Halloween spotlight on Tom Sutton at Charlton Comics

Today, to celebrate Halloween, I am spotlighting the work of an artist with one of the most distinctively eerie styles I have ever come across, Tom Sutton.  Born in 1937, Sutton had a very prolific career.  Unfortunately he is probably not nearly as well known as some of his contemporaries due to the fact that he rarely worked on super-hero titles.  His style was not particularly well-suited to the spandex set, and he himself was not especially fond of the cape & cowl crowd.  However, when it came to horror, mystery, science fiction, romance and even humor, Sutton was a perfect fit.

Sutton worked for several companies, among them Marvel, DC, Warren, Skywald, First, Eclipse and Fantagraphics. He did an especially large body of work for Charlton Comics, that third-rate outfit run out of Derby CT that specialized in low page rates, cheap printing, poor paper quality… and almost unlimited creative freedom.  As I’ve written before, for up-and-coming writers and artists who were looking to break into the biz & find their feet, or for more seasoned creators who were seeking a publisher with little editorial or corporate oversight, Charlton was the place to go in the 1970s.

Haunted 23 cover

I am going to focus on Sutton’s output at Charlton, because he did really great work there… and because I really don’t have too much of his other material readily at hand. Especially his Warren Publishing work, or his art for Marvel’s black & white magazines.  But I have at least a couple of dozen issues from among Charlton’s various horror anthology titles, many of them containing superb work by Sutton.

Interviewed in 2000 by Jon B. Cooke for  Comic Book Artist #12 from TwoMorrows Publishing, Sutton explained the appeal of working at Charlton.  “They published weird stuff, and I have always been fascinated by weird stuff, and the weirder the better.”  He also stated “I do owe a certain amount to Charlton, because they allowed me to write a lot of ditties of my own, to paint a lot of horrible covers, and they never, ever, ever remarked on my technique.”

Sutton’s artwork was undeniably distinctive, leaving an impression upon readers throughout the years.  The juxtaposition of a quirky, cartoony style with the use of an absolutely insane amount of detail played a significant part in generating the disquieting impact of Sutton’s illustrations. There is what I would describe as a psychologically unsettling quality to his work.  I definitely see that epitomized in his ghoulishly insane cover for Haunted #23 (September 1975) pictured above.

Haunted 17 pg 20

Sutton was an expert storyteller. He knew how to pace his layouts and position the figures in his panels for maximum dramatic impact.  In much of his work there is a palpable sense of anxiety and dread.  One of the best examples of this was the story “A Budding Evil” which he wrote and drew.  It appeared in the pages of Haunted #17 (July 1974) for which he also illustrated the cover.  I featured that piece in last year’s Halloween spotlight on Charlton Comics horror anthologies blog post.  This time, above, is a page from that story.  That wide-eyed gaze of the female protagonist in the last panel is a trademark of Sutton’s.  He very much specialized in rendering people wrought with fear & dread, capturing the quality of souls in anguished terror.

Haunted 36 pg 11

On the other hand, “The Night of the Demon” from Haunted #36 (May 1978) very much demonstrates Sutton’s versatility.  Charlton mainstay Nicola “Nick” Cuti wrote the tale of Sonya & Tanya Marcus, mother & daughter witches living in medieval times.  Sonya utilizes magic for good, and she seeks to instruct her daughter to follow in that path.  Sutton’s work on this story has a great deal of atmosphere, but in this case it is of a fairy tale nature.  Yes, there is a bit of a dark undercurrent to some of it, as Sonya lectures her daughter on the powerful, dangerous demon Ailurikos, who must be invoked very carefully, and only on occasions when he can be directed towards benevolent goals.  Sutton renders Ailurikos as a sleek, sinister amalgam of a panther and a bat.  But for the most part Cuti’s tale is one of whimsy, and Sutton’s art reflects that.  He certainly draws the young Tanya as a sweet, adorable figure.  (And quite coincidentally Diversions of the Groovy Kind is spotlighting “The Night of the Demon” as part of Halloween Week.)

Ghostly Haunts 163 pg 1

Another interesting story illustrated by Sutton was “Baku the Dream Eater.”  This story neatly straddled the genres of horror, fantasy and romance. Sutton’s beautifully rendered title splash, posted above, is absolutely amazing.  It’s another fantastic piece by Sutton, as once again it demonstrates his flexibility as an artist.  Certainly it is a very nice example of how adept he was at illustrating beautiful, sensual women, as well as his usual bizarre monsters.  I scanned this from Ghostly Tales #163 (October 1983) which was an all-reprint issue (by the early 1980s Charlton was on its last legs and recycling a great deal of older material).  According to the Grand Comic Database, “Baku the Dream Eater” originally saw print in Ghostly Haunts #55 (October 1977).

Haunted Love 11 pg 9

Speaking of romance, one of the odder Charlton titles (and that is definitely saying something) was the very short-lived Haunted Love, which lasted a mere eleven issues. As Cuti explained to Jon B. Cooke in Comic Book Artist #12, the Haunted Love series was an attempt to combine their readers for ghost comics, who were mostly young boys, and their readers for romance comics, who were young girls.  Supposedly this would result in twice as many sales.  But, as Cuti humorously observed, “As it turned out, instead of combining our two audiences, we would up alienating both audiences.”  Nevertheless, during its short run Haunted Love featured some decidedly oddball & offbeat, but still interesting, stories.  One of these was “Beware: Do Not Love Him!” in issue #10 (July 1975).  Written by prolific Charlton scribe Joe Gill, it featured gorgeous artwork by Sutton in the gothic romance tradition.

Ghostly Haunts 40 cover

Some people find spiders scary. Speaking for myself I have always thought they were pretty cool.  Plus they are cheaper than hiring an exterminator!  (I must have read Charlotte’s Web one too many times as a child.)  Having said that, I can certainly understand why a giant spider would be a source of anxiety.  Obviously so too did Sutton, who illustrated an awful arachnid in its wicked web on the cover of Ghostly Haunts #40 (September 1974) seen above.  Appropriately enough he signed this piece as “Grisly.”  That lurid green coloring maximizes the impact of this one.  Within the pages of this issue is the bizarre accompanying tale “The Game Keeper,” which is both written and illustrated by Sutton.

Charlton horror hosts by Tom Sutton

The aforementioned Tom Sutton interview in Comic Book Artist #12 contained several examples of Sutton’s Charlton work.  Among these was the above piece, a striking black & white illustration featuring several of the Charlton horror hosts which originally saw print in Charlton Bullseye #1 (1975).  Front-and-center is my favorite of them all, the lovely Winnie the Witch.  Looking over the cool double page spread drawn by Mort Todd for The Charlton Arrow #1 (order your copy now if you haven’t already) I can identify the other spooky subjects of Sutton’s illustration.  Floating above the group is Impy, standing behind Winny is Mr. I.M. Dedd, on the left is Mr. Bones, and at the right with a book of occult lore in hand is Dr. M.T. Graves (you have got to love those names).

