Book 3 - 'Olympus'
The most acclaimed of Alan Moore's three storylines, 'Olympus' has a lot to live up to, and it's not found wanting. Moore spent much of 'The Red King Syndrome' cranking up the scale, which means by the start of Book 3, everything's in the right place to get started.
Each chapter unfolds in flashback. The first takes the device of Miracleman writing the saga from Olympus itself, carefully done so as not to give away the forthcoming twists, and spends a few short pages to recap on where the players are - Liz a zombie, Mike worried about her and by Winter's progress, Johnny still haunted by Kid Miracleman. Then comes the confrontation between Miracleman and the two Qys envoys. The size begins to grow - the Qys have multiple bodies, and Miracleman is totally outclassed combating them, needing the timely arrival of Miraclewoman to save Liz and Winter.
The second chapter, framed by Miracleman reminiscing on Olympus, covers the arrival and origin of Miraclewoman. The latter is a brilliant piece of work, intertwining seamlessly with the Miracleman Family's established history, adding a further layer of sins to Gargunza, and lending credibility to a number of factors, including Gargunza's move to Paraguay and the activation of Dragonslayer.
The third deals with Miracleman and Miraclewoman's journey to Qys, where they attend summit with the Qys and the Warpsmiths, Earth having gained importance due to the arrival of Winter, the Qys themselves being sterile. It was Qys technology that Gargunza stole, and they now feel an affinity with Earth, and also remain locked in a cold war with the Warpsmiths. They agree that Miracleman and Miraclewoman (or Avril, as she insists on being called) will maintain an observation post on the moon for the Qys, joined by the Warpsmiths Aza Chorn and Phon Mooda. This new optimism is them juxtaposed with Liz leaving on Miracleman's return to Earth, and a full display of just how advanced Winter is.
The fourth chapter sees a number of seismic twists, with the flashback device this time being a dance. Liz leaves for a final time, Winter leaves for the stars, Mike commits 'suicide' and Johnny Bates' ordeal becomes too much for him - and he lets Kid Miracleman out. It's an emotional rollercoaster in itself, with a massive amount crammed in.
The fifth chapter is probably the most famous, as Miracleman, Avril, the Firedrake Huey Moon and the Warpsmiths confront Kid Miracleman in a decimated London. They win, just, but only after the loss of Chorn, and the world now knows about them.
The final chapter details the shaping of Earth into a utopia thanks to the new pantheon, including the building of Olympus itself over the ruins of London.
The scale just gets bigger and bigger, and it's a tremendous read. It won't be for everyone, and that's not meant in some snide "if you don't like it it's because you don't understand it, so fuck off back to Spider-Man" way. It's a very pretentious book in many ways, but intelligent and beautiful enough to bring it off. The mythical approach simply isn't going to be everyone's cup of tea. It certainly helps having the delicate, detailed work of John Totleben, which melds perfectly with Moore's poetic writing. The use of just one artist also lends 'Olympus' a fusion the previous two storylines just didn't have.
It's crammed with emotion, from Liz's ongoing struggle as her life falls apart, to Moran's heart-rending suicide as the presence of Miracleman has cost him everything in his life he holds dear, to the final fate of the feckless Johnny Bates. But unlike Neil Gaiman, Moore never quite forgets this is a comic book. The battle with Kid Miracleman in London is stunning, framed by graceful narration or not, and so are the early encounters with the Qys. It's as violent as any comic, especially the meticulously-drawn devastation in London.
In some ways it's a shame to lose a character as strong as Liz, first to Winter's well-intentioned controlling of her moods, and when it finally all becomes too much for her, but then she would be an inevitable casualty as the focus of the book changes. Both Miraclewoman and Winter can come across as arrogant, and Winter especially can be irritating at times, but both are necessary parts of making Miracleman realise he has a greater purpose. Moore gives a superhero the role of a God, illustrated not only by Olympus and the flashbacks, but by unusual methods such as the final battle taking on mythical proportions. Miraclewoman's enthusiasm, however, is infectious, and it's easy to see how the characters truly believe that taking over the world is the only way to make it a better place.
Kid Miracleman here is a totally unrestrained monster, illustrated by his dismemberment of thousands while simply waiting for Miracleman. A human face is put on this carnage in Chapter 4, when he kills the nurse because "they'd say [he] was going soft" in a chilling sequence, and the way his yellow costume slowly turns black is a nice touch. He's a truly dangerous enemy, with the massive casualties in London backed up by his cursory defeated of Avril, the poundings he gives Miracleman, and the way he doesn't die even with an 'I' bar and a block of reinforced concrete in his body.
The Warpsmiths are fascinating characters, grim and determined, especially Aza Chorn, but Huey Moon's someone I've always questioned the reasoning behind. It's a nice thought having this one guy who has special abilities and isn't a result of the Qys/Gargunza, but he doesn't really do much beyond delaying Kid Miracleman for about fifteen seconds. The British Bulldog and Miracledog I can just about see as Moore tying up loose ends, but the only conceivable reason for bringing the Firedrake in is so a throwaway line in "The Yesterday Gambit" still works...
'Olympus' is a difficult story to review, as so much depends on Moore's prose and the beauty of Totleben's art that it's difficult to properly express... But the reputation of this arc is fully deserved. A comics landmark, consciousness-expanding, thought-provoking, groundbreaking, and on top of that a bloody fine read.