Tag Archives: Image Comics

Image @ 25 : The Savage Dragon

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In late 1991 a group of Marvel Comics’ hottest artists gave Marvel (and later DC Comics) the collective middle finger and struck out on their own to form Image Comics.  The following summer, Image took the comic book world by storm. I’m looking back at some of the books that changed the industry forever, starting with Erik Larsen’s The Savage Dragon.

In the summer of 1992, I was a couple years into collecting comics.  I started with the usual: Spider-Man, The Avengers, occasionally some DC stuff.  The comics industry was growing and publishers were bringing out countless new characters and concepts, throwing the proverbial crap at the wall to see what would stick.

Boy, was there a lot of crap.

But, hey, I’m not here to throw stones.  I’m here to throw some praise on what I love.  And I loved some of those new guys on the block.  I’m looking at you, Darkhawk!  This guy still loves ya, Sleepwalker!

Y’see, the great thing about the new guys was they were all mine.  I got in on the ground floor and was able to watch them grow from the beginning.  Spidey had been around for near 30 years at that point.  Batman was over 50!  Beat it, gramps, there’s some young blood here to take us into the next Millennium!

Speaking of Youngblood…

The feeling of “All New Heroes Just For Me” took a big leap in 1992 with the launch of Image Comics.  At the time, I was wholly unaware of the inner workings at any comics publisher and had only just begun to appreciate different writers and artists.  So when the much-ballyhooed Image split took place, I didn’t even know about it until I realized that the Youngblood comic was drawn by the guy who used to do X-Force, Rob Liefeld.

While I can’t remember specifically, I suspect it was Wizard Magazine that eventually gave me the scoop on Image and all the badass comics that would soon be coming my way with a bevy of all new characters from artists I loved.  Spawn, Shadowhawk, Cyber Force – they were all in my wheelhouse, and while Youngblood was initially my favorite Image book, it would be a green-skinned strong man with a badge that stood the test of time.

Erik Larsen had followed Todd MacFarlane on both Amazing Spider-Man and then Spider-Man before again following MacFarlane (along with Liefeld and several others) out the Marvel door and into forming Image Comics, the biggest game changer the industry had seen since the release of Watchmen in 1986.

Larsen separated himself from the Image pack right away with The Savage Dragon.  While many of the Image founders relied on what worked for them at Marvel and cribbed heavily from those characters and concepts, Larsen went waaay back to his roots and brought a boyhood creation into the spotlight.

At first glance, it was easy to dismiss Dragon as an obvious Hulk clone.  Upon further inspection, however, the similarities are almost entirely cosmetic.  Aside from the green skin and super strength, there wasn’t much to compare.  The Hulk has gone through countless changes in his decades of existence, but the core concept remains a Jekyll/Hyde dynamic, the brute having little interest in the world around him.

Dragon was always Dragon. He took great interest in his world, which had a large supporting cast, including many he called friend.  Dragon was a Chicago cop committed to the job.  He was a thinker with a strong sense of right and wrong.  He had no patience for ignorance or cruelty.  He was a fully developed character from nearly the beginning, despite having no knowledge of his own origins.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Before diving into the early Dragon years, I want to take a quick look at the first issue of The Savage Dragon mini-series.  Most of the Image guys launched their new books as a mini-series, before starting again with a new #1 (Savage Dragon, Cyber Force) or just continuing on with the numbering once the series was proven to be sustainable (WildC.A.T.s).

Savage Dragon #1 was released in the summer of 1992 (July is the listed month, so it likely was released in May), and I had already been enthralled by Image thanks to Youngblood and Spawn’s debut issues.  I had pretty much decided to get every Image title I could afford, and thankfully my older brother was buying up Image books in speculator fashion, so what I couldn’t get for myself, I still had access to.

