Editing Miracleman:

How Marvel Can Do It Right

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The long-awaited news has broken, over the weekend, that Marvel plans to finally move forward on its reprinting of Miracleman, beginning with Alan Moore’s issues, moving through Neil Gaiman’s, and culminating by allowing Gaiman and Mark Buckingham to conclude their work on the title.

This is, of course, very good and historic news. It’s also a good sign, in my opinion, that Marvel has stated the series will be called Miracleman, rather than reverting to Marvelman. Many, including at times Gaiman, have stated their preference for the Marvelman name, which is understandable given Marvelman’s role in British comics history. Indeed, that’s one of the things that first attracted Moore to the project. But once Marvelman came to the U.S. and became Miracleman (to avoid legal ramifications from Marvel), both Moore and Gaiman began to work the term “miracle” into the plot. Moore had long referred to Marvelman as a “god,” but these overtones ramped up considerably. This was especially true during Gaiman’s tenure. Essentially, the name Marvelman helps readers understand that the series is a revisionist take on a previously established British character. But readers likely know this anyway, and most current readers of the series don’t have the same nostalgic associations with Marvelman as did, say, the Alan Moore who started the series. The name Miracleman is the more poetic choice, which is best for the work itself.

Some have expressed concerns about the series being relettered and recolored. But the American reprints (by Eclipse) of the originally black-and-white material (from Warrior) has long been the subject of criticism anyway. At the very least, it obscures much of the detail of the original artwork, especially of the strip’s first artist, Garry Leach. Current computer techniques would yield a far more satisfactory result. In fact, anyone with Photoshop today can do better, starting anew from the black-and-white originals. So while I’d caution Marvel to avoid the gradient-heavy look of the recolored Incal, and I’d encourage reference to the original coloring, both to avoid reinventing the wheel and to honor the original look and feel, I’m not troubled by recoloring.

Since Marvel’s relettering the series, there are also a few mistakes in the text of the original, which Marvel ought to take the opportunity to correct. (I’ve noted some in my analysis of the series.)

What concerns me now is rather what Marvel’s going to leave in or leave out. In general, I’d encourage an approach that incorporates as much as possible, but which places that material carefully as part of the series’s overall structure.

So let me get a little personal here. Please, Marvel… please get this right. What the company is about to do is historic, and not just in the sense that everything a big publisher like Marvel does is part of comics history. This is Historic with a capital “H.” Every editorial choice Marvel makes is going to influence how a whole new generation of readers receives a work that’s right up there with Watchmen, yet has been unavailable to them. Maybe every editorial choice matters. But the ones Marvel makes now really matter. Scholars are going to debate them for decades to come. You can trust me on this, because I’m not only a fan begging for his beloved series to be handled well; I’m one of those scholars who’ll be having those conversations.

Yes, maybe I have spent way too much time thinking about this. But these are precisely the kind of things Miracleman‘s publisher needs to take the time to figure out.

Marvel seems to know that publishing Miracleman isn’t something you rush into and tell yourself you can figure out the details later. That’s reportedly why Marvel took such a long delay, to make sure it had all the rights so that it could reprint the entire series without breaks. That’s long-term thinking, and it’s to be commended. Now’s the time to apply that same mentality not only to restoring the artwork but to the sequencing of material.

This is an opportunity to fix the order of a series that has been different in every single printing. Warrior, the Eclipse issues, and the Eclipse collections — none of them agree on what’s included and where, nor even on their chapter designations! This has led to a lot of confusion, which it’s time to end. Marvel’s now got a perfect opportunity to achieve this.

Books One and Two

Miracleman Book One prologue, page 11Eclipse’s Miracleman #1 included an 11-page introductory story, for which Moore appropriated old Marvelman artwork and redid most of the dialogue and captions. The story’s not especially important, and Eclipse left it out of its collected Book One. But for an international audience, it essentially acts as a surrogate for knowledge of those old Marvelman stories. This is especially important if the series is to be called Miracleman. Thematically, the story presents a picture of the super-hero status quo before Miracleman, which will go on to explode that status quo pretty thoroughly. It’s a brilliant opening to the series, which helps set the stage. It also closes with the famous Nietzsche quote that announces the strip’s ambitious intentions. While the quote wasn’t original to Moore’s Marvelman, it’s become closely identified with Miracleman. Leaving it out would lessen the whole. So this introductory story’s got to be included.