Tom Sutton passed away on May 1, 2002 at the age of 65. He left behind him a rich legacy of distinctively macabre art.  I think that there have only been a handful of comic book artists over the decades capable of conjuring up a genuinely frightful mood though their work.  Sutton was undoubtedly one of them.  If you are not already familiar with his art, I highly recommend seeking out some of the many comic books that he illustrated throughout his career.

By the way, I bought about half of the Charlton horror issues at various comic book conventions over the years.  The others were found in the back issue bins of Roger’s Time Machine aka Mysterious Island, a comic shop that for a long time was on West 14th Street.  Now known as Mysterious Time Machine, it’s located at 418 6th Avenue, between 8th and 9th Street.  It’s a great place with a huge selection of comics, including those old Charlton books.

I hope everyone enjoyed this brief look at the work of Tom Sutton.  If you would like to see more of his awesome art, please check out Tom Sutton, Comic Book Artist Extraordinaire on Facebook.  Have a happy Halloween!

Comic book reviews: Maura by Erik J. Kraus and Rudy Nebres

“Revenge is barren of itself: it is the dreadful food it feeds on; its delight is murder, and its end is despair.” – Friedrich Schiller

With Halloween around the corner, I am going to take a look at one of my favorite horror comic books to be come out within the last few years. The erotic horror graphic novel Maura was initially published as a two issue miniseries in 2009 by Berserker Comics.  It was written by Eric J. Kraus, with penciled artwork by veteran artist Rudy Nebres.  Glenn Fabry and Steven R. Cobb provided painted covers over Nebres’ pencils.

Maura 1 cover signed

Maura is the tale of Maura Sterling, a 21 year old woman from Delaware who is incredibly beautiful & sexy, yet also quite sweet & naïve. Maura is still a virgin, having saved herself for “the one.”  Her upbringing was an unpleasant one.  She comes from a wealthy family, but her father was thoroughly rotten, an abusive alcoholic who conducted numerous affairs behind his wife’s back.  Maura’s brother Bobby became addicted to drugs and eventually committed suicide.  Maura herself retreated into books, music and art.  So when she at last struck out on her own Maura was intelligent and well educated yet also very emotionally vulnerable, eagerly searching for the love she never found at home.

Working as a temp at a computer company, Maura meets Derek Morgan. He is a charming, handsome man, and he immediately sets his sights on his young, attractive co-worker.  At first Derek appears to be all that Maura has ever wanted; he is soulful, cultured and romantic, wooing her with his guitar and poetry.  One day Derek takes her to Phillip’s Park and leads her through the forest to a secluded area, a forgotten bench by a pond.  “This is where I came as a child to think,” Derek tells Maura.  “When the world around me seemed so unbearable. Away from my abusive father. This was the only place I could find solace. And now I have found that special person to share it with.”  Having said all the right words, Derek seduces Maura, and the two of them make love on the park bench.

Maura 1 pg 4

Maura is subsequently in heaven, believing she has found her soul mate. Tragically, she does not realize that she has been played by Derek.  He is, in fact, a manipulative asshole, a bullshit artist with a girlfriend of five years.  He has been carrying on multiple affairs during that whole time, seducing numerous women, bringing them to that same bench in Phillip’s Park, wooing them with that same sob story, using and then discarding them.  He is, in other words, very much like Maura’s father.

Unaware of any of this, Maura begins sending love letters to Derek. He, of course, having gotten what he wanted, is already moving on to his next target, Kathy, another lovely co-worker.  Maura’s last letter to Derek is a message asking him to meet her at the park bench.  She waits there, a ring in her possession, intending to ask Derek to marry her, not knowing that he has tossed her letter into the trash unread.  And so she waits.  And waits.  And waits.

Weeks pass by, and Derek decides to bring his latest conquest to the bench in Phillip’s Park, intending to woo Kathy with his sad tale of a lonely childhood. But before he can, he spots a figure on the bench.  It is Maura, still waiting, but now changed.  She is not quite dead, but neither is she really alive.  Enraged at the sight of Derek with another woman, Maura grasps his hand and slips on the wedding band, then kills him with a maggot-laden kiss.  Turning to Kathy, the still-enraged Maura hollers “Scream all you want, bitch! No one will hear you here! After all… he wanted to share this special spot… with you!”  Maura strangles the other woman, and standing over her victims she declares “Now it’s yours… forever!!!

Maura 1 pg 11

The undead Maura’s lust for revenge is unquenched. She embarks upon a killing spree, luring away boyfriends and husbands from their significant others with her sexuality, and then brutally murdering them for their infidelities.  On each of their hands she places a wedding band, forged out of silver coins stolen from her father.  Reflecting on what she has become, Maura admits that she misses her mother.  But she then states to herself “I was foolish to trust you or anyone else for that matter. Death is my friend now and it is mine to share with those most deserving.”

While Maura is busy with her lethal mission, she is being sought by another. Martin is a private investigator who is looking into the killings.  Hired by Maura’s parents to find their missing daughter, Martin soon deduces that she is the culprit behind these slayings.

Martin is a despondent figure. Middle aged, addicted to cigarettes, he looks back on his life and perceives myriad missed opportunities, squandered potential.  He is in mourning over the recent death of his nephew serving abroad in Iraq, and reflecting on his own seemingly dismal future.  In his own way, Martin is as much a lost soul as his supernatural quarry.

Undeterred by this pursuit, Maura continues on her dark course. Consumed by grief and hurt and jealousy and rage, Maura is embittered at the world, and she wishes to lash out.  But her anger, her inability to allow herself to once again trust others, eventually becomes her undoing.  The story comes to a close on a tragic note, one that left me genuinely saddened.

Maura 2 pg 17

Erik J. Kraus writes a tangibly atmospheric story. His scripting is florid and poetic, rich with mood and emotion.  Kraus delves into the minds of his characters, lays bare their souls.  There is a genuinely melancholy, reflective tone to his work.

The name Maura is, of course, a variation on Mara. In European folklore a Mara was a vampiric spirit that visited men in their sleep.  It would assume the form of seductive woman in order to drain the life out of its victim.  Similarly, in Buddhism, the Mara was a demon that sought to tempt the Buddha with a vision of its three beautiful daughters, lustful figures of the flesh to lead the sage away from his pure, spiritual path.  Kraus has obviously taken inspiration from these legends and given them a modern, feminist slant.  He has crafted a protagonist who is driven by the betrayals and misogyny of men to exact revenge, a woman who is ultimately, tragically consumed by her hatred.

Maura 2 pg 4

What initially drew me to Maura was the artwork by Rudy Nebres. I have been a huge fan of his since I first discovered his work through the Vampirella stories he illustrated for Harris Comics in the mid-1990s.  I soon learned that the Filipino-born Nebres had in the early 1980s previously worked on the original Vampirella magazine from Warren Publishing, along with their other horror & sci-fi books.  Among his other credits, he worked at Marvel in the 1970s and on the Archie / Red Circle superhero titles in the 1980s.  I have a great fondness for the rich, illustrative work of the Filipino artists, and Nebres is definitely one of my favorites.

