The Miraculous Fascist


Marvel’s Miracleman 16 cover, sans logo

In my recent post about Marvelman, I avoided any comment about the content of the series. Nor do I intend to go into it in any detail now. However, for the second time I have come to the end of the story, serially, and just as before I find the final issue, the climax, to be a disturbing affair, and one from which, even more now than before, my instinct is to shy away.
Marvelman, like Watchmen, was a product of Alan Moore’s deconstructionist phase of superhero writing. From beginning to end, the story takes a ruthlessly realistic approach to the appearance of superheroes on Earth, as much if not more in its psychological implications and effects. It’s disturbing, and dark, and yet Miracleman 16 (in both its incarnations) is seen as Moore’s paean to superheroics.
If it were just the story, I wouldn’t feel this deep ambivalence towards what happens. The story is a story, a fiction, to be read as a thought-experiment on whatever level the reader chooses to approach it.
The problem is that Moore prefaces the story with an introduction that speaks of a world of gaudy costumes and impossible powers as an ideal, a vision to be desired. Whereas a purely deconstructionist approach would see the eventual ending as inevitable, predictable from the story’s opening chapter, Moore’s effusive introduction slants interpretation towards approval, towards the notion that what happens is indeed a Utopia.
What does happen?
After the death, devastation and destruction shown in the penultimate chapter, probably the single most violent superhero comic ever published, the superhumans realise that they cannot operate in secret any longer. So they take over the world. Just like that. They completely reconstruct the economy, they teleport Earth’s entirety of nuclear material – weapons and power plants – into the Sun. They refoliate barren areas. They re-adjust the atmosphere to eliminate Global warming. They legalise drugs. And they set up programmes by which people who want superpowers can be given them (provided they meet the right criteria).
And Miracleman builds an eight kilometre high ‘mountain of the gods’ for himself, on the funeral ground of London.
It is nothing less than a totalitarian takeover, by Aryan gods. Miracleman even refers throughout to himself and his colleague as Gods, and Miraclewoman is particularly patronising at his residual impulse to consider humans as being something worthy of consideration.
There isn’t much subtlety about it. The ‘Gods’ dismiss the concerns of petty humanity as beneath their notice: they are, after all, doing good for everyone. Firedrake even likens humanity’s free will to a baby about to drink from a bottle of disinfectant: if you don’t take it away from it, it won’t have a future to have free will in. Groups that oppose them are marginalised even among humanity, and incapable of any form of valid or effective resistance, beyond retreat from the world that the superhumans have created.
It’s a comprehensive picture of self-satisfaction and contempt on the part of people who incarnate the ultimate form of Might Makes Right.
This attitude is leavened in one respect only (two if you count Miraclewoman’s single-handed quest to improve women’s sex-lives). You see, Miraclewoman is the God of Love and the most loving God there has ever been, because she’s prepared to share Godhood with humanity, to give it superpowers of its own, until one day we reach the ultimate utopia of everyone having superpowers.
Except that some people don’t want them. Miracleman offers powers to his estranged wife, Liz, prepared to jump her to the head of the queue so she can become ‘one of them’. But Liz doesn’t want it. Some of it appears to be her reaction to the fact that Miracleman – still, in some infinitesimal way, her husband – has started fucking Miraclewoman in public, to which Miracleman responds, with honest puzzlement, that they have ‘abolished’ jealousy and possessiveness, as Liz will understand once she transforms.
But at the heart of it is that Liz does not want to be superhuman.
And neither do I.
When I first read that introduction, in December 1989, I misunderstood it. I read it as coming from Alan Moore himself, in persona propria. I saw it as an external endorsement of the ‘world to come’ as an ideal to be desired. But it’s not.
The introduction is Miracleman’s own thoughts, a preface to the day being celebrated, the fifth anniversary of his re-emergence. It’s a wish-dream, a vision of the future that Miracleman is helping to bring about, that, as the contents of the issue will show, he and his superhuman cohorts are busy bringing about.
But it’s a child’s vision. An adolescent’s dream, a comics-reading adolescent’s wish-fulfilment, to bring about a world that is every bit as fantastic and brightly coloured, and wondrous and exciting, and full of possibilities as a comic book world can be. And it’s every bit as ridiculous, and unreal, and stupid as a comic book world can be. Moore has spent the entire Marvelman/Miracleman run deconstructing the superhero, exposing the reality – physical and psychological – that lies under the surface of those gaudy, naive stories, and here, when he takes us on the final, inevitable step to the only possible end of this story, he prefaces his last chapter with such a paean.
I can’t believe a word of it. Not in December 1989, and even less 26 years and three months later, when I read it again.
There’s a more serious version of this speech delivered inside the story, but this time it’s delivered in abstract terms: all about tearing off the sky for humanity, enabling/encouraging them to look up, towards perfection, instead of into the gutters they’ve stared at all their lives. Oh yes, there’s certainly no doubt that, from Miracleman’s point of view, everything is for the best in the best of all worlds, and humanity will be grateful.
But I’m with Liz Moran on this one. Liz, who refuses Miracleman’s offer to turn her into a god as well, a choice Miracleman just isn’t intellectually equipped to understand. Why would Liz choose not to become superhuman, when she’ll understand that possessiveness and jealousy have been abolished by the Übermensch and public sex in midair is a light entertainment show? What conceivable reason could Liz have for resisting the chance to turning into the type of person who used her body to incubate his superbaby, who was treating as a mere container by said baby, that overrode every independent thought or emotion that Liz felt? How could she not want to be like that?
But it’s more than that. I’m not Liz Moran, I haven’t been used as an incubator by superhumans who think of themselves as Gods. The totality of the totalitarianism that Moore dreams up, where Miraclewoman – the moral example – regards humans as no different to cattle, makes the whole spectacle more and more repellent in every detail.
I can read that opening speech, that I rejected instinctively a quarter century ago, and now see it as just another detail in a story that is as coldly condemning of superheroes as it is possible to be. And I still reject, viscerally, the idea of a world in which everyone can become a superhuman.
Why should that be? I’ve been reading superhero comics for over fifty years of my life. As well as Miracleman, I also bought Astro City  21. They are, even at their very best, still the product of an adolescent instinct, and they obviously speak to some adolescent instinct still in me even as I near the age of 60. But my interest in the superhero life is purely vicarious. I don’t want to be superhuman, I don’t want to live in a superhuman world. I instinctively reject the very thought as some kind of ideal destination for humanity. This story, this ending, forever leaves me cold. It goes beyond what I am able to believe.
I am on the side of the humans and our need to do it ourselves, no matter how slow and painful it is. We are responsible, and need to accept and acknowledge our responsibility and work to discharge it, and make our world better by ourselves and for ourselves. Gods who do it for us rob us by ensuring that we never learn.
Sorry, Miracleman, Marvelman, whoever we have to call you. Superb though your story is, I end by saying the only important thing. Not in my name

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