My Misspent Youth — “Tygers” by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill

I read a lot of comic books as a kid. This series of posts is about the comics I read, and, occasionally, the comics that I should have read.

When Alan Moore’s writing for comic books in lauded, it is usually for the aspects of his work that stand apart from what just about everyone else was doing during his nineteen-eighties and -nineties heyday. His precise eloquence, thematic daring, and complicated imaginings are all held up for awestruck admiration. Because of how compelling all those characteristics are, I think another key quality of Moore’s work that is more fundamental to comic book storytelling is too often missed. Moore, as much as any other comic book scribe at the time, really thought about the contributions his artistic collaborators were going to make and tailored the tale to their strengths. Watchmen is ideally suited to the clean precision of Dave Gibbons, and Batman: The Killing Joke is unthinkable without the vivid expressiveness Brian Bolland brings to the page. So when Moore wrote something for fellow 2000 AD alumnus Kevin O’Neill to draw, he knew to tilt in the direction of dark and freaky.

Moore collaborated with O’Neill on a story for the Tales of the Green Lantern Corps Annual #2, published in 1986. As Moore was wont to do when he turned his attention to the group of interstellar guardians who wield emerald-hued power rings, he tired to avoid superhero tropes and instead conjured up a twisty tale of science fiction. In this instance, he also decided to engage in a little retroactive tinkering with established continuity, providing context for the fatal crash landing of Green Lantern corpsman Abin Sur which resulted in Hal Jordan being passed the custom jewelry that made him someone whose power those who worship evil’s might should beware. In the story, titled “Tygers,” Abin Sur’s trek across the stars leads him to a solo rescue mission on a planet populated by grotesque creatures. As Abin Sur’s ring explains to him, it’s a place Green Lanterns aren’t supposed to go to without express permission of the organization’s bosses.

Ignoring the directive, Abin Sur ventures to the planet to retrieve the lost individual. Along the way, he encounters all manner of bizarre creature, including a figure pinned to a post who proffers a promise of providing payoffs to Ain Sur’s personal puzzles.

When DC Comics turned in this particular story to the overseers of the Comics Code Authority, providers of the literal stamp of approval for comic books, the board refused to clear the story. This happened from time to time, and the folks at DC followed the usual protocol of asking what could be altered to earn the seal that indicated the content was safe for impressionable youth. The Authority responded that there was no single thing that could be cut or changed, that it was in fact the entirety of O’Neill’s art style that they found objectionable. DC left the seal off and published anyway.

As the story progresses, Abin Sur successfully finds the stranded soul because of the hoisted beastie. He’s also introduced to a prophecy, in very Macbeth fashion. Abin Sur’s demise is forecast to him, including the promise that the successor he chooses on that fateful day will go on to be one of the most renowned Green Lanterns. Initially dismissive, Abin Sur can’t help but ruminate on what he’s been told. He decides to implement a plan to forestall his looming demise.

Of course, it is precisely Abin Sur’s protective measures, put into place only because of the seed of worry planted by the mischievous alien seer, that seal his doom. Moore’s rumbling cackle can almost he heard while reading the final panels. O’Neill’s art completes the sense of deviousness at play. It’s wondrous in part because it’s grim and beautiful at the same time, striking in a way that aligns with the dazzling inventiveness of Moore’s writing.

(You can read the whole story at the site I borrowed the above images from.)

Previous entries in this series (and there are a LOT of them) can be found by clicking on the “My Misspent Youth” tag.

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