Everyone who loves to read has different first times. The first book you remember reading, the first time you read your favourite book, or the first time you read one of the books by your favourite authors. For writers, there’s another first time: the first time you encountered the possibilities of the written word. I’ll venture to say that for most writers, this occurs sometime in their teens. It certainly did for me. As such, it’s most likely not going to be Finnegans Wake that inspires this moment. For me, it was a story in a comic called Warrior.
Growing up, I was an avid reader – especially of comics. At the time in Ireland, our comics were exclusively British comics (we rarely got any American comics). The British comics that I was reading were mostly action and war comics like Victor and Battle. The stories in these comics were black and white – in the art sense and in the literal sense. It was usually the brave Allies versus the nasty Nazis. Not that some of the stories weren’t very well-written, but there was a serious lack of nuance or ambiguity there.
And then I read a story called Miracleman. I had recently graduated from Victor and Battle to 2000AD, a science-fiction weekly with much more well-written and nuanced stories and characters than the other titles I had been reading. I began to see how writing could be a multi-layered thing, with sub-plots, underlying themes and – most importantly – grey areas. I began to discover the lure and attraction of the anti-hero (Judge Dredd being one of the best examples of this). Then on one trip to the newsagent, I picked up a new comic. It was called Warrior. It was a monthly comic styled on the European model of anthology comics. More pages, better quality paper, and more adult themes and stories. Also, more expensive than regular comics. And the story that immediately caught my eye was Miracleman.
In 1982 – four years before he and Frank Miller would change the face of comics with Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns respectively – comics writer, Alan Moore, began work on Miracleman, a story that would lay the groundwork for Watchmen’s subsequent deconstruction of the superhero mythos. Mike Moran is a freelance photographer who – upon saying the word ‘Kimota’ – becomes the superhero Miracleman. But this superhero was unlike any I – or any comic readers – had ever seen before. He was depressed, unable to have sex with his wife, and she only conceives when he has sex with her as Miracleman. I never read many Warrior comics – being both too young and too broke – but I did pick up Warrior issue 8, which contained Miracleman Episode 7 . In this issue, Moran is at his day job in the newspaper office. When he steps into the lift, a woman asks him to hold her baby while she gets something out of her bag. Then this happens:
This was shocking stuff. Superheroes fought monsters and aliens on other planets and mad scientists on the streets of Metropolis. They didn’t get gunned down in an elevator. The character of Mike Moran understands this and says as much:
The story was probably only about ten pages long but I must have read and re-read it about fifty times. Especially those final panels. And that was it. My first time realising the true power of the written word. No more black and white. From now on, there would be only grey areas.