Friday, November 30, 2012

More Moore part 3: Marvelman Book III

Miracleman, Book III: Olympus (1987-89)

Holy hell, Moore knows how to close off a saga; the storyline starts off exponentially more widescreen and epic than the last, and just grows from there. Marvelman's third act uses a framing story, a monologue by Marvelman himself as he wanders the empty halls of some sort of supremely opulent palace, describing the events that allowed this construction of 'Olympus'. Moore is in rare form, even more so than the first act, his pen dripping with symbolism and long, poetic soliloquys  from Marvelman, the newly discovered Marvelwoman (but not Liz Moran, Marvelman's human wife, who is increasingly sidelined until she simply leaves), and their new alien companions, the highly advanced Qys and Warpsmiths, who put aside their centuries-old rivalries in order to bring the newly-'intelligent' Earth into some sort of galactic community.

One of the main themes running through Marvelman has been whether the presence of superhumans among men is a good thing or ill,and act three is pregnant with the question. We still have yet to see Marvelman do anything at all heroic during the story, and as the story reaches its conclusion many of the things that he does for the 'greater good' border on despicable: Johnny Bates finally loses control of the beast inside him that is Kid Marvelman, which precedes the utter devestation of issue 15, Nemesis (all the chapters of the final act are named after Greek Gods and Demigods). Kid Marvelman obliterates London, and John Totelben shows his chops drawing some absolutely horrific imagery: heads on pikes, women and children eyeless and armless, human skins draped on walls...most of the work in the issue was apparently influenced by Goya, which comes as no surprise at all. After a chapter-long battle in which several of Marvelman's new 'pantheon' is killed or wounded to put Kid Marvelman back into the body of 13 year old Bates, Marvelman himself ends the problem by unceremoniously snapping the boy's neck. Nice going, superhero.

All that's left after the battle, now that there's no question the world knows of the superhuman's existence, is to take control of the world in a kind of fascist utopia, Marvelman, Marvelwoman, the Qys and Warpsmiths, and even Marvelman's goddesslike daughter Winter all keeping a very Big Brother-style eye on the humans of Earth to make sure they live in peace and happiness, or else. Baby Winter even spearheads the eugenics program, naturally. The End.

The last act of Marvelman is indescribably good. If we're still using the Shakespeare analogy, Marvelman ends up being the superhero Richard III, only unlike Richard, what was once Michael Moran ends up on top, untouchable, and stays there when the story closes; there may be rumbles of discontent among the populace, but they go unheeded and in the end are only an uneasy footnote in Moore's tale (he'll use a similar hinting of what badness might befall the plot after the final curtain in Watchmen). John Totelben's art is light years beyond Chuck Bekham's scribbles, and though I still miss Alan Davis and Garry Leach's dark, vicious shadows of the first book, Totelben's work on Marvelman's Ragnarok in issue 15 is impressively shocking and appalling. Moore is in full flower again, a story that posits superheroes as literal gods and takes an unsurprising dig at organized religion as a result...when gods walk the earth, how can society not end up fascist? Mind-blowingly well-written, crushingly depressing, beautiful and horrific in equal turns, Marvelman's final act really shows how forward-thinking Moore was, and how ripples of this work are still felt today, in comics, movies, and literature. We are robbed at a very base level that this masterwork isn't available for all to read, taken together it has to be one of the great trilogies of our lifetime.


Best quote: "Oh Earth, look up/Look up beyond the century's horizons, where the light of the millennium to come already stain the skies with colours strange and new/Look up: we have repealed the laws of gravity, torn off the ceiling of the world that was so very low/The skies are yours, new beaches made of cirrus-cloud, new valleys made of strato-cumulus/Lift up your heads! You were not made to gaze at gutters, mud and puddles all your lives, but have not dared to raise your sights in case the thing you longed for was not there/Look up and see it now, the shape that's haunted human dreams and legends since we first peered from the jungles long ago and wondered what might dwell upon those blue and distant hills, upon those mountains there.../Oh Earth, look up."

Up Next: Springtime for Hitler in V for Vendetta

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