Comic book readers have seen lots of different superhero guides over the years, from the acclaimed "Marvel Universe Handbooks" of the 80's to the more recent hardcovers from DK Publishing. Still, it seems like the superhero handbook hasn't changed much over time and it should come as no surprise to fans that the man to take it forward is Alan Moore… with some help from his friends. Debuting in September from DC Comics/ABC is the "ABC: A-Z" one shot, the first in a series of six that tells you everything there is to know about the ABC characters… and more. Writer Peter Hogan is spearheading the project and told CBR News what makes this project so special.
"'Who's who' books usually tend to be a collection of pin-ups with a lot of text information on the side, though the DC ones also have a bit of strip content as well," explained Hogan. "Anyway, when the idea was proposed of doing a who's who for the ABC universe, Alan thought we could maybe do something a bit more adventurous than that. So he devised a number of format approaches, which are different for each character.
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"Alan didn't have time to write the series himself, so the writing got divided up between myself and Steve Moore. Steve's tackling Promethea and Cobweb and the First American and a few more … and I believe Rick Veitch is writing the Greyshirt entry. The artists are mainly those most associated with each character, so Chris Sprouse is doing Tom Strong, Kevin Nowlan is doing Jack B.Quick and so on."
This wouldn't be the first time a publisher has claimed to take unique approach to educating readers on their universe, but Hogan is happy to be more specific to squash any concerns about the one-shots. "The Tom Strong entry is Tom talking to the reader, basically in a comic strip format, as is the Jack B. Quick entry. But for Top Ten you get the autobiography of an old police officer, so that's more like text with illustrations. The Terra Obscura entry is a history of that planet, and the Smax one has fragments of a tourist guide to his dimension, while Splash Brannigan is done in the style of an animated cartoon, and so on. They're all different."
It might be hard to imagine having a lot of fun as writer telling stories primarily meant to serve a guide to some other writer's characters, but Hogan says that he's been having a lot of fun playing with the ABC universe. "Yeah, very much so. There's a lot of research, obviously - and I had to read a few things in script form, like 'The 49ERS,' and also talk to Alan at length about some of the backstories that hadn't really been revealed, and about his future plans for characters if he'd kept on writing them. Actually writing the entries was pretty challenging, partly because of the different formats and partly because - apart from Tom Strong and Terra Obscura - I hadn't written those characters before. Writing Top Ten was great fun, but Jack B.Quick was a bit daunting. I always thought the Jack stories were Alan at his best, so that's quite an act to follow. "
Instead of merely recapping past events from the lives of each of the spotlighted characters, Hogan is laying the groundwork for future stories and in particular, for his series "Terra Obscura." "The primary task was to recap the stories to date, but I planted seeds for the future where it seemed appropriate to do so. There are certainly a few things in the Top Ten one, and a lot in the Terra Obscura one. I've always said that I think Terra has an enormous amount of potential, so I've tried to show a bit more of that here - including some new characters. Which are actually old characters, it being Terra."
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Speaking of "Terra Obcura," with the second trade paperback collection hitting stands, some fans might be looking for extras, though Hogan advises those readers to look at the extended page count as an extra. "The last issue was two pages longer than the others, just so's we could do the story justice. But I suppose that ate up the room that might otherwise have gone to extras."
If you've been interested in "Terra Obscura"- co-written by Alan Moore- and see the second volume on the shelves, Hogan believes that you could start reading right there. "Oh, I think comics readers are quite used to jumping into superhero continuities somewhere in the middle and picking things up on the run. You'd probably get more out of it if you read the first book first, but hopefully it stands up on its own as well."
Working with Moore is something that many creators aspire to do and Hogan says the experience is everything you'd expect. "It's great. Quite demanding, but I've learned a hell of a lot in the process, and had a lot of fun as well. Alan's a very generous collaborator, and a very supportive one. Without a doubt, my stint on ABC has been my best experience of working in comics."
Some people think of Moore as a scary, thickly bearded man practicing magik incantations in his house all day and Hogan says Moore is simply a good guy. "I'm not sure what impression people have of Alan, other than that he's big and hairy and very intelligent and interested in a lot of strange things - all of which is true. But he's also one of the funniest people I've ever met, and one of the nicest too."
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While the ABC-verse has always found itself the focal point of much critical praise, the buzz around the imprint seems to have dulled of late and Hogan has his theories as to the cause for that. "Well, I suppose there hasn't been that much product coming out lately … though that said there's 'The 49ERS,' which is pretty amazing. I have no idea what Wildstorm's plans are for ABC's future, beyond what's already been announced, but 'ABC: AZ' does give them a good springboard for the future - a 'story so far' point where new readers could jump on. And since Alan has no problems with other people writing these characters in the future, I'd have no problem with doing more ABC work if Wildstorm should decide to ask me. Of course, there's also a bit of Alan's stuff yet to come out, including 'The Dark Dossier' - which is, from what I've seen of it, a truly stunning piece of work."
For many of Hogan's fans, there's one big question: will there be more "Terra Obscura?" "I'd certainly hope so eventually, but right now there are no definite plans for a third series. As for me, I'm currently writing a non-fiction book - about the Velvet Underground - and am also knee-deep in writing a creator-owned project called 'Unknown Host.' It's kind of a road movie - basically 'real world' but overlaid with a smattering of the supernatural, and so far I'm very pleased with it. Don't have a publisher or an artist lined up yet, but it has lots of bad language and some nudity, so hopefully that's enough bait to entice people."