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Images, Miracles, and Unseen Battles, Oh My...?

Comics, FYI
Images, Miracles, and Unseen Battles, Oh My...?
By Graeme McMillan • Issue #2 • View online
In which we consider whether “fetch” or “Miracleman” is less likely to happen.

It’s perhaps fitting that, in the first week of Image Comics’ 30th anniversary year, the two biggest news stories in comics center around the Portland, Oregon publisher. I’m not talking about former IDW staffer Lorelei Bunjes joining the company as the new director of digital services, although I do wonder if we’re going to see more digital-first moves from Image as a result, which could be interesting; instead, it’s the announcement of Jeff Lemire’s exclusive deal with the company — as he explained in his newsletter, it doesn’t impact Black Hammer (which has three series left to run at Dark Horse) nor his Substack work — and the news that, following the results of the National Labor Relations Board vote, Image Comics is first unionized comic book publisher in the U.S.
The Lemire deal is only the second exclusive deal Image has announced, following a 2014 deal with Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (which was renewed for another five years in 2018), and according to Lemire, is for print comics only — making me wonder if we’re going to see similar deals for other creators with Substack Pro deals at any point within the next year or so. After all, where else are they going to take the print editions? Well, there’s always Dark Horse, which has the Scott Snyder books from his ComiXology Unlimited deal
The unionization news is, of course, the bigger story, and one that I’m know I’m going to return to across the next few months, and not just to see which (if any) other publishers are going to follow suit. One thing worth pointing out now, though, comes from a message I received from them today: despite reports that the vote tally in favor of unionization was 7-2, the real result was apparently 10-2, with all 10 of the staffers who went public as the Comic Book Workers Union last year voting in favor; Image Comics had objected to three of those votes under what the union describes as “a frivolous supervisory challenge,” hence their not being officially recorded, although the CBWU is asking for the objection to be dropped and those three votes to be added to the official tally. 
Expect more on the CBWU and Image in a later newsletter; there’s other parts to this story I’m trying to chase down sooner rather than later. In the meantime, there’s this.
As two announcements last week made obvious, Marvel would like you to think of 2022 as the Year of Miracleman — and, unlike the company’s last two attempts to convince fans, this time, they really mean it. There’s only one problem with this: Miracleman itself.
For those too busy with holiday revelry to keep up with comics news, the final page of last week’s Timeless #1 one shot — intended as a primer for the next year’s worth of Marvel comics, although it didn’t really serve that purpose entirely successfully unless you really, really like Kang the Conqueror — looked a little something like this:
No, wait, wrong 1980s Alan Moore book. It looked like this:
It was a cliffhanger that definitely had people talking, mostly about how it had been ruined for them by Marvel tweeting out the following promo image hours after the comic had been released:
Two days after that reveal, Marvel followed up by announcing a project that fans have genuinely been expecting for more than a decade by this point: the first Miracleman Omnibus, collecting the entirety of Alan Moore’s 1980s storyline (with art by Garry Leach, Alan Davis, John Totleben, and others) between one set of covers for the first time.
The reason for all this activity, according to Marvel, is that 2022 marks the 40th anniversary of Moore and Leach reviving the character in his most famous incarnation in British anthology title Warrior. (A shame, then, that the actual 40th anniversary is this March, six months before the Omnibus’s release; still, who can plan ahead for an anniversary celebration?) Left unsaid is the awkward truth that, 13 years after Marvel revealed that it had purchased what was called at the time “one of the most sought after heroes in graphic fiction,” it still hasn’t quite figured out just what to make of Miracleman, or how to convince other people to be impressed by the purchase.
It’s not as if, in the years since Marvel’s San Diego Comic-Con announcement, the publisher hasn’t attempted to make Miracleman into a thing. Unfortunately, in almost every respect, they proved that audiences really weren’t that interested. Admittedly, that’s partially the result of some approaches that appeared to external observers engineered to fail: launching the character into the U.S. market with reprints of 1950s material, instead of the Alan Moore-written series that everyone wanted to see, for example, or making fans wait five years before bringing the Moore material to market. 
Worse yet, the format of the Moore reprints — which, due to contractual agreements with Moore, couldn’t use his name at all, and were instead credited to “The Original Writer,” which remains one of the more unlikely workarounds in comics history — seemed guaranteed to disappoint fans looking to discover a piece of comic book history: padded out with “extras” that bumped up the cover price (the Marvel serialization of Moore’s run lasted the same number of issues as the Eclipse serialization in the 1980s, despite skipping the issue of fill-in material Eclipse had been forced to run), Marvel’s reprints were “digitally retouched,” as they put it — recolored, relettered, and affording small edits to material where it was deemed appropriate, whether it’s adding underwear to Liz Moran in a scene, or removing the N word from a couple of issues.
