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.
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.
Continuing 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.