A Guide to Alan Moore & Neil Gaiman’s Miracleman (Marvelman)

Posted on Posted in Comic Books, Reviews/Commentary

 

 

 

What would people think today about Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman’s “Miracleman?”

With the stature of both writers having grown exponentially over time, the idea that they both contributed to a ‘lost masterpiece’ in the 1980s and early 1990s would be enough to make any comics fan giddy.

Someday the massive legal quagmire behind the material in question – twenty five or more comic books – will surely get resolved.  As the legend behind that material has grown though, would reviewers who eventually read it in reprint form find it living up to the legendary status that it has attained?

One thing that readers might note at high level was how “Miracleman” was an outlier among Moore’s work by seeming to change so much from issue to issue.  A lot of that had to do with the length of time over which publication occurred.

From 1982 until 1989, Moore’s writing style changed, the artists on the book changed several times, and the publisher changed.  Frankly, the real world also changed too.  In some ways, “Miracleman” ended up chronicling the 1980s, albeit from afar.  When Neil Gaiman took over for Alan Moore in the early 1990s, the comics industry was entering a speculator-fueled bubble period that itself was even hinted at within the work.  Styles changed and the series’ commentary on the work changed as well.

Rather than being considered one of Moore’s clear masterpieces though, “Miracleman” has often been included on lists of ‘greatest unfinished series’ when that really wasn’t the case.  Moore’s issue #16 could easily be considered the end of the story.

The fact that Gaiman continued the series to mixed reviews has only muddled its place in comic book history.  Of course, Gaiman’s work wasn’t completely without merit.  Given how fervent he has been since the mid-1990s in trying to revive the series, he obviously felt that he had a noteworthy conclusion of his own in mind.

For many readers of the era, Moore started off a quirky writer on sci-fi shorts or Marvel U.K.-specific titles such as “Doctor Who” and “Star Wars.”  He then progressed into the Alan Moore who wrote titles such as “Captain Britain.”  Moore started gaining a following in 1984 in the United States with “Swamp Thing”.  By the time he produced “Watchmen” in 1986, he had become Alan Moore, a well-known comic book writing brand name who produced stories for savvy adult readers.

Given that Moore’s full 16 issues of “Miracleman” material was published over that entire key  seven year period from 1982 until 1980, his writing clearly matured.  His final arc, “Olympus,” was his strongest and was produced during his late-1980s peak.

Similarly, Gaiman had also not yet become Neil Gaiman when he produced issue #17.  Gaiman was just beginning to gain notable acclaim for “Sandman” when he took over “Miracleman” in 1990.  Like Moore, he was still finding his style and place, but his eventual creative hallmarks were clearly evident.  Gaiman’s “Miracleman” stories were off-beat and focused on lesser characters in a style that readers of “Sandman” would likely instantly recognize.

Going back to the beginning though, it was important to remember that “Miracleman” was Moore’s first attempt at the kind of long-form stories that he would later become known for producing.  “V for Vendetta” began at roughly the same time as “Miracleman,” but was later finished via agreement with DC Comics and was regarded as a more consistent work.  It was lucky to have avoided the lengthy publishing history and related drama that would plague “Miracleman.”

One could write a book on this topic of Miracleman’s behind-the-scenes story and such a book has been already been written. Readers interested in interviews involving virtually all of the key figures during Miracleman’s 1980s and 1990s run should check out George Khoury’s book “Kimota! The Miracleman Companion” (TwoMorrows Publishing; 2001)

There has also been plenty of academic analysis of the different layers of Moore’s writing.  People interested in digging deeper can search out those more-specialized or elaborate sources.  My approach will be to provide highlights from history of “Miracleman” and a review of its key contents.

 

 

Early Publication History

 

Reading “Miracleman” doesn’t require an understanding of its publication history, but it helps to explain the jarring clash in style that occurs in the middle of issue #6.  Understanding the demise of the series and potential for revival in the future necessitates also understanding its past.

 

Quality Communications

 

A character named Marvelman that had been created in 1954 by Mick Anglo was relatively well-known to U.K. comics fans.  Production of new comics related to Marvelman essentially disappeared after 1963 though, a date that would actually play into Moore’s later use of the property.  The character of Marvelman was not at all related to Marvel Comics, the U.S. publisher that would rise to prominence beginning in the 1960s.  This was a key point to keep in mind due to later legal issues.

Alan Moore grew up a fan of Marvelman and was quoted very early in his career as wishing to do a revival.  U.K. publisher Dez Skinn gave him the opportunity in 1982. Moore’s work was published in short-serial form (8 or so pages) in a U.K. comic book anthology known as “Warrior.”

“Warrior #1” paired “Marvelman” with Moore’s “V for Vendetta,” although neither was the lead story.  Curiously, Skinn insisted on the stories within “Warrior” to share the same continuity, although Moore would later assert that “V for Vendetta” took place in an alternate future where Marvelman had ceased to exist.

Both of Moore’s serials would continue in “Warrior” and ultimately be reprinted and continued by U.S. Publishers.  “V for Vendetta” would be ultimately finished at DC Comics.  “Marvelman” lasted in “Warrior” until issue #21 (August 1984).  It would be continued a year later by Eclipse Comics starting in 1985.

 

Eclipse Comics

 

In August of 1985, independent publisher Eclipse Comics began reprinting the Alan Moore original serial stories in compilations that ran through most of the first 6 issues of “Miracleman.”  A rather baseless legal dispute with Marvel Comics had led to the character undergoing a name change from “Marvelman” before being allowed to be published.

Eclipse Comics had become one of the better-known independent comic book publishers of the 1980s.  Eclipse Enterprises was founded by brothers Jan and Dean Mullaney in 1977, but the public face of the company during their 1980s heyday was Cat Yronwode.  Yronwode had dated Dean Mullaney beginning in the early 1980s and was married to him from 1987–1993.  Besides being known for producing interesting, comics intended for older audiences, the company took advantage of other trends of the era.  In particular, Eclipse found an odd niche for generating publicity through non-sports trading cards on political subjects and crimes.