Nebres artwork on Maura is absolutely stunning. The lavish attention to detail is amazing, and the layouts dramatic.  His depictions of Maura Sinclair are wonderful.  He renders her adeptly in all of her different aspects.  Through Nebres’ pencil, Maura is a beautiful & sensual figure of seduction, an innocent & wounded soul, and a horrific half-decayed monstrosity hungering for vengeance.  In the final scenes, Rudy captured the raw, tragic emotion of Maura perfectly.  He is such an amazing artist.

Viewing Nebres’ amazing art on Maura, I find myself wondering why the hell he isn’t getting more assignments nowadays. Dynamite Entertainment, the current publishers of Vampirella, ought to be knocking on his door with a sack full of money in hand asking him to work for them.  But I’ve ceased spending too much time trying to figure out how the minds of editors and publishers work.  At least Kraus was wise enough to have Nebres draw this book, with wonderful results.  He did great work on Maura, and when I met him again at the New York Comic Fest in June I made certain to bring along the issues to get autographed.

Maura 2 cover signed

The cover artwork on these two issues is very good. Glenn Fabry is, of course, a highly-regarded artist who has done stunning work for the 2000 AD anthology series and painted amazing covers at DC / Vertigo.  He does nice work over Nebres’ pencils for the first issue cover image.  On the other hand, off the top of my head I cannot recall any other work by Steven R. Cobb.  Nevertheless, his cover painting for issue #2 over Nebres’ pencils is fantastic, both beautiful and grimly horrifying.

Kraus has been working on getting Maura reprinted as a single volume with extra material. While that has unfortunately yet to materialize, the entire 56 page story is available digitally through Comixology.  I certainly recommend purchasing it.  It makes for a great read during the Halloween season.

The Forever People meet Bat-Cow

Nah-nah nah-nah nah-nah nah-nah… Bat-Cow!  Bif!  Bam!  Pow!  Moo?!?

Infinity Man and the Forever People 4 cover

Infinity Man and the Forever People #4 sees the team of Keith Giffen & Scott Koblish once again on art duties. No offense to all of the fill-in artists, but a little stability is certainly appreciated.  Giffen, with co-writer Dan DiDio, picks up right where the previous issue ended (not counting last month’s Futures End detour) with the Forever People’s Boom Tube going, um, boom.  The quintet from New Genesis fall just a bit short of their home base of Venice Beach, crashing into a Wayne Enterprises dairy & agriculture center in Ventura CA.  It is there that they encounter this issue’s extra special guest star, from the pages of Batman Incorporated, the one and only Bat-Cow.

I like how Giffen & DiDio script the Forever People. On the one hand, they are New Gods, deities from an ultra-advanced alien civilization.  On the other, they are newcomers to Earth with little knowledge of the planet’s cultures.  Thus they are depicted as possessing a distinctive blend of sophistication and naiveté.  That certainly lends itself to comedy, such as Big Bear & Serafina asking Bat-Cow for advice.

Infinity Man and the Forever People 4 pg 5

There is a quality to Keith Giffen’s writing that I have often observed. His stories either are bizarrely farcical and ultra-comedic, or they are extremely dark and intensely somber.  Well, there is also the third option, where Giffen chooses to work with both extremes simultaneously.  That is clearly the case with Infinity Man and the Forever People.

So throughout issue #4 there are several allusions to the war Highfather and New Genesis have launched against the Lantern Corps in the current “Godhead” crossover, the quarrel between Infinity Man and Himon, and a dark winged woman stalking Mark Moonrider. Yet you also have Bat-Cow, and the Forever People being forced to take public transportation home, and Serafina’s encounter with the off-kilter Doctor Skuba, who proudly declares “While I am a pool cleaner by profession, I earned my doctorate in the hydrological sciences.”

It appears Giffen & DiDio have a definite destination in mind for this series, as hinted at in the Futures End special, with artwork by Philip Tan & Jason Paz. Half a decade in the future Beautiful Dreamer references such occurrences as “Lord Aagog’s assault on Earth, and Himon’s planetary quarantine.”  We also get a glimpse of Infinity Man in battle with OMAC.  I was wondering if these were events that Giffen & DiDio would actually be building up to once the series returned to the present.  Considering the “Femme Fatale” who was spying on Mark Moonrider is apparently an agent of the aforementioned Lord Aagog, yes, it appears so.

Infinity Man and the Forever People Futures End pg 11

I appreciate the fact that Giffen & DiDio have long-term plans, but that they are also leaving room for some humorous asides and oddball tangents. I wonder if they could manage to fit in an appearance by Giffen’s irreverent creation Ambush Bug.

The covers for both issue #4 and Futures End are illustrated by Howard Porter. His style has changed since his days on JLA.  Porter unfortunately suffered a severe hand injury several years ago and had to re-train himself to draw.  While I do find his current work a bit sketchy compared to his older art, he is still very good.  And I am certainly happy that he was eventually able to resume his career as a professional artist.  His two contributions to this series are well done.  The Futures End piece is moody and ominous, while the cover for #4 is quite humorous.  It appears that Porter is going to be the regular cover artist for this book going forward. I’ve seen images of a couple of his upcoming covers posted online, and they look good.

Anyway, it’s nice to find a New 52 series from DC Comics that doesn’t take itself so damn seriously. After all, it’s certainly possible to tell dramatic, emotionally riveting stories that are also fun.  Hopefully Infinity Man and the Forever People is finding an audience, because I’d like to see this series continue on.  It has quite a bit of potential.

Magneto vs the Red Skull round two: March to Axis

This is the second part of my examination of the enmity between the mutant revolutionary Magneto and the Nazi war criminal the Red Skull.  For those who missed it here is a link to the first part.

After their confrontation during “Acts of Vengeance,” it would be years before Magneto and the Red Skull would again encounter one another. They would finally come face-to-face once again in the prologue to the Avengers & X-Men: Axis crossover.

Magneto 9 cover

Although he has gone by several aliases during his lifetime, Magneto’s real name is Max Eisenhardt.  A Jew, Max was born in Germany in the late 1920s. After the rise of the Nazis, Max’s family faced severe discrimination, and they were eventually imprisoned in the Auschwitz concentration camp.  There the young Max saw his entire family murdered.  Max himself became a Sonderkommando, a Jew who under threat of death was forced to remove the victims of the gas chambers and place them in the ovens to be cremated.

This nightmarish existence was made all the worse by the abuses heaped upon Max and his fellow prisoners by a sadistic Nazi officer named Hitzig. At the time Max’s mutant powers were gradually beginning to manifest, and he sought to use them to kill Hitzig.  But between his young age, and his severe state of malnutrition, Max’s control of magnetism was much too weak, and he failed in the attempt to slay his tormenter.

Magneto 9 pg 6

The unimaginable horrors which Max endured left lasting emotional scars upon him. Years later, after he was prevented by a bigoted mob from saving the life of his daughter Anya, his traumatic memories were re-awakened.  Looking upon the gradual emergence of mutants and humanity’s resulting fears, Max became convinced that a new Holocaust was all but inevitable.  Determined to prevent this, he adopted the ruthlessly proactive identity of Magneto, a figure who would crush humanity before they could perpetrate genocide against mutant-kind.

