Mondo Moore: Alan Moore on the League, Watchmen, & More
Best Shots Extra: LoEG: Century #1
Sometimes, the idea gets degraded. Originally, we could have Jules Verne’s Captain Nemo, who – as of The Mysterious Island, anyway – is clearly defined as Prince Dakkar, a Sikh prince and techno-pirate. And yet, we wind up with films with James Mason in them. So yeah, it is about how ideas of these characters change and get tarnished over the years.And that’s something we’ll see more of as Century unfolds. By the time we get to 2009, the basic institution of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen will be completely unrecognizable. I suppose that if there’s an overall moral to this third volume, it’s “Times change.” Invariably, throughout human history, that has been the lesson: “Times change.” And I think right now we’re going through a period of change, quite violent and rapidly, at least in my summation of the moment. And hopefully, the speeded-up view of the twentieth-century-to-present in this volume will feel quite appropriate. NRAMA: Speaking of times changing, do you feel that popular culture, at this point, is moving away from the adventurer/superhero archetype? AM: Hopefully, yes. I think that if you look at the superhero phenomenon, which has existed for a ridiculously short amount of time, these were very good, very colorful and uniquely American creations for children back in the late 1930s and 1940s. They stayed around a lot longer than anybody expected them to, and they were still providing excellent entertainment for children up through the 1960s, when I was growing up. I suspect that the comic-book-reading audience now is largely – I think the median age is late-30s or even early 40s. This is very different than when I went into the field. There’s nothing wrong with this, but I suspect the main impulse behind those older fans and their love of superheroes is probably nostalgia. It’s probably not that they find the superhero a particularly useful vehicle for their fantasies, it’s just that they feel a connection with Green Lantern or Spider-Man because that anchors them to their childhood experience. I completely understand that. There’s something very warm and soothing about looking at an old Batman comic you haven’t looked at since you were eight years old. But whether it’s very useful as a symbol in the current day and age is another thing. I remember thinking after September 11, “This has surely got to be the beginning of the end of American superheroes.” Because one of the reasons I suspect the superhero rose in America and nowhere else is American impunity, or the sense of impunity. This is probably most obvious in the recent Iron Man film, which is pretty much a love letter to the American military-industrial complex, as I heard it described in a review over here. It’s these characters who are wish-fulfillment figures of absolute invulnerability and superior power, and I don’t think that is the reality of the modern world. It might have seemed like that during the eight years of the Bush Administration, that’s possible. But that’s not how the world is. It’s getting to be a very dangerous and complicated world that is not going to be solved by one extraordinary individual who arises and saves all of us, whether he’s dressed in a cape or not. It’s not even going to be solved by a new president. I’m sure that Barack Obama will be, for my money, a much better president than George Bush was. But realistically, we have problems in the world that no one president can solve. It’s going to require a massive change in the way that we think, if we’re going to get through this. I don’t think that this is a time for the rugged, heroic individual with special powers. At the same time, I can see that people are going to want to cling to that idea, because in troubled time, people do tend to cling to things that they find reassuring, that remind them of simpler times. But ultimately, I don’t think that’s going to work. I don’t think that the basic symbols and the basic meaning of superheroes is what it once was. I think this is a different world. And I don’t think that that kind of superhero mentality really cuts it any more. I think that we need to grow up a little bit. I mean, one of the things that struck me about the 1980s, when we had dozens of headlines that read, “Bam! Sock! Pow! Comic Books Have Grown Up!” I don’t really agree with that. In the 1980s, as I recall them, there were a few comics that were trying very, very hard to grow up, some doing a better job of it than others. But these were a few comics. The majority of comics were the same as they had always been. After things like Watchmen, yes, some of them got a bit darker, a bit nastier, a bit more pretentious. But they still pretty much the same comics. I don’t think that comic books grew up in the mid-1980s. I do think that the population, many of whom had deep nostalgia for comic books they had read as children, but were ashamed of being seen reading them on the subway, think that what happened in the mid-1980s with books like Watchmen gave them an excuse to carry on reading Green Lantern, because whereas while previously people might have looked at them as though they were subnormal for reading a superhero comic, now that superhero comics had been rebranded as “Graphic Novels,” it was considered sophisticated and cutting-edge to be seen reading a comic, even if it was just a bunch of old superhero stories put together in a slicker format. It looked more grown-up; it wasn’t necessarily more grown-up, but it was put together in a way that looked more socially acceptable. I think that mid-80s period, if you look at the 20-something years since then, we’ve seen a rise in that comic-book mindset throughout most of our media. We’ve seen programs on television that are kind of reminiscent of a 1980s comic book. We’ve seen an awful lot of films that are kind of reminiscent of a 1980s comic book. And I think it wasn’t so much that comic books grew up back then. I think it was that the rest of culture grew down. Or, it had a thing like Watchmen as an alibi, to pursue its guilty pleasures, because it wanted to be free to read the superhero comics it had grown up with, but it wanted to be seen as an adult at the same time. And I think that Watchmen and books like it provided the key. So yes, I think that inevitably, all of our culture is going to have to grow up. It’s not just comics, but I think we’re going to have to start looking at a different mindset, looking at a mindset where it’s not always 24 hours to save the world. It’s not like that. We’ve probably got a few years to save the world if we act sensibly. And it won’t be accomplished by someone who’s come from another planet and can therefore fly under our decreased gravity. It’ll take a lot of serious thinking and very boring discussions, but we might be able to do it. And hopefully, our culture will be able to reflect the new sense of dramatics that we’re going to need if we’re going to start approaching any of these problems seriously. Special thanks to Moore annotator Jess Nevins for his help with this feature. Next: Alan Moore on his upcoming projects, Iain Sinclair, the late Philip José Farmer, a unified field theory of fiction and creating life on the moon. It’s our biggest and best part yet.