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Tag Archive: Alan Moore


Review by C.J. Bunce

Probably the second best-known work writer Alan Moore is known for in the U.S. outside of his Watchmen series, Batman: The Killing Joke was both a retelling of the origin story of The Joker and the story of his using a physical assault on Barbara Gordon aka Batgirl to attempt to torture and ruin Gotham police commissioner Jim Gordon.  The book is one of the 1980s big four revolutionary comics (along with Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Batman: Year One, and Watchmen) that caused a shift in how superhero stories are told (and it was the only comic director Tim Burton had ever read, setting the tone for the dark 1989 Batman movie featuring Jack Nicholson’s version of The Joker that Burton would begin filming only weeks later).  It’s a controversial graphic novel–the sexual assault and gunshot that resulted in Barbara Gordon losing the use of her legs and resulting in her change of persona to the deskbound computer whiz called Oracle angered many readers, and the ending is ambiguous and perplexing–why is Batman laughing at the end of the story?  Following the lead of the Marvel Comics new library of novelized adaptations of comic books and graphic novels, Batman: The Killing Joke is now the first of at least three new hardcover novel adaptations of DC Comics stories (to be followed by Batman: The Court of Owls on November 13, 2018, and Harley Quinn: Mad Love on February 12, 2019) published by Titan Books (also the publisher of the Marvel paperback novels).  Written by Christa Faust (Peepland, Fringe, Supernatural) and Gary Phillips (Violent Spring, Peepshow), their adaptation is a straightforward, faithful take on the graphic novel with a few updates.

The impact of the graphic novel cannot be overstated.  A key draw was the prestige format and the fact the book was a one-shot story, not like the three big predecessor books mentioned above that were monthly single issues compiled into a trade comic.  At the time we didn’t think the story would be absorbed into the regular continuity of DC Comics, but it slowly became a reference point even beyond its impact on Batgirl stories for the next 30 years.  (The book was so popular we couldn’t wait a minute to read it–one of my oldest friends was reading his copy on his music stand during our high school band practice, prompting the band director to throw it across the room, to our horror).

So how is the new novel adaptation?

You can’t really come up with enough synonyms for vile and despicable to describe The Joker in the original story and in this adaptation.  Before this story–and only about nine months before DC Comics would use fans to allow The Joker to kill Batman’s sidekick Robin with a tire iron in the pages of the Batman monthly comic book–The Joker was a bit of a silly villain.  Sure, he was always dastardly and Batman’s age-old key foe, but readers never saw him in such “true crime” acts so explicitly.  This is commonplace in the Batman stories now, but before you wouldn’t find a character shot, stripped naked, and photographed and another one stripped naked and tortured, both as plot devices ultimately used by The Joker to get Batman to show-up for the battle.  Authors Faust and Phillips do the most justice to Commissioner Gordon’s character, whose focus during his torture in a revived old amusement park is only the thoughts of his daughter’s safety and survival.  By the end of the book readers have learned that they couldn’t blame Gordon were he to walk away from these events as a destroyed pool of a man.  On the flipside, Barbara Gordon’s attack is handled partially from her viewpoint trying to understand what happened to her in real time, and partially from the view of one of The Joker’s stooges.  Barbara plays a more active role here in saving her father (and surviving), and instead of seeing herself as the victim she uses the bystander stooge to help further her superhero self into a new persona in a smartly conceived update via a coda to the story.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

It helps to know upfront that Scottish comedian and personality Frankie Boyle always wanted to write comics.  His inspiration wasn’t from the decades of superhero comics, but Alan Moore, whose attitude, as Boyle sees it, was “that comics had sort of run their course.”  A fan of the writing of Ed Brubaker, David Lapham, and Jason Aaron, Boyle embarked on an ambitious project, asking “what sort of comics do you write after comics have been done already?”  The result was first published in serial format in Mark Millar’s short-lived CLiNT magazine, and with two new chapters to wrap up his story a complete, graphic novel-length story arrives next week from Titan Comics, called Frankie Boyle’s Rex Royd.

