Thursday, July 31, 2014

More Moore, part 34: WildC.A.T.S. book I

WildC.A.T.s book I: Homecoming (1995)

And at last we come to WildC.A.T.s, probably the closest thing to a 'crown jewel' in Moore's Image canon, and certainly the book that he worked the longest and hardest on during his tenure with the company. WildC.A.T.s is the creation of Jim Lee, now mostly known as the Tweedledee to Dan DiDio's Tweedledum as co-publishers of DC's New 52 reboot. Stop me if you've heard this one before: Lee is a fantastic artist (his pencilwork was the only thing that elevated All-Star Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder out of the embarrassing shlock that Frank Miller's prose otherwise gave it) who sadly had no ability in writing his own scripts, so he created a new IP with Image comics that eventually had Alan Moore come on-board and give the work some much-needed depth. Much like Moore's work on Spawn, Moore and Lee barely worked together at all, and WildC.A.T.s quickly took on a revolving door of artists that gave the work a frustratingly inconsistent quality. And, like his work with Spawn, Moore's work on WildC.A.T.s is surprisingly well-done, if nothing ground-breaking.

WildC.A.T.s, as Jim Lee first envisioned it, is basically just the Image take on X-Men, which Lee had worked on during his time at Marvel. Like Professor Xavier's students, the Wild Covert Action Team is a group of young superheroes, each with a signature power or ability, like sexy ninja-assassin Zealot (nothing at all like Psylocke, of course) empathetic robot Spartan, and beefy purple Maul, yet another wisecracker in the Thing style. The only real difference brought in by Lee and original writer Brandon Choi is that THIS close-knit group of superpowered young adults led by a rich, older telepath (Lord Emp, in this case) is that the C.A.T.s aren't mutants, they're aliens! The team are all Kherubim, an alien race locked into an eternal war with rival aliens the Daemonites. That groan that you just heard upon reading those names came from yourself, and thusly you can see why Moore was brought in to give the script a little depth.

Just before Moore's first chapter, the C.A.T.s are splintered, and much like Gail Simone would do in Secret Six, Moore creates two WildC.A.T.s teams; While Emp takes most of the members back to the planet Khera to find out just what the hell is going on, another sexy ninja-assassin named Savant and the Superman-esque Mister Majestic found a new team back on Earth to combat criminal organizations. Honestly, the second team gets up to very little during the course of Homecoming; they recruit punk cyborg Ladytron and persuasive Tao and cause some trouble among Mafia organizations, including what looks like Liefeld-era Deadpool. The Earth chapters are entertaining but inconsequential, at least at this juncture; the best moment is where they crash a robot wake for a recently-deactivated guardbot:

"Though known to all the world as H.A.R.M., his close friends called him Chuck. Born Charles Sweeney in Cleveland, 1946, he had one childish dream/He wanted to weigh fifteen hundred pounds with ground-to-air bazookas on his shoulders."

The real meat of Homecoming, however, is with the team on Khera. Moore's big twist is that the Kherubim/Daemonite war is over, long over. The Daemonites lost, and Earth was so remote that neither side bothered to tell the soldiers on the ground. Khera, flush with its victory, is in a millennia-long decadence, and both Emp and Zealot are quickly and easily seduced with the promises of endless power that Khera's two political parties offer them. The other members are treated like garbage, especially half-Daemonite Voodoo and Maul, whose Titanthrope heritage marginalizes him rapidly: as another Titanthrope tells it, their race are the true Kherans, who were subjugated and enslaved by the Kherubim and who now make up the lower-class workforce for their rich masters. The plot jumps around as thus: from Emp and Zealot in glorious luxury, to the new C.A.T.s on Earth, to the rest of the C.A.T.s on Khera trying to unravel a conspiracy to use both Emp and Zealot as martyrs to further political causes.

Homecoming is far from perfect; like most Image work, a lot of the issue is in the art. The original plan before the penciller merry-go-round was for Moore to work with Travis Charest, but even that wouldn't have made the work much better, it's simply an issue with the style in the early to mid '90s. If you can get past the art, Moore does some impressive worldbuilding with Khera, and the glittering facade hiding the rot within is an impressive approximation to an alien version of the late Roman Empire. The second team is slower getting out of the gate, but Moore still has another book to go. Homecoming is really quite good, especially for Image-era Moore, and he makes the most of giving an alien world some serious political depth.

...

