Someone Fabulous Like Me (The Last War in Albion Part 50: Alan Moore's Image)

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This is the tenth and final part of Chapter Seven of The Last War in Albion, focusing on Alan Moore's work on Captain Britain for Marvel UK. An omnibus of the entire is available for the ereader of your choice here. You can also get an omnibus of all seven existent chapters of the project here or on Amazon (UK).

The stories discussed in this chapter are currently out of print in the US with this being the most affordable collection. For UK audiences, they are still in print in these two collections. 

Previously in The Last War in Albion: Alan Moore wrapped his Captain Britain run with a characteristically ambiguous story full of ambivalence over the nature of Britain itself. After a few installments written and drawn by Alan Davis, Marvel UK launched a solo series for the character.



"I always new I was a special, lovelier-than-average person. It only makes sense that Jesus would turn out to be someone fabulous like me." - Alan Moore

Three months later, Marvel UK relaunched Captain Britain as a comic in its own right, with the idea being that the comic would also get US distribution and feature exclusively UK-created material. In practice this meant that Captain Britain was accompanied by a reprint of Steve Moore’s Abslom Daak strips from Doctor Who Weekly, a reprint of the first Night Raven strip from Hulk Comic, and a strip featuring the Free-Fall Warriors, obscure backing characters from a Doctor Who Monthly strip written by Steve Parkhouse.

Figure 369: Alan Davis revisits a famous
panel. (Written by Jamie Delano, in
Captain Britain #2, 1985)
This time around Captain Britain was written, on Moore’s recommendation, by Jamie Delano, who had impressed writing the Night Raven text pieces after Moore gave them up. Delano’s run faces the exact problem one would expect following Moore’s, which is that there’s not a lot to work with besides bringing back Moore’s own concepts. Sure enough the Crazy Gang appears, as set up by Davis, allowing Davis to recycle his best panel from Marvel Super-Heroes #377, followed by a version of the Special Executive from a hundred years earlier than the original called Gatecrasher’s Technet. By Davis’s account, it was not an especially happy collaboration - Davis described Delano’s scripts as “dark, strange, cerebral,” tales that “didn’t fit in the super hero genre,” and claims that he “was the senior partner, initially supplying plots and long story, then mutilating and reworking Jamie’s scripts,” which led to Delano departing the title after only thirteen issues. Davis, by this time, had found work in the US and was largely uninterested in continuing to work for Marvel UK wages anyway, leading to the demise of the series after its fourteenth issue, a conclusion written and drawn by Davis. After that the character reverted to the American superhero he always in reality was, making a couple of appearances in Claremont-penned X-Men annuals and a suitably dreadful two issue appearance in Captain America before Claremont and Davis used him along with some X-Men castoffs to create Excalibur, a supposedly British superhero team that was written and published in the United States and consisted 80% of characters created by Americans, a move that essentially brought the character full circle a decade after his creation.

Figure 370: The face of Merlin is clumsily pasted over
what was originally Tom Baker's face in the Daredevils
reprint of Alan Moore and John Stokes's "Star Death."
This, however, is not quite the entire story. It is worth returning to “I Belong to Glasgow,” not so much for its content as its context. It is one of several text pieces that Moore contributed to Marvel UK as part of his willingness to help Bernie Jaye get The Daredevils together. (Although it appears in The Mighty World of Marvel, the convention in question took place during the Daredevils run, and presumably Moore was commissioned for the piece under Jaye only to have it held back - it is, in any case, the only text piece he wrote for The Mighty World of Marvel.) As mentioned, “I Belong to Glasgow” is in many regards an extension of his time writing the Fanzine Reviews column for The Daredevils. Moore had some experience in the fanzine community, having attempted to launch a fanzine called Dodgem Logic in 1975, getting as far as completing an interview with Brian Eno for it, and had subscribed to and bought numerous others over the years. But his reviews of fanzines was only a part of a larger campaign that had the effective result of turning The Daredevils into Moore’s personal fanzine, with Moore contributing pages of content to the early issues, culminating in The Daredevils #5, in which twenty-three pages of the fifty-four page magazine were written by Alan Moore. That magazine included a reprint of his Doctor Who Monthly story “Star Death,” two pages of fanzine reviews, a one page overview of the Special Executive, a three page article entitled “O Superman: Music & Comics,” three pages of a serialized essay entitled “Invisible Girls and Phantom Ladies” about sexism in comics, and ten pages of Captain Britain

