Comic Book Review – Miracleman Book Three: Olympus (2015)

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The fantastic conclusion to one of Alan Moore’s first on-going comics is finally back in print. “Miracleman – Book 3: Olympus” has been one of the most expensive out-of-print graphic novels for many years now. The hardcover version being frequently posted for sale for insane amounts of money (think 4 figures). So, it’s a blessed relief for fans and newcomers alike that there is now a more affordable option for enjoying the finale to Moore’s 8 year opus.

Much has been written about Moore (aka “The Original Writer”) and John Totleben’s work on Miracleman, but needless to say that it’s more than a fitting resolution to all the sub-plots introduced in Books 1 and 2. Told via flashback in a utopian 1987/1988, Miracleman writes the “official” account of late 1982 to his present day. He narrates being reunited with Miraclewoman, meeting the Warpsmiths, the loss of much of his personal life, and the horrific return of Kid Miracleman in 1985. At the end of the book, Miracleman saves the day “for good”, but at what cost?

Moore presents some fascinating themes and realistic consequences of the existence of actual super heroes. Unlike in “Watchmen”, where all the masked heroes were regular people for the most part, Olympus confronts head on how alien the main characters are. From Miraclewoman’s detached attitude to her sexual abuse by Dr. Gargunza; Kid Miracleman’s effortless massacre, slaughtering half the population of London creatively in a matter of hours; to Miracleman’s own personal transformation as he desperately tries to hold onto his humanity, before slipping into other world benevolence.

The conclusion will definitely divide your thoughts and opinions if you see morality in anything but black and white. An apparent utopia is achieved, but are the humans in Miracleman’s fantastical society really free? It’s a very complex ending to the comic, with Miracleman himself unsure about his actions and the future of the world that he’s created.

Totleben illustrates all of these scenarios magnificently, and Book 3 is, by far, the most beautiful of the three volumes. This is incredibly high praise considering Garry Leach’s highly detailed work on the first book, but the consistency of Book 3 really takes it above and beyond. The art really imbibes the mythological tone of Moore’s writing, with Totleben drawing breathtaking imagery seemingly every other page. And when I say breathtaking, I mean in multiple different ways. But these descriptions do not do Totleben’s craft justice – no amount of words probably could. Please, buy this book and experience it yourself. The artwork is worth the price alone.

Moore’s writing in this book far surpasses Watchmen or any of his other work and Totleben’s striking line art seems to be sharper and more detailed in this new edition. Steve Oliff’s new digital colouring also does a good job of matching the quality of Sam Parson’s original traditional colouring and everything appears to be much more vibrant, but not at the expense of compromising the dark atmosphere of the book. This is by far the best chapter in my favourite comic of all time, and it is as fresh and striking today as it was in 1990.

Highly recommended.

 

5 out of 5 stars

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Comic Book Review – Miracleman Book Two: The Red King Syndrome (2014)

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Even though it took 6 issues to tell and filled over 100 pages, Miracleman, Book Two: The Red King Syndrome really isn’t about much. The gist of the plot is this: Dr. Gargunza (Miracleman’s arch enemy from the 50s and 60s) has kidnapped Mike Moran’s wife Liz and Miracleman must save her. That’s it. Six issues. A hundred pages. Right there.

There is more to it, of course, there’s Dr. Gargunza’s origin, how he came to the position he held, how he created Miracleman after studying a downed spacecraft and its dead pilot, how his only hope in creating this legend was that it might breed and Dr. Gargunza could use that child, imprint his consciousness on it and live forever. It’s about five months since the end of Book One and Miracleman and Mike Moran are slowly growing apart (“I don’t trust Moran in a crisis” Miracleman says at one point) as the hero is slowly becoming more godlike in his powers and behavior.

Liz gives birth to Miracleman’s daughter in what’s probably the most graphically rendered birthing scene ever to appear in a comic book. And two mysterious beings appear toward the end of the book in search of . . . well, I’m not really sure WHAT they were searching for. No, that’s not true, I do know what they were looking for, but there’s no way to explain it without giving you the entire history on how Dr. Gargunza created Miracleman, and that would take some time. Suffice it to say, Mike Moran and Miracleman ARE two different beings even though, genetically, they share the same DNA and memories.

