Miracleman - The Red King Syndrome TPB cover

Miracleman Book 2 - 'The Red King Syndrome'
Eclipse Comics

Contents: Miracleman #4-7, #9-10
Story:
Alan Moore
Art: Alan Davis (Chapters 1-8), Chuck Beckum (Chapters 9-11) Rick Veitch (Chapters 12-13), John Ridgway (Miracleman Family).


The second book of Miracleman suffered from a number of production difficulties (albeit all minor inconveniences compared to the current mire the series is in) - the cancellation of Warrior, the dramatic change in artists and several delays, including Eclipse's offices being flooded and destroying early work on Chapter 12, so it's no wonder it feels a little fractured.

Part of this is due to the storyline being more of a 'bridge' between the revisionist superhero work of the first book, and the grandiose poetry of the third book. The bulk of the storyline revolves around Miracleman's final confrontation with his creator, Doctor Gargunza, while the last two chapters see a shift in focus, largely setting up the third book with the birth of Winter and the introduction of the Qvys. It takes a little while to get going too. The 'prologue' Miracleman Family strip is good fun, set in 1961 but newly-written by Moore. The plot sees the Family's subconscious trying to wake them up by confronting them with the absurdity of their dream universe (though, considering that Gargunza must have fed them all the Marvelman original strips, confrontations with Map Makers, Leprechauns and Hippocrates make the stuff they're put through seem a little mild). It's a little disposable, almost seeming to exist to justify the costume redesign undertaken between the Miller material and the relaunch, but it's good fun too, Moore expertly capturing the naïve Golden Age characters, and it's nice to see Dicky and a good Johnny (contrasting marvellously with the Kid Miracleman we've just seen in 'A Dream of Flying') again, especially in a new strip.

However, the first part proper, "Catgames", is a slightly hammy atmosphere piece, spending a little bit too much time on Gargunza watching a tiger die. The following episode, "One of Those Quiet Moments", sees Miracleman meet a nuclear-war fearing child in Epping forest, and for a humanistic little interlude, somehow isn't as great as it perhaps should be. It's just pretty insubstantial. Finally, though, in the third Chapter, the second book really begins to take off, as Miracleman and Evelyn Cream try to work out who has kidnapped the pregnant Liz. Miracleman's interaction with Cream is a joy, with Miracleman gradually growing more confident, bouncing back from his beating at the hands of Kid Miracleman. Meanwhile, Cream worships Miracleman, but is still able to surprise him (for example, during the chilling phoned threat to Dennis Archer). Cream's death is sign-posted frequently, with Moore deciding to go for atmosphere instead of suspense.

This is a good choice, allowing an examination of Cream's character as he tries to avoid clichés, though I'm not a hundred percent sure what exactly Moore's trying to say here - an uncharitable reading would be that black people may be able to copy the white man (much is made of Cream's sophistication), but will always slip back to old ways. Hmm. That said, it could just be that Cream can't ignore his own culture by pretending to be something else. Yeh, that's a bit better. It makes the character a bit more three-dimensional, though we still don't get much explanation for those sapphire teeth.

We also meet Emil Gargunza properly. Gargunza's an odd figure, and a well-rounded character. He's quite magnetic in a deeply evil way, and a little bit of a ham, which goes some way to excusing his wildly overcomplicated plan. Basically, he's decided to wait in Paraguay for twenty years for Miracleman to return, and then get Liz pregnant, and now plans to put his brain inside the resultant offspring. It's a bit mad, really, seeing as Mike Moran could have died at any point during those 20 years, or Liz could be infertile. Surely it would have made more sense to abduct Mike at some point, put him back into a lab and get Miracleman's sperm or DNA that way?

Emil gets a full backstory too, and it's a brutal revisionism. This isn't the playful archenemy of the 1950s, this is an evil, self-interested rapist and murder. We also get more backstory on the creation of the Miracleman Family, with the addition of an alien element lending plausibility, while also sign-posting that aliens exist in the Miracleman universe. In some ways this plays against the pseudo-realism of the series up to this point, but it does help by not making Gargunza out to be more brilliant than any other ten scientists put together - that Emil could come up with cloning, the body-switching and the superpowers all in a few years would otherwise be a bit of a stretch. There's also a glorious little moment where he attributes the decision to cast his weapons as superheroes came from a copy of Miller's Marvel Family comic.