Eclipse would publish “Miracleman” from 1985 until 1993.  Although they published 24 issues, reprint specials, and a three issue spin-off series, there were often lengthy gaps between publication of issues.  I’ll point out particularly long gaps as a means of trying to give a sense of how collectors of the series had to often endure waits that must have been agonizing.

 

 

Book One: A Dream of Flying

 

This first story arc consisted of material from “Warrior” issues #1-11.  Eclipse reprinted them in “Miracleman” issues #1-#3.

The artists on “Miracleman” had an interesting back story unto themselves.  Original artist Garry Leach’s detailed style forced him to quickly bow out due to overwork.  Alan Davis, who had worked with Moore on “Captain Britain,” came aboard to provide splendid work of his own.

 

Issue #1 (August 1985)

 

Moore opened the first story in what was a sort of flashback mode.  He introduced three key figures:  Miracleman, Kid Miracleman, and Young Miracleman.  The trio experienced an uneventful adventure against the ‘Science Gestapo’ from the then-future 1981.

The main story then kicked off in the ‘real’ 1982, where reporter Mickey (Mike) Moran learned during a terrorist raid on an atomic power plant that he was actually Miracleman.  Surprised to be a super-hero, Moran tried to reconstruct his life by reconciling what was going on with his transformation.

His wife, Liz, was of little help and would continually present a complicated relationship with him.  Moran remembered a pivotal incident in 1963 when Miracleman and his sidekicks had confronted a flying fortress that exploded with the force of an atomic bomb.  All three members of the Miracleman ‘family’ had been believed lost, but that wasn’t actually the case.

Moran had apparently repressed his super-hero identity.  Young Miracleman had died.  More complicating though was Kid Miracleman – also known as Johnny Bates – who was shown in civilian form at the end of the issue, visibly angry that Miracleman had re-appeared.

Bates actually called Moran, inviting him and Liz to visit his skyscraper home.  Kid Miracleman/Bates explained that he’d not lost his memory after the atomic bomb incident and had become a captain of industry.  During a private conversation atop Bates’ skyscraper, Bates revealed that he still had his powers, having never reverted back to his child identity form.  He then attacked Moran.

Although featuring an opening section that was rather abrupt and odd, the first issue was a power-house of energy from beginning to end.  Its story was very dense and it ended on an excellent cliffhanger.

 

Issue #2 (October 1985)

 

A vicious battle ensued between Moran and Kid Miracleman, a harbinger of sorts to later events in the series.  Kid Miracleman inadvertently said his ‘switch word’ of ‘Miracleman’ during the battle, changing himself back into his still-young human alter-ego Johnny Bates.  The young Bates was left in a coma, an anonymous child amid others left in the battle’s wake.

Meanwhile, the super-hero fight created interest in Moran by the secret government organization Project Zarathustra.  Its director, Dennis Archer contracted Evelyn Cream to get rid of Miracleman.

Soon after the battle, Liz and Mike Moran explored his powers further and then headed to his office.  While at work, Mike was ambushed inside an elevator by Cream, who shot him with tranquillizer darts.

The fight throughout the issue’s first half was notable for showing more ‘realistic’ consequences to having super-heroes clash in populated areas.  In a rather witty bit of writing, Cream prevented Moran from transforming into Miracleman by asking him to hold a baby that would have been killed during the kinetic aura involved in Miracleman’s transformation.  Alan Davis took over the art midway through this issue.

 

Issue #3 (November 1985)

 

Rather than killing Moran, Cream actually aided him by directing him to the bunker headquarters of Project Zarathustra.  Moran as Miracleman then attacked the bunker, easily defeating the flawed super-hero guardian Big Ben.  After gaining access to the bunker’s records, Miracleman viewed material that detailed his real origin.

An alien spacecraft had been discovered and analyzed.  Technology from it was used to begin the program that ended up creating the members of the ‘Miracleman Family.’  This technology allowed humans to swap places in reality with super-human constructs.  The project kept the three principle members of the team unconscious, feeding adventures into their minds.  Those adventures were the life that Moran as Miracleman had thought he’d lived.  When the project was ultimately deemed too risky, the three young heroes were sent on the real-life mission in 1963 that had aimed to destroy them using an atomic bomb.

The conclusion of this issue, with its complicated, radical plot shift was a clear indicator that Moore was on his game.  He retroactively placed all of Marvelman’s 1950s U.K. comic book stories into a ‘dream’ category, while still managing to apply emotional resonance to the ‘modern day’ story.

 

 

Book Two: The Red King Syndrome

 

After a very strong initial series of stories, the second major story arc of “Miracleman” would be arguably its most inconsistent period.  The final stories from “Warrior” appeared in the first portion of issue #6, with new material produced by Moore for Eclipse after that point.

The art also changed with issue #6.  Alan Davis had a falling out with Alan Moore over a number of issues, including the reprint rights for their “Captain Britain” work at Marvel.  Chuck Beckum took over for Davis, but didn’t last past completing a cover for issue #8.  Rick Veitch, a collaborator of Moore’s from “Swamp Thing” then took over the artistic duties on the remaining issues in this ‘book.’

 

Issue #4 (December 1985)

 

Focus moved to Mike and Liz struggling in their marriage due to a third person being in the picture: Miracleman.  Miracleman was apparently the father of Liz’s impending child, not Mike.  That fact raised a number of questions around how having a super-human father with alien DNA might affect the child.

While Miracleman was briefly away, Liz was kidnapped by Emil Gargunza, the chief scientist behind the Miracleman program.  Gargunza planned to transfer his consciousness into Liz’s child.

Elsewhere, readers were tipped off that Johnny Bates’ evil super-powered alter-ego might be trying to escape back into the real world.  Cream appeared early in the issue as he tried to have Archer leave Miracleman alone, his concern being that a group called Spookshow would try to bother Moran.  Spookshow was apparently the organization behind Project Zarathustra.

