Paul Cornell

Doctor Who (2005) s03e08 – Human Nature

I didn’t have a great feeling when I saw Paul Cornell with the writing credit but I forced myself to be hopeful. Plus, Charlie Palmer directing, surely it would be all right. What’s the worst Cornell would do, another overly melodramatic time waster… And, yes, he does do another overly melodramatic time waster only this time he does it while taking away the Doctor and replacing him with a human.

Still David Tennant, which you’d think would make it okay, but strangely… David Tennant playing an early twentieth century racist, sexist, elitist, warmongering British school teacher isn’t as amusing as watching Tennant play the Doctor. Especially not when Freema Agyeman, a Black woman living in a more racist, sexist, and elitist time now too, has all her memories and it’s her job to babysit Tennant until they can go back to their day jobs.

The episode opens with an intentionally confusing sequence—which, frankly, was the ice skates on the Bat boots and is when you toss the script—but we gradually find out Tennant is hiding himself as a human, lost in time, trying to avoid these aliens who are after him. Agyeman’s job is to look after him until the short-lived aliens die off.

It’s all very humane.



What no one counted on was Tennant falling in love with school nurse Jessica Hynes.

I’m not sure how it played in 2007, but Tennant going back in time as a White man and falling for a White woman who then proceeds to be overtly racist to Agyeman, leading to Tennant backing up Hynes… I mean, there are optics to it. Especially since Agyeman—who, let’s not forget, started this season as a doctor herself—is reduced to mooning over Tennant to fellow maid Rebekah Staton.

Some trivia—Cornell based the teleplay on his Dr. Who novel of the same title (which started as fan fiction so score Paul Cornell, I guess). Also of note is a new producer, Susie Liggat.

Unfortunately, neither Liggat’s producing or Cornell’s writing are very impressive but… at least there seem to be some obvious reasons it’s not good. In addition to it being a rip of the fireplace episode from last season just double-sized.

And Hynes being a chemistry vacuum.

The worst part is it’s a two-parter because it can’t even just be over.

Doctor Who (2005) s01e08 – Father’s Day

I went into Father’s Day with high hopes; Joe Ahearne directing, Paul Cornell writing. I remember hearing about the episode (albeit vaguely) when it first aired because I knew Cornell’s comic book writing. So I went into the episode full of goodwill.

It’s all about the obvious kid going and saving their dead parent thing the show somehow pretends isn’t obvious. The episode opens with a flashback to Camille Coduri telling a young version of Billie Piper, played by Julia Joyce, about how her dad died when she was a baby. Then it cuts to this truncated cold open with Piper now asking Christopher Eccleston to take her to her parents’ wedding. Or something. To at least see her dad, played by Shaun Dingwall.

Once Piper’s seen the wedding, she wants to go hold Dingwall’s hand after he’s been hit by a car and is dying. Coduri’s already established Dingwall dies alone and it’s something Coduri’s really sad about her entire life apparently.

Except Piper’s not going there to comfort dying Dingwall, she’s going there to save him, which eventually results in time demons attacking London. The show hasn’t done the “don’t un-kill people” warnings, which has been kind of nice, but the pseudo-rift Piper’s action causes between her and Eccleston is one of the episode’s many fails. There’s a lot of crisis stuff with the cast, as Eccleston and Piper help the eighties folks barricade themselves into a church while Dingwall slowly comes to understand what’s going on.

But there’s also… Eccleston getting to needle Coduri in the past, which doesn’t play, Eccleston being nice to new bride and groom Natalie Jones and Frank Rozelaar-Green, which does play for some reason, in addition to Eccleston being mad at Piper, Piper being weird around Coduri (and Coduri hating Piper), and then the obvious Dingwall and Piper stuff.

It’s packed.

And none of the important threads connect.

The time demon sequence is intense and Dingwall’s excellent, but whatever they thought they were doing, they don’t. It should be a singular and instead it’s pedestrian.

