Miracleman, Chapter 7, and British Politics

We’ve begun discussing chapter seven (in two parts) of Alan Moore’s Miracleman, illustrated by Alan Davis. Today, we continue our exploration of that chapter.

(We’ve previously introduced Miracleman and discussed chapters one, two, three, fourfive, and six, plus the interlude “The Yesterday Gambit.”)

from Miracleman, chapter 7, page 5 (Warrior version)As Mike Moran walks to the Daily Record, the newspaper for which he works, he’s observed by Evelyn Cream, who flashes his sapphire teeth.

It’s not clear why Cream has waited two months to act, after learning Miracleman’s identity in the previous chapter. Perhaps he was putting together the plan we’ll see him execute here – and in the following chapter. Of course, like the gap between chapters five and six, we may also see this as an unfortunate side effect of Moore trying to bring the series closer to its publication date.

from Miracleman, chapter 7, page 6 (Warrior version)We haven’t seen the Daily Record before, but it’s a familiar location for super-hero readers, especially given Clark Kent’s job at the Daily Planet and Peter Parker’s job at the Daily Bugle. The Daily Record has a hard-bitten features editor named Pete who’s bald, smokes, wears glasses, and is cast in the mold of Parker’s J. Jonah Jameson. Like Jameson in many Spider-Man stories (in which Peter Parker was a freelance photographer), Pete doesn’t have work for Mike Moran.

But of course, Peter Parker was an adolescent in high school. Mike Moran is a grown man, desperate for work to give him some sense of self-worth, and that makes his rejection here far more pitiful.

Making matters worse, Pete explains that he’s giving what work he has to his staff, underlining that Mike Moran doesn’t have this status.

Moore uses a nifty trick to accent Mike’s rejection. He includes a brief caption noting the time as Moran enters the building. After Moran has heard there’s no work, another caption notes the time as he waits for the elevator to leave the building. In twenty minutes, Mike’s only reason for leaving his home, where he’s been cuckolded by Miracleman, has turned to ash in his hands.

from Miracleman, chapter 7, page 5 (Eclipse version)Mike’s conversation with Pete, before he hears there’s no work, also gives Moore the opportunity to update readers about how the wider world sees the events of the series. We’ve previously seen that a blurry photo was taken of Miracleman in chapter one, and several people witnessed his fight with Kid Miracleman. Pete has connected the two, and he’s prepared a story on the matter, but it’s been censored by the government.

D-Notices

Specifically, Pete says the government issued a D-Notice, a term unfamiliar to most American readers, although they can figure out from the context that it means government censorship. A “D-Notice” is short for Defence Notice (using the British spelling of “defense”), a practice begun in 1912. The notices are issued by a committee mostly consisting of members of the press, headed jointly by a Press Association representative and the Assistant Secretary of the War Office.

In theory, the notice is actually a voluntary request with no legal weight, merely a way of advising the media to avoid publishing what are supposed to be militarily sensitive materials, and thus not actual censorship. Underlining this, the notices were renamed “DA-Notices,” short for Defence Advisory Notices, in 1993 (after the events depicted here). In practice, however, the British media routinely complies with such notices, and failure to comply could lead to controversy, if not official retaliation.

Although the system might sound frightening, D-Notices mostly apply to matters such as military plans or capabilities, nuclear weapons, government encryption, the location of secret bases, and home addresses – things most citizens would agree are beyond the scope of freedom of speech.

The D-Notice system isn’t really that different from the way the U.S. media censors materials when advised that they might risk national security. Such advisories similarly have no legal weight, and the primary mechanism of their enforcement is public scorn, rather than official or legal action. The D-Notice system also has the benefit of a committee consisting primarily of members of the press, whereas similar U.S. advisories tend to come from the Pentagon without oversight, leaving them open to charges of overreaching.

A D-Notice system has also been in operation in Australia since 1952, although its committee hasn’t met since 1982. Because they are advisory, D-Notices (like similar Pentagon warnings) may be taken as a sign of a free society, rather than as a violation of such a society’s principles.

Of course, the existence of super-humans, arguably tantamount to living nuclear weapons, might well be considered a legitimate state secret.

