Miracleman, Chapter 9:

The Masculinity of Miracleman

We’ve begun discussing chapter nine of Alan Moore’s Miracleman (parts 1, 23, 4, and 5), illustrated by Alan Davis. Today, we continue our exploration of that chapter.

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

Miracleman #3, chapter 9, page 4Page four’s narration focuses on Miracleman, and it also concludes the chapter’s four pages, each of which provide insight into a particular character. Miracleman’s an obvious candidate to go last, since he ends the threat of Big Ben on this page.

Right from the beginning, the page establishes that Miracleman’s reaction to Big Ben is one of curiosity and pity, rather than fear.

In the page’s first panel, Miracleman lets a boulder smash harmlessly over his face. In fact, this would seem to be the same boulder that Big Ben threw on the bottom of his page (page two), where we also saw it impact against Miracleman. If this is correct, this page actually jumps back in time slightly, to present the bottom of page two from Miracleman’s perspective.

Big Ben uproots a tree to hit Miracleman with it. It’s not clear why he thinks a tree would work where a boulder wouldn’t, but perhaps (based on his thinking two pages earlier) he thinks Miracleman has a secret vulnerability to wood (like the Silver Age Green Lantern). As Big Ben prepares this attack, Miracleman’s narration makes his feelings towards Big Ben abundantly clear: “I don’t want to hurt him. He isn’t as powerful as I am and I think there’s something wrong with his mind.” In fact, Miracleman concludes that Big Ben is “a psychopath.”

This is as close as we get to any direct insight into Miracleman’s own psychology, on the page devoted to him. To some extent, this is appropriate, since Miracleman is our protagonist, and we’ve seen quite a bit of him already. On the other hand, we’ve never been granted access to his mental space in quite the same way that we have, in this chapter, into Evelyn Cream, Big Ben, and Liz Moran. In chapter six, Mike Moran revealed that Miracleman’s thinking is “cleverer” than his own. In chapter seven, a depressed Mike said that Miracleman’s thoughts “are like poetry or something” and that he was more passionate emotionally as well. That’s a tall order to fill, despite Moore’s obvious linguistic ability, and we don’t really get it on this page.

Instead, Miracleman speculates as to where Big Ben came from – which is appropriate, given that the answer will soon be found in the bunker. This speculation leads into a recap of… not to series to date, but simply the previous chapter. It’s an odd choice, especially for the middle page of a chapter. But most chapters do contain at least enough information to piece together the narrative situation. It appears as if Moore decided to shoehorn this information into Miracleman’s page, which makes sense if one feels such recaps are necessary. But especially in a collected edition, it’s hard not to feel that these panels represent a missed opportunity, given that the series actually could use some insight into Miracleman’s thought process. One wants a poetic tour de force and gets instead a recap.

At the end of these panels, Miracleman narrates, “I could get tired of this.” This is essentially a recognition of what we’ve already discussed: that Big Ben is boring as an antagonist, especially in comparison to Kid Miracleman. In fact, one could read this caption as a swipe at editor Dez Skinn, who wanted Big Ben to be included.

And so, when Big Ben stands, fists at the ready like an old-fashioned boxer, and demands that Miracleman “fight like a man,” Miracleman obliges. And with a single slap, sends Big Ben flying.

from Miracleman, chapter 9, page 4 (Warrior version)This effectively dismisses Big Ben as a threat, and he’s never used as one again in the pages of Miracleman. His bowler hat, comically, falls off as he himself disappears off-panel in a blur – one final way of mocking Big Ben and his absurd accouterments.

His defeat, as presented here, is bound up in depictions of masculinity. We may assume that Big Ben, despite being profoundly the weaker of the two combatants, has a conception of masculinity every bit as antiquated as his costuming, his fists-up boxing stance, or his Cold War jingoism. He even calls Miracleman “butcher of Leningrad” in the same word balloon in which he demands that Miracleman “fight like a man.” To Big Ben, masculinity is bound up in a system of values that include fair dealing, even in fights. Yet the truth is that Big Ben is a pawn of a government that’s very much opposed to fair dealing. Big Ben’s masculinity is a lie.

Miracleman, chapter 9, page 4 (Warrior version)As if to underline this, the slap with which Miracleman sends Big Ben flying is depicted rather effeminately by Alan Davis, as if it’s more of a flick of the wrist than a slap, let alone a punch.

