Miracleman by Alan Moore *****

Posted by Crow on
Book Reviews

The first question you might ask is “Who the hell is Miracleman?” That is a loaded question. I will break it down as simply as I can, but the fact that there is an entire book dedicated to explaining where this character came from shows how convoluted the history is. In fact, this character has the most unique and litigious history of any superhero character ever.

1939: Fawcett Publications, in an attempt to capitalize on the success of National Publications “Superman” created a team of six superheroes each with the power of a Greek god. An executive at Fawcett suggested that the team of six should be combined into one character who would have all six of the teams super powers. Thus “Captain Thunder” was born in the pages of “Flash Comics” #1.

1940: To their dismay Fawcett soon realized that they did not have the rights to “Captain Thunder” or “Flash Comics” and had to rename their creation “Captain Marvel” and their comic book to “Whiz Comics.” Whiz Comics #2 is considered to be the first appearance of Captain Marvel, now known to us as “Shazam” which is an acronym for all of the Captain’s powers taken from the mythological characters Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury. Captain Marvel is in reality 12 year old Billy Batson, a homeless orphan who is chosen by the 3,000 year old wizard Shazam “for being pure of heart” to continue his fight against evil. The wizard tells Billy that he need only say the word “SHAZAM!” and he will be given the powers of the gods.

1948: Captain Marvel became the best-selling comic book of the 1940s. Many issues sold over 1 million copies. Numbers unheard of today. Naturally this irked National (now known as DC Comics) who thought that Captain Marvel too closely resembled their hero Superman. So they sued Fawcett and after years of litigation they killed the character. Captain Marvel and Fawcett’s entire comic book division ceased to exist by 1953. DC would eventually buy Fawcett’s catalog of characters in the ’70s.

1954: While Captain Marvel sales had declined in the U.S., the character was still a big hit in England, where reprints of American comics were very popular. Unwilling to let this cash cow die out, British publisher Mick Anglo was able to make new stories by changing the character’s name to “Marvelman” and redesigning his costume. These comics were published until 1963 and were much beloved by the British audience, especially making an impression on a lower-class kid from Northampton named Alan Moore.

1982: A new British black and white superhero anthology comic called Warrior began publication in 1982 and it was decided to bring back Marvelman for a new audience. Warrior publisher Dez Skinn had a hard time finding a writer/artist team who were interested in the character. The black and white comics of the ’50s were considered to be cheap trash for children by the ‘80s. But then Skinn heard of an unknown writer who would “give his eye teeth” to write Marvelman. Famous British artists Brian Bolland and Dave Gibbons (who would later go on to draw Watchmen) turned it down so the art duties went to Garry Leach and an upcoming artist named Alan Davis. The first part of what would become one of the greatest sagas in superhero comics was published as black and white serial stories in Warrior. Moore ended up feuding with his publisher (a common theme in his career) and the rights were sold off to American publisher Eclipse Comics.

1985: Eclipse reformatted, relettered, and colored Moore’s original stories from Warrior and then hired him to complete the story.  The character also got a new name to avoid litigation from Marvel Comics. He was now “Miracleman,” but in essence he was still the same Captain Marvel who debuted in 1941. Three new artists (Chuck Austen, Rick Veitch and John Totleben) were hired to complete the work. The story ran until issue #16.

1990: Writer Neil Gaiman started to write a new story arc for Eclipse after Moore’s departure but the company went bankrupt in 1994. But the fact is Moore’s arc is a complete story. There was no need to continue it. So even though Gaiman’s story ends on a cliffhanger, his run was poor and unnecessary compared to Moore’s with ugly artwork by Mark Buckingham. But it did link Gaiman to the character which lead to…

1996: Todd McFarlane purchased the rights to Eclipse Comics thinking that he would also be getting the rights to Miracleman. He thought wrong, but that didn’t stop him from putting the character in his Spawn comics and making the only Miracleman action figure (packaged with Spawn of course).