Up next: The cats are still wild in the second half of Moore's WildC.A.T.s.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

More Moore part 33: 1963

1963 (1993)

If there is a single irrefutable fact out there regarding Alan Moore, one that can be stated beyond any reasonable doubt, it is that, within his work at least, the man is indebted to the memories of his childhood. His first major work, Marvelman, was a wildly successful attempt to reboot a forgotten Silver Age superhero from the '80s, and nearly everything since, whether the Tales From the Crypt EC horror of Swamp Thing or the strip work of "In Pictopia," has had at least one foot in the comic work of yesteryear that Moore grew up on, a fact that continues today. In 1993 Moore, along with several of his go-to artists like Rick Veitch, Steve Bissette, Dave Gibbons, and John Totelben, dove headfirst into the nostalgia well, and came out with 1963 simultaneously a parody of, and a love letter to, early '60s Marvel Comics work. The team produced six issues before the politics at Image seemed to kill the whole project, and this 1963 is as much an unfinished work as Big Numbers, and hearing the story from Steve Bissette, who seems to have had a falling-out with Moore around the end of the work's run, it will never be completed. But speaking as someone who took in 1963 and enjoyed it much more than expected, I can say that its unfinished state is likely a good thing.

I can only imagine how bizarre 1963 must have been to the average consumer when it debuted in 1993 on Image Comics, home of Spawn, Violator, Savage Dragon, and all the other hyper-muscled, grim-past meatheads who grew like a fungus in the '90s. The parody is spot-on; the colors, courtesy of Marvin Kilroy, are bold and flat, they pop off the page, instantly differentiating themselves from the standard browns and greys of the time. Veitch and Bissette do their best Steve Ditko/Jack Kirby impressions throughout, and Moore seems born into the role of the obnoxiously alliterative Stan Lee pastiche 'Affable Al'. Each chapter is a different comic in the fictional Image world of 1963, with the actual 1963 title superimposed over the Image logo in the corner of the cover. We're got "Mystery Incorporated" as a pastiche of Fantastic Four, "The Fury" is The Amazing Spider-Man, "USA - Ultimate Special Agent" is Captain America, "The Unbelievable N-Man" is The Incredible Hulk, and "Horus, Lord of Light" is The Mighty Thor. Naturally, chapter six is the Avengers pastiche "The Tomorrow Syndicate," which I'll talk of in more detail. With the first five chapters, what you see is what you get; I find Silver Age comics entirely endearing, goofy fun, and you'll get that in spades in the pages of 1963. The Fury is a dopey teen who has to keep his secret identity from his mom, just like Peter Parker and Aunt May; Horus sheds his civilian guise as professor of Egyptology to go on mystic adventures and foil his evil brother Set, etc. etc. etc. You could say that this is the worst Alan Moore comic because it brings absolutely nothing to the table, but you get the same enjoyment out of it that you do reading Jerry Siegel's old Silver Age Bizarro comics. In that way, it's the perfect cool-down after reading, say, From Hell. All of the behind-the-scenes stuff, the fake ads and the letters pages, are hilarious, they run the gamut to "Own a nuclear sub!" ("Big enough to scare NATO for 30 years!") to the most stereotypical comic fan nitpicking, as well as a letter written by Neil Gaiman taking Affable Al to task for his portrayal of the English. More cynical readers (which would likely be most of them, for this work) will appreciate the none-too-subtle representing Al/Stan Lee as as a slave-driver who takes complete credit for the works, shoving the arists off to the side, as detailed in his book "How I Created Everything All By Myself and Why I Am Great." Jack Kirby would approve.

So what about that chapter six? In its final moments, "The Tomorrow Syndicate in: From Here to Alternity!" shows the direction 1963 was headed when The Tomorrow Syndicate surf through a myriad of differing realities and end up face-to-face with Rob Liefeld creation Shaft in the dark and mysterious world of 1993. Next up, so the plan was to go, was an 80-page annual illustrated by Jim Lee, in which the '63 Image pastiches meet the '93 Image characters and presumably some sort of evil would be combated. We'll never know, because Shaft's ugly mug is the last thing we see in the last chapter published.

So that's 1963 and unlike Miracleman or Big Numbers, few tears are shed from the unfinished nature of the work. Is it weak for Alan Moore? Yeah, kinda. It begins and ends with its satire, so if you're not into satires, or not into Silver Age work, there is absolutely nothing within its pages for you. If you enjoy a bit of Silver Age goofiness though, give it a spin; the chapters are easy to find, dirt cheap, and Silver Age comics are the medium's comfort food: good brainless fun. It's better than Blood Feud, at least.

...

Up next: Moore Image!. WildC.A.T.S.

