Monday, 1 February 2016

Miracleman Book 3: Olympus (#11-16)

"Thus we hewed stones, smoothing away their roughest edges.  And were masons of utopia" - Miracleman

So, not an obscurity and not officially by Alan Moore still, but that "by The Original Writer" credit ain't fooling anyone.  Anyway, this volume deals with the final issues of the series as Alan Moore lets his imagination go wild and is illustrated by one of my favourite artists, one of his collaborators on his Swamp Thing run, John Totleben.  By this point the series had left the defunct black and white UK comic Warrior far behind and was published in full colour by Us publisher Eclipse, but has been recoloured for this deluxe release and very nice it looks as well.  There is a huge amount of extra stuff contained between the covers, including the Grant Morrison one-shot that he pitched back during the eighties and which has been drawn especially for the collection.  The framing sequence is set in a utopian 1987 which was around the time of the original publication, but flashes back to events taking place in 1982 which is two months after Miracleman and his human alter-ego's wife Liz's daughter has been born.  I have to say, if you find Alan Moore's poetic prose unbearably flowery in something like Promethea you might have a hard time swallowing some of this.  I like it, but it's a big difference from the grittier, deconstructionist take of the first two volumes.  Moore manages to take all the elements of his previous plotlines, adds in some more characters from the past and ends on a fascinatingly uncertain note as the stage is set for Neil Gaimen's take which was to follow.  And I am not going to lie, there is some rape as well. Spoilers! Sigh.

We begin in 1987.  Miracleman is walking through his palace, and he decides to write his experiences up:

Miracleman: "I have legends to write.  Tales of how it feels to live in a mythology".

We then get glimpses of what was going on for some of the characters in November 1982.  Johnny Bates, the host of the evil Kid Miracleman still be mistreated in a children's home, but is resisting the urge to change.

Then we see Liz, Miracleman's human wife who is still feeling weird after the birth of their daughter Winter.  She feels like her "feelings aren't my own.  As if they get switched on and off".  She thinks it's probably post natal depression.

In his human guise of Mike Moran, Miracleman goes for a walk in the park.  He is followed by two stranges who say they want to talk to him, to discuss his "other self".  Mike runs from them then says "Kimota" and changes into Miracleman.  The two strangers join hands and speak in an alien tongue and change themselves.

Miracleman: "And then the light of an older heaven than this was in my eyes.  And when I saw again.  I saw Titans".

The two aliens attack Miracleman, smashing him into a wall and beating him down.  They keep shifting and changing bodies as they press their attack, "I began to understand the extent of my predicament" thinks Miracleman.
The Qys make themselves known.
As he lies bleeding on the ground he wonders "how long has it been since I'd last told Liz I loved her".  He thinks that he wants to stroke his daughters soft hair and with this thought the aliens stop their attack.  They have read his mind and on discovering he has a child, one of them races off to find it.

The alien bursts into the Moran house, but before it can harm Liz or Winter a mysterious woman appears and crushes the alien's throat.  Back in 1987 Miracleman looks down on humanity from his palace and poetically muses that:

Miracleman: "When politicians and moviestars prove inadequate only gods remain."

Then he remembers first meeting the woman who will be revealed as Miraclewoman for the first time, "this stark Madonna of the quantum age... my muse... my Venus"
The other alien comes to the aid of it's fallen comrade in the Moran house and Miracleman follows. The uninjured one asks for a truce so it can summon help.  It says things are different now, they will not attack again.  Miraclewoman backs it up.  Miracleman recognises her, he has a vague memory of meeting her in the 50's.  Or was it one of Gargunza's illusions?

They leave the aliens and go and talk in another room, "I sat stunned as all reality seeped from our lives and listened to the angel tell her tale."  Her human name is Avril Lear, an orphan who was abducted for a secret project Gargunza was running that he had kept secret from the government.

He diverted cash from Project Zarathustra to fund it  He cloned a perfect body for her and set her free in "infra-space".  She was alone, there was a male - Young Nastyman - and a hideously mutated dog.  While the pair of them were dreaming in virtual reality, Gargunza raped their bodies over and over for fourteen years.  She didn't care however, even when she found out from the tapes he made of him doing it.

