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Thursday, October 6, 2016

On Miracleman Book One: A Dream of Flying - Comic Book Spotlight

            Last time on The Nerd Hub I took a look at the dense publication history of the classic comic book character Miracleman; a story so long that it required its own article to properly cover.  Overall, it was a fun article to research and was full legal battles, drama, people acting like real life villains and had an actual happy ended that allowed the good guys to win for a change.  However, the article itself was originally meant to be a brief prologue section to a review of the first book of Alan Moore’s run on the character.  As I continued to research the history of the character, giving it anything less than an article of its own seemed like an injustice to the story.  But now that the history of the character is properly covered, we can begin looking at Alan Moore’s legendary run on the book.  And today we shall be going over his first volume in the series, Miracleman Book One: A Dream of Flying.
            The book centers around freelance journalist Michael Moran as he settles rather uncomfortably into his middle age years, constantly plagued by nightmares of flying, fire and death.  After a particularly vivid, migraine inducing nightmare, Moran goes to work where he falls victim to a terrorist hostage situation.  As the kidnapping happens, he remembers the word Kimota that somehow transforms him into the being Miracleman; a giant of a man invulnerable to most earthly weapons with super strength, the ability to fly and a host of other abilities.  After dealing with the terrorists Moran sets out to discover what became of the rest of the Miracleman Family, why it is no one seems to remember their exploits and deal with the fact that he literally has an alter ego that is better than his human form in every conceivable way.

            Now, before I go any further you should keep in mind that this is more of an analysis of the volume as a whole as opposed to a straight up review and will contain a number of spoilers for the book.  However, if you want a quick opinion on the book, my belief is that it’s okay.  It’s not the nigh flawless read that you would expect from Moore but is still well written and drawn enough to where you won’t feel like you’ve wasted your time.  The best comparison that I can make is to that of the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation or Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  The majority of it is tolerable but nothing special up until the last act and while you may be tempted to skip it, it is a required viewing/reading in order to understand the better stuff later on.  But with that said, this book has a lot of problems.

