Miracleman Book 2: The Red King Syndrome Review
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Marvel may get more attention at the box office than the comic shop these days, but one of their best recent projects can only be found on the stands among the various Avengers and Spider-man titles. Having secured the publishing rights after a long legal battle, Marvel continues to reissue the highly influential and hard to find series Miracleman (originally known as Marvelman in Great Britain). The second collected edition, The Red King Syndrome, continues the story of an ordinary guy grappling with a lifetime of deceit and the powers of a god.

Middle-aged photographer Michael Moran has finally learned the truth: he is the result of a secret government experiment to fuse alien technology with a human being, resulting in his ability to transform into the powerful superhero Miracleman. Though he’s still grappling with that revelation, the challenges keep coming. First, he must confront the mad scientist who gave him his powers and stole his memories. Even more terrifying, his wife, Liz, is about to give birth to their first child, conceived while he was in his super-powered form and quite possibly something more than human herself.

Written by Alan Moore (credited here as “The Original Writer” at his own request) with art by Alan Davis, Chuck Austen, and Rick Veitch, Miracleman pushed the boundaries of what a superhero comic could be in the ‘80s, and it remains a controversial, compelling work today. Moore excels at characterizing the dichotomy between Moran, a frustrated and insecure schlub lost in his own marriage and the clandestine schemes of powerful men, and his alter-ego, Miracleman, a being of godlike serenity and confidence. His prose gets a bit purple from time to time, but that’s in keeping with the hyperbolic nature of both the medium and the story he’s telling.

While Moore pushes the boundaries of the genre in terms of story and content, the artists match him with their illustrations. Miracleman plays with complex concepts and some fairly graphic violent imagery, and the art can in turns be both gorgeous and horrifying. Amidst the heroism and villainy, The Red King Syndrome also includes a full depiction of the birth of Mike and Liz’s daughter, a sequence that has lost none of its controversial power over the past couple of decades. Miracleman plays squarely into the “mature readers” section of the comic shop—but in ways that are frequently illuminating rather than gratuitous.

As with the previous volume (see the review), Marvel has done an excellent job of repackaging the series, touching up the colors and printing on quality glossy paper stock. Also returning is a wealth of supplementary materials, including pencil sketches, early design work, and stories from the original ‘50s Marvelman comic strips by Mick Anglo, the character’s creator. Comparing these early, straightforward superhero stories to Moore’s own deconstruction of the character provides a fascinating window into how some ideas can be revisited and reinvigorated over time.

Given the complexity and mature nature of its content, there’s little chance that Miracleman will grace the silver screen any time soon. It’s a shame, really, considering how much of modern superhero storytelling has been influenced by the series. Until that changes, though, enjoy the chance to revisit this singular character in the place he was meant to be: between the pages of a comic book.

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