(The announcement of the Omnibus listed the original editions the material appeared in, which led some — myself included — to wonder if they’d be collecting the un-retouched material. I checked with Marvel; it’s definitely the new editions.)
Such retouching of material suggested that Marvel didn’t really place a lot of importance in Miracleman as a historical document — if they did, surely they’d not feel the need to make it more palatable for contemporary audiences, and just bring the book back to print in as close to the original format as possible… except, of course, Marvel doesn’t even do that for its own comics these days, preferring to outsource it to other publishers. Marvel’s publishing focus is firmly on the here-and-now, an attitude behind the urge to bring Miracleman into the mainstream Marvel Universe, where he can rub shoulders with… Omega the Unknown, I guess…?
The thing is, Miracleman doesn’t really work outside of the 1980s Miracleman series. Or, rather, he does, but only as a Shazam stand-in — the very thing he was created to be way back in the 1950s. (Marvel has attempted to make Superman rip-off Hyperion an ongoing presence in the mainstream Marvel Universe on multiple occasions in the past couple of decades, of course, so clearly there’s no shame in attempting to use obvious analogues as often as possible.) 
What makes people pay attention to Miracleman isn’t the character, but the historical circumstance of the Alan Moore-written issues in particular: a superhero series created by Moore before, during, and after his more famous, more celebrated, and arguably more enjoyable, Swamp Thing and Watchmen runs*; an overlooked work by one of the most celebrated writers in the industry that goes to places where regular superheroes can’t, due to their shared universe nature.**
In order to bring Miracleman into the Marvel Universe, one of three things has to be the case:
  • It’s a different version of the character, as opposed to the one that Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman wrote.
  • It’s the same version of the character, from some undisclosed point either before or during the stories that Moore and Gaiman have written.
  • It’s the same version of the character, from after the end of the Gaiman/Buckingham storyline… which remains in limbo, five years after the cancellation of the already solicited first half of Miracleman: The Dark Age.
Each of these options is fraught with potential danger, of course: the last one risks ruining a story that some have literally been waiting decades for, while the middle one unnecessarily picks a narrative hole in the center of something which has previously been able to boast a closed loop as a selling point. Using a different version of the character, though… it’s something that Marvel should already know won’t work, because it’s tried it before… and with a character not unrelated to Miracleman writer Neil Gaiman.
Remember Angela? The Gaiman-co-created angel brought into the Marvel Universe in 2013 after a complicated legal battle with co-creator Todd McFarlane — a battle that also involved the rights to Miracleman? She was brought in with an all-new Marvel-friendly backstory and given significant promotion as a big deal… only for audiences to, for the most part, be pretty much disinterested once the novelty had worn off. The potential for a Miracleman divorced from the plot that made him famous to suffer a similar fate is something that should be considered, at the very least, especially considering the lack of sales success of the reprint projects to date. (The Moore run ended around 13,000 estimated sales in North America; the last issue of Gaiman’s Miracleman: The Golden Age around 14,000.)
Of course, the very idea of bringing Miracleman into the Marvel Universe is one fraught with danger in and of itself. Pairing Alan Moore’s deconstructionist analogs of existing heroes with those heroes is something that fans have already lived through in Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s 2017 Watchmen sequel Doomsday Clock at DC. How did that end up, anyway…?
I guess everything really does come back to Image this week, doesn’t it…?
* This always makes me wonder why Moore and Alan Davis’ work on Captain Britain remains so unsung; created by the two at the same time as their Miracleman work, it’s also celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. I wonder if we’re going to get an(other) oversized hardcover of this at some point in the next 12 months.
** I love that the announcement of the Omnibus calls Moore’s story “the concept of the super hero to its logical conclusion.” It’s perhaps a surprising admission from a company specializing in superheroes that don’t become benign despots ruling over humanity. (Spoilers, I guess.) Maybe that’s being saved for the next Doctor Strange movie.
One last thing before I wrap this (maybe too) lengthy newsletter up. If there’s one underreported announcement this week, it might have been 2000 AD publisher Rebellion’s news yesterday that it’s bringing back controversial 1970s anthology title Action as a hardcover graphic novel, Battle Action Special, featuring eight stories all written by Garth Ennis, with an art line-up that includes Kevin O’Neill’s first post-League of Extraordinary Gentlemen work, as well as Chris Burnham, John Higgins, and the severely underrated P.J. Holden. It’s out in the direct market in June, and in bookstores September. That creator line-up alone should be catching a lot more attention, if only for the Ennis and O'Neill participation. Here’s the cover, by Andy Clarke and Dylan Teague:
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Graeme McMillan

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