Having introduced Miracleman and discussed chapters one, two, three, four, and five, as well as the interlude “The Yesterday Gambit,” we now turn to chapter six of Alan Moore’s Miracleman, which originally appeared in the classic British magazine Warrior.
Chapter 6: “Secret Identity” (8 pages)
Writer: Alan Moore. Pencils: Alan Davis. Inks: Garry Leach. Originally appeared, in black and white, in Warrior #7 (Nov 1982) as “Secret Identity” (without any book or chapter designation). Reprinted in color in Miracleman #2 (Oct 1985) as “Book One Chapter 7: Secret Identity.” Collected in Miracleman Book One: A Dream of Flying (Oct 1988) as “Chapter 6: Secret Identity.”
Chapter six marks the beginning of Book One’s second half. Like the previous chapter, it’s illustrated by both Davis and Leach, as part of the transition from one artist to the next.
The first five chapters took place entirely over the course of two days, telling a continuous narrative. Chapter six occurs some two months later, the first such break in the series.
Of course, these six chapters were published over the course of seven issues of Warrior, which didn’t quite run monthly. Warrior #1 carried a March 1982 cover date, and “The Yesterday Gambit” dates Miracleman’s return to February of that year, when the issue was on sale. Chapter five, although set on the day after chapter one, was published in Warrior #6, cover-dated October 1982. Setting chapter six two months later thus reflects the real-world passage of time, without making the gap so long as to make us wonder why narrative threads languished during that time.
In terms of plot, the chapter updates readers on the story’s status quo, while also (1) doing a bit of housecleaning by having Miracleman experiment with his still-new powers and (2) advancing the larger plot in minor ways. Chapter six offers a breather after the super-hero action of the past couple episodes. But chapter six also serves as an introductory chapter to Book One’s second half.
The chapter is eight pages long, reflecting Alan Davis’s speed, relative to that of his predecessor, Garry Leach. Outside of “The Yesterday Gambit” (which had three separate artistic teams), this chapter ties the first one for length.
Notably, both halves of Book One begin and end with longer chapters than their norms. The first half begins with an eight-page chapter and ends with a seven-page one; the second half begins and ends with eight-page chapters. But whereas the norm for the first half of Book One is six pages, the norm for the second half is seven. This further demonstrates how well Book One breaks into two halves, but it also reflects Davis’s speed as an artist.
That speed fundamentally changed Miracleman. The early, Leach-illustrated chapters are remarkably dense; much has to be accomplished in a few number of pages. We’ve already remarked upon how the added page in chapter five lets the story flow a bit better, but chapter six is the first chapter that is impossible to imagine under Leach. Its eight pages do little to advance the plot, and such a leisurely story, despite many strongly points, might collapse without a slightly more leisurely event-per-page ratio. If this chapter is a breather between the climax of Book One’s first half and the main drama of its second half, it’s important for it to feel like a breather.
That’s not to say that Moore is stretching his story, nor giving up on the kind of literary intelligence or structural complexity that characterized earlier chapters. Despite chapter six’s slower pace, it follows and juxtaposes several different characters. There are two primary narratives: Miracleman (with Liz) and Evelyn Cream. But during Cream’s narrative, we’re also granted insight into Sir Dennis Archer and Steve, the terrorist from chapter one. In addition, a single page focuses on Johnny Bates, formerly Kid Miracleman, thus helping to connect Book One’s two halves.
We’ve seen previously how Moore likes to think of the page as a discrete unit of information, a technique seen in Miracleman as early as the first half of chapter one. Here, each page – with the exception of the final one – focuses on a different set of characters. And each page – again except for the last – begins with a single-word caption, setting the tone for what follows. It’s a little like the way Moore titled V for Vendetta chapters with a different word beginning with “V,” except he’s now freed from the gimmicky aspect of that device. The effect is almost to make each page (except for the final two, which act as a single unit) a miniature chapter of sorts, and it’s remarkable how much Moore succeeds in this regard.
The first page begins with the word “attrition,” and it focuses on Sir Dennis Archer, introduced in the phone-call sequence of the previous chapter.
