On page three, after the first flashback page, Miracleman faces his second threat, described by the Spookshow as “a number of specialists with rocket launchers” – although the art depicts a rocket-launcher barrage, followed by men using flamethrowers.
As on the first page, Miracleman himself is silent, and Moore’s poetic captions are the only text above the Spookshow panel. On the first page, those captions focused on the paradox of Miracleman’s power and beauty. Here and on the next present-day page, the captions focus more exclusively on Miracleman’s power, underlining the sense that he is unstoppable and advancing inexorably.
That’s not to say that these captions aren’t doing anything poetically. On this page, they personify the night, so that it – and not the soldiers – is responsible for the attack.
First, Moore writes that the night “cowers and cannot conceal him.” The phrase’s point is simply to say that Miracleman has been spotted, despite the “darkness” of the nighttime forest. This thus ties into the title and how it’s used as a refrain – including at the top of this page, directly before this caption. And if the night is that darkness, it is tied to the Spookshow, which also “cowers and cannot conceal him.”
But the way Moore describes how Miracleman is spotted, despite the darkness, poetically highlights the super-hero’s power. The idea that the night itself “cowers” before Miracleman is a wonderful turn of phrase. In fact, it’s the reversal of the earlier phrase “contemptuous of gravity,” which describes Miracleman’s ability to ignore physical laws. Here, nature herself “cowers” and lets the super-hero do what he wants.
Another nice phrase comes as Moore poetically describes how Miracleman is unimpeded by being set on fire – along with, it seems, some of the forest around him. Moore writes, “The night burns, and its fires cannot contain him…” Here again, the night seems to serve as a stand-in for the forest and for that “darkness,” and it is set aflame. But it’s Moore’s choice of the word “contain” that’s the real star here. He could just as easily have used the word “burn,” “damage,” or “touch.” But the idea that Miracleman cannot be contained is a powerful one, and it underlines that this is the Spookshow’s agenda.
But probably the best poetic turn of phrase here comes when we’re told, as Miracleman is sprayed with flame, that “The night screams, and cannot gain his attention…” The phrase “the night screams” feels apocalyptic, like a description of horror so extreme that it nature herself recoils, as if the cosmos itself is offended by humanity’s violence. But it’s the idea that even this “cannot gain [Miracleman’s] attention” that’s that most successful here, because it’s reflected in the artwork.
Too often, Moore’s poetic captions can seem detached from the artwork, like one simply accents or provides flourishes for the other. There’s nothing wrong with that, and it doesn’t distract from the majesty of either the words or the pictures. But here, Alan Davis draws Miracleman as staring oddly forward, even as he’s dispatching these soldiers. In fact, a rare silent panel, lacking even a caption, depicts only Miracleman’s head and shoulders, engulfed by flames, with him staring forward. In that panel, we know his arms are holding and discard human beings, but that’s placed off-panel, visually echoing how it’s outside of Miracleman’s consciousness. This attack is beneath his attention, if not his contempt – and both the captions and the artwork underline this idea.
Of course, this lack of attention is a result of how focused Miracleman is on getting to the bunker – and on getting answers about his origins. This singular focus, combined with frightening power, helps foreshadow his reaction at the end of this book.
It may pass our notice that this lack of attention also suggests that Miracleman himself is changing, becoming more comfortable with his powers. It’s hard to imagine the somewhat uncertain Miracleman of the first half of Book One using his hands to stop men with flamethrowers, without so much as looking at them – or, we imagine (although this isn’t 100% clear from the art), pausing in his march forward. Smashing and lifting soldiers is now, to Miracleman, no more than walking – it’s something he now can do without even looking, without conscious attention.
All along, Miracleman has challenged our notions of the super-hero genre. And there’s something frightening about this hero, now so singular in his focus, able to defeat trained soldiers without so much as looking at them. With this in mind, it’s important to note that Miracleman’s not only looking off – he’s also implicitly looking at us, at the readers.
If we realize this, that oddly silent panel, showing Miracleman’s head staring forward dispassionately, with his head in flames, can feel like a challenge – not to the Spookshow but to us.
