1/2.*/"£5/8£-&'(?)WEX*zz (The Last War in Albion Part 19: Abslom Daak, Pressbutton and Laser Eraser)

(13 comments)

This is the second of seven parts of Chapter Four of The Last War in Albion, covering Alan Moore's work onDoctor Who and Star Wars from 1980-81. An ebook omnibus of all seven parts, sans images, is available in ebook form from AmazonAmazon UK, and Smashwords for $2.99. The ebook contains a coupon code you can use to get my recent book A Golden Thread: An Unofficial Critical History of Wonder Woman for $3 off on Smashwords (the code's at the end of the introduction). It's a deal so good you make a penny off of it. If you enjoy the project, please consider buying a copy of the omnibus to help support it. 

"Oh, and by the way, Pedro Henry is really Steve - HEY!! Leave it out, you! This is my typewriter! My typ1/2.*/"£5/8£-&'(?)WEX*zz" - Warren Ellis, fan letter to Warrior, 1983

PREVIOUSLY IN THE LAST WAR IN ALBION: Alan Moore's closest friend over the course of the War is Steve Moore, to whom he is not related. Steve Moore is a long-time comics professional who started in 1968, and bounced around the British comics industry in both an editorial and creative capacity. By 1979 he'd settled in as the writer of backup features, and, later, the main feature in Marvel UK's new Doctor Who Weekly, where he would create one of his more enduring creations...

Figure 144: Abslom Daak makes a solemn vow. (Steve Moore
and Steve Dillon in Doctor Who Weekly #20, 1980)
The most significant of Steve Moore’s backup strips were a pair of stories introducing the character Abslom Daak. Daak’s first appearance was in Doctor Who Weekly #17 in a strip illustrated by Steve Dillon and titled simply Abslom Daak… Dalek-Killer. It opens with Daak being convicted of “murder, pillage, piracy, massacre, and other crimes too horrible to bring to the public attention” and being sentenced to his choice of “death by vaporisation or exile D-K.” Daak’s response is that “vaporisation doesn’t hurt,” and so he is teleported to a planet occupied by Daleks to kill as many as he can before they inevitably kill him. Thus do Daak and his chain-sword plunge to the Dalek-occupied world of Mazam, where Daak meets Taiyin and rescues her from Daleks. The story consists of Daak repeatedly trying to engage in suicidal assaults against the Daleks, openly wanting to die, and Taiyin steadily falling in love with him and trying to save him from his self-destructive impulses. Daak remains an over the top hero throughout; he wise-cracking, violent, lightly misogynistic, and virtually unkillable. The story ends with one of the handful of Daleks Daak has not murdered killing
Taiyin just as she admits her love for Daak. With her dying breath she tells him to live his life, leading him to scream his promise to “kill every damned, stinking Dalek in the galaxy!”

Daak’s story picks up about two months later in Moore’s Star Tigers, the first installment of which speaks volumes about how pleased Marvel UK was with Daak’s first appearance. Daak is carefully omitted from both the cover and the table of contents’ description of the strip. The first installment features a bunch of Draconians (obscure lizard people from a 1973 Doctor Who episode) watching as a group of Dalek ships enter Draconian space, claiming to be pursuing a criminal. The Draconians watch as the fleeing criminal evades all of the Dalek ships and shoots them out of the sky. The Draconians invite the criminal to land, and in the last two panels of the strip we learn, to nobody’s particular surprise, that the ship is piloted by a drunken Abslom Daak. Eventually Daak gets caught up in Draconian political intrigue and flees the planet with Prince Salander, a Draconian who has fallen out of political favor. This forms the plot of the first four of Star Tigers’ seven installments, at which point it took a roughly three month hiatus. By the time it returned Steve Moore had replaced Mills and Wagner in writing the lead feature for Dave Gibbons, Alan Moore had written two backup series, and the magazine had gone from being Doctor Who Weekly to Doctor Who Monthly as part of its gradual transformation towards becoming a magazine providing publicity for and behind the scenes coverage of the television series and serving as a mouthpiece for the production team, and away from being a comics magazine about Doctor Who. 

