I need something.

*You know what? I’m spoiling for some real negativity today. I’m talking comprehensive negativity; not just the sort of update where I berate the rest of the Internet for its failings while positioning myself atop the seat of wisdom. No no, I want something that’ll hurt me too. I need to read a bad comic. A really bad one. A comic that won’t just make me roll my eyes, though; it’s gotta have something special. An extra kick. I need a broken heart. I need…


The Very Worst of Alan Moore

A two-part exploration of what hasn't lived up.



Spawn/WildC.A.T.S #1-4 (of 4)

This little monster was released in 1996. You may have already read a review of it (and if you haven't, you should). As usual, I’m going by the title listed in the indicia, though the cover seems to prefer the more descriptive “Spawn/WildC.A.T.S: Devil Day”. The term ‘Devil-Day’ appears in the story itself, but with a hyphen, which is missing from the use of the term on the cover. Such mild confusion is unfortunately the least of this book’s problems; it’s filled with weak art, a totally formulaic pace, and a general sense of ‘who gives a fuck’ about the story, but not in a fun way; you can feel weariness rising up from these pages. It’s quite a resigned story, for all of its padded action, a plot that can’t wait to expend its required miniseries page count and just finish itself off.

It was written by Alan Moore, by the way.

This is the worst comic that Alan Moore has ever written.

Now I’m using ‘comic’ in an certain sense, to mean ‘a complete comics story’ instead of ‘a single issue.’ There may well be weaker individual issues within longer (and overall better) storylines lurking somewhere out there, but I’m talking about a complete plot or arc. I’m also disqualifying Moore’s near-contemporaneous work on the 20-book Wildstom crossover event Fire From Heaven, the other subject of this post. It is generally accepted that Moore wrote three chapters of that particular (to use the industry term of art) clusterfuck; that’s not the number of issues his name appears on, however. More later, more later.

This story takes place before the events of Moore’s regular run on WildC.A.T.S, though he’d had a little practice in writing them. He’d certainly had some practice writing Spawn: this was the fourth and final miniseries Moore would write featuring the cast of that most popular of early Image books, in addition to two issues of the regular Spawn series, plus an uncredited additional issue, which I will also get to later. The other three Spawn-related miniseries weren’t that bad. Violator and Violator/Badrock were basically gore comedies; Moore adamantly refused to take the characters seriously, and milked a fair amount of humor from the rivalry between the titular villain and his demonic brothers. It wasn’t quite intellectual stimulation, but it was guilty, goopy fun. Spawn: Blood Feud was basically a glorified arc of the regular Spawn book, set apart as a miniseries; Moore got a lot of mileage exploring the link between Spawn and his living costume, ultimately having the title character literally declare his love for his suit, flowing romantic prose filling usually dank narrative captions, a hero in adoration of his uniform, with a uniform that loves him back. Together, they fight a vampire. It was ok.

This, however, just screams ‘throwaway.’ I think what really got to me was the framing sequence, depicting capricious gods toying with the Image universe for no reason beyond entertainment, which neatly relieves Moore of any duty to provide logic or motivation for anything that follows. Hey - the gods are bored! Basically, they drop a magical amulet into the timestream, which inspires Spawn to become the power-crazed satanic dictator of the future. The remaining heroes of the future send a few WildC.A.T.S back in time (to our present) to kill Spawn before he gets his hands on the amulet. However, they realize that Spawn is actually an innocent fellow, so they only rough him up a bit. Then Spawn gets angry and attacks the present WildC.A.T.S, thinking them responsible. But then the future WildC.A.T.S show up again and fill in the background. Then everyone, including present Spawn, decides it’d be a great idea to visit the apocalyptic future and try to fight evil future Spawn on his own turf. As for why none of the other future heroes whom we eventually meet want to kill the easily-identifiable present Spawn and just end the war right there, we never know. You might even be wondering why the other heroes even bothered to take present Spawn, since logically he’d be in pretty major danger. Just ignore that; it’ll explain itself later.

That was only issue #1, I’m afraid. The rest of the series is basically fight scene after boring fight scene (issue #2: in the conquered city; issue #3: in future Spawn’s stronghold; issue #4: with future Spawn himself). There’s no energy whatsoever, perhaps owing in part to personal bias: I’ve totally lost my taste for alternate future storylines. Half the time is usually spent in pointless fanboy noodling, at least one future version of a character always starts acting completely ridiculous for no reason other than ‘shocking’ twists, there’s guaranteed to be a lot of pointlessly overblown fights to the finish (no! for real this time!) that’ll immediately be forgotten once the book’s status quo is reestablished. It’s total formula. It’s like a Hollywood romantic comedy. And this book isn’t any better, Alan Moore or not. Every traditional beat is hit. Maul is the future traitor, by the way. Mind-control via exploitation of his powers, just so you won‘t lay sleepless tonight.