Demon Knights 3 (January 2012)

Previously, I thought I could at least rely on the art in Demon Knights to be good, but Neves and Albert are slipping. Too much detail here, too little there. Some of it appears positively disjointed–one page looks like George Perez and the final page (the super soft cliffhanger) looks rushed. I wonder if they had to do a less gory version at the last minute.

This issue is the cast under siege and Cornell finally starts to recognize his problems. Besides the Shining Knight, the Demon and Vandal Savage, the cast all blurs together. There’s even a joke about it in dialogue.

Unfortunately, just because Cornell recognizes it doesn’t mean he does anything to alleviate it. This issue of Demon Knights is probably the best–the Shining Knight gender jokes alone give it that status–but it’s still not any good.

Cornell’s apparent lack of enthusiasm sinks it.


First Sacrifices; writer, Paul Cornell; penciller, Diógenes Neves; inker, Oclair Albert; colorist, Marcelo Maiolo; letterer, Jared K. Fletcher; editors, Chris Conroy and Matt Idelson; publisher, DC Comics.

Stormwatch 3 (January 2012)

Seeing as how Cornell’s pacing of the comic is so obvious–he tries and fails to make it feel like a big action movie–it’s boring. The only compelling element is the appearance of the personification of the city of Gotham.

Guess what?

It’s a Bat-man.

But Cornell tries all these jokes and then the rousing action scene with Apollo saving the world… and none of Stormwatch works. For a while, I wondered if it was getting better because I could follow the action scenes.

Then I realized, no, it’s no better. I’m a little more used to it, but it’s still pretty bad.

Miguel Sepulveda’s art should be fine, but Cornell’s script includes so much dumb, non-visual material, Sepulveda stumbles. Cornell has Speulveda draw giant monsters from the human perspective; these things are too big to be scary or even threatening.

Stormwatch needs to check its scale.


The Dark Side, Part Three; writer, Paul Cornell; artist, Miguel Sepulveda; colorists, Alex Sinclair and Pete Pantazis; letterer, Rob Leigh; editors, Sean Mackiewicz and Pat McCallum; publisher, DC Comics.

Soldier Zero 2 (November 2010)

It’s actually kind of impressive how substantial a read Cornell makes this issue… especially since it takes place over about an hour. Unfortunately, Cornell’s writing failures here are the kind of thing….

A big part of the issue is what voice Soldier Zero is talking to the protagonist with. The Soldier Zero part (which goes from a Dick Tracy wristwatch to a full-sized armor thing) mimics voices—the protagonist’s, his brother’s, a girl he kind of knows… Obama’s.

Somehow Cornell didn’t take into account the reader is reading this comic book, not listening to it. He has these cues in the dialogue to let the reader know what voice Soldier Zero is using, which just makes it even more painful.

The series reminds me of an eighties sci-fi show, only updated to be “support our troops” friendly. They should put a ribbon on the cover.

Plus, Pina’s inconsistent.


One Small Step for Man, Part Two; writer, Paul Cornell; penciller, Javier Pina; inker, Sergio Arino; colorist, Archie Van Buren; letterer, Ed Dukeshire; editor, Bryce Carlson; publisher, Boom! Studios

Fantastic Four: True Story 4 (January 2009)

And it’s a happy ending for everyone not looking at Domingues’s art.

Seriously, it’s really bad.

But the final issue has a lot of charm–even if the ending is too short and Cornell wastes the cast of The Wind and the Willows. Having Toad run around with Johnny Storm seems somehow perfect and Cornell only hints at it.

Cornell’s rules for the story and its logic are pretty loose (I think Reed refers to it as the “fictoverse,” but only one time… as someone noticed how stupid it sounds). It all comes together nicely so the issue can end with a bow on it.

The problem with True Story is how unimportant the Fantastic Four are to the story–it could be anyone having this adventure in the… groan… fictoverse. It might even be better with other characters.

And with the Domingues art, it’s too ugly to be precious.


Johnny Storm Saves Books; writer, Paul Cornell; artists, Horacio Domingues and Rick Burchett; colorist, Nestor Pereyra; letterer, Dave Lanphear; editor, Tom Brevoort; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Fantastic Four: True Story 3 (November 2008)

The third issue has some very weak moments–oh, the Austen characters are from Sense and Sensibility–but it ends with the Fantastic Four all dead, shot by firing squad.

