Tag Archives: Alan Moore

Today’s Super Comic — Watchmen #9 (1987)

Watchmen is undeniably an artistic achievement. With complex plotting and depth of characterization, it’s a novel in comic book form, likely the first comic book series to fit that description.

Though an admirable work, it’s not all that enjoyable. Produced toward the end of the Cold War, and set in an alternate version of it, the book can be pretty bleak at times. (Spoilers ahead…you’ve been warned…) The climax involves the world’s smartest man tricking the world into behaving itself, so that doesn’t exactly put forth an optimistic view of humanity.

However, issue #9 uses that darkness to show how miraculous each human life inherently is. The chapter reaches an oddly uplifting ending, despite the dark revelation that precedes it.

In television terms, the issue is almost like a “bottle episode,” if the bottle can be all of Mars and if flashbacks are allowed. Written by Alan Moore, the entire issue is a conversation between the god-like Dr. Manhattan and all-too-human Silk Spectre (Laurie Juspeczyk), in which the latter must convince the former that humanity is worth saving. Dr. Manhattan is doubtful, finding the complex Martian environment infinitely more fascinating and majestic than people.

But as Laurie reaches an uncomfortable epiphany about who her father is, and as she wonders if her life is some cruel joke, Dr. Manhattan has his own epiphany:

“Thermo-dynamic miracles…events with odds so astronomical they’re effectively impossible, like oxygen spontaneously becoming gold. I long to observe such a thing.

“And yet, in each human coupling, a thousand million sperm vie for a single egg. Multiply those odds by countless generations against the odds of your ancestors being alive; meeting; siring this precise son; that exact daughter…

“…until your mother loves a man she has every reason to hate, and of that union, of the thousand million children competing for fertilization, it was you, only you, that emerged.

“To distill so specific a form from that chaos of improbability, like turning air to gold.

“That is the crowning unlikelihood.

“The thermodynamic miracle.”

Watchmen is detailed and layered enough that you’ll notice something different every time you read it. But that passage jumped out at me the first time I read the book, at 16 or so, and it continues to hold up as the high point of the series. Amid pervasive hopelessness, it’s a thing of beauty.

Writer: Alan Moore

Artist: Dave Gibbons

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Watchmen (TPB)

Appropriate For: ADULTS ONLY

Today’s Super Comics — Superman #423 & Action Comics #583 (1986)

There’s no such thing as a final Superman story.

But Superman #423 and Action Comics #584 pretended there was, and it’s a fitting conclusion to the never-ending battle.

DC Comics was saying good-bye to its Silver Age continuity and rebooting Superman for the modern era, but they gave the old-school Man of Steel one last hurrah in a two-parter called “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” The story featured top talent that bridged the gap between eras: writer Alan Moore, who had been bringing a new maturity to the medium, and classic Superman artist Curt Swan.

A sense of foreboding permeates these issues. Old foes are returning more dangerous than ever, with former pests turning into killers while the worst of the worst are waiting in the wings. An unknown menace is striking at Superman through his friends, so he gathers them in the Fortress of Solitude—Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Lana Lang, and Perry White and wife Alice…the whole classic gang. Even Krypto the Super-Dog returns after a long absence.

In the story’s most touching scene, Superman unexpectedly comes face-to-face with his dead cousin. The Legion of Superheroes visits from the 30th century (which Superman and Supergirl were frequent visitors to), and they bring along a very young, very optimistic Supergirl who has no idea how short her life is going to be. It’s both sad and ominous in just a few pages.

But where the book achieves perfection is in the climax. At what point does Superman stop being Superman?

The answer presented here is exactly right.

Writer: Alan Moore

Penciler: Curt Swan

Inkers: George Perez and Kurt Schaffenberger

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — The Saga of the Swamp Thing #24 (1984)

saga-of-the-swamp-thing-24One of the earlier comics aimed primarily at adults was The Saga of the Swamp Thing, written by Alan Moore and drawn by Stephen Bissette. And it was a highly successful experiment.

Swamp Thing was never a superhero. He exists in the realm of fantasy horror, not fantasy action/adventure. To underscore the distinction, the Justice League of America guest-stars in #24…and they have no idea what to make of the situation.

The Floronic Man, previously a joke of a villain, has marshalled the world’s plants to increase the global oxygen supply by 10 percent, which isn’t going to do humanity any favors. It’s the environment’s revenge for years of manmade affronts. But how do superheroes fight plants?

They can’t. But Swamp Thing knows the language and understands what’s really going on.

