Thursday, 2 October 2014

Alan Moore Obscurities: Judgement Day (#1-3 Youngblood Prologue and Aftermath)

"That book was made by a God.  By the most dangerous God of them all" - Glory

Well it's finally time to tackle when the sublime met the ridiculous and Alan Moore and Rob Liefeld collaborated on the same miniseries for Liefeld's post-Image studio Awesome Comics.  Awesome was formed in 1997 when, after accusations of financial irregularities were aimed at Liefeld, he took his Extreme studio creations, most notably Youngblood, Supreme and Glory and planned a full universal reboot which would be overseen by Alan Moore who was enjoying an acclaimed run on Supreme at the time.  If you read my look at Top Ten you'll remember this didn't get very far as Moore was offered a new universe of his own to play with by Jim Lee at Wildstorm and left the Awesomeverse dangling with just a few Youngblood comics, a couple of Glory issues and a truncated end to his Supreme run left to show what might have been.  I don't see this as a huge loss as it's self evident to me that what he produced for ABC comics so outshines his work for Image and Awesome it's untrue, but it soured his relationship with Rob Leifeld who has been pretty vocal ever since on the topic of Mr. Moore.

But what is a Rob Liefeld?  He's become something of an ur example for everything that went wrong with mainstream comics in the 1990's, to the extent that many people will dismiss the decade out of hand thanks to him and his Image cohorts, despite all the really good stuff that DID exist during that time.  Maybe I should let Grant Morrison sum up Mr. Liefeld for me, he absolutely nails it better than I can in his book Supergods.

Grant Morrison: "Rob Liefeld was the poster boy for Image... If Rob could get away with his barely original characters, his blizzard of crosshatched lines, the heroic legs that tapered to tiny screwdriver feet, and the multitudinous array of new muscles he’d invented for the human forearm alone, anyone could do it….  His drawings never missed any opportunity to inflict some elaborate new deformity upon the human physique. His ideas were secondhand, his research nonexistent, his vision eccentric and quite unique in every detail… [Background detail] would only get in the way of another shot of a clenched-teeth hero crashing through a window in a shower of unconvincing glass shards, to disembowel foes with names like Stryfe, Carnyge, and Myrdy’r."

Liefeld's critics however, were less kind.  But if you want a TL:DR version of that quote, Rob Liefeld is the artist who drew Captain America looking like this:
I think this could be classed as "treason".
Moving on to the main story itself, it revolves around the superteam known as "Youngblood", which was government backed and also merchandised itself, as well as not being shy of using lethal force to deal with threats.  There were about ten million members, all tending towards ripoffs of more well known Marvel and DC characters, most notably the most well known member "Shaft" who was basically a beefier version of DC's Speedy/RedArrow/Arsenal. The plot of the three main issues have one of Youngblood accused of murdering another and the subsequent trial uncovering the involvement of a mystical artifact.  Rob Liefeld pencils the framing trial sequences while different artists take on the task of illustrating the flashbacks covering the various hands the magical book at the centre of things has passed through over the millenia.  The collected edition - Judgement Day also contains a Youngblood "prologue" issue and a selection of short stories under the title "Aftermath" establishing new origins for other Awesome comics properties.  These are all written by Moore and drawn by various artists. As these universal reboots went nowhere after Moore's departure from Awesome, I am just going to concentrate on the three Judgement Day issues as they tell a self-contained story.
This here is a perfect storm of Liefeldian shittiness.  The ridiculous muscles, the crotchimus maximus, the pointless pouches and back sticks, fishlips, no eyes and although you can't see it here, the full page has something blocking Shaft's feet so Rob didn't have to draw them.  Wow.
The story begins with Youngblood member Knightsabre, staggering home, drunk, horny and depressed after being out celebrating his thirtieth birthday alone. In a typical Moore-esque touch, the scratchy, hand-written font the omniscient narrator is "speaking" to us in proves to be a plot point later.  He decides to visit the female hero Riptide, really hoping for nothing more than a peck on the cheek.  He finds the electrics off in her quarters and ends up drifting off to sleep on her bed as he waits for her.

He awakes to find Badrock, Vogue and Masada looking down at him.  They start questioning him about Riptide and his intentions towards her.  Knightsabre gets mad, and asks if she's accused him of anything improper.  But it turns out she was in the next room, battered to death.  Vogue starts planning a cover-up of the crime, Badrock asks what the hell she thinks she's doing.
Such emotion!
Vogue: "The world sees you as titans.  Like your movie stars, but even more so.  There has never been a super-hero murder before.  To your media it will be a primal event, an ancient drama acted out by beings stepped from legend".

If I didn't know better I'd say Moore was being sarcastic, because "stepped from legend" in no way sums up the members of Youngblood.  But anyway, Shaft is called in and won't be party to a cover-up.  Sentinel, also arrives saying he was on duty that night and only remembers Knightsabre coming in drunk.  Shaft decides it's time to call in "the dragon".
It's the Hulk with a fin on his head.
Savage Dragon is the name of the green-skinned fellow pictured above.  He is an Image character created by Erik Larsen who also happens to be a cop. He tells them the authorities have decided to let the superhero community deal with this matter, then leaves to process the scene. Youngblood member Diehard, a long-lived artificial human with a long history dating back to the second world war says they should call in help from the senior heroes, so they contact Supreme.

Supreme was created by Liefeld as a Superman rip-off who killed people, but Moore rebooted him as a love letter to the Silver Age Superman era (and I'll be covering Supreme at a later date).  He lends usage of his flying fortress, the Citadel Supreme to hold the trial in.  A Judge and prosecution and defence attourneys are found.  For the defence is Toby a sidekick to an obscure older hero, but fully qualified in law.  He asks for the recordings Diehard's artifical eyes make constantly, hoping that exonerating evidence can be found on them. Then after a time skip the issue ends with Shaft and Sentinel travelling to the Citadel Supreme for the trial.
Not Superman, Supreme right?
Also in this issue are flashbacks drawn by different artists, covering the strange history of a mystical book as it changed hands over the years.  This allowed Moore to do little parodies of other heroes.  There is one of Conan, of Tarzan, of Sgt.Rock and Easy Company and so on. 

The prosecution start by laying out their case, which is simply that Riptide spurned Knightsabre's advances and murdered her for it.  During a recess Badrock comments on the strangeness of the situation:

Badrock: "Y'know this is so weird.  Shaft said this was like a fairy tale gone wrong. The princess died, the knight accused and the dragon restoring order.  And now we are in a magic castle in the sky."

The court then reconvenes for the defence case.  Toby calls Glory to the stand.  Glory is Liefelds Wonder Woman rip-off.  A demi-god half Amazon, half demon who has lived for millenia.  I reviewed the two excellent books rebooting her for the modern audience a couple of months back. Toby asks her about a gift her mother received long ago, before humanity even existed.  The gift was a book from Hermes.

Hermes: "I have invented something for your earthly realm that I have called a book.  The template for all stories is within this tome.  All tales that are, or were, or ever shall be."

Glory's mother took the book and placed it in an enchanted cave on Earth, where " it's immortal pages could endure the aeons".  Glory said she saw the book again twice, once in the forties and most recently when Toby showed a photograph of it in Riptide's room.
Aah, Glory!  Where are your internal organs kept?!
Toby then goes about establishing the travels of the book through time, which involves several more witnesses and flashbacks.  The important point though is that the book finally ended up in the hands of a man called Prophet just before the second world war broke out.  The Judge asks where Toby is going with all this and he says the book is now missing from Riptide's room and was obviously the motive for his murder.

After all the weird and wonderful witnesses have given evidence, including a woman from the future who tells them the trial ends with a member of Youngblood being found guilty of the crime, the Judge calls it a day for now.  Shaft meets with a man called Graves, who reveals Knightsabre is his son, but also that the bad press this trial is getting has caused the government to pull it's funding of the team.

Graves: "I'm saying that as of noon today, Youngblood ceased to exist.  I am saying that it is over".
Note Liefelds skillful backgrounds (!)
Next day the trial begins with Toby saying he wanted to call Prophet but he's nowhere to be found so instead he calls Blake Baron, the Occult Agent.  He tells them a story of a soldier he served with in WW2 who had come into possession of the book via another soldier Prophet had entrusted it to.  He later became a hero called Storybook Smith who could conjure fictional characters to help him fight crime, using the book to do so.

Toby then reads a letter from an elderly woman who was married to Smith during that time.  He didn't just fight crime with the book, he wrote his own life as well.  He planned to have a daughter and that she would have superpowers of her own.  But the book was stolen before he could make that happen and he sank into alchoholism.  His wife left him, but later discovered she was pregnant with a girl  That girl was Riptide herself and she did gain superpowers of her own just as her father had written it.  Her mother told her about the book and she had always been secretly searching for it.

Then Sentinel's wife appears in the courtroom escorted by two Suprematons and Toby reveals that the book was found earlier that day at Sentinels house.  Sentinel is dumbstruck and won't say anything to defend himself, but Toby says that doesn't matter, his story is here in the book.  Sentinel's story is that he was the first modern superhero, founder member and leader of Team Youngblood the world's premier superteam.
Sentinel turned himself into a Mary-Sue.
But his story wasn't originally that at all.  His father, who was the one who stole the book from Storybook Smith didn't realise how valuable the book was and handed it to his son, the young Sentinel.  He found out that his life was going to devolve into that of petty crime and he would be dead before he hit twenty.  So he instead wrote himself becoming a graduate who was a whizz with electronics and built himself a supersuit, then gave himself superpowers as well.  He then writes other heroes in to be buddies and teammates.  He writes adventures, but there isn't enough shooting, he doesn't get to kill enough people.   So in the mid-80's he decides to create a shadowier, more darker world.

Toby: "Working a dreadful reverse alchemy, Marcus Langston [Sentinel] let our world slide from a Golden Age to a Silver Age and finally to a Dark Age...Our universe had been sucked into a bad action movie of constant, meaningless mayhem."

Well, where to begin with that?  This is Alan Moore not only being critical of the darker more violent comicbook era the Image gang brought in, but also criticising himself for ushering it in, in the mid-80's with Watchmen.  It almost feels like he took this job specifically to pass his own judgement on then modern sensibilities in comics that he felt responsible for.  The bleakness and death that ran rampant in comics after his seminal works of the 80's bought those themes to the forefront of peoples thinking about comics.
The actual murder.
Anyway, Riptide took the book from Sentinel and he found out and murdered her.  Then he wrote the words that introduced us to Knightsabre at the start of the book. The scratchy font showing us what he was writing as he framed Knightsabre for the crime.  Clever stuff. Toby asks Sentinel how the story ends and Sentinel attacks him and grabs the book saying he'll write everyone's death but his own.  Shaft however fires an arrow that hits the book and sends it flying off the Citadel Supreme.  The trial then ends like a Perry Mason one, with the real culprit handily confessing in court.  He is imprisoned within the Citadel's Hell of Mirrors because his powers mean he can't be contained in a normal prison.  The book ends up landing by a homeless kid, while the assembled heroes wonder if the world will become a more optimistic place now Sentinel isn't writing it.  The End.
Bye bye book.
Judgement Day is a strange beast.  It's perhaps best understood as another deck clearing exercise by Moore who was going to write Youngblood fulltime.  Indeed the collected Judgement Day book has a Youngblood "Prologue" by him as Shaft puts together a new team.  Wikipedia tells me Moore wrote a couple of issues of the comic before quitting to work on his ABC properties, I don't own those unfortunately so I don't know how much they stuck to the setup Moore created for them.  Judgement Day itself suffers very much from the inconsistency bought about by having a ridiculous twenty-five pencillers, five inkers and seven colourists credited to it.  Also it goes without saying that the Rob Liefeld sections are very poor artwise and don't do Moore's often amusing and clever script justice.  Liefeld and Moore inevitably had a major falling out over his departure from Awesome comics.  Probably Liefelds's most notorious quote about Moore is this one:

