The caption that notes of the time, as a rejected Mike Moran stands waiting for the elevator in the Daily Record, serves another purpose besides emphasizing how quickly his hopes have been dashed. It also helps bridge the conversation sequence with the chapter’s ending sequence, because noting a specific time can also be an indicator of the importance of the events depicted.
As Mike steps into the elevator, we see that it’s already occupied by a woman with a baby, as well as a man reading the newspaper. The woman speaks sharply to her baby, who’s named Darren. Saying he “wants his bottle,” she asks if Mike can hold the boy, presumably while she fishes his bottle from her purse. She doesn’t wait for Mike to say yes. Instead, she hands the child to Mike and he instinctively takes him.
Mike looks shocked by this at first, but holding the boy, his demeanor changes.
He speaks baby talk, and he smiles for the first time in the chapter.
He’s interrupted by the man holding the newspaper, who’s put it down while the baby changes hands. He’s Evelyn Cream, and he ominously addresses Mike by name.
In the next panel, Cream is holding a gun with a silencer up to Mike’s ear. His eyes are cropped by the top of the panel, but we see his sapphire teeth glinting, his mouth curled into slight smile. He seems so close that he could whisper like a lover into Mike’s ear. What he says is horrifying: “How are you going to change to Miracleman without roasting that innocent little baby the way you roasted that terrorist?”
Cream is referring, of course, to the terrorist from chapter one, killed by Cream in the hospital at the end of the previous chapter. The extent to which he knows Miracleman’s secrets is shocking, accented by how quickly he’s moved, speaking only the minimum that needs to be said.
What follows is a row of three images, without gutters separating them so they seem almost as if they’re a single panel. In the first half, we see Mike’s alarmed eyes. In the second half, we see Cream’s sinister, sapphire smile. Between them, we see a tiny cutaway of the elevator that emphasizes how cramped it is, giving little room to maneuver or to escape.
In fact, these three images serve as a brief beat before Cream fires in the next, larger panel. Davis illustrates the panel with brilliant detail, depicting Mike twisting as if instinctively protecting the baby.
The chapter ends with a series of panels from Mike’s point of view. He’s apparently on the ground, the baby apparently resting safely on his chest – thus continuing to prevent him from transforming into Miracleman without killing the boy. Cream stands, clad exquisitely and smiling, in the background. Over three panels, the image blackens, and the chapter concludes ominously with a fully black panel.
The sequence, while simple in what it needs to accomplish, is a brilliant example of the combination of words and pictures.
Moore’s work in this period is full of echoed phrases and images, often recurring in very different and often poignant contexts. Earlier this chapter, after Miracleman landed on the roof, Mike’s caption “There are lots of people like me” offered the reverse of Miracleman’s “There is no-one like me.” Now, Mike’s thoughts echo his parting dialogue to Liz: “I’m a superhero. Nothing can hurt me.”
Accompanying this, the art features Mike’s bloody hand in the foreground, as if he’s looking at it confusedly, using it to cement the reality of his situation. The image thus dramatically undercuts Mike’s thoughts, offered in the accompanying captions.
Smartly, Mike’s bloody hand is placed to their right of the captions, so that readers’ eyes, conditioned to read from left to right, travel from the captions to the bloody hand. After all, Mike can’t maintain the thoughts in the captions after he’s seen his hand, so it’s placed to the right, between the captions and the following panel, in which Mike’s thoughts indicate acceptance of his situation.
In the second panel of the dimming sequence, the caption tells us Mike thinks, “What a stupid way to die.” Accenting this, the baby gets the only dialogue of the sequence: “Moo?” His nose is drooling. Earlier, as Mike twisted while being shot, the baby seemed alarmed, almost as if he knew what was happening. If we were inclined towards such a romantic reading, however, this panel completely undercuts us, as the child’s face, ambiguous or concerned in the previous panel, explodes into a smile. He’s obviously unaware that he’s resting on a dying man. It was the motion that concerned him earlier, as Mike was shot; to him, everything seems alright now. Rather than undercutting the caption, like the art in the previous panel, this panel’s art offers a perfect accompaniment to Mike’s thoughts.
The art and caption in third panel similarly work together, and it’s here that the dimming effect of the sequence pays dividends. Here, the caption tells us Mike’s last thought: “And finally: ‘Why sapphire teeth?’” The artwork’s so dark that we can barely make out the highlights of the baby’s face in the foreground and of Cream’s face in the background. But his teeth – and for realistic consistency, the edge of his glasses – are sparkling.
The chapter’s final panel is completely black, but this too interacts with the caption: “To be continued?”
Of course, serialized narratives have long used the protagonist’s apparent death for cliffhanger endings, but the skill with which Moore and Davis pull off the sequence is amazing.
Given our familiarity with this trope, we probably guess that Mike Moran survives somehow. That’s one super-hero trope Moore won’t subvert. But in retrospect, the chapter builds excellently to Mike’s prospective death, adding weight to what might otherwise be a clichéd moment. We’ve already noted how the captions giving specific times of day accomplish this, performing the double duty of also highlighting how quickly Mike’s hopes of work are dashed. Once the story’s done, such specific times can feel like they’re noting precisely the events leading up to Mike’s death. The chapter thus feels like a complete story, telling the last day of Mike Moran’s life.
