Miracleman: The Red King Syndrome
Reprints Miracleman #5-10
Written by Alan Moore
Art by Alan Davis and Chuck Beckham
In 2012, researchers at the University of Cambridge did a survey of the British people about their beliefs in conspiracy theories. It was found that 60% of Britons believe at least one conspiracy theory. Some of those theories accepted by residents of the U.K. include the government hiding the exact immigration numbers in the country, a plot to make Muslims the political majority in the kingdom, and most telling, that while they are told their country is a democracy, everything is run by a power elite. (The Guardian UK). These theories about the actual workings of the world have percolated in Western cultures for centuries, but it was the 1980s and 90s where they came to full fruition, able to guide the momentum of elections and referendums. In this second volume of Miracleman, Alan Moore fleshes out a conspiracy related to the rulers of the world that speaks to some more significant metaphysical points.
In this deconstruction of the Miracleman/Shazam archetype, we are faced with a dark twist. Mike Moran original was visited by a cosmic powerfully scientist that gifted him with a new body and powers. However, as revealed in the first volume, Mike was one of three military orphans abducted by a faction in the British government. They used these children as guinea pigs to experiment with strange transdimensional alien tech that involved matter replacement.
The cloning resulted in Mike having a second form, a clone with a completely different consciousness, a being that his him yet an individual all its own. However, the sheer power of Mike’s other self, Miracleman, and the “family” of sidekicks terrified their handlers. The remedy was to keep Miracleman in his comrades in a dream state, living out simulations based on comic books, which is the explanation of the silly nature of the original stories from the 1950s. This is where the title of the collection comes from “The Red King Syndrome.”
In Alice Through the Looking-Glass, the protagonist encounters the Red King during a living chess game. The Red King sleeps the entire time, and characters speculate that if they were to wake the Red King, it would be revealed that all their reality was his dream. As a result, the universe would cease to exist, so to protect their existence, they must keep the Red King asleep.
This is a profound bit of nostalgia as a mask for trauma. Moore was always ahead of the curve in the comics industry, and here he is outlining the danger of nostalgia. I wonder how longtime fans of Miracleman (aka Marvelman) felt about this reboot. Likely there were now adults who didn’t read comics, but I’m sure some came back out of curiosity. In Thatcher-era England, this condemnation of the “old days” carries an even greater meaning.
The United States would never experience a similar analysis of its classic heroes that sought to critique the modern discourse. Ronald Reagan ran with the slogan “Make America Great Again,” an appeal to the empty-headed nostalgia of white people to an era when people of color and LGBTQ people were marginalized. This nostalgia always manages to leave out the historically high tax rate for millionaires and the strength of labor unions that attributed to the economic prosperity of the time. But that’s the poison of nostalgia, lulling the forgetful human mind into believing in a shallowly comforting past that has been distorted.
A considerable amount of time in this collection to the origins of Miracleman nemesis Dr. Gargunza. It’s revealed that Gargunza is the actual creator of Miracleman and was subconsciously conjured in the dream state as an antagonist. In reality, Gargunza was a street urchin in Brazil raised within the community of a street gang. He was never physically powerful but had a sharp intellect and used his smarts to turn the group against the leader, and both murder the man and rape his girlfriend. It’s shown that Gargunza knew he needed to increase his understanding of reality and humanity so that he can amass more power. This involves becoming a student of figures like Martin Heidegger and getting in on the ground floor of genetics. Ultimately, Gargunza aligns with Hitler and the Nazis. The evil doctor is recruited by the U.K.’s version of Operation Paperclip, which leads to his ability to create Miracleman.
Gargunza is parallel to Mike Moran in that both men fit the Shazam tropes of being orphans. They are both transformed into something new by a mentor figure. In Gargunza’s case, that mentor is a brutal gang leader who instills cold inhumanity in the young boy. However, Moore shows that we are shaped beyond our childhood by other figures, philosophers, scientists, and even dictators. There is no nostalgia present in Gargunza’s view of the world, nostalgia is something that should be weaponized so that the masses can be controlled. The entire Miracleman project isn’t seen as a path to human enlightenment and ascendency, but something Gargunza can use personally to break free of his limiting material form.
The collection concludes with an epilogue to this story/prelude to what comes next. This involves the birth of Miracleman’s child with Liz as well as the introduction of alien beings connected to the technology that made Miracleman possible. A lot of these issues deal with the mortality of Mike Moran, this form is entirely imperfect, and his time is running out. Mike is vulnerable to the violence the oppressors use as a means of control. This foreshadows the eventual abandonment of Mike to the other space and Miracleman becoming the primary identity.
This is a huge step up from the first volume, a more in-depth exploration of the themes of nostalgia & identity. This is becoming less of a standard superhero narrative at this point and something much more profound. I suspect Moore was doing some reflection on himself transitioning from his 20s into his 30s, contemplating things like a mortal aging body and the idea of creating life. It should be noted that he was writing V for Vendetta as a serialized story in the pages of 2000AD at the same time as his Miracleman work was showing up in the same book. Both stories hold a very contemptuous view of not the public-facing government but the underpinnings of that power structure.