Jan 24, 2013

Alan Moore at Awesome, Day 2: Judgment Day

Welcome to Day 2 of The Comics Cube!'s retrospective series on Alan Moore's time at Awesome Comics. You can read about this series here.

Judgment Day

Today, we focus on Alan's Awesome big event, Judgment Day. It's drawn by a variety of artists and utilizes a bunch of flashbacks in much the way Supreme does, to give the Awesome Universe a sense of history. It's kind of unusual for a big event, because it doesn't really involve a big supervillain brawl or threaten the world as we know it. Essentially, it is a courtroom drama featuring superheroes, and that's why it's called "Judgment Day."

This case revolves around the murder of Riptide, a member of Youngblood (Rob Liefeld's record-breaking superteam). The main suspect is fellow Youngblood member, Knightsabre, and presumably he's the guy on the cover of the trade paperback. The TPB is what I have, and as much as I understand that there were delays in the release of the original series, I won't be able to comment on them because I wasn't there to experience it.

The present-day story, featuring the trial itself, is drawn by Rob Liefeld, who is infamous (or famous, depending on who you ask) in comic book circles. I'm not a fan, and this book is pretty much demonstrative of why. There are many things I could say about his artwork, but it's all been said before—just Google him—and what I really have trouble with here is his storytelling and composition. There are very sparse backgrounds, and sometimes people talking to each other aren't even looking at each other, or in fact, looking at anywhere that makes sense. There's a limited number of poses and expressions that everyone seems to have. When Knightsabre's trial begins, the entire superheroic community is gathered in Supreme's citadel. As can be seen from the script excerpt (page 4 here — source page here) regarding this scene, it should have been a splash page with distinct characters, each with their own expressions, including Knightsabre looking downcast. What Liefeld draws instead is Knightsabre in the middle, looking angry, with the grimace that seems to cross the faces of everyone in this book at some point. What's more, instead of a splash page featuring everone in the audience interacting, we get silhouette shots of the crowd and then 11 inset panels within the page to showcase various characters (at least three with the grimace, if you don't count the stone hero Badrock), while everyone else but Polyman (Awesome's Plastic Man counterpart, who is described in the script as eternally smiling, but just seems shocked or surprised here) has no expression.

This is just one of many examples that showcase the storytelling flaws of the present-day sequence of the book, but I think this is all I need. It would be really cool to see this page drawn as it was intended (a splash page with the audience in the background, kind of like the cover to Crisis on Infinite Earths #7, now that I think of it), but that's the only swipe against Liefeld I'm going to take here. Mainly, I think it's quite unfair, because as weak as his work is on this book, I also think it's legitimately some of Moore's weakest work, and that's not something I can place at Liefeld's feet, nor anyone else's, but Moore's.

It's amazing to me that Moore could cite hating his work on The Killing Joke so much because he was just regurgitating techniques he did on Watchmen (among other reasons) that he would just do the same thing on Judgment Day. One of those techniques is when a visual or verbal cue from the end of one scene would transition to the beginning of the next. He does the same thing here, and I don't know why, considering his distaste for repeating techniques.

What's more, he uses a lot of overwrought wordplay, forced puns that try to add meaning, and it feels consistently hamfisted. When Shaft, one of the leaders of Youngblood, needs to call the Savage Dragon, a cop, to report the murder, he says, "It's a fairytale gone wrong: The princess is dead, the knight is under suspicion, and we've got nobody left to turn to except the Dragon!" When Toby Tyler, the Skipper, sidekick to the Silver Age hero the Fisherman, is named as Knightsabre's defense attorney, he describes his defense strategy as such: "I plan to land the right fish and throw Knightsabre back." The entire comic is full of fishing-related jokes and puns that never let us forget that yes, he is "The Skipper." It's just so forced and hits with the unsubtle force of a sledgehammer and it's quite frankly unbearable. As easy as it would be to blame Liefeld for not communicating this story properly, I can't bring myself to do it, because I can't see how this story, with this kind of dialogue, can be communicated properly at all. It seems that Moore was trying too hard to merge the sensibilities of too many decades, and it just wasn't falling into place.

There's a lot of stuff to like in Judgment Day though, and a lot of it is in the flashbacks, which fill in the history of the Awesome Universe. They don't come in a linear fashion, and it's more like a mosaic drawn by different artists, which kind of gives the feeling of a whole line of comics. The "earliest" flashback is from when gods walked the Earth, and Hermes gives Demeter, Glory's mother, a book.

And it's drawn by Chris Sprouse!

The book is the same book that Storybook Smith, one of the heroes of Golden Age Awesome, used to summon literary characters to fight crime for him.

Art by Rick Veitch

The book is, essentially, the book of destiny, where on it is written everything that has ever happened and ever will happen. It is the story's McGuffin, the one thing that connects all the flashbacks together, and brings a unity to the whole mosaic, whether it's Gil Kane drawing Kid Thunder, Awesome's cowboy hero, or Stephen Platt lending his highly rendered, 70s-reminiscent style art to Bram, Awesome's barbarian-type hero. The artist choices for each are appropriate (some more than others), and it really gives the feeling of a whole line of comics. It's not quite the feeling of back issues from various decades, but there's enough in there to approximate that kind of atmosphere.

