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 23nd installment.
As Alan Moore was settling into his legendary Swamp Thing run after the first year on the DC job, as we saw last week and with my look at the Superman stories he branched out into other superhero properties with quick hit stories that carried resonances that have lasted until today.
Moore himself has, of course, repeatedly criticized modern corporate comics for strip mining his work rather than generating new ideas for contemporary audiences, and in the years before any specific announcements about anyone trampling over the corpse of Watchmen, he targeted DC’s Blackest Night summer event as an egregious example of “the comics industry going through [his] trashcan like raccoons.” Moore also provided this indignant and/or bemusedly mocking commentary on the subject: “I was noticing that DC seems to have based one of its latest crossovers in Green Lantern based on a couple of eight-page stories that I did 25 or 30 years ago. I would have thought that would seem kind of desperate and humiliating.” He went on to say, “When I have said in interviews that it doesn’t look like the American comic book industry has had an idea of its own in the past 20 or 30 years, I was just being mean. I didn’t expect the companies concerned to more or less say, ‘Yeah, he’s right. Let’s see if we can find another one of his stories from 30 years ago to turn into some spectacular saga.'”
Ah, Alan Moore’s Green Lantern stories. Only three of them in total, a combined body of work adding up to a grand total of 24 comic book pages. Let’s take a look at them, and see why those few pages have been so influential in the larger scheme of the Green Lantern franchise and the DCU at large.
“Mogo Doesn’t Socialize,” Green Lantern #188 (DC Comics, May 1985)
Alan Moore’s first foray into the Green Lanternverse is his best, with its simple-and-direct concept, the clean artistry of future Watchmen collaborator Dave Gibbons, and the twist ending that recalls the highlights of the writer’s “Future Shocks” career.
The story begins with Arisia, innocent young Green Lantern from Sector 2815, learning about the history of the Corps, and wondering aloud why she’s never met some of the Lanterns who currently serve. Tomar Re, erstwhile mentor to new recruits, explains to her that some of the Green Lanterns from throughout the universe can’t attend Corps functions. One, he says, is “a superintelligent smallpox virus” while another is “an abstract mathematical progression” and then there’s Mogo and, as Tomar Re indicates, “Mogo doesn’t socialize.”
Tomar Re recounts the story of Bolphunga the Unrelenting, the space-faring warlord who dared to challenge the mysterious Mogo. Bolphunga landed on Mogo’s lush verdant planet, and called out the elusive Green Lantern. But Mogo didn’t appear. Bolphunga “Not for nothing was he called ‘The Unrelenting,'” Tomar Re reminds us searches the planet, looking for all manner of life forms for the one who might be known as Mogo. But as Bolphunga sat in camp one night, charting out the strange formations he’d noticed in the forest, he shrieked in terror, ran to his ship, and flew off into space.
The final page shows the tiny space craft launching into the starry void, with the entire planet shown full frame. The formation Bolphunga had charted? A giant Green Lantern insignia across the surface of the planet. Mogo, the Green Lantern who never shows up at Corps meetings, wasn’t on the planet. He is the planet.
The notion of a sentient planet wasn’t shockingly new in comics in 1985. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby had introduced Ego the Living Planet in the Thor comics of the 1960s, but the idea of Green Lanterns taking on distinctly non-humanoid forms, an idea central to this story, was a relatively rare way of thinking about the Corps. And the gag of the mysterious, “cowardly” Mogo turning out to be the entire planet the warlord was striding across is a good one, reminiscent of the best of Alan Moore’s 2000 AD work.
Plus, Mogo has remained a part of the Green Lantern mythos ever since, particularly in the work of Blackest Night mastermind and now current DC Entertainment CCO Geoff Johns, who used the character repeatedly in various stories leading up to that necrotic mega-event, and in the aftermath, Mogo became tainted by Black Lantern energy before facing his own destruction. Mogo won’t ever have a chance to start to socialize, now.
Ah, living planets can come back to life, right? (It’s only a matter of time.)
“Tygers,” Green Lantern Corps Annual #2 (DC Comics, 1986)
If “Mogo Doesn’t Socialize” is the wittiest, most charming of the Moore Green Lantern tales, and it surely is, then “Tygers,” his collaboration with future League of Extraordinary Gentlemen artist Kevin O’Neill is the one with the most meat on its bones. It’s a dark, twisted tale that looks like grim revisionism at first, but it actually fills in some thematic gaps in the back story of long-dead Green Lantern Abin Sur, the dying alien who gave Hal Jordan his ring.
O’Neill, as I may or may not have mentioned in a previous installment, draws in such a grotesque manner angular and scratchy and chiseled and beautifully repellent that DC editorial wanted to keep him away from their superheroes, but in this proto-Blackest-Night-prologue (eight pages, written 20 years before Geoff Johns tapped into its energy and ideas with his grand scheme of Green Lantern: Rebirth and beyond), O’Neill depicts a terrifying intergalactic landscape that looks like the horror chambers even the residents of Hell would try to avoid.
