Miracleman, Chapter 10:

The Rage of Miracleman

We’ve begun discussing the conclusion of Book One (parts 1, 2, 34, 5, 6, 7, and 8) of Alan Moore’s Miracleman, illustrated by Alan Davis. Today, we continue our exploration of this historic chapter.

(If you’re new, start with the introduction. Or you can jump to chapter onetwothreefourfive, six, seven, eight, nine, or the interlude “The Yesterday Gambit.”)

In chapter two, during Miracleman’s discussion with Liz, he described Gargunza as “the most troublesome of the lot, the freakish dwarf genius Doctor Gargunza.”  That story even included a flashback panel depicting a defeated Gargunza, with a black eye and his glasses broken.  Miracleman recalls battling Gargunza “time and time again,” always winning.  He also narrated that Gargunza “never did anything really evil. / It was almost as if we were playing a game.  A game which neither side took entirely seriously.”

Now, we know why Miracleman felt this way:  these adventures were a game.  In fact, they were little more than a fantasy, designed to be silly.

A page later in chapter two, Miracleman tells Liz that, in the lead-up to the 1963 incident, the Miracleman Family was altered that “Gargunza had some kind of sky fortress hovering over the North Sea.”  While we aren’t told the truth behind that incident here, it’s important that Miracleman associates this traumatic event with Gargunza.

As we’ve seen, Book One has mentioned a mysterious mastermind behind Zarathustra for some time, and now that mystery’s been revealed.  Making Gargunza the culprit is certainly a great twist:  it’s hard to imagine a worse scenario to put the old Marvelman into, and one doesn’t have to even be familiar with those old Marvelman stories to understand this twist.  It’s as if Superman discovered that he’d been made in a laboratory by Lex Luthor, who’d faked all those silly Superman stories of the 1950s as a way to manipulate the hero.  It’s not hard to see how this might be seen as an arch-enemy’s ultimate victory, which is so extreme that is was really was the case all along.

This does help augment the villainy of the second half of Book One, in which Big Ben is an odd and inferior stand-in for Kid Miracleman.  Miracleman might not get someone very frightening or satisfying to punch, at the end of Book One, but he does discover the villainous mastermind behind everything – even Kid Miracleman.  It’s a classic twist ending.  Of course, the actual confrontation with Gargunza is pushed into Book Two (along with the not-so-mysterious mystery of the Visitor’s ship, which inspired Zarathustra’s technology).

It’s never really clear, however, exactly why Gargunza would insert himself into the Miracleman Family’s dreams as a villain.  Wasn’t the point to train the Miracleman Family as weapons?  Even if Gargunza didn’t plan to interact with the Miracleman Family in this capacity, what would happen if they accidentally ran into him?  Essentially, Gargunza’s used his programming of the Miracleman Family to make them hate him – or at least to make them see him as evil.  This might explain Miracleman’s reaction here, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense.

In the video, the “real” Gargunza certainly doesn’t seem un-villainous.  While it’s perhaps appropriate for him to feel proud of his accomplishments, he seems to have a bit of a sneer on his fact, and his language is cocky and highlights his control over Miracleman.  It’s not particularly realistic for Gargunza to get so much dialogue, prior to Miracleman’s explosion, but it helps underline his villainy and his retroactive triumph over Miracleman.

Gargunza claims to have “completely programmed the minds” of the Miracleman Family – perhaps an indication that the Miracleman Family’s programming is complete and that they will start to be used in the “real” world, however briefly before the characters’ 1963 destruction.  Gargunza’s language is filled with superlatives:  he  brags about having created “utterly manufactured identity which is ours to manipulate at will.”  In his final line of dialogue, before Miracleman’s rage, Gargunza ridicules this identity – and Miracleman’s memories – as “a children’s comic-book character.”

Miracleman’s reality is paper thin.  And his arch-villain is bragging about it.

It’s here that Miracleman explodes, smashing the machine while screaming “Gaaarrrgunzaaaaaa!”  It’s a little like Kirk famously screaming “Khan!!!” in Star Trek II:  The Wrath of Khan (released in June 1982, almost a year before this chapter saw print).  It’s melodramatic, but it works, more or less.

