Tomorrow Stories, Book One HC
Are you bored yet of me going on and on about how good ABC's short-story collections are? No? Good, because I'm about to do the same again for Tomorrow Stories.
Collecting issues #1-6 of the series, this first book exceeded my expectations by being even better than the Terrific Tales volumes that I've been enjoying over the past couple of months. Partly, that may be because every single story in this series is written by Alan Moore, so the quality is right up there and there's not much in the way of flab or filler; and partly it may be because the tone of Tomorrow Stories is noticeably lighter, with a much sillier and more carefree vibe overall to the book, which I really enjoyed.
The main strips featured here are Greyshirt, a riff on Eisner's Spirit with art by Rick Veitch; Jack B Quick, a boy-genius strip featuring questionable scientific premises that's illustrated by Kevin Nowlan; The First American, a superhero satire created with Jim Baikie; and The Cobweb, drawn by Moore's Lost Girls collaborator and now-wife Melinda Gebbie. (As of issue #4, though, Jack B Quick drops out and is replaced by issue #6 with Splash Brannigan, a Plastic-Man-type hero - created with Hilary Barta - who is made of "four-dimensional ink" and behaves like a wild reject from a retro cartoon.)
I like them all for different reasons, but it's Greyshirt that really stands out for me as the best of the bunch. It's the kind of strip that offers Moore and Veitch the chance to really experiment with story structure, exploring any corner of Indigo City that they choose, and largely leaving Greyshirt himself as a relatively ill-defined and minor character in his own strip (much like the Spirit, really).
There are loads of great stories here - including a fun yarn about a crook who discovers a time machine, and a nice little spooky story about a mystery informant who helps Greyshirt crack a case - but it's "How Things Work Out" from issue #2 which is the best example of what makes the strip so great. It's a story that... well, I'll let Moore explain it.
For those who haven't read it, here's the first page to help you visualise the idea.
It's only an eight-pager, but it packs in a huge amount of character work, plot, and formal inventiveness. It's a truly inspirational story for anyone who takes an interest in how comics work and what can be done with them, especially in the short-story format. In fact, you can check the whole thing out for yourself here.
After Greyshirt, it's probably Jack B Quick that I enjoyed the best, mostly for the insistently silly approach to science that it takes throughout (and the running gag about how depressed Jack's parents are to have such an irritating offspring). The art is very nice, and I like the way Moore's scripts skewer the whizz-kid archetype and the spurious pseudo-science of kids' comic book stories.
First American is pretty unfocused but still generally very funny, with quite a few gags that rely on specific pop-culture targets (and so inevitably feel a bit dated today, more than a decade-and-a-half on), while others concentrate more on making fun of superhero conventions in general. I've often felt that Moore's talent for comedy is an underrated aspect of his writing, so it's nice to see an overtly comedic strip like this one in amongst the others.
Finally, Cobweb worked for me in a retro/pulp way, with some deliberately overwrought purple prose, some interesting story ideas, a touch of vague eroticism and a beguilingly simplistic art style that I found quite charming (mixed with some occasional experimentation with photography and collage). But ultimately I didn't find there was much to it, and didn't ever really look forward to the next chapter.
Nevertheless, on the strength of this first collection, I'm thinking that Tomorrow Stories is going to prove to be even better than Terrific Tales, which I wasn't expecting. I'm surprised that these stories aren't more well-known and celebrated, because I think they represent some of the best work that Moore has done in the latter half of his career. Certainly I'll be digging the book out for another reread soon.