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 56th installment.
Mostly, my reread of Tomorrow Stories has made me want to go back and take another look at Rick Veitch’s Greyshirt: Indigo Sunset series from a decade ago. Rick Veitch’s Eisnerian pages from Tomorrow Stories promise so much greatness, and an entire series devoted to the Spirit clone gone wild feels like just the thing to perk me up after slogging through the last six-to-eight issues of Alan Moore’s wacky anthology series.
But I don’t recall Greyshirt: Indigo Sunset holding my interest very long when it first came out—the absence of Alan Moore was palpable—and this still isn’t The Great Rick Veitch Reread, so I suppose we should march onward with these lesser Alan Moore comics. I wish they were better. You deserve it.
As I mentioned last week, Tomorrow Stories was Moore’s playground for short little sometimes near-brilliant ideas and pastiches of other comic book modes that he didn’t care to expand into full series. I also mentioned that the first six issues were not among his best comics, but you’d find plenty to enjoy in any single issue.
The same may be true for the final six issues, along with the much-later two-issue follow-up release, but any enthusiasm I had for Tomorrow Stories—and I didn’t have a ton to begin with—was drowned in a flood of similar-looking gags and implicit laugh tracks. Flipping back through the second half of this series reminds me that any one of these issues would be just fine as a diversion. If you picked up one of these comics in a dollar bin, and read it amidst a random sampling of other comics, it might even seem like a particularly intelligent comic that didn’t take itself seriously at all.
But reading all the issues in a row? That’s not something I’d recommend.
It’s kind of like watching a bunch of Twilight Zone episodes back-to-back, with the Mystery Science Theater 3000 guys yammering in your ear, while you’re drinking chocolate milk and eating an everything bagel with smoked salmon. Again and again.
Tomorrow Stories#7-12 (America’s Best Comics, June 2000-April 2002)
Tomorrow Stories Special#1-2 (America’s Best Comics, Jan. 2006-May 2006)
What a depressingly grotesque lead-in, hey? Well, I can’t follow it up with much in the way of a substantial critique of any individual stories in the anthology, because on their own, any of these brief installments are just fine. Nice little nuggets of comic bookiness. It’s the cumulative effect that harder to enjoy, so let me approach it this way: if you had only twelve minutes left to live and you had to read one issue of Tomorrow Stories before the encroaching darkness and distant lights from worlds beyond, which issue would be the most worthwhile?
It certainly wouldn’t be Tomorrow Stories #8 or #12, or Special #2. Those you can skip and feel good about the decision.
Maybe it’s issue #10, with “Why the Long Face?” starring rural boy genius Jack B. Quick and his adventure with extra-terrestrials? In that story—drawn with typically startling grace and charm by Kevin Nowlan—young Jack flips the tradition by abducting an alien instead of letting an alien abduct him. It’s a one-note gag that’s played out with style, but it’s not enough to make it the issue worthy of deathbed attention
Tomorrow Stories#11 is a better pick, with the Greyshirt tale “Vermin” about Hitler and his pals reincarnated as cockroaches. They hold a torchlight rally. Form a giant (to them) swastika on the kitchen floor. And end up in the gas chamber of a roach motel. It’s all done in the most incredible bad taste and Moore and Veitch seem to take gleeful joy in the proceedings. Probably inappropriate for your final comic book of this mortal coil.
No, it would be Tomorrow Stories #7 that has more significant comic book entertainments for your last-minutes-on-Earth-pleasure. This issue has not just one, but three short tales that could lift your waning spirits. It opens with “A Bigger Splash,” a strong Splash Brannigan outing where the inky prankster visits an art museum and takes on the entire history of representational and abstract art. And more! It’s an art history nerd’s paradise of a slapstick comic book, suitable for an adjunct professorship at Raw University.
But that’s not all!
Because issue #7 also gives us the delightfully drawn “Grooveweb,” a story in which Melinda Gebbie channels the underground comix of the late 1960s and 1970s to provide a satirical look on the sexualized boundary-smashing-but-ultimately-silly comics of the time. Plus, Greyshirt returns in “How’s My Driving?” and we get a story told entirely through a static point of view, out of a car windshield, as a cabbie gets into trouble and we witness everything from the back seat. The commitment to the conceit is admirable, but it’s probably not enough, not when….
Tomorrow Stories#9 gives us three superior stories in the form of “The Origin of the First American,” “Splash of Two Worlds,” and “Greyshirt: The Musical.” The first story details the unlikely backstory of Alan Moore and Jim Baikie’s patriotic hero, a muscle bound paragon who was catapulted by his irresponsible parents into space where he was bombarded by cosmic rays and then bitten by radioactive spiders when a canister of Isotope-X was dropped on his head before the electrical storm mixed with the chemicals and the gamma bomb explosion. “The Splash of Two Worlds” pits Splash against a doppelganger made from white-out, in what is sure to be remembered as “that time Splash Brannigan battled a guy who looked like him, but the opposite.” And then there’s “Greyshirt: The Musical,” which demands that the reader break into song to fully appreciate the comedy of “There’s perpetrators, and haters, and lovers as well! There’s all the sooners, the laters, the heaven, and hell…” but, you know, with musical notes in the margins of the word balloons.
I know I had fun belting it out, to the annoyance of my family.
Probably not what you want to waste your final breaths on, though.
So that leaves one last choice. The comic that you can spend your last few minutes with. A sentimental elegy that has more heart than all the rest of the issues combined: Tomorrow Stories Special #1.
Though the entire issue isn’t a must-read, the first issue of the Special features a 12-page “Greyshirt Primer,” laid out like a children’s book channeling Will Eisner’s style and providing an overt intersection through which Moore and Veitch can pay direct tribute to Eisner and the Spirit. “Z is our Zenith,” says the primer, “the wisdom he’d teach / The zone he began that we’d scarcely reach. / Zeus of our pantheon, peerless and great, / Zodiac guiding our new medium’s fate. / And though we zoom out now and say our goodbyes / His zest was for life, and that zeal never dies.”
That’s not funny at all. But it’s true. And that’s all you need in the end.
NEXT TIME: Ripped from the pages of classic literature: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen