Thursday, 1 January 2015

Alan Moore Obscurities: Spawn/WildC.A.T.s - Devilday (#1-4)

"Ah yes, I remember this part 'innocence' versus 'corruption' that's how you see this isn't it?" - The Ipsissmus.

Time for another theme month.  This month the theme shall be... teambooks.  I've always enjoyed the dynamics involved in bringing together a gang of disparate characters and having them spark off each other in different ways especially when the characters in question aren't popular enough to have a comic of their own but when combined, stand more of a chance in a crowded marketplace.  However this then proved something of a quandry when picking what Alan Moore series to kick the month off with.  The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen would be his ultimate teambook, but I've ruled that out on the basis that I won't be able to find much new to say about it, same with Watchmen.  And I've already covered Top Ten.  After that, you're pretty much left with his run on the Image studio Wildstorm's property WildC.A.Ts which is one I will be covering, but which will need splitting into two parts to do justice to and I'm not in the mood to tackle it in depth just yet. However, Moore also penned a fourpart crossover miniseries where McFarlane Studio's Spawn and the Wildstorm universes WildC.A.T's teamed up, and so that's the one I have picked.  Unfortunately it's really not very good, but thems the breaks. Even Moore's "not very good" can be interesting when looked at critically.  This mini can be found in the collection - The Worst Of Alan Moore, I mean Alan Moore: Wild Worlds.  The mini, first published in the year 1996 it is set mostly in the hellish, dystopian future of... 2015.  Happy New Year by the way.

So, I have covered Spawn before, in my look at the issue of him guest starring Cerebus.  Quick reminder, he was a black CIA operative who was killed and reincarnated as the demonlike Spawn by a Lord of Hell called Malebolgia.  He lurks around streets and alleys in the dark, dealing out terminal justice to the dregs of society.  The WildC.A.T.s (C.A.T.s - Covert Action Teams) are a team of heroes made up of Zealot, Grifter, Voodoo (yes THAT Voodoo), Spartan, Warblade, Maul, Void, Dasher, Prancer, Flopsy, Mopsy, Avarice, Lust, Pestilance, Sleepy, Dopey, Beaky, Mick and Titch. And Lord Emp, but he's hardly in it.  This adventure, though published during Moore's run on the WildC.A.T.s' series, seems to be set before it as his time on the main series saw the team seperated for most of it's duration then rejigged towards the end.  Readers of DC comics might recognise some of those names, because for the launch of the New52, the Wildstorm universe was folded into the DCU and Grifter and Voodoo briefly had titles of their own, while other characters like Zealot, popped up here and there.
Warblade, Void, Maul, Voodoo, Grifter, Zealot, Spartan and Lord Emp.  Just standing around all natural like.
Before I start on the story proper I just want to note that wow... by the sacred pencil of Jack Kirby, boy the art sucks.  It's truly sub-Liefeld (something I would have thought impossible) in quality, every woman is an Escher Girl nightmare and the men, including the wirey Spawn are stupidly beefy and over muscled.  Layouts are utterly confusing and there are too many double page spreads where you have to turn the book sideways, and which my scanner refuses to scan properly. Every page is haphazardly assembled with no sense of sequential flow and an absolute terror of negative space.

Lacking that art-flow the pace is dictated entirely by Moore's words and for some reason Moore has chosen to do something he tried to get rid of in comicbook story telling (and the reason why I find so much older comic book writing so hard to deal with), which is having everyone narrate what they are doing and thinking non-stop. Comics are a visual medium so this shouldn't really need to happen (if I want to see people standing around endlessly telling each other what they plan to do, I'll put on some shonen anime), but here I'll reluctantly accept it because the artists Scott Clark and Sal Regla are simply not up to the task of telling a coherent story with their art.

The story begins with some mystical folderol.  Some bored Godlike beings drop a talisman through a dimensional hole and sit back to see what happens.  We then join the WildC.A.T.s, Voodoo has a vision of the talisman though she brushes it off on her being unstable.

