And So It Begins (The Last War in Albion Part 87: October Incident: 1966)

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This is the fifteenth of sixteen (it grew) parts of The Last War in Albion Chapter Nine, focusing on Alan Moore's work on V for Vendetta for Warrior (in effect, Books One and Two of the DC Comics collection). An omnibus of all fifteen parts can be purchased at Smashwords. If you purchased serialization via the Kickstarter, check your Kickstarter messages for a free download code.

The stories discussed in this chapter are currently available in a collected edition, along with the eventual completion of the story. UK-based readers can buy it here.

Previously in The Last War in Albion: Eventually, the wheels came off at Warrior amidst a number of ego clashes, many involving Moore, who fell out with both Dez Skinn and his Marvelman artist and longtime collaborator Alan Davis. 

"There is a moment of crystalline silence. The storm holds its breath. And so it begins..." - Alan Moore, Marvelman

the period in question was one where Moore was bringing a number of projects to a close. He ended his Captain Britain work in June, done his last D.R. & Quinch in May, and then pulled Marvelman in August. Taken in the context of his ceasing work on Future Shocks for 2000 AD in the wake of the Swamp Thing job and a different picture of why he was dropping projects starts to emerge - especially given that this is around when DC would have started offering him additional work. Certainly that’s Alan Davis’s contention when he states bluntly, “Alan clearly quit both Captain Britain and Marvelman at virtually the same time but claims external, unconnected reasons for both. Isn’t it simpler to accept that with Swamp Thing and new offers from DC – which were far better paid – the volume of work increased to a point where choices had to be made. I know I, amongst many other creators, was hoping for a call from DC.” But this “pure self-interest” theory of Moore’s actions still doesn’t explain why he persisted with V for Vendetta in Warrior, which would have been just as low-paying. Some of it, surely, is that Lloyd was keen for it to continue, noting that “I was very happy to keep doing it because Dez was still paying me money,” and that, more importantly, he was passionate about the work, saying that “nothing was more important to us… it was ours. And we could do what we liked with it.” And there was, to be sure, a practical consideration: the project had a planned ending that, one reached, would allow it to find new life as a stand-alone volume. Whatever Warrior’s flaws, it was at least adequate to the task of funding the work’s completion, and if Lloyd was happy with its payment, well, he was the one who most needed the money. V for Vendetta was still his main job, as opposed to a passion project to be done on days he didn’t have any Swamp Thing work to do.

Nevertheless, this highlights a truth, albeit an obvious one, about Moore’s tendency to have professional relationships come to unhappy conclusions, which is that his positions are not pure and absolute principles that override all other concerns. It is indeed often, though certainly not always the case that Moore’s principled stands are also for positions that benefit him. The observation by Alan Davis and others that his stands are often much more about his benefit than his collaborators’ is a fair one. Again, there are certainly many cases where Moore has taken a stand for his collaborators, but there are undoubtedly times when he’s put his own interests first. Equally, however, it is clear that Moore is genuinely invested in his principles. He walked away from Doctor Who Monthly at a point in his career when he could hardly afford to give up work, and the magnitude of some of his stances, most notably his refusal of money from film versions of his work, makes it difficult not to credit the stated principles behind them. But this is how principles work, in reality, and there is no contradiction in the fact that financial success makes the risks inherent in principled stands more manageable. 

It is also worth noting that there is a meaningful distinction between the question of why Moore stopped working for a given publisher and why he never returned. There is no real doubt that the reason Moore stopped writing Captain Britain was a combination of not needing a low and erratically-paying gig anymore and not enjoying it as much following Bernie Jaye’s departure. There is also no doubt that the reason Moore never returned to work for Marvel was their handling of the Marvelman trademark issue. A similar logic applies to Dez Skinn and Warrior. What led him Moore wind down his work for the magazine and what, in years since, has come to characterize his attacks on Skinn are distinct. 

Figure 664: Warrior ended with issue #26.
Whatever the subtle nuances of Moore’s decision-making, the matter was largely moot. Just five issues after the last Marvelman strip saw print, Warrior folded with issue #26. By this point, its star had fallen quite far. The six features in Warrior #26 are, aside from V for Vendetta, unheralded strips by minor figures such as Grant Morrison, whose resume at the time was even thinner than Moore’s had been when he landed V for Vendetta and Marvelman (and Moore was conspicuous as the only name in Warrior #1 who wasn’t already an established industry name). Despite only having published a couple stories in a defunct Scottish magazine, a local newspaper strip, and a series of space combat-heavy Starblazer issues, with most of these credits being several years old by 1985, Morrison had been on Skinn’s radar for a bit, ever since he'd sent an unsolicited script for a Kid Marvelman story entitled "October Incident: 1966."

