Monday, 13 December 2010

3 More Great Comic Books! (10 Great Comics Number 3 of 3)

In which the blogger concludes his discussion of 10 books he can find nothing bad about at all to speak of. The imaginary rules which guided these choices, and the first 7 comics on this list, can be found in the previous two blog entries below;

8. "Detective Comics", # 478; "Sign Of The Joker", writer, Steve Engelhart, artists, Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin

I was fifteen years old when I first read "Sign Of The Joker", and there were two things about it that really did puzzle me. Firstly, whyever was Silver St. Cloud running away from a love affair from The Batman, and, secondly, why didn't I feel that she'd in any way made the wrong decision?

Now, of course, I know that she was better off out of it. The constant sense of threat, the endless conflict, the inevitability of psychological if not physical harm; watching Bruce Wayne dressed in his bat costume balanced on a girder suspended above Gotham River dodging both acid spray from the Joker's lapel and lightning bolts from the heavens merely confirmed for Ms St. Cloud that a sane existence isn't compatible with a Batman for a groom.

Silver St. Cloud knew that she needed a saner existence than that, and she quite rightly escaped from what would have no doubt been a short and tragic career as Mrs Batman, the dearly beloved hostage and victim. Only a superhero fan used to staring at a comic-book world through the point-of-view of the folks wearing the costumes could ever see such a choice as anything other than sensible.

But then, to superhero fans, it was hard to make sense out of Silver St Cloud in so many ways. She simply didn't behave as the girl-friend of a superhero should. She was loyal, but she wasn't in any way deferent. She was demonstratively brave, but her courage seemed to exist as a quality of her own rather than as a means to propel her into conflicts which only a boyfriend in a pointy-eared mask could solve. (She could prevent a security guard from calling the police to arrest Batman and fiercely insult Boss Thorne without any sign that she needed a superhero to chaperon her.) She was admirably independent enough to hand

back a lifetime's pass to the Bat-Cave, and yet she didn't weep when she did so. She was upset, but she was dignified and she didn't weep. But that's what most women did in superhero books in such circumstances. Whether it was a tiny sniffy jewel of a tear, or great tidal waves of sobbing, most women wept.

Silver St. Cloud had none of those markers of absolute dependence, of a lack of initiative and the absence of secure attachment, which allowed us to readily believe that, for example, Janet would fall for Henry, or Carol for Ray. Ms St Cloud was a woman and not an adolescent girl. She was intelligent,

independent, competent, beautiful and exceptionally rich. Her life wasn't ever going to be empty of meaning and achievement even if she didn't chose to marry the millionaire and clearly-deeply disturbed Bruce Wayne. She was tough and she was smart. She'd survive. She was nobody's sidekick and deserved to be nobody's much-missed victim of a vengeance-justifying super-villain attack either.

There might be a temptation to look down on Silver St. Cloud, to consider her weak for not standing by her man. To such a judgement might be added a measure of the contempt that's often granted to those who've been blessed by the good fortune of unearned great wealth and considerable beauty. But for all that I fall far more on the side of the cause of egalitarianism than I do to the creed of the New Right, I can't see how Ms St. Cloud can be blamed for being born rich and the owner of those fine genes which promote good teeth and high cheekbones, especially given that she shows evidence of so many personal qualities worthy of respect.

No, even though I couldn't work out how anybody wouldn't love, marry, cherish and be murdered for a super-hero, I also knew that she was right. Silver St. Cloud was better off out of it.

9. "Swamp Thing", book 57; "Exiles", writer, Alan Moore, artists, Rick Veitch & Alfredo Alcala

There's nothing more frightening in any comic book than a Thanagarian diplomatic mission seeking a "free exchange of information". The fascist, imperialist Hawkpeople of "Exiles" remain a far, far more terrifying threat than any Dracula, Dr Doom or even Darkseid could ever be, because they're so recognisably of our own world. They're the amoral and militaristic practitioners of realpolitik. They're the Greeks bearing gifts. They're the folks

without mercy, but with the grand strategic plans, and they have the same contempt for the ordinary women and man as Keel Roo and Scira Ek have in "Exiles" for Adam Strange. The appalling attack of these Hawk creatures upon the Swamp Thing as he tries to heal the ruined and radioactive eco-system of Rann is for me one of the few superhero fight scenes which can still inspire genuine anxiety. The stakes are so high, the weapons being used so disgustingly invasive, the revulsion inspired by the Thanagarians so intense; it's as if Alan Moore had abstracted everything that's depraved and repellent about the culture of Nazism and then fused it with this imaginary off-world society in order to bring home with the shock of the new how these people, or any people like them, from any political system of any kind, must never be trusted or tolerated.

Mr Moore's wasn't presenting an entirely new version of the peoples of Hawkworld in "Exiles". The Thanagarians had been depicted as an authoritarian race before, more notably in Tony Isabella's thoroughly enjoyable "Shadow War Of Hawkman" series, which really does deserve to be reappraised and reprinted. But Moore turned a formidably hostile alien race into a

recognisably fascist culture. Instead of a people of mostly-identical Hawkmen prone to be corrupted and then redeemed by various individual leaders, Mr Moore and the exquisite art team of Rick Veitch and Alfred Alcala provided us the informing details of Thanagar's military/diplomatic hierarchy, with its language of deception and domination, and with the stomach-turning stench of the assumption of racial superiority which marks every panel of the Hawkwomen and men in this book. Here is the rank and protocol and phraseology of the fascist state, and the straight-faced and yet clearly sneering contempt by which these Thanagarians judge everyone and everything beyond their own narrow mission is enough to make this reader's fists begin to ball. Alan Moore's loathing for the authoritarian mind-set saturates this book, and it will give nothing away to a reader who's never read "Exiles" to note that things do not end well for these Hawkpeople.

