So, I succumbed. I’ve bought the first issue of Marvel’s Miracleman re-release via Comixology. As ever, I’m willing to pay the fan tax in order to get my fix right now. Four quid and I don’t even get a pamphlet! I can feel my old granddad Fred, reputedly the meanest man in Napier, spinning in his grave.
Ah well, it had to be so. Not only is Miracleman (and I’ll just stick with that and assume you know Miracleman/Marvelman story) one of the most important stories in the history of superhero comics, it has also been out of print from decades. This makes it an especially special prize.
I realise that Alan Moore was never one of the main reasons for holding this up, but he’s still taken the peevish step of changing taking his name off the project in protest at the whole business, and is credited as The Original Writer. It’s what we’ve come to expect from him, I guess, and we should be happy to see the comics get another airing, but these antics do get a little boring.
All the great work of his early golden period seems to be tainted with this contempt for working conditions of the time. It’s like these stories are the children of an old relationship that he now can’t face. He’s got his new kids but let’s be honest – those new stories wouldn’t have quite the same clout if it wasn’t for that period between about 1980 and 1990 that saw him produce a string of amazing and definitive comics that helped redefine what comics could do.
This story sees Moore just reaching his peak. In roughly same period he wrote this, V for Vendetta, Captain Britain, Halo Jones and a slew of Future Shocks and Time Twisters for 2000AD. In 1984 he’d begin his real rise to fame by taking on The Saga of the Swamp Thing and then produce Watchmen with Dave Gibbons.
Miracleman shows him at his lean and hungry best. The story’s brilliantly told in a spare and naturalistic style that’s complemented by the sensitive, sober art of Gary Leach. The naturalistic style contrasts brilliantly with the absurd logic of the superhero world. Liz speaks for the reader when she says to newly super-powered husband:
It’s almost funny, and it reminds me a little of the incredulous reaction of the peasant’s digging in the shit to King Arthur in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Here, though, it’s played entirely straight and the dissonance between the surreal world of the super-hero and the mundanity of real life is left to do its job.
Despite being over thirty years old, this story feels absolutely up-to-date. The precise tone of ironic distance that Moore achieves has become the default for superhero comics today and feeds into the many of the movies as well. Astro City is built on the same principle, as are those Alex Ross books like Marvels and Kingdom Come. This particular story line brings to mind The Sentry in Brain Michael Bendis’s run on The Avengers. In fact, the conversational tone between Mike and Liz here is pretty close to the kind of back and forth that you might see between Luke Cage and Jessica Jones in one of his stories.
If you compare Miracleman with a comic from thirty years before it’s own time – 1952 – the differences in tone and approach are far more marked. I don’t know if it’s just me providing a nostalgic gloss, but this story seems to have a sense of exploring the unknown. Back in 1982, this wasn’t just Mike Moran heading into unknown territory. It was the readers as well, and crucially, the writer too. Perhaps it’s the loss of this frontier, this Terra Obscura that Moore regrets so bitterly?