Technically, this page is part of the chapter’s Evelyn Cream narrative, although he’s notably absent here. The first panel shows Cream leaving Archer’s office, but he’s not recognizable except from the caption, which tells us that “The man with the sapphire teeth leaves the room, closing the door behind him, leaving Sir Dennis Archer alone in his personal darkness.” After this page, Archer won’t appear again until chapter eight, and by all rights this page should belong to the man who’s barely visible exiting in the first panel. After all, as seen in the previous chapter, Archer summoned Cream, and their meeting here is presumably a follow-up to that (or an update on Cream’s progress, depending on whether this page occurs two months later, as the rest of the chapter does). Yet Moore gives the page instead to Archer, focusing on “his personal darkness” and using this as an occasion to elaborate on the previous chapter’s implication of the British government’s involvement in the Miracleman story.
Archer, as Moore depicts him here, is an old man haunted by past “mistakes.” This is entirely consistent with his introduction in the previous chapter, in which he reaches for the phone with “a cold dread that he had thought banished two decades before.” There, Archer called the Miracleman Family “monsters,” and he repeats that word here. “If only he hadn’t let that treacherous little freak build his monsters,” one caption ambiguously reads. Another asks, “How many times do you have to kill a monster before it stays killed?”
This line of thought triggers a flashback to 1963, the last time Archer had to remove the threat posed by Miracleman. Moore now shows us how this now-familiar event was seen from a perspective we didn’t previously know existed: that of a young Dennis Archer, drawn with a full head of hair, in a military “operations room.”
The flying fortress that the Miracleman Family encountered that day was actually codenamed Dragonslayer, echoing chapter four’s motif of calling Kid Miracleman a “dragon.” And while the Miracleman Family approached the ship, it was being tracked on radar.
Dennis Archer gives the command, and an officer pushes a button resting under a locked cover, not unlike nuclear launch buttons. The Miracleman Family disappears from radar, and a grinning Archer pronounces that “The monsters are dead. Project Zarathustra is officially closed, gentlemen.”
Of course, despite the revelatory nature of this flashback, it hints more than it reveals. We’ve seen that the British government had a hand in the Miracleman Family’s 1963 demise, but we don’t yet know the identity of “that treacherous little freak” who the captions imply created the Miracleman Family. Similarly, we don’t yet understand what Project Zarathustra – referenced in the preceding chapter – encompasses. As we return from the flashback to the present, the caption informs us that Archer is “Controller of the Spookshow.” We don’t know what that is either. These revelations will continue to trickle out, culminating in Book One’s final chapter, “Zarathustra.”
For the present, we’re left with Sir Dennis Archer, sitting in the dark, holding his head with stress over the sins of his past now threatening the present.
He’s a man who has spent his life in “the grey world of espionage, its phantom cogs oiled by death.” Archer’s immediate concern might be Miracleman’s return, but Moore uses the opportunity to critique the larger world of covert operations – and use this critique to paint a brief character portrait.
Although Evelyn Cream is essentially absent on this page, he returns in the final panel’s captions, thus helping to set up this chapter’s Cream-focused narrative. Archer’s only solace seems to be his faith that “Evelyn Cream will sanction the monster. The dragon will be slain. / Again.”
While the word “dragon” echoes the motif of chapter four, it’s the word “sanction” that is most important here. When Archer ordered Cream summoned, in the previous chapter, he ordered “extreme sanction.” That is, of course, a covert operations euphemism for a government-ordered killing, and it’s a euphemism echoing George Orwell’s observations about the abuse of the English language for political ends. “Sanction” is such a polite word, suggesting an internal reprimand, rather than a murder. It’s an apt choice on Moore’s part, and he’ll use it again at the chapter’s end, reflecting his penchant to connect his stories’ ends with their beginnings.
Page two begins with the word “excursion,” and it focuses on Mike and Liz Moran, out to test Miracleman’s powers.
The setting (as given by Mike’s dialogue in the first panel) is Dartmoor, an expansive national park in England’s southwest.
As they arrive, Mike jokes that it’s “a romantic choice for a day trip,” although they’re there to test Miracleman’s powers in seclusion. It may be worth noting that the park, while beautiful and secluded, has long been the setting of several supernatural legends and stories. In fact, it helped inspire Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes mystery novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles. Over the course of the pages focused on them, Liz and Mike will similarly try to solve the mystery of Miracleman’s apparently supernatural powers. And despite the story’s relaxed pace, there’s plenty here that’s ominous.
