Before Watchmen, before The Dark Knight Returns, before “grim and gritty” became selling points for a more “adult” era of comics---there was Miracleman…or Marvelman…or whatever you want to call him… This is a weird story. Follow me down the rabbit hole to learn more, IF YOU DARE!!!
[This is a photograph that I took of the actual digital comic that I read. The image is included for review purposes only!]
Alan Moore, Garry Leach, Alan Davis, and others – Miracleman – Book One – A Dream of Flying (2014)
First off, we have a giant elephant in the room to discuss. Notice how, on the COVER of this comic (the digital version, at least, which is the version that I read), there are no credits given for the authors or artists involved in creating the book. THIS edition of Miracleman – A Dream of Flying was released by Marvel Comics, who bought the rights to a certain character’s name back in the 1960s.*
Inside the cover of the book, we do get some artist names, Garry Leach and Alan Davis, but the story itself is attributed to “The Original Author.” Huh?
In the late 1980s, when I first found this title, it had been released by Eclipse Comics, (but even the Eclipse books were reprints of stories that had originally appeared in the British comic, Warrior), and the author was listed as Alan Moore, but Mr. Moore can be persnickety, and he’s been burned on more than one occasion by big comics publishers, so my guess for why his name isn’t emblazoned across the cover is that he refused to allow his name to be involved in Marvel’s reprints of these stories. They may own the rights to the CHARACTER, but they don’t own Alan Moore’s name or reputation, so… Poof! No name given for the author. (I find this all incredibly fascinating.)
*Here’s the short and woefully incomplete history of Miracleman: Faucet Comics created the character, Captain Marvel, and at his height in the 1950s, his books outsold even Superman and Batman! This popularity lead to law-suits and knock offs, including the British comic, Marvelman, who was primarily written and drawn by Mick Anglo. In the 1960s, after Faucet folded and the name, “Captain Marvel,” fell into the public domain, Marvel Comics bought the name and created a character called “Captain Marvel,” who had nothing to do with the original Faucet character… DC eventually got the original character, but had to call their comic Shazam, to avoid using the name owned by Marvel. And the British Marvelman became Miracleman for the same reason... It’s a complex story---WAY more complicated than I’m willing to cover in a simple book review, but if you’re interested in the history of the character, Captain Marvel (aka: SHAZAM), check out the videos by Comic Tropes and FizzFop1 for more on the backstory of Captain Marvel and all of the “knock offs” that appeared in his wake.
Meanwhile, let’s shift gears and focus on THIS book, A Dream of Flying.
For those who don’t know the STORY, it starts with a “Golden Age” styled adventure, in which super Nazis from the future come back in time to try to take over the past---but luckily, Britain has a protector, named Miracleman, and his two sidekicks, Young Miracleman and Kid Miracleman, who are able to defeat the Nazis and save the day. This scene ends with an extreme close-up of the hero’s eye---and then we melt into the “modern day” (or 1982…), where a character, Mick Moran, wakes up from a nightmare in which he was a superhero but was caught in an A-bomb explosion and almost killed. Naturally, (this is Alan Moore’s world, after all), this dream turns out to be a suppressed memory.
Throughout the five issues reprinted in this collection, we learn about the secret government experiments, brainwashing, madness, and Cold War paranoia that all culminated in the Zarathustra Project---an attempt to create a super-soldier.
This story, despite being based on a somewhat corny, 1950s comic, is VERY dark. What Moore has done with this book is demonstrate what would happen in a fairly real world setting if superhumans actually existed. (Sound familiar?) Since these characters are essentially invulnerable, the military is afraid of them, the government (that created them) wants to control them, and average humans are helpless (should one of these superhumans go bad. Again, this is an Alan Moore story, so… You know…) When I first encountered this book, before I’d ever read Watchmen, I was SHOCKED at how violent and dramatic this story was---although compared to what came later, it’s probably not going to be AS Earth-shaking for folks just finding it today. But it’s still a well written, great looking tale.
Now for a bit of critique. In this collection, we get a TON of extras. There are reprints of the 1950’s stories by Mick Anglo, articles about the making of the comics, pencils, and extra stories that focus on a series of characters called Warpsmiths, one of which shows up in a Miracleman story, but I’m not exactly sure how connected the Warpsmiths storyline actually is to Miracleman tale. (It’s been a LOOOONG time since I read these books.)
Normally, having a ton of extras in a collection is a good thing. I’m interested in the history of comics, in the creative process, and in seeing how stories come together, but in this case, the ratios are sort of weird. It almost seems like there are MORE extras here than actual comics, and the way that the story is broken up by the extras makes the plot hard to follow and keep straight. The ‘50’s stories are fun, but they don’t completely fit in with the mood of the ‘80’s tale. (They’re creepy in their own way!) And, when I went to re-read the Alan Moore parts of the book, after I’d read it cover to cover the first time through, I really had to flip pages to try to find the ACTUAL story! I used to have the first four Eclipse collections, which didn’t have as many extras, and I found those really easy to read---but they are a bit spendy, now, if you want to buy them. And, honestly, the extras in this collection are really cool, as long as you’re not in a hurry (or on medication that makes concentrating a bit tougher than you’re used to!)
Overall, the story here is great. It’s brutal and thought-provoking, with good artwork, and when I first read it, I thought the tale was shockingly good, one of the first superhero stories that made a nod towards realism---even though it might not seem very realistic today. Even in the early 1980s, Alan Moore could tell a good tale. The digital version of this book, released by Marvel Comics, has a TON of extras (none of which mention Moore as anything but “The Original Author”), and I would argue that the book IS still entertaining---if you’re not too bothered by violence or existential angst. Maybe not as essential as some of what Moore would do later, but still a worthwhile book!
Now, I’m going to try to find some funny stuff to read! Later!!!
---Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Holy Fool)
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