Now Reading: More Alan Moore stuff

My personal Alan Moore marathon continues with V For Vendetta, my other favorite Moore classic. While not as intricately designed as Watchmen, it still tells an impressively complex tale of a fictional “future” (you know, the futuristic late 90’s) where Britain has become an Orwellian fascist nightmare and one person’s bizarre, but effective plan to start a revolution. It’s certainly a much better story than the clumsy, watered down film version, but let’s not start making those comparisons or we’ll be here all day. I would simply say this is another “must-read” comic for just about anyone.

Another one that’s a bit like the earlier days of League of Extraordinary GentlemenTop 10 is about a city where everyone has superpowers, with the focus being on the superhuman police force that has to deal with all the crazy situations that arise from a bunch of people with powers all living together. None of it is particularly complicated, but it’s all extremely well-paced and written, with a great cast of characters. It’s a shame that it was such a short-lived series, as it set up such a huge, interesting world with so many possibilities.

As usual, the original From Hell is quite a bit different than the movie version. I actually kinda like the movie, but it’s definitely a very different version of the story. The comic spends most of the time focusing on the killer and his strange motives. There is a cop who finds the killer, but he’s not at all like the Johnny Depp character and there’s no more tragic romance subplot. The original story strongly suggests that the killer has some kind of strange visions of the future and that his magic-related reasons for the killings may not have been all in his head. It’s also got some very graphic sex and violence scenes, so watch out!

Promethea is an odd one. It starts out as a familiar enough tale of superheroism, but suddenly veers into some incredibly in-depth and complex material about the interconnected nature of existence and just about everything contained in it. The pacing could maybe be a bit better, as a good 40% or so of the plot, right in the middle/end, just turns into essentially an incredibly long lecture about magic/physics/reality/the mind/etc. It’s intresting stuff, but it kind of jumps off the rails of the actual plot of the book and becomes so dense and dry at points that it feels kind of like you’re suddenly reading a textbook or manual. You just have to keep in mind that Moore‘s beliefs on the presence of magic in the history of the world are a bit…literal, so to speak. Other than that, a fun and fascinating read.

That’s enough Alan Moore for now. Time to move on to other worlds…

Now Reading: Watchmen

It’s hard to imagine that there’s anyone left that hasn’t at least heard of Watchmen by now. I’m sure there are still plenty of people who still haven’t read it though. Well, let me tell you, everything you’ve heard about it is absolutely true. You’d be hard pressed to ever find a comic that’s more perfectly constructed and paced, with the writer and artist working in such unison that there isn’t a single wasted panel or word. It really is a masterwork of the medium, with incredibly fascinating characters and a deep and disturbing plot that’s really more about simple, inherent human nature and the different ways that everyday people react to fear, than superheroes.

It’s amazing, and also maybe more than a bit depressing, that the underlying political and social themes that were relating to the Cold War nuclear scare of the 80’s here, still so closely resemble the current mood of the American masses.

Anyway, anyone that has any interest at all in comic books, even if superheroes aren’t normally your thing, should really check this out someday. It was an exceptional work of art back then, and it’s still one now. Personally, even having read it probably over a dozen times throughout the last several decades, still notice something new in its pages every time I pick it up.

Now Reading: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was never what I would call one of my favorite Alan Moore stories, but even the least exciting Moore stories are still pretty damn good. Basically, it’s a bunch of 19th century literary characters teaming up like a group of old-timey superheroes because in this world every work of fiction was apparently based on a true story. The original team consisted of people like Mr. Hyde, Nemo, and Allan Quatermain. The first two volumes are surprisingly simple for a Moore story. Sure, there’s layers upon layers of literary references scattered throughout each moment, but the main plot is very straightforward stuff. Still an excellent read, but it wasn’t until later that things started getting really dense and weird.

Things got much stranger with The Black Dossier, which was like a bizarre scrapbook filled with various prose short stories and short comic bits, all from different time periods ranging from over 1000 years BC to the 1940’s. It deals with magic, immortals, and the mysterious fourth dimension. It even includes some 3D glasses for some special bits in the end. It can be a bit dry at times, sometimes feeling more like a history textbook than a fictional narrative, but it’s certainly a unique presentation, and it adds some crazy new twists to the premise of The League. 

The third volume (because Black Dossier didn’t count as such for some reason) returns to a more standard comic book format, but continues the themes of strange extra-dimensional entities and a complex plot that spans multiple time periods. It’s a very different kind of story than the original 19th century League, but it also has ties to every story that came before it. It also features the introduction to the new Nemo, who would end up becoming the focus of the final League-related stories. It serves as a good enough ending for the saga, wrapping up most pre-existing plot threads, though still leaving enough people still standing that a sequel would be possible, though that seems extremely unlikely at this point.