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Friday, June 27, 2014

More Moore part 32: Spawn and Violator part 3

Violator vs. Badrock (1995)

By the mid '90s, Alan Moore had demonstrated with his work with Image that, while in no danger of unseating his previously-written Greatest Comics of All Time, he could still imbue a grim'n'gritty, stereotypical '90s work with enough heart and black humor to make it surprisingly enjoyable. While Blood Feud collapsed into a mess of bulging muscles, ocher blood, and whiny cliches, the Violator miniseries was not only surprisingly good, but endearingly good, the stereotypical grimdark Image brand blended with a Looney Tunes slapstick humor that made this reader hope there was a collection of Moore's Image work on the market so I could have it all bound together on my shelf. More fool I.

So that brings us to the last of Moore's Spawn work...for now. Violator vs. Badrock is an in-between of his other two major Image works; it doesn't tow the company line like Blood Feud, but it isn't as madcap and goofy as Violator. I still say that there's nobody who writes the titular Violator as well as Alan Moore, somewhat like a homicidal Curly Howard, so any story in which he makes an appearance is bound to be good for a few laughs, at least. As it says on the cover, Violator vs. Badrock pairs the Violator with Youngblood member Badrock, a man who is both bad, and made of rock. He's about as transparent of a caricature of The Thing from Fantastic Four as can be had, so he functions as the gruff, sarcastic comic relief whenever Violator is off-screen. The plot sees Violator captured by the Whiteside-Parsons Research Institute, with a plan to use him as a power source to find a path down to Hell. Badrock is on-hand as security for this most delicate of operations, which unsurprisingly goes to Hell pretty quickly, pun intended. The first two chapters of this four chapter work are absolutely awful, and I had the lowest of expectations as I read through them. The art is by Brian Denham, whose other work seems to be mostly an X-Files one-shot, and is is shocking in its banality. Clearly by 1995, the typical '90s look had become so co-opted and mainstream that what few edges it had were hammered flat, with everyone looking inoffensive and bland, while still being gory and sexist. The main antagonist in the first half of the work is the angel Celestine, who looks ludicrous in her rugged battle-thong and nipple-obscuring strips of leather, and by the end of chapter two, I was ready to write off the work as the nadir of Alan Moore's work, period.

Luckily, the second half of the work was there to inject the work with some needed life. With Celestine's violent, disgusting death, the whole of the Institute is transported to Hell, where Moore gets to play around more with his Infernal mythology, as he did back in "In Heaven", as well as a re-introduction to Violator's murderous, moronic brothers from the Violator miniseries (sadly, no appearances from The Admonisher, though he is mentioned a couple times). All of the work's best lines come from this second half, as Badrock has to keep everyone at the Institution together while avoiding the denizens of Hell that want to fillet them. Denham's art is still immensely boring, but with some more interesting locales to illustrate, it could easily be worse. Both Badrock and Violator gets their chance to humiliate the Phlebiac Brothers, with Violator and his brothers bickering recalling the best moments of Violator, until at last Celestine's dying powers are snuffed out and the institute returns to Earth.

And that's it. Never before have I seen a work that I can characterize as too long and too short at the same time, but Violator vs. Badrock pulls it off with aplomb. Moore has done worse, of course, but the best I can say about V vs. B is that, after the first half, it's charmingly inoffensive, which are strong words to say in a story about a rock man trapped in Hell. The first half, with Badrock battling Celestine, is atrocious, however, and if you wonder why comics were in such a sorry state in the mid '90s, both Blood Feud and the first half of Violator vs. Badrock show that even Alan Moore wasn't immune to the siren call of this embarrassing era. Maybe I will skip on that theoretical collection after all.

...

Best quote: "If I may make a further observation, Fon-spa, you'll note it is an attractive human female we are pursuing. Why never a man? Or even a less stereotypically beautiful woman?/Are we, as tentacled monstrosities, responding to some archetypal urge, I wonder?"

...

Up next: The Silver Age at Image with 1963

Sunday, April 27, 2014

NPM 2014: Olena Kalytiak Davis

 
And with a quick, lovely work we end this year's National Poetry Month with a work by Ukranian-American Olena Kalytiak Davis, "Corruption" which according to the author herself is about the pressures of Spring in general and National Poetry Month in specifics. Enjoy the work and have a lovely rest of the month, and hopefully look forward to some More Moore soon.


"Corruption" 
The dark wood after the dark wood: the cold 
after cold in April's false November.
In that second worser place: more gone, less there,
but in that lurid present present, cast and held, 

rooted, kept, like some old false-berried yew. 
Just against; the door leading to preferment 
shut; no longer believing in still, by some, few
means, method, could be, but for the bad day set, 

left, leaning atop bad day. 
       Out- and un-

ranked, toothached, wronged— rankled corruptive thing!
Ill-wishing, in-iquitous, clipped, up-hoped, stripped: just plain: thin.
Dare thy commit: commit this final fatal sin: 
God my God, I am displeased by spring.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

NPM 2014: Adrienne Rich


Better late than never with Ms. Rich and a work for anyone who has ever felt uncomfortable with their own skin.


