Miracleman Returns January 2014!

Miracleman Returns Jan 2014

It was in 1994 that the last official issue of Miracleman–a superhero series creatively revised by Alan Moore in 1982 and continued on by Neil Gaiman–hit the stands. The series was not yet finished but by the time issue #24 came out its publisher, Eclipse Comics, had become defunct. There were many attempts to resurrect this series about a superhero that discovers the unpleasant grittiness of his existence and eventually uses his power to rule the world, but there were many convoluted, legal complications that not only kept new issues from being created, but also prevented the rest of the series from being reprinted as well.

It is only now, nineteen years later, that Marvel Comics has announced at the 2013 New York Comic Con that starting January 2014 it will be republishing Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman’s run of the series and publishing all new Miracleman stories by Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham. According to Editor In Chief Axel Alonso, Marvel Comics and its Special Projects Team has been in the process of obtaining the original or the photo-static copies of the artwork as well restoring them to a quality of detail that is up to par with the standard of the Marvel Masterworks line. It is a truly fascinating bit of news especially when you consider that Neil Gaiman, who was given the reins to the comic after Alan Moore left it in a dubious utopia, last worked on it as a young writer and is now back into it as an experienced and best-selling author and storyteller. It is tempting to say that this journey from creation to legal controversy has come full circle for both Neil Gaiman and artist Mark Buckingham, who has since become known for his art work in Bill Willingham’s Fables series.

Above is a video posted by Bleeding Cool of Neil Gaiman talking about his love for Miracleman, Marvel’s republishing of it, and his own work in finishing what was given to him. To all the fans, old and new, I would like to leave you with this article by Julian Darius of Sequart called Why Miracleman Matters. Finally, the years of Miracleman‘s Silence will be broken once again by one word.

Kimota.

Miracleman Ascendant

Faster Than A Speeding Bullet? I Sure Hope Not

And now for something light-hearted, odd and potentially NSFW.

So there is this old idea that has been floating around about superheroes and their strength. To not be too crude about it, for the moment I’m just going to phrase it as the fact that some people have chosen to believe that a superhero’s strength comes into play whether they are using consciously or not. In other words, a superhero’s power manifests as not only voluntary action but also an involuntary reaction.

Some of the most cited heroes–whose powers apparently are always manifested regardless of their intention–is Superman and She-Hulk. I am sure we can also bring in some X-Men too to make it more interesting and, often with them, it is a case by case situation depending on the exact nature of their mutation. This is also similar for such heroes as the Fantastic Four: and no, I have not forgotten about The Thing either. But for the sake of making this discussion clearer, I want to look at the first two heroes that I mentioned.

Both She-Hulk and Superman are known for their strength and, at the same time, for their intelligence. They know or have learned how to hold back on most of their strength to deal with an inherently fragile world around them. The fact that Jennifer Walters became She-Hulk through a gamma-radiated blood transfusion with her cousin Bruce Banner and Superman gains his power through being exposed to Earth’s yellow sun does not change these matters too much.

However, there are memes that go around stating that these two heroes can’t really interact with other human beings in an intimate way because of their inherent natures. To be more blunt about it, basically their bodily functions would crush or kill another “lesser” human being. I mean, that is a fair enough interpretation. Indeed, Garth Ennis does not shy away from this in his comic The Pro. But I have my own disagreements on this matter. Now, just to warn you, I am not going to go into comics specific examples or name a comics issue or anything of that kind. Instead, I am going to do something even more controversial.

I am going to use common sense on superheroes.

So let’s put the Kryptonian Kamasutra jokes aside for now and get to it. First of all, Superman and She-Hulk have been portrayed having quite a few relationships in the course of their comics existences: and not only with other super-powered or alien individuals. While, as far as I know it is never stated what happens with these other people, I am going to assume that the usual things happen in their relationships with other humans that happen in relationships: you know, except for needing to save the world occasionally or defending someone against a marauding villain or a nearby apocalypse. In fact, their relationships tend to end because of the same reasons any would: needs change and people move on.

But here is the thing. Let us put aside speculations about their private intimate lives for a few moments and look at another common sensical element which their comics may or may not address.

You see the thing, and not The Thing, is both Superman and She-Hulk eat. They eat and, as a result of such, I assume they use the facilities. Now, if we go by the theory that their involuntary actions or reactions have the same strength as their voluntary ones–or more so–well, the world would ended many, many times over by now. Or if Superman even breathed wrong or burped. I know you can explain these away by stating that Superman doesn’t eat as much or uses solar energy stored in his cells, but it has been stated that he is a vegetarian and unless he absorbs nutrients very differently than humans I assume that Kryptonians–being only different due to their technology and the yellow light of the sun–are much like human beings and function as such.

And She-Hulk herself, aside from her strength, seems to function as a normal human being: if there is any such thing.

Also, with regards to Superman, let’s take something else into account. He was raised as a baby by Martha and Jonathan Kent. Now his strength might have increased over the years and there are accounts of him learning how to fly much later–with learning how to jump first–but he was still considerably powerful. And don’t you think that it would have been a little awkward, aside from dealing with his needs as an infant, if one of his hugs of affection snapped Ma Kent’s neck?