Miraclewoman: "I was elsewhere.  A cosmos full of colours and emotions that were simple, bright and wonderfully garish.  Free from hindering logic, I explored a realm of incandescent comic book ideas".
Miraclewoman dreams.
So.... raped multiple times but you got kickass powers so who cares?  I said in my last Moore post that gratuitous usage of rape and sexual assault would get him tossed in the Sin Bin and I think this definitely applies.  We already KNOW Gargunza was a monster what did this add to our understanding of him?  And the fact it has no repercussions means that this is exactly the annoying use of rape that makes me sigh so much about Moore's work. Anyway, moving on.

His depravity started affecting the fantasy world and she found herself suffering from psychosexual tortures.  He pushed Terry, Young Nastyman's real name far into the role of the villain until he snapped and escaped the lab.  Panicking about his secret work being found out, he woke his official Miraclemen and Miraclewoman and sent them out to look for him.

When Miraclewoman met the Miraclemen she noted Young Miracleman was jealous of her immediately.  He says Young Miracleman loved Miracleman, "and you didn't know".  Miraclewoman found the Project Zarathustra bunker and discovered the same truths Miracleman did in Book One. 
Miraclewoman defeats Young Nastyman.
She tracked Young Nastyman down, and found him too far gone to go along with her plan of faking their deaths and escaping Gargunza.  She fought him in a volcano and last saw him flickering between his two bodies, his double skeleton was the one Miracleman found in the bunker, not Young Miracleman's, so that leaves us with the mystery of what happened to Young Miracleman.

She then disappeared herself, living a normal human life as a doctor as the Zarathustra project shut down.  When Miracleman and Kid Miracleman reappeared she kept an eye on them and when the aliens appeared she realised it was time to become Miraclewoman again.

The aliens in the other room have summoned help from their enemies the Warpsmiths who can travel comsic distances in the blink of an eye.  It's time for Miracleman to learn the deeper truth behind his origins, and although Liz exhorts him not to go, he teleports away along with the two aliens and Miraclewoman. 
Meet the Warpsmiths.
We get another glimpse of the hellish time Johnny Bates is suffering in the childrens home, being beaten and bullied relentlessly, but still he resists Kid Miracleman.  Then we return to Miracleman in 1987.  He thinks that "two years ago we abolished hell".  He thinks of how things have changed for the world below:

Miracleman: "Computers and telecommunications webs make earth a place where distance is irrelevant.  And yet it took Warpsmith philosophies to demonstrate the virtues of an instantaneous world.... when screens can take the office into every home.  No borders in the electronic state.  Where jokes in Aberdeen raise laughs in Japan."

Alan Moore predicted Lolcats!  Seriously though, it's interesting he believes it would take alien intervention to give us something like the internet, but for the time he was writing this in 1987 this is actually a solid piece of predictive science fiction.  Especially for a luddite like Moore.

Back to the story and Miracleman finds himself transported to an alien planet called "Qys", the home of the monsterlike aliens also called Qys.  Apparently the birth of Miracleman's daughter has changed everything.  Earth is no longer of "animal" status and a place for their new intelligent race needs to be negociated.  The Qys are also the originators of the multiple body technology that Gargunza engineered from the crashed Qys spaceship as part of Project Zarathustra.

They are bought before the "glorious KingQueen" of the Qys.  Underneath "hir" are Qys and Warpsmiths dancing even though they are bitter enemies, "in perpetual cold war deadlock.. for eleven thousand years."  Miracleman finds it hard to believe the Qys haven't won, but the Warpsmiths are fast, "their mastery of space matches our own manipulation of identity" says their Qys escort.
On an alien world.
The Qys then reports to the KingQueen that a ship had been lost on earth during a "firedrake sweep".  They later found "six earthbeasts" transformed by "debased Qys technology".  Three are dead, two are here in the form of Miracleman and woman, and the third is locked away inside Johnny Bates where they think he will stay.  "He is no threat".

They were going to destroy the altered earthbeasts but then stopped because Miracleman had produced a child.  This means that Earth is "intelligent class" and needs to be dealt with differently.  The KingQueen asks what the Warpsmiths think.  The "white warrior class" one suggests conflict over the earth.  They think Qys has unfairly influenced it with their technology.  The KingQueen practically sighs saying that are both cultures doomed to unproductive wars?

