Wednesday, March 25, 2020

DC NEAR-MISS: Miracleman #1 (1985)


DC NEAR-MISS: Miracleman #1 (August, 1985)
"Book One, Chapter 1: 1956"
"Book One, Chapter 2: 1982 Prologue ... a Dream of Flying"
"Book One, Chapter 3"
"Book One, Chapter 4: When Johnny comes marching home..."
Writer - Alan Moore
Pencils - Alan Davis & Garry Leach
Inks - Garry Leach
Colors - Ron Courtney
Letters - G. George
Edits - Dez Skinn
Cover Price: $0.75
From Eclipse Comics

You ever have something that you hold in very high regard... and automatically assume that everyone else should as well?  Ya know, like something that, you care about so much... that it almost boggles your mind that not everybody else feels the same exact way?  Well... to me, one of those things is Marvelman/Miracleman.

I discovered Miracleman way back before I considered myself a wannabe comics historian... and, as it happens, my introduction to the character and concept was pure happenstance.

During my late teens and early 20's, I was working as a corporate trainer for one of the larger truck rental companies in the country... if you stop to think about rental trucks, they're probably the first ones that come to mind.  Anyhoo, I worked overnights, and since we had a relative-skeleton crew, my time would be split between conducting classes (when there was adequate coverage on the phones), or acting as manager.  I'd eventually become the manager, but that wouldn't happen until a few months after this story takes place.

Anyhoo, usually wherever I am, I'm always the "comic guy" among my group.  Sometimes people would humor me, and want to hear me talk about some stories I'd read... or, what I was currently reading... or even some recommendations and whatnot.  What I'm trying to say is, it wasn't any big secret that I was really into comics.

On a couple of occasions, folks who I trained would bring me gifts.  It always made me feel weird accepting them, but I also realized if I didn't take them, it might make the situation even more awkward.  One of these times, a woman brought me a comic she'd found in her garage... and it was the classic Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man, which we've already discussed here at the blog... and yes, I used that very copy for the review.

Another time, and this was a bit different, a woman who I was training told me that she worked as a flea market vendor over the weekends... and had overheard me and my pals talking about comics... and so, she grabbed me a small stack of comics that a neighboring vendor was going to throw out.  So, in essence, she was giving me garbage... or so she thought.

Atop this pile was... Miracleman #2 from Eclipse Comics.  The cover was beaten up, and the back cover was barely hanging on... but, ya know, I smiled, thanked her and took the thoughtful gift all the same... figuring, at worst, I can rifle through the pile... see what's salvageable-enough to add to my collection, and dump the rest once I got home.

Well, at home, I decided to actually read through this weird Miracleman comic... and, dagnabbit, I had never read anything quite like it before.  I was hooked straight away... and, I wanted more.  Unfortunately... that was going to prove to be a toughie.

If you have any sort of familiarity with Miracleman... you likely know the publication limbo he lived in for the better part of two decades.  You couldn't find these Eclipse issues... nor the trade collections anywhere (well, affordably anyway).  Books have been written on the subject... heck, Reggie and I spent several hours back in 2018 talking about it on Weird Comics History... in a series of episodes that it took me two entire years to research for!  We go deep on every little thing... including all the McFarlane stuff... Angela stuff... Gaiman stuff.  It's a really thorough study, if I do say so myself.  They're a run of shows I'm very proud of... and, if you're interested in having a listen, click the image below!


As a matter of fact, Miracleman might've been the first comics-subject (outside of the X-Men) that I actually devoted a ton of time into researching.  I would scour the internet for anything MM related.  You might say that Miracleman is responsible for my ultimately becoming a fake-ass comics historian and rabid researcher!

I'd eventually (late-2007) come into possession of most of the Eclipse run... and, oddly enough most of the WARRIOR Magazine run, via hitting paydirt at a local consignment sale and rummaging through the "trash" at some used book and record stores.  Naturally, the infamous 15th issue was never among those bounties.

