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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CONTINUING BOOK TWO: THE RED KING SYNDROME

CHAPTER 11

SUMMARY: Liz, given sedatives after Gargunza sicced Miracledog on Moran and Cream, hears a voice in her head: “Wake up. Wake up now. It’s time.” She’s in labor. Miracleman finds her and they have a relieved reunion. Liz insists on not delivering the baby at Gargunza’s stronghold. Miracleman loads her to get into an old troop transporter. He then picks up the truck and they fly off. Elsewhere, we are introduced to a Mysterious Couple. A man and woman, dressed all in black, who apparently can communicate telepathically and manipulate the minds of others. They’re on a mission to investigate five “cuckoos,” the first of which is Johnny Bates. They enter into Bates’ mind but find him nonresponsive and with no sign of Kid Miracleman anywhere. When they leave, Kid Miracleman reappears. “Now what they hell were they?” Liz cannot travel any farther, so Miracleman lands the truck and she begins delivering the baby. Miracleman becomes lost in his thoughts as he thinks about what Liz had told him about Gargunza’s history and what it means to his existence as he prepares to welcome his first child into the world. The baby is born to relieved and joyous parents. Moments later, she speaks her first word.

COMMENTS: The baby is born Oct. 29, 1982, according to the narration. This story was published, I believe, in 1986, so we can see how the delayed publication is getting us farther and farther away from the comic taking place in “real time.” Moore takes advantage of this in Book Three, as we’ll see, then Gaiman really takes advantage of it on his truncated run. I suppose I should mention the birth scene. In her introduction to the trade paperback I am using, editor Cat Yronwode called it “the single most controversial comic Eclipse has ever published.” (She also incorrectly described the baby as being Mike Moran’s. No, that would have made for a very different child.) Rick Veitch, who takes over the art for these last two chapters of Book Two, does a fine job illustrating the birth without sensationalizing it. The most realistic part might be how he captured Miracleman’s face as he held up his daughter for Liz to see. For a godlike being, he sure has one goofy grin!

The periodical release of this chapter in the U.S. marked John Totleben’s first involvement on the series, albeit on the cover only. Too bad the cover was marred by the “warning label” editor cat yronwode plastered on it. The editorial b-dog mentions above is an expanded version of her editorial comments from the tenth issue’s LOC column. She supplied artist Rick Veitch with A Child is Born, which illustrate the birth of a baby girl “in a remarkable series of photos in a wonderful book by photographer Lennart Nillsson.” By the time I read Miracleman #9 I was already familiar with A Child is Born, having seen it in a college health class. The photos (and the artwork) really are quite remarkable (although I blush to admit that at the time I thought using photographic reference was a “cheat”).

In the introduction to Book Two yronwode describes the controversy surrounding issue #9 as a "sh*tstorm,” but frankly, I think it’s a sh*tstorm she brought on herself. Eclipse had dealt with reproductive biology before (childbirth and menstrual cycles in Sabre), but by placing that warning label on the cover drew attention to the contents, which I have little doubt was her intention in the first place. In a later interview she stated. “To me the anger and disgust I felt in putting a cigarette type warning on this comic should have been seen as an obviously bitter joke. They thought I ‘had to put a warning label on it.’ They thought that Eclipse was forced to put a warning label on it. No, that was my anger at America, telling them, ‘You fools, you idiots, where did you think you came from?... C’mon, grow up!’”

I think she generated exactly the kind of “controversy” she hoped to, and I know she ruined an otherwise beautiful cover with that damned warning label.
See the cover here.

So you're saying the sh!tstorm was created by Cat Yronwode's own ... uh, I am now going to sloooowly back away from this analogy.

But I can't say I'm surprised. Yronwode did a respectable job garnering attention for her company. When I learned the news years later, I was surprised that of all the independent publishers to go bankrupt, it was hers that actually did.

As I said, there was nothing sensational about the story. The presentation reminded me of what you might see of a human birth in a film shown during a high school health class.
It's probably too obvious to mention, but there is the whole meta-commentary on superheroes comics, and society at large, in the series too.

So much of the story up to this point has been about the death and violence which seem so intrinsic to superhero comics. Moore is showing us what they would be like in a 'real' context. Almost every death up to now felt like a real person being snuffed out, not just a Geoff Johns Grand Guignol moment. (Although most of them were that too!)

Moore here is showing us the opposite - the 'Life Impulse' rather than the 'Death Impulse'. He tries to show it as it really is in all its grotesque and marvelous truth. That's one ugly little newborn, as most of us were!

I can see the point that yronwoode is getting at. The modern world is very comfortable presenting force, violence and death to a young audience. The recent Brave and the Bold cartoon is a witty masterpiece with lots of great characterisation and values in it, but its all about the violence. My 3 year old nephew has just got into superheroes*, but fighting and blasting and killing is already a big part of his play.

However, the logical end result of a loving married relationship is somehow taboo? I'd agree with Moore and yronwoode that society at the moment is far from healthily balanced in its approach to these things.

Regarding the artistry of the issue itself the birth felt very real, and I relived the birth of my own daughter 6 months ago while I was reading it. I too felt very strongly that this was the culmination of generations and a million small decisions to reach this point. It felt like I was in a tiny crux point in the vastness of history. Moore is better at describing it than me, obviously!

The climax of the 'superhero soap opera' element of Watchmen, where the Silk Spectre worked out who she was, had a similar message.

The flashbacks during the birth in this episode of Miracleman to the events that had led up to it seemed to swing from birth to death and back again like a metronome. Mike's mother dying, him being reborn as Miracleman etc.

Its another example of the kind of (formal) approach subsequent writers didn't take from Moore, whereas the cynicism and brutality that he was commenting on became central to comics since this series was published.

