Tony’s feeling supreme.
That’s what good storytelling’s all about.
Well. Pacing and plot.
Oh, and characterisation. Got to have good characterisation, or your stakes go right up the spout.
Atmosphere. Damn. Always forget atmosphere…
Alright, but you get the point – among the elements that make up good storytelling, pacing’s in there somewhere.
Supremacy of the Cybermen #4 is probably one of the best examples of pacing we’ve seen in a comic-book in the last few years. What issue #4 of a five-issue story should be is the high point, the zenith of disaster, with the seeds of both despair and joy held within it, to keep you quivering on the point of uncertainty, but give the final issue only as much to do as it needs to, in order to satisfy all the build-up of the previous issues (or indeed episodes).
Issue #4 of Supremacy of the Cybermen, like its predecessors, involves Doctors Nine, Ten, Eleven and Twelve in four separate fronts against the all-out victory of the metal Mondasians. And what issue #4 does is show both the consistency in the Doctor’s nature, and the different mixes of characteristics that make up each of his last four incarnations – while at the same time turning up the heat to a point of crisis in all four lives simultaneously. You can almost hear the Murray Gold score as you read this issue. There are many, many trumpets.
With the Ninth Doctor facing the horror of the Cybermen on early 21st century Earth, writers George Mann and Cavan Scott make use of an innovation that’s been long overdue and which pretty much made its appearance in Series 8, but which never made the true horror of its presence felt.
It does here. Ohhh it so does. You can pretty much take this innovation as the Cybermen’s revenge for all that gold dust and those gold coins and gold badges that were lodged in their chest units throughout the Seventies and Eighties. And it’s absolutely in keeping with what the Cybermen should be in the 21st century (Ahem – I have…erm…strong views on what that should be). But it gives the Ninth Doctor and Rose a couple of problems in this issue, in that Cyber-reversal is not a thing we’ve ever seen (though both the Sixth Doctor and Ianto Jones gave it a red hot go). The Tenth Doctor, Gabby and Cindy are on Sontar, leading a last resistance against a legion of CyberKings, and trying to desperately introduce an illogical pattern into the Sontarans’ defence strategies. The Eleventh Doctor (in one of the best capturing of Doctor-voices in the run) is at the mercy of the Cy-lurians on ancient Earth, who are preparing to turn him into one of their Cyberplanners. And the Twelfth Doctor is on Gallifrey, learning from Rassilon the Returnee what the ultimate, kooky, round the confession dial reasons are that the Lord President Eternal has allied himself with the Cybermen at the end of time. And ohhhh boy, yeah, they’re pretty out there, even for Gallifrey’s Most Loopy. Naturally of course, in any storyline in which either the Daleks or Cybermen have alien allies, there’s going to come a moment when the allies realise the big mistake they’ve made.
Yep – that’s here.
The other three Doctors though have a kind of odd ‘Three Doctors’ ‘contact’ moment, or at least seem to, as the same idea seems to occur to each of them as a way of dealing with the implacable Cyber-threat they’re facing – that’s the moment of peak wave we were talking about, each of them doing the same thing, which could kill any or all of them, or could help deliver the solution to the universe’s Cyber-problem.
It’s classic, dramatic, exciting stuff from the Scott-Mann pairing, and there’s plenty of artwork that lives up to the scope of their imagination – the Sontar scenes particularly, with the fleet of CyberKings stomping on clones, are evocative and full-throttle.
What’s really sad about Supremacy of the Cybermen though is the area in which it fails.
The Cybermen on screen have frequently been poorly served, either by the logic of their plots or the aesthetic of their bodies. This should not be so – they have one of the two most iconic shapes in over fifty years of television history, and when they work, they work on an enormously satisfying level. Don’t get me started about why the Cybermen are scarier than the Daleks. But whether wearing lace-up feet and zip-up bodies, or suddenly deciding to weld their trigger fingers together under a baseball glove (kings of logic, remember), or going, as in their current incarnation, with a vaguely cherubic look that means even when they march en masse out of St Paul’s Cathedral people want to take selfies with them, much of the time, in Cybermen stories, if there’s a weakness, it lies with them – either their plans are insane, or they look a bit naff.
That’s not the issue here.
This should have been a symphony of Cybermen. It should have been the Cybermen’s finest hour – the Supremacy was baked right into the title, and the plan is good enough and effective enough to give us some sudden gasps when we see the scale of what the Cybermen achieve here.
What’s more, they look damn good too – in this comic-book, Ivan Rodriguez and Walter Geovanni make the current TV design of Cybermen look actively formidable, which was something that didn’t seem possible. Rodriquez and Geovanni deliver good art, that’s actually the tragedy – the Cybermen look good, Rassilon looks good, Gallifrey and Sontar look pretty damn good, and so do the Cy-lurians on ancient Earth.
You know what doesn’t look good?
Any of the Doctors.
In fact, any of the regular characters – Jack, Rose and Jackie are practically unrecognisable too. But not a single Doctor in this four-Doctor extravaganza looks…like the Doctor.
When you consider the lengths to which Scott and Mann go to get the voices right, and to finally give the Cybermen the victory they’ve deserved for too many decades, it’s positively heartbreaking to realise that none of the Doctors look like who they’re meant to be. They sound like them, absolutely, because after all this is Cavan Scott and George Mann we’re dealing with, and both have very keen ears for Doctor dialogue, but that dialogue comes out of people in the right clothes. And that’s about it. It’s as though a committed group of cosplayers have been handed the ultimate Cyberman script and told to make the best of it.
What that means is that while Supremacy of the Cybermen #4 is genuinely excellent in terms of storytelling, and there’s lots of cool artwork in it too, it, like the whole run of this story, will be remembered like many an on-screen Cyber-story – as being ‘Cool…but.’
That’s a real shame – it should have been a home run. It should have been supreme.
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