Zarathustra – Learning through Comics

Miracleman-1-Opena-VariantOne of the joys of a curious mind, is when you can find a small spark of information in a piece of media you love, and it leads to you discovering a whole new aspect of the world around you.

While finally completing the fantastic Alan Moore run of Miracleman, I came out of it with just as many questions as I had at the start. One at the forefront of my mind was the monstrous Zarathustra experiments that created the Miracleman family. Where did the name come from? What did it have to do with the story? and the ongoing wonder, had it influenced the story in other ways?

Upon research, I discovered the 19th century philosophical novel, “Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for All and None.” by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. While Nietzsche is most known for coining the term ‘Ubermensch’, a phrase many comic book fans have most likely come across at some point given one of its translation, Superman. In “Zarathustra”, the idea of the ‘Ubermensch’ being a goal for humanity is explored, pushing humans to their highest potential and creating super humans. In essence, this is the goal of not only the comic creators, creating superheroes to show the best of humanity, but the motives of the comics character Dr. Gargunza when carrying out the Zarathustra experiments. When Dr. Gargunza explains his work to Liz, he states “You see, it was my belief that this process might be made to work upon humans. What if you were to take a human being … let’s say a young orphan whom no-one would miss .. What if, from his living cells, you could create a perfect evolved superhuman?” [Moore.2014:44]. Naming the experiment after Zarathustra was a logical step, given the focus of both the novel and the

experiment.

In regards to weather the novel had any greater impact on Miracleman, there are multiple quotes and notion that mirror this saga of Miracleman. “One must still have chaos within oneself, to give birth to a dancing star.” [Nietzsche.1883], perfectly describes not only Michael Moran’s discovery of his powers but the destructive nature that Johnny Bates unleashes in his superhero form. The chaos within the two of them burning as they fly through the stars in battle. The line “I teach you the superman. Man is something to be surpassed. What have ye done to surpass man?” [Nietzche.1973], perfectly mirrors advice given to Miracleman by his ‘creator’, Dr. Gargunza.

The most famous phrase attributed to the novel is “God is Dead” [Nietzche.1973], while the phrase is often misused to describe a complete lack of god, it was actually used to describe the rise of Atheism and Agnosticism. While Miralceman does contain aspects of man playing god as well as creating god. The final chapter of book three, even displays Miracleman as a god like figure in the utopia he creates, giving himself a rebirth by travelling to the north of Scotland in his human form and leaving a note as a tomb stone for his human life.

There are several parallels between Nietzsche’s “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” and Moore’s “Miracleman”. While a lot of it could be considered coincidence, Moore is well known for his attention to detail and the fact that he would use this name for the experiment, proves that he must have had some knowledge of the book. Fascinating to wonder just what else could have influenced his saga of Miracleman.


Sources:

  • Moore, A. (2014). Miracleman Book One: A Dream of Flying. Marvel: UK.
  • Moore, A. (2014). Miracleman Book Two: The Red King Syndrome. Marvel: UK.
  • Moore, A. (2014). Miracleman Book Three: Olympus. Marvel: UK.
  • Nietzsche, F. (1974). Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for All and None. Penguin Classics: UK.
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Humanising Gods, Deconstructing Superheroes – Fixing the Clock.

14348_comics_watchmenThe common trope of Superheroes, particularly those brought to film, now a days, is to make them grim, gritty and above all else ‘realistic’. In 2013 Superman was famously remade in the form of Man of Steel, leaving behind the vision Richard Donner and Christopher Reeve brought to the screen for a dark and brooding hero, compared numerous times to Christ through visual cues. Previously, realism was supposedly brought to the screen with the likes of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy (2005 – 2012), and even before that, we had Tim Burton’s Batman (1989). While the non comic book reader would point to these as the true visions of realistic superheroes, and the comics as purely kids stuff, these dark tones and realistic notions all came directly from the comics. The deconstruction of superheroes, to show how they would fair as real people, has existed in comic form long before the first shot was taken on the set of Batman (1989). While many have tried their hand at deconstructing heroes, including Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison, none have been more successful and more celebrated then Alan Moore.

Moore has described the act of deconstructing something as being and extension of the alchemist principle referred to as ‘Solve et Coagula’. “‘Solve’ is to take something apart and examine it – it’s analysis. ‘Coagula’ is to put it back together again – synthesis. 250px-ForthemanAnalysis and synthesis.” [Graydon. 2009] To deconstruct the superhero genre is to take it apart, look at what you have, then find a way for it to come back together logically. While this sounds like a task that would be simple to comprehend, there were very few attempts to display it in a cohesive, and tangible state that would actually sell. Moore’s famous run on Miracleman/Marvelman, acts as a precursor to the “absolute deconstructionist last word on the superhero” [Graydon. 2009], with the original story structure and notion coming from a childhood curiosity of Moore’s in regards to Mickey Moran (Miracleman/Marvelman) growing up and became a real world adult. “I thought it would be funny to have Mickey Moran grown up and become an adult, who’d forgotten his magic word.” [Mealoid.2013] The idea of a comic book character growing up, even giving the hint of growth, was something that was rarely shown. Comics would usually develop a status quo, allowing a new reader access to the title at any issue and be able to enjoy it as a standalone work. As Moore has stated, “this embracing of what were unambiguously children’s characters at their mid-20th century inception seem to indicate a retreat from the admittedly overwhelming complexities of modern existence.” [Flood. 2014]