Figure 371: Alan Moore's Frank Miller
parody. (From The Daredevils #8, 1983)
All told, over the eleven issues of The Daredevils, Moore provided sixty-two pages worth of original material in addition to his Captain Britain strips. This surprisingly large body of work consists of several pages of fanzine reviews, the aforementioned essays “O Superman” and “Invisible Girls and Phantom Ladies,” a two-part essay on Stan Lee, a six-page essay on Frank Miller, several text pieces featuring Night Raven, and a short comic story parodying Frank Miller’s Daredevil. This is a significant body of work to produce in a year, doubly so when that year involved a near sweep of the Eagle Awards that October. It is often said that getting an ongoing strip in 2000 AD is the crown jewel in a British comics career, but in terms of Alan Moore’s 1983 Skizz isn’t even one of the most prominent features. It was an astonishingly good year for Moore, and, perhaps more to the point, it’s clear that Moore appreciated how well he was doing - in a 1984 interview he declared, with not uncharacteristic hubris, “I reckon there are maybe a dozen people in the Western world who know as much or more than I do about writing comics,” while admitting that “this says more about the paucity of the medium than it does about my personal talents.” Whatever the arrogance involved in such a boast, however, it is difficult to disagree that Moore’s stock was rapidly rising over the course of 1983.

Figure 372: Alan Moore as station ident in The Daredevils
#1
Given this, the fact that he spend 1983 producing so much work, and in particular so much prose work, for The Daredevils is significant. In the year that Alan Moore broke out as a superstar in the field of British comics and crossed over to the much larger American industry, The Daredevils was where Alan Moore most gave a sense of himself as a person. Indeed, it is arguable that The Daredevils provided an essential component to Moore’s meteoric rise to global comics superstar, in that it allowed Moore to craft a persona that unified his disparate bylines into, for lack of a better word, a brand. Certainly that is the effect of the first Fanzine Reviews column in The Daredevils #1, which culminates in a picture of a young Alan Moore with distinctive beard and hair. “You have been listening to Alan Moore,” the caption proclaims, cementing the effect.

In many ways it is not so much the content of Moore’s text pieces as that is significant. Nobody will be surprised, after all, to learn that Moore believes that women in comics have consistently gotten the short end of the stick, although the degree to which Moore’s criticisms need essentially no updating to apply thirty years after he wrote them is unnerving in its own right. Similarly, given his longstanding influence on the particulars of comics as a medium, it is not a revelation that Moore is capable of an insightful and meticulous dissection of the merits of Frank Miller’s art for visual storytelling. Moore’s positions mark him out as, at times, “a wimpy, indecisive, burned-out wooley-minded liberal old hippy who eats quiche, saves whales, is friendly to the Earth and subscribes to Spare Rib, The Black One-Parent Gay Catholic Gazette, and Animal Welfare Against Nuking the Nazis Quarterly,” as he self-identifies at the start of “Invisible Girls and Phantom Ladies,” but little of what he says is particularly controversial, and even less is shocking or outside the norm. Given the things Moore would eventually come to say in interviews, his Marvel UK pieces are positively models of discretion.

Instead what jumps out about Moore’s text pieces is the tone, which is full of a carefully worked sense of irony and self-deprecation. His first piece, “The Importance of Being Frank,” opens with the declaration, “Listen, don’t you kids try to talk to me about comics! I’ve been reading the damn things for the past twenty two years and I’m bitter, jaded and cynical in terminal proportions.” Later he describes himself as “old, cranky and unreasonable,” furthering the joke. This basic approach appears in most of his text pieces. In his first Fanzine Reviews column he opens by saying that “fanzines, from my elevated and near-godlike perspective, are curious creatures,” going on to talk about his “two holiday homes in the Azores” and his mass of servants, closing with the advice that “fanzines with headlines along the lines of ‘Alan Moore: Genius or Demi-God?’ or ‘Alan Moore: Is He Too Good For Us, Or What?’ will obviously get a fairer shake down than the rest.” Moore plays this character consistently in his text pieces, and indeed continues to do so throughout his career. 

Figure 373: A 1912 poster for the Ziegfeld
Follies.
But this self-deprecation is consistently paired with an erudite tone and a meticulous insight, writing about a broad variety of topics with casual confidence. “Invisible Girls and Phantom Ladies” is in many regards his masterpiece in this regard, wandering from mainstream superhero comics to lengthy historical commentary on the genre to discussions of the Underground Comix scene while remaining clear and informative. “The Importance of Being Frank” is particularly sharp in this regard, describing one moment of Miller’s art where “in six tiny, narrow frames we see Daredevil turn first one way and then the other as if in an attempt to escape having to admit that he cannot see the picture, which remains unmoving and unwavering in the foreground throughout the entire six frame sequence. Eventually,” Moore explains, “Daredevil is forced to turn and face it, admitting his blindness. Through the way in which Miller arranges the shots we are made to feel the anguish of Daredevil’s decision in a manner which makes the speech balloons almost redundant.” This clarity is combined with sharply insightful jabs like the observation that he is skeptical whether “Supergirl could change Streaky the Supercat’s litter tray without looking like something from the Ziegfeld Follies.” 