I still remember the first time I'd read these issues... and, boy I loved 'em!  Check this out, I even started a blog to review them as I worked my way through!  Here's a snip of a piece that I'd published (on a long defunct blogger site) on Saturday, November 3, 2007, creatively titled: "[Comics] Retro-Reviews, 11/3/07"


Digging deeper into those defunct archives, I actually came across the post I'd written, titled "[Comics] Right Place, Right Time" on Saturday, October 27, 2007:


Jesus... I paid that much for comics back then... and thought I was getting a deal?  What a naive little idiot I was!  "NEVER had such a great find" my pink Irish butt!  Boy, is 27-year old Chris gonna be thrown for a loop when he discovers the true majesty of the cheap-o bins... about four months later when he loses his job.

So, yeah... I was very, very, very excited to finally experience Miracleman.  Since I didn't have the infamous 15th issue... nor any of the Gaiman/Buckingham stuff... I had to rely on a certain book that was written on the subject of all-things MiraclemanKIMOTA! The Miracleman Companion, was released in 2001 by TwoMorrows.  By the time 2007 rolled along and I had most of the run, my copy of Kimota! was already dog-eared and falling apart.  I loved this book.  Still do!


Now, here's where I can bring this back around under the umbrella of this blog's scope.  It's a pretty cut and dry story... with relatively little in the way of "drama", but when Dez Skinn (of Quality Communications) was trying to shop the then-Marvelman around to publishers in the United States... one of his first stops was... DC Comics!  In Kimota!, George Khoury conducted an interview with Dez Skinn, titled: "Reign of the Warrior King".  Here's a page from that chat:


Let's zoom in a bit to the relevant bits (pardon my awful finger-highlighting):


Here, Khoury asks Skinn about trying to sell to DC Comics (and Marvel).  Here was the response from Jenette Kahn (again, pardon my highlighting):


You gotta love it!  Kahn mentions the problems DC already has in the "Marvel" character department... and, while she loves the story, turns Mr. Skinn down nonetheless (DC would take another WARRIOR story written by Alan Moore... V for Vendetta!). Funniest of all is Marvelman's link to the Big Red Cheese.  It's a wildly fun story... I mean, I can't push those episodes of Weird Comics History hard enough!  Ya really gotta check'em out if you're interested in the full story!

UK publications of the final issues of Captain Marvel (#23-24)... before transitioning into Marvelman
Now, I do want to submit to the group that this is all Dez Skinn's recollection... and, if you're familiar with the role he played in the Marvelman/Miracleman saga... he was known to get a bit "creative" with the stories he'd tell.  We're going to assume that he's on the level here though... otherwise, I'd never get to write about Miracleman on this blog!

Dez and the Gang would eventually sell to Pacific Comics... who would go out of business before putting out a single issue.  From there, the property would shift over to Eclipse Comics... where, at least from the promotional materials, it appeared as though they were going to just launch the thing as "Marvelman"!


Yeah, Marvel wasn't going to let that happen.

Anyhoo... it's kind of a shame that Mike Moran wasn't able to play around in the DC Universe... could you imagine the possibilities?  I mean, in Kimota! there's a particularly beautiful (frustratingly so) piece by John Totleben that shows us "what could'a been".


Well, that's enough pre-rambling outta me... let's hurdle over the dashes and into the spoilery synopsis!

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Chapter One opens in 1981, where a group of "futuristic" baddies (well, relatively futuristic to anyone living in 1956 anyway)... traveling back in time to... 1956, in order to overwhelm the "primitives" and, ya know, rule the world.  Pretty sound plan, innit?  Anyhoo, the bad guys crash land within earshot of an orphan named Johnny Bates.  He rushes toward the ruckus and witnesses the weirdos trying to take over.  He shouts his magic word, "Miracleman", and in a bolt of lightning, transforms into: Kid Miracleman!  He starts beating up the geeks... but, it's not long before he's outnumbered.


