Exploring the Miracleman Apocrypha

Miracleman Apocrypha trade Mark Buckingham
Mark Buckingham

Delays are nothing new to comic books. In the 90s, readers of From Hell quickly grew accustomed to waiting several months for the next installment of Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s historical opus. It took two years for the epilogue to surface. Less drastic, though still irregular was the final year of Sandman, during which I treated the release of a new issue as an unpredictable surprise. Neil Gaiman once observed that it took him three weeks to script a single issue of Sandman, which did leave me wondering how he had much time for the myriad other projects he was pursuing. (Still wish that Sweeny Todd adaptation he was planning with Michael Zulli had happened). Miracleman had already seen delays during the final Alan Moore arc Olympus, and this continued with Gaiman’s The Golden Age. One reader even wrote in saying that the series must be the “slowest comic ever”; editorial deflected by suggesting that Moore’s Big Numbers or “any Brian Bolland project” were much more protracted). However, as readers today also know, delays are often worth the wait. Olympus and The Golden Age are both outstanding storylines which rank amongst Moore and Gaiman’s best work. Also publisher Eclipse’s financial difficulties (bankruptcy would jarringly cut short Gaiman’s second arc The Silver Age after only two issues) should be taken into account as well. Regardless, Eclipse decided to put out a limited series that would help tide over fans between The Golden and Silver Age.

Miracleman: Apocrypha was a three issue anthology series which debuted in 1991 a few months after The Golden Age wrapped. Gaiman and Golden/Silver Age artist Mark Buckingham provided the framing sequences for each issue. In these brief scenes, Gaiman explores the increasing disconnect between Miracleman and his former humanity. In #1 Miracleman finds himself craving fiction. Yes, there is plenty of knowledge left to explore; one current endeavor is learning the languages of sea mammals. However, he has been numbed by all these facts; there are too few challenges remaining for his god-like powers. “I doubt anything exists on this planet that could cause me pain.” Thus, he turns to fantasy, tales of make believe that release him from the confines of reality.

Miracleman Apocrypha 1 dancing Mark Buckingham(crop)
Buckingham

At the same, these comic book exploits of him and his companions might provide a peak into the human psyche which is now as foreign to him as that of those dolphins swimming beneath the seas. These framing sequences are only a few pages each issue, yet they never feel tossed off by Gaiman. Each of them is imbued with his usual empathic character work and flowing prose style. In #3 there is even a bit of situational humor in the interactions between Miracleman and one of Olympus’ human employees. These brief sketches deepen the character of Miracleman, while also hinting at the loneliness that would influence his resurrecting of Young Miracleman at the opening of The Silver Age. For his part, Buckingham continues his excellent work for the series matching Gaiman’s poetic turns of phrase with evocative images.

Miracleman Apocypha 1 Limbo Matt Wagner
Matt Wagner

Some of these stories focus on Miracleman himself. Steve Moore and Stan Woch’s “Miracleman & The Magic Pen” is a care-free lark reminiscent of original writer Mick Angelo’s stories. Matt Wagner’s “Limbo” strikes a similar tone as Miracleman and the alien Mors share an end of the day chat. While the narrative brushes on serious topics (the moral implications of “curing” aging), the tone remains jovial. Wagner’s story even ends with callback to the 60s Batman TV show. As always, Wagner’s artwork is a delight, especially the opening page of Mors traveling through his underworld. Meanwhile “The Scrapbook” by Sarah Byam and Norm Breyfogle and “Wishing on a Star” by Steve Moore and Alex Ross focus on the limits of Miracleman’s abilities.

“Wishing” features a former astronaut who believes that Miracleman has squashed the human drive for achievement. He dreams of visiting Mars but only by means of human technology not super-natural powers. If the ending might be predictable, Moore and Ross render it with a memorable poignancy. “Scrapbook” on the other hand, teases Miracleman with the potential happiness that he could have found living a normal life with his former wife Liz. Of course, such an existence is a lie which only serves to wound. Miracleman is left crying tears of grief, which Miraclewoman cannot understand. (The scrapbook in question is a false document created by Dr. Gargunza to torment his adversary). That these tales cover a wide spectrum from swashbuckling to tragic reflect not only the complicated personality behind Earth’s savior, but also the divergent opinions about him held by his terrestrial subjects.