There’s also some confusion as to what to call this introductory story. I strongly recommend “Invaders from the Future,” which fits with the story’s themes as I’ve just described.

This introductory story really ought to be titled as Book One’s prologue. There’s a good deal of confusion over how to number Book One’s chapters, and every single printing of the series so far differs on this point. The chapters really ought to proceed numerically, with Moore’s first story as chapter one. And those chapter headings really ought to be preserved and standardized — not only in Book One but in Book Two. (Book Three’s chapter headings are incorporated into the art itself, and they’re not a problem.)

Similarly, every chapter should have its own title. Book Two’s second chapter should thus be called “Legend,” as it was by Eclipse; in its original printing, it didn’t have a title.

The title page Eclipse made for chapter four (“Dragons”) should be left out, and some attempt should be made to restore the chapter’s very nice title from the original Warrior pages, which Eclipse replaced with a shot of the night sky.

Saturday Morning Pictures, page 1Another story that needs to be addressed is the four-page short story titled “Saturday Morning Pictures,” originally printed in Marvelman Special and reprinted in Miracleman 3-D #1. In both of its original printings, it was used as a framing device for reprints of old Marvelman stories. Perhaps because of this original function, Eclipse left this story out of its collected editions. But it’s by Moore and Alan Davis (who illustrated the second half of Book One, and the first half of Book Two), and it would be a shame to lose. Fortunately, the short story doesn’t require reprinted pages to make sense, and it works perfectly as an epilogue to Book One, which it continues from fairly directly. And with that thematic prologue present, Book One then has both a prologue and an epilogue, achieving a certain symmetry. If that prologue carries readers into the series and boldly announces Miracleman‘s ambitions, this epilogue carries readers out of Book One with a downbeat, post-climax tale that both connects to the world of prologue (which has now been recast) and ends by emphasizing how there’s a lot more story to come.

In the pages of Warrior, a few stories illustrated by the great John Ridgway. A silent, untitled story starring Young Miracleman ran in Warrior #12, between Book One and Book Two. Both parts of the two-part “The Red King Syndrome” ran in Warrior #17. Eclipse reprinted these, beginning with “The Red King Syndrome” and continuing with the Young Miracleman story, as back-ups in Miracleman #5-6.

For the collected Book Two, which came to be titled The Red King Syndrome, Eclipse naturally included “The Red King Syndrome.” But the collected edition rather absurdly split up that two-part story, placing the first part as a prologue of sorts and then continuing the story a few chapters into Book Two. (That’s right. You start “The Red King Syndrome,” read a few chapters of Book Two, conclude “The Red King Syndrome,” and then get the whole rest of Book Two.) This edition left out the silent Young Miracleman story.

There’s a pretty obvious solution to this. The two-part “Red King Syndrome,” which introduces many of the themes of Book Two, works quite well as that book’s (two-part) prologue. The Young Miracleman story would then be Book Two’s epilogue, which would mirror the prologue and epilogue structure of Book One. (All four also deal with the story’s fantasy continuity, in one way or another.)

Young Miracleman, page 1As an epilogue, the Young Miracleman story also helps tie Book Two together, because Book Two suffers from artistic inconsistency; now, the prologue and epilogue would feature the same, rather distinctive artist. Book Two also doesn’t really have much of a conclusion: after the traditional villainous climax and the birth that follows, the final chapter is basically a transitional one, which is more concerned with setting up Book Three than wrapping up the themes and story of Book Two. As Book Two’s epilogue, the Young Miracleman story acts as a satisfying callback to the book’s prologue (Moore loved beginning and endings that mirrored one another, and we see this again and again in Miracleman). The silent story, which is superficially innocent but undercuts this in subtle but severe ways, also acts as a perfect epilogue, underlining how far the story of Miracleman has come.

But of course, each chapter (including prologues and epilogues) needs a title, as part of an organized editorial schema. I’d like to suggest “Quiet Desperation” for this tale. It accents the silent nature of this story (which was pretty radical at the time) and how the desperation the story depicts really undercuts how that same story superficially seems to recall better, more innocent times.

