Tor.com comics blogger Tim Callahan has dedicated the next twelve months to a reread of all of the major Alan Moore comics (and plenty of minor ones as well). Each week he will provide commentary on what he’s been reading. Welcome to the fifth installment.
In the months before (and briefly during) Alan Moore’s upheaval of the superhero genre in Warrior magazine, Star Wars fans were treated to a handful of short comics by this soon-to-be-master-of-the-medium. Appearing in the back pages of The Empire Strikes Back Monthly, these five tales, set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, no longer fit into any kind of reasonable Star Wars continuity, but I’m not sure they ever did. They are relics of an earlier era, before George Lucas had carved out – and then suffocated – his entire saga, shoveling in dull clones and silly trade federation conspiracies and Gungans.
You’ll find none of those things in these stores, as they seem to take place in the missing months between episodes IV and V, or maybe immediately after Empire Strikes Back, but written as if Alan Moore and his artists hadn’t actually seen anything after “A New Hope.” Best to treat them as alternate reality versions of events, of a parallel universe where Leia styled her hair with the cinnamon bun hairdo every time she appeared. Where Chewbacca looked like Sasquatch. Where interdimensional demons roam wild and Darth Vader plays a LARP version of chess on his days off.
“The Pandora Effect,” The Empire Strikes Back Monthly #151 (Marvel U.K., 1981)
In Alan Moore’s first Star Wars story, he starts off with something that feels like it might fit in George Lucas’s fictional universe, with Han and Chewie transporting Leia to a rebel meeting, and plenty of banter showing how annoyed the princess is with the rogue who has been commissioned to cart her around the galaxy while avoiding low-life space racketeers.
But, what’s that? The Bermuda Triangle of space? And a pocket dimension filled with magic and social commentary and five smug humanoids wearing turtlenecks? Yes, five pages into this story, Alan Moore transports the Star Wars characters into the equivalent of a Star Trek episode.
It even features a menagerie.
The story ends with Chewbacca smashing the restraints in the menageries and unleashing all manner of beasts, including a sparkly, amorphous demon named “Wutzek,” who devours his captors and says things like “How frail your flesh, my tormentors. How transient. And now that it is gone, only your souls survive…within me…forever.”
The heroes escape, of course. Leaving a black hole of demonic space evil, cracking jokes about how they’re just glad that they’ve let the monstrous genie out of the bottle in “Empire-held space.”
No laugh track comes included with the issue, but it feels like it should.
“Tilotny Throws a Shape,” The Empire Strikes Back Monthly #154 (Marvel U.K., 1982)
The fascinating thing about all these early Alan Moore Star Wars stories isn’t just how off-kilter they are, as Star Wars stories, but that they’re off-kilter in a quite specific way, as Moore tries to tell variations on relatively conventional sci-fi stories using the toys of the Star Wars universe. It’s as if he’s stubbornly ignoring the fact that Star Wars is, at its core, a romantic samurai western in space. Moore pushes his Star Wars stories in a different direction. More toward Isaac Asimov or Theodore Sturgeon.
In this one, Leia, alone, ends up on an eerie desert landscape, chased by stormtroopers. But Leia and the armored men in white are mere minor players in this tale, as we meet local goddess Tilotny and her odd-looking magical peers, all of whom seem to have the power to shape reality. They are artists at the atomic level, and their petty bickering about who made what part of their world and what it means to have “styled time,” becomes interrupted by Leia’s flight from her Imperial pursuers. To these gods, the humans are mere curiosities, and in their playfulness, the stormtroopers end up tortured by the childlike Tilotny, as she transforms one into crystal, and another grows painful new limbs.
Leia survives, as if waking from a nightmare, but the stormtroopers who have made it through Tilotny’s innocent-minded, but brutal, torments, find themselves eight thousand years in the past. Trapped by the caprice of the space gods.
Hardly anything resembling Star Wars, right? But some of this stuff does highlight Moore’s continued fascination with the layers between gods and men, a theme he will return to in future works. He tends to side with the gods.
“Dark Lord’s Conscience,” The Empire Strikes Back Monthly #155 (Marvel U.K., 1982)
The best of all the Alan Moore Star Wars comics – though just as impossible to reconcile with Star Wars “canon” as the rest – “Dark Lord’s Conscience” features Darth Vader and a life-sized chess match and twist that you can predict from the opening pages, but it’s a vicious little story with scratchy, dignified artwork by John Stokes.
At only six pages, this tale is shorter than Moore’s previous Star Wars efforts, and that helps it punch a bit harder, and with Darth Vader in the lead role, it’s inherently more interesting. As I said, Moore tends to side with the gods instead of the humans in his stories, and Vader gives him a dark, regal god to position a story around.
