So I Hit Him. What Would You Do? (The Last War in Albion Part 22: Alan Moore's Feuds, Star Wars, Joseph Campbell)

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This is the fifth 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. 

“So this Zealot comes to my door, all glazed eyes and clean reproductive organs, asking me if I ever think about God. So I tell him I killed God. I tracked God down like a rabid dog, hacked off his legs with a hedge trimmer, raped him with a corncob, and boiled off his corpse in an acid bath. So he pulls an alternating-current taser on me and tells me that only the Official Serbian Church of Tesla can save my polyphase intrinsic electric field, known to non-engineers as "the soul." So I hit him. What would you do?” - Warren Ellis, Transmetropolitan

PREVIOUSLY IN THE LAST WAR IN ALBION: Alan Moore wrote some clever comics about Doctor Who, including the beginning of an abandoned epic involving a war unfolding non-chronologically such that the first attack precedes the incident that sparked the war...

Figure 163: Alan Moore's reputation for fights is often a part of more
caricatured depictions of him.
Moore was, apparently, intending to further flesh out his idea of a non-chronological war further, but circumstances intervened. Instead left the title along with Steve Moore, who had worked extensively on a plot outline for a third Abslom Daak story only to discover that the editor, Alan McKenzie, had already begun writing a story with the characters. Angered by this, Steve Moore abruptly quit the main title and was replaced by Steve Parkhouse, and Alan Moore followed suit in what Steve Moore has referred to as “a wonderful gesture of support that was remarkable for someone at that early a stage in their career.” While it’s true that Moore, who had not come close to establishing himself as a writer, took a genuine professional risk in quitting, the fact that he did so early in his career is the only remarkable thing here. It is, in fact, the first of many such gestures in his career. Moore has, within comics, become almost as famous for his tendency to get into professional feuds as he has for his comics work. Indeed, Moore’s capacity for umbrage is ultimately one of the primary casus belli of the War. 

It is worth, then, looking at this first dispute in order to better understand the nature of Moore’s umbrage. First of all, this dispute is interesting in that there is no way to frame it as being over a slight to Moore himself. He left purely in solidarity with his friend. It is very difficult to frame Moore’s actions as anything other than a genuine principled stand, taken at, if not great cost to himself, at least significant risk. This, at least, is characteristic of all of Moore’s feuds and disputes; it is difficult to think of any in which he has materially benefitted from his stance. The archetypal Alan Moore feud is one in which Moore furiously leaves money, often quite large amounts of it, on the table in pursuit of subtler ideological goals.

Figure 164: Abslom Daak eventually returned in 1989,
meeting Doctor Who himself for the first time in the
cliffhanger to Nemesis of the Daleks (Richard Alan,
Steve Alan, and Lee Sullivan, Doctor Who Magazine
#152)
This highlights the second interesting part of the dispute, which is the nature of the objection. It is manifestly not that McKenzie was using Steve Moore’s characters without his permission. Steve Moore was well aware that he didn’t own Daak or his fellow Star Tigers. He had no objection to the characters being dusted off eight years later, although he notes that he appreciated that Richard Starkings, the then-editor of Doctor Who Magazine, asked him if he’d mind Daak coming back before proceeding with the story. Moore was well aware that he was working on other people’s property and that they could continue his work without him; as he says, “no one in mainstream British comics owned the characters they created, and Daak and the Star Tigers were always going to belong to Marvel.” 

Rather, the objection was to allowing Moore to waste time developing a Daak story only to find out that the editor who had given him the task had quietly stolen the work for himself without telling him. There’s a subtle distinction here, which is characteristic of many of Alan Moore’s disputes. It does not hinge on a question of what the McKenzie was legally allowed to do, but rather on the fact that McKenzie behaved in a manner that struck both Moores as dishonest and deceitful. This is a key facet in Moore’s disputes, and one that is often lost on his critics. Moore rarely objects to specific practices so much as he objects to people who change the rules on him when he feels he’s upheld his side of a bargain. This fact often gives his disputes an oddly disproportionate character, and explains what can otherwise seem like Moore’s erratic behavior during them, with Moore objecting vigorously to what often seem like minor slights. What appear in many cases to be professional disputes are, in practice, deeply personal grievances based in Moore’s belief that someone he had trusted betrayed him. The implications and causes of this odd tendency will become clearer over the course of the War. 

