The word “legendary” is thrown around far too often in the comic book community and popular culture in general, but Alan Moore’s 1982 run on Mick Anglo’s Marvelman (known as Miracleman in the U.S for copyright reasons) seems to be one of the few comics that deserves the adjective. Those who have read the run in its entirety often refer to it as one of Moore’s strongest works, right up there with Watchmen, which is to say that it is one of the greatest comics of all time. It’s also one of the most sought-after comics, as decades of legal battles kept the book in publishing limbo until Marvel comics bought the rights a few years ago. Finally, the entire series is being reprinted, starting with Miracleman #1. Is it good?
Miracleman #1 (Marvel Comics)
It should be noted that Alan Moore’s name does not actually appear anywhere in this comic. The famously anti-mainstream-publishing author requested not to have his name attached to Marvel Comics, and is instead not-so-mysteriously listed as “The Original Writer.” I’m a huge fan of Moore’s work, and for the most part I’ve been sympathetic to his grievances against mainstream publishers for the ways they have treated him, but I’m also too much of a Moore fan to hold out on actually reading Miracleman. Besides, even if The Original Writer and artist Gary Leach are the headliners, the bulk of Miracleman #1’s 60-some pages are dedicated to writer/artist Mick Anglo, the creator of Marvelman.
The issue begins with a prologue plotted by Mick Anglo, but scripted by Moore with art by Don Lawrence. It introduces readers to the characters and general concepts of Anglo’s original run—basically, the U.K’s answer to Captain Marvel—while looking and feeling just like a late-period Golden Age or early Silver Age superhero comic. Moore does his best impression of the writers of that era, while Lawrence lovingly recreates the art of “1956” replete with heavy screen tones and relatively static pre-Kirby action.
The story then transitions (through a brilliant sequence that I can only describe as “Moore-esque”) into the future of 1982. Mike Moran was once the child that, through the power of a single, magical utterance (again, think Billy Batson and “Shazam!”), could turn into the Superman-like hero called Miracleman. Now, he’s a married, middle-aged writer that has forgotten childhood heroics and word of power, haunted by dreams of his past. But when terrorists threaten his life, he suddenly remembers the word, and once again becomes Miracleman.
In a lot of ways, it’s an early example of the now common (to the point of being rather trite much of the time) practice of a “gritty reboot.” Alan Moore takes a once-innocent character and recontextualizes him within a more plausible setting, reinforced by Gary Leach’s realistic, yet moody artwork; think Brent Anderson with some touches of Stephen Bissette as inked by John Totleben. The story itself spends too much time setting up the pieces for the larger story to really blow me away, but I’m excited to see where Moore goes from here.
After Moore and Leach’s main event, a brief essay by Mike Conroy about the history of Mick Anglo’s Marvelman, and some quotes from Anglo’s 2010 meeting with Marvel chief creative officer Joe Quesada, we’re treated to some selections from Anglo’s original Marvelman run.
Unfortunately, these selections are disappointing if read simply as comics and not historical artifact. The visuals are decent, with clean, Herge-like lines with some occasionally more realistic flourishes, but the writing is a mess. Even when Anglo doesn’t misuse or outright forget punctuation (which happens more than once on each page), his dialogue and narration is so clumsy that I had to wonder whether Anglo is actually a native English speaker. Even by the standards of old superhero comics, this is a chore to read.
Still, those interested in Marvelman’s historical significance get exactly what they asked for. I can’t speak for those who have read the series during its original publication, but it does appear that this comic has been lovingly, painstakingly reproduced, even with the controversy surrounding Steve Oliff’s recoloring and, to a lesser degree, Chris Eliopoulos’s lettering, both of who do top-notch, yet restrained work.
Is It Good?
Miracleman #1 is not Alan Moore’s most impressive work, and Mick Anglo’s original Marvelman comics have not aged as well as one would hope. Nonetheless, the artwork is strong throughout, and there is plenty of reason to believe that this series will eventually become the tour de force that we’ve been told it is.