We’ve begun discussing chapter nine of Alan Moore’s Miracleman, illustrated by Alan Davis. Today, we continue our exploration of that chapter.
The first page of the chapter focuses on Evelyn Cream, and it addresses more directly a subject that has so far been addressed only vaguely: Cream’s race.
Cream’s race has been problematic from the start. On the final page of chapter five, in the very first panel in which Cream appears, the very first caption identifies him as “a black man in a white suit.” In the following panel, which ends chapter five, we’re treated to a close-up of his blue sapphire teeth, so that his two most identifiable characteristics (his suit and teeth) are associated with color (as is, of course, his very name). The chapter’s final caption calls him “the Devil.”
Not every minority character in fiction needs to be an upstanding member of society, but the narrative hasn’t had many minority characters, so it’s troubling that the first one is called “the Devil.” More troubling is that Cream’s unique appearance carries undeniable racial overtones. In cases of systemic discrimination, it’s common for minority individuals who have risen through society’s hierarchy to overcompensate – to dress and to comport themselves with extra formality, and to make certain to speak “the Queen’s English.” These traits have the advantage of putting members of the dominant group at ease, getting around their racist notions by reassuring them that, whatever they might think or fear about the minority in question, this individual member of that minority is “one of us” or “not like those others.” Cream, while an educated professional, seems to have taken the opposite strategy, formulating his appearance in a way that emphasizes his blackness.
It’s an odd strategy, psychologically, for Cream to take. But it’s not an odd strategy for a work of fiction to take. Cream seems to resemble a flamboyant James Bond villain, and there’s a long tradition of minority characters being used a exotic villains, from Fu Manchu to African-American drug-dealers and Arab terrorists. Moore might be riffing on this tradition with Cream, but it’s a racist tradition – and one Moore has to undercut or redeem in some way, if his riff is to avoid being as racist as what he’s referencing.
It should be noted that, however we judge the character of Evelyn Cream, we know Moore’s heart is in the right place. Miracleman’s very first chapter depicts a racist nationalist – not a racial or ethnic minority – as a terrorist. This same character calls Cream “chocolate” – before Cream kills him – in chapter six. We’ve seen how Moore infuses Miracleman with his politics, and these cases uniformly favor the oppressed and the underdogs, instead of defending or justifying the establishment. This doesn’t mean that Cream isn’t racially problematic. But it does mean that Moore, and Miracleman as a whole, aren’t really on trial here. Plenty of people aware of racism haven’t entirely freed themselves of racial stereotypes, and plenty of artistic works with the same awareness reflect or even play with those same stereotypes. The goal isn’t – nor can realistically be – some mythical purity about race or any other social issue. Miracleman is anything but a hateful text. But just as understanding its phenomenal successes requires that we also understand its failings, understanding its politics and the way they work within its super-heroic depictions also requires us to examine the racial implications of Evelyn Cream.
If Cream debuted (on the final page of chapter five) as a stereotypical racial villain, there’s little to upset this view in the next two chapters. True, we’re reminded of Miracleman’s past condemnation of racism, when the recovering terrorist calls Cream “chocolate” in chapter six. But Cream himself is depicted as a ruthless and even sadistic killer, both there and in chapter seven, where his smile and blue teeth are the last thing Moran (and the reader) sees.
Moore doesn’t really begin redeeming Cream until he has the apparent villain aid Miracleman in chapter eight. It’s not clear whether Moore planned this twist, when he introduced Cream as “the Devil” in chapter five, and we’ve discussed whether this twist is even entirely logical. And in the same chapter, Cream seems to instantly revere the very Arian-looking Miracleman like a god. Of course, this may also be tied to Cream’s worship of power, as an assassin himself, but there’s no denying the racial overtones. In the same way, we could understand Cream’s flamboyant appearance as a rejection of the same white establishment that he serves, or as reclaiming its stereotypes, manipulating them to make himself seem more fearful. But we don’t know these things, because Cream has been given so little interior space.
It’s this interiority that this first page of chapter nine finally gives us. By this simple fact alone, this page does more to redeem Cream’s character than anything else so far. For the first time, Cream’s a real person, with real thoughts.
To be sure, this single page hardly renders Cream a fully three-dimensional character. But it does move substantially in that direction.
Indeed, the real genius of this page is to acknowledge Cream’s problematic depiction by making what was subtextual textual. Here, Moore depicts himself as deeply conflicted, as might be expected when a career assassin betrays his commanders and the establishment they represent. To his credit, Moore recognizes that this conflict has racial overtones. And if Moore’s Miracleman is struggling with its own depiction of Evelyn Cream, Moore makes Cream struggle with it too. Instead of trying to wave away the problem, Moore acknowledges it and has his own character wrestle with it. As a result, he turns a stereotypical character into someone who wrestles internally with how much he falls into this same stereotype.
As the page begins, we see the bright light of Cream’s flashlight emerging from the darkness of the forest before he comes more clearly into view. The images strongly recall “Out of the Dark,” the previous chapter, and its use of similar imagery (especially on its first page). This motif helps to connect the two chapters, and it visually signals that Cream is following the path Miracleman took there, as he approaches the bunker. The dangerous and deadly spy is now reduced, literally, to following in Miracleman’s footsteps. He is now a secondary character in Miracleman’s story – and he knows it.