I don’t know how many issues Marvel intends to stretch the Moore material. Eclipse ran Book One in Miracleman #1-3, Book Two in issues #4-7 and 9-10 (#8 was a fill-in), and Book Three in issues #11-16. But beginning in issue #6, when new material began, each issue didn’t contain a full issue’s worth of material. Instead, issues ran about 16 pages of story. This changed with Book Three’s famous climax, in issue #15, which ran 22 pages. Book Three’s conclusion, in issue #16, ran 32 pages, plus the interior covers, with a wraparound cover. After this, the story length more or less standardized for Gaiman and Buckingham’s tenure.

Personally, I’d prefer if Book One ran over two issues, since it’s really split right in the middle (as I’ve explored in my analysis of the series). This would help separate the Leach-illustrated work from the Davis-illustrated work, but it would also help fix the two-climaxes problem of Book One, at least for serialization. But those two issues would be pretty large, and I understand if Marvel doesn’t want to do this.

It would sure be nice, however, if Book Two and Book Three could each run four issues. This would allow the Alan Davis material in Book Two, originally serialized in Warrior, to have two issues to themselves, which honors the original material and provides a clear demarcation point for readers, who can better understand the history of the important series. (Of course, that history is a big selling point with Miracleman, so underlining it isn’t only some archivistic concern; it’s Marvel’s commercial advantage.) The next issue would then contain all the Chuck Austen-illustrated material, with the final issue of Book Two illustrated by Rick Veitch. Separating this material honors those artists’ contributions, but it also makes those chapters of Miracleman history feel discrete and identifiable, rather than just running chapters by different artists together, which ends up looking sloppy or thoughtless. Also, the Austen-illustrated chapters are about half the length, and ramming chapters of such different lengths together in a single issue also underlines Book Two’s inconsistency, rather than improving its structure.

Book Three’s pretty straightforward: two 16-page chapters per issue for two issues, followed by two issues reprinting the historic Miracleman #15-16, which certainly deserve to exist as individual issues. They’re two of the most important single issues in super-hero history.

Warpsmith and “The Yesterday Gambit”

The Yesterday Gambit, page 1There is, however, one final story we haven’t considered: “The Yesterday Gambit,” a flash-forward story originally published in Warrior as an interlude between chapters of Book One. One of its sequences features Alan Davis’s first work on Marvelman, before he took over as regular artist. Another sequence is illustrated by Steve Dillon, and another by Paul Neary. It’s a remarkable story that chronologically occurs during what became Miracleman #15. However, it was never reprinted by Eclipse, in part because Moore took Book Three in a somewhat different direction. In fact, however, the incongruities aren’t all that great; I’ve studied them at length, and they could be pretty easily fixed. It would be great to have this historic story as part of Miracleman, but the story doesn’t belong with Book Three, which is of a whole, unified by John Totleben’s artwork and by Moore’s poetic framing device.

There also also a few side stories. Warrior published stories starring Big Ben, a character used in Book One and who briefly returns in Book Three, but these were written by Dez Skinn, not Moore, and are incompatible with Miracleman. That’s not at all the case, however, with Warpsmith.

Warpsmith, page 7Warpsmith is a character in Book Three, but he was originally going to have his own feature in Warrior. In fact, he made his first appearance in “The Yesterday Gambit,” that flash-forward story. Warrior was originally going to have a shared universe, in which V for Vendetta was a parallel universe, relative to Warrior‘s main one. After Leach left Marvelman, he and Moore collaborated on the two-part “Cold War, Cold Warrior,” which ran in Warrior #9-10. It’s a masterful tale that underlines Warpsmith’s very alien mentality and situation, especially compared to the human morality of DC’s Green Lantern Corps. This two-part story was supposed to be the first story of several starring Warpsmith, although no continuation appeared in Warrior. Eclipse reprinted “Cold War, Cold Warrior” in Axel Pressbutton #2 (Dec 1984), although it wasn’t included in any Miracleman collected editions.

In fact, while Miracleman’s rights later became quite tangled, Warpsmith was a clearer case. Moore and Leach retained control over it. In fact, a second Warpsmith story, the seven-page “Ghostdance,” appeared in A1 #1 (1989). It continues directly from “Cold War, Cold Warrior,” and it may well have been scripted during the Warrior days.