In this page’s Spookshow panel, one of Sir Dennis Archer’s colleagues (a man identified by dialogue as “Seward”) seems certain this attack will work, pointing out that rocket launchers can take out tanks. Sir Dennis dismisses this, saying that “in 1963, we hit this creature with an atomic bomb… / It didn’t work.”
That last bit of Archer’s dialogue is printed as a caption, over the final panel – along with another caption, emphasizing the Spookshow’s desperation to stop Miracleman from “reaching that bunker.” On the first page, at least one of Miracleman’s ninja attackers clearly survived, but here it’s clear that Miracleman’s killed at least some of the soldiers, whose limp bodies are engulfed by the flame they started. The story doesn’t make a big deal of these deaths, so we can easily ignore the implications – but they’re still there.
Far more interesting is Seward’s dialogue about how he knows the power of rocket launchers: “Over in N.I., the paddies use them to take out our chaps’ tanks!” While this might be unclear to American readers, “N.I.” stands for Northern Ireland, and “paddies” is a racial slur. Moreover, “paddies” contrasts sharply with “our chaps” – the same patriotic language that supporters of the Falklands War used (there juxtaposed to “Argies”). The sentence serves a perfectly justifiable narrative purpose – explaining how Seward has this impression of rocket launchers. But with this same sentence, Moore’s able to continue the political undercurrents of Miracleman, characterizing Seward’s thinking – and by extension, the thinking of the then-current British government.
Such thinking isn’t merely racist but dichotomous. It sees only “good guys” and “bad guys” – and the “good guys” are characterized with patriotic zeal, while the “bad guys” can be insulted and dismissed with racist terminology. Of course, the two sides of this equation support one another: the more one side seems evil, the more the other side seems better – and its own sins and crimes can be justified as “excesses” in the service of a “just cause.” Without putting too fine a point on it, Moore’s able to expose how such thinking works with a single sentence.
The fact that it’s apparently uttered without self-consciousness suggests not only that Seward doesn’t expect his interlocutors to object to such racism but that such dichotomous thinking is deeply ingrained.
But before we pat ourselves on the back too much for catching and objecting to such racism, we ought to realize that super-hero comics are typically defined by the same dichotomous thinking. The worse the “bad guys,” the more we can forgive the (often illegal) violence of our “heroes.”
How apt this is, on a page in which a superhuman coldly ends the life of human beings. Yes, those human beings are trying to kill him. And it’s true that they can’t be excused simply because they’re following orders, although they don’t have enough information about Miracleman to reject their orders on moral grounds, and we may well sympathize with them. Most importantly, their efforts are so completely in vain that Miracleman doesn’t even have to look at them. Why does Miracleman – who could fly past them just as effortlessly – have to kill them?
Of course, the real answer is that it makes more a more entertaining story. Really, there’s no reason why Miracleman’s walking through the forest to begin with. It would have been far simpler to land beside the bunker, which isn’t shown to have any air defenses. But this would preclude Moore from building suspense and dramatizing the bunker’s security measures.
Still, it’s doubtful that we feel much for these nameless soldiers – whose faces are concealed behind gasmasks. The faces of the ninja on the first page were similarly concealed, and the soldiers on the next present-day page also wear gasmasks. From Miracleman’s first chapter, we’ve been taught that even terrorists are real and even sympathetic people, yet we likely don’t remember this here. After all, these nameless, faceless soldiers are the “bad guy,” and Miracleman’s the “hero.”
We can even notice and look down upon the same dichotomous thinking in Seward’s dialogue, without applying it to ourselves and the super-hero story we’re enjoying. It’s not even clear that Moore made this connection – although it’s there in what he’s written, whether he’s aware of it or not. Even the best of us can be seduced by the allure of the powerful and unaccountable, even when we know better.
Seward’s dialogue only seems like an interjection of Moore’s politics into a super-hero story. In fact, it’s key to the entire proceedings – and an illustration of the kind of dichotomous thinking that any super-hero story must negotiate.
To be continued.