The Last War in Albion, aka "A Four-Colour Psychochronography"
The Last War in Albion is an ongoing feature of this site, currently running on Fridays. It is an ongoing critical history of the British comics industry focused primarily on the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. Its primary narrative runs from the publication of Grant Morrison's earliest professional comics work in 1979 through to the present day, although its style is characterized by frequent digressions both forwards and backwards in history.
The structure of The Last War in Albion is an ongoing serial - each entry begins with the last few sentences of the previous entry, and leaves off with a simple "[continued]" after what will become the first few sentences of the next entry. Jumping around will thus produce some confusion, although hopefully a pleasant and entertaining level.
The nature of this project means a lot of crawling around through the archives and trying to piece together timelines of decades old events. This at times requires tremendous practical help, and several people have provided various forms of material support in writing this project. To wit, I would like to extend special thanks to Meredith Collins, David Dovey, Ben Hansom, Andrew Hickey, Pádraig Ó Méalóid, Lance Parkin, Alex Reed, Matt Feltman, Roger Whitson, Anna Wiggins, and, of course, Jill Buratto.
Tables of contents for individual books of the project follow:
Previously in The Last War in Albion: Blake's artistic career was a continual and unceasing war against the very notion of certainty and fixity, as represented in the figure of Urizen.
But there is a more foundational aspect of Blake’s unfixed style - one upon which these textual incommensurabilities build. Blake’s illuminated works exist in individually printed and hand-colored copies, no two of which are identical. In the case of The Book of Urizen, for instance, eight copies are known to exist, six of which are widely available. And the differences among these copies are significant; as mentioned, the fourth plate (from which the “solid without fluctuation” line originates) only exists in three of the copies. No two copies place the full-plate illustrations in the same order or locations throughout the text. Plates 8 and 10 each contain the beginning of a section labeled Chapter IV, each of which begins with a stanza numbered 1; on top of that, the order of the two plates is reversed in several copies. Several illustrations change dramatically across copies as well; Plate 6 depicts three figures hung upside-down, bound in serpents, and cast into fire, save for in Copy D, where there is ...
|Figure 957: The frontispiece to The Book of Ahania, showing Urizen's murder of Ahania. (By William Blake, 1795)|
Previously in The Last War in Albion: William Blake, who contains within himself at least one entire past War in Albion, wrote compellingly of the importance of opposition in forward progress.
But as mentioned, by this standard Blake had no true friends; only those who, like Catherine, respected and pitied him. He wrote in mindful opposition to writers like Swedenborg and Milton, but both were dead by the time he addressed them, their replies to him limited to his own dreams and visions. He existed singularly within his time; and perhaps within any other. Given this, it is perhaps no surprise that he turned his vision inward, making a rival of himself to serve in place of the one the world would and could not provide. Within himself, however, Blake found far more than mere Contraries, a notion Blake was quick to move beyond, if indeed the simplistic alchemic model of unifying opposites was ever anything but an element of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’s satire. Certainly by the time of The Book of Urizen he had come to ...
Previously in The Last War in Albion: The War was revealed to have certain similarities to the life and work of William Blake, whose mythology was built around the dualism of the creator Los and the tyrannical geometer Urizen.
|Figure 954: Los recoils in horror from his work as Urizen's body assembles itself. (By William Blake, from The Book of Urizen Copy G, written 1794, printed 1818)|
As Blake’s dualism suggests, his instinctive mode of resistance to Urizen, both within himself and without, was creation. Specifically, in Blake’s case, the creation of art. As The Book of Urizen itself makes clear by depicting Los’s failure, the point is not that this resistance will “stop” or “defeat” Urizen, or indeed any other figure one wishes to inveigh against. Indeed, the point is often simply a matter of need or compulsion. Much like Watchmen is simply not a thing one writes if one is capable of avoiding doing so, the ornately realized illuminated prophecies that Blake creates - especially the late career ones such as the fifty page Milton a Poem and the hundred page Jerusalem the Emanation of the Giant Albion - are not works that people create incidentally. In many ways ...
|Figure 950: Ozymandias rejoices at saving the world. (Written by Alan Moore, art by Dave Gibbons and John Higgins, from Watchmen #12, 1987)|
Previously in The Last War in Albion: Part of what made Watchmen so successful was that its sense of apocalyptic grandeur was a good fit for the mid-80s. And speaking of apocalyptic grandeur, there seems to be this weird sense that the chapter is progressing towards some sudden and decisive turning point. Wonder what that's about.