I also ought to point out that the art is pretty terrible. Penciller Scott Clark and inker Sal Regia give everyone these squat, malformed faces, plugged atop typically over-muscled early Image frames. They seem to have difficulty with any departure from typical character models, sometimes to disconcerting effect; when we confront the future version of scantly-clad heroine Zealot, we notice that she has a wrinkled old woman’s face, yet a flawlessly toned body, her balloon breasts just as smooth and pert as her younger colleagues’, nary a vein visible on her legs. Dictator Spawn has not gone so far as to outlaw cosmetic surgery, I suppose. There’s even some glaring errors, and I’m not just talking about blood appearing and disappearing from individual bodies in different panels, though there’s enough of that too. At one point, teleportation expert Void beams herself and a baddie out of a room and high into the air, causing the dastard to tumble downward. That’s in the top panel of a three-panel page. In the second panel, Void appears to teleport back into the room with the rest of the team. “There…” she says. Then, in the third panel, she apparently teleports back outside to say “…it is done” to absolutely nobody save for thin air. Then, on the next page, she’s standing back in the room with her friends. The only possible explanation for this is that the wrong backgrounds were drawn in for panels two and three; they got switched. The sequence makes no storytelling sense otherwise. It’s enormously sloppy; didn’t anyone catch this in editorial? Did anyone care?

Moore at least managed to bring a sense of individual style to his other three Spawn books. Here, pretty much anyone could have pushed these characters though the classic formula; there’s nothing unique for almost all of the story’s length. Finally, in issue #4, Moore pulls out some of his beloved time-travel trickery, a recurring motif throughout his career, dating back to 2000AD. But even such friendly old favorites are fruit of a poisoned tree; it turns out that the capricious gods from the beginning of the tale hadn’t just dropped the evil amulet into the world, they’d created a time loop that’s reliant on future Spawn giving present Spawn the amulet when he confronts him. Remember when I said we’d get back to why Spawn was even taken on this mission (against all logic)? This is why. Because it’s in the script, and the twists won’t work if Spawn isn’t in place, sense be damned! Needless to say, Our Heroes eventually save the day in a thoroughly unconvincing manner, which also hinges upon the reader knowing something about Spawn history; obviously Moore knew his Spawn by that point. And by following Moore’s path through Image, so can his fans.

It’s just the boredom that gets to me with this book. I think my expectations were set too high, and that’s after readjusting them to reflect the realities of the early Image style. Moore is often a reinventor, perhaps even more often than he‘s an innovator. He’s neither of those here, nor is he in most of his Spawn or Wildstorm work (he’d need Supreme to really get his reimaginative groove back). But even in those situations... at least he’s entertaining. And at least he’s usually individual; that alone is what shines through here, but it’s an uncertain beam, cutting clumsily though a thick fog of formula. You can hardly see the light, that shit is so thick.

And that’s why this is Alan Moore’s worst comic.


Fire From Heaven #1-2
WildC.A.T.S #29-30

If I were more willing to shuttle myself toward the more conspiratorial provinces of our popular comics culture, each and every citizen's head bedecked with tinfoil, I’d boldly declare that reviewers of comics are always working inside what I like to call a ‘potential fiction.’ To be blunt, for the purposes of review we need to assume that the person whose name appears in the ‘Written By’ box is, in fact, the writer. And usually, that’s the truth; hence, the fiction is only ‘potential.’ But there’s no guarantee of this; the work-for-hire system, which is what Moore labored under for much of his work on Wildstorm properties, does not require the owner(s) of the property to list the names of the talents who are providing the story or art (please correct me if I'm wrong). And gentlemen’s agreements behind the scenes can conceivably further provide for inaccurate credits or the rubberstamping of names.

Yeah, I know, next you’ll be asking me if I doubt the moon landings were authentic (that’s actually next week’s column; don’t tell anyone). Hey, I said it’s only potential fiction.

But you can’t deny it happens sometimes. It’s obviously happened in the past, the ‘Golden’ Age. And, having checked assorted websites in addition to all of the books that I own that attempt to provide an Alan Moore bibliography, it apparently happened with Moore (who also spent time on the other side of the equation, providing uncredited dialogue and plot work on Spawn #37). I’ve heard very little discussion on this topic, and I’ve read way too much about Moore. Any on-topic links would be greatly appreciated. However, for the purposes of this review, I will accept that with Fire From Heaven, Alan Moore did not actually write his fourth issue of the overall crossover, which was titled Fire From Heaven #2.

God, just look at that prior sentence; the confusion is already palpable. Let me try to explain.

