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Poisoned Chalice Part 6: A Warrior is Born

[Previous chapters: Introduction, 1 - Prehistory, 2 - Marvelman Rises, 3 - Marvelman Falls, 4 - Intermission: 1963 to 1982, 5 - Prologue to Warrior]

8525628398 cc3e965d6b m Poisoned Chalice Part 6: A Warrior is BornWarrior took nearly a year from its original inception in the spring of 1981 to finally reaching the shelves in March 1982. The contents of that first issue were, in order, an eight-page Marvelman story called …A Dream of Flying, written by Alan Moore and drawn by Garry Leach; a five-page Spiral Path prologue, written and drawn by Steve Parkhouse; a two-page one-off story called A True Story?, written by Steve Moore and drawn by Dave Gibbons; the first part of The Legend of Prester John in seven pages, by Steve Moore and John Bolton; The Villain, the six-page first part of Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s V for Vendetta; a six-page Father Shandor, Demon Stalker story by Steve Moore and John Bolton called Spawn from Hell’s Pit!; and, last but not least, a six-page Laser Eraser and Pressbutton story written by Steve Moore and illustrated by Steve Dillon, who also supplied the cover for that issue. The issue also contained a one-page text piece by Dez Skinn called Freedom’s Road, introducing Warrior; a three-and-a-half-page text piece, again by Skinn, called Marvelman, Mightiest Man in the Universe; and, 8525750822 bdff340d60 t Poisoned Chalice Part 6: A Warrior is Bornat the back of the magazine, a feature called Warriors All!, which consisted of brief self-penned biographies of most of the contributing creators, where Alan Moore famously described himself as A baffling hybrid between Renaissance Man and Piltdown Man. The writing breakdown for that first issue, ignoring the text pieces, was twenty-one pages by Steve Moore, fourteen pages by Alan Moore, and five pages by Steve Parkhouse. This page share would eventually tip in Alan’s favour, with him doing an average of sixteen pages per issue in the first dozen issues, as opposed to Steve Moore’s average of fourteen pages an issue, while Steve Parkhouse maintained a small but steady five pages an issue, and Paul Neary’s Madman appearing for a few pages up until #7. That pattern would change later on, when things turned sour, but for the time being the template for Warrior was largely set.

8524609491 3d4b724d43 n Poisoned Chalice Part 6: A Warrior is BornAnd this is where I come in. Despite the fact that thirty years have passed since I did so, I can distinctly remember the day I bought that first issue of Warrior, in a now defunct Dublin bookshop called The Alchemist’s Head, which stocked an eclectic mix of science fiction and occult books, with a rack of new comics in the back. I actually bought it in early 1983, because I remember going back in as soon as I could to ask them to get me as many more issues of this magazine as were available, which they did. I was 23 in 1983, and I’m 53 now, and it is no exaggeration to say that a lot of what and who I eventually became goes back to that day in 1983, and to Warrior #1. I was seeing things I’d never seen before in a comic, and it didn’t take me long to figure out that the writer who was writing the strips I was most interested in was Alan Moore. For my sins, I don’t think I’d ever heard of him before then, but I was to devote a growing amount of my waking hours to his work from then on. And Moore wasn’t the only one I’d never heard of. Marvelman was completely new to me at the time, so much so that, despite the three-and-a-half pages of text filling us in on his back-story, I remembering wondering if this was some sort of carefully constructed imaginary history, and that he was really appearing in Warrior for the first time anywhere. It became obvious very quickly that this was going to be a superhero strip unlike anything I’d seen before. 8530190459 a2e3f99434 Poisoned Chalice Part 6: A Warrior is BornFor a start, it seemed to be populated by real people with real lives, and was drawn in a very realistic, very grounded style. There was obviously some sort of back-story attached to it, which we would begin to see revealed as the story progressed. I was absolutely fascinated by this and, judging by the response on the letters pages in subsequent issues of Warrior, I wasn’t the only one. This was something new, something different. Something we hadn’t seen before. The writing sang off the page. In issue #2, while Marvelman is trying to explain to his – or, more correctly, Mike Moran’s – wife about his life as he remembers it, she laughs at the silliness of it. There is a memorable frame where he says ‘Damn you Liz, you’re laughing at my life!!’, accompanied by a caption that reads ‘The floor is solid oak. He splinters it to matchwood…’

