Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Graphic Novels You Would Like If You Weren’t Too Chicken To Read Them: Miracleman

Alan Moore’s ‘Miracleman’ (known as ‘Marvelman’ in the UK, but changed in the US for obvious Marvel Comics-related reasons) is the ‘lost’ classic of superhero comics, but still one of the most important series ever. Various legal disputes has meant that it has remained out of print in any form for roughly two decades, that is, except for online, which is where I finally got to read it. Before Moore’s own ‘Watchmen’ and Frank Miller's ‘The Dark Knight Returns’ deconstructed superheroes, Moore and his various artists showed us what might happen if superpowered beings really lived among us.  

The main character of the series is Mike Moran, a normal middle-aged guy with an expanding gut and dreams of flying. Turns out that Mike was once the godlike Miracleman, and one day when he says his ‘magic word’ his alter-ego is suddenly reborn. Moore uses the character of Miracleman (who originally began as a hero in the 1950s) to turn just about every superhero trope on its head. Miracleman’s former sidekick, Kid Miracleman, has grown up, and become a brutal sociopath. Miracleman’s ‘adventures’ also get re-evaluated as the series progresses, and he learns they may not be quite as ‘real’ as he remembers. Fantasy is actually a major theme in the series, as the power and glamour of saying his magic word and becoming instantly super-powered begin to consume Mike’s ordinary life. There is also a superhuman childbirth in issue #9 - but be warned that it does not spare you the gory details.        

And then there is the infamous issue #15 …  in the case of this issue I really mean that you might be too chicken to ever read it. Kid Miracleman returns with a vengeance, and takes out his loathing on London’s populace, which given his godlike powers, has catastrophic and gruesome results. Miracleman, who has been off-planet, returns to stop him, and their ensuing battle shows what might well happen if two guys with superpowers fought it out in the midst of a major city. It is horrifying to read, but it is also one of the greatest single issues ever. Arguably just as good is issue #16 - Moore’s final issue – which deals with the drastic steps that Miracleman takes in the aftermath of the massacre to ensure that the world is protected going forward. Many subsequent series would take up Moore’s ideas about what might happen if superheroes decided that the best way to protect ordinary humans was to rule them.
‘Watchmen’ will always be, to my mind, Alan Moore’s greatest achievement (if one can forget the movie), but ‘Miracleman’ is not far behind it. Unlike ‘Watchmen’ the story does not fit into neat little boxes – it’s messy and sprawling, and it changes style and tone quite a bit during its 16 issue-run, but there is no doubt it will stick in the memory of anyone who reads it. If the legal rights cannot get sorted out, make sure to read it online, and you’ll feel a lot differently when it comes time to watch the next superhero summer movie blockbuster.    

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