The title of Book Two, “The Red King Syndrome”, is taken from Alice in Wonderland. Dr. Gargunza asks his assistant one day when it seems the Miracles are about to wake up from their hypnotic slumber, “Tell me, Dr. Fabian…have you ever read ‘Alice in Wonderland’? You have? Do you remember the Red King? He slept and dreamed, and no-one dared wake him. They were afraid, you see, that they were all part of his dream, and that were he to wake the whole of existence would simply vanish.” If you remember from Book One, Miracleman’s entire history was nothing more than a computer-generated dream he and the other two heroes, Young Miracleman and Kid Miracleman, were having, created by Dr. Gargunza in the Project Zarathustra labs and Gargunza realizes one day that if these three were to wake up, considering they’re the most powerful creatures on the planet, things could get very bad for him.

Alan Moore’s writing is still, in Book Two, just as poetic and beautiful as in Book One, funny in places, terrifying in others. The art is split once again, Alan Davis in the beginning, then taken over by Chuck Austen, then Rick Veitch. I found none of them to be particularly dazzling, even though I’ve always like Alan Davis. His work in here just seemed kind of average, considering how good I know he is. But Miracleman was originally published in the early 80s, so maybe he just hadn’t reached his peak yet. The way the stories are told, the layouts of each issue, seemed very purposeful and I’d be willing to bet that had a lot to do with Moore’s script; I love his attention to that kind of detail at times.

Considering the character development as well as what’s happened in the plot–especially the birth of Winter who, at only a few weeks old, doesn’t cry, but said “Ma-ma” five minutes after being born and has a full set of teeth and eats four tins of solid food at a time–I can’t wait to get into Book Three and see what happens next.

Miracleman is just what I’d hoped it would be, amazing. I read these stories originally 25 years ago, probably longer, and was just hoping they were still as great as I’d remembered. They’re even better. I was right all those years when I said Miracleman was the best comic book ever created.

Alan Moore is often imitated but never duplicated and Miracleman was written at the peak of his skills. This should be required reading for comic book fans.

 

5 out of 5 stars

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Comic Book Review – Miracleman Book One: A Dream of Flying (2014)

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Before inspired stories like Swamp Thing, Watchmen, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and Tom Strong solidified Alan Moore as arguably the best comic book writer of his generation, two important early works of his – Miracleman (formerly Marvelman in the UK) and V For Vendetta – were seminal works in establishing his reputation. Back in the early ’80s, I had never come across anything like Miracleman, it was so unlike any other comic I’d been collecting up to that point. Alan Moore created these impactful stories that were dark and subversive and up-ended the superhero mythos. I wasn’t around in the early ’60s and so had missed out on Stan Lee and Jack Kirby creating their brand. So, for me, Miracleman was THE gamechanger; the start of the British invasion into mainstream American comics which completely transformed the industry in the mid-80s.

Here’s a bit of backstory: Back in the 1940s DC (then National Comics) sued Fawcett Comics, believing that Fawcett’s flagship superhero, Captain Marvel, was a knockoff of Superman. Fawcett ended up discontinuing the Captain Marvel title in the 1950s. This also resulted in the termination of Captain Marvel reprints in the UK. In 1954 Mick Anglo created a British counterpart to Captain Marvel, named Marvelman, to fill in the gap. The Marvelman comic book had a lengthy nine-year run, ending in 1963, at which point the world forgot him. Until Alan Moore came along and resurrected the character.

Mick Anglo didn’t even try to be covert about his mimicking of Captain Marvel. Like the Big Red Cheese, young journalist Micky Moran invokes a magic word to transform himself into a near invincible superhero. Marvelman would also have sidekicks, Dicky Dauntless (a.k.a. Young Marvelman) and Johnny Bates (a.k.a. Kid Marvelman). His nemesis, Dr. Gargunza, was very reminiscent of Dr. Sivana. The Marvelman family’s exploits would be fairly innocuous and standard to superhero storytelling circa the 1950’s.