This issue certainly felt like the start of a new arc, with a few carryover elements from the first arc.  It was most notable for introducing Gargunza as a character in the present day story.

 

Issue #5 (January 1986)

 

Mike Moran and Cream tracked Gargunza to his home in Paraguay, but an actual confrontation would have to wait until the next issue.

Much of the issue instead focused on Gargunza revealing his back story.  Readers learned about his involvement with Spookshow, finding the alien spacecraft to the start of Project Zarathustra.  Essentially, Gargunza took several young boys and used them as test subjects in his experiments.  Liz and her unborn child represented his latest experiment, lending a continued sense of dread to the story.

One curiosity that was introduced during this issue came in the form of Gargunza’s pet Pluto.  Pluto would soon play into the role of MiracleDog, a figure that would traditionally be associated with the hero’s loyal pet.  Moore had different plans though.

 

Issue #6 (February 1986)

 

When Miracleman and Cream arrived at Gargunza’s base, an expected confrontation failed to ensue.  This was because Gargunza was able to use an override word – ‘Abraxas’ – to change Miracleman back to Moran.  Complicating matters, Pluto turned into the vicious Miracledog.

Cream and Moran fled from Miracledog, but Cream was eventually eaten by the creature.

The issue concluded with an unrelated John Ridgeway-drawn Young Miracleman short story set in what was presumably the fictional-to-him 1957.  In the story, he tried without success to win the favor of a military secretary by giving her a beautiful necklace that he’d taken from an alien queen.

The second story in this issue, “All Heads Turn as the Hunt Goes By” was the first of the new material produced for Eclipse Comics.  Artist Chuck Beckum was the new artist, in place of Alan Davis.  Beckum’s work has been much maligned by some Miracleman fans, due to not being similar to either Leach or Davis’ work.

 

Issue #7 (April 1986)

 

Mike Moran switched Miracledog back to Pluto by using the change word ‘Steppenwolf’ that Gargunza had used in the prior issue to initiate its transformation.

By this point, the override word that Gargunza had used on Moran had apparently ‘worn off.’  Moran reverted back to Miracleman and hunted down Gargunza.  After giving Gargunza a thankful kiss, Miraclemean killed him by dropping him through Earth’s atmosphere from high altitude.

Much of the drama involving Miracleman’s override keyword was conveniently diffused when its effects wore off.  The same sort of convenience existed with the defeat of Miracledog being a simple re-use of the original trigger word.  Moore did include a witty moment where Miracleman crushed Gargunza’s larynx before he could re-utter the override word that would have reverted Miracleman to Moran.

Note that this issue was relatively short at only sixteen pages.  The new material that Moore created for Eclipse would tend to be on this shorter side, with Eclipse sometimes padding out the issues with unrelated backup material.

 

Issue #8 (June 1986)

 

Alan Moore didn’t actually contribute to this story, as most of the content ended up being reprint material from Mick Anglo’s 1950s Marvelman work.

The reason that this issue was so unconventional was explained in a Chuck Beckum-drawn framing sequence starring Eclipse editor Cat Yronwode.  Yronwode detailed how a flood had impacted Eclipse’s ability to produce their usual content.

Even more oddly, behind the scenes on “Miracleman,” Beckum found himself leaving the book.  Moore was seemingly never critical of Beckum publically, but there was some question of how thoroughly Moore vetted him to be the new illustrator on the book.  Yronwode and Beckum would later tell conflicting stories regarding Beckum’s ability to turn in art on time.

Critical reaction to Beckum’s brief work was often not kind, although he has had his supporters.  Stylistically, he was simply not the right person for the job.

 

Issue #9 (July 1986)

 

In its era, this was certainly a highly-discussed issue.  It contained the bizarre ‘Attention Parents’ disclaimer on the cover that warned of a graphic childbirth scene inside the book.

Having defeated Gargunza, Miracleman rescued Liz.  Liz ended up giving birth in a remote area while being taken back home.  The baby – soon to be named Winter – began speaking after being born, giving obvious hints that she was super-human like Miracleman.

Elsewhere, young Johnny Bates continued to battle inside his mind against his psychotic Young Miracleman alter-ego.  Bates’ mind was visited by a mysterious couple who came to his room at his hospital.  This duo would later be revealed to be alien members of the Qys race, a plot point that would be more significant in Moore’s final story arc.

For context regarding why this issue was so controversial in its day, readers should remember that this issue came out during a time when the comic book industry was still straining to introduce ‘Suggested for Mature Readers’-type labeling.  The childbirth was indeed graphically depicted, but it wasn’t out of line with reality.  This was the first of two issues penciled by Rick Veitch.

 

Issue #10 (December 1986)

 

For readers of the Eclipse series, this issue would mark the series’ first significant schedule slip, a span lasting six months.  Unfortunately, such delays would often become the new norm on the series.

The Qys couple from the prior issue spent much of the story recapping what has come before while identifying the five ‘cuckoos.’  Those would be the five creations derived from the alien crash on Earth – Miracleman, his new child, Young Miracleman, Kid Miracleman, Miracledog, and Miraclewoman.  Who was Miraclewoman?  She was a previously-unmentioned creation of Gargunza who would be introduced more formally in the next story arc.  The aliens appear to be seeking to somehow contain the situation.

Back with Miracleman, his family life continued to deteriorate.  Liz asks Miracleman to transform back into her husband Mike.  Unfortunately, Mike struggled to find his place within his newly-expanded family, while also tending to the loss of a couple of fingers during his battle with Miracledog in the prior issue.  He and Liz also found difficulty relating to Winter’s obviously-advanced intelligence.

As the end of a major story arc, this issue highlighted why Moore’s second storyline was the weakest of his trilogy.  It was more of a prologue to the next arc than anything.  Pieces were moved around and dilemmas created, but Gargunza didn’t end up being as interesting of a chief villain as the psychotic version of Johnny Bates/Young Miracleman in the initial arc.  Luckily for readers, Bates would be heard again soon.

