Thursday, January 15, 2009

Miracleman by Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman

Although Alan Moore is best known for his work on Watchmen, he had already spent several years as a comics visionary by the time he wrote it. Moore's stories, even pre-Watchmen, used superhero tropes and cliches to tell mature, adult stories, full of literary references and philosophical under(and over)tones.

Miracleman can, in some ways, be seen as a parallel to Watchmen, in that it takes several of the same concepts but extrapolates them in a different direction. The responsibilities of being a godlike being, the superhuman as an object of terror rather than redemption, and whether superheroes should be seen as good or evil all pop up in Miracleman as in Watchmen.

Miracleman was Moore's reinvention of a comic from his youth, Marvelman. Due to issues with a certain comic book company, the name of the book was changed to Miracleman before making it over to the States. The story begins with a reprint of the original Miracleman series, featuring Miracleman himself, Young Miracleman, a younger version of Miracleman, and Kid Miracleman, an even younger doppelganger. Together they defeat some rather silly alien invaders in a rather silly way. While the Miracleman family is celebrating, the reader is treated to a quote from Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Then things get really weird.

Mike Moran, Miracleman's alter ego, wakes up in 1983, having forgotten all about his previous life as Miracleman. He's a married, freelance reporter suffering from migraines, hounded by memories he can't quite bring into focus. During a terrorist attack at the opening of nuclear power plant, Moran turns, almost accidentally, into Miracleman. From that point on, the series becomes an exploration of mortality vs immortality, humanity vs godhood, and free will vs predetermination. It's heady stuff, sometimes too heady, but always surprising and entertaining.

Moore doesn't shy away from the sillier aspects of Mircleman's past, dealing with the Miracleman Family and their crazy adventures in a novel way. The reactions of Miracleman himself and of the rest of the family (once they're re-introduced) seem realistic, particularly Liz Moran, Miracleman's painfully human wife. I hesitate to say too much about the storyline because Chris is reading it and I don't want to spoil anything.

If I have any complaints about Miracleman, it's the way it ends. Alan Moore handpicked Neil Gaiman, of Sandman fame, to finish the storyline. Unfortunately, Eclipse comics went bankrupt 6 issues into Neil Gaiman's intended 12-issue run, and the rights to the character have been tied up in litigation ever since. I don't know if we'll ever see the end of Miracleman, but regardless, it's worth a read. A thought-provoking, mature comic book that work because of the format, not in spite of it.


Jim said...

If you like Gaiman's writing, check out his short story "Snow, Glass, Apples." You can probably find it somewhere on the internets.

Nihil Novum said...

Is that the retelling of Snow White? I will check it out. The only other thing I've read of his is Anasazi Boys, but I've just started Sandman which is fantastic so far.

Jim said...

Yeah its the snow white one, its not necessarily as good when you know what it is going into it, but its still so well written.

I've wanted to get into the whole Sandman series. Whats the first title?

Nihil Novum said...

The first series is Nightmares and Preludes. The first book of the first series is Sleep of the Just. I'm only on book 3 of the first series, but I'm already pretty sure it's something great.

Brooke said...

I secretly love Neil Gaiman. He is the only good thing that came out of my geek ex-boyfriend dragging me to the Dragon's Den to bum around while he pounded out "chain metal" in the back of the store with a bunch of other weird gamer kids so they could go dressed in full costume as knights for the store owner's wedding.


Carlton Farmer said...

I just read Brooke's comment. God.