Sunday, September 15, 2013


Since I'm currently covering Alan Moore's run on CAPTAIN BRITAIN, this seems a good time to toss out my own personal thoughts on the guy. And I have to say, I don't get his influence. I fail to understand why so many in the comic book fandom -- not mention so many industry professionals -- worship at his altar.  He's written some decent stories and some bad ones.  If someone offered me a Moore comic or something by Roger Stern, Kurt Busiek, or Chris Claremont, I'd choose the latter, because while perhaps -- perhaps -- not as technically accomplished as Moore, I know I like their stories better than his.

I'm aware of exactly when I decided Moore wasn't my cup of tea, too... though I didn't even know who he was yet.  I read the "classic" Superman tale, "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?", when I was about seven years old, and it disturbed the heck out of me.  That depressing snuff story had no place in a comic aimed at children.  The fact that it was disguised as something a kid could enjoy thanks to the throwback covers and Curt Swan artwork only added to the offense.

It was a little later that I learned to recognize credits, and still more years before realized the story was written by Alan Moore.  In that time I had read a few more of his works and heard about many others, and I already knew I wasn't a big fan.  But it turns out it was that story which was the first sign he might not be for me.

I will freely admit that I haven't read a lot of Moore.  Beyond that Superman story, I know I've read WATCHMEN -- it's hard to find even a casual comic fan who hasn't -- along with THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN and of course, the CAPTAIN BRITAIN run.  I've also glanced at some of his America's Best Comics and FROM HELL.  I enjoyed all of these to varying degrees, but I like CAPTAIN BRITAIN the best because it reads the most like a traditional superhero serial. 

Art by Kevin O'Neill
And as far the seminal WATCHMEN -- I like it as a mystery, and the craft is impressive, but I hate it as a "deconstruction" of the superhero genre.  It started an avalanche which still hasn't let up.  I don't hold Moore personally responsible for the gradual darkening of superhero comics we've seen over the past couple decades, but he was certainly at the vanguard of that change.  And I know the writer himself has stated he doesn't want all comics to be like THE KILLING JOKE and WATCHMEN, but comics have been headed in that direction for years -- not always in tone, but in style, at least -- and Moore must take some of the blame for starting the dominoes falling.

Art by Brian Bolland
Side note: I've never touched Moore's other "masterpiece", THE KILLING JOKE, because I've read plenty of synopses and I know that --aside from the Brian Bolland artwork -- it's not something I'd like.  As a kid, simply reading about it without even actually reading it, it disturbed me.  And perhaps even more than WATCHMEN, it represents everything that bothers me about what comics have become.  Batman can be dark and moody without being bleak and depressing.  See almost any issue by O'Neil & Adams, Englehart & Rogers, etc.

So while I can't say that I really, truly, dislike all of Alan Moore's work -- in fact I like a lot of what I've read -- I can say that I don't understand why he's viewed as comic book royalty.  There are plenty of writers I would put above him in that hierarchy.  He's never been a writer whose work I have actively sought out, and I generally disapprove of the shadow he cast over the comic writers who succeeded him.  But then, apparently he disapproves of that shadow too, so maybe we'd get along if we ever met.


  1. I think I like Moore's work a bit more than you, though he's definitely someone whose work I respect more than I like. And I certainly don't worship at his altar or anything. I also, I think, hold him less responsible for the darkening of comics than you do.

    (For me, the writer who everyone worships but I don't is Grant Morrison, some of whose stuff I like, some of it I don't, many of it I haven't read, but at the end of the day, the near-universal love for him mystifies me).

    I genuinely really like Watchmen, which manages to both deconstruct the superhero narrative while also telling a really good superhero story - most of his imitators can manage the former but forget about the latter. Then again, I'll admit I probably like it more as an English major than a comic fan.

    "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow" brings me to tears (mainly the Krypto stuff), and I think it's a great eulogy to the Silver Age simply because of how dark and disturbing it is, but I first read it as an adult, with full knowledge of what it was doing and what it represented.

    I like Killing Joke fine, except for the ending which, ironically, being more lighthearted seems tonally dissonant from the rest of the story.

    League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is pretty great, hands down one of the best concepts in comics, though I haven't read the latest one shots which, I gather, skew a bit more towards the weird than I tend to enjoy.

    And his ABC stuff is fantastic (at least what I've read). Top 10 is brilliant, and if you like the traditional superheroics of his Captain Britain, you should give Tom Strong another look.

    As I've said before, I've never actually read his Captain Britain stuff myself, nor his Swamp Thing, which is something else I often see held up as an example of his greatness. I should probably read it someday, but it strikes me as being very Morrisonian (ie weird for the sake of being weird).

  2. Well, I tried to get across that I don't hate Alan Moore. And you're probably right that Morrison is a better example in the present day of a writer who everyone worships. And I have yet to read anything by Morrison that I truly enjoy. Even his JLA, while about as straightforward as he seems to be able to manage, left me cold.

    I agree that "Whatever Happened..." is a good story for an adult, but I realy think it should have been published as a separate graphic novel or something. Anything to indicate it might not be for kids. Putting it in two issues of ACTION COMICS meant is was fair game for anyone to read from a newstand. Granted, I was what you might call a "sensitive child", but I was seriously troubled by the story when I read it way back when.

    A big part of my issue with THE KILLING JOKE is that final scene. I can't imagine any circumstances where Batman would share a laugh with the Joker, especially after everything he just went through.

    I've never looked at TOP 10. I'll add it to the list. I checked out TOM STRONG and PROMETHEA both several years ago, but not for any extended period of time, and I thought they were okay.

    I've also never read the Swamp Thing material. I doubt I ever will, simply because Swamp Thing has just never interested me as a character.

    1. I love Morrison's JLA. One of my favorite comic book runs, overall, ever. To me, it's the best of Morrison: big, crazy, jaw dropping ideas, but grounded in the expected conventions of the genre, so you can both appreciate the scale and cleverness while still knowing what the hell is going on.

      Your issue with Killing Joke is my issue with Killing Joke. I like everything else in it, but the ending just kills it. I get the point Moore is trying to make, I just think he's shoehorning the point into characters to which it doesn't apply.

      Promethea is the one ABC comic I never checked out. I've heard raves about it, but it strikes me as one of those "weird for the sake of being weird" series.

      And ditto on Swamp Thing. I want to read Moore's run, just cuz I generally like to at least try what are generally considered seminal comic book stories/arcs/runs, but man, Swamp Thing as a character does nothing for me.

  3. You may or may not like Miracleman.
    Which is where Moore first started his deconstructionist approach.
    He asked the question, "what if a super hero was real and excised right now ( 1982 ) in Britain ?"
    And ran with that idea, to it's ultimate and infamous conclusion.

    Marvel untangled the legal quagmire in 2010 and outright bought the character and the Moore issues are finally back in print.
    And not only that, they contracted Gaiman and Buckingham to finish their truncated Miracleman run.

    It's an interesting read at the very least.

    1. I've heard lots of good things about MIRACLEMAN. I'm sure I'll read it someday, though. It's just not on my priority list since I'm mostly not a big fan of superhero deconstruction.