2 out of 5
I’m guessing I likely followed a fairly common path for many comic readers: having drifted back into the fold in my early 20s post regular youthly readings of some choice titles (Spider-Man, TMNT), and surprised by the depth of some of Marvel’s and DC’s offerings. You could dip into a good run of Morrison stuff, or Waid, or Rucka – just getting started in comics around then – or Brubaker; guys who still write now, but at a time pre-social media frenzy and pre-Infinite Crisis (which I feel kicked off a downward trend of always on events for both publishers). And then that surprise was leveraged into the energy to explore back issue bins and find more independent works, or less current stuff. Supposing you’d been living in complete comic isolation, that meant getting to read works by Alan Moore for the first time, and comics as a passion of mine blossomed.
After bouncing back and forth between indies and Marvel and DC for a while, my interest in the latter dwindled; even writers whose indie works I followed eagerly struggled to turn the spandex crew into consistently good reading. Nowadays, I read reviews claiming that X’s or Y’s run on Batman or X-Men is game changing and fantastic, and I glance at an issue and still see all the same soap opera dynamics on display. Acknowledging that this doesn’t make them bad – just not for me – it’s clear it takes a certain type to ‘get in to’ mainstream books, and I lost that spark along the way.
Alan Moore, for all of his curmudgeonly-ness, has written mainstream books at different points. And while classed in the same kind of ‘takes it and makes it his own’ breed as the king of that, Grant Morrison, Moore’s Big Two works have been less revisionist than that; instead, I feel like he looks to what ‘makes’ a title, and tries to embrace that or embellish it. It’s tempting to think that he was strictly chasing a paycheck or pursuing a yuk with his dive into 90s babes-and-bullets-and-pockets-and-muscles Image – and surely he has admitted to writing strictly as a job for pay on occasion – but I do think his intentions were the same as above in his time with the publisher, he just couldn’t quite figure out what ‘makes’ a book that’s based solely on visuals, and the got waylaid by the thing that screws over all major books: a crossover event. Hitting in the middle of his Wildc.a.t.s run, ‘Fire From Heaven’ hits the brakes, majorly, on some of the more interesting concepts Moore was toying with, and when his regular story resumes, it’s on a downward slope of cliche and artist-swapping. Still, he sticks it out, but one could suppose he’d lost some aspirations along the way.
During his 13 issue run, Morrison uses his jumping on point, which has the ‘original’ WCs off into space and a new team on Earth, to explore what happens to the former when they discover that their cause (a war between two races) is actually already resolved, and what happens for the latter when they scrape together a team from disparate and “unnatural” sources, including two Moore creaions: a completely makeshift human TAO, and a snarling baddie coerced into goodie-ness, Maxine Black. For what they are, Moore’s first few issues exploring this are actually rather good: for the space stuff, the ‘c.a.t.s face a reality shock in realizing that the race for which they were fighting has the old in-built problems of any society – class disparity, racism – and the Earth stuff finds an interesting balance that allows for the series’ fisticuffs while poking fun at them at the same time, but in an inclusive manner that the audience can appreciate instead of being alienated by. This wraps back around to my separating the indie from the mainstream: I wouldn’t classify what Moore was doing as great standalone comic book work, but it was definitely good for Image stuff, and, if anything, started him out on a path that I would say eventually led to the formation of his ABC universe. Alas, the series succumbs to its own top-heavy nature, with the cliched dialog and heavy-handed romance and character names like Overt-Kill only able to be explored so far; the run, its it latter half, has to drag itself to a conclusion, which is really just Moore clearing the decks for the next creative team than ably evolving off of anything he introduced. But again, I’d say he tried.
The art-first focus of Image at the time was a weird little cultural blip, and also led to what I’d imagine were some frustrations that I can picture Moore initially viewing as challenges… Namely, golden boy Travis Charest (who, to my eye, liked drawing excessively detailed foreground figures but got bored by backgrounds) would ignore some indications from the narration to instead draw ‘cool’ panels, and later, action-heavy sequences require dialog to come from off the page, making the timing and flow of the words clunky.
If you were a Wildc.a.t.s fan, I think there’s value here. If you’re a Moore follower, I also think there’s value here, recognizing it as a talented writer trying to write for Image instead of writing for himself. But: would this have been one of those books in my early days that made me reassess what superhero books could be? Likely not.