Thursday, 2 July 2015

Alan Moore Obscurities: SMAX (#1-5)

"A Dragonslayer? Jesus Jeff, couldn't you have, I don't know, been a lumberjack or something? Why a Dragonslayer?" - Robyn

"Well, if I'm honest, it was mostly the damsels" - Jeff

Last year I covered the two collected volumes of Alan Moore's less well known work from his America's Best Comics years, Top Ten.  It was set in a city where everyone has superpowers and followed the work of the Top Ten precinct whose also superpowered cops kept the peace.  It was very much influenced by shows like Homicide: Life On The Street and Hill Street Blues and managed to convey a gritty down-to-earth sensibility despite all the colourful characters in it thanks to the layouts of Zander Cannon and the finishes of Gene Ha.  While the first "season" wrapped up neatly, in the final panel there was the promise of a second season that never came.  Moore wasn't done with Top Ten though.  Several years later he worked on a prequel graphic novel with Gene Ha called The Fourty-Niners, and this five issue miniseries with Zander Cannon which starts not long after the events that concluded Top Ten season one. It spotlights Jeff Smax, a tall and powerful blue ogre whose superpower is being able to project a powerful energy beam and his human partner Robyn who doesn't have an intrinsic power but has a gang of intelligent toys that help her out, as they travel to one of the more farflung alternate earths to help clear up some loose threads in his past.

First thing that's noticable is how different the art is from Top Ten.  Zander Cannon did the layouts for that comic and Gene Ha the detailing so overall Top Ten looks more like Gene Ha's work than Zander's.  However this is a merry tale of fantasy cliches with dwarves, elves, dragons and quests, so this art style is actually very suitable and I assume Zander Cannon tailored his art appropriately.  It's bright and cheerful and generally more suitable to the lighter mood this adventure has than the Top Ten art style would have been, in the same way Gene Ha's uber detailed, painted work is suitable for his turn with the heavily sci-fi Top Ten in The 49'ers.
Jeff Smax and Robyn.
The story begins with Robyn, her leg still in plaster from the events at the end of Top Ten, called on Jeff Smax to collect him for the journey to his homeworld to attend his uncle's funeral.  Inside his home, Jeff packs several things including a singing sword.  They travel by taxi to the Transworld station where all the alternate Earths can be accessed.

Jeff's world, Earth 137, is a "backworld".  Instead of the sci-fi means of travel to the main words, they have to travel via magic spell to 137.  They stand in the summoning circle and the wizard begins the spell, Jeff tells Robyn to close her eyes, but too late.  She vomit's copiously as they travel.  On the otherside, one of the witches offers to clean her jacket and while she does so, Robyn and Jeff step outside to a fairy tale landscape.

Jeff: "Don't look at me.  I said it was a dump."

Robyn: "Jeff, it's beautiful."

Jeff: "Huh, yeah, well.  You wait until you used the toilets here.  Then we'll see."
Jeff's homeworld.
Her jacket mostly clean, they travel to a nearby village and seek lodgings.  Unable to walk further, Robyn sits down in the inn.  An elf approaches her and she lets him work a magic spell on her leg which heals it.  He introduces himself as Aldric of the Blue Glenn.  Jeff is cold towards him, when Robyn protests, Jeff says elves can't be trusted.

The innkeeper shows them to his five star buffet which includes unicorn and stuffed cherubs.  This induces more vomiting from Robyn, who had eaten some unknowingly.  They travel to his aunt and Jeff tells her how she and his deceased uncle took him and his twin sister in when they were young.

Robyn: "Jeez.  That must have been tough.  Your parents dying?"

Jeff: "Yeah it was.  Thinking about it, I probably shouldn't have killed them."

At his adoptive aunts home, she is a dwarf by the way, he is greeted warmly.  One of the dwarfs present calls him "dragonslayer".  His equally blue and large twin sister Rexa is also there.  Jeff introduces Robyn as his wife much to her annoyance.  After and awkward dinner Jeff tries to talk to her about it on the way back to the inn, but she freezes him out and goes off to bed.
Rexa.
The next day Jeff and Robyn attend the funeral.  Robyn walks away and Jeff follows her.  He tried to explain and she responds by pushing him into a muddy pond.  He finally blurts out that he lied so "I don't have to marry my sister."  He then settles down and tells her his backstory.  His mother was an adventurer, seven feet tall, strength potion and so on.  But she came a cropper when she went after the monster that would become his father.

Jeff: "He ate Firefleet her horse.  Snapped Elfang her enchanted sword.  Raped her."