Figure 145: The Ice Warrior Harma explains
the curious nature of his employment. (Steve
Moore and David Lloyd, Doctor Who
Monthly
 #44, 1980)
These final three parts showed Daak and Salander recruiting the rest of their crew to be. First is Harma, an Ice Warrior who murders people on request, and then Vol Mercurius, Daak’s former business partner (along with Selene), whose private planet is being invaded by Kill-Mechs (substituted for the Daleks at the last second, after David Lloyd had completed the artwork, after Dez Skinn realized belatedly that the rights to them were actually owned by Terry Nation, who wrote their first story, and not the BBC. The Dalek version was reinstated in the trade paperback, and indeed return in the very next issue). The final installment features this rag-tag team destroying a Dalek fleet, ending with a “The end… for now…” caption box teasing future adventures, which, as it happened, never materialized under Steve Moore’s pen.  

This was not, however, due to any problem with Daak himself; indeed, quite the opposite, Daak was a markedly popular supporting character, as evidenced by his being used for a surprise reveal at the start of Star Tigers. Indeed, Daak was sufficiently popular that Doctor Who fans, a typically myopic lot, cling tenaciously to the idea that Axel Pressbutton, who Steve Moore reteamed with Steve Dillon to write for Warrior, was a clone of Daak created after Moore’s attempt to take the character away from Marvel UK failed. Moore, for his part, rubbishes the claim, pointing out that “before Warrior, no one in mainstream British comics owned the characters they created, and Daak and the Star Tigers were always going to belong to Marvel/Doctor Who.” Indeed, Pressbutton, contrary to Doctor Who lore, predates Daak, who first appeared in 1980. When Daak first appeared, Pressbutton’s sole appearance was his debut, Three-Eyes McGurk and his Death-Planet Commandos, in which he was killed off as well. Alan Moore’s revival of the character in The Stars My Degradation postdated Abslom Daak: Dalek Killer, and Moore even included a parody the scene at the start of the first strip in which Daak is convicted and sentenced to his choice of vaporization or becoming a Dalek Killer, where he’ll have an average estimated lifespan of “2 hrs, 32 mins, 23 secs,” though it’s not clear whether this estimate factors in the 75% chance that Daak will die being teleported into the Dalek Empire. (Steve Moore sardonically notes that “you can imagine how outraged I was by the fact that, later, when he asked me to write Stars for him, I said yes straight away. He was paying me £10 a week, after all!”)

Figure 146: Alan Moore parodies Abslom Daak's sentencing
in The Stars My Degradation (Alan Moore, as Curt Vile, 1980)
But it is easy to make too much of the similarities between Daak and Pressbutton. For all that Moore talks about the personal nature of the Daak stories, saying that “at the time I was deeply depressed over a broken romance, and a lot of that angst went into the first Daak story,” as originally conceived, Abslom Daak was at least partially a joke about both Doctor Who and Doctor Who Weekly. Pressbutton, after all, was hardly the only extremely violent character in British comics. It is worth recalling that when Daak debuted in the backup feature the lead feature of Doctor Who Weekly was written by a superstar team from IPC’s 2000 A.D., which, by 1979, was the hottest thing in British comics. Given the overall influence on Doctor Who Weekly, the decision to insert a heavily violent character in the vein of Bill Savage from 2000 A.D.’s Invasion! strip, or, for that matter, in the vein of Judge Dredd, albeit without that strip’s particular social commentary, into what Dez Skinn described as “the somewhat light-weight Doctor Who” must be taken as a rather inspired bit of snark and pastiche. 

Figure 147: Abslom Daak made
several appearances in Doctor Who
related fiction over the years.
Moore denies a direct connection, instead citing his work with Dillon on a Nick Fury strip for Hulk Weekly (edited by Dez Skinn, who also edited Doctor Who Weekly) and Pressbutton, hence Moore including a throwaway cameo by a character named “Curtis Henry Foobl,” a play on the Moores’ pen names for Three Eyes McGurk and his Death-Planet commandos. But the similarities in style are too pronounced to write off entirely, especially given Skinn’s obvious mirroring of 2000 A.D. in the lead feature. The joke is sensible enough - Doctor Who was, especially under Baker, a non-violent character - Baker advocated for stories in which his character would defeat villains by talking to them, laughing them into submission. Abslom Daak, then, is the opposite - a character unleashed into the world of Doctor Who who handles problems in the exact opposite way that Doctor Who himself does. Unfortunately, Doctor Who fandom never quite seemed to get the joke, treating Daak as a straightforward violent psychopath with a chainsaw sword, and going so far as to incorporate him without any apparent irony into a 1993 novel called Deceit

