Retro-Comics Go Back to 1963

Retro-Comics! Every once in a while, only on the SBG! These are the comics that confused my Time Capsule articles!
It's this postmodern world we live in, see? Pop culture artifacts have important meaning, and so going retro goes beyond spoof and nostalgia. It becomes a legitimate way to explore today's media by contrasting it in situ with yesterday's. One of the first to do this was Alan Moore's 1963, a 6-issue mini-series that took us back to the halcyon days on Marvel comics and created six new series in the style of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. Publishing it at Image makes a weird kind of sense, seeing as the company started out with fully-formed 90s heroes that were in many respects Marvel's with the numbers filed off. 1963 gave the Image universe some Silver Age roots (not that they were connected to the branches by a trunk or anything).

On the one hand, yes, it is a spoof as far as format goes, complete with letters pages, retro-ads, bullpen bulletins, house ads, thought bubbles, alliterative credits, split books, pin-ups and - ulp! - numbered pages! But the beauty of having one of the guys from the British Invasion channeling circus barker Stan Lee is the sheer weirdness of it. Today, we're very much used to the superhero comic, but during the Silver Age, there is no doubt that superhero comics were a strange and wonderful thing. If you weren't there, imagine what it was like for kids reading Dr. Strange for the first time. Even the more down to earth heroes' adventures, filled with Kirby tech, strange villains, space gods and the dislocating inclusion of the characters' personal lives. Even the ads for x-ray specs and sea monkeys would have seemed strange and awe-inspiring. And though I wasn't there myself, isn't there a part of that experience that is common to all of us, dating back to the first time we laid our hands on a comic?

That's what Alan Moore manages to recreate in 1963. He injects just enough weirdness for 90s audiences to give us a feel of what it must've been like in the late 50s and early 60s when superhero comics were new (all over again) and just plain odd. Let me just pick one story as an example. I've got some nice choices too. Some have obvious parallels with Marvel heroes - Mystery Inc. is the Fantastic Four, Horus is Thor in Egyptian drag, the Fury is Spider-Man, USA (Ultimate Special Agent) is Captain America, the Tomorrow Syndicate is the Avengers, and so on - but one of them, the Hypernaut, is in a class of its own. What if Iron Man merged with Green Lantern, looked like Arnim Zola, and was played like Dr. Strange? If Kirby and Ditko had a strangeness to them, what about Steve Bissette and surprise inker Chester Brown? Yeah, Alan Moore's "Marvel Universe" is a weird place indeed.

The Hypernaut is really Dan Stevens, a test pilot whose consciousness was saved by aliens and placed inside a hypernaut body (one of many across the universe). This is a hero who wonders if he's really a person or only the digital copy of a person. Cosmic-level angst. Take that, Silver Surfer! He now guards Earth from Hyperbase One, which may just be my favorite superhero HQ of all time:
Oh, and he has a two-faced space monkey as a companion. Meet Queep:
The Hyperbase is attacked by a 4th-dimensional being that intersects only occasionally with our third dimension.
Hypernaut has trouble with it until he gets thrown into a patch of Flatland he protects. Yes, the Hyperbase includes a piece of Flatland. Pure awesome.
As he knows a little of what the Flatlanders sense when he passes through their 2D world, he realizes the true nature of the floating pieces of meat monster (I guess he calls himself 4-D Man). The alien destroys the Hypernaut's body, but his consciousness is really in his head, which he flies through 4-D Man's head and into the bigger-on-the-inside world of its 4-D brain.
He plays back his computer banks and overloads the creature, which returns to its home dimension, leaving the Hypernaut to install its head-globe into a new Hypernaut body.

Though I'd qualify that as the weirdest story in 1963, the others don't skimp either. Future Harvey Oswald, the dinosaur mutant that drove the rest into extinction, a guy made of only brain tissue... And of course, rifs on the ads that used to make you doubt all reality.

4 comments:

Dan said...

I loved the 1963 comics. I would have read a regular Hypernaut series in a heartbeat. I thought some of the digs they took at the corporate side of Marvel were kind of pointless and unnecessarily mean-spirited, but that's sort of where Image was at in the '90s.

Siskoid said...

Agreed, and Alan Moore has proven himself a real curmudgeon when it comes to the Big Two, so that's par for the course.

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Tales of the Uncanny was my father favorite comic book, he even has a limited edition of it. I read it a few months ago, and I have to say it impacted me too much with the sequence of the story.
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Matt Celis said...

My favorite Alan Moore comics! I only wish there were more than 6. I've read these at least a dozen tims. I particularly enjoy the Fury's Spidey/Daredevil vibe and the Hypernaut and Horus...almost all of these feel like they could have been published by Marvel in the early '60s.

 

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