The final flashback sequence is drawn by Ian Churchill, who was one of the better 90s-style artists. It reveals that the murderer of Riptide was none other than the other Youngblood leader, Sentinel, who came across the book and rewrote it, because the book had had him dying an early death, getting shot while performing an armed robbery at age 19. He revised history so that he would be a genius, and the leader of the world's premiere superteam. He makes it so that he's always the best.

Now this is awkward enough, because Sentinel is the only black character in the entire present-day storyline, and Moore basically wiped out everything good about him and turned him into a stereotypical thug who just so happened to be smart enough to read the book and rewrite it. Without giving Moore the benefit of too much doubt, I suppose the reasoning is that Sentinel was way too 90s for what was supposed to come after—a revised continuity and setup that would evoke the sense of wonder of earlier eras with a contemporary flair—but it's too awkward, too blatant to not pay attention to.

But it's also really awkward because, again, of Moore's dialogue during it.  Just read on.

Metacommentary often works best when the "meta" level is a different level. However, by using the terms of the comics industry for eras such as "Golden Age" and the descriptions that correspond with those eras, such as "the naive wonder of the forties," it places the meta level at the primary level. The result, again, is a sledgehammer, with the very distinct voice of "It was better in my time, damn it!"

The funny thing is that when you read Moore's proposals for Youngblood and Glory, you'd know that's not true—he specifically tried to take the best things about the older ages and infuse them with a modern spin, so as to make it palatable to a modern audience. And while it does so with Supreme, it kind of falls flat on its face with Judgment Day. Again, there's a lot to like; they just never come together.

The Judgment Day  TPB has two stories after the main one. First, there's a Shaft story that is a prologue to the new Youngblood series, drawn by that series' regular artist, Steve Skroce. We'll get to Youngblood on Thursday, but I just want to say that I always thought Steve Skroce had superstar potential. His work was so dynamic and moved so fluidly. It's too bad he's not doing comics anymore.

The final story in Judgment Day is called "His Name...is Kane!", which is self-referential. It's drawn by Gil Kane and the concept is that there's a place called "Idea Space," where "Imagineers" come and visualize news stories in an exciting manner. The Imagineer in this story? Gil Kane himself.

Kane imagines six stories, all to set up the new Awesome status quo. There's a story with The Allies (Awesome's Justice League/Avengers), which, though generic, is still fun given that you could see it as probably the last tim Gil Kane drew the Justice League. There's a story with Spacehunter, who I think is supposed to be their Martian Manhunter, which is impressive because all the dialogue is in made-up symbols, so it showcases Kane's visual storytelling. Another story features Maximage, Awesome's magical figure, and that one's pretty trippy; essentially Maximage sits down on a magical table where she makes contact with various Maximages throughout different time periods. Another focuses on the New Men, a bunch of spelunking dudes with wings.

Yet another story features the new Youngblood, and I think Kane just shows how good he was at composing a page. The story's no more than a primer to the new team, but one thing I do find interesting about it is that this story and the Youngblood prologue I mentioned previously have the team fighting Stormhead. In Moore's Youngblood proposal, Stormhead is stated to be their arch-nemesis, their Magneto, but not only is he in these two stories—both written by Moore—as a throwaway villain; he's also drawn radically differently in both stories. Still, like I said, this story was an excuse for Gil Kane to show off his storytelling chops, and no matter what he lost over time in terms of figure drawing and detail rendering (which were never his strengths anyway), the storytelling was still there.

There's also a Glory story, which shows Awesome's version of Wonder Woman going to her Aunt Selene, goddess of the moon, for a favor. She wants to be a human. Again, it's written with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer—as Selene says "This is lunacy!", Glory responds with "Of course it is! Why else ask the goddess of the lunar sphere?"—which is, in my opinion one of the big weaknesses of Moore's short-lived Glory run.

But I get ahead of myself.

Tomorrow: Glory!


Paul C said...

"One of those techniques is when a visual or verbal cue from the end of one scene would transition to the beginning of the next."

That's such an overused comic book cliché. Dan Jurgens is a bugger for it; practically every single scene in 90s Superman comics changes in that way.

Great article dude, I'm looking forward to the Glory one. :)

Jeremy said...

I think JMS has built a career of doing that shit, having the text from one scene on top of another thematically linked scene. Every single time it happens, it annoys me even more. I hate that one issue of Watchmen now with Dr. Manhatten interview and Nite Owl/Silk Spectre fighting, because it's like...every other panel he does it. LOOK HOW CLEVER I AM.

Post a Comment

All comments on The Comics Cube need approval (mostly because of spam) and no anonymous comments are allowed. Please leave your name if you wish to leave a comment. Thanks!

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.