Miracleman #3: The Review Thickens

Miracleman #3

After the incredibly conflicting experience of reading Marvel's Miracleman #2, this third issue was something of a breath of fresh air. With the exception of what amounts to a backup feature entitled "Cold War. Cold Warrior," featuring the Warpsmiths, this book holds up extremely well and improves on a number of what might be considered flaws with the previous issue. Still providing action and mystery, the pacing is much improved (i.e., slowed) allowing for character development and some narrative breathing room. Also, writer Alan Moore's prose, while still excessive, is at least toned down. Just to be safe, I'm declaring SPOILERS right here.

Miracleman #3 Deodato Varian

Before jumping into the book proper though, there are a couple of questions on my mind that have bothered me as I continue to read more of this series and I would like to share them with you. At the end of issue one, a character shrouded in shadow reads the rumors about a flying figure emerging from the Larksmere Power Station who the readers know to have been Miracleman, Michael Moran. This figure is apparently aware of Miracleman and takes these rumors to be proof of his continued existence. The implication in issues two and three seems to be that this figure was Kid Miracleman, Johnny Bates, who then exclaimed that Miracleman would "ruin everything" and smashed a desk in anger. Reading issues two and three, I question whether the reaction depicted in issue one reflects accurate characterization assuming that the figure was indeed intended to be Bates. Given the near-sexual pleasure that Bates seems to take in attempting to pummel Miracleman to death, it is questionable to me that he would take Miracleman's reappearance to be a negative event. Rather than anger expressed in frustration, I would sooner expect him to take out a wall with a, if you will pardon the crude expression, super-powered rage stiffy. The other question that has been gnawing at me deals with the name given to what created Miracleman and the Miracleman Family. Hinted at during the Prologue presented in issue one, the third issue reveals that the Miracleman Family was created by a secret British government program called "Project Zarathustra." Obviously, this is a reference to the philosophical text Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche, the work in which he lays out his theory of the "Übermensch" or "Superman." At this point in the Miracleman story, it appears to be nothing more than a superficial reference justified by the presence of "super men" in the narrative and given the appearance of greater intellectual heft by association with what is considered by many to be a major work of philosophy. Regardless of the validity of the reference and the depth of meaning which it possesses, I question its use in the context of the narrative. Bear in mind that Project Zarathustra is supposed to have been a British program taking place in 1953, a time not far removed from the events of World War II. Also recall the terrible toll that the war took on the UK, including but not limited to the deaths of numerous servicemen and the impact upon the civilian population of the Blitz. Personally, I find it inconceivable that a program created by the British to benefit British defense would have been named after a work written by a major German philosopher, particularly one whose name has been associated with German militarism and Nazism. I also contend that it would not have recommended him to the British that he spent his last years in a state of mental illness. It appears that Moore may have sacrificed historical likelihood for the sake of making a clever reference. Obviously, this does not seriously undermine the narrative but it is head-scratching when there are neutral or British references that could have been used, perhaps King Arthur or Saint George, England's patron saint and legendary slayer of dragons.

Miracleman #3 Jones Variant

Leaving behind those two questions, the content of issue three is quite good. While issue two jumped from plot point to plot point without any space for the reader to draw his or her own conclusions, this issue takes things at a slower place and injects a great deal more character development and quiet moments. One does get to see the end to Miracleman's fight with Kid Miracleman, which occurs when Bates accidentally says "Miracleman" and changes back to a 13-year-old. The reader is also given some background on Project Zarathustra and begins to see wheels turning that will bring the secret British organization Spook Show into conflict with Miracleman. There is also a lovely bit with Mike Moran and his wife Liz testing out his alter ego Miracleman's powers which ends with Liz revealing she is pregnant with Miracleman's baby. The issue-proper closes with Spook Show agent Evelyn Cream cornering Moran in an elevator and shooting him. He prevents Moran from becoming Miracleman by thrusting a baby into his arms who would be flash-fried by the energy released by the transformation. Moore does a great job here exploring the implications of Miracleman's powers and one possible scenario of superheroes existing in a realistic world. In particular, Moore delves into the idea of Miracleman and Kid Miracleman's duel identities. It is revealed that beyond the physical change they undergo between their normal and super forms, there is something of a mental division between identities. The thoughts and emotions of the Miraclemen are apparently bigger and purer than those of normal humans. This is illustrated most clearly by what happens to Kid Miracleman after he transforms back into Johnny Bates. Apparently, being in his super-powered form for so long has created a rift between identities. It also means that transforming back to human has left him catatonic. Within his mind though, the Kid Miracleman identity berates him as a "cowardly little puddle of puke." Bates on the other hand appears to shun the evil that Kid Miracleman did and be horrified by his actions. In the case of Michael Moran and Miracleman, Mike appears to be becoming jealous of Miracleman. This is primarily stemming from the fact that after years of failed attempts at making his wife pregnant, Miracleman accomplishes the task in one night. Mike himself describes the difference between Miracleman and himself in the following terms:

Miracleman #3 Rivera VariantHis emotions are so pure. When HE loves you it's gigantic. His love is so strong and direct and clean… When I love you it's all tangled up with who's not doing their share of the washing up, and twisted, neurotic little things like that.

