Friday, April 29, 2011

On Alan Moore

So here's the thing about Alan Moore: I think he's an incredibly overrated writer of comics. I know that that opinion is simultaneously unpopular and popular. It's an unpopular opinion among the great multitude of people who think that Watchmen is the best comic ever, that Killing Joke is the best Batman story, and that everything else Alan Moore touches turns to gold.

It's also a popular opinion in that there are inevitably contrarians who will talk badly about the works of Alan Moore solely because the majority of fans and reviewers like what he does.

I don't fit into either of those camps. I don't think Alan Moore is great and nor do I think he's terrible. Watchmen is okay, but it's a bit too pessimistic for my tastes. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (at least what I've read) is excellent, but Moore's Green Lantern and Batman stuff mostly leave me cold.

But the thing we really need to be talking about (based on the events of the past few weeks) is Alan Moore's work on Swamp Thing. No doubt there are those screaming that DC has destroyed Moore's work on the character.

For those of you unfamiliar with Swamp Thing and Who He Is and How He Came To Be, I'll lay out the basic facts. The modern version of Swamp Thing was created by Len Wein and Berni Wrightson in 1972. A scientist named Alec Holland is at work in the swamps of Louisiana when agents of a mysterious figure attempt to murder him with a bomb. He catches on fire and rushes into the swamp. Presumed dead, he is actually transformed into a hideous swamp monster and from thereon out must deal with the loss of his humanity.

It's a concept we've seen before, and one that works well. How does such a being deal with the loss of his humanity? How does he interact with those who will inevitably hate and fear him? We've returned to this concept with Aaron Lopresti's recent Garbage Man story in the Weird Worlds anthology.

But then Alan Moore comes along and completely changes the concept. Alan Moore seems to enjoy doing this; he likes to take things and graft his own ideas onto them without really caring about what may have come before. Alan Moore reinterprets Swamp Thing as a plant elemental who only believes that he's Alec Holland.

Now, admittedly I haven't read Alan Moore's Swamp Thing. But I have a hard time seeing how you could continue with the original concept after that. If he was never a human being then there's really "dealing with the loss of one's humanity." There are a slew of other issues, sure. But we lose the original, key concept of the character of Swamp Thing.

Which brings us back to Brightest Day. As I noted, some people are annoyed that Alan Moore's Swamp Thing has basically been undone. In Brightest Day Alec Holland actually becomes Swamp Thing. While others may disagree, I think this is a good thing. They are basically undoing what I see as a mistake made by Alan Moore.

When you work in a shared super-hero universe it's important to try and respect and stay true to the core concepts of the characters that are shared. Geoff Johns adds a lot of stuff to characters and concepts, but he always builds off the core. Alan Moore never seemed to care about that. Who cares about the writers that come next when you can just change a characters origin completely or shoot her in the spine?

Personally, I'm glad Alan Moore is no longer writing for DC. And I'm also glad that Swamp Thing is back... And back the way he should be.

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At 9:51 PM, Blogger Swellsman said...

Sorry, but I've got to disagree with you on this one. As I understand it, your main disagreement w/Moore on Swamp Thing was that he took away the character's "core concept" because the character no longer had to come to grips with no longer being human.

But that isn't really what happened. In fact, a great deal of the first part of Moore's run was exploring this loss of humanity. Finding out that everything you've ever known about your life, all of your memories, your very identity has been mistaken . . . how can that not be part and parcel of coming to grips with losing humanity. I mean, if you woke up one day to find out that everything you remembered about your life was a lie and that you were really an android -- no parents, children, relatives, past loves, friends -- don't you think you'd spend some time trying to get used to what you just lost? Well, so did Swamp Thing.

Also, I don't have too much of a problem with writers taking liberties with characters if it then allows the writer to do something really interesting and entertaining with them. While Swamp Thing may have been an inhabitant of the DCU, he was certainly never a superhero. Rather, he was created during the 70's as a sort of foray for DC into "monster titles."

When Moore came along and made him a plant elemental, he was able to introduce a whole host of supernatural events, characters and stories that actually harkened back to those early Len Wein days. I recognize that you haven't read Moore's Swamp Thing, but take my word for it: pick up Moore's "American Gothic" run of stories, and watch what Moore can make out of vampires, werewolves, zombies, ghosts, etc.

Those were some damn fine stories, and throughout his run I thought Moore always did a fine job referencing the original 70's run while continuing to expand on it and deepen it. (This is especially true where we meet Chester, the hippie, for the first time out in the swamp gathering interesting looking plant specimens. One of the characters eats what Chester finds and has terrible visions, many of which were lifted right out of Wein's original work.)

At 9:58 AM, Blogger SallyP said...

My goodness, you ARE brave!

There are a whole LOT of writers who feel the need to make their "mark" on characters and stories without any kind of regard for what came before. I'm looking at YOU Winick! And it must be admitted that Alan Moore is one of them. Albeit a very very skilled writer. That's one of the reasons that I DO like Geoff Johns so much...he may make huge changes, but he does it in such a way as to not make a mockery of what came before.

And as comic book fans, don't we ALL love continuity just a little bit?

At 9:08 AM, Blogger Dale Bagwell said...

Yeah man, that is a brave stance you're taking, considering you haven't read alot of his work. Still, I do agree to a point that Moore's not the God of all writers dispite being a really good one. In the end, subjects like these come down to the individual's opinion; the majority would disagree with your point, but the brave few who can actually think for themselves would agree. Nice topic.

At 11:52 PM, Blogger Garnet said...

You oughta read Moore's Swamp Thing. You'd change your mind.


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