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, 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.