Comic Book Review – Thor: God of Thunder Volume 4: The Last Days of Midgard (2015)

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This volume collects issues #19-25.

The series takes an interesting turn as Thor faces off against Roxxon Corporate President Darren Aggers. Aggers is clearly polluting the environment and Thor is none too happy about it. Unfortunately, for the God of thunder he cannot swing his hammer at this foe as he is protected by an entourage of lawyers and the politics and bureaucracy of human kind. Thor does have help with rookie agent of S.H.E.I.L.D., Roz Solomon, who tries to help Thor battle Aggers through legal means, though the Odinson is not big on patience in that regard.

In the future, Old King Thor desperately is trying to reignite life on Earth, which is now a barren wasteland. His granddaughters plead with him to give it up, but two of the most enduring traits of the God is his love of Midgard and his stubbornness. To complicate matters, Galactus shows up, very worn down and hungry, and the Earth will be his meal. But, not if the King of Asgard has something to say about it, “Have at thee”.

This collection is bittersweet for a few reasons. First, it signals the end of Aaron’s “God of Thunder” era for this series. Marvel and Aaron made headlines and announcements from different media sources that there would be a Goddess of Thunder, which meant the cancellation of this series as well as the launch of a new one. It does look like it is off to a good start, the Odinson is still around, and is continuing on plot threads from this series. The other bittersweet issue is that Easd Ribic will no longer be the primary artist with Aaron for Thor beyond this volume. He is teaming up with Jonathan Hickman for next year’s Secret Wars event (an excellent combo) but breakout artist Russel Dauterman joins team Thor and is doing a fine job with all things Asgardian. Well, enough of the future of this series and on to the content here…

I love this series and I was never really a Thor fan before picking up volume one. Aaron and Ribic grabbed me with the whole God Butcher arc, through volumes one and two, and forced me into being a mighty fan of thee! Even volume three with Ron Garney on pencils, and Malekith as the antagonist, was quite the awesome journey. I would give the first three volumes a no doubt grade of A++. But this entry here, I would give an A- or even a B+. It is great but does not reach the same plain as it’s predecessors.

Thor’s battle with Aggers and Roxxon has it’s ups and downs but ultimately reaches an anticlimactic conclusion. As Aggers is a new character, it would have been nice to have some more background information on him and how is able to do what he does. Plus, Thor has been around awhile, quite awhile, it seems he would be a bit brighter for a battle with the CEO of a Midgard corporation and not be so stereotypically fooled. The outcome for Asgardia and Broxton felt like it had been covered before in the event Seige and even during Fraction’s run, but felt really forced as Aaron, whether from orders from higher up or not, sets up a new status quo for both realms.

The bright spot of this tale is the moments of action, which Aaron sets up nicely and Ribic and colorist Ive Svorcina make look legendary. Roz Solomon gets further developed which is a plus. She is a rocking new S.H.E.I.L.D agent. And although Aggers is a mystery and a too much of a cliche, he still made a nice villain for this story.

The main highlight for this collection for me is the story of old King Thor, that intersects with the modern tale, trying to revive a dead Earth only to have Galactus show up and be very hungry. Thor’s granddaughters are really cool and are a bunch of B.A.’s! And seeing old King Thor in action is sweet, especially against the devourer of worlds. Again, kudos to Ribic and Svorcina as they illustrate probably the best take on the big fella I have ever seen. The only issue I had here was that Glactus came off as spiteful and mocked Thor quite a bit. The best portrayals of Galactus are where he is cold and indifferent. He has no malice or feelings of revenge when devouring a world, he just does it because it is the will of the comos that relinquishes his hunger in this regard. But this is an undefined future and he looks extremely worn down. He did not even have a herald, so the personality change might have been to the centuries not being too kind to the big fella.

The final issue of the series is a combination of stories. One where a young Thor fights frost giants, another featuring the origin of Malekith, all while the granddaughters of Thor read on about these tales. Entertaining tales as they mostly are setup for the next era of Thor.

More love to Esad Ribic and the art teams here as they turn in incredible work. Ribic gets some help out at the end of this series from illustrators Agustin Alessio, Simon Bisley, and R. M. Guera.

So, for now, this is it for the God of Thunder and an amazing run, but the story does continue and as long as Jason Aaron is writing them and Marvel puts quality artists on them, I will stick with it.

 

5 out of 5 stars

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Venom (2018) – Movie Review

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For those movie-goers who believe there is no need for another comic book movie, you now have People’s Exhibit A. This is the 5th Marvel film of 2018 (yep, that’s a new one every other month!), and it’s the first one proving challenging to say much of anything that is positive or complimentary. The packed house at the screening had very few reactions during the movie, and seemed deflated afterwards.