Figure 665: Joe Quesada's more open
style. (Written by Grant Morrison, art
by Joe Quesada, from "The October
Incident: 1966" in All-New Miracleman
Annual #1
, 2014, from a 1984 script.)
For many years, this script was one of the great lost artifacts of the War, but in 2014 Marvel, seeking to bring attention to their flagging reprint series of Moore’s Marvelman/Miracleman material, published the All-New Miracleman Annual #1, which consisted of two stories - a new Peter Milligan/Mike Allred collaboration and a Joe Quesada-illustrated adaptation of Morrison’s by then thirty-year old script. In many regards this adaptation is less interesting than the reprinting of Morrison’s original script in the backmatter for the Annual. Quesada’s adaptation is artistically capable - Quesada talked in interviews about how he tried to adopt “a somewhat European comics approach, specifically citing Moebius and Sergio Toppi as influences. “I traditionally enjoy using a lot of black and shadow in my work,” he explained, “but I intentionally forced myself to work in an open style.” Part of this, along with the basic need for a $4.99 high-profile annual to have a decent number of story pages, meant that Morrison’s script, which was written with the idea of being a standard-length strip in Warrior, is expanded to eleven pages, four of them full-page splashes. 

Figure 666: The priest recalls the nuclear explosion that spelled the end of
Marvelman. (Written by Grant Morrison, art by Joe Quesada, from "The October
Incident: 1966" in All-New Miracleman Annual #1, 2014, from a 1984 script.)
This has the effect of slowing the pace of the script considerably, which is a significant problem for Morrison’s script, which was on the slow side to begin with. Morrison calls for twenty-nine panels, which would make for a roughly five page story. (In comparison, the final six Marvelman strips Moore penned for Warrior are 41, 38, 38, 33, 33, and 26 panels respectively, each over six pages, and it is notable that the last of these featured what is, by Warrior standards, a ridiculously decadent two splash pages.) On top of that, the plot is aggressively straightforward - a priest, in 1966, walks along a beach where he’d seen some awful event three years past, recalling “memories of fire in the sky and of glory that blazed white as the sun on the night the old dragon was cast out of heaven,” memories the reader quickly realizes are of Kid Marvelman falling from Dr. Gargunza’s nuclear trap. As he kneels on the beach and prays, he is visited by Kid Marvelman, who, after a brief conversation, incinerates him. At six pages, this would have been a slender bit of filler, although it’s no more disposable than, for example, the five page Alan Moore/John Ridgway “Young Marvelman” story that saw print a year earlier in Warrior #12. 

Figure 667: Joe Quesada's heavily decompressed panel structure meant
that this sequence took up half a page. (Written by Grant Morrison, art
by Joe Quesada, from "The October Incident: 1966" in All-New Miracleman
Annual
 #1, 2014, from a 1984 script.)
And for all the script’s frailties - frailties that are hardly unexpected for someone working on what would have been his tenth multi-page professional credit, roughly the equivalent of Moore’s contribution to the 1980 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special, “A Holiday in Hell” - it is, at least, a capable execution of Moore’s style for Marvelman, which was always one of the strips he wrote in his distinctive caption-heavy style. Morrison captures the effect well, framing his story with two extended and suitably portentous narrations. “It was the dream,” the story opens, over an image of the priest walking along the shore. “The dream had come back after three years. He knew it was a warning when he woke to the grey light and the wind. The days of the revelation were come upon the world and something unclean was abroad. Something venomous was walking the quiet roads and the lonely pathways, something cold and far from human. He prays to the almighty that it will pass him by,” a beginning not entirely dissimilar to that of the start of Book Two of Marvelman, “Catgames,” which opens, “Downwind, a scent, a strong scent… a wrong scent. Thick, powerful urine and bitter, rotting metal… rotting metal? Something bad. Something big. Something coming.” And while it is true that Moore’s Marvelman strips tended to move at a somewhat more energetic pace, even Morrison’s languid pacing can credibly be explained as Moore’s influence if one imagines Morrison’s script as an attempt to bring some of the more dread-laden horror pacing of Moore’s Swamp Thing work back home to Warrior.

