Saturday, 20 December 2014

Miracleman: Book 1 - A Dream Of Flying (#1-4) PART ONE

"Eighteen years.  Eighteen years trapped in that old, tired body." - Miracleman

Miracleman, Marvelman, Marvelman, Miracleman.  A few years ago I would have classed this as an Alan Moore Obscurity, because although this collection does not bear his name, the Northamptonshire Eeyore is "The Original Writer" of credit.  A couple of decades of rights hell had rendered his famous updating of the Silver Age UK creation "Marvelman" difficult to find and expensive to collect.  Even during it's original publication, first as an eight page black and white strip in early 80's UK comic Warrior, to it's continuation as a full length colour comic published by Eclipse in the late 80's, it had become in the words of second artist on the strip Alan Davis "a snake pit of egos".  It's ironic that Marvel is responsible for the recent reprints once a deal with Moore had been finally hammered out with Moore (and all the other people who felt they owned a stake in the character over the years), as threatened legal action from them in the 80's over the original name "Marvelman" (even though Marvelman predated the name Marvel being taken on as a corporate identity) forced a change to Miracleman, and it was fallout from this that led to Moore blocking reprints of his Captain Britain work for so long and likely one of the main reasons he has refused to allow this reprint material to go out with his name on, also meaning Marvel can't exploit his name for publicity.  Considering the shabby treatment Moore had suffered in the early part of his career from Marvel, it's a decision I am totally in his corner for, while being glad that he agreed to allow his most famous unread work back into mainstream circulation, just not credited "officially" to him.
Unused Warrior cover art.
Before I look at the actual Moore penned Miracleman story, let's look at this package as a whole.  A very nice package it is too. I was a little wary when I saw that it was going to be recoloured, I'd seen the somewhat haphazard recolouring of the Eclipse reprints in excerpts online and not been too impressed.  But this colouring job is beautiful, the original artists Garry Leach and Alan Davis couldn't have asked for better.  Because "Book One" of Miracleman only filled the equivalent of four normal length US comics when collected, this volume has been bulked out with some great extras. 

There is the non-canon special story Moore penned early on that was designed to give first artist Garry Leach more time to finish his episodes, and three "Warpsmith" stories that flesh out the titular alien race. One of whom appears in the non-canon special, but who goes on to have a greater role in later books.  There are also a covers gallery and pages from Leach's design notebooks, all very welcome and lovely to look at.  And then there is the story that kicks off the collection, a reprint of an old Marvelman story from the fifties.

Hmmm.

For the two people who might not be aware of the fact, Marvelman was created in the fifties when the US series Captain Marvel fell into publishing limbo.  The characters are virtually identical.  Everyday human says a magic word (in Marvelman's case it's "Kimota!" - Atomik backwards) and transforms into a being with the power of Superman.  As well as Marvelman himself, there was Young Marvelman and Kid Marvelman and together they fought monsters and colourful villians and so on.  Now perhaps part of my issue with starting the book with this "flashback" is my real problem with Silver Age comic book stuff.
Silver Age Miracleman, Young Miracleman and Kid Miracleman.
Oh, I love the concepts, the characters, the inspiration the ideas have given to writers and artists who came later... but in practice, time and again I am repelled by the art and writing (what can I say?  I'm a child of the Bronze and Dark Ages).  So while I'll enjoy Neo-Silver Age stuff like Grant Morrison's All Star Superman or deconstructions of it, like, well Alan Moore's Miracleman, I'll leave the rest of it in the past.  It's not for me.  That said, it does at least show quite spectacularly just how much Alan Moore pulled the concept to pieces before rebuilding it in quite a different way.

As the Alan Moore storyline gets underway you'll notice two things.  Firstly the artwork is astounding.  Garry Leach's work is almost photorealistic and sadly couldn't last as it was taking him all month simply to pencil and ink one six to eight page strip.  Alan Davis takes over about halfway through, with Leach inking Davis on two chapters to smooth the transition.  Davis is a fine replacement, but the art gets noticably more cartoony as a trade-off.  The other thing you'll notice is how ridiculously cramped the narration and speech bubbles are.  Moore was at his most verbose during this period, and it's not helped by the fact that  the page size has been reduced from the "2000AD sized" original Warrior comics to the standard US comic size.  Break out your magnifying glasses people, but at least you feel like you've got your money's worth of plot and dialogue compared to todays decompressed age.

Narration: "In the sodium lit hours before dawn, the great trucks roll north. Some carry breakfast cereal, and some carry ball bearings. Some are empty.  And some are not."