"We Terrans may not be much on the eight basic principles of aerial inertia tactics ... but we are complete bastards." explains Adam Strange to the drowned corpse of Keel Ro.

Well, she deserved it.

1o. "Superman Adventures, # 25; "(Almost) The World's Finest Team", writer, Mark Millar, artists, Mike Manley & Terry Austin

Mark Millar's "Superman Adventures" aren't simply a joy to read, though they certainly are that. They're also the irrefutable proof that he's a highly skilled professional craftsman with an impressive command of the more traditional forms of comicbook storytelling. Too often he's judged solely with reference to a partial understanding of his post-millennium style, to his widescreen, summer-blockbuster approach to harnessing much of the appeal of the movies while maintaining the distinct strengths of superhero comic books. And because much of that more recent work, from "The Authority" through the "Ultimates" and on to the Millarworld superbooks of today, is so very idiosyncratic and single-minded in its approach, there's a tendency at times for folks to miss the fact that Millar's 21st century work is built upon an absolute command of the basic language of the Silver-Age superhero tale. He can pull off the grand extremes of a "Nemesis" or a "Kick-Ass" because he knows, and has clearly and consistently shown, how to write the likes of the Flash, the Justice League and, in particular, Superman in an intensely respectful and concise form.

In "(Almost) The World's Finest Team", Millar has The Mad Hatter kidnap Bruce Wayne, a conceit which allows him to convincingly pair a feisty and impressively competent Batgirl with his own take of a thoroughly decent and dignified Superman. There's nothing arch about how Mr Millar approaches these characters; there's no irony on show, or knowing nudges in the text to show that he's a more sophisticated and modern-minded writer than the subject matter might otherwise allow. In fact, his work on "Superman Adventures" was as likely to escape critical acclaim because it didn't seek to draw attention to itself as his later work is often attacked for being the product of a man with no respect for tradition and too much concern for himself. The question isn't, of course. which of these writers is the "real" Mark Millar, the modest scribe or the Hollywood hustler? The fact is that different properties require different approaches, just as writers at different stages of their lives have distinct and different things to say for themselves in their work. Here, Millar was intent on establishing that he was a reliable pair of hands with a trustworthy command of scriptwriting, as well as presenting a take on the character of Superman which reflected Millar's fundamental affection for the man of steel and the moral values most commonly associated with him. It's a version of Superman which deserves to be ranked in the front row of work on the character, but sadly, because of the title's low profile, and because of the fact that "Superman Adventures" was supposedly a "kid's" book about a non-continuity version of Kal-El, it's a comic that's rarely granted the respect it's owed.

Present in this all-ages, will-not-frighten-the-censors, comic book are a great deal of the techniques which would later come to be associated with Millar's writing style. The splash page is a typically intense affair, the story is arranged around a series of spectacular superhero-fan-pleasing scenes, and Millar works hard to make sure each character on display has an absolutely distinctive personality on the page. Readers new to "(Almost) The World's Finest Team" will note, for example, water-cooler moments the likes of which would be quite familiar components of Mr Millar's later work; the scene in which Robin launches the Bat-Plane with a cry of "Let's party!" is in many ways the equivalent of Tony Stark blasting off in his ultimate universe armour, a great celebration of the opportunities for fun that the superhero can bring. (The exuberance of the art by Mike Manley and Terry Austin perfectly matches the sheer good cheer of the script.) Yet, matched with these superheroic moments here is a conscious and constant fidelity to the moral principles historically associated with the World's Finest team. A stern but decent Batman's closing speech in praise of Superman's effectiveness is one example of that, as is Superman's advice to Batgirl that "you don't have to break someone's ribs to solve a case".

Unpretentious, disciplined, life-affirming and fun. I'd recommend it.

Thank you for reading.
I really do wish a splendid day to you all. "Stick together!", as Superman would say.



  1. I'm late, but I'll add the top books coming to mind:

    Flash #0-- this is what super hero comics are all about. This is why Waid is a living legend.

    Planetary #12-- I Get chills (no pun intended) when Elijah gets his mojo back.

    Immortal Iron Fist #1-- it was clear this was the beginning of something special.

    X-Men Vol.2 #1-- that's my childhood in one comic.

    Starman: Sand & Stars-- that whole trade is brilliance. This might be cheating, but I can't choose one issue.

    Batman & Robin #1-- there's an understated brilliance about this issue in every panel.

    All Star Superman #12-- the perfect ending to one of the best comics ever.

    Astro City 1/2-- there isn't a comic I love more. There probably never will be.

    X-Men/Teen Titans-- good old super hero fun. There's something profoundly innocent and awesome about it all.

    Robin #1-- DC made me want this ongoing and there wasn't an issue where Dixon disappointed.

  2. Hello Arune:- you're not late, I assure you. Thanks for leaving your choices.

    There are several of your choices that I either very nearly picked myself or later wondered why I hadn't. Astro City 1/2 is one that's been mentioned in the comments before & it's certainly a comic which I feel I should have chosen. It's one of three tales dealing with the lost dead in superhero universes that I'm immensely fond of, the other two being by Alan Brennert and dealing with Supergirl's soul after Crisis & the passing on of the original Black Canary. They're all three of them brilliant.