That the chapter focuses so exclusively on Mike also accentuates Miracleman’s absence, on this final, potentially fatal page. By the end of the chapter, Miracleman is literally as distant as the second page – unable to appear and save the day.
The final panels focus on Mike’s experience: the art depicts his point of view, and the captions give his thoughts. But every character on the elevator is depicted with remarkable precision.
Of course, it’s no coincidence that the woman handed her baby to Moran. She works for Cream, and this is all part of his plan. Regretfully, we’re not shown that unambiguously enough. She doesn’t seem to be in the car with Cream as Mike passes on the way to work – which would ruin the reader’s surprise. She seems to smile naturally, as she hands the baby to Mike. But she doesn’t do anything but watch as Cream reveals his gun and shoots Mike. She doesn’t scream. Instead, we see her simply standing in the tiny cutaway of the elevator. And most revealingly, in the final panels from Mike’s point of view, we see her staring down at him impartially. Her body is bent towards his, almost as if cuddling, physically suggesting her association with him.
In a nice touch, looking back through the chapter, she’s featured prominently in the midground, holding the baby, in the crowd outside the Daily Record as Mike enters. None of this was a coincidence. She followed him inside.
Most obviously, Cream’s plan is masterful, and the way he sneaks close behind Moran is both smooth and creepy. In a genre in which villains often offer unnecessary exposition, the few words Cream speaks are neither bragging nor explanation of his reasoning. They are, rather, entirely necessary. If Mike doesn’t hear them before he’s shot, he could react instinctively by saying his magic word. Thus, it’s important that he not only say what he says but gives Mike a beat in which to process the words. And that’s exactly what he does, before gunning Mike down.
It’s still a calculated risk, of course. A dying man in Mike’s position might well, without thinking, still mutter the three little syllables that could save his life. And admittedly, using a super-hero’s morality as a weakness, especially by endangering innocents, is a long-standing super-hero trope. In Book Three’s climax and ending, Miracleman will eventually transgress against these expectations, but for now, Mike acts morally like a traditional super-hero.
But it’s hard not to guess that Cream has evidence Moran will behave this way. After all, in Miracleman’s public fight with Kid Miracleman, he saved a different young boy – breaking the boy’s ribs in the process. Pete even references this earlier in the issue, as if to remind readers of this. We may guess that Cream, having access to the Miracleman files, knows the injury to the boy wasn’t intentional. He thus places Moran in a similar situation, upping the ante by making the boy in jeopardy a baby. One might wish this were a bit more explicit, but the story’s smart enough that we’re inclined to give it the benefit of the doubt.
There’s another subtlety to the sequence. When Mike enters the elevator, Cream is holding a newspaper in front of his face, thus hiding his identity and making himself seem like a non-entity unworthy of notice. Logically, since Moran hasn’t seen Cream, the only real risk is that Mike could notice Cream’s teeth and become more alert. Cream’s hiding also has racial overtones, because he may be aware that being on an elevator with a black man may itself alert some people.
But this isn’t the first time in the chapter that someone’s hidden himself behind a newspaper. Mike did so earlier with Liz. There, he was hiding emotionally, rather than physically. But because that has been established as a sign of emotional distance, Cream’s parallel usage of what could even be the same newspaper underlines how emotionally distant he is about what he does, and this adds to the creepiness of his actions here.
Perhaps the sequence’s best subtlety lies in Mike’s reaction, when he’s handed the baby.
In terms of narrative, this moment works because it’s the one bright spot, a seemingly random occurrence, in Mike’s terrible day. Of course, this moment turns out to be the most terrible moment of all – and not at all random.
The baby also recalls the boy rescued from Kid Miracleman, demonstrating the intelligence of Cream’s plan and creating another narrative echo. Given what happens, the baby is used to demonstrate how Mike Moran is as much a hero as Miracleman – if not more so, because Mike is willing to die to save the child’s life.
But the baby’s most important because it ties the entire chapter together. Mike Moran’s depression, as Liz pointed out, are centered around her pregnancy. He knows the child’s not his, and it represents his feelings of inadequacy as a man. It’s the symbol of all he couldn’t provide her, yet is so easy for Miracleman.
We might even guess that he doesn’t know if he’ll love the child, or if he’ll be haunted by the fact that it’s Miracleman’s. That it’s not his.
He’s been terribly depressed all chapter, yet here, when handed a strange child, he smiles and goes straight into baby talk. His reaction seems perfectly natural and involuntary.
In that smile is the proof that he would be a good and loving father. It can be read as indicating that he’s fundamentally still okay. That he really will work things out.
How sad, then, that he’s apparently killed at the chapter’s end.
The baby is his redemption. And thus, if we take this carefully orchestrated cliffhanger seriously, potentially his tragedy as well.
Next time, chapter eight.