Miracleman Apocrypha 2 Prodigal Christopher Schenck(crop)
Christopher Schenck

These everyday citizens of the world feature in some of Apocrypha’s stories as well. The brilliance of Gaiman’s Golden Age was how he used a variety of human perspectives to explore both life in Miracleman’s Brave New World and the enduring qualities of human nature. This example is followed by Kurt Busiek and Christopher Schenck’s “Prodigal” which examines a member of a fundamentalist sect that rejects Miracleman and his accomplishments. Young man Abstinence sets off on a journey of self-discovery that takes a circular, tragic path. He learns too late the cost of turning away from those who jealously guard what they view as the sole truths about life.

A more whimsical note is struck by Dick Foreman and Alan Smith’s “The Janitor.” The narrative follows a janitor as he goes about his daily rounds of cleaning Olympus. Foreman takes advantage of the circumstances to poke some affectionate fun at comics, such as the throwaway reference to the sinister “Anti-Janitor”. Mostly though it is a charming day-in-the-life tale told amidst an extraordinary backdrop. Smith excels at rendering the fantastic, often surreal nature of Olympus. Smith has a terrific visual imagination, which especially shows in the lush, panoramic views. Smith begins with the imagery created by John Totleben and Buckingham but expresses it in his own distinct voice. He also gets in a couple great gags, such the janitor scrubbing a nipple on one of Olympus’ many colossal nude statues. In the end, though, the janitor is simply an everyday guy doing his job while muttering about how “There’s never anything decent on the telly of a Tuesday night.” By following Gaiman’s example, as well as their own voices, Foreman and Smith craft one of the most creative, memorable selections from Apocrypha.

Miracleman Apocrypha 2 Alan Smith(crop)
Alan Smith

The term Apocrypha carries a religious association through its use to label the non-canonical texts connected to the Judea-Christian traditions. Figures from religion and myths engrain themselves in a culture, often being reinterpreted and re-appropriated in the process. Five centuries ago, John Milton was already giving Satan the revisionist treatment before Mick Jagger appealed to his listeners’ sympathies on The Morning Star’s behalf. In the world of The Golden Age, Miraclemen is the new god and his pantheon is made up of various companions. He also has his own malicious Adversary in the person of Johnny Bates, the former Kid Miracleman. Readers witnessed the full fury of Bates’ malice in Olympus, yet time does funny things to personages of evil. The Golden Age hinted at individuals who felt, yes, even sympathize with Bates. Some of the most fascinating chapters of Apocrypha delve deeper into the psychology of Bates and his apologists.

Miracleman Apocrypha 1 Rascal Prince Kelley Jones
Kelley Jones

“The Rascal Prince” by James Robinson and Kelley Jones is one such story. Robinson depicts the moment when Bates goes from being a child to a twisted adult. It starts with a desire to loose his virginity which is derailed by a mugging. Bates is wrapped up in the nobility of his actions, even as the disturbing images by Jones reveal how divorced from altruism the young man is. Criminals and bystanders are brutally murdered while a young woman is viciously raped. The stroke of genius from Robinson is how he is able to carry over this split between perception and reality to a sect of Bates’ devotees. They only see Kid Miracleman, the crusading champion of justice. Any infractions he committed were youthful indulgences; “at the very worst . . . he was a rascal.”

A similar, if tamer, note is struck in Steven Grant and Darick Robertson’s “Gospel.” Here another group preaches how history is written by the winners, which is why Bates’ name has been so denigrated. He was the hero of the Battle of London, while Miracleman was the villain who wished to sellout Earth to the alien Warpsmiths. In the end, he sacrificed himself in order to prevent the destruction of the planet. His existence may now be one of constant struggle, which mirrors that of his followers, yet he hears their prayers and one day will return. These reappraisals of Bates’ character are reminders of humanity’s desire to refashion stories so that they make sense to their own ears, as well as how once taboo figures of dread become tamer with enough passage of time. Both of these lessons remain more than relevant to our present moment in history.

Miracleman Apocrypha 1 library Mark Buckingham
Buckingham

Taken together, this diverse collection of stories succeed in broadening the canvas of Miracleman’s world. They are told in a variety of styles, yet they all blend together well. They build on Moore and Gaiman’s foundation without being restricted by it. At the same time, Gaiman and Buckingham’s own contribution is a fitting continuation of their narrative. Sadly, after Apocrypha, there would only be two more issues of Miracleman. Eclipse filed for bankruptcy and Gaiman’s saga remained incomplete. This month, however, Gaiman and Buckingham will resume The Silver Age, more than two decades after its interruption. Fingers crossed that the wait will be more than worth it.

(Oh and for those playing along at home, Big Numbers remains stalled at two issues, though Moore allowed scans of #3 to be published online. Reportedly, he now prefers finishing it as a TV series).

Cheers

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s