This is the first of seven parts of Chapter Four of The Last War in Albion, covering Alan Moore’s work on Doctor Who and Star Wars from 1980-81. An ebook omnibus of the entire chapter, sans images, is available in ebook form from Amazon, Amazon 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.
PREVIOUSLY IN THE LAST WAR IN ALBION: Alan Moore quit his job to become a comics creator, and between his work in Sounds Magazine and in his local paper was able to make £45 a week, slightly more than he was making on welfare. Thus began his career as a full-time professional comics creator. But Moore recognized that his art skills were not up to the task, and that he should look into the more efficient approach such as writing scripts for other people to draw…
There’s nobody there, was never anybody there except a fluctuation in the visual purple, a perceptual misunderstanding, trick of moonlight. -Alan Moore, Unearthing
|Figure 136: Part two of Three Eyes McGurk|
and his Death Planet Commandos (Steve
Moore, as Pedro Henry, and Alan Moore,
as Curt Vile, 1979)
Moore’s ascent from a grubby £45-a-week freelance existence to becoming one of the most successful and acclaimed artists of his era was similarly dependent on a variety of friends and helpers. Most significant of these, early on, was his friend Steve Moore, who he first met in the late 1960s, and who provided the model for his eventual transition into being a writer instead of a writer-artist. Steve Moore, in fact, is the writer behind the Pedro Henry pseudonym, and stepped in to help Moore manage his workload by plotting the final year of The Stars My Degradation. But Steve Moore’s influence is not just limited to this late game assist. One of the major characters of The Stars My Degradataion is Axel Pressbutton, an extravagantly violent cyborg who made his first appearance in a strip called “Three Eyes McGurk and his Death Planet Commandos,” another early non-paying gig Moore did for the minor British music magazine Dark Star. Moore had been working on a strip called The Avenging Hunchback, a superhero parody, but the second installment of that strip was lost when the editor’s car was stolen, and Moore was too disheartened to repeat all of his delicate stippling. Accordingly, Steve Moore stepped in to help his friend, writing “Three Eyes McGurk” as a replacement strip, and including the Pressbutton character. (Moore in fact based Pressbutton’s visual design on Lex Loopy, a Lex Luthor parody designed for The Avenging Hunchback.) “Three Eyes McGurk” ended up being Moore’s first American publication, getting a reprint in a 1981 anthology edited by Gilbert Shelton, and Moore went on to incorporate the character (earlier in his life, as he dies at the end of his original appearance) into The Stars My Degradation.
As mentioned, it was Steve Moore who taught Alan Moore to write comics scripts, and whose career was the early model for Moore’s transition away from being a writer-artist. But perhaps the most crucial intervention Steve Moore made in Alan Moore’s early career was utterly pragmatic, as he tipped Moore off to an imminent job vacancy at Marvel UK’s Doctor Who Magazine. It is not quite accurate to describe Steve Moore as a major combatant in the War. Much of the War’s practical impact concerns the movement of British comics creators into the American market. Steve Moore, however, never really did that much in American comics, and what he did was largely stuff directly in Alan Moore’s orbit. He is relatively reclusive – only a handful of interviews with him are readily available. Perhaps most significantly, it is difficult to identify any clear “major work” of his on which to anchor his performance. All of the other protagonists of the War have clear landmarks – major contributions to the psychic culture that constitute the primary battles of the War around which the lesser skirmishes orbit. But Steve Moore has at best minimal involvement in the major battles of the War. His career looks like that of the eternal journeyman; he contributed to a wealth of British comics, but never in a headlining role. His work is at times arcane – much was written under pseudonyms, including some of his best known work like the Laser Eraser and Pressbutton strips for Warrior. Inasmuch as it is famous it is largely because of his connection with Alan Moore.
