Inspiration at the Beach


Ballycastle, November 2017.

The sea air, bitterly cold, but accompanied by glorious sunshine, one of the few days this autumn and winter where the elements seem to have been in proper harmony to enable a good, stimulating walk in the outdoors, no horrid, freezing rain to soak you through to the bones, no flurry of snow to leave you struggling to walk properly from one end of town to the other, no overcast sky stealing the light, and robbing you of enjoyment of the view before you.

One of the rare days, too, where I got to enjoy the company of a long-absent friend, and be in his company for more than an hour without searching for an escape.


It was really only supposed to be a research trip.  A short afternoon visit to make sure I had the geography of the place all correct, ahead of finishing my novel largely set there.  Not having been in the town for a few years, I wanted to be sure I was referring to the correct street names etc. (and, good job I did, as I did indeed have a couple of roads mixed up in the narrative).  But, instead, with the sun beaming down from above, the seafront largely deserted in the middle of a school day, and an invigorating sea breeze rolling in from the Atlantic, it ended up being one of the most surprising, spontaneous hits of creative inspiration I’ve ever had in my life.

Popping into the coffee shop in the Marine Hotel, I sat and perused local maps for half an hour, before ordering myself a new latte, and heading down to the beach with it in hand, passing a couple of dogs and their walkers, and a local cameraman taking advantage of the stunning views, but mostly alone for the duration of the walk.  Stopping to collect a few stones, wet enough to be reflecting back the sun and sparkling like diamonds from a distance, from among the pebbles for my Mum, I approached the wooden walkway at the far end of the strand, and headed right to the edge, looking out at the sea before me.

And, it happened.

A rush of creativity so strong it almost felt like a spiritual experience.  Ideas, and thoughts, and characters, all rushing to me in one powerful ten-minute period, as though it were always supposed to happen that way, in that place.  The waves crashing against the rocks below, dogs barking from the distance, and seagulls shrilly dipping and diving along the beach, formed the backing soundtrack to this moment of wonder, resulting in me turning back with no fewer than two brand new novels planned out, and ready to write.

But, perhaps the best thing about that day, about those moments, was how good it felt to be in my own company.  How free of anxious thought, how in control of things, how worry-free I felt.  It really did feel like reclaiming a lost friendship.


Christopher Moore


Postscript. The woman in the tourist office all but bit my hand off when I mentioned the book I’m writing.  Apparently, she thinks having a novel set in the town will do wonders for local tourism.

Fingers crossed.


Batman: The Animated Series review


So, another prolonged absence from this blog since last time.  Guess that little thing called life has managed to get in the way more than I thought it would.  Still, to quote the title of an episode of the show I’m about to review, ‘it’s never too late’, and a renewed interest in comics that characterised most of my teens and early twenties, sparked off by receiving the complete boxset of ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ for Christmas, looks likely to see me bring a lot of new DC-related material to this page in the near future, as I work my way through producer Bruce Timm’s magnificent DC Animated Universe, and its associated comic spin-offs.

This is the definitive Batman.  Nothing else remotely comes close.  And that bold statement comes from someone who is a fan of the character through numerous iterations, and who has been fascinated by the many different ways in which he has been interpreted.  But, it’s true.  The mythology has never been done better than this.  It’s certainly heartening for this reviewer to see DC, and comics in general, gain much more popularity among the mainstream than ever used to be the case when I was a child, with every Waterstones now boasting a dedicated graphic novels section, Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy searing Heath Ledger’s Joker into the public consciousness, the Arkham games introducing the general public to the rest of the rogues gallery like never before, and 2016’s ‘Suicide Squad’ launching Harley Quinn into the pop-culture stratosphere as, essentially, the fourth pillar of the DC brand, alongside Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman.  But, wonderful as it is to have this new generation of fans onboard, with superheroes no longer the specialist domain of Forbidden Planet stores, they didn’t have the utter pleasure and privilege of being raised on the show I’m about to review.  They didn’t have the experience of lying on their living room sofa as a young boy or girl, recovering from illness by watching episode after episode on Cartoon Network, witnessing the Caped Crusader’s silhouette lighting up against the night sky during a storm at the end of the incredible opening sequence.  This series, this Batman, this timeless, surreal Art Deco-inspired world of Gotham devised by producer Eric Radomski, was absolutely formative for me, and has shaped my views and expectations of the character ever since.  And I am so very glad it did.

The complete series boxset includes the revamped ‘New Batman Adventures’ that aired some three years after the original episodes, but, for now, this review will simply cover the initial two seasons and their spin-off movies, given how beautifully they work when considered as a self-contained story in their own right.  As great as the rest of the DCAU is, some of it does undo the power of that original series when viewed as a complete mythology, and so, for this reviewer at least, anything from the ‘New Adventures’ onwards is perhaps best considered as a brilliant ‘Elseworlds’ (or ‘what if’, for non-comic buffs) story, rather than a definite continuation of the original episodes (not least because of the dramatic change in style of the characters and their surroundings in those later series, their world brought into a much more modern time period, rather than the beautifully ambiguous, part-forties gangster noir, part-thirties architecture, part-sixties sci-fi aesthetic of the original series).