Rather than go down swingin', Johnny breaks away from the fracas and tracks down his pal, Dicky Dauntless!  Dicky, a Transatlantic Messenger Boy, upon hearing the news... says that same magic word, "Miracleman" to transform into his alter-ego, Young Miracleman!


It's no use, however... one of the Troopers explains to the Miraclefellas that they come from the future... with weapons that can (and have) decimated entire cities!  Asamattafact, Paris and Saigon have already fallen!  The news spreads fact... and reaches the offices of The Daily Bugle (not that Daily Bugle) where young Micky Moran works as a copyboy.  He shouts out his magic word, "Kimota!" (that's "Atomic" backwards... phonetically) to become Miracleman!


He rushes into battle... and, thankfully, that same battle from earlier still rages on!  The Miracle Family decides their only option is to send the Future Troopers back to 1981.  Well, here's the thing, the lead-baddie ain't feelin' it... and instead, orders all of the "Chrono-Cruisers" destroyed!  He also promises that more of his unit will soon be joining them in 1956... and, they too will destroy their Cruisers!


Miracleman has an idea.  He and Young Miracleman will travel through space at Atomic Speed, in order to fly through time... arriving in 1981 to stop the Gestapo from ever coming back to the past.  Kid Miracleman will remain and hold off the baddies as long as he can.


In 1981, Micky and Dicky destroy the Chrono-Cruisers, and beat up the Future-Current-Year-Troopers!


The Police Commander of the "Twelfth Area" arrives to thank Miracleman and Young Miracleman for their service... and promises, without the Science Gestapo to worry about, society will become a Utopia (which Moore will play with at the end of his run)!  Back in 1956, Kid Miracleman stands alone... the Gestapo Geeks have all disappeared... as if they were never there to begin with... because, the weren't!


And with that, Chapter One ends... in an almost ominous way.


Chapter Two opens... and, it's quite a shock to the system.  The art-style is completely different.  Gone are the bright primary colors... replaced with more realistic dulls and drabs.  We join Michael Moran, now an adult, driving home from work with another fella... and he's talking absolute nonsense.  Or so it seems.


Later, Mike Moran dreams... of flying.  In his dreams, he is a colorful superhero... battling baddies, and surrounded by his "family".  The dream turns into a nightmare, when he begins to glow... burn... and finally, explodes!


He wakes up in a panic.  His wife, Liz checks on him... and, it would seem that this is a pretty common occurrence.  He complains of a migraine... to which, Liz suggests he make an appointment with a doctor.  Mike laments the fact that, as a freelance journalist, he makes very little money, and actually feels guilty about be supported by his wife.  She brushes it off... says he's being silly.


That morning, Mike has a story to cover.  It's the opening of a power station in Lakesmere.  On the train ride into town, he is haunted by a word that he can't quite make out.  Kimono?  Komodo?  Krakatoa?  It's somethin' like that!


Mike reaches Lakesmere, and a Press Conference is about to begin.  Unfortunately, some armed and masked-men intervene and hold the place up!  Our man is overcome by his migraine and faints straightaway.


He's dragged out of the place... leaving through a swinging glass door of the Atomic Power Station.  As the door swings, he gets a look at the words in reverse... and something comes flooding back.


Michael Moran has remembered his magic word!


In a crack of thunder, he is transformed into Miracleman... and he now remembers everything!


He takes out the would-be plutonium-jackers with the greatest of ease... almost giddy that he's able to break out of his old, tired "human" body.  He soars into space and closes out this chapter by letting out a raucous "I'm Back!!"


Chapter Three opens with Mike Moran... in his Miracleman form, returning home to greet his wife.  She... is more than a little bit freaked out, and rightly so!  He assures her that he is her husband... and promises to explain everything.


Over a cup of coffee, Mike shares his secret origin with Liz... and, ya know... stop me if you already heard this one.  A teen-age copy boy is met by an old wizard Astro-Physicist... and given a magic word, Shazam! Kimota! with which he can transform into, ya know... a rather Mighty Mortal.


