Tor.com comics blogger Tim Callahan has dedicated
the next twelve months more than a year 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 42nd installment.
I think I’m all Awesomed out. If you’ve been following my Great Alan Moore Reread each week, you probably are too. After all the Badrock vs. Spawn and Supreme and Judgment Day excitement, I long for the time when I could take a rest from the super-extreme-super-hype with an intellectually and emotionally engaging piece of work like A Small Killing.
And that’s coming from a guy who liked a lot of Supreme and some of Judgment Day and even a tiny bit of the mania inherent in Alan Moore doing something called Badrock vs. Spawn.
After forty-one of these Alan Moore posts, it’s not that I’m burned out on Alan Moore, it’s that I think his 1990s superhero work is best in smallish doses. Reading all of it in a couple of weeks (I usually binge-read this stuff and write about it later) has brought me to this point: I’m not so sorry that Alan Moore abandoned both Youngblood and Glory. I’m okay with that. His three issues of each were plenty.
The new direction for both Youngblood and Glory were hinted at as part of the Judgment Day: Aftermath comic, a follow-up to the Awesome event comic that I wrote about last week. Judgment Day: Aftermath is strangely titled in that it’s more of a prologue to the new Awesome Universe, with a framing story about an Imagineer named “Kane” exploring the raw “idea-stuff” with Andy Awesome as his guide. The story, drawn by Gil Kane, is basically a chance for Gil Kane to draw some scenes of the new Awesome Universe while guiding us through the new status-quo. It’s like an infomercial for Awesome Entertainment, but one that feels like a celebration more than a sales pitch.
In the issue, we meet the new Youngblood team (Shaft, Suprema, Twilight, Doc Rocket, Johnny Panic, and Big Brother) and see them in action for a few pages. That’s about it.
Then we see Glory climbing up a magical tree and meeting some goddesses, before transforming into her human identity as Gloria Jones, waitress.
In both cases, the new status quo under Alan Moore is substantially different. All the new Younblood members are brand new to the team, and over half are original Alan Moore creations. Even though we barely see them, we get a sense that they are more of a spunky Marv Wolfmanesque team of young heroes than the group of weapon-wielding task forcers who had previously assembled as a Youngblood team. And in her previous incarnation, Glory was a warrior woman, while Moore emphasizes her more mythological aspects and turns her into a dark fairy tale princess, a girl who wants to play at being human.
None of this stuff is particularly original or even interesting. But it’s Alan Moore so he does a good job clearly defining the characters and their world, but it all feels like the shadow of something much greater.
Moore also provided a more intensive introduction to the new Youngblood team, and new Youngblood series artist, in a story for 1997’s Awesome Holiday Special #1. It’s kind of a weird place to launch a new series, but that’s what we get in that Holiday Special: an in-story introduction to all the members of the team, new and old, with a pervy Shaft leering at the hyperspeed costume-changing abilities of the nubile young female Doc Rocket.
As a relatively faithful reader of Alan Moore’s work throughout his career but not a total completest, I remember reading the first issue of the new Youngblood series and being confused as to who the new characters were and wondering when we’d learn more about them. It turns out that we had learned about them, it just all happened in a holiday special I had never read. Odd that the Youngblood short wasn’t used to open the new series – or maybe get its own release as a Youngblood Handbook or something, complete with stat cards for every character. That would have been more in keeping with standard practice at the time. Hiding it in a holiday special was certainly unusual.
But the new series would start soon enough, and run for… a whopping two issues over seven months time, then disappear for a year before coming out under a completely different title for one final cliffhanger of an issue, never to be heard from again.
Youngblood #1-2 (Awesome Entertainment, Feb. 1998-August 1998)
It’s difficult now to think about Youngblood – the original Rob Liefeld incarnation – with any kind of objectivity. It was the series that began what would become Image Comics, and it will forever have its place in history because of that, and there was an unmatched energy to Liefeld’s work at the time that propelled him to almost instant superstar success, even though many internet message boards would have you believe his art is the worst thing to happen to comics since Fredric Wertham.
We know all this now, and we also know that Youngblood exploded onto the scene and it seemed like a million other Rob Liefeld spin-offs followed, but the main series floundered with nonsensical storytelling and dialogue so terrible that Liefeld hired Joe Casey to come in and completely reimagine the story and rewrite every single word when the opening arc was collected into a hardcover a few years back.
Rob Liefeld was so extraordinarily popular at one time that it’s likely that Youngblood is someone’s favorite comic of all time – I certainly have a nostalgic fondness for it, even in its more incomprehensible moments – but I don’t know of anyone who would say that it’s a good comic. And as I pointed out last week, Alan Moore’s Judgment Day series basically explained Youngblood and all of the Awesome comics that followed as the wish-fulfillment fantasies of a would-be juvenile criminal. But Rob Liefeld published that scathing meta-critique as a way to relaunch his line of comics, so I assume he was amused by Moore’s implicit criticism.
