We’ve previously introduced Miracleman and discussed chapters one, two, three, four, five, and six, as well as the interlude “The Yesterday Gambit.” We now continue our examination with chapter seven of this celebrated but long-unavailable series, written by Alan Moore and originally appearing in the British magazine Warrior.
Chapter 7: “Blue Murder” (7 pages)
Writer: Alan Moore. Art: Alan Davis. Originally appeared, in black and white, in Warrior #8 (Dec 1982) as “Blue Murder.” Reprinted in color in Miracleman #2 (Oct 1985) as “Book One Chapter 8: Blue Murder.” Collected in Miracleman Book One: A Dream of Flying (Oct 1988) as “Chapter 7: Blue Murder.”
Chapter seven, the first chapter Alan Davis illustrated solo, is entitled “Blue Murder.” The title refers to the chapter’s surprise ending. But the chapter could have equally been titled “Secret Identity,” the previous chapter’s title. That’s an indication of how closely this chapter follows the previous one.
In fact, the two chapters could be seen in contrast, with the first focused on Miracleman, especially on the implications of his powers, and the second on Mike Moran. Indeed, this chapter could well be titled “The Passion of Mike Moran.”
In fact, in a fairly radical break from super-hero stories of the time, Miracleman basically only appears on this chapter’s first page – and he doesn’t do anything important, not hit anyone.
He simply flies. More than that, he glides and dives through the air so gracefully that it looks like he’s performing zero-gravity gymnastics.
Moore’s previously described Miracleman’s power, especially his flying, in poetic terms. But here, he pulls out all the stops, devoting a full page to the idea, accompanied by Davis’s beautiful artwork. “Like a kite that has lost its war with the wind I hang crucified upon the sky,” Moore begins, as Miracleman holds his arms outstretched, silhouetted against a cloud.
In the center panel, Moore echoes his earlier phrase “contemptuous of gravity,” writing now from Miracleman’s perspective: “Gravity is a sullen giant who snatches irritably at my heels.” Moore continues, at the bottom of the panel, “The hurricane is my mistress. I slide my body across her arctic vectors and her sigh is an ecstasy of birds.” Miracleman continues in the next panel: “Her nails rake my back and she howls her bitterness, begging me to stay, pleading with me to deny the dark and jealous planet that waits below.”
Miracleman is depicted here as godlike, but not simply in his physical power – the way most writers depict super-people as gods. Miracleman has that kind of power, but it’s restrained here. Instead, Moore emphasizes the hero’s ability to slip effortlessly into the clouds, to play with them. In a series that has already explored the sexuality inherent in the super-hero, Miracleman himself understands this play with the clouds in sexual terms.
By putting his poetic dialogue unambiguously into Miracleman’s head, Moore also follows up on the idea, articulated in the previous chapter by Mike Moran, that Miracleman doesn’t have “exactly the same mind. He’s cleverer than me.” Miracleman’s mind, it now seems, is one that thinks poetically, that understands metaphor even as it applies to himself. This is a subtle point here, resting as it does on the captions’ use of first-person pronouns. But it’s a point that Moore will explore as the story continues.
The page ends as Miracleman alights on the pigeon-filled rooftop where the Morans live. Throughout the page, Davis’s curved line does an excellent job of conveying Miracleman’s grace, and this is no exception.
Davis also divides the page into five page-high panels, which allows him to emphasize the height of Miracleman’s flight. Implicitly, this also emphasizes Miracleman’s god-like status, the way in which he’s above mere humans, and the thin, vertical panels recall phallic skyscrapers and monuments to grand achievements.
On page two, Davis begins with three horizontal, page-wide panels. In the first, Miracleman’s head, regrettably absent any background, speaks his magic word. In the second, inset behind the first and third panels, we witness Miracleman’s transformation back into Mike Moran, which sends the birds scattering and reestablishes the scene. It’s a masterful panel in which Davis depicts the two figures with limbs overlaid atop each other. This recalls the description of Young Miracleman’s death, given in chapter one, as two bodies sharing the same space. But the image also recalls the discussion, in the previous chapter, of how Miracleman and Mike Moran are really two different people, with different minds as well as different bodies.