Moore’s attempt to place his silly fifties superhero in the cynical eighties was pitch-perfect, and breathtaking to watch unfold. Probably the most memorable line in those early issues for me, a definite sign that this strip was going to take us places we hadn’t gone before, as well as a foretaste of themes that would later appear in work like Watchmen, was in the series of captions in issue #6, accompanying Marvelman’s aerial fight with Kid Marvelman over London, that says,

They are titans, and we’ll never understand the alien inferno that blazes in the furnaces of their souls.

We are only human.

We will never grasp their hopes, their despair, never comprehend the blistering rage that informs their every blow.

We will never know the destiny that howls in their hearts, never know their pain, their love, their almost sexual hatred…

…and perhaps we are the less for it.

It was when I read the words ‘their almost sexual hatred…’ that I knew that there was something new here, a complexity and depth that I’d never seen before in a comic, something I very much wanted to see more of.

As the months passed, and more issues of Warrior appeared, it quickly became evident that Marvelman was the most popular strip in the magazine, closely followed by Alan Moore’s other strip there, V for Vendetta. It must also have been well thought of editorially, as it was virtually always the first strip in Warrior, just after the contents page. The strip started to run into problems early on however as, although Garry Leach was only drawing between six and eight pages an issue, he was taking the whole month to do so, to the exclusion of any other work. Eventually he decided that he couldn’t continue to work like that, so he gave up the strip. Fortunately, there was someone else waiting in the wings.

8531318448 8ed7978994 m Poisoned Chalice Part 6: A Warrior is BornOne of the things that Dez Skinn tried to do with Warrior was to issue a Summer Special for 1982. The Summer Special, generally with a higher page count than the standard weekly comic, was a peculiarly British publishing institution started in the 1960s, presumably to give all those children in all those British seaside holiday resorts something else to buy, as well as to bring in some extra revenue for both the shopkeepers and the publishers, because it spent longer on the shelves than the usual weekly issues. Skinn thought it would be novel to try this out, alongside the regularly scheduled issues of Warrior, but ran into difficulties, and ended up publishing the Warrior Summer Special 1982 but amalgamating issue #4, scheduled for August 1982, into it, causing all sorts of problems at the distribution and retail end, as well as for people looking out for a clearly marked Warrior #4, who were not to know that what they wanted was called the Warrior Summer Special 1982 instead.

However, there was at least one good thing to come out of all the confusion. One of the strips in the Summer Special was a one-off Marvelman story called The Yesterday Gambit, a story that was not part of the ongoing continuity established in the previous three issues, but rather set a few years in the story’s future. The ten-page story was composed of three different parts, drawn by three different artists: Steve Dillon, Paul Neary, and Alan Davis. Alan Davis was at the time the artist on Marvel UK’s successfully relaunched Captain Britain strip, then running in Marvel Super-Heroes. The writer, Dave Thorpe, had left the strip, and Davis had suggested bringing Alan Moore on board as the new writer. Moore in turn suggested to Dez Skinn that Davis would be a good replacement for Garry Leach on Marvelman and, although Skinn had reservations about the only two superhero strips in British comics being written and drawn by the same two people, he none the less went along with Moore’s suggestion.

