This was originally in the comments thread of a 2009 post about Marvel publishing Marvelman/Miracleman. Considering how many comics readers are unaware or uninformed of the history and details of Marvel and DC’s abuse of creator rights, I thought it deserved its own post.
The history of the “Big Two,” is a history of lies, betrayals and broken promises. It’s very easy today to say “maybe he should have had the insight not to have worked with them in the first place,” about Alan Moore and a thousand other creators who have been screwed, blewed and tattooed (as Mom used to say), but the fact of the matter is that it’s far more complex than that, and if you truly have an interest in the subject, then you owe it to yourself to do some research.
Just one example, relevant to this post: Are you aware that, prior to Watchmen, no superhero graphic novel (and there were few enough of those anyway) was ever kept permanently in print? And that DC’s contract with Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons said that the rights to the work would revert to Moore and Gibbons once the book had (as all superhero graphic novels had in the past) gone out of print?
Then the work proved to transcend all previous precedent, and instead of keeping with the spirit of the written contract (there was absolutely NO historical reason at the time not to think Moore and Gibbons would not be given ownership of the work under this contract: it’s what Moore and Gibbons AND DC all expected to happen), the company kept the book in print, so far, quite permanently. To the extent that that goes, that’s understandable enough; it’s a hugely popular work. Where DC falls down in this example is in not somehow compensating Moore and Gibbons for the unexpected success of the work that changed the conditions under which the contract was written. Legally, of course, DC had the right to do what they wanted. But from a business and ethical standpoint, what they did was monumentally stupid: They permanently soured Moore on working for them (through this and many other actions — look up the “promotional” Watchmen watches, or the pulping of an issue of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, or the Tomorrow Stories story that Top Shelf had to publish because DC didn’t have the courage — which I believe is how Moore ended up there; anyway, LOOK STUFF UP AND FIND OUT FOR YOURSELF).
Dig out some old Comics Journals, Google creators rights, read some interviews with the injured parties, find out for yourself what those of us who have been watching the industry for decades are talking about.
Find out what happened to Marv Wolfman when he made a claim to ownership of Blade. Find out how vague and meaningless the idea of “Copyright,” in comics was, especially prior to 1974. Do you know about the back-of-paycheck agreements the companies made creators sign in order to get paid? Did you know some of them regularly crossed it out, because they didn’t agree with it? I could go on all day.
A lot of injustice and malfeasance has been committed by corporate comics companies against the very people who make it possible for them to exist, but if the readers who enjoy their product would make an effort to understand the long and thorny history of corporate comics and creators rights, maybe those readers would think twice about blindly supporting the large corporations that have done so much harm to the people who created the very product in question.
— Alan David Doane
This was originally in the comments thread of a 2009 post about Marvel publishing Marvelman/Miracleman. Considering how many comics readers are unaware or uninformed of the history and details of Marvel and DC’s abuse of creator rights, I thought it deserved its own post.
Today is the 60th birthday of Northampton’s hometown magician, Alan Moore. Why not spend the day reading or re-reading (or listening to!) some of the Moore-related articles we’ve posted over the years? Enjoy!
ADD’s Top 5 Alan Moore Works
Five Questions for Moore Biographer Lance Parkin
ADD’s Alan Moore Interview (MP3 download)
Christopher Allen on Before Watchmen
ADD on Moore’s Right To Say “No.”
All of 2009’s Alan Moore Month at TWC
Marshall O’Keeffe on Voice of the Fire
Hitler, Rape and Watchmen 2
ADD on LOEG: Century 1910
Flashmob Fridays on Moore’s Twilight Proposal
ADD’s Watchmen Movie Review
ADD’s Saga of the Swamp Thing Book One Review
ADD on Marvel and Marvelman Part One
ADD on Marvel and Marvelman Part Two
Monday is Alan Moore’s 60th birthday, and I wish him every happiness on that (and every) day, both because I respect and admire his wit, talent and politics, and because he has brought me more unbounded joy over the last three decades than probably every other comic book creator combined. Beginning very early on in his Swamp Thing run and continuing through to the current day, a new Alan Moore book means surprise and delight, and sometimes a little bit of controversy.
Moore’s recent Nemo graphic novel with artist Kevin O’Neill shows that Moore’s passion for fun and exciting comic books that are also complex and thought-provoking hasn’t waned at all. Although the very mention of Moore can anger and aggravate aggrieved fanboys over-invested in the importance of corporate comic book culture in their lives, the fact of the matter is that Moore’s work mattered, and continues to matter, for the very reasons they despise him in their thousands: Moore puts his own needs before corporate whims, he gives readers what they need, not what they want (giving readers what they want, or think they want, is the very foundation Moore’s former publisher DC Comics has built its current loathsome line of books on), and most importantly, he uses his unique and brilliant intellect to construct complex and challenging works that demand you exercise your own mind in order to not only enjoy, but even to comprehend. It’s hard to imagine any of the work-for-hire prostitutes who applied their minor gifts to Before Watchmen against all rational, ethical decency being able to even read the first book on this list, never mind write something anywhere near as entertaining, challenging and soul-satisfying.
