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Miracle Man

 Robert M. Price


Perhaps I ought to call the character Marvel Man, as Alan Moore did when he revived and revamped him, but no. I will stick with the name under which I first encountered the super hero, in Eclipse Comics. There he had been dubbed “Miracle Man” in order to avoid legal entanglements with Marvel Comics (which is pretty ironic given the rumor that Marvel may now reprint these comics!). For myself, I’d rather reserve the name “Marvel Man” for the 50s British rechristening of Captain Marvel, whose unofficial continuation he was. The Alan Moore 80s revival I call Miracle Man, whichever side of the Atlantic you happen to be on.

            These ruminations are going to be based upon issues 1-15 of Alan Moore’s Miracle Man epic. I never read the rest, by Moore, then Neal Gaiman, and they are too expensive to buy right now. So I will have to comment upon the latter issues some other time.

            Alan Moore has a gift for rewriting problematical or lackluster hero origins. He had just retrovamped Swamp-Thing for DC and would soon rewrite the Charlton and Red Circle characters (among others) for DC’s Watchmen. I just loved the combination of true-ringing original elements that gave authenticity to Moore’s versions together with the radical novelty of his conceptions. This alchemy was on hand in plenty in both Miracle Man and in the two-parter Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? But even Moore could overdo it, and I feel he has way overdone it, to the point of parody, in his retconning of Supreme as well as in his League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

            But Miracle Man was a masterpiece. The clash between Golden/Silver Age sensibilities and those of the modern period was nowhere better displayed than in the scene in which the reawakened Miracle Man was newly remembering his earlier adventures with Young Miracle Man (= Captain Marvel Junior) and Kid Miracle Man (=, sort of, Mary Marvel) and recounting them to his skeptical wife. She just could not take seriously that there might have been a sidekick named “Dickie Dauntless.” And Miracle Man smashed the floor with a frustrated fist: he knew how stupid it sounded, yet he remembered it!

            Naturally, it eventuated that none of these remembered adventures had ever really taken place. They were false memories induced while he was in suspended animation in Dr. Garganza’s “Zarathustra Project.” Zarathustra was the name of the prophet who founded Zoroastrianism in either the seventh, twelfth, or seventeenth centuries. The Greeks called him Zoroaster, but Nietzsche preferred the Persian original and utilized the name for his blasphemy-hurling sage in Thus Spake Zarathustra. There he promulgated the doctrine of the coming of the Ubermensch, the Superman, who would transcend the socially-conditioned herd-existence of the mob and transvaluate all values in the light of his own courage and his best thinking. The name “Project Zarathustra” tips us off in advance that Miracle Man is going to be a Nietzschean Superman, beyond puny human standards of good and evil, just like Moore’s character Dr. Manhattan in Watchmen about the same time.

            What motivated the evil machinations of Dr. Garganza, the counterpart to Captain Marvel’s Dr. Sivana? It had become, in Moore’s hands, quite a bit more complicated since the Marvel Man days. We learn that the German expatriate Garganza had traveled the world. In the course of his peregrinations, he chanced upon Existentialist philosopher (and one-time Nazi Party member) Martin Heidegger, who famously spoke of the need to accept the reality of one’s inevitable death. One must no longer slide by, wasting days and years, under the comfortable illusion that one has an endless supply of them to squander. Rather, one must come to reckon with one’s own mortality and then take into one’s own hands one’s destiny. Resolving to follow the mob (“das Mann”) no further on the lemming path, the “authentic” man will decide for himself what his life, the remainder of it, will be about. One can readily see the analogy with the Invictus-Superman of Nietzsche’s Zarathustra.

            Only Garganza did not like what he heard from Heidegger. He could not accept mortality and resolved to transcend it. This dream came quite close to fruition by his chance discovery of a crashed alien space ship, containing a whole wardrobe of different physical forms, stashed in alternate dimensional pockets, each equipped for a different sort of use. The Miracle Man body was one such. The implantation of the comic-book memories into Miracle Man was part of Garganza’s Project Zarathustra, as he experimented on the subject by having him live an illusory life while in suspended animation. (You will recall Moore’s use of the same gimmick in his Superman Annual story, recently remade as part of the Justice League TV series, “For the Man who Has Everything,” where Superman is “put under” and begins to live out a dream life reminiscent of Jesus’ in The Last Temptation of Christ.)

            The echoes of Alan Moore’s Miracle Man have rung far and wide. For instance, the powerful notion of an alienated, turned-evil sidekick surfaced again in Kingdom Come. In this version, it is Billy Batson himself who has refused to call forth his godlike alter ego for all these years, and when he finally does, like Moore’s Kid Miracle Man, he rampages. But think also of the failed miniseries The L.A.W. in which DC tried miserably to revive the Charlton heroes under their proper names but with much less class than Moore had done. Anyway, this series, too, involved the evil revenge of a sidekick, namely Tiger, the young partner of Judo Master. He became the world-threatening Avatar. Most recently, the theme has resurfaced in The Incredibles. It is the fan and would-be sidekick of Mr. Incredible who learns resentment (and mimetic rivalry) when his idol, fearing for his safety in a way Batman never did for Robin’s, refuses to allow him to fight alongside him. 

            It seems quite ironic to me that Alan Moore grew to bemoan the age of dark and paranoid superheroes he and Frank Miller created in the mid-eighties. Miracle Man did not mind plowing right into enemy soldiers, blowing them to bloody smithereens. And think of Rorshach, the Comedian, etc. Moore, an ultra-liberal, may have been interpreting (and parodying) the Nietzschean Superman in the Nazi-leaning way, rejecting the belief of Kierkegaard in Fear and Trembling that the individual transcends the absolute. Moore may have been trying to satirize the draconian heroics he portrays, blaming Steve Ditko’s Ayn-Randism for them. But if so, it was not clear whom he wanted us to root for, and many of us rooted for Rorschach (“Used to mollycoddle scum—let them live.”). And for Miracle Man.

Years later, Moore would try to ring the curtain down on his own dark-heroic era by writing the Awesome Comics mini-series Judgment Day in which we discovered that the Youngblood agent Sentinel, Rob Liefeld’s version of War Machine, had rewritten history to make it into the dark world of the 80s-90s comic universe complete with the “chainsaw-wielding cyborgs” typical of Image and Awesome Comics. Sentinel was convicted and exiled by his superheroic peers, and Moore oversaw a total revamping of Awesome Comics to make it into more of a vehicle of nostalgia and parody, as with his spoofing take on the once-brutal Supreme series. Moore finally allowed his politically correct colors to emerge, an ideology in which heroes are monsters and we would be better off thinking of them only as the butt of jokes. Miracle Man finally spoke the magic word “Kimota” and turned, once and for all, into his weak and mortal, unheroic self.


Copyright©2004 by Robert M Price
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