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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A visit back to 1963...

I should have a copy of Steve Bissette's new TALES OF THE UNCANNY PREVIEW EDITION in my hands soon.  That's the first step in his upcoming return to his share of the "1963" characters.  While I wait, I pulled out my set of the original comics that it seems will never be reprinted, and re-read the stories that form the basis of this new revival (all of #2 and half of #3 and #4).

For those who are somehow unfamiliar with the background of the series, 1963 was a six issue series published in 1993, introducing a variety of characters created by Alan Moore, Steve Bissette and Rick Veitch that were all to some degree pastiches of the Kirby/Ditko/Lee Marvel comics characters and stories of the 1960s.  For various reasons the series never properly finished, and eventually the rights to the characters were split among the creators.  While it doesn't look like there are any active plans for the return of the characters now owned by Veitch and Moore, the Bissette side is one we'll be seeing more of soon.

I didn't pick up the series when it was first coming out, despite being a fan of the creators, but did pick it up a few years later.  While it's nowhere near close to my favourite work by any of the creators, it has gradually grown on me over the years, and it seems like the concepts have some potential for some good fun. These are good enough creators that even their lesser work tends to be interesting.

Based on the promotional material put on-line so far, it looks like the core of Bissette's revival will be "The Unbelievable N-Man", originally featured in 1963 #4.  That makes sense, that's definitely the most visually interesting of the characters that he got, in particular well suited to Bissette's style, far more on the horror/monster side of the super-hero spectrum.  An ashcan released before the original series contained some design notes and sketches for the character, where the emphasis was on "He should look good coming through a wall", which is very much satisfied by the design. In Marvel pastiche terms, N-Man obviously fills the Hulk role, the man mutated by radiation into a monstrous powerful hero, including outgrowing all his clothing other than his pants.  N-Man's particular mutation takes a more insectoid form, with a hard exo-skeleton.  As the 1960s style expository dialogue explains, he's the result of "experiments into making humans as resistant to radiation as beetles". Well, it makes as much sense as anything...

His solo story in the original series (which may or may not have anything to do with the new revived version) was the 12-page "Showdown in the Shimmering Zone", inked by John Totleben, thus briefly re-uniting the classic Moore/Bissette/Totleben Swamp Thing team of the 1980s, and features his battle with another insectoid mutant, his communist counter-part Comrade Cockroach.

Probably my favourite of the 1963 stories was the story Bissette drew in #3, "It Came From... Higher Space" featuring the Hypernaut.

This 12-page story is inked by Chester Brown, probably the oddest artistic combination of the series.  In 1960s Marvel terms, the Hypernaut fills the Iron Man role, although only in the most superficial levels.  He's the character who deviates the most from the pastiche template.  In a lot of ways this feature seems to take as much influence from the DC science-fiction books of the era, with a test pilot being saved from a crash by aliens, who transfer a copy of his brain to a robot body to save him, as one of a cosmic group of Hypernauts.  Plus he's got a three-eyed two-mouthed purple monkey named Queep.  How DC is that?  Anyway, the Hypernaut's battle against a mysterious four-dimensional being that only partially intersects with his 3-D reality (and plays around with the form of the 2-D comic page) is a real delight, visually imaginative and with more ideas on each page than it can contain.

The longest of Bissette's stories for the series was the 24-page "When Wakes the War-Beast" that introduces the Fury in #2, with inks by Dave Gibbons.  The Fury's pastiche godfather is Spider-Man, of course, and of the Bissette stories it's the one that sticks closest to its Marvel inspiration (the Veitch stories tended to stick closer to their sources, with something like Horus Lord of Light very much being Thor with Egyptian rather than Norse gods and designs).  Of course, the Spider-Man template is probably one of the most interesting of the Marvel originals, and it's not like Marvel's been doing much with it, with some brief exceptions, since Ditko left.  And there are some changes, with the Fury being the son of a deceased WWII character named the Fightin' Fury.  And while one of his villains, the Voidoid, is very much a clever concept in the Ditko vein, we also get the debut of the War-Beast...

Three-eyed mutant killer dinosaur?  That's Bissette through and through.  Anyway, a pretty good introduction to the wise-cracking young athletic hero.

Anyway, some interesting stuff, providing a solid base for some future stories, even if the actual stories in these issues won't be reprinted.  It'll be fascinating to see if the pastiche element remains a major part of the revival, or takes a backseat in the new version.  More on that when I have the preview.

1 comment:

  1. It's worth mentioning that there were a few follow-up issues. There was an issue of Big Bang comics featuring the 1963 characters, appropriately titled Big Bang vs. 1963, and a Savage Dragon guest appearance.
    Big fun, and like you, I'm eager to see the next chapter!


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