After I heard that Marvel had acquired the rights to the Marvelman/Miracleman franchise, it sent me scrambling to find my back issues published by Eclipse. I had read the Alan Moore run in TPB form shortly after its U.S. publication and most of the Neil Gaiman/Mark Buckingham issues as they were published. (I originally wrote “monthly issues,” but this book was rarely on schedule —Marvelman might be an eternally cursed property.)

I gave up reading comics in late 1993, roughly the same time that Eclipse went bankrupt and the Gaiman-Buckingham run was suspended. They were about halfway through the second of three six-issue arcs. When I returned to comics this decade, I became aware of the legal wrangling to gain control of Miracleman and the resulting lawsuit between Gaiman and Todd McFarlane. I also learned that many of today’s comics fans had not read Moore’s run, one of his classic works, or even the Gaiman issues because the series had been out of print since Eclipse folded. I never suspected that Miracleman would become the rarest, and probably most valuable, piece in my comics collection.

In this thread, my goal is go through the Moore and Gaiman issues, a chapter or two at a time, with story summaries and comments. There will be spoilers, undoubtedly, so that may keep away some people who wish to wait for republication. But, the series is on my mind now, so I’m starting this thread just the same.

Ready? We’ll begin in the morning!

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Just read Book One again. Don't have much to add to your excellent summaries/comments B_dog.

Of course, if the art is perfect like this pretty much is, then there's not much to say about it beyond that. Who needs critics when you just have to look at it! Comics are critic-proof that way...

Poor Mike Moran is an exceptionally downbeat 'hero'.

"I'm a 42 year-old man. I'm standing on a rooftop and I feel stupid. All my life I've felt stupid."

There does indeed seem to be a huge gap between him and Miracleman. But we learn later that although the alien technology allows the Zarathustra project to create these powerful beings, they need a 'consciousness' to give them volition. Miracleman houses Mike Moran's consciousness. I think it makes sense that the two characters seem to grow apart the longer the Miracleman entity gets to walk around and experience life as this godlike being. Moore is arguing that our profoundest 'selves' are tied to the bodies that we walk (or fly) around in. There is not some essential quality that remains unchanged no matter what our circumstances.

Its hard to ascertain Moore's beliefs from his work. He seems very removed from the actors on his stage. However, having read a lot of Moore, I think this chimes with the liberal humanist position most of his writing takes. Moore doesn't believe in immortal 'souls'. Our essence is determined by the contingiencies of our life.

Seen like this, Moran/Miracleman is someone acting out his own conflicted self.

I like the 80s topicality of a lot of the story elements. Its hard to remember it now, but we were all living in dread of the Bomb back then. The Miracle people are often reffered to in comparison to this apocolyptic technology.

Johnny's electronics empire is possibly based on Clive Sinclair's success as producer of the Spectrum home computer. Well, Sunburst Technologies has a similar ring to it anyway, and Sinclair became a peer of the realm and an admired and influential inventor, before going on to produce the infamous failure of the C5. (Anyone remember that?)

The very first page has an aspect of 80s politics there which reflects on Moore's entire story as a whole. The two mercenaries/terrorists in the truck are very much of their time. One sounds like he has come to his calling in life through 60's/70's left-wing radicalism.

"I thought we'd be selling arms to like, the people. Nukes are really heavy. Know what I mean?"

His idealism and assumption of violence as a method of making the world a better place has lead to him becoming a life-endangering terrorist with scary friends whose actions are only about satisfying his own selfish desires.

A bit like Miracleman's own arc.
If we are talking about our reading relationship with Alan Moore, then I would have to acknowledge him as a God-like being as far as I’m concerned. He has long ago colonised a huge swathe of my imagination.

Some of his short stories in 2000AD such as Christmas in Eternity, or The Time Machine really moved me at a young age, later such characters as DR and Quinch and Halo Jones taught me about being a disaffected youth. If it wasn’t for him (and possibly Miller), I wouldn’t have got back into reading superhero comics in my late teens, or got introduced to DC comics at all.

I followed the early chapters of Marvelman as a young kid. (In the newsagents – Warrior magazine as a whole was too ‘advanced’ to take home. My mother wouldn’t have wanted to subsidise Father Shandor’s struggles with bare-breasted demonesses at that stage.) Much later, buying and enjoying the Miracleman GNs was part of my first summer working away from home, earning my first good money and living independently in London.

I met Moore last year when he was signing Lost Girls, and was just struck dumb in his presence. I couldn’t think of a single thing worth saying. What could I say to this guy that had built half of my inner world? He was an awfully nice man too, I have to point out. Really down-to-Earth and unpretentious.

Normally I’d feel embarrassed about being unable to speak to someone I’d queued for 3 hours to meet, but in this case it was a fairly understandable and forgivable lapse.

