A Hesitant Hero or the Pause Before the Precipice: Alan Moore’s Miracleman and Virgil’s Aeneid

I always find it amazing when you set out to write one simple thing and then not only does it become more complex than you thought it was going to be, but the implications of what it might say can be very difficult to gauge as well.

When I first started reading Alan Moore’s run of Miracleman a while ago, I made a whole lot of notes on the margins of a piece of paper as strange literary parallels occurred to me. One of these, a comparison between the Moore Miracleman’s world, the Platonic World of Being and Aristophanes’ myth of love, made it into an article.

My comparison of the character of Miracleman to the protagonist of Virgil’s Aeneid did not.

Aeneas is depicted by the Roman writer Virgil as not only a demi-god and a high-ranking survivor of Troy after its Sacking by the Achaians, but also as the founder of another greater Empire: Rome. He has a son named Ascanius from his wife who dies during the end of the Trojan War, and has a few adventures dealing with the gods plans for him. In fact, he leads his son and the survivors of Troy to a new life: carrying his father Anchises with him out of the lost city. His father is also notable for having been a mortal man who had been chosen by and ultimately impregnated the goddess Venus (or Aphrodite): who is also the mother of Aeneas himself.

File:Aeneas' Flight from Troy by Federico Barocci.jpg

Later, Anchises dies but due to his intimate association with divine leaves him a whole other legacy: so in a way it is more than fitting that the hero carries his father on his back and ultimately later lays him to rest.

But while he is ultimately loyal to the gods–to their plan to make him the creator of a new Empire–he has his doubts: about himself and about how successful he will be. From what I remember, he mourns his old life and some of the decisions that his destiny forces him to make: such as leaving Queen Dido of Carthage whom he had fallen in love and had a relationship. Much later, he marries Lavinia of the Latins in what will one day become the city-state of Rome while his son becomes his heir.

But before this, Aeneas descends into the Underworld to see the future of the Empire that the gods decreed that he would help build: learning about the future of his people and descendants in immense detail from the spirit of his now deceased father Anchises. This is obviously a transformative experience for him–making him see that reality is far different than he had always known–but what strikes me is that the doubt never really leaves him in Virgil’s depiction. I will go more into that later.

Miracleman, or Marvelman–also known as Mike Moran–is depicted by Alan Moore as a genetically altered human being that survives the destruction of his super-hero team with few of his memories intact. He was engineered with advanced alien organic matter and technology to fulfill a purpose that was ultimately taken away from him when the authorities that made him and his Marvel or Miracle Family believed them to be too dangerous: and sought to destroy them. Despite this, Miracleman and his Family were created by Project Zarathustra to help “save” the world: or at least the status quo version of it at the time.

Miracleman has a wife named Liz while he still believes he is a human being and eventually reawakens his power and many of his lost memories. At first he believes he is a superhero, but after a trip to the Spook Show bunker that created him and his Family, he realizes that he is the result of a physical and psychological weapons experiment: his first trip to the “Underworld,” if you will. Eventually, he meets his creator–and nemesis–Dr. Gargunza who reveals more about his true nature before trying to kill him.

Gargunza himself is a mortal human man that has also–in a way–delved into the divine by adapting crashed alien technology to create Miracleman and his Family. Miracleman also carries him: though in a somewhat different fashion than Aeneas and Anchises.

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He both honours his nemesis creator and sends him directly into the Underworld where, at least in Neil Gaiman’s run of the comic, he remains in another Underworld … in a sense. 😉

The hero ends up having a child named Winter with Liz, who eventually leaves him when she can no longer relate to either him or his superhuman and intellectually advanced child. He also gains a new lover in the form of Miraclewoman. In the end after a time in his original base of operations–the Silence–to mourn his old life, he, the remainder of his Family, and other heroes he has assembled take it upon themselves to create a utopia on Earth: whether ordinary humans like it or not. This also ushers in the creation of a new race of humans created from his DNA: of which Winter is the first. At the same time, even though he discovers what he truly is and that he seemingly made his own destiny upon the world, Miracleman never loses his sense of doubt in his own motivations or what he has wrought.

So we have two demi-gods that survived the destruction of their way of life, losing loved ones and finding new ones, creating heirs to the Empires that they leave behind, finding knowledge and terrible enlightenment in the Underworld, and reshaping the status quo while always questioning their motivations in doing so. These are the superficial similarities and differences between the two figures, and you can definitely see some eerie parallels at work. I’m not saying that Alan Moore attempted to copy Virgil, or was even consciously inspired by this epic. In fact, I’d venture to say that it is more the case of the hero archetype that functions similarly in both an ancient novel and an early 1980s comics form.

But the implications, for me at least, go deeper than that.

