Having briefly introduced Miracleman and discussed its first and second episodes, let’s turn to the third of Alan Moore and Garry Leach’s Miracleman stories, which appeared in the legendary British magazine Warrior.
Chapter 3: “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” (6 pages)
Writer: Alan Moore. Artist: Garry Leach. Originally appeared, in black and white, in Warrior #3 (July 1982) as “When Johnny Comes Marching Home…” (without any book or chapter designation). Reprinted in color in Miracleman #1 (Aug 1985) as “Book One Chapter 4: When Johnny Comes Marching Home…” Collected in Miracleman Book One: A Dream of Flying (Oct 1988) as “Chapter 3: When Johnny Comes Marching Home…”
Chapter three begins with a subtle and wonderful page focusing on Liz Moran, who wakes up next to Miracleman. Apparently, after talking with him in chapter two, she went to bed with him.
This is a logical extension of the previous chapter, which implies a certain sexual chemistry between Miracleman and Liz. That implication has now been made overt, and though the story never explicitly states that the pair have had sex, it’s pretty clear.
But there’s nothing gratuitous about this. It’s merely an extension of what we’ve already seen. It follows directly, and it’s an important part of the story, because it demonstrates both the super-hero’s sexual appeal and the alienation Liz feels, having had sex with her husband’s alter ego.
Of course, in Miracleman, as with old Marvelman and Captain Marvel stories, the relationship between the super-hero and his human alter ego is more complicated than the conventional one in super-hero stories. The alter ego transforms into the super-hero, and though they share the same memory, they seem to have different personalities. Clark Kent might be mild-mannered until he tears off his reporter costume to reveal that he’s the bold and confident Superman, but Clark Kent’s timidity is only an act, put on by a powerful extraterrestrial being. With Miracleman (and Marvelman and Captain Marvel), this difference in personality isn’t an act so much as an expression that the super-hero and the alter ego are separate but connected beings – although their relationship, and why their personalities are different, had never previously been explored or explained. It was, until Alan Moore, simply a storytelling convenience, allowing someone essentially very normal, an audience identification figure, to transform into a smiling, confident super-being.
Moore has already teased about this difference, such as when Miracleman first returns and says that he’s been trapped in Mike Moran’s body, which is rather pitiful in comparison. Moore’s still not spelling out how this difference works, but he’s now hinting that it has previously unexplored sexual implications.
That was radical in 1982, in which super-hero sexuality was something typically addressed only through knowing winks at the reader. It’s still a largely taboo subject. Yet throughout his career, Moore’s depicted the spectrum of human sexuality as entirely natural and not at all something to be ashamed about. It’s certainly present in Watchmen, where the psychosexual hang-ups and difficulties of its super-heroes are at least as interesting and memorable as the conspiratorial main plot. Even before then, Moore could write a young Robin lusting after Wonder Woman in his classic Superman story, also illustrated by Dave Gibbons, “For the Man Who Has Everything.” There, Batman doesn’t chastise Robin, but instead gently corrects the boy and smiles, like he knows this is perfectly natural for a teenage boy. Later in his career, Moore would write passionately about the history of sex and pornography, would bravely write the pornographic comic Lost Girls. But this emphasis upon sexuality as a normal part of life, as something that ought to be included even in super-hero stories, begins with Miracleman.
Garry Leach’s detailed art is brilliant, but as usual, it’s Moore’s language that really shines.
The page begins with three small, mostly black panels, representing Liz coming to consciousness. The chapter begins, “The brittle February sunlight falls on Liz Moran… warm, asleep, and thirty[-]six years old.” She’s been married for “sixteen years,” Moore notes. “Her life is happy, comfortable, and resolved…” The sequence then opens into a much larger panel of a nude Liz, a couple of agitation marks beside her head, staring at a contentedly smiling Miracleman. Introducing this is the caption “It has been a long time since Liz Moran was surprised by who she woke up next to…”
It’s the most surprising sort of alienation. Miracleman both is her husband and is not. But even if we read him as meaningfully the same person as her husband, so that she’s not cheating, he looks like a different person. And of course, waking up beside him, she’d be startled.
One recalls her first reaction, when she woke in the previous chapter, as Miracleman huddled over her. This sequence echoes that one, so that both the second and third chapters opens in a parallel way. In both, Liz is shocked to find Miracleman in her home. But in the first, she’s afraid, taking him for an intruder. Now, she’s simply surprised, but by juxtaposition to the previous chapter, we’re able to see how Miracleman has “intruded” upon her, both her body and her life, in a far more intimate way.
