DC Comics is a company that can boast more than its fair share of firsts, and legendary creators. Superman, the first true superhero, created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Batman, the first urban street-level costumed hero, brain-child of Bob Kane and Bill Finger. Then there’s Wonder Woman, created by scientist and author William Moulton Marston, Jack Kirby’s Fourth World… and then there’s Alan Moore.
It’s hard to believe that Moore last wrote for DC Comics almost thirty years ago. While his original creations – barring a couple of notable exceptions – were for other publishers, the effect of his work for DC is timeless, far reaching, and still being felt today. He was the author that brought about the demise of the Comics Code Authority, and it’s suffocating censorship. His run on Swamp Thing led to the Vertigo line of comics, designed for adults, and written for mature readers, with grown-up themes at its core.
Without Alan Moore, comics would not be what they are today.
Moore’s body of work is still selling in its millions, inspiring sequels, films, novelisations, and TV shows, as well as influencing writers and artists worldwide. It’s amazing that some new comics readers may not be knowingly familiar with him, or his work. This article will show that so much of today’s DC still owes a great deal to this incredible talent, and his legacy is still shaping the stories they produce.
Whilst most of Moore’s work for DC is made up of one-shots, and mini series, he also contributed to a number of ongoing titles, as well as writing arguably the best run of Swamp Thing in the character’s history. He written issues of Green Arrow, and Green Lantern, a two-part Vigilante adventure, a Batman annual, a Superman annual, and arguably the single greatest standalone Man Of Steel and Dark Knight stories of all time in “Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow” and “The Killing Joke.”
“Whatever Happened” bridged the gap between the Man Of Steel of the Golden, Silver and Bronze age of comics, through to the events of mega series “Crisis On Infinite Earths.” It was a love letter to Superman fans all over the world, paid tribute to the classic version of the character, and bid him a fond farewell. After this story DC Comics revamped its entire line, and launched their brand new, modern era of comics.
Moore’s story “For The Man Who Has Everything” has been adapted into animation in the classic Justice League Unlimited series, and into live action on the CW’s Supergirl.
See what I mean by still being felt today? And that’s just the start of it…
As I mentioned earlier, most of Alan Moore’s original creations weren’t for DC. He created D.R. & Quinch, Skizz and the wonderful, WONDERFUL Halo Jones for 2000 A.D. (recently remastered and republished in a beautiful collected edition).
One of Moore’s greatest strengths as a writer was taking characters that had become familiar, or were struggling with sales, and reinventing them. For Quality Comics (the character is now licensed and republished by Marvel) he took British comics hero Marvelman (later re-dubbed Miracleman), destroyed his life, made him a man with a mid-life crisis, a wife and a made-up life, eventually transforming him into the ruler of the world. For Marvel, he took Captain Britain, a character that was originally a weird mix of Spider-Man, Captain America and Thor, stuck him on a parallel Earth, killed him, then made him a mystical, Arthurian super hero for the modern age.
But it’s for DC that Alan Moore really changed the comics medium forever. He took Swamp Thing, made everything the character thought to be a true a lie, then changed him from a shambling bog-monster in search of a cure to his condition, into a warrior for the Earth, and an elemental force of nature.
Alan Moore’s run on Swamp Thing could actually be my all-time favourite run on any comics title ever! During Moore’s tenure Swampy had entanglements with Superman, the Demon Etrigan, The Phantom Stranger, a vegetable/alien Green Lantern, Adam Strange, Darkseid, Metron, The Doom Patrol, Zatanna, Deadman and even had an absolutely incredible confrontation with Batman.
Swamp Thing took control over Gotham City and its people in a way that even Batman had trouble dealing with. This led to the Dark Knight resorting to radical tactics, and even threatening to kill Swampy if he ever did anything like that again.
If you want to read Moore’s Swamp Thing, I cannot recommend it highly enough. His run will be the main inspiration behind the upcoming new live-action series which will be running on the new digital streaming service DC Universe. (Launching in late 2018 – there’s that ongoing legacy thing again, but wait… there’s more).
Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing was a truly unique title. It contained a mix of horror, fantasy, science-fiction and superheroics unlike anything seen before. Len Wein, who originally created the character with artist Bernie Wrightson, personally hired Moore to take over the series when it was close to cancellation. Not only did Alan save the title, he wrote it for over four years. During this run his mature themes made the governing censorship body for comics (yes, at one time such a thing existed) threaten to shut the series down. The Comics Code Authority threatened to revoke authorisation on the book, because of the horror it portrayed. In a bold move by editor Len Wein, DC published without the Comics Code seal of approval, keeping the author’s vision intact, and uncensored.
This led to a revamp of the series’ format, which in turn led to a line of comics printed on better quality paper, with mature themes, and eventually the creation of the entire Vertigo line of titles for mature readers. Thanks to Moore’s Swamp Thing we got Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, Death, The Endless, Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol, The Books Of Magic, Moore’s own V For Vendetta, Watchmen… and so much more.