In the ongoing Magneto series, writer Cullen Bunn has portrayed the title character as a driven, brutal individual. In his quest to protect mutants, and to avenge crimes against them, Magneto has regularly utilized violence and torture.  He has maimed or killed his adversaries with scarcely any remorse, fanatically convinced of the necessity and righteousness of his actions.  Bunn very much captures the extremely fine line that can exist between freedom fighter and terrorist.

In issue #9, by Bunn and artist Gabriel Hernandez Walta, with a cover by David Yardin, Magneto finally learns that the Red Skull has grafted Charles Xavier’s brain to his own, gaining immense telepathic powers. The Skull, with his S-Men and Ahab, has relocated to the island of Genosha, where they have constructed a “mutant reeducation camp” i.e. a concentration camp for the extermination of mutants.  Magneto’s greatest fear given concrete form, he sets out to destroy the Red Skull.  He was never ever able to kill Hitzig, but perhaps he can expunge the guilt he feels for his failure by slaying the Skull.  “After all this time, I’ll get some reprieve from my disgrace.”

Magneto 9 pg 19

Magneto confronts the Red Skull, echoing the words he uttered to the fascist mastermind years before when he buried him alive in a bomb shelter. “I told you once before, Nazi… I am your better!  But where I once showed you clemency, this time I have brought you nothing but death!”  Unfortunately Magneto’s powers are on the wane, and he is overwhelmed by the S-Men, who beat him into submission.

As the next issue opens, the Red Skull mocks the now-imprisoned Magneto. Using his mental powers, the Skull conjures up a psychic projection of Hitzig in an effort to break the Master of Magnetism.  This manifestation pursues Magneto through a lifetime of memories, inserting itself into each of them as a monstrous apparition, reminding him of his myriad failures.

Magneto 10 pg 4

Finally back in the real world, Magneto finds that he has been left at the mercy of Mzee, the member of the S-Men who resembles a humanoid turtle. Mzee is ready to make Magneto suffer.  As the S-Man reveals “As a child, I watched your minions slaughter my family.  Those moments… their screams… were endless.  And no one came to help me.  I’ll make sure your misery lasts just as long.”  Here we see the cost of Magneto’s crusade made tangible.  In his barbarous quest to protect mutants by subjugating humanity, Magneto has created yet another generation of victims who learned to hate and who now seek vengeance.  By his actions Magneto has not changed anything, but instead perpetuated the cycle of hatred.

Before Mzee can act, though, Havok, Rogue and the Scarlet Witch intervene. In the pages of Uncanny Avengers #24 written by Rick Remender, the three members of the Avengers Unity Squad had been abducted by the S-Men and brought to Genosha.  They managed to escape, and they free Magneto.  The three mutant Avengers try to convince the weakened Magneto not to continue his fight against the Red Skull, but to lay low with them while they contact the rest of the Avengers for reinforcements.  Magneto, though, will have none of that, and even accuses Rogue of betraying mutant-kind.  “I forgot you abandoned Charles’ dream.  No longer an X-Man, merely another stooge of the human establishment.”  Rogue is understandably outraged by this, as well she should be.  As a member of the Avengers, she played a crucial role in saving the entire world from being destroyed by the Celestials.  But do not bother telling that to Magneto; so long as mutants are safe, the rest of humanity can burn for all he cares.

The argument between Magneto and the Avengers is abruptly halted when they are discovered by the Red Skull, Ahab, and the S-Men. As Uncanny Avengers #25 opens, with writing by Remender and artwork by Daniel Acuna, the Skull has frozen them all in place with his telepathy.  The fascist takes this opportunity to once again poke & prod at Magneto’s insecurities.

Uncanny Avengers 25 pg 2

Commenting upon Magneto’s state of mind, the Skull mockingly observes “It doesn’t take a mind reader to know why it frightens you so, Magnus. It is not the evil that might be uncovered within – it is the emptiness.  A willingness to do whatever it takes to achieve your means.  Including the gross manipulation of your own daughter.  Tsk tsk.  Oh, dear, she despises you, Magnus.  A hatred that matches my own.  Used by her father.  Driven mad for his purpose.”

As he previously did in “Acts of Vengeance,” the Red Skull is attempting to point out that he and Magneto are more alike than not. And this time the Skull brings Magneto’s daughter, the Scarlet Witch, into his argument.  Remender really hit the nail on the head with this, making a connection I had previously missed.  The Skull used and abused his own daughter, Sinthia, manipulating her into an instrument of his will, a warped reflection of his own sick mind.  As a result, Sinthia absolutely despises him.  And this is all too similar to Magneto’s relationship with his daughter the Scarlet Witch.  On numerous occasions he attempted to utilize Wanda’s reality-warping abilities as a weapon in the cause of mutant revolution, not caring what harm it caused her.  The result is that the Witch would very much prefer to have nothing to do with her father.

Unknown to the Red Skull, when Magneto was freed by the Avengers he took the opportunity to ingest a dose of Mutant Growth Hormone. His powers now restored almost to normal levels, he knocks out the Skull, releasing the Avengers from mental control.  Rogue, Havok and the Scarlet Witch engage the S-Men and Ahab.  Magneto, discovering several lobotomized mutants in one of the concentration camp buildings, furiously declares “This is what they do to our people, Wanda!  And so long as they draw breath there can be no unity.”  Enraged, Magneto uses his powers to seemingly kill the S-Men.  He then proceeds to physically assault the Skull, brutally beating him.  Defiant to the end, the Skull continues to verbally taunt Magneto.  Then, before the Witch’s horrified eyes, Magneto kills the Skull in cold blood, shattering his head with a block of masonry.

Uncanny Avengers 25 pg 16

The Scarlet Witch, Rogue and Havok are horrified. At first speechless, Rogue finally gasps “What have you done?”  Magneto attempts to justify his act, announcing that he has “killed evil incarnate” and “saved countless lives.”  Rogue mere responds “You – after all your words – you’re no better than him.”

Of course, that is not the end of things. By killing the Red Skull, Magneto inadvertently set loose something that was buried deep within Xavier’s mind.  Onslaught, the psionic entity that was once born out of the combined subconscious darkness of the Xavier and Magneto, lives again.  And it is now controlled by the twisted consciousness of the Red Skull.

Uncanny Avengers 25 pg 21

Thus is the stage set for “The Red Supremacy,” the first act of Avengers & X-Men: Axis. I will be taking a look at that miniseries, and the continuing struggle between Magneto and the Red Skull, in the near future.

Doctor Who reviews: Mummy on the Orient Express

“Mummy on the Orient Express” written by Jamie Mathieson, is possibly my favorite episode of Doctor Who Series Eight so far. It very effectively took the mid-1970s “Gothic horror” sensibilities of the early Tom Baker stories overseen by producer Philip Hinchcliffe & script editor Robert Holmes and filtered them through the prism of modern-day Who.