Figure 165: Alan Moore's first Star Wars
strip, "The Pandora Effect," appeared in
The Empire Strikes Back Monthly #151
(cover artist uncredited, 1981)
Still, in the case of Doctor Who Monthly the dispute was ultimately minor. Moore left one publication and almost immediately took up work at the same company on another title in what was by and large a like-for-like substitution whereby he found himself writing five-page backup features about a different major science fiction franchise. This time it was Star Wars, specifically The Empire Strikes Back Monthly

There are few external events as significant to the War as the 1977 release of George Lucas’s science fiction epic Star Wars. The movie almost single-handedly changed both the default aesthetics of science fiction and the economic climate in which science fiction was made, not only in film, but in other media. From a business perspective, Star Wars is a dividing line in the history of film. The boom in sci-fi/fantasy film that started in the late 1970s is almost entirely due to the impact of Star Wars, which grossed what was a then-staggering $300m, nearly double what the next highest grossing film (Close Encounters of the Third Kind) made. From that point on, science fiction was box office gold. But the film’s real impact came from George Lucas’s decision to take a half-million dollar cut in his fee for directing the film in favor of retaining the merchandising rights, which he exploited ruthlessly. First he ginned up interest in the movie by getting the novelization and the first issues of the Marvel Comics version of the film out ahead of the film’s release. 

Figure 166: Marvel Comics' Star Wars
adaptation was major business for the
company, and a hugely successful
promotion for the film (Howard
Chaykin, 1977)
This alone was a big deal. The American comics industry was in rocky shape in the late 1970s, and the success of Marvel’s Star Wars adaptation was credited by Jim Shooter, who took over as Editor-in-Chief in the 1980s, for keeping the company afloat, crediting Roy Thomas, who secured the rights for Marvel, with single-handedly saving the company. Even more significant, however, was the toy line, the license for which went to Kenner. The toys were so popular that Kenner was hopelessly swamped by demand, and spent Christmas 1977 selling certificates that could be redeemed for toys in the new year. That year the toys were so successful that, if they were a film, their gross sales would have made them the fifth biggest of the year. 

Star Wars, in other words, was not merely a successful film. It created the idea of science fiction films as a large-scale franchise. This was not an entirely original idea - Gerry Anderson spent the 1960s and early 70s running a small television empire based on promoting his shows in multiple media, making sure to have official comics magazines and the like that tied in and advertised the shows. But Star Wars brought things to a new level. The larger franchise of toys, comics, books, and, with later films, every other sort of merchandise imaginable became bigger sources of income than the films themselves, such that a new film was in many ways simply an advertisement for the much larger set of marketing it inspired. This was the logic under which Doctor Who acquired its own comics magazine, and was similarly the logic under which The Empire Strikes Back Weekly (later The Empire Strikes Back Monthly) existed as well. In short, science fiction properties weren’t just texts in their own right; they were big business in their own right.

But Star Wars had another sort of influence that was largely aesthetic. This is usually described in terms of a shift towards big-budget, special effects laden blockbusters. This is true, but in many ways just a subset of a larger issue. The real aesthetic shift that Star Wars offers is that it is the last nail in the coffin of science fiction as a genre in the sense of plot structure, as opposed to as a genre in the sense of a given iconography. There was a brief moment, generally referred to as the Golden Age of Science Fiction, in which science fiction stories tended to amount to logic problems. This era is encapsulated by the definition writer Theodore Sturgeon gave for science fiction when he said, “a science fiction story is a story built around human beings, with a human problem, and a human solution, which would not have happened at all without its scientific content.” This definition, intriguing as it is, described a wealth of stories that often boiled down into one of two categories. The first are basically logic puzzles, in which some technological snafu is solved through clever thinking about well-defined rules. The canonical example is Isaac Asimov’s novel/short story collection I, Robot, in which basically all of the stories take this tact, playing with Asimov’s invention of the “Three Laws of Robotics,” which state, in order, that a robot can never allow a human to be hurt, must always obey humans, and must protect its own existence, with each law being trumped by the preceding one(s). So in the story “Runaround,” for instance, a particularly expensive robot who has been put in a peculiar situation whereby a particularly casually given command conflicts with a third law that has been bolstered in the robot so that “his allergy to danger is unusually high,” resulting in a sort of feedback loop that the robot cannot escape from. The solution, of course, is for one of the human characters to throw themselves in danger in the presence of the robot, thus triggering the sacrosanct First Law of Robotics and breaking the robot from its cycle.