Adrienne Rich: "Diving Into the Wreck"

First having read the book of myths,
and loaded the camera,
and checked the edge of the knife-blade,
I put on
the body-armor of black rubber
the absurd flippers
the grave and awkward mask.
I am having to do this
not like Cousteau with his
assiduous team
aboard the sun-flooded schooner
but here alone.

There is a ladder.
The ladder is always there
hanging innocently
close to the side of the schooner.
We know what it is for,
we who have used it.
Otherwise
it is a piece of maritime floss
some sundry equipment.

I go down.
Rung after rung and still
the oxygen immerses me
the blue light
the clear atoms
of our human air.
I go down.
My flippers cripple me,
I crawl like an insect down the ladder
and there is no one
to tell me when the ocean
will begin.

First the air is blue and then
it is bluer and then green and then
black I am blacking out and yet
my mask is powerful
it pumps my blood with power
the sea is another story
the sea is not a question of power
I have to learn alone
to turn my body without force
in the deep element.

And now: it is easy to forget
what I came for
among so many who have always
lived here
swaying their crenellated fans
between the reefs
and besides
you breathe differently down here.

I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.
I stroke the beam of my lamp
slowly along the flank
of something more permanent
than fish or weed

the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring
toward the sun
the evidence of damage
worn by salt and sway into this threadbare beauty
the ribs of the disaster
curving their assertion
among the tentative haunters.

This is the place.
And I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair
streams black, the merman in his armored body.
We circle silently
about the wreck
we dive into the hold.
I am she: I am he

whose drowned face sleeps with open eyes
whose breasts still bear the stress
whose silver, copper, vermeil cargo lies
obscurely inside barrels
half-wedged and left to rot
we are the half-destroyed instruments
that once held to a course
the water-eaten log
the fouled compass

We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who find our way
back to this scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
in which
our names do not appear.

Monday, April 7, 2014

NPM 2014: Wallace Stevens

"Sunday Morning"


I

Complacencies of the peignoir, and late
Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair, 
And the green freedom of a cockatoo
Upon a rug mingle to dissipate
The holy hush of ancient sacrifice. 
She dreams a little, and she feels the dark
Encroachment of that old catastrophe, 
As a calm darkens among water-lights. 
The pungent oranges and bright, green wings
Seem things in some procession of the dead,
Winding across wide water, without sound.
The day is like wide water, without sound,
Stilled for the passing of her dreaming feet
Over the seas, to silent Palestine, 
Dominion of the blood and sepulchre.

II

Why should she give her bounty to the dead?
What is divinity if it can come
Only in silent shadows and in dreams?
Shall she not find in comforts of the sun, 
In pungent fruit and bright, green wings, or else
In any balm or beauty of the earth, 
Things to be cherished like the thought of heaven?
Divinity must live within herself: 
Passions of rain, or moods in falling snow;
Grievings in loneliness, or unsubdued
Elations when the forest blooms; gusty
Emotions on wet roads on autumn nights; 
All pleasures and all pains, remembering 
The bough of summer and the winter branch. 
These are the measures destined for her soul. 

III

Jove in the clouds had his inhuman birth. 
No mother suckled him, no sweet land gave
Large-mannered motions to his mythy mind
He moved among us, as a muttering king,
Magnificent, would move among his hinds, 
Until our blood, commingling, virginal, 
With heaven, brought such requital to desire
The very hinds discerned it, in a star. 
Shall our blood fail? Or shall it come to be 
The blood of paradise? And shall the earth
Seem all of paradise that we shall know?
The sky will be much friendlier then than now, 
A part of labor and a part of pain, 
And next in glory to enduring love, 
Not this dividing and indifferent blue.

IV

She says, "I am content when wakened birds,
Before they fly, test the reality
Of misty fields, by their sweet questionings;
But when the birds are gone, and their warm fields
Return no more, where, then, is paradise?"
There is not any haunt of prophecy, 
Nor any old chimera of the grave, 
Neither the golden underground, nor isle
Melodious, where spirits gat them home, 
Nor visionary south, nor cloudy palm
Remote on heaven's hill, that has endured
As April's green endures; or will endure
Like her remembrance of awakened birds, 
Or her desire for June and evening, tipped
By the consummation of the swallow's wings.

