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Musing on Miracles

Brian Hibbs

I’ve been thinking a lot about the news that Mirac…er, I mean MARVELman has been bought by Marvel comics.

As I think I mentioned here in passing, Marvel has a couple of really big problems they’re going to have to overcome in bringing this work to market — and I don’t just mean the lingering legal/creator issues.

My read of the internet’s reaction to this was a significant amount of “Huh?…Who?”. Which kind of makes sense — it has been something like 15 years since an issue of MIRACLEMAN has been released. For all of the talk of the “aging” readership, and whatever, I bet if you took a poll, less than half of today’s readership has ever read a printed copy of MIRACLEMAN — MM is more known for it’s not being available than from something that the majority of the readership has any personal knowledge of, or affection for.

At this instant in time the only thing we can really be sure that Marvel has firm rights to is the 1950s/60s Mick Angelo material — basically a direct Captain (Shazam!) Marvel ripoff. I’ve not read a ton of these, but the bits I’ve read were pretty uninspired and formulaic work. The market is unlikely to have a great deal of affinity for this material — any more than it is falling over itself for ACTUAL Captain Marvel reprints. I mean, DC’s semi-recent GREATEST SHAZAM STORIES EVER TOLD sold like 2400 copies into the Direct Market. I have a hard time seeing MARVELMAN reprints doing any better than that.

(Except MAYBE in the UK? Maybe? I dunno, we have any UK retailers/readers who have an opinion there?)

There’s also the interesting question if DC would object to reprinting THAT material in the first place — they possibly need to protect their Shazam! trademarks? I really don’t know. The MIRACLEMAN material would seem to me to being sufficiently different from Shazam! but who can say if they want a direct, and well-acknowledged, rip-off of Shazam! to see print in the first place? *I* wouldn’t, if I were DC/Time-Warner, especially if I had hope that a Shazam! movie or TV show could someday be made…

Maybe more importantly, I think RELAUNCHING “Marvelman” with musty reprints is nearly a sure way to kill market-interest in the Moore/Gaiman material before it even gets there. I wouldn’t think it would be wise to reprint that old stuff until AFTER the Moore/Gaiman material is well into its reprint cycle. And, even then, it would still be pretty financially risky in my considered opinion.

I’ve been rereading the Moore material the last few days, and I have to say it, too, is somewhat problematic. Even putting aside some of the technical details (wow, those all have to be COMPLETELY re-lettered!!), the first few chapters are… well “weak” might be too strong a phrasing, but the material certainly isn’t as strong as it’s reputation.

The first few chapters are written in, like, 6 page chunks, and it very much reads that way. The first chapters are also Moore-before-his-prime, and read that way as well. They’re certainly CLEVER, but they aren’t GREAT. By 2010 standards of comics writing, the first book of MIRACLEMAN feels a little quaint and creaky and antiquated. I got a real sense of “Hm, I’ve read THAT before” (and not, smart-ass, from me literally reading it before!) because we’ve had 20 years of people reusing Moore’s tricks and tropes since then.

Book two is really sadly choppy. There’s part of me that thinks that maybe they even want to go so far as to redraw the Chuck Austen issues — it isn’t that it is BAD, but sandwiched between (early) Alan Davis and Rick Veitch, there’s a definite “huh” factor that I don’t think is going to hold up great in serialized reprinting (And they’re be dumb NOT to serialize the reprint before they go to the inevitable hardcover and TP collections)

There’s also, in book two, the vaguely racist Evelyn Cream, and his musings on “the White God” and all of that. It reads really weirdly in the 21st century. Plus, like, what the fuck was up with his sapphire teeth anyway?

Now book three… well, book three I’d hold up there with nearly anything else published in the last twenty years, or even anything else that Moore has written since. These are AMAZINGLY good comics: thoughtful, thrilling, and utterly game-changing. But is the modern audience willing to sit through somewhere between 9 and 11 not-as-good comics to get to that point?

On the Savage Critic scale, I think I might call book one OK, book two bouncing around a (low) GOOD, and book three absolutely EXCELLENT. But is the audience willing to wait? That’s an open question, I very much think.

What do YOU think?


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