Miracleman - Apocrypha TPB, art by Mark Buckingham
Miracleman Apocrypha
Eclipse Comics
Miracleman Apocrypha #1-3
Neil Gaiman, Steve Moore, James Robinson, Sarah Byam, Matt Wagner, Kurt Busiek, Stefan Petruchag, Dick Forman, Fred Schiller, Steven Grant
Art: Mark Buckingham, Stan Woche, Kelly Jones, Norm Breyfogle, Matt Wagner, Christopher Schenke, Broderick Macaraeg, Alan Smith, Alex Ross, Val Meyerik, Darick Robertson

By 1991, Miracleman was Eclipse's biggest hit. As their other books were dying left, right and centre, the idea of a spin-off series was floated, to compliment the (ir)regular series. Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham agreed to a three-issue series, telling of the Miracleman comics (oooh, post-modern!) found in the library at Olympus, and Eclipse rounded up a gaggle of hip, edgy creators to realise this.

Apocrypha consists of nine short strips by nine different creative teams (only Steve Moore contributes to more than one), and is thus obviously a bit uneven. Some of the stories are rather good - Matt Wagner's "Limbo" centres around an interesting discussion on mortality between Miracleman and Mors (who bemoans the advent of self-determining lifespans with the comment "I foresee a shortage in the availability of subjects"), and ends with a hilariously irreverent exchange. James Robinson's "The Rascal Prince" concerns the rose-tinting of Kid Miracleman's early exploits, juxtaposing a white-washing of KM as a loveable rogue with his unchecked vices - rape and murder. It makes its' point with a sledgehammer, and is hamstrung by Kelly Jones' awful art, but it's still worthy. More subtle is Fred Schiller's "A Bright and Shiny Day" (with gorgeous painted art from Val Meyerik), which hints at Kid Miracleman's disillusionment with his mentor beginning before the Dragonslayer incident. It's a touching little story, and a nice, all too rare mature look at Kid Miracleman's early days. "Gospel" covers a cult who believe the events of "Nemesis" are propaganda from Miracleman, and that they are ruled by a dictator, with Kid Miracleman alive, imprisoned and set to return and save them. It's an interesting, well-written (by Stephen Grant) inversion of the events, and probably contains more than a grain of truth.

"The Janitor", by Dick Forman and Alan Smith, is possibly the best of the whole series, a sweet little piece about one of the cleaners at Olympus, who works simply because it's all he knows. Its' main competition comes from the more reverent, but similarly themed "Wishing on a Star", beautifully painted by Alex Ross and with a great script by Steve Moore, again concerning someone who just wants to do things for themselves - in this case a stubborn astronaut. The tragic ending, and the astronaut's refusal to accept help, are fairly obvious, but it's beautifully articulated, especially Miracleman's complete inability to get why the man feels the need to do it.

"Stray Thoughts", by Petruchag and Macaraeg, is an example of these stories being simplistic and inessential, as is "The Scrapbook". This is probably defined by Steve Moore & Stan Woche's "Miracleman and the Magic Monsters", though, which is basically an L. Miller story with knockoff Howard Chaykin art (thus robbing it of the naïve look and feel of the Gower Studio material). I mean, it's a stab at irony, obviously, what with all the bad puns and the simple plot, but how the Hell do you send up something as ludicrous as the 1950s material? It's like doing a spoof of Ed Wood movies - what's the point when the originals are silly and campy in the first place? Busiek & Schenke's "Prodigal" disappoints too - it's nice to have a glimpse at the 'survivalists' mentioned in Miracleman #16 (even a fictional one), but the thing's predictable and dull.

Despite a few misses, however, 'Apocrypha' is an interesting collection of short stories. The framing sequence is nice, too - something of a window on Miracleman's thoughts, which is rare enough this side of Alan Moore, and in itself the equal of much of 'The Golden Age'. The device of the stories being fictions within a fiction is a little conceited, and certainly harsh - the best, such as "The Janitor", "Wishing on a Star" and "A Bright and Sunny Day" are good enough (and unobtrusive enough) to be part of Miracleman canon. It might not be quite as essential as the four-and-a-half core storylines, but it's more than an exercise in cashing in on Miracleman, and while not every story is a classic, or even all that good, they're well-crafted pieces, and certainly worth a read.