About this list: Lance Parkin answered this very same question recently in my Five Questions interview with him, and made the terrific point that “at heart the most important thing about Alan Moore is his writing.” I couldn’t agree more with that sentiment. I fully support Moore in his stance against the abuses of corporate comics publishers against creators unable to stem the tide of their perfidy, but I think oftentimes even Affable Al’s most fervent fans get so caught up in the rhetoric and invective (Glycon knows I have been guilty of this myself) that they forget to celebrate just how much fun Moore’s work almost always is. The worst of his work in comics, arguably some of the stuff he did for Image in the 1990s (examined and put in context in Parkin’s wonderful new biography Magic Words: The Extraordinary Life of Alan Moore), still contains the structure, humour and narrative left-turns that are trademarks of Moore’s style.
So here are the five Moore works that I find myself coming back to again and again, always entertained, always astonished by how fresh and vital they remain after a dozen reads or more.
Voice of the Fire
This is Moore’s greatest achievement to date, a prose novel that also functions as a collection of short stories and can be read and enjoyed as either. Each chapter is set in its own era, with its own characters, story and themes, but each combines as a whole to tell an alternative history of Moore’s hometown of Northampton and environs that is chilling, hilarious and mind-blowing. Anyone who has never approached this work because it’s “not comics” is denying themselves enjoyment of the most personal and powerful expression of the talent of the greatest writer comics has ever known.
Even though Swamp Thing got to the States first, Miracleman is the book that really showed the power of Moore’s gifts to change the way we think not only about comics, but about entertainment in general. And despite shipping delays, fill-in issues, mediocre art in some issues and an ethical and legal tangle that may never truly be understood, never mind sorted out, Moore’s run on this comic remains revolutionary, thrilling and timeless. I can’t recommend or endorse Marvel’s forthcoming reprints given their history of fucking with Moore and his work, but I do recommend you read these if you can and immerse yourself in probably Moore’s greatest superhero epic. Its impact and influence on entertainment since, in everything from comics to movies to television, cannot be overstated.
Moore’s most complex and greatest work in comics to date, From Hell and Voice of The Fire convinced me that his interest in magic was truly informing his work in positive and unprecedented ways. There are moments in both books that will turn your brain inside out and leave you changed in ways that will last long after you close the cover and move on. There’s more technique and hardcore comics talent at work in From Hell than in 90 percent of every other comic book ever published, and at the same time, it’s also just one hell of a wild story, in comics form. It’s the one work of Moore’s that I recommend without reservation to anyone who wants to know why the man has the reputation that he does. In From Hell, Moore and artist Eddie Campbell prove beyond all doubt that, as Harvey Pekar believed, “You can do anything with words and pictures.” In From Hell, Moore and Campbell do everything.
A bit of a sentimental favourite, because it was the first Moore work I was ever exposed to. Despite Moore’s falling-out with artist Steve Bissette, their work along with John Totleben on Swamp Thing remains one of the greatest works DC ever published, and given how very shabbily the publisher treated Moore during their partnership and ever since, one supposes it’s kind of a miracle that it happened at all. But from the start of this run, I had the sense something different and more adult was happening in comic books, and I was right. Moore brought nuance and complexity to American comics with Swamp Thing, along with horror and dread and subtlety since unmatched. No one would ever again make Swamp Thing as important a title and character as Moore, Bissette and Totleben did, and in a world that makes sense, no one would have even tried. They said and did it all, and the run remains as vital and classic today as we knew it was even when it was shipping monthly to our local comic shops and drug stores.
There’s a bit of proof of concept about Moore’s Wildcats run; Jim Lee had created a cookie-cutter X-Men ripoff for Image and imbued it with absolutely nothing worth talking about. When Moore took over the title, it immediately — immediately — became the wildest and most interesting superhero comic book on the stands. So if you want proof that Moore is the real thing, that he puts his money where his mouth is and delivers the goods virtually every time, then read the issues before Moore took over Wildcats, then read his run. There’s no greater evidence of why Moore is the best writer ever to work in comics. He can take any idea, or even the absence of one, and turn it into something professional, exciting and worth talking about. I re-read this run every few years, and its casual quality and absolute transformation of one of the shittiest comics ever published brings a smile to my face every time. You don’t think Moore is a magician? You need to read his Wildcats, my friend.
Happy birthday, sir. And thank you.
Lance Parkin has written the definitive biography of Alan Moore in the thick new hardcover Magic Words: The Extraordinary Life of Alan Moore, published by Aurum Press. Moore is one of the most celebrated figures in the history of comics, and many good books already exist that explore the man’s life and works. So I was pleasantly surprised to find how much insight and nuance Parkin brings to the subject.
Alan David Doane: Magic Words paints as complete and objective a picture of Alan Moore’s career as I have yet read, and I’ve been fascinated with the man and his work since around the time his Swamp Thing began here in the States. Tell me how immersing yourself so completely in his works, his life and his worldview has affected you as a writer and as a human being.
