Aug 9, 2010

John Byrne Calls Alan Moore a One-Trick Pony, Says He Wants Rob Liefeld on Watchmen 2

So thanks to Gene Ha on his Facebook page, I found this comment by John Byrne wherein he states that Rob Liefeld should do Watchmen 2 because it would invert Watchmen as Watchmen inverted the entire superhero genre, and because Liefeld and Moore are both one-trick ponies. Here's the full comment.

I was watching a few minutes of the WATCHMEN movie on cable last night, and I found myself musing on the notion of a “prequel” or sequel to the original comicbook series.

In WATCHMEN, Moore inverted — I might say perverted — pretty much everything the superhero genre is all about. He was not the first to do so, but WATCHMEN was the first time we got it all in such a concentrated dose. Largely, this seems to have happened because Moore is very much a one trick pony. The one trick works for him and his fans, so no problem there, I guess. But this got me to thinking about who would be a suitable candidate to produce another round of WATCHMEN.

The thought began to take shape in my head that any revisiting of those characters should be a continuation of the “tradition” of WATCHMEN. That is, as Moore trashed everything superheroes were all about, the next go-round should do the same with WATCHMEN itself. So the ideal candidate for doing the project should be someone who is equally a one trick pony, but from the opposite end of the spectrum. Immediately, one name sprang to the forefront: Rob Liefeld.

No, I’m not kidding. Liefeld would be to WATCHMEN what Moore was to superheroes in general. And it would be such fun to watch a whole flock of retailer’s heads exploding, as they tried to serve two entirely different faces of mammon!
- John Byrne

Look, no one's saying that Watchmen isn't an inversion of the superhero genre, but for John Byrne to call Alan Moore a one-trick pony betrays a very small sampling of Moore's works - and I'm talking very very small, since even his works in the 80s were all different from each other - or just another opinion in a long list of opinions that's designed to just get us talking about him. Byrne is a very, very opinionated man, and he's more than a little controversial.

Still, this whole argument about Moore being a one-trick pony is something I see quite a lot among fans who think Moore is all Watchmen and V For Vendetta. So allow me to dispel that notion right now.

In 1999, soon after I read Watchmen and V For Vendetta, Moore created the America's Best Comics (ABC) Universe, and I was there at the forefront and was blown away by every single first issue. Let's go through the list. I'm not even going to run through the other stuff Alan Moore has done aside from this like From Hell or Lost Girls or Big Numbers or 1963. This is evidence enough.



PROMETHEA, drawn by a guy you may have heard of, J.H. Williams III, and inked by Mick Gray, was modern-day mythology combined with views on magic and experimental page layouts. It is nothing like Watchmen.


TOP 10 is like Watchmen in that it is a different take on superheroes, and it may be classified as gritty in the sense that it is street-level. In a town full of superpowered beings, the comic focuses on the police precinct of the time. Gene Ha and Zander Cannon do a bang-up job on the artwork. Incidentally, it's been over 10 years since this came out, and I still find it to be the best comic book to get new readers into comics (so long as said new readers are at least 16).


And when they spun off one of the characters, SMAX, into his own miniseries, the tone is completely different, with more comedy, while the characters stay the same.



TOM STRONG has different styles throughout the entire series! You have pulp adventures, stories focused on kids with a more cartoony style, tributes to the Golden Age Captain Marvel, Harvey Kurtzman, space westerns, and a whole host of different types of stories! It's a tribute to the entire history of comics, and it's so lighthearted that you can't believe that the guy who wrote Watchmen wrote it! Chris Sprouse is the main artist, but you've got people like Gary Frank, Art Adams, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, and a whole other lot of talented artists on art duties!


Then there's TOMORROW STORIES, which is an anthology title. Five features were showcased in this comic, including COBWEB, drawn by Melinda Gebbie, which is drawn in completely different styles depending on the story being told (one strip has cameos by the Yellow Kid and some Crumb characters):


THE FIRST AMERICAN, which is inspired by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby's Fighting American:


SPLASH BRANNIGAN, channeling the best of Harvey Kurtzman:


The Will Eisner-inspired GREYSHIRT:


And the Herbie-inspired JACK B. QUICK:


How could anyone look at even any two of these comics and say that Moore is a one-trick pony? If anyone in this entire conversation is not a one-trick pony, it's Alan Moore! John Byrne, talented as he is (or was, rather), has a much much narrower range in terms of ability and basic ideas.

Oh wait, I forgot, he put Superman in a porno. That's range!

3 comments:

Matthew said...

So my problem comes from the first sentence of the comment. I didn't know people watched Watchmen on cable...

Brian Hague said...

Unfortunately, most of your counter argument supports Byrne's opinion, one with which I do not agree. Byrne's argument is that Moore's "one trick" is pastiche. Moore, in Byrne's view, takes an existing concept and tweaks it so that it fits his purposes, usually, Byrne says, with the tired, old cliche of "Everything you know is a LIE!"
Byrne occasionally hosts threads on his forum in which the question is asked, "What has Moore created anyway?"
As you point out, Greyshirt is a take on Eisner. Splash is a take on Kurtzman (and Cole, I believe.) Top Ten is a take on cop shows. Tom Strong, it is routinely argued, is just Doc Savage. Promethea, Byrne fans contend, is just Wonder Woman.
Sure there's a spin, but it remains in Byrne's eye and that of many of his fans just the same trick done over and over again, which Moore's supporters, simultaneously naive and jaded, both baby-bird gaping mouthed and "ennui-engorged," all fools who simply don't see how unoriginal Moore is and from where he's so obviously stealing his ideas, simply, blindly, idiotically DON'T GET.
What I believe Byrne willfully ignores is the degree of literacy and genuine emotional insight Moore brought to the industry. By doing the material fans often consider silly straight and with often devasting emotional impact, Moore elevated the standards by which writers judged these characters, while bringing with it and loss of innocence Byrne and his supporters vehemently oppose, as if the characters and concepts they seek to defend are too fragile, too flimsy to withstand interpretation of any sort except those already traditionally associated with them. New things may be done, only so long as they are in keeping with the other new things that have been done in the past and so forth...
In any case, your argument for Moore is still very much the same as Byrne's against him.
Still, more power to you. :-)

Duy Tano said...

I think arguing for or against "originality" is a flawed argument. I never use it in a positive or negative manner, and I don't even use it in reviews, because what may be unoriginal to me may be new and novel to someone else. Of course Moore took some ideas and put a spin on them. Exactly how many ideas are truly original? Moore took those ideas and spun them so that there is a veneer of novelty to them. Yes, Promethea may have come off ideas about Wonder Woman (in a roundabout way), but the work done on Promethea was more meaningful and original than anything ever done on Wonder Woman. With Moore, it's never the ideas that are novel; it's the execution.

And I would actually agree with you that his main trick (not his "one" trick, as he has many) is pastiche, but certainly the Byrne quote would imply that he was saying that the one trick was "inverting" or "perverting" the superhero genre.

I'm actually more interested in what would bring you to comment on a two-year old post.

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