Friday, 5 November 2010

Review - DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore TPB

With the exception of his brilliant run on Swamp Thing, this book collects all of Alan Moore’s DC Universe stories from the 1980s. I’ll get the price bit out of the way early this time and say that this didn’t cost me anything. I got it as a Christmas present about two years ago but have only just read it. I suppose one reason that I may have put off reading it for so long is because I had read a lot of the stories in this book many times before, but I was surprised to find that there were still quite a few stories in here that I had never read.

The first story collected here is ‘For The Man Who Has Everything’ from Superman Annual #11 – a story I have read many, many times now. This takes place on February 29th, Superman’s birthday, and Batman, Robin and Wonder Woman arrive at the Fortress of Solitude bearing gifts for the man of steel. They soon find Superman incapacitated by a flower that has attached itself to his chest, trapping him in a dream in which his heart’s desire – that Krypton was never destroyed – is a reality. Wonder Woman then finds herself fighting Superman’s old enemy Mongul, while Batman and Robin try and remove the flower from Superman’s chest. I still don’t understand how Robin managed to fit his small hands into Mongul’s massive gloves, or why Superman’s dream world was so miserable – in his dream, Krypton is troubled by political unrest and his father, Jor-El, is hated – but I suppose it was the 1980s. It’s still a good story, probably my favourite in this book, and it’s nicely drawn by Dave Gibbons.

Next up, we get five stories in a row that I had never read before: ‘Night Olympics’, a two part Green Arrow strip that appeared as a back up in Detective Comics issues 549 and 550, drawn by Klaus Janson, is okay but not great. In his narration, Moore uses Olympic events as metaphors for a crime wave taking place in Star City, which is a nice touch but it’s not really recognisable as the work of Alan Moore. ‘Mogo Doesn’t Socialize’, a short strip from Green lantern #188, another strip drawn by Dave Gibbons, is also okay but not great. Here, we meet the ‘most feared and mysterious’ Green Lantern of them all, Mogo, in a twist-in-the-tail story not unlike one of Tharg’s Future Shocks. I didn’t like ‘Father’s Day’, a two-part story from Vigilante issues 17 and 18, drawn by Jim Baikie, that much at all. It’s an unsubtle tale in which our right-wing hero teams up with a liberal, drug using, lesbian prostitute to rescue a child from her abusive father. I’m afraid not even Alan Moore could make a naff character like the Vigilante interesting and this story seemed really dated, but it was probably the best story that ever appeared in that particular title. ‘Brief Lives’, a short strip from Omega Men #18, illustrated by Kevin O’Neill, is about a race of impossible to conquer, slow-moving giants and I liked this story a lot. ‘A Man’s World’, a short strip from Omega Men #18, illustrated by Paris Cullins, about the mating habits of a race of Aborigine-like aliens, was not so good, though.

The next story is ‘The Jungle Line’, a Superman / Swamp Thing team-up from DC Comics Presents #85, a story I had read a few times before. Here, Superman gets infected by a fungus from Krypton and only Swamp Thing can save him. This is not the most exciting story ever told but it is pretty good and it’s well drawn by Rick Veitch.

Kevin O’Neill again provides the art on ‘Tygers’, a short strip from Tales of the Green Lantern Corps Annual #2, another story that I had not read before. Here, Abin Sur, the Green Lantern whose death led to Hal Jordan becoming a Green Lantern, has his confidence fatally undermined by a race of creepy-looking aliens. I am not a Green Lantern fan at all but I liked this one quite a lot – especially O’Neill’s art.

Next we get the two-part story ‘Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?’ from Superman #423 and Action Comics #583 – an ‘imaginary’ tale of the last days of Superman. I had read this only once or twice before and it wasn’t as good as I remembered it being. It’s an uneasy mix of Silver Age nostalgia and 1980s’ misery. Superman’s greatest foes are being manoeuvred against him by Mr Mxyzptlk, who is now evil, rather than merely mischievous, and after many years in which nothing really bad ever happened in a Superman comic, everything goes wrong at once. Bizarro destroys Bizarro World, goes on the rampage in Metropolis and then kills himself; Clark Kent is exposed as Superman on live television by the Toyman and the Prankster; Lana Lang kills Lex Luthor, who is being controlled by Braniac and actually begs to be killed; the Legion of Super-Villains kill Lana Lang and Jimmy Olsen; the Kryptonite Man and Krypto the Super Dog kill each other; Braniac dies; and Superman breaks his vow not to kill by killing Mr Mxyzptlk and then retires. On the plus side, Perry White and his wife Alice, who have been having marital difficulties, kiss and make up, so it’s not all doom and gloom (unless you count the marital difficulties). It’s nicely drawn by Curt Swan (assisted by George Pérez and Kurt Schaffenberger) but it’s hard to take all the death and destruction seriously when it’s drawn in a Silver Age style.

Next are two more short stories that I had never read: ‘Footsteps’, a decent but forgettable origin story for the Phantom Stranger, drawn by Joe Orlando, from Secret Origins #10, and ‘In Blackest Night’ a clever but not brilliant Green Lantern story, drawn by Bill Willingham, from Tales of the Green Lantern Corps Annual #3. The book then concludes with two Batman stories: ‘Mortal Clay’, from Batman Annual #11 and ‘The Killing Joke’.

‘Mortal Clay’, about Clayface’s mad love for a shop window dummy, is a story I liked a lot at the time and still like a lot now (the art by George Freeman is very good, too, although I still have no idea who George Freeman is). But I am inclined to agree with Brian Bolland, in his introduction to ‘the Killing Joke’, that it isn’t one of the highlights of Alan Moore’s career. It’s a decent Joker story, I guess, but there is something quite contrived about the writing style, and it’s really brutal and grim. The shooting of Barbara Gordon / Batgirl seems more shocking to me now than it did back in 1988 – and quite unnecessary, too. And the idea that Batman would be reduced to fits of laughter by a quite unfunny joke shortly after this shooting takes place just seems unbelievable. Bolland’s art is very good, of course, but some of the line work is very thin and hasn’t reproduced well, while John Higgins’ garish colours now just look ugly and drown out the art in places.

I loved most of these comics in the 1980s but reading them again now I thought that Moore’s writing style, while technically very good, seemed a bit stiff. I’m also not sure that ‘Alan Moore’ and ‘DC super heroes’ are two things that should have ever been put together. Moore soon evolved beyond this sort of thing but other, less thoughtful, less technically proficient creators took the ‘grim and gritty’ from these comics (and the comics of Frank Miller) and ran with it, eventually opening the door for crap like ‘Blackest Night’. Even other, more thoughtful, creators – talented but hardly genius level creators like J. Michael Straczynski, for example – have stolen many tricks from Moore, like the way he tends to have the last line spoken in one scene link to the first line spoken in the next scene in some way, and as a result the sort of writing on display in this book will seem quite familiar to modern readers. It’s hard to remember now just how sophisticated these stories – not Moore’s best work at all – seemed at the time. Still, it was good to read them again and no doubt I will return to this book again at some point in the distant future, possibly skimming a few strips along the way.


  1. I thought I had all of Alan Moore's DC Universe comics but it turns out I haven't got the Omega Men. What's going on?

  2. I thought I had read all of Alan Moore's DC Universe stuff but it turned out I hadn't read (or had forgotten) half the book.