Wednesday, November 14, 2012
More Moore part 1: Marvelman, Book I
A quick note on terminology: for those who don't know, Moore, Davis, and Leach's original comic was called 'Marvelman' from 1982 to 1985, at which time the character was changed to 'Miracleman' due to pressures from Marvel Comics. These days Marvel actually owns the rights (to the character, not to Moore's comics, though that's a story for another time), so now he's called 'Marvelman' again, but as you can see on that picture up there, it says 'Miracleman' on the cover. So for these three essays, it'll be 'Miracleman' for the title, but 'Marvelman' for any mentions in the essays. Got it? Good.
The most arresting thing about Marvelman is that, right out of the gate, Alan Moore proved that he could write comics better than anyone else. Marvelman would be an incredible work for even a journeyman writer, but for a man not even 30, whose previous works involved a bunch of shorts for 2000 A.D. and a Doctor Who one-off, it is absolutely unreal. Moore's prose is self-assured and poetic from the outset, especially in his descriptions:
"The fear is there, coiled in his stomach as he watches, unable to look away. The spider is laying an egg! An egg that burns like the sun..."
Prior to Moore's involvement, Marvelman was a goofy Silver Age character, basically a copyright-free riff on Captain Marvel. In Moore's hands, he becomes something much more: in just these three issues the tables are turned, Marvelman is cathartic and meaningful in ways that Captain Marvel never could even dream of. Props must be given to the artists; Alan Davis and Garry Leach's work is arresting, all dark shadows, grit, and ugly characters, which only makes the contrast greater when Marvelman comes on the scene, glittering and perfect like an Aryan superman (it's not for nothing that Moore quotes Nietzsche in the first issue). Marvelman predicts the entire thrust of comics in the Eighties and since; before The Dark Knight Returns or even Moore's own The Killing Joke and Watchmen, Marvelman was there doing the same thing, and doing it better (well, maybe not better than Watchmen, but certainly earlier). And already Moore is deconstructing superhero archetypes: Marvelman has no prayer against disturbed, disturbing former sidekick Kid Marvelman (surely one of the better villains in recent memory, can't wait to see what Moore does with him later) and only wins the battle on a technicality. Additionally, his attempt to catch a falling baby ends not in cheers and relief, but in broken bones and burns and regret. Try as he might, Marvelman seems ill-equipped to be a superhero, and there's question whether just his returning to the scene caused Kid Marvelman to go ballistic (which has become THE trope used endlessly in Batman, to good effect for sure).
The book ends with Marvelman learning his origins, not as a hero for mankind but as an experiment, his memories toyed with by Dr. Gargunza, a recurring villain in the old, Silver Age issues. An ill-equipped superhero perhaps, but he still has the power of a god, and now the rage to match.
Best quote: "Her name is Stephanie. She likes Adam and the Ants. Her boyfriend's name is Brian. She collects wedgwood. Her insides have turned to water. She is only human."
Up next: Clash of the Titans in Marvelman Book II.