Since I’m writing about Miracleman, I might as well mention my favorite bit in the series so far: the assassin Mr. Cream, an elegant fellow with black skin and sapphire teeth. I wonder if a writer, at least a white writer, could invent him now. A big part of the character’s gimmick is that he’s black but named “Cream” and dressed in white. To tell the truth, I suspect that even 27 years back only Europeans, not Americans, could have gotten away with that gag. Racial etiquette is stricter here because we were a slave-holding society whereas the Europeans were slave-trafficking societies. Blacks and whites have spent much more time side by side in America than in Europe, giving American blacks more time to speak up and combat the idea that the white perspective is the only perspective.
Mr. Cream’s sapphire teeth
by Tom Crippen
Also part of Mr. Cream’s gimmick is that he’s black and yet elegant, cultured, the owner of an original Hockney, etc. Sadly, I think this gimmick still gets trotted out today. It has a patina of well-meaningness that allows it to get by.
But I’m getting off track. The point of this post is that so much of Miracleman concerns itself with dragging silly old superhero tropes into the light of day and exposing them to adult notions of probability: Dicky Dauntless is a silly name, Miracleman can’t just pick up his wife and fly her thru the air because the wind resistance would kill her, and so on. But it’s completely improbable that a cunning, stealthy, highly secret assassin would have sapphire teeth. In fact it makes no sense. People would see him coming; after he left the scene of the crime, anyone anywhere who had seen him that day would remember him. So the idea is absurd. But it’s still great. An elegant black man dressed in white and with sapphire teeth and he goes about killing people thru use of his superior, icy cold intellect — I don’t care if it’s laughable and borderline racist, I still dig it.
Which goes to show that our notion of cool doesn’t care about anything but itself (for me, even using the word “cool” is a horrible concession, since I hate it, but the phenomenon needs a name and I can’t think of any other). And also that genre realism is all relative: the point isn’t to be realistic, it’s to be more realistic than some well-acknowledged cultural touchstone, producing an unexpected contrast (familiar story, everyday facts) that gooses the reader. Which is, oh God, cool too. In writing this post I don’t mean to debunk Alan Moore or Miracleman, just to bring out what they actually offer, as opposed to what we imagine they offer.