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Monday, November 14, 2016

On Miracleman Book Three: Olympus - Comic Book Spotlight


          Welcome back to Comic Book Spotlight where we at The Nerd Hub examine and review various comic books over the years, the impacts that they have had on society, the medium and things pertaining to them.  For the past three articles we have been taking a look at the history and books involving the classic character Miracleman and more specifically Alan Moore’s career redefining run on the character.  In Book One we saw that while there were a lot of great ideas at play, Moore wasn’t quite skilled enough at the time to make them all come together in a seamless way.  Book Two, however, was a radical improvement in both production quality and writing and is a book that I highly recommend.  And today we are taking a look at the final book in The Original Writer’s run on the series in Miracleman Book Three: Olympus.  Unfortunately, this is also where a lot of the narrative problems of Book One come back full force. 

            The plot actually begins several years after the events of the previous book with Miracleman writing a book on the all the events that happened after the birth of his daughter, Winter.  Soon after her birth he is attacked by a pair of aliens who are revealed to be the creators of the technology that gave birth to Miracleman.  After receiving some aid from a woman with powers identical to his, the two are introduced to two distinct alien races who have been locked in a cold war for eons.  After some persuasion from Miraclewoman the two races decide to use Earth as a neutral ground for the two races to meet, mingle and begin on the road to peace.  Unfortunately, the stress of it all is bringing Mike’s marriage to its breaking point and an old enemy is constantly threatening to return.
            Now before I continue you should know that like my look at Book One this will be more of an analysis of the book as a whole and as such will contain significant spoilers for not just this book but the entire series up until this point.  But I do acknowledge that some people reading this article may just be here for a simple yay or nay opinion.  For those people, here is my quick spoiler free opinion: I can’t really give a recommendation one way or another.  The book does contain a lot of great stuff that makes for an interesting read and is full of all the deconstructive stuff that you would expect from Moore.  Unfortunately, it’s bogged down by a few narrative decisions that derail the whole thing and turn it into a nigh insufferable read.  It’s not bad by any means but one can’t help but be frustrated by some of the choices the creative team made; that in all honesty, should have been rooted out in Book One.  But with that said, the book still has a lot of good going for it.
            The first thing that it does really well is the universe building.  In the book we finally get an explanation as to how and why Miracleman is able to swap bodies and why it is that the aliens from who the technology originated came to Earth in the first place.  At the same time, we learn about the abilities of these aliens known as the QYs, their culture and introduces us to their key rivals, The Warpsmiths.  What works so well about it is that the creative team clearly knew just how much information to give us.  It doesn’t overload us with pages of exposition; leaving a lot to be inferred but tells us enough so we understand these races, their mannerisms, and why it is they do what they do. 
            The most fascinating thing about this book, however, is the character arcs and how they all come to what one can only describe as their natural conclusions.  As mentioned in previous articles, Liz Moran at first seemed okay with all of the superhero stuff, but by the time The Red King Syndrome had ended, the full realities of it were starting to weigh down on her in a big way.  By the fourth chapter of this book, however, the realities and implications of what her life had become hit her full force.  In the end, she ultimately decides that the whole situation is too big for her and leaves, feeling like some base animal in the presence of beings like Miracleman and their daughter Winter.  Similarly, Mike ultimately finds the realities of being a mere mortal man too strenuous, especially after his wife leaves and decides to stay in the Miracleman form for good.   Miracleman also reaches what one could describe as the natural point of any super powered hero.  When the story reaches its final chapter, he and his friends become fully aware of just how superior they are to humans and decide to take over the world in order to improve it.  Now whether or not this was the right thing to do is ultimately up to the individual but it does feel like Moore’s conclusion paragraph on why it is superheroes simply don’t work in the real world and what would happen if they were ever introduced.

