Pop Between Realities, Home in Time for Tea 33 (Marvelman)


I always knew there would be an Alan Moore entry around here. I wasn't completely certain where - it could have gone at the start of the Cartmel era, but it was always probably going to go right here, before the "canonical" Cartmel era begins. No, the hard question was what I was going to pick. I mean, one of these years I'm going to get around to doing the book I want to write on Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. Which means I really don't want to do a general "Alan Moore" post here. Which left me having to choose among The Ballad of Halo Jones (which Cartmel apparently handed to anyone coming on to write for Doctor Who), V for Vendetta (for the anarchism), Swamp Thing, or perhaps Watchmen (for their revampings of past characters). All would be perfectly reasonable choices for the time period. But Halo Jones felt too close to the 2000 AD post I'd already done. V for Vendetta felt too oversignified and not quite relevant enough to Doctor Who. Swamp Thing and Watchmen felt too American.

No, the one I had to pick, in the end, was Marvelman. Or Miracleman, if you must - that was, admittedly, how the tail end of the comic was published due to some rights issues. But really, the heck with those rights issues, especially since they're all anyone ever talks about - both the renaming from Marvelman to Miracleman and, more substantively, the legal cases that have surrounded the character for twenty years now preventing anyone from  finishing the series.

But that's not what's interesting about the series for our purposes. For our purposes it's more interesting to note that both Alan Moore's Marvelman run and Doctor Who wrapped up the same month in 1989. That while Moore's Marvelman run began earlier - he came onto the character in 1982 years - this is, nevertheless, the closest equivalent to Cartmel-era Doctor Who in Alan Moore's oeuvre. Both are cases of taking a largely discredited sci-fi institution of the past and getting it to work in the 1980s. Marvelman is a bit older - his original run was 1954-63 - but both come out of post-war utopianism of one sort or another.

But more than that, and here I'll briefly delve into the rights issue I suppose, there's an obscurity to it. Alan Moore and Doctor Who are both, in 2012, recognized as grand British institutions, albeit strange ones. But the Cartmel era, well-regarded as it is, remains an obscure stretch of Doctor Who in many ways. I've not perused detailed figures, but between home releases on VHS and DVD and platforms like Netflix it would not surprise me if something like Curse of Fenric had been seen by more people looking to understand Doctor Who's past than who saw it on first transmission - something that is tremendously unlikely to be true of the hits of the Pertwee or Tom Baker years, for instance.

Marvelman, meanwhile, is the most obscure of the consensus Alan Moore 1980s masterpieces. Out of print and with no clear road from here to a legal reprint, the fact of the matter is that it's bloody hard to get a legal copy of them unless you're willing to blow some substantial cash on the task. (Oddly, your best bet is the single issues, which you can find lots of on eBay for considerably cheaper than the trades. Or, as most people frankly do these days, you can go for less legal methods.) This means that it is in many ways the least actively looked at pieces of Alan Moore - one everybody knows about, but far too few people have actually managed to read.

Beyond that, of course, there's the more general connections between Andrew Cartmel's tenure as script editor and Alan Moore, namely that Cartmel was an unabashed Alan Moore fan. He's admitted to nicking from Watchmen in Mel's departure scene. He handed The Ballad of Halo Jones out to new writers. And he invited Moore to write for the program, though Moore declined with his semi-famous comment that he's found all the post-Hartnell Doctors to be just a bit pedophiliac. (These days he just says that he has no interest in writing for licensed properties anymore.)

But in this case we have a specific issue to look at - the issue of revamping and rebooting. These days this is standard practice - everything is revamped and rebooted every few years. The clock on how long before a property is available for a dramatic reconceptualization is a few years now, and I can only assume we're less than a decade from someone coming up with a TV show that just reboots itself every episode. (Oh wait. They did that decades ago, and you're reading a blog about it.)

But in the 1980s this process was just starting to become mainstream. This is the other bit of being in the right place at the right time that explains Alan Moore's larger career success. He had the good fortune of being the best British comics writer when Karen Berger began talent scouting the British comics industry, and the good fortune of being the best revamper in any medium at a time when revamps were breaking out into the mainstream. (Then, to the delight of really everybody with any taste, he got terribly irritated at his own success and began worshiping a snake god, but that's another book.)

