We’ve previously introduced Miracleman and discussed chapters one, two, three, four, five, six, and seven, as well as the interlude “The Yesterday Gambit.” We now continue our examination with chapter eight of this celebrated but long-unavailable series, written by Alan Moore and originally appearing in the British magazine Warrior.
Writer: Alan Moore. Art: Alan Davis. Originally appeared, in black and white, in Warrior #9 (Jan 1983) as “Out of the Dark” (without any book or chapter designation). Reprinted in color in Miracleman #3 (Nov 1985) as “Out of the Dark” (without any book or chapter designation, despite Eclipse otherwise adding them). Collected in Miracleman Book One: A Dream of Flying (Oct 1988) as “Chapter 8: Out of the Dark.”
Chapter eight begins Book One’s home stretch. From here on out, each chapter continues directly into the next, resolving the mysteries of Miracleman’s origin that Moore’s teased since chapter five – and hinted at, to a lesser extent, since chapter one.
We’ve already remarked how Moore liked, especially in his work on Warrior, to switch up his narratives, letting chapters have an unexpected narrator, or a surprising viewpoint, as well as a unifying theme or poetic phrase. In this way, individual chapters of a continuing story could surprise the reader not only with their contents but with their style or narrative point of view.
This is a testament to Moore’s ambition, as a young writer; simply offering another episode wasn’t good enough. But this tendency also demonstrates a commitment to experimentation, not only in narrative but with the comics form. The result is that each short chapter carries the story forward, but also feels like it has its own unique identity, its own satisfyingly distinct style, theme, and poetics.
For chapter eight, Moore intercuts no less than three narratives:
- a flashback sequence focused on Mike Moran and Mr. Cream, which continues from the previous chapter;
- a present-day sequence focused on Miracleman, which continues from the flashback sequence;
- and a discussion, elsewhere, between Sir Dennis Archer and a couple other members of the Spookshow, which comments upon the present-day sequence.
These are further united by the phrase “out of the dark,” which also serves as the chapter’s title. Each page mostly features either the flashback or present-day narrative, with a single, page-wide panel continuing the Spookshow’s discussion. These panels are placed in exact same spot on every page, with a single panel beneath it — until the final page, on which the Spookshow panel is larger and higher up on the page to allow more room for the chapter’s final panel.
The Spookshow’s discussion is visually distinguished by being rendered in silhouette, from a single perspective, which helps to set it apart. This helps separate these panels from the rest of the pages they’re on, but it also takes what could be a visually boring sequence – featuring people talking – and makes it visually distinctive. It also suggests the idea of a top-secret, undisclosed location – so secret, in fact, that readers aren’t privy even to seeing it.
While all of this is ambitious and does work, the way the Spookshow’s discussion continues on pages featuring the other two narratives has complicated narrative effects. Moore may have intended this as a way of avoiding giving the Spookshow its own page (a more conventional approach) and instead allowing that continuing conversation to help unify the chapter. This decision also allows Moore to indulge in one of his most beloved techniques: having panels set elsewhere offer ironic commentary on the main narrative, in ways that that undercut it or appropriate phrases into different contexts in which they have different meanings. (Moore would later use this idea to great effect in Watchmen.)
This narrative choice isn’t without its downsides, however. Chapter six also has three narratives (featuring the Morans, Sir Dennis Archer / Mr. Dream, and Kid Miracleman). But there, each narrative is given separate pages, so that each page feels distinct. To highlight this, Moore gives each page of that chapter its own opening word, set in a caption. Moore might not have wanted to repeat that formula here, and thus split the Spookshow’s conversation over all seven pages. But in chapter six, none of those narratives is a flashback, the use of which can be hard enough for readers to follow. Here, it’s not entirely clear when the Spookshow’s conversation takes place – it must occur after the previous chapter, so it probably occurs alongside both the flashback narrative and the present-day narrative, although it could also occur between the previous chapter and the flashback narrative. This may not matter much, but it can lead to some confusion. The Spookshow comments on defenses we see Miracleman confronting in the present, which can prompt the reader to feel like the two narratives are happening simultaneously, although there’s no evidence for that. The choice to render the Spookshow panels in silhouette, while interesting, can make that conversation feel oddly disembodied, almost like it’s happening outside of space and time, especially when juxtaposed to pages set in two different time periods.
After this, the Spookshow won’t be seen in the remainder of Book One. So it’s not really important that we understand where they are, since Miracleman isn’t going to confront these characters directly. Their conversation is mostly important for its annotations on the defenses Miracleman encounters, as well as what it reveals about these character’s thinking. Without that, we might question why the Spookshow reacted in the way. The depiction of the Spookshow as silhouettes and lack of specificity about their location might suggest these panels’ limited function – in other words, don’t expect these characters to reappear or be confronted anytime soon, since we’re not bothering to tell you where they are. Still, for the reader who doesn’t know this or pick up on it, the literal lack of any setting for these important characters, rendered in silhouette against white, in a sequence running against both flashback and present-day pages, can be a little alienating.
This isn’t enough to make the chapter’s ambitious storytelling techniques fail. The reader understands what’s meant to be conveyed. Experiments, whether in narrative or not, rarely are unmitigated successes. They’re risky, and that’s a big part of why they’re celebrated. But it’s important to consider the effects of these narrative choices, both positive and negative.
The actual plot of the chapter, ignoring these techniques and Moore’s poetics, is remarkably simple. After the cliffhanger ending of the previous chapter, Mike Moran awakes, gagged, and Evelyn Cream reveals that he used “tranquilizer bullets.” Cream explains what readers have guessed since chapter five – that Miracleman’s powers were the result of a government experiment. Trusting Miracleman, Cream removes Moran’s gag and allows him to speak his magic word. Cream gives Miracleman the location of the bunker where Miracleman was created, and Miracleman flies there (at the end of the flashback narrative). In the present, he dispels the bunker’s various defenses, which the Spookshow’s conversation effectively annotate. At the chapter’s end, Miracleman makes it to the bunker’s door, where he encounters a flamboyant, costumed super-hero the Spookshow says is named Big Ben.
All of this the reader can reasonably be expected to understand, without confusion. But as usual, it’s the way Moore and artist Alan Davis pull this off that counts the most.
Continued next time.