This combination of ironic self-deprecation and eloquent clarity is a compelling persona for Moore to take. For one thing, it immediately protects Moore from any accusations of arrogance or pretension that might accompany his increasing prominence. Certainly at least some backlash existed along these lines: a letter in The Daredevils #8, for instance, gripes, “OK, so Mr. Moore is a great writer by British standards but do we have to endure so much of him,” while another complains that his writing is “on the same intellectual level as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” More broadly, Moore’s writing, with its often florid caption boxes and literary tone, does leave itself open to the accusation of pomposity. By ironically emphasizing his high regard for himself, Moore blunts the criticism, making it a shared joke with the reader as opposed to a case of Moore simply showing off.

But Moore’s self-branding in The Daredevils cannot be taken as a purely defensive measure. More than his tone insulates him from certain types of criticism, the public image he cultivated over the course of 1983 is simply terribly affable and appealing. He is in turns funny, insightful, and, when writing fiction instead of nonfiction, terribly clever. Beyond that, the inclusiveness of features like Fanzine Reviews, which engaged actively with the larger body of comics fandom, made it all the easier to be taken in by Moore’s charms. And sure enough, it worked: while there were occasional critical letters published, the overall tone of letters in The Daredevils are effusive in their praise for Moore, reiterating the consensus that he was the best comics writer in Britain at the time. Perhaps more impressive than the acclaim, however, was the degree to which the letters showed investment not merely in Moore’s work, but in Moore as a person - one writer talks about how meeting Moore at a convention changed his mind on Moore’s work, while another jokes about signing off a letter “until Alan Moore turns bald, Make Mine Marvel,” a line that demonstrates that the readers were not only aware of Moore as a byline on work, but were aware of him as a person and celebrity. 

Figure 374: The start of the second half of
Moore's "Blinded by the Hype." (From The
Daredevils
 #4, 1983)
There is, of course, an obvious source of inspiration for Moore in crafting this public persona: Stan Lee himself. Moore writes on this exact topic in an essay entitled “Stan Lee: Blinded By the Hype,” subtitled “an affectionate character assassination.” This subtitle is not entirely accurate - the only way in which Moore’s treatment of Lee might be called “affectionate” is in relation to his decades later discussions of Lee, where he has suggested outright that he detests Lee. Moore proclaims him a “flawed genius” in his second paragraph, and suggests, after praising Lee’s influence, that “on the other hand, without Stan Lee you wouldn’t have to sit through such marrow-chilling dreck as the Spider-Man television show. I suppose it’s a case of having to take the rough with the smooth.” Little barbs like this dot the essay - Moore leavens all of his praise of Lee’s writing with his usual self-deprecation, for instance, joking that he so enjoyed his first Fantastic Four comic (which his mother had bought him by mistake - he’d requested DC’s Blackhawk) “that that evening I threw mother an extra lump of raw meat and agreed to consider putting a couple of extra links in her chain.” It’s typical humor for Moore’s public persona in The Daredevils, but it’s worth noting that in this instance the self-deprecation comes alongside Moore’s discussions of how much he liked the comic, thus tacitly calling that very enjoyment into doubt.

Figure 375: Stan Lee in 1975 (Photo
by Alan Light)
But Moore does highlight a specific skill of Lee’s, admitting that, in childhood, “like most readers of that period” he “had become totally brainwashed by the sheer bellowing overkill of the Marvel publicity machine,” and later talking about “Lee’s genius for publicity.” Key to this genius, of course, was Lee’s careful maintenance of the illusion of a personal connection with the reader. As Moore puts it, “each successive cover” of a Marvel comic “boasted that this issue was destined to be ‘The Greatest Super Heroic Slugfeast in the Mighty Marvel Age of Comics,” and that “like the ninnies we were, we believed it” long after the comics had declined to the point where every issue “featured the same old mindless fight scenes that we’d been through a hundred times before.” And the reason for this is explicitly Stan Lee. “After all,” Moore muses, “when had Stan ever lied to us?”

Moore’s persona is, of course, far from the sort of bombastic hype that Lee favored in suggesting every single installment of every single comic to be the greatest comic ever, if not the greatest story in any medium ever. Where Lee favored a breathless optimism about everything, Moore was in turns sarcastic, heavily ironic, and prone to leavening any moment of self-praise with two more in which he pokes fun at himself. This is in marked contrast to, say, Dez Skinn, whose approach was to copy Lee’s continual effusiveness directly. Moore’s public persona cuts an altogether more nuanced figure, and perhaps more importantly, one rather more well-suited to British culture. 

