Having introduced Miracleman and discussed its first, second, third, and fourth chapters, as well as the interlude “The Yesterday Gambit,” we now turn to chapter five of Alan Moore’s Miracleman, which concludes the hero’s first fight with Kid Miracleman.
Writer: Alan Moore. Pencils: Alan Davis. Inks: Garry Leach. Originally appeared, in black and white, in Warrior #6 (Oct 1982) as “Fallen Angels, Forgotten Thunder.” Reprinted in color in Miracleman #2 (Oct 1985) as “Book One Chapter 6: Fallen Angels, Forgotten Thunder.” Collected in Miracleman Book One: A Dream of Flying (Oct 1988) as “Chapter 5: Fallen Angels, Forgotten Thunder.” All versions of the title inexplicably have a period after “Thunder” (though this was ignored on the collected edition’s contents page).
Chapter five is a chapter of transition.
First, it concludes the threat of Kid Miracleman, who only seems like Book One’s arch-enemy, while setting up the story threads that will occupy the rest of Book One. If Book One had to be split in half, that split would occur at its midpoint, after chapter five.
Second, this chapter and the one following – coincidentally right at the middle of the book – mark the transition between Garry Leach and Alan Davis. Leach’s artwork was simply too detailed to allow him to continue, even at the pace of six pages per issue of Warrior, in addition to his other work (including as Warrior’s art director). We’ve already seen how his art for chapter three cut corners, reusing shots of the Sunburst Cybernetics tower, and how he took an issue (#4) off between that story and chapter four. Now, Leach had to admit that he couldn’t meet the schedule of a regular strip.
To replace him, Alan Moore and Warrior turned to Alan Davis, who had illustrated the (nearly) present-day sequence in Warrior #4. This demonstrated that Davis’s style, while not as detailed as Leach, fit the story well. Moore was currently working with Davis on Captain Britain for Marvel U.K., and the two enjoyed a good working relationship. This did mean that Davis had outstanding commitments, but he was prolific enough to be able to accommodate Miracleman’s demand of a few pages a month.
To ease this artistic shift, Davis would only pencil chapters four and five, with Leach inking over Davis’s pencils. The result would blend their two styles, offering a smooth transition from one artist to the other. This sophisticated solution acknowledged the importance of artistic styles and took that concern seriously – very different from the way mainstream comics often treats creative personnel as interchangeable.
One immediate effect of this change is that the length of the chapters increases. Chapter one runs eight pages, and the flash-forward interlude in Warrior #4 runs ten pages, but the previous three chapters, illustrated by Leach, each ran only six. This chapter runs seven. The remaining five chapters of Book One each run either seven or eight pages, never returning to the six-pagers that had become standard under Leach.
This would only be the first indication of a larger shift to the narrative’s pace. With Leach’s slow and detailed style, each page had to contain as much narrative as possible. With Davis, Moore – still a young writer learning his craft – would soon begin to let the chapters breathe a bit more. In fact, while this chapter could have been illustrated over six pages by Leach alone, the next two chapters have a leisurely pace virtually unimaginable during Leach’s tenure as solo artist – another way in which this chapter clearly marks the end of the first half of Book One.
As chapter five begins, Miracleman is presumed dead, and Kid Miracleman, unopposed, has turned his sights on the unprotected London.
The chapter begins with Liz Moran, whom Mike told to flee in the previous installment, prompting Kid Miracleman to promise to come for her “just as soon as I’ve finished killing your husband!”
Liz Moran is driving, fleeing in her car through the storm. The issue’s opening narration reads, “The sky cracks, shattering into a thousand black fragments. She drives, running the gauntlet of the lightning.” This last phrase is key, because lightning is closely tied to the Miracleman Family. In a very real way, it is the world, not merely Liz Moran, that is now “running the gauntlet of the lightning.”