To ease Davis in, and so as not to have too sudden a change from Leach’s artwork to Davis’s, Davis only did the pencil art for issues #6 and #7, with Leach inking over his work. Indeed, Davis originally thought that he was only coming in as a stand-in artist to allow Leach to catch up on his own work, which may well have been the case initially, but it became evident that Leach wasn’t coming back to Marvelman, and Davis found himself the permanent artist on both pencils and inks. In private correspondence with Davis, he told me:

When I was first asked to pencil Marvelman I never regarded myself as Garry’s long term replacement – I was only asked to pencil two issues for Garry to ink. I believed I was simply doing some donkey work to help Garry make up time on deadlines – perhaps it was a test to see how I coped. When I was subsequently asked to pencil and ink an issue, and then another, I still made no long-term commitment. Firstly, I don’t know what led to me being asked to draw Marvelman or who championed my involvement – I have heard various contradictory explanations – but I was well aware that I was never Dez’s first choice – and I didn’t blame him, I was an utter novice – there were any number of seasoned/recognised artists Dez could have chosen IF he had more financial backing.

Secondly, it was never ‘work for hire’ because I sold a ‘first English language publication only’ use of my work which guaranteed that I retained ownership of the pages I drew and the images, and character designs, they contained. This is one of the common confusions with people not understanding the difference between the trademark and character copyright as opposed to the ordinary creative ownership of any work originated by the creator – and the variety of ways parts of those rights can be sold.

When it was finally made clear that Garry was going to quit Marvelman, to work on Warpsmith, I said I would only agree to continue drawing Marvelman if I was given an equal percentage of the trademark and character copyright Dez, Garry and Alan claimed to own. Each gave me a percentage that made me an equal quarter partner. Remember, Warrior was paying £40 per pencilled and inked page as opposed to £80-£95 from Marvel UK or 2000 AD so working for Warrior was a gamble to secure an equitable, or enhanced, payscale through royalties.

By the time Garry Leach was finished with Marvelman he had only actually drawn twenty pages of art, and inked a further fifteen pages of Alan Davis’s pencils. None the less, he established the look and the tone for the art that was to follow. Leach’s art wasn’t completely gone from the pages of Warrior, however, as there was a two-part Warpsmith story called Cold War, Cold Warrior, written by Alan Moore and drawn by Leach, which ran in issues #9 and #10. The Warpsmiths, an alien race co-created by Moore and Leach, would turn up in Moore’s Marvelman stories, beginning in the flash-forward story in the Warrior Summer Special, and would particularly feature in Olympus, the third and last book of Moore’s run, where they, along with their ancient enemy, the Qys, would play an important role.

8531350848 abd1435047 m Poisoned Chalice Part 6: A Warrior is BornThe Warpsmiths would also turn up in the pages in another Moore and Leach story, called Ghostdance, in the first issue of A1 in 1989, an anthology comic edited by Leach and Dave Elliott, and published by their own publishing company, Atomeka Press. This had originally been submitted to Warrior, but turned down by Skinn. He had already temporarily lost distribution to WH Smith, a leading British book and magazine retailer, due to what they felt was explicit material in a strip called Zirk, Silver Sweater of the Spaceways by Steve Moore and Brian Bolland, which appeared in issue #3. Skinn felt that they might take issue with the Warpsmith story on the same grounds, possibly permanently this time, so erred on the side of caution, and decided not to publish it.

The Warpsmiths, and more particularly their sworn enemy, the Qys, play a very important part in Moore’s version of Marvelman. He had used the name Qys for a ‘starhopping alien race’ in perhaps the earliest comic strip story he wrote, the four-page Once There Were Dæmons, which appeared in Embryo #5, published by the Northampton Arts Lab, edited by Moore himself, and cover dated 18/11/1971, which would have been his eighteenth birthday. In the same story there is mention of a character who is ‘a blind warper from Algol’, so it would seem that the Qys and the Warpsmiths may have been at the back of Moore’s mind, waiting for a home, for some ten years or more before he used them in Marvelman. 8531405784 a0ff71c16c Poisoned Chalice Part 6: A Warrior is BornIn the Miller-era comics, young Mickey Moran just changed to Marvelman by saying his magic word, Kimota!, and no further explanation was deemed necessary. What Moore did was provide a reasonably believable way for this change to happen. In Moore’s story, a Qys spaceship crashes in Wiltshire in 1948, allowing UK Airforce Intelligence, and particularly Emil Gargunza, who was working for them at that time, to back-engineer the ship’s technology, and specifically to figure out how and why the pilot seemed to have two bodies, both attempting to occupy the same space. This leads them to learn how to clone superbodies, which they deposit in infraspace, with a post-hypnotic keyword to transfer a person’s consciousness from one to the other, and consequently to create superheroes. As he said in his initial proposal to Dez Skinn,

