You know all of those 1980s comics that “changed the way we looked at superhero comic books forever:? Before any of them, there was Miracleman by Alan Moore and Garry Leach. Using a Captain Marvel wannabe (the old Fawcett Captain Marvel, not the Marvel Captain Marvel- it’s all very confusing) from the 1950s, Moore and Leach’s 1982 revival of Miracleman (actually called Marvelman but there are whole histories written about that) began the oh-so popular trend of making our superheroes “more realistic.” Moore, a young writer at that time, brought the superhero into the real world of nuclear terrorists and troubled marriages. In Miracleman #1, a reporter named Mike Moran dreams of outer space and colorfully clad men and boys flying out among the stars. A press conference at a local nuclear facility seems like an everyday part of the job for Mike until it is overran by a group of thieves looking to steal some plutonium. Disoriented and dragged outside by the thieves, Mike looks up at a plaque on a wall and tries to read the only word that makes any sense to him, “Kimota.” That word changes everything for Mike and the world he lives in.
If Mike Moran is Billy Batson then “Kimota” is his “Shazam.” Saying the half remembered word, Mike is transformed into the superhero Miracleman. Taking care of the thieves, he blasts into space yelling, “I’m Miracleman… I’m back!!” That morning, he left a dumpy middle-aged man but when he returns home to his wife that night, he’s a young, perfectly sculpted god. She only recognizes him when she looks beyond the physical specimen before her and tries to she her husband in this amazing man. Today, over 30 years after Moore and Leach originally created these opening chapters of Moore’s Miracleman saga, it’s too easy to see Moran as a stand in for ourselves, a comic readership of ordinary men and women who want to be the heroes we are reading about. In that light, the opening pages of Miracleman may be the beginning of a cautionary tale that we should have heeded a long time ago.
It would only be a few years later that Moore would start writing Watchmen and in some ways, Miracleman and Watchmen play off of each other. Watchmen is about how the world reacts with to the fear of superheroes. In that world of mean s.o.b.’s like Rorschach or all powerful deities like Dr. Manhattan, everyone has adjusted to living in fear about what the existence of those “heroes” means. In Miracleman #1, Moore begins exploring just why we should fear the idea of these fantastic figures. It has since become a common Moore refrain but these characters and their stories are just childish. As Miracleman tries to explain his magical origins, ineffective villains and silly sidekicks to his wife, she just laughs. She turns it into a joke that causes him to angrily smash their floor. “I’m sorry, Mike… But that’s such a bloody stupid story!” she says. “Damn you, Liz, you’re laughing at my life!!” he argues back. It’s modern day fanboy rampage, circa 1982.
This awakening of power will have ripple effects. Characters that live in this dream world of Miracleman will change the world. We see brief ripples already happening in this issue. Mike and his wife talk about dreams and Moore and Leach are showing us what would happen if Mike’s dream (and by proxy, our dreams) became real. It starts small, with a wife who doesn’t understand but it will grow from here. Leach, the first of Moore’s artists, has such a strong grounding in the real world that makes us believe that Miracleman is taking place in the here and now. It’s not some Metropolis or Gotham, cities of fiction, but Leach’s Britain begins the story by fooling us into thinking that Miracleman is about what superheroes would be like in the real world. The journey from here will take us toward early but heroic Alan Davis and then finally to John Totleben’s dark end. But for now we have Leach and we have the feeling that everything is real; Mike is real; Liz is real; Miracleman and his fantastical stories are real. As Mike tries to comfort his wife at the beginning of the story, he says “Dreams don’t matter anyway.” But Moore will go on to show us just how false that statement is.