Miracleman #1: A Review From Someone Who's Never Read The Series Before
Last Wednesday, January 15th, the first issue of Marvel Entertainment's reprinting of the 1982 revival of Miracleman dropped. As a longtime lover of comics who has never read the series but has been keenly aware of its reputed quality and impact on the form, I made sure to pick it up as quickly as I could. Beyond what I'd heard about the series, I couldn't help but be incredibly excited to have the opportunity to read one of the works of Alan Moore that has to date been difficult, nigh impossible, to get one's hands on. Given the nature of the work, I was also motivated to review as much of the series as I could, hence the article you are currently reading, and provide the perspective of a reader coming to this series for the first time. That being said, the first issue of Marvel's Miracleman was a pleasant surprise.
Frankly, as one of the uninitiated it's everything I could have asked for from such a reprint. Rather than a bare-bones proposition that simply regurgitates the original material in a slapdash manner, this has every appearance of a respectful, almost reverent, effort on Marvel's part. This issue contains three chapters of the revived Miracleman story; some "Behind the Scenes" material; background on the Miracleman character ("Kimota! The Secret Origin of Mick Anglo's Marvelman"); quotes from Anglo himself, the creator of Miracleman née Marvelman; and reprints from some original Anglo Marvelman comics. If I had absolutely no information on the character and his history (as opposed to the largely Wikipedia-based primer that I DO have) this comic would have been a near-perfect introduction. In fact, every part of this book comes together to form a firm basis on which to build with successive issues of the series. The reprints of the Mick Anglo stories show what Alan Moore was repurposing with this deconstructionist version, the "Kimota" piece gives real-world background and context for why the character was created in the first place, the "Behind the Scenes" material gives some insight into the creative process of artist Garry Leach and the original format of the Moore series, and the quotes from Anglo give some slight insight into the man behind the Miracleman. The only criticism I would give to Marvel's packaging of this issue is that it seems slightly self-serving on Joe Quesada's part. Maybe I'm reading too much into things, but given his position within Marvel I can't help but notice that he is the artist of the main cover of the book, is pictured with Mick Anglo in the section where Anglo is quoted, and one quote of Anglo's that is selected for inclusion comes across more-or-less as a simple compliment of Quesada illustrating little of Anglo the man or Anglo the writer/artist. These are minor quibbles though, compared to the excellence of the overall package.
As far Quesada's cover, I'm not that familiar with the man's work as an artist, but I quite like what he's brought to the table here. Admittedly, it is a simple cover with Miracleman floating front and center, but the execution is quite good. The low-angle shot that Quesada has chosen helps to evoke a sense of grandeur, power, and gravitas in the brightly clad figure looking down at the reader. This is further emphasized by the glowing eyes and heavy shadows created by the apparent backlighting and serving to darken the bright sky blue, yellow, and red of Miracleman's superhero outfit. At the same time, the figure's extended hand suggests that he is reaching out in a gesture of something like benevolence or goodwill that serves to soften the overall impression. It really is quite an effective cover, at least to my eye. The actual content of the book holds up quite well. The first thing that the reader encounters is "Prologue: 1956 – 'The Invaders from the Future.'" Written in the style of the original Marvelman series and plotted by Mick Anglo (presumably with the rest of writing duties falling to "The Original Writer," the reprint's quaint euphemism for Alan Moore) with art from Don Lawrence, this is a playful little romp that does make one feel as though it has been time-displaced from the 1950's. As an introduction to Miracleman in and of itself, it does an admirable job. It contains the entire Miracleman Family, functions as a one-and-done story, establishes the characters' powers and method of transformation, involves somewhat inexplicable time travel, features a possibly intentionally tin-eared use of the term "Gestapo" that one would expect from the time period, and wraps up the plot so nicely they might as well have put a bow on it. Frankly, the only problem that I have with this "Prologue" is the way Moore closes with one of his patented intellectual-sounding quotes. In this case, it's a nugget from Friedrich Nietzsche. I don't know if it's just that I'm not educated enough to get the true significance of the quote in relation to what's come before or what's to follow, or that I'm too jaded to see it as anything other than a quick way of interjecting false depth. I wholly and freely admit that it may very well be the former, but I can only give my impression and it just feels tacked-on to me.