Miraclewoman: "Excuse me.. But couldn't you have sex instead?"


Look, Alan.  I like sex myself.  In fact I'd say sex with someone you are in lust with and who lusts after you in return is a very enjoyable way to spend time together.  Almost as enjoyable as Gears Of War split screen co-op.  But I just can't see sex as this universal panacea as you do.  Also, despite on the surface seeming like a cool and groovy free love sixties concept, Moore's use of sex has always had a strangely puritanical underpinning we see summed up perfectly in this volume.  Good people only ever have Good, healthy, erotic, creative Sex.  Bad people only have empty, meaningless, destructive and rapey sex.  There is no happy medium.  The only time he's come close to implying a bad person might be able to have a decent relationship is between The first Silk Spectre and The Comedian and even then it's still supremely fucked up that the woman falls in love with the man who raped her originally even if they later reconciled and had a good thing (Laurie) come of it.  I think in a way this explains his overuse of rape and sexual assault as a plot device, he sees sex as the supreme transformative act and to twist and despoil is the most villianous thing he can imagine.  But he still overuses it and when you've read enough Moore you find yourself rolling your eyes and thinking "again with the rape?" Which isn't great when you think about it. And we're not actually done with it here either as well.  Something to look forward to as you read on.

Anyway, while the two races mull this over, Miraclewoman continues to explain what she means in more detail:

Miraclewoman: "It's obvious.  If two organisms or two cultures are forced into contact it can be Thanatic and destructive or Erotic and creative."

The KingQueen decides this idea has potential and sends them away while it consults with it's advisors about how they are going to deal with earth.

Miracleman falls deep into thought as Miraclewoman asks their Qys escort many questions about their abilities, "did I first love her then?"  Finally a decision is reached.  Earth will be left uninterfered with.  Miracleman and Miraclewoman will observe for the Qys, two Warpsmiths will also observe to maintain parity.  Their base will be behind the moon and Miracleman and woman will liase with them.
Liz Moran takes her leave.
Miracleman is then transported back to his home and Liz.  He starts to tell her all about it, but she starts crying saying she can't take it anymore.  She thinks Winter is controlling her moods so she is going to stay with her sister for a while.  They hug then she leaves.  Once she is gone, Winter says to Miracleman, "Father, I think it's time we discussed mother don't you?"

When Miracleman says Winter can speak, Winter says she could from the day she was born but didn't because it would "upset mother".  She admits she's been manipulating Liz's moods, when Miracleman queries how, Winter says he should follow Miraclewoman's example and try to be more adventurous with his powers.  She says she chose her own name and she flies out of the window.  Miracleman says someone might see her.
Winter goes for a fly.
Winter: "Nobody will see anything I don't want them to see.  You shouldn't worry about them so much.  They're only people."

She tells Miracleman she is already more advanced than him so she'll be going away soon.  Miracleman says he loves her.  "I know" she says.
Later he goes to meet Miraclewoman and the two Warpsmiths on their base.  The Warpsmiths have mastered english now.  They discuss the fact that earth will change due to the appearence of superhumans.  They are scanning earth for the prescence of more, including something called a "Firedrake".  They plan to usher in a "glorious age" on earth.  "the change is worth the effort, be assured."

They find two more extraordinary beings.  One is Big Ben from Book One, but he is mad and no use to them.  The other is a Firedrake a black American called Huey Moon.  He is immune to fire, but can cause anything within range to ignite explosively.  "Thus did Apollo.  Fire of Heaven.  Come into our midst".  The five of them touch hands "and first convened our glorious pantheon".

Back with Mike and Liz, she leaves permanently saying she doesn't belong with them anymore. "I'm sorry Mike.  I'm sorry for us all."  With Liz gone, Winter also departs.  She intends to go to Qys to learn from them and hopes she can surpass lightspeed within the year.  She promises to come back and teach Miracleman everything she has learned, ".. do not look so sad.  It's such a lovely universe".
Kids, tsk.
Mike Moran climbs to the top of a lonely mountain and undresses.  He leaves a note for Miracleman with the date of his "death" on it and says "Kimota" for the last time.  Thus Mike commits a kind of suicide and Miracleman respects his descision and will not turn back.  He carves for himself an underwater fortress where he can be alone.