|Figure 137: Steve Moore c. 2011 (photograph by Stan|
Steve Moore is by far the most constant and consistent of Alan Moore’s friends and collaborators. He was present at the earliest stages of Alan Moore’s career, scripting comics that Moore then drew under his Curt Vile pseudonym in 1979, at the dawn of Alan Moore’s career. And he remains present today; a significant part of Moore’s feud with Time Warner over the Watchmen film is over the fact that they withdrew the offer to let Steve Moore write the novelization of the film. Steve Moore has served as the editor of Moore’s Jerusalem manuscript, and their collaborative The Moon and Serpent Bumper Book of Magic has been teased for several years. Alan Moore, for his part, has been consistently effusive in crediting Steve Moore, saying in one interview, “When I was starting out he was an invaluable help. When I decided to move from being a cartoonist to being a writer, it was Steve who read through my early scripts and told me to lose half the words and gave me a lot of pointers on how to do it. And then later it was him who inspired me to become a practising magician. In many ways, he’s completely ruined my life!” But all of this exists primarily in the realm of influence.
In this regard Steve Moore’s impact upon the War is more akin to that of Glycon or the Vajra Hotel aliens than to that of someone like Warren Ellis or Kieron Gillen, or even, for that matter, someone like Garth Ennis or Peter Milligan. He is a guide and mentor to one of the War’s primary protagonists, in both a spiritual and practical sense. It is merely that, unlike Glycon, Steve Moore’s physical instantiation consists of more than just a Roman glove puppet. And yet this career is merely the visible evidence of a larger and stranger entity. As Alan Moore puts it in his introduction to Steve Moore’s 2011 novel Somnium, “I began to realize that the waking part of Steve Moore’s life, the part I knew, was just the iceberg’s tip. There was another life going on below the waterline.” This other life is, of course, further expanded in Alan Moore’s essay-turned-spoken-word-piece-turned-fumetti Unearthing, which unveils the full extent of Steve Moore’s mythic life. But for now what is relevant is his material, waking life.
|Figure 138: “The melancholic front of the Memorial Hospital,|
erected circa 1920 on the side of the old Admiralty Telegraph
where windmill vanes once clacked their urgent semaphore”
Steve Moore was born on the 11th of June in 1949 in a house situated on a close just off the main road of Shooter’s Hill, across from the old Memorial Hospital. Shooter’s Hill, the tenth highest point in London, is located in the southeastern portion of the city, about four miles into the eastern hemisphere, perfectly situated to get a complimentary Olympic Games missile battery installed in 2012. The nearest Underground stop is North Greenwich, on the Jubilee line, though the saner course of action would be the two mile walk from Woolwich Arsenal on the Docklands Light Railroad, or, if you prefer a cab, to get off at Lewisham, where there’s a cab rack. (The latter is Alan Moore’s preference in Unearthing) He has lived in this house for his entire life, save a three month stretch living in Westcliff-on-Sea in 1984.
|Figure 139: One of the many comics|
from Marvel that Steve Moore discovered
via Charles Platt’s Beyond (from Daredevil
#5, Stan Lee and Wally Wood, 1964)
Much of Steve Moore’s later life seems to extend inexorably from his two childhood interests: the ancient world and outer space. In both cases, he engaged those interests as a voracious reader, steadily packing his house with books. (Alan Moore describes how, in the late 1960s, his growing library resulted in his older brother being ousted from his bedroom and “banished to the boxroom, a comfort-fit coffin just across the tiny landing) He left school at sixteen, his only qualifications in science, and promptly found himself working for Rank Hovis McDougall in a laboratory job in Deptford, a mile and a half across the border into the western hemisphere.
