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Alan Moores Superhero Universe Reboots

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Alan Moore is the master of superhero universe reboots and this page, based on a series
of posts, will describe his efforts, compare and contrast his reboots and finally evaluate
which have been the most successful from a critical point of view. A reboot is a radical
remake of an existing character in fiction. Batman Begins, Battlestar Galactica and
Casino Royale are example of cinematic reboots. A reboot of Star Trek is also in the
works. The following universes will be looked at including the Albion Universe, the
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the Miracleman universe and the Watchmen
universe.

I will argue that


1) Moores reboots always go in a darker direction than the original source material.
2) Moore adds a layer of characterization that was not present in the original material.
3) The fact that the characters are in a universe is emphasized much more than in the
original source material.
4) There is almost always a comic book within the comic book.
5) Certain larger political/philosophical questions are consistently explored in Moores
work.

The first point is not surprising since the source material is generally from the pre-1960s
when comic books were aimed at readers of an average age of ten and there was code
that controlled what sort topics and material could be dealt with in comic books. The
second point is explained by the fact Moore as a superior writer brings characterization
to a medium were characterization is generally ignored. The third point is also related
to the current comic book market versus the one of the pre-1960s. Crossover issues do
well on the market place. Sagas that involve all the superheroes are major events and
seem to happen almost yearly these days.

Fourthly, and this is really Moores signature touch in almost every reboot, Moore
almost always figures out a way to make the comic self-referential with the exception of
the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. There is invariably a comic book within the
comic book! In some cases the source material as comic book is revealed within the
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story. This is the case in the Albion universe and the Terra Obscura universe. The
Watchmen has a comic book within a comic book but this comic book does not point to
the original source material.

Fifthly, Moore is a great writer because he often asks the political question does the end
justify the means in a manner that is not easy to answer. Moore also explores
existential questions of free will and the two questions are put together to form a larger
question of what the hero should do. Being the hero in a Moore work is generally a
much grayer situation than being a hero in other comic books that accept the convention
of easily identified good versus evil characters and morally easy to figure out modes of
action.

These posts will not reiterate the plots of each series, except as necessary for critical
purposes, since this has already been done at Wikipedia and this link will be supplied
with each post. Rather, the purpose of these posts is to provide a critical overview of all
of Moores reboots using a consistent framework.

The Albion Universe


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 Moores 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 Moores 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 1960s 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. 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 didnt 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
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publication quality was far below US standards. A lot of the strips were black and
white! They were in tabloid format. The covers were on regular paper rather than slick
paper! 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 kid 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 Moores
reboot, Captain Hurricane has been turned into a dark British version of Captain
Americas super soldier story. Captain Hurricane is the only successful subject of an
experimental procedure to create a super soldier 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.
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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 Moores 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 Millers, 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 Olsens 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 dont 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.
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The most underestimated 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 Moores other works
does not pose any deeper question and therefore cannot be put in the same league as the
Watchmen and V is for Vendetta.

On the other hand, Moores 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 gulags 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!

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen


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The main superheroes of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen include Allan


Quatermain, Captain Nemo, Dr. Jekyll/Edward Hyde, Hawley Griffin and Mina
Murray. I put quotes around the word superheroes since the question must be asked if
the aforementioned characters are actually superheroes. Allan Quartermain, Captain
Nemo, and Mina Murray do not have super powers but this does not mean they are not
super heroes. Batman doesnt have super powers and an archetypical superhero. Allan
Quartermain and Captain Nemo are the literary grandfathers to Batman. Allan
Quartermain and Captain Nemo are men of adventure that belong to the world of pulp
fiction that preceded comic books. Can pulp fiction heroes be superheroes? Both types
of fiction are similar. The main difference would be that comic books went a step farther
and emphasized more incredible and futuristic elements due to the ability of comic
books, as a visual medium, to awe young readers with incredible pictures.

By putting all these fantastic characters in a more fantastic world than they originally
existed in, Alan Moore has clearly made the pulp and/or sci-fi heroes into super
heroes. Alan Moore has done the opposite of the dictum of H.G. Wells, the original
creator of the Invisible Man. The Invisible Man is a member of the league. H.G. Wells
stated that you could write about Martians or invisible men but not invisible
Martians. Comic books go in the opposite direction and if Martians are interesting then
an invisible Martian like DCs Martian Manhunter is even more
interesting. Superheroes are the baroque version of science fiction and thats one of the
reasons I love my comic books!
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There is no comic book within a comic book since these heroes were from books not
comic books. On the other hand, Alan Moore has created a universe were all fictional
literary characters imaginable coexist in a single universe. Every character in the series
is from a literary piece and half the fun of reading the comic book is figuring out what
work of fiction the character is from. There is also an atlas of this world in textual form
that is incredibly intricate and takes universe building to another level! I suspect
compiling the atlas probably took Moore more time to write than writing all the other
reboots together.

