(Because Amazon's taking away your almost-free books, I thought I'd offer up a free excerpt from mine. It's neither finished nor particularly good, but turning stacks of virtual notes into viable prose is a messy process and what's the point of even having a blog if you can't ask your readers to help straighten up your mess? It ends rather abruptly because I need to mark essays, but rest assured, it will arrive at the obvious destination soon enough.)
The inaugural issue of the British comic anthology Warrior, published in March of 1982, contained two stories scripted by a 29-year-old Alan Moore that could not have been more different in tone or conception. The first told the story of an attempted rape in a dystopian future: corrupt police accost a young woman, but before they can rape her, they are murdered by a man who explains, in iambs, why he came to her aid and why he is about to blow up the British Parliament. In stark contrast to the opening chapter of V for Vendetta, Moore’s second contribution comes from “an age of lingering innocence, an age of golden dreams,” and recounts how, in 1956, “the Miracleman Family” repelled the invasion of a terrorist organization from the future called the “Science Gestapo.”
These serialized stories represent two possible career paths for young Moore: he can become a writer who creates and develops original ideas, as he does in V for Vendetta; or he can become the kind of whose genius is particular to comics, i.e. one whose talent lies in the ability to transform a caricature into a character of compelling psychological depth. (Characters in mainstream comic books are, after all, a form of communal property: they belong to a company, and are subject to regular refashioning and repurposing.) Although its cartoonish art and quaint language could hardly differ more from the harsh lines and sharp tongues of V for Vendetta, the final eight panels of the Miracleman story depict the process that, over the course of the decade, will become Moore’s signature style.
Reunited after preventing the “Science Gestapo” from traveling to the past by defeating them in the future, the Miracleman clan shares a laugh: “S-so…Garrer was never here, because he never left 1981! It sounds unbelievable,” says Kid Miracleman. “Maybe so, Kid,” Miracleman responds, “But that’s the way it was…or was it?” As they laugh, the focus shifts from the family to Miracleman alone and the narrator, whose role up to this point had been providing linguistic gristle for the duo-specific word-picture relations—in which the words and the pictures say the same thing, as in books designed to teach children to read—begins quoting an ominous-sounding passage from Nietzsche:
The shift from duo-specific to interdependent word-picture relations—in which the combination of the words and pictures accomplish together what neither could alone—marks a transition from a childish, if educational, redundancy to a more rhetorically sophisticated intersection of word and picture. After ten pages whose form and content belonged to a mode designed for a younger, more innocent audience, the reader must now attempt to identify how Nietzsche’s foreboding prose relates to a plot that had been as cartoonish as its art had been until this page.
These panels evolve from conventions of the Golden and Silver Age of comics—the unrealistic rotating wall of pastel colors behind Miracleman’s head in the first three panels can be found, for example, behind the Batman when he solves “The Case of the Criminal Syndicate” in Detective Comics #27—such that from the fourth one forward, each successive panel inches closer to Miracleman’s right eye, almost as if Moore is attempting to signal the psychological complexity to come by literally forcing the reader into his character’s head. He need not have done so, as the change in the word-picture relation from duo-specific to interdependent signaled as much, but that he felt it necessary speaks to his expectation of what an audience in 1982 could understand.
Moore creates a model here that he will come to define his career: take established characters and exploit their premises and history in order to interrogate and complicate the comic medium in which they are delivered. Books by Alan Moore are, as often as not, about the relationship of comic readers to the titles they read, meaning the rhetorical situations in the book mirrors the rhetorical situation of the reader reading it.
Recursiveness for its own sake sounds—and typically is—tedious, but Moore has an uncanny talent for finding narrative devices that obscure this complexity behind a compellingly naturalistic story. In this case, that device is an inversion of the one depicted above: instead of delving through the eye and into the mind of a cartoonish character, Moore implants that cartoonish character into the mind of a more realistic one.
Initially, the simplicity of the world depicted in the first issue is countermanded by complexity of the second: “A Dream of Flying” opens with Michael Moran screaming in his sleep because of “a dream of death and numbing vertigo” in which Miracleman seemingly dies in a nuclear explosion. The ominous tone set by the quotation by Nietzsche is made literal in a dream that could not have existed in the cartoonish, caricatured reality of the first issue.
Moore forces the reader to draw connections between that “comic” reality to the more realistic one depicted in Moran’s dream. In contrast to the early 21st century tradition of confusing grime and grit with realism, in this instance the realism is a function of the dark content of the dream and the art itself. Gone are the thick lines, solid backgrounds and bold primary colors from the first issue, replaced by characters and backgrounds made more realistic by crosshatches, stippling, and a more subtle palette, as a comparison of their respective first appearances demonstrates. From the first issue:
The realism of the second issue is a photorealism, because the experience of moving from the cartoonish reality of the first issue to a more photorealistic one is designed to bring this superhuman character into closer contact with the world of the reader, i.e. one in which men in tights can only fly in dreams. Having established this, Moore proceeds to have Moran utter the magic word that transforms him into Miracleman, but in the interim Moore has created a situation in which the reader must constantly question how they interact with the visual and narrative conventions of the book.
Because they are depicted in such a radically simpler style, the status of the events depicted in the first issue is difficult for the reader to ascertain. They did, Moore eventually reveals, happen; however, they did so in the same sense that the events depicted in the comic in the reader’s hands happened: in a comic book. To wit:
The first issue of the comic was the cartoonish book implanted into the more realistically rendered Michael Moran's brain, meaning that the reader has a similar relation to reality as Moran: cartoonish narratives are “implanted” in his or her head, and these narratives influence how they understand the world in which they live. Miracleman is a book about reading “too much” into simplistic narratives written for children, but it is also a defense of the genre, in that it is a book that superficially resembles the narratives whose rhetorical effectiveness it interrogates.