Alan Moore’s Superhero Universe Reboots 1: The Albion Universe


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albion_(comics)

 

The main superheroes of the Albion universe include Bad Penny, Brian’s Brain, Captain Hurricane, Charlie Peace, the Cloak, Cursitor Doom, the House of Dolmann, the Dwarf , Eagle-Eye, Faceache, Grimly Feendish, Janus Stark, Jason Hyde, Kelly’s Eye, Martha’s Monster Make-Up, Mytek the Mighty, Queen of the Seas, Robot Archie, Rubberman, the Spider, Tri-Man and Zip Nolan.  Alan Moore’s daughter is credited with being one of the creators of the Albion Universe and I am sure this is the case but the hand of the master is clearly in evidence.  The Albion universe highlights the ability of Alan Moore to take the most sketchy superhero source material and raise the quality of this material to another level.  Chronologically this is Moore’s latest reboot and is only dealt with first because these posts are organized alphabetically.  Moore took a group of superheroes published by Fleetway press in the 1960’s in Great Britain and gave them new life.  These comic books were never distributed in the US so they would be totally unfamiliar to US audiences and even readers in England. 

 

I remember talking to a British friend of mine about the series after buying and reading the graphic novel that collected the series.  My friend is a fellow comic book fanatic and he had no idea what I was talking about despite my descriptions of the various characters.  After he borrowed the graphic novel from me he said “Yeah, yeah. I read some of these characters back when I was a kid but totally forgot about them”.  I have spent time in London and spent a lot of my time in comic book shops, to the chagrin of my wife at the time, ex-wife now, perhaps there is a relation between the two events, and of course was more interested in stuff from England than stuff from the US.  To my chagrin, the people working in the comic book stores pointed me to Judge Dredd stuff that is easily available in the US in the form of graphic novel reprints.  I didn’t run into any Fleetway stuff back then and I am a fairly obsessive person when it comes to finding weird comic books.

 

I was vaguely aware of the Fleetway stuff since as a kid in Venezuela in the 1960s I was friends with a kid from England and read some of that stuff in his house.  The publication quality was far below US standards.  A lot of the strips were black and white!  They were in a tabloid format.  The covers were on regular paper rather than slick!  Still, like Moore I have always had an interest in obscure super hero universes, the more obscure the better, even as a youth and did read his collection avidly.

 

Some of the original material from the 1960s is also included in the graphic novel and this helped me dredge up memories of those comic books.  As I have stated in the introduction, comic books of that time period were much more innocent and light hearted than comic books today.  I have started collected Marvel Essentials and DC Showcase editions which reprint a lot of stuff I read as a kind in the sixties, and going down memory lane is fun, but I am often amazed I could be entertained by such simplistic and juvenile material but then have to remind myself that I was a juvenile back then!  Even by US sixties standards the Fleetway stuff is even more light hearted and many of the strips would have to classified as comedy rather than drama. 

 

In particular, Captain Hurricane has undergone a radical reboot!  The original sixties Captain Hurricane was more like a Popeye character than a super hero.  In Moore’s reboot, Captain Hurricane has been turned into a dark British version of the Captain America’s super soldier story.  Captain Hurricane is the only successful subject of an experimental procedure that killed over 300 other subjects.  Furthermore, the process turned Captain Hurricane into a homicidal maniac who during rages is capable of killing whole platoon of Nazis with his bare hands in the most brutal manner imaginable.  Alan Moore does some other interesting things with the other characters.

 

Rubberman is a major character in the Albion universe and as far as I can tell he was an obscure character in an obscure superhero universe and I think his importance in the Moore reboot is indicative of a feeling on Moore’s part that super stretching is an important super power that is generally underestimated except by the greats.  The Elongated Man and Plastic Man are prominent in Frank Miller’s, The Dark Knight Strikes Again.  Frank Miller is the second greatest comic book writer ever, after Moore, but a distant second in my opinion.  Batman states that Plastic Man has the power to kill us all i.e. Batman and Elongated Man together.  Batman is a first tier super hero and a master of assessing combat abilities so this comment is very interesting.  Batman is talking for Miller and stating this type of power can be very dangerous.  Most writers have not taken super stretching very seriously and have exploited this power for comic effect rather than thinking this power gives great durability, a means of escape from any prison and the ability to inflict great harm.  Plastic Man has generally been treated as a funny character and not as a dangerous character.  Elastic Lad, Jimmy Olsen’s super hero persona, generally had funny adventures.  Elongated Man engaged in amateur sleuthing and fought common criminals rather than super villains except when teamed up with the Flash.  Superheroes with super stretching as a power generally don’t get much respect.  The big exception is Mr. Fantastic of the Fantastic Four who is a heavy weight.  I agree with Moore that super stretching is probably the second most underestimated super power. 

 

The most underestimate super power is super speed.  A common “what if fight” is between the Hulk and Superman.  If Superman can dodge bullets then he can certainly dodge blows from the Hulk or from anyone without super speed yet he never does this when fighting opponents with super strength but without super speed.  Superman should be able to dodge every blow by the Hulk and deliver every blow he aims at the Hulk but I guess this would not be a very fun comic book battle.

 

Part of the story involves the main character trying to track down old comics that are hard to find.  We later learn that the comic books actually portray real events!  In a twist one of the funnier and more juvenile comic books portrays, perhaps the most dark and evil character in this universe.  This is a consistent characterization thread.  There is the character as portrayed in the comic books and the actual character.  There is also a Machiavellian angle.  The British government employed the Spider to round up or destroy all the super powered heroes and villains and this same government then betrayed the Spider.  The surviving heroes and villains are put in common gulag rather than separated since as far as the government is concerned they are all guilty of the same sin of creating disorder.  Moore is a student of power politics and this is reflected in many of his works. 

 

V is for Vendetta, possibly his best work after the Watchmen, explores the relationship between fascism and anarchy and is one of the most, if not the most, political mainstream comic books ever published.  Is fascism justified to prevent anarchy?  Do ends justify the means?  The Albion series in contrast to some of Moore’s other works does not pose any deeper question but therefore cannot be put in the same league as the Watchmen and V is for Vendetta.

 

On the other hand, Moore’s level of characterization has never been better.  Subtle differences between British and American thinking about the role of authority are explored using the conversations between the director of the gulag and a CIA agent sent from homeland security to evaluate the gulag’s security.  The heroes and villains are old men who have spent decades behind bars and this has affected their thinking and therefore their speech and behavior.  The old men look and act like old men.  Generally in comic books the younger version and the older version of the same character are indistinguishable except for the fact they are drawn differently.  There is also great use of British expressions that clearly make the reader feel they are in England based on the dialogue.  Not the usual “Jolly Good Batman” banter that is so common in comic books.  In Albion different characters of different social classes do speak differently as is the case in England to a greater extent than the US.  Of the five superhero reboots, I would rank the Albion reboot as being first in characterization and a rank of number four of the five universes!

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