One aspect of the chapters we are reading now perhaps indicates god-like prescience on his part or at least shows he was well ahead of his time. I’m referring to the Dream of the Red King idea itself – that the world will change once certain people wake up from a self-negating slumber and perceive things as they really are. Of course Moore quotes Lewis Carroll’s idea, but after Marvelman went out into the wider world, nineties pop-culture seemed to be telling us that we are all sleeping and need to WAKE UP! to fulfil our potential. Think of The Matrix and The Truman Show in particular – massive hits that seemed to have a resonance beyond their basic plots. In comics, this was one of the central ideas of The Invisibles.

In any case, the Ridgeway-drawn dream sequences are great fun. As comics fans, its fascinating for us to see the simple tropes of the Silver Age given a symbolism and weight in the larger novel-like story of Marvelman.
I've just realised that Gaiman’s early DC work owes a lot to this phase of Marvelman’s story. Hypnos, the Deacon of Delirium, the Nabob of Nightmares, is an obvious inspiration for Morpheus the Sandman. Hypnos himself is a play on Marvel comics Nightmare, from whom Morpheus took his whole spikey-haired Goth look.

While I’m on the subject, the novel turn of the cold hitman deciding to spare the superhuman, as Cream did in Book One, is used as the ‘unexpected’ climax of Gaiman’s Black Orchid mini-series.

Actually, Moore probably did more than just inspire Gaiman in the early days. I recall now a DC editor going on record somewhere that when he spoke to Moore on the phone he misunderstood Moore’s accent (and showed that he knew less about DC’s history than the Bearded One). He thought that Moore was talking about reviving the Blackhawk Kid, rather than Black Orchid, as Moore meant. I think it’s more than a coincidence that one of Gaiman’s earliest works for DC was then a revival of Black Orchid. If Black Orchid only had a few appearances in US comics years earlier then the chances of seeing her while growing up in England would be even smaller, and yet both these guys have a pitch about her?

Coming at the same topic from a slightly different angle, (and touching on something I’m thinking a lot about lately), I can definitely see Moore having the discussion with his young protégé that he should on no account make up new characters for DC comics that he wouldn’t own.

“Pick a long dormant property and give it a new spin”

“Like who...?”

“Well, there used to be a character called Black Orchid...”

Hmmm. And so, Gaiman’s first DC work was on a comic about a plant that thought it was a human...

It’s all adding up isn’t it?

We’ll get back to Gaiman later on, I guess...
You did much better than I did at making sense of the Red King analogy. Well done. I took Gargunza's statement at its surface level (his selfish motives), but Miracleman's awakening did "end" the world as Gargunza and others knew it.

I loved reading your story of meeting Alan Moore. I think the first time I saw a photo of him was on the Watchmen TPB, where he looked so intimidating and unapproachable, but in interviews that I have seen and heard since, he has come across as just the opposite. And your connection of Moore and early Gaiman works is spot-on. I don't know why I hadn't picked up on it, being such a Gaiman fan. We will get up to Gaiman's run eventually. I haven't looked at those stories in some time, so I wonder what my reaction will be.

Back to summarizing! I want to finish my summaries on "Red King Syndrome" before picking up "Olympus."

CONTINUING BOOK TWO: THE RED KING SYNDROME

CHAPTER TWO

SUMMARY: While in the woods one day, Miracleman encounters 9-year-old Jason Oakey. Jason looks Miracleman up and down and asks if he is a superhero. Miracleman supposes he is one and introduces himself. After Jason snickers at Miracleman’s “tinkerbell” effect, Miracleman demonstrates his strength by pulverizing a large stone in one punch. Taken aback, Jason asks, “Could you save the world, or at least me and my mates, if they had a nuclear war?” The reply: “I wouldn’t like to promise … but I’d do by best.” Satisfied, Jason shakes Miracleman’s hand and they part ways. Upon returning home, Miracleman can’t wait to tell Liz about what happened. But their apartment has been ransacked. And Liz is gone.

COMMENTS: I was ready to return to the two-part recaps I did for “A Dream of Flying,” but I thought this chapter would generate enough discussion on its own. Even though it’s almost a throwaway story to separate the violent moments in Book One from the violence to come, it seems to resonate with many readers. Neil Gaiman even revisits this story in “The Golden Age.” It reminds me of “This Man … This Monster.” Despite all the incredible adventure tales that Lee and Kirby told before and after on Fantastic Four, many people single out issue 51 in their minds, a one-off story at about the midway point of their collaboration about a man who impersonates the Thing. Similarly, this story is at about the halfway point of Moore’s run and stands out as being a little different yet very memorable. Finally, go back and reread the exchange between Jason and Miracleman from my summary. At this point, Moore knew exactly where the story was headed.

