The history of the Miracleman comic is a long and arduous tale, fraught with enough struggle as any superhero tale. Originally a popular comic published in the UK in the 1950s under the title Marvelman, the series disappeared until 1982 when comics master Alan Moore rebooted it in his own image, turning the original, campy series into a dark, existential tale in the vein of his future project, Watchmen. The new series, published in Warrior magazine, became one of the most revolutionary and influential series in the superhero genre and comics medium at the time, but soon ran into legal problems with Marvel Comics because of the title. Following further disputes between Moore and Warrior’s editor, Moore passed the series on to newcomer Neil Gaiman. After decades of legal battles, including with Spawn creator Todd McFarlane, Marvel gained the rights to reprint the series in 2013, also announcing that Neil Gaiman would finish his story he began 25 years ago. With Miracleman #2, a reprinting of the original issue 18, Gaiman elegantly continues the series’ themes of myth, worship and mortality with two tales of humanity beneath the shadow of the miraculous.
The first story focuses on a man named John Galloway, who lives in a windmill on a farm in England, and who frequently watches the night sky for sightings of Miraclewoman, one of Miracleman’s allies. John becomes infatuated with Miraclewoman, praising her silently until one night in a storm she comes down and visits him. The two then sleep together, and begin a sexual relationship. In between her visits John obsesses over her, imagining stealing her from Miracleman, and explaining how he can no longer be with any other woman or live any other life. “If it wasn’t perfect, I didn’t want it,” he says. This all changes when one night Miraclewoman visits and reveals her true self: a normal doctor named Avril Lear.
Gaiman cleverly uses the story as a commentary on idolatry, and the kind of divine worship and false love expressed towards those deemed physically “perfect” by society, whether it be god or superhero. The standards of beauty and physicality so often seen in superhero comics and movies have never been so different from those within celebrity culture and popular magazines, and Gaiman explores the potential for misjudgment and disconnect that these standards create. “Every woman is a goddess, and every man a god,” Miraclewoman says to John. By the story’s end, John has taken this to heart, and slowly begun acclimating back to imperfect humanity. It’s a fascinating take on what kind of influence superheroes would have on human identity and relationships, and finds its roots in the myths and images of physical perfection we’ve known for centuries.
The second story deals with a group of preteens hanging out in their schoolyard, one of whom is a member of a gang called the “Bates”, named after Miracleman’s former ally and archenemy, Johnny Bates, aka Kid Miracleman, who had seemingly declared war against humanity before being defeated by Miracleman. The Bates anticipate Kid Miracleman’s return as a kind of apocalyptic cult. The kids discuss the repercussions of Miracleman and Kid Miracleman’s last battle, and what Kid Miracleman’s return could mean for humanity.
The plot of the story isn’t much more than a discussion among the kids, but Gaiman’s dialogue is fascinating as always. Like the first story, the influence of superheroes and villains on humanity’s sense of worship is a recurrent theme (here seen as stylized fashion), but Gaiman also analyzes the effect such super beings would have on human conceptions of time and possibility. Several of the kids discuss the idea of sex education, and how their parents find the idea absurd, saying “they didn’t have that kind of thing in the old days”. One girl mentions a story she heard about a kid who in a science lab who turned himself invisible. Another girl then discusses the Religious Studies idea of “deforming probabilities,” and how the occurrence of one miracle makes another more likely, and thus increases the odds of things normally deemed impossible (like gaining superpowers).
Not only is this a provocative look at the religious and scientific repercussions superheroes would have on our world, but an intriguing reflection on generation gaps, and how a commonplace idea or creation today was likely deemed impossible not so long ago. The age of super beings is treated like such a “new age”, where the entire human realm of possibility is thrown on its head, as it has been so many times in the past.
Miracleman #2 is another prime example of Neil Gaiman’s unparalleled talent and imagination, as well as his skillful exploration of our most basic human qualities in even the most fantastic narratives. The artwork by Mark Buckingham perfectly suits each story’s tone, and beautifully compliments Gaiman’s dialogue and narration. As an example of some of Gaiman’s earliest work, it’s clear to see why he’s known today as one of modern comics’ pioneers.