Timeless #1 promised “the future of the Marvel universe — revealed!” But the final pages of the comic may have given readers even more than they bargained for, with a surprising and significant new addition to the Marvel pantheon — from outside the Marvel Universe itself.
[Ed. Note: This post contains spoilers for Timeless #1.]
The Timeless one-shot — from writer Jed MacKay and artists Kev Walker, Mark Bagley, and Greg Land — is framed around Anatoly Petrov, an aging historian recruited by Kang the Conqueror as a kind of sidekick/mortal mind to go agog at the Conqueror’s great works. Kang is Marvel’s resident time-traveling baddie, known to pop up under a number of alternate code names at various points in his lifetime (Egyptian Pharaoh Rama-Tut in his prime, founding Young Avenger Iron Lad as a teen, and ubiquitous windbag Immortus in his retirement, to name a few). He recently stepped into even more of a spotlight due to his introduction in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Anyway, in Timeless, Kang takes Petrov on a journey through time and space to confront the Doctor Doom of a “pirate” timeline, and on the way he gives the historian intriguing glimpses of events (i.e., Marvel storylines) soon to come. But they all pale in comparison to the book’s last unexpected bombshell.
On the comic’s final page, Petrov reads over his journal of his travels as he tells us, “But what stays with me most are the visions of the potential futures we saw on Oracle Base [...] why is this particular vision imprinted on my mind?” And on the journal in front of him we see, unmistakably, the logo of the hero Miracleman.
Who is Miracleman?
Created by British writer and artist Mick Anglo in 1954, Miracleman (originally named Marvelman, a name that was later changed, ironically, to avoid friction with Marvel Comics) was a creative attempt by the British publishers of Fawcett’s Captain Marvel (a name that was later changed to Shazam, to avoid friction with Marvel Comics) to continue putting out Captain Marvel-esque stories after Fawcett ceased publication. Thus, the new character originally resembled his American counterpart in just about everything except for his name, his hair color, and the absence of a cape. [Ed. note: As for why there are two Captain Marvels, it’s a whole thing.]
Young reporter Micky Moran encountered an astrophysicist who granted him extraordinary powers whenever he said the word “Kimota!” (that is, “atomic” spelled backward, with a K), turning him into the superhero known as Miracleman. Like his Shazam-speaking inspiration, Micky soon assembled his own family of adventurers with the same ability, including Young Marvelman Dicky Dauntless, and Johnny Bates, the prepubescent Kid Marvelman.
Marvelman/Miracleman owes his enduring fame not to those Atomic Age adventures, but to his landmark 1980’s revival under the pen of an up-and-coming writer by the name of Alan Moore. In short order, Moore revealed that everything we, and poor Micky, knew about Miracleman had been totally wrong.
Rather than a plucky reporter granted amazing powers, Moran was in fact the victim of a clandestine government program that had melded him and his young sidekicks to ultra-powerful alien bodies — his cheerful Golden Age adventures were no more than a computer simulation playing out in his head. Innocent little Johnny Bates, meanwhile, had been totally subsumed by his power-hungry alien alter ego. In the run’s brutal and infamous climax, Miracleman confronts and kills Bates, in a battle that destroys London, and the world is rebuilt in Miracleman’s image.
Working alongside a series of artists (including frequent future collaborators Alan Davis, Rick Veitch, and John Totleben), Moore’s run was an early and seminal exercise in superhero deconstruction. The writer left the series after that London battle, leaving his handpicked successor, an up-and-coming Neil Gaiman, to flesh out Miracleman’s brave new world in a series of shorter stories with artist Mark Buckingham.
By then, however, the book had already bounced between a series of small publishers, and in 1994 it ultimately stopped publication completely in a confused mess of ownership disputes. The stalemate wasn’t ended until, following a lawsuit, Gaimain obtained the rights to Miracleman and turned them over to Marvel Comics, which also acquired full ownership of the character from its original creator, British comics writer Mick Anglo. All of which brings us to this week’s latest twist in the Miracleman tale.
What’s the big deal?
This isn’t the first time Miracleman has popped up in a Marvel-published comic since the company gained control of the character. In 2014, Marvel initiated a series of reprints of classic Miracleman material, including Moore’s (with his name removed by request, as is the writer’s policy on work he’s written but does not own the rights to). In 2019, Gaiman and Buckingham announced that they had resumed work on their aborted run. But this marks the first time that Miracleman has been explicitly integrated into a story alongside characters from Marvel’s core universe.
That’s important, because Miracleman, like Watchmen, has become one of the touchstones of modern-age superhero comics. For better or worse, Miracleman was the first of an era of dark subversions of superhero tropes that reverberated through the 1980’s and beyond. Its success established Moore’s talent for deconstructing superhero traditions when he pitched the comic that eventually became Watchmen to DC Comics. It’s managed to infuse itself into the creative DNA of writers from Frank Miller, to Mark Millar, to Donny Cates. That influence may not always have been beloved, but it’s impossible to overstate the role Miracleman has played in shaping the contemporary superhero landscape.
Marvel’s move is somewhat unavoidably reminiscent of DC’s much-ballyhooed maxiseries Doomsday Clock, which ran from 2017 to 2019 and likewise attempted to fit Moore’s Watchmen alongside more conventional superhero characters. Plagued by delays, and met by a fan and critical reaction that was lukewarm to say the least, Doomsday Clock ended with more of a whimper than a bang.
How Marvel plans to integrate Miracleman, and what impact he will have on the future of their line, remains to be seen. Will he, like Conan and Angela before him, join up with the Avengers? Will fans approve? Will he finally, at long last, get to call himself Marvelman again? As Kang the Conqueror might say: Only time will tell.