(Very Lengthy) Thoughts from a First-Time Miracleman Reader
I posted this on the Miracleman subreddit a few days ago, and it was suggested by one user that I repost it here, so I am doing so!
Long-time Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman fan, first-time Miracleman reader here. I recently read through all the 1980s and 1990s material, as well as George Khoury’s excellent Kimota! and Pádraig Ó Méalóid’s Poisoned Chalice. I’ve long been fascinated by the behind-the-scenes history of the character, and it was about time I got around to actually reading it. I loved it even more than I thought I would. Such wonderful characterizations, such a cool and dense mythology. It’s almost impossible to choose a favorite artist on the series. I didn’t think anyone would top Garry Leach for me, but I think Totleben must be the best. What he and Moore inspired one another to create in Olympus is a masterwork. Buckingham is tough to even compare to the other guys because he’s such a chameleon, but The Golden Age is such a visual feast that he deserves a shout-out too.
Having said that, I have so many things about the series I want to talk about. Some of them are questions (albeit ones that I fear are unanswerable), some are nitpicky critiques / minor things that bugged me (I previously made a nitpicky post about the MM Family’s ages, so I won’t bring that up again). I hope that it isn’t bad form to drop such a wordy post, but things seem understandably pretty slow here and I hope maybe a few people will be interested in some discussion about something I mention below. I’m just so excited to talk about this series. I also hope the below doesn’t sound too critical, because as I said, I loved the comic, but certain things stood out precisely because Moore and Gaiman’s writing is typically so airtight. Anyway, here are some random points I jotted down while I was reading…
In “The Approaching Light”: Why on Earth do Miracleman and Evelyn Cream spend the night in a hotel sleeping and wait a full day before rescuing Liz? It seems like a completely unnecessary delay when she’s in potentially imminent danger, on top of the already dubious storytelling stall that Miracleman has to take a plane (!) to Paraguay because the wind-chill would freeze Cream if he flew (okay, that’s a nice realistic twist on the usual “superhero carrying a normal mortal human” cliché, but why does he even need Cream to come with him?).
In my opinion, that Book 2 period gets unfairly criticized for being “uneven” (even by Moore himself). Changes in artist aside, Book 2 is actually a more unified story overall than Book 1 (which is not to say that the writing is better than Book 1 necessarily, just that it holds together better as a “book”). That being said, there are some uncharacteristically dicey storytelling choices Moore makes. Why would Gargunza just sit around biding his time in Paraguay as he grows older and closer to death, hoping for the off-chance that Mike will someday remember his post-hypnotic keyword? Why not make an anonymous phone call or send a letter that just says “Kimota” to trigger Mike’s memory? Why does he give Mike and Cream a three-minute head-start from Miracledog? This is such a cliché comic book villain gimmick of the type that would make Adrian Veidt cringe. Why wouldn’t he just have the dog tear them apart then and there in the living room? Finally, Gargunza saying Miracledog’s post-hypnotic keyword “Steppenwolf” in front of Mike is such a bad plan. He essentially hands him the disarming mechanism.
Despite having read two wonderful books on the history of Miracleman replete with interviews with all the relevant parties, I still can’t find a single good explanation for why Marvelman stopped appearing in Warrior after #21. Moore exasperatingly keeps blaming his falling-out with Dez Skinn, and neither Khoury nor Ó Méalóid ever calls him out on the fact that this makes no sense since he continued submitting V for Vendetta scripts to Warrior for another five issues after Marvelman disappeared, up until the very end of the magazine (Skinn himself, slippery and self-serving as most of his quotes are, is the only one who actually points this out). It also makes no sense that Moore specifically traces the moment of no return to a censorship argument over a story that appeared in Warrior #7, when he kept submitting Marvelman scripts for another 14 issues after that! Skinn, and Khoury, convincingly argue that it was the Moore/Davis rift that killed the strip, but a quote from Davis in Poisoned Chalice indicates that they were still on decent terms several months later, with Moore and Jamie Delano visiting Davis’s house round the time Delano took over Captain Britain. Skinn himself has admitted that Marvel UK’s legal threats weren’t the real reason he stopped publishing Marvelman but were subterfuge for whatever else was going on (the first letter from Marvel is dated 9/21, whereas Marvelman’s final appearance in Warrior had been cover dated August, presumably on sale earlier than that). There just doesn’t seem to be any particularly good reason for the strip to disappear at that particular moment.
