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Comics of 1986 #18: Miracleman
© Chris Roberson
February 15, 2007

Look, I know you're not likely to believe me, but I'll say it anyway: Miracleman is the best thing ever.

I've been following with interest the various essays about the comics of 1986 posted on RevolutionSF, and many of them make excellent points. Granted. All-Star Squadron was supremely readable in its day. You'll get no argument from me. Longshot was loads of fun. Epic Illustrated was groundbreaking. Love and Rockets , terrific. Blah blah blah.

But were they all great? Were they really? And more importantly, were they awesome?

Heck no, they weren't. At least, not in the way that Miracleman was.

I was a child of the seventies and eighties, so I may be a little biased here. I turned sixteen in 1986, so was in my early teens when I first started reading Miracleman. I may have seen an issue or two of Swamp Thing before then, but so far as I recall the adventures of Michael Moran were my first exposure to the work of Alan Moore.

Now, as you are probably aware, Alan Moore is the greatest living writer of the English language. That's not hyperbole, that's a fact, jack. Okay, arguably the greatest living writer of the English language? No, still too many dissenters? Alright, then we can at least agree that he's the greatest living writer of English language comics, yes?

I'll go one further. Moore is the finest writer ever to work in comics, living or dead, in any language. There, said it. Want to make something of it, all of you Doug Moench fans? I didn't think so . . . (Not to say there isn't a case to be made for Bob Haney, but that's another story . . . )

Now, Moore has collaborated on a number of projects that could justifiably be called masterpieces. Watchmen for instance, V for Vendetta for another. From Hell, of course. And the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series, naturally. Oh, and Promethea. In fact, it's a career in which the misses are the rare exceptions, and the hits are quite homeruns. And while Miracleman is one of Moore's earliest works, and one of the least focused and disciplined, I think that it's one of the more resonate, and certainly the most unabashedly awesome.

Miracleman was originally published in 1982 under the title Marvelman, and shares much in common with Captain Britain, which Moore began scripting that same year, with artist (and future Marvelman-collaborator) Alan Davis. The two series are similar in that both are clever reimaginings of existing superhero properties, full of unexpected plot twists and reversals, a genuine sense of menace from the villains, and a sophistication often lacking from superhero comics of the period. Also, both seem to be motivated by the same notion, that of examining what a person with superpowers would really be like, if they were to exist in the real world.

Marvelman first appeared in the pages of Warrior, starting in issue 1 (March 1982) with art by Garry Leach, and ran through issue 21 (August 1984), with art by Alan Davis from issue 6 onwards. And if that had been an end to it, Marvelman would likely still be fondly remembered as a clever early work of Alan Moore's, on par with Captain Britain. Awesome superheroics, but not much more than that.

However, that wasn't to be the end of Marvelman. It would return, under a slightly different name, in another country, and in color, but what had started as clever superheroics would go on to become a work of sheer awesomeness. Because while it had begun by examining what a superhero would be like in the real world, it gradually shifted to an examination of the ways in which the presence of a superhero would alter the world itself.

And it would all start in 1986.

One year after the last chapter of the original serialization appeared, in August 1985, Eclipse Comics started reprinting the Warrior material in color, now retitled Miracleman to avoid any legal squabbles with Marvel Comics. New material began to appear in issue 6 (February 1986), with Chuck Beckum taking on the artistic duties from Alan Davis. Chuck stuck around through one more issue (going on to script comics for Marvel almost two decades later under the name Chuck Austen, which combined with his brief stint on Miracleman gives him the distinction of having been involved with some of the best, and some of the worst, comics ever published), and then was replaced by Rick Veitch, who would himself give way to John Totleben.

There were five issues that carried 1986 cover dates, issues five through ten. These contained art by Davis, John Ridgway, Beckum/Austen, and Veitch. These included the origin of Miracleman, Moran's final confrontation with Emil Gargunza, the extremely detailed and graphic birth of Miracleman's daughter Winter (and oy, what a kerfuffle that turned out to be; imagine, showing people what a lady's privates looked like, and with all of that icky baby-being-born business to boot!), and the story that set the stage for the third and final act of Moore's run, introducing the Qys and giving readers the first glimpse of just what was hanging out down there in Underspace.

In the issues that followed, Earth would become the center of attentions vast and cool and unsympathetic -- the protean Qys with their myriad of forms (whose salvaged technology had been responsible for the creation of Miracleman in the first place) and the quicksilver Warpsmiths, who could bend the stuff of space and time to their will. It would be revealed that Miracleman was not alone anymore in possessing superpowers. And gradually, he would take his place at the head of a new pantheon of superpowered beings, imposing their will on the "mortals" who lived at the foot of their new Olympus.

Miracleman lacks the sophisticated narrative structure of Watchmen, has less to say about the nature of reality and art than Promethea, lacks the insight into the human psyche of From Hell. It is a superhero story, nothing more. In many ways, though, it is the ultimate superhero story, taking each trope of the genre to its logical conclusion, no matter how bleak or unsettling. Along the way there are moments of genuine wonder, and real emotion, and the best realized and orchestrated superhuman fight sequences in any medium. Miracleman would change the way that readers looked at superheroics irrevocably, and its stamp can be felt on everything from the fight scenes of the third Matrix film to the interaction between superhuman and human in The Ultimates to the struggles between identities public and secret in contemporary Superman comics.

Reading the series for the first time in 1986, though, I didn't know any of that. All I knew was that Miracleman was awesome.

And you know what? I was right.

Click here to return to the Comics of 1986.

Chris Roberson is writer of Paragaea and co-owner of MonkeyBrain Books.

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