Miracleman Volume 3: Olympus
Reprints Miracleman #11-16, Annual 1
Written by Alan Moore
Art by John Totleben
After the first six issues of Miracleman published in the United States by Eclipse, they got Alan Moore to return to continue the story. This was happening right as Moore was breaking out as the writer on the critically beloved Swamp Thing and Watchmen. Because so much time had passed between the events of the original UK Marvelman short comics and these reprints, the writer decided to use a framing device, jumping a few years ahead. Now Miracleman is reflecting on what happened while flying through a palatial tower. The reader would immediately wonder where he is and what led to this place, creating an evocative narrative hook.
The narrative arc splits in numerous directions here, all culminating in a mind-blowing, horrific, and ultimately hopeful finale. Miracleman is visited by Miraclewoman and alien Warpsmiths & Qys, the beings responsible for the void where he swaps bodies with Mike Moran. Miraclewoman provides an interesting twist on the character, evoking “imaginary tales” from Superman comics where they would drop a temporary Superwoman character that would be erased by the end. There are also shades of the original Wonder Woman’s heavy bondage motifs.
What we learn is that Miraclewoman was just like Mike and his comrades, an orphan used in Gargunza’s experiments. Her treatment had an added layer of sadism as Miraclewoman became an object used by Gargunza for sex while she was in her unconscious dream state. When that wasn’t enough to satiate the mad scientist, he allowed her dream state to become littered with forced eroticism that put Miraclewoman in the state of sexual peril. She was kept in the same facility as Young Nastyman, the Miracle Family’s shadow, and he was allowed to have his way with her as well.
Miracleman embarks on a strange cosmic odyssey that distances him further from his mortal form and his wife. Eventually, Liz leaves both her husband and their newborn, realizing that she doesn’t feel capable of being in the presence of a god, believing herself unable to reach a standard she imagines in her head. Their child, Winter, has developed intellectually and emotionally beyond children of her age. She has the powers of her father and the ability to speak with a vast academic vocabulary, eventually no longer seeing herself in the role of an average Earth child. This leads to her leaving the solar system to learn more about the universe.
The crux of the collection is the tragedy of Johnny Bates, the former Kid Miracleman. He’s trapped in his teenage form, failing to age since the accident that ended the Miracle Family in the 1950s. Johnny is housed in a facility for mentally ill youths and becomes the focus of brutal bullying. All the while, Kid Miracleman whispers in his subconscious to let him out so he can teach these bullies a lesson. Johnny refrains, allowing himself to endure intense physical and emotional pain. When the bullies rape Johnny in a bathroom at the hospital, he relents and unleashes Kid Miracleman. He makes swift work of the bullies, and then the real horror begins as the villain lets out all his roiling misanthropy on the human race, turning vast swaths of the planet into unspeakable miles of gore and viscera.
Because of the framing device, we know that Miracleman will win, but it is the cost of that win that remains a mystery until the final battle. It’s one of the greatest moments in comics books, heart-wrenching pathos that leave the reader in a state of numbing ache. But out of that, Moore grows something beautiful and possibly a bit unsettling. In the final issue, Moore outlines a utopia on Earth created by Miracleman. The hero doesn’t take into account the wishes of any mortal and remakes the planet into a place of economic and social equity. The need to toil for pitiful wages is erased, all basic needs are provided for, crime is all but nearly eliminated through imposed egalitarian means. Religious groups still hold Miracleman up as an anti-Christ-like figure, and a cult around Johnny Bates emerges, people subsumed with nihilism. But the world of Miracleman is a place that doesn’t sound that bad. The question of free will does linger, as I’m sure Moore intended, but he refuses to answer it.
This would be Moore’s final word on the character, but not the end. The reins were handed off to fellow UK rising star Neil Gaiman who would produce an arc and a half. We’ll be examining both of those next time. This final part of Moore’s Miracleman trilogy is transcendent work. Yes, sometimes it gets as self-indulgent as Promethea, but he still pulls back the reins to ground his philosophy in a cohesive narrative. These are moments you don’t forget after you read them, a much-needed advancement of the superhero genre. Like much of Moore’s work, the thematic core is misunderstood, and we are still waiting to see comic companies genuinely understand what was being done in these stories.