Miracleman, Chapter 8:

Introducing Big Ben

We’ve begun discussing chapter eight (parts onetwo, and three) of Alan Moore’s Miracleman, illustrated by Alan Davis. Today, we continue our exploration of that chapter.

(We’ve also previously introduced Miracleman and discussed chapters onetwothreefourfive, six, and seven, as well as the interlude “The Yesterday Gambit.”)

Two pages later, on the third page set in the present, Miracleman continues his inexorable advance toward the bunker. The threat, this time around, is described by the Spookshow as “our penultimate line of defense” and “quite a large bomb.” Like the rocket launchers, the Spookshow seems to be selling its defenses short: in addition to the bomb is another squad of gasmask-clad soldiers, this one armed with machine guns.

The emphasis here continues to be on Miracleman’s power. He tears up a fence topped with barbed wire, then uses it to entangle the soldiers. It’s not entirely clear how he does this – the art is ambiguous on this point. Seeing the tripwire tied to explosives, Miracleman intentionally triggers it, causing a large explosion. On the page’s final panel, we see his figure walking out of the smoke and towards the bunker in the foreground.

Moore’s captions emphasize how inconsequential these defenses are to the superhuman. As he tears through the fence, we’re told “he does not care about the walls.” As he uses the fence to demolish the soldiers, we’re told “the men mean nothing to him.” As he triggers the bomb, we’re told “the snares are not worthy of his contempt.” Accenting this point, Alan Davis has a subtly smiling Miracleman triggering the tripwire with a single finger – an almost dainty gesture, especially contrasted to the ensuing explosion.

The same moral tension, implicit on the previous present-day page, is invoked here as well. Moore’s caption reminds us that the soldiers Miracleman demolishes are indeed “men,” yet they “mean nothing” to Miracleman. Moreover, when Miracleman triggers the tripwire, he definitely kills the soldiers around him.

Lest we have any doubt about this, the Spookshow makes this point clear. Continuing his characterization as a callous mastermind, Sir Dennis Archer says that the soldiers “will be aware of the bomb” and that this “will give them a greater incentive to stop [Miracleman].” And should they fail, Archer points out that “it is better there are no witnesses.”

The page ends by leading into the chapter’s final page. Archer refers to “what must follow,” and a narrative caption at the end of the page – the first time such a caption has been placed in one of the present-day pages’ final panels – draws our attention to “something standing in [the bunker’s] shadows.” In the artwork, the careful reader will make out a figure, standing in the shadow to the left of the bunker.

On the final page, we meet this man: Big Ben, the final obstacle Miracleman faces. He’s the only threat not defeated in this chapter, in order to set up the next one. He’s also only the second other superhuman, beyond Miracleman himself and flashbacks to Young Miracleman, that we’ve seen so far.

Unsurprisingly, this threat requires a bit more explanation from the Spookshow, compared to the other three threats. Sir Dennis explains that, after the 1963 apparent destruction of the Miracleman Family, he supervised the creation of a new superhuman. But “the project’s originator destroyed many of his notes before he absconded,” and Archer had “problems” duplicating the process. One gets the sense that Archer, a military man, didn’t have the scientific savvy of this unknown “originator.”

The identity of this “originator,” though rarely mentioned, has been a mystery since he was first mentioned by Evelyn Cream in chapter six. There, he narrated that the name of Miracleman’s alter ego “had vanished with the project’s mysterious founder when he fled to South America.” His identity is revealed in Book One’s final chapter.

For now, however, the focus is on Big Ben. On the top of the page, above the Spookshow panel, he’s not shown in full – only his umbrella, his arm, and then a close-up of one eye. The full reveal is left for the chapter’s final panel.

The story’s second superhuman foe is depicted remarkably different from its first. Kid Miracleman is an intelligent, scheming being of profound horror. Big Ben seems like comic relief. Miracleman’s first words to him are “Is this a joke of some sort?”, and the hero looks more surprised than fearful.

Moore and Leach (along with Davis on chapter five) infused the battle with Kid Miracleman with a real stakes – it isn’t clear that the inexperienced Miracleman can triumph, he seems dead halfway through, and he wins through an error on Kid Miracleman’s part, not through any actions he himself takes. Here, Moore and Davis don’t seem to be selling Big Ben as much of a threat. He may well be powerful, although we may correctly guess that the “problems” to which Sir Dennis alludes means that Big Ben is no match for Miracleman. The tone of the cliffhanger is less “Will Miracleman survive?!?” and more “What the fuck is this?!?”

