Category: alan moore

Prequels, Sequels, and Adaptations

War Against Crime! Volume 2: Issues 6-11: written by Al Feldstein, William Gaines, and others; illustrated by Johnny Craig, Graham Ingels, and others (1949-1950; collected 2001): Beginning in 1950, EC’s New Directions comic-book line would represent a brief high point in American comic books. But it didn’t spring full-blown from the forehead of publisher William Gaines. A couple of years of experimentation preceded it as Gaines acclimated to the comic-book business and the talents began to assemble at EC.

War Against Crime! ran for eleven issues. It fed off the post-WWII crime comics boom. But by the end of the run collected here, it was clearly showing the way to the artistic and writerly excellence of the approaching New Directions line. And it didn’t really die after 11 issues — it was retitled The Vault of Horror with issue 12 and became one of EC’s great horror comics. The stories and art in this volume aren’t up to the standards of the approaching EC books, but they’re still well-crafted, occasionally gonzo tales of suspense and horror. Recommended.

The Incal: Orphan of the City Shaft: written by Alexandro Jodorowsky; illustrated by Zoran Janjetov (1988-1991; collected 2001): Part of the prequel series to Alexandro Jodorowsky and Moebius’s Incal series of the 1970’s, The Incal: Orphan of the City Shaft features sharp, detailed, and often grotesquely imaginative artwork from Zoran Janjetov. Jodorowsky’s story is bananas, as one would expect. It’s all Euro-Comics-SciFi in the tradition of Heavy Metal/Metal Hurlant, a dystopian adventure story explaining the origins of Incal anti-hero John DiFool.

Weird, occasionally unpleasant, occasionally poetic, visually and narratively imaginative, it’s also compulsively readable and extraordinarily dense compared to most American comic books. The whole thing pays homage to Metropolis and The Time Machine with its stratified society, a literalized hierarchy oriented around a vast shaft sinking deep into a planet. But there’s a lot more sex, drugs, and fetishes than in either of those estimable forebears. This is the sort of European comic book that the TV series Lexx tried and mostly failed to emulate. Highly recommended.

Just a Pilgrim: Garden of Eden: written by Garth Ennis; illustrated by Carlos Ezquerra (2002): Ennis and Ezquerra’s brutal post-apocalyptic Western continues here, as the gun-slinging religious fanatic known only as the Pilgrim encounters a team of scientists attempting to flee the devastated Earth to the stars. Terrible monsters and events abound, and Ennis and Ezquerra flinch neither in the grimy, bloody writing nor the grimy, bloody art. Recommended, but not for the squeamish.

Hypothetical Lizard: written by Alan Moore and Antony Johnston; illustrated by Lorenzo Orente and Sebastian Fiumara (1987 – 2004/2005): Alan Moore’s World Fantasy Award-nominated novella from the 1980’s gets the graphic treatment from Avatar Press. Antony Johnson preserves much of Moore’s prose (the album includes the novella) while doing an able job of turning it into a sequential comics narrative.

The art by Orente and Fiumara is competent, though perhaps somewhat too prosaic (haha) for the fantastic goings-on. The novella appeared in a shared-universe anthology with its roots in the weird, magical cities of writers that include Fritz Leiber, Clark Ashton Smith, Jack Vance, and M. John Harrison. Moore’s tale focuses on one tragic relationship in the city of Llaiven, all of it playing out in the weird and sinister brothel known as The House Without Clocks. Recommended.

Cigarette Burned

Tales from the Crypt Archives Volume 2: written by Al Feldstein; illustrated by Wally Wood, Jack Davis, Jack Kamen, Graham Ingels, Joe Orlando, and others (1951-52; reprinted 2010): Another collection of horror stories ranging from good to great, from the days before the Comics Code Authority lobotomized American comic books.

It amazes me how fresh and enjoyable most of the stories in this volume remain. EC had the finest comic-book artists in America for much of its too-short existence. The stories, written for the most part by editor Al Feldstein, occasionally get a bit rote (the vengeance of the dead was always an EC horror staple, along with some truly atrocious puns), but many are clever short stories in their own right.

