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Image Revisits the Silver Age with Alan Moore and Co.’s ‘1963’

Mystery Incorporated

1963 #1-6 (1993)
Written by Alan Moore

Drawn by Rick Veitch, Dave Gibbons, Steve Bissette, Don Simpson, John Totleben and  Jim Valentino
Colors by Marvin Kilroy and Tony Tollin
Published by Image Comics

If such a thing could be called it, 1963 is minor Alan Moore.  In 1993, Image Comics was still a very young company created by the “hot” artists of the time when Jim Valentino, always the most old timey alternative rebel of the Image crew, got Moore, Steve Bissette, Rick Veitch, John Totleben and a bunch of their friends to create 1963, a pastiche on the early days of Marvel comics.  The Fantastic Four becomes Mystery Incorporated.  Iron Man becomes the Hypernaut.  Spider-Man becomes The Fury, and the Avengers become The Tomorrow Syndicate.  Image’s slick and calculated characters took a backseat to Moore and company’s retro insanity.  To create a whole package, even the ads and editorial pages recreate the feeling of a bygone age.  For a brief period in 1993, the Marvel spirit of 1963 lived again, but this is Alan Moore, so it isn’t a complete lovefest for the work of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Don Heck and the Marvel Bullpen.  

In the early 1990s, Moore, Veitch, Bissette, and Totleben may have felt like they had gone through it all at DC Comics.  They produced classic comics together and separately, beginning with DC’s Swamp Thing.  For better or for worse, they were among those creators who altered the course of comics during the 1980s, and they were mostly all creators who had projects abandoned at the Big Two as “too controversial.”  These are the guys who defined comics for a decade, including the Image founders, although Image’s sensibilities were very far removed from the tastes of these creators.  1963 is the first series that Image published that broke away from the “cool” artist-driven stuff like WildC.A.T.S., Youngblood, and Spawn and tried to do a comic about comic books.

This series is not a love letter to those bygone Marvel comics.  On the surface, 1963 is a faithful recreation of Stan Lee’s writing, but from a point of view 30 years removed from Lee’s heyday.  Without that innocence of the early 1960s behind it, Moore’s writing picks apart the goofiness and more troublesome aspects of Lee’s writing.  From the helplessness of Neon Queen, the Sue Richards of 1963 to the hokiness of the banter between rivals, the first issue faithfully mimics the sound, look, and feel  of the Silver Age comics that it draws inspiration from.  The six issues would pick at the various idiosyncrasies of Lee, Kirby, and Ditko to create comics that felt like they were lost artifacts from some unknown corner of Marvel history.

The Fury

The comics also plays into the hucksterism that built Stan Lee into the historical comic figure that he is.  “Affable Al” has a better ring to it than “Original Writer” as Moore’s been credited on recent reprintings of his work.  This is Smiling Stan versus Affable Al where Moore is setting himself up as being something different than Lee in this three-ring circus of creators.  As each issue of 1963 plays as an issue of one of six ongoing series, the forced continuity that plays between the different issues feels random.  A comment in one issue meaninglessly references an event in another issue.  It’s noted that the Fury gets pulled into a protection job in the third issue because U.S.A. (Ultimate Special Agent) was in Dallas protecting a President.  It’s the development of a shared world through lip service more than organic growth.

But Moore’s writing never goes far enough into cynicism to creating a biting criticism of his targets.  While his artistic collaborators are all grooving on doing their best Kirby and Ditko riffs, Moore’s writing never really says that much about one way or another about these old superhero comics.  It doesn’t have the love or interest that Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson’s Astro City has in these stories, and it doesn’t have the deep exploration of the genre like almost everything else that Moore or Veitch have done, including Moore and Kevin O’Neill The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.  1963 isn’t done for love, but it’s also not done for the bite so other than as an artistic exercise, this series feels directionless.  

Even as a rambling and an innocuous piece of work, 1963 is a fun look back at those old comics because the artists commit to visually homaging the Marvel age of comics.  In the first issue, Rick Veitch and Dave Gibbons create a comic that stands alongside any issue of Kirby’s Fantastic Four.  Gibbons inks Veitch with a solid but light touch.  The art gets more interesting in later issues as inkers like Don Simpson and Chester Brown’s own modern styles start to show up over pencils and layouts that are trying to capture a specific time and place.  The third issue starts to make you wonder at all of the different syntheses of Marvel’s Bullpen from 1963 and Fantagraphics’ cartoonists of 1993 could produce.

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The closest that we may have gotten to that would have been a planned 1963 Annual, where Moore and Co.’s characters would crossover with Youngblood and Shadowhawk and been drawn by Jim Lee.  That annual was never published.  It was never even completed thanks to plenty of circumstances around that book that also don’t involve Lee.  But a completion to the saga of 1963 is not needed because there is nothing to 1963 other than some familiar sounding riffs and the fun of seeing these creators doing something so different from Watchmen, Miracleman, Swamp Thing or The Brat Pack.  1963 should continue to exist as an oddity of its time, like nothing that had really come before it even as it tried to play with the surface elements of the comics of its namesake time period.  


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