Figure 668: The photograph of Grant Morrison
that Joe Quesada used as reference for Kid
Miracleman. (Judy Cartwright, 1984)
And while Moore’s influence on Morrison’s script is obvious (and entirely understandable, given that Morrison was pitching a strip meant to fit seamlessly into Moore’s overall narrative), it is not as though Morrison did not have ideas of his own. Perhaps the most compelling comes in his account of 1966 Kid Marvelman’s appearance in the description of the fourth panel, which describes him as having a Beatles-style haircut and as “wearing a black vinyl short raincoat, black poloneck jumper, black drainpipe trousers and black chelsea boots. His face is strong and cruel with high cheekbones and slanting eyebrows. He is smiling in a slight, wicked way. His body is slim. He looks like a mod angel of death.” Morrison later, in the interview which led Quesada to realize that the 1984 script survived and could be revived, japed that “I made the teenage mod Johnny Bates look exactly like me, forever damning myself as Moore’s Devil.” This is perhaps overstating the case, inasmuch as an actual visual image of teenage mod Johnny Bates was not actually realized until thirty years later, but there is unmistakably a basic truth to it, and when Quesada came to illustrate the script he used a 1984 photograph of Morrison as a goth-mod brooding by the Ayrshire shore as reference for Bates, finally allowing Morrison his longed-for damnation.

Figure 669: Kid Miracleman, drawn as Grant Morrison, proclaims the
apocalypse. (Written by Grant Morrison, art by Joe Quesada, from "The
October Incident: 1966" in All-New Miracleman Annual #1, 2014, from a
1984 script.)
There is something more than slightly dramatically appropriate about this act, which comes late enough in the war that it is impossible to understand it in any context other than a magical attack, with Morrison forcibly inserting himself into Moore’s seminal work to wreck havoc. Under this reading, however, the mad hubris of Kid Miracleman is a striking and indeed troubling thing. “The apocalypse has arrived,” Kid Morrisonman gloats at the terrified priest. “I can do any bloody thing I want and you can’t stop me, you pathetic old witch doctor!” And yet for all the unsettling bravado of the move, there is also something strangely self-defeating about it. Morrison’s attack upon the conceptual territory of Marvelman comes long after Moore had fled the scene - indeed, the nature of the deals Marvel cut to pre-empt any legal action over the copyright status of the character meant that they were unable to actually publicly acknowledge who had written the 1980s comics they were publishing with lush new digital coloring, with all of the issues of their Miracleman series crediting the stories to simply to “the Original Writer,” leaving Morrison to embrace the role of the taunting devil only to find the figure he meant to taunt conspicuously absent, leaving him with all of the confinement of damnation and none of the liberation, a mad god ruling a kingdom of just under 22,000 sales, less than that month’s installment of Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s The Wicked and the Divine, and with frankly less potential for digital and trade paperback sales to boot. 

But this outcome was perhaps inevitable given the historical space Morrison was attempting to revise. Three separate accounts of exactly what happened with “October Incident: 1966” exist. These are in several regards impossible to reconcile, but the broad strokes are nevertheless the same - Skinn liked Morrison’s script to suggest to Moore that they might run it, Moore indicated displeasure with this plan, and the idea was dropped, leaving the script unpublished until 2014. The earliest account of this came in 2001 when George Khoury interviewed Dez Skinn for Kimota! The Miracleman Companion, and Skinn mentioned Morrison’s submission. As Skinn tells it, “Grant came in at the tail end of Warrior and wanted to try his hand at “Marvelman” as Alan Moore had stopped writing it,” and describing Morrison’s submission of “a Kid Marvelman story, about a discussion between Kid Marvelman and a Catholic priest.” In Skinn’s account, he thought the script was “bloody clever” and forwarded it to Moore, who declared simply “nobody else writes Marvelman,” leading Skinn to tell Morrison, “I’m sorry. He’s jealously hanging on to this one.” Regarding Morrison’s reaction to this, Skinn simply says that he “did have an answer, but again, I shouldn’t really speak for him.”