Consisting of two seasons and two feature spin-offs, running from 1992 to 1995, ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ initially takes its inspiration from the Tim Burton movies, everything from Batman and the Joker’s costumes, to the Penguin’s grotesque design, to the Danny Elfman score over the opening and closing titles, before giving way to something very much its own, with the unspeakably talented Shirley Walker soon dropping Elfman’s musical cues to craft, in my opinion, the greatest Batman theme ever composed, a soaring nine-note motif that captures the Gothic majesty of the character, and one she brilliantly tweaks to be either tragic (the ‘Mask of the Phantasm’ soundtrack), or uplifting (the later ‘Adventures of Batman and Robin’ opening credits).  Complementing this main score is an array of glorious, hum-able themes for all the supporting characters and villains.  Elfman’s Batman music is great.  Every note of Walker’s is art.

I’ve already alluded to Radomski’s production design.  This is a Gotham you want to immerse yourself in, and, for all its in-world danger, and despite the fact it’s two-dimensional animation, live in.  With black paper backgrounds for the animation (unheard of prior to the show), and a hyper-stylised, part-period, part-futuristic architectural look, this Gotham is dark, rich, fascinating and compelling in every frame.  Watch Batman perch atop a cathedral in ‘It’s Never Too Late’, walk up to the grave of his parents in ‘Mask of the Phantasm’, or abduct a petty criminal high into the moonlit sky with the Batwing in ‘Feat of Clay’, and tell me this isn’t an extraordinarily-realised world.  Treat yourself to a trio of episodes a night (what I’ve been doing since Christmas), and you’ll be hungry and impatient to dive back into this universe the next evening.

On a side note, a primary example of the love and thought that went into this original series has to be the brilliant opening title cards (something that wouldn’t feature again in the revamped episodes).  Seeing these titles, accompanied by visuals and stirring music from Walker that would sometimes give a clue as to the villain of the episode, and sometimes wouldn’t, whets the appetite like nothing else I can think of in a cartoon, and all are works of art in their own right- a sumptuous starter before the main course of the episode.

For all that these production elements deserve praise, however, they merely set the scene, creating a rich backdrop against which writers and actors can show their craft.  And what craft.

The writing.  My God, the writing.  This is a series that manages to be every bit as engaging for adults as it is for children.  The latter, including my younger self, will be thrilled by the action, the gadgets, the fights, the colourful villains.  The former, my current self included, will marvel at the intellectual and emotional intelligence, the pathos, the plotting, the smart one-liners.  This is not a cartoon that any grown-up need be embarrassed about watching without the presence of children.  It is a series that rewards you for trusting it with your intelligence.  And rewards you well.

No review could ever be long enough to appraise every good story in the series, so a subjective handful will have to suffice.  Already mentioned a couple of times this review, and for good reason, ‘It’s Never Too Late’ is a haunting, human, thoughtful piece of fiction that delves into the morality of gangster lifestyles and drug dealing with a poignancy many live-action series would struggle to match.  The much-lauded, Emmy-winning ‘Heart of Ice’ gives a backstory to previously one-note villain Mr Freeze that has subsequently been adapted into the canon of the comics.  ‘Feat of Clay’ is a Shakespearean tragedy of a man destroyed by weakness and cruel fate, to be brought back as a literal monster, and is probably the finest two-parter the series ever produced.  ‘Joker’s Favour’ might very well be the best Joker story in any version of the Batman mythology, ingeniously viewing the villain through the lens of an ordinary man on the ground left terrorised by his sadistic whims, as well as having the honour of introducing, via creator Paul Dini, the now-iconic character of Harley Quinn, who soon made her way into the main comics, and whose ascent has only continued.  ‘Perchance to Dream’ gives us a great ‘what if’ insight into what Bruce Wayne’s life might look like if that fateful night that killed his parents had never occurred.  ‘Almost Got ‘Im’ is sheer, unadulterated fun from start to finish, treating us to the rogues gallery playing poker around the table in a dingy club hideaway, and one-upping each other with tales of how they almost bested the Dark Knight.  ‘Trial’ takes this fun factor of all the villains together one step further, and sees them actively team up to put their joint nemesis through the wringer, within the walls of the asylum he is responsible for putting them all in.  And ‘House and Garden’, one of the series’ last episodes, has probably been the biggest surprise for this reviewer upon rewatching- a Poison Ivy story that manages to be both chillingly creepy, and poignantly sad, and has lingered in my mind as, quite possibly, my personal favourite episode of the boxset.

Meanwhile, special mention must go to the first spin-off movie, ‘Mask of the Phantasm’.  Originally released in cinemas (regrettably without sufficient marketing to make it a box-office success, but happily having acquired a cult status on home video since) between the first and second seasons, this movie was a staple of my childhood, and for good reason.  By turns an origin saga, murder mystery, and sweeping love story, it again rewards the viewer’s intelligence with smart plotting and strong characterisation (watch the scene of Bruce at the graveside in the rain), and features Shirley Walker’s best work of the series.  Meanwhile, it manages the remarkable feat, in quite spooky fashion, of telling us a lot about the Joker’s origin, without actually really telling us anything.  The second feature spin-off, ‘Subzero’ (direct to video this time), is also a good film, but ‘Phantasm’ is simply untouchable for sheer quality, and is rapidly, and rightly, acquiring a reputation among fans as the best Batman movie ever made.

For all that, however, the writing, extraordinary as it is, would mean little without a strong voice cast to go with it.

What.  A.  Cast.

