Alan Moore's 1983 essay on how Stan Lee was 'the beginning of the end'

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Dec 17, 2012

These days you'd be lucky to hear a single kind word from Alan Moore about the Big Two comics publishers, but Britain's great bearded comics wizard was heavily influenced by American superhero comics, particularly those written by Stan "The Man" Lee. In a 1983 essay, he explained why.

In '83, Moore was not yet the visionary author of Watchmen and From Hell. He was a rising British star on the verge of his big American break with Swamp Thing, but even then he wasn't shy about his opinions. In this particular piece, shared by comics historian Sean Howe on his Marvel Comics: The Untold Story Tumblr, Moore describes his reaction when his mother mistakenly brought him home a copy of Fantastic Four #3 instead of the comic he really wanted.

"What was special was the characterization...the way the characters talked, thought and behaved. I mean, think about it for a moment...there was a standard noble scientist type called Reed Richards who was given to making long-winded and pretentious proclamations on everything from Epsilon radiation to Universal Love."

Lee's characterization, and Jack Kirby's legendary art, were enough to send the young Moore looking for more Marvel Comics, and he grew ever more impressed with the universe Lee and company were building at the House of Ideas.

"Probably the most remarkable thing that Stan Lee achieved was the way in which he managed to hold on to his audience long after they had grown beyond the age range usually associated with comic book readers of that period. He did this by constant application of change, modification and development."

But that Alan Moore was a kid reading comics. What does 1983 Alan Moore, the one about to burst onto the American comics scene, think about Lee overall? It turns out those bright moments of invention in the '60s were as good as it got for Moore.

"To many, this 'visionary' period of Lee's writing stands as his finest work. Personally, although it knocked me for a loop at the time, I can see with hindsight that in many ways it spelled the beginning of the end. That said, while it lasted it was probably the most fun you could have without risking imprisonment."

A good many comics readers, particularly readers of Moore's age, would probably agree with that, but according to Howe, this is only part one of the piece. And since Moore subtitled the essay "an affectionate character assassination," you can probably bet that the second half won't be so kind to Lee.

To read the full essay, head over to Howe's Tumblr.

(Via Marvel Comics: The Untold Story)