Comics Review: Miracleman: The Making of and the Human in a Superhero Utopia

There have been a lot of articles and discussion on this matter. J.C. Maçek III gives a very in-depth background into the history of the creative and legal controversies behind Marvel/Miracleman and his comics, while Julian Darius talks about why Miracleman Matters and how it is a prime example of the Comics Revisionism happening in the 80s. I kid neither myself nor you in that there is a lot more out there: more than the actual comic itself.

I find it amazing how much one superhero and his comic can complicate things. I personally think it is ridiculous and a crime against humanity that the Miracleman series has not been published in ages. In fact, it is patently ridiculous that it still isn’t out yet and it’s been this way for decades. The only way you can even get hard-copies nowadays is to find the single issues at certain comic book stories, or ebay, and be prepared to spend a lot of your hard-earned money: anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars. I really wish I was making this up. It is a bloody crime and I hope that any legal bullshit that still exists is rectified at least in my lifetime.

But I’m not here to rant about creative legalities. Rather, I want to talk about this series because I read it and I have a few thoughts on the matter that I really want to get out there. They will probably not be as detailed as those in the above links, but I will do my best as always.

Essentially, without giving much away, Miracleman is about a superhero that finds out–after years of forgetfulness caused by trauma–that he is a lot more than he appears to be: and I don’t mean that he realizes he is a superhero. That last is the least of it. Alan Moore revised this character from the hero’s comics Golden Age days when he was Marvelman and part of the Marvel Family: the latter of which he also revised too.

What can I really say without spoiling it on the off-chance that you might read it one day: or at least not spoiling it too much? Alan Moore takes the archetypal building blocks of this super-hero and to say he revises him and his world is an understatement. It is more like Moore rips into the spine and gives us a “behind the scenes” look at a two-dimensional plane to reveal a gritty, grandiose third-dimensional reality that blows your mind. The comics of Marvelman become a mask for a much larger world.

It is a story about a man who finds himself and does not realize what he has found. It is about a relationship that changes. It is about how a human being would really deal with super-heroism and what that is. It is about a former ally becoming your worst enemy, and showing the world just how horrifying a madman with super-powers truly is. It is about finding out that your old arch-nemesis is your creator and needing to surpass that. It is about Project Zarathustra, the Spookshow, comic books as mythology, and saving people’s lives for “their own good,” and the potential consequences thereof.

To say that Miracleman is a critique of the superhero is another awful understatement. All I can say is imagine Watchmen and what it does to the masked hero and his or her superhero successor, and then imagine a series that is somewhat “broken” (in the sense of it sometimes having gaps but also being insanely powerful) and goes an entirely different route from apocalypse and dystopia.

I was first re-introduced to Miracleman through an article I found in my own Master’s researches into mythic world-building called “What if the Apocalypse Never Happens: Evolutionary Narratives in Contemporary Comics” by Abraham Kawa in a volume entitled Comics and Culture: Analytical and Theoretical Approaches to Comics. Aside from it also talking about Alan Moore’s proposed “Twilight of the Heroes” which is a very fascinating concept in itself, it deals with how humanity would handle the world being saved after becoming so reconciled to its ending.

That is the challenge that Alan Moore leaves Neil Gaiman as he finished his run of the Miracleman series. Some people apparently this was really cruel of Moore. I mean: where do you go from such a seemingly close-ended conclusion? Where do you go from up? How does humanity deal with a utopia on Earth crafted with the best of intentions? Just how does humanity survive perceived perfection?

And that was Neil’s creative challenge to answer. Darius, along with a few others, says that Neil Gaiman’s writing and concepts in his Miracleman run were not on par with Alan Moore’s. However, I disagree. I think that Neil was given an incredible challenge, but one that his mind worked with. Think about it: Alan Moore created a background and a world. He crafted and borrowed and mythologically re-adapted the main players. He set certain events in motion.

But what I think Neil did was that then he looked at the other half of the equation as it were. In his Miracleman: Golden Age run, Neil looks at how ordinary people like you or I would interact with this utopia that Moore left in his wake. They are still human beings and still have their strengths, their weaknesses, and their differences. It is still a physical world. Yet Neil also taps into that great mythological well and he plays with the form of the comic to an awesome degree. Miracleman # 20 was by far one of my favourite stories: reminiscent of Stardust and yet so different. It crafted to look like a children’s story, but it is a children’s story about a very different kind of child and a very different reality where the stars are dangerous but also wonderful. He tells a grown-up and a child’s story. I think it was one of his best works and it is a damned shame that it is not accessible. As far as I am considered, that comic alone demonstrated what great mastery truly is.

Also, Issue 22–with the Carnival celebrating life and death, and the balloons in the sky– actually made me cry because it was that fucking beautiful, and I use my profanity here for tremendous emphasis. Some of the earlier issues were a little awkward, but they definitely hit their stride and there is a lot of innovation but always that human element. Even Darius mentions in the above article that there is some considerable nuance in Neil’s Miracleman stories. Alan Moore can obviously utilize the human element, but he tends to be more grandiose and ideological I find: while Neil always finds the mystery and the human and he shows you that the story never ends where you think it will.

