“This is not a dream.” – Alan Moore, “Shadowplay,” in Brought to Light, 1988.
|Figure 1: The Great Bearded Wizard of Northampton|
The Last War in Albion is a history of British comics. More specifically, it is a history of the magical war between Grant Morrison and Alan Moore, a war that is on the one hand entirely of its own invention and on the other a war fought in the realm of the fictional, rendering its actual existence almost but not entirely irrelevant. The war in question is not the scant material residue of their verbal feud in various interviews over the years. This exists and will be picked over, but it is not the meat of the discussion.
Rather it is a more fundamental issue: how is it that two comics writers of nearly the same generation, with such a clear overlap in interests, who grew up a mere three-hundred-and-forty miles apart – no greater than the distance from New York to DC – a mere seven years in age difference (no larger than the age difference between J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis) are not friends and have not a hint of warmth in their relationship? This is almost as improbable as Morrissey and Robert Smith hating each other’s guts.
And yet it is the case. Underneath this fact is a story: one of how the British comics industry unexpectedly produced a small generation of some of the most important writers of the 1980s and 90s, and in turn had a huge cultural legacy in both the US and UK. So much so that the number three grossing movie of all time, Joss Whedon’s The Avengers is massively and documentably indebted to what was, prior to the arrival of people like Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Warren Ellis, Neil Gaiman, and a constellation of significant (and at times better) but less influential writers, the minor backwater of the lowest order of the British comics industry.
|Figure 2: The Thrice-Named Warrior Monk of Glasgow|
Within that story there are two figures that appear almost identical to an even casual observer. One, Alan Moore, is a heavily bearded self-proclaimed magician who made his name with DC Comics in 1984 writing Swamp Thing, an envrionmental-themed superhero-horror comic. The other, Grant Morrison, is a bald self-proclaimed magician who made his name with DC Comics in 1988 writing Animal Man, an environmental-themed superhero-horror comic. These two men are not friends. There are sensible reasons for this. Despite their intense similarities, there are fundamental aesthetic differences between Grant Morrison and Alan Moore that place them at diametric opposites of a host of issues with profound social, political, historical, and magical implications.
This latter adjective is worth remarking upon, as it is central to their differences. Both men believe in a system by which the manipulation of symbols creates material change in the real world. Both explicitly use their creative work in multiple media as an attempt to cause such change. Their comics are magic spells hurled into the culture wars, trying in their own way to reshape reality.