We thus essentially have the first 17 pages of Warpsmith, which was originally intended to merge with Marvelman’s continuity, as seen in “The Yesterday Gambit.” But this story, like (what became) Miracleman itself, was never completed.

Understanding this suggests an intriguing possibility: that the “Marvelman” logo on “The Yesterday Gambit” could be replaced with a “Warpsmith” logo, so that “The Yesterday Gambit” could be used as part of the climax of Warpsmith, which need not run longer than a single book. The mild incongruities between “The Yesterday Gambit” and Book Three could thus be understood as a matter of perspective. It’s normal, in side stories depicting some of the same events seen in a main story sequence, for some mild incongruities to exist. So too is it common for characters to be slightly different. With “The Yesterday Gambit” as part of an optional side story, Miracleman would be left intact, yet that historic story would again be part of the overall Miracleman canon.

Between “Cold War, Cold Warrior,” “Ghostdance,” and “The Yesterday Gambit,” one would have a full 27 pages of a prospective single Warpsmith book, including the first 17 pages and 10 pages near the book’s conclusion. All of these 27 pages are written by Alan Moore, with some brilliant and historically important art by Leach, Davis, Dillion, and Neary.

Now, I know this sounds ambitious. I know this seems like I’m going out on a ledge. But I’m only examining the existing material. These 27 pages don’t belong anywhere else, and the 17 pages of Warpsmith stories are clearly the beginning of a longer companion story. One that ought to be completed, as part of the larger task of completing Miracleman.

We don’t have to guess about what might have connected this 27 pages of material together. We know what happens to Warpsmith, once he joins Book Three’s narrative, and those sequences are so compact in Book Three that they’re virtually beginning for expansion, or even for simply seeing them from another, very different perspective. Done right, this would actually enhance Miracleman, rather diluting it.

We also know that Warpsmith dies in Book Three. And guess what? The first few Warpsmith chapters (“Cold War, Cold Warrior” and “Ghostdance”) are focused around the death of a Warpsmith, which foreshadows the main Warpsmith’s death at the end of the book. All that’s needed is to get Warpsmith from “Ghostdance” to where he intersects with Book Three’s story, then tell that story from his point of view, incorporating “The Yesterday Gambit.” Warpsmith would thus begin with him witnessing a comrade’s death and end with his death; it would be united by death and mourning, with the ending mirroring the beginning. But the two deaths are very different, because Warpsmith dies in Book Three to save this backwards planet called Earth, having perhaps found in his own way a little bit of warmth or humanity. All the story beats are right there in Book Three, such as how Miracleman mourns Kid Miracleman but forgets about the fallen Warpsmith. The mourning of Warpsmith would be left to Warpsmith, in a final chapter mirroring “Ghostdance,” only now about the main character’s death. A prologue and epilogue showing Warpsmith’s comrade and widow, assisting with Miracleman’s restructuring of the Earth and contemplating a future on this mudball for which Warpsmith gave his life, might help unify the book (and also reflect the prologues and epilogues of Book One and Book Two).

Ideally, Warpsmith would be serialized as four or five issues, published alongside Book Three and incorporating the rest of the historic Miracleman-related material that just doesn’t fit as part of Miracleman. This isn’t expanding Miracleman; it’s completing part of the original vision for what became Miracleman. Warpsmith need not be salvaged as a continuing property, but the idea of a side book to Miracleman certainly can be salvaged, honoring the work on it that has, in fact, already been done.

Of course, Garry Leach would be the ideal artist. I assume Moore wouldn’t be interested in doing the writing. One would love to see Neil Gaiman write this. Otherwise, someone else could be found, but it would be important to have the right editor.

Now, the rights to Warpsmith are distinct from those to Miracleman. But one has to assume Marvel has secured the necessary permissions, at least for Warpsmith to appear in Miracleman. Marvel may have fully secured the rights to Warpsmith; I don’t know. But I do know that a single Warpsmith book, a side book to Book Three, is actually implied by the structure and history of Miracleman. It’s the only way to honor the work that’s been handed down to us, in sometimes incomplete form, and fully complete the masterwork that is Miracleman.

Apocrypha

Gaiman’s work is far easier to edit; it only had one previous publisher and is relatively straightforward from an editorial perspective. I would encourage Marvel to print the back-ups in Book Four as a prologue to Book Five — which it was — rather than as out-of-sequence back-ups. But that’s about it.

