Most comic book and superhero fans who love the characters and the medium all understand that a huge debt is owed to writer Alan Moore. The skilled and imaginative works he’s created for the comic book medium and for the superhero genre are some of the most timeless comics anyone can read, with those works often aging like a fine wine.
Did you ever see the Joker the same way after reading The Killing Joke? Do you remember crying for Krypto during his death scene in Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? Did you shame yourself for dismissing a character like Swamp Thing after you read any part of Moore’s trailblazing run on the character? Did you thrill to the adventures of the anarchist V as he took a young woman on an unparalleled journey of self-discovery? Did you mourn for Rorschach when he was killed to keep the lie of world peace alive?
His stories have inspired the kinds of superhero fiction that we largely enjoy, not just in comics, but also at the movies. Without Moore, the Joker may not have been written by Christopher and Jonah Nolan the way that he was in The Dark Knight, which means we may not have received the performance we did from Heath Ledger. Without Moore, we wouldn’t have seen Jackie Earle Haley’s terrific performance as Rorschach in the adaptation of Watchmen. Moore inspires some of today’s best comics and cinematic storytellers, including the likes of Neil Gaiman (who openly attributes brilliance to Moore) and Joss Whedon.
So many incredible works are all attributed to this one man, to whom many storytellers attribute traits of ingeniousness and true, definitive brilliance. So, when that same writer, whom comics and superhero fans have adored and placed on the highest pedestal their imaginations have been able to conjure, turns around and allows his bitterness at the industry to then collectively insult the very people singing his praises, you might wonder what went wrong. Is it the fans, as the brilliant writer suggests…
…or is it Alan Moore?
The writer recently went on what you might classify as a “tirade” – soft spoken, as it may have been – against the “abomination” of the superhero, a genre that he freely admits he hasn’t revisited even as a reader and/or viewer since he completed work on Watchmen. For those keeping score at home, that means that Moore, according to himself, hasn’t absorbed superhero fiction since at least October of 1987. Though, he did seem to think enough of it to create some superhero fiction, as the aforementioned Killing Joke was first published in 1988, but that’s neither here nor there.
In the interest of presenting his views without the possibility of distortion, here are his comments to Stuart Kelly of The Guardian in their entirety that indict all of superhero fandom:
“I hate superheroes. I think they're abominations. They don't mean what they used to mean. They were originally in the hands of writers who would actively expand the imagination of their nine- to 13-year-old audience. That was completely what they were meant to do and they were doing it excellently. These days, superhero comics think the audience is certainly not nine to 13, it's nothing to do with them. It's an audience largely of 30-, 40-, 50-, 60-year-old men, usually men.
"Someone came up with the term graphic novel. These readers latched on to it; they were simply interested in a way that could validate their continued love of Green Lantern or Spider-Man without appearing in some way emotionally subnormal. This is a significant rump of the superhero-addicted, mainstream-addicted audience. I don't think the superhero stands for anything good. I think it's a rather alarming sign if we've got audiences of adults going to see the Avengers movie and delighting in concepts and characters meant to entertain the 12-year-old boys of the 1950s.”
Moore is certainly entitled to his opinion, largely because most people realize that, although we may see it as flawed, it is an informed opinion – except for the fact that he likely has no idea what superhero stories are like today. A writer that once prided himself on being subversive for having the “audacity” to spout an ideology “anything to the left of Genghis Khan,” and who may be single-handedly responsible for transforming the superhero genre into what it is today when it’s at its best, is now ironically lashing out not just at the very thing that put him on the map, but also at the very people who’ve marveled at his work and perpetuated the idea of his own brilliance far more than any other segment of comic book fandom. Alan Moore has a level of idolatry in the comic book world that no creator, perhaps with the exception of Stan Lee, has managed to garner.
His words are certainly alarming for one reason because he was obviously, at a previous point in his life, a part of the same group he’s now dismissing as “emotionally subnormal.” Looking at an interview conducted by DC Comics in 1985 for his work on Swamp Thing, Moore is gushing with adoration for the character, for his editor and Swamp Thing's creator Len Wein, and for what he gets to do for a living ("it's sadism and I'm getting paid for it," he said about attempting to scare his readers). If Killing Joke, Swamp Thing, or even Miracleman were all written with an audience of nine to 13 year olds in mind, I would be pretty shocked, and 1985 Alan Moore likely would be as well. Those stories, within the genre the writer now professes to hate, dealt with themes that were either too mature or largely too advanced for that group to be considered his prime audience.
The single biggest comment of his to take issue with, though, is when he says that he doesn’t think the superhero “stands for anything good.”
Well, Mr. Moore, I know of at least one entire city that would likely disagree with you on that point. Greatly.
Yes, Batkid was, well, a kid. But this kid’s story inspired people of all ages, all over the world, because his love of something that Moore doesn’t feel represents anything good helped to inspire an act of kindness and unity rarely seen which warmed hearts the planet over. Does Moore take pity on anyone dense enough to derive joy from this child’s story since it comes from a character and genre that’s so mainstream? I certainly hope not, but in truth after his comments here, it wouldn’t surprise me.
If Alan Moore wants to turn his back on superheroes and their brand of fiction, that’s absolutely fine, but a man as ontologically advanced and perhaps brilliant as he is should also have the decency to do so without insulting the very people who have adored his work with those characters, and sung his praises now for a generation. If he’s unable to do even that, then he should at least have the courtesy to walk away from superheroes quietly. Alas, apparently he feels he has to take you down with him. The most ironic part about this is that if Mr. Moore truly hates what superheroes and their fans have become -- and wants to find who's responsible -- then he should probably look no further than the mirror.
It’s too bad that superheroes have failed Mr. Moore so terribly over the years, but what’s equally as tragic is that Moore fails to recognize the power of the comic book medium and his own work in it: the very moment that he finally decided that superheroes were loathsome and vile, a young man or woman in high school or college has opened up Watchmen for the first time and had their imaginations expanded. A longtime Supeman fan has opened up The Man of Tomorrow, and has been introduced to new possibilities for old, favorite characters. A little boy who loves Batman will inspire an entire city of adults and children alike to make his Dark Knight dreams come true.
I, like many other comic book and movie fans owe a debt to Alan Moore for helping to unlock something in our brains. While I’m sorry to see a former passion of his become such a source of annoyance and hate, in the end that’s okay. I’ll just have to take solace in the things I love, even if they, apparently, make me emotionally subnormal. You know, that kind of reminds me of a joke…
“See, there were these two guys in a lunatic asylum…”
Chris Clow is a geek. He is a comic book expert and former retailer, and freelance contributor to GeekNation.com, The Huffington Post, and Batman-On-Film.com. You can find his weekly piece Comics on Film every Wednesday right here at Movies.com. Check out his blog, and follow along on Twitter @ChrisClow.
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