In this regard he's the most obvious inspiration for Doctor Who imaginable. Cartmel inherited a once popular show that had, in essentially everybody's eyes, fallen from glory and stopped working. One that seemed past its prime, no longer relevant, and a bit silly. Alan Moore was busily making a career out of being better at fixing pulp properties like that than anyone else on the planet and making them into something that was better than they'd ever been. Using him as your explicit model and inviting him to write for Doctor Who is something that, in 1987, any even remotely skilled script editor would have done. The show doing anything other than mimicking Alan Moore here would have been clear evidence that we were in for another rough patch.

But it's worth looking at precisely what the "Alan Moore" approach to revamps is. He is, after all, not the first person to make a career out of revamping old characters. Nor are the parts of his legacy that are most obvious the most relevant: it's true that he did a lot of dark reboots with adult themes, brutal violence, and explicit sexuality, but to suggest that this is the point of his work misses the mark considerably. (The accusation that Moore overuses rape as a trope holds water, but to date I've found no account of his use of rape that quite captures his use of it, which is not standard rape culture stuff in the least.) The famed 1980s comic reboot you're looking for if you want to trace that line of thought is Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, a comic with few ideas beyond "what if Batman were more badass and violent." Moore's work in the 1980s is typically dark, but it's a very different sort of darkness.

Another way of framing this is simply a contrast between the US and UK, returning to that Warren Ellis quote I led the Thatcher entry with. In the US Reagan, in 1984, ran a massively successful reelection campaign on the slogan "Morning for America." Thatcher campaigned on having restored Britain, but was never daft enough to run that kind of sunnily optimistic campaign. Reagan and Thatcher's politics were largely similar, but Reagan was always gifted with the ability to make conservatism sound pleasant and hopeful, whereas Thatcher always had to trade in part on her "Iron Lady" persona.

So where Frank Miller recast Batman as an ultimate conservative fantasy for people who thought Ronald Reagan was too much of a doddering old fool to be a proper man, Moore's interests were always in the decline of past forms of utopianism. And this leads to the central innovation of Moore's reboots: he mirrors the cultural decline of the original text in the fictional world. This is a common trope in Moore's reboots - his characters themselves are faded glories who don't entirely understand their own decline. His reboots are consistently built around the theme proposed by his famed Superman story: "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?"

Marvelman is drenched in this. The character's sole innovation from his roots (he's a transparently reskinned version of Fawcett's Captain Marvel created when the company that had been reprinting Fawcett's stories were suddenly confronted with the fact that Fawcett had stopped publishing the character after getting slaughtered in a court case against DC Comics) was moving the magical incantation of Shazam! into "Kimota," the word "atomic" backwards. Moore took full advantage of this, treating Marvelman as a last and faded shred of atomic age utopianism.

His central structure here is quite good. On the one hand is Marvelman, who has forgotten his superhero nature. On the other is Kid Marvelman, who has remained a superhero for decades and become a powerful but sociopathic businessman. The implication is a clear division of the legacy of the atomic age: its utopianism is forgotten, while its horrors have mainstreamed themselves into society. It's cynical and brilliant, and in one shot takes a more or less rightly forgotten superhero property and turns it into something with something to say.

This, of course, is a trick that's not quite open to Doctor Who, which for a variety of reasons can't seriously be expected to sell out its history as inadequate. Regardless, an active suspicion of the show's own historical legacy shows up in the Cartmel era. Prior to the Cartmel era the program had only gone back to a year within its own transmission history once, in Mawdryn Undead. Now we have Remembrance of the Daleks doing it again, plus two more stories with The Curse of Fenric and Delta and the Bannermen both taking place within living memory. On top of that are stories that engage with the past or nostalgia less literally: Battlefield, Paradise Towers, Greatest Show in the Galaxy, and Ghost Light.

What's important here, though, is that neither Moore nor Cartmel go so far as rejecting the past. Rather they are skeptical of it, yes, but this is not simply a skepticism of nostalgia. Remember how Delta and the Bannermen reveled in its own kitsch even as it subverted it. This is not the "there never was a golden age" message of Invasion of the Dinosaurs. Rather it's a nostalgia for imagined futures that never arrived. The past is valued now not for the idea that it might recur but for the idea that there may have been other futures that could have extended from it.

But there is something strange and difficult to track about these lost futures. The nostalgia for them is necessarily coupled with a suspicion of them. There is always the question of how and why they failed. Paradise Towers, of what we've looked at so far, is the key example here. On the one hand there's a revisiting of the lost utopianism of modernism. On the other, the utopianism is treated as revealing a cheap lie. Likewise, in Marvelman, the restoration of Marvelman's power is a source of ambiguity, causing both Kid Marvelman's horrific rampage in the fifteenth issue and, ultimately, leading to a functional totalitarianism in which humanity is ruled over by seemingly benevolent but fundamentally inhuman superhero overlords.

