Sunday, July 10, 2011

Great Comics: Miracleman

One of my favorite series of comic books was Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman's runs on Eclipse Comic's Miracleman.

Miracleman has a somewhat dysfunctional publication history. It started out in the 1950's as British reprints of Fawcett Comics' Captain Marvel and the Marvel Family. After Fawcett ceased publication as the result of a lawsuit by DC Comics which claimed that Captain Marvel infringed on their Superman copyrights, the British publisher that was doing the reprints wanted to keep going so they changed the character around a little, renamed him Marvelman and kept publishing. Marvelman was very successful, not fading from the scene until the early 1960's.

In the early 1980's Alan Moore took over the character, eventually publishing it through Eclipse comics in the United States where, at the insistence of Marvel Comics, the name of the character was changed to Miracleman.

During all of this history, ownership of the character was transferred around quite a bit with most of the ownership in the hands of writers (including Moore and Gaiman) and artists with bits of ownership going to publishers. Ultimately there were lawsuits and recently Marvel Comics has purchased the rights meaning that they have the right to reprint the old stuff and produce new comics. Let's hope they have enough of the rights that they can reprint Moore and Gaiman's run (if that doesn't hurt Moore and Gaimen in some way) in a lower cost format than is currently available so that new generations can see the sheer genius of their take on the character.

Moore's take on Miracleman and other members of the Miracleman family was ultra realistic and seems to be based on the question, what if people with the power of Superman existed in the real world? When we catch up with Miracleman himself, he is an old man who has (for reasons that unfold in the storyline) forgotten his childhood as a superhero. When he accidentally rediscovers his powers his life gets very confusing. While his personal life and superhero life present a lot of interesting twists and turns, one of the very interesting points for me is the fact that, as a child, when he became a superhero, like Captain Marvel, he transformed into an adult in his prime with superpowers. That stays true as an old man, when he transforms into Miracleman, he still transforms into a super powered adult in his prime, meaning, rather than appearing older, he has his youth restored and the storyline suggests that if he stops returning to human form, he will be immortal.

This gets even more interesting when we learn that his former sidekick, Kid Miracleman, at thirteen years old, turned into his superhuman adult form and never turned back. On some level he remains a thirteen year old mentally and emotionally. During the time that Miracleman had forgotten his powers and grown old, Kid Miracleman was becoming one of the richest men in the world and a sociopath.

I have always found the theme of unlimited power in children very interesting. St. Augustine in his autobiographical work Confessiones says that children are basically evil. He of course attributes this to original sin. Whether or not we believe in original sin, he makes a pretty good argument for why you could call children evil. Their behavior, if it were exhibited by adults, would be considered evil. The reason we tend to overlook that behavior in children is because they don't know any better. Augustine points out that we pretty much end up beating proper behavior into children.

Another great take on the subject would of course be the classic Twilight Zone episode starring Bill Mummy as a child with unlimited power who controls a small town full of people who are utterly terrified of him and his capricious use of that power.

 Eventually Kid Miracleman goes off the deep end with results that are apocalyptic for the human race. While we do have Miracleman to fight on our side, Kid Miracleman's assault on the world takes place at super speed and by the time Miracleman can intervene civilization is already pretty much done for.

In Moore's last issue Miracleman, Miraclewoman and their alien allies decide that it is best for humanity if they take totalitarian control of the world, not just as tyrants or monarchs but as gods. There is of course opposition but who can stop Superman once he puts his mind to something? It is here that Neil Gaiman takes over the book. Those of you who have read his work before know that he is a master story teller with a keen grasp of the mythological. We get to see Miracleman set up a utopia on Earth with many issues to deal with, from revolution against totalitarianism (is it a good thing even when what is being revolted against is a paradise?), to freewill (is freewill more important than paradise?) and we can only guess how many others as Eclipse went bankrupt and we didn't get to see most of the stories that Gaiman had planned.

I seriously doubt that Marvel will pick up the story (even though Gaimen did do some work for them fairly recently as a part of picking sides in the lawsuits to determine who would own the book), which is a shame because I know I'd love to see it. We can hope that they will reprint the stories that did get written, so that a new generation of fans can see them. Meanwhile, if you've got big bucks and can afford the reprints that are out there, or can get the old issues from your comic book store, go for it, it's worth every penny.