You see, Fire From Heaven (the crossover) involved a pair of separate two-issue ‘bookend’ miniseries: the Moore-written Fire From Heaven and the Warren Ellis-written Sword of Damocles (which was apparently Ellis’ first-ever work on an Image book). I think Wizard Magazine managed to crap out a Fire From Heaven #½ along the way too, but I don‘t know if there was any new material. Dropped into the middle of everything was an additional three-issue core mini, Sigma, written by Wildstorm stalwart Brandon Choi. The other thirteen chapters were simply regular issues of assorted Wildstorm titles, shackled onto the Big Event to boost everyone’s sales. There would be production problems, likely due to sheer tardiness; books would eventually have be switched in chapter order. I have no desire to track down and read the entirety of Fire From Heaven (the crossover, not the miniseries) but I have to wonder if the swapping of books caused some major rewrites to be necessary late in the game, or if most of the books bore only a tangential connection to the main action (damn, those skies are red!), allowing for easy position shifts. Certainly the ‘bookends’ wound up bookending nothing; after the release shuffles, the final chapter of the saga actually appeared in an issue of Deathblow rather than in any of the three core miniseries.

And, somewhere along the way, Moore didn’t actually write the final issue of his assigned core miniseries, though his name appears in the credits. Perhaps he simply threw up his hands at the chaos? Perhaps his schedule became so tight that he couldn’t perform necessary rewrites? Were rewrites even necessary? And who did write that mystery issue? Lance Parkin’s Pocket Essentials volume on Moore notes (in a very carefully constructed sentence) that “a number of sources” (well shit, I’ve just found ‘a source’ myself in a three-minute Google search) have identified Ellis as the ghostwriter (p. 88). Ellis himself, however, has denied ever ghostwriting a comic. A more comprehensive tome, George Khoury’s The Extraordinary Works of Alan Moore, simply leaves the true writer’s identity as “unknown” (p. 209).

Well, why not examine the comics themselves? Can’t clues be derived simply from language, from narrative style? Ah, but such a line of inquiry presupposes that Fire From Heaven (the miniseries) will act like what we understand a miniseries to be, rather than what we understand a Big Event to be. And Big Events confound. There’s a lot of different varieties of mega-crossovers lurking throughout comics history. Most of them are comprised of one or more ‘core’ miniseries and a bunch of tie-ins (usually issues of ongoing titles bound to the crossover story). But there’s different levels of importance that the tie-ins might possess in relation to the reader’s understanding of the core miniseries, and maybe a look at that can inform our inquiry.

Let’s take a crossover that I actually liked, Grant Morrison’s DC One Million. There’s many ways to approach the reading of this particular crossover (momentarily discounting the trade, for the sake of argument). You can first attempt to read only the four-issue DC One Million core miniseries. This will prove problematic, since Morrison uses the tie-in issue of his own regular book, JLA, as a de facto fifth issue of the core miniseries. Thus, merely reading the core miniseries will cause you to miss at least one major plot revelation, making the later issues of the series a bit confusing. Ok, so how about we only read the Grant Morrison-written material? That’ll give you a clear sense of what’s going on in the plot; you’ll be able to keep up. But a few of the non-Morrison tie-ins feature key character motivations, as well as explanations of what certain character are doing at certain times. It’s not utterly mandatory, but I bet that at least Starman’s actions in the main plot are gonna seem awfully abrupt if you haven’t read his tie-in issue. And yet, you don’t have to read every tie-in. Hell, the trade didn’t even bother to collect every tie-in, instead offering up text summaries of what’s been going on in the omitted issues, just to smooth over any bumps. As you can see, there’s many ways of reading a crossover, many of which will create a certain amount of confusion. And reader reaction to these Big Events seems oddly conflicted; everyone seems to hate having to buy a ton of tie-ins, yet everyone complains when the tie-ins aren’t very important to the plot (which you’d think would render them optional purchases). Naturally, companies want everyone to buy every tie-in. So why don’t they just make every tie-in mandatory to the plot in some way? Because people get upset with that too. And even after all that (here comes the punch line, everyone): the reason why these things are even still being made is because they’re usually smashingly successful in sales! Despite the constant complaining and the often patent difficulty of reading! Hooray for funnybooks!


Considering that I’ve only read a fifth of it, Fire From Heaven looks like a ‘tighter’ crossover than average. The supposed core miniseries of Fire From Heaven (which even shares the goddamned title of the crossover itself) is absolutely not a real miniseries; it’s a pair of isolated exposition dumps, helpfully located near the beginning and the end of the crossover. It does not stand alone in any way. If you were to ignore the plot synopsis located somewhere in each issue and simply read both books one after another, the resulting ‘story’ would be 100% incomprehensible. Does issue #2 read like Alan Moore? Hell, issue #1 doesn’t read like Alan Moore, and that’s because he has no chance to build a story, no chance to develop themes. From the looks of things, I suspect he was handed a list of plot points to hit and a briefing on what’s happened in prior issues and told to go to town.

Thus, issue #1 opens with members of Stormwatch landing on an island to provide UN-sanctioned defense from Team 7 and a bunch of other Wildstorm characters, who are apparently losing their powers/lifeforce and believe that the island holds the key to their survival. Meanwhile, the island’s sinister ruler has his own goons ready for trouble. In execution, the book is little more than a series of Wildstorm heroes walking around and spitting out plot background, then engaging with fights with other Wildstorm characters and assorted original villains. There is no direction to the scripting whatsoever; Moore usually imbued his fight scenes at the time with humor and snappy conversation. Of course, to manage such things you need to develop the characters, to get a feel for them. It’s unsurprising that the dialogue here is all “Somebody put the weather-witch out of business, fast! The neanderthal is mine,” and “No probs, mate. This is Team 7, remember? They won’t get far without their Zimmer Frames,” and “Strewth, what a mixture! WildC.A.T.S, snotty little Gen-punks and half the relics from Team 7.” See how heavy these lines are on names, on identification? It’s like Moore can hardly keep all of these random characters (most of whom he’d never written before) straight, so he has them constantly shouting one another’s names, all of it mixed in with ultra-generic fight language. And then the book is over. It’s awful, but you almost don’t want to criticize Moore too badly for it; how can any writer excel in such an atmosphere?

And then there’s the tie-ins, if indeed anything can be considered a ‘tie-in’ in such a tightly-wound procession of story beats. Two issues of Moore’s regular run on WildC.A.T.S got rolled into the ongoing action. Moore does pull one clever little trick: a scene with the WildC.A.T.S from Fire From Heaven #1 is repeated word-for-word in Moore’s first tie-in issue (WildC.A.T.S #29), only from a different perspective. Beyond that, you can sense the writer scrambling to rearrange things to suit his style; quite a few pages are spent in a flashback to what assorted characters were doing before the action in Fire From Heaven #1 began, probably in an effort to create some sort of basis for character and plot development, an ad hoc ‘arc.’ A little bit of Moore’s ongoing WildC.A.T.S plot manages to sneak through as well; a big fight scene with Moore’s regular gang of villains is suddenly snappy and amusing, since this is a story Moore has been nurturing for months. All of that is out the door in the next issue, which focuses entirely on Fire From Heaven events. Suddenly, one of the team’s main characters, Spartan, is revealed to have been in possession of the memories of legendary hero John Colt. You’ll be forgiven for not expecting such a development, since Moore has never suggested such a thing in any prior issue. But, such information is vital to defeating one of the crossover’s key villains. It trumps. It happens because it’s in the script, basically, and has presumably been a running thread throughout other issues of the crossover. It’s also the main focus of this entire issue; for those just here to enjoy Moore’s storytelling, such character changes are so arbitrary (yet given so much attention!), well, it’s almost comedic. I also can’t imagine that anyone who’s only buying Moore’s WildC.A.T.S trades would have any goddamned idea what’s going on in this issue plotwise, since the villain and half of the heroes have never been seen in Moore’s run before. It’s just a huge distraction. But I bet it made some money. I hope it did. This is where the industry wants to return to, you know.

And finally, we reach the infamous Fire From Heaven #2. It’s almost sad, in a way, since this one actually intends to provide some sort of climax, as most of Wildstorm’s characters storm the moon. Unfortunately, they only wind up encountering a bunch of other characters from other titles already fighting. Then a bunch of minor villains show up, and there’s another fight (the major villain of the crossover, by the way, never shows up in any of the Moore-credited issues of this epic; I guess that action was over on Ellis’ side). So then a bunch of heroes go blow something up, and then they see something else blow up in the distance (obviously from another book in the crossover), then everything sort of ends. Don’t miss the explosive conclusion in Deathblow #28! Ha ha, get it? A lot of things blew up!

Does any of this issue sound like Moore? If there’s any point to this review, it’s that the issue couldn’t have sounded like Moore. Fire From Heaven (the miniseries) is nothing more than a pair of waypoints on a road. There is no story unless you read everything. Are you a fan of Moore? Forget it. You have to buy everything. Are you a fan of Ellis? I’ll buy his issues if I find them in the bargain bin, but I think it’s safe to say forget it again. Buy everything. And even if you don’t give a shit about the plot, you won’t be able to enjoy Moore’s writing. Because how can a writer offer good work in such an environment? Forced to push his own material aside to plug in predetermined plot details and wrangle characters he’s never written before, all in media res. This isn’t the worst story Alan Moore has ever done, regardless of how much of it he actually wrote. It can’t be. Because this isn’t a story. Hell, it’s hardly writing. It’s pulling the designated switches. Pressing buttons at the right time. Crossing over.

We don’t need to deal with that.