I have to say, and I guess this will probably be a so-called hot take, I don’t think Chuck Beckum’s art on the series is the worst. It’s competent, stiff and completely uninspired, but not bad—just not on the level of most of the other amazing series artists. Rick Veitch’s art on #9, however, is wildly uneven, and in my opinion way worse than Beckum’s in many spots. Some stuff is beautiful (much of the birth scene), but some is downright ugly. In particular, Liz’s face barely looks like a human face in a lot of panels (it really kills that two-page flying truck sequence, which should be beautiful, but every single drawing of her is just so sketchy and off-model it detracts from what should be the joy and wonder). It’s strange, because his work on the following issue is pretty consistently solid. This isn’t even down to the change in inker (although Ridgway is of course wonderful). If you compare the pencils for #9 and #10, the difference in quality is jarring. I wonder if he was rushed to get #9 out in a hurry due to the flood-related delay at Eclipse? (#10 notably was released five months after #9, so perhaps he took more time with it.)
I know I said I wouldn’t harp on the MM Family’s ages again, but…Miraclewoman’s backstory in “Aphrodite” says Miracledog was already around in the 1950s-60s, which would make him quite old in 1982, unless this was a different dog (a dog who looks quite a bit like Pluto can be seen in one panel when Gargunza shoots his assistant). Or I guess if he spent a good deal of those two decades in Miracledog form, Pluto would have aged less. Answered my own question there!
Again harping on Miraclewoman’s backstory in “Aphrodite,” isn’t it a little weird that the Spookshow confuses Young Nastyman’s body for Young Miracleman’s? YN is in a volcano in Iceland whereas YM was supposed to be quite a ways away over the North Sea when he encountered the bomb.
Did Young Nastyman not have a failsafe word? It seems odd that he wakes up and overpowers Gargunza, when Gargunza predicted this exact type of occurrence two years earlier and put a mechanism in place to prevent it in the others.
It’s somewhat surprising that Winter is the first super-offspring, given that Young Nastyman seems to go on quite the tear for a bit, Miraclewoman seem to have a pretty healthy sexual appetite, and Kid Miracleman was presumably doing heaven knows what for the better part of two decades. I guess KM probably killed all his conquests immediately after, though.
In “Hermes,” rather prophetically predicting our own 2020 reality, Miracleman says that due to screens allowing people to work from home, there are “no cities” as of 1987. But London still appears to be very densely populated, and we later see in Gaiman’s run (#24) that NYC is also still very much a thing.
In “Hermes,” the Qys Kingqueen says Earth is the first “new world in intelligent space” since the Qys and the Gulf World/Warpsmiths first met, yet one issue later, in “Pantheon,” Phon Mooda claims to have seen “a dozen” new worlds. Given that the two empires first met 11,000 Earth years ago (again, per “Hermes”), this presumably makes Phon Mooda quite old!
I have to say, I wasn’t thrilled with Liz’s characterization as it evolved throughout the series. She started out as a strong, witty, smart character, by far a stronger character than Mike: she is carrying them financially, and she is the one who investigates and figures out a lot about Miracleman’s powers (as Winter points out, Mike/Miracleman himself is surprisingly incurious about his own powers). Liz correctly guesses that he has a force field (whereas Miracleman incorrectly first thinks he has “tough skin” and Liz points out why this is absurd). She correctly guesses that the basis of his strength is his mind, and guesses not only that Miracleman’s body is separate from Mike’s but even manages to deduce the existence of underspace/infra-space! But as the story progresses, she goes through the rather unfortunate damsel in distress phase, then basically ceases to be an independent character at all as Winter manipulates her. I do like the closure and strength Moore gives her in that short final scene (Moore essentially allows her to voice the moral of the entire Olympus storyline), but it was sad to see her go from a fully fleshed-out character to almost a non-entity. Given that she was basically the main supporting character at the start of the strip, I would have liked to see her continue as a subplot in Gaiman’s run (just as Johnny Bates would periodically pop up for a page in Moore’s installments here and there), tracking her perspective on MM’s brave new world. There’s no reason she had to disappear from the story entirely just because she is no longer with Miracleman.
