Comic Book Review – Miracleman Volume 3

Miracleman Volume 3: Olympus
Reprints Miracleman #11-16, Annual 1
Written by Alan Moore
Art by John Totleben

After the first six issues of Miracleman published in the United States by Eclipse, they got Alan Moore to return to continue the story. This was happening right as Moore was breaking out as the writer on the critically beloved Swamp Thing and Watchmen. Because so much time had passed between the events of the original UK Marvelman short comics and these reprints, the writer decided to use a framing device, jumping a few years ahead. Now Miracleman is reflecting on what happened while flying through a palatial tower. The reader would immediately wonder where he is and what led to this place, creating an evocative narrative hook.

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Comic Book Review – Miracleman Volume 2: The Red King Syndrome

Miracleman: The Red King Syndrome
Reprints Miracleman #5-10
Written by Alan Moore
Art by Alan Davis and Chuck Beckham

In 2012, researchers at the University of Cambridge did a survey of the British people about their beliefs in conspiracy theories. It was found that 60% of Britons believe at least one conspiracy theory. Some of those theories accepted by residents of the U.K. include the government hiding the exact immigration numbers in the country, a plot to make Muslims the political majority in the kingdom, and most telling, that while they are told their country is a democracy, everything is run by a power elite. (The Guardian UK). These theories about the actual workings of the world have percolated in Western cultures for centuries, but it was the 1980s and 90s where they came to full fruition, able to guide the momentum of elections and referendums. In this second volume of Miracleman, Alan Moore fleshes out a conspiracy related to the rulers of the world that speaks to some more significant metaphysical points.

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Comic Book Review – Miracleman Volume 1: A Dream of Flying

Miracleman Volume 1: A Dream of Flying
Reprints Miracleman #1-4
Written by Alan Moore
Art by Garry Leach and Alan Davis

Your first question may likely be, “Who is Miracleman?” Well, you start with Fawcett Comics and their flagship character Captain Marvel. You know him today as Shazam. Captain Marvel was more popular than Superman at one point in the 1940s. Elvis Presley’s hairstyle is based on Cap’s sidekick, Captain Marvel Jr. In 1951, DC eventually sued Fawcett claiming that Cap was too similar to Superman and thus a copyright violation. The courts ruled in favor of DC and Fawcett ceased publication of Captain Marvel. Years later, DC would buy the now failed Fawcett Comics and fold Cap into their properties.

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Comic Book Review – Promethea Volume 1

Promethea Volume 1 (2000)
Written by Alan Moore
Art by J.H. Williams

Alan Moore has always been a remixer of comics history and iconography. In 1999 he started his own imprint of Wildstorm (which was then a division of DC Comics), called America’s Best. The name was a repurposing of a defunct line of comics from the 1940s, which featured superheroes now lost to the memories of the general public like Black Terror and Fighting Yank. Moore stayed in that vein of pulpy, Golden Age stories centering this line around four core titles: Tom Strong, Top 10, Tomorrow Stories, and Promethea. Each book examined an archetype comics in typical Moore fashion, deconstructing the tropes and reinterpreting commonly accepted norms.

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Back Issue Bin: Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing

Swamp Thing #20-53, 60-61, 63-64
Written by Alan Moore
Art by Stephen Bissette and Rick Veitch

Before Watchmen, Alan Moore was simply known as the guy who saved Swamp Thing from cancellation. The series was born out one story in the horror anthology House of Secrets in the 1970s. The unnamed Swamp Monster proved so popular that creator Len Wein recast the story in the present day and gave the character an origin. He was Dr. Alec Holland, a scientists working in the bayous of Lousiana on a “bio-restorative” formula. Its end purpose would be to turn arid environments into lush forests. His lab is attacked and a fire is started, engulfing Holland. The poor man runs into the waters of the swamp where he dies from the burns, blood loss, and trauma. However, he was coated with the formula during the attack and his essences mixes with the swamps. He is reborn as a plant humanoid, with the memories of Alec Holland. All in all, it wasn’t too spectacular of a series and sales reflected it. That is until the British comics writer Alan Moore said he would taking over writing the series. He was given a handful of issues to turn sales around and that’s just what he did.

Moore’s first issue (Saga of Swamp Thing #21) is very reader inaccesible, but he had tie up the plot point left by the previous writer and he did so fairly well in one issue, ending with the death of the main character. Odd way to start a run on a series. The next issue is where he really kicks into gear. In this single issue, Moore completely resets the status quo of the series, with Swamp Thing learning he isn’t Alec Holland, but merely a mass of vegetation given sentience by the dying Holland’s consciousness and the formula. Now that Swamp Thing realizes he isn’t human, his behavior becomes increasingly alien. The series itself switches from a standard superhero comic into some mish mash of that and a horror series. Artist Steve Bissette is incredibly effective with his macabre, otherworldly illustrations. The enemies the creature fights from this point are not one who can be defeated through brute force alone, and stories take on a very philosophical bent.

One of the standout issues deals with Swamp Thing’s long running relationship with Abby Cable. Even upon discovering he is not the man she thought he was, Abby refuses to abandon him, seeing goodness in the human nature of his soul. They have sex which is one of the strangest love scenes I guarantee you have ever seen. It involves Swamp Thing growing strange fruit on himself, and Abby eating some. The fruit secretes hallucinogens and cause Abby’s consciousness to leave her body temporarily and merge with the plant life. Its a very clear example of how Moore writes comics in a more intelligent and mature way than most writers. He acknowledges the superhero tropes but he also doesn’t feel constrained by them. On the other hand, he doesn’t see spandex outfits and extraordinary powers as “cheesy” or “lame”. He is a great appreciator of the depth and breadth of comic books.

While Saga of Swamp Thing was on the verge of cancellation around issue 30, it went on to run until issue 171, a feat that would have been impossible without Alan Moore’s writing. Moore didn’t change or reinvent comics, he simply wrote them better than they had ever been written before. All the melodrama and soap opera are there, they’re just done in a skilled and crafty way. I particularly remember the inclusion of Golden Age villain Solomon Grundy (familiar if you grew up watching Super Friends). Despite being created forty years apart, Swamp Thing and Grundy had suspiciously similar origins. Moore, being a comic book fan, knew this and made it part of the story. It is such a smart little note of continuity for him to have picked up on and its something that continues to resonate with the Grundy character today. If you are looking for an amazingly literary comic you’ll find no better than Moore’s work on this series.