Clever title, no?
Welcome, gentle Bloggers, to this week’s Theatre Of The Obvious; the ushers will show you to your seats. Our play tonight is The Most Tragickal Storie of How The DC Universe Swallowede Its Own Monstrous Taile, And Then Liked It Too Muche, starring Alan Moore as Barry Allen, Mark Waid as The Psycho-Pirate, and Geoff Johns as The Anti-Matter Universe of Qward. Everybody’s favourite Ye Olde Grant Morrison makes a walk-on appearance as either Lady Quark or Buddy Baker, I’m not sure which, and our own Keith Giffen supplies sets and costumes to the whole dubious affair as best he can.
Let me say first that I liked Crisis on Infinite Earths, that I like to think Marv Wolfman and I could be friends if I was sufficently knowledgeable about bottles of Scotch, and that I’m glad DC keeps pissing off Alan Moore.
I’m glad, because if they’d never started, he might never have left. And if he’d never left, would we have had From Hell, LOEG, Lost Girls, or Big Numbers? Or even 1963, you see. Grant Morrison is happy to play a pop-magic version of the Fox, the Broome, and the Schwartz with DC Comics, and I love him for it (I love Vimanarama and The Invisibles more, of course, but Seven Soldiers is a career in any league), however the way Grant plays with comics is his own thing, and Alan’s got another.
(Should I have said that Neil Gaiman plays the role of the little Indian boy that Oberon, King of the Fairies, takes a shine to? No, probably not…)
Alan’s like Kirby: no one listens to him, but then they all pick through his wastepaper basket for the treasure of his discarded coffee-cups and stir-sticks once he’s stormed off. Kirby, ever prescient, was right about graphic novels and modern mythology…only no one listened to him. Alan, ever penetrating, was right about the superhero’s truest arch-enemy being horror…and no one listened to him either.
Or rather, they listened: but they didn’t hear.
Well, Grant heard. But aside from Grant.
And so the curtain rises on our play, because I just re-read Alan’s proposal for Twilight Of The Superheroes, and found myself thanking whatever powers may be that he never got the chance to make it. Devilish fellow, he found a way of making a sequel to Watchmen…what audacity. And yet for Alan, audacity’s just part of the way you do things. He didn’t need to be audacious in the world of DC: he’s audacious wherever he goes, he carries his audacity with him. Who is it, that effortlessly creates brand-new superhero concepts and universes that actually sell, while he’s taking a break from more important work? Who is it, whose voice lends solidity to even the slimmest of storytelling reeds? Who is it that does what only hardcore Christian comics can normally do, which is pick up a thread of historical buffery and make viable comics from it. Who made a comic about competitors to the Standard Model of physics. Who made a comic about the intersection of the Mandlebrot set and the gentrification of working-class towns. Who made a comic about the sublimation of masturbation in English fantasy literature. Who is Alan Moore, is who.
So aren’t you glad we never saw him tackle the stultifying topic of “Who Is Donna Troy?”
Although if he had, we’d probably be done with it by now…oh no, Bloggers, don’t kid yourselves: we’re not done…
So there we have Twilight Of The Superheroes, a proposal for a twelve-issue post-Crisis millenial longjohn nightmare in the DCU proper, to be published somewhere around…oh God, it would’ve ended up being sometime in 1989, wouldn’t it? Kee-rist. Talk about having your finger on the pulse. Holy jumpin’ catfish.
And then the influences spreading out from it to other DC titles would’ve lasted (I speculate) perhaps ten years or so, before they would inevitably have gotten, as history shows these things do, somewhat confining and topheavy. Leaving, then, just enough time for a smart turn in some new direction, sometime around the year 2000.
But, it never happened.
Oh, except…it kind of did.
It kind of did, because instead of a twelve-issue limited series beginning and ending sometime in the late Eighties, what we’ve gotten instead is a seemingly never-ending, truthfully rather dated in 2007, infinitely (pardon the pun) more ham-fisted millenial nightmare that just mines and mines and mines Alan’s proposal, and never even bothers refining what comes out of the vein. I love Grant Morrison’s work in the DC Universe. But: Black Adam as Kid Miracleman? Really? Grant, of all people, passed that? Alan certainly never would’ve: he didn’t even want anybody to mention the word “nuclear” in Twilight, he thought by then that was pretty old hat. Oh, Grant. Listen, Mister Miracle #4 is (as I’ve stated on several occasions) one of the best comics I’ve read ever — EVER — but…
Hey, but hold on, let’s not blame it all on Grant. He’s only Lady Quark, after all.
What about Mark Waid?
You see, I love Mark Waid. I’ve absolutely hated a lot of his comics, but when he’s on he’s ON: he’s got a tremendous amount of talent and potential, professionally he’s enormously capable, he can — in a word — write. Well, Geoff Johns can write too, I guess. I have read some Johns stuff which I admired. I’ve read some frickin’ Superman comics by Johns that I’ve admired greatly, surely the litmus test for our sort of genre writer. But where Waid scores, he scores higher than Johns, and that’s hard to deny. Which is only natural: he’s got some years on his little buddy, after all. He should be better!