By not allowing these characters to grow and act as real people would, you are essentiality creating a reality that does not exist. The general status quo attitude of life depicted, shows a world where superheroes need not even exist, everyone is depicted as some form of stereotype, with no true human nature to them. Making it easy to pick out from any line up just what made everyone tick, you could tell a bad guy from a good guy at a simple glance. “They don’t mean what they used to mean. They were originally in the hand of writers who would actively expand the imagination of their nine to thirteen year old audience. That was completely what they were meant to do and they were doing it excellently.” [Kelly. 2013] To bring humanity and to ground and deconstruct these gods, you need to display their flaws. Everyone, regardless of their capabilities, has some flaws. “There is no way that they work in terms of the conventional idea of the hero.” [Graydon. 2009]. In the prospect of bringing something new to the superhero genre, you introduce the most human of concept, flaws. “Obviously, if you are going to be doing something new, then to a degree you’re destroying whatever preceded it”. [Kavanagh. 2000]

tumblr_my4eo60gpl1srbmxlo1_1280In the earlier piece, Miracleman/Marvelman, Moore gave the previous treatment of superheroes, the light hearted child like fantasies, a realistic view as the delusions they truely are. Giving the 50’s comics a purpose in story as Miracleman/Marvelman’s brainwashed reality. In Watchmen, the notion of children’s comics is not addressed as their background, and impact such beings would have, are treated as true and realistic to this world. Beings such as Miracleman and Dr. Manhattan would inspire a deep routed sense of fear in the general public, just as a real life Superman would send panic through our very society.

The Act of deconstruction, as described by Moore, is similar to the childish whim to take apart a wrist watch to see how it would work. “, you could perhaps get an old screwdriver and start to take them apart, take all the little cogs out, which is why that perhaps turns up as a motif in the Dr Manhattan.” “. It’s very easy to take things apart, even if you do it in an elaborate way”. ” Taking apart the conceptual apparatus of the superhero… it’s not rocket science… but putting it all back together in a more benign and more transcendent form that works – a more flexible form, a better, improved form – that is something which is a bit more tricky.” [Graydon.2009]


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The Enigma of Miracleman

Alex_Ross_Miracleman_5_VariantThe name Alan Moore holds a lot of weight in the comic book community, even those with only a passing interest in the subject, have come across some of his work, most likely the highly rated and critically acclaimed Watchmen and V for Vendetta. Some may have even immersed themselves in the likes of From Hell and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the fact of the matter being that Alan Moore is celebrated for a reason. During a conversation several weeks ago, I had a number of comic recommendations given to me. This one conversation included titles such as Grant Morrison’s Zenith, Jess Nevins’ League companion Heroes & Monsters, and an Alan Moore title I had never come across before. Miracleman.

As any research junkie would do, I asked around in my local store and hit the internet in an attempt to discover just why I had never heard of it before. Upon finally getting my hands on the first two books, I noticed a quote from Time magazine printed on the cover to ‘Miracleman Book One: A Dream of Flying’. “A must-read for scholars of the genre, and of the comic book medium as a whole.” [McMillan. 2013]. The only conclusion I could discern from both the original recommendation and the internet wide praise, This book is a big deal.

comics-alan-moore-fashion-beastHaving finally sank my teeth into the first book, I can concur that the praise is in no way misleading. Miracleman is an intense exploration of the superhero genre in itself, pre-dating what many consider Moore’s ultimate deconstruction of the superhero, Watchmen. Dream of Flying takes the original camp notion that superheroes had been known for since the 60’s and ultimately treats it for what it is, even acknowledging the absurdity of magical origins in its own pages, while simultaneously taking discussing the corruption that can come from possessing god-like abilities, personal sense of place and life, and even the validity of your own memories. Taking what was essentially a mythology and origin based on magic, redefining it through science fiction and finally ripping it inside out. While a full review is at some point necessary, granted when all three books have been thoroughly poured over and absorbed, I came out of ‘Dream of Flying’ with a lot of questions. Most of which concerning the mysterious lack of reprints and the history of the character its self.

When discussing Miracleman, the conversation usually starts with the aforementioned 1982 Alan Moore run in the pages of British independent anthology, Warrior. However the character dates back even further, to 1954 and the British publication L. Miller & Sons, Ltd. A company intended primarily to reprint American comic strips for the British market, primarily reprinting comics from Fawcett Publications. Fawcett Publications is now mostly remembered for the creation of Captain Marvel, now more famously known as the DC character, Shazam. While Fawcett comics would eventually come under fire from National (DC comics) and eventually have to discontinue all lines of Captain Marvel comics, L. Miller & Sons would need to replace these in Britain with their own creations.