Adding to this is Big Ben’s garb and posture. Covering his muscle-bound body is an absurd costume, consisting of a skintight outfit reminiscent of a suit, complete with a tie, cufflinks, and a carnation as a corsage. Above his super-hero mask, covering only the eyes, sits a bowler hat. He wields his umbrella with a foppish twist of the wrist, his other hand resting against his side like he’s posing. He looks ridiculous, more like a parody of a super-hero than an actual threat.

His dialogue is similarly parodic. His first spoken words, as he taps Miracleman on the shoulder with an umbrella, are “Not so fast, you Bolshevik blighter. / There still stands one who is prepared to defend queen and country against your Kremlin masters and their lackeys.” He soon adds, “Prepare yourself for a trouncing, my sizeable Soviet friend.”

There are several ways to interpret Big Ben, but what likely strikes readers most is the almost complete tonal departure he represents. Until this, Miracleman had infused the super-hero genre with previously unknown realism. Such silliness seems remarkably out of place, and it’s really how Moore’s going to explain this that’s the real cliffhanger.

Of course, there is an explanation: within the story, Big Ben has been a victim of the same programming Miracleman underwent, hence his misunderstanding of reality. Even then, however, Moore will depict Big Ben as more out of touch with reality than the Miracleman Family ever was. He won’t get the same sympathetic treatment.

This may be a result of how absurd Moore found the character. In fact, Warrior editor Dez Skinn had created Big Ben years before, in 1977, and would soon become a regular feature in the title. Skinn had requested that Moore include the character in Miracleman. By this point, however, Moore and Skinn weren’t getting along. What role this contentious relationship played in Moore skewering Big Ben remains open for debate, but Moore certainly could have played Big Ben as less absurd and less deranged, while still depicting him as a product of the same program that had crated Miracleman.

Whatever Moore’s reasons for his approach to Big Ben, he comes off as a parody both of a British super-hero and of super-heroes more generally. Super-heroes are a fundamentally absurd prospect, and it would be easy to skewer Miracleman himself along similar grounds to the way Big Ben is satirized here. In fact, Mad magazine had already done so, albeit using Captain Marvel as its target, rather than his British equivalent, Marvelman – and Moore’s acknowledged how that story influenced his take on Miracleman. The absurdity of the super-hero can be used for comedy or for meaningful drama, but the success of both is rooted in that fundamental absurdity.

Taken this way, we can – perhaps surprisingly – see Big Ben as a real opposite to Miracleman. If the corrupted Kid Miracleman represented how Miracleman himself might have gone, had circumstances been different or had Miracleman used his powers for personal gain, Big Ben represents how Moore might have taken Miracleman in a different, more comedic direction, had he written the story at an earlier date.

Both Miracleman and Big Ben are defined by their Britishness. This is part of why Miracleman appealed to Moore, who saw the character as perhaps Britain’s best original super-hero – although admittedly the best from a fairly paltry list. Big Ben, in both his name and his dress, is also defined by his national identity. But for Moore, Big Ben seems to represent the worst of British super-heroes, rather than the best.

Of course, these differences may also be read more generally, with Miracleman representing an intelligent take on the super-hero, whereas Big Ben seems to represent the genre’s clichés: bad dialogue, a simplistic worldview, exotic costumes and personalities, and really big muscles.

In a chapter that also skewers the Spookshow’s racism, it’s worth pointing out how Big Ben reflects that same simplistic thinking – and logically so, given that Sir Dennis supervised Big Ben’s creation. If Seward’s world is divided between “paddies” and “our chaps,” Big Ben’s is similarly divided between “Bolshevik[s]” obeying their “Kremlin masters” and patriotic souls like Big Ben, who “defend queen and country.” The idea that Soviets were similarly patriotic doesn’t seem to have occurred to him.

Here again, politics intersect with the super-hero, demonstrating how that genre is too often dominated by dichotomous thinking. Big Ben might be a parody, but he’s one that’s not far off from most super-hero comics – and he’s one that also reflects the political thinking of his fictional creator. Both are, after all, cartoons.

Next time, we turn to the chapter’s flashback pages.

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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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