The only flaw in all of John Totleben’s incredible art for this series: during Mike’s “suicide,” he clearly has the two missing fingers that were bitten off by Miracledog (a shot of him climbing the mountain unfortunately puts his right hand, and the fingers at issue, into the very clear foreground).
As brilliant as “Nemesis” is, I do have some issues with it: it’s annoying, from both a plot and a character standpoint, that Phon Mooda disappears from the London battle without any explanation. One also has to wonder why one of the Warpsmiths doesn’t warp Kid Miracleman into the sun or some equally deadly environment—or at least to some star system far from civilization where he couldn’t do damage. Miracleman makes the (frankly silly) excuse that Aza Chorn keeps warping KM within London because he doesn’t know many locations on Earth, but in the Warpsmith solo stories, they seem to have the ability to warp across large distances of the universe in a moment. There doesn’t seem to be any basis for their warping being restricted to Earth. Finally—and I can’t take credit for this one, I saw it in a blog post comment—why wouldn’t Miracleman have tried yelling “Abraxas” to turn KM back to Johnny Bates? It’s possible that Gargunza gave each subject a different failsafe word, of course, but it would certainly be worth at least trying.
Based on what I’ve read online, this will probably also be an unpopular opinion, but...I’m fine with the censorship of the N-word. I hate to call out any particular person, but there was a message board post I read that seems to me to be emblematic of the sentiment I’ve seen expressed, and I present it in that spirit: “If I've opened a polybag to read a story about a naked black man imagining himself running naked through a Carribean mythological nightmare, or a massacred London full of assorted, dismembered body parts, I think I can handle the N-word.” I think the missing part of this equation is that, for a certain group of people, that particular word has a long, hurtful history, and can be highly triggering. They likely aren’t expecting to encounter it in a book like this, which doesn’t deal with race in any meaningful way, and quite frankly, I don’t think the word adds anything artistically. The Evelyn Cream monologues, with the weird fixation about voodoo and the jungle, are rather problematic to begin with IMO, and I don’t know that Kid Miracleman using a racial slur really contributes much of value to the story to justify using the term (I think we understand he’s evil by this point without using such potentially hurtful language). In contrast, I think the use of the word in Watchmen is much stronger from an artistic standpoint, as it depicts a poor black man using it ingratiatingly as a term of solidarity to a wealthy black man who believes he has moved beyond such labels. In Watchmen, it feels both natural and necessary to the moment/character arc, and therefore printing the word itself adds to the power of its use. In Miracleman, in both instances, it feels like a young Moore is trying to do something (with good intentions, I’m sure) that doesn’t really gel to justify the use of such divisive language, and so I’m fine with the censorship. (Now, we can discuss the hypocrisy of Marvel leaving the equally misguided use of the N-word uncensored in reprints of Chris Claremont’s run on X-Men, but that doesn’t mean they were wrong to censor it on Miracleman—just that they have an inconsistent editorial standard.) That being said, I am a tad upset that “f----t” (censorship my own) was changed to “fairy” in “Notes from the Underground.” Again, for me, it comes down to balancing how hurtful the word is against the value to the story. In this case, Gargunza going for the jugular in attacking Warhol’s sexuality was the entire emotional turning-point of the story (contrasting this with, say, Kid Miracleman calling Huey Moon the N-word when the two have no history whatsoever and there is no emotional resonance). Changing this to Gargunza calling him a “fairy” softens the blow so much, and really removes a lot of the punch. Context matters, and I feel that this was a moment that did justify using the hurtful language because it made a point, although I’m assuming Gaiman approved the change.
That scene of Miracleman and Miraclewoman having sex in the sky is horrifying, in terms of them just casually throwing their clothes off. She drops her stiletto shoes down over London! Those could kill someone!
Any theories on why Miracledog becomes much much smaller when Miracleman retrieves him from underspace to become “Fenris”? It seems to be the same body story-wise.