Lance Parkin: Thank you. I’ve also been following Moore’s work since the dawn of his career. And you’re right to identify that a project like this will affect me as a writer and the way I see the world. Scrutinising his life, I see parallels with mine. He had a very similar upbringing to my father. Moore and I have written a lot of stories set in shared universes. He’s British but married to an American.
Writing a biography makes you think about how your own biography would read, makes you realise that it would be a story, not a life. I’m not summing up the full life of a human being in 400 pages, I’m providing a narrative, one that’s hopefully insightful and sees things from a few interesting angles.
And his career begs interesting questions about any type of professional writing. When do you compromise? What fights are worth having? What’s important? What’s fair? These aren’t questions with easy answers, or necessarily the same answers in all circumstances. Alan Moore has always gone bold. Never accepted laziness or mediocrity in himself or others. Which isn’t to say that everything he’s done is 100% perfect in every way. But he’s never gone ‘oh, people are just buying it for the logo or because they already like the character’. He knows that a certain number of people – enough to make any project viable – will buy anything with his name on it. He’s taken that as licence to produce weird, new things, not cruise along singing his greatest hits.
You go to great lengths to explore Moore’s interest in and practice of magic, starting with his announcement that he was becoming a magician and then looking at how Moore’s magical worldview has informed his work ever since. How do you view the impact this development had on Moore’s writing?
I’m going to be honest, I’m not in any sense a spiritual or mystically-minded person myself. That’s not to say I dismiss or mock anyone who is, least of all Alan Moore, but writing that chapter was more like a mapping expedition than me preaching the gospel. My instinct is to dismiss it, to note that if you take hallucinogenics, you’re going to hallucinate. My ultra-rationalist interpretation says more about me than Alan Moore, though.
When Moore says ‘magic’ he usually means something most people would call ‘creativity’, or a gift of expression, of art affecting the way we experience the world. He’s summed it up as saying that art does all the things magic spells are meant to – want someone to fall in love with you? Write them a love poem. Want to conjure up a million pounds? Write Watchmen.
I find it very easy to gloss ‘magic’ as a strategy for Moore to shake up his writing techniques. Writing’s all about finding new ways to say things, or it should be, and it’s easy to fall into self-parody, to find yourself repeating yourself. Moore’s got a system to avoid that.
At the same time, there’s clearly more to it. Like Philip K Dick and others before him, Moore’s had mystical experiences that he can’t get his mind around, least of all describe in words. There’s something deeply personal – unique – in his head, it’s clearly something he believes. He, more than anyone, appreciates how silly it sounds. I do not have the gift of telepathy, and I’m humble enough to admit that if Alan Moore can’t find the words, it would be a fool’s errand for me to try. My arch rationalist side looks at the stuff he’s produced under the influence, and concludes that whatever he’s on, it seems to be working.
Promethea is gaudy, convoluted and based on a philosophy that seems to be the direct opposite of the way the real world functions to the point at times it insults reason? Well, yes, but if we’re counting so’s Captain America.
Moore’s iconoclastic personality and powerful ethical philosophy has led to his falling out with some publishers and colleagues, and yet other relationships creatively and business-wise have continued for many years. What do you believe is ultimately the deciding factor in whether a creator or publisher is able to stay simpatico with Moore and work with him again and again over time?
Trust him, and - for the love of all that’s holy - hope that he doesn’t lose trust in you.
Personally, I believe in editors. I’ve been lucky to have a handful of great editors, starting with my first, Rebecca Levene at Virgin Books and including Sam Harrison who edited Magic Words, who understood my books better than I did, who could read a manuscript and find things already in there I hadn’t seen, to help me draw those things out and polish them up. I see editors as being a cox or a boxing coach. Their job – at the creative stage, this is, which is the bit I see - is to make my book the best possible expression of my vision. Not to help throw the punches, but to get me to direct my punches more forcefully and accurately.
I think Moore sees editors completely differently. This isn’t an analogy he’s ever used, but I think he sees them as more like gallery owners, something like that. He’ll bring the completed work, their job is to provide a great space to display it to best advantage and to sell the tickets. He’ll do the art, they’ll do the business. And if a painter shows up to a gallery and discovers that the owner has altered one of the pictures even slightly or is selling postcards of it when the painter asked him not to, then that painter would be perfectly within their rights to never put on a show at that gallery again and to loudly and frequently express his displeasure. Particularly if the gallery never gave him his paintings back, like they said they would.
The way to reconcile those two models is just thinking of it in terms of a good editor being someone who has respect for the artist, and an understanding that a writer has made artistic choices and made those specific choices for a reason.
I was delighted to see you used a quote from my own 2004 interview with Alan Moore (available in Avatar’s Yuggoth Cultures trade paperback or download the MP3 version here) as part of what had to be an exhaustive research process. As I said earlier, I’ve been following Moore and his work since the early 1980s, and feel a great appreciation for his body of work and admiration for the ethical stances he’s taken over the years. I will say that as a writer about comics, seeing Moore’s side on ethical issues has often led to disagreements between myself and members of what I’ll politely call “comics fandom.” The acceptance of Before Watchmen by comics as a business and a culture for me was a real breaking point, in that I felt the utter wrongness of DC and the creators who worked on the project should have been roundly rejected and reviled by every thinking human being, and the fact that didn’t happen really made me want to distance myself from comics as a whole. While you present the issue fairly, I have to ask, what are your thoughts as far as what the existence of Before Watchmen mean for comics as an industry and a culture?