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The cover is a bit plain but still dynamic, right?  The Dragon, all muscled up, leaping at the reader, fangs bared.  And TWO TAGLINES!  A lot of early 90’s comics seem to have that going.  “1st BRUTAL ISSUE!” was an effective hook for a 12-year-old, I’ll tell you.  Wisely, Larsen’s name is prominent on the cover, which was rare before Image.  The creators were the draw, not the characters themselves, so it was a smart move.

The fin on his head was a bit of a mystery.  I don’t think I had ever seen the likes of it before.  Mohawks were not cool in this era, but given Larsen had dreamt Dragon up years prior, maybe that was an influence.  Regardless, it helped distinguish Dragon from ‘ol purple pants at Marvel.

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Page one starts us out right in the middle of the action, Dragon leaping at a ridiculously 90s bad guy.  Cutthroat, how I love thee.  A black dude with dreads, an eye patch, absolutely covered in spikes and skulls and knives and knives with skulls on the hilts.  Not only that, but poor Cutthroat is an amputee, missing his right arm from the elbow down!  “Don’t worry, just slap a giant-ass sickle on there, doc!”  Did he cut his own arm off so he could do that?  I think he might have!  I need to know!

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Cutthroat also has the standard scantily clad henchwoman, or partner, who goes by Glowbug.  She never uses her powers, if she has any, but does get clocked by Dragon one good time and is down for the count.  I don’t recall Glowbug ever showing back up again, but I can’t guarantee it.

Dragon gets sliced up pretty badly, but still makes short work of the two losers.  As he escorts them outside, a fellow cop asks if it’s a rough day, to which Dragon replies, “I’ve had worse.”  This leads to a flashback sequence with Dragon lying in a burning field, naked and unconscious.

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When Dragon wakes, Lt. Frank Darling interviews him and we discover Dragon suffers selective amnesia.  Weirdly, Dragon seems to know everything, from who the President is to who won the ’45 World Series, but has no knowledge of his own past.  Early on, he doesn’t know why he’s green and super strong, or even the extent of his powers.

Frank sets him up with a job, and the reader is soon shown how dire the crime situation is in Chicago.  The whole city is pretty much at the mercy of The Vicious Circle, a mob of “Super Freaks” who do as they please because the police force just doesn’t have the firepower to combat them.  Frank asks Dragon to help him out, but Dragon turns him away at first.

Looking at these pages, you can get a sense of Larsen’s writing style.  I think he’s great at dialogue, even if sometimes things get overly talky.  It’s obvious how much Robert Kirkman is influenced by Larsen (a fact Kirkman freely admits).

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It’s just a matter of time before Dragon sees how bad the Super Freaks can be.  A couple of them (including the aptly named Skullface) give his boss some shit, and Dragon has to smack them around.  Look at Skullface, by the way.  LOOK AT HIM!  Red and gold armor, a crazy demon skull, and he’s a ginger to boot!  He’s beautiful.

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Soon enough Dragon is on the force, kicking all kinds of Super Freak butt and even handling the normies when need be.  Take a look at some of these panels in this shootout.  So much energy in the artwork.  I still appreciate it now, but as a 12-year-old?  There was no way I could keep from salivating when I read this stuff.

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Issue #1 ends with Dragon promising the public he’ll deal with the Super Freak problem while the head of The Vicious Circle (unnamed here) gives his lackeys permission to take the fight to Dragon.

Much of the first three issues focus on flashbacks to Dragon’s early days after waking up in the field, mingled with the present day.  It flows smoothly enough, but later Larsen would put everything in chronological order for the trade paperback.

(Disclaimer: I’m not an artist, and have no knowledge of how to properly criticize art, so I won’t.  I just know what I like and what I don’t.)

Larsen’s art seems to be divisive, and I’m firmly on the pro side.  His balls-out action scenes are great, but he can handle the little moments too.  In the bedside interview, he nails some facial expressions, and the lightning effects from the storm outside are a great touch.

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In the back of the first issue is a page-length letter from Larsen to the readers, and it may be the contents of this page that cemented Larsen as one of my heroes.  He goes on at length about how he grew up making his own comics and how Dragon was his favorite boyhood creation, one he would re-invent on occasion but always keep focus on.  Now he was getting the opportunity to publish Dragon professionally, and through Image he would own everything he published.

