Thursday, 9 April 2015

The Cybermen

This 24 part mystical epic, which echoes the TVC21 one page strip of the Dalek Chronicles, ran in Doctor Who Magazine from August 1994 until May 1996.

1. The Dead Heart

6 parts (DWM 215 to 220) 3rd Aug to 21st Dec 1994
Writer: Alan Barnes Artist: Adrian Salmon

A lone Cyberman crashes deep in a primordial jungle, where he is exalted by human followers.

He recruits a heretic named Raven to go in search of the origins of his race armed with her more objective telling of the fables of the "Lizard Kings" - the Silurians of Earth's lost twin. 
They encounter a cybernetic dinosaur that conveys them to the site of Easter Island-like carved idols resembling Silurians... 
...and descend into the hidden city below. 
There they revive Kho-Dja, a partly cybernetic Silurian who tells them that this planet, Mondas, once had a twin, but was thrown out of orbit by the arrival of Earth's moon. 
The Silurian race became corrupt and indolent, augmenting apes with cybernetic technology shortly before retreating into their hibernation. 

The Cyberman kills Kho-Dja, having learnt all it needed to know, and claims the planet, and the cybernised ape-creatures - for his own race.

Her usefulness at an end, Raven is taken to become the first of the new Cyber-race. 

2. The Flesh Unbound

3 parts (DWM 221 to 223) 18th Jan to 15th March 1995
Writer: Alan Barnes Artist: Adrian Salmon

As the new Cybermen use their dinosaur workforce to construct a city on the site of the last resting place of the Lizard Kings, they disturb a dormant creature tha seems to possess the animals, turning them savage and murderous...
The creature, named R'Lyeh (Titan) was genetically engineered by the Silurians as a living terraforming device, had been incarcerated by its' creators when its' hunger became uncontrollable. 
The Cybermen come dangerously close to defeat... 
...but are eventually able to employ the same method as the Silurians to cage it in living ectoplasm, and the dinosaurs turn on it, feasting on its' stray tendrils.

It seems that the Cybermen may have underestimated the threats lying in wait from Mondas' past...

3. The Black Sky

3 parts (DWM 224 to 226) 12th April to 7th June 1995
Writer: Alan Barnes Artist: Adrian Salmon

A scout ship returns to the new city of the Cybermen, but its' crew are not aboard...
...instead they've been replaced by shape-shifting creatures who infiltrate and corrupt their control centre.
The shapeshifters overreach themselves, though, and absorb so much energy they overload and die. 
The remaining Cybermen, however, determine to travel to the dark continent where the scout ship was lost, and and strike back at the source of this attack. 

4. The Hungry Sea

3 parts (DWM 227 to 229) 5th July to 30th August 1995
Writer: Alan Barnes Artist: Adrian Salmon
The Cybermen travel by Zeppelin, across the sea towards the dark continent... 

...but as they get near they are attacked by a Kraken-like creature from the deep, called the Fury, and boarded by Sea Devils. 
The Sea Devil "Seer" explains that they are the guardians of "Golgoth", who sleeps on the dark continent, awaiting the end of the world...
But the Cybermen fire on their own engines in order to bring the Zeppelin down, as they have drifted over land.
Having bested their attackers, the Cybermen command the Seer to take them to Golgoth. 

5. The Dark Flame

4 parts (DWM 230 to 233) 27th Sept to 30th Dec 1995
Writer: Alan Barnes Artist: Adrian Salmon
As the party begins to encroach into the sacred territory of Golgoth, the Cybermen decide that they only need the Seer and brutally gun down the rest of the Sea Devils.
This is met with an instant reprisal, though, as the Cyberleader is attacked by nature itself, as all his organic parts transform into flowers, killing him.
All life on the continent serves Golgoth, and gradually, one by one, the interlopers are all dispatched by Golgoth's sentries.
Eventually the Seer is the last one standing, and discovers his saviour to be none other than Golgoth himself.
Golgoth takes the Seer to the top of the world, but unable to return to the sea, the creature drowns in the oxygen rich air.
Contemplating his enemy, he manipulates the dead Cybermen like puppets.
He then uses the wreckage of his vanquished foes to bare himself a son.