Miracleman: Apocrypha #1, page 2I would, however, strongly urge Marvel not to ignore Miracleman: Apocrypha. Originally published as three issues, Apocrypha essentially consists of short stories by various artists, united by a Gaiman / Buckingham framing sequence. That framing sequence, set shortly after Book Four, is staggeringly good. In it, Miracleman contemplates the issues’ various stories, which in his world are comics. Gaiman excels at telling stories that address the power of stories, and he turns a simple framing sequence into a moving portrait of a god contemplating the unpredictable ways he affects mortals.

The various stories within are, predictably, a mixed bag, but some are very good. Matt Wagner’s there, as is pre-Marvels painted Alex Ross art. But they’re all a part of Miracleman history, and they deserve inclusion.

In fact, Apocrypha should be slightly expanded. There’s an eight-page story by John K. Snyder III entitled “A Reflection” which didn’t make it into the finished three issues; pages have appeared online. There’s no reason it shouldn’t be salvaged.

But Apocrypha, as its name suggests, also provides a perfect place to put Miracleman content that doesn’t fit anywhere else. Doing so would frame this content as a comic book in Miracleman’s world, safely out of continuity.

For example, Eclipse was preparing Miracleman: Triumphant, which apparently had no involvement from Neil Gaiman, when the company went under. Several pages, illustrated by Mike Deodato, Jr., have appeared online. They might be salvaged and turned into a story in Apocrypha.

Heck, even a few pages from Total Eclipse could get in there. For those who don’t know, this was a crossover, published by Eclipse, that included Miracleman. (One of Gaiman and Buckingham’s stories from Book Four was originally published as an interlude in Total Eclipse, which their story completely ignores.) Miracleman doesn’t have a lot to do in the crossover, but if rights permit, a few pages might be salvaged (especially those that introduced Miracleman) as a nod this part of Miracleman’s history. A page of new framing sequence might even permit Miracleman to comment on this vision of himself in a shared super-hero universe. And making it fiction, within Miracleman’s world, is kind of the ultimate way of marginalizing Total Eclipse to out-of-continuity status.

But above all, the jewel of any Apocrypha expansion should be the short Marvelman story a young Grant Morrison famously pitched to Warrior, which rejected the script because only Moore wrote Marvelman. Safely incorporated into Apocrypha, the story wouldn’t upset the Miracleman narrative at all. But it’s a much-talked-about part of Miracleman‘s history, another unfinished story readers and historians discuss at length but which was never completed. Morrison says he still has the script. It’s time this historic story came to light. Incorporating it into the larger Miracleman corpus is should surely be on the agenda of any editor attempting to complete and to publish a definitive Miracleman for posterity.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

In 1996, while still an undergraduate, Dr. Julian Darius founded what would become Sequart Organization. After graduating magna cum laude from Lawrence University (Appleton, Wisconsin), he obtained his M.A. in English, authoring a thesis on John Milton and utopianism. In 2002, he moved to Waikiki, teaching college while obtaining an M.A. in French (high honors) and a Ph.D. in English. In 2011, he founded Martian Lit, which publishes creative work, including his comic book Martian Comics. He currently lives in Illinois.

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3 Comments

  1. A very interesting article, Julian. I just have one question: isn’t Aza Chorn the name of the Warpsmith and aren’t the Warpsmiths the name of the race from which he and his mate comes from? I just thought I would throw that out there because I don’t know whether or not Warpsmith was the name of him in the separate comics aside of Miracleman.

    Also, I am going to send you something on Twitter tomorrow. :)

  2. Yes, it’s Aza Chorn. But he’s a Warpsmith, and I didn’t want to confuse readers with all the names, because it can get linguistically a bit stumbly.

    Look forward to you on Twitter!

  3. I really hope that Morrison short story will get published. And there’s another one called “The Devil and Johnny Bates”, by Jim Clements, also sounds good. I can only wonder what Morrison would have done if he had taken over from Moore (Too bad he felt intimidated by Moore and didn’t take over)! Maybe After Gaiman finishes his story, Morrison can finally take over with a new story arc for the carachter… maybe including him in the main Marvel Universe (If someone can do it it’s probably him).

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