But the most chilling part of Moore’s labyrinth is not the sense of doom that hangs over it. Rather, it is his exploration of what, at first glance, would seem to be an innocuous, even optimistic line of thought. A core element of superhero stories, after all, is that superheroes save people. So how might that apply to the nuclear eschaton looming over Watchmen? To pinch a framing from Grant Morrison, if the bomb is an idea, what better idea could superheroes possibly offer to counter them? But far from offering any sort of hopeful, utopian vision of superheroes averting atomic crisis (that hardly being an original notion, after all), Moore, thinking about this question, came up with a genuinely ...
Previously in The Last War in Albion: Watchmen seemed not born so much as ground like pigment from its time; something that could only possibly have been created by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons in 1986, at that point in their career, out of the specific interests they had at the time.
|Figure 947: Eroticized war in Watchmen. (Written by Alan Moore, art by Dave Gibbons and John Higgins, from Watchmen #7, 1986)|
Moore has often made the joke that Watchmen was the result of a “bad mood” that he was in during the period. This is by and large understating things. In interviews from the time, Moore seems genuinely convinced that the world is going to end, certainly during his children’s lifetime, if not during his, and probably in some sort of nuclear explosion. In one interview, for instance, he notes that “in forty years the rain forests will be gone. If the rain forests are gone, we can't breathe. Simple as that. There's nothing that's more simple than that: no trees, no air. One of my children is eight. She said to me the other day, “I’ll only be forty-eight, won't I?' and I said. 'Yeah ...
Previously in The Last War in Albion: Alan Moore simultaneously experienced the whole of his existence and also finished Watchmen. The experience left him a bit drained.
Moore’s disorientation and confusion in the wake of Watchmen is wholly understandable. Even reading Watchmen is, at times, enough to generate a sense of dazed exhaustion. And this is very much the point - an effect consciously generated by Moore’s use of the dense uniformity of the nine-panel grid. As Kieron Gillen puts it in Kieron Gillen Talks Watchmen, “if we’re talking about the many icons of Watchmen, [the nine-panel grid] is the invisible one. It underlies everything. We’re to watch these little boxes - hundreds of them - and make sense by combining them all into a larger piece of meaning. Watch,” he says, and snaps his fingers to cue his projectionist to advance his PowerPoint to a shot of Ozymandias watching his wall of television screens. Gillen talks about the comic as a “clockwork machine” in which “everything is predetermined. The forces that are put into motion mean this… the clock will carry on ticking, and if you read Watchmen enough you’ll know what the next tick is.” Gillen, here, is ...
|Figure 938: Miracleman throws a car full of people at Kid Miracleman. (Written by Alan Moore, art by John Totleben, from Miracleman #15, 1988)|
Previously in The Last War in Albion: Coming to the end of his run on Miracleman, Moore decided to grapple with as brutally realistic a portrayal of a superhero fight as he could imagine - to actually show what such a battle would mean for the world in which it took place.
Moore had grappled with some of this in the first Miracleman/Kid Miracleman fight when, for instance, Kid Miracleman hurls a baby through the air in the middle of the fight, distracting Miracleman by throwing a baby at a nearby building, which Miracleman of course saves, but with the note that he’s broken a couple of the baby’s ribs because of the speed he was traveling, a grimly funny note of realism in a standard superhero trope. There’s a not entirely dissimilar moment in Miracleman #15 when Miracleman, in another fairly standard superhero punch-up moment, picks up a car and throws it at Kid Miracleman. “My apologists have claimed the car that I first hurled at Bates was empty, those who’d ...
|Figure 930: Winter is worth it. (Written by Alan Moore, art by Rick Veitch and Rick Bryant, from Miracleman #9, 1986)|
Previously in The Last War in Albion: After a convoluted series of events, Alan Moore's Marvelman, now renamed Miracleman, was published in the US by Eclipse, and Moore was writing new material for it, starting with a controversial issue including detailed images of Liz Moran giving birth.
As the sequence reaches its most famous page, it switches structure, the sepia-toned panels becoming insets on the full-color ones instead of the other way around as the baby’s head emerges. “Did it feel like this, when you took the first cell scrapings,” Miracleman asks the absent Gargunza. “Did it feel like this as you watched it divide and replicate; as you hauled me dripping from the tank? The head emerges; a face drawn on a fist. My eyes cannot grasp the fact of it: a head protruding from inside her. It looks so hideous, beautiful, absurd, awesome. But of course. Of course.” And finally, as Miracleman grasps his daughter’s head to finish delivering her, he asks, “was it worth it? Worth the risk of loosing gods and monsters ...