It should be noted that this is not a Superhero movie, but rather a film based on the Marvel Comic characters and stories of Todd McFarlane and David Michelinie. Four writers are credited with the screenplay, and it seems they either needed more or fewer. Director Ruben Fleisher (ZOMBIELAND, 2009) apparently worked with what he was given, hoping the stellar cast or the CGI could salvage the project.

The always terrific Tom Hardy (Bane in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES) stars as Eddie Brock, a renowned investigative reporter popular for breaking stories of corruption and fraud. Unfortunately, he has a significant lapse in ethics – an unusually forthright comment from Hollywood on today’s media. This lapse costs Brock his job, his girlfriend (4 time Oscar nominee Michelle Williams), and any semblance of normalcy. While investigating the unimaginable human-alien experiments of megalomaniac Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), Brock takes on the powers of the symbiote (Venom) and spends the rest of the movie either trying to control these powers, sitting back and letting the powers take over, or exchanging frat boy dialogue with the possessive being who picked up all nuances of the English language pretty darn quickly.

Venom was last seen in the lackluster SPIDER-MAN 3 and was played by Topher Grace. This time out, Venom is the focus and Spidey is nowhere to be found or mentioned … at least not until post credits (a terrific animated sequence). The CGI is at times very impressive – reminiscent of something John Carpenter might have ordered. Two sides of the Transamerica Pyramid provide a nice visual, however, the effects are not at all consistent. Far too often … especially the battle between Venom and Riot …it’s just plain messy (like letting a group of toddlers play with black and gray slime).

The film’s saving grace could have been the interactions between Mr. Hardy and Ms. Williams, both stellar actors, but the dialogue and situations are so ridiculous that even those scenes don’t click. The moments that draw laughter from the audience may or may not have been by design, but there are far too many ‘forced comedic moments’ that just fall flat.

Composer Ludwig Goransson (CREED, BLACK PANTHER) delivers some nice moments with the score, but the Eminem song over the closing credits sounds amateurish. The film is very loud, and not so much lacking direction as it is burdened with too many directions and misfires. A comic book movie’s first priority is to be fun, and this one just isn’t much of that. Surprisingly, the film is rated PG-13 rather than R, so the excessive violence (and there is plenty) never actually spills a drop of blood. Perhaps the goal was to make a Marvel movie so uninspiring that BLACK PANTHER’s Oscar chances would be enhanced. Otherwise, there’s no excuse.

 

4 out of 10 stars

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Comic Book Review – Thor: God of Thunder Volume 3: The Accursed (2014)

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Yes, I said it, and no, it is not hyperbole folks. Thor has always been my favorite comic book character. Thematically, the Thor mythos is a perfect blend of norse mythology, epic fantasy, and superhero tale that seems almost catered to my tastes. That been said, I’m very well acquainted with the best writers in the history of the character. Lee,Straczynski, Langridge, and most importantly, Simonson. For the past year or so, I’ve now added a new name to the very top of the list right alongside good ol’ Walt, and that name is Jason Aaron. After his incredibly awesome debut run featuring a spine-chilling and fantastic new villain, Gorr the God Butcher, he has returned to tackle a classic villain, and I was a little nervous. With his own original creations, sure, Aaron was great, but could he handle the classic Thor mythos with the same skill and impact? Oh yeah, you better believe he can. This volume has cemented my admiration and respect for Aaron.

This is the third volume of the “Thor: God of Thunder” series, under the Marvel NOW! initiative. It does feel less beefy than Aaron’s first Thor volumes, The God Butcher and Godbomb, as it features two one-off issues to bridge the gaps between the preceding Gorr story and the Roxxon story that is currently on the stands. This in no way diminishes the quality of the volume, however, as every issue, whether part of a multiple-issues story, or just a one off side-story, are all fantastic.

The first issue, #12, features Thor returning to Earth and spending time there, interacting with the various human friends he has made over the years and performing the sorts of acts you’d expect a noble, honorable god like Thor would perform. It’s not an action-packed issue, at all. It is a character study of a god, and it’s a great change of pace. It’s hard to explain, but this issue really humanizes Thor in a way only the very best stories can. It actually reminds me a lot of Superman for All Seasons, and I mean that in the best way. This sort of issue could easily become preachy and/or cheesy to the point of being unbearable, and it definitely strides that line very closely at times, but the fact that it is, for the most part, so poignant and affecting is a testament to Aaron’s fantastic writing.