As time went on, other characters and storylines from the comics he produced as a kid made their way into the regular Savage Dragon series.  Erik Larsen was (and still is) literally living his dream, and I think that’s amazing.  There would be many Savage Dragon spin-offs and ancillary series, but every issue of The Savage Dragon has been written and drawn by the man himself. (Although Jim Lee did Issue #13 as part of the Image X Month event, Larsen later went back and produced his own Issue #13).  He’s still putting the book out to this day with Issue #225 on sale now.

In preparation for this article, I went back through all my Savage Dragon trades and re-read the first 11 volumes, which covered up through Issue #58 of the regular series.  Volume 2 starts out with Dragon sporting a wicked sleeveless trench coat, Fu Manchu stache, and some lame-ass spectacles, with the tone and artwork getting extra dark and violent.  The job is proving too much for one Super Freak to handle and some other super powered folks join the department for a short while, but it doesn’t last.

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The next few volumes are a tour de force of insane action and outlandish characters.  Aside from a couple epic tussles with Vicious Circle head Overlord, he confronts one of the most unique rogues’ galleries in comics history.  A shark man (Mako), an ape with Hitler’s brain (Brainiape), and a chicken-headed powerhouse (uh, Powerhouse) to name a few.

Also among the superfreak villains Dragon faces on the job: Dung, who utilizes giant shit-cannons and Heavy Flo, who… um… well, here’s a picture.

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After several years of working as a cop, a few team-ups with the Ninja Turtles, a trip to Hell and back, defending the earth from a Martian invasion, and fathering a child with his super-powered girlfriend, Larsen eventually transitions Dragon into an actual superhero, costume and everything, around Issue #40.  In this role, as part of a government-sponsored team of heroes, he gets caught up in inter-dimensional travels and battles with the gods of legend.

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Also, one time Dragon beat a dude with his own severed arm.

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In the mid-90’s there was even a short-lived Savage Dragon cartoon on USA Network, but it’s…not great.

The trade paperbacks make for generally swift reads, but Larsen made the decision early on to let the characters (at least the ones who survive long enough) age in real time.  As a year passes in what we have to settle for as reality, a year also passes in Savage Dragon land.

My Savage Dragon collection has some holes.  In the early 00’s I lost interest for a bit, partially because Larsen’s art style seemed to change slightly in a way I wasn’t thrilled with, and partially because my local shop wasn’t consistent in getting the issues in.

As years passed, the status quo and cast of characters took on drastic changes, Dragon’s origin story was eventually revealed in the Image 10th anniversary book, and Dragon’s son Malcolm grew up and took center stage as the star of the book.  While I’m not as big a fan of Malcolm, the fact that Larsen is able to do this is so satisfying.  I’m collecting the title now, but while I’m current on buying them, I’ve only read up to Issue #208.

For a number of reasons, the book now is not on par with its heyday of the early to mid-90’s, but I admit nostalgia may well be coloring that opinion.  The focus on Malcolm and more space-faring, dimension-hopping adventures aren’t as appealing to me as the semi-grounded beat cop approach of the early days.  Even still, the book is fun as hell.

Erik Larsen also has always been a fan of drawing well-endowed, scantily clad females, and he made no secret of it.  He likes big, bodacious boobies on his babes and giant, rippling muscles on his dudes.  That’s part of the appeal of his art, overly exaggerated proportions on the men and the women. As time went on, more and more sexuality made its way into the book, including some occasional nudity.  There’s been some press lately about Larsen’s decision to start including some, for lack of a better word, pornographic material in the book.  I actually don’t like it, but it’s Erik Larsen’s book, and I whole-heartedly support him doing whatever he wants with it.  He won’t lose me as a reader over it.

