Before I started really reading new comics, it never dawned on me that an author could play a central role in the success of a comic book storyline. I’ve briefly touched on this elsewhere, but this is partly due to the fact that, growing up, my enthusiasm for comic book characters was generated entirely from animated TV series.
To me, characters like Spider-Man and Iron Man existed in the same realm as Darkwing Duck, or Yogi Bear, or even Scooby-Doo. I was aware they were from comics, but all I really knew was that Stan Lee created the original comics, like, forever ago. When my dad had hair. And Dinosaurs roamed the earth and debated whether humans should have rights.
Given, this backdrop, the thought of individual authors impacting the Marvel universe just never crossed my mind. They lived in a static universe – they simply were. The Fantastic Four existed as they always had, and as Stan Lee had always intended them.
It wasn’t until I read Alan Moore’s landmark The Watchmen that I realized the potential of contemporary comics and the value of a great author. There are a million great things that could be said about The Watchmen, but for me one of the most important was this: The man (or woman) writing the comic has just as much power over their art as a literary marvel like Salman Rushdie, John Grisham, or whomever. Authors are not just tangential parts of the Marvel Universe. In fact, they shape it.
For anyone who has read a variety of comics, this point may be painfully obvious. I get that. But Odin’s Thunderbolts is for comic book beginners. I know what it’s like to not really understand this world, mostly because I still don’t. And the notion that there are talented writers behind great comic books is one I didn’t get for a surprisingly long time.
The point dawned on me again as I read a collection of Alan Moore’s DC Universe stories. It’s a great collection, spanning Superman, The Green Lantern Corps, and a few more obscure trades, but the one story that really gripped me was Moore’s Batman comic titled “Mortal Clay.”
Moore’s writing has an ability to examine the psychology of characters without proving overbearing, and “Mortal Clay” proves no exception. Throughout this “Batman Comic,” we hardly even see the Caped Crusader, instead spending our time with Clayface #3 (my DCU knowledge is admittedly lacking, so anyone interested in explaining the numbering of Clayface is a welcome guest). Although moving away from the hero seems like a dangerous move, Moore pulls it off with ease.
Again, though, the point here is that Moore is able to take a readily established character like Batman, and create a compelling literary crusade through the mind of a deranged killer – one no one has likely even considered before. Moore’s prowess is so powerful that he even manages to sprinkle smattering of sympathy on a previously faceless monster. Finding deep humanity in an inhuman creature is always an interesting read.
You’ll have to read the story for yourself to get a better feel for the plot specifics (as mentioned, spoilers have no place here), but the point stands. Whether Alan Moore, or any number of talented writers currently drafting stories (and there are many good ones going at it right now) the individual author can be the star of the comic.
Moore didn’t even need the power and prestige of Batman to make “Mortal Clay” an instant classic. The fact that he was given such a historic vehicle only enhances the depth and magnitude of his talent.