Monday, August 12, 2013

More Moore part 22: DC Shorts Roundup part 1

Special thanks to Cat for the generous gift of this collection! Wonderful birthday present.

Before we bid farewell to DC Entertainment, here are short writeups of his lesser works, all of which are collected in DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore, which also contains Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? and The Killing Joke, making it a pretty good buy, all things considered. The stories are all short and sweet, several having twist endings similar to the 'Future Shock' one-shots Moore had done for 2000 A.D. prior. Some of these works deserve more extensive discussions than others, but, as befitting Moore's 80's work, nearly all of them are at least entertaining, and a few are better than some of his more well-known and prestigious work.

"For the Man who has Everything" (1985)

And the first of those surprises is 1985's "For the Man who has Everything", a Superman story that is not only better than the average-to-middling Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? but for this reader's money is the best Superman story there is, before or since. "For the Man..." takes place on Superman's birthday, February 29th (pause for big laffs) when Batman, Robin, and Wonder Woman come to give him a surprise present and find the Man of Steel covered with extraterrestrial plantlife known as Black Mercy, immobile while the plant hypnotically sends Supes' mind to a brighter past, where Krypton didn't explode, where he was married and had children. I read the comic for the first time after I had seen the also-excellent Batman: The Animated Series episode "Perchance to Dream" which treads on similar ground: a villain traps the hero in a happy alternate timeline, and the hero has to reject this complacency for the world we have, darker but real. While Batman, Robin, and Wonder Woman struggle with interstellar barbarian Mongul, Superman has to untangle the illusory world in his mind, even as his new life proves seductive and comfortable. But even as he settles into that comfort, Superman knows things are wrong, and that to make things right he will have to shatter the illusion and bid farewell to the Krypton that never was, eventually forcing Black Mercy onto Mongul, leaving the conqueror stuck in a rather amusing dream of total intergalactic conquest.

"For the Man who has Everything" is good. It's a perfect comic to show Superman neophytes that the man is not 'too powerful' and has stories that are interesting, thought-provoking, and exciting without the usual song and dance of Supes getting his powers drained. The art is done by Watchmen's Dave Gibbons, and though his faces are a little limited (all the men look like Dan Dreiberg and all the women look like Laurie Juspeczyk), he is still an excellent artist and even here, a year before Watchmen you can tell that artist and writer understand each other. The colors are soft and washed out and rather stereotypically '80s, but that works with the dreamlike quality of the story. "For the Man who has Everything" is a story every comic fan should read, and whether you love Superman or hate him, you'll come out impressed.

"Night Olympics" (1985)

"Night Olympics" is Moore's one and only Green Arrow story, featuring Arrow and Black Canary wondering if they are responsible for the Social Darwinism of criminals, weeding out the weak ones until only the dangerous survive. The answer to the question comes in the form of a bow-wielding, mohawk and mesh-shirt-wearing "ordinary person" Peter Lomax, who wounds Black Canary but then crumbles easily to Green Arrow.

In contrast to "For the Man who has Everything", "Night Olympics" might be the worst story in the collection. The story is bland and uninspired, saddled with a handful of ridiculous Olympics metaphors like "...A sudden-death playoff beneath the sodium lamps a strip lights, night after night, a ceaseless marathon..." But moreso than the groan-inducing script is the art, which is flat-out terrible. Klaus Janson did pencils for the piece, and while his Daredevil work never bothered me, his sub-Frank Miller scrawlings here are passable at best, and atrocious at worst, with Black Canary unfortunately getting the lion's share of the latter. This one isn't worth it, I read it so you don't have to.

"Mogo Doesn't Socialize" (1985)

Moore teams up with Dave Gibbons again in Green Lantern story "Mogo Doesn't Socialize". Lantern Tomar Re tells the story of Mogo to apprentice Arisia, how Bolphunga the Unrelenting landed on a planet to seek out the enigmatic Mogo and spent years hunting until he realized Mogo was the planet itself. "Mogo Doesn't Socialize" pairs the best of Moore's quick-and-dirty 'Future Shocks' from 2000 A.D.  with the Green Lantern mythos to tell an enjoyable story in 6 pages with a killer twist ending. Gibbons' art is better here than in "For the Man who has Everything", and the lack of humans mean there aren't any Nite Owl or Silk Spectre clones running around. This is another keeper, though not the best of Moore's Green Lantern stories (that will come later).

"Father's Day" (1985)

"Father's Day" stars Vigilante, an amoral Punisher-influenced DA who dons tights and goggles every night to fight crimes the police are ineffective against. Eventually Vigilante committed suicide after looking back at his violent, arbitrary past, but there's no hint of regret in this story, where he defends a little girl and a pair of prostitutes from the girl's perverse, violent, incestuous father. Even in the grim and dark world of comics in the mid to late '80s, "Father's Day" is pretty discomforting. Everyone feels disposable, from the girl's mother to the prostitutes with hearts of gold to the scumbag, sociopathic father himself. Jim Baikie, who did the art for "Skizz", lends his awkwardly expressive pen to "Father's Day", making all the characters look pained and uncomfortable. The story ends with one remaining living prostitute trapping the father under the wheels of her car and spinning them, reducing the man to a pile of goo while Vigilante holds the young girl and intones, rather hilariously, "Oh jeez...". "Father's Day" is not a good story by any stretch of imagination, but if you're a fan of ultraviolent, grim early '90s comics, you might get a kick out of one of the precursors to the genre.

"Brief Lives" (1985)

"Brief Lives" is a one-shot found in the pages of The Omega Men, a team of misfits that originated in the pages of Green Lantern that I have to admit I know absolutely nothing about, aside from these two Moore stories. "Brief Lives" is exactly that, at a paltry four pages, but in those four pages, Moore and artist Kevin O'Neill tell an engrossing, humorous story that ends on yet another wonderful 'Future Shock' style twist ending. The story is told by the leader of an arachnid army after a failed invasion of a planet called Ogyptu, inhabited by blue giants that move on a different, incredibly slow time frame compared to the invaders. This fact renders the invasion moot; the arachnids would have to stand still for decades before the giants even noticed them, and after thirty fruitless years, the invaders have gone insane and died. Finally on the last page, we see things from the giants points of view, with the arachnid's city being built and crumbling to untended rust in the fraction of a second. Giant #1 asks Giant #2 if he saw the little blip at their feet, and Giant #2 responds with the perfectly-timed "Don't let it worry you./Life's too short."

"Brief Lives" is so succinct, and simple, and, well, brief, and yet it tells a story better than not only some of Moore's other short works, but even some longer ones. None of the Omega Men themselves appear in it, as far as I can tell, it's just a quick, entertaining one-and-done. Kevin O'Neill would work with Moore a few more times, most notably on The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and his grotesque, busy lines perfectly encapsulate the insane arachnid species and the massive blue humanoids. "Brief Lives" is very, very good, and sits nicely with "Mogo Doesn't Socialize" as an example of a master of the short comic story showing off his craft, honed after years on 2000 A.D. By 1985, Moore knew how to write a short story, he just needed the right inspiration, and the right collaborators.

And there's still plenty to go.


Up next: More shorts! Green Lantern, Swamp Thing, The Phantom Stranger!

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