Physics Bubbling Down Into Chaos (The Last War in Albion Part 86: Marvelman's Unraveling)


This is the fourteenth 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: The seventh issue of Warrior contained an installment of Marvelman that would, ultimately, cause Moore to depart from the magazine two years later. The eight page strip jumps among settings, starting with Sir Dennis Archer shortly after briefing the sapphire-toothed Evelyn Cream on his mission. Archer reflects on the events of October 12th, 1963, when they blew up the Marvelman Family. The second page has Mike and Liz out on Dartmoor, getting ready to test Marvelman’s powers. Liz brings a stack of American superhero comics, reading off possible powers he could have. 

"We're not gods from space who can survive planetary impacts and physics bubbling down into chaos and clashing timelines. We're just human." -Warren Ellis, Supreme: Blue Rose

Figure 656: Evelyn Cream murders the terrorist upon
 getting the information he needs. (Written by Alan
Moore, art by Alan Davis and Garry Leach, from "Secret
Identity" in Warrior #7, 1982)
The third goes to Johnny Bates, now in the hospital, catatonic. The scene shifts to inside Bates’s mind, where Kid Marvelman berates him, calling him a “snot-nosed little pratt” and a “snotty little virgin.” Then it cuts back to Marvelman and Liz investigating his powers, trying to figure out exactly how they work and how, for instance, the impact of a massive boulder falling on him doesn’t drive his feet into the ground at all. Page five has Evelyn Cream, with caption boxes explaining how he has figured out that Marvelman must have been one of the reporters at Larksmere, that the transformation probably resulted in some sort of energy transfer, and that the terrorist with burns was probably closest when it happens, arriving at the hospital. This is followed by one more page of the Morans, with Marvelman having turned back into Mike and the two of them driving off. As they do, Liz tells Mike that “I’ve missed my last periods and I’m going to have a baby and it isn’t yours its Marvelman’s.” The final two pages form a single scene depicting Cream’s encounter with the terrorist, who lies in his hospital bed, heavily bandaged. As Cream enters, he wakes up, and murmurs, “Huh? Whaddayou want, chocolate?” Cream communicates with him by writing on a notepad, promising not to kill him if he answers his questions. He proceeds to ask enough questions to identify Marvelman’s secret identity, and then explains to Steve that he was lying about the promise not to kill him, smothering him in his hospital bed and calmly walking out.

Figure 657: The sort of content in Zirk that might have offended a mother
who bought a copy of Warrior #3 from WH Smiths. (Written by Steve Moore
as Pedro Henry, art by Brian Bolland)
Upon getting the script for this issue, Skinn raised some concerns, specifically about the words “virgin,” “periods,” and “chocolate,” asking Moore to change them. Moore, with his characteristic regard for anything he perceived as censorship, pushed back against the note, arguing that “they were natural, they were part of the characterisation,” and that “Warrior was aimed at a fairly intelligent readership, we hadn’t had any complaints,” (which, in Skinn’s account, was not true - they had in fact just lost distribution in WH Smiths because of a mother’s complaint over the Zirk strip in Warrior #3) and that getting prudish was therefore senseless. Skinn pushed back, leading to the “why offend even one reader” question, and finally offered a compromise whereby Moore would change one of the three. Moore took umbrage with this, complaining that if it didn’t matter which one he changed then none of them could actually be that bad, to which, in his account, Skinn asked him to change one purely so Skinn could avoid losing face, at which point Moore flatly refused.

Figure 658: The Warpsmiths of Hod. (Written by Alan
Moore, art by Garry Leach, from Warrior #9, 1983)
This was at the time a mere hiccup in the relationship between Skinn and Moore, but it seems to have been a turning point in Moore’s opinion of Skinn all the same. Not, to be clear, in his relationship with Warrior - indeed, he kicked off 1983 by essentially picking up a third strip in Warrior #9, to which he contributed, in addition to “Violence” and Marvelman, a strip entitled “Cold War, Cold Warrior” and featuring more aliens of the same race as Warpsmith from “Yesterday’s Gambit.” This featured art by Gary Leach, and revealed Warpsmith to be a member of the teleporting race of aliens the Warpsmiths of Hod, and tells a story of espionage and deception in the vein of his aborted 4-D War Cycle for Doctor Who Monthly