But equally, in both, there's a sense of love for the past - the 50s kitsch of Delta and the Bannermen or, perhaps most obviously and directly, the reverence for the original mythology of the series itself in the next story. In Marvelman this reverence manifests both in the love for and fascination with the original characters and mythology, but also, more esoterically, in scenes of genuine awe and wonder. One of Moore's signature techniques in comics, particularly in his earlier work (he's actively moved away from it in much of his later work) is the use of lengthy and substantial captions narrating the comics in which he merges the exuberant style typical of superhero comics with a more literate and literary style. To pick one at more or less random, "His muscles swim like fish beneath his skin, his skin that glimmers, alive with stars. His eyes drown her. He is like a god. And there is nothing to be afraid of. The empty air between them is alive with invisible signals: the semaphore of dilated pupils, the morse of her breathing. He approaches. Her mouth is dry." Although it's a technique that risks veering into self parody - much of why Moore abandoned it in later work, one imagines - there is a power to it. The usual exhalations of awe in superhero comics - the Stan Lee cliches of power - seem crass and stilted when compared to Moore's diction.

But perhaps the most interesting moment of awe in the comic comes in the sequence in issue #9 in which Marvelman's wife, Liz, gives birth to his daughter, a sequence drawn in graphic detail. It's an impressive sequence, partially because it's at once explicit and unerotic, something that the female body rarely gets to be in popular media, and especially not in superhero comics. But more to the point, it connects the transcendent wonder of Marvelman with the intensely, viscerally material. It's a moment of supreme alchemy. And it's at the heart of why Moore is so very, very good - he's capable of moving effortlessly between the epic and the visceral in thinking through a character. He can, at any given moment, play on the mythic aspects of his characters or tunnel down to the mundane with questions of the form "what if someone like this really existed?"

Not all of this ports well to Doctor Who. Moore often requires a lack of censorship in his work in order to pull off his switches of register, using the extremes religious imagery and material horror in order to manage the shift. (This is what's key to understanding his repeated use of rape, for what it's worth - it's an easy place for him to make a shift between the sacred and the profane. This is not a defense, mind you - frankly I mostly wish he'd realize that his use of it is too easily co-opted - but it at least explains why he views the image as being so potent.) Doctor Who can't do that. But on the other hand, Cartmel has already developed his own version of that strategy, using the combined simplicity of children's television and intensity of melodrama to create his own way of smoothing potentially jarring transitions in tone.

Thus far, however, Cartmel has remained in the realm of the material. This is necessary - since Logopolis took off blazing into the realm of the mythic the series has had painfully little connection with material social progress, dabbling with it only sporadically across the Davison era. First what was needed was a course correction - a regrounding of the show in the viscera of human life. That accomplished, Cartmel's next challenge is to juxtapose it successfully with the mythic and to see if his fusion of children's television/melodrama with the righteous anger of the anti-Thatcher left and the giddy grotesqueries of postmodernism can handle that switch in register.

You see, of course, where this is going.


elvwood 8 years, 6 months ago

I'm one of the lucky few who got every issue of Warrior when it first came out, and then picked up almost all of Miracleman as well (I would have got them all if my local comic shop hadn't been in the process of going under towards the end of Gaiman's run). The latter are among the few comics I've kept (about 12' of shelf space, compared to boxes and boxes a decade or so ago).

As ever, a great post with some nice juxtapositions. Thanks!

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Alphapenguin 8 years, 6 months ago

It's interesting that you should bring up the subject of lost futures today, because I just read an interesting piece in the Guardian on the same topic and it seems like it might be right in your wheelhouse. Have you read this yet?


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Archeology of the Future 8 years, 6 months ago

I think the thing that ties together a lot of Moore's work is the having characters become ideas, and having those characters be aware of it.

Swamp Thing is aware of becoming a symbol, indeed he actually is just the idea of a man taken up by some roots. Promethea is all about this too land where stories are real.

It's even true in Halo Jones, where we as readers and Halo as a character never get to see why she is so important but she is. Academics discuss her fro the future, refer to her as being symbolic.

