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Across The Universe: The DC Universe Stories of Alan Moore
By Alan Moore with Dave Gibbons, Klaus Janson,
Rick Veitch, Jim Baikie, Kevin O'Neill and others
Published by DC Comics

There's a mix of essential and unessential Alan Moore in here, but the story that justifies the book's existence is "For The Man Who Has Everything," a masterpiece by the Watchmen team of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons that explores Superman as a character in much the same way as Moore's better-known "Last Superman Story" did.

I already had this story in another book, The Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told, and it's on better paper and with better reproduction in that volume, so I debated a bit before buying this. "For The Man Who Has Everything" is a key story for both Superman and Moore, probably one of the very best Superman stories ever crafted and Moore's script was probably one of the best things he had written up until that point in his career.

Batman, Robin and Wonder Woman have arrived at the (pre-Crisis) Fortress of Solitude to celebrate Superman's birthday, but they find that Superman has been attacked by the villain Mongul and is the victim of an alien organism that has him believing he is living on a Krypton that never exploded. Moore and Gibbons use this setup to explore and deconstruct much of the Superman myth, from Jor El's noble committment to science to the dynamics of the friendships of the various superheroes involved.

While it's possible the story might seem a bit quaint to readers discovering it for the first time today (but, perhaps not), at the time it was a revelation that these staid, corporate icons could inspire such thoughtfulness and obvious passion on the part of the creative team. By the story's conclusion the reader has a better sense of Superman's inner being (how many stories can you honestly say that about?) and a greater understanding of why he and Batman and Wonder Woman are, indeed, "super friends." If only the characters had been treated this well in the years that followed.

A few other stories in this collection come close to this excellence -- among them, a team-up tale featuring Superman and Swamp Thing, a trio of clever and engaging Green Lantern Corps stories, and a story with artist Kevin O'Neill that should be of interest to League of Extraordinary Gentlemen completists, although the premise and execution are a bit thin.

Much of the rest of the volume is fairly unessential, including a heavy-handed domestic abuse tale featuring the forgotten '80s superhero The Vigilante and a painfully obvious Batman story redeemed only by the fascinating artistic stylings of George Freeman, an artist who deserved much more prominence than he ever got in the industry. A Green Arrow/Black Canary story features some of the nicest Klaus Janson art I've ever seen (including some stunning cityscapes), but the script, again, is a little on the weak side. I've often said Alan Moore's failures are more interesting than most people's successes, but a couple of these mostly-forgotten stories sorely test that proposition.

Yes, it's a book worth owning. Alan Moore remains inarguably the best writer to ever grace the comics artform, and at least one or two of these stories will confirm that fact. The rest, so early in his career and focusing on both characters and themes that are minor at best, are interesting nuggets that do no harm and in fact contain some minor charms. If you're debating picking it up, the two things that sell it best, to my way of thinking, are the spectacular Superman story with Dave Gibbons and the wonderful new cover, again by Gibbons. Those alone are worth the cost of admission. Grade: 4/5
-- Alan David Doane



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