Tuesday, March 19, 2013

ONCE MOORE, WITH HEART

 
REVIEWS:
Nemo: Heart Of Ice (Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill) – published by Top Shelf
Unearthing (Alan Moore & Mitch Jenkins) – published by Top Shelf

I HAVE to be up-front at the beginning of this review and confess that I don’t particularly like Alan Moore. Oh sure, I know he’s a visionary, a revolutionary, a magician, a man who tore up the rules of comic books and forever changed the way we perceive these funny four-colour boxes filled with pictures and words. Yeah, yeah, whatever.

The Alan Moore of the mid-1980s – the genius who gave us Marvelman/Miracleman, V For Vendetta, a reinvigorated Swamp Thing and his magnum opus Watchmen – is not the Alan Moore of 2013. These days, you’re more likely to see the grumpy old man bitching about the many (admittedly varied in quality) film adaptations of his finer works. Or hypocritically bemoaning people exploiting his artistic creativity for their own ends (even though he’s exploited other people’s artistic creations numerous times during his career). Or whinging about a billion-dollar corporation doing what billion-dollar corporations do: exploit the worker and make money (in this case, DC’s Before Watchmen line of comics – a relatively successful if redundant expansion of the Watchmen universe). Seriously, Alan, what next? Complaining that lions roar? That ants attack picnics? That dogs sniff each other’s bums? It’s the nature of the beast. Deal with it, son.

The truth is, I’m more peeved by Alan Moore’s general decline in talent (somewhat expected in artists when they get older) than his curmudgeonly rants (also expected in older folk).

Frankly, a lot of his work in the past 25 years has been entertaining at best (From Hell, his reimagining of Supreme) and self-indulgent crap at worst (most of his other work-for-hire dross of the 1990s, much of his non-comics writing, his hideously banal Dodgem Logic zine). His best years are long behind him.
 
This decline is best typified by League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which was first published in 1999.

The first two volumes of this ongoing series of graphic novels (beautifully illustrated by Kevin O’Neill) - about a world where all fictional heroes are real and connected - were magnificent. What a fascinating concept: a literary super-team containing the likes of Mr Hyde and the Invisible Man battled Fu Manchu, the Martian invasion and each other.

But subsequent entries were pretentious, unpleasant (what is it with Moore’s 30+ year obsession with rape and sexual abuse, anyway?) and, quite frankly, dull. Moore’s decision to focus on the three least interesting characters – vampire attack survivor Mina Harker, debauched adventurer Allan Quartermaine and androgynous immortal Orlando – dragged the series down through increasingly tedious instalments: The Black Dossier, Century: 1910 & 1969. While he redeemed himself with the a rousing final episode of Century: 2009, by the conclusion I was thoroughly fed up with his bisexual, boring threesome. But I wasn’t tired of the LoEG world they lived in.

So it’s nice to see Moore exploring the LoEG world through a fresh pair of eyes in the newly released hardback graphic novel Nemo: Heart Of Ice. And the end result from the great hairy English author is one of his better works of recent years.

Nemo: Heart Of Ice focuses on uber-pirate Janni Dakkar, daughter of the original Captain Nemo. Following in her dad’s footsteps, she takes her crew on an expedition to the South Pole, but encounters something monstrous in the ice: creatures straight from the imagination of horror writer HP Lovecraft.

As per usual with this series, Moore fills the book with rich literary characters, including Orson Welles’ amoral media tycoon Charles Foster Kane and Ayesha, HR Haggard's savage lead character in She. As usual, Moore reinvents some well-known fictional heroes as odious villains. This time round it’s teen scientist/adventurer Tom Swift, who's reimagined as a woman-hating, sadistic racist. He and his colleagues are sent to Antarctica by Kane on a mission to hunt down Janni.

In the end, everyone gets their comeuppance at the hands of elder gods. Or do they?

What I like most about Nemo: Heart Of Ice is that it’s a short, self-contained GN that tells a cracking adventure/horror yarn that will entertain both old fans and new readers sampling the series for the first time. I hope Moore and O’Neill explore the LoEG world further in the future – there are some great stories waiting to be told. Who knows? Perhaps they can rekindle that spark of genius currently lying dormant within Moore’s heart.

 
Unearthing – written by Moore and featuring exquisite photography by Mitch Jenkins – is a biography of sorts: partly of ultra-nerdy comic book writer/occultist/possible nutcase Steve Moore and partly of his suburb in London. It starts slowly – and slightly pretentiously – but turns into a fascinating story about a creative, sensitive man on the verge of a nervous breakdown. That’s until the author pulls the rug from under the reader’s feet and challenges all our preconceived notions on who Steve Moore really is. It’s a fantastical, lyrically beautiful, poetic biography that genuinely surprised me. This sumptuous 2013 coffee table-sized paperback is a revised version of a story Moore first published in 2006. For those who persevere through the somewhat inpenetrable opening few pages, they will find a book that challenges and fascinates in equal parts.

Is Alan Moore making a resurgence? Who knows? If these two new releases are any indication, it’s perhaps possible.  

* Nemo: Heart Of Ice and Unearthing are available from all good bookshops and comic stores, as well as direct from Top Shelf (www.topshelfcomix.com).
 

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