Jun 27, 2011

An ABC Retrospective

On July 4–9, 2011, I did a week-long retrospective series of America's Best Comics, known more casually as ABC.

In 1999, Alan Moore was working for Rob Liefeld's Awesome Entertainment, writing titles such as SUPREME ( a Superman homage) with Joe Bennett, Rick Veitch, and Chris Sprouse on art duties; GLORY (a Wonder Woman homage) with Brandon Peterson and Melinda Gebbie; and YOUNGBLOOD (not exactly a Teen Titans homage, but certainly based on that template) with Steve Skroce. With a couple of exceptions, that's a very elite group of artists, so when Awesome Entertainment folded, it didn't take long for Jim Lee to make Alan Moore an offer to start his own imprint under Wildstorm Productions.

Scott Dunbier, Jim Lee, and Alan Moore
Legend has it that Moore thought about it for a while, wandered around his house, looked through his work notebooks, and then saw a list of names that he'd just come up with one night. They were just names that had no ideas attached to them whatsoever, but they were the names that Moore pitched to Jim Lee when he accepted the offer. Moore brought the same stable of artists he had from Awesome, and when a Peterson, Skroce, and Bennett left, Jim Lee happily replaced them (with suggestions from Alex Ross) with  Kevin Nowlan, Kevin O'Neill, a young Gene Ha, Zander Cannon, and an unknown JH Williams III. When Jim Lee sold Wildstorm to DC Comics, Moore agreed to continue the imprint lest everyone lost their gigs, under the condition that DC would never tamper with his material, that Wildstorm would be the middleman, and that the DC bullet would never show up on the covers. It didn't quite work out that way, and that's partly why the ABC line didn't last more than seven years under Moore. But those seven years were a true marvel of writing, storytelling, and artwork. They were comics at their best.

The basic starting point of the ABC books was "What if Superman never showed up?", therefore changing the evolution of comics so that superheroes didn't have a monopoly on the market (although they would still be there on some level or another). None of the books were connected at first, and with the exception of one, they would all be connected at the end.

The titles are:
  • TOM STRONG, ABC's flagship character, who takes his inspiration mainly from Doc Savage
  • TOP 10, a police precinct of superpowered beings in a city full of superpowered beings
  • THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, a tale set in the late 19th Century, where literary figures Mina Murray (Dracula), Alan Quatermain (King Solomon's Mines), Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (uh, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde), and, the Invisible Man (...The Invisible Man...) are brought together to carry out missions for the British government
  • TOMORROW STORIES, an anthology that featured Greyshirt (an homage to The Spirit), Jack B. Quick (somewhat an homage to Herbie), Splash Brannigan (a tribute to Harvey Kurtzman), The First American (a tribute to Joe Simon and Jack Kirby), and Cobweb (an experimental strip about a woman who didn't wear underwear)
  • PROMETHEA, a tale about myth, imagination, story, and magic. And also, the comic that means the most to me, personally.
  • A final word about America's Best Comics (In Which We Thank Alex and Todd)
The ABC books were very personal to me, and I hope you'll join me for the ride. If you've never read any of them, I hope you have fun discovering them. If you have, come with me next week, for a trip down memory lane, and to wander around with some old friends.


Marc said...

I haven't read anything from the ABC line (yet!), but I actually got pretty interested in checking it out recently and I'm looking forward to hearing a lot more about it this week. I'll be looking forward to it, especially Tom Strong and Promethea, the titles that seem most interesting to me.

romanAK47 said...

Dude Tom Strong and Promethea is the way to go IMO. Tom Strong feels like a character that's existed as long as superman has, and while I know the point was to show what the world would be like without Superman, Tom Strong would fit right in with all of the golden age classics. One of my favorite books and superheroes... Promethea is just a trip into mind, soul and universe that is unlike anything else and the art by JH Williams III just puts it over the top. I can't wait to start titles like Top 10 as well, but I'm sure I would be recommending that just as much. Terra Obscura was a fun little spin-off from Tom Strong and League of Extraordinary Gentlement feels like a classic adventure novel which is perfect given the characters and subject matter.

IanPhlegming said...

Very nicely done, front to back, I spent a couple hours going through your analysis. I have everything published by ABC, it is truly an amazingly consistent body of work, most of it joyous and revelatory, like rediscovering comics all over again. Alan Moore has had a great career, but his output during this prolific period was exemplary, even for him. I remember getting these as they were coming out and just really being excited about comics again, which I never imagined possible.

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