Figure 670: Kid Miracleman flying and
incinerating a priest. (Written by Grant
Morrison, art by Joe Quesada, from "The
October Incident: 1966," in All-New
Miracleman Annual
 #1, 2014, from a 1984
script.)
But Skinn’s interviews must always be taken with a grain of salt, and this one is clearly no exception. His description of Morrison’s story is of one where “Kid Marvelman argued a very good case against organized religion. Nobody was flying, no beams from anybody’s eyes.” This is, as the 2014 release of the script demonstrates, flatly untrue. The extent of Kid Marvelman’s case against organized religion is “Jesus only walked on the water. But me… I walk on the air,” a line accompanied by Morrison’s panel description “Track in towards the young man, whose feet are seen to be leaving the ground ever so slightly,” which is to say, flying, or, as Morrison has it two panels later, “hanging in the air as though in parody of the crucifixion. Lightning is crackling around his outstretched hands. " Given that nearly every detail Skinn remembers about the content of Morrison’s “brilliant” script is completely wrong, it is difficult to completely credit his overall account of events.

Figure 671: Ironically, the one detail Skinn correctly remembered, that
Morrison's script featured no beams from anybody's eyes, was undone by
Quesada when the script was finally illustrated. (Written by Grant Morrison,
art by Joe Quesada, from "The October Incident: 1966," in All-New Miracleman
Annual #1
, 2014, from a 1984 script.)
A second account emerged in 2010 in the documentary Grant Morrison: Talking with Gods, with Morrison himself relating the story with occasional interjections from a separate interview with Skinn. Morrison and Skinn tell of Morrison stopping by the Warrior offices with, as Morrison puts it, a “Kid Marvelman spec script” that Skinn immediately purchased, in what Morrison described as “a really good jump for me.” Morrison is blunt about what happened: “Alan Moore had it spiked. He said it was never to be published,” an event Morrison credits for the “slight antagonism” that exists between the two creators. Morrison goes on to claim that Skinn, following his falling out with Moore, “asked me to continue Marvelman,” an opportunity he was tremendously excited by, but that Morrison, when he wrote to Moore asking for his blessing, received back “this really weird letter” beginning “I don’t want this to sound like the softly hissed tones of a Mafia hitman, but back off” and threatening Morrison’s future career if he carried on. [continued]

Comments

Adam Riggio 2 years, 4 months ago

Having gotten this chapter as a whole before it went up on the blog, I must say that the second look at the issues, one week at a time, that the blog offers really helps me wrap my head around Last War in Albion's complex ideas. Having the images in the post to refer directly is a big kick in the cognitive pants as well.

October Incident is really fascinating because of how it literally seems to be a case of Morrison trying to hijack Moore's story. It arrives after Moore's main Marvelman story is complete, but returns to a character in that story whose own narrative was completed. Moore has already shown us the horror of Kid Marvelman, a resentful, traumatized 13 year old boy given the powers of a god. He's the demonstration, in the first major conflict of Moore's Marvelman story, that humans do not have the maturity proper to handling godly powers. In Kid Marvelman's case, they create a monster because you can act on your most base and violent impulses without ever having to worry about punishment. For Marvelman himself, they literally give him a god complex, as he ends Moore's story as humanity's benevolent dictator. Moore's story was a nuanced exploration of the ethical dangers we face when we take on the powers of gods – a fable that can teach us humility when dealing with our real terrifying, godly powers of nuclear weaponry and enormous industry.

Yet here Morrison returns to Kid Marvelman for seemingly no other purpose than to revel in the spectacle of watching him kill somebody. And where Kid Marvelman is explicitly modelled on how Grant Morrison himself looked at the time. It's as though Morrison is looking at the Marvelman story and declaring that Kid Marvelman is exactly who he wants to be: a living god who can give in to every violent, resentful, hateful, and spiteful impulse without ever having to face consequences, and revels in that freedom to destroy.

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BerserkRL 2 years, 4 months ago

Pedantry alert: "wreck havoc" should be "wreak havoc."

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Eric Gimlin 2 years, 4 months ago

Morrison wrote this well before Moore's main story was complete; and nothing I've read said he did any changes to the script for this publication. None of this changes the fact that he OK'd Marvel using it at this point; of course. But for the most part you need to read this mostly as 1984 Morrison/ 2014 Quesada; not 2014 Morrison.

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Spoilers Below 2 years, 4 months ago

This won't be the last time that Morrison will try to invoke John Lennon, without really seeming to "get" John Lennon. But then Morrison has communicated with his spirit, and I haven't, so perhaps I'm wrong.