This is underlined when a later caption informs us that she’s a “homo sapien. A species which until yesterday was thought to be the dominant life-form on Earth.” Lines like these communicate the way Moore’s Miracleman, even after it’s shifted to depicting super-human battle, refuses to resort to genre clichés. The mere presence of super-heroes requires a radical change in how we perceive humanity – which can no longer believe itself superior. The world is radically different now, and Moore refuses to allow the reader to forget it.
But because the story is currently preoccupied with an amoral super-villain, this dethroning of humanity has profound ethical implications. Our ability to criticize Kid Miracleman’s behavior, while appalling, is limited by our ability to claim that we did better, while we believed ourselves to be in charge.
Because the super-human could easily point to human atrocities – and not only to obvious instances like genocide, but how relentlessly humans have pursued their own economic advantage over others – to dismiss human complaints about his behavior. Kid Miracleman, being an amoral villain, won’t bother to do this. But this dynamic will apply critically to the end of Moore’s Book Three.
The dethroned king cannot complain about his mistreatment, if he himself mistreated people similarly.
This might seem academic, limited to the super-hero genre. But Moore had already infused Miracleman with political sensitivity. He authored this story in a time in which Britain, having long since lost its empire and the claims to racial and national superiority that went with it, was behaving with profound arrogance and self-proclaimed moral superiority under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Yet it was by then perfectly obvious, to all but the most reactionary, that Britain’s world-dominating days were forever past. The position in which humanity finds itself in Miracleman – here represented by Liz Moran – is analogous to Britain’s. Logically, this should have been a time to take stock of British attitudes – to examine and apologize for past excesses, while treating its own population and the world with humility and compassion – if only in self-interested preparation to one day be able to criticize and influence the world’s new and rising powers. To fail to do so isn’t only immoral; it’s potentially suicidal, especially in a world of atomic warfare.
This observation is no more limited to Thatcher’s Britain than to the super-hero genre. After all, it is similar to the position the United States finds itself in, decades later: all too aware that, while it may currently dominate the world, the trend lines don’t look good for this continuing for too many decades. This would be an ideal time to adopt a humble and ethical approach, setting a standard by which the world’s future ruling powers might be judged. Instead, the United States has largely adopted an arrogant, reactionary, and authoritarian tone – one too often dismissive of the international law that, while restraining the U.S. today, would also retrain the world powers who will almost certainly someday replace her.
These are not mere academic or political observations. They are a demonstration of how ethics are often in one’s long-term self-interest, even when they appear to be in one’s short-term disinterest.
Because the only thing worse than facing an inconceivable powerful Kid Miracleman, who might kill you with impunity, is knowing that you don’t have an ethical leg to stand on to complain.
Put another way, the only thing worse than 9/11 would be to know that one can’t pretend it’s a moral outrage because one hasn’t set a higher standard.
There’s no denying the horror of such threats, nor to claim them ethical. But to claim them to be unethical – and to expect anyone to listen – requires having exhibited equivalent or superior ethics.
And this is part of why Kid Miracleman represents such a threat. He isn’t merely a super-powerful, amoral villain. He’s the embodiment of the most pessimistic, existential fears of Moore’s Britain – and of the West, more generally. Not simply that it might face a superior power, but a superior power that exhibits no more ethical restraint than it has at its worst.
Moore need not be conscious of this implication, despite Miracleman’s political consciousness, nor how he would eventually conclude his portion of the story. Moore understands the need to ground his stories, however cerebral, in character, and his focus here is very much on Liz Moran’s psychological state.
Specifically, Moore focuses on how rapidly and how radically Liz’s world has shifted: “Yesterday she learned that her husband of sixteen years was a superhuman. Today she met one of his old friends. Another superhuman. A bad one.”
Moore also tells us that she “knows, with the fatalism common to her species[,] that no matter how much distance she puts between herself and the stalking horror behind her… / …it will never be enough.”
Within the narrative, there’s no clear reason for Liz’s “fatalism” here. She has little experience with superhumans, and she could just as well be confident that her husband will prevail.
