Alan Moore’s first major superhero work has all the promise, depth and darkness of the work that would later make him famous. Before Watchmen changed the way superhero stories were told and The Killing Joke became one of the definitive Batman stories of the last 25 years, Moore was reviving a somewhat corny children’s superhero in the pages of a new British anthology magazine called Warrior (which would also feature early work from Grant Morrison). In the UK, he was Marvelman, a fairly obvious rip-off of DC’s Captain Marvel, who said a magic word and fought evil with superpowers. He’d been defunct since the mid 1960s, but Moore saw something in him that he could make new again.
By the time the stories made it into American reprints (where the hero’s name was changed to Miracleman for legal reasons), Moore was well on his way to being a superstar. Years of legal troubles over the character (many of which involved a battle between Moore’s Miracleman successor, Neil Gaiman, and Todd McFarlane) made the books harder and harder to find, reprints disappeared, and today the Marvelman/Miracleman stories are a cult classic. They’re the revelation of a bright new talent that would help define the direction of superhero stories in the 1980s and beyond, and if you can find them, they make for powerful reading.
Mike Moran used to be Miracleman, but he has no memory of this. All he has are the dreams, the dreams where he’s flying, and the migraines that plague him. What he doesn’t know is that something inside him, something that’s been buried for 18 years, is trying to claw its way back out.
Mike is just an ordinary guy, a freelance reporter with a lovely wife, but those dreams persist. There’s a word that appears in them, a word he can never seem to remember when he wakes up. What he doesn’t know is that the word will change his life.
He goes to an assignment at a nuclear plant one day, where terrorists just happen to be planning an attack. He sees the word atomic written backwards and remembers the word from his dreams: “Kimota.” Like “Shazam” for Kid Marvel, it’s the word that brings Miracleman to life. He utters it, and his world changes.
Miracleman #1 is a reprint collection of the first few chapters of Moore’s serialized run in Warrior magazine, telling the story of how Mike Moran becomes Miracleman again, how he remembers when everything changed, and how he begins to realize he must learn to be a superhero all over again, in a completely different world.
In taking a character that hadn’t been seen in 20 years and adapting him to suit his own purposes, Moore was able to get right to the heart of the existential angst of the character (angst that so defines many of Moore’s superhero tales). Mike Moran has been living his life, watching the world change and changing along with it, but Miracleman hasn’t. Miracleman’s last memories are of his golden years, saving the world in the ’50s and ’60s. He remembers everything as brighter, happier, a little less grimed over with the grease of progress. When he returns to the world it’s a darker, more savage place, a place where he’s more apt to be feared than celebrated.
It’s with this condition that Moore begins his Miracleman epic. Though it’s not as ambitious as his Watchmen work, it’s every bit as powerful in its way. It’s hard to find these days, but reprints are apparently underway, so soon a new generation of readers will see this early wonder from a comic book god.