We’ve begun discussing the conclusion of Book One (parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10) of Alan Moore’s Miracleman, illustrated by Alan Davis. Today, we continue our exploration of this historic chapter.
Fiona, the female doctor come to retrieve Big Ben, might sympathize with him. But Big Ben doesn’t want sympathy. He wants to feel like a hero, to have comrades like Jack Ketch, Owlwoman, and the Bulldog Brigade. The last thing he wants is reality, in which he’s a joke to his superiors (and his foe). It’s only through reality that he could possibly get well, understand what’s been done to him, or achieve real heroism (if that’s indeed his goal). But he prefers the comfortable lie to the painful truth.
And he appears remarkably comfortable. He thinks he’s been reassured that he isn’t alone, that his imaginary colleagues came for him. “It’s good to have such staunch allies,” he narrates, revealing more than he thinks about how desperately he craves this sense of belonging and respect. And he believes he made a difference, that his suffering (from Major Molotov’s “brain beam”) had meaning.
Who wouldn’t want to believe such a thing? Whose mind wouldn’t concoct explanations to make this so? We do so all the time, whether by asserting we learned from our trials (even when we can’t explain what), or that they served some unknown role in a divine and larger scheme (which we cannot explain, or demonstrate even exists). We all construct meaning, even of ink on pages, and we’re never more desperate to do so than when it’s our life or our pain that might be meaningless to anyone but us.
And so Big Ben goes to his truck, thinking it’s an Owlcar, with this final caption: “I smiled. It was comforting to know that the Soviet super-villain, despite his powers, owed his defeat to The Man with No Time for Crime!” Despite the horrors of his situation, he’s smiling, comforted by his imaginary colleagues and the restoration of an illogical super-hero world he identifies with order. He even ends with his self-congratulatory and nonsensical catch phrase.
In a traditional super-hero story, all is put right by the villain’s defeat, and any larger implications are usually ignored. So too is it in Big Ben’s mind, even if the super-villain’s defeat is an illusion. Big Ben need never question why his own government was producing a death ray. Or imagine Major Molotov as a human being, who might be motivated by something other than evil, and who might actually be closer to Big Ben than are Big Ben’s superiors.
Fiona is capable of imagining Big Ben’s suffering, even if she doesn’t mediate too much on it or change her behavior. This is something Big Ben – and the traditional super-hero stories he embodies – cannot do, lest doing so collapse everything.
Miracleman’s exposed the super-hero genre, from demonstrating the silliness of his origins and his powers, to showing what a real super-villain (Kid Miracleman) would do in combat, to exposing some of why power fantasies appeal to us and the insensitive superiority behind Miracleman’s smile. But here, at the end of Book One, the superman’s been thoroughly deconstructed. It’s left devastated, like Big Ben. And in the wake of this, we can choose from these two options: to see the reality that’s been revealed to us, or to retreat back into nonsensical and destructive fantasies like Big Ben has.
The two realities presented on this page represent these two options left to the reader.
Book One’s work is done. Now, the reader – and the super-hero genre more generally – has to choose: to move forward, building on what’s been exposed and revealed here, or to retreat, as Big Ben has, because it’s more comfortable to do so and because we like those spandex costumes and mountain fortresses and the simple world of Bolshevik foes.
It’s strange that the final page of Miracleman’s historic first book should belong to Big Ben. But if we see Miracleman as an exposé of the super-hero, this odd choice makes perfect sense.
We’ve seen before how Moore liked, in this period, to tie his endings to his beginnings, making stories feel like they’ve gone full circle. And Moore does that here, at the end of Book One, ending with two panels that are carefully redrawn from the first page of chapter one.
In these two panels, we see the truck carrying Big Ben on the road, then disappearing into a highway landscape. The two panels are the same shots seen in panels one and four of the first page of chapter one, with very minor differences, such as the look of the truck. Otherwise, Davis has drawn the panels to fairly precisely mirror Leach’s originals, especially in terms of their composition.
Over these two panels, Moore repeats the first two captions of Miracleman that ever saw print, from the first panel of chapter one, in which Moore . He adds “4:38:” before the first one, in keeping with this chapter’s use of specific times to ground the story. And now, “The great trucks roll south,” instead of “north,” thus hinting at the mirror effect in play here. But other than these two minor shifts (and a different letterer, with a different style), the two captions are precisely the same.
Of course, in the first case, the truck contained terrorists on their way to a nuclear power plant, where they would inadvertently spark Miracleman’s return. Now, the truck contains a psychotic superhuman, part of a covert British program, whose mental state is a consequence of Miracleman’s return.
There’s an interesting parallel here, between terrorists and superhumans, and we’ve been shown the damage superhumans can cause – as well as the existential terror they can provoke. It’s also interesting that the terrorists’ plan was nuclear, and we’ve seen how Miracleman compares superhumans to nuclear weapons.
But in both cases, the trucks are united by the fact that the wider world has no idea what they carry. They blend into all the other trucks on the highway, which onlookers can’t distinguish. Yet some of these trucks contain terrorists and others the remnants of covert governmental programs.
This reinforces the fact that the world within Miracleman doesn’t know what happened at the Zarathustra bunker. Even the existence of Miracleman and Kid Miracleman is the stuff of conspiracies and limited to blurry photos and questionable eyewitnesses, who must go against the official story. We’ve been privileged to see what we’ve seen, but for now the narrative moves away from us, as this truck does, and we’re left once again in the position of any other person, unable to distinguish between the contents of these trucks – and unaware of almost any of the events of Book One.
It’s a nice little gesture, at the end of the book. And it helps us to forget some of the structural oddities of Book One (especially its very clear, two-part structure, and two main artists).
In allowing the truck to fade into the distance, this ending recalls that of the 1991 film The Silence of the Lambs, in which the camera holds still and Hannibal Lecter disappears into the bustling environs of Bimini. The effect, in both cases, is to remove the viewer’s privileged position of seeing what’s important, even when secret to the larger world. In neither case do we know what happens next. We don’t know whether Lecter kills Chilton, as he’s suggested he’s about to. And we don’t know where Miracleman went, after learning his origins. This isn’t shown; it’s deprived to us. We’ve seen all we’ll be shown, for now at least, and we’re left where we started, deprived of the special vision the narrative represents.
To be collected.