But the art, of course, is the thing. Wally Wood is a bit out of his depth here — he was always best on science fiction and non-supernatural thrillers, and the two covers he assays are weirdly non-horrific. But when you’ve got ‘Ghastly’ Graham Ingels, Jack Davis, Jack Kamen, and Joe Orlando on the beat, everything’s going to be fine. Davis, also a long-time Mad artist, is droll and blackly comic. Orlando and Kamen are fine, moody artists.

And Ingels remains one of the greatest horror artists to ever draw comic books. Many of his monsters are disturbingly malformed. He’s the granddaddy of so many modern horror artists, from Bernie Wrightson through Steve Bissette and Rick Veitch. His grotesques anticipate both the distorted spaghetti monsters of films such as John Carpenter’s The Thing and the human monsters of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes. Highly recommended.

John Constantine Hellblazer: Death & Cigarettes: written by Peter Milligan; illustrated by Simon Bisley, Guiseppe Camuncoli, and Stefano Landini (2012-2013; Collected 2013): 300 issues of Vertigo’s John Constantine Hellblazer come to an end in this volume, so that Constantine can continue his adventures, in somewhat altered and youthfulized form, over in a title set in DC’s mainstream superhero universe.

Created by Alan Moore, Steve Bissette, John Totleben, and Rick Veitch in Swamp Thing in the early 1980’s as a sort of punk-attitude occult investigator from rust-belt Northern England, Constantine has had a long, varied, and distinguished career both in other people’s comics and in his 25 years of his own title. He’s even survived a completely screwy Keanu Reeves movie. And he’s getting his own TV series this fall.

For me, the heights of John Constantine Hellblazer were reached early, with Jamie Delano writing the first 40 issues or so. Ably complemented by artists that included John Ridgway (understated and sinister), Sean Phillips and, in Delano’s then-finale on the series, cover-artist Dave McKean doing an entire issue, Delano created a dense, kitchen-sink milieu of horror for Constantine.

Most of the humour in the title came from Constantine’s sarcastic reaction to the horrors he faced. We were always meant to view Constantine through the lens of his own self-evaluation as a cursed punk, but we were also forced to conclude that he was indeed a very, very dark knight standing between humanity and the inimical forces of heaven and hell alike.

So we fast-forward here, to the end. I was gratified to discover that the Internet had as many problems figuring out just what the Hell the last three pages of the last issue mean. The whole thing ends on a note of ambiguity that may be entirely intended or may be sloppy story-telling. I have no idea.

Writer Peter Milligan gives us a 60-ish Constantine gifted with a super-hot 40-years-younger wife, a suddenly retconned-into-existence nephew who looks exactly like him, and a not-particularly imposing group of supernatural menaces to usher him out of his title. The art’s generally so dark as to verge on inexplicable. Also, as some Internet wag noted, the main artists here seem to have forgotten that Constantine was visually modelled on Sting circa 1983, and not on Gary Busey circa 2013. The years have not been kind.

Stuff happens. There are a lot of sex scenes. Constantine’s niece, once a capable presence when written by others, shows up as a traumatized shell of her former appearances. What’s technically a demonic rape is played strictly for laughs. Did Constantine and his universe deserve better than this? Yeah. But we’ll always have Newcastle. Spend your money on the John Constantine Hellblazer collections written by Delano, Garth Ennis, Andy Diggle, or Mike Carey instead. Not recommended.

Demon, Barf

The Demon: written by Matt Wagner; illustrated by Matt Wagner, Art Nichols, and Bernie Mireault (1986-87, 1992; collected 2013): Matt Wagner’s done fine work on his own characters and on characters for DC. Alas, his work on The Demon, while sometimes lovely to look at, is also a wordy, needlessly labyrinthine, bleak mess.

As originally conceived and executed by writer-artist Jack Kirby in the early 1970’s, Etrigan the Demon was a surprisingly jolly demon who enjoyed beating the Hell out of supernatural menaces but otherwise seemed like a loveable scamp. Kirby’s Demon is the clearest, most obvious forerunner of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy, another good demon.

