The Enigma of Miracleman

Alex_Ross_Miracleman_5_VariantThe name Alan Moore holds a lot of weight in the comic book community, even those with only a passing interest in the subject, have come across some of his work, most likely the highly rated and critically acclaimed Watchmen and V for Vendetta. Some may have even immersed themselves in the likes of From Hell and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the fact of the matter being that Alan Moore is celebrated for a reason. During a conversation several weeks ago, I had a number of comic recommendations given to me. This one conversation included titles such as Grant Morrison’s Zenith, Jess Nevins’ League companion Heroes & Monsters, and an Alan Moore title I had never come across before. Miracleman.

As any research junkie would do, I asked around in my local store and hit the internet in an attempt to discover just why I had never heard of it before. Upon finally getting my hands on the first two books, I noticed a quote from Time magazine printed on the cover to ‘Miracleman Book One: A Dream of Flying’. “A must-read for scholars of the genre, and of the comic book medium as a whole.” [McMillan. 2013]. The only conclusion I could discern from both the original recommendation and the internet wide praise, This book is a big deal.

comics-alan-moore-fashion-beastHaving finally sank my teeth into the first book, I can concur that the praise is in no way misleading. Miracleman is an intense exploration of the superhero genre in itself, pre-dating what many consider Moore’s ultimate deconstruction of the superhero, Watchmen. Dream of Flying takes the original camp notion that superheroes had been known for since the 60’s and ultimately treats it for what it is, even acknowledging the absurdity of magical origins in its own pages, while simultaneously taking discussing the corruption that can come from possessing god-like abilities, personal sense of place and life, and even the validity of your own memories. Taking what was essentially a mythology and origin based on magic, redefining it through science fiction and finally ripping it inside out. While a full review is at some point necessary, granted when all three books have been thoroughly poured over and absorbed, I came out of ‘Dream of Flying’ with a lot of questions. Most of which concerning the mysterious lack of reprints and the history of the character its self.

When discussing Miracleman, the conversation usually starts with the aforementioned 1982 Alan Moore run in the pages of British independent anthology, Warrior. However the character dates back even further, to 1954 and the British publication L. Miller & Sons, Ltd. A company intended primarily to reprint American comic strips for the British market, primarily reprinting comics from Fawcett Publications. Fawcett Publications is now mostly remembered for the creation of Captain Marvel, now more famously known as the DC character, Shazam. While Fawcett comics would eventually come under fire from National (DC comics) and eventually have to discontinue all lines of Captain Marvel comics, L. Miller & Sons would need to replace these in Britain with their own creations.

Miracleman_2_Davis_VariantMiracleman, originally named Marvelman, was created by artist and writer Mick Anglo, as a knock of Fawcett’s Captain Marvel, with similarities to the two including the utterance of a magic word as well as an extended Marvel family. With Captain Marvel being considered a rip off himself, this just adds more fuel to the notion that all modern Heroes can trace their origins back to Superman. Introduced to the public just as Captain Marvel books disappeared, it managed to survive until 1963 with the bankruptcy of L. Miller & Sons. Marvel man did not appear again until 1982 in the now highly regarded Moore run.

During the Moore run, the character however was still referred to as Marvelman rather than his current title. It was only due to Marvel Comics need to snap up and copyright uses of the word Marvel (for obvious reasons I’m sure you’ll see) that Eclipse Comics, the then publisher, pushed to have the name changed to Miracleman and avoid any more controversy over such matters.

Copyright and ownership is a problem that has long plagued the character ever since those early days,  including the ‘Marvels and Miracles, LLC’ Vs. ‘Todd McFarlane Productions’ case of 2002. But by 2013, all rights were finally settled and held squarely with Marvel Comics (the same company who, ironically enough, had caused Miracleman’s original name change).

