We’ve previously begun discussion of chapter six of Alan Moore’s Miracleman and gotten through page three. We now continue discussion of this pivotal chapter.
(Earlier, we introduced Miracleman and discussed chapters one, two, three, four, and five, as well as the interlude “The Yesterday Gambit.”)
Page four begins with the word “investigation,” and it continues the narrative of Miracleman and Liz Moran testing his powers in Dartmoor.
The page begins conventionally enough, with Liz trying – and failing – to time how fast he can fly. Next, Miracleman is shown ripping a boulder from the ground, tossing it into the air, and letting it shatter as it falls against him, thereby demonstrating both his strength and his invulnerability.
It’s worth noting that Dartmoor is known for its boulder-like rock formations, and it has several large standing stones and stone formations, like circles and rows, that date to prehistory. The boulder Miracleman throws and shatters here looks like any random boulder, but he does so in a setting where large stones have a special local and historical value.
Moore doesn’t do much with this here, but we’ve already seen this same concern for place in the way Moore set the Kid Miracleman fight in Brixton. Moore would soon be working on DC’s Swamp Thing, where he’d be praised as the first writer of the series to pay attention to its Louisiana setting. Moore had never been to Louisiana, but his awareness of the importance of place on a story led him to do the research necessary to fake it. In the 1990s, Moore would take this concern further (in works like From Hell, his unfinished Big Numbers, and his novel The Voice of the Fire), presenting stories that delved far deeper into the history of his settings. But the same tendency can be seen in Miracleman, even if it’s more superficial and subtextual than in his later work.
From here, the page gets a lot more unconventional. Because this “investigation” isn’t simply a testing of what Miracleman can do. It’s an “investigation” into why or how he can do these things.
Even during the four panels of testing, Liz narrates that he’s “ridiculously strong.” “Ridiculous” is often used as a superlative meaning “very.” But of course, it also means “absurd” or even “worthy of ridicule.” In most super-hero stories, Liz’s adverb would only be a way of underlying how cool Miracleman’s powers are. But of course, this is Miracleman, so Moore pulls the rug out from under these expectations.
After the boulder stunt, Miracleman seems proud of himself, almost like he’s echoing the stereotypical super-hero reading of this sequence: “You believe me now, Liz? You said it wasn’t possible to have skin tough enough to resist treatment like that.”
He’s boastful. He all but says, “See, Liz?” His language is that of being “tough” – language all too typical of super-hero comics.
So far, Moore hasn’t characterized Liz all that much. She’s able to call Miracleman on the silliness of his self-history in chapter two. She’s given some space at the beginning of chapter three, after she’s had sex with Miracleman, but she mostly spends chapters four and five as a potential victim of the super-people. But if Liz has come off as a little stereotypical, Moore redeems that here, where the intelligence Liz displayed in chapter two returns with a vengeance.
She dismisses his boastful claim about “tough” skin. “It’s not,” she says without missing a beat. “That rock hitting you should have driven your feet into this soft earth no matter how strong your skin is.”
And of course, she’s right: even if Miracleman were invulnerable, the force of the impact should have driven his feet into the ground. Invulnerability doesn’t mean immobility, or some magical negation of outside forces acting on the invulnerable hero – despite how frequently super-hero writers seem to confuse being an irresistible force with being an immovable object, as if these were equivalent terms.
In the previous chapter, we saw Moore apply real-world physics to Miracleman catching the child. Here, Moore demonstrates the silly physics of super-hero stories not by changing them but by having Liz point them out.
This isn’t an incongruity. In fact, it demonstrates the revisionist ideal of plopping a super-hero, a figure who is intrinsically unrealistic, into a realistic world. Thus, Miracleman’s powers remain contrary to physics – although they may well have a pseudo-scientific explanation. But the physics of thrown children remain, at least in theory, recognizably those of our world.