But then, maybe that also makes him more to blame, you see?
We have Kingdom Come. Alan Moore must feel like Barry Allen in Crisis, his once-fresh (well, I daresay he would not characterize them as fresh, these days) ideas phasing in and out of different time periods through the last twenty years of DC history, and in an ever-more decrepit state each time they’re seen…the Twilight of the superheroes he imagined as a single story (albeit with ramifications) becoming a permanent, tide-locked, line-wide theme…Kingdom Come, with its sublimated House Of Steel/House Of Thunder conflicts and its appallingly didactic, sickeningly corrective “Trinity” shenanigans, seems simply unable to be kept within its allotted little ‘verse in the (where’s that link? SCIPIO, HELP!) fascinatingly suggestive post-52 world of DC multiversal structure…no.
Instead, Kingdom Come, as the most notable and closest copy — we could call it Copy-Prime — of Alan’s Gotterdammerung, just keeps bleeding out onto all the other titles, and all the other universes too.
I’m telling you, they should just burn all the Xeroxes of Alan’s proposal that they have lying around the DC offices. Just burn ‘em and get rid of ‘em. Remove the taint of them. Use hypnosis, if necessary. Heat vision, even. Or, anything but super-ventriloquism, eh? Because only Alan can be Alan: his story was intended (and I don’t believe I’m taking any liberties by saying this) to live or die on its details — details of actual script, art, colouring, lettering. The theme was supposed to be in the work, and never supposed to be decoupled from it. It was not a blueprint for managing editors, it was a story.
A story, not a twenty-year plan for a New Direction!
I’m sure that Mark and Geoff would both readily admit that Alan’s their master, in the realm of comics writing. In fact it’s probably silly to imagine them saying otherwise: no artist worth his salt ever imagines that he’s at the top of the heap in absolute terms (except possibly if his name is Picasso). No real artist likes themselves best. This isn’t athletics, where in order to truly do your damnedest you must be willing to defeat your idol.
Which is why I’m not afraid to say: Mark Waid has played Psycho-Pirate to Alan Moore’s Flash. People think it’s Grant Morrison who plays that part, but they’re wrong. I’ve read every word of all of Mark’s scripts since his first Flash Annual, and his responses in letters pages and editorials too. I’m very familar with Mark’s work. He’s not a traditionalist, despite his encyclopaediac knowledge of comics trivia. He’s an innovator in his heart: a risk-taker. A mountain-biker, if you will. True, he does his best work when pretending to be a traditionalist — and some of his work in that mode is very, very good indeed — but make no mistake. Grant Morrison’s an addle-headed, swooning, girlishly-excited fan-creature. Geoff Johns is a plodding, frequently overly-literal, craftsman-in-the-making full of future potential. Mark Waid’s all business, though. He’s a tiger. He’s a crazy man, fully of age: don’t get in his way, or he’ll knock you down.
At a guess: Alan Moore’s his hero.
Which would explain why he looks and looks on him so.
While Geoff Johns provides the background to that looking.
I love Alan Moore’s writing; but if he were still writing what he’d been writing twenty years ago, I would’ve long since become disenchanted with him. Thank God, then, that he’s never stopped moving or changing! But Twilight Of The Superheroes, his cast in this DC earth, needs to absent itself from the whole being-dug-up thing. He would tell you so himself, if you could get him to care. It really has outlived its time, and I’m beginning to despair of it exhibiting any moral conclusions that aren’t simply, at this point, perfunctory. In just a couple of years, the payoff-moment for all this millenial madness will have come and gone a freakin’ decade ago. We will be into a new era. “These are the times…These are the feelings.” Even Veidt knew that, and in the mid-Eighties no less.
I guess I cry foul. I guess I cry obvious. Anyway I cry, I cry…
Burn those fucking Xeroxes, DC.
You’ve got a year to start the fire. But seriously, that’s the absolute outside limit.
And then after that I hope to God we’ll see something that isn’t a repetition of somebody’s bad mood they had once in the Eighties. That produced some mighty fine comics then. But which isn’t producing any mighty fine comics now, by a long shot.
Thus, is ended, our play!
Costumes and sets lovingly crafted by that underrated talent, Keith Giffen. That guy can make almost anything look good. But seriously, Mr. Waid: please look into exchanging a little of that fire of yours for some cool self-knowledge, because since everybody gets older you will have to do it sometime, and now’s…well, I was going to say now’s as good a time as any, but now’s the time!
And Mr. Johns: as for you, please emulate your own best accomplishments. You’re never too young to put off trying to seem older.
Finally, Mr. Morrison: whatever can you be thinking, Mr. Morrison? But you have some credit in the bank with me, Mr. Morrison. Plaese spend that credit wisely: it’s rather a large amount of credit, and I would hate to see you waste it. I expect to be past the millenium before 2009; and it’s not often I ask you to keep up with me, but…
In all seriousness, I’m through waiting.
Get your shoes on. We’re going for a run.
Hope you cross the finish line before I do.