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Three Great New(ish) Works by Alan Moore

October 7th, 2009

Last month I waxed poetic a bit about the groundbreaking comic book work of writer Alan Moore, and I reviewed a recent interview/retrospective of his career, The Extraordinary Works of Alan Moore: Indispensible Edition, by George Khoury, published by TwoMorrows Publishing.

I commented, at the end of my review, how the highest compliment that I could pay that project was that it made me want to drop everything and go re-read all of Mr. Moore’s great comics!  Well, I didn’t quite have the time to do that, but I did have the pleasure recently of checking out three relatively new works by Mr. Moore, published by Avatar Press.

Over the last several years, the fine folks at Avatar have been republishing some hard-to-find early works by Alan Moore (such as A Small Killing, which I really need to get my hands on).  Even more interestingly, they have also published several original comic book versions of some of Mr. Moore’s short stories.  Anthony Johnston is credited as having done the adaptations (at least, all the ones that I have read so far), and they are quite marvelous.

I was a bit worried, at first, when I read that these new graphic novels (which I’ll call graphic novels, even though in his interview in The Extraordinary Works of Alan Moore, Mr. Moore was somewhat critical of that term) were merely adapted from Mr. Moore’s works, as opposed to having been 100% scripted by him.  But Mr. Johnston (along with all of the artists involved) has done a fantastic job of bringing Moore’s stories to the comic book page in a pure form.  The collected edition of Hypothetical Lizard (about which I’ll write more in a moment) contains Mr. Moore’s complete novella at the back.  After reading the comic, I had a great deal of fun reading the prose story while constantly flipping back through the comic to compare and contrast Mr. Johnston’s adaptation with Mr. Moore’s original piece.  The adaptation was PHENOMENALLY faithful.  This isn’t some Hollywood project where the names and basic premise are the same and everything else is different.  No, almost every scene and line of dialogue from Mr. Moore’s story was preserved — everything had just been shaped into comic book form.

OK, here are some more specifics on what I read:

Hypothetical Lizard — This was the longest of the three works that I read.  (It was originally published in four issues.)  This incredibly fantastical tale is set entirely within the confines of the House Without Clocks, within which dwell a variety of unique men and women, all of whom are prostitutes.  In the first chapter we are introduced to a young girl named Som-Som, who is beginning the long and terrible journey necessary to prepare her to become a lover of wizards.  At first, I thought this tale would be Som-Som’s story.  But she merely serves as the witness to an even more terrible drama between the beautiful and mysterious Rawra Chin and the actor he spurned, Foral Yatt.  The world of Hypothetical Lizard is a world where the magical and fantastical is commonplace, and one of the most interesting aspects of the tale (and a hallmark of Alan Moore’s work) is the way he slowly sketches in tantalizing background details of this world while telling his story.  If I have any complaint, it’s that after spending so much time with Som-Som in the first chapter, I expected her to be much more of a central player during the rest of the story.  But that’s a fairly minor quibble.  The grey-washed artwork by Lorenzo Lorente and Sebastian Fiumara is lovely, setting exactly the right tone for this dark tale.  (I must particularly complement Mr. Lorente’s work in the first chapter.  His attention to detail in the backgrounds and attire of all the characters really brings the world of this story to life.)

The Courtyard — Federal Agent Aldo Sax specializes in anomaly theory, drawing connections from the obscure details that most others overlook.  He is undercover in Brooklyn, investigating a gruesome series of murders all carried out in a similar fashion, but with no apparent connections between the victims or the perpetrators.  Aldo’s investigation takes him to Club Zothique and suspected drug-dealer Johnny Carcosa, but the grim world of drugs and satanists that Aldo finds himself dredging through turns out merely to be the cover for something much, much more horrifying.  This is a terrific tale, an engrossing detective story that turns into something else entirely.  There’s a lot of Lovecraftian lore referenced herein, and while I am sure I only got a small fraction of those references, that didn’t stop me from throughly enjoying this dark, dirty little story.  Artist Jacen Burrows has the most “comic book” style of the artists on these graphic novels (using what looks like traditional pen & ink line-work, as opposed to the gray-scaled washes of Hypothetical Lizard or the fully-painted artwork of Light of Thy Countenance), but that is in no way a criticism.  Quite the contrary, Mr. Burrows’ work is fantastic.  Every panel is filled with a terrific amount of detail, from the exterior scenes set in the grimy streets of Brooklyn to the interiors of Club Zothique and Aldo and Carcossa’s appartments.  There are also some magnificent double-paged spreads towards the story’s climax (whose content I will not spoil here), that I could look at for hours.  This is a disturbing story, make not mistake, but one that is terrifically well-told.

Light of Thy Countenance — In the opening pages of the story, we are introduced to Maureen Cooper, a bartender at a dive bar.  But she’s not real.  She’s a fictional creation, a role played by television actress Carol Livesey.  But what happens to Maureen when the TV show on which her character appears is cancelled?  Light of They Countenance is my favorite of these three graphic novels (although I loved them all).  It is a truly unique creation — a look at the development of television and its increasingly insidious effects on our lives, told from the point of view of — wait for it — television itself.  It’s a brilliant idea, and with television as our guide we are taken through a fascinating journey.  Felipe Massafera provides the fully painted art, and it is absolutely gorgeous.  His work is jaw-droppingly stunning, and it brings a powerful realism that grounds the rather fantastic story definitively in our real world.  A tremendous achievement.

If you’re not a big comic book fan, and you’ve never read anything written by Alan Moore, then you certainly want to start with some of his justifiably most-famous works:  Watchmen, V For Vendetta, or From Hell.  But if you’re familiar with those astounding graphic novels and want to dig a little deeper to discover more works from the master, then you should not miss these fine stories published by Avatar.  They are proud additions to the Alan Moore spot on my bookshelf!

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