Miracleman: The Marvel Age.

§ January 29th, 2024 § Filed under miraclemarvelman § 13 Comments

Okay, the prediction posts are done, time to talk about something Current and New…which of course means the long-awaited revival of Miracleman.

Regular reader Thom H. noted in the comments here that he wasn’t sure if he was onboard with the final issue of the current volume of Miracleman, “The Silver Age.” At around the same time, I spotted a post on Bluesky from a user by the name of “ElNarez, Herald of Dorkness” (I approve) who had this to say on the topic:

“the comics industry is not beating the ‘wildly unable to deal with any work of substance’ the way Marvel has been fumbling Miracleman; you have an essential post-Watchmen text and it’s treated as this little curio for freaks”

I’ve been dwelling on this for a bit, more so than I usually dwell on Miracleman just as a matter of course. The assertion of the industry being “unable to deal with any work of substance” can be true, mileage varying per publisher, but regardless of commitment the various houses are constrained by resources and potential audiences. I’m sure everyone would love to have a full set of every Little Lulu comic in print in handsome color volumes, available at all times. But those books cost a lot to produce, would cost a lot to warehouse the entire catalog, and probably wouldn’t attract enough sales to justify the costs.

Or to use Marvel as an example, their Marvel Masterworks hardcovers are representing significant material from its publishing history…but they generally have limited print runs, and they cost a lot of money. The recent paperback editions collecting the same material are a good alternative, but several of those are already out of print.

And there are the omnibus editions from Marvel and DC (awkwardly heavy and expensive) and other reprint volumes from both companies (mostly focusing on more recent comics, with some older stories occasionally released), the “facsimile” editions of old comics released piecemeal, and so on. And that’s just The Big Two publishers…smaller publishers have even fewer resources to maintain a backlist of books.

This is just a general overview, and hardly covering every problem faced by publishers (nor does it address digital alternatives, which can have their own issues), but in short: I’m sure every publisher would love to devote the time and money to keeping top material in print in the best formats at affordable prices. The marketplace, however, can’t support it.

Now this wasn’t the complete gist of ElNarez’s comment, I realize, but I wanted at least to mention those topics. More to his point, it was Marvel’s marketing of the material that was botched. But I’d argue it’s not necessarily entirely their fault, but like I’ve said in the past, the publisher sure as hell didn’t help.

Not Marvel’s fault was its inability to promote the material using the name of Alan Moore, who is one of the most famous writers in comics. He asked that his name be removed, and Marvel dutifully removed it from the comics, calling him instead “The Original Writer” (which received some mild mockery).

Definitely Marvel’s fault was the formatting of the comics themselves, in which they reprinted all the previously released stories as a lead-up to the (eventual) new stories. I wrote about this problem way back in 2013 in two posts (pre and post-release), in which the small amount of the comics you’d actually want to read were backed up by editorial material and straight reprints of the original Marvelman comics of the ’50s and ’60s that nobody really asked for, at $5.99 a pop during a time when $5.99 wasn’t a regular price you’d find on Marvel comics.

That basically strangled the baby in the crib, as it were, and even discounting the first issue as I did, sales were not great. Another blow came with a significant printing error cropped up in a later issue, and a promised corrected edition was never issued. That further turned people off, as they realized if Marvel wasn’t going to stand behind this prestige project to any real degree, why should they buy and read it?

That is the kind of fumbling I believe ElNarez is speaking of, a lack of care in curating and presenting the material, which undermines any enthusiasm that may have existed for a comic that 1) features the writing of both Moore and Neil Gaiman, and 2) was a formative work for the deconstructive storytelling that dominated the more prestige superhero books of the period. That’s a long sentence, even for me…I apologize. Anyway, it’s all reprinted in various formats now, and they appear to be all currently available, which is unusual for Marvel.

But again, it may not be entirely Marvel’s fault. There’s the whole “you can lead a horse to water” thing. Sure, you can publish it, and maybe it’s the best comic in the world, but customers aren’t necessarily going to pick it up. To be clear, it’s great comics. I really enjoy Miracleman. I’m the target audience for this, the Guy Who Waited 30 Years for Someone to Pick It Up after Eclipse Comics Went Under. And that may be part of the problem.

In discussing this on Bluesky, estemmed fellow comics commentator Johanna Draper Carlson said (in a post I can’t locate now because Bluesky’s search function stinks…if I got this wrong, Johanna, let me know!) (EDIT: here it is…thanks, Johanna!) that Miracleman may not be getting the attention folks like me thinks it deserves because it’s, well, old. Time may have passed it by. Its innovations may have been copied, its influences bled too far into the art form, for it to really stand out. Who needed to see that John Carter movie when its source material had already been played out in Star Wars and its ilk? Why should we read this new version of an old thing when there are new new things to read?

Which leads me to think that the main audience for this comic is people like me…folks who were reading Miracleman in the early ’90s, who managed to wait this whole time for it to come back without 1) dying or 2) otherwise leaving comics. And even some of them may have dropped away after Marvel’s initial reprinting of Miracleman ended and the promised new stories by Gaiman and artist Mike Buckingham wouldn’t come out for another six years. (Again, not necessarily Marvel’s fault, in that Gaiman had a lot of what I presume to be much better paying work to attend to first, but maybe Marvel could’ve planned things out a bit better to avoid such a gap).

So yes, we’re getting new Miracleman stories at last. And the “Silver Age” chapter of the story concluded just this month, with the new chapter, “The Dark Age” coming eventually. (And to get back to Thom H. — yes, I think the ending of this section is fairly portentous, and can’t wait, but likely will, for the next part.)

And again, yes, this whole hoohar is written by Moore and Gaiman, absolute giants in the field. But it feels like Miracleman’s time in the sun is pretty much done. It was huge when that first Eclipse Comics issue was released in 1985, when Alan Moore had just become a red hot commodity in American comics. And it continued to sell very well as the series continued to push the boundaries of just what a superhero comic was, through Moore’s 16 issues and Gaiman’s following work.

But that 30 year gap. That ain’t nuthin’. I can’t say for sure why this isn’t grabbing the attention it once did. Moore may not be held in as high esteem by current comic fans as he once was. Gaiman’s appeal in comics may be heavily tied to Sandman and not much beyond. Miracleman may just be this thing old people like, a “curio for freaks.” I appreciate that it’s coming out again and that maybe we’ll see an actual conclusion to this story. However, I feel the comics-gnoscenti at large will only begin to really care once the promise of that Timeless one-shot is fulfilled and Miracleman (or more likely, Marvelman, to keep things distinct) enters the Marvel Universe.

13 Responses to “Miracleman: The Marvel Age.

  • Thom H. says:

    Yeah, Marvel has definitely squandered any momentum the MM project initially had in about a half-dozen different ways. What I don’t understand is why Marvel doesn’t do a new marketing push for the conclusion of the story. I suppose at this point they’re just waiting for it to be finished so they can sell the collected editions.

    I wonder how much of my ambivalence about the new material is about the looong wait for it and then the wait between individual issues and then getting expensive new issues that were mostly filler material, etc. I’ll have to read the Silver Age all at once to see how I respond to the story separately from its sporadic publishing timeline.

    I understand the difficulty in getting people excited about Alan Moore- and Neil Gaiman-written comics. The last time Moore was writing for the mainstream was the early 2000s with his ABC line. Same for Gaiman, who has written here and there for Marvel but not since 2007. Their influence is all over current comics, but I don’t think their names are big draws anymore unless we’re talking about prose fiction.

    One final thought: I think Gaiman’s quiet, thoughtful deconstruction style is very out of style. In a marketplace that is mostly about making every superhero story bigger and louder than the one before, Gaiman is giving us introspection. In a marketplace that is about shouting every new character’s sexuality, Gaiman is giving us subtlety. Maybe that’s a marketable selling point, but who would you market it to? Is the Vertigo crowd still buying comics?

  • Johanna says:

    The Bluesky post is here, Mike
    https://bsky.app/profile/johannadc.bsky.social/post/3kjchapqxld2c

    And you’re right, but I was also getting at the nature of not just age, but context in calling it “time-dependent”. Items come out in particular contexts, with the industry and audience and formats all changing drastically from so long ago. You elaborate on that well. Nowadays, there’s simply a lot more to read and choose from (and personally, I find Alan Moore substantially overrated). Superhero deconstruction matters less when superheroes are a lot less significant part of the market.

    Thanks for the quote!

  • Tom W says:

    The plan for Miracleman was clearly for Marvel to swoop in and get a nice little graphic novel backlist it could sell perennially, like DC sells Swamp Thing and Sandman. A legendary 80s graphic novel by Alan Moore, author of Watchmen, with a second half by fandom’s darling Neil Gaiman: who could resist?

    Unfortunately, of all Moore’s 80s works this one’s dated the worst. Superhero deconstruction’s become passé, the first two books are clunky in both writing and to some degree art, and while the third remains pretty great it’s written in a poetic prose style Moore largely abandoned after this. But worse than that was the marketing. Not being able to carry Moore’s name is a big problem for the casual reader, and then Marvel screwed it up further by publishing it as comics which filled half their page count and publishing the graphic novels as hardbacks full of unnecessary B&W pages. It took until last year to bring out an accessible softcover with the full Moore run in, which they only did after they’d exploited every more expensive option.

    And the Gaiman run? Well, he’s not such a name in comics anymore or even in books, having largely moved over to bringing his own backlist to the screen. And it’s incomplete. I love The Golden Age but The Silver Age has taken an age to come out and frankly isn’t great. Even in the 90s it felt a step down from the heights of the previous book, conventional and restrained as compared to the polyphonic pyrotechnics of its predecessor, and the eventual conclusion hasn’t especially convinced. Even the dialogue didn’t have that Gaiman feel in the last issue, and you wonder if Buckingham wasn’t doing most of the lifting.

