Alan Moore: A Brief Sketch
by Christian Roberson
If you who are reading this do not know who Alan Moore is, stop reading now. Go to your local comic shop or Barnes and Noble, and pick up any or all of the following: Watchmen, V for Vendetta, Miracle Man, Swamp Thing, The Ballad of Halo Jones, Skizz, A Small Killing, The Bojeffries Saga, From Hell, Whatever Happened to the Man of Steel?, or 1963. Bring them home, get comfortable, and read. Then come back. Go ahead, we’ll still be here.
You’re done? Good. If you’ve gotten this far, you have some idea who Alan is. You may even have realized his importance. But in case you haven’t, I’ll spell it out for you: Alan Moore is the finest writer even to work in the field of comics. Ever. Period.
I make the former statement with confidence, have reviewed the options. The comics field has known it share of fine writers, both in the mainstream and the alternatives: Dave Sim, Neil Gaiman, James Robinson, Frank Miller, Kurt Busiek, Mark Waid, Seth, Matt Wagner... The list goes on and on. None, however, has the far reaching ability, and the sheer native talent of Alan Moore. Alan can beat anyone at their own game, whether it is the most mainstream of superhero comics (see his work in Wildcats and on the occasional issue of Superman) or the most challenging of the alternatives (see From Hell or Big Numbers). Alan (and I call him Alan not out of any personal familiarity, but out of respect.... and so I don’t have to keep typing his full name) has a talent more versatile than any in this, or any other industry. He created the vogue in “Dark Fantasy” through his work on Swamp Thing in the eighties, presented the field with the most ground-breaking of the revisionist superhero comics in Miracle Man, and gave what everyone though was the final word in superheroes with his Watchmen. Many in the industry, including Alan himself, felt that after Watchmen there was simply nothing left to say about superheroes. It had all been said. But the comics kept right on talking.
Other creators, of lesser imagination, picked up on what Alan and Frank Miller had done in their superhero Last Will and Testaments, but they picked up on all the wrong elements. Thus, trying to capture the magic and gravity of those books, their own books became dark and disturbed. This dismal period was characterized by books known as “Grim and Gritty.” What was astonishing was that this phrase was used as a selling point, as a badge of honor. Look, the titles said, Batman used to just arrest people, but look at Shadowhawk: He breaks their backs. In this morbid atmosphere, the majority of the more talented creators turned away from the genre all together. Miller went on to do Sin City and Martha Washington books, and Alan turned to working on more mundane subjects.
It was at this point that Alan paraphrased J. Ballard, noted science fiction author, and said that no writer could imagine anything more alien and strange than the person living next door. The real trick, he essentially said, was to write about normal people, in normal settings. No more aliens, no more swamp monsters, no more heroes who could extinguish the sun with a single breath.
But superhero comics were still being made, and they only got darker and darker.
Eventually, Alan looked at the genre, and what superheroes had become, and felt a measure of personal responsibility. In many ways, the more complex psychological themes he introduced to the superhero had resulted in the sad state of the superhero in later years. To the surprise of everyone, Alan returned to superheroes, but not in the way most might have expected.
To be truthful, part of Alan’s motivation must have been monitary. His more esoteric projects were not the cash cows his mainstream projects had been, and his early attempt at self publishing through Mad Love had proved a failure. The return to the mainstream, then, allowed him to continue producing his more challenging work.. 1963, in particular, can be seen as a quick cash grab for all the creators involved. (And it paid off. With the profits from those six Image books, Rick Veitch was able to publish Rare Bit Fiends, Steve Bissette brough out Tyrant, and Don Simpson was able to launch Bizarre Heroes.)
However, Alan’s later superhero work can also be see as a kind of penetance. Having inadvertantly brought the superhero to such a lowly state, Alan felt that younger readers were left without a safe haven. The sense of wonder engendered by the comics of Alan’s own childhood were completely lacking in these books, filled to full page bleed with guns and knives and huge splashes of blood.
Alan produced work both for Todd McFarlane and Jim Lee, scripting Spawn specials and issues of the Wildcats. He would still not work for the Big Two, however. Things had not changed that much. The issues that had driven him away from the mainstream in the first place... labelling, creator rights, etc... were still very much present. At Image though, free from those constraints, Alan could produce the kind of work the Big Two would never have let him do. Straight, simple, superhero comics.
After a few years of such assignments, Alan began to work for Liefeld’s Extreme Studios, scripting the character Supreme. Always a blatant copy of Superman, Alan took the character one step further. No longer a copy of Superman, the character became Superman. But not the Superman of false deaths and cyborg duplicates and teenage clones, he became the forgotten Superman of bottled cities and phantom criminals and super-powered dogs. Through Supreme, Alan recreated the strange and wonderful world of Mort Weisinger’s Superman, with all of the silliness and solemnity that entailed. Along with penciller Rick Veitch, Alan created flashbacks to the golden and silver ages of Supreme, presented as though they were reprints from never-published classics of the fifties and sixties. The writing was perfect, the pencils perfectly capturing the look. Bookending these flashbacks was the story of an amnesiac Supreme, rediscovering his past. Through these stories, Alan introduced a whole new world of heroes and stories, an entire universe, launching fully blown from Supreme’s head as though it had always existed and we just had never heard about it.
Supreme has become, in essence, everything that DC Comics should be, everything that it w as and no longer is. Dinosaur islands and giant chimpanzees, floating cloud fortresses and evil duplicates. Alan has populated this world with characters at once familiar and strange, Professor Night and Twilight the Marvel Girl, the Fisherman and Skipper, the Allied Supermen of America and Zantar the White God of The Congo. It is a big world, a world of wonders, presented every month in the pages of Supreme (and Judgment Day, and Youngblood, and soon to be more). Do yourself a favor. Pick up an issue, and then get lost inside. You may never come back out, but you won’t mind the trip.