In the third of these panels, Mike Moran’s head occupies the same position Miracleman’s head did in the first panel. Only here, it looks dejected. Miracleman’s sparkle effect has been replaced with trails of smoke, remnants of the transformation and subtle reminders of Miracleman’s absence. Whereas Miracleman’s head looked proudly upright, starting forward with clarity as he spoke, Moran’s head is tilted to the side and slightly downward. The lighting is the same, but his eyes look sullen, his cheeks wrinkled, his mouth subtly closer to a frown.
Moore gives Mike Moran a couple of captions here, and they could hardly provide a starker contrast with Miracleman’s on the page before. “I’m a forty[-]two year[-]old man, I’m standing on a rooftop, and I feel stupid,” Mike narrates. Miracleman wouldn’t feel stupid, standing on the rooftop, after having landed from dancing amid the clouds. But Mike goes further, adding, “All my life I’ve felt stupid.”
It’s a devastatingly brief sentence that echoes how Mike’s been depicted as a working-class character, an everyman, not at all like Clark Kent or Bruce Wayne. Mike Moran’s life isn’t glamorous like theirs, nor like so many of the supposedly aspirational characters in fiction. In chapter one, we saw how he feels that he can’t afford to refuse a job and how he feels emasculated that his wife makes more money than him. No, there’s little exceptional about Mike Moran.
And he knows it. The panel’s second caption reads, “There are lots of people like me.” It can be a hard sentiment to read, for those of us – especially Americans – encouraged to see themselves as special, unique, and capable of anything. Like many men, especially those in his profession as a reporter, Mike Moran may have dreamed of great things. But in middle age, his options have narrowed, and his dreams along with them.
But Mike’s caption here also holds a special meaning, unique to this narrative. It stands in stark contrast to Miracleman’s cavalier statement, amid the poetry of the page before, that “There is no-one like me.” Miracleman knows he’s unique on the planet, now that Kid Miracleman doesn’t oppose him. Miracleman knows he’s powerful. And while Mike Moran may well have felt depressed and emasculated before Miracleman’s return, he couldn’t help but feel more so now.
It’s a stunning sequence that says much about the super-hero in just over a page and a half. Most super-heroes have alter egos who share the same mind. Billy Batson, who didn’t, was always smiling. He was a child, thrilled to have adventures as Captain Marvel – although whether the two were really the same being, or what that would produce psychologically, was never addressed. But this narrative contrivance allowed Billy to act as stand-in for readers. In giving us a middle-aged Billy Batson figure who doesn’t smile, Moore is able to imply things about us, as adult super-hero readers, that are far subtler.
What does it say about us, to have thrilled to Miracleman’s bird-like romp through the sky? Yes, we know this to be fantasy, to be unreal. But it appeals to us, this dream of flying, even if we are smart enough to prefer Moore and Davis’s precision to their sloppy, comparatively inartful competitors, which they flew above. Yet our lives are comparatively far closer to Mike Moran’s than to Miracleman’s.
The implications go far beyond the super-hero genre. Virtually all genres focus on the powerful, whether that power is defined by material wealth, spiritual accomplishment, or mental and physical prowess. The super-hero genre might write large this distinction between reader and protagonist, but it’s there in the child reading about children blessed to go to Wonderland or Narnia or Hogwarts, to escape their parents and their humdrum lives. So too is it there in the adults, still thrilling to tales of action heroes or to protagonists who find the love of their lives and live happily ever after.
Mike Moran is easy to pity. But we cannot ignore the fact that his place, relative to Miracleman, is also our own.
Because of this, while the chapter is Mike Moran’s, it is also implicitly an exploration of the super-hero and of fantasy in general.
One would not think this a wise move, if a creator is inclined to success. Fantasies generally succeed when they allow readers to lose themselves, to forget that the pleasurably wonderful aspects of a story are, at their root, fantastical escapes from a boring, often depressing, and occasionally horrifying life. Escapist literature rarely highlights what one is escaping from. In daring to do so, Miracleman relies on the reader’s intelligence, hoping that he or she enjoys not only the fantasy but the novelty of the story’s take on it – and that better understanding the dynamics underlying fantasy may, for a mind inclined to knowledge, be a sort of pleasure unto itself.
Continued next time.