Figure 659: A Time Lord from Doctor Who.
(Indeed, it’s a reasonable hypothesis that a substantial portion of the larger plot surrounding the Warpsmiths, and, by extension, the elaborate shared continuity for the Warrior strips that was dreamt up but never put into place by Alan and Steve Moore, was based in part on the abandoned 4-D War Cycle. In the timeline they wrote out [which also establishes Gargunza as the creator of Fate, deciding that V for Vendetta takes place in an alternate timeline that diverges when Mike Moran does not rediscover his magic word at Larksmere] one of the earliest events listed is “The Chronarchy (a race like Earth-2 Time Lords) attack the Warpsmiths of Hod. Warpsmiths wipe out all but a few of the Chronarchy with Death-Cats, the ultimate weapon provided by the Rhodru Makers.” The Rhodru Makers are also referred to in “Cold War, Cold Warrior,” and, along with the Qys [the alien race whose crash landing provides Gargunza the ability to create Marvelman], form a significant portion of the future history. The tone is clearly different, not least because of the rather ludicrously named “Death-Cats,” but the overall shape is visibly similar to the Time Lord/Black Sun/Sontaran conflict spelled out in the 4-D War strips, and, given the comparison of the Chronarchy with the Time Lords and the timing of Moore’s departure from Doctor Who Monthly, it seems more likely than not that the future timeline was based in part on reworkings of those ideas. Ironically, the one place where this shared continuity is at all referenced in the stories, a joke about Glinda Bojeffries that appeared in the final installment of The Stars My Degradation can, if one is sufficiently determined to count cameo appearances and crossovers, be used to argue that Doctor Who itself is part of a shared continuity with Axel Pressbutton and, if one takes the unused timeline at face value, V for Vendetta/Marvelman.) 

Figure 660: Dez Skinn's creation Big Ben confronts Marvelman. (Written by
Alan Moore, art by Alan Davis, from "Out of the Dark" in Warrior #9, 1983)
Warrior #9 also featured, in its last panel, the debut of the character of Big Ben (“The Man with No Time for Crime”), created by Dez Skinn, but given to Moore to launch within Marvelman. It is fair to say that Moore did not exactly do the character any favors. Skinn had intended the character to be another tentpole of the magazine, and put him on the cover of Warrior #10, in which he made his full debut. But Moore introduced him as a failed attempt to recreate Marvelman, portraying him as mentally unstable and considerably less powerful than Marvelman, with the main character ultimately dispatching him with a single blow. Big Ben would eventually start appearing as a regular feature in Warrior, but only once the writing was largely on the wall for the magazine.

Even issues #9 and #10 revealed problems, however. They were, between them, the only two installments to come out in the first half of 1983, with February, March, and June seeing no issues, and issue #10 covering both April and May. The magazine made it back to a monthly schedule in July, publishing six consecutive monthly issues before missing the first two months of 1984, but it was clear that there were increasing problems. Moore, nevertheless, wound down what he labeled as Book One of Marvelman in Warrior #11, and, after a month long gap filled with a Young Marvelman story, commenced Book Two in Warrior #13 - a story that would still be in progress when Moore left the strip a year later in August of 1984. This story, as stated in Moore’s original pitch, brought Marvelman back into conflict with Dr. Gargunza, and for the most part, like almost everything following Leach’s departure from the strip, focused heavily on the task of relaying the complex backstory that Moore had worked out and giving Marvelman his new origin. 

Figure 661: The Marvelman Special, which
finally spurred Marvel UK to object to the
use of the name Marvelman.
By the time Moore left, however, the wheels had well and truly started to come off. In May of 1984, to fill a month’s gap between Warrior #18 and #19, Skinn put out a title called Marvelman Special that consisted primarily of reprints of old Mick Anglo stories featuring the character. This, however, turned out to push the patience of Dez Skinn’s previous employers too far. Marvel UK had thus far remained silent about one of their competitors publishing a character named Marvelman, but in their view publishing a comic that actually had their company name in the title was simply a bridge too far, and they commenced sending lawyer’s letters to Skinn, which he reprinted, along with his replies, in the final two issues of Warrior

These events led to a further souring of Moore’s relationship with Marvel, which was already becoming strained following Bernie Jaye’s dismissal. While his relationship with Skinn had by this point deteriorated completely, whatever outrage Moore had towards Skinn was overshadowed by his sense that it was fundamentally unfair for Marvel to object to publication of a character whose use of the word “Marvel” in his name went back further than the company’s did. This frustration was amplified by the difficulties going on in trying to sell Marvelman and the other Warrior strips to US distributors, which were being complicated by fears over what Marvel would do. Moore, using the only leverage he had available, wrote Archie Goodwin, a senior editor at Marvel, informing him that unless Marvel backed down from their threats (and specifically allowed US reprints to go out under the title Marvelman) he would refuse to work for them again and would forbid reprints of his Captain Britain work. Goodwin, in Moore’s account, sent word of this to then-editor-in-chief Jim Shooter (who Moore describes as “another one of these comic book industry führers,” in contrast to Goodwin, who he describes as “a wonderful writer and a wonderful editor”), whose response was to throw the memo away.

