Before Grant Morrison tackled “Final Crisis,” or even “JLA,” or even “Animal Man,” he wrote a variety of comic book stories for everything from “Spider-Man and Zoids” to “Action Force.” One of his stops along the way was Marvel U.K.’s “Dr. Who Magazine,” where he scripted several adventures of the time-travelling, scarf-sporting doctor.
IDW has reprinted three of those stories in “Grant Morrison’s Doctor Who” #1, all of which predate even his earliest American work. In this issue we get the two-part “Changes,” with art by John Ridgway, and “Culture Shock!” with art by a very young Bryan Hitch.
The artwork is pretty raw, especially from Hitch. His style back then (in 1988, to be precise) hadn’t yet developed into the Alan Davis pastiche it would soon become, and it’s a far cry from the photoreferenced deep-focus style he currently employs. Honestly, his artwork in “Culture Shock!” is absolutely horrible — a collection of surface details without any sense of composition or anatomy. Ridgway’s work, on the other hand, is typical of his other work from 1986, but it’s pretty obviously resized to match the current comic book dimensions. I’m pretty sure “Dr. Who Magazine” was published at, well, magazine size. This issue is not. So the art’s a bit of a problem, but nothing that ruins the issue.
I’d never read any of these stories before, and I was curious about them for a couple of reasons: (1) Not being a Dr. Who fan — at all — would I find these stories interesting? (2) What do they reveal about Morrison’s evolving style and continuing thematic interests? (3) How do these 20-year-old stories compare to the average comics on the shelves today?
To answer my own questions: (1) Yes, these stories are interesting, and fun, and showed me why the Dr. Who character has remained an important part of geek culture for so many decades. Morrison plays with the imaginative possibilities of the character and allows us to explore a bit of the Dr. Who mythology in a fully-accessible way. (2) These stories are far more structurally simplistic than Morrison’s later work, but you can find some clear parallels between these older stories and his current work. “Changes,” in particular, seems to foreshadow Lois Lane’s exploration of the Fortress of Solitude in “All-Star Superman,” as Peri explores the Tardis — a location filled with strange and wondrous artifacts. And “Culture Shock!” evokes themes from “The Invisibles” and “The Filth” as a living creature plays host to a microscopic universe all its own. (3) “Grant Morrison’s Doctor Who” is a fascinating bit of archeology, bringing little seen — in America, anyway — stories to a wider audience, but it’s also a comic worth reading on its own merits. If you can get past the problems with the art, you’ll find more imagination in between the covers of this comic then you’ll find in the average six-issue story arc from mainstream publishers today. It’s a bit raw. A bit unpolished. But it’s there, leaking from the pages in all of its ambitious glory.