I read The Golden Age long after reading the first 3 books, so hadn't realised Gaiman had revisited one of Moore's characters like that. I look forward to it.

I hadn't realised before this reading that Miracleman is seriously unfocused as a superhero. All that power and no idea what to do with it. His reasons for setting up the Utopia aren't the clearest after his final battle with Johnny Bates, so perhaps this half-hearted promise is in there too. Liz gets lifted after Miracleman swears that he will protect her, after all, so he's starting to think about his obligations.

Moore's a killer plotter though. This episode really lulled me into a false sense of security, that things were settling down for Miracleman, then the ending...

Again with the worry over the threat of nuclear armageddon. Like Watchmen.
I was away from the board for a couple of days and I took advantage of that “downtime” to catch myself up on Miracleman Books One and Two. It’s difficult for me to choose my favorite among Alan Moore’s works, but I think Miracleman may well be it. “A Dream of Flying” is Moore’s realistic treatment of the role of the superhero but only hints at the direction the story is to take. “The Red King Syndrome” is, in terms of both narrative and art, very much a transition story, an utterly fascinating and absolutely necessary transition story, but a transition story nonetheless.

Choosing a favorite among Moore’s works is, for me, a little like choosing between Star Trek and Star Wars: I have to break them up. For example, I like the Star Wars movies far more than I do the Star Trek movies, but I like the Star Trek TV shows more than the Star Wars movies. Similarly (and without getting too far ahead of the discussion), it is “Olympus” that stands head and shoulders above, say Swamp Thing or Watchmen in my estimation, although I might prefer those works to Miracleman Books One and Two.

Jason Oakey, BTW, returns not only in Neil Gaiman’s “The Golden Age” but also appears in Eclipse’s [i]Total Eclipse[/i] crossover series.

Again with the worry over the threat of nuclear armageddon. Like Watchmen.

The worry of nuclear armageddon seems common in early 1980s literature, not just in Alan Moore's works. In retrospect. it's what dates stories such as Miracleman and Watchmen the most.

“The Red King Syndrome” is, in terms of both narrative and art, very much a transition story, an utterly fascinating and absolutely necessary transition story, but a transition story nonetheless.

Right on the money. I do like it because it delivers on the promise of Book One. But it suffers in other areas, such as the transition from British to American publication, and the many artist changes in later chapters.

the_original_b_dog said:

Again with the worry over the threat of nuclear armageddon. Like Watchmen.

The worry of nuclear armageddon seems common in early 1980s literature, not just in Alan Moore's works. In retrospect. it's what dates stories such as Miracleman and Watchmen the most.


Lets hope it STAYS dated, if you know what I mean...


“The Red King Syndrome” is, in terms of both narrative and art, very much a transition story, an utterly fascinating and absolutely necessary transition story, but a transition story nonetheless.

Right on the money. I do like it because it delivers on the promise of Book One. But it suffers in other areas, such as the transition from British to American publication, and the many artist changes in later chapters.


It is indeed a transition story, as the cards are all thrown in the air again and how they fall determines the last act. But surely any middle book (phase) of a trilogy is going to be a transition story?

Books 2-6 of Harry Potter are transition stories as events are moved forward from book one and not resolved properly until book 7?

Part of what makes Marvelman a masterpiece is that its a single, novel-style story with a b,m & e. (One of the reasons why a lot of people object to the idea of a sequel.)

Moore has said that, in contrast, Weisinger's Superman is great, but you have all these elements mish-mashed together. His planet blew up and he comes to Earth where he has great powers. That's the simple narrative. But then he has boyhood friends from the 30th Century, and a bunch of superhero buddies who all got their powers in different unlikely fashions, and his ex-girlfriend is a mermaid, and he's beset by an annoying magical genie from the 5th Dimension, and so on...

Marvelman takes the one idea - what if a real superhero arrived/was created in our world - and works it out to its conclusion.

Moore's plotting is MARVELous. Johnny Bates and Gargunza are both integral to Marvelman's own story 'spine', not thrown in to give him someone to fight.

The break between the UK and the US published sections was considerable and Moore grew so much as an artist in the meantime, that it is tempting to surmise that Moore eventually wrote a different ending to the one he'd originally planned. However, its good to see the little pointers in the early chapters that prefigure the eventual outcome.

I'd hate to have to pick my favourite Moore work. Watchmen, for one is probably too cold and 'Grimingritty'. Marvelman is up there, certainly. As a complete work, it seems almost faultless.

I'm often exasperated by fans who object to comic storylines on the basis that the characters aren't behaving well. "Tony Stark is such a jerk I can't read anything he's in", or "Hank Pym should get his head together".