Kevin Conroy’s Batman.  Deep, without resorting to the live-action growls of Christian Bale, he brings a gravitas and authority to the character that really makes you understand why the criminals of Gotham would cower the second he opens his mouth, and yet manages a warmth and humour around his allies, even without the lighter, put-on ‘Bruce Wayne’ voice he adopts when pretending to be a slightly dim playboy, that should seem impossible from the same person.  Loren Lester’s fun, wisecracking Robin, the show’s smart decision to age the character up enough for him to be in college, helps you understand both how Dick Grayson manages to be a healthy foil to Batman’s darkness, and how he goes on, as Nightwing, to be such a draw for the women of the DC Universe.  Efrem Zimbalist Jr.’s warm and witty Alfred is the soothing presence you can imagine keeps Batman sane and grounded in this otherwise mad, dangerous world of crime and mayhem.  Bob Hastings’ paternal Commissioner Gordon is a man you can buy Bruce Wayne viewing as a surrogate father.  Elsewhere, Robert Costanzo’s just-the-right-side-of-slimy Detective Bullock, and Melissa Gilbert’s spirited Batgirl.

And then, the villains.  What a roster of voice talent.  King among them all, Mark Hamill’s magnificent Joker.  Forget Nicholson or Ledger.  This is the definitive Clown Prince of Crime.  Forever striding a fine line between genuinely funny and sadistically evil, lending itself to a sense of never quite knowing which way he’ll tip at any given time, and subsequently creating tension for the viewer, Hamill injects the part with an energy that lays bare his delight in having secured the role, originally only signed up for a bit part in ‘Heart of Ice’.  At heart (at least according to interviews) more a character actor than a leading man, the Joker is Hamill’s dream role, and God, does it show.

Alongside him, Arleen Sorkin’s batshit-crazy Harley Quinn, second only to the Ace of Knaves himself in the dangerously unpredictable stakes.  Quirky and fun some episodes, fierce and deranged others, Quinn fits into the mythos so well, both as Joker’s moll and as a villain in her own right, that it seems strange that she spent decades not being part of it.

Elsewhere, Adrienne Barbeau’s sultry Catwoman.  More idealistic in her guise of Selina Kyle, but even then carrying an undercurrent of danger, Barbeau makes us believe that Batman, for all his attraction to her, can never quite drop his guard around the woman who is both love interest and foe, never quite able to be sure of her motives (an uncertainty finally, and poignantly, resolved in the excellent ‘Catwalk’).

Richard Moll’s snarling, sinister Harvey Dent, unnerving, even before his transformation into Two-Face, as repressed dark personality Big Bad Harv (a scene in a psychiatrist’s office, lightning flashing outside the window, in ‘Two-Face Part 1′ sends a shiver down the spine).  Paul Williams’ sophisticated Penguin, armed just as readily with one liners as poison-tipped umbrellas, and all the more unsettling juxtaposed with the character’s gruesome ‘Batman Returns’-inspired appearance (later toned down for the revamped episodes).  John Glover’s sardonic, superior Riddler, his confident, quietly dangerous take easily my favourite interpretation of the character, no need here for the deranged mania of other versions (*looks at ‘Batman Forever’*).  Henry Polic II’s cruel, callous Scarecrow, the sense of a character genuinely delighting in the fear of others.  John Vernon’s oily, loathsome Rupert Thorne.  Diane Pershing’s driven, fanatical Poison Ivy, possibly the strongest female vocal performance in the cast (listen to her wicked laugh in ‘Harley and Ivy’, as Joker’s attempted ambush with the poisonous flower on his lapel goes very wrong).  Ron Perlman’s angry, desperate, drug-addict analogy Clayface.  Michael Ansara’s cold (no pun intended), calculating, yet laced with just a hint of lingering, buried emotion, Mr Freeze.  Roddy McDowall’s obsessive, delusional Mad Hatter.  Aron Kincaid’s guttural, suitably reptilian Killer Croc.  David Warner’s hypnotic, eerie Ra’s al Ghul.  Helen Slater’s beguiling, ambiguous Talia.

There are others, of course, but some villains really only get an episode or two to serve as story of the week threats.  The above represent the recurring rogues gallery, and together, form a rich tapestry of villainy for Batman to fight.  It means, more often than not (although a surprising amount of episodes don’t feature any costumed villains at all) that whenever you play an episode, you’re going to be treated to epic exchanges between Conroy and one of the aforementioned actors, no matter who the villain of the story turns out to be.

It’s not perfect.  There are dud episodes.  ‘The Last Laugh’ is an unfortunately early poor Joker entry in a series stacked full of great ones.  ‘Prophecy of Doom’ holds the questionable honour of introducing possibly the worst Batman villain ever created in Nostromo (although even it has a redeeming feature in the shape of a great climactic action sequence).  ‘Heart of Steel’, all the more regrettable for being a two-parter, and despite the cool concept of an AI villain, fails to stir the imagination as it should.  ‘Baby Doll’ sees its attempt to establish a brand new villain for the mythos backfire where ‘Joker’s Favour’ succeeds in Harley Quinn.  And the less said about the ‘Allo, Guvnor’ portrayal of London in ‘The Lion and the Unicorn’, the better.  Meanwhile, returning to the series as an adult, and despite this reviewer’s distaste for the casual, grotesque murder and death of more modern interpretations of the mythology like Fox’s ‘Gotham’, it is very noticeable how the show pulls back from ever letting anyone die (bar the two spin-off movies).  Loss of life, even for rank and file henchmen, is absolutely off limits, and by the end of the two seasons, it does start to feel very contrived when yet another Joker goon manages to crawl to safety from burning wreckage.