Her “fatalism” suggests that the extent of her fear. It also suggests that, despite her love for him, she doesn’t have much confidence in her husband – having known him mostly as the somewhat pitiful Mike Moran, instead of the super-human glory he’s become.
But on a deeper level, her “fatalism” suggests something deeper about Miracleman’s (and Moore’s) understanding of human nature. It is arguably the same fatalism that causes powerful but declining nations to embrace reactionary arrogance, confident their successors will behave as badly as they did.
It’s a fatalism soon proven correct, as Kid Miracleman appears, his body glowing even through the raging storm, directly in front of Liz’s car.
In the large panel that ends the first page, she collides with him, the car splintering, its headlights and windshield shattering, its left front tire shooting off from the force of the collision – yet that doesn’t even phase the standing, emotionless Kid Miracleman.
“I’m afraid you’ve been a widow for the last five minutes, Mrs. Moran,” Kid Miracleman replies, his cold formality adding to the horror.
As he holds his face to hers, he looks into her eyes – a position we’ve saw him take to obliterate his secretary in the previous chapter. And he explains that her husband’s death was “his own fault”: “I’d have been quite happy to achieve my ends the civilized way, steadily accumulating financial and political power.” Having seen Miracleman on the news, Kid Miracleman summoned him only to size him up. “But poor old Mike tipped my hand. So I killed him!” Kid Miracleman tells Mike’s wife.
Moore might here be focusing a bit too much on the characters. After all, as tragic as Mike’s or Liz’s death might be, the real threat (as readers familiar with the whole story of Miracleman know) is to the city around them. Moore gets there few panels later, but his concerns are still small in scope, appropriate to the beginning stages of his story.
But of course, Mike isn’t dead. The very next panel, from his point of view, shows him reaching out the wreckage seen at the end of the previous chapter. Moore’s caption describes this in mythological terms, saying “the dead man staggers out of the underworld,” a reference to the Hades of Greek mythology – which will be referenced several more times, not only by Moore but Gaiman. Miracleman is hurt, “his body[…] a symphony of shrieking nerve and muscle, each step a fugue of agony.”
Next, Kid Miracleman crumples Liz’s car into a ball while she cowers. It’s a standard demonstration of super-powers, one probably most associated with Superman. It slightly strains credulity (A super-human might have the power to do so, but how does he get his hands around the car?), and it’s not as imaginative as many uses of super-powers in the story.
While he does this, Kid Miracleman continues his monologue: “In a way I find it quite a relief now that everybody knows what I am. You’ve no idea how degrading I found it, pretending to be human…” It sounds like a typically villainous statement, until we remember that Miracleman, after returning in chapter one, complained of spending “eighteen years” “trapped in that old, tired body.”
The next panel, also from Miracleman’s point of view, depicts Miracleman staggering onto the scene – having tracked down Kid Miracleman, between panels, with unrealistic quickness. (The villain’s dialogue suggests it took him five minutes to track down Liz Moran, and the text doesn’t suggest any mystical connection between the two superhumans which might have allowed Miracleman to find his enemy faster.)
Moore’s caption here continues the mythological theme by including the sentence “The dead man has unfinished business with the living…”
As Kid Miracleman holds the crumpled car aloft, about to crush Liz Moran with it, Moore at last turns to the global implications of Kid Miracleman. “I’m going to do it,” the villain begins. After mocking Nietzsche as “a stunted syphilitic proclaiming the doctrine of the superman,” Kid Miracleman declares that “the real era of the Overman starts here.”
It’s not the most elegant panel, but it’s a haunting one, knowing where Miracleman is headed.
Liz Moran cowers, begging Kid Miracleman, “Oh God no, please…”
We know Kid Miracleman will not listen to her prayers.
Behind him, a silhouetted Miracleman, his costume torn (dramatically but inexplicably), utters, “Bates…” And he punches the villain, in rather stereotypical super-hero fashion, sending Kid Miracleman flying – thus saving Liz Moran, at least for the time being.
Continued next time.