tisdag 25 januari 2011

Alan Moore & others: Albion

Alan Moore plotted it, Leah Moore and John Reppion wrote it, Shane Oakley drew it, and George Freeman inked it (and they even brought in Neil Gaiman to write the introduction): "Albion", a nostalgia-driven attempt to put all the old British IPC heroes into the same universe, and create a good story in the process. It succeeds with the first ambition, not really with the second.

Briefly, the story starts with letting us encounter comics fan Danny, buying old British comics from an unpleasant old old stuff-dealer. Watching a nasty old comics character who's apparently also a real person being carted off to some sort of detention facility, Danny yells out the man's comics name, which arouses the suspicions and ire of the crowd hating the comics character. Danny is rescued by a young girl, who turns out to be the daughter of another old comics character who was also a real person, and who has also (long since) been carted off to some detention facility. Penny, as the girl is called, and Danny set about saving her father and all the other old heroes and villains who've been rounded up by the authorities, and enlist the aid of another old comics character, master criminal and escapist Charlie Peace, to find and break into the detention facility.

Interspersed with the scenes depicting Danny's and Penny's attempts to get the old bastard Peace aboard, we're treated to scenes from the detention facility, where an American official is visiting to check on their security. He's strongly critical, and implies that they're too soft – unlike the American approach. Meanwhile, super-computer Brian's Brain, one of the criminal inmates that has apparently actually been hooked up with the facility's computer system, predicts an upcoming disaster while not giving any details about it, and the super-criminal The Spider is plotting his own escape.

I won't go into detail about the resolution of the plot; I will, however, outline some of the problems I had with the book.

First of all, I like elegant art. I like a nice, strong, lively ink line, and I like some nice, smooth, elegant fethering. I'm not getting any of that. Oakley uses stark contrasts between black and non-black fields with rough, angular lines separating them and as contour lines, and while I consider Freeman an excellent artist, he doesn't seem to add any of the qualities I think he's shown in other works here; too many dead-weight lines and not enough of the slickness I like to see. So the artwork's not for me.

Second, while the themes of this book are reminiscent of Moore masterpieces like "V for Vendetta" (detention camps, fascist British government) and "Watchmen" (re-using characters from one publishing "universe" in an integrated universe where they're real), the execution is not up to the standards of those works. The plotting isn't nearly as tight as in "Watchmen" – for example, the various dangerous superweapons that make so many of the detainees so deadly are stored in the same facility, practically guaranteeing that should a breakout occur, they will almost immediately become impossible to recapture. (It's the sort of thing I expect from lazy Hollywood scriptwriters, not Alan Moore.)

So, with the plotting not driving the story strongly enough and the art not being sufficiently enjoyable to keep my interest, that means the scripting has to carry a bigger load, and I'm afraid the Moore-Reppion pair don't deliver, either. There's a lot of cursing – "You think you're so $%€&in' clever"-style – but that's just lazy writing IMO, and the writing never rises to a level where it makes it interesting watching a bunch of people walking and talking, which comprises a lot of the book.

I think an old IPC fan might enjoy this new take on his old heroes, but I'm not; I have vague recollections of some of these characters, most prominently The Spider, whose adventures I thought were exciting when I read them in old 60s comic books as a kid, but really most of those old comics kinda sucked IMO. They were pretty much at least one notch below the old 50s - early 60s "Superman" comics in quality, and at least those weren't done in 2-3 pages installments that meant storytelling had to be incredibly rushed. I am a die-hard Moore fan, though, which is why I bought the book in the first place, and it sorta goes with the territory to read everything he does. This installment isn't terrible, it's readable if not worth the price I paid for it IMO, but it's certainly below the standard I've come to expect from one of the greatest comics creators like, ever.

Not recommended – but for a more positive review of this book, see The Compulsive Reader.

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