What's interesting about Marvelman is the fact that characters know how ridiculous their own previous fictional reality appears on reflection. They are genre savvy in a way that became frustratingly ubiquitous post Scream.

The 'more that just another time lord' stuff obviously has roots in Swamp Thing's discovery of his true nature, but it's interesting that the mystery is something that the Doctor knows about but is withholding, rather than something that hes ignorant of and is led toward discovering.

You have to do a post on Captain Britain, you really do. If there's one Moore story that reminds me of Who Cartmel and beyond it's Captain Britain.

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C. 8 years, 6 months ago

I'm very glad you touched on Marvelman, which as you said is the great lost Moore epic of the '80s (even if the rights issues were solved, a Marvelman film that stayed true to the comic, esp. the London holocaust/divine fascism climax to the story, would be a tough sell to Hollywood). There's a fine moment early on in the series, when Mike Moran has finally remembered his past and is trying to tell his wife about Kid Miracleman and Dr. Garzunga and she, naturally, just starts giggling. & he snaps something like "damn it, Liz, you're laughing at my life!" Which is a defense as one could mount of comics---they are inherently ridiculous, but still they have meaning, whether simply in how they helped to form a developing mind or in the themes they (absently, blithely) played with.

There's also Moore's last stretch of Swamp Thing, where Swampy for some reason I forogt is exiled from earth and so winds up popping up on some of DC's forgotten alien civilizations (Adam Strange, the sentient plantworld of Green Lantern) and making them actually frightening and complex places.

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Adam Riggio 8 years, 6 months ago

That really is the genius idea of Alan Moore, reiterated in almost everything he did in his career: combining the grand, oversized unreality of myth with the everyday concerns of being a person. Having just watched Remembrance of the Daleks last week for the first time since reading your diagnoses of the decline in the Nathan-Turner / Saward era, I approached the story seeing many elements that I hadn't before. I'll save all the meta-fictional stuff I noticed for the Remembrance post on Wednesday, but it struck me most clearly that the story was about this enormous battle of gods ("Group Captain, that ship has weapons capable of cracking this planet open like an egg.") slamming into the everyday concerns of the military folk, scientists, Harry and Geoffrey at the diner ("Yes! It'll be twins."), and Ratcliffe and Mike's National Front group. And Cartmel and Aaronovitch actually manage to make it all work.

It's remarkably difficult, really, and having Moore around as a guide is certainly a help, but no guarantee of success. Thinking about that collision of the mythic and quotidian in comics, I was reminded of this article I read a long time ago on io9. Gambit is trying to proceed with the ordinary, but very important, task of getting laid. But the mythic nature of the world keeps intruding in the most literal sense.

This really is the problem of most of the bad superhero movies when I think about it. They concentrate entirely on the mythic elements of collisions of forces with the strength of gods, and leave most of the human drama behind, or at least so underdeveloped that it's barely worth noticing. So we no longer have a narrative, but a dance of quasars. Beautiful, maybe, but not a narrative.

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Ununnilium 8 years, 6 months ago

Hullo! First time I've commented here, and glad to be doing so.

You make excellent points about how Moore's early work works here... and also illustrate my problem with it. Simply put, while these works point out why the hopes of the past failed, they don't really give any way that they can work in the present.

For instance (since I haven't had a chance to read Marvelman), after Watchmen, what were superheroes supposed to do? Become Ozymandias, and become shameless extremists in the name of the greater good? Become Dr. Manhattan, and remove themselves from Earthly concerns? Become Nite Owl and Silk Spectre, and content themselves with small, personal victories, knowing that they're utterly powerless on a larger scale? Apparently, the choice the writers picked as "become Rorschach" - reasonable, considering he's the most dynamic character.

I'm not saying that the downer ending was a bad idea - far from it - nor am I saying that every problem has to be solved by the person who can express it the most eloquently. But when you revamp something, you're sketching a map for the people who come after you. You don't have to ink every intersection along the way, but you should at least draw an arrow in the right direction.

(Note that he eventually realized this, and his later work is much better about it. Supreme and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen crackle with it, and the America's Best Comics line was essentially a way for him to set creators on a new path personally.)

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Elizabeth Sandifer 8 years, 6 months ago

Even in his 1980s work I feel like optimistic stories exist: V for Vendetta is basically optimistic. Swamp Thing is largely optimistic, and in ways that prefigure the optimism of later work. (Both Swamp Thing and Lost Girls find an intense optimism in the erotic.) Ballad of Halo Jones seems on track for optimism when it leaves off.

