Wednesday, August 21, 2013
More Moore part 23: DC Shorts Roundup part 2
"A Man's World" (1985)
This second Omega Men short couldn't be further from "Brief Lives", at least in terms of quality. A cute alien anthropologist finds a primitive tribe of men that seem to have no concept of what women are. She asks one of the tribesmen how his people reproduce, and they have sex. The next morning, he leaves the hut and checks on the babies of the tribe, who reproduce asexually, like mollusks. And that's it? I don't know if the mollusk reveal is supposed to be a twist or what, but there's really nothing worth going on here. Maybe it's a better read if you're an Omega Men maniac, but as-is, "A Man's World" is, at best, a waste of a couple minutes.
"The Jungle Line" (1985)
"The Jungle Line" is a typical DC team-up from around the time: two heroes run into each other, a misunderstanding makes them fight for a few pages, and then they team up to stop some villain. Even in the '80s, the team-up was an inoffensive bit of padding, with usually somewhat of a Silver Age throwback feel to it. What makes Alan Moore's single foray into the genre is his choice of heroes: Superman is a no-brainer, but here he teams up with the Big Green Machine himself, Swamp Thing! Rick Veitch channels his inner Curt Swan in a story about Supes going insane because of a hunk of Kryptonian fungus called Bloodmorel, and Swamp Thing finds his comatose body after the Man of Steel crashes a used car in the Louisianan wilderness. Once again trapped in his own mind by a sinister plant, Superman has all sorts of hallucinations, of bleak red landscapes and massive skeletal automatons, to the point where I really have to wonder if Scott Snyder and his ilk had been reading this story before coming up with 'The Rot' in the New 52 Swamp Thing stories. His mind clouded, Superman goes after Swamp Thing briefly before Swamp Thing pulls Supes into The Green, cleansing his mind and body. Superman wakes up, clueless as to what happened, and flies off, good as new.
Outside of the disturbing hallucinations, there's nothing special about "The Jungle Line", but it's good, harmless fun regardless, a quintessential team-up story under its strange choice of heroes and its battlefield of the mind: the heroes start out fighting, and it's only by working together that they can overcome the villain-of-the-week. Veitch's art is great, especially his closeups of Superman's crazy mug, all be-stubbled and ranting like an old EC horror lead, and Tatjana Wood does a fantastic job with colors as always, the Red World looking scorched and alien. If you're a fan of New 52 Swamp Thing, it's worth picking this up just to see the kernels of the new works opening story arc. Not Moore's best, not even his best short wok (honestly, not even close) but it's a nice palette cleanser for heavier works.
Heavier works like this one. Oh man, like this one. "Tygers" is another Green Lantern story, this one detailing the backstory of Abin Sur, the Lantern who gave original Green Lantern Hal Jordan his ring and rank to begin with. In "Tygers", Abin Sur is exploring the corpseworld Ysmault, where the Lovecraftian abominations that make up the Empire of Tears have been chained for all eternity. Ysmault and its inhabitants are horrifying, part flesh, part architecture, and the demonic Qull of the Five Inversions feeds Sur twisted truths that will one day lead to his doom, kicking in motion the entirety of the Green Lantern story. In the future, when Abin Sur's ship falls screaming to a crash below, he can hear Qull and his chained brethren laughing.
"Tygers" is a brilliant fusion of horror into a superhero story, a visceral, body-horror-inflected work made all the more fantastic by Kevin O'Neill's totally unique, deep shadowed landscapes of pulpy masses and twisted demons. The whole planet of Ysmault looks like a scene out of Hellraiser, and the living architecture whispering promises to Abin Sur only ratchet up the hellish feeling. Here, Moore uses the 2000 A.D.-style twist ending; Qull's words of Sur's oncoming death haunting Sur to such an extent that he inevitably seals his own fate; to flesh out Green Lantern's mythos, giving Sur a reason to be traveling by spacecraft when we know that the Power Rings allow flight as-is. Modern Lantern wunderkind Geoff Johns mined into "Tygers" when writing his Lantern-centric epic Blackest Night, as many of Qull's prophecies about the end of the Lanterns are fleshed out and used during Johns' Lantern apocalypse. Kevin O'Neill's technique is unlike anybody else in the business, and "Tygers" is a great place to get used to his pulpy viscera before diving head-on into The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. If you're a Green Lantern fan, check out "Tygers" for its deeper connection to the Lantern mythos, but even if you're not, the worldbuilding by Moore and O'Neill deserves to be admired.