Miracleman_2_Davis_VariantMiracleman, originally named Marvelman, was created by artist and writer Mick Anglo, as a knock of Fawcett’s Captain Marvel, with similarities to the two including the utterance of a magic word as well as an extended Marvel family. With Captain Marvel being considered a rip off himself, this just adds more fuel to the notion that all modern Heroes can trace their origins back to Superman. Introduced to the public just as Captain Marvel books disappeared, it managed to survive until 1963 with the bankruptcy of L. Miller & Sons. Marvel man did not appear again until 1982 in the now highly regarded Moore run.

During the Moore run, the character however was still referred to as Marvelman rather than his current title. It was only due to Marvel Comics need to snap up and copyright uses of the word Marvel (for obvious reasons I’m sure you’ll see) that Eclipse Comics, the then publisher, pushed to have the name changed to Miracleman and avoid any more controversy over such matters.

Copyright and ownership is a problem that has long plagued the character ever since those early days,  including the ‘Marvels and Miracles, LLC’ Vs. ‘Todd McFarlane Productions’ case of 2002. But by 2013, all rights were finally settled and held squarely with Marvel Comics (the same company who, ironically enough, had caused Miracleman’s original name change).

Miracleman_1_Preview_3This only leaves one looming question. Why is Moore credited as ‘The Original Writer’? Surely having a name like Alan Moore on a book that few new readers would know, was a no brainer. This decision at the end of the day, came from Moore himself. In an interview in The Hollywood Reporter, Moore stated that at the time of his original work on Miracleman, he was unaware that Mike Anglo had no rights to the character and was making nothing from it. “if I’d known that, I would have never taken the job.” [McMillan. 2013]. Due to the belief that he had been part of cheating the original creator out of what was rightfully his, Moore decided to leave his name off the reprints. “by the time that Marvel Comics were involved I just thought, No, let it go, give all the money to Mick Anglo” [McMillan. 2013]

Miracleman, in both story and history, is incredibly rich. With so much to take away from it and with two books still ahead of me. I am so glad I took up the recommendation and I hope that anyone who has read this, thinks about checking it out.


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Electricomics – The Digital Revolution of Comics.

ElectricomicsWhat we know as comic books have existed since the 1930’s. They have been described as “a technology all its own”, “that [have] been accumulating and progressing”[Kamen. 2015] ever since. Longer if you consider early cave paintings a form of comic. But, as the mediums of television and film have evolved with the ever changing abilities of modern technology, Comics seem to have remained engraved purely in ink and paper. Even with the ubiquitous use of e-readers and e-book apps, comic apps have been content to simply “replicate the experience of the printed page” [Barnett. 2015].

Fuelled, while developing a small film, by a disdain that when you “create a film these days””you’re expected to ‘realise it’ upon multiple platforms” [Kamen. 2015]. Alan Moore, a noted comic book writer, together with other writers and academics, such as Leah Moore, John Reppion and Daniel Goodbrey, began to “create something within the imaginary world and see if it could be imported to the non-imaginary world” [Kamen. 2015]. The original idea eventually evolved into the ‘Electricomics App’, an attempt to “[take] digital comics to a whole new level” [Barnett.2015].

W69d61c82-610c-4f6b-893e-9b5e88885b88-620x372hile most would point to the likes of Marvels own comic app as a pre-existing expansion of this idea, the only thing unique the app would offer would be the ability to zoom in and out of panels for a somewhat better look (depending on the quality of the image). To many this would be the obvious use, while neglecting to incorporate anything else that the medium such as a mobile tablet can offer. In an interview with Wired, Alan Moore described wanting to “show the possibilities of this new medium, beyond the obvious idea[s]” [Kamen. 2015] and using this as a way to “redefine what comics are in the 21st century” [Kamen. 2015].

Allowing creators to integrate the abilities a tablet can offer, has created not only an evolution in comics but a “final product [that] blends influences from traditional comics, animation, games and film into something that almost defies categorisation” [Kamen. 2015] to the point that Moore himself has stated that he’s “not sure what we’re doing is even comics” [Kamen. 2015].

marvel1The general shape of the tablet itself, a rectangle, could even be used in this manner as an extension of what Will Eisner, creator of the 1940’s comic ‘The Spirit’, described as the ‘meta-panel’, “in which the whole page is a panel into which the other panels have been inserted” [Kamen. 2015]. Following on from Eisner’s work and style, Moore has stated that the obvious ideas of adding sound and slight motion to a comic have already been done, in the likes of motion comics or the audio options that Marvel and DC apps have come to offer, “Eisner already gives you sound and motion. To realize it in a high-tech manner is redundant” [Kamen. 2015]. The interactivity a tablet can offer, such as touch screen capabilities, gyroscope sensors and brightness adjustments hold a whole new host of possibilities ready to be taken advantage of. Since its release in September of 2015, the app as well as its companion generator, have been downloaded and used by several third parties and industry professionals, all trying to reinvent what we view as a digital comic. Though the app itself may be seen by some as unnecessary and “the novelty of the interaction [may] threaten to dump the reader out of the story as well, but perhaps that’s the price of innovation.” [Barnett. 2015], others, including myself, see it as “the first glimpse of a new beginning for digital comics” [Barnett. 2015]


 

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