Figure 167: The Golden Age of Science
Fiction had an iconic artistic style...
(Hubert Roberts, Astounding Science
Fiction 
28.6, 1942)
The other sort of story can be described as thought experiments. On the short story level they include things like Arthur C. Clarke’s “The Star,” which tells the story of an expedition exploring the remnants of a supernova and discovering a scorched planet with the ruins of a civilization in its orbit. The story is a straightforward twist ending piece, continuing for roughly 2500 words of the narrator, a futuristic Jesuit monk, describing the expedition and its discovery of some awful truth that will shake the Catholic faith to its core. In the final paragraph it’s revealed that the narrator has successfully dated the explosion of the supernova. Clarke writes, “There can be no reasonable doubt: the ancient mystery is solved at last. Yet, oh God, there were so many stars you could have used. What was the need to give these people to the fire, that the symbol of their passing might shine above Bethlehem?” But this structure is suitable for more than just twist ending short stories; Walter M. Miller’s acclaimed A Canticle for Leibowitz holds to the same basic structure, imagining a monastic community after a nuclear war has devastated the world, pouring over memorabilia and artifacts of the world and interpreting detritus like shopping lists as holy relics. The story has numerous moments of moving humanity, but its sheer scope - the novel takes place over 1200 years - means that it cannot be treated as a character piece. It is instead an imagined history - an attempt not to tell a story about people but about what might happen following a particular set of events.

Both types of stories were, if not unique to science fiction as a genre, at least distinct narrative forms that existed on their own terms. They were neither the episodic and epic-derived structure of other stories in the pulp-derived magazines they were often first published in nor the tightly wound literary structure that derives from Aristotelean tragedy. They were also, however, a vanishingly brief moment in literary history, belonging squarely to the dreams of technocratic utopia that flourished in the aftermath of World War II. The 1960s New Wave of science fiction writers like Michael Moorcock and J.G. Ballard challenged it thoroughly, and the style was on the wane for decades. What Star Wars did was not so much to reject the style anew as to provide a credible alternative, where science fiction became an iconography for straight-up pulp adventure. Much of Star Wars could just as easily be done as a sword-and-sorcery epic (indeed, the interchangeability of the two plots was the underlying premise of D.C. Thompson’s Starblazer) or as a swashbuckling pirate story.

Figure 168: ...which George Lucas unabashedly appropriated
for his film.
In this regard what is significant is not so much that Star Wars was full of visual spectacle, but that the visual spectacle was often a direct homage to the vibrant cover art of old pulp sci-fi magazines. The irony here is considerable - the film that finally killed off the Golden Age aesthetic for good did so by mimicking the cover art of the very magazines that had housed much of the Golden Age. There are moments in Star Wars where one can practically identify the exact cover of Astounding Science Fiction that inspired the shot. But the genius of Star Wars was not simply in its use of visual spectacle. What Star Wars did was to take the plot elements of the pulp epic and fit them together into a film with a compelling storyline that hung together like literary fiction. The way it did this was by using a plot structure called “the hero’s journey” established by Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero With A Thousand Faces.

On one level Campbell was a critic not unlike Vladimir Propp, in that he argued for the existence of a single plot structure that described a large number of stories. But while Propp was content to describe Russian folk tales and Russian folk tales alone, Campbell’s ambition is nothing short of describing the overall structure of all mythology. His underlying structure is a simple one involving a hero receiving the “call to adventure,” encountering a series of obstacles and encounters, the culminating set of which are, in Campbell’s telling, the Meeting with the Goddess, the Atonement with the Father, and Apotheosis. 

Figure 169: The spirit of Binah in her
aspect as Marie (Alan Moore and J.H.
Williams III, Promethea #21, 2002)
Campbell describes all of these in his characteristically flowery language. The Meeting with the Goddess, for instance, is “a mystical marriage of the triumphant hero-soul with the Queen Goddess of the World” that is “the crisis at the nadir, the zenith, or at the uttermost edge of the earth, at the central point of the cosmos, in the tabernacle of the temple, or within the darkness of the deepest chamber of the heart.” The figure is a sort of sacred feminine akin to what is represented Kabbalistically in the Sephirah of Binah, or Understanding. Campbell’s description of one manifestation, the Lady of the House of Sleep, is telling: “She is the paragon of all paragons of beauty, the reply to all desire, the bliss-bestowing goal of every hero’s earthly and unearthly quest. She is mother, sister, mistress, bride. Whatever in the world has lured, whatever has seemed to promise joy, has been premonitory of her existence… Time sealed her away, yet she is dwelling still, like one who sleeps in timelessness, at the bottom of the timeless sea.” This invocation of the sea closely mirrors Dion Fortune’s description of Binah as “the Great Mother, sometimes also called Marah, the Great Sea… She is the archetypal womb through which life comes into manifestation.” 