    Flash # 0 came hard on the heels of TROBA, if memory serves me right. I note you've a taste for superhero books with some emotional depth to them as well as some more traditional and enjoyable fare. Starman, All-Star Superman, Flash, Astro City and Planetary are all books about recognisable people who can do remarkable things rather than just about the remarkable things themselves.

    There's not a book on your list I haven't enjoyed reading, but I'm surprised to find myself feeling so warmly about the Claremont/Simonson X-Men/Teen Titans book. I haven't thought about it in years and now you mention it, I feel that I really ought to go and read it before I call it a night here. I appreciate you reminding me of it. I have some very fond memories tied up in that book.

    Thanks for your picks, Arune! I hope the day has treated you well.

  3. "Return of Barry Allen" was a story I kind of kicked myself for not thinking of. Swamp Thing 57 is a dark horse of a favorite from that run, but it's as good as you say. And, wow, Marshall Rogers drew some of the most attractive women in comics. Haven't read the Spirit story or Superman Adventures, but I'm sure I will sometime soon.

    My other picks were:

    New Mutants 40: Magneto vs. The Avengers! And they don't know he's a good guy! A story of love and loyalty, loaded with action, in which 2 enemies unite to save the souls of children. All the good aspects of Claremont's writing are on display, and Jackson Guice's art works nicely.

    Starman 29: Robinson & Harris introduce Bobo Benetti, an old-time super-villain who may or may not commit one last robbery. Robinson presented the readers with a great new character, one whose motives and fortune change by happenstance. Standout scenes include Bobo inviting Jack to come talk to him despite the latter being assigned to tail him, and the climax at the bank. Harris' art was gorgeous, rich with detail without sacrificing flow or clarity.

    JLA 15: the climax to "Rock of Ages." Will the Injustice Gang figure out Green Arrow's deception? What's the ace up Batman's sleeve? How can the Martian Manhunter possibly stop an all-powerful Joker? So darn fun, and my favorite issue of Morrison's JLA.

    Tomb of Dracula (can't remember the issue) in which Dracula fights Janus for the 1st time.Colan & Palmer, my favorite art team of all time, turn in another splendid issue. Marv Wolfman writes a powerful story about fate, pride, grief, and family. As heartbreaking as it is exciting.

    New Gods, "The Pact:" another heartbreaking family story, Kirby!!! style.

    Suicide Squad: Apokalips issues (mid-30s): How tough is Amanda Waller? Tough enough to stand up to Granny Goodness. Duchess sets her plans in motion, and, lots and lots of carnage later, the team will never be the same. John Ostrander & Co. craft some of the most tensely enjoyable comics I've ever read, and Kirby's characters are treated right. The highlight might be the brief Kanto vs. Count Vertigo encounter.

    Seven Soldiers: Frankenstein: Doug Mahnke went from an artist I sort of liked to a favorite in one mini-series. Morrison's badass Frankenstein (Agent of S.H.A.D.E.) was my favorite character from the event, one who dealt out appropriately nasty punishment to evil more grotesque than himself.

    This has been fun, and I thank you for the good vibes. Woo-hoo, comics!

    - Mike Loughlin

  4. Hello Mike:- I'm glad you had some fun with your choices. I'm amazed at how many comics you've mentioned that I'd both forgotten and, once reminded, want to read. For example, I thoroughly enjoyed Morrison's Frankenstein. I even love the appearance of the character in Morrison's Crisis in a double-page spread driving a motor-bike across an urban wasteland; he makes every other character from the DC pantheon there look like a second-ranker.

    Similarly the Suicide Squad's Apokolips adventure. I don't think those issues survived my constant moving in the late Nineties, but hope fully the new collection from DC will sell and we'll get the later issues collected too.

    It's strange how much the Fourth World influences the various choices in these comments as well as my own picks. Almost 50% of your choices above link to it. To think that Kirby's Gods were regarded as commercial failures in their time, when so much commercial success has come from the characters and concepts therein. How much richer might the DCU be if Kirby has just been allowed to continue working on those properties?

    I'm having problems with Starman as I read it, which I think I need to deal with; why should I be finding it far less enjoyable now? And I'm afraid that even my past enjoyment of the X-Men is being coloured by their current adventures, which is both daft and unfair of me.

    The Tomb Of Dracula? I recall just entering my teens and buying a string of issues with my X-Mas money. That was simply THE book of 74/75. I'm afraid to go back and read it, actually. I'm not comfoprtable with Mr Wolfman's style these days, although I respect his work and achievments highly. But I'm not sure I want to qualify my memories with later judgements ..

    But the temptation is there after reading that word I've not read in that context for years: Janus ...

  5. Huh, now I see what you meant about my choice of Englehart's Batman run. Given that Hugo Strange is rumoured to be in the next Nolan flick, I wonder if it'll be the story bible for the script?

  6. Hello Emmet:- well, if it is, I expect Steve Engelhart'll have something to say about it. I'm sure you know that he claims with some conviction and evidence that his two Batman runs - "my" pick and "yours" - were the basis of the big tent Batman movies from the late '80s onwards. Anyone that doesn't know of his case might care to visit and then work around from there.

  7. To learn what the Rannians were saying in Swamp Thing #57-58, read the online Swamp Thing Annotations at

  8. Hello Greg! Good to hear from you.

    Greg's Swamp Thing site IS genuingly well worth a visit, and I'm not just saying that because he's been kind to TooBusyThinkingAboutMyComics before!