In 1982, in a UK anthology comic book magazine titled Warrior, Alan Moore presented a worn down, middle-aged Mike Moran, freelance journalist and chronic victim of bizarre dreams and excruciating migraines. Moran had been grasping for years at things beyond his ken, seeking a forgotten word, dreaming of flight. The revelation comes when Moran is endangered during the terrorist take-over of a nuclear facility. It’s when he reacquires that one word which is the key harmonic to the universe. And he returns to godhood. It’s a basic superhero set-up. But it’s only the start. Alan Moore is about to shake up the establishment in earthquake proportions.

So, before Watchmen was even created, Moore had already redefined the superhero genre, had already had his way with the grim post-modern deconstruction of the superhero character. It’s a given that Marvel Comics’ mutantdom is universally feared by ordinary humans. And Spider-man has a running love/hate relationship with the public. Moore, however, made the public’s dread of superheroes a palpable, logical thing. Alan Moore gave us the real ramifications of super beings walking in our midst. It’s scary stuff.

I remember my excitement at Moore’s inaugural story arc. It had elements of sublime horror that foreshadowed Moore’s stint at Swamp Thing. The story unfolds with an escalating sense of dread and oppressiveness. It’s adult storytelling that firmly shies away from kiddish tropes. In light of this, it’s hard not to snicker at that astrophysicist with the inside track on the key harmonic to the universe (so crucial to Marvelman’s 1950’s origin). The main villain of Moore’s first arc is straight up terrifying including the life this villain has been leading while Mike has been trapped in this near-amnesiac state. Moore also introduces a disturbing triangle amongst Moran, his wife Liz, and Miracleman. The wedge-driving question surfaces as to whether Moran and his alter ego are the same person after all.

We also learn of the Spookshow, a branch of the British Air Force Intelligence that is perhaps intimately tied to the Miracleman family. As a nod to the cheesy comic book tropes he’d been subverting, Moore introduces Big Ben, the bowler-hatted Man with No Time for Crime. Big Ben, on the surface, seems a fun if flaky character. But the plot digs deeper and lays bare his tragic underpinnings.

The artists are Garry Leach and Alan Davis, and their contributions to visualising the story are as instrumental as Moore in conveying that sense of realism; Leach and Davis draw characters that look like real people. Miracleman isn’t musclebound, isn’t ever caught in familiar over-the-top heroic poses. The naturalness of his gestures and movements captures how effortless it is for him to do these amazing things and gives you an inkling, without beating you over the head, of how powerful he truly is. The spectacular action beats are staged seamlessly in convincing low-keyed backdrops, and this allows you to buy into the improbable. I do prefer Leach’s work by a smidge. His stuff is more gritty, plants you more solidly in reality. Davis’ is more stylish. Word is that Davis took over from Leach because Leach was such a perfectionist he was jeopardizing the comic’s scheduling release.

How’s this for irony? Marvelman became Miracleman, thanks to Marvel Comics getting antsy and crying name infringement. But at the 2009 San Diego ComicCon, Marvel announced that it had purchased the rights to Marvelman. I’d been in an extended sulk over all the infighting within the industry that cast Miracleman in decades of legal limbo, but that’s done now. Even though I own Eclipse’s 1990 trade (also titled Miracleman Book One: A Dream of Flying), I’m happy to own this Marvel trade, as well. Mainly, because it’s a promise to you and me that this series will continue on and that Neil Gaiman, now unmuzzled, can finally finish off the story he started with his run on the book. This volume from Marvel Comics reprints Miracleman issues #1-4, (which in turn reprinted stories from Warrior #1-11). New contents include 3 or 4 back-up stories. “The Yesterday Gambit” (originally published in Warrior #4) features a temporal leap forward with Miracleman and a Warpsmith. “Cold War, Cold Warrior” (Warrior #9-10) and “Ghost Dance” (A1 #1) feature the Warpsmiths – an aloof, cosmic, peacekeeping, teleporting alien species – who would figure much later in Miracleman’s Olympus arc. I can’t remember if “Saturday Morning Pictures” – originally used in Quality’s Marvelman Special #1 – was included in Eclipse’s 1990 trade. It’s in this one, though, and acts as a coda to Moore’s “A Dream of Flying” arc. In this story, cleaning personnel tidy up the ruins of the Project Zarathustra bunker and end up viewing video tapes about the Miracleman family. It’s essentially a framing device that Quality’s Marvelman Special #1 used to reprint material from Mick Anglo’s original run.