Within Campbell, however, this event is paralleled by another immediately after, which Campbell calls Woman as the Temptress. After encountering the Goddess there comes a point where women “become the symbols no longer of victory but of defeat,” for “no longer can the hero rest in innocence with the goddess of the flesh; for she is become the queen of sin.” This evokes the virgin/whore complex at the heart of many depictions of the sacred feminine, and captured chillingly in the revelation given to Edward Kelley while scrying in the seventh aethyr that drove him to abandon magic: [continued]

Comments

Eric Gimlin 3 years, 9 months ago

I wish I could remember where I saw the quote, I seem to recall Alan Moore once saying something along the lines that he made a point of burning bridges when he walked away from something, so his later, more reasonable self couldn't change his mind and go back later. Walking away from Doctor Who differs from that in that he didn't (then) burn bridges with the company. (Then again, it seems like Marvel has spent a good part of the last two decades trying to get back in Moore's good graces- and to some degree succeeding, in that he's at least allowing reprints of his stuff.)

Just the existence of UK created stories in Empire Strikes Back Monthly seems odd. I remember a mention of the UK stories at some point in the US Star Wars comic's letter page (or maybe Bullpen Bulletins), saying that new material had to be created because, unlike most of the Marvel universe reprint series, there wasn't years of backlog to fit the weekly schedule in the UK. But if the series had dropped to monthly, the need for original material should have faded as well. And if the reason for the frequency change was poor sales, then commissioning new material doesn't really make sense either. I suppose it's not impossible Marvel UK was just cutting down on their number of weekly books around then; given that Doctor Who went to monthly as well and I think it's roughly around then that Mighty World of Marvel became Marvel Super-Heroes and went to weekly as well. (It wasn't an outright end of weekly titles; Spider-Man and Zoids was weekly a few years later- and another important front in the war.)

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matt bracher 3 years, 9 months ago

The "Wild Space" omnibus from Dark Horse Comics contains these UK-only stories in their entirety, where those that made it to the States were usually chopped up to reformat them as novel-sized volumes.

A fascinating, and much of the time fun, read.

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matt bracher 3 years, 9 months ago

I'm curious about the delay due to lack of images.

The pictures have often increased comprehension for me, from an era where I know little of the people or titles.

What are the reasons that they're omitted from the ebooks?

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Jordan Murphy 3 years, 9 months ago

Great cliffhanger ending to this installment. I could almost the scream sting in my head.

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Eric Gimlin 3 years, 9 months ago

Hmm, that looks like it could be a fun volume. My oldest original owner comic is Star Wars #21, from when I was 7; I've long ago stopped caring about the movies for the most part but still have a fondness for the comic. I did very recently pick up the two Devilworlds issues reprinting the Moore material, though.

I may be wrong, but I think this about the only point where Dark Horse actually publishes (or even reprints) anything by Alan Moore. They seem to avoid the British Invasion quite thoroughly, with only a few adaptations of Neil Gaiman short stories coming to mind. (I'm probably missing something obvious...)

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BerserkRL 3 years, 9 months ago

I remember that comic -- my first clue that the upcoming film "STAR WARS" I'd seen a handmade sign for at the movie theatre was going to be science fiction rather than about Hollywood stars.

And I remember puzzling over the cover: Vader in green (and with his mask wrong, looking like a WWI aviator), Han in beigey-orange, Leia in black (with red hair and, for some reason, closed eyes), and Luke and Ben with red lightsabres. These errors were only on the cover, not in the inside art.

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BerserkRL 3 years, 9 months ago

I also remember picking up the novel and thinking "wow, for a movie director this George Lucas guy writes pretty well; he writes just like Alan Dean Foster." Which, it later transpired, was just the right name to think of.

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BerserkRL 3 years, 9 months ago

The Empire Strikes Back Weekly (later The Empire Strikes Back Monthly)

The joke writes itself.

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BerserkRL 3 years, 9 months ago

I would guess it's because fair use arguments are regarded as weakened when the product is sold than when it's offered for free.

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matt bracher 3 years, 9 months ago

Which makes sense... I can just think of so many things --- granted, before digital --- where it wasn't an issue.

I'd interpret this more as a scholarly work, where occasional illustrations are necessary to supplement the text. Oh well.