Voodoo: "You don't understand.  It was the feeling that came with the image.  I-it felt as if everything was coming apart.  As if we were all in some kind of terrible danger."
Look at Spawn, look at him!  He's like the beefiest beef to ever have a beef.  And the page feels strangely undynamic despite it's content due to the cluttered nature of the layout
Suddenly Spawn comes crashing into their head quarters demanding to see Grifter and Zealot. He claims they attacked him and a confusing (and confusingly drawn) fight ensues. Spawn gets his hands on Zealot, but before he can hurt her he stops attacking and asks is she used to be black.  When Grifter queries this, Spawn asks him if his hair used to be grey.  Spawn then begins to apologise for making a mistake, and Lord Emp asks him to tell them what happened to him.

Spawn says he was attacked by two people calling themselves Grifter and Zealot, and that black Zealot fought exactly like white Zealot.  Zealot says that it's impossible, no one could have mastered her "Coda" techniques without her knowing. Nevertheless says Spawn, black Zealot did fight like her, and Grifter was the same but older and slower.  His attackers appeared in a silvery light and black Zealot actually got the upper hand against him, but before she could kill him, she stopped herself and the two of them ran off.  Lord Emp wonders why the two of them did such a lousy job of impersonating Grifter and Zealot.  Suddenly old Grifter and black Zealot appear:

Old Grifter: "We're no lousy imitation, Marlowe.  We just come from a lousy place is all."
Escher Girl Bingo: Snake woman, collar boobs, wtf clothing, battle bikini, rubber spine, runaway breasts, errant buttocks, atomic wedgie, damn we're just one traditional boob and butt pose away from a full house. (also that "youth speak"... LOL)
He introduces himself as still being Grifter, but Zealot is new. Black Zealot also has some hilariously bad slang based around computer terminology that just has you longing for the more alien yet more real slang of Halo Jones's world.  Spawn gets ready to fight them again, but they say their plans have changed.  They are from the future and something very bad is due to happen to the present soon.  A demon finds a talisman that allows him to end his slavery.  He renames himself  George Osbourne the Ipsissimus and unleashes hell on earth.  The human race is quickly subjugated and the superheroes put in camps.  The WildC.A.T.s escaped and decided to jump back in time to take out the demon threat before he gained the talisman.  That demon being Spawn.

Future!Zealot says she couldn't bring herself to kill Spawn as at this moment he is not guilty of the crimes of his future self.  So they had another idea, bring the present WildC.A.T.s into the future to help take down the Ipsissimus together.  Spawn also decides to tag along, which is a sensible idea that I am sure will in no way backfire on them, and Void beams all of them bar Lord Emp into the future.  After a very turbulant ride through the time stream they arrive in the future of 2015 which I guess is supposed to look post-apocalyptic but the art doesn't really sell it very well at all.

Narrator: "New York 2015:  The flag lunges and snaps like a starved mean dog.  On the wind there is bad meat:  Petrol, something like wet copper.  The great crow banquet at fifth avenue, and the cremation fields of central park.  Huge drifts of blow-fly husks on broadway.  This is the torture marathon.  These are the boulavards of smoke and mourning".

Is this the most half-arsed apocalypse ever?  "Oh noes, there's a huge eye on a building and one is on fire and the sky is a lovely blue, the horror, the horror!". (apologies for the even crapier than usual scans.  My scanner hates scanning from trade paperbacks normally, two page spreads make it very unhappy)
It's fortunate that Moore has given us such an evocative description because literally nothing like that is rendered by the artist, we get one two page spread showing a wider city scene that doesn't look very apocalpytic at all.  Oh there are plenty more two page splashes, but they are all of the men flexing their muscles and gritting their teeth or the women shoving their boobs and arses out.  Because those pictures can be sold on at a later date by the artist for extra profit at conventions, boring things like detailed "backgrounds" and street scenes just don't fetch the same prices do they? Feh.

Before the gang can get to safety they run into two hugh demonic wise-cracking demons called Vindicator and Vandaliser who are related to Spawn's demon handler the Violator.  They try to arrest the WildC.A.T's but a fight ensues.  Maul grows to a large size (he gets less intellient the bigger he gets) and disables one, the rest disable the other.  Unable to kill them, they nail their heads to the floor in the one grimly amusing bit of the story.