Yeah, there are a number of distinct issues and perspectives, there. Deep breath …
Alan Moore is hardly the greatest victim the comics industry has seen. I’m a freelance writer, and the idea of having a book in print for twenty five years, selling two million plus copies, on a 4% royalty, with a big movie version … I’d take that deal. (That said, when I interviewed him for Magic Words, Moore told me he wasn’t entitled to anything from Before Watchmen). I think in his specific case, the issue is that Watchmen started life as a creator-owned, self-contained thing. It makes it different from Superman or Iron Man – which were not stories, they were characters, designed to have a tale that grows in the telling. What’s a fair way to treat creators and their estates when it’s fifty or seventy five years later and those characters are global multimedia brands in their own right? It’s an interesting question, but not quite the same question raised by Watchmen.
Was Before Watchmen a conscious attempt to shift Watchmen from an authored work to being a much more nebulous ‘brand’, like Batman and Superman? Was the plan to be able to say ‘oh, there’s more to Watchmen than Alan Moore, he’s just one of the writers’? I don’t know. Whatever the case, Before Watchmen seemed to miss the main selling point of the original series, which was that you could just buy one book and read it, and that was that. And that it mattered who wrote and drew it.
I didn’t read Before Watchmen beyond a couple of preview pages, but I really don’t think ill of the writers and artists for taking a high profile gig. They made some comics, it’s not like they played Sun City.
I admit I felt the same way you felt there, though, that it was a step too far. ‘Breaking point’ is about right. It wasn’t the first blow. I’m a DC man through and through, but the New 52 is just too monotone and po-faced for me. Raising the prices and cutting the pages just means comics are terrible value for money. The other day I was reading a comic with my headphones on and got through a comic in less time than it took to listen to one song. It worked out at about $1.50 a minute. And, sorry, but as entertainment products go, that’s more than the going rate for a Pink Floyd concert. And, you know, I’m 42 years old, perhaps it’s healthy that I’m not all that bothered who the Joker’s Daughter is or about the final fate of the Blue Lanterns. I’m quite prepared to concede it’s my problem, not DC’s. At the same time, I love Mind Mgmt, East of West is great, I found Battling Boy utterly thrilling (and can’t wait to re-read THB next year). I love what David Liss is doing with The Spider. I can go back and endlessly re-read the Wolfman/Perez Titans or Nemesis the Warlock or Luther Arkwright and it’s not purely because of nostalgia. I still like good comics.
Eight Before Watchmen series, or whatever it was, a dollar more than regular comics, one a week for six months, just seemed like an unusually blunt cash grab. It felt like something the marketing department came up with. Yes, all comics are designed to entice me to part with my money. They’re usually a little more subtle than that, though. I don’t want to be fed an endless supply of Watchmen, I want to be fed an endless supply of challenging, well-made comics.
The ‘fandom’ reaction baffled me. I mean, obviously, it’s a subset of fans, it’s not all comics readers speaking with one voice. And internet debate polarises and exaggerates. There was a strain of fan almost gleeful that Alan Moore didn’t want it to happen. Is that tribal loyalty to DC? If pressed, I’d say I had tribal loyalty to DC. But there were people who were going ‘yeah, right, this’ll stick it to Alan Moore’. And … stick what? Again, I can’t speak for him, but he didn’t seem angry about it, it was more that he thought Before Watchmen was a little sad.
I think it comes down to ownership – I think fans believe they have some sort of stake. You see that around V for Vendetta a lot. A lot of readers have taken the politics of the book and the (different!) politics of the movie to heart. So when Alan Moore says the movie script sucked and he doesn’t have the graphic novel in the house any more, to those fans it sounds like he’s saying he rejects them as human beings. I don’t know. I think it’s common across a lot of fandoms. I think ‘Star Trek fan’, ‘Star Wars fan’, ‘Doctor Who fan’, these are functionally the equivalent of ethnicities at this point, in the sense that it can be at the core of how some people identify. I’m 3/8ths Scottish. I don’t feel Scottish, I don’t feel the urge to return to the Highlands every seven years to mate. I am a Doctor Who fan. I would be a very different person, with a different career and social circle if I’d never been one. And it sounds silly to say that, it sounds like I’m trivialising, but something like comics demands an investment of time, of money, of intellectual energy, you need somewhere to store all those boxes. But it provides a common culture, and a community. When Alan Moore ‘rejects comics’, there will be people who take it personally.
What are your five favourite Alan Moore works, and why?
Thank you for this question, because I think at heart the most important thing about Alan Moore is his writing.
