I am of an age in which I can comfortably settle myself as being apart of the pre-internet generation developmentally. Situated within my age group (35-50) is a phenomenon that I believe is shrinking due to all available information/artifacts being made available through technology. That phenomenon is collecting the ephemera of certain eras of comics. When I say collecting I mean physically tracking down single issues or collections in all size and shape of store, flea market, and convention, dealing with people and basically haggling. The most prized, to me, comics of the pre-internet era were those early works I found out through trade magazines and word of mouth of those that have grown to be the more celebrated creators in the medium, i.e., the 1980s, who were apart of the U.K. invasion.
Many creatives of the U.K. wave worked for many years on comics that were exclusively U.K. during the ’80s, specifically a publication called Warrior. Warrior was home to my first true comics crush, writer Alan Moore. Moore’s work for me has been that of which I have measured so many other mainstream and indie creators, starting with Watchmen (which I read when I was waaayyy too young back around 1987) and working my way through Swamp Thing, his various DC work on Superman, Green Lantern, and Batman, to when the work moved to the next level with From Hell and his ABC universe. In my younger days to find out an author, or artists, or filmmaker had other work that existed was the greatest feeling in the world—someone whose work you enjoyed had more for you to ingest and think about, and you grappled to find any small bits of info to see what was what (hence the whole collecting bug mentioned earlier). Following Moore’s work has always had that pull ,and at the same time challenged me, and since the information explosion of the 21st century, I have had a greater ability to research and find out about the work he did pre-DC Comics. What was it? What did it look like? What was the content? Keep in mind that I am by no means ancient at the age of thirty-seven, but I grew up in a small southern town with a small comic book store and very little resources, so there are still days where I am truly amazed at the information I can gather in an afternoon from reputable resources; although, as a life long friend and comics reader pointed out to me in having a conversation on the topic of Miracleman and Moore, no one was reading Warrior during that original run and the Eclipse reprints didn’t work out either in the U.S., so I can’t feel to bad about the availability factor.
I give that long explanation because I don’t think it is a bad thing to be curious about the history of things, regardless what anyone thinks of your curiosity. Curiosity leads to discovery, and actually fuels the questions that lead to greater explorations and understandings. So, in growing up and loving the work of Alan Moore, I have kept finding that there have been giant missing pieces in my history of his work, and no amount of scouring collectable markets had ever produced what I was looking for reasonably. These are the pieces that I figured could help me to see how he got to the ideas of Watchmen, considered to be a foundational touchstone that some may argue helped, while others may argue ruined, how comics were going to go forward from that point on in the middle 1980s. A major piece, known to me then and now as Miracleman, has thankfully become widely available in print as a massive re-issue by Marvel Comics in 2014, and the first volume, A Dream of Flying, wrapped within the past month in four over-sized issues which I was able to pick up at my LCS.
A Dark Re-Imagining
In this first volume Moore takes over the existing, long dormant Miracleman property created in the 1950s in the U.K. by Mick Angelo. Miracleman was a property from a completely different era when comic super-heroes were pretty much just big ideas and nonsensical plots feeding ideas of kiddie flights of fancy (something you get a taste of in the first two issues of the reprint, which include some truly laughable comics). While today we are able to sort of wonder at the lack of substance in such comics, there was an audience for that book and that was what the creators and publisher specifically went for, really no different than marketing tactics of today or really any era. Plus, I had to stop and think about that those comics influenced people, or made some kids feel good, or just provided escape from the grind that life can be…who says comics have to be so high brow all the time anyway?! (Oh, wait, right, more on that and “The original author” shortly).
Anyway, under the pen of Moore (who is, surprise, “the original author” that Marvel gives in the credits) Miracleman is a concept of the superman as a fabrication of the post industrial military complex, bred for war as a nuclear deterrence, and cruelly controlled through brainwashing into believing himself to have been a comic book hero with values much like the big blue boyscout of American fame. Speaking of the boyscout, there are numerous Superman parallels (and Captain Marvel, the real model originally for Miracleman with the Shazam/Kimota device) suggested in the individual stories. For example, Mike Moran, the Miracleman human side, is a reporter trying to cover stories to make his way in the world ala Clark Kent. He is humble, flawed, and middle class, all somewhat Smallville-ish. Moore also takes a devilish turn corrupting the Superboy equivalent, Kid Miracleman (KM), into the Lex Luthor antagonist in this first volume. Moore’s Luthor, however, is granted what he always wanted: to be all powerful like Superman. In fact, he is more powerful than Miracleman when they encounter one another and KM attempts to kill his former heroic father figure.
Moore’s Miracleman is pessimistic, but that pessimism is what leads one to dig a bit deeper into how or why the work is the way it is. It is at times depressing to read Miracleman as anything but a historical artifact, an artifact of someone who is using art to express a dissatisfied viewpoint about where they live, looking out onto the world and trying to present a viewpoint shrouded in metaphor and allusion. And for Moore, that viewpoint is often about being the most anti- he can be, a time to destroy your influences, break the societal mirrors and re-arrange the broken shards to make a picture that makes more sense to oneself (and like-minded others) than what they are being shown in the media or reading about in newspapers, magazines, and books, which a good artist often times should.
So Why Destroy What You (might) Love?
Imagine you live in a world where the threat of nuclear war is constant and has hung over your entire life from birth to your thirties. Everyday the world seems on the brink of tearing itself apart. Political groups always threaten each other, never discussing peace or compromise. You are growing up in a working class home, probably with a large family, median in education. You have very little outlets and options available to you in life. Based on my reading, I believe that this is exactly the kind of place that Moore is not only thinking about, but is surrounded by. This is the world that has developed in the 1980s. By 1982, when Miracleman is published, The Cold War has been ongoing for decades, The Falklands War has pushed the political landscape in the U.K. towards a conservative, more capitalistic model, and unemployment has skyrocketed. How could an artist not comment on these times?
I think Moore’s attraction to traditional super-hero comics waned during his adolescent years and the subsequent turbulence of the aforementioned factors, but he was willing to give it a go to break into American comics in the ’80s. My friend pointed out in conversation about this topic that Moore’s distaste grew as he probably realized that he could not help produce a product that he began to see as corrupt on a cultural and artistic level, something I am sure other talents at the time did and still do feel. For Moore, I have inferred that super-hero genre comics are exactly what is meant to be destroyed from time to time, to be taken down and re-purposed by artists to reflect the eras in which they live and not necessarily for monetary gain or self-promotion (although let us be honest, that does not hurt). Moore takes comics seriously and wants to raise them up culturally, and his method, especially during this time, is to take a sledgehammer to what is loved in order to shake the minds of readers out of apathy and begin to think about how art, even if considered a “kiddie” medium, can be re-purposed to reflect the times. He is attempting to destroy the image of the idols in order to show the world as it is, to strip the white picket fence down and expose what lies behind and beyond, to move the adolescent into adulthood, something that I might add a lot of young adult fiction tries to succeed in doing.
So, is this a piece that fits well into the body of what I could imagine was Moore honing his darker thematic for the super-hero genre? Without a doubt. It is also interesting to see how he refines his narrative captions, often forgoing dialogue altogether, a stylistic trademark that made me appreciate Swamp Thing as something a notch above other comics. Miracleman Volume One is the harbinger of the realism to come in all super-hero genre comics, from mainstream on down. This collection, Moore’s overarching idea, is the genie in the bottle, a metaphor that Moore himself uses to describe what Miracleman is to his own fictional creators and somehow what happened to comics itself before the close of the decade.