Wednesday, July 9, 2014
More Moore part 33: 1963
If there is a single irrefutable fact out there regarding Alan Moore, one that can be stated beyond any reasonable doubt, it is that, within his work at least, the man is indebted to the memories of his childhood. His first major work, Marvelman, was a wildly successful attempt to reboot a forgotten Silver Age superhero, and nearly everything since, whether the Tales From the Crypt EC horror of Swamp Thing or the strip work of "In Pictopia," has had at least one foot in the comic work of yesteryear that Moore grew up on, a fact that continues today. In 1993 Moore, along with several of his go-to artists like Rick Veitch, Steve Bissette, Dave Gibbons, and John Totelben, dove headfirst into the nostalgia well, and came out with 1963 simultaneously a parody of, and a love letter to, early '60s Marvel Comics work. The team produced six issues before the politics at Image seemed to kill the whole project, and this 1963 is as much an unfinished work as Big Numbers, and hearing the story from Steve Bissette, who seems to have had a falling-out with Moore around the end of the work's run, it will never be completed. But speaking as someone who took in 1963 and enjoyed it much more than expected, I can say that its unfinished state is likely a good thing.
I can only imagine how bizarre 1963 must have been to the average consumer when it debuted in 1993 on Image Comics, home of Spawn, Violator, Savage Dragon, and all the other hyper-muscled, grim-past meatheads who grew like a fungus in the '90s. The parody is spot-on; the colors, courtesy of Marvin Kilroy, are bold and flat, they pop off the page, instantly differentiating themselves from the standard browns and greys of the time. Veitch and Bissette do their best Steve Ditko/Jack Kirby impressions throughout, and Moore seems born into the role of the obnoxiously alliterative Stan Lee pastiche 'Affable Al'. Each chapter is a different comic in the fictional Image world of 1963, with the actual 1963 title superimposed over the Image logo in the corner of the cover. We're got "Mystery Incorporated" as a pastiche of Fantastic Four, "The Fury" is The Amazing Spider-Man, "USA - Ultimate Special Agent" is Captain America, "The Unbelievable N-Man" is The Incredible Hulk, and "Horus, Lord of Light" is The Mighty Thor. Naturally, chapter six is the Avengers pastiche "The Tomorrow Syndicate," which I'll talk of in more detail. With the first five chapters, what you see is what you get; I find Silver Age comics entirely endearing, goofy fun, and you'll get that in spades in the pages of 1963. The Fury is a dopey teen who has to keep his secret identity from his mom, just like Peter Parker and Aunt May; Horus sheds his civilian guise as professor of Egyptology to go on mystic adventures and foil his evil brother Set, etc. etc. etc. You could say that this is the worst Alan Moore comic because it brings absolutely nothing to the table, but you get the same enjoyment out of it that you do reading Jerry Siegel's old Silver Age Bizarro comics. In that way, it's the perfect cool-down after reading, say, From Hell. All of the behind-the-scenes stuff, the fake ads and the letters pages, are hilarious, they run the gamut to "Own a nuclear sub!" ("Big enough to scare NATO for 30 years!") to the most stereotypical comic fan nitpicking, as well as a letter written by Neil Gaiman taking Affable Al to task for his portrayal of the English. More cynical readers (which would likely be most of them, for this work) will appreciate the none-too-subtle representing Al/Stan Lee as as a slave-driver who takes complete credit for the works, shoving the arists off to the side, as detailed in his book "How I Created Everything All By Myself and Why I Am Great." Jack Kirby would approve.
So what about that chapter six? In its final moments, "The Tomorrow Syndicate in: From Here to Alternity!" shows the direction 1963 was headed when The Tomorrow Syndicate surf through a myriad of differing realities and end up face-to-face with Rob Liefeld creation Shaft in the dark and mysterious world of 1993. Next up, so the plan was to go, was an 80-page annual illustrated by Jim Lee, in which the '63 Image pastiches meet the '93 Image characters and presumably some sort of evil would be combated. We'll never know, because Shaft's ugly mug is the last thing we see in the last chapter published.
So that's 1963 and unlike Miracleman or Big Numbers, few tears are shed from the unfinished nature of the work. Is it weak for Alan Moore? Yeah, kinda. It begins and ends with its satire, so if you're not into satires, or not into Silver Age work, there is absolutely nothing within its pages for you. If you enjoy a bit of Silver Age goofiness though, give it a spin; the chapters are easy to find, dirt cheap, and Silver Age comics are the medium's comfort food: good brainless fun. It's better than Blood Feud, at least.
Up next: Moore Image!. WildC.A.T.S.