Ambitious is the key word to describe Rex Royd.  At its worst, Boyle has touched on Alan Moore’s outrageous depravity as seen in his Lost Girls.  At its best, Boyle has created a character that will appeal to fans of the disconnected and dispassionate Dr. Manhattan and the idiosyncratic and self-absorbed Ozymandias in Moore’s acclaimed Watchmen series.  With his protagonist, the Lex Luthor-esque supervillain scientist and CEO Rex Royd, Boyle has created a brash reflection of non-mainstream comics in the pre-Marvel Cinematic Universe era.  His “hero” is like Ian Fleming’s James Bond if you remove all the tropes that make us actually like Bond, all the fun things that keep us coming back for more and not just dismiss the character as a misogynistic, unexpurgated blunt instrument.  Boyle is fully in on this, as his lead female character Eve–as in the biblical partner of Adam–resembles Bond’s confidante Eve Moneypenny in the last two Bond movies.

And yet, Rex Roydthe book–is like a writing experiment.  What do we get if we take out all these good elements and swap in the dark outcomes?  So it sometimes reads like Neil Gaiman writing a 24-Hour Comic (I’ve read that, this is probably better), but then, as in the ninth and final chapter of the book, we’re surprised with a clever sort of play on Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, with some Harvey Pekar-inspired attempts at making some meaning of it all.  So there’s a lot going on.  If you find linearity and deep meaning in the book, well, the joke may be on you, as the author has said when the artists needed some of his script to be explained, his response was, “It’s supposed to be a joke.”

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula is a series of novels and short stories that began in 1992, showcasing an elaborate and detailed parallel history of Earth set between 1888 and 1990 (so far), where Bram Stoker’s Dracula is seen as a true biographical account of the real Count, and the Count controls England by winning the hand of Queen Victoria.  Anno Dracula is a steampunk mix of fictional characters and real people spanning a century in a bit of a The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Legenderry construct.  Gunga Din, Fu Manchu, Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes, Lestat de Lioncourt (from Interview with the Vampire), Prince Mamuwalde (from Blacula), Doctor Moreau, Allan Quatermain, and even Carl Kolchak from The Night Stalker all show up in Newman’s fantasy world, alongside real people of the past like Billy the Kid, Catherine the Great, Joseph Merrick, William Morris, Beatrix Potter, and Orson Welles.  Newman’s entirely new story is in the form of a comic book series, Anno Dracula–1895: Seven Days in Mayhem, published by Titan Comics and illustrated by Paul McCaffrey, and it is now available in a collected trade edition from Titan Comics.

As Dracula’s tenth jubilee approaches, an assassination plan is underway from radical forces in Great Britain.  Newman’s powerful lead Kate Reed–journalist, free thinker, and vampire–has joined a council of revolutionaries, but when Dracula’s secret police come crashing in she turns to a familiar old friend to try to save herself and the Count himself, but she must first get through Count Graf Von Orlok of Nosferatu fame.  As with past entries in the series, this is not a tale about Dracula, but more about every other living and fictional famous face of the day.  And my favorite piece of a Kim Newman story is his use of fantastic characters and historical figures sometimes only for a single page or, as with his new graphic series, in a single panel, but always for a reason, and often for a joke (Twilight books, you are not exempt).  So keep a lookout for a steampunk cyborg Thomas Edison and a ship captain with a striking similarity to Lon Chaney’s Phantom of the Opera.  Artist McCaffrey’s artistry is a great pairing with Newman’s classic prose.

Few authors have a such a command of their subjects as Newman has of vampire lore and film.  Check out my interview with Newman back in 2013 here at borg.com, as well as our reviews of his sequels to the novel Anno Dracula:  Dracula Cha Cha Cha here, and Johnny Alucard here.  Fans of Alan Moore’s several adaptations of classic characters will love Newman’s works, but be prepared:  Where Moore puts a few characters together to have an adventure such as in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Newman has deftly woven easily more than a thousand into his world.  Anno Dracula–1895: Seven Days in Mayhem is proof that the entire Anno Dracula series should be adapted to the graphic novel format.  An exciting, rousing tale, it’s too good to pass up.