On the other hand, this apparently reduced status carries advantages as well. Obviously, Miracleman is a being of godlike power – who now owes his life to Cream, who has also told Miracleman about the bunker. Theoretically, Miracleman is the most powerful being on the planet, his might dwarfing that of any nation – and only Evelyn and Liz have this god’s ear. This might be only power by proximity, but it’s a great power nonetheless. And it’s not as if this is anything new to cream. Cream is a black man who has installed himself in the highest corridors of British power, to which we may presume he is attracted. His commanders (such as Sir Dennis Archer) were white, and it’s only through them that he’s had a license to kill. Now, Cream has insulated himself to an Arian god, which arguably makes the racial dynamics harder to ignore. But the situation itself is nothing new. And the visual echo here, which establishes Cream as following in Miracleman’s footsteps, also connects him to Miracleman’s terrifying power, which was the emphasis this visual the first time around.
In this way, these first two panels visually encapsulate the contradictions with which Evelyn Cream wrestles in this page’s captions. He is both a man following the path Miracleman has carved and himself a visual surrogate for Miracleman. The power and the horrors he witnesses are his own by proxy.
In the previous chapter, Miracleman’s emergence from the darkness of the forest also visually represented his coming “out of the dark” of the world of covert operations. And that’s true for Cream here too, since he’s abandoned the world of black ops for that of a twinkling super-hero.
As the page continues, Cream sees the soldiers in gasmasks, who were so casually killed by Miracleman in the preceding chapter. And he sees a man’s broken body, apparently impaled by or splattered against a large tree, his limbs twisted and limp. It’s a ghastly image, even in silhouette, and it’s the subject of the page’s final and largest panel, lending it added importance. It’s also depicted from afar, two panels earlier, with Cream’s reaction occupying the panel between.
This image, like the visual of Cream emerging “out of the dark” of the forest, echoes previous imagery in the series. When Cream sees the soldier in the tree, the tree’s branches look like additional limbs, as if we might be looking at multiple bodies crushed together. In the close-up that occupies that page’s final panel, the body seems as if it’s been transposed into the tree, as if it was passing through the tree until it materialized halfway through. Both images recall those of Young Miracleman’s death in 1963, in which the hero’s two bodies seem to have materialized in the same space.
In this way, the violence done to Miracleman is connected to the violence done by Miracleman. It’s another case of how Moore’s Miracleman refuses to pretend that its hero’s power or violence is without implications, or somehow sanctioned by the narrative – as most super-hero stories do, cleverly keeping readers from recognizing that the “heroes” are often as dangerous to the public, or even morally questionable, as the “villains.” We might instinctively thrill to Miracleman battling soldiers in chapter eight, but here we see the horrific consequences through Evelyn Cream’s eyes. And there’s no pretending they are as fascistically clean, nor shimmering in their beautiful perfection, as Miracleman himself.
Over these visuals, the captions offer what seems to be Cream’s thoughts. But the captions seem to consist of someone addressing, even challenging, Cream, to whom they refer to as “you.” It’s not clear who this would be. We might at first guess that this voice belongs to one of Cream’s black-ops commanders, except that it’s unlikely they would be so open in their racial challenges. And this voice seems to know Cream’s history and that he’s turned traitor, so it couldn’t be one of his commanders. On the next three pages, the captions reflect only their character’s internal monologue, and that seems to be the case here too. Essentially, these captions reflect Cream’s internal dialogue, as he gives mental voice to his own confliction and doubts. In the final caption, this narration reverts to “I” without any transition, which may be taken as a revelation that the preceding captions were Cream’s too – despite referring to himself in the second person.
While potentially confusing, this is a fascinating device to use for Cream’s narration. Eveyln Cream is a man beside himself. He is a black man in the corridors of white power. A contradiction. He is an assassin for the balding white English establishment who nonetheless dresses in white suits and has sapphire teeth. He may now be literally walking in Miracleman’s footsteps, but it’s not only Miracleman’s power that he shares. Like Miracleman, Cream is two men in one body, in which they do not always fit comfortably.
Cream’s ability to imagine a perspective outside of himself, one capable of critiquing himself, also represents his occupation. It is a skill Miracleman, in particular, seems largely to lack. Cream is able to be objective, or at least to envision a perspective outside of his own, capable of seeing himself. It’s a useful skill for an assassin, since doing this is key to predicting others’ behavior. But Cream uses this ability here to critique himself fairly mercilessly – or savagely, to use an appropriately racially inflected word. He might be sadistic towards others, but Cream’s masochistic too. And this self-criticism reflects his own perfectionism, seen in his rather obsessive-compulsive behavior – in his impeccable dress, his formal speech, and the consummate professionalism with which he pursues his often murderous agenda.
The technique of having Cream’s narration mostly consist of his own imagined criticism is confusing, especially on the first page, before we’ve seen the pattern of the chapter’s first four pages. Perhaps the technique is overly ambitious or even misjudged, for this reason. (A simple “Evelyn Cream thinks:” before the first caption would help, although it would also eliminate the surprise of the final caption, in which the previous captions seem to be revealed as Cream’s.) But the technique is also masterful. Like the best employments of literary techniques, it’s not merely showing off. In fact, the technique itself illuminates and reflects Cream’s character. It could even be argued that this technique by itself tells us more about Evelyn Cream than anything in the previous four chapters in which he’s appeared.
And what’s the content of this self-criticism? In what way does this reflect Cream’s conflicted sense of self?
It’s entirely racial.
To be continued.