There is also not a superior level of characterization in Moores material compared to


the source material since the original material were great works of literature rather than
obscure comic book universes. Moore is the greatest comic book writer ever but
compared to the greats of writing period, maybe just good. Given that I am proponent
of the idea that comic books are an art form that ultimately belongs next to all other art
forms, this is a sorry statement.

Moore does take the original source material into a darker realm as he does in other
reboots. Mr. Hyde beats the Invisible Man and then sexually assaults the Invisible Man,
finally killing him! The Invisible Man had betrayed Earth to the Martians and, worse in
the eyes of Hyde, hurt Mina Murray. Hyde also eats a Martian in front of the other
Martians for fun and the purposes of psychological warfare. For some reason this
version of events was never shown in the movie of the same name.

I do want to mention that the movie and the comic book are very different both in plot
and tone. The movie is very typical, feel good, sell popcorn, movie fare. The comic book
is dense with literary references and much darker than the movie. The characters in the
comic book are much more fleshed out and less heroic and more human than the same
characters in the movie.

Mina Murray is a person weak physically but strong of will and mind who wins the
affection of Mr. Hyde, the love of Quartermain and the respect of Nemo in a way that is
believable. This character was written out of the movie altogether! The only comic book
character that is even vaguely similar to Mina Murray is Spidermans aunt May, another
character whose will allows her to surpass her physical frailty. Quartermain, in contrast
to the portrayal by Sean Connery in the movie, is portrayed as an old broken man that
has been in the deepest slums of India smoking opium and is only saved by the strong
will of Mina Murray.

The do the ends justify the ends question is explored again by Moore. Germ warfare is
used to destroy the invading H.G. Wells style Martians. Moore rightly assumes that
characters of the Victorian age would find such behavior shocking and immoral. This is
before WWI and WW II desensitized us as a species to such behavior,
unfortunately. Because of the strong characterization and incredible universe building,
I would rank this reboot number two of the five reboots this series will examine.
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Miracleman Universe

The main superheroes of the Miracleman universe include Kid Marvelman, Miracleman,
Miraclewoman and Young Miracleman. The Miracleman universe is the third reboot
alphabetically but Moores first reboot chronologically. Moore did this reboot before the
Watchmen that led to his ascendance as the premiere comic book writer of all time. In
the sixties in Great Britain there was a superhero called Marvelman. Marvel comics
book sued the English publishers and this lead to the demise of Marvelman. Marvelman
never made it to the US. Years later, Moore decided to reboot Marvelman but due to the
same copyright issues could not use the name Marvelman and changed the name to
Miracleman.

A mad scientist working for the British government has figured out alien technology
thousands of years ahead of ours and has created Miracleman, Miraclewoman and
Young Miracleman. Their powers are more or less than same as Supermans but they
are in world much more like ours than Supermans so their relative power is much
higher. The beings are kept in a state of stasis and they are programmed with
adventures which are the same as the adventures of the original Marvelman series. This
is the first use of the comic book within a comic book that will become Moores
trademark signature in all other reboots except in the case of the League of
Extraordinary Gentlemen.
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Miracleman ultimately does all the things that Superman will not even though he
could. Miracleman creates paradise on Earth and guides humanity towards the next
level of evolution as part of an interstellar community. The Miracleman family takes
over the Earth in order to bring order at the molecular level and the does just
that. The Miracleman family exists as a pantheon of gods sitting above humanity. This
theme of super beings dealing with the fundamental issues of human existence such as
worldwide pollution, bad governance and unequal distribution of resources and
opportunity will later be explored in two other comic book series including Marvels
Squadron Supreme and the Authority under DCs imprint Wildstorm. The absurdity of
Superman using his vast powers to stop bank robbers and dealing with the symptoms of
human suffering rather than the causes of human material suffering if not existential
suffering was identified by no less an literary giant than Umberto Ecco in his essay
about Superman.

