Alan Moore and Super-Heroes, Part 3:

Alan Moore Needs a Hug

Continued from yesterday.

Watchmen manipulationFor a man who’s such an indisputable master of language, Moore seems to be surprisingly unconscious of how his own words reveal aspects of his character.

If a fictional character said writers should find their own voice, then indirectly used as a contrary example a rival’s work that’s kind of defined by that rival finding his own voice… I’d like to think any thoughtful reader would recognize that the emotional stakes of the rivalry got in the way of the intellectual point.

If a fictional writer pretended not to have read a decade of his own work, which didn’t achieve the same critical and commercial success as his earlier work, in order to dismiss everything since that same earlier work… I’d certainly suspect no small amount of insecurity at play.

If this fictional writer then went on to talk about how these rivals’ audiences, many members of which are also this fictional writer’s own readers, are “emotionally subnormal”… well, that’s an odd phrase, and I’d suspect something was going on, even beyond the obvious resentment and bitterness. For instance, that the speaker was worried, at least in some part of himself, that he was “emotionally subnormal” — and perhaps that this was something, given the conversation, that he worried had played a role in the direction his own career had gone.

But I’m not a psychiatrist. I can only tell you what a character saying this would mean.

Still, it’s hard not to read a certain insecurity into all of this. It can be a shocking insecurity, at least to outsiders. Because Moore’s place in comics history couldn’t be more secure. He’s a titan. Even his minor works are studied, analyzed, and referenced in new stories. Even Moore’s strongest critics admit his brilliance and his influence. What Moore seems to interpret as imitation or plagiarism is actually a reflection of his own status. In the same way, Moore might not like that DC did prequels to Watchmen, but it did so because Watchmen is so revered.

In other words, Moore’s in a position to be as generous in his treatment of others. He can say, “I’m sure there are many talented people working in super-hero comics today, but their work doesn’t speak to me, personally. Maybe I’m old, but I don’t think they mean what they used to mean.” His entire quote on super-heroes can pick up from there. Objectively, there seems to be zero reason for Moore to not take the high road.

Unless, of course, you think Moore’s upset that, despite being so brilliant and having accomplished so much, he didn’t reap the rewards. People named Morrison and Johns and Hickman and Aaron dominate the sales charts — people Moore might think aren’t as smart or as accomplished. Meanwhile, Moore’s paid an immense price for his moral stances over the years. I assume Moore’s not poor, but he walked away from the Big Two, and he’s burned a lot of bridges in Hollywood. He’s reportedly burned a lot of friendships too. And just because you feel compelled to say “fuck you” to the Big Two, or to Hollywood, or to people, and have the courage to act on this, doesn’t mean there’s not an emotional remainder.

Saying “fuck you” and staying away are one thing, as anyone who’s gotten out a bad relationship knows. Saying “fuck you” in your heart is another.

Now, I don’t know about any of this about Alan Moore. I’m only guessing, based on my own understanding of character. And based, if I’m being honest, on my own experience as someone palpably aware of my own brilliance from an early age. That changes you. Warps you, perhaps. There isn’t a year that’s gone by, since my teens, when I didn’t feel nothing I’d attained measured up to the expectations I’d set for myself as a child. I’m still inclined to think, when someone can’t follow logic, “You know I’m smarter than you, right?” It’s an ugly thought, but it’s there. I’ve gotten a lot better about all of this, but I can tell you from personal experience that the ivory towers of academia are filled with people — men, especially — who grew up thinking they were going to be president, an expectation for which no amount of degrees and books can ever quite compensate. Moore’s not an academic, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the same dynamics applied.

I’d like to give Alan Moore a hug. In all seriousness. Big beard and all.

I don’t suppose it would change anything. I don’t suppose for a second he’d see me as a comrade, or an intellectual equal, or an intellectual inheritor. I don’t suppose, either, that this gesture would melt away any particular insecurities.

But still, I’d like to tell him he’s changed the world. That he made a difference in my life and aided my own development, not only in terms of writing but politically and ethically. And that there are millions like me. Those who grew up pouring over his words have taken over comics, and we’re taking over academia too. Few people in the history of the world have moved as many minds or hearts.

No, he’s not alone in these things, and that’s okay. Much the same praise can be said of Grant Morrison, who happens to have more directly changed my own life for the better, in ways he may never fully understand. Both I and Sequart — and more people in comics and comics criticism than the public may ever know — owe a great deal to Grant’s kindness. It’s his if he wants one, but Grant doesn’t seem like he needs a hug nearly as much.

Calling your own fans “emotionally subnormal” because they’re still reading the genre you helped make them love? That guy needs a hug.

Unfortunately, all of this language like “emotionally subnormal” — language about not reading comics since Watchmen, and about Grant Morrison and Geoff Johns — gets in the way of Moore’s points about super-heroes.

And here’s the thing: underneath all the imprecision, all the authorial self-fashioning and the accompanying psychological carnival, Moore’s points about super-heroes aren’t wrong.

Continued Monday, with a look at Moore’s points about the super-hero genre.

Above image from WatchmenPhotoManips.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

In 1996, while still an undergraduate, Dr. Julian Darius founded what would become Sequart Organization. After graduating magna cum laude from Lawrence University (Appleton, Wisconsin), he obtained his M.A. in English, authoring a thesis on John Milton and utopianism. In 2002, he moved to Waikiki, teaching college while obtaining an M.A. in French (high honors) and a Ph.D. in English. In 2011, he founded Martian Lit, which publishes creative work, including his comic book Martian Comics. He currently lives in Illinois.

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