6. The Future Perfect

1 part (DWM 234) 17th January 1996
Writer: Alan Barnes Artist: Adrian Salmon

Golgoth describes his creation to his son, revealing his origin as a genetically engineered super-Silurian, the distillation of the Lizard Kings of old, birthed by the savage rending of the atmosphere as Mondas tore itself away from its' sister.
Golgoth knows that the Cybermen will return to do battle, and although he forsees his own death, recounts the development of life on Mondas and predicts the coming of a great war between himself and the Cybermen.

7. The Ugly Underneath

4 parts (DWM 235 to 238) 14th February to 8th May 1996
Writer: Alan Barnes Artist: Adrian Salmon

Two thousand years pass and archeologists Korving and Joy study hieroglyphs that tell of Golgoth's last stand against the Cybermen, in which he sacrificed himself to destroy them. 
Mondas faces cataclysm once more, and Korving is desperate to discover the fate of Golgoth's son, believing him to be their last hope of salvation.
To this end, he has Joy slaughter the "knights" of the Cult of C'iva while he threatens their High Priest.

As Mondas is wracked by earthquakes, Joy and the priest are killed...

...but the dying Korving crawls to the surviving machinery, which the Cult has not realized is still in working order.

The automated systems convert him into the first of a new wave of Cybermen...

...who turns his attention to the stars.
As the Cybermen rise once more, Golgoth's son drifts through space, waiting to be born... 

The early nineties saw an unprecedented renaissance for Doctors past in the strips of Doctor Who Magazine, with fans and readers seemingly resigned to the long term, perhaps even permanent absence of Doctor Who onscreen. 
In prose, Virgin's New Adventures novels brought to (often controversial, at least amongst fans) life continuing tales of the Seventh Doctor that were "too broad and deep for the small screen"... 

...and for a period, DWM's strip adventures heroically struggled to maintain a continuity of sorts with these releases, with varying degrees of success.

With the advent of the show's 30th anniversary in 1993, however, and the stillbirth of "The Dark Dimension", Doctor Who fandom, and the magazine that reflected it, began to look back and mine and revitalize past incarnations of not only the lead character but also the former glories of its' various iterations in comic strip form. 
This period also saw a veritable explosion in forensic level study of the history of the show in all its' forms, resulting in seminal and indispensable works from the likes of the Howe/Stammers/Walker team, the then ongoing Archive Features of Andrew Pixley (a multi-volume compilation of which the world is sorely lacking), and Marcus Hearn, who also edited Doctor Who Classic Comics, itself the gateway for many new readers to the alost forgotten delights of Neville Main, John Canning and even Dave Gibbons. 
Doctor Who's rich heritage in comic strip form, hitherto relatively undocumented as a body of work (or more accurately works, bearing in mind the disparate publishers) was rightly held up as something to be treasured and marvelled at, and more importantly discovered and appreciated anew. 

It was into this arena that Alan Barnes and Adrian Salmon's "The Cybermen" arrived, borne on the back of well-received reprints of TV Century 21's 1960s "The Daleks" one-page strip, and very much intended as a modern counterpart to that classic strip. 

Sadly, whilst "The Daleks" ran for a sufficient number of entries to warrant a lovingly compiled compendium labelled as "The Dalek Chronicles" in the Summer of 1994 (immediately coinciding with the arrival of "The Cybermen") this mid-nineties classic, at a total of only 24 pages, has yet to be reprinted. Consequently, it has (to a degree) therefore faded in the memory somewhat, and become as shrouded in mystery and folklore as the legends of the Lizard Kings... 

From its' unexpected advent in DWM 214 with a single, but iconic, panel heralding what was to come, it was clear that this was going to be something very different indeed...       
"The Daleks" chronicled the machinations of the metal meanies on their home planet of Skaro before intrepid time traveller Dr. Who and his pals dropped in for a spot of revolution, as they faced threats from outer space and eventually learned of the existence of Earth.
As might be expected, early instalments detailed an origin story, albeit one that inevitably became little more than an apocryphal curio as Nation's naughties lurched from one Doctor-shaped defeat to the next down the decades.