Around the same time he became active in science fiction fandom at the earliest days of the new wave; he’d head home from meetings of the British Science Fiction Association on the tube along with John Carnell, Michael Moorcock’s predecessor as the editor of New Worlds. He got into fanzines, discovering Marvel Comics through an article in Charles Platt’s fanzine Beyond, then finding copies and eventually starting his own fanzine, the comics-focused Ka-Pow. This led to him helping organize the first two British comics conventions. Alan Moore missed the first of these, although he was recognized in the program as a non-attending member, but at the age of fifteen made the second one at the Waverly Hotel in London, by the Great Ormond Street Hospital, where he first met Steve Moore, with whom he’d previously exchanged letters.
|Figure 140: Power Comics would frequently|
alter and rearrange panels from Marvel’s
originals, as in this page from Smash! #85
(Original art from Daredevil #5 by Stan Lee
and Wally Wood, 1964, redone in 1967)
By this time Steve Moore had left his job as a flour grader for Rank Hovis McDougall and taken work at Odhams Press. Odhams was the first licensed republisher of Marvel Comics in the UK, repackaging Spider-Man and Hulk comics alongside sub-Beano and Dandy kids comics under the Power Comics label by rearranging the panels to fit the size of a British comics page and occasionally relettering them or redrawing portions to remove caption boxes and credits. Moore worked on Pow!, Fantastic, and Smash!, contributing his first story to Pow! #45 at the end of 1967. (IMAGE: FANTASTIC #30) The Power Comics label was a fairly slavish imitation of the Marvel Comics aesthetic; “Bullpen Bulletins” became “From the Floor of 64,” in lieu of the editorial presence of Smilin’ Stan Lee was Alf, bart, and Cos, and Steve Moore was duly embarrassed with his own alliterative nickname of Sunny Steve Moore, “with the planetary attribution so exactly wrong,” as Alan Moore wryly notes.
In 1969 Oldhams faltered and was sold off to IPC to work under their Fleetway banner. From there he bounced around various titles – a stretch on Valiant, another on Tiger, a brief run on War Picture Weekly, and then on to Whizzer and Chips and other humor magazines, one of which, Cor!, led to him working with Dez Skinn for the first time. In 1972 he decided to quit the editorial side of comics and take his chances on what Alan Moore drolly described as “the listing death-trap scaffolding of a freelance existence,” where he proceeded to churn out stories and articles across a vast number of genres and publications: The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires in Thorpe and Porter’s House of Hammer (under Skinn again), Orek the Outlander for Target Magazine, an underground piece called “The Void” for Cozmic Comics, an article on “Kung fu Girls” in Game, and an entirely fabricated account of sex tourism in Bangkok for Tit Bits that marked the first use of his Pedro Henry pseudonym, supporting himself in lean times by working at Bram Stokes’s Dark They Were and Golden Eyed.
|Figure 141: The debut issue of Doctor Who|
Weekly, featuring Tom Baker as Doctor Who
on the cover, posing with a Dalek.
Come 1979 Steve Moore was once again working under Dez Skinn, having come full circle back to working on UK reprints of Marvel Comics material, this time at Marvel UK. There he worked on Hulk Comic, penning both Hulk and Nick Fury strips, and in October of 1979 he found himself on the newly launched Doctor Who Weekly.
Doctor Who is a longstanding and peculiarly British feature of the sci-fi landscape. (Appendix 1: Doctor Who) It emerged in late 1963 as part of a broader initiative on the part of the BBC to attempt literate, intelligent sci-fi that collided headlong with the need for an adventure serial to show on Saturdays around teatime. The result was an idiosyncratic but flexible format – an elderly alien time traveler (the eponymous Doctor Who), his granddaughter, and two middle-aged British schoolteachers travel through space and time in a ship that appears to be a London police box on the outside, but that houses vast interior dimensions. What would have been a 60s curiosity running a few years inadvertently got an extended lease on life in 1966 when BBC executives had the idea to remove the ailing and difficult to work with William Hartnell from the lead role and replace him with Patrick Troughton, explaining this sudden change as a previously unknown aspect of Doctor Who’s alien nature. The combination of its extremely flexible premise, its ability to recast its leading man at will, and Troughton’s bold willingness to play the part in a starkly different manner from William Hartnell’s patrician take resulted in a show that could run indefinitely, and that became a British staple and icon.