How would Lois Lane feel, waking up beside Superman? We’d never seen such a moment, until this page.
Moore’s beautiful language continues, as Liz recalls the events of the previous night, which occurred between the two chapters: “Her skin remembers a touch that crackled like bare wires. Her eyes remember his eerie, phosphorescent grace…” There is such truth, in Moore’s words, in the way he attributes memory to Liz’s “skin” and “eyes.” Memory is typically seen as something intellectual and abstract, but here it’s become sensual, bodily. This device, while poetic, reflects sensations impress themselves on memory. The language Moore uses sounds is that of an alien abduction, an encounter with something impossibly inhuman, yet also intimate. Without Moore saying it, we understand how her mind would strain to process this experience, how these sensations and sights would haunt.
A nude Liz Moran gets up, and Leach’s delicate line paints a masterwork of female beauty in silhouette. She is very thin, in accordance with current standards of female beauty, but Leach doesn’t give her unrealistically large breasts or a pin-up girl’s obvious pose. It is a stunning image, the curving lines of her form set off by that “brittle February sunlight,” but for all her profound beauty, she is very much a real figure, in real space. There’s an uncertainty to her face, with her short hair, as she steps hesitantly through the semi-darkened room.
And through the miracle of Moore’s language, we’re able to see the strangest juxtaposition, between her humanity and Miracleman’s godliness. At the same time that he’s elevated into truly superhuman status, such that she feels alien for encountering him so intimately, Leach’s art also demonstrates the beauty of the human. She is impossibly small and fragile, compared to this god, and yet her beauty is staggering. Leach’s art is erotic, but it conveys a far deeper meaning, reaffirming the beauty and splendor of the human, even in the wake of divinity made manifest. Leach’s art grants her a divinity all her own, one that’s both more transient and more moving than his own.
This may be read as an acknowledgement of the sexuality implicit in the super-hero fantasy. If boys and men would like to imagine themselves impossibly powerful, as they undeniably do, the male urge to power has always been principally an evolutionary desire for status, and through that status, the virtually unlimited sexual possibilities accorded men with status throughout human history. Effortlessly besting bullies is only what the male brain consciously thinks the fantasy is about. In fact, that fantasy is intimately bound up with sexual longing. Here, Moore and Leach lay that bare, literally and metaphorically, and the result is a far fuller and more complete super-hero fantasy than had ever been presented before.
On the other hand, her beauty also defies him. Because of its fragility, it is transcendent in a way all of Miracleman’s divine male power cannot touch. We cannot ignore that, while he may be a god, her beauty surpasses his. And this grounds this sequence not in a costumed fantasy of super-heroic power but in her humanity, and through it the very human longing underlying super-heroic fantasy stories. It’s a longing as painful as her beauty.
In this way, the sequence both fulfills the super-hero fantasy more fully than ever before and subverts that same fantasy, laying it bare and bringing it to earth.
Moore’s captions here continue to use sense impressions to accent both her humanity and her alienation. “She walks from the bedroom to the lounge, drifting, small feet silent on thick carpet…” Invoking this sensation of bare feet on carpet literally grounds her, accenting the way the image depicts her as a real figure in a real room. It is a world apart from Miracleman’s “dream of flying.” But Moore continues, making clear the function of his sensual descriptions: “Pausing, she touches things. / …a china ornament, the polished wood of a tabletop. Touching, she re-establishes contact with the world.”
Moore understands that the sensual grounds a description for readers, allowing us to imagine how something feels, rather than simply understanding what happens. It’s a classic technique in writing, and Moore has already used it multiple times in Miracleman, going back at least to Mike Moran’s “dream of flying” in chapter one. Moore understands that this is all the more important in a super-hero story, which because of its fantastic elements can so easily feel divorced from actual human experience. But here, Moore uses this technique within the narrative itself, depicting how they ground Liz Moran, much as they ground the reader.
It is a stunning depiction of a woman’s intimate encounter with the fantastic, after which she finds herself touching quotidian things, as if the sense itself could reassert the reality of the moment, not unlike the cliché of someone pinching themselves to make sure they’re not dreaming. But the reader is also placed in Liz Moran’s position, encountering the super-hero more intimately than ever before – and desperately in need of grounding this encounter in the real and the physical, experienced through the senses.
But the narrative must move on, and so the phone rings while Liz is still reasserting reality, in defiance of the strange god lying in her marriage bed.
We’ll continue our look at chapter three next time.