And he could have ended Miracleman after The Golden Age, but he went on to a Silver Age that … never ended because it was unfortunately never continued. Miracleman is almost a lost, and incomplete masterpiece made by two mythopoeic genii. It makes me sad to think about it, but I’m glad I did manage to read this and I feel so much better as a reader and writer for it.

I would give Miracleman five out of five. It may be broken. It may have its issues and some plot gaps, and some copyright issues by having visual references to both Marvel and DC in it, but it was well worth reading and its worth as a story far outweighs its legend as the unfinished, ligated product that people still talk about and wait for. As for me, I earnestly look forward to the day when I can link to it here, and when I can buy copies for myself to hold in my own two hands.

Kimota, ladies and gentlemen.

The Onus of Creativity

First, let me again thank all of my new readers for reading as well as “Liking” my posts and “Following” my Blog. I very much appreciate it and it encourages me to keep writing on here: influencing me to believe I have things that are worth saying about what I do.

A question that writers almost always get asked at some point or another–so I’m told–is where do you get your inspiration from?

It’s a similar question to the infamous where do you get your ideas from, and I might get into that as this Blog entry unfolds a bit more. I can be a real smart-ass and say that I get my inspiration and my ideas from inside of the strange, convoluted thing that is my mind. I can even be literal and say that I get them from reading, from watching movies and television, from my time at school, from long walks talking to myself, and from basically experiencing life. I even say as much in this Blog: which was founded on those very principles.

There was a TED Lecture created by the writer Elizabeth Gilbert called On Genius in which she discusses the Western view of what an artist and a creator is. Specifically, Gilbert looks at the symbol of the tormented artist: of the person or “genius” who is the sole producer of all the art and knowledge and expression that comes to them. She contests the view that it is somehow “natural” for a creator to suffer from depression, alcoholism, to be genuinely unhappy a good portion of their lives.

Even though she tries to debunk this, there is something very … seductive about the idea. I mean, look at the very nature of a piece of literature for instance. There is no novel, or short story that doesn’t have a conflict of some kind inherent in the plot or the theme of the thing. Without conflict, there is no story. Not really. Utopias get very boring to talk about after a while, but we love to hear about how they go wrong. Just like nightmares can seem more compelling to write and read about than dreams. So if these traits existence in the makeup of fiction, why shouldn’t they be in the nature of its creators?

Sometimes unhappiness, or tremendous passions fuels a writer. And in some of my darker moments, I believe that true joy is finite, while unhappiness is limitless. Sometimes, I don’t even believe I’m wrong and it is no secret I tend to write about some dark, violent, and sad things. Imagine writing about a world around you that was perfect and always full of joy. Imagine just how hard that would be to hold anyone’s interest for longer than a few minutes. Neil Gaiman managed to do something like this in his run of Marvelman/Miracleman, but even then he had to bring human nature and its inherently conflictive nature towards a paradise that was imposed on it.

When I’m feeling really negative, I feel like my negativity is what makes my writing immensely powerful: hence my above statement. I also know it is not always the case. Passion and conflict are not necessarily inherently unhappy, but necessary things. If anything I’d venture to say that stasis is also a tremendous unhappiness because nothing grows in it. That can be a form of struggle itself for a writer: the struggle against stasis.

In her TED lecture, Gilbert attempts to look at how earlier cultures dealt with the concept of human genius. She talks about how the Greeks believed that each person occasionally meets a daimon–a spirit or muse–that gives them ideas outside of themselves. The Romans also adopted this notion and called this spirit a genius. It’s all a conceptual framework. If anything, I understand that one advantage to this paradigm is that it takes the personal onus or burden of creativity from inside the individual and places on something “outside” of them. Alan Moore, in his Voice of the Fire, even states that he placed the building of said novel on the town of Northampton which he was writing about in a mythological way.

I think that it is a question of cultural and personal attitude towards the creative process and your own life too. I know that I also have a responsibility to write and express myself, but my experiences and knowledge also informs that. Sometimes I do feel a strange energy in me when I write something. Even when I write something with personal emotion, it overlays a kind of calm as well as I feel myself “getting the job done.”

I will tell you now: I almost didn’t post this here because I thought it would potentially be too personal and I want to just make this about writing. At the same time, my writing is powered by my emotions and experiences. It is a dichotomy I have to navigate a lot.

I’d like to finish off this post by quoting from the last eight lines of Gwendolyn MacEwen’s “Dark Pines Under Water,” in which she states:

Explorer, you tell yourself, this is not what you came for
Although it is good here, and green;
You had meant to move with a kind of largeness,
You had planned a heavy grace, an anguished dream.

But the dark pines of your mind dip deeper
And you are sinking, sinking, sleeper
In an elementary world;
There is something down there and you want it told.

Despite what happened to Gwendolyn in her own life, and towards the end of her life these wise words are a gentle admonition to remember and I have to remember them everyday. If you haven’t, you should definitely check out Gilbert’s TED Lecture and the other TED Creativity Lectures as well. I hope that you can all find what suits and works for you as well.