Figure 376: Chris Claremont's  Colossus 
being even more incredibly Russian 
than usual.
But Moore’s take on Lee is in the end focused on considerably more than Lee’s capacity for promoting the line. For all that Moore’s praise of Lee is deeply backhanded, he does unequivocally praise the way in which Lee “managed to hold on to his audience long after they had grown beyond the age range usually associated with comic book readers” via “a constant application of change, modification, and development” that meant “no comic book was allowed to remain static for long,” and talking about the ways in which Lee’s characterization was far ahead of anything that had come before. (Admittedly, Moore was rather less kind elsewhere, suggesting that to Marvel, characterization consisted of saying “let’s be realistic and give them human characters. We’ll let them have one characteristic,” such that “if they haven’t got anything mentally wrong with them like that, something physically wrong with them will do - perhaps a bad leg or dodgy kidneys, or something like that. To Marvel, that’s characterization.” In the same interview, Moore takes particular relish skewering Chris Claremont [who he identifies as one of Lee’s imitators in “Blinded By the Hype”], saying that “he makes all his X-Men foreign. One’s a Russian… They’re incredibly Russian. They sort of sit there and let you know how Russian they are by thinking” things like “‘How I miss the happy camaraderie of the bread queues and the surprise purges.’”) 

This is also the note Moore opts to end his piece on, concluding that Lee “has had an influence upon the medium which is benign as it is poisonous” due to the fact that much of American comics were by 1983 simply slavish imitations of the Stan Lee format. “In effect,” he complains, “we have two big companies who are both Marvel comics to all intents and purposes but merely have different names,” describing comics as a “field populated solely by the pale ghosts of Lee’s former glories.” In all of this, he notes, Lee’s actual qualities as a writer are overlooked. “Stan Lee, in his heyday,” Moore explains, “did something wildly and radically different.” Moore concludes by asking who might step up and offer a similar revolution for the 1980s: “Any takers?”

Lance Parkin, quite reasonably, suggests that Moore had a very specific one in mind: himself. This isn’t unreasonable. As Parkin points out, an increasing number of UK creators, including Brian Bolland and Dave Gibbons, had been making the move to American comics. And in many ways, Moore did seem to be angling for it. Moore’s textual presence in The Daredevils was, after all, a sly updating of the Stan Lee formula, and his increasingly high profile across the British comics scene was giving him a visible degree of power within it. He was popular and he knew it. The idea that he could follow the course of other popular UK comics creators and break into America must have occurred to him. 

Perhaps more significantly, of course, he had prior form. Not two years ago, in his very first interview, he’d seemingly summoned the Marvelman job out of thin air, expressing interest in the character at the exact moment that an opportunity to write it came up. So if he did intend to hook a fish out of the aether with his impish suggestion that what American comic books could really use was a creative genius to completely upend everything, he did a good job with it - the very next month he received a phone call offering him the opportunity to do just that. [continued]

Comments

Kit 3 years ago

Tricksy title.

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prandeamus 3 years ago

Just to clear up something ... the references to Qqaba in "The Infinity Doctors" is reference to the strips quoted above? I'd previously assumed that name was created by Lance Parkin in the novel, as a variant of "Q Star" or whatever term was used in Barf of Infinity.

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IG 3 years ago

Qqaba is from the comics, yes. I think Parkin managed to cram in references to just about every depiction of Gallifrey in any medium ever in Infinity Doctors.

Pedantic caption correction: Len Wein (and Dave Cockrum) created Colossus, not Chris Claremont.

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Bob Dillon 3 years ago

“that that evening I threw mother an extra lump of raw meat and agreed to consider putting a couple of extra links in her chair.”

I think "chair" should be "chain".

Bob

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BerserkRL 3 years ago

I think the caption you wanted for "GRIT" was "Dog carcass in alley this morning, tire tread on burst stomach. The city is afraid of me. I can't see its true face."

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BerserkRL 3 years ago

So they couldn't use Tom Baker but they could reference "Gallifreyans"?

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BerserkRL 3 years ago

it is difficult to argue that Moore’s stock was rapidly rising over the course of 1983

But that's what you've just been doing. I think you mean it's difficult to argue that it wasn't?

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Daibhid C 3 years ago

They probably just thought it would be more relevant to Daredevils to have a Captain Britain character playing the role of Tharrg. I remember reading somewhere that when DWM itself reprinted one of these stories in the late eighties, they drew Sylv's face over Tom's.

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Jesse 3 years ago

It was a subtle allusion to Battlefield. In advance. Because timey-wimey.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years ago

Fixed this, the Colossus credit, and Rodericks' pedantry below. Thanks to all.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years ago

Roderick's. Goddammit.

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