Oh Alan! Anyway he took her home and kept her prisoner.  She survived the pregnancy but not giving birth to twins.  He kept the kids although they had to fend for themselves and he beat them every night.  When Rexa became thirteen he started messing with her.  So one day, Jeff and Rexa got a tree trunk, sharpened it, and staked their father to the ground then set him on fire.  Once he was finally dead they wandered until Mack and Minka took them in.  He also admits about him and his sister:

Jeff: "We've been intimate.  Since we were kids.  That's like normal here.  You see why I'm embarrassed about this place."
Jeff and Rexa's father.
They return to the funeral,  Afterwards they are having an outdoor meal.  Some autograph hunters come up to Jeff to get his signature.  They ask if he still bears "the maiden's mark" and if he's back to settle the score with "Morningbright."  In response Jeff punches the dwarf into the ground and stalks off.

After some prodding from Robyn, Jeff tells her more of his story.  To help support his adoptive aunt and uncle he got a job as a dragonslayer.  It paid well, including thirty per cent of the creatures hoard.  He was successful at it and one day was hired to kill a beast called Morningbright and rescue the princess it had captured called Naruli.

He found Naruli in Morningbright's cave system, but before he could get her to safety Morningbright appeared and gave him the following message:

Morningbright: "Heed Earthly Lass. Lest Our Rustic Orb Becomes Your Nemesis."

Then Morningbright blasted him and Naruli with fire and Naruli palm print was burned into Jeff's skin as she was consumed by the blaze.  Sadly Jeff packed up, and left for the alternate Top Ten earth and that's him up to date.  Robyn is curious about the message Morningbright gave him and suddenly realises it's an acrostic that reads "Hello Robyn".
Morningbright.
Sometime later, Robyn is trying to convince Jeff that he needs to confront Morningbright for "closure".  But Jeff resists, "no quests!".  They start preparing to leave, while they do Jeff tells Robyn about all the paperwork involved with questing.  "Yeah and omens and visions and like that."  A rather obvious sign then appears in front of them.

Jeff says it's just atmospheric pressure.  Then it rains frogs.  Minka his adoptive aunt tells him of several more omens that have happened.  Jeff says he must get his wife home, but Minka says everyone knows she not his wife.  After going for a sulk, Jeff gives in and he and Robyn travel to the city to register the quest.

They reach the department of quests which has a long que.  Finally they get to see someone who turns out to be Death.

Lionel Death: "Well I'm only A Death, obviously.  But I'm the one who handles chess games against wily peasants.  My name is Lionel, nice to meet you."

He admits to being very bad at chess, which is why he's doing office work right now.  The "real, awesome Death" is called Dennis.  Anyway he needs proof of Morningbright's wickedness, so Jeff shows him the handprint burned onto his chest.

Jeff: "Just give me all the protocols and quotas you're going to hit me with."
The Maiden's Mark.
The law says he needs a magic user.  Robyn volunteers for that role on the basis of her toys she controls.  He needs three dwarves, so they take his brother and his friends.  He needs an elf, so they take Aldric, and finally another female.  Jeff doesn't want to take Rexa, but she convinces him they can keep their hands off each other for the duration of the quest at least.  After preparing, they all mount up on their horses and set out.

Later, Robyn and Aldric are sat round the campfire.  He starts sweet talking her and they end up kissing and spending the night together.  Left alone outside, a very sexually frustated Jeff says "aah balls."  The next day Robyn is collecting firewood and Jeff says his razor shapr insticts should lead them to Morningbright soon.  The final page of the chapter however shows they have been camping in a giant footprint.

Evidence of Morningbright is everywhere.
Next morning they see a lot of refugees fleeing Morningbright.  Robyn tells Jeff to admit they are in Morningbright's territory as they contemplate the blasted landscape.  Jeff reluctantly agrees.  Robin asks how big Morningbright is.  Jeff says he was about the size of a cat before.  They bump into a wizard dragging a traumatised child behind him.  Apparently he had taken a class to the area to study dragons for a theory exam.

Wizard: "Admittedly that theory was that dragons are nice and talk in a warm, Scottish brogue."

The wizard then departs sying he has performance targets to meet.  The gang then ride for hours looking for the cave system Morningbright lives in.  Finally they find some caves with a huge carpet of child skulls leading into it.

