29 August 2012

Mogo Doesn’t Plagiarize

A colleague in the Boston Comics Roundtable told a story of someone seeing his Green Lantern T-shirt and asking, “Hal, John, or Kyle?” To which he was pleased to answer, “Guy.”

Evidently that’s how Green Lantern fans talk. A few years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to make head or tails of the conversation. But now I could answer: “Mogo.”

Mogo is the planet-sized Green Lantern who debuted in the six-page story “Mogo Doesn’t Socialize,” published in Green Lantern, #188 (1985). That back-up feature, written by Alan Moore and drawn by Dave Gibbons, is collected in DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore.

As an Alan Moore character, however, Mogo almost perforce has a longer literary pedigree. Duy Tano just noted this panel from “The Bounty Hunters,” a story by Moore and artist John Higgins published in the British comics magazine 2000 AD in 1982.

One character says, “I read this story once where these guys are looking for an alien, not realising that the alien is really the planet they’re standing on…” That panel appears in The Complete Alan Moore Future Shocks. It shows Moore was already mulling over the idea that became Mogo.

By having his character allude to a “story,” I think Moore was hinting that he himself had read such a tale. Or two or more. Back in 1963, as Bob from Cartoonacy pointed out on Duy Tano’s site, a Green Lantern story featured a sentient planet: “The Strange World Named Green Lantern,” written by John Broome and drawn by Gil Kane. Marvel Comics had its own living planet, Ego, created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee in 1966.

But Moore’s clearest comics antecedent is “Dead Planet,” published in Tales to Astonish, #27, with a cover date of Jan 1962. Scripted by Lee and drawn by Steve Ditko, this story is only five pages long. Nathan Mahney synopsizes it like so:
The Komok race travels from planet to planet, as each one of its warriors conquers a planet single-handedly. But if any one Komok fails, all of them will be forced to return home in disgrace. Mopox is dispatched to conquer his planet, but he can find no sign of life on its barren surface, despite what his instruments tell him. He dies of loneliness, not knowing that the life on this planet takes the form of sentient rocks.
See more panels on Bully’s Tumblr.

“Mogo Doesn’t Socialize” has the same plot as “Dead Planet”: a character bent on conquest comes to a planet and searches in vain for a foe to fight because he can’t recognize what he’s looking for. Like the Green Lantern in 1963, he eventually discovers he’s up against an entire planet.
Of course, Moore does the story better than his predecessors. He ties the episode into the larger DC mythos. He uses the Green Lantern symbol as part of the big reveal. His prose is lively.

Still, this is one of many examples of how Moore builds many of his best stories on preceding writers’ creations—combining them, building on them, twisting them in new ways. Without, however, rendering the sources unidentifiable.

1 comment:

Duy Tano said...

Thanks for the plug, JL! That's a good example of how you can't actually stake claim on ideas; it's still up to the actual execution and how it turns out.