Another person who deserves his own entry in this series is Alan Moore, surely the most award-laden writer in the history of comics, and one of the most influential.
He first came to prominence in the early ’80s in Britain, with two great stories in Warrior. Marvelman (later renamed Miracleman) was a ’50s Brit Captain Marvel (the Shazam one) knock-off, but Alan recreated him brilliantly, with beautiful and sharp Garry Leach art (ha, namedropping: I ate with Garry a couple of weeks ago) – Garry was followed by various other artists. V For Vendetta was even better, a lone anarchist against a repressive future fascist British state, a clear comment on Thatcher’s Britain. David Lloyd provided bold art almost reminiscent of woodcuts. This is the earliest of Moore’s works to be adapted for the screen – one of these days we might see a good movie based on one of them, but I’m not holding my breath.
Alan was recruited by DC and given the rather stagnant Swamp Thing. His second issue, ‘Anatomy Lesson’, was a breathtaking surprise, completely redefining the character, and he continued this for years, making him into something completely new, a kind of ecological spirit. Alan also wanted to write something using the Charlton heroes that had been acquired by DC, but his ideas were too destructive to the characters, so he had to create his own analogues, and this, with artist Dave Gibbons, became Watchmen, perhaps the most praised superhero comic ever. It’s an intelligent, adult angle on the concept, introducing approaches that have been huge in American comics ever since. I’ve never been sure how appealing it would be to people who hadn’t grown up on pre-Moore superheroes, and weren’t therefore thrilled at this new take on them.
(A note on influence: Alan brought a new level of realism into these comics, and unprecedented intelligence and thought about structure. Sadly, less smart writers copied the wrong things, and just repeated his new tropes as signifiers of realism, and worse still, copied Alan’s often painfully overdone prose. Having said that, Alan did open the way for some brilliant writers too – it’s hard to imagine the Morrison and Millar superhero comics of recent years without Moore having been there.)
Later works are more inconsistent, I think. From Hell was a Jack The Ripper story with the wonderful Eddie Campbell – I don’t care who Jack was, and for me, the most interesting parts are also often the most tedious, but it’s an extraordinarily intense read. Supreme was a totally adorable take on old Superboy stories, but much as I enjoyed it, it marks for me an entry into a less interesting phase of Alan’s career, where he took standard comic styles and redid them, with considerable cleverness and craft – but much of it feels pointless. I really can’t care about Tom Strong, his take on things like Doc Savage and Flash Gordon, however well it’s done.
The only recent work I really love is Top Ten, a sci-fi tale of superhero cops. It’s hugely enjoyable and imaginative, but I suspect part of the reason I love it is that I like to believe that it partly derives from conversations we had twenty years and more ago (we were friends, back then), about trying to do something like Hill Street Blues in comic books – it certainly reads very like that great TV show. Over the years, Alan has become more and more obsessed with magic, and while his ideas about that are kind of fresh, something like Promethea seems to be too much a vehicle for his exposition of these, and there is often no story to speak of for significant stretches.
I love Alan Moore, but I don’t know whether he will produce any more comics that I treasure as much as a lot of his old ones.