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Anton B 8 years, 6 months ago

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Anton B 8 years, 6 months ago

I too was lucky enough to be in on the ground floor of Marvelman in the 1980's with 'Warrior' and continued to follow it in the US colour reprints and through Gaiman's take. Waiting for the resolution of the 'Marveldog!' cliffhanger was almost as cruel a hiatus as Doctor Who has ever pulled. At the same time I had completely lost interest in Doctor Who, mostly for the reasons you deliniate in your recent posts. I didn't know Cartmel was such a fan of Moore (the Halo Jones connection is very interesting). This has definitely inspired me to re-examine his era of Doctor Who, thanks Phillip.

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BerserkRL 8 years, 6 months ago

Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, a comic with few ideas beyond "what if Batman were more badass and violent." ... So where Frank Miller recast Batman as an ultimate conservative fantasy

That seems rather unfair. Miller's satirical skewerings go both left and right in DKR; there's a strong antiwar message in it (this was before he found hawkish neoconservatism and lost his talent); and Batman's perspective doesn't go unchallenged.

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BerserkRL 8 years, 6 months ago

Also in DKR there's the Superman/Batman dynamic, which is rather subtle. On the one hand, Batman criticises Superman for being willing to do the bidding of "anyone with a badge or a flag" -- a valid criticism, and not a stereotypically conservative one (especially since the guy Superman is being criticised for obeying is a cold warrior and a transparent clone of Reagan). (Nor is Green Arrow's role in the story a conservative one.)

On the other hand, the moral is not a simplistic Batman good / Superman bad either. Superman not only saves the world from World War III (and nearly dies doing it), but he in effect receives the direct blessing of Gaia herself when Superman is saved by the stored solar energy in the flower (one of the most original things I'd seen done with Superman in quite a while). This gives each of them a certain moral heft in his criticism of the other.

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BerserkRL 8 years, 6 months ago

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BerserkRL 8 years, 6 months ago

Miller used to be more complex politically in general. Remember how in Martha Washington he took the plot of Atlas Shrugged and rewrote it into a story condemning imperialism, environmental devastation, and corporate greed -- subverting Rand's message while still harnessing its force.

Then something went wrong. Politically 9/11 seems to have unhinged him -- although his talent was already slipping, as the sequel to DKR shows. (I mean his writing talent; his drawing talent has been steadily improving.) His abusive comments about the Occupy movement would have gotten him a good slap in the mouth from Martha Washington.

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Ununnilium 8 years, 6 months ago

I'm definitely not going to disagree there. Heck, I'd say that Watchmen itself is boundlessly optimistic - both in Doctor Manhattan's open-ness to the worth of humanity, his newfound enjoyment in creation, and humanity itself coming together against a greater foe. But I'd say that, crucially, there's little optimism about the thing that it's deconstructing.

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BerserkRL 8 years, 6 months ago

Plus of course there's Miller's little-known adaptation of The Hobbit....

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Eric Gimlin 8 years, 6 months ago

To my regret I sold off my complete Miracleman run several years ago, a combination of desperate need to pay the rent and another burst of false optimism that the rights mess was close to being fixed. Kept the WARRIORS I had, though,and finally filled in the 3-4 I was missing last year.

What I find more interesting is the idea that Cartmel was handing out copies of HALO JONES. I don't think it's much of a stretch to see fairly signifigant similarities between it and Doctor Who, particularly the earlier versions of the show. A character who is first defined by their drive to escape, wandering into any number of alien worlds? I really need to dig up my copy again...

And of course the mention of 2000 AD makes me wonder if we're going to get a Morrison post prior to Invisibles. Zenith was starting around this point, if I recall correctly. While not in Marvelman's class, it's another book a lot of people would like to read tied up in rights issues. (Luckily I've got all 5 trades and the issues for the unreprinted stories on that one.)

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Spacewarp 8 years, 6 months ago

I don't have any Miracleman but I remember borrowing them from a friend and reading them about this time. Very impressed. I also borrowed "The Adventures of Luther Arkwright" at the same time, which quite frankly impressed me even more (being a huge Mike Moorcock fan).

