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 33rd installment.
If you’ve ever read any of Alan Moore’s scripts, you’ve probably seen how incredibly dense they are, with thick paragraphs of description for each panel. Moore’s famous scripts are easily five or six times longer than most other comic book writers, with an attention to detail that can be hugely intimidating to artists.
He didn’t write Violator that way.
Actually, he didn’t write most (or maybe all) of his Image comic books that way.
Instead, as the backmatter of Violator #1 demonstrates, Moore provided thumbnails for each page, and all he included in his script was the corresponding (relatively minimal) dialogue. It was a streamlined, efficient method, useful when spectacle and action was more important to the story than anything else. It’s a modified version of what’s still called “Marvel-style” scripting, where the plots were handed out (or told to) artists, and then the writer, or maybe a completely different scripter, would go back and add in the dialogue that seemed appropriate. Moore’s modified Marvel-style scripting still allowed him to control the focus of each panel and to guide the pacing of the story, but it also emphasized the imagery instead of the language.
And because Moore began his career as a cartoonist, his quick thumbnails look good enough to find their way into an art comics anthology today. Someone should put that together – Superheroes by Alan Moore: The Thumbnails. I’d buy it.
Then again, I’d also buy a bunch of comics called Violator and Violator vs. Badrock in the mid-1990s, and if they came out today, I would still buy them. Particularly if Alan Moore were on board to make these clearly ridiculous comics even more ridiculous than you might expect.
Violator#1-3 (Image Comics, May-July 1994)
Bart Sears, who draws metallic muscles on everything he sees, and Greg Capullo, who drew Spawn for 735 years and now draws Batman comics, provide the art for this miniseries, working to turn Alan Moore’s rough-but-fascinating thumbnails into pages worthy of the Image name. These are some seriously over-rendered, viciously detailed, beautifully ugly comics. Dave Gibbons pages, they are not. But if you can imagine what a Paul W.S. Anderson film would look like with cinematography by Robert Richardson, based on a script by the Coen Brothers, adapted from a Don Pendelton novel inspired by a H.P. Lovecraft short story would look like, then good for you. Because I have no idea what that would look like, but maybe it would look like Violator. It sure wouldn’t look like Watchmen.
Violator takes the added Alan Moore Spawn mythology and expands upon it, mostly by adding more brothers to the Phlebiac family (in addition to the already-named Violator and Vindicator from Moore’s first Spawn issue, we also meet the Vacillator, the Vaporizer, and the Vandalizer, great names, all). It’s basically a souped-up action movie cliché set to a superhero tune, with Violator on the run from an extreme Punisher parody called the Admonisher, and caught between a murdering psychopath from the human world and his psychopathic, murdering brothers from the demonic underworld.
In other words, Nic Cage could have starred in the movie version.
This really is a parody comic, through-and-through, which is something my 1994 self didn’t pick up on as clearly as my 2012 self does. Or I didn’t think it was very funny at the time. I was probably holding on to some Alan Moore bias, and I wanted his comics to be profound, ever single time.
Violator is not profound. But like his other Spawn work, it has the juvenile delinquent kind of humor Moore honed back in his D.R. & Quinch days, and it does a fine job injecting that kind of energy toward a story that would never be worth anyone’s time, unless it happened to be amusing.
And this one’s amusing.
Any scene with the Admonisher is a winner, with his mock-heroic action poses, glistening bloated muscles, and lines like “I am THE ADMONISHER! …And I’m here to give you’re a darn good telling off!”
That gem comes from a splash page, by the way, as the admonishing one catapults his body through a mall skylight to tackle the unsuspecting Violator, who, in his “clown” garb, sports a belly-shirt with “baby” written above a down arrow, and the decaying head of a mafia hitman stuck to his arm. Yeah!
If I were in a more scholarly, reflective mood, I would point out that Moore’s excessive, grotesque and parodic techniques in this comic would later become cornerstones of the careers of major 21st century comic book writers like Garth Ennis and Mark Millar. Would the Marvel Knights Punisher have been the same without these Moore Violator comics? Would Wanted or Kick-Ass have been the same? Maybe, but this mid-1990s Moore is a close relative of that stuff, if not a direct ancestor.
