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August 18, 2003

Face forward, pilgrim. John Holbo, of the excellent John and Belle Have a Blog, takes flight into the higher criticism:
What makes Alan “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” Moore the best—and he is—is not so much his plots as his endlessly inventive, overflowing re-imaginings of the genre. His elective affinity for superheros. His plots are always good: solid, well-balanced, proportioned, streamlined affairs. But this is all just by way of erecting a frame. Then come all the wonderingly appreciative pinnings of caped and cowled butterflies to the board of these plots. Moore is so sentimentally attached yet clinically detached in his treatment of these subjects. He is so deeply understanding and precise. Every detail, every nuance of the genre for the last fifty years—all the tics and twitches; gestures and modes of speech; absurdity stipulated to be normality; cliches and childishness; tinhorn faux-Wagnerian ‘if this be Ragnarok’ bombast; blindspots and obsessions; superficial encrustations of successive decades. Tight drawers. No constitutive element of the superhero genre fails to be recorded and re-presented from a fresh angle somewhere in Moore’s work. “Watchmen”, “V For Vendetta”, “Supreme”, “Top Ten”, “Tom Strong” and, of course, “League”.

How to put it? It’s as if Moore was the first to find a way to express how this silly, shallow thing—the superhero—is concocted of so many layers of manners that you almost think he could make Henry James a fanboy. Almost.

[12:14 AM]
Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on Face forward, pilgrim.:

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2003, 12:49 AM:

Another thing that puts Alan Moore so far ahead of most comics writers is that he's got a really good layout artist's sense of how comics work on a structural, panel-by-panel and page-by-page level.

Barney Gumble ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2003, 01:37 AM:

I think John is in L-O-V-E...

Ray Radlein ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2003, 02:13 AM:

I think that Alan Moore has achieved a kind of satori with respect to comics. He has grokked them in their fullness, disassembled them into their alchemical elements, and is now busy rebuilding them right in front of our eyes. In Promethea, especially, he is creating a set of storytelling tools which other writers and artists will be using for years to come, once they have internalized them (which may itself take years).

He is further ahead of the field at the moment than Steranko or even, perhaps, Eisner, once were (naah, I take that back -- Eisner was further ahead of the field in the way back when than Moore is now).

On the other hand, if Grant Morrison actually achieves his stated goal of causing DC's continuity to achieve independent sentience, then I'll take it back about Moore being ahead of everyone else.

Jess Nevins ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2003, 10:01 AM:

I'd say that one of the things (in addition to all of the preceding) which makes Moore great and has informed the wonderfulness that has been Supreme, Top Ten, Tom Strong, Promethea and League is his knowledge of the pop culture archetypes and icons that lie at the root of superheroes. When Moore writes Tom Strong, he's taking the best concepts of the pulps and using them to make an evocative character. When Moore writes League, he takes characters from 19th century literature who we're all familiar with, on one level or another, and reimagines them in such a way that they're recognisable and faithful to the core texts, but they speak more to a current audience.

Allen Varney ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2003, 12:22 PM:

Holbo's post, which confines itself to the context of superhero comics and movies, omits mentioning Moore's best work, such as FROM HELL and the performance pieces (BIRTH CAUL, SNAKES AND LADDERS, etc.). Moore's work demonstrates a broad acquaintance with history, politics, and literature. He also shows a better-than-average grasp of current scientific thinking, not that the standard is high among comics writers. Confining discussion of Moore's work strictly to superheroics is like discussing Beethoven entirely as a concert pianist and failing to mention his orchestral works.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2003, 01:44 PM:

Tastes differ. From Hell never did all that much for me, frankly.

--kip ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2003, 07:32 PM:

You blaspheme, sirrah, but de gustibus.

Moore's got a handle on that Great Weird Boy Book vibe. His worldbuilding isn't so much a place to live in or even visit as it is to play games with--but he almost always does a good job of making you give a good God damn about the stakes he's playing for. His grasp of the grammar of comics has always been admirably lucid--certainly, most cartoonists end up doing their best work when drawing one of his stories, and reading his scripts that have been published is always great fun. --If he doesn't end up working all that well in straight prose, I think it's because that astounding, rolling, metrical voice of his needs the distance of some sort of performance to work properly--whether it's those spoken word pieces (shame about the synthesizers) or the "performance" of comics storytelling.

All of which I mention to spite by pointing out my favorite thing he's writing at the moment--since most of the ABC stuff never grabbed me, aside from Promethea (problematic) and Top Ten (triumphant, but on hiatus, drat it all)--the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (natch). Not so much the main story (giddy, disconcerting fun that it is), but the astoundingly snarky gamesmanship of the travelogue of the 19th c. that never was, which he's been writing as back-up for Vol. 2. There's precious little character (except what one reads between the lines) and no plot to speak of (except dozens and dozens of evanescent hints sprinkled through every other line)--just a Babel's tower of gobsmackingly comprehensive allusions to some of the most eminently forgettable pop culture ever. (And, yes, more than a few Classics of Western Litrachure. Jess Nevins' annotations doubtless help in one's appreciation of both.) But the depth of it, the marvels in it, the sheer staggering potential winking through it all--it floors me.