Moore’s original character created for mainstream DC continuity also came from his Swamp Thing run; John Constantine. This guy is one of my favourite characters of all time. The Liverpudlian warlock is a foul mouthed, ill tempered, chain smoking, anti hero for the ages. Constantine has not only inspired a Hollywood movie starring Keanu Reeves, but a live action TV show, an animated series, an appearance on The CW’s Arrow, and an ongoing role in DC’s Legends Of Tomorrow, starring British actor Matt Ryan.
When you ask any serious comics fan what their favourite graphic novels are The Killing Joke will rank very highly. This one off Batman tale was originally a standalone story, but proved so controversial, successful, and innovative, that it was actually made part of DC Comics’ continuity at the time, and is still seen today – 30 years later – as the definitive Joker story.
When we talk about a lasting effect on comics and pop culture, there are few comics that can match this graphic novel. It has inspired virtually every Joker story since, has been adapted as an animated feature, and is even the basis for the story running in the current smash-hit series Gotham RIGHT NOW. The title “One Bad Day” from season 4 of the show is a direct reference to the Joker’s line in “The Killing Joke” describing his genesis, what led Batman to fighting crime, and what separates humanity from insanity:
All it takes is one bad day to drive the sanest man alive to lunacy. That’s how far the world is from where I am. Just one bad day. You had a bad day once. Am I right? I know I am. I can tell. You had a bad day and everything changed. Why else would you dress up like a flying rat?
Later this year this classic tale will be republished as a prose novel, adapted by writers Christa Faust and Gary Phillips, 30 years after its original release.
Now we come to another aspect of Moore’s legacy that is still giving, long after he stopped writing for DC Comics. The films, and TV adaptations of his two masterpiece maxi-series V For Vendetta and Watchmen. Much of Alan Moore’s comics work has been adapted for the screen, with varying degrees of success. Independent stories like From Hell starring Johnny Depp, and The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, starring Sean Connery.
“V For Vendetta” started life as an ongoing strip for Quality Comics’ British anthology title Warrior in the 1980s. Both this story and Moore’s Miracleman had been left unfinished. Miracleman was eventually taken over and completed by Eclipse Comics. After Moore left it was taken over by fellow British comics legend Neil Gaiman, who is now in the process of completing his part of the saga for Marvel.
DC got the rights to “V” and Alan Moore finished his epic tale, first as a repackaged 10 issue series, and later as a collected edition graphic novel. This is another of my absolute favourite comics stories, as it’s almost more a noir crime/pulp/dystopian sci-fi comic, than standard superhero fare. This great book was also adapted as a live action, big budget Hollywood movie by the Wachowskis in 2005. While this film, starring Hugo Weaving and Natalie Portman, divided critics and fans alike, it’s still a firm favourite in the Ray household.
What can I say about Watchmen that hasn’t already been said by far greater talents than I? Alan Moore originally wrote this story to be “Unfilmable.” It is the single biggest selling graphic novel of all time, arguably the most popular, and the most well known. It was originally meant to update and feature classic Charlton Comics characters, after DC had bought-out the ailing publisher. The decision was made, though, for Moore to create an all new story, with original characters instead.
This book answers the question of what the world would be like if people really did dress up in colourful costumes to fight crime. It showed us what kind of real life effect beings with super powers could have on war, politics, and society, and changed comics forever.
The book was a heady mix of intrigue, drama, science-fiction, parallel realities, psychological thriller, crime detective fiction, and super-heroics. Set in a world where history took a different turn, and America won the Vietnam War. Watchmen, while illustrated and laid out as a comic, is a deep, layered, and textured bonafide novel. It has never gone out of print, and ranks amongst The Times’ 100 greatest novels of all time.
Wathmen has – in my opinion at least – been successfully adapted as a movie, and as an online animated series. It’s also currently in pre-production as a live action TV show, under producer Damon Lindelof for HBO, who make Game Of Thrones and Westworld.
DC Comics released a set of comics entitled Before Watchmen in 2012, to mixed reviews. Some of the stories were very good and the experiment showed DC that the characters still had a lot of mileage left in them, as well as a solid fanbase.
At the time of writing, DC are now four issues into a new 12 part series called Doomsday Clock. This new title is both a direct sequel to Watchmen, as well as a multi character event which will lead to the inhabitants of this other Earth interacting, and coming into conflict with Batman, Superman, and the pantheon of long established mainstream DC Comics characters.
I have gone on record many times in the past saying that I was opposed to both the Before Watchmen project, and to any sequel to Alan Moore’s groundbreaking series. Having read and reviewed the first few issues of Doomsday Clock however, I am not ashamed to say that I have changed my mind. The new series is brilliantly written, exquisitely drawn, and a faithful sequel that repectfully honours the original work.
Talk about lasting legacy!
DC Comics is a company that can boast more than its fair share of firsts, and of legendary creators… Alan Moore has to be near the top of that list.