The way I see it, at least with Superman, his powers function not unlike how Alan Moore explained Miracleman’s abilities. There is a kinetic field around him and his cells that he can choose to access. Therefore any violence Superman unleashes is purely premeditated and consciously used. I would imagine this does not cover him needing to go to the restroom: unless of course you believe he uses his incredible speed to dart quickly to the Fortress of Solitude with his own specialized facilities but … really?

In the end, I think that both of these heroes and others like them–when they are not on duty–either have ways around using their powers involuntarily or they are as much as like human beings as anyone else is. So please, if Superman is getting drunk in a bar alone, chances are it’s not because he killed Lois Lane in a moment of intimacy, but because he didn’t get to a plane of orphans in time or he’s indulging on the Red Kryptonite.

I’m not sure about The Thing though. I might get back to you on that. Or not.

Full Beings and Perfect Forms: Aristophanes and Plato in Miracleman

Before I begin, I would really like to point out that I’m aware of the fact that I’m talking about a comics series that few people have had the opportunity to read: though perhaps there are more readers of Miracleman out there than I assume. In addition, there will be some spoilers in this article, so for those still interested in reading the comics and can get access to them, read them first before reading this article. And for those who have no idea what I’m talking about, I talk enough about superheroes here and the philosophy of them to probably be followed. It’s up to you whether you want to read the comics.

Like I say every time I make this disclaimers, you have been warned.

Well before Alan Moore revised or deconstructed the figure of the superhero, people always assumed that even though superheroes have their official crime-fighting identities and their civilian alter-egos they are still ultimately the same person. The same was the said for Marvelman (later named Miracleman and possibly Marvelman again depending on whether or not Marvel Comics releases Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman’s runs) and his Family: that even though they spoke a magic word to change from human to superhero and back again, they always had the same personality.

Alan Moore challenges that assumption with his revisionism. We see a vast difference between Kid Miracleman and Johnny Bates: the child that he came from. Of course, that has a lot to do with the fact that Johnny switched into his Kid Miracleman persona as a child and let it grow up separately from his human child form. This, along with the event that forced him to hide and the circumstances of how he got his powers, might have warped his mind into two distinct personalities: though both have access to the same memories which is something to consider.

Moore even makes you begin to question if Miracleman and his alter-ego Mike Moran (though they both share the same initials) are in fact the same person. While both begin with a similar morality and are genuinely good people–and they share memories–key differences begin to occur to differentiate them. It’s probably even further complicated by the fact that Miracleman had been dormant for years after a traumatic event, while Mike Moran himself continued to age and live his own life until another traumatic event forced him to remember the key-word to bring his superhero persona back.

Then there is Young Miracleman–or Dick Dauntless–who died and was brought back to life. From Neil Gaiman’s run, or from what exists of it so far, there is no difference between Young Miracleman and his alter-ego at all. Finally, Miraclewoman seems to be the most balanced of the entire Miracle (or Marvel) Family in that as the doctor Avril Lear and Miraclewoman she also seems to be the same person and has learned a lot about her dual nature by exploring both.

As I read the entire series as it was, I began to notice certain elements that Alan Moore and to some extent Neil Gaiman incorporated into their work. In a lot of ways and I have Alan Moore in particular in mind, they brought the idea of the superhero back to its roots: to the mythologies that created it as they took it apart. The secret British government program that was created to make these super-beings is called Project Zarathustra: based off of Nietzsche’s idea of the ubermensch or the superman. The superman is supposed to be a being that has transcended all conventional morality and chooses to create their own code to live by: possessing the power to do so through sheer will. I talked about this a little bit with my Whoever Hates the Man of Tomorrow? article, but this is a theme that definitely plays out with Miracleman.

There are other mythological references in Miracleman: such as the heroes’ home base being called Olympus, the body-switching Qys as the supposedly unwitting genetic prototypes of the Miracle Family being referred to as the Titans or the Primordials that existed before the “superhero pantheon of gods,” and even the battle with the twisted Kid Miracleman supposedly mirroring Ragnarok or the “twilight of the gods.” Moore even creates a nice mythological analogy between superheroes and supervillains: the former being Heroes and the latter being known as Dragons or monsters to be vanquished. We see a lot of Nordic and Greek mythology being drawn on to create this version of Miracleman. But there is more.

As I continued reading Miracleman, I saw another parallel developing. It began when I saw the twisted fused twin skeletons inside of the British government’s secret Spookshow warehouse: where Miracleman and his kind were created. Originally, I was led to believe that these fused skeletons were the remains of Young Miracleman from his own death, but in reality they were the dual remnants of Young Nastyman: another experiment that went insane and died through mid-transformation within a volcano … or so Miraclewoman says.

That grotesque fusion of two skeletons reminded me of Aristophanes’ myth of love. I know how disturbing that may sound, but I didn’t actually start thinking of it that way until Miracleman himself began to explore his own identity and the line between himself and Mike Moran. According to Plato in his Symposium, Aristophanes explained why love existed by telling a story in which once upon a time mortals were larger beings with two-heads, two sets of genitals, and two sets of limbs. They were powerful and they defied the gods so much that Zeus split them into two. This myth was supposed to explain that love is that need for each person to look for the other person split from them or, as we hear it in our own popular culture, each person looks for “their other half.”