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wonder-woman-jill-thompson-cover

The best artwork in a graphic novel you will find this year is at your comic book store this week.  Seven-time Eisner Award winner Jill Thompson has created the definitive Wonder Woman origin story with Wonder Woman: The True Amazon, written and painted in the spectacularly vibrant manner only America’s most acclaimed writer-artist could create.

You may be familiar with Diana, Amazon Princess, and her ancient origin story, but this new version is a keeper–a storybook you’d read to your kids with lush colors and mythology steeped in classic folklore.  The action and storytelling are similar in execution to the best work of Alan Moore and his bold layouts, as well as the action and story development in Frank Miller’s 300–an easy comparison because of the setting and theme–yet Thompson’s story and art is far richer.  Thompson’s watercolor-painted comic pages and layout work is up there with the 1980s-1990s work of Mike Grell, and Wonder Woman: The True Amazon may very well be not only looked back on as the benchmark for all Wonder Woman: Year One attempts to come, it’s very possibly the best looking graphic novel from DC Comics since Grell’s Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters.

jill-thompson-wonder-woman-excerpt

Best of all, Thompson’s story is surprising.  For much of the tale Diana is anything but heroic.  An early subtitle was The Very Selfish Princess–should that give you a hint.  Thompson looked deep into the mythos of Wonder Woman–celebrating her 75th year this year–and asked “what did Diana go through to become this iconic figure?”

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Batman Killing Joke movie poster

The first ever DC Comics animated movie to be rated “R” is coming to a theater near you next month in advance of its home edition release.  Batman: The Killing Joke will be screened Monday, July 25 at 7:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. local time at select theaters across the country.  Fathom Events has teamed up with Warner Bros., and DC Entertainment for this rare opportunity to see the adaptation of the graphic novel by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland.

Batman: The Killing Joke reunites Batman: The Animated Series executive producer Bruce Timm and voice actors Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill reprising their roles as Batman and the Joker.  It co-stars Tara Strong (Teen Titans, Batman: Arkham games) as Barbara Gordon/Batgirl and Ray Wise (Twin Peaks, RoboCop) as Commissioner Gordon.

killing joke clip

Experience a special introduction from Mark Hamill plus a never-before-seen documentary about how Hamill was cast in this project and what the role means to him as an actor and a fan. The event will conclude with a special behind-the-scenes look at how the Joker’s memorable, yet disturbing song and dance number was recreated for the film.  Based on the acclaimed DC graphic novel of the same name, Batman: The Killing Joke takes a journey into the dark psyche of the Clown Prince of Crime – from his humble beginnings as a struggling comedian to his fateful encounter with Batman that changes both of their lives forever.  Years later, and now escaped from Arkham Asylum, The Joker devises a plan to prove that one bad day can make anyone as insane as he is – setting his sights on Commissioner Gordon.  It’s up to the Dark Knight to put a stop to The Joker’s latest scheme and save one of Gotham City’s finest. Following a gripping prologue introducing Barbara Gordon’s heroic adventures alongside Batman as Batgirl, Batman: The Killing Joke stays true to the authentic tale that has held fans’ imaginations for nearly three decades – spotlighting the birth of a Super-Villain, the fortitude of a Super Hero and the punchline that will leave you speechless.

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Killing Joke animated film clip

If you’re talking about animated adaptations of classic DC Comics Batman comic books, three book series and movies should come to mind.  First there was the well-made adaptation of Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One, which we reviewed here at borg.com back in 2012.  Then there was the faithful, two-part adaptation of Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, with Part 1 reviewed here in 2012 and Part 2 released in 2013 reviewed here.  The animated Batman adaptations will soon be complete with the third key classic Batman book of the modern era coming to animated video.

This year Warner Bros. is releasing an adaptation of the 1988 controversial story Batman: The Killing Joke.  Alan Moore, Brian Bolland, and John Higgins teamed up to create the definitive origin story of the sadistic villain The Joker in a shiny and colorful prestige format never before seen by comic readers.  The cover sold the book, but inside the darkest story of Gotham ever told was born in only a way Alan Moore could concoct.  As with his original story that became Watchmen, Moore took beloved characters, specifically Commissioner Gordon and daughter Barbara aka Batgirl, and made them victims.  The origin of Oracle was born here, and Moore for the following decades has defended his handling of the story and treatment of Barbara.

original Killing Joke cover

Most appropriately, the animated movie will receive an R rating–a must if the film is loyal at all to the original source material.  Then there’s the solid cast list.