            One thing that you have to keep in mind while reading the book is that this is one of Alan Moore’s early works and he hadn’t quite become the master of the medium that we all know and love today.  The main problem with the whole book is how it executes its pacing.  In Moore’s later works like Watchmen, The Killing Joke and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen the creative team was able to account for a good chunk of the characters’ movements, giving us a very clear picture as to how the characters ended up from point A to point B.  Unfortunately, this book isn’t quite as good at those transitions.  The first two chapters in particular can be a little hard to follow as it seems to jump from location to location with very little in the way of transitional panels.  In the first chapter, for example, after Miracleman defeats the terrorists he flies up and bursts through the building’s roof and in the next panel he is in space.  It makes for a very jarring transitions that seems to lack any dramatic buildup and feels as if it was rushed together.
            Likewise, some of the artwork and page layout of the book is just…off.  For the most part the characters are all very well drawn.  The bodies are all proportional and lack any of the over the top features that comic book superheroes tend to have.  Facial expressions all properly convey the emotions that the characters are feeling and their designs are all consistent, even when it’s obvious that an artist had to leave for an issue.  The problem is…well…everything else.  The main problems are the backgrounds and coloring of the work as they have a tendency to be very simple.  Often a single color will be used as a background for a character and said background colors are not always consistent.  Sometimes a wall in one panel that was blue will be black in the next without any thematic reason for it to be so.  Even when they actually decide to put in a background that is consistent with the environment they’re always minimalistic and lack any real details to them.  The action sequences, in particular, fall victim to this.  For example, in a battle relatively early in the book, Miracleman battles someone and the backgrounds and foregrounds are all either bright yellow/gold, red or silver.  A good action sequence knows how to sweep the reader up in the moment and makes them want to know what is going to happen next.  This book’s action, however, just makes you want to skim through it.  The constant use of overwhelming color backgrounds just makes for an eyesore and is often so page consuming that you can barely see or care about what is going on.
            The final problem with the book aesthetically is the odd placement of narrative boxes in certain chapters.  For some reason, especially in the early chapters, the book features a lot of narrative expository boxes that pop up in-between the panels and it can be difficult to figure out if you’re supposed to read the next expository box to the right or the one below the panel.  Maybe this is a nitpick on my part but it’s something that I couldn’t help but find distracting and ruined the pacing of the narrative for me.
            Speaking of the narrative, we also have the plot and story itself which is usually Moore’s strong suite.  This series was the one where Moore first began experimenting with the dark genre deconstruction themes that would dominate most of his work in the 80s.  Unfortunately, like the aesthetics, the narrative and deconstructive elements on display are a bit clunky.  Once again, the main problem is pacing.  For example, early on in the book it is revealed that the cause of Morgan’s amnesia regarding Miracleman was a nuclear explosion that was meant to kill him, Young Miracleman and Kid Miracleman.  However, it turns out that Kid Miracleman survived despite losing his powers and went on to become a successful businessman.  Very quickly, however, it is revealed that he stayed in his Miracleman form all of these years and the constant godlike powers effectively stripped him of his humanity and empathy, turning him into a cold blooded monster who will slaughter anyone in his path for no reason.
            Now there is a lot to unpack here.  One of the reoccurring themes in this series and Watchmen is that having super powered beings in a realistic society would not end well for the people within said society or the superpower beings themselves.  The case of Kid Miracleman is probably one of the purest examples of this.  What we have on display is Moore taking the entire foundational premise of Miracleman and Captain Marvel and showing us what would more than likely happen if you gave unchecked, godlike powers to a kid.  And quite simply, that kid would probably turn into an emotionless monster who doesn’t care about what is right or wrong and will incinerate someone for no reason other than he can.  Overall it’s a pretty smart if sick twist on the whole superhero power fantasy, particularly as it relates to children.
            Unfortunately, this whole idea undercut by the fact that it’s not properly fleshed out or built up in any kind of meaningful way.  From the moment Kid Miracleman appears, you know that he is bad news.  Everything from his design to the narrative boxes scream that this character is trouble and he isn’t in the book for four pages before he goes full blown supervillain on us, literally throwing away all the years of work that he put into his life.  Now, from a certain point of view this can be justified.  The whole idea is to show that the character doesn’t care about any of this because of how long he has lived without consequence.  Unfortunately, from a narrative perspective the character’s sudden introduction and quick turn into a villain ends up feeling like his true purpose was just to be the villain of the issue and give Miracleman something threatening to fight.  While it’s clear that Moore did what he could given this “bad guy of the issue” restraint it doesn’t change the fact that the character’s function is still that of the bad guy of the issue.
            Towards the end of the book in the 8th and 10th chapters, something similar happens.  In these chapters Miracleman’s origins are revealed to him and in typical Alan Moore fashion, the story comes across as a giant middle finger to the Gold and Silver Ages of comics in the same manner as Watchmen and The Killing Joke.  Sadly, in this book, it doesn’t work nearly as well.  The reason is that the timelines of the chapters are kind of all over the place.  In the 8th chapter, for example, the narrative constantly jumps back and forth from three different points in time where you see Miracleman planning with a new ally, various men planning ways to stop the two and watching all of their plans fail.  It’s a very strange montage-like narrative decision that doesn’t work all that well unless it is used deliberately as a flashback or to speed up the passage of time.  In this book, however, it feels unnecessarily choppy and disrupts the flow of the story. 
            Later on in Chapter 10, we finally get another great deconstructive element added to the narrative that, in my opinion, makes the whole book worth reading.  I won’t spoil this one but it is a prime example of Moore taking ideas from the Gold and Silver Ages of comics and making you cry sweet tears of sorrow for loving them.  Unfortunately, the full impact of it is lost on the reader because it is all told through a flashback.  Right as the chapter begins we are told by a British agent that at some point Miracleman goes berserk and destroys the facility that he was going to in 8th and 9th chapters.  The whole story is told to us by this man as we read his report to his superiors as to what happened in the facility, effectively spoiling the ending of it for us.  While it doesn’t degrade what is revealed in the chapter it does reduce the emotional impact we, as a reader, are supposed to feel for the characters.  The build up to it is diminished because of the man’s narration and Miracleman’s outburst doesn’t hit as hard for us because we already know the outcome of the situation.  Again, like the Kid Miracleman chapter, what is revealed is amazing but the storytelling execution of it is flawed and ultimately reduces the full impact of the book’s deconstructive elements.
             Despite all of this, there are parts of the book that worked perfectly but ironically have next to nothing to do with the main plot.  The prologue section of the book is a great example of this.  It takes place during the mid-50s and features the Miracleman Family battling a group of time travelers from the 1980s who are trying to take over the world.  The whole thing is pure Silver/Gold Age cheese from start to finish with very little logic at play and the art work perfectly complements the writing.  Despite the fact that the plot doesn’t come into play in the main story it perfectly sets the tone of what Miracleman was, giving the readers a brief introduction to the world that would serve as a kind of tonal background for the characters and showing us just how different things are from the world that the rest of the book takes place in.
            In the end, however, Miracleman: A Dream of Flying is a bit of a mess.  There are some really great ideas at play that obviously laid the groundwork for the dark deconstruction genre.  Unfortunately, the whole thing is bogged down by questionable page layouts, artwork that varies in quality and narrative decisions that ruins the pacing of the work and keep us from feeling the fill emotions of what these characters are going through.  I didn’t hate the book but it’s clear that at this point Moore hadn’t quite evolved into the master of the medium that he would become just a short few years later.  Next time we’ll be looking at his second volume in the series where things get significantly better but for now, A Dream of Flying is a book that stirs all kind of mixed emotions in me.  It’s not a waste of time but considering the history of the character and what Moore would do later on it can’t help but feel underwhelming.

            So until next time, please Like the new Nerd Hub Facebook Page, check out The NerdHub Facebook Group, Follow us on Twitter and be sure to check out my own personal blog, Trey’s Take On….as well as giving my Facebook Page a like and checking me out on Twitter.  Until then, rest assured this series will make a miraculous recovery in Book Two.




Written & Co-Edited by, Trey Griffeth
Co-Edited by, Jack Flowers


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