It's not a criterium that we apply to other types of entertainment. The Goodfellas and the Godfather spring to mind.

Having said that... Marvelman is hard to love, isn't he? As B_dogg points out, he's reactive and unfocused to begin with and then he becomes a super-fascist (albeit a fairly benevolent one!) by the end.

Up to now, Marvelman has meant the most to me as a kind of mirror up to Superman himself. I'm sure it wasn't Moore's intention, but when you compare him to Marvelman, Kal-El is compassionate and driven by a sense of justice. He's understanding of our failings as humans, but optimistic that we can find our own way forward without him imposing anything on us. He's humble in knowing that the world is too complex for one person to impose their idea of perfection on it.

But maybe I'm getting ahead of the discussion...

I haven't reread it in some time, but perhaps Swamp Thing might still be my favourite work by Moore. It's wonderfully sustained and complete and yet integrated into the DCU and its history, which is a hard juggling act to pull off.

Up to now, Marvelman has meant the most to me as a kind of mirror up to Superman himself. I'm sure it wasn't Moore's intention, but when you compare him to Marvelman, Kal-El is compassionate and driven by a sense of justice. He's understanding of our failings as humans, but optimistic that we can find our own way forward without him imposing anything on us. He's humble in knowing that the world is too complex for one person to impose their idea of perfection on it.

As Moore showed with Supreme, just because you have an all-powerful being doesn't mean he has to take over the world. It's just what Miracleman did. I think too many people looked at this story and saw it as definitive. It's a great story, and one that's excellently told, but as Moore proved with his later work, there are other paths.

Having said what I did about Superman, I'd have to admit Kal-El is very much a fantasy. No-one could be as fine as him. Certainly not someone with so much power from a young age.

Sadly, I suspect that Marvelman is more realistic. On one level he just does what he has to to protect himself and his loved ones. He just happens to have the power to take it to a whole new level.

There are other paths if you are going to tell superhero stories, but the actions of all those with power in this story (including Marvelman) ring true to me.

I guess I'm a pessimist bad mood

If we had to reduce the theme of this series into one word, perhaps 'power' would be the word. Britain develops Marvelman to combat the world-shaking nuclear power of other nations, Gargunza's intellect and unshared knowledge is his power, we are currently experiencing the limits of Marvelman's power, and ahead of us...

CONTINUING BOOK TWO: THE RED KING SYNDROME

INTERLUDE

SUMMARY: (In my edition, this is printed between chapters 3 and 4) We are back in 1961, and Gargunza is trying to keep the Miracleman family from waking. He introduces Hypnos, Deacon of Delirium into the scenario, but it only makes Miracleman angrier. He lunges at Hypnos and pulls off his mask, revealing Gargunza underneath, and he realizes that Gargunza has been responsible for their strange dream-like world all along. (Uh-oh.) “Give me the answers, Gargunza!” Miracleman yells. “Give me the answers or I’ll kill you!” In a fit of desperation, the real Gargunza narrates into the dream program, “And then the Miracleman family woke up … and it had all been a dream.” It works, and the Miracleman family goes on to other adventures. The crisis has been averted … for now.

CHAPTERS 3 AND 4

SUMMARY: After Liz’s disappearance, Miracleman calls in Cream and they attempt to learn who kidnapped her. Cream makes two calls and rules out Bates, who is still in the hospital and nonresponsive, and Archer, who, once threatened, reveals it only could have been Zarathustra’s mastermind, Dr. Gargunza. Cream learns Gargunza is in Paraguay, and they make arrangements to fly there. Miracleman gets civilian clothes, not wanting to involve Moran. “Sometimes,” Cream thinks, “I almost understand him.” Elsewhere, Gargunza introduces himself to Liz and immediately takes an interest in her unborn child. Liz remains oddly calm as Gargunza orders doctors to conduct an ultrasound. (“It’s a girl,” says Gargunza. “I know,” says Liz.) But he is taken aback when, during further testing, the child opens her eyes and stares straight into the camera, right at Gargunza.

COMMENTS: In the interlude, we get another tantalizing peek at the Zarathustra days and start to learn Gargunza’s motivation for creating the Miracleman family. In narration, it says his desire is to live forever, and creating superhumans is a step toward that. But the superhumans were so powerful that he had no choice but to keep them locked away in a dream world. In Chapters 3 and 4, there’s a lot of emotion packed in that gets lost in my summary; for example, seeing Miracleman (not Mike, but Miracleman) frightened at the prospect of Bates with his wife, and seeing Archer’s desperation after falling for Cream’s bluff that he’ll have Miracleman level England’s cities one by one if Liz isn’t released. Yet, there’s also Liz’s eerie calmness and Gargunza’s unexpected interest in her child. The mystery is really deepening.

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