Figure 148: Mysta Mystralis, the Laser Eraser, takes a dim
view of an unnamed Abslom Daak's advances in Warrior #6
(Steve Moore and Steve Dillon, 1982)
That said, it’s clear that Pressbutton’s appearance in Warrior owed a fair amount to Daak (who did, in fact, make an anonymous cameo in Warrior #6) The basic premise of Warrior was unabashedly a rip-off of popular strips from Marvel UK. Instead of running Marvel’s Captain Britain, editor Dez Skinn (supposedly) secured the rights to a revamp of Mick Anglo’s old character Marvelman. Steve Moore provided Shandor, Demon Stalker, a knock-off sword-and-sorcery hero in the mould of Conan the Barbarian. Night Raven, a minor Marvel hero, got revamped by Alan Moore and original artist David Lloyd. And similarly, Skinn asked Moore for something like he’d done with Abslom Daak. Moore suggested Pressbutton, which he still owned the rights for, and secured the talents of Steve Dillon, the character’s original artist. But this necessitated a shift both in the Abslom Daak concept and in the Pressbutton concept.

And, to be fair, for all that the basic conceit of Abslom Daak is a joke aimed at Doctor Who, Moore clearly took the character seriously, at one point plotting out a sprawling ten issue miniseries to be called After Daak, which would have involved Daak managing to revive Taiyin, spending three days with her before she died again. This was to be paralleled by a story set in the future as two scholars investigated the legends of Abslom Daak, which would have ended with an aged and retired Daak dying what Moore’s outline describes as “a quiet, pathetic death… no heroics.” After Daak was abandoned after a dispute about length - Marvel was phasing out ten issue series, and wanted Moore to contract it to four issues focusing on, as editor John Freeman suggested, “what Daak does best,” which, as Moore put it meant “he wanted a thug with a chainsaw” - a far cry from Moore’s far more somber story of death and redemption. 

Moore has also spoken at length about the symbolism intended in the character names - Taiyin, Daak’s lover, who dies in his arms after being gunned down by a Dalek at the end of Daak’s first storyline, “was a title of the moon in Chinese… the moon, being beautiful but out of reach, symbolised the woman I’d lost,” and about how “I was still carrying a lot of grief about the lady in question by the time I began writing ‘Star Tigers,’ so Daak carried the dead Taiyin round with him too, in hope of reviving their love.” The lunar imagery at play in Taiyin’s name speaks further volumes given the fact that by 1980 Moore had already had the magical experience in which he was named as Endymion, the man who fell in love with the moon goddess Selene, with whom Moore himself would eventually have a romance with (and who he worked into the Daak narrative in Doctor Who Weekly #18, where Daak reveals that Taiyin reminds him of his own lost love, who is named Selene). 

Figure 149: Axel Pressbutton makes his
"return" in Warrior #1, now accompanied
by Mysta Mystralis, the Laser Eraser (Steve
Dillon, 1982)
Pressbutton, on the other hand, was entirely a joke, conceived of for a comedy sci-fi strip drawn in underground comix style by Alan Moore. His first appearance ends with him dying when he’s shot in his eponymous button, which, it’s explained earlier, “gives him direct electric stimulation to the cranial pleasure centres.” Or, as it’s explained, later, “the orgasm musta blown every cell in his brain!” What Warrior wanted, on the other hand, was something that resembled the space adventure of Abslom Daak. This meant that Pressbutton had to be revamped into a somewhat more tongue-in-cheek sort of gag. This didn’t mean jettisoning the comedy - his pathological hatred of plants is still well in place, for instance. But it meant toning it down and providing a script that served as a platform for Dillon’s crisply expressive art. 