Several weeks have passed since “Kill the Moon.” Despite the furious anger Clara (Jenna Coleman) had towards the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) at the end of that story, by now she realizes she does not really hate him.  That said, neither does she particularly like him anymore, either.  Clara is ready to throw in the towel on her TARDIS traveling, but the Doctor convinces her to join him on one last journey.  He takes her to the far future, where a replica of the famed Orient Express passenger train journeys through outer space from one planet to another.

Clara wanted a nice, quiet, relaxing vacation for this final trip. Unfortunately her hopes are quickly dashed.  One by one, people are dying of sudden heart attacks.  Each of them, in the minute before he or she is killed, perceives the horrific sight of an ancient mummy lumbering towards them, a being they and they alone can see.

Doctor Who Mummy on the Orient Express promo image

The Doctor realizes these deaths match up to a legendary creature known only as the Foretold, a seemingly unstoppable entity that always claims its victims exactly 66 seconds after appearing, a creature whose existence has never been explained. The Doctor also notices that a rather large number of the passengers just so happen to be scientists specializing in alien biology, physics and mythology.  He deduces that they have all been assembled for a purpose.  “If I was putting together a team to analyze this thing, I’d pick you.  And I think somebody has.  Someone of immense power and influence has orchestrated this whole trip.  Someone who I have no doubt is listening to us right now.  So are you going to step out from behind the curtain and give us our orders?”

With that the hidden mastermind, via the Orient Express’ computer system, announces that they have all been gathered to analyze the Foretold, find a way to capture it, and reverse engineer its abilities. And if they do not succeed, well, then they are all going to die at its hands.  This horrifying possibility proves to be all too real, as Clara searches through the train’s records, and discovers that the mastermind has actually attempted this on several other occasions, with scientists on different spaceships… and they all died.

Peter Capaldi is once again magnificent as the Twelfth Doctor. Both his mannerisms, striding in and imperiously taking charge, as well as his attire, again bring to mind Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor.  There is also quite a bit of Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor, especially as he played the role during his first three years under Hinchcliffe & Holmes.

“Mummy on the Orient Express” undoubtedly brings to mind the 1975 classic “Pyramids of Mars” written by Holmes. First off there is the obvious connection of mummies who are in fact something entirely different.  The mummies in “Pyramids” were actually service robots created by the alien Osirians.  Similarly, the mummy-like Forgotten in this latest story is not a supernatural entity but a long-dead soldier reanimated by incredibly advanced alien technology, a deadly weapon of war & assassination.

Also present is the coldly analytical attitude of the Doctor. In “Pyramids of Mars,” faced with the threat of Sutekh the Destroyer, a godlike being with the ability to decimate entire planets, the Doctor is focused exclusively on thwarting this apocalyptic entity, to the exclusion of all pleasantries.  When the Doctor and Sarah discover that their ally Lawrence Scarman has been murdered by his brother, whose body is now an animated cadaver controlled by Sutekh, the Doctor is quite cold and blasé about it…

The Doctor: His late brother must have called.

Sarah: That’s horrible! He was so concerned about his brother.

The Doctor: I told him not to be. I told him it was too late.

Sarah: Oh! Sometimes you don’t seem…

The Doctor: Human? [The Doctor examines a deactivated service robot] Typical Osirian simplicity.

Sarah: A man has just been murdered!

The Doctor: Four men, Sarah.  Five, if you include Professor Scarman himself.  And they’re merely the first of millions unless Sutekh is stopped.  Know thine enemy.  Admirable advice.

“Mummy on the Orient Express” sees the Doctor taking a similarly ultra-pragmatic stance. Each time the Foretold appears to a victim, the Doctor attempts to get that person to describe the creature in as much detail as possible before they die.  He knows that he cannot save them, but if enough of the Foretold’s victims provide him with the information he needs to deduce its nature, then hopefully he will eventually be able to stop it from slaughtering everyone on the train.

After the Orient Express’ captain is killed by the Foretold, the Doctor is seemingly unmoved, instead speaking aloud in a rapid stream of consciousness as he runs through the evidence, trying to connect the dots. In an exchange that echoes the aforementioned scene from “Pyramids of Mars,” Perkins the train’s engineer reacts with disbelief at the Doctor’s seemingly callous nature…

Perkins: A man just died in front of us!  Can we not just have a moment?

The Doctor: No, no, no!  We can’t do that!  We can’t mourn!  People with guns to their heads, they cannot mourn!  We do not have time to mourn!

While this is taking place, Clara is at the back of the Express, attempting to comfort Maisie, whose grandmother was the first victim of the Foretold. Then the Doctor contacts Clara on her cell phone.  He has deduced that the next victim will be none other than Maisie, and he wants Clara to bring her up to the scientists so they can once again try to study the Foretold, “observe it in action.”  Clara is, of course, aghast.  She is even more upset when the Doctor tells her to lie to Maisie, to say that the only way he can save her is if she comes to the front of the train.  And Clara very reluctantly does exactly that.  Face to face with the Doctor, Clara accusingly tells him “You’ve made me your accomplice.”

Doctor Who Mummy on the Orient Express Doctor and Clara

It’s very interesting that “Pyramids of Mars” played such an apparent influence on both this episode and on the one it immediately follows out of, “Kill the Moon.” In that, Clara insisted that they should just get in the TARDIS and leave since the Moon did not get destroyed in 2049, because in his travels the Doctor has previously seen it still existing even further in the future.  To which the Doctor responded “Clara, there are some moments in time that I simply can’t see.  Little eye blinks.  They don’t look the same as other things.  They’re not clear, they’re fuzzy, they’re grey.  Little moments in which big things are decided and this is one of them.  Just now I can’t tell what happens to the Moon because whatever happens to the Moon hasn’t been decided yet.  And it’s going to be decided here and now, which very much sounds like it’s up to us.”

This very much parallels the scene in “Pyramids of Mars” where Sarah argues that she comes from the year 1980, so it is obvious Sutekh did not destroy the world in 1911. In response, the Doctor takes Sarah back to 1980 in the TARDIS, and she is horrified to discover the Earth has been reduced to a lifeless wasteland.  The Doctor tells her that if they do not go back to 1911 and stop Sutekh then there is no future.

In “Kill the Moon” Clara resented the Doctor for thrusting her into the position of playing God, of making her the arbiter of the fates of others. Now, still attempting to deal with her feelings about the Doctor’s actions, in “Mummy on the Orient Express” Clara witnesses the Doctor reassuming that role.  She is not at all comfortable with either alternative.

In the end the Doctor saves Maisie and figures out exactly what the Foretold really is, thus finding a way to stop it. But this was not something that he was at all certain he would be able to do.  As the Doctor later solemnly explains to Clara “Sometimes the only choices you have are bad ones.  But you still have to choose.”

Back in 1999, I was over in Britain for a few months. While there I went to a comic book convention in Bristol, England.  The evening of the last day, at the hotel bar, I was hanging out, having drinks and chatting.  Also there was Dave Stone, an author who had written several Doctor Who New Adventure novels.  Talking with him, I discussed how I disliked the depictions of the Seventh Doctor in many of the books, often finding him to be an overly manipulative, judgmental figure.  As an example, I cited some of his actions in the novel Cat’s Cradle: Warhead by Andrew Cartmel.  After listening to what I had to say, Stone simply replied, “The Doctor cannot save everyone.”