THE BALLAD OF HALO JONES still does it for me. It has energy, it’s clearly had so much thought put into it, but equally clearly it was written week-by-week so a lot of the time it’s just finding ways the move the story along. It was originally meant as a counterpoint in a very male, very violent anthology comic, so it’s almost a different thing as a standalone. You can see Moore straining against the limits of the form, and Ian Gibson’s art just rather effortlessly keeping it all together.
BIG NUMBERS is the great ‘what if’? Only the first three parts of it have (or will) ever appear, we also have Moore’s giant chart plotting out what would have happened and a couple of long interviews about it. I think it’s the one point where Moore bites off more than he can chew. It’s this entirely new kind of thing, but wrapped up in a story that looks entirely mundane. And we only have the beginning of the story. So it’s something that’s very hard to grasp. It feels like an example of what Iain M Banks called an ‘excession’ – something that appears one day that just shatters all your assumptions, but is so big and weird and advanced there’s not much you can do about it.
The performance piece the BIRTH CAUL is available (kind of, it’s hard to find) on CD and much more readily as a comic strip adaptation by Eddie Campbell. What I like about Moore is that he can take visceral, hindbrain stuff and connect it up to an almost Vulcan, crystalline structure and you can’t ever see the join. Birth Caul is Alan Moore at his most personal and intense.
Controversial one, here, but WATCHMEN’s good. I’d read it countless times in the past, I read it three times during the course of writing Magic Words. Every time, I’ve seen something new or something’s taken on a new resonance for me. And it’s funny, which I spend a chapter trying to convince people of in Magic Words.
If I had to pick one thing, again, it would be something very obvious – the Valerie chapter of V. That, to me, should be required reading for … well, I was going to say anyone making comics, but any human being, really. The subject matter and the moral … yes, they’re weighty and important, and emotionally affecting. It’s self-explanatory, which is good, it’s always nice to just hand something to someone and say ‘just read this’. But just look at the way Moore and Lloyd compose it. Look at what they convey and how. It matters who wrote and drew it. It works because of them.
Buy Magic Words: The Extraordinary Life of Alan Moore from Amazon.com.
Alan Moore on Robert Morales, 1958-2013:
“Appropriately for a man I met when he was spitting out incisive comments on the music business for Vibe magazine, my twenty-something-year relationship with Bob Morales was conducted, pretty much exclusively, in audio. I never got to shake his hand, but I imagine that Bob’s handshake was a firm one, and that it was warm. I’m going to miss the savvy New York creak his conversation had as much as I will surely miss his writing; the commitment, insight and rare passion that he brought to every story, ever feature, every line. One of the comic field’s conspicuously rare voices of colour, he was also one of its most gifted and original contemporary writers. As a genuine creator of integrity, inevitably he came into conflict with an industry that much prefers a bland subservience in its employees to the fierce, ungovernable talent of an actual artist who has something deeply felt to say and does not care to compromise a work which he or she believes in. That was the stance Bob Morales took, a fighting stance almost unheard of in a frequently less-than-superheroic marketplace, and that professional bravery is something else I’m going to miss. Moving with no apparent effort between his extraordinarily diverse realms of endeavour, Bob was like a human cultural adhesive that connected up a vast cobweb of people who, in every probability, would never have been introduced to one another save through him. One of the last authentic hipsters, he was sharp, astute, and very, very funny. If I’m honest it might be his anecdotes that I’ll miss most of all, the unexpected courtesy and deference extended to him by a crowd of strangers at a party whom, it transpired, had been informed Bob was a Puerto Rican mafia prince.
I may be wrong, but I did not see Bob as a conspicuously religious man with any firm conviction of an afterlife, and nor do I myself have any such beliefs. I do, however, have a strong affinity for Albert Einstein’s view that in this at-least-four-dimensional eternal solid that we know as spacetime there is only, as he put it, “the persistent illusion of transience”. Each instant, every hour and every human lifetime is therefore suspended, fixed forever in a medium without loss and without change, where our time-bound awareness recurs endlessly, our precious lives repeating in their joys, their sorrows and their sheer breathtaking richness, and each repetition new and unexpected, every time the first time round. Robert Morales had a fine and blazing life, a side or two of classic vinyl that I’m convinced will replay unendingly, just as I entirely expect to pick the ’phone up for an interview with Vibe, one day back in the hectic1980s, and commence a long, sweet friendship full of warmth and great ideas and lots of memorable laughs.
So long for now, Bob, from me and Melinda, and I’m looking forward to enjoying that mafia anecdote again.
Your friend and your admirer,
I understand completely why Grant Morrison is so insecure about his place in comics history in comparison to Alan Moore, but someone should really explain to Morrison how much weaker and more inferior he ironically makes himself appear with such verbose defensiveness. The work of the two writers should speak for itself, Grant, and let history decide how much you did or didn’t matter. This piece reminds me, more than anything, of Straczynski’s desperate, pathetic need to justify his participation in Before Watchmen by tearing Moore down, despite the fact that the worst thing Moore ever wrote is twice as interesting and enduring as the best thing Straczynski ever did. The last couple sentences of this article at The Comics Reporter really say all that needs to be said.