That was the resonance I got when Alan Moore really came to the finer details of how the switch between mortal and divine works with the Miracle Family. It’s almost as though Project Zarathustra, in analyzing the bodies and the technology of the Qys–of fluidly intersexual Titan progenitors–tapped into a place of mythical proportions to recreate that “lost existence” that Aristophanes goes on about. One very interesting thing to note about Aristophanes’ myth is that when human beings were once unified, greater beings it was implied that they could defy and potentially challenge the gods themselves: which was one reason why Zeus and Apollo divided and changed them. Therefore, it can also be implied that Project Zarathustra allowed mere mortals to tap into the divine, to a place beyond the divine, to become a lot more than what they already were and challenge the established order around them.

Aristophanes’ myth that was meant to examine the origins of love and humanity’s potential to divine power is argued by scholars to be a comedic or lampoonish idea to reflect its comedian creator. Yet I find nothing particularly hilarious about this, though it is interesting that it was considered a “comic” idea: one that has translated itself so well throughout the ages. There is also another saying in popular cultural with regards to love as reunion: that just as people are looking for their “other half,” there is also in a relationship reference to one’s “better half.”

This is where I begin to wonder, like a few scholars before me, if the myth of Aristophanes wasn’t created by Plato himself to add a nice neat argument to his Symposium. We can argue whether or not Socrates created his own philosophy too until the cows come home, but that’s not the point here. Plato himself had his own theories about reality and the subjects that exist in reality. He believed that there are two worlds: the World of Forms or Being and the World of Becoming. The World of Being is a plane of perfection. You can find the originals or the perfect forms of anything that has ever existed. You can find the ideal object–such as a chair–or subject–such as a man or a woman as well as thoughts, feelings and knowledge–here.

Then you have the World of Becoming, a gradation of said perfect forms into more worn and degraded shapes. They deviate or change from the ideal and ethereal prototypes that they come from. The idea is that we live in the World of Becoming and that we seek the World of Being. You can see here, and I’m sure my high school philosophy teacher would be proud of me at this moment, how this Platonic thought influenced the Western idea of Heaven and Earth, or Heaven and Hell.

When I read Miracleman, I saw an interesting parallel with this Platonic conception. Miracleman and his kind are the perfect forms. When they are not used, the forms are kept in a place of pure energy known as Under-Space: a nice analog to the World of Forms itself. They rarely ever age, they cannot be destroyed through conventional means, they have extraordinary clarity of thought, devastating power, and even their costumes are engineered from an alien material that cannot be destroyed and reflects the moods of their wearers. Their powers and natures are explained as being the result of a psychic field or harmonic around them that they can control. In other words, the Miracle Family practices mind over matter.

My reading of this is that human scientists–degraded imperfect people like the rest of us from the World of Becoming or matter–used a link to the World of Being or the spirit to reverse engineer near perfect forms that mortals can have access to. Even Miracleman explains that he has the same thoughts that Mike Moran does, but he can see them and perceive his world with far more clarity and insight. We can get even more Platonic or Gnostic and say that through science, the Miracle Family gained a greater link to their spiritual, real, celestial selves. It is also no coincidence that Alan Moore, their revisionist, began to embrace further mythological and spiritual elements in his later works and even in his own life.

So it seems clear cut that Miracleman and his Family are their own essential selves having been unified. Of course, it is not nearly so simple as that. Mike Moran, Johnny Bates, Dick Dauntless, Avril Lear and Young Nastyman (or Terrence Rebbeck) did not seek this enlightenment. They were kidnapped, kept in medically induced comas, experimented on, had essentialized clone bodies made for them, had said bodies transferred into Under-Space where their minds would be trained to switch back and forth to by a word command, and were brainwashed to believe they were superheroes in a comic book-like virtual world before being abandoned as too powerful and too dangerous and marked for a termination order which, inevitably, failed.

It all sounds so banal when I summarize their origins like that. In a lot of ways, the Miracle Family are more like the uncanny Freudian doubles or doppelgangers of the mortals which they are linked to. They have great powers and insight, but they do not always relate well to the World of Becoming around them. Some of them are malicious because of this and even the best-intentioned among them have the potential to cause immense and traumatic change to the world.

I personally think that they are all of these things and more. I think that Moore portrayed them as humanity’s need to reach for and become the divine: or to remember its divinity. What happens after the creation of said beings, their own realizations of what they are,  and how the affect and what to share their perspective with the world around and the people who made them is–in mythological retrospect–an inevitable conclusion.

ETA: After writing this article, I’ve realized that you can examine the Miracle Family with a particular focus on identity. Much in the way that Neil Gaiman’s A Game of You really plays with identity, gender and the fluidity and change of self-identity, his and Alan Moore’s Miracleman can also be examined in a similar light. Maybe one day someone will do that … when the damned thing is republished.

Abraxas, legal issues, Abraxas …

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.