After two fascinating, if talky, episodes covering the origins of Project Zarathustra, the plot steps up a notch when Miracleman and Cream arrive in Paraguay. Of course, it's then that Gargunza plays his two trump-cards. Firstly, he uses a safety word to reduce Miracleman to Mike. Then he introduces the experiment that was a forerunner of the Miracleman Family, appropriately named Miracledog. It's a pretty impressive plot twist which makes a lot of sense - Gargunza would obviously put a fail-safe into the Miracleman Family (though, honestly, I'm surprised it took him until the flashback story to foresee the usefulness of such a device), and (in the case of Miracledog), as Gargunza says "We always experiment on animals first". This puts Miracleman (well, Moran) on his back foot again, and leads to an adrenaline-tinged chase sequence as Miracledog is let loose on Moran and Cream.

Of course, the idea of setting the creature on Moran and Cream (with a head start, to boot) when he has them at gunpoint is a bit like a cliché Bond villain. To an extent, this is excused by Gargunza's characterisation as something of a ham, by his sadism and by the fact it's unlikely the duo will survive for the hour Gargunza's counter-word will work, but it also clashes with his attention to detail. That said, his initial plan to wait for Miracleman to impregnate someone and hijack the baby has some massive logical gaps, so maybe he just has a knack for overcomplicated plans that work out enough for him to think he's a genius. Or maybe it's illogical writing. It's certainly a memorable sequence, as Cream's prophesied death is told in flashback by his decapitated head, while Moran, for once, gets to save the day, remembering the creature's key word in time to save himself (and Miracleman).

His violent revenge on Gargunza and his minions is also fascinating, as Moore is once again able to turn extreme violence into poetry. Gargunza's death, in normal comic terms, would be an anticlimax, as Miracleman simply drags him up into space and drops him. However, in the context of Miracleman, it's perfect, as the title character's consciousness continues to expand, and he realises how small in scale a little old man is, something he pointedly shows Gargunza in his final moments. The character is bigger than comic-book archenemies.

The main plotline is rounded off with the birth of the couple's child in the 12th Chapter. The story attracted a little attention on printing for the graphic detail of the delivery (though this was largely a storm in a teacup, stoked by Eclipse). To be honest, there really isn't actually a lot to it, the story largely being about, well, the birth of a baby, what a beautiful event it is and how small it makes everything else seem. It's well-done, but hardly seismic.

The final Chapter is more of a prelude to Book 3, concentrating largely on two Mike and Liz trying to adapt to their quickly-developing baby, Winter. The latter is already moderating Liz' moods, which sadly robs the book of a great character. Elsewhere, it's largely hint-dropping as two alien visitors chase up the 'five cuckoos' - the exploded form of Dicky Dauntless, Bates, an unnamed woman (later shown to be Miraclewoman), Miracledog and Moran, who they set out to visit at the end of the book. It was probably fascinating stuff at the time (leading to frenzied speculation in the letters page as to who Lear was, whether the body of Young Miracleman still survived, etc.), but now it's like a preview for a comic we've read (well, presuming you have read Book 3).

Art throughout is variable. Alan Davis' work, of course, is splendid, conveying emotions and action with equal aplomb. Chuck Beckum's contributions are rather more wooden. This actually works in the slightly abstract parts, such as when it helps delay understanding of Cream's fate for a few pages, and the slightly abstract pages where Miracleman appears and clinically disposes of Gargunza's guards. However, on pages requiring more fluid action (such as Moran's struggle with Miracledog) or emotion (such as Gargunza's death) it lacks drama. Rick Veitch's work is a step in the right direction, but he tends to overdo the detail in places - for example, the lines and stubble on Mike Moran tend to make him look deformed rather than simply rough around the edges (it's interesting how Mike's put on a pretty big amount of weight in-between books, though...).

Overall, there's a massive amount of quality jammed into 'The Red King Syndrome' - Gargunza's origin, the alien technology used for the Miracleman Family, the fascinating Evelyn Cream, the sense of scale. However, it's a very fractured read, and not just because it used three contrasting artists. You can almost see Moore's short-term plan for the book changing as the new material comes in, and it feels at times like the book is jumping gears - as if the writer knows what he wants the title to be like, and is forcing its' evolution to that stage. 'The Red King Syndrome' may be the weakest of Moore's three Miracleman storylines, but it's still stronger than most comics' finest moments. A flawed masterpiece.