The superhero genre is an offshoot of science fiction (amongst other things), and good sci-fi usually runs according to certain established laws. To my mind the most important of these is that the fantasy in any given story should stem from one divergence from reality. [...] If my Marvelman is going to fit logically into a gritty and realistic nineteen eighties then the character should at least have some pretence of credibility. Thus all the fantasy in the strip stems from one point… the crashing of an alien spacecraft in 1948. Everything else follows on from that.

Therefore, the modern version of Marvelman is inextricably bound up with the Qys and their technology, concepts that belonged wholly and solely to Alan Moore and Garry Leach. Much later on, I’ll be referring back to this, as it’s important.

Moore’s early work on Captain Britain with Alan Davis provides another intriguing glimpse of his ideas about Marvelman. On the third page of the very first full episode he wrote, in Marvel Super-Heroes #387 (Marvel UK, July 1982), while describing the unstoppable Fury, an organic-machine hybrid created to kill superheroes, there is a caption that reads,

8530429599 7aed8394b0 m Poisoned Chalice Part 6: A Warrior is BornThe Fury doesn’t worry. It is used to superheroes. Ten years ago it battled the Iron Tallon who could become invisible. It killed him.

It battled Colonel Tusker and his killer toys. It battled the atomic powerhouse called Miracleman. It killed them. It had become used to superheroes.

A month later, in Marvel Super-Heroes #388, Captain Britain finds himself in a graveyard, where there are gravestones for The Arachnid, Gaath, Colonel Tusker, Android Andy, Iron Tallon, Captain Roy Risk, Puppetman, and Miracleman. These are all analogues of old British comics characters The Spider, Garth, General Jumbo, Robot Archie, The Steel Claw, Colonel Dan Dare, Dolmann, and Marvelman, quite a number of whom would turn up many years later in Albion (WildStorm, 8/2005 – 11/2006), plotted by Moore and written by his daughter Leah and her husband, John Reppion.

About a year later, in Daredevils #7 (July 1983) we see a woman called Linda McQuillan having a nightmare. She is actually Captain UK, a Captain Britain analogue from an alternate Earth, Earth-238 (as opposed to Captain Britain’s Earth-616), and it was on her Earth that all the superheroes got killed by The Fury. In her dream she is talking to her husband Rick, who turns out to be Young Miracleman, which can be seen by his uniform, and his being called Rick – as opposed to Young Marvelman, who was called Dick – and once again there is a list of superheroes that have been killed by the Fury: The Talon, Gaath, Android Andy, and the previously unmentioned Tom Rosetta, who had a magic stone that makes him invulnerable, like Tim Kelly from the old British Kelly’s Eye strip. And this time we get to see several of the characters who had previously only been referred to by name. In the last panel on the page the caption says,

Rick! Look! Miracleman! It shot Miracleman. B-But… but that’s impossible…

8530510881 eb91772690 Poisoned Chalice Part 6: A Warrior is Born

In the frame we see the back of the character referred to as Miracleman, wearing the uniform of Marvelman. It seems obvious that Moore had come up with a possible alternative name for Marvelman from very early on, as evidenced here and in the last part of his original Marvelman proposal to Dez Skinn.

To Be Continued…

(As ever, you can find larger versions of all the images in this post here.)

2646356155 7bdf3d4eb3 t Poisoned Chalice Part 6: A Warrior is BornPádraig Ó Méalóid is a middle-aged Irishman. He has been fascinated with the story of Marvelman for a very long time, and has written a book about it, which is currently looking for a publisher. He is very happy to be writing for The Beat, which he considers to be the best site of its kind on the ‘net, hands down.

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