Watchmen / Miracleman
I first read Watchmen before I had read Miracleman. Both were written by Alan Moore, both are deconstructions of the superhero genre, and both were written in the 80’s at latter ends of the decade. And while this may make them very similar in nature, they are vastly different creatures. While I would have to agree that Watchmen is the better comic book in that it set out to show to the world the exact things that a comic can accomplish that both a movie or a book could not. It can depict action and explosions wordlessly like movies, and it can give narrative and dialogue and more information the way books can, but it can also use both traits to greater effect. You can take your time to read a comic and notice all of those tiny recurring themes and motifs. You’re allowed to go back and flip between pages to see vital clues and other things you may have missed. It can use the illustrations as art such as issue 5 of Watchmen, purposefully titled Fearful Symmetry, where Moore and Gibbons designed the comic to reflect itself panel by panel using color and composition in order to draw out each moment as an exact mirror of their respective page all culminating up to a splash page that mirrors a large letter V.
This single letter can be expounded upon in a multitude of ways: the character’s name is Adrian Veidt, it’s the fifth issue, it’s symmetrical and it comes in the exact center of the comic. This is not something easily achieved in a film or a book for that matter.
As I said earlier, Watchmen may have been the better comic but it is Miracleman that is the better deconstruction. Papers have been written and you could spend hours just poring over the detail of each and every panel in the way it is utilized in Watchmen. The story itself, however, is more focused on the time it was living through what with the escalating tension of the Cold War. Moore had sat down to pen a tale of what would happen if there really were costumed vigilantes running around our rooftops and punching bad guys in the jaw. Where Moore faltered is in adding a character that really did have superpowers, i.e. Dr. Manhattan. These are regular humans in costumes and they are powerless to save the world they live in. The only man capable of such wide-scale actions is the only one who doesn’t care enough to do so. Miracleman is what would happen if humans really were granted the power of supermen.
Miracleman is not Moore’s creation however. He began as a creation of Mick Anglo during the 1950s named Marvelman, very similar powers and abilities to Captain Marvel. There were kid sidekicks and they fought off alien invasions and the like all before going home to eat big bowls of strawberry ice cream and laughing before the comic closes out. His name was changed to avoid copyright issues and turned over to young upstart Alan Moore, who immediately began to experiment with the character. First, while all previous adventures of Miracleman were kept canon, they now occurred as nothing more than dreams that he experienced at the hands of the nefarious Dr. Gargunza while he experimented upon Moran and the other members of the Miracle family. Whereas Moran had spent a great deal of time unaware of his heroic past and abilities owing to a concussive injury from a bomb explosion, Kid Miracleman (Johnny Bates) survived the explosion, unbeknowest to Moran , and proceeded to continue to live out his life as his superpowered alter ego. Bates becomes corrupted by his power and becomes completely sociopathic. After the first brutal confrontation, he is tricked into saying the magic word that triggers his transformation and he is once more a scared and weak 13-year-old, innocent of the crimes he has committed but all too aware of them all the same. He’s left in a state home, where he is beaten and ridiculed constantly as he battles the mocking voice of his now wholly independent alter-ego.
After the death of Dr. Gargunza at the hands of Miracleman and the extremely graphic depiction of the birth of his daughter Winter, Moran is left with a choice and bitterly leaves behind his life as a mortal and has dedicated himself to living out the rest of his life as Miracleman and helping the entire earth. It is at this point that young Johnny Bates can no longer withhold the mental onslaught of Kid Miracleman after the latest attack from a gang of bullies leaves him moments away from being raped, and Kid Miracleman resurfaces on the world. He decides to get Miracleman’s attention in the only way he knows how: wide-scale slaughter:
MM is forced to defeat KM and when he has reverted back to Johnny, he has to make the final decision as to what to do with KM and prevent him from ever returning. That initial shock at seeing what Kid Miracleman does when he’s bored is mind-boggling and the attention to detail is both fascinating and grotesque.
Aliens and other sentient beings are introduced and the world is plunged into a technological and cultural boom. MM and his female counterpart Avril run the earth and offer all the humans of the planet the ability to switch between bodies and superbeings are being born, Winter being the first of them. It is at this point beginning with issue 17 that that other superb scribe, Neil Gaiman takes to the helm. Here he has divided the second half of the book into three arcs called the Golden Age, Silver Age, and Dark Age. In true Gaiman fashion, the Golden Age consists mainly of a view of this new world as told through the various people that inhabit it. Government spies that can’t leave their professions behind are kept in sanctuaries with other professionals, one of the robotic duplicates of Andy Warhol, and so on. A glimpse into this radically changed world and how it would relate to us. Only two issues of the Silver Age made it to print, with the reintroduction of Young Miracleman and ending at issue 24 with the beginnings of trouble arising in this idyllic paradise and issue 25 would have been the reintroduction of Kid Miracleman. However, the company that was then publishing the comic, Eclipse, collapsed and we shall never know how the story would have ended. A few pages of issue 25 have surfaced in various online resources and the companion book but otherwise the rest remains a mystery locked up in Gaiman’s head.
Although a lengthy and overly complicated legal battle ensued over the rights of the character, Marvel co. has purchased the rights to the original interpretation of the character from Mick Anglo, but it’s still anyone’s guess as to who owns the rights to the 1980’s version by Moore and Gaiman. Suffice to say, it’s sad that we will most likely never be able to see a finish to this great tale. Owing to the tangle of red tape surrounding it, unless you have hundreds of dollars to spend on tracking down used TPBs online the only way to experience this story is by hunting down scans online. While some of the writing and art show it’s age somewhat, I still find this to be a better deconstruction than Watchmen. Real humans with powers would not run around punching bad guys. They would either take over to set things as best as they can (MM) or else they’d become corrupted by their own power and hubris (KM). Then again, not all humans are alike and I leave with the last page of Moore’s run after Liz (Moran’s wife) turns down his offer of a ‘perfect super powered life’, and MM reflects on her parting words