Vindicator: "It just ain't done! What about Columbo? What about Starsky and Hutch?  No one ever nailed their brains to the floor!"
Alan Moore also wrote a much better than this Violator miniseries which also starred this wise-cracking pair.  Expect a look at that in the next couple of months.
They then bump into a gang lead by a blind man called Santini.  They seem to know him so I assume he's a Wildstorm Universe character.   Together they go down to the future WildC.A.T.s new headquarters and meet Tapestry who is actually aged, future Zealot, now crippled but still with massive hooters I notice.  Apparently the old Tapestry (whoever she/he/it was) went mad, so when future Zealot lost the use of her legs she took over as team psychic because apparently it's just that easy to gain massive mental powers.  Future Spartan is there too, now reduced to a hovering head.
I see Zealot/Tapestry's boobs are about twenty years younger than her face.
Tapestry says they have organised several other gangs to help them out in an assault on the Ipsissimus's headquarters.  There is Santini and his Black Razor's, there are some sisters of the Coda and a group of Vampire triads ready to help out. Then suddenly a monster attacks in another confusing double page spread.  Apparently this monster was once three monsters called the Troika, when the Ipsissimus made him head of his police force, he merged the three together into one being.  Void transports the WildC.A.T.s to safety, which confuses Troika as future Void has been stripped of her power and placed in the palace seraglio.  Oh goody.  Rape. You just can't resist it can you Alan?

The WildC.A.T.s arrive in a safehouse underground, wandering around Warblade and Voodoo stumble across the "memorial gallery" where two huge stone statues of them have been erected to commemorate them after their deaths.  I have to wonder how they mananged to get a hold of someone who could create these massive statues when the world is a hell blasted landscape of dead humans, but whatever.  Spawn is saddened.

Spawn: "God, this lonely mausoleum. I understand places like this.  How could my future self cause such misery?"
At least in a hell future, sculptors won't be out of a job.
Future Grifter says the devil made him do it. Then the WildC.A.T's past and future along with Spawn make their way to what used to be the Chrysler building, but is now the Ipsissimus's palace, a place where they "slaughtered love and dismembered kindness".

They decide to split their forces up, because splitting up always works and attack the Palace from three different points.  Their allies tool up ready to attack as well. Warblade and Spartan take out two superhumans who sided with the Ipsissimus.  While this happens Maul, Voodoo, Void and Future Spartan find themselves in the Seraglio.  There the future Void stripped of her power recognises them.  When the Troika attacks a mad Present day Void uses her powers to transport him outside the building, and as they are several hundred metres up he plummets to his death.
My mind is trying to figure out just how Sex Toy Void and Voodoo are managing to relate to each other physically but I keep mentally shutting down.  The perspective just doesn't work.  I know they are Escher Girls but now we get Escher perspectives to?  Just awful.
We're then told that Future Void doesn't have to have unwanted sex, because she makes herself unattractive to men by crying.  Yeah like that would stop anyone, nice try Alan.  Anyway the women decide this is a good time to pack up and bugger off.  Void wishes her future self well and they part.

Tapestry, Zealot, Future Zealot and Spawn find themselves in the place where Lord Emp is imprisoned.  As he is immortal he couldn't be executed by the Ipsissimus to he's chained up and mechanical birds feast on his innards.  Tapestry helpful and bluntly tells up that it's just like Prometheus, and tells us the myth related to him because perish the thought the Image audience might get the reference without being told in detail. Sigh.  Then they get him down, in another sequential art fail he was unharmed in the two-page spread but is suddenly caked in blood a couple of panels later.  Anyway he is catatonic and no use to them.
Do you get it readers, do you?  Do you understand the reference now?  DO YOU?!  YOU IDIOTS!
The Violator arrives to stop them rescuing Lord Emp.  The two Zealots and Spawn fight him, when he is badly damaged, Tapestry sends out a psychic shockwave that almost vaporises him.  His bits of body still show signs of life, but for now the danger is past.  Tapestry decides to stay and look after Lord Emp while she recharges her powers. Two of the teams meet up and find a badly wounded Santini.  It seems the Ipsissimus anticipated their attack and killed the Black Razors, Triads and Coda warriors.  Then a huge Future Maul opens a door and points the way through.  Because he is so huge his brain functions must be tiny, which explains how he's so tame.  They walk through and are confront by the image of a huge future Spawn sat on a throne.