Miracleman is not only a more realistic version of Superman but a much darker
version. If a mere mortal messes with Miracleman then this mortal can expect instant
death. Gods do not suffer disrespectful mortals. Superior characterization is shown
throughout the series but certain characters stand out. Miraclewoman is very different
than Miracleman in attitude. She is much more positive about her condition and revels
in her super powers. This is in contrast to Super Girl who is a clone of Superman who
happens to have breasts in most treatments of her. Miraclewoman is smarter than
Miracleman. When faced with the leader of the aliens from which their powers are
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derived she suggests a radical diplomatic solution. Earth will be a neutral ground where
the two great powers that govern the galaxy can meet. When Miracleman is rude to
Margaret Thatcher, Miraclewoman intervenes and takes some of the sting out of their
coup de tat. Miracleman is a brooding character that has transcended material suffering
but not existential suffering. Miraclewoman is a cheerful happy person as well as she
should be given her position as the queen of the gods.

Dr. Gargunza is probably the most fleshed out mad scientist in the history of
comics. Dr. Gargunza is given credit for being a genius who, as one of the aliens points
out, was like a gorilla that got a hold of a camera and made technological discoveries
using that camera. Miracleman has to admit that Dr. Gargunza is his father and chooses
to kill him with a kiss. The kiss is given while in orbit around the Earth where there is
no air so the kiss is fatal and the subsequent meteor like fall is most certainly
fatal. Miracleman must kill Dr. Gargunza because his intelligence and mastery of the
alien technology makes him too dangerous but Miracleman does so with regret. And
dont gods always have to kill their fathers to ascend to the top of the pantheon? Zeus
must kill Chronus to fulfill his potential as a god.

Dr. Gargunza comes from the most humble beginnings in Mexico and after making a
sufficient amount of pocket money, from gang activities, moves to Europe and starts a
new life and seeks out the likes of Heidegger and leaves the red dust of Mexico behind
him forever. Dr. Gargunza realizes from his conversation with Heidegger that the
ultimate problem of human existence is death and the solution is for him to create a
baby with the alien technology that is super powered and immortal. Dr. Gargunza is not
driven by some desire to take over the world but a desire to survive. Dr. Gargunza is a
student of animals and hunts cheetahs for fun and would argue the will to survive
transcends all other morality and the ends do justify the means. Issue 15 of the series
shows a Kid Miracleman rampaging through London and is generally considered some
of the darkest work in comic books period. I own every issue of the Moore version of
Miracleman except this one and have heard the issue is extremely gory.

I give this reboot a rank of three out of the five reboots.

Terra Obscura Universe


The main superheroes of the Terra Obscura universe include Adam the Ape, American
the Crusader, Captain Future, Doc Strange, Fighting Spirit, Fighting Yank (I), the Ghost,
Grim Reap, Lance Lewis, Space Detective, the Liberator, Magnet, Miss Masque, Mystico
and Princess Pantha. All the characters are based on characters that Nedor Comics
published in the 1940s. Moore seems to be taking a break from his more serious works
here and just wants to have some fun. The Terra Obscura gang is comic book camp at
its best/worst. I get it. I wonder how many younger readers do. You have outrageous
characters like Adam the Ape side by side with the Space Detective. In particular,
Moore mentions the absurdity of putting Sgt. Rock side by side with the Legion of
Superheroes in his article Twilight of the Superheroes. Moore makes the material a
little darker in that the Terror has been killed by an evil nearly omnipotent machine and
the death of major heroes really only becomes acceptable in the eighties with the death
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of Marvels Phoenix and after that becomes almost common place due to market
response. The death of Superman series is the ultimate example of how market forces
drive comic books rather than aesthetic logic. The fact that Superman was not actually
dead didnt stop DC from making millions from a line that was moribund even if the
character was not. All in all characterization is not up to Moores usual standards.

Doc Tom Strange from Terra Obscura appears in the adventures of Tom Strong V1
#11. Tom Strong from another Earth billions of miles away. Doc Strong points out that
the adventures of the heroes on Terra Obscura are described in comic books on his
Earth. Tom Strong shows Doc Strange a comic book with a cover of the actual Nedor
Comics source material. There is not only a comic book within a comic book but a comic
book that points directly to the source material. Tom Strong is more of a pulp fiction
hero and very similar to Doc Savage. Doc Strange is more similar to Superman. The
two superheroes look alike and the superman version meets the pulp fiction version of
itself.
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The absurdity of heroes of vastly different power levels interacting in a more or less
equal manner is taken to new heights. Tom Strong once fought and defeated Doc
Strange using atomic gloves! The atomic gloves are basically supped up brass
knuckles. Doc Strange has literally crossed billions of miles of interstellar distance over
a period of decades without food, water or sleep and therefore can withstand the
extreme rigors of space but can be knocked out by atomic gloves by a character that
maybe has the strength of ten men! I think Moore is poking fun at the convention that
any superhero stands some chance in a battle with any other superhero regardless of
power levels. Daredevil fighting the Submariner and later the Hulk comes to mind.