Then, I am easily amused.

Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2003, 04:07 AM:

Alan Moore may have been the first (or one of the first) comic writers to show us the 5000 Layers of The Purple Onion. But I have some sympathy with his expressed desire to gafiate from the business for awhile to catch a second wind.

I loved the deconstruction in Tomorrow Stories, while it lasted, and he seemed to be going somewhere interesting in Top Ten. But, after an intriguing beginning, Promethea seemed to dissolve for almost a year into something like Baba Ram Dass's "Be Here Now." (Promethea has gone back to having a plot, and I know I shouldn't begrudge the time he spent in experimenting with it -- just because I've had my share of "Yellow Submarine," "Morning of the Magicians," "Be Here Now," and "Lost in the Funhouse." Newer generations deserve the opportunity of journeying with their own pop Acid Heads. And Alan Moore may be as good as they're going to get.)

What really touched me was the translation of Promethea into "Little Nemo" in the ABC Annual.

Tom Strong is fun, now and then, as a speculative burlesque. But it doesn't hit the spot, for me, the way Supreme did. I may just have more affinity for the Superman mythos than for the world of Doc Savage.

Miracleman, The Watchmen, and V for Vendetta are stunning works of brilliance. My favorite of his most recent stuff is the "Terra Obscura" spinoff -- the first story in some time to build serious dramatic tension in addition to the "Amalgam deconstruction" that characterizes most of the Tom Strong stories.

I've been enjoying Alan Moore, the philosopher, in his interviews, recently, more than in Promethea. I just finished reading "Alan Moore: Portrait of an Extraordinary Gentleman" and the recent double issue of "Comic Book Artist" dedicated to him and Kevin Nowlan.

I hope he enjoys the timeout from comics he's creating for himself, and comes back, later, to change the world, again.

In the meantime, the thing I now search for on Wednesday afternoons is the next issue of Astro City.

Elric ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2003, 07:37 AM:

I regret to say that I've never read the Moore League. Also missed the movie, though cable will bring it to me in time.

Still, for those of you who missed it, here's a real superhero for all our everyday lives:

Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2003, 11:36 AM:

Elric: I regret to say that I've never read the Moore League. Also missed the movie, though cable will bring it to me in time.

That's the best excuse for not having cable this side of Fox News. (High speed car-chases in Venice???)

Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2003, 12:27 PM:

A few notes: Lenny, the "Promethea as Little Nemo" story in America's Best Comics 64 Page Giant ("Little Margie in Magical Mystery Land") was written by Steve Moore, not Alan Moore. Steve is also the writer on the cheesecake "Jonni Future" series in Tom Strong's Terrific Stories. Also, Terra Obscura is written by Peter Hogan with a plot assist from Alan Moore. Incidentally, I believe that Steve Moore has legally changed his middle name to "No Relation".

--Kip, Top 10 isn't really "on hiatus" anymore. There will be two spin-off projects--a Smax miniseries, which debuts tomorrow, and The 49ers graphic novel due out later this year. Alan M had said that he might return to Top 10, but given that the entire ABC universe is going to be destroyed within the year, it seems highly unlikely that he will.

David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: August 20, 2003, 04:52 AM:

Lenny, if you liked Portrait of an Extraordinary Gentleman then you should also pick up The Extraordinary Works of Alan Moore -- despite the titles, Works seems to have rather more about Moore's life than Portrait (which as far as I could tell was mostly other creators doing tribute strips).

The next Astro City is in either two weeks or three, I forget....

Allen Varney ::: (view all by) ::: August 20, 2003, 07:29 PM:

Tom Strong is fun, now and then, as a speculative burlesque. But it doesn't hit the spot, for me, the way Supreme did. I may just have more affinity for the Superman mythos than for the world of Doc Savage.

I finally started to enjoy Tom Strong when I saw that Moore was undermining one of the most strongly-held theses of character development in fiction: that characters are only interesting for their flaws, and superhuman characters are inherently boring. Tom Strong is without flaws, or close enough, and yet is extremely interesting for the quality and maturity of his thinking.

David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2003, 04:11 AM:

That's quite a good point. Yet another reason to consider Alan Moore a genius (a word, I assure one and all, that I do not deploy lightly).

Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2003, 07:01 AM:

Well, today's comic shipment brings a new issue of Tom Strong that's essentially a midterm exam on your ability to remember what happened in previous issues. I found it to be not unlike what Robert Sheckley used to do with the latter portions of his novels -- creating deconstructions of earlier portions. (Remember "The Twisted World?")

It's to Moore's credit that the mirror-transforms of heroes and villains in this hang together to form a story, as well as being an "ABC Elseworlds" rotomontage.

But I like the new issue of SMAX better, for its surprises and emotional ambiance. Whatever directorial mirrors and lighting effects it has are subordinate to the story.