Any thoughts on why Miracleman in particular seems to become the figurehead Zeus/Abrahamic God figure in the pantheon? It seems Miraclewoman is equally qualified if not moreso (same for Winter, for that matter, although she probably can’t be bothered with petty human concerns). It seems a little sexist that she’s relegated to the role of “goddess of love” when she’s generally presented as more intelligent, sensitive, resourceful, and competent than MM.
I wonder, why did Buckingham revert to the older Garry Leach costume design for Miracleman, when Moore made the “evolving uniform” thing a plot point going all the way back to Warrior #4 (and Gaiman/Buckingham themselves eventually referenced this in #24 when they drop the “MM” logo altogether)? Did he just stylistically prefer the original Leach design, I guess? Bucky does finally draw the “evolved” version of the Olympus-era costume in #24 during the flashback to “Nemesis,” but even there he gets it wrong—MM correctly has the 1985-era collar (as seen in “The Yesterday Gambit” and “Nemesis”), but he also appears to have the more jagged “MM” chest logo he didn’t develop until ca. 1987.
Not sure how many people catch this, but in “Notes from the Underground,” Warhol references Divine hanging out with “Glenn.” This presumably references Divine’s “real” name, Glenn Milstead. Presumably, Mors cloned two bodies, in a neat parallel to Miracleman/Mike Moran and co.’s dual identities/bodies.
Any thoughts on the oblique Spaceman predictions in “Carnival” and “When Titans Clash!”? The one in “Carnival” keeps talking about “old friends from the future,” which seems not to bode well for what Young Miracleman’s return portends.
Are all the background characters in “Carnival” cameos/references, or are some just fun designs? I spotted someone dressed as a “rainbow ghost” (a Qys form Winter takes in “Winter’s Tale”), a guy dressed as Captain Britain, and of course, guys dressed as Wonder Woman, Spiderman, and Golden Age Flash. I’m assuming the big white thing with a lower-case “a” on its chest (in the same panel as the rainbow ghost) is a reference to something, but I’m having trouble placing it.
What’s the deal with the clock gears motif on all Dave McKean’s covers for The Golden Age? It reminds me of Dr. Manhattan, but it doesn’t seem to really have anything to do with The Golden Age storyline.
I found the final pages of the Apocrypha issues really funny, where they basically read as Gaiman (pretty accurately) criticizing what the other writers got wrong about Miracleman. I doubt that he meant it in a cruel way (by all accounts, he loved the idea of letting other writers play in his sandbox writing “imaginary” stories), but it does come across as a bit bitchy in a charming way. (I also have to quickly gripe that Fred Schiller’s story, “A Bright and Sunny Day,” makes no sense. The Apocrypha stories are generally silly and easy to ignore, but this one really gave me a headache. KM is able to speed up to the professor’s pace, but then when he leaves the professor for twelve minutes the professor inexplicably ages twelve years, and then KM spends 57 years with him but inexplicably doesn’t age even though the professor does?)
Gaiman generally does an excellent job of keeping track of Moore’s continuity and obviously has an encyclopedic of the earlier stories/issues. However, one weird thing I noticed. In the framing story for Apocrypha #1, Miracleman mocks the “Scrapbook” story because Miraclewoman calls MM “Mike” in the story—the implication being that he and MW no longer use their “human” names. However, in “Hermes,” Miraclewoman sort of gently teases MM for calling her “Miraclewoman,” and suggests it would be easier if he called her Avril. For the rest of Olympus, up to and including the “present day” 1987 stuff, they call each other “Mike” and “Avril.” It seems odd that Gaiman inexplicably flipped this.
Another small, nitpicky point: The comic books we see in the framing sequence for Apocrypha #3 have prices on the cover, and the envelope they were sent in has postage. This seems to be a continuity error, since Miracleman banished money very soon after making himself known to the public.
