Yesterday I finally got around to reading Miracleman, the ‘long lost’ comic book by Alan Moore. It’s been out for a year or so (hell, it’s been out for years but only recently – due to legal issues – has it been available via routes other than fanboys and/or illegal downloads) but what can I say, I’ve been busy.
Aside from all the lawyers getting rich while they argued about who actually owned the stories, there’s an awful lot of fuss about Miracleman (née Marvelman) simply because it’s one of the first coherent works by Moore, who is still regarded as some sort of comics-writing genius/god. If you’re not sure who Alan Moore is, he wrote the original books behind the movies From Hell, V for Vendetta, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and Watchmen. He’s also disowned every one of those movies, believing (and very publicly saying) that the adaptations make travesties of his work. Put simply, Moore is an inspired, fearless and inventive writer who almost single-handedly turned the comics industry on its head from the 1980s onwards and he’s utterly unafraid to express his contempt for anyone he’s not entirely happy with (which, at one time or another, seems to be pretty much everybody).
So what is Miracleman? Well, the character dates back to the 1950s and is a thinly veiled British knock-off of DC’s Captain Marvel. So thinly-veiled in fact that he was originally called Marvelman and only had his name changed in the mid-80s due to obvious copyright issues. The first stories – by Mick Anglo – were classic, colourful, naïve, biff-pow-kersplatt invulnerable men-in-leotards superhero riffs. So far, so cute. What Moore did was pick up the long-defunct character in the 1980s and totally reinvent him as an older, more troubled soul in Thatcher’s Britain. He carried out a similar gritty, reality-based makeover on DC’s Swamp Thing and pretty much did the same to the whole superhero genre in Watchmen.
How did he inject reality into a pre-Age of Cynicism character? Long before Bobby Ewing stepped out of the shower, Moore explained the primary colour past adventures as a dream. Then he has his hero be a self-doubting everyman, struggling with work, marriage and life in general and, of course, when he rediscovers his awesome, godlike superpowers they bring as many complications as they do solutions. Then there are also some early examples of what would become Moore’s standard tropes to indicate ‘real life’: violence on a grand scale, superheroes that injure or kill innocent bystanders, graphic sex/reproduction (a full-frontal birth scene was pretty unusual in the early 80s), and rape. I’m not going into Moore’s fondness for depicting rape, it’s been well-dissected all across the Internet, let’s just say that the anal forcing of a teenaged boy directly results in 40,000 deaths and the destruction of most of London and leave it at that.
In other words, it’s classic Alan Moore. If you like his stuff, you’ll love it (I do and I did). If you think he’s an overrated one-trick pony (but what a trick!) with a one-track mind, this won’t change your opinion. Maybe the most interesting thing is not so much seeing this early example of Moore’s innovative genre-twisting but reading his apology for it in the introductory interview. Let’s face it, this approach of placing spandex-clad superpowers in real-life situations is still everywhere today – we all love Christopher Nolan’s Batman because it was so “gritty”; we laugh at the Green Lantern film because it was “shallow and unrealistic”. But Moore is clear that he was just writing it this way because it was interesting and new to do so. He actually enjoyed the old naïve comic book stories and characters because they were imaginative and fun. Why shouldn’t Superman have a dog that can fly? And so on. He never planned for every comic book character to be plunged into real-life angst and deal with their ‘issues’. Basically, he’s very apologetic that his angle of reinterpreting an old character has been so widely copied and has led to what he calls, “very grim and very unenjoyable comic books.”
So, there we are. Whatever you think of his oeuvre, Alan Moore is sorry, everyone.