We’ve begun looking at chapter five of Alan Moore’s Miracleman and examined its reference to the 1981 Brixton riots. We now continue our look at this story, originally printed in Warrior #6 (Oct 1982), which concludes Miracleman’s fight with Kid Miracleman and marks the midpoint of Book One.
Following the officers’ dialogue about calling headquarters, the remainder of the fourth page depicts news of the battle working itself up the chain of command and running through the British government.
To depict this, square images of different men on the phone run along the page’s sides, inset within and overlapping the wider, larger panels depicting the battle. All of the captions refer to the phone calls, radically shifting the focus away from the super-hero action.
A local policeman calls his commissioner, who orders “the streets cleared” and “the army alerted.” On their own, these orders aren’t surprising, but they also echo a Britain with some experience in these matters. Indeed, these orders echo the firm hand police took during the just-mentioned Brixton riots.
But the commissioner also ferries the news up the chain of command, ordering a call to “the Home Office,” the department of the British government responsible for security and order, including immigration, drugs, and counter-terrorism. The commissioner adds, “Code yellow.”
“Code yellow” is apparently a reference to a protocol put in place to deal with superhumans. A caption implies that this protocol triggers “a yellow light,” which “begins to wink ominously from its console” “on premises owned by an obscure branch of airforce intelligence.” The next caption tells us this “is a signal that has been anticipated for nearly eighteen years,” not coincidentally the same number of years that the Miracleman Family has been presumed dead.
The man depicted in the corresponding square only listens and reaches for the phone. The caption tells us he “calls Whitehall,” meaning the seat of British government, which has buildings along the Whitehall road (running from Parliament north to Trafalgar Square) in central London. (“Whitehall” is often employed as a metonym, or a word used to meaning something with which it’s associated, in the same was that “Washington” is shorthand for the U.S. government or “Hollywood” is used for the U.S. film industry.)
The final two square panels depict one Sir Dennis Archer, apparently in Whitehall. Holding the phone, he says, “Oh God. They’re back. The monsters are back. He orders “extreme sanction” and sends for one Mr. Cream.
A caption tells us that “A can of worms has been opened. A can of worms called ‘Project Zarathustra,’” a reference to Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, in which he prophecies the overman, or übermensch.
It’s an innovative sequence in its composition on the page, but it’s also noteworthy for following the focus on the two policemen by further removing the reader from the super-powered battle, which is usually the focus of super-hero stories – something Moore will rectify soon enough.
Of course, the real function of this page is to hint at further plot developments, even while the first half of Book One is coming to a close. Beginning next chapter, the Mr. Cream mentioned here will begin to drive the plot. The mystery of Project Zarathustra won’t be revealed until the final chapter of Book One (appropriately titled “Zarathustra”). In other words, this page is the primary connection between the first and second halves of Book One.
Yet this is more than a narrative convenience. It is also representative of the organic, even inevitable course the plot has so far taken. Miracleman’s emergence led to Kid Miracleman taking notice, leading to their current fight. This in turn leads to the government taking notice, setting up the second half of the book. Everything stems from Miracleman’s return, the first domino to fall.
Page five returns to the fight. It acknowledges the shift in emphasis with a caption reading “Meanwhile…” – technically not necessary, since the fight has been depicted, albeit silently, throughout the phone call sequence.
After being tossed through a brick structure, a battered Miracleman seems to acknowledge, much as he did in the previous chapter, that he’s outclassed. He thinks, “I can’t fight him. He’s going to trample over me, over Liz, over the world and I can’t fight him!!” Over the next three panels, a series of blurred limbs batter a limp Miracleman at super-speed, leaving him collapsed and beaten, if not unconscious.
It’s a good series of panels (despite Moore’s somewhat overwrought thought balloons), notable for demonstrating Alan Davis’s strengths. Throughout much of this chapter, the artwork is at best equivalent to the level Garry Leach had set, although some elements – particularly faces – have a distinctly cartoonish feel, especially compared to Leach’s style. But here, that slightly cartoonish, expressive element adds to the artwork, allowing Davis and Leach to better convey motion – which tends to be difficult to depict with the kind of detail Leach was using. That detail was a marvel (pun intended), and it fit the realism Moore was bringing to the super-hero. But it’s not fair to note this without also noting the advantage brought by Davis’s slightly less realistic but significantly more expressive style.
Kid Miracleman stands over his defeated former mentor. A caption tells us Miracleman is “lost[…] in the swirling black stormfronts of pain” – not the finest elocution, although it does echo Kid Miracleman’s connection to the storm, as if that storm has now infected Miracleman’s own body. “The dragon isn’t even breathing hard,” the caption adds, recalling the previous chapter’s use of the word “dragon” to describe the villain.
Liz (somewhat inexplicably) stands nearby, reaching out to the fallen Miracleman with her left hand, while holding her face with her right. She calls out melodramatically, “Mike! Don’t be dead! Mike!!” It’s a clichéd image, however nicely rendered by Davis and Leach, but it does serve to signal to the reader that Miracleman is indeed defeated.
For his part, Kid Miracleman acts very differently than he did when he believed Miracleman dead at the end of the previous chapter. He throws his arms up in victory, thrilled to have won.
While this might seem out of character, it seems grounded in Kid Miracleman’s declaration, late in the previous chapter, that he felt “push[ed] around and patronise[d]” by his mentor. Now, Kid Miracleman acts very much like a child, kicking Miracleman’s fallen body and saying, “He thought he was bloody great and I beat him to a whimpering pulp!!”
Whether Miracleman really ever bullied Bates isn’t clear. Nor is it clear that Miracleman “thought he was bloody great.” Kid Miracleman seems to be speaking more to his own, twisted perceptions than to reality. He speaks and acts like someone who grew up with a deep inferiority complex for Miracleman – one powerful enough to have warped his cocky, patronizing mentor into a bully, based on how that made Bates feel.
He has been Kid Miracleman for 18 years, during which he has “forgotten,” as the captions tell us, what it felt like being human. Repeating that word like a mantra, the captions conclude, “He has forgotten the primal terror that hides in the heart of the lighting, of the thunder.” That lightning used to trigger his transformation, which hasn’t occurred for eighteen years.
Until now. Kid Miracleman boasts, “And now I’m going to finish him off! Me! His adoring junior protégé! Me, Kid Miraclem…”
The artwork conveys how intensely focused Kid Miracleman is at that moment – so focused that he only becomes aware of what he’s saying on its final syllable.
“..[.]an,” he concludes in the next panel, his expression changed completely – still wide-eyed, but now in shock instead of rage.
In fact, he’s transformed. As Miracleman struggles to his feet, his thought balloons explain things for the reader: “He said ‘Miracleman.’ My name. His magic word. He’s changed. / He’s changed back to his human form.”
This isn’t a mere contrivance – or at least, it’s not one of Moore’s invention. In the old Marvelman stories, Kid Marvelman’s magic word was indeed “Marvelman,” suggesting the extent to which that character was a diminution of the original. He didn’t even have his own proper magic word. He couldn’t become a superhuman without reaffirming that he was, always and inevitably, in his mentor’s shadow.
Kid Miracleman’s psychology is rooted in that paradox: superhuman and unimaginably powerful, yet by the very workings of those powers destined to remain nothing more than a sidekick, an offshoot, a kid version – one perpetually stuck in a kid’s psychology. Even while his powers and experience grew, eventually eclipsing his absent mentor’s, he was nonetheless trapped in that mentor’s shadow.
It’s here that we ought to realize that he was lying to Liz, earlier this chapter. He was never going to simply evaluate Mike Moran. The man who had built a business empire, in his mentor’s absence, might have told himself that. But all that success was only an attempt to compensate for his inferiority complex. And this success had to be as titanic as the man to whom he felt inferior. Kid Miracleman’s life in business was always going to become disposable when the source of his complex reappeared.
Things could only have played out as they did. Even if Mike Moran had left Sunburst Cybernetics, instead of pushing Kid Miracleman off the balcony, this was a fight that had to happen, given Kid Miracleman’s psychology.
It’s sad, really, how much Kid Miracleman has defined himself by our protagonist. But this is what the presence of a superman does: it deforms the world around him, including the psychologies of those closest to him.
This might seem dark to revisionism’s reactionary critics. But it’s implicit in those old Marvelman stories. By virtue of his design, Kid Marvelman was always going to grow up in Marvelman’s shadow, with nowhere to go to define his own identity. Except bitterness. Except everywhere his mentor was not.
Perhaps this explains the difference between Kid Miracleman’s reaction over defeating his mentor here and how he responded at the end of the previous chapter. Of course, on a narrative level, Kid Miracleman’s reaction this time around allows him to boast, so that he can make the mistake of saying his magic word. Equally, the two chapters are only necessary to show the villain menacing Liz and to draw out the dramatic battle, which would feel too brief otherwise. But from a psychological perspective, Kid Miracleman seems to have had a very different response to Miracleman’s defeat when he can see his mentor’s broken body.
Believing one has killed the source of one’s inferiority complex and seeing that person, broken on the ground, are two quite different things.
And thematically, this ties into the way Miracleman’s very presence changes everything. His return has driven the entire plot thus far – and will continue to do so. Seeing Miracleman in a blur on the news was enough to make Kid Miracleman smash his desk and summon Mike Moran. Kid Miracleman clearly wanted to see and fight his mentor, rather than killing him as Mike Moran. Now, the simple presence of Miracleman’s defeated body is enough to trigger a very different response in Kid Miracleman.
In all these instances, Miracleman is passive, despite all his power. His presence alone triggers events around him, in time transforming – literally and figuratively – both the characters and their world.
To be concluded.