  9. I'd been waiting to see what your final selections would be, and was glad to see that I thought of a couple - Moore's Swamp Thing and Millar's Superman Adventures. I'm surprised by the Swamp Thing choice, however. In the spirit of the exercise, I expected the issue where Swamp Thing and Abby "make love" for the first time. Such beautiful art involved in that one too, to match Moore's elegant prose. That's as positive a portrayal of love between two beings as I can imagine. But it's difficult to find much fault with Moore's run on the character in any respect, especially when considered by its contemporaries. Enjoyable exercise!

  10. Hello Brian:- good call on my choices. I fear that my picks were a good deal less interesting than those of the good commenters here. And yet as predictable as I find my choices were in retrospect,they still surprise me! Keeping by those rules I'd put up playfully meant "first choice best choice", and so whereas in retrospect I would normally think, as you say, of Swampie and Abby eating of the psychedelic fruit of his flesh, if I may put it so, or of the first episode in the Demon trilogy, I went for Adam being a "right bastard". Still, I must say, I think I may prefer that, though I didn't know it ...

    I'm glad you thought the exercise was enjoyable. Should I ever do it again, perhaps a new "rule" might be that every "classic" on the list has to be replaced by a book that most wouldn't regard as classic at all. Favourite unpopular comic books?

  11. Growing up, Tomb of Dracula was this mysterious comic I could never afford that all the older guys at the local comic book shop liked. Marvel released a few reprints in the '90s (Wedding of Dracula one-shot, the Tomb of Dracula "megazine") that I devoured. I found a few issues on my own, and was always left wanting more. Finally, the Essential volumes were released, after *years* of waiting.

    I was afraid the comics themselves would disappoint. They didn't. Wolfman hasn't written anything comparable, even his famed Teen Titans comics. You have to get past that '70s wordiness (not always bad) and be able to go with the melodrama, but the characterization, mood, and plots work. Colan & Palmer remain stellar.

    Then again, that' only my experience. If you don't want to tarnish your memories, that's perfectly understandable. I think we've all revisited things that were best left in our past.

    Like Starman, maybe? I reread the series a few years ago, and the flaws were more glaring (does everyone in the DCU have some sort of collecting hobby?). I don't know if I'll do that again. The Bobo issue, however, was still good fun.

    - Mike Loughlin

  12. Oh - I've thought of another one. Excalibur #91, I believe, by Warren Ellis, otherwise known as the 'one where they go to the pub'.

    A great counterpoint to the issues of X-Men when the team let their hair down by playing baseball, Ellis simply has his merry band of Anglo-centric mutants down a couple of pints to get over the stress of recent events.

    Funny stuff all round. I particularly liked Nightcrawler's idea of instituting it as a regular event.

  13. Hello Mike:- getting hold of Tomb Of Dracula was always relatively easy in the UK and relatively cheap too, apart from an 18 month in the early/mid-70s when NO Marvel US monthlies were being imported at all, so I guess I would've been one of those "older guys" suggesting you try it out. But the Marvel B & W horror mags were expensive and hard to get and they still have a power over me, a sense not just of HORROR but of HORROR IN AN UNFAMILIAR FORMAT with SLEEZE-MAGAZINE COVERS! It was rare that any of those comics were particularly well written; they were competent rather than outstanding, although I retain a particular fondness for Planet Of The Apes. Mostly, the comics disappointed me, even as the package was strangely thrilling. I'm glad TOD didn't disappoint you. If I were a rich man - and yes, I heard the refrain from the song there - I'd invest in the grand Marvel colour doorstops.

    The Starman quandry; it feels terribly sentimental on re-reading, but that's just the first 2 recent collections. More research on my part required, I suspect.

  14. Emmet:- tis a good call, sir, and a perfect example to throw in for me at this moment, as I'm finishing off a Bendis Avengers piece, and you're choice quite rightly reinforces the point for me that BMB was hardly the first to sit heroes down and have them do nothing but talk to each other, for good and for ill, and often at the same time.

  15. First, Justin! Thanks for your excellent point about "the rally" moment. It's well taken.

    8) Classic X-Men back-ups (Claremont / Bolton) Often viewed as the "quieter stories" that took place while the team was on down time between getting turned into cosmic entities and mixing it up with Sentinels the TPB (Vignettes Vol 1 collects the first thirteen) gives the perfect forum to Claremont to hammer character together plank by plank. Bolton's painterly style and light line also give these stories a "soft focus" feel only broken by moments of extreme and terrifying action. What I didn't realize until a second or third reading was that these stories don't suffer from at all from telling telling telling (as you might expect from 'character pieces')

    They SHOW.

    Magneto is never more alive as a character than after the horror he suffers in Russia.

    Nightcrawler never more comfortable in his own skin.

    Wolverine never more dangerous or vulnerable

    Thunderbird never more real than in the aftermath of his death.

    These stories are so good at showing the X-Men's character it's a wonder they accomplish that goal by showing the X-Men over and over again what they CAN'T do. These aren't triumphant stories showcasing world beaters at the height of their powers.

    These Claremont stories more often than not show the one failing that the X-Men have fought all their lives to overcome - namely - despite all their great powers they cannot change the will of others. Over and over again others thwart their ambitions.

    It is the struggle that defines the X-Men and one the current writing staff might do well to heed.

    9) Operation Strikeback (Kevin Maguire)

    Kevin Maguire is the man
    Kevin Maguire is the man
    Kevin Maguire is the man
    Kevin Maguire is the man
    (Infinity Symbol)

    I've argued here and in other forums that more creators need to take on Passion Projects and not do "security work." Easy enough for me to say but Maguire walked the walk to see Strikeback into print. Started in '94 under the doomed Bravura / Malibu imprint over the course of 3 years Maguire and writer J. Peterson fought and clawed to get a reprint run through Image and the chance to finish the story.