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Unknown 8 years, 6 months ago

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storiteller 8 years, 6 months ago

The human drama was what I particularly enjoyed in Sam Raimi's version of Spiderman. The second movie in particular, where he's just struggling to pay rent, brings such a good depth to the character that could just be a wiseass. In contrast, I just saw the new movie, which completely missed that part of the character. They almost completely focused on the "Wow, aren't those powers cool!" aspect and lost the entire heart of the thing. They tried to shove in some human-level drama, but it just seemed as if it was going through the motions and was very cold. I think part of it is that Sam Raimi is a genuine Spiderman fan, while the new movie felt like it was written by a studio using a checklist.

That great love of the original material is something I think works for both Alan Moore and Doctor Who. Alan Moore couldn't express that level of awe without a genuine appreciation for the very concept of superheroes. Likewise, no matter how ridiculous the new version of Who gets, the sheer love of the people working on it seems to be contagious.

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Kit 8 years, 6 months ago

Since Phil said he's saving mention of Morrison's DWM strips for the Invisibles post, I wouldn't expect any other discussion earlier. (And yes, Zenith Phase II was running around this time - contrast and compare Zenith's and Ace's jackets...)

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Kit 8 years, 6 months ago

PS am I the only one in an eastern time zone who's been hopefully F5ing, every half-hour, all afternoon? I WANT MY REMEMBRANCE

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Tommy 8 years, 6 months ago

I'd argue though that the failing of the Saward era was that it reduced the mythological qualities of the show to their most superficial, materialist and petty. Even the Doctor himself became more like a typically inept male soap opera character, whether the self-berating, overearnest Fifth Doctor, or the Sixth being just a general vindictive, misogynistic thug. It used to be the case that the Doctor's idealism spoke for itself and he didn't really have to overcompensate for anything. But as Phil says, the Doctor kind of died as a mythological figure at the end of Logopolis. Even in Snakedance, Enlightenment and The Five Doctors the myths and legends are pointedly ones that show the Doctor as a mere mortal passing through by comparison.

In a way I'd say Logopolis was part of the problem because it moved the show more into the realms of real-time storytelling as a way of making the show's universe a more 'real' experience, but leading to all kinds of padding, a more banal focus, and no apparent way of cutting corners or having philosophical debates actually develop- one gets the sense that the Doctor's debate with Davros in Genesis or his negotiations with the Sea Devils were barely glimpsed and took place on and off screen and could have plausibly lasted far longer than the screen time they got. But it also means that when leaps and bounds are made (the Sea Devils trusting the Doctor, or Davros totally losing it) it doesn't feel forced because of the sense of that lapse of time.

Saward's era therefore was a cynical one because it ruined all chance of the Doctor ever building that kind of trust or shared ideologies with other people. Even in Kinda he's brushed off by enlightened figures as 'an idiot' and can't get through to Sanders without an instant box of Jana to provide an immediate emotional deus ex machina. This is mainly why Warriors of the Deep didn't work. In place of mythology we had continuity overstatement- the Doctor never had any of the interactions with the Silurians that justified his stance that they were misunderstood and capable of making peace, hence why he has to harp on about it as though people will believe it's true if he says it enough. Which lent for me to a sense that he was motivated to hold back not by any compassion for the Silurians, but more by spite towards the humans who were being besieged. Because that's all the 4 part real-time format and Saward's rewrites left him with.

Of course with Delta and the Bannermen we began to finally see stories that actually could chart the length of a day, a night, and a morning after, as does Remembrance. This allows not just a chance at corner cutting and greater slickness and a far less episodic feel, but allows the Doctor to move more in the shadows, to place emphasis on what takes place off screen. The Doctor is allowed to become influential and enigmatic again.

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Jordan Murphy 7 years, 9 months ago

Hello. This is my first comment and I find myself responding to a long-ago post. So it's unlikely anyone will notice.

Yes, the Dark Knight Returns compares unfavorably with Watchmen. Most comics do. It also compares unfavorably with the Batman: Year One and Daredevil: Born Again arcs Miller created in collaboration with the spectacular David Mazzuchelli, the awesomely insane Elektra: Assassin created by Miller with Bill Sienkiewicz, and the sublime post-apocalyptic Ronin, written and illustrated by Mr. Frank Miller. And let's not forget Miller's first Daredevil stint, which made the former C-lister a book to follow two years before the undoubtedly genius Mr. Moore did the same to Swamp Thing, while casually introducing an obsession with ninjas to Gen-X Americans.
While he became a caricature of himself decades ago (I'll never forgive him for treating The Spirit like a Sin City clone), he was every bit as important as Alan Moore in comic's second (and probably last) Golden Age.

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