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?
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.)
The Face That Launched a Thousand Stories
Many TV series expand their stories across platforms—webisodes, interactive official website, RPGs, novels, comics. Series including Battlestar Galactica and Firefly continue their characters’ adventures through comics long after the television story ends. Although NBC pulled the plug on TV series Heroes, creator Tim Kring told Entertainment Weekly that Heroes stories may continue—just not on NBC or even on TV. The “Heroes universe is something that can be tapped into again in many ways ... clearly, there is an entire world and a number of platforms that this property could live in.” Like Kring, Davies sees many ways to tell Torchwood stories.
Even as a TV series, Torchwood has been whatever the BBC needed. Its two initial seasons of 13 mostly stand-alone episodes were broadcast on BBC 3 or BBC 2, but the five-hour miniseries became primetime content for BBC 1. In 2011, the series will return as ten episodes set in a variety of international locations and made by a different network. Torchwood’s canon also includes radio dramatizations broadcast by BBC.
If Torchwood comics #2 and higher involve the characters in new stories heading in different directions from the TV series—and with a time traveler as a lead character, any time or place in any galaxy or dimension is possible—Torchwood as comic book may become more than an “add on” bridging hiatuses between episodes. It can serve as a creative way to please a different audience—such as fans who love the characters but may not like directions taken in episodes, novels, or radio plays.
The pivotal element, emphasized not only on Torchwood #1 covers but also in online advertisements on science fiction and comic sites throughout the summer, is John Barrowman as Captain Jack Harkness. The TV series was initially built around his character as a spinoff from Doctor Who, in which Jack was an intergalactic former Time Agent very different from the Earthbound Torchwood leader. In “Children of Earth”, when the dust cleared after the decimation of Cardiff’s Hub, Captain Jack symbolically and literally was pulled from the wreckage to be re-formed as a new type of series hero. When Davies and Starz/BBC bring the fourth season of Torchwood to television, the character undoubtedly will change again to fit Davies’ new vision. Having strong fan identification with Captain Jack is pivotal to the continuing success of all media stories, as Torchwood comic #1 illustrates.
Like TV series of old—that would be the ‘60s—characters and actors were introduced before an episode began. In the long-running Gunsmoke, for example, the opening credits featured close-ups of a character while an announcer dramatically intoned the actor’s name, progressing from supporting players to lead. “And James Arness as Matt Dillon,” the announcer emphasized as the camera zoomed from a full shot to a close-up of the star. The theme music crescendoed as the camera lingered on his face. Clearly, Arness as Marshal Dillon was important for audience identification with the hero.
Hawaii Five-O was hardly more subtle in connecting Jack Lord with police detective Steve McGarrett. After a quick video tour of Honolulu, the camera focused on Lord surveying his domain from a balcony. The actor swirled around to face the camera head on as the credits identified him as lead hero, McGarrett.
Such opening themes and credits were once common, but today’s series usually begin with dramatic action followed by a brief musical theme accompanied by alphabetized credits at the bottom of the screen. The concept of an episode being a televised “play” requiring viewers to know the players and characters before the story begins now seems quaint, but it was an effective way to link the series’ heroes with the actors behind them and develop fan interest in both. Even today, Honolulu tour guides point out that famous balcony shown during the Hawaii Five-O credits, and buses of fans smile and nod because they easily recall the theme song and McGarrett’s entrance.
Torchwood #1’s advertisements return to that tradition. They clearly identify and link actor with character. Above the Torchwood title and stern-looking illustration of Captain Jack is the actor’s name. The advert reports “John Barrowman brings you Torchwood the Official Comic.” The line is accurate—the “Selkie” story comes from John and Carole Barrowman—but the implication is much stronger. The advert visually claims that Torchwood = Captain Jack, and Captain Jack = John Barrowman. Ergo, the advertisement implies, Torchwood equals Barrowman.
The actor’s frequent claim that he loves playing the character and, any time asked, would return to the role further emphasizes the link between actor and character. Such identification strengthens the Torchwood brand, but it also makes Barrowman, as much as Torchwood, part of that “digital weapon” that Davies seems determined to mold into as many forms as possible while the market allows. Whether on radio, at Comic-Con appearances (most recently in 2009 but probably again in 2011), during interviews, or on the cover of official comics and their advertisements, Barrowman seems happy to do his part in forging the connection between himself and Captain Jack.
With the highly publicized Torchwood #1, Captain Jack becomes more marketable as a hero and an image directed toward a specific comic book audience who may or may not have discovered Torchwood via another medium. As the newest official medium for the Torchwood saga, a comic book between TV seasons three and four is a shrewd storytelling and marketing move.
Fueled by the hype of Comic-Con, Torchwood #1 has some serious power for its launch. The comic bridges the TV series’ past and future in this premiere issue, but to succeed on its own as a vehicle for Torchwood stories, it may have to travel beyond the Starz.