The image is lessened by being smaller and less delicately rendered than the flash-forward version of the same scene, on page two, and also by its stereotypical super-hero posture.  Miracleman looks like he’s smashed the display with an uppercut, and he’s arching his back in the most awkward fashion.  Yet this is a common pose in super-hero stories, much like Miracleman’s glowing hands and gritted teeth looked stereotypical on the previous page.  Here, Davis seems to be a bit more conventional a super-hero artist than Leach, and it clashes with the story’s realistic intentions in a way Leach rarely did.

If there was one time when Leach did rely on such stereotypical super-hero postures and scenes, it was in the conclusion to chapter one, in which we see a celebratory Miracleman flying off into space, shouting, “I’m back!!”  (With a glowing hand, no less.)  There too, Miracleman had one hand raised and his body arched unrealistically.  In fact, it’s so hard to miss the parallel that it might well be intentional.

In the end of the first chapter, a happy Miracleman assumes this melodramatic position to celebrate his return (and his victory over the terrorists).  Near the end of the final chapter, a furious Miracleman (facing the opposite direction) assumes a very similar melodramatic position to rage against his nemesis’s supreme victory.  Even if the parallelism isn’t deliberate (and one wouldn’t be surprised if it were, given how much Moore likes endings to mirror beginnings), it’s a telling illustration of how different these two emotional moments are.

As Miracleman continues to smash the Zarathustra equipment, a rather brilliant panel shows us a series of other circular display screens.  Sadly, these haven’t been seen or referenced before. But their effect is delicious.  Each of them displays Gargunza’s smiling face, and each of them repeats his final words before Miracleman’s explosion:  “…comic book character…” The shot recalls the famous mirror scenes of cinematic history, such as in the conclusion to Orson Welles’s 1947 film The Lady from Shanghai. Except here, it’s as if Gargunza’s taunting Miracleman, reminding him that there’s no amount of displays he can smash that will undo Gargunza’s victory, nor fix the hero’s life, nor make it any less pathetic than that of a “comic-book character.”

from Miracleman, chapter 10, page 7 (Warrior version)

It’s hard not to wish that this and Miracleman’s subsequent smashing were given an additional page. Throughout much of Alan Moore’s Miracleman (especially Book One), the story’s remarkable compression is an asset.  But there are times when one wishes it took a bit more space (as it did, briefly, at the end of the previous chapter).  The climax of this final chapter is one such case – although, at an abnormally long eight pages, one can perhaps understand why it wasn’t expanded further.

For example, the multiple displays with Gargunza’s final recorded line deserve multiple panels, yet are given a single one, and even that is overlapped by the tops of the three panels following it.

Similarly, since so much of this chapter has built up to Miracleman’s angry explosion, it would be nice to see him tear up the Zarathustra bunker a bit more.  Instead, it’s hard to even follow what he’s doing.  After his explosion, Miracleman isn’t even depicted in the following panel with the mirrored display screens; he’s simply a blinding flash of light, for no known reason.  In the very next panel, we see Miracleman and Cream, tiny and unrecognizable, standing in the smoking wreckage, the carnage already over.

While it may not be given adequate space, Miracleman’s explosive rage foreshadows his actions in both Book Two and Book Three.  We’ll see Miracleman act violently in both cases.  But it’s also important to note that his rage here is in response to learning that his past was a lie.  With this illusion also goes his family-friendly, pro-authority 1950s morality that went along with it.  It’ll take some time to see the effect of this, but essentially Miracleman has here become untethered to traditional super-hero morality.  We’ll see a bit of this evolve during Book Two, but the full flowering of this trend won’t be seen until Moore’s final issue.

Over these panels, Archer’s report begins to wraps up.  It notes that Miracleman “went berserk” at 3:56am, a time repeated from page two of the chapter, and guesses that Cream calmed Miracleman down.

