Miracleman Book Two: The Red King Syndrome
Written by Alan Moore
Art by Alan Davis, Rick Veitch, Chuck Austen and John M Ridgway
At the age of 40 Alan Moore decided that he was a wizard and it kinda coloured in the rest of his career. Nowadays when people mention his name the first things that come to mind is his massive beard, smells of a herbal nature and his cantankerous attitude. If you picture where he lives your mind probably throws out an image of a small little mystical hut in the middle of a magical forest. His writing desk probably sits next to a cauldron and his best friend is probably an indigent looking owl.
But that’s not right.
Because if you’ve read any of his books you’ll understand that Alan Moore is wrong when he says he’s a wizard. Because reading his books it’s actually incredibly obvious that Alan Moore is a scientist. (And his books don’t run on magic – in fact it’s totally the opposite: they’re all built on a determined, clear-eyed and far-sighted logic that is basically unmatched by any other writer I can think of).
One of the very first Alan Moore Swamp Thing stories was called “The Anatomy Lesson” (although tellingly I misremembered it as “The Autopsy Lesson” but hey you know – same thing). But in truth it’s a title that could be applied to pretty much any one of his stories. Dude’s whole approach is to go in with a scalpel and get to the underneath and then lay it all out in front of you…
Normally we don’t really compare books in the Book Club but it must be said: It’s interesting reading Miracleman straight after Zenith (to say the least).
Zenith (which ran from 1987 to 1992) is marked by it’s freewheeling nature. It’s untethered to other superhero stories. Hell – it’s even untethered to itself. It slips and slides and never really stays in one place to become one thing. I’m guessing that’s what most people like about it.
Miracleman (which Alan Moore wrote from 1982 to 1984) is an entirely different beast. The overwhelming thing that stuck me reading Book Two is the unstoppable logic of it. The whole book is a relentless examination of what a superhero is and how it works. It takes a mystical and half-formed entertainment designed to entertain kids and then straps it down and expertly dissects into various component parts and then carefully puts them back together again in order to create something stranger, wilder and more exciting than anything you’ve seen before.
In some sense it’s the difference between moving out and moving in. Zenith’s approach is a superficial one. It takes superheroes as the base unit and then changes the decorations. What if the hero was a narcissist braggart? What if the bad guy was Richard Branson? What if the other bad guys were Lovecraftian monsters? What if the robot was into Acid House? What if the wise leader was a Tory MP? The effects might be new but fundamentals remain the same. It’s only moving outwards.
Miracleman does the opposite. It moves in. It asks different questions. Namely: how does all this stuff work? How does the hero change into a different person? Where do all these powers come from? Why were they created in the first place? And as it slowly reveals each piece of the puzzle and you start to grasp the totality of the whole thing you can feel that Alan Moore logic turning around and clicking into place like a trap built around your brain.
But hey don’t worry. He knows exactly what he’s doing.
He’s a scientist.
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