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You knew we were going to get to this series sooner or later, right?
After Big Numbers, Alan Moore’s other big uncompleted work (yes, there’s more than one) is arguably 1963, a six-issue homage/parody/pastiche of classic Silver Age Marvel Comics he did under the Image Comics umbrella back in 1993 with Rick Veitch and Steve Bissette.
As you’d expect, the superheroes that graced these covers and stories bore arch similarities to those created by Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and Stan Lee. Mystery Incorporated, for example, is the Fantastic Four with slightly different powers. The Fury serves as an analogue for Spider-Man, right down to ever-present angst. U.S.A. is Captain America, Horus is Thor, and so forth and so on.
But Moore and company were not content to merely ape the characters; 1963 mimics the tone and style of early Marvel comics with an almost unerring accuracy at times, from the soap opera romantic subplots, to the fretting over the red menace of communism to the Irish cop stereotypes. The creators even produced phony letters page and ads. Moore even mimicked Lee’s hucksterism, urging readers at one point to go out and buy his book, How I Created Everything All By Myself and Why I Am Great.
As the title of that book might suggest, 1963 was full of sly humor and winking nods to not only Marvel but the comics industry and American culture in general. The Doctor Strange character, for example, is flummoxed by a woman from the future’s PC doublespeak. The Tomorrow Syndicate’s voyage into hyperspace has loads of references to indie comics characters. Moore even breaks the fourth wall as the mysterious villain in the Hypernaut’s adventure is able to literally turning the panel in order to gain the upper hand.
The series is also notable for the number of talented folks that helped produce it. In addition to Moore, Bissette and Veitch, it featured the work of Don Simpson, John Totleben, Dave Gibbons, Jim Valentino and, yes, even Chester Brown himself (on the Hypernaut tale).
1963 was supposed to culminate in an “Annual” issue that would feature a showdown between the Image characters and the 1963 group, providing a sort of compare/contrast commentary on the superhero comics of yesteryear and those of the then “modern” 1990s. Jim Lee was supposed to draw the issue, but decided to take a sabbatical instead. By the time he came back, Rob Liefield was out, and things were starting to fall apart. Moore found himself drawn to working on other Image comics like WildCats and what would eventually become his ABC line.
Things got more acrimonious in 1996 when Moore cut off all contact with Bissette, apparently regarding something the Swamp Thing artist said or revealed during a lengthy interview in the Comics Journal. In 1998 Moore, Veitch and Bissette split up the rights to the various cast members, with Bissette walking away with the Hypernaut and a few other characters.
Even then, attempts were made to collect and finish 1963. In a big two-part interview for CBR, Bissette discussed a number of attempts by the three parties, even with Bissette and Moore avoiding any direct contact ,only for things to fall apart time and again. At this point it seems like there’s little to no chance the original series will ever be collected, although Bisette has announced plans to spin off his characters into their own adventures, to be published by About Comics. It seems a shame. Although certainly one of the minor works for all three creators, 1963 remains a bonafide hoot and could easily be appreciated by a new batch of readers.