Last week, I finally read Alan Moore’s renowned early 90s Image series 1963, which had been festering unread amongst a pile of comics on my shelves for some years.
For any uninitiated, 1963 is a relatively less well-known series, in part due to the significance of Moore’s other work, and probably because it remains both unfinished and uncollected. Ostensibly a pastiche of Marvel Comics (though with particularly sharp satire of Stan Lee in its small-print back-up pages), it pays homage to the Silver Age of Comics while waggling a finger in the naughty face of the current state of the medium.
It was released by Image (via Shadowline) in 1993 and was intended to lead into a crossover event in which the 1963 cast would meet with various modern Image characters, with short odds on some punches being thrown and some feet not being drawn properly. Here, in issue six of six individual but connected issues, characters alluding to Thor, the Hulk, Iron Man and others, arrive at the Lobby of Alternity, seemingly staffed by three versions of the the Flash.
While the plot has Moore’s characters heading towards those of the contemporaneous Image Universe (converging, if you will) there are many mischievous winks toward ‘other’ universes. Winks, or alternatively, you might call them educational, illustrative examples of the established scientific concept of uber-hyper-multi-spider-versity. And what with all those (clearly signposted) parallel worlds, black holes, mystic realms and whatnot, it’s inevitable you’re going to bump into someone you know.
There are a few friendly faces here (Swamp Thing, the Comedian (?)) but most notably that cheeky appearance of a certain recently deceased Kryptonian, even holding documentation relevant to that particular 1990s adventure, the one which supposedly broke comics.
Meanwhile, still in the lobby...
It’s a few panels on and as the protagonists enquire at an information desk, the original Flash reads the newspaper, oblivious to the cuddling lovebirds to his right (Batman and Catwoman?).
1963’s story continues with a supervillain here, a parallel world there, and then this happens:
That’s main characters the Tomorrow Syndicate seeing “windows to other universes” with glimpses of Cerebus, Flaming Carrot and numerous other folk (i.e folk I can’t actually identify).
This is a precursor to how these Silver age pastiche characters would eventually land in the present and interact with the 1993 status quo, had the series reached its intended conclusion, to be developed in a further installment. Which brings me to the glorious denouement we are actually left with (spoilers, obviously).
From six issues of art in homage to the Silver Age style, it very noticeably changes in these last few pages of issue 6, indicating a shift in eras from classic to modern. The harshness and vividness are noted within the story itself by the character U.S.A (Ultimate Special Agent) who adds, with dramatic irony, “this place really scares me”.
And on the final page, we get this utter gem:
Funny how much of a throwback this now seems, given it was supposed to be the modern contrast to the 60s throwback style. Note the background appearances from Savage Dragon, Spawn, Grifter, Supreme and others (i.e. again, I don’t know who the others are).
1963 is lots of fun, and this myopic post of mine does little justice to what could be written about everything squeezed into its spoof adverts, fake letters of complaint and references to unethical Marvel practices, never mind the plot and characters.
I wonder if the considerably elaborate detail put into the background, such as the fictitious fan letters and referencing numerous ‘back issues’ of silly-titled series that never existed, later influenced the treatment of the 1996 merged Marvel/DC ‘Amalgam’ universe which had similar background set dressing (though doubtless Alan Moore wouldn’t want the blame for that one).
Though it remains unfinished, some of its ideas continued in Mr Moore’s later work including Tom Strong, Top Ten, and the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. And as far as his dip into the Image Universe goes, he did some fun things with the (poor-man’s X-Men) WildCATS, which are satisfyingly available in one big volume.
[Note: Artists of the above images are Rick Veitch, Dave Gibbons and Marvin Kilroy.]