But that's not all!  He also has a "family" of heroes he pals around with!  Ya know, Mary and Freddy Dicky and Johnny.  Why, they even have Hoppy Miracledog!  Their arch-enemies were Dr. Sivana Gargunza and Black Adam Young Nastyman.  I hope you don't think I'm passing any sort of judgment with the Captain Marvel comparisons... the Marvelman concept was an "evolution" of Fawcett's Captain Marvel (in the UK... seriously, check out those Weird Comics History episodes, it's all there!).


Liz still isn't quite sure what to make of all this... and so, she cracks a joke about the "Miracleboys"... which sounds like it could be the name of a musical play I wouldn't see.  Mike doesn't like his life being mocked... and smashes the solid oak floor they're sitting on!


Mike regains his composure and continues his story.  One day, in October, 1963... everything changed.  Ya see, up until this point, the Miracleman Family adventures were very much "Silver Age Silly".  Ya know, high stakes... yet at the same time, no stakes... ya dig?  Then, the Fam was hit with an Atomic Bomb!


All Mike currently remembers of the blast is the bodies of his buddies seemingly splitting and smashing back into one another... he'd wake up months later in a hospital, mangled, burned... and completely unaware that he was Miracleman.


We shift scenes, and see that the news of the "flying man" has spread.  This does not please a certain fella... who upon seeing all this, smashes his television set!  Hmm...


Chapter Four opens with Liz Moran getting out of bed... and answering the phone.  The call is for Mike... who is absolutely shocked to hear the voice of Jonathan "Johnny" Bates, the former Kid Miracleman, on the other end!  They decide to "do lunch" and catch up.


After a shower, Liz and Mike meet up with John.  Worth noting, John Bates is a whole head taller than Mike (remember that).  They sit down and discuss their lives over the past two decades... and eventually, discuss that day in October, 1963.


John talks about his amnesia and loss of power... as well as his becoming a very successful businessman in the field of electronics.  He excuses himself to attend to something, leaving Mike and Liz to chat a bit.  Liz refers to John as "sexy in a sinister sort of way."  Hold that thought.


Later, a storm starts coming through... and John and Mike head up to the roof of the building to continue their discussion.  Here's where the worm turns.  Mike's a smart fella... and has sussed out that Johnny's entire story has been... a lie.  Ya see, Johnny didn't lose his powers in the A-Bomb blast... and, in fact... has remained as Kid Miracleman ever since!  He was 16-years old in 1963... the most powerful being on Earth... and answerable to no one!  Well, that's quite the accusation to levy, innit?


Johnny assures Mike that he's just being paranoid... and then, our man feels as though his former sidekick might be trying do something "in his head".  Mike takes the opportunity to shove Johnny from the roof of the skyscraper, before he might completely wipe his mind clean.  Unfortunately for Mike, however, Johnny Bates is still Kid Miracleman... and, as such, doesn't have much worry about li'l old things like gravity's pull.


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Looooooooooooooooove this.

I almost feel like a heel for even sharing this... as I think Miracleman is one of those stories you really ought to experience yourself... and, is one of those series' that you get more out of with subsequent rereads, as you notice more and more each time though.  Even this time, I noticed little nods to things that would be fully fleshed out as the story continues.

All I'm presenting here is the first issue/first four chapters... there's really so much more, and everything pays off wonderfully... at least as far as the Moore run goes.  Neil Gaiman still hasn't gotten around to finishing his portion... and I'm not exactly holding my breath to see that happen anytime soon.

I look back on that short review of this issue I'd written back in 2007 (thirteen friggin years ago... jeez)... and, find that I basically agree with everything I said there.  I was far more concise as a younger man... it's crazy how badly that "skill" slipped away from me!

Now, I'd be remiss not to at least touch on the troubles with Miracleman.  I won't go too deep here, as all of this information is available in those podcast episodes... but I wanted to share with y'all the page that kinda started the ball rolling on Mike's extended stint in publication limbo.  There's much more to the story, but in the interest in just "sharing an image", here's the last page from Hellspawn #6 (Image Comics - March, 2001) by Brian Michael Bendis and Ashley Wood.