This actually accents Miracleman’s rather effeminate appearance, in the same way that discussions of Nazis (by Kid Miracleman, for example) play off Miracleman’s Aryan looks. Miracleman’s facial features, especially as rendered by Davis, are rather soft and delicate. His body is slim and certainly not muscular, the way Big Ben’s is. Miracleman may be defined by his tremendous power, but that absurd, psychology-bending (and later society-bending) power can’t be explained by muscles anyway (as chapter six made abundantly clear). When we think of Miracleman, we think of him pirouetting through the air, gracefully defying gravity (as he did at the beginning of chapter seven). Of course, Miracleman also sparkles, a feature dubbed the “Tinkerbelle effect.” None of this suggests a traditional masculine image, the likes of which Big Ben might imagine. Instead, it radically decouples power from traditional masculine tropes.

If the masculine position is the powerful, dominant one, Miracleman occupies the masculine position. But in a genre often defined by hyper-masculinity, Miracleman doesn’t look like the traditional masculine character. This may reflect the 1980s, in which male pop stars could be sex symbols while dressing in drag – a trend that began in the 1070s and which continued in later decades, with the rise of metrosexuality. But it also reflects the fact that Miracleman’s power gives him the freedom not to care about such superficial trappings. They’re beneath his concern. It’s impossible to imagine, for example, Miracleman worried about looking masculine enough.

In comparison to Big Ben, Miracleman is like a rich man, comfortable in the corridors of power, who sees a middle-class man pumping iron to fulfill a fantasy of masculinity that he’s adopted from someone else, and scoffs. Miracleman has true power, and it’s not nearly so insecure.

In this regard, Miracleman’s position mirrors less Big Ben’s than Sir Dennis Archer’s. Archer’s power may be political, whereas Miracleman’s is physical, but both are real, and both are comfortable with their positions and the power those positions give them over others’ lives. Big Ben, for all his masculine appearance and verbiage, is a poser. A pawn to Sir Dennis Archer. And a punchline to Miracleman.

from Miracleman #3, chapter 9, page 4Big Ben might be a poor final opponent for Book One. But even so, Moore uses the character to satirize super-heroes in a way that might make readers wince. And which, despite being satire in the midst of a serious, literary, and realistic narrative, manages to communicate and inform Miracleman as a character. And that’s saying a lot for Miracleman’s page, despite its failings.

To be continued.

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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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2 Comments

  1. Not to detract from you point here, but I find the specific labeling of Big Ben, with his puffed up muscles and hyper-masculinity, as “psychopath” particularly telling. I think Moore is suggesting that the act of willfully putting on a garish costume and beating people up based on conflicting rhetoric or political ideology is psychotic behavior.

    Moore is not the only person to speculate this within the comics themselves, nor do I think that his speculations are the most famous. That honor, I believe, belongs to Frank Miller’s “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns” – another revisionist comic of the 1980′s.

    Certainly Moore’s later creation Rorschach is psychotic, and traces of Rorschach’s jingoistic, black-and-white worldview are present here in Moore’s depiction of Big Ben. (Personally, I wonder if Rorschach was as much an assessment of Steve Ditko as Moore’s Big Ben was of Dez Skinn.)

  2. Edgar Retana says:

    I’ve only just started reading the Miracleman (I kinda prefer this name now) comics, I’ve heard about them but never had the chance to read them for reasons we all know about now. Anyway I was curious about Big Ben, THE MAN WITH NO TIME FOR CRIME! (Even his catchphrase is simultaneously charming and jingoistically awful), and saw that Skinn was still trying to make Big Ben happen as a character! Apparently he was even in his own comics that for whatever reason he tried to keep in “continuity” with Moore’s story. I guess Skinn didn’t get the message and the character promptly faded away…

    Well until Skinn tried pitching the character as a children’s animated program! “Dez is currently “developing him for the market he was born for… kid’s animated TV (‘Cos he’s more than a powerpuff!).”(I wonder if he was referring to the Powerpuff Girls… or maybe it’s british slang) !

    It looks like Big Ben began and ended with Moore’s evisceration of the character. They’ve been so utterly deconstructed that I can’t imagine a “straight-forward” Big Ben story ever again, like I could never imagine another unironic Marvelman adventure.

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