We’ve previously introduced Miracleman and discussed all but the final chapter of Book One. We now continue this critical examination with chapter ten (written by Alan Moore, illustrated by Alan Davis) of this celebrated but long-unavailable series that originally appeared in the British magazine Warrior.
Chapter 10: “Zarathustra”
Writer: Alan Moore. Art: Alan Davis. Originally appeared, in black and white, in Warrior #11 (July 1983) as “Zarathustra” (without any book or chapter designation). Reprinted in color in Miracleman #3 (Nov 1985) as “Zarathustra” (without any book or chapter designation, despite Eclipse otherwise adding them). Collected in Miracleman Book One: A Dream of Flying (Oct 1988) as “Chapter 11: Zarathustra” (a chapter number inconsistent with the rest of the book).
Remarkably, the final chapter of Book One is narrated, with the exception of its final page, by Sir Dennis Archer, who’s only seen in the first panel. It’s nice that he’s not excluded from Book One’s conclusion, since he’s a crucial part of the story that would otherwise have been dropped. But it’s remarkable to consider that we only see this crucial (and rather famous) conclusion through his eyes.
Again and again, the second half of Book One has played with perspective. Chapters six and nine presented pages from different characters’ perspective, and we also saw Sir Dennis Archer reacting during the events of chapter eight. And we’ve seen repeatedly how Moore liked to interject such shifts of perspective into his stories in Warrior, especially in V for Vendetta but also in Miracleman. But presenting the entire concluding chapter from another character’s perspective is a far more radical choice.
This choice is all the more radical because this final chapter hinges on Miracleman’s reaction. To shift the point of view away from Miracleman, at this crucial moment in the story, would seem counter-intuitive. But it works, and it’s worth examining why it works.
Miracleman’s reaction is both emotional and violent. To present it straight-on would risk making the reaction feel over-the-top. There are only so many ways that one can describe the frustration a character feels, and it’s hard to depict a character’s blind rage in a way that makes the reader share those feelings. By approaching this emotional material tangentially, Moore is able to recount it with just enough distance that we’re able to fill in the blanks. Our own minds imagine Miracleman’s perspective better than words could convey. From this more objective viewpoint, we’re able to see his reaction as logical, or at least understandable. If we experienced what he learns directly, we would likely have a more reserved reaction to this news and thus want Miracleman to calm down, even if we understand why he might be shocked. We might also fail to sympathize with him, since it’s hard to sympathize with an angry god, especially one who’s so enraged by what amounts to bad news. By approaching his extreme reaction at a remove, we’re paradoxically able to identify with it more.
While this choice of narrator is remarkable, it’s even more so because Book One’s conclusion is narrated after the fact. As Book One begins its final chapter, it suddenly skips to after everything’s over, then goes back and recounts what happened. This too is counter-intuitive; earlier or later parts of stories are often presented as flashbacks, but climaxes rarely are.
Yet this too, surprisingly, manages to work. It lends the climax a historic feel, as if it’s something worth recounting. Indeed, by having the climax recounted by a third party, we’re made to feel like these are events that will probably be worth recounting for some time.
Compared to a traditional presentation, Sir Dennis Archer’s recounting is both more and less precise. He can’t describe characters’ emotional states, although they’re clear enough from his report and from Alan Davis’s artwork. But Archer is able to peg specific events to specific times of the morning, which underlines the importance of what’s being depicted, since it’s worth being precise about.
Archer’s presentation also helps underline that these are also secret, classified events, to which we as readers are privy, which adds to the sense of drama.
The history of the world pivots around what we witness in this chapter. No one, readers included, knows that yet; this fact won’t become clear until the climax of Book Three. And no one within the narrative, outside of British intelligence, even know what’s happened here. But here, at this classified military bunker in the middle of nowhere, Miracleman was set on a course that would transform the world.
It’s here that Miracleman learned what he was.
And it’s here that Miracleman learned not to trust the government, or human authorities in general.
The world they built isn’t the one Miracleman thought it was. It’s not worth defending from giant robots and the like, in the manner of a Silver Age super-hero, especially not with a smile on one’s face.
To that world, and its values, Miracleman is not beholden. And he learns that here.
To be continued.