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 28th installment.
My sense of chronology continues to become increasingly wonky as we jump from the early-to-mid-1990s From Hell of the last two weeks to a collected edition of a group of short stories written a decade before From Hell reached its climax. D.R. and Quinch this week. Straight out of the pages of 2000 A.D.
Or, straight out of the reprint edition which pulls all the stories together in one place.
And, I will freely admit, my placement of these stories way out of chronological order is a utilitarian one: we all need a palate-cleanser after the clockwork horrors of From Hell. So what if the adventures of Waldo D.R. “Diminished Responsibility” Dobbs and Ernie Quinch should have been written about months ago? As far as I’m concerned, chronology be damned. These comics from 1983-1985 provide a perfect, refreshingly oddball, hilarious follow-up to the bleak portrait of London (and humanity) in Moore’s Ripper autopsy.
Plus, this is D.R. and Quinch we’re talking about, and when did they ever fall in line and follow any sort of rigid set of rules?
Never, that’s when!
But they’re here now, from the typewriter of Alan Moore and the pencil and brush of Alan Davis. Here to save us by destroying everything in their path.
The Complete D.R. & Quinch (Rebellion, 2010)
I suspect most of the regular readers of The Great Alan Moore reread aren’t as familiar with D.R. & Quinch as they are with the big American Alan Moore projects like Watchmen or The Killing Joke or even From Hell. Though I’d seen some of the D.R. & Quinch strips, I know I’d never paid much attention to them before picking up Rebellion’s collected edition in preparation for this reread. (Not much of a reread, in this case. More of a first-read.) And, as it turned out, most of the D.R. & Quinch strips I had read before were from Jamie Delano, not Alan Moore. So, really, I’ve only recently come to understand what these two alien mischief-makers are all about, or why anyone would have even bothered to collect their adventures.
Now, of course, I totally get it. Because once I actually read the Alan Moore/Alan Davis stories the intergalactic romps I fell completely in love with the tone, and execution, of the entire D.R. and Quinch saga.
I’ve mocked Alan Moore a few times in the past of this Reread for missing the mark on some of his humorous pieces, but some of his “Future Shock” tales are really quite funny. And D.R. & Quinch is like an injection of that good stuff, with recurring characters and epic farce, and not a little bit of satire.
This is the absurd, cartoony, delightfully vicious other side of Halo Jones, and maybe it’s Alan Davis just straight-up drawing circles around Ian Gibson, but D.R. & Quinch works on all the levels upon which Halo Jones fails. There’s far, far less tragedy and pathos here, but the strip is all the better without it.
D.R. & Quinch is Alan Moore’s sci-fi twist on the “O.C. and Stiggs” characters from National Lampoon. Robert Altman once directed a failure (or was it a “secret success”) of a film version based on those characters, but Altman’s watered-down version didn’t have the psychopathic excesses of its source material. O.C. and Stiggs weren’t just juvenile delinquents in the original stories, they were such exaggerated versions of juvenile delinquents, they would fire automatic weapons at sacred events.
Here’s an example, from “The Wedding Reception of Schwab’s Repellent Sister and the Chinaman Frank, and How We Completely Ruined It” from 1982’s National Lampoon O.C. and Stiggs-centric special issue: “Lenora came apart. Her cyst was throbbing, her brother had just shot up the most significant and only public event in her entire life, her seven-hundred-dollar dress was streaked gray with powder burns, her wedding car had disappeared, and her brand-new husband was kicking the pressed remains of a bird he’d just killed off the thick spongy bottom of his Schwab-quality shoe.”
That’s the tone of the O.C. and Stiggs material breathless, hyperbolic prose, and one extreme event after another, without pause.
Alan Moore does his parody of that, and sets it in space, with pointy-eared, Skrull-chinned D.R and dorky, bloated alien-Muppetesque Quinch as his lead characters. Free from anything even hinting at realism, Moore can go even further than the O.C. and Stiggs stories. In his first D.R. & Quinch story, for example, he climaxes the story with the destruction of the Earth.
And he still has several more stories to tell after that.
The first D.R. & Quinch story, from 2000 A.D. prog 317, was just a run-of-the-mill “Time Twister,” one of the sub-“Future Shocks” that was a staple in the magazine. But Moore and Davis (and the readers) obviously so enjoyed the ridiculously ultra-violent adventures of their title characters that they came back for more, with each new episode taking the boys on a particular journey, like “D.R. & Quinch Go Girl Crazy” or “D.R. & Quinch Get Drafted” or, the penultimate and widely considered the best story, “D.R. & Quinch Go to Hollywood.”
It’s Space Hollywood, of course, since Earth had already been blown to smithereens by the galaxy-hopping delinquents.
What makes all of the stories so enjoyable and unlike most of Moore’s other 2000 A.D. work, there’s barely a weak chapter in the whole cycle is how relentlessly Moore mimics the tone of the National Lampoon originals and then amplifies it with sci-fi tropes and his own, build-it-as-he goes mythology around the characters.
And Alan Davis, Moore’s previous collaborator on Captain Britain and Marvelman, has rarely been as impressive as he is here. He is like the Chuck Jones and Will Eisner of intergalactic delinquency, absolutely selling the physical comedy and ridiculous emotional swings and yet providing plenty of details to make the absurd alien worlds seem three-dimensional. Comic book comedy has rarely looked as good, or seemed as funny, as it is in the hands of the Alan Davis who worked on D.R. & Quinch.
A quick rundown of a sample episode, so you can see what you’ve been missing (if you have come late to the D.R. & Quinch party, as I certainly did): the first story is a tour through human history, showing how D.R. and Quinch, time-hopping troublemakers, inadvertently shaped the course of civilization. It’s one misunderstanding after another, and the result leads to everything from the cave paintings at Lascaux to the building of the pyramids to the banana peel that was edited out of the Apollo moon landing. And, as I said, the earth blows up in the end, with Quinch’s “How I spent my summer vacation” essay providing the narrative captions along the way. Closing paragraph: “It was the best summer I ever had, pretty well, and if all kids found something interesting to do, instead of hanging round causing trouble, it’d be a better galaxy.”
The smart-guys-writing-dumb-guys genre has been a staple of comedy forever, and that’s what Moore pulls off here. In every story.
Other highlights from later chapters include the sweet romance D.R. finds himself in, which leads his beloved to a violent path all her own. Or the moment, in “D.R. & Quinch Get Drafted” when they come across an enemy officer with the exact same name as their C.O., only to realize that they had been attacking their own troops all along. Or when they go to Hollywood, of the space variety, to try to turn an ill-gotten script into a movie, and find themselves trying to con everyone into believing they know what they’re doing.
That Hollywood stuff, and Moore’s clear disdain for the entire culture of the town, presages, by decades, the disgust and indignation he would later throw at movie makers who based their schlock on his comic book properties.
Then there’s Brando, the heralded actor who cannot read, and mumbles his lines with such passionate intensity that he must be a genius.
I wonder who Moore and Davis could be poking fun at there?
In the end, D.R. and Quinch live to screw up something another day, with a delightful lack of self-awareness and an enthusiasm for what adventures tomorrow might hold.
They are the antidote to Alan Moore’s more solemn, serious, “maker-of-masterpieces” side. They are the trickster Moore, his Id unleashed. Or maybe they are just trying to have a good time, regardless of what kind of collateral damage may occur along the way.
As D.R. once said, looking back at the reader in the final panel, “Hey, that’s showbiz, man.”
NEXT TIME: Down and out with Don Simpson, In Pictopia.