Marvel's Miracleman #5 Deserves to Be Read

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Another issue of Miracleman, another heaping of praise upon the creative team. As this series goes on, I see more and more why this story earned such acclaim when it first enthralled readers in the pages of Warrior way back in that period of ancient history called the 1980s. Each issue shows improvement both in Alan Moore's writing and in Alan Davis' artwork. It's quite instructive to be able to look at the early work of such giants of the comic book medium. Fascinatingly, they both demonstrate immense talent and ability even in these relatively early days. Marvel's Miracleman #5 collects three chapters of the Miracleman story originally published in three successive issues of Warrior in 1983. An additional chapter consists of a Young Miracleman story simply titled "1957." All of these chapters work very well, building the story as well as interest in reading its successive chapters. Overall, there is an intriguing mix of foreshadowing, mystery, intrigue, and thoughtful character interaction and development.

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I feel as though this isn't said of Moore all that often so I do want to take a moment to note that the chapters "One of Those Quiet Moments" and "1957" show that the man is capable of both heart and a great deal of charm. Perhaps his treatment at the hands of the comics and film industries have beaten such things out of him and replaced them with stark cynicism, but personally I'd love to see such sentiment pop up in more of his current work. It would make an intriguing change if nothing else. In past issues of this series, I've complained of Moore's tendency toward bombastic and overblown prose in his narrative captions, which more often than not dragged me forcibly out of the story. Here though, he has entirely dropped that habit. Now, the narrative captions seem entirely suited to the action depicted by Davis' art. Additionally, captions are frequently given over to dialogue from off-panel characters rather than the narrator, seemingly more so than in past issues. Moore's penchant for literary quotation is still present, but here a quote from writer J.M. Barrie is entirely suited to the situation with which it is paired and that suitability is immediately apparent. Another point worth noting is that this issue pretty clearly reveals, more so than past issues, the series to be a product of the 1980s. In the chapter, "One of Those Quiet Moments" we see a little boy stockpiling supplies to ride out a "thermo-nuclear war" and considering how to make an anti-radiation suit out of aluminum foil. Later in this same chapter, this boy asks Miracleman if he could save the world from said nuclear war. These concerns make for an engaging exchange between Miracleman and the boy but they do date this piece a bit. Writing as someone who is too young to have ever referred to an East and West Germany other than as a historical factoid, reading such concern over potential nuclear conflict from a child does make it fairly clear that this is an older piece of fiction. This doesn't take away from the impact or enjoyment of this issue, but I do hope that subsequent issues don't make such fears more central to the narrative than this as it would likely further date the piece. Rather than summarize this issue, as it deserves to be read, I will simply call out a number of moments that demonstrate Moore's excellent and innovative work. In Michael Moran's brief and only appearance, the reader is treated to further examination of the dichotomy of the Moran/Miracleman entity. Moran is presented as a sadder individual than in past issues, perhaps embittered by his wife's advancing pregnancy which he seems to be regarding as less something that he helped initiate than Miracleman. In a past issue, he reflected that Miracleman's thoughts and emotions are bigger and purer and that still seems to be the case as Moran appears conflicted while Miracleman appears sure and certain. Moran seems to be having difficulty in coming to terms with his dual identity while Miracleman appears to be having no difficulty at all. Intentional or not, Davis' art seems to be emphasizing this dichotomy. More than in past issues, one can read age on Moran's face. Additionally, his paunch seems to be emphasized and his arms appear more spindly than previous. By contrast, a nude Miracleman is still the same paragon of the male form as always. I mentioned foreshadowing earlier and Moore does a great deal in connection with Dr. Emil Gargunza, creator of Miracleman. At the very beginning of this issue, he appears to be observing a jaguar hunt in South America. The first chapter appears to depict the beast being taken down by someone's bare hands, a swipe dispatching the creature and footprints leading away from its corpse. The implication seems to be that Gargunza has created at least one more superhuman. Frankly, I can't wait to see precisely what he's been up to and whether this will lead to a superpowered throwdown with Miracleman. Perhaps this isn't strictly foreshadowing but another excellent moment is the cliffhanger that closes the main story in this issue. Gargunza has abducted Moran's wife, Liz, and placing both hands on her pregnant belly states that Miracleman "will be [his] father." I have no idea what this means but I want to read the next issue as soon as possible to find out. Placing Liz in this sort of danger, hinting at the nature of the child, and then closing with a line like this is a masterful stroke in building suspense and reader interest. Another brilliant scene is the internal dialogue between Johnny Bates and his alter ego Kid Miracleman. Kid is deliciously evil here and Johnny, in faltering and saying he "won't" let Kid out rather than he "can't," suggests that the reader will be seeing more of Kid Miracleman out and about… perhaps in the not-too-distant future. Really, this issue serves more as transition than anything but the transition is handled so well as to be engaging in and of itself. The hint at further super-beings from Gargunza is delivered via Jaguar hunt, the hints at the nature of Miracleman's child are handled via kidnapping, and the hints about Kid Miracleman are handled via a tense and engaging exchange. Unfortunately, I'm still not sure what Moore is doing with Evelyn Cream, the agent who has teamed up with Miracleman. I still don't fully grasp the intent of what seems to have been an inner monologue he was having in the last issue and here he wakes up from a very odd dream. The significance of this dream is entirely lost on me. There is a reference to "the garden of Baron Saturday" while Cream runs over a carpet of insects, there are orchards and boneyards, and a bird screams that eventually becomes the telephone that he answers with Miracleman on the other end calling him to assist his investigation into his wife's disappearance. This interlude doesn't detract from the story but I honestly can't say what it adds. Regardless of his inner workings, which I hope will become clear in future issues, Cream is still an intriguing character and I do sincerely hope to find out more about him. Earlier, I mentioned that the chapters "One of Those Quiet Moments" and "1957" show a great deal of heart and charm. This is very much the case, I've already referenced it but the former is a simple interaction between Miracleman and a young boy named Jason Oakey. It's a straightforward exchange where Miracleman comes across the boy in the woods (or vice versa) and demonstrates that he is a superhero. The boy then asks if he can protect the world from nuclear war. This is a wonderfully written chapter and shows the humanity both in the boy and Miracleman. There's something beautiful in this simple friendly interaction and Miracleman's response of "I wouldn't like to promise… But I'd do my best" in connection with averting nuclear war is straightforward, honest, and hopeful without sugarcoating. The boy responds with "Alright. Can't say fairer than that." Oddly enough, this has become one of my favorite moments of the series. "1957" us a near wordless short story featuring Young Miracleman (YM) and set during the Mick Anglo days of classic Marvelman. It's incredibly simple, YM meets a cute girl in his civilian guise as a messenger, he turns into YM and flies to Pluto where he steals a necklace to give her as a gift, when he gets back though it has melted into water, and the girl simply turns and slams a door in his face. Dejected YM gets back on his motorcycle and heads off. There are a few sound effects and YM says "Miracleman" to change back and forth from his alter ego, but otherwise the story is told through the art. There's something indescribably charming about this story which on its own is entertaining, but taken in the larger context of the Miracleman story serves to make more immediate the tragedy of YM's death. This is the one chapter in this issue where Alan Davis does not provide the art. Here, the art is by John Ridgway and is excellent in its own right but has enough similarity to that of Don Lawrence, writer of some of the original Marvelman stories, to give it an appropriately retro feeling. If I had one complaint, I'd say that the colorist missed a trick by not giving it the period-appropriate flat coloring that would have been the cherry on top of this lovely little tale. Getting back to the main story, Alan Davis' art is gorgeous throughout. While in these pages he isn't quite the master he is today, he still provided engaging artwork that beautifully complemented Moore's writing. I have to say too that his panel layouts are excellent. Somewhere between the rigid panel structure of classic gold and silver-age comics and the looser, free-flowing panel structure of modern comics, I find Davis' work here to be something close to my ideal. The paneling here is rigid enough to feel like a comic but loose enough to allow for thoroughly engaging storytelling. Again, I find my words sadly falling short of the task of conveying just how good Davis' work is here but I will say that his figures are beautifully rendered, faces are wonderfully expressive, and the whole is just brilliant overall.