In the page penultimate panel, we see Miracleman streaking away from the bunker.  Archer’s report states that “Cream and the superhuman vacated the bunker” at 4:10am, but we have to guess that Miracleman was carrying Cream (perhaps due to our familiarity with that particular super-hero cliché).  In the foreground and in silhouette, we see Sir Dennis Archer’s team, which we know from the times previously given arrived a half hour earlier but remained outside.

Archer’s report notes, “It only remained for myself and the clean-up crew to move in… / …and pick up the pieces.”  His language conveys a sense of helplessness in the face of Miracleman’s recently displayed power, reinforcing why he chose to simply wait outside until Miracleman left.

Visually, however, the sequence ends with Big Ben, on his knees amid the wreckage of the bunker, his mouth agape and his palms up in a submissive pose.  The phase “pick up the pieces” is juxtaposed to this image, underlining just how damaged Big Ben is.

While this is a nice way of communicating what’s been done to Big Ben psychologically, it’s not clear whether Miracleman even noticed him during all of this time.  Big Ben’s been in the bunker almost as long as Archer’s been outside, and the damage around Big Ben certainly suggests that Miracleman was at least nearby – but because we weren’t really shown him ripping apart the bunker, this is hard to know.

Ending this sequence by emphasizing Big Ben’s broken state, however, does help the story segue into its final page, a one-page epilogue.

from Miracleman #3, chapter 10, page 7

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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7 Comments

  1. Great article! I’ve only read the first issues of Miracleman but I think it’s brilliant. It’s also complex enough that you need to analyze it chapter by chapter.

  2. There it is. This is the point where the credibility of this story strains near the breaking point for me. I have accepted everything Moore has concocted up to this point, but this is where I think Miracleman, as a revisionist comic book, fails. Book 2 does a wonderful job of making up for this failing, but here at this point in Book 1, I have a major problem with the story.

    Perhaps the problem is that I am American, and thus have sensibilities that are too foreign for a British comic book (although I doubt that). Perhaps I needed to have grown up reading Marvelman comics and my relative unfamiliarity with these particular characters causes an emotional distance that prevents me from being swept up in the moment. I grew up reading Superman as a boy, and there are enough similarities between him and Miracleman to make me doubt that as well.

    No matter the cause, I have a major problem with the reveal of Dr. Gargunza as the mastermind behind project Zarathustra. Putting aside the shock value of Miracleman’s outrage at being duped by his former nemesis, this plot point makes no damn sense, and from a writer of Moore’s caliber, I expected better.

    Why would Gargunza create three superbeings that are each capable of dealing out death and destruction on a scale greater than an atom bomb, and then meticulously program those three (in a period of eight years) being into believing he is their enemy? Moore gives us no answer for this. I presume the answer is simply that he was hungry to introduce Marvelman’s old foe in his Miracleman revision. It’s a fair ambition, but this was the wrong way to do it.

    Here’s what makes more sense: the mastermind behind project Zarathustra should have been Guntag Borghelm. In the fantasy, Borghelm was not only a scientist, but also a god-like authurity figure who towered over young Micky Moran, granted him his amazing powers and set him upon his mission, all for the good of humanity. Imagine Miracleman confronting Borghelm – a figurative father and son, where the godlike figure of Miracleman’s memory has become a man, and Miracleman has become the god. I’m reminded of the scene in The Wizard of Oz, when the curtain is pushed aside and the real wizard is revealed.

    Gargunza could have been one of Borghelm’s enemies, perhaps a rival scientist, or a lab partner he didn’t like. The vindictive Borghelm could have programmed his supermen to hate the dwarfish freak, and wouldn’t it be great sadistic fun for Borghelm to see that twisted little runt Gargunza sweat at the thought of Borghelm’s miracle children awakening from their programming and seeking vengeance? Perhaps this emotional note would be a bit repetitive, given the pathetic depictions of Johnny Bates and Big Ben, but I imagine a moment of pathos when we see Gargunza, a meek little nobody, unfairly antagonized by Borghelm. He would be just as much a victim of Project Zarathustra as Miracleman himself.