This turned out Rick Vietch’s last issue on the series, as he took over “Swamp Thing” from Alan Moore at DC Comics.

 

 

Book Three: Olympus

 

Beginning publication six months after the end of the prior arc, many fans considered this arc to be the high point of the entire Miracleman saga.  It was believed that Moore originally had plans for three further story arcs, but crammed everything into this final arc.  The issues read like that was the case, further compounded by the fact that they mostly continued to be in the short-ish sixteen page range.

The general focus of this final arc was exploring a world in which super-humans existed as de facto rulers of Earth.  Much of it was told in flashback, exploring how Earth ended up being transformed into such a state.

Given that the Warpsmith aliens play a significant role in this final story arc, fans might be interested in seeking out ancillary material that Moore created related to them.  The material wasn’t essential reading, but completists would want to check it out.  I’ve decided to cover those works as appendix items under the story title headings “The Yesterday Gambit” and Warpsmiths.”

One area of notable improvement was that Moore had a consistent, quality artist on board for this entire run in the form of John Totleben.

 

Issue #11 (May 1987)

 

Moore began his story by skipping ahead several years within the story continuity from the early-1980s to 1987.  At this point, Miracleman was presented as presiding over a pantheon of super-humans.  But how did the world get to that point?

Moore began to explain via flashback to November of 1982, the time period where the prior story arc had ended.  The two Qys aliens who had briefly appeared in issues #9 and #10 took center stage.  They confronted Mike Moran and, after Moran changed into Miracleman, the Qys transformed into their monstrous alien forms.  Miracleman had a fight on his hands, with it appearing at the end of the issue that he was overmatched.

Liz and Mike’s marriage had continued to crumble as she struggled to raise their super-human pseudo-child Winter.  A Qys alien came for Winter, but was stopped by Miraclewoman.  Miraclewoman’s dramatic entrance at the end of the issue provided the beginning of her regular appearances within the series.

 

Issue #12 (September 1987)

 

The story from issue #11 would continue in issue #13, but a detour of sorts was taken in issue #12 in order to fully present the origin story of Miraclewoman.

Similarly to the male members of the ‘Miracleman Family,’ Miraclewoman had been kidnapped as a teenage for experimentation by Dr. Gargunza. A further experiment subject was also revealed – Terrance Rebbeck, known as Young Nastyman.  Rebbeck had been engineered as a villain by Gargunza.  The experiments on both Miraclewoman and Rebbeck were apparently less supervised and involved sexual abuse by Gargunza.

After Young Nastyman went insane and escaped the lab, the entire Miracleman Family was sent to track him down.  Miraclewoman used this ‘free’ time to figure out what had actually been going on at Gargunza’ bunker.  She then located Rebbeck/Nastyman and unsuccessfully tried to share that information with him.  Both appeared to die while fighting near a volcano.

After Nastyman’s escape forced the shutdown of Gargunza’s experiments, the remainder of the Miracleman Family was seemingly destroyed in the 1963 atomic bomb incident first mentioned back in issue #1.  Miraclewoman had actually survived her battle and went into hiding as a physician until Miracleman re-emerged.  She then came into contact with him in 1982 during the Qys attempted purge of super-humans on Earth.

This issue added impressive new layers to the existing mythology concerning Gargunza’s experiments.  Moore did an interesting job of tying Miraclewoman’s vintage, fake adventures to some of the tropes of Golden Age comics with female heroes.  In series such as the early “Wonder Woman,” bondage and torture were often part of the mix.

 

Issue #13 (November 1987)

 

Over the course of a quick sixteen pages, “Miralceman” gained a fuller cosmic scope.

Miracleman and Miraclewoman were transported to a distant galaxy by the Qys agents who had previously been trying to exterminate them.  A crashed Qys spaceship had been used by Gargunza on his super-human experiments and created a mess of sorts that needed to be cleaned up.  Winter’s existence as a ‘natural’ super-human on Earth halted that extermination plan and led to debate as to what to do with Earth’s emerging super-human population.

A conference between the Qys and their interstellar rivals, the Warpsmiths, was held to sort out that conundrum.  Instead of fighting over the fate of Earth, they decided to send ‘watchers’ from both cultures to keep an eye on Earth.  Miracleman and Miraclewoman acted as watcher proxies for the Qys, while Aza Chorn and his companion Phon Mooda were introduced as the representatives for the Warpsmiths.

The most notable human development within the issue was Liz Moran’s decision to leave both Miracleman and Winter.  The differences between them both became simply too much for her to bear.

The struggle for Johnny Bates to keep his psychotic alter-ego Kid Miracleman trapped inside his mind had also continued over the prior two issues.  It was a plotline that had been a teaser since the end of the first major story arc, but it was poised to boil over soon.

Given that the Qys had represented a mysterious but confusing presence for several issues, this issue served to reveal everything that was going on.  It also helped to give some guidance as to what might be happening next for Earth’s human population.

The agony of long scheduling times continued for readers, as only issues #11, #12, and #13 managed to be released during the twelve-month period of 1987.

 

Issue #14 (April 1988)

 

Another brief issue, but another dense story that severed to set up the next issue’s arc climax.  One of Moore’s somewhat little-developed ideas occurred with the introduction of the super-human Huey Moon, known as ‘Firedrake.’  He was the only major African-American member of the Miracleman’s new super-human pantheon and, oddly enough, his powers were not related at all to the main alien storyline or Gargunza’s experiments.  He was basically a mutant who was introduced on the side.

With the departure of Liz in the prior issue, Winter also exited for the time being.  She disappeared in order to visit the Qys to undergo further education, giving Miracleman a bittersweet good-bye.

Miracleman also said good-bye to Mike Moran.  Before transforming into Miracleman, Moran left a note behind declaring that his death was in the then-present 1983.  He seemingly committed ‘suicide’ by not wanting to again be swapped with Miracleman’s place in our reality.