Readers could, then, have been forgiven for expecting the deliverance of a "Genesis of the Cybermen" tale akin to the lacklustre offering from Mondas' main man, Gerry Davis, complete with Davros-like inventor or a Whittaker-like "Genesis of Evil" with an emergent ancestor figure in the mould of Yarvelling. 

What they did get was something rather more meaty, sophisticated, and engrossing; a jugular-seizing dreadnought of magnificently obtuse mythical unknowability. I say obtuse, because here we have a developing story that positively revels in shapeshifting at every attempt to pin it down or categorize it, in rather magnificent style.
Dismiss the mysticism and overtures of lore at your peril, though. No mere 'mumbo jumbo', here the portentousness and pretension of many a 90s sci-fi and/or fantasy work is avoided, with a sinister and brutal nihilism pulsing through the veins of every legend, every carving. 
And while the script is superior fare, the artwork is simply peerless. With only one page at a time to make an impact, "The Cybermen" needed to grab the reader quicker than most strips. Not for this work the lurid stylings of a Jennings or the beautiful art deco allure of a Turner, here readers' minds would be blown by the precise, hard-edged, angular and on occasion almost pop-art style of Adrian Salmon.

Like the story itself, the art too would evolve and grow, at first (in The Dead Heart) throwing stark black and white silhouettes, figures defined more by darkness than light, then subsequently roaring into the bruised and bloody colour palette of the ferocious dinosaur workforce and the sickly poison of the Titan and the Fury.

As the richer, more royal range of the mighty Golgoth arrived, the artwork itself became more detailed, more muscular, perhaps in some sympathy with the march of time, as the events unfolding moved into a more vibrant and gritty era that was perhaps supposed to be more recently remembered and therefore clearly defined.
In (very) loose terms, the art progresses through ages of "primitive" black and white to an almost romanticised pioneer period before ending in a dystopian punk style.
Those expecting the jolly japes of Cyberleader Krail and his Snowcap-invading buddies (did anyone really expect that?) must have scratched their heads and wondered when the hulking, seemingly amnesiac, protagonist of The Dead Heart was going to break out his cyber-skis. Instead, the opening installment gives us a lone Cyberman, ostensibly in search of his origin on a jungle planet that, at first, it isn't even clear is Mondas. 

He's paired with heretical outlaw Raven as he tames T. Rex's and uncovers a lost civilisation of Silurians - a glorious notion that thumbs its' nose at fanwank, instead drawing on the obvious, that any twin of Earth's must have had its' own Silurian civilisation. 

Whilst it's never really confirmed, there's a nagging feeling that there could be some time-bending going on - has this lone Cyberscout, the seed of the Cyber-race that the overall series' narrative follows, simply come from another continent, or has he in fact come from the future? At the strip's eventual conclusion we might even ask, is he Korving? Or even Golgoth's son himself? There's always more questions than answers, and the list only grows as the series progresses. 
Whether or not we're right to suspect time travel may be afoot, The Dead Heart certainly - albeit apparently unintentionally - takes in elements of the original Planet of the Apes (from the Scout's journey to the iconography of the Silurian heads almost echoing the Statue of Liberty), and Beneath the Planet of the Apes (the underground civilisation of the cybernetic Silurians). 
There's another (again, I believe unintentional) sci-fi parallel to be glimpsed across the span of the strip, with a similarly epic and questioning work, as the leaps in narrative stages faintly echo Stanley Kubrick's interpretation of Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The Dead Heart gives us our apes discovering tools to the strains of Also Sprach Zarathrustra, while The Flesh Unbound serves as Leonard Rossiter on the moon as the Cybermen first learn that there's a controlling intelligence ready to shape their destiny. 
The Black Sky to The Dark Flame represent Dr. David Bowman's struggle against the seemingly possessed HAL... 
...and the Future Perfect is his terrifying vision of engineered evolution into the Star Child, floating in space, waiting to be born just like Golgoth's son.
Probably a big reach on the part of yours truly, and certainly only a happy coincidence resulting from Barnes' choices along the way, but maybe a kernel? 

As has been noted, "The Cybermen" is not necessarily so accurate a title, with simply "Mondas" perhaps being more appropriate. The Cybermen themselves seem barely able to maintain their grip on existence for any significant chunk of history before the planet itself, caught in a seemingly doomed cycle of disaster, periodically and violently rejects them. 
We very much have an impression of such disasters having come and gone before in the cyclical rises and falls of both Cyberman and Silurian, with the construction of the first cyber-city unleashing an "evil from the dawn of time" in the form of R'Lyeh, the Titan.