These flaws, however, are the rare exception to a very strong rule.  ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ is a love letter to the Caped Crusader, a pure distillation of all that is best about the character.  Borrowing a little of the Burton movies here, a little of Adam West or the source comics there, while ultimately forging its own identity, the series is, to my mind, as close as it is possible to get to the essence of Bob Kane and Bill Finger’s creation.  It feels as timeless now, watching in 2018, as it did on that sofa as a child in the mid-nineties.  I’m not sure there’ll ever be a more perfect bringing to life of a comic book.  I’m pretty sure this was it.




Dark, intelligent, mature storytelling, whilst still managing to be fun and adventurous, ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ is every bit as great a watch for adults as it is for children.  Surely the greatest comic book adaptation ever produced.


Christopher Moore




‘Look out!’ cried the watchful bird, flitting to and fro.  ‘You are all in peril, and must jump immediately!’

The other birds glanced up, briefly roused from their slumber, observing the caller in the upper reaches of the tree, squawking down at them with its dire prediction.  But they soon went back into their stupor, rhythmically hunting for food, for sustenance.

The watchful bird peered about nervously, knowing the danger was coming, whether the others believed him or not.

‘The great cat!’ he cried to them, raising his voice in the hope that it might better persuade them.  ‘It is preparing to pounce!’

Once again, the other birds took only momentary notice of his prophecy, before going back to their work.  They had been in slumber for too long now, conditioned only to work and hunt for food, to be capable of easily changing their habits.

‘You must jump!’ the watchful bird insisted, screeching in distress that his warning was falling on deaf ears.  ‘You must leap to a higher level, or the great cat will trap you all where you stand!’

This time, the shrillness of the bird’s warning made some of the other birds look up for longer, something in the panicked tone stirring something dormant inside them.  Seeing this subtle change, the watchful bird took a deep breath, and opened his beak to deliver his loudest warning yet.

‘You must jump now!’ he cried.  ‘You must leap higher, get to a place of greater safety, before the great cat strikes!  If you remain where you are, you are doomed!’

At this, several of the birds kept staring at the would-be-protector, rather than instantly resuming their deadening work.  Many more remained uninterested, still searching for food, but the watchful bird took heart that his message was finally getting through, at least to some.  He opened his beak again.


More than half the birds looked up in alarm, recognising the urgency in the sentry’s voice, the truth of it, the utter terror of the situation they had sleepwalked into.  The protector glanced to the bushes in the near-distance.  Stared at the eyes within their depths, blazing with hunger and greed.  He summoned more air into himself, and screamed out a final plea.


All the birds who had listened in the end spread their wings and leapt from the ground in unison.  The great cat sprang from the bushes, propelled by its lust for food.  The birds still on the ground were ensnared, trapped beneath its callous claws.  At the mercy of its selfish whims until the hour it decided to put them out of their misery.

Above, however, a greater number of birds leapt to their freedom.  Airborne and safe.  Guided to a higher perch by the one who had been watchful.


Christopher Moore


Smallville: Series review


A word, first, about potential bias in this review.  There are some TV shows you only discover, or which indeed are only created, once you’re well into adulthood.  Then there are some that have the good fortune to air during a viewer’s formative years, establishing themselves permanently in the memory as nostalgia.  The exquisite ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ did this during my childhood.  Anime titans ‘Pokemon’ and ‘Digimon’ during my early teens.  ‘Smallville’ landed (pardon the pun) during my mid-late teens, quite possibly the perfect viewing age for its often soapy romantic drama, and this, coming alongside my developing obsession with DC Comics, and Superman and Batman in particular, at that age, enabled the show to take on a sort of mythological status in my mind- a privilege it retains to this day.  So with that in mind, this review is more likely to be coloured by positive bias than many of the other pieces I’ve written, or will write in future.  On the other hand, that doesn’t mean I think the show is perfect- far from it, and I hope that will come across in the review.

Kansas teenager Clark Kent has grown up on his family’s farm while hiding an array of extraordinary abilities from the world.  Learning from his adopted parents, the Kents, that he was found by them in a field close to a crashed spaceship in the aftermath of a deadly meteor shower, Clark deals with the startling realisation that he is from another planet while attempting to grapple with the complications of high school.  His longtime crush, Lana Lang, is dating school jock and bully Whitney Fordman, while wearing a necklace formed from a piece of the green meteor rock that accompanied the shower, a substance deadly to Clark.  Although taking solace from best friends Pete Ross and Chloe Sullivan, Clark is unnerved by budding reporter Chloe’s investigations into the strange happenings around Smallville, primarily the meteor rock’s ability to infect local people and give them powers, almost always coupled with a descent into evil, obsessive behaviour.  Naturally, he worries what would occur if she ever got too close to his own secret.  Meanwhile, billionaire’s son Lex Luthor sets up home in Smallville, essentially banished there by his father in order to grow as his own man, and after being saved by Clark when his car plunges off a bridge after hitting him, the two become firm friends.  Their closeness, however, is gradually threatened by Lex’s secret determination to solve the mystery of how Clark managed to rescue him without being hurt.