Meanwhile things are going very badly for Johnny Bates.  A gang of kids corner him and hold him down while one of them starts to rape him.  Tearfully he whispers "Miracleman" and transforms into Kid Miracleman who immediately kills all the kids and the nurse who was kind to Johnny before going out and beginning a rampage through London.
Horrible stuff, but in this case it works.
I think this rape is actually justifiable within the narrative.  We've seen Johnny resist normal violent bullying so it really needed something utterly horrifying to happen to him to push him over the limit and let Kid Miracleman out.  I think if it had been the only rape in this volume it would have had more dramatic impact, but the gratuitous rape of Miraclewoman kind of watered down that impact for me.  So no Sin Bin for this rape.

Kid Miracleman then runs riot for a couple of hours, causing acts of unimaginable cruelty.  Stripping people of their skins and hanging them on a washing line.  Impaling people on the hands of Big Ben.  Crushing, tearing and dismembering everything in his path.  Farting about above the earth, Miracleman and woman finally notice something is up when they see a plume of black smoke rising from London.  When they confront Kid Miracleman along with Huey Moon and Aza Chorn the warrior Warpsmith, it is on baby!
A one being holocaust on the loose in London.
Miraclewoman attacks first, Kid Miracleman says he remembers her and suggests some "novel ways" to get to know her (ALAN!).  They brawl, she is more refined in her fighting but he outclasses her, knocks her out and tosses her to one side.  He then goes for Aza Chorn who teleports him into Marble Arch but he smashes free.  Aza Chorn says he is going to his home planet to get some extra power.  He disappears then reappears saying "it is arranged."

Huey Moon goes next, and we get another censored usuage of the word "nigger" even though keeping it in would make Kid Miracleman come over even worse.  Moon calmly sets Kid Miracleman ablaze in a huge explosion and burns his business suit off to reveal his black costume underneath.

We then get a break in the action as we are told that the events of this epic battle are subjects to many different interpretations in the years after.  Theologians, conspiracy theorists, rationalists and gnostic faiths all have their own versions of the story.
Battle is joined.
Then we return to the battle proper.  Aza Chorn briefly teleports the three of them to the depths of the ocean then back to London.  The combination of the explosion and subsea pressures in quick succession knock the wind out of Kid Miracleman.  Miracleman smashes him down through the ground, they crash through an underground tunnel and crush a passing train. Back on the surface, they carry on trading blows.

Miracleman: "My apologists have claimed that the car I first hurled at Bates was empty.. I'm sorry but that isn't true."

Johnny chucks an occupied car back at him.  Miracleman tries to reason with him, saying what will happen when he runs out of things to destroy? "You've taken something marvellous and turned it into sewage" he shouts.  Kid Miracleman throws a lorry at him saying "burn in hell" and flames surround Miracleman.
Kid Miracleman is finally wounded.
Aza Chorn meanwhile has made a discovery that the Miracle family don't rely on tough skin for their invulnerability but a forcefield.  So instead of throwing things at it, he starts teleporting bits of rubble inside it.  Kid Miracleman roars in pain and lashes out, nearly blowing Aza Chorn in half.

Miracleman: "And the Warpsmith, eyes gone somewhere cold.  Somewhere beyond pain, faced death like some albino samuarai and insolently stared it down for just one vital moment longer".
Poor Johnny Bates...
Bad. Ass.  And to stop the pain Kid Miracleman says his magic word and turns back into Johnny Bates who is horrifed and distraught at what had happened. "Bad Johnny got out".  Miracleman realises there is only one way to stop it ever happening again. He tears Johnny's head off.
Bad Johnny won't ever get out again.
And as he holds the lifeless body, he realise that now things are really going to change for the world, there is no denying point the superpeople hiding anymore.
No one draws Hell like John Totleben.
And this horrfying scene of devastation isn't gratuitous, it's the logical outcome of what would happen if a) a supervillian really did run amok in a crowded city and b) just how spectacular the human cost would be if two superpowered individuals brawled in the same place.  Try watching The Avengers or Man Of Steel now, and wonder at how many hundreds if not thousands were killed in Manhattan and Metropolis.  This penultimate chapter finishes with Miracleman telling us the area was left and not rebuilt as a memorial to those who perished.

