Monday, 15 September 2014

Miracleman, Book 2: The Red King Syndrome Review (Alan Moore, Chuck Austen)

Michael Moran can transform into the superhero, Miracleman, by simply uttering the word “KIMOTA!” (“atomic” backwards and misspelled!). Michael’s wife, Liz, is pregnant with Miracleman’s baby which is bothering him, not least because they couldn’t conceive until he transformed into his alter ego.

But he’s not going to have long to moon about it because the evil Dr Emil Gargunza kidnaps Liz away to South America where he believes he will learn the secret of eternal life in Miracleman’s baby. While Miracleman and Cream head off to rescue Liz, we learn the secret origins of the Miracleman Family and Gargunza’s dark role in their past on something called Project Zarathustra… 

Marvel continues the reprinting of “The Original Writer” and various artists’ Miracleman comics from the 1980s with Book 2: The Red King Syndrome. Marvel have re-mastered the pages and included colour for the first time, giving these comics a more polished look than they’ve ever had before. 

By the way, that’s the only time I’ll refer to Alan Moore as “The Original Writer” because it’s way too pretentious. He may not want his name on any more Marvel or DC books than he can help, but I don’t have to put up with his nonsense in this review. 

So, after the promising start in Book 1, I was really hoping the second book would take off and go nuts - I was told the Miracleman comics only get weirder from here on out - buuuut Book 2 felt fairly mundane, like an ordinary superhero comic. I mean, what’s more by-the-numbers than a superhero origin story? 

Some of the art is pretty good, especially Alan Davis’ design of the crashed alien spaceship, which was the best part of the book, as well as his rendering of the fantasy-scape that the Miracleman Family find themselves in. This book is also notable - not just for being the first reprint in years - for being the first comic that Chuck Austen worked on. 

Austen - at the time working under his birth name, Chuck Beckum - would become a notorious figure in comics for writing the single worst received run on the X-Men ever in the early ‘00s, followed by the worst received run on Action Comics shortly after. Austen would eventually get blacklisted by both Marvel and DC and disappear from comics altogether after 2006 - though this is still some 20 years in the future at this point. Right now, he’s some guy who just left Lucasfilm and is now, somehow, drawing Alan Moore’s Miracleman, providing the worst art the series has had so far. 

Rick Veitch would take over from Austen/Beckum to draw a VERY graphic birth scene, so be prepared for that! And it’s also quite a gory superhero book as Moore’s Miracleman has no qualms over murder. It makes him less heroic in my eyes, but I’m sure some readers, who like their superheroes darker and grittier, will get a kick out of seeing that. But, apart from Davis’ work, the art on the whole is pretty poor, though if you compare the newly re-mastered pages to what it looked like before, they look amazing. 

Moore’s writing on this book might have suffered from the extra pages given when the title switched between publishers. Miracleman started out at Warrior before it went bankrupt and then passed over to Eclipse Comics for this second book. At Warrior, Moore had to compress his work into 4/5 page episodes so Book 1 has this tightness that made it really good. At Eclipse, Moore was given double the pages so the stories in Book 2 feel looser and less focused. 

But it’s more than that - the main story itself, of Miracleman rescuing his wife from the mad scientist Gargunza, simply failed to engage me. It was a weak plotline that doesn’t sustain a full-length book. Moore pads it out with numerous flashbacks to explain how Miracleman came to be, as well as Gargunza’s own backstory, but it never rises to the heights that the title’s reputation promises. It’s not a bad book but it’s nowhere near as brilliant as you might be led to believe. 

That said, I’m still interested to see how the fabled Moore/Miracleman trilogy rounds out. Maybe this second book is the low point in the series that sets up the incredible third book? There are a couple of interesting new enemy characters introduced towards the end and I do want to see what happens to Johnny Bates - does the deranged Kid Miracleman take hold of him again or will Johnny somehow defeat him and regain his life? 

Definitely give Miracleman Book 2 a read if you’re curious, especially since it’s been out of print for ages, but I would go in with lowered expectations. The Red King Syndrome is a decent superhero book but its reputation for being this incredible lost classic makes it all the more underwhelming once you read it.

Miracleman Book Two: The Red King Syndrome

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