Monday, March 21, 2005

Miracleman Thoughts

Miracleman comics have sort of become the "holy grail" of many comic fans out there. With issues hard to find, and usually quite expensive once they are. Its myth has grown in leaps and bounds in the last few years especially with the legal rights battle as wonderfully reported here.

I decided recently to try to hunt up some of the issues for myself as well, to see whether the reality lived up to the myth or not. Through eBay and a friend I was able to get a fairly good sampling I think, to judge their worth.

Issues #1-3 deal first with a sort of "flashback" story hearkening back to the Silver Age era of goofy villains and plots. Where the good guys were good and the bad guys were bad (but not evil) and you knew who would win in the end.

Alan Moore captures the feel of those stories perfectly, without it seeming like just a pastiche of those old stories. This is a style he would later revisit with his flashback Supreme stories, so it was interesting to see that he had an apparent fondness for it even so many years back.

Then comes the meat and potatoes, as we watch Miracleman learn his life was a lie. He and his two junior partners were really experiments of the government. The lives they thought they'd lived were really virtual reality created dreams, and that the government tried to destroy them when they realized how dangerous they were.

Which only led to Miracleman gaining amnesia, that made him forget his magic world of transformation. So he built a new life as a reporter and met and married the love of his life. Living a life of virtual ambiguity for 15 years, until a terrorist attack reawakens who he really is.

We then watch as he must battle his junior partner, who has lived the last 15 years with his powers on and has become corrupted by it.

These early issues are broken up in chapters, as these were colorized reprints of short stories from the UK based WARRIOR book. It was interesting to see how writer Alan Moore worked differently with different artists.

Moore didn't seem to trust the first artist Garry Leach much, with good reason since some of the battle sequences were hard to follow, looking like two colored blobs clashing with each other in murky surroundings. So the narrative was heavily descriptive, annoying so in places.

Even if the art itself was showing exactly the same thing, the text made sure to restate it just to be sure. With Alan Davis, Moore seemed to pull back a little more, with less redundancy type narration boxes and dialogue.

Which made the book an easier read, especially since the early dialogue tended to be heavily over wrought. Such as when describing a huge fight scene in issue 2, as something we as mortals couldn't ever understand.

It was two guys beating the heck out of each other, what is so hard to grasp about that concept? Though having read more now, it is evident that it was the first in a line of things meant to show how different powered individuals are from normal people.

Later issues would explore more about the kind of dreams and lives the characters lived through under their dream state. Before having Miracleman confront the scientist who created him for his own ulterior motives.

Then issue 9 where Miracleman's wife gives birth, was an apparently a controversial story during its time. At least as evidenced by the very angry seeming foreword to book 2 by Catherine Yronwode about whether it was appropriate subject for youths or not.

The nudity and graphic violence of the early issues would seem to have made it evident that it wasn't a book for youths to me anyway. Yet on the graphic depiction of the birth I found myself wondering about the necessity of the visuals shown.

Yes it is a natural thing in life, but then so is using the bathroom or vomiting. Neither of which are things I care to see, and I don't think these graphic scenes added anything to the story but an "eww" factor.

Issue 9 was the last of the Moore stories I've been able to find so far. I do have the Apochypha trade, which is a collection of sort of "Elseworld" tales involving the Miracleman family of characters by some of today's more well known comic talent.

Of them the standout ones are

*"The Scrapbook" by Sarah Byam and Norm Breyfogle, which has Miracleman looking in at a world where things with his family had gone certain other ways. It was a poignant tale of "what might have beens" and hints to me at what he must have to give up in future issues.

*"Stray Thoughts" by Stefan Petrucha and Broderic Macaraeg, features Miraclewoman in a story that bring an interesting spin on the old "Superman's robots" theme. Yet doesn't lose the charm those old stories brought out either.

*"Wishing on a Star" by Steve Moore and Alex Ross, was a true surprise find. Its story on how Miracleman's existence would have a negative effect on human initiative was interesting. Yet more impressive was seeing Alex Ross do art with a softer feel and approach than his typical very stiff work he's done in recent years.

There is also a "What were they thinking?" story by James Robinson and Kelly Jones. That focuses on Miracleman's former junior partner Kid Miracleman, and exactly what his thought process was in going evil. It really seemed to glorify the violence and rape done by the lead character in a very disturbing way that disturbed me by its message.

This is a solid mature superhero story, that explores the superhero tale from a slightly different angle. Unlike other tales, like Superman's, where the characters seek acceptance from others.

Miracleman is instead a journey that has the character have to learn and embrace his apartness from humanity.

Miracleman is a work that still stands up all of these years later. I wouldn't put it up there with Moore's Watchmen work, as it lacks the underlining themes and commentary that it worked with.

I definitely look forward to seeing further volumes, and hope that the legal battles get settled so the books can be reprinted in new volumes. Thus making them open to a wider audience.

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