The brainchild of Tollin/Robbins productions and executive producers Al Gough and Miles Millar, ‘Smallville’ was originally intended to be a series about a young Bruce Wayne, until Warner Bros decided to focus on developing an origin story for the big screen instead that would eventually see life as 2005’s ‘Batman Begins’ (although a Batman origin series has subsequently made its way to television in the shape of Fox’s ‘Gotham’).  Shades of this can be seen in the series’ premise.  The doomed Clark/Lex friendship could easily have been Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent.  Keen reporter Chloe could be a young Vicki Vale.  The ultimately tragic Clark/Lana romance could have been Bruce and Selina Kyle.  In any event, the show quickly establishes its own identity as an origin fable of the boy who will become Superman, and the opening scenes of meteors striking a midwestern small town promise much about the overall tone of the series.

The show’s embracing of the Superman mythology is both its greatest strength and weakness.  In the early seasons, there’s a delight in seeing the then-rare arrival of key staples of the comics into this generally high-school-set romantic drama, from the activation of Clark’s spaceship and his gradual developing of brand new powers, to the discovery of his Kryptonian origins courtesy of both the ethereal presence (technically an AI system, but coming across more as a spiritual entity) of his biological father Jor-El and (in one of the show’s best episodes, ‘Rosetta’), the imparting of information from brilliant scientist Virgil Swann, played by the late Christopher Reeve.  The closing scenes of ‘Rosetta’, set to the strains of John Williams’ ‘Superman’ theme, lend a sense of the epic to a series that has previously followed a fairly formulaic ‘villain of the week’ pattern in the shape of the local ‘meteor freaks’.  And make no mistake: it is the ‘Superman: The Movie’ mythology that ‘Smallville’ specifically follows, from the occasional use of the music, to design elements, to plot points- in many ways, the series is an expanded retelling of that original movie in its structure.  Across the first few seasons, this gradual integration of the mythos into the show raises the hairs in excitement.

Alas, this later becomes too much of a good thing.  By season 6, and certainly by season 8/9, the show begins to feel less like an origin story, and more like an actual Superman show- which would be fine, if it wasn’t trying to be both things simultaneously.  The tone suffers, and begins, at times, to feel all over the place.  Some episodes hark back to that early midwestern innocence.  Others feel like a remake of ‘Lois and Clark’- again, no bad thing, if that were what the show was purposefully going for.  The setting of many of the later episodes primarily in Metropolis contradicts, if nothing else, the very title of the show, and the reliance of many later episodes on SFX and limited sets over the gorgeous locations and exteriors of the Kent farm creates a certain ‘stilted’ quality.

The introduction of various characters from the mythology, meanwhile, becomes the very definition of hit and miss as the series goes on.  There are many triumphs.  The ‘Smallville’ version of Lois Lane, introduced in season 4, is one of the best incarnations of the character ever put to screen.  Early appearances from other DC heroes are well-handled; and great fun; The Flash, Aquaman.  The villains are, on the whole, excellently done; James Marsters’ Brainiac, Callum Blue’s Zod, Sam Witwer’s (though very different from the comics character) Doomsday.  But other nods to the source material backfire.  Justin Hartley’s Green Arrow, though a good character in and of himself, is not the Oliver Queen of the comics, clearly designed, instead, to be the show’s version of Bruce Wayne, except that the producers presumably couldn’t get the rights to him.  The arrival of some DC characters begins to feel like overkill by the last few seasons (anyone who can tell me what business Booster Gold, Blue Beetle, or the Suicide Squad have being in a Superman series, please do write).  And the less said about season 4’s ‘Mikhail Mxyzptlk’, the better.  The series’ interpretation of Jor-El, meanwhile, voiced by Terence Stamp, has to be one of the most continually maddening features of the series.  Written inconsistently and designed more as a plot device than a character, he ranges from stern, oppressive and borderline evil in the early seasons, to seemingly proud and loving by the finale, flip-flopping between the two multiple times in the interim.  Marlon Brando’s take on the character, this is not.

Back to the positives, however, and ‘Smallville’ is blessed with a fantastic cast.  Leading man Tom Welling remains my favourite interpretation of Superman to date, extraordinarily handsome (which lends credibility to virtually every young female character in the show falling over themselves for him), the right physique (to put it mildly) for the character, and with a ‘purity’ to his portrayal, simultaneously innocent and wise, that makes us believe he will grow into a superhero who is an inspiration for millions.  Not that he can’t play darker, of course.  One of the best aspects of such a sci-fi show is that it allows all of the cast the opportunity to play different characters across the series, and Welling really gets to show his stuff when these storylines come into play.  Whether an amoral Clark hooked on red Kryptonite, evil doppelgangers Bizarro and Ultraman, or, best of all, Clark’s bodyswitch with Lionel Luthor (his best performance in the entire series), Welling does evil so well you sometimes wish these were the primary characters he was playing.  He’s at his best in the first half of the series, peaking in season 5, but remains a strong, steadfast presence right to the end, and the moral core of the show.