Immediately grounding the story in the real world, we are introduced to a couple of domestic terrorists planning to steal some plutonium, before cutting to our main protagonist Mike Moran who is having a familiar dream.  He dreams he is flying with two other people towards "a vast grey ship".  The "sky catches fire" and he briefly sees one of his friends "flickering like a doppler image" before he is consumed by light and thunder.
Mike and Liz Moran.
He wakes screaming, waking his wife Liz as well.  He groans that he has a migraine and Liz offers to call his work at get him out of the Larksmere assignment.  He grouchily says they need the money from his journalism and he doesn't like his wife being the main breadwinner, showing how emasculated he feels.  He catches the train to Larksmere nuclear power station to cover a protest.  Once there though the terrorists appear and herd the journalists inside to record their advertisement for people who will want to buy plutonium off them. 

Mike's migraine gets worse, he is almost crippled by pain.  One of the terrorists takes him away down a corridor.  Mike sees the word "atomic" reflected backwards through a window.  He mumbles the suddenly familiar word "Kimota". And...

Narration: "The whisper is drowned by thunder. The screams of the man called Steve are lost in the sudden flood of light.  His face is scarred and blistered, his eardrums have burst.  His eyes have seen glory."

The other terrorists appear and shoot at Miracleman, but the bullets bounce off him.  He claps his hands together and disables them before flying out of the building and into space where he punches the air in a meta moment shouting "I'm Miracleman. I'm back!!"
A hero returns.
Later Miracleman goes and sees Liz.  At first she doesn't recognise him, but then she does and hugs him tight.

Narration: "He holds her and his touch is as frictionless as mercury. The restrained power in his arms makes her feel like glass."

Miracleman: "Sit down.  I'll make some coffee".

Narration: "'I'll make some coffee'.  The words sound so mundane...  Yet he looks like a god."

Over coffee he begins to tell her his story.  He was a copy boy for a newspaper called the Daily Bugle.  One day he was granted power by an astro-physicist called Guntag Borghelm. He gives him the word "Kimota" the "keyword of the universe" which allows his transformation into Miracleman.  He realises Liz is laughing:

Liz: "I'm sorry Mike, but that's such a bloody stupid story."
Miracleman's origin.
Miracleman uncertainly goes on, saying he was joined by a man called Dicky Dauntless (much to Liz's further merriment) who became Young Miracleman.  Then in 1956 they were joined by Johnny Bates who bccame Kid Miracleman, who changed whenever he said "Miracleman". They fought villains like Firebug, Young Nastyman and a freakish, dwarf genius called  Doctor Gargunza.  They thwarted his plans time and again, but it he never did anything really evil.  It was like they were "playing some a game."

Liz is still amused by all this.  She asked why she never heard of their exploits and Miracleman says it might have been covered up after what happened in 1963.

Liz: "Don't tell me. A couple more Miraclemen turned up and you formed a football team"

Miracleman: "Dammit Liz, you're laughing at my life!!"

And he clenches his fist, crushing the wood underneath it.  Anyway in 1963 he and the other two Miraclemen were blown up by a bomb.  He was found in the Suffolk marshes, badly burned with most of his bones broken.  He had forgotten his life as Miracleman until today. The action then cuts to a new character watching the news footage of Miracleman flying out of the powerplant.  He smashes his desk yelling "Miracleman. He's back. Back to spoil everything!"
The morning after...
The next day Liz awakes next to a sleeping Miracleman, she is naked and the implication is she slept with Miracleman not Mike.  She wanders round the room, touching things, trying to reconnect with normality.  Then the phone rings.  It's for Mike, so Miracleman changes back into him and takes the call.  It's Johnny Bates, Kid Miracleman, the desk smasher of the previous chapter.  He wants to meet up, so Mike and Liz go to his place of work, which is a company called Sunburst Cybernetics that Johnny owns.

They chat and Johnny says when they found the bomb, he flew as high as he could to outrun the blast and was caught on the edge of it.  He awoke in hospital and although he could remember his life as Kid Miracleman, he had lost his powers.

Johnny: "For seven years I had been something more than human. Then all of a sudden the magic went away."
Mike and Johnny reunited.
After chatting some more about how Johnny built his company up from scratch, he and Mike go out onto the balcony to talk privately.  Mike says he wanted to believe Johnny he really did but couldn't help but think, what if he hadn't lost his powers?