The Nemo Trilogy is really more of a spinoff, covering a few key adventures throughout the life of Nemo’s daughter. It’s a bit more like the original volumes of League, as in it’s just standard straightforward adventure stuff where Nemo and crew fight against Lovecraftian horrors and Nazis and such. Not a bad read, but pretty simple stuff compared to the rest.

I’ve noticed that there were several references to and encounters with the Cthulhuverse across several of these stories over the year too. Moore sure seems to think about Cthulhu a lot, not that there’s anything wrong with that…

Now Reading: Providence

Providence is the latest (and possibly last, we’ll see) story from comic book guru Alan Moore. To put it simply, it’s a Cthulhu story that dives into the origins of the various mythologies of Cthulhu, The Necronomicon, and many other H.P. Lovecraft tales. Before getting into it further though, it’s probably important to point out that Moore’s Neonomicon should really be read first.

Neonomicon deals with somewhat the same subject matter, but it takes place in the present day and is a good deal more graphic and rapey than Providence (can’t have an Alan Moore comic without some rape, unfortunately). It introduces several key characters, that while not present for most of Providence, are still important to the end of the whole thing. There are also several locations and concepts introduced here that get re-visited and explained more thoroughly in Providence, so while I suppose you could technically read one without the other, I really wouldn’t advise it.

Anyway, Providence itself jumps back to the early 1900’s and digs deeply into the origins of the “Cthulu-verse”. Where Neonomicon was more overt in it’s horror, Providence moves at much slower, more atmospheric pace. Ex-reporter Robert Black finds himself travelling across America, searching for the secret places behind the curtains and finding much more than he bargains for. His quest begins to take him on a tour of the origins of a mysterious secret society who sprung from the teachings of a certain mysterious book, and he finds himself in some very strange situations, which he tries his hardest to be in complete denial about until it’s too late.

This approach of keeping the protagonist perpetually in the dark, while the audience clearly sees all the hidden evils lurking right behind them, doesn’t always work, but Moore pulls it off with his usual mastery of the art, turning each location that Black visits into an intricate tapestry of tension and terror. As usual with a Moore story, the design and detail of everything going on is staggering. Extremely meticulous amounts of research went into crafting this world and much thought and care was clearly put into each and every word spoken here. Everything is connected and filled with multiple meanings.

Even the title, Providence, is a clever little package of information. Providence is not only the name of Black’s ultimate destination, the town in which H.P. Lovecraft grew up and wrote his many stories, but it also literally means “the protective care of God or of nature as a spiritual power” and “timely preparation for future eventualities”, which are both highly relevant to what’s really going on in this story and also very interestingly used here, as for some reason, the word providence tends to be used in an inherently positive context, with an assumption that the being behind it has benevolent intentions, but nothing about the word or its definitions ever actually specify a moral stance.

So if you have any interest in Cthulhu/Lovecraftian horror, the patience for what is an extremely dense read for a comic book, and the stomach for some occasionally very disturbing content, check this out. I hope that it’s not really the last comic Alan Moore ever writes, as he has recently claimed, but at least if it is, he sure as hell went out on a high note. Now I guess I’ll be re-reading Alan Moore stuff again for the next month…

Now Reading: Miracleman

Miracleman, originally called Marvelman, was originally a blatant Captain Marvel/Shazam ripoff, but upon his revival in the early 80s by THE ORIGINAL WRITER, he became one of the earliest examples of a superhero comic trying to be painfully realistic. Miracleman confronts his goofy secret origin, meets his creator, wrestles with his own godliness, and reaches the only natural conclusion that a godlike superbeing could reach, that he and the few others like him should run the world. This occurred a bit before Gruenwald did it in Squadron Supreme, and was of course, with THE ORIGINAL WRITER involved, a great deal more graphic about it.

It’s not the greatest work of THE ORIGINAL WRITER, but it was still a very memorable series while it lasted and under the Comico label, was able to deal with much more mature and dark issues than the other mainstream superhero books were allowed to touch on at the time. Neil Gaiman picked up the title after THE ORIGINAL WRITER left, but the publisher went under right before the last issue of his second arc, The Silver Age, leaving us with arguably the worst case of comic book blue balls in history. Amazingly though, since Marvel picked up the rights and reprinted all the old stuff over the last few years, they have finally made a deal with Gaiman to come back and finish the story, which is supposed to be happening sometime this year. Maybe he’ll even get to do the final arc he had planned, The Dark Age. We shall see.

Anyway, despite the way these modern Marvel reprints are disgustingly overpriced and packed full of filler “extras” pages (literally only 50% or less of each volume is actual story), they remain the best, and realistically the only, way to physically enjoy this essential classic series.