Homages to the superheroes of ages past are a regular feature of modern comics. Whether it’s “Mister Miracle” deconstructing Jack Kirby’s New Gods or “Pink Lemonade” creating a new Silver Age heroine in 2019, it is usually interesting to have artists recreate or re-imagine the characters and styles from comics’ history. “1963” is no exception. In this first of six issues, the creative team manages to faithfully capture the art style of the period, shine a light on characterizations and social agendas of comics in 1963, and satirize the letters, creator’s columns, and advertisements in some of the best fake backmatter of the time. All of this makes “1963” #1 a superb set-up for the rest of the run and a rewarding read to anyone who has read a Marvel comic from the 1960s.
Written by Alan Moore
Illustrated by Rick Veitch and Dave Gibbons
Colored by Marvin Killroy
Lettered by Don Simpson
“1963” #1 introduces the world to Mystery Incorporated, a team of four intrepid heroes that bear a striking resemblance to the Fantastic Four. After a training exercise, they encounter a man seeimgly walking backwards out of a portal. Who is he? Where does he come from? And how can Mystery Incorporated stop him?
The first aspect of “1963” #1 that strikes the reader, right from the cover, is the art style. Rick Veitch and Dave Gibbons have managed to recreate the bold yet simple linework that typifies comics of the Silver Age. When coupled with Marvin Killroy’s pitch- and period-perfect coloring and Don Simpson’s lettering, “1963” #1 would not look out of place being placed in a rack of the Marvel classics it seeks to both honor and parody. The linework is thick and clear, and character designs follow trends of the age. Mystery Incorporated wear matching outfits, complete with a question mark as their group symbol, mimicking the Fantastic Four’s getups and simple symbology. The male heroes are all slightly differentiated examples of physical perfection when they’re in human form, with Ben Grimm analog Biff Baker built like a boxer, while Crystal Man, “1963”’s faux-Mr. Fantastic is leaner. Neon Queen, the Invisible Woman of Mystery Incorporated, wouldn’t be out of place on a pin-up poster on a teenage boy’s wall, even maintaining her hairstyle and make-up even after a scrape with the bad guy.
This replication of the 1960’s Marvel style permeates from the art into the story and characterizations throughout “1963” #1. Moore creates a simple story that, in one issue, gives us the origins of Mystery Incorporated, takes them on a tour of their underground base (complete with hijinks and obstacles that need the heroes to work together to overcome them), introduces the villain that ties the events of “1963” #1 to the rest of the series, and give readers laughs and life lessons along the way. All of this is presented with the kind of dialogue and captioning that was incredibly old-timey in 1993 but would be right at home in 1963. Moore is also unafraid to highlight some of the agendas and issues present in society at the time. There is regular mention of the threat of Russia and Cold War propagandist sentimentalities, and Neon Queen is belittled and objectified multiple times in the issue. Despite her contributions to the group, Moore deliberately makes her the subject of a romantic competition between Biff and Timmy Baker, transforming her from an equal part of the team to little more than a prize to be claimed – a fate suffered by all too many female characters in comics at the time.
Nowhere is this social commentary more evident than in “1963” #1’s remarkable backmatter. There are letters pages where some fictional fans fawn for Neon Queen’s affections while others call for her immediate removal from Mystery Incorporated, to be replaced by male heroes who could do her job better than she ever could. There are posters for each of the four heroes. There are advertisements where readers could, for low, low prices, purchase military surplus of their own. There is even a column where Affable Al Moore parodies Stan’s Soapbox by painting himself as a malevolent overlord of the sweatshop that is the production office for “1963”, complete with extensive alliteration and replacing Stan’s famous sign-off, ‘Excelsior!’, with ‘Excalibur!’. Most of “1963” #1 plays it straighter with the Silver Age sentimentality with the occasional pointed reference, but the backmatter is sheer, sublime satire that is worth the price of the book by itself.
While most of Image’s initial offerings looked to hook newer or more casual readers towards the nascent publishing line, “1963” #1 acted as a love letter to fans of the Silver Age. The art style, story, characterization, and backmatter all worked in unison to provide a satirical look at Marvel’s offerings of the past. Some of Image’s first offerings may not have aged all that well, but by capturing the core concepts of a past age, “1963” reads as well today as it did when it was first released.