The Wiz Kid superhero game tries to incorporate this crazy comic book logic into their
minis game. I pitted the Hulk against Batman. Batman was able to knock out the Hulk
with a batarang! Our group consisted of hard core D&D mini enthusiasts were such
happenings are impossible and we never played the game again but later I thought
about what happened and realized this is the way a comic book universe operates rather
than a D&D universe.

I give this reboot a rank of five of the five reboots looked at. This means Terra Obscura
is at the bottom of the pack but Moores worst comic book generally surpasses 99% of
the comic book material out there and I would definitely recommend this series to a
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fellow comic book reader especially one the revels in the kitsch factor of comic books as
I do.

Watchmen Universe

The superheroes of this universe are only vaguely based on the originals from Charlton
Comics so arguably this is not a reboot at all. The main superheroes of the Watchmen
universe include Captain Metropolis, the Comedian, Doctor Manhattan, Dollar Bill,
Hooded Justice, Mothman, Nite Owl I, Nite Owl II, Ozymandias, Rorschach, Silhouette,
Silk Spectre I and Silk Spectre II.

Comedian resembles the Peacemaker (Charlton). Doctor Manhattan resembles Captain


Atom (Charlton). Nite Owl resembles the Blue Beatle (Charlton). Ozymandias
resembles Thunderbolt (Charlton). Rorschach resembles the Question (Charlton). Silk
Spectre II resembles Nightshade (Charlton).
This is Moores last universe reboot alphabetically but his second chronologically. This
is the series that brought Alan Moore fame and fortune in the US.

The comic book within a comic book takes the form of a pirate comic book named Tales
of the Black Freighter. A teen who happens to be at a newsstand, were the lives of the
heroes intersect, is reading the comic book on the curb. We view the panels of this
comic book within a comic book as the series progresses. The plot line of Tales of the
Black Freighter comic book is reminiscent of the Heart of Darkness by Joseph
Conrad. The comic book within the comic book also reflects the larger worlds descent
into WW III and annihilation. The Watchmens universe is too gritty and real for us to
believe that anyone will survive as they generally do in comic books. Nixon is President
since he had those pesky Watergate reporters killed by the Comedian, a super hero!
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Although this is never stated in so many words, there are enough references to Einstein
and his thinking that one can assume Moore has probably read Einsteins comment that
good and evil are manmade constructs. Doctor Manhattan as more force of nature, than
human takes this literally and departs from Earth to Mars rather than stop WW III. Dr.
Manhattan is also four dimensional and shifts in and out of the present into the future
and past and actually little gains the insight that past, present and future do not actually
exist and therefore free will does not exist.

One of the more disturbing characters, Rosarch has an epiphany while watching dogs
eat the bones of kidnapped girl and becomes a Nietzsche superman, beyond good and
evil. In contrast to Dr. Manhattan, who is a Superman type superman and then
some. Dr. Manhattan could easily take out Superman!

Ozymandias is a Batman type superhero. Ozymandias is a Batman type superhero that


has grown up and decided that the ends do justify the means, which the Dark Knight
version of Batman hints at but never delivers. Ozymandias decides to create a fake alien
invader that kills millions in New York City in order to unite the world against a larger
enemy. Ozymandias succeeds and thus averts WW III. The bad guy has
succeeded! This doesnt happen very much in comic books but is he really a bad
guy? Ozymandias has lied to his fellow heroes, killed millions, and even killed his own
servants but he did this to save the world and if fact did save the world. Do the ends
justify the means?

Another aspect of the Watchmen that is different from other works by Moore is his
extreme use of symbolism. The watch as symbol is used throughout the book. The
watch does not just represent time and the inexorable flow of events as most readers can
easily figure out. The watch also acts a secondary symbol that I think very few readers
figure out. The watch is symbolic of the most important question in human
existence. Is there a watchmaker? Or more broadly does existence precede
essence. Is there an underlying karma, purpose, a plan to the universe?

Are the watchmen just watchmen as in the quote by Juvenal Who will watch the
watchmen or are the watchmen also agents of the watch maker? If the watchmaker is
God as Newton stated then are not the Watchmen agents of God? The Watchmen is an
incredibly ambitious work that asks all the big questions yet provides an entertaining
story. I would rank the Watchmen number one of the five reboots analyzed in this
series.