Along with the little kid from Sense and Sensibility. So Cornell gets some respect for shooting a little kid. Even if it’s not shown on panel (Domingues would just screw it up anyway).

Cornell reveals the villain to be Nightmare, who through some complicated sounding way is all of a sudden able to invade fiction. What’s idiotic about this detail is the timing. Cornell ties it to a particular book being written. Only… no one’s done it until now? No one’s ever written about the conceptual idea of the character Nightmare (who gives people nightmares) until now? Given the intelligence Cornell writes with (most of the time, at least, excepting his scenes between Sue and Reed), it’s a tad contrived.


Total Nightmare; writer, Paul Cornell; artist, Horacio Domingues; colorists, Nestor Pereyra and A. Dalhouse; letterer, Dave Lanphear; editor, Tom Brevoort; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Fantastic Four: True Story 2 (October 2008)

Well, if it weren’t for Domingues, Cornell might really have something this issue.

Cornell tasks Domingues with drawing various literary figures and he comes up with something out of a “Scooby Doo” cartoon. The artwork here does not cut it–Marvel should be embarrassed. Domingues’s style is unfinished (they should have given him an experienced inker at the least) and almost entirely thoughtless. True Story, this issue shows, needs a visual tone. Domingues can’t bring it.

This issue excels past the first (it’ll probably be the best issue of the series, given the events) as Cornell starts teaming the Fantastic Four with the heroes of Pride and Prejudice. At least, I think it’s Pride and Prejudice, it’s an Austen novel for sure. But it lets Cornell be funny–he’s got a great sense of humor (Dante bickering with an Austen hero).

The end has issues, but it’s a fun read.


Grimm’s Fairy Tales; writer, Paul Cornell; artist, Horacio Domingues; colorist, Nestor Pereyra; letterer, Dave Lanphear; editor, Tom Brevoort; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Fantastic Four: True Story 1 (September 2008)

I really wanted to love Fantastic Four: True Story, but Cornell just isn’t able to make it precious enough. The concept is somewhat complex–Sue is suffering from melancholy and discovers it has to do with not wanting to read fiction. It turns out the whole world is suffering from a similar melancholy (a major problem with the narrative is Reed “discovering” that universal ailment–someone else would have noticed first).

So the Fantastic Four journey into fiction to find out the problem.

Cornell does a great job with Johnny and Ben–he even abbreviates their bickering, which only lasts a page, but is a fine approach to what otherwise would have been something familiar.

It’s Sue and Reed who come off wrong. Cornell has them blathering to each other like they’re out of a romance novel.

Plus, Domingues’s art fails. He doesn’t do either element–superhero or magical–well.


The Melancholy of Susan Richards; writer, Paul Cornell; artist and colorist, Horacio Domingues; letterer, Dave Lanphear; editor, Tom Brevoort; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Soldier Zero 1 (October 2010)

SoldierZero_01_CVRA.jpgYou know, I liked it.

I dislike gimmicks as a principle, but Boom! allowed advance reviews of Soldier Zero so I figured they must think it’ll get good ones. You don’t see a lot of advance comic reviews from any superhero publisher.

It succeeds because of Paul Cornell, near as I can tell, and because of the narrative construction. The titular Soldier Zero has these strange appearances throughout the issue, so he could be a video game character the protagonist plays. Goofy superhero outfit though–looks like a cheap toy.

The protagonist is where Soldier Zero works real well–he’s an anti-war, disabled Iraq vet and Cornell’s approach to not making him a stereotype is very interesting. Cornell drowns the character in stereotypical situations, but keeps him honest, making them real.

It’s not reinventing the wheel (it’s like Green Lantern with a wheelchair), but it’s a decent superhero comic.


One Small Step for Man, Part One; writer, Paul Cornell; artist, Javier Pina; colorist, Alfred Rockefeller; letterer, Ed Dukeshire; editor, Bryce Carlson; publisher, Boom! Studios.

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