That was certainly at the forefront of my mind while watching “Mummy on the Orient Express.” Something that I’ve occasionally observed concerning the episodes with Clara was that she possessed this belief that if the Doctor simply tried hard enough, if he was as clever and brave as he could possibly be, “neither cowardly nor cruel,” that he would somehow always find a way to do the right thing.  We saw this in “The Day of the Doctor” when at Clara’s urgings he managed to alter history and save Gallifrey.  Last week, at the end of “Kill the Moon” it really felt like Clara was rejecting the entire concept of a no-win situation, and that she demonstrated it was possible to find a consequence-free choice where everyone lived happily ever after.  But now, just one episode later, Clara witnesses that sometimes that is just not possible, that sometimes you really are forced to choose the lesser of all evils.

Clara suggests to the Doctor that “being the man making the impossible choice” is an addiction. Immediately after Clara calls Danny and tells him that she is finally done traveling with the Doctor, and she’ll be home soon.  Yet, in the next breath, she turns to the Doctor and tells him that she has changed her mind, she wants to keep traveling with him, and that Danny is okay with this.  Clara lied!

Doctor Who Mummy on the Orient Express Foxes

Going back to the beginning of “Mummy on the Orient Express” there is a sexy chanteuse played by Louisa Rose Allen aka Foxes singing, appropriately enough, a rendition of “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen:

Tonight I’m gonna have myself a real good time

 I feel alive and the world it’s turning inside out – Yeah!

 I’m floating around in ecstasy

 So don’t stop me now don’t stop me

 ‘Cause I’m having a good time having a good time

Hmmmm… that could apply to the Doctor as well as Clara. So who is the addict?

I may not be especially happy with how the character of Clara has been proceeding in the last couple of episodes. But I certainly have to acknowledge that Jenna Coleman is doing a wonderful job with the material.

Putting aside all of the brilliant character moments, “Mummy on the Orient Express” is a riveting episode. It was a very effective mash-up of the eerie 1972 movie Horror Express starring Christopher Lee & Peter Cushing and the Japanese anime series Galaxy Express 999 created by Leiji Matsumoto.  The concept of a mummy-like alien creature that is completely invisible & intangible to everyone except its victims, that can teleport anywhere, that will kill you exactly 66 seconds after it appears, is genuinely frightening.  I expect that “Mummy on the Orient Express” must have contained some bona fide modern-day “behind the sofa” moments for younger viewers.

Magneto vs the Red Skull round one

The current Marvel Comics crossover Avengers/X-Men: Axis sees the Fascist mastermind the Red Skull gaining the devastating powers of Onslaught, threatening the entire world. A key aspect of this storyline has been the conflict between the Skull and Magneto, the mutant Master of Magnetism.  But this is certainly not the first time those two have encountered one another.  For that we must look back to late 1989 and the “Acts of Vengeance” crossover.

Captain America 367 cover

It is actually a bit surprising that it took Magneto and the Red Skull so long to meet. In certain respects they have much in common; in others they are complete opposites.

Magneto, the long-time ideological opponent of the X-Men and one of their greatest foes, spent his early years as a one-note mutant supremacist. He was almost a Hitler-like figure, a ranting, sadistic conqueror who wanted to crush humanity and rule the world in the name of mutant-kind, who he saw as their superiors.

Then throughout the 1980s, in the pages of Uncanny X-Men, writer Chris Claremont developed a back-story for Magneto. He was a Jew from Eastern Europe who had spent much of his childhood imprisoned in the Nazi concentration camps, who lost his entire family in the Holocaust.  At the end of World War II the barely alive Magneto fled to Russia with the gypsy Magda, who he married.

Eventually, as seen in Classic X-Men#12 by Claremont and artist John Bolton, when Magneto’s mutant powers began to manifest, a fearful mob attacked him, preventing him from rescuing his daughter Anya who was trapped in a burning house. Magneto lashed out in anger, slaying the mob.  Magda fled from him in fear, and he never saw her again.

The death of his daughter, the loss of his wife, and the actions of the mob brought him right back the horrors of the Holocaust. Magneto became convinced that it was inevitable that humanity would attempt to destroy mutants in a new genocide.  Between his overwhelming fear of a mutant Holocaust, and an unfortunate side effect of his powers creating severe emotional instability, Magneto became a violent revolutionary determined to protect mutant-kind by conquering humanity.  In effect, he became very much like the Nazis who he hated.

Classic X-Men 12 pg 10

The Red Skull’s real name is Johann Schmidt. In the back-story originally set down by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, and developed in detail years later by J.M. DeMatteis, Paul Neary & Roy Richardson in Captain America #298, we learn that Schmidt was born to an alcoholic father and his abused wife in a small German village.  When the mother died giving birth the drunk, angry father attempted to murder his newborn son.  He was prevented from doing so by the delivering physician.  The distraught father committed suicide soon after, leaving the infant Johann Schmidt an orphan.  Although only a newborn when all this occurred, the Red Skull claims to remember these events with crystal clarity.

Schmidt spent his childhood and teenage years as an outcast and a vagrant, ostracized by his peers. One time the daughter of a Jewish shopkeeper showed the coarse man kindness.  Schmidt responded by clumsily attempting to woo her, and when she spurned his violent advances, he responded by beating her to death, taking out on her all the rage he felt at humanity as a whole.  The experience filled him with “a dizzying joy such as I never suspected existed!”

Years past, and eventually Schmidt was working as a bellboy at a German hotel. One day Hitler and his advisors were staying there.  By chance, Schmidt was bringing refreshments into Hitler’s chambers right when the Fuhrer was berating the head of the Gestapo for letting a spy escape.  The fuming Hitler was despairing at ever having anyone competent enough to carry out his vision.  Motioning towards Schmidt, Hitler declared “I could teach that bellboy to do a better job than you!”  Glancing at the young man, Hitler was startled to see to look in Schmidt’s eyes.  Within them Hitler recognized a bottomless capacity for hatred and violence.  The Fuhrer realizes this was someone who he could transform into the ultimate Nazi, a being who would mercilessly advance the cause of the Third Reich.  Thus was born the Red Skull.

Captain America 298 pg 14

It is interesting that circumstances both led Magneto and the Red Skull onto a path of violence and conquest, each driven by the belief in their own superiority, by the desire to punish the world for the harms inflicted upon them. The difference, I think, is that if young Magneto had grown up in a different place & time, and never lived through the unimaginable horrors of the Holocaust, he might very well have grown up to be a normal, happy, well-adjusted figure.  In contrast, one gets the feeling that Johann Schmidt, even if he had been raised by loving parents, was of possessed some form of anti-social personality disorder and would have inevitable become a cruel, unpleasant individual.  He simply might have become something slightly more socially acceptable, such as a corporate executive or a politician!