If you’re a fan of comics (especially the outrageous 90’s variety) and haven’t ever read The Savage Dragon, you owe it to yourself to check it out.  The early back issues and trade paperbacks are inexpensive and fairly easy to find.  I don’t think you’ll regret it.  If you dig it like I do, consider adding the title to your pull list at your local comic shop. Independent comics always need support.

Comics is a shrinking medium, but 25 years in, Erik Larsen’s The Savage Dragon has soldiered on.  Here’s to 25 more…

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More than Words: Fin Addicts, a Nomination for Best Letter Column of the 90’s

(Editor’s note: In the months to come, proprietor Dean Compton and I hope to share with you the thoughts on an increasingly diverse array of comics from even more fellow lovers of that most Unspoken of Decades! If you would like to be one of them, head on over to The Unspoken Decade’s Facebook page and send us a message! In the meantime, enjoy this look at Fin Addicts from new contributor Albert Carpentier! – ES)

Hi, Legions of the Unspoken! My name is Albert Carpentier, and I celebrate 90’s comics.  Thanks to Dean for letting me contribute to the Unspoken Decade! During the early 90’s, I was a teenager with a limited amount of monetary funds to spend on comic books.  I tried to avoid multi-part crossovers and comics with jacked up prices due to a fancy cover but a crap story.  I enjoyed extras like pinups, house ads, and letter columns.

DC and Marvel typically included a one page letter column with a handful of letters that occasionally offered some insight but were chosen to print because the editors could hype up some upcoming story line or new series in their response.  I don’t remember Valiant having letter columns at all and I don’t feel like digging out my old Ninjak comics to check.  Then there was Image.  Image comics were a breath of fresh air with multiple pages of letters.  I thought it would be fun to revisit the Fin Addicts letter column from Issues #1-26 of Savage Dragon.

The first issue of Savage Dragon I picked up was Issue #9.  I picked it up because I had enjoyed the SuperPatriot miniseries, and the character made a guest appearance in #9.  I knew Savage Dragon was the flagship title for the Highbrow Universe of Erik Larsen and eventually bought all of the back issues at my LCS.  Besides enjoying the fun story lines and characters, I got my money’s worth because Larsen filled these issues with extras, and as the series went on they usually averaged four to seven pages of the letter column Fin Addicts.  The infamous Issue #7 was 22 pages of splash pages, a poster insert, and eight pages of letter column that concluded on the back cover!

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The humble beginning of Fin Addicts. A forum for Savage Dragon fans since 1992.

 

This was before email.  Letters were typed or written and then mailed (with a stamp!) to the PO Box listed in the header of Fin Addicts.  Larsen responded to a question in Savage Dragon (ongoing) Issue #1 that he received over a thousand pieces of mail every month.

Issue #12 included an explanation on how he picks letters for the column.  It is good advice about asking questions that can be answered without ruining the story, offering insight and something new.  While I enjoyed reading Fin Addicts, I never attempted writing a letter.  This could have been time well spent in my high school creative writing class but I was too busy writing fan fiction episodes of Seinfeld.

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Olav Beemer, habitual letter writer.

A typical Fin Addicts included a question and answer section compiled by Larsen from questions in letters.  This was helpful to find out character names and backgrounds not stated in the story and about Larsen’s creative process.  Issue #13B included a preamble about many readers asking the same questions to write term papers.  He listed several questions from 12-year-old Robert Mickelson.  This info helped middle and high school kids write book reports.  I like to think somewhere in the world there is someone who received a Bachelor of Arts in English writing a thesis about Dragon.  I imagine this person is somewhat like the Jeremy Piven character in the movie PCU.

Larsen used Fin Addicts as a forum to interact with readers and he held court about a variety of topics.  Issue #8 included a tribute to Jack Kirby after his death.  Issue #14 an announcement of the birth of Larsen’s son.  Issue #18 a breakdown of different formats used to write comics.  Issue #26 a stark take on the status of the comic book industry after the speculation boom.  Letters with negative views were printed, and Issue #15 included an apology to a reader whose dad was “bent out of shape” about the near nudity of characters in Issues #9 and #14.