Kristin Kreuk’s Lana is…complicated.  The actress herself (especially in the later seasons) is terrific, going from wide-eyed innocent to proxy Luthor by season 6, and looking and sounding almost like a completely different character by then.  We’re enchanted by her star-crossed romance with Clark early on, her parents having been killed by the very phenomenon that brought him to Earth, yet the arguable source of that pain becoming the love of her life, while her borderline descent into villainy later allows her to spar brilliantly with the likes of Lionel and Lex.  But the character, as written, dangerously undermines this.  Passive-aggressive to the point of infuriating by season 3, Lana becomes so self-righteous and hypocritical over Clark’s keeping of secrets from her as to be anathema to many scenes, with our hero only getting to stand up to her a small handful of times across the whole series.  At least in seasons 5-7, when the character is flirting with outright evil, this feels appropriate.  When we are later expected to buy her as the hometown first love again, it’s problematic, to say the least.

Michael Rosenbaum’s Lex is one of the show’s triumphs.  Empathetic (indeed almost to the point of making us root more for him than Clark), he lends a tragic pathos to the story as circumstance after circumstance grinds him down deeper towards villainy, despite his longing for genuine friendship and acceptance.  Rosenbaum brings a quiet honour to many of his early appearances, in some respects the most noble character in the show next to Clark and the Kents, before later allowing himself to be genuinely menacing as the Luthor of the comics comes to the fore.  His final regular involvement in the show, season 7, suffers from a sense of things being rushed to manoeuvre the character into position as the arch-foe of the mythology, but the journey towards that point remains compelling, even if the denouement is hurried.

Allison Mack’s Chloe is the breakout hit of the series.  Originally seeming destined for a tragic fate, given her absence from the comics, she takes on a whole new lease of life after discovering Clark’s powers in season 4, becoming his ‘superhero BFF’ in one of the best, most genuine character evolutions in the series.  We trust her implicitly as a custodian of Clark’s secret, as she settles into one of the warmest presences in the show, all the more remarkable for her flirtation with betrayal in the early seasons over her jealousy of the Clark/Lana romance, and Lionel’s manipulation of this angst.  She’s the antithesis to Lana’s defensive, confrontational attitude as the series goes on, and a particular highlight for this reviewer is her calm, subtle, faux-polite warning to her to stop dragging Clark down in Season 7’s ‘Wrath’.

Erica Durance’s Lois Lane is the best thing about the later seasons, when the show is threatening to drift completely away from its roots.  Her early rivalry with Clark is enjoyable enough, the mutual (surface-level) dislike between them all the more rewarding once it gives way to romance, but it’s once the pair are established in Metropolis at the Daily Planet that the character really comes into her own as one of the show’s best assets.  Consistent, moral, determined, strong yet with believable hints of vulnerability, and just downright fun, she’s everything Clark’s relationship with Lana isn’t.  Healthy, organic, mutually-respectful and loving, and relatively angst-free.  Welling and Kreuk may have the more intense romantic chemistry, but Welling and Durance have the warmer one.  Both wholly believable in different ways, but with the latter free of the angst that poisons the former, and when Clark declares to Lois in season 9’s ‘Salvation’ that she was the person he always needed in his life, it’s a line that feels well and truly earned.

Sam Jones III’s Pete Ross is perhaps the mythology character poorest-served by the series.  Not because of the actor, who brings a likeability and, for want of a better word in a show about superheroes, ‘normality’ to the show, but because of the writing, and the general arc.  Early on, Pete’s discovery of the secret at the start of season 3 provides one of the most novel changes to the series status quo, coming not in a premiere or finale, but tucked a few episodes in, therefore coming as more of a genuine surprise to the audience (although the relative ease with which Clark comes clean to him makes one wonder why he agonises for so long over being honest with other characters).  It brings a refreshing new dynamic to things, the prototype, in a sense, to how Chloe’s discovery alters the show later on.  It’s a shame Jones leaves after season 3, not because of the timing of the departure (it feels like the right time to shake up the cast a little), but because his only return, in season 7’s ‘Hero’, sees him become more of an antagonist.  This works fine for Jonathan Kent in season 10, given that we see plenty of the ‘real’ Jonathan both before and after, but here, for Pete, it leaves something of a bad taste in the mouth- one of the key moments the show falls short for this reviewer.

It would be no controversy to call John Glover the best actor on the show.  His Lionel Luthor is the most compelling character in the series, stealing virtually every scene he’s in, and bringing out the best in all the other actors.  It’s no coincidence that Welling and Kreuk shine brightest in their interactions with him (witness Clark’s spine-tingling confrontation with Lionel in season 5’s ‘Mercy’, a scene that arguably sees Welling at his most dangerous, despite playing Clark’s regular self), while the interplay between Glover and Rosenbaum is probably the best villainous double act in television, the power-play between the two characters genuinely gripping.  In one of the series’ best elements, Lionel shifts gears completely in season 4, evolving into a wholly different character, to the point where one of the key moments of Lex’s evolution that the audience longs for after his father’s cruelty in the early seasons becomes a tragic moment by the time it finally occurs in season 7- no mean feat.

Laura Vandervoort’s Kara, like Pete Ross, is another character whose development suffers due to her general arc.  A laudable shakeup to the cast when introduced in season 7, she unfortunately never quite gets the chance to come into her own in a season packed with so many other storylines that favour the existing, longterm characters.  Ideally, her introduction to the story, and Lex’s pursuit of her secret, a novel echo of his obsession with Clark in season one, would have been the predominant arc of that season, but instead it becomes lost among the others.  Vandervoort herself, however, comes perhaps second only to Welling in her portrayal of a noble, moral, still somewhat innocent heroine, fitting given the characters’ blood tie (although, like Welling, when given the opportunity to play dark, namely channelling James Marsters’ Brainiac when the latter impersonates her in the season finale, she seizes it with relish).

