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The Redoutable Alan Moore (Pt. III)

Monday, December 11, 2006

Go to Part I / Go to Part II / Go to Part IV

By: Beal & James17930

James17930: Well, as mentioned in Part II, I have nothing to do with this one. I definitely plan on reading these two books obviously, but, alas, it won’t be soon enough. She’s all yours Beal.

Beal: Thanks.

In Which Alan Has Some Fun

Tom Strong reads like Alan Moore is taking a break. Putting together the complex layers of a V for Vendetta or a Watchmen is not a casual feat, and I’d imagine Moore and his co-conspirators would be a bit burned out upon completing one of those epics. Whereas with Tom Strong, you get the sense that he scribbles issues out in a bit of a breeze. And because of this, this series makes just as strong a statement about the difference between Moore and the typical writer — his breeze could be their crowning achievment.

B: If reading his high-minded body of work ever gives you the impression that Alan Moore has a bit of disdain for the usual superhero format of the comic book world, Tom Strong should dissuade you from that. It’s a grand love letter to hero comics — the charming classics more so than the current crop. The title character is a hero born of Earthly science, like most of Stan Lee’s great creations, which came about in an age when science wasn’t yet jaded, still doing amazing, sometimes frightening things most people wouldn’t have even thought possible. Tom Strong carries that idea even further: he’s not the product of a scientific accident, but rather a very deliberate, B. F. Skinnerian kind of environmental control project conducted by his father. With every variable predetermined for the first eight years of his life, Tom eventually becomes a man at the absolute height of human ability. And of course he uses this advantage for good (otherwise he’d be the arch-nemesis).

Fighting at Tom’s side is his quirky family of co-heroes, including his tribal wife and their daughter, his robotic butler Pneuman, and a superintelligent gorilla who, for reasons unexplained, speaks in a cockney British accent. Tom was born in 1900, but the series’ present is in the wild, futuristic marvels of the year 2000 — a combination of his father’s science and the ancient wisdom of the West Indies tribe he once lived among (which is where he met his wife) have kept Tom looking a spry 40 at most. Stories are told from across the century, and their contents are without limit, provided they stay within the realms of “science” — by which I mean that same quaint style of pseudoscience that birthed The Fantastic Four and The Incredible Hulk.

This series, a co-creation with artist Chris Sprouse, is a playground for the wildest ideas Alan Moore has had: a superhuman leaping through the universe, planet to planet, for thirty years straight; a speedy juvenile delinquent with the ability to shift the direction of gravity (picture Metropolis lying on its side); and parallel dimensions a-plenty — there’s even one where Tom meets himself in cartoon rabbit form. There’s nothing heavy-handed in these stories, not much of Moore’s trademark metaphor, though it still contains quick little injections of savvy to remind you that you aren’t actually reading a Marvel book from the 60’s — a harsh racist barb from a Nazi villain, or a frank allusion to the sexual relationship between Tom and his wife (or between his teenage daughter and her new boyfriend).

Ultimately, I think the goal of Tom Strong is just to be simple and fun to read. It’s Alan Moore’s way of reminding us that he hasn’t forgotten that stories don’t have to be steeped in social criticism or literary history — sometimes fun really is enough.

New Adventures For Little Girls

I’m not sure how to write about this one. Lost Girls is Alan Moore’s ‘newest’ book (I scare-quote newest because it’s only recently become available in its completed form, but he and now-fiancee, artist Melinda Gebbie have been working on it for 16 years, and sections have been released in the past), and it’s an odd one even for him. I’ve only read the first portion of the book, unfortunately, so I can’t speak of the big picture, but even a small glance at Lost Girls gives more than enough material to talk about.

A recent controversy illustrates: the Great Ormond Street Hospital, the children’s hospital in the UK which holds copyright elements for J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan and Wendy, has said they’re considering suing the company publishing Lost Girls to prevent its release in the UK (or at least they were. The clash seems to have been resolved in the period of our idleness). Why? Because Lost Girls shows Peter and Wendy, as well Wendy’s little brothers John and Michael, having graphic orgiastic sex. I haven’t gotten to that particular part yet, but I’ve seen enough to understand their concern.