Moore portrays the Justice League as seasoned pros who are simply out of their element in this particular case. Even with all they’ve seen, there’s still a bit that eludes them. And within one of those gaps of experience, the Swamp Thing has things under control. This might have been the first time the JLA was shown through a truly adult lens (which shouldn’t be the case all the time, nor even most of the time, but it’s a refreshing change of pace).

Bissette’s art also exudes maturity. His style is a perfect fit for the series, and the final-page splash panel is nothing short of iconic.

I’ll admit, Swamp Thing has never been a personal favorite of mine, but this series is so extraordinarily well done and important to the maturation of the medium that I have to give it the respect it deserves.

Writer: Alan Moore

Penciler: Stephen Bissette

Inker: John Totleben

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Saga of the Swamp Thing vol. 1 (HC)

Appropriate For: ages 16 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Superman Annual #11 (1985)

superman_annual_vol_1_11Since we’ve entered the holiday shopping season, how about a classic comic that’s basically about giving a gift? And Superman Annual #11, “For the Man Who Has Everything,” is a gift, one given to us by the team behind Watchmen, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.

It’s Superman’s birthday, so Wonder Woman, Batman, and the then-new Robin (Jason Todd) visit him at the Fortress of Solitude, all bearing thoughtful presents. But what do you get the man who has everything? The villainous alien Mongul has the perfect gift for him—a life of contentment, which happens to be all imaginary.

A symbiotic plant called the Black Mercy traps Superman in his own head, where he’s living a perfectly normal life on a Krypton that never exploded. He has a wife and two children, and the weight of the world isn’t constantly on his shoulders. It all feels so real and satisfying.

But outside that fantasy, Mongul begins his quest for world domination by taking on Wonder Woman and the Caped Crusaders. To save his friends, and the world, Superman must abandon the peaceful life he always wanted, rejecting a loving family in favor of his Fortress of Solitude.

When you have a character as powerful as Superman, especially this old-school version, you’ve got to be creative to hurt him and even more creative to make him work for his victory. And trapping him in happiness, and requiring his own strength of will to erode the façade, is perfect.

The comic is so good that Justice League Unlimited adapted it into an animated episode. The comic does some things better, and the cartoon does other things better, but really, just check out both.

Writer: Alan Moore

Artist: Dave Gibbons

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Batman: The Killing Joke (1988)

Batman Killing JokeWith the animated adaptation coming out, it seemed like a good time to revisit Batman: The Killing Joke. After rereading it, I find myself thinking, yes, it is possible for a book to be both brilliant and terrible.

Of course, this series of reviews focuses exclusively on good comic books, those that would rate a B+ or better. And yes, The Killing Joke is a great graphic novel. I’ll address the justifiably controversial part and move on.

What happens to Barbara Gordon (Batgirl) is terrible. Without getting into specifics, an excellent heroine is sacrificed to test a man’s strength of character (her father, Commissioner Gordon). The biggest problem with this is that it contributes to an unfortunate trend—hurting female characters to motivate male characters. If it just happened once in a while, and if the reverse also happened about as frequently, then it wouldn’t be as big a deal (though still a waste of Batgirl in this case). As part of a trend, though, it makes for an uncomfortable read. Plus, this is a pivotal, traumatic event in Batgirl’s life, and she’s barely a supporting character in the story. It reeks of sexism.

But as a Batman/Joker/Commissioner Gordon story, The Killing Joke is amazing, with a perfect premise—the Joker wants to prove that even a man as rational and normal as Jim Gordon is only one bad day away from going as insane as he is. Flashbacks to Joker’s own “one bad day” are carefully placed throughout, though the book is delightfully ambiguous about whether the Joker’s origin story is true or if it’s an invention of his crazy brain.

Alan Moore’s script is full of memorable, insightful dialogue and strong, well-earned moments, and Brian Bolland’s art is nothing short of fantastic, the drawings themselves as well as the structure of the page layouts. Even a simple nine-panel grid feels fluid and dynamic because of how Bolland stages the scene. These characters act, and it all feels so cinematic.

I can’t think of any other comic that makes me want to simultaneously throw it across the room and praise it as a work of art. But The Killing Joke achieves that distinction, which is twisted, really, like the Joker himself.

One more thing—KEEP YOUR KIDS AWAY FROM THIS BOOK. Not every Batman book is appropriate for kids, and this is one of the least appropriate Bat-books ever. There’s a reason the cartoon adaptation is rated R.

Writer: Alan Moore

Artist: Brian Bolland

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology

Appropriate For: ADULTS ONLY! NO EXCEPTIONS!