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First Moore, Then Gaiman

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There is a perception that Neil Gaiman has always followed Alan Moore. I don’t mean in a negative sense, it’s just that their careers have proceeded along parallel lines. The two men are long time friends, and Moore was the one who encouraged Gaiman to start writing comics. Gaiman’s early work appeared in Britain’s legendary 2000 A.D. series, just like Moore’s did (and, to be fair, as did almost every British writer to gain any sort of success in America).

Gaiman broke into the American market at DC, the same company Moore did, on a plant-based superhero, much like Moore also did (Gaiman’s character was Black Orchid, Moore’s Swamp Thing). Both gained mainstream notice and acclaim with revamps that really didn’t turn out to be revamps. Moore’s Watchmen was originally supposed to bring the Blue Beetle, Question, Captain Atom and other Charlton heroes into the DC Universe, but access to those characters were taken away from Moore at the last second. And Gaiman’s Sandman tied into previous versions of the character, but morphed into something completely different.

Most of all, the two men became known as the best writers of the modern era of comics. Both revolutionized the field and changed the shape of the medium forever. Many of the most popular creators in comics list one or the other, if not both, as a major influence.

Moore and Gaiman haven’t shied away from the comparisons themselves.  Gaiman even followed Moore directly on one occasion—as writer of Miracleman. Gaiman was Moore’s handpicked successor for the renowned series. And he follows Moore once again this week as he creates a two-issue arc that pays homage to one of Moore’s most fondly remembered works.

Back in 1985, plans were in motion to shake up Superman forever, to hand over the reigns of the franchise to John Byrne who would use Crisis on Infinite Earths as an excuse to restart the Superman mythos from the ground up.

Superman group editor Julius Schwartz decided that since the old era of Superman was ending, that he would treat it like the series was ending. His idea was to hire a writer who would write a story like it would be the last Superman story ever. The writer Schwartz called on was Alan Moore (or, if you believe Schwartz, Moore threaten to kill the editor if anyone but him did the writing) to craft the tale, which would run in Superman #423 and Action Comics #583.

The story Moore created was called “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” Moore created a fairly direct story, but the glory was in the details. Moore constructed scenes of great emotional power, a series of character moments that made long time fans feel melancholy and, strangely, content. It was the end of Superman as we knew him, and we felt fine. It acted as a death knell for the Silver Age Superman, and it was a fitting send off, crafted with love and respect for the character.

That story stands as my favorite Superman story of all time, and I’m sure I’m not alone in that fact. If any author besides Neil Gaiman tried to bring their work into comparison with that story, I’d say they’re crazy. But Gaiman is bringing that comparison on willingly.

Tomorrow begins “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?” in Batman #686, and the circumstances for its creation are similar to the ones that Moore faced almost a quarter century ago. It deals with Batman, not Superman, and it follows a “Final” crisis, not one on Infinite Earths. But it is an end of an era. Final Crisis showed, apparently, the death of Batman. The search for a replacement begins in earnest next month. So this two issue series, which concludes in the other Batman title, Detective Comics, in two weeks, is a final goodbye to the Bruce Wayne Batman much like Moore’s story was a goodbye to the Silver Age Superman.

What I am curious about is what other similarities Gaiman’s story will have with Moore’s classic. Will it be structurally similar? Will it be as nostalgic? And, the question as a Gaiman fan I’m afraid to learn the answer to, will it be as good as the Moore story? Or will it pale in comparison? We find out the answers tomorrow.

Also out this week:

Nightwing #153:

The future of the Batman and Detective Comics series is in no doubt. It was uncertain for a while as a result of the shake up of the Bat franchise. But it looks like Detective and Batman will continue on come June, with at the very least Detective keeping the same numbering.

But a lot of the peripheral Bat-titles are coming to a close in the chaos. This series is ending with this issue, as the lead character is a frontrunner to win the battle for the cowl. DC is sacrificing a lot of long-lasting titles—this one has been around for 13 years—to generate buzz for this event. I hope the results of the shake up make up for what is lost in historical value.

Peter J. Tomasi (W), Don Kramer (A), DC Comics, $2.99. Final Issue.

Thor #600:

I think a trend even more annoying than cancelling a series and replacing it with a new number one is when they later return that new series to its original numbering when it approaches what would be a milestone number. Both are done to try and increase sales. But the one makes the other rather futile in the grand scheme of things.

