Totleben's art reminds me of a graphic depiction of Buddhist Hell that I once saw painted on a temple in Siem Reap, Cambodia, full of men roasting on spits and people burning in perpetuity. In other words, it definitely conveys the sense that Johnny brought Hell to Earth. While reading the story, I couldn't but help to think about how the series "Irredeemable" is really a more detailed exploration of the themes that Moore explores here. It actually says something about our tastes that Krause never gives us the same scale of gore in his depiction of the Plutonian's destruction of the fictional Sky City, but Totleben pulls no punches 25 years or so earlier in showing a real city destroyed.
The comparison with the Plutonian doesn't end with the awfulness of his crimes. Miracleman is reminiscent of the pre-snapped Plutonian, since Bates' rampage occurs during a brief moment when Miracleman is off-world. The Plutonian was in part driven insane when he fled to the Moon for some peace and quiet and a tragedy that he could've prevented happened in his absence. It definitely raises questions about Miracleman's stability in the coming issues. We discover in this issue that Miracleman two years down the line is forced to constantly busy himself to prevent himself from thinking of this day and we've already seen him appear more aloof (referring to himself as a god) in recent issues. Are we just watching a slower descent into madness than the Plutonian suffered?
Moore also gives us hints of a world shaken to its core more than the one that suffered the onslaught of the Plutonian. Moore reveals that this announcement of the arrival of super-humans basically sweeps away the old gods, with Miracleman and Miraclewoman taking their place. For me, the most interesting question there is how Earth could possibly come to trust them. Maybe the answer is that Earth doesn't come to trust them; it comes to fear them, in the way that they feared the old gods, even the benevolent ones. Here, Moore is really taking the superhero tale to the logical conclusion that mainstream comic books generally avoid: if we really lived in a world with beings with this sort of power, it's hard to see us going about our daily lives like we did before they arrived. How could you not believe that Miracleman or Kid Miracleman wasn't some form of god, seeing what the world saw happen in London?
Perhaps the saddest part of this issue, though, is Miracleman clutching Johnny Bates' cold body. It's sad not only because he's forced to murder Johnny to "kill" Kid Miracleman, but Bates' pants are still wrapped around his ankles, a reminder that the last time that we saw him he was being raped. It's here where Totleben pulls no punches, reminding us what a tragic figure young Johnny Bates is. It's the one human moment in this entire issue, allowing us to understand the scale of the tragedy that befell London. It also seems to be the last human moment for Miracleman, as he weeps over the obvious end of the innocence that he once enjoyed.
I'm intrigued to see where we go from here.
*** (three of five stars)