Tony Fyler investigates personal potential.
The previous issue of the Tenth Doctor comic-book ended on a great colourful reveal of the Big Maybe-Bad, one of those moments that made you think ‘Why has this never been done on-screen?’ But one thing that’s been consistent all the way through this story is its knife-edged uncertainty – is this actually a Big Bad, or just a Big Other?
In this finale, that question is settled, on the basis that not all members of a species have a single universal psychology or motivation: the Big Maybe in this story is a scion of a species that has always been characterized by the individuality of its members and the conflict between them, and it’s a conflict that’s essentially played out in the character of this Big Maybe – giving what feels like a whole new layer of depth to the species, and its leading family in particular. It’s a ballsy choice from writer Nick Abadzis because you mess with this family and this species at your peril.
Does it work?
Mmmm yes – but guardedly. The idea of who this Big Maybe is is fantastic and clicks into place like a piece of a giant cosmological jigsaw puzzle. The background to its story becomes the thing of primary interest very fast in this issue, and lots of the story that’s come before fades away to almost insignificance, and even though not everyone survives, it’s difficult to spare them an emotional reaction, because you’ve largely forgotten they were there. That’s the gamble of a lead character with a complex personality and history – there’s a chance that the ‘little people’ and their stories disappear into the background. It feels, very suddenly, a long time ago that we were running around New York looking for a Doohickey Of Youth, almost like a different story in a different lifetime. Hence ‘guardedly’ – we’ve had Big Bads before, and still cared when people died. But this Maybe eats up a lot of our attention with its origin story and the playing out of its destiny, for better or worse, meaning the way we got there and the question of how we’re getting back become secondary to the story of this entity. When someone dies, it’s the first time in this issue we remember they’re there at all, and it jolts us out of the narrative of the moment to remember why they’re there to get killed. On the one hand, that means Abzadis’ antagonist is superb, and there’s quite enough to invest in right there in its story. On the other, it leaves the issue feeling a little hollow and overbalanced when the humans might as well not be there.
In addition to Abadzis’ great work in defining who the Big Maybe is, and what their story and psychology is, Elena Casagrande’s rendering of it is frankly superb, allowing it to sit alongside its relatives without in any way letting down the original enemy on which it’s based.
The moral debate for this character is basically Star Wars in a single issue of a comic-book story – when you have both the Dark Side and the Light inside you, how do you determine your destiny? How do you decide which side of your heritage to bring forward in your own life – or do you simply go your own way, whatever that entails? Do you listen to the preaching of a passing Time Lord about consequences and your own self-determination, or do you look for an end to your suffering first and foremost? It’s morally complex stuff, this debate, and not as easy as this single issue of a comic-book might make you believe.
The good things about that is that the comic-book knows it’s not that easy. It ends with a postscript scene precisely to that effect. If you’re a Big Maybe, as most of us are in our own lives, it allows you to step out of the shadows of your complex ancestors and be your own creature, but it also naturally follows that you’re a complex creature in and of yourself, so your assessment of situations and your answer to questions may not be fixed in a one-time-decides-all confrontation with a Time Lord. The Big Maybe looks set for a return to the comic-books, not least because its physical issues are not resolved by the end of this issue, and the Doctor promises to return with a solution to them. What he will find on his return remains yet to be seen – but by its focus on the nature of this crucial character, the issue does whet our appetites for that next encounter, and potentially the different dynamics it will have.
Does the focus on this antagonist fully satisfy? No. Which is to say yes if you’re looking for a thoroughly engaging, layered, morally ambiguous and therefore strongly realistic character. But the fact that so much of the last episode of this story is consumed by this character after the issue #14 reveal leaves everyone else – whose conflict we had invested in – feeling relatively sidelines, and so the satisfaction we feel is surprisingly muted, because their stories don’t feel like they’re adequately paid off.
Perhaps perversely, there’s a similar duality to the reaction we have to Casagrande’s artwork. Yes for the most part it’s gorgeous, and especially in the rendering of the Big Maybe, it’s exceptional. But the issue some of the Tenth Doctor’s artists have had over the course of his first fifteen issues persists – actually capturing the Tenth Doctor’s face seems to be one of those challenges, like doing multiple Rubik cubes simultaneously. Here he varies an awful lot, in some panels feeling pretty close to Tennant’s generally quite strong face, in some entirely faceless, while in other place he goes slightly anime, all spikes and angles, and in still others, his face is rounder than David Tennant would ever yet admit to. So while it sounds like the Tenth Doctor - Abadzis never delivers less – as with quite a few of his comic-books so far, for much of the issue, in terms of the visuals, you have to just squint and go with the idea of it being Tennant’s number Ten.
Overall, if you saw the reveal at the end of issue #14, and you’ve suffered me calling it a Big Maybe all this while in the efforts of spoiler-freedom, you’re going to buy issue #15. If you understand that the issue’s all about the villain, with all that entails about the balance here, it’ll reward you richly and get you off writing your own fanfiction in your head. That’s got to be a good day in any Who fan’s life.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk