And that was that.

*These two books work really well taken as a single unit, though I doubt they were intended that way. Try reading them in the below order, right on through, and you'll go from nostalgia (both comics and Alan Moore-wise) right through to the end of all things.

Tomorrow Stories Special #2 (of 2)

This is a very good book. Better than last issue, certainly, though I guess it has a clear advantage - it’s one of the last ABC pamphlets, released on the last week of ABC Universe output (not counting any prospective non-Alan Moore works or The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which is not part of the ABC Universe proper), and there’s now a very clear sense of winding things down, with the last of the co-creators returning to their characters, and plots largely being wrapped up, save for the plots that get wrapped up in Tom Strong, but more on that when we get there - suffice to say, I hadn’t noticed upon last issue’s release that all of the featured characters (none of whom got ‘endings’ per se) lined up perfectly with the characters that participated in the finale to Promethea. Here, with the exception of the continued Johnny/Jonni Future story, the featured characters are free to enjoy a conclusion.

Let me remind you all right off the bat that there’s no ads in this book, so the “64 PAGES!” note on the cover means 64 pages of comics - don’t go thinking you’re paying $6.99 for a bunch of ads or anything. There’s a lot of stuff in here, starting with a feature-length (22-page, plus a fake cover, introduction page, and even legal indicia) America’s Best adventure, the first and only one that we’ve ever seen, though seasoned ABC fans already know that America’s Best is the ABC Universe equivalent of the Justice League, and a group that Tom Strong, Promethea, Cobweb, Johnny Future, and Splash Brannigan used to belong to (the team was briefly reformed with an expanded roster in the concluding issues of Promethea, but again - more later). The action takes place in 1960, though it’s not just an earlier age of the ABC Universe, or even comics as a whole we’re hearkening back to - it’s an earlier time in Alan Moore’s career too, as this little saga is no less than a revival of the ‘period’ interludes that dotted Moore’s run on Supreme, complete with artist Rick Veitch (here working with Andrew Pepoy) returning to serve up some period-specific art.

And just as it went in Supreme (not the only place where Moore wrote genre-specific period shorts as part of a larger story, but certainly the most prominent), this story closely follows and gently spoofs actual vintage Justice League material; here, unless I’m missing something, it’s predominantly the famous Doom of the Star Diamond! from 1961's Justice League of America #4, the one where Green Arrow is trying to join the team and everything gets interrupted by some villain, who then causes the team to split up and have their own segmented adventures before reuniting for the finale. In the ABC version, it’s Fancy O’Keefe (Gal Globetrotter!) who’s joining up as an official reserve member of America’s Best, when the wicked Magister Ludi shows up to whisk everyone away to a gaming-themed dimension for the purposes of illegal wagers. As one might expect, neophyte Fancy provides a vital contribution toward beating the house odds.

As far as these things go it’s pretty neat, with Moore happily playing off the established personalities of these ABC denizens as filtered through a more ‘innocent’ viewpoint; Tom Strong and Splash Brannigan remain mostly the same, while Cobweb manages to slip a double entendre into virtually every line she speaks, having been stripped of the ability to be more overt - the drug reference was a bit much though. It makes for a satisfying overture, kicking off the end with a look toward earlier times and even offering a nice refresher as to everyone’s personalities. And naturally, the art is as good as ever, beautifully evoking rich Silver Age splendor while slipping in some great sight gags (check out Tom struggling honorably to keep from looking up Cobweb’s skirt as they tumble downward at the top of Chapter 2). Sure, there maybe isn’t all that much reason for this to last the length of a full contemporary comic book save for sheer end-drawing-near indulgence, but perhaps the end of the line warrants such things.

Anyway, the presence of onrushing loss immediately reveals itself in the next story, the never-printed finale to Little Margie in Misty Magic Land, a Little Nemo in Slumberland-inspired strip that ran in the newspapers of the ABC Universe in its early 20th century; the strip’s author, Margaret Taylor Case, was also the WWI-era Promethea in her civilian incarnation. There was a single prior selection from the Little Margie archives presented for our enjoyment, way back in the 2001 America’s Best Comics Special (now collected in the odds ‘n ends America’s Best Comics trade), and writer Steve Moore and penciler/inker Eric Shanower both return for this new one. But while the prior Little Margie excerpt mainly fueled itself through offering a fanciful dreamland spin on the magical backdrop of Promethea, this one mixes Little Nemo with shades of (Alan) Moore’s and Don Simpson’s In Pictopia!, Grant Morrison’s and Frank Quitely’s Flex Mentallo, and that doctored ‘final’ Calvin and Hobbes strip wherein Calvin takes his meds and Hobbes dies with the imagination of childhood.

Basically, there’s trouble in Misty Magic Land, and Little Margie and her pals Promethea and Chinky (a perfectly awful stereotype-driven figure parodying Winsor McCay’s Jungle Imp character - this is an affectionate homage, but not a starry-eyed one) set out to get to the bottom of things. It soon becomes clear that even in the time-delayed world of Misty Magic Land, Little Margie is growing up, which leads to anger, resentment, political awareness, and the rejection of silly little kid things like, well, Misty Magic Land itself. Promethea knows that the world of imagination is capable of more than teddy bears and talking trees - it’s also capable of war-making and hatred, and better adult things too. But Little Margie doesn’t want to listen to the bad, and her opinion of what’s ‘good’ is changing, culminating in a tragicomic make-out session at the Flirty Funfair with no less than Little Nemo himself (armed with fine clothes and smooth lines - “Actually, my father has a submarine...”). Is there any hope for the future, for adulthood?

I haven’t been totally enthusiastic about Steve Moore’s contributions to the ABC canon - some of his work on Tom Strong’s Terrific Tales was awfully hit-and-miss. So it’s fortunate that this story is probably the best thing he’s written for the entire line, though I’ll cop to being a huge enough Winsor McCay fan that this kind of material is like catnip to me anyway. Watching analogues of all those McCay characters marching out of Misty Magic Land, the Centaurs, a weeping Gertie the Dinosaur - it gets to me, much in the way that the rapidly-growing Little Margie, literally constrained by the size of the panels on the page, almost seems to be echoing the decline of the grand old newspaper comics section. There’s even a fitting end for Chinky, whom I was certain was going to show up at some point in the Promethea book proper - but his fate fits beautifully into the crashing of reality into the world of childhood dreams (in this way, it’s actually an inversion of the instantly prior America’s Best story). And the story is saved from total depression by Moore and Shanower’s verbal and visual wit, with an ending that declares that dreams need not die when you’ve grown; this will fit in perfectly with Alan Moore’s own conclusion as to What It All Means.

There’s two other stories in this book. First there’s the conclusion to Steve Moore’s Johnny Future/Jonni Future tale, which also sees the return of co-creator Arthur Adams, though top ‘art’ billing is actually given to Joyce Chin. Hopefully you’ve read last issue’s installment, because this one has a lot of overlap with that earlier work, even going out of its way to explain the presence of artist Cameron Stewart on the prior chapter in a plot-related sense. Jonni Future material has generally been little more than an excuse for cheesecake and mild pulp sci-fi thrills, but this one does manage a sweet examination of what an ‘ending’ might mean to a time-traveler, emphasizing the immortality of certain personages through fiction - again, it references Alan Moore’s own conclusions regarding the ABC Universe as a whole.

And finally, fittingly, Alan Moore returns with Jim Baikie for the last adventure of The First American, making certain that the series goes out with a bang - it’s 16 solid pages of mockery directed squarely at America’s War on Terror, and some of it’s bound to offend. The titular patriotic science hero has a hankering for delicious Mistress Fruit Pies, but it seems that the world’s valuable pie reserves are running low! Naturally, this calls for invading the yard of the First American’s next-door neighbor Fatwah Arbuckle, whom we all know has been hoarding pies anyway, and liberating the pies from his infernal grasp. All that’s needed is a quick show of ‘evidence’ that Fatwah is concealing Japanese Guys of Mass Destruction (or, JGMDs), and plenty of emotional appeals to an awful tragedy in America’s past - I'm talking about Pearl Harbor, of course - and the invasion can begin. As one might expect, the occupation begins to fall apart, and then the satire itself begins to fall apart as the characters become confused as to the convoluted nature of writer Alan Moore’s social commentary (as a large woman in a valkyrie’s helmet notes, “And I’m North Korea, ja?”).

The First American has pretty consistently been my least favorite portion of Tomorrow Stories, a feeling that’s apparently far from exclusive to me - at one point, the title character defensively notes that “...I’m Tomorrow Stories’ 17th most popular character after Jack B. Quick’s mom!” This is actually one of his better outings, though it’s kind of dismaying that even Alan Moore is willing to indulge in that ever-annoying tendency among certain political satirists to toss out some weak critique as to other sides of the debate under the clumsy guise of creating ‘balance’ (and really, Michael Moore jokes? - then again, maybe the script was actually written in 2004 instead of just seeming like it). Still, there’s some very funny bits (the English politician was the best), and it’s nice to end the book on a light note.

This was meant to arrive a few weeks before our next subject, after all, but since we’re reading them together, we might as well consider the following the final story out of five as well as the final story overall, even providing a natural-seeming bookend with the ‘vintage’ America’s Best story that began this worthy pamphlet.

Tom Strong #36

This isn’t just the ending to Tom Strong, though it is the final issue. It’s also the ending for most of the cast of Tomorrow Stories, not to mention the entirety of Top Ten (barring future, more in-depth coverage by another writer). It’s not required that you’ve read Promethea to understand this issue, it operating pretty well as a coherent self-contained unit, though it’d be silly to claim that you won’t get a lot more out of this if you've plowed through that 32-part magical education. Actually, I think the maximum effect of this issue can be felt mainly by the ABC die-hards, a league I do consider myself part of, those who’ve read every single story in every single book throughout the combined total runs of every book under the ABC banner. Or at least all of the Alan Moore material. But there’s plenty of stuff here for fans of only Tom himself, including a final plot twist that takes us all the way back to the beginning, and left me slapping my head from the sheer obviousness of it all - I hadn’t guessed, of course.

Story-wise, this issue manages to compress the last seven issues of Promethea into a slightly longer-than-normal 24 pages of story, with room left over to provide a generous aftermath - it’s quite a marvel of narrative economy. Tom provides our point of view, of course, with great little moments for everyone in the extended America’s Best cast - as always, Jack B. Quick gets all the best lines. Occasionally, as with the appearances by Top Ten’s Smax and Toybox, it seems like Moore is dropping in material that he simply couldn’t fit into Promethea itself; but Tom Strong always provided the glue that joined the shared universe of the ABC line, an archetypical science hero fit to lead and cameo almost anywhere; it’s perhaps more fitting that the line-wide goodbyes are said in his book rather than in interruption of the mystic flow of the more tonally detached Promethea.

But this is also very much connected to Promethea, especially in a visual sense; Jose Villarrubia provides the colors here, providing a matching set of texture effects to the End of the World style he whipped up in the earlier book with J.H. Williams III. Thus, despite the welcome return of co-creator/penciler Chris Sprouse (with inker Karl Story), the book very much seems to be taking place simultaneously with the events of Promethea in a spatial sense, at least to the extent that ‘space’ matters at the End of the World - it also helps that Sprouse and Story occasionally mimic panels exactly as seen in the closing moments of that other title. Moore’s themes are also carried over, though applied to this book’s own unique ends.

By the way, I’m about to completely spoil the ending to Promethea, since that’s kind of necessary to discussing this any further. Just so you all know.

As we learned in Promethea, the End of the World isn’t anything particularly physical - it’s a change in perception, an awakening to the totality of life, the revelation that Spacetime doesn’t really pass, or end - it’s just that our position in it shifts. It’s revelations that only the dead were privy to before, but now the living know it as well, and the boundaries between the two cease to matter; because the world as we experience it is entirely dependant on our senses, our perceptions, a permanent magical evolution of said senses and perceptions naturally causes the old world to end, and a new one to begin. I go into this in much more detail in my review of the final issue of Promethea, if you care to read it. I will add, now that we’ve had two different perspectives on the End of the World, that it’s an entirely valid criticism that Moore doesn’t really do much to explore the implications as per this mighty shift in perception he’s posited; the stories tend to conclude shortly after the big news comes through, with little overt change in place save for people communicating with the dead, and we’re simply left to accept that It’s Good. Of course, the oft-omniscient view granted to us as readers of a comic book does retain through its very nature the option to make things seem the same - we, unlike the denziens of the ABC Universe, have not had our perceptions altered, and if the new world is really a new way of personally experiencing Spacetime then maybe it’s fitting that such details are left to the people within the confines of this fictional dimension.

But there's even more to it than that, since Moore’s envisioning of the truths behind reality acts as a beautiful metaphor for reading comic books themselves; in Spacetime, everything is always taking place, just like how the frozen moments of the comics panel are always present before you for flipping backward and forward. Of course you’ll always be with Promethea - you can just re-open your copies of any issue! And if we accept that reality as Moore sees it is like the comics page, then it’s natural to view the End of the World for the the ABC Universe as the characters we read about gaining the ability to ‘read’ their reality in the same way that we do. This is not some Morrison-style ‘breaking the fourth wall and facing the creator’ - he and Moore part ways in that Moore does not make the characters necessarily aware of outside forces, but puts them in the same perceptive position as their ‘gods,’ whether the creating (Moore, Sprouse, Story, Villarrubia, etc.) or observing (us) ones. In other words, Morrison (in Animal Man and Seven Soldiers) dives in. Moore has everyone else dive out, at least in terms of their state of mind. Draw you own accordant analogies as per Morrison’s immersive adoration for genre standards and Moore’s occasional detached affection.

Tom learns all of this through a long conversation with a very important dead person from his past: archenemy Paul Saveen. Along the way, the history of Tom Strong is told one more time, with just a few last revelations. Through their conversation, the two of them taking a long walk (literally) through history, we get a sense of what the new world might be like, the enormity of it all making things like the pursuit of greedy power all the more foolish. “Honestly, I was such a clown,” Saveen remarks, and the archetypical might of Moore’s science hero and villain creations serve their purpose by embodying the extremes of human striving and achievement. It’s as if all that world-building has truly established a finite model world, a miniature Spacetime filled with icons for mortal concern, like the icons of the tarot powered Promethea. All ideas. We can see them all.

And they’ll all soon be in convenient trade paperback and hardcover format! A universe for your bookshelf!

Which is maybe why this story works best for longtime fans, though I stress again that there’s some wonderful character work, and a lot of nice evocations of moments of Tom Strong adventures past. Don’t miss the final cameo by Timmy Turbo, or the cute little industry in-jokes (“So this is, like, really the end of the world? It’s not just some crossover or something?” inquires a wary Smax). There’s a lot at work in these few pages, a lot of success. Contained in the pages of Tom Strong was a type of history of supermen, of powered-up adventurers from pulps to comics. And the comics that contained Tom and his allies’ exploits were the history of them, a history of history. And through it, we glimpse the history of ourselves, our minds thereby stretched to grasp the totality of everything. Our own little simulated End of the World. The shared superhero universe revealed to be an apocalyptic rabbit out of the hat.

Now that’s how you retire!