Monday, 27 July 2009

Comic and uncomic destruction

From (also variously on the comics niche circuit) Marvelman to return: David Looney, the San Antonio Comic Books Examiner reports on the news from SDCC (San Diego Comic-Con) 2009 the news that Marvel Comics have bought the rights to Marvelman (aka Miracleman). This looks like the end to one of the most long-running wrangles over legal rights to a comic character, and it could mean we finally see reprints of classic work by Alan Moore (with later contributions by Neil Gaiman).

Moore revived this defunct character with extensive deconstruction: the unexceptional storylines of the original Marvelman (a British equivalent to Captain Marvel) were revealed to be dreams fed to a sleeping group of experimental subjects to keep control of them. One of these subjects, Mike Moran, is now a flabby middle-aged man who has migraines and dreams of flying, until he remembers the word, "Kimota", that gives him the ability given to him by the experiment: to swap to the alternate super-powered body that is Marvelman. As the piece says:
Marvelman was one of the first truly ‘realistic’ takes on the superhero genre, with Marvelman having a serious impact on the world once he appears in public, along with one of the earliest attempts to show what a superhero taking over the world would do to the world itself. In addition it stands as the earliest work of both Moore and Gaiman, which should be of interest to any comic book fan.
Unlike classic comics - Superman, say, operates in a world where the social order remains unchanged by his presence - Marvelman and others with the same powers eventually take over the world, acting effectively as gods. (It paved the way for works such as Watchmen, in which the world economy is radically altered by the godlike Doc Manhattan's ability to transmute and create rare elements). In one scene in the Marvelman seqquence, after the superhumans have disposed of all nuclear weapons by dumping them into the sun, Margaret Thatcher has to be comforted for her distress at realising she no longer has any power.

The series also featured probably the most apocalyptic imaginings of any comic seen, when Johnny Bates, a traumatised young boy whose own alter-ego is the psychotic Kid Miracleman, is bullied and abused to the point where he reverts to the latter and goes on a sadistic rampage in London. This, and the ensuing battle to destroy him, leaves 40,000 dead and central London in ruins (see the review of Miracleman 15, Nemesis, at Ink destroyed my brush).

Not that it takes super-beings to destroy a city. A recent post at Ptak Science Books, The Most Lethal Number: M-69 vs. U-235 (Japan, 1945), looked at the devastation to multiple Japanese cities - little-remembered compared to the nuclear attacks - caused by M-69 incendiaries. It's as good a reason as any to recommend Grave of the Fireflies, the anime adaptation of Hotaru no Haka (A Grave of Fireflies), Akiyuki Nosaka's semi-autobiographical novel about an orphaned brother and sister who have to fend for themselves during the famine after the firebombing of Kobe in 1945. It's quite the antithesis of the superhero genre: the big events and battles are peripheral to its harrowing personal story - simple, yet weaving together imagery with a novel-like complexity. It's one of the most moving films I've ever seen. Roger Ebert - see his review, Grave of the Fireflies (1988) - says "it belongs on any list of the greatest war films ever made" and quotes the animation historian Ernest Rister, who compared it to Schindler's List and said of it, "It is the most profoundly human animated film I've ever seen". Google finds various trailers and exerpts, such as the above from the Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema.
- Ray


  1. glad that you found the write up. I always thought that miracleman #15 was just such a seminal book for changing the game of what comics could do, and it not being a marvel or dc book, with poor distribution, had long gotten lost.

    glad that the miracleman/marvelman saga is actually getting somewhere these days.


  2. Thanks for the comment! There's no information so far about whether the deal will lead to a reprint of the Alan Moore series, but I hope it does.