It's hard to imagine now that, once upon a time, Alan Moore was just a regular old comic book writer, working on superheroes for DC and Marvel Comics like the rest of them. But, even before he reached an almost God-like status within the industry after producing Watchmen
with Dave Gibbons, Alan Moore was a big deal at DC, and he could afford to be selective with what he wrote. But that isn't to say that everything he wrote back then was solid gold. As I discovered while reading this collection of all of Alan Moore's short stories for DC Comics, even he began as a rookie getting to grips with his craft. It's certainly not that any of comics reprinted in here are "bad". On the contrary, even the weaker stories in here stand up far better than most of your typical superhero comics from the 1980s, while the best of the bunch are established classics. As a huge Alan Moore fan, I find reading these early stories to be fascinating and informative, as it's great to see how my favourite comic book writer has developed over the years.
But if there's one thing that really struck me about this collection, it's the overwhelming love for the characters that pours through nearly all of these stories. As Alan Moore has been bitterly trying to distance himself from men in tights for the last few years, pouring scorn on DC and Marvel in particular and arguing that they should have ceased publishing superheroes in the 1960s, it's hard to imagine that he was actually once a huge fanboy. Moore has expressed his love for the superheroes he grew up reading many times over the years in his interviews and in the work he's produced, and this collection really shows that. Alan Moore writes such characters as Superman, Green Lantern and Batman as only someone with a deep affinity for them and their world can. He understands the essence of who these characters are, and what makes them so enduring, far more than most of the DC writers at the time did (and even now, come to think of it). One of the Superman stories collected in here in particular, the out-of-continuity classic "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?", reads like a genuine labour of love to that character. While one of the Batman tales, "The Killing Joke", is pretty much the quintessential Batman vs. Joker story (though Moore has since gone on the record to say that he isn't happy with this story, something that I personally find perplexing!).
While much, if not most, of the stories in here are rough around the edges, verbose and sometimes trying a little too hard to be clever, there are some real nuggets in here. Aside from the two famous examples mentioned above, I personally really enjoyed the gritty and depressing Vigilante story (a hero whom I hadn't even heard of before reading this), the Green Lantern short "In Blackest Night", and the bizarre Batman/Clayface story. But the highlight for me has to be the superb "Killing Joke", with art by the amazing Brian Bolland. That said, "The Killing Joke" isn't collected in the latest edition of this book, titled DC Universe by Alan Moore
(the one I'm reviewing is out-of-print, going by the name DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore
- Amazon has decided to merge the reviews for the two different editions together). This is, presumably, because DC released a deluxe edition hardcover of "Killing Joke"
All in all, this is a worthy collection, though mostly only of interest to hardcore Alan Moore fans who want to see how he's progressed. Anyone else coming to this should be under no illusions of expecting to read anything near the level of `Watchmen' and some of Moore's other famous works, and to appreciate this for the mishmash collection that it is.