This is easily one of the best comic books I’ve ever read, and is one of the reasons why I fell in love with not only the medium but the stories inside.

5 out of 5 stars

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Logan (2017) – Movie Review

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“Nature made me a freak. Man made me a weapon. And God made it last too long.” Logan (Hugh Jackman)

God is allowing us to enjoy the last in the X-Men /Wolverine cycle with Hugh Jackman having endured 17 years of pumping up to give adolescent males a reason to get up for the demands of an unforgiving world. However, this film, Logan, is not all blood and guts—it presents an aging hero coming to terms with the natural degeneration of his greatness and his legacy.

It’s really all about how these mutants, who clearly represent the fringes of society with odd residents marginalized by the homogeneity of the world. Inevitability hangs over this substantial hero saga, especially an iteration that suggests what even super heroes long for— immortality through lineage or enduring philosophy.

As the founder of the mutant school, Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), tells it to Wolverine: “This is what life looks like: people love each other. You should take a moment . . . .” The film is suffused with a sense of the importance of family, not just Logan and his daughter, Laura (Dafne Keen), but also the new generation of mutants who must band together to survive.

The heroism turns on love rather than technology. The love is familial, in this case Logan discovering his daughter then sacrificing his safety to escort her to Eden, a place with other child mutants, who must hide from the dark forces bent on using them as soldiers. Although such bonding is the stuff of cliché, this film makes the growing love and sacrifice believable.

In the end, the search has been to discover what it’s like to live and love normally. Albeit briefly. Amidst the sturm and drang of violent, bloody super hero films, and this one has as much violence as any other, the discovery of homely love is the greatest adventure of all.

 

10 out of 10 stars

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The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) – Movie Review

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The Amazing Spider-Man is directed by Marc Webb and collectively written by James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent and Steve Kloves. It stars Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Martin Sheen and Sally Field. Music is by James Horner and cinematography by John Schwartzman.

Peter Parker (Garfield) was orphaned as a boy when his parents were killed in a plane crash, raised by his Uncle Ben (Sheen) and Aunt May (Field), he is a clever lad but something of an outcast at high school. While investigating the disappearance of his parents and sporting a crush on class mate Gwen Stacy (Stone), Peter’s life is tipped upside down when he is bitten by a radioactive spider that gives him abnormal powers.

While the Spider-Man franchise doesn’t (thankfully) come packaged with the kind of bizarre mania that comes with Batman, the acolytes are a tough bunch to figure out. Sam Raimi’s trilogy garnered close towards $2.5 billion worldwide, yet now, with this reboot (actually it’s a reimaging) trundled off of the Sony production line, there are plenty of “fans” coming forward to say they never rated Raimi’s films! Magurie was this, Dunst was that, Raimi missed the beat of the comic version of Spidey and etc and etc. Well I’m sorry, but I just don’t remember any fall out apart from the near unanimously agreed upon over stuffing of Raimi’s part 3. Perhaps I just didn’t go on the right Spider-Man forums? But even then it’s hard to argue with a box office take of $2.5 billion, those figures have to be made up of a good proportion of Spidey fans, surely? You would reasonably think…

I mention it because The Amazing Spider-Man has met with reviews from each end of the scale. Those at the high end who support the “reimaging” seem to focus on it being close to the real Spidey universe they wanted, with great casting, better effects work and a origin story of worth. At the other end is the arguments that “reimaging” a film that is only ten years old is daft, especially since it actually doesn’t bring the promised new direction or origin story of worth. In fact it just juggles bits of the Raimi trilogy and plays it out with other Spider-Man characters instead. While Garfield is hardly an improvement since he’s way too old for high school as well! The truth is that Webb’s movie falls somewhere in between both sides of the argument, and that’s not just me being Switzerland and staying neutral!