Due to the passage of time we tend to forget how controversial Image was at the time.  Some people like to collect comics because of the writers and artists.  Some people like to collect comics because of the characters.  Neither way is wrong; however, opinions are created and heated feuds can take place.  Larsen feuded with Peter David and others.  Fin Addicts was not immune from these conflicts. Reader Alan Bykowski wrote letters appearing in Issues #11 and #14 touching on some of these issues.  Letters from Peter David were in Issues #20 and #22.  Larsen’s response to the letter in Issue 20 was four-and-a-half pages long!  I remember being shocked at the time flipping through and seeing page after page of bold font used for responses.  Creating comics was their job, and they took it seriously.

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Great response from Erik Larsen about reasons to print negative letters.

Reading and collecting comics was a choice I made as a teenager.  Initially none of the others in my group of friends made the choice with me.  Eventually, I found several new friends who shared an interest in comics, but when I first started reading, I felt like an outsider.  I read Fin Addicts and found there were other people who cared about comic books and the characters in them just like I did.  They were escaping into comics just like I was, and they cared enough to write a letter letting the creators know we were out there.

THE OTHER “MYSTERY INCORPORATED” – Alan Moore and “1963” Jam Session: Article & Podcast

“In comic book history, is Stan Lee a Hero or a Villain? Well, to borrow a concept that he himself made popular during the early sixties, he’s a Hero/Villain, just like Sub-Mariner or Hawkeye. He has had an influence upon the medium which is as benign as it is poisonous.” – Alan Moore

Do not let the rampant suggestion fool you, this man teaches you more about magic than half of
Do not let the rampant suggestion fool you, this man teaches you more about magic than half of “From Hell.”

In April of 1993 Alan Moore’s 1963 was released. This six issue series took a satirical look at the comics industry from the perspective of a fictional version of early 1960s Marvel Comics. Emily Scott, Dean Compton, and I have taken a look back at this series in the form of an article (courtesy of yours truly) and a podcast (featuring my co-conspirators). Being fans of the work, as is and for what it could have been, we hope you will join us and, please, comment on both below!

Dean “Killer” Compton and Emily “Scintillating” Scott deftly discuss the marvelous masterpiece that is 1963.

Working primarily with artists Rick Veitch and Steve Bissette each issue featured at least one self-contained story, numerous hints at a larger, interconnected fictional world, and one or two story beats for the overarching plot that extended throughout the series and would have concluded in the unpublished seventh issue. Reasons for this gap range from Moore’s increasing, and varied workload across the nascent Image Comics to internal sniping amongst said company’s founders. More often than not I see WildStorm Founder, and current Co-Publisher of DC Entertainment, Jim Lee’s name mentioned. 1963 was actually the brainchild of fellow Image Founder Jim Valentino who wanted to work with one of the creators he most admired. As far as I can tell Lee’s only contribution was forcing a character named Void to be renamed “Voidoid” to avoid confusion with his WildCATs’ character of the same name.

Comics today average $3.99 each and none of them feature a psychically enhanced dinosaur.
Comics today average $3.99 each and none of them feature a psychically enhanced dinosaur.

The first issue is Mystery Incorporated. It featured a team analogous to the Fantastic Four. Not the versions Marvel was publishing in 1993 but rather the ones that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby worked with back in the early days of the Marvel Age. Little is done to mask the homages and it must be noted that this book saw print on a few years before Jim Lee’s relaunch of the title during “Heroes Reborn.” Regardless of how that was received, Moore’s decision to move ahead with a distinctly Silver Age feel for this, and subsequent issues, shows how out-of-synch he was with the rest of the industry. Whether or not this was a good thing can be debated but what cannot is that when Moore had previously decided to do what no one else was it worked in his favor.

