April 2006

Bill Baker

gutterslut

Approaching Mount Moore

So you've seen V for Vendetta, and maybe read the fine graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Lloyd, and you want to read something else in a similar vein. Then again, you could just be looking for something completely different, something that's a bit unusual, but won't be a waste of your time. And you figure that you'd like to try out this comics thing for yourself, and thought you'd start with one of the best.

No matter how you look at it, the truth of the matter is that Alan Moore's many collections, original graphic novels and adapted works combine to form one of the most formidable libraries in modern comics, both in terms of sheer size and quality of content. And that's because, over the course of the nearly three decades that he toiled in commercial comics, Moore wrote a great many comics, and he did it exceedingly well the entire time. But such rich fecundity can have some surprising downsides. For instance, where does one start reading Moore's work?

A number of the obvious answers center on one of his many widely-recognized masterpieces. Some would suggest Watchmen, V for Vendetta or even Swamp Thing as the perfect means of transport to the wonderful and terrifying worlds envisioned by Moore, and these would make for very fine starting points, indeed. Other answers would lean towards the author's creator owned work, with project like From Hell and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen leading the pack. Again, these are fine spots to start any exploration of "Mount Moore." In fact, I've recommended all of the above to various readers, as well as The Complete Ballad of Halo Jones, Top Ten and Promethea, among other titles, depending on the prospective reader's stated general interests and my sense of what might suit them. But it's also occurred to me that one recently released book, in particular, might make for yet another very good introductions to the rich imagination of Mr. Moore and his friends.

For those more interested in his take on super heroes, or those readers more interested in shorter pieces, I'd be hard pressed to come up with a better introduction than DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore. Essentially a collection of the various fill-in issues, short stories, special event and one shot comics done by Moore for DC Comics in the mid-80s, this book fairly crackles with wit and energy and a skewed sense of playfulness bordering on the dangerous. There's a real feeling that almost anything can happen in these tales, despite their being firmly placed within the strictly controlled environment of commercial comics. Even today, after twenty years, most of these tales have a snap and sturdiness that titles published just last week already lack.

When I even briefly consider the various tales making up this collection -- ranging from the superb sci-fi pulp of the opening story "For the Man Who Has Everything" wherein the celebration of Superman's birthday nearly heralds his death, to the sublime "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow," which addresses the known facts of the Man of Steel's final days, to the chilling and tragic "Batman: The Killing Joke" -- I can only state that this book is overstuffed with some of the very best modern comics ever made.

Sure, in between those "tent pole" pieces you might find some stories that work better than others. And, yeah, the two part tale featuring the Vigilante might not be the best script Moore ever did, nor has the Green Arrow tale aged all that well in some senses. Still, Moore's "it's OK" or "it's pretty good" is basically equal to most writer's best work, if comparisons must be made. And it's not as if this is a book crammed with filler material. In fact, some of the shortest pieces here -- I'm thinking of "Mogo Doesn't Socialize" and "Brief Lives" and "Footsteps" -- pack an incredible punch for their length. Even more telling, they're also filled with ideas that can and will haunt your thoughts for days, even weeks after you've encountered them. That, my dear readers, is a sign of fine writing.

Now the collection isn't without its blemishes. The main one is that when gathering the material for this volume, a few mistakes, mainly of omission, crept into the final product. For instance, Alan's rather nice one page introduction to "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow" that explains with some élan that what follows is only an imaginary story (don't ask; only in comics would this become an issue) somehow went missing. I've also heard that some other items, mainly captions within existing tales, also mysteriously didn't make it into this volume. Now, while it's very true that these are not good things by any stretch of the imagination, I really don't think that it constitutes anything approaching a fatal flaw. I know this because I've read the entire book and found any omissions to be minimally distracting, at worst, and of no real consequence to my enjoyment or understanding of the stories in this fine and fun collection. And I suspect that the majority of readers, who are really mainly concerned with having an enjoyable and interesting reading experience, would agree with me.

So it's not perfect. What in this life really is?

The bottom line here is that DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore contains such an overwhelming amount of truly good, accessible and highly enjoyable comics that I've now added it to my recommended reading list. And it's also a perfect place for beginners to encounter comics for the first time, or to start training for their own assault on the major works which make up the main body of that wonderful literary edifice I've begun to refer to as Mount Moore.

DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore is published by DC Comics. Want to know more? Head on over to their website at DCcomics.com.

DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore by Alan Moore
DC Comics
ISBN: 1401209270
304 Pages