Martin Flanagan - Re-Reading Alan Moore on Stan Lee and Marvel
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03/07/2020 11:00 Room 2 #rerccs
When Marvel UK’s The Daredevils anthology began publication under editor Bernie Jaye in the early 1980s, Alan Moore was a central contributor for several issues. Presenting its flagship character Captain Britain with art by Alan Davis, (alongside reprints of the much-praised Frank Miller era of Daredevil that supplied the comic’s title), certain issues, like number four (cover-dated April 1983) saw Moore’s total contribution to a 56-page issue totalling sixteen pages (including the work with Davis, pages of reviews and prose articles, one on ‘Sexism in Comics’).
Moore’s second feature was titled ‘Blinded by the Hype: An Affectionate Character Assassination [of Stan Lee]’, and had begun in the previous issue, #3. The articles, totalling almost 4,000 words, generated little coverage for the next few decades, as Moore became far more well-known for other non-fiction pieces (such as the much-reprinted Writing for Comics, 2012) not to mention his world-class contribution to comics writing. Lee’s reputation, centring on the 1960s-era that Moore’s article responded to most directly, went through various iterations, closely linked to debates and controversies over authorship and the claiming of credit for how classic Marvel comics were produced, but also, of course, being plied with respect and admiration for the transmedia successes of many of the characters at their centre.
The essay re-emerged when Sean Howe, author of Marvel Comics: The Untold Story shared its contents on Tumblr in 2012, with much of its content (including Moore’s horror at the diving sales of superhero titles in the 1980s) being repeated by comics reporting sites. With reductively few words, Moore’s assessment of Lee could be summarised as, a great risk-taker who allowed his principal act of radicalism – the seeking of originality in the superhero field - to be diluted into the ‘pale [,] ghost’-like simulacra presented by subsequent, benchmark-setting editors (Moore, 1983: 48). That this is imbricated with views of Marvel’s historical merit and Lee’s legacy produces an echo that is worth listening to again. This paper also considers Moore’s own positioning as a provocative creator aware of Lee’s abdication and a ‘vacant throne’ of comic universe-creating (1983: 48).