Sunday, January 25, 2009

Miracleman by Alan Moore

I avoided reading Watchmen for a long time, skeptical of its reputation as a thinking man's comic book, which is something like the "jumbo shrimp" of literature. I'm glad I did, in the end, because it pleased me with its serious treatment of what superheroism might actually mean for the world. In particular I was fascinated by Dr. Manhattan, once a mild-mannered everyman but who, after his origin-accident, found himself increasingly alienated from human society.

I decided to read Miracleman for these reasons: First, Brent recommended it, and second, it's a comic book so it didn't take that long and I'm not going to let Jim beat me. But mostly, it seemed as if it would take the story of Dr. Manhattan and reimagine it; as Brent says, "Miracleman can... be seen as a parallel to Watchmen." Like Dr. Manhattan, Michael Moran is a pretty ordinary guy who discovers one day--or rather, rediscovers--that he has powers beyond even the most powerful of comic book heroes.

In comparison to Watchmen, I'll admit Miracleman suffers greatly. It lacks the same unity of vision, and Moore's penchant for simultaneous narratives, used to such great effect in Watchman, only muddies the water here. The later issues, penned by Neil Gaiman, are fascinating vignettes that seek to flesh out a world dominated by Miracleman, and yet they represent a full-stop to the overall plot and contain too little of Miracleman himself to be engaging. Brent asks for a proper ending to Miracleman, I suggest that the series as a whole might be more successful if Moore had never handed it over to Gaiman and simply let it end with Miracleman's dominion over Earth.

And yet, despite its flaws, there is something present in Miracleman that piques my curiosity more than Watchmen, which, despite its novelty and inventiveness, never quite hits a personal note. This is essentially the Citizen Kane story, but Kane's power seems irrelevant compared to Miracleman's. This tale has been told time and time again, but never on a scale this large with the possible exception of the story of Lucifer in the Bible. I like that about comic books; the suspense of disbelief required means that you can get away with things that simply couldn't work in novels; they possess an immensity that written fiction doesn't and, even if it could, would hardly be well-respected.

I found myself wishing that Moore and Gaiman give us a little more insight into what the psyche of Miracleman must be thinking as he molds the world into his image, but then I reversed position--how much really, can we understand of God? He exists on a higher plane, and cannot be comprehended by us, neither his abilities nor his feelings.

There is a moment, however, in Gaiman's chapter Carnival which gives us some glimpse into Miracleman's inner workings: After a cataclysmic battle in which Miracleman defeats another super-being (I'm being as vague as I can because, Jim, you ought to read this), he is basically free to remodel the entire social structure of the world and one result is that what we would call insane junkies are revered as "spacemen" who present the universe's wisdom. At the yearly Carnival to celebrate Miracleman's victory, all the disparate characters whom Gaiman has created approach a spaceman to ask them about their problems. Toward the end, a man in a cap and white t-shirt approaches and asks, "Am I... am I doing the right thing? Have I done right?"

The crowd cannot tell, but we can: It's Miracleman, mingling unnoticed. The spaceman's advice, crouched in gobbledygook, can be reduced to "just be"--perhaps responding, "What else could you have done? This is your destiny." But it isn't the answer that is interesting so much as the question.

7 comments:

Elizabeth said...

Good review. I want to discuss this but not spoil it, so I'll just catch you on IM.

Elizabeth said...

That was Brent.

Ian Thal said...

"This tale has been told time and time again, but never on a scale this large with the possible exception of the story of Lucifer in the Bible."

Just a note: Lucifer isn't really a Biblical character.

This is the religious equivalent of a retcon, by which a bunch of separate stories with separate characters are later combined into a single character in post-Biblical Christianity. I.e. the serpent, angels who father a race of giants, and Satan in Jewish scripture are separate characters. A bunch of demons with different names are introduced in Jewish apocrypha and in later Christian scripture, but it is only much latter on that the notion that these are all the same figure becomes widespread.

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Anonymous said...

In terms of structured, meticulous story-board telling, Watchmen wins.

But in terms of pure poetic comic writing, ingenious plot and sponteaneous entertainment, Miracleman's "Olympus" is second to none.

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