However, that is what Marvel is doing for this issue. And if returning the series to its original numbering wasn’t enough, Marvel is tripling the size of the book (and raising the price) and printing two variant covers for the book. Sure, you get Stan Lee back on an all-new story, but does that make up for the shameless attempts to get more cash out of Thor fans?

Various (W), Various  (A), Marvel Comics, $4.99. Ongoing Series.

Darkness #75:

There were a lot of people in 1992 that were rooting for the then brand-new Image to fail. For every person who admired the rebellious artists for making a break from the tyranny of corporate comic books, there was somebody who hated the ego and hubris shown by the creators. But all those naysayers will probably never get their wish, for Image looks as strong as ever.

Sure, there was a breaking down into different fiefdoms, but the company as a whole is still strong. The Darkness is a second generation Image/Top Cow title. Its reaching 75 issues is a great accomplishment on its own. But its longevity shows that Image is a company that has a serious chance of going on forever. Good for it, I say.

Phil Hester (W), Various (A),Top Cow Productions/ Image Comics, $4.99. Ongoing Series.

Marvel TV: Galactus-The Real Story:

We now live in an age of 24/7 news coverage. If something major occurs, it will be televised almost immediately and reviewed, dissected and regurgitated for months after until the next big event happens.

We see this in real life with natural disasters, acts of war and celebrity meltdowns all the time. But how would the news media react if, say, a giant purple and blue spaceman came to our planet with the expressed desire to, well, eat it?

It seems this special will set out to answer that question. It will look at the coming of Galactus as if it were one of those televised documentaries you find while flipping through the cable dial. If the TV newscasters flip out when Britney shaves her head, wait until they get a load of the Silver Surfer. 

Frank Tieri (W), Juan Santacruz (A), Marvel Comics, $3.99. One-Shot.

Phantom: The Ghost Who Walks #0:

Many people point to Superman as the first costumed superhero. This, as many things are, is up to debate. And it all boils down to semantics. Do you need superpowers to be a superhero, or just wear a costume and do heroic things?

For people who subscribe to the latter definition, the first costumed hero is not the Man of Steel, but rather the Ghost Who Walks. Lee Falk’s Phantom first appeared as a comic strip in newspapers two years before Clark Kent took off his glasses the first time.

Granted, Supes has the comic book record locked up, because the Phantom didn’t arrive there until years later. The Phantom has had a long and varied career in comics, and returns once again this week, in a brand new series from Moonstone. This zero issue sets the stage for a new era in the character, with a new take on the origin and a new direction as well.

Mike Bullock (W), Silvestre Szilagyi (A), Moonstone Comics, $1.99. Ongoing Series.

R.E.B.E.L.S. #1:

The L.E.G.I.O.N./R.E.B.E.L.S. concept seems inescapably connected to DC’s multitude of crossover events. The first series to feature the interstellar law-enforcement agency was spun off from 1988-89’s Invasion! miniseries. The 1994 event, Zero Hour, brought an end to that series and revamped it as R.E.B.E.L.S., a group of, well, rebels against a now corrupt L.E.G.I.O.N.

After that series ended, the team was only seen in crossover events, used to varying degrees in the Rann/Thanagar War and Infinite Crisis. Now, in the post-Final Crisis world, the team is returning to its rebellious status quo in a brand new ongoing series. If past history is any indication, the title should enjoy a long life on the stands—until the next major crossover hits!

Tony Bedard (W), Andy Clarke (A), DC Comics, $2.99. Ongoing Series.

New Warriors #20:

It all comes down to this. Night Thrasher is finally going to get the answers he seeks and confront the demons he can’t help but face. His formation of the New Warriors was destined to arrive at this moment. He is risking it all for this chance. The New Warriors might never be the same, but does Night Thrasher even care?

I have no idea why this series wasn’t a bigger hit. The premise tied into two immensely successful crossover events—House of M and Civil War, which should have guaranteed more than twenty issues. Instead, it barely surpassed the combined issues of those original miniseries. Perhaps it was the fact that Marvel kept the connection to these popular stories so close to the vest that doomed it. Mysteries and secrecy only work in certain circumstances. And it obviously didn’t work here.

Kevin Grevioux (W), Reilly Brown (A), Marvel Comics, $3.99. Final Issue.

###

William Gatevackes is a professional writer living in Mamaroneck, NY and is expecting his first child with his wife Jennifer. He also is a comic reviewer for PopMatters and is the comic book movie editor for Film Buff Online. Links to his writing can be found at his website, www.williamgatevackes.com.

 

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