— Alan David Doane
I’ve been doing more of my own fiction-writing these days, as well as a lot of reviews of movies and other things at my other blog, so it really seems like a modest but achievable goal is to do maybe one or two comics posts here every month. Thus, since I’m going on vacation this weekend and not likely to write anything else for a week or so, my Comics July.
It’s just under a year for DC’s New 52, and despite trying at least the first issue of about 49 of them, the only ones I am still reading are Animal Man, Swamp Thing, Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E., The Shade, Action Comics, Batman, and Batman Incorporated (this last one having only relaunched in the last month). What you can infer from these is that I still have some affection for Grant Morrison’s writing and will see his exit from superhero comics (Batman Inc. is fun, Action more miss-than-hit, and the upcoming Multiversity stuff sounds interesting). I also somewhat enjoy Scott Snyder’s writing, though I’m not that interested in tying in old business like Arcane to the somewhat fresher Red/Green/Rot stuff. I guess it’s fair to say that’s just an expansion of stuff Alan Moore came up with many years ago when he wrote the series, but at least it’s a little new and not something that has been explored much before. I am pretty tired of the whole Court of Owls stuff on Batman, but you know, I like Batman and it’s not a bad book, though not a good one.
Jeff Lemire has done all right on Animal Man and Frankenstein, though the art on the former, while distinctive and great at the weird, disturbing scenes, is also distancing for what seems to be a comic that wants to be about familial strength and those bonds being stronger and more important to the lead character than doing superhero stuff. Frankenstein started with some interesting ideas but seems to be treading water, or maybe it’s more accurate to say it has digressed into the Rot stuff when it should be working more on making its characters distinctive. I still don’t really get Frankenstein, much less the rest of his groovy ghoulies. Overall, even with just two writers on these three series, I think tying them all together with the same menace has made each book less special.
I still read a lot of Marvel, though not much has stood out. Daredevil has regained some of its footing with Chris Samnee on art, a good choice, and Dan Slott’s Amazing Spider-Man, though unfortunately uneven artistically, has been consistently entertaining and presented a recognizable but more mature Spider-Man. Avengers vs. X-Men has improved of late, with nice Olivier Coipel art and a few chunks of issues that made sense, though a lot of the plotting is stupid and/or redundant. Why would godlike X-Men fear Scarlet Witch so much, and why is essentially dressing up some Avengers to look like her a good idea when the X-Men have telepaths who should be able to figure out who’s who?
I’m reading more Image books than I have in maybe ever, mostly creator-owned stuff. I can’t confess to loving any of it, but Saga has been imaginative and amusing if not immensely engaging yet, and I’ve also enjoyed the sort of arty take on superheroes and apocalyptic sci-fi in Glory, Prophet, while The Manhattan Projects feels so far like Jonathan Hickman going back to the well and getting S.H.I.E.L.D. right. I was into Hickman’s Secret at first, but the second issue was kind of insulting, with a cliched gangster scene and an obvious reveal stretched out to the end of the issue with four panel pages of not much going on.
I suppose, given how much his work has meant to me, that I should write more about the latest Alan Moore League of Extraordinary Gentleman book, Century: 2009, but it was just okay. Some lovely ideas, typically good Kevin O’Neill artwork and of course, it feels like good value because you read it slowly, trying to pick up on all the pop culture references. But while I appreciate that pretty much all of Moore’s work has some terrific layers to it (I’ve not doubt there’s a great story behind even garbage like Deathblow: Byblows), here, the meta-story about Moore’s disillusionment with the comics industry and the rest of popular culture is more interesting than the plot. Making fun of Harry Potter should have been more fun, right?
Having boycotted Darwyn Cooke’s latest Parker adaptation, The Score, and with no really memorable Hellboy or B.P.R.D. books this month, the only book to really excite me was IDW’s Artist Edition of David Mazzucchelli’s Daredevil: Born Again. I’m not like ADD—I don’t read even my favorite comics over and over again, so it had been probably 20 years since I read this story. It still holds up very well, with an absolutely bulletproof first issue, although I think once it gets to the Nuke/Captain America issue, Daredevil is kind of a guest star in his own book. But while you can see some signs of writer Frank Miller’s eventual shock and awe style, he keeps things relatively restrained here, relying on Mazzucchelli to convey Captain America’s disgust and shame and the mental breakdown of Nuke. The main story of Daredevil/Matt Murdock’s ruination by the Kingpin and subsequent rebirth is not perfect, either. Matt’s flirtation with paranoia and despair is a little too brief, and how does he survive for so long on the streets? Was he homeless? And sure, seeing old girlfriend Karen Page now a junkie whore may have seemed like a progressive move for superhero comics then, but now feels a little cheap and mean. Of course it’s the woman who wrecks things for the hero. Since there was nothing to really be done with Karen once she came back to Matt, better to maybe have left her out entirely and make Matt’s downfall come from his own hubris. I don’t know, maybe I’m just blaming a lot of lesser grim and gritty comics on this early example, which doesn’t get nearly the blame as Miller’s Dark Knight Returns or Moore’s Watchmen and The Killing Joke. Despite its flaws, it’s still one of the better superhero stories ever written, and Miller and Mazzucchelli work so well together they can pretty much pull off anything they try here. The presentation of this book is exquisite, with oversized, heavy-weight black and white pages and a few vellum overlays to show the reader some of the more complex effects Mazzucchelli used on covers and some interior pages. Seeing what amounts to faithful photographs of the original boards makes this not only the most exciting way to experience the story but also the most intimate. Without distracting from what is a real page-turner, one still takes away the immense effort, the will to do something memorable, on the part of the artist. I can’t really imagine reading this again in the small, color format.