That’s not to say the history of British D-Notices has been without controversy or accusations of abuse. For example, one of the most famous D-Notices surrounded reporting of the 1971 robbery of safe deposit boxes of a Lloyds Bank branch on Baker Street in London. The newspapers involved have subsequently claimed that the reason was that the safe deposit boxes contained materials embarrassing to the royal family.

Moore’s depiction of the D-Notice in Miracleman, however, necessarily omits all of this history and nuance. That might be fine for British readers, who might be expected to understand the reference, but Moore knew, by this point in Warrior’s publication, that the magazine was being read abroad. This foreign audience increased radically when Eclipse began publishing Miracleman, which didn’t footnote the reference to a D-Notice, nor include an editorial postscript to the story in either issue or collected form, leaving readers to assume the worst.

As Pete complains bitterly about how “the government” (not a committee consisting largely of the press) has killed his story, we can get the false impression of Britain as an authoritarian regime, in which its government can unilaterally censor reporting it dislikes or fears. At this moment, Miracleman’s Britain can feel eerily close to its dystopic future version in V for Vendetta – and that was probably Moore’s intent, given his politics at the time.

The Falklands War

The exchange between Pete and Mike includes two other references to British politics. The first comes when Mike inquires about the D-Notice, guessing that it may have to do with “the Falklands.” This refers to the Falklands War, between Britain and Argentina, which took place in April to June of 1982, the year in which Book One occurs. Specifically, the Falklands War occurs following chapter five, during chapter six, and is over by the time this chapter begins.

Britain had controlled the Falkland Islands, to the east of Argentina, continuously since 1933. Argentina, which had controlled the islands for a short period previously, never gave up its claim. In April 1982, the military junta ruling Argentina took the islands, calculating that the British would never respond militarily. Instead, Britain, under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, sent a large force to the islands. Although retaking the islands was considered extremely difficult, since nearby Argentina had almost three times as many fighter planes available. The British victory hastened the Argentine government’s collapse, while Thatcher saw her approval ratings soar.

For some on the British left, however, the war highlighted several unsavory aspects of Thatcher’s Britain. Not known for her nuance, Thatcher spoke of the conflict in highly charged, black-and-white terms. While The Daily Mirror (for which Miracleman’s Daily Record is perhaps an analogue) opposed the war, others followed the Thatcher line and did their reporting with no small amount of jingoistic patriotism. The Sun was particularly egregious, running headlines like “Stick It Up Your Junta!” Another Sun headline, “Gotcha: Our lads sink gunboat and hole cruiser,” featured “Gotcha” in huge letters and referred to “our lads,” like World War II propaganda. It was occasioned by the sinking of the Argentine ship General Belgrano, which killed 323 people – although initial reports suggested the losses were much higher. In fact, the “Gotcha” headline only appeared on early editions, when the ship wasn’t confirmed as sunk, and it was replaced with “Did 1,200 Argies drown?” – “Argies” begin a xenophobic and arguably racist term for Argentines. Partially based on such reports, the sinking became a rallying point for anti-war advocates.

The Sun's "Gotcha" headlineThe Falklands War was also linked with military censorship. Bandwidth in the area didn’t allow for TV transmissions, so videotapes had to be shipped to (relatively nearby) Ascension Island for transmission, resulting in a three-week delay. Some suspected the British government had no incentive to try harder, given how footage during the Vietnam War had helped the anti-war movement. Indeed, the press on the scene depended almost completely on the Royal Navy, which censored their reporting. In some cases, reporters in the U.K. knew more than those on site.

It’s likely this that Mike Moran references, when he guesses that the D-Notice has to do with the Falklands. Moore’s depiction of government censorship here might hint at authoritarianism, but such a suggestion was rooted in events of the time.

This must have been even more frustrating for Moore – and perhaps for Pete – because of Thatcher’s buoyed popularity, spurred by military victory and not a small amount of jingoistic rhetoric.

