Page six begins with the word “annunciation,” and it’s the third and final page to focus on Liz, Mike, and Miracleman.
Miracleman has already transformed back into Mike Moran. He and Liz have packed the car and are ready to return home.
Liz still holds the clipboard she used, two pages back, to note Miracleman’s powers. Having already deconstructed how those powers work, she now deconstructs Mike’s relation to Miracleman.
“I think you and Miracleman are two different people,” she says.
We’ve previously discussed this idea, but so far it’s only been implied by the story. Here, Liz puts this idea into words.
She continues, “Say one [body] exists in..[.] uh… ‘real’ time and space and the other is… uh… somewhere else, until you say your magic word and make the switchover. / Maybe the body that occupies real time is the only one that ages… the human body in your case, the superhuman one in the case of Johnny Bates.”
It’s logical. In fact, it’s the only satisfactory explanation of what we’ve already seen – particularly how neither Miracleman nor Johnny Bates had aged in the last 18 years.
But this logic only makes the message more devastating.
In both the old Marvelman comics and the Captain Marvel ones that inspired them, the super-heroes and their alter egos were obviously different bodies. But this never had to be seriously addressed, because like most super-heroes, those stories existed in a “state of grace,” in which the characters don’t age – or age very slowly (and often inconsistently). In Miracleman, such implications can’t be avoided.
In all Mike’s time “as” Miracleman, he hasn’t seriously thought about this. If his memory is correct (it is), he was young when he first became Miracleman – too young perhaps to question such things logically. Like most comics readers, he’s taken the transformation for granted and not considered its implications.
So his first instinct is to dismisses her quite logical explanation as “a bit science-fictiony” – an odd choice of words, given all that he’s seen. He adds that her hypothesis “doesn’t explain how we share the same mind if we don’t share the same body.”
But this attempt to explain away Liz’s theory deconstructs itself, because it makes him realize that “it isn’t exactly the same mind. He cleverer than me. Did I tell you that? We share the same mind and memories but he’s cleverer than I am.”
Later episodes will expand, sometimes beautifully, upon this observation.
Like the most brilliant fictive deconstructions, it lay implicit in the source material. It illuminates that material, rather than doing violence to it.
Because it’s an observation implicit in those same old comics, where Captain Marvel seemed to have a slightly different personality than Billy Batson.
There, at least, this different personality might have an explanation – which Moore provides here. But it’s also true that this same difference may be observed in other super-heroes. It may have evolved to be particularly pronounced, in the case of Captain Marvel, but it’s not unique to him or his analogues.
Perhaps the worst offender, in this regard, is Superman, generally depicted as bold and confident. But despite theoretically being the same person, Clark Kent has often been depicted as weak and hesitant. In fact, the description most frequently identified with him is “mild-mannered.” Perhaps the most fondly-remembered depiction of this dichotomy is Christopher Reeve’s portrayal in the four Superman movies from 1978 to 1987, precisely because he was so good as the cowardly Clark Kent.
Now, it’s often been argued that Clark Kent is Superman’s ego, not the other way around. Put another way, Clark Kent is an act that Superman puts on. That’s especially the case with Christopher Reeve’s portrayal, where the most stuttering Clark-Kent mannerism could be followed on Reeve’s face, the moment Lois Lane wasn’t watching, by Superman’s steely gaze.
But this doesn’t totally explain the personality inconsistency. It’s truly odd that Superman would choose to spend so many hours acting at all, let alone playing the role of the coward. Of course, some have retroactively tried to explain this – perhaps most famously, in 2004’s Kill Bill, Vol. 2, although Bill’s monologue on the subject borrows ideas advanced in Jules Feiffer’s 1965 book The Great Comic Book Heroes. Of course, such in-universe explanations can’t acknowledge the essential fact that Clark Kent allows for reader identification, especially for bespeckled, nerdy kids – not so unlike Superman’s creators – who feel pushed around. Clark’s existence also allows for the Clark-Lois-Superman love triangle that once fueled so many Superman tales. Narrative logic is only applied after the fact. And for Clark Kent to appeal to readers the way he does, he and Superman have to be separate personalities, if not people.
