So this week, we’ve got an increasingly rare occurrence: competing comics from Britain’s premiere funnybook-writing sorcerers! Alan Moore and Grant Morrison have been at odds for years, on pretty much every level. It’s a very personal feud that’s extended into their approaches to magic, writing, and life in general. And like most bitter enemies, they have more in common than either of them likes to admit. But enough prelims! Let’s get on with the latest round in the on-going mystical battle of Moore vs Morrison!
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Tempest 4
by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill
So I feel like an idiot. Partially because just last week, I was talking about how The Tempest‘s lighter satirical tone wasn’t doing it for me, and now, with issue four, it all somehow clicked. But also because…
Actually… Y’know… It occurs to me that a lot of people read the League in trade, and would prefer to avoid SPOILERS until they read it. So if you’re just reading this review to get an idea of what the new book’s like, I’ll just say this: it’s an odd duck of a comic, and not really my favorite League volume, even now. It’s a trip through British comics history, written and drawn in a variety of styles that I don’t know enough about to entirely appreciate. The series loses much of its depth here in the final volume because of that approach, and that bothers me. But it’s better than I thought it was over the course of the first three issues, and (as so often happens with Alan Moore’s work) it’s drawing together plot threads I was only vaguely aware of in a way that makes me wonder if I shouldn’t work on my reading comprehension skills.
And now, with that out of the way, anyone who wants to avoid SPOILERS should probably just skip on down to the next review. Because, holy frijoles, I can’t say anything else without SPOILING this book entirely.
Eyes no longer tempted to flash over the next bit, out of some masochistic urge to accidentally ruin The Tempest for yourself?
Alright, then. From here on, it’s ALL-SPOILER, ALL THE TIME.
You have been warned.
Now, what was I saying? Oh, yeah! I was saying that I felt like an idiot after reading this issue, because… It turns out that Our Heroes have been fighting for the wrong side all this time. Or, well… Maybe more accurately… It’s not that they’re on the wrong side so much as it is that there is no right side, really. I mean, you can’t argue that all the murderous invaders and power-mad assholes they’ve fought over the years were actually in the right. They most assuredly were not. But this issue, we discover that Prospero has been working for Gloriana the Faerie Queen all along, orchestrating an extremely long con, a 500-year-long revenge plot in which he’s pitted the forces of freedom and the forces of oppression against each other, toward the end of destroying human society and restoring the Faerie-Folk as masters of the Earth.
This revelation comes out over the course of the issue, and it’s like pieces of a puzzle snapping unexpectedly into place. Though I couldn’t list them all, even now, it felt like a great many tiny details from the history of the League books suddenly fit together in a way they hadn’t before. Mostly, though, it made sense of the way that the League has always been tied to its own oppressors. Even when it operated against them, it could never really escape them. And now we know why.
So, yes. This fourth issue of The Tempest serves as something of a keystone for the entire League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series. It changes the way you see everything that’s come before it, without invalidating any of it. And though I’d have to do a re-read to be sure, I suspect that this plan has been in place in Moore’s head at least since Black Dossier (published a shocking twelve years ago). I mean, I dunno. Maybe it’s more an artifact of Moore’s late-life rejection of modern pop culture, and of the comics industry in general. But he’s made it FEEL like something that’s been there all along. And that’s really the trick, isn’t it?
The Green Lantern 3
by Grant Morrison and Liam Sharpe
On the other side of the mystic divide, meanwhile, we have Grant Morrison doing his take on Green Lantern. Morrison’s work has become less and less satisfying to me over the last few years, with occasional moments of brilliance flaring up in-between stories that aren’t as good as I want them to be. And The Green Lantern falls into that latter camp. The writing’s very disjointed. It’s missing some of the essential connective tissue of storytelling. When I go back to it, I can see that all the pieces are there. But they haven’t been woven together as well as they should have been, and that weakens the reading experience.
But it’s also tremendous fun, and that (so far) wins the day for me.
A big reason for that is the book’s attitude and style, which Morrison’s pretty blatantly ripping off from 2000 AD, the now-venerable British weekly that gave us Judge Dredd. 2000 AD leavens its heroic sci-fi tales with healthy dollops of satire and shock. The results are often terribly adolescent, but also an awful lot of fun. It’s a bit like EC Comics in that regard, I suppose, except without being destroyed by puritanical censorship.
Anyway. Morrison’s Green Lantern reads like 2000 AD, and that’s not a bad thing at all. It’s weird and fun, and I laugh a lot when I read it. It doesn’t make a lick of sense, mind you. But I love the sheer audacity of the concepts. The current story, for instance, is about the alien Volgar Zo, who steals entire planets and auctions them off to the highest bidder. At the end of the last issue he stole the Earth, and now Hal Jordan’s leading a Green Lantern SWAT team to break up the auction, and arrest a bunch of outer space perps. Including the biggest perp of them all…
Heh. That’s right. God shows up at the auction, outbids everybody by a wide margin, and is about to fly off with the Earth when the Green Lanterns bust the joint. Except that (SPOILER!) he’s not actually Capital-G God. He’s a cosmic entity known as The Shepherd, who takes errant planets and cares for them in his cosmic garden, nurturing and caring for them until (after a thousand years or so) they turn ripe. Then he eats them.
He also doesn’t look like an old white man. In reality, he’s a weird toothy alien giant with shape-shifting powers. But looking and acting like a popular conception of God makes it easier to pacify the population. It’s also way funnier, and allows us to have scenes like this:
The Shepherd also sways the population by giving everybody super powers, so even after Hal reveals the truth to everyone… they’re kind of okay with it.
After that bit of hilarity, however, things take a darker turn. Stopping Volgor Zo’s slave ship reveals him to be even worse than he already seemed (and he seemed pretty freaking bad). But in the hold of his space galley are the oarsmen who power the engines, hideously transformed by radiation. Children turned into emaciated zombies, begging for death. Zo explains that the enslaved kids are just “merchandise,” and demands that the Green Lanterns respect his culture. This final outrage drives Hal over the edge, and he kills Zo in cold blood, in full view of his fellow officers. They’re all shocked, but Hal’s got a ready response.
So I suppose that next, we’ll be dealing with issues of police brutality. Which seems a bit heavy for a comic as slight as this one, but going back to that 2000 AD influence, it makes sense. Judge Dredd is a heroic fascist, after all, and half the fun of reading the better Dredd stories is that queasy dark comedy tug of war between the character’s admirable qualities and his utterly appalling attitudes. So if Morrison’s going to write Hal Jordan like Dredd with a magic wishing ring… That’s pretty interesting.
Yeah, I think I’ll stick around for that.
So! Who won this late skirmish in the battle of Britain’s Funnybook Sorcerers? Hmm… Y’know, going into this I was pretty sure that my narrative was going to be that Moore won rather handily. But now I’m not so sure. Morrison’s greatest strength on The Green Lantern is the light, airy approach. It’s fun, and that makes me like it more than it maybe deserves. Moore’s light, airy approach on The Tempest, meanwhile, actually lessens the book for me. Even though he pulled off an impressive plot twist, he’s mimicking the stilted dialogue and heavy-handed writing of old funnybooks so closely that it prevents his usual nuances of character and dialogue. The whole thing feels like a bad joke, and I don’t like that.
Honestly, neither of these books finds its author at the top of his game. I think Moore’s the better writer at this point (and, if I’m being honest, probably always has been). But in this current battle between them… I’m going to have to call it a draw.