Subsequent issues were No One Escapes the Fury (featuring a Spider-Man/Daredevil hero and a jetpack wearing, female Nick Fury), Tales of the Uncanny (a barely veiled Captain America analogue and a mysterious pseudo Iron Man known as the Hypernaut), Tales of the Beyond (Staunch anti-Communist Hulk and a beatnik Dr. Strange), Horus, Lord of Light (my personal favorite, trading ancient Asgard for Egypt), and finally The Tomorrow Syndicate (assembling various aforementioned characters into an Avengers team that could track down the missing Mysterious Incorporated). Various villains, supporting characters, and cosmic beings work their way onto the pages. These are great superhero comics even if they are aping a style that was long gone by the time they saw print. There is a bit of the old used to introduce surprisingly fresh villains and threats. When was the last time you read six, satisfying, and done-in-one-stories in a row (well, five, more on that in a bit)? If this series was out of place when it came out, then it is fair to say it would fit right in today.

If Mr. Fantastic were this versatile his wife would never have looked at Namor more than once.
If Mr. Fantastic were this versatile his wife would never have looked at Namor more than once.

By the time of the last issue, the Tomorrow Syndicate, Moore had yielded to the Siren’s song of easy Spawn money and had left primary plotting duties to Veitch and Bissette. This book struggles valiantly to wrap-up anything and everything that the various characters have been involved in but is prevented from doing so by the enormity of the absent final issue that it was originally supposed to lead into. This proposed Giant-Size Special would have featured Our Heroes venturing to the seemingly post-apocalyptic world of 1993 New York to do battle with the heroes of the Image world (Shaft, of Youngblood, is the only character shown on-page). The book appears to tread water and, unfortunately, the series does not end as strong as it began.

Time for an (as “The Comics Internet” calls it) Art Paragraph: Veitch and Bissette match up pretty well with Marvel’s co-founders (with Stan Lee), Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. They even work on the properties their respective forbearers were known for. Veitch, capable of mimicking a variety a styles flawlessly, gives us the faux Fantastic Four, Captain America, Thor, and Avengers. If you have not already, do yourself a favor and Google Veitch’s original pitch for Marvel’s The Sentry and see what a master of the form can come up with before having it misappropriated by Paul Jenkins.

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True Story: Kirby loved collages. Also, if you think those footprints in different directions are not major plot points then you are missing out.

Bissette gives us Spider-Man and the Hulk (you may not know that the original Hulk was one of Lee & Kriby’s few failures and it was not until Ditko relocated the character to the American Southwest that he slowly became the hero we all know and recognize today). Bissette also gives us Hypernaut who probably bears the least resemblance to his Marvel analogue and is all the better for it. In the days before Robert Downey, Jr., Tony Stark was often uncharismatic and struggled for relevance. The Hypernaut is more of a Green Lantern character whose adventures are filled with the type of brain-bending, super-scientific obstacles that only Alan Moore could throw at him and only the medium of comics could be used to credibly showcase.

There are other artists who worked on these issues and while I do not mean to diminish their contributions it is really these three who run the show, so too as with Marvel back in the day. Though I am particularly fond of Horus, and would gladly purchase a Fourth World esque follow-up series where the pseudo decedents of the Ancient Egyptian Deities fight for relevance in today’s world (what would their Darkseid be, if nothing else?) I have to say that the most worthwhile aspect of 1963 is, by far, the wholly original backmatter.

At least one fan must have tried to find this guy. Still better grammar than some commenters today.
At least one fan must have tried to find this guy. Still better grammar than some commenters today.

Those familiar with Watchmen may have struggled with when, and how, to read items such as the excerpt from Hollis Mason’s autobiography or Tales of the Black Freighter but once you did then you can see how they complement and augment the story being told within the comics. These six issues feature fake letter columns, brand new advertisements, and pastiches of Stan’s Soapbox which all serve to paint the picture of 1963 Comics as a real place of business that parallels the House of Ideas. Using the guise of “Affable Al,” Moore treats us to long romps through the ridiculous and surreal on topics such as how rampant nepotism guarantees work-for-life for him and that the idea of Creator Rights being a thing left to the far future.