By 1980, however, Doctor Who was a show in decline. Its leading man, Tom Baker, had been in the part for six years. Previously its sustaining genius had been its ability to reinvent itself for the times, but with Baker in place for so long it had begun to ossify into a familiar format. On his 1975 debut Baker was a breath of fresh air, mixing a magnetic charisma and sense of humor with a raft of well-produced stories that unabashedly nicked their aesthetic from Hammer Film’s horror movies. But by 1980 the show was finishing it’s seventeenth season, and Baker was spending most of his time on visible autopilot. On top of that, the economic malaise that hammered the UK in the late 1970s took its toll on the BBC budgets, and the show’s visual aesthetic, never its strong suit to begin with, plummeted. When the eighteenth season kicked off in the fall of 1980, it found itself getting hammered in the ratings by the American import of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century on ITV.
It was in this context that Marvel UK, in 1979, acquired the then-dormant license to do Doctor Who comics, coming out with Doctor Who Weekly. Its first issue, in October of 1979, ran twenty-eight pages, fourteen of which were comics. The lead feature was Doctor Who and the Iron Legion, featuring the magazine’s main coup – grabbing Pat Mills and John Wagner, co-creators of Judge Dredd for IPC’s 2000 A.D. – to write, and Dave Gibbons, a rising star at 2000 A.D. for art duties. The strip was striking both in the over the top mania of its concepts (the first story arc involves robotic soldiers from an alternate dimension where Rome never fell attacking England; later stories included The Star Beast, featuring the villainous Beep the Meep, a galactic conquerer who happens to look like an adorable, innocent fluffball of an alien) and for its willingness to engage in a level of violence that would never fly on the television series, both for reasons of budget and of taste.
The two supporting strips included a five page chapter of a Chris Claremont-penned comics adaptation of War of the Worlds framed as a “Tale from the TARDIS,” and the first installment of The Return of the Daleks, a four-pager by Steve Moore in which a futuristic movie mogul’s Dalek movie is overrun by actual Dalek. This story, however, is a backup feature not featuring Doctor Who himself except in an opening panel to introduce the story. This basic setup of a Wagner/Mills lead and a Steve Moore-penned backup without Doctor Who himself remained in place for the first thirty-four issues, although the “Tales from the TARDIS” feature was eventually replaced with lightly illustrated prose stories featuring Doctor Who and reprints of old 1960s Dalek comics.
|Figure 143: Abslom Daak embraces his fate|
in the first page of Abslom Daak… Dalek
Killer (Doctor Who Weekly #17, Steve
Moore and Steve Dillon, 1980)
Moore’s backing material was, in general, solid, often with a humorous touch. In Return of the Daleks he milks some solid comedy out of the Daleks mistaking the actor playing Nor-Din, the great general who defeated them, for the real thing. Similarly entertaining is a daft one-parter offering a solo adventure of K-9, Doctor Who’s robotic dog. That is not to say that comedy was his only tone – his second story, Throwback: The Soul of a Cyberman, is a surprisingly touching story about a Cyberman (a race of human-like creatures who steadily replaced themselves with mechanical parts and became emotionless robots) who malfunctions and acquires emotions. And elsewhere he indulges in spectacle aimed at Doctor Who fans, as with his two-part story pitting the Cybermen against one of the silliest Doctor Who monsters, the Ice Warriors, who are quite literally green lizard men from Mars.
The most significant of Steve Moore’s backup strips were a pair of stories introducing the character Abslom Daak. Daak’s first appearance was in Doctor Who Weekly #17 in a strip illustrated by Steve Dillon and titled simply Abslom Daak… Dalek-Killer. It opens with Daak being convicted of “murder, pillage, piracy, massacre, and other crimes too horrible to bring to the public attention” and being sentenced to his choice of “death by vaporisation or exile D-K.” Daak’s response is that “vaporisation doesn’t hurt,” and so he is teleported to a planet occupied by Daleks to kill as many as he can before they inevitably kill him. [continued]