Full Beings and Perfect Forms: Aristophanes and Plato in Miracleman

Before I begin, I would really like to point out that I’m aware of the fact that I’m talking about a comics series that few people have had the opportunity to read: though perhaps there are more readers of Miracleman out there than I assume. In addition, there will be some spoilers in this article, so for those still interested in reading the comics and can get access to them, read them first before reading this article. And for those who have no idea what I’m talking about, I talk enough about superheroes here and the philosophy of them to probably be followed. It’s up to you whether you want to read the comics.

Like I say every time I make this disclaimers, you have been warned.

Well before Alan Moore revised or deconstructed the figure of the superhero, people always assumed that even though superheroes have their official crime-fighting identities and their civilian alter-egos they are still ultimately the same person. The same was the said for Marvelman (later named Miracleman and possibly Marvelman again depending on whether or not Marvel Comics releases Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman’s runs) and his Family: that even though they spoke a magic word to change from human to superhero and back again, they always had the same personality.

Alan Moore challenges that assumption with his revisionism. We see a vast difference between Kid Miracleman and Johnny Bates: the child that he came from. Of course, that has a lot to do with the fact that Johnny switched into his Kid Miracleman persona as a child and let it grow up separately from his human child form. This, along with the event that forced him to hide and the circumstances of how he got his powers, might have warped his mind into two distinct personalities: though both have access to the same memories which is something to consider.

Moore even makes you begin to question if Miracleman and his alter-ego Mike Moran (though they both share the same initials) are in fact the same person. While both begin with a similar morality and are genuinely good people–and they share memories–key differences begin to occur to differentiate them. It’s probably even further complicated by the fact that Miracleman had been dormant for years after a traumatic event, while Mike Moran himself continued to age and live his own life until another traumatic event forced him to remember the key-word to bring his superhero persona back.

Then there is Young Miracleman–or Dick Dauntless–who died and was brought back to life. From Neil Gaiman’s run, or from what exists of it so far, there is no difference between Young Miracleman and his alter-ego at all. Finally, Miraclewoman seems to be the most balanced of the entire Miracle (or Marvel) Family in that as the doctor Avril Lear and Miraclewoman she also seems to be the same person and has learned a lot about her dual nature by exploring both.

As I read the entire series as it was, I began to notice certain elements that Alan Moore and to some extent Neil Gaiman incorporated into their work. In a lot of ways and I have Alan Moore in particular in mind, they brought the idea of the superhero back to its roots: to the mythologies that created it as they took it apart. The secret British government program that was created to make these super-beings is called Project Zarathustra: based off of Nietzsche’s idea of the ubermensch or the superman. The superman is supposed to be a being that has transcended all conventional morality and chooses to create their own code to live by: possessing the power to do so through sheer will. I talked about this a little bit with my Whoever Hates the Man of Tomorrow? article, but this is a theme that definitely plays out with Miracleman.

There are other mythological references in Miracleman: such as the heroes’ home base being called Olympus, the body-switching Qys as the supposedly unwitting genetic prototypes of the Miracle Family being referred to as the Titans or the Primordials that existed before the “superhero pantheon of gods,” and even the battle with the twisted Kid Miracleman supposedly mirroring Ragnarok or the “twilight of the gods.” Moore even creates a nice mythological analogy between superheroes and supervillains: the former being Heroes and the latter being known as Dragons or monsters to be vanquished. We see a lot of Nordic and Greek mythology being drawn on to create this version of Miracleman. But there is more.

As I continued reading Miracleman, I saw another parallel developing. It began when I saw the twisted fused twin skeletons inside of the British government’s secret Spookshow warehouse: where Miracleman and his kind were created. Originally, I was led to believe that these fused skeletons were the remains of Young Miracleman from his own death, but in reality they were the dual remnants of Young Nastyman: another experiment that went insane and died through mid-transformation within a volcano … or so Miraclewoman says.

That grotesque fusion of two skeletons reminded me of Aristophanes’ myth of love. I know how disturbing that may sound, but I didn’t actually start thinking of it that way until Miracleman himself began to explore his own identity and the line between himself and Mike Moran. According to Plato in his Symposium, Aristophanes explained why love existed by telling a story in which once upon a time mortals were larger beings with two-heads, two sets of genitals, and two sets of limbs. They were powerful and they defied the gods so much that Zeus split them into two. This myth was supposed to explain that love is that need for each person to look for the other person split from them or, as we hear it in our own popular culture, each person looks for “their other half.”

That was the resonance I got when Alan Moore really came to the finer details of how the switch between mortal and divine works with the Miracle Family. It’s almost as though Project Zarathustra, in analyzing the bodies and the technology of the Qys–of fluidly intersexual Titan progenitors–tapped into a place of mythical proportions to recreate that “lost existence” that Aristophanes goes on about. One very interesting thing to note about Aristophanes’ myth is that when human beings were once unified, greater beings it was implied that they could defy and potentially challenge the gods themselves: which was one reason why Zeus and Apollo divided and changed them. Therefore, it can also be implied that Project Zarathustra allowed mere mortals to tap into the divine, to a place beyond the divine, to become a lot more than what they already were and challenge the established order around them.