Is Moore channeling Stan “The Man” Lee? Yes, of course. Marvel is Stan in so many ways, good and bad, but history has not been kind to the co-creator of Ravage 2099. Today creators are put at the forefront of their work, often becoming as popular as the properties they are working on, and modern scholars look back to what came before and wonder why, exactly, creators such as Jack Kirby (whose estate’s very public battle for recognition and profits almost went before the US Supreme Court) came out so far behind Marvel’s perpetual Chairman Emeritus. This type of outside-looking-in commentary is where the book makes a clear break with what came before. Told in an intentionally over-the-top manner, echoing the manner in which Stan used to communicate with Marvel’s fans, these pages help bring to light many of what would become the darker, seedier truths of the Comic Industry, especially as it relates to those working with superheroes.

This may be my favorite bit in the entire series.
This may be my favorite bit in the entire series.

Marvel was three years away from filing for bankruptcy when 1963 arrived. It was fair to believe that the company was not what it had once been but that both, what it had been and what it now was, were awful in their own ways. Not that they did not lead to a comics boom in the 1960s and the revitalization of the superhero genre, but they never gave the hardworking men and women their due. To a degree this conflict is shown to be alive and well behind the scenes of 1963, both within the backmatter as references are constantly made to the “Sixty Three Sweatshop” (instead of the Marvel Bullpen) and those making the six issues themselves in real life.

I was not familiar with Steve Bissette before reading 1963 (which I did mostly out of order and years after it shipped). He has (or at least had) an active web presence, detailed posts, and plenty of interviews. He even announced a follow-up to 1963 using the characters he owned long after any chance of a collection or reprint of the original series was pronounced dead (though careful readers may have noticed them in other Image properties such as ShadowHawk and Big Bang Comics for an issue or two). The problem, for me, is that Bissette (who previously worked with Moore on Swamp Thing) can come off as a bit entitled. He left 1963 part of the way through to work on a still-unfinished dinosaur comic named Tyrant. His bibliography is shorter than I would expect for a man still capable of producing work. In short, he comes across quite similar to Alan Moore.

The Hypernaut combats a fourth dimensional being who can see him the way we see characters on a page.
The Hypernaut combats a fourth dimensional being who can see him the way we see characters on a page.

I do not know about you but I have read many interviews with the Great Wizard of Northampton and few of them put him in a positive light (and not just because he once compared Grant Morrison to herpes). Brilliant, clever, and capable of plotting some of the tightest stories I have ever read. Did you enjoy the first season of HBO’s True Detective? What you may not know is that the last line uttered by Rust is from a Giant Space Horse in Moore’s Top 10. You know what else Moore is responsible for? Neonomicon (do not Google that if you are at work). The man is as varied as his work and he saw 1963 (along with his later work on Rob Liefeld’s Supreme) to be a way of paying the genre back for all the pain and misery he caused it with Marvelman and The Killing Joke.

Unfortunately Moore has proved to be “the Orson Welles of Comics” (not my line, but I have never forgotten it) because if that many people tell you that you are that brilliant and that revolutionary that early in your career then you eventually start believing it and stop taking risks. Bissette constantly talks about his own achievements and I have to research most of them because I have been reading comics for over two decades and have never heard of any them. There is a sense of entitlement around both men which may help to explain why supposedly neither have spoken to each other in a long time. Moore supposedly no longer speaks with more than half of the co-creators of his more famous works and spends his time telling how he eschews the internet in favor of first edition Aleister Crowley tomes. It is a weird hipster chic to accompany the beard.

Her sanity itself! Tell me this would not have made a better film than
Her life AND sanity. Tell me this would not have made a better film than “Thor.” Tom Hiddleston could have played Set!