Hell, Clark Kent was even drawn more like a normal person and less like the smaller-headed, slightly more muscular Superman. That changed when the revisionism came to Superman, with John Byrne’s 1986 mini-series The Man of Steel. Instead of taking Miracleman’s route and making the alter egos more separate, DC took the safer route and lessened the separation between Clark and Superman, in terms of both personality and physical appearance.
This same separation of personality applies even where one wouldn’t expect it. For example, it’s often said that Batman, like Superman, only plays at being Bruce Wayne, who often feigns ignorance or even stupidity to throw off suspicion. Bruce Wayne often plays with the stereotype of the eccentric rich, yet he doesn’t seem to realize that this same logic dictates that he doesn’t need to be Bruce Wayne almost at all – he could hide from the public like Howard Hughes did, and he has other people to run his business for him. Yet the dynamic of Bruce Wayne transforming into Batman is a crucial part of the story’s appeal, and so it remains.
In the same way, Billy Batson was created to appeal to kid readers. He and Captain Marvel might be more obviously different people than Clark and Superman, but their separation is only a more pronounced version of a dynamic inherent in the super-hero secret identity.
Miracleman knows this. After all, “Secret Identity” is the title of the chapter. Yes, that refers to Cream’s hunt for Miracleman’s alter ego. But in typical Alan Moore fashion, he makes that story part of a wider commentary on the entire notion of the secret identity.
Liz Moran is smarter than Mike. We see that not only in her logic, here and elsewhere, but in his confession that Miracleman is, as the British say, “cleverer.” True, Mike did psychoanalyze Kid Miracleman, but one gets the sense that he did so on the basis of his experience as Miracleman, rather than through psychoanalytic insight. But for all of Liz’s intelligence, Mike’s observation is far more devastating. And it’s one only Mike is able to make, because it relies on his own subjective experience.
As a man of normal intelligence, Mike is struggling to articulate what it’s like to share a mind with someone smarter. This is one of the most basic elements of human subjectivity – that people, wherever they fall in the array of different kinds of intelligence, wonder what it feels like to inhabit a smarter or a dumber brain. It’s one of the ways in which Miracleman reaches beyond its super-hero genre, into truly existential territory.
But this isn’t the only bombshell on the page. Liz doesn’t follow up on Mike’s observation. Instead, she blurts out as they drive away, “I’ve missed my last two periods and I’m going to have a baby and it isn’t yours it’s Miracleman’s.”
Mike doesn’t seem to register the news right away, and the page ends with him asking her to repeat what she’s said.
It’s obviously a dramatic revelation. But it’s also one grounded in psychological nuance. Because implicitly, this is why she abruptly raised the point about Mike and Miracleman having two separate bodies. She’s been mulling this over in her mind, knowing that she’s pregnant. Mike and readers took her observations at face value, as exposition to be explored logically, when there was an emotional layer to them that remained hidden.
Because of the story’s chronology, it seems as if Miracleman impregnated Liz between chapters two and three, after a single session of intercourse.
A “miracle man” indeed.
This ties into the page’s de facto title, the single word in caption that began the page: “annunciation.” The word may simply mean an announcement, which certainly applies Liz’s news. But it has a special meaning, especially when capitalized, referring to the Annunciation, in which the angel Gabriel revealed to Mary that she would conceive God’s child. By extension, the term is also applied (especially in art history) to other similar revelations, especially in the Bible.
This meaning is only employed in a religious context, which is another reason why “Miracleman” is far more resonant, from a literary standpoint, than “Marvelman.”
It also fits perfectly with what Mike and Liz have been discussing: how Mike and Miracleman are two different people. The word “annunciation” suggests that Miracleman is a god, and Miracleman often uses this term, or related words like “divine,” for its super-heroes. Mike is thus in the position of Joseph, hearing the news that his wife is pregnant by another man – a god, with which he could never compete. This will be the subject of the story’s next chapter.
Of course, giving birth to a god’s child is risky business. It is in the Bible and other literature. That’s also the case with super-heroes, especially after Larry Niven famously argued, in his 1971 essay “Men of Steel, Women of Kleenex,” that having Superman’s baby would kill Lois Lane as soon as the super-powered baby kicked. For those aware of the genre and its commentary, Liz’s “annunciation” carries ominous overtones – not only for her relationship to Mike but for her health.