The biggest revelation in the issue was Johnny Bates finally giving in to his alter-ego while being bullied.  The psychotic and incredibly cruel Kid Miracleman re-entered the ‘real world’ and began a rampage that would continue into issue #15.

 

Issue #15 (November 1988)

 

The epic climax of Moore’s run on “Miracleman” appeared six months later for readers, in only the second issue of calendar year 1988.  Thankfully, it was a much longer issue than all of the prior stories in “Olympus.”

Much has been said by fans and critics about issue #15 being one of the most violent super-hero comics ever created.  As a non-parody, it certainly must rank highly amongst what would be considered ‘mainstream’ super-hero comics.  That said, the violence was likely more shocking in 1988 than it might be to later, more desensitized readers.  Just the same, it still contained many unsettling moments.

Kid Miracleman sets out on an insane rampage through London.  A parallel might be Marvel’s Hulk character going on a rampage, but Kid Miracleman was much more calculating in his destruction.  He had intent in piling up the casualties, adding various gruesome torture ploys to what might be realistic under the circumstances.

There was certainly a ‘final battle’ vibe to the story that was rare in contemporary comics.  A massive slugfest ensued involving Miracleman, Miraclewoman, the Firedrake, and the Warpsmith watchers, with it appearing for most of the issue that Kid Miracleman was indeed invincible.  Aza Chorn died while teleporting Kid Miracleman into a steel girder.

Trapped in pain, Kid Miracleman had to switch back to his Johnny Bates persona.  Unlike at the end of issue #3, Miracleman didn’t hesitate this time to kill the human Johnny Bates.  Thus, the rampage and threat was over.

 

Issue #16 (December 1989)

 

Just over one year since issue #15 had appeared, Moore’s final issue served as an epilogue.  Given how Moore’s later work would sometimes veer into the near-pornographic, it wasn’t entirely a surprise that his final word on “Miracleman” would be quite sexual.

In the post-Kid Miracleman world, the Miracleman pantheon took on a ruling status.  They aimed to build an assumed utopia without war or suffering.  Amid that restoration, Miracleman and Miraclewoman naturally became lovers.  If Miracleman’s relationship with Liz hadn’t already been assumed to be over, Moore made a point of having her explicitly reject Miracleman’s offer to become a super-human too.

The cosmic elements of the story also wrapped up.  .  Aza Chorn’s surviving  Warpsmith ‘cluster mates’ came to have a funeral orgy in his honor.  Yes, a funeral orgy.  Winter returned from her visit to the Qys to re-join her father.

The entire saga came to an end with a final shot of Miracleman’s Olympus fortress.  It would be the base of operations for the other super-humans as they ushered in this new era for humanity.

Even at thirty-two pages, this story still read like a cliff-notes version of the ending that Moore might have originally had in mind.  It did resolve most lingering questions though, concluding on a melancholy note.  It felt ‘right’ regarding what Moore was trying to convey about the idea of god-like super-humans existing within the then-modern world.

Readers knew that utopias were never what they seemed.  Oppressed humans would still exist, perhaps resenting their new masters.  Religion would be impacted, perhaps treating the super-humans as new gods.  As much as Moore’s story came to as satisfying conclusion with issue #16, Neil Gaiman would explore those lingering threads of discontent in his continuation.

 

 

Book Four: The Golden Age

 

Neil Gaiman wrote the remainder of “Miracleman” with artist Mark Buckingham consistently handling the visuals.

When Gaiman took over “Miracleman” in mid-1990, he was already a rising name from “Sandman.”  Issue #16 of that series, concluding the “A Doll’s House” arc would have just come out.  Gaiman would be a few months away from “Sandman” #19, a story that would win him a World Fantasy Award for Best Short Story.  That issue was a landmark moment in the steady trend of comic books being taken more seriously as an adult art form in the late-1980s and 1990s time period.

In comparison to the lengthy waits between the final issues of Moore’s work, Gaiman’s run would be moderately more consistent until Eclipse Comics ran into a mix of financial problems.

Gaiman’s issues largely focused the perspective of people living in the Miracleman pantheon’s new utopia.  A predictable deconstruction of the ‘perfect’ world that was seemingly created at the end of issue #16.  As readers might have guessed, not everything was perfect for everyone.

A frequent criticism of Gaiman’s work was that he was simply continuing off of the very loosest of loose ends that Moore had left behind.  Indeed, many of his launching points were based on minutia.  To his credit though, Gaiman found ways to spin that minutia into interesting stories.

Gaiman and Buckingham’s first “Miracleman” story entitled “Screaming” actually first appeared in “Total Eclipse” #4, a story that would be reprinted in issue #21.

 

Issue #17 (June 1990)

 

This slice of life story focused on the pseudo-religious change that took place in Miracleman’s new utopia.  Four pilgrims journey through Olympus to have an audience with Miracleman.  Miracleman himself admitted that such audiences didn’t always result in wishes being granted.

The pilgrims’ ascension took them through a variety of environments.  These included a mountainous region, a museum area, a living area, a puzzle area, and a memorial area.

The story’s narrator fills readers in on how life has changed for the average human.  Only the narrator and another pilgrim make it to their audience with Miracleman.  He grants the other person her wish to be an artist.  He denies, without explanation, a request to help the narrator’s daughter.

Gaiman managed to capture Moore’s melancholy tone without feeling like he was aping Moore’s style.  Buckingham’s art was well suited for the story, showing off epic architecture.  His art at times might remind some – for better or worse – of the work that Bill Sienkiewicz was producing in the mid-to-late 1980s.

 

Issue #18 (August 1990)

 

The first story in this issue focused on a lonely man tending windmills named John Gallaway.  He fell in love with MIraclewoman during visitations in which they had passionate sex.  She ended up teaching Gallaway a lesson about accepting physical imperfection when she challenged him to also love her alternate human self, Avril Lear.  Heeding her point, Gallaway ended up reconciling with the ex-wife that he’d coldly rejected in the past.