I know Bucky redid all the background paintings for the sky/fireworks display at the end of “Carnival,” leading to the final page being totally different between the Eclipse printing and the Marvel editions. He also almost completely redrew the bulk of “Retrieval,” which he had expressed unhappiness with in George Khoury’s book. He has also said that he was in the process of completely redrawing #23, #24 and the unpublished #25 for Marvel, to bring them in line with the new art style he has developed for The Silver Age (I’m very excited for this…the original #23 and #24 are kind of stiff and really not Bucky’s best work, and he has really grown as an artist since). I’m generally not a fan of this kind of revisionism (George Lucas removing Sebastian Shaw’s eyebrows, etc.), but for some reason I don’t so much mind Bucky improving on his old stuff (the new “fire” display is so much more beautiful). My question is, did Bucky (or any other artist) redraw any other old material, aside from the examples I already mentioned?
I have to imagine that the redrawn #23 will also remove all references to destroying the World Trade Center. The opening of #23 is rather odd, insofar as it’s the exact thing Moore was fighting against in “Nemesis” (big dumb superhero battle with massive property damage and no human casualties). I at first assumed NYC was now uninhabited (since Miracleman says in Olympus that there are no more cities), and had been converted into a superhero playground. But we then see in the very next issue that NYC is still very much populated. So is what we see in #23 a dummy version constructed as a training ground, or what?
The Kay we meet in The Silver Age (who wants to have sex with everyone) is presumably the same Kay Mist mentions in “Winter’s Tale” (she says Kay is the only Miraclebaby besides Winter who can warp, because she is “glonzo”).
Any thoughts on the wallpaper design in #24? It pops up throughout the issue, also appearing on both Jordan’s vest and the Spaceman’s clothes. Strange little motif.
What is the general consensus on whether or not Young Miracleman is actually in love with Miracleman? Is he closeted and in denial, or is Miraclewoman wrong? Or (given that she’s generally portrayed as nigh-infallible, especially when it comes to matters of the heart) is it possible that she deliberately lied to Miracleman for some reason? The end of that issue is rather ominous. Why does Miracleman tell her they need to talk? Note that he calls her “Avril” here, for the only time in the Gaiman issues, like a person calling their spouse by their full given name when angry.
Dez Skinn generally comes across as a slippery bloke with a selective memory, but his description of Grant Morrison’s story in George Khoury’s Kimota! is particularly infuriating: “a discussion between Kid Marvelman and a Catholic priest, and it was quite fascinating because Kid Marvelman argued a very good case against organized religion. Nobody was flying, no beams from anybody’s eyes, but a bloody clever script…” I like some of Morrison’s stuff and I’d been excited to get to that story for awhile based off of Skinn’s description. Imagine my disappointment when the story was LITERALLY the exact opposite of what Skinn described! What the hell, Dez.
A few more random thoughts: I also reread V for Vendetta alongside Miracleman, and it was interesting to track some parallels that popped up in the evolution of the two stories. For instance, in Warrior #11, both Marvelman and V conclude their “Book 1” with a story that reveals the source of their powers comes from secret government experiments. Also, this is probably common knowledge, but an interesting piece of trivia: It’s a regular source of debate who might have built the Fate computer in V for Vendetta, with many theorizing it might have been V (I personally don’t subscribe to this). The only truly definitive answer is in Moore’s “Quality Universe” timeline, which reveals that Gargunza in fact built it! I’m assuming Moore scrapped this “head canon” as the V story progressed (for one, the computer in the finished story seems to have been built much later than the 1960s), but fun piece of trivia.
Does anyone have any idea what is happening in the Miracleman: Triumphant pages that cropped up online? I know the story involved Miracleman going to see a fortune teller, and it appears from the illustrations (sadly with no dialogue written in) that this gimmick rather unsurprisingly becomes a framing story for something (an imaginary tale? The future?). The main story seems to show a dark-haired woman (Liz?) yelling at Miraclewoman, Gargunza and the Warhols (!) seemingly leading some sort of uprising in Olympus along with Miracledog (and possibly aligned with Winter and the Miraclebabies?), and maybe-Liz knocking Gargunza unconscious with one of the Warhols’ oversized Campbell’s soup cans (groan). The art by Mike Deodato is slick, nothing incredible but certainly easy on the eyes; the credited writer Fred Burke seems to have done very little in the industry (he edited the Total Eclipse crossover, which doesn’t bode well). Overall, I hate to pass judgment without being able to read the full thing, but what is available looks pretty dumb, and it’s probably for the best that this never saw the light of day.
submitted by Mister_reindeer