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 37th installment.
Alan Moore not only detailed the adventures of Jim Lee’s WildC.A.T.s team in their own series, and chronicled their futuristic adventures in the Spawn-ocalypse, but he also explored the characters in a variety of one-shots and miniseries. Like much of Moore’s mid-1990s comic book work, it reads like a creator trying to reach out blindly with a stick to feel what kind of readers exists in that shadowy world called the Image era. It’s not that he seems less confident as a creator during this period, but he certainly seems more willing to pander to the perceived audience, as we saw in Spawn/WildC.A.T.s, and yet with the Wildstorm spin-off comics he experimented with some different approaches. Some would be cerebral in a classic sci-fi mold while others would be exploitative and trashy.
These three one-shots and miniseries aren’t the works of a writer at the height of his career. No, these are among his weakest superhero offerings, as a whole, but they aren’t all without interest. Here we see an Alan Moore playing around, looking for something to grab onto, some angle, as he explores third-generation photocopies of Supermen and warrior-strippers who fight demons and military assassins birthed because Jim Lee liked the way Frank Miller’s art looked in Sin City. Hardly the stuff dreams are made of.
And, in the end, Moore would find himself working for DC Comics once again, reluctantly.
“Majestic: The Big Chill,” Wildstorm Spotlight #1 (Wildstorm/Image Comics, Feb. 1997)
Of all the WildC.A.T.s spin-offs, not just by Alan Moore but by anyone, this is probably the single most interesting and worthwhile issue. Perhaps because he only has a single issue to work with, or perhaps because he had already explored the more active side of Mr. Majestic in the main WildC.A.T.s series, this one-off is primarily a meditation on existence disguised as a superhero comic.
I don’t know that it’s a shockingly profound meditation on existence, but it has a kind of poetic soul that’s completely absent from the rest of Moore’s mid-1990s work. It also features the best artwork of Carlos D’Anda’s career, before or since.
D’Anda’s not a stereotypical Image artist working in the Rob Liefeld/Jim Lee/Marc Silvestri style, but even in his best non-“Majestic: The Big Chill” comics, he’s a journeyman storyteller who places blocky characters against blocky backgrounds and moves from one panel to the next without any particular grace. He’s the guy you’d get to draw a giveaway comic about Superman teaching kids about the evils of cyberbullying with help from the sponsors at Best Buy. That comic doesn’t really exist. But if it did, D’Anda’s the guy who would probably end up drawing it, keeping any semblance of a flashy style away from the minds of impressionable readers.
Here D’Anda, inked by Richard Friend, explores the page with zeal. There’s beauty in here not throughout, but enough and when the story reaches its climax, it’s D’Anda and Friend that give it the visual power it deserves.
“The Big Chill” begins at the end of the world, as mortal life reaches its conclusion. Majestic now gray-haired provides the narrative commentary: “Mortal life. So. That’s that then. Of course, strictly speaking, the Bush-Robots of Vondar were a digitized echo of mortal life. Organic life itself mostly vanished millennia ago.”
But thought mortal life, even the mechanical echo of it, is now gone, a few living beings remain. “Nine of us,” says Majestic, in his narration, “the last time I counted.”
These immortals, the last of any sort of life in the universe—a group of unlike beings such as Gemeth, the enlightened engine, Lord Math, abstract spirit of arithmetic, and the Wandering Jew now consider what to do with themselves as the stars go out and everything starts to freeze. Searching for something, some glimmer of hope, they journey outward, knowing there is nothing out there.
But, a signal, a beacon, calls to them. The prospect of life, somewhere distant. All they find is a derelict startship. Eucrastia, the vampire goddess, and Majestic, reflect on the purpose of it all: “ if all our war had never happened,” says Majestic, “this last darkness would not be remotely changed. All that fighting, all without a final point.”
“And what of love?” asks Eucrastia.
Majestic has no experience with love. He was too busy, he says with “campaigns and adventures.”
Eucrastia provides a response that illuminates the theme of the story, and shows Alan Moore’s humanistic perspective on superhero stories, and, seemingly, his perspective on life: “Love is not war. Love is not struggling towards a goal; towards a point love is the point.”
They consummate their relationship as absolute darkness encroaches.
Perhaps, in my summary, it seems a facile love story, perhaps too pleadingly obvious in its thematic declarations, but it’s still a touching moment, and a refutation of the superhero clichés about constant fight scenes and neverending combat. Here, as the entire universe comes to an end, love is the thing that matters. It’s always been what has mattered.
Then Majestic meets god.
But it’s not the Judeo-Christian God, though he appears to Majestic with a flowing beard that alludes to such. This is a techno-organic god, with tendrils that reach out and encompass Majestic. A god who will soon close the door on this universe and birth a new one with divine light.
This god is the creature Majestic once knew as Hadrian, the Spartan of the WildC.A.T.s billions of years in the past. He has gained a super-sentience and an omnipotence. He is a kind of superconductor of pure thought now, and, as the god says, “a single thought, reamplified and echoed, could set all the universe ablaze!”
So Majestic, enveloped by the being who was once Hadrian, thinks a single thought, “there really should be light.”
And there is.
And it was good.
Voodoo#1-4 (Wildstorm/Image Comics, Nov. 1997 March 1998)
In the Wildstorm mythos, such as they were circa 1997, Voodoo was the sexy, vulnerable-but-hard-edged demon-hunter of the WildC.A.T.s team. She was a former stripper turned superhero. Last year, DC rebranded and relaunched Voodoo in her own ongoing series as part of the New 52. In that series she was a sexy, vulnerable-but-hard-edged demon-hunter. Only she was mostly on the run, so she didn’t do much hunting.