This had at least one, if not two major consequences. The first was that Moore’s suggested alternate title of Miracleman (drawn, among other places, from his Captain Britain work) was used for the eventual US reprints and continuation. The second and more uncertain one was Moore’s falling out with Alan Davis, who felt that Moore’s decision to make a stand over the name “Marvelman” by refusing to allow reprints of their Captain Britain work was unfair. Davis was at the time still working his warehouse job alongside his comics work, and was well aware that breaking out into the American market as Brian Bolland, Dave Gibbons, and Alan Moore already had would be lucrative. As Davis put it, “it was an opportunity to get my work seen by an American market.” Further complicating matters, Davis hadn’t even heard about this from Moore, but found out five months later from Jamie Delano. 

Figure 662: Alan Davis broke into the
US market with Batman and the
 for DC.
This chronology, however, presents some problems. Moore left Captain Britain in June of 1984, one month after the publication of Marvelman Special, and three months prior to Marvel’s letter to Skinn. The precise date of Moore’s letter to Goodwin is difficult to pin down, but it appears to have been somewhere in early 1985. But by early 1985 Davis had already broken in at DC, his first issue of Batman and the Outsiders coming out on March 21. Furthermore, Davis recalls Moore suggesting Delano as a writer in response to Davis’s being hired by DC for an Aquaman miniseries (the miniseries never happened, and Davis was given Batman and the Outsiders instead). This means that Davis must have been aware that he’d already been noticed by American publishers months in advance of Moore’s letter to Goodwin, although it must be noted that Davis’s recollections of this period are at least somewhat confused, since he reports that his first meeting with Delano came when Moore brought him over to watch the last episode of Boys from the Black Stuff, which Davies had taped for him on early VHS equipment, despite that episode airing two years earlier than all of the other events discussed. Nevertheless, it’s clear that Moore and Davis’s falling out was more complex than simple anger over denied reprints.

By this point, however, Davis had already left Marvelman in frustration at Skinn’s slow payments, which had led to Davis withholding a finished installment from Skinn. This could have, in theory, been overcome - Skinn had replaced the artist on Marvelman once already, and by this point every other strip besides V for Vendetta had either undergone creative changes, ended, or both. Except that, at virtually the same time, Moore and Skinn’s relationship finally disintegrated beyond the point of salvation. Moore had soured on Skinn ever since the censorship squabble around issue #7, and had come to view him as someone who, as he later put it, “wanted to be Stan Lee. He wanted to be the person who got all the credit, whose name was on the whole package.” But the breaking point came in a meeting at the Quality Publications offices, in which Moore brought up the censorship of issue #7. As Moore tells it, Skinn denied the incident ever happened. “At this point,” Moore explains, “I was halfway across the office, and Steve Moore and Garry Leach were saying, ‘leave him, Alan, he’s not worth it,’ and at that point I ceased my work for Warrior. It was just that I couldn’t have someone lying about me and my honesty.” 

FIgure 663: Marveldog. (Written by Alan Moore,
art by Alan Davis, from "...And Every Dog It's Day,"
in Warrior #21, 1984)
But this was also not strictly speaking true. Moore refused to do further work on Marvelman, but he continued to write V for Vendetta for five installments after his last Marvelman strip (“…And Every Dog It’s Day,” in which Marvelman finally confronts Gargunza, only to learn that Gargunza can force him to transform back to human form, and which ends in a cliffhanger splash of Gargunza unleashing Marveldog to attack Mike Moran). It is fair to ask, then, why Moore applied different standards to the two strips, continuing one within Warrior for as long as the magazine existed while terminating the other.

This is especially true because 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.” [continued]


Eric Gimlin 5 years, 10 months ago

It's nice to see Alan Moore thought well of Archie Goodwin, although hardly surprising... It's been suggested that Goodwin was the only editor in the history of comics that nobody even disliked, never mind hated. I'm sure he'll come up again at least briefly when you do "Love Doesn't Last Forever", which I believe is the only time Alan Moore worked on a non-charity book for Marvel US.

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Daibhid C 5 years, 10 months ago

Yeah, whenever I think about Archie Goodwin, I'm reminded of the Threatening Three, a villain team from Batman Adventures based on the then DC group editiors. Mike Carlin was Mastermind, a conspiracy theorist who came up with ridiculously convoluted plans to do the simplest things. Dennis O'Neil was the Perfessor, an absent-minded veteran with past experience of just about everything, and "so it goes" attitude to match. And Goodwin was Mr Nice, who was just a really nice guy.

I don't know how accurate the other two were (although since I was reading the Carlin-edited Superman titles "ridiculously convoluted" has a ring of truth to it), but everything I've heard suggests "Mr Nice" was dead on.

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Daru 5 years, 10 months ago

"Indeed, it’s a reasonable hypothesis that a substantial portion of the larger plot surrounding the Warpsmiths.... "

Great stuff Phil, especially love the massive parenthesis paragraph exploring the connections between V, the Warpsmiths and Marvelman, etc. I had not idea that there was some kind of shared universe intended between the stories and I've really been enjoying this section of The War.

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