The Ipsissimus takes out present day Maul with a flick of his finger, he then mocks them and their plans.  He shrinks down to their size after provoction from present day Spawn saying his size doesn't matter.  The huge Maul then attacks the WildC.A.T.s and Grifter decides to end his suffering with a bullet to the brainpan.  This makes the Ipsissimus mad and he blasts Grifter but in a very confusing panel, I think the future Spartan absorbed the blast. Sacrificing himself for Grifter.  That's what the dialogue says, you'd never figure that out from the panels alone.
Just to prove I'm not a total negative Nancy, of the 80 or so pages this crossover is made up of, I actually like this one page quite a bit.  It gets over the awe-inspiring nature of the Spawn/Ipsissimus really well.  So hat's off to the artists for creating one decent image (!)
Spawn then attacks the Ipsissmus, taking his talisman away saying that'll get rid of his powers.  But the Ipsissmus has grown past need of the talisman, and gladly lets Spawn take it, then blasts him unconcious. Future Zealot figures out that the Ipsissimus knows their moves in adavance because he is remembering it from when he was Spawn.  Well done geniuses.  So Future Zealot takes the prone Spawn back to where Tapestry is.  Once back with her, Tapestry sends Spawn and future Zealot back to the 1996 "present".

Back with the Ipsissimus things aren't going to well.  He says he won't kill them now because he wants to torment them later on, so he plans to send them back with their memories wiped.  Back in the present, Future Zealot asks Spawn to hand the talisman over, and Spawn is all, "well, NO." And he punches her.  The Impsissimus tells the WildC.A.T.s exactly what is happening in the present, that this was when he began his reign of terror.  Tapestry, boosted by Voodoo and Voids powers look for a thread of fate in the past/present that could change things.  They find one and cut it.
Spawn exercises his pimp slapping hand.
When Spawn punched future Zealot he knocked her metal gimp mask off.  Suddenly he seems to recognise her and calls her Cyan.  That was the name of the child his wife bore, although wikipedia tells me it's not Spawn's kid. Wow this is a fascinating turn of events!  I am suddenly gripped by the consequences of this reveal.  Oh no wait, what's the exact opposite of that?
Because really, Spawn is such a tedious, one-note "emo" character and his "daughter" so indifferently written, that any drama caused by this revelation is completely flat. Anyway, when Spawn finds out she's his "daughter" and that his wife committed suicide not long after he started his reign of terror, he hands her the talisman to take care off. 

Spawn: "Here take this.. maybe it'll you know all those birthdays I missed.  Maybe somehow it'll make it up".

In the future the Ipsissimus roars that this should not be as he begins to disappear.  So to do the rest of the future WildC.A.T.s as well as Cyan in the present taking the talisman with her.  The present WildC.A.T's warp back in time leaving Future Grifter and Tapestry sharing a kiss as they finally wink out of existence.
Give me a Leonard Cohen afterworld. So I can sigh eternally.
The present day WildC.A.T.s leave a mourning Spawn alone and ponder where the talisman could have come from, if it was part of a time loop, how did it get into Spawn's hands in the first place?  Back with the bored Gods from the start, one of them retrieves the talisman to the faint applause of his fellow mystical beings.

And that brings the miniseries to the end.  A simple pre-destination paradox set in motion by bored Godlike beings.  I think what really disappoints me about this story is how boring it is, how clumsy the dialogue is and how uninspired and by-the-numbers the plotting is.  If you gave this to me to read without telling me who wrote it I never, ever would have guessed it was by Alan Moore.  I realise he was doing work like this to fund stuff that was much closer to his heart like From Hell and Lost Girls, but he managed to create comics in the past that were aimed at a mass audience like his Superman and Green Lantern stories for DC without grossly underestimating the intelligence of his target audience.  If I was an Image aligned reader at the time this came out I'd feel pretty annoyed and insulted by how little Moore seemed to think of me.
And so the talisman is reclaimed.  And nothing of value was learned.  The end.
So that was Spawn/WildC.A.T's, a comic that would have been a whole lot better if only it had been good, and I think it's got the year off to a great start.  I intend to spend even more time working on this blog in the coming year and while trying to break the habit of posting passive-aggressive lolcats on my ex's facebook pages.  See yah!!