Laser Eraser and Pressbutton mainly handles this by making Pressbutton, as the title suggests, the supporting character in the story. The main focus is Mysta Mystralis, the Laser Eraser, whose backstory is tied to a swords and sorcery-style warrior queen, Ektryn. Her story of revenge is the engine driving Laser Eraser and Pressbutton, and Pressbutton is basically a comic relief sidekick who’s along for the ride. Moore’s tone in these comics waffles between serious drama and comedy bits with Pressbutton or, occasionally, Zirk, the exceedingly libidinous sidekick to the villainous Arterius Donthax (and subject of an early fan letter from a fifteen-year-old Warren Ellis, who proclaims, “I gotta have a Zirk badge!! Hubba-Hubba, eh?”) but the basic frame of the series, at least for its initial arc, is serious-minded space adventure.

Figure 150: Warren
Ellis's "strange
letterwriting habits"
in Warrior #14 (1983)
The somewhat schizoid tone may explain why, contrary to Dez Skinn’s expectations, Laser Eraser and Pressbutton was not the star strip of Warrior. Instead the standouts were a pair of Alan Moore strips, both of which were much more thematically streamlined than Steve Moore’s somewhat diffuse creations. This gets at a more fundamental difference between the two writers, highlighted by a rather cheeky “interview” in Warrior #15 between Pedro Henry and Steve Moore - which is to say, a fake interview Steve Moore conducted with himself. In it, Moore talks about his writing process, talking specifically about how he learned comics writing by spending an extended amount of time working at Odhams. His comment that “you get a lot of background stuff about production, printing… how the thing’s put together and why an editor’s likely to make such-and-such a decision.” Similarly, his discussion of process is telling. “For six pages,” he explains, “I’m usually thinking about thirty-three to thirty-five frames. I then get an ordinary spiral-bound note book and write out the number one to thirty-three, giving each number a separate line, and start to break the story down into pictures.” 


On one level this is the same sort of tightly structural approach that characterizes Alan Moore’s work. But on another, there’s a fundamentally different sort of focus. As Steve Moore puts it, “if Dez asks for six pages, you give him six… the same as some editors will ask you for a set number of frames… and if they say forty frames, they don’t mean thirty-nine or forty-one. If you turn up saying ‘Sorry, boss, I couldn’t fit it in so I’ve used four extra frames’ then that, quite simply, is bad writing.” [continued]


Comments

Daibhid C 3 years, 6 months ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

Link | Reply

Philip Sandifer 3 years, 6 months ago

My one comment on this entry, and you deleted it. :-P

Link | Reply

Eric Gimlin 3 years, 6 months ago

And, in part 19, we finally reach Warrior; arguably the first actually well-known battlefield in the war.

And, of course, the first matters to be dealt with therein are not Marvelman and V, but Laser Eraser and Warren Ellis's fan letter. I find this even funnier than your use of "Doctor Who" in the previous part. I'm just wondering how far you'll keep the gag going; are we going to see Zirk dealt with in more detail to introduce Brian Bolland and Garry Leach before we actually get to the big two?

And here's a 2nd comment, since you responded to the previous one as I was posting this one...

Link | Reply

Philip Sandifer 3 years, 6 months ago

The trouble with V and Marvelman is when to deal with them. Properly V should be up fairly soon - it started in 1982, we're on stuff that started in 1980 now. Likewise Marvelman. But they extend so far forward that to treat them entirely early is as inaccurate as holding them.

In the case of Marvelman, I'm holding it for fairly late. Its concerns are so close to Watchmen that I'm going to fold it into the book length spectacular that will be the War's coverage of that. I think it goes better there, in the end. But, of course, that opens its own problems, since the Marvelman stuff is what got Moore the Swamp Thing gig.

V for Vendetta is going to be split, on the other hand - the Warrior stuff considered on one side of Watchmen, the DC stuff on the other. But still slightly out of order - it's coming immediately after the Swamp Thing chapter, mainly because I think the transitions work better that way. (Basically, I'm going to use V to get back to the UK for it, Bojeffries Saga, and Halo Jones prior to Watchmen.)

I have no idea how hellish it's going to be when I get to the point where multiple people's careers are running simultaneously and I have to successfully braid not only the rough sequence of works within a single career but the sequence across multiple careers. But I imagine the answer is "oh God why did I sign up for this project." :)

Link | Reply

Eric Gimlin 3 years, 6 months ago

Splitting V makes sense, since there was a gap in publication; Miracleman got very, very slow at points but arguably didn't quite stop until the Eclipse collapse.