The backup story was told from the perspective of a rebellious schoolboy, arguing with his peers about the role of Kid Miracleman in the world.  While Kid Miracleman didn’t re-emerge, there was a haunting feeling that his spirit still lurked in the purported innocence of children in a schoolyard.

The first story in the issue apparently had some historical footing, taking place during the ‘Great Storm of 1987,” a hurricane that reached the U.K.

 

Issue #19 (November 1990)

 

One of eighteen clones of Andy Warhol that lived in the Olympus fortress took on the task of acclimating a clone that had been made of Emil Gargunza.  Readers heard about the cloned Warhol’s opinions on the various changes that Miracleman had introduced to the world.  While the Warhol clones took to their re-created life, Gargunza seemed to hesitate.

When the Gargunza clone admitted that he would go mad under the limitation that he couldn’t leave Olympus, the experiment appeared to be over.  He was seemingly ‘deactivated’ and readers learned that the clone was only the latest in a number of attempts to revive a stable, cooperative version of Gargunza.

Some critics and fans found this to be Gaiman’s best issue, although others found it to be his weirdest.  I fell into the latter category, not entirely grasping all of the references that a student of Andy Warhol might understand.  The story did present an interesting debate on the nature of living and what it might mean to revive the dead.

 

Issue #20 (March 1991)

 

Alan Moore had made a throwaway remark during his run regarding a program to ship frozen Miracleman sperm to women who wanted their own Miraclebaby.  Winter ended up being a sort of ringleader of those eventual offspring.

“Winter’s Tale” in this issue was presented as the kind of book that such children would want read to them – in this case, Rachel reading to her daughter Mist.  The story mixed text with images, something that Gaiman would do with prose and illustration in later “Sandman” works.  The plot recounted what went on during Winter’s absence from Earth during Moore’s “Olympus” story arc.

Readers learned that she encountered the Qys and Warpsmiths, but in a roundabout fashion that also included encountering the alien Lantiman of Sauk.  After receiving instruction, she had become more powerful than Miracleman, a fact that she wasn’t shy to tell her father.

The point of the story ended up being how the super-human children didn’t need their parents.  Both Miracleman and Rachel independently seemed to feel that sting at different times.

The elements were present in the issue for something truly special, but instead it ended up simply being ‘pretty good.’  That being hard praise, but readers knowing what Gaiman would be capable of down the road would still enjoy the tale.

 

Issue #21 (July 1991)

 

“Spy Story” focused on what would happen in Miracleman’s utopia if the covert intelligence communities were dismantled.  What started out as a straightforward spy tale revealed itself to be filled with paranoia.  The former-spy protagonist, Ruth, was a woman who learned that she was experiencing a program designed to rehabilitate her back into normal life.  It was seemingly successful, with a few minor glitches.

In some ways, this story contained faint similarities to the classic British television series “The Prisoner.”  Some have also pointed out an influence from J.G. Ballard’s short story “War Fever”, from an anthology of Ballard’s short fiction from 1975 to 1989.  The timing of when those stories were published would at least make it plausible that Gaiman was familiar with them.

The second story in this issue was the reprint of “Screaming” from “Total Eclipse” #4.  It told the story of Jason, a boy who met Miracleman back in “One of Those Quiet Moments” in issue #4.  He managed to avoid the Kid Miracleman massacre in London, but his friends weren’t as lucky.  He told his story to an unseen lover who didn’t appear particularly interested.

 

Issue #22 (August 1991)

 

The date when Kid Miracleman was defeated had apparently become a global holiday that was shown being celebrated in “Carnival.”  All of the major characters spotlighted in Gaiman’s prior several issues ventured to London to join the celebration.  This included the likes of John Gallaway and Jason from “Screaming” who had since become a t-shirt dealer.  Rachel’s story was perhaps the most memorable, as her marriage fell apart when her husband left her and Mist for another woman.

As usual with “Miracleman,” even in celebration there was a sense of melancholy.  The taped message by Miracleman with a gift of flight left some in mixed feelings.  The celebration took place in conjunction with the mourning by some for London’s dead.

“Carnival” was a fitting conclusion to “The Golden Age.”  It pulled together the previously-unrelated story threads while keeping the perspective at the ‘ground level’ that Gaiman had aimed for during the entire arc.

 

 

Book Five: The Silver Age

 

“The Silver Age” would have returned the series focus to Miracleman, as he revived Young Miracleman forty years after the 1963 atomic bomb incident that had killed him.  Only two issues of this arc made it into publication, with a third issue finished but unpublished.

 

‘Retrieval’

 

Throughout the entirety of “The Golden Age,” Gaiman included a couple of mysterious pages of backup feature entitled “Retrieval.”  In those pages, a remote drone retrieved the corpse of Young Miracleman from the ‘underspace’ where people went when body-swapped using the Gargunza/Qys technology.

Some of the remains that Miracleman found in Project Zarathustra’s bunker back in Moore’s first story arc were apparently deemed by Gaiman to have been those of Young Miracleman, along with Young Nastyman.  With the necessary elements in place for Young Miracleman’s ‘retrieval,’ he was seemingly reborn again.

 

Issue #23 (June 1992)

 

“The Silver Age” formally began with a stylistic shift, as well as a shift in time period.  The storyline picked up in the year 2003, nearly two decades having passed since the beginning of Miracleman’s utopia plan after the defeat of Kid Miracleman.  What appeared to be a conventional super-hero fight at the story’s beginning turned out to be a simulation of sorts amongst the era’s new heroes.

The aftermath of Young Miracleman’s revival in the “Retrieval” shorts appeared to be the major focus for “The Silver Age.”  The first steps involving his re-introduction took place in the remainder of this issue.

Young Miracleman had to face the hard adjustment of trying to re-renter a world that was very different from the early-1960s one that he last remembered.  Miracleman tried to ease that transformation, but it ended up being inadvertently accelerated.  Meeting Miracleman’s pantheon did not go well.  For example, he had a hard time accepting a black man being one of the pantheon members.  He also criticized Miraclewoman’s skimpy attire.

