21 December 2007

Some of these stories have haunted me for decades

Across the Universe: The DC Universe Stories of Alan Moore
Alan Moore
DC Comics, 2003

V for Vendetta
and From Hell are two of my favorite graphic novels, due in no small part to the brilliant ideas and prose of Alan Moore. Because I first read both books in the `00s, I'd just assumed that Moore was only a contemporary comic book writer. Imagine my surprise, then, that upon picking up this volume at the local library, I discovered not one but three stories that affected me so profoundly when I read them as a kid that they still stick with me twenty-plus years later.

Two of these stories, both of which involve the Green Lantern Corps, still come up in my comparative religions class when I am reflecting on perception and frames of reference. In "Mogo Doesn't Socialize," Bolphunga the Unrelenting has come to a remote planet in search of the great Green Lantern Mogo. Suffice it to say that Bolphunga and the reader both discover precisely why Mogo can't be found anywhere on that remote world in a perceptual shift worthy of the Twilight Zone. "In Blackest Night" challenges a Green Lantern to communicate with a blind being from a dark planet who knows (and, more importantly, can know) nothing of "green" or "lanterns." This story drove home the point that you need a common frame of reference in order for ideas to translate.

The third story, "Brief Lives," filled a single page spread and came from something called Vega. As with the latter of the GL stories, this one was all about perspective. Two giants, whose lives encompass epochs of geological time, encounter---in the form of an almost imperceptible little cloud of dust---the futile attacks of a race of militant insectoids. The punchline, delivered by one of these eons-old creatures to his colleague, is that he shouldn't worry too much about the dust cloud because "life is too short." Wonderful!

All the other stories collected in this volume are strong, and most of them explore the nuances of interpersonal relationships, hardly the standard fare of superhero comic books. In "For the Man Who Has Everything," Superman is attacked by an alien plant-thing that renders him comatose while allowing him to live out an idealized virtual life on a Krypton-that-never-exploded with his wife and children. "The Jungle Line" finds the Swamp Thing gently, almost tenderly, rescuing Superman from the feverish grip of a lethal Kryptonian fungus. "Night Olympics" follows an evening out with socially conscious crime fighter couple Green Arrow and Black Widow as they encounter drug freaks, stereo thieves, and a would-be assassin. "Father's Day" is a troubling, if overlong, Vigilante story about a child-abusing, wife-murdering ex-con, and the complex, unfathomable relationship he has with his daughter. The closing story, "Mortal Clay," finds Batman dueling with the third incarnation of Clayface over the affections of an, um, woman.

Alan Moore has demonstrated time and again that he is a writer to be reckoned with. The implications of some stories in this collection took me by surprise decades ago, and their effects have still not worn off. I recommend the stories in this collection very highly.

(This review was originally written on November 19, 2007.)

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