The DC series changed writers before the opening arc was over and it’s now marching toward cancellation later this year.
The doom of the recent Voodoo series was foretold a decade-and-a-half earlier, when even Alan Moore couldn’t make the character worth reading.
His four-issue Voodoo miniseries is among the worst comics he’s ever written. It lacks the insane excesses of even Violator vs. Badrock and it certainly doesn’t come close to his more lovingly-written yet-deconstructive superhero work from his heyday in the 1980s. Unlike other “bad” Alan Moore comics, of which there aren’t very many, Voodoo would be considered weaker work from anyone. We’re not grading this one on a scale. It’s just a poor comic, all-around.
I struggled to finish reading it.
The basic premise of the story is that Voodoo has left the WildC.A.T.s behind and journeyed down to New Orleans on her own. She never dons her superhero costume in the series, though she does mention that part of her past and seems dismissive of it. What this miniseries basically gives us is a trashy crime-and-supernatural story about a character named Voodoo drawn into real Voodoo troubles.
There’s a crimelord who bathes in the blood of the not-so-innocent, and mythic archetypes from Louisiana Voodoo legends with our hero trapped in the middle, learning to tap into true Voodoo power for the first time.
Plus, lots of sexy stripping scenes.
This miniseries doesn’t read like Alan Moore writing a parody of an Image comic, it reads like Alan Moore writing a dull version of an Anne Rice novel, using a former superhero in the lead role. And the art by Al Rio and Michael Lopez gives the whole thing a trashy and desperately-trying-to-be-sexy look that does fit the story, but, like the story, isn’t much worth looking at.
Alan Moore did the Voodoo stuff a whole lot better in his Swamp Thing run, and he would go on to explore the junction of sex and mysticism a whole lot better in his later work on Promethea, which makes Voodoo a weird, sleazy rest stop along the way.
Deathblow: Byblows (Wildstorm/DC Comics, Nov. 1999 Jan. 2000)
Though Alan Moore vowed never to work for DC Comics again, after what he felt was their mistreatment of him after the release of Watchmen, when Jim Lee’s Wildstorm Productions was acquired by DC Comics (officially in January 1999), Moore found himself published by the DC offices once again.
Deathblow: Byblows a three-issue miniseries sort of featuring Jim Lee’s ultra-violent special ops agent was merely of ancillary interest at that point. By the time of its publication, Moore had already created the “America’s Best Comics” line within Wildstorm, featuring a handful of original series written by Moore that I’ll discuss in much greater detail in a few weeks, and some conspiracy theorists among us might say that DC’s purchase of Wildstorm was driven by an interest in bringing Alan Moore’s work back under company control. That doesn’t seem likely, as DC’s purchase of Wildstorm was, by all accounts, in the works before Moore’s creative explosion in 1999 with series like Tom Strong, Top 10, Promethea, and Tomorrow Stories.
Still, the situation led to the release of Deathblow: Byblows under the masthead of a company that it wasn’t originally written for (though Wildstorm did keep its own logo to differentiate it from the main DC lineup), and because Moore had just launched a line of new, original creations, this miniseries didn’t get much attention when it came out. Honestly, I thought I had been paying to attention to Moore’s output ever since the 1980s, but I never realized he wrote a Deathblow comic until I saw it mentioned in the back of George Khoury’s The Extraordinary Works of Alan Moore.
An Alan Moore Deathblow comic? What would that even be like?
Turns out, it’s like a mix of his two-part Vigilante tale (complete with then-collaborator Jim Baikie providing the art once again) and an extended 2000 AD “Future Shock.” It seems, by the late 1990s, Moore had abandoned his attempts to give the Image-era audience what he thought they wanted and just went back to telling the kinds of stories that amused him.
Deathblow: Byblows is a wasteland comic a story about a post-apocalyptic landscape and a ragged, gun-toting savage of a young lady who must survive the harsh environment, with its mutant leopards and cyborg killers and mandrill-men. It’s minimalistic Moore, with a silent opening scene and a female protagonist who rarely speaks and seems uninterested in reflection. She’s a woman of action, in a world that demands it.
Genevieve Cray, our nomadic, primitive-but-deadly hero, turns out to be the clone of Michael Cray, the original Deathblow. And this post-apocalyptic world is populated by Cray variations, most of whom are nothing more than heads on sticks, since the alpha clone, a creature calling himself Judgement Cray, has taken to decapitating all of his competition.
The twist of the story is that this is no post-apocalyptic landscape at all. In M. Night Shymalan fashion, this time-tossed landscape is actually embedded within our reality of today. The Cray clones are lab experiments. The post-apocalyptic battle ground is their testing area.
Genevieve escapes to discover this truth, and defeats Judgement Cray on the way out. The final scene shows her heading out into the streets of New York, for who knows what adventures.
Symbolically, the multiple Crays represent the variations of the Michael Cray persona. So while Deathblow, as a character, never appears in this story (because he’s dead, and his death has triggered the clone emergence), it’s still a story about that character. It’s as if we’re inside his mind, watching the facets of his personality interact. Judgement Cray even proposes that such a scenario is literally playing itself out. He’s convinced that he’s the real Michael Cray, and he’s trapped inside his own mind, fighting against the other parts of his identity.
In the end, it’s really just a violent action comic with a “Future Shock” twist, which is something Moore knows well. And unlike Voodoo, this miniseries has a sense of humor about itself. It acknowledges its own absurdity as it plays around in the weird, fabricated sci-fi world in which it exists.
It’s not an Alan Moore masterpiece, and it’s not even as insightful as the Mr. Majestic one-shot, but at least it’s an entertaining three issues with an unorthodox take on an ultraviolent military hero. It’s better than Voodoo, but so is almost everything else in the world.