    When you think about all the abandoned comic series out there - all the great and not so great unfinished ideas - and the energy wasted and lost forever (Walt Simonson is on record as saying he had 3 years of Orion story plotted) it is NICE to see someone go the limit.

    PLUS, the protagonist had a SCARF as a weapon.

    And Doberman. We must never forget Doberman.

    10) All Star Superman #6

    The funeral in Smallville is mine. I'll just say it's my perfect book. I've talked about why before and suffice it to say it's in a practically insurmountable position.

    Thanks, Col!


  16. RE: your thought in response to my comment concerning a list of best unpopular comics: YES! Not only for the idea, but I would very much enjoy your abilities to justify what seems to be flawed, in an inverse of your recent justified critiques of well-regarded works. It would be an interesting series for which I'd happily pull up a chair.

  17. Hello Smitty:- Well, I'd never have predicted that you'd nominate Vignettes; I've read so much of Mr Claremonts that was poorly structured, and yet I must say I find the very idea of him doing a string of self-contained short stories interesting. Of course, he produced such in the Black and White magazines of the Seventies - or so memory tells me - but I'd not recalled he done so after he'd taken the X-men to the top. Fair dues, I've just popped over to Amazon and they've a cheap copy for a pre-X-Mas poor moi; my finger is metaphorically hanging over the buy button as we speak.

    I love Kevin Macquire's work. To this day, his JLI run is one of my most fondly thought of runs. That book in its first year was an absolute beckon in darkening and often alienating times. But the originally-Bravura book I'd quite forgotten. That's one of the reasons I've enjoyed this process; finding out books that need chasing down, at speed or when affordable, is invigorating. I do recall feeling somewhat bitter about Bravura's collapse. The only special offer I ever invested any effort in the nineties was the Bravura incentive programme; I had my card and my stickers, or were they just squares. Whatever, I ended up buying books I'd not have just because I wanted to see one promotion through, and I was going to buy the Chayklin books anyway. And them down went Malibu/Bravura; never again!

    All-Star Superman 6 is a book I couldn't agree with you more on. I do believe I recall you advising me to really read A-SS carefully in one go many, many months ago. You were of course quite right to advise me to. A perfect book? A perfect chapter, I'd say; I can't think of A-SS as anything other than a book now, in the sense that it's hard to isolate any of the individual comics now. THAT's how much I've grown to love it.

    I hope the day finds you well, Smitty. Thank you so much for the choices, or, as they've often served here, the purchasing priorities.

  18. Hello Brian:- thank you for the thumbs up. When you put it as you have, it does seem like an interesting challenge. I ought to track down the 10 books I know I like that would get the worst reception and try to justify them, as it were. It would be very good writing practise. I don't think I could defend books I don't like, but maybe there'd be some good rhetorical practise in doing that too. Call it Devil's Advocate or something like so. I could start with Cry For Justice....

    ... although I don't think I could defend Cry For Justice ....

  19. I must say, Alan Moore created one of the most noble and heroic characters in all of fiction during his run on Swamp Thing. He is a brave and wise being who brings out the best in those he encounters. All the more so because he has such terrifying fury when angered, or the overwhelming despair he feels when he learns of his true origins and when he's trapped in deep space away from all he knew, but still finds the determination to return on both occasions. But perhaps most of all, he embraces all and is always first to talk and understand whenever possible. I would say Swamp Thing as a whole is a very life-affirming comic, especially at the final issue of Moore's run, where Swamp Thing believes that mankind will save the world, as long as he doesn't take care of their problems for them.

  20. Hello vaarna aarne:- It took me a good while to realise the point you're making, to my shame. In the Eighties, I tended to regard Swampy as a rather passive POV character around which Alan Moore's fantastic reinvention of the DCU occured. It was a good few years later that I realised that Swampy was exactly what you say, "one of the most noble and heroic characters in all of fiction". There are few if any DCU characters that I'd choose to walk a few miles beside before Swampy. I think he'd be as good company as he's an admirable "man".

  21. There's also the unimaginable amount of tension and energy Moore charges every fight scene with. It's not something that is talked about a lot, but Alan Moore has an astounding understanding on how to write an action scene, which is exceedingly rare even among as multi-talented writers as he is, but then again he is something of a genius no matter what artistic perspective. A good example is the absolutely marvelous battle with the resurrected Anton Arcane possessing Matt's body. Even if it is a one-sided squash match, Moore builds it up to fever pitch and really makes Arcane into a disgusting monster while at it.

    Speaking of Arcane, when I talk about fictional villains, I always use the words "disgusting" and "monster" when describing Arcane. I can't quite think of a character as loathsome and depraved as he is. Of course, he is not as terrifying as my favourite Moore villain, Kid Miracleman.

  22. Hello vaarna aarne:- I utterly agree with what you say about Mr Moore's fight scenes, in Swamp Thing and elsewhere. I can only think of one qualification, in that Mr Moore did tend to have Swampie win by somehow reaching inside of himself and finding he was more powerful per se than whatever he was struggling against. But that's as nothing when, as you say, it's weighed against the stories as a whole, and especially his wonderful villains, something which, as you note, is rarely noted.

    Can I think of a more disgusting monster than Arcane? ..............

    Nope, I can't. Kid Miracleman is terrifying, but Arcane is stomach-turning.

  23. There's also this wonderful way mr Moore makes us root for the hero stepping up to fight, such as the only actual fight scene in Top Ten where the department is under attack by commissioner Ultima where Jeff Smax calmly walks across his desperate and outmatched friends and colleagues and asks the old man captain Traynor who is holding the just brutally killed Girl One in his hands for permission to use extreme force. Replying to a "break her fuckin' neck, son" with a simple "yes sir" he walks over to Ultima and starts reciting her rights to her.

