Ah, Miracleman. The comic it’s okay to admit you downloaded, at least for as long as the messy rights issues persist in preventing a proper re-release of the now-scarce trade paperbacks. In fact, considering the fact that the character of Marvelman (although yes, I’ll be calling the comic Miracleman throughout this piece – sorry, purists, but that’s how I encountered him, and for reasons I’ll come to, it feels more right to me) was originally a thinly-veiled ripoff of a character that was himself a thinly-veiled ripoff of a different character; and that the subsequent use by Moore in Warrior that defined him as an iconic figure has, in later years, been almost conclusively proven to have been carried out by people who didn’t have the rights to do so; and finally that the rights to the character are currently held by a company who had previously spent years legally opposing its publication and who don’t actually yet own the rights to the interpretation that everyone wants to see printed; considering all of that, reading the series in illegally-downloaded form almost feels like the most appropriate way to do so.
As it happens, mind, I actually first read it entirely legally, with copies loaned from a library in Liverpool about five or six years ago. But their set of trades was incomplete – not least because the entire series hasn’t actually been collected, due to the book’s publisher folding only two issues into the Silver Age storyline – and so a short while afterwards Miracleman became what I suspect is probably the first comic I ever, shhh, downloaded (I also have Flex Mentallo in .CBR form, and that’s all you’re getting out of me).
At the time that I read it, it seemed a vitally important series to finally get around to reading – and had a profound impact on me, as I considered it possibly even a better treatment of the superhero myth than Watchmen had been. In later years, however, that impact has dimmed – nowadays I’d place Moore’s run, in his own canon, below Watchmen, V, LOEG and even the likes of Top Ten and Halo Jones. That’s not to say there’s not still a lot that’s appealing – and at times staggeringly good – about his run. But it does stumble about all over the place somewhat, particularly in the early part – and the second volume, while containing some strong ideas (the Red King flashback/dream sequence is inspired – indeed, perhaps the best element of the Moore run is the brilliant lifting and repurposing of the original Marvelman’s world, in a manner that upset plenty of purists but is to me the perfect example of a good retcon), is badly compromised by the utterly dreadful Chuck Beckum/Austen artwork at the (jarringly mid-storyline) point the publication moves over to Eclipse in the US. Things are markedly improved in the third volume, though, largely down to the astounding work of John Totleben – and, of course, issue #15 is a masterpiece of unrelentingly grim despair and carnage (never, ever has the likely effect of a “super” battle been portrayed in such a devastatingly realistic fashion).
But actually, if anything, I think Miracleman actually gets a bit stronger when Alan Moore leaves and Neil Gaiman takes over. The six Golden Age issues are an oddly brilliant collection of divergent musings on the sort of themes of myth, story and legend that Gaiman would explore to a fuller extent in Sandman, and offer an opportunity for Mark Buckingham to superbly express an array of artistic styles from issue to issue. Not only that, but they actually quite successfully meet the challenge laid down by Moore (and that Moore himself didn’t feel he could take on) – just how do you tell convincing stories about a superhero in a world that that superhero has turned into a totalitarian utopia?
Sadly, we didn’t get to see the full extent of Gaiman’s answer – The Golden Age is quite deliberately an exploration of the world that Moore had left behind, making us wait until the frustratingly incomplete Silver Age to see the plot actually move on. Nevertheless, there’s some great material in The Golden Age – the Evelyn Cream-starring Spy Story (one of a handful of issues I do actually own, as it happens) and the Andy Warhol issue are particular standouts, and it’s because of the Gaiman run that Miracleman has always felt like the more appropriate name – after all, far more is made of the name than Moore ever did with the “Marvel” part, which makes me wonder just how odd it’ll look if Marvel (Comics) ever do get round to republishing it (and indeed finishing the story) with the name re-lettered to a form Gaiman had never actually written it as.
In a way, Miracleman/Marvelman is more worth reading for the experience of having read it than for its worth as a truly unmissable comic – it’s far from perfect, although it does contain many outstanding moments and ideas. But it’s undeniably a significant moment in comics history – as well as being an enlighteningly formative point in the development of two of its finest ever writers – and until the big lovely reprint edition that we all hope we’ll one day get shows up, reading it on a screen (or being lucky enough to borrow it) will have to do.