Thursday, December 29, 2016

DC Universe by Alan Moore

You might have heard that Alan Moore does not have the best relationship with DC Comics recently. (For values of "recently" that include the last twenty-plus years, and values of "not the best relationship" that include Moore hurling actual attempted magickal spells at them from his secret base in darkest Northampton.) Nevertheless, he did some excellent stories for DC's various superheroes back before they started thinking of ever-more-inventive ways to screw him over, and DC has been reprinting them in various permutations over the years.

The first semi-comprehensive collection was the 2003 Across the Universe, which had all of the secondary Moore DC-universe stories from the 1980s, but left out the two longer and best-known stories: The Killing Joke and the two-part "last Superman story" Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? That was then expanded into the 2006 DC Universe by Alan Moore, which added in those two missing pieces.

That was the book I thought I was buying. Instead I got the 2011 DC Universe by Alan Moore, which leaves out The Killing Joke again (for no obvious reason), but adds in over two hundred pages of minor Wildstorm comics from the late '90s that must have been cluttering up the DC offices. There's an end-of-the-universe story that might be good if you know who the characters are (besides the central one being Yet Another Moore Superman Analog), the first four issues of Voodoo, which are decent but very '90s, a strange three-part story about someone being cloned into various other bodies to hill him/herself repeatedly, and a silly short back-up piece from WildC.A.T.S. The art in particular on the Wildstorm-era comics has to be seen to be believed, and that's not a compliment.

Luckily, no one will buy the book for that stuff anyway. We also didn't buy it for the more obscure '80s stuff -- the two-part Green Arrow story, the two-part Vigilante story, a couple of Omega Men back-ups. Most people who aren't me won't even care about the Superman-Swamp Thing team-up from DC Comics Presents, "The Jungle Line," but they're just deprived. Even the Batman/Clayface story here isn't the draw.

No, what's really important here is Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?, the ultimate Silver Age story, and "For the Man Who Has Everything," possibly the best Superman story ever. (I also entertain the possibility it could be Elliott S! Maggin's novel Miracle Monday.) And the Green Lantern stories are fun, too -- "Mogo Doesn't Socialize," about the biggest lantern; "Tygers," which explains why Abin Sur was using a spaceship when he died and has the unique distinction of having Kevin O'Neill's entire drawing style rejected by the Comics Code Authority; and "In Blackest Night," about the Green Lantern who actually belongs to a slightly different organization.

Alan Moore probably doesn't really want you to read any of that. But, then, Franz Kafka didn't want us to read anything he'd written, and we don't listen to him, either. These are good comics stories in an '80s superhero mode, as "reality" was starting to be taken seriously and caption boxes were expanding to incredible dimensions. They're not the greatest comics ever -- hardly anything is -- but they're very good for what they are, and showed some light at a time when it looked like comics could keep getting better like this. That turned out to not be true, but it wasn't Alan Moore's fault: he pushed as hard as he could in the right direction for a long time.

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