This story flashes back to “Many Years Earlier,” when Abin Sur visits Ysmault to find a crashed ship and possibly a survivor, and learns, via his ring, the brutal history of the Empire of Tears, “a corpseworld, haunted by its dead masters, and none may go there save by the Guardians’ leave.” Pretty, it is not.
Abin Sur confronts many a minor demonic temptation on the planet, but his final confrontation is with Qull of the Five Inversions who grants him three answers to any three questions. Sur asks about the crashed ship, and verifies the answer (a child survived), and then asks about his own future, where he learns that he will die when his power ring gives out, perhaps in the vacuum of space.
(Plot-wise, that’s a bit of retroactive continuity from Moore to explain why Abin Sur landed on Earth in a spacecraft when every other Green Lantern in every other story zips through space purely by ring power based on “Tygers,” Sur choses to travel by spaceship for long distances just in case Qull was telling the truth.)
And the final question and answer is the big one: “What is the most terrible catastrophe that the Green Lantern Corps has yet to face?”
The answer, all those years ago, in a one-page Qull-narrated tableau, is the genesis of what would later become Blackest Night. Sur learns that the enemies of the Corps will join forces against the Green Lanterns, and the “Ultimate Green Lantern,” Sodam Yat, a Green Lantern with the powers of Superman, will perish. Mogo will be destroyed.
Until I reread this story, I didn’t realize that this was where Sodam Yat debuted. He was such a big part of the mid-to-late 2000s Green Lantern saga that I assumed he was either relatively recently created, or part of some earlier era that I’d never read (like much of the post-Neal Adams Green Lantern/Green Arrow years, or almost all of the Gerard Jones era, or basically anything after year one and two of Kyle Rayner).
Yet for all of Alan Moore’s now-mockery of DC’s digging back into his small body of Green Lantern work to dust off old ideas for new readers, it does make sense that Geoff Johns would have turned Sodam Yat and Mogo and the entire Qull prophecy into something more substantial in his (still ongoing) run on the series. Had Johns reread all of the Green Lantern comics ever published before pitching his resurrected take on Hal Jordan years ago (which he may have done), surely the Alan Moore stories would stand out as particularly fertile, mostly unexplored, corners of the DC Universe. Would Alan Moore have preferred that his Green Lantern stories be forgotten, and the ideas never referred to again? That seems like a strange way to think about his own legacy, even if his opinion is deeply discolored by the abysmal treatment he feels he’s received from DC over the decades.
No, these Alan Moore Green Lantern stories are important, still, even though they are but tiny glimpses into much larger worlds. It’s because they suggest so much more than they have space to show that they are worthy of continual exploration by writers today.
And Abin Sur? Turns out, according to “Tygers” that trusting Qull was his downfall, as the spaceship he piloted was contaminated with yellow-tinged radiation that killed him. That wouldn’t have happened if he relied only on his ring.
Hmmm perhaps Alan Moore slipped a prophetic allegory of his own treatment by corporate comics into this little story. Maybe he knew what would happen all along.
Maybe Ysmault is an anagram for one of legal firms representing Warner Brothers at the time. Or maybe it just stands for “Musty Al” as in, “I’m Geoff Johns and I’m going to dig up these comics by ‘Musty Al’ Moore to see what ideas I can use to power my spectacular 21st century dream machine.”
“In Blackest Night,” Green Lantern Corps Annual #3 (DC Comics, 1987)
Oh, there’s one more Alan Moore Green Lantern story I didn’t yet talk about. His collaboration with future Fables writer (but then an artist) Bill Willingham, and a story called “In Blackest Night.”
Wait “In Blackest Night”? DC swiped the name of their big event inspired by Alan Moore stories from a completely different Alan Moore story? Not exactly. Because though the name is the same, the story alludes to an oft-repeated line from the Green Lantern oath, and this story is the only one out of the three that doesn’t have much substance to it. Not much to build on here.
Not that it’s a bad story. It’s just a simple, pleasant adventure where Katma Tui dives into the Obsidian Depths to enlist a Green Lantern, on behalf of the Guardians. But the creature she finds, worthy of the ring, cannot ever recite the oath, because he is blind and has never known concepts like “green” or “lantern” or “light.”
It’s a clever story, in which Moore demonstrates the cultural barriers that can exist between one society and another (using aliens as metaphors, in classic sci-fi tradition), but it doesn’t make much of a lasting impression. Geoff Johns may have called back to this story at some point I honestly don’t remember but Katma Tui’s solution to the problem of a blind Lantern, where she reconceptualizes the light into sound and the creature becomes, in effect, Green Bell, doesn’t offer many future story possibilities, except in the realm of radio drama.
Maybe that could still happen. Musty Al Moore doing a spoken word piece, with musical accompaniment, about the adventures of the Untranslatable Corps.
NEXT TIME: Back in the U.K.—The Ballad of Halo Jones!