Miracleman, Chapter 10:

The Secret Origin of Miracleman

We’ve begun discussing chapter ten, the conclusion of Book One (parts one and two), 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, seven, eight, and nine, as well as the interlude “The Yesterday Gambit.”)

Driving home the shock of Miracleman’s violent outburst is the fact that the panel depicting it is accompanied by a caption indicating that this occurred at 3:56am. We’ve thus followed Miracleman from the chapter’s earliest time (2:39am, when he and Cream entered the bunker) to its latest. From here, Archer’s report backtracks to 3:10am, when Miracleman and Cream began watching the video display, and proceeds in chronological order until it catches up with Miracleman’s outburst.

This sequence runs five pages. It’s preceded by what’s effectively a two-page prologue, setting up the mystery of Miracleman’s violent reaction, and it’s followed by a one-page epilogue.

These central five pages depict four different video sequences. The first three are each given a single page; the fourth, which reveals what prompts Miracleman’s violence, is given two pages. Each of these four video sequences more or less follows a basic pattern, in which we first see the information depicted in the video and then get various characters’ reactions.

It’s a marvelous demonstration of the way Moore was able to bring a complex structure to what is, after all, a very short comics story.

The first of these four video sequences, on page three, details what Cream calls “the Zarathustra process.” The footage centers around the creation of Young Miracleman, a.k.a. Dicky Dauntless.

from Miracleman, chapter 10, page 3 (Warrior version)

The video states, somewhat obliquely, that the project’s technology stems from “study of the Visitor and its craft.” This is the same apparently extraterrestrial visitor seen on this chapter’s first page and the final panel of the previous chapter.

As explained here, the Zarathustra process begins with the observation that it may be “possible to replicate a human being from a single cell.” Moore wisely doesn’t use the term “clone,” which wasn’t in use outside of horticulture when the video takes place. Interestingly, the video states that “the Americans and the Chinese are currently believed to be working on something similar,” although there’s never any confirmation of this. Anyway, this passage refers only to the cloning process, and not any American or Chinese effort to construct a superhuman. The video itself makes this clear, stating that Zarathustra is alone in altering the duplicate’s DNA.

Despite Miracleman being defined to such a large degree by its realism, this explanation of “the Zarathustra process” is improbable, to say the least. In the 1950s (in which this sequence is set) the best scientists in the world wouldn’t have been able to perfect cloning. The role of DNA in heredity wasn’t confirmed until 1952, and its correct double-helix structure wasn’t published until 1953. Within Miracleman, the advances of Zarathustra relative to our own timeline are explained by the presence of the Visitor and reverse-engineered technology, and such explanations have long been common in science-fiction stories. But scientists in the 1950s probably wouldn’t have understood an alien “how to” manual on cloning, even if it could have been translated; they lacked the necessary foundation.

Such observations aren’t limited to cellular biology. The first primitive integrated circuit was patented in 1959, and it contained only a few transistors. Besides being many orders of magnitude smaller, microchips in 2007 passed the ten billion transistors mark. A 1950s scientist who was shown a present-day microchip probably wouldn’t know where to begin. The same scientist, shown the extraterrestrial equivalent of a microchip (perhaps thousands of years more advanced), might well mistake it for a decoration.

Nonetheless, extraterrestrial origins are at least a gesture towards realism and an improvement over a poorly-defined wizard showing up with little explanation and granting someone super-powers. The first explanation strains reason; the second is hostile to it. And while there’s nothing wrong with fantasy or deliberately unrealistic narratives, the failures of realistic stories to live up to their own aspirations fully is no more a serious criticism of realism as a mode than pointing out that the most realistic visual representation still contains brush strokes or ink should be taken as a call to avoid representational artwork altogether. Even the most unrealistic story must still be internally consistent, even to its own logic, and even the most realistic story will probably have certain unrealistic elements if one shines a light brightly enough.

In any event, the extraterrestrial debt owed by Zarathustra isn’t the subject of this chapter. Moore carefully avoids that as beyond the scope of these eight pages. He and Davis will explore this subject in Book Two. For the time being, the subject of “Zarathustra” is the project itself; this is the story of Miracleman discovering his origins, not the story of Zarathustra’s origins – which is necessarily left for later.

from Miracleman #3, chapter 10, page 3Continuing to strain credibility, the video describes the project’s clones as “almost perfectly evolved, lending it a wide-range of extra-human abilities.” It’s also preposterous, of course, that any alteration of human DNA would produce Miracleman, even if 1950s science was capable of doing so. Indeed, chapter six has already demonstrated that his powers cannot be explained by physics.

