By Jamie Lovett
Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham finally continue their 30-years-delayed run on Miracleman with Miracleman: The Silver Age #3, and the decades that have passed since the previous issue have only made this deconstructionist fable more potent. When Gaiman and Buckingham left off, the recently resurrected Young Miracleman reacted violently to Miracleman’s presumptuous and invasive romantic overtures meant, at Miracewoman’s behest, to force Young Miracleman to admit that he’s gay and in love with Miracleman. After leaving Olympus behind, Young Miracleman winds up on a pilgrimage to the Himalayas, where he finds perspective from some unexpected sources.
The issue begins with a confrontation between Young Miracleman and a version of Kid Miracleman that began haunting his dreams. Kid Miracleman lectures him about theology, which is more relevant than ever with Miracleman’s new pantheon established. He also questions Young Miracleman’s absence from Miracleman’s side, leading to Young Miracleman uttering Miracleman’s name without thinking, transforming him back into his (more or less) human form, Dickie Dauntless. Miracleman’s name strikes Young Miracleman like a traumatic trigger flooding his mind and rendering him unconscious.
The transformation marks the transition between worlds as it knocks Dickie out of the world of the superhero and back into the human realm. He’s left the comic book world behind, summed up visually with a canny sequence with the panel border in the mid-ground. Dickie’s body lies prone in front of the gutters, and a mountain climber emerges from behind those panel borders to meet him, crossing that comic book threshold along the way.
This climber turns out to be Jason Oakey, introduced earlier in the series as a boy who met Miracleman as a child and later evaded Kid Miracleman’s massacre of London by pure dumb luck. Jason’s story has become plays and movies, which have obscured his true memories of the events. He’s a man who communed with god and can no longer remember it clearly.
They meet Meta-Maid, a human who chose to become superhuman, a common enough occurrence that there is a waiting list to undergo the procedure. Once excited by the idea, she’s become bored and disillusioned with the shallow lifestyle of the new superhero class. They decide to travel together, with Dickie continually reminded of his last moment with Miracleman as he repeatedly rejects Meta-Maid’s advances and later awakens from one nightmare to find Jason, crouching naked by the foot of his bed, as if asking an unspoken question.
Together, they form a trio of pilgrims, each hailing from a different age in Miracleman‘s world, one that correlates with changes in superhero comics in the real world. Dickie Dauntless is a relic from an era innocent enough that this new utopia appears like a “nightmare world of evil imposters.” Meta-Maid was born during the superhero glut of the 1990s, a reflection of the excesses of the time (which, ironically, were responsible for this issue’s 30-year delay). Jason comes from the time in between. Superheroes were a vital part of his youth, teaching him many things, and he grew up with them but struggles to remember what he got out of them in the first place.
Together they trek up a mountain to meet Tom Caxton, a.k.a. Mister Master, the first human to become superhuman, thus setting Meta-Maid’s generation on their path. He left the superhero life behind years ago. Now, he lives reclusively. He’s a large man with a big beard and long, dark hair. There’s the temptation in comics to see every character with that description as a stand-in for Alan Moore. In this case, it does seem to be the intent.
Caxton became Mister Master by chance, winning a lottery to become the first human to become superhuman. At first, he loved his role as Mister Master, becoming something of an ambassador, bringing the idea of superheroes to those unfamiliar. After becoming disillusioned with simplistic cartoon adaptations of his work, Mister Miracle decided to retire, leaving the superhero life behind to reconnect with his humanity. Despite the complete lack of respect shown to him by Miracleman, whom he worked hard for throughout those years, he doesn’t regret any of it. He just doesn’t need it anymore.
The parallels to Moore’s career are obvious enough not to need unpacking, and Gaiman’s condensed, fictionalized metaphor for Moore’s journey through mainstream comics is fascinating. Caxton radiates warmth as he hums Elvis Costello lyrics and makes Beatles jokes, a far cry from the bitter strawman that seems to haunt the dreams of many superhero fans these days. (At a way-stop on the mountain, Jason reads from one of Caxton’s books that’s critical of the superhero. In the issue’s most subtle, scathing moment, Deadlock the Demolisher, Meta-Maid’s bulky companion, pointedly ignores the reading, instead becoming fixated almost hypnotically on the fireworks crackling on his fingertips, unable to pull himself away.) He also positions Caxton, and thus Moore, in a new role. Jason, the man who lost touch with the wonder and meaning that superheroes once filled him with as a boy, climbed the mountain because he had questions for Caxton. After Caxton finishes his story about his time as Mister Master and how he left it all behind because he didn’t need it anymore, he’s already answered Jason’s questions without them ever being asked. Caxton, and Moore, once stood as ambassadors for the superhero, helping the genre mature. Now, Gaiman positions them as someone who helps shepherd people beyond the superhero, allowing the reader, rather than the genre, to mature and inviting them to transcend their preferred brand of escapism.
For Dickie, Caxton represents the promise that there is life beyond superheroism, that he can find fulfillment even if he chooses never to speak Miracleman’s name again and remain Dickie – or Dick, or Richard, as he alternately calls himself throughout the issue. With this comforting thought in mind, the Kid Miracleman of his nightmares, which Buckingham earlier rendered via jagged panels shaped as shards of glass, is banished from Dickie’s dream in a solid, square-paneled prison.
Gaiman and Buckingham have crafted a masterful work of metafiction reflecting on the career and life of the writer who preceded them in this Miracleman endeavor. The story has only become more relevant as Moore’s shadow looms over the mainstream comics landscape decades after he concluded his Miracleman run. In doing so, Gaiman and Buckingham also further weave the many internal conflicts building within Young Miracleman. Can he adapt to life in this brave new world, and will he continue his double life or remain human? Can he come to terms with his sexuality? The issue also lays bare the philosophical question at the heart of this Miracleman trilogy: in creating a world fit for superhumans, what becomes of the human? These are questions left lingering for 30 years, and after Miracleman: The Silver Age #3, readers will likely be more eager than ever to find out the answers.
Published by Marvel Comics
On December 28, 2022
Written by Neil Gaiman
Art by Mark Buckingham
Colors by Jordie Bellaire
Letters by Todd Klein
Cover by Mark Buckingham
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