I feel as though this is the point at which I should address what might be the elephant in the room, the coloring. Some purists are understandably upset that Miracleman is being reprinted in color when it was originally printed in black-and-white. Personally, I'm thankful for the colorization. I've grown up on color comics all my life and could probably count on one hand the number of black-and-white comics I've read. There's something about black-and-white comics that I find hard to get through. I'm not sure what terms to put it in beyond saying that my eyes get bored looking over a colorless comic page. Having color makes a book an easier and more enjoyable read for me. On a more thoughtfully critical level, I find that the coloring helps to emphasize the shift between the "Prologue" which takes place in 1956 and the rest of the story which takes place in the "modern day" of 1982. The flat coloring and use of Ben-Day dots in combination with the period-style art only adds to the intentionally dated feeling of the "Prologue" in relation to the subsequent chapters. Combine that with the choice of so many bright and varied colors, and you have a fun time capsule of a comic. As for the subsequent chapters, the coloring feels tasteful and well-suited to what is being depicted. As a matter of fact, in some places there is so much white left on the page that it feels almost like a compromise between colorization and black-and-white. It's hard for me to imagine that the color is detracting from my experience of the comic, but as I've said I don't have a previous experience to compare it to. I will say that the colorist was quite clever in coloring Miracleman's alter ego Michael Moran's jacket. The light blue with horizontal yellow stripes across the chest is evocative of the Miracleman costume suggesting a subconscious connection to the identity that has persisted despite Moran's apparent amnesia. It's a nice touch that I really appreciated. Following the "Prologue," we dive into Moore's story proper. I don't want to give too much away plot-wise as this book is a worthwhile read, but this issue is essentially just setting up the premise which could hardly be considered spoiler territory. Essentially, we find out that the Miracleman of the Golden Age is suffering from a kind of amnesia and now wholly exists as his human alter ego Michael "Micky" Moran married to a woman named Liz and working as a freelance journalist. The only remnant of his former life is a recurring nightmare of the incident that caused him to lose his memory.
During an attempted terrorist act at a nuclear power plant, Moran sees a reflection of the word "atomic" and he remembers the word that triggers his transformation into Miracleman. You see, Miracleman is apparently powered by atomic energy and this word is "Kimota," the phonetic equivalent of "atomic" spelled backward. Miracleman somewhat unintentionally foils the terrorists and flies off while being sighted by a number of witnesses and at least one photographer. After a quick jaunt into outer space, he flies home to his wife to explain what he is and how he got to be that way. He can't explain how the admitted goofiness of his Golden Age memories gave way to the realism that he is currently living in or why no one, including Liz, seems to remember that it ever happened. However, Liz has to believe the evidence of her eyes and accepts the story being told to her by the idealized version of her husband standing in front of her. We close the issue with an unnamed figure watching reports of a flying human figure on the news, realizing that this means Miracleman is back, and apparently becoming so infuriated by this news that he smashes a desk in one seemingly super-powered punch. So far, this story is very engaging and I can't wait to read more. I find it a very intriguing premise to read about a Golden Age comic character that is just waking up to a modern age that has seemingly forgotten his good-natured, fanciful exploits while simultaneously becoming darker and more realistic. Moore's dialogue here is very naturalistic and the scene between Moran and his wife, Liz, plays out just how one would expect it to as he explains his Golden Age-style shenanigans with a straight face to a modern-style woman. Reading her laughing disbelief and Moran's frustration that his life is coming across as a joke to her, the reader gets a sense that something genuine is being portrayed here by a talented writer. Taken as a whole, Moore's writing throughout is very evocative of the tone of the piece and draws the reader in quite effectively with almost poetic descriptions like "[h]is voice is like a pool of GOLD… DAZZLING, MESMERIC." Beyond all of this, the plot has a number of mysteries to unravel and I find myself chomping at the bit to find out the answers. The art is also deserving of praise and Garry Leach certainly did an excellent job. Far from feeling dated, the panel layouts still feel engaging and energetic. Additionally, the figures and action are beautifully rendered. Where appropriate, the art feels alternately fanciful, dramatic, epic, prosaic, and even humorous at times. Some of the issue's supplemental material providing insight into Leach's process constitutes the most welcome additions to the book. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. We have a critically-acclaimed story of great importance to the art form of comics that is also engaging and entertaining. On top of that, the presentation is excellent and the supplementary materials are well-chosen and complement the story effectively. If subsequent issues continue the level of quality evident in this first outing both from the original content and in Marvel's selection and incorporation of back matter, these recommendations will continue. One might almost say that it's a miracle, man, that Marvel could get things this right.