractive to look at and it made me laugh with the line about the lardcano.
The Housekeeper though is a ten-page Paul Magrs story, starring Mrs Wibbsley and the 4th Doctor from his Tom Baker audios for BBC Audiobooks. I love Magrs. Unsurprisingly this story is odd. It's a character piece for Mrs Wibbsley, who regards the Doctor and his adventures as nothing special and will be saying he should "get over himself" even as UFOs fly past her window. This is very Magrs, tapping straight into his giddy love of playing with genres. Note for instance the cocktail party with among many others Davros, Alpha Centauri, Sutekh, Santa Claus, Inspector Clouseau (?), Paddington Bear, Obverse Books characters (Senor 105) and someone who might at a pinch be the Tennant Doctor.
Sometimes the story made me laugh. However I also find it almost sad, especially in conjunction with the distinctive, primitivist art and its severe-looking characters. Did the story's whimsy perhaps get de-emphasised in its journey to the finished pages? I still like it, though.
In summary, an astonishing magazine. I know of nothing else even remotely like it. Vworp Vworp! talks to people from whom I'd never seen interviews and finds out things I had no idea existed. Slickly professional-looking production, exhaustively detailed, often with an amazing amount of content crammed on to a single page. Amazing.