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Daibhid C 3 years, 9 months ago

This highlights the second interesting part of the dispute, which is the nature of the objection. It is manifestly not that McKenzie was using Steve Moore’s characters without his permission. Steve Moore was well aware that he didn’t own Daak or his fellow Star Tigers.

But ... but all disputes between creators and comic book companies must be about character ownership and creator rights! And if Alan Moore's involved they must be even more about it!

This is a key facet in Moore’s disputes, and one that is often lost on his critics. Moore rarely objects to specific practices so much as he objects to people who change the rules on him when he feels he’s upheld his side of a bargain.

As the above sarcasm is intended to convey, it's occasionally been lost on some of his supporters as well...

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matt bracher 3 years, 9 months ago

In elementary school we had the occasional book fair, and one time the novelization was part of the collection. Of course it went on my purchase list. My best friend, though... his mother didn't believe it existed. Which, in a way, it didn't --- I, who took at face value the author's name, was mightily surprised to find out that it was Foster's work instead.

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Daibhid C 3 years, 9 months ago

Locally-written backup strips in the media-franchise titles was just what Marvel UK did -- they did the same thing with Transformers (Simon Furman - who was eventually hired to write the US book), and I think The Real Ghostbusters ran for several years before they reprinted any American comics.

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BerserkRL 3 years, 9 months ago

Part of the problem with copyright law, even if the basic principle were justified (as I don't think it is), is that there are few predictable guidelines for fair use. People just have to take their best guess as to what will hold up in court.

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Eric Gimlin 3 years, 9 months ago

I know who Simon Furman is; I actually found out after winning the auction that he was the one selling one of the issues of DAREDEVILS I have. I know the UK did the new stories in media tie-in titles, but I thought that was normally because they didn't have the backlog from the US to maintain their output. I suppose it's entirely possible that's why it started but it became standard after a while. Empire Strikes Back came out after the UK produced Hulk Comic, so they had definitely reached the point where they were producing more material on their own.

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Dan Abel 3 years, 9 months ago

Yes, transformers quickly ran out of material, between the mini-series and the series proper if i recall correctly - it was a long time ago. I always assumed a lot of the production of local material post Dez Skinn was for those reasons.

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Iain Coleman 3 years, 9 months ago

The actual influence of Joseph Campbell upon Star Wars is greatly exaggerated, not least by George Lucas himself.

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Matthew Blanchette 3 years, 9 months ago

Quite correct; for more info, I suggest you look up (or, indeed, purchase) The Secret History of Star Wars, by Michael Kaminski, because it's invaluable on that topic and many others.

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Matthew Blanchette 3 years, 9 months ago

I'm very glad to own an omnibus reprint copy of the original films' novelizations, because it's invaluable to getting some measure of what the films may have been like before cutting.

For instance... George Lucas worked very closely with Alan Dean Foster in providing him story-related information for his novelization, because if Star Wars didn't work out (and there was every chance, before release, of that being the case), then the Star Wars universe was going to continue on in a trilogy of books by Foster, with Star Wars being the first and Splinter of the Mind's Eye, also written by Foster with input from Lucas, being the second.

The third book, obviously, never got written due to the massive success of the first film creating need for a bigger, more expensive sequel than what Splinter of the Mind's Eye could offer, but Foster's closeness to Lucas in the 1975-78 period subsequently resulted in story information that could not have fitted into the original film going into the novelization; for instance, the first time the Emperor's name, Palpatine, was used in print was in Foster's novelization.

Scores of scenes deleted from the film also made their way into the novelization, but the most important thing to note is that, when Foster wrote the novelization, he was working from a version of the film somewhat different from what was released -- the release version of Star Wars had been DRASTICALLY (and I emphasize that word) re-edited from its original cut, and, indeed, the original screenplay, by a team of editors including Lucas's wife.

The novelization, therefore, shows us a Star Wars that might have been.

The other two novelizations don't have as many drastic differences, though deleted scenes still wind up appearing in each. It took another thirty years for the actual footage from those scenes to see the light of day... so that, like the Target novelisations of Doctor Who, they preserved the potentiality of those versions in the imaginations of its readers; a potentiality that otherwise might have been lost, with no one awaiting its rediscovery.

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Iain Coleman 3 years, 9 months ago

That is indeed my source, and I second your recommendation.

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Matthew Blanchette 3 years, 9 months ago

Bravo, my good man! Excellent source, no? :-)

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