    Or how he can work an inner monologue and dialogue during a fight, such as how Swamp Thing destroys the vampire society of the still lake by becoming one with the landscape as the vampires horrors are spilling over. "My arms... Are two miles long... Encircling... The stale obsidian depths... I begin... To flex... My muscles... And the solid earth shifts... And ripples like water... I bunch my fists... And the soil convulses... I shrug... My vast... And buried shoulders..." There's also the irony in the final lament of the vampires as they die, which parallels the crocodile tears of people who can no longer abuse the environment as they wish.

  24. Hello vaarna_aarne:- great examples. Thank you for offering them. I've been thinking of a Top Ten piece, but as always with Mr Moore, I feel the world is full of very bright, very able folks on the net who've already covered the books in detail and with skill. The only time I ever covered Mr Moore's work in detail was when I thought I'd seen a connection between his work and Elliot S! Maggin's Superman novels. If you can't mention something that's at least less well-covered, writing about Mr Moore is somewhat redundant. Your excellent points just reinforce that feeling about myself covering the issues.

    I might offer up the sheer horror of The Fury's endless assaults on Captain Britain and his allies as an example of an Alan Moore punchup that's so much more than a typical comic book showdown. The sense that the Fury actually was death, that's there's nothing to do but be terrified and run away from it, and the exhaustion of the final climax, when, instead of glorifying in the Fury's death, everyone, including the reader, just felt shattered, has always stayed with me. I appreciated the fact that there was nothing macho about the victory at all. It was all about survival, not the glorification of muscles.

  25. Yea, Captain Britain himself being at his very limit and then getting hit in his shoulder again. It was also a lot for Captain UK, who finally got her guts back when she attacked the exhausted Fury and destroyed it. There is also a very important detail in the Fury's inner workings text boxes in that scene when Captain UK is tearing it to shreds: "For the first time in its existence it understands the concept of destruction... And it gives up."

    I'd say the thing that makes Moore punchups special is that he approaches them as something that can be intelligent and climactic. Moore doesn't do quota fights or pointless fights, and he always understands how to make an interesting match-up and the scale of power involved. And the use of intelligent solutions in tough situations instead of the usual "good guy berserk mode" that pretty much dominates most manga, as they haven't enjoyed a period of redefining by the likes of mr Moore. Interestingly enough, Captain UK's attack on the Fury could be called such a thing, but it was something that was a long way coming, and was a major event for the character as she finally stopped running away and confronted the Fury. Even when he put all he had left into a single attack, Jeff could barely singe Ultima, but the fight was decided by the rest of the officers deducing that the drug they have must be a large supply and it must be able to OD Ultima.

    But that's not to say Moore can't handle the 'digging deep inside' resolution either, has shown in the finale of the second battle with Kid Miracleman when Aza Chorn sacrifices himself to strike the two decisive blows that cause enough pain to even a monster like Kid Miracleman to seek escape from it (though even there it was the realization of Gargunza's creations' one weakness that brought it about). I guess it must be the masterclass writing thoughts and narrations Moore writes in scenes like that which propels them to such poignancy (Miracleman in general had some of his most fantastic colourful language narration by the titular character, juxtaposed with the awesome art depicting the cruelties inflicted). As it was in Aza Chorn's last moment as he was mortally wounded by Kid Miracleman and was fast dying:

    "Grotesquely, he still lived, each of his more-than-human cells gripped by a horrid urge to cling fast and survive. He lived, he roared, and as the Warpsmith reached for further missiles to embed within our enemy... He struck. Struck mortally... And the Warpsmith, even gone somewhere cold, somewhere beyond the pain, faced death like some albino samurai and insolently stared it down... For just one vital instant longer." Absolutely tears deep into your heart as you read it. That's how you narrate a heroic death if anything.

    (continued in second post)

  26. I sincerely hope Marvel does what is expected of them, and publishes fully intact reprints in high quality of the runs of Moore and Gaiman on Miracleman (or Marvelman, as he's now called) and let's Gaiman and Buckingham finish their run. If you ask me what the best comic book of all time would be, I'd answer 'Miracleman' without hesitation. It's something like Watchmen in its deconstruction of the superhero, but it just takes it far further, tells an unbelievable story, but also has this faint glimmer of hope about it. "You've taken something marvelous and turned it into sewage!" screams Miracleman to Bates, all the while not realizing he's allowed Miraclewoman and others do the same unto his marvelous gift. It's more than anything a story about a man trying his very best to be a superhero, but just lacking the character and intuition for it, and how he is eventually led astray.

    I always hoped Gaiman's run would end up in his redemption, for I think that's what Young Miracleman was going to bring about. He was the kind of good-natured young man who even in all his awe-inspiring power saw the sense of magic and wonder in something like a kangaroo, a thing that Miraclewoman and the new generation of superhumans paint as mundane and irrelevant. It's funny really. If Michael Moran had people like Dickie Dauntless and Tawky Tawny to help him, there's no doubt things would have turned out happier and brighter for Miracleman's story.

  27. Hello vaarna aarne:- I certainly do hope that Marvel do as they ought where Miracleman is concerned. For I've not had my Miracleman/Marvelman issues since they were lost in a sequence of moving house in the Nineties. The cost of replacing the issues was always prohibitive, and so I have intense memories of those books, but I've not read them for 15 years. The Gaiman issues I'd only read once, so my memories there are variable, but I read the Moore issues so often that I can still picture word balloons on well-recalled pages. I remember with particular affection the Moore/Davis issues, but I really do want those issues to be reprinted. Hopefully, issues such as the often-dubious colouring will be dealt with too ...