    There is nothing in Gargunza’s past, as revealed in Book 2, that couldn’t have been supplanted into Borghelm. Guntag Borghelm seems a likely enough name for an expatriate Nazi scientist, don’t you think? Ah, what could have been.

    I’ve tried to reconcile this failure and I have only one explanation for how Gargunza could both be the mastermind behind Zarathustra and the nemesis of the Marvelman Family. Perhaps the Marvelman Family were unconsciously aware they were being manipulated, and thus were able to mentally alter the fantasy world of their programming. DR. Gargunza, the man behind their predicament, would therefore be seen as an antagonist, as someone they desired to overcome. Their defeat of Gargunza in the fantasy world would therefore reflect their desire to break free of that fantasy, and awake from their perpetual dream.

    I don’t think Moore used any such excuse in Book 2. Correct me if I’m wrong, please, but I don’t recall him bothering to address this problematic decision at all.

    • Edgar Retana says:

      “Perhaps the Marvelman Family were unconsciously aware they were being manipulated, and thus were able to mentally alter the fantasy world of their programming. DR. Gargunza, the man behind their predicament, would therefore be seen as an antagonist, as someone they desired to overcome.”

      Isn’t that what Moore did in The Red King Syndrome? Or at least what’s implied in one of the scenes later on?

    • Horaz SC says:

      Funny thing; I’ve assumed Gargunza behind everything as a fantastic twist (myself NOT being American nor British and being very illiterate regarding superhero comics, namely Superman, save for few exceptions).

      In fact it’s so great that the “freakish dwarf genius” being behind everything also positioned him as untouchable and undeniable victory above his “nemesis”. When reading the old B/W stories between chapters as it is suggested in Marvel’s edition, this only strengthened the impact of the whole experience for me!
      Having Borghelm being the villain just wouldn’t have had that much impact, though it would have made Miracleman’s rage perhaps a little more understandable.

      Does every piece of work have to be tagged to be enjoyed?
      If we strip away the “revisionism/deconstruction” babblings…
      what is, then, a great story, other than
      a great story WITHOUT further reasons to criticize it?
      “Sometimes… sometimes I wonder”.

  3. I most recently read this material about a year ago, when Marvel released its issue reprinting this chapter. However, not until reading the above article did it occur to me how entirely derivative Moore’s deconstruction of Swamp Thing’s origin was of his earlier work on Miracleman. The reveal of “The Anatomy Lesson” in Saga of the Swamp Thing #21 (which I do not believe I have ever read more than once, and not since it was first published in 1984, yet I recall the denouement quite vividly), and Swamp Thing’s reaction to the truth of his origin/identity really parallels the corresponding scene in Miracleman Book One quite closely. In the former {SPOILER ALERT – READ NO FURTHER], Swamp Thing/Alec Holland learns for the first time how a human being (i.e. he) could have actually been mutated into a muck monster simply via immersion in a swampy chemical soup. In fact, the answer is, Swamp Thing is not Alec Holland at all, and never was, nor will he (it?) ever be human. Rather he is nothing more than vegetation animated by the spirit of an earth elemental whose creation somehow coincided with Holland’s death in the swamp, leaving said creature with the persistent delusion that he was Holland, and that he retained at least some shred of his humanity (his human soul, conscienceness, identity, if nothing else) still intact. When the creature learns that his entire belief system about who and what he is has been nothing more than a fantasy, it reacts rather. . .uhm. . .violently. Just like Miracleman. Of course these stories were not written very far apart in terms of time, thus Moore had to be aware he was just reusing the same event again. Perhaps he thought very few of DC’s or Swamp Thing’s readers would have been familiar with Warrior and Marvelman. For all we know, the PTB at DC may have instructed Moore to do precisely what he did: “Whatever you did with that Marvelman character, Alan, just do it again!” A little tongue in cheek speculation, of course, but it raises an interesting question: does not superhero revisionism, as practiced by Moore and others, have its own set of tropes?

    • I think you’re right about these parallels, which you outline well. The point about revisionism having tropes is an excellent one, and I think “the origin was wrong” and “the hero was massively deceived” qualify.

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