This is where Todd McFarlane was hoping to reintroduce Miracleman (who he thought he'd purchased in Eclipse Comics' liquidation-of-assets auction) as a part of the Spawn Universe.  Imagine what could'a been!  McFarlane would produce a Miracleman statue... and there was even a Spawn action figure set released (that I had to drag myself away from dropping $60 on last Summer!)


Todd wound up getting kiboshed (it's a lonnnnnnnnnng story)... and, instead of Miracleman entering the Spawn-iverse, we got stuck with the, ahem "Man of Miracles" (I'm sure there's no relation).


Anyhoo, I love this... I recommend this... and, I apologize if this entire piece felt like an infomercial for that series of Weird Comics History episodes we did... but, I truly feel as though so much of that adds to the importance of this issue, not only to comics history, but to my own as a fan as well!

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(Not the) Letters Page:


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4 comments:

  1. This was kinda cool. So they took an obscure British character from 20 years earlier who himself was a replacement for Captain Marvel tried to sell it to DC and eventually published it under an indie company and had to change his name to Miracleman. Did I get that right?

    Also, I saw the back issue catalog and noticed DNAgents and remembered them from the sorta kinda crossover with The New Teen Titans.

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    Replies
    1. There's a ton more to the story, but as far as the purview of this site is concerned, yeah, that's about it in a nutshell!

      The Tales of the Teen Titans/DNAgents "sorta-kinda" crossover was actually going to be to be my 1500th post a few weeks ago! It'll be coming up pretty soon.

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  2. Yesssssss! I just love this series. And I wouldn't object if you went through every issue even if it stretches the rules of the blog further than Ralph Dibney's nose or other body parts.

    I'd just clarify that Alan Moore's contribution doesn't start until Chapter 2. The story in Chapter 1 is an actual reprint of a tale from 1956's MARVELMAN FAMILY #1, drawn (and probably written) by Don Lawrence. The transition page of eight panels with consecutively tighter close-ups and the accompanying Nietzsche quote was added by Eclipse editor cat yronwode without Moore's input.

    I can't imagine what it must have been like to experience the unannounced reintroduction of Marvelman in WARRIOR #1 as Moore intended. That had to have blown a lot of minds in jolly old England. The nearest parallel I can think of is Batman finding the smiley-faced button in DC UNIVERSE: REBIRTH #1. (Alan Moore would probably hate that analogy.)

    Definitely agree with your praise for KIMOTA! THE MIRACLEMAN COMPANION and so wish that George Khoury and TwoMorrows had followed through on publishing an updated edition. The closest we came is Pádraig Ó Méalóid's Poisoned Chalice: The Extremely Long and Incredibly Complex Story of Marvelman (and Miracleman) in 2013 and I'd recommend checking out the series of posts over on The Beat:

    https://www.comicsbeat.com/category/comics/poisoned-chalice-comics/

    POISONED CHALICE was also put out in book form as revised and updated 2018 Kindle and paperback editions and reads even better like that. Great cover, too!

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    Replies
    1. I'd love to keep up reviewing this series... but, wow does it take a long time to synopsize! Maybe sometime down the line I'll revisit it.

      I tried reading Poisoned Chalice not too long ago, but found it a little too satisfied with itself (like a lot of the stuff from The Beat) to fully enjoy it. Kimota! felt much more, I dunno, "earnest" and, for lack of a better term, "blue collar" to me. It would've been both great and frustrating had TwoMorrows done an update... since so little has actually come since the Marvel acquisition! Gaiman's had 25 years to write the thing... and still, we wait!

      Crazy to consider, Marvel got the rights over a decade ago at this point, and the only "new" "canon" story we've gotten was that 8-page Grant Morrison story about Kid Miracleman and the Priest in the Miracleman Annual.

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