    I do love the idea that Manga needed Alan Moore to help revamp it. I know too little of Manga to agree or disagree with you, but I do love the picture you give me of each comics culture requiring their own Alan Moore, looking very much like our own but with local adaptions ...

    Might I suggest that Alan Moore's writerly strategies re: concluding punch-ups were strongly influenced by Don McGregor, a writer who I've rarely seen mentioned in connection to Moore, but whose influence is surely obvious. The awful death of Killraven's band in Amazing Adventures # 34, and in particular T'Challa's defeat at the end of Panther's Rage, only to be saved by a brave small child, seem to me to have strongly informed Mr Moore's sense of what a climax should be, and how it can and should eb something other than a mindless brawl.

    I greatly respect Miracleman, but I'd not put it at the top of the list. It's too inconsistent, with Moore's style changing so much from his first awkward script. And the art too goes through so many changes, some of them less-than-stellar. I love it, but I'd put the Lee/Ditko Spider-Man before it, and, if we can forgive the presence of Ebony, and I'm not sure we can, the Eisner Studio's The Spirit too, and a host of others actually, now I think of it.

    Which is not to say that Miracleman isn't splendid, and in places quite brilliant!

    Ah, if only we'd all had Tawky Tawny and Dickie Dauntless to help us, trouble would rarely touch us ....

  28. It's not just comics, it's fiction in general. In fact, I am one of those who wholly agree with what Moore says about comics and other artforms. "They're kind of like books and movies, just better as a format." It's also ironic considering how many who consider themselves "serious" fans of comics scoff at superhero comics... When you have to notice how that genre has single-handedly pioneered more than any other genre of comics, and continues to produce masterpieces only its boundless imagination and mythology can conjure up. I mean, I do loves me some Blacksad, Petri Hiltunen, Goscinny, Maus and the works, but there is just no genre quite like the superhero. It's a concept that just doesn't seem to have any limits in what you can do with it.

    And of course, most genres can't boast works the likes of Swamp Thing, Animal Man, Watchmen, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and All-Star Superman in one breath, or pioneering artisans like Jack Kirby, Alan Moore, Grant Morrison and Warren Ellis, or characters as timeless as Superman, Batman or Tawky Tawny. In fact, I am going to say that many great characters of all arts will be long forgotten, but people across the world will still recognize the Last Son of Krypton and the Caped Crusader instantly.

    I'd say the problem with manga is that the industry is pretty much about making a single series and then fading out, with everything hinging on stereotypes even more than the most generic mainstream superhero comics. Sure, there are the likes of the touching autobiographical Son of Hiroshima, or in case of mecha anime deconstruction Evangelion, but the impact they have is limited at best due to the development of stagnant micro-genres for every thing you can imagine. Or in case of Evangelion, having exactly the wrong kind of impact (kinda how Moore's 80's work initially had), with the idea that our teenage protagonists just aren't quite capable of being made into elite soldiers, much less anything but further crippled by their suppressed emotional trauma. No, instead of having a more serious and realistic approach to people with psychological issues, now everyone is wallowing in a massive number of issues (that grant access to berserker rage as the winning move all the way). Ah, to return to the 80's, when a grim man who looks like massively muscular Bruce Lee with gigantic eyebrows would punch even more massively muscular men which would cause their heads to explode while saving the hapless innocents and dispensing wisdom (possibly of Solomon).

    Though thinking of a Japanese version of Alan Moore, I wonder if he'd be a bizarro version when it comes to sexual liberty, since as we all know mr Moore is very liberal in sexual matters by whatever standards you go by. And of course, what would be the genre he claims to utterly hate while he secretly loves it more than anything else? And of course, since he probably skillfully murdered the genre in his defining works, is that love necrophilia?

  29. Here are mine:

    - Flash 0 for sure, that's such an awesome single issue that defined the Flash for me in my youth.

    - All-Star Superman 10 is the best issue of Superman I've ever read.

    - the X-Factor issue by PAD which has Samson talking with the members of the team always stands out in my mind.

  30. Hello vaarna aarn:- The points you make about attitudes to the superhero are good ones. I read a great deal more than the superhero, though I do love the superhero and see it as no more and no less a valid means for tale-telling. I decided to write about the modern cape'n'costume book when I started this blog precisely because it was a narrow area. I thought if I loved a constrained genre, I would need to develop my thinking skills to keep writing about it. And so it has proved. But the idea that I should have not done so because superheroes aren't worthy of attention is simple snobbery. It reminds me of nothing more than the attitude rock fans had towards black music from disco to reggae in the early to mid seventies; they were just too immediate, too popular, too beguiling, too difficult to compete with and yet so easy to mock.

    I can sympathise with creators that perceive for themselves limitations in the genre - of course other genres are equally valid and can handle a different range of fictions - and I can sympathise too with folks who feel that the superhero books clog up the market from generation to generation. But those are different matters from seeing the superhero as childish and/or unworthy.

    On Manga: all I can do is enjoy your writing on the subject, sir. I always promised myself I'd always put my hand in the air when I knew nothing about a subject raised in the blog, and I know nought of manga beyond Akira. That's shameful, I know. I do enjoy reading your take of the form and I can't help but feel that any character with eyebrows such as you describe should be allowed icon status simply by existing!