However, when Alan Moore reimagined Etrigan in a thrilling, disturbing three-part story in Saga of the Swamp Thing in the early 1980’s, the ramifications of that reimagination would be an eternal souring of the pot. Moore’s Demon was a barely controlled monster. He also spoke in rhymes all the time, where Kirby’s Demon only rhymed to cast spells. Thus was unleashed thirty years and counting of an astonishingly misguided reinterpretation of an enjoyable but minor Kirby character.

Wagner’s 4-issue-miniseries revamp of Etrigan makes Alan Moore’s version look like a sun-filled romp in a jolly, jolly park by comparison. Jason Blood, the Demon’s ‘host,’ is now a bumbling, easily manipulated fool whose personality in no way resembles either Kirby’s dedicated occultist or Moore’s tragic, sardonic hero. Etrigan is a monster who speaks in rhymes that often, in their utterly confusing diction, pretty much form an airtight case for why Etrigan should not speak in rhymes all the time. At least not when Matt Wagner’s writing him.

The art has some flashes of surreal brilliance, especially in a sequence in which demons invade an apartment through the walls.  The annoyingly intrusive frame narration becomes an unwelcome Greek Chorus very, very quickly. The whole thing is dense and unpleasant, and that narrative density serves a story that’s actually paper-thin.

Alas and alas and alas, the depressing view of Etrigan has won out over the last 30 years. A Wagner-penned and illustrated standalone issue from the Demon’s early 1990’s series is a lot looser and more fantastic artistically. Unfortunately, the whole thing is narrated by Etrigan in a series of rhymes. Somebody please make sure Matt Wagner never, ever writes anything in rhymes again. It’s horrible. Wagner can be a compelling writer and artist, especially on his own wonderful Mage and Grendel books. Seek those out, not this. Not recommended.

The Lost Alan Moore Episode

Fashion Beast: adapted by Antony Johnson from the screenplay by Alan Moore based on a screen story by Malcolm McLaren and Alan Moore; illustrated by Fecundo Percio (2012-2013): Alan Moore’s lost project, a 1985 screenplay for a never-produced movie, based on a story by music and fashion impresario Malcolm McLaren, here gets adapted into a 200-page+ graphic novel. The redoubtable Antony Johnson handles the actual adaptation, as he has for other non-comic-book Moore work adapted into comic-book form.

Artist Fecundo Percio really draws up a storm here. The art remains relatively representational throughout with two exceptions — the creepy, wizened monkey-women who are the guardians of the gates of Celestine, a fashion house in a future New York. America fights a war against somebody never named. Fallout is everywhere. The world is collapsing.

And that’s only the background to this reimagining of the story of Beauty and the Beast, gene-spliced with elements from McLaren’s own life and with Moore’s taste for outre philosophy.

Beauty would appear to be Doll Seguin, a transvestite whom we first meet dressed like Marilyn Monroe and working as a coat-check ‘girl’ at the Cabaret, a stylish blend of dance hall and performance space. The Beast may be fashion-designer Celestine, never seen by anyone but the guardians of the gates, giving his approval or diapproval to auditioning models from behind smoked glass. Or it may be Jonni, a butch, aspiring fashion designer who longs to overthrow the concealing, antisexual fashions of House Celestine and put in their place the freer, more liberated fashions she herself has designed.

And that’s just the set-up of the first two issues, after which things get really weird.

Johnson preserves the distinctive style and structure of mid-1980’s Alan Moore — this really is of a piece with Watchmen and ‘V’ for Vendetta, a sharp and cynical work of action-philosophy over which looms the spectre of nuclear armageddon. It’s involving and fascinating on its own. But it also adds to the fictional over-structure of Alan Moore’s 1980’s work in a pleasing, off-beat way. And Percio’s art, as with the art of David Lloyd on ‘V’ and Dave Gibbons on Watchmen, works beautifully with Moore’s colourful, metaphorical, expositional prose by providing it with a solid, seemingly representational counterpoint. Highly recommended.