DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore

dc_universeThis volume collects Moore’s miscellaneous work for DC, from April 1985’s Green Arrow two-parter Night Olympics to 1988’s Killing Joke, along with a few thoughts from his collaborators such as Dave Gibbons and Brian Bolland. (And of course there’s a distinct lack of comment from Moore himself — understandable, considering his current relations, or lack of them, with DC.)

You get a real feel of Moore the jobbing writer from this book. The strongest of the short tales are those whose format most resembles the Future Shocks and Time Twisters of his early days with 2000A.D. — these being the Tales of the Green Lantern Corps, and the two Vegatales. But even Moore struggles to come up with something interesting to do with such nobodies as the Vigilante and Green Arrow. Both of these stories seem to be teetering on the edge of Moore going into a debate about the point of superheroes themselves, with the Green Arrow Night Olympics putting this most explicitly: “I don’t know… There’s something about crooks these days. They’re kinda pathetic…” (Which of course reflects on the heroes who fight them.) Whereas the Vigilante story never quite manages to get into the debate about authoritarianism versus liberalism that’s hovering on its sidelines. Perhaps Moore just knew he’d done all this, and far better, in Miracleman and V for Vendetta. (Watchmen was still in the future at this point.)

The Superman tales are much more successful, as Moore tries to find new directions in which to push the Man of Tomorrow to keep this, potentially the most bland (because so perfect) of heroes, interesting. In all three of the Superman tales collected here — For the Man Who Has EverythingThe Jungle Line (also featuring Swamp Thing), and the two-part Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? — Superman’s real enemy is himself. In the first two, this is because Superman is locked in either a dream or a hallucination, and so is only battling himself. In the last, the tale in which we get to find out just how the career of the greatest of all superheroes comes to an end, it is Superman himself who lands the final blow.

The real standout of the book, though, is of course The Killing Joke, not only because of its stunning Brian Bolland artwork. Moore’s take on the Joker’s origins seems to have become a bit of an albatross around the great man’s neck, as he speaks elsewhere of how its success came to infect the whole comic book industry with a rather superficial echoing of its nihilistic darkness, leading him to feel everybody had somehow missed the point. But the story’s ending is really almost upbeat, as Batman and the Joker manage to communicate, sanely, for just a moment. The joke told at the end, about two loonies trying to escape an asylum, comes as a rather affecting commentary on Batman and the Joker’s relationship. In the joke, one madman escapes the asylum by jumping to a nearby roof. The other madman can’t make the jump, so the first turns on his torch and says he should walk along its beam. The first says, “What do you think I am, crazy? You’ll turn it off halfway!” Batman is the loony who escaped the insanity of his parents’ death and who is now offering to help the Joker escape, too. But the Joker can’t trust anyone — even someone as like him as Batman — not to take away the helping hand when it’s needed the most. He’s beyond help.


The Sun

The Sun (or Solntse, 2005) is the third in a series of films by Aleksandr Sokurov, each of which focuses on a 20th century political leader from the darker end of the spectrum: Moloch was about Hitler, Taurus was about Lenin (neither of which I’ve seen), while The Sun is about the Japanese Emperor Hirohito in the days up to and immediately after the country’s capitulation to the US in World War II.


In his production notes on the DVD, Sokurov says that Hirohito is a far more human figure than either Hitler or Lenin, thus making The Sun a more optimistic film than his others about the evils of totalitarianism.