Alan Moore’s approach to the relaunched ongoing series was simple. He wanted to make readers interested enough to keep reading the book. In his Youngblood proposal, he was blunt: “I want people to have a good reason for giving a shit about each individual member of the team, and in the case of the female members, a different reason to fall hopelessly and pathetically in love with each one.”
He didn’t want to redefine comics or explore new literary tropes or deconstruct storytelling conventions. He just wanted to write a superhero comic with plenty of action and characters that readers would care enough about to come back for more. That’s serialized storytelling 101, but such an approach was counter to the popular superhero spectacle of the 1990s.
Still, even with such a straightforward mission statement, and the talents of Alan Moore and soon-to-be-Matrix designer/storyboard artist Steve Skroce on each page, Youngblood isn’t successful. It’s fast-paced and sharp, but I can’t say I cared one bit about the characters when I read the series in 1998 and rereading it this year didn’t make me care any more. It turns out that storytelling 101 stuff is pretty hard to pull off. Exciting stories plus characters you really care about? That’s a rare combination, even if it seems like it should be the norm.
The two extant issues of Moore’s Youngblood do pile a whole batch of characters into the mix – something that runs counter to his own proposal which calls for a cast of six characters, saying, “It’s like schooling. In a class with six kids, each child will receive a lot more attention and thus get on a lot better than in a classroom with thirty kids.” His Youngblood team may be capped at six members, but he fills the first two issues with supporting characters and a gaggle of villains. It’s like his one-room idyllic schoolhouse became overrun with miscreants immediately, and the poor children never got the education promised to them.
And then, two issues in, Youngblood was no more.
Awesome Adventures #1 (Awesome Entertainment, August 1999)
But issue #3 eventually came out. A year later. Without the words “Young” or “blood” anywhere on the cover.
Reading this third issue of Youngblood now – called Awesome Adventures on the cover – it’s easy to see what happened. Work on the series was stopped. Steve Skroce never even finished this issue, but Awesome Entertainment put it out anyway, with Dietrich Smith and Marat Mychaels drawing the final five pages (of an 18-page story). The shift from Skroce’s dynamic, densely-packed style to the sparse backgrounds and stiff character work that followed is jarring to read. The issue promises something more in the next installment, but it’s difficult to wish for more after seeing the ugly-looking end of this one. Even when Moore and Skroce were giving it their full attention, Youngblood was at best a cold but diverting comic. As they drifted away from the work, and as Awesome Entertainment struggled financially, it all came to an end.
Unlike the regard for the aborted Big Numbers, there hasn’t been much call for an alternate reality in which Alan Moore completed his Youngblood opus.
Glory #0-2 (Avatar Press, Dec. 2001-Jan. 2002)
Alan Moore’s short-lived Glory series was even more quickly abandoned. Only one issue ever came out from Awesome, and the series was only “completed” at Avatar Press years later. Though, like Youngblood, completed means that it just stopped, without an end. Ditched.
Alan Moore had moved on to Wildstorm and America’s Best Comics by then, and though some of his Awesome ideas and proposal pieces would find their way – in tweaked form – into his later Wildstorm work, none would be as similar as Glory and Promethea.
Both began as Wonder Woman analogues. Both play up the mythological angle. And both are about a young woman in the physical world struggling with the demands of the spiritual.
Glory, in its brief life, didn’t go nearly as far as Promethea – how could it? But the seeds of Promethea are visible in these few short issues. Promethea was even supposedly designed as a project for Brandon Peterson, the original artists Moore worked with on the Awesome incarnation of Glory. But Peterson moved on to other projects and J. H. Williams III came in to push the boundaries of Wonder Woman pastiche into a whole new visual realm.
Oh yeah, back to Glory. Promethea is still a couple months away on the reread schedule.
Well, in short, Glory isn’t very good. It doesn’t even have the major asset that Youngblood has which is an energetic young superteam boucing around the page, getting into crazy action sequences with giant robots and mega-villains.
Let me recap the entirety of Glory for you. Issue #0 is eight pages of Gloriana (aka Glory) talking to her magical mother about how she needs to experience human life. That’s it. Plus a back-up history of the character not written by Alan Moore. Issue #1 features Glory having sex with a human, which is all part of Lilith’s evil plan. Also, there’s some nice stuff where Melinda Gebbie draws Golden Age Glory flashback sequences in the style of original Wonder Woman artists H. G. Peter. Issue #3 gives us a Glory bondage flashback and then Glory loses contact with her mythical homeworld and thinks she’s a crazy human who dreamed of being a goddess.
So it’s really just one issue of story spread out over three issues, and though the hook at the end of the third issue (the issue marked #2 because it began with #0), might have made for a substantial conflict worth exploring in the first story arc, there’s just not much here as it currently exists. Moore didn’t do enough with it, and what he does in a vaguely interesting way, he does better with the much better-looking Promethea comic that he was soon to write.
Yes, another abandoned non-masterpiece by Alan Moore. His Awesome era comes to an end. The whimper barely audible.
NEXT TIME: Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons reunite. On Will Eisner’s The Spirit, no less!