The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Killer

I was sad to hear of the passing of comics writer Steve Moore. One brief footnote in his illustrious and prolific career was his work on the Doctor Who Weekly comic, writing both the back-up strips and the lead. The back-up strips had an odd format, presenting further adventures around Doctor Who monsters and villains, presenting former antagonists as protagonists. What they did for any young reader was to create the sense of a ‘world of Doctor Who’, of a fascinating universe above and beyond the bits encountered by the Doctor on television. Monsters not glimpsed on screen for over ten years (literally a lifetime as far as readers were concerned) were brought to life in thrilling escapades of their own, and all on the basis of a few murky production stills, a novelisation, and the writer’s own memory.



Two of Steve Moore’s finest creations in the back-up strip were Abslom Daak: Dalek Killer and Kroton the Cyberman. Abslom Daak was an unrepentant psychopath, sent in lieu of execution to a Dalek-occupied world to cause as much mayhem with his chain-sword as possible. It’s hard to think a more exciting premise. Kroton, meanwhile, was a Cyberman who developed a ‘soul’ and emotions; he came into his own as a protagonist of his own adventure Ship of Fools, a haunting re-working of the Flying Dutchman legend. It’s a testament to the strength of these two creations that they had a life beyond these brief appearances in the Doctor Who Weekly comic strip, Abslom Daak returning in a number of adventures in the main strip, and Kroton eventually becoming a companion.

The great thing about both the first Abslom Daak story and Ship of Fools is that they both have gut-churning twists on the final page. And that’s one of the two things I learned from Steve Moore; that comic strips can pack an emotional punch, and can move you to laughter, nightmares or even tears. In the latest Doctor Who Magazine I counted the shock ending of Abslom Daak: Dalek Killer as one of the best ‘Dalek moments’ of all time.

The other thing I learned comes from (in my humble opinion) his best work on the magazine, the lead comic strip Spider-God. It’s an extraordinary demonstration of economic storytelling, and storytelling not through dialogue, but through a succession of shocking, enchanting, terrifying images that still stick with me thirty years later; the eerie silent village with its blank-eyed occupants; the night sky full of stars and strange moons; the emergence of the spider; the cocoons dangling from its web; the hatching egg; the final stunning metamorphosis. You could remove all the dialogue and still follow the story. And it packs one hell of a punch, ending with the Doctor plaintively remarking ‘Now do you see what you’ve done?’ followed by a single panel of Commander Frederic dropping his laser gun. One of the finest moments in the strip ever.


(I always wondered whether the planet was intended to be Vortis. And whether the story’s conclusion meant that the butterfly-people would become extinct. But unanswered questions are good.)

But Spider-God was just one story amongst many; Dragon’s Claw with its wonderful character of the ancient hermit; Time Witch, the definitive fantasy-universe story; The Collector, with it’s mind-boggling time paradox; the virtual-reality nightmare of Dreamers of Death. All gloriously rendered by Dave Gibbons but the product of the vivid, mind-expanding, inspiring imagination of Steve Moore.

His Doctor Who lead strips can be found in the Dragon’s Claw collection, which I strongly recommend tracking down.

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