Upon first reading this issue, I actually had to double-check to confirm that Buckingham was still the artist.  For readers, the wait between story arcs was another lengthy gap – this time 10 months.  Both this issue and the next featured iconic Barry Windsor-Smith covers.

 

Issue #24 (August 1993)

 

Young Miracleman seemed to somewhat integrate himself into society by attending a celebration in his honor.  He then returned to his quarters, where he had a discussion with Miracleman about why Johnny Bates went ‘bad’ as Kid Miracleman.

The story then took a surprising turn when Miracleman, on the advice of Miraclewoman, forced a kiss onto Young Miracleman.  That forced kiss sent Young Miracleman into a confusing rage, whereupon he ran away from his quarters.

In retrospect, the sexuality shown in issue #24 was surprising and, in hindsight, a bit clichéd.  The idea of trying ‘expose’ latent homosexuality in Golden and Silver Age sidekicks was a groundbreaking idea in the deconstructive trend of 1980s comics, but the idea felt dated decades later.  The major consequence from a story standpoint though was where Gaiman’s story might have led next.

Had Miracleman inadvertently inspired Young Miracleman to have a rage similar to that of Kid Miracleman?  Was Miraclewoman right about Young Miracleman having a gay attraction to Miracleman?  It was hard to say given the limited information available.  Had she suggested Miracleman’s course of action as part of a devious plan or was she simply naive?  Such questions were left unanswered

With turmoil occurring behind-the-scenes at Eclipse Comics, it was a full 14 months before the second part of “The Silver Age” appeared.  Readers were essentially given two issues over the span of two full years.  Despite issue #24 ending its letters column on an optimistic note from the editors insisting that issue #25 coming soon, it never happened.

 

Issue #25 & Todd McFarlane

 

Issue #25 was apparently fully completed, with a few pages of issue #26 also completed.  Some of issue #25’s pages found their way online in recent years, but they didn’t give readers much context or closure.  What tidbits did appear seemed to involve a potential return of Kid Miracleman.  This issue was simply the middle part of a story, not intended to be any sort of conclusion.

Issue #25 was never published due to Eclipse comics falling on hard times for a number of reasons.  The comic book industry in general collapsed in the aftermath of a speculator-fueled bubble and Cat Yronwode divorce from Dean Mullaney.

Todd McFarlane of Marvel and Image Comics fame purchased Eclipse’s assets in 1996, but the particulars of what he acquired for $40,000 ended up being hotly debated.  McFarlane tried to re-introduce Miracleman into his own “Spawn” universe, but lawsuits barred him from doing so.  He was also never able to produce reprints of the earlier issues due to confusion over the rights.

Neil Gaiman ended up in a series of lawsuits with McFarlane that lasted during the latter part of the 1990s and most of the 2000s.  Profits from such work as Gaiman’s “1602” mini-series at Marvel went toward the continued lawsuit.

Further complicating matters, Marvel purchased the rights to Marvelman from Mick Anglo in 2009.  Many assumed that Marvel had somehow reconciled all of rights related to the Moore and Gaiman material, but that wasn’t the case.

 

 

Book Six: The Dark Age

 

If the “Miracleman” rights situation was finally resolved, most fans would surely love for Gaiman to complete his stated plans for the series.  As told in “Kimota” by Gaiman, his story would have had a final arc, entitled “The Dark Age,” that would have been set much further -perhaps 300-400 years – in the future.

The world of that far future would have involved an even further developed utopia on Earth with the Miraclechildren from Gaiman’s stories having left Earth.  Mike Moran might have again appeared in some form.  Johnny Bates’ psychotic Kid Marvelman alter-ego would have returned one more time.

Gaiman said that the final issue would have been entitled “Two Voices.”  It would have involved a conversation between two characters that occurred on a ruined planet while awaiting the sun coming up one final time.

Should Gaiman ever get a chance to finish his story, it will be interesting to learn how much he deviated from his previously hinted at plans.

 

 

Conclusions

 

In many ways, Miracleman truly was a ‘lost masterpiece’ for fans of Alan Moore, albeit one that was much rougher around the edges than his normally-acknowledged masterpieces.  Perhaps if Gaiman had contributed more material or in the future finished his remaining story arcs, the same could be said for his work on the title.

It was easy to see how the series acquired its rough edges, with frequent delays in the publication schedule, some to ridiculous extremes of a year or more.  The material was also not friendly to new readers, with much of it requiring significant back history to avoid confusion.  By being somewhat inaccessible over such a long period of time, it made sense that “Miracleman” circulation numbers dwindled even as Moore’s popularity hit an all-time high.

From a story standpoint, “Miracleman” was as much a deconstruction of the Superman archetype as “Watchmen” was for super-hero teams.  In that way, Miracleman was rarely if ever what readers might consider a ‘heroic’ figure.

A very odd point to consider when looking back on issue #3 was how Miracleman’s re-appearance had triggered Kid Miracleman’s rampages.  Until Miracleman re-appeared, Kid Miracleman had been content with simply being a rich businessman.  Would he have evolved into the horrible villain that he had become by issue #15?  That was hard to say, but Moore left readers to ponder what kind of role Miracleman had in causing the situation to get out of hand.

The summation of Miracleman’s ‘career’ as a super-human was largely that of failure.  He always required the assistance of others or convenient help from magic trigger words to defeat his enemies.  As a deconstruction of the typical super-hero norms of prior eras, Miracleman was clearly the anti-Superman.

Moore would later revisit his Superman deconstruction theme with his underrated run on “Supreme.”  That material was much less gruesome, but no less insightful in looking back on Silver Age super-hero tropes.  In many ways, Miracleman represented a darker flip side of the same coin. Moore would later voice regret for being a major catalyst for the ‘grim and gritty ‘tone that pervaded super-hero comic books in the post-1980s.  He would try to make some amends with his “Supreme” work and later ABC line of titles.