"Footsteps" tells the origin tale of The Phantom Stranger, A member of the DC occult pantheon used by Alan Moore to great extent in Swamp Thing. Here, prior to his career as a wandering paranormal assistant, the Stranger was an angel who was unable to take sides during Lucifer's rebellion. Cast off by Heaven, the new denizens of Hell tear off his wings and both sides leave him to wander the Earth for eternity.
To this reader, "Footsteps" is totally forgettable. There's a plot that runs concurrent to the Paradise Lost-style story, of a homeless man being similarly complacent in a gang war, that I didn't remember at all when it came time to sit down for this review. Joe Orlando, he of the endless prestigious career starting in Mad and EC, who last worked with Moore doing the pirate comic backup in chapter five of Watchmen, does the art in an EC horror pulp style, lots of various shades of red and burgundy, but the story leaves no lasting impression. John Constantine has gone on record canonizing this particular origin story, so big fans of Vertigo or New 52's Justice League Dark might find more merit within, but even as a Vertigo fan myself, I left the story bored.
"In Blackest Night" (1987)
Another Green Lantern story, this one penciled by Bill Willingham, about young Lantern Katma Tui and her attempts to find a new member of the Corps in the lightless deep space called The Obsidian Depths. The creature she finds there is totally blind and has no concept of color, thus the idea of a 'green lantern' makes no sense to it. Quick-thinking, Katma fudges the idea of the Corps to be more about sound than light. She describes the ring's energy to the creature as a bell making sound waves, and even changes up the Green Lantern oath to fit a creature with no concept of sight or color:
"In loudest din or hush profound, my ears catch evil's slightest sound.."
"In Blackest Night" is the slightest of Moore's Green Lantern work, but it's not too bad, it just doesn't have the killer ending of "Mogo Doesn't Socialize" or the squamous dread of "Tygers". The concept of adjusting the idea of the Green Lantern Corps to fit cultures that wouldn't understand it is clever, but like "A Man's World", the story just kind of ends after it does what it wants to, with no real resolution (though not anywhere near as jarring as "A Man's World" thankfully). Still, "In Blackest Night" shows that Moore was more than capable with the Green Lantern mythos, and probably could have made a killer arc if given the chance.
"Mortal Clay (1987)
Moore's final short for DC is "Mortal Clay", a Clayface story of all things, that takes the sympathetic treatment that Mr. Freeze will get in a few years with Batman: The Animated Series and makes a gorgeous, by turns comical and by turns aching, story for one of Batman's worst-utilized rogues. This Clayface is Preston Payne, which is Clayface #3 I think, who can kill with a touch and is stuck in a biosuit to keep himself from falling apart. "Mortal Clay" is the story of Payne's relationship with Helena, a silent, austere woman whom Preston does not seem to realize is a mannequin. Payne narrates the story, and his narration tends to be hilarious, living the ups and downs of domestic life with his silent companion, embracing her after the stores close, joking darkly about women and shopping when she is moved to the ladies eveningwear section, becoming enraged when a night watchmen gets too handsy. This last action brings in the Batman, and when Clayface becomes convinced that Bats has stolen Helena's affection, the spurned lover attacks with a ferocity, until Batman realizes what has Preston so upset, and offers to help. Our story ends in Clayface's new cell in Arkham, while Preston and Helena watch TV, drink beer, and settle into a vaguely Honeymooners-esque marital routine. As they do, Preston's narration finishes us up, in possibly the funniest monologue Moore's ever done:
"He tried./Too bad it didn't work out./Oh, I suppose we can tolerate each other enough to live together, and neither of us wants to be the first to mention divorce./But the love...the love's all dead./Her habits and snobberies grow increasingly irritating. I long to be rid of her, but I can't bring myself to do anything./Each day she becomes older, dowdier...never mind. One day I shall be free. After all.../She can't live forever."
Even now, I can't read that without cracking a big smile. "Mortal Clay" is the perfect blend of the tragic and the comic, accomplishing in mere pages what many authors, graphic novel and otherwise, couldn't do in volumes. Moore writes the perfect Clayface story, a hit out of the park worthy of Dini and Timm's iconic turn for Mr. Freeze. "Mortal Clay" joins Watchmen, Swamp Thing, "Tygers", and "For the Man Who Has Everything" as absolute gold during his tenure at DC. Finally, when DC's withholding merchandise profits became too much for the Wizard of Northampton, it was time for him to go. And go he did, back to independents, where he was about to embark on yet another epic for the ages.
Up next: "The next job I do I shall clip the ladys ears off and send to the police officers just for jolly wouldn't you."