Thursday, 30 December 2010

Alan Moore's Miracleman - I want it!!!

Recently I was fortunate enough to be lent a disc containing the entire '80s run of Alan Moore's Miracleman.  I don't usually like to read pirated digital copies.  After all, no matter how much you dress it up, it's stealing. But for years the rights to this character have been famously wrapped up in a gigantic legal mess involving Neil Gaiman and Todd McFarlane.  The original comics and trade paperbacks are out of print and incredibly rare and valuable.  I had to grab the chance to read it.  I hope you'll forgive me.

Art by Garry Leach

Miracleman was originally Marvelman, a 1950s British knock-off of Captain Marvel.  Captain Marvel's comics had been cancelled in the States but the British reprints were selling really well.  As a result a writer/artist named Mick Anglo was hired to create a character who was close enough to Captain Marvel to retain his readership in Britain.  Cap became Marvelman, Captain Marvel Jr. became Young Marvelman and Mary Marvel became Kid Marvelman.  Their adventures continued until 1963, but in 1981 Alan Moore brought them back.  It wasn't long before Marvel Comics objected to the rather familiar sounding name, and so Marvelman became Miracleman and the rest is history.

The series is truly ground-breaking.  Before Watchmen, V for Vendetta, Dark Knight Returns and Squadron Supreme were to deconstruct the superhero myth, Moore had done it first with Miracleman.    As with Watchmen, Moore places a superhero with god-like powers in a 'real world' context and over the course of 16 issues, follows that scenario to a logical, and terrifying, conclusion.   And it's brilliant. Really, really brilliant.  The series has been hyped so much over the years and it's themes duplicated and expanded upon so much that you'd be forgiven for thinking that it's lost it's impact.  Not a chance.  It really is one of the most powerful and affecting series I've ever read.  I hate reading comics on a computer screen but I could not tear my eyes away from the screen.   I read it a few days ago and scenes and dialogue from the series are still clinging to me.  I'm not going to go into detail on any of these scenes, partly because they've been discussed in so many other places on the internet but mainly because if you haven't read it you deserve the chance to go in as fresh as possible.  All I'll say is, issue #15 is the most expensive individual issue of the series on Ebay and is probably the most discussed issue of the series too.  This is not without good reason.  It's probably one of the most disturbing, affecting and powerful comics I've ever read.

After #16 Neil Gaiman took over until issue #24 when the series was cancelled half way through his story arc.  Gaiman's issues are a very interesting read.  There's plenty of evidence of the amazing imagination that made Sandman so great and they're undoubtedly very well written stories.  But they're ultimately a bit pointless.  Moore gave the series such a definite ending with issue #16 that there's nothing else to really say and Gaiman's just sort of playing around in Moore's sandbox, albeit in an intriguing way.

Marvel Comics have recently won the rights to the character and have been reprinting the old Mick Anglo strips.  As for the status of the Moore/Gaiman stuff, I have no idea.  All I know is, the second this series is reprinted in a new form that won't require hours of Ebay hunting and hundreds of pounds of my much needed cash, then I'll be there to buy it.  And I urge you to buy it as soon as it's possible to do so.  It really is as good as you've heard!

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

A Fantastic Four Christmas

I've had a great Christmas involving much comic book goodness.  I've received all eight volumes of Essential Fantastic Four from various loved ones and I'm currently engaged in the extremely enjoyable task of reading almost twenty years of Fantastic Four comics back to back.  So far I've been struck by how much of an arsehole Ben Grimm is in these early stories.  He's generally portrayed as a loveable grouch these days but in those early Stan Lee/Jack Kirby tales the rest of the FF are treading around on eggshells for fear of setting him off on a super-powered temper tantrum.  It's also amusing to see how much Stan and Jack seemed to enjoy putting Grimm through the emotional wringer.  Every issue Grimm will randomly regain human form, only to turn back to the Thing after a few seconds, much to his crushing disappointment.  Lee and Kirby really were little stinkers!

Fantastic Four #8 by Jack Kirby

Still, it's all great stuff, and it's really got me interested in all things FF related.  I've been debating whether to get the ongoing for a while since I've been hearing great things about Jonathan Hickman's writing.  I'm already a fan of Steve Epting, thanks to his brilliant and much underrated  Aquaman run with Dan Jurgens.  I've been a bit put off by this 3 storyline they're currently engaged in, which is supposedly going to involve the death of a Fantastic Four member.  To be fair, the story may be brilliant for all I know, but FF members have been 'dead' before and it seems to me this story just means a character I really like will be absent for a while until they eventually get resurrected. Having said that both Batman and Captain America's recent 'deaths' resulted in some really interesting stories so I may be wrong.   I think I'll end up waiting it out and maybe get the trades.  After all, it's not as if I'm short of FF stories to read at the moment.

On a bit of a side note, while Googling for Fantastic Four stuff recently I came across the cover of Fantastic Four #375 (1993).

This cover embodies everything that was ridiculous about '90s superhero comics, to the point where I wonder if it was a deliberate parody on Marvel's part.  Sadly I don't think it was.  Note the presence of absurdly large guns, a skimpy uniform for the Invisible Woman, pointless jackets with multiple Rob Liefeld style pouches (even for the Human Torch ?!?!) and a hideous hologram foil background.  Note also the hilarious "This is not your parents' comic magazine" tagline, which makes Marvel come across like an embarrassing Dad trying to look 'hip' in front of his kid's friends.  I was going to let Thing's weird helmet pass, because believe it or not it was actually part of his original costume from Fantastic Four #3.  But it was abandoned in that very issue and he's only wearing it here 'cos Wolverine slashed his face up.  Why does the Thing care that his face is scarred, it's not as if he was winning beauty contests before Wolverine injured him?  

Fantastic Four #3 by Jack Kirby

On the other hand, I own Nobody Gets Out Alive a trade paperback of a story from Fantastic Four #387-392 which occurs not long after the above cover saw print.  It's actually one of my favourite FF stories.  It includes a team in disarray having to battle  a mysterious opponent who's travelling through alternate dimensions murdering different versions of Reed Richards.  It's really entertaining stuff, it features an alternate take on the FF's first battle with Galactus, the hatching of Johnny Storm's Skrull egg and a character called Raphael Suarez who gains the power of the 'Lazerfist' and then is never, ever mentioned again.  It's also worth mentioning that the artist on Nobody Gets Out Alive and FF #375 is Paul Ryan, who's really good and not your typical '90s artist at all.

So, despite the cover, FF #375 might not be that bad for all I know, but it's still an amusing example of '90s comic book excess, and almost certainly not a patch on the wonderful Lee and Kirby stuff that I'm currently having the pleasure of immersing myself in. 

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Merry Christmas!

Thanks for reading my blog this year.  Hope you're all having a fantastic Christmas!