 

 

 

The Yesterday Gambit

 

The density of the third book, “Olympus” had in part to do with Moore striving to stay in continuity with a story that he’d published in Warrior #4.  This ten-page story was known as “The Yesterday Gambit.”  Curiously for what would seem to have been such a pivotal story in Moore’s mind, that material was never reprinted by Eclipse.

The story featured the Warpsmith aliens and was hard to follow.  It was set within Moore’s story continuity in the year 1985 – a flash-forward from what would have been the contemporary storyline in the first ‘book’ upon its release.  The Warpsmiths and Miracleman teamed up to find an energy source to use to defeat Kid Miracleman.

At a high level, the story ended up giving away some aspects of the twists that would lead to the epic battle in “Miracleman” #15.  It was perhaps not surprising that Moore had the Kid Miracleman confrontation in mind so far in advance, but it was shocking that he would reveal that plan so far ahead of time for U.K. readers.

 

Saturday Morning Pictures

 

Alan Moore and Alan Davis’ “Saturday Morning Pictures” short was really just a framing device used in Quality’s “Marvelman Special.”  That story was later reprinted by Eclipse as their “Miracleman 3-D” issue, although not all of the contents of the “Marvelman Summer Special” were reprinted.  In particular a story that wasn’t written by Moore featuring Big Ben didn’t make the cut.  Big Ben had appeared in his own stories in later issues of “Warrior.”

The new content in the framing story was only a few pages long and it was primarily to introduce reprint material from the Mick Anglo days.  Within the story, cleaning personnel check out some of the old videos that were used in the Project Zarathustra bunker on the Miracleman Family members.

 

Warpsmiths

 

Alan Moore and Gary Leach produced a couple of short stories featuring the Warpsmiths.

The first short was “Cold War, Cold Warrior” from “Warrior” issues #9 and #10.  It was later re-printed in color by Eclipse in an unrelated reprint issue of Moore’s co-creation ‘Axel Pressbutton.” This story consisted of Aza Chorn from the “Olympus” storyline fighting a Qys agent.

The second story – “Ghost Dance” featured sort of mourning orgy of the kind referenced during “Olympus.”  This ended up being a late entry of sorts that didn’t see publication until 1989 via the “A1” magazine put out by Gary Leach’s Atomeka Press in the U.K.

Some fans speculated that the Warpsmiths would have placed increased roles in Gaiman’s concluding arcs to the “Miracleman” series.  At this point though, that speculation remained just speculation.

 

Miracleman Triumphant

 

This series by Eclipse was meant to fill in some of the events that occurred in the several years of continuity that was skipped between Gaiman’s “Golden Age” and “Silver Age” arcs.  Gaiman would not have written the issues, but apparently had some level of input into them with writer Fred Burke and artist Mike Deodator Jr.  While some pages later appeared online, nothing was ever officially published.

 

Miracleman Apocrypha

 

This three-issue mini-series was in an anthology format, published from late 1991 until early 1992.  It filled what would have otherwise been a ten month gap between Gaiman’s “Golden Age” and “Silver Age” arcs.

Gaiman provided a few pages of framing material in every issue, but nothing of note occurred within those sequences.  They were there to provide the conceit that Miracleman was reviewing past stories in his archive.  The stories themselves were from an impressive array of creators, such as Matt Wagner, James Robinson, Kelly Jones, Kurt Busiek, and Alax Ross, amongst others.

Based on the creator list, fans might have assumed that the short stories were amazing.  That wasn’t necessarily the case.  They were a mixed bag of stories told both in and out of continuity from various time periods within the Miracleman universe, but interested fans might want to check them out.

 

Miracleman Family

 

This two-issue series was produced by Eclipse in 1988 and consisted of reprints of Mick Anglo work from the 1950s.  Neither Alan Moore or Neil Gaiman contributed to the work.

 

Miracleman Family

 

These were two issues that Eclipse published three months apart during the six month wait between “Miracleman” #14 and #15.  They didn’t feature any new material by Alan Moore.  Rather, they contained reprints of 1950s Mick Anglo “Marvelman” stories.

 

Total Eclipse

 

For Eclipse’s tenth anniversary in 1988, they began a giant crossover mini-series featuring various character who had appeared in the publisher’s comics.  It was meant to be similar to DC’s iconic “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” even going to so far as having “Crisis” writer Marv Wolfman involved.

Miracleman appeared in this mini-series beginning in issue #2 and continued appeared through the conclusion issue #5.  His appearances were a minor footnote for most fans.

Gaiman’s first work with Miracleman appeared in issue #4 with the backup feature “Screaming.”  That story would be reprinted in “Miracleman” #21.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

Gaiman, Neil, and Mark Buckingham. Miracleman, Book 4: The Golden Age. Eclipse Books, 1992. Print.
Gaiman, Neil, Matt Wagner, and Kurt Busiek. Miracleman: Apocrypha. Ed. Catherine Yronwode. Eclipse Books, 1993. Print.
Moore, Alan, Chuck Beckum, and Rick Veitch. Miracleman, Book 2: The Red King Syndrome. Eclipse Books, 1991. Print.
Moore, Alan, Garry Leach, and Alan Davis. Miracleman, Book 1: A Dream of Flying. 1st ed. Eclipse Books, 1990. Print.
Moore, Alan, and John Totleben. Miracleman, Book 3: Olympus. Eclipse Books, 1991. Print.

One thought on “A Guide to Alan Moore & Neil Gaiman’s Miracleman (Marvelman)

  1. Very useful guide – thank you. I dipped in and out of Miracleman when it was first published in Warrior in the UK but never followed it religiously. As an Alan Moore fan I’ve just read the new Marvel hardcover editions A Dream of Flying, The Red King Syndrome, and Olympus. Next I’m going onto Gaiman’s run – which I never read. I’d be interested to read Total Eclipse too if I can find it; interesting that Wolfman was involved. Thanks again.

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