We’ve spent the last three weeks looking at some of the best Alan Moore stories for new and excited readers. Well, maybe they’re excited. Then that excitement turns to turmoil when they realize that Alan Moore, comic author, has just tugged on your heartstrings and made you realize something big.
At least, that’s what Moore usually does. That’s what he became known for.
Alan Moore, along with a few other select authors, became known for something called the “grim n’ gritty” movement of the mid to late 1980s in comic books. Books like “The Killing Joke” and “Watchmen” and “The Dark Knight Returns”, which presented superheroes with a bleak and realistic take, were nationwide sellers. Mainstream superheroes took this as a kind of North Star to follow, metaphorically, and churned out story after story after story that tried to present its characters with harsh realities and depressing attitudes.
While the original stories that inspired this movement were, in their own, deserving right, acclaimed masterpieces, their imposters were less than stellar. Superheroes, with once bright and cheerful personalities, became harder. Edgier. More “realistic”. This movement is a black eye that modern comics still carry to this day.
So, how could Moore to be blame? Surely, the same gentleman that wrote “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” must contain a whimsical, more lighthearted side?
As a matter of fact, he did. Many of which were collected in “DC Universe by Alan Moore”, collecting many of his earliest work for DC Comics from the mid-80s. Work which, today, is still looked upon fondly for their importance.
See, while Moore did write some of the most grounded, human stories of our time, he never meant to make them grittier or grimmer. He just believed in the power of human frailty and emotion being amped to levels unheard of by these super people. If Superman could lift planets and perform superhuman physical feats, then surely when Superman felt anger, he felt it, too, to superhuman levels. His anger was palpable.
For the Man who Has Everything
To this day, this stands as one of the most powerful and memorable Superman stories. Written in 1985, our story centers around Superman’s birthday as his friends (Wonder Woman, Batman and Robin) all come to visit him. Sounds totally Silver Age and very much like the Super Friends, right? They’re all partners and everything is magical and perfect.
However, what they find when they arrive is a Superman, immobilized by a black plant stuck to his chest. He is in a state they cannot wake him from. As they try to stir him, they are greeted by a visitor: Mongul, an intergalactic conqueror with strength and power to rival Superman. He reveals that the plant, called the Black Mercy, traps the host in a dream state, giving them their hearts desire. For Superman, that’s being back home on the planet of Krypton.
Since the only man capable of stopping him is trapped in his own mind, that leaves Mongul unopposed to rule the world. As Wonder Woman, wasting no time (as is her way) begins to fight Mongul, Batman and Robin try to discern how best to remove the plant.
What this presents us is two things: One, how important Superman is. And Two, what Superman’s deepest desire is. His deepest desire is to be home on Krypton, married, with children, living the life that was robbed of him. It all seems too perfect.
Moore reveals, though, that Superman subconsciously knows this is not right. Krypton has become septic and hostile. Race relations grow harsh and his father, the once brilliant Jor-El (played by Marlon Brando in the original movie and by Russell Crowe in the upcoming release) has become a bitter, angry old man. Bitter that his prediction that Krypton would explode was false, and his credibility became shot. Superman lives out a strained relationship with his father, like many of us have or will.
Moore and his best artistic collaborator, Dave Gibbons (They made “Watchmen”. There we go.) present to us the sad truth: deep down, Superman wanted Krypton to live. Even he knew, though, that it was a fantasy that could never last. That if he had been able to grow up on his own planet, that it would have disappointed him worse than he could imagine.
Superman is eventually freed from the Black Mercy, just as Wonder Woman begins to lose ground against Mongul. There’s a page, as Robin tries to help Batman (who fell prey to the Black Mercy saving Superman), where Robin is engulfed in a shadow. It’s Superman’s. Without even a concern for his friend on the ground, he simply asks “Who…did this…to me?” It’s a ferocious image, one that makes you see Superman in a whole different light. From there, Mongul wishes that he hadn’t played with the Man of Steels emotions.
Mongul, though, taunts Superman with, “I fashioned you a prison you could not leave without giving up your heart’s desire. It must have been like tearing off your own arm…”
It’s moody and emotional and powerful, and the artwork is perfectly contrasting to it. See, Dave Gibbons draws in a very classic, clean look. So, the moment that Superman utters “Burn.”, and ignites Heat Vision across Mongul’s chest hoping to hurt him, it becomes all the more prevailing. This is not the classic, happy Superman. This is a Superman that feels anger and pain. Perhaps on a level we could not comprehend.
Well, it appears that I’ve spent most of my time talking about just one story from a massive, oversized collection of some of Alan Moore’s earliest DC Comics works. Well, it’s tough not to write a lot about “For the Man who has Everything”. I think from just this one story, though, we can see the influences one everything.
In the DC Universe by Alan Moore, we’re given twenty four separate stories. Some featuring Batman, others featuring Green Arrow and Swamp Thing and Vigilante, it’s all good, classic stories. The strange thing, though, is we can use “For the Man who has Everything” as the basis for every other story contained within.
Some are better than others, sure, but that’s not the point. Alan Moore never set out to make superhero comics grittier or grimmer. I don’t think he thought that they needed to be.
I think what he did believe, though, was they needed a certain amount of humanity instilled in them. It’s the oldest story; it’s why everyone loves Batman so much. We can all relate or place ourselves in the position of losing our parents. We can imagine that. Superman is a little tougher, however, so that might be why so many struggle to relate to him. With his stories, though, Moore humanized him. In 40 pages. That’s less than what most writers or filmmakers have had to work with.
Real, human stories. That’s what Moore did.
Next Week: Time for the serious minded ways of Alan Moore to end. One of the BIGGEST movies of the years is released in just two days, and you can bet I will be there at the Midnight Release. So, we’re looking at some of the best Iron Man stories of recent light. First up, the comic book story that inspired the movie “Iron Man 3”: Iron Man: Extremis. Go out and get it, read it before the movie, have your mind blown and be back next week so we can talk about it!
In addition to writing for the column “Comic Matters” for the Tucson Citizen, Bobby Acosta is also a 5th Grade Elementary school teacher, employee and frequenter of Heroes & Villains Comics/Game Store, and explorer of the importance of comics. He recommends each and every comic he writes about.
Contact him at email@example.com
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