[20 January 2014]
When Eclipse first printed the Miracleman series in the 1980s, a reader wrote a letter saying that they were ‘quite skeptical’ about the first issue, and ‘was considering quitting halfway through Chapter 1!’ Their confusion and bemusement mirrored my own, and likely that of many other readers, particularly those who have come to this series years after its publication with the expectation that it was as an accepted ‘lost classic’. The first half of Miracleman #1 is taken up by a 1956 story written by Marvelman/Miracleman creator Mick Anglo, in which Miracleman and his two young sidekicks – Young Miracleman (aka Dicky Dauntless) and Kid Miracleman – confront the futuristic menace of Kommandant Garrer of the Science Gestapo and his Atomic Storm Troopers. To a ‘modern age’ audience, the story seemed more campy and cringe-worthy than the Adam West Batman TV series, and it was not clear where writer Alan Moore (referred to in these reprints as The Original Writer) was going by including it, although it would later become so.
The second half of the issue shifts the story to 1982, and in as much as the first half of the issue was representative of 1950s comics, the second half of the issue could now be seen as quintessential of 1980s comics to present day readers. That is not a bad thing at all – for me and many others the 1980s was the greatest period of comics ever, at least for superhero comics. Miracleman is definitely ‘grim ‘n’ gritty’ and could even be called bleak; our hero – now ordinary joe Mike Moran – is tortured by dreams of an explosion that left him powerless and barbecued his friend, and he has to deal in this issue with the rather disturbing threat (particularly to 1980s audiences) of a plutonium hi-jack. It is violent; while I had initially forgotten about this (given the scale of what comes after) Miracleman’s manner of dealing with the hi-jackers here isn’t exactly out of the Superman or Captain America Boy Scout textbook. It tried to make superheroes realistic, by showing how ordinary people would react to this inhuman being, including Mike Moran’s wife, who giggles away constantly as her husband explains how a giant astrophysicist turned him into ‘a muscleman in a blue leotard’. If anyone wanted to pick a typically 1980s comic to parody, Miracleman #1 probably would not be a bad choice.
But does it hold up now – now that the own tropes it introduced, let alone the tropes it shattered, have been used over and over again? Yes it does, because Moore and artist Garry Leach did not just disintegrate the past, they built upon it too. Reading through the 1950s tale is worth it just for the haunting image that follows it, in which Miracleman’s perfectly rendered comic book eye becomes a portent of the devastating events to come. Another famous image is the one in which Miracleman, having returned, flies around the blue earth in joy, an image that harked back to the initial wonder of superheroes, but updated that feeling of wonder and also foreshadowed ‘post-superhero’ series such as The Authority. Also, while Moran’s wife Liz may mercilessly ridicule his origin story, the realism and emotion of an ordinary person dealing with their partner having a super-powered alter ego had rarely been matched before, or since. Moore and Leach’s usage and explosion of the super-hero genre was not just them being clever, but was all done in the service of creating a fascinating and highly memorable series.
After Moore’s story, the rest of this issue is filled out with various background materials about the Marvelman/Miracleman character, and a couple of 1954 tales. Frankly, I did little more than glance over them, and probably so will you (sorry, Mick Anglo). It is the Moore stories, and after that the Neil Gaiman stories, that people have been clamoring for. Nearly anyone who comes to this book will know that there were ‘legal troubles’ that have kept it out of print, and restricted its readership. Many of those who have read it though would rank it alongside the very best superhero comics, such as The Dark Knight Returns, Born Again, and Watchmen. Now that it has become available to a wide audience again, many others may rank it up there too.