Alan Moore’s Illuminations Review – A Rampage of the Superhero Industry | Alan Moore

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Jhis collection of short fiction by Alan Moore contains five stories that have been published elsewhere – mostly in smaller, independent print venues – and four entirely new works. The opening story, Hypothetical Lizard, is a surreal queer revenge tale written in 1987, while in Cold Reading, originally published in 2010, a real ghost exacts revenge on a con artist who performs fake seances.

All the others have been written in the past three years: highlights include Not Even Legend, in which a strange time-traveling creature infiltrates a group of friends investigating supernatural phenomena; The Improbably Complex High-Energy State, a self-conscious homage to 1960s new wave science fiction that chronicles the sexual escapades of a Boltzmann mastermind in the first femtosecond of creation; and American Light: An Appreciation, in which Moore flaunts his ability to capture the essence of 1980s American beat poetry and literary criticism while satirically satirizing them.

The original short story What We Can Know About Thunderman is the wild heart of the volume – and not just because it takes up more space than all the other stories combined. Moore’s Watchmen has been described as a deconstruction of the “Silver Age” superhero genre, painstakingly exposing its conventions in order to subvert its entire enterprise. Arguably, What We Can Know About Thunderman offers a similar deconstruction of the American comic book industry itself.

Early in the story, four fan-turned-comic-book writers chew on industry gossip in a New York restaurant, and we soon discover that the fictional comic book company they work at is a thinly-veiled allegory. of the real industry in which Moore himself first rose to fame. “Massive” and “American” stand in for Marvel and DC Comics, respectively, and the titular Thunderman of the story is (of course) our very own Superman.

The dinner is interrupted by the belated revelation that American editor Brandon Chuff is dead during the entire conversation, despite his smiling presence at the table (much like the comic book industry in the real world, undercover). hears Moore). Chuff’s death precipitates the promotion of fellow fan-turned-writer Worsley Porlock, who becomes an editor at American during the dark years of the Trump administration and the Covid pandemic. Thunderman then explores key moments in Porlock’s life, ranging from his early childhood to the collapse of American Comics.

Alternate chapters explore fictionalized versions of key moments in comics industry history, such as a scene in which editor Jim Laws (Moore’s replacement for EC Comics editor and publisher William Maxwell Gaines) testified at the 1954 Senate Subcommittee Hearings on Juvenile Delinquency. Another scene, set in 1960, suggests that the “satanic” Sam Blatz (Moore’s satirical version of Stan Lee) received secret instructions from the CIA to mobilize superhero comics in the service of pro propaganda. -American and pro-Cold War corporate.

While many elements are exuberantly romanticized — I doubt any female executive at DC Comics was married to an Augusto Pinochet painting — part of the story’s fun lies in Moore’s insider knowledge of the industry: it feels like there’s a seed of sordid truth in every satirical fiction, as if Moore is putting out everyone’s dirty laundry for the world to see.

Rorschach in Alan Moore’s Watchmen. Photography: DC/Dave Gibbons

What can we discover, Moore wants to ask us, when we examine the hidden underworld of the American comics industry, zooming in on every detail with the same uncomfortable discernment that Watchmen brings to the comic book conventions of the silver age? Undaunted, his argument emerges: the company is dehumanizing people, dragging them into “a senseless alternate reality” similar to the experience of cocaine addiction. Rulers exploit working-class creators — such as Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, as well as Moore himself — for the benefit of shareholders and corporate oligarchs. Modern creators are largely former middle-class fans who have become brand-driven content generators, fueling a mass cultural addiction to superficial escapist fantasies.

And all of this, Moore argues, parallels the rise of populist fascism in the United States. If the comic book industry is “a metaphorical microcosm for the whole of society”, comic book fans and Maga reactionaries alike reveal “how narrow the line that separates fact from fiction is unclear to many people”. Moore brings this point home during a chapter where Porlock watches the Jan. 6 Capitol riot on television, thinking that when Trump was elected in 2016, “six of the twelve highest-grossing movies were super movies. -hero”, and many films of the former reality TV star. fans responded to him as if he was a four-colored superhero figure. “They wanted big, dramatic threats and enemies no matter how hard they tested any credibility, and also wanted an unlikely, memorable character to offer them solutions that were simple and as unbelievable as the imaginary threats they had made to themselves. committed to fight.” This led inexorably to events on Capitol Hill, when die-hard Trump fans (“fanatics” in the truest sense) revolted against the inconvenient truth of Biden’s election victory in an effort to “expose inconvenient facts as fiction, while establishing a narrative of history in images as a universal fact”.

In other words, America’s departure from “post-truth” versus factual objectivity is a consequence of its near total adherence to the fascist mythology that reality can become anything one has the will to make it – a mythology endlessly re-articulated in the fantasies of corporate superheroes. and reactionary political subcultures. Moore has offered variations on this argument elsewhere, but What We Can Know About Thunderman gives a wild and satirical perspective on the American superhero industry – and by extension America itself – unmatched in his previous writings. The collection as a whole demonstrates that although Watchmen is Moore’s best-known work, its storytelling transcended its origins in the vexed commercial medium he now dutifully avoids.

Illuminations by Alan Moore is published by Bloomsbury (£20). To support the Guardian and the Observer, order your copy from guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply.

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