Deathblow: Byblows (#1 – 3) – Alan Moore

3 out of 5

From the couple of reviews I can scrounge up on Moore’s last Wildstorm contribution – a Deathblow mini called ‘Byblows’ – the opinion seems rather negative.  Yes, the majority of Moore’s Image stuff isn’t stellar, but I think there are a few different layers on which to read these things: as standalone works – that is, forget that Alan Moore wrote them – as ‘Alan Moore appeals to the Image audience’ bids; and as Alan Moore stories.  The latter case will fail for most readings, and the middle one makes some of the stories interesting from afar, but doesn’t kick them up to great books, by any means.  The first scenario – just read these like they’re comic books – may seem like a cheat, since the whole reason many probably pick them up is due to the author, but it makes some of the stuff Alan did on his way out a bit more pleasing, I think.

By the time of Byblows, we can perhaps assume that Moore was no longer trying to exactly rework his style to the upsized Image tone, and may have lost whatever sparkle (paycheck motivations aside) that had him off and running with the project from the outset.  But: for any criticisms I’ve leveled at the writer, I can’t think of a single instance when he’s just turned in fluff work, and that applies here as well.  It’s actually rather impressive: without really writing an actual Deathblow book (at least, to my awareness of the character), Alan turns in a three-part piece that’s not just a palette-swapped Future Shock or something, but takes some ‘lore’ from the character and adds to his world.  Yes, it’s got a run-and-gun mentality to it, but in a less obnoxious way than his WildC.a.t.s or Spawn books, and sprinkles in a lot of potential that I think Wildstorm only ended up taking the slightest advantage of… but even that is sort of cool, that something you write as you’re out the door had some continuity affects.

Deathblow is a big, gun-toting, regenerating dude.  He doesn’t appear in Byblows.  Instead, we meet characters with the same last name as Deathblow – Cray – who’ve all woken up in various states of confusion from mechanical birthing eggs, stationed around an empty landscape… excepting that Old West town over yonder.  Our tale is focused around Genevieve, a female, who seems more observative than the talks-a-mile-a-minute John-Joe, or the reactive Damon, or the kill-happy Klaus.  While the series somewhat bides its time with long stretches of silence, the pacing makes the brief flashes of action – mostly Klaus attacking everyone – pretty fun, as Genevieve fights her way to understanding who she is, and what this world is.

Moore amusingly tosses in an “it’s all a dream” explanation early – not the actual cause of the situation – just to sort of purposefully dodge that crutch, and dribbles these little tidbits of sci-fi later on that would’ve had enough meat for a longer series, but are also plenty to support this three issue one.  (And could be read as a snipe at Image and DC, but that may be stretching things.)

Character-wise, and in terms of narrative, Byblows is very straightforward for Moore.  It has its ‘mystery’ angle, but it’s played pretty up front, and the fallback to shouty-guy Klaus and the scuffles with him are part of the Wildstorm playbook.  But as a standalone read, it’s entertaining, with animated art from Jim Baikie and an on-the-cuff style of storytelling that belies some its cooler ideas.