Connecting the Beatles' "Bigger than Jesus" with Nietzsche isn't an idea without legs, necessarily, but seeing as Moore had already done Nietzsche to death in the main story, and had already written basically this very story in the few panels when Kid Miracleman kills Stephanie, one wonders what the point is? If this is Morrison's fantasy, we'll get more of this nihilistic apologism in Zenith, with Peter "Mandala" St. John filling in for "how things ought to have gone" KM, and Zenith himself playing the part of young Morrison.

(And then there's the strange plot hole about how KM can call down the lightning bolt without turning back into Bates...)

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 4 months ago

Indeed. My apologies if this was unclear in the entry. Although I agree, there's some interesting implications in Morrison's choice of avatars here.

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Antonio 2 years, 4 months ago

Really interesting read.
As for Quesada channelling Toppi, well... namedropping aside, a quick Google search can show anyone how Toppi used to employ a lot of blacks and not really an "open style". There is a seemingly wide misconception about what is a "European style" in comics, at least among American artists... :-)

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Unknown 2 years, 4 months ago

Lightning as the literal agent of transformation is more Captain Marvel, isn't it? It's used in metaphor in Miracleman, certainly, but the transformation is more of an explosive process here.

One thing I'd say about this story is that, even as it tries to fit in, it nails down Kid Miracleman's development where Moore's story leaves it more open -- just three years out from the 1963 incident, he's the same monster he'll be 15 years later.

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Daru 2 years, 4 months ago

An exciting point we have reached where it really feels like the magical sparring begins.

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Daru 2 years, 4 months ago

Yeah, it does seem like the notion of 'European' comics here was misunderstood, as it just seems that Quesada's style there is just slightly too sharp and clean. That may be a generalisation though, nice pages or work anyways.

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Daru 2 years, 4 months ago

"If this is Morrison's fantasy, we'll get more of this nihilistic apologism in Zenith"

Looking forwards to when we get to the Zenith stuff, that will be a major nostalgia flashback experience for me.

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The Dapper Anarchist 2 years, 4 months ago

This seems... A bit of a failed attempt to take over, if that's the point. Johnny Bates has already been defeated, so why transform yourself into the defeated villain?

Skinn's interpretation of Morrison's script may just be an editor's interpretation - he's talking about where the script could have been pushed, not where it was when Morrison handed it in.

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Carey 2 years, 4 months ago

But Skinn’s interviews must always be taken with a grain of salt, and this one is clearly no exception. His description of Morrison’s story is of one where “Kid Marvelman argued a very good case against organized religion. Nobody was flying, no beams from anybody’s eyes.” This is, as the 2014 release of the script demonstrates, flatly untrue. The extent of Kid Marvelman’s case against organized religion is “Jesus only walked on the water. But me… I walk on the air,” a line accompanied by Morrison’s panel description “Track in towards the young man, whose feet are seen to be leaving the ground ever so slightly,” which is to say, flying, or, as Morrison has it two panels later, “hanging in the air as though in parody of the crucifixion. Lightning is crackling around his outstretched hands. " Given that nearly every detail Skinn remembers about the content of Morrison’s “brilliant” script is completely wrong, it is difficult to completely credit his overall account of events.

I think you're being a bit unfair with this paragraph, and comparing what Skinn said (from memory) with what Quesada drew in 2014. If drawn by Gary Leach or Alan Davies this scene would have been completely different, as both artists approached Marvelman with an eye for drawing things as realistically as possible. There would also be the context for the art: the story was written as a six pager, so any full page spreads of exaggeration for the lightning scene would not have been possible. I have no doubt that the panel would have been the biggest on the page, but having it surrounded by other panels would have made the way the story was read completely different.

Similarly, going from script excerts here and elsewhere, Quesada has knocked back a lot of the religious symbolism Morrison asked for, which further alters the script. For instance, in one of the panels reprinted above the script calls for a the priest to wield the cross like a gun, which is not depicted.

On the whole, I don't believe the redrawing in any way favours Morrison, and on the whole the script is a curio best remembered as the beginnings of the War.

It's unfortunate that the then enmity between Moore and Skinn affected Morrison: in this context his dislike of Moore is justifiable, especially when you consider how Moore relied on other writers to break into the industry (Steve Moore and Alan Grant in particular) and how he himself helped others (Jamie Delano and Neil Gaiman). Morrison is treated very much as an outsider, and Morrison being Morrison, that is precisely what he becomes. He becomes a Bat. Via Quentin Quire...

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