Miracleman_1_Preview_3This only leaves one looming question. Why is Moore credited as ‘The Original Writer’? Surely having a name like Alan Moore on a book that few new readers would know, was a no brainer. This decision at the end of the day, came from Moore himself. In an interview in The Hollywood Reporter, Moore stated that at the time of his original work on Miracleman, he was unaware that Mike Anglo had no rights to the character and was making nothing from it. “if I’d known that, I would have never taken the job.” [McMillan. 2013]. Due to the belief that he had been part of cheating the original creator out of what was rightfully his, Moore decided to leave his name off the reprints. “by the time that Marvel Comics were involved I just thought, No, let it go, give all the money to Mick Anglo” [McMillan. 2013]

Miracleman, in both story and history, is incredibly rich. With so much to take away from it and with two books still ahead of me. I am so glad I took up the recommendation and I hope that anyone who has read this, thinks about checking it out.


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Superman/Shazam! First Thunder – Review

Superman_-_Shazam_1“We are born from darkness into the light.. And thus, Humanity, by its very nature, fears the unknown. The Shadows. It fears the dark. Humanity is not driven by rage. It is driven by desire. So, we are easily led astray. But, in that, we can also be led home.”

When the Man of Steel and Earth’s Mightiest Mortal join forces, big things are expected. When both heroes come across a threat that neither can take on alone, it provides a fascinating comparison between the original superhero, Superman, and what was once considered a simple rip-off, Captain Marvel. The Story, while titled for both heroes, seems to take a greater emphasis on exploring the character of Billy Batson and the reality of a ten year old actually inheriting the abilities of the gods, chosen by fate to bear that mantle. Previous explorations of Billy Batson, Pre – New 52, have cared more for the heroic exploits of  Captain Marvel and only displayed Billy as a simple carefree ten year old who happens to be an orphan. While short scenes, his interactions with what appears to be his only friend become quite touching as you realise that these interactions are the closest thing he has to a normal life. Comparing this to Superman, you have a hero that not only had a loving family, a good childhood and the choice to use his power and become his superhero identity, as well as have his entire life to discover his own abilities. By the stories end, both the reader and Clark can see and feel just how much was really thrown at the young boy and the responsibility on his shoulders, with little else for him to fall back on for support.

“My name’s Billy Batson. But maybe it’s too dangerous to be Billy Batson anymore.”

spshft00The quiet conversations between both Superman and Captain Marvel essentially make this story. While physically resembling a full grown adult, Captain Marvel is reduced to a fan boy, taking joy in the private talks, referring to these opportunities as an honour. While Superman is initially confused by the admiration, he finds some form of solidarity with him and leads to some brilliantly played out moments where the two work off of each other beautifully. Bringing a large amount of depth to them both in a short amount of time.

The art by Middleton is wonderfully fluid, displaying not only the heroic nature of the two but introduces many subtle character quirks, such as Billy’s pension for half sticking his tongue out when pondering, or the intense rain of emotion Middleton is able to emote just from gestures. The combination of Winick’s writing and Middleton’s art, brings about a compelling mix of action, tragedy and comradery in a classic Superman Shazam tale.

“I suppose I feel a lot better about this realm of magic, or mysticism.. Well .. Knowing that you’re guarding the gate.”

Silk: The Life and Times of Cindy Moon – Review

ResourceLoaderPortletServletWith the recent events of Spider-verse, the need for more spider based characters has been frequently questioned. In regards to female counterparts to the webslinger, there have been a few before, both in continuity and what if including Spider-Woman (Jessica Drew) and Spider-Girl (May-day Parker). Even with the recently released Spider Gwen (an alternate universe Gwen Stacy, bitten by the radioactive spider in place of Peter Parker), most are simply re-skinnings of the original Spider-Man with a few details changed and the obvious gender switch. What makes Silk stand out from the rest, and why should you care?

While the antics of Spider-man, and his numerous clones, focus heavily on the rouges gallery, jumping from monster of the week ordeals to long multi issue showdowns.  Silk uses the crime fighting aspects as more of a backdrop and a way to establish her existence in the Marvel universe, with the major struggle of the series being her own mindset and the situation forced upon her. The driving force behind her heroism is her determination to find what she left behind. Creating a unique look at a female counterpart to the web-head.

