Tomorrow Stories #1, October 1999, America's Best Comics
writer: Alan Moore
artists: Kevin Nowlan, Rick Veitch, Jim Baikie, Melinda Gibbie
letterer: Todd Klein
colorist: Wildstorm FX
assistant editor: Eric Desantis
editor: Scott Dunbier
Tomorrow's A Comic A Day challenge begins . . . today!
New Year's Eve is a day of excitement and anticipation, so what better day to begin A Comic A Day: Year Two? Actually, what I'm anticipating is infrequent access to the Internet in the next few days, since my girlfriend and I have moved to a wirelessly sheltered part of town, so I thought it wouldn't hurt to have a review in the chamber. Who says New Year's resolutions have to wait for the new year?
I think Alan Moore can relate. After a few years of relative inactivity in the comics scene, the acclaimed writer of The Watchman burst back into the industry with his America's Best Comics imprint, featuring fan favorite series like Tom Strong, Top 10, and this, Tomorrow Stories. Featuring four eight-page tales in an anthology-style format, Moore caps off this inaugural issue with a vivid essay about his futile road trip to visit a vacationing Todd Klein, in which he realizes that most of his collaborators live or vacation in predominantly rural settings. "Maybe this is a book of collected rustic dreams about technology, about civilization seen from far away." Indeed, each of Moore's Tomorrow Stories are actually colorful blasts from the past, in their own respective ways.
Consider the misadventures of Jack B. Quick, boy inventor. When Bessie the cow suffers from bovine night-fits, Jack finds a loop hole in Einstein's theory of relativity and creates a mini-sun with a quantum-enhanced vacuum cleaner. Jack's little big bang inadvertently creates a little galaxy, complete with planets and moons that inconveniently orbit around town. Just when Jack acclimates his neighbors to their new resident cosmos, the galaxy implodes, and Bessie plugs the resultant black hole with her protruding butt, now time-stuck in mid-air forever. "Best of all," Jack explains in an attempt to look on the bright side, "according to Einstein's general theory, we should still be able to milk Bessie, although she'll only yield buckets of x-rays." Even without the x-rays, even the most casual reader can see through the lingual slapstickiness of this first Tomorrow story and recognize just how much fun Moore must have had crafting it.
Unfortunately, the adventures of Greyshirt aren't as light-hearted. In "Amnesia," an amnesiac finds himself bloodied and standing above a seemingly murdered woman. When he hears of an eight-time hammer killer prowling the streets, he assumes he is the maniac and spends the subsequent pages running from himself, until Greyshirt and the police find him and pursue him. The presumed paranoid perpetrator darts into a warehouse and stumbles onto a security guard, and shortly thereafter Greyshirt captures him. In a not completely unexpected twist, Greyshirt explains that the fallen woman from page one was actually the presumed hammer killer, and that our protagonist's amnesia is the result of her first blow to his head, before tripping and braining herself. In another, more surprising twist, our hapless victim reveals that he murdered the security guard in his attempt to flee, since, "I thought that if I was going to be executed for eight murders . . . then one more wouldn't make any difference." Initially, Rick Veitch's art wasn't my cup of tea, but by the last page, I deemed his shadowy strokes the perfect compliment to Moore's tale of muddied morality. In this pulp world, the hero's shirt isn't the only thing that's grey.
The First American and U.S. Angel's adventure is much more contemporary, but the lead hero's gee-whiz mentality echoes of a simpler time. When the super-villainess Gerta Dammerung blames the television violence of The Jury Swinger Show for her latest armageddon-inducing crime spree, the First American and U.S. Angel infiltrate Swinger's set, where, after nearly succumbing to his eerie mind-deteriorating effects, they unmask him as an smarmy alien whose show "made us feel embarrassed for our entire species, lowering our self-esteem and softening us up for an alien invasion!" What begins as a tongue-in-cheek commentary on American daytime television turns into another slapstick satire, which makes me wonder, was Moore poking fun at the circus that is Springer's ilk, or the out-of-this-world mentality of the American superhero?
The Cobweb's story is the Moore's most ambitious of the four, both structurally and artistically. Starring the pulp heroine the Cobweb, this adventure begins with the sudden debilitation of beautiful debutantes around town. When the Cobweb discovers that they share a mutual admirer, she tracks him down and discovers his knack for mad science, which he uses to trap our heroine's spirit in a toy doll, just like the vulnerable bachelorettes. While trapped as the villain's proverbial menagerie, artist Melinda Gibbie depicts the women's perspective with Victorian-like, picturesque pencil sketching (Doll-O-Vision, as it's called on the story's title page), which captures the eeriness of their predicament. Moore's insistent alliteration protects the yarn's light-hearted pulp factor, though, establishing a tale rife with distinct vapid femininity and obsessive compulsion. In his own way, Moore's subtle point could be that women like Paris Hilton are toys whether a desperate mad scientist captures their soul in a Barbie doll or not.
Yes, while each of these stories boast an admiration for comic genres of the past, quantum vacuum cleaners, grapnel hook walking sticks, alien talk show hosts, and puppetron beams are definitely touchstones for the technology of tomorrow. Alan Moore has always been ahead of his time, but Tomorrow Stories epitomizes his ambition for fun, open-ended comic book storytelling. Though the series are vastly different in attitude, Tomorrow Stories picks up where The Watchmen left off. Whereas the latter affirmed comics' significance in contemporary culture, the former boasts a timelessness that proves comics will always be a viable, enjoyable storytelling medium.
With such optimism, I can't think of a better way to start another A Comic A Day . . . not to mention the new year.