Tuesday, November 20, 2012

More Moore part 2: Marvelman Book II

Miracleman, Book II: The Red King Syndrome (1984-85)

One thing you immediately notice upon flipping through the middle book in the Marvelman trilogy is the inherit problem with comic series that aren't explicitly designed as miniseries: the revolving door of art teams.  In its inception Marvelman was the work of Alan Moore and Garry Leach, but that duo lasted a whole issue before Alan Davis was introduced, and by issue 3 Leach had gone. The problem is exacerbated in Book II: not only are there three different artists between issue 4 and issue 10, but they've got such wildly different styles that it can really take you out of the overall narrative. Add this to the fact that Moore himself isn't firing on all cylinders, and The Red King Syndrome falls well short of the first book.

The book really contains two separate arcs: we start first with Marvelman hunting Dr. Emil Gargunza, the man who made Mickey Moran into this being to begin with, enslaving him and creating a false reality for his entire life. Alan Davis starts the arc, and with the exception of a clumsily-done kidnapping scene, the issues aren't too bad, with Gargunza narrating his life to Moran's wife Liz being a high point. Davis' work is as good as ever, dark and severe, and while none of it reaches the heights of the first three issues of the story, things are looking to be very satisfying. So what happened?

In a name, Chuck Beckham. In a phrase, corny revenge plot.

To be fair, I'm sure there are those out there who would love this story. Once Marvelman arrives at Gargunza's Central American hideout, there's plenty of action and a few interesting plot twists, introducing the vicious Marveldog. It's just that Alan Moore proved he could work beyond the confines of genre with the first three issues, and this simple 'superbeing gets revenge on creator' trope should be something he explodes, not follows rigorously. It's got action, and a satisfying conclusion in Marvelman taking his creator into orbit and then throwing him back to Earth as a falling star, but it's rather rote all in all. Beckham's art doesn't help this in the least, being a bog-standard 'How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way' style artist who gives everyone, even elderly Gargunza and out-of-shape Evelyn Cream, toned, muscled bodies. Thankfully he only sticks around till the end of the revenge arc, but his emotionless faces and bland bodies sap any sense of ethos out of an already not-so-great script.

So where to go after Gargunza (literally) fizzles out? Childbirth!

Art for the second arc of the book comes by way of Rick Veitch, who had already began working with Moore on Swamp Thing by this point (one more thing Alan's early works were known for were extremely protracted publishing schedules). Light years more accomplished than Chuck Beckham, Veitch is immediately put to the test in penciling Liz Moran giving birth, in a clinically unflinching scene that lasts nearly the entire issue. After the Gargunza snoozer, Moore was ready to start doing things differently again, and an explicit birth scene is one very strong, unexpected way to do this. Add in the fact that the baby talks seconds after being born, and...seems like Moore and Veitch were able to tap into that Swamp Thing creepiness just fine. The arc ends with the arrival of alien beings here to contain the rampant superheroism...and Johnny Bates, aka Kid Miracleman, in a coma and psychically attacked by his alter ego, is still a variable that I can't wait to see resolved.


Best quote: "It leapt then, its breath slamming into my face, a hot and rancid wall/And then there was a movement too fast to see, a pain too swift to experience/...and all that was a second ago. Where am I now?"

Up next: I married an alien in Marvelman Book III.

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