Jeff says he must go in alone, but Robyn, Rexa and Aldric insist on going with him.  Inside Rexa and Robyn discuss Jeff's feelings for Rexa, while Jeff tells Aldric if he hurts Robyn he'll eat his head.  Their lamp goes out, and when they light another one, they realise the cave is carpeted with a pattern of Morningbrights which become 3D and start swarming them.
Many mini Morningbrights.
Robyn gets out her toys, but they don't work.  Jeff says it's because there is no electricity in this world.  They all flee back outside chased by hundreds of small Morningbrights. They flock upwards into the sky and form one big Morningbright face.

Morningbright: "Death is close now.  That final darkness just a few paces into the future.  Farewell for now little ones.  No matter how far you run, you'll be back and I'll be waiting."

The Morningbrights then fly back into the caves.  Jeff says he is going back alone this time.  And walks off into the caves.  Robyn starts thinking of her own plan to kill Morningbright, "we're going to need wood and metal".  Jeff enters the cave with just his talking sword, which sings "Dancing Queen" to him to give him succour.

Outside Rexa gathers wood and blasts a hole in the ground so the dwarves can get the iron.  Robyn tells them to build "a sort of raft with wheels".  Then goes to recover from getting caught in the blast shockwave.  She hears Death come up behind her saying he is a "great and terrible Death".  But Robyn turns and says "are you Dennis?" to him.
Dennis Death.
Dennis is annoyed she knows his name, She say's Lionel told her.  Dennis says, "is he the one who's always losing to peasants at badminton?".  Chess, she corrects him.  Dennis says nevermind, he is there because "tonight a legend dies".  But doesn't say if it's Morningbright or Jeff.

Inside the dragons caves Jeff chances upon a floating, glowing sphere made up of the souls of all the children Morningbright had killed.  Naruli is one of them, who tells Jeff he must kill Morningbright. "I.. I don't know if I can" says Jeff.  Morningbright then appears and buries Jeff alive.

Outside Robyn has (somehow) come to the conclusion that Morningbright is powered by nuclear fusion.  She then etlls the dwarves to turn the iron into one big nail.  Back underground Jeff reappears and atacks Morningbright, who then angrily chases Jeff outside.  There Robyn and the others have mounted the nail upon the wheeled platform.  Then Jeff comes running out chased by Morningbright. 
Morningbright asplodes.
Robyn says Morningbright will be neutralised by the iron as it can't be used in nuclear fusion,  Look it's Alan Moore science, just go with it.  They roll the mounted nail into Morningbright and it is successful, Dennis reaps him and Morningbright explodes.  The soul of Naruli then appears in front of Jeff, thanks him and removes the handprint from his chest, as the rest of the childrens souls ascend.

The gang then return to Jeff's aunt, who he surprises in the middle of some BDSM.  Aldric asks Robyn to marry him, oh and he'll need papers to come to her world.  Robyn frowns and realises she's been used and kicks him in the groin.  Jeff and Rexa are sad they have to leave each other.  Robyn says why doesn't Rexa come with them, no one back in Top Ten will know they are related.

So Rexa comes to their world and will move in with Jeff, who is incredibly happy by this turn of events.  Robyn hands him a gift then leaves them to settle in.  It's a set of His N'Hers bath towels.  And so this miniseries ends with Jeff and Rexa happy together in their incestous relationship.  Well at... at least it's not rape.
Happily Ever After...?
SMAX is a lot of fun.  If I had one criticism is that for a fantasy based story, the layouts for the artwork are somewhat dull, adhering to the nine-panel grid for the most part.  Which is odd because Zander Cannon's layouts for Top Ten were dynamic and interesting.  Alan Moore keeps the tone light, and pokes gentle fun at the tropes of sword and sorcery.  And it wouldn't be an Alan Moore story without an unconventional sexual relationship somewhere.  Robyn also remains a strong heroine, using her brains to defeat Morningbright over Jeff's brawn, even if the science is nonsense and her guess about Morningbright being nuclear powered seems to come out of nowhere.  But I carp needlessly.  It's a fun little book which only makes me yearn for more stories involving Top Ten, alas there is only a prequel left (which I shall look at later in the year).  If Alan Moore ever decided to go back to one of his old series, well Halo Jones would be my first choice, but Top Ten would come a very close second.

6 comments:

  1. lol alan moore can get away with anything!

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  2. That's the reason I am too scared to read Lost Girls! :D

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  3. I preferred the blue people in Avatar. Or the blue woman in X-Men.

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  4. But Jeff and Rexa make such a cute couple! I mean.. ugh their love story is twisted. I have never seen Avatar, is it good in your opinion?

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  5. No. It's about a white man who saves the natives because he's better at being a native than they are.

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  6. Oh, that sounds like one to give a miss then.

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