In my youth, Alan Moore’s run on Miracleman was my white whale. It was a comic book that everyone spoke of with the utmost reverence — it set the tone for everything that we read today and changed the superhero genre — and you simply could not find a copy anywhere. My local shop had a couple of the issues up on their wall, a spot designated for comics I could not afford. For most of my comic-reading life, Miracleman was simply unavailable to me.
The story of this series is one of ongoing legal battles and giant egos. The long and short of it is essentially that more than one party claimed to own the exclusive rights to the character of Miracleman and his series, including the Alan Moore run. People like Todd McFarlane and Neil Gaiman fought over the character and it seemed as though these endless ownership struggles would keep the series out of print forever. Then, in the summer of 2009, Marvel Comics announced that it had purchased the rights to Miracleman and would republish the past works.
Now, during the messy tied-up-legally years, there were certainly other methods of reading Alan Moore’s Miracleman. Fortunately, I could afford to scoop up some issues online and have them delivered to my front door. I could have spent some time on a pirating website and found digital copies. It was out there and I could have found it and read it, but I didn’t. Once I knew I could find it, I didn’t bother because some part of me felt it wasn’t relevant anymore. Superheroes were dark and gritty every month now, so did it matter what Alan Moore had done decades ago with some character that nobody cared about? Wrongly, I thought it did not.
Recently, I decided to pull the trigger and pickup the three hardcovers that comprised Alan Moore’s Miracleman run. He’s credited within only as “The Original Writer,” which one presumes is due to his long-standing desire to not be associated with Marvel Comics. I read the run, for the first time, all the way through, from start to finish. I had expected to find it dated and familiar, a story that I had read a million times since it had been aped endlessly in modern comics. To my surprise, it was neither.
Alan Moore’s Miracleman is stunning. His work on the character is nothing short of brilliant and I loved reading it. Yes, there are some problematic issues with the treatment of certain characters and it can certainly be called insensitive, but that does not mean it is unworthy of study. It deconstructs superheroes in fascinating ways and hits beats that are structured to perfection. It features gorgeous artwork from Gary Leech, John Totleben, and Alan Davis. Miracleman is still significant and is still a book that should be read. I was completely engaged and totally transfixed by the entire work.
Miracleman deconstructs the superhero genre in ways that, still to this day, utterly compelling. Its protagonist is violent and angry, a hero who is constantly pushed to the edge by those who wish to tear him and his family down. He’s ashamed of who he is without his powers, and a fat, tired, powerless reflection of a god. There’s an overwhelming sense of dread throughout the story, something akin to Lovecraft. Moore drags us to the abyss, lets us gaze in, and then tosses us into the darkness. It’s hard to read at times, unflinchingly brutal and dark. I loved it. I loved thinking about it and what it says about us, heroes, and the world we live in.
I’ve come to realize that disregarding Alan Moore’s run simply because modern superhero comics are already tonally dark and violent is foolish. To do so implies that comics – or art of any kind – are based in escalation. It’s saying that once we reach on plateau, everything that came before is meaningless. I don’t believe that. I don’t believe that there is no point in reading In Cold Blood because we have modern stories about murder. I don’t believe we should ignore Mark Twain simply because we have more recent works of social satire. The foundation of our modern works of art is and always should be relevant. Miracleman is an essential chapter in the story of superheroes and one that comic book readers need to recognize. For whatever faults it may have, its influence seems have infinite reach. It’s an important work and one that deserves our attention.