Neil Gaiman Has a Hero Out of Step in a Book Out of Time

MIRACLEMAN: THE SILVER AGE, by Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham

No contemporary fantasist finds as much texture in the anxiety of children as Neil Gaiman.

Kids understand rules and consequences long before they understand reason and proportion, and Gaiman’s most effective supernatural horrors are unleashed on children as a consequence of some arcane or deliberately unfair rule.

In “Coraline” and “The Ocean at the End of the Lane,” not-quite-comprehensible monsters pursue young protagonists, who seem to suspect that they sort of deserve it. In one story from “The Sandman,” children are brought from the depths of Hell itself back to the boarding school where they died, only to find that their fortunes have not necessarily improved. (That story is now the basis of a new Netflix show, “Dead Boy Detectives.”)

Now, in THE SILVER AGE (Marvel, 216 pp., $24.99) the long-awaited second book of a planned Miracleman trilogy, Gaiman’s lead character is a young man, caught between the terrors of childhood and adulthood, who must reckon with what kind of person he will try to be. The nightmares in “The Silver Age” aren’t as deliberately unknowable as those in Gaiman’s other classics — and it’s to Gaiman’s credit, and the artist Mark Buckingham’s, that the cruel monsters and sweet temptations in the book remain just as evocative and ambiguous.

The resumption and completion of “The Silver Age” is something of an event among the literati (comics phylum). The Miracleman franchise went on an abrupt hiatus in 1993 while two chapters into a planned six. Eclipse Comics, the series’ original American publisher, went bankrupt, and a daunting snarl of contractual problems subsequently presented itself to the book’s rights holders. The story (originally “Marvelman”) was a reboot of a British book from the 1950s, and the untangling process eventually satisfied moral and financial debts to the writers and artists who had dreamed it up. But that process kept the series unfinished — and out of print — for decades. The third chapter (now of seven) came out 29 years later, in December 2022.

While the Miracleman series had numerous delays in its earlier forms, “The Silver Age” published less than two years after the last book in the series, “The Golden Age.”Credit…Marvel Universe

Comics were not quite respected as mainstream adult entertainment in the early 1990s — “The Sandman” and several of its sibling series at Karen Berger’s DC Comics imprint, Vertigo, were rare exceptions — and Miracleman was another intriguing outlier.

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