Cindy Moon, brought to life in the pages of The Amazing Spider-man, provides a stark contrast to Peter, as one embraced their powers, while the other hide away from the world in order to protect the ones she loved from her seemingly uncontrollable powers. Having been set free 10 years later, Cindy has to face the world alone, unsure of how to proceed other than the example set forth by Peter and her memories of better times.

Silk-2015-002-013The use of pop culture references are usually a means of dating a work, however Thompson uses this to his advantage in showing just how behind the times Cindy really is. Making references to the Pokemon franchise, in its first few pages to only question if that’s still a thing, and highlighting her preference for paper and pen to the modern day tablet or phone. The inclusion of Cindy’s natural eidetic memory is a breath of fresh air, feeling that she has been “adjusting to powers” her whole life, bringing up just how painful this kind of ability can be especially when you lose something, or in this case people, you love. Combining her natural abilities with her spider powers, creates a new look at the spider based heroes. While Peter puts more focus into being Spider-Man out of a sense of responsibility, frequently forgetting his obligations as Peter Parker. Cindy is unable to forget her driving force, with finding her family being the top priority for both identities. The notion of Cindy working as an intern at a news site may appear as attempts to simply mimic the early career of Peter Parker, however, it makes a lot of sense for her character. Cindy’s need to readjust herself with the modern world as well as find leads to the overarching detective work of the series, plays out beautifully and even leads to some fascinating scenes between both Cindy and Jameson.

Good-TalkThe artwork by Lee is delightfully stylised, with the elegant ability to show both the fast sweeping action of battle scenes , and to slow down seamlessly for the sombre and isolated moments down in the bunker. The use of colour throughout , while not especially focus on delicate shading, is vibrant with a somewhat minimalistic approach. Knowing when to burst with colour and when to fade through the memories. Characters are easily distinguishable and visually striking.

Silk: The Life and Times of Cindy Moon, contains all 7 issues and while some prior knowledge of the events in Amazing Spider-Man (especially the Spider-Island and Spider-Verse events) may prove helpful, they are completely non compulsory to enjoy this largely self contained tale.

Zenith: Phase One – The ‘What if’ side of WWII

511Q8QDrO2L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_When the subject of World War II and Comic books are mentioned,  the popular images usually display racial caricatures of the Japanese and Germans, heroes delivering a right hook square in the jaw of Adolf Hitler or modern interpretations, such as retelling the holocaust with cats and mice. Comics during the second world war were in what we now consider the Golden Age. Multiple companies came into existence or grew in providence, including Timely, National and MLJ (Marvel, DC and Archie respectfully), waving multiple superhero comics, all ready to boost morality and join the fight by cheering on the tropes and encouraging those at home to help out were ever they could [Howe. 2012]. Chanting catchy slogans across their pages, stating that “each bond you buy, is a bullet in the barrel of your best mans gun” [Johnston. 2011]. The likes of Captain America, sporting the bold red white and blue of the American flag, leaped in to battle. The captain himself became a superhero in a laboratory, using the Super Soldier serum created by German scientist, Abraham Erskine, to transform the frail Steve Rodgers (a stand in for anyone who was unfit to enlist), into an Icon of hope and strength during the horrors of World War II. [Simon, Kirby. 1941][Stern, Byrne. 1981]

Zenith-Phase-One-8-64888The dark times the war brought became the fuel for the young medium to grow, In essence the Nazi threat created many of the heroes that shine across our screens and print today. Morrison has used this notion as literal, creating a reality in which the four colour comics of war time are a near reality. Through the prelude of Zenith, the idea is explored that the experiments run by Nazi scientists created the first superhero, the German Super-Soldier, MasterMan. Providing what Hitler would consider Arian perfection with the power to single handedly bring the world to its knees. Given this reality, the Allies must counter with their own breed of hero, created in partnership with defected German scientist, much in the same vain that defected Soviet and Nazi scientist assisted in the creation of weapons such as the atomic bomb.