I’m mainly thinking about how both stories end: especially how they end.

Aeneas is told that there are are two kinds of dreams that leave the Underworld from two different gates: prophecies from the Gate of Horn, and false dreams from the Gate of Ivory. After being shown Rome’s future history, Aeneas is shown the way out of the Elysian Fields and the Underworld: specifically through the Gate of Ivory. This act says a lot of things right off the bat and perhaps foreshadows the very end of The Aeneid itself.

It is a strange ending: almost a very abrupt one. Aeneas confronts Turnus, the King of the Rituli and former suitor of Lavinia, on the battlefield. The latter instigates a war with the Trojan survivors with his own subjects after he loses the hand of Lavinia to Aeneas. At the very end of their personal duel, Aeneas gains the upper-hand and Turnus begs for his life. Aeneas actually pauses for a few moments, and as a reader I can almost picture him looking right at the reader somehow, before he lets anger consume him and strike his enemy down. The last obstacle to Aeneas’ destiny over the Latin people and Rome is removed: but it is a troublesome and problematic ending in that Aeneas, despite fulfilling the will of the gods and having seen the future of his actions–or because he saw the future before he left through the Gate of Ivory–hesitated for that one moment of possible doubt.

File:Aeneas and Turnus.jpg

That is one possible reading of The Aeneid in any case. I mean, what could it possibly mean if you saw a glorious future and legacy before leaving it through a Gate of false dreams: of lies?

Then we have the way Alan Moore ended his run of Miracleman. Miracleman’s entire existence, despite his extraordinary powers and advantages, has been a layer of dreams and lies. People have constantly manipulated him in some way or form with either maliciousness, expectations, or even good intentions. Finally, he makes his own decisions: not merely for himself but for the species of fallible beings that created him.

He does this after killing his former friend, Family member, sidekick and now nemesis and mass-murderer Kid Miracleman–or Bates–having him return to his child form, promising to save him, and snapping his neck.

miracleman-kills-johnny

The beginning of a new utopia in Miracleman’s version of a 1980s world starts with him cradling the half naked brutalized child alter-ego of a friend that he failed to save and who he himself kills for the “greater good.” And even after he eliminates capitalism, ends world hunger, encourages the advancement of medical science, creates an Earth alliance with advanced aliens, as well as creating a process of giving normal human beings powers like his own, where he and his heroes have essentially taken rulership of the Earth for themselves in a benevolent dictatorship– they have become the embodiment of the human need to have gods to aspire to and worship–that he stares from a balcony at the very end of the story … and he ponders again, in his garden of horrors and wonders, if he actually did right.

This is the main reason why I see Miracleman as an Aeneas figure within Alan Moore’s and–to some extent–Neil Gaiman’s run of the comic. I was also willing to end it at this point as well: to merely show the parallel between these two heroes with problematic issues to the destinies they’ve taken on themselves. But there is something else that I find interesting.

In one of my courses at University, when I first read The Aeneid, there was this implication presented to us that Virgil may have had some other motivations when he wrote his book. Virgil was around during the time when the princeps Augustus of Rome reigned. Before Augustus, Rome had been a Republic with two consuls in governance, and sometimes a triumvirate after periods of civil unrest. There were many accusations that Augustus had, once becoming ruler of Rome, made it into a monarchy again or controlled it as a tyrant. Some scholars have seen Virgil’s act of writing the glory of Rome and Augustus through the Gate of Ivory and Aeneas’ supposed doubts of the future as a subversive criticism of Augustus’ regime and the way that Rome was heading. It may have been coincidence or premature death that left The Aeneid unfinished after the death of Turnus at the hands of Aeneas, or it may not have.

So what does any of this have to do with Miracleman? Aside from creating a narrative that uses a superhero to criticize and end the late-Cold War politics and social orders of the early 80s? Or Moore himself being an integral force in re-innovating the medium of comics? Well, this is where the theme of prescience–of seeing the future–becomes ironic. I’ve read somewhere that Alan Moore believed that the comics medium–at least that sponsored by the industry–has become stagnant and that it uses techniques and themes that were created about twenty-five or so years ago. He especially goes into this when he talks about DC’s decision to create the Watchmen prequel series: another work of his from the 1980s era. I think about this. Then I think about Miracleman. It was one of the earliest 1980s revisions of the superhero genre, and the comics medium, that Alan Moore ever undertook.

And then I wonder if the iconic Miracleman–Moore’s Aeneas–looked out over the balcony surveying the dark and yet promising structure his writer created around and before him … and found himself afraid.

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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 A Hesitant Hero or the Pause Before the Precipice: Alan Moore’s Miracleman and Virgil’s Aeneid

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