John Schenider and Annette O’Toole, meanwhile, are the beating heart of the show, a believable guiding light for Clark, and the sort of parents the audience would feel blessed to have in real life (with some occasional exceptions- Martha’s chastisement of Clark in season 4’s ‘Unsafe’ for getting married while under the influence of red Kryptonite is a misstep).  They’re the most grounded characters in a show teeming with the paranormal, and lend a sense of authenticity to its world.  We feel these extraordinary things are happening in a very real place when Jonathan and Martha are on screen, and the two are sorely missed in the series’ later seasons (although their return is one of the very best things about the finale).

Lastly, Cassidy Freeman as Tess Mercer.  Brought in only in season 8, she could so easily have been Lex-lite, a cipher designed solely to take his place as the show’s villain.  But thankfully, the writers take a less predictable route, and, especially in Freeman’s hands, she becomes one of the most poignant, nuanced characters of the whole series, genuinely longing to escape a dark destiny and step into the light of Clark, Lois, Chloe et al.  If this reviewer has one major criticism of the finale, it’s that Tess’s only final interactions in that story are with villains, wholly removed from the joy of the wedding being attended by the other characters, before meeting her final fate.  It feels unfair (though her final scene with Lex is certainly powerful, however dark).

Elsewhere, among a vast array of guest stars, some notable performances stand out.  Sarah Carter’s Alicia gives the show one of its most poignant arcs, that of a troubled woman trying to reintegrate into society after a crime and convince those around her she’s changed for the better.  Jane Seymour’s Genevieve Teague is one of the series’ more enjoyable guest villains, sparking nicely off the Luthors, bettered only by the obscenely good James Marsters as Milton Fine/Brainiac, a cunning and manipulative character if ever there was one.  Callum Blue’s Zod is not the one-dimensional stereotype the character has traditionally been in popular culture, managing to engage us for an entire season when it would have been so easy to write the character as one-note (watch his instant regret after murdering Faora in season 9’s ‘Sacrifice’- breathtaking).  Meanwhile, Alisen Down as Lex’s mother Lillian, appearing to him primarily in dreams, is superbly, creepily ambiguous as to whether she’s trying to pull him back from a dark path, or subtly push him towards it.

The overall story structure of the series, minus a few missteps, is highly enjoyable.  Season 1’s slice of midwestern Americana is a beautiful fable of a seemingly ordinary boy discovering he’s someone extraordinary.  Season 2 introduces the Superman mythology as it would be seen through Clark’s eyes- familiar to us, yet strange, alien and scary from his perspective.  Season 3 descends into darkness, shattering the innocence of Clark and Lana’s early romance and showing us Lionel at his most evil.  Season 4 brings a fantasy feel to the show, with mysterious stones and evil witches, something some viewers who prefer Superman to be more sci-fi took issue with, but something this reviewer felt wonderfully complemented and deepened the existing mythology.  Season 5 takes the characters to college and the city, breathing new life into the series in a way no other season quite matches- it’s early episodes are among the most exciting and unpredictable in tone.  Season 6 establishes the characters as part of a wider DC mythology.  Season 7 sees, in a sense, the end of the show as originally envisaged, with Kreuk and Rosenbaum’s departure as regular characters.  Season 8 finally leaves behind the last vestiges of the early show (Lana) and starts manoeuvring the pieces into place to match the comics. Season 9 takes an unexpected last turn into darker territory, before Season 10 proves to be a season-long final celebration of the series’ 10 years, bringing back practically every significant character across the episodes as Clark finally approaches his destiny.

An extra mention, meanwhile, must go to the series’ soundtrack.  Aside from its excellent use of songs, often for end-of-episode reflections or montages, Mark Snow and Louis Febre provide a gorgeous score across the show’s ten seasons, Snow’s more gentle and introspective across the early seasons, Febre’s more bombastic and heroic as Clark heads towards finally putting on the suit.

Many have criticised ‘Smallville’ for lasting well after its time, the idea of a character taking ten years to come of age not ringing true.  To an extent, I can agree with them.  The show does begin to feel padded out by the later seasons, and suffers several times from a sense of not knowing quite where to go.  On the other hand, in today’s world more than ever, it doesn’t feel inherently unrealistic to suggest that it can take a decade for a person to find their feet as an adult, and in this respect, this reviewer as much as anyone can relate to Clark Kent’s journey.  Even if it feels overdue by the time it arrives, his moment of destiny is still a rewarding, uplifting moment that goes out of its way to thank longterm fans of the character (the last few moments of the finale play like the opening of a Superman movie, complete with background score).  Much like Clark’s journey within the story, there are moments of the show’s ten years where the viewer undoubtedly wonders, ‘is this worth it?  Are things ever going to get to where I want them to be?’  But they do.  In the end, they do.  And that, flawed and meandering though the journey may have been, resonates with me.


‘Smallville’ is not a masterpiece.  No objective critic could argue it is.  But it is made up of many moments that are, and that, for this reviewer, lends a sheen to the overall show that makes it feel like one.  It contributed hugely to my love of comics, and for that reason as much as anything else, will always be a show I look back on with love.

