Captain Jack As a Digital Weapon

Launching ‘Torchwood’ Comic #1

by Lynnette Porter

1 August 2010

Is Torchwood the true “digital weapon” that can successfully market its stories in any medium—not just TV episodes, but also novels, radio plays, and now a comic book?

During his travels with the Doctor through space and time, not to mention his long tenure with Torchwood Three, Captain Jack Harkness has had to be many things to many people (and aliens).  This summer he tackles one of his most crucial roles yet—as Torchwood’s digital weapon. His mission: Keep fans of the original TV series happy while attracting a new audience of comic book readers—and then keep them hooked until new radio dramas and TV episodes arrive next year. Sound daunting? Not for the Doctor Who and Torchwood veteran who has successfully defeated long hiatuses before.

The launch of Torchwood comic #1 (10 August in stores after a Comic-Con debut) seems to be the next step in what TV series creator Russell T. Davies once termed the digital weaponry of Torchwood.  During interviews with Entertainment Weekly in July 2009, Davies noted that Torchwood could become anything it needed to be, and indeed the series has been malleable in the past. The comic’s timely entry into the marketplace reminds future-thinking fans that the TV series will return, albeit in a new location and from American cable network Starz, by this time next summer.

The comic, however, also woos fans of the original Cardiff-based TV show by providing the familiar context of the series’ first three seasons. As such, Torchwood the Comic is an interesting way to expand the franchise by attracting new readers who might not have seen Torchwood prior to all its media attention for critically acclaimed but fandom-divisive episode, “Children of Earth”. The comic also can placate long-time fans dissatisfied with the ending of the miniseries and anxious about the next season’s direction. Because the comic book straddles the line between the familiar and the unexplored, the sale of this first issue is particularly important to the comic’s and the series’ future.

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. This old rhyme is strangely appropriate for the happy marriage of the TV series’ characters with the comic book format.  In the premiere issue, one story is “something old”, a tale published a year earlier in Torchwood magazine. The “something new” is TV script editor Gary Russell’s adventure, “Broken”.  One character, Ianto Jones, has been “borrowed” from earlier in the series’ canon to join his compatriots in “Broken” as they battle a villain from the TV show.

Of course, the most famous “something blue” (other than Captain Jack’s eyes) is his trademark grey-blue RAF coat. All the familiar, comfortable elements long-time TV fans have come to expect are present and accounted for, sir—but are they enough to keep the franchise going until new episodes arrive next year? More importantly, can the new Torchwood comic book generate its own audience separate from the TV series? Is Torchwood the true “digital weapon” that can successfully market its stories in any medium—not just TV episodes, but also novels, radio plays, and now a comic book?

Cover Story
The two collectible covers clearly indicate where the comic series is headed. (Two additional black-and-white art covers are Comic-Con exclusives.) Front and center on every cover is Captain Jack Harkness. The photo cover presents him as fans’ strongest TV memory—sexy, action hero Jack in the moment before all hell breaks loose, gun raised as he looks toward an off-camera source of danger. He wears his trademark RAF coat—about as quintessential a Torchwood photo of its lead hero as possible.

The illustrated cover also portrays Jack, with coat, front and center as he strides toward danger, framed against an ominously violent red-orange sky. Jack’s coat billows behind him, effectively creating a visual lead-in to the two characters in the background. Fans of the TV series easily recognize Ianto Jones, sans jacket but nevertheless in a suit (and red tie, a detail hardcore fans will be sure to notice), this time with his sleeves rolled up to get to work. Gwen Cooper wears her traditional red blouse and leather jacket, but her curves have been accentuated in true comic-book style. The covers play up the familiar aspects of characters at the beginning of “Children of Earth”, the Torchwood team’s previous adventure.

Of course, since 2008 several writers and artists have told Torchwood’s story as serialized comics in Torchwood magazine. The official magazine, however, most likely is read by Torchwood’s TV fans, not the wider comic-book audience who will see Torchwood> #1 on the shelves of their favorite comic store. The magazine has included stories written by Gareth David-Lloyd or John Barrowman and Carole E. Barrowman, whose “Selkie” is featured in Torchwood Comic #1.

As might be expected, the Barrowmans’ story features Captain Jack, and David-Lloyd’s stars Ianto. Instead of a “Torchwood team” POV, a story presented from one character’s POV is different from the usual TV fare. As with “Rift War”, a multi-part magazine-serialized comic later turned into a separately published graphic novel, Torchwood #1 in some ways seems recycled by including a story previously published in the magazine—but does that matter to the Comic-Con crowd waiting for artist Tommy Lee Edwards to sign their books or to new fans seeing the issue on stands?

Probably not. Long-time fans who loved the series as it was may see the comic books as one final chance to have Torchwood their way—Hub and team intact in UK-based stories. (“Selkie” takes place in Scotland, but “Broken” stays at home in Wales.)  The popularity of and praise for David-Lloyd’s two-part story, published in Torchwood magazine’s most recent issues, increases the likelihood of the TV series’ fans following characters to Torchwood #1.

New fans who liked “Children of Earth” and plan to tune in for the joint Starz-BBC TV venture may be hungry for further adventures, and the comic provides plenty of action and character backstory. The emphasis on Captain Jack in the first issue is a shrewd move—it highlights the lead character (and actor). It also emphasizes Barrowman’s involvement with the role, not only as actor but as creator of more Captain Jack adventures. (The Barrowmans’ Torchwood tie-in novel was announced by publisher Michael O’Mara earlier this summer.)

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//Mixed media