Miracleman: "These charnel pastures serve as a reminder.  A memento mori. Never letting is forget that though Olympus pierce the very skies, in all the history of earth, there's never been a heaven; never been a house of gods.. that was not built on human bones."

Back in the present of 1987, Miracleman reminisces that the "Bates Affair" cost forty thousand lives.  Now it was time to introduce the world to them officially.  Apparently many countries thought of attacking Britain with nukes, but realised against him, Miraclewoman, Huey and the Warpsmiths it would be pointless.

Miracleman meets with Margaret Thatcher and tells her of his economic plans.  She says nothing must be allowed to interfere with the market. "Allow?" says Miracleman.  And Thatcher ends up humiliated and in tears when she realises she has lost her power (ho ho ho).  "She looked so old, so suddenly.  I could not hate her" he thinks as she is led away.
All your weapons are belong to us.
At the United Nations, he and the Warpsmiths tell the assembled countries, including those of the Warsaw Pact that their chemical, biologial and nuclear weapons have been teleported into the sun.  The media has various takes on them.  The conservative press call them "super-liberals".  The liberal press accuse them of taking away free will and destiny, a criticism that makes Miracleman uneasy.  But Miraclewoman retorts:

Miraclewoman: "Did humans ask such agonised questions about the free will of cows or the destiny of fish?  We'll give them more free will than they ever dreamed or wanted.  We're going to love them Michael.  We're going to make them perfect."

Despite protests, they begin to "repair" the world.  The ozone layer is renewed, the nuclear power plants got rid of, the smog threatening the ice caps disappated.  They remove money and though people can have a more luxurious life if they want to work, if they don't:

Miracleman: "Each soul shall have free clothing, food and shelter.  Entertainment, education, all the requirements for a worthwhile life.  Come summer money won't exist.  But then it never did."

Communist. They legalise all drugs resulting in drug crime disappearing overnight.  They find a herb that treats criminality and rehabilitate psychopaths so thoroughly that Charles Manson runs a group caring for abused children.  "By 1986 we had demolished earth's last penitentary".
Shagging in the sky.
They build a huge palace in London and finally Miracleman and Miraclewoman get together, and have sparkly, flying supersex in the skies over London.  She suggests they begin a eugenics programme to create more gods so they aren't the only deities.  Huey Moon takes charge of earth's energy needs while the Warpsmiths eagerly study earth's different cultures and languages.

The Qys also arrive, their representative creates artificial bodies that the recently deceased can be reborn in.  Big Ben is partially cured, now going by the name "British Bulldog" he is a Herculean hero.  Even Gargunza's monsterous dog is bought back, with a nicer dog's personality implanted in it, and is Miracleman's pet "Fenris".

His daughter Winter comes back to earth after having spent time amongst the Qys.  She takes charge of the eugenics programme and the super babies born of it.  The next step is offering superbodies to anyone who wanted them:

Miracleman: "Now everyone would be a god, and no one need let feelings of inferiority put barriers between themselves and those who were deities."
Brilliant use of layouts to emphasize the distance between them now.
He visits Liz and offers to put her at the front of the queue for one so she could be with him and Winter again.  Liz is not convinced, especially due to his relationship with Miraclewoman.  Miracleman says they are beyond possessiveness and she'll understand when she is like them.

Miracleman: "Liz? Come on.  You don't understand what you're turning down."

Liz: ".. and you've forgotten what you're asking me to give up".

She tells him to get out and he leaves.  He hasn't seen her again.  He admits to himself that not everyone wants a part of this new utopia.  There are holdouts, in shelters in the wilderness.  Also religious fundamentalists of all faiths resist, although it is futile.

As Miracleman walks through his palace to a party being held, he thinks "is this perfection?  I think so."  But even as he mentally exhorts humanity to "look up and see your gods at celebration" he ends up alone after the party in the Aza Chorn memorial garden.