The story puts Vader in a trap – though it’s one he knew was coming – as the self-proclaimed “Clat the Shamer” confronts Vader on a “Firepath” (aka LARPy space chess) board and uses his powers to force the Sith Lord to face his own conscience.
That’s his deal, this Clat guy. He has already forced some stormtroopers to take their own life a few pages earlier, after they acknowledged the horrors they had inflicted. (Note, this was back in the days when stormtroopers were clearly not Jango Fett clones, and could take off their helmets so we could see their misery.)
Vader doesn’t have a conscience, of course, because Return of the Jedi hadn’t been written yet. So Clat’s powers have no effect. And we discover that his trap to lure Vader was actually Vader’s trap to lure Clat to his own death. Like all of these Star Wars shorts, it has the rhythm of a gag strip, with a zinger at the end.
A scrappy, disappointing opening, but the endgame provided some satisfaction.
Basically, these stories are like the 2000 A.D. “Future Shocks,” which Moore had some experience with, both as a reader and writer. “Future Shocks” with talking Star Wars action figures.
“Rust Never Sleeps,” The Empire Strikes Back Monthly #156 (Marvel U.K., 1982)
Moore follows the best of his Star Wars stories with his worst, as this five-pager — even with art from Moore’s most frequent early-career collaborator Alan Davis – is little more than slapstick featuring R2D2 and C3PO and a sentient scrap pile.
Remember how R2D2 and C3PO had their own cartoon series in the mid-1980s? Maybe if someone said to you, “What if Alan Moore wrote an episode of Droids? Wouldn’t that be great?” you might say, “Wow, that would blow my mind!”
Well, after reading this story, I would ask you to think twice about that response.
It is Alan Moore, though, so we do get this coda at the end of his little jaunt into Droid-land, after the droids and their pal, the sentient scrap pile, beat up a bunch of stormtroopers and blow up a Star Destroyers: “We have a name for such flukes. We call them ‘Acts of God.’ But the Empire dispensed with such foolish and arcane notions long ago…and perhaps that was their loss.”
Another zinger from Moore. God-related, of course. Moore’s on Team Omnipotent.
“Blind Fury,” The Empire Strikes Back Monthly #159 (Marvel U.K., 1982)
Moore’s final entry is a fitting end to his run as sometime-writer-of-occasional-back-up-material-for-British-reprints-of-American-Star-Wars-comics. It’s his one chance to write Luke Skywalker, and in five pages, Moore gives us a pretty-good Luke story. It’s the one Moore installment that could reasonably fit into “real” Star Wars continuity (if you’re tracking such things, which I wouldn’t recommend), and while it’s somewhat of a riff on the Luke-facing-his-personal-demons-on-Dagobah scene from Empire Strikes Back, it also ends on a more meditative note than Moore’s other Star Wars tales.
There’s irony at the center of this story, for sure, but it doesn’t end with the same kind of “Future Shock” final page zinger that his other Star Wars comics rely upon.
Essentially, “Blind Fury” parallels Luke’s personal quest for vengeance against Vader and the Empire with the revenge scheme of Rur, High Shaman of the Terrible Glare. We learn that “The Order of the Terrible Glare” (Great name or horrendous name? You decide!) is an ancient enemy of the Jedi Knights, and Rur has embedded himself into a computer to wait these thousands of years to enact revenge against the Jedi.
He hadn’t realized that the Jedi Knights has been destroyed long ago. (Rur’s computer consciousness apparently didn’t have a DVD player, so he never got a chance to see Hayden Christensen’s heel turn, and I envy him that sweet relief.) After reading Luke’s mind, and discovering the truth, Rur’s cave/tower headquarters begins tumbling down around him. He self-destructs when he realizes that he missed his chance at revenge.
Luke doesn’t get the message, by the way, and doesn’t see his own “Blind Fury” of vengeance as a parallel to Rur’s single-minded quest, but that’s true to character, and instead of a comedic final line, we see Luke staring at the flames from the ruined tower, brow slightly furrowed as he tries to figure out exactly what the moral of his own story should be.
Humans are dumb, aren’t they? So sayeth Alan Moore!
These five Star Wars shorts are certainly not essential Alan Moore readings, but they are still distinctively Alan Moore comics. They have been reprinted in America by Dark Horse, as part of the two-issue Classic Star Wars: Devilworlds miniseries from 1996, though, annoyingly, they reprinted the stories out of order, with a couple of Steve Moore stories thrown in between. Their reprint strategy, with the Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker stories in issue #1, and the other three tales in issue #2, seems to have been: “Let’s put the good ones up front, and throw the three lesser stories in a follow-up issue. Readers may not make it that far.” The strategy makes sense, but it’s more satisfying to read them in the order in which they were originally printed, because then you end with Luke cluelessly staring off into the distance, wondering what it all means.
NEXT TIME: V for Vendetta, Part 1