The glorification and admiration of veterans in the days following the war playing a parallel to the celebrity status the superheroes (here dubbed the members of Cloud 9) are awarded. With the surviving heroes having seemingly lost their abilities in the passing years, fading away into the rest of the world, somewhat parallels the stagnation of comics in the days following the war. With the war over, heroes were seen as an overly patriotic reminder of what we had overcome and the depths that humanity could sink to. New Artwork-from-emZenith-Pha-001genres were developed, characters given new focus to eventually rise again in the 60s and 80’s. [PBS. 2013] With heroes both old and new regaining the spotlight in various forms, Zenith himself being in this vain. Not only displaying his ability as a super powered being but as an egotistical pop artist, caring little for the plights of the outside world, more interested in promoting his music than the war that helped to create him.

Through his brush with the ‘What if’ side of history, Morrison has created not only an intriguing story but a stark parallel to the mediums history in its own pages. Providing an example of using superheroes to explore not only our own post war culture but the history of the medium itself. With Phase One at its end and the threat having been seemingly defeated or at least biding its time, the anticipation to explore the continued possibilities is just over the horizon, as Phase Two begins.


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Electricomics – The Digital Revolution of Comics.

ElectricomicsWhat we know as comic books have existed since the 1930’s. They have been described as “a technology all its own”, “that [have] been accumulating and progressing”[Kamen. 2015] ever since. Longer if you consider early cave paintings a form of comic. But, as the mediums of television and film have evolved with the ever changing abilities of modern technology, Comics seem to have remained engraved purely in ink and paper. Even with the ubiquitous use of e-readers and e-book apps, comic apps have been content to simply “replicate the experience of the printed page” [Barnett. 2015].

Fuelled, while developing a small film, by a disdain that when you “create a film these days””you’re expected to ‘realise it’ upon multiple platforms” [Kamen. 2015]. Alan Moore, a noted comic book writer, together with other writers and academics, such as Leah Moore, John Reppion and Daniel Goodbrey, began to “create something within the imaginary world and see if it could be imported to the non-imaginary world” [Kamen. 2015]. The original idea eventually evolved into the ‘Electricomics App’, an attempt to “[take] digital comics to a whole new level” [Barnett.2015].

W69d61c82-610c-4f6b-893e-9b5e88885b88-620x372hile most would point to the likes of Marvels own comic app as a pre-existing expansion of this idea, the only thing unique the app would offer would be the ability to zoom in and out of panels for a somewhat better look (depending on the quality of the image). To many this would be the obvious use, while neglecting to incorporate anything else that the medium such as a mobile tablet can offer. In an interview with Wired, Alan Moore described wanting to “show the possibilities of this new medium, beyond the obvious idea[s]” [Kamen. 2015] and using this as a way to “redefine what comics are in the 21st century” [Kamen. 2015].

Allowing creators to integrate the abilities a tablet can offer, has created not only an evolution in comics but a “final product [that] blends influences from traditional comics, animation, games and film into something that almost defies categorisation” [Kamen. 2015] to the point that Moore himself has stated that he’s “not sure what we’re doing is even comics” [Kamen. 2015].

marvel1The general shape of the tablet itself, a rectangle, could even be used in this manner as an extension of what Will Eisner, creator of the 1940’s comic ‘The Spirit’, described as the ‘meta-panel’, “in which the whole page is a panel into which the other panels have been inserted” [Kamen. 2015]. Following on from Eisner’s work and style, Moore has stated that the obvious ideas of adding sound and slight motion to a comic have already been done, in the likes of motion comics or the audio options that Marvel and DC apps have come to offer, “Eisner already gives you sound and motion. To realize it in a high-tech manner is redundant” [Kamen. 2015]. The interactivity a tablet can offer, such as touch screen capabilities, gyroscope sensors and brightness adjustments hold a whole new host of possibilities ready to be taken advantage of. Since its release in September of 2015, the app as well as its companion generator, have been downloaded and used by several third parties and industry professionals, all trying to reinvent what we view as a digital comic. Though the app itself may be seen by some as unnecessary and “the novelty of the interaction [may] threaten to dump the reader out of the story as well, but perhaps that’s the price of innovation.” [Barnett. 2015], others, including myself, see it as “the first glimpse of a new beginning for digital comics” [Barnett. 2015]


 

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