Miracleman: "It's been five years since my rebirth.  I come here quite a lot these days.  Sometimes I think of Liz.  Sometimes I wonder why she turned my offer down; why anyone should not wish to be perfect in a perfect world.  Sometimes I wonder why that bothers me, and sometimes...sometimes I just wonder."
The end..?
And that brings Book Three and Moore's run on the title to a close.  And what a wonderful final way to end it.  Like Seymour reaching for Rorschach's diary at the end of Watchmen and threatening to bring down Ozymandias's plot to create peace on the backs of thousands dead, we're left wondering if utopia ever justifies the means.  That final note of uncertainty turns what could have come across as a niave manifesto for a better world by Moore into a question of whether it is ever right to force a new way of life on people that would seem to deny the urge people have to strive and become better through their own efforts. It would seem to be a recipe for a world where humanity "exists" but does not "live".  I am incredibly interested in what is to come in Neil Gaiman's take on the series as he obviously has to deal with this new world order set in place by the end. 
The house that Miracleman built.
I have to say this is an incredibly dense work of which I have only skimmed the surface of. Poetic and beautifully illustrated by Totleben who draws wonders both horrifying and beautiful with equal skill (and for me ties with JH Williams III when it comes to layouts and panel composition), this is a fantastic book, with my only caveat being I could have done without the rapey backstory for Miraclewoman (one month in the Sin Bin for that Mr. Moore!).  The book also contains lots of extras including a short story by Grant Morrison about Kid Miracleman that he pitched back during the series first run and Morrison claims that Moore sent him a threatening letter because of it telling him to "back off".  Moore of course denies this.  Anyway, he allowed it to be used with new art by Joe Quesada.  Pete Milligan and Mike Alread also provide a cute and whimsical throwback style story as well.  There is also plenty of promotional materials and looks at the art in its various stages of production all in a lovely hardback edition.  Even if Moore has disowned it due to his issues with Marvel, it's still required reading for all his fans.  After ending this and Watchmen round about the same time, Moore announced he had done all he wanted with the superhero and it was time to move on.  Sadly his self publishing endeavour failed and he had to return to superheroes with his work for Image in the 90's which in no way matched what he had done with them in the 80's sadly.  Still, Miracleman is intelligent, profound, thought-provoking and timeless.  A must buy for anyone even slightly interested in thedevelopment of the superhero genre.


  1. so no going for shawarma after that battle then? j/k! seriously though this looks awesome, that scene of the battle is especially amazing, shame about the rapes though.

  2. Ha, I must admit I do like The Avengers film still, showing all the collateral damage would have been something of a downer for a fun film. The artist John Totleben was the co-artist on Alan Moore's Swamp Thing run and drew the definitive DC Hell during that time. If you're into his art here, check out the Alan Moore Swamp Thing trades, they are my Desert Island comics.

  3. Wait, is it okay to imply that people are being raped but not okay to imply that Kid Miracleman is a racist? Americans are strange. They're never going to defeat racism by pretending that it doesn't exist.

    I'd interpret the battle in a rationalist, materialist sort of way. Or maybe I'd just agree with someone else who did that, because I don't have any initiative.

    I think I'm already living in Miracleman's utopia.

  4. Yes, the editing of the n-word is an odd choice because it's so incredibly obviously what's been edited. And it's not like kids are going to be reading it hopefully, they'd be bored by the poetry and the violence and sexual violence is totally inappropriate so who is being protected?

    Technologically I think we definitely are in a Utopia, I wish I could get a superpowered bod though!

  5. I don't do much with my body at the moment, so giving me a superpowered one would be kind of pointless, like giving Jeremy Corbyn a Lamborghini Murciélago.

  6. Yeah but being able to fly at least would be awesome. You'd do that wouldn't you?

  7. Only if I were certain that I wouldn't crash into any aeroplanes.

  8. If everyone is superpowered I guess we wouldn't need aeroplanes anymore. I dunno, I'm looking forward to reading the Neil Gaiman Miraclemans now which are set within this new Utopia, maybe we'll see how it would work from day to day.

  9. That's part of what Iain M. Banks' Culture books depict: the mechanics of Utopia. No superheroes required, just insanely advanced technology which is probably millennia away from our grasp (if climate change doesn't fry us all first).

  10. I can't remember who said it but someone pointed out even in Utopia, someone still has to deal with the bins. Of course insanely advanced technology would hopefully give us personal recycling machines or something...

  11. I think that in the Culture waste is dealt with by machines that are advanced enough to eliminate all rubbish, but unintelligent enough for their use not to count as slavery.

  12. I like the Star Trek approach. Have replicators materialise stuff you need and then have the waste disintegrated. Nice and clean and no exploitation.