In lesser hands, this chapter could feel like a patchwork of pages. But in Moore’s, it’s of a single piece. Thus, Cream’s comment about “radiation” hinted at the idea that Miracleman might unintentionally hurt Liz – a threat also symbolically shown visually, when she looks momentarily like a woman caught in an atomic blast while he transforms into Miracleman.
Of course, there’s also the greater threat to the status quo posed by the child. In the Christian original, Jesus changed everything, ushering in a new age. Why, he even had a “secret identity” as the son of God.
The way in which Moore weaves Liz’s “annunciation” into the story extends to its settings. Cream visits a hospital, where babies are normally delivered. He even wears white like a doctor. Dartmoor is known for its arduous isolation and for stories of the supernatural, which ties into how the revelation will affect these characters as well as how Miracleman is separate from Mike and divine, which is why her announcement qualifies as an “annunciation.”
But the chapter also takes place on May Day, a holiday that stems from ancient pagan rituals surrounding the changing of the seasons. Spring is generally associated with fertility, representing how plants return after the winter thaw. So too are May Day rituals, a link preserved in the tradition of girls dancing around and wrapping the phallic maypole – which survives even after various pagan celebrations were consolidated into May Day. After Christianization, these celebrations were also replaced by or merged with Easter, which represents Jesus’s return to life, much as spring represents rebirth. And in the Catholic tradition, May is considered the month of the Mary, mother of Jesus, object of the Annunciation. May Day itself has even sometimes been co-opted as a ritual celebration of Mary.
Moore doesn’t beat us over the head with this. In fact, it’s so subtle that readers may well miss it. But it’s there nonetheless, helping to ground the story in a particular place and time, with deep historical roots. Fertility, the supernatural and the divine, the ominous undercurrents – they’re all carefully woven into a single whole.
Page seven begins with the word “sanction,” harkening back to the end of page one, in which Sir Dennis Archer reassured himself using the same word in the same form. Page eight continues page seven without a new word as a header, ending the story with a two-page sequence that makes the chapter feel like it ends with a more substantial punch than a single page would allow. We may well credit Davis’s pace, relative to that of Leach, for this fact.
Of course, the story’s already delivered its most important narrative punch one page previously. But it’s conventional, especially in super-hero stories, to end with the threat of the villain, if he’s not already defeated, thus providing a cliffhanger of sorts to propel readers into the next chapter.
If the previous page was cerebral, this concluding sequence provides something far more visceral.
Cream enters Steve’s hospital room. He begins defiantly by addressing Cream by the racial epithet “chocolate,” which isn’t surprising, given his racist attitudes one the first page of chapter one. Behind the scenes, this epithet led to a debate between Moore and editor Dez Skinn (perhaps one of the first but certainly not the last). Moore defended the word as deliberate and right for the character. But it might also help recall chapter one’s first page, reminding us that this is the same character.
Because Steve has “burst eardrums” – his head and one eye are still bandaged from his encounter with Miracleman – Cream has to communicate by writing on a notepad. In the chapter’s other main narrative, Liz also prominently wrote, albeit on a clipboard – a parallel that further ties the chapter’s threads together.
Cream identifies himself as “representing the Spookshow” – the same secret group within the government that Archer mentioned on page one. This, like the word “sanction,” further connects the chapter’s beginning with its ending, despite their differences.
Steve knows what the Spookshow is – which is surprising because we do not. But on page one of chapter one, Steve discussed his military experience with great flourish, and we may surmise that he had connections with covert operations through which he heard of the Spookshow. Perhaps this background is his own “secret identity.” This has the fascinating implication of making the nuclear terrorism of chapter one a case of the chickens coming home to roost, of a British black operative using that training (and the warped psychology it attracts and arguably produces) on British soil. This is a theme to which Moore would return, not only in V for Vendetta but in his fictive history of American covert ops, Brought to Light (published by Eclipse in 1989).
Knowing the Spookshow, Steve immediately believes Cream is there to kill him, but Cream reassures Steve.
