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The Doctor Who Storybook 2009

featuring Paul Magrs, James Moran, Mark Gatiss, Gareth Roberts, Clayton Hickman, Keith Temple, Nicholas Pegg, Gary Russell and Jonathan Morris.

(Art by Rob Davis)

This book could easily be dismissed as just a kids' cash-in book from its cover but, as follows the old saying, you'd be misjudging it.  It is in fact an anthology of seven prose short stories and one comic strip featuring the Tenth Doctor (as played by David Tennant) and his companion Donna Noble.  What makes this particularly interesting is that many of the stories are written by writers who've worked on episodes of the TV series itself. 

Here the Doctor faces such trials as a hostile theme park, a floating city, an old enemy, the disappearance of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, an apologetic artificial intelligence, the voyage of the Argonauts, a schoolboy vital to the Norman invasion and a lost alien hiding in a school.

It's a mixed bag on offer, as you'd expect, but I have to say all of the stories did a great job of capturing the Doctor's manic enthusiasm.  My favourite story by far was 'Cold' by Mark Gatiss (of League of Gentlemen and Sherlock fame), a writer whose scriptwork I have long enjoyed.  'Cold' is told through letters written by the protagonists and builds up the layers of the story in the manner of the 19th Century gothic literature that both I and Gatiss are fans of.  Added to this classic style of storytelling is the fact that the alien invader featured will be familiar to those who remember the pre-Christopher Ecclestone days of Doctor Who.

3 out of 5

 

The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told

featuring Gardner Fox, Bill Finger, Denny O'Neil, Frank Robbins, Archie Goodwin,  Len Wein , Alan Brennert and Mike W. Barr

(Art by Bob Kane, Jerry Robinson, George Roussos, Jack Burnley, Charles Paris, Lou Schwartz, Dick Sprang, Sheldon Moldoff, Stan Kaye, Carmine Infantino, Joe Giella, Neal Adams, Dick Giordano, Frank Robbins, Jim Aparo, Walt Simonson, Joe Staton, George Freeman and Jerry Bingham)

Published to celebrate Batman's 50th Anniversary (way back in 1989), this collection features twenty-one stories from across those five decades.

The word 'greatest' is very subjective, as you'll certainly find if you read this anthology of Batman stories.  The greatest Batman stories are 'Year One' and 'The Dark Knight Returns' by Frank Miller, Alan Moore's 'The Killing Joke' and 'The Long Halloween' by Jeph Loeb.  None of those stories is featured in this book.  Honestly, a far more accurate title would've been 'Some of the More Influential Batman Stories Ever Told', but I can certainly see that this is less punchy than the title they went with.

What we get here, then, is a range of stories which has some larger significance to the Batman mythos, be it the first appearance of the Batarang or the first time some of the Dark Knight's villains team-up (Penguin and Joker, if you were wondering).  Unfortunately, the quality of the storytelling, both in terms of writing and art, is very much of its time, which means that the stories from the 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s tend to be shallow, obvious and slapsticky.  Plus, there's just so many puns.  However, the stories originally published in the 70s and 80s show the more mature sensibilities that Batman's niche in comics has come to be synonymous with, making them much more enjoyable.  For me, the highlight was Alan Brennert's 1983 story 'The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne', which tells the story of how the Batman of Earth-2 finally gives up his solitary life to marry Catwoman.  It was a really interesting 'what if...?' scenario that we'll probably never see play out for the mainstream version of Batman.

One final note is that, like watching a Batman movie-marathon, you should prepare yourself to see Bruce's parents shot over and over again throughout this book.  Although, interestingly, this book does feature a reprint of the very first story where that detail of Batman's backstory was told (nearly ten years after the character was first created), so at least we get the original before having to see all the repeats.

Ultimately, there's just too much outdated storytelling on offer here to make this book appealing to modern audiences.  It's worth a read for people wanting to get a sense of Batman's real-world story, but not if your just looking for good quality in-universe adventures of the Caped Crusader.

2 out of 5

 

The Wizards Of Odd

featuring Terry Pratchett, Lord Dunsany, John Collier, Henry Kuttner, Eric Frank Russell, Ray Bradbury, Philip K. Dick, Ursula K. Le Guin, Stephen Donaldson, F. Anstey, James Branch Cabell, Fredric Brown, Fritz Leiber, Robert Bloch, Brian W. Aldiss, Avram Davidson, Douglas Adams, H. G. Wells, C. S. Lewis, Reginald Bretnor, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven and Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

A mixed bag of short stories here, ranging from the excellent to the excrement, which really fell short of my expectations considering the who's who of writing talent included.  Also, for the most part, the book's claim to 'comic tales of fantasy' is unfounded; there's not much fantasy and even less comedy. 

The real treat in this compilation is the short additions to well-established series, such as Le Guin's Earthsea, Leiber's Lankhmar and Adams' Hitch-Hiker's Guide.  Also, my personal favourite is the Discworld City Watch story which involves a hilarious, and typically Pratchett, take on the old Punch and Judy shows. 

Ultimately, however, this anthology contains just too much pointless dross to be worth the money.

2 out of 5