As I seem to be dropping a fair amount of Marvel books, and have dropped most of DC’s New 52 titles, I find that in the past few months I’ve gotten into a line of books from Image I wasn’t looking forward to and never thought I’d be enjoying: the relaunch of many of Rob Liefeld’s various Extreme books. Now, I like some better than others, and one not much at all, but for now let’s look at Supreme.
Although Prophet, Bloodstrike, Glory and Youngblood all continued their old ’90s numbering, they’re mostly fresh takes on those characters, or at least new teams picking up the pieces. Supreme is the only title to relaunch with its last writer, Alan Moore, as new writer Erik Larsen thought it would be fair and smart to use Moore’s final, unpublished script to bridge the gap between that run and what Larsen wanted to do on his run. It was a nice idea, as was the decision to publish a variant that matched up with the old logo and cover designs.
Moore was setting up an assault of The Citadel Supreme in issue #63, where all the various Supremes in the Multiverse hang out, by all the variations of villain Darius Dax. Larsen continues with that idea here, although what seems like a slam-dunk (lots of action and the simple fannish appeal of drawing tons of different takes on the same hero and villain) feels kind of uninspired here, with lots of corny lines and so many characters it’s treated as expected that we know and understand the relationships between Ethan and Diana and Suprema and the like.
The art, by Larsen and Cory Hamscher, looks a lot like the Larsen art I remember but more rushed, like a 24 hour comic. It lacks the texture and Kirbyesque dynamism I associate with his style, and I’m not sure if it has to do with Hamsher or not. Does Hamscher do the layouts and Larsen finishes? Don’t know, but it’s just an adequate teaming.
In the Afterword, after several paragraphs defending himself for being one of those guys who has to follow another guy’s celebrated run, Larsen explains that his goal here is to marry Moore’s Silver Age homage with the meaner, more violent take on the character as originally conceived by Liefeld. And so, the Mean Supreme is unchained and let loose on the Dax Army (I laughed when one of the Supremes can hardly comprehend that the Daxes would unite against the united Supremes—what else are they going to do?!), with bloody results. It’s okay, and I guess it’s sort of amusing that Larsen draws this Supreme in more of a Jim Lee style, but if, as it seems to be at the end, this Supreme is going to be the new Big Bad that the other Supremes have to stop, well, I honestly think I get enough of that story in Mark Waid’s Irredeemable. I didn’t dislike the issue, but unless Larsen does something really good with this new direction next issue, I’ll be dropping this one.
— Christopher Allen
One might be a more pressing issue, especially in the United States, but I think they both matter.
Today in his Bloggy Thing, longtime comics writer and writer-about-comics Tony Isabella talks about Watchmen 2. His own feelings seem to be that the creative lineup for the prequels will almost certainly guarantee that they are not in line with his vision of what superhero comics should be. That’s a point I can get behind. But then Tony quotes a reader named Joe Caramanga, who says:
“Just imagine if people cared half as much about health care and poverty in America as they do about preserving the integrity of WATCHMEN…”
That’s one of those facile pithy comments that really grates on me. And here’s why.
As someone who’s been quite vocal about social and cultural issues, be it health care, peak oil, equal marriage rights, abuse of police power, the corporate destruction of the nation and many others for years, I personally take a smidgen of offense at the implication by Joe Caramanga that those issues are worth caring about, but Alan Moore’s rights as the writer of Watchmen are not. Further, it’s not the “integrity of Watchmen” that I care about, it’s DC’s repeated and increasingly punitive and public abuse and humiliation of Alan Moore as a comics creator and as a human being that fills me with disgust and outrage. I have no horse at all in the race that is the expansion of the “Watchmen universe” as a creative playground for other comics creators — I’m fine with it, as long as ALL THREE of the original signers of the Watchmen contracts are in complete agreement about it and all parties feel they are being treated and compensated equally. Until that happens, I believe it’s morally and ethically wrong for DC to proceed with its plans for Watchmen 2, and will continue to speak out on the issue. And on the catastrophic state of health care in America, and the financial inequity and iniquities so rampant here in Los Estados Unidos.
— Alan David Doane
I thought I’d get the hyperbole out of the way right up front.