V

She says, "But in contentment I still feel
The need of some imperishable bliss."
Death is the mother of beauty; hence from her, 
Alone, shall come fulfilment to our dreams
And our desires. Although she strews the leaves
Of sure obliteration on our paths, 
The path sick sorrow took, the many paths
Where triumph rang its brassy phrase, or love
Whispered a little out of tenderness, 
She makes the willow shiver in the sun
For maidens who were wont to sit and gaze
Upon the grass, relinquished to their feet.
She causes boys to pile new plums and pears
On disregarded plate. The maidens taste
And stray impassioned in the littering leaves.

VI

Is there no change of death in paradise?
Does ripe fruit never fall? Or do the boughs
Hang always heavy in that perfect sky, 
Unchanging, yet so like our perishing earth, 
With rivers like our own that seek for seas
They never find, the same receding shores
That never touch with inarticulate pang?
Why set the pear upon those river-banks
Or spice the shores with odors of the plum?
Alas, that they should wear our colors there, 
The silken weavings of our afternoons, 
And pick the strings of our insipid lutes!
Death is the mother of beauty, mystical, 
Within whose burning bosom we devise
Our earthly mothers waiting, sleeplessly.

VII

Supple and turbulent, a ring of men
Shall chant in orgy on a summer morn
Their boisterous devotion to the sun,
Not as a god, but as a god might be, 
Naked among them, like a savage source.
Their chant shall be a chant of paradise, 
Out of their blood, returning to the sky;
And in their chant shall enter, voice by voice, 
The windy lake wherein their lord delights, 
The trees, like serafin, and echoing hills, 
That choir among themselves long afterward.
They shall know well the heavenly fellowship
Of men that perish and of summer morn.
And whence they came and whither they shall go
The dew upon their feet shall manifest.

VIII

She hears, upon that water without sound, 
A voice that cries, "The tomb in Palestine
Is not the porch of spirits lingering. 
It is the grave of Jesus, where he lay."
We live in an old chaos of the sun, 
Or old dependency of day and night, 
Or island solitude, unsponsored, free, 
Of that wide water, inescapable. 
Deer walk upon our mountains, and the quail 
Whistle about us their spontaneous cries;
Sweet berries ripen in the wilderness;
And, in the isolation of the sky, 
At evening, casual flocks of pigeons make
Ambiguous undulations as they sink, 
Downward to darkness, on extended wings.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

NPM 2014: Marianne Moore



Since last year's National Poetry Month was a bit of the ol' proverbial sausage fest (and really, what a disgusting term that is, huh?) let's diversify a bit here on the first of the month with an enigmatic beauty by Marianne Moore. Enjoy this most magical of months with me!

He "Digesteth Harde Yron"

  Although the aepyornis
   or roc that lived in Madagascar, and
the moa are extinct,
the camel-sparrow, linked
   with them in size--the large sparrow
Xenophon saw walking by a stream--was and is
a symbol of justice.

   This bird watches his chicks with
   a maternal concentration-and he's
been mothering the eggs
at night six weeks--his legs
   their only weapon of defense.
He is swifter than a horse; he has a foot hard
as a hoof; the leopard

   is not more suspicious.  How
   could he, prized for plumes and eggs and young
used even as a riding-beast, respect men
   hiding actor-like in ostrich skins, with the right hand
making the neck move as if alive
and from a bag the left hand strewing grain, that ostriches

   might be decoyed and killed!  Yes, this is he
whose plume was anciently
the plume of justice; he
   whose comic duckling head on its
great neck revolves with compass-needle nervousness
when he stands guard,

   in S-like foragings as he is
   preening the down on his leaden-skinned back.
The egg piously shown
as Leda's very own
   from which Castor and Pollux hatched,
was an ostrich-egg.  And what could have been more fit
for the Chinese lawn it

   grazed on as a gift to an
   emperor who admired strange birds, than this
one, who builds his mud-made
nest in dust yet will wade
   in lake or sea till only the head shows.

 . . . . . . .

   Six hundred ostrich-brains served
   at one banquet, the ostrich-plume-tipped tent
and desert spear, jewel-
gorgeous ugly egg-shell
   goblets, eight pairs of ostriches
in harness, dramatize a meaning
always missed by the externalist.

   The power of the visible
   is the invisible; as even where
no tree of freedom grows,
so-called brute courage knows.
   Heroism is exhausting, yet
it contradicts a greed that did not wisely spare
the harmless solitaire

   or great auk in its grandeur;
   unsolicitude having swallowed up
all giant birds but an alert gargantuan
   little-winged, magnificently speedy running-bird.
This one remaining rebel
is the sparrow-camel.