Alan Moore: The Complete Future Shocks

Moving back in time from the DC Universe Stories of Alan Moore, comes The Complete Future Shocks, recently released, whose first shock is — it’s not complete! Alright, so the two missing stories, “The Dating Game” and “The Killer In The Cab” were not Tharg’s Future Shocks or Time Twisters, being Ro-Jaws’ Robo-Tales, but as this volume does contain other one-off strips Moore did for 2000A.D., it’s a pity to have them missed out, as they’re unlikely to find a home in any other sort of collection. (But they are available online, at the 4ColorHeroes Alan Moore for Free page.)


The first thing that struck me about this nicely-put together volume was how some of the panels had stuck in my memory from when I read them originally in 2000A.D., even though the stories hadn’t. The one pictured above, for instance (from “They Sweep The Spaceways”, first published in July 1981). As soon as I saw it, I remembered coming across it for the first time and feeling vaguely disturbed at the thought of a lollipop getting stuck in someone’s beard. Well, I was ten years old at the time, so perhaps the idea of a lollipop getting stuck in a beard was important to me back then.

It’s interesting to trawl these short strips that mark Alan Moore’s first real steps in the comics world for signs of what was to come. The strip “Bounty Hunters!”, for instance, includes the idea that the shape-changing creature the titular bounty hunters are after may have transformed himself into the very planet they’re searching for him on. It turns out he hasn’t, but Moore went on to use that idea in the Tales of the Green Lantern Corps story “Mogo Doesn’t Socialize” — though the earlier tale used the idea in a more knowing way. Another early appearance of an idea later used when writing for DC is the story “Bad Timing”, which is basically a joke on Superman’s origins without actually being able to use the Superman character (Krypton becomes Klakton, etc.) The idea of “Superman’s” father being wrong about the destruction of his home planet is here a joke, but Moore later used it to serious effect in the Superman Annual story “For The Man Who Has Everything”. The idea of a life being lived backwards is used in “The Reversible Man” (a story that apparently had some of the secretaries at 2000A.D.‘s offices in tears when it first came out), and of course would be used again in 1995’s The Birth Caul.

I’m always interested in finding themes that permeate or emerge throughout a creator’s work. Moore’s oevure is incredibly diverse, which makes it hard to find such repeated themes (though the image of the transformed man emerging from flames, often naked but increased in power, occurs a lot in Moore’s more serious superhero work). Another theme I can see starting to develop in these early stories is super-intelligence, often going wrong. Moore has written a number of super-intelligent characters (Ozymandias in Watchmen is perhaps the apotheosis of this idea, a man whose cold rationality brings peace to the world at a price no merely feeling human being would ever countenance), but here we see super-intelligent characters who are rather too clever, and who get a corresponding comeuppance, such as Abelard Snazz, whose genius always lands him in trouble, and the Squonge-wearing humans in “Mister, Could You Use A Squonge?”, whose enhanced intelligence is plain faulty. Jack B Quick from the Tomorrow Stories comics is a later example from Moore’s work of over-cleverness leading to trouble.

Best tale of the bunch, for me, has to be “Eureka”, about how a mere idea can become a form of almost unstoppable alien invasion. The power and communicability of potentially transformative ideas, of course, could well be used to describe another of Moore’s interests that would develop later in his career — magic.


The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes

The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes (2005) is a film at the artier end of the spectrum. The filmmakers, the Brothers Quay, have done stop-motion puppet animated films and ballet before, and this, their second feature-length film has a definite theatrical feel (in the obvious artificiality of the sets, for instance), and incorporates some stop-motion animation.

The film has a dark, fairy-tale feel. Most of the action takes place on the estate of Dr Droz, where he is supposedly rehabilitating patients with psychiatric problems, but his main focus seems to be building a series of automata that play out little musical scenes. Droz calls on the services of a super-sensitive piano tuner to prepare these automata for a grand performance, and the tuner becomes fascinated with a voice he hears singing in the night, as well as a deeply withdrawn female “patient” of the doctor’s that, from the film’s prologue, we know is a famous opera singer who died (or was killed by Dr Droz) on the night before her wedding, and who Droz has re-animated so as to use her voice in one of his automata.


Plenty strange, and all the better for it. But ultimately the film disappoints in that it doesn’t resolve as a story. On a lengthy interview-extra on the DVD, the Quay twins lament the fact that their film has come under criticism for this reason, and ask why people can’t just accept its non-traditional story structure. But I think the reason people (certainly I) expected more of a story-like ending is that it has such a story-like beginning (the prologue, where we see the death of the opera singer), and such a fairy-tale air that we feel we’re being promised a traditional resolution, even if a dark one.


Tony Takitani

Tony Takitani is a shortish (1 hour 16 minutes) adaptation of a story by one of my favourite writers, Haruki Murakami. It’s not one of his best or most characteristic stories, nor is it particularly cinematic. It is, though, less explicitly weird than most of his stuff, so perhaps that’s why it has been chosen to be filmed (or that’s why it has been successful, anyway, winning the Grand Jury Prize at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival).


It’s basically a story about loneliness. (Spoilers ahead.) Because of his western-sounding name, Tony Takitani gets used to receiving odd looks from people as a kid, and so stays away from them. But he doesn’t mind the solitude till he grows up and suddenly falls in love with a woman who is perfect for him in every way except for her uncontrollable obsession with buying clothes. Their married life is blissful till Tony suggests she might try to not buy so many. Tragedy ensues, and Tony is left alone once more. There is then a very Murakami-esque “transaction” in which a woman comes along and, left alone in the large wardrobe room with all of Tony’s dead wife’s clothes, she becomes a sort of conduit for the sadness of the whole situation and cries for no real reason she can understand.

The tone of the film is a lot more bleak than the written story, perhaps because it doesn’t have Murakami’s easy-going, lightly humorous prose to buoy it up, but other than that the adaptation is very faithful — perhaps too much so, as most of the film is carried along by an overdubbed narration. There’s only one really cinematic moment where the film does something the story can’t, and that’s where a scene of Tony lying on the floor of the now-empty wardrobe room cuts to the image of his father lying in an identical position in a prison cell where he was held in China, making you see the parallels between the father’s and son’s lives, and also pointing out how Tony’s loneliness is a prison as limiting as the physical cell in which his father was held.

Would I recommend it? Well, I went into the plot of the film pretty thoroughly because I doubt anyone who isn’t into Murakami will really want to see the film, and anyone who is into Murakami will probably have read the story (it’s in his latest collection, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman) so there’ll be no surprises anyway. Basically, not bad, quite moody if you’re up for a quiet, sad film, but otherwise, for Murakami completists only.