Few could argue that Alan Moore is one of, if not THE, greatest and most innovative comic writers of all time. More than just an entertaining storyteller, Moore constantly finds new ways to expand and manipulate the workings of the medium itself, which in turn opens doors for other writers to take his lead and approach stories from these fresh angles.
Where other writers imitate the approach of other mediums, transposing them onto the comicbook page, Moore refuses to see comics as anything but what they are; a sequence of images, coupled with words, which together tell a story, and he delights in it. With this basic concept in mind he goes on to string together these simple ingredients in ways that, though at first seeming complex and infinitely clever, on closer inspection have you beguiled by their easily explained obviousness, and wondering why such things have never been attempted before (though sometimes they are in actual fact complex and infinitely clever).
To explain such clevernesses individually would take a very, very long time, and to try to do so here would do them a disservice, such explanations can however be found by the curious elsewhere on this wonderful information super-highway of ours, but suffice to say, in this writer’s opinion, Alan Moore is one of the greatest geniuses to work in this, or any other of the entertainment mediums, and has changed the way we see it, directly and otherwise, more than any other writer ever, and I DO NOT bound the word genius around too often. In short, he has a deeper understanding than most of us ever will.
Over the last decade or so many of Moore’s works have been popularised by a film industry that he detests and refuses to have a part in. Attempts at such productions range from brave and faithful adaptations that nonetheless are hard pressed to touch on the detail and nuance of the original books (Watchmen, V for Vendetta), through entertaining movies that bare little resemblance to the source material (Constantine), to monstrosities that miss the point entirely (From Hell, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen).
Despite his standing within the comic and film industry much of his output goes overlooked, either because it is contrary to what is popular at the time of its release or because people assume that good stories can’t be made from the lame characters that he has chosen to take on. But if there’s one thing that I’ve learnt from Moore’s work, it’s that a fresh eye, a clever twist and a good story can give any character worthiness.
So here are my top five overlooked Alan Moore books.
The Complete Alan Moore Future Shocks: The British sci-fi anthology comic, 2000AD, has a long standing feature called Tharg’s Future Shocks which are basically short, self-contained tales with a twist, like a bite-sized, sci-fi heavy episode of The Twilight Zone, and it’s contents can be funny, tragic and everything in between.
During his formative years in the industry, Moore did quite a few Future Shocks. All are smart and entertaining, but a handful of the episodes reach heights of intelligence rarely seen in comics of any length or genre, and with hindsight are massively influential through all corners of science fiction based entertainment. Echoes of the work reverberate as far a field as Red Dwarf, Bill and Ted and Warhammer 40,000.
Captain Britain: Marvel’s protector of the British Isles, Captain Britain, is sent my his mentor, Merlin, to a doomed parallel earth that he is unable to save, but when the same fate is passed on to his own earth, will he have learnt enough to save it?
As became a pattern in Moore’s career, he took on the writing chores of this Marvel UK backup story from a fairly lacklustre run and proceeded to rejuvenate it with wit, character and smarts. It introduced the oft-replicated notion of a multi-dimensional army of Captain Britains, created or nurtured characters that would become mainstays in the Marvel Universe (Chris Claremont fell in love with the characters to such a degree that he based the book Excalibur around them and made numerous unsuccessful attempts to recapture the life Moore injected into Cap). It also features the singular eventuality of a superhero winning the day by getting his arse kicked, repeatedly. If you need another reason to pick up the book, then know that this was the book that superstar artist Alan Davis cut his teeth on; you can actually see his style developing into what it is as the story progresses.
Alan Moore’s Complete WildC.A.T.S: Jim Lee’s Wildstorm universe Kicked-off with WildC.A.T.S, a team of superpowered aliens that centuries ago brought their war with another alien race to Earth. Since then they do whatever they can to assist humanity against threats we may not be able to handle ourselves, but seeking long overdue news on their war, the WildC.A.T.S start a long voyage home, leaving in their stead a team of less practiced ‘heroes’ led the über-powerful Mr Majestic.
Yet again Moore took a directionless book and gave it intelligence and meaning. The concept was a simple one; taking the legend of the marooned Japanese soldiers that decades after World War II assumed it was still going on, he applied it to the WildC.A.T.S as they discovered that the war they had been fighting for centuries had long since ended and they themselves had been forgotten about. Meanwhile the stand-in team indulged in their own adventures, with the distinct impression that someone somewhere was manipulating them. Characters such as the Superman-alike, Mr Majestic, were inventively explored and new characters such as the foul-mouthed Lady Tron and the super-intellect Tao were introduced, and let me assure you, no one, NO ONE writes super-geniuses like Moore.
Supreme: Comicbook characters are often revamped, reimagined, and thrown into elseworld tales with wild abandon, a fact that the superhero, Supreme, is oblivious to until several versions of himself that have been written out of continuity pay him a visit and take him to The Supremium, an other-dimensional space were all the out of continuity Supremes live, including a simpler 50’s Supreme, grim 80’s Supreme, Squeak The Supremouse and many, many more.
Taking perhaps one of the lamest of Rob Liefeld’s lame characters, Moore spun, what on the surface, seemed to be a simple, fun and entertaining tale, but underneath explored what is and isn’t reality within a fictional universe with a supposed continuity. Much of the fun came with the amazingly authentic feeling 50’s flashback pages, which at first seemed to be there simply to build a history for a character that had none, but come the end of the story contained vital plot nuance that eventually brings the story full circle. This is one of those stories in which Moore MUST have know where he was heading before he even put pen to paper on the first issue.
Promethea: In a futuristic world not quite our own, were science heroes and villains can be regularly spotted, young student, Sophie Bangs, is investigating the occurrences of a little known goddess called Promethea re-appearing in not-so-popular fiction through the ages. As it turns out, to write of Promethea with meaning is to invoke her spirit, and so Sophie invites the soul of Promethea into her own and together they must travel the roads of understanding reality to find out their part in the coming apocalypse.
Promethea is nothing less than Alan Moore’s beliefs on reality itself. Within the pages he talks us through the very meaning of science, belief, religion, magic, creativity, maths, language, sex, the afterlife and how, if looked at from the right angle, all weave together to form a system that are both one and all of them. This all might sound quite heavy, but Moore excels in presenting complex ideas in a way that is easy to follow and somehow makes sense without feeling like you’re being talked down to. He makes you feel smart. This beside, J.H. Williams III’s artwork, under the guidance of Moore, is a true sight to behold. At first it finds interesting ways to layout a page, but as the series progresses the pair find brand new ways for you to read a comic, totally screwing with the medium, some pages can be read forwards and backwards and still make sense, some pages you can jump into at any panel and still reach their intended point, one double spread is an actual infinity loop which can be read forever, and the entire last issue can be read in two totally separate fashions (I won’t ruin the surprise and tell you how). Promethea is without doubt the single most innovative series since Watchmen and it is a crime that more people have not read it.
There are indeed other titles out there that kind of went under the radar, and some that looked to be great but never finished, and I would hope that the short list here presented will put some folk on the road to discovering the works of Alan Moore that aren’t Watchmen. If that be the case, you’re in for a world of great stories and perhaps a new outlook on many things.