Marvel is finally reaching the point where they’ve republished all the existing Miracleman work from Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman and are about to continue a saga that’s remained unfinished for decades. This fourth hardcover release collects the first act of Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham’s planned three-act story, and to date the only one that has been printed in its entirety. The Golden Age doesn’t quite meet the standard of Moore’s run, but with new material on the way perhaps history will look on it more favorably.
Though Miracleman is often held up as the most infamous example of an unfinished comic book epic, the truth is that Moore’s run told a complete, cohesive and satisfying story. It’s only Gaiman and Buckingham’s story that remains unfinished. Their work is sometimes looked at as an unnecessary continuation of a conflict that should have ended with Miracleman ascending to godhood and reflecting on the utopia he created in Miracleman #16. The Golden Age explores what happens next, not so much with Miracleman himself, but various inhabitants of this post-war utopia. I’ve seen Gaiman and Buckingham’s work compared to Before Watchmen in terms of being an unnecessary addendum to a revered Alan Moore work. That’s not an entirely fair comparison, but in some ways it’s apt.
At the very least, Marvel’s decision to relaunch the series with Gaiman and Buckingham’s first issue was unfortunate. The fact that this book is labeled “Vol. 1” might make it seem like a proper jumping-on point for those that don’t wish to start from the beginning, but The Golden Age is very much a direct continuation of Moore’s saga. If you’re not familiar with the background behind the Miracleman family and how characters like Mr. Cream, Dr. Gargunza and the Qys fit into that tapestry, this book will be more confusing than entertaining. This is one case where it’s best to start from the beginning or don’t bother at all.
Each of the issues collected in this volume offers a standalone tale that focuses on one character or a handful of characters confronting and adapting to the utopia Miracleman and his allies created in the aftermath of their final battle with Kid Miracleman. One issue follows a small group as they spend days ascending Olympus to pray at Miracleman’s feet. Another centers around one of several dozen androids imprinted with the memories of Andy Warhol as he strikes up a friendship with the similarly resurrected Dr. Gargunza. Another focuses on an entire city of spies playing out an elaborate but pointless game of espionage and counter-surveillance. Miracleman himself is little more than a background figure for much the book. As a god, his struggles are of little concern to readers compared to those of his humble subjects.
Gaiman explores plenty of interesting ideas and conundrums in these issues. The Golden Age is largely concerned with how humans adjust from living in an age of science to an age of miracles, and also the question of whether utopia can truly be achieved when its inhabitants have no free will. It’s lofty and intellectual, but the focus on very flawed, ordinary protagonists helps keep the book grounded.
In some ways, Gaiman’s prose compares favorably to Moore’s work on the previous 16 issues. Moore’s Miracleman run is fascinating as a sort of time capsule of a master writer perfecting his craft. The early issues are a little loose and rough around the edges, whereas the later issues reflect a writer who had cemented his voice and was increasingly losing interest in traditional superhero fare. Gaiman, by comparison, already had several years of Sandman under his belt by the time he took the reins of the series. There’s a confidence to his writing here, as well as a greater willingness to step back and allow Buckingham’s art to tell the story rather than showering the page with text. With the way these issues jump from one protagonist to the next and often shift in terms of tone and presentation, reading Gaiman’s Miracleman isn’t so different from reading his Sandman.
Buckingham’s art is crucial in that sense. While there’s a certain playful quality to Buckingham’s art in Fables, Miracleman is a true showcase for his ability to juggle multiple styles and play with the medium. Each chapter in this hardcover has its own distinctive look. One extended segment is rendered in the style of a children’s storybook and is packed to the brim with fantastical imagery. The issue focused on Gargunza and Warhol is a fitting tribute to the Pop Art sensibilities of the latter. Buckingham is constantly pushing himself and experimenting over the course of these issues. Frankly, if he weren’t returning alongside Gaiman for the remainder of the series, there would be little point in continuing forward.
The one real weakness of The Golden Age is that it doesn’t add enough to the larger Miracleman saga. Taken on its own, this book reads essentially as an extended coda to a story that didn’t really need one in the first place. Gaiman and Buckingham’s exploration of life in utopia is fascinating, but thematically it’s the sort of thing that could just as easily be explored in one or two issues rather than six. There’s a vaguely unfocused, repetitive quality to this collection that isn’t found in Moore’s comparatively more dense issues. For all the lofty ideas and engrossing character work in these pages, does The Golden Age really improve or expand upon Moore’s story in any significant way? Not really.
The question is whether the remainder of Gaiman and Buckingham’s work will ultimately redeem that flaw in The Golden Age. The intent was never to simply dwell on life in utopia, but to showcase Miracleman’s perfect world before the cracks formed in The Silver Age and the whole thing came tumbling down in The Dark Age. Those plans were dashed by the collapse of Eclipse Comics, but they’re finally about to bear fruit now. Hopefully this well-crafted but somewhat long-winded approach will pay off in the remaining two volumes of the Miracleman saga.
On a final note, this hardcover is definitely the way to go for readers who don’t already own the single issues. The physical quality is nothing to write home about, but it’s certainly a better value than the overpriced single issues. The book also includes a hefty amount of bonus material that reprints various sketches, covers and script excerpts.
The fourth book in the Miracleman saga doesn’t quite live up to its predecessors despite being more technically accomplished in many ways. Gaiman’s writing is strong, and it’s tough to imagine anyone else following a comic book titan like Alan Moore. Mark Buckingham is even more impressive as he constantly alters his style and channels big events and heady ideas with ease. But ultimately, this book spends too much time dwelling on utopia and not enough on really pushing the saga forward.
5 out of 5 stars