Liz isn’t only smart enough to point this out. She also hypothesizes an explanation: “Not steel skin. A forcefield, maybe. That would explain that twinkly ‘Tinkerbell’ effect that you have…”
Here, Liz refers to the twinkles that Garry Leach, with his focus on detail, added to his depiction of Miracleman. Moore’s taking this and weaving it into his hints at a more logical explanation of Miracleman’s powers.
But Moore’s not done pointing out the illogic of super-powers. Still defensive and boastful, Miracleman says, “But you saw me throw that rock into the sky. You can’t explain strength like that with a forcefield.”
Again, Liz doesn’t miss a beat. “No,” she says. “And you can’t explain it with muscles like a ballet dancer either.” She soon adds, “To do that, you’d need muscles like beachballs. / Like wrecking balls.”
Of course, she’s right about this too. There are physical limits to how much force muscles of a given size can exert. Even if they’re operating at peak efficiency, or made super-dense by a yellow sun or something. And if Miracleman throwing a boulder violates this rather inarguable physical law, what a profound violation of logic is represented by a super-hero throwing a vehicle, or lifting a building, or moving a moon?
Liz was right earlier, when she narrated that Miracleman was “ridiculously strong.”
Here too, Liz has a hypothesis. She suggests “the power” might be “all in your mind.”
She looks concerned as she says this, and she thinks about how she’s thought everything that’s happened lately might be all in her mind too. That’s a fairly conventional observation, in tales of the fantastic, but there’s something ominous to her hypothesis that raises this ending to the page to a higher level.
Because if Miracleman’s powers are at least partially mental in origin, what else is he capable of?
Perhaps we’ve already seen this, in Kid Miracleman, who said that he’d developed his powers far beyond Miracleman’s in the previous two decades. We even saw this, when he clouded Miracleman’s mind at the end of chapter three, where he also seemed tied to the gathering storm.
And on the previous page, we had a rather literal glimpse into that same mind, as if to lend credence to Liz’s theory.
In this single page, Moore arguably does more to deconstruct the super-hero than in anything he’d offered before. It is quite impossible to read conventional super-hero stories in the same way, after these gross violations of the basic laws of physics have been pointed out.
Page five begins with the word “deduction,” and it focuses on Evelyn Cream, following his talk with Sir Dennis Archer, the aftermath of which was the subject of this chapter’s first page.
Outside of his rapid exit from Archer’s office, this is Cream’s first appearance this chapter, and he’s only previously been shown in the previous chapter’s final two panels, which did little more than establish that he’s “the devil” and has sapphires for teeth. Thus, this is effectively the first full appearance of the character.
And the first thing we learn about Cream here is that he’s dangerously smart. He’s reviewed “the Zarathustra file,” which conveniently did not mention the name of Miracleman’s alter ego. Cream is thus in the position of many super-villains, eager to learn their opponent’s secret identity. Usually, those efforts could best be categorized as illogical and haphazard. Cream, however, proceeds with methodological precision.
He narrates through captions that “The television broadcast showed the superhuman bursting out of Larksmere power station.” But “only the terrorists and the pressmen were in the station” at the time, and “all the terrorists are either in hospital or police custody.” Miracleman thus has to be “one of the pressmen.”
Cream hypothesizes, presumably based on what he’s read in the Zarathustra file, that Miracleman’s transformation “required a massive transference of energy. Light, heat, radiation…” Of the terrorists, “most” “were suffering from concussion when they were arrested. Only the one named Steven Cambridge was suffering from burns.”
Evelyn Cream has found Steve, the terrorist from the first page of the first chapter and the closest witness to Miracleman’s rebirth. Cream has even correctly conjectured the origin of Steve’s injuries.
And it wasn’t all that difficult. Why, when super-hero comics are filled with scenes in which the hero’s identity is compromised at least as much as Miracleman’s was in chapter one, aren’t these stories filled with investigations like Evelyn Cream’s? Obviously, it’s because doing so would compromise the status quo of these stories, which requires that the hero’s identity remain secret. Yet police interview witnesses to crimes, and plenty of super-heroes have been investigated by their governments – or should be, given the dangerous super-powers exhibited. After one sees the competence shown by Evelyn Cream, it’s hard not to notice such flaws in other stories.
