From around 2006 to 2014, being an Alan Moore fan meant mostly re-reading old comics. Moore wound down his ABC Comics line circa 2005, and more-or-less retired from writing comics. He did some League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comics, Neonomicon, a one-off God Is Dead, and, in non-comics output Moore wrote 25,000 Years of Erotic Freedom and published and contributed to eight issues of Dodgem Logic magazine. There are probably a few things I missed, but during those semi-retirement years, it seems like new Moore material would appear sporadically around once a year, and much of it was not comics.
From 2014 to 2015, Moore’s comics output picked back up with Crossed+100 (Moore’s six-issue run was 2014-2015, and he contributed the series outline for two subsequent Si Spurrier arcs), Big Nemo (2015), and Providence (2015-ongoing.)
Now, 2016 has seen plenty of Alan Moore output. Outside of comics, there have been the Show Pieces DVD, the Unearthing performance film (view trailer), and the 1,300-page novel Jerusalem. In 2016 in Moore comics appeared regularly: Moore-outlined Crossed+100 finished, Providence continued, and Cinema Purgatorio got underway.
But none of that is what I was planning to write about. 2016 has also been a good year for picking up some reprints of hard-to-find early Alan Moore stories. Many of these have been out of print since they appeared in the 1980s. I was lucky enough to have picked up Moore’s long out-of-print Miracleman/Marvelman series when it was first printed in the U.S., then enjoyed additional materials as it was re-printed in 2013-2014. This year I’ve enjoyed my first reading of 1980s-1990s Moore rarities: The Spirit, The Puma Blues, and Monster. I review each of these briefly below.
Will Eisner’s The Spirit: The New Adventures collects issues 1-8 of the 1990s Kitchen Sink comics revival of the famous Will Eisner hero The Spirit. Eisner is one of comics early greats, alongside Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Neal Adams, and others. Eisner did The Spirit for a dozen years, and went on to more-or-less invent the “graphic novel” and contribute to understanding how comics work (work that Scott McCloud subsequently built on.) Eisner allowed for other folks to create Spirit stories in the 1990s, which I missed at the time. Dark Horse apparently collected these in 2009, which I also missed. This year they released a second edition, with some additional newly collected material.
There are four Alan Moore The Spirit stories, all of them very good. Moore is, of course, lovingly referential in following various great Eisner conventions: spelling out The Spirit on splash pages, having The Spirit somewhat tangential to the action, etc.
Three of the Moore stories are essentially one interconnected multi-viewpoint story drawn by Moore’s Watchmen collaborator Dave Gibbons. The story is told in three interconnected pieces, each focuses on different characters who have cameos in other stories. The full flow of the plot is only clear after reading all three stories. I am not sure who originated this storytelling technique; it may be an Alan Moore innovation, or it may be borrowed from other comics, literature or film. This sort of technique has now been used in other comics, including Daniel Clowes in Ice Haven (2005) and Seth Wimbledon Green (2005.) Moore arguably uses somewhat similar convergent multi-viewpoint storytelling in Voice of the Fire, Big Numbers, and Jerusalem (though those are all a little different technique-wise and Tor calls VOTF a “mosaic” novel.)
The fourth Moore story “Last Night I Dreamed of Dr. Cobra.” is a gem, probably the best Alan Moore that I have read this year. It features beautiful artwork by Daniel Torres. It is the story of a now immortal Denny Colt (the secret identity of the The Spirit) revisiting The Spirit’s Central City circa 2050. The 10-page story is a sweet nostalgic love letter to Eisner and early comics, and also about how stories are told and how they change over time. Themes Moore explored in “Cobra” resurface in Crossed+100 and even Jerusalem.
The Spirit collection features plenty of other worthwhile creators: Neil Gaiman, Eddie Campbell, David Lloyd, Brian Bolland, Paul Chadwick and more. Though these new Spirit stories (including later ones by Darwyn Cooke) are mostly good, they often make me want to read more of the original Eisner classics.
Two other 2015-16 Moore obscurities back in print are not quite as worthwhile, but, in the words of Thomas Wolk, “[even Alan Moore’s] most minor and slapdash pieces almost always inform the way I understand his major work.”
The Puma Blues was out of print since the late 1980s, then was recently collected by Dover. (The new collected edition came out in late 2015, I got it early this year and am lumping it in with other 2016 Moore rarities.) It is a 500-page comic saga written by Stephen Murphy and drawn by Michael Zulli. It is a very good comic, both in its overall arc and lush artwork (reminiscent of Barry Smith.) Moore’s contribution is a 4-page 1988 side story entitled “Act of Faith” illustrated by Michael Zulli and Stephen Bissette. The story is sweet and wonderful – an extended analogy for the risks we humans take to mate and love. Probably only Alan Moore completists will purchase a $30 hardback to get their hands on a 4-page story, but it is really worth tracking down.
Monster is another early Moore story (1984) that I hadn’t encountered until it was reissued by 2000AD in July 2016. It is also just one 4-page story, which kicks off the worthwhile 200-page saga. Moore’s story feels a little wordy, especially in contrast to John Wagner chapters that follow, but it is sort of a forerunner of wonderfully wordy comics that followed, including Swamp Thing. Similar to Puma Blues, Monster is worth tracking down, but just don’t expect too many pages of Moore.
I am looking forward to another 2016 book, a collection titled Brighter Than You Think (due in November), that includes ten rare Moore short pieces, though I have already collected nearly all of the stories that are included there.
While I am at it, I’ll just mention some other Moore rarities that I would love to see back in print: various uncollected early UK work including Star Wars stories, uncollected Wildstorm (Youngblood, Violator, Violator vs. Badrock), Real War Stories, American Flagg (see 1985 here), and his work in Meat Cake, Hate, and Honk. These are probably not that difficult to find on eBay, but I am an old-school comics hunter who still likes to sift through sale bins hoping that I will come across a gem now and then.
Moore probably cringes at some of these early works, but reading them for the first time is a still a treat for us die-hard Moore fans.