But who can be in a scholarly, reflective mood when the Admonisher, guns a-blazin’, is running toward us, to give us “A talking-to! A dressing-down! Stern reproof, counsel or advice!!”? Well, I’ll just let those words speak for themselves. And let the legacy of Ennis and Millar stand in the glow of this bloody, terrible, amazing, entertaining comic.
Violator vs. Badrock#1-4 (Image Comics, May-Aug. 1995)
A year later, Alan Moore returned to his Phlebiac muse, and this time, Youngblood’s Badrock – the man sculpted of…badass…rock – joined the party.
Unlike the three-issue Violator miniseries, this one was an immense four issues, and with twice as many character names in the title and a whole extra issue for fightin’, it had to be even better than its predecessor, right? Not so much.
But, this is still a series that fits my completely underdeveloped theory that Alan Moore’s Image Comics work formed the foundation for some of the most popular comics from a decade later. Because this is explosive, widescreen action that knows exactly what it is, and has a devilish sense of humor about itself. No Alan Moore thumbnails are provided in the back of any of these issues, but I can’t image Moore worked any other way on this series. I can’t imagine dense text descriptions of the amount of bullets whizzing through the panels or the precise angle of the tears in the women’s clothing. I can’t imagine Moore describing any of the panels in this comic, actually. It’s sleazy, ultra-violent cheesecake with two monsters fighting each other (and fighting, of course, other monsters).
Brian Denham provides the pencil art for this series, with inks by Jon Sibal and Danny Miki, and based on the inconsistent construction of some of these figures, I can only assume that the inkers had to pull together some relatively rough pencils. It certainly doesn’t look nearly as good as the Capullo or Sears pages from the Violator comic, and because the art has the kind of generic post-initial-rush Image blandness that crept into the comics of the mid-1990s, the story does become a bit of a chore to read by the end.
It begins, however, in kind-of-spectacular fashion. The set-up is ridiculous, as it should be, but fun in that excessive way that Moore helped to pioneer. It’s not a cynical comic. It doesn’t read like: “I know I’m smarter than my audience, so I will give them something as stupid as they are.” Instead, it reads like: “I will make this as silly and violent and preposterous as possible, but I will throw in some references to things that the more astute readers might pick up on.” So it’s more Looney Tunes than Meatballs and Spaghetti.
(But because it doesn’t look like Looney Tunes, some readers might mistake it for a comic that takes itself seriously. It does have a whole lot of lines on every page. But it is decidedly unserious throughout.) (That confusion of highly-rendered art for seriousness of purpose is a common mistake in reading 1990s Image Comics, in general.) (I will stop the parentheticals now.)
The premise of the series goes like this: Dr. Sally McAllister and the “Whiteside-Parsons Institute” want to trap the Violator – which they consider an alien being – and use its power to open a dimensional portal which they can then exploit.
Or, as Badrock asks, “What, you mean you’re filing for mineral rights on the Inferno?”
Dr. McAllister replies, “Well, our legal people are looking at that aspect, certainly, but there’s so much more to think about!”
Soon, an angel comes calling, and angels, in the Spawniverse, are no merciful creatures. They are gorgeous women with the power to level buildings while wearing barely any clothes. As Violator tells it, they are “bright enough to burn through whatever you put in their way! Yeah, they’re bright. They’re beautiful…but from a distance, y’know? Like Hiroshima.”
While the above examples may not rank among the best dialogue ever written for comics, it’s quite good. Witty, efficient, and with enough of a twist to imply more a sophisticated sense of characterization than many other comics of the sort seem capable of. Moore, even when he’s cranking out silly exploitation comics, still has style.
In the end, Violator vs. Badrock brings much of Spawn #8’s afterlife mythology back for an encore, but it all seems to go on for an issue too long. That extra issue worked to its disadvantage after all, and Alan Moore is left seemingly depleted by the whole, ultimately tedious adventure. Though it started with promise, and carries through with some energy before its final issue, the Violator vs. Badrock epic ends as I suppose it needed to: “Well, y’know, it’s like they say…” says Badrock as he walks off into the distance, “…with great power comes a great pain in the ass.”
If Spencer’s Gifts calls, you can tell them where to find a rad t-shirt saying.
NEXT TIME: Flashing back to a past that never was – Alan Moore’s 1963.