  1. wow, did alan moore do anything for image that wasn't total shite?!

  2. Well, I haven't read every single thing he did for the various Image studio's yet. Some miniseries are quite pricey on eBay. But I can say it's not a company he covered himself with glory at. Spotlight On Majestic is good, The Violator mini is silly but great fun and his run on WildC.A.T.s is deeply flawed but has a lot of good stuff too. Otherwise it's all pretty bad.

  3. Theme month = dream month!

    I remember how much I loved Grant Morrison's JLA. *sigh* The Nu52 JLA are all too young and spend all their time sniping at each other. (But since they fought Darkseid Cyborg has a boomtube, which is pretty useful.) You know you're getting old when the JLA look younger than you do.

    I've gone off The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The later volumes are all about sex. It reads as if Alan Moore wrote it when he was desperate for a shag. (You can always tell which chapters of A Song of Ice and Fire GRRM wrote when he was hungry — for food, I mean.)

    If psychics can be "unstable" and "imagine things," that means that their usefulness is precisely 0. And what's the point of visions that tell you that you're in "terrible danger" but don't tell you how, where, when or why? Or how to prevent it? That's not really a vision — that's more a sense of existential dread similar to that experienced on the comedown from certain drugs.

    Aaaargh, Black Zealot has no mouth or nose! She looks like Rico Dredd!

    Ipsissimus is the Latin superlative of 'self'.

    Okay, 2015 is a dystopia because flags snap in the wind (like they always did) and the air in New York smells of petrol (what does it normally smell of — attar of roses?). And that's a quite small building-eye. Looks like an afterthought, or a modestly-sized advertisement for Specsavers.

    Don't worry — from the look of those statues, all the professional sculptors are definitely deader than Nick Clegg's election chances.

    I cannot take seriously any entity wearing skull-shaped kneepads and spikey legwarmers.

    That's a lovely white cat. White cats are the best.

    Oh well. Stuff happens.

  4. Never fear Lucy, the month will close out with a Grant Morrison penned JLA story though it's not from his main run on the comic. I couldn't let teambook month pass without paying tribute to the best team ever :)

    You're right, it's a pretty rubbish psychic who just imagines things, poor Voodoo, Moore seemed to go out of his way to make her useless.

    I thought you'd be able to tell me what Ipsissimus meant.

    I think "Oh well stuff happens" is the best summary of the ending it's so profoundly unmoving that I still can't believe Moore wrote it.

    It is a lovely white cat isn't it? That's how it gets away with being so rude :p

  5. Sorry, I meant to say that when I comment I always check the 'Notify me' box, so I always read your replies to my comments, even if I don't always reply to the replies.

    The problem with psychics is that lots of authors use them as a lazy way to create suspense or a feeling of foreboding; vague but imminent doom; shadowy terror; etc. So they have the psychic receive a vision that 'something bad is about to happen' but without details that are clear enough for the protagonist(s) to prevent the bad thing from happening, because then there wouldn't be a story at all. This is LAZY STORYTELLING, using the supernatural as your bitch: "Right, you, my pet clairvoyant, gimme a feeling of impending catastrophe toot de suite and then get back in your box!"

    Unless the premonition contains information that the protagonist(s) uses to their advantage later in the story, in which case it's the prophetic equivalent of Chekhov's gun (I hereby name it Chekhov's prophecy) and a perfectly valid storytelling device which can lend a pleasing sense of narrative cohesion/symmetry, as well as proving that the psychics on a team can do more than get headaches.

  6. Oh you are so right, in fact you have psychically predicted a comment I've written in my next review about the empath Deanna Troi and her always useful "somethings not right Captain" pronouncements. To be fair she's an empath so can't be as precise, but many times I would wonder while watching the show what usage she served as she say something was wrong then about five seconds later the enemies would open fire rendering her point somewhat moot.