Last week I mentioned some sort of ka-razy Superman sale they were having at ComiXology. $.99 for this; $.99 for that; $.99 for the prince’s firstborn male child; &c.
I did a quick run-through of books you might want to pick up (for $.99 no less!) but missed one on my first pass. It happens to be Brian David-Marshall’s favorite Alan Moore story; SUPERMAN Annual 11.
Dave Gibbons (who would be Moore’s collaborator on the consensus greatest comic book of all time, WATCHMEN) impressed the right DC editor and got to pitch a book; they told him he could pick his collaborator and he snap-picked Moore. Can you imagine — as an artist — being allowed to pick your writer… and having that writer be Alan Moore!?! And him saying yes??? In those days Alan Moore would actually write a Superman story for you and not entitle it SUPREME or TOM STRONG.
The story goes that it is February 29th — Superman’s birthday. Wonder Woman and Batman & Robin separately travel to the North Pole’s Fortress of Solitude to bring gifts to the man who has everything. Of the three, it is noted that only one has pants on; or superhero spandex tights or whatever (but you grok). Yes, this is the starting premise to maybe the greatest Superman story of all time (or at least BDM’s favorite… As I said, mine is ALL-STAR SUPERMAN).
Moore opens up with some nice tongue-in-cheek. The premise is fundamentally comic-book-y and not in a deconstructed “smart” way. So he throws you a curve ball with characters who could only be written this way because it was 1985 and not 2013. The Robin at the time was Jason Todd, newly in the green
bikini bottoms pixie boots, and this was his first time meeting Wonder Woman. He plays it completely straight; and I think, at least as a modern reader, that must always have been part of the joke.
This was the interaction he had with The Dark Knight after making a comment about what WW was wearing:
The long-eared blue cowl for that matter?
For many readers this is a characterization barely recognizable as Batman. I am of the opinion that Batman as an urban legend is properly every interpretation of Batman from the gun-toting first appearance to sixties camp to THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS to Christian Bale in the armor to Huntress in her stitched proto-Cassandra Cain leathers but that is an argument for another time. I actually just love how Moore wrote Batman in this one scene. Even when Moore is queering comics and knocking them on their ears in that innovative, subversive, disruptive way that only he can you never get the feeling that he has forgotten he is writing a comic book and that these characters have “lives” and draw on traditions that go way beyond even his contribution to the canon; here he is doing a great Adam West riff that would have been immediately recognizable to many readers (even if it isn’t to young’uns who might be reading this).
Anyway, all is not well in the Fortress of Solitude.
Wonder Woman + Batman & Robin stumble upon the deadly Mongul, who has incapacitated Superman. As the villain is defeated (“SPOILERS!” I guess), we see Superman lose his cool in a rare way, have already figured out that Superman’s birthday comes only every four years, and learn Batman’s heart’s desire. Fans of ALL-STAR SUPERMAN might note that Grant Morrison (who has been mostly silent in a long-standing Cold War with Moore) wrote the resolution of one of his conflicts in direct opposition to Moore’s interpretation of the classic irresistible force v. immovable object. “Surrender” is a fighting word! I’d write more on this but I really don’t want to spoil the story. The $.99 sale is over but you can still topdeck SUPERMAN Annual 11: “For the Man Who Has Everything…” for the princely sum of $1.99 at ComiXology.
Considering cover was $1.25 in 1985 $1.99 ain’t bad.
Something I really loved about this comic book is the coloring. Gibbons is of course one half of the team that put together the greatest comic book of all time (WATCHMEN); and he worked so well with Moore in particular because he could execute on Alan’s complex scripts and ideas without muddying them up with too much “artistic interpretation” … He just did exactly what he was supposed to do, and well.
If you think about Gibbons purely as Moore’s sock puppet you might ultimately be underrating him as a draftsman, which would be a shame. Check out this panel of Wonder Woman blasting the bejeezus out of Mongul with a cannon she finds under Superman’s bed or whatever:
Can you imagine how garishly colored that would have been in 2013?
But in 1985, Tom Ziuko’s use of flat colors actually highlights the superb line work of Gibbons. The heavy foreground inks on Wonder Woman are half of what this panel is about! Gibbons couldn’t rely on WildStorm PhotoShop artists so had to create contrast by varying his brush and pen nibs, giving it an almost woodcut finish. Even as a modern reader who has been used to Image Comics-style computer coloring for over 20 years, I don’t think the lack of technology detracts from the visual here whatsoever; rather I can just stare at the panel longer and longer appreciating the decisions he made.
For a more direct comparison, consider these two panels:
From SUPERMAN Annual 11:
An homage from INFINITE CRISIS 1:
Huge fan of the detailed studliness of Phil Jimenez of course; just pointing out the quite different coloring technique from 1985 to this later reinterpretation (though you may also notice the frame-breaking, black gutters, and other [potentially cool] visual decisions by an admittedly talented artist… that would have detracted from, say, a tight Moore script in a way Gibbons never has).
SUPERMAN Annual 11 has had quite a bit of lasting impact; as you just saw, successful writers like Geoff Johns are still cribbing from it for their tent pole events like INFINITE CRISIS. It was also the basis for an episode of JUSTICE LEAGUE (which you can stream on Netflix at will) (though Wonder Woman gunned all of Robin’s good lines).
In the end, my verdict is more than worth the $1.99. Go read. etc.
P.S. I have mentioned on a couple of occasions in this post and elsewhere that WATCHMEN is the greatest comics masterpiece of all time. I spent a couple of days putting together this post but apparently someone at ComiXology had their ears itching or whatnot and they decided to put together a five-day WATCHMEN sale starting today. I can’t say anything about the “BEFORE WATCHMEN” prequels other than they have some amazing creators attached (Adam Hughes, Darwyn Cooke, Jae Lee, Amanda Connor… almost every illustrator is a DI); but the original Moore / Gibbons series (you know, the GOAT) is [also] on sale for $.99 per.
Come get some!