*I didn't get him into them, by the way. I think superheroes are a very potent brew for young minds to be exposed to. Its a world you can get lost in!

We've been having great discussions here. I love reading these posts.

Onward!

 

CONCLUDING BOOK TWO: THE RED KING SYNDROME

CHAPTER 12

SUMMARY: As in the first chapter, we check up on all the major players in the last. The Mysterious Couple interfaces something called Underspace, where the change bodies of the Miracleman family are stored. But we see an infinite number of other bodies there, too! Before departing, they take note of a human female. Miracleman and Liz have returned to England, where she is concerned about their baby’s strange behavior. She doesn’t cry and she eats constantly. Liz insists on having a moment with Mike, but upon changing, he passes out from shock from his earlier wounds. Johnny Bates, fed up with Kid Miracleman heckling him in his mind, breaks his silence in the real world and asks to be moved in with other children. Kid Miracleman is outraged at first, but then he smiles. After cleaning up, Mike talks to a frazzled Liz. In the middle of their talk, her attitude suddenly changes. She’s much more positive, and she announces that the baby’s name is Winter. Later, she feeds the baby solids for the first time, even though she’s only a week old. When Mike checks on her, he finds that Winter has teeth, too. The Mysterious Couple visits the office of a Dr. McCarthy, but they inexplicably address her as Dr. Lear. When the secretary phones the doctor, there is a loud explosion in her office and a hole in the wall; the doctor is out. Finally, the couple visits Gargunza’s stronghold in South America, finding the dog’s carcass. They decide it’s time to meet Mike Moran.

COMMENTS: Moore wastes no time introducing Miracleman’s next challenge now that Gargunza is disposed of. Just as we ended Book One, the new challenge is shrouded in mystery. And I have no idea whether Mike knew that one-week-old babies shouldn’t have teeth. On to Book Three!

I forgot to mention yesterday that I re-read Book Three over this past weekend. (I’d rather be a little bit ahead than a little bit behind.) I also recently completed “You Shall Die By Your Own Evil Creation” (the second and final collection of the complete works of Fletcher Hanks) and it strikes me that those stories are certainly bizarre enough to imagine in the place of the old “Marvel Man” comics Gargunza force fed to his test subjects. My appetite for stories of this nature still not sated (and too impatient to await Marvel’s as-yet-unsolicited rereleases), I next plan to move on to Shazam and Shazam Family Archives.

Moving on to chapter 12 (or “issue #10” as I think of it), I remember how big of a mystery “Rebbeck and Lear” had been back when these stories were first being released. This issue finally revealed who “Lear” was, but it had been a long wait for fans in the UK!

I never (or very seldom ever) read comic book scripts (when they’re published from time to time), and I think the reason is that Alan Moore spoiled me. The first full script treatment I ever remember reading was for the first few pages of issue #10, the scene in the park on the bench. His script was very much like reading a short story, with descriptions of details more to put the artist in the proper mind set to draw the scene than a description of the scene itself. It was that, but it was also so much more. It was almost as if the artist were adapting, not a script but a prose short story. I don’t remember where I read that; I thought it might have been from the LOC page of a later issue, but I haven’t run across it yet.
Wow, I'd love to read the descriptions of the bodies in Underspace. Many times I've stared at that panel, trying to figure out who everyone is, especially that human corpse in some sort of uniform.
I've wondered about that guy myself. Looks like some kind of cosmic postman?

BTW - what's an LOC page?
Letters of comment, I believe.

I just looked at the panel again and saw the man was wearing a hat reading "TMS." That mean anything in England, Figs?
Not anything that springs to mind.

T____ Mail Service perhaps? Titan? Thanagar?

I'll have a look at that page again when I get home.
It was one plot thread that Gaiman never revisited, at least in the issues that were published.

And to Jeff's earlier comment, I read ahead, too. It's the only way I can keep these summaries coming regularly. I'm finishing up Book Three tonight and will start reading Book Four tomorrow.
They could be in-jokes about some long-gone British comic characters.

British weekly comics used to be full of weird idiosyncratic little strips. Some of them involved schoolkids who were friendly with aliens and got involved in interplanetary adventures.

The Whizzers from Oz is one such strip that I can remember. Triggan Empire and Dan Dare are two other famous sci-fi strips that some of the characters could have come from.

It would be typical of Moore to depict one of these once loved children's characters degraded, zombified or blasted apart by some misadventure that they skirted around in the kids comic.

The combination of reading Marvelman, recently seeing the DVD extras about the making of the Watchmen comic and reading that blog about producing Alan Moore's first Swamp Thing comic really brings it home to me how Moore was working on a whole different level. What we might call the 'Total Comic' method*.

These vast wordy scripts were about bringing in the artist and making sure they were both telling the same story. Also notes for the letterers and colorists too. It's not that he's controlling everything they do, but ensuring that they feel valued and bring their absolute A game to the project and feel that they are equal collaborators.

I'm reading Essential Classic X-men Vol 3 these days too (around issue 40), and again and again the scripter has to give excuses in word balloons for information missing in the pictures. Most recently it showed Prof X's funeral with just the X-men attending, but even I knew looking at the picture that lots of other characters had been working closely with the Prof up to that point, and the artist just didn't know to put them in there. It was a few pages later that the dialogue explained away why various people couldn't make the funeral.

It's painful to read jarring disconnects like these.

It's all very well that the 'Marvel Method' turned comics into an assembly line and kept the creators disempowered - yay Marvel! - but it was also working against the actual storytelling most of the time.

The editorial staff of Watchmen on the DVD doco were very proud that they'd been part of this elevation of the artform, but I haven't seen much effort since to encourage the 'Total Comic' method as a means of producing comics that sell for decades and decades.

*I've stolen the term from the Dutch soccer teams philosophy of 'Total Football'.

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