This is an interesting dichotomy and one that I hope continues to be explored. In a way it's like the difference between the Gold and Silver Ages of comics where motivates and emotions were simple, the good guys stayed good unless affected by a MacGuffin (e.g., Red Kryptonite), and the villains stayed evil; and the Modern Age where complications set in. I imagine this was intentional and I'm happy to see this kind of examination. There really isn't much to criticize here as the story is becoming even more engaging as it progresses. One questionable item of logic is why Spook Show agent Evelyn Cream has sapphire teeth. (You heard me right, sapphire teeth.) As an agent of a secret government agency, one would expect that he should be attempting to be inconspicuous. However, every single person who sees him notes the teeth. It's a small point but worth mentioning. Beyond that, Moore's narration captions, though improved, are the only things I really take issue with. While he writes naturalistic dialogue beautifully, his narrative captions on occasion remind me of the kind of overblown prose that Stan Lee once made use of. Perhaps Jesus imagery in superhero media has simply become cliché over time but having Miracleman narrate to himself, "I hang crucified on the sky," simply makes me shake my head. Perhaps the most egregious example comes during the fight with Kid Miracleman: They are titans, and we will never understand the alien inferno that blazes in the furnace of their souls. We are only human. We will never grasp their hopes, their despair, never comprehend the blistering rage that informs each devastating blow… We will never know the destiny that howls in their hearts, never know their pain, their love, their almost sexual hatred… …And perhaps we will be the less for that. I don't know if it is cynicism on my part or genuine excess on Moore's part, but I find it hard to take such prose entirely seriously. There is one more point of interest (not criticism) worth noting before we get to the art. I find it very interesting that people are still surprised when Moore criticizes American superhero comics as during the great scene where Mike and Liz test Miracleman's powers Moore puts these words in her mouth regarding American comics, "Some of this stuff's better than expected, but most of it's crap." I wouldn't take this as the greatest vote of confidence and this is going back to 1982.

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As for the art, two-thirds of the main story is Alan Davis' pencils inked by Garry Leach while one-third is all Alan Davis. I need to credit this book in helping finally illustrate for me the difference that an inker can make. The sections inked by Leach have a consistency with all the art that has come before which was largely Leach's work. The section where Alan Davis does both pencils and inks has its own distinct look that actually makes me wish Leach still had a hand in this art. It isn't that Davis is bad, but I don't find it quite as polished and the change in style is slightly off-putting. It is interesting though to view this as an early example of Davis' work in comparison to his current artistic output. Overall though, I find the art to be well-suited to the actions and very well rendered. The colorization continues to be near-perfect. I am particularly thankful for it here as I can't imagine Evelyn Cream's sapphire teeth, while questionable, being nearly as impactful in black-and-white. This brings me to the backup story "Cold War. Cold Warrior." featuring the Warpsmiths. I don't intend to go into detail here as it is ancillary to the main plot. Additionally, it is almost painful to read. I say this because the reader is thrust into an entirely alien science fiction setting with completely unfamiliar terms and characters, and is expected to pick things up entirely on the fly. Even more egregiously, a subset of the characters speak in what can only be described as "Space-Cockney" which is very unpleasant to try and decipher. For instance, I defy you to assign any meaning to this statement without its proper context, "Our baddie daddy said we had to align the woozy-box before he let go of the Louie. If we muffle the shuffle now we'll be poor pork." The reader is also treated to the expression "vac my jacks" as an apparent space-euphemism for "crap my pants." While I commend Marvel for including this content, I personally don't find it an enjoyable or worthwhile read. Finally, Marvel has continued to provide interesting back matter, this time a painted cover by Mick Austin that was used for Warrior #7, Garry Leach's painted cover for Warrior #10, original artwork, sketches, and a selection of color originals from Leach. Overall, I once again find myself commending Marvel for its work in putting this rerelease together. If I had one quibble to make, it would be the considerably minor complaint that Marvel could have splurged on better quality cover stock given the historical and artistic importance of this story. I realize that their policy is now to simply use interior stock throughout but I feel that here they could have made an exception. In the final analysis, this continues to be an engaging reading experience and I continue to look forward to subsequent issues. Marvel continues to do right by Moore and the artists he worked with. Oddly enough, perhaps my biggest disappointment is that Moore, who has been mistreated so often by those handling is word, should have taken his name off of what appears to be a well-intentioned and beautifully handled repackaging and rerelease of his work.