These two men finally come face-to-face during “Acts of Vengeance,” when the Norse god of evil Loki brought together several of Earth’s greatest villains and criminals to organize a series of attacks directed at destroying the Avengers. At first Magneto thinks that this is a different Red Skull, believing the original died some time before, not realizing the Skull’s consciousness was transferred into a new body cloned from none other than Captain America.  Nevertheless Magneto cannot put the matter out of his mind.  In Captain America #367 written by Mark Gruenwald, with excellent artwork Kieron Dwyer and Danny Bulanadi, Magneto breaks into the Skull’s office in Washington DC, demanding to know the truth.  The Skull admits he is the original.  He attempts to convince Magneto that the two of them are in fact very much alike, hoping to trick the Master of Magnetism into lowering his guard.  This fails, and the Skull is forced to flee.  (Click on the below image to enlarge it for the full details of their exchange.)

Captain America 367 pg 8 & 9

Despite the fact that the Skull now resides in a body that possesses the Super Soldier Serum, he has never bothered to undergo the extensive regular training that Captain America himself engages in which has made the Sentinel of Liberty one of the world’s greatest fighters. Instead the Skull still relies on lackeys such as Crossbones and Mother Night, and on the advanced technology & robots developed by the Machinesmith.  So rather than possibly having a chance of at least holding his own against Magneto, as Cap probably would, the Skull quickly finds himself outmatched.

Soon enough Magneto captures the Red Skull. He spirits him away to a subterranean bomb shelter, leaving him with nothing more than several containers of water.  Magneto tells the Skull “I want you to sit down here and think of the horrors you have perpetrated.  I want you to suffer as you’ve made others suffer.  I want you to wish I had killed you.”  With that Magneto leaves, entombing the Skull in darkness.  Dwyer & Bulanadi definitely draw the hell out of this page.  That look on the Skull’s face in the final panels, as he silently fumes in a mixture of defiance and horror, is genuinely unnerving.  And you are really not sure if justice has been served, or if you actually feel perhaps the slightest bit of pity for the Skull for not having been given a quick, clean death.

Captain America 367 pg 22

The Skull spends a lengthy period of time imprisoned in the bomb shelter. Eventually he begins to hallucinate.  In Captain America #369, in an eerie sequence written by Gruenwald and drawn by Mark Bagley & Don Hudson, the Skull sees his father, Hitler, and his daughter Sinthea berating and belittling him, urging him to commit suicide.  We see that beneath the Skull’s belief that he is better than everyone else is a horrible fear that he is an insignificant nothing, and that everyone is looking down at him.  The only way he can prove that wrong is to trample the whole of humanity beneath his heel, demonstrating his superiority.

Eventually of course the Skull is located by his underlings. Weakened and dying, his burning hatred of Captain America gives him the strength to keep living and recover.  Even when Cap attempts to offer him the slightest bit of concern and sympathy, all the Skull can react with is venomous contempt and malice.  As far as the Skull is concerned, kindness equals weakness, and only hatred will keep him strong.

Captain America 369 pg 29

Much time passes by. The Red Skull dies and is resurrected at least a couple of more times.  Presently he has been revived within a copy of his own original body in its prime.  As seen in the events of Uncanny Avengers and X-Men: Legacy, the Skull has stolen the body of the recently deceased Charles Xavier.  He has ghoulishly had Xavier’s brain grafted onto his own, gaining the immense telepathic powers of the X-Men’s founder.

In the aftermath of the “Avenge the Earth” storyline written by Rick Remender, Kang the Conqueror’s sprawling Xanatos Gambit to wipe out all future timelines save for the one where he rules and to seize the power of a Celestial, becoming a literal god, was thwarted by the narrowest of margins. It was also a most pyrrhic of victories: Havok was horribly scarred in his final battle with Kang, the young daughter who Havok and the Wasp had in a now-erased timeline is a prisoner of Kang’s in the distant future, Sunfire’s body was transformed into an energy form, Wonder Man’s consciousness is trapped in Rogue’s mind and, as usual, people still hate & fear mutant-kind.

Uncanny Avengers 23 pg 21

Uncanny Avengers #23 by Remender and artist Sanford Greene shows that the vengeful Kang, seeking to rub salt into these wounds, has dispatched Ahab, the cyborg slave-master from the “Days of Futures Past” reality, to assist the Red Skull in his plans for mutant genocide. Thus is set the stage for the Axis crossover, and for Magneto to once again confront the Red Skull.  I will be taking a look at that encounter in the near future.  Stay tuned.

Click here to proceed to round two in the war between Magneto and the Red Skull.

Doctor Who reviews: Kill the Moon

In regards to last week’s Doctor Who episode “The Caretaker,” the author of the WordPress blog A Succession of Busy Nothings wrote “Occasionally, an episode of Doctor Who comes along that leaves me… confused. Not confused about the plot, mind you, confused about just what I thought of it.”  Well, that is exactly how I felt about this week’s episode, “Kill the Moon.”  It has been several hours since I watched it, and I still cannot make up my mind.  This review is an effort to try to organize my thoughts concerning Peter Harness’ script.  I hope that it makes at least a little bit of sense!

Doctor Who Kill the Moon

The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) takes Clara (Jenna Coleman) and her rebellious pupil Courtney (Ellis George) on a trip to the Moon in the year 2049. They arrive to find that it is falling apart, creating devastating tidal waves that are decimating human civilization on Earth.  There is no longer any sort of space program, and the worlds’ governments have hauled a space shuttle out of a museum, loaded it with dozens of nuclear bombs, and launched it at the Moon.  The makeshift expedition is headed up by Lundvik (Hermione Norris) whose task it is to determine what is disrupting the Moon’s stability and blow it up.

After being pursued about the Moon by a horde of bacterial organisms that resemble giant spiders which kill most of Lundvik’s crew, the Doctor discovers what is occurring. The Moon is, in fact, a giant egg, and an immense alien organism is about to hatch.  Clara and Courtney ask the Doctor what they ought to do: should they go along with Lundvik’s plan to detonate the nukes and kill the alien baby before its birth possibly causes even more devastation to the Earth, or should they wait and allow nature to take its course?  The Doctor stubbornly refuses to answer.  He bluntly states that this is a moment in time where humanity’s future path is determined, and that they have to come to that decision on their own.  “Kill it or let it live, I can’t make this decision for you,” he coldly tells them.  “Some decisions are too important not to make on your own.”  With that the Doctor ducks into the TARDIS and dematerializes, as Clara angrily shouts his name.

Now Clara, Courtney and Lundvik are left by themselves to decide. Clara broadcasts a message to the Earth informing them of the situation.  She asks the whole of humanity to vote.  If they choose to let the alien in the Moon live leave their lights on, if they vote to kill it then turn off their lights.  And Clara then looks out the window of the base on the Moon at distant Earth, and sadly sees all the lights going off, as humanity makes its choice.  Even then, Clara cannot abide by it, and seconds before detonation she hits the abort button.  At that the TARDIS returns and the Doctor takes them all back to Earth, where in the sky they see the creature hatching harmlessly and laying a new egg, a New Moon, before flying off into the universe.

