Earlier this week, we stumbled upon the first part of a 1983 essay by Alan Moore that lamented "the beginning of the end" of Marvel Comics. Now the second part has hit the 'net, and Moore's predicting the company's "imminent downfall." So ... how's that going?
In the first part of his "affectionate character assassination" of Stan Lee, Moore chronicled his discovery of Lee's work in an early issue of Fantastic Four, and his subsequent devotion to all things Marvel. In the second part, he discusses Lee's increasing delegation of Marvel writing duties to other scribes, and laments that the comics stopped being as dynamic as the ones he'd read as a boy.
"You see, somewhere along the line, one of the newer breed of Marvel editors ... maybe it was Marv Wolfman, maybe it was someone else, had come up with one of those incredibly snappy sounding and utterly stupid little pieces of folk-wisdom that some editors seem to like pulling out of the hat from time to time.
"This particular little gem went something as follows; 'Readers don't want change. Readers only want the illusion of change.' Like I said, it sounds perceptive and well-reasoned on first listening. It is also, in my opinion, one of the most specious and retarded theories that it has ever been my misfortune to come across.
"Who says readers don't want change? Did they do a survey or something? Why wasn't I consulted?"
Moore cites the similarities between DC and Marvel comics in the '70s and '80s, the similarities between newly created heroes and their Silver Age predecessors and the slumping of comic book sales as evidence that this "illusion of change" business model didn't actually work. There are probably more than a few comics readers of the early '80s, and even many readers now, who would agree, but Lee's prediction for where all this was heading turned out to be wrong.
"Now, I don't want to cause too much alarm and despondency by talking about Marvel's imminent downfall. Some of the recent developments over there in the home of the hamburger look very promising indeed and it looks as if it might just be possible to save the day at the last minute, the way it always happens in the comics. But, and it's a big but, it's been left awfully late. Maybe too late. We'll have to wait and see."
Well, it's a good thing he threw in that "wait and see," because although it struggled with bankruptcy once upon a time, and it's now in the hands of the Walt Disney Company, Marvel is going strong. Granted, its strength is thanks in large part to diversification well beyond comic books, but the company is still there, and so are the comics, for better or for worse.
But Moore also provides a theory for how the comics industry could save itself. He calls for the arrival of another figure as dynamic and transformative as Lee to step up to the plate and do something new.
"Stan Lee, in his heyday, did something wildly and radically different.
"And as far as I'm concerned, his vacant throne will remain empty until we come up with someone who has the guts and imagination to do the same.
Three years later, Moore published Watchmen and became a transformative figure in his own right.
To read the full essay, head over to Sean Howe's excellent Marvel Comics: The Untold Story Tumblr page.