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If I had a complaint about Davis, it would be that his modern cover for this issue is slightly lame. Don't get me wrong, it's a beautifully rendered shot of Miracleman seemingly just finishing his transformation and thus surrounded by glowing energy. However, it's fairly static and has no real connection with the content of this issue. That being said, I have actually picked up the Alex Ross variant cover for this issue. I hate variant covers with a passion but as this one was the same price as the standard cover, I thought it worth the expense to own this lovely artwork. I'm not entirely sure that I understand the significance of the form that exists within Miracleman's silhouette (is it the alien whose crashed ship provided the technology to create Miracleman?) but Ross's work is beautiful if suffering from what I'd identify as his slightly questionable color work. I will never understand why Ross insist upon having some colors seem to act as a light source and shade areas of the piece that don't benefit from it. Here, there is an excess of pervasive highlighter-yellow and Easter-egg-pink that somewhat take away from the overall effect. Still, I thought it worth picking up the variant. As for the back matter, readers are treated to the now-standard collection of house ads, original pencils and inks, and some classic Marvelman reprints. They are all welcome additions that serve to beef up the package and give this a feeling of being the definitive reprinting of this series. If I had one complaint, it would be that I would appreciate the occasional prose piece accompanying these issues. A reflection on the original printing of Miracleman and the impact it had on the industry would really help to provide additional context for the work. Still, what's given is quite good. In particular, with Gargunza finally making an appearance in the main story, it is fitting that his first appearance in Marvelman #27 is reprinted here. It's an enjoyably goofy and nonsensical story about "skeletons" in "cupboards" and it does help give some background on the classic Gargunza in terms of the types of schemes he attempted to perpetrate. Overall, there is remarkably little to complain about to critique in this issue. It is another excellent issue in an excellent series of reprints of a story that (by all accounts) was excellent when it was originally printed. I'm still looking forward to more and if you aren't reading this by now, then what are you waiting for?