    I guess there’s never been anything, from The Runaway Soul to Chinese Democracy to The Phantom Menace, worth waiting years for. I’ll get the Silver Age collection when it comes out and I’ll get the Dark Age, but as you say it feels like it’s long since missed its moment and now it’s just for us elderly fans.

  • Thom H. says:

    If I were Gaiman, I would be pretty frustrated at this point. If I’m right, he’s trying to tell a fairly straightforward story in 3 acts:

    Golden Age: This utopia isn’t as great as it seems…
    Silver Age: even for the Miracle family…
    Dark Age: so things go off the rails in a big way.

    But a simple, 18-month story arc has taken 30+ years to publish, which means:

    1. It’s out of step with current superhero trends.

    2. Its internal timing is rendered toothless. What does a 10-year jump into the future matter when that lands us more than 20 years in the past?

    3. Its glacial publishing schedule has obliterated any sense of pacing. If the Silver Age is really the expanded seventh chapter of the Golden Age (thematically), then the 6-year gap between them really detracts from their connection.

    Collecting the Gaiman/Buckingham run helps with the third point but not the first two, which makes me think the collections are also going to seem like “curios.” I certainly don’t see them becoming perennial sellers like Watchmen or Sandman.

    I hope I’m wrong because it’s always nice for retailers to have more regular trade sales. But man, what a bummer to have this story land with such a thud.

  • Matthew Murray says:

    In regards to Gaiman and his non-Sandman comics: Do any of them sell after the initial release window? Like, is Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? still selling copies?

    (Okay, maybe that’s a bad example.)

  • Thelonious_Nick says:

    “I guess there’s never been anything, from The Runaway Soul to Chinese Democracy to The Phantom Menace, worth waiting years for.”

    The fourteen year wait for D’Angelo’s third album is the only thing I could think of. One reason it took him so long is because he couldn’t find any guitarists who could play like he wanted so he had to teach himself to play.

  • Tom W says:

    Re Gaiman’s comics, looking back he never wrote that many, did he? Black Orchid which is like a Swamp Thing spin-off, a trilogy of graphic novels with Dave McKean, Books of Magic, the two Marvel stories and after that it’s pretty much Sandman. There’s not so much that could be a perennial seller and I’ve no idea if any of those are. His impact in the field really is based on a single work.

    Re D’Angelo; I listened when it came out, but only a couple of times. I should return to it, give it another chance…

  • Mikester says:

    For a while there I had a rush of requests of Gaimain’s Marvel 1602…which usually sells okay when it’s available, and given this is Marvel, it’s only sporadically so. Current status: unavailable from Penguin Random House.

  • Mike Loughlin says:

    @Tom W.: although not original to comics, there’s a cottage industry adapting Gaiman’s prose stories to the medium. I haven’t read any, despite top tier artists like P. Crag Russell and John Bolton drawing them. They put Gaiman’s name on a lot more comics.

  • Tom W says:

    1602 is a fun comic, and a great example of letting a writer play with the toys and enjoying the subsequent fun. Eternals I’ve owned twice and got rid of twice. Though there is a lovely symmetry to there being a Celestial left in the world in both that and the Eternals film and thereafter being ignored by everyone…

    @Mike L: I’ve got the Graveyard Book adaptation which is lovely but unnecessary. I’d get the short story adaptations, which have some wonderful artists, if they weren’t prohibitively expensive. But yeah, Gaiman’s name sells across media as a rule. I wonder if the sequel to a strange and dated superhero work won’t be the exception.

  • Oliver says:

    “Miracleman’s time in the sun is pretty much done…”

    Moore’s ending for Marvelman was intended to be as ‘definite but tantalizing’ as Watchmen’s. Any continuation of it, regardless of the talents involved (and in any case I’ve always had very mixed feelings about Gaiman), is both belated and redundant.

  • Jim Kosmicki says:

    I think people got spoiled by the level of curation done by the Vertigo staff in the late 80’s and 90’s. Even in regular publishing, only the few mega authors get kept in print continuously.

    I took a class in graduate school taught by Ray Brown of the Journal of Popular Culture renown. We went through the 20th century, with a list of the top best-sellers of each decade. Each week, we had to pick one of them, read it for classroom discussion, and then write an analysis of why it struck a chord then and why it continued to resonate, or more likely, had been tossed aside. It was a great class that really taught me about what Johanna brought up.

    Miracleman is of the 80’s. There’s nothing wrong with that – it speaks to its time. But to expect it to speak to the 2020’s is asking it to punch way above its weight. There’s still inherent value in reading it for entertainment or historic perspective, but it’s not going to reach the popularity or influence levels it had when it first came out.

  • Snark Shark says:

    “Definitely Marvel’s fault was the formatting of the comics themselves, in which they reprinted all the previously released stories as a lead-up to the (eventual) new stories.”

    Bad move, Marvel! Also, wasn’t it polybagged? Made it hard to skim through to see if i wanted to buy one.

    “and Marvel dutifully removed it from the comics, calling him instead “The Original Writer” (which received some mild mockery).”

    Including from Me! SO RIDICULOUS. I’ll bet his lack of name-on-the-book doesn’t stop him from taking the ckecks.

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