Lost Girls retells the stories of Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, and The Wizard of Oz, framing them in a story of the three protagonists as adults, all of it explicitly pornographic. The art is fanciful, but detailed. If, led by what we’ve already said about Moore, you’re thinking that this work is actually a high-minded satire of, or just using, the form of porn, you’re wrong. This is pornography, at its most extreme — underage sex, incest, pedophilia, golden showers. And the high-minded idea that Alan Moore wants to get across is that this is not a bad thing.

Based on what I have read, I’d say it’s not as layered as anything else of his I’ve read, even Tom Strong, but that’s because to do so would defeat its whole purpose — erotica for its own sake is a good enough thing. Now, this is Alan Moore, so it’s still not as simplistic as, say, a Penthouse spread. Really, it’s only simplistic for Alan Moore; next to most books it’s still very literary and its characters speak beyond its pages (though this observation may be tainted by the fact that I haven’t read the full work).

The art in this is more important than in most of his other work — whereas previously the images at best work side-by-side with the words, and at worst are overshadowed by them, in Lost Girls they are certainly more important. The dialogue does its part to establish scene, character, and some key details, but a lot of it is pure trifle, designed to float easily past so we can pay attention to the real meat of the moment — the picture of Dorothy deliriously masturbating as her Kansas home is ripped into the sky by the twister, or a grey-haired Alice in 69 with an adult Dorothy on a lawn outside the hotel where the three storybook heroines happened to meet. The drawing and colouring style suggests to me, a guy who doesn’t remember too much from his high school art classes, a late 18th-/early 19th-century style, Impressionism and Expressionism mixed in with pre-photography, illustrated erotica of the now-charmingly quaint kind, only not so quaint.

I’d like to say more, but I really shouldn’t — there’s probably a lot to this story than I’ve yet to see, even if most of it is just new, complicated positions. My feelings at this point are that it’s certainly an ambitious project in terms of subject matter, with an intent that I admire, but it’s only just got my interest enough to get me to keep reading. I’m not salivating, I’m not ordering the full book off of Amazon as I type this. If it wasn’t written by an author I have a fairly high level of faith in, I don’t know if I’d even go on.

J: Well, I guess that’s it. Usually, with this type of thing, a conclusion summing everything up would be in order, but I think we’ve already said everything good about Moore that can possibly be said. Anything else you’d like to add Mr. Beal?

B: All my teachers said you’re supposed to restate your thesis in your conclusion, so why don’t we do just that? Here it is: Alan Moore is good at what he does. Have a nice day. 03971semaj laebmada

9 Comments leave one →
  1. James17930 permalink
    Monday, December 11, 2006 12:52 pm

    Yay we’re done!

    That was fun. We should do it again sometime.

  2. Mark permalink
    Tuesday, December 12, 2006 7:44 pm

    Nice series on Alan Moore. I would argue your claim that Miracleman and Swamp Thing were not among his major works (all brilliant and important… plus John Totleben’s art is simply amazing), but that’s just one nerd’s opinion.

    I’m also a big fan of Top-10, even though it is a lighter, minor series. But very funny (especially the drunk Godzilla-esque monster wearing the “No Fat Chicks” T-shirt).

    And I just received my copy of Lost Girls from Love it. Definitely some inspired stuff in it, too.

  3. Tuesday, December 12, 2006 8:29 pm

    We’re not arguing that Miracleman and Swamp Thing aren’t major works, we’re arguing that we haven’t read them. And I think we’d win that argument.

  4. James17930 permalink
    Wednesday, December 13, 2006 12:09 am

    I think I argued that the reason we hadn’t read them was because they weren’t his major works.

    So — it’s a toss-up.

  5. Wednesday, December 13, 2006 4:35 am

    You said that? How could you? This man does not speak for me! I want a divorce!

  6. James17930 permalink
    Wednesday, December 13, 2006 10:43 am

    Then what’s the reason for you reading Tom Strong, Watchmen and V and not Swamp Thing?


  7. James17930 permalink
    Wednesday, December 13, 2006 10:44 am

    Oh, and thanks Mark.

  8. Frenchie permalink
    Tuesday, December 19, 2006 4:19 pm

    I’ve never read anything he’s done. But now I really want to. How can I even consider myself a nerd? Oh well, at least I have a shirt with Spiderman and the Hulk eating Superman’s lunch on it.

    Oh and James I still have your xmen graphic novel.

  9. Sunday, August 5, 2007 1:39 pm

    A SexTV piece on Lost Girls, with some interview, some reading aloud, and lots of naughty, naughty pictures. Oh my!

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