Cream’s investigation is also an example of how Moore’s Miracleman, at its best, is simply a logical extrapolation of its basic premises. It’s only logical that someone would put two and two together, about the circumstances of Miracleman’s return. The investigator involved needn’t be as esoteric as Evelyn Cream, but some similar investigation is inevitable.
Throughout Cream’s narration, he doesn’t use the word “Miracleman,” instead referring to Miracleman as “the superhuman.” Of course, neither the super-hero at the Larksmere plant nor the superhumans battling in Brixton have been publicly named. Thus, we might suspect this is because Miracleman isn’t named in the Zarathustra file. But next chapter, Cream will use the name “Miracleman” without prompting. It’s far more likely that Cream uses the phrase “the superhuman” to distance himself from his target, in a manner common to espionage agents. This attention to language helps root Cream in that context, but it also underlines his cold, methodical personality.
Cream’s narration also provides another clue about the man behind Project Zarathustra, presumably the same person Archer (on page one) called “that treacherous little freak.” Cream narrates that Miracleman’s identity “had vanished with the projects mysterious founder when he fled to South America.”
Cream’s narration is also notable for his hypothesis about how Miracleman’s transformation gives off different kinds of energy – “Light, heat, radiation…” – carries interesting implications. Steve has already been burned by the heat of that transformation. In fact, that’s the first effect of Miracleman’s return. A few pages ago, we saw the “light” Cream hypothesizes, where it was accompanied by a mild concussive force Cream doesn’t mention. There, that light and force threatened Liz, who turned away and covered her ears. So what about Cream’s mention of “radiation?”
It’s hardly impossible, given how his other guesses are correct or don’t seem to go far enough. And of course, the person who would most obviously be threatened by this unexpected implication of Miracleman’s powers is Liz.
A few years later, Moore would use the rumor that Dr. Manhattan had given his lovers and his closest friend cancer as a major plot point in Watchmen.
There, these rumors are ultimately said to be untrue. Nor is the idea explored substantially in Miracleman.
But it’s another way in which Miracleman prefigures Watchmen. And while subtle, it’s an ominous hint that Miracleman’s very presence threatens those closest to him, including Liz.
As the page continues, Cream introduces himself to a couple nurses, identifying himself as “Dr. Causley, the burns specialist come to see Mr. Steven Cambridge.” He presents identification, and they direct him to the appropriate room.
Besides advancing the plot, the emphasis in this sequence is distinctly on Cream’s eccentricity. The nurses seem taken aback by him, and the page ends with – once Cream is out of earshot – one nurse commenting on Cream’s “blue teeth” to the other, who’s frowning.
Of course, there’s no denying Cream’s eccentric look, which his introduction in the previous chapter emphasized. He is, after all, a black man in a white suit with sapphires for teeth. He looks like the kind of espionage agent only found in James Bond movies.
But Cream’s demeanor seems equally strange. When he approaches the nurses, he smiles broadly, despite that this shows off his teeth. He addresses them as “angels of mercy” – an odd phrase for a doctor to use. He soon calls one “dear lady.” His language is formal and antiquated, almost as if a misguided overcompensation for his appearance.
Given all his strangeness, and we may well why the nurses aren’t more suspicious of such a man, claiming to be a doctor, even given his credentials. To some extent, Moore may have painted himself into a corner with the character, because it makes little sense for such a professional – let alone an espionage agent – to adopt Cream’s appearance. On the other hand, these eccentricities may add to others’ perception of his confidence. Moore reinforces this explanation – though still not entirely convincing – by the way the nurses respond to him, waiting for his shoes to click away on the hospital floor before they speak to one another.
Cream’s confidence may inspire deference, despite his appearance. But that doesn’t mean the nurses like him, as indicated by the fact that one’s frowning and the other can’t wait to talk behind Cream’s back. He may get what he wants, but his broad smile hasn’t won any friends.
To be concluded.