Moore was never a man to live in the world he was working in. He could have made a seventh issue for 1963. He could have found a new artist for Big Numbers after Bill Sienkiewicz dropped out. He could be working on the Next Big Thing right now but he is not. He left the Kirby & Lee analogies to wither away in the Quarter Bins for decades because he received exactly what Kirby and Ditko never did: Money and opportunity. Why fight with artists and publishers and do this cute little crossover when you could write WildCATs, Spawn, or even Spawn vs. WildCATs and make more money doing less work? Moore wants his name taken off of Watchmen and I have to explain to people at my LCS that “The Original Writer” (credited for the reprints of Miracleman) is the same guy who wrote V for Vendetta and but I can get Spawn: Blood Feud with no problem?

I enjoyed 1963 and I appreciate it. I love classic Marvel because I have read about it and I love the Marvel that was modern in 1993 because I experienced it. Mistakes will always be made but if we learn from them then what else can be expected? Change is good and no one was in a better position to effect it than the first comicbook writer to ever win a Hugo Award (1988, Watchmen with the unmatched Dave Gibbons). As it is, 1963 remains not only unfinished, but uncollected, and unremembered. Many conversations I have had with fellow Moore fans have ended with blank stares when I mention Commander Solo or the Shimmering Zone.

Did you know that the
Did you know that the “future” would be terrifying if you were from ’63? Alan Moore knew.

Alan Moore, king of the mountain, teamed with Image Comics, the then bright hope of the industry (which would take a few decades to get going but find someone who does not like them now) to produce a series of glorious escapist fiction and get the industry to remember a few of the ways it had been. Who knows how much of the muck and grime that came after would have been avoided if Moore had humbled himself to ask Jim Valentino, the man who actually set this entire thing in motion, to do the work that needed to be done instead of waiting around for someone who appeared to be a bigger name? Moore aimed a lens at Stan Lee and joked that he consistently screwed over his colleagues and never worked in the best interest of anyone other than himself. We now know that this probably was not that far from the truth. What about Moore himself? Does he echo some of the baser aspects of the person who inspired Kirby to create Funky Flashman?

I mentioned Supreme above and, while I cannot fault someone for wanting to stop working with Rob Liefeld, I feel the need to point out that it too remains incomplete. Unfinished apologies that never received the scope or accolades of the darker, deconstructive fiction that preceded them. Instead Moore moved on to other projects including a series of “spoken word” performances. In one such piece, known as The Birth Caul, Moore laments that “we have wandered too far from some vital totem, something central to us that we have misplaced and must find our way back to.” I have to wonder what exactly he was thinking of when he wrote that and, more importantly, if he ever asked himself what he was willing to do to help us get back to where we needed to be.

Sin City, Cerebus, the Flaming Carrot, SCOTT McCLOUD! What else is there to want from a crossover?
Sin City, Cerebus, the Flaming Carrot, SCOTT McCLOUD! What else is there to want from a crossover?

1963 is a great, but flawed work. Have you ever wanted to see Steve Rogers save President Kennedy from an assassin’s bullet? How about a version of Hank Pym that does not immediately make you want to see him punched in the face? There is something to be said about telling good stories set in the 1960s with the aid of hindsight, just as some of the best World War 2 superhero stories (The Golden Age, The Invaders) have a few decades between when they are set and when they were published. Its greatest failing is that that no one appeared to be in charge during its creation. As a result, a great idea that existed outside of the Big Two continues to languish in relative obscurity.

I have said this before in regard to Jack Kirby’s Secret City Saga but part of me wonders what would have been if this series had been made in partnership with Marvel. Similar to the deal Moore had with DC over Watchmen (itself to the Charlton characters what 1963 is to the Marvel characters) or with WildStorm for the ABC line of comics (you can still buy Promethea whenever you like, open up another tab and do so right now if you have never read it!). I want a thriving independent comic landscape because when it is great we are treated to properties such as Hellboy. When it is less so we lose beloved characters and any hope of seeing them in new or old stories. Maybe we will learn from this and treat the industry as the business that is but, if not, we can all hope that Alan Moore, who has decades of life left, will make his triumphant return.