I didn’t read the production notes till after I’d watched the film, but turned to them in the hope of finding out what the film was trying to say. If it is just that Hirohito was a far more human figure than the dictators Hitler and Lenin, then Sokurov’s hardly making much of a point. As the film presents him, Hirohito was a much more human figure simply because he wasn’t really in charge or even connected with what was going on in the war at all. (The Wikipedia article on Hirohito has a brief discussion of the Emperor’s actual involvement). In fact, for a large part of the film, I was wondering if The Sun wasn’t meant as a comedy. Hirohito’s peculiar facial tics and his childlike manner as he distracts himself with dictating notes about the Hermit Crab, and loses himself in a dead end of the war-bunker, made me wonder if there was some mental illness I was supposed to know about. When Hirohito sits down to talk to the incredibly-foreheaded General MacArthur, we get ridiculously inconsequential dialogue which only at one point actually touches on the war — and when it does, it shows Hirohito to be perceptive enough to understand what went wrong, thus raising the question of why he didn’t do anything to stop the war. There’s then a sequence in which Hirohito tries to light a cigar, ending in a peculiar shot of the Emperor lighting the cigar from MacArthur’s. At first it’s as if the two men are kissing, then it’s as if MacArthur was prolonging the event simply to humiliate the Emperor by puffing smoke in his face. But neither of these interpretations has any relevance to the two men’s relationship in later scenes. The film is full of such moments that seem to be saying something, but which don’t build on anything that occurred before, leaving me wondering what it was all leading up to. The Emperor finally animates and starts to talk about his one enthusiasm in life — marine biology — but MacArthur immediately interrupts him to say, bizarrely, he has to leave on an important errand. He goes out of the room and watches Hirohito, who, alone, proceeds to perform a little dance before playfully extinguishing all the candles on the table. MacArthur looks on, smiling as at a child’s antics. Earlier on, US war photographers had called the Emperor “Charlie”, likening him to Charlie Chaplin, underlining this air of childlike innocence.

The only dark moment in the film comes right at the end, when Hirohito has recorded a speech renouncing his divine status. He asks what happened to the engineer present at the recording, and is told the man committed hara-kiri. The Emperor pauses, surprised and upset. Then we get an outside view of a city — perhaps Hiroshima — that is totally devastated and still smoking, a place where thousands have died. It seems to indicate, to me, that an Emperor who can feel the loss of one man he met only briefly obviously didn’t understand the reality of what was happening around him during the war, where such tragedies were occurring every second.

(The film’s best moment is also its funniest, when the Emperor receives a gift from General MacArthur of Hershey bars. Everyone seems slightly awed by the presence of real, cocoa-made chocolate. The Emperor’s butler warns they might be poisoned. The Emperor tells him to try some. The butler nibbles a bit, then says with a shrug, “I prefer rice candy.”)



Pulse (2001, Japan) is the first addition to my Rough Guide to Asian Horror, and it’s a strange one. For the first hour or so, you might think it’s a standard J-horror about a ghostly menace lurking inside The Forbidden Room, a website that causes people to become depressed, then either commit suicide or fade away into nothing but a dark stain on the nearest wall. But as the meandering storyline follows its various characters’ growing awareness of the threat, you start to realise this film isn’t going to resolve itself like your standard horror. The depression-plague spreads and begins to depopulate the world. One character asks what if there was only limited space available for the ghosts of the dead, and what if that space was now full? In an echo of the “Crevices” episode of Dark Tales of Japan, rooms sealed with red tape act as incubators in which ghosts of the dead can re-form and return to our world. It’s their touch that spreads the depression-curse.


Pulse has its share of scary moments, including that Japanese standard, the spook stalking its victim in slow, surreal, jerky steps. In one Birds-like moment, while the camera focuses on one character making a phone call, in the background a young woman casually throws herself off a tower. But in the main, Pulse is not about the sort of scary thrill-fears you expect from Asian horror. It’s a more pervasive, less focused, but far more real, fear of isolation. The graduate student who speculates on there being limited space for the souls of the dead has developed a computer program. The movement of a series of blobs on a screen are controlled by two rules: they cannot get too far apart, and they cannot get too close together. This sums up the film’s rather bleak view of its characters’ attempts to overcome their feelings of isolation in a world where, as one character says, “Words said in friendship with the best of intentions always wind up hurting your friends deeply.”

As a film, Pulse is let down by its opening, creepy J-horror gambits, because they led me to expect something quite different. (The title, of course, doesn’t help. Having watched the film, I still have no idea why it’s called Pulse.) Although marketed in a similar way, this film is less along the lines of Ringu‘s pass-it-on-before-it-gets-you curse or the haunted house scenario of The Grudge and closer, by the end, to something like Day of the Triffids as the horror reaches worldwide-disaster proportions, and a truly bleak feeling at the end which even the most nihilistic of horrors (Audition, for instance) don’t manage. Not entirely successful, but certainly original.