We could criticize The Flesh Unbound for simply giving us a threat that escapes only to be incarcerated again, but that would rather miss the point of revealing a hostile planet with savage threats that are potentially beyond the Cybermen's capability, and which are inimical to their very nature. 
The Black Sky develops this still further, with demonic possession that defies subjugation or conversion, and is only in fact undone by its' own over-reaching; it is the Cybermen's good fortune that this adversary shares their over-confidence, but it also foreshadows their own fate, failing because they underestimate a power they cannot bend to their will. 
The Hungry Sea follows the Cybermen as they hubristically take the fight to the dark continent, crossing a forbidden and forbidding expanse to seek out and purge the source of the demonic incursion into their city.
It's too easy to dismiss the inclusion of the Sea Devils as purely fanwank, when they've every reason to be there. Adrian Salmon makes the most of the opportunity to give us probably the finest Sea Devils ever committed to the page, with the imperious Seer a particular highlight.
The Dark Flame sees the strip forge ahead into a lurid slaughter (disguised by Salmon as a pop art acid trip) that gives way to something more deliberately biblical in the scripting, as we meet the Silurian fallen angel, the Satanic (in the Miltonesque sense) Golgoth.

As he opposes the Cybermen, and rescues the ostensibly noble seer, as he represents the dark continent's living embodiment of nature, we think we should be siding with Golgoth, but once again the script snarlingly pushes us back.

This is not a being who fights to preserve life; he pretends to cry when he carelessly causes the death of the Seer (a death he could have prevented if he can make it rain) and makes macabre marionettes of the festering corpses of the Cybermen. He creates a son, seemingly on a whim, and merely as a way to proliferate beyond the war he is about to wage, which he has invited.

The Future Perfect sees Golgoth recount his origin, how he is the culmination and distillation of the Lizard Kings that abandoned the world to their augmented apes. Does he see the Cybermen as the continuation of that race? (Is he right? Wrong?) His purpose, perhaps the one for which he was created seems to be to purge Mondas so the Silurians can return as rulers after their hibernation. 
And just as the battle is on the horizon... two thousand years pass, and the planet is on yet another eve of destruction; the seemingly amoral (and oddly muscle-bound!) archaeologist Korving has travelled to The Ugly Underneath.
He and his assistant Joy seem carved out of uglier stuff than their ancestors, though the High Priest and his "knights", the Cult of C'iva, show that whatever their evolutionary stage, the humans of Mondas revere and idolise the Cybermen.
Perhaps they believe the Cybermen will free them from, or protect them from the return of, their cruel Silurian masters. If they do, they are mistaken. The Cybermen always return, always convert them, always survive.
Whether Golgoth's son could really represent the salvation of Mondas or any of its peoples, the breaking of that cycle, remains to be seen.
In the end, perhaps "The Cybermen" is so rewarding because it can have any meaning you want, but my own suspicion is that it has none; none, other than that the Cybermen represent the neverending continuation of death, the constant grinding victory of oblivion. In all their best representations, the Cybermen are simply the reanimated dead, carrying death on, and bringing it to all in their wake. In "The Cybermen" they are doomed, forever, and always will be, again and again.
No masterpiece is perfect, indeed maybe nothing can be a masterpiece without the imperfections that separate it from the commonplace and banal. This is a masterpiece because it's a punch in the gut. It isn't a patiently polished pebble politely skimmed across your surface, it's a cinder block tied to your ankle and tossed into the ocean; it's brutal and evil, and it doesn't care. And it's magnificent. 

The definitive scoop on the creation of "The Cybermen" remains the article and interviews by Gareth Kavanagh and Matt Badham, with strip creators Alan Barnes and Adrian Salmon and DWM editor Gary Russell, in the peerless Vworp Vworp Issue 1, and you're highly recommended to seek it out if at all possible.  

Coming Soon... DARK EYES 4


  1. with such styled art it was sometimes hard to work out what was going on

  2. I remember that in 2016, they revisited this series as a two page one-shot in DWM 503