    There must be Japanese versions of MR Moore, by which I mean not hairy and bearded genius-writers with a Northampton accent, but folks approaching their comics culture with his intelligence and energy. I mean, there must be, in one form or another, mustn't there? I'm far more familiar with some genres of Japanese music and how music such as the electro YMO genre challenge cultural stereotypes - and international ones - with wit and technique and ferocious intelligence. I wouldn't be able to recognise such revolutionaries myself. It's a long time since I studied Japanese culture and politics and all I learned was that I knew NOTHING! But them Japanese radicals are there ..

    Transplant Mr Moore to Japan and I suspect that he'd find all his standard-issue no-likes present in one form or another; ridiculous sexual prohibition co-existing with exploitation, the abuse of power, the denial of human nature through the suppression of the social and individual instincts by the state; Mr Moore would be a non-comformist whereever one dropped him ...

    Murdering genres? Ah, well, time for some Wilde I suspect;

    "Yet each man kills the thing he loves,
    By each let this be heard,
    Some do it with a bitter look,
    Some with a flattering word,
    The coward does it with a kiss,
    The brave man with a sword!"

    Mr Moore is certainly brave, and anyway, the damn genres refuse to die!

  31. Hello Stealthwise: I too recall that X-Factor issue with some true fondness, and of course I agree entirely with your other two choices.

    Isn't it odd that a genre so often derided for producing fans only concerned with continuity and wish-fulfillment should instead produce so many readers who, when asked to recall some favourite stories, pick the most touching and emotional ones?

  32. I recently had a good look at Swamp Thing #57 as part of a decade-by-decade look at Adam Strange. (I'm finding that your purveiw here is so extensive that a lot of your posts intersect with my own online outpourings.)

    From the point of view of an Adam Strange story set against that character's long history, SW #57 is also excellent. Some say that Moore set in stone some new facts about Adam's relationship to Rann which made the character unworkable going forward. (It's not much of a critical criteria at that! Moore's remit was to produce the best Adam Strange/Swamp Thing story he could at that point.) Anyway, Moore is careful to put his revelations into the mouth of a fascist hawklady fighting for her life, so they needn't be taken as gospel. Alas, they were taken as Gospel, possibly because Moore himself had written them. The curse of literalism strikes again.

    Anyway, just to address your own criteria for these posts of 'comics that nothing bad could be said about' .... I do have one quibble with Moore's scripting of Swamp Thing #57. Moore obviously put a lot of hard work into the Rannian language - to say the least! - but sadly he didn't make it align with the Rannian language that Fox depiccted Alanna and Sardath using in the very first Adam Strange story, before they used the mentacizer to instantly teach Adam Rannian.

    (scans under the link)

    Nitpicky, I know, but that's the perogative of geeks everywhere. It would have been really nice if Moore could have tied his story back to the very first AS story in that way. Given how much work Moore put into the language, I'd have to guess he just didn't have access to Showcase Presents #17.

  33. Hello Mr Figserello:- yes, I am the man who's rambled on about just everything. This is my claim to just about no fame at all .. :)

    I did enjoy the link you placed in another comment to your piece on Commander Rann's connection with Adam Strange. And it's a really good conversation in general in that thread, isn't it?

    I've always been fascinated by those stories told by AM after the ST had been exiled from Earth by Luthor's weapon. They strike me as textbook all-in-one (or two!) books, and they often draw on DC continuity in a truly unique way.

    On the language; OK, there's one way round that; one of those languages is an elite one, functioning as Mandarin did in Imperial China, allowing folks from across a huge empire to communicate in a common tongue when it came to the business of the upper and/or ruling classes. That would explain why Adam's Rannian family and folks from outside the elite would all be speaking it.

    Now, where's m'No-Prize :)

  34. A Lingua Franca? I like it.

    I was happy for previous threads I'd started on that board to just flow as discussions with the other posters. I do like a good chat about comics! But for that Adam Strange thread, I might as well acknowledge that I was trying to follow some of the techniques you use here, which I've enjoyed. eg Organising my thoughts around a single aspect of the story rather than just a scattershot reaction to things in it; choosing my scans to highlight particular aspects of the argument and make the discussion more accessible to people who didn't have the issues to hand; and trying to work in an examination of the artist's role in getting across the messages of the comic.

    Glad you enjoyed my Flash Gordon-Adam Strange-Commander Rann 'family tree'. There are connections between them, and a development of the space hero archetype, but what the descent from indomitable football jock to pathetic nervous wreck says about the culture in those decades, is sadly beyond my ability to analyse.

  35. Hello Figserello:- Thank you for that "I like it." It's a generous comment worth its weight in No-Prizes :)

    I'm certainly very heartened to read what you've said about your Adam Strange piece, which I read and thought "I could NEVER have written that. I just don't my stuff there at all." I too love, as I guess is sort-of obvious, a good natter about comics, and I do try, as you say, to focus in on specific issues. Not, I hasten to say, because I think anything but good about grand chats which follow their own spirit, but because (1) I think I'm even less good as general discussions and (2) I do enjoy trying to learn something more about these wonderful stories might be put together. It's very kind of you to say there's some little value to the kind of approach used here. Thank you.

    "...but what the descent from indomitable football jock to pathetic nervous wreck says about the culture in those decades, is sadly beyond my ability to analyse."

    Well, it's beyond mine, Mr F, so I think it'll need to fall to your good self, who's made a good start already here :) Because it is a fascinating question about what kind of heroes each era responds to, isn't it, and that family tree of your produces such unique challenges to the curious mind, given that the business of comics-super-science and comics-futuristic-societies are ever-present in those character's tales.