So last week saw a genuine milestone in funnybook history: Alan Moore’s last comic.
Last for now, anyway. He long ago announced this as his retirement from the medium, but he IS still alive, and it’s the prerogative of every mad genius sorcerer to change his mind. Not that I think he will. Moore’s become largely disgusted with the larger funnybook industry, and is famously stubborn once he gets his dander up. So I don’t expect to ever see another Alan Moore comic again.
And that makes me profoundly sad. Much as I think the last decade has ushered in a new Golden Age, with more good comics of more different kinds than the American medium’s ever seen, it’s Moore’s work that I’ve looked forward to the most, by far. Very few people are doing the kind of literary-quality original genre work that Moore has built his career on, and no one is doing it as well. Even Grant Morrison’s output in the last decade has lagged behind Moore’s, with only one major work (Nameless) that I’d even put in Moore’s league. And Moore’s own Providence covered much of the same ground better.
So, yes. I think it’s safe to say that, with Alan Moore’s retirement, I will enjoy comics less. He is, legitimately, a once in a generation talent, and we may have to wait a while before we see someone else of his caliber. Of course, with that said…
I know it’s become popular in some circles to crap on Moore a bit, too. And I hardly think that he’s above criticism, as either a person or as a writer (I personally think he’s a bit weak when doing pure comedy, for example). Likewise, if someone simply doesn’t enjoy his work, that’s their prerogative. Not everyone is going to like everything, and that’s okay. But if you argue that his work’s not good… I think you’re demonstrably wrong. And if you attack him for being pompous while simultaneously defending the actions of a comics industry that’s spent decades going out of its way to screw over the talent every chance it gets… Then, with all due respect, I don’t have much time for your opinion.
It’s that last thing I have trouble really understanding. I am, in most cases, going to side with the creator over the corporation. There are exceptions, of course, but for the most part I’m going to side with the little guy over the bully. And in the comics industry, the major publishing houses have historically tended to be bullies (don’t get me started on the Kirby thing again). So when Moore attacks corporate comics, I can’t help but admit that he has a point. I don’t think he’s 100% correct when he says there’s nothing worth reading in the mix, but hell: Moore himself rather gleefully admits that he’s operating from a position of ignorance there. He’s just too pissed off to care. In between rants (or “tantrums,” as he calls them), he actually has a sense of humor about the whole thing.
And that’s an attitude I can’t help but like, even when I think he’s partially wrong.
But some people have obviously taken deep offense at Moore’s attacks on corporate comics, and I’m not sure I entirely understand why. The sense I get is that they’ve taken it as an attack on them, or perhaps on their personal taste. And I suppose to some extent, it is. If everything is crap, what does that say about the people who read and enjoy that crap? So I guess I understand that part of it. We are all of us nerds, and a lot of nerds have been picked on so much for the things they like that they bristle when they perceive it happening again. And it’s even worse when it comes from someone inside their own circle.
But I’ve seen people go way beyond “Alan Moore can piss off.” I’ve seen people defending some pretty indefensible business tactics in their anti-Moore rants, and the tone of those attacks sometimes takes on an air of desperation. It’s as if they’re afraid that all the comics will go away if Marvel and DC are forced to pay the talent what their creations are actually worth. It’s like some kind of weird variation of Stockholm Syndrome, or (maybe more accurately) like a junkie defending his dealer, no matter how big a scumbag that dealer might be. And they will say anything, defend any unconscionable abuse of power, to keep their supply of that sweet sweet corporate spandex coming.
And that, I do not understand at all. I want good comics, from dedicated creators who feel motivated to do their best work. I do not want replaceable cogs in a storytelling machine.
Which I suppose is as good a segue as any for the review of Alan Moore’s actual last comic. Because this time around, they’re sending up the source of the above illustration: 2000 AD.
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Tempest #6
by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill
So… Is Alan Moore’s final funnybook any good?
Yeah. Yeah, it is. It’s far from his most serious or profound work, mind you, but it is an awful lot of fun. The Tempest (like its Shakespearean namesake) has been sensational and impressive, but not all that deep. It does resolve many of the League series’ on-going themes, like its continual critique of the authoritarian impulse, and the way that the best intentions can sometimes lead to unexpectedly negative results. But mostly, it’s just been a good romp. And here in the final chapter, the tragedies and losses of the previous issues are largely reversed in a satisfyingly glib manner.
Also, it features the end of human civilization.
But at this point, that doesn’t necessarily seem like that big a loss.
And I guess that’s all. I know the review itself is a bit short by Nerd Farm standards. But it’s one of those books that’s better to experience than to discuss. It’s an odd ending to Alan Moore’s comics career, but maybe also a fitting one. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen has been the place where Moore has most enjoyed himself in comics, I think. The book’s been pure fun from day one, and is maybe the purest expression of the thing Moore has always done best: cultural critique.
Some have called that aspect of his work derivative, but I think that misses the point. Moore doesn’t simply write new stories with old characters. He writes new stories that give those characters context, and that say something interesting about the larger world that spawned them. So Watchmen is a super hero story that’s really about comic books, and time, and the Cold War, and the nature of good and evil. From Hell is the Jack the Ripper story, positioned as ground zero for the cultural explosions of the 20th Century. Providence is the follow-up to that, a Lovecraftian horror story that’s all about how Lovecraft’s cosmic madness echoed forward through time to define (or maybe infect) the modern view of the world.
All are examples of Moore drawing things out of the culture (both high and low) to say something worth saying. That’s what makes him the Funnybook Shakespeare, and that’s why his retirement from funnybooks lessens the medium.
So enjoy your retirement, Mr. Moore.
And I’m sorry the bastards ran you off.