Mike: "I tried to think what it would be like to be sixteen years old and the most powerful creature on the face of the planet, and be answerable to no one.  You could do anything.  You'd never have to change into dull, weak, human Johnny Bates again".

Johnny tells him he is being paranoid.  Mike then realises Johnny is trying to do something to his mind. When Liz comes out on to the the balcony to tell them they have to go, Mike pushes Johnny off it.  And Johnny just hangs in the air, grinning, light crackling off him.
Yep, he's a psycho, proto-yuppie, Thatcherite scumbag.
Mike tells Liz to run, Johnny says he kill her after he kills her husband. His secretary arrives with more coffee and Johnny brutally murders her.

Narration: "Her name is Stephanie. She likes Adam and the Ants. Her boyfriend's name is Brian.  She collects Wedgewood.  Her insides have turned to water.  She is only human."

Cleverly, Alan Moore humanises Johnny's first victim with a thumbail sketch of her life, making his actions even more horrifying. Mike asks why he did that, Johnny answers that he enjoyed it.  Sadly Mike says "Kimota".  The pair of them go flying out into the street battling each other.  A small child comes up to Johnny calling him Superman.  Johnny asks if he would like to fly like Superman and picks up and hurls the child.  Miracleman manages to catch him, though the kid breaks a couple of ribs due to how fast he was going.  His mother snatches him back calling Miracleman a "bloody monster".
It's like the third Matrix film's climax, only good.
Johnny then smashes Miracleman high into the sky.  As he flies upwards, Miracleman wonders how Johnny got so strong, and why he aged as Kid Miracleman while Miracleman didn't.  Johnny builds a thunderbolt and blasts him with it, then smashes Miracleman into the ground causing a huge crater.  He thinks Miracleman dead;

Narration: "After a while he turns away to look at the city spread behind him. London huddled against the stinging rain.  He wonders what to do next."

He finds Liz and tells her he's quite relieved now he's out in the open, that it was "degrading" pretending to be human.  He crunches her car into a ball and goes to kill her when Miracleman appears and attacks him. They begin an epic beatdown on each other, with Johnny getting the upper hand quickly.  The narration describes them as having an almost "sexual hatred" for each other.
The authorities respond.
While their fight goes on we are shown various members of the authorities on the phone about them.  One is called Sir Dennis Archer, who goes "Oh God... the monsters are back."  The final person in the chain says he wants the "ultimate sanction. I want you to send for Mr. Cream".  Meanwhile Johnny has beaten Miracleman into near unconciousness.  Over Miracleman's prone body he throws his hands up in triumph:

Johnny: "I beat him!! ...And now I'm going to finish him off! Me!  His adoring junior protege! Me, Kid Miraclem.........an"

He has time for one look of horror at his mistake in saying "Miracleman" the word that changes him, before he turns back into sixteen year old Johnny Bates. Miracleman goes to kill him, but can't bring himself to do it.  Johnny stutters that it wasn't his fault.  He says Miracleman again, but doesn't change.  Miracleman theorises that the battle burnt his powers out somehow, and he and Liz leave Johnny Bates snivelling in the wreckage and fly away.
Poor pathetic Johnny Bates.
We are then introduced to a "black man, in a white suit" called Evelyn Cream, who has sapphires for teeth.  Later we also meet Sir Dennis Archer who reflects that he never should have let that "treacherous little freak build his monsters." He remembers back to when he oversaw the use of an atom bomb to take out the Miraclemen in 1963, then he thinks:

Narration: "Evelyn Cream will sanction the monster.  The dragon will be dealt with."
Introducing Evelyn Cream.
And that marks the halfway point of Book One.  So much crammed into so few chapters.  It's interesting that Moore places what would in other stories be the climatic battle against a super-powered nemesis in the middle of the story rather than the end.  With Johnny/Kid Miracleman out of the way, and having demonstrated the rather dysfunctional relationship the Miraclemen share with their human sides, while also grounding the story fully in the real world of early 80's Britain, the story is free to get on with the business of deconstructing the character in earnest in the second half of the story which I'll be looking at in a couple of days time.

4 comments:

  1. Ive been buying the reprints as they come out and its awesome. u read book 2 yet?

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  2. No, I am hoping it's waiting for me under the Christmas tree!

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  3. "The Northamptonshire Eeyore." I like that.

    I hope you have a wonderful Christmas and get everything you want.

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  4. Thanks :) And I did have a great Christmas, (hope yours was the same), with Miracleman Book 2 among my gifts, hooray!

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