            The final arc worth noting is that of Kid Miracleman.  This wasn’t mentioned in previous articles but the only reason Miracleman was able to defeat Kid Miracleman in the first book was because he accidentally said the word that transformed him back into his younger, mortal form and was ultimately sent to an orphanage.  At first he was in a catatonic state, unable to cope with what he had done in his Kid Miracleman form over the years.  As more and more time went on, however, he became more aware of what was around him with his Kid Miracleman form constantly taunting him inside of his own mind, trying to convince him to turn back into the invincible version of himself.  By the time Book Two ended it seemed as if he had overcome the Kid Miracleman persona and was ready to move on with his life.  Unfortunately, orphanage life proved to be very hard on him; with a set of bullies in particular constantly attacking him.  Ultimately, the temptation of turning back into a super powered being proves to be too great when one of the bullies attempts to rape him.  After dealing with the bullies, Kid Miracleman goes on a massive killing spree to get Miracleman’s attention and prompts a final showdown between the two. 
Now in all honesty, the whole theme of this arc is somewhat recycled from the first book but the execution is far better.  This time around they took the time to build up to the moment he transforms and actually gives us a really good reason as to why he does it.  Ultimately it elevates the character from being a bad guy of the issue into a series long tragic story and in spite of the horrible things he does, you can’t help but feel bad for the kid trapped within.  The chapter involving Kid Miracleman’s rampage is also the highlight of the book.  We get to see the full abilities of the pantheon of superheroes Miracleman has assembled, particularly that of the Warpsmiths which prove to be a "show stealer".  Visually, the chapter is perfect.  The colors perfectly set the mood.  The action on display is well depicted and Kid Miracleman’s atrocities are so disturbing yet imaginative that you cannot look away from it and gives you a full picture as to how nuts he is. 
Unfortunately, this is all told with a narrative structure that is extremely problematic.  Its first and arguably biggest problem is that the entire story is told to us through extended flashbacks.  Each chapter begins and ends with Miracleman reflecting back on events that happened several years earlier and well after he and his pantheon of superheroes took over the world.  The key problem is that it eliminates all tension for the characters.  From the start we know that Miracleman wins; so no matter what the story throws at him, it won’t really matter because we know he’s going to come out on top.  These parts also end up spoiling what becomes of certain characters who are introduced in this book.  The second chapter, for example, reveals that at some point he and Miraclewoman fall in love, eliminating any potential to see the romance between the two unfold in any kind of meaningful way.  To make matters even worse, the chapter reveals that she lives to see and help create this new world, again eliminating any tension for her character in the book.
None of this is helped by the fact that several of the chapters are more or less a kind of clip show of events where time is speed up and you see the highlights of the characters’ lives but don’t see their actual development.  While this doesn’t really effect the four character arcs mentioned before, it does hurt the development of the newer characters.  This is most apparent when looking at the Warpsmith Aza Chorn and the Firedrake/pyromancer Huey Moon.  Chapter Three, for example, begins with Miracleman at Aza’s memorial and he is very clearly grieving over someone who appeared to be a dear friend.  The problem is that we don’t actually see anything to indicate that the two were anything more than acquaintances in the story itself.  He comes to Earth, parks a satellite on the dark side of the moon, shows Miracleman and Miraclewoman some new toys, then the final battle with Kid Miracleman happens and he’s dead.  We don’t know anything about him, he doesn’t develop much of a personality and if there was any kind of friendship that developed between the two we never see it depicted in the book itself.  As a result, when his death comes it doesn’t have as much of an impact as it was clearly meant to.
The same goes for the Firedrake, Huey.  Now the character has a cool premise to him and the book tells us a lot about him through subtext, but we never really get to see his personality develop in any kind of meaningful way.  We don’t see him interact with other characters.  We don’t see how he feels about being brought into this pantheon or how he really feels about the fact that he is now a God among men.  Everything that the character does is mostly told through Miracleman as he gives the reader a quick summary on how they met and what it is he does for the world once they take over.  As a result, he just comes off as another character in the lineup.  Miraclewoman is yet another character that suffers from this.  Beyond her initial backstory and what Miracleman tells us about her through his narration she doesn’t have much of a character arc or a point beyond helping him conclude his own personal story arc.  She has her own personality to be sure but it’s pretty clear Moore put her in as more of a plot device then an actual character regardless of the of the constant time jumping and fast-forwarded events. 

Strangely enough this narrative choice works in the last chapter of the book but it’s clear that it was built from the ground up to be this way.  The entire chapter is just a highlight of the events where Miracleman and his friends change the world for the better.  The idea here seems to be that the entire chapter is a bookend; a glorified epilogue to the events of the previous chapter where we discovered what the consequences of the character’s actions are.  And as this, the chapter works very well.  Unfortunately, the chapter is a little too…happy for this series.  Up until this point the books had all been about how bad things would be for both the heroes and everyday people if super powered beings were introduced into the real world.  This chapter, on the other hand, seems to indicate the opposite; that whatever harm they would do would ultimately be worth it because, when all is said and done the world would turn into a paradise under the heroes’ rule.  It’s a nice ending to be sure, but it’s completely out of tone with the rest of the series; almost as if Moore had grown tired of the dark and deconstructive stuff and wanted to end things on a more optimistic note.

The most insufferable thing about the book is just how blatantly pretentious it is.  Specifically, in the early chapters; you have Miracleman constantly comparing himself and his friends to that of the old Greek Gods and Goddesses and how they are the new versions of them and it constantly shoves this down our throats.  The biggest problem with this is that it feels as if we are being talked down to; as if Moore felt that we weren’t smart enough to come to these conclusions ourselves.  Now granted, when the issues came out this was probably a more novel idea and may have brought things to mind that people hadn’t thought of before.  But that was back in the late 80s and this is 2016.  These ideas have been examined and beaten to death over and over again since and as I read the book I couldn’t help but think “Yes, Mr. Moore.  We get it.  You aren’t exactly subtle about this.  There is no need to take what is clearly subtext in every other superhero pantheon and turn it into text.  Your books were written for adults.  We can come to these conclusions ourselves.” 
In the end, this book stirs all kinds of mixed emotions in me.  It’s not poorly written by any means and there is a lot to like; specifically, the character arcs and the final confrontation with Kid Miracleman.  But it’s bogged down by a pretentious narration that talks down to us, a narrative structure that relies too heavily on flashbacks and a tendency to show only the highlights of events that take place over several years.  It’s certainly not the worst finale that I’ve seen nor is it the worst thing Alan Moore has written by any means.  But, after the great read that was Book Two and considering all the things Moore has done over the years it is a pretty big disappointment.

And so concludes our look at Alan Moore’s run on the Miracleman series.  Thank you so much for allowing me to share my thoughts with you on what is an essential piece of comic book history.  These articles were a lot of fun to research and despite some gripes that I have with the books it was nice to revisit them and rediscover what it was that I liked and didn’t like about them.  Eventually we’ll come back to this series and take a look at some of the newer stuff as well as the older stuff but for now we’re going to take a break from Miracleman and Alan Moore and look at something a little more fun.  “What might that be?” you may ask.  Well, let’s just say that it will take place in a galaxy far, far away.

  So until next time, please Like the Nerd Hub Facebook Page, checkout The Nerd Hub Facebook groupFollow us on Twitter and be sure to check out my own personal blog, Trey’s Take On…as well as giving my Facebook Page a Like and checking me out on Twitter.  Until then, have a Happy Thanksgiving and keep reading and enjoying great books.



Written & Co-Edited by, Trey Griffeth
Co-Edited by, Jack Flowers


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