Rob Liefeld: “He once called us up to tell us that he had just been in the dream realm and talking to Socrates and Shakespeare, and to Moses, dead serious, and that they talked for what seemed to be months, but when he woke up, only an evening had passed, and he came up with these great ideas. And I’m tellin’ ya, I think it’s shtick, dude. I think it’s all shtick. I’m gonna start saying that stuff. Cuz you know what? It makes you instantly interesting. Like ‘O yeah, last night I was hanging out with Socrates. Came to me in a dream. We played poker. We dropped acid.’ That’s the kinda stuff Alan would say all the time, and he’d say ‘Oh, I’ve been practicing dark magic.’”

Oh no, Mr. Liefeld, you do not diss my hero like this.  Alan Moore gave the world, amongst other things, The Ballad Of Halo Jones, V For Vendetta, Watchmen, and Promethea. YOU are the man who drew Captain America looking like this:

Kawaii Captain!  (source: Fuck Yeah Liefeld)
 Kind of.  Alan Moore of course denies ever even talking to Liefeld, now both of them can be pretty diva-ish but I trust Moore over Liefeld anyday.  Well, that was Judgement Day.  An interesting script, torpedoed by bad and inconsistent art.  It also suffers from having many heroes in it with no history meaning Moore has to riff on more well known ones to give them a bit more narrative weight.  Maybe he planned to do more with them once he was controlling the Awesomeverse, but we shall never know and Judgement Day remains a strange curiosity of what might have been had Moore not taken up Jim Lee's offer instead...

11 comments:

  1. hahaha omfg that art. lol!1

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  2. Good article, but Moore didn't leave anybody hanging. He wrote complete scripts for the second year of his Supreme run, as well as a full year of Youngblood (or at least seven issues, plus a breakdown for the rest of the year). Liefeld ran into delay after delay because he was inexperienced as a publisher. In the end he just stopped publishing those stories altogether and instead concentrated on the next reboot to be overseen by Mark Millar.

    Only after being let down by Awesome did Moore start working on his ABC line. I'm fairly sure he was more than ready to keep going for at least another year, as we had already set up a Glory series and probably some Allied and/or Professor Night specials.

    You can find those scripts on the internet, so this is certainly not just a rumour.

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  3. Ah thanks for the extra info. I've had to go by dates on wikipedia and obviously things get a little unclear. I know I read quotes from Liefeld blaming Moore for leaving him hanging so I just assumed Moore had jumped ship when he got a better offer. Interesting to hear that more Supreme scripts exist, I have both collected Supreme TPB's and the single issue drawn by Erik Larsen that was released much later, I'm interested in checking out the rest of Moore's scripts now, cheers!

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  4. That's not what blood looks like. That blood looks like red petals all over the bed :-(

    On the bright side... there was a hero called Shaft?! *sniggers*

    Maybe the Hulk needs a fin on his head in case he goes swimming. Or something.

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  5. Yes, Liefeld gave the world an archer called Shaft, I mean all the names are terrible - a female hero called Vogue?! A grouchy boy made of rocks called Badrock!?!! But Shaft is the most lolworthy. And it's saying something when you can't even draw blood properly.

    The Hulk should wear a fin on his head when he needs to go undercover and diguise himself. No one would recognise him then :D

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  6. Trial of a Time Lord??

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  7. I'm not sure I see the connection, unless you mean they were both good ideas let down by their respective production values...?

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  8. Yea, and they're on trial or something,
    and they are the show.

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  9. Did Rob Liefeld draw Sentinel firing a laser beam into Riptide's... crotchimus maximus? Yikes.

    You really do need to check out more of Doom Patrol. The bonus "Doom Force" issue collected at the back of vol 6 is a shameless parody of the Liefeld style.

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  10. Leifelds crotches are a thing to behold aren't they? I've flipped through the final Doom Patrol volume and had a giggle at Doom Force. I hope to have the full set of DP by the end of the year, hopefully.

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