Aristophanes’ myth that was meant to examine the origins of love and humanity’s potential to divine power is argued by scholars to be a comedic or lampoonish idea to reflect its comedian creator. Yet I find nothing particularly hilarious about this, though it is interesting that it was considered a “comic” idea: one that has translated itself so well throughout the ages. There is also another saying in popular cultural with regards to love as reunion: that just as people are looking for their “other half,” there is also in a relationship reference to one’s “better half.”

This is where I begin to wonder, like a few scholars before me, if the myth of Aristophanes wasn’t created by Plato himself to add a nice neat argument to his Symposium. We can argue whether or not Socrates created his own philosophy too until the cows come home, but that’s not the point here. Plato himself had his own theories about reality and the subjects that exist in reality. He believed that there are two worlds: the World of Forms or Being and the World of Becoming. The World of Being is a plane of perfection. You can find the originals or the perfect forms of anything that has ever existed. You can find the ideal object–such as a chair–or subject–such as a man or a woman as well as thoughts, feelings and knowledge–here.

Then you have the World of Becoming, a gradation of said perfect forms into more worn and degraded shapes. They deviate or change from the ideal and ethereal prototypes that they come from. The idea is that we live in the World of Becoming and that we seek the World of Being. You can see here, and I’m sure my high school philosophy teacher would be proud of me at this moment, how this Platonic thought influenced the Western idea of Heaven and Earth, or Heaven and Hell.

When I read Miracleman, I saw an interesting parallel with this Platonic conception. Miracleman and his kind are the perfect forms. When they are not used, the forms are kept in a place of pure energy known as Under-Space: a nice analog to the World of Forms itself. They rarely ever age, they cannot be destroyed through conventional means, they have extraordinary clarity of thought, devastating power, and even their costumes are engineered from an alien material that cannot be destroyed and reflects the moods of their wearers. Their powers and natures are explained as being the result of a psychic field or harmonic around them that they can control. In other words, the Miracle Family practices mind over matter.

My reading of this is that human scientists–degraded imperfect people like the rest of us from the World of Becoming or matter–used a link to the World of Being or the spirit to reverse engineer near perfect forms that mortals can have access to. Even Miracleman explains that he has the same thoughts that Mike Moran does, but he can see them and perceive his world with far more clarity and insight. We can get even more Platonic or Gnostic and say that through science, the Miracle Family gained a greater link to their spiritual, real, celestial selves. It is also no coincidence that Alan Moore, their revisionist, began to embrace further mythological and spiritual elements in his later works and even in his own life.

So it seems clear cut that Miracleman and his Family are their own essential selves having been unified. Of course, it is not nearly so simple as that. Mike Moran, Johnny Bates, Dick Dauntless, Avril Lear and Young Nastyman (or Terrence Rebbeck) did not seek this enlightenment. They were kidnapped, kept in medically induced comas, experimented on, had essentialized clone bodies made for them, had said bodies transferred into Under-Space where their minds would be trained to switch back and forth to by a word command, and were brainwashed to believe they were superheroes in a comic book-like virtual world before being abandoned as too powerful and too dangerous and marked for a termination order which, inevitably, failed.

It all sounds so banal when I summarize their origins like that. In a lot of ways, the Miracle Family are more like the uncanny Freudian doubles or dopplegangers of the mortals which they are linked to. They have great powers and insight, but they do not always relate well to the World of Becoming around them. Some of them are malicious because of this and even the best-intentioned among them have the potential to cause immense and traumatic change to the world.

I personally think that they are all of these things and more. I think that Moore portrayed them as humanity’s need to reach for and become the divine: or to remember its divinity. What happens after the creation of said beings, their own realizations of what they are,  and how the affect and what to share their perspective with the world around and the people who made them is–in mythological retrospect–an inevitable conclusion.

ETA: After writing this article, I’ve realized that you can examine the Miracle Family with a particular focus on identity. Much in the way that Neil Gaiman’s A Game of You really plays with identity, gender and the fluidity and change of self-identity, his and Alan Moore’s Miracleman can also be examined in a similar light. Maybe one day someone will do that … when the damned thing is republished.

Abraxas, legal issues, Abraxas …

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About matthewkirshenblatt

I am a writer and blogger living in the Greater Toronto Area of Ontario in Canada. When I'm not writing for the Sequart Research & Literacy Organization and GeekPr0n, I tend to write science-fiction, epic fantasy, horror, literary and mythological revisionisms, and generally weird fiction stories though I have been known to make poetry, television and comic book scripts. Also, when left to my own devices I tend to write weird and strange hybrid creative opinion piece articles like those you will find on this Blog. I am also very interested in comics, video games, Star Wars, table-top role-playing games, Neil Gaiman's works, H.P. Lovecraft, vampires, zombies, and budgies.
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2 Responses to Full Beings and Perfect Forms: Aristophanes and Plato in Miracleman

  1. Pingback: A Hesitant Hero or the Pause Before the Precipice: Alan Moore’s Miracleman and Virgil’s Aeneid | Mythic Bios

  2. Pingback: A Place Where Writers Come to Write Upon the Revenge of the Sixth | Mythic Bios

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