Issues # 13-17 features the return of Malekith the Accursed. This is the meat n’ potatoes of the volume and once again, Aaron hit it out of the park. I don’t want to spoil too much of the plot, but needless to say, this is a great adventure story. It is filled with very compelling characters, as Thor is joined in his quest this time in the form of the “League of Realms”. This group, appointed by the “Congress of Worlds,” is comprised of appointed warriors to represent each main race in the nine realms. It’s an odd set-up, and could come across as a cheesy Thor-centric Avengers rip-off, but it really is an interesting idea. The amount of humor and intensity pulled out of such a motley crew working together to tackle a truly terrorizing villain is superb. Each character, whether it’s the fancy dual-pitol wielding light elf Ivory Honeyshort, or the more taciturn dwarf Screwbeard, son of No-ears, son of Headwound (he likes to make things “go ‘splode” lol), all have great, unique personalities that bounce off each other and Thor quite nicely. Lots of belly-laugh inducing humor in this one, as well as great tension. Aaron’s characterization of Malekith is easily as fantastic a villain as Gorr was, but very distinctly unique. Malekith’s psychotic sadism and sociopathic, seemingly-senseless plans are made even more unnerving by his lighthearted and eloquently refined manner. Of course, his handling of Thor is stupendous, second to none in my humble opinion. Again, I can’t say it enough, Aaron did an amazing job. The story here is tense, full of gravitas as well as a more down-to-earth grittiness than his past work. Bravo!

Issue #18 ends the volume with a fantastic one-off story revolving around young viking Thor, back in the past and partying with a drunken dragon, and then kicking its ass. It doesn’t get much better than that, does it? I’m partially kidding. It’s a great, fun romp, but it’s also pretty moving as well, heartbreaking even. I’ll just leave it at that. I find the idea of young Thor to be brilliant, as he is a way to show major character development without erasing decades of comic history. I love that.

The art in this volume is definitely the aspect with the least amount of coherency. This volume features three different artists working the pen. Issue #12 is done by Nic Klein, and it’s definitely the weakest of the bunch. That isn’t to say Klein is BAD per se, but it is definitely shaky in parts. Some places, where Thor seems to have a deformed baby face with a five o’clock shadow, distract from the otherwise stupendous story-telling.

The art in issues #13-17 is done by Ron Garney. For the most part, he did a fantastic job. Upon opening the book, I was really sad to see Esad Ribic’s gorgeous painterly art style from the previous Thor volumes was missing, especially when I saw his gorgeous covers in this collection. However, Garney actually comes fairly close to capturing Ribic’s fantasy style and quality, at least relatively speaking. The art in these issues has a fairy-tale like beauty combined with a detailed and powerful sense of fantasy, with some nice comic book superhero boldness from time to time. It’s vibrantly colorful too, which can be a strange contrast to the darkness of the story, but I like it. While it’s not all perfect (the last half of issue 17 in particular is incredibly sloppy to the point of looking unfinished compared to the rest) but overall, Garney did great with the art in this book. I am impressed.

Issue #18’s art was done by Das Pastoras. I was a bit worried about his inclusion in this book, as I always found his past work to be incredibly off-putting. Here though, he did a great job. The best way I can describe it is to have you imagine Maurice Sendak’s art style with a graphic novel detail, and then ratchet the intensity to a level befitting a story where viking Thor fights a freaking DRAGON. Awesome.

I also appreciate the decreased pricing for this volume. While the five issue Malekith story is definitely less substantial than the eleven issues that Gorr received, this volume actually contains more issues than either of those volumes did. Volume 1 had five issues, Volume 2 had six, and this collection has seven issues in total. It’s nice to see us fans getting more content for our money. Hopefully Volume 4 will have eight issues.

All-in-all, this is another homerun from Jason Aaron. The various artists that joined him on this run – Klein, Pastoras, and most especially Garney- all did a great job rising to the task of proving art for Aaron’s brillaint writing. I’m just so floored by the aptitude of the writing here. The story moves along at an excellent pace, is brimming with a brilliant sense of cinematography, and is full of compelling, well-developed characters. Perhaps the most exciting thing to me about this collection of issues is that Aaron plugged in some truly Simonson-level foreshadowing that indicates that his vision for Thor’s future will only get more epic and grand in scale from here on out. I can’t wait! Esad Ribic has also returned to the series as full-time artist, so the future of Thor is looking brighter than ever. If you ever read this Jason, know that I truly feel your name deserves songs to be sung in its honor in Valhalla. So whether you’re a major Thor fan, a big comic book fan in general, or even a newcomer to the character and want a good jumping off point, this (as well as God Butcher and Godbomb) is as good as any volume you’ll find written in the last several decades. As a massive fan of the Thor character, this gets my highest recommendation.

3 out of 5 stars

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Comic Book Review – Miracleman Book Four: The Golden Age (2016)

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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

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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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