Christopher Moore



Wow. Quite a break.

Without particularly planning to, I seem to have neglected this blog for several months, the last post having been written way back in August.  Blame a shift in focus towards working on larger writing projects designed more for publication or production, rather than being posted online, for the long absence.  But I thought it was time I got back to some feature writing to vary things up.  I have to say, I hadn’t realised how much I’d missed doing things like reviews, so hopefully the rediscovery of that pleasure will motivate me to keep at it from now on.  As satisfying as it is to complete long-form projects like novels or plays, there’s every possibility that those won’t be seen by anyone except me for quite a while, so I think it’s healthy to get some writing back up onto blogs and social media (writing more substantial, that is, than ranting Facebook political posts).  In any case, for any poor saps who may have been following my posts regularly and were disappointed by their disappearance, I will do my best not to take such a long pause again.

So, with that out of the way, my first ‘return’ post will be a retrospective (promised way back in my ‘Merlin’ review) of the other contender for my favourite TV show of all time, ‘Smallville’.  Happy reading.


Christopher Moore




The Perfect Destination


The sun is starting to feel like fire on my face as I wake up, and at first I assume it’s the blistering heat that’s stirred me out of my dreams.  But then I start to hear the groans, low, pained, strangely defeatist, and I turn on my sunbed to find a sight that startles me up and on to my feet.

Everywhere I look, by the pool, on the beach, as far as I can see across the whole resort, tourists are in some kind of distress, many burnt a frightening red by the afternoon sun, as though someone has accelerated the slow lethalness of the rays to deadly proportions, skin steaming and mouths open in contorted screams, mostly silent as the result of fried vocal cords.  Elsewhere, I see other figures disturbingly emaciated, scantily-clad youths riddled with some ailment, covered in sores and hives, crawling across the tiles and reaching out to no-one in particular.  Others still are trapped on their beds, stomachs bloated to almost ridiculous proportions, bellies hanging out over the sides and hands clutching at their chests as trickles of beer run out of the cans lying knocked over at the base.

I stumble away from those nearest me, moaning and crying and reaching out for me, and start running, desperately, flitting an eye up to the sun every few steps as if anticipating the moment the orb will start to burn through my own skin with sudden speed.  But it doesn’t happen.  I make it down to the beach, to the edge of the water, and on instinct, perhaps simply to get as far away from what I’ve just seen as I physically can, I plunge in, wading through the surf until I’m fully in the sea, head immersed and the waves crashing over the top of me.  I look down at the seafloor below, and my mouth falls open in fresh, disbelieving horror.

Across the ocean floor, more souls, much older, are making their way along, shuffling, struggling, most clad in heavy, drab coats, almost all with bowed heads, eyes dead and disappointed, all optimism apparently crushed from them.  Some are wheeling themselves along in chairs, others depending on crutches, some carrying shopping bags in both hands as tears of isolation flow down their cheeks.  Some, in concentrated groups, line up in queues, waiting in single file for packages being handed out.

A few, the ones with the barest traces of hope still on their faces, look upwards towards the surface, eyes searching as though wondering if things are better up there.  On instinct, I glance up and see brief flashes of legs and arms moving through the water, muffled laughter of children, and I make for the top, swimming my way to the surface and breaking my head above the surf.

The resort is a scene of bliss- sunshine and fun, holidaymakers enjoying the best of summer escapism, splashing in the water, laughing and playing on the beach, drinking on apartment terraces.  Glancing down, I find no sign of anything beneath me, nothing on the sea floor, no movement of lonely souls below my floating feet.  I open my mouth to question, to speak, to ask someone, anyone, if I’m losing my mind, when I feel the burning heat of the sun on my face, and my vision goes blank.

I open my eyes, blink, and find myself stretched on my sunbed.


Christopher Moore


Smoke and Fire


There is no smoke without fire.

Most take that to mean no rumour without truth or scandal lurking close behind it.  We take a different meaning.  We make a different meaning.

To us, the phrase means ensuring substance behind our threats.  Making sure our targets, our puppets, our victims if necessary, know that we will deliver on any promise we make them, on any warning we choose to give.  Guaranteeing that our names, our image, the very concept of us, is synonymous with dominance over, and if required, retribution against, those we seek to influence.

So, if an election appears not to be going the way we wish, we make sure we have the fire of media hostility behind the smoke of ideological criticism.  If corporate rivals become too big for their shoes, too arrogant, too quick to believe they can get away with causing us displeasure, we ensure we have the fire of front-page exposés behind the smoke of shadowy blackmail.  If the public prove temporarily brave enough to challenge the politics we wish to see implemented, we make sure we have the fire of punitive measures behind the smoke of denouncing civil unrest.  If churches embark on misguided objections to our social policies, we make sure we have the fire of hidden skeletons behind the smoke of secular ridicule.  And if rogue nations opt not to play their part in the shaping of our desired world order, we make sure we have the fire of scorched-earth warfare behind the smoke of whipping up and manipulating public opinion.

This is what is required to be effective pullers of strings.  To be quiet rulers of countries without the knowledge of their populaces.  To be the power behind thrones, behind corporate desks and presidential chairs, behind newspaper headlines.  The absolute, unbending will to ensure that, whenever our enemies recognise the warning sign of smoke drifting their way, the fire of their destruction is already sweeping rapidly behind it.


Christopher Moore