The Profumo Affair

At the end of the dialogue about the D-Notice, Pete makes one more historical reference, saying, “It’s bloody Profumo all over again.” This refers to John Profumo, then Britain’s Secretary of State for War, who in 1963 was revealed to have had an affair with Christine Keeler, who was called a prostitute and suspected of having milked Profumo for state secrets on behalf of the Soviets. In the context of the Cold War, sex and espionage made for perfect scandal material. Profumo initially lied about the affair but later vaguely confessed and resigned. Months later, the Prime Minister Harold Macmillan resigned, claiming ill health, and the stress of the scandal was widely believed to have been a contributing cause.

Pete’s reference to Profumo here implies that a D-Notice was issued over the Profumo affair, but this doesn’t seem to have been the case – at least in our world. Whatever secrets Keeler learned from Profumo apparently weren’t discovered by the press. Moreover, if Moore simply wished to cite a controversial D-Notice, he had other, better options – such as the aforementioned 1971 Baker Street robbery. He could also have cited the 1967 “D-Notice affair,” in which Prime Minister Harold Winston attacked The Daily Express for ignoring two D-Notices, a claim the newspaper disputed. This led to an inquiry that seemed to test the D-Notice system by effectively asking the D-Notice committee to judge whether the newspaper had violated its voluntary notices, leading a committee member resigned in protest. But Moore ignores these to reach all the way back to the Profumo affair of 1963, which doesn’t seem to have involved a D-Notice.

In fairness, it’s worth noting that the scandal never disappeared from popular culture, and it was referenced in the British punk music scene in the years preceding Miracleman, first in the 1979 Glaxo Babies song “Christine Keeler” (on their single of the same name) and then in the 1980 Clash song “The Leader” (on the album Sandinista!). This isn’t the Clash’s first appearance in these pages; we previously discussed their 1978 song “English Civil War” in the context of chapter three’s title.

Still, Pete’s reference to a scandal from 20 years earlier seems odd, especially in the context of D-Notices. Moore’s other real-world references, such as to the Falklands War, tend to be far closer to the story’s 1982 setting. Those references might be politically charged, but they’re anything but incidental.

Curiously, the timeline of the series thus far contains only one important date, prior to 1982: the destruction of the Miracleman family, which also occurred in 1963.

In “The Yesterday Gambit,” Moore established the tone of 1963 with the phrase “Kennedy is in the White House, Macmillan is in Downing Street, Telstar is in orbit…” Macmillan is the same Prime Minister who resigned, following the Profumo affair.

In real life, Macmillan oversaw the development of Britain’s first H-bomb and was known for collaborating with the United States on atomic matters. The power – and potential geopolitical implications – of super-heroes during the Cold War has often linked to atomic bombs (for example, in Moore’s later Watchmen). And of course, the Miracleman Family was destroyed by an atomic bomb – near the end of Macmillan’s administration, known for its atomic concerns.

The actual date of the Miracleman Family’s destruction varies. In chapter two, Miracleman dates the event to October 1963, the same month Macmillan resigned. In “The Yesterday Gambit,” the explosion is dated to February 1963, one month before the Profumo scandal broke. Is Moore trying to hint that the stress of the Miracleman Family’s demise contributed to Macmillan’s departure? Or that Profumo knew something about the program?

Moore wouldn’t develop this point, but he may have been laying the groundwork for a later revelation that the Profumo affair was bound up with the Miracleman Family.

At the very least, the Profumo scandal invokes the covert world of governmental secrets surrounding the Cold War and nuclear technology – the same world of the Spookshow and Evelyn Cream, which we’ve already seen has some connection to Miracleman’s origin. It’s a world at the heart of the remaining three chapters of Book One.

All the political overtones and references Moore has made so far weren’t incidental. They didn’t represent the injection of personal politics into a super-hero story. Instead, they’re foreshadowing.

Concluded next time.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

In 1996, while still an undergraduate, Dr. Julian Darius founded what would become Sequart Organization. After graduating magna cum laude from Lawrence University (Appleton, Wisconsin), he obtained his M.A. in English, authoring a thesis on John Milton and utopianism. In 2002, he moved to Waikiki, teaching college while obtaining an M.A. in French (high honors) and a Ph.D. in English. In 2011, he founded Martian Lit, which publishes creative work, including his comic book Martian Comics. He currently lives in Illinois.

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