Marvelman (rechristened Miracleman for complex, borderline absurd legal reasons that I won’t get into here, but are gone in-depth in the absolutely essential Comic Book History of Comics) was a golden-age British version of Captain Marvel (now better known as Shazam) created after DC Comics won the rights to Billy Batson. That is the extraordinarily abbreviated, simplified version, a longer tale of which is available in this issue as part of the extras and I bring it up only to say that if certain parts of Miracleman sound an awful lot like Capt. Marvel it’s, well, because they ARE. This issue, retailing for six dollars, reprints a story from character creator Mick Angelo that sets up the modern story as well as two parts from artist Garry Leach and the mysterious Original Writer, who apparently requested his name be stricken from the title and not used to promote it as he has no interest in receiving royalties. Sorry for the long preamble, but there’s an AWFUL lot of strangeness surrounding this book, which hasn’t been reprinted in this country in over a decade due to all this stuff and which I, until today, hadn’t even read, though I’d certainly heard of it.
The modern tale begins with a reporter awakening from a dream that leads directly out of the strange, dark prologue and going off to his job, covering the opening of a nuclear power plant. When terrorists attack, the nightmares return to our hero and he suddenly finds a strange, nonsense word on his lips. A word that brings about a startling transformation.
These scenes were communicated through the Writer when he was at the seat of his greatest power: in the mid-80s. A time that he wrote well enough that the dialog and characterizations don’t seem dated in the least, this story could have easily been written thirty days ago as easily as thirty years. The characters are amazingly well-realized, especially given the fact that we’re only really with them for less than twenty pages (not counting the prologue), I feel like we get to the heart of the matter with incredible economy.
The art, again on the core title, is handled by Garry Leach and his work, like his partner’s, remains refreshingly contemporary. There’s a dark realism, think Sam Kieth with more real-world proportions, to his characters and settings that make this tale strangely and starkly realistic, particularly with the murky, moody colors by Steve Oliff. The emotions on the characters’ faces are nearly photo-realistic and each and every one is drawn with individual features and looks. The stories have, apparently, been recolored and they look absolutely gorgeous, still as dark and complex as ever while being sharp and distinct.
The credits for this issue are a COMPLETE mess. Between extras, interviews, actual Golden Age stories and a FAKE Golden Age story (the prologue, which is actually dated as having come out AFTER the first chapter...), and one writer’s refusal to be named, it’s not the easiest thing in the world tracking who did what. The pricetag is $5.99 in the US and that’s a good price for what you get in this package, but if you don’t care about the behind-the-scenes workings nor the actual Golden Age stories, then you may come away feeling ripped off. The actual first chapter is a mere 14 pages with a 12 page prologue by different creators and half the book dedicated to the 1950s stories. The Golden Age stories are well and good for nostalgia’s sake, and all credit to Mick Anglo for handling both art and writing as well as a great run at the plot on the prologue, but if you’re JUST into the modern interpretation, you’re going to have some baggage.
This issue really defines a “mixed bag” in terms of what you get. On the one hand, it’s very cool to see the original stories and, for me, very, very fascinating peering behind the curtain at exactly what went on behind the scenes with this character (the interview with Anglo by Joe Quesada is especially interesting, especially since very little of it focuses on the comic and a great deal focuses on the man himself) but I could see someone who couldn’t care less feeling like they’re paying extra for nothing. Buyer beware, in that case, but the core story here is as rock solid and resonant now as it was thirty years ago.