Negatively it plays out as a compromised production and not the film that the makers initially set out to make, there are too many dangling threads and haphazard edits that leave narrative gaps. An Important character disappears off the radar, other characters are given limited time to breathe, and crucial plot points are arrived at with stupendous leaps of logic. A coda spliced into the end credits tries to entice us for the sequel, suggesting that the quick wipe over the origin “origin” story was deliberate, it’s unlikely, and feels like an afterthought. For a film that purports to be putting its own stamp on the Spidey universe, it quite often makes you think of Raimi’s films anyway. It may be The Lizard instead of Green Goblin and Gwen instead of MJ, but the emotional and psychological beats are still the same. Reboot? My arse. Oh and Horner, who I’m normally a fan of, has turned in a score that lacks vim and vigour, it aspires to be full of swirling superhero fervour to raise the goose flesh on your arms, but instead it’s just goose, and not a decently cooked one at that.

However, on the positive side of things, low expectation really helped me to enjoy the film, and I even watched it a second time to check over some initial reactions I had. There is still a lot to enjoy here. Acting is of a high standard (Ifans’ performance as Curt Connors gets better on repeat viewings), with good chemistry generated between Stone and Garfield, the effects work is (obviously) better ten years on; something which gives us a better-more acrobatic-moving Spider-Man, while the whole make-up of Parker as a geek who becomes cocky, even arrogant, really adds a kick to the first half of the movie’s coming-of-age narrative bent. It’s also good that with a running time of over two hours the makers have the time to expand Peter as a character, making the audience wait with expectation of his life changing date with the spider. As for the villain, it’s true enough to say that The Lizard is hardly an inspiring choice, but it does fit in with the whole origin story plan that Webb and his team want to tell. Though it should be noted that those seeking wall to wall fights between Spidey and The Liz are going to go a little hungry.

It’s big on human story and not the lazy cash in movie it could have been, and undeniably it’s fun, but the holes, dangling threads and logic leaps stop it breaking out to achieve its intentions. I was left looking forward to the sequel.

 

7 out of 10 stars

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FanExpo Toronto 2018 – Cosplayers – Part 1

FAN EXPO Canada is the largest Comics, Sci-Fi, Horror, Anime, and Gaming event in Canada and the 3rd largest Pop Culture event in North America.

Celebrating its 24th year, FAN EXPO Canada has grown from a small comic book convention attracting 1,500 fans into a multi-faceted, 4-day citywide event that attracts over 129,000 people from around the world.

Follow Me:
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Comic Book Review – X-Force Volume 1: Angels and Demons (2009)

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Darkly drawn: blacks, grays, steel blues and vibrant reds, gory, depictive of graphic violence – this is what X-Force is all about. They’re a hit squad, folks out for blood, and serious about it. This one comes with advisories against the kiddies. It is essentially a gore-fest.

The graphic nature aside, this is very well drawn / colored by Crain. The gorgeous yellows of Magus, the blur of red the first time Wolverine punches Cyclops, the panel expression shots of Rahne – excellent work, and it translates pretty nicely as well.

The dialogue for nearly each issue opens with a stream of consciousness – you get to see inside a particular character’s thought process, and consequently, where they are bumping up against walls in their discourse and interactions with other members of the team. From this point we get the bubbled language and somewhat choppy discourse between the characters. In my experience with this, I can say I felt the pace of the story was quick, maybe too quick.

It’s secondary villain (Risman) is built off of ‘The New X-Men’ (2004), which is pretty neat, turning the concept a bit, striking it at a different angle – for instance, what if X-Force intervened against Risman’s campaign, in large-part because it got personal, well: this is what you’d get.

There’s even a bit of a sentimental lean (not sexual tension) to the story from two of our protagonists: Warpath and Rahne.

 

3 out of 5 stars

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