Slightly odd question that actually has a slight bearing on the war: Do we know for sure if the Dave Gibbons drawn story in Giant-Size Chillers 1 is actually by the same person who did Watchmen? As a 1975 story it would be arguably the first scouting party of the British Comics Invasion, but the timeline just seems very odd; one stray story half a decade too early.

Link | Reply

ferret 3 years, 6 months ago

"obscure lizard people from a 1973 Doctor Who episode" - such a slap! but oh so accurate - it's amazing how they seem to have played a bigger part in Doctor Who than they actually did. They feel like Pertwee regulars, appearing in both Peladon serials, wandering around the background of Inter Minor, running a rival mining operation on Uxarieus (the mining robots reptile disguise a clear attempt to frame them for the murder of the human colonists).

Link | Reply

HarlequiNQB 3 years, 6 months ago

'Do we know for sure if the Dave Gibbons drawn story in Giant-Size Chillers 1 is actually by the same person who did Watchmen?'

Based on the art style I would say that it is indeed an early work by the same Gibbons.

Link | Reply

David Gerard 3 years, 6 months ago

Of course, I started reading 2000AD and Warrior in early 1983 at age 16, so this is getting tremendously relevant to my interests ...

Link | Reply

matt bracher 3 years, 5 months ago

"After Daak was abandoned after a dispute about length - Marvel was phasing out ten issue series, and wanted Moore to contract it to four issues focusing on, as editor John Freeman suggested, “what Daak does best,” which, as Moore put it meant “he wanted a thug with a chainsaw” - a far cry from Moore’s far more somber story of death and redemption."

I remember loving these stories when Marvel US reprinted them. The idea that something as grand as this was planned and then mooted is just so meaningless....

But thank you for a reading into the circumstances around its writing: that it wasn't just an odd fiction (Daak carrying the dead Taiyin around with them) but was born of something far deeper.

Strangely, my strongest impression when I first read them was the disappointment of Steve Dillon being replaced by David Lloyd. Not to question Lloyd's brilliance, it just felt so different.

Link | Reply

matt bracher 3 years, 5 months ago

Fascinating.

I haven't been following "The Last War in Albion" all that closely of late, largely due to things getting far too hectic, but this chapter provides the background for the stories I enjoyed in childhood.

Steve Moore's instatement as lead writer dismayed me -- I never liked "Time Witch", especially its senseless aging of Sharon, and it wasn't until "The Dreamers of Death" that I allowed that feeling to shift. I'll have to go back and reread the stuff in-between.

But this comment is inspired by something deeper:

"An ebook omnibus of all seven parts, sans images, is available in ebook form...."

My apologies for what someone may have asked earlier. What are the reasons behind the lack of images? The sequence of Absolom Daak's guest appearance in Warrior is hilarious, and I'd hate to have missed it in ebook form.

Link | Reply

matt bracher 3 years, 5 months ago

(And it looks like someone else hits Daak in the final panel, based most significantly on the character's sleeves. Is there something I've missed?)

Link | Reply

Philip Sandifer 3 years, 5 months ago

Because the level of image use I do on the blog is very high, and would at times be difficult to justify under fair use, and I'm not comfortable using that sort of image level in a for-profit work like the ebook. Also, images are a pain in the neck to format and would add a full day's work to every ebook. I expect I'll do a book collection at some point that will split the difference image-wise.

Link | Reply

Daru 2 years, 3 months ago

David Gerard: "Of course, I started reading 2000AD and Warrior in early 1983 at age 16, so this is getting tremendously relevant to my interests ..."

Exactly the same for me, this whole era coming up all the way through 2000AD to Swamp Thing has many memories for me. I know all of the comment threads are long-dead here Phil, but as I am marathoning through to catch up with the Last War in the present - I read all the V posts recently - I just want to acknowledge how brilliant a read this is.

Link | Reply

New Comment

required

required (not published)

optional

Recent Posts

Archive

Tags

Authors

Feeds

RSS / Atom