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A1_Annual cover

If you are looking for an introduction to critically acclaimed comics in one volume while also getting a dose of exposure to some newer talents, Atomeka Press has teamed up with Titan Comics to release a new hardcover volume, A1 Annual: The World’s Greatest Comics.  With such a loaded title, you’d expect the entries to be pretty powerful stuff.  You’ll certainly find a broad mix of story and art styles, but ultimately beauty is in the eye of the reader.  Does the volume live up to the title?

No doubt everyone, no matter how critical your eye, will find at least a few gems here.  When you realize you’re dealing with the likes of Joe Simon, Jack Kirby, Dave Gibbons, Bill Sienkiewicz, Jim Steranko, Alan Moore, and James Robinson, it’s pretty easy to see why the editors had the chutzpah to come up with such a cocky title.

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BF Manhattan nite owl

Before Watchmen is a series of titles that was beset with controversy from its inception.  Years before the launch of the series last year, DC Comics had looked at a prequel concept for the much-ballyhooed Watchmen mini-series turned graphic novel, but squelched it before anything came of it.  Watchmen, continually one of the biggest selling graphic novels, has a sort of sacred status to many.  And loyalists believed that if Alan Moore didn’t write it or at least endorse it, then it wasn’t for them.  Still, whether you hate or love the original Watchmen, how do you pass up a series of titles from the likes of J. Michael Straczynski, Brian Azzarello, Len Wein, Darwyn Cooke, Adam Hughes, Joe Kubert, Lee Bermejo, and Jae Lee?  See our early review of the first issues of the series here and here.

In an era where you can either read single issues or wait out the run—especially with a mini-series—and get the graphic novel in hardcover or trade version, as consumer you have decisions to make.  You could read the monthly and then you don’t necessary “need” the trade edition.  If you love the monthly you may just want the trade version on your shelf for future reading.  With ordinary monthly series waiting for the trade editions actually can hurt the ability to ensure series and creators you love continue, since publishers bank on weekly circulation numbers.  If everyone waits for the trades, the publishers may cancel a series based on low sales.  That doesn’t necessarily seem to be the case for mini-series, which publishers only plan for a few issues.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Fairy tales seem to be everywhere this past year, beginning with a TV rivalry of sorts between Once Upon a Time and the superb series Grimm.  Lost Girl, the Canadian TV series winding up its third season in the States, has been a brilliant series, full more of folklore than fairy tales per se, yet it truly highlights the “fae” of the genre.  Movies like Snow White and the Huntsman, Mirror, Mirror, and Red Riding Hood have shown that classic tales still have resonance with mainstream audiences, because the source stories are, quite simply, timeless.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Whether or not you’d call yourself a fan of Watchmen, the graphic novel or film adaptation, or whether you’re interested in the new DC Comics’ prequel series, if you’ve seen anything about Edward Blake, the Comedian, you can tell he is a pretty complex character.  World War II hero, vigilante-turned-paramilitary agent, and sociopath.  In the parallel universe of Watchmen, we’re led to believe Blake was the sole gunman on the grassy knoll.  His character made to look like Burt Reynolds and his name a play on Blake Edwards, director of the Pink Panther comedies, the Comedian wore the famous smiley face as a badge, a symbol that has become synonymous with the Watchmen.  It was also the Comedian whose death sets off the mystery plot behind Alan Moore’s graphic novel, the question:  Who is killing all these superheroes?  Blake never appears in real-time in Watchmen, only in flashbacks, and ultimately we never get to know much about his motivations or the causes of his apparent psychotic state.  He’s billed as a hero, yet as he saves victims from the villain, he traumatizes the victims.  He alone saves the hostages in Iran, yet the hostages do not appear as joyous with the result as in our timeline.  He sometimes seems to know what is right and search out and be a superhero, yet something always gets in the way, he alters his own course heading, and everyone ultimately would be better off without him.