The phrase “almost perfectly evolved” is also pseudo-scientific. A good retort might be “To what?” If two organisms stemmed from the same ancestor and have had the same amount of time to evolve, they are equally “evolved.” A lizard, a rat, a whale, and a paramecium are all as “evolved” as a human. These different forms have simply adapted in different ways to different circumstances, and whether humans are the most capable or successful form depends on how one defines those criteria. As humans, we tend to privilege those definitions that exalt us, but these are not the only nor even the most logical definitions.

Evoking evolution does, however, suggest the influence of Chris Claremont’s X-Men, in which mutation was used to explain super-powers. And we’ve already seen how Moore was influenced by Claremont, particularly by Claremont’s Dark Phoenix Saga. In the real world, of course, mutations are far more likely to produce unviable organisms than they are super-powers.

Here again, we must content ourselves with a gesture towards realism and wait for later stories to elaborate.

For now, it’s more important to realize that this is a definitive confirmation that the Miracleman Family and their alter egos are, in fact, separate beings. While this was implicit earlier, chapter six was the first to openly discuss this idea.

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.

See more, including free online content, on .

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4 Comments

  1. Brett Harris says:

    G’Day again Julian,
    still enjoying the series !
    I don’t agree, though, that scientists in the 1950s would not have had the ability necessary to “clone” a human being due to their lack of knowledge around DNA.
    Crick and Watson had been working on the double helix of DNA problem since around 1949, in the “Strangeways” lab in Cambridge. Perhaps they were contacted by the government after the “alien manual” was discovered and asked to contribute to solving its mysteries.
    There is no record of a “stranger in black” providing Watson and Crick the symbol of the double helix to represent DNA in the same way there was for the (apocryphal no doubt) discovery of the structure of benzene, but that may only be due to the fact the “stranger in black” was in fact a “black budget” department in the Birtish government.

    In short, it is possible that the knowledge required to splice DNA was extant prior to the official discovery of DNA in 1953 and so the science behind Zarathustra may not be as big a stretch as it may first seem.

    Thanks again for the series (and website as a whole) and for allowing pseudo-literate geeks like me the chance to respond !

    See you,

    Brett aka The Comic Book Evangelist.

    • Thanks for your comment, Brett! I take the point, and you may know more about this than me. I do think every year you can slide the Zarathustra timeline away from the past helps, in order to make Zarathustra more reasonable. Obviously, super-clones are a stretch no matter what. I just wanted to say that a lot of these sci-fi stories (e.g. reverse-engineering ones) mess about with logical human scientific development, and that Moore’s not immune to this problem. Granted, he wrote this relatively early in his career, but I think that point holds. But thanks for the history of science lesson!

      I had no idea about the “stranger in black” story regarding benzene… Like you say, it’s probably apocryphal, but it’s still creepy.

  2. Since science is not my forte, I’ll stick with the literary.

    I’ll grant you, the Zarathustra project is, as you say, improbable. However, Moore has generated so much good will from the reader at this point (or rather, a reader who has followed the story from the beginning in Warrior 1 to here) that he is allowed a little figurative breathing room.

    The mystery of what Miracleman is has been with that reader since Chapter 2, where Liz refused the origin story that Mike so easily accepted when he was a boy. When Liz pointed out how ridiculous the Marvelman origin from the comics is, the reader is invited and encouraged to reject the story along with her. From that point on, one of the hooks that has kept the reader in suspense has been the possibility of learning the “true” origin of Miracleman.

    Now that the time for the reveal has come, I as a reader am willing to accept whatever answer Moore gives us. Alien gene splicing and “infra-space” are concepts just as wild as magical wizards or “the key harmonic of the universe”, but I am willing to accept the improbable for one simple reason: I want to believe that Miracleman could exist.

    Superheroes, by their very nature, are impossible beings. Some would argue the same for extraterrestrials, psychic phenomena, ghosts, or God. Moore wants the reader to believe with him through this story. The answer he gives us is ultimately no more satisfying than Captain Marvel’s wizard or Marvelman’s astro-physicist. Little Micky Moran wanted to believe a magic word could transform him into a superman. I propose adult readers of Miracleman aren’t so terribly different.

    • Horaz SC says:

      “Now that the time for the reveal has come, I as a reader am willing to accept whatever answer Moore gives us.”

      Exactly this; this is the same feeling I experienced 2 weeks ago,
      when started reading 80′s Miracleman in 2017. This to me,
      is a testament of the work achieving the intended purposes with his readers, the moment when you realize this is a crafted masterpiece way beyond the “failings” (other word for “charismatic writing”) that can be spotted.

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