The Doctor explains to them “Mid twenty-first century, humankind starts creeping off into the stars. It spreads its way through the galaxy to the very edges of the universe and it endures until the end of time.  And it does all that because one day in the year 2049 when it stopped thinking about going to the stars, something occurred that made it look up, not down.  It looked out there into the blackness and it saw something beautiful, something wonderful, that for once it didn’t want to destroy.  And in that one moment the whole course of history was changed.”

Nevertheless Clara is absolutely furious at the Doctor. “Don’t you ever tell me to take the stabilizers off my bike and don’t you dare lump me in with all the rest of the little humans that you think are so tiny and silly and predictable. You walk our Earth, Doctor, you breathe our air. You make us your friend, and that is your Moon too and you can damn well help us when we need it!”  Completely livid, Clara demands the Doctor return her to her own time & place, which he does, dropping her off at Coal Hill School in 2014, where she confides in Danny (Samuel Anderson) about what has just happened.

Doctor Who Kill the Moon egg hatching

I think that the reason why I found “Kill the Moon” so unsettling and complicated, so difficult to up make my mind about, is that in the end the Doctor and Clara were both right. The Doctor has on countless occasions had to decide the fate of billions of lives.  Perhaps he has decided that he is tired of being put in that position.  There are times in the past where the Doctor attempted to play God and decided to alter the course of human history.  “The Christmas Invasion” and “The Waters of Mars” are probably the two most notable examples.  On both those occasions, the Doctor’s actions came back to bite him in the ass, and the results of his interference were catastrophic.  Now he is being taken to task by Clara for not becoming involved, for not making a crucial decision on behalf of humanity.

At the same time, I understand Clara’s frustration with the Doctor for just running off. Perhaps he could have done a better job of explaining why he felt it was not his place to interfere in this historical event, to articulate why humanity had to determine its own destiny.  In that respect Clara was possibly justified in her anger.

Yet on the other hand she was basically telling the Doctor that she wanted to abrogate any responsibility of her own, that she did not want to have to make such a monumental choice. Clara would rather have the Doctor get his hands dirty once again than have to make a difficult decision herself.  She is furious at the Doctor for regarding humanity as “tiny and silly and predictable,” yet at the same time she wants him to decide what is best for humanity, rather than allowing us to stand on our own two feet.

I am very much left wondering if, in the end, Clara made the correct decision to override humanity’s vote and save the alien baby. Yes, it turns out that it all seemingly worked out.  The egg hatched without any more harm befalling Earth.  But did Clara really have the right to single-handedly determine humanity’s destiny?  I know there is such a thing as the tyranny of the majority.  But there is also the tyranny of the individual.  Was Clara imposing her will upon the rest of the world?

More significantly, in the long run did Clara actually do humanity an injustice? I expect that the whole point of the Doctor wanting humanity to make the decision on its own was because it would have demonstrated that we were ready to leave this little planet of ours and spread out into the universe.  But, really, humanity learned nothing.  It voted out of fear to sacrifice the unborn alien in the Moon rather than risk the Earth’s destruction.  By overriding that choice, Clara allowed the alien to be born, which demonstrated to humanity that there is life and wonder out there, inspiring us to reach for the stars, but without us having grown and matured in the process.  As a result of Clara’s actions in 2049, the humanity that travels out to the stars is still ruled by fear, still ready to utilize violence as a first and only resort.

There have been a number of Doctor Who stories over the decades that have demonstrated the terrible cost of a humanity still consumed by greed and arrogance and violence spreading throughout the universe. ‘The Sensorites,” “The Rescue,” “The Ark,” “The Colony in Space,” “The Mutants,” “The Frontier in Space,” “The Power of Kroll,” “Nightmare of Eden,” “Kinda,” “Planet of the Ood” and “The Beast Below” all spotlight how the worst qualities of humanity are still present many centuries and millennia in the future, now let loose upon the other denizens of the cosmos to tragic, bitter results.  It could perhaps be argued that the death of the alien in the Moon would have been a small price to pay if it kept humanity grounded on the Earth for a few more centuries, until we finally developed the maturity and morality to expand out into the universe responsibly.

Possibly part of my discomfort is the uncertainty of how I would have decided if I had been in Clara’s shoes. Faced with the choice of definitely killing an unborn alien or possibly allowing billions of humans to die, I really do not know how I would have chosen.  Perhaps I would have taken Lundvik’s stance that this was a conundrum with no right answers, only two terrible ones, one of which was somewhat less bad than the other.  I really do not know.  Until you are actually faced with that sort of dilemma you really have no idea how you would choose.

I do have to acknowledge that Peter Harness wrote an episode that in extremely complex and thought-provoking. It really does make you think, and raises some difficult questions.

Capaldi was once more superb as the Twelfth Doctor. I’ve mentioned in past reviews that he seemed to have been very influenced by Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor.  At the same time, hints of some of his other predecessors’ performances have popped up here and there.  The most notable example was the aloof, alien presence that Capaldi projected in “Listen,” which very much brought to mind both William Hartnell and Colin Baker.  Yes, that was also a quality of Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor, but it was often balanced out by his oddball bohemian humor.  In contrast, both the First and Sixth Doctors were often difficult to like, and they had complex, adversarial relationships with their human companions.  That was very much on display in “Kill the Moon,” and I could easily imagine the Doctor in his First or Sixth incarnations acting very similarly, if not identically, to how the Twelfth did here.

Doctor Who Love and War

There was also a manipulative aspect to the Capaldi’s Doctor in “Kill the Moon” which recalled Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor, who was at times characterized as a cosmic chess master. That quality of his was carried over to and amplified within the New Adventures prose novels that were published in the early 1990s.  Jason Miller, in his write-up of “The Caretaker” on his WordPress blog, observed that the Doctor Who New Adventures had a major influence on the television show when it was revived in 2005, with many of the authors of the novels becoming intimately involved in the production of the series.  I was again reminded of that with “Kill the Moon.”

Within the New Adventures the Seventh Doctor’s human companion Ace gradually began to tire of his machinations. She reached a breaking point in Love and War by Paul Cornell.  Tired of the Doctor’s plots, of his utilizing others like pawns, of his sacrificing lives for the “greater good,” Ace departed the TARDIS in anger & disgust.  And while she did eventually rejoin the Doctor in a later novel, she now had a wary, distrustful regard for him.  Clara’s angry exit from the TARDIS at the end of “Kill the Moon” is certainly reminiscent of the conclusion of Love and War.  I am curious how Clara will be depicted in the remainder of Series Eight’s episodes, if she will now, like Ace, have a much more tentative, distant relationship with the Doctor.

I was happy to see Courtney again, this time traveling with the Doctor and Clara in the TARDIS. She was both well-written and well-acted.  The development of the character was quite good, with Courtney starting out as an over-enthusiastic teenager, before panicking about being in way over her head, and then struggling to find the bravery she needed to deal with the dangerous situation she found herself in.  I hope we get to see more of her in Series Eight.

So what happens next with the Doctor and Clara? We shall have to wait until next week to find out.  The suspense is killing me.