Over the past week, the anger and disgust I feel towards DC Comics and the scabs they’re hired to work on Watchmen comics against the intentions and expectations of all the signatories (DC, Moore, Gibbons) of the original contracts that brought the original Watchmen into the world has threatened to get the best of me. I didn’t specifically mention Hitler, but I did point out that Len Wein’s involvement reminds me of Vichy France during World War II. I remember making some comment about DC raping Watchmen’s corpse, and that was probably too over the top, although I think one is entitled to an extreme metaphor or two in circumstances as absolutely and unquestionably wrong as this. That said, I have loved ones in my life that have suffered through the trauma of actual rape, and no, this isn’t quite that horrific an experience. But what is happening here, I do believe, shares common elements with actual rape. Because it’s a more powerful entity asserting its will against the stated, explicit wishes of the victim. Here’s Alan Moore on Watchmen 2:
”What I want is for this not to happen.”
Does that not sound precisely like what a proper English gentlemen or lady might say with dignity just before being violated?
Make no mistake about it, this is a violation. Anyone who knows anything at all about the last 30 years of comics publishing history knows Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons were supposed to get the rights to Watchmen back. Moore expected it. Gibbons expected it. DC Comics expected it. It’s only because the work was so visionary and so enormous in its impact on an entire industry that DC was able to deliberately and with increasingly visible malice retain the rights to this singular property all these years. Has DC followed the letter of the contract? Absolutely. But the letter of the contract was written and agreed to by all parties entirely unaware of the paradigm shift that was about to occur. As someone else has pointed out this week, the irony lies in the fact that if Moore and Gibbons had merely turned in the slightly-tweaked Charlton homage DC asked for, paid for and was expecting, Moore and Gibbons would have owned all rights to Watchmen free and clear decades ago. It’s undeniable that the punishment Moore has been subjected to by DC in this and other matters (Gibbons seems far more content to play the company game, as is his right) has been intentional, repeated, and now has been stepped up to the point that it is creating a schism that DC Comics may actually come to regret.
To the best of my knowledge, DC never suffered for trying to weasel out of paying royalties to Moore and Gibbons for selling Watchmen merchandise. No one at DC ever took a sock on the jaw for buying Wildstorm from Jim Lee pretty much solely so they could force Moore to work for them, which he did out of concern for his artistic partners, for years. But I am seeing a lot of thoughtful essays and efforts building in strong opposition to Watchmen 2. (And if you’re wondering why I won’t call it “Before Watchmen,” it’s because DC wants me to. It’s Watchmen 2, and it stinks on ice.)
I am disappointed and sickened by the venality and cheap opportunism of the scab workers brought in to create more Watchmen comics. Azzarello. Bermejo. Cooke. Jones. Straczynski. Hughes. Kubert. Kubert. Wein. Lee. Conner. The only real surprises on the list for me are Len Wein and Darwyn Cooke, whose previous comics work had falsely led me to assume that they were thoughtful and decent human beings. Their public comments on this subject, and their willingness to contribute their gifts to something this despicable, have permanently convinced me otherwise. How can you reconcile Darwyn Cooke’s long commitment to quality and decency with his participation in Watchmen 2? You simply cannot. You can, however, as one blogger has done, point out his hypocrisy in a very public and persuasive manner.
I often differentiate between the artform and the industry of comics. Certainly I see them as two very distinct segments of what we all think of as, simply, “comics.” And when I say that I don’t know why comics does this to its best creators, I mean, all of comics.
If Watchmen 2 goes forward as planned, we are all to blame. Marvel exploited Jack Kirby for decades while he lived, and continues to do so, and few have done anything about it. By the time DC started repeatedly screwing Alan Moore and even spending untold money to stalk and harass him through the purchase of Wildstorm, many of us were aware enough of the creator’s rights issue to take some note of the wrongness of what went on. But who was strong enough to punish DC for it? Who was outraged enough?
This time, I think it might be different. This time the outrage seems more focused, more mature, and more sustainable. I won’t read Watchmen 2, not even for free, and I suspect many, many others will act similarly. Watchmen 2 is scab comics for scab readers, produced by a corrupt, arrogant management and nothing more. I urge anyone reading this to tell the truth about how DC Comics screwed Alan Moore on Watchmen and other issues for decades, and tell the truth about how enough is enough. You don’t need to mention Hitler, or rape, or even Vichy France. If you tell the plain truth about Alan Moore, DC Comics and Watchmen 2, people will figure it out for themselves. The intelligent and compassionate ones who value human beings over corporate profits won’t support Watchmen 2. The immoral scumbags who are publishing, producing and buying it, frankly, can have it.
If this really is what all of comics is about, letting this happen, then let it happen. But don’t think there won’t be consequences. This might not be the worst thing DC ever did, but it’s certainly the most publicly unethical and obviously wrong. Over the course of this week it has literally made me sick to my stomach. But after all the tweets I’ve written and all the rage I’ve felt, I keep coming back to one small phrase, composed by the most brilliant mind ever to work in comics, who has almost always, by Marvel and DC, and by the “fans” that support them, been treated like nothing more than shit that needs to be scraped off their heels:
”What I want is for this not to happen.”
What each of us chooses to do, after hearing so plain a declaration, will follow all of us for the rest of our time in comics, however much longer we can stand to be a part of it.
— Alan David Doane