2001: Neil Gaiman formed a company, Marvels and Miracles LLC, solely to clear up the ownership of Miracleman long-term. In court it was discovered that McFarlane nor Eclipse Comics owned the rights to Marvelman, but they remained with his original British creator Mick Anglo.

2009: At the San Diego Comic Con Marvel Comics announced that they had purchased the rights to Miracleman/Marvelman from Mick Anglo. Since 2010 they have been reprinting classic ‘50s Marvelman stories as well as Alan Moore’s ‘80s run, with improved lettering and coloring. In a bizarre move Alan Moore requested that his name be removed from the reprints, citing a hatred of Marvel Comics over past slights. So if you buy a reprint now it says merely “The Original Writer.”

It is a shame as Moore deserves credit for what is perhaps the finest superhero story I have ever read, besides Batman Year One, The Dark Knight, and Watchmen. This story was an end of innocence for superheros and beginning of what was later called “The British Invasion” of American comics. It was the most adult superhero story that had been told up to that point, making Marvel’s stuff look like low brow kid’s stuff. Moore realized that Marvelman was aimed at young children and most of the old stories could not be seriously read by an adult. The storytelling was ridiculous and over the top, yet he didn’t want to start anew, he needed to acknowledge that history.

What he did was shear brilliance. Instead of being a little boy chosen by a magic wizard, Billy Batson (renamed Michael Moran) was a guinea pig in a government experiment to create a god-like soldier with alien technology. But it was realized that he was too powerful so he was kept unconscious with all of his memories of his ‘50s adventures being implanted by comic book reading scientists.

Moore picks it up in the ‘80s where Michael Moran has no memory of his time as Miracleman and is an out of shape 40-something reporter. While at a nuclear power plant on an assignment he sees the word “atomic” written backwards, he says it aloud “KIMOTA!” and he is transformed into the 20-something god-like being Miracleman once again.

In the first arc Moore shows what it would be like if Captain Marvel never said the word “Shazam!” again and also (through the sidekick Kid Miracleman) what it would be like if Captain Marvel stayed as his superhero form, never reverting back to Billy Batson for decades. He also graphically shows us what would happen if a man with the power of Shazam was chaotic evil instead of lawful good. Moore wanted to make his story as realistic as he possibly could and there was no editor to stop him as their would have been at DC Comics.

“There is a passion here, but not human passion. There is fierce and desperate emotion, but not an emotion that we would recognize… They are titans, and we will never understand the alien inferno that blazes in the furnace of their souls. We will never grasp their hopes, their despair, never comprehend the blistering rage that informs each devastating blow… We will never know the destiny that howls in their hearts, never know their pain, their love, their almost sexual hatred… And perhaps we will be the less for that.”   – Alan Moore, Miracleman Chapter 5

In other words, Miracleman is a god, just like Superman. For either of these beings to put on a tie and glasses and go to work like a normal human being is ridiculous. It doesn’t take long for Michael Moran to completely forget about his past life. He is not a man anymore. He has the power to make the world a better place and if it requires becoming dictator of Earth then he will do it. This is a comic book that rivals Herbert in it’s philosophy, science, and musings on the human condition.

It took me until Marvel finally secured the rights to be able to read it all because it’s been out of print for years. When it originally came out I was too young to read something this adult. Now was as good of a time as any because this story is timeless. The only thing I can complain about a bit is the art. As mentioned the best artists working at the time turned it down. Alan Moore was a nobody back then. Also the first series was drawn for black and white publication. Coloring work like that is kind of like coloring an old black and white film, it’s not the way it was meant to be seen by the people who created it. But that said, much of the artwork is beautifully detailed and elegantly arranged.

Despite the fact that there was a huge legal battle for the character, nothing has really been done with him since. He is just a carbon copy of DC’s Shazam and Marvel has their own female Captain Marvel now. But the main reason, I believe, is that Moore tied up his story. There was really no where to go from there. Gaiman’s issues that followed Moore’s read like an extended epilogue more than anything. Moore’s work reached such a grand height that it makes anything that will follow it seem like a step down.

5 Miracles Outta 5

Miracleman by Alex Ross

Leave a Reply