Answering Cream’s questions, Steve reveals that his injuries were caused by “that reporter bloke. The one who was sick.” He briefly recounts this portion of chapter one from his perspective, up until Mike Moran’s transformation, which he only recalls as an explosion or a “flash” of light. He never saw the god who replaced Mike. Cream asks Steve to describe this reporter physically, and Steve does so.
In the panel ending page seven, Cream’s hands circle “Moran” from a list of names of the pressmen, to whom he’d already narrowed down his suspect list.
And that’s it. This new villain, called “the devil” when introduced, has quite logically figured out Miracleman’s titular “Secret Identity.”
Cream has gotten what he wanted. As the next page starts, Cream writes out two new messages. “Remember how I promised not to kill you?” he says in the first. “I was lying, Steve,” reads the second.
Between and after these two panels showing Cream’s messages are two panels showing Steve’s reaction, ending in a close-up on his wide eye. The two panels showing Cream’s two notes are also done increasingly close up, adding to the tension.
Over the next four panels, Cream uses his bare hand to suffocate Steve. Through a clock in the background, we can see that Cream holds Steve’s mouth and nose for at least ten minutes.
It’s a bit easy, using a clock to communicate time in comics, but the ten-minute duration represents an admirable realism. Too often in fiction, suffocation is depicted as ridiculously quick. Because this isn’t film, we’re not forced to watch for the full ten minutes, which lessens our impression of what a brutal, calculated act this truly is. But even in comics form, we can still take the message.
The first truly fiendish act Cream takes is to murder a man in a hospital bed. And the man he kills is one of the first two characters introduced in the series.
The chapter ends with Cream calmly leaving, Steve sprawled dead on the bed in the foreground. It’s not clear how he twisted into this position, providing us such a good view, but he’s clearly limp, his eyes and mouth open – thus emphasizing the brutality of the act.
It’s an ominous ending, emphasizing the threat our hero faces in this cold and calculating villain who now knows our protagonist’s secret identity.
Moore increases this sense of threat by beginning the final two pages with the word “sanction,” which Archer’s captions used in reference to what Cream will do to Miracleman. Steve is thus a stand-in for Miracleman, much as the secretary killed by Kid Miracleman was for Liz.
But the death here also creates a parallel to the final page featuring Mike and Liz. There, Liz’s announcement was about a new life. Here, that life is contrasted with death.
Eros and thanatos, sex and death – a dichotomy Moore used more explicitly in both Swamp Thing and From Hell.
This is more than poetic parallel or mere contrast. Because while Liz’s May-Day revelation defines her and Mike’s future (and Miracleman’s too), the death at the end of the story defines the world in which the story takes place. It’s a violent world, populated by villains like the Spookshow or Kid Miracleman.
Even Miracleman is violent, as represented by Steve’s terrible injuries, caused simply by Miracleman’s transformation. This recalls the image of Liz being rocked by the same transformation, earlier this chapter. And Cream’s reference to “radiation.” And the threat represented by the very fact of her pregnancy.
So the ominous tone of the ending is more than a conventional dramatization of a super-villain’s threat, however well-done that may be. It’s much deeper, casting a pall over the entire proceedings, for those willing to notice.
It’s a pall intricately bound up with the notion of a “Secret Identity” – a title that refers both to Cream’s hunt and the truth about how Mike and Miracleman are separate people. It even applies to the interior space granted Sir Dennis Archer, as well as to Steve’s violent military past. In fact, Cream’s the only one whose “secret identity” isn’t explored here. (While that preserves this new villain’s mystery, it’s also problematic, given the racial unease surrounding the character.) None of these “secret identities” are anything but ominous, despite Liz’s “good news.”
And in the narrative background is Johnny Bates, who’s depicted rather literally struggling with his own secret identity – and with the extent to which he shares Kid Miracleman’s violent mind.
Not bad for a chapter with multiple narratives that lacks a confrontation with the titular super-hero and reintroduces the series as the second half of Book One begins. Instead of being fractured, the story’s intricately bound together as a whole. And instead of reintroducing the status quo, the story explodes it.
Next time, chapter seven.