Book 1 - 'A Dream of Flying'
Contents: Miracleman #1-3
Story: Alan Moore
Art: Garry Leach (art Chapters 2-6, inks Chapters 7-8), Alan Davis (Pencils Chapters 7-8, Art Chapters 9-11)
Sometimes, a comic can be overshadowed by the problems it has. So much fuss was made of DC's censorship of Mark Millar's final Authority story that not many stopped to notice that it would have still been rubbish with a bit more blood. The Sentry is always likely to be remembered for the whole Silver Age hoax than for the stories being distinctly average. And as the years go by, Miracleman is remembered more and more for either the dispute between Quality and Marvel, or between Gaiman and McFarlane. Thankfully, there's more to Miracleman than legal quagmires and cheap shots at Marvel/McFarlane. There are some bloody excellent comics. Miracleman strips down the superhero, with a universe that really emphasises the power of these beings. This is a realistic superhero book if ever there was one. The original #1 took advantage of the extended Eclipse format and printed a slightly-tweaked vintage 1950s Marvelman adventure before the first three chapters of Moore's work, and this allows clichés to be contrasted with their subversion. The scripts take random pot-shots at all sorts of things - 1980s comics, origin stories, superhero names, the lot. In the hands of lesser writers, this would seem brattish, and probably shuffle the thing into "too clever by half" territory. However, it's played with such utter conviction the attitude is never allowed to seem smug. Liz takes the role of the reader as Miracleman tells her his origin (as he perceives it), providing a cynical commentary, only to be stopped short by Miracleman's furious reaction. "A Dream of Flying" is the sort of book that works on many, many levels.
The most obvious of these is that it's super-hero versus super-villain, done with a massive amount of intelligence. The story is beautifully told, with Mike Moran subconsciously aware of his past, rediscovering Miracleman, finding Johnny Bates, finding Kid Miracleman, and then finally finding out the truth about himself. Moore knows where to be serious, where to be funny, where to be melodramatic. Thought has obviously gone into every situation, such as what exactly would happen if two superpowered beings started knocking each other around in central London, or if one was to try and catch a small boy. There are so many good concepts in this book. The idea that the title character is unable to compete with Bates because Miracleman spent 8 years as a superhuman and the latter spent two decades in this state is a masterstroke, creating a rather frightening villain for the piece as the hero gets belted around and then escapes on a technicality. The abilities of the superhumans are also well-handled - Miracleman can fly and has super-strength and is nigh invulnerable; Kid Miracleman has all of this, and can fire energy beams from his eyes and use mind control. The implication is very much that these beings can effectively teach themselves (or evolve) 'new' powers, which makes Bates rather frightening. Their battle is hypnotic, and Leach's heavy inks combine surprisingly well with Eclipse's cheapo colouring job to create a nightmarish atmosphere.
One of the other fantastic concepts is that Mike Moran and Miracleman don't share much more than a face and physical face - Miracleman excels Moran in just about every aspect, from the same starting point. Miracleman impregnates Liz the first time they sleep together; Mike has been unsuccessful during their marriage of 16 years, and through the odd line ("We share the same mind and memories... but he's cleverer than me.") Moore transmits the feeling of what it would be like to be replaced by the ultimate version of yourself. Another wonderful little touch is the way both say the magic word 'kimota' - neither roars it out, and both say it with an air of resignation, reluctant to hand their space in the world over to their alter-ego.
The origin story which takes up the final third of the book is masterfully played out, managing to marry the Golden Age childishness of the 1950s strip (and Miracleman's beliefs from Chapter 3) with the comic's grittier feeling. Miracleman destroying the interior of the bunker, enraged at everything he believed in being revealed as a complex lie to hide his purpose as a super-weapon, has palpable anger, and really transmits the reaction of a powerful being who has found out he's not the chosen champion of a universally transcendent scientist, but a tool of the man he had been trained to hate.
To be honest, the second half of the book doesn't pack quite the same punch as the initial whirlwind, but it's still breathtaking stuff, giving Miracleman a further purpose and goal following the apparent defeat of Bates. Bates' power is reinforced still further by Miracleman's showing against the augmented Big Ben, showing just how powerful the Miraclemen are. The meeting with Big Ben comes after a hypnotic sequence where Miracleman literally walks past everything the Zarathustra security forces can throw at him, including flamethrowers and a bomb (which Miracleman purposefully trips with a smile on his face, while making no attempt to avoid the explosion). The odd scene with Johnny Bates coalescing, with Bates and Kid Miracleman fighting for supremacy, adds the atmosphere than he hasn't gone away, not for good. The narrative is a lot less linear in this second segment, with Miracleman's progress towards the bunker interspersed with flashbacks detailing his unlikely alliance with the Spookshow assassin Evelyn Cream, all overlaid as Spookshow head Dennis Archer details the plans to protect the bunker. The following chapter is played out from the perspectives of the combatants - Big Ben's hackneyed bulldog spirit swings from the amusing (he's been told Miracleman is Soviet agent Major Molotov) to the disturbing, while Miracleman's attitude shows his detachment and confidence (especially his reluctance to fight the utterly outclassed Big Ben). The final installment unfolds from Spookshow's post mortem of the events, and has a nice fractured feel to it, with a splendid, if unsettling, coda page with Big Ben, juxtaposing his perception of his retrieval (being rescued by fellow British superheroes, who prevented Major Molotov's escape) with the reality (as he's straight-jacketed and taken away).
The story is also very obviously influenced by Nietzsche (just in case the quotation in the 'prologue' and the name of the bunker didn't make it obvious), and the coming of the overman (something explicitly mentioned by Bates). And it's very much on show - the pair are far superior to any other humans, and while there's no sign of them replacing the population en masse, Bates clearly considers humans far below his contempt. The feeling of the ordinary man being replaced is expressed carefully by Moran's bewilderment at Miracleman's superiority to himself. While these philosophies are present throughout, they never overwhelm the story.
There are only really four fully-fledged characters in the initial arc - Mike Moran & Miracleman (okay, they're two), Kid Miracleman, Liz Moran and Evelyn Cream. Moran and Miracleman are obviously the centre-stage, but Liz is also excellently defined, as she tries her best to deal with the new arrival rationally, but inevitably begins to waver. Her attitude in arranging tests to find Miracleman's abilities is a great sequence (although slightly illogical - surely Miracleman would be able to remember his own capabilities, as he has recall of his [simulated] adventures and no signs of memory loss?), though the sequence where she's alone and panicking about being pregnant with Miracleman's baby shows how difficult she's finding things. Cream is also an excellent, fully-rounded character. He's sinister early on, especially when he murders a terrorist in a hospital, but quickly becomes more interesting as his cold black-ops persona becomes overwhelmed by his fascination with Miracleman. Dennis Archer draws more on an established 'besieged civil servant' archetype, though his worry is well-captured.
This first arc crams in a lot of stuff, and the pace is electric. Moore's prose and the steady rhythm of twists and revelations makes it a roller-coaster read first time around, and it retains a lot of power even after a number of readings. The art is fantastic throughout, and the styles of Leach and Davis mesh very well. This is Alan Moore at his very best, and superhero comics at their very best. And the whole thing gets even better from here. Essential.