So writer Brian Azzarello and artist J.G. Jones have their shot here at expanding on the Comedian via his backstory in Before Watchmen–Comedian #1.  In Issue #1 we don’t yet have a clear picture of this character–maybe it’s too soon–but at least there is something minimally sympathetic about the guy who one day goes completely off the edge of the rational.  It is not he who is the schemer.  The evil mastermind in this issue is actually quite brilliant–it’s none other than the one and only Jackie Kennedy, angry at a husband wasting time with the other woman.  I’m curious whether older readers have the same reactions to this storyline as younger readers.  At one time the Kennedys were the American royal family, and JFK’s death the single worst event in the history of the nation.  To make the First Lady the person who instigates the murder of Marilyn Monroe?  Definitely some shocking stuff fleshed out here.

Blake begins his story, then, as a rube, maybe like Joaquin Phoenix in To Die For.  He maintains his respect for the Kennedy brothers, yet who really is pulling the strings?  The story begins with a not so friendly game of pickup football.  Jones’s art is not photo-real but he does enough to let you know Blake is a key element in the ultimate 1960s inner sanctum.  He is a superhero CIA assassin of sorts.  His missions?  To take out those who would make those in power look bad.  In Watchmen, this meant killing Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein before they dug their heels in to report on the ramifications of the Watergate break-in.  With all the oddities that have been said over the years about Watergate bit player G. Gordon Liddy, Edward Blake appears to be cut from the same cloth.  As Blake is about to erase another target, he learns of the events in Dallas of November 1963.  Which poses the question–Does Azzarello plan to alter or explain Alan Moore’s background on the Comedian?  As the Comedian sits on the bed of Marilyn Monroe after apparently drugging her to look like an overdose, he takes note of his surroundings.  Can this character ever be redeemable?  Is he any worse or better than someone like Hannibal Lecter?  Can someone like Nite Owl step in and at least try to fix him?  Does anyone ever try, or is he just another typical, hopeless villain?  More than any other single issue DC Comics has published this past year, Comedian #1 certainly has intrigue, and will leave readers coming back for more.

Unfortunately the actual hero of the Watchmen story doesn’t get as exciting a debut in Before Watchmen–Nite Owl #1.  Legendary writer J. Michael Straczynski and popular artists Andy and Joe Kubert don’t do much to particularly evoke the early 1960s, where Nite Owl’s origin begins as a kid named Daniel Dreiberg.  Danny’s beginning is that of a slightly more bleak backgrounded Peter Parker.  He has an abusive father, and upon his death he is taken under the wing of the former Nite Owl, Hollis Mason, now ready to retire.  The training and mentoring is skipped over in this Issue #1, and Nite Owl becomes a member of the Crimebusters with the Comedian, Rorschach, Dr. Manhattan, Ozymandias, and Silk Spectre.  The single thing I think readers want to know about his past is just not there.  Hopefully the creators will come back to this in later issues of this mini-series.

How does a kid who would break into the original Nite Owl’s headquarters to learn his secrets become the conscientious superhero he later becomes–and remains–after the Keene Act’s ban on superheroes?  Character building and development is left aside here where readers could use an explanatory, novel, origin story.  Nite Owl doesn’t bring a lot of uniqueness as superheroes are concerned.  As influenced by Ted Kord’s Blue Beetle or Batman…  either he remains sort of bland as created by Moore, or Straczynski and team Kubert could really expand his story into new dimensions.  With a powerhouse creative team like these guys, I’m just left wishing for something more.

One place that could have been an opening for some creative freedom is the buddy relationship of Nite Owl and Rorschach.  We get to see a glimpse of that toward the end of this first issue, but perhaps an entire issue showing us why Nite Owl and Rorschach make the best team-up is worth pursuing.

The first four issues of Before Watchmen have certainly been interesting, with first issues of Azzarello’s Rorschach, Straczynski’s Dr. Manhattan, and Len Wein’s Ozymandias remaining to be published over the next few weeks.  With artists Adam Hughes, Lee Bermejo, and Jae Lee drawing those series, we’ve got a lot more to look forward to.

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