Monday, December 31, 2007

Tomorrow Stories #1

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.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

A Year Called Comics, part 8: "A Comic A Day, Year 2: Prologue"

A Year Called Comics, part 8: A Comic A Day, Year 2: Prologue
(The final installment of my eight-part year-end analysis of the A Comic A Day challenge, and the prologue to its sequel, A Comic A Day, Year Two!)

The waning end of this holiday season means two things for me: (1.) the hope that those dreaded Spider-man 3 action figures will finally sling off of Target and Wal-Mart toy shelves, and (2.) the coming of my next 365-part A Comic A Day project. I approach this sophomore effort with mixed emotions; while I'm very proud of what I accomplished between July 1, 2006 and June 30, 2007, my attempt at a conclusive eight-part analysis became inconsistent to the point of nonexistent, inadvertently tainting the sanctity of my year-long daily commitment. Leave it to me to justify this apparent laziness with another year's worth of day-by-day commentary, if only to claim that I was "recharging my batteries" for the new challenge!

Alas, above all, my intended emphasis with A Comic A Day isn't its consistency so much as its content. As I implied in my very first post on June 2, 2006, anyone can read and even review one comic book every day for a year (and if I start a trend, more power to the people!), but my intent is to offer meaningful insight into "the comic book" as a conduit for literature and art, separately and as a cooperative unit. (I guess anyone can do that, too, but, really, who has the time?) Even an issue like that old, beloved, coveted-for-commercialism's sake Venom cameo in Darkhawk must contribute something to the medium, hence its (then) success; therefore, every comic book deserves such analysis, if only to explain why it left the editor's desk in the first place.

Also, please remember that I believe every comic book to be somebody's first comic book, or at least should be partially created and analysed as such. Even an issue from a book like DC's current continuity-mired Countdown should offer some sense of exclusivity for the new reader that just liked the iconic cover image of Superman, or something. I can't imagine that Marvel wants to deter anyone with fond childhood memories of Captain America from ol' Winghead's title just because the character's dead. Of course, my inner fanboy can't resist commenting on the trappings of comic book culture, but occasionally donning the "newbie goggles" may assign value to an issue I'd otherwise prejudge and disregard. The comic book is an art, but it's also a business that always needs new customers.

Yes, on a personal level, the A Comic A Day project has inspired that inner fanboy of mine to new heights, exposing me to authors, artists, and genres of comics I've never experienced before. Several creators have been kind enough to comment on their respective reviews, and one of my favorite colorists Adrienne Roy dropped me a line after that June 2, 2006 introduction. These connections, some of which have resulted in complimentary comics for yours truly (Jealous?), have enabled me to keep my fingers on the pulse of comic book culture, and in my own completely infinitesimal way, keep the blood flowing.

Of course, A Comic A Day: Year Two will boast some characteristics all its own. While the fundamental rules haven't changed, I've modified them to broaden the project's horizons. Here is a list of the amended guidelines, pasted from that first (and seemingly my favorite) post, with said amendments in blue text for distinction:

Beginning January 1, 2008 through December 31, 2008, I will read one complete comic book every day. Further, I will chronicle this exercise by posting a daily review of the comic book I've read, including a brief synopsis of its story to assure that I didn't just "look at the pretty pictures." Incidentally, one day constitutes the time between 12:01 a.m. and 11:59 p.m., at least on my watch, so the issue must be read by then. Further:

1. I can only read one issue from any given series throughout the ACAD year. Therefore, if I read Action Comics #1, I cannot attribute any other issue of Action Comics to the challenge. (However, in this instance, other titles featuring Superman would still be in play, if only for one issue each.) Titles that have "rebooted" into different volumes with distinct number ones (i.e. The Brave and the Bold) count as two separate series; also, titles that were read for A Comic A Day: Year One can (and in some cases will deliberately) be revisited in Year Two.

2. I cannot attribute any comic books or graphic novels from my current collection to the challenge; my daily dose of graphic goodness must come from a comic book that I have never read before. I can attribute future issues of titles I currently collect to the challenge, but only under restriction of the rest of the rules on this list.

3. A maximum of four out of my seven weekly reads can come from one of the "big two" publishers, DC and Marvel Comics. This limit guarantees exposure to several other, potentially independent publishers at least three times a week. Further, A Comic A Day: Year Two will feature "WWWednesdays," a weekly look at a different webcomic.

4. As long as the selection contains a complete original issue's worth of material, my daily dose can come from a graphic novel or serial collection, possibly read at a bookstore or a library. This stipulation offers potential exposure to a variety of comic book eras, styles, and creators despite any given issue's limited availability -- not to mention my financial, ah, restrictions. Exposure to the respective weekly webcomic will focus on a single storyline's worth of material.

5. I must post a daily review of the comic book or strip I've read, unless something dramatic occurs to my computer or Internet access, in which case I will post all unpublished reviews as soon as technologically possible.

6. I reserve the right to add to or edit the contents of these restrictions, as long as these additions maintain the integrity of the A Comic A Day challenge.

The last time I posted these rules, I gave myself a little less than a month to prepare for the challenge. This time, I have a little less than a week! See you next year . . .