Yuk Yuk.

*You know what’s ironic? I go through the trouble of crafting an indelible and thoughtful jest on the topic of “Ultimate Iron Man” yesterday, mirthfully suggesting that the book does not truly exist (and at that, paying homage to the good Mr. Ian Brill’s own earlier commentary on a similar subject matter), and what do I encounter today? I enter the comics store, all pip and vim with New Comics Energy, and it turns out that the delivery agents in charge of the comics shipment had drastically ‘shorted’ (to quote industry parlance) the week’s stock. Only five or six titles were present for perusal and potential purchase, and Jiminy Crickets would you guess which title was among the lucky few, and indeed showcasing the highest volume of individual copies?

Bloody foil covers grinning at me, rainbows of Hell as tricks of light, dashed across Tony Stark’s yowling face, there and gone. What a Card.

*Now, if you want happy times, you’ll be packing your bags for Toronto. May 27-29. Toronto Comic Arts Festival. Just look at the guests: Jeff Smith, Chester Brown, Seth, Gary Panter, Marc Bell, Darwyn Cooke, Jeff Brown, Sammy Harkham, Paul Hornschemeier, David Heatley, Rick Altergott (“Doofus”!!!) Carla Speed McNeil, Bryan Lee O’Malley, Cameron Stewart, Maurice Vellekoop, and many many more. That’s an amazing bunch of people. There’ll be sales, workshops, readings, art presentations, and all kinds of great things. If you’re capable, give this event some long, hard consideration; I bet it’ll be worth your attention.

*And now, a sort of review of

Alan Moore’s Twisted Times

There’s been so much said about Alan Moore. Seemingly every corner of his career examined, every nook and cubbyhole of his bibliography exposed to the flares of critical study, debate raging over his many books and characters. And yet, he continues to surprise, if from far back into the past.

This review (really a review of only half a book) is dedicated to the Unknown Soldier of Alan Moore’s comics campaign:

Abelard Snazz.

Not merely a little-examined figure from the far-away marshes of Moore’s UK career, Mr. Snazz holds a special place in Moore history: he was, to the extent of my study, the first recurring headline character to be written and created by Moore-the-writer, rather than Moore-the-writer/artist, and indeed, the first recurring Moore character to be written by ‘Alan Moore’ (in the interests of full disclosure, I‘m not counting Moore’s unpaid work in various late-70’s alternative papers, or his work on back-up strips in Marvel UK's "Dr. Who Weekly" which may slightly pre-date this). Illustrating his own work, Moore had either just finished or was just about to finish his saga of private eye Roscoe Moscow in “Sounds” working under the pseudonym of Curt Vile, and Moore’s Jill de Ray alter-ego was well into the adventures of “Maxwell the Magic Cat” (Trivia: Moore would continue to draw weekly “Maxwell” strips for the Northampton Post until October of 1986, after the release of early issues of “Watchmen” - the mind boggles at the thought of Dave Gibbons calling Moore on the phone to discuss the latest developments in their soon-to-be landmark work only to be brushed away with a stern “Not now, Dave, I’m drawing my cat strip“). But it was Script Robot: Alan Moore that brought Abelard to life.

Debuting in the pages of “2000 A.D.” in 1980, in Moore’s second-ever strip for that venerable publication, Snazz was the focus of a two-part installment of “Ro-Jaws’ Robo-Tales” (one of the many series headings employed by the publication throughout its history to group miscellaneous stories of a similar bent under a single brand), and quickly spun off into his own series, running for five additional adventures, one of them a two-parter itself. Granted, in “2000 A.D.” terms this only added up to about 40 pages of story total, but there was a fairly tight continuity, with earlier adventures referenced later on, and even an ending of sorts. What probably sets this material apart from the Big Three of Moore‘s “2000 A.D.” output (the somewhat similarly-titled but utterly different “Skizz”, “D.R. & Quinch”, and “The Ballad of Halo Jones”) is its brevity coupled with the intermittent appearance of each new installment, as well as frequent artist changes. There were some gaps between each new “Halo Jones” arc, but at least the arcs were a good 10-15 consecutive issues long, as opposed to 1 or 2 issues and then a gap, as Snazz‘s adventures spanned 1980-1983 (liberally interspersed with Moore‘s regular work on “Tharg‘s Future Shocks“ and “Tharg‘s Time Twisters“ during that span of years). And while the other three works could count on Jim Baikie, Alan Davis, and Ian Gibson to stick around for the duration, Snazz saw no less than four different artists handle his six adventures, although “Preacher” co-conspirator Steve Dillon and frequent Bryan Hitch collaborator Paul Neary are among them. But there’s clear continuity in this rather short comedy epic, and it’s a coherent, if episodic story.

Abelard Snazz, you see, has two brains in his head, and two sets of eyes, one above the other on his enlarged face. Snazz is also convinced that he’s a genius, and he is, in a way, although his innovations and creations inevitably lead to destruction and doom for everyone around him. And to seasoned Moore fans, this may already be sounding awfully familiar: the later “Jack B. Quick” shorts in Moore’s ABC anthology “Tomorrow Stories” are very much in the same vein, although the fantasy science isn’t nearly as refined in these earlier stories, although there’s a certain logic that Snazz follows. Upon inventing ultra-sophisticated police robots to rid crime, Snazz winds up reducing a planet to a police state, so he invents complimentary robot criminals, but then innocent citizens are getting caught in the crossfire, so he invents robot civilians to be harmlessly wasted, and eventually the robots crowd the humans off the planet. In another scenario, he creates a Virtue-Converter to transmute the unlimited selflessness of the beatific Farbian Crottle-Worms into a lucrative source of energy, at least until his callous attitude toward his beaming work-force engenders Pride within them, counteracting their virtue and spoiling the plan. And if maybe these little worms remind you just a bit of the famous Schmoo of “Li’l Abner”, well, the younger Moore was a bit more apt to wear his influences on his sleeve, even when he didn’t mean to; one of the Snazz adventures (the second) is in fact not present in this collected volume, as Moore feels that his deep-seated appreciation of the works of R.A. Lafferty led to an instance of “unintentional plagiarism”, as he puts it in his introduction (although you just might be able to locate this little tale and many other wonderful things if you know where to look).

But as short and in some ways familiar as these stories are, they’re also genuinely funny (I adored Snazz‘s robot sidekick Edwin, 75% of his dialogue being some variation of “You‘re a genius, Master!”), and the art is quite excellent across the board. Snazz also has a bit more of an edge to him than his arrogant but immature ABC counterpart; he’s very much a genius, but very much an exploiter, a grifter. He looks to profit from a bevy of ancient gods by restoring them to power, even as their old ways of vengeance return with them to smite civilizations. And at one point, he becomes a god himself, or at least appears to be one to an ancient alien race, leaving him all day to wander around all day ordering folks around in his khaki shorts and tennis shoes, a fine intergalactic colonial power all on his own. And it’s here where we glimpse the potential for deeper things, a potential that young Moore will realize a bit later in his storied career.

The Abelard Snazz stories (barring the one mentioned above) are collected into the first half of the 1987 Titan Books volume “Alan Moore’s Twisted Times”, with the other half devoted to a selection of Moore’s “Time Twisters” and “Future Shocks” work of the same period, some of it with the aforementioned Mr. Gibbons. I got my copy sitting in a shop (puzzlingly, on the ‘New Arrivals’ rack) for the $9 US cover price. A companion volume, “Alan Moore’s Shocking Futures”, reprints even more assorted early material, along with a few random one-offs. Lovely covers by Kevin O’Neill on the both of them.