It’s this page on which Miracleman’s dialogue establishes this chapter as taking place “two months” after the previous one. Mike Moran’s dialogue is more specific: “Mayday on Dartmoor,” he says, referring to the first of May, which is usually a public holiday, thus explaining how the couple could take a “day trip” without missing work.
There’s a typo here, in that “May Day” is replaced with “Mayday,” the international radio indicator for a distress call, which has its origins in the French “venez m’aider” (meaning “come help me”). This is a common error, especially because “Mayday” is better known (due to movies) than May Day. But it also underlines the story’s ominous undercurrents.
It seems that testing Miracleman’s powers is Liz’s idea, and Mike’s not entirely convinced. She specifically cites a headline referencing the child thrown by Kid Miracleman in the previous chapter: “They Played Catch with My Baby – Mother of Injured Child Speaks.” This recalls how the child’s mother recoiled from Miracleman, when he returned her boy. And Liz specifically references how the boy “had his ribs broken” – a passive construction that avoids mentioning that Miracleman caused this by catching the boy at super-speed.
Mike relents and says his magic word. It’s “Kimota.” With a period, representing simple acceptance. It’s not the sadness with which he transformed to fight Kid Miracleman, represented by an ellipsis. But it’s also not the traditional enthusiasm of this transformation, represented by an exclamation mark.
He warns Liz to “cover [her] eyes,” and the explosion of his transformation is enough to blow her hair, while she’s turned away and covering her ears.
Miracleman’s dialogue immediately points out that it’s been “two months” since he last transformed, which reassures readers that they haven’t missed anything in the interim. Implicitly, Mike and Liz have gone back to some semblance of the married life they had before Miracleman’s return – although we can guess that this was a traumatic response to the horror of the Kid Miracleman battle.
Miracleman only makes this reference to complain that his face hasn’t healed from that battle. But as Liz points out, it’s still “healing incredibly fast.” Superficially, this might come off as a justification for Moore offering exposition through dialogue. More deeply, it’s also an indication of Miracleman’s privileged status. He’s so accustomed to power that he’s disappointed his severe burns haven’t simply disappeared, effectively while he slept.
Liz then procures a stack of American, implicitly super-hero comics from their car’s trunk. It’s not clear why Miracleman isn’t aware she’s done this, but it’s clear that he’s surprised. But Liz calls them “research.”
It’s absurd, of course. But it actually demonstrates a rational response to the presence of a real-life super-hero. Too many such stories seem to occur in worlds in which no one seems aware of this genre, nor its conventions. What’s absurd isn’t actually Liz turning to super-hero comics; it’s the presence of a super-hero at all. Given such unprecedented circumstances, it’s logical to turn to the only sources available, even if they’re fictive.
Liz is quick to dismiss these comics as literature, reflecting the prejudices of her times. “Some of this stuff’s better than you’d expect,” she says, “but most of it’s crap.” Actually, that’s a more charitable view than most adults had of comics in 1982. Liz seems to be reading these comics with an open mind, and she isn’t wrong in her appraisal. Indeed, it was the fact that “most of it’s crap,” despite their love of the medium and it’s potential, that spurred Alan Moore and the revisionists more generally, including the staff of Warrior, to try to do better. Liz might be blunt, but she’s not wrong – and it was not so dissimulate observations that spurred work like Miracleman.
Sitting on a folding chair, Liz begins to list various super-powers, garnered from her study of these comics. It’s this that sets up the punchline that ends this page, as she confirms that he doesn’t have X-ray vision and then asks about “superbreath.”
“Superbreath?” asks a confused Miracleman, in close-up in the final panel.
If each page of the chapter is a miniature story, this one comes the closest to a conventional gag ending. And it’s amusing, to see a real-world super-hero befuddled at such silly business. But the joke’s not at Miracleman’s expense. Rather, it’s a joke that skewers the stupidity of most super-hero stories – a stupidity to which Miracleman may be seen as a reaction against.
To be continued.