I make no secret of my love for the works of Alan Moore. I think he's the greatest comic book writer ever to have walked the Earth, and I'm well on my way to owning everything he's written. Nevertheless, until recently I'd found there to be an odd gap in his bibliography; following From Hell in the early 90s, I didn't know of anything he'd done until the arrival of the ABC line in 1999. But in fact Moore had, during that period, returned to the superhero genre for one of stranger experiments in the recent history of the comics industry.
The results, while rather mixed in comparison to Moore's other work, is certainly less mockable than the other esoteric comics I've written about in Reviews From the Repository…but they're quite interesting nonetheless, so I've decided to do a special 4-part article about this strange little body of work. So come with me now as we recount...
ALAN MOORE'S AWESOME ADVENTURES
PART ONE: 1963
Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
It's a source of eternal shame to me that my induction into the world of comics-the hardcore "geek" comics, that is, as opposed to Archie or Uncle Scrooge-came at the hands of early Image. I had a friend in high school who let me read his comics, and ranked high on the pull list was…Spawn.
Hey, I was just a kid. And the Marvel and DC comics of the era were incomprehensible jumbles of continuity and ridiculous occurances that were not, to say the least, welcoming to the newcomer. (It's only through sheer luck and patience that I became a comics geek at all, really; I'm not surprised that the industry is in so much trouble.) Spawn was brand-new, I could read it from more-or-less the beginning, and hey, the art was pretty. Of course, in retrospect this is downright embarrassing. Todd MacFarlane knew little or nothing about storytelling, and most of the "ideas" that went into his comic were stolen from Spider-man and other then-popular Marvel tropes. Like much of what Image produced at the time, it was shiny, flashy, superficially "KEWL" in the kind of way that appeals to disaffected 13-year-olds, and was totally cut off from the vast, proud history of comics.
Rob Liefeld was in some ways the major architect of Image comics. A 19-year-old wunderkind who'd been drawing several of Marvel's X-books and had achieved a fan following, Liefeld didn't like the traditionally disdainful treatment Marvel applied to its artists. Correctly believing they could do better for themselves, Liefeld, MacFarlane and several others split to set up Image comics, where their name recognition instantly gave them the clout and sales figures to be the first serious challengers to Marvel and DC in decades.
The problem was that aforementioned "KEWL" thing. And in Liefeld's case, he didn't even have the superficial flashiness of MacFarlane and his contemporaries. Essentially, he drew (and, apparently, acted) like a teenager who'd been given the keys to the kingdom without having to work for them…which was precisely what he was. Others have written more eloquently about Liefeld's many failings, but suffice it to say the guy had a big ego and a distinct lack of talent. He also had a tendency to snickeringly parodize (and/or outright steal) other, more famous superhero characters from the big two to fuel his own books. Pay attention to this-it gets important later.
For now, though, Liefeld and co.'s triumph was met with profoundly mixed feelings throughout the comics industry. Many were happy to see a company finally emerge which granted full rights to the creators, but the actual content Image was putting out was terrible-juvenile, amoral dreck that exploited and revelled in all the worst parts of human nature. And no one watched with more horror than Alan Moore.
So not only was Moore forced to watch comics trap themselves in a deteriorating spiral of unhealthiness (one that ultimately drove away readers and delivered a huge blow to the industry, both artistically and financially), he was plagued by the knowledge that it was, in a way, his own fault.
Despite the conflicting ideals of Moore and the Image crew, Moore had contributed to the company in the past (he wrote at least one issue of Spawn, for example) and it was through Image that 1963 was born.
1963 was meant to be a wakeup call to the medium, a friendly reminder that comics had once been fun, kid-friendly, and entertaining. The inherent dopiness of classic Marvel wasn't anything to be ashamed of-after all, it was still miles better than the inherent dopiness of the current breed of comics. 1963 would represent a return to the glory days of Stan and Jack: a six-issue series capped by an old-fashioned 80-page giant, done entirely in the style of classic Marvel. That is, not only would the characters be thinly-veiled riffs on the Silver Age heroes we all know and love, and not only would they be lovingly rendered in a rough approximation of Marvel's house style, but Moore and his artist collaborators would use the "Marvel method" to create them. That is to say, Moore would lay out the idea for the story, the artist would contribute suggestions, they'd create a rough outline, the artist would draw the story, and then Moore would fill in the dialogue balloons. Even the paper and printing process would replicate comics of the era.
The six issues of 1963 thus created were as follows. First came Mystery Incorporated, featuring a riff on the Fantastic Four ("Crystal Man", "The Neon Queen", "Kid Dynamo" and "The Planet") drawn by Rick Veitch and Dave Gibbons. Next was No One Escapes the Fury, starring a distinctly Spider-man like teen superhero battling a sentient dinosaur (and with a cameo from a female version of Nick Fury), drawn by Veitch and Stephen Bissette. Issue 3, Tales of the Uncanny, was a twofer: the Patriotic U. S. Agent foils the Kennedy assassination (by Veitch and Simpson) and the bizarre super-scientific Hypernaut battles an invader from the 4th dimension (by Bissette and Chester Brown). Issue 4, Tales From Beyond was also split in two, with the Hulk-like N-Man drawn by Bissette and John Totleben and the faux-hip Johnny Beyond drawn by Jim Valentino and Bissette. Horus, Lord of Light gave us the Egyptian deity as a superhero defending the Sun's Barge as it made its way across the night sky to morning (Veitch and Totleben). And finally, The Tomorrow Syndicate brought together most of the above-mentioned heroes as a crimefighting group a la The Avengers.
(For the purposes of full disclosure, I should note that I haven't been able to find a copy of the original first issue, and am writing this based on notes and annotations throughout the web.)
Woven throughout the six issues is a background mystery that starts to come together in the final issue, as the Syndicate investigates some mysterious weapons that were confiscated earlier in the series and appear to have come from an alternate reality. As they zap through the dimensions, they slowly start to come across things that simply don't belong in their world, and evidence that someone's been tampering with the nature of reality. By the end they find themselves in what is clearly an offshoot of our own world, the art has become far more modern in style, and suddenly the heroes of the past find themselves headed towards a confrontation with those very same gritty, violent Image characters I was mentioning earlier-
--A confrontation that never actually happened.
That question remains unanswered to this day, as 1963 ½ has yet to be published. Most of the parties involved seem willing to do it, but of course there's the interesting hurdle that the commentary on the comics world that Moore had been making is no longer as relevant; superheroes of the "grim n' gritty" school have mostly vanished, and (artistically at least) the comics medium is recovering its health. Rick Veitch has said that Moore has actually rewritten the 1963 ½ script to make a more up-to-date statement on the comics industry, so it may still happen someday, but until then, 1963 remains an unfinished story.
Surprisingly, however, this is not the last time that Rob Liefeld's name intersects with Moore's-quite the contrary